Archive for the ‘Bryan Cross’ Category

Bryan Cross versus the Evidence

February 1, 2014

Bryan Cross writes: “All the historical evidence Lampe cites in his book, even when taken together in aggregate, is fully compatible with there being a monarchical bishop in Rome. Twelve times zero is still zero; it isn’t greater than one times zero.” (source) This response appears to combine sophistry and ignorance in a particularly insidious way.

In what way is the Evidence “Fully Compatible” with a Roman Monarchical Episcopate?
By “fully compatible” Bryan simply means that there is some possible way to view the evidence as fitting in with his hypothesis of a monarchical bishop in Rome. So, for example, when confronted with the Eusebius says he created a succession list when he came to Rome, Bryan speculates that Eusebius may have used a pre-existing list to make his own list.

Similarly, regarding the evidence of the role of presbyters in particular ancient Roman controversies, without reference to any monarchical bishop, Bryan argues: “This is an argument from silence, which is a fallacy when there is no objective standard by which to know the likelihood of non-silence given the truth of the hypothesis [e.g. that there was a monarchical bishop].” (bracketed material is Bryan’s.)

In short, even if every historical account of first and early second century Rome is silent regarding any monarchical bishop there, and even if some of those accounts actually do make reference to an authority structure of presbyters/elders, Bryan is going to call this “fully compatible.”

Why is Bryan’s “Fully Compatible” Claim Absurd?
Put this in perspective: suppose my hypothesis is that Abraham Lincoln’s identical twin brother delivered the Gettysburg Address. The fact there is no contemporary account of Lincoln having an identical twin brother is “fully compatible” with my hypothesis in exactly the same way that the absence of contemporary historical evidence of a monarchical bishop in Rome is “fully compatible” with such a bishop actually existing. In other words, the “fully compatible” bar as used by Bryan is such a low bar it permits all kinds of absurd hypotheses.

So, it is sophistical for Bryan to respond that the evidence is “fully compatible” (in such a sense) with his hypothesis.  Such a response suggests that the historical evidence is not problematic with respect to his hypothesis, when – in fact – it is devastating to his hypothesis.

What about the Twelve-Times-Zero Argument?
This argument seems to stem from Bryan’s ignorance. When it comes to the question of whether the hypothesis of a monarchical bishop is true, the amount of inconsistent evidence matters. So, for example, if we had no contemporaneous accounts of Rome, the silence of such accounts on any particular issue would be of very little significance. It might be surprising that such information would be lost (had it existed), but that would be the extent of the problem.

On the other hand, when there is a positive account of Rome and it omits any mention of the supposed monarchical bishop of Rome, this is more problematic for the monarchical bishop in Rome hypothesis. When there are two or more such accounts and they all fail to mention this alleged bishop, the problem is increasingly worse. Obviously, if we had 10,000 such accounts and none mentioned the alleged bishop, well – that would be that much stronger.

The reason, of course, is that such “silence” is not a zero.

Furthermore, not all of the evidence is silence. For example, some of the evidence is evidence of the life of the church in Rome at the time. Rome was an enormous city by ancient standards. Furthermore, Rome was a city with a lot of immigrants. There is evidence that the Christians in Rome did not all meet together for worship, but instead that they met in different groups, in house churches. For example, Paul writes:

Romans 16:3-5
Greet Priscilla and Aquila my helpers in Christ Jesus: who have for my life laid down their own necks: unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. Likewise greet the church that is in their house. Salute my well-beloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia unto Christ.

and then again:

Romans 16:14 Salute Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermas, Patrobas, Hermes, and the brethren which are with them.

and again:

Romans 16:15 Salute Philologus, and Julia, Nereus, and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints which are with them.

(and, of course, Paul does not mention in his salutations any of the men set forth as purportedly the early monarchical bishops, but that brings us back to this silence that Bryan is trying hard to suppress)

Similarly, there is evidence that there was an absence of a central structure to the Roman church. Thus, for example, Onesiphorus could not easily locate Paul when he came to Rome:

2 Timothy 1:16-17
The Lord give mercy unto the house of Onesiphorus; for he oft refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain: but, when he was in Rome, he sought me out very diligently, and found me.

In short there is evidence that the Christian groups were scattered around the city in various groups. It would have been administratively challenging for a single monarchical bishop to govern such scattered house churches. So, the very historical situation of the churches in Rome weighs against having such a mode of government in Rome.

Indeed, this evidence suggests that at least initially there probably was not a central authority of any kind in Rome – not just that there was no monarchical bishop, but that there was not necessarily even any well-established presbytery.  Rather individual churches were governed by presbyter/elders, as the apostles taught churches should be governed.

This kind of evidence is not a “Zero.” On the contrary, it paints a picture of Rome in which Bryan’s hypothesis becomes increasingly implausible and unfeasible.  In fact, there wasn’t a single monarchical bishop of Rome in the first century or early second century.  Eventually there was such a bishop, but such a development required things like organization of the Roman churches.

Is Bryan Really Looking at the Evidence like an Historian?
No.  For a historian, the aggregation of historical evidence is used to paint a picture of what existed at the time.  Silence is important to historians.  Moreover, historians are also interested in historical context that lends credibility (or contrariwise) to historical claims.

The problem for Bryan is that Rome’s historical claims are not historically credible.  On the contrary, history contradicts Rome’s historical claims.  Not only was there no papacy from the beginning – there was not even a monarchical bishop of Rome from the beginning.

Keep in mind, historians are not infallible.  The only infallible writings we have are Scripture — and Scripture is an even worse enemy of the papacy than history is.


The "One Visible Church" Argument – Response to Bryan Cross

October 2, 2012

The “Called to Communion” blog has posted a roundup of their previous posts that allegedly provide a positive case for the papacy. Within that round-up, the leading section is entitled, “Christ founded a visible Church and Magisterium.” The first post of that section is entitled, “That Christ founded a visible Church.” The first argument of that post is entitled, “The Body of Christ is a Visible Unity.” Since this is the first of the first of the first of their supposedly positive case for the papacy, let’s examine the flaws in their argument.

CtC argues that (1) “One reason Christ came into the world is to build His Church, that through and in His Church men might ultimately come to eternal life, that is, to the beatific vision of the Triune God.”

a) Eternal life and the beatific vision are two distinct things. True Christians have eternal life now, but they do not yet possess the beatific vision. This error in CtC’s argument does not really affect its main point, so let’s leave it to one side.

b) The purpose of “the Church” is to proclaim the Gospel, but also to provide for the communal worship of God and to build up the flock of God. In other words, the Church has multiple purposes. One purpose of the church is to be the “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). While salvation is ordinarily within and through the evangelical work of the Church, salvation comes to all those who trust in Christ (“For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!” Romans 10:13-15). More certainly could be said on this point, but since these issues in CtC’s argument do not directly affect its main point, we will also leave them to one side.

c) We agree with CtC’s statement that “one reason Christ came into the world is to build his Church,” and we agree that Matthew 16:18 (which they cite) supports this point. We would note that in context, what defines the church is the confession of faith “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” (Matthew 16:16) In other words, it is by believing the gospel. We see this same short form of the gospel message in a number of places.

i) It is the accusation that Jesus admits to in his trial:

Matthew 26:63-64But Jesus held his peace, And the high priest answered and said unto him, I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God. Jesus saith unto him, Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.

ii) It is the beginning of the gospel according to Mark:

Mark 1:1 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God;

iii) It is the testimony of the demons:

Luke 4:41
And devils also came out of many, crying out, and saying, Thou art Christ the Son of God. And he rebuking them suffered them not to speak: for they knew that he was Christ.

iv) It is Peter’s confession in John 6:

John 6:61-69
When Jesus knew in himself that his disciples murmured at it, he said unto them, “Doth this offend you? What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before? It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life. But there are some of you that believe not.” For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who should betray him. And he said, “Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father.”
From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.
Then said Jesus unto the twelve, “Will ye also go away?”
Then Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.”

(Side note: note that it is the words of eternal life, not the “church of eternal life” – the church proclaims the gospel, but the church is not the gospel – the gospel is the gospel)

v) It is Martha’s Confession in John 11:

John 11:23-27
Jesus saith unto her, “Thy brother shall rise again.”
Martha saith unto him, “I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
Jesus said unto her, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?”
She saith unto him, “Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world.”

vi) It is the reason John’s Gospel was inscripturated with its particular contents:

John 20:30-31
And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: but these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.

vii) It is the Ethiopian Eunuch’s Confession:

Acts 8:30-37
And Philip ran thither to him, and heard him read the prophet Esaias, and said, “Understandest thou what thou readest?”
And he said, “How can I, except some man should guide me?” And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him.
The place of the scripture which he read was this, “He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb dumb before his shearer, so opened he not his mouth: in his humiliation his judgment was taken away: and who shall declare his generation? for his life is taken from the earth.”
And the eunuch answered Philip, and said, “I pray thee, of whom speaketh the prophet this? of himself, or of some other man?”
Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus.
And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, “See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?”
And Philip said, “If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest.”
And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”

viii) It is the gospel that Saul preached from the very beginning:

Acts 9:17-20
And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, “Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.”
And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized. And when he had received meat, he was strengthened. Then was Saul certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus.
And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God.

ix) And it is one way that Paul defines the church:

1 Corinthians 1:9 God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.

x) And (of course) the confession of Peter in Matthew 16:

Matthew 16:15-18
He saith unto them, “But whom say ye that I am?”
And Simon Peter answered and said, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
And Jesus answered and said unto him, “Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

(We have seen elsewhere (part 1, part 2) that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” means that the people will be raised from the dead and experience eternal life.)

So, yes – Christ came to build his church – and his church is built through a proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ, that says he is the Son of the living God. But this church is defined by the confession of faith.

CtC next argues (2) that “In the New Testament we find different terms used to show distinct aspects of the Church. One such term is “the Body of Christ”.”

a) The terms used are not necessarily used to “show distinct aspects,” but …
b) There are various terms used, and one such term is “the Body of Christ.”

CtC next argues (3) that “In these passages [Romans 12:4-5; 1 Corinthians 12:12-31; Colossians 1:18,24; Ephesians 1:22, 4:15-16, 5:23] St. Paul teaches that the Mystical Body of Christ is a unity; it is one Body. God has composed it so that there would be no division in it.”

a) Paul does teach that all believers are “one body”:

Romans 12:3-5
For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith. For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.
1 Corinthians 10:15-18
I speak as to wise men; judge ye what I say. The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread. Behold Israel after the flesh: are not they which eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar?
1 Corinthians 12:3-14
Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.
Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.
And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord.
And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all.
But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; to another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: but all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.
For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many.

(it is interesting to note that the CtC guys skipped over 1 Corinthians 10, quoted Romans 12 without quoting verse 3, and quoted 1 Corinthians 12 without quoting the preceding context)

b) But note that Paul’s definition of that unity relates to faith, the operation of the Spirit, and relying on the sacrifice of Christ. It’s not clear that the CtC guys have appreciated this.

c) The statement, “God has composed it so that there would be no division in it,” does not seem possibly supportable as it stands. Look at the part of 1 Corinthians 12 that the CtC guys failed to quote. The unity that the body has is not one that eliminates divisions, but one that transcends divisions. Thus, the text states:

  • there are diversities of gifts
  • there are differences of administrations
  • there are diversities of operations

Yet there is still a unity because there is

  • the same Spirit
  • the same Lord
  • the same God

(a nice Trinitarian allusion).

c) Indeed, it is not intrinsic that there are no divisions, because one of the messages of Paul to the Corinthians is one to overcome existing divisions:

1 Corinthians 1:10
Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.
1 Corinthians 3:3
For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?
1 Corinthians 11:18
For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it.

In other words, even with a unity of fellowship in the same assembly there were divisions.

d) If we simply understand CtC’s argument as being that it is aspirational there not be divisions, even then it is important to distinguish. There are divisions that serve an important purpose

1 Corinthians 10:20
But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils.
2 Corinthians 6:14
Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?
Ephesians 5:11
And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.
Galatians 1:8-9
But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.
Matthew 18:17
And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.

and divisions that are a result of sin

James 4:1 
From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?

See also, 1 Corinthians 3:3 (above).

So, there is a sense in which the statement is correct, and a sense in which it inaccurate, and it is important to distinguish between the two.

CtC next states: “Yet, in another sense, the Body is a plurality, because it has many members.”

The body is composed of a plurality. It is, however, a fallacy to ascribe to the whole the quality of the parts simply by virtue of composition.

CtC continues:

And yet the members are joined together in one and the same Body. Each of the members of the Body has a different place and function in the Body. They do not all have the same function or role. Some are apostles, some are prophets, some are teachers, etc., each according to his gifts. And St. Paul teaches that some gifts are greater than others, even while each member is dependent on the others. This mutual dependency is true not only of the hands and feet, but even of the Head; the Head cannot say to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’

Much of this statement is correct.

CtC then states, however:

In this way, the Body is hierarchically organized, each of the subordinate functions contributing to the unified activity of the whole Body. If the Body were not hierarchically organized, there would be many different activities, but not one unified activity. There would be many different individuals, and not one Body.

a) The text does not describe a hierarchical organization of people, but of gifts. Moreover, that hierarchy is this:

1 Corinthians 12:27-31
Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular. And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles? Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret? But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way.

But that’s not where Paul stops, even if that’s where the chapter stops, in chapter 13 Paul goes on to explain that the greatest gift is the gift of Love or “Charity” as it termed in the KJV:

1 Corinthians 13:1-3
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.

b) There can be a unified activity without a hierarchy.

Proverbs 30:27 The locusts have no king, yet go they forth all of them by bands;

Even today, the mechanism that allows periodical cicadas to arise as a brood is not fully understood. Nevertheless, it is possible to have unified activity without a hierarchy.

c) More significantly, there is no need for a multi-layer hierarchy.

Proverbs 6:6-8
Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest.

d) The hierarchy of gifts does not correspond to a hierarchy of people. That’s true of the early church (Philip had seven daughters who prophesied, but they were not hierarchically above the brethren who did not prophesy). That’s also true of modern Rome (people who supposedly are wonderworkers in Rome’s communion often have no or very low ecclesiastical rank, while many of the popes are not thought to perform any miracles at all).

e) Furthermore, the analogy of the body does not lend itself well to the “hierarchy” theme. While the head is over the rest of the body (as governor), the feet are not over the hands, nor are the ears over the legs. There is no hierarchy among the members of the body, aside from the head ruling all.

The CtC argument continues:

At the top of the hierarchy is Christ, the Head of the Body. The Head and members together form one Body, with one shared divine life. The life of a body is its soul, in which all the members of the body are made to be alive and to share in the same life of the body. So likewise, the Life of the Body of Christ is the Holy Spirit, who is the Soul of the Church.

There’s nothing especially objectionable about this, although it will become significant a little later in the argument.

CtC continues:

This is why St. Paul says that by one Spirit the Corinthian believers were baptized into one Body and all made to drink of that one Spirit. This incorporation into Christ’s Mystical Body is what is meant by union with Christ.

a) It should be readily apparent that union is a state, not an action. So, “incorporation into Christ’s Mystical Body” is not union.

b) Scripture talks about the “unity of the Spirit” and the “unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God.”

Ephesians 4:3
Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
Ephesians 4:13
Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:

These references actually show two important aspects of the kind of unity envisioned by Paul. The first is that the unity exists, whether in peace or out of peace. We are to endeavour to keep it in the bond of peace, but the issue is one of peace.

Look at those passages in their full context:

Ephesians 4:3-16
Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.
But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ. Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.
(Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.)
And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; but speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.

Notice that in this context, the “unity of the faith” is something associated with an aspirational goal – something into which we are growing, not something intrinsic and inherent.

CtC continued:

When St. Paul says, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me,” (Gal. 2:20) this should not be understood in an individualistic ‘me-and-Jesus’ sense, but as referring to our union with Christ in His Mystical Body, the Church. Our union with Christ is accomplished through our incorporation into His Mystical Body, the Church, which is composed of many members. Likewise, when St. Paul says in Galatians 3:27-28 that those who have been baptized into Christ are all one in Christ, he is referring to believers being incorporated into the unity of Christ’s Mystical Body, the Church.

a) One interesting thing is that unlike circumcision, which leaves a generally unseen mark, baptism leaves no visible mark at all.

b) Also note that the RCs hold that the baptisms of heretics and schismatics are valid.

c) Thus, the thing that unites believers into the body is – in this argument – a sign that leaves no mark and results in a unity that transcends denominational divisions.

d) And, it’s worth pointing out – the verses quoted don’t say that it is the baptism that accomplishes the unity or union.

Galatians 3:22-29
But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

As can be seen in the passage, it is faith that is key. Baptism is a sign of what is accomplished by faith. Thus, for example, Abraham was saved without baptism, but not without faith.

CtC continued:

Concerning that union, St. Augustine wrote:

Let us rejoice and give thanks that we have become not only Christians, but Christ. Do you understand, brothers, the grace of Christ our Head? Wonder at it, rejoice: we have become Christ. For if He is the Head, we are the members; He and we form the whole man . . . the fullness of Christ, therefore; the head and the members. What is the head and the members? Christ and the Church.”7

Notice the strong language that St. Augustine uses. Because of our union with Christ the Head in His Mystical Body, we are not only Christians, but, in a true sense, Christ. How is that possible? Because the members and Head form one “whole man.” Of that “whole man” St. Thomas Aquinas wrote:

The Head and members are as one mystical person [quasi una persona mystica] and therefore Christ’s satisfaction belongs to all the faithful as being His members.

St. Augustine and St. Thomas both maintained that through baptism we are incorporated into Christ’s Mystical Body, and that this union is not extrinsic, but intrinsic.

These quotations from Augustine and Aquinas seem essentially redundant to the argument.  Whether or not Augustine and/or Aquinas agreed with what Scripture teaches is not really of central importance.  Moreover, the quotations provided don’t actually address the question of whether it is baptism or faith that unites us to Christ.

The idea that “we are Christ” doesn’t add much to the discussion, except to emphasize the fact that the unity of the body of Christ is unity with the head.

The CtC argument continued: “Through baptism we are incorporated into a unity greater than ourselves, and so become one with the Head and other members, yet without losing our individual identity.”

As noted above, Christians are united to Christ by saving faith. That said, yes, they become one without losing their individual identity.

Then CtC continued:

This unity of the Mystical Body is a visible unity, precisely because it is the unity of a Body. Bodies are visible and hierarchically organized, not invisible. Because the Church is a Body, the Church is essentially visible. The visibility of the Body is not reducible to the visibility of certain of its members; the Church per se is visible, just as your body per se is visible. Because the Church is a Body, “it must also be something definite and perceptible to the senses.” In order to understand how the Body is visible, we need to consider the ways in which a living body is unified.

a) Bodies can be invisible.  Recall that Jesus made himself invisible to the Jews on at least one occasion:

John 8:53-59
“Art thou greater than our father Abraham, which is dead? and the prophets are dead: whom makest thou thyself?”
Jesus answered, “If I honour myself, my honour is nothing: it is my Father that honoureth me; of whom ye say, that he is your God: yet ye have not known him; but I know him: and if I should say, I know him not, I shall be a liar like unto you: but I know him, and keep his saying. Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad.”
Then said the Jews unto him, “Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham?”
Jesus said unto them, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.”
Then took they up stones to cast at him: but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by.

Jesus’ body did not cease to be a body, just because it ceased being visible.  Moreover, Jesus physical body is not currently visible, but that does not mean it is not a true body.

b) Moreover, according to the Roman doctrine of transubstantiation, Christ’s body is present without being visible (instead the accidents of bread and wine are visible).  Thus, it cannot be (within Roman doctrine) necessary for a body to be visible in order to be a body.  Indeed, the body of Christ in the Eucharist is not something “perceptible to the senses,” according to the Roman doctrine of transubstantiation.

c) Furthermore, Christ himself is not visibly present and he is the head.  Thus, either the body does not essentially require visible unity or there is no body.  But there is a body, therefore, the body does not essentially require visible unity.

d) Additionally, this is an argument from an extension of an analogy.  In other words, visibility was not an aspect of the Biblical analogy to the body.  Reference to visibility is an extension of the analogy.  There is not, however, any warrant for this extension of the analogy.  If making unwarranted extensions to analogies is legitimate, there are almost no limits.  The only way to avoid giving the Scriptures of nose wax is to require that any applications of analogies have warrant.  There is no warrant for this extension.


The above argument demonstrates that CtC’s supposed positive argument for the papacy cannot stand.  There are more points of argument in the linked post, but these points of arguments are premised on the points analyzed above.  Since the points analyzed above fail, it is not necessary to continue analyzing the further arguments that hang from the failed argument.  We may, at some point, come back and examine some of the remaining arguments presented, but doing so is outside the scope of this particular post.

Rather, here we have seen that the entire post from CtC hinges on an unwarranted extension of an analogy.  Moreover, this unwarranted extension of the analogy actually comes back to bite CtC, because maintaining CtC’s position regarding the essence of “body” requires giving up transubstantiation.  Finally, this unwarranted extension of the analogy cannot be right, because Christ is the head of the Body and Christ is not presently visible to us.

– TurretinFan

Bryan Cross on Trent and 1 Clement

May 4, 2012

Bryan Cross wrote:

The Tridentine bishops were quite aware of 1 Clement, and did not consider, for example, Canon 9 or Canon 24 (of Session 6) to be contrary to St. Clement’s teaching on justification.

I have asked Bryan what his evidence of this is.  My guess is that he just made this up. After all, the council of Trent ended 1563, and the discovery of the text of 1 Clement was made in 1627, when Cyril Lucar gave Codex Alexandrinus to Charles I (see Thomas Herron’s, “Clement and the Early Church of Rome,” p. 4).

If Bryan provides some evidence to me, I’ll happily post it up here, so that the reader can compare it to what Herron says.

I can’t say what Bryan imagines in his own head, only that I’m not aware of any factual basis for his assertion.  A lot of folks in Rome’s communion imagine that the Tridentine fathers were eminent scholars who were intimately familiar with the fathers and were basing their views on a comprehensive understanding and appreciation of those works.  That wasn’t the case. 


 UPDATE: Bryan responded:

My mistake. I was going from memory. It was St. Hilary (along with some other Church Fathers) who was discussed during the Sixth Session. The point still stands, however, that the Tridentine bishops were well aware of Church Fathers who wrote about justification by faith.

So, the point wasn’t really about the Tridentine Fathers thinking that 1 Clement was consistent with their teaching? Interesting.  But what about the new claim?

Jedin states:

The Carmelite Vincent de Leone put the Fathers on their guard against a condemnation of the sola fide formula without supplementing it with an accurate explanation of its meaning, on the ground that it is also found, though in another sense, in the writings of many Fathers, for instance in those of St. Hilary of Poitiers, and in those of some other Catholic theologians.

Hubert Jedin, A History of the Council of Trent, Volume 2, p. 245.

Is that the basis for Bryan’s statement: “The point still stands, however, that the Tridentine bishops were well aware of Church Fathers who wrote about justification by faith”? Or is there something that shows a greater discussion and/or awareness on the part of the Tridentine fathers than that?  I have asked Bryan.  We will have to see what he’s basing his new statement on.

Clement of Rome and Bryan Cross – Justification by Faith Alone or Faith and Works?

May 2, 2012

I’m glad that my friend Lane Keister recently highlighted the point that 1 Clement teaches justification by faith alone. The author of 1 Clement (whether Clement is the author or the scribe is an open question) does clearly indicate that justification is by faith alone, and by faith to the exclusion of works of holiness.

The contemporary Roman response to this (and Bryan Cross’s response is illustrative of this category) is the same as their response to Paul’s similar clear teaching to the Romans (the ancient Romans) and the Galatians. That response is to attempt to divide justification up into parts, suggesting that initial justification could be by faith alone in some sense, while suggesting that final justification is by faith and works.

There are major and minor problems associated with this response. First, neither Paul nor the author of 1 Clement make this distinction. Second, Paul in Galatians denies this tactic: “Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:3)

Next, notice that in their responses, Rome’s advocates invariably go to places where the author doesn’t mention justification. Bryan, to take an example, goes to Romans 5:5 and 1 Clement 12, 49, 50, 10 and 31, none of which mention justification.

The author of Clement does actually refer to the word justification in another place, and one in which he speaks about justification by works. The naive reader may be wondering whether Bryan has just overlooked this passage. No, there’s a good reason that Bryan does not go there. In that place, the author is using the term justification the way James does:

Seeing, therefore, that we are the portion of the Holy One, let us do all those things which pertain to holiness, avoiding all evil-speaking, all abominable and impure embraces, together with all drunkenness, seeking after change, all abominable lusts, detestable adultery, and execrable pride. “For God,” saith [the Scripture], “resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble.” Let us cleave, then, to those to whom grace has been given by God. Let us clothe ourselves with concord and humility, ever exercising self-control, standing far off from all whispering and evil-speaking, being justified by our works, and not our words. For [the Scripture] saith, “He that speaketh much, shall also hear much in answer. And does he that is ready in speech deem himself righteous? Blessed is he that is born of woman, who liveth but a short time: be not given to much speaking.” Let our praise be in God, and not of ourselves; for God hateth those that commend themselves. Let testimony to our good deeds be borne by others, as it was in the case of our righteous forefathers. Boldness, and arrogance, and audacity belong to those that are accursed of God; but moderation, humility, and meekness to such as are blessed by Him.

(1 Clement 30)

In that place, the author of Clement is describing justification in the eyes of others. The author suggests that we should seek to be justified by our deeds as opposed to our words – much like the man in James who claims to have faith, but doesn’t show it by works.

But let’s turn to the passages that Bryan cites. First, let’s look at Chapter 12. Bryan cites the first line, but let’s look at the whole thing:

On account of her faith and hospitality, Rahab the harlot was saved. For when spies were sent by Joshua, the son of Nun, to Jericho, the king of the country ascertained that they were come to spy out their land, and sent men to seize them, in order that, when taken, they might be put to death. But the hospitable Rahab receiving them, concealed them on the roof of her house under some stalks of flax. And when the men sent by the king arrived and said “There came men unto thee who are to spy out our land; bring them forth, for so the king commands,” she answered them, “The two men whom ye seek came unto me, but quickly departed again and are gone,” thus not discovering the spies to them. Then she said to the men, “I know assuredly that the Lord your God hath given you this city, for the fear and dread of you have fallen on its inhabitants. When therefore ye shall have taken it, keep ye me and the house of my father in safety.” And they said to her, “It shall be as thou hast spoken to us. As soon, therefore, as thou knowest that we are at hand, thou shall gather all thy family under thy roof, and they shall be preserved, but all that are found outside of thy dwelling shall perish.” Moreover, they gave her a sign to this effect, that she should hang forth from her house a scarlet thread. And thus they made it manifest that redemption should flow through the blood of the Lord to all them that believe and hope in God. Ye see, beloved, that there was not only faith, but prophecy, in this woman.

The first point to note is that the author of Clement is describing the instrument of Rahab’s salvation from the destruction of Jericho. He’s not saying she was justified from her sins by a combination of faith and something else. Interestingly, this would seem to be Rahab’s initial act. So, if hospitality is a good work added to faith, then this would mean that her initial justification was not by faith alone. What an absurd result, even on Roman terms!

But note the spiritual lesson that the author of Clement derives. He actually states that she illustrates that redemption flows from the blood of Christ to all who “believe and hope in God.” When he comes to applying her physical salvation to spiritual salvation, her works are not in the picture – just her faith and hope in God. Yes, she places the thread in the window, but that thread for Clement illustrates Christ’s blood, not her deeds.

The second passage that Bryan goes to (twice, actually) is chapter 49 to which we will append chapter 50, since it was also excerpted and is a related thought:

(49)Let him who has love in Christ keep the commandments of Christ. Who can describe the [blessed] bond of the love of God? What man is able to tell the excellence of its beauty, as it ought to be told? The height to which love exalts is unspeakable. Love unites us to God. Love covers a multitude of sins. Love beareth all things, is long-suffering in all things. There is nothing base, nothing arrogant in love. Love admits of no schisms: love gives rise to no seditions: love does all things in harmony. By love have all the elect of God been made perfect; without love nothing is well-pleasing to God. In love has the Lord taken us to Himself. On account of the Love he bore us, Jesus Christ our Lord gave His blood for us by the will of God; His flesh for our flesh, and His soul for our souls.
(50) Ye see, beloved, how great and wonderful a thing is love, and that there is no declaring its perfection. Who is fit to be found in it, except such as God has vouchsafed to render so? Let us pray, therefore, and implore of His mercy, that we may live blameless in love, free from all human partialities for one above another. All the generations from Adam even unto this day have passed away; but those who, through the grace of God, have been made perfect in love, now possess a place among the godly, and shall be made manifest at the revelation of the kingdom of Christ. For it is written, “Enter into thy secret chambers for a little time, until my wrath and fury pass away; and I will remember a propitious day, and will raise you up out of your graves.” Blessed are we, beloved, if we keep the commandments of God in the harmony of love; that so through love our sins may be forgiven us. For it is written, “Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not impute to him, and in whose mouth there is no guile.” This blessedness cometh upon those who have been chosen by God through Jesus Christ our Lord; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Chapter 49 is a long praise of love and an exhortation for those who have love in Christ to obey the commandments of God. It is not an admonition to them to seek justification through observation of the commandments of God. Chapter 50, by contrast, is a suggestion to beg for love from God. While we are exhorted to love “so that through love our sins may be forgiven us,” notice that it does not say “through our love.” Notice as well that the author does not attribute the blessedness to the man who is most careful to keep the commandments, but rather to those chosen by God through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Continuing in the order that Bryan picked, let’s jump back to chapter 10:

Abraham, styled “the friend,” was found faithful, inasmuch as he rendered obedience to the words of God. He, in the exercise of obedience, went out from his own country, and from his kindred, and from his father’s house, in order that, by forsaking a small territory, and a weak family, and an insignificant house, he might inherit the promises of God. For God said to him, “Get thee out from thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, into the land which I shall show thee. And I will make thee a great nation, and will bless thee, and make thy name great, and thou shall be blessed. And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse them that curse thee; and in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed.” And again, on his departing from Lot, God said to him. “Lift up thine eyes, and look from the place where thou now art, northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward; for all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever. And I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth, [so that] if a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall thy seed also be numbered.” And again [the Scripture] saith, “God brought forth Abram, and spake unto him, Look up now to heaven, and count the stars if thou be able to number them; so shall thy seed be. And Abram believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness.” On account of his faith and hospitality, a son was given him in his old age; and in the exercise of obedience, he offered him as a sacrifice to God on one of the mountains which He showed him.

