Sunday, September 9, 2007

The magisterial authority of Rome?

Fellow blogger Bryan, a Covenant grad and now member of the Roman Catholic church, has challenged some of us Presbyterians with the notion that we cannot escape the Gnostic mentality if we refuse the magisterial authority of Rome.

While I do not agree with this concept, I am willing to listen. Bryan, are you willing to grace this blog with your thoughts?

JRC

95 comments:

Principium unitatis said...

Hello Jeff,

Thanks for your willingness to dialogue with me, for opening this space on your blog, and for welcoming me here. First, let me say that I don't think I challenged anyone. At least, I didn't intend to imply that I was challenging anyone. I agree with the quotation from Calvin that Jeff Myers cited. I was simply pointing out that the very individualism that Calvin is opposing in that quotation is still operative if one "finds the Church" simply by finding those who agree with one's own interpretation of Scripture.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Jeff Cagle said...

Ah. I was noting that the individualism you mention is not a *Gnostic* individualism. It might be some other kind of individualism, if your argument is correct, but it's simply unrelated to Gnosticism. That's all.

Jeff C

Principium unitatis said...

Jeff,

It is gnostic in its conception of apostolicity, as I have argued on my blog, in that it reduces apostolic succession to something entirely formal and non-physical, as opposed to something essentially sacramental.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Jeff Cagle said...

Here we have two sets of people. We have the Gnostics, who (mostly) no longer exist. And we have those who, on your account, find the Church by finding those who agree with their interpretation of Scripture. You have further placed Presbyterians in that latter group.

Your argument identifies these two groups together because they "[reduce] apostolic succession to something entirely formal and non-physical, as opposed to something essentially sacramental."

But this is fallacious. Gnostics had several features in their attitude towards authority (to wit, rejection of Scriptures and rejection of all authority as evil) that Presbies do not share. Your definition is insufficient to cover the full range of what Gnostics believed. A Gnostic would *never* have found the Church according to a metric of Scriptural interpretation, because Gnostics (a) weren't looking for the church, and (b) didn't care much about Scriptural interpretation.

Even if Presbies have some characteristics in common with Gnostics -- which I'm not willing to grant, because I don't buy the argument that it's either "magisterial" or "myself" -- the similarity would not be enough to identify the two groups.

Understand that I'm on board with you in two regards: I want the eventual unity of the Church, and I accept that some conceive of "sola Scriptura" to mean "me and my Bible" -- and that that approach is insufficient and needs reforming.

So I'm not rejecting your entire package at a stroke. I *am* rejecting the equivalence between Presbyterians and Gnostics, because it's based on an unsound argument.

Jeff C

Principium unitatis said...

Jeff,

I don't think a person or group or doctrine or practice has to have every characteristic of the ancient Gnostics in order to be gnostic. There are some points that go right to the essence of ancient Gnosticism, and others that are more at the edges. I'm definitely not saying that presbyterian theology bears all or even many of the characteristics of ancient Gnosticism. One of the essential characteristics of ancient gnosticism was a rejection of matter. Matter was evil. This is why the Gnostics tended to be docetic in their view of the incarnation of Christ. And this is why they rejected the sacraments as means of grace, because sacraments are physical/material. Christ comes to us *spiritually*, not materially, they believed. That is why they viewed salvation as spiritual and formal [in the Platonic sense of the word "form"], i.e. by knowledge -- hence the name "gnostic". But all this is based on their rejection of the *incarnation*, and that rejection was itself based on their view of matter as intrinsically evil. So this view of matter lies at the heart, the very core, of their philosophy.

I have argued here that gnosticism, in that respect [in its rejection of the incarnation on account of its view of matter as intrinsically evil] lies at the heart of all heresy. That thesis could be wrong, but I think it holds true for the heresies the Church faced in the first millennium, as I argue there.

The idea that the Gnostics did not appeal to Scripture is not true. Have you not heard of the "Gnostic Gospels"? The Gnostics definitely appealed to Scripture. They even wrote their own "Scriptures". They embraced 'knowledge', since knowledge is formal and not material. These were the people that St. Ireneaus and Tertullian were debating at the end of the second century. It was in reference to the Gnostics that Tertullian said this.

Presbyterian theology is gnostic in its treatment of the sacraments in general. It eliminated five of the sacraments. So ordination, in presbyterian theology, is spiritual, not sacramental. It also gnostified baptism, making baptism into a mere "sign" (notice that 'sign' has to do with knowledge), not actually efficacious to regenerate a person, as the fathers and Scripture teach.

Presbyterian theology likewise "spiritualized" (i.e. gnostified) the Eucharist, saying that we "spiritually" feed on Christ ("inwardly" and "spiritually" - WCF XXIX.7). That is another way of de-materializing (i.e. gnostifying) the sacrament, stripping away salvation through matter, and making salvation come through knowledge (i.e. "spiritually and "inwardly"). This is definitely not what the fathers believed about the Eucharist, as I have argued here.

The idea of the individual going directly to Scripture to hear the Holy Spirit speaking, and the individual, by the Holy Spirit speaking through the Scriptures to the individual, thus determining where is the true Church, is also gnostic. The Bible is made into the individual's own ouija board for determining where is the Church. The result will be as many "Churches" as there are individual interpretations of what the Holy Spirit is speaking through the Scriptures. This individualism of gnosticism is what St. Ignatius of Antioch (d. 107 AD) was fighting when he urged the various churches to submit to their sacramentally ordained bishops and presbyters.

The alternative to this gnostic way of seeking out the true Church is to ask what the Church has always said were the ways to determine the true Church. And those included four marks: unity, sanctity, catholicity, and apostolicity. And the fathers understood apostolicity in a *sacramental* way, as sacramental succession of the bishops from the apostles, as I have argued on my blog (just click on the 'apostolicity' tag on the left-hand side).

Much more could be said, but I've already written too much. Thanks again for your willingness to discuss this with me. I'm glad that we have common ground regarding our shared desire for the unity of the Church and regarding our shared concern about individualistic understandings of sola scriptura.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Jeff Cagle said...

I don't think a person or group or doctrine or practice has to have every characteristic of the ancient Gnostics in order to be gnostic. There are some points that go right to the essence of ancient Gnosticism, and others that are more at the edges.

This won't do as a procedure. If you intend your reader to understand that you mean Presbyterians are like Gnostics in some ways, but not in others, then you need to say that: "Presbyterians have an attitude to authority that shows similarity to the Gnostics in that blah, blah, blah."

Saying that the Presbyterian attitude towards authority "is" Gnostic assumes that (a) the essential characteristics of "Gnostic" are well-defined, and (b) that you have demonstrated that Presbyterians fit that definition completely.

Else the statement is false. And false in a dangerous way, because it conveys a guilt by association.

I'm not making an obscure point here. You've defined the heart of Gnosticism here in a way that I would mostly agree with:

But all this is based on their rejection of the *incarnation*, and that rejection was itself based on their view of matter as intrinsically evil. So this view of matter lies at the heart, the very core, of their philosophy.

It's self-evident that Presbyterians have nothing in common with this "core." We affirm the incarnation; we ardently reject the view that matter is evil. And our understanding of the sacraments is not as you describe; you have us confused with Zwinglians. For Presbyterians, the bread and wine are not mere signs, but sacramental means of grace. Our difference with Rome is over the mechanism by which that occurs, as well as the meaning of "grace."

So if we don't share the "core" of Gnosticism, why try and tag us with a label? It's neither true nor charitable. It hinders your stated goal of Christian unity.

The idea that the Gnostics did not appeal to Scripture is not true. Have you not heard of the "Gnostic Gospels"? The Gnostics definitely appealed to Scripture. They even wrote their own "Scriptures".

You are using "Scripture" ambiguously here. The Gnostic Gospels were not Scripture to the church and were never recognized as such. So neither you nor I would accept them as Scripture, and your claim disappears. The Gnostics did not, in general, recognize the authority of the Scriptures.

The appeal to Tertullian is particularly thin, since you would accept neither his views on baptism nor his heretical Montanism; why cite him as an accepted authority on heresy?

JRC

Principium unitatis said...

Jeff,

Regarding Tertullian, he was a Catholic before he became a Montanist. His writings in his Catholic period reflect orthodox Catholicism. The work of his that I cited was written during his Catholic period.

It is possible to be gnostic in certain respects, and not realize it. Phillip Lee's book Against the Protestant Gnostics is helpful in showing that. Of course the early Protestants explicitly rejected the notion that matter is evil. But their treatment of the sacraments shows an implicit rejection of the capacity for matter to be the means of salvation. Their treatment of the sacraments was in that way contrary to their explicit claim that Christ's incarnate body became the means of salvation. Eliminating five of the sacraments was an expression of this implicit gnosticism, even though the early Protestants explicitly affirmed the goodness of matter.

They also gnosticized (i.e. spiritualized) the doctrine of the sacraments that had been held by the Catholic Church for 1500 years. The Catholic Church (and all the fathers) had taught that the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ. That is why we adore the Precious Body and Blood of Christ. The Protestants all, to some degree or other, separated Christ from the matter of the Eucharist. Luther denied the Church's position and said that Christ is "in, with and under" the elements. Calvin denied the Church's position and claimed that in the Eucharist we partake of Christ "spiritually". Both Luther and Calvin reduce the elements themselves into mere signs. Yes, for Luther and Calvin the elements are means of grace, but that is only (in their view) by divine stipulation; it does not make the elements per se anything more than signs. That is why Luther and Calvin's positions on the nature of the Eucharist itself are essentially equivalent to that of Zwingli. For all three of them, the bread does not change. It remains just what it was. It is, in itself, nothing more than a sign. And likewise the wine. Either the Eucharist is Christ, or it is not Christ. There is no middle position.

And likewise, either baptism regenerates, or it leaves you dead in your sins. There is no middle position. Gnosticism denies the salvific efficacy of matter, insisting that salvation is by something spiritual (internal -- knowledge, willing, believing). The Catholic Church, by contrast, has always taught that we are saved by being washed and by eating and by believing and by confessing (among other things). The Reformation doctrine of "faith alone" is in that respect a form of gnosticism. It denies and rejects the necessity of baptism for salvation. It directly contradicts St. Peter's claim that "baptism now saves you". (1 Pet 3:21) Since you posted your reply 56 minutes after my last post, you could not have read the links that I cited, including the one concerning what the Church fathers (and the Scriptures) teach about baptism. As you read that, notice how it differs from the various Protestant positions concerning baptism.

I think that in order to achieve Church unity, we have to determine who truly has magisterial authority. If we do not know who has magisterial authority, then each man is essentially his own magisterial authority. And if each man chooses who is to be his magisterial authority based on whether that person teaches what he himself believes, that is no less a form of individualism than if each person was the head of his own church of one. The only way to avoid this individualism, in my opinion, is to determine who has sacramental magisterial authority. I have discussed that in many places on my blog, so I won't repeat it here.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Jeff Cagle said...

Of course the early Protestants explicitly rejected the notion that matter is evil. But their treatment of the sacraments shows an implicit rejection of the capacity for matter to be the means of salvation.

Hmmm ... I find myself getting a little irritated here, because my explicit statements don't matter. What really matters is what you "know" that we Protestants "really" believe.

Can you see how that might not persuade, might make one feel entirely unlistened to?

Consider:

(1) Protestants affirm the creeds. These are explicitly anti-Gnostic documents.
(2) Protestants affirm theotokos language, which carries with it the acceptance of Jesus' divinity-in-humanity.
(3) Protestants affirm the bodily resurrection of Jesus and the bodily resurrection to come.

These are important evidences that ought to be given a lot of weight. But all of them are as straw to you in light of the fact that Protestants don't think about sacraments the way you do. They *must* be Gnostics!

I simply can't accept the charge of closet Gnosticism. It's as ridiculous as me accusing you of closet Naziism because you believe in a centralized authority. I mean centralized authority was the core of Nazi belief, so you must be a Nazi. Go ahead and deny it. :)

Nonsense. Of course you aren't a Nazi. The argument is wrong because it makes too much of a single similarity.

What you've done is fixate on a single characteristic of Gnosticism -- belief that contact with God is purely spiritual -- and argue that Protestants must be Gnostic in their view of matter because they believe God operates directly through the sacraments instead of ex operato.

The logic is just not there.

Protestants don't argue that the sacraments *couldn't* work ex operato because matter is evil or because contact with God is purely spiritual. We argue that sacraments *don't* work ex operato because God has said so (e.g., 1 Pet. 3.21, "...not the washing of water, but the pledge of a good conscience.").

We don't reject transubstantiation because we hate matter. We reject transubstantiation because we believe Jesus is bodily present at the right hand of the Father, and his human nature doesn't partake of his divine attributes, like omnipresence.

Disagree with us on that point? Fine. But don't accuse us of Gnosticism. We occupy a genuine third position that is different from either Gnostics *or* Roman Catholics. It is not a "middle" position -- it is a "different" position.

A common theme in your arguments:

There is no middle position.

So we have Luther = Calvin = Zwingli on the sacraments. Non-Catholic magisterial authority = individualist. Baptism either regenerates, or else it leaves you dead in your sins. All of these positions come about because there is no middle ground.

It might be worth considering the Fallacy of the Excluded Middle.

In reality, there are other options. It is poor reasoning to chop and trim everything to fit two pigeonholes until no one can recognize themselves in the pigeonholes anymore.

I feel gruff on this because I'm perceiving your arguments as less of a dialogue and more of a diatribe about what I "really" believe.

If I'm misunderstanding your intent, then I apologize. But if not, then I ask you to spend some time considering how people can operate in entirely different categories from yourself. It's not just a matter of various positions along a sliding scale ... it's a matter of entirely different scales.

For you, as I've read your blog and your testimony of becoming Catholic, the repentance from your individualism led you to seek a Church authority that could claim real substance in your life. Hence, your concerns are things like who the final authority really is, and whether that authority is transmitted materially or not.

For me, the discovery that authority cannot be exercised by lording it over others (cf. Mark 10.41-45) has led me very far outside the orbit of Rome. I don't know or care whether authority is an ontological or relational construct. What I care about is that real authority is exercised in humility, pointing to Christ -- and at this point in my understanding, Rome's authority does not appear to be so exercised (I'm not presenting this point for debate; I'm explaining the space in which I move).

You and I aren't at different places on the scale of authority; we are operating on different concerns about authority entirely.

I could multiply the examples using the sacramental views, justification views, etc. But you get the point: we are work in *different* frameworks, not the same framework with different locations.

And I can assure that my framework is not a Gnostic one. You'll just have to accept that.

New topic: What is your understanding of the roles of "authority" and "interpreter"? In terms of a practical scenario, suppose Alice reads a text, and Bob is a legitimate authority over her, then how does Bob's authority affect her reading process?

Grace and peace,
Jeff

Principium unitatis said...

Jeff,

"For me, the discovery that authority cannot be exercised by lording it over others ..."

If authority cannot be exercised in that way, then it would be strange that Jesus would prohibit it. I think you mean that ecclesial authority *should* not be exercised in that manner. If that is what you mean, then I agree with you. But does a sacramental magisterial authority ipso facto cease to be an authority if he "lords it over others"? The Donatists erred precisely in thinking that sins by sacramental magisterial authorities ipso facto removed their authority. This is why they formed a schism. St. Augustine helped bring the Donatists back into the Catholic Church, and heal the schism, in part based on the doctrine that sacramental authority is not ipso facto lost by sin. So even if the episcopal successors of St. Peter have, at times, abused their sacramental authority, this does not nullify or remove their sacramental authority. We are still to "obey our leaders and submit to them" (Heb 13:17).

What is your understanding of the roles of "authority" and "interpreter"? In terms of a practical scenario, suppose Alice reads a text, and Bob is a legitimate authority over her, then how does Bob's authority affect her reading process?

The general principle is that she should subordinate her interpretation to that of the sacramental magisterial authority.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Jeff Cagle said...

What does "subordinate her interpretation" mean? Give a practical example and a concise definition.

Principium unitatis said...

Jeff,

Terms can be defined, but phrases cannot. I'll try to give an example regarding subordinating one's interpretation. Let's say I read the Bible and come across Gal 3:28 and I conclude that this verse tells us how to interpret those other verses regarding whether women can have [sacramental] magisterial authority (SMA). If the SMA disagrees and rules that I am wrong, then I should accept their ruling. I may not understand the reasoning of the SMA, but I accept it as the position of the Church, and I take a stance of humility toward it, i.e. faith (i.e. trust) seeking understanding.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Jeff Cagle said...

So, this raises several other questions. Again assuming that Alice reads Gal. 3.28, and that Bob is a valid SMA over her (using your understanding of the term):

(0) I'm taking authority to mean "moral right to make binding pronouncements." Is this your usage also?

(1) Is Alice morally obligated to believe that Bob is correct?
For example, would you endorse the quote of Loyola, To be right in everything, we ought always to hold that the white which I see, is black, if the Hierarchical Church so decides it...

(2) Is she morally obligated to change her opinion to match Bob's? If so, how is she to do this? If not, then what does (1) mean?

(3) What are her obligations if Bob's opinion contradicts the opinion of some other SMA over her?

(4) What does she do if Bob's opinion contradicts the Scriptures themselves?

(5) How does the insistence that SMA is a material, not relational, authority relate to your claim that individual popes may have abused their authority without relinquishing it? There is the whiff of contradiction in the air, in that you appear to be saying

(a) The authority resides in the actual material being in question -- the Pope (this appears to be the basis for your claim that ordination and laying on of hands has material sacramental efficacy), but
(b) the Pope himself might use authority in ways that he does not have the moral right to, but
(c) he does not thereby invalidate the authority invested in him, because the authority resides in the office, not the person.

It would seem like denying (a) would force you to give up the claim that SMA is material instead of relational; and (b) and (c) are commonplace Catholic teaching. But obviously (a) and (c) are in contradiction.

So what do you make of (a)-(c)?

(6) What is the mechanism by which Alice is supposed to understand what *Bob's* statements mean? What guarantees that she will properly understand the pronouncements of the SMA?

(7) Bob teaches that Gal. 3.28 means B. But he dies, and Charlie becomes Alice's SMA. Charlie teaches that Gal. 3.28 means C. Is Alice obligated to believe that Gal. 3.28 meant B until Bob's death, but now it means C? Or should she believe that it meant C all along, and Bob was simply incorrect? Or some other alternative?

Thanks,
Jeff

P.S. I didn't ignore your baptismal links. I'm somewhat familiar with the church fathers on baptism and actually teach on it in my biannual church history class.

Principium unitatis said...

Jeff,

By 'authority' I mean power. The sacramental magisterial authorities in the Church have the authority/power to teach in the name of Christ (as His official representatives and spokesmen), the authority/power to make laws in the Church, to make judgments concerning those laws, to punish those who violate those laws, and the authority/power to effect the sacraments.

Regarding (1), yes.
Regarding (2), yes. By trusting the Church more than her own self.
Regarding (3), it depends on who has higher authority. If her priest says X and her bishop says ~X, then she should obey her bishop.
Regarding (4), contradicts whose interpretation of the Scriptures?
Regarding (5), (c) is a complex proposition. The first part of (c) is true, and is not in contradiction with (a). The person has the authority because he holds the office. So the last part of (c) is false.
Regarding (6), understanding is not a mechanism. She listens, and asks questions if necessary. Nothing "guarantees" that she will properly understand the pronouncements of the SMA.
Regarding (7), she is obliged to believe the present Magisterium. When Jesus explained that Moses permitted divorce because of the hardness of their hearts, the people were supposed to understand that it was not wrong from them to have obeyed Moses then, but it is wrong for them to follow Moses (on that point) now.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Jeff Cagle said...

Regarding (4), contradicts whose interpretation of the Scriptures?

Just for interest's sake, suppose it was a flat denial of the wording of Scripture. For example, suppose that an SMA said simply, "Genesis 1 is wrong."

Or, suppose it was a flat denial of the creeds. Perhaps some future Pope decrees that Mormons are not heretical after all.

What happens then?

JRC wrote:

(a) The authority resides in the actual material being in question -- the Pope (this appears to be the basis for your claim that ordination and laying on of hands has material sacramental efficacy), but
(b) the Pope himself might use authority in ways that he does not have the moral right to, but
(c) he does not thereby invalidate the authority invested in him, because the authority resides in the office, not the person.


BC wrote:
Regarding (5), (c) is a complex proposition. The first part of (c) is true, and is not in contradiction with (a). The person has the authority because he holds the office. So the last part of (c) is false.

This was confusing. You say that P: "the authority resides in the office, not the person" is false, yet you say that Q: "The person has the authority because he holds the office" is true. P and Q seem to be saying the same thing in different words. What do you mean?

Regarding (7), she is obliged to believe the present Magisterium. When Jesus explained that Moses permitted divorce because of the hardness of their hearts, the people were supposed to understand that it was not wrong from them to have obeyed Moses then, but it is wrong for them to follow Moses (on that point) now.

That was helpful to know, but it answered a different question. I was asking what Alice is supposed to believe about the meaning of Scripture, not whether or not it is morally binding today. In her case, two valid SMAs of the same rank have contradicted one another concerning the *meaning* of the text. What is she supposed to believe about the meaning of that text? What is she supposed to think about her former thoughts about the text?

JRC

Principium unitatis said...

Jeff,

Just for interest's sake, suppose it was a flat denial of the wording of Scripture. For example, suppose that an SMA said simply, "Genesis 1 is wrong."

The highest SMA will never say that. You are asking about hypotheticals that, from a Catholic point of view, are impossible. Christ's promise to His Church is to guide it into all truth, and that the gates of hell will never prevail against it. The Church is, as St. Paul says, the "pillar and bulwark of truth". And truth cannot contradict truth.

Or, suppose it was a flat denial of the creeds. Perhaps some future Pope decrees that Mormons are not heretical after all.

It won't happen. It can't happen, because of Christ's promises to His Church.

You say that P: "the authority resides in the office, not the person" is false, yet you say that Q: "The person has the authority because he holds the office" is true. P and Q seem to be saying the same thing in different words. What do you mean?

P is false because it denies that the authority resides in the person. Q is true. Q does not deny that the authority resides in the person.

I was asking what Alice is supposed to believe about the meaning of Scripture, not whether or not it is morally binding today. In her case, two valid SMAs of the same rank have contradicted one another concerning the *meaning* of the text. What is she supposed to believe about the meaning of that text?

This is another hypothetical. Perhaps you have a real-world example in mind. The highest SMA has never contradicted itself. If one priest contradicted the previous priest regarding the meaning of a text, there would be no obligation to form any judgment regarding the previous priest's teaching, unless a bishop or pope weighed in on the issue.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Jeff Cagle said...

You say that P: "the authority resides in the office, not the person" is false, yet you say that Q: "The person has the authority because he holds the office" is true. P and Q seem to be saying the same thing in different words. What do you mean?

P is false because it denies that the authority resides in the person. Q is true. Q does not deny that the authority resides in the person.


I'm not clear yet. As stated, Q:"The person has the authority because he holds the office" literally says,

Holds office --> has authority

Thus, if a man gains the office of pope, he has the authority of pope.

