Archive for the ‘Mike Burgess’ Category

Bad to Quote Lactantius?

October 6, 2009

Roman Catholic reader Mike Burgess commented on yesterday’s post (link), which quoted from Lactanatius, thus:

St. Jerome, whom you enjoy quoting when the occasion suits, said of Lactantius, “If only Lactantius, almost a river of Ciceronian eloquence, had been able to uphold our cause with the same facility with which he overturns that of our adversaries!” Lactantius was not a good theologian; indeed, he was, in the words of those who know his works best, a fine Latin rhetorician but woefully ignorant of the Scriptures and Christian doctrine. When one reads his writings, especially the Divine Institutes, this becomes quickly apparent. A fine theologian does not relate the story of Heracles/Hercules as though it were true. A fine theologian well studied and well versed in doctrine and systematic theology does not say “But let us leave the testimony of prophets, lest a proof derived from those who are universally disbelieved should appear insufficient. Let us come to authors, and for the demonstration of the truth let us cite as witnesses those very persons whom they are accustomed to make use of against us—I mean poets and philosophers. From these we cannot fail in proving the unity of God; not that they had ascertained the truth, but that the force of the truth itself is so great, that no one can be so blind as not to see the divine brightness presenting itself to his eyes. The poets, therefore, however much they adorned the gods in their poems, and amplified their exploits with the highest praises, yet very frequently confess that all things are held together and governed by one spirit or mind. Orpheus, who is the most ancient of the poets, and coeval with the gods themselves—since it is reported that he sailed among the Argonauts together with the sons of Tyndarus and Hercules,— speaks of the true and great God as the first-born, because nothing was produced before Him, but all things sprung from Him.”

Perhaps you and Pastor King ought to rethink the citation. And rethink the other Fathers, ones not eventually considered heretical as Lactantius was, as concerns their views on prayers through the faithful departed, starting with, say, Augustine.

Before we get to the heart of matter, namely whether it is appropriate to quote from Lactantius in general or whether it was appropriate to quote from Lactantius in particular, let us dispose of a few tangential stones that Mr. Burgess throws:

1) “St. Jerome, whom you enjoy quoting when the occasion suits”

Mr. Burgess’ comment here seems to be an insinuation that somehow the quotations of Jerome at this blog are unduly selective. If that’s what he thinks, he ought to man up and say so. The problem is, for Mr. Burgess to make such a criticism, he would have to employ a double standard. How so? He would have take the position that if one is ever to quote from Jerome, one must agree with all Jerome has to say. Yet Mr. Burgess himself does not agree with all that Jerome has to say, particularly on issues such as natural family planning (link) and the apocrypha (link).

Perhaps Mr. Burgess is simply confused about why we quote from Jerome. We do not quote from Jerome as though he were our rule of faith, accepting teachings because Jerome gives them. Instead, we use Jerome in two ways (1) for his teachings to the extent that they are persuasive, having been founded upon Scripture and (2) for historical reference. Oftentimes, the latter category is more significant than the former category, especially when discussing the issue of tradition with those who claim to follow tradition.

2)”Perhaps you and Pastor King ought to rethink the citation. And rethink the other Fathers, ones not eventually considered heretical as Lactantius was, as concerns their views on prayers through the faithful departed, starting with, say, Augustine.”

Mr. Burgess seems to remain confused about the difference between prayers, to, through, and for the dead. We have clarified that distinction previously and will not repeat it now (here is the link to that clarification). On this general topic, Augustine is sometimes brought to bear as though his word should be accepted in favor of such necromancy, as Mr. Burgess has attempted to do, through allusion.

This again raises the question as to whether Mr. Burgess even understands the argument being presented. There is no question that eventually many professing Christians came to think that there was value in making prayers to, through, or for the dead. The question is whether this was an apostolic teaching or a later innovation. The historical testimony of Lactantius helps to demonstrate that it was a later innovation.

3) “A fine theologian well studied and well versed in doctrine and systematic theology does not say”

The combination of hubris and ignorance in this comment are startling. As even the so-called Catholic Encyclopedia points out, Lactantius’ Divine Institutes “was the first attempt at a systematic exposition of Christian theology in Latin.” (Catholic Encyclopedia, 1913, p. 736) Lactantius was, in essence, the pioneer in systematic theology among the Latin-speakers.

What’s worse, though, is that Mr. Burgess then goes on to provide a quotation from Lactantius that is completely untroubling. In fact, it sounds rather like Paul the apostle who quotes from a pagan poet to make a Christian point. Undoubtedly there were problems in Lactantius’ theology, but who is free from error? That’s rather the point about the early church fathers – they did not transmit an oral apostolic tradition to us, rather they were our predecessors in trying to search out the meaning of Scripture. Where they do a good job they are to be commended, and where they err they are to be corrected.

4) “A fine theologian does not relate the story of Heracles/Hercules as though it were true.”

Again, this is a most ignorant remark. Mr. Burgess is referring to an apologetic that Lactantius used to demonstrate that the very myths about Hercules (by Hercules’ supporters) show Hercules to be subject to human authority (link). But whether Lactantius himself thought that Hercules was a man who had been magnified in legend or whether he thought Hercules to be a myth, is less clear. Nor does it particularly matter. Should it be surprising that a very strong man would become the subject of myths in later days. Is Mr. Burgess not aware that Athanasius (link) and Athenagoras (link) similarly treat of Hercules as though he were a mere man, not only as though he were a fable (though perhaps Mr. Burgess would rush to condemn them as well).

