Monday, July 13, 2015

Feyerabend on empiricism and sola scriptura


In his essay “Classical Empiricism,” available in Problems of Empiricism: Philosophical Papers, Volume 2, philosopher of science Paul Feyerabend compares the empiricism of the early moderns to the Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura.  He suggests that there are important parallels between them; in particular, he finds them both incoherent, and for the same reasons.  (No, Feyerabend is not doing Catholic apologetics.  He’s critiquing empiricism.)

To understand Feyerabend’s comparison, we need to be clear on what “empiricism” is.  (Here and when commenting on sola scriptura I’ll be going a bit beyond what Feyerabend himself says, since some of his remarks are sketchy and merely suggestive.)  In the generic sense, empiricism is of course the view that all knowledge derives from experience.  But there are different ways to interpret that thesis, and the empiricism of Aristotle and Aquinas is by no means the same as that of Locke and Hume.  For the Aristotelian, Feyerabend says, “experience [is] the sum total of what is observed under normal circumstances (bright daylight; senses in good order; undisturbed and alert observer) and what is then described in some ordinary idiom that is understood by all” (p. 35).  It also involves interpreting what is currently perceived in light of “tradition” or “preconceived opinion” (p. 37).  Hence ordinary, everyday statements like “The gunman was wearing a ski mask” or “This apple is stale” -- which presuppose that we already know, from past experience, what a gunman typically looks like, what stale apples taste like, etc. -- would for the Aristotelian provide examples of the sorts of things we know immediately via experience.

But they are decidedly not the sorts of thing empiricism as it developed from Locke to the logical positivists regards as immediately knowable via experience.  Developing as it did in the shadow of Cartesian skepticism, modern empiricism holds that since you might be dreaming or hallucinating the gunman or the apple, what is immediately knowable from experience must instead be something that would remain true even if you were dreaming or hallucinating.  A first suggestion might be that what you know is that “It seems to me that there is a gunman wearing a ski mask” or “It seems to me that I am eating a stale apple.”  But this will not do, because even these statements presuppose all sorts of things which might be doubted. 

For example, they presuppose memory of recent events in light of which what you are experiencing now is best described in terms of a gunman or an apple.  But maybe where you now think you see a gunman, you thought, a few moments ago, that you were looking at your friend playing the part of a gunman in a play you are watching, and you have now forgotten about this context (under the influence of a Cartesian demon, say).  Or maybe a moment ago it was a circus clown that you thought was standing where the gunman now seems to be, and you have forgotten about that context (because of the LSD that someone put in your drink and that has just kicked in).  So why say “It seems to me that there is a gunman wearing a ski mask,” as opposed to something like “It seems to me there is a person (who may be a gunman, or my friend playing the role of a gunman, or a clown who for some reason suddenly looks like a gunman) wearing a ski mask”?  Indeed, why speak in terms of a person, since maybe instead it was a shoe or a ham sandwich you thought you saw there a moment ago (and then suddenly forgot about it under the influence of LSD, or a Cartesian demon, or whatever)?

So, the modern empiricist analysis of experience proceeds by abstracting out more and more of what common sense and Aristotelian empiricism alike regard as “experience.”  On this view, it isn’t statements like “This apple is stale” that we know immediately from experience, but rather something like “There is currently a reddish patch in the center of my field of vision” or even “I am being appeared to redly,” or some other bizarre sort of proposition, that we know immediately.  And to describe what it is that we know from these basic propositions, we cannot use our ordinary concepts but need to develop a new technical vocabulary and talk of “sense data,” “protocol sentences,” and the like.  Everyday statements like “This apple is stale” have to be somehow derived from or reconstructed out of these purportedly more basic statements -- as do all the propositions of science and whatever else we can truly be said to know.

Notoriously, attempts to reconstruct everyday knowledge and scientific knowledge from such purportedly more basic statements all fail.  Not only could modern empiricists not derive everyday and scientific statements from the purportedly more basic ones, they couldn’t agree on what the basic ones were supposed to be.  For the Aristotelian -- and for other critics of modern empiricism like the later Wittgenstein -- this is exactly what we should expect, for the whole project is incoherent.  Statements like “There is currently a reddish patch in the center of my field of vision” are not more basic than statements like “This apple is stale,” but less basic.  The notion of a reddish patch in the center of one’s field of vision (to stick with that example) is parasitic on the notion of everyday experience of objects like apples, an abstraction from such ordinary experiences.  We talk of reddish patches and the like precisely to describe experiences that are abnormal, cases where the ordinary course of experience has in some way broken down.

In effect, the modern empiricist takes the most aberrant possible cases of “experience,” tries to find out what they have in common with all other cases, and makes of that lowest common denominator the baseline from which to reconstruct all experience.  It’s like a psychologist taking the thought processes of the most insane person he can find, teasing out whatever it is those thought processes might have in common with those of all other people, and then attempting to reconstruct a notion of “rationality” in terms of that.  The whole procedure is perverse, a matter of letting the tail -- indeed, a diseased, gangrenous tail -- wag the dog.  The correct procedure in the case of rationality is, of course, to start with paradigmatically rational thought processes and evaluate the various kinds of irrationality in light of those.  And the correct procedure where experience is concerned is to take the ordinary cases as paradigmatic and evaluate the aberrant cases in terms of those, rather than the other way around. 

Now, just as you are never going to derive everything that is constitutive of rationality merely from an analysis of the thought processes of which the most insane person is capable, neither are you ever going to derive everything that is constitutive of ordinary experience merely from the desiccated ingredients -- color patches in fields of vision, etc. -- to which the modern empiricist tends to confine himself.  There is simply far more to ordinary experience than that, and if you refuse to allow in anything but what can be constructed from the desiccated bits, you will inevitably undermine the very notion of empirical knowledge and end up in total skepticism (as Hume does).  And if you don’t end up in total skepticism, it is because you will surreptitiously be smuggling in elements to which you are not entitled given a modern empiricist conception of “experience.”

Thus, though hardly a philosophical traditionalist, Feyerabend judges that:

Aristotelian empiricism, as a matter of fact, is the only empiricism that is both clear -- one knows what kind of thing experience is supposed to be -- and rational -- one can give reasons why experience is stable and why it serves so well as a foundation of knowledge.

For example, one can say that experience is stable because human nature (under normal conditions) is stable. Even a slave perceives the world as his master does.  Or one can say that experience is trustworthy because normal man (man without instruments to becloud his senses and special doctrines to becloud his mind) and the universe are adapted to each other; they are in harmony.

This rational context which enables us to understand the Aristotelian doctrine and which also provides a starting point of discussion is eliminated by the ‘enlightenment’ of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

…It is characteristic of this enlightenment that it constantly mentions new and undiluted foundations of knowledge… while at the same time making it impossible ever to identify these foundations and to build on them. (p. 35)

Feyerabend’s own main interest is not in what modern philosophers made of empiricism, though, but what early modern scientists like Newton made of it.  And he argues that, like any modern empiricism that does not dissolve into skepticism, the empiricist scruples of scientists like Newton were applied selectively and inconsistently. 

But what does this have to do with sola scriptura?  The idea is this.  Summarizing an early Jesuit critique of the Protestant doctrine, Feyerabend notes that (a) scripture alone can never tell you what counts as scripture, (b) scripture alone cannot tell you how to interpret scripture, and (c) scripture alone cannot give us a procedure for deriving consequences from scripture, applying it to new circumstances, and the like.  Let’s elaborate on each and note the parallels with modern empiricism.

First, there is no passage in any book regarded as scriptural that tells you: “Here is a list of the books which constitute scripture.”  And even if there were, how would we know that that passage is really part of scripture?  For the Catholic, the problem doesn’t arise, because scripture is not the only authoritative source of revealed theological knowledge in the first place.  It is rather part of a larger body of authoritative doctrine, which includes tradition and, ultimately, the decrees of an institutional, magisterial Church. 

This larger context -- tradition and Magisterium -- is analogous to the larger context within which both common sense and Aristotelianism understand “experience.”  Experience, for common sense and for the Aristotelian, includes not just sense data -- color patches, tactile impressions, etc. -- but also the rich conceptual content in terms of which we ordinarily describe experience, the immediate memories that provide context for present experience, and so forth.  Just as modern empiricism abstracts all this away and leaves us with desiccated sense contents as what is purportedly just “given,” so too does sola scriptura abstract away tradition and Magisterium and present (what it claims to be) scripture as if it were just given.  And just as the resulting experiential “given” is too thin to tell us anything -- including what counts as “given” -- so too is scripture divorced from its larger context unable to tell us even what counts as scripture.  The modern empiricist inevitably, and inconsistently, surreptitiously appeals to something beyond (what he claims to be) experience in order to tell us what counts as “experience.”  And the sola scriptura advocate inevitably, and inconsistently, surreptitiously appeals to something beyond scripture in order to tell us what scripture is.

Second, even if what counts as scripture could be settled, there is still the question of how to interpret it.  Nor is it any good to claim that scripture itself interprets scripture.  If you say that scriptural passage A is to be interpreted in light of scriptural passage B, then how do you know you’ve gotten B itself right?  And why not say instead that B should be interpreted in light of A?  Inevitably you’re going to have to go beyond scripture in order to settle such questions.  Similarly, even if the modern empiricist can settle the question of which contents count as “experience” -- again, color patches, tactile impressions, or whatever -- there is still the question of what significance to attach to these contents.  Should we interpret them as properties of externally existing physical objects?  Should we interpret them instead in a phenomenalist way?  Is there some “natural” set of relations they bear to one another, or are all the ways we might relate them sheer constructs of the human mind?  However we answer such questions, we will be going beyond anything “experience” itself, as the modern empiricist construes it, could tell us.

Third, even if you can settle the questions of what counts as scripture and of what each scriptural passage means, scripture itself cannot tell you how to infer anything from scripture.  For example, when applying scriptural principles to scientific issues and practical problems, which background empirical, historical, and philosophical assumptions about the world should we employ?   In drawing inferences, should we use a traditional Aristotelian system of logic, or a modern Fregean one?  Which system of modal logic should we use?  What should we think about quantum logic, free logic and other such exotica?  Scripture itself obviously offers no answers to such questions.  Again, in drawing inferences from scripture we will be going beyond anything scripture itself says.  Similarly, “experience” as the modern empiricist construes it tells us nothing about how we are to infer anything from experience, so that in doing so we will thereby be going beyond experience.

Hence, just as Feyerabend thinks Aristotelian empiricism superior to the modern form, so too, on the question of how to understand scripture, he remarks: “We see how much more reasonable and human the Roman position has been” (p. 37).  But as I have said, he is not doing Catholic apologetics, but philosophy of science.  His point is that since sola scriptura is problematic, so is the classical empiricism in terms of which modern science was for so long interpreted.  Clearly, though, the sword cuts both ways.  If the parallels are as Feyerabend sees them, someone who already thinks sola scriptura problematic but is sympathetic to modern empiricism should re-think the latter.  (Cheekily, Feyerabend characterizes Baconian empiricism as “the second great fundamentalist doctrine of the seventeenth century” (p. 37))  But someone who is sympathetic to sola scriptura but already thinks that modern empiricism is problematic should re-think the former. 

Why, if these views are so clearly self-undermining, do their partisans not see this?  In answering this question, Feyerabend devotes much of his article to a discussion of the details of the history of the debate over Newton’s theory of color.  His aim is to provide an illustration of how the purported “success” of the empiricist interpretation of science -- which might seem to confirm that interpretation, despite its conceptual problems -- involves selective and inconsistent application of empiricist scruples, question-begging assumptions, ad hoc hypotheses, and so forth.  And once again he sees parallels with sola scriptura.  In both instances, Feyerabend thinks, partisans of the doctrines in question claim “success” by focusing their attention on cases they think confirm the “rule of faith” while dismissing problematic cases as relatively insignificant puzzles raised by heretics and other oddballs.  Though question-begging, this procedure seems reasonable to them because they are surrounded by a “community… which is already committed to a certain doctrine” (p. 38) and which thereby reinforces their perception that the doctrine is the one that is accepted by all reasonable people.  These communities inculcate a “party line” (p. 39) which determines how one perceives the weight of various objections, the significance of the relevant pieces of evidence, etc.  Hence the doctrines in question -- classical empiricism and sola scriptura -- “although logically vacuous, [are] by no means psychologically vacuous” (p. 38). 

(I’ve noted before -- for example, during the debate over Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos -- how contemporary appeals to the “success” of science as an argument for naturalism or scientism are similarly question-begging, but also have similarly powerful psychological support via the kind of groupthink Feyerabend is criticizing.)

Now, a critic might ask: Wouldn’t the Jesuit critique of sola scriptura apply to the Catholic position as well?  And wouldn’t Feyerabend’s proposed application of it to classical empiricism apply also to the Aristotelian conception of experience?  Indeed, wouldn’t this style of criticism undermine any proposed epistemological criteria, leading to a radical skepticism?  No, no, and no.  

Note first that there is no “sola” prefixed to the Catholic and Aristotelian positions, nor to many other possible epistemological positions.  Sola scriptura and early modern empiricism were both self-consciously revolutionary doctrines, intended decisively to rein in what their proponents thought to be epistemological excesses.  Hence they were formulated precisely so as to lay down an unambiguous line the crossing of which is strictly forbidden, thereby to take down in one fell swoop enormous bodies of doctrine (Catholic theology in the one case, Scholastic and rationalist metaphysics in the other).  They were, you might say, “weaponized” theses from the start.  That isn’t what is going on with positions like the Catholic one and the Aristotelian one.  To be sure, both clearly rule many things out, but neither was formulated with such polemical intent, and thus neither takes the form of a crisp and simple thesis that might lend itself to a charge of self-refutation -- of a weapon which might be wrestled from the wielder’s hand and immediately aimed back at him.  They aren’t trying to boil everything down to some tidy epistemological thesis which might be deployed as a cudgel against opponents, but rather trying precisely to capture the complexity of our epistemological situation, including the complexity inherent in appeals to revelation or experience.  Thus, if someone is going to accuse either position of somehow undermining itself, it will take considerable work to show exactly how it does so.

For another thing, there is a crucial feature of the sola scriptura and early modern empiricist positions that makes them open to the Jesuit/Feyerabend attack, but which the Catholic and Aristotelian positions lack -- namely, commitment to a “myth of the given,” as it has come to be called in discussions of empiricism.  In the case of early modern empiricism, the myth in question is the supposition that there is some basic level of sensory experiences whose significance is somehow built-in and graspable apart from any wider conceptual and epistemological context (as opposed to being intelligible only in light of a body of theory, or a tradition, or the practices of a linguistic community, or what have you).  Aristotelian epistemology not only does not commit itself to such a “given,” it denies that there is one.  In the case of sola scriptura, the myth is the supposition that there is a text whose exact contents and meaning are somehow evident from the text itself and thus knowable apart from any wider conceptual and epistemological context (as opposed to being intelligible only in light of a larger tradition of which the text is itself a part, or an authoritative interpreter, or what have you).  The Catholic position not only does not commit itself to such a scriptural “given,” it denies that there is one.

Now, the reason sola scriptura and early modern empiricism get themselves into trouble is that they purportedly limit themselves to the deliverances of a “given,” but where the existence of the purported “given” in question and the imperative to limit ourselves to it are not themselves knowable from the “given.”  This entails a kind of self-refutation to which doctrines that do not posit such a “given” in the first place are not subject.

Bas van Fraassen, commenting on Feyerabend in his article “Sola Experientia? Feyerabend’s Refutation of Classical Empiricism” (available in John Preston, Gonzalo Munévar, and David Lamb, eds., The Worst Enemy of Science? Essays in Memory of Paul Feyerabend), writes:

[T]he Jesuit argument does not lead to skepticism but only to a rejection of any position that posits a foundation representable as a text.  For we cannot draw on a text in any way without relying on something else, if only on our own language.  This is true equally whether we regard the text as being in our own language or as translated into our language.  But what we rely on is not itself representable as a text or body of information, so the same questions do not arise. (p. 33, emphasis added)

If either the Catholic position or the Aristotelian one “posit[ed] a foundation representable as a text,” then they would be open to the Jesuit/Feyerabend objection.  But that is precisely what they do not do.  The Aristotelian epistemological view does not conceive of “experience” in terms of a sensory “given.”  And the Catholic position does not merely posit a larger text or set of texts (one that would add the deuterocanonicals, statements found in the Church Fathers, decrees of various councils, etc.).  The trouble with texts is that you can never ask them what exactly they include, or what they mean, or how they are to be applied.  But you can ask such questions of an authoritative interpreter who stands outside the texts.  And such an interpreter -- in the form of an institutional Church -- is exactly what the Catholic position posits.

Anyway, I imagine Feyerabend might have sympathized with Ralph McInerny’s quip that “modern philosophy is the Reformation carried on by other means.”

254 comments:

1 – 200 of 254   Newer›   Newest»
ccmnxc said...

I have a feeling the combox is gonna be pretty interesting here. Great post, Ed!

Scott said...

I'd never seen McInerny's remark before, but as I was reading the post I was preparing to say something extremely similar. Spot on.

Anonymous said...

Classic papism: the Bible is just a text.

Patrick said...

“But you can ask such questions of an authoritative interpreter who stands outside the texts. And such an interpreter -- in the form of an institutional Church -- is exactly what the Catholic position posits.”

If this position is applied consistently one has to reject Biblical scholarship done by non-Catholic scholars. Actually if it is true that the Pope is the only person in the world who is able to interpret the Bible correctly, Biblical scholarship as such has to be rejected.

Jeremy Taylor said...

I have always wondered where the foundation for Sola Scriptura comes from? Why accept it? Protestants will often talk about Biblical truth, as if it was obvious the Bible is the expression of all truth for Christians. But where do they get this from? The Bible is not the Quran. It doesn't seem to play the same role in early Christianity. Certainly, it is one of the central expressions we have of Christ's message. It is divinely inspired and an almost inexhaustible reserve of wisdom, when approached properly, but there is little evidence it was supposed to play a Quran like function. The Christian revelation is Christ, not the Bible.

Sometimes such Protestants will respond by claiming that the Bible is, after all, written down and therefore the surest foundation for our knowledge of Christ's message. But, apart from the issues Dr. Feser raises, and the just plain questionable nature of such statements, this seems to me a too shaky foundation and probablistic for the quite strident claims of followers of Sola Scriptura.

Edward Feser said...

Classic papism: the Bible is just a text.

Classic combox troll: Completely ignore the actual arguments while attacking something I never said.

Tyrrell McAllister said...

Patrick, one man's "applying the position consistently" is another man's "fallaciously affirming the consequent". (In this case, the second man would be correct.)

Edward Feser said...

Patrick,

Who ever said that "the Pope is the only person in the world who is able to interpret the Bible correctly"? And how on earth does anything I said imply that "one has to reject Biblical scholarship done by non-Catholic scholars" or that "Biblical scholarship as such has to be rejected"?


Son of Ya'Kov said...

It can't just be me but in my experience most Internet Atheists and Gnus implicitly formulate their objections to the validity of the Bible by at least implicitly affirming Sola Scriptura.
Anyone else notice this?

Edward Feser said...

My goodness, is people's understanding of the Catholic position really that bad?

Edward Feser said...

Hi Ben (whoops, I mean "Son of"),

It's not just you. As I once wrote of the sola scriptura-based shtick that even many Protestants-turned-atheists deploy:

Such arguments can survive even the complete loss of religious belief, the anti-Catholic ghost that carries on beyond the death of the Protestant body, haunting the atheist who finds himself sounding like Martin Luther when debating his papist friends.

Scott W. said...

Such arguments can survive even the complete loss of religious belief, the anti-Catholic ghost that carries on beyond the death of the Protestant body, haunting the atheist who finds himself sounding like Martin Luther when debating his papist friends.

