Archive for the ‘Reginald’ Category

Am I Safe from Rome’s Anathemas?

October 13, 2009

A pseudonymous blogger under the penname Reginald de Piperno (RdP), responding to my opening post in my series on Trent (link to post), stated:

For example, TF claims that he is under the anathema of Trent. But unless he is or was formally Catholic, this is flatly impossible. I do not understand the seeming fondness of some Protestants for wanting to be condemned by the Catholic Church. Perhaps it is some sort of projection issue: these folks despise the Catholic Faith, and so maybe they think that naturally Catholics or the Church ought to despise them in turn. Their protests notwithstanding, it’s just not so, as I’ve said before. This fact does not mean that Protestant error is no longer reckoned to be erroneous. On the contrary: Trent has in no way been rescinded (of course). It simply means that most Protestants today are incapable of being the subject of any Catholic anathema whatever, because they do not meet a fundamental condition: they have never been Catholic. If he wishes to say that his beliefs have been condemned by the Catholic Church, then he would get no argument from me (to the extent that his views are in fact false and actually under formal condemnation).

I answer line by line.

RdP wrote: “For example, TF claims that he is under the anathema of Trent.”

Yes. It’s not just a claim, there is really no reasonable doubt about it.

RdP wrote: “But unless he is or was formally Catholic, this is flatly impossible.”

I don’t give out my background, but I will acknowledge that I have received Trinitarian baptism with water. I think most Roman Catholics would accept that baptism as “valid” whether or not it was performed by a Roman Catholic cleric.

The Code of Canon Law states: “By baptism one is incorporated into the Church of Christ and is constituted a person in it with the duties and rights which are proper to Christians in keeping with their condition, insofar as they are in ecclesiastical communion and unless a legitimately issued sanction stands in the way.” (Canon 96)

It furthermore states: “The Christian faithful are those who, inasmuch as they have been incorporated in Christ through baptism, have been constituted as the people of God. For this reason, made sharers in their own way in Christ’s priestly, prophetic, and royal function, they are called to exercise the mission which God has entrusted to the Church to fulfill in the world, in accord with the condition proper to each.” (Canon 204 §1.)

Thus, despite any desire on my part to be affiliated with Rome and her prelate, I am considered by Rome’s current definitions to be a “Catholic” and part of the “Christian faithful.”

I am not, however, in full communion with Rome: “Those baptized are fully in the communion of the Catholic Church on this earth who are joined with Christ in its visible structure by the bonds of the profession of faith, the sacraments, and ecclesiastical governance.” (Canon 205)

RdP appears to lack this rather fundamental understanding of the scope of Rome’s claims regarding herself. She claims for the pope a recognized headship over the Roman Catholic Church but an unrecognized headship over all those who have been validly baptized. That’s part of the Roman Catholic Church trying to call itself the “catholic church.” The “catholic church” by definition includes within it all Christians, and Rome recognizes as Christians all those who have been validly baptized.

Even if the pope did not claim to be my head, however, there is no limit in Trent’s anathema as to it applying only to the Christian faithful. It says, quite plainly, “If any one saith” not “If any Roman Catholic saith” or “If any Christian saith.”

RdP wrote: “I do not understand the seeming fondness of some Protestants for wanting to be condemned by the Catholic Church.”

I have no particular desire either to be included within Rome’s claims of jurisdiction or to be placed under her condemnation. The facts simply are what they are. I can understand that those seeking to proselytize “Protestants” might like to downplay the condemnation side (for the same reason that some “Protestant” proselytizers don’t like to mention sin) but the facts remain.

RdP wrote: “Perhaps it is some sort of projection issue: these folks despise the Catholic Faith, and so maybe they think that naturally Catholics or the Church ought to despise them in turn.”

One wonders whether RdP thinks that placing someone under an anathema means “despising” that person. If not, one wonders how RdP’s amateurish psycho-analysis is supposed to connect to the matter at hand. It is clear that Rome is attempting to anathematize someone, and that someone is someone who says what I say. Despising or loving is not the issue under discussion.

RdP: “Their protests notwithstanding, it’s just not so, as I’ve said before.”

RdP’s link is to a prior occasion on which he attempted to argue with me about whether Rome considered the Reformers to be Christians. That they did not so consider them could hardly be more clear. I am not going to re-argue that point now. Yet RdP ought to have read the sources he himself relied-upon more closely. For example, the so-called “Catholic Encyclopedia” that he himself quoted notes that: “The fact of having received valid baptism places material heretics under the jurisdiction of the Church, and if they are in good faith, they belong to the soul of the Church.” (Catholic Encyclopedia, 1913, volume 7, p. 261, in the sub-section of the section on Heresy entitled “Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction over Heretics.”)

