Archive for the ‘Jason Engwer’ Category

The Bede vs. the Shroud

May 19, 2012

Jason, a shroud of Turin advocate, wrote:

There’s a vast amount of material in the Shroud literature about references to objects resembling the Shroud and possible depictions of the Shroud in artwork prior to the fourteenth century.

In point of fact, as best we can tell from the scientific and historical evidence, the shroud is not an ancient hoax, but a medieval hoax, probably dating to the 14th century – possibly later than that. But what about these claims that there is older historical evidence?

Unfortunately for shroud advocates, these claims are not very reliable. I happened to be reading the Venerable Bede’s, “On Holy Places,” in “Bede: A Biblical Miscellany,” trans. Foley and Holder. In that work, chapter IV is titled: “Concerning the Lord’s head-cloth and Another Great Shroud made by St. Mary.” This naturally got my attention, given that I had recently seen Jason’s comment.

Is this a possible historical reference to the shroud of Turin? Alas for Jason, it is not. After describing the allegedly miraculous eight foot long head cloth, Bede reports:

Another somewhat bigger shroud is also venerated in a church. Said to have been woven by St. Mary, it contains images of the twelve apostles and the Lord. It is red on one side and green on the other.

(“On the Holy Places,” Chapter IV, Section 3, p. 11) The italics is material taken by Bede from Adamnan’s “Of Holy Places,” and the parts used here can be found at Adamnan De loc. sanc. 1, 10 (CCSL 175: 194, 1-9).

While this is a shroud, and one that allegedly comes from the 1st century, and even one very loosely associated with the burial of Christ, it is pretty clearly not the Shroud of Turin. The Shroud of Turin is not red on one side and green on the other, and does not have images of the twelve apostles on it.

Adamnan’s and Bede’s silence regarding the Shroud of Turin at this point is fully expected by those of us who recognize that the Shroud of Turin is a later creation. Had such a shroud been known to exist in Bede’s time, he could hardly be expected not to discuss it at this point in his work. So, while silence cannot prove the non-existence of the shroud, it certainly suggests that the most prominent historian of the age was not aware of it.

So, yes, strictly speaking there were references to objects resembling the Shroud before the 14th century (Bede and Adamnan are 7th-8th century writers). However, these references are not references to the Shroud of Turin. Moreover, the references that are clearly not to the shroud of Turin, but to other shrouds and supposed burial clothing, demonstrate that vague references to a shroud should not be assumed to be the shroud of Turin, but can instead be related to the objects that were actually known in the earlier ages.


N.B. In fairness to Jason, after he threw out this assertion about the historical evidence, he immediately followed it by: “It’s a subject I don’t know much about. I don’t affirm any of the theories circulating about the Shroud’s transmission prior to the fourteenth century, but I wouldn’t want to reject all of them either at this point.” In criticism, though, he really shouldn’t be throwing this out as an argument, unless he’s prepared to defend the argument.

The Acorn Falls Far from the Tree – A Response to Dave Armstrong

January 18, 2010

Jason Engwer is a blogger at the Reformed blog Triablogue. Mr. Engwer had posted (in 2008) some discussion related to the rule(s) of faith in the Early Church Fathers and Rome’s claims for the church and the papacy (link to article). Dave Armstrong is a layman in the Roman Catholic church, but has recently been promoted by Roman Catholic apologist Patrick Madrid. Dave has posted a lengthy response to Mr. Engwer in four parts (first, second, third, fourth, with more apparently to come). While I was preparing this response, Jason Engwer already provided two responses (first and second). Other brethren have already responded to Dave’s post as well, such as Steve Hays (first and second). I should clarify that I am mostly responding to what Dave is saying, rather than trying to defend Mr. Engwer. Mr. Engwer is more than capable of defending himself.

1. Lack of Resemblance and Low Expectations

The weakness of Dave’s case can be seen from the very law bar that he sets for himself in terms of confirming the hypothesis of development of doctrine with respect to the church/papacy as a rule of faith. Parroting the usual developmental party line, Dave describes the similarity between the views of the early church and the view of contemporary Rome as: “just as an oak tree has little outward resemblance to an acorn, even though it is organically derived from it.” Notice what a low bar that is: there can be almost no resemblance (“outward” is simply redundant) between the views of the early church and the view of Rome.

