Archive for September, 2010

>Rome’s Translation Record

September 30, 2010

>Over at Greenbaggins, Roman Catholic Taylor Marshall threw out one of the standard lines about Luther changing Scripture. I noted that this Roman propaganda has been debunked already (debunked oncedebunked twice). In response, Mr. Marshall tried to come up with some new angles to the old slur.

He stated: “One might even say that these mistakes in translations only prove that the Catholic Church must authorize translations so as to avoid errors.”

This is actually an old contention of Rome. Translators were persecuted, and their translations were burned, for allegedly badly translating the Bible without Roman approval. Moreover, the Council of Trent saw it fit to declare a particular version authentic:

But if any one receive not, as sacred and canonical, the said books entire with all their parts, as they have been used to be read in the Catholic Church, and as they are contained in the old Latin vulgate edition; and knowingly and deliberately contemn the traditions aforesaid; let him be anathema.

(Trent, Session IV)

And in case that was not clear enough:

Moreover, the same sacred and holy Synod,–considering that no small utility may accrue to the Church of God, if it be made known which out of all the Latin editions, now in circulation, of the sacred books, is to be held as authentic,–ordains and declares, that the said old and vulgate edition, which, by the lengthened usage of so many years, has been approved of in the Church, be, in public lectures, disputations, sermons and expositions, held as authentic; and that no one is to dare, or presume to reject it under any pretext whatever.

(Trent, Session IV)

You might think that the “Old Latin Vulgate” was a version currently in existence. It wasn’t. It was a version about to be published:

(this Synod) ordains and decrees, that, henceforth, the sacred Scripture, and especially the said old and vulgate edition, be printed in the most correct manner possible

(Trent, Session IV)

The real Francis Turretin asked the obvious question:

The decree of the Council of Trent canonized an edition which at the time had no existence and appeared forty-six years afterwards. The decree was made in 1546. In 1590, the work was finished and published by Sixtus V; two years after that it was published by Clement VIII. Now how could a council approve and declare authentic an edition which it had not examined and in fact had yet been made?

– Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 3 Vols., trans. George Musgrave Giger and ed. James T. Dennison (Phillipsburg: reprinted by Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1992), Vol. 1, XV.ix, p. 134.

Moreover, as David King explains in Holy Scripture: The Ground and Pillar of Our Faith, Volume 1, pp. 162-65, when Pope Sixtus V finally published the edition, it was full of errors. It was so full of errors that Pope Gregory XIV, acting on the suggestion of Bellarmine, suppressed the Sixtus V 1590 edition, destroyed the copies of it, and ordered a revision. The revision was eventually published under the authority of Clement VIII, although initially the edition only identified Pope Sixtus V by name.

But even the Clementine Vulgate was riddled with errors, though they are not all as severe as those in the Sixtus V edition, or in the prior Vulgate editions. Nevertheless, we now have the Nova Vulgata which corrected at least one famous mistranslation (Genesis 3:15 – a feminine pronoun was used, and this mistranslation was later used as a basis for the definition of a Marian dogma) and actually introduced at least one new mistranslation (Leviticus 16:26 – transliteration of “Azazel” instead of translation to “scapegoat”). As to parts of the text, the Comma Johanneum (in 1 John 5:7-8) has been removed by the New Vulgate, but the Pericope Adulterae (John 7:53-8:11) remains in the text.

So, yes – this claim that “the Church” is needed to give someone an authentic translation is an old claim – but if it is a correct claim, then Rome is not “the Church,” because the editions that Rome has produced have always had errors – not just printing errors.

– TurretinFan

>A Discussion on Newman’s Pre- and Post-Conversion Positions on the Historical Legitimacy of Roman Catholic Patristic Work (Guest Post by David King)

September 30, 2010


In On Bits and Pieces, Mark Escobar cites an article having the title of the present article allegedly written by me (On Bits and Pieces, p. 193, footnote 146). This initially puzzled me, as I could not recall having written any such article. However, upon further investigation I discovered that a paper of sorts had been constructed from a web forum discussion in which I had participated (that document may be found archived here). At TurretinFan’s request, I have converted this document into a paper that may now serve perhaps as a document for reference to those who read Mr. Escobar’s book.

David King

In an article from “First Things,” the Journal of Religion and Public Life: How I Became the Catholic I Was, Richard John Neuhaus wrote:

Recall Cardinal Newman’s reflection on the development of doctrine, a reflection that has been incorporated by magisterial teaching. He suggested seven marks of authentic development: authentic development preserves the Church’s apostolic form; it reflects continuity of principles in testing the unknown by the known; it demonstrates the power to assimilate what is true, even in what is posited against it; it follows a logical sequence; it anticipates future developments; it conserves past developments; and, throughout, it claims and demonstrates the vigor of teaching authority. And thus it is, said St. Vincent of Lerins in the fifth century, that in authentic development of doctrine nothing presents itself in the Church’s old age that was not latent in her youth. Such was the truth discovered by Augustine, a truth “ever ancient, ever new.”

For all the talk about the connection between Newman and Vincent of Lerins, and how they “agreed” on the development of doctrine, I’ll never forget Newman’s own words regarding the formula of Vincent as he was converting to Rome…

It does not seem possible, then, to avoid the conclusion that, whatever be the proper key for harmonizing the records and documents of the early and later Church, and true as the dictum of Vincentius must be considered in the abstract, and possible as its application might be in his own age, when he might almost ask the primitive centuries for their testimony, it is hardly available now, or effective of any satisfactory result. The solution it offers is as difficult as the original problem. John Henry Newman, An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine (New York: Longmans, Green and Co., reprinted 1927), p. 27.

In short, Neuhaus’ comments are less than helpful. Newman knew that Vincent’s formula could not be reconciled with Rome’s position on dogma. It is true that in his days as a Tractarian in the Anglican Church, Newman made a great deal of Vincent’s formula, but he abandoned it for an appeal to dogmatic development that was a far cry from development as enunciated by Vincent. Anyone who has read Vincent carefully understands this.

Those who may be unaware of some of Newman’s comments on the Roman communion, prior to his conversion to Rome, may find some of the following quotations interesting. In these quotations, Newman echoes some of the same experiences that some of us in the Reformed churches have experienced in our exchanges with Roman Catholics.

John Henry Newman: My new book is going through the Press and has cost me an immense deal of trouble. It is on the Pastoral Office of the Church, as opposed to Romanism and Popular Protestantism. I treat of Romanism’s neglect of the Fathers; of infallibility; of Private Judgment; of the Indefectibility of the Church; of Fundamentals of Faith, and of Scripture as its foundation. Dated Jan. 13, 1837, taken from Gerard Tracey, ed., The Letters and Diaries of John Henry Newman: Vol. VI, The Via Media and Froude’s Remains January 1937 to December 1838, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984), 13.