(Conversely, it is also the case that if he leaves office, or is deposed, he no longer holds the authority. Thus Q should be stronger: Holds office <--> has authority).

But this is exactly what P means: that the authority resides in the office, not the person. Or in other words, the authority is a consequence of occupying the office.

So P and Q still appear equivalent to me.

Jeff

Jeff Cagle said...

JRC wrote:

Just for interest's sake, suppose it was a flat denial of the wording of Scripture. For example, suppose that an SMA said simply, "Genesis 1 is wrong."


BC wrote:

The highest SMA will never say that. You are asking about hypotheticals that, from a Catholic point of view, are impossible. Christ's promise to His Church is to guide it into all truth, and that the gates of hell will never prevail against it. The Church is, as St. Paul says, the "pillar and bulwark of truth". And truth cannot contradict truth.


Well, these hypotheticals are indeed impossible *if* SMA functions as you say. So I agree that in your system, the hypotheticals are analytically impossible.

But your system is based on the assumption that Christ's promise *means* that the SMA will never err. What if it doesn't?

What grounds would you offer to defend reading Jesus' promise as a promise of infallible SMA?

If one does not believe that Matt. 16.17 - 20 entails the primacy and promise of infallibility of the pope, then the Vatican I declaration of infallibility is of no weight.

And of course, the Eastern Orthodox and Protestants do not. They read Matt. 16 either as a reference to Peter as one of the many apostles, (as in Eph. 2, "foundation of the prophets and apostles"), or else take "the rock" to mean Peter's pronouncement that Jesus is the Lord.

What grounds would you offer them, or us, to believe that your reading is exactly what Jesus intended?

So that's the theoretical side. I'll post a bit on the practical side later on.

Jeff

Principium unitatis said...

Jeff,

Regarding P and Q, there is an ambiguity in the word "resides". When a person holds the office, he has that authority, and in that sense the authority resides in him. But the basis for the authority is not in him but in the office. In that sense, the authority resides in the office.

But your system is based on the assumption that Christ's promise *means* that the SMA will never err. What if it doesn't?

It is not an "assumption". It is what the Church has taught from the very beginning of its existence. If you do a careful study of the first one thousand years of the Church, you see that the Church always believed that the results of Ecumenical Councils were divinely protected from error, and in that sense infallible.

What grounds would you offer to defend reading Jesus' promise as a promise of infallible SMA?

The same grounds I would give for believing the gospel: i.e. the authority of the Church. As St. Augustine said, "For my part, I should not believe the Gospel except as moved by the authority of the Catholic Church."

If one does not believe that Matt. 16.17 - 20 entails the primacy and promise of infallibility of the pope, then the Vatican I declaration of infallibility is of no weight.

You are starting at the end, and trying to deduce the beginning. Start at the beginning, and then the end follows naturally. That is how living things grow, from beginning to end. They do not grow from end to beginning. The Church is the Body of Christ. It is a living organism, and it cannot be understand except from beginning to end. You cannot study a full grown organism, and then deduce everything about its ontogeny. What did the early Church say about Peter and Matthew 16:17-20? I have collected many thoughts from the fathers on that subject here. When you understand what the early Church believed about the role of Peter, then instead of trying to approach Matt 16 from some kind of detached "view from nowhere", come at it from the perspective of the early Church, as revealed in the fathers.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Jeff Cagle said...

JRC wrote:

But your system is based on the assumption that Christ's promise *means* that the SMA will never err. What if it doesn't?


BC wrote:
It is not an "assumption". It is what the Church has taught from the very beginning of its existence.


Sorry for the ambiguity. Here, "assumption" means its normal mathematical sense, "a premise on which a conclusion is based." Nothing was implied about about the groundedness of that premise. I recognize that your claim for the SMA is not made up out of thin air. Even though I think it to be in error. :)

Now in regard to the substance: it's tempting to walk down the road of debating the history and the question of whether the church fathers really saw the bishop of Rome as an infallible SMA. But I don't think it would be profitable, for a simple reason. In the end, your question, "Whose interpretation of Scripture?" applies with equal force: "Whose interpretation of history?"

I'm sure you fully aware that the Eastern Orthodox, who also hold to the church fathers, deny that Peter was ever more than first among equals.

As evidence, they might for example give a fuller version of the quote you provide from Irenaeus. You cited this:

"We do put to confusion all those who ... assemble in unauthorized meetings; [we do this, I say,] by indicating that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; as also [by pointing out] the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops. For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church [of Rome], on account of its preeminent authority, that is, the faithful everywhere, inasmuch as the apostolical tradition has been preserved continuously by those [faithful men] who exist everywhere." Adv. Her. 3.3.2

But the quote continues,

But Polycarp also was not only instructed by apostles, and conversed with many who had seen Christ. [He] departed this life, having always taught the things which he had learned from the apostles, and which the Church has handed down, and which alone are true. To these things all the Asiatic Churches testify, as do also those men who have succeeded Polycarp down to the present time,—a man who was of much greater weight, and a more stedfast witness of truth, than Valentinus, and Marcion, and the rest of the heretics. ...Then, again, the Church in Ephesus, founded by Paul, and having John remaining among them permanently until the times of Trajan, is a true witness of the tradition of the apostles. -- Adv. Her. 3.3.4

And they would argue that the quote from Irenaeus does not establish that the church in Rome, in particular, is primal over all other churches; but rather that Ir. is holding up the church in Rome to be one of the churches that all churches everywhere should listen to, along with the church in Ephesus and those churches who learned from Polycarp himself. (You might note the translator's notes on the side at the document linked above.)

Now, Who's To Say that their interpretation of Irenaeus is inferior to yours?

It's not important for you to challenge their claim; I'm not presenting it as incontrovertible proof of anything.

Rather, I'm making a point about interpretation. Central to your argument against sola scriptura is the idea that Scripture itself can be taken and twisted any which way by heretics; therefore, a supreme authoritative interpretation is necessary. This is an ancient argument, going back to Hus's trial and beyond, with hints of it found in Tertullian.

But this is a radical, deconstructionist approach to the text: the "text itself" doesn't say anything; only the interpreter endows the text with meaning.

Once you've unleashed that beast, it swallows everything. We can start deconstructing history and Who's To Say that my reading of history is better than yours? We can start deconstructing the Papal pronouncements, and Who's To Say what the Pope really means? We can start deconstructing each others' posts, and Who's To Say that my reading of your posts is wrong? Even if you publish a correction to my understanding, I can glibly reinterpret it to mean agreement.

This approach to texts is one that I reject in general, because it is unprofitable for communication and false to the way words work in real life.

In real life, I might misread something that you say, and need to be corrected in my understanding; yet, the potential for misunderstanding does not make your words infinitely flexible. A later reader cannot *rationally* say that your posts here are, say, a cryptic set of advertisements for iPods.

Likewise, the words of Scripture might be difficult at points, but they are not infinitely flexible. There *is* meaning there that is independent of the reader.

In fact, that meaning consists of what the original writer intended. The process of discovering that meaning, while fraught with problems to be solved, is not a solipsistic process in which each reader can find his own meaning. There *is* meaning there.

But this raises the possibility that the meaning that is there *might*, logically speaking, be in contradiction to one or more papal pronouncements. Possibly, logically speaking, the meaning of Scripture might contradict even a papal pronouncement made with the usual formulae that attach to "ex cathedra" statements -- a statement about a matter of faith, making a declaration, pronouncing anathemas, etc.

So how would we know if such a contradiction had occurred? Alternatively, how can we rule it out as an impossibility?

So far, my understanding of your answer is that "we can rule it out as impossible because we know that the Pope, when exercising SMA, cannot err." (paraphrased, not quoted)

How do we know that?

My understanding of your answer is that "history shows this to be the (near-?)universal belief of the church fathers." (ditto)

But how do we know *that*? I've studied the church fathers, and I'm not convinced of this. My own study of history leads me to the conclusion that the claim to infallibility developed over time, and was in fact explicitly denied by Pope John XXII in Quia Quorundam:

Moreover from the aforementioned things they strive to infer, as has been shown, that the definition of the aforesaid supreme Pontiffs, which they defined concerning the poverty of Christ and the Apostles and concerning the rule of the aforesaid Friars Minor, (just as they have expressed it above), could not be changed by Us; far from doubt they assert false things, by saying, that Our predecessor have defined such things, as has been proved above, and thus saying besides, while sufficiently impugning Our constitutions, they show that those constitutions, on which they support themselves, to be invalid, erroneous, and refuted (if their false assertions would show [themselves to be] true). For if it was not lawful for Us to establish publicly anything against the constitution of Nicholas III, Our predecessor, on which they especially found themselves, neither was it lawful for him to establish or declare anything against the statues of the aforesaid Gregory, Innocent, and Alexander; because nevertheless, according to their assertion, it is evidently known that he did. Quia Quor. 5.

In this document, John also denies that there is a distinction between the "key of knowledge" and the "key of binding and loosing", so that Papal authority over temporal matters is placed on the same footing as Papal declarations concerning matters of faith and morals.

So history seems to put us in a bind: either Papal pronouncements, containing declarations and anathemas, can contain errors; or else John's pronouncement is fully true -- and Popes are thereby given authority to overturn previous Popes' declarations. In this case, John asserted the right to overturn Nic. III's declaration that Jesus owned nothing.

This is just one example, but it suffices to show that my reading of history does not agree with your claim.

The Eastern Orthodox church has even a much more thorough knowledge the church fathers than I, and they are not convinced that the Pope has infallible SMA either.

So where from here? Again, I don't think it's profitable to endlessly debate the history; I'm sure you have counterarguments for the two examples above. My point is not "You're wrong!" -- after all, my interpretation of history could be in error, as I'm sure you believe it is.

Rather, my point is that having accepted the radical interpretive idea that texts don't speak for themselves, it becomes difficult to point to history and claim that it speaks for itself.

Your claim that a "careful study" of history will support your view seems doubtful indeed, especially if you don't actually believe that words have meanings.

I would be interested in knowing what your understanding is of how communication happens through text: what is the role of the writer and the reader; what is the status of the reader's interpretation of what has been written?

Specifically, why do you deny that someone (Luther, say) could read the Scriptures and see for themselves that a teaching of the church is in error, assuming that such could be the case?

Jeff

Principium unitatis said...

Jeff,

Sorry for the delay; I've been in a discussion on my blog.

You seem to think that the continuation of the quotation from St. Irenaeus implies something that detracts from the primacy of the authority of the successor of St. Peter. But nothing St. Irenaeus says about St. Polycarp implies anything about the primacy and authority of the successor of St. Peter.

You seem to think that the disagreement between the Orthodox Churches and the Catholic Church somehow justifies Protestantism. I don't see how that conclusion follows. The Orthodox Churches and the Catholic Church all agree that the communities within Protestantism have not preserved Apostolic succession and therefore are not true [particular] Churches, and have no actual Eucharist. If you decide to become Orthodox, then you and I can discuss the extent of the jurisdiction of the successor of St. Peter. You want to appeal to the Orthodox Churches, but you yourself apparently reject the Orthodox Churches. So if they are not credible enough for you, then you are being inconsistent if you appeal to them in order to argue against Catholicism.

But this is a radical, deconstructionist approach to the text: the "text itself" doesn't say anything; only the interpreter endows the text with meaning.

That is not my position. That is a straw man of my position.

A later reader cannot *rationally* say that your posts here are, say, a cryptic set of advertisements for iPods.

Of course. I agree.

Likewise, the words of Scripture might be difficult at points, but they are not infinitely flexible. There *is* meaning there that is independent of the reader.

Again, I agree. You seem to be working with a false dichotomy: either the meaning is entirely independent of the reader, or the meaning is entirely dependent on the reader. Since I don't fall into the former category, you simply assume that I fall into the latter category. But you should consider whether there might possibly be a third option.

Possibly, logically speaking, the meaning of Scripture might contradict even a papal pronouncement made with the usual formulae that attach to "ex cathedra" statements -- a statement about a matter of faith, making a declaration, pronouncing anathemas, etc.

I agree that there is no logical impossibility in the notion that Scripture might contradict an ex cathedra statement. If you have an actual example (instead of a mere hypothetical), I'd like to see it.

Regarding your quotation from Quia Quorundum, if you read that quotation in context, you will see that John XXII is not claiming that Nicholas III erred. Earlier in that very document he carefully shows how the heretics are misunderstanding what Nicholas III said, and how what he [John XXII] is saying is in harmony with what Nicholas III in fact said. The point John XXII is making in the section you quoted is that the heretics, by rejecting some of John XXII's early decretals, are undermining their dependence on the decisions of the earlier popes.

In this document, John also denies that there is a distinction between the "key of knowledge" and the "key of binding and loosing", so that Papal authority over temporal matters is placed on the same footing as Papal declarations concerning matters of faith and morals.

That conclusion doesn't follow from the premise. How are you deriving that conclusion from the premise?

So history seems to put us in a bind: either Papal pronouncements, containing declarations and anathemas, can contain errors; or else John's pronouncement is fully true -- and Popes are thereby given authority to overturn previous Popes' declarations.

The Church has never claimed that various disciplines or practices could not be revised. Pope Benedict, for example, could dissolve the order to Jesuits, if he chose to do so, even though a previous pope formally recognized the Jesuit order. And the same is true of clerical celibacy. It is a discipline, not an infallible doctrine. Hence it is revisable in principle. But John XXII makes no claim that the official *teaching* of prior popes can be or will ever need to be *contradicted*. Later Ecumenical Councils often revise (in the sense of clarify, qualify, extend, deepen) the decisions of previous Ecumenical Councils. Look at the way the Council of Constantinople (381) revised the Nicene Creed of 325. That is not "overturning" the decision of 325. That is building on and developing what was done in Nicea in 325.

Rather, my point is that having accepted the radical interpretive idea that texts don't speak for themselves, it becomes difficult to point to history and claim that it speaks for itself.

Fair enough. If the Church fathers speak for themselves, show me anything in the fathers that looks like the PCA. Which do the fathers look like more: the PCA, or the Catholic Church?

Specifically, why do you deny that someone (Luther, say) could read the Scriptures and see for themselves that a teaching of the church is in error, assuming that such could be the case?

Because a teaching (i.e. doctrine or dogma) of the Church cannot be in error. Otherwise even the canon of Scripture could be in error, and we would have absolutely no knowledge whatsoever of Christianity.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Jeff Cagle said...

You seem to think that the disagreement between the Orthodox Churches and the Catholic Church somehow justifies Protestantism. I don't see how that conclusion follows.

The conclusion doesn't follow, but it's not the one I was arguing. I was arguing something more basic: the disagreement between the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church casts doubt on your claim that a "careful reading of history" will lead to your position.

Nothing more, nothing less. The connection to a defense of Protestantism is very distant.

JRC wrote:
But this is a radical, deconstructionist approach to the text: the "text itself" doesn't say anything; only the interpreter endows the text with meaning.

BC wrote:
That is not my position. That is a straw man of my position.

Well, it's not intended to be a straw man, so I apologize. But I admit I'm having trouble understanding your position. On the one hand, you have apparently argued that there is no middle ground between the authority of Rome, or else total exegetical relativism. Yes?

But now, more recently, you are conceding that there is *some* meaning in texts that is not dependent on the reader.

So that leaves me confused about your actual position, which is why I asked the questions I did:

* What is the role of the reader and writer in communication?
* What is the status of the reader's understanding of the text? and,
* Why do you deny that someone might read the Scriptures and reasonably conclude that Rome had erred, if in fact it is logically possible for that to occur?

JRC wrote:
Likewise, the words of Scripture might be difficult at points, but they are not infinitely flexible. There *is* meaning there that is independent of the reader.

BC wrote:

Again, I agree. You seem to be working with a false dichotomy: either the meaning is entirely independent of the reader, or the meaning is entirely dependent on the reader.


Definitely a wrong reading. I argue that either there is *some* meaning independent of the reader, or else there is *no* meaning independent of the reader. That's tautologously true.

No claim is made or implied about meaning being *entirely* independent.

Although, now that I think on it, if meaning is defined as "the original intent of the author", then meaning would certainly be mostly or entirely independent of the reader. Do you agree?


Since I don't fall into the former category, you simply assume that I fall into the latter category.


No, I have understood you to believe that there is no meaning independent of the reader because of your previous statements:

BC wrote:
The idea of the individual going directly to Scripture to hear the Holy Spirit speaking, and the individual, by the Holy Spirit speaking through the Scriptures to the individual, thus determining where is the true Church, is also gnostic. The Bible is made into the individual's own ouija board for determining where is the Church. The result will be as many "Churches" as there are individual interpretations of what the Holy Spirit is speaking through the Scriptures.



If we do not know who has magisterial authority, then each man is essentially his own magisterial authority. And if each man chooses who is to be his magisterial authority based on whether that person teaches what he himself believes, that is no less a form of individualism than if each person was the head of his own church of one.


Both of these statements appear to deny the possibility that the Scripture has a reader-independent meaning that could be seen by any reasonably competent reader.

But again, it's easy to misunderstand these things, so please clarify if I've misunderstood.

Jeff

Jeff Cagle said...

With regard to John XXII's quote, I believe you are mistaken in your reading.

It *is* true, as you say, that John accuses the Franciscans of misunderstanding Nic III. In fact, he accuses them of several misunderstandings, developing his ideas over the various sections.

In Section 2, he demonstrates that they have misunderstood the notion of keys of power and knowledge.

In Section 3, he demonstrates that they have misunderstood John's predecessors' statements about the evangelical rule.

In Section 4, he demonstrates that they have falsely seen conflict between himself and Nic III.

But now in Section 5, his argument climaxes to the final point: They have misunderstood the relationship between his authority and the statements of previous popes:


Moreover from the aforementioned things they strive to infer, as has been shown, that the definition of the aforesaid supreme Pontiffs, which they defined concerning the poverty of Christ and the Apostles and concerning the rule of the aforesaid Friars Minor, (just as they have expressed it above), could not be changed by Us; far from doubt they assert false things, by saying, that Our predecessor have defined such things, as has been proved above, and thus saying besides, while sufficiently impugning Our constitutions, they show that those constitutions, on which they support themselves, to be invalid, erroneous, and refuted (if their false assertions would show [themselves to be] true). For if it was not lawful for Us to establish publicly anything against the constitution of Nicholas III, Our predecessor, on which they especially found themselves, neither was it lawful for him to establish or declare anything against the statues of the aforesaid Gregory, Innocent, and Alexander; because nevertheless, according to their assertion, it is evidently known that he did.


Don't mistake this: he is baldly asserting that Nicholas III established and declared things contrary to Greg, Innocent, and Alex.

He justifies this with fact:

For granted that the aforesaid Innocent III interdicted the erection of new religious [orders] in general council, his own successors nevertheless, (not withstanding an interdict of this kind), chose to confirm many orders, which (with some exceptions) were even dissolved in a certain measure afterwards by Our predecessor Gregory IX in general council.

He is not "undermining the dependence" of his decrees on those of Nic III; he is asserting the right to change and reverse Nic III's decrees in the same way that Nicholas did to his predecessors' decrees. The language used here is not one of "development", but of "dissolving" and "establishing against."

Now, as you say, the RC church distinguishes between decrees of practice (such as celibacy and orders) and decrees of doctrine. But John's denial of the distinction between keys of knowledge and power makes the RC church distinction somewhat doubtful.

Jeff

CresceNet said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jeff Cagle said...

CresceNet, for the record, didn't speak English, didn't appear to be remotely on topic, and was awfully fond of linking to his own website.

Jeff Cagle said...

BC wrote:

If the Church fathers speak for themselves, show me anything in the fathers that looks like the PCA. Which do the fathers look like more: the PCA, or the Catholic Church?


This is a fascinating pair of questions, and it got me thinking whilst driving in the car back and forth this evening.

Of course, teaching church history makes one think about these things too. It might surprise you, but in my church history course, I spend a lot of time emphasizing the historical *unity* that Protestants have with the medieval Western church, and even the RC church of today. A lot of my students come from Bible Churches, or Baptist or non-denom churches, and their only knowledge of Catholicism comes from disparaging comments made from the pulpit.

So I try in that course to dispel certain myths ("Catholics teach salvation by good works", "Catholics worship Mary", "Catholics don't believe in the Bible"), and also help students understand how much of what they believe has been shaped by the doctrinal developments in the West.

My own answer to your second question is this: I think if Polycarp, or Justin, or Irenaeus, or Tertullian, or Augustine were transported to 2007 and given the ability to speak English, they would find both of our churches unrecognizable.

There are points of contact that each of those men has with the PCA, with the RC church, and with the EO church -- but none of those churches "does church" like the patristics.

Points of contact with PCA:

* Augustine's predestinarian views. Luther and Calvin, of course, reached back to Augustine and his "double-predestination" ideas as the inspiration for their own.
* Irenaeus's version of the regula fidei, which is essentially the Apostle's creed (rather than the much-extended RC version)
* The overall emphasis on Scriptural exegesis as a theological method. The church fathers frequently and almost exclusively appeal to the Scriptures for proof. When one considers Polycarp and Ignatius' appeals against heresy, they are invariably grounded in the Scriptures and not appeal to church authority. Irenaeus speaks, in the sections you have quoted, of the faith passed down through the church in Rome, and through Polycarp, and through Ephesus -- but the substance of his argument is from the Scriptures. The argument about Rome and such is a historical sidenote: if the apostles had taught something different in secret, the Romans would have known about it.

And consider Clement of Alexandria: But those who are ready to toil in the most excellent pursuits, will not desist from the search after truth, till they get the demonstration from the Scriptures themselves. Strom. 7.16

There's no hint here of some fear that different readers will take the Scriptures in a wrong direction; rather the confidence is that heresy is refutable by appeal to Scriptures.

* A more collegial system of church authority The elder system -- and by the 2nd century, the elder/bishop system -- was a distributed authority, with decisions made by council rather than a single pope.

Points of contact with RCC:

* The patristics certainly believed that baptism washed away sins, beginning at least as early as Hippolytus. However, infant baptism was practiced only by some; Tertullian rejected it.
* One sees hints of some belief about a sub-heavenly afterlife that later develops into a doctrine of purgatory -- prayers for departed martyrs (ironic, since the martyrs themselves are now held to be saints and thus directly translated into heaven...).
* There is a great emphasis on the holiness of martyrs and a very early belief in the efficacy of relics.

Points of contact with EOC:

* The early doctrine of atonement was most closely related to EO's Christus Victor model. Very little, if any, substitutionary atonement thought takes place in the early church.
* Ditto the comments about church government above in PCA.
* Ditto comments about baptism above, and even more so: the EOs consciously model their baptismal practices after the early church, what with the white robes and chrismation and all.

But many features of the early church mark it as sui generis:

* A belief that a serious sin could oust one from grace, with the possibility of only a single act of penance as a "plank in the shipwreck" of one's faith. This has no parallel in contemporary practices of any of the three; the RC's have created an entire penitential system; EO's allow for multiple confession and penance.

* The early church experienced a great deal of doctrinal confusion that none of the three, benefiting from the work of creeds and ecumenical councils, have had much cause to question. (Comments not applicable to churches who have rejected the creeds...)