Notice the implicit concession: the early church looked (doctrinally as well as liturgically and ecclesiastically) nothing like modern Roman Catholicism. This concession is really necessary, because even if previous generations believed that the distinctive doctrines of Roman Catholicism had been taught since the days of the apostles, no one who studies history can take that sort of claim seriously.

Naturally, there is some attempt at damage control from Dave’s side. Dave insists, for example, “We wouldn’t expect to find such a detailed understanding early on” and refers to what is found in history as being “exactly what Cardinal Newman would predict in a theologian of the second century.” Notice that the lack of resemblance leads to low expectations, and then it is alleged that the finding of a church that lacks resemblance to Rome is confirmation of the expectations! Dave’s characterization of the matter is sophistical. Newman’s hypothesis is the product and result of his study of history. It’s not as though Newman generated his hypothesis from somewhere else (such as Scripture) and then found historical confirmation of it. Instead, Newman’s hypothesis is a last-ditch attempt to explain away the many theological differences between the Rome of his day and the early church.

Indeed, Newman ends up making the same implicit concession when responding to his critics as follows: “They seem to me to expect from History more than History can furnish.” (Newman, Letter to the Duke of Norfolk) Newman even concedes:

No Catholic doctrine could be fully proved (or, for that matter, disproved) by historical evidence — ‘in all cases there is a margin left for the exercise of faith in the word of the Church.’ Indeed, anyone ‘who believes the dogmas of the Church only because he has reasoned them out of History, is scarcely a Catholic’.

– Newman, Letter to the Duke of Norfolk

History is truly unable to furnish proof of the Roman position, but the best explanation is that Rome teaches different doctrines than the early church did, because Rome has strayed from the apostolic faith.

2. Fatherless Assumptions

Dave treats “development,” for the most part, as though it could simply be taken for granted. That is to say, as though he could simply assume that it is legitimate to appeal to “development” as a solution for the problem of lack of resemblance between the early church and modern Rome. We are not given a reason to accept this assumption, nor are we are told who came up with this idea.

In the fourth part, Dave finally provides an appeal to Vincent of Lerins as allegedly supporting the idea of development. However, when one reads what Lerins has to say, we find that he describes the kind of development he is talking about as a development of expression, not progressive revelation of additional doctrines, as will be discussed below.

I found Dave’s appeal to Vincent of Lerins to be rather amusing. Dave has been fond of mocking me for using a pseudonym, but Vincent of Lerins wrote his Commonitory under the pseudonym “Peregrinus.” Likewise, Dave ties Augustine and Vincent together (“Philip Schaff also understood that both St. Augustine and St. Vincent espoused an explicit notion of doctrinal development”) but as the editor’s introduction to the Commonitory in Schaff’s collection indicates:

Vincentius has been charged with Semipelagianism. Whether he actually held the doctrine which was afterwards called by that name is not clear. Certainly the express enunciation of it is nowhere to be found in the Commonitory. But it is extremely probable that at least his sympathies were with those who held it. For not only does he omit the name of St. Augustine, who was especially obnoxious to them, when making honorable mention at any time of the champions of the faith, but he denounces his doctrine, though under a misrepresentation of it, as one of the forms of that novel error which he reprobates.


Indeed, there are remarks in the Commonitory that seem to be directly aimed at trying to argue that is ok to reconsider Augustine’s teachings:

It behoves us, then, to give heed to these instances from Church History, so many and so great, and others of the same description, and to understand distinctly, in accordance with the rule laid down in Deuteronomy, that if at any time a Doctor in the Church have erred from the faith, Divine Providence permits it in order to make trial of us, whether or not we love God with all our heart and with all our mind.

– Vincent of Lerins, Commonitory, Chapter 19 (Section 47)

But what about Vincent’s view of development? Vincent suggests that advancement is possible, while denying that change is possible. Vincent writes:

But some one will say, perhaps, Shall there, then, be no progress in Christ’s Church? Certainly; all possible progress. For what being is there, so envious of men, so full of hatred to God, who would seek to forbid it? Yet on condition that it be real progress, not alteration of the faith. For progress requires that the subject be enlarged in itself, alteration, that it be transformed into something else. The intelligence, then, the knowledge, the wisdom, as well of individuals as of all, as well of one man as of the whole Church, ought, in the course of ages and centuries, to increase and make much and vigorous progress; but yet only in its own kind; that is to say, in the same doctrine, in the same sense, and in the same meaning.