It's always struck me as ideological bluster in which the content seemed largely irrelevant next to the need to sanctimoniously bloviate. It reminds me of Tom Tuttle from Tacoma: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=6qLzQ4uOvio

Windfish said...

Anyone notice the eerily similar quality of posts here from anti-Catholics to our 'new' atheist friends? Spooky.

Tyrrell McAllister said...

Was it not clear that I was pointing out the fallacy in Patrick's comment? Perhaps I was trying to be too cute.

Chris McCartney said...

This "sola scriptura" is a strawman inasmuch as it is attributed to the Reformers. It is however a deft critique of what most Protestants nowadays think.

By contrast, the Magestierial Reformation's understanding of Sola Scripture was not a mythically "given" text. Rather it lived within the context of (a) ordinary human reason informed by the natural light, (b) the authoritative but fallible teaching of the church and small 'c' catholic tradition (c) the interior witness of the Holy Ghost within the believer.

These things are quite sufficient for establishing both the extent and the meaning of the Bible.

Rob said...

Chris,

If those were sufficient criteria, why did the Reformers immediately fall into vehement disagreement about the interpretation of Scripture?

Anonymous said...

Protestantsm of course arose simultaneously with the emergence of science and scientism - they are two sides of the same reductionist coin.

What are the all-the-way-down-the-line cultural implications of the the culture created as an extension of both scientism and Protestantism (the religion of the Spirit-killing word)

All of Western culture in both its secular and what are usually promoted as religious forms is based on a rejection of The Living Divine Reality.

The pervasive disposition of the Western and Westerning program of humankind is that of secular realism - to which point of view, nothing is sacred.
That secular disposition presumes the world of nature to be an objective relation and therefore simultaneously an objective opponent of one and all of humankind.
Thus , the Western program is a search for conditional knowledge of the powers of nature. Which knowledge is the characteristically Western means for controlling, totally desacralizing, conquering, and even, at last, destroying the natural world itself, or the universe as a whole, and every objhect within it.
On this basis, the Western and Westernizing program for humankind is that of total world control, or world ordering via the gross secularization, or, in effect the total de-sacralization of humankind itself.

Both religion and science are methods or seeking techniques for objectifying, knowing, and controlling the conditionally evident relations of point of view, attention, or the ego.

Both religion and science are ego-systems, or point of view based, ego-referencing, ego-serving, ego-reinforcing, and ego bound modes and seeking methods of naive-realism-thinking, entirely purposed toward the intrinsically limited conventionalizing of presumed human knowledge.

Religion and science are independent systems of ego-based knowledge-culture that seek to independently, and to the maximum degree exclusively, dominate the political, economic, social, and cultural order of humankind.
But neither religion nor science is capable of establishing a truly human culture on The egoless Divine and Perfect Basis of Reality Itself.

Anonymous said...

Chris, as you may know, Reformed Christians like to draw a distinction between solo Scriptura and sola Scriptura. Solo Scriptura, they say, is indeed hopelessly reductionist and incoherent. Sola Scriptura, on the other hand, draws on other sources, which while fallible, are sufficient along with the "interior witness" of the Spirit to establish the "extent and meaning" of Scripture. A link you will find of interest:

http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2009/11/solo-scriptura-sola-scriptura-and-the-question-of-interpretive-authority/

Sola Scriptura logically collapses into solo scriptura.

Petronius Jablonski said...

It's hard to put into words the frustration and despair arising from the possibility that getting this stuff right is requisite to avoiding eternal misery. Life is like some baffling theology class where failure = torture. Perhaps this would be fair if all humans had IQs of 150 and nerves of steel. We don't.

The harder I try to "get" Christianity, the more it eludes me: options like Noahidism beckon, or I slouch toward skeptical indifference. The internet makes it worse. Every imaginable position has advocates. Pascal's Wager needs to be updated to something like Powerball.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous wrote: "Classic papism: the Bible is just a text."

Feser replied: "Classic combox troll: Completely ignore the actual arguments while attacking something I never said."

No, but this is a classic Feser equivocation: Of course, Feser never said the phrase "just a text" but Feser cannot honestly think that’s what anonymous meant. Feser made arguments about the Bible in ways that depended on treating the Scriptures as just another text. If Feser really thinks he was criticized for writing the words "the Bible is just a text," then I guess he’s right and a poor reader. But if he means that he never treated the Bible as if the rules applying to ordinary texts apply to the Bible, then he is clearly wrong. Feser repeatedly called the Bible a text and then without further distinction or characterization drew conclusions about the Bible.

The Bible is not a mere text and deprecating reasoning about mere texts in general does not support judgments about the Bible. The Bible is different because it comprises "... the sacred writings which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work." 2 Timothy 3:15-17

Why doesn't Feser doesn't praise the Bible like Paul? Perhaps, he can’t recommend the Bible like Paul did to Timothy because he just needs to say whatever supports his Jesuit attacks on evangelical Christians. Does he really like where Jesuit theology has led the Jesuits? Fr. Neuhaus was right when he hoped one day that cross-religious dialogue would broaden to include Christian Jesuit dialogue as well.

What was it that Jerome dreamed? Aristotelianus es, non Christianus. No, that's no quite it but it might be more relevant to Feser.

Alain Coetmeur said...

Very interesting reminding of the problem with "evidence" that Thomas Kuhn and Feyerabend raised.
It is true that facing a pile of hundreds of experiments, some group will see pile of errors, frauds and minunderstanding, while the other will see a coherent net of evidence for a new phenomenon. Welcom on my planet !

what is the solution. A vision is pushed by Nassim Nicholas Taleb who use Alexander Gordian Knot method, based on assumed ignorance, accepted undecidability, and free market.

If it works, if the theory, the evidence interpreted in your way, gives you a practical advantage, the you win.

This is the position of Thomas Kuhn, when he says that a paradigm (the set of assumption to interpret and filter evidences) win when it gives an advantage to it's supporters in explaining more phenomenon than before.
My vision is more about the tea kettle : if you can make a cup of tea with it, people will believe... forget evidences, they can be ignored, deformed, reinterpreted with no less ease as Shoah or Apollo deniers can do... They do it currently in many domain of science, from cosmology (MiHsC/darkXX, LENR, Climate, Energy ...).

Translated in market term, if believing an interpretation of reality gives you a commercial advantage, it will spread.

and here start the tragedy... Sorry you thought it could work but it cannot.

In modern human systems, like academic science, state funded science, media organized truth, polling following politicians, a paradigm that is unreal can work practically.
In that case it is a groupthink.
dissenters will be ridiculed, insulted, and denied any possibility to sell their kettle, or even to ask a capitalist to fund them. Unlike the myth, disruptive technology frighten money and slow innovation.

This paper of Roland Benabou explain mathematically how a groupthink , starting by a rational investment done according to incomplete data, can finish in collective delusion, terror against dissenters, not despite but because the consequence are terrible, and because there is no way for the members of the grouthink to escape the punishment of the group and the doomed fate.
http://www.princeton.edu/~rbenabou/papers/Groupthink%20IOM%202012_07_02%20BW.pdf

the result is that financially, supporting the wrong theory may be beneficial because today most industry depend on the opinion of the consensus, and less on the reality. State is often there to punish the realist and subsidize the erroneous, if required to enforce unproductive consensus.

finally my vision, following Taleb is that the only solution is freedom of speech, variety of human structures, of opinions, biodiversity of cognitives states....
Apollo denial, like Kepler astrology may lead to discovering and supporting disruptive theory.
Fear any tentative to organize, to define "common criteria" of good science, to define "high impact journals" (the worst of all, mass murderers because of the decades they delayed LENR development), accept like in 1930 that scientist study parapsychology.

ensure ex-ante freedom of speech, as much as critic, but don't allow more sanctions, at least allow island of cray thinking with minimum funding and human resources.

Patrick said...

Can anyone tell me who exactly according to the Roman Catholic doctrine is the authoritative interpreter of Scripture?

David T said...

It's hard to put into words the frustration and despair arising from the possibility that getting this stuff right is requisite to avoiding eternal misery

Nothing in what Feser wrote implies that you have to get theology right to avoid damnation. And in fact you don't.

But that doesn't change the fact that there are right and wrong answers in theology and it is important to get them right.

Mr. Green said...

Anonymous wrote: "The Bible is not a mere text"

(Emphasis in the original. That is, the italics are mine, but the weaselly qualifier "mere" is all Anonymous's).

Anyway, Anonymous clarifies that he, er, I mean, Anonymous, wasn't presenting a simplistic strawman based on not reading the original article. Instead, he was presenting a convoluted strawman based on not reading the original article. Thanks for clearing that up.

David T said...

Can anyone tell me who exactly according to the Roman Catholic doctrine is the authoritative interpreter of Scripture?

The Pope in union with the Bishops.

Mr. Green said...

Petronius Jablonski: It's hard to put into words the frustration and despair arising from the possibility that getting this stuff right is requisite to avoiding eternal misery.

True. But false. That is, if that were the case, your conclusion would be correct; but in fact,

(1) Were life a baffling theology class on pain of torture we would need prodigious IQs and nerves of steel;
(2) But human do not, as a rule, have prodigious IQs and nerves of steel:
(3) Therefore, life is not like that!


Pascal's Wager needs to be updated to something like Powerball.

Heh. But Pascal's Wager is all about practicality, and we can start off with some very simple pragmatism: is life about loving your neighbour, or acting like a jerk? Build from there.

Mr. Green said...

Patrick: Can anyone tell me who exactly according to the Roman Catholic doctrine is the authoritative interpreter of Scripture?

Your questions suggests that you think there is a single person who is the authority; but of course there are many authorities, and many degrees of authority. Now you probably are thinking of the ultimate authority, the only one with a guarantee, and that would be the Church herself; but of course the Church is not any single person (not even the Pope).

(David T's answer is quite correct, and certainly implies the pedantic addition I would make: the letter S. It is all the Popes (and Bishops) in whom that ultimate authority resides, since technically we must of course include past Popes and Bishops, although at any given time it is exercised by the ones still on earth.)

Brandon said...

Can anyone tell me who exactly according to the Roman Catholic doctrine is the authoritative interpreter of Scripture?

David T is right that if you are looking for the most authoritative interpreter of Scripture, it is all the bishops in communion with Rome. But your original comment had the antecedent, "the Pope is the only person in the world who is able to interpret the Bible correctly"; and if we are simply talking about who is able to interpret the Bible correctly, the answer is, in principle, anyone -- it just takes proper respect for the text itself and for how it is understood in the Church, and even pagans with not a drop of Christianity in them can interpret it correctly at least sometimes just by being rational. But the Catholic view of Scripture is that Scripture in the proper sense is not a mere set of words in a book: it is that text as it exists (icon, sacramental, canonical rule, common prayer book) in the preaching, practice, and prayer of the whole Church, so it is impossible to interpret it correctly unless one in some way interprets it in accord with the whole Church, even if that was not specifically what one was trying to do.

Brandon said...

And I see Mr. Green got there before me.

David T said...

Mr. Green,

Your expansion on my answer is good, and reminds me that the Catholic doctrine of the Magisterium is a brake on the power of religious authorities, not an expansion of it. Every Pope and Bishop is bound by the authoritative teaching of prior Popes and Bishops. It is impossible for any Pope today or tomorrow to announce that abortion is morally licit or that the Resurrection was merely spiritual and not physical.

In that sense the average Protestant pastor has far more power (but far less authority) than the Pope. You have no guarantee that Pastor Joe isn't going to stand up next Sunday and announce that, after having further reviewed Scripture, he's come to the conclusion that Jesus was really only resurrected "in the hearts" of the Apostles. Sure, you can fire him, but that raises the question of why you ever listened to him in the first place.

Patrick said...

Another question is if the authoritative interpretation of Scripture necessarily has to be a correct interpretation or just one that one is obliged to accept, no matter whether or not it is correct.

Brandon said...

if the authoritative interpretation of Scripture necessarily has to be a correct interpretation, or just one that one is obliged to accept, no matter whether or not it is correct

I don't understand the distinction being drawn here. No one has the authority to oblige someone to accept something known for sure to be false.

Also, it's just as problematic to talk about "the authoritative interpretation of Scripture" as it is to talk about "the authoritative interpreter of Scripture": Catholics see Scripture as having more than one sense, and of those senses, the literal interpretation can have simultaneously more than one correct interpretation depending on whether one is talking about a passage on its own, in the context of the Testament in which it is found, in light of the other Testament, or in the context of the salvation history indicated by Scripture as a whole. They all have to be ultimately consistent with each other, but they are all part of the meaning, and thus very different interpretations of the same passage may all be correct. There are points of interpretation that are more central to the faith and prayer of the Church, and others that are less central, that is all. In addition, the Church has always allowed that in many of the less central points there can be a legitimate diversity of interpretations, as long as the interpretations are reasoned and in harmony with the prayer of the Church -- but even these opinions are not always equally authoritative, since interpretations can be more or less rigorously reasoned and more or less easily seen to be in harmony with the prayer of the Church.

David T said...

The Pope and Bishops are authoritative because Christ Himself authorized them to teach the Faith, and promised them that the Holy Spirit would guide them. So of course they must be correct when teaching authoritatively.

Depending on where you are going with this, that "when teaching authoritatively" is crucial. Not everything Popes and Bishops teach, including about scripture, is authoritative - only when speaking in unison in the Name of Christ is it authoritative.

David T said...

Another question is if the authoritative interpretation of Scripture necessarily has to be a correct interpretation or just one that one is obliged to accept, no matter whether or not it is correct

This is a kind of Euthyphro dilemma applied to the authority of the Church. And, just as the answer to the Platonic Euthyphro dilemma is that goodness is of the very nature of God, so the answer here is that Scripture is of the nature of the Church. That is, Scripture is not some document that has an origin and existence independent of the Church, but from the beginning was a document of, by, and for the Church; it's part of the fabric of the Church. There is no chasm between the Church and Scripture that needs to be leaped, any more than there is a chasm between God and goodness.

Rob said...

Further questions regarding Chris's sufficient criteria for interpreting Scripture:

How is one to determine which fallible but authoritative teachings are fallacious and which are authoritative? For instance, how do I know that the teachings contra Arianism and Donatism are authoritative, but the teachings regarding the role of bishops and the sacraments promulgated by the same people are not?

How do I recognize the church from which to draw teachings if it's invisible?

Say that I am a simple, yet literate, believer during the Reformation. I have access to the writings of Karlstadt, Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli, but am not a sophisticated thinker who is able to parse all the nuances of their theological claims. How do I determine which of these author's conflicting interpretation accords with the inner witness of the Holy Spirit? How can I differentiate this witness from just feeling certain based on that whore reason or, worse, the deceptions of the Devil? If I pray on the issue and do not receive guidance, does that mean that I am predestined to be unsaved or that all of them are wrong?

Many Reformers teach that our reason is utterly fallen. All, I believe, teach that it must be utterly subordinated to faith in all things. Given this, how can I use reason to determine what precisely the meaning of Scripture is, i.e. what I should have faith in in the first place?

Why did God wait 1500 years to reveal the proper way to interpret Scripture?

Are all the Church Fathers in Hell for preaching idolatry?

Anonymous said...

Scripture can't be an authority because it can't interpret itself, but some obscure configuration of pope, bishops, practice, tradition and what all can be because God can work miracles through popes, bishops, practice, tradition and what all but not through the Bible. Right ... Well, that's about as good an argument as Feser mustered.

Anonymous said...

Scripture can't be an authority because it can't interpret itself, but some obscure configuration of pope, bishops, practice, tradition and what all can be because God can work miracles through popes, bishops, practice, tradition and what all but not through the Bible. Right ... Well, that's about as good an argument as Feser mustered.

Scott W. said...

Here is a dialog on Sola Scriptura between Catholic Dave Armstrong and evangelical C. Michael Patton:

http://socrates58.blogspot.com/2008/10/reply-to-c-michael-patton-on-sola.html

It's noteworthy because Patton rejects so-called "Solo" Scriptura, and Dave understands the difference.

Scott said...

Rob writes:

How is one to determine which fallible but authoritative teachings are fallacious and which are authoritative? For instance, how do I know that the teachings contra Arianism and Donatism are authoritative, but the teachings regarding the role of bishops and the sacraments promulgated by the same people are not?

For that matter, how am I to determine which texts count authoritatively as Scripture in the first place? Logically, on Chris's criteria, I should be using my (fallen and even totally depraved) reason to construct my own canon, or at least double-check and possibly second-guess the fallible decisions of the Synod of Hippo and the Councils of Carthage.

JScannura said...

Wow, this was a whammy of a post, hope it ends up in a volume some day.

Is there one or just a few good books specifically about the issue of Sola Scriptura in Christian thought and it's part in the reformation?

Brandon said...

Scripture can't be an authority because it can't interpret itself,

But Scripture does have authority. Nobody whatsoever is denying that. The problem is not the scriptura; it's the sola.

Patrick said...

I think one reason why the idea of “Sola Scriptura” arose is that there is such a huge discrepancy between what the New Testament teaches and what the Roman Catholic Church teaches. So to many it may have looked as if one has to decide if one follows the New Testament or the Roman Catholic doctrine. If the New Testament authors really were devout Catholics they hid this fact very well. The New Testament is so “uncatholic”. E. g., priests play a central role in the Catholic doctrine, but there is no hint that there were priests in the New Testament churches.

Brandon said...

there is such a huge discrepancy between what the New Testament teaches and what the Roman Catholic Church teaches.

So in what way is there a huge discrepancy between what the New Testament as practiced, preached, and prayed by the Catholic Church teaches and what the Catholic Church teaches? You seem to be begging a few questions here.

SV said...

The leader of the Swiss Reformation Ulrich Zwingli took part in the removal of statues of saints and other icons from the churches in Switzerland.

As a recognition of his work, there is now a statue of him in front of the Wasserkirche in Zurich.


... That's how you recognize that the Reformation was and is wrong. Dont'd need to have 150 points of IQ really.

DAS said...

Ed.

In your exquisite essay "reign in" should be "rein in".

TheOFloinn said...

Scripture can't be an authority because it can't interpret itself, but some obscure configuration of pope, bishops, practice, tradition and what all can be because...

There really is not all that much "obscure" about the Councils of Nicaea or Ephesus, or the writings Basil or Augustine. They actually published their declarations and their thoughts for all to read.

Meanwhile, a suitable guideline is Augustine's book: "On Christian doctrine," which deals with how to read scripture: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1202.htm
+++++
The scriptures to which Paul refers are the Old Testament. Surely, the commboxer does not with to exclude the Gospels from Scripture! At that point, they had not yet been written, and Paul had no idea his own letters would one day be included among them.

Scott W. said...

They actually published their declarations and their thoughts for all to read

And if you show me your s00per double-sekrit decoder ring, I can hook you up with this esoteric tome: http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/_INDEX.HTM

:)

Jeremy Taylor said...

I think Patrick reveals one of the great flaws of the reformers - the tendency to read the Bible through contemporary lens. The symbolism, the sacramentalism, the realism, these all tend to be missed by those Protestants most keen to get back to New Testament basics, so they end up doing no such thing. It is like when some BBC historical drama tries to capture the life of the Middle Ages.

And the role of the Apostles, from whence comes the Bishops and then the priests, is relatively clear in the New Testament.

There is also, amongst such back to basic Protestants, a complete dismissal of the fact that the Church might legitimately, though cautiously, adapt to changing circumstances without such adaptation being an illegitimate innovation. The small, new, and precarious nature of the earliest Church, with its direct links to the Apostles and strong faith throughout is quite different from later times in some ways. The question is whether the changes are legitimate adaptations or not. Priests, as prolongations of Bishops who are themselves successors to the Apostles, required for a larger Church, seems quite valid to me.

Edward Feser said...

Thanks DAS, now corrected.

Scott said...