* Many within the early church believed in soul sleep, which would rule out at a stroke the whole notion of either purgatory or instantaneous heaven.

* The early church had a reverence for Mary, but nothing like the RC doctrines of today. Perpetual Virginity was believed on the basis of the Protoevang. of James -- but disputed by Tertullian. The Assumption of Mary was taught no earlier than the 5th century, in a work (De Transitu Virginis) later declared heretical by popes Gelasius and Hormisdas. And of course, there is no mention of co-mediatrix or co-redemptrix.

* The concept of merit in the RC sense (or Protestant sense) was completely absent from the church fathers.

* Transubstantiation was not even on the radar until perhaps Gregory the Great.

You might be able to add to either points of contact or differences, but that's a start. I don't think the early church would relate to the theological concerns we differ over.

Jeff

ETC4 said...

Jeff,

in your response on the original blog post, you said " So 'Gnostic mentality' is entirely out of place as a description of Presbyterians. Whatever faults we may have, Gnosticism isn't one." Whereas our docrtine (if there is such a universal Presbyerian doctrine pertaining to this subject) may not match with any formal Gnostic doctrine, I do believe that much of Presbyterian action is plagued by a subconcious gnosticism. I was raised in the Presbyterian church with an intense distate for the material world. I believe that this was a poorly hidden message imbedded in my encounters with various ministries, primarily to the youth, of my church. I do not think mine is an isolated story. Perhaps gnosticism is not a fair description of Presbyterian doctrine, but I believe it is fair as a description of PResbyterians themselves.

Jeff Cagle said...

Hi Earl,

As someone raised nonPresbie, and converted, I was struck by the way in which the Reformed worldview integrated spiritual and material. Perhaps I just spend too much time with Durants. :)

Anyways, can you spin out some of the cryptoGnostic features of your upbringing?

Jeff

Principium unitatis said...

Jeff,

On the one hand, you have apparently argued that there is no middle ground between the authority of Rome, or else total exegetical relativism. Yes?

I don't recall arguing that anywhere. I have argued here that there is no middle position between sacramental authority and individualism.

* What is the role of the reader and writer in communication?
* What is the status of the reader's understanding of the text? and,


These two questions are far too open-ended for me to try to answer on a blog.

* Why do you deny that someone might read the Scriptures and reasonably conclude that Rome had erred, if in fact it is logically possible for that to occur?

Just because something is logically possible does not mean that it is actually possible. The Church has always believed and taught that the Holy See was promised divine protection from error. This is why all the errors dealt with in the first seven Ecuenical Councils were errors coming from the Eastern Churches, and fought against by the Holy See. Peter's See is that unbreakable rock upon which the Church is built. See Stephen Ray's book Upon This Rock.

Although, now that I think on it, if meaning is defined as "the original intent of the author", then meaning would certainly be mostly or entirely independent of the reader. Do you agree?

Yes, but it seems to me that the real question is: Whose interpretation is authoritative?

Both of these statements appear to deny the possibility that the Scripture has a reader-independent meaning that could be seen by any reasonably competent reader.

My two statements do not deny that possibility. What's going on is that you and I are talking past each other, because you are talking about hermeneutics, and I am talking about authority. My two statements are about authority. Whose interpretation is authoritative? If each person is his own interpretive authority, then "Who is to say that one person's interpretation is better than another person's?" It is a "Who" question.

Here's the John XXII quotation:

For if it was not lawful for Us to establish publicly anything against the constitution of Nicholas III, Our predecessor, on which they especially found themselves, neither was it lawful for him to establish or declare anything against the statues of the aforesaid Gregory, Innocent, and Alexander; because nevertheless, according to their assertion, it is evidently known that he did.

Notice that the statement begins with an "If". It is a conditional. From logic we know that the truth of a conditional does not imply the truth of the protasis or the truth of the apodosis of the conditional. Therefore nothing is implied here about the truth or falsity of the apodosis. Therefore, you are not justified in asserting:

Don't mistake this: he is baldly asserting that Nicholas III established and declared things contrary to Greg, Innocent, and Alex.

Not there he is not, as I have just shown by logically analyzing the statement.

Our disagreement about the interpretation of this document is just an example of my point about interpretive authority. Whose interpretation (of this document) is authoritative? The answer is: The sacramental successors of John XXII. And they have not interpreted it the way you are interpreting it.

You add this quotation:

For granted that the aforesaid Innocent III interdicted the erection of new religious [orders] in general council, his own successors nevertheless, (not withstanding an interdict of this kind), chose to confirm many orders, which (with some exceptions) were even dissolved in a certain measure afterwards by Our predecessor Gregory IX in general council.

But it does not state or imply that Nicholas the III erred.

The language used here is not one of "development", but of "dissolving" and "establishing against.

I presume you know the difference between ex cathedra statements, and those that are not ex cathedra. The language of dissolving and "establishing against" is not referring to ex cathedra statements, but to the pope's legal authority with respect to formally recognizing and formally dissolving religious orders (e.g. Franciscans, Jesuits, etc.) Of course the Pope could dissolve the Jesuit order; that doesn't mean that the Pope who who originally recognized the Jesuit order erred. That is in part because formally recognizing the Jesuit order is not a teaching on faith or morals that binds the whole Catholic Church. Ex cathedra statements have to be teachings that bind the whole Catholic Church.

Now, as you say, the RC church distinguishes between decrees of practice (such as celibacy and orders) and decrees of doctrine. But John's denial of the distinction between keys of knowledge and power makes the RC church distinction somewhat doubtful.

How so?

if Polycarp, or Justin, or Irenaeus, or Tertullian, or Augustine were transported to 2007 and given the ability to speak English, they would find both of our churches unrecognizable.

The Mass is the Mass. They would instantly recognize the Mass. (See the link below; the fathers' description of the Mass is amazingly similar to the Mass as it is celebrated here in St. Louis at the St. Louis Cathedral Basilica.) The fathers would have absolutely nothing to do with any group claiming to be part of the Church but in schism from the bishop (see the epistles of St. Ignatius bishop of Antioch, d. 107 AD), and attempting to celebrate the Eucharist without a priest having valid orders and without the permission of the bishop. [The exception being Tertullian, of course, who became both a heretic and a schismatic in his later years.] The notion that we only feed on Christ "spiritually" in the Eucharist is something that they would decry as gnostic and docetic. Last year I collected some of the statements of the fathers on the Eucharist in a link that can be found in this post. It is Catholic, right from the beginning. I have never encountered a PCA pastor who believes and teaches what these fathers say about the Eucharist. When Alex Jones started having his Pentecostal church in Detroit imitate the Eucharistic practice of the early Church, they realized that the early Church was Catholic, and they became Catholic. His book is titled No Price Too High.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Jeff Cagle said...

I'm sorry to run this John XXII thing into the ground, but this has turned from something simple into something unnecessarily complicated.

John XXII again:

For if it was not lawful for Us to establish publicly anything against the constitution of Nicholas III, Our predecessor, on which they especially found themselves, neither was it lawful for him to establish or declare anything against the statues of the aforesaid Gregory, Innocent, and Alexander; because nevertheless, according to their assertion, it is evidently known that he did.


The logical form of his argument is indisputable:

If ~(lawful to establish publicly against const. of Nic III)
Then ~(not lawful for Nic III to establish anything against Greg, etc.)

BUT he did establish things against Greg, etc.


This is a textbook case of a negative argument, or Modus Tollens:

~A ==> ~B
B
----
A

The only logical conclusion that can possibly be reached is that John is asserting authority to establish statutes against Nic III.

Now, as you say, this has not been interpreted by Rome as undermining infallibility, because John does *not* explicitly claim to be able to overturn ex cathedra statements.

But I would hope ... not having read Canon Law ... that Rome has not argued that John is not saying that he can overturn statutes of Nic III -- because he clearly is.

Jeff

Jeff Cagle said...

I agree entirely with you that the early fathers spoke of the Eucharist as "the body and blood of Christ", and insisted that it really was so.

But it's not at all clear that they had in mind transubstantiation. Gregory of Nyssa seemed to. (And thanks for that cite; it pushes the date back for the origins of transubstantiation back from Greg. I.)

But consider Ambrose's words:

Wherefore, too, the Church, beholding so great grace, exhorts her sons and her friends to come together to the sacraments, saying: “Eat, my friends, and drink and be inebriated, my brother.” What we eat and what we drink the Holy Spirit has elsewhere made plain by the prophet, saying, “Taste and see that the Lord is good, blessed is the man that hopeth in Him.” In that sacrament is Christ, because it is the Body of Christ, it is therefore not bodily food but spiritual. Whence the Apostle says of its type: “Our fathers ate spiritual food and drank spiritual drink,” for the Body of God is a spiritual body; the Body of Christ is the Body of the Divine Spirit, for the Spirit is Christ, as we read: “The Spirit before our face is Christ the Lord.” And in the Epistle of Peter we read: “Christ died for us.” Lastly, that food strengthens our heart, and that drink “maketh glad the heart of man,” as the prophet has recorded.
On the Mysteries, IX

Ambrose does not believe that there is a physical substance change into the body of Christ. Quite the contrary; he emphasizes that we partake of the body of Christ in the Eucharist *because* the body of Christ is the spiritual food and drink of 1 Cor 10.

The most telling point against your analysis is, again, the fact that the EO church, who hold to the teachings of the fathers, do not believe in transubstantiation. They affirm that the bread and wine become the body and blood, but resist any speculation on precisely how that happens. This ought to lead us to the conclusion that transubstantiation in particular was not the universal teaching of the early fathers; else both churches would share that view.

Jeff

Jeff Cagle said...

JRC wrote:
On the one hand, you have apparently argued that there is no middle ground between the authority of Rome, or else total exegetical relativism. Yes?


BC wrote:

I don't recall arguing that anywhere. I have argued here that there is no middle position between sacramental authority and individualism.


Well, OK, define individualism. How is it different from relativism (specifically, personal relativism -- "the truth is relative to me")?

BC wrote:
What's going on is that you and I are talking past each other, because you are talking about hermeneutics, and I am talking about authority. My two statements are about authority. Whose interpretation is authoritative? If each person is his own interpretive authority, then "Who is to say that one person's interpretation is better than another person's?" It is a "Who" question.

This is the crux of it. Rome's claim is both a claim about authority *and* a claim about hermeneutics.

That's where I've been trying to go for some time here. The interpreter's role, which he employs hermeneutics to fulfill, is to try to understand original meaning. From the perspective of interpretation, the only Authoritative Interpretation is the interpretation of the original speaker. This is the answer to your "Who" question.

The role of ecclesiastical authority is different. The ecclesiastical authority can say, "Thus sayeth the church", and even excommunicate those who contemptuously teach against the decrees of the church.

But the ecclesiastical authority does not have the ability to reach into the mind of God and say, "this is infallibly what the Lord Himself says." At best, God might sometimes grant additional revelation to the authorities at times of his own choosing (I don't believe this *does* occur, but I grant its logical possibility). But to presume that the popes could exercise such a gift at times of their choosing is silly.

And Even If They Could, the rest of us would not have the ability to discern when that gift was being exercised correctly, and when it was fraudulently being pretended to.

Even as an RC, you must admit that some popes would have had no qualms about pretending to. And there is no question that popes have contradicted other popes and councils, even on matters of faith and morals.

Ex.: I'm a Protestant. Can I be saved? According to Pius IX and Trent, No. According to Vatican II, Yes. Someone is both infallible and wrong here.

Ex.: The sale of indulgences, clearly a matter of morals, was sanctioned repeatedly, most notably by Leo X, proud sponsor of the Reformation. The practice was condemned by later popes and councils. Again, someone spoke authoritatively, infallibly, and incorrectly.

I could multiply examples, but it would be to no point.

Luther's question about indulgences applies with equal force to infallibility:

If the pope has the ability to control his infallibility, then why not exercise it all the time, and clear up all doctrinal difficulties once and for all?

And if he doesn't have that control, then why do we presume to know which statements are ex cathedra and which are simply imposters?

And if we don't know that, then what good is the doctrine of infallibility?

My real point is and has been that as long as Rome entangles the roles of the interpreter and the authority, it will be claiming the impossible: the ability of a man to turn on and off a gift that allows him to infallibly discern the mind of God.

JRC wrote:

* What is the role of the reader and writer in communication?
* What is the status of the reader's understanding of the text?


BC wrote:

These two questions are far too open-ended for me to try to answer on a blog.


That's fair. But they are the questions that need to be answered in the debate between Rome and Protestants.

Jeff

ETC4 said...

Jeff,

In the first of the Stone Lectures, Kuyper called Calvinism a "life system." If I understand him correctly, he was not merely identifying one aspect of Calvinism. Rather, he was suggesting that the two were interchangeable. This concept would have been completely foreign to me until I encountered the influence of the Dutchies in college. My family left the Catholic church when I was five for what was then an RP church, which soon joined the PCA. From that point on, I was immersed in the teachings of the PCA. For most of the time my old man was an RE. I was so busy memorizing TULIP and learning to distrust my young body, that somehow I never actually felt compelled to be involved in the redemption and restoration of God's creation. If anything, I feel I was taught to be suspicious of it and its inhabitants. This had to be more than just an unusual excpetion. I believe this "cryptoGnosticism" as you call it was and continues to be present in many reformed Pres. circles, although I will say that it is becoming more fashionable to challenge it.

-earl

Jeff Cagle said...

Thanks, Earl. That's a fascinating route from there to here, and I wonder how Presbyterians, who should have payed closer attention to Calvin, managed to become so negative about the physical body.

* Revivalism?
* A reaction against ... ?
* Other?

Aside: how does a Messiah grad come into contact with Dutch Reformed Theology "in college"?!

Jeff

Principium unitatis said...

Jeff,

When you include:

BUT he did establish things against Greg, etc.

Then your argument would follow. But John XXII does not say that Nicholas III established things against Gregory. He says here (in this quotation) that "according to their [i.e. the heretics'] assertion, it is evidently known that he did". But that is far different from saying that Nicholas III established things against Gregory.

... the early fathers spoke of the Eucharist as "the body and blood of Christ", and insisted that it really was so.But it's not at all clear that they had in mind transubstantiation.

I agree with you. Using the language and philosophy of transubstantiation is an explanatory development of doctrine that took place later. Regarding the EOCs, I agree with what you say. But which is closer to the fathers regarding the Eucharist: the EOCs, or the PCA? Clearly the EOCs.

Individualism (in this context) is the notion that each person is his own ecclesial authority under God; he is subject to no human ecclesial authority except Christ. The individual's interpretation is subject to no one's else's except God's, and the individual is the ultimate determiner of God's interpretation. Read through the combox discussion here for a good example of individualism.

Relativism is the notion that there is no absolute truth. Your 'truth' is "true for you", and my 'truth' is "true for me", but there is no absolute, objective truth.

Rome's claim is both a claim about authority *and* a claim about hermeneutics.

How so?

That's where I've been trying to go for some time here. The interpreter's role, which he employs hermeneutics to fulfill, is to try to understand original meaning. From the perspective of interpretation, the only Authoritative Interpretation is the interpretation of the original speaker. This is the answer to your "Who" question.

Sure, but that just pushes back the question, because the original speaker is not here. So, whose determination of the original speaker's intention is authoritative?

But the ecclesiastical authority does not have the ability to reach into the mind of God and say, "this is infallibly what the Lord Himself says."

How do you know that?

At best, God might sometimes grant additional revelation to the authorities at times of his own choosing (I don't believe this *does* occur, but I grant its logical possibility). But to presume that the popes could exercise such a gift at times of their choosing is silly.

How is it silly? Where does Scripture say that it is silly? What exactly do you think happened at Nicea 325 if not that the Holy Spirit infallibly guided the Church to say definitively once and for all that Arianism was not the orthodox interpretation of Scripture? It was the same thing that happened in Acts 15.

And Even If They Could, the rest of us would not have the ability to discern when that gift was being exercised correctly, and when it was fraudulently being pretended to.

How do you know that? That's like saying that the people of Israel could never have known when Moses was just speaking as Moses, and when he was delivering to them the Word of God.

Even as an RC, you must admit that some popes would have had no qualms about pretending to.

Perhaps. But you are still in the realm of the hypothetical. We believe that God protected the Church, and didn't allow even the bad popes to proclaim false doctrine.

And there is no question that popes have contradicted other popes and councils, even on matters of faith and morals.

Not so.

According to Pius IX and Trent, No. According to Vatican II, Yes.

Pius IX and Trent never spoke about you.

The sale of indulgences, clearly a matter of morals, was sanctioned repeatedly, most notably by Leo X,

Not true. The Catholic Church does not now nor has it ever approved the sale of indulgences. (That does not mean that individual priests have not done it, but in doing it, they have acted against the regulations of the Church.)

If the pope has the ability to control his infallibility, then why not exercise it all the time, and clear up all doctrinal difficulties once and for all?

The same question would apply to the Apostles. But do you really wish to condemn all the Apostles? Therefore, understand that the Church grows as an organism, and that being protected from error is not the same thing as knowing all things.

then why do we presume to know which statements are ex cathedra and which are simply imposters?

Go back to my Moses example, and think about how what you are saying destroys the possibility of the Bible itself.

the ability of a man to turn on and off a gift that allows him to infallibly discern the mind of God.

Then either nothing the Apostles wrote was Scripture, or everything they wrote (e.g. a grocery list) was Scripture. The gifts of the Holy Spirit do not work like turning on a light switch. They operate in the operation of the office. When the Apostles met in Acts 15, they were protected from error by the Holy Spirit. Does that mean that Peter couldn't mistakenly grab James' cloak for his own? No. The Apostles (and the bishops as the successors of the Apostles) are protected from error by the Holy Spirit when they are in general council. It does not mean that they have the power (directly) to turn on and off their gift. They have the power to function within the office and role in which they are divinely protected from error, and they have the power to function outside of their office. But that's not the same as turning on and off infallibility itself. When the priest consecrates the bread and wine, he has the power (as priest, not as God who effects the transformation) to turn these into the Body and Blood of Christ. That does not mean that the priest turns on this power when he walks into the church, and turns it off when he walks out. The power/gift is present because of his office, into which he was placed sacramentally.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Jeff Cagle said...

Bryan, earlier you asked for an example of papal proclamations contradicting Scripture:

I agree that there is no logical impossibility in the notion that Scripture might contradict an ex cathedra statement. If you have an actual example (instead of a mere hypothetical), I'd like to see it.

Now, on the face of it, we realize that this is impossible within your system: the Papal authority is such that its ex cathedra pronouncements are automatically correct; hence, by definition, the Scriptures never conflict with papal pronouncements because the *meaning* of Scripture is what the pope interprets it to be.

But stepping out of your system, let's take two examples of doctrines -- one ex cathedra, one not -- that seem to be in conflict with the Scriptures. My argument here will not be a straightforward "Look how stupid!", but rather an exploration of the right role of authority.

The first is the doctrine of Mary's Perpetual Virginity: the belief that she remained virginal even after Jesus' birth, until her death (or assumption, if we have to go there).

Now, the arguments are well-worn:

Matt. 1.24b-25a says "When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son."

Thus, Reformers from the 2nd generation on, following Helvidius, argued that Joseph *did* have union with her after she gave birth to a son.

Jesus is said to have brothers and sisters in several places -- Matt. 12.46 || Mark 3.31-32 || Luke 8.19, Matt. 13.55, John 2.12, John 7.3-10, Acts 1.14. Thus, we argue that Mary and Joseph had further children.

And, Luke uses the term "first-born" to describe Jesus (2.7), which is taken to imply that there was also a second-born.

Now: there are well-known responses to all of these claims. It is urged that the term "brother" could refer to non-physical brothers, or to step-brothers (so the Eastern Church) from a previous marriage of Joseph.

And that's possible. But it's certainly not the most obvious meaning. After all, the meaning of αδελφος, whether literal "brother" or metaphorical, spiritual "brother" is made crystal clear by context in every other usage in the Gospels with the possible exception of Matt. 28.10.

Further, it is stated that εως, "until" in Matt 1.24-25 can take a range of meanings, including "while", or meaning "until" in the sense of "up to the point of", without implying any change thereafter. Thus, εως does not *demand* that we read Matt 1.24-25 as "had no relations with her until she gave birth (and then afterwards, he did)." Perhaps, it is argued, he had no relations with her either before *or* after, and Matthew is just emphasizing Jesus' supernatural conception.

And that's also possible, though not the most obvious reading (my own survey of εως reveals that there are many instances of its usage that imply a change after the time period is up. Matt. 2.13, 15 is one example.).

And with regard to "firstborn" in Luke, it is urged that the term doesn't imply any other children beyond Jesus, but simply that he had the status of first-born inheritor.

And that's also possible, though not obvious.

And finally, it is said that Mary was given to John for care, rather than one of his "brothers", thus showing that the brothers were not actually family.

Which is possible, but then again it is also possible that Jesus wanted his mother cared for by a follower instead of an unbeliever, or that Jesus gave her care over to someone actually *on the scene*, unlike the brothers. So this argument is possible, but it's not a very high-quality argument from silence.

So we have this interpretation of Scripture that *allows* for Mary to be virginal. It's a B-grade interpretation, in that it places too much weight on speculative meanings of words. In this interpretation, αδελφος might not mean literal brother here -- even though all other usages parallel to this one *do* mean literal brother. εως might not imply a change here, even though it does in many other usages in the Gospels. And πρωτοτοκος in Luke 2.7 might not imply any other births.

So the interpretation is possible, but strained according to normal hermeneutical methods. Certainly, if you presented evidence of this quality to defend your master's thesis at any seminary, Catholic or Protestant, you would be told to try harder.

BUT, over against the objections about Scriptural evidence is urged that the church fathers all taught Perpetual Virginity -- passing over the fact that the 2nd century fathers did not, and Tertullian in his orthodox period denied it [1]. (making his views more explicit in his "Montanist period": [2].) Sometimes a sly Catholic apologist will slip in the fact that Luther and Zwingli believed in PV also, though the honest ones recognize that Calvin did not go quite that far.

Now of course, when we consider the actual arguments of the church fathers, such as Jerome against Helvidius, we discover that they are all beholden to the Protoevangelium of James, claiming that Joseph wasn't actually married to Mary, but rather that he took her as her guardian, a "fact" that is not in Scripture but is in the Protoevangelium.

So here it is: the evidence for Mary's perpetual virginity consists of (1) the lack of absolute certainty that the Bible *doesn't* teach perpetual virginity, (2) the opinions of a number of church fathers (but not all), who based their opinions on (3) a document probably of spurious authorship, written 50 - 110 years after Mary's departure.

That's it. The perpetual virginity of Mary rests on nothing more.

And yet, councils and popes have all affirmed: deny perpetual virginity and be a heretic.

Why? Why should it be contrary to the gospel message to believe that Mary did what married women should do; namely, be one with their husbands?

Because, we are told, it dishonors Mary to think that she would "be overshadowed" by the Most High and then give herself to another man. As if somehow "overshadowing" meant "got married to", or "had sexual relations with." As if Mary were actually married to God instead of Joseph. Or Siricus I tells us that it would be disgraceful to dishonor the body that gave birth to the Savior with human intercourse.