– Vincent of Lerins, Commonitory, Chapter 23 (Section 54)

Dave notes some similarities between Vincent’s view of advancement and his own view of development, but fails to address the crucial differences. For Vincent, the doctrine must always be the same doctrine in the same sens and in the same meaning: the progress must be real progress not alteration. It cannot be a transformation of one thing into something else.

Vincent continues:

The growth of religion in the soul must be analogous to the growth of the body, which, though in process of years it is developed and attains its full size, yet remains still the same. There is a wide difference between the flower of youth and the maturity of age; yet they who were once young are still the same now that they have become old, insomuch that though the stature and outward form of the individual are changed, yet his nature is one and the same, his person is one and the same. An infant’s limbs are small, a young man’s large, yet the infant and the young man are the same. Men when full grown have the same number of joints that they had when children; and if there be any to which maturer age has given birth these were already present in embryo, so that nothing new is produced in them when old which was not already latent in them when children. This, then, is undoubtedly the true and legitimate rule of progress, this the established and most beautiful order of growth, that mature age ever develops in the man those parts and forms which the wisdom of the Creator had already framed beforehand in the infant. Whereas, if the human form were changed into some shape belonging to another kind, or at any rate, if the number of its limbs were increased or diminished, the result would be that the whole body would become either a wreck or a monster, or, at the least, would be impaired and enfeebled.

– Vincent of Lerins, Commonitory, Chapter 23 (Section 55)

Notice that the point is that the parts are all framed beforehand and nothing new is added. In fact, for Vincent, if new things are added the body of doctrine becomes monstrous or at least crippled. This important principle becomes even more apparent when Vincent continues:

In like manner, it behooves Christian doctrine to follow the same laws of progress, so as to be consolidated by years, enlarged by time, refined by age, and yet, withal, to continue uncorrupt and unadulterate, complete and perfect in all the measurement of its parts, and, so to speak, in all its proper members and senses, admitting no change, no waste of its distinctive property, no variation in its limits.

– Vincent of Lerins, Commonitory, Chapter 23 (Section 56)

Again, we see that for Vincent the progress never permits change or variation in the limits of the believed doctrine. Contrary to the acorn/tree analogy in which there is no resemblance between the original state and the later state, the analogy for Vincent is of a child growing into a man, where all the parts remain the same throughout the development (as we saw above: “Men when full grown have the same number of joints that they had when children …”).

Thus, after some examples, Vincent comes to the role of the Church of Christ. Read carefully what Vincent alleges regarding the Church:

But the Church of Christ, the careful and watchful guardian of the doctrines deposited in her charge, never changes anything in them, never diminishes, never adds, does not cut off what is necessary, does not add what is superfluous, does not lose her own, does not appropriate what is another’s, but while dealing faithfully and judiciously with ancient doctrine, keeps this one object carefully in view,—if there be anything which antiquity has left shapeless and rudimentary, to fashion and polish it, if anything already reduced to shape and developed, to consolidate and strengthen it, if any already ratified and defined, to keep and guard it. Finally, what other object have Councils ever aimed at in their decrees, than to provide that what was before believed in simplicity should in future be believed intelligently, that what was before preached coldly should in future be preached earnestly, that what was before practised negligently should thenceforward be practised with double solicitude? This, I say, is what the Catholic Church, roused by the novelties of heretics, has accomplished by the decrees of her Councils,—this, and nothing else,—she has thenceforward consigned to posterity in writing what she had received from those of olden times only by tradition, comprising a great amount of matter in a few words, and often, for the better understanding, designating an old article of the faith by the characteristic of a new name.

– Vincent of Lerins, Commonitory, Chapter 23 (Section 59)

Notice that Vincent notes that the Church is a guardian. She “never adds” according to Vincent. In fact, Vincent claims that all that the Church does by Councils (“this, and nothing else”)is to hand down what she previously received, summarizing much material in few words and designating an old article of the faith by a new name. Nothing else than that, is Vincent’s assessment of the Church’s guardian role. There is no definition of new articles of faith. There is no development in the sense of change for Vincent – though there is tremendous change in the case of an acorn.

In short, Dave’s appeal to Vincent (the apparently semi-pelagian opponent of Augustine) falls short of establishing that Dave idea of development is itself an ancient view. As a result, we’re still left wondering who the father of Dave’s hypothesis is. Is it Newman in the 19th century? If so, why should anyone accept it? Dave hasn’t given reasons for us to accept it.