@Patrick:

I think one reason why the idea of “Sola Scriptura” arose is that there is such a huge discrepancy between what the New Testament teaches and what the Roman Catholic Church teaches.

I'd like to hear more about this alleged discrepancy too. And perhaps while you're explaining it, you can also tell me approximately when (and why?) you think the Holy Spirit abandoned the Church that Christ had founded and stopped protecting her from egregious error.

Wash212 said...

"Feser made arguments about the Bible in ways that depended on treating the Scriptures as just another text."

Uh, no. He made arguments acknowledging that the Bible is a text, not "just" another text. Divine inspiration does not make a text intelligible or comprehensible when the relevant context is abstracted away. That scripture is inspired gives you zero reason to assume its meaning will be immediately clear to anyone who reads it. Protestant exegetes acknowledge this when they do their own rigorous exegesis of scripture.

TheOFloinn said...

I think one reason why the idea of “Sola Scriptura” arose is that there is such a huge discrepancy between what the New Testament teaches and what the Roman Catholic Church teaches.

Why does no one ever mention the Eastern Orthodox Church. the Oriental Orthodox Church, or the Ancient Church of the East? They may differ -- over Ephesus, Chalcedon, et al. -- but surely what they have in common with one another and with Rome is indicative of what the most ancient practice was.

The Eastern Orthodox don't even have a Bible, as such. They have the Gospels, the Psalm book, the Lectionary, etc. but never bothered to assemble them into a single book. And they say the basis of the Faith is the Holy Traditions, full stop. The texts in the Bible are a part -- a supremely important part -- of those Traditions. If the Catholics irritate the DIY sects, the Orthodox must drive them up the wall.

Patrick said...

“And the Catholic position does not merely posit a larger text or set of texts (one that would add the deuterocanonicals, statements found in the Church Fathers, decrees of various councils, etc.). The trouble with texts is that you can never ask them what exactly they include, or what they mean, or how they are to be applied. But you can ask such questions of an authoritative interpreter who stands outside the texts.”

Who is now, in the year 2015, the authoriative interpreter of, let’s say, the decrees of the Second Vatican Council? This is not merely a theoretical question, as there are “conservative” as well as “progressive” Catholics who refer to the decrees of that council in order to back up their positions. If one cannot identify such a person or group of persons then here also we have nothing but a set of texts with no authoritative interpreter.

Patrick said...

Wash212: “Divine inspiration does not make a text intelligible or comprehensible when the relevant context is abstracted away.”

But does the relevant context consist of the decrees of councils written down between the 4th and the 20th century and all the dogmas proclaimed by popes between 1854 and 1950? Is knowing all these texts a necessary precondition to correctly interpret Scripture? Now it’s not only most Protestants who would deny that this is the case, but also most if not all Biblical scholars.

Patrick said...

TheOFloinn: “Why does no one ever mention the Eastern Orthodox Church. the Oriental Orthodox Church, or the Ancient Church of the East? They may differ -- over Ephesus, Chalcedon, et al. -- but surely what they have in common with one another and with Rome is indicative of what the most ancient practice was.”

I think the problem is not so much what was taught in the first millenium. Even most Protestants accept the teachings of Nicaea, Ephesus, Chalcedon and so on. It’s the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church formulated in the second millenium that to some Christians became problematic and that in my view caused the rise of the idea of “sola Scriptura”. This idea is by the way older than the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century. For all I know it was the Waldensians who first held this view in the 12th century.

David T said...


Who is now, in the year 2015, the authoriative interpreter of, let’s say, the decrees of the Second Vatican Council? This is not merely a theoretical question, as there are “conservative” as well as “progressive” Catholics who refer to the decrees of that council in order to back up their positions. If one cannot identify such a person or group of persons then here also we have nothing but a set of texts with no authoritative interpreter.

The Pope in union with the Bishops. I'm just going to keep writing it till it gets thru.

monk68 said...

Patrick

In 2012 I wrote an article for a site dedicated to dialogue between Roman Catholicism and the Reformed tradition titled "The Catholic and Protestant Authority Paradigms Compared" which directly engages many of the issues which you are raising. You may find the article and subsequent comments helpful. The article can be accessed here:

http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2012/06/the-catholic-and-protestant-authority-paradigms-compared

Pax

TheOFloinn said...

I think the problem is not so much what was taught in the first millenium.

The only innovation so far mentioned is the priesthood, which was well established in the first millennium, indeed as early as the Church was widespread enough to require a formal structure. It is shared by all of the traditional churches.

It’s the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church formulated in the second millenium that ... caused the rise of the idea of “sola Scriptura”.

Actually, Augustine cautioned against that idea even earlier. He warned how a person reading the text according to his own lights will "find" a meaning. But then later, finding other passages that he cannot reconcile with his first meaning, will then become angry with the Scriptures and lose faith entirely. Hence, the position articulated by an Easter Orthodox theologian a few years back that Protestantism is simply the final step before atheism. Augustine's book, "On Christian doctrine," is all about how to read the Scriptures.

The problem was less due to any Church doctrine than to the printing press, which enabled the literate to suppose that because they read a text in a German or Swedish translation that they understood the richness of its allegory in the Greek (or Hebrew, though they took their OT from the Septuagint in Alexandria). Augustine, for example, gives an example of a translated term in Latin that has a different meaning than the origibal Greek.

Patrick said...

“First, there is no passage in any book regarded as scriptural that tells you: “Here is a list of the books which constitute scripture.” And even if there were, how would we know that that passage is really part of scripture?”

I agree that there is no such passage. However, I think that there are passages in the New Testament that are supportive of the idea of “Sola Scriptura”. To these belong 2 Peter 1:3, where Peter tells the addressees of his letter that God had given them everything they need for their spiritual lives or passages that in one way or the other suggest that the faith had been given to the saints once and for all and that one should not deviate from it, such as Galatians 1:6-9 or Jude 3.

If one assumes that to the teachings of the New Testament further teachings had to be added one suggests that the faith of the Apostles and of the Christians in the New Testament era in general was somehow deficient, and such a view goes against the content of the passages that I pointed to above. Now one might argue that it is by no means the case that the faith of the early Christians was deficient, that they held all the beliefs that the Roman Catholic Church holds today. In my view this scenario is extremely improbable. As I pointed out before, if the authors of the New Testament writings were devout Catholics as understood today they were very good at hiding their Catholic views.

Jonathan Roberts said...

I would love to see Professor Fesser interact with the the excellent response by someone who admires his philosophical work over here: https://calvinistinternational.com/2015/07/14/feyerabend-and-feser-on-sola-scriptura/

Brandon said...

Who is now, in the year 2015, the authoriative interpreter of, let’s say, the decrees of the Second Vatican Council?...If one cannot identify such a person or group of persons then here also we have nothing but a set of texts with no authoritative interpreter.

This in itself shows one of the logical errors that you've made at least three times now: even if it were assumed that for a particular case there is no one to count as "the authoritative interpreter", i.e., a unique entity, it cannot logically follow that there is therefore no authoritative interpreter for any case.

Anonymous said...

Except, Brandon, that Feser's argument claimed that the Roman magisterium was preferable to the Bible because it answered questions in a better functioning authoritative way than the Bible. The problem with Rome as authoritative interpreter turning out to be non-specifiable individual interpreter is that it undermines this claim. If it takes interpretation to figure out what Rome teaches because we have to interpret among various sources, then it turns out that Rome is in the same or worse hermeneutic mess than the Bible. By contrast with sorting through centuries of "discordantia canonum" of popes, prelates, bishops, teachers, traditions, customs, rules and regulations, the Scriptures are a "unique entity." What exactly the Scriptures are is a closed set in precisely the way that the ongoing Roman Talmud is not.

Brandon said...

Even most Protestants accept the teachings of Nicaea, Ephesus, Chalcedon and so on.

As TheOFloinn notes, the one and only Catholic teaching you have specifically identified is the priesthood's structural importance; but no one can seriously deny that the decisions of Nicaea, Ephesus, Chalcedon, and so on were all reached by churches that had exactly this kind of ecclesial structure, an ecclesial structure that was shared not only by the (relatively) closely connected sees in the Roman Empire (which are the root of the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox communions) but also sees that were outside the Roman Empire and only very loosely connected with those that were inside, such as with the Germannic tribes (the now extinct Arian churches that had already been started before Nicaea), in Persia and India (which were cut off after Ephesus, creating the Church of the East), and in Armenia and Ethiopia (which officially broke off after Chalcedon, resulting in the Oriental Orthodox). The role of priesthood is literally everywhere through the entire period you note.

Patrick said...

Monk68: “In 2012 I wrote an article for a site dedicated to dialogue between Roman Catholicism and the Reformed tradition titled "The Catholic and Protestant Authority Paradigms Compared" which directly engages many of the issues which you are raising.”

Quote from your article:

“Here again the controverted doctrine of justification provides an excellent example of just the sort of crucial theological doctrine that does not lend itself to a simple, clear, grasp by the intellect upon first reading of scripture. As anyone who has engaged in high-level Protestant – Catholic debates about the correct Pauline understanding of justification knows, it is a theological matter which simply begs for answers to second, third, and fourth order clarifying questions. The hard truth is that scripture is only partially perspicuous and that perspicuity – quite frankly – does not cover all the essential doctrines of salvation. For however the “essential” doctrines might be defined, justification is clearly one of those essential matters, if not the penultimate case. Yet, the biblical data pertaining to the doctrine of justification, perhaps more than any other doctrine, requires assimilation and coordination of more texts from more authors and from more biblical books than any other. Moreover, each one of those texts, in turn, are open to serious scholarly disagreement as to the proper “context” in which the text itself is to be interpreted. Hence, from a strictly exegetical point of view, the doctrine of justification is possibly the most synthetically difficult doctrine known to theology – but it lies at the soteriological core of Christianity!”

In my view the “Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification by the Lutheran World Federation
 and the Catholic Church“ shows that with respect to the doctrine of justification Scripture is quite perspicuous, as otherwise it would hardly have been possible that Catholics and Protestants arrive at the same conclusions concerning the content of this doctrine. The document can be read in the following link:

http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/chrstuni/documents/rc_pc_chrstuni_doc_31101999_cath-luth-joint-declaration_en.html

In my view this document reflects very well what I would regard as the Scriptural view of justification.

Brandon said...

Except, Brandon, that Feser's argument claimed that the Roman magisterium was preferable to the Bible because it answered questions in a better functioning authoritative way than the Bible.


Except this is not the argument. (1) The argument is not that "the Roman magisterium was preferable to the Bible"; the argument is very specifically and explicitly that the Bible cannot be the only authoritative source. The argument in the post is not an argument for "the Roman magisterium"; it's an argument that the doctrine sola scriptura structurally guarantees the same problems as strict empiricism and that these are not problems that arise on views that have a less restrictive view of authority, including the Catholic. (2) The argument is not that other sources are needed to "answer questions in a better functioning authoritative way than the Bible", whatever that might mean, but that there are specific questions that other authoritative sources than the Bible are needed to answer. (3) The argument does not require at any point that there be any source of authority that can do everything better than other sources of authority; that is to make precisely the logical error I point out to Patrick.

So that's three obvious errors in the first sentence.

Patrick said...

In the following I’m presenting some quotes from the document mentioned in my previous comment:

“Together we confess: By grace alone, in faith in Christ's saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works.”

“Through Christ alone are we justified, when we receive this salvation in faith. Faith is itself God's gift through the Holy Spirit who works through word and sacrament in the community of believers and who, at the same time, leads believers into that renewal of life which God will bring to completion in eternal life.”

“We confess together that all persons depend completely on the saving grace of God for their salvation. The freedom they possess in relation to persons and the things of this world is no freedom in relation to salvation, for as sinners they stand under God's judgment and are incapable of turning by themselves to God to seek deliverance, of meriting their justification before God, or of attaining salvation by their own abilities. Justification takes place solely by God's grace.”

“When Catholics say that persons "cooperate" in preparing for and accepting justification by consenting to God's justifying action, they see such personal consent as itself an effect of grace, not as an action arising from innate human abilities.”

“We confess together that God forgives sin by grace and at the same time frees human beings from sin's enslaving power and imparts the gift of new life in Christ. When persons come by faith to share in Christ, God no longer imputes to them their sin and through the Holy Spirit effects in them an active love.”

“The Catholic understanding ... sees faith as fundamental in justification. For without faith, no justification can take place.”

“We confess together that persons are justified by faith in the gospel "apart from works prescribed by the law" (Rom 3:28). Christ has fulfilled the law and by his death and resurrection has overcome it as a way to salvation. We also confess that God's commandments retain their validity for the justified and that Christ has by his teaching and example expressed God's will which is a standard for the conduct of the justified also.”

“We confess together that the faithful can rely on the mercy and promises of God. In spite of their own weakness and the manifold threats to their faith, on the strength of Christ's death and resurrection they can build on the effective promise of God's grace in Word and Sacrament and so be sure of this grace.”

“We confess together that good works - a Christian life lived in faith, hope and love - follow justification and are its fruits. When the justified live in Christ and act in the grace they receive, they bring forth, in biblical terms, good fruit. Since Christians struggle against sin their entire lives, this consequence of justification is also for them an obligation they must fulfill. Thus both Jesus and the apostolic Scriptures admonish Christians to bring forth the works of love.”

“According to Catholic understanding, good works, made possible by grace and the working of the Holy Spirit, contribute to growth in grace, so that the righteousness that comes from God is preserved and communion with Christ is deepened. When Catholics affirm the "meritorious" character of good works, they wish to say that, according to the biblical witness, a reward in heaven is promised to these works. Their intention is to emphasize the responsibility of persons for their actions, not to contest the character of those works as gifts, or far less to deny that justification always remains the unmerited gift of grace.”

These passages sound very Protestant, don’t they? I think the problem is not with the interpretation of those doctrines that appear in Scripture, but with those Catholic doctrines that have no basis in Scripture.

TheOFloinn said...

If it takes interpretation to figure out what Rome teaches ... sorting through centuries of "discordantia canonum" of popes, prelates, bishops, teachers, traditions, customs, rules and regulations

Except it doesn't.
http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/_INDEX.HTM

Perhaps you are thinking of various disciplinary practices rather than doctrine.

Anonymous said...

The three obvious errors are yours, Brandon.

First, Feser did claim not just make claims about the Bible but also that Rome’s principle of authority is superior. For example, he wrote “For the Catholic, the problem doesn’t arise, because scripture is not the only authoritative source of revealed theological knowledge in the first place. It is rather part of a larger body of authoritative doctrine, which includes tradition and, ultimately, the decrees of an institutional, magisterial Church. This larger context -- tradition and Magisterium -- is analogous to the larger context within which both common sense and Aristotelianism understand “experience.”

Second, he did claim that the Roman Magisterium “answers question in a better functioning authoritative way than the Bible”: “The trouble with texts is that you can never ask them what exactly they include, or what they mean, or how they are to be applied. But you can ask such questions of an authoritative interpreter who stands outside the texts. And such an interpreter -- in the form of an institutional Church -- is exactly what the Catholic position posits.”

Third, I didn’t argue in the first sentence or any where else that “there be any source of authority that can do everything better than other sources of authority.”

Anonymous said...

TheOFloiin,

I would have thought that it was a commonplace before but certainly since Gratian that Roman Catholic authority can appear contradictory and require interpretation. Aquinas certainly acted like there was some work to do reconciling apparent contradictions on major issues.

The Catechism, which you cite, is a work of admirable clarity and many truths. I value it. But I don't think it obviates the need for interpretation on many points.

Matters of discipline are another kind of example. Even where Roman Catholic all agree on what the Roman church teaches, they disagree about how to apply it. In all this, my point is simply that there is less difference between the Bible as an authority and the Roman congeries of traditions, encyclicals, customs, canons, councils, decrees etc.


Brandon said...

(1) The quotation you give for the first says what I pointed out: that the problems specifically identified in the argument don't arise for the Catholic account because it doesn't have the same restriction of authorities. At no point does Feser argue for "the Roman principle of authority" (and, in addition, as he himself notes, the Catholic position is that there are multiple authorities); he points that Catholics, not restricting the authorities, don't have these specific problems. This is an elementary logical distinction: an argument that a particular position A does not have the problems that arise for a particular position B is not itself an argument that position A is right. Your response is as completely stupid as someone pointing out that rationalisms, like Malebranche's, don't have the problems with mathematics that arise on Humean empiricism, and then up jumps Anonymous claiming that the argument is that we should all be Malebrancheans. It doesn't even get the basic shape of the argument correct.

(2) The quotation you give for the second says exactly what I pointed out: that an account of authority that is less restrictive can answer specific kinds of questions (the specific kinds of questions are even explicitly listed!) does not run into the problems identified, and that the Catholic account of authority is such an account. Further, as I already pointed out, it's not even remotely clear what "answers question in a better functioning way" is supposed to mean in this context.

(3) It's logically required if your first sentence is actually to be taken as a response to the point in my comment. But if you want to commit yourself to a position in which your real error was not knowing what you are talking about, I graciously concede that that you are well within your rights, and defer to your judgment on the matter.

Anonymous said...

(1) Brandon, the quotation I gave shows as I said that Feser “claimed that the Roman magisterium was preferable to the Bible because it answered questions in a better functioning authoritative way than the Bible.” He does makes this claim as I quoted at length before and in part for reference here: “For the Catholic, the problem doesn’t arise …”

(2) You denied that Feser claimed “that other sources are needed to "answer questions in a better functioning authoritative way than the Bible" But he did claim this as my quotation showed and which it shows again: “The trouble with texts is that you can never ask them what exactly they include, or what they mean, or how they are to be applied. But you can ask such questions of an authoritative interpreter who stands outside the texts. And such an interpreter -- in the form of an institutional Church -- is exactly what the Catholic position posits.” I’m sorry if you find the phrase “in a better functioning authoritative way than the Bible” obscure, but I think it adequate in the context.

(3) Your third point consists of unsupported assertions, with which I disagree.

Scott said...

@Patrick:

I think that there are passages in the New Testament that are supportive of the idea of “Sola Scriptura”. To these belong 2 Peter 1:3, where Peter tells the addressees of his letter that God had given them everything they need for their spiritual lives or passages that in one way or the other suggest that the faith had been given to the saints once and for all and that one should not deviate from it, such as Galatians 1:6-9 or Jude 3.

None of those passages limits the gospel or the content of the faith to the written text of Scripture—which is as well, since (obviously) all of them were written before the New Testament canon was closed.

Indeed we have other passages that appear to preclude your preferred reading—e.g. those containing 1 Corinthians 11:2, 2 Thessalonians 2:15, and 2 Thessalonians 3:6.

I think the problem is…with those Catholic doctrines that have no basis in Scripture.

So far, even granting arguendo that such a basis is required for doctrines that have demonstrably been uniformly accepted by the Church since the first century, you've been mighty vague about what you think these even are. If you have anything specific in mind and want to let us in on the secret, I'm sure you'll receive appropriately focused replies.

("Priests," you say? As TheOFloinn and Brandon have already noted, documentary evidence shows just what common sense would suggest: they've been there all along, from pretty much the moment they became necessary.)

Brandon said...

(1) It says exactly what I said it says; and, amazingly, you even go on to point out that the specific claim is that for the Catholic, the problem -- which problem? the specific problem raised by the argument and that has been talked about throughout! -- does not arise. Which is explicitly what I said. The broad structure of the argument is very clear:

(a) there is a close structural parallel between strict empiricism and strict sola scriptura,
(b) thus the same kinds of structural problems that arise for strict empiricism arise for strict sola scriptura;
(c) a position that rejects the restrictive account of authority that creates the structural parallel between strict empiricism and strict sola scriptura will not have these particular structural problems, in the same way that a position opposing strict empiricism, like Aristotelianism, will not have these structural problems in the first place;
(d) thus these particular structural problems do not arise for the Catholic position, which rejects the restrictive account of authority that creates the structural parallel.