5) “Lactantius was not a good theologian; indeed, he was, in the words of those who know his works best, a fine Latin rhetorician but woefully ignorant of the Scriptures and Christian doctrine.”

One wonders from whence Mr. Burgess arrived at this conclusion. Perhaps he read it in the “Catholic Encyclopedia,” which asserts: “The beauty of the style, the choice and aptness of the terminology, cannot hide the author’s lack of grasp on Christian principles and his almost utter ignorance of Scripture.” (Catholic Encyclopedia, 1913, p. 736)

The translator of Lactantius has a somewhat different take:

The style of Lactantius has been deservedly praised for the dignity, elegance, and clearness 7of expression by which it is characterized, and which have gained for him the appellation of the Christian Cicero. His writings everywhere give evidence of his varied and extensive erudition, and contain much valuable information respecting the systems of the ancient philosophers. But his claims as a theologian are open to question; for he holds peculiar opinions on many points, and he appears more successful as an opponent of error than as a maintainer of the truth. Lactantius has been charged with a leaning to Manicheism, [footnote: This question is fully discussed by Dr. Lardner in his Credibility of the Gospel History, Works, vol. iii. [p. 516. The whole chapter (lxv.) on Lactantius deserves study].] but the charge appears to be unfounded.

(source)

But the same translator reminds us that: “Lactantius has always held a very high place among the Christian Fathers, not only on account of the subject-matter of his writings, but also on account of the varied erudition, the sweetness of expression, and the grace and elegance of style, by which they are characterized.” (Ibid.)

4) Quoting Jerome as “If only Lactantius, almost a river of Ciceronian eloquence, had been able to uphold our cause with the same facility with which he overturns that of our adversaries!”

a) First of all, let’s read Jerome in context:

Tertullian is packed with meaning but his style is rugged and uncouth. The blessed Cyprian like a fountain of pure water flows softly and sweetly but, as he is taken up with exhortations to virtue and with the troubles consequent on persecution, he has nowhere discussed the divine scriptures. Victorinus, although he has the glory of a martyr’s crown, yet cannot express what he knows. Lactantius has a flow of eloquence worthy of Tully: would that he had been as ready to teach our doctrines as he was to pull down those of others! Arnobius is lengthy and unequal, and often confused from not making a proper division of his subject. That reverend man Hilary gains in height from his Gallic buskin; yet, adorned as he is with the flowers of Greek rhetoric, he sometimes entangles himself in long periods and offers by no means easy reading to the less learned brethren. I say nothing of other writers whether dead or living; others will hereafter judge them both for good and for evil.

– Jerome, Letter 58 (A.D. 395), Section 10

Notice that Jerome groups Lactantius in with Arnobius, Victorinus, Hilary, Cyprian, and Tertullian. If some Romanist wishes to suggest that Jerome’s comment about Lactantius is negative, let him consider the impact on the others whom Jerome identifies! Shall we also imagine that Jerome condemns each of these others, simply because he finds some minor imperfection in them?

But in case some ignorant person might still have a question about Jerome’s view of Lactantius, let him consider Jerome again in a letter that he wrote two years later:

I will pass on to Latin writers. Can anything be more learned or more pointed than the style of Tertullian? [An African writer who in his last days became a Montanist. Flor. a.d. 175–225.] His Apology and his books Against the Gentiles contain all the wisdom of the world. Minucius Felix [A Roman lawyer of the second century. His Apology—a Dialogue entitled Octavius—is extant.] a pleader in the Roman courts has ransacked all heathen literature to adorn the pages of his Octavius and of his treatise Against the astrologers (unless indeed this latter is falsely ascribed to him). Arnobius [Fl. a.d. 300. A professor of rhetoric at Sicca in Africa and a heathen. He composed his apology to prove the reality of his conversion.] has published seven books against the Gentiles, and his pupil Lactantius [An African rhetorician and apologist of the fourth century. His works are extant.] as many, besides two volumes, one on Anger and the other on the creative activity of God. If you read any of these you will find in them an epitome of Cicero’s dialogues. The Martyr Victorinus [A celebrated man of letters at Rome in the middle of the fourth century, the story of whose conversion is told in Augustine’s Confessions (viii. 2–5).] though as a writer deficient in learning is not deficient in the wish to use what learning he has. Then there is Cyprian. [Bishop of Carthage. He suffered martyrdom a.d. 358. His works are extant.] With what terseness, with what knowledge of all history, with what splendid rhetoric and argument has he touched the theme that idols are no Gods! Hilary [Bishop of Poitiers (died a.d. 368). A champion of the orthodox faith against Arianism.] too, a confessor and bishop of my own day, has imitated Quintilian’s twelve books both in number and in style, and has also shewn his ability as a writer in his short treatise against Dioscorus the physician. In the reign of Constantine the presbyter Juvencus [A Spanish Christian of the fourth century. His “Story of the Gospels,” a life of Christ in hexameter verse, still exists.] set forth in verse the story of our Lord and Saviour, and did not shrink from forcing into metre the majestic phrases of the Gospel. Of other writers dead and living I say nothing. Their aim and their ability are evident to all who read them.