RdP wrote: “This fact does not mean that Protestant error is no longer reckoned to be erroneous.”

“Error” sounds nicer than “heresy,” doesn’t it? One wonders, though, how RdP would answer the question as to whether holding a damnable heresy is still damnable?

RdP wrote: “It simply means that most Protestants today are incapable of being the subject of any Catholic anathema whatever, because they do not meet a fundamental condition: they have never been Catholic.”

See above.

RdP wrote: “If he wishes to say that his beliefs have been condemned by the Catholic Church, then he would get no argument from me (to the extent that his views are in fact false and actually under formal condemnation).”

What is interesting is that Trent’s anathema (at least the one I’ve already discussed) is not against particular beliefs, nor even against particular statements but against the people who make those statements. RdP seems to have missed this fact in his analysis.

Aside from an introductory note, the remainder of RdP’s comments in his post deal with the issue of Trent’s bad faith or ignorance of the Reformed position. He doesn’t offer any arguments on the merits of the issue, and so I’ll simply leave that alone. As to his introductory question regarding being the inspiration for the series, the answer is that he is not. Nevertheless, he may end up being implicated in the discussion, since he has done a number of relatively recent posts on the topic of Trent and Justification.


Reginald Tries Again

April 24, 2009

I was glad to see that Reginald took another shot at the issue of important Roman Catholic bishops publicly going wildly wrong on doctrine (link). Unfortunately, he still doesn’t quite get it.

First, he argues that fallibility of bishops does indeed explain why they sometimes get doctrine wildly wrong. No doubt. Again, no one suggested otherwise.

Then he goes on to say that “He seems furthermore not to understand that the gift of infallibility is a gift of the Holy Spirit.” (bold in original) I do understand that this is the claim that is made, but there are two issues with this:

1) There’s no reason to believe councils of bishops like Zollitsch are the kinds of councils that would have such a gift (even if any councils would).

2) If anything that is not infallibly taught by Reginald’s church could be wildly wrong because it is fallible then Reginald is imprudent in not limiting his acceptance of his church’s doctrines to those things infallibly defined (assuming he could somehow figure out what those things were – which is a job in itself).

But the more important bottom line is that we see that Reginald is just taking his church’s say-so on faith. He not only swallows the wild errors of Zollitsch but of the Arians as well (he says so himself). It’s no big deal to him that what he views as his church is not preserved from gross heresies. He doesn’t think this is a problem, because he doesn’t realize its implications.

He doesn’t see that it may be that a heresy (or bundle of them) has actually prevailed in the church of Rome and that he is an heretical sect rather than being in a Catholic church (notice the important difference in this case between “Catholic” and “Roman Catholic”).

Notice what he says: “But the gift of infallibility doesn’t work like that. It extends to the college of bishops under certain conditions, and to the Pope under certain conditions.” (again, the bold is his) As usual, he’s missing the point (as though we don’t know that his church’s position is that the college of bishops isn’t always infallible and that the pope isn’t always infallible). But his comment is actually revealing in the point that it raises: what are these conditions and where did they come from?

We know where the conditions for the pope’s infallibility came from (Vatican I), but what about the conditions for the college of bishops (this issue is a sort of logical precursor, since Vatican I was a council). Was it decided by a previous council? By a previous pope? Or is it just something that Reginald read from some fallible source that might be pulling a Zollitsch or an Arius.

Is Rome’s claim to authority simply a circle – “we are authoritative because we say so” – or is Reginald willing to admit that he doesn’t rely on a circular argument but on faith in his church itself (a misplaced faith if Zollitsch is any indicator). I guess we’ll see.


Reginald di Piperno Misses the Point

April 24, 2009

Apparently Reginald di Piperno (a pseudonym – like my own) has missed the point (link). Reginald seems to have mistakenly concluded that I imagine the Roman Catholic position to be that individual bishops (other than the bishop of Rome) are infallible. Of course that’s not what I think or what my previous post suggested (link to previous post).

No, as seems often to be the case with Reginald, he has missed the point. The point is not that the Archbishop in the story is fallible: the point is that he’s dead wrong. He’s wildly wrong. He’s ridiculously wrong. And Roman Catholicism hierarchy has by and large approved of this guy – he holds a position of high regard within the German branch of the Roman Catholic church – and is not about to do anything regard these teachings of his.