Notice that the author of Clement describes here how Abraham is recognized as faithful. He is recognized as faithful by his obedience. Moreover, a reward was given him for his faith and hospitality, but that reward was not justification, not is it eternal life, but a son in his old age.

Then following Bryan’s hopping and skipping through 1 Clement, we come to chapter 31:

Let us cleave then to His blessing, and consider what are the means of possessing it. Let us think over the things which have taken place from the beginning. For what reason was our father Abraham blessed? was it not because he wrought righteousness and truth through faith? Isaac, with perfect confidence, as if knowing what was to happen, cheerfully yielded himself as a sacrifice. Jacob, through reason of his brother, went forth with humility from his own land, and came to Laban and served him; and there was given to him the sceptre of the twelve tribes of Israel.

Bryan seems to suppose that Abraham’s blessing referenced here is either justification or eternal life, but that’s not what 1 Clement says. Indeed, the blessings mentioned by Clement are largely temporal blessings. Abraham gets a son in his old age and Jacob gets a huge family. We see that it is not justification or eternal life that is in view, but other blessings when we look at the next chapter, chapter 32, which completes the thought:

Whosoever will candidly consider each particular, will recognize the greatness of the gifts which were given by him. For from him have sprung the priests and all the Levites who minister at the altar of God. From him also [was descended] our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh. From him [arose] kings, princes, and rulers of the race of Judah. Nor are his other tribes in small glory, inasmuch as God had promised, “Thy seed shall be as the stars of heaven.” All these, therefore, were highly honoured, and made great, not for their own sake, or for their own works, or for the righteousness which they wrought, but through the operation of His will. And we, too, being called by His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified by ourselves, nor by our own wisdom, or understanding, or godliness, or works which we have wrought in holiness of heart; but by that faith through which, from the beginning, Almighty God has justified all men; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Notice how this chapter coming immediately on the heels of 31 undermines Bryan’s claims. Notice that even when it comes to these great gifts, the author of Clement says it was not “for their own sake, or for their own works,” taking back with one hand what he seemed to Bryan to give with the other hand. Moreover, it is at this very juncture that the author indicates that our justification is by faith alone.

It is remarkable how in his post Bryan tries to suggest that the question is about whether the author of Clement is talking about dead faith or not (“The question is this: Is he talking about about living faith (i.e. faith informed by the virtue of agape), or is he talking about dead faith (i.e. faith where there is not the virtue of agape)?”). One really wonders if Bryan seriously thinks that our position is that the author of Clement is suggesting that dead faith justifies. Of course, what Bryan means by “dead faith” and what we and James mean by “dead faith” are two different things. In Bryan’s attempt to re-frame the question away from justification by faith, he has simply added an additional layer of imposed meaning on the author of Clement. The author does not here distinguish between “dead” and “living” faith – and certainly does not do so in the sense that Bryan’s argument requires.

Moreover Bryan’s argument relies on a mis-framing of the real question. The real question is not whether the author of 1 Clement viewed love as a virtue or as good works. After all, while Trent did argue that Faith must be accompanied by both Love and Hope (Chapter VII), Trent also positively stated that men are justified through the works that they do:
Chapter X:

Having, therefore, been thus justified, and made the friends and domestics of God, advancing from virtue to virtue, they are renewed, as the Apostle says, day by day; that is, by mortifying the members of their own flesh, and by presenting them as instruments of justice unto sanctification, they, through the observance of the commandments of God and of the Church, faith co-operating with good works, increase in that justice which they have received through the grace of Christ, and are still further justified, as it is written; He that is just, let him be justified still; and again, Be not afraid to be justified even to death; and also, Do you see that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. And this increase of justification holy Church begs, when she prays, “Give unto us, O Lord, increase of faith, hope, and charity.”

And this erroneous understanding of James’ epistle is irreformably made part of Rome’s dogma in at least two canons:
On Justification:
CANON XXIV.-If any one saith, that the justice received is not preserved and also increased before God through good works; but that the said works are merely the fruits and signs of Justification obtained, but not a cause of the increase thereof; let him be anathema.
CANON XXXII.-If any one saith, that the good works of one that is justified are in such manner the gifts of God, as that they are not also the good merits of him that is justified; or, that the said justified, by the good works which he performs through the grace of God and the merit of Jesus Christ, whose living member he is, does not truly merit increase of grace, eternal life, and the attainment of that eternal life,-if so be, however, that he depart in grace,-and also an increase of glory; let him be anathema.

What Rome anathematizes, we embrace – for it is the apostolic teaching of justification by faith alone apart from works. That’s the real question – not the question of whether love is properly a virtue.

– TurretinFan

Response to Bryan Cross on Penal Substitution

April 25, 2012

Bryan Cross has provided a significant number of posts in a comment box at the GreenBaggins blog, suggesting that somehow the doctrine of penal substitution is inconsistent with orthodox Trinitarian theology and/or orthodox Christology.

Bryan’s argument was provided a variety of different ways with many different tangents, but Bryan’s premises can be reduced to this:

1. Penal substitution requires Christ being punished by God.
2. Punishment requires a loss of communion between God and Jesus.
3. A loss of communion between God and Jesus means either that Jesus is two persons (one person who is God and one person who is man), that Jesus is not God, or that there are more gods than one. (Respectively, those positions would be identified as Nestorianism, Arianism, or Polytheism.)

Penal substitution requires Christ being punished by God.

We don’t object to Bryan’s first premise. Isaiah 53 teaches this. That chapter states:

Isaiah 53:3-12

He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken. And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

Christ was treated as though he was a sinner (“numbered with the transgressors”) and specifically received this treatment from God (“it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief”) and particularly as a result of attributing our sins to him (“the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all”).

So, we agree with Bryan’s first premise, namely that penal substitution requires Christ being punished by God. Moreover, we affirm that Scripture teaches this, something that Bryan (in this argument) does not dispute. One supposes that Bryan would dispute this point, but at least in the context of this argument he has not presented any exegetical reasons for doing so.

Instead, Bryan has attempted to argue that the conclusion conflicts with orthodox Christology and/or orthodox Trinitarian theology.  He argues this by first asserting:

Punishment requires a loss of communion between God and Jesus?

Bryan’s second premise is ambiguous.  The term “loss of communion” can refer to a variety of different things.  Bryan was asked a number of times to clarify what he meant by “communion” a number of times, but he declined to provide any clarification.  We could reject Bryan’s second premise on this ground alone.  We don’t need to accept premises that have undefined and ambiguous terms, particularly because such terms can lead to equivocation when it comes time to draw conclusions from them.

Nevertheless, we can answer this premise by distinguishing.

Punishment of Jesus by God does not require a loss of communion in the sense of God and Jesus being actually at odds.  Jesus underwent the punishment of humiliation, including suffering and death, willingly.  It is written: “Saying, ‘Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.'” (Luke 22:42) And again: “Who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people’s: for this he did once, when he offered up himself.” (Hebrews 7:27)  Had Christ been an unwilling victim, we might have said that the will of Christ and the will of God were at odds, but Christ submitted himself according to his human will to the will of God.

Thus, at a minimum, this premise is not true in every sense of the term “communion.”

Bryan argued that punishment involves loss of communion in some sense, and that it is this loss of communion that primarily distinguishes punishment from discipline.  Bryan is wrong.  The primary distinction between punishment and discipline is the intent of the one inflicting the punishment or discipline.

In the case of punishment, the primary intent is to restore justice.  In the case of discipline, the primary intent is to improve the disciplined person.  It is worth noting that substitutionary punishment makes sense, while substitionary discipline largely does not.  One is reminded of the prince’s “whipping boy” in The Prince and the Pauper.  While justice may be served by a man being flogged for a crime committed that merits flogging, in general the ill-behaving does not learn his lesson by another being flogged.

It is true that in the usual case, without substitution, there is typically an accompanying attitude of fundamental displeasure with the person being punished and an accompanying attitude of fundamental pleasure with the person being disciplined.  Thus, a father beats a son whom he loves, although of course the father does not love the son’s behavior that led to the need for the beating.  If you are a modernist who thinks that beating children is immoral, read the Bible – but for the sake of this illustration just substitute “time out” for beating.

Hebrews 12:5-11

And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: for whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.

Moreover, one can take the case of restitution as an example of retributive justice.  Justice can be served by the victim of theft receiving treble restitution for his losses, but that justice is served regardless of the source of the funds.  If those funds come from the criminal, they may have a disciplinary effect on the criminal, but even if they come from a substitute, they still make the injured person whole again.

Nevertheless, there is a sense in which communion, in the sense of felt favor of God, may have been lost.  While we need not be dogmatic about it, it is possible for Christ, on the cross, to have lost a sense or awareness of the presence and favor of God.  Christ was unaware, according to his humanity, of the day and the hour of the second coming.  Likewise, it was possible for him to be unaware, according to his humanity, of the pleasure and favor of God toward him for a time on the cross.

Such an absence of awareness of God’s presence and favor is one of the penalties that produce suffering for those in hell.  Christ could undergo that same punishment in terms of suffering without actually losing God’s presence or favor.   Therefore, if this falls within the ambit of “communion” in the sense that Bryan means, Christ may have undergone it on the cross.

Loss of Communion with God Implies Some Heresy or Other?

Bryan’s third premise depends heavily on the sense in which he means “communion,” a sense he’s seemingly unwilling to disclose.  If Bryan is suggesting that punishment requires God the Father to stop loving the Son in every sense, then we simply disagree with Bryan’s assertion.  Suggesting that God the Father stopped loving the Son in every sense is clearly wrong.

Likewise, it is wrong to state that the Trinity was somehow severed by the cross.  The intra-trinitarian communion was not damaged by the cross.  Indeed, Christ was unified in will with the Father and the Spirit in the purpose of the crucifixion.  If Christ and the Father were actually at odds, this would imply a serious error.

Furthermore, it is wrong to state that one person (Christ the God) was actually at odds with another person (Christ the Man).  Christ is one person in two distinct natures.  That means that Christ has two wills, but as one person Christ is unable to “commune” with himself, much less “lose” or “break” communion with himself.

On the other hand, Christ merely ceasing to be aware of God’s presence or favor for a time on the cross according to his humanity does not imply any sort of heresy.  So, much hinges on what Bryan means by “communion.”  Therefore, we cannot grant his third premise outright, just as we cannot grant his second premise outright.  Instead, we need to distinguish in each case.

– TurretinFan

Update: In the comment box, Bryan Cross denies that he holds to the second premise.  I’ve provided some documentation that seems to suggest he once advocated that premise.  Nevertheless, he recently continued the argument in the comment box by alleging that the essence of hell punishment in particular is loss of communion with God.   Even with this modification, the response above largely maintains.  A few parts may not be relevant, but the rest is.

Examining Bryan Cross’s Christology

August 31, 2011

I’m no fan of James Jordan or his branch of the Federal Visionists. Nor do I in any way endorse Jordan’s recent speculation regarding the alleged eternal maturation of the Son. Nevertheless, I found it interesting that Called to Communion’s Bryan Cross demonstrated his lack of familiarity [UPDATE: see further comments / retractions below] with Christology while attempting to deal with Jordan’s trinitarian musings.

Cross: “Christ’s being eternally begotten of the Father refers to the procession of the Son from the Father. That is, the Logos eternally proceeds from the Father.”

Bryan Cross is a member of the Roman communion and putatively some sort of teacher of his church’s doctrine via his website, Called to Communion.

Roman theology, however, actually makes a distinction between begetting and procession. The Spirit proceeds from the Father (and the Son) but the Son is begotten of the Father. In fact, the Council of Florence defined things this way:

Whoever wills to be saved, before all things it is necessary that he holds the catholic faith. Unless a person keeps this faith whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish eternally. The catholic faith is this, that we worship one God in the Trinity, and the Trinity in unity, neither confounding the persons nor dividing the substance. For there is one person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the holy Spirit. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son and of the holy Spirit is one, the glory equal, and the majesty co-eternal. Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the holy Spirit. The Father uncreated the Son uncreated and the holy Spirit uncreated. The Father infinite, the Son infinite and the holy Spirit infinite. The Father eternal, the Son eternal and the holy Spirit eternal. Yet they are not three eternals, but one eternal. As also they are not three uncreateds nor three infinites, but one uncreated and one infinite. Likewise the Father is almighty, the Son is almighty and the holy Spirit is almighty. Yet they are not three almighties, but one almighty. Likewise the Father is God, the Son is God and the holy Spirit is God. Yet they are not three gods, but one God. Likewise the Father is Lord, the Son is Lord and the holy Spirit is Lord. Yet they are not three lords, but one Lord. For just as we are compelled by the Christian truth to acknowledge each person by himself to be God and Lord, so we are forbidden by the catholic religion to say there are three gods or three lords. The Father is made by none, neither created nor begotten. The Son is from the Father alone; not made nor created, but begotten. The holy Spirit is from the Father and the Son; not made nor created nor begotten, but proceeding. So there is one Father, not three fathers; one Son, not three sons; one holy Spirit, not three holy spirits. And in this Trinity nothing is before or after, nothing is greater or less; but the whole three persons are co-eternal together and co-equal. So that in all things, as has been said above, the unity in Trinity and the Trinity in unity is to be worshipped. Whoever, therefore, wishes to be saved, let him think thus of the Trinity.

The council goes on to reemphasize this: “The Father alone from his substance begot the Son; the Son alone is begotten of the Father alone; the holy Spirit alone proceeds at once from the Father and the Son.”

The implication of the Council of Florence’s statement is that someone like Cross, who alleges that the Son proceeds from the Father (“the procession of the Son from the Father”) might not be saved, because he doesn’t think of the Trinity the way the Council of Florence did. To some extent, that’s Rome arrogance with respect to the Filioque, as though they get to define the gospel so as to exclude the Greeks from it. But we can address Rome’s arrogance another time.

On another tangent, while Jordan doesn’t appear to commit the identical basic problem, Jordan does seem to confuse “begotten from all eternity” with “eternally begetting” (see Jordan’s comments in the comment box), in other words he is confusing a fait accompli with an on-going action. Thus, Jordan makes bizarre statements like “The Son eternally becomes mature” and “The Spirit eternally causes the Son to mature,” neither of which appears to have any legitimate basis in the Scriptures (or in Tradition, i.e. church history, for that matter).



Bryan Cross has written a follow-on in which he appeals to Thomas Aquinas, who describes the “generation” of the Son as a type of procession. The only problem with this, of course, is that Thomas died in 1274, and the Council of Florence was in the mid-1400s.  Bryan Cross can’t appeal to Thomas Aquinas in order to deny the immaculate conception against Ineffabilis Deus, and he can’t appeal to Thomas in order to deny something that Florence said.

Nevertheless, this way of speaking on Bryan’s part is not entirely without precedent in Roman theology post Florence.  John Paul II used the term “procession” to refer to the eternal generation of the Son in a general audience on 20 November 1985. There, JP2 distinguishes between spiration and generation but describes both as “procession.”  So, perhaps I am being unduly harsh on Bryan in insisting that he maintain the distinctions set forth in Florence when even the second most recent pope doesn’t keep them straight.

At least, shall we say, JP2 and Cross do not maintain the exclusive use of “procession” with reference to spiration that Florence did.  For example, note in Session 6, the following explanation:

The Latins asserted that they say the holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son not with the intention of excluding the Father from being the source and principle of all deity, that is of the Son and of the holy Spirit, nor to imply that the Son does not receive from the Father, because the holy Spirit proceeds from the Son, nor that they posit two principles or two spirations; but they assert that there is only one principle and a single spiration of the holy Spirit, as they have asserted hitherto.

To wrap up, I think my words “demonstrated his lack of familiarity” may be unduly harsh and unjustified, so I retract them in favor “demonstrated a departure from the dogmatically defined distinctions employed by the Council of Florence.”  After all, perhaps Bryan is more familiar with Aquinas’ usage than with the subsequent dogmatic definition of Bryan’s church, or perhaps Bryan is influenced by John Paul II’s usage

One assumes that Florence, on the other hand was more influenced by Isidore of Seville’s ancient distinctions (either directly or indirectly), for the second item posted above seems to be almost a verbatim quotation from his Etymologies (The Etymologies VII.iv.4; see also VII.iii.6-8).

Solo Scriptura, Sola Scriptura, and Apostolic Succession: A Response to Bryan Cross and Neal Judisch (by Keith Mathison) [Guest Post]

February 15, 2011
Solo Scriptura, Sola Scriptura, and Apostolic Succession:
A Response to Bryan Cross and Neal Judisch
(pdf version here)

Keith Mathison


In November 2009, the Roman Catholic website Called to Communion posted an article titled Solo Scriptura, Sola Scriptura, and the Question of Interpretive Authority, critiquing one of the claims of my book The Shape of Sola Scriptura (Canon Press, 2001). The article is attributed to Bryan Cross and Dr. Neal Judisch. According to their website, Cross is a graduate of Covenant Theological Seminary (M.Div.) and currently a Ph.D. student at Saint Louis University. He converted to Roman Catholicism in 2006. Judisch is a professor of philosophy at the University of Oklahoma and a 2008 convert to Roman Catholicism. Like the other regular authors at Called to Communion, Cross and Judisch come from a Reformed background and are relatively recent converts to Roman Catholicism.

The main point of their article is stated in the opening paragraphs:

In this article we argue that there is no principled difference between sola scriptura and solo scriptura with respect to the holder of ultimate interpretive authority, and that a return to apostolic succession is the only way to avoid the untoward consequences to which both solo scriptura and sola scriptura lead.

Given the twofold purpose of the paper, my response to it will also be twofold. In defense of the claims of my book, I will argue that there is in fact a real principled difference between sola scriptura and solo scriptura [FN1] with respect to the holder of ultimate interpretive authority. I will suggest that the difference becomes invisible only when one begins by assuming the correctness of the Roman Catholic doctrine of the church. This will require an evaluation of the Roman Catholic alternative that Cross and Judisch present. I will argue that a call to return to apostolic succession by Roman Catholics is problematic for a number of reasons. Because our understanding of both of these arguments is closely related to our understanding of the church and of the claims of Rome, I will address those claims first.

I must also observe that it is impossible to respond to this particular article without also interacting with several other articles on the Called to Communion website. There is much in this article that presupposes arguments made in other articles by Cross. This is because the primary issue in this debate is not the doctrine of Scripture. It is the doctrine of the Church. The other articles by Cross that I will reference in this response are: “Christ Founded a Visible Church,”
Ecclesial Deism,” and “Branches or Schisms?” In addition, Cross recently wrote a follow up to the Sola Scriptura article responding in more detail to one particular objection raised by many readers. This article is titled “The Tu Quoque.”

On the Inevitability of Offense

Because this is not merely an academic discussion, but instead a discussion of issues of eternal consequence, I should note that it is almost impossible to avoid all offense. Cross acknowledges as much in his paper “Christ Founded a Visible Church” when he writes:

And that is what makes the Catholic Church’s approach to ecumenicism almost intrinsically offensive to all other Christians.

In the same way, Protestant claims are going to be intrinsically offensive to Roman Catholics. Protestants are questioning things Roman Catholics hold sacred. The only relevant question, however, is whether certain claims are true, not whether those claims offend someone’s sensibilities. In sum, while things will be said in my response that Roman Catholics will undoubtedly find offensive, I do not know of any way to avoid it completely in this discussion. I trust that Roman Catholic readers will understand that my purpose in this response is not to offend for the sake of offending but to deal with the issues.

On Rome-Colored (and Geneva-Colored) Glasses

A final preliminary observation is in order. One of the most frustrating difficulties encountered in discussions such as this is the fact that the starting assumptions of Roman Catholics and non-Roman Catholics are so different. Because these starting assumptions dramatically affect the way we read and evaluate evidence and arguments, it becomes difficult to avoid speaking past one another. For example, as I mentioned above, if one assumes the correctness of the Roman Catholic doctrine of the church, then the differences I allege between sola scriptura and solo scriptura become invisible. Likewise, if one does not assume the correctness of the Roman Catholic doctrine of the church, the differences can be discerned.

The same phenomenon occurs when it comes to discussing historical evidence for and against the claims of Rome. A person who believes that the Roman Catholic Magisterium has special divine authority naturally looks at evidence for the claims of Rome in a much different way than a person who does not believe that the Roman Catholic Magisterium has divine authority. If a person firmly believes that the Roman Magisterium is infallible (i.e. incapable of error) under certain conditions; in short, if that is his basic theological axiom, then by definition he cannot at the same time believe that there is any real evidence of error. This is the reason that for faithful Roman Catholics, the very possibility of there being evidence contradicting the claims of the Roman Church is non-existent. Any alleged evidence of error offered by Protestants or others must be explainable in some other way.

Those who do not begin with the basic theological axiom of Roman Catholicism see abundant evidence against the claims of Rome in Scripture, the writings of the Church Fathers, and the documented events of church history. This evidence prevents them from believing that the Roman Catholic Magisterium has divine authority. For those who adopt the basic theological axiom of Roman Catholicism, all of this “alleged” evidence essentially ceases to exist. From the perspective of the non-Roman Catholic, the Roman Catholic is doing something comparable to reading a red-letter Bible with red tinted glasses. If he sets aside the glasses, he can see all the words printed in red. If he puts the glasses on, all the words printed in red disappear from his sight. From the Roman Catholic perspective, it is non-Roman Catholics who are reading the evidence with a distorted lens.

To be fair, Roman Catholics are not alone in dealing with this kind of criticism. All of those who believe in the infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture are criticized in a similar way by liberals and skeptics who say they have found abundant evidence of error in Scripture. If a person truly believes that the Scriptures are the inerrant Word of God, he cannot at the same time believe that there is any real evidence of error in the Scriptures. He trusts that there is an explanation for any apparent errors, even if he does not know what that explanation is. In the same way, a Roman Catholic who truly believes in the infallibility of the Magisterium will trust that there is an explanation for any alleged errors presented by non-Roman Catholics.

So, knowing that none of us is completely objective, how do we deal with the claims of Rome? Rome claims special divine authority and infallibility. Rome claims to be the one Church Christ founded on earth. Rome claims that those who are not in communion with the Pope are schismatics. These are very big and very consequential claims. When faced with such claims, one does not simply make a blind leap of faith one way or the other. One needs to know whether the claims are true before making any kind of commitment. Why? Because if an institution is making those kinds of claims and they are false, one would be committing oneself to a lie of monumental proportions. On the other hand, if the claims are true, rejecting them is equally serious.

I submit that the claims of Rome do not stand up to close scrutiny when measured by any standard other than Rome herself. While the claims of Rome have a theoretical plausibility when considered alone, that plausibility evaporates when we evaluate the evidence for and against those claims. At issue, then, is the truth or falsity of the premise regarding the special divine authority of the Roman Catholic Church. If that premise is granted, many of the remaining claims of Rome follow. The problem, however, is that there is abundant evidence from Scripture, tradition, and history that renders the truthfulness of the basic premise entirely implausible. In other words, while Rome’s arguments using this premise may be logically valid, none of them are sound because the key premise is false.

I do not harbor any illusions that any Roman Catholics will find what I have to say below persuasive. They have heard many of these arguments before. The point I wish them to understand is that I (and many others) see the evidence as more than sufficient to raise reasonable doubt about the claims of Rome.

The Claims of Rome

Although the paper by Cross and Judisch begins with a critique of my sola/solo distinction and then moves on to the issue of apostolic succession and the nature of the church, it is necessary to deal with the issue of the church first because presuppositions about the church color all of the rest. If one assumes the correctness of the Roman Catholic doctrine of the church, then the differences I allege between sola scriptura and solo scriptura become invisible, but if one does not assume the correctness of the Roman Catholic doctrine of the church, the differences can be discerned. It is necessary, therefore, to begin with a discussion of the claims of the Roman Catholic Church.

What Does the Church of Rome Claim?

The Roman Catholic doctrine of the Church has developed over the course of centuries and is much more complex than the following brief account might seem to indicate. In order to keep this discussion manageable, however, it is necessary to single out a few of those aspects of the Roman Catholic doctrine that are central to the dispute between Roman Catholics and non-Roman Catholics. The purpose at this point is not to critique the Roman Catholic claims, but merely to state them as succinctly and accurately as possible. NOTE: In compiling this list, I have made extensive use of Ludwig Ott’s Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, 4th ed. (Rockford, IL: TAN Books, 1960). Most of the doctrinal summaries in this list are either quotations from or paraphrases of Ott. I have also cross-checked these with the Catechism of the Catholic Church (New York: Doubleday, 1995).

1. Rome claims that the Roman ecclesiastical hierarchy was instituted by Christ.

According to Rome, the ecclesiastical hierarchy of bishops, priests, and deacons did not arise merely as an historical contingency. Instead, it was divinely instituted by Christ. Furthermore, the powers delegated to the Apostles by Christ were handed down to the bishops who succeeded them.

2. Rome claims that Christ appointed Peter to be the visible head of the whole Church and gave him jurisdictional primacy.

According to Rome, Peter is the visible representative of Christ on earth and has jurisdictional primacy over the whole church. The possession of jurisdictional primacy means that Peter was given “possession of full and supreme legislative, juridical and punitive power” (Ott, p. 279). Peter was directly given this primacy by Christ.

3. Rome claims that the bishops of Rome are the successors of Peter.

Rome teaches that Christ’s appointment of Peter as the visible Head of the Church implies that there would be perpetual successors to this role. The bishops of Rome are those successors and they therefore have jurisdictional primacy over the universal Church.

4. Rome claims that the Church is indefectible.

Roman Catholics believe that the church (by which they mean the Roman Church) will endure to the end of the world and that the Roman Church is immutable in respect of her teaching.

5. Rome claims that the Pope is infallible when he speaks ex cathedra.

The Vatican Council defines papal infallibility as follows: “The Roman Pontiff, when he speaks ex cathedra – that is, when in discharge of the office of Pastor and Doctor of all Christians, by virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine regarding Faith or Morals to be held by the Universal Church – by the Divine assistance promised to him in Blessed Peter, is possessed of that infallibility with which the Divine Redeemer willed that His Church should be endowed in defining doctrine regarding Faith or Morals; and therefore such definitions of the Roman Pontiff are irreformable of themselves, and not in virtue of the consent of the Church.”

6. Rome claims that the teaching Magisterium of the Roman Church is infallible.

Ott explains the infallibility of the Magisterium as follows: “The Bishops exercise their infallible teaching power in an extraordinary manner at a general or ecumenical council” (p. 300). “The Bishops exercise their infallible teaching power in an ordinary manner when they, in their dioceses, in moral unity with the Pope, unanimously promulgate the same teachings on faith and morals” (p. 300). Individual bishops are not infallible.

7. Rome claims that ecumenical councils are defined in terms of the papacy.

Rome claims that an ecumenical council “is an assembly of bishops and other specified persons, convoked and presided over by the pope, for the purpose of formulating decisions concerning the Christian faith and discipline, which decisions require papal confirmation” (Leo Donald Davis, The Seven Ecumenical Councils, p. 323).

8. Rome claims that the “oneness” of the church is to be defined in terms of faith and communion with Rome.

According to Rome, Peter and his successors act as the principle of unity. Unity is first defined in terms of a unity of faith, by which it is meant that the Church believes and confesses the truths taught by the Magisterium. Unity is also defined in terms of a unity of communion, by which it is meant that the Church submits to the Pope and the Magisterium and participates in the same liturgy.

9. Rome claims that the “apostolicity” of the church is to be defined in terms of origin, teaching, and succession in office.

Roman Catholicism teaches that the Roman Catholic Church has its origin in the Apostles and has always adhered to the teaching of the Apostles. The Pope and the Bishops of the Roman Church have succeeded the Apostles in their office. “The apostolicity of the succession guarantees the unfalsified transmission of doctrine and makes manifest the organic connection between the Church of the present day and the Church of the Apostles” (Ott, p. 308).

10. Rome claims to be the church founded by Christ.

This is the single overarching Roman claim. All of the other claims lead to this. When Roman Catholics speak of the Church of Christ, it is a given that this Church is the Roman Church. Pope Pius XII is typical here: “To describe this true Church of Christ – which is the Holy, Catholic, Apostolic, Roman Church – there is no name more noble, none more excellent, none more Divine, than the expression, ‘the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ’” (cited in Ott, p. 270, emphasis mine). When one encounters statements about “the Church” in the writings of Roman Catholics, it is crucial to understand that the adjective “Roman” is always implied if it is not stated explicitly.

Are the Claims of the Roman Catholic Church True?

The claims of Rome listed above are not insignificant. If these claims are true, it is the duty of every Christian to submit to the Roman Church. If these claims are false, it is the duty of every Christian to call the Church of Rome to repent. So the important question is: Are the claims of the Roman Catholic Church true or not? What evidence is there for the claims? What evidence is there against the claims? What would we expect to see if the claims were true? What would we expect to see if the claims were false?