– Jerome, Letter 70 (A.D. 397), Section 5 (editor’s footnotes bracketed, final incestuous footnote omitted)

Or likewise consider the comments of Augustine (to whom we are commended by Mr. Burgess himself):

And what else have many good and faithful men among our brethren done? Do we not see with what a quantity of gold and silver and garments Cyprian, that most persuasive teacher and most blessed martyr, was loaded when he came out of Egypt? How much Lactantius brought with him? And Victorious, and Optatus, and Hilary, not to speak of living men! How much Greeks out of number have borrowed! And prior to all these, that most faithful servant of God, Moses, had done the same thing; for of him it is written that he was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians. And to none of all these would heathen superstition (especially in those times when, kicking against the yoke of Christ, it was persecuting the Christians) have ever furnished branches of knowledge it held useful, if it had suspected they were about to turn them to the use of worshipping the One God, and thereby overturning the vain worship of idols. But they gave their gold and their silver and their garments to the people of God as they were going out of Egypt, not knowing how the things they gave would be turned to the service of Christ. For what was done at the time of the exodus was no doubt a type prefiguring what happens now. And this I say without prejudice to any other interpretation that may be as good, or better.

– Augustine, On Christian Doctrine, Book 2, Chapter 40, Section 61

And, of course, we might further note how Jurgens relies on Lactantius in his Romanist quote book “Faith of the Early Fathers,” (pp. 264-72) to whom so many lay apologists for Rome are indebted. One even finds Lactantius quoted on the Vatican web site (here – Italian). But perhaps Mr. Burgess thinks himself advanced to the point of letting Jurgens and the Vatican know whom they should be quoting.

What’s more, even if we are only to consider the fact that Lactantius is good at pointing out error (as per his translator and Jerome) that’s really good enough for us, since we are noting that Lactantius was pointing out an error that is part of Roman Catholic practice today.

So, while we appreciate Mr. Burgess attempt (whatever his intentions may have been) to help us remember why we find Lactantius of interest, we will respectfully continue to quote from this church father where his comments are either persuasive from Scripture or of historical interest.

-TurretinFan

UPDATE: I see that Mr. Burgess has not only left his comment on my original post but provided his comment on his own web page as well – so important he thinks his correction to be (link).

SECOND UPDATE:

Commodianus, while he was engaged in secular literature read also our writings and, finding opportunity, accepted the faith. Having become a Christian thus and wishing to offer the fruit of his studies to Christ the author of his salvation, he wrote, in barely tolerable semi-versified language, Against the pagans, and because he was very little acquainted with our literature he was better able to overthrow their [doctrine] than to establish ours. Whence also, contending against them concerning the divine counterpromises, he discoursed in a sufficiently wretched and so to speak, gross fashion, to their stupefaction and our despair. Following Tertullian, Lactantius and Papias as authorities he adopted and inculcated in his students good ethical principles and especially a voluntary love of poverty.

– Gennadius of Marseilles (died about A.D. 496), Supplement to De Viris Illustribis

But as well, Jerome himself include Lactantius in his Lives of Illustrious Men:

Firmianus, [Died 325.] known also as Lactantius, a disciple of Arnobius, during the reign of Diocletian summoned to Nicomedia with Flavius the Grammarian whose poem On medicine is still extant, taught rhetoric there and on account of his lack of pupils (since it was a Greek city) he betook himself to writing. We have a Banquet of his which he wrote as a young man in Africa and an Itinerary of a journey from Africa to Nicomedia written in hexameters, and another book which is called The Grammarian and a most beautiful one On the wrath of God, and Divine institutes against the nations, seven books, and an Epitome of the same work in one volume, without a title, [without a title “that is a compendium of the last three books only” as Cave explains it. Ffoulkes in Smith and W. But no.] also two books To Asclepiades, one book On persecution, four books of Epistles to Probus, two books of Epistles to Severus, two books of Epistles to his pupil Demetrius [two books…Severus…Demetrius e a H 10 21 Val.; omit T 25 30 31 Her.] and one book to the same On the work of God or the creation of man. In his extreme old age he was tutor to Crispus Cæsar a son of Constantine in Gaul, the same one who was afterwards put to death by his father.

– Jerome, Lives of Illustrious Men (De Viris Illustribis), Chapter 80 (editors’ footnotes bracketed)

So, Jerome puts him in his “Of Illustrious Men” and Gennadius views Lactantius as having good ethical principles. But Mr. Burgess is not so fond of Lactantius. We report, you decide.

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Can Papists Properly Call Reformed Churches, Churches?

January 3, 2009

Mr. Paul Hoffer referred to Reformed churches by the rather modernist/pluralist terminology of “faith communities. Mr. Mike Burgess has come to Mr. Hoffer’s aid by suggesting that Mr. Hoffer is just being proper, and that properly Reformed churches cannot be said to be churches because they are not part of the true Church. We deny.

In opposition to this error, I present several arguments:

1. Pius XI, even while distinguishing them from the “true” church, referred to the reformed churches as such.

24. In his Controversies, although the holy Doctor made large use of the polemical literature of the past, he exhibits nevertheless a controversial method quite peculiarly his own. In the first place, he proves that no authority can be said to exist in the Church of Christ unless it had been bestowed on her by an authoritative mandate, which mandate the ministers of heretical beliefs in no way can be said to possess. After having pointed out the errors of these latter concerning the nature of the Church, he outlines the notes of the true Church and proves that they are not to be found in the reformed churches, but in the Catholic Church alone. He also explains in a sound manner the Rule of Faith and demonstrates that it is broken by heretics, while on the other hand it is kept in its entirety by Catholics. In conclusion, he discusses several special topics, but only those leaflets which treat of the Sacraments and of Purgatory are not extant. In truth, the many explanations of doctrine and the arguments which he has marshaled in orderly array, are worthy of all praise. With these arguments, to which must be added a subtle and polished irony that characterizes his controversial manner, he easily met his adversaries and defeated all their lies and fallacies.