John Henry Newman: We differ from the Romanists . . . They profess to appeal to primitive Christianity; we honestly take their ground, as holding it ourselves; but when the controversy grows animated, and descends into details, they suddenly leave it and desire to finish the dispute on some other field. John Henry Newman, Lectures on the Prophetical Office of the Church: Viewed Relatively to Romanism and Popular Protestantism, 2nd ed. (London: Gilbert & Rivington, 1838), p. 59.

John Henry Newman: I am but showing how Romanists reconcile their abstract reverence for Antiquity with their Romanism,—with their creed, and their notion of the Church’s infallibility in declaring it; how small their success is, and how great their unfairness, is another question. Whatever judgment we form either of their conduct or its issue, such is the fact, that they extol the Fathers as a whole, and disparage them individually; they call them one by one Doctors of the Church, yet they explain away one by one their arguments, judgments, and testimony. They refuse to combine their separate and coincident statements; they take each by himself, and settle with the first before they go to the next. And thus their boasted reliance on the Fathers comes, at length, to this,—to identify Catholicity with the decrees of Councils, and to admit those Councils only which the Pope has confirmed. John Henry Newman, Lectures on the Prophetical Office of the Church: Viewed Relatively to Romanism and Popular Protestantism, 2nd ed. (London: Gilbert & Rivington, 1838), pp. 70-71.

But someone may say that the quotations above do not provide a complete picture. In the introduction to his famous essay — written right at the time that Newman was contemplating apostatizing to Rome — Newman seems to argue that Vincent’s formula, overly narrowly understood, would not be reconcilable with the doctrine of the Trinity:

(1) Let us allow that the whole circle of doctrines, of which our Lord is the subject, was consistently and uniformly confessed by the Primitive Church, though not ratified formally in Council. But it surely is otherwise with the Catholic doctrine of the Trinity. I do not see in what sense it can be said that there is a consensus of primitive divines in its favour… . John Henry Newman, “An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine,” Image Books edition published September, 1960, Garden City, New York, p. 40 (Part I, Introduction, No. 10).

(2) Let it not be for a moment supposed that I impugn the orthodoxy of the early divines or the cogency of their testimony among fair inquirers; but I am trying them by that unfair interpretation of Vicentius, which is necessary in order to make him available against the Church of Rome. John Henry Newman, “An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine,” Image Books edition published September, 1960, Garden City, New York, p. 44 (Part I, Introduction, No. 13).

We may respond to Newman that the doctrine of the Trinity was not a novel development in St. Vincent’s time, and Vincent had good reason to believe that it qualified as Quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus creditum est.

Vincent of Lerins gives fairly extensive expression to the doctrine of the Trinity, which indicates it was commonly understood in his day, which certainly demonstrates it gave him good ground to understand it as falling under the category of ‘Quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus creditum est.’ This is a far cry from the attempt to justify the dogmatic accretions of modern day Rome on the basis of development.

The heresy of Photinus, then, is as follows: He says that God is singular and sole, and is to be regarded as the Jews regarded Him. He denies the completeness of the Trinity, and does not believe that there is any Person of God the Word, or any Person of the Holy Ghost. Christ he affirms to be a mere man, whose original was from Mary. Hence he insists with the utmost obstinacy that we are to render worship only to the Person of God the Father, and that we are to honor Christ as man only. This is the doctrine of Photinus. Vincent of Lerins in NPNF2: Vol. XI, Commonitor, Chapter 12, §33.

In these ways then do these rabid dogs, Nestorius, Apollinaris, and Photinus, bark against the Catholic faith: Photinus, by denying the Trinity; Apollinaris, by teaching that the nature of the Word is mutable, and refusing to acknowledge that there are two substances in Christ, denying moreover either that Christ had a soul at all, or, at all events, that he had a rational soul, and asserting that the Word of God supplied the place of the rational soul; Nestorius, by affirming that there were always or at any rate that once there were two Christs. But the Catholic Church, holding the right faith both concerning God and concerning our Savior, is guilty of blasphemy neither in the mystery of the Trinity, nor in that of the Incarnation of Christ. For she worships both one Godhead in the plenitude of the Trinity, and the equality of the Trinity in one and the same majesty, and she confesses one Christ Jesus, not two; the same both God and man, the one as truly as the other. One Person indeed she believes in Him, but two substances; two substances but one Person: Two substances, because the Word of God is not mutable, so as to be convertible into flesh; one Person, lest by acknowledging two sons she should seem to worship not a Trinity, but a Quaternity But it will be well to unfold this same doctrine more distinctly and explicitly again and again. In God there is one substance, but three Persons; in Christ two substances, but one Person. In the Trinity, another and another Person, not another and another substance (distinct Persons, not distinct substances); in the Savior another and another substance, not another and another Person, (distinct substances, not distinct Persons. How in the Trinity another and another Person (distinct Persons) not another and another substance (distinct substances)? Because there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, another of the Holy Ghost; but yet there is not another and another nature (distinct natures) but one and the same nature. How in the Savior another and another substance, not another and another Person (two distinct substances, not two distinct Persons)? Because there is one substance of the Godhead, another of the manhood. But yet the Godhead and the manhood are not another and another Person (two distinct Persons), but one and the same fist, one and the same Son of God, and one and the same Person of one and the same Christ and Son of God, in like manner as in man the flesh is one thing and the soul another, but one and the same man, both soul and flesh. In Peter and Paul the soul is one thing, the flesh another; yet there are not two Peters, — one soul, the other flesh, or two Pauls, one soul, the other flesh, — but one and the same Peter, and one and the same Paul, consisting each of two diverse natures, soul and body. Thus, then, in one and the same Christ there are two substances, one divine, the other human; one of (ex) God the Father, the other of (ex) the Virgin Mother; one co-eternal with and co-equal with the Father, the other temporal and inferior to the Father; one consubstantial with his Father, the other, consubstantial with his Mother, but one and the same Christ in both substances. There is not, therefore, one Christ God, the other man, not one uncreated, the other created; not one impassible, the other passible; not one equal to the Father, the other inferior to the Father; not one of his Father (ex), the other of his Mother (ex), but one and the same Christ, God and man, the same uncreated and created, the same unchangeable and incapable of suffering, the same acquainted by experience with both change and suffering, the same equal to the Father and inferior to the Father, the same begotten of the Father before time, (“before the world”), the same born of his mother in time (“in the world”), perfect God, perfect Man. In God supreme divinity, in man perfect humanity. Perfect humanity, I say, forasmuch as it hath both soul and flesh; the flesh, very flesh; our flesh, his mother’s flesh; the soul, intellectual, endowed with mind and reason. There is then in Christ the Word, the soul, the flesh; but the whole is one Christ, one Son of God, and one our Savior and Redeemer: One, not by I know not what corruptible confusion of Godhead and manhood, but by a certain entire and singular unity of Person. For the conjunction hath not converted and changed the one nature into the other, (which is the characteristic error of the Arians), but rather hath in such wise compacted both into one, that while there always remains in Christ the singularity of one and the self-same Person, there abides eternally withal the characteristic property of each nature; whence it follows, that neither doth God (i.e., the divine nature) ever begin to be body, nor doth the body ever cease to be body. The which may be illustrated in human nature: for not only in the present life, but in the future also, each individual man will consist of soul and body; nor will his body ever be converted into soul, or his soul into body; but while each individual man will live for ever, the distinction between the two substances will continue in each individual man for ever. So likewise in Christ each substance will for ever retain its own characteristic property, yet without prejudice to the unity of Person. Vincent of Lerins in NPNF2: Vol. XI, Commonitor, Chapter 13, §36-37.