3. History and Scripture vs. Romanism

The difference between Dave and Vincent becomes even more apparent when Vincent asks and answer a question on the issue of novelty in the church:

But some one will ask, How is it then, that certain excellent persons, and of position in the Church, are often permitted by God to preach novel doctrines to Catholics

The reason is clearer than day why Divine Providence sometimes permits certain doctors of the Churches to preach new doctrines—“That the Lord your God may try you;” he says.

– Vincent of Lerins, Commonitory, Chapter 10 (Sections 27-28)

Notice that the reason, which Vincent has argued from appeal to Scripture, is not just perspicuous (according to Vincent) but “clearer than day.” That reason is to permit testing of the individual person. That individual person is not only permitted to exercise private judgment with respect to the orthodoxy of the particular teachings of doctors of the church, but even commanded to do so. Vincent views his readers as fully competent to make that evaluation from an examination of history and Scripture. What about Dave?

At a few points, Dave seems to act as though his readers are competent judges of history and Scripture. At one point in response to a “how can we know” question, Dave states: “Well, by looking at the history! Its not rocket science. But there is also the biblical evidence … .”

Dave, however, quotes with approval from Newman who indicates that “private judgment” is “unlawful in interpreting Scripture against the voice of authority,” and similarly cannot be “lawful in the interpretation of history” against authority. In other words, you can examine history and Scripture so long as you don’t conclude from history or Scripture that the Roman Catholic church is wrong about anything.

This phenomenon is not new.

When, however, they are confuted from the Scriptures, they turn round and accuse these same Scriptures, as if they were not correct, nor of authority, and [assert] that they are ambiguous, and that the truth cannot be extracted from them by those who are ignorant of tradition.

But, again, when we refer them to that tradition which originates from the apostles, [and] which is preserved by means of the succession of presbyters in the Churches, they object to tradition, saying that they themselves are wiser not merely than the presbyters, but even than the apostles, because they have discovered the unadulterated truth.

It comes to this, therefore, that these men do now consent neither to Scripture nor to tradition. Such are the adversaries with whom we have to deal, my very dear friend, endeavouring like slippery serpents to escape at all points.

– Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 3, Chapter 2

The same basic thing is happening here. At first there is an appeal to Scripture, but when we show that the Scriptures don’t support their contention they turn to history/tradition. Then, when we show that their contentions are not supported by tradition/history, they object that they are wiser than those men (like Vincent of Lerins) that we quote, at least in that they have (by appeal to their contemporary magisterium) discovered the unadulterated truth. So we can see that they follow neither Scripture nor history/tradition.

As Newman puts it, “in all cases there is a margin left for the exercise of faith in the word of the Church.” (Newman, Letter to the Duke of Norfolk) Margin indeed! The whole matter turns on whether one exercises faith in the word of the modern Roman church. If so, then one will necessarily not hear the arguments to contrary.

4. Evasions and Sophistry in Defense of Rome

The positional weakness of Rome can lead to various evasions and sophistry in her defense. We sadly see these crop up time and time again in Dave’s series. Here are a few examples.

a) Argument from Inapplicable Reasons

Mr. Engwer had pointed out that some of the early church fathers suggest that a particular church, such as Rome, or the churches in general are reliable. However, they did not just say that the church or churches were reliable, but also stated why the churches are reliable. Mr. Engwer observed that when the factual basis for this reliability changes, there is no basis for continuing to judge the church or churches as reliable. Look at Mr. Engwer’s comment and Dave’s response:

[Mr. Engwer wrote:]Irenaeus does refer to the current reliability of the apostolic churches. But he gives reasons for their reliability that could change with the passing of time.
[Dave replied:] Passing down an unbroken tradition or set of truths does not change over time. It either has happened and can be verified or it hasn’t.

Notice that Dave does not address the issue that Mr. Engwer posed. He simply insists that things don’t change. In other words, while he does not explicitly say so, Dave is forced to take the position that it doesn’t matter why Irenaeus thought that the apostolic churches were reliable, simply that he thought they were reliable. But ignoring why Irenaeus thought what he thought amounts (in this discussion) to make pretextual use of Irenaeus. To phrase it in Vincentian terms, Dave’s position is an alteration of Irenaeus’ position, not an advancement of Irenaeus’ position.