No. It dishonors Mary to believe that she would get married to Joseph (as the words of Scripture plainly state she was), then live with him for 12 years or more, yet never have relations with him. As Paul says, those who are married should not refrain from one another, lest temptation overtake them (1 Cor 7.1ff). As Jesus (quoting Genesis) said, the man and wife are to become one flesh, and no man -- not even the pope himself -- should separate them. It's morally repugnant to imagine advising a woman, "get married to him, but stay a virgin." Talk about Gnostic, anti-material theology: there it is. Equating sex with pollution, encouraging married people to be abstinent. *Those* were the teachings of the Gnostics.

Finally, it is bizarre to believe that they would have been validly married, yet never consummated their marriage, when the Church itself teaches that unconsummated marriages are no marriage at all, and can therefore be annulled.

In my reading of the doctrine of marriage, Perpetual Virginity disgraces Mary rather than honoring her.

Now up to this point, I've argued that the RC teaching on perpetual virginity has significant problems.

At the same time, I acknowledge that the PV doctrine is theoretically *possible*, inasmuch as all of my arguments rest on some kind of interpretive method or another. Sure, I could be wrong.

But here's my beef with Rome: why make it a matter of dogma?! Given that the evidence for perpetual virginity is so slight, and of dubious quality, why dogmatically affirm not only that Mary was ever-virgin, but also that all who deny it are damned? Why should not the certainty of teaching be proportional to the clarity of the Scriptural evidence?

That's the arrogance of authority: raising itself beyond what God himself has said. It's not some individuals who abuse the system (though such have existed, and I'm sure you deplore them). It's the system itself, binding men's consciences on matters of no weight whatsoever, on little-to-no evidence whatsoever.

I have very high respect for certain Popes, including the late JPII. But the *papal system*, the very concept of Magisterial Authority, which is able to declare that black is white, is arrogant.

And from that perspective, it cannot be valid authority. Because, as we agreed, valid authority consists in serving rather than lording it over men.

My other example will have to wait; I'm really tired (and perhaps snippy, so I apologize if the rhetoric is strong).

Jeff

ETC4 said...

Jeff,

I think I will answer your question on my own blog. I will let you know.

-earl

Principium unitatis said...

Jeff,

I discussed this briefly in the combox of this post. You wrote:

But here's my beef with Rome: why make it a matter of dogma?!

Your "beef" is not just with Rome but with the EOCs as well. Mary's perpetual virginity was declared dogma at the Fifth Ecumenical Council (553 AD). If you reject the authority of the Fifth Ecumenical Council, then why not that of the Fourth, Third, Second, and First as well? The result will be a me-and-my-Bible individualism. And 'heresy' will be reduced to "any interpretation of Scripture that differs from mine". Even that is doubtful, because if each individual can just pick and choose as he sees fit from the decisions of the bishops, then each individual can just pick and choose in the making of his own personal canon of Scripture. (You will see that if you read the link in my previous post.)

Given that the evidence for perpetual virginity is so slight, and of dubious quality, why dogmatically affirm not only that Mary was ever-virgin, but also that all who deny it are damned?

When I was received into full communion with the Catholic Church, I (along with all those who were being so received) said the following words: "I believe and profess all that the Holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God." That statement is now on my wall. When we come into the Church, we don't pick and choose what we are going to believe among the Church's teachings. Either we believe "all that the Holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God", or we don't have sufficient faith to enter the Church. The early Christians were received into the Church because they believed all that the Church believed and taught and proclaimed to be revealed by God. That is still true today. We are received into the Church because we believe all that the Church believes, teaches and proclaims to be revealed by God. If we reject what the Church says has been revealed by God (or some of what the Church says has been revealed by God), then we cannot be received into the Church. There is "one faith", "one baptism". The faith is not a buffet from which we pick and choose eclectically. Nor is the Church a democracy; it never has been democracy. The early Christians didn't get to debate with the Apostles concerning what the dogmas of the Church should be. And the same was true in the following generation when the bishops were leading the Church. And the same is true today.

Why should not the certainty of teaching be proportional to the clarity of the Scriptural evidence?

Where is that in Scripture? You seem to want the Church to conform to you. But God calls us to conform ourselves to the Church.

Your statement here also shows that you are working with a sola scriptura mindset. But sola scriptura is taught nowhere in Scripture. The bishops in the Fifth Ecumenical Council agreed that Mary's perpetual virginity was part of the faith that had been passed down to them. And we can see it in the fathers, see here. Almost all the dogmas that have been declared in Ecumenical Councils have been in response to the challenge of some heresy. And that is true here as well. The rejection of the perpetual virginity of Mary was a backdoor way of rejecting the deity of Christ. It was also a rejection of the Church's belief and teaching regarding the relative goodness of the virginal state viz-a-viz the married state.

That's the arrogance of authority: raising itself beyond what God himself has said.

If you had lived during the time of Acts 15, you could have said the same thing about the decision of the Jerusalem Council. What you do not understand is that when an Ecumenical Council speaks, that is God speaking.

It's the system itself, binding men's consciences on matters of no weight whatsoever, on little-to-no evidence whatsoever.

Whose decision regarding how weighty are these matters and how much evidence there is for them is authoritative? Yours? Or that of the successors of the Apostles? You are making yourself out to be your own pope. You are an individualist.

the very concept of Magisterial Authority, which is able to declare that black is white, is arrogant.

If the bishops of the Church were given the authority that the Church has always believed them to have, then I don't see how it is arrogant. St. Athanasius was very clear that when the Council of Nicea spoke (regarding Arianism), the Holy Spirit had spoken. Having an authority is not arrogant if one actually has that authority. So your claim seems to beg the question, i.e. assume that the bishops didn't (and don't) have that authority. But no one ever thought that until Hus, 1400 years later. So, either the Apostles did a very poor job of teaching the early Church what authority bishops have, or Hus's rejection of the authority of councils was a novelty.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Jeff Cagle said...

...Yours? Or that of the successors of the Apostles? You are making yourself out to be your own pope. You are an individualist.

Out of charity, I ask you to refrain from making blanket statements like this about me. So far, you have tagged me with being "Gnostic" in my view of authority, "an individualist", having a "sola scriptura mindset", and so on.

First, these tags simply aren't true. That is, the first two are entirely false; and the third is ill-defined enough to mean any number of things, some of which might apply to me.

You don't actually know me. And, if you took some time to understand my view (rather than forcing it to fit within your own categories), you would understand how very anti-Gnostic I am, and you would understand that I fit into neither of your pigeon-holes of SMA or individualism.

Second, even if the tags were true, throwing them up in my face does little more than antagonize me. Your statements create the opposite of the peace you offer at the end every post.

So I ask that you be more precisely factual and more charitable in your analyses.

I'm drawing this line in the hope that the dialogue can continue, and if I've been offensive to you, then please feel free to say so.

Jeff

Principium unitatis said...

Jeff,

I apologize. You are right that I don't know you. I should not have phrased my critical comments in a way that included you as the subject. I'm trying to talk about theological positions, not about you per se. It is difficult sometimes in a discussion between two persons, to keep the focus on the positions in question, without saying something about the person or persons involved who seem to hold the positions in question. But I could have done better, and I should have done better at maintaining that distinction. (I had the same difficulty in my discussion with David W. in the combox of this post.) I want to talk about positions; I don't want to impose any position on you. I didn't mean to offend you. I consider you a brother in Christ, and you deserved more charity and respect from me than I showed in those comments. Please forgive me.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Jeff Cagle said...

Forgiven. :)

I don't consider myself above being obnoxious, so let me know if or when I cross a line.

The syllogism you linked to, btw, is helpful in clarifying some positions, and I would say that my position resides in a denial of points 2 and 3,

2. If each individual has equal interpretive authority, then any creed or confession has authority only insofar as one shares the interpretation of those who wrote it.

The window of opening here is that authority might function in a different way than you understand, so that NO-ONE has the kind of interpretive authority we've been talking about so far (which means every one is, technically, "equally zero" in authority), and yet the creeds and confessions *do* have ecclesiastical authority of a different sort.

3. If any creed or confession has authority only insofar as one shares the interpretation of those who wrote it, then no creed or confession has any actual authority and individualism is true.

And so now, having denied the conclusion of #2, I would then not believe that #3 follows, and in fact I believe that the conclusion ("individualism is true") to be false.

That's a real shorthand for my position, but I can't elaborate. My wife has graciously taken the kids for the morning so that I can do lesson plans, and I need to honor her efforts...

Jeff

Principium unitatis said...

Thanks Jeff,

You wrote:

The window of opening here is that authority might function in a different way than you understand, so that NO-ONE has the kind of interpretive authority we've been talking about so far (which means every one is, technically, "equally zero" in authority), and yet the creeds and confessions *do* have ecclesiastical authority of a different sort.

What would make a creed or confession authoritative, if each individual has equal interpretive authority?

If your answer is: "It agrees with Scripture.", then the obvious follow-up question is: "According to whom?"

At that point, since by hypothesis everyone has equal interpretive authority, the creed or confession can only be authoritative to those who think it agrees with Scripture. And then that leads right to premise #3.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

ETC4 said...

I must stick up for Jeff on the anti-gnostic point. He is so militant on this one that it prevents him from recognition of the greatness of the Matrix. (just kidding Jeff, you makes some great points about it). Jeff and Bryan both, I have really enjoyed this dialogue between the both of you. I appreciate the humble Christ-like spirit I see you both come back to. One of the highlights of the Mass for me is the passing of the Peace. When I attend mass (which I do maybe once a year or so, better than many Catholics including my family)there is always an authenticity about it that I love. I see that in the way Bryan signs off each message. More than words, I see it in the way you both communicate. Thank you both again for your thoughts.

ETC4 said...

Jeff,

as promised I responded to your questions on my blog. It is kind of a jumbled mess, but such is trying to write when watching my kids by myself.

-earl

Jeff Cagle said...

I know it's worthy of a roll of the eyes, but I'm going to give ol' John XXII one more push here.

The real purpose of this last push is not to grab you by the throat and force you to agree with me, but rather to set the stage for a later argument. So if you still think I'm wrong, no problem.

Way Back Up There, BC wrote:

Then your argument would follow. But John XXII does not say that Nicholas III established things against Gregory. He says here (in this quotation) that "according to their [i.e. the heretics'] assertion, it is evidently known that he did". But that is far different from saying that Nicholas III established things against Gregory.


Our understanding of section 5 of Quia Quorundam, as it turns out, rests on the sense of the phrase "according to their assertion." It turns out there are two possible meanings:

(1) "According to their assertion" could mean something like modern "scare quotes", equivalent to "so they say (but I don't agree)." This is the sense in which I gather you are reading it, and the result would be paraphrased:

Now if it were not lawful for me to overturn Nic III, then it wouldn't be lawful for Nic III to overturn Greg etc. either; nevertheless, they say that he did.

This reading is possible, although it leaves the logic of the syllogism a bit confused. Why does he set up the negative argument, then leave it hanging by presenting a doubtful hypothetical? Is he simply trying to show how their statements fail to conform to reality?

But the other possible meaning is

(2) "According to their assertion" could mean "just like they say", or "even *they* admit that..." This is the sense in which I took it.

This leads to a paraphrase that consists of the negative argument:

Now if it were not lawful for me to overturn Nic III, then it wouldn't be lawful for Nic III to overturn Greg etc. either; nevertheless, just like they say, he did.

Actually, I considered (1) a while back and rejected it on several grounds:

(a) the "nevertheless" doesn't seem to make sense with (1).
(b) the context of paras. 5 and 6 is proving the falsity of the assertion that Nic's declaration is uncontrovertible. Here's how the argument ends in para.6:

Nor in the aforesaid creeds, the Gospel, or the Acts of the Apostles and [their] letters is there had any mention that it is not lawful for their successor to rid himself of that [which] was reserved, if this seemed expedient, nor that a successor did not have the force [of authority] to revoke the procurators constituted by the authority of the supreme Pontiff for the transactions of the aforesaid order. Whence they cannot conclude from the aforesaid things, except falsely, but that a successor has the force [of authority] to ordain something against those things [which] have been ordained by the supreme Pontiffs concerning such things, because the aforementioned Nicholas expressly includes [this] in his declaration, as is contained more fully above.

The translation language is (once again) contorted, but here it is: "They cannot conclude...but that a successor has the force to [change stuff]." Look esp. at paras 5 and 6, and I think you'll see what I mean.

(c) I consulted a couple of translations. This one was clearer English, though more paraphrased.


For if it was not licit for us to enact anything common contrary to the constitution of our predecessor Nicholas IV, on which they chiefly base themselves, neither was it licit for him to enact or declare anything contrary to the enactments of the above mentioned Gregory, Innocent and Alexander; but that he did so (according to their assertion) is evidently known.


(d) Even Catholic sources I consulted agreed: John XXII was claiming the right to change previous pronouncements of popes. The only stipulation of the Catholic sources was that these previous pronouncements were not ex-cathedra declarations of faith and morals.

Here's one:

Dave Armstrong's site

Note the blue box attributed to "Fr. Mateo", near the bottom of the page.

All of this evidence led me to believe that my interpretation was correct: that John XXII claimed the right to overturn previous pronouncements of popes (though perhaps circumscribed in some way).

Again, the real purpose of revisiting this is to set the stage for a later discussion of interpretation.

Jeff

Jeff Cagle said...

I chose the Perpetual Virginity of Mary as one example of church teaching that conflicts with Scripture because the origins of it are very curious.

I've studied this question for some time mainly because it's struck me as so odd: How and when did the doctrine come into being, yet without any early attestation?

Go back and look at the site you linked to, which I think presents the evidence fairly, and is a good gateway to the sources, except that it omits Tertullian.

But notice: there are *no* church fathers before the third century, and only *one* (Origin, a theologian later condemned as heretical at the 5th Council) before the fourth, who attest to PV. And the one early father, Tertullian, who discusses it is *opposed* to it.

The single 2nd c. document mentioned (the Protoevangelium of James) was both spuriously written *and* condemned as heretical by Gelasius in the 5th century.

Add on to this the curious observation that in the canons of the 5th Ecumenical Council, the doctrine of PV is not itself declared, but mentioned only in passing:

VI.

IF anyone shall not call in a true acceptation, but only in a false acceptation, the holy, glorious, and ever-virgin Mary, the Mother of God, or shall call her so only in a relative sense, believing that she bare only a simple man and that God the word was not incarnate of her, but that the incarnation of God the Word resulted only from the fact that he united himself to that man who was born [of her];(1) if he shall calumniate the Holy Synod of Chalcedon as though it had asserted the Virgin to be Mother of God according to the impious sense of Theodore; or if anyone shall call her the mother of a man anqrwpotokon or the Mother of Christ (Xristotokon), as if Christ were not God, and shall not confess that she is exactly and truly the Mother of God, because that God the Word who before all ages was begotten of the Father was in these last days made flesh and born of her, and if anyone shall not confess that in this sense the holy Synod of Chalcedon acknowledged her to be the Mother of God: let him be anathema.


XIV.

IF anyone shall defend that letter which Ibas is said to have written to Maris the Persian, in which he denies that the Word of God incarnate of Mary, the Holy Mother of God and ever-virgin, was made man, but says that a mere man was born of her, whom he styles a Temple, as though the Word of God was one Person and the man another person; in which letter also he reprehends St. Cyril as a heretic, when he teaches the right faith of Christians, and charges him with writing things like to the wicked Apollinaris. In addition to this he vituperates the First Holy Council of Ephesus, affirming that it deposed Nestorius without discrimination and without examination. The aforesaid impious epistle styles the XII. Chapters of Cyril of blessed memory, impious and contrary to the right faith and defends Theodore and Nestorius and their impious teachings and writings. If anyone therefore shall defend the aforementioned epistle and shall not anathematize it and those who defend it and say that it is right or that a part of it is right, or if anyone shall defend those who have written or shall write in its favour, or in defence of the impieties which are contained in it, as well as those who shall presume to defend it or the impieties which it contains in the name of the Holy Fathers or of the Holy Synod of Chalcedon, and shall remain in these offences unto the end: let him be anathema.


Now, it's clear that the 5th Council believed in PV. But it makes no attempt to make any declarations about it, or to anathematize any teachings concerning it; no, rather, the anathemas are directed against those who deny the θεοτοκος language.

But what's really curious about it is that the doctrine itself passes over from completely unmentioned in the first four councils, in the early fathers, and in the Scriptures, to suddenly *poof*, we all "know" that Mary was ever-virgin.

Whence comes that knowledge? We can't argue that it was a part of the apostolic deposit. There's no record of it anywhere in the apostolic era, and as Irenaeus writes, if the apostles had known of some secret teaching, they would have written it down for us or at least passed it on.

Nor can we argue that it's part of the universal assent of the fathers. The early fathers did not assent; and Tertullian positively dissented. "Assent from silence" is certainly no assent.

Nor can we argue that the doctrine arose out of an interpretation of Scriptures. Nothing at all in the Scriptures can be construed as *teaching* PV; the natural reading of several passages argues against PV; and the basic theology of marriage is incompatible with PV.

Bryan, this is not an "individualist" reading of Scriptures. This is a matter of the combined weight of the apostolic era yelling forward to later generations, "Ya got suckered!"

Somehow, the ideas in the Protoevangelium and documents like it managed to make it into the Christian culture, causing not only the doctrine of PV but also leading to a general distrust of sexuality. There was no Scriptural warrant, no continuous tradition, just a rumor -- a rumor that became "canonized" by two passing references in a council.

Jeff

Principium unitatis said...

Jeff,

You wrote:
Whence comes that knowledge? We can't argue that it was a part of the apostolic deposit. There's no record of it anywhere in the apostolic era, and as Irenaeus writes, if the apostles had known of some secret teaching, they would have written it down for us or at least passed it on.

You are making use of what is called an argument from silence. But why do you expect all of the apostolic tradition to be preserved in the writings of the second century fathers? Doctrines often weren't talked about (in writing) until they were challenged. It is like that over and over throughout Church history.

There is no uprising in the Church over this *new* idea of the PVM. Rather, the response of the Church to the challenge of the PVM is what we see, particularly in the third and fourth centuries. So which has more claim to being part of the tradition: PVM, or ~PVM?

The same kind of question you are asking could have been posed to the Apostles regarding everything they said: "Whence comes this knowledge?" Their reply: "We are ambassadors of Christ. If you receive our word, you receive the word of Christ. If you reject our word, you reject the word of Christ." You reply, "But I want proof that Christ really said all these things to you." So the same complaint you are raising against the fifth EC could be raised against the Apostles as well. But that demand for proof and evidence, what does that indicate? It is a kind of rationalism that is incompatible with faith. Just as we have to trust the Apostles, because of their authority, so also we trust the bishops of Nicea (325), because of their authority, and the bishops of the second council of Constantinople (553).

Do you think a schism with the Catholic Church is justified over the doctrine of the PVM?

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Jeff Cagle said...

BC wrote:

You are making use of what is called an argument from silence. But why do you expect all of the apostolic tradition to be preserved in the writings of the second century fathers? Doctrines often weren't talked about (in writing) until they were challenged. It is like that over and over throughout Church history.

That's fair; it is an argument from silence. But as you probably know, arguments from silence are inductive, rather than deductive -- and so they can be stronger or weaker. (The same is true, BTW, of the "slippery slope" arguments you've been using to argue that all non-SMA positions are ultimately individualist. Slippery slope arguments are not logically valid. But they can be made strong by showing the mechanism by which one falls down the slope without remedy.)

In my case, I think I have reasonably good, but not perfect, justification to believe that silence amongst the orthodox concerning Mary's PV for 200+ years is indicative that it was not a held belief. And regardless of how strong that evidence is, I also have reason to believe that acceptance of PV creates a tightly circular (and therefore unjustified) argument for its truth.

Let me explain.

First, as to the evidence: There are several points of loud silence where one would reasonably expect discussion.

The first is in the Scriptures themselves. The normal reading of εως, of αδελφοι, and the state of Mary as a married woman for at least 12 years leads the normal reader to conclude that Mary was a normally married woman with kids.

Yet, there is no qualification given in the Scriptures to indicate that she was in an abnormal marriage relationship. If indeed PV was a doctrine that the apostles thought worthy of passing on to the church, they certainly failed to recognize the confusion caused by their words here, which is a dubious claim in light of their inspiration by the Holy Spirit.

They certainly believed that it was important to emphasize her virginity *before* Jesus' birth!

So the silence in Scriptures about PV, while not logically dispositive, is nevertheless strong evidence that the apostles did not intend to communicate PV to the church.

Second, Irenaeus' regula fide establishes a basis for evaluating "secret doctrines":

It is within the power of all, therefore, in every Church, who may wish to see the truth, to contemplate clearly the tradition of the apostles manifested throughout the whole world; and we are in a position to reckon up those who were by the apostles instituted bishops in the Churches, and [to demonstrate] the succession of these men to our own times; those who neither taught nor knew of anything like what these [heretics] rave about. For if the apostles had known hidden mysteries, which they were in the habit of imparting to “the perfect” apart and privily from the rest, they would have delivered them especially to those to whom they were also committing the Churches themselves. Adv. Her. 3.3.1, emp. addded.

That is to say, that the tradition handed down by the apostles was known by all (and in fact in 3.3.2, we find out that the content of that tradition was essentially the Apostle's Creed). How then that PV was discussed by none, except Tertullian who dismissed it?

Again, this argument is not logically dispositive, but it adds weight to the silence.

Third, the fact that the apparent source document, the Protoevangelium, was declared heretical tends to place doubt on the validity of the doctrines declared therein.

Fourth, and related, the criticism of arguments from silence cuts both ways: how do you know that there was not dissent to PV? We have no record of the minutes of the 5th Ecumenical Council; indeed, my understanding is that the documents we have are not of certain quality. Certainly, Helvidius objected to the doctrine, thus prompting Jerome's rebuttal. How many more were like Helvidius?

Fifth and finally, the 5th Ecum. council documents that we *do* have do not discuss the necessity of PV as a separate doctrinal point in the slightest. PV is mentioned in passing, adjectivally.

This undercuts your hypothesis that there was a doctrinal crisis that caused everyone to have to finally express a tradition that lay dormant for 550 years. If anything, the "crisis" of PV occurred earlier, in the time of Jerome (Against Helvidius, 383). Yet Chalcedon in 451 affirms the terms "Virgin Mary" and "Mother of God", yet without any reference to or discussion of PV.

Again, this silence adds weight to the notion that PV was not a part of the universal tradition handed down from the apostles, but rather a belief that became universally accepted at a later time because of the influence of the Protoevangelium, much as the Isidorian Decretals accelerated the prestige of the papacy.

The only evidence against this view is that there was no dissension within the church when PV was finally adopted. But this evidence also is an argument from silence, and not entirely true when one considers Tertullian and Helvidius.

Adding all of this up, ~PVM has a better claim to be the genuine apostolic tradition. It certainly accords with what the apostles actually *wrote* -- namely, that Joseph took Mary as his wife.