If Newman’s insistence that the doctrine of the Trinity defies Vincent’s category were correct, then Vincent could not have honestly asked the questions, “Who ever before sacrilegious Arius dared to rend asunder the unity of the Trinity? Who before impious Sabellius was so audacious as to confound the Trinity of the Unity?” Vincent of Lerins in NPNF2: Vol. XI, Commonitor, Chapter 24, §62.

Augustine (354-430) himself informs us that the doctrine of the Trinity is “obvious… to see” and “plainly” conveyed in the New Testament account of our Lord’s baptism:

The lesson of the Gospel hath set before me a subject whereof to speak to you, beloved, as though by the Lord’s command, and by His command in very deed. For my heart hath waited for an order as it were from Him to speak, that I might understand thereby that it is His wish that I should speak on that which He hath also willed should be read to you. Let your zeal and devotion then give ear, and before the Lord our God Himself aid ye my labor. For we behold and see as it were in a divine spectacle exhibited to us, the notice of our God in Trinity, Conveyed to us at the river Jordan. For when Jesus came and was baptized by John, the Lord by His servant (and this He did for an example of humility; for He showeth that in this same humility is righteousness fulfilled, when as John said to Him, “I have need to be baptized of Thee, and comest Thou to me?” He answered, “Suffer it to be so now, that all righteousness may be fulfilled”), when He was baptized then, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit came down upon Him in the form of a Dove: and then a Voice from on high followed, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Here then we have the Trinity in a certain sort distinguished. The Father in the Voice, — the Son in the Man, — the Holy Spirit in the Dove. It was only needful just to mention this, for most obvious is it to see. For the notice of the Trinity is here conveyed to us plainly and without leaving room for doubt or hesitation. Augustine in NPNF1: Vol. VI, Sermons on Selected Lessons of the New Testament, Sermon 2, §1.

The doctrine of the trinity expressed by even earlier men before Vincent, such as Dionysius, bishop of Rome (260-268):

Now truly it would be just to dispute against those who, by dividing and rending the monarchy, which is the most august announcement of the Church of God, into, as it were, three powers, and distinct substances (hypostases), and three deities, destroy it. For I have heard that some who preach and teach the word of God among you are teachers of this opinion, who indeed diametrically, so to speak, are opposed to the opinion of Sabellius. For he blasphemes in saying that the Son Himself is the Father, and vice versa; but these in a certain manner announce three gods, in that they divide the holy unity into three different substances, absolutely separated from one another. For it is essential that the Divine Word should be united to the God of all, and that the Holy Spirit should abide and dwell in God; and thus that the Divine Trinity should be reduced and gathered into one, as if into a certain head — that is, into the omnipotent God of all. For the doctrine of the foolish Marcion, which cuts and divides the monarchy into three elements, is assuredly of the devil, and is not of Christ’s true disciples, or of those to whom the Savior’s teaching is agreeable. For these indeed rightly know that the Trinity is declared in the divine Scripture, but that the doctrine that there are three gods is, neither taught in the Old nor in the New Testament. Dionysius of Rome in ANF: Vol. 7, Against the Sabellians, §1.

The attempt by Roman apologists to suggest that the development of the papacy, and other accretions like the Marian dogmas, can be justified on the grounds of development the same as that of the doctrine of the Trinity is simply ludicrous and ahistorical. The baptismal formula of Matthew 28 makes clear that belief in the Triune God was delivered to the primitive Church by none other than our Lord Himself. There is absolutely no comparison to development here, and the number of times that Roman apologists assert it cannot change the facts that militate against it.

But we can go farther with Newman, because perhaps the preceding demonstrations did not go far enough.

In his days as a Tractarian, Newman was well aware that the Rome of his day was utterly bereft of the patristic moorings she pretended to grasp. To this end, one should consider these quotations of Newman from a work published in 1838, prior to his conversion to Rome in 1845.

In the foregoing remarks I have not been attempting any systematic discussion of the arguments from Antiquity, which is unnecessary for our present purpose, but have said just so much as may open a way for illustrating the point in hand, viz., the disrespect shown towards it by Romanists. In theory, indeed, and in their professions, as has already been noticed, they defer to the authority of the Rule of Vincent as implicitly as we do; and commonly without much hazard, for Protestantism in general has so transgressed it, that, little as it tells for Rome, it tells still more against the wild doctrines which go under that name. Besides, Romanists are obliged to maintain it by their very pretensions to be considered the One True Catholic and Apostolic Church. At the same time there is this remarkable difference, even of theory, between them and Vincentius, that the latter is altogether silent on the subject of the Pope’s Infallibility, whether considered as an attribute of his see, or as attaching to him in General Council. If Vincentius had the sentiments and feelings of a modern Romanist, it is incomprehensible that, in a treatise written to guide the private Christian in matters of Faith, he should have said not a word about the Pope’s supreme authority, nay, not even about the Infallibility of the Church Catholic. He refers the inquirer to a triple rule, difficult, surely, and troublesome to use, compared with that which is ready furnished by Romanism. Applying his own rule to his work itself, we mau unhesitatingly conclude that the Pope’s supreme authority in matters of Faith, is no Catholic or Apostolic truth, because he [i.e. Vincent] was ignorant of it. John Henry Newman, Lectures on the Prophetical Office of the Church: Viewed Relatively to Romanism and Popular Protestantism, 2nd ed. (London: Gilbert & Rivington, 1838), pp. 67-68.