(source)

2. “Faith Communities” appears to be a term born out of attempted ecumenical dialog with Judaism. Example (link) (Cardinal Kasper states: “I am committed to work together with you for the reconciliation of our two faith communities, on the basis of a total mutual respect for our respective traditions and convictions.”) While it may be viewed as a valid super-category for Church and Synagogue, it is not a “more proper” term for “heretical” and/or “schismatic” churches. If I were a betting man, I’d bet that no one could find a pope using the expression “faith communities” before Vatican II.

3. Revelation 2:9 and 3:9 speak of the “synagogue of Satan.” If “false Jews” can be said to be of a synagogue (even Satan’s synagogue), then “false Christians” could be said to be of a church. Moreover, as Mr. Burgess admits, the claim today is not even that the Reformed churches are full of false Christians, just separated brethren.

On these three points, I’d respectfully disagree with Mr. Burgess’ attempted buttressing of Mr. Hoffer on this issue of nomenclature. I can appreciate that Mr. Hoffer’s choice of words may have been made with total innocence of any derogatory ring, aiming instead to use the language of ecumenicism (it should be noted that the Vatican now uses “faith communities” to refer not only to Jewish synagogues and the church of Rome, but also to “Protestant” churches, such as the Methodists).

To that, however, I’d add that the Reformed churches are part of the true church, while the Vatican is not. What are the marks of a true church?

See the Real Turretin’s comments on this subject.

-TurretinFan

Response to Mike Burgess on Mary and the Rosary

December 23, 2008

Mr. Mike Burgess has provided some thoughtful responses to my previous post on following Mary to Jesus (link).

I’ll respond to his comments line-by-line, leaving off only the last two sentences in which he states his opinion regarding the wisdom of my posting my previous post. I apologize that the reader will note occasional changes between my addressing Mr. Burgess in the third person and in the second person.

Burgess:

You’re stretching a wee bit. Obviously, it’s anachronistic to believe the Rosary existed in the New Testament era, so asking if she prayed it (or the Hail Mary or the Gloria Patri or the Apostle’s Creed) is what’s absurd.

It’s not a stretch, of course. It’s simply a fact that Mary didn’t pray the Rosary. Burgess is quite correct to note that the Rosary is a later innovation, something unknown to the era of the apostles, much like the “Hail Mary” etc.

Burgess:

That she was personally preserved from sin by her prevenient salvation comports with her words in the Magnificat you cited. Of course she had (and needed to have) a Saviour, the one and only Lord. He saved her by keeping her from sinning. He preserved her graciously. Hers is a gracious sinlessness, showing the fulness of the gratuitous theosis given to us by the Lord, who calls us and prepares our works for us to walk in, and is at work in us both to will and to do, according to His good pleasure.

This explanation is one that we widely see used by papists to attempt to explain away the fact that Mary refers to God as her savior, and it is pure eisegesis.

There is nothing in the text to suggest that God was Mary’s savior from sin in anything other than the usual way of Christ dying for her sins. There’s nothing anywhere else in Scripture that would lead us to think that something other than salvation from sin in the ordinary sense is meant. In short, the only reason to explain this text in that way is by imposing on the text from outside. It is a classic, grievous, and heinous example of reading into the text, rather than reading from the text.

Like the Rosary, this interpretation of the verse is not an apostolic teachings handed down from the fathers, but a theological innovation. When was it exactly invented? We’ll leave that for Mr. Greco to opine, but suffice to note that even Thomas Aquinas (fairly late into medieval theology – died 1274) denied (against, for example, Chrysostom) that Mary had actual sin, but admitted that she had to be cleansed of original sin.

Aquinas himself puts on a more elaborate case for his position than Mr. Burgess has, and even attempts to provide some Scriptural justification for his view. On the other hand, when one examines the justification of the view, one realizes that is primarily founded on a particular allegorical explanation of Canticles (Song of Solomon) 4:7, “Thou art all fair, my love; there is no spot in thee.” When one examines the proof critically, one discovers that, naturally, there is not much strength to the assertion that the passage refers to Mary, and even less that “no spot in thee” refers to Mary being free from all actual sin.

Furthermore, the position that Mary was free from all actual sin is directly contrary to Scripture, which states:

Romans 3:23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;

Burgess:

Your speculation about Mary praying a complete version of the Lord’s prayer is no more problematic than our Lord praying and reciting the Psalms in the liturgy of the intertestamental synagogue and Temple. The Lord was quoting Psalm 22 on His cross. Do you suppose He believed the Father had abandoned Him? Or that He was included in the salvation? He did not even need gratuitous prevenience, since He possessed sinlessness by nature.