(2) It explicitly says that there are specific kinds of questions that texts alone cannot answer; it does not make any general claim about "answering questions in a better functioning way". Which is explicitly what I said.

(3) Since you obviously have difficulty with basic logical reasoning, I will walk you through it. My claim was specifically:

even if it were assumed that for a particular case there is no one to count as "the authoritative interpreter", i.e., a unique entity, it cannot logically follow that there is therefore no authoritative interpreter for any case.

This -- which, incidentally, is a logical claim identifying a quantifier scope fallacy and not an exegetical claim about the argument itself -- is what you have to be denying for your sentence starting "Except, Brandon" to be even relevant -- which the very opening of the sentence requires that it be. Thus your claim must imply that "In such-and-such particular case, no person or group of perons counts as the authoritative interpreter" is the same as "In no case is any person or group of persons the authoritative interpreter". This is looney-tunes on its own, but the further problem arises with the rest:

Except, Brandon, that Feser's argument claimed that the Roman magisterium was preferable to the Bible because it answered questions in a better functioning authoritative way than the Bible.

For this to be a response to my point, one must take this description of the argument to be, at least in this context, that the claim that there are specific kinds of questions that the Bible does not itself answer and the Roman magisterium does shows that the Roman magisterium answers all questions better than the Bible. And, indeed, since I was explicitly pointing out that if the magisterium cannot answer such-and-such question as the authoritative interpreter, it does not follow that it cannot answer any questions as the authoritative interpreter -- there is nothing else that you could possible mean and still be saying anything relevant.

And it is the most ridiculous form of bad faith to respond to "A logically implies B, if understood as it would have to be if it is relevant", not with an argument showing that A does not imply B, but with an argument that is nothing more than "that's what you say, and I disagree". No one who argues in such a way has anything of value to contribute to the discussion.

Scott said...

I think that there are passages in the New Testament that are supportive of the idea of “Sola Scriptura”

There is also, of course, the logical question as to how we know these passages are part of "Scripture" to begin with.

Brandon said...

Needless to say, but perhaps most safely said, the prior comment at 8:46 is to Anonymous at 8:16, not to Scott.

Scott said...

Likewise, my reply after that is to Patrick (as the unattributed quotation suggests), not to Brandon.

monk68 said...

Patrick,

"In my view the “Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification by the Lutheran World Federation
 and the Catholic Church“ shows that with respect to the doctrine of justification Scripture is quite perspicuous, as otherwise it would hardly have been possible that Catholics and Protestants arrive at the same conclusions concerning the content of this doctrine."

Except that large sectors of Protestantism outside the Lutheran World Federation, such as much of the Reformed tradition (one of the most theologically active sectors), unambiguously *reject* the joint declaration; instead holding that the issue of "justification" remains *the* issue which divides Protestantism as erected by the magisterial Reformers from Catholicism. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that *perhaps* other than the doctrine of sola scriptura, the doctrine of sola fide, remains the decisive mark of contention between the Catholic Church and most Protestant communions. Hence my point.

TheOFloinn said...

“claimed that the Roman magisterium was preferable to the Bible

But the Magisterium includes the Scriptures. In particular, it teaches what writings are included in the Scriptures.

Anonymous said...

(1) Brandon, I stated and you denied that Feser “claimed that the Roman magisterium was preferable to the Bible because it answered questions in a better functioning authoritative way than the Bible.” There is nothing in what you write that refutes Feser’s own words.

(2) Feser does claim as I wrote that the Rome works better than the Bible: “But you can ask such questions of an authoritative interpreter who stands outside the texts. And such an interpreter -- in the form of an institutional Church -- is exactly what the Catholic position posits.””

(3) I didn’t bother to read your last point because rarely does an interlocutor that denies your basic logical abilities put much effort into making arguments worth reading.

In sum, your argument is with Feser's words. He made the claims that I said he made.

Anonymous said...

The OFliin,

You wrote: Feser “claimed that the Roman magisterium was preferable to the Bible But the Magisterium includes the Scriptures. In particular, it teaches what writings are included in the Scriptures.

Right, the comparison is between the Bible as an authority and the Magisterium, which adds the Roman congeries of popes, prelates, traditions etc. to the Bible, or purports to teach or legislate what books are in the Bible.

By the way, what date would you say that the Roman Catholic church first taught in an ecumenical council what books are in the Bible?

Clockwork Cynic said...

Due to the fact that both positions are circular assertions of authority, it really is like watching two ships firing broadsides at night.

It occurs to me that the teaching magisterium is essentially unfalsifiable assertion - on what basis could one ever say that the magisterium was incorrect about this or that biblical interpretation or historical belief (since she alone determines and interprets her own history, scripture, canon etc.)? Furthermore, what force does the Catholic apologist really have against the Bart Ehrman, who insists that the Church itself arbitrarily (inspired!) selected the canon of scripture - a claim which the Church itself echoes?

Anonymous said...

Human brains are a social organ and language and beliefs are tantamount to forming social groups.

Who built the first great media empire in the world?....AP, Hearst, UPI, NBC, CBS, BBC.....No, the Catholic Church built a system which distributed a consistent message and delivered it through a network of modern learning, and modern churches and cathederals etc. or they were tantamount in formation of modern learning and the formation of the modern world.

Little wonder that Guttenberg did for the Catholic Church which the internet did for 20th century news media and modern corporations. The Council of Trent was one of the ways in which the church modernized with the times.

Without historical context and a basic understanding of human social nature, one can easily get too caught up in these philosophic arguments which make for interesting armchair discussion.

Brandon said...

Brandon, I stated and you denied that Feser “claimed that the Roman magisterium was preferable to the Bible because it answered questions in a better functioning authoritative way than the Bible.” There is nothing in what you write that refutes Feser’s own words.

If anyone needed a demonstration of your logical incompetence, you've helpfully provided it. If I deny that Feser claims this, why would I be trying to "refute Feser's own words", which I explicitly say don't agree with you? How completely incompetent do you have to be not to grasp this point?

Feser does claim as I wrote that the Rome works better than the Bible: “But you can ask such questions of an authoritative interpreter who stands outside the texts. And such an interpreter -- in the form of an institutional Church -- is exactly what the Catholic position posits."

No, he explicitly says that particular kinds of questions ("such questions") can be answered by a particular kind of authority ("an authoritative interpreter who stands outside the texts"), and that the Catholic position posits such an authority ("exactly what the Catholic position posits"). There is nothing whatsoever here about "Rome works better than the Bible". Merely restating what you've said before by quoting something that does not say anything at all like what you claim it says is not a rational argument.

I didn’t bother to read your last point because rarely does an interlocutor that denies your basic logical abilities put much effort into making arguments worth reading.

Well, that's convenient; who knew that ignoring logical arguments was as easy as saying "Yeah, that's just what you say" and then refusing to read any argument showing that you had said something logically stupid?

Anonymous said...

On the main question, Patrick is right, and Feyerabend is ignoring magisterial protestants in rightly equating radical biblicism to radical empiricism. Suppose this procedure--

(1) Take the canon of scripture in the West in AD 1000.

(2) Explain the accepted church practice in the West before AD 1000 with this canon.

(3) Compare subsequent innovations (eg sale of indulgences to build St Peter's) to this body of explanation.

(4) Reject as 'not the Catholic faith' anything that is not covered by that received body of explanation.

(5) Use the canon to explain simultaneously and systematically the two bodies of practice, the accepted and the rejected.

We can quibble about the date, but the magisterial reformers did not in fact discover a wholly new religion in the canon as Feyerabend's account requires. They did use it to discern the probability that Western innovations supported only by popes or councils after the first millennium were or were not in continuity with tradition. This discernment requires only the detection of disharmony between practice (eg selling of indulgences to German peasants to repay Jewish usurers for the cost of building St Peter's in Rome) and the canon, not an unambiguous substitute for the canon itself. The foundationalism that Feyerabend had in mind began with later figures parasitic on step (5). Because they were dependent on the magisterial reformers, they never experienced the incoherence that we would have expected from true foundationalists, given Feyerabend's thesis. Rather, we discover a certain bad faith about their actual dependence on the Western tradition (eg the Augustinian reading of Romans 5:12). Unsophisticated Roman polemic against Protestantism simply colludes with this bad faith; serious Catholic theologians recognize a common though forked tradition.

Glenn said...

Anonymous,

You to Brandon:

There is nothing in what you write that refutes Feser’s own words.

There is a subtle aspect to your discussion with Brandon that you seem to be repeatedly overlooking. It is this: Brandon has not attempted to refute "Feser's own words".

What Brandon has attempted to do--and what, in my opinion, he has succeeded in doing more than once--is show where, why and how your interpretation of "Feser's own words" is at variance with what is actually said by Feser's own words as he, Feser, actually wrote them.

Scott said...

@Clockwork Cynic:

Due to the fact that both positions are circular assertions of authority, it really is like watching two ships firing broadsides at night.

The Catholic claim is not circular. Anyone who wants to bother can evaluate Scripture as a historical document alongside other historical documents and conclude in favor of the authority of the Magisterium on the basis of natural reason alone; that's sufficient to support a belief that the Church is what she claims to be. (Believing in that authority requires the gift of faith, but that's another matter and the other bit is at least preparation for that gift.)

Furthermore, what force does the Catholic apologist really have against the Bart Ehrman, who insists that the Church itself arbitrarily (inspired!) selected the canon of scripture - a claim which the Church itself echoes?

Gonna need a source for that alleged echo, I'm afraid.

Anonymous said...

Brandon, if I'm not logically competent why do you keep making arguments? I don't believe you think that. If you think you are right, why do you keep misstating my position? Try slowing down, breathing before you respond. Your emotions are making you ridiculous.

Brandon said...

Brandon, if I'm not logically competent why do you keep making arguments?

Because I actually have them.

TheOFloinn said...

which adds the Roman congeries of popes, prelates, traditions etc. to the Bible

The Patriarch of Alexandria is also known as Pope. We have also the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. IIRC, the head of the Ancient Church of the East is styled the Catholicos. IOW, the congeries of popes, prelates, and traditions [which traditions?] are the common heritage of all the ancient traditional churches. Even the Arians and Donatists, early do-it-yourselfers, had a clergy. So your claim that these are specifically "Roman" is an insult to all the Orthodox, Coptic, Syriac, and other ancient branches of the Church.

Anonymous said...

Brandon, you have some arguments, mostly bad ones. But you ought not to make even those to me if you really believe as you repeatedly claim that I am logically incapable. Too bad all your logical competence cannot wave away the clear quotations showing that Feser claimed what I said he claimed.

John West said...

Brandon, you have some arguments, mostly bad ones. But you ought not to make even those to me if you really believe as you repeatedly claim that I am logically incapable. Too bad all your logical competence cannot wave away the clear quotations showing that Feser claimed what I said he claimed.

Has it occurred to you that you're not the only person who might be reading the arguments, on a public blog?

Scott said...

Too bad all your logical competence cannot wave away the clear quotations showing that Feser claimed what I said he claimed.

It doesn't need to wave away the quotations, and it's not even pretending to wave away the logical incompetence of your own statements about what those quotations mean. That can't be waved away; it can only be displayed.

I'm happy to acknowledge, if you like, that you're displaying it perfectly well on your own. But Brandon's assistance is helping to bring it out more clearly -- for the audience, at least, even if not for you.

Clockwork Cynic said...

Scott, the Catholic claim is indeed circular, since the distinctive specifics of Roman Catholicism are precisely what are at issue here and are only obtainable via a belief in the authority of the Teaching Magisterium. If one went with a purely historical analysis of the text, one would not accept the vast majority of the Marian dogmas, for instance, which have no scriptural basis (or a historical basis within the first two centuries, for the matter of that). Likewise, with purgatory there is no basis from the historical documents to conclude that there is an intermediate stage of purification between the blessed realms and hell. Again, one must read back into the text these presuppositions (infallibly supplied by the Church) to find any evidence for them there (see N.T. Wright among others).

Again, I'd like to ask: on what basis could one ever say that the Magisterium was incorrect about this or that biblical interpretation or historical belief (since she alone determines and interprets her own history, scripture, canon etc.)? For the Roman Catholic apologist, the Magisterium can never be wrong, since it is defined by its inerrancy in teaching.

--

Incidentally, not directed at Scott in particular, someone has asked this question and I would rather like to see it answered: "what date would you say that the Roman Catholic church first taught in an ecumenical council what books are in the Bible?"

Scott said...

@Clockwork Cynic:

Scott, the Catholic claim is indeed circular, since the distinctive specifics of Roman Catholicism are precisely what are at issue here and are only obtainable via a belief in the authority of the Teaching Magisterium.

This misunderstands both my point and the argument. No, the Catholic claim is not circular, because that claim is precisely that the authority of the Magisterium can be established on rational-historical grounds alone, entailing the conclusion that its authority extends to the doctrines you're questioning.

You may think that claim is wrong, but circular it clearly is not. My J.D. degree may not qualify me as an authority on some specific legal question, but my claim that it provides evidentiary support for such authority is obviously not circular even if it happens to be false.

If one went with a purely historical analysis of the text, one would not accept the vast majority of the Marian dogmas, for instance, which have no scriptural basis (or a historical basis within the first two centuries, for the matter of that). Likewise, with purgatory there is no basis from the historical documents to conclude that there is an intermediate stage of purification between the blessed realms and hell. Again, one must read back into the text these presuppositions (infallibly supplied by the Church) to find any evidence for them there (see N.T. Wright among others).

These claims are also false. There's no need to take the thread off-course by addressing them in detail, however, since they're strictly irrelevant to the point at issue. That point is that the Church's claim to doctrinal authority of the Church isn't based on a prior, allegedly unique authority of Scripture to begin with.

(By the way, just as a side note, "infallibility" is not the same thing as "inerrancy.")

Scott said...

I wrote:

That point is that the Church's claim to doctrinal authority of the Church isn't based on a prior, allegedly unique authority of Scripture to begin with.

For the sake of clarity I should add explicitly that, since this is the very claim at issue, a counterargument based on the proposition that such-and-such a doctrine has no scriptural basis would beg the question even if the proposition itself were true. (Which in this instance I don't think it is anyway, but that's neither here nor there.)

Scott said...

(Also, I'll be busy for pretty much the rest of the day with a family birthday party, so please don't construe my lack of further replies today to have any other significance.)

Timocrates said...

Catholic doctrine is that the Magisterium, Sacred Scripture and Tradition all stand or fall together and form an intimate unity.

Someone asked the question, who ought or can then authoritatively interpret the Scripture?

1 Timothy3:15 but if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.

The Church, then, really herself has a unique charism for truth; and so sturdy is this, she is described by the Apostle as being a "pillar" and even the very "ground" of the truth. How, then, on the basis of the Scripture, can we separate the truth of Scripture from the pillar and ground of the truth, the Church?

TheOFloinn said...

@Mr.Cynic:
One method might be to consider what teachings are held in common by all the traditional Christians. These necessarily go back to before any of the schisms that set them apart. One finds, for example, Marian devotion in the Orthodox, Oriental, and Ancient churches as well as the Roman.

One also finds modern innovations in ancient history. A "new" doctrine is not proclaimed without evidence of ancient practice, as in the case of Marian devotions. Even then only when faced with controversy over the point. During the masculinist Victorian age, the secular world tended to discount women, which made a renewed emphasis on the Theotokos important.

Then too one must distinguish between doctrine like the Immaculate Conception and mere administrative organization and practice like a celibate clergy. E.g., Not all clergy in the Catholic communion are required to be celibate.

Patrick said...

Scott: “So far, even granting arguendo that such a basis is required for doctrines that have demonstrably been uniformly accepted by the Church since the first century, you've been mighty vague about what you think these even are. If you have anything specific in mind and want to let us in on the secret, I'm sure you'll receive appropriately focused replies.”

The following concepts, doctrines or practices can be mentioned in this respect:

- Apostolic Succession

- Priesthood

- Papacy

- Indulgence

- Veneration of Mary

- Veneration of Saints

- Immaculate Conception of Mary

- Assumption of Mary.

Glenn said...

Anonymous,

Brandon, if I'm not logically competent why do you keep making arguments? I don't believe you think that.

I as well am sure he doesn't think that.

And I'm sure he assumes the person he's speaking to is logically competent, at least in a rudimentary way, and he isn't willing to easily give up the assumption.

Thank God for that.

But here's where the frustration comes in: you seem to be working hard at maintaining the appearance of being hell-bent on not living up to the assumption that you're logically competent (in at least a rudimentary way), and he's been unwilling to give up the assumption. So, there's friction... which can lead to frustration... which may spill over into words.

Too bad all your logical competence cannot wave away the clear quotations showing that Feser claimed what I said he claimed.

Here is what you say Feser claimed:

"[T]he Roman magisterium [is] preferable to the Bible".

Here is what Feser actually claimed (with my [bracketed and bolded addition] identifying the specific problem he was referring to):

"For the Catholic, the problem [of whether a given text (or some passage of a given text) is or is not scripture] doesn’t arise, because scripture is not the only authoritative source of revealed theological knowledge in the first place. It is rather part of a larger body of authoritative doctrine, which includes tradition and, ultimately, the decrees of an institutional, magisterial Church."

- - - -

Maybe what you feel rankled by is: "[Scripture] is rather part of a larger body..."

But if that is what rankles you, and is the basis of your subsequent misinterpretation of what Feser actually said, then I don't see that it was necessary for that to have happened.

If scripture is part of a larger body, this in no way means that scripture is demoted.

In fact, it seems to me that it would make scripture in our eyes, and our understanding of scripture, that much more likely to be elevated.

If you have had the experience of discussing some portion of scripture with another person, and either or both of you came away with a more mature understanding, then you have had personal experience with the fact that something other than scripture itself is involved in interpreting scripture.

Let's say you are the one who came away from the discussion with a changed, more mature understanding. What will you do if you encounter someone whose understanding of that portion of scripture is as immature as your understanding used to be?

Will you keep silent?

Will you say to that person, "There is a better and possibly more appropriate way to understand that, but I'm not going to tell you; you'll have to figure it out for yourself"?

Or will you attempt to share with that person the mature understanding you now have?

If you attempt to share your more mature understanding, then you are participating in a tradition which includes, but is not limited to, scripture.

I call it a 'tradition' because you would not be the first person -- and likely not even the ten-millionth person -- whose understanding of some portion of scripture matured through discussion with others (and who subsequently sought to facilitate the maturation of another's understanding of it).

Clearly, in this scenario, scripture is part of a larger something.

This isn't necessarily to say that scripture is an integral part of that larger something, but that that larger something is integral to the understanding of scripture.

Patrick said...

TheOFloinn: “The only innovation so far mentioned is the priesthood, which was well established in the first millennium, indeed as early as the Church was widespread enough to require a formal structure. It is shared by all of the traditional churches.”

If there was no priesthood in Christian churches in the New Testament era the Christians belonging to those churches would from a Catholic point of view indeed have had quite a deficient Christian life. They would not have been able to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, they would not have been able to confess their sins and to receive forgiveness for their sins and they would not have been able to get married properly.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Patrick,

How is the Apostolic succession not demonstrated in the Scripture and the early Church? The special, sacramental role of authority given to the Apostles is implied in the Gospels and more or less shown in the Epistles. It is certainly shown in the Apostolic Fathers?

I am essentially Orthodox. There are aspects of post-Hildebrand Roman Catholicism that I don't think are demonstrated in the Bible or even explicitly in the early Church, including the role of the Pope. But the early Church certainly was far more Catholic than it was radically Protestant, in form and especially in essence (though such Protestants tend to ignore the latter and try to reconstruct only the former).