Here, however, we are concerned with the Romanists. For instance: if some passage from one of the Fathers contradicts their present doctrine, and it is then objected that what even one early writer directly contradicted in his day was not Catholic at the time he contradicted it, they unhesitatingly condemn the passage as unsound and mistaken. And then follows the question, is the writer in question to be credited as reporting the current views of his age, or had he the hardihood though he knew them well, to contradict, yet without saying he contradicted them? and this can only be decided by the circumstances of the case, which an ingenious disputant may easily turn this way or that. They proceed in the same way, though a number of authorities may be produced; one is misinterpreted, another is put out of sight, a third is admitted but undervalued. This is not said by way of accusation here, though of course it is a heavy charge against the Romanists; nor with the admission that their attempts are successful, for, after all, words have a distinct meaning in spite of sophistry, and there is a true and a false in every matter. I am but showing how Romanists reconcile their abstract reverence for Antiquity with their Romanism,—with their creed, and their notion of the Church’s infallibility in declaring it; how small their success is, and how great their unfairness, is another question. Whatever judgment we form either of their conduct or its issue, such is the fact, that they extol the Fathers as a whole, and disparage them individually; they call them one by one Doctors of the Church, yet they explain away one by one their arguments, judgments, and testimony. They refuse to combine their separate and coincident statements; they take each by himself, and settle with the first before they go to the next. And thus their boasted reliance on the Fathers comes, at length, to this,—to identify Catholicity with the decrees of Councils, and to admit those Councils only which the Pope has confirmed. John Henry Newman, Lectures on the Prophetical Office of the Church: Viewed Relatively to Romanism and Popular Protestantism, 2nd ed. (London: Gilbert & Rivington, 1838), pp. 69-71.

Newman comments on the modus operandi of former RC controversialists Milner and Bellarmine.

It seems from these passages [i.e. some quotes from Milner], that the writings of Antiquity are to be considered as limitations and safeguards put upon the Church’s teaching, records by which she is ever bound to direct her course, out of which she ascertains and proves those doctrinal statements in which, when formally made, she is infallible. The same view is contained in the following extracts from Bellarmine, except that, writing, not an Apology, but in controversy, he insists less pointedly upon it. For instance: “We do not impugn, rather we maintain against impugners, that the first foundation of our faith is the Word of God,” that is, written and unwritten, “ministered by Apostles and Prophets: . . . only we add, that, besides this first foundation, another secondary foundation is needed, that is the witness of the Church. For we do not know for certain what God has revealed, except by the testimony of the Church.” [We see here where Cardinal Manning got his statement to the same effect] John Henry Newman, Lectures on the Prophetical Office of the Church: Viewed Relatively to Romanism and Popular Protestantism, 2nd ed. (London: Gilbert & Rivington, 1838), pp. 72-73.

John Henry Newman comments also on the Roman controversialist Petavius:

But to return to Petavius. This learned author, in his elaborate work on the Trinity, shows that he would rather prove the early Confessors and Martyrs to be heterodox, than that they should exist as a court of appeal from the decisions of his own Church; and he accordingly sacrifices, without remorse, Justin, Clement, Irenaeus, and their brethren, to the maintenance of the infallibility of Rome. Or to put the matter in another point of view, truer, perhaps, though less favourable still to Petavius,—he consents that the Catholic doctrine of the Holy Trinity should so far rest on the mere declaration of the Church, that before it was formally defined, there was no heresy in rejecting it [which RC apologists suggest today], provided he can thereby gain for Rome the freedom of making decrees unfettered by the recorded judgments of Antiquity. John Henry Newman, Lectures on the Prophetical Office of the Church: Viewed Relatively to Romanism and Popular Protestantism, 2nd ed. (London: Gilbert & Rivington, 1838), pp. 74-75.

Newman comments further on Bellarmine’s use of the Fathers:

Now, do I mean to accuse so serious and good a man as Bellarmine of willful unfairness in this procedure? No. Yet it is difficult to enter into the state of mind under which he was led into it. However we explain it, so much is clear, that the Fathers are only so far of use in the eyes of Romanists as they prove the Roman doctrines; and in no sense are allowed to interfere with the conclusions which their Church has adopted; that they are of authority when they seem to agree with Rome, of none if they differ. . . . A Romanist then cannot really argue in defense of the Roman doctrines; he has too firm a confidence in their truth, if he is sincere in his profession, to enable him critically to adjust the due weight to be given to this or that evidence. He assumes his Church’s conclusion as true; and the facts or witnesses he adduces are rather brought to receive an interpretation than to furnish a proof. His highest aim is to show the mere inconsistency of his theory, its possible adjustment with the records of Antiquity. John Henry Newman, Lectures on the Prophetical Office of the Church: Viewed Relatively to Romanism and Popular Protestantism, 2nd ed. (London: Gilbert & Rivington, 1838), p. 84.

Newman comments further on the Jesuit Bellarmine:

I consider, then, that when he first adduces the above-mentioned Fathers in proof of Purgatory, he was really but interpreting them; he was teaching what they ought to mean,—what in charity they must be supposed to mean,—what they might mean, as far as the very words went,—probably meant, considering the Church so meant,—and might be taken to mean, even if their authors did not so mean, from the notion that they spoke vaguely, and, as children, that they really meant something else than what they formally said, and that, after all, they were but the spokesmen of the then existing Church, which, though in silence, certainly held, as being the Church, that same doctrine which Rome has since defined and published. This is to treat Bellarmine with the same charity with which he has on supposition treated the Fathers, and it is to be hoped with a nearer approach to the matter of fact.—So much as to his first use of them; but afterwards, in noticing what he considers erroneous opinions on the subject, he treats them not as organs of the Church Infallible, but as individuals, and interprets their language by its literal sense, or by the context, and in consequence condemns it. The Fathers in question, he seems to say, really held as modern Rome holds; for if they did not, they must have dissented from the Church of their own day; for the Church then held as modern Rome holds. And the Church then held as Rome holds now, because Rome is the Church, and the Church ever holds the same. How hopeless then is it to contend with Romanists, as if they practically agreed with us as to the foundation of faith, however much they pretend to it! Ours is Antiquity, theirs the existing Church. Its infallibility is their first principle; belief in it is a deep prejudice quite beyond the reach of anything external. It is quite clear that the combined testimonies of all the Fathers, supposing such a case, would not have a feather’s weight against a decision of the Pope in Council, nor would matter at all, except for the Fathers’ sake who had by anticipation opposed it. They consider that the Fathers ought to mean what Rome has since decreed, and that Rome knows their meaning better than they themselves did. That venturesome Church has usurped their place, and thinks it merciful only not to banish outright the rivals she has dethroned. By an act, as it were, of grace, she has determined that when they contradict her, though not available now as witnesses against her, yet as living in times of ignorance, they are only heterodox and not heretical; and she keeps them around her to ask their advice when it happens to agree with her own. Let us then understand the position of the Romanists towards us; they do not really argue from the Fathers though they seem to do so. They may affect to do so in our behalf, happy if by an innocent stratagem they are able to convert us; but all the while in their own feelings they are taking a far higher position. They are teaching, not disputing or proving. They are interpreting what is obscure in Antiquity, purifying what is alloyed, correcting what is amiss, perfecting what is incomplete, harmonizing what is various. They claim and use all its documents as ministers and organs of that one infallible Church, which once forsooth kept silence, but since has spoken; which by a divine gift must ever be consistent with herself, and which bears with her, her own evidence of Divinity. John Henry Newman, Lectures on the Prophetical Office of the Church: Viewed Relatively to Romanism and Popular Protestantism, 2nd ed. (London: Gilbert & Rivington, 1838), pp. 85-87.