One preliminary difficulty we face here is that although the overarching claim of Rome to be the Church Christ founded rests upon the truth or falsity of the other claims, Roman Catholics who have been persuaded of the truth of these other claims sometimes begin to use the overarching claim as evidence for the supporting claims. This may be convincing to those already persuaded of Rome’s authority, but it is hardly convincing to those evaluating the claim for such authority. Appealing to Rome’s authority in support of claims for Rome’s authority is circular and question-begging. So let us look at these claims individually.

1. Did Christ institute the Roman Ecclesiastical Hierarchy?

No. If the claim that Christ instituted the Roman ecclesiastical hierarchy were true, we might actually expect to read of Christ instituting the Roman ecclesiastical hierarchy in the documents of the New Testament written by the Apostles. There is certainly precedent for this expectation in the Old Testament. There we see Moses setting forth the details of the old covenant priesthood and the priestly succession. God did not leave all of this to chance and hope the Israelites would figure it out on their own. Nor did this Old Testament hierarchy emerge out of a process of “development.” Furthermore, Moses did not hand down the instructions through any kind of proto-gnostic secret tradition. The priestly hierarchy was an institution of such importance that it was given publicly.

As important as the new covenant ecclesiastical hierarchy is supposed to be according to Rome, we might expect to see Jesus set forth similar instructions were the claim true. Do we see any evidence of this in the New Testament? No. What we see is Jesus choosing twelve apostles and sending them out to proclaim the gospel to the Jews and then later to the Samaritans and Gentiles (Acts 1:8). We don’t see him placing each of his Apostles, or anyone else for that matter, as a residential bishop over one local church (or diocese). For some time after the ascension, all of the Apostles remain in Jerusalem, building up the church. There was a plurality of apostolic leadership in the Jerusalem church. When some of the Apostles finally begin moving outward from Jerusalem, they act more as church planters and travelling missionaries. They do not each settle down in one city as a residential bishop. James, who remained in Jerusalem, is the closest thing to a residential bishop at this point, but even he is still accompanied there by most of the other Apostles (e.g., Acts 9:27). Among those who eventually travel outward, Peter and Paul are the most significant in the Book of Acts. Paul’s missionary journeys are well known, but Peter travelled as well. Of the places we know Peter visited on his missionary journeys, we can list Antioch (Gal. 2:11), Samaria (Acts 8:14), Lydda (Acts 9:32), Joppa (Acts 9:36–39), and Caesarea
(Acts 10).

If the Roman claim were true, we would also expect to find abundant evidence of the Roman ecclesiastical hierarchy in the years immediately following the ascension and in the first decades of the post-apostolic church. If Christ instituted it and if the Apostles were obedient to Christ we would expect to find some evidence of it. We would expect to find evidence that each local church had a bishop, and that this bishop was assisted by subordinate presbyters and deacons. However, when we examine the evidence we do not find this. What we find is summed up in Titus 1:5, where Paul instructs Titus to “appoint elders (plural) in every town.” We see this in Paul’s first missionary journey, when he and Barnabas “appointed elders for them in every church” (Acts 14:23). The evidence, biblical and non-biblical, points consistently to a plurality of leaders in each of the first churches.

The transition from a collegial form of church government toward the monepiscopal form of church government occurred at different rates in different geographical locations. The historical evidence indicates that monepiscopacy developed most rapidly in Asia Minor and more slowly in European cities such as Corinth and Rome.[FN2] The numerous house churches scattered throughout Rome, for example, were led by presbyters until the latter half of the second century.[FN3] The ecclesiastical hierarchy as it exists today in the Roman Catholic Church evolved over time. There is nothing that lends any credence to the claim that it was directly instituted by Christ or the Apostles in the first century.


At this point, I need to say some words in response to a few miscellaneous statements made by Bryan Cross in his paper “Christ Founded a Visible Church,” his attempt to argue that Christ instituted the Roman ecclesiastical hierarchy.

Cross writes in section I.A:

This unity of the Mystical Body is a visible unity, precisely because it is the unity of a Body. Bodies are visible and hierarchically organized, not invisible.

This is a confusing statement for several reasons. Cross himself argues (in Section I.C), that the Head of this Body, Jesus Christ, is at present invisible to us. (It should be noted that Christ is not invisible to the Church triumphant). However, for the sake of argument, if we were to push the figurative language as far as Cross does, we would assert that yes, bodies are visible, but so are their heads. And if the Head of the Body can be invisible, as Cross says it is, so too can the body itself be invisible.

This whole line of argument, however, is built on a faulty analogy. It is built entirely on unproven assumptions about what “must be” the case regarding visibility and invisibility, and it does so by using an analogy that does not work. The Church is the body of Christ, but this is figurative language, and determinations about the visibility and invisibility of the Church cannot be based on what happens to be true of literal human bodies. The Church as the body of Christ is not entirely analogous to a human body. Some of the body of Christ (those who have died) are in heaven, present with the Lord. Some of the body of Christ (those still living) are on earth. Those who have died are invisible to those who remain. Furthermore, the Head of the Church, Jesus Christ, did not shed his (visible) human body, and therefore, He is not inherently invisible. Those believers who have died see Him. In short, this entire line of Roman argumentation is faulty and misleading.

In section I.C., Cross writes:

If the visible head of the hierarchy were plural, then the visible hierarchy would not be essentially unified, but at most only accidentally unified.

This is mere assertion. It also implies an anti-trinitarian concept of unity. Christians confess faith in one God, a unity, yet this one God subsists in three persons, a plurality. If our God is the paradigm of what true unity, true oneness, is, then it is false to assert that unity cannot be expressed in or co-exist with plurality. Cross likes to refer to Protestantism as Ecclesiastical Deism. I would suggest that what he (and Rome) is advocating in this instance is Ecclesiastical Unitarianism.

In the same section, Cross quotes Pope Leo XIII:

The unity of the Church is manifested in the mutual connection or communication of its members, and likewise in the relation of all the members of the Church to one head [i.e. the Pope].

In short, although the church cannot have real unity by the relation of all the members of the church to Christ, it can have unity by the relation of all the members of the church to the Pope. Such an assertion makes the Pope a greater source of unity than Jesus Christ. It makes the Pope’s seat in Rome a greater source of unity than Christ’s seat at the right hand of God. And by what authority is such a claim for Rome made? The claim is made on the authority of Rome herself?

In section II.A, Cross continues with his implicitly Unitarian concept of oneness, saying:

The Church must be one, because Christ is one, and God is one.

Of course, what is meant by the Church’s “oneness” here depends entirely on what oneness is in the Godhead; and in the Godhead, oneness does not preclude plurality. I submit again that if Cross’s (Rome’s) concept of oneness is applied to the Godhead, Unitarianism is the result. The threeness in the Godhead, the plurality, does not destroy the oneness, the unity. And given that Christ prays for the oneness of the Church to be like the oneness of God (John 17), a plurality that is equally as ultimate as unity, would not (and does not) destroy real unity in the Church any more
than it does in the Godhead.

In section II.B, Cross quotes Augustine:

There is nothing more grievous than the sacrilege of schism.

Perhaps, but there is also nothing more ironic than the original schismatic, the bishop of Rome, defining schism in relation to himself.

In the same section, Cross adds:

And this is how ’schism’ has been understood and defined in the Catholic Church: schism is defined as “the refusal of submission to the Roman Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him.” No other definition makes sense, in part because no other definition distinguishes schism from excommunication. Otherwise each party in the schism could with equal warrant say, “No, I excommunicated you.”

Here we are told that according to Rome, schism is separation from Rome. We see here again the complete circularity of Rome’s claims. Unless it is proven that Rome is the one true Church, exclusive of anyone else, this definition of schism is merely a self-serving, circular assertion. The last half of the quotation above is also interesting in that it is exactly what happened with the East and West in 1054. Who was in schism at that time, and who says? If you ask the East you get one self-serving answer. If you ask Rome, you get another self-serving answer.

Cross titles section III: “Denial of Visibility is Ecclesial Docetism.”

To be clear, most Protestants do not deny the visibility of the Church. They simply deny the definition of visibility provided by what they believe to be a rogue local church possessed by the spirit of Diotrephes (3 John 9).

Interestingly, Cross cannot remain consistent with his own definitions, as seen in this comment:

Wherever schism is treated as not separating a person (to some degree) from Christ, there the Church is being treated as fundamentally and intrinsically invisible, with some visible members.

The problem with Cross’s argument is that Rome now grants that believers not in submission to the Pope are actually joined to the Church in some way or another. Paragraphs 836–8 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church speak of an “imperfect” communion with the Catholic Church enjoyed by non-Roman Catholic Christians. Paragraphs 839–45 even speak of a communion with the Church enjoyed by non-Christians. This is an invisible church concept on steroids. If everyone is in “communion” with the Church to one degree or another regardless of their faith, or lack thereof, the Church is, according to Cross’s definitions, being treated by the Catholic Church as fundamentally and intrinsically invisible, with some members of varying degrees of visibility.

In section IV.B, Cross writes:

Many Christians do not realize that the Catholic Church is and claims to be the Kingdom of Heaven on earth, in the Kingdom’s nascent stage.

The interesting term here is “nascent.” Nascent means “just beginning,” “dawning,” “embryonic.” The curious thing is that although Rome claims to be the Kingdom in its nascent stage, at the beginning of its development, her doctrine of the church displays an entirely over-realized eschatology that demands the perfection of the eschaton here and now. If a Protestant suggests that the Church sinned as Israel sinned, needs to repent and work toward the eschatological goal of unity, we are told that we are denying Christ’s promise and denying the confession of faith in the “one” Church. Of course, a different standard is applied by Rome to the creedal statement about belief in the “holiness” of the Church. That can be something that is imperfect now, something toward which we aspire. But “oneness”? No. Oneness has always been perfect, we are told, or else Jesus’s promise failed. Such arguments are completely arbitrary.

In section V.B, Cross makes a statement about Reformed views of visibility that is quite revealing and shows how much the Roman view dishonors and insults Jesus Christ. He writes:

Therefore under both descriptions what is absent is a unified visible hierarchy, and that is why the result can be nothing more than a mere plurality of visible things, united at most by their invisible union to the invisible Christ.

“United at most by their invisible union to the invisible Christ.” This is said as if union with Jesus Christ by the working of the Holy Spirit is some kind of second-rate consolation prize, clearly inferior to the kind of unity offered by the Pope. The Holy Scriptures do not denigrate union with our Lord Jesus Christ the way Cross repeatedly does in this paper.

Some of the other questions Cross raises in this paper will be addressed in other parts of this response. At this point, it is necessary to move on to Rome’s second claim.

2. Did Christ appoint Peter to be the visible head of the whole Church and give him jurisdictional primacy?

No. The only Person spoken of in Scripture as the Head of the Church is Jesus (Eph. 1:22; 5:23; Col. 1:18). Peter is never spoken of as the head of the Church, either before or after the resurrection and ascension of Christ. The Church is the body of Christ. It is not the body of Peter; it is not the body of the Pope; and it is not the body of the Pope and Christ. The Church is not polycephalous. It does not have more than one head. Christ, as the one Head of the Church, continues to exercise His headship even after His ascension.

There is nothing in Scripture indicating that Christ appointed Peter to be the visible head of the whole Church and gave him jurisdictional primacy. In fact, what we do find indicates the opposite. Christ appointed twelve Apostles, one of whom was Peter (Matt. 10:1–2). The apostles as a group were given the highest office in the Church (1 Cor. 12:28). No one apostle is singled out as having a higher office than the rest. They were all sent (John 20:21); they were all commanded to preach and baptize (Matt. 28:29); and they were all promised an equal standing at the judgment: “you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matt. 19:28). Peter’s throne is not distinguished from the rest. After Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came upon all equally, Peter is sent by the other Apostles to the Samaritans (Acts 8:14) in the same way that Barnabas (Acts 11:22) and then Silas and Judas (Acts 15:22) are later said to be sent. There is no hint that he alone is in charge of things in some unique sense.

Further evidence that this claim of Rome is false is found in an examination of the first church council. The very first major problem in the church is not resolved by an appeal to Peter as we would expect had Christ given Peter jurisdictional primacy (recall the very definition of “jurisdiction”). It is resolved instead by a council in Jerusalem. In other words, a council, not Peter, is assumed to have jurisdiction. In the council itself, James, rather than Peter, exercises the necessary leadership (Acts 15). It is James who declares the definitive judgment, saying: “Therefore my judgment is…” (v. 19). The final decision of the council is described as a consensus of the apostles and elders (v. 22). In the entire account of the Jerusalem Council, neither Peter nor anyone else present shows any awareness of Petrine jurisdictional primacy.

Paul’s description of Peter’s ministry gives no indication that he was aware that Peter had been appointed head of the entire Church. Peter’s ministry, according to Paul, is to the Jews, while his own is to the Gentiles (Gal. 2:7–8). Paul also feels no qualms about publicly rebuking Peter to his face when his conduct is hypocritical (Gal. 2:11). Even Peter himself shows no recognition of universal headship or jurisdictional primacy. He recognizes that he is on the same level
with the other elders (1 Pet. 5:1).

Today, Rome appeals to Matthew 16:18 and a few other passages to back up her claim, but it is worth noting that appeals to Matthew 16 in support of Petrine supremacy first appear in the middle of the third century in the disputes between Cyprian and Stephen.[FN4] Appeals to this text did not begin earlier because the idea of Petrine supremacy itself was a late development. It is only when Rome begins her attempts to assert universal jurisdiction that Scripture is mined for potential proof texts such as Matthew 16. I have already addressed the various proof texts appealed to by Rome in The Shape of Sola Scriptura (pp. 184–96), and they have been addressed even more substantially by numerous other authors, so there is no need to repeat all of that in this summary response.

3. Are the bishops of Rome the successors of Peter?

No. Had the idea of Petrine Roman succession originated with Christ and not with the church of a much later generation, one would have expected to see an unbroken line of succession from Peter in Rome forward through a series of bishops. Instead, the historical evidence clearly indicates that the monepiscopacy did not develop in Rome until the second half of the second century. If Peter had appointed a successor, the papacy would not have had to await the latter half of the second century before gradually beginning to come into existence.

Textual and archaeological evidence indicates that in the first two centuries of Christianity’s existence in Rome, there were a good number of house churches spread throughout the city, primarily in Trastavere and along the Via Appia, and the number of these churches increased as the number of Christians grew. Christians represented the lower and poorer strata in Roman society and had small houses, which could only accommodate so many – thus the need for a good number of dispersed house churches. There was no single centralized location, no central cathedral, where all Roman Christians met for worship under the oversight of a single bishop. Individual presbyter/bishops presided over these various house churches. They led the worship and directed care for the poor. The house churches were bound in spiritual fellowship with each other, even though they worshiped separately, and the evidence indicates that the various presbyter/bishops would occasionally convene to deal with situations affecting them all (e.g. collections of aid for Christians in other cities). At some point in time, the presbyter/bishops assigned a single individual presbyter to deal with external affairs. This person was responsible for correspondence with other churches in other cities. It is likely that collections of aid for Christians in other cities were also administered by this person. From the middle of the second century on, there is evidence that this individual began to gain more prominence. Men such as Anicetus, Soter, Eleutherus, and Victor, who held this position responsible for “external affairs,” were transitional figures toward the monepiscopacy.[FN5]

The claim of Roman bishops to be successors of Peter ignores the well-established historical fact that there was no single monarchical bishop in Rome for well over 100 years after the death of Peter. The house churches in Rome were originally led by a plurality of presbyter/bishops. The papacy gradually evolved out of the need for a single person to act as a go-between for the churches of Rome and churches outside of the city. There was no consciousness that this individual was in succession from Peter. The lists that were later compiled, first by Hegesippus and then by Irenaeus, were based on later memories of those men who had been tasked with external affairs. Irenaeus read the monepiscopacy that existed in his day back into the earlier history of Rome where it did not exist.

Even later, when there were monarchical bishops in Rome attempting to establish the primacy of the church at Rome, the basis for such notions initially rested not on claims of succession from Peter, but on the claim that Rome had the relics of Peter and Paul. But even if this claim concerning the relics were true, why should that claim elevate the Church of Rome above any other churches? If any earthly city has a right to claims of primacy, it would be Jerusalem. While Rome claims the honor of being the city where Peter and Paul were martyred and buried, Jerusalem is the location of the Last Supper, the crucifixion of Christ, the resurrection of Christ, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, the first preaching of the Gospel by the Apostles, the first church council, and the home base of Peter, James, and John (the “pillars” of the church). Jerusalem was the center from which the Gospel of Christ spread (Acts 1:8).

The bishops of Rome are not the successors of Peter. Christ did not institute any such succession. Peter certainly did not do or say anything that would indicate any knowledge of such succession. The absence of a monarchical bishop in Rome for over 100 years after the death of Peter and its slow gradual development in the latter half of the second century indicates that the early house churches of Rome had no consciousness that such a succession ever existed or was ever intended. In short, the church existed and did quite well for over 100 years without the existence of the papacy or even a succession of monarchical Roman bishops.

4. Is the Church indefectible?

Not in the sense that Rome defines it. In claiming that the Church is indefectible, Rome is saying two things. First, she is saying that the Church will never perish. This is certainly true if we are speaking of the Church as the body of Christ. Protestants have never denied this. Even Bellarmine acknowledged this saying: “It must be observed that much time is wasted by our men, in proving that the Church cannot absolutely fail, for Calvin and the rest grant that.” (See William Cunningham, Historical Theology (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1960), 1:16–17.) But while it is true that the Church of Christ will exist on earth until the final day, it is not correct to claim indefectibility for any particular local church, such as the Church of Rome. The second thing that Rome is claiming is the basic immutability of the Church’s teaching. According to Rome her teaching has never and will never change. The only way to maintain this idea, however, is for Rome to appeal to a doctrine in which change can be redefined as “development.”

Scripture paints a different picture. As often and as far as the Old Testament incarnation of the Church fell, it never completely ceased to exist, and what happened then can happen now. Otherwise, Paul would have been wasting his breath saying that examples of Old Testament apostasy “took place as examples for us that we might not desire evil as they did” (1 Cor. 10:6). We are given specific warning about the possibility of particular churches apostatizing in the letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2–3. The Church of Rome herself is specifically warned of the possibility of being cut off by Paul in his epistle to the Romans (11:17–22). The gates of hell will never prevail against Christ’s Church. They might prevail against particular local churches, such as Rome.


At this point I need to make a few comments about some miscellaneous statements in Cross’s essay “Ecclesial Deism,” which seems foundational to all else he has written. Ecclesial Deism begins by recounting Cross’s encounter with Mormon missionaries soon after his graduation from a Reformed seminary. Cross explains how he would appeal to Scripture and then the Mormons would appeal to the Book of Mormon. He says he would respond by saying that the Book of Mormon is contrary to Scripture. I don’t know what type of apologetics Cross was taught in seminary, but he could have responded by pointing out that the Book of Mormon was written by a con man and has no connection with real history. The fact that Mormon professors have become more adept at wrapping their historical fabrications in pseudo-scholarly attire doesn’t mean it should be treated as if the claims were now more plausible. The emperor still has no clothes.

In Section I, Cross explains part of the difficulty he faced by recounting a comment made by Al Mohler in a debate with a Mormon:

Mohler claims that we have an “objective standard” by which to define what is and what is not Christianity. That objective standard is “traditional Christian orthodoxy.” But this subtly pushes back the question: What is the objective standard for what counts as “traditional Christian orthodoxy”?

In the earliest days of the Church, the objective standard was the apostolic doctrine. This doctrine would in the middle decades of the first century be written in the Gospels and epistles of the New Testament. A summary of this core doctrine was taught to all new Christian catechumens. An examination of the relevant texts indicates that this catechetical summary looked very much like the Apostles’ Creed into which it later developed.[FN6] Cross criticizes Mohler for accepting certain patristic doctrines while rejecting others:

But Baptists such as Mohler reject both the doctrine of apostolic succession and the episcopal form of Church polity which all those bishops believed and practiced.

Of course, the bishops who lived after the ideas of apostolic succession and the Episcopal form of Church polity evolved believed and practiced them. As Sullivan, a Roman Catholic historian (not philosopher), correctly observes: “They [Christian scholars] agree…that the historic episcopate was the result of a development in the post-New Testament period, from the local leadership of a college of presbyters, who were sometimes also called bishops (episkopoi), to the leadership of a single bishop.”[FN7] In his criticisms, Cross is constantly assuming the truth of simplistic revisionary versions of early church history promulgated by Roman Catholic apologists but not by trained historians. Serious historians (including Roman Catholic historians) acknowledge the messy facts of history regardless of whether they fit preconceived notions of what “must have been the case,” while the apologists rehash essentially mythic reconstructions of the past that have no basis in reality. The claims of Roman Catholic apologists regarding the history of the early church are unfortunately on par with the claims of Mormon apologists regarding the history of early America.

Cross continues his criticism of Mohler:

Baptists reject what all those bishops believed and taught as being essential to the Christian faith regarding baptismal regeneration: “one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.” Many of the canons of the Council of Nicea (AD 325) do not even make sense from a Baptist point of view. Mohler is critical of the Third Ecumenical Council of Ephesus (AD 431) in its declaration of Mary as the ‘Theotokos,’ claiming that doing so “brought ill effects upon the Catholic Church.” He accepts the Christology taught by the Fourth Ecumenical Council (Chalcedon, AD 451), but rejects the teaching of the Fifth Ecumenical Council (Constantinople, 553 AD) which affirmed the perpetual virginity of Mary, claiming that it “moved Roman Catholic theology and devotion increasingly away from the Holy Scriptures and toward human innovation.” And he rejects the Seventh Ecumenical Council (Nicea, AD 787) in its condemnation of iconoclasm.

While it is important for Protestants to explain why they accept certain councils and/or canons and not others, Cross conveniently ignores church history here. This question is not as cut and dried as he would have his readers believe. In the first place, let us look at which councils were ultimately accepted by which churches. The Church of the East accepted only the first two councils (Nicaea and Constantinople). The Oriental Orthodox Churches accepted the first three councils (Nicaea, Constantinople, and Ephesus). The Eastern Orthodox Churches accepted the first seven councils (Nicaea, Constantinople, Ephesus, Chalcedon, Constantinople II, Constantinople III, and Nicaea II). The Roman Catholic Church accepts twenty-one councils. Many of these councils were disputed for generations.[FN8] Regarding the canons, there are also disagreements. As an example, the Orthodox recognize seven canons from the Council of Constantinople, while Rome recognizes only four.

As far as the specific canons of these councils are concerned, Rome has been as selective in her observance and acceptance of them as others have. Numerous priests and bishops in the Church of Rome throughout history have not been deposed for crimes as they should have been according to the ninth canon of Nicaea.[FN9] The priests and bishops of Rome for centuries violated the spirit if not the letter of canons 15 and 16 of Nicaea. Canon 3 of the Council of Constantinople, which referred to Constantinople as the new Rome, occasioned many arguments. The Eastern Orthodox often accuse Rome of violating canon 7 of the Council of Ephesus by introducing the filioque into the creed. Canon 2 of the Council of Chalcedon invalidates the ordination of those who obtained their office by simony, which would render null and void the offices of numerous medieval Roman bishops, including Popes, who both bought and sold offices. Rodrigo Borgia, perhaps the most infamous and ungodly Bishop of Rome, flagrantly bought the Papacy to become Pope Alexander VI. If canon 2 of Chalcedon is granted, then his ordination was invalid. Many of the medieval bishops of Rome also violated Canon 3 of Chalcedon. Canon 28 of the Council of Chalcedon, with its granting of privileges to Constantinople that Rome believed belonged to her, was a source of contention. If one looks closely at the canons of the ecumenical councils, it is evident that Rome too has adopted the pick-and-choose approach that Cross criticizes.

We will examine below the problems associated with the way Rome defines ecumenical councils, but the point here is simply that Roman apologists would do well to stop talking about church history for a time and begin actually studying it because even as their own historians acknowledge, the presentations of history by the apologists are grossly oversimplified.[FN10]

Cross continues by observing what he believes to be an arbitrary way of dealing with the Church Fathers.

The problem with the pick-and-choose approach is that it is entirely ad hoc insofar as one picks and chooses from among Church Fathers and councils only those statements one agrees with, to be ‘authoritative.’

This statement would make some sense if weren’t for two facts:

1). The fact that Rome is also arbitrary in its acceptance of councils and church fathers. Elsewhere Cross criticized Mohler for having a “pick-and-choose approach to the tradition” that showed it was “not the fact that an Ecumenical Council declared something definitively that makes it ‘authoritative’.” Yet the fact that an Ecumenical Council declared something definitively doesn’t make it authoritative for Rome either. Rome rejects Canon 28 of Chalcedon, for example, so Rome too accepts only those conciliar statements with which it agrees.

2). The fact that no one, Rome included, can accept everything the Church Fathers say indiscriminately simply because the early Church Fathers do not always agree on everything. In this vein, it is interesting to note what the Roman Catholic biblical scholar Joseph Fitzmyer has written:

When one hears today the call for a return to a patristic interpretation of Scripture, there is often latent in it a recollection of Church documents that spoke at times of the “unanimous consent of the Fathers” as the guide for biblical interpretation. But just what this would entail is far from clear. For, as already mentioned, there were Church Fathers who did use a form of the historical-critical method, suited to their own day, and advocated a literal interpretation of Scripture, not the allegorical. But not all did so. Yet there was no uniform or monolithic patristic interpretation, either in the Greek Church of the East, Alexandrian or Antiochene, or in the Latin Church of the West. No one can ever tell us where such a “unanimous consent of the fathers” is to be found, and Pius XII finally thought it pertinent to call attention to the fact that there are but few texts whose sense has been defined by the authority of the Church, “nor are those more numerous about which the teaching of the Holy Fathers is unanimous.”[FN11]

To accuse someone of a “pick-and-choose” approach to the church fathers assumes the existence of the “unanimous consent of the Fathers.” In reality, however, such a creature, like the unicorn, exists only in the land of make-believe.

Cross defines “ecclesial deism” as follows:

Ecclesial deism is the notion that Christ founded His Church, but then withdrew, not protecting His Church’s Magisterium (i.e., the Apostles and/or their successors) from falling into heresy or apostasy. Ecclesial deism is not the belief that individual members of the Magisterium could fall into heresy or apostasy. It is the belief that the Magisterium of the Church could lose or corrupt some essential of the deposit of faith, or add something to the deposit of faith.

If this were true, we would be forced to define God’s relationship with Old Testament Israel as “ecclesial deism,” for God did not preserve Israel from apostasy. Was God’s relation to Israel “deistic”? We must also deal with the sad truth that one of the twelve Apostles of Christ apostatized. Was Christ’s relation to them “deistic”? If an apostle of Christ could apostatize, it is not inconceivable that one or more local churches could apostatize – especially when we consider the fact that Scripture repeatedly warns local churches of the danger of apostatizing.

Cross continues his criticism, saying:

Of course ecclesial deists typically do not describe their own position as a form of deism, nor do they see it as such. One very significant factor preventing ecclesial deists from seeing their own ecclesial deism as such is an implicit Gnosticism (antisacramentalism) regarding the nature of the Church.

Stating that Protestants have an implicitly Gnostic view of the church is not the same thing as demonstrating it. The irony here is that Cross is accusing Protestants of an implicit Gnosticism when Rome herself adopted one of the key tenets of early Gnosticism, namely the idea of secret oral traditions, not publicly revealed to all (See Irenaeus, Against Heresies).[FN12]

Cross adds:

Conceiving of the Church as in itself spiritual and invisible allows a person to believe that Christ has always faithfully preserved His [invisible] Church, even while allowing the leaders of the Catholic Church to fall into heresy, apostasy, or perversion of the Gospel.

This is not the problem Cross believes it to be. God preserved the Old
Testament church, even through periods of gross apostasy among the anointed leaders (as well as the people). And again Cross’s use of the word “invisible” is confused. It should be observed in this connection that the 7000 who did not bow the knee to Baal were visible (1 Kings 19:18).

Cross continues:

In the Old Testament the prophets looked forward to the Church age. From their writings we see that the Church enjoys an everlasting covenant that cannot be revoked, that the Church is everlasting and indestructible, and that David’s throne will exist for all time. For all these reasons, the Apostle Paul teaches that the Church is “the pillar and bulwark of the truth.”

None of these promises apply unconditionally to any single local church such as the Church in Rome. David’s throne does exist for all time now, and the one seated on it is Jesus Christ. His throne at the right hand of the Father (which happens to be invisible to us at the present time) is the fulfillment of the promise regarding David’s throne (Acts 2:29–32).

Cross adds:

Ecclesial deism tends to see the changes over the first fifteen hundred years of Church history as corruptions, not developments. That is why it seeks to jettison all these ‘accretions’ and return to the “purity of the Scriptures.” In combination with a sola scriptura approach, it is inclined to view anything in the Christian tradition that is not explicitly stated in Scripture or does not necessarily follow from it as a corruption or paganization of the Church. In that respect it is fundamentally pessimistic, skeptical of the possibility of a providentially-guided deepening of the Church’s understanding of the deposit of faith, until some later restoration is initiated.

Not at all, but it does require more than a mere assertion to demonstrate that something is a development rather than a mutation, especially when Rome teaches things today that are in direct contradiction with what she taught in previous centuries (e.g. the possibility of salvation for those not in communion with Rome). To call the worship of the golden calf a “development” of the Ten Commandments does not make it so.