[UPDATE] A friend pointed out that I would be remiss to mention here Newman’s own thoughts on the Vincentian canon that Dave has attempted to rely upon:

It does not seem possible, then, to avoid the conclusion that, whatever be the proper key for harmonizing the records and documents of the early and later Church, and true as the dictum of Vincentius must be considered in the abstract, and possible as its application might be in his own age, when he might almost ask the primitive centuries for their testimony, it is hardly available now, or effective of any satisfactory result. The solution it offers is as difficult as the original problem.

– John Henry Newman, An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine (New York: Longmans, Green and Co., LTD., 1927), p. 27.

b) Argument from Comparison to “Protestantism”

When Mr. Engwer points out that even until Augustine’s time there are positions among the church fathers that are not consistent with the position of the modern Roman Catholic church. As we’ll see, Dave’s response is to say that Augustine was somehow closer to the Roman Catholic position than to the “Protestant” position. However, that’s really irrelevant to the discussion unless Jason Engwer is attempting to adopt Dave’s premise of “development” and claim that “Protestantism” is the authentic development rather than the Roman Catholic position. But Mr. Engwer does not appear to be making such an argument. Accordingly, Dave’s attempted recusal is hollow. It misses the point that Mr. Engwer has raised:

[Mr. Engwer wrote:]Even long after the time of Irenaeus, we find sources like Augustine making comments about church authority that are inconsistent with a Catholic or Orthodox view (On Baptism, Against The Donatists, 2:2-4).
[Dave responded:]To the contrary, On Baptism, 2:2-4 contradicts Protestant notions more than it does the Catholic rule of faith.

(Dave makes a similar claim in another place: “There were differences, of course, but the fathers were far closer overall to the Catholic position than anything resembling a Protestant one.” and in further place: “It’s quite amusing for a Protestant to even quibble about real or alleged differences in the early Church on ecclesiology, when one looks at what Protestantism did to [the] same …”)

Even if Dave’s claim were true about it contradicting “Protestant notions” more than it contradicts the Roman Catholic rule, that wouldn’t change the fact that it makes statements that are inconsistent with the Roman Catholic position.

c) Ignoring the Historical Aspect of Sola Scriptura

Mr. Engwer points out (in a comment with which I might disagree, but I digress) that if he were in the position of a very early church father, such as Papias, he would not hold to sola Scriptura. Dave ignores the historically conditioned aspect of sola Scriptura (namely the fact that sola Scriptura is a claim that the only infallible rule of faith we have right now is the Scriptures) and goes on to mockingly misrepresent Mr. Engwer:

[Mr. Engwer wrote:]I’ve said before that if I were in the position of somebody like Papias, I wouldn’t adhere to sola scriptura. But we aren’t in his position. We’re in a much different position. If sola scriptura had been widely or universally rejected early on, it wouldn’t follow that it couldn’t be appropriate later, under different circumstances.

[Dave responded:] … So now he “gets” it. Assuming that sola Scriptura was “widely or universally rejected early on” (as in fact it was), it doesn’t matter, you see, because (hallelujah!) it can be “appropriate later, under different circumstances.” Why are we having this discussion at all, then, if it doesn’t matter a hill of beans what the fathers en masse thought? The rule of faith is as variable as the weather and President Obama’s latest opinion on war policy.

But Dave is missing the point. It matters what the fathers thought and why they thought what they thought. Those who are present when the prophetic gift of the Lord comes can hear and follow the teachings of the prophet. Under such circumstances sola Scriptura as such is not applicable – because at that time the Word of the Lord is not speaking only through Scripture but also through the prophet. But when the prophet dies or the gift ceases, the Scriptures are again the only voice of God (although those who were living when the prophet is around may still bring to mind the Word given to him). Thus, we may divide history into five epochs:

i) Pre-Scripture

God spoke directly with Adam, with Noah, with Job, and with the Patriarchs until the time of Moses.

ii) Scripture

From the time of Moses until the last word of Scripture was penned, God spoke through Scripture and also often directly to and through living prophets, although there were apparently times that the prophetic gift was suspended in Israel.

iii) Immediately Post-Scripture

For some time after the Scripture was complete there was at least a memory among some of the believers regarding what the living prophets of their day had spoken to them.

iv) The Present Era

The present era began as the prophetic gift ceased and those who had heard the prophets died. Scripture remained, and remained as the only Word of God that was available in a reliable form.

v) The Ages to Come

Whatever one thinks of eschatology, Christ will return and we will be with Him. At that time, of course, we will not rely only on Scripture but on any further revelation that Christ gives.