Others have pointed out some of the flaws already, but the passages from the Epistles you cite in favour of Sola Scriptura are problematic for several reasons. One is that their authority as Scripture does not come from themselves, hugely undermining any claim to Sola Scriptura. Another is they are obviously referring to the Old Testament, and not the New Testament. Another is that there is no evidence from the Gospels or even the Epistles that the Bible or New Testament is to be treated like the Quran, which is what your reading of those passages would more or less entail. Christ makes use of the Old Testament, but he does not reveal the New Testament himself nor express his view that it is his entire revelation (he does not explicitly refer to it at all, as far I can recall. Finally, I don't think the verses you quote show that all that is needed for our faith is explicit in the Old Testament. I don't deny that all that is needed for salvation is in the Scripture, but most can't access it on their own.

You also, again, forget the point about adaptations - not all change in Church form is illegitimate innovation. There can be some adaptation to new circumstances.

Note: I should that both Christ in the Gospels and the Epistles quote from the Septuagint, which implies that it is this version of the Scripture we must pay most attention to, which is paradoxically ignored by the Bibolatrous Protestants.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Patrick,


If there was no priesthood in Christian churches in the New Testament era the Christians belonging to those churches would from a Catholic point of view indeed have had quite a deficient Christian life.

This just shows ignorance of traditional Christian (Catholic, Orthodox, etc) doctrines. Priests are a prolongations of Bishops, who are successors to the Apostles. There is clear evidence for the special sacramental authority of the Apostles and those appointed by them, themselves prolongations of Christ. This is confirmed by reading the Apostolic Fathers.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Anonymous who spoke of returning to the Church of the First Millennium,

I am not in complete disagreement with you, if you restrict the Reformers to a few like Bishops Stokesley and Tunstall, who lobbied that old wife killer for a reunion with the Orthodox Churches and the creation of an English Orthodoxy. Oh, what a happy day that might have been. In a lesser vein, some of the Jacobean and Carolinian and Non-Juror divines also advocated a not dissimilar vision of the Church in England. But most of the Reformers did not look back in this genuine way, they were innovators in spirit if not in form and reformed according to their contemporary beliefs and ethos, and not that of the early Church.

Patrick said...

Scott: “There is also, of course, the logical question as to how we know these passages are part of "Scripture" to begin with.”

If one forgets for a moment all theological controversies between Catholics and Protestants and looks at the Bible from the secular point of view of History a good case can be made for the view that the New Testament writings are the earliest documents about Christianity that have survived and the only ones that belong to the Apostolic Age. This fact alone makes them in particular suited for finding out what the early Christians believed.

Patrick said...

The claim is that the members of the Magisterium have exclusively been endowed with the exceptional gift to be infallible interpreters of Scripture. But is there any evidence that this claim is true? If it was true shouldn’t one expect that professional Biblical scholars or at least the Roman Catholic ones among them would acknowledge their respective abilities? But as far as I can see most if not all Biblical scholars in their scholarly work just don’t care about the teachings of the Magisterium and if they care may even reject its interpretations. I’m quite sure that no professional Biblical scholar accepts the traditional Roman Catholic interpretation of Matthew 16:16-19. For them whatever this passage means it almost certainly doesn’t say that Jesus established the Papacy.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Patrick,

By the way, maybe I missed something, but none of the passages you mentioned refer to Scripture at all. They refer to God providing all we need and to the gospel in the sense of Christ's message, but they don't seem to even refer to the Old Testament, let alone the New Testament that didn't exist at the time.

2 Peter 1:3

3 His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.

Jude 3:

3 Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people.

Galatians 1:6-9

6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! 9 As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!

Anonymous said...

Jeremy Taylor, by 'magisterial reformers' I mean-- I think we usually mean-- those reformers who accepted at least Nicaea, Constantinople, and Chalcedon. That would include, not only the whole English episcopate, but their Scottish, Lutheran, and Reformed colleagues. None of them doubted that they were restoring an earlier tradition, but neither they nor their opponents had C19 historical knowledge or C20 hermeneutical self-awareness. For example we are astonished today to read of popes who thought that the form of ordination was the conveyance to the ordinand of the symbols of office, but they were relying on the best available scholarship in their error. As were the reformers who made similar errors. Neither side could help exhibiting the spirit of the age when their knowledge of any other age was so poor.



Jeremy Taylor said...

Anon,

The problem is that the Reformers tended to reform according to the spirit of their own times - nominalist, individualist, to a degree literalist, influenced by (though also reacting against) humanism. This has little to do with the spirit, and often even the forms, of the early Church. The Roman Church, whatever its flaws, was always far closer to that spirit and even forms than Calvinists and radical Protestants.

Jeremy Taylor said...

I also don't see that the extra scholarship has changed things that much. The Scriptures and many documents of the early Church were available to them.

It is not that I don't see some important in the some of the Reformers, especially some Lutherans and Anglicans. There was a needed reaction against the renaissance and a desire to avoid worldliness and cultivate a genuine holiness and deep spirituality. Luther himself exhibits this quality to some degree. But Protestantism, especially through Calvinism, quickly became infected with its own sort of worldliness, and its latent individualism and nominalism were not held in check. Though there is great spiritual truth and beauty in some quarters of Anglicanism and Lutheranism, and even glimpses in other Protestant denominations, Protestantism seems to me a far more limited expression of both spiritual depth and the early Church than the Roman Church.

Patrick said...

Jeremy Taylor: “By the way, maybe I missed something, but none of the passages you mentioned refer to Scripture at all.”

My point is that if after the Apostolic Age new Christian doctrines were formulated this would mean that the Christians living in that age had a deficient faith, as some elements were lacking in it. But such a view contradicts what is written in the passages I point to.

Anonymous said...

Patrick

I’m quite sure that no professional Biblical scholar accepts the traditional Roman Catholic interpretation of Matthew 16:16-19. For them whatever this passage means it almost certainly doesn’t say that Jesus established the Papacy.

Here is a Catholic biblical scholar (actually a Protestant convert) who accepts and defends the Catholic interpretation of Mt 16:16-19 (Jesus citing Isaiah 22). It actually was a factor in his conversion.

http://www.catholic-pages.com/pope/hahn.asp

read the whole thing or just scroll to/search on text: "Isaiah 22, verse 15, undoubtedly lies behind this saying of Jesus"

Jeremy Taylor said...

Patrick,

That would only be the case if said doctrines were not adaptations to changing circumstances. You are implying that any change must be an a substantial change, rather than simply an accidental one. I don't see how you are supporting this claim though.

We might mention the Creeds of the Fourth Century as such adaptations, or the priesthood itself.

Anonymous said...

In arguments like this, there is a tendency for both sides to retroject later improvements back into the first generation. Protestants can sometimes see more of the logical elegance of Chemnitz, Cocceius, and Hooker in the messy origins of their traditions than others can detect. Muenster, the Zwickau Prophets, and some other unfortunate episodes have a way of falling off the syllabus.

Catholics are similarly tempted to see an idealized Thomist C13 in the tawdry nominalist C16. Luther in 1517 was facing, not the inspiring Jesuits and Dominicans who later preached a reformation of their own in Bavaria, but a dissolute pope who was cynically exploiting the piety and fear of German peasants. It is not idly said that Luther saved the once-authoritative papacy from its humiliating irrelevance.

The wives of Henry VIII shocked fewer consciences in his own day than the wives who lived with their monks in the monasteries he dissolved. The old order had no solution for such abuses; in Spain, it fought bitterly against the reforming energies of St Teresa of Avila and her insurgents in Carmel.

In the first generation, defending or opposing reformation was opposing or defending corruption. In the second generation, it was siding with one of two military alliances. One proved an unreliable guarantor of the liberty of the Church; the other stultified Europe wherever it was not overthrown.

Some eggs were broken on both sides in making the (counter-)Reformation omelet. But who could prefer that 1516 just go on and on and on?

Anonymous said...

No, Jeremy Taylor, because the church of the first millennium had an Eastern spirit, and lacked the Western oscillation from authoritarianism to charismatic reaction and back again, it lacked the self-conscious positivism of the modern confessional church that was born in Trent. What you praise sounds more like Orthodoxy than Rome.

But yes, given that it was at least as ignorant as all the other new churches of the C16, it has steadily improved in its understanding of patristic tradition, and that is all to the good. However, I see no calm reason to disparage the Protestant patristic retrieval of say Anglicans and Lutherans as though Rome did not also have Marxist liberation theologians pretty far from consensus patrum. What good does this actually do?

Jeremy Taylor said...

Anon,

I don't entirely disagree with you. There was a certain revival of the patristic spirit in certain sections of Lutheranism and, especially, in Anglicanism in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth centuries. George Herbert, Jakob Boehme, William Law, these are individuals that could rank with the great figures of the universal Church. In music and liturgical forms the Anglican and Lutheran Church produced their fair share of beauty and spiritual devotion. The 1662 prayer book and Bach's work are, one is tempted to suggest, evidence that these Churches do have their providential place in the universal Church, though it must be recognised these aspects of Lutheranism and Anglicanism were always matched, and often overshadowed, by more limited expressions, in some ways more Protestant expressions of the Christian faith. However, such a spirit was far from lacking in Roman Church after the Great Schism and even into the early modern period.

I am essentially Orthodox and I think the Eastern Church achieves the great spiritual balance - faith and reason, faith and works, will and grace, mysticism and life in the world, community and individual, beauty and utility - closest to the early Church. But it cannot be denied that the Roman Church, despite certain flaws, comes far closer to the spirituality of the Orthodox Church than the much of Protestantism. Despite a certain top-heavy administration and a certain rationalism that has been within it since the high Middles Ages, it comes far closer to the balance I speak of, and to general spiritual ethos, than does almost all Protestantism other than some Anglicans and Lutherans.

Daniel D. D. said...

It occurs to me that the teaching magisterium is essentially unfalsifiable assertion - on what basis could one ever say that the magisterium was incorrect about this or that biblical interpretation or historical belief (since she alone determines and interprets her own history, scripture, canon etc.).

We Catholics see the infallibility of the Bishops deprive from the infallibility of the Church, with the infallibility of the Church depriving from the infallibility of God. God by His Nature is infallible.

Your question then to us is ultimately: “how can God be proven wrong? How can He Who knows all be falsified?”

Of course, then you ask: "how do we know the Church is protected by God?" where I answer "because Jesus Christ, who is God, tells us so," and then you ask "how do we know if Jesus ben Joseph is God?," and this is where I answer "faith." "Blessed are you, Simon bar Jonah, for flesh and blood have not revealed this to you, but My Father in Heaven. The knowledge that Jesus is Messiah, and thus God, is known by faith, not by reason. Such a belief is reasonable, but it can't be deprived by reason alone, unlike, say, Divine Simplicity.

Furthermore, what force does the Catholic apologist really have against the Bart Ehrman, who insists that the Church itself arbitrarily (inspired!) selected the canon of scripture - a claim which the Church itself echoes?

I doubt Dr. Ehrman used the word “arbitrarily,” as that sounds too much like conspiracy theorizing, as if a bunch of people got together in the fourth century to hide the True Jesus(TM) in order to CONTROL THE WORLD (or at least the Middle ages ;-p).

It seems (and this is somewhat of a generalization) that Bishops, now no longer worried about being killed by the Roman state (usually), found enough time and resources to meet together and compile a Canon. They looked at texts that were already used in different Churches as authoritive, especially those texts that fairly seemed to be of true apostolic origin. These texted included what eventually made the cannon, but also included: St. Ignatius’s letters, St. Clement’s letter, the Diadache, the Shepard of Hermes, St. Polycarp’s letters, and so on. Notice that none of these text taught heresy, because what was true doctrine was deprived from the teachings of the Bishops, handed down in a tradition back to the Apostles. They didn’t make the Canon, but they weren’t writings like the “Gospel” of Judas, and other such nonsense, nonsense which never was produced within the Church and was always recognized as being heretic and unfounded. In other words, those Bishops worked with texts that were already accepted by Christian communities, communities with a Bishop possessing succession, and not those used by the secretive and elitist Gnostic communities (if those Bishops even heard of their heretical texts anyway).

Christi pax.

Daniel D. D. said...

If there was no priesthood in Christian churches in the New Testament era the Christians belonging to those churches would from a Catholic point of view indeed have had quite a deficient Christian life. They would not have been able to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, they would not have been able to confess their sins and to receive forgiveness for their sins and they would not have been able to get married properly.

Before St. Ignatius, disciple of St. John the Apostle, the distinction between the office of Bishop and presbyter was not as clear, probably because the distinction was not necessary. First of all, you must understand that all Bishops are presbyters, period (and both Bishops and Priests are deacons, Greek for “servant,” something that some need to be reminded of at times. The distinction between deacons and the other two offices though is quite clear even in the New Testament, so there isn’t a need to address it). In the early Church, the numbers of people were so small, and the lack of clergy in general (since it was the beginning of the Church) caused the Apostles to ordain lots of Bishops, who are also Presbyters, rather than “mere” Presbyters. Also, the idea of a citywide Bishop wasn’t yet proposed, so Bishops had authority and activities that we would today expect a Parish Priest to possess. However, as the Church got bigger near the end of the century, more organization was needed, and so the distinction between Bishops and Presbyters was emphasized, with the Presbyters acting in a more local level, while the Bishop took on acting as more of an overseer” of the Presbyters (Bishop in Greek means “overseer”).

There’s also the fact that by the end of the first century, most of the Apostles were dead. When they were alive, when the distinction between the two offices was more fluid, the question of which office was more authoritive didn’t arise, because the Apostles were around as the clear authority. Well, when the Apostles fell asleep, the Baptized then wondered who the authority was now, and the directly ordained Bishops of the Apostles tell us that it’s them, not without prior support from the Apostles themselves, of course. It is at this time, to identify the clear successors of the Apostles, that the offices are distinguished.

And finally, the Biblical texts were secondary in importance at the time when the Apostles themselves lived and preached orally. As such much of the text’s context was already understood prior by the audience. In other words, there was not need to emphasis the difference between Bishop and Presbyter in early Christian texts, because it was already known by the audience. When we see the distinction more clearly by the second century, it’s because there was a need for such an emphasis, for some the reasons mentioned above.

Christi pax.

Daniel D. D. said...

The claim is that the members of the Magisterium have exclusively been endowed with the exceptional gift to be infallible interpreters of Scripture. But is there any evidence that this claim is true? If it was true shouldn’t one expect that professional Biblical scholars or at least the Roman Catholic ones among them would acknowledge their respective abilities? But as far as I can see most if not all Biblical scholars in their scholarly work just don’t care about the teachings of the Magisterium and if they care may even reject its interpretations. I’m quite sure that no professional Biblical scholar accepts the traditional Roman Catholic interpretation of Matthew 16:16-19. For them whatever this passage means it almost certainly doesn’t say that Jesus established the Papacy.

A thousand years ago, half of Biblical scholarship believed that Matthew 16:16-19 referred to the Pope of Rome (the other half were the Orthodox ;-) ). The majority of scholars today, I believe, are Protestant (the atheists are Protestant in spirit), so they have a clear bias against Catholic claims. Furthermore, I question whether the amount of scholars you propose that doubt the Papacy is as large as you claim.

I always find it fascinating that modern scholars, using basically the same Biblical material as the ancients, could come to such different conclusions from the ancients.

One of the ultimate deciding questions, for me at least, was whether any other group had a reasonable interpretation for Matthew 16:16-19. I find that only the Roman Church does.

Christi pax.

Daniel D. D. said...

Also, regarding the three Clergy offices, they have correspondences to the clergy distinctions in Temple Judaism, which Christ fulfilled: deacon=rabbi, presbyter=sacrificial priesthood, and bishop=high priest (after the Temple was destroyed, the Jews who didn't convert to Christianity could only have the rabbi as clergy, rather than the priest and high priest also, because they were directly tied to the Temple, which was now gone. Thus, Rabbinical Judaism was formed). Notice that we Apostolic Christians claim that only the office of bishop, the office of high priests, is infallible, in certain instances, just as the high priest in Temple Judaism was infallible, in certain instances.

In Temple Judaism, the high priest wore a uniform which possessed objects called Thummim and Utlim, which were devices used by the high priest in certain, important times, to infallibly know the will of God. These objects as part of the uniform, a uniform being the sign of the high priest's office, were infallible, not the person wearing the uniform himself, just as the bishop is infallible because of his office, not his person. In the Early Church, the Bishops were considered the highest authority on matter, but what happened if the Bishops themselves disagreed? The Ecumenical Council was thus born. But how do we know if a Council is infallible. Arian Bishops, with valid orders, had Councils, ones that reject Nicea. How do we know "Robber" Councils from real ones? Well, the only sound answer, IMHO, is that the Head Bishop ratifies the Council, and that title of Head Bishop was passed from St. Peter eventually to Francis today. But, if an infallible Council is ratified by a particular office, the Bishop of Rome, doesn't that mean that that office itself must be infallible? Yes, yes it does. Papal infallibility is deprived logically from Church infallibility. Or at least this is my understanding that converted my mind :-)

Christi pax.

Brandon said...

Patrick,
The claim is that the members of the Magisterium have exclusively been endowed with the exceptional gift to be infallible interpreters of Scripture.

This is somewhat misleading. 'Magisterium' is an abstract term that just means 'authority to teach'. While people often use Magisterium, capital M, by figure of speech to designate the bishops in communion with the Pope, this is not because bishops in communion with the Pope are the only ones with magisterium, nor are they even the only elements of the Magisterium of the Church. In the Catholic understanding, the primary Magisterium is that of the whole Church itself, teaching fallibly and infallibly as the occasion requires, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of Truth and thus the source of all authority to teach; the Spirit's guidance of the Church is guaranteed in Scripture itself, which is itself directly inspired by the Holy Spirit. Everyone in a state of grace and active in prayer participates in the Magisterium of the Church, either by teaching or by receiving teaching intelligently and in accordance with faith. Teaching is only infallible, however, when it is in some sense an act of the whole Church. [I see, just before I published this, that Daniel D. D. points this out, too.] But the Catholic view is that this can happen in a lot of different ways. It could happen because it is literally the act of the whole Church (e.g., we know that prayer is effective for grace because the whole Church together prays for grace -- it doesn't matter whether bishops or Popes say it or not, it's an obvious and undeniable truth because the whole Church treats it as a truth to act on), or because it is something received by the whole Church (e.g., that the views, and especially the consensus, of the Fathers of the Church should be respected), or because it is something done by the bishops under conditions in which they are specifically acting in their role as overseers and representatives of the whole Church (as in an ecumenical council, or in the uniformity of their everyday acts scattered all over the world), or because it is something done by the Pope under conditions in which he is specifically acting in the role of Successor of St. Peter and thus as the one entrusted by Christ to feed and confirm the whole Church (e.g., papal definitions). But the point of it is (and Vatican I in defining papal infallibility is fairly clear about it), on the Catholic view, the infallibility is that of the unified teaching action of the Church, which by its nature is inspired and guided by the Holy Spirit.

If it was true shouldn’t one expect that professional Biblical scholars or at least the Roman Catholic ones among them would acknowledge their respective abilities? But as far as I can see most if not all Biblical scholars in their scholarly work just don’t care about the teachings of the Magisterium and if they care may even reject its interpretations.

But as I noted above, it is the standard Catholic view that a given passage can have different but correct interpretations, depending on whether you are looking at the passage in its immediate context, in light of the whole of the Testament in which it is found, in light of what it reflects on the other Testament, in light of both Testaments, in light of what is properly required for the salvation history indicated throughout the whole of Scripture as an inspired revelation, and so forth. That's a lot of ground. Thus the Catholic view is usually that the work of such Biblical scholars can be entirely legitimate; it will necessarily be incomplete, however, because Biblical scholars don't generally claim that their interpretations do all of that. They are usually focusing very narrowly on this point or that. (And if they did claim to cover it all, they would have no special authority beyond anyone else to pronounce on it.)

Tony said...

I’m quite sure that no professional Biblical scholar accepts the traditional Roman Catholic interpretation of Matthew 16:16-19. For them whatever this passage means it almost certainly doesn’t say that Jesus established the Papacy.