But when he gets together with a bunch of his colleagues (and his supervisor the pope) who seem to have no problem letting him spread his errors via the public media (after all – he’s still in office, isn’t he?), Reginald is willing to believe that this collection of men is not only not highly likely to err but actually to the contrary is infallible!

It should be obvious to any reasonable person that when you get a bunch of fallible men who tolerate gross errors by their colleagues together, you are not going to have a body that produces infallible decisions. Unfortunately, however, Reginald (and others) simply accept the idea that their church is infallible as an article of faith and refuse to submit their teacher (their church) to the higher authority of Scripture (even denying – some of them, I cannot say whether Reginald has done this yet – that Scripture IS a higher authority).

Meanwhile, when these things are brought to their attention they tend to miss the point. They choose to attribute absurd misunderstandings to the critics, as though someone could be unaware of the fact that Roman Catholicism doesn’t say that individual bishops are infallible (other than the bishop of Rome). There’s nothing particular rational about either of these approaches (either taking on faith that one’s own church is infallible or willfully misunderstanding criticisms of your church). Perhaps this will serve as a little goad to Reginald to refocus his attention on the real issues and away from easily defeated straw men.


Comparing the Mass to Animal Sacrifices

April 6, 2008

Reginald, who had been providing some interaction on 2 Thessalonians 2:15 appears to have lost interest in that discussion because he didn’t like this comment I made in passing in another (completely unrelated) discussion:

As to (1), the application to transubstantiation is too easy. So, I’ll leave it at that.

Reginald doesn’t really explain why he doesn’t like the comment. Perhaps he sees something unspoken behind the comment. Perhaps he simply doesn’t understand the comment. It really has nothing to do with the 2 Thessalonians 2:15 discussion, and in fact it was made in response to this comment by one of my other readers:

1. A Santiera priest was told by the courts that he could not offer his animal sacrifices in the Dallas/Ft. Worth city/county lines per the city’s ordinance.

The context was religious persecution that I had described in this earlier post (link).

Now, I don’t mind if Reginald wants to take offense at my comment or use that as a reason not to interact on the unrelated topic of 2 Thessalonians 2:15.

I just think its worth spelling out the argument:

1. Greater Dallas has decided that animal sacrifices cannot be made within its city limits.
2. These days, biologists classify man as an animal.
3. In the mass, it is claimed by Roman Catholics (including Reginald) that the substance of the bread and wine is changed into the substance of the body and blood of Christ.
4. Furthermore, calling the mass a sacrifice is perfectly orthodox Catholic theology: “So priests must instruct their people to offer to God the Father the Divine Victim in the Sacrifice of the Mass” (emphasis original – link to original) – even in the ecumenicism of post-V2:

“There can never be any repetition of that act; it happened once and for all (Hebrews 10:10). Nevertheless, the Eucharist truly has a sacrificial character because Christ is really present there in the very act of his supreme self-gift to his Father. The sacramental presence of Christ himself is at once the sacramental presence of his sacrifice also, because the Christ who is present is he who has entered the sanctuary once and for all bearing his own blood to secure an eternal redemption (Hebrews 9:12).[109] He now lives forever, exercising a perpetual priesthood, making intercession for us (Hebrews 7:24-25). Catholics regret any impression they may have given of a repetition of Christ’s sacrifice in the Mass, but they also reject the overreaction which denies a sacrificial character to the Eucharist.” (source)

In view of those four essentially indisputable facts, it seems as though if Muslims took over the Greater Dallas machine they could use the same prohibition on animal sacrifices against the Mass, and forbid Catholics from conducting the Mass within the city limits.

(Update: I came across this Muslim comment to a Catholic today, which tends to confirm that they would see things that way: “Since Muslims are forbidden to partake in cannibalism, I shall leave the “body and blood” bit to you who are allowed to indulge in such practices. I do not follow the example of John Paul, that is for YOU as Catholic to do {referring to JP2 kissing the Koran}. I follow the example of Jesus [peace and blessings of Allah be upon him] and I call on the one true God, HIS own God [John 20:17; Rev. 3:12], who is not he himself. I thought you would do likewise.” (braces added – square brackets in original)

Reginald considers this vinegar, but he doesn’t explain why. While I don’t mind people taking offense at what I write (thanks Carrie!), I’d not want to give Reginald or anyone else needless offense.

I’d love to hear his explanation.


P.S. Updated to correct a typo caught by Carrie.

2 Thessalonians 2:15 – Additional Clarification

April 5, 2008

This is the third post in a series on 2 Thessalonians 2:15 (main post) (comment answered – additional examples).