The idea of Sola Scriptura as such is an idea that is relevant only to the present era. It is a factual statement that Scripture is all we have by way of an infallible rule of faith. Dave’s response suggesting relativism misses the essence of what Sola Scriptura is, and demonstrates that either Dave is unwilling or unable to address Mr. Engwer’s position for what it is.

d) Ignoring the Dispute over Ecumenical Councils

In another case, Mr. Engwer pointed out that the idea of infallible ecumenical councils may sound nice in theory, but there is dispute over what councils and what parts of which councils are infallible. Dave, apparently oblivious to these issues, blows off Mr. Engwer with mockery:

[Mr. Engwer wrote:] The ecumenical councils are the most popularly accepted examples of an exercise of alleged church infallibility. Yet, there have been many disagreements, and continue to be many, regarding which councils are ecumenical and which portions of the ecumenical councils are to be accepted.
[Dave responded:] Like what? Again, we have mere vague statements. Does anyone think this sort of method of “amateur apologist sez whatever slogan comes into his head and expects it to be accepted as Gospel Truth” is impressive?

The “vague statements” that are made are mostly vague to those unfamiliar with the issues. Engwer is referring, for instance, to the position of Quinisext Council and perhaps as well to portions of the decrees of Council of Constance, as well as generally to whether things like the reasoning applied by the Council of Florence needs to be given dogmatic weight. There are lots of these issues, which is why Mr. Engwer is able to point at them generally, and hope that folks who are at least moderately familiar with the issues (apparently unlike Dave) will be able to get it.

e) Pretending that we Think the Fathers were Protestants

One of Dave’s more base tactics is to suggest that we claim that the church fathers were “Protestants.” We don’t, and Mr. Engwer certainly doesn’t in anything of what he’s written that I’ve seen. But Dave repeatedly makes statements such as: “the ostensible Protestant project to co-opt the Church fathers and make them out to be Protestant” or “The way Jason presents the situation, it sounds as if it is almost an even battle between the proto-Protestant fathers and the Catholic ones, with the latter hopelessly divided amongst themselves.” However, Dave ought to know better. We are quite willing to let the fathers be the fathers without trying to make them in our own image.

In fact, in other places Dave seems to recognize this, since he quotes with approval from some guy named Nick who accuses Mr. Engwer of “using the typical Protestant stealth tactics,” in which “he can call them “Christian” on one hand while affirming they weren’t promoting a true Gospel on the other … .” Actually, we note that it is actually Roman Catholics these days who have become fond of referring to heretics as “Christians.” I can’t speak for Mr. Engwer, but most of the Reformed authors I’ve read regard at least most of the church fathers as Christians rather than as heretics: as those who did believe the true gospel, even if they (like us) made some mistakes.

f) Ignoring the distinction between Infallibility and Inerrancy

It’s unclear if Dave really thinks there is no important difference between inerrancy and infallibility, but he devotes a long section that appears to attempt to obfuscate the difference between the two. He even states:

Is there really all that much of a difference, and does it have any significant effect on this discussion? No. There certainly is not much difference in English.

Without the ability to distinguish between the two (even in English) Dave is unable to handle Engwer’s arguments that explain (perhaps in terms too complex for Dave) that something can be without error without being without the ability to err. The distinction is, of course, highly significant. The fact that a church hasn’t erred (yet) is quite a different claim from saying that a church is constitutionally unable to err. Yet Dave (for whatever reason) glosses over the distinction, rendering his response worse than useless.

g) Frequent Substitution of ad hominem for argumentation

Of course, there are bound to be things critical of one’s opponent in one’s writings. I’ve been critical of Dave above, but Dave employs ad hominem as a substitute for argumentation on various points. One example is this:

[Mr. Engwer wrote:]I see no reason to assume that the views of somebody like Irenaeus were equivalent to those of Catholics or Orthodox,
[Dave responded:]I know; this is the problem. Tunnel vision and historical revisionism have this blunting effect after so many years of doing that. By this I mean “equivalent” in terms of being consistent with Catholicism in kernel form, and inconsistent with Protestantism. It’s not equivalent in terms of his views being as fully developed as they were later on. But that is our view, so it is no problem for us.