It is not surprising, with these sentiments, that Romanists should have undertaken before now to suppress and correct portions of the Fathers’ writings. An edition of St. Austine published at Venice contains the following most suspicious confession: “Besides the recovery of many passages by collation with ancient copies, we have taken care to remove whatever might infect the minds of the faithful with heretical pravity, or turn them aside from the Catholic and orthodox faith.” And a corrector of the press at Lyons, of the middle of the 16th century, complains that he was obliged by certain Franciscans to cancel various passages of St. Ambrose, whose works he was engaged upon. The Council of Constance furnishes us with a memorable instance of the same disregard for Antiquity, to which the whole Roman Communion is committed, in the decree by which it formally debars the laity from participation of the Cup in the Lord’s Supper. John Henry Newman, Lectures on the Prophetical Office of the Church: Viewed Relatively to Romanism and Popular Protestantism, 2nd ed. (London: Gilbert & Rivington, 1838), p. 94.

Enough perhaps was said in the last Lecture to show that Romanism, however it may profess a reverence for Antiquity, does not really feel and pay it. There are in fact two elements in operation within the system. As far as it is Catholic and Scriptural, it appeals to the Fathers; as far as it is a corruption, it finds it necessary to supersede them. Viewed in its formal principles and authoritative statements, it professes to be the champion of past times; viewed as an active and political power, as a ruling, grasping, ambitious principle, in a word, as what is expressly called Popery, it exalts the will and pleasure of the existing Church above all authority, whether of Scripture or Antiquity, interpreting the one and disposing of the other by its absolute and arbitrary decree. We must take and deal with things as they are, not as they pretend to be. If we are induced to believe the professions of Rome, and make advances towards her as if a sister or a mother Church, which in theory she is, we shall find too late that we are in the arms of a pitiless and unnatural relative, who will but triumph in the arts which have inveighed us within her reach. No; dismissing the dreams which the romance of early Church history and the high doctrines of Catholicism will raise in the experienced mind, let us be sure that she is our enemy, and will do us a mischief when she can. In speaking and acting on this conviction, we need not depart from Christian charity towards her. We must deal with her as we would towards a friend who is visited by derangement; in great affliction, with all affectionate tender thoughts, with tearful regret and a broken heart, but still with a steady eye and a firm hand. For in truth she is a Church beside herself, abounding in noble gifts and rightful titles, but unable to use them religiously; crafty, obstinate, willful, malicious, cruel, unnatural, as madmen are. Or rather, she may be said to resemble a demoniac; possessed with principles, thoughts, and tendencies, not her own, in outward form and in natural powers what God made her, but ruled within by an inexorable spirit, who is sovereign in his management over her, and most subtle and most successful in the use of her gifts. Thus she is her real self only in name; and, till God vouchsafe to restore her, we must treat her as if she were that evil one who governs her. John Henry Newman, Lectures on the Prophetical Office of the Church: Viewed Relatively to Romanism and Popular Protestantism, 2nd ed. (London: Gilbert & Rivington, 1838), pp. 102-103.

Of course religion has its greater and its lesser truths; but it is one thing to receive them so far as Scripture declares them to be so, quite another to decide about them for ourselves by the help of our own reasonings. However, it is not wonderful that Romanism should claim authority over the work of its own hands; it has framed the system and it proceeds to judge of it. John Henry Newman, Lectures on the Prophetical Office of the Church: Viewed Relatively to Romanism and Popular Protestantism, 2nd ed. (London: Gilbert & Rivington, 1838), p. 119.

We now see, in a measure, in what this difference consists, viz., in Romanism adopting a minute, technical, and imperative theology, which is no part of Revelation, and which produces a number of serious moral evils, which is shallow in philosophy, as professing to exclude doubt and imperfection, and dangerous to Christian spirit, as encouraging us to ask for more than is given us, as fostering irreverence and presumption, confidence in our reason, and a formal or carnal view of Christian obedience. John Henry Newman, Lectures on the Prophetical Office of the Church: Viewed Relatively to Romanism and Popular Protestantism, 2nd ed. (London: Gilbert & Rivington, 1838), p. 127.

Rome claims to be infallible; she dispenses with the Fathers, and relies upon abstract reasoning, because she is infallible; but how does she prove she is so? To speak simply, she does not prove it at all. At least, she does not prove it argumentatively, but she acts upon the assumption, she acts as if she were infallible, and in this way persuades the imaginations of men into a belief of her really being so. John Henry Newman, Lectures on the Prophetical Office of the Church: Viewed Relatively to Romanism and Popular Protestantism, 2nd ed. (London: Gilbert & Rivington, 1838), p. 139.

The case stands as follows: Romanism first professes a common ground with ourselves [i.e. the Tractarians], a readiness to stand or fall by Antiquity. When we appeal to Antiquity accordingly, it shifts its ground, substituting for Ancient Testimony abstract arguments, it falls back on its infallibility, it can but attempt to overpower the imagination by its attempt at system, by the boldness, decision, consistency, and completeness with which it urges and acts upon its claim. John Henry Newman, Lectures on the Prophetical Office of the Church: Viewed Relatively to Romanism and Popular Protestantism, 2nd ed. (London: Gilbert & Rivington, 1838), p. 153.

Nonetheless, for all of Newman’s insights into the errors of Rome, he fell prey to the same sophistries herein condemned. He would have done well to heed the advice of another ancient witness who declared, “For custom without truth is the antiquity of error.” ANF: Vol. V, The Epistles of Cyprian, Epistle 73, §9. (Nam consuetudo sine veritate vetustas erroris est. Epistola LXXIV – Ad Pompeium, PL 3:1134.)

Newman came to realize that Rome’s claims could not be substantiated on the basis of patristic evidence or the history of the early Church. Thus he found refuge in his “development of doctrine,” which got Rome off the hook from having to substantiate its claims by means of the early Church.

But if development proceeds from the seed to the tree (e.g., acorn to the Oak), there has to be, at the very least, the seed itself from the beginning. But the anachronistic planting of seeds that were never there in the first place is just as barren as the field in which they are imagined.

One might well ask how Newman justified his Roman conversion in light of all he had previously written? How is it that he bought the Roman line?