Reginald has provided some additional comments in a new post (link).

Preliminary Clarifications

Before going through Reginald’s comments in detail, I think it would be worthwhile to address a couple matters briefly and generally.

1. I think Reginald may think that I have identified 2 Thessalonians 2:15 as a sort of proof text against Roman Catholicism. That was not my intent, or at least not as such. There are ways in which 2 Thessalonians 2:15 comes into conflict with Roman Catholic dogma, but the point is not to quote 2 Thessalonians 2:15 to criticize tradition, for example. For that I’d turn to other Scriptures. Instead, I’ve brought of 2 Thessalonians 2:15 to rebut the use I’ve seen it put to again and again in Catholic apologetics, to suggest that it is a sort of proof text for Catholic positions on tradition.

2. I think Reginald may have taken the position that the “Reasons” and “Impacts” I presented are themselves an attempt to refute the “Catholic position.” Not so. In fact, I’m glad that Reginald can so freely agree with at least some of them. They are the facts that we draw from the text that are then used in the antidotes to the various specific abuses of the text.

With such antidotal use in mind, the focus of the discussion is a little different than the focus would be if I were trying to positively some doctrine from the text. It is important to realize that there is a difference between trying to positively establish a doctrine from a text, and trying to demonstrate that a doctrine cannot be established from a particular text.

To put it another way, just because (as I demonstrate) the verse does not say what fans of “tradition” need or want it to say, does not mean that it is a clear enunciation of the opposing reformation doctrine. Perhaps this is hard to see, so I’ll use an example.

Suppose that someone took the account of Judas’ suicide to be a teaching that one can redeem themselves from serious sins via suicide. There are several doctrines that oppose such a teaching, such as that only Christ’s sacrifice can redeem us from sin and that suicide is itself a sin. Nevertheless, an exposition of the “proof texts” for such a teaching would not necessarily find either of those doctrines in the text. A verse that says Judas hanged himself may not actually say that suicide is wrong, nor may they necessarily explain the unique role of Christ’s atoning sacrifice. We’d be surprised if they did.

Hopefully such an example demonstrates why we’d be surprised if the supposed proof texts for the “traditionist” point of view positively demonstrated Sola Scriptura. It would be lovely if they did – and sometimes one may find that happening. Nevertheless, we wouldn’t expect such a thing as a matter of course.

Rebuttal as to Reginald’s Comments on the Specific Examples

1. The First Specific Example

The first specific example was a situation in which someone is trying to say that we need to permit some “tradition,” because this verse says so. I think Reginald may have misunderstood this situation. Frankly, as I went through my concrete examples, I found this kind of abuse with lower frequency than the other two. That is not to say it does not happen.

Searching quickly, one might pick on Sungenis’ argument in a Catholic Answers article (link) in which he argues, defending the doctrine of the Bodily Assumption of Mary, “… in 2 Thessalonians 2:15 Paul told these same Thessalonians to preserve the oral instruction, along with the written.” Let me be clear: I think Sungenis is really trying to go after the broader issue of Sola Scriptura, even though the argument is part of a defense of the bodily assumption of Mary. Nevertheless, the point is that on this particular debate, Sungenis has brought in 2 Thessalonians 2:15.

We can ask ourselves the three questions I posed, and discover that 2 Thessalonians 2:15 doesn’t help Sungenis establish the doctrine of the Bodily Assumption.

Now, Reginald seems to think that the first question (“Is the tradition that they want us to permit the gospel preached by Paul to the Thessalonians, or something else?”)is vague, because (apparently) the term “gospel” is vague. I’ll leave that softball aside for a while. The point of the question was intentionally not to be more specific than the text. Tying back to the “Reasons” and “Impacts” section of the original post, though, I think we had basically agreed that the answer is “the gospel.”

Likewise, Reginald seems to think that the second question (“Is the tradition they want us to permit something that they can demonstrate Paul taught to the Thessalonians at all?”) is irrelevant. In the example of Sungenis’ use to support the Bodily Assumption of Mary, the question is plainly not irrelevant. If Sungenis cannot demonstrate that Paul taught the Thessalonians the Bodily Assumption of Mary, then we don’t have any particular reason to think that Paul telling the Thessalonians to hold fast to the things that they were taught has any significance to the particular doctrine of the Bodily Assumption of Mary.

Finally, Reginald seems to think that the third question (“Is the tradition they want us to permit something that they can demonstrate that any of the apostles or prophets of the apostolic age taught to the Thessalonians?”) is also irrelevant. However, for much the same reasons, it is relevant when the verse is brought to bear for support of a particular doctrine, such as the Bodily Assumption of Mary.