Notice that the entire substance of Dave’s response is to simply claim that Irenaeus is “consistent with Catholicism in kernel form” and that he accompanies this bald assertion with allegations that Jason doesn’t see the consistency because of years of tunnel vision and historical revisionism! Dave also brings in the irrelevant claim that Irenaeus is “inconsistent with Protestantism,” which is one of the tactics we’ve already discussed above.

h) Outright Laziness

Dave complains at the outset that Mr. Engwer makes “general statements of a sweeping negative nature” but when Dave comes to very specific claims, Dave doesn’t bother to examine them carefully. For example, Mr. Engwer points to an article on Papias from Richard Bauckham, but Dave states: “I’m not gonna go read all that. I’ve spent enough time on this as it is.”

i) Double Standards

At one point, Dave accuses Mr. Engwer of misrepresenting Athanasius’ position. Dave states:

To the extent that Athanasius supposedly believed in sola Scriptura, just like Protestants do (or closer to them than to Catholics), I myself believe it in exactly the same way. In fact, I got so sick and tired of Protestants playing this game with fathers (even in direct opposition to the consensus of their own historians), that I proved that I believe it too (!): with many “prooftexts” from my own words through the years.

The problem is that Dave didn’t take the next step (which gets us back to item (h) above) and demonstrate from Athanasius and from his own words that he does not believe in sola Scriptura. If he did so, he would see what sort of evidence he could find of his own rejection of that idea, whereas there is nothing remotely close to that kind of evidence with respect to Athanasius. The reason is that Athanasius hasn’t been misrepresented.

5. The Myth of Sola Scriptura as an Heretical Distinctive (Alternative Title: Augustine Was Quite Happy to Agree with the Arians Regarding Sola Scriptura)

Although Dave refuses to acknowledge the fact (established by many Reformed authors) that many of the church fathers held to Scripture as their only infallible rule of faith, Dave is quick to allege that the “heretics” accepted Sola Scriptura. As we’ve noted above, regarding Irenaeus, the early heretics with whom he dealt said that Scripture was not enough, that tradition was not enough, and that consequently one needed knowledge one could only get from them (quite parallel, in may respects, to the practical application of the “three-legged stool” that Rome uses).

Dave claims, however:

That was Arius’ method, because it was precisely the heretics who adopted sola Scriptura. Arius agreed with the Protestant rule of faith, and he did so for the same exact reason: if one can’t trace his beliefs back through an unbroken chain of apostolic succession and tradition (Arius, being a denier of the Trinity clearly couldn’t dop [sic] that), then one must become a-historical and pretend to arrive at one’s heresies by Scripture Alone.

What is interesting here, however, is that Dave’s argument has proved too much. If the Arians really employed sola Scriptura and if sola Scriptura is an invalid rule of faith during our era, then we ought to see the fathers who opposed the Arians pointing out the error of the Arians with respect to their rule of faith. But we do not.

Of course, part of the reason is that the Arians did have apostolic succession in the sense that they were lawfully ordained priests and bishops. Arius himself had been ordained as a priest by an orthodox bishop in Alexandria – so if Arius lacked apostolic succession in that sense, then so did the whole Alexandrian church, including Athanasius, a successor (several ecclesiastical generations after) of the bishop that ordained Arius. So, if simply having a chain of ordination ensured orthodoxy, the Arians would have been orthodox. No one of that era appears to have been so foolish.

In point of fact, we don’t see anyone contesting the fact that the Scriptures are the only rule of faith. In fact, we see Augustine saying:

I should not, however, introduce the Council of Nicea to prejudice the case in my favor, nor should you introduce the Council of Ariminum that way. I am not bound by the authority of Ariminum, and you are not bound by that of Nicea. By the authority of the scriptures that are not the property of anyone, but the common witness for both of us, let position do battle with position, case with case, reason with reason.

– See WSA, Answer to Maximinus, Part I, Vol. 18, ed. John Rotelle, O.S.A., trans. Roland J. Teske, S.J. (New York: New City Press, 1995), p. 282.

6. Conclusion

Much more could be said, though perhaps the quotation from Augustine immediately above says all that needs to be said in terms of whether Dave has correctly imagined the early church. As noted above, I don’t mean to speak for either Engwer or Hays or anyone else who may have provided a response to Dave. I hope that the above response may, however, assist the reader who wishes to see some of the holes in Dave’s arguments and flaws in the position that Dave feels compelled to try to defend.

– TurretinFan

Recommended Reading – Jason Engwer – New Testament Canon

June 4, 2009

I heartily recommend for your reading edification a series of posts by Jason Engwer of Triablogue on the topic of the New Testament Canon. They are well-researched and well-written. If it is a topic that is of interest to you, I hope you will check out the series (link to index post for series).


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