Cross continues:

This division of the Church into an outward Church and an inward Church is an ecclesial Nestorianism which necessarily collapses into ecclesial Docetism…

So, ecclesial deism is ecclesial Nestorianism, which collapses into ecclesial Docetism. We might as well throw in ecclesial patripassionism, ecclesial apollinarianism, and ecclesial montanism, while we’re at it. Adding the modifier “ecclesial” to Docetism and Nestorianism and whatever other Christological heresy occurs to Cross is obviously a rhetorical ploy rather than a serious theological analysis. If the theological distinction between the visible and invisible church is ecclesial Nestorianism/Docetism, then Augustine was an ecclesial Nestorian/Docetic. Cross should understand that the doctrinal categories that apply to one doctrine (e.g. Christology) do not necessarily apply to another doctrine (e.g. Ecclesiology). Unlike
Christ, the Church is not one person with two natures, so Cross’s analogy does not clarify anything. It makes about as much sense as if I were to label his view ecclesial premillennialism.

Cross adds:

So in order to justify separating from the Catholic Church, Protestants must hold that the Catholic Church apostatized, either earlier in her history, or later.

Well, all available historical evidence indicates that the Roman Magisterium did apostatize. But the Roman Magisterium is not identical to the Church Catholic so the Church was not overcome when this occurred. The Catholic Church continued to exist even when the local Magisterium of Rome joined the gates of hell in an attempt to prevail against her. While the bishops of Rome and the Roman Magisterium were busy deserting the sheep entrusted to them and abandoning the doctrine of the Apostles with which the Church of Rome (and all of the other local churches) had been entrusted, the Catholic Church continued. Believing Christians in the Western Church were deserted by their shepherds, who were more interested in worldly gain than they were in spiritual things, [FN13] but the desertion of the sheep by their shepherds did not destroy the church. It survived the apostasy of these “priests” just as the Old Testament church survived the apostasy of her priests.

Cross explains what led him to reconsider his views:

Aquinas believed that divine providence guided the Church Fathers and the development of the Church. This professor pointed out that Aquinas was not a deist about the Church. That short answer provoked me to do a great deal of reflecting, because I realized then that I did not share Aquinas’s non-deistic way of conceiving of the development of the Church.

Apparently, Cross did not realize at the time that this was a completely false dilemma. Cross believes that the choice is between deism (God’s abandonment of the church) or divine guidance into infallibility. This ignores God’s dealings with Israel, which fits neither category. God providentially guided Israel. He was with her every step of the way, yet He did not gift her with infallibility. Therefore a third option exists.

Cross continues:

I had not apprehended the ecclesial organ Christ established through which the members of His Body are to trust Him. I came to see that faith in Christ is not something to be exercised invisibly, from my heart directly to Christ’s throne, as though Christ had not appointed an enduring line of shepherds. Inward faith was to be exercised outwardly, by trusting Christ through those shepherds Christ sent and established.

Again, Cross failed to think it through completely because we are to trust only those shepherds who are not wolves in sheep’s clothing. Old Testament Israel was called to trust and hear God’s prophets, but they were to test the prophets because there were false prophets roaming about (Jer. 5:31; Lam. 2:14; Ezek. 13:9). The same is true in the New Testament era. Even Apostles were to be tested according to Galatians 1:8. Paul here explicitly conditions his apostolic authority, and he calls on the Galatian believers to judge his teaching.

It is significant that according to Scripture there are “false apostles” (2 Cor. 11:13; Rev. 2:2), “false teachers” (2 Pet. 2:1), and even “false Christs” (Matt. 24:24). This supports fully our contention that while the Church as a whole cannot fall, parts of it can be led astray. Again, the problems dealt with in the Pauline epistles, General epistles, and the seven letters of Revelation 2–3 attest that this was happening already in the first century. Cross is betting eternity that the bishop of Rome could never be one of these false teachers when there is absolutely zero evidence that the leadership of the local church of Rome is uniquely protected and abundant biblical and historical evidence that it is not.

Cross continues:

The gift of indefectibility does not imply that the members of the Church, even members of the Magisterium, cannot sin or err. But it does entail that the Magisterium of the Church can never lose or corrupt any part of the revelation of Christ, which includes both matters theological and moral.

This is a fine theory, but it is invalidated by the fact that the Roman Magisterium has lost and corrupted and changed her theological and moral teachings over time. It takes the genius and ingenuity of a Cardinal Newman to blind one to this fact. The doctrine of papal infallibility itself is one of the most obvious examples of an invented doctrine that was never believed always, everywhere, and by all, but more on this below.

A quick note on something Irenaeus says that is cited by Cross.

…the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul…

Irenaeus is speaking of Rome, but his sources have led him astray. The various house churches of Rome were established and existed before either Peter or Paul ever set foot in that city. It is likely that Peter did eventually come and stay in Rome for a time, but it was years after the ascension. However Christianity reached Rome, it wasn’t through his missionary endeavors. Paul too addressed existing churches in Rome before he had ever been there (See his Epistle to the Romans).

Cross continues:

Because the life of Christ is indefectible, and because the life of the Church is the life of Christ, therefore the Church is indefectible.

There are at least two problems with this statement. First, it inappropriately equates Christ with the Church. Using this reasoning, because Christ is God, and because the Church is the body of Christ, therefore the Church is God.

Second, this is another of the innumerable comments made by Cross in this paper that equates the Church with Rome. The church is indefectible. Rome is not because Rome is (was) a church, not the church.

They imply that Christ’s Mystical Body can become corrupted such
that He may abandon His Body and take on a different body.

To be clear, Protestants don’t deny the church’s indefectibility. We do not claim that Christ can abandon His body. We claim exactly what Christ himself claimed, namely that local churches can have their lamp stands removed, and that apostles and prophets are to be tested. The problem is that Cross has taken a promise intended for the church as a whole and presumptuously localized it to Rome to the point that he is echoing ancient Israelites who believed God would never judge Jerusalem and the Temple regardless of what Israel did. Jeremiah warned against those who were saying “This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD” (Jer. 7:4). The underlying principle applies to those today who are acting presumptuously against God by saying, this is the Church of Peter, the Church of Peter, the Church of Peter. God withdrew His presence from the Temple when the people whored after false gods (Ezek. 10), and God can remove the lamp stand from any local church, including Rome, that does likewise (Rev. 2–3).

In his conclusion, Cross writes:

When I began to recognize my ecclesial deism for what it was, I found myself taking a much greater interest in the early Church Fathers. If they were not corrupting the faith, but being guided by the Holy Spirit to preserve and expound it, then I wanted both to know what they said and to understand Scripture through their eyes.

The interesting thing to this reader is that Cross makes no mention of the disagreements one finds in the Fathers. This is a common phenomenon in apologetic writings. Cross gives us the impression that the early church Fathers speak with one clear and consistent voice about everything. All one need do to discover the reality is to read them.[FN14]

Cross adds another interesting quote from Pope Pius XI:

Christ our Lord instituted His Church as a perfect society…

This statement is a textbook example of over-realized eschatology. Cross, following this bishop, assumes that the Church (the Roman Church) is already perfect. The goal of the Church is read back into her present state.

Christ our Light has come into the world to bring Light to the whole world, for He is not a God of confusion. For this purpose He established His universal Church on a man He named ‘Rock,’”

Interestingly, the early Fathers, those who Cross wants to follow, disagree among themselves about the interpretation of Matthew 16, with most saying the “rock” is either Christ or Peter’s confession and a few saying it is Peter Himself. So much for preserving the “unanimous” teaching of the Fathers.

5. Is the Pope infallible when he speaks ex cathedra?

No. The word “infallible” means “incapable of error.” Popes can and have erred. Therefore Popes are fallible.

However, whether Popes can and have erred in not precisely the question here. The question is whether the Pope is infallible when he speaks ex cathedra. As Ott explains, this requires that the Pope “speak as pastor and teacher of all the faithful with the full weight of his supreme apostolic authority; If he speaks as a private theologian or as the bishop of his Diocese, he is not infallible”[FN15] Ott here grants the point I made above, namely that Popes can err under certain circumstances (i.e. when not speaking ex cathedra). There is another condition as well. The Pope must:

“have the intention of deciding finally a teaching of Faith or Morals, so that it is to be held by all the faithful. Without this intention, which must be made clear in the formulation, or by the circumstances, a decision ex cathedra is not complete. Most of the doctrinal expressions made by the Popes in their Encyclicals are not decisions ex cathedra.”[FN16]

There are a number of problems here. In the first place, what is being claimed is a doctrine of limited or conditional infallibility. In other words, the Pope is infallible only under certain circumstances. The nature of these circumstances or conditions raise other problems. They are so unclear that no Roman Catholic can provide an inerrant list of these alleged infallible papal pronouncements. How does one determine whether the Pope’s intentions are made clear by the
circumstances (if they are not made clear in the formulation)? Even more importantly, who determines whether his intentions were made clear by the circumstances? Those who hear the pronouncement? A later Pope speaking ex cathedra about the earlier disputed pronouncement?

It almost seems as if the definition of an ex cathedra statement was made to be deliberately vague in order that Roman theologians could find ways to explain away past erroneous papal pronouncements. If Pope Honorius officially said something heretical and was condemned as a heretic, it must be that he was not speaking ex cathedra. If other Popes spoke in ways contrary to Scripture, they weren’t speaking ex cathedra. In other words, the Pope is infallible except when he isn’t.

The problem is that the entire doctrine of papal infallibility is predicated on the idea that “the unity and solidity of the Church is not possible without the right Faith,” and Peter is the “supreme teacher of the Faith.”[FN17] In other words, the Church allegedly needs a supreme teacher whom she can trust, whom she knows will not lead her astray. But how does the doctrine of papal infallibility protect this idea when it can allow for heretical Popes? If a Pope, the supposed “supreme teacher of the Faith,” can be a heretic, and if that possibility can be worked into a doctrine of papal infallibility, then I submit that such a doctrine of infallibility is completely useless as a guarantee of any kind of assurance that one’s Pope is leading the Church in the right path.

Thankfully, we are not forced into such mind-numbing conundrums because there is no evidence in Scripture for a doctrine of papal infallibility and plenty of evidence from history showing where and when the idea first arose. Peter, the alleged first Pope, wasn’t infallible. In his first act after being named the “Rock,” he had the audacity to rebuke Jesus (Matt. 16:22). Jesus’ judgment of this action is well known. He said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of men.” After Jesus’ arrest, Peter repeatedly denied the Lord Jesus, going so far as to curse and swear (Matt. 26:69–75). Years later, Peter continued to demonstrate his fallibility when he acted the hypocrite and was rebuked by Paul (Gal. 2:11–14). There is nothing indicating any kind of gift of infallibility in this. Now, unlike Judas, Peter repented of his sins and was forgiven, but the point is that he made errors in terms of both faith (denying Christ) and morals (playing the hypocrite). He was not infallible, and neither Paul nor anyone else was obliged to follow him in those sins. Like Paul, the church is called to resist and rebuke any leader (including Peter or those who claim to follow him) when they depart from Christ. If the Pope is Peter, Protestants are being forced into the role of a Paul and have been calling “Peter” to repent for centuries. Unlike Peter, however, those who claim to be his heirs proudly refuse.

The historical origins of the doctrine of papal infallibility can be traced to the Middle Ages. I have already summarized the historical evidence in The Shape of Sola Scriptura, so there is no point repeating it here.[FN18]

It is worth observing at this point a statement that Cross makes in his paper “The Tu Quoque.” Cross writes,

So if a particular bishop were to teach contrary to what the magisterium of the Church has infallibly defined, the Catholic faithful should in that case remain true to the magisterium, and not follow the heretical bishop. That is not making oneself a higher authority than the bishop; it is remaining faithful to the still more authoritative visible magisterium of the universal Church.

The interesting thing about this quote is that it not only seems to grant the possibility of heretical Roman bishops, but it also implies what I and other non-Roman Catholics argue, namely the conditionality of submission to all human authorities. The contention of the Reformers was precisely that they had to stop following the heretical bishop of Rome in order to remain true to the historic church because the two were not teaching the same thing.

6. Is the teaching Magisterium of the Roman Church infallible?

According to Rome, the Magisterium exercises infallibility when gathered in an ecumenical council or when they, although scattered, unanimously propose a teaching regarding faith or morals while in moral unity with the Pope. I will address the problems inherent in the Roman Catholic definition of an “ecumenical council” below. At this point, I will simply address the issue of infallibility. Ott provides a definition: “Infallibility is the impossibility of falling into error.”[FN19] There is a distinct connection in Roman Catholic theology between the idea of infallibility and the idea of indefectibility addressed above. The alleged promise of Roman indefectibility supposedly requires the reality of infallibility.

First, however, as we have already seen, indefectibility does not mean what Rome thinks it means. It refers to the church as a whole, not to any particular local church such as the Church of Rome. Furthermore, as we have seen, indefectibility is not synonymous with perfection. To stumble is not to fall, and to fall is not necessarily to fall beyond recovery.

The claim of infallibility, however, raises other problems. What we find in the history of redemption recorded in Scripture is that while the church never completely and finally fell, it has erred and apostatized repeatedly. The history of the church under the old covenant is an almost unbroken history of idolatry and apostasy, from the building of the golden calf (Exod. 32) to the idolatry that resulted in the fall of Israel to the Assyrians and the fall of Judah to the Babylonians. When the Messiah came, things continued along the same path. The old covenant church rejected him. Only a remnant believed. But what about the church under the new covenant? The New Testament affirms that it too can apostatize (Matt. 7:15; Acts 20:28–30; 1 Tim. 4:1). The Apostle Peter explicitly compares what will happen to the church under the new covenant to what happened to the church under the old covenant (2 Pet. 2:1–3).

Regarding particular church councils, there have been far more than the twenty-one accepted as ecumenical by Rome, so the ecumenicity (and thus the infallibility) of a council is not determined by the mere gathering of a council according to Rome. It is determined by something else, namely the papacy. The relationship between the authority of popes and councils, however, provides another example of the confusion caused by Rome’s claims. The ecumenical council of Constance, to which the modern papacy essentially owes its existence, subjected popes to councils. Later councils, however, such as the Council of Trent and the First Vatican Council, subjected councils to popes. Using Cardinal Newman’s doctrine, such a contradiction would be termed “doctrinal development.” In the end, the popes won the power struggle by cutting off the very branch on which they were sitting.

7. Are ecumenical councils defined in terms of the papacy?

Not if the first seven councils are to be considered ecumenical. Rome claims that an ecumenical council “is an assembly of bishops and other specified persons, convoked and presided over by the pope, for the purpose of formulating decisions concerning the Christian faith and discipline, which decisions require papal confirmation.”[FN20] The problem with this understanding is that it would mean the first seven ecumenical councils, which are regarded as ecumenical by Rome, cannot be regarded as ecumenical according to Rome’s own criteria. Why? Because the first seven ecumenical councils were all convoked by the emperor, not by the pope.

The Council of Nicaea (A.D. 325) was convoked by the emperor Constantine, not by Sylvester as later legend had it.[FN21] Sylvester did not even attend much less preside. Instead, Rome was represented by two papal legates, Vito and Vincent.[FN22] The Council of Constantinople (A.D. 381) was convoked by the emperor Theodosius, and the bishop of Rome was not even invited. The Council of Ephesus (A.D. 431) was convoked by the emperor Theodosius II to deal with Nestorianism. The emperor Marcian and the empress Pulcheria convoked the Council of Chalcedon (A.D. 451) against the wishes of Pope Leo who reluctantly concurred. The Second Council of Constantinople (A.D. 553) was convoked by the emperor Justinian, and the Third Council of Constantinople (A.D. 680) was convoked by the emperor Constantine IV. Finally, the Second Council of Nicaea (A.D. 787) was convoked by the empress Irene.

The point here is that not one of the first seven ecumenical councils accepted as such by Rome meets Rome’s standards for an ecumenical council. Not one of them was convoked or presided over by a pope. Furthermore, adherence to the decrees of these councils was signified by the vote of the attending papal legates, not by subsequent papal approval.

8. Is the “oneness” of the church to be defined in terms of faith and communion with Rome?

No. It is to be defined in terms of Christ. Individual believers are all members of the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:27), and that body is one (1 Cor. 12:12). This one body has one head, Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:22–23). It is important to remember that the Apostle’s words in Ephesians were spoken after the ascension, after Christ was no longer visibly present with the church militant. Even so, no mention is made of another head, whether a bishop of Rome or anyone else. Must the visible expression of the church’s oneness be perfect at the present time? Here, Rome’s definition of oneness is inconsistent with her definition of holiness and catholicity. Rome does not deny that sin can and does exist in a church that we confess to be “holy,” but she does deny that imperfections in oneness can exist in a church that we confess to be “one.” In connection with “catholicity,” Ott distinguishes between Virtual Catholicity “the intention to extend over the whole earth” and Actual Catholicity “the actual extension of the Church over the whole earth.”[FN23] Virtual catholicity was the only kind of catholicity that existed during the first centuries of the church’s existence. Actual catholicity took time to accomplish. Yet Rome will not allow a similar kind of progress toward oneness. There is no “virtual oneness” and “actual oneness.”

An additional note here must be added about Rome’s concept of oneness. As seen above, Roman Catholics at times speak of oneness in a way that if applied consistently would rule out the possibility of the Trinity and result in a Unitarian concept of God. According to Scripture, the Lord our God is one (Deut. 6:4). Yet our God, who is one being is also three persons. If “oneness” is ultimately defined in terms of God, then oneness cannot rule out plurality. A branch concept of the church, then, cannot be ruled out simply on the basis of an unwarranted and anti-trinitarian concept of oneness.


At this point it may be appropriate to add a few comments about some statements in Cross’s paper “Branches or Schisms.” In this paper, Cross refers back to his earlier article “Ecclesial Deism,” and referring to the concept of an invisible church writes:

This conception of the Church eliminates unity as one of the four essential marks of the Church specified in the Nicene Creed, either by treating unity as only a ‘contingent mark of the Church,’ or by treating unity as a ‘necessary but invisible mark of an invisible Church.’

This is untrue. The concept of an invisible church does not eliminate unity as a mark of the Church. It simply does not define it in Rome’s selfserving way. Nor does it define unity in Rome’s anti-trinitarian way. It allows the Word of God to inform our understanding of unity. It allows the biblical doctrine of the Trinity to inform our concept of oneness.

Cross includes a diagram he found that pictures the various Christian communions as branches on a tree. He then comments:

The person who made the diagram determined that there must be no ‘branch’ that is the continuation of the ‘trunk.’

No, it may simply be that the person who designed the diagram considered all of the branches to be continuations of the trunk, as is the case with many real trees. With many real trees (such as live oaks) the trunk doesn’t continue. It divides into branches, which themselves divide into more
branches.[FN24] Not all trees look like giant redwoods.

Cross continues:

The person who made Diagram 1 assumed that the Church’s visible unity is not essential to her being. No one would claim that the integrity of a living body is not essential to its being, as though a living body’s being disintegrated by a bomb, for example, does not detract from the existence of that body.

This is a bad analogy since the existence of branches does not detract from the existence of a tree. In a real tree, the plurality of branches does not preclude the existence of that single tree. Cross’s analogy is a stretch, even granting Rome’s understanding. Individual Roman Catholics are not visible appendages to the Pope’s body, so visible oneness can exist in more ways than the way the members of a living human body manifest their unity. Paul uses the concept of a body in 1 Cor. 12 metaphorically, not literally. Although Christians are members of the one body of Christ, the bodies of Christians are not physically united to each other in a way similar to Siamese twins. Visible unity does not require such an absurd extreme, but that is exactly what Cross is implying by his forced appeal to the wrong details of such analogies. Since Cross himself would not promote such absurdity, he should use more care in his selection and use of analogies.

Cross concludes his critique of the diagram:

Hence Diagram 1 carries with it the implicit assumption that the Body of Christ is invisible, not a visible hierarchically ordered Body.

This simply does not follow. I’ve seen, and Cross has surely seen, many trees with multiple branches, and if we’ve seen these trees, they are, by definition, visible. The existence of multiple branches in a tree (plurality) does not imply that a tree is not a single tree (unity). In fact, the only time one usually sees a tree with no branches is when one is looking at a dead tree trunk. Many branches does not imply more than one tree. Many branches in a tree also does not imply that a tree is invisible.

Cross does eventually get to the main point of this particular paper when he asks:

What is it that makes separations of the first millennium schisms and heresies, but makes separations of the second millennium mere branchings within the Church? Whose determination about whether something is a mere “branch of the Church” or a “schism from the Church” is authoritative?

At another place, he phrases the question this way:

He [the Protestant] will need to show the principled difference between a ‘branching within‘ and a ‘schism from,’ and the basis for determining, in any division, whether it is a ‘branching within‘ or a ‘schism from,’ and, if it is a ‘schism from,’ which of the separating groups is the continuation of the Church Christ founded, and why.

The difference, again, has to do with faithfulness to Christ and to the doctrine He taught the apostles – doctrine that was written down before the first century ended. Unfortunately, Rome does not answer the question in this way. Rome has decided to answer the question in a self-serving way. But if anything is clear, it is that the Roman Catholic answer to the question never so much as occurred to Jesus or the Apostles. They made statements such as “You will recognize them by their fruits” (Matt. 7:16), not, “You will recognize them by their submission to and communion with the Bishop of Rome.” In another place, the Apostle Paul explicitly warns the church in Corinth about divisions, but his answer is not that unity is found in communion with Rome (1 Cor. 1:10–17). In fact, the kind of thing Paul describes as divisive is what Roman Catholics now claim as the basis of unity, namely the declaration: “I follow Cephas” (v. 12). Rome is explicitly mentioned only once in the epistles outside of Romans itself, and that one comment is in a brief autobiographical statement (2 Tim. 1:17). If Rome were the criterion by which branches and schisms were to be identified, we might expect that the Apostles themselves would show at least some awareness of that fact. But they don’t, and when Rome says something the apostles never mention is of the utmost importance, Rome’s claim to the apostolic faith is revealed for what it is.

Part of the difficulty with this question is that many Roman Catholics and Protestants have a view of the early church that is grossly distorted. The idea exists in the minds of many that the first century or so was some kind of virtually perfect “golden age” for the church with no divisions, no differences, no disagreements, no disharmony. According to Rome, this “golden age” church still exists – in the Roman Catholic Church.

Both Scripture and history, however, point to a different reality. Already, in the first century church, there were numerous problems, and this is precisely what we would expect given that sin has not yet been completely eradicated. Many of the New Testament epistles were written specifically to address problems and divisions in the first century church. One cannot read the epistles to the Corinthians, Galatians, or the letters to the seven churches of Asia in Revelation 2–3 and conclude that this was a golden age with no problems, no divisions, no errors.

The fact is that there were both branches and schisms from the very beginning. It is not that there were only schisms until a particular year (e.g. 1054), and then after that point, there were only branches. No, the church was a tree with branches even during the time when the apostles were still preaching. Rome (or at least Cross) cannot see this because of the erroneous idea that unity precludes plurality. Interestingly, the Apostle Paul uses a tree branch metaphor in his letter to the church of Rome (11:11–24). Paul uses the metaphor of an olive tree to speak of the people of God. This “tree” existed prior to the first advent of Christ. Unbelieving Jewish branches were broken off and believing Gentile branches were grafted in (v. 17). The important points to note for our purpose are, first, that the Roman church is not identified as the tree. Second, the principle of unity was covenantal and pertained to belief. Third, the tree pre-existed Rome and the other Gentile branches, therefore Rome does not support the tree; the tree supports Rome (v. 18). Fourth, the church of Rome is among the many Gentile branches that were grafted into the pre-existing tree. It is one among many branches, including the church of Corinth, the church of Ephesus, the church of Philippi, and more. This is an implication of the fact that Paul is speaking of Gentiles generally in the history of redemption, not merely Roman Gentiles. Fifth, the Gentile branches, including the church of Rome, can be broken off, just as many Jewish branches were broken off for unbelief. The Roman branch is not given any special guarantees (vv. 21–22).

According to Paul’s use of the tree analogy, every local church (and the households that make up each church) that is connected to the root can be considered a branch in some sense. In other words, those local churches that are connected to Christ are branches. Those that deny Christ, like the unbelieving Jews of the first century, are schisms and are broken off by the

9. Is the “apostolicity” of the church to be defined in terms of origin, teaching, and succession in office?

As noted above, Roman Catholicism teaches that the Roman Catholic Church has its origin in the Apostles and has always adhered to the teaching of the Apostles. According to Rome, the Pope and the Bishops of the Roman Church have succeeded the Apostles in their office. Furthermore, as the Roman Catholic theologian Ludwig Ott explains, “The apostolicity of the succession guarantees the unfalsified transmission of doctrine and makes manifest the organic connection between the Church of the present day and the Church of the Apostles.”[FN25]

There are numerous problems with Rome’s claim. First, and most importantly, as we have already observed in several places, the Roman Catholic Church did not have its origin in the Apostles. That is a popular myth, but it has no correspondence with reality. New Christians, perhaps returning from the celebration of Pentecost in Jerusalem, established churches in Rome in the first century, churches which Paul and perhaps even Peter visited after they were founded, but these churches cannot be equated with “the Roman Catholic Church,” an entity that evolved much later from these early churches.

It is also false to claim that the Roman Catholic Church has always adhered to the teaching of the Apostles. As we have already seen, the Roman Catholic Church has created a whole host of doctrines concerning the church, the papacy, infallibility, and more that the evidence indicates never entered into the minds of the Apostles. These additions and alterations to apostolic teaching are usually (since the time of Newman at least) termed “developments.” The fact that Roman Catholicism teaches numerous doctrines never conceived of by the Apostles and some that were opposed by the Apostles dispels any notion that her purported succession guaranteed the unfalsified transmission of apostolic doctrine.

The church is “apostolic” in the sense that it is organically connected to the church Christ founded. It is built on an apostolic foundation (Eph. 2:20). It maintains the Apostolic doctrine that is now found in the books written by the Apostles.

10. Is Rome the church founded by Christ?

As I mentioned at the beginning of this section the claims of Rome are not insignificant. If these claims are true, it is the duty of every Christian to submit to the Roman Church. If these claims are false, it is the duty of every Christian to call the Church of Rome to repent. All of the relevant available evidence indicates that the claims of Rome are false. Because they are false, Rome’s most fundamental claim to be the church founded by Christ is also false.

Since the evidence gives us no reason to believe Rome’s claims, those claims should be rejected.

Sola vs. Solo: Is There a Difference?

As noted in the introductory paragraphs, the main purpose of the Called to Communion article is summed up by the authors in the following statement:

In this article we argue that there is no principled difference between sola scriptura and solo scriptura with respect to the holder of ultimate interpretive authority, and that a return to apostolic succession is the only way to avoid the untoward consequences to which both solo scriptura and sola scriptura lead.

Their article first criticizes my presentation of the sola scriptura view. It then presents the Roman Catholic version of apostolic succession as the only real alternative. Because presuppositions concerning the claims of Rome determine whether one can discern any differences between the solo and sola views, I have addressed those claims in the first major part of this paper. At this point, I will turn to the question of whether there is a principled difference between sola scriptura and solo scriptura with respect to the holder of ultimate interpretive authority and to the question of apostolic succession.

Section one of the paper by Cross and Judisch is introductory. Sections two and three of the paper are largely devoted to a summary of the case I made in my book for the distinction between sola scriptura and solo scriptura. The bulk of their argument against this distinction is found in section four. Section four, then, is where I will focus my attention.

In the last paragraph of section three, Cross and Judisch summarize their overview of my distinction between sola scriptura and solo scriptura by saying:

We can summarize Mathison’s explanation of the distinction between solo scriptura and sola scriptura as follows. Whereas solo scriptura rejects the interpretive authority of the Church and the derivative authority of the creeds, sola scriptura affirms the interpretive authority of the Church and the derivative authority of the creeds, except when they teach something contrary to one’s conscience, as informed by one’s own interpretation of Scripture.

The final phrase is based on a quote by the Reformed theologian Francis Turretin that I cited in my book. Turretin wrote:

Hence if they think they observe anything in them worthy of correction, they ought to undertake nothing rashly or disorderly and unseasonably, so as to violently rend the body of their mother (which schismatics do), but to refer the difficulties they feel to their church and either to prefer her public opinion to their own private judgment or to secede from her communion, if the conscience cannot acquiesce in her judgment. Thus they cannot bind in the inner court of conscience, except inasmuch as they are found to agree with the word of God (which alone has the power to bind the conscience).[FN26]

Cross and Judisch obviously disagree with Turretin’s point because of their view of the Church. However, the fact that an individual must determine whether or not to submit to an authority does not eliminate the real authority of the church or of the creeds. Paul calls on the Galatians to judge his preaching. This does not eliminate his apostolic authority. The underlying principle that Turretin wishes to bring out in this discussion is the qualitative difference between the Creator and the creature. The authority of God is absolute and unconditional. The authority of human creatures, including human creatures given ecclesiastical authority, is not. Paul had apostolic authority, but such authority did not give him carte blanche freedom to say anything he wanted. He did not have the authority to preach a different Gospel (Gal. 1:8). We will have occasion to discuss this issue further as we proceed because Cross and Judisch repeatedly refer back to this Turretin quote and to my use of it.

Is There a Principled Difference Between Sola Scriptura and Solo Scriptura?

Section four of the paper by Cross and Judisch is where we find the main critique of my argument. This section is titled “Why There Is No Principled Difference Between Sola Scriptura and Solo Scriptura.” The first subsection is titled: “Direct and Indirect Ultimate Interpretive Authority.”

Cross and Judisch first note what I believe to be the primary problem with the solo scriptura view:

What makes the solo scriptura position problematic, according to Mathison, is not its high view of Scripture, but its presumption that the individual has higher interpretive authority than does the Church. Solo scriptura treats the individual as having the ultimate or final interpretive authority regarding whatever matters he or she considers to be theologically essential or important. That is precisely why solo scriptura leads to the situations Mathison describes in his book.