Well, I know several professional theologians, and THEY DO think that in this passage, (together with John 21: 15-17) is where Jesus established the Papacy, and that these together with Luke 10:16 is where Jesus established the office of bishop, and that these together with John 14:26 establishes the infallibility of those offices.

And I only know one professional Biblical scholar, and he is even more adamant than I am about this point. So, based on my data sample, you are just wrong.

Anonymous said...

This was great! I am not very familiar with Feyerabend and am going to have to read up on him.

Anonymous said...

Jeremy Taylor: I'm glad to hear that you are Orthodox; perhaps we will meet again at Fr Kimel's Eclectic Orthodoxy.

Others: How is proof-texting papal magnificence with Matthew 16:16-19 different from the move that Feyerabend critiques in the OP? Was the OP correct?

Still Others: Some evangelicals in my world argue that the role of the pope given in the ancient Apostolic Constitutions can be accepted on the basis of providence. No routine administrative interference outside his province, but a primus inter pares relation to other patriarchs and so an implicit leadership role in the global church. These evangelicals tend to see the Roman magisterium as credible where a modern pope offers an exceptionally impartial and well-considered view of global concerns (eg social teaching) and ecumenical truths (eg evangelism, scripture, the body).

Patrick said...

If one accepts the following points, in my view the idea of “Sola Scriptura” follows logically:

(1) The writings of the New Testament are reliable sources about the content of the apostles’ teaching.

(2) It is inconceivable that the apostles’ teaching was deficient.

(3) The Roman Catholic Church has proclaimed doctrines that the apostles didn’t hold.

Notice that nowhere do I refer to the inspiration of Scripture. It doesn’t matter whether or not the New Testament writings belong to Scripture. They just have to be regarded as reliable sources about the content of the apostles’ teaching.

Now if someone wants to argue against the idea of “Sola Scriptura” he has to refute at least one of the points mentioned above. So he may argue as follows:

ad (1) and (3): “The New Testament writings contain only a small part of what the apostles taught. The apostles held all doctrines that the Roman Catholic Church has proclaimed. The fact that they didn’t mention these doctrines in their writings doesn’t mean that they didn’t hold them.”

ad (2): “The apostles’t teaching was indeed deficient. Compared to what we know today the apostles had only a limited unterstanding of God’s truth.”

Tony said...

These evangelicals tend to see the Roman magisterium as credible where a modern pope offers an exceptionally impartial and well-considered view of global concerns (eg social teaching) and ecumenical truths (eg evangelism, scripture, the body).

That's very interesting, Anonymous @ 9:02. If I understand you rightly, this is something like they credit the papal teaching office with leadership, even if they don't credit it with strict infallibility, so that Christians of good will are obliged to regard the careful, impartial teachings with considerable deference. Is that right?

What do they say about something like Pope Paul VI's teaching against contraception in Humanae Vitae? I would suggest that it satisfies some of your criteria quite well: exceptionally impartial and well-considered view of the body, drawing on almost the entire history of Christian (not just "Roman Catholic") teaching.

Anonymous said...

"It's hard to put into words the frustration and despair arising from the possibility that getting this stuff right is requisite to avoiding eternal misery. Life is like some baffling theology class where failure = torture. Perhaps this would be fair if all humans had IQs of 150 and nerves of steel. We don't.

The harder I try to "get" Christianity, the more it eludes me: options like Noahidism beckon, or I slouch toward skeptical indifference. The internet makes it worse. Every imaginable position has advocates. Pascal's Wager needs to be updated to something like Powerball."

I almost entire second this.... Earnestly seeking Jesus means NOTHING if you wrestle the whole way but never make it. These debates beat me up and serve me in no helpful way... And it seems when people like us (There are a lot) post things like this... everyone continues on debating... It's a depressing shame.

Glenn said...

Anonymous,

This is a philosophy blog. As such, it would be a depressing shame if things weren't endlessly and torturously debated. ;)

But if one really wants to "get" Christianity in its most 'naked' form, then it's quite hard to go wrong by listening to, and, notwithstanding the inevitable plethora of mistakes and failures, doing one's level best to live according to: Mark 12:28-31.

David T said...

If one accepts the following points, in my view the idea of “Sola Scriptura” follows logically:

(1) The writings of the New Testament are reliable sources about the content of the apostles’ teaching.

(2) It is inconceivable that the apostles’ teaching was deficient.

(3) The Roman Catholic Church has proclaimed doctrines that the apostles didn’t hold.


Surely #2 is false. Do non-Jews need to follow the Jewish law to be Christians? This issue was not resolved until the Council of Jerusalem as recorded in the Book of Acts. Some Apostles thought yes and some thought no. So, prior to the decision of the Council, some Apostles teaching had to be deficient in at least that respect.

The Apostles were not magically endowed with fully developed answers to all possible questions regarding the faith. The questions were answered as the need for those answers arose and became apparent - which is why Christ promised the Apostles the Holy Spirit to guide them into truth. Were the Apostles, at Pentecost, endowed with a fully developed theological understanding of the Trinity? If so, why didn't they just set it forth clearly and immediately, short-circuiting all the heresies that developed later? Nowhere in Scripture is it directly stated that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are Three Persons in One Being. The first Apostles simply weren't concerned with the deep theology of the Trinity, having more pressing matters at hand. The full doctrine of the Trinity only developed later as Christians found the time to reflect on the deep meaning of the Incarnation.

And, incidentally, if Sola Scriptura is true, then the Apostles were deficient in teaching that as well since, as others have pointed out, the New Testament was not written during the lifetime of at least some of the Apostles, and you can't teach what you don't know.

David T said...

I almost entire second this.... Earnestly seeking Jesus means NOTHING if you wrestle the whole way but never make it. These debates beat me up and serve me in no helpful way... And it seems when people like us (There are a lot) post things like this... everyone continues on debating... It's a depressing shame.

Then don't spend your time listening to these debates, because they are not essential to being a Christian. Being a Christian means loving and following Christ; in the NT there are plenty of examples of Christ telling people "your faith has saved you" when those people obviously could know nothing of ecclesiology or theology.

Here's an analogy: Going on a diet means controlling what you are eating and eating healthier. There are plenty of blogs where people passionately debate the fine details of diets or which diet is the best. Someone who is overweight and needs to lose weight might despair at reading those blogs and getting lost in all the arcane details of diets. But those blogs are not meant for him. He should rather be on a forum dedicated to the basics of dieting - like avoiding Coca-Cola and Cheetohs - and that concentrates more on motivating people to control their eating and encourages them to start - perhaps by showing why diet is needed in the first place. This blog, and especially this thread, is not about why people should seek Christ in the first place, or how someone who doesn't know Him should find Him, but about philosophical questions specifically and, in this thread, a question of ecclesiology.

David T said...

Actually a better analogy is to compare this thread to a thread discussing the details of married life. I can see how such a thread - going into the gory and mundane details of how a married couple's relationship develops over time - would be depressing to someone looking to fall in love. But that person should be spending his time on a dating website, not reading a thread discussing questions of interest only to the married.

TheOFloinn said...

(1) The writings of the New Testament are reliable sources about the content of the apostles’ teaching.

John 20:30
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of [his] disciples that are not written in this book.

John 21:25
There are also many other things that Jesus did, but if these were to be described individually, I do not think the whole world would contain the books that would be written.

Brandon said...

Patrick,

(1) The writings of the New Testament are reliable sources about the content of the apostles’ teaching.

Reliability is a very weak standard. As you go on to note, it is consistent with incompleteness (and indeed has to be, since, for instance, we know from letters mentioned by Paul that we do not have all of Paul's letters, and TheOFloinn rightly notes that the Gospel of John explicitly says that all that Jesus did could not be written down); but it is also consistent with (for instance) there being some other reliable source(s) about the content of the apostles' teaching that one must appeal to in order to interpret to interpret the apostles' teaching correctly -- e.g., it doesn't rule out the possibility that one can only properly interpret the teaching in light of ecclesial tradition. Thus it's not strong enough to get one to something that's definitely sola scriptura.

(2) It is inconceivable that the apostles’ teaching was deficient.

As David T notes above, it's necessary to pin down what 'deficient' is supposed to mean here. For instance, at no point do the apostles list what books are in the New Testament -- or, for that matter, the Old Testament. Likewise, they clearly did not directly address every problem with which Christians would be faced -- for instance, you will look in vain for Paul's discussion of whether one should affirm the doctrine of sola scriptura, or the letter of Jude on whether we can use the word 'Trinity' to talk about God.

(3) The Roman Catholic Church has proclaimed doctrines that the apostles didn’t hold.

But, of course, Catholics hold that even if the apostles didn't explicitly state their doctrines, when one reads their teaching correctly -- i.e., in light of the whole of Scripture and the tradition of the Church -- one can see that these doctrines are implied by what they did hold. Thus, for instance, they might (and often do) say that when one recognizes the parallels between Mary and the Ark of the Covenant in Luke 1, which is emphasized especially in the ancient liturgies of some of the Eastern churches (the Ethiopian, for instance), one can then read the history of the Ark in the Old Testament and the mention in Revelation of the Woman, immediately followed by the Ark in heaven, as indicating the Assumption; etc., etc. Nobody is claiming that you can read a direct, immediate, and immediately obvious statement of the doctrine of the Assumption in the New Testament, or that you can catch it by looking at a passage at a time in isolation. But they do claim that you can find it when you read it in the right way, taking all of the apostles' teaching as a unity rather than a piecemeal collection of comments, and when you follow up on what the teaching implies as well as what it says.

Also, it's worth noting (and it is related) that while (1) and (2) talk about what the apostles taught, (3) is about what the apostles held, and it's not really obvious that these would always have to be the same thing. (For instance, the New Testament itself tells us that the apostles changed their minds on some things, as David T notes. One can also teach how to do something -- for instance, Catholics hold that St. Paul doesn't just teach some interpretations of the Old Testament, he teaches how to interpret the Old Testament so that, as long as we are careful, we can do it ourselves. But then Paul's teaching covers more than Paul himself would ever have explicitly held.)

Anonymous said...

The Church Times reports today that Francis has invited the Archbishop of Canterbury's cricket team to play his team in Rome at the conclusion of the synod on the family in October. So there are, after all, other ways to settle things than by arguing about them.

TheOFloinn said...

Nobody is claiming that you can read a direct, immediate, and immediately obvious statement of the doctrine

One of the fall-outs of scientism is the desire of Late Moderns to have everything spelled out for them, preferably in direct language, as in assembly instructions, laboratory procedures, and the like.

Problem is, some folks don't even know when they are bringing con-texts to bear on the texts -- in particular Modern science-oriented con-texts to bear, so that they interpret them with naive-literalism, as if they were scientific papers rather than ancient poems or parables.

Daniel D. D. said...

@David T

The Apostles were not magically endowed with fully developed answers to all possible questions regarding the faith.

Actually, Blessed John Henry Newman specifically teaches that they had to be able to answer all questions that the Magisterium later addressed after their death.

So, in other words, the Apostles taught the Trinity, period. They might not have used the wording "three hypostasis in one ousia," but their teaching does express the same meaning.

Doctrine get more specific because of its encounter with heresy. The Nicean Fathers defined the Trinity in reaction against the errors of the Arians. The Apostles did not have to deal with Arians, and so they didn't define the doctrine of the Trinity to specifically avoid an Arian interpretation, as they simply didn't need to.

The Apostles gave us a "blurry" picture of Revelation, just due to human limitation, and the Church takes a lens over it and "clarifies" it, so that we can see it better. You might see all doctrine defined after the Apostolic age as looking at the same revelation from different angles: Nicea, for example, is looking at the Trinity from the perspective of the Arian thought processes.

The Apostles give us wording that is can be interpretated reasonably by Arians and Orthodox, and the Church, by examination of Tradition, both written and unwritten, tells us whether they meant the Arian or the Orthodox. The Church clarifies doctrine in response to heretical interpretations.

Just as pressure from the outside is used to form a piece of metal into a key to open a door, the Holy Spirit is so powerful that He uses heretical doctrine to form True doctrine, which opens the door to eternal life.

Christi pax.

Daniel D. D. said...

To put it another way, what the Bishops can do as a whole in union with the Head Bishop, the Apostles could do individually.

Christi pax.

Anonymous said...

Patrick's argument appears to be the old patristic one that the regula fidei-- the pattern of teaching of the apostles (think Apostles' Creed)-- is sufficient as the of faith and as a guide to disambiguating the canon. As this is not strict foundationalism, Feyerabend's critique seems not to apply to it. Robert Jenson and Richard Hays have written in the past few years on this.

The question is whether this grounded sort of sola scriptura can be used as an engine of negation against post-apostolic innovations. It does not entail that the apostles taught all that is true, or that what they did not teach is false, but it does deny that anything that they did not teach is necessary to salvation. There is a nice subtlety in this-- heresiarchs tend to claim that their doctrines are necessary to salvation (eg German peasants if you do not buy indulgences...), so the regula fidei chops their power at the root, but the poor slob who only understands predestination in Marian narrative is still free to do so. The rule of faith view of sola scriptura does not so much pre-empt the later Roman developments as deflate the positivism that puts the Assumption in the same category as the Ascension

Daniel D. D. said...

The Church Times reports today that Francis has invited the Archbishop of Canterbury's cricket team to play his team in Rome at the conclusion of the synod on the family in October. So there are, after all, other ways to settle things than by arguing about them.

I didn't know that the Vatican has a cricket team. Or do you mean the city of Rome has a cricket team?

Christi pax.

Daniel D. D. said...

Also, regarding the Marian doctrines, the Catholics and Orthodox see the Blessed Virgin as, in a sense, the Church Herself. Mary and the Church, for example, are both called "mother," and Mary is the mediator of all Grace just as the Church is (via the Sacraments). When we look at Mary, we see the perfection of all the Saved.

Christi pax.

Anonymous said...

Put another way: Patrick's apparent emphasis on apostolicity can prioritize a saving gospel-- the Protestant stake in this-- without so inhibiting the teaching office in diverse philosophical and cultural climates that the Church cannot be the Church-- the Catholic and Orthodox worry about that concern.

Anonymous said...

Daniel, these cricket matches between the pope's team and the archbishop's are new. The first was last year in London, and was played before a lively crowd that included the ABC and the papal nuncio. I don't know whether they will ask Bartholomew to field a team-- he has some good Australians in Constantinople-- but that would be in the spirit of the thing.

Daniel D. D. said...

Cricket Match: Bart vs Frank. Whoever loses has to revise their doctrine on Papal infalliblity ;-)

Christi pax.

Scott said...

Others: How is proof-texting papal magnificence with Matthew 16:16-19 different from the move that Feyerabend critiques in the OP?

By not being "proof-texting." The Church doesn't base the papacy, or argue for its legitimacy, solely on that text. It does hold that that text shows us when, where, and how Jesus instituted it, which is something we might not know otherwise. But the institution itself dates back, in one form or another, to apostolic times and is confirmed e.g. in the writings of the early fathers, and in Scripture itself there are other passages that show Peter (under that name, or its Greek equivalent Cephas) as having a special sort of headship. The de fide doctrine of the Church's hierarchical structure and apostolicity is not based entirely on one brief, context-less exchange between Christ and Simon.

thefederalist said...

It occurs to me that the apostles' preaching of the gospel COULD NOT have contained the doctrine of sola scriptura as understood by the Protestant Reformation. Apart from the fact that canon of Scripture was not determined until the late 4th (or 16th) century, eleven of the apostles had died before some of the New Testament books (e.g. Revelation) were even written.

Anonymous said...

Daniel, I'm not sure that the Orthodox devotion to the Theotokos is on quite that track; many Orthodox, as you probably know, insist that the Roman mariology is tainted by Augustine's misreading of eph ho in Romans 5:12-- guilt inherited from (literally "in") Adam. But it seems clear that, as you say, Roman marian devotion took an ecclesiological turn in the C20, and that in that turn its positive content is what Protestants would call single election. Because of its later unfortunate association with double election, predestination has become nearly unpreachable even among the Reformed. "God loves you-- maybe..." So, at least in the magisterium, contemporary Roman marianism is exploring an important corner of the Christian imaginary.

Scott said...

@Patrick:

If one forgets for a moment all theological controversies between Catholics and Protestants and looks at the Bible from the secular point of view of History a good case can be made for the view that the New Testament writings are the earliest documents about Christianity that have survived and the only ones that belong to the Apostolic Age. This fact alone makes them in particular suited for finding out what the early Christians believed.

I take it, then, that you don't accept the general scholarly dating of e.g. the Didache?

Anonymous said...

Well, Daniel, since Francis challenged Justin to send his team to the conclusion of the synod on the family, he may be angling to send his team to the conclusion of the ecumenical council in Constantinople next year. After all, Orthodox teaching confirms his right to send representatives... ;-)

David T said...

Actually, Blessed John Henry Newman specifically teaches that they had to be able to answer all questions that the Magisterium later addressed after their death.

Of course. But being able to answer is not the same thing as already having the answer. Had the question come up, after reflecting on it and with guidance by the Holy Spirit, the Apostles would have confirmed that Mary was Immaculately Conceived. But it doesn't follow that any of the Apostles were explicitly conscious of the Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. Or that they had a fully developed theology of the Trinity. Only that, had they pursued such a theology, they would have come to the same answers the Church later did.


Scott said...

@Patrick:

The following concepts, doctrines or practices can be mentioned in this respect:

Some of the items on your list are not doctrines but practices, so I'll leave those alone. As for the genuinely doctrinal items, you must surely be aware that with regard to most of your examples, it's a tremendous overstatement (if not a full-blown falsehood) to describe most of them as "Catholic doctrines that have no basis in Scripture" (emphasis mine). Even the Assumption of Mary, the item on your list that enjoys the least direct Scriptural support, isn't entirely without such basis.

…according, that is, to at least some interpretations of the relevant texts (many/most of which I'm sure you know, so we needn't rehearse them here). So I take it that you mean they have no such basis according to Protestant interpretations of those texts—which is of course true, but not very interesting.

As I said, I won't canvass your entire list (some item from which have already been discussed anyway), but we may as well look at an example. I'll use the Immaculate Conception of Mary*, since (a) it hasn't yet been discussed and (b) on the face of it, it might seem to be one of the harder cases.

In fact, the Church claims Scriptural support for the doctrine in the Annunciation, specifically in the famous salutation Hail, Mary, full of grace. The Greek word behind "full of grace" is kecharitomene rather than pleres charitos, which some NT scholars take to indicate that said "grace" is singular, transformative, permanent, and perfected, covering the entirety of her life—i.e., from conception onward. (And we may as well remind ourselves that as late as the Middle Ages, it was not believed that the soul was infused at conception, so there's a pretty good reason why the full doctrine in its current form might not have been inferred until relatively recent times.)

I am not, mind you, giving this verse as a "proof-text" of a Catholic doctrine; what confirms the doctrine in the teaching authority of the Church, not that it can be supported from a "proof-text." I'm simply pointing out that you're either mistaken or begging the question in stating that the doctrine has no Scriptural support. That's simply not the case unless you bias the claim by disqualifying in advance any scholarly interpretations that do appear to support it.

----

* I'm sure you know, but for the benefit of other non-Catholic lurkers I had perhaps better explain, that this is the doctrine that Mary was conceived without the taint of original sin. (It isn't contradicted by passages in which Mary describes herself as needing a Savior, for it doesn't deny her need of one; it just says she already had one from the very moment of her conception.)

Scott said...

Sorry: "what confirms the doctrine is the teaching authority of the Church."

Anonymous said...