Reginald’s comment, “There is no documentary evidence showing the full content of St. Paul’s preaching in Thessalonica, so he cannot demonstrate that distinctively Catholic traditions were not taught there,” seems misplaced. I would not suggest that we could demonstrate (at least not simply from this verse) the negative proposition that distinctively Catholic traditions were not taught in Thessalonica. Instead, my point is a rebuttal point, as noted above.

My point is that one cannot point to 2 Thessalonians 2:15 to support the doctrine of the Bodily Assumption of Mary, because no one could demonstrate that Paul was referring to a body of doctrine that included such a doctrine. Even if Paul had simply said, “Hold fast everything you’ve ever been taught,” that wouldn’t establish the Bodily Assumption of Mary unless we could discover somehow that the Bodily Assumption of Mary had been taught to the Thessalonians.

That’s not the same as demonstration from 2 Thessalonians 2:15 that the Bodily Assumption of Mary was NOT taught to the Thessalonians. That’s not what the argument aims to demonstrate and it is critical that Reginald grasp this point. I’m not suggesting that 2 Thessalonians 2:15 disproves the Bodily Assumption of Mary.

2. The Second Specific Example

The second specific example seems to be the most frequent abuse that I’ve seen in a quick informal survey. The second specific example posits the following situation: “someone is trying to use this verse to suggest that we must consider as infallibly authoritative something in addition to Scripture.”

We can ask ourselves the three questions I posed, and discover that 2 Thessalonians 2:15 doesn’t help “traditionists” establish their thesis that we must consider as infallibly authoritative something in addition to Scripture.

Reginald thinks that the first question (“Does the verse contrast Scripture and oral traditions or “our epistle” and other “things preached”?”) is irrelevant, but Reginald is mistaken. Reginald’s comment: “nothing in the passage proscribes Sacred Tradition as being the content of the traditions that were preached – traditions whose referents we do not know.” Something in the passage may well proscribe “Sacred Tradition” (indeed, we do know the referents in general terms, even if the precise specifics are not stated), but that is not the point here. The point here is somewhat the opposite: that is it say the point is that nothing in the passage prescribes “Sacred Tradition” as being the content of the traditions that were preached.

Or to put it more generally, nothing in the verse provides a dichotomy between Scripture as a category and non-Scripture as another category. That’s one reason the concrete examples of this specific abuse fail.

Reginald also thinks the second question (“Does the verse say that the Thessalonians had been preached extrascriptural doctrines?”) is irrelevant. But again, Reginald seems to have misplaced the argument. His comment confirms this fact. Reginald states, “the verse also doesn’t say that they had been taught things solely found in Scripture,” but – of course – that wasn’t the claim. Perhaps it is the case that they had been taught things solely found in Scripture, and perhaps we could even establish that. But that’s not why we asked the second question, just as we did not ask the first question to prove that “Sacred Tradition” is not the content of the traditions that were preached. Instead, the question is raised to demonstrate the the verse does not support the Catholic thesis.

The same goes for the third question (“Does the verse explain anything about the “things preached” beyond that they were the “truth” and “the gospel”?”). Reginald comments, “Question 3 doesn’t exclude Sacred Tradition, which is certainly true and transmits the gospel, so the fact that the verse doesn’t spell things out is irrelevant.” The point, though, is not that “Sacred Tradition” is excluded. The point is to highlight what we know about the content of the “traditions” mentioned by Paul. The content is the “truth” and more specifically “the gospel.” Neither of those categories requires the inclusion of something beyond Scripture. Since that it so, the verse does not support the Catholic thesis.

3. The Third Specific Example

The third specific example is a case in which the verse is provided as an argument that the magesterium of the church has been entrusted with oral teachings that are passed down orally for long periods of time, but which must be accepted when finally revealed to the public.

Reginald thinks that the first question (“Is there any reason to think that Paul taught things in secret, especially from this verse?”) presupposes a mistaken view of Catholic theology. Reginald points out, “Sacred Tradition … isn’t “hidden” from anyone.” I understand his concern.

The problem is that if one makes an investigation of the doctrine of, say, Papal Infallibility, one doesn’t find any positive evidence that anyone believed in the doctrine more than say 150 (or even 50) years before it was enunciated by Vatican I. Some Catholic commentators adopt a theory that essentially the magesterium reveals knowledge about doctrine (such as the doctrine of papal infallibility) progressively – and thus the doctrine of papal infallibility could be said to be – in effect – “hidden” for hundreds and and hundreds of years.