They then argue that there are two ways to make oneself one’s own ultimate interpretive authority. Rather than attempt to summarize their main argument and risk misrepresentation, I prefer to quote it in their own words:

[T]here are two ways to make oneself one’s own ultimate interpretive and magisterial authority. One is a direct way and the other is an indirect way. The direct way is to subject all theological questions directly to the final verdict of one’s own interpretation of Scripture. That is the solo scriptura position. Because it is direct, the nature of the position is quite transparent; we can see clearly in such a case that the individual is acting as his own ultimate interpretive authority.

The indirect way of making oneself one’s own ultimate interpretive and magisterial authority is more complicated and subtle. In this case the individual, based upon his own interpretation of Scripture, either establishes or chooses an ecclesial community that conforms to his own interpretation in matters he considers to be essential or important. Then, he ’submits’ to this institution so long as it continues to speak and act in accordance with his own interpretation of Scripture. If it deviates from his own interpretation of Scripture in matters he deems important, he repeats the process of either establishing or choosing an institution or congregation that conforms to his own interpretation in matters he considers to be essential or important.

In both the direct and indirect ways, the individual is acting as his own ultimate interpretive and magisterial authority. But his doing so is more difficult to see in the indirect case because he appears to be submitting to the interpretive authority of a body of persons other than himself. Yet, because he has established or selected this body of persons on the basis of their conformity to his own interpretation of Scripture, and because he ‘submits’ to them only so long as they agree with his interpretation on matters he considers to be essential or important, therefore in actuality his ‘submission’ to this body is in fact ‘submission’ to himself. To submit to others only when one agrees with them, is to submit to oneself. But submission to oneself is an oxymoron, because it is indistinguishable from not submitting at all, from doing whatever one wants. Yet because this indirect way of being one’s own ultimate interpretive and magisterial authority maintains the appearance of being in submission to another body of persons, it allows those who practice it to believe falsely that they are genuinely submitting to another body of persons, and not acting as their own ultimate interpretive and magisterial authority. Accumulating for themselves this body of persons to whom they ’submit’ allows them to remain under a delusion that they are submitting to the Church.

According to Cross and Judisch, sola scriptura entails the indirect way of making oneself one’s own ultimate interpretive authority. They argue that sola scriptura does not truly allow for the interpretive authority of the church. They then proceed to explain why my method of determining where the church is results in a tautology.

But how does he determine what is the Church? Being Reformed, he defines ‘Church’ as wherever the gospel is found, because the early Protestants defined the marks of the Church as including “the gospel,” where the gospel was determined by their own private interpretation of Scripture. So he claims that is in the Church that the gospel is found, but he defines the Church in terms of the gospel. This is what we call a tautology. It is a form of circular reasoning that allow anyone to claim to be the Church and have the gospel. One can read the Bible and formulate one’s own understanding of the gospel, then make this “gospel” a necessary mark of the Church, and then say that it is in the Church that the gospel is found. Because one has defined the Church in terms of the gospel [as arrived at by one’s own interpretation of Scripture], telling us that the gospel is found “in the Church” tells us nothing other than “people who share my own interpretation of Scripture about what is the gospel are referred to by me as ‘the Church.’” This kind of circular reasoning allows falsehood to remain hidden.

It should be observed that this is not what I argued in my book. I defined the church in terms of the rule of faith, and I as an individual did not determine the content of the rule of faith.[FN27] Let me attempt to summarize again what happened in the first centuries and how it influences my argument about the rule of faith and the church.[FN28]

From the ascension of Christ until the writing of the earliest New Testament documents began in the middle of the first century, the apostles were orally preaching the content of the Gospel doctrine given to them by Christ. For ease and clarity of explanation, let us call the content of apostolic doctrine “X”.

During this same period of time, uninspired summaries of “X” were apparently being used in various churches for the catechetical instruction of new believers given prior to their baptism. The evidence for this is found in the records of the content of the early baptismal interrogations.

In the middle of the first century, the apostles, began putting “X” in writing in all of its fullness. These writings were inspired by the Holy Spirit. This process of inscripturating “X” was completed before the end of the first century.

By the time of Justin Martyr (ca. 100–165), if not earlier, the questions and answers used in the baptismal interrogations began to acquire a fixed form.

In the second and third centuries, semi-formal declaratory creeds began to develop out of the catechetical system. If we compare the questions and answers in the baptismal interrogations with the earliest semi-formal declaratory creeds, it appears that these creeds evolved out of these summaries of “X” that were used for the training of catechumens. Irenaeus, for example, speaks of the “rule of faith” he received at baptism (Adv. haer. 1,9,4).

Both Irenaeus and Tertullian, in the second century, use the phrase “rule of faith” to speak of “X” – the body of apostolic doctrine, the content of which by the time they wrote was found in Scripture, but which they also summarize in language very similar in form to the material found in the baptismal interrogations.

The earliest instances of formal official creeds occur around the end of the second and beginning of the third century with creeds such as the old Roman creed. These early creedal formulations appear to be different ways of stating the same language that had long been used in the baptismal interrogations, which themselves had always been uninspired summaries of “X.”

Over time, the language of these earliest declaratory creeds was supplemented with more material drawn from in-depth study of the inspired Scriptures in order to combat various heresies, with the most important result being the Niceno-Constantinopolitan creed.

Now I argued in my book that the church is defined in terms of “X” – the apostolic doctrine – found in its fullness in the inspired Scriptures, and in an uninspired “summary” form in the Nicene Creed. I did not define it in the way that Cross and Judisch have described.

Cross and Judisch continue by arguing that the Catholic Church does not have the problems I have in terms of defining the church.

The Catholic position does not suffer from this circularity, because ‘Church’ is not defined in terms of “gospel,” but in terms of apostolic succession, involving an unbroken line of authorizations extending down from the Apostles. Just as Christ authorized and sent the Apostles to preach and teach in His Name, and govern His Church, so the Apostles, by the laying on of their hands, appointed bishops as their successors, and by this mystery handed on to them the divine authority to preach and teach and govern the Church.

As we have already seen, the historical evidence does not support the assertion that the Apostles did any such thing. They certainly didn’t appoint any bishops in Rome. As far as circularity is concerned, the Roman Catholic view does suffer from it. If apostolic succession were the criterion, one would still be forced to ask, “which apostolic succession,” since there are multiple claims to apostolic succession. One cannot resolve the problem of multiple competing claims to apostolic succession by picking one of the claimants (Rome) and asking it which one is correct. Cross and Judisch, however, gloss over this problem.

For that reason, the Church is defined not by the gospel (as determined by one’s own interpretation of Scripture). Rather, the content of the gospel is specified by the Church, and the Church is located by the succession from the Apostles.

Cross and Judisch completely ignore the fact here that there are multiple competing claims of apostolic succession. Because they ignore it, they do not realize that they are engaged in their own kind of circularity.

One side note here. Contrary to what Cross and Judisch claim in the quote above, the content of the gospel is not specified by the church. The content of the Gospel was specified by Jesus Christ and His apostles.

Cross and Judisch continue their critique:

But given Mathison’s account, what counts as ‘church’ is always and ultimately up to each individual to decide on the basis of his or her own determination of the gospel, on the basis of his or her own interpretation of Scripture.

This is untrue because no individual today came up with the rule of faith, the apostolic doctrine found in Scripture and summarized in the Nicene Creed – an historically objective and verifiable set of propositions by which churches that are true branches can be identified.

So on Mathison’s account, no one has any more authority than anyone else to say definitively what is the Church and where is the Church, and what is her doctrine and what is not her doctrine.

Again, this is an inaccurate description of what I argued in my book. It is a straw man. My argument is that the branches which have a plausible claim to be part of the church are those who adhere to the rule of faith, to the doctrine of the apostles. The rule of faith can be historically verified, and it is not something that I or any other Protestant created.

Cross and Judisch continue:

That can be seen in the very events of the Protestant Reformation. The first Protestants did not submit their interpretations of Scripture to the judgment of the Catholic Church in which they had each been baptized and raised. Rather, the first Protestants appealed to their own interpretation of Scripture to judge the Church to be apostate, and thus justify separating from her.

To put it mildly, the events leading up to and surrounding the Reformation, and the motives and processes by which the various reformers came to the conclusions they did, were far more complex and involved than Cross and Judisch’s oversimplified statement would lead readers to believe. If Protestant sources are deemed untrustworthy, perhaps Cross and Judisch could take the time to read a Roman Catholic historian such as Alexandre Ganoczy, whose biography of the young Calvin presents a much more nuanced and historically informed evaluation of the times.

Cross and Judisch continue:

They did this by redefining the marks of the Church. The first generation of Protestants, without any authorization from their bishops, appealed to their own interpretation of Scripture to determine three (or two) new “marks of the Church,” beyond the four marks given twelve hundred years earlier in the Nicene Creed.

It is ironic that Cross and Judisch should say that the Reformers did these things “without any authorization from their bishops.” It is ironic given the fact that much of the flock in Western Europe at this time had been effectively abandoned by their bishops, men who were far more interested in wealth and worldly power than in spiritual duties.

Cross and Judisch continue:

These new marks consisted of: (1) the preaching of the gospel (or ’sound doctrine’), where what counts as ‘gospel’ and ’sound doctrine’ was determined according to their own interpretation of Scripture, (2) the proper administration of the sacraments, where what counts as a sacrament and what is its proper administration were determined again by their own interpretation of Scripture, and (3) the right exercise of church discipline, again, as determined by their own interpretation of Scripture. By these new marks derived from their own interpretation of Scripture, they determined that the Catholic Church governed by the successor of the Apostle Peter had become apostate, and thus that the Catholic bishops under whose authority they lived, had no ecclesial authority, and that they themselves [i.e. these first Protestants] were the continuation of the Church.

A few points are in order. First, these marks are not really “new” or in addition to the four found in the Nicene Creed. The first two are simply an elaboration of the mark of “apostolicity,” and the third is an aspect of the mark of “holiness.” Second, the leadership of the Roman Church had apostatized whether one measures apostasy by the four Nicene marks or the three “new” marks mentioned above. By the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the Renaissance Popes had become little more than pagan Italian princes competing with other princes for land, power, and wealth. They bought and sold ecclesiastical offices without shame, and when they obtained an office, they used it for personal gain. The fact that Cross and Judisch ignore the real history of the Renaissance Popes and Bishops is seen again and again. They say, for example:

By that very fact (i.e. change of this sort) they no longer satisfy his criteria for what is essential to the Church, just as the Catholic bishops were simply defined out of authority by the first Protestants.

First the criteria for what is a church does not depend on my judgment. The rule of faith was not created by me. Second, the Catholic Bishops were not defined out of authority. They abdicated their authority when they ceased to follow Christ. Apostolic succession means nothing when the office of bishop was being bought and sold by men with no concern for Jesus Christ.

Cross and Judisch sum up the problem in their view when they write:

‘Submitting’ only to those with whom I agree, is merely a species of “submitting only when I agree,” which is itself an indirect form of “submitting only to me,” which is submitting only in semblance.

Cross and Judisch deny it, but this is exactly what they did when they chose Rome over the Eastern Orthodox Church or some other communion. They submitted to the communion that agreed with their individual interpretation of Scripture, history, and tradition. The only difference is that the communion that agreed with their interpretation also claims to have the infallible authority of God, so part of submitting to it entails defying the injunctions of Christ and the Apostles to all believers to test those who teach against a known public standard. Were the Roman Catholic position as explained by Cross and Judisch true, the injunctions of Christ and His apostles on this subject would not have been necessary.

More confusion in the Roman Catholic position can be seen in this statement by Cross and Judisch:

Since apart from apostolic succession the determination of ‘the gospel’ and ‘sound doctrine’ rests ultimately and irrevocably on the individual’s own interpretation of Scripture in order to identify the Church, it follows that any particular line of any creed or Church decree becomes ‘authoritative’ only if the individual approves it as being sufficiently in agreement with
his own interpretation of Scripture.

It never occurs to Cross and Judisch to ask: Upon what does the determination of the true apostolic succession rest? Remember there are multiple claimants to apostolic succession. So upon what does the choice of the right one rest? It rests either on the individual’s own interpretation of Scripture and church history or it rests on a blind leap of faith. The determination of the true apostolic succession cannot rest upon the true apostolic succession since that would require knowing which one is true before you know which one is true.

If, however, apostolic succession is true, and the Church has final interpretive and teaching authority in determining what counts as the ‘gospel’ and ’sound doctrine,’ then the first Protestants were not justified in separating from the Catholic Church.

The Protestants did not separate from the Catholic Church. True believers in the Western Church were part of (not the whole of) the Catholic Church. Their leaders, the Pope and the bishops, deserted them. Furthermore, their actions were justified when this particular claimant to apostolic succession proved its true nature by abandoning what apostolic succession was supposedly intended to protect, namely the apostolic faith and life.

The Alleged Contradiction Internal to the Sola Scriptura Position

The second subsection of section four is titled “The Contradiction Internal to the Sola Scriptura Position.”

In this subsection Cross and Judisch note first that I say all appeals to Scripture are appeals to interpretations of Scripture. They then note that I say Scripture is the final authority. They then explain how these two ideas are supposedly contradictory:

But, if all appeals to Scripture are appeals to interpretations of Scripture, then it follows necessarily that either someone’s interpretation of Scripture is the final and authoritative norm of doctrine and practice, or Scripture itself cannot be the final and authoritative norm of doctrine and practice.

The conclusion does not follow. Interpretation is inherent in all communication and occurs whether we are consciously aware of it or not. Yet interpretation does not eliminate authority. If Jesus is standing before you and tells you something, the fact that you must interpret what He says in order to understand it does not mean that you have more authority than Jesus. But here is where the church comes into play and where one difference between sola scriptura and solo scriptura can be seen. Imagine Jesus is standing before you and thousands of other believers, and imagine that he commands all of you to turn a certain direction and march to a certain city. Now imagine you turn right and start walking only to notice that everybody else turned left and started walking. If you are an adherent of solo scriptura, you aren’t going to pay any attention to what anybody else did. You heard what Jesus said. There’s no interpretation involved. If you are an adherent of sola scriptura, you are going to notice that everybody else started marching in a different direction and you are going to stop and ask whether you misinterpreted what Jesus said because you realize that interpretation is involved in all communication and that as a sinner, you might have misinterpreted what He said. In any case, the fact that interpretation of Jesus’ words is necessary does not mean that those hearing and interpreting His words have more authority than Him.

According to Cross and Judisch: “Mathison’s position thus creates a dilemma for himself that cannot be resolved without ceasing to be Protestant.” As explained above, the dilemma they create is a false dilemma. Cross and Judisch continue:

There is no middle position between the Church having final interpretive authority and the individual having final interpretive authority. Mathison recognizes that all appeals to Scripture are appeals to interpretations of Scripture, and denies that the individual has final interpretive authority. But at the same time, as a Protestant, Mathison maintains that the individual can appeal to his or her own interpretation of Scripture to hold the Church accountable to Scripture, even to walk away from the Church (and thus treat himself as the continuation of the Church), otherwise Mathison would undermine the very basis for Protestants separating from the Catholic Church in the sixteenth century.

These sentences are based on Cross and Judisch’s already mentioned false assumption that the interpretation of an authoritative speaker somehow transfers that speaker’s authority to the hearer. One also sees in these sentences the assumption of Rome’s claim to be equivalent to the Catholic Church, when in fact, the church of Rome was one local church among many. Finally, Protestants did not separate from the Catholic Church. The papacy did that. The bishops deserted the flock. If the action of the Protestants is separation, it is separation from the local church of Rome, a branch that had become diseased to the point of death.

Is the Idea of Derivative Authority a Delusion?

Cross and Judisch state their objective for the next section of their paper in the following words:

We showed above how Mathison argued that the proponents of solo scriptura do not recognize the secondary (or derived) authority of the Church and of the creeds. But here we want to show that Mathison’s own position is essentially equivalent to the denial of secondary authority.

They explain:

Mathison claims here that the authority of the creeds and other judgments of the Church “derives from and depends upon their conformity with the inherently authoritative Word of God.” But recall that according to Mathison, all appeals to Scripture are appeals to interpretations of Scripture. Therefore, the notion that the authority of the creeds and other judgments of the Church “derives from and depends upon their conformity with the inherently authoritative Word of God” entails that the authority of creeds and other judgments of the Church depends upon their sufficient conformity to the individual’s interpretation of Scripture. In other words, Mathison’s position entails that the creeds and other judgments of the Church are ‘authoritative’ only insofar as they agree with the individual’s interpretation of Scripture.

No, as we observed above, the fact that all communication involves interpretation does not automatically change the locus of authority. To repeat, if Jesus is speaking to you, the fact that you have to interpret his words, does not mean that you are a higher authority than Jesus. If you are a soldier in the army listening to orders from your commanding officer, the fact that you have to interpret his words does not mean you are a higher authority than your commander. Furthermore, if you reject your commanding officer’s words, that does not mean that his authority is not real.

Cross and Judisch continue:

Here Mathison is arguing that solo scriptura undermines legitimate ecclesial authority established by Christ. It does so by denying the “authoritative teaching office” in the Church, and the “hermeneutical authority” of those holding that office. How does it do that? Mathison is explicit: “the individual measures his teacher’s interpretation of Scripture against his own interpretation of Scripture.” For Mathison, God did not establish the Church as a democracy; rather, He gave specific gifts to men to teach and govern His Church.

The problem, however, is that the very basis for the existence of Protestantism as such, the very basis for the separating of Protestants from the Catholic Church, is this very act. The individual measured his teacher’s interpretation of Scripture against his own interpretation of Scripture, and in doing so performatively denied the authority of the teaching office of the Catholic Church.

No, the basis for Protestantism, the reason the Reformers were forced to separate from the local church of Rome was due to Rome’s rejection of Jesus Christ and the Apostolic faith and life. The Magisterium of Rome, not the Protestants, rejected the true Catholic Church.

Cross and Judisch continue:

Mathison wants to affirm genuine ecclesial authority as a secondary authority to which individuals should submit, but his position is contravened in two ways. First, the existence of Protestantism as such is based on the legitimacy of the individual rejecting the established ecclesial authority on the basis of his own interpretation. So Mathison is trying to propose a system incompatible with Protestantism’s historic foundation, and thus intrinsically incompatible with Protestantism as such.

The fact that an ecclesiastical authority is established, does not mean that it should be followed unconditionally. If that authority departs from God, it is no longer an ecclesiastical authority. The priests of Israel were an established ecclesiastical authority, but when they began following other gods, they lost their rightful authority. Those Israelites who refused to follow them and bow the knee to Baal should not be considered schismatics. The Protestants were in the same situation as the Israelites under the idolatrous priesthood. In both situations, the ecclesiastical authorities had abandoned the ancient faith.

Cross and Judisch continue:

Second, given Mathison’s denial of apostolic succession, he cannot make a principled appeal to any ecclesial authority as that to which every individual ought to submit. Nothing can give what it does not have. But Mathison’s foundational starting point does not include apostolic succession, and hence de facto it begins with each individual as his own highest interpretive and teaching authority. Therefore no qualitatively greater ecclesial authority than the teaching and interpretive authority derived from the “permission of those who sufficiently agree with me” is available to Mathison.

The idolatrous priests of Israel could have criticized those who refused to follow them in the same way. Should the faithful of Israel have followed those with legitimate claims to (priestly) succession into idolatry? No.

Because of the very real possibility of false prophets, false apostles, false teachers, etc., human authorities do not have absolute authority. Their authority is derivative and dependent. When Paul (an Apostle) told the Galatians that even he himself should be rejected by them if he were to preach another gospel, he is appealing, as it were, to an objectively known, public rule of faith, which is itself an ecclesial authority. The criterion is conformity to this publicly verifiable rule of faith. Paul does not appeal to hierarchical succession.

Cross and Judisch add:

He [Mathison] is correct that solo scriptura undermines the possibility of authoritatively defining the propositional doctrinal content of Scripture. He is correct that undermining the authority of the creeds practically entails that “there are no essential or necessary doctrines of the Christian faith.” But Mathison’s position does exactly the same thing, because by denying apostolic succession, he undermines the possibility of a creed having any more authority than anyone’s subjective opinion. Apart from apostolic succession, the only ultimate basis for a creed’s ‘authority’ is (1) it agrees with one’s own interpretation of Scripture and/or (2) it was formulated by persons who sufficiently shared one’s own interpretation of Scripture. But both of those reasons reduce to “when I submit (so long as I agree), the one to whom I submit is me,” the very essence of the solo scriptura position Mathison rightly rejects.

A creed’s authority does not depend on anyone’s agreement with it. A creed’s authority depends on whether it is true to the doctrine of Christ and the Apostles. Creeds are a written form of the confession of faith of the universal church. The early creeds evolved out of the context of the early church’s catechetical practices and were eventually put in written form.[FN29] The Nicene Creed is the culmination of this process.

Cross and Judisch note my claim that the authority of creeds follows from the fact that Scripture is clear on essential matters. The creeds are a confession of what the whole of the Church has read in Scripture. They argue that this raises problems:

This only compounds the problems with Mathison’s position. If the authority of the ecumenical creeds only followed from the perspicuity of Scripture, there would be no need for the creeds in the first place, since the creeds would have restated only what was already plainly explicit in Scripture.

This is false. The perspicuity of Scripture does not preclude the need for creeds. This need exists because some do not accept what Scripture clearly teaches. Cross and Judisch say that such a view leads to an absurd conclusion:

This would entail that all those who opposed the creeds were blind, deaf, and stupid.

Actually, all that it entails is that some missed the plain teaching of Scripture. It does not say anything about why they may have missed it.

But history does not support that notion. The Arians, for example, were not unintelligent. They argued from the Scriptures that Christ was the first of God’s creation, a lesser deity, and the highest of all created things. The Macedonians and Nestorians and Sabellians, etc. all argued from Scripture for their respective heresies. Resolving these disputes was precisely the primary purpose of the ecumenical councils. So the purpose of the ecumenical councils shows that Scripture alone was not sufficient to resolve the theological disputes.

And yet, Scripture was the standard to which the orthodox fathers appealed in their writings and in their arguments against heretics. They were opposing a false interpretation of Scripture with the true interpretation. The results of their deep study of Scripture is found in the conciliar documents of Nicea and Chalcedon. The fathers, whom Cross and Judisch, claim to follow, understood that God is a higher authority than any man and that, therefore, God’s word is a higher authority than any man’s word.

Cross and Judisch conclude this section by summarizing the problem they find with sola scriptura:

His [Mathison’s] position also faces similar problem consisting of the following dilemma. He claims that it is “to the Church that we must turn for the true interpretation of the Scripture, for it is in the Church that the gospel is found.” But at the same time he claims that “Because of the Church’s propensity to wander from the true path, she needs a standard of truth that remains constant and sure, and that standard cannot be herself. It can only be the inspired and infallible Scripture.” So, since for Mathison all appeals to Scripture are appeals to interpretations of Scripture, then when, as Mathison claims, the Church wanders from the true path, whose interpretation of Scripture will correct her? If it is the individual’s, then it is false that we must turn to the Church for the true interpretation of Scripture. The individual has no more reason to believe a priori that the Church’s present interpretation of Scripture is correct than he has to believe that the Church now stands in dire need of correction from his own lips on the basis of his own personal interpretation of Scripture. On the other hand, if it does not belong to the individual to correct the Church when she “wanders from the true path,” then it can belong to none other than the Church to correct herself when she wanders from the true path.” So the errant Church is then supposed to be corrected by her own erronious interpretation of Scripture. Not only does that seem implausible, if Protestants truly believed that to be the case, they would simply have remained in the Catholic Church, waiting for the ‘erring’ Church to be corrected back to the truth on the basis of her own erroneous interpretation of Scripture. But Protestants did not remain in the Catholic Church; and this indicates that Protestants did not and do not in fact believe that Scripture corrects the Church when she “wanders from the true path.” The problematic assumption in Mathison’s position entailing this dilemma is his notion that the Church “wanders from the true path,” something he has to hold in order to justify being a Protestant.

The problematic assumption in Cross and Judisch’s entire critique here is that “the Church” is equivalent to “the Roman Catholic Magisterium” and that this Roman Magisterium/Church cannot wander from the truth. I have already addressed this presumptuous claim in the section above on the claims of Rome. It is an unwarranted and un-Christian claim. The church can and has wandered from the truth from the time of the patriarchs until today. Attempts to call the people of the church back to the true path has taken a variety of forms throughout history.

Section five of the paper by Cross and Judisch is devoted to answering potential objections to their argument. The first subsection is devoted to the Tu Quoque argument.

Tu Quoque: The Catholic Position Does Not Avoid Solo Scriptura

The Tu Quoque objection is rather important to this discussion. Cross and Judisch address it at length in this paper, and Cross addresses it elsewhere in a paper solely devoted to the subject. Rather than risk misrepresenting the point Cross and Judisch want to make, I prefer to quote them at length in their own words:

One objection to our argument that there is no principled difference between sola scriptura and solo scriptura is that the Catholic position likewise ultimately reduces to solo scriptura. This is so, according to the objection, because the individual who becomes Catholic must start in the same epistemic position as the person who becomes Protestant. In choosing to become Catholic, he has simply chosen the denomination that best conforms to his own interpretation of Scripture. He places himself under the authority of the Catholic bishops in the same way that a Lutheran places himself under the authority of a Lutheran pastor, that a Baptist places himself under the authority of a Baptist pastor, or that a Presbyterian places himself under a Presbyterian pastor. Hence if the person who becomes Protestant retains final interpretive authority, then so does the person who becomes Catholic.

The objection is understandable, but it can be made only by those who do not see the principled difference between the discovery of the Catholic Church, and joining a Protestant denomination or congregation. Of course a person during the process of becoming Catholic is not under the authority of the Church. At that stage, he or she is like the Protestant in that respect. But the Catholic finds something principally different, and properly finds it by way of qualitatively different criteria. The Protestant is seeking a group of persons who believe, teach and practice what his interpretation of Scripture indicates was the belief, teaching and practice of the Apostles. He retains his final interpretive authority so long as he remains Protestant. No Protestant denomination has the authority to bind his conscience, because [in his mind] the Church must always remains subject to Scripture, which really means that the Church must always remains subject to [his interpretation of] Scripture, or at least that he is not ultimately subject to anyone’s interpretation but his own.

The person becoming Catholic, by contrast, is seeking out the Church that Christ founded. He does this not by finding that group of persons who share his interpretation of Scripture. Rather, he locates in history those whom the Apostles appointed and authorized, observes what they say and do viz-a-viz the transmission of teaching and interpretive authority, traces that line of successive authorizations down through history to the present day to a living Magisterium, and then submits to what this present-day Magisterium is teaching. By finding the Magisterium, he finds something that has the divine authority to bind the conscience.

The last paragraph is important because here is where Cross and Judisch see the difference between their view and that of Protestants. Cross and Judisch argue that the nature of that which they are seeking is fundamentally different. Because they are seeking the Church Christ founded (as if Protestants aren’t), they are not submitting to something that conforms to their own interpretation of Scripture.

While I was writing this section of my response, Cross posted another article on the Called to Communion website, entitled “Sola Scriptura: A Dialogue Between Michael Horton and Bryan Cross.” In the article, Cross makes a point in response to Horton’s use of the Tu quoque argument that in my opinion strips away a lot of the unnecessary verbiage and gets to the key issue underlying this entire debate. Cross writes:

Of course the inquirer has to determine whether there is a succession of authority from the Apostles to the bishops of the present day, and whether Christ gave to St. Peter and his successors the primacy. But just as our discovery of Christ does not entail that the basis or ground of His authority is our judgment that He is the Son of God, and just as a first century Roman citizen’s discovery of the Apostles would not entail that the basis or ground of their authority is his judgment that they were sent by Christ, so the contemporary inquirer’s discovery of the Catholic Magisterium extending down through the centuries by an unbroken succession from the Apostles to the present day does not entail that the basis or ground of this Magisterium’s authority is the inquirer’s judgment that it is the divinely authorized teaching authority of the Church Christ founded. The reasons by which he grasps its authority are not the ground of its authority, whereas without apostolic succession the only ground for the authority of any confession or pastor is its or his general agreement with one’s own interpretation of Scripture.

This paragraph is key for two reasons. First, as Cross indicates, the inquirer is the one making the determination. In other words, even if Scripture were to play no part in the search, the element of subjectivity remains, and it is more significant than Cross and Judisch are willing to concede. If one takes a look at converts to Roman Catholicism as opposed to converts to Orthodoxy, it becomes clear that Cross and Judisch have submitted to an institution which they have determined is the Church Christ founded according to their interpretation of church history and apostolic succession – just as the convert to Orthodoxy has submitted to the institution he has determined is the Church Christ founded according to his interpretation of history and apostolic succession. Just as all appeals to Scripture are appeals to interpretations, so too, all appeals to apostolic succession are appeals to interpretations.

The second reason this paragraph is important is because it shows rather clearly that all of these debates really boil down to one issue. As Cross says, “the inquirer has to determine whether there is a succession of authority from the Apostles to the bishops of the present day, and whether Christ gave to St. Peter and his successors the primacy.” In other words, all of these debates boil down to the veracity of Rome’s claims for apostolic succession from the Apostles. It boils down to the historical evidence. If the evidence for Rome’s claims were solid, much of the rest of this discussion would be beside the point. If the evidence is not solid, then one is forced to look elsewhere. If the evidence for Rome’s claims is weak or non-existent, we have no choice but to look elsewhere for an explanation, which is essentially what I attempt in my book. The point is that the question of Rome’s claims to apostolic succession is key, and I will conclude my response by tying up a few loose threads related to that doctrine.

Apostolic Succession, specifically the Roman Catholic doctrine, is Cross and Judisch’s solution to the problem of identifying the church. Let us look again at what Cross writes:

Only those having the succession from the Apostles are divinely authorized to preach and teach and govern Christ’s Church. For that reason, the Church is defined not by the gospel (as determined by one’s own interpretation of Scripture). Rather, the content of the gospel is specified by the Church, and the Church is located by the succession from the Apostles.