And even if I'm wrong in my evaluation of the evidence, the RCC claims that the traditions it canonizes are ones that were held with the universal consent of the fathers. This is manifestly not the case here.

So we have to ask the question, "How do we know that PV was apostolic tradition?" The only support for it is the affirmation of the Church. But why should we believe the Church? It is said, because the Church teaches the deposit of apostolic faith. This justifying circle is too small to carry the weight placed on it.

Do you think a schism with the Catholic Church is justified over the doctrine of the PVM?.

That's a fair question. In a vacuum, certainly not. I disagree with the majority position of the PCA on a couple of points, and yet I am in full communion with them.

The problem is that vow you mentioned: "I believe and profess all that the Holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God." In this case, I could not take that vow in good conscience because it appears to place me in between two authorities: God's Word and the church.

In theory, Mom and Dad should always agree. But in practice, they don't always. That's how it looks to me from here. It's not that I wish to play one off the other (which is how the RCC church has taken the protests of 'heretics' like me) -- it's that Dad said one thing, and Mom is making a clearly weaselish attempt to explain away His words AND THEN demand that I believe her account "just because."

I don't know whether you have a family -- I'm guessing that you are heading for priesthood, and so perhaps not -- but when my daughters raise a question about a conflict between my wife's statements and mine (which conflicts probably occur 3x per week), I do not try to argue with them about what she said.

In the end, of course, they have to obey me. But they don't have to believe me. To demand so would be to violate their consciences. It would be an abuse of my authority.

So what keeps me out of the RCC is not simply a doctrinal scruple over Mary, but rather the additional demand that I *believe* things that appear to contradict the Scriptures. It's not that I won't. It's that I can't.

BC wrote:
But that demand for proof and evidence, what does that indicate? It is a kind of rationalism that is incompatible with faith...

Let's be careful not to confuse two things here. "Rationalism" is a demand that all beliefs be fully rational. You and I both agree that this is out of court -- not only because it allows no room for the testimony of trusted sources, but also because it collapses on its own weight.

A request for evidence, on the other hand, need not indicate rationalism or even unbelief. Jesus supplied ample evidence to his disciples and others. In the Gospel of John, his miracles were called σημεια, signs, that were explicitly recorded "so that we might believe." John told us to "test the spirits." The Bereans were praised because they received the word of Paul -- but verified it against the Scriptures. Paul appeals to the evidence of his own Damascus road experience and the testimony of 500 others.

So testing and looking for evidence is a valid procedure at some level, especially with regard to the words that come from men's mouths.

Jeff

ETC4 said...

Jeff,

not to beat a dead horse, but this sounds like a fascinating book in lieu of our discussion. I came across it because he is speaking at a conference I hope to be attending. James Bratt is a Cavlin prof. by the way.
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0813536936?ie=UTF8&tag=calvininstitu-20&link_code=as3&camp=211189&creative=373489&creativeASIN=0813536936

-earl

Principium unitatis said...

Jeff,

It simply comes down to this: Who do you trust more: your own interpretation of Scripture, or the sacramental magisterium of the Church? Whose interpretation of Scripture is authoritative? Which has more authority: you, or the sacramental magisterial authority of the Church?

This is precisely Tertullian's point here.

The problem is that vow you mentioned: "I believe and profess all that the Holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God."

I do not know where you got the idea that that is a "vow". It is a statement of faith, like confessing the Creed before the Church. It is a statement of trust in the sacramental magisterial authority of the Church. It is not a vow. It is precisely what St. Augustine is talking about when he says: "For my part, I should not believe the Gospel except as moved by the authority of the Catholic Church." He does not say, "I should not believe the Gospel except as moved by the authority of my own personal interpretation of Scripture." The statement "I believe and profess all that the Holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God" is a statement of trust in Christ, by trusting in the sacramental magisterial authority that Christ appointed through the Apostles. The only way to come into the Church during the time of the Apostles was to trust the Apostles. And in the second generation, the only way to come into the Church was to trust the bishops whom the Apostles had appointed. And it was the same in the third generation of bishops appointed by the previous generation. And it was the same in the fourth generation, the fifth, and so on, up till today. The bishops never decided that each person now has equal interpretive authority.

As St. Ignatius bishop of Antioch wrote: "For when ye are obedient to the bishop as to Jesus Christ, it is evident to me that ye are living not after men but after Jesus Christ, who died for us, that believing on His death ye might escape death. It is therefore necessary, even as your wont is, that ye should do nothing without the bishop; but be ye obedient also to the presbytery, as to the Apostles of Jesus Christ our hope; for if we live in Him, we shall also be found in Him."

If you have not already, I hope you have read St. Ignatius' exhortations regarding obedience to the bishop. St. Ignatius was a contemporary of the Apostle John. His words reflect the teaching of the early Church received from the Apostles regarding how we are to treat the bishops. There is no room for individualism in the ecclesiology St. Ignatius presents. You submit to the bishops as you would submit to the Apostles. Otherwise, it would be each man doing what is right in his own eyes.

BTW, I'm married with two daughters. :-)

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Jeff Cagle said...

Hi Bryan,

I really only have two more thoughts, and then I think I'll get back to the NT Wright project. I've enjoyed the conversation, and learned some things. I will, as always, read whatever responses you may have.

My second thought will address the issues of hermeneutics and authority, tying up a lot of loose ends and answering some of the questions you've raised about "whose interpretation?"

But tonight's thought is my second example of Catholic teaching (or practice) that is out of accord with the Scriptures: the requirement of clerical celibacy.

The plain practice of the apostles was to permit marriage for church leadership. Paul asserts this permission in 1 Cor 9.5:

Don't we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord's brothers and Cephas?

Paul's instructions concerning elders was that they

must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God's church?) 1 Tim. 3.2-5.

Some have taken this to mean that elders must be married; that's probably too strong, given Paul's own single status. Nevertheless, elders here are given explicit permission to be married and have children. Indeed, it seems that their conduct towards their family is used by Paul as a benchmark for predicting their success as an elder.

So it appears that the Catholic practice of requiring celibacy has the effect of overturning Paul's explicit permissions.

Now, you may say that the church has never made this practice the part of some ex cathedra teaching, so that Catholics can in good conscience disagree even while they obey. And that is a respectable position for the individual Catholic.

But the fact that the church makes a restriction, ex cathedra or otherwise, concerning something explicitly permitted in Scripture is a clear instance in which its authority is being exercised in contradiction to the Lord whom it claims to represent.

When Mom indefinitely bans something permitted by Dad, she's in rebellion against him, especially when the reason is that "it seems more fitting that way." (cf. the arguments for celibacy in the CathEn article linked below). The Church is to be subject to the Lord, not second-guessing his express wishes.

And, I might add, the injunction to celibacy is also in contradiction to apostolic tradition, as the CathEn freely admits:


This freedom of choice seems to have lasted during the whole of what we may call, with Vacandard, the first period of the Church's legislation, i.e. down to about the time of Constantine and the Council of Nicaea.
Catholic Encylopedia Online: "Clerical Celibacy"

And if authority is being exercised in disobedience here, and for at least nine or more centuries (since at least 1st Lateran, 1123), then where else, and for how long?

Further, if the gift of ex cathedra teaching has been given to preserve the church from error, why has not the exercise of ex cathedra teaching enabled the Magisterial Authority to see what is plain in Scripture and to everyone else in Christendom: that elders are permitted to have families! That apostles, even Peter, are permitted to have wives.

You have mentioned, I believe, Jesus' promises to Peter as including the promise that the Catholic church would be preserved from error:

BC wrote:
The Church has always believed and taught that the Holy See was promised divine protection from error. This is why all the errors dealt with in the first seven Ecuenical Councils were errors coming from the Eastern Churches, and fought against by the Holy See. Peter's See is that unbreakable rock upon which the Church is built.

In short, I understand you as saying that the Church is protected from magisterially teaching any error, valid at all times.

Yet Jesus' promise concerning his church could also be fulfilled in a different way: it could be that the Church is protected eschatologically, so that *eventually* it will come to the full truth, even if subject to various errors now.

There's nothing in Matt. 16 to argue against this view, and it accords more nearly with Eph. 4.11-16 and 1 Cor. 13.8-12.

Could it not be the case that the Church might very well teach some error now that she will repent of in the future, and yet Jesus' promise still hold true?

In fact, could it not be -- as the Eastern churches believe -- that Papal infallibility is one such error that indeed stands in the way of Christian unity?

Perhaps the claims of error-free teaching are themselves erroneous. How can you know otherwise?

The Scriptures make no such explicit statement. The apostolic tradition makes no such explicit statement, and even if it did, we have seen already that the Church has set apostolic tradition aside at points.

Now, Jesus' promise to Peter that the gates of Hell would not prevail against his church is a certain fact. I am banking on that promise in my work as an elder.

But I don't think that promise means what the RCC thinks it means.

Certainly, Jesus' promise did not include protecting the Church from being subject to any persecutions at all times. Nor did it protect the Church from any moral errors at all times. Nor did it protect the Church from any schisms at all times. Nor did it, at all times, protect popes from being persecuting, committing moral errors, being schismatic, or even *believing* doctrinal errors.

Why then should we believe that Jesus' promise means that the pope is protected from *teaching* any error at all times? That's such an odd kind of protection to read out of the general promise in Matthew 16 when no other type of blanket protection has been given to the SMA.

In light of the evidence in hand, I have to reject that interpretation of Matt. 16.

Jeff

Principium unitatis said...

Jeff,

But the fact that the church makes a restriction, ex cathedra or otherwise, concerning something explicitly permitted in Scripture is a clear instance in which its authority is being exercised in contradiction to the Lord whom it claims to represent.

The assumption underlying your claim here is that St. Paul's permission is universally binding for all times and all circumstances. But how do you know that that assumption is correct? Do all the women in your Sunday morning service have their heads covered?

Again, it comes down to this: Whose interpretation is authoritative, yours, or that of the bishops in sacramental succession from the Apostles?

Yet Jesus' promise concerning his church could also be fulfilled in a different way:

But again, whose interpretation is authoritative? You are offering alternative interpretations. But what authority do your interpretations have?

In fact, could it not be -- as the Eastern churches believe -- that Papal infallibility is one such error that indeed stands in the way of Christian unity? Perhaps the claims of error-free teaching are themselves erroneous. How can you know otherwise?

The disagreement between the Orthodox Churches and the Catholic Church is something we can discuss if you wish. I would be glad to show how the Eastern Catholics (before they split from the West) believed in the primacy of the successor of St. Peter. I recommend Stephen Ray's book Upon This Rock, as well as Vladimir Soloviev's book The Russian Church and the Papacy. See also Cathedra Unitatis, a blog by an Eastern Orthodox believer examining the issue of the authority of the successor of St. Peter.

Certainly, Jesus' promise did not include protecting the Church from being subject to any persecutions at all times. Nor did it protect the Church from any moral errors at all times. Nor did it protect the Church from any schisms at all times. Nor did it, at all times, protect popes from being persecuting, committing moral errors, being schismatic, or even *believing* doctrinal errors.

I agree (if by "being schismatic" you mean acting in such a manner as to provoke schism).

Why then should we believe that Jesus' promise means that the pope is protected from *teaching* any error at all times? That's such an odd kind of protection to read out of the general promise in Matthew 16 when no other type of blanket protection has been given to the SMA.

As I tried to explain earlier in this discussion, you seem to be starting from Scripture, and trying to read the Catholic Church out of it. Lots of denominations and traditions can be read out of Scripture. It is like trying to read ontogeny out of DNA. The whole starting point is based on a false assumption, that Scripture is the starting point for understanding the Church. The Church was in full swing before any of the NT books was written. The Scripture was produced in the context of the living breathing Body of Christ. And that is why the Scripture is to be interpreted and understood within the context of that Church. That is precisely Tertullian's point. So the question to be asking is this: How has the Church throughout history understood the promises of Christ regarding protection from error? And the clear answer is that ecumenical councils have always been understood to be protected from error. And the ground for that has always been the "unbroken" rock upon which the Church was built. By that rock, councils were recognized as such or not. The promise (regarding the gates of hell) is given specifically to the rock upon which the Church is built. That foundation will not fail, until Christ returns. That is what the Church has always believed and taught. Stephen Ray's book Upon This Rock, is a good place to start in researching this question.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Jeff Cagle said...

I'm interested in Ray's book, but it will be awhile before I can get to reading it.

I should say that I haven't been ignoring your main argument: that the Real Question comes down to whose interpretation is authoritative. I promise to address it in the near future.

Rather, I've been appealing to two examples (of many) which would cause me to doubt the claim that Rome infallibly teaches the orthodox faith.

Certainly, if I adopt the assumption that Rome is the SMA, then of course it follows that its interpretations are correct and orthodox. This is beyond dispute.

But I've asked for evidence that such is the case. So far, your evidence has been a claim that the early church believed Rome to be so.

And yet, a belief that Rome had primacy (which I admit was commonly held) is not the same as a belief that Rome possessed the gift of infallibility. Hence, the long discussion that you linked to over at Cathedra Unitatas concludes that the Eastern Church has always, and continues, to grant first place to the bishop of Rome, and yet they do not acknowledge Rome's claims concerning filioque, Mary, and so on.

So there's nothing there to draw me in from the outside, so to speak. I can't accept Rome's claims without first accepting Rome's reading of Scripture and history. And yet that's precisely what's at stake.

Further, over against that, there seem to be clear examples of Rome's failure to teach the truth. I can accept that my interpretations might be incorrect -- but I can't be persuaded by an argument from authority. The authority itself is in question.

What I'm trying to convey is that from the outside, your arguments appear tightly circular: Rome is the authority; therefore, it's interpretations are correct. Rome is the authority because it has always taught the truth.

And because those arguments are, or appear to be, tightly circular, they fail to have a good fit with other pieces of data.

I mean, sure Paul *might* have been giving a pattern for elder marriage in 1 Tim. 3 that was temporary. But what would lead us to believe such a thing from the text, or *any* text?

Why not just as well argue that Matt. 16 was temporary, or the command to love one's neighbor as oneself is temporary?

Possible? Yes. Obvious? Not even close.

A subpoint, and then I'm off to get the girls.

Let's revisit Tertullian's words:

"With whom lies that very faith to which the Scriptures belong. From what and through whom, and when, and to whom, has been handed down that rule, by which men become Christians?” For wherever it shall be manifest that the true Christian rule and faith shall be, there will likewise be the true Scriptures and expositions thereof, and all the Christian traditions." Pros. Her. 19

First, Tertullian can be wrong here. You certainly don't accept his opinions concerning Mary; why do you press him here as an authority? That seems like an inconsistent procedure. In fact, he may be overstating the case; Israel handed down the Old Testament Scriptures, but the interpretations of the priests and teachers of the law by AD30 were far from accurate.

But even if not, one can legitimately question whether Rome still proclaims the rule by which men are to be made Christians. And if not, then her interpretations are not protected here.

For since they deny the truth of (our doctrine), they ought to prove that it also is heresy, refutable by the same rule as that by which they are themselves refuted; and at the same time to show us where we must seek the truth, which it is by this time evident has no existence amongst them. Our system is not behind any in date; on the contrary, it is earlier than all; and this fact will be the evidence of that truth which everywhere occupies the first place. The apostles, again, nowhere condemn it; they rather defend it,—a fact which will show that it comes from themselves. Pro. Her. 35

Apparently, then, even a heretic may show that certain doctrines is non-apostolic. I contend that I've done so in the case of PV and priestly celibacy.

Since this is the case, in order that the truth may be adjudged to belong to us, “as many as walk according to the rule,” which the church has handed down from the apostles, the apostles from Christ, and Christ from God, the reason of our position is clear, when it determines that heretics ought not to be allowed to challenge an appeal to the Scriptures, since we, without the Scriptures, prove that they have nothing to do with the Scriptures. For as they are heretics, they cannot be true Christians, because it is not from Christ that they get that which they pursue of their own mere choice, and from the pursuit incur and admit the name of heretics. Thus, not being Christians, they have acquired no right to the Christian Scriptures; and it may be very fairly said to them, “Who are you? When and whence did you come? As you are none of mine, what have you to do with that which is mine? Indeed, Marcion, by what right do you hew my wood? By whose permission, Valentinus, are you diverting the streams of my fountain? By what power, Apelles, are you removing my landmarks? Pro Her 37

As a Christian, I claim a right to use the Scriptures. It's that simple: following in the footsteps of the church fathers, who did not defer to Rome in their interpretations, but read the Scriptures plainly, I assert that God's Word is for God's people to use. At the very least, it should be not considered out of court to test the papal claims to see whether they are so. My "heresy", if indeed it is, is not a heresy that Tertullian himself would identify as such: I hold to the creeds. I am only "heretical" in terms of much later doctrinal developments within Rome.

Jeff

Jeff Cagle said...

Well, Bryan, this is my final thought. Thanks for your longsuffering and consideration in this dialogue, and thanks for offering a lot of food for thought. Again, I’ll read and interact with what you have to say in response; I’m just out of fresh ideas for this discussion.

---

For some time, I've been chewing on what you said on Sept. 21:

When I was received into full communion with the Catholic Church, I (along with all those who were being so received) said the following words: "I believe and profess all that the Holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God." That statement is now on my wall. When we come into the Church, we don't pick and choose what we are going to believe among the Church's teachings. Either we believe "all that the Holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God", or we don't have sufficient faith to enter the Church.

As first, I mistook this for a membership vow, but apparently it is simply an affirmation -- but one which is serious enough that you believe it necessary to enter the Church.

But what does it mean? Specifically, (a) what did you intend when you said it, and (b) then how does it work in practice?

These are genuine questions that I hope you'll answer below. But in the meantime, I've been speculating.

First, I doubt you intend the words entirely literally. The literal meaning, B1: "every single proposition believed, taught, or proclaimed by the SMA, is also a proposition that I believe", would require you actually *know* every such proposition. I'm guessing that such knowledge would require at least a decade to acquire, perhaps even a lifetime. And even if you have acquired that knowledge and can say B1 in all truth at this moment in 2007, nevertheless, the church continues to make pronouncements, so that your affirmation must have some view to a commitment concerning those future pronouncements.

So I figure that B1 is probably not what you intended.

More promising is B2: "I pledge myself to believe every proposition that the SMA believes, teaches, or proclaims, so that if I find myself out of accord with their teachings, I will repent and attempt to believe the teachings given me."

B2 is essentially a promise to believe in principle all that the Church teaches, perhaps with an implicit promise to diligently discover the teachings of the church.

I'm guessing that you intended something along the lines of B2.

But now there is an additional problem. How do you know what the Church teaches?!.

Put another way: the SMA’s teachings come to you in the form of verbal (written and oral) communication. As you receive that communication, you have to interpret it. Fortunately for you, there is always the possibility of feedback; you can ask a priest or other member of the SMA for greater clarification, or even to give the nihil obstat to your own interpretation.
But even the feedback comes in the form of verbal communication, so that once again, you are forced to interpret what you have heard.

So in the end, what you actually believe is your interpretation of the pronouncements of the Church. Because there is no direct upload link from Church <=> Bryan’s mind, therefore, Bryan’s interpretation is precisely what Bryan believes.

This is what we might call The Interpretive Problem, and it tracks very closely with Kant’s critiques of Hume: all that we as humans can possibly know is limited by the fact that everything comes through our senses and is filtered by our brains.

Thus, what your affirmation means in practice is this:

B3: "I promise to believe the believes, teachings, and pronouncements of the Church to the best of my ability to understand them, and pledge to repent if I find myself out of accord with those teachings."

BTW, this is an entirely respectable pledge to make. It’s identical in form to the affirmation that Protestants make wrt to the Scriptures.

However, it is also an affirmation that, by your own definition, is individualistic. You have defined individualists as those who "are the ultimate determiners of God's interpretation."

That’s you. It’s me too, and everyone else on the planet. Because we cannot eliminate the Interpretive Problem, we must (by your definition) be individualists.

Now, the objections are already lining up. Of course you don't see yourself as an individualist, because you have pledged yourself to believing the authority of the Church. But you don't have direct mental access to that authority; you only have access to what the authority says and writes. So Bryan the interpreter intrudes once more, filtering the Church pronouncements into his own interpretations.

This was the point I was making with the John XXII discussion. Regardless of who was right or wrong, the fact remains that you and Fr. Mateo, both pledged to believing the authority of the Church, nevertheless disputed the meaning of what John XXII, the SMA, was saying. Your affirmation was insufficient to eliminate the Interpretive Problem.

The CathEn also admits to the Interpretive Problem when it says, It is only in connection with doctrinal authority as such that, practically speaking, this question of infallibility arises; that is to say, when we speak of the Church's infallibility we mean, at least primarily and principally, what is sometimes called active as distinguished from passive infallibility. We mean in other words that the Church is infallible in her objective definitive teaching regarding faith and morals, not that believers are infallible in their subjective interpretation of her teaching. This is obvious in the case of individuals, any one of whom may err in his understanding of the Church's teaching; nor is the general or even unanimous consent of the faithful in believing a distinct and independent organ of infallibility. (CathEn, Infallibility), emph. added.

Now, you may object, quite rightly, that your kind of individualism is an order of magnitude less severe than mine. After all, your SMA can provide you with feedback. And in addition, the teachings of the church are aimed at clarifying obscure doctrines in Scripture. So, given a belief in the power of the SMA to clarify and correct, you can argue that your individualism is far less pernicious than mine. And I would agree, granting the power of the SMA for the sake of argument.

But here's the problem: much of your argument, not only here but throughout your blog, is that there are no degrees of individualism. You have argued vigorously that anyone who relies on his own interpretation is an individualist, period. "There is no middle ground" between believing the SMA and believing one's own interpretation. But as it turns out, the only one who can infallibly know what the SMA teaches is, perhaps, the pope himself. The rest of us, including faithful Catholics, have to rely on our own interpretations.

Your own reasoning therefore denies you the opportunity to distinguish between your type of individualism and mine. We’re both, on your own terms, Individualists.

So where could you go from here? Well, you could try to overturn my analysis. For example, you might very well have a different meaning B4 of your affirmation that I’ve overlooked. But regardless of what you mean by the affirmation, it seems very difficult to deny that *your* interpretations of Church pronouncements are necessarily the final arbiter of what *you* believe. Put another way, it seems very unlikely that you have solved the Interpretive Problem.

Or, you could tweak your definition of Individualist so that it applies to me, but not you. That’s possible, though it would likely run afoul of the No True Scotsman fallacy.

A much more productive line might be to soften your stance on individualism, abandon the slippery slope arguments, and recognize that there truly are degrees of individualism. Fundamentalists who insist that their interpretation is "what the Bible teaches" are different from Protestants who interpret within the context of a community, and who in turn are different from the EOs who interpret within the context of patristic Tradition, who in turn are different from RCCs who interpret within the context of highly developed, privileged magisterial teaching.

One obstacle to recognizing this fact might be that RCC apologists, since at least Trent, have denied any distinction amongst degrees of individualism. As a result, there has been a failure to recognize individualism within each human, a pretense that Protestants are Individualists while Catholics are not.