Patrick, your (1), taken in an irenic way, makes sense, and so does your clarification that the authority of ancient texts is dependent on their adequate representation of the teaching of the apostles. (We can ignore the Didache, whatever its date, as it has never been taken to be the teaching of any apostle, and the quite different Apostles Creed is more strongly attested as their collective pattern of teaching.) I would prefer that (2) be a positive statement that the apostolic teaching was, is, and will always be sufficient for salvation. Although (3) is true, I'm not sure that (1) and (2) tell us more than that Roman novelties are not strictly required for salvation. As I've noted elsewhere in the thread, it is important to maintain the distinction, but a little thought shows that the Church can only be the Church by saying, not what the gospel is, but what it means that the gospel is true.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, Patrick, my auto-correct deleted 'only' from between 'not' and 'what' in the last sentence of my last comment to you. The Church can only be the Church by saying, not only what the gospel is, but what it means that the gospel is true.

Scott said...

(We can ignore the Didache, whatever its date, as it has never been taken to be the teaching of any apostle….)

Perhaps, but for the record, that was not Patrick's stated reason for rejecting it. I was replying to the reason he actually gave.

Patrick said...

David T: “Do non-Jews need to follow the Jewish law to be Christians? This issue was not resolved until the Council of Jerusalem as recorded in the Book of Acts. Some Apostles thought yes and some thought no.”

According to Acts 15:1 it was “some men”, according to Acts 15:5 “some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees” who were of the opinion that non-Jews needed to follow the Jewish law to become Christians. It is only from Acts 15:6 that one could draw the conclusion that there were apostles who were of the same opinion. But in my view this is far from certain.

Patrick said...

Brandon: “Reliability is a very weak standard. As you go on to note, it is consistent with incompleteness (and indeed has to be, since, for instance, we know from letters mentioned by Paul that we do not have all of Paul's letters, and TheOFloinn rightly notes that the Gospel of John explicitly says that all that Jesus did could not be written down); but it is also consistent with (for instance) there being some other reliable source(s) about the content of the apostles' teaching that one must appeal to in order to interpret to interpret the apostles' teaching correctly -- e.g., it doesn't rule out the possibility that one can only properly interpret the teaching in light of ecclesial tradition. Thus it's not strong enough to get one to something that's definitely sola scriptura.”

In (1) I mean that the New Testament contains the complete teaching of the apostles.

Scott said...

@Patrick:

In (1) I mean that the New Testament contains the complete teaching of the apostles.

And if that teaching is found, on examination, to point to other teachings not directly contained in the NT?

Daniel D. D. said...

Daniel, I'm not sure that the Orthodox devotion to the Theotokos is on quite that track; many Orthodox, as you probably know, insist that the Roman mariology is tainted by Augustine's misreading of eph ho in Romans 5:12-- guilt inherited from (literally "in") Adam.

As if St Augustine's theology of original sin is based in one passage. I never understood the contemporary Orthodox's obsession with blaming everything they don't like about the Latins on Augustine; some even refuse to acknowledge his sanctity!

Anyway, not even St. Augustine teaches that we are guilty of Adam's sin, even though he had a view that was a little different than some of the other Fathers. However, since at least Trent, including the time when the Immaculate conception doctrine was defined, St. Thomas's understanding of original sin has been the norm, and St. Thomas 's view is definitely patristic. Honestly, I find that St. Athanasius's teachings on original sin are as much, if not more, influential to the Latin understanding than St. Augustine (some have told me that St. Gregory the Great was as well, but I haven't read him as of yet).

I also wish to point out that the orthodox did not start critiquing the Latin understanding with this straw man until the Immaculate conception was defined. Before that, even when criticizing doctrines like the Filioque, this doctrine was not one criticized. The Synod of Jerusalem even uses Trent to denounce Calvinism's view of original sin, affirming the fundamental equality of the Latin and Greek views on it.

If you want, I can go into the semantics of Trent, because in English the Latin words "culpa" and "reatus" are often both translated as "guilt," which in the past had a different meaning than it does today, which can be confusing for the English speaking Orthodox :-)

And for the Orthodox here, remember that St. Gregory of Palamas taught the Immaculate conception ;-)

Christi pax.

Patrick said...

From passages such as Romans 13:11-12, 1 Corinthians 1:7-8, 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17, Hebrews 10:37, James 5:8 and 1 Peter 4:7 one can draw the conclusion that from a theological point of view it would have been possible that Christ would have returned in the Apostolic Age. However, if that had happened all the doctrines that were formulated after that time would never have come into being, unless one assumes that they all were already held in the Apostolic Age. Now let’s assume for the sake of the argument that this is true and that e. g. the apostles held the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary and the doctrine of the Assumption of Mary. In this case one could ask why it took the Roman Catholic Church such a long time, namely about 1800 years (!) for the former doctrine and about 1900 years (!) for the latter doctrine, to proclaim them? Moreover, couldn’t one say that if these doctrines are constitutive elements of the Christian doctrine it would be the case that until 1950 all Christians, including the Roman Catholic ones, would have had a deficient faith?

Anonymous said...

"What is your only hope in life and in death?"
-- Question 1, The Heidelberg Catechism.

Patrick, the casus belli here seems to be that-- this will actually be philosophy ;-) --both sides agree that personal knowledge of one's salvation is known in the same way as other knowledge that a church might have. No Catholic apologist here has thus far agreed to any internalist knowing about anything, which makes one wholly dependent on externalist knowing-- someone else's assurance-- even in matters of salvation. They argue for the reliability of their external sources of religious knowledge (magisterium, infallibility, etc), but seem not to see that there are matters about which no external source can be enough. Luther once commented that a hundred popes could not make some things believable. Not seeing what the C16 controversy was about, our friends have talked right past it.

You propose an internalist standard of evidence that is far better adapted to a soul in the existential crisis of dread before the left hand of God. The soul in crisis cannot trust; the soul learns that it is saved from a God-given testimonium internum ratifying the word of promise; now no longer in crisis, the soul should be able to recognize and trust the voice of the Holy Spirit. Feyerabend's analogy supposes that God will never give the soul that Word and that the Holy Spirit will not ratify it in the heart. But only a believer can experience the crisis that the reformers were talking about.

Daniel D. D. said...

When I say Orthodox, I mean a certain minority who like to bring up strawmen and polemics rather than serious debate. Most Orthodox are either of good will or are not involved in the debate.

Just wanted to clarify that I'm not attack Holy Orthodoxy, or even a majority in the Church, but a small, but sadly loud, minority.

Christi pax.

Anonymous said...

Continuing, my query is-- when justification by grace has removed the existential threat, would it not make sense that a more external source of knowledge could be more credible? And in that case, would not routine knowing in the Church be somewhat reliabilist? Whatever the best guides to that knowing-- Catholic bishops following papal encyclicals or Reformed presbyteries ruling by divine right according to the Westminster Standards-- it seems that there must be some point at which the internal evidence of sola scriptura opens the heart to whatever external magisterium is kicked up by the Holy Spirit's rule of the Church.

Scott said...

@Patrick:

In this case one could ask why it took the Roman Catholic Church such a long time, namely about 1800 years (!) for the former doctrine and about 1900 years (!) for the latter doctrine, to proclaim them?

And if one is genuinely asking, one is presumably prepared to receive answers. For example, as Daniel D. D. has already noted, the doctrine of Mary's Immaculate Conception didn't take 1800 years. Moreover, part of the evidence in support of the doctrine of Mary's bodily assumption is the absence of any claims to possession of Marian relics despite numerous such claims with respect to other saints. For obvious reasons that evidence wouldn't have been available in the Apostolic Age or quite a while afterward.

Scott said...

@Patrick:

Moreover, couldn’t one say that if these doctrines are constitutive elements of the Christian doctrine it would be the case that until 1950 all Christians, including the Roman Catholic ones, would have had a deficient faith?

No, and for two reasons.

First, and perhaps more importantly, one's faith is not "deficient" merely because one doesn't know all doctrine.

Second, and only slightly less importantly, the fact that a doctrine is explicitly formulated at a specific time in history doesn't mean that it wasn't known before that time. Generally, the Church bothers pronouncing infallibly only on doctrines that come to be disputed.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Daniel, for your witty replies.

The Orthodox voice in my ear as I tapped that out was not one of the O-derps; it was John Meyendorff, whose Byzantine Theology repays whatever time you can give it. I have not seen a more authoritative treatment of the Orthodox view of the Fall than the one there. How does St Thomas help us with the 'eph ho' problem in Romans 5:12?

The Orthodox struggle for a systematic theological identity is so recent-- it begins in earnest only in the middle of the C19-- that it is still defined, more than Catholics and Protestants might like, over against the West as a whole. Every faith has overzealous derps online, and the O-derps do take the 'East-good, West-bad' trope further than their sources can support. (Some of them are evangelicals who were beaten by Catholics in arguments like this one, and joined a more authoritative church, not by swimming the Tiber but by sailing to Byzantium. Two weeks ago I caught one of them proferring Reformed covenant theology to rather truculently correct an Orthodox priest quoting Hans Urs von Balthazar. Hmmm... What's wrong with this picture?) But critical evaluation of Augustine's influence is an ecumenical endeavor that certainly includes many who admire the man and his oeuvre. The issues are real, but we only see them because we have so many resources with which to address them. Frank's team almost beat Justin's playing at home with the ABC in the stands; they'll certainly be alright playing against Bart's team.

Anonymous said...

A bit to my surprise, I don't see a winning strategy here against Patrick's argument for sola scripture. His list is only illustrative, so he could be wrong about all the items on it and still have his argument. In ignoring his core argument, his objectors have let a lot slip by. Moreover, very little of the other verbal sparring would make a real difference in one's view of sola scriptura, even if one agreed with it. Above all, the objections do not as yet have a coherent alternative epistemology among themselves. Taken together, they leave me no choice, if I had to make one at this moment, but to choose Patrick's.


And I think the point of that argument was to respond to Feser's endorsement of Feyerabend's argument against

Anonymous said...

...naive empiricism equated with naive biblicism. In designating apostolicity as the ground of sola scriptura, Patrick has evaded Feyerabend's (and hence Feser's) sly critique. That is, knowledge of the apostolic teaching from any source constrains the interpreter of scripture in a way without parallel in a putative empiricist facing mere data. Paraphrasing Feyerabend, we might say that if you can understand the scriptures through knowledge of their apostolic origin, then you should not expect that seeing data in the context of the prior experimental literature will show you its scientific significance, if any. Which is, of course, the case.

Anonymous said...

Auto-correct inserted a 'not' in the penultimate sentence just above. Not!

Brandon said...

In (1) I mean that the New Testament contains the complete teaching of the apostles.

But the New Testament explicitly denies that it contains the complete teaching of the apostles; it repeatedly refers to occasions of teaching, and things that could be taught, that we don't have. What you mean, no doubt, is that it contains all the important topics the apostles taught. But that this distinction needs to be kept clear is part of the point I was making, because the immediate question for the latter is, "In what specific ways does it contain them?"

Daniel D. D. said...

@Anonymous

When I read Orthodox critiques of the Filioque, I actually agree with them! When they criticize the idea that the Son is the source of deity, they are correct. However, they are wrong when they claim that the Roman Church teaches this, or ever did.

The same thing applies to Original sin, I think the Orthodox are right that the idea that we are being punished for Adam's transgression, in the sense that God somehow blames us for it too, is false, but the Roman Church never taught this. The Roman Church teaches that we inherent the consequences of Adam's sin, which were overcome by Jesus Christ. The consequence was the withdrawal of Santifying Grace, the Life of the Trinity dwelling in our being. The Incarnation, by combining the Divine with the Human, opened the door back for humans to "participate in the Divine Nature" (not become the Divine Nature) once more. Original sin, like all evil, is an absense, in this case, an absense of Original Grace (As St. Athanasius calls it) or Original Justice (as St. Thomas calls it).

As a result, when we Catholics talk about the Immaculate Conception, all we mean is that The Blessed Mother never in her existence lacked Santifying Grace. In a sense, we believe that she was just "always baptized."

I think that people believe that the Orthodox are more unified on doctrine like the Catholics, but as you point out, this is not true. In the Orthodox Church (especially in America), you will find some who believe that contraception, including NFP, is a sin, but on the other end find views on this issue that would make an Episcopalian blush. I find that for the Orthodox in general, they don't really see a problem with Immaculate conception per se, they just don't like how it must be believed by the Faithful on the pains of damanation, an argument I'm personally sympathetic to. I mean, I would believe it even if it wasn't dogmatised, but I can see where they are coming from.

I also find that the Orthodox don't like how the Immaculate conception was defined by Papal ex cathedra. Since (in my opinion) the only real theological debate between our two camps is the Papal issue, I find that this is more or less an unconscious motivation by many Orthodox against the Immaculate conception.

Many Catholic here will disagree with me here, but I don't really believe that the Orthodox and Catholic communions are out of communion with God, but rather with each other. Not to say that the Orthodox should stay out of communion with Rome; I find that the Byzantine Tradition isn't complete without communion with Rome; but that both Churches have their Holiness (which is why I'm fine with calling Gregory Palamas a saint). I'm still waiting for an English translation of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church's Catechism, so that I can see how they express the Papal doctrines, original sin, and the progression of the Holy Spirit from an Byzantine perspective.

Christi pax.

Glenn said...

Anonymous,

No Catholic apologist here has thus far agreed to any internalist knowing about anything, which makes one wholly dependent on externalist knowing-- someone else's assurance-- even in matters of salvation.

This, sir, is way off the beam.

Not that some Catholic Apologist here in fact has gone on about an internalist way of knowing, but that in fact no one from either side has gone about it.

They argue for the reliability of their external sources of religious knowledge (magisterium, infallibility, etc), but seem not to see that there are matters about which no external source can be enough.

Yes, the Catholic Apologists here have argued for the reliability of external sources of religious knowledge. Just as the other side has argued for the reliability of external sources of religious knowledge.

The Catholic Apologists here, however, have not, contra the other side, argued that scripture is the only reliable source of religious knowledge.

- - - -

(To go off-topic for a moment, and in a parenthetical way, I wonder whether you might agree that there is an internalist way of knowing "natural law", and whether you might agree that ordinary people in the public square have access to that way of knowing.)

Glenn said...

(s/b "no one from either side has gone on about it." The mistake was mine and mine alone, i.e., the mistake was due to an infelicitous reliance upon my internal grammar checker.)

Daniel D. D. said...

@Whoever Brandon was responding to:

"And I too, most noble Theophilus, have resolved to put the story in writing for thee as it befell, having first traced it carefully from its beginnings, that thou mayst understand the instruction thou hast already received, in all its certainty (Luke 1:3-4)"

In other words, the Scriptures are something that are suppose to be view in the light of "instructions...already received," instructions from the Church.

"And Philip, as he ran up, heard him reading the prophet Isaias, and asked, Canst thou understand what thou art reading? How could I, said he, without someone to guide me? And he entreated Philip to come up and sit beside him. (Acts 8:30-31)"

Here is an example of Scripture not only revealing that it doesn't interprets itself, but that the interpreter is not a something, but a someone, and that someone is the Church, guided by the successors of the Apostles.

Furthermore, the one of the main disagreements between the Pharisees and the Sadducees is on the "Oral Torah," oral tradition. Christ actually sided with the Pharisees against the Sadducees, as we see Christ not denouncing Pharisaical doctrine, but their hypocrisy and misguided emphasis on certain parts of the Law against others. Christ straight out denies the Sadducees outright. Remember, Rabbinical Judaism and Apostolic Christianity both stem from Temple Judaism, and just as the Talmud, Rabbinical teaching, ceremonies, etc., is to the Tanakh, the Unwritten Tradition of the Church is to the written Tradition. It has been said that the most Jewish thing in the world is the Catholic Church.

"Do this in memory of me." Not, "read this in memory of me," but do. An implicit teaching of unwritten tradition (Pope Benedict teaches that the Mass is the primary and most important aspect of unwritten Tradition).

Pseudo Dionysius often refers to Scripture as "the Holy Oracles." I think this is a much better term, as "oracle" has a sense of mystery, reverence, and a need to be interpreted by Powers outside of mere humans, which is what sola or solo Scriptura ultimately leads to.

Christi pax.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Patrick keeps ignoring my point about the difference between genuine innovations in the faith and adaptations of what is implicit or latent to changing circumstances. I wonder why.

He also picks and chooses and what he wants to read in the Scripture.

And, yes, he doesn't really explain why what is taught in the New Testament must cover the whole beliefs and practice of the early Church. I see nothing in his three point argument that would show why the New Testament must sum up the entire beliefs of the early Church, or why what is implicit in the Scripture could not be made explicit at a later date according to circumstance (no orthodox Christian denies that the early Church accepted the trinity, even though they did not give it the explicit formulation of the Nicene Creed).

Maybe I am missing something, but I don't understand one of the anon's praise f Patrick's argument. It seems to me it has holes you could drive a articulated lorry through.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Daniel D,

I would heartedly recommend Philip Sherrard's The Greek East and the Latin West for an Orthodox take on the dispute between the Eastern and Western Church. He makes an eloquent case for most of the disputes, including over the filioque and even ecclesiology, are based on differing conceptions of God and his relationship to creation and to us.

Patrick said...

Brandon: “But the New Testament explicitly denies that it contains the complete teaching of the apostles; it repeatedly refers to occasions of teaching, and things that could be taught, that we don't have.”

Could you please tell me to what passages you refer?

Brandon: “What you mean, no doubt, is that it contains all the important topics the apostles taught.”

Yes that’s what I mean.

Patrick said...

Scott: “I take it, then, that you don't accept the general scholarly dating of e.g. the Didache?”

Anonymus: “In designating apostolicity as the ground of sola scriptura, Patrick has evaded Feyerabend's (and hence Feser's) sly critique.”

Maybe the expression “sola scriptura” is misleading here and should be replaced by “sola doctrina apostolica”. For the latter the Didache may be a source as well.

Daniel D. D. said...

@Patrick:

TOF has revealed some of them:

"John 20:30
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of [his] disciples that are not written in this book.

John 21:25
There are also many other things that Jesus did, but if these were to be described individually, I do not think the whole world would contain the books that would be written."

Anywhere, the command shouldn't be "show me where the Bible teaches that it doesn't contain all Apostolic teaching," but rather "show me were the Bible teaches that it does contain all Apostolic teaching."

Christi pax.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Why can't tradition, the works of the Fathers, an the like also be a witness to the beliefs of the Apostles?

Jeremy Taylor said...

- I see Daniel essentially made the same point.

I can understand the position that the Scriptures are peculiarly good record of early Church teachings, but, one, this doesn't seem to carry quite the weight that the believers in sola scriptura tend to put on the Scripture - it is too probabilistic and contingent, to satisfy their rhetoric the New Testament would have to have been presented like a Christian Quran; it doesn't, on its own, explain why the Scripture should be the only trustworthy source, simply that is is a particularly trustworthy one.

Patrick said...

Jeremy Taylor: “And, yes, he doesn't really explain why what is taught in the New Testament must cover the whole beliefs and practice of the early Church. I see nothing in his three point argument that would show why the New Testament must sum up the entire beliefs of the early Church, or why what is implicit in the Scripture could not be made explicit at a later date according to circumstance (no orthodox Christian denies that the early Church accepted the trinity, even though they did not give it the explicit formulation of the Nicene Creed).”

To me it seems strange that God should not provide everything He wants to reveal to us at once in Scripture, but instead only reveals a part of it, then waits for a few hundred years to reveal another part, then waits again for a few hundred years to reveal yet another part and so on and so on. Looking at Acts 20:27 the Christians in Ephesus to whom Paul talked were much luckier, as they didn’t have to wait hundreds of years until they had heard the complete apostolic teaching. The following analogy may show why such a view seems strange to me: Imagine a professor of Philosophy holds a lecture containing, let’s say, an overview of ancient Greek philosophy and consisting of 10 lessons. The first three lessons he delivers in 1990 in three consecutive weeks. The forth lesson takes place in 1994, the fifth in 1999, the sixth in 2003, the seventh in 2006, the eighth in 2009, the ninth in 2011 and the last one in 2015. Quite a weird schedule, isn’t it?