In other words, as Cross states in the main thesis statement of the paper: “apostolic succession is the only way to avoid the untoward consequences to which both solo scriptura and sola scriptura lead.”

Problems with Apostolic Succession

Does the Roman Catholic doctrine of apostolic succession solve all of the problems? Actually, it does not. There are, in fact, a number of problems with the doctrine. Some of these have already been addressed in the section above examining the claims of Rome.

The first problem is historical. We have already discussed this problem at some length in our discussion of the claims of Rome, and I refer the reader to that section for more detail. In short, the historical evidence does not support the claims of Rome for apostolic succession.

The second problem involves the impossibility of the concept of succession having any coherent epistemological value after the East/West schism. Cross and Judisch claim that the only solution to multiple competing interpretations of Scripture and dogma is apostolic succession. What then is the solution to multiple competing claims to apostolic succession? If I ask the bishops in the east, who claim to be successors of the Apostles, they tell me the bishops of Rome are in schism from the church. If I ask the bishops of Rome who claim to be successors of the Apostles, they tell me the bishops of the East are in schism. If I ask the Oriental Orthodox, Assyrian Church of the East, Old Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, or Anglican bishops (all of whom would claim to be successors of the Apostles), they would all tell me conflicting things. How can apostolic succession possibly be the solution to multiple conflicting claims of apostolic succession? It cannot.

The third problem is that even if we were to grant, for the sake of argument, the plausibility of the Roman Catholic version of succession, this plausibility vanishes when we realize that it failed to accomplish what Roman Catholics say it accomplishes. The presumption of apostolic succession did not prevent Rome from separating from the Eastern Church – leaving two communions claiming succession and contradicting each other on significant points of doctrine and practice (e.g. papal supremacy, the filioque, etc.). Nor did it prevent Rome from rejecting apostolic doctrine and worship. It did not prevent Rome from adopting non-apostolic doctrines and practices found nowhere in the history of the church (e.g. papal infallibility). Instead, Rome’s version of apostolic succession ultimately led her to replace the Vincentian canon with the “magisterium of the moment.” Instead of that which has been believed everywhere, always, and by all, the Roman standard is whatever Rome happens to be teaching today. If she teaches it now, it must have been taught by the apostles and the early church, even if there is no evidence of that in Scripture or the history of the church. The Vincentian Canon is an inductive principle based on the evaluation of evidence. The Roman standard is a deductive principle based on a bare assertion.


I appreciate the time and effort that Bryan Cross and Dr. Neal Judisch put into their response to my book. Although my response to their paper has taken far longer than I expected to complete, it has been helpful for me to revisit these questions. I do believe that there is a principled difference between sola scriptura and solo scriptura, but I am convinced that the difference is all but invisible to those who are convinced that the evidence for Rome’s claims is strong. Once Roman Catholic presuppositions are accepted, the difference I allege disappears. For those of us not persuaded of the claims of Rome, the difference is not only real, but obvious. I don’t claim to have answered in this paper all of the questions that could be raised, but I have answered those that seemed most pressing. Another book would be necessary to deal with everything involved in this discussion.


  1. I am aware that the phrase “solo scriptura” is not proper Latin. I wouldn’t mention this, but at least one commenter on the Called to Communion website has repeatedly expressed his exasperation at the use of this term. The term was coined by Doug Jones. It is a tongue in cheek neologism.
  2. See Francis A. Sullivan, From Apostles to Bishops: The Development of the Episcopacy in the Early Church (New York: The Newman Press, 2001), 130.
  3. Peter Lampe, From Paul to Valentinus: Christians at Rome in the First Two Centuries, trans. Michael Steinhauser, ed. Marshall D. Johnson (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), 397–408. See also Henry Chadwick, The Church in Ancient Society: From Galilee to Gregory the Great (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 64. Even Klaus Schatz grants this historical fact in his Papal Primacy: From Its Origins to the Present (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1996), 4.
  4. See Henry Chadwick, East and West: The Making of a Rift in the Church (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 9–10.
  5. Peter Lampe, From Paul to Valentinus, esp. pp. 397–408. Lampe’s magisterial study is a must‐read for anyone interested in the early church at Rome.
  6. See J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Creeds, 3rd edition (New York: Continuum, 1972), 30–61.
  7. Sullivan, From Apostles to Bishops, viii.
  8. For a good summary overview of the first seven councils, see Leo Donald Davis, The First Seven Ecumenical Councils (325–787): Their History and Theology (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1983). For a good survey of the history behind issues such as the filioque and iconoclasm and how they affected the councils and the churches, see Chadwick, East and West.
  9. The crimes committed by the Renaissance popes being among the most egregious. Any Roman Catholic who cannot grasp why the Reformation occurred should read chapter three of Barbara Tuchman’s The March of Folly (New York: Ballantine, 1984), 51–126. In this chapter, Tuchman discusses the renaissance popes from Sixtus IV to Clement VII.
  10. See Sullivan, From Apostles to Bishops, 13–6; Raymond E. Brown, Priest and Bishop: Biblical Reflections (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 1999), 4.
  11. Joseph A. Fitzmyer, Scripture: The Soul of Theology (New York: Paulist Press, 1994), 70.
  12. Chadwick, The Church in Ancient Society, 103.
  13. See, for example, Alexandre Ganoczy, The Young Calvin, trans. David Foxgrover and Wade Provo (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1987), 56. Ganoczy, it should be noted, is a Roman Catholic historian.
  14. Fitzmyer, Scripture, 70.
  15. Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, 281.
  16. Ibid.
  17. Ibid.
  18. The Shape of Sola Scriptura, pp. 58–61; for a full history of the origins of the doctrine, see Brian Tierney, Origins of Papal Infallibility 1150–1350 (Leiden: Brill, 1988).
  19. Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, 297.
  20. Davis, The Seven Ecumenical Councils, 323.
  21. R.P.C. Hanson, The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God: The Arian Controversy 318 – 381 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1988), 153–4; cf. Kenneth Scott Latourette, A History of Christianity, revised ed. (New York: HarperCollins, 1975), 1:153‐4.
  22. Davis, The Seven Ecumenical Councils, 58.
  23. Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, 306.
  24. A beautiful example of such an oak tree is Angel Oak in South Carolina.
  25. Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, 308.
  26. Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, trans. George Musgrave Giger; ed. James T. Dennison, Jr. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing Co., 1997), 3:284.
  27. The Shape of Sola Scriptura, pp. 319–36.
  28. For a very helpful and detailed study of what happened in these early centuries, see Kelly, Early Christian Creeds.
  29. Kelly, Early Christian Creeds, 49–52.

False Dichotomy Between Infallible Church and "Subjective, Individualistic" Conclusions

November 24, 2010

Over at the GreenBaggins blog, in a comment box, Roman Catholic Bryan Cross wrote:

If we deny that the Church has such a gift [a gift (or charism) of infallibility in matters of faith and morals], then we are left with a subjective, individualistic, “changes hearts” criterion of canonicity, and such a subjective criterion is, as you say, bogus.


This false dichotomy is fairly easily smoked out.

It can be smoked out a few ways.

I. Historical Example

The Roman church did not claim to infallibly define the canon of Scripture before Trent, and yet people (both in the Roman communion and outside it) felt perfectly comfortable having a fallible canon. It worked for over 1500 years.

Ignatius was satisfied with a canon that was not based on a church having a gift of infallibility. So were all the church fathers and all the medieval theologians.

The North African councils produced a canon themselves rather than attempting to seek an ecumenical decision on the question. Before them, Athanasius provided a list of the canon of Scripture without even relying on a church council!

And then, after the Reformation comes along, Trent tries to infallibly define the canon. And when they define it, they contradict two leading cardinals of the immediately previous generation (Cardinals Ximenez and Cajetan) – cardinals who affirmed Jerome’s (and the Protestants’) canon.

II. Analogical Counter-Example

What Bryan is arguing for on the level of books is also an issue with respect to parts of books – to the issue of the text of the books themselves. Is the story of the woman found in adultery in the original text? Is the famous passage in 1 John 5:7-8 part of the original text?

Bryan could try to argue that “If we deny that the Church has such a gift [a gift (or charism) of infallibility in matters of faith and morals], then we are left with a subjective, individualistic, “changes hearts” criterion of [textual authenticity], and such a subjective criterion is, as you say, bogus.”

But it should be readily apparent that one can have a knowledge of the text of Scripture and reach conclusions of textual authenticity without resorting to completely subjective and individualistic exercises of authority.

Trent itself originally attempted to define not only the books themselves but also the parts of books (with a focus on things like the apocryphal additions to Daniel and Esther). However, Rome has subsequently issued a New Vulgate that does not entirely follow the text of the Clementine Vulgate.

III. Logical Analysis

Obviously, the portion of Bryan’s comment I’ve quoted above is simply a fragment of a larger argument. As such, it is a little informal. On the one hand, we could simply insist that Bryan should formalize his argument. However, until he does so, we can explore his argument in the form in which it has been presented.

As presented, it seems to suggest that there are really only two options:

1) Infallible Church
2) Subjective, Individualistic Judgment

This set is not well-defined. At least, it does not appear to be well-defined.

Is our knowledge of the facts of history generally simply a matter of subjective, individualistic judgment? Is our knowledge of which books Homer wrote the domain of subjective, individualistic judgment? Is our knowledge of which are the previous presidents of the United States merely a matter of subjective, individualistic judgment?

Unless the words “subjective” and “individualistic” are simply epithets (which is a real possibility), then there is a third way – a way in which we conclude that historical facts (God inspiring 66 books, Homer composing two epic poems, 40+ men becoming president of the U.S.) are true, without either resorting to subjective, individualistic means or relying on an infallible church.

IV. Scriptural Analysis

Scripture does not, of course, directly address Bryan’s complaint. However, Scripture does provide teachings that undermine Bryan’s complaint.

One of the areas of teaching relates to the fact that the elect, upon regeneration, are sheep that hear the voice of the shepherd:

John 10:16 And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.

John 10:27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me:

Psalm 95:7-9
For he is our God; and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. To day if ye will hear his voice,harden not your heart, as in the provocation, and as in the day of temptation in the wilderness: when your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my work.

Bryan cannot deny that the Scriptures are the voice of the Shepherd, and consequently we conclude that the elect will recognize and follow the Scripture. This does not mean that they will always do this perfectly. They remain human and fallible. There have been great men of God who have erred with respect either to rejecting an inspired book or accepting as inspired a book that is not.

Deuteronomy 33:3 Yea, he loved the people; all his saints are in thy hand: and they sat down at thy feet; every one shall receive of thy words.

John 17:8 For I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou didst send me.

1 Thessalonians 2:13 For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.

The point here is that the people of God do receive the Word of God. That’s true whether it is in preached form (as in a sermon that conveys the Word of God) or in written form (principally in the Scriptures).

This recognition of God’s word for what it is, a recognition that the Holy Spirit gives to all believers to a greater or lesser degree, does not translate into an infallible ability. The Thessalonians were fallible human beings. Nevertheless, they were able to receive Paul’s message for what it was. According to the same principle, we can receive the Scriptures for what they are.


The Fathers, Papal Primacy, and Matthew 16 – Defending Yves Congar contra Bryan Cross

October 16, 2010

Speaking of the difficulty of the so-called Unanimous patristic consent as a reliable locus theologicus in Catholic theology, the Roman Cardinal Congar wrote:

Application of the principle is difficult, at least at a certain level. In regard to individual texts of Scripture total patristic consensus is unnecessary: quite often, that which is appealed to as sufficient for dogmatic points does not go beyond what is encountered in the interpretation of many texts. But it does sometimes happen that some Fathers understood a passage in a way which does not agree with later Church teaching. One example: the interpretation of Peter’s confession in Matthew 16.16-19. Except at Rome, this passage was not applied by the Fathers to the papal primacy; they worked out exegesis at the level of their own ecclesiological thought, more anthropological and spiritual than judicial. . . . Historical documentation is at the factual level; it must leave room for a judgement made not in the light of the documentary evidence alone, but of the Church’s faith.

– Yves M.-J. Congar, Tradition and Traditions: An Historical and a Theological Essay (London: Burns & Oats, 1966), pp. 398-399.

The claim of Roman apologists on behalf of Rome that its interpretation of Matthew 16 is the catholic interpretation, i.e., of the patristic exegesis by and large, is explicitly denied by a cardinal of their own communion. (adapted from David King’s comment here)

Bryan Cross has taken the position:

Congar was simply mistaken on this point, because there are numerous examples of Church Fathers other than bishops of Rome, referring to St. Peter or the See of Peter explicitly as the rock upon which Christ founded the Church, and to which Christ gave the keys of the Kingdom.

St. Ephraim (c. 306 – 373), of Nisibius, Syria writes lyrically:

“Simon, My follower; I have made you the foundation of the holy Church. I betimes called you Peter [Kefa, or Rock, in the original text], because you will support all its buildings. You are the inspector of those who will build on earth a Church for Me. If they should wish to build what is false, you, the foundation, will condemn them. You are the head of the fountain from which My teaching flows, you are the chief of My disciples. Through you I will give drink to all peoples. Yours is that life-giving sweetness which I dispense. I have chosen you to be, as it were, the first-born in My institution, and so that, as the heir, you may be executor of my treasures. I have given you the keys of my kingdom. Behold, I have given you authority over all my treasures.”

St. Hilary, Archbishop of Poitiers, (315-367/68) writes:

“Peter believeth first, and is the prince of the apostleship.” Elsewhere, “Blessed Simon, who after his confession of the mystery was set to be the foundation-stone of the Church, and received the keys of the kingdom of heaven.” Again, “He [Jesus] took up Peter — to whom He had just before given the keys of the kingdom of heaven, upon whom He was about to build the Church, against which the gates of hell should not in any way prevail, who whatsoever he should bind or loose on earth, that should abide bound or loosed in heaven — this same Peter … the first confessor of the Son of God, the foundation of the Church, the doorkeeper of the heavenly kingdom, and in his judgment on earth a judge of heaven.” Again, “O blessed keeper of the gate of heaven, to whose disposal are delivered the keys of the entrance into eternity; whose judgment on earth is an authority prejudged in heaven, so that the things that are either loosed or bound on earth, acquire in heaven too a like state of settlement.” … if to the head, that is to the see of the Apostle Peter, the priests of the Lord report . . . .” Elsewhere he says, “[Peter is to be admired] because, knowing that all acknowledged his primacy, he had too much humility to resent any reproach offered to himself.”

St. Jerome in Antioch (where he was ordained) writes about AD 376:

I think it my duty to consult the chair of Peter, and to turn to a church whose faith has been praised by Paul … The fruitful soil of Rome, when it receives the pure seed of the Lord, bears fruit an hundredfold … My words are spoken to the successor of the fisherman, to the disciple of the Cross. As I follow no leader save Christ, so I communicate with none but your blessedness, that is with the chair of Peter. For this, I know, is the rock on which the Church is built! This is the house where alone the Paschal Lamb can be rightly eaten. This is the ark of Noah, and he who is not found in it shall perish when the flood prevails.

St. Macarius of Egypt (300-390) writes:

“Afterwards Moses was succeeded by Peter, who had committed to his hands the new Church of Christ, and the true priesthood.”

St. Cyril of Jerusalem (b. 315 – d. 386) writes:

“As the delusion [of Simon Magus] was extending, Peter and Paul, a noble pair, chief rulers of the Church, arrived and set the error right…. And marvellous though it was, yet no marvel. For Peter was there, who carrieth the keys of heaven.”

St. Basil the Great (330-379), bishop of Caesarea, writes,

“… him that was called from amongst fishermen unto the ministry of the Apostleship; him who on account of the pre-eminence of his faith received upon himself the building of the Church.” “One also of these mountains was Peter, upon which rock the lord promised to build His Church”.

Eulogius of Alexandria (A.D. 581) writes:

“Neither to John, nor to any other of the disciples, did our Savior say, ‘I will give to thee the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven,’ but only to Peter.

Sergius, Metropolitain of Cyprus (A.D. 649 A.D.), writing to to Pope Theodore, says:

“O Holy Head, Christ our God hath destined thy Apostolic See to be an immovable foundation and a pillar of the Faith. For thou art, as the Divine Word truly saith, Peter, and on thee as a foundation-stone have the pillars of the Church been fixed.”

St. Maximus the Confessor (c. 650) of Constantinople writes:

“The extremities of the earth, and everyone in every part of it who purely and rightly confess the Lord, look directly towards the Most Holy Roman Church and her confession and faith, as to a sun of unfailing light awaiting from her the brilliant radiance of the sacred dogmas of our Fathers, according to that which the inspired and holy Councils have stainlessly and piously decreed. For, from the descent of the Incarnate Word amongst us, all the churches in every part of the world have held the greatest Church alone to be their base and foundation, seeing that, according to the promise of Christ Our Savior, the gates of hell will never prevail against her, that she has the keys of the orthodox confession and right faith in Him, that she opens the true and exclusive religion to such men as approach with piety, and she shuts up and locks every heretical mouth which speaks against the Most High.”

“How much more in the case of the clergy and Church of the Romans, which from old until now presides over all the churches which are under the sun? Having surely received this canonically, as well as from councils and the apostles, as from the princes of the latter (Peter & Paul), and being numbered in their company, she is subject to no writings or issues in synodical documents, on account of the eminence of her pontificate …..even as in all these things all are equally subject to her (the Church of Rome) according to sacerdotal law. And so when, without fear, but with all holy and becoming confidence, those ministers (the popes) are of the truly firm and immovable rock, that is of the most great and Apostolic Church of Rome.”


There are a number of problems with Mr. Cross’ comments, and I will try to address them systematically.

I. In General

First, there’s a pretty fundamental problem with Bryan’s response to Yves Congar. Congar wrote: “Except at Rome, this passage was not applied by the Fathers to the papal primacy,” but Bryan’s thesis is “here are numerous examples of Church Fathers other than bishops of Rome, referring to St. Peter or the See of Peter explicitly as the rock upon which Christ founded the Church, and to which Christ gave the keys of the Kingdom.” Those two do not necessarily contradict. For example, if the church father applies the text to Peter personally (to the exclusion of all others), the father would not be supporting papal primacy. Likewise, if the father applies the text to the “see of Peter” as being found in all churches, or to the “see of Peter” as found in Rome in the same way as to all sees wherever they may be found, this too would not be supporting papal primacy.

We’ll turn to your quotations in a moment, but I think it is important to note up front that Bryan’s thesis itself does not contradict what Congar said. Thus, even if Bryan’s quotations established his thesis, they would not undermine what Congar wrote.

Secondly, this list is obviously cut-and-paste. (see here for example) I assume that Bryan didn’t cite back to that page, because it is Bryan’s own page. However, it would have been helpful for Bryan to have provided (either on that page or in his comment) citations to the actual works that Bryan is citing.

Also, perhaps as an artifact of the cut-and-paste, Bryan has Hilary writing something that’s actually an amalgamation of different items, cobbled together by some editor (Bryan?).

II. Ephraim the Syrian

Turning to the first quotation, the quotation appears to be derived (whether directly or indirectly, I do not know) from Jurgens’ quotation book, “Faith of the Early Fathers,” p. 311. The quotation, according to Jurgens, is taken from Ephraim’s Homily 4,1, referring to the homilies identified by Lamy as eight “Sermones in hebdomadam sanctam, diem resurrectionis et dominicam novam.” This particular citation is taken from volume 1 of Lamy’s “Sancti Ephraem Syri Hymni et sermones,” at columns 411-12 (Syriac and Latin, respectively).

Jurgens does note (on the page prior to the page where the quotation appears) that the homilies are from a 14th century manuscript, as does Lamy (at column 339). What Jurgens does not say is that these sermons are likely not the work of Ephraim the Syrian. Cf. Sydney H. Griffith’s contribution in Catholicism and Catholicity, edited by Sarah Beckwith, p. 126 and fn 66 et seq.; and Francis Crawford Burkitt S. Ephraim’s Quotations from the Gospel, at p. 3 (“These volumes [from Lamy] give us a good deal that is certainly not of the fourth century but they also contain the Sermo de Domino nostro … which is for textual and doctrinal purposes perhaps the most important work of S Ephraim which survives.”); and Christian M.W. Lange, The portrayal of Christ in the Syriac commentary on the Diatessaron, p. 35 (” … modern research in general rejects the authenticity of various works which have been attributed to the great Syrain. This group of works includes … the Sermones in Hebodmadam sanctam.”) cf. fn 51.

In short, this work is probably not a work written by Ephraim the Syrian.

Moreover, of course, ps-Ephraim’s picture of Peter the building-inspector and Peter the foundation says nothing of the primacy of any Roman bishop. Rome is not even mentioned! Nor is anything written to suggest that what ps-Ephraim says is given to Peter is given to anyone else. While these comments from ps-Ephraim may not directly contradict Rome’s teaching of papal primacy, they certainly don’t teach Rome’s position, falling short of Rome’s position in a number of critical respects, such as identifying the Roman bishop as the sole successor of Peter, the idea of Peter’s foundational role being something passed down, and the like.

In short, even if this work were by Ephraim, it would not support a contention in favor of papal primacy. Moreover, it does not identify “Peter explicitly as the rock upon which Christ founded the Church,” nor does it say that Peter was, in a unique way, the one “to which [sic] Christ gave the keys of the Kingdom.” I have added “in a unique way,” because of course Peter was given the keys of the kingdom, just as all the apostles were.

Before moving on to the next quotation, I should briefly mention that this work does not appear to exist in a complete English translation. This suggests to me, though obviously it does not prove it, that Mr. Cross is reliant on a secondary source that has provided him only with the quotation itself, and not with the context.

III. Hilary of Poitiers

As noted above, the alleged quotation from Hilary is actually an amalgamation of various quotations, cobbled together by some editor (Bryan?). The quotations are as shown below. No citation was provided with these quotations, so I have had to do my best to track down the sources. Consequently, please understand that the citation is mine. In the event that Hilary said something twice, I may only have caught one of the two times, but this is really the fault of Mr. Cross for not citing his sources so that I could tell you more accurately what he is citing.

1. “Peter believeth [the] first, and is the prince of the apostleship.” (bracketed material mine, to make the quotation match the source I found)

I found one citation for this as Commentary on Matthew, Chapter 7, No. 6. This is a good place to start, since the Commentary on Matthew is Hilary’s first work that we have, written about A.D. 353-355.

This comment from Hilary is part of his commentary on Matthew 8:14, which relates to Jesus healing Peter’s mother-in-law. The context is this:

In Peter’s wife’s mother is shewn the sickly condition of infidelity, to which freedom of will is near akin, being united by the bonds as it were of wedlock. By the Lord’s entrance into Peter’s house, that is into the body, unbelief is cured, which was before sick of the fever of sin, and ministers in duties of righteousness to the Saviour. Then when she was healed, serves in the office of servant. On the other hand, he that believed first, and is chief of the apostles, and because in him even before he languished, the ministry of the Word of God strengthened as it were, produced the public salvation. Although this mother-in-law of Peter is rightly fitted to the similitude of the attitude of unbelief, the place where we will discuss the daughter-in-law and mother-in-later is later (Chapter 10, Section 18). But for now, Peter’s mother-in-law is compared to unbelief, because until he believed, his will was held in slavery.

The black text represents the portion translated as part of the translation of Thomas Aquinas “Catena Aurea” (see here), the remainder being my translation (which is open to significant doubt – feel free to improve on it). My apologies for providing my own feeble attempt at translating, but there does not appear to be any extant complete English translation of the work. Here is the Latin:

Petri socrus infidelitatis affectio. Petrus fidei et apostolatus princeps.(Cum venisset Jesus in domum Petri, vidit socrum ejus jacentem et febricitantem, et reliqua (Mt 8,14). In socru Petri, vitiosa infidelitatis aestimatur affectio, cui adjacet libertas voluntatis, quae nos quadam sibi conjugii societate conjungit. Ergo ingressu Domini, in Petri domu, id est, in corpore curatur infidelitas peccatorum calore exaestuans, et vitiorum aegra dominatu. Mox deinde sanata, officii famulatu ministrat. Nam primus credidit, et apostolatus est princeps: et quod in eo ante languebat, Dei verbo invalescens ministerio tamquam publicae salutis operatum est. Recte autem hanc ex socru Petri similitudinem ad affectionem infidelitatis aptari, loco qui de nuru et socru consequitur tractabimus (Cap. 10, n. 18). Nunc autem ideo infidelitatis socrus Petri nuncupabitur, quia usque dum credidit, voluntatis suae servitio detinebatur.

(source of Latin)

As you can see, all we really have here are two comments about Peter. One is that he was a “chief” (princeps) of the apostles. It could possibly be evidence that Hilary thought that Peter was the foremost apostle, although that’s certainly not a point he’s pursuing in the text. But certainly, there’s nothing here about Peter having any particular formal jurisdiction over the apostles, or of Peter assigning that power to the bishop of Rome, or of that power being passed down to only one bishop at a time down through history. In short, there’s nothing at all close to papal primacy in this discussion.

2. “Blessed Simon, who after his confession of the mystery was set to be the foundation-stone of the Church, and received the keys of the kingdom of heaven.”

This selection is taken from On the Trinity, Book VI, Chapter 20. The entire context for the quotation is this (taken from what I think is the most popular English edition of this work – perhaps the only English edition):

What is this hopeless quagmire of error into which Thou hast plunged me? For I have learnt all this and have come to believe it; this faith is so ingrained into my mind that I have neither the power nor the wish to change it. Why this deception of an unhappy man, this ruin of a poor wretch in body and soul, by deluding him with falsehoods concerning Thyself? After the Red Sea had been divided, the splendour on the face of Moses, descending from the Mount, deceived me. He had gazed, in Thy presence, upon all the mysteries of heaven, and I believed his words, dictated by Thee, concerning Thyself. And David, the man that was found after Thine own heart, has betrayed me to destruction, and Solomon, who was thought worthy of the gift of Divine Wisdom, and Isaiah, who saw the Lord of Sabaoth and prophesied, and Jeremiah consecrated in the womb, before he was fashioned, to be the prophet of nations to be rooted out and planted in, and Ezekiel, the witness of the mystery of the Resurrection, and Daniel, the man beloved, who had knowledge of times, and all the hallowed band of the Prophets; and Matthew also, chosen to proclaim the whole mystery of the Gospel, first a publican, then an Apostle, and John, the Lord’s familiar friend, and therefore worthy to reveal the deepest secrets of heaven, and blessed Simon, who after his confession of the mystery was set to be the foundation-stone of the Church, and received the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and all his companions who spoke by the Holy Ghost, and Paul, the chosen vessel, changed from persecutor into Apostle, who, as a living man abode under the deep sea and ascended into the third heaven, who was in Paradise before his martyrdom, whose martyrdom was the perfect offering of a flawless faith; all have deceived me.

(source for translation)

As you can see, again, there’s nothing particularly about papal primacy in the text. Peter is sandwiched between the other prominent apostles, John and Paul. He’s not described as having universality of jurisdiction. Certainly there is no reference to Rome or to a Roman bishop, or to anyone besides Peter having (or lacking) what Peter had. In short, while the quotation may not contradict a view of papal primacy, it certainly does not demonstrate such a view.

Moreover, in chapters 36-37, we have a reference to Matthew 16 and Peter that is not merely a passing reference amongst a litany of references to prophets and apostles. In that place we find Hilary making some rather un-Roman claims:

36. A belief that the Son of God is Son in name only and not in nature, is not the faith of the Gospels and of the Apostles. If this be a mere title, to which adoption is His only claim; if He be not the Son in virtue of having proceeded forth from God, whence, I ask, was it that the blessed Simon Bar-Jona confessed to Him, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God? Because He shared with all mankind the power of being born as one of the sons of God through the sacrament of regeneration? If Christ be the Son of God only in this titular way, what was the revelation made to Peter, not by flesh and blood, but by the Father in heaven? What praise could he deserve for making a declaration which was universally applicable? What credit was due to Him for stating a fact of general knowledge? If He be Son by adoption, wherein lay the blessedness of Peter’s confession, which offered a tribute to the Son to which, in that case, He had no more title than any member of the company of saints? The Apostle’s faith penetrates into a region closed to human reasoning. He had, no doubt, often heard, He that receiveth you receiveth Me, and He that receiveth Me receiveth Him that sent Me. Hence he knew well that Christ had been sent; he had heard Him, Whom he knew to have been sent, making the declaration, All things are delivered unto Me of the Father, and no one knoweth the Son but the Father, neither knoweth any one the Father save the Son. What then is this truth, which the Father now reveals to Peter, which receives the praise of a blessed confession? It cannot have been that the names of Father’ and Son’ were novel to him; he had heard them often. Yet he speaks words which the tongue of man had never framed before:–Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. For though Christ, while dwelling in the body, had avowed Himself to be the Son of God, yet now for the first time the Apostle’s faith had recognised in Him the presence of the Divine nature. Peter is praised not merely for his tribute of adoration, but for his recognition of the mysterious truth; for confessing not Christ only, but Christ the Son of God. It would clearly have sufficed for a payment of reverence, had he said, Thou art the Christ, and nothing more. But it would have been a hollow confession, had Peter only hailed Him as Christ, without confessing Him the Son of God. And so his words Thou art declare that what is asserted of Him is strictly and exactly true to His nature. Next, the Father’s utterance, This is My Son, had revealed to Peter that he must confess Thou art the Son of God, for in the words This is, God the Revealer points Him out, and the response, Thou art, is the believer’s welcome to the truth. And this is the rock of confession whereon the Church is built. But the perceptive faculties of flesh and blood cannot attain to the recognition and confession of this truth. It is a mystery, Divinely revealed, that Christ must be not only named, but believed, the Son of God. Was it only the Divine name; was it not rather the Divine nature that was revealed to Peter? If it were the name, he had heard it often from the Lord, proclaiming Himself the Son of God. What honour, then, did he deserve for announcing the name? No; it was not the name; it was the nature, for the name had been repeatedly proclaimed.