But the facts show otherwise. Despite Catholic adherence to the teachings of the SMA, the doctrinal spread within the RCC is at least as wide as the doctrinal spread amongst Protestants: liberals, liberation theologians, rationalists, skeptics, conservatives, and ultraconservatives, charismatics and noncharismatics, Franciscans, Augustinians, Jesuits, and on and on … all of these are found within the RCC among communing members and even priests. The presence of the SMA has not prevented that situation.

A third line of thought, the one I would endorse the most, would be to recognize that authority cannot solve the Interpretive Problem. The interpreter has one role to play; the authority has another.

In my case, I interpret the Scriptures as best I am able. At the same time, the authority over me, the PCA, has the right to declare whether my interpretations are within the bounds of acceptable church teaching, and to command me not to teach if I am out of accord.

If it turns out that I cannot accept their decision, then my responsibility is to leave my position as elder. But in the end, they do not attempt to bind my conscience to believe something that is, apparently, contrary to Scripture. To do so would be to go beyond the proper bounds of authority.

You may say that this prevents us from ever Knowing the Truth Infallibly. And I say, we never had that guarantee to begin with. Knowledge is probabilistic, not absolute. This is what it means to "see through a glass darkly." The Scriptures are infallible; my interpretations are not.

You may also say that this weakens authority. And I say, that may be all to the good. It is the servant, not the one who lords it over the faithful, who is the true shepherd.

Grace and peace to you and your family,
Jeff Cagle

Jeff Cagle said...

Erratum:

B3: "I promise to believe the beliefs, teachings, and pronouncements of the Church to the best of my ability to understand them, and pledge to repent if I find myself out of accord with those teachings."


It turns out that *I* can't even infallibly know what I mean! :)

Jeff

Principium unitatis said...

Jeff,

I'll just intersperse some comments here:

Rather, I've been appealing to two examples (of many) which would cause me to doubt the claim that Rome infallibly teaches the orthodox faith. ... But I've asked for evidence that such is the case. So far, your evidence has been a claim that the early church believed Rome to be so.

The Church has always believed that the teachings of the bishops in ecumenical council were protected from error in matters of faith and morality. Also, the Church has always believed that the Holy See was protected from error in matters of faith and morality.

And yet, a belief that Rome had primacy (which I admit was commonly held) is not the same as a belief that Rome possessed the gift of infallibility.

I never claimed otherwise.

Hence, the long discussion that you linked to over at Cathedra Unitatas concludes that the Eastern Church has always, and continues, to grant first place to the bishop of Rome, and yet they do not acknowledge Rome's claims concerning filioque, Mary, and so on.

I agree. You seem to think that authority and infallibility are inseparable, as if there can't be one without the other. So you seem to think that even if the successor of St. Peter has the primacy in authority, he can be entirely disregarded (as can the ecumenical councils) whenever you judge them to be in error. What authority is that? It seems to treat 'authority' as "binding only when I agree with it", which is no authority at all.

So there's nothing there to draw me in from the outside, so to speak. I can't accept Rome's claims without first accepting Rome's reading of Scripture and history.

I never said anything about "Rome's reading of Scripture and history". I simply started studying the early fathers. What do they say about the authority of Peter?


Further, over against that, there seem to be clear examples of Rome's failure to teach the truth. I can accept that my interpretations might be incorrect -- but I can't be persuaded by an argument from authority. The authority itself is in question.

You are trying to disprove an authority by using your own interpretative authority. Why bother? If you have the authority to interpret Scripture so as to judge magisterial authority, then there is no magisterial authority – or, you *are* the magisterial authority. So your approach entirely begs the question.


What I'm trying to convey is that from the outside, your arguments appear tightly circular: Rome is the authority; therefore, it's interpretations are correct.

I never made any such argument.

Rome is the authority because it has always taught the truth.

I never made any such argument. Those are two straw men.

I mean, sure Paul *might* have been giving a pattern for elder marriage in 1 Tim. 3 that was temporary. But what would lead us to believe such a thing from the text, or *any* text?

Why do you expect one? See, you are continually importing your sola scriptura perspective into your methodology. But the Bible nowhere teaches sola scriptura. Nor did anyone in the history of the Church believe such a thing until Wyclif.


First, Tertullian can be wrong here.

Of course.

You certainly don't accept his opinions concerning Mary; why do you press him here as an authority?

I didn't "press" him as an authority, but as a witness to what the early Church believed about the relation of Scripture to the Magisterium.


But even if not, one can legitimately question whether Rome still proclaims the rule by which men are to be made Christians.

I have no idea what the difference between "legitimately question" and illegitimately question would be. Anyone can question anything. People questioned whether what Jesus was saying was true. That didn't prove anything about whether what Jesus was saying was true or false. So being able to question whether the Holy See still proclaims the rule by which men are to be made Christians doesn't prove anything.


Apparently, then, even a heretic may show that certain doctrines is non-apostolic. I contend that I've done so in the case of PV and priestly celibacy.

But you haven't done so at all, no matter how much you pound the table "contending" that you have. With PV, you used the fallacy of the argument from silence, ignoring the possibility of an oral tradition. And priestly celibacy is not a "doctrine" but a discipline. No one claims that it is an "apostolic doctrine".


As a Christian, I claim a right to use the Scriptures.

No one is stopping you from using the Scriptures, or denying that you may use the Scriptures.


It's that simple: following in the footsteps of the church fathers, who did not defer to Rome in their interpretations, but read the Scriptures plainly,

Since you haven't read Ray's book, I'm wondering how you know how the fathers treated the Holy See.


I assert that God's Word is for God's people to use.

Now it is becoming very clear what sort of authority you believe yourself to have. You are asserting something to be true for all Christians. That's an ex cathedra type of statement. Authority is unavoidable: either we submit to a higher authority, or we take such authority to ourselves. Of course the Catholic Church believes that God's Word is for God's people (not so much to use) but to believe and love and worship. God's Word is Christ. But the Scriptures are to be read and interpreted under the guidance of the Church, not according to each person's fancy. Otherwise there will be chaos and endless fragmentation, as each person follows his own interpretation apart from the guidance of the shepherds that Christ appointed.


At the very least, it should be not considered out of court to test the papal claims to see whether they are so.

Says who? You? What authority do you have? Would you say the same thing of the Apostles' claims? And how would you "test" the claims of Church authorities? By comparing them to your own interpretation? In that case, who is the ultimate authority? – You.


My "heresy", if indeed it is, is not a heresy that Tertullian himself would identify as such

You deny five of the seven sacraments. Tertullian would immediately recognize that as something other than the Catholic faith.


I hold to the creeds. I am only "heretical" in terms of much later doctrinal developments within Rome.

You (presumably) deny the distinction between priest and bishop; that's a distinction universally held in the Church by the beginning of the second century. You (presumably) deny baptismal regeneration, and that the Eucharist is truly the Body and Blood of Christ. Tertullian would treat you as a gnostic who thinks salvation is not by matter but by form.


First, I doubt you intend the words entirely literally.

We do intend the words literally, but not with the sense that you think must accompany a literal reading. Everything that we know the Holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God, that we believe on the authority of the Church. And whatever we don't yet know that the Holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God, that too we will believe when we learn it, again on the authority of the Church.

But now there is an additional problem. How do you know what the Church teaches?! This is what we might call The Interpretive Problem

It is only a problem for a skeptic. I began my early childhood already knowing what other persons were saying, not just examining my own interpretation of what they were saying. Otherwise I would never be able to realize that I had made any interpretive error.


Thus, what your affirmation means in practice is this:

B3: "I promise to believe the believes, teachings, and pronouncements of the Church to the best of my ability to understand them, and pledge to repent if I find myself out of accord with those teachings."


That's not what we affirm. We believe them even if we don't understand them. The Church says God is a Trinity of Persons. We believe it, even if we don't understand it.

You are missing the principled difference between interpreting a written text and interpreting a living person. A living person can clarify his or her meaning. But a written text cannot, and thus a written text requires a magisterial authority to say what the authoritative interpretation is.


Regardless of who was right or wrong, the fact remains that you and Fr. Mateo, both pledged to believing the authority of the Church, nevertheless disputed the meaning of what John XXII, the SMA, was saying. Your affirmation was insufficient to eliminate the Interpretive Problem.

I don't recall "disputing" anything Fr. Mateo said. But nevertheless, there is a living SMA in the Catholic Church that we can go to in order to resolve the dispute. Protestants have no such thing. If there is an interpretive dispute, there is no Protestant magisterium that can resolve the dispute; there will simply be another schism.


The CathEn also admits to the Interpretive Problem

No it doesn't. Acknowledging that individuals are infallible is not the same thing as acknowledging that individuals only have their own interpretations of Church teachings.


You have argued vigorously that anyone who relies on his own interpretation is an individualist, period. "There is no middle ground" between believing the SMA and believing one's own interpretation.

True.

But as it turns out, the only one who can infallibly know what the SMA teaches is, perhaps, the pope himself. The rest of us, including faithful Catholics, have to rely on our own interpretations.

Again, you're missing the principled distinction between dead texts and living persons. I can sit in my priest's office and ask him for clarification if I don't understand a teaching of the Church. I can ask for a clarification of his clarification. I can then present back to him my refined understanding of what the Church teaches and then ask, "Is this what the Church teaches? And he can say, "Yes" or he can say "No". You might insist, "See, you are still interpreting the word 'yes'." Sure, but I know what 'yes' means. That's entirely different from rejecting the Catholic Church based on your own interpretation of passages of text written 2000 years ago to congregations in entirely different countries, with entirely different cultures, in entirely different languages, and making yourself out to be your own authoritative interpreter of Scripture. That's individualism. Understanding that 'yes' means "yes", and that 'no' means "no" is not individualism. If you can't see that difference, then I don't know what else to say.


Despite Catholic adherence to the teachings of the SMA, the doctrinal spread within the RCC is at least as wide as the doctrinal spread amongst Protestants: liberals, liberation theologians, rationalists, skeptics, conservatives, and ultraconservatives, charismatics and noncharismatics, Franciscans, Augustinians, Jesuits, and on and on … all of these are found within the RCC among communing members and even priests.

Sure, but they are not in schism. The Lord Jesus will not look to them when He judges your choices and actions with respect to whether or not you caused or preserved a schism, or caused others to form a schism or remain in schism.


At the same time, the authority over me, the PCA, has the right to declare whether my interpretations are within the bounds of acceptable church teaching, and to command me not to teach if I am out of accord.

On what grounds? Where did the PCA get the right to tell you anything about what you should believe? That institution came into existence in 1973. Those in it are mere laymen, with no valid orders. They have no authority over you or over anyone, though they act as though they do (not realizing that they have no valid orders). The Catholic Church, on the other hand, was founded by Christ Himself 2000 years ago, on Peter the rock. Those whom the Apostles ordained, and their sacramental successors, *they* have ecclesial authority to declare interpretations heretical or orthodox for all believers. Anything that is only thirty-four years old is *not* the Church that Christ founded, but only a man-made institution.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Principium unitatis said...

Jeff,

Quick correction. The following phrase: "Acknowledging that individuals are infallible" should read: "Acknowledging that individuals are fallible".

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Jeff Cagle said...

You are missing the [principle] difference between interpreting a written text and interpreting a living person. A living person can clarify his or her meaning. But a written text cannot, and thus a written text requires a magisterial authority to say what the authoritative interpretation is.

I didn't miss this point. Go back and read my post carefully, and you'll see that I fully allow for the fact that you have an advantage over me (assuming the SMA works). That's what the whole paragraph starting with "Now you may object, quite rightly,..." was all about.

So I can see your point.

But don't miss mine: you are not *able* to "interpret living people." That phrase has no meaning. You (and I) can only interpret what living people *say*, and seek clarification. That feedback process is highly effective, but it is not infallible.

And because of that, the Interpretive Problem exists for all of us.

Having an SMA can help mitigate the Interpretive Problem but it doesn't eliminate it. You, Bryan Cross, are the last interpretive layer between the teachings of the Church and your own beliefs. And there's nothing you can do to get yourself out of the way.

And if the Interpretive Problem cannot be eliminated, and if there are no degrees of individualism, then you're every bit as much an individualist as the rest of us.

For my part, I think it's just a mistake to believe that everyone's individualism is the at the same level and to the same degree as everyone else's. This is the weakest part of your system, IMO.

JRC wrote:
Regardless of who was right or wrong, the fact remains that you and Fr. Mateo, both pledged to believing the authority of the Church, nevertheless disputed the meaning of what John XXII, the SMA, was saying. Your affirmation was insufficient to eliminate the Interpretive Problem.

BC wrote:

I don't recall "disputing" anything Fr. Mateo said.


Go back and look at our exchanges re: John XXII. Examine the article that I linked to there (and here again for convenience). Note that whereas you argued that "John XXII does not say that Nicholas III established things against Gregory.", Fr. Mateo says,

"He denied the "Spirituals'" contention that their rule and style of poverty was equal to the Gospel and he pointed out that papal approval of a religious order and its rule was a matter of Church legislation, not of faith or morals. Therefore, he taught, a pope could (and sometimes might have to ) modify an earlier pope's legislation or revoke it."

You've clearly disputed his understanding of John XXII. One of you, at least, has misunderstood John XXII.

It's a matter of small import -- except that it is a crystal-clear illustration of my point: even Catholics don't have the ability to infallibly interpret papal pronouncements.

That's all.

JRC

Jeff Cagle said...

We do intend the words literally, but not with the sense that you think must accompany a literal reading. Everything that we know the Holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God, that we believe on the authority of the Church. And whatever we don't yet know that the Holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God, that too we will believe when we learn it, again on the authority of the Church.

That was B2. Saw ya comin'. :)

JRC wrote:
But now there is an additional problem. How do you know what the Church teaches?! This is what we might call The Interpretive Problem

BC wrote:
It is only a problem for a skeptic. I began my early childhood already knowing what other persons were saying, not just examining my own interpretation of what they were saying. Otherwise I would never be able to realize that I had made any interpretive error.


This is the crux of the problem. On the one hand, you have applied radical skepticism to every single one (without exception) of my Scriptural examples, denying me the right to appeal to Scripture against the teachings of Rome at all, on the grounds that "I'm just relying on my own interpretation."

Which is true, at some level.

And yet, when confronted with the fact that you, also, must rely on your own interpretations, you assert that you began [your] early childhood already knowing what other persons were saying!

Surely this statement requires qualification or re-wording. I don't think for an instant that you claim to have infallible knowledge of what anyone says. Not even when you live with that person. And surely not since early childhood.

And if not, then why claim the high ground and deny that you have to rely on your understanding of what the magisterium teaches?

Perhaps -- I'm out on a limb here -- you believe that there is some difference between oral communication and written communication. Perhaps you believe that since the Scriptures were written a long time ago, that therefore there is an interpretive layer that exists in reading which doesn't exist in hearing what someone says.

But a moment's reflection should convince you that both reading and hearing are forms of communication, subject to all of the errors that communication can have. Those errors are different for oral and written communication, with the result that they have different reliablities under different conditions.

But still and all, oral communication is imperfect. Put another way, there is no perfect way to transmit the thoughts of the magisterium directly to your brain.

That's the Interpretive Problem.

Solve it, and you can be a multi-billionaire. But please don't pretend that it doesn't exist between you and the SMA. That leads to really bizarre logical conclusions, like "the infallibility of Bryan Cross."

JRC

Principium unitatis said...

Jeff,

And if the Interpretive Problem cannot be eliminated, and if there are no degrees of individualism, then you're every bit as much an individualist as the rest of us.

How does that conclusion follow?

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Principium unitatis said...

Jeff,

That feedback process is highly effective, but it is not infallible.

No one is claiming that it is infallible.

Having an SMA can help mitigate the Interpretive Problem but it doesn't eliminate it. You, Bryan Cross, are the last interpretive layer between the teachings of the Church and your own beliefs. And there's nothing you can do to get yourself out of the way.

I never claimed that I wasn't involved in interpreting the magisterium of the Church or the fathers of the Church.

And if the Interpretive Problem cannot be eliminated, and if there are no degrees of individualism, then you're every bit as much an individualist as the rest of us.

I would like to see how you reach that conclusion, because I think this is your fundamental point, but I do not see how you are reaching that conclusion.

Go back and look at our exchanges re: John XXII. Examine the article that I linked to there (and here again for convenience). Note that whereas you argued that "John XXII does not say that Nicholas III established things against Gregory.", Fr. Mateo says,

"He denied the "Spirituals'" contention that their rule and style of poverty was equal to the Gospel and he pointed out that papal approval of a religious order and its rule was a matter of Church legislation, not of faith or morals. Therefore, he taught, a pope could (and sometimes might have to ) modify an earlier pope's legislation or revoke it."

You've clearly disputed his understanding of John XXII. One of you, at least, has misunderstood John XXII.


I don't disagree with what Fr. Mateo says. What Fr. Mateo says and what I said are not contraries. Therefore it does not follow that I've "clearly disputed his understanding of John XXII".


It's a matter of small import -- except that it is a crystal-clear illustration of my point: even Catholics don't have the ability to infallibly interpret papal pronouncements.

That's precisely why we need (and have) a living magisterium.

This is the crux of the problem. On the one hand, you have applied radical skepticism to every single one (without exception) of my Scriptural examples, denying me the right to appeal to Scripture against the teachings of Rome at all, on the grounds that "I'm just relying on my own interpretation."

Please show one place where I "denied [your] right to appeal to Scripture". I did no such thing. You can appeal to Scripture all you want. But that entirely sidesteps the point in question: Whose interpretation is authoritative?

How are you using the term "radical skepticism"? I have never said that you cannot know anything by reading Scripture. I have never said that you cannot come to understand much about Christ and Christianity by reading the Scripture. So, I have no idea where you are getting the idea that I am applying "radical skepticism" to your Scriptural examples, unless by "radical skepticism" you mean calling into question an interpretation of Scripture that seems obvious to you. But then the Arminians could accuse you of "radical skepticism" when you call into question interpretations of Scripture that seem obvious to them.


And yet, when confronted with the fact that you, also, must rely on your own interpretations, you assert that you began [your] early childhood already knowing what other persons were saying! Surely this statement requires qualification or re-wording.

Not at all.

I don't think for an instant that you claim to have infallible knowledge of what anyone says.

I never said anything about "infallible knowledge". You are putting that term in my mouth. I said "knowing", not "infallibly knowing".


And if not, then why claim the high ground and deny that you have to rely on your understanding of what the magisterium teaches?

I never claimed that I don't have to rely on my understanding when understanding what the magisterium says.


Perhaps -- I'm out on a limb here -- you believe that there is some difference between oral communication and written communication.

That's precisely what I said. Chesterton points this out as well.

But a moment's reflection should convince you that both reading and hearing are forms of communication, subject to all of the errors that communication can have.

I don't have to take a moment's reflection to know that hearing and reading are both forms of communication. But persons can be interrogated to ascertain their intention; texts cannot. Once a speech-act is committed to paper, it is separated from the speaker, and cannot be interrogated as can the speaker. We can continue to study and analyze it, but it cannot speak again to clarify what it said, or reject an interpretation or confirm an interpretation. Persons, however, can do these things. That is why there must be an SMA to provide an authoritative interpretation of a text.

But still and all, oral communication is imperfect.

Yes, if by 'imperfect' you mean does not always succeed in producing the intended understanding in the recipient. But how does that refute my argument or my position? My argument / position does not depend on oral communication being perfect.

That's the Interpretive Problem.

How is it a problem for my position or my argument?

But please don't pretend that it doesn't exist between you and the SMA.

I'm not pretending anything. And I'm not pretending that I do not interpret the SMA. Nor did I claim that I don't interpret the SMA.

That leads to really bizarre logical conclusions, like "the infallibility of Bryan Cross."

I do not understand why you think I am claiming that I am infallible. I have never made such a claim.

So much of what you say here (in this last reply) seems to be based on a misunderstanding and misconstrual of my position. I'm wondering if you have actually understood my fundamental argument and position.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Jeff Cagle said...

Given:

(1) That the Interpretive Problem cannot be solved, then it follows that

(2) One's own interpretations (of Scripture, in my case; of the teachings of the Church, in yours) will be the final arbiter of what one believes, in which case

(3) One fulfills your definition of Individualist.

If further,

(4) There are no degrees of individualism, then

(5) there is no possible qualification of the term "Individualist."

In which case, we're all equally Individualists.

What you've hoped to do, I think, was to eliminate the Interpretive Problem by submitting to a living magisterial authority.

Such a move greatly reduces the Interpretive Problem, but it doesn't eliminate it. In which case, (4) denies your efforts.

I think (4) is a stinker. It makes nonsense out of what we do in real life. It seems self-evident to me that I've intended to submit myself to the authority of Scripture and the authority of my church, and that in so doing, I have surrendered a certain amount of individualism. I'm *not* actually relying "only on myself", but on a complex set of authorities: the Scripture, as best I understand it; and the church as a guide with significant weight.

This is decidedly different from a Fundamentalist who cannot even distinguish between his own interpretations and the words of Scripture, and who despises the authority of the church.

And in turn, he is decidedly different from a subjectivist who decides the truth value of each proposition based on whether it "feels right."

That seems to be the real story with authority.

At least in my view. :)

Jeff

Principium unitatis said...

Jeff,

Here's the problem with your argument. (3) does not follow from the conjunction of (1) and (2). That is primarily because of one word in (2):

(2) One's own interpretations (of Scripture, in my case; of the teachings of the Church, in yours) will be the final arbiter of what one believes,

The word is "final". The move from (2) to (3) equivocates on that term, and that is why (3) does not follow from the conjunction of (1) and (2). In (2) the word 'final' means 'last'. But in my definition of 'individualist' the individual is the "final arbiter" in the sense of being the "highest interpretive authority", which is different in meaning than "last interpretive arbiter of what one believes".

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Jeff Cagle said...

The word is "final". The move from (2) to (3) equivocates on that term, and that is why (3) does not follow from the conjunction of (1) and (2).

I could agree that we might distinguish between "final" and "highest." To do so might allow us to distinguish degrees of individualism.

The problem is that in the argument you've made about Protestants wrt Scripture, you've argued that their highest authority is "really" their own interpretation, on the grounds that they must interpret Scripture in order to understand it.

Protestants, of course, claim that their highest authority is Scripture. But you deny this, focusing on the fact that the final interpretive layer is their own interpretation, and insisting that therefore their highest authority is their own interpretation.

Well, if your argument is sound there, then it is sound elsewhere.

(I don't think your argument *is* sound; the unsoundness is just more obvious to you now that you're defending yourself against it. If I were analyzing the interpretive situation, I would (a) make the word "individualism" more precise; (b) drop the contention that all individualism is the same, and (c) insist that the Interpretive Problem is an unavoidable part of living in a fallen world.)

Jeff

Principium unitatis said...

Jeff,

The problem is that in the argument you've made about Protestants wrt Scripture, you've argued that their highest authority is "really" their own interpretation, on the grounds that they must interpret Scripture in order to understand it.

Now it is very clear that you have misunderstood my argument. I have argued that their highest interpretive authority is themselves, but not on the grounds that "they must interpret Scripture in order to understand it".