This is a simple question that requires a complicated answer, and we must not pretend to have any hidden insights into Newman’s mind on why he converted to Rome. But he and the Tractarian party in the Anglican Church were a small minority, and their principles soon met with very able opposition from evangelical Anglicans, and this might have pushed Newman over the edge toward Rome.

One of the most notable Anglicans who responded to Newman (as well as Newman’s friends, Pusey & Keble) was William Goode. Goode’s The Divine Rule of Faith and Practice, first published in 1842 in two volumes, with a second edition in 1853, which was revised and enlarged, being published in three volumes. His work was a response to the writers of The Tracts for the Times, published by the nineteenth century proponents of Tractarianism, often called The Oxford Movement within the Anglican Church, whose sentiments were understood by their Evangelical counterparts as the elevation of Church Tradition above Holy Scripture. Representing the Evangelical majority within the Anglican Church, Goode’s work was one of many replies (Toon lists some 128 volumes by Evangelical Anglicans) to the Tractarian theology of John Henry Newman, Edward B. Pusey and John Keble.

Newman, as predicted by Goode, converted to Rome in the year 1845, the same year in which his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine was published. In the book, Evangelical Theology, 1833-1856: A Response to Tractarianism, Church historian Peter Toon observed that “the Tractarians were only a minority in Oxford and though their developing teaching was widely read and appreciated it soon met the opposition of able men of different churchmanship.” (Peter Toon, Evangelical Theology 1833-1856: A Response to Tractarianism (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1979), p. 1).

Of Goode’s work, Toon writes:

Without any doubt the most learned and elaborate reply to the Tractarian doctrine of Tradition came from the pen of William Goode. Taking over 1200 pages The Divine Rule of Faith and Practice . . . defended the position that Holy Scripture has been and is the sole, divine Rule of Faith and practice to the Church. Edward Hawkins, Provost of Oriel, from whom Newman had learned to look carefully at Tradition . . . appreciated Goode’s work calling it ‘a learned discussion’; . . . Evangelicals thought it struck a death-blow at Tractarianism. Peter Toon, Evangelical Theology 1833-1856: A Response to Tractarianism (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1979), p. 117.

Concerning Goode, Gareth Vaughan Bennett states that Goode

was virtually the only Evangelical to be a distinguished patristic scholar. In The Divine Rule of Faith and Practice . . . he was scathing about Tractarian learning. They made extensive use of the Fathers and seemed to handle them confidently, but none of them were experts in the field and few of them were even well-read; they seemed to have no grasp of the critical problems involved . . .” Gareth Vaughan Bennett, “Patristic Tradition in Anglican Thought, 1660-1900” in Oecumenica (1971/2) Tradition in Lutheranism and Anglicanism, p. 83.

Newman is often cast as an open-minded individual, and indeed frequently portrayed himself in such a light in his own writings. But the only response of Newman to Goode’s work, as far as I’ve been able to ascertain, is found in a brief letter to Thomas Mozley, dated March 12, 1842. After referring to works by both Keble and Wallis, he simply makes the abrupt remark, “I do not want Mr. Goode’s book.” (The Letters and Diaries of John Henry Newman: Vol. VIII, Tract 90 and the Jerusalem Bishopric January 1841-April 1842, ed. Gerard Tracey (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999), p. 483).

That Goode’s work had a profound impact on the contemporary observers of the controversy is noted by Roundell Palmer, the Earl of Selborne. He first addressed himself to the adherents of the Tractarian policies, and wrote:

The voice of “the Fathers” (treated as if they had spoken with one voice) was represented as that of the Church, and the real meaning of Scripture as inaccessible, or not safely accessible, except through them. It was not uncommon to hear the teaching of those who (with the Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England) found in the Scriptures a “Rule of Faith,” or test of doctrine, called Bibliolatry. Very few were already familiar with the Fathers; and many, who felt the difficulty of accepting their traditions at second-hand from a small number of learned men, were led to wish for that kind of learning. It was in such a desire that the “Patristic” association [i.e. the Oxford Movement] in London, of which I have spoken, originated. We read together the Apostolical Fathers and Justin Martyr, and some works of the Alexandrian writers. For my own part, when I came to perceive the real nature and magnitude of the field before us, and the extremely wide difference between the idea of half-inspired wisdom with which I had begun, and the true character of the works of the Alexandrian school upon which I was entering, I retired from an attempt, as to which I saw clearly that it would not bring the satisfaction expected from it, while its accomplishment would be impossible without too great an encroachment upon the time required for my proper duties. Roundell Palmer, Memorials, Part I: Family and Personal, 1766-1865 (London: MacMillan and Co., 1896), Vol. 1, pp. 209-210.

Palmer then adds in the next paragraph these reflections:

My Father once said to my brother William—repeating, unless I am mistaken, some words of Bishop Horsley, who knew the Fathers well—that “the Fathers must be read with caution.” When Isaac Taylor, in his Ancient Christianity, collected out of the Fathers many things tending to disturb the ideal conception of a golden primitive age of pure faith and practice; and when William Goode, afterwards Dean of Ripon, in his Divine Rule of Faith and Practice, called the Fathers themselves as witnesses in favour of the direct use of Scripture for the decision of controversies, some of those who placed confidence in the Oxford divines, but were themselves ignorant of the Fathers, waited anxiously for answers which never came. I remember a reply once made to myself, when I asked whether anybody was going to answer Isaac Taylor, whose work I perceived to be producing in some quarters a considerable effect. I was told that in a little time he would answer himself, which he never did. It seemed plain that, although the advocates of Patristic authority might be powerful in attack, they were weak in defence. Roundell Palmer, Memorials, Part I: Family and Personal, 1766-1865 (London: MacMillan and Co., 1896), Vol. 1, p. 210.

Now, why did Newman convert? Some say this, some say that. But one thing is for sure, William Goode saw it coming, even when Newman was all the while denouncing Rome.

It has been the frequent boast of some Roman apologists that their much admired hero, Newman and his colleagues, have never been answered. But, as alluded to above, the bibliography in Peter Toon’s book, Evangelical Theology 1833–1856: A Response to Tractarianism, lists some 128 Anglican Evangelical works, and another 14 Non–Anglican writings, all of which were contemporary replies to the Tractarian party of the day. Goode’s two editions of The Divine Rule of Faith and Practice were replies to Newman both before (1842) and after (1853) his conversion to Rome.

(post by David King)

>A Little Bit of Latin is a Dangerous Thing

September 30, 2010

>It is reported (here) that Google has launched a Latin translation tool (thanks to “Fr. Z” for pointing this out).

Like “Fr. Z,” I’m skeptical of the abilities of the machine to properly translate Latin. Nevertheless, this may serve as a valuable to scholars and translators who want to get a running start in translating a text.