As a preliminary matter, it is good that Burgess has pointed out that my comment about Mary praying a complete version of the Lord’s prayer is just speculation. I don’t know whether she did or not. The Bible does not tell us.
Assuming she did pray the Lord’s Prayer (note that this is an assumption), it is more problematic than Jesus praying or Jesus singing the psalms (“reciting the Psalms in the liturgy of the intertestamental synagogue and Temple” being a bit of an awkward anachronism). Jesus praying is not a problem at all. Jesus did not pray the Lord’s prayer, instead, he provided the prayer as a model to his disciples for them to use. Jesus is not recorded as having prayed that his own sins would be forgiven, and such a prayer would have been problematic, as it would have implied he had sins.
Jesus singing Psalms is not problematic, because when one sings the Psalms, one is not necessarily adopting the words of the Psalmist. For example, when we sing in Psalm 137,

By Babel’s stream we sat and wept,
&nbsp when Zion we thought on,
in midst thereof we hanged our harps,
&nbsp the willow trees upon

we do not claim personally to have been to Babylon, to have cried into the Euphrates or to have owned or hung harps. In contrast, however, when we pray we do adopt (or we ought to) the words we are speaking, because we are praying to “let [our] requests be made known unto God.” (Philippians 4:6)

Providing a full explanation of the significance of Christ’s use of “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me,” on the cross would go beyond the scope of this post. Suffice to say that we do believe that Christ was not merely saying words that had no personal relevance to him.

Burgess:

Speaking of the complete version of the Lord’s prayer, why do you add words to it by appending the doxological ending “for thine is the Kingdom and the Power and the Glory forever and ever”? (This is part of the prayer in all of the Presbyterian versions, so far as I know.) So often, we’re chided for supposedly adding traditions of men and so forth that your ironic example here begs to be pointed out.

The reason for including it is the testimony of Matthew 6:13:

Matthew 6:13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.

The modern critical texts would ask us to drop (with the Vulgate) the portion “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.” Perhaps some time it would be interesting to explore the textual testimonies in favor of, and against, inclusion of this text. Nevertheless, it is the presence of this expression in the so-called Textus Receptus that lead to its presentation in Tyndale’s Bible and the later English translations (including, of course, the KJV) that relied on the traditional Greek text.

Burgess:

At any rate, we should imitate our Lady, as she said at Cana: “Do whatever He tells you.” We should imitate St. Paul, as he said in 1 Corinthians and elsewhere. We should follow them to Jesus. We come to faith by hearing; by living as they and other saints did, we shall come to Him. This is what Scripture tells us to do.

I interrupt this paragraph of Burgess to agree in the main, and to add what is most important: we come to Christ not by works but by faith. It is not by living well that we come to Christ, but by coming in faith to Christ, we will live well.

Mary’s words to the servants at the wedding are not directed to us, but they do illustrate the attitude that we should have, namely that we should do whatever Jesus tells us to do. And where is the only place where we can reliably find the commands of our Lord? In the pages of Holy Scripture.

Burgess continued:

Participating in the liturgical life of the Church, and in so doing receiving sacramental grace in both the sacraments and the use of sacramentals such as the Rosary, is an essential part of imitating or following the example of Mary and Jesus.

Again, I interrupt Burgess’ paragraph, but this time to disagree. Worshiping Jesus as Mary did is one thing, but following the liturgical novelties of Rome (such as the “sacramentals” including the Rosary, the various Scapulars, etc.) is quite another. Saying the Rosary cannot be essential to following the example of Mary, at least because she (quite obviously) didn’t say it. “Participating in the liturgical life of the Church,” is too vague to be helpful. We do not participate in the worship life of the Church in the way that Jesus did, as its head, as its sacrifice, as its high priest.

On the other hand, the single example of Mary participating in worship after Christ’s ascension is the mention in passing in Acts 1:14 that she was praying (as were Jesus’ brethren) together with the other believers immediately before Pentecost. Yes, we should not forsake the gathering of the believers. On the other hand, while we do see the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper in Scripture, we do not see a rigid or complex liturgy beyond the simple liturgical forms found in, for example, post-exilic Jewish worship.

Burgess continued:

He, ultimately, showed us that even the Lord participated in the liturgy of the Church, and so we should, too.

Again, an interruption. Same comment above about the vagueness of “liturgy of the Church.” Christ during his earthly ministry didn’t engage in the Traditional (or Tridentine) Latin Mass (TLM) or the new liturgy of the Vatican II era. We worship God somewhat differently from the way in which Jesus gives honor to His father, since we are not members of the Trinity. Getting into the nuances of this distinction would go beyond the scope of this post, but it is sufficient to note that our worship of God is more like that of Mary and other believers than like that of the God-man for God the Father.

Christ instituted the sacraments of the new economy of the covenant of grace, particularly baptism (which supplants circumcision) and the Lord’s Supper, which replaces the Passover.

Burgess continued:

I’m sure I don’t need to remind you of official teaching on sacramentals, their attachment to sacraments, the necessity of the sacraments for the life of the Church, the necessity of the communion of saints in liturgy (service) to the Lord, and so forth.

No, you don’t need to remind me of your church’s teachings on that point. I suppose I don’t need to remind you that “communion of saints” has taken on a highly modified meaning in modern Catholicism from that which it had in ancient times. The Scriptures (from which the creed was obtained) speak of:

1 Corinthians 10:16 The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?

This is the communion that we, the saints, have. It is the Lord’s Supper that we have in mind when we speak of the “Communion of Saints,” not attempted communication with departed fellow believers, contrary to what some today seem to imagine.

-TurretinFan

Criticism of Rome’s Celibate Priesthood – Rebuttals to Objections

December 19, 2008

A while back I had blogged a post on the Married Priest Movement (link), which garnered a variety of criticism, from one guy who insists that I must use the word “dissent” the way he says his church does – to several more interesting comments that I’d like to discuss below.

The people are being addressed in reverse chronological order of when they commented, but their comments are (I hope) presented in the order in which the respective person wrote them.

Mike Burgess wrote:

TF said “There is no basis for saying that a chaste life of marriage is less holy than chaste life of celibacy from Scripture.”