Furthermore, one does find those in the early church (such as Clement of Alexandria) adopting a view of alleged secret traditions (see this letter of Clement’s for example). Undoubtedly this was due to the influence of Gnosticism, but then that’s why Reformed Christians sometimes level charges of tendency towards Gnosticism on Roman Catholicism. After all, if all that the apostles taught is in the public knowledge, then it shouldn’t take a magisterium to provide its contents, just as no magesterium is necessary to provide us with Homer’s Odyssey or Aristotle’s Physics.

But there is no need to be contentious about the question of secrets. Let us suppose that for the particular Roman Catholic in question, we are talking about a supposedly well-known tradition, or about a tradition that has allegedly been held by all Christians everywhere always. Then, perhaps, it would possible to suppose that the first question might be moot.

Proceeding to Question 2 (“Is the verse directed to the leaders of the Thessalonian church or to the brethren?”), Reginald claims that this question misleads. Reginald argues that “the fact that the bishop or presbyter(s) of the Thessalonian church taught them oral traditions doesn’t change the fact that oral traditions were taught.” While I agree with Reginald’s flow of thought (who taught the traditions wouldn’t matter to the fact that the traditions were taught), the point was a bit different. The point was that these were not traditions that had been passed down among the religious elite and were finally being revealed to the people, but were traditions that had been given directly to the brethren. Thus, these traditions are not analogous to modern Catholic traditions that are missing from any written record for much of history.

Finally, the most significant question (whether or not questions 1 and 2 were relevant) is the third question (“Does the verse specify that the “things taught” were not things that were committed to writing?”). Reginald – again misplacing the issue – argued irrelevance of the question, “since the verse also does not say that they were written down.” (emphasis in original). The problem, of course, is that the verse does not support the Catholic thesis, not that the verse necessarily refutes the Catholic thesis.

Objection Anticipated

The anticipated objection is that while the verse does not support the Catholic position, it doesn’t refute it either. In fact, while I call this an anticipated objection, one almost sees it expressed in Reginald’s concluding remark

I think that he and I might be able to agree on one thing: 2Th 2:15 is not by itself a foundation for the entire Catholic understanding of what Sacred Tradition is. It doesn’t have to be. But it most certainly does not contradict the fact that God’s revelation has been preserved in Sacred Tradition.

The supposed “fact,” is the thing to be proved. Thus, this sort of objection is an argument that we would typically call “begging the question.” That is to say, it hasn’t been established that there is a class of knowledge called “Sacred Tradition” that is a part of God’s revelation separate from Scripture.

2 Thessalonians 2:15 is sometimes quoted as though it did establish such categories, but we have discovered that it does not. We can understand and appreciate how one would apply the modern Catholic categories onto the verse, but when we read the verse itself in context, we have no reason to suppose that it is suggesting the Catholic (or “Orthodox,” for that matter) categories.

Indeed, when we look at the verse itself, we discover that the point of the verse is that the Thessalonians are to hold fast to the gospel. Reginald thinks that the term “gospel” is vague, and like many things its precise boundaries may not be clear. No matter. We can perhaps look to other places where Paul or other Scripture writers explain what the gospel is to get a better sense and clear up the matter. But that can wait for another time – for now it should suffice to have been demonstrated that the verse doesn’t support the Catholic theses for which it is so often quoted, even if it is only neutral with respect to them.

To go back and remind ourselves of the previous analogy, the statement “Judas went and hanged himself,” is not a proof text for a Mormon doctrine of “individual blood atonement” even though it (itself) is not inconsistent with such a doctrine.

A Patristic Example

John Chrysostom wrote a a large amount, and even more that he did not write has been attributed to him over the years. Among the things attributed to him (whether he wrote it or not, I haven’t seen any compelling case made) is a statement that is frequently used by advocates of the “traditionist” position. Commenting on 2 Thess. 2:15, “So then, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word, or by Epistle of ours,” the person writing under the name Chrysostom states, “Hence it is manifest, that they did not deliver all things by Epistle, but many things also unwritten, and in like manner both the one and the other are worthy of credit. Therefore let us think the tradition of the Church also worthy of credit. It is a tradition, seek no farther. Here he shows that there were many who were shaken.”

That’s the entire commentary on the verse. There’s certainly some ambiguity as to what the writer means by “tradition.” Does he mean “Sacred Tradition” or something else?

When we look ahead to the next homily in the collection, we can see attributed to Chrysostom, the following commentary on 2 Thess. 3:6:

Ver. 6. “Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw yourselves from every brother that walks disorderly and not after the tradition which they received of us.”