I'll post something on my blog about this that will, hopefully, clear up the confusion.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Jeff Cagle said...

Link to it here, and I'll happily read it. But before you do, are you sure that I've misunderstood your argument, rather than the other way around?

Consider your own statements:

Second, if the person appeals to the Holy Spirit, this too pushes the question back to a further question: According to whose determination of what the Holy Spirit is saying? The answer to that question cannot be "another council", since again, that too would just push back the question. Nor can the answer be "the Holy Spirit", because that too would just push back the question. Nor can the answer be "the Scriptures", because the appeal to the Holy Spirit was the answer to Q2. So to appeal to Scripture here would be to fall into circular reasoning. The circularity would look like this: According to whose interpretation of Scripture? The Holy Spirit's. According to whose determination of what the Holy Spirit is saying? The Scripture's. According to whose interpretation of Scripture? The Holy Spirit's. .... So this reply too is not an option.

Third, he can appeal to his own interpretation of Scripture. This amounts to the notion that those Church councils are authoritative that agree with one's own interpretation of Scripture, and that those Church councils are not authoritative that do not agree with one's own interpretation of Scripture. But this completely undermines the authority of any council, for the very nature of authority is not something to which we are subject only when in agreement with it.


All that you're doing is pushing the Interpretive Problem to the fore, insisting that we can't *know* what the HS says, or what the Scripture says, and that therefore we must really be appealing to our own interpretations.

That's equally true of you. Your interpretation of Rome's teachings is what you actually believe.

"Whose interpretation of Church teachings?"

Think about it. You don't have an infallible upload link.

Jeff

Principium unitatis said...

Jeff,

... insisting that we can't *know* what the HS says, or what the Scripture says, and that therefore we must really be appealing to our own interpretations.

Where did I insist that we can't know what the HS says? You won't find it in what you quoted from me. Likewise, where did I say that we can't know what the Scripture says? Again, not in what you quoted from me.

So again, you are importing claims into my position that I am not making.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Principium unitatis said...

Jeff,

My post clarifying this can be found here.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Principium unitatis said...

Jeff,

You don't have an infallible upload link.

How does that affect my argument or position in the least? My argument never presumes or assumes that I have an "infallible upload link".

I'm not sure how to make it any clearer. I do not claim to have an "infallible upload link", nor do any of my arguments depend on my having an "infallible upload link".

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Jeff Cagle said...

OK, I think at this point I should try to clarify how I understand the interpretive process. My goals in doing so are (a) to show why your argument is difficult for me to understand (since, apparently, our arguments talked past one another), and (b) why I'm so resistant to the argument that "no highest interpretive authority" really means "my interpretive authority is highest." I will not address (a) and (b) in this post, but rather try to establish a picture of the interpretive process that, Lord willing, we can both agree to.

I wish I could post diagrams on here, since I have a clear one in mind as I write. Just for clarity, I ask your indulgence to draw the description so that we're (hopefully) looking at the same picture.

Picture the mental me as two concentric circles. The outer one is labeled "sensory perception"; the inner one, "web of beliefs." And then outside the circle is the text of the Scriptures (or Confession, or Catholic Catechism, or Book or Mormon, or whatnot), being read by me. An arrow of sensory data is flowing from the Scriptures into my sensory perception, and thence into my web of beliefs. At the point that the arrow transitions from the sensory data into the web of beliefs, an "interpretation" takes place.

Aside: I picture my beliefs as a mutually reinforcing web, with some beliefs more central ("axiomatic") than others. If you prefer to see beliefs as stacked like a pyramid, with the axioms on bottom, then that's fine too.

Anyways, as I receive sensory data from the Scriptures, I begin to form two different types of beliefs about those data. First, I begin to form beliefs about what the intent of the author was:

"For God so loved the world that he gave his τον υιον τον μονογενη so that whosoever believes in him..."

Belief about John's intent would include beliefs about what "world" means, whether τον μονογενη means "only begotten" or "one and only", beliefs about what the verb "believes" entails, and so on. All of these combine to form a hypothesis about what John meant when he wrote 3.16.

At roughly the same time, I begin to form propositional beliefs about how John 3.16 relates to the rest of Scripture, what its implications are, and so on. (For texts other than the Scripture, I will also evaluate whether or not the meaning of the author is true or not.)

We may call the first set of beliefs "interpretation"; the second set, "theology."

Both interpretation and theology are going to be substantially influenced by my prior set of beliefs. And, the line between interpretation and theology will not be a clean boundary. So for example, because of the creeds (prior set of theological beliefs), I am going to tend to read "Son" as including being the 2nd person of the Trinity. Here, the theological beliefs leak over into my exegesis.

But also, the set of beliefs itself is not fixed, so that new interpretive and theological work could cause me to modify some of my prior beliefs. So connections and new nodes in my web are being continually made and broken.

Now, several things are important in this picture:

(1) The Interpretive Problem can be expressed in this way: the "interpretations" that I form are never mathematically certain. Instead, they are hypotheses that can either be confirmed or refuted by additional data or prior beliefs in my web. This confirmation and refutation process is also retroactive, so that interpretations that I used to hold can be laid aside in the future if sufficient data present themselves.

The Interpretive Problem can also be expressed in this way: the interpretations that I believe are always, in the final analysis, *my* interpretations, not those of another. I am the interpreter, and while my beliefs that come to me from authoritative sources (see below) form a part of my web, nevertheless, I am the one engaged in the interpretive process. And there's naught to be done about that.

At first glance, it may not be obvious that these two ways of stating the IP are equivalent. But in fact, each implies the other.

==> Suppose I wish to adopt the interpretations of another ("Bob"). But Bob's thoughts are not directly accessible to me (there is no "infallible upload link.") Instead, what I have is Bob's statements -- which have been interpreted by me and have formed a part of my belief set. Because my interpretation of Bob is fallible, I cannot claim direct knowledge of his interpretation, and cannot therefore directly adopt his interpretation as my own. At best, I can only adopt my version of his interpretation.

So when I say "Bob has taught me that X means A", what it really means is "My understanding of Bob's teaching is that X means A." If Bob is then an authority (see below), then I will affirm that X means A -- but this belief is properly speaking my own, not necessarily Bob's.

Fallibility thus implies that my interpretations are always my own.

<== is obvious: if my interpretations are always limited to mine alone, then I cannot reach "beyond" myself into the mind of another, in order to verify my interpretation with mathematical certainty. Any attempts to check my interpretations will be subject likewise to further interpretation, and so on. Thus, being stuck inside my own world of sensory experience denies the possibility of my claiming infallible interpretation.

Thus we have two ways of formulating the IP: "My interpretations are never certain" and, "My interpretations are always mine."

(2) The role of authorities is an interesting one. Essentially, either at the interpretive level or at the theological level, I choose to privilege certain sources of data as having a greater level of confidence than others. In the case of the Scriptures, I accord the data an "infallible" level of confidence (but infallibility does NOT extend to my interpretations of that data). Other sources might be privileged, usually because of either (a) specialized knowledge, or (b) position of authority within the Church.

In most cases, the privilege of authority is to have greater weight than other sources.

Two points about authority: First, at each point, choosing to privilege an authority is an act of the will, conscious or unconscious.

Second, privileging an authority means granting priority to the beliefs that I *have interpreted* the authority to teach.

In addition, it should be noted that the boundary between "interpretive authority" and "propositional authority" is not a clean one. At times, Scripture provides propositional statements that direct our interpretation of other Scripture. This happens in Gal 4, Rom 4, Heb 11 off the top of my head, but the instances are legion. So the claim that "Scripture does not interpret anything" -- I can't recall if you said this, but I've seen Catholic apologists who have -- is not entirely true.

What *is* true is that Scripture cannot bypass my role as the interpretive agent; I can't claim that "Scripture teaches X" without acknowledging that "To the best of my ability to read it, Scripture teaches X."

(3) The "noetic effect of sin" -- the effect that sin has on knowledge and belief -- can be expressed in this way: that as I attempt to form interpretations, some of my prior beliefs that are contrary to God's truth may very well interfere either at the interpretive level or at the theological level. Hence, my current web of beliefs is not an entirely reliable guide to truth.

I can't just look at Scripture and assume that whatever I think it means, well, that's what it means.

(4) The operation of the Holy Spirit is thus remarkably similar for both the writers of Scripture and the readers. In both cases, the HS modifies the web as he sees fit, not overriding my will (which is still in operation), but instead causing the web of beliefs to become less affected by sin.

In the case of the writers of Scripture, this noetic influence of the HS led to infallible communication of God's truth, as you and I both believe.

In the case of readers of Scripture, the noetic influence leads to improved, but not infallible, understanding of the Scriptures. This, or something close to this, is what I take the WCoF 1.5 and 1.10 to mean when it speaks of "the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scriptures."

(5) The feedback process, which can happen with either living people (my wife, the Pope, etc.) or to a lesser extent with documents like the Scriptures, leads to a refinement of our hypotheses. Certain possible meanings can be rejected. Other avenues previously unthought of are now opened up.

This feedback process is what I take WCoF 1.9 to mean when it says "The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself."

Nevertheless, while feedback can (substantially) reduce the error rate of interpretation, it cannot solve the IP; and thus it cannot allow us to (infallibly) adopt someone else's interpretations as our own.

Nor does feedback allow us to abdicate the role of interpretive agent.

There's more to say -- I still have to account for "individualism", for example. And I'm concerned that our accounts of authority are possibly incompatible. But at this point, how does this account of interpretation agree with your picture of interpretation? I'd like to hash out any disagreements before dealing with the meat of our arguments.

One possible problem: the picture that I've traced above is descriptive, not normative; that is, I'm not claiming that we *should* interpret in such a messy way. Rather, I'm claiming that our limitations are such that we *do* interpret in that way.

Grace and peace,
Jeff

Jeff Cagle said...

Just to flesh out the picture a bit, I'd like to show how my model has played a background role in our discussion.

---

SMA

When I hear you say that the Church is the Sacramental Magisterial Authority, what I interpret that to mean is that part of your belief web is that the Church authorities (priests, bishops, cardinals, Pope) should occupy a position of highest privilege wrt teachings about faith and morals.

Hence, you privilege the Church teaching in two ways: first, data from the Church (catechism, sermons, discussions, papal bulls) are privileged over all other sources.

Second, any belief in your web that you identify as a "teaching of the Church" is likewise privileged over all other beliefs.

Note that I hold it to be possible for you to be mistaken about what is or is not a teaching of the Church (the IP again!); I think you would agree.

The concept of "individualism"

Within my model of interpretation, an individualist is one who grants low priority to all outside authorities on the grounds that they are outside authorities.

It is fairly clear that I would recognize an entire spectrum of individualism, ranging from complete solipsism to almost complete submission to one or more others. The former would privilege only his own current belief web; the latter would disregard his own current beliefs entirely.

The notion of "highest authority"

In your case, the "highest authority" is clear. You privilege the SMA above all others.

In my case, the notion of "highest authority" is less clear. Certainly, the Scripture is the highest authority on matters that it touches, even to the remotest degree. This includes matters of interpretation, in the case that there is Scriptural data that influences interpretation.

But underneath that privileged position, a whole set of different authorities receive different weights on different topics. Bruce Waltke, by virtue of his specialized knowledge in Hebrew, receives privilege when he speaks on the Hebrew language -- but less so when he speaks on church history (for which people like Bruce, Schaff, and Chadwick are authoritative).

Church authority is binding, but only insofar as it does not contradict Scriptural data. And in fact, the church authority recognizes this (WCoF 1.10).

So for me, many authorities are not rankable in terms of highest and lowest. And yet, I would certainly say that I defer to their judgments, to an extent. Yet at the same time, I recognize them as fallible authorities, so that when I adopt the opinion of an authority, I will still hold it at a degree of confidence that is less than 100%.

This is one reason that I might doubt your claim that "no highest authority" means "I am my own authority" -- in my case, there are several authorities higher than I (in various areas), and yet no one of them is absolutely higher than the other.

Further, it is clear that my understanding of "individualism" (above) is not necessarily entailed by the lack of a highest authority (nor vice-versa).

The question "according to whose interpretation?"

This question has always seemed confused to me. For at one level, anyone's answer is always the same: "My own, of course. I can't help that." Both you and I must give this answer, if we focus on the fact that we are necessarily our own interpretive agents.

But then, the question might also be asking, "which outside sources do you privilege?", in which case the answer can never be "myself" -- since I am not an outside source.

Because the question is ambiguous, I regard it as confused.

The meaning of sola scriptura

Contrary to popular belief, sola scriptura does not mean that somehow the truths of Scripture manage to tunnel straight from the page into my brain.

Rather, sola scriptura means that all theology - the entire belief web - should be tested against the data of Scripture.

Propositions that contradict Scripture are out of court;

propositions that are compatible with Scripture are considered possible, but held more loosely;

and propositions whose denial would contradict Scripture are said to be "proved by good and necessary inference", and given a high degree of confidence.

So sola scriptura is not so much a claim about epistemology as a description of a method of evaluating beliefs. It is clear that this method is complex, since the data from Scripture require interpretation.

But again, that is simply a manifestation of the IP.

When you evaluate propositions according to the teachings of the Church, the process appears to be the same: you test the beliefs against your own current web of understanding of the teachings of the church.

The difference is that your level of confidence in the understanding of Church teaching is justifiably higher than my level of confidence in my understanding of Scripture.

The notion that "living authorities" are different from "non-living authorities"

This notion has been used to try to drive a wedge between Protestants and their claim of sola scriptura. It is urged that a living authority can "interpret" whereas a non-living one cannot.

However, this proposition is a clear example of a continuum fallacy.

Whether a privileged source of data ("an authority") is non-living or living, its data can still influence my interpretations. Thus, the Scripture can most definitely function as an interpretive authority. And in fact, it does so in many cases. Galatians 3 and Romans 4 strongly shape the way I interpret Genesis 12-17, for example.

What is different about living v. non-living authorities is that one can have a higher degree of confidence in the meaning of the statements of a living authority (because of the stronger feedback process).

Thus, living authorities, if genuine, are more effective authorities than non-living ones such as the Scriptures. But this observation does not deny interpretive authority to Scripture.

---

Now, I don't know yet how you are going to react to my model, so I don't expect that you will necessarily agree with all of my points above. In fact, I'm pretty sure that some of them contradict propositions that appear to be a part of your current web of beliefs. (/snark :)

So I've not provided these points as an undisciplined way to argue on multiple fronts, but rather to illustrate how my model (which has been at the background for me since post #4 on Sept. 11) has influence how I've read and responded to your arguments.

So even if you disagree, I would ask that you understand. And then we can build bridges from there.

Jeff

Principium unitatis said...

Jeff,

Thanks for the detailed description of your understanding of interpretation. I agree with your claim that we cannot but interpret what we perceive. But let me ask a clarifying question: Can we know reality, or can we know only our interpretation of reality?

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Jeff Cagle said...

Fair question. In fact, I've had to wrestle with that a lot; I have several atheist acquaintances who press me on "But how do you KNOW...?"

I would start with Truth: "Knowing Truth" is seeing things the way God sees them. (Or, having a web of beliefs that is in agreement with God's thoughts).

(In worldviews without God, a quest for truth usually collapses to pragmatism. This is the current fashion in epistemology -- see Richard Rorty's "Contingency, Solidarity, and Irony" for an example of this thinking)

How then do we acquire a knowledge of truth? Only by means of revelation: general revelation (the creation) and special revelation (the Scriptures...in your case, you would extend that also to infallible teachings of the Church).

But how do we know what that truth *means*?

We can't, with mathematical certainty. But we can, with greater or lesser degrees of confidence, according to how well our understanding of the truth coheres with the data.

Those propositions that seem to be a "virtual certainty", I hold to be "certain." Or put another way, if denying a proposition would require uprooting large chunks of central ideas in my web, then I consider that proposition to be relatively certain.

Those propositions that seem normatively required, I hold by faith; not meaning that I know them with mathematical certainty, but meaning that if I had to go to the stake for them, I would (Lord willing).

So if you were to press me for mathematical certainty, I would end up looking like a skeptic. But if you allow me "statistical confidence", then I look very much like one who believes that we can and do know a whole lot.

I suspect that our situation wrt both knowledge and interpretation has several similarities to the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. One of those similarities is that while we cannot know something to infinite accuracy, we can come reasonably close for many purposes.

Does that answer your question?

Jeff

Principium unitatis said...

Jeff,

Does that answer your question?

No. I'm asking whether you think we can know only our interpretation of reality, or whether you think we can know reality. So to answer my question you would need say either (1) we can know reality, or (2) we can know only our interpretation of reality.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Jeff Cagle said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeff Cagle said...

(1), in a qualified sense.

We can know reality by means of the process of interpretation.

Our knowledge has uncertainty in it because of the limitations of the interpretive process; sometimes greater, sometimes lesser.

If you press me on those limitations, I must admit that my interpretations are not themselves reality, but only my interpretations thereof.

But the "interpretations" are not what I "know" -- it is reality that I know, to a greater or lesser degree.

Put another way, "knowing" means "interpreting in such a way as to do justice to the data" -- a better coherent fit with the data means a higher degree of confidence.

Put another way, we don't "know our interpretations", we "know by interpreting."

Better?

Jeff

P.S. I'm rejecting several views at once:

* Aristotle's view that we sense an object and just "know" it.

* The Gnostic view that we are all trapped in simulations of our minds, and that the world is illusory.

* Postmodern Pragmatism (in that I hold that certain propositions *are* normative for me; namely, those taught in the Scriptures).

* Hume's skepticism (for the same reason: there *is* a privileged interpretation of the world: God's.)

Jeff Cagle said...

P.S.S. One source of confusion needs to be headed off at the pass. Because we know by means of interpreting, there's this funny linguistic dance that can take place. We *know* reality, not our interpretations; but to do so, we *rely on* our interpretive process.

It's analogous to "I rely on my eyes to tell me where the ball is."

Occasionally, I become undisciplined in the use of language and switch the verbs -- but that's oversight rather an expression of some even more complicated view.

Jeff

Principium unitatis said...

Jeff,

We can know reality by means of the process of interpretation.

How do you know that that statement itself is true?

I'm not trying to be pedantic, but it looks like you are trying to be both a Kantian and a realist, and those two don't fit together.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Jeff Cagle said...

JRC wrote:
We can know reality by means of the process of interpretation.

BC asked:
How do you know that that statement itself is true?

If you mean "know infallibly" ... I don't. But if you mean "know with a high degree of confidence", then I would say that I have several lines of evidence that build a strong case.

BC wrote:

I'm not trying to be pedantic, but it looks like you are trying to be both a Kantian and a realist, and those two don't fit together.


No, I'm not "trying" to fit within any school of thought, though I'm familiar with both of those. Do you see any actual incompatibilities in my account, or is it just a general concern?

And anyways, how would you answer your own question:

Do we know reality, or our interpretations only?

Jeff

Principium unitatis said...

Jeff,

then I would say that I have several lines of evidence that build a strong case.

I would like to see that case. How does one start from sense data, and "build a strong case" that reality is as one interprets it?

Do you see any actual incompatibilities in my account, or is it just a general concern?

Your position is Kantian in its claim that we start with sense data. But Kantianism is incompatible with realism. And yet you seem to be trying to maintain some kind of realism (i.e. we know reality). So, there is an incompatibility here. That will become clearer when you lay out your "strong case" that you mentioned above.

And anyways, how would you answer your own question: Do we know reality, or our interpretations only?

We know reality. As I said in one of my comments above:

It is only a problem for a skeptic. I began my early childhood already knowing what other persons were saying, not just examining my own interpretation of what they were saying. Otherwise I would never be able to realize that I had made any interpretive error.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Jeff Cagle said...

JRC wrote:
then I would say that I have several lines of evidence that build a strong case.

BC wrote:

I would like to see that case. How does one start from sense data, and "build a strong case" that reality is as one interprets it?


I'm not sure that I'm starting from sense data. In fact, I'm positive that I'm not. At least one of my central ideas, that God exists, is not derived entirely from sense data.

Going into my entire account of epistemology would take us very far afield, and I'm not sure how it would be helpful to the discussion.

Especially when I've laid a lot on the table, without any reciprocity on your part. As of yet, you still have not provided any account of what it means to "interpret."

Your position is Kantian in its claim that we start with sense data.

See above. I don't fit into pigeon-holes nearly that easily. One way in which I strongly dissent with Kant is that I believe that propositional revelation is one way in which the noumenal can communicate itself through to the phenomenal: "I love you" is an intelligible statement from one person to another, even though it corresponds to nothing phenomenally measurable (at least, not at the moment).

JRC

Jeff Cagle said...

JRC asked,
Do we know reality, or our interpretations only?

BC replied:

We know reality. As I said in one of my comments above:

It is only a problem for a skeptic. I began my early childhood already knowing what other persons were saying, not just examining my own interpretation of what they were saying. Otherwise I would never be able to realize that I had made any interpretive error.


This answer confused me. It sounds like you are saying that when Alice has a thought and speaks it to you, then you have direct knowledge of what Alice's thought was.

Do you really believe that?

But then, you also said

I agree with your claim that we cannot but interpret what we perceive.

So since Alice's thought comes to you via your perceptions, it would seem as if you believe that you are interpreting her speech, not knowing her thought.

So I don't understand the relationship between Alice's thought, her speech, your perception of the speech, your interpretation of that perception, and your "knowledge."

That's the missing account that we need in order to identify points of common ground and/or difference.

It's also the missing account that can help me make sense of your arguments about Protestants being their own highest authorities.

Jeff

Principium unitatis said...

Jeff,

I believe that propositional revelation is one way in which the noumenal can communicate itself through to the phenomenal

So how do you access propositional revelation if not by interpreting sense data? And if it is by interpreting sense data, then how do you know (with any degree of certainty whatsoever) that reality conforms to your interpretation of sense data?

If you wish to set aside this epistemological issue, that's fine with me. I thought you wanted to talk about it, in order to show that my argument failed.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Principium unitatis said...

Jeff,

It sounds like you are saying that when Alice has a thought and speaks it to you, then you have direct knowledge of what Alice's thought was. Do you really believe that?

I never claimed "direct knowledge of what Alice's thought was" (i.e. telepathy). But I can know what Alice's thought was.

So since Alice's thought comes to you via your perceptions, it would seem as if you believe that you are interpreting her speech, not knowing her thought.

I am both interpreting her speech and knowing her thought. The two are not mutually exclusive.

So I don't understand the relationship between Alice's thought, her speech, your perception of the speech, your interpretation of that perception, and your "knowledge."

Alice's thought is revealed in her speech. Her speech is received by my sense powers, and understood by my intellect. When I understand what she said, her thought is in my intellect.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Jeff Cagle said...

I'm sorry, I'm bewildered. On the one hand, you ask and assert,


So how do you access propositional revelation if not by interpreting sense data? And if it is by interpreting sense data, then how do you know (with any degree of certainty whatsoever) that reality conforms to your interpretation of sense data?


On the other hand, you state,


Alice's thought is revealed in her speech. Her speech is received by my sense powers, and understood by my intellect. When I understand what she said, her thought is in my intellect.