37. This faith it is which is the foundation of the Church; through this faith the gates of hell cannot prevail against her. This is the faith which has the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatsoever this faith shall have loosed or bound on earth shall be loosed or bound in heaven. This faith is the Father’s gift by revelation; even the knowledge that we must not imagine a false Christ, a creature made out of nothing, but must confess Him the Son of God, truly possessed of the Divine nature. What blasphemous madness and pitiful folly is it, that will not heed the venerable age and faith of that blessed martyr, Peter himself, for whom the Father was prayed that his faith might not fail in temptation; who twice repeated the declaration of love for God that was demanded of him, and was grieved that he was tested by a third renewal of the question, as though it were a doubtful and wavering devotion, and then, because this third trial had cleansed him of his infirmities, had the reward of hearing the Lord’s commission, Feed My sheep, a third time repeated; who, when all the Apostles were silent, alone recognised by the Father’s revelation the Son of God, and won the pre-eminence of a glory beyond the reach of human frailty by his confession of his blissful faith! What are the conclusions forced upon us by the study of his words? He confessed that Christ is the Son of God; you, lying bishop of the new apostolate, thrust upon us your modern notion that Christ is a creature, made out of nothing. What violence is this, that so distorts the glorious words? The very reason why he is blessed is that he confessed the Son of God. This is the Father’s revelation, this the foundation of the Church, this the assurance of her permanence. Hence has she the keys of the kingdom of heaven, hence judgment in heaven and judgment on earth. Through revelation Peter learnt the mystery hidden from the beginning of the world, proclaimed the faith, published the Divine nature, confessed the Son of God. He who would deny all this truth and confess Christ a creature, must first deny the apostleship of Peter, his faith, his blessedness, his episcopate, his martyrdom. And when he has done all this, he must learn that he has severed himself from Christ; for it was by confessing Him that Peter won these glories.


Notice how here Hilary explicitly identifies the rock and designates it as being the faith of Petr, the faith in the divinity of the Son, not just the name “the Son of God,” but the real meaning behind it. Peter may be a “foundation stone,” and he certainly had the keys of the kingdom (rightly understood), but that key (according to Hilary) is faith! This is so far from the Roman notion as to show that the previous citation was quite a mistaken attempt to use Hilary to support a position he did not support.

3. “He [Jesus] took up Peter — to whom He had just before given the keys of the kingdom of heaven, upon whom He was about to build the Church, against which the gates of hell should not in any way prevail, who whatsoever he should bind or loose on earth, that should abide bound or loosed in heaven — this same Peter … the first confessor of the Son of God, the foundation of the Church, the doorkeeper of the heavenly kingdom, and in his judgment on earth a judge of heaven.”

This is apparently taken from Hilary’s Tractates on the Psalms, at Psalm 131, section 4.

A little more context helps to show what’s going on here:

On an occasion that the Only-Begotten spoke to His disciples certain things concerning His Passion, and Peter expressed his abhorrence, as if it were unworthy of the Son of God, He took up Peter,— to whom He had just before given the keys of the kingdom of heaven, upon whom He was about to build the Church (super quem ccclesiam adificalurus erat), against which the gates of hell should not in any way prevail, who, whatsoever he should bind or loose on earth, that should abide bound or loosed in heaven, — this same Peter then, when expressing his abhorrence in such reproachful terms, He took up with, Get behind me, Satan, thou art an offense to Me. For it was with Him so sacred a thing to suffer for the salvation of the human race, as thus to designate with the reproachful name Satan, Peter, the first Confessor of the Son of God, the Foundation of the Church (ecclesice fundamentuni), the Door-keeper (janitorem) of the heavenly kingdom, and in his judgment on earth a Judge of heaven (et in terreno judicis judicem call).


The context does certainly seem to change the tone a little, doesn’t it? Yes, Hilary says a lot of nice things about Peter, but nothing about universal jurisdiction, and nothing even about primacy of honor or glory (as one might find elsewhere). And – of course – there is nothing here about Rome, or a Roman bishop, or anything about any of these traits of Peter being passed down to others after Peter leaves (or during his life).

4. “O blessed keeper of the gate of heaven, to whose disposal are delivered the keys of the entrance into eternity; whose judgment on earth is an authority prejudged in heaven, so that the things that are either loosed or bound on earth, acquire in heaven too a like state of settlement.”

This is apparently another quotation taken from Hilary’s Commentary on Matthew. My source for the first citation also had a longer excerpt providing some of the context for the quotation:

5. … We must hold that form of confession, that we so mention the Son of God as not to forget the Son of Man, for the one without the other offers us no hope of salvation; and therefore He said emphatically, “Whom do men say that the Son of Man is?” (translation from translation of Aquinas’ Catena Aurea)

6. When they had presented diverse human origins concerning him, he asked what they themselves thought about him. Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” But Peter had pondered the nature of the question. For the Lord had said, “Whom do men say that the Son of man is?” Certainly his human body indicated he was a Son of man. But by adding “Who do you say that I am?” Jesus indicated that they should consider something besides what he seemed in himself, for he was a Son of man. Therefore, what judgment concerning himself did he desire? It was a secret he was asking about, into which the faith of those who believe ought to extend itself. (Translation from the Ancient Christian Commentary series, pp. 44-45)

7. And in sooth Peter’s confession obtained a worthy recompense. Blessed is he that is praised as having both remarked and seen beyond the ken of human eyes not regarding what was of flesh and blood, but, by the revelation of the heavenly Father, beholding the Son of God, and accounted worthy to be the first to acknowledge what was in the Christ of God. Oh, in thy designation by a new name happy foundation of the Church, and a rock worthy of the building up of that which was to scatter the infernal laws, and the gates of hell and all the bars of death! O blessed keeper of the gate of heaven to whose disposal are delivered the keys of the entrance into eternity; whose judgment on earth is an authority, prejudged in heaven, so that the things that are either loosed or bound on earth acquire in heaven too a like state of settlement. (Berington and Kirk, The Faith of Catholics)

10. … The Lord, knowing the suggestion of the craft of the devil, says to Peter, “Get thee behind me;” that is, that he should follow the example of His passion; but to him by whom this expression was suggested, He turns and says, “Satan, thou art an offence unto me.” For we cannot suppose that the name of Satan, and the sin of being an offence, would be imputed to Peter after those so great declarations of blessedness and power that had been granted him.

Commentary on Matthew, Chapter 16, Sections 5-7 & 10.

Alternate translation of a portion of Section 6 and of Section 7 (translation from translation of Aquinas’ Catena Aurea):

6. … By asking, “Whom do men say that the Son of Man is?” He implied that something ought to be thought respecting Him beyond what appeared, for He was the Son of Man. And in thus enquiring after men’s opinion respecting Himself, we are not to think that He made confession of Himself; for that which He asked for was something concealed, to which the faith of believers ought to extend itself.

7. This confession of Peter met a worthy reward, for that he had seen the Son of God in the man. He is blessed, because to have looked and to have seen beyond human sight is matter of praise, not beholding that which is of flesh and blood, but seeing the Son of God by the revelation of the heavenly Father; and he was held worthy to be the first to acknowledge the divinity which was in Christ. But in this bestowing of a new name is a happy foundation of the Church, and a rock worthy of that building, which should break up the laws of hell, burst the gates of Tartarus, and all the shackles of death.

All this build up to simply point that although again Hilary says nice things about Peter and identifies the blessedness associated with his name (while linking this closely with his confession of faith), Hilary does not describe Peter has having universal jurisdiction, as having a unique Roman successor, or anything like that. There is nothing of papal primacy here – indeed, although there is mention of power given to Peter, the focus of the discussion is not on Peter but on his confession of faith, the saving confession that Jesus Christ is not just the Son of Man but the Son of God.

5. [“]… if to the head, that is to the see of the Apostle Peter, the priests of the Lord report . . . .”

This appears to be taken from the following sentence:

“This will be seen to be best, and by far the most fitting thing, if to the Head, that is, to the See of the Apostle Peter, the priests of the Lord report from every one of the provinces” for which the citation is Fragment 2, section 9, which itself is not that helpful a designation – fragments of what? But upon searching it appears that it is taken from the fragments of Hilary’s Historical Works.

In this case, the line is actually taken from a letter from the Sardican council to Julius. As Roman Catholic historian Hefele indicates, Hilary preserved some of the documents of the council in Latin, whereas Athanasius preserved them in Greek. However, as Hefele also indicates, this particular sentence has been identified as questionable – a possible later interpolation, because of its terrible Latin.

So this line is neither certainly genuinely in Hilary’s works, nor is it actually Hilary’s own words. Moreover, in context, the Sardican council is simply reporting to Julian the actions they have taken against error. If we take this is as being original and authentic, there may be some sort of primacy suggested, but not one that led the council to wait to see what Julius would think before making their decisions. The letter is reporting to Julius what the Synod of Sardica did.

A translation of the entire letter can be found in Wickham, L.R. Hilary of Poitiers, Conflicts of Conscience and Law in the Fourth-Century Church “Against Valens and Ursacius”, the Extant Fragments, Together with His “Letter to the Emperor Constantius”. (Liverpool 1997), pp. 48 et seq. (sadly this is not available on-line, to my knowledge, or I would link you too it)

6. “[Peter is to be admired] because, knowing that all acknowledged his primacy, he had too much humility to resent any reproach offered to himself.”

This seems to be taken from Steve Ray’s book or from the source of Steve Ray’s book. Steve quotes Hilary this way:

Both Paul and Peter are to be admired; Paul because he did not fear to point out the right practice to his superior; Peter because, knowing that all acknowledged his primacy, he had too much humility to resent any reproach offered to himself.

Steve Ray does not cite any work of Hilary for this. Instead, Mr. Ray cites “Radio Replies, ed. Charles Carty [1938; reprint Rockford, Ill.: TAN books, 1979], 1:82-83″ (link to evidence). I checked Radio Replies, at item 357 in Volume 1 (which does have that quotation), but Radio Replies itself does not have any citation to Hilary. So, we are at a dead end here. Is this really Hilary? Who knows!

I would be surprised if it were Hilary, but it may be. Even if we assume that it is Hilary, all it shows is that Peter had some sort of primacy of honor above that of Paul (that’s not what Galatians teaches, but that’s another story). It doesn’t suggest that Peter had universal jurisdiction, nor that his superiority (of whatever kind) to Paul was passed on to someone else.

IV. Jerome

Bryan Cross provides a single quotation from Jerome:

I think it my duty to consult the chair of Peter, and to turn to a church whose faith has been praised by Paul … The fruitful soil of Rome, when it receives the pure seed of the Lord, bears fruit an hundredfold … My words are spoken to the successor of the fisherman, to the disciple of the Cross. As I follow no leader save Christ, so I communicate with none but your blessedness, that is with the chair of Peter. For this, I know, is the rock on which the Church is built! This is the house where alone the Paschal Lamb can be rightly eaten. This is the ark of Noah, and he who is not found in it shall perish when the flood prevails.

What he’s quoting from is Jerome’s letter to Damasus, bishop of Rome, the first section.

But Mr. Cross hasn’t started from the beginning of the letter. In fact he’s left out the part of the first section that explains why Jerome thinks that he should contact the Roman church.

Jerome explains himself this way:

1. Since the East, shattered as it is by the long-standing feuds, subsisting between its peoples, is bit by bit tearing into shreds the seamless vest of the Lord, “woven from the top throughout,” since the foxes are destroying the vineyard of Christ, and since among the broken cisterns that hold no water it is hard to discover “the sealed fountain” and “the garden inclosed,” I think it my duty to consult the chair of Peter, and to turn to a church whose faith has been praised by Paul. I appeal for spiritual food to the church whence I have received the garb of Christ.

– Jerome, Letter 15 (to Damasus), Section 1. (a translation can be found here)

Notice that the reason is not papal infallibility or papal primacy. The reason is particular problems that have arisen in the East, his new home. These problems have caused him to go back to the church where he was baptized (“whence I have received the garb of Christ”), namely Rome. Notice also that Jerome does not say that he’s seeking out the head of his own church, but rather that he’s seeking out the “Church whose faith has been praised by Paul,” namely the Roman church. Not the “Catholic church” but the Roman church. This is actually a key distinction that Mr. Cross has missed.

Jerome later goes on to make this self-identification even more explicit:

Just now, I am sorry to say, those Arians, the Campenses, are trying to extort from me, a Roman Christian, their unheard-of formula of three hypostases.

– Jerome, Letter 15 (to Damasus), Section 3.

Jerome is writing back to what he views as his “home church” for support. He wants advice from a church that he trusts, one that was praised (hundreds of years earlier) by Paul.

There is some discussion in Jerome that uses some very positive language of Damasus. Even if, however, we were willing to generously construe Jerome to be saying that Damasus was not just a successor to Peter, but the sole successor to Peter, and even if that gave Damasus some sort of primacy, it is not a primacy of jurisdiction. Jerome views Damasus as leader of the church of Rome, the Roman church, not the leader of the universal church (or – at least – Jerome does not make a claim beyond the “Roman” claim).

Pastor David King had similar comments:

3. Jerome is writing from Antioch, yes, but Rome was his home church. This letter, which you cite, was written roughly in the winter of 376 or 377 A.D. from the desert area of Chalcis ad Belum “on the confines between northern Syria and the region west of the Euphrates.” If we are to accept the usual date offered for his birth (347 A.D.), he couldn’t have been more than 29 or 30 years of age. However, Kelly (in his biography of Jerome) argues strongly in favor of the date Prosper suggests as 331 A.D., which, if accepted, would place his age at this time around 45 or 46 years of age. He had probably been baptized sometime prior to the year 366 before Damasus became the bishop of Rome, or else as Kelly argues “it is inconceivable that he should not have mentioned the fact when he proudly reminded the pope that he had been baptized in Rome” because it was the bishop who normally administered baptism.

Thus, writing from a foreign location to the church of his present communion, it is only natural that Jerome should seek the counsel of his pastor concerning the three factions of Christians in the city of Antioch. The fact that he proudly employs the flowery language of consulting “the chair of Peter…the successor of the fisherman” is perfectly understandable because it is the church of his present communion and from which he received “the garb of Christ,” which as Kelly notes might possibly be a reference to the “white garment” with which the new newly baptized are clothed following the sacrament.

Rather than appealing to some notion of universal jurisdiction, Jerome is simply seeking the counsel of his home communion and the advice of his pastor whom he knows and trusts. This does not classify, really, as non-Roman witness. Nonetheless, Jerome did not apply Matthew 16 exclusively to the bishop of Rome…

Jerome (347-420): But you say, the Church was founded upon Peter: although elsewhere the same is attributed to all the Apostles, and they all receive the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and the strength of the Church depends upon them all alike, yet one among the twelve is chosen so that when a head has been appointed, there may be no occasion for schism. NPNF2: Vol. VI, Against Jovinianus, Book 1, §26.

Moreover, Jerome did not believe that the latter development of the monarchical bishop itself was a divine appointment.

Jerome (347-420): Therefore, as we have shown, among the ancients presbyters were the same as bishops; but by degrees, that the plants of dissension might be rooted up, all responsibility was transferred to one person. Therefore, as the presbyters know that it is by the custom of the Church that they are to be subject to him who is placed over them so let the bishops know that they are above presbyters rather by custom than by Divine appointment, and ought to rule the Church in common, following the example of Moses, who, when he alone had power to preside over the people Israel, chose seventy, with the assistance of whom he might judge the people. We see therefore what kind of presbyter or bishop should be ordained. John Harrison, Whose Are the Fathers? (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1867), p.488. See also Karl Von Hase, Handbook to the Controversy with Rome, trans. A. W. Streane, Vol. 1, 2nd ed. rev. (London: The Religious Tract Society, 1909), p. 164.

Latin text: Haec propterea, ut ostenderemus apud veteres eosdem fuisse presbyteros quos et episcopos: paulatim vero ut dissensionum plantaria evellerentur, ad unum omnem sollicitudinem esse delatam. Sicut ergo presbyteri sciunt se ex Ecclesiae consuetudine ei qui sibi praepositus fuerit, esse subjectos: ita episcopi noverint se magis consuetudine, quam dispositionis Dominicae veritate, presbyteris esse majores, et in commune debere Ecclesiam regere, imitantes Moysen, qui cum haberet in potestate solum praeesse populo Israel, septuaginta elegit, cum quibus populum judicaret. Videamus igitur qualis presbyter, sive episcopus ordinandus sit. Commentariorum In Epistolam Ad Titum, PL 26:563.

Moreover, Jerome acknowledges that pope Liberius likewise fell into heresy, which does not fit the modern day paradigm of Roman primacy.

Jerome (347-420): Liberius was ordained the 34th bishop of the Roman church, and when he was driven into exile for the faith, all the clergy took an oath that they would not recognize any other bishop. But when Felix was put in his place by the Arians, a great many foreswore themselves; but at the end of the year they were banished, and Felix too; for Liberius, giving in to the irksomeness of exile and subscribing to the heretical and false doctrine, made a triumphal entry into Rome. E. Giles, ed., Documents Illustrating Papal Authority: A.D. 96-454 (Westport: Hyperion Press, reprinted 1982), p. 151. Cf. S. Hieronymi Chronicon, Ad Ann. 352, PL 27:684-685.

(source for Pastor King’s comments see the same thread of comments for the other comments of Pastor King quoted here)

Pastor King further explained:

In Jerome’s actual commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, Jerome made no mention of any successors of Peter, and certainly made no reference to the bishop of Rome…

Jerome (347-420):

“For you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church.” He himself gave light to the apostles that they might be called the light of the world, and the other designations that were allotted from the Lord. In the same way, to Simon, who believed in Christ the rock [petra], was granted the name of Peter [Petrus]. And in accordance with the metaphor of rock [petra], it is rightly said to him: “I will build my Church” upon you.

Fathers of the Church, Vol. 117, St. Jerome, Commentary on Matthew, trans. Thomas P. Scheck (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2008), p. 192.

Here was Jerome’s perfect opportunity to support the papal claim, and the thought is absent from him.

Moreover, in Homily 18 on the Psalms, notice how Jerome distinguishes the apostles from those who come after them…

Jerome (347-420):

‘In his record of the peoples the Lord shall tell’: in the sacred writings, in His Scripture that is read to all peoples in order that all may know. Thus the apostles have written; thus the Lord Himself has spoken, not merely for a few, but that all might know and understand. Plato wrote books, but he did not write for all people but only for a few, for there are not many more than two or three men who know him. But the princes of the Church and the princes of Christ did not write only for the few, but for everyone without exception. ‘And princes’: the apostles and evangelists. ‘Of those who have been born in her.’ Note ‘who have been’ and not ‘who are.’ That is to make sure that, with the exception of the apostles, whatever else is said afterwards should be removed and not, later on, hold the force of authority. No matter how holy anyone may be after the time of the apostles, no matter how eloquent, he does not have authority, for ‘in his record of the peoples and princes the Lord shall tell of those who have been born in her.’

FC, Vol. 48, The Homilies of St. Jerome: Vol. 1, On the Psalms, Homily 18 (Washington D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1964), pp. 142-143.

And Pastor King continued:

Here is the witness of Jerome again, this time commenting on what attempts to pass for oral tradition…

Jerome (347-420):

‘In his record of the peoples and princes the Lord shall tell of these who have been born in her.’ Now the psalm did not say, those who are born in her, but who have been born in her. ‘The Lord shall tell.’ How shall he tell? Not by word of mouth, but in His writings. In His writings of whom? Of the peoples. That is not enough, for it also speaks of the princes. And which princes? Those who are born in her? No, it did not say that; but, those who have been born in her.

FC, Vol. 48, The Homilies of St. Jerome: Vol. 1, On the Psalms, Homily 18 (Washington D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1964), p. 142.

When Jerome references “those who have been born in her,” i.e. the church, he is referring to the Apostolic Scriptures, as the above citation in my previous post makes abundantly clear.

And from his commentary on Haggai, I offer four different translations of his comment on Haggai 1:11…

Jerome (347-420):

The other things, also, which they find and feign, of themselves, without the authority and testimonies of the Scriptures, as if by apostolical tradition, the sword of God [the word of God in the Scriptures] strikes down.

From Jerome’s Commentary on Haggai, Chapter 1 as cited in William Goode, The Divine Rule of Faith and Practice, 2nd ed., (London: John Henry Jackson, 1853), Vol. 3, p. 151.

“The sword of God smites whatever they draw and forges from a pretended (quasi) apostolic tradition, without the authority and testimony of the Scriptures.”

From Jerome’s Commentary on Haggai, Chapter 1 as cited in Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, trans. George Musgrave Giger, ed. James T. Dennison (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1992), Vol. 1, p. 143.

“But the word of God smites the other things, which they spontaneously discover, and feign as it were by an apostolical authority, without the authority and testimony of the Scriptures.”

From Jerome’s Commentary on Haggai, Chapter 1 as cited in George Finch, A Sketch of the Romish Controversy (London: G. Norman, 1831), p. 168.

“The sword of God, which is the living Word of God, strikes through the things which men of their own accord, without the authority and testimonies of Scripture, invent and think up, pretending that it is apostolic tradition.”

From Jerome’s Commentary on Haggai, Chapter 1 as cited in Martin Chemnitz, Examination of the Council of Trent, Part 1, trans. Fred Kramer (St. Louis: Concordia, 1971), pp. 228–229.

Latin text:

Sed et alia quae absque auctoritate et testimoniis Scripturarum quasi traditione apostolica sponte reperiunt atque confingunt, percutit gladius Dei; homines autem et jumenta, vel λογισμοὺ et αἰσθήσεις, id est, cogitationes et sensus eorum accipiamus.

Jerome, as provided by Jacques Paul Migne, Patrologiae Latinae, Commentariorum In Aggaeum Prophetam,1:11, 25:1398 (Paris: J.-P. Migne, 1857-87)

V. Macarius of Egypt

With respect to Macarius of Egypt (a relatively obscure 4th century “saint”), Mr. Cross provides the following quotation: “Afterwards Moses was succeeded by Peter, who had committed to his hands the new Church of Christ, and the true priesthood.”

This is taken from Homily 26, Section 9, of Macarius’ 50 Spiritual Homilies. The entire section provides context:

In the Old Testament, Moses and Aaron, when they held the priesthood, had much to suffer. Caiaphas, when he occupied their seat, himself persecuted and condemned the Lord; yet the Lord, in respect for the priesthood, suffered him to execute the office. The prophets likewise were persecuted by their own nation. Peter was the successor of Moses, entrusted with Christ’s new church and with the true priesthood; for we have now a baptism of fire and the Spirit, and a circumcision in the heart. For the divine and heavenly Spirit lodges in the mind; nevertheless even these perfect ones, so long as they are in the flesh, are not free from anxiety, because of the freedom of their will, but are still subject to fear, and for that same reason are allowed to be tempted. But if the soul succeeds in reaching the city of the saints, then, but not before, it is able to live without trouble and temptations. There, no longer is there anxiety, or trouble, or weariness, or old age, or Satan, or warfare, but rest, joy, peace, and salvation. The Lord is in the midst of them, and He is called the Saviour, because He saves the captives. He is called the Physician, forasmuch as He gives the heavenly and divine medicine, and heals the sufferings of the soul; for in some respects they have dominion over the man. To speak of them in comparison, Jesus is King and God; Satan is an usurper and a tyrant.


As you can see, in context the point is that this world is full of suffering and temptation, and anxiety that will be removed in the next life. Peter as the successor of Moses could be taken to indicate some kind of universal jurisdiction (though obviously Macarius doesn’t make that application), but standing in line right behind Caiaphas, it doesn’t suggest the kind of authority that Rome wants. It’s an authority that Christ submitted to out of respect, but not one that could bind anyone’s conscience.

Moreover, consider the additional light shed on Macarius’ words by the comments in his next homily:

As when persons of rank and wealth and high birth by their own will and choice forsake their wealth and birth and dignities, and go and put on poor sordid clothing, and dishonour instead of respect, and bear hardship, and are held of no account, this is all left to their own discretion. You may believe me, that even the apostles, perfected as they were in grace, were not hindered by that grace from doing as they desired, if they wished occasionally to do a thing that was not pleasing to grace. Our nature is susceptible of good and bad, and the adverse power acts by persuasion, not compulsion. You have free choice to incline which way you will. Do you not read that Peter was to be blamed, [Galatians 2:2] and that Paul went and reproved him. In spite of being what he was, he was still to be blamed. And Paul, for all his spirituality, of his own will, engaged in a dispute with Barnabas, and they grew so sharp that they withdrew from one another. [Acts 15:39] And that same Paul says, “Ye that are spiritual, restore such an one, considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.” [Galatians 6:1] There! the spiritual are tempted, because their freedom of will remains; and the enemies keep plying them as long as they are in this world.

Notice that Macarius does not assign such a level of grace even to Peter or Paul so that they would be preserved entirely from errors. Macarius clearly thinks that Peter is someone important (“in spite of being what he was”), but at the same time he does not paint an unrealistic picture of him.

While I am on the subject of Macarius, perhaps it is worthwhile sharing his view of Scripture. One of the 50 homilies is particularly on the subject of why we were given the Scriptures. It’s short, so enjoy!

Why the Holy Scripture was given to us by God.

As a king writes letters to those upon whom he wishes to confer patents and special gifts, and signifies to them all, “endeavour to come quickly to me, that you may receive from me royal gifts”; and if they do not come and receive them, they will be none the better off for having read the letters, but, on the contrary, are liable to be put to death for not choosing to go and be honoured by the king’s hand; so God, the King, has sent to men the holy scriptures as His letters, declaring by them that they should pray to God and believing should ask and receive a heavenly gift of the substance of His Godhead; for it is written, That we should be made partakers of the divine nature. [2 Pet. i. 4.] But if man will not come, and ask, and receive, he is none the better off for having read the scriptures, but is rather liable to death, because he did not choose to receive from the heavenly King the gift of life, without which it is impossible to obtain immortal life, which is Christ. To whom be glory for ever. Amen.

That stands in contrast to Rome’s view of the Scriptures, both theoretically and practically. Practically in that Rome sees no special urgency in people receiving the Scriptures themselves, and theoretically in that Rome’s view of the Scriptures could not lead the people who read but do not obey to be blamed, since allegedly one needs “the Church” to understand the Scriptures.

But in another place Macarius writes:

When the rich men of the earth have brought much fruit into their garners, they set to work again every day to get more, in order to have plenty, and not run short. If they presume upon the wealth laid up in the garners, and take things easily and add no more, but use up what they have stored already, they soon sink into want and poverty. So they have to labour and add, enlarging their intake, that they may not get behindhand. In Christianity, to taste of the grace of God is like that. Taste, it says, and see how gracious the Lord is. [Ps. xxxiv. 8.] This tasting is an effectual power of the Spirit in full certainty, ministering in the heart. As many as are the sons of light, and of the ministry of the New Covenant in the Holy Ghost, these have nothing to learn from men; they are taught of God. [1 Thess. iv. 9.] Grace itself writes upon their hearts the laws of the Spirit. They ought not therefore to rest their assurance only upon the scriptures that are written in ink; the grace of God writes the laws of the Spirit and the mysteries of heaven upon the tables of the heart [2 Cor. iii. 3.] as well. For the heart governs and reigns over the whole bodily organism; and when grace possesses the ranges of the heart, it reigns over all the members and the thoughts. For there, in the heart, is the mind, and all the faculties of the soul, and its expectation; therefore grace penetrates also to all the members of the body.

– Macarius the Egyptian, Homily 15, Section 20

He’s not teaching Scripture alone there, he’s teaching Scripture and conscience, and says that these holy men “have nothing to learn from men”! Isn’t that remarkable! One wonders if we will now hear some Roman Catholic criticism of Macarius and his flawed hermeneutical principle of relativism or some kind of “solo scriptura” criticism of him.

Here Macarius again saying much the same thing as we’ve seen above:

As the husbandman governs a yoke of oxen and tills the ground, so the Lord Jesus, the fair true Husbandman, yoked the apostles two and two and sent them forth, tilling with them the ground of those who hear and truly believe. Only this is worth saying, that the kingdom of God and the preaching of the apostles is not in the word of hearing only, like one who knows a set of words and rehearses them to others, but the kingdom is in power and effectual working of the Spirit. This was the sad case of the children of the Israelites; always studying the scriptures, and in fact making the Lord the theme of their study, and yet not receiving the truth itself, they parted with that inheritance to others. So those who rehearse to others words of the Spirit, while they do not themselves possess the word in power, part with the inheritance to others. Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost for ever. Amen.

– Macarius the Egyptian, Homily 28, Section 7

The problem, you see, is not any insufficiency in Scripture – it is the failure of those (even those who study the Scriptures) to believe what the Scriptures say – to receive their truth. Moreover, what is especially interesting is how the words of Scripture have their own power that they can convey even when rehearsed in the mouths of those who do not have the power of those words! This is not a picture of a Holy Spirit guided magisterium, but an unregenerate magisterium that still passes on the inheritance to others, because the power is in the Scriptures themselves.

One more selection for your reading pleasure:

For God is just and just are His judgments, and with Him there is no respect of persons; and He judges each in proportion to the varying benefits with which He has endowed mankind benefits of body or of spirit, whether knowledge, or understanding, or discernment and will require the fruits of virtue accordingly, and will render to each the due reward of his works in the day of judgment. He will come, we are told, and will render to every man according to his deeds, [Rom. ii. 6.] and mighty men shall be mightily tormented, for mercy will soon pardon the meanest; [Wisd. vi. 6.] and the Lord says, The servant which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes; but he that knew not, and did things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes; and unto whom much is given, of him shall much be required, and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more. [Luke xii. 47, 48.] The knowledge and understanding I have mentioned may be variously thought of, either according to grace and the heavenly gift of the Spirit, or in conformity with the natural intelligence and discernment, and through the instruction of the divine scriptures. Of each man will be required the fruits of virtue in proportion to the benefits conferred upon him from God, whether natural, or given by God’s grace. Therefore every man is inexcusable before God in the day of judgment, for every man will be required to answer of his will and purpose according to what he knew of the fruits of faith and love and every other virtue towards God, whether he knew by hearing, or had never heard the word of God.