That is, it is not we that say these things, but Christ, for that is the meaning of “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”; equivalent to “through Christ.” Showing the fearfulness of the message, he says, through Christ. Christ therefore commanded us in no case to be idle. “That ye withdraw yourselves,” he says, “from every brother.” Tell me not of the rich, tell me not of the poor, tell me not of the holy. This is disorder. “That walks,” he says, that is, lives. “And not after the tradition which they received from me.” Tradition, he says, which is through works. And this he always calls properly tradition.”

If both of those homilies are by the same person, we would tend to view Chrysostom considers “tradition” to refer to how one lives one’s life – to discipline, but not doctrine.

Regardless, however, of what Chrysostom meant (and regardless of whether he actually wrote either or both of the comments), if Chrysostom meant what he is so often quoted for, then Chrysostom is wrong. We have demonstrated that from the text.

The point for which Chrysostom is quoted is normally Specific Abuse 2 from my original article, in which it is argued that something in addition to Scripture is binding on believers today. Since it has already been demonstrated in the original article and again by response to objection above, that the verse does not teach such a thing, it is not necessary for us to resolve the other historical issues, which might bore the reader of this already-long post.


Very briefly, in conclusion, please remember to consider that if someone is citing Scripture as allegedly teaching their doctrine (whether my doctrine or Reginald’s doctrine or Chrysostom’s doctrine) we need to look to Scripture to see if it is so. We need to examine what the Scriptures say, if we are interested in what their author intended for us to know.

As a practical matter, we must hold fast to the gospel, living a life of repentance and faith manifesting itself by love: love for God, love for the brethren, and even love for our enemies.

Thanks be to God who has provided the gospel in Scripture,


2 Thess 2:15 – Comments Answered

April 2, 2008


“Reginald de Piperno” has provided a post that appears to be aimed at objecting to my previous post on 2 Thessalonians 2:15, available here. I appreciate that he read my post and took the time to respond.


As best I understand, RdP grants 1(a) and seems to grant 1(b) although he wants to define “gospel” broadly. RdP makes a claim of apparent self-contradiction, but RdP appears to have overlooked that an area can be defined other ways than by its boundaries. We may not know the precise content of Paul’s preaching that is referenced, but we know the topic and the topic is the gospel.

RdP also appears to grant (2). RdP doesn’t seem to directly engage (3), although he goes on to discuss Impacts (a)-(d).

RdP appears to grant (a)-(b). It’s unclear whether RdP grants (c) … he says he doesn’t see its relevance. Perhaps we should presume he does grant (c), as he doesn’t provide any reason not to accept it. Finally, with respect to impact (d), RdP says that Catholics wouldn’t say it that way … but I suppose that RdP doesn’t directly disagree with (d).

RdP seems to try, in the course of mostly agreeing with what I had written, to insert various contentions that Catholicism does not abuse the text, because (apparently) Catholicism doesn’t disagree with what I had written. However, RdP ends his consideration of the post, with the Impacts, without getting to the three specific abuses. It would be interesting to hear whether RdP would agree that those identified abuses are actually abuses or not.

I’m not overly worried about the inserted dialog provided by RdP. Presumably the underlying concerns expressed in RdP’s dialog may be set aside by reference to several concrete examples of how the verse is put to use by “traditionist” commentators.

Concrete Examples

I provide the following example abuses of the verse. I know that some of these are from fairly popular Catholic sites, so hopefully no one will think I picked only the most obscure or atypical Catholic presentations. In one or two instances, the person may even be a non-Catholic … I was focused more on the content and error than on the person presenting it:

1. “Well for starters, look in your Bible in Thessalonians: [quotation of 2Thes 2:15] This verse is telling you to honor the traditions which have been handed down by word of mouth from generation to generation.” (Source)

Antidote: No, it’s telling the Thessalonians to hold fast to the gospel preached to them by Paul. See “Specific Abuse 3.”

2. “Well I guess if Sola Scriptura is correct then II Thessalonians 2, 14 would be incorrect then. [quotation of 2Thes 2:14/15, depending on your version] We all know that St. Paul is correct though.” (Source)

Antidote: Paul is correct, but 2 Thessalonians 2:14/15 doesn’t indicate that the Thessalonians are to hold to any extra-scriptural doctrine. See “Specific Abuse 2.”