Untrue. See 1 Corinthians 7, particularly vv. 28-35. This is clear Scriptural warrant for the discipline, and it follows the spirit of St. Paul’s inspired words: the one who is celibate seeks to be holy in body and spirit, he is concerned with the things of the Lord, and it is good to be married but “better” to remain celibate.

And, to follow up, vv 36-38 make it clear that the Bishop you quoted is correct: there is no doctrinal reason, and the Church has always allowed priests in some particular Churches to marry. She has chosen to impose a discipline for reasons of “good order,” as St. Paul says, in the Latin Rite Churches of the One Church.

I presume I shouldn’t need to quote St. Paul’s words in full to such a biblically literate audience.

There are two main claims here:
1) Burgess is claiming that 1 Corinthians 7:28-35 (perhaps he means to through vs. 38) does teach that a chaste life of marriage is less holy than chaste life of celibacy; and
2) Burgess is claiming that 1 Corinthians 7:36-38 justifies the prohibition on priestly marriage for reasons of “good order.”

First things first, let’s look at the text itself. Despite Burgess’ reasonable confidence in the Biblical literacy of the readership of this blog, we should still take a look at what the text says:

1 Corinthians 7:28-38
28But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned; and if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned. Nevertheless such shall have trouble in the flesh: but I spare you. 29But this I say, brethren, the time is short: it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none; 30And they that weep, as though they wept not; and they that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not; and they that buy, as though they possessed not; 31And they that use this world, as not abusing it: for the fashion of this world passeth away. 32But I would have you without carefulness. He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord: 33But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife. 34There is difference also between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit: but she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please her husband. 35And this I speak for your own profit; not that I may cast a snare upon you, but for that which is comely, and that ye may attend upon the Lord without distraction. 36But if any man think that he behaveth himself uncomely toward his virgin, if she pass the flower of her age, and need so require, let him do what he will, he sinneth not: let them marry. 37Nevertheless he that standeth stedfast in his heart, having no necessity, but hath power over his own will, and hath so decreed in his heart that he will keep his virgin, doeth well. 38So then he that giveth her in marriage doeth well; but he that giveth her not in marriage doeth better.

As to Burgess’ first claim with respect to this passage, the key part of the passage would seem to be “he that giveth her in marriage doeth well; but he that giveth her not in marriage doeth better.”

The very first counter-observation to be made is that the verse doesn’t say “holy” vs. “more holy” but “well” vs. “better.” The question is, in what way “better”? If the answer is “better in the sense of more holy,” then the distinction makes no difference.

Unfortunately, Burgess doesn’t provide us with much of a positive case for his position here. He seems to assume that “better” means “more holy.” Perhaps his concise comment is the rational result of my policy of publishing comments slowly, perhaps because he hasn’t considered the issue, either way we can evaluate the passage and determine whether it is holiness or something else that is under consideration.

The comparison of “well” to “better” is really a comparison between καλως (kalos = well) and κρεισσον (kreisson = better). Kreisson is rarely used in the New Testament. Its two other NT uses are 1 Corinthians 11:17 and Philippians 1:23.

1 Corinthians 11:17 states that when the Corinthians assemble, it is not for better (κρεισσον) but for worse, and the word for worse here is ηττον (hetton – worse), which does not seem have any particular moral significance.

Philippians 1:23 states that to be with Christ is a thing far better (κρεισσον), but that it is needful for Paul to be with Philippians, and consequently he is “in a straight betwixt two” as the King James version puts it or “hard pressed from both directions” as the NAS puts it.

Nevertheless, there are a few additional uses in the LXX:

1) In Exodus 14:12, the Israelites say it would have been better (κρεισσον) to serve in Egypt than die in the wilderness.
2) In Judges 8:2, Gideon praises the vintage of Ephraim as better (κρεισσον) than that of Abiezer.
3) In Psalm 36:16, it is said that a little is better (κρεισσον) to the righteous than great wealth is to the wicked.
4) In Psalm 62:4, it is said that God’s mercy is better (κρεισσον) than life.
5) In Proverbs 21:9, it is said that it is better (κρεισσον) to live in a corner of a housetop, than to live in a plastered house with unrighteousness.
6) In Proverbs 21:19, it is said that is is better (κρεισσον) to live in the wilderness than with a militant, talkative, and angry woman.
7) In Proverbs 25:7, it is said that it is better (κρεισσον) that it be said to you “come up hither” in the eyes of your prince (than to be told to take a lesser seat)

In short, what we can infer from these uses is that the word κρεισσον doesn’t have any intrinsic moral significance. It can mean simply more pleasant or more convenient. In this case, the sense of “more convenient” is one obvious sense. Why might one not agree?

Verse 37 states that “he that has decreed in his heart that he will keep his virgin, does well (καλως),” and then verse 38 adds that he who gives his virgin in marriage does well (καλως),” but that he who does not, does better. What is interesting, to me, is that there is a comparative form of καλως, namely καλλιον (kallion – better) but it is not used. I think this is significant, but at a minimum it does not support the view that the comparison between giving and not giving has to do with which one is more righteous or holy.

That it is a matter of convenience and practicality can be seen from:

1 Corinthians 7:7 For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that.

and

1 Corinthians 7:25 Now concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord: yet I give my judgment, as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful.

and finally

1 Corinthians 7:28 But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned; and if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned. Nevertheless such shall have trouble in the flesh: but I spare you.