Scott said...

@Patrick:

To me it seems strange that God should not provide everything He wants to reveal to us at once in Scripture, but instead only reveals a part of it, then waits for a few hundred years to reveal another part, then waits again for a few hundred years to reveal yet another part and so on and so on.

I take it, then, that you disagree with my earlier remark (in reply to you) that a doctrine isn't ordinarily revealed at the time that it's officially formulated (which usually happens when it comes into dispute, not when it's first thought of).

Glenn said...

Patrick,

Quite a weird schedule, isn’t it?

That would be a weird schedule, yes. (But look on the bright side--with a schedule like that, we'd have sufficient time to come up to speed for the final).

Still, how is that schedule like the 'schedule' implied in 1 Corinthians 13:9-10?

That is, if we know only in part now, and won't know in full until that which is perfect is come, does this mean that between now and then we won't know more in part?

Indeed, does it mean that the part we creatures know now cannot be more than the part we creatures knew then?

Scott said...

In ignoring his core argument, his objectors have let a lot slip by.

What do you think has been ignored in Patrick's "core argument"?

Jeremy Taylor said...

Patrick writes,


To me it seems strange that God should not provide everything He wants to reveal to us at once in Scripture

This seems to heavily imply your conclusion: that Scripture is God's sole means of communicating his message.

instead only reveals a part of it, then waits for a few hundred years to reveal another part, then waits again for a few hundred years to reveal yet another part and so on and so on. Looking at Acts 20:27 the Christians in Ephesus to whom Paul talked were much luckier, as they didn’t have to wait hundreds of years until they had heard the complete apostolic teaching.

But surely no one is arguing that all the teachings or formulations of them were delivered later? They are arguing that many of those not explicitly or unambiguously referred to in the Scripture were revealed in the days of the Apostles.

Also you seem to wish to hold very tightly to the notion that change in formulation or adaptation of doctrine or practice must be a substantial innovation, reflecting a deficiency of those who went before. It is hard to see why this is the case.

Take the Nicene Creed again. Do you accept this? Its implicit foundations are in the early Church but the earliest Church had no need of it. They more direct access to the teachings of the Apostles and were capable assimilating the truth of Christ's divinity without having it explicitly formulated in terms of dogmatic theology. The Nicene Creed added nothing to their faith. In a sense it marks a decline in the spirituality of the Church, as it had reached a point where such dogmatic formulation were necessary. But it is a valid adaptation of doctrine to the changing circumstances the Church found itself in.

For your argument to work, as far as I can see, you have to do two things (at least): one, show that we should look for Christ's message only in the Scripture; two, show that any change in even the form of teaching from the early Church represents an essential innovation in the faith and implies the deficiency, thereby, of those who went before.

You haven't shown either of these.

Brandon said...

Patrick,

In addition to the verses in John already noted by TheOFloinn and reiterated by Daniel, in which he explicitly notes that the apostles could not write down all they knew about Jesus, we have multiple references in Acts to sermons that took place but whose content is not stated and references to letters of Paul that we do not have (the letter to Laodicea is the most famous, but there are at least two letters to Corinth and one letter to Ephesus that are not extant: Col 4:16; 1 Cor 5:9; 2 Cor 2:4; Eph 3:3-4). The New Testament makes very clear that a lot went on that never got put into the New Testament. Thus the most one could possibly say is that the New Testament includes the most essential things in the apostolic teaching -- but, again, the question arises, "In what ways does it include what's essential?"

Quite a weird schedule, isn’t it?

It's rather funny that you say that, because it looks like a rather standard schedule for publishing papers to me. But, of course, that's the key issue: what is the nature of this overview and what are the lessons? Those are the things that determine what's actually a sensible schedule for presentation.

And it's worth pointing out that God didn't reveal everything at once in Scripture: the full Bible was centuries in the development, and even if we confine ourselves to the New Testament, the writing of it is spread all over the back half of the first century and people are still uncertain about whether some of the books should be regarded as canonical even in the fourth century.

Daniel D. D. said...

@Jeremy

Is Mr. Sherrard part of the "neo-Palamite" movement?

There has been a movement today that many Orthodox are trying to remove "Latinizations" from Byzantine theology. Now, it is true that there were Latinizations during the period after Constantinople was conquered by the Infindels, but many times general Byzantine Tradition is thrown out in the process. In other words, things like Original sin are being called a Latinization, even though it's clearly taught by the Fathers, and removed. Then, this is used as a polemic point to reject the Latins.

This is a very destructive tendency that they need to stop.

I'm not trying to reject all the ingenious work of those such as Lossky and Meyendorff, but just point out that their insistence on the gaps between the Latins and the Greeks is not as wide as they make it. There are differences, but they are both based on the same fundamental truth: just two ways to express the same mysterious truth of God. I don't see that these differences should be cause to reject communion.

One of the things I love about St. Thomas is his ingenious way to synthesis the Eastern Fathers with the Western ones, dressing all it up in Aristotlean philosophical terms :-)

Thank you for the book recommendation.

Christi pax.

Daniel D. D. said...

For example, the Essense-Energy distinction so fundamental to Palamite thought and St. Thomas's teaching that Grace is materially an accident, but formally Divinity, are two ways to express the Apostolic paradox that we "become" God without becoming God: sharing in the Divine Life without becoming the Divine Life. Both avoid Panentheism, but still express that we "participate in the Divine Nature."

Christi pax,

Lucretius

Anonymous said...

Glenn, I'm very sorry that I missed your comments earlier in the day. In invoking the now-standard distinction between internalist and externalist epistemes, my objective was, not at all to criticize Catholic apologetics per se, still less the particular apologists here, but to explain why the thoroughly externalist claims made here cannot engage the internalist episteme of sola scriptura. Conversely, Patrick's failure to make externalist sense of his internalist claim raises no doubt about it. If there is a ***philosophical*** argument against the distinction itself, or against the Protestant preference for internalism in the face of divine wrath (eg Romans 1), that could be well worth pursuing.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Daniel,

I think it would hard to say there is no some change in emphasis and ethos between the Scholastic West and the East, and even between Augustine and some of the Eastern Fathers. Sherrard argues that some of the problematic conceptions were already present in Latins like Cicero and in the general attempt of Cicero, the Stoics, and even Aristotelians to equate virtue with civic virtue - representing a sundering of man's spiritual destiny from his earthly one. There are many exceptions (the Celtic Church is an example of a Church equal in my estimation to the spiritual depth of the East), especially in the first millennium, but the Western Church has tended to be more rationalist and less able to balance and fuse alternatives - reason and faith, faith and works, God's transcendence and his immanence, God and creation, and so on - as the Eastern Church, leading a more forceful duality. The West has tended to stress the simplicity and absolute otherness of the divine essence without, as Sherrard describes it, as forcefully expressing God's immanence. The East, of course, acknowledges the simplicity and transcendence of the divine essence, which in one sense separates God from creation, but they more strongly emphasis the fact that there is a bridge across that gulf, in another sense, as all things ultimately come from God, are in God, and through God. According to Sherrard this has been one of the principle reasons for not just the divergences of the Western Church from the East (such as the Filioque, the claims of Papal power, the more strongly Aristotelian and rationalist character of its theology and philosophy) but the rise of Protestantism, modernism, and secularism.

I think he goes a little bit too far, but I think there is a grain of truth in it.

Daniel D. D. said...

@Jeremy Taylor

The Nicene Creed added nothing to their faith. In a sense it marks a decline in the spirituality of the Church, as it had reached a point where such dogmatic formulation were necessary. But it is a valid adaptation of doctrine to the changing circumstances the Church found itself in.

This is also a good point that I overlooked. St. Thomas teaches that the "amount" of Grace at the Resurrection was at the highest it ever can be, and that, over time, it has been dropping, because of our distance from the Incarnation. At first, I thought this was a strange teaching, but it makes perfect sense when coupled with the need for dogmatic councils.

There was so much faith and Grace at the time of the Resurrection that such formulations and Council dogmas weren't necessary: the early Christians understood the Trinity in a purer way than we do, a way not limited to the langauges of Man.

Faith is God sharing His Thoughts, His Knowledge with us, and so the amount of faith that the Apostles had overcame the limitations of dogma formulas, even though such formulas are not bad per se (am I making sense?)

In a sense the councils are God's way of coping with our own lack of faith. If only we had more faith, such things would not be necessary :-( This also explains why Councils are called in response to heresy: they are ultimately God's way of "mediating" His understanding to those with weak faith, so that they (and I) can at least have something of an idea of His knowledge. God is so merciful and kind that He would do all this for we of little faith :-)

"When the Son of Man returns to earth, will He find faith?"

Christi pax.

Daniel D. D. said...

@Jeremy Taylor:

Remember, you are talking to someone who believes increasingly (with Chesterton) that secularism is a result of Modernism, and that Modernism is a result of Protestantism, and that most of the West's problems today are to be blamed on Protestantism.

I find that there is some Truth in what he says, but I don't think it has to do with "worldly virtue" (a quick scan of St. Francis or St. Bonaventure, for example, would refute the claim that the Latins focus on civil virtue). It's the Protestants that tossed out the monastic and contemplative life, and one of the reasons I think many Westerners are irrational enough to accept ideas such as gay "marriage" is due to their rejection of contemplation (I also think pop-Buddhism in the West is also reflect a desire for meditation that Protestant groups generally don't have. Of course, most Westerners my age don't have a real meaning for their life beyond pleasure and greed).

In my opinion, what Mr. Sherrard is critiquing is not Latin Christianity, but its shadow, Protestantism (I have to read him first though, so I might be wrong here). I see Protestantism as what happens when the Latin style of theology and religion collapses on itself.

Daniel D. D. said...

I don't see how the Filioque is a result of the Latin culture really, because it seems to me to be a result of the West having to deal with the last groups of Arians (the Germanic tribes) in their own language. Florence has dealt with this issue, as I see it (and Mark of Ephresus was soundly refuted by both Greek and Latins): the Filioque emphasises the consubstantiality of the Son with the Father, and expresses the Patristic understanding that the Holy Spirit proceeds through the Son (there are Orthodox who will make distinctions between the "ontological and economic Trinity" but I don't find any support for this in the Fathers at all). The Greeks do not have to accept the Filioque in their language, which makes some sense considering the problems with translation in general:

I notice, that if the Fililoque is back translated into Greek (at least with my not-so-great Greek skills; I'm better with Latin :-) ), it is heretical, as it does indicate that the Son is the source of the Spirit with the Father. The Latin Church has, and will always insist that the Spirit is sourced from the Father alone, but proceeds from the Father through the Son.

Regarding the "stronger duality," I understand what you mean (although I don't think it comes from the West being more rationalistic). In Latin theology, the dualities are very apparent. However, I find that these dualism in Latin Theology are balanced out by the writings of the Latin mystics, especially St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross (both Thomist, BTW), as well as Meister Eckhart (also a Thomist, with a twist), who emphasize unity. Take this famous quote from Eckhart (a personal favorite): "The eye through which I see God is the same eye through which God sees me; my eye and God's eye are one eye, one seeing, one knowing, one love." To bad practical politics got the better of him :-( St. Thomas is also influenced by Pseudo Dionysus, a great Eastern Mystic (St. Thomas was quite the Mystic himself, actually).

Many Easterners also don't like the Scholastic approach to theology (even though it originated in the East), but I see this as not a disagreement with it fundamentally, but rather a personal dislike of the thought (which is fine, although I disagree with them).

Daniel D. D. said...

I don't know where he could possibly be coming from when he brings Aristotle into the mix: before St. Albert and St. Thomas, philosophy was dominated by Platonism, as it was in the East. St. Augustine, for example, was a neo-platonist.

Blaming rationalism for Papal doctrines I think is far too much of a stretch. The Pope definitely abused his power over the other Patriarchs, but that doesn't call for an overthrowing of the entire thing: just a correction of errors and mistakes by a Saintly Pope (like St. John Paul the Great). I personally have some qualms about how the Latin Church treats the other Eastern Catholic Churches (its gotten a lot better since Vatican II), but I think I've definitely left the topic of Dr. Feser's blog post, so I should stop here. I can sit hear and talk about the East and West all day (l love this topic!).

I'm so critical on the Eastern Orthodox largely because I want so bad to enter communion with them (you. I'm assuming by now that you are Eastern Orthodox?).

As a final farewell on this topic (notwithstanding), I also want to point out that I find the similarities between St. Gregory's position and Barlaam's to be strikingly similar to the Catholic-Protestant debate on Grace (as well as the realism vs. nominalism debate in general). Barlaam's denial of a realist participation in the Divine Life is a lot like the Protestant's (minus the Methodists), which is funny, because many at that time and today thought that Barlaam's teaching was somehow from the Latin West! It's as if St. Gregory was debating a Lutheran, IMHO. St. Gregory and St. Thomas both strongly defend real participation in Deity, and that's why I love 'em!

Christi pax.

Anonymous said...

Just for kicks--

https://calvinistinternational.com/2015/07/14/feyerabend-and-feser-on-sola-scriptura/

https://calvinistinternational.com/2015/07/15/sola-scriptura-the-authority-of-church-tradition/

https://calvinistinternational.com/2015/07/16/against-scriptural-docetism/

Glenn said...

Anonymous (7:16 PM),

Thank you for the response, and the clarification.

If there is a ***philosophical*** argument against the distinction itself [1], or against the Protestant preference for internalism in the face of divine wrath (eg Romans 1) [2], that could be well worth pursuing.

1. I haven't seen the existence of the externalist/internalist distinction itself called into question here. What I have seen is one set of disputants arguing in favor of being exclusively on the internalist side of the dividing line, and the other set of disputants arguing, not in favor of being exclusively on the externalist side of the dividing line, but in favor of the externalist side of the dividing line being a legitimate side of the line to be on.

2. Earlier it was said that, "[Patrick] propose[d] an internalist standard of evidence that is far better adapted to a soul in the existential crisis of dread before the left hand of God." For it to be said that it is far better adapted to certain circumstances, is for it to be suggested that it not so well adapted for other circumstances. And if it is not so well adapted for other circumstances, then perhaps the externalist side of the dividing line is indeed a legitimate side of the line to be on (for those other circumstances).

At any rate, I have enjoyed your comments.

Glenn said...

(Since dialectical and rhetorical back and forth isn't -- or shouldn't be -- simply for the sake of winning arguments, it must be acknowledged that the flip-side of 2. above is that in that "existential crisis of dread before the left hand of God", i.e., during spiritual crises or 'dark nights of the soul', whatever the putative source of the aid or assistance, the aid or assistance ultimately must be experienced and rooted internally. This isn’t what the OP was about. But it has come up in the discussion, and so should be acknowledged.)

Anonymous said...

Glenn, yes and yes. You've got it.

For those who do not quite follow Glenn's move there, a few thoughts.

(a) Definitions. The OP confused both sides by equating naive empiricism to 'sola scriptura' (qv the Calvinists I linked last night) rather than to 'perspicuity.' Perspicuity is the patristic and reformation doctrine that the plain sense of the scriptures is clear to the faithful reader in matters pertaining to the gospel. Our friend who cited St Augustine's De Doctrina Christiana knows what the earliest reformers meant by perspicuity, although humanist practice began to influence the idea with Melancthon and Calvin. 'Sola scriptura,' as Patrick may now realize, is the use of the writings that the Church has received from the apostles as the only criterion of doctrinal development. A comparison of 'sola scriptura' with the 2VC 'apostolic deposit' is not an unreasonable one to make. For clarity, what Feyerabend and Feser were calling 'sola scriptura' is what magisterial Protestants (eg our Calvinist brothers at the links) deride as 'nuda scriptura.'

(b) From the definitions supplied, you can see that belief in 'sola scriptura' does not in itself commit one to a fixed list of Bible-approved doctrines and practices. Nor is it necessary that there even be such a list for it to be criterial. For example, 'sola scriptura' congregationalists, presbyterians, and episcopalians all order their churches in accord with the New Testament's suppositions about the Body of Christ, but not in the same way since the NT shows a stable theology expressed in an improvised order expressed in several ways. A fortiori, although the items on Patrick's roster of post-apostolic practices are mostly not attested by the sensus plenus of scripture, that is not in itself a 'sola scriptura' reason to reject them. This is why defending the items of the list gave Catholic apologists here no traction on the central question of sola scriptura itself, even though the instinct that this is ultimately what is required was sound. A wiser apologetic path might have been to show that the criterial use of the 'apostolic deposit' in the 'hierarchy of truths' in fact is 'sola scriptura' in a better form.

Anonymous said...

(c) The reformers faced the pastoral problem that a vast web of external (trust-based) witnesses gave no peace to a believer faced with the wrath of God. Quite simply, it is hard to trust anything external in the face of a clear prospect of everlasting torment. This is why Tetzel's preaching of indulgences for cash on papal authority provoked a crisis in the German church that quickly spread throughout the Northwest. The reformers' solution was to retrieve from the scriptures themselves an internal (personal verification) way to acknowledge God's grace even in the face of divine wrath. One can lament all sorts of things about that-- personalism, subjectivity, the modern world, etc etc etc--- but if the problem had not been real and the solution had not worked, few today would know who Martin Luther was. Therefore, Glenn above astutely sidesteps that useless argument to advance a far more interesting one: conceding that some internalist account of grace must be given in the standard Western scheme of things, must that necessarily preclude an externalist account of anything at all? We are "surrounded by a cloud of witnesses." What are they for?

(d) Glenn's question poses an implicit trinitarian question: given 'sola scriptura' as defined, can a sufficient account of the Holy Spirit's rule of the Church, which necessarily creates a web of witness, be internalist? Exegetically, this seems to depend on how one situates the Resurrection and Pentecost in the origins of the Church. Resurrection-centered accounts (eg Karl Barth) seem content with the Holy Spirit's work in individuals to produce an internal assurance, but are often wary of his work in the wider Church to generate an external assurance. Pentecost-centered accounts (eg the Byzantine Vigil of Pentecost) tend to have a broader theology of the Holy Spirit in which the external and corporate world of the liturgy is eschatologically more real than our internal and personal horizon. If the 'sola scriptura' believer believes in the equality of the persons of the Trinity, then the latter account of the Holy Spirit may open a path from the internal assurance of union with Christ that can face divine wrath to trust in the Holy Spirit's work in the household of faith.

Patrick said...

David T: “Were the Apostles, at Pentecost, endowed with a fully developed theological understanding of the Trinity? If so, why didn't they just set it forth clearly and immediately, short-circuiting all the heresies that developed later? Nowhere in Scripture is it directly stated that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are Three Persons in One Being. The first Apostles simply weren't concerned with the deep theology of the Trinity, having more pressing matters at hand. The full doctrine of the Trinity only developed later as Christians found the time to reflect on the deep meaning of the Incarnation.”

Looking at John 20:28 at least the apostle Thomas acknowledged the divinity of Jesus at the time of Pentecost. There are other passages in the New Testament pointing to the divinity of Jesus or to the Trinity or to both, such as Matthew 28:19, 1 Corinthians 12:4-6, 2 Corinthians 13:14, Philippians 2:5-11, 1 Peter 1:2 or 1 John 5:20.

David T: “And, incidentally, if Sola Scriptura is true, then the Apostles were deficient in teaching that as well since, as others have pointed out, the New Testament was not written during the lifetime of at least some of the Apostles, and you can't teach what you don't know.”

If one replaces “Sola Scriptura” by “Sola Doctrina Apostolica” in view of passages such as Galatians 1:6-9 this objection no longer applies. One then can argue that “Sola Scriptura” follows from “Sola Doctrina Apostolica”. After all, even from a Catholic point of view the New Testament is the only corpus of texts that contains writings that were written by apostles.

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