For translation, one’s best resources is an actual scholar of the language of interest and your language, i.e. a human being. But I hope that people will get some benefit from this new Google tool.


More Trouble with the Spam Filter

September 29, 2010

I have very little control over the spam filter that Blogger uses. So far, it has caught a few dozen real comments (sorry to Mr. Hoffer, NatAmLLC, TU&D, and John Martin for that). I hope Blogger will resolve this, but in the meantime if you leave a comment and it mysteriously disappears, please feel free to alert me to its disappearance, so I can remove it from the spam filter, if that’s where it’s stuck.


Practical Implications of God’s Attributes

September 27, 2010

Ann has some good food for thought in a blog post about God’s attributes (here’s the link). I’m not sure whether ann’s thoughts here are original or borrowed, but they are good way to stir up one’s thoughts about God.

What Would Machen Say to Darryl Hart?

September 27, 2010

“There is not one law of God for the Christian and another law of God for the non-Christian.” (source)

“Are then Christianity and culture in a conflict that is to be settled only by the destruction of one or the other of the contending forces? A third solution, fortunately, is possible—namely consecration. Instead of destroying the arts and sciences or being indifferent to them, let us cultivate them with all the enthusiasm of the veriest humanist, but at the same time consecrate them to the service of our God. Instead of stifling the pleasures afforded by the acquisition of knowledge or by the appreciation of what is beautiful, let us accept these pleasures as the gifts of a heavenly Father. Instead of obliterating the distinction between the Kingdom and the world, or on the other hand withdrawing from the world into a sort of modernized intellectual monasticism, let us go forth joyfully, enthusiastically to make the world subject to God.” (source)

Bellisario Swings and Misses

September 24, 2010

Matthew Bellisario has a new post up (link to post). It purports to respond to an earlier post I provided (link to my post).

The title of the post is “Another “Expert” on Catholicism Misrepresents Church Teaching.” The person he’s referring to as “Expert” is me. I’m flattered! No, I jest. I’m not really flattered, because those little quotation marks are being used by Bellisario to indicate sarcasm.

But sarcasm is just the opening. The first sentence claims I’m someone “often misrepresents Catholic teaching” (no evidence provided). The second sentence calls my post my “latest rant.”

You might think he’d met his quota of negative assertions with those two sentences and the title, but you’d be wrong. He’s just getting started. In the third sentence, Bellisario says both that my argument “is based on pure fallacy” and then questions whether you can call my article an argument.

That third sentence is a set-up for the fourth sentence where Bellisario states: “Lets [sic] take a quick look at how this pretended “Reformer” misrepresents the Catholic Church here regarding infallibility.” This sentence combines the sarcasm quotation marks, with the negative adjective “pretended,” and a further negative assertion that I misrepresent “the Catholic Church” – a three-for-one special!

That concludes his opening paragraph. One might expect that he’s about to unleash some demonstration of how I misrepresent his church.

But his very next sentence acknowledges that I quoted two documents from Cardinal Ratzinger from when he was prefect of the CDF and that I characterized the situation as “pretty clear.” Bellisario’s next sentence, remarkably, agrees that it is pretty clear!

Bellisario writes:

Yes its [sic] pretty clear, and dissent has no bearing on whether it is infallible or not. In fact, the reason why they were restating the Ordinary infallible teaching is because idiots in the Church were not following it.

At least it is nice to know that Bellisario’s negative words are not reserved for us pretended reformers! And nothing that Bellisario has said here actually disagrees with what I wrote – in fact the one place it interacts, it explicitly agrees with me!

Bellisario then provides another block quote from and responds:

The document itself does not have to be “infallible” since the Church has long taught the doctrine as being infallible. In order for a doctrine to be considered infallible it does not have to be proclaimed formally by the Pope in any one given document. So a Catholic who understands how the Church defines doctrine does not care if the document itself is infallible, it merely becomes part of the same Ordinary and Universal Magisterial teaching that has always taught it as being infallible.

And, of course, nothing of what Bellisario has said disagrees with what I wrote. In theory, as Bellisario has said, something can be “considered infallible,” even though no pope or council has defined it as dogma.

But, of course, the only way that these allegedly infallible teachings are known are through fallible means. In other words, someone could try to do personal research to see whether this teaching is really something that has been promulgated by the universal and ordinary magisterium, or one could rely on the CDF, but both of those techniques are fallible. One relies on private judgment, and one relies on a fallible authority. One could even rely on one’s own interpretation of Scripture to conclude that male-only ordination is an infallible teaching. But one could be wrong. Neither one’s private judgment nor the CDF has the charism of infallibility in Romanism.

Bellisario then provides another block quotation from me and comments:

No it is not even possible that a future Pope [sic] could change the doctrine, and only someone like Turretin Fan with limited knowledge about the Catholic Church would ever make such a statement like this. It is impossible for a Pope [sic] to come along and change Ordinary Infallible doctrines of the Church. It is not like Protestantism where teachings on contraception can change virtually overnight. The fact that there are dissidents in the Church who are active despite the Church’s infallible teaching, again has no bearing on the argument at hand. There have always been dissenters in the Church despite the fact that the doctrine they oppose has been defined infallibly. We see this fact clearly with the heretical theologians who call themselves Catholic, who still do not accept the infallible teaching on Transubstantiation. No one cares, and it has no bearing on the infallibility of the teaching.

Finally, Bellisario says he disagrees with something! But note how he goes about it. First, he states the fact that he thinks he disagrees. Then, he makes a negative comment about me. Neither of these sentences is actually an argument, so we’ll pass over them.

Getting to his argument, Bellisario alleges: “It is impossible for a Pope [sic] to come along and change Ordinary Infallible [sic] doctrines of the Church.” But here we see the problem – the reason why Bellisario has disagreed: he has not understood what I wrote! I didn’t say that it is possible for a pope to come along and change an infallible doctrine. I said it is possible that the pope could come along and define a doctrine that is contrary to what the CDF has claimed is an infallible doctrine. After all, the CDF is fallible. Consequently, the fact that the CDF claims that something is an infallible doctrine doesn’t make it an infallible doctrine, just like Bellisario asserting that something is infallible doctrine doesn’t make it so.

Bellisario’s next sentence is an irrelevant aside on his disturbingly favorite topic of contraception. I’ll leave it aside in the interest of time.

Bellisario’s next assertion is that “The fact that there are dissidents in the Church who are active despite the Church’s infallible teaching, again has no bearing on the argument at hand.” Part of the problem, as noted above, is that Bellisario hasn’t grasped the argument at hand. Another part of the problem is that “dissidents” are the way that something avoids being universal.