At this point, I can't tell what you actually believe vs. what you are "accepting for the sake of argument."

If you believe that *I* can't know with any degree of confidence whatsoever that the reality of someone's thought conforms to my interpretation of his speech, how can you then turn around and assert that Alice speaks and *you* just "understand" what she means?

Are you somehow different from me in your powers of understanding, or what?! :)

Jeff

Principium unitatis said...

Jeff,

I'm sorry, I'm bewildered. On the one hand, you ask and assert,


So how do you access propositional revelation if not by interpreting sense data? And if it is by interpreting sense data, then how do you know (with any degree of certainty whatsoever) that reality conforms to your interpretation of sense data?


Those aren't assertions. Those are questions. I'm asking you questions in order to understand your epistemological position, which I think is internally contradictory, as I explained earlier.


On the other hand, you state,

Alice's thought is revealed in her speech. Her speech is received by my sense powers, and understood by my intellect. When I understand what she said, her thought is in my intellect.


That's my position, which you asked me to explain.


If you believe that *I* can't know with any degree of confidence whatsoever that the reality of someone's thought conforms to my interpretation of his speech, how can you then turn around and assert that Alice speaks and *you* just "understand" what she means?


I believe you can know reality. The problem is that your Kantian *epistemology* does not allow that. I don't hold your Kantian epistemology, so I don't have the problems you do trying to make a "strong case" that your interpretations of sense data conform to reality.


Are you somehow different from me in your powers of understanding, or what?! :)


No, my powers are the same as yours. But my epistemology is not the same as yours.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Jeff Cagle said...

The problem is that your Kantian *epistemology* does not allow that. I don't hold your Kantian epistemology, so I don't have the problems you do trying to make a "strong case" that your interpretations of sense data conform to reality.

You don't know my epistemology; ergo, you don't know what my epistemology will or won't allow.

Similarities to Kant's thought do not entail an acceptance of his entire package. I've already explained at least one way in which my epistemology is *not* Kantian. There are others.

I've tried to explain a couple of times that labels like "Kantian" (and "Gnostic") don't help the communication process. It's not just that they're a hindrance for me; they also are an obstacle for you, in that once you identify my view as "Kantian", you begin to import all of his problems into my views -- even though my views aren't his, and may not share in his problems.

The labels, as convenient as they are, can mislead you into believing false propositions about the views you have labeled.

So I strongly encourage you to cease the labeling practice, not only for my sake ('cause it makes my blood pressure go up), but also for the your sake as you seek to understand what is True.

At least, if you see a similarity, ask! I'll happily tell you whether or to what extent my views are consistent with so-and-so's view.

Those aren't assertions. Those are questions. I'm asking you questions in order to understand your epistemological position, which I think is internally contradictory, as I explained earlier.

I'm sorry I misunderstood then. I took your question less as an attempt to understand and more as a rhetorical statement.

---

I don't think we need to go down the epistemological route for a couple of reasons:

* First, we agree that reality can be known and propositions can be communicated, although it remains to be seen how far apart our understandings of that process are.

* Second, the only reason that the discussions of interpretation are profitable is to reveal why your argument concerning authority seems sound to you, while it seems quite unsound to me. That fact is still a mystery to me.

So: your account of communication is that

Alice's thought is revealed in her speech. Her speech is received by my sense powers, and understood by my intellect. When I understand what she said, her thought is in my intellect.

There are some unclear features here that are relevant to our discussion:

(1) One feature that's been unclear all along is whether you use the words "know" and "understand" in an absolute sense or in some qualified sense. (a) Do you and Alice have to have the identical proposition in mind in order for you to "understand" her? Or, can there be degrees of knowing and understanding? (b) And, if there are degrees, is absolute understanding possible?

(2) What is the mechanism by which you understand? So far, you've explained it as an atomic process ("she speaks, I understand"). But *how* does that happen?

(3) In a related sense, can there be better and worse methods for understanding? What distinguishes those?

(4) In what sense is someone an "interpretive authority" in your process above?

(5) What are the real differences between our positions? If you allow for statistical uncertainty, I can easily affirm that Alice speaks; I translate; I understand, which is precisely your account.

You appear to have the same layered model I do: Alice is outside, speaking in; my senses filter her speech; my intellect processes and understands.

So where are the differences?

Jeff

Principium unitatis said...

Jeff,

You don't know my epistemology; ergo, you don't know what my epistemology will or won't allow.

Well, prove me wrong. Show me that "strong case" that reality conforms to your interpretation of it.

You have been revealing your epistemology since Oct 7. It is Kantian. When I say it is Kantian, I don't mean that you agree with everything Kant said. I simply mean that your epistemology falls under the category of Kantianism. Either a person starts with sense data (that's Kantianism) or one starts with reality (that's Aristotelianism). But you made it clear that you rejected Aristotelianism, and are starting with sense data and trying to make a "strong case" that reality conforms to your interpretation of it. That's Kantian epistemology.

I've tried to explain a couple of times that labels like "Kantian" (and "Gnostic") don't help the communication process.

Then we would have to stop using words, because words are labels. Words mean things. Your epistemological position is Kantian, whether you realize it or not.

I've already explained at least one way in which my epistemology is *not* Kantian.

The following two questions were intended to help you see that "propositional revelation" offers no way out of the Kantian skepticism in which you are starting.

"So how do you access propositional revelation if not by interpreting sense data? And if it is by interpreting sense data, then how do you know (with any degree of certainty whatsoever) that reality conforms to your interpretation of sense data?"

... is to reveal why your argument concerning authority seems sound to you, while it seems quite unsound to me. That fact is still a mystery to me.

If my argument seems unsound to you, then please refute it. Show which premise is false, and/or how the conclusion does not follow from the premises.

(a) Do you and Alice have to have the identical proposition in mind in order for you to "understand" her?

Yes.

Or, can there be degrees of knowing and understanding?

Yes, there can be degrees of knowing, depending on our depth of understanding of the concepts involved.

(b) And, if there are degrees, is absolute understanding possible?

I don't know what you mean by "absolute understanding". If you mean "perfectly understand" or "completely understand" then yes, that is possible. If you are having a conversation with someone, at some point you might even say, "I completely understand."

What is the mechanism by which you understand? So far, you've explained it as an atomic process ("she speaks, I understand"). But *how* does that happen?

I never said "she speaks, I understand". I explained before that we have to receive communication through our senses. And then our intellect has to abstract the intelligible species from the sensible object (i.e. the object as sensed). There is no "mechanism" in the activity of the intellect because it is a power of the soul, and the soul is immaterial. To know is for the intelligible species to exist in the intellect. The essence of the thing known comes into the knower, and the knower becomes it, immaterially.

In a related sense, can there be better and worse methods for understanding? What distinguishes those?

Attitudes of the heart are important for understanding. Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. So humility and openness are helpful. So is the ability to focus, and be patient, and actively *listen*. People who are active listeners are focused on receiving from that which they are trying to understand what it is offering them. So a kind of openness and receptivity that is focused and active, not merely passive, is extremely helpful to facilitate understanding.

In what sense is someone an "interpretive authority" in your process above?

Interpretive authority is not explainable in terms of epistemology. Interpretive authority is based on a sacramental charism that is received with Holy Orders, and has been handed down through successive generations of bishops from the Apostles by the laying on of hands by those in sacramental succession from the Apostles.

What are the real differences between our positions? If you allow for statistical uncertainty, I can easily affirm that Alice speaks; I translate; I understand, which is precisely your account.

Your comment about "statistical uncertainty" is an indication of your Kantian epistemology. You seem to want to deny that you have certainty about anything. But then you don't want to say that you are a skeptic. If, however, you are not certain about anything, then on what grounds do you believe that even your strongest belief conforms to reality? That is why your epistemological position reduces to skepticism.

You appear to have the same layered model I do: Alice is outside, speaking in; my senses filter her speech; my intellect processes and understands. So where are the differences?

The key difference is where you start. You start with sense data, and then try to make a "strong case" that your interpretation conforms to reality. I start with reality, and then explain how it is that I know reality (via sensation, intellection, etc.).

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Jeff Cagle said...

There's too much to respond to here. The only helpful thing to do is to offer up the requested refutation.

Please understand that as I critically review the ideas, I'm not trying to engage in some sort of combat with you.

Rather, I'm explaining why I don't accept your argument, and why it seems flawed to me. Consider it a case of "iron sharpening iron", so to speak.

I believe that your desire to avoid individualism is laudable; I just think that your approach needs significant modification.

As to the rest, whether my epistemology is "Kantian" or not, well -- that's a matter of definitions, I suppose. I am content to leave it as a point of strong disagreement.

---

(1) Individualism is the notion (whether explicit or implicit) that each individual is his own highest ecclesial authority such that there is no visible human having higher ecclesial authority than himself. [By stipulation]

You actually lose me right here. There are clearly other types of authorities that one could acknowledge other than "visible human ecclesial" authorities. The Scripture is one of those. The Lord Jesus is another.

One might acknowledge the latter authorities (and thereby be reasonably described as "not an individualist"), and yet still not acknowledge any visible human ecclesial authorities.

So to begin with, you are stipulating a definition that fails to agree with at least one reasonable understanding of the word "individualism."

This doesn't mean that your argument couldn't be valid; it means that your argument will only have force for those who also use "individualism" in the same way that you do.

And I don't.

(2) Either each individual is his own highest ecclesial authority such that there is no visible human having higher ecclesial authority than himself, or there is a visible human ecclesial authority higher in ecclesial authority than that of each individual.

This is ambiguous.

You might be saying,

2A: For each human, he is either his own highest authority, or else someone else is a higher authority over him.

But as you use it in step (3), you appear to be saying

2B: Either each human being is his own highest authority, or else each human being has a higher authority over himself.

I will tackle each in turn.

2A is false as stated. The correct disjunction is "For each human, either (a) he has a higher authority than himself, or else (~a) he does not."

For 2A to work as stated, it must be the case that P: ~a is equivalent to being an individualist.

But P requires (i) that it cannot be the case that someone has *no highest authorities at all*, which you have not proven, and (ii) that an individual *can* function as his own highest authority.

On my account of interpretation and authority, the individual plays an entirely different role from the various authorities whom he privileges, and he cannot therefore be his own authority *at all*.

So as with (1), (ii) depends on a contested definition, the definition of "authority."

But (i) is not a matter of contested definitions; it's a positive hole in your argument. If a person has NO highest authority, then P is impossible.

To repair the hole and make 2A work, you will have to show that "not having any authority" is equivalent to "having yourself as an authority." And as I pointed out over on your blog, those two appear mutually exclusive.

You might think that you've covered this in your definition (1), but the same hole exists there; "having no higher authority than himself" might not be the same as "being his own highest authority" -- because someone might have no authorities whatsoever! In such a situation, the first clause would be true while the second one false.

2B is much worse; it's logically invalid. It need not be the case that either everyone has no higher authority than himself, or else everyone does have a higher authority than himself. Obviously, it might be the case that some do and some don't.

In fact, I'm pretty sure that you would say that the Pope does not have any higher authority than himself, but that you do. In which case, it is neither true that each human being has an ecclesial authority higher than himself; nor is it true that everyone has himself as his own highest authority.

So 2B is entirely out of court. In fact, I initially assumed that 2B could not possibly be your meaning, until I saw the way in which you used (2) in step (3).

(3) Either individualism is true or there is a visible human ecclesial authority higher in ecclesial authority than that of each individual.

This would only follow if 2B were the case, rather than 2A. Clearly, individualism (in your sense) can fail to be true if at least one individual has a higher authority than himself.

So, say that Alice does have a higher authority, but Bob does not.

Then individualism is false (since at least one human has a higher authority), but Bob falsifies the proposition that "for each human, there is a higher ecclesial authority".

So at this point, your argument collapses. (3) is clearly false.

That's my critique; clearly, moving on to (4)-(8) would not be profitable.

If I were to summarize the major logical problems with the argument:

(A) You are trying to universalize a proposition (that each human either has a higher authority or else he doesn't) that might be true for some and false for others.

(B) Your central proposition depends on the idea that having no higher authorities than oneself is equivalent to having oneself as the highest authority. That is not self-evident; no authorities at all is also a possible state of affairs. So is the non-rankability of authorities, which I didn't discuss here.

Jeff

P.S. Technically, the Pope fits your definition of "individualist" -- is that an intended side-effect of your argument?!

P.S.S. I did all of this in symbolic logic earlier, then moved it down to here because it was distracting. Here's the issue:

2A: (for each) x: (HA(x) = x) | (HA(x) = ~x)

2B: ((for each) x: HA(x) = x) | ((for each) x, HA(x) = ~x)

2A is an invalid disjunction that should read

2A': (for each) x: (HA(x) = ~x) | ~(HA(x) = ~x)

The flaw is that you assume P: ~(HA(x) = ~x) <==> (HA(x) = x),

which is false if either (i) HA(x) does not exist, or (ii) "HA(x) = x" is meaningless.

2B is an invalid disjunction that should read:

2B': ((for each) x: HA(x) = x) | ~((for each) x, HA(x) = x).

The second case could obtain if

(there exists) A: HA(A) = A (and) (there exists) B: HA(B) = ~B.

You have wrongly assumed the second case to be equivalent to ((for each) x, HA(x) = ~x).

JRC

Principium unitatis said...

Jeff,

Regarding line (1) you wrote:

You actually lose me right here. There are clearly other types of authorities that one could acknowledge other than "visible human ecclesial" authorities. The Scripture is one of those. The Lord Jesus is another.

My argument does not claim that there are no other types of authorities that one could acknowledge other than "visible human ecclesial" authorities. So this does not falsify any premise, nor show that the conclusion does not follow.

So to begin with, you are stipulating a definition that fails to agree with at least one reasonable understanding of the word "individualism."

Stipulative definitions don't rule out other definitions, nor must they conform to all "reasonable understandings" of the word.

This doesn't mean that your argument couldn't be valid; it means that your argument will only have force for those who also use "individualism" in the same way that you do. And I don't.

That's fine. My goal is to show the conclusion to be true. I can leave out the stipulative definition in (1), and rest with the conclusion in (7) from the conjunction of (2), (4), (5), and (6).

Neither your (2A) or your (2B) is equivalent to my (2). For one thing, you took out the word "ecclesial", and that changes everything. For another it should be clear that the "each individual" of the second disjunct in (2) is not unqualified in its extension; it does not include those particular individuals constituting the "visible human ecclesial authority higher in ecclesial authority than that of each individual".

Also, I should point out that from [P or -P] it does not follow that [P or Q] is false. Hence your claim that "2A is false as stated" is a non sequitur. Your conclusion does not follow from
"The correct disjunction is "For each human, either (a) he has a higher authority than himself, or else (~a) he does not."

If you want to falsify a disjunct such as [P or Q], you have to show the possibility of [-P & -Q]. So you would have to provide an example of a person who has no higher visible human ecclesial authority and who is not his own highest visible human ecclesial authority.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Jeff Cagle said...

Neither your (2A) or your (2B) is equivalent to my (2). For one thing, you took out the word "ecclesial", and that changes everything.

OK, I can replace "ecclesial" ... but the logic won't change.

At this point, it would be worthwhile for you to express (2) in symbolic form so that your logic is clear. As it stands, it's ambiguous. So were my symbolic representations, in one sense: I was using HA(x) = ~x as a shorthand for (there is) y != x: HA(x) = y. So I'll fix that below.

Once more, an attempt to clarify the ambiguous #2, :

(2) Either each individual is his own highest ecclesial authority such that there is no visible human having higher ecclesial authority than himself, or there is a visible human ecclesial authority higher in ecclesial authority than that of each individual.

Let HEA(x) be any higher ecclesial authority than x. Then we have:

2A: For each human, either he is either his own highest ecclesial authority, or else there is an ecclesial authority over him.

(for each) x: (HEA(x) = x) | (there is) y != x:(HEA(x) = y)

2B: Either each human is his own highest ecclesial authority, or else each human has a higher ecclesial authority than himself.

((for each) x: HEA(x) = x) | ((for each) x, (there is) y != x: HEA(x) = y)

2B, BTW, is what your words literally say.

Having restored the "ecclesial"s, the logic is still faulty for both 2A and 2B.

To make a sound disjunctive argument, you must begin with a true disjunction, and show that one of the branches is false. The clearest method is to begin with a tautology, which is what I supplied in both cases as the "correct" disjunction. Other true disjunctions can also work, as you point out.

But 2A and 2B are both false (or false alternatives), because for each, I can construct cases in which both branches are false.

In the case of 2A, if there is an x for which HEA(x) does not exist, then both branches are false.

In the case of 2B, if there are some individuals for which HEA(x) = x and others for which HEA(x) = y != x, or again if there are individuals for whom HEA(x) does not exist, then both branches are false again.

Unless you show that these cases are impossible, your argument is dead in the water.

Or, if I've misunderstood (2), then you can provide the correct symbolic representation of (2) so that your logic can be unambiguously checked.

Jeff

Principium unitatis said...

Jeff,

Unless you show that these cases are impossible, your argument is dead in the water.

First, "dead in the water" is not how arguments are properly evaluated. Arguments (of this sort) are sound or unsound. You have not shown my argument to be unsound. Second, the "unless you show that these cases are impossible" line is the equivalent of saying, "unless you show that your premises are necessarily true, your argument is unsound". But my argument does not depend upon my premises being "necessarily" true. It depends upon them being true. If you can find a person who is neither his own highest visible human ecclesial authority nor has a higher visible human ecclesial authority, please point him out. But shifting the burden of proof is not a refutation. And requiring me to show the impossibility of the falsity of my premises is shifting the burden of proof.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Jeff Cagle said...

But my argument does not depend upon my premises being "necessarily" true. It depends upon them being true. If you can find a person who is neither his own highest visible human ecclesial authority nor has a higher visible human ecclesial authority, please point him out... requiring me to show the impossibility of the falsity of my premises is shifting the burden of proof.

Slow down. You aim to show that your argument is true. That requires *showing* that your premises are true and your logic is valid. If you show the premises are "necessarily true", then your argument is "necessarily sound" -- a true Gold Standard in philosophy.

If you show that your premises are "possibly true", then your argument is "possibly sound."

What you have achieved so far is that your premise (2) is "only true if we discount the other possibilities on the grounds that Jeff hasn't yet produced an example of one", which means your argument is "not sound yet." Its truth, apparently, rests on my inability to find counterexamples. That's not a very strong peg to hang your coat on.

Your argument, if sound, should not have to rely on other peoples' incompetence in order to persist. You really need to bolster this hole by showing that my proposed other alternatives, which are standard reasonable alternatives to point out, are actually impossible or at least unlikely.

I have shown (2A) is false in any case in which HEA(x) does not exist. And I have shown that (2B) is false in any case in which HEA(A) = A and HEA(B) != B.

But does (2) really mean either 2A or 2B? I don't know; they're my best shot at understanding it, but you really need to produce a clear statement, in symbolic quantifiers, of what (2) means. There's no point in arguing about the validity of arguments that we cannot mutually understand.

Counterexamples of 2A and 2B

~2A: Any non-religious person does not belong to an ecclesia and therefore has no ecclesiastical authority at all. ~(exists) x: HEA(x). Done.

~2B: Alice is her own HEA; the Pope is Bob's HEA. Done.

Jeff

Principium unitatis said...

Jeff,

You aim to show that your argument is true.

No. Arguments are neither true nor false. They are valid or invalid, sound or unsound. Propositions are true or false.

If you show the premises are "necessarily true", then your argument is "necessarily sound" -- a true Gold Standard in philosophy.

First, there is no such thing as "necessarily sound". An argument is either sound or unsound. Second, there is a fundamental difference between claiming that a proposition is true, and claiming that a proposition is necessarily true. The latter is a modal claim. You are welcome to point out that the conclusion of my argument is not a necessary truth, or that my argument does not show that the conlusion is a necessary truth. But those would both be red herrings, since the conclusion of my argument is not stated as a necessary truth, nor does my argument attempt to establish that its conclusion is a necessary truth. So you are, essentially, criticizing another argument than the one I have presented; you are criticizing one that attempts to frame its conclusion as a necessary truth. If you wish to refute my argument, then you need to show that one or more of my premises is false, or that the conclusion of my argument does not logically follow from my premises.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Jeff Cagle said...

Bryan,

This is my final post; I need to return to my Federal Vision research. I will as always read any final thoughts you may have.

First, it's a little difficult to say where we ended up with premise (2) because I'm not absolutely certain what it means.

However, I have shown that there are cases in which 2A and 2B each are false.

In mathematics and philosophy both, a statement that is not true in all cases is said to be false. So for example, "primes are odd" is a false statement (because two is prime).

So (2) is false,

unless (2) means something different from either 2A or 2B.

More can be said; (3) does not follow from 2A. But there was no point in going there without knowing which (2) we're talking about.

It's important to emphasize here that I have not been trying to poke holes for the sake of "winning" (as if God gave out prizes for this sort of thing).

Rather, I've been trying to give you a logical analysis of your argument, in the hope of being of some benefit and also in the hope of clarifying my own thoughts.

In my professional life as a math teacher, I prove things and grade the proofs of others. For me, evaluating proofs is a part of loving God with the mind.

If you don't trust my judgment for whatever reason, then I encourage you to get your argument checked by a third party whose judgment you do trust and who is competent in the area of proof. Ask him about the concerns I've raised concerning (2) and (3), and then go from there.

I think at this point, I'll sign off. Thank you for your time, for the book recommendation, and for the stimulus to thought, self-reflection, and study of church history.

Grace and peace,
Jeff

P.S. Nor have I been poking holes for the sake of avoiding the force of your argument. We use the words "individualist" and "authority" in very different ways, and that fact alone keeps us very far apart in any event.

Principium unitatis said...

Jeff,

However, I have shown that there are cases in which 2A and 2B each are false.

You never showed that (2) was false, because you never showed a single case in which a believer was neither his own highest visible human ecclesial authority nor had a higher visible human ecclesial authority.

In mathematics and philosophy both, a statement that is not true in all cases is said to be false.

That is not true. "George Bush is President" is not true in all cases, but it is not false. Philosophy involves not just necessary truths, but contingent truths as well. "Something exists besides God" is a contingent truth, and it is a truth of philosophy. But your claim would reduce philosophy to logic, by stipulating that philosophy deal only with necessary truths.

We use the words "individualist" and "authority" in very different ways, and that fact alone keeps us very far apart in any event.

Differences in language do not entail differences in doctrine. Nor do they entail schism. The fact that we use these two terms differently is not a basis for our theological differences, since words are not restricted to a single sense.

If you don't trust my judgment for whatever reason, then I encourage you to get your argument checked by a third party whose judgment you do trust and who is competent in the area of proof.

I have been teaching philosophy at the university level for seven years. I'm a person to whom people come for these sorts of things.

Thanks for discussing this with me. I hope you will open-mindedly think about what I have been saying, and not just keep trying to find a way to challenge it. A critical stance makes it very difficult even to hear what someone else is saying, let alone receive a different paradigm. I hope that you will at least let the Church Fathers be your teachers.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan