Archive for the ‘Matthew Bellisario’ Category

Perspicuity of Scripture Contra Bellisario – Part 5

November 1, 2009

I’m responding to a post from Mr. Matthew Bellisario (see my first post for the introduction). In this post, I address Mr. Bellisario’s response to my quotation from Tertullian. Mr. Bellisario has put my words in italics, and I have attempted to reproduce them as he provided them, within the quotation box below. His own words are (for the most part) in the plain font:

Turretin Fan then quotes Tertullian who was a heretic himself who also lived in an age where he did not have access to the New Testament as we know it. Be that as it may maybe Turretin forgot about this text that he wrote,

Error of doctrine in the churches must necessarily have produced various issues. When, however, that which is deposited among many is found to be one and the same, it is not the result of error, but of tradition. Can any one, then, be reckless enough to say that they were in error who handed on the tradition” (Prescription against the Heretics,28).

I answer:

a) Well, most obviously, Mr. Bellisario never touches the actual quotation from Tertullian provided. Instead, he tries to dodge the question by turning to some other passage of Tertullian.

b) As to the New Testament canon question, looking at ANF3 (the volume of Schaff that includes part of Tertullian’s writings), we see that the following books are the only ones that Tertullian does not reference in that volume of Schaff:

Ruth, Ezra, Obediah, Zephaniah, Philemon, 2 John, and Jude. (also, for those interested in such things, he also refers to Tobit, Wisdom, Barch, Susanna, Bel, 1/2 Macabees, and 2 Esdras)

So, yes, even if it was a little fuzzy at the edges, his canon was essentially the same as ours. Besides that, I’ve addressed Bellisario’s implicit canon argument in previous segments.

c) Calling Tertullian an “heretic” doesn’t change the fact that he’s viewed as the father of Latin Christianity. He eventually wandered off into heresy, but the quotation provided wasn’t from an heretical work.

d) As for the additional quotation provided by Bellisario, we note initially that it does not address the same issue as the quotation that I had provided. But let’s see what the quotation says in its full context:

Grant, then, that all have erred; that the apostle was mistaken in giving his testimony; that the Holy Ghost had no such respect to any one (church) as to lead it into truth, although sent with this view by Christ, [John xiv. 26.] and for this asked of the Father that He might be the teacher of truth; [John xv. 26.] grant, also, that He, the Steward of God, the Vicar of Christ, [FN: Tertullian knows no other Vicar of Christ than the Holy Spirit. They who attribute infallibility to any mortal man become Montanists; they attribute the Paraclete’s voice to their oracle.] neglected His office, permitting the churches for a time to understand differently, (and) to believe differently, what He Himself was preaching by the apostles,—is it likely that so many churches, and they so great, should have gone astray into one and the same faith? No casualty distributed among many men issues in one and the same result. Error of doctrine in the churches must necessarily have produced various issues. When, however, that which is deposited among many is found to be one and the same, it is not the result of error, but of tradition. Can any one, then, be reckless [Audeat.] enough to say that they were in error who handed on the tradition?

– Tertullian, Prescription Against Heretics, Chapter 28

1) Notice, as an interesting but largely irrelevant (to the issue of perspicuity) issue, that Tertullian is arguing that the Holy Spirit is the Vicar of Christ (not the pope or his minions). The editor’s footnote is exactly right in that regard.

2) Notice that Tertullian’s primary point is to consider the hypothesis (which obviously views as absurd) that the entire church fell away, and not even one church maintained the truth.

3) Tertullian uses essentially a modus tolens argument. Phrased more formally, the argument is:

Major Premise: If the churches had just simply all gone off on their own separate errors, we would expect a variety of doctrine.

Minor Premise: But we see a unity of doctrine, not a diversity of doctrine.

Conclusion: Therefore, the churches did not all go off on their own separate errors.

The major premise is stated by Tertullian as “is it likely that so many churches, and they so great, should have gone astray into one and the same faith? No casualty distributed among many men issues in one and the same result. Error of doctrine in the churches must necessarily have produced various issues.”

The minor premise is stated by Tertullian as “When, however, that which is deposited among many is found to be one and the same, it is not the result of error, but of tradition.”

The conclusion is stated by Tertullian as “Can any one, then, be reckless enough to say that they were in error who handed on the tradition?”

What is the tradition that Tertullian had in mind? It is simply the gospel. We see this from Tertullian’s very next section:

In whatever manner error came, it reigned of course only as long as there was an absence of heresies? Truth had to wait for certain Marcionites and Valentinians to set it free. During the interval the gospel was wrongly preached; men wrongly believed; so many thousands were wrongly baptized; so many works of faith were wrongly wrought; so many miraculous gifts, so many spiritual endowments, were wrongly set in operation; so many priestly functions, so many ministries, were wrongly executed; and, to sum up the whole, so many martyrs wrongly received their crowns! Else, if not wrongly done, and to no purpose, how comes it to pass that the things of God were on their course before it was known to what God they belonged? that there were Christians before Christ was found? that there were heresies before true doctrine? Not so; for in all cases truth precedes its copy, the likeness succeeds the reality. Absurd enough, however, is it, that heresy should be deemed to have preceded its own prior doctrine, even on this account, because it is that (doctrine) itself which foretold that there should be heresies against which men would have to guard! To a church which possessed this doctrine, it was written—yea, the doctrine itself writes to its own church—“Though an angel from heaven preach any other gospel than that which we have preached, let him be accursed.”

– Tertullian, Prescription Against Heresies, Chapter 29

Likewise, we find confirmation that Tertullian is speaking specifically of the gospel in the immediately preceding chapter:

Since, therefore, it is incredible that the apostles were either ignorant of the whole scope of the message which they had to declare, or failed to make known to all men the entire rule of faith, let us see whether, while the apostles proclaimed it, perhaps, simply and fully, the churches, through their own fault, set it forth otherwise than the apostles had done. All these suggestions of distrust you may find put forward by the heretics. They bear in mind how the churches were rebuked by the apostle: “O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you?” [Gal. iii. 1.] and, “Ye did run so well; who hath hindered you?” [Gal. v. 7.] and how the epistle actually begins: “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from Him, who hath called you as His own in grace, to another gospel.” [Gal. i. 6.] That they likewise (remember), what was written to the Corinthians, that they “were yet carnal,” who “required to be fed with milk,” being as yet “unable to bear strong meat;” [1 Cor. iii. 1, and following verses.] who also “thought that they knew somewhat, whereas they knew not yet anything, as they ought to know.” [1 Cor. viii. 2.] When they raise the objection that the churches were rebuked, let them suppose that they were also corrected; let them also remember those (churches), concerning whose faith and knowledge and conversation the apostle “rejoices and gives thanks to God,” which nevertheless even at this day, unite with those which were rebuked in the privileges of one and the same institution.

And we see the same thing continuing back to the previous chapters:

Chapter XXVI.—The Apostles Did in All Cases Teach the Whole Truth to the Whole Church. No Reservation, Nor Partial Communication to Favourite Friends.

Chapter XXV.—The Apostles Did Not Keep Back Any of the Deposit of Doctrine Which Christ Had Entrusted to Them. St. Paul Openly Committed His Whole Doctrine to Timothy.

And continuing forward to the subsequent chapters:

Chapter XXX.—Comparative Lateness of Heresies. Marcion’s Heresy. Some Personal Facts About Him. The Heresy of Apelles. Character of This Man; Philumene; Valentinus; Nigidius, and Hermogenes.

Chapter XXXI.—Truth First, Falsehood Afterwards, as Its Perversion. Christ’s Parable Puts the Sowing of the Good Seed Before the Useless Tares.

So, in fact, the section provided by Mr. Bellisario is not helpful to his case at all. But there is a section that is better for him:

Our appeal, therefore, must not be made to the Scriptures; nor must controversy be admitted on points in which victory will either be impossible, or uncertain, or not certain enough. But even if a discussion from the Scriptures should not turn out in such a way as to place both sides on a par, (yet) the natural order of things would require that this point should be first proposed, which is now the only one which we must discuss: “With whom lies that very faith to which the Scriptures belong. From what and through whom, and when, and to whom, has been handed down that rule, by which men become Christians?” For wherever it shall be manifest that the true Christian rule and faith shall be, there will likewise be the true Scriptures and expositions thereof, and all the Christian traditions.

– Tertullian, Prescription Against Heresies, Chapter 19

How might this be more helpful? Well, it has this line that might sound nice taken out of context: “Our appeal, therefore, must not be made to the Scriptures… .” That doesn’t sound very Sola Scriptura, does it! The context, however, is simply that one cannot carry on reasonable debates about the Bible with non-Christians. What’s interesting is that when one sees that context, one realizes that Tertullian is saying, in essence, if we were dealing with Christians, we’d argue from the Bible, but since we are dealing with non-Christians, what’s the point?

Indeed, it is in that context that Tertullian is addressing the historical question of the possession of the gospel: he’s pointing out how it is impossible that all these churches all over the world could have the same gospel if it did not come from the apostles.

So, in short, we’ve seen that Mr. Bellisario didn’t even address the quotation provided from Tertullian and provided us with an irrelevant quotation from Tertullian.

-TurretinFan

Perspicuity of Scripture Contra Bellisario – Part 4

October 31, 2009

I’m responding to a post from Mr. Matthew Bellisario (see my first post for the introduction). In this post, I address Mr. Bellisario’s response to my quotation from Irenaeus. Mr. Bellisario has put my words in italics, and I have attempted to reproduce them as he provided them, within the quotation box below. His own words are (for the most part) in the plain font:

Then Turretin Fan turns to butcher the words of Saint Irenaeus. One has to wonder when this guy will stop. So he writes,

We have many arguments at our disposal, we might, as Irenaeus (about A.D. 130 – 200) did and take the position that the perspicuity of Scripture is self-evident, hidden only from the blind:

Since, therefore, the entire Scriptures, the prophets, and the Gospels, can be clearly, unambiguously, and harmoniously understood by all, although all do not believe them; and since they proclaim that one only God, to the exclusion of all others, formed all things by His word, whether visible or invisible, heavenly or earthly, in the water or under the earth, as I have shown from the very words of Scripture; and since the very system of creation to which we belong testifies, by what falls under our notice, that one Being made and governs it,—those persons will seem truly foolish who blind their eyes to such a clear demonstration, and will not behold the light of the announcement [made to them]; but they put fetters upon themselves, and every one of them imagines, by means of their obscure interpretations of the parables, that he has found out a God of his own.

– Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 2, Chapter 27, Section 2

Many arguments at his disposal? Many weak arguments. What does this prove? We all have to ask ourselves who the blind one is? The one who reads the Scriptures from within the Church or outside of it. Also once again Saint Irenaeus lived in the middle of the second century, which did not possess a universal New Testament text. So it is obvious that this Saint was not referring to the method of Scripture Alone as Turretin Fan understands it to be. It is impossible. Most likely the Saint was referring to the Gospels and the Old Testament, making light of the parables of Jesus, which are only revealed to those whom Christ had removed the blinders from so they could understand them. If anything this defeats Turretin Fan’s own argument. One has to wonder if Turretin Fan has really read this Father at any length because the Saint tells us how we are to understand the Scriptures in the very same letter just a couple of books later. He tells us that they must be understood in harmony with the Church’s Tradition and from within the apostolic succession of the bishops, which Turretin rejects. Turretin Fan conveniently forgot that part. A flimsy flam for sure. Lets read it shall we?

“True knowledge is the doctrine of the Apostles, and the ancient constitution of the Church throughout all the world, and the distinctive manifestation of the body of Christ according to the successions of the bishops, by which they have handed down that Church which exists in every place, and has come even unto us, being guarded and preserved, without any forging of Scriptures, by a very complete system of doctrine, and neither addition nor curtailment [in the truth which she believes]; and a lawful and diligent exposition in harmony with the Scriptures, both without danger and without blasphemy; and ‘above all, it consists in] the pre-eminent gift of love, which is more precious than knowledge, more glorious than prophecy, and which excels all the other gifts of God.” — Irenaeus, Against Heresies (Bk. 4, Chap. 33)

(He had placed bold on his quotation of Irenaeus, I’ve removed that bold.) I answer:

1) There is a fair amount of chaff in this particular segment of Mr. Bellisario’s response. I’ll just identify the comments that add nothing to his discussion, and address them as a group:

a) Then Turretin Fan turns to butcher the words of Saint Irenaeus.
b) One has to wonder when this guy will stop.
c) Many arguments at his disposal? Many weak arguments. What does this prove?
d) A flimsy flam for sure.

I think it should be apparent that these arguments require no substantive response since they make no merit-based claim. Thankfully, Mr. Bellisario does make a few arguments that go beyond simple rhetoric.

2) “We all have to ask ourselves who the blind one is? The one who reads the Scriptures from within the Church or outside of it.”

It may simply be that this is another one of Bellisario’s colorful rhetorical flourishes. I’m trying to give Mr. Bellisario the benefit of the doubt here, though. Who is the blind one according to Irenaeus? It is the person who refuses to believe the clear, unambiguous, and harmonious teachings of the “entire Scriptures, the prophets, and the Gospels.” Nothing about refusing to interpret them within “the Church” or outside of it. “The Church” doesn’t even into the point that Irenaeus is making. In fact, quite the opposite is the case. Irenaeus’ point is that those writings (“the entire Scriptures, the prophets, and the Gospels”) speak “clearly, unambiguously, and harmoniously” and that you don’t need special qualifications (“by all”) for this purpose. Irenaeus explains away the objection of those who misinterpret by blaming those people: not the Scriptures.

3) “Also once again Saint Irenaeus lived in the middle of the second century, which did not possess a universal New Testament text.”

Actually, Irenaeus is thought to have died at the beginning of the third century (about A.D. 202). I’ve addressed the referenced (“once again”) mistaken concept regarding the canon in the first instance in which Mr. Bellisario raised it. His objection here has a slightly different twist, though. Rather than just claim that Irenaeus didn’t know what the canon was, he claims that Irenaeus did not possess a “universal New Testament text.”

a) This is a strange objection. So what if he did not have a complete copy of the New Testament? Irenaeus explicitly states that the gospels speak “clearly, unambiguously, and harmoniously” regarding at least certain important things. Unless Mr. Bellisario is sticking with his straw man that our position is that everything in Scripture has to be perspicuous, it is odd for Mr. Bellisario to complain that Irenaeus had an incomplete New Testament.

b) It should be fairly apparent that Mr. Bellisario is just speculating regarding what Irenaeus did or didn’t have. All the books of the Bible had already been written over a generation before Irenaeus was born. Furthermore, Irenaeus specifically wrote against Marcion, explaining that the number of Gospels was exactly four:

It is not possible that the Gospels can be either more or fewer in number than they are. For, since there are four zones of the world in which we live, and four principal winds, while the Church is scattered throughout all the world, and the pillar and ground of the Church is the Gospel and the spirit of life; it is fitting that she should have four pillars, breathing out immortality on every side, and vivifying men afresh. From which fact, it is evident that the Word, the Artificer of all, He that sits upon the cherubim, and contains all things, He who was manifested to men, has given us the Gospel under four aspects, but bound together by one Spirit.

– Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 3, Chapter 11, Section 8

Of course, just because Irenaeus somehow knew the number of gospels over a hundred years before Athanasius or the councils of Hippo and Carthage and a thousand years before Trent may not seem like proof enough that one doesn’t need an authoritative ecumenical council in order to identify the Scriptures.

c) I don’t (right now, at any rate) have time or interest in tracking down precisely which Scriptures were quoted by which of the apostolic fathers. Suffice that in the Schaff patrology, first volume of the Ante-Niceaen fathers (ANF1), the Scripture index contains quotations from all of the books of the Bible except:

Ruth
Ezra
Nehemiah
Obediah
Nahum

(and for those interested, Schaff also lists quotations from Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Baruch, Susanna, and Sirach)

Based on this Scripture index, all of the New Testament books are quoted from (or alluded to) by the combination of the apostolic fathers, Justin Martyr, and Irenaeaus (Irenaeus being chronologically last) (link to index). So, one wonders what makes Bellisario think that Irenaeus didn’t have the whole New Testament? He doesn’t tell us why he thinks that. (Addendum, Schaff includes an Irenaeus-specific index. In that one, there is a quotation, reference or allusion by Irenaeus to all the books of the New Testament except Philemon and 3 John, and to the Old Testament books except those identified above, and further 1&2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job, Ecclesiastes, Zephaniah, and Haggai.)

4) “So it is obvious that this Saint was not referring to the method of Scripture Alone as Turretin Fan understands it to be. It is impossible.”

Mr. Bellisario has again forgotten that the issue was and is the perspicuity of Scripture not the whole “method of Scripture Alone” (as he puts it). But Mr. Bellisario is wrong. One can practice Sola Scriptura even if one has (as Mr. Bellisario seems to think of Irenaeus) a wrong understanding of what books are the true Scriptures. After all, the issue of the identification of Scripture is a separate and preliminary issue: Sola Scriptura assumes that something has been identified as the Scriptura.

5) “Most likely the Saint was referring to the Gospels and the Old Testament, making light of the parables of Jesus, which are only revealed to those whom Christ had removed the blinders from so they could understand them.”

a) I do like the fact that Mr. Bellisario seems to recognize the Scriptural truth that the blinders that men have must be removed by Christ if those men are to see. He’s quite right in that regard. The problem is that, at least here, Irenaeus is not expressing that thought. Instead, Irenaeus is focusing on the human element: the sense of many Scriptures is plain to all, except those who blind themselves.

b) There’s no good reason to suppose that Irenaeus meant only the gospels and the Old Testament. In the very preceding chapter, Irenaeus had used as his theme a quotation from 1 Corinthians, writing:

It is therefore better and more profitable to belong to the simple and unlettered class, and by means of love to attain to nearness to God, than, by imagining ourselves learned and skillful, to be found [among those who are] blasphemous against their own God, inasmuch as they conjure up another God as the Father. And for this reason Paul exclaimed, “Knowledge puffeth up, but love edifieth:” [1 Cor. viii. 1.] not that he meant to inveigh against a true knowledge of God, for in that case he would have accused himself; but, because he knew that some, puffed up by the pretense of knowledge, fall away from the love of God, and imagine that they themselves are perfect, for this reason that they set forth an imperfect Creator, with the view of putting an end to the pride which they feel on account of knowledge of this kind, he says, “Knowledge puffeth up, but love edifieth.”

– Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 3, Chapter 26, Section 1

So there’s no good reason to think that Irenaeus meant only the gospels and the Old Testament, though certainly Irenaeus did place a stress on the gospels in this particular chapter.

c) “making light of the parables of Jesus”

In English, “making light of” is an expression that means “trivializing.” I don’t think that Mr. Bellisario intended to employ that expression (though I durst not assume anything). Instead, I think he means “shining light on.”

If so, then Bellisario is partly right. The basic point of Chapter 27 of Book 2 of Irenaeus’ Against Heresies is that the proper way of understanding parables and other obscure parts of the Bible (after all, not every passage of Scripture is equally clear) is by turning to the more clear parts of Scripture.

This is, after all, the usual way we understand writings. We interpret the more clear by the less clear. In fact, I’m doing this same thing when I interpret Bellisario’s expression “making light of” as “shining light on.” It’s unlikely, in context, that Bellisario is trying to say that Irenaeus is trivializing parables, so from the more clear context of Bellisario we understand the less clear expression that Bellisario used. Scripture, in that regard, is like most other writings: we under the obscure parts from the clear parts.

That’s not what the heretics did. They argued that the right way to understand Scripture was found in oral tradition. In the very sentence after the one I included in the post to which Bellisario is responding, Irenaeus explains:

For that there is nothing whatever openly, expressly, and without controversy said in any part of Scripture respecting the Father conceived of by those who hold a contrary opinion, they themselves testify, when they maintain that the Saviour privately taught these same things not to all, but to certain only of His disciples who could comprehend them, and who understood what was intended by Him through means of arguments, enigmas, and parables.

– Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 3, Chapter 27, Section 2

Irenaeus then goes on, in the next section to compare his position of interpreting Scripture with Scripture building one’s house on a rock and their position of interpreting Scripture according to alleged oral tradition as being building one’s house on shifting sand:

But since parables admit of many interpretations, what lover of truth will not acknowledge, that for them to assert God is to be searched out from these, while they desert what is certain, indubitable, and true, is the part of men who eagerly throw themselves into danger, and act as if destitute of reason? And is not such a course of conduct not to build one’s house upon a rock [Matt. vii. 25.] which is firm, strong, and placed in an open position, but upon the shifting sand? Hence the overthrow of such a building is a matter of ease.

– Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 3, Chapter 27, Section 3

6) “If anything this defeats Turretin Fan’s own argument.”

Apparently, Mr. Bellisario means that his speculation (at least partly incorrect) regarding what Irenaeus was trying to say “defeats [my] argument.” As noted above, however, a correct and contextual understanding of Irenaeus only reinforces my argument. This all is explained above.

7) “One has to wonder if Turretin Fan has really read this Father at any length because the Saint tells us how we are to understand the Scriptures in the very same letter just a couple of books later.”

I would be the first to admit that the early church fathers were sometimes inconsistent. That said, even while it is possible that Irenaeus goes on to contradict something he says here, the more reasonable explanation (when someone looks for a comment from Irenaeus that is not only not in the same section or chapter but not even in the same or an adjacent book) is that Mr. Bellisario is simply attempting to divert attention from what Irenaeus is saying in the passage I quoted. For example, Mr. Bellisario does not claim “Irenaeus contradicted himself,” or “Irenaeus later corrected his mistake.” Instead, we have more of a request that we look over in another direction (accompanied by some sort of personal dart thrown at me). Perhaps as to familiarity with this father it is sufficient to point out that for Mr. Bellisario to say that Against Heresies is a “letter” is simply to misrepresent the nature of the substantial, five volume treatise.

8) “He tells us that they must be understood in harmony with the Church’s Tradition and from within the apostolic succession of the bishops, which Turretin rejects. Turretin Fan conveniently forgot that part. A flimsy flam for sure. Lets read it shall we?”

a) “which Turretin rejects”

There is a lot of juice packed into those three words. What does Bellisario aim to say? There are several options thanks to his ambiguity.

First, he could be saying that I reject his position regarding what Irenaeus teaches. If so, we’ll address that below when we get to the quotation itself and compare it to his claim.

Second, he could be saying that I reject the position he ascribes to Irenaeus. If so, he’s right. I don’t agree that the Scriptures must be understood in the way Mr. Bellisario has asserted. What’s interesting is that Mr. Bellisario cannot show such a requirement from Scripture. As we will see below, he cannot substantiate such a requirement from the earliest tradition of the Church or the first generations of those who succeeded the apostles.

Third, he could be saying that I reject the idea of there being traditions of the Church or successors of the apostles. Here he’d be a little confused. Where I disagree is that the human traditions of the Church have equal authority to Scripture, or that the successors of the apostles have equal authority to the apostles. Of course, it is an historical fact that the apostles were succeeded by elders and that those elders were followed by other elders, etc., down to the present day. There is a chain of ordinations. There is also “church tradition” that exists in various forms. Neither this chain of ordinations nor any “church tradition” apart from Scripture has any comparable authority to Scripture.

Fourth, Mr. Bellisario could be saying that I reject his church. If so, he’s quite right. But at the same time, he’d be wrong in assuming that Irenaeus was a part of his church. Such an anachronism ought to be its own rebuttal.

b) “Turretin Fan conveniently forgot that part.”

Again, the quotation Mr. Bellisario is about to provide is not a “part” of the quotation provided above. It’s in the same work, but it is not in the same book, chapter, or section. It’s not even in an adjacent book.

Note as well how only a second ago, Mr. Bellisario was claiming that I must not have read much of Irenaeus. Now he is suggesting that I read it and forgot it. This sort of inconsistent rhetoric is self-defeating.

c) “A flimsy flam for sure.”

Again with this “flam” usage. See the first post in this series regarding that odd usage issue.

d) “[Irenaeus] tells us that [the Scriptures] must be understood in harmony with the Church’s Tradition and from within the apostolic succession of the bishops”

The only support for this claim is Mr. Bellisario’s quotation of a few paragraphs from Irenaeus. Let’s carefully consider what Irenaeus is saying and see whether it says that the Scripture must be understood in harmony with the Church’s Tradition and from within the apostolic succession of the bishops.

The first thing to do is to present the text as it appears in Schaff’s patrology, as it appears that Mr. Bellisario’s quotation is an edited version of that appearing in Ante-Nicaean Fathers, Volume 1 (Bellisario doesn’t specifically identify his source). The unedited quotation is as follows (omitting only the footnotes):

True knowledge is [that which consists in] the doctrine of the apostles, and the ancient constitution of the Church throughout all the world, and the distinctive manifestation of the body of Christ according to the successions of the bishops, by which they have handed down that Church which exists in every place, and has come even unto us, being guarded and preserved without any forging of Scriptures, by a very complete system of doctrine, and neither receiving addition nor [suffering] curtailment [in the truths which she believes]; and [it consists in] reading [the word of God] without falsification, and a lawful and diligent exposition in harmony with the Scriptures, both without danger and without blasphemy; and [above all, it consists in] the pre-eminent gift of love, which is more precious than knowledge, more glorious than prophecy, and which excels all the other gifts [of God].

– Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 5, Chapter 33, Section 8 (all brackets in Schaff’s edition)

Looking at the quotation, the first and most indisputable fact is that the comment “[the Scriptures] must be understood in harmony with the Church’s Tradition and from within the apostolic succession of the bishops” is not a quotation from Irenaeus. I don’t think that even Mr. Bellisario would try to claim that Irenaeus uses those words.

The second fact is that Irenaeus does use the words “the successions of the bishops” (notice that pluralization) and does say “they have handed down” which is the verbal form of “tradition” (“tradition” as a verb means “to hand down”). The term “Scriptures” is also mentioned in the text. So, Mr. Bellisario’s characterization has at least some connection to the text.

That is about the limit of the connection that Mr. Bellisario’s characterization has with the text. The text doesn’t suggest that the successions of bishops are a necessary context in order to understand Scriptures, nor that a distinct body of tradition is required for us to understand what Scriptures teach.

The thrust of the section is the identification of “true knowledge.” In order to appreciate what “true knowledge” meant to Irenaeus, one needs context that Mr. Bellisario omitted. The immediately preceding section sets the stage for the discussion:

He [the spiritual man] shall also judge all those who are beyond the pale of the truth, that is, who are outside the Church; but he himself shall be judged by no one. For to him all things are consistent: he has a full faith in one God Almighty, of whom are all things; and in the Son of God, Jesus Christ our Lord, by whom are all things, and in the dispensations connected with Him, by means of which the Son of God became man; and a firm belief in the Spirit of God, who furnishes us with a knowledge of the truth, and has set forth the dispensations of the Father and the Son, in virtue of which He dwells with every generation of men, according to the will of the Father.

– Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 5, Chapter 33, Section 7

That provides the reference to “knowledge of the truth” that serves as the antecedent basis for the reference to “true knowledge” in the beginning of section 8. The expression about judging all things but being judged of no man is taken directly from Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians:

1 Corinthians 2:15 But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man.

Furthermore, the discussion of the Father and the Son that make up the core beliefs of this spiritual man who judges those beyond the pale of truth (i.e. outside the Church) are taken from another verse of the same book:

1 Corinthians 8:6 But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.

And, in the same context of discussing that the spiritual man judges all things, yet is judged of no man, 1 Corinthians 2 acknowledges that it is the Spirit that furnishes us with a knowledge of truth:

1 Corinthians 2:10-13
But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.

You can see as well in this passage the basic principle that Irenaeus is making regarding the Spirit revealing the Father and the Son. We also see that Irenaeus ascribes a subordinate role to the Spirit much like that of the Son that we see in John’s Gospel:

John 4:34 Jesus saith unto them, My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work.

John 5:30 I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me.

John 6:38 For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.

John 6:40 And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.

After pointing out that it is the Spirit that provides us with knowledge of the truth, we encounter what has been designated as section 8. The section is divisible into two parts in the English translation:

“True knowledge is”

Part 1: “[that which consists in] the doctrine of the apostles, and the ancient constitution of the Church throughout all the world, and the distinctive manifestation of the body of Christ according to the successions of the bishops, by which they have handed down that Church which exists in every place, and has come even unto us, being guarded and preserved without any forging of Scriptures, by a very complete system of doctrine, and neither receiving addition nor [suffering] curtailment [in the truths which she believes]; and”

What is Irenaeus affirming about the true knowledge here? One alternative is that (as with the dubious quotation from Cyril that we discussed previously) Irenaeus is indicating a correlation between the Church and orthodoxy. It could also be aspirational: that is to say, it could state what ought to be, as opposed to what actually is. The translators of this section noted (in a footnote that Mr. Bellisario did not provide, perhaps because he used the NewAdvent source):

The following section is an important one, but very difficult to translate with undoubted accuracy. The editors differ considerably both as to the construction and the interpretation. We have done our best to represent the meaning in English, but may not have been altogether successful.

Thus, let’s reserve some judgment regarding what the possible sense of this part of the discussion is, until we have seen the other half.

Before we get to the second half, though, there are a couple of interesting points to note. First, the “true knowledge” here is most plainly the “doctrine of the apostles.” Thus, this is not a situation in which we are dealing with new doctrines defined by a living magisterium.

A similar concept seems to be conveyed by “ancient constitutions.” These are not something new, recent, or organic. These are something ancient.

There is something that is not just ancient: “the distinctive manifestation of the body of Christ according to the successions of the bishops, by which they have handed down that Church which exists in every place.” The concept “distinctive manifestation” is a bit obscure – but it is clear that there is a reference of the successions of the bishops by which they handed down “the Church which exists in every place.” It’s interesting to note, in passing, that it is not one succession, but a plurality of successions.

The distinctive manifestation becomes a bit more clear when we see the two aspects:

1) “being guarded and preserved without any forging of Scriptures, by a very complete system of doctrine, and”

2) “neither receiving addition nor [suffering] curtailment [in the truths which she believes]”

Notice that, as to the second part, this is a fixed quantum of truths. As to the first part, the system is very complete and there is no forgery of Scripture. The sentence structure seems to suggest that the “forging of Scriptures” would be the way in which there would be addition, and a lack of “guarding and preserving” is what would lead to a curtailment. In short, it looks as though what is being guarded are the canonical Scriptures.

This is confirmed when we turn to the second half of the discussion of what true knowledge is:

Part 2: “[it consists in] reading [the word of God] without falsification, and a lawful and diligent exposition in harmony with the Scriptures, both without danger and without blasphemy; and [above all, it consists in] the pre-eminent gift of love, which is more precious than knowledge, more glorious than prophecy, and which excels all the other gifts [of God].”

Notice that it consists in reading the Scriptures without falsification. The fact that this second part is joined to the first with an “and” can have two possibilities: it can be an additional aspect of the knowledge or it can be a restatement of the knowledge from a different perspective.

Notice as well that it consists in exposition in harmony with the Scriptures. This is essentially the reverse of what Mr. Bellisario had indicated in that this true knowledge is something that is to be read in harmony with the Scriptures, not vice versa. Thus, even assuming that the “true knowledge” were extra-Scriptural tradition (something Mr. Bellisario seems to have assumed rather than demonstrated) the relation to Scripture would be the inverse of what Mr. Bellisario had described.

The statement continues: “both without danger and without blasphemy.” This would seem to describe the result of reading in harmony with the Scriptures, although the relation of this phrase the sentence is not particularly clear.

The final comment of the passage really shows the main point of the sentence: it has all been building up to this: Love. Irenaeus says: “and [above all, it consists in] the pre-eminent gift of love, which is more precious than knowledge, more glorious than prophecy, and which excels all the other gifts [of God].” This kind of comment tends to undermine the idea that Irenaeus is saying that (as Bellisario claims) “the Scripture must be understood in harmony with the Church’s Tradition and from within the apostolic succession of the bishops.”

In fact, that love was the focal point we can see from the section that follows:

Wherefore the Church does in every place, because of that love which she cherishes towards God, send forward, throughout all time, a multitude of martyrs to the Father; while all others [FN: i.e., the heretics.] not only have nothing of this kind to point to among themselves, but even maintain that such witness-bearing is not at all necessary, for that their system of doctrines is the true witness [for Christ], with the exception, perhaps, that one or two among them, during the whole time which has elapsed since the Lord appeared on earth, have occasionally, along with our martyrs, borne the reproach of the name (as if he too [the heretic] had obtained mercy), and have been led forth with them [to death], being, as it were, a sort of retinue granted unto them. For the Church alone sustains with purity the reproach of those who suffer persecution for righteousness’ sake, and endure all sorts of punishments, and are put to death because of the love which they bear to God, and their confession of His Son; often weakened indeed, yet immediately increasing her members, and becoming whole again, after the same manner as her type, [Comp. above, xxxi. 2.] Lot’s wife, who became a pillar of salt. Thus, too, [she passes through an experience] similar to that of the ancient prophets, as the Lord declares, “For so persecuted they the prophets who were before you;” [Matt. v. 12.] inasmuch as she does indeed, in a new fashion, suffer persecution from those who do not receive the word of God, while the self-same spirit rests upon her [Comp. 1 Pet. iv. 14.] [as upon these ancient prophets].

– Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 5, Chapter 33, Section 9 (all brackets in Schaff’s edition, some as footnotes in Schaff)

This section casts a lot of light on the previous section. We see that Irenaeus is comparing churches with the churches of the heretics. When we shine that light back on the previous section, we get the following result:

“True knowledge is [that which consists in]” => What our church teaches, as opposed to what the heretics teach.

“the doctrine of the apostles, and the ancient constitution of the Church throughout all the world,” => We teach the same thing that was taught by the apostles, but the heretics have departed from the apostles

“and the distinctive manifestation of the body of Christ according to the successions of the bishops, by which they have handed down that Church which exists in every place, and has come even unto us,” => our church didn’t come from nowhere, like the heretics, it is the result of the apostles evangelizing and appointing elders, and those elders evangelizing and appointing other elders, and so forth down to the present time, we (Irenaeus included) being the latest generation of this process

“being guarded and preserved without any forging of Scriptures, by a very complete system of doctrine,” => The “true knowledge” of our church is guarded and preserved by a complete system of doctrine, doctrines that do not require forged Scriptures, whereas the heretics have incomplete systems of doctrines and rely on apocryphal scriptures

“and neither receiving addition nor [suffering] curtailment [in the truths which she believes];” => We are not adding or removing truths like the heretics are

“and [it consists in] reading [the word of God] without falsification,” => We read Scriptures exegetically, not eisegetically, like the heretics

“and a lawful and diligent exposition in harmony with the Scriptures, both without danger and without blasphemy;” => We avoid danger and blasphemy by comparing Scripture with Scripture

“and [above all, it consists in] the pre-eminent gift of love, which is more precious than knowledge, more glorious than prophecy, and which excels all the other gifts [of God]” => We have a true love for God, whereas the heretics do not (that love being shown in martyrdom)

In short, not to impose too systematic a structure on Irenaeus, we could say that “true knowledge” is:
1) Ecclesiastically, to be connected to the apostles by being under those who were under those who were under those who were under the apostles;
2) Doctrinally, to derive one’s teachings from the Scriptures by comparing Scripture with Scripture, not fabricating either Scripture itself or the sense thererof; and
3) Practically, to love God, even to be willing to die for his Name.

While (1) may seem to favor supposedly “ancient” churches like Rome, that’s a rather different issue from the issue we are discussing. In point of fact, on doctrine (item 2), we find Irenaeus pointing us to Scripture, suggesting that our doctrines must harmonize with Scripture, not the other way ’round.

We find further confirmation of this reading of section 8 not only from section 9 but also from looking back to section 7. I’ve already discussed the second half of section 7, but let’s look now at the first half:

He shall also judge those who give rise to schisms, who are destitute of the love of God, and who look to their own special advantage rather than to the unity of the Church; and who for trifling reasons, or any kind of reason which occurs to them, cut in pieces and divide the great and glorious body of Christ, and so far as in them lies, [positively] destroy it,—men who prate of peace while they give rise to war, and do in truth strain out a gnat, but swallow a camel. [Matt. xxiii. 24.] For no reformation of so great importance can be effected by them, as will compensate for the mischief arising from their schism.

– Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 5, Chapter 33, Section 7 (all brackets in Schaff’s edition, some as footnotes in Schaff)

Notice how well that fits with the explanation just given. The schismatic is one who breaks with the church over some improper reason (something trifling or arbitrary). Doing so shows a lack of love for God: while they act as though they are straining out some gnat of error, they swallow a camel (an enormous error). The only possible justification for schism is reformation, but such men as this are dividing over minor or arbitrary things, such any reformation that they theoretically could produce could not justify their actions.

As for the remaining part of section 7, as we saw above, it speaks of the Scriptural faith of the spiritual man and the fact that all things are consistent to him. Thus, we see the same three points in section 7 phrased one way, and section 8 phrased another way. However, no matter how we look at it, even the light most favorable to Rome, it doesn’t say what Mr. Bellisario contends.

-TurretinFan

Perspicuity of Scripture Contra Bellisario – Part 3

October 30, 2009

I’m responding to a post from Mr. Matthew Bellisario (see my first post for the introduction). In this post, I address Mr. Bellisario’s response to my quotation from Justin Martyr. Mr. Bellisario has put my words in italics, and I have attempted to reproduce them as he provided them, within the quotation box below. His own words are (for the most part) in the plain font:

Then Turretin Fan quotes Saint Justin Martyr in an attempt to bolster his position that the Scriptures are easy to understand.

Pay attention, therefore, to what I shall record out of the holy Scriptures, which do not need to be expounded, but only listened to.

– Justin Martyr, Dialog With Trypho, Chapter 55

First of all Saint Justin Martyr lived in the middle of the second century. There was not a New Testament canon yet, nor would there be for the next 150 years or more. So the Saint was not even referring to the New Testament as we know it. Secondly the great Saint is only talking about an isolated case here where he is quoting the Scriptures for a specific purpose. Anyone knows that Justin was not making a blanket statement on Scripture as not needing any exposition on them. This is once again a pitiful stretch of the text. If this is so then why does the “Reformer” read the writings of John Calvin in which he expounds upon the Scriptures giving his own interpretation? As many times as I have heard the Reformed apologist tell us that the Scriptures need no aid to their understanding, I am baffled by the pages of Scripture commentaries they refer to. If you have to write anything other than what is in the text itself (in this case the Scriptures), then by definition you are expounding upon the text.

I answer:
1) As to the intro: “Then Turretin Fan quotes Saint Justin Martyr in an attempt to bolster his position that the Scriptures are easy to understand,” I’ve noted a couple of times that the argument is not that every Scripture text is easy to understand. Also, Justin Martyr is not properly a “saint,” in traditional Roman Catholic hagiology, not that it matters much (the practice of calling him a “saint” seems to have originated in the 19th century, and gradually expanded due to carelessness – but this issue has nothing to do with the topic of the discussion). In fact, Justin Martyr’s testimony is really brought as rebuttal to the idea that Scripture cannot be understood without some further “tradition.”

2) Belliario continued: “First of all Saint Justin Martyr lived in the middle of the second century. There was not a New Testament canon yet, nor would there be for the next 150 years or more. So the Saint was not even referring to the New Testament as we know it.”

As far as we know, Justin Martyr was born about A.D. 100 and lived to around A.D. 165. There are two main schools of thought as to the date of the completion of the last book of the New Testament, either before A.D. 70 or before A.D. 100. Thus, unless Bellisario is taking a position that no serious scholar has taken, the New Testament was complete either well or at least shortly before Justin Martyr was born.

More likely, Bellisario is simply confusing the historical reality of the canon with official proclamations of this canon. The canon is an historical reality: it is, by definition, the set of the inspired writings. That canon was complete as soon as the last book of the New Testament was finished, whether anyone (other than God) knew that objective reality. Furthermore, while some people may have been uncertain about the objective reality of whether a particular book was in or out of the canon is not dependent on anyone knowing that it is in the canon.

Further, we have to presume that Mr. Bellisario is trying to point us either to Athanasius’ 39th Festal Letter (about A.D. 367) or to the Councils of Hippo (about A.D. 393) and/or Carthage (about A.D. 397), each of which contained a correct listing of the New Testament canon. Those are both more than 200 years after Justin’s death, though, so it is not perfectly clear what Mr. Bellisario is trying to reference.

In any event, Mr. Bellisario’s argument appears to be that because Athanasius and/or Hippo/Carthage haven’t come around, people didn’t know what Scripture was because they had no authoritative canon. Of course, even after Hippo/Carthage the canon was not “authoritative” because those were regional councils (same for Athanasius, because he’s just one bishop). In fact, the first “ecumenical” council to define (authoritatively) the canon of the New Testament was the council of Trent.

Now, if Mr. Bellisario wants to insist that people just had no idea what Scripture was before Trent, so be it. But that’s rather unreasonable. Athanasius shows us people knew about it before regional councils weighed in, and the regional councils show us that people knew about it before any bishop of Rome or ecumenical council weighed in. In fact, over a thousand years passed between Athanasius, Hippo, and Carthage (on the one hand) and Trent (on the other hand). People referred to Scripture as Scripture during that time, blissfully unaware of any need for any authoritative canon.

That may sound bad for Mr. Bellisario, but it gets worse. Mr. Bellisario seems to have assumed that Justin Martyr is speaking about the New Testament scriptures. Justin is not. Justin is speaking of Old Testament Scriptures. After all, Justin is debating Trypho, a Jew.

Of course, the same rebuttals apply to Mr. Bellisario’s canon argument, if we let him change it to Old Testament canon. It may well be that Justin Martyr had an idea about what books were in the Old Testament that differs in some minor way from the books we have today. What is interesting, though, is that he not only used the term “Scriptures” as though it had meaning, but used it as though it would have meaning to a Jew. That’s not overly surprising, I guess: Jesus himself referred to the Old Testament canon as “the Scriptures,” without ever explicitly providing a list.

Nevertheless, the ability to reference a group of books by the term “the Scriptures” suggests at least some recognition of the canon, without any authoritative list sitting around: without any “inspired table of contents,” as some Romanists are wont to put it. Thus, even if Justin Martyr’s knowledge of the canon was less than ours, he had a more or less clear idea of what the Old Testament Scriptures were and so did his Jewish opponent.

Mr. Bellisario’s comment, “[Justin] is only talking about an isolated case here where he is quoting the Scriptures for a specific purpose … [a]nyone knows that Justin was not making a blanket statement on Scripture as not needing any exposition on them,” is misleading at best. Anyone reading the statement sees that’s not what he’s saying. Justin’s saying that there are some clear Scriptures that, on an important topic, don’t require any interpretation. They speak for themselves. But is Mr. Bellisario willing to grant that many Scriptures are self-evident in their meaning? It’s hard to see Mr. Bellisario agreeing that, yes, much of Scripture is easy to understand, so much so that it doesn’t require any interpretation.

As potentially misleading as Mr. Bellisario’s comments above are, though, his next one is worse: “This is once again a pitiful stretch of the text.” The problem with this comment is that he’s creating a straw man. He’s trying to suggest that I’ve argued that all of Scripture requires no interpretation, which (of course) is not the case.

His straw man is undermined by the fact that the Reformed churches so prominently exegete and interpret Scripture. Mr. Bellisario recognizes this fact in his remaining comments, which makes his use of a straw man inexcusable. Furthermore, of course, sometimes comments are needed because even Scriptures that are perfectly clear are attacked by those who wish to obscure what is plain.

-TurretinFan

Perspicuity of Scripture Contra Bellisario – Part 2

October 29, 2009

I’m responding to a post from Mr. Matthew Bellisario (see my first post for the introduction). In this post, I address Mr. Bellisario’s response to my quotation from Cyril of Jerusalem. Mr. Bellisario has put my words in italics, and I have attempted to reproduce them as he provided them, within the quotation box below. His own words are (for the most part) in the plain font:

As Cyril of Jerusalem (about A.D. 315 – 386) put it:

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.

– Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lecture IV, Section 17

Turretin Fan takes the Father out of context. What Turretin Fan fails to tell you is that Saint Cyril’s work that he quotes from is a catechetical lecture based on the Scriptures, which is why this particular text is focused on the Scriptures. Saint Cyril however never tells us that Scripture alone is how the Church receives its only Divine Revelation and where it gets its only authority from. Cyril is telling his catechumens that the Gospel was not based on clever human reasoning, but that he had based his lectures on Holy Writ. Turretin has reached far beyond the context of the text. No Catholic would disagree that salvation is demonstrated from the Holy Scriptures or that the Gospel is based on human ingenious reasoning. Next.

I answer:

I. Clarifying the Charges

a) Mr. Bellisario’s first charge is that I have taken Cyril’s comments out of context. The context that he says I’ve omitted is that is from a catechetical lecture based on the Scriptures. Mr. Bellisario asserts that this explains why this particular text of Cyril is focused on Scripture. As for the context, I did point out that the quotation was taken from one of Cyril’s catechetical lectures. So, Mr. Bellisario must be charging that I did not indicate that the catechetical lecture was based on the Scriptures.

b) Mr. Bellisario’s second charge is that Cyril never tells us that Scripture alone is how the Church receives its only Divine Revelation and is the source of the Church’s only authority.

c) Mr. Bellisario’s third charge appears to be an assertion that, in effect, I have misrepresented Cyril’s comment. According to Mr. Bellisario, Cyril is telling his students that the Gospel was not based on clever human reasoning, and(?) that Cyril based his lectures on Holy Writ.

d) Mr. Bellisario’s fourth charge is that I’ve reached “far beyond the context of the text.” Mr. Bellisario does not explain this charge particularly, though it seems to be connected to charge (1) above.

e) Mr. Bellisario’s fifth charge is that “No Catholic would disagree that salvation is demonstrated from the Holy Scriptures or that the Gospel is based on human ingenious reasoning” by which I think he means that no Roman Catholic would, in Mr. Bellisario’s opinion, either think that “the Gospel” is based on ingenious human reasoning or disagree that “salvation can be demonstrated” from the Bible. It’s actually still not clear what Mr. Bellisario means by “salvation can be demonstrated” or even what Mr. Bellisario intends to convey by “the Gospel.” We assume that Mr. Bellisario is just parroting back Cyril’s words from the second half of the quotation.

II. Responding to the Charges

a) As for pointing out the context, I did (as noted above) point out that the quotation was taken from one of Cyril’s catechetical lectures. Also, given the nature of the quotation (that people shouldn’t believe anything that Cyril didn’t prove from Scripture) it should be obvious to anyone that Cyril was trying to base his lecture on Scripture. So, this charge seems hollow.

b) As for what Cyril didn’t say, one wonders why Bellisario thinks Cyril would have to say “Scripture alone is how the Church receives its only Divine Revelation and where it gets its only authority from.” It looks like Mr. Bellisario is trying to insist that Cyril express a negative concept in a very specific way. Why? There’s no good reason.

Cyril is pretty specific: “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.” That expression “even … me” is a way of promoting Cyril to the top of list of sources, and “unless thou receive the proof of the things which I announce from the Divine Scriptures” is a way of saying that they shouldn’t accept “the things which [he] announce[s]” unless they are proved to them from Scripture.

How on earth is that supposed to be consistent with the Romanist position? Can you really imagine a Roman pope saying, “Don’t accept even what I teach you unless you receive the proof of this encyclical from Scripture”? Can you imagine any priest of the Roman church suggesting that anything the church, through him, teaches needs proof from Scripture for acceptance?

I ask because that’s what Cyril is saying. He’s saying that these folks who are not yet even baptized – these catechumen folks – are not to accept what he says unless he proves it from Scripture. He’s not telling them, “don’t believe what I teach unless I prove it from the teachings of the church,” or “believe whatever I teach, because I represent the voice of the church.” No, he’s inviting them to reject whatever he teaches for which they don’t receive proof from Scripture.

c) Mr. Bellisario is mistaken if he thinks that Cyril is simply claiming that he based his lectures on Scripture. That’s one thing implied by what Cyril says, of course, but what Cyril is saying is that the catechumen should not accept what Cyril says without proof from Scripture. It’s one thing for Cyril to “based his lectures on Scripture” (though the lectures are topical, not exegetical) and quite another for him to encourage them to demand Scripture proof for acceptance.

Mr. Bellisario is also mistaken in trying to limit the quotation simply to a denial that the message Cyril is teaching is a message based on bare reason. He’s contrasting two things: (1) ingenious reasoning and (2) demonstration from Scripture. He’s denying (1) and affirming (2). Cyril is not just teaching that the salvation he teaches does not depend from ingenious reasoning, but but that it does depend on demonstration from Scripture. Cyril is conveying the rule of Christian faith to the catechumen.

Cyril’s words parallel those of the apostle Peter:

2 Peter 1:16 For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty.

But notice the difference: Peter was an eyewitness, and Cyril was not. Therefore, Cyril relies on Scripture, whereas Peter learned directly from Jesus.

Notice that, contrary to Mr. Bellisario’s insinuations, this not just Cyril’s lectures that are based on Scripture, but the dogmas of the faith: “this salvation we believe.” These catechetical lectures are the transferring of the faith to the catechumen, teaching what is to be believed for salvation. Thus, while (of course!) the comment is immediately applicable to the teaching of the faith being imparted by the catechetical lectures, it is broadly applicable to the doctrines of the Christian religion being imparted through the mouth of Cyril as a spokesman for the Church.

d) This is already answered above.

e) The claim that “No Catholic would disagree that salvation is demonstrated from the Holy Scriptures or that the Gospel is based on human ingenious reasoning” misses the point. Even leaving aside Mr. Bellisario’s apparent grammatical errors and the ambiguities of his comment, the issue is not whether the true doctrines can be demonstrated from Scripture.

Notice that Cyril doesn’t just say that they can be proved from Scripture: Cyril invites the catechumen to exercise private judgment and not accept any teaching of Cyril’s that is not just based on Scripture, but proved to the catechumen from Scripture. The statement: “this salvation which we believe depends … on demonstration of the Holy Scriptures” is about as clear a statement of the fact that Scripture is the rule of faith as one could hope for, short of using those exact words. Furthermore, while that phrase doesn’t explicitly use the word “only” the previous sentence including “even … me” and “not … unless” conveys the same sense in different words.

– TurretinFan

Addendum: Mr. Matthew Bellisario has added some commentary suggesting that even if we are right about the quotation above, Cyril says something different and more helpful to the Romanist position in section 1 of Lecture 17 (link to Bellisario’s commentand clarification). Specifically, Mr. Bellisario provided the following quotation:

“1. In the preceding Lecture, according to our ability we set before you, our beloved hearers, some small portion of the testimonies concerning the Holy Ghost; and on the present occasion, we will, if it be God’s pleasure, proceed to treat, as far as may be, of those which remain out of the New Testament: and as then to keep within due limit of your attention we restrained our eagerness (for there is no satiety in discoursing concerning the Holy Ghost), so now again we must say but a small part of what remains. For now, as well as then, we candidly own that our weakness is overwhelmed by the multitude of things written.”

– Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, Lecture 17, Section 1

The very first thing to note that is that Mr. Bellisario has left off the last sentence of the section. Those sentences are:

Neither to-day will we use the subtleties of men, for that is unprofitable; but merely call to mind what comes from the divine Scriptures; for this is the safest course, according to the blessed Apostle Paul, who says, Which things also we speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth, comparing spiritual things with spiritual [1 Cor. ii. 13.]. Thus we act like travellers or voyagers, who having one goal to a very long journey, though hastening on with eagerness, yet by reason of human weakness are wont to touch in their way at divers cities or harbours.

– Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, Lecture 17, Section 1

What then is Mr. Bellisario’s apparent argument? His apparent argument is that “remain out of the New Testament” is a reference to extra-Scriptural revelation. That’s not what Cyril means. Cyril is pointing out that his previous lecture (Lecture 16) was based on the Old Testament, and now he is going to be presenting the remaining proofs from the New Testament.

This is confirmed by the sentence that Mr. Bellisario omitted – a sentence that simply drips Sola Scriptura: “Neither to-day will we use the subtleties of men, for that is unprofitable; but merely call to mind what comes from the divine Scriptures; for this is the safest course, according to the blessed Apostle Paul, who says, Which things also we speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth, comparing spiritual things with spiritual [1 Cor. ii. 13.].” Notice that Cyril has taken the position that the safest course is merely to call to mind what comes from the Scriptures. Incidentally, we are going to see a similar discussion of 1 Corinthians 2:13 when we come to Irenaeus.

But it appears that while this post was being prepared, Mr. Swan made a similar note to Mr. Bellisario and persuaded him (to some extent) regarding this lecture (Mr. Swan’s comment, pointing out that the last section [section 32] of Lecture 16 is: “And indeed it were easy to collect very many texts out of the Old Testament, and to discourse more largely concerning the Holy Ghost. But the time is short; and we must be careful of the proper length of the lecture. Wherefore, being for the present content awhile with passages from the Old Testament, we will, if it be God’s pleasure, proceed in the next Lecture to the remaining texts out of the New Testament. And may the God of peace, through our Lord Jesus Christ, and through the love of the Spirit, count all of you worthy of His spiritual and heavenly gifts: – To whom be glory and power for ever and ever. Amen.”)(Mr. Bellisario’s acknowledgment). However, Mr. Bellisario pointed to the next lecture, averring that Cyril has something contrary to Sola Scriptura in that lecture. Specifically, Mr. Bellisario provided the following quotation (Mr. Bellisario providing the quotation):

Now then let me finish what still remains to be said for the Article, “In one Holy Catholic Church,” on which, though one might say many things, we will speak but briefly.
23. It is called Catholic then because it extends over all the world, from one end of the earth to the other; and because it teaches universally and completely one and all the doctrines which ought to come to men’s knowledge, concerning things both visible and invisible, heavenly and earthly ; and because it brings into subjection to godliness the whole race of mankind, governors and governed, learned and unlearned; and because it universally treats and heals the whole class of sins, which are committed by soul or body, and possesses in itself every form of virtue which is named, both in deeds and words, and in every kind of spiritual gifts.

– Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, Lecture 18, Sections 22-23

The very attentive reader will note that Mr. Bellisario’s quotation has an unusual punctuation issue after the word “earthly” – namely there is a space before the semicolon. The reason for that artifact is probably that Mr. Bellisario got his text of the lecture from newadvent.org – a helpful website that unfortunately removes many of the footnotes in their reproduction of the Schaff edition. In this case, the footnote states:

Bishop Lightfoot (Ignatius, ad Smyrnæos, viii.) traces the original and later senses of the word “Catholic” very fully. “In its earliest usages, therefore, as a fluctuating epithet of ἐκκλησία, ‘catholic’ means ‘universal,’ as opposed to ‘individual,’ ‘particular.’ In its later sense, as a fixed attribute, it implies orthodoxy as opposed to heresy, conformity as opposed to dissent.” Commenting on this passage of Cyril, the Bishop adds that “these two latter reasons, that it (the Church) is comprehensive in doctrine, and that it is universal in application, can only be regarded as secondary glosses.”

What is the significance of this comment? The significance is that Mr. Bellisario is relying on a portion of Cyril that is not, according to Lightfoot, not authentic.

More importantly, even if it were authentic, it is simply an indication of correlation between the church that is spread throughout the world and a complete set of doctrines. There is no suggestion that the church has a complete set of doctrines because she is the church, as opposed to being the church because she has a complete set of doctrines. Given the other places where Cyril makes plain that the church derives its doctrines from Scripture, this sort of correlative comment is not only uncompelling, it is essentially irrelevant.

-TurretinFan

When the Moon Hits Your Eye …

October 26, 2009

(for those too young to remember Dean Martin or who otherwise miss my allusion)

My pizza illustration (which you can find here) seems to have caught the eye of Mr. Bellisario, though he could hardly be said to be in love with it (you can catch his comments here).

Mr. Bellisario seems to have difficulty handling the argument, though. Let’s examine what he does:

1. Insults

Just read his post, you’ll agree that’s not amore.

2. Straw man

The first time Mr. Bellisario tries to characterize my position he gets it wrong. He states:

Turretin Fan however has another solution to the Biblical Canon. He says since it exists, then we know what it is. The only problem with his arguments is, he doesn’t know what it is.

This argument may seem to shine like it had too much wine, but that’s largely because it’s not the argument I presented. What I actually said was:

If you have “the Bible” you can deduce the canon. To say that “The Bible doesn’t tell you what the Canon is,” is rather like saying that the Pizza doesn’t tell you what its ingredients are. Well, there may not be a list of ingredients on the side, but if you have the pizza you can write your own list of ingredients.

(of course that’s not all I said, that’s one short paragraph out of the post)

That argument is not logically or practically equivalent to saying that since the canon exists, we know what it is. Frankly put, I cannot imagine where Bellisario got that idea.

The pizza illustration may have distracted him a bit, so perhaps he’ll try, now, to understand the argument with a different illustration. Suppose you buy a copy of Moby Dick, only you discover that the printer didn’t include a table of contents. Could you write out a table of contents yourself from the book? Of course you could! It would be a little annoying, since one expects the convenience of a table of contents these days, but it would be easily done.

If you have the book, writing out the table of contents is a trivial task.

The problem is not writing out the table of contents: the problem is getting the book. After all, the Bible didn’t fall out of heaven bound in leather with gilt edges and a pair of lovely ribbons to serve as bookmarks. It was given to us piece by piece.

Of course, in the case of many believers, it does come to them so bound and gilt. It doesn’t fall from heaven, but their parents or an evangelist comes to them and says “this is the Word of God” and they either believe this claim or they do not. Later they may discover that the way the Bible came was in much smaller pieces originally, and this may spur them on to investigate whether the bundle has the correct number of sticks.

But again – the same kind of question takes place, simply on a smaller scale. The question is whether this book of Genesis is God’s word or not, and Exodus, and so on. They may believe in each case, or they may doubt.

And the same holds true of parts of books, and even individual words. We have critical, majority, and received texts of New Testament that each bring to the reader’s attention the need to consider whether a particular word is the inspired word or not.

In Roman Catholicism, there is “canon” (a listing) of books that Rome says are inspired (provided by Trent). Additionally, Rome has clearly taken the position that the extraneous portions of Esther, Daniel, and Jeremiah are inspired. Originally (i.e. in the days of Trent and shortly thereafter), Rome tried to promote the Sistine and then the Clementine Vulgates as being absolutely correct down to the correct words. Now, the Nova Vulgata has come out with significant numbers of wording changes, suggesting that any claim to any word-for-word guarantee is off the table. Until Rome speaks again, there is no inspired table of contents for the book of Matthew in Roman Catholicism – nor of Mark, etc., though no one seems to think this is a problem.

More amusingly, the copies of the decrees of the council of Trent that I have seen have not included a table of contents. Perhaps there was one made. That table of contents, however, was not something that was dogmatically defined by Trent, and consequently would not be (if it existed) deemed an infallible table.

Does this create an insoluable problem for those who wish to rely on the council of Trent in Roman Catholicism? Surely not – just as the absence of “an infallible canon of Scripture” does not create problems for the Reformed churches.

3. Mixed Metaphor / Straw man

Mr. Bellisario wrote:

[TurretinFan] doesn’t realize the the Bible he is using doesn’t contain all of the books that the Church has recognized as being Scripture. So now he compares the Scriptures to a pizza. Just when you think you have seen it all. So I guess if anyone walks up to you and hands you a “Bible” you should just take their word for it that it is God’s Written Word, right? So I guess if the pizza guy were to walk up to Turretin Fan’s house with a pizza box that only contained a half of pizza in it, he would be perfectly happy. Hey, its a pizza, its not a whole one, but who cares, its a pizza.

We know that the Bible has 73 books in it because Christ tells us so through His Church. If [TurretinFan] comes up to you telling you that it has only 66 books, then it obviously isn’t a complete Bible, or if we want to use this guy’s analogy, it isn’t a whole pizza, despite what the box says.

You’ll recall that the original metaphor had to do with ingredients. Now Mr. Bellisario has mixed the metaphor and referred us to the number of slices in the pizza. That’s ok. We’ll address his argument.

The straw man portion of his argument is his statement: “I guess if anyone walks up to you and hands you a ‘Bible’ you should just take their word for it that it is God’s Written Word, right?” One wonders if even Mr. Bellisario thinks this is what we have been arguing. Does Mr. Bellisario really think that the Reformed position is that if anyone walks up to you and hands you a “Bible” you should just take their word for it that it is God’s written Word? After all, we already explained to him previously that the Holy Spirit persuades men of the authenticity of Scripture. We don’t simply take someone’s word for it, although (of course) one of the instruments by which we may be persuaded is through the testimony of a person.

What about his analogy? His analogy simply begs the question. Let’s alter his analogy a bit further. Suppose that a pizza shows up in its box, but Mr. Bellisario notices that there are no breadsticks. Suppose further that Mr. Bellisario insists that it is not really a pizza without breadsticks. That would be a more fitting analogy. After all, the Apocrypha may have a lot of value for various purposes, and it may even be nice to put them in the same box with the pizza, but they are not quite the same thing.

Of course, the counter-illustration begs the same question from the opposite side. The question is really over whether the breadsticks should be considered part of the pizza. Is it a true pizza without the breadsticks? Mr. Bellisario may adamantly say, “no,” and we may adamantly say, “yes,” but the question becomes how reach agreement. After all, the pizza itself (or pizza portion of the pizza from Bellisario’s perspective) isn’t it dispute. We both agree that it is pizza – the only question is whether the breadsticks are also part of the pizza.

The problem for Mr. Bellisario is that there just aren’t many good arguments to be made for the idea that the breadsticks are really part of the pizza.

He appeals to the idea that “Christ … through the Church” tells us that there are 73 books. The problem, however, is that Trent wasn’t speaking for Christ. Mr. Bellisario has asserted that, but we have no good reason to think that his statement is true: quite to the contrary, we have many good reasons to believe that his claim is false.

But I hear the bells ringing “ting-a-ling-a-ling” so perhaps I should move on to other topics. Mr. Bellisario’s pizza post has done nothing to revitalize his fallacious appeals to the absence of an infallible canon. He thinks that we have a canon problem, but what he doesn’t realize is that he has an even bigger canon problem (if canons are a problem). We told him before that his church is misleading him, but he won’t listen to us. He cannot establish why his position is right beyond simply claiming that Christ speaks through his church. He doesn’t understand the absurdity of insisting that the Bible has to provide its own table of contents, nor does he address the myriad of other arguments laid out in the post.

So, we continue to sing “Vita Bella!”

-TurretinFan

Athanasius, the Canon, and Sola Scriptura against Matthew Bellisario and Rome

October 23, 2009

Recently, Mr. Bellisario provided comments in a comment box attempting to attack the Reformed position using the issues of the canon and Athanasius (his post here). The following is a detailed reply.

MB wrote: “Turretin, the Church doesn’t lie to me, your own flawed intellect deceives you.”

It shows your zeal to state this so dogmatically, but you have no way of knowing this. How could you possibly know whether your church is lying to you? Are you competent to read the Scriptures and examine history and test the claims of your church?

MB continued: “The Bible doesn’t tell you what the Canon is, does it?”

That’s an inane comment, for at least the following reasons:

1) It is non-unique

Your church doesn’t tell you what the canon of its teachings is. If it is a problem for me to lack an infallible canon of Scripture, then it is a worse problem for you to lack an infallible canon of “Tradition.”

2) It is absurd

Jesus was able to tell the Jews to “Search the Scriptures” without the Jews needing an infallible canon to know what were the Scriptures. Paul was able to talk to Timothy about the Scriptures in the same way, and the whole visible church managed to get by without an infallible canon of Scripture at least until Trent.

3) It is inherent

If you have “the Bible” you can deduce the canon. To say that “The Bible doesn’t tell you what the Canon is,” is rather like saying that the Pizza doesn’t tell you what its ingredients are. Well, there may not be a list of ingredients on the side, but if you have the pizza you can write your own list of ingredients.

4) It Forgets that Sola Scriptura assumes Scriptura

Having Scripture is the antecedent for having Sola Scriptura. First we are given the Scriptures, then we believe what they say. I realize this is boundlessly inconvenient for folks who wish to misrepresent Sola Scriptura, but it is what it is.

MB wrote: “You have no infallible way of knowing what the Canon is, so you, by your own flawed intellect go through Church Father writings trying to justify your own position on what you think the Canon is.”

Most of the essence of this is addressed above. Here are the counter questions:

1) Since there was no one claiming to have an infallible canon prior to Trent, it seems the only logical conclusion is that your accusation regarding me is the same accusation you must hurl against Cajetan, Jerome, Paul, although we hope you’d have the shame not to hurl it against the Lord Jesus who spoke of Scripture before anyone claimed to have an infallible canon. Do you really want to make that kind of accusation?

2) But if you see that it is fruitless to make such accusations, then why not let me find the canon the same way they did? Why must I be held to a different standard than them, simply because your church has decided that it wants to make a supposedly infallible canon?

3) Finally, surely you ought to be aware that the Reformed position is not that we “go through Church Father writings trying to justify [our] own position on what [we] think the Canon is.” We do certainly examine the Church Fathers and also the Jewish writings. We do so both because the historical record is one of the ways by which the Holy Spirit persuades us that this is His Word (from the positive angle) but also to answer the cavils of Romanists who try to claim that Trent’s canon is what “the Church has always taught.”

To pick on Trent, the statement that Trent is “following the examples of the orthodox Fathers, receives and venerates with an equal affection of piety, and reverence, all the books both of the Old and of the New Testament” (including the Apocrypha) is something that Trent claims, but is either simple ignorance of the historic record or a lie. The Apocrypha were not (and Jerome provides evidence of this) given equal affection of piety and reverence with the canonical books. We could provide additional historical documentation of this, if history and the truth mattered to you.

MB wrote: “As far as the Church being the Church, it is apparent that you are not as familiar with the Church Fathers as you think you are, or you selectively deciding to pick and choose from what they write based on your own flawed intellect.”

1) The very idea of going to the church fathers to decide if modern Roman Catholicism is the “the Church” is at least mildly strange. Perhaps one could go to them for tests of the true church, but when we do, we find them using the test of faith, not walls. But they did not see Trent, or the blasphemies of Vatican I and Vatican II. Their doctrines, teachings, and practices were (in many cases) contrary to those modern councils, but they were not around to witness with horror what folks did while trying to claim the title “Catholic.”

2) Furthermore, we conclude that Rome is not part of the church, not based on the church fathers, but on Scripture. It is amazing that you act as though you are unaware of this.

MB wrote: “You have no idea as to what history teaches, or what the Scriptures teach.”

1) I suppose I could just take this as a personal insult. As such, it’s dumb. I’ve provided extensive documentation on my blog that demonstrates at least some familiarity with both Scripture and history. Only someone who had never perused my blog would think that I have “no idea” what Scripture or history teach.

2) But perhaps you mean this in a broader sense. Perhaps you are trying to argue that no one can know what history or Scripture teach unless they first trust in your church. That would be consistent with you arguments above, although …

3) Such an argument would, however, undermine any basis for us to accept your church. If we are unable to know what history or Scripture teach without your church telling us, why should we accept your church in the first place? Just on her say so?

4) Furthermore, Scripture itself teaches (and the Fathers did too) that the Scriptures are able to make a person wise unto salvation. To assert that they cannot is to go against Scripture and Tradition.

5) Moreover, as is plain from Scripture itself and is explicitly taught by many of the church fathers, much of Scripture is quite clear. Your claim that I have “no idea” what Scripture teaches is plainly contrary to both Scripture and tradition if you mean in it in a general sense, which it appears you do, because you continued:

MB wrote: “You are like all of those heretics before you, all using their own flawed intellect to come up with novel teachings on what they think the Scriptures mean.”

1) Notice the fluid change in the argument from what the Scriptures are to what the Scriptures mean.

2) Notice the attempt to substitute rhetoric for argument. Instead of saying “heretics coming up with novel teachings on what Scripture means,” Bellisario loads down his sentence with useless, pejorative rhetorical flourishes:

a) “their own”

Whose else intellect are they going to use?

b) “flawed”

Whose intellect is flawless?

c) “intellect”

Are we supposed to avoid using our intellects?

d) “they think”

Surely, everyone who has an opinion about Scripture thinks they know what Scripture means.

3) We understand, of course, the reason for these empty rhetorical flourishes. The sentence: “Bellisario doesn’t like heretics” sounds more vehement when we phrase it as “Bellisario doesn’t like those that he thinks are, using his own flawed intellect, heretics.”

4) But the rhetoric distracts from the issue. How can we determine whether “the heretics” got it right or wrong? After all, some of the heretics did not and do not appeal to Scripture alone for their claims. The Gnostics, for example, claimed oral tradition – the Muslims and Mormons claim additional revelation – and so have many other heretical groups. The way that we determine whether heretics got it right or wrong is by appeal to Scripture (and, yes, in the process we have to use our minds, which involves thinking, and using our intellects, even though our intellects are not flawless).

MB wrote: “Do you remember a man named St. Athanasius, who refuted the Arians, who also were quoting Scripture to defend their heresies?”

He wasn’t named “St. Athanasius.” Yes, the Arians did attempt to quote Scripture – so do Romanists – so do Mormons. Lots of folks do that, once they realize the authority of Scripture. Lots of criminals quote the laws of the land (especially the constitution, in constitutional countries).

Satan himself quoted Scripture – and Jesus rebutted him. How? From Scripture.

MB wrote: “Since you apparently didn’t learn anything from our debate (the one that you think you won), let me give you a refresher.”

We’ve only done (you and I) one formal debate. That is the one to which you are referring, and which can be found here (link). The remainder, which can also be found there, are informal debates or conversations or the like. I am just as willing to have them examined by the reader as I am our formal debate.

MB wrote: “The Arians also thought they could take the Scriptures for themselves outside of the Church and interpret it for themselves.”

This just shows MB’s lack of familiarity with the error of Arianism. Arianism arose within “the church” and gained a majority position there. Athanasius (from whom MB is about to quote) put it this way:

Athanasius (297-373): For if ever God shall give back the churches (for we think He will) yet without such restoration of the churches the Faith is sufficient for us. And lest, speaking without the Scriptures, I should [seem to] speak too strongly, it is well to bring you to the testimony of Scriptures, for recollect that the Temple indeed was at Jerusalem; the Temple was not deserted, aliens had invaded it, whence also the Temple being at Jerusalem, those exiles went down to Babylon by the judgment of God, who was proving, or rather correcting them; while manifesting to them in their ignorance punishment [by means] of blood-thirsty enemies. And aliens indeed had held the Place, but knew not the Lord of the Place, while in that He neither gave answer nor spoke, they were deserted by the truth. NPNF2: Vol. IV, Letters of Athanasius, I. Festal Letters, fragment.

Notice how Athanasius views the faith itself as more fundamental than the churches. Furthermore, he proves his position from Scripture, rather than from “the Church” (at least for the obvious reason, namely that “the churches” had been taken over by Arians).

MB wrote: “But St. Athanasius told them they were interpreting the Scriptures incorrectly and not as they had been handed on to them in the Church.”

We tell you that same thing, namely that your views of Scripture are incorrect and novel. And you try to tell us that too. To answer those questions, one would expect to then find some sort of umpire by which to decide whose interpretation is correct.

MB wrote: “You know, the one you reject.”

I reject the church of Rome, which anathematized the gospel at Trent. I don’t “reject” the church as defined by the faith (which gets us back to what Athanasius said above).

MB continued: “The great Saint wrote,”

As an aside, it is interesting how he is “The great Saint” when he writes things that Bellisario thinks he agrees with, and merely an individual church father and private theologian when he writes things that Bellisario disagrees with. All rhetoric aside, let’s examine the quotations that Bellisario provided.

First: ““However here too they (Arians) introduce their private fictions, and contend that the Son and the Father are not in such wise ‘one,’ or ‘like,’ as the Church preaches, but as they themselves would have it” Orat 3,10””

1) The extra quotation marks there are because Mr. Bellisario cut and pasted this quotation from somewhere else on the Internet. I’m confident that Mr. Bellisario originally borrowed this particular quotation from Phil Porvaznik’s website, and Phil got it (apparently) from Joe Gallegos. I don’t know whether Phil or Joe ever bothered to read the context of the quotations, but I would be surprised if Bellisario did. Incidentally, these are the same quotations that have already been addressed in our debate. But we’ll look at them again.

2) Athanasius does mention the “the Church” and talks about the church preaching. He is arguing that the Arians’ view is out of line with what the church teaches, but he does not think that this concludes the argument. In fact, he treats it as simply a statement of the disagreement between the Arians and “the Church.”

The part that Bellisario has quoted comes from the opening of chapter 25 of Discourse 3 against the Arians. The word “church” is used in that one instance in the opening section (section 10 of Discourse 3) and the word “church” is not used again until section 67, at the conclusion of the discourse, about five chapters later, where Athanasius says: “Therefore call not the Son a work of good pleasure; nor bring in the doctrine of Valentinus into the Church; but be He the Living Counsel, and Offspring in truth and nature, as the Radiance from the Light.” (Athanasius, Discourse III against the Arians, Chapter 30, Section 67)

There is no reference to “tradition” as such, aside from a single reference to the church fathers very briefly at one point: “And yet, needless though it be to refine upon these passages, considering their so clear and religious sense, and our own orthodox belief, yet that their irreligion may be shown here also, come let us shortly, as we have received from the fathers, expose their heterodoxy from the passage.” (Athanasius, Discourse III against the Arians, Chapter 25, Section 18)

This quotation itself highlights and illustrates Athanasius’ approach. He thought that the Scriptures were “clear” as to their “sense,” and he relied extensively on them. Discourse 3 against the Arians refers to Scripture over 100 times. So, yes, Athanasius claimed that his position was what “the church” taught, and he viewed the Arians’ teachings as something properly foreign to “the church,” but he did argued from the authority of Scripture.

And not only from Scripture, but from his own flawed intellect (I use this description simply to honor Bellisario’s rhetorical flourish above, not to insult Athanasius or to suggest, as Bellisario was trying, that the conclusions reached are wrong). In fact, in Chapter 25, Section 11, from which Bellisario quoted, Athanasius goes on to apply reason to Scripture in this way:

For they say, since what the Father wills, the Son wills also, and is not contrary either in what He thinks or in what He judges, but is in all respects concordant with Him, declaring doctrines which are the same, and a word consistent and united with the Father’s teaching, therefore it is that He and the Father are One; and some of them have dared to write as well as say this. Now what can be more unseemly or irrational than this? For if therefore the Son and the Father are One and if in this way the Word is like the Father, it follows immediately that the Angels too, and the other beings above us, Powers and Authorities, and Thrones and Dominions, and what we see, Sun and Moon, and the Stars, should be sons also, as the Son; and that it should be said of them too, that they and the Father are one, and that each is God’s Image and Word. For what God wills, that will they; and neither in judging nor in doctrine are they discordant, but in all things are obedient to their Maker. For they would not have remained in their own glory, unless, what the Father willed, that they had willed also. He, for instance, who did not remain, but went astray, heard the words, ‘How are you fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning [Isaiah 14:12]?’ But if this be so, how is only He Only-begotten Son and Word and Wisdom? Or how, whereas so many are like the Father, is He only an Image? For among men too will be found many like the Father, numbers, for instance, of martyrs, and before them the Apostles and Prophets, and again before them the Patriarchs. And many now too keep the Savior’s command, being merciful ‘as their Father which is in heaven,’ and observing the exhortation, ‘Be therefore followers of God as dear children, and walk in love, as Christ also has loved us [Ephesians 5:1-2];’ many too have become followers of Paul as he also of Christ. [1 Corinthians 11:1] And yet no one of these is Word or Wisdom or Only-begotten Son or Image; nor did any one of them make bold to say, ‘I and the Father are One,’ or, ‘I in the Father, and the Father in Me;’ but it is said of all of them, ‘Who is like You among the gods, O Lord? And who shall be likened to the Lord among the sons of Gods?’ and of Him on the contrary that He only is Image true and natural of the Father. For though we have been made after the Image, and called both image and glory of God, yet not on our own account still, but for that Image and true Glory of God inhabiting us, which is His Word, who was for us afterwards made flesh, have we this grace of our designation.

– Athanasius, Discourse III against the Arians, Chapter 25, Section 11

Notice how Athanasius argues from reason and Scripture there. This is not surprising, when we discover the context of these writings of Athanasius. Athanasius explains the point of the four discourses against the Arians in the first section of the first chapter of the first discourse:

Of all other heresies which have departed from the truth it is acknowledged that they have but devised a madness, and their irreligiousness has long since become notorious to all men. For that their authors went out from us, it plainly follows, as the blessed John has written, that they never thought nor now think with us. Wherefore, as says the Savior, in that they gather not with us, they scatter with the devil, and keep an eye on those who slumber, that, by this second sowing of their own mortal poison, they may have companions in death. But, whereas one heresy, and that the last, which has now risen as harbinger of Antichrist, the Arian, as it is called, considering that other heresies, her elder sisters, have been openly proscribed, in her craft and cunning, affects to array herself in Scripture language, like her father the devil, and is forcing her way back into the Church’s paradise,— that with the pretence of Christianity, her smooth sophistry (for reason she has none) may deceive men into wrong thoughts of Christ—nay, since she has already seduced certain of the foolish, not only to corrupt their ears, but even to take and eat with Eve, till in their ignorance which ensues they think bitter sweet, and admire this loathsome heresy, on this account I have thought it necessary, at your request, to unrip ‘the folds of its breast-plate,’ and to show the ill savor of its folly. So while those who are far from it may continue to shun it, those whom it has deceived may repent; and, opening the eyes of their heart, may understand that darkness is not light, nor falsehood truth, nor Arianism good; nay, that those who call these men Christians are in great and grievous error, as neither having studied Scripture, nor understanding Christianity at all, and the faith which it contains.

– Athanasius, Discourse I against the Arians, Chapter 1, Section 1

I’m not sure I could say it any more clearly than Athanasius says it for himself, so I’ll leave aside Mr. Bellisario’s flawed reliance on a quotation bereft of its context from the third discourse and consider Mr. Bellisario’s other quotation.

“But after him (the devil) and with him are all inventors of unlawful heresies, who indeed refer to the Scriptures, but do not hold such opinions as the saints have handed down, and receiving them as the traditions of men, err, because they do not rightly know them nor their power” Festal Letter 2″

1) Again, that odd quotation mark after “Festal Letter” is simply an artifact of Mr. Bellisario’s cutting and pasting.

2) Mr. Bellisario has oddly quoted a text that teaches exactly contrary to his position. Since Mr. Bellisario provides no commentary on the quotation, one is left guessing as to the source of his confusion. Perhaps Mr. Bellisario mistakenly thinks that the “them” in “receiving them as the traditions of men” refers back to “opinions as the saints have handed down” as opposed to “the Scriptures.” However, the Scriptures are what is in view. We know this, because Athanasius is making a Biblical allusion:

Matthew 22:29 Jesus answered and said unto them, Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God.

Mark 12:24 And Jesus answering said unto them, Do ye not therefore err, because ye know not the scriptures, neither the power of God?

Those verses are crystal clear as to what Jesus is referencing, and that clear verse resolves the ambiguity in Athanasius’ sentence.

Athanasius is criticizing those who don’t give proper respect to Scripture. It is in failing to give proper respect to Scripture that these folks depart from the opinions of the saints. We can see this further from the context.

3) The context itself refers to the Scriptures as divine tradition:

Therefore Paul justly praises the Corinthians [1 Cor. xi. 2.], because their opinions were in accordance with his traditions. And the Lord most righteously reproved the Jews, saying, ‘Wherefore do ye also transgress the commandments of God on account of your traditions [Matt. xv. 3.].’ For they changed the commandments they received from God after their own understanding, preferring to observe the traditions of men. And about these, a little after, the blessed Paul again gave directions to the Galatians who were in danger thereof, writing to them, ‘If any man preach to you aught else than that ye have received, let him be accursed [Gal. i. 9.].’

– Athanasius, Festal Letter 2, Section 6

Notice not only that Athanasius is himself relying on the authority of Scripture, but that he is contrasting the Scriptures with human traditions.

And in case there was any ambiguity in what Athanasius says in section 6, see how he continues in Section 7:

For there is no fellowship whatever between the words of the saints and the fancies of human invention; for the saints are the ministers of the truth, preaching the kingdom of heaven, but those who are borne in the opposite direction have nothing better than to eat, and think their end is that they shall cease to be, and they say, ‘Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die [Is. xxii. 13.].’ Therefore blessed Luke reproves the inventions of men, and hands down the narrations of the saints, saying in the beginning of the Gospel, ‘Since many have presumed to write narrations of those events of which we are assured, as those who from the beginning were witnesses and ministers of the Word have delivered to us; it hath seemed good to me also, who have adhered to them all from the first, to write correctly in order to thee, O excellent Theophilus, that thou mayest know the truth concerning the things in which thou hast been instructed [Luke i. 1.].’ For as each of the saints has received, that they impart without alteration, for the confirmation of the doctrine of the mysteries. Of these the (divine) word would have us disciples, and these should of right be our teachers, and to them only is it necessary to give heed, for of them only is ‘the word faithful and worthy of all acceptation [1 Tim. i. 15.];’ these not being disciples because they heard from others, but being eye-witnesses and ministers of the Word, that which they had heard from Him have they handed down.

– Athanasius, Festal Letter 2, Section 6

Notice what is handed down: Scripture. That is contraasted with “the fancies of human invention” and identifies the testimonies of these saints who were “eye-witnesses” with the canonical gospels, particularly Luke’s gospel. Nothing could be more helpful to the Reformed position and more undermining of Rome’s and Bellisario’s position, yet because (we must guess) Bellisario is unfamiliar with the context of the quotation, he has been kind enough to provide a quotation that refutes his own position.

Mr. Bellisario concluded: “You sir are sadly in the same boat.”

Well, I’m certainly not an Arian. But even the Arians recognized the authority of Scripture. Athanasius recognized it too, and persuaded the Arians from Scripture to abandon their error and many did repent as Athanasius had hoped for (see the quotation from his first discourse, above). Perhaps you will similarly examine Scripture and join the boat of those who rely upon Scripture, rather than human tradition, as their authority: repenting of your errors and trusting in Christ alone for salvation.

-TurretinFan

P.S. On a rather ironic note, it is from Athanasius (without the benefit of any infallible canon) that we find our first preserved list of the 66 books of the Bible, in his 39th Festal letter.

UPDATE: It should be noted that Dr. White already provided a similar response to a similar attempt to misuse Athanasius, in an early post (link to the earlier post).

Chief Shepherd – Jesus or the Roman Bishop

September 10, 2009

Mr. Bellisario is not pleased by Mr. Hays’ analogy of Christians to birds and fishes, preferring instead the metaphor of sheep (link to Bellisario’s post):

In an attempt to argue against the papacy this ‘scholar’, Steve Hays from Triablogue has invented a new ecclesial typology as to how the church is composed. He now has compared the Church to a flock of birds, or a school of fish! Just when you think you have heard it all. I guess this guy has never read the Scriptures where Jesus refers to the flock as being sheep, which need a shepherd? If this is the best argument against the papacy as being the visible head of the Church, Catholics have nothing to fear. Jesus told Peter to feed his sheep, not swim like a school of fish or fly as a formation of birds. While movements of flocks of birds or schools of fish are fascinating, the analogy is not a Biblical one. What he is trying to accomplish here is a mystery indeed.

Let us ignore, for the moment, the fact that Jesus himself uses the metaphors of fish (Matthew 4:19) and birds (Matthew 23:37), something Mr. Bellisario might remember if he read his Bible a bit more. Instead, let us focus on the sheep metaphor. Of course, sheep need a shepherd. But they don’t necessarily need just one shepherd. And Peter was not the chief shepherd. He himself writes:

1 Peter 5:4 And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.

Peter also designates the Lord “the Shepherd and the Bishop”:

1 Peter 2:25 For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.

And Peter is not alone. Assuming that Hebrews was written by another apostle, that author wrote:

Hebrews 13:20 Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant,

Notice how Hebrews calls Jesus the “great shepherd” which is a similar expression to the concept of chief shepherd.

But, of course, the analogy was not simply Petrine. Jesus himself, as John reports, stated that there would be “one Shepherd” and “one fold”:

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.

Now, perhaps you are thinking that because the “one fold” is plainly the catholic (i.e. universal) church, that consequently the “one Shepherd” must be a reference to Peter or the bishop of Rome. The context shows that such is not the case.

John 10:1-18:

Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers.
This parable spake Jesus unto them: but they understood not what things they were which he spake unto them. Then said Jesus unto them again, Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep. All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.
I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep.
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. Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father.

Notice that the context makes it absolutely clear that the “one shepherd” is Jesus.

Nor is it only in John’s gospel that we find this metaphor:

Mark 14:27 And Jesus saith unto them, All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered.

And similarly in Matthew’s gospel:

Matthew 25:32 And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:

Now, there is a sense in which there can be other shepherds besides Christ. Thus, Jesus had the following dialog with Peter.

John 21:15-19:

So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these?”
He saith unto him, “Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee.”
He saith unto him, “Feed my lambs.” He saith to him again the second time, “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me?”
He saith unto him, “Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee.”
He saith unto him, “Feed my sheep.” He saith unto him the third time, “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me?”
Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, “Lovest thou me?” And he said unto him, “Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee.”
Jesus saith unto him, “Feed my sheep. Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not.” This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, “Follow me.”

Let’s be clear about something: the expression “more than these” refers to the things of this life. We know this because of the way that discussion concludes, with Jesus prophesying of Peter’s death. To put it another way, the emphasis is on whether Peter loves Jesus more than other things, not on whether Peter loves Jesus more than other people love Jesus.

A few additional notes.

1) The text says “feed my sheep” not “herd my sheep.” Thus, the specific task to which Jesus is calling Peter in this text is one of nourishment and service rather than lordship and rule. It may well be that a degree of rule is implied in the command, since sheep are fed by shepherds who guide them, but the rule over the sheep is not the focus of Jesus’ remarks: the nourishment of the sheep is the focus. Paul uses a similar metaphor with the Corinthians:

1 Corinthians 3:1-2
And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.

The minister of God is called both to feed the lambs and the sheep, as Paul illustrates by comparing those who like children are fed with milk to those who like men are fed with meat.

2) This is not something unique to Peter. Peter is the only one being addressed, but there is nothing in the dialog that suggests that Peter alone is supposed to feed the lambs and sheep, or that Peter is supposed to feed the sheep in a unique way.

Indeed, Peter himself recognizes this, for he declares:

1 Peter 5:2 Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind;

And Paul likewise views ministers in the same way, both in his first epistle to the Corinthians:

1 Corinthians 9:7 Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges? who planteth a vineyard, and eateth not of the fruit thereof? or who feedeth a flock, and eateth not of the milk of the flock?

and in the Acts of the Apostles:

Acts 20:28 Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.

3) These are still Jesus’ sheep. Notice that Jesus does not treat the sheep as he did his mother. You may recall that he told John “Behold, thy mother,” as though Mary were to be John’s responsibility to care for her. Jesus does not say to Peter, “Feed thy sheep,” but “Feed my sheep.”

4) It is true that ministers can be called “shepherds” or by the equivalent English term “pastors”:

Ephesians 4:11-13
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:

Notice how, however, even in that place the principle defined tasks of these men (whether they be apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, or teachers) have to do with the spiritual nourishment of Christ’s body, not their domination. While a measure of rule is certainly a part of the work of a pastor, it is not the primary focus. The primary focus is on feeding sheep.

Conclusion

Mr. Bellisario’s attempt to use Scripture to support a need for a single earthly chief shepherd has backfired. Scripture teaches a single chief Shepherd, but that is Jesus, not Peter, and certainly not the bishop of Rome. There are shepherds under Christ, but there are many such shepherds, not just one. While Jesus did say particularly to Peter “Feed my sheep,” neither Peter nor any of the other apostles applied that uniquely to Peter.

-TurretinFan

Perspicuity of Scripture Contra Bellisario – Part 1

July 24, 2009

Introduction

The path to this post is hardly perspicuous in itself. This post is a response to Mr. Matthew Bellisario (link), who is responding to my earlier post (link), which was a response to Mr. Mark Shea’s post (link), which was a response to Dr. White’s post (link), which was a response to a post by Mr. Mark Shea (link), which made (or at least now makes … the post has been updated, it seems) reference to an earlier discussion between Dr. White and Mr. Shea (link).

Mr. Bellisario has provided a lengthy response to my post. For a variety of reasons, I think it may be best to address his comments in a series of posts, particularly, since there are some natural divisions in Mr. Bellisario’s article, and permit the reader (and the writer) to consider the issue in manageable chunks.

Without further ado:

Mr. Bellisario begins his post:

I ran across another post by one of the “Reformed” apologists who once again has taken many early Church Father writings out of context to try and bolster his case for Sola Scriptura. Of course we all know who these guys are that twist the Scriptures and the Fathers to their own destruction. I wanted to peruse through a post by Turretin Fan and show you just how bad his arguments are pertaining to understanding the Scriptures and Sola Scriptura. He calls one of his latest posts,”Flattening Flimsy Flam”, where he insults the Catholic apologist Mark Shea. What is amusing is that his own post is what is really the flimsy flam because his arguments are really bad. Lets look at some of the quotes this guy cuts and pastes for his arguments to defend his position of Sola Scriptura as well as the ease of understanding the Scriptures without the help of apostolic Tradition.

I answer:

1) Obviously, a number of Bellisario’s remarks are just chest-pounding about how he’s going to criticize my post, how bad he thinks my arguments are, etc.

a) “once again has taken many early Church Father writings out of context”

b) “Of course we all know who these guys are that twist the Scriptures and the Fathers to their own destruction”

c) “I wanted to … show you just how bad his arguments are pertaining to understanding the Scriptures and Sola Scriptura.”

d) “is amusing is that his own post is what is really the flimsy flam because his arguments are really bad”

My response is simply that we will see how much he can substantiate these assertions in the segments that follow. If he can show that the arguments were bad, I’ll happily replace or recant them. If not, I’ll encourage Mr. Bellisario to be more modest in his claims.

2) Remarks about motive: “to try and bolster his case for Sola Scriptura” / “to defend his position of Sola Scriptura”

Actually, while perspicuity is one aspect of Sola Scriptura, this post was primarily about perspicuity, not about Sola Scriptura more generally.

3) Odd usage: “He calls one of his latest posts,’Flattening Flimsy Flam'” / “his own post is what is really the flimsy flam”

No, actually, I called it “Flattening Flimsy Flim-Flam.” The word “flam” is a word, but it has nothing to do with “flim-flam.” I have no idea what Mr. Bellisario means by “flam” in his post. Presumably he’s just inaccurately aping me.

4) Remarks about tone: “where he insults the Catholic apologist Mark Shea”

No, I don’t insult him. I respond to his claims, but I don’t insult him.

5) Remarks about … effort? “quotes this guy cuts and pastes”

It’s in the nature of quotations to be cut from the source and pasted into the target. Surely Mr. Bellisario is not suggesting that one should merely paraphrase those one is quoting. In the absence of such an event, however, it seems Mr. Bellisario is just trying to downplay the work involved in transcribing these quotations (in fact, as to the mechanism, it was not a simple “cut-and-paste,” but that is neither here nor there).

6) More remarks about motive: “to defend his position of … the ease of understanding the Scriptures without the help of apostolic Tradition”

This is closer to the mark than item (2) above. Nevertheless, the point of my article was that the important things in Scripture are plain. The necessary things are all manifest. Not everything is equally clear, but the Scriptures were written to be read and understood. Furthermore, the scriptures are able to make one wise unto salvation and to thoroughly equip the man of God to every good work.

There was some brief discussion toward the end about the lack of need for additional Apostolic tradition. In fact, as was pointed out in the article, the argument that Scripture is ambiguous and needs apostolic tradition is itself a Gnostic argument, not an Apostolic tradition.

With that, let’s move on to the place where Mr. Bellisario will attempt to substantiate his claims regarding the quality etc. of my arguments and quotations.

-TurretinFan

Bellisario (by Proxy) on the Papacy – Part 2

July 9, 2009

Although I could not find any other published debates, articles, or podcasts from Mr. Bellisario specifically on the papacy, I did find one book review that is of interest. Mr. Bellisario recommends Mr. Adrian Fortescue’s “The Early Papacy” as being: “full of great apologetics material for substantiating the Papacy in the early Church.” One presumes that Mr. Bellisario may rely on what Mr. Fortescue has written in his presentation on the Dividing Line today.

Mr. Fortescue writes: “let us see what [the pope’s] authority really is, as defined by the Catholic Church today. We shall then be able to show that it was the same in the first four and a half centuries.” (pp. 34-35) Mr. Fortescue seems to recognize that the immediate objection to his claim is that the doctrine of the papacy developed. Mr. Fortescue responds thus: “Has the papacy grown? In a sense it has, just as every Dogma of the Church may be said to have grown. We come here to that question of the development of doctrine, of which much might be said.” (p. 35) After briefly qualifying the kinds of development, Mr. Fortescue concludes: “But we do not admit that this development means any real addition to the faith; it is only a more explicit assertion of the old faith, necessary in view of false interpretations.” (p. 35)

Mr. Fortescue, in his brief discussion, had compared the development of the papacy to the development of the doctrine of the Trinity. In Mr. Fortescue’s view, the decision of the Council of Nicaea “grew” the doctrine of the Trinity. In his view, the Fourth Lateran Council’s use (in the 13th century) of the term “transubstantiation” and Vatican I’s definition of papal infallibility (in the 19th century) are analogous developments to Nicaea. They are simply making explicit something that was already the old faith.

There is a serious problem with Mr. Fortescue’s argument: the Nicaean definition can be shown historically to be simply a restatement of ancient doctrine. We can prove (from Scripture) that the Trinity was the teaching of the Apostles. The same is not the case for transubstantiation or papal infallibility. With respect to those views one is essentially left taking Rome’s word for it: the historical evidence (whether Scriptural or patristic) does not substantiate Rome’s claim that transubstantiation and papal infallibility were the faith of the Apostles.

Mr. Fortescue tries to make a positive case for papal infallibility being the ancient faith. He writes:

A conspicuous case of this is the declaration of papal infallibility by the First Vatican Council. The early Church recognized that the Pope has the final word in matters of faith, no less than in those of discipline, that she herself is protected by God against heresy. Put that together, and you have, implicitly, what the Council defined.

(p. 35)

Again, Mr. Fortescue’s argument is seriously flawed – in this case on at least three levels. First, it has been shown that the early church fathers did not view the bishop of Rome as having the final word in matters of discipline. In fact, to the contrary, we can demonstrate from history that this is not the case. In lieu of making this an unbearably long article, let me post a two historians (as quoted in William Webster’s book, the Matthew 16 Controversy (available here):

Rome itself never either exercised or claimed to exercise ‘patriarchal’ rights over the entire West. Such ‘patriarchal’ jurisdiction of Rome existed de facto over the so-called suburbicarian dioceses, which covered a relatively large territory – ten provinces – which were within the civil jurisdiction of the prefect of Rome. The power of the pope upon this territory was, in every way, comparable to the jurisdiction of the Eastern patriarchs.

(John Meyendorff, Imperial Unity and Christian Division (Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s, 1989), p. 328)

Nicaea I, which took place during Sylvester’s episcopate, is of interest…because of canon 6. It invoked ancient customs in assigning Egypt, Libya, and the Pentapolis to the bishop of Alexandria, affirming the customary jurisdiction of the bishop of Rome, and asserting the traditional authority of the bishop of Antioch and of the provincial metropolitans. The canon does not fix the boundaries of Roman regional power. But the expansion of the canon in Rufinus (345?–410) seems to limit Rome’s authority to the suburbicarian sees. This may reflect the actual jurisdictional situation at the end of the fourth century…Nicaea presupposes a regional leadership of Rome, but indicates nothing more. Thus one concludes that down through the Council of Nicaea, a Roman universal primacy of jurisdiction exists neither as a theoretical construction nor as de facto practice awaiting theoretical interpretation.

(Paul Empie and Austin Murphy, Ed., Papal Primacy and the Universal Church (Augsburg: Minneapolis, 1974), Lutherans and Catholics in Dialogue V, pp. 72, 77)

A second weakness is that even if there is evidence of an eventual widespread jurisdiction of the papacy in the West, there is not corresponding evidence that the papacy had “the final word in matters of faith.” In fact, as late as 1418, the “ecumenical” Council of Constance stated that: “legitimately assembled in the holy Spirit, constituting a general council and representing the Catholic church militant, it has power immediately from Christ; and that everyone of whatever state or dignity, even papal, is bound to obey it in those matters which pertain to the faith, the eradication of the said schism and the general reform of the said church of God in head and members.” According to the Council of Constance, ecumenical councils, not the pope, had the final say in matters of faith.

A third weakness is that even if there were evidence both of teachings of universal disciplinary jurisdiction (which there is not) and universal “final say” in matters of faith (which there is not), it would not follow that the early church fathers viewed the bishop of Rome as infallible in himself. In other words, one could still reject the portion of Vatican I’s definition: “such definitions of the Roman pontiff are of themselves, and not by the consent of the church, irreformable.” In a hypothetical world in which the bishop of Rome has “veto” authority over even ecumenical councils (contrary to what the Council of Constance said), the bishop of Rome would still not be infallible in himself, but only by the consent (as expressed by the council) of the church. He could prevent a definition from being made, but he could not make one himself, much as the American President can veto laws, but he cannot legislate.

We could go on and on, but why belabor the point? These sorts of arguments that the doctrine was “implicitly” there in the early church fathers is almost as crushing an admission as that provided by Roman Catholic Cardinal John Henry Newman who, speaking of his theory of the development of the papacy, wrote:

It will be said that all this is a theory. Certainly it is: it is a theory to account for facts as they lie in the history, to account for so much being told us about the Papal authority in early times, and not more; a theory to reconcile what is and what is not recorded about it; and, which is the principal point, a theory to connect the words and acts of the Ante-nicene Church with that antecedent probability of a monarchical principle in the Divine Scheme, and that actual exemplification of it in the fourth century, which forms their presumptive interpretation. All depends on the strength of that presumption. Supposing there be otherwise good reason for saying that the Papal Supremacy is part of Christianity, there is nothing in the early history of the Church to contradict it.

(An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, p. 154 of the London:1878 edition)

In short, Newman has to admit that all he has is a theory, not historical documentation. A theory that he does not find contradicted by the evidence, but one that cannot be supported from the evidence (for if it could, the theory itself would not be a theory). It is a theory that “all depends on the strength of [Newman’s] presumption” and more specifically the notion that there is “otherwise good reason for saying that the Papal Supremacy is part of Christianity.”

Whether Fortescue’s approach of seeking to find implicit teachings of the doctrine or whether Newman’s approach of reading the doctrine in via external presumption is more fair, I leave to the reader’s judgment. It is sufficient that both of these gentlemen are forced to admit that there is no clear teaching of such essential doctrines of Roman Catholicism as papal infallibility in the early church. Let us hope that, in his discussion on the Dividing Line today, Mr. Bellisario is as candid regarding the absence of explicit and clear patristic evidence as the scholars of his church are.

-TurretinFan

Bellisario (by Proxy) on the Papacy – Part 1

July 9, 2009

Mr. Matthew Bellisario has, as far as I can tell, only a single blog post directly on issues relating to the papacy (although there are a number of contra-Lutheran and contra-contraceptive posts that mention the papacy)(link to MB’s post).

Even in this instance, however, Mr. Bellisario is merely providing a quotation from another author. The author Bellisario quotes is Cornelius a’Lapide, a Flemish Jesuit Theologian/Exegete who died in 1637. Mr. a’Lapide’s commentary is certainly interesting.

One interesting admission from Mr. a’Lapide is that Augustine denied that Peter is the Rock. To combat Augustine, a’Lapide appeals to a mythical Syriac/Hebrew original Gospel of Matthew and claims:

To S. Augustine it is replied that he was misled by his ignorance of the Hebrew and Syriac languages, and, therefore, thought that Petrus was something different from Petra, and that Peter was, as it were, called appellatively from it “rock-like,” although it is clear from the Syriac that Petrus and Petra are the same.

Mislead by ignorance! I wonder if Mr. Bellisario will be so bold?

But, since Mr. Bellisario simply quotes from a theologian of his church (who in turn purports to derive his opinions from the fathers), perhaps it is an adequate rebuttal to point to a theologian of our church who has extensively studied the fathers with the benefit of a few hundred additional years of scholarship: (link to “The Patristic Exegesis of the Rock of Matthew 16:18: The Most Extensive Documentation of the Patristic Understanding of the Rock of Matthew 16 in the English Language, Spanning the Third to the Eighth Centuries” by William Webster)

-TurretinFan


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