– Macarius the Egyptian, Homily 29, Section 6

Just read that and see what are the three sources of heavenly knowledge: the Spirit, the light of reason, and Scripture. Isn’t it truly remarkable that Macarius omitted the Roman magisterium? In point of fact, I leafed through his fifty homilies to see if I could find Rome mentioned even once. I could not. I take that back – the Romans are mentioned twice – in terms of the Roman Army versus the Persian Army. But as far as referring to the bishop of Rome, or the church of Rome – a golden silence seems to prevail. Paul’s epistle to the Romans gets a lot of attention,b ut Perhaps he mentioned it elsewhere in his writings, but the bottom line is that Mr. Cross will need to present something more than a single line that says something laudatory of Peter to overthrow Cardinal Congar’s conclusion. (Need more reading from Macarius? Check out Homily 37, Section 10.)

I should point out that there is some question about the authenticity of these homilies (link to discussion). However, my impression (based, admittedly, on not a lot of research) is that these homilies are still thought to be authentic.

VI. Cyril of Jerusalem

Bryan provided the following quotation from Cyril of Jerusalem:

“As the delusion [of Simon Magus] was extending, Peter and Paul, a noble pair, chief rulers of the Church, arrived and set the error right…. And marvellous though it was, yet no marvel. For Peter was there, who carrieth the keys of heaven.”

This quotation is taken from Cyril’s Catechetical Lectures, Lecture VI, Section 15:

As the delusion was extending, Peter and Paul, a noble pair, chief rulers of the Church, arrived and set the error right; and when the supposed god Simon wished to shew himself off, they straightway shewed him as a corpse. For Simon promised to rise aloft to heaven, and came riding in a dæmons’ chariot on the air; but the servants of God fell on their knees, and having shewn that agreement of which Jesus spake, that If two of you shall agree concerning anything that they shall ask, it shall be done unto them [Matt. xviii. 19.], they launched the weapon of their concord in prayer against Magus, and struck him down to the earth. And marvellous though it was, yet no marvel. For Peter was there, who carrieth the keys of heaven [Ib. xvi. 19.]: and nothing wonderful, for Paul was there, who was caught up to the third heaven, and into Paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful far a man to utter [2 Cor. xii. 2, 4.]. These brought the supposed God down from the sky to earth, thence to be taken down to the regions below the earth. In this man first the serpent of wickedness appeared; but when one head had been cut off, the root of wickedness was found again with many heads.

Greek Text: Παρατεινομένης δὲ τῆς πλάνης, ἀγαθῶν ξυνωρὶς διορθοῦται τὸ πταῖσμα, Πέτρος καὶ Παῦλος παραγενόμενοι, οἱ τῆς ἐκκλησίας προστάται· καὶ ἐπιδεικτιῶντα τὸν νομιζόμενον Θεὸν Σίμωνα, νεκρὸν εὐθὺς ἀπέδειξαν. Ἐπαγγελλομένου γὰρ τοῦ Σίμωνος μετεωρίζεσθαι εἰς τοὺς οὐρανοὺς, καὶ ἐπ’ ὀχήματος δαιμόνων ἐπ’ ἀέρος φερομένου, γόνυ κλίναντες οἱ τοῦ Χριστοῦ δοῦλοι καὶ τὴν συμφωνίαν ἐνδειξάμενοι, ἣν εἶπεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Ὅτι ἐὰν δύο ἐξ ὑμῶν συμφωνήσωσι, περὶ παντὸς πράγματος οὗ ἐὰν αἰτήσωνται, γενήσεται αὐτοῖς· τὸ τῆς ὁμονοίας βέλος διὰ τῆς προσευχῆς πέμψαντες κατὰ τοῦ μάγου, κατέβαλον αὐτὸν εἰς τὴν γῆν. Καὶ οὐδὲν θαυμαστὸν, καίπερ ὂν θαυμαστόν· Πέτρος γὰρ ἦν, ὁ τὰς κλεῖς τῶν οὐρανῶν περιφέρων. Καὶ οὐ θαύματος ἄξιον· Παῦλος γὰρ ἦν, ὁ εἰς τρίτον οὐρανὸν ἁρπαγεὶς καὶ εἰς παράδεισον καὶ ἀκούσας ἄῤῥητα ῥήματα, ἃ οὐκ ἐξὸν ἀνθρώπῳ λαλῆσαι. [Οἳ καὶ] ἐξ ἀέρος ἐπὶ γῆν κατήγαγον τὸν νομιζόμενον Θεὸν, μέλλοντα εἰς τὰ καταχθόνια κατάγεσθαι. Οὗτος πρῶτος ὁ τῆς κακίας δράκων· μιᾶς δὲ ἐκκοπείσης κεφαλῆς, πολυκέφαλος εὑρέθη πάλιν ἡ τῆς κακίας ὕλη.

Let’s set aside the fact that Cyril is relating to us the fictional account of Peter’s and Paul’s showdown with Simon Magus, the first heretic. What does the text say? It gives Peter and Paul equal billing as “chief rulers of the church,” and it says Peter carries the keys of heaven.

There is nothing about Peter having universal jurisdiction or about Rome being the seat of a bishop who rules over the entire church. There is no discussion about what it means to have the “keys of the kingdom,” nor is that the point of the text, which is simply describing the glory of these two great apostles in contrast to the evil of Simon Magus.

I was thinking that perhaps the present tense of “carries” might be significant, because it would definitively mean that he didn’t think that Peter passed the keys on to a successor or successors. However, I think that’s a lot more weight than a present participle can bear. Nevertheless, the opposite point needs to be made, namely that there is no indication at all regarding whether anyone else carried the keys.

I would be remiss if I omitted to inform the reader about Cyril of Jerusalem’s rule of faith, explained in the same work, Catechetical Lecture IV, 17:

Have thou ever in thy mind this seal, which for the present has been lightly touched in my discourse, by way of summary, but shall be stated, should the Lord permit, to the best of my power with the proof from the Scriptures. For concerning the divine and holy mysteries of the Faith, not even a casual statement must be delivered without the Holy Scriptures; nor must we be drawn aside by mere plausibility and artifices of speech. Even to me, who tell thee these things, give not absolute credence, unless thou receive the proof of the things which I announce from the Divine Scriptures. For this salvation which we believe depends not on ingenious reasoning, but on demonstration of the Holy Scriptures.

By this standard, of course, Cyril of Jerusalem would want us to evaluate papal primacy or other such doctrines according to Scripture. If it came up lacking, we would not accept it, since it lacks proof from the Divine Scriptures.

VII. Basil the Great aka Basil of Caesarea

For Basil, Bryan again combined quotations.

The first quotation is as follows:

“… him that was called from amongst fishermen unto the ministry of the Apostleship; him who on account of the pre-eminence of his faith received upon himself the building of the Church.”

This is taken from Basil’s Against Eunonmius, Book 2, Chapter 4. Berington and Kirk provide a little more of the context:

When we hear the name of Peter, that name does not cause our minds to dwell on his substance, but we figure to our minds the properties that are connected with him. For we at once, on hearing that name, think of the son of him that came from Bethsaida, Andrew’s brother; him that was called from amongst fishermen unto the ministry of the Apostleship; him who on account of the pre-eminence of his faith received upon himself the building of the Church.

This is one example that Basil is giving regarding the fact that a name calls to mind a whole host of different details of a person. The other example is the name “Paul,” which reminds us of “of Tarsus, a Hebrew, as to following the law – a Pharisee, Gamaliel’s disciple, because of rivalry, persecutor of the Church of God, from the awful brought to knowledge by a vision, apostle to the Gentiles.”

There is a mention of “preeminence” of Peter here, but the preeminence is of faith. Furthermore, there is mention of the church being founded on Peter. In context, however, the explanation for why it was founded on him was the preeminence of his faith. This is a very personal explanation, not one that would be applicable to every bishop of Rome. And, of course, there is no mention of Rome or a papacy, or the idea that what is brought to mind by the name “Peter” should be the papacy.

The second quotation comes from a completely different work of Basil’s, Basil’s Commentary on Isaiah, Chapter 2, Section 66. I say “work of Basil’s,” but actually the authorship of the work is disputed. Nikolai Lipatov has defended the authenticity of the work (as mentioned here), but more usually it’s my understanding that this book is referenced as being Pseudo-Basil (see the discussion here), thus accepting Lipatov’s conclusion would mean revising the consensus view since about the time of Erasmus (see discussion here).

The quotation is this:

“One also of these mountains was Peter, upon which rock the lord promised to build His Church”.

There is actually an extant English translation of this work, by Lipatov, but it is rather hard to obtain.

Colin Lindsay provides this translation of the sentence in its immediate context:

The house of God, which is the Church of the living God, the foundations of which are on the holy mountains, for it is built upon the foundation of Apostles and Prophets. One also of these mountains was Peter, upon which Rock the Lord promised to build His Church.

As can be seen in the original (original and a Latin translation here), Pseudo-Basil goes on to explain that Peter was called a high rock, because his utterance was firmly rooted in faith, and strongly and firmly it endured the wound of temptation. This is a highly personal explanation: the focal point is his personal faith.

So, like the previous quotation, this quotation (which obviously does not mention Rome, or succession, or anything except for a reference to Peter as being among the various mountains upon which the church is set) is not something that would disprove what Congar stated, namely that “this passage was not applied by the Fathers to the papal primacy” (leaving aside the application used by those at Rome).

Perhaps it would be appropriate for me to provide some comment from Basil on the Scriptures:

Into the life eternal the Holy Scriptures lead us, which teach us through divine words. But so long as our immaturity forbids our understanding their deep thought, we exercise our spiritual perceptions upon profane writings, which are not altogether different, and in which we perceive the truth as it were in shadows and in mirrors. Thus we imitate those who perform the exercises of military practice, for they acquire skill in gymnastics and in dancing, and then in battle reap the reward of their training. We must needs believe that the greatest of all battles lies before us, in preparation for which we must do and suffer all things to gain power. Consequently we must be conversant with poets, with historians, with orators, indeed with all men who may further our soul’s salvation. Just as dyers prepare the cloth before they apply the dye, be it purple or any other color, so indeed must we also, if we would preserve indelible the idea of the true virtue, become first initiated in the pagan lore, then at length give special heed to the sacred and divine teachings, even as we first accustom ourselves to the sun’s reflection in the water, and then become able to turn our eyes upon the very sun itself.

– Basil the Great, Address to Young Men on the Right Use of Greek Literature, Section 2 (see translation here)

Basil’s point is both that there are general skills in reading that we can hone and polish on profane writings that we can then apply to the Scriptures, to be taught by the Scriptures, and that there are truths even in pagan lore, but the sun of truth is Holy Scripture. He even goes on to say in section 10, “To be sure, we shall become more intimately acquainted with these precepts in the sacred writings, but it is incumbent upon us, for the present, to trace, as it were, the silhouette of virtue in the pagan authors.” For Basil, the primary teacher of these young men is to be the Scriptures. What you may find even more surprising, his address never once mentions “the church” as such.

In Basil’s undoubtedly authentic work “On the Holy Spirit,” he calls Christ by the name Rock (twice in chapter VIII)(once in Chapter XIV), following Scripture’s own teaching that “The Rock was Christ,” (1 Corinthians 10:4). We realize that Roman Catholics don’t think that this view is exclusive of a view that Peter is the rock of Matthew 16:18, but I’m simply unaware of anywhere in Basil’s authentic works where he explicitly interprets Matthew 16:18 even as being that Peter is the Rock (unless we count the instance in “Against Eunomius” above), and certainly no instances where Peter and the Roman bishops in succession are the rock.

Again, Pastor David King provides some excellent further thoughts on Basil:

Here is what Saint Basil thought of the Roman bishop in his day. Notice his comments on western pride.

Basil of Caesarea (AD. 329-379):

As soon as I got home, after contracting a severe illness from the bad weather and my anxieties. I straightway received a letter from the East to tell me that Paulinus had had certain letters from the West addressed to him, in acknowledgment of a sort of higher claim [reference to the see of Rome – David King’s note]; and that the Antiochene rebels were vastly elated by them, and were next preparing a form of creed, and offering to make its terms a condition of union with our Church. Besides all this it was reported to me that they had seduced to their faction that most excellent man Terentius. I wrote to him at once as forcibly as I could to induce him to pause; and I tried to point out their disingenuousness.

NPNF2: Vol. VIII, Letters, Letter 216, To Meletius, the Bishop of Antioch. (The translation that Edward Denny offers is, “After I returned…I received immediately letters from the East stating that Paulinus’ friends had certain letters from the West conceived as if they were the credentials of a sovereign power—ἀρχῆς—and that his partisans were proud of it, and exulted in these letters, moreover, were putting forth their faith, and on these terms were ready to join with the Church that stands by us.” See Edward Denny, Papalism (London: Rivingtons, 1912), p. 636, §1217.)

Basil of Caesarea is protesting Rome’s refusal to recognize Meletius as the rightful bishop of Antioch. The Pope recognized Paulinus instead, and regarded Meletius as out of communion with Rome. Basil refused to bow to papal jurisdiction. I have serious doubts whether Mr. Cross has really interacted with the history of the east vs. the west. Of all people to accuse of Roman primacy, Basil is no witness in favor of Rome.

Basil of Caesarea (AD. 329-379):

1. When I heard that your excellency had again been compelled to take part in public affairs, I was straightway distressed (for the truth must be told) at the thought of how contrary to your mind it must be that you after once giving up the anxieties of official life, and allowing yourself leisure for the care of your sold, should again be forced back into your old career. But then I bethought me that peradventure the Lord has ordained that your lordship should again appear in public from this wish to grant the boon of one alleviation for the countless pains which now beset the Church in our part of the world. I am, moreover, cheered by the thought that I am about to meet your excellency once again before I depart this life.

2. But a further rumor has reached me that you are in Antioch, and are transacting the business in hand with the chief authorities. And, besides this, I have heard that the brethren who are of the party of Paulinus are entering on some discussion with your excellency on the subject of union with us; and by “us” I mean those who are supporters of the blessed man of God, Meletius. I hear, moreover, that the Paulinians are carrying about a letter of the Westerns, assigning to them the episcopate of the Church in Antioch, but speaking under a false impression of Meletius, the admirable bishop of the true Church of God. I am not astonished at this. They are totally ignorant of what is going on here; the others, though they might be supposed to know, give an account to them in which party is put before truth; and it is only what one might expect that they should either be ignorant of the truth, or should even endeavor to conceal the reasons which led the blessed Bishop Athanasius to write to Paulinus. But your excellency has on the spot those who are able to tell you accurately what passed between the bishops in the reign of Jovian, and from them I beseech you to get information. I accuse no one; I pray that I may have love to all, and “especially unto them who are of the household of faith;” and therefore I congratulate those who have received the letter from Rome. And, although it is a grand testimony in their favor, I only hope it is true and confirmed by facts. But I shall never be able to persuade myself on these grounds to ignore Meletius, or to forget the Church which is under him, or to treat as small, and of little importance to the true religion, the questions which originated the division. I shall never consent to give in, merely because somebody is very much elated at receiving a letter from men. Even if it had come down from heaven itself, but he does not agree with the sound doctrine of the faith, I cannot look upon him as in communion with the saints.

NPNF2: Vol. VIII, Letters, Letter 214, §1-2, To Count Terentius.

Basil of Caesarea (AD. 329-379) on western pride:

Really lofty souls, when they are courted, get haughtier than ever. If the Lord be propitious to us, what other thing do we need? If the anger of the Lord lasts on what help can come to us from the frown of the West? Men who do not know the truth, and do not wish to learn it, but are prejudiced by false suspicions, are doing now as they did in the case of Marcellus, when they quarreled with men who told them the truth, and by their own action strengthened the cause of heresy. Apart from the common document, I should like to have written to their Coryphaeus [i.e., the bishop of Rome, theirs, not his Coryphaeus] — nothing, indeed, about ecclesiastical affairs except gently to suggest that they know nothing of what is going on here, and will not accept the only means whereby they might learn it. I would say, generally, that they ought not to press hard on men who are crushed by trials. They must not take dignity for pride. Sin only avails to produce enmity against God.

NPNF2: Vol. VIII, Letters, Letter 239, To Eusebius, the Bishop of Samosata.

Basil of Caesarea did not recognize the bishop of Rome as the head of all Christendom.

Basil of Caesarea (Ad 329-379):

Now you are the body of Christ and members of member’—that is, the one and only true Head which is Christ exercises dominion over and unites the members, each with the other, unto harmonious accord.

Greek text: τῆς μιᾶς καὶ μόνης ἀληθῶς κεφαλῆς.

De Judicio Dei, §3, PG 31:660., translation in Fathers of the Church, Vol. 9, Preface on the Judgment of God (New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1950), p. 41.

Basil of Caesarea denied explicitly the headship of any man over Christ’s Church. Yet, Mr, Cross, apparently wholly unfamiliar with the history of eastern vs. western relations, cites Basil as a proponent of papal primacy that was utterly foreign to Basil’s ecclesiology. Basil did not apply Matthew 16 to the bishop of Rome, and Mr. Cross should be ashamed of his attempt to mislead others.

VIII. Eulogius of Alexandria

Bryan provides the following quotation from the 6th century Alexandrian Eulogius:

“Neither to John, nor to any other of the disciples, did our Savior say, ‘I will give to thee the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven,’ but only to Peter.”

The work itself is found in the “Library of Photius,” at item 280 (the last item in the collection), book II of Eulogius’ work against the Novations (per the citation here or here). It is the first line of the book, i.e. of book two (see the Greek here). There is a French translation of this work by René Henry, Photius: Bibliothéque, CNRS, Paris (1959), but no English translation of which I’m aware.

In any event, this doesn’t say anything about primacy of Peter – it just says that it was only said to Peter “I will give thee the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven.” This quotation is quite far from contradicting anything that Congar said.

IX. Sergius, Metropolitan of Cyprus “(A.D. 649 A.D.)”, writing to to Pope Theodore, says:

“O Holy Head, Christ our God hath destined thy Apostolic See to be an immovable foundation and a pillar of the Faith. For thou art, as the Divine Word truly saith, Peter, and on thee as a foundation-stone have the pillars of the Church been fixed.”

A typical citation (see here) for this quotation is to a letter to Theodore I, taken from Session 2, of the Lateran Council of 649. This was immediately a bit puzzling, because the Lateran Council of 649 was called by the bishop following Theodore I, namely Martin I.

The solution to this problem is that the date of this letter is wrong, not simply because the “A.D.” is redundant but because the date itself is not the right year. The date is the date of the “Lateran Council of 649,” which read the letter, but the letter was written some years earlier as a synodal letter from Cyprian Synod of May 29, 643 (see herecompare here) Here’s a recent Roman Catholic citation that corrects the date (link).

But who is Sergius of Cyrus, aside from being a metropolitan of Cyrus? There are not many facts out there. He is an ancient Christian (at least broadly understood) writer, but he’s not someone I would think of as a church father. He is writing in the middle of the 7th century, and it appears that the only extant version of his writing is something preserved by Romans at Rome. I’m not sure whether this can be legitimately identified as a counter-point to what Congar has said.

The text in context, with apparently original Greek, can be found in Mansi, Volume 10, at columns 913-16 (Greek, 913 and 916 – Latin 914-15). This helps to explain the erroneous citation, since the letter is found in Mansi among the documents of the later council.

X. St. Maximus the Confessor “(c. 650)” of Constantinople writes:

Two quotations were provided by Mr. Cross.

1. “The extremities of the earth, and everyone in every part of it who purely and rightly confess the Lord, look directly towards the Most Holy Roman Church and her confession and faith, as to a sun of unfailing light awaiting from her the brilliant radiance of the sacred dogmas of our Fathers, according to that which the inspired and holy Councils have stainlessly and piously decreed. For, from the descent of the Incarnate Word amongst us, all the churches in every part of the world have held the greatest Church alone to be their base and foundation, seeing that, according to the promise of Christ Our Savior, the gates of hell will never prevail against her, that she has the keys of the orthodox confession and right faith in Him, that she opens the true and exclusive religion to such men as approach with piety, and she shuts up and locks every heretical mouth which speaks against the Most High.”

Tracking this one down was a little harder than some of the others. One book cites this as Opuscula theologica et polemica (Theological and Polemic Works), PG 90, which is a reference to an entire volume of Migne’s patrology. And it’s apparently a reference to the wrong volume, since the Theological and polemic works start at the beginning of PG 91. After some more detective work, I tracked it down in the CCC at footnote 323 of CCC 1:2:3:9:3. The quotation is the first half of a selection “From a letter which was written to Rome,” PG 91:137-40.

More specifically, these are extracts taken from a letter of Anastasius’s Letter to John the Deacon. John the Deacon (aka Johannes Hymonides) and Anastasius, librarian of the Roman church, are both Roman. The point of Anastasius’ letter was to vindicate the Roman see.

2. “How much more in the case of the clergy and Church of the Romans, which from old until now presides over all the churches which are under the sun? Having surely received this canonically, as well as from councils and the apostles, as from the princes of the latter (Peter & Paul), and being numbered in their company, she is subject to no writings or issues in synodical documents, on account of the eminence of her pontificate …..even as in all these things all are equally subject to her (the Church of Rome) according to sacerdotal law. And so when, without fear, but with all holy and becoming confidence, those ministers (the popes) are of the truly firm and immovable rock, that is of the most great and Apostolic Church of Rome.”

The Catholic Encyclopedia cites this simply as a letter (link). One website cites this as “in J.B. Mansi, ed. Amplissima Collectio Conciliorum, vol. 10” (link), which is an entire volume of conciliar documents (a volume that seems to have the letter from Sergius of Cyprus, at pp. 914 et seq.).

This seems to be taken from a letter I found this letter (or a portion of it) preserved in PL 129:585-86, which again is one of Anastasius’ works; as well as at PL 128:717A, again amongst Anastasius’ works. Based on the order in Migne’s PL129, I would have expected to find this letter just after column 708 in Mansi, Volume 10, but I did not find it there or elsewhere in Mansi, Volume 10.

The most complete text of the letter I could find was in the Jesuit Jacques Sirmond’s edition of Anastasius’ works (Opera Varia, Volume 3, 317-18)

Nos quidem super hoc auctoritatem prabere non possumus, ministerium quippe nobis est creditum, non professionem faciendi praeceptum. Illud autem vobis certum reddimus quod referamus omnia quae a vobis praetenta sunt, et chartam ipsam ostendamus ei qui consecrandus est. Et si judicaverit hanc bene habere, rogabimus annotare huic propriam subscriptionem. Nunc autem ne velitis insperate propterea nobis impedimento fieri, et vim inferre protelando, et nos hic retinendo. Neque enim est qui cuilibet, in causa fidei, vim possit inferre. In hac enim et nimis infirmus fortis valde consistit, et valde mitis bellator summus invenitur: verboque divino consortans animam, maximis etiam invectionibus magis durus quam dissolutus quodammodo reperitur. Quanto magis Romanorum Ecclessiae et Clero, quae ab olim huc ufque, ut pote senior cunctarum quae sub sole sunt Еcclessiarum, omnibus praest. Hoc certe canonice tam a Conciliis et Apostolis, quam ab horum summo principatu consecuta [Ecclesia Romanorum], et in sortem adepta, nullis omnino propter pontificatus provectionem scriptis, aut synodicarum editionibus chartarum subjecti, sicut etiam in his omnes ex aequo ei secundum jus sacerdotale subjecti consistunt.

Letter from Maximus to Thalassius (taken from Anastasius’ works, as per this citation)

So, again, in these cases, it does not appear that Bryan’s evidence contradicts what Cardinal Congar wrote.

XI. Conclusion

Congar seems to be justified in stating, “Except at Rome, this passage was not applied by the Fathers to the papal primacy; they worked out exegesis at the level of their own ecclesiological thought, more anthropological and spiritual than judicial.” It’s worth noting that the bulk of Bryan’s quotations were taken from works that are not exegetical, such as the letters quoted in the later writings. Furthermore, even among the exegetical works the works were not exegeses of Matthew, with the exception of Hilary of Poitiers.

Pastor King put it well when he explained Hilary of Poitier’s actual position:

Hilary of Poitiers never mentions, in the citation Mr. Cross produced, the see of Rome or the primacy of the Roman bishop. And he certainly did not hold to papal primacy in his day. In his work, Against Valens and Ursacius he condemns Pope Liberius as a heretic, and reproduces a letter by Liberius wherein he, the pope, excommunicates Athanasius of Alexandria from the Roman communion.

From Liberius, bishop of Rome to the Eastern bishops: To our very dear brethren and all our fellow-bishops established throughout the East, I, Liberius bishop of Rome, send greeting of eternal salvation.
Eager for your peace and unanimity of the churches after I had received your Charities’ letter about Athanasius and the rest addressed to bishop Julius of blessed memory, I followed the tradition of my predecessors and sent Lucius, Paul and Helianus, presbyters of Rome on my staff, to the aforesaid Athanasius in Alexandria, asking that he come to Rome so that the matter arising from ecclesiastical discipline in regard to him might be decided upon in his presence. I sent Athanasius a letter, through the aforesaid presbyters, in which it was stated that if he did not come, he was to know that he was a stranger to communion with the church of Rome. Consequently, I have followed your Charities’ letter, which you have sent us about the reputation of the aforesaid Athanasius, and you are to know by this letter I have sent to your united selves, that I am at peace with all of you and with all the bishops of the Catholic Church, but that the aforesaid Athanasius is estranged from my communion and that of the church of Rome and from association in Church letters. See Lionel R. Wickham, Hilary of Poitiers: Conflicts of Conscience and Law in the Fourth-century Church, Liber II Ad Constantium, section 8 (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1997), p. 70.

From Liberius in exile to Ursacius, Valens and Germinius: 1. Because I know you to be sons of peace, lovers of concord and harmony in the Catholic Church, I address you, very dear lords and brothers, by this letter. I have not been forced by any necessity, as God is my witness, but to do it for the good of the peace and concord which has prior place to martyrdom. Your wise selves are to know that Athanasius, who was the bishop of Alexandria, was condemned by me, before I wrote to the court of the holy Emperor, in accordance with the letter of the Eastern bishops, that he separated from communion with the church of Rome; as the whole body of presbyters of the church of Rome is witness. The sole reason for my appearing slower in writing letters about his reputation to our Eastern brothers and fellow-bishops, was in order that my legates, whom I had sent from Rome to the Court, or the bishops who had been deported, might both together, if possible, be recalled from exile.
2. But I want you to know this also: I asked my brother Fortunatianus to take to the most clement Emperor my letter to the Eastern bishops, in order that they too might know that I was separated from communion with Athanasius along with them. I believe his Piety will receive that letter with pleasure for the good of peace, and a copy of it I have also sent to the Emperor’s trusty eunuch Hilary. Your Charities will perceive that I have done these things in a spirit of friendship and integrity. Which is why I address you in this letter and adjure you by God almighty and his son Jesus Christ our Lord and God, to see fit to travel to the most clement Emperor Constantius Augustus and ask him to order my return to the church divinely entrusted to me, for the sake of the peace and concord in which his Piety ever rejoices, in order that the church of Rome may undergo no distress in his days. But you ought by this letter of mine to know, very dear brothers, that I am at peace with you in a spirit of calm and honesty. Great will be the comfort you secure on the day of retribution, if through you has been restored the peace of the Roman church. I want our brothers and fellow bishops Epictetus and Auxentius also, to learn through you that I am at peace, and have ecclesastical[sic] communion, with them. I think they will be pleased to receive this news. But anyone who dissents from our peace and concord which, God willing, has been established throughout the world, is to know that he is separated from our communion. See Lionel R. Wickham, Hilary of Poitiers: Conflicts of Conscience and Law in the Fourth-century Church, Liber II Ad Constantium, section 8 (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1997), pp. 78-79. Cf. also Migne, PL 10:686ff.

Interestingly enough, interspersed with the text above, the ancient catholic bishop, Hilary of Poitiers (c 315-367), now regarded by the communion of Rome as one of the lesser doctors of the church, stated . . . “Saint Hilary anathematizes him: I anathematize you, Liberius, and your associates . . . Anathema to you, prevaricating Liberius, twice and thrice!” Hilary did not hold to the primacy of the Roman bishop.

This may seem like somewhat of an overkill in response to Mr. Cross’ string citation of Fathers. Indeed, in the interest of fairness to Mr. Cross, I should point out that after I and Pastor King had posted sections of the above into the comment box, Mr. Cross seemed to retreat from his original position, stating:

My list of quotations (in #31) was intended to show examples of various Fathers outside Rome “referring to St. Peter or the See of Peter explicitly as the rock upon which Christ founded the Church, and to which Christ gave the keys of the Kingdom.” (#31) It was not intended to show examples of Fathers outside Rome appealing to Matthew 16 explicitly to defend the papal primacy of their own day.


Of course, even this limited position seems hard to defend, beyond a few fathers suggesting that Peter himself was the rock or that Peter himself personally held the keys. And, of course, such a view does not amount to papal primacy, and consequently does not contradict Cardinal Congar’s admission that “Except at Rome, this passage was not applied by the Fathers to the papal primacy … .”

I hope the reader will find this exploration of the fathers and their writings (both authentic and spurious) to be edifying.


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

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