Let’s try to help out Bellisario with an example. If we look at the Western church from Augustine to Aquinas, excluding the heretics, one will find that almost everyone acknowledged the universality of original sin, with Christ being the one exception because of his virginal conception. Yet, nevertheless, at some point folks (you could refer to them as “dissidents” or simply as “a vocal minority” if you like) began to allege that Mary was an additional exception.

This is not something that “change[d] virtually overnight.” It is something that was very gradual. It took a long time from when Bridget of Sweden and Catherine of Sienna were having conflicting alleged private revelations to when Pius IX defined the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.

It happens in Romanism – sometimes what was the viewpoint of a tiny minority becomes an allegedly infallible dogma later. That’s why appeals to the “ordinary and universal magisterium” are illusory.

Bellisario provides a counter-example regarding theologians who deny transubstantiation. Suffice to say that this counter-example doesn’t undermine what I’ve said. The dogma of Transubstantiation was defined at Trent. It’s not something that’s defined by the “ordinary and universal magisterium.” So, even if Bellisario’s characterization of the situation with them is accurate, it’s not particularly relevant.

To put it another way: Bellisario has no consistent way to distinguish between a true dissident and a minority voice prior to an exercise of the extraordinary magisterium.

Bellisario concludes his post with the same kind of non-argumentation that characterized his opening:

Ordinarily I would not waste my time with such things, but pointing out this post gives us an example of how little the opposition truly understands about Catholicism. Let the buyer beware before they believe anything they read on Turretin Fan’s website that pertains to Catholicism.

After seeing how Bellisario failed to rebut or refute anything that was said, spending his time arguing against a position not expressed in my article, perhaps a different moral emerges: understand what the critic of your church is saying, before you accuse the critic of not understanding your church’s teaching, particularly when the critic quotes at length from your church’s official documents.

Or you can just slap a lot of negative assertions together and call it a response!


Vatican Bank – Money Laundering Investigation

September 24, 2010

The press is reporting that funds have been seized at the Vatican Bank, aka the Institute for Religious Works (link to article). The chairman of the bank is apparently being investigated with respect to “a series of omissions in financial transactions,” and the alleged wrong-doing is that “the Vatican bank had neglected to communicate to financial authorities where the money had come from.”

Bryan Cross places the Cart before the Horse, Theologically Speaking

September 23, 2010

Over at Called to Communion, in the comment box, Bryan Cross wrote:

In the first century, no one needed to confess that Christ is homoousious with the Father. But after the fourth century, to deny the homoousious is to fall into [at least material] heresy.

This is dead wrong and gets things exactly backwards. It has always been heresy to deny the Son’s divinity. Arius was a heretic before Nicaea, and the Nicene council simply affirmed (with respect to Arianism) what was always the teaching of the Bible.

The church does not make up orthodoxy. When the church does its job correctly, it merely recognizes the truth that was already once delivered to the saints. There was no new delivery in the fourth century or any of the succeeding centuries.

Of course, Romanists have to put the cart before the horse, because they’ve added to the gospel. If they tried to claim that it was always heresy to deny the Immaculate Conception, they’d have to treat Augustine, and the Augustinians down through Aquinas as heretics. So, they place the cart before the horse and say that it is only heresy to deny the Immaculate Conception after “the Church” makes that doctrine part of the gospel.

The absurd result is the one that Bryan Cross has illustrated above, where the Son’s divinity becomes something that it was ok to deny before 325 A.D.

Amazing – absolutely amazing.

– TurretinFan

Test Case of the Infallible Magisterium: Ordination of Women

September 23, 2010

Here’s the Official Roman Catholic position on the ordination of women:

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger

November 8, 1995

The publication in May 1994 of the apostolic letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis was followed by a number of problematic and negative statements by certain theologians, organizations of priests and religious, as well as some associations of lay people. These reactions attempted to cast doubt on the definitive character of the letter’s teaching on the inadmissibility of women to the ministerial priesthood and also questioned whether this teaching belonged to the deposit of the faith.

This congregation therefore has judged it necessary to dispel the doubts and reservations that have arisen by issuing a responsum ad dubium, which the Holy Father has approved and ordered to be published (cf. enclosure).

In asking you to bring this responsum to the attention of the bishops of your episcopal conference before its official publication, this dicastery is confident that the conference itself, as well as the individual bishops, will do everything possible to ensure its distribution and favorable reception, taking particular care that, above all on the part of theologians, pastors of souls and religious, ambiguous and contrary positions will not again be proposed.

The text of the responsum is to remain confidential until the date of its publication in L’Osservatore Romano, which is expected to be the 18th of November.

With gratitude for your assistance and with prayerful best wishes I remain,

Sincerely Yours in Christ,

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger


Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

October 28, 1995

Dubium: Whether the teaching that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women, which is presented in the Apostolic Letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis to be held definitively, is to be understood as belonging to the deposit of faith.

Responsum: In the affirmative.

This teaching requires definitive assent, since, founded on the written Word of God, and from the beginning constantly preserved and applied in the Tradition of the Church, it has been set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal Magisterium (cf. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium 25, 2). Thus, in the present circumstances, the Roman Pontiff, exercising his proper office of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32), has handed on this same teaching by a formal declaration, explicitly stating what is to be held always, everywhere, and by all, as belonging to the deposit of the faith.

The Sovereign Pontiff John Paul II, at the Audience granted to the undersigned Cardinal Prefect, approved this Reply, adopted in the ordinary session of this Congregation, and ordered it to be published.

Rome, from the offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, on the Feast of the Apostles SS. Simon and Jude, October 28, 1995.

Joseph Card. Ratzinger

Tarcisio Bertone
Archbishop Emeritus of Vercelli


It’s pretty clear. Ratzinger (then prefect/puppeteer of John Paul II) was alleging that the Roman Catholic Church’s position on the ordination of women is an infallible, irreformable teaching, despite the fact that there is presently (or at least certainly was) dissent within the heirarchy as to whether the failure to ordain women is proper.

Ratzinger, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (the group formerly known as the Inquisition), and Bertone (Emeritus Archbishop) clearly are teaching this doctrine. Ratzinger is now pope. Furthermore, Ratzinger alleges that John Paul II approved this document. So, it virtually has the approval of two consecutive popes.

But here’s the rub.

The document itself is not an exercise of papal infallibility. The document merely alleges that the teaching is something “set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal Magisterium.” But this document itself is not the ordinary and universal Magisterium. This document is fallible.

So it is possible (whether or not it is likely), that some future pope’s prefect may decide that Ratzinger erred. The practice of non-ordination of women is just something culturally conditioned and a long-standing discipline … and hey-presto, this document ceases to have any authoritative weight against the new document.

Worse yet (for the traditionalists), some future pope may infallibly define that both women and men may be properly ordained. If he does, what will be the use of this document!

As many folks know, the women priests movement continues to be active despite the opposition of the current papacy (link to recent example article).


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