The point of the passage has to do with it being inconvenient to be married, thus, Paul explains:

1 Corinthians 7:32-33
32 But I would have you without carefulness. He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord: 33 But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife.

That is to say, single people have more time for explicitly serving the kingdom of God than married people do. Thus, he concludes the thought:

1 Corinthians 7:34 There is difference also between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit: but she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please her husband.

With that in mind, it should be apparent that “better” does not mean “more holy” or “more righteous,” but rather “more convenient.” Accordingly, we can reject the first of Mr. Burgess’ contentions, namely that the chaste single life is somehow more holy than the chaste married life.

Mr. Burgess’ second contention, related to “good order” is again unfounded. The Apostle Paul occupies the field of marital restrictions by insisting that bishops and deacons be husbands of one wife. Further limitations on the marital status of bishops and deacons are consequently instances of forbidding what Scripture permits. Additionally, given that Scripture clearly teaches:

Proverbs 18:22 Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favour of the LORD.

Consequently, we also reject Mr. Burgess’ second contention, that there is a valid “good order” reason to forbidding clergy from marrying.

From Mr. Burgess, we can turn to Mr. Greco.

Alexander Greco wrote:

Turretinfan: a) The analogy [to the idea that God is holier than angels] is distinguishable because the difference in holiness between God and angels relates to their being, not their actions. The issue here, however, is actions.
[Greco]: Good point.

Turretinfan: b) There is no basis for saying that a chaste life of marriage is less holy than chaste life of celibacy from Scripture.
[Greco]: But what do you make of Paul’s words when he describes those who live the celibate life are of the affairs of the Lord, etc? (I’m not dealing with the terminology of “holy” versus “unholy”)

Turretinfan: c) Leaving aside the issue of differences between beings (addressed under {a} above), “thing A is less holy than thing B” is logically equivalent to “thing A is more more unholy than thing B.”
[Greco]: Would this really be the case though? The elect in heaven are not as holy as God, but would you say that God allows the unholy to exist in heaven?

(brackets show my edits for clarity)
Obviously, there is no real disagreement on (a). With respect to (b), as I mentioned in my response to Mr. Burgess, Paul is talking about the fact that single people have more time to give explicitly to the service of the kingdom of heaven. With respect to (c), this gets us right back to (a). An analogy between angels and the elect would be proper (or vice versa), but for the same reasons, the “elect are not as holy as God” comparison relates to being, not actions. The issue here is actions.

From Mr. Greco, we can turn to Mr. Douglass.

Ben Douglass wrote:

[Turretinfan:] b) There is no basis for saying that a chaste life of marriage is less holy than chaste life of celibacy from Scripture.
[Douglass:] 1 Cor 7:1-2, 7-9, 26-28, 32-40.
“So then both he who gives his own virgin daughter in marriage does well, and he who does not give her in marriage will do better” (1 Cor 7:38).

[Turretinfan:] c) Leaving aside the issue of differences between beings (addressed under {a} above), “thing A is less holy than thing B” is logically equivalent to “thing A is more unholy than thing B.”
[Douglass:] I deny. “Unholy” implies evil, which is a privation of good. “Less holy” implies mere absence of good. Not every absence of good is a privation, and hence not every absence of good is evil.

[Douglass quoting NatAmLLC:] According to the “insight” the Holy Ghost gave Paul, we will know the time is close to the end when we are forbidden to marry! Hmmmmmm?

[Douglass:] The Catholic Church doesn’t force anyone to take a vow of celibacy. It is purely voluntary. Quoting 1 Tim 4:3 against Catholicism is one of the silliest arguments in the Protestant [repertoire].

(brackets show my edits for clarity/spelling)
As to (b), I’ve provided a detailed answer above, in my response to Mr. Burgess.
As to (c):

i) The difference between privation of good and absence of good is something that is not agreed by the Reformed, even if it is taught from the Vatican. Scripture commands the believer to be perfect:

Matthew 5:48 Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

You see, we believe that the standard of holiness that God requires is perfect righteousness. Thus, any absence of good in a person’s life is identical to a privation of good. Furthermore, since we believe that perfect obedience is required, we do not leave room for works of supererogation. Thus, either a person is as good as they ought to be, or they fall short by some measure greater or less.

In other words, whether an act is more or less good depends on how close it comes to approximating the duty God requires of man. Accordingly, there is no bear absence of good in a man’s life – instead it is privation. There are sins both of commission and omission, of course, but both are sins. The former involve a positive act, the latter the failure to act.

ii) Douglass quoted NatAmLLC: “According to the “insight” the Holy Ghost gave Paul, we will know the time is close to the end when we are forbidden to marry!”
Paul actually wrote:
1 Timothy 4:1-3
1 Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; 2 Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; 3 Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.

Those who impose celibacy and fasting (sound familiar at all?) are those that depart from the faith. I’m not sure what Mr. Douglass (or NatAmLLC) was trying to reference. There will be no marriage between humans in heaven:

Luke 20:34-36
34 And Jesus answering said unto them, The children of this world marry, and are given in marriage: 35 But they which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage: 36 Neither can they die any more: for they are equal unto the angels; and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection.

iii) Douglass stated: “The Catholic Church doesn’t force anyone to take a vow of celibacy. It is purely voluntary.”

They force anyone who wants to be a bishop to take that vow, as far as I know. Obviously, they don’t force people (these days) to become bishops, but for those that do wish to become bishops, it is not voluntary or optional – it is mandatory.

-TurretinFan

UPDATE: Updated 22 December 2008 to indicate where Mr. Douglass was quoting NatAmLLC.

Response to Mike Burgess on Sola Scripture

October 25, 2008

As you may recall, some time ago I responded to comments by Mr. Bellisario (link to my response). Mr. Greco then responded to those comments of mine, and I provided a response to his comments (link to my response).

Now, Mr. Mike Burgess has responded to my response to Mr. Greco. Mr. Burgess states,

If I might draw some conclusions from your response, it seems that the role you acknowledge for teachers in the “sola scriptura” system includes determining which passages are more clear and which passages are less clear. That is, to say the least, convenient. The result is an admittedly ingenious system of rigorous logic with faulty premises.

As with other posts yo[u]’ve made, TF, you never seem to get around to saying why those who instigated and those who continue to propagate the Reformation (it is still going on, right?) can do what they do, or, in other words, where is their source of authority?

I’m not sure why Mr. Burgess concludes what he concludes, but he’s mistaken.

A little background is perhaps in order:

Among the various components that make up the Reformed view of Scripture is the position of the perspecuity of Scripture. This position was enunciated by, for example, Chrysostom, who explained:

For not, like the Gentiles, for vain glory, but for the salvation of their hearers, did they whom God from the beginning deemed worthy of the grace of the Holy Spirit, compose all their works. The philosophers indeed, who are strangers to God, the masters of speech, the orators and writers of books, seeking not the common good, but aiming only at gaining admiration for themselves,even when they said something useful, yet even this an obscurity which they ever affected involved as in a certain cloud of wisdom. But the apostles and prophets took the contrary way, and exposed to all the clear and open declarations which they made as the common teachers of the world, so as that every one, by the mere perusal, might be enabled to understand what was said.

Of course that is not to deny that there are some parts of Scripture that are more difficult to understand than others. Anyone reading can see that God claims to have created the world in six days, but understanding the relation between the existence of evil and God’s sovereignty over history is something that is more challenging – something not as plainly stated.

Thus, as Chrysostom says, responding not only to this issue but to similar objection to that of Mr. Burgess:

What do I come in for, you say, if I do not hear some one discoursing? This is the ruin and destruction of all. For what need of a person to discourse? This necessity arises from our sloth. Wherefore any necessity for a homily? All things are clear and open that are in the divine Scriptures; the necessary things are all plain. But because ye are hearers for pleasure’s sake, for that reason also you seek these things. For tell me with what pomp of words did Paul speak? and yet he converted the world. Or with what the unlettered Peter? But I know not you say the things that are contained in the Scriptures. Why? For are they spoken in Hebrew? Are they in Latin, or in foreign tongues? Are they not in Greek? But they are expressed obscurely, you say. What is it that is obscure? Tell me. Are there not histories? For (of course) you know the plain parts, in that you enquire about the obscure. There are numberless histories in the Scriptures. Tell me one of these. But you cannot. These things are an excuse and mere words.

With that background in mind, we can more easily address Mr. Burgess’ comments:

I. Mr. Burgess stated: “[I]t seems that the role you acknowledge for teachers in the “sola scriptura” system includes determining which passages are more clear and which passages are less clear.” This is only partly correct. It is correct in that teachers (and learners) can determine that some passages are more clear than others. It is not correct to say that the teachers have a special role of infallibly stating that passage X is in the “clear” category while passage “Y” is in the “less clear” category, or that teachers have the role of identifying clear vs. less clear passages to the exclusion of others in the church.

II. Mr. Burgess stated: “The result is an admittedly ingenious system of rigorous logic with faulty premises.” While I appreciate Mr. Burgess’ compliment, I think the faulty premise here is mostly due to his misunderstanding of what I had written. Hopefully this post clears that up. But in case Mr. Burgess feels that this post does not address his concerns, it is worth pointing out to Mr. Burgess that he should identify what he thinks those faulty premises are.

III. Mr. Burgess stated: “[Y]ou never seem to get around to saying why those who instigated and those who continue to propagate the Reformation (it is still going on, right?) can do what they do, or, in other words, where is their source of authority” There are really two parts here.

a) The Reformation is an historical label. This label is usually applied to the period of time from about the time of Luther until the widespread establishment of Reformed churches. Thus, a convenient measure would be from October 31, 1517, until perhaps as late as writing of the London Baptist Confession of 1689. The doctrines of the Reformation, especially the “five solas” continue to be taught, but the period of reformation would seem to have been accomplished already.

b) There is a late Reformation maxim (perhaps no earlier than the end of the 17th century that speaks of the Reformed churches “Semper Reformata” (always reforming). The sense in which is this is true is largely that the Reformed churches continue to acknowledge the critical role of the rule of faith, Sola Scriptura, in the doctrine of the church. Accordingly, Reformed churches continue to submit even their highest creedal and confessional standards to the supreme authority of the Word of God itself.

c) The source of authority for the Reformed churches to do what they do is found in the Scriptures themselves. I’m confident I’ve said this before, but in case it was not clear, let me make it so. Scriptures command the elders to teach, so they do. Scriptures also command that all Christians study the Scriptures and use the Scriptures to provide a check on teachers. Indeed, Scriptures warn that there will be false teachers, necessitating a higher standard than the teachers themselves by which the believer can judge the teacher’s teachings. For the sake of brevity I don’t provide the exhaustive Scriptural proof here, but it could be provided if someone doubted that Scripture taught such things.

-TurretinFan


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