3. “Divine Revelation “By Letter” (2 Thess 2:15): The Bible … The Bible itself does not define what it includes; nor does it claim to contain all that God revealed. Paul affirms that some of what is handed on–the way Jews passed on revelation–was “by letter,” in writing.” (Source)

Antidote: Paul is not distinguishing between Scriptural and oral traditions, but between his preaching and written admonitions. We’re passing over the canon issue for now, and we agree that the Bible does not claim to contain all that God revealed. That sentence is just provided for context. See “Specific Abuse 2.”

4. “2 Thess. 2:15 – the fullness of the Gospel is the apostolic tradition which includes either teaching by word of mouth or by letter. Scripture does not say “letter alone.” The Catholic Church has the fullness of the Christian faith through its rich traditions of Scripture, oral tradition and teaching authority (or Magisterium).” (Source)

Antidote: There’s simply no way to a get a tripartite division from 2 Thess. 2:15, even with the most violent of abuse. Furthermore, Paul does not in any way suggest that Scripture does not itself of itself contain the entirety of the fullness of the Christian faith. Instead, Paul’s direction is specific to the brethren to whom he preached the gospel at Thessalonica. One interesting aspect of this particular explanation is that it appears to recognize the relationship between the gospel and “traditions” mentioned in the verse. If you try to make “the gospel” to broad a category, you are going to run into difficulties in another area: something that may or may not be appreciated by this comment’s author. This comment doesn’t fit neatly into one of the example specific abuses mentioned in my original post.

5. “FACT: There is something in Scripture advocating reliance on both Scripture as well as oral Tradition [citation to 2 Thess 2:15 among other verses]. … the same Scripture which testifies that Christian truth comes to us in two ways: through Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition (2 Thess 2:15). ” (Source)

Antidote: This one is more subtle. It’s actually not wrong until you understand that the author is suggesting that “oral Tradition” is as reliable as Scripture, and that Paul is speaking of oral Tradition in the abused verse. Of course, the verse says neither of those things, though it is the case that we can and do rely on the preached word and on oral traditions. We do not rely on them as though they were a rule of faith, but then again we are not preached to by apostles. See “Specific Abuse 2.”

6. “This means that Scripture itself is tradition and it is part of the greater category of Tradition (cf. 2 Thess. 2:15). Both means of transmitting the deposit of faith, Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture, are bound closely together and communicate one with the other.” (Source)

Antidote: In fairness, again, this one is rather nuanced. For one thing, the author uses the “cf.” tag, which means we shouldn’t necessarily assume that he’s saying the verse says just what he’s claimed. On the other hand, considering the page as a whole, it seems to be what the author is trying to convey. If so, then he’s abusing the text – because it does not establish the Roman Catholic categories that the article presupposes in much of its discussion. Again, this doesn’t neatly fall into one of the specific examples of abuse mentioned in my original post.

7. “The point, however, is that the things taught – not merely written – are deemed to be of equal authority with the epistle. And it is nothing but question-begging to insist that their content is the same.” (Source)

Antidote: The verse doesn’t say that the things taught are of equal authority with those written. It says that the Thessalonians should hold fast to the Gospel Paul taught, whether he did so by word or epistle. It does not say that Paul was creating general categories (such as the Roman Catholic categories) or that Paul was contrasting all things written with a separate category of all unwritten things. Reading those “traditionist” categories into the verse is question-begging. Furthermore, the question that is raised is not whether what Paul preached was coterminous with what Paul wrote to the Thessalonians. Instead, the question raised is whether Paul preached some “gospel” that expands beyond the 4-in-1 gospel, the acts of the apostles, and the rest of Scripture. To assert that the “traditions” commended by Paul in anyway exceed the content of Scripture would also be question-begging. This particular comment seems closest to “Specific Abuse 2,” in my original post.

Conclusion / Warnings

As a general caveat, I encourage skeptical readers to click through to the pages linked as “source” material for the quotations provided. Perhaps you will disagree about the way that I’ve quoted the material.

Furthermore, just because the people who made the comments above are (or some of them are or were or called themselves) Catholic, doesn’t make any of their positions “the Catholic position.” That’s not how Catholic theology works. Nevertheless, they are arguments that Catholics try to use to justify acceptance of what are – upon a reasonable inquiry into the historical data – traditions of men.

Reginald Suggests that Roman Catholics Deny the Subjective Sinfulness of Involuntary Sin

September 25, 2007

Reginald (a Roman Catholic blogger) in a recent comment on his own blog suggested that Roman Catholics do not believe that involuntary sin is subjectively sinful (although they would agree that it is objectively sinful).

In this regard they are clearly contrary to the Orthodox who routinely pray for God to forgive both their voluntary and involuntary sins, and contrary to Augustine as well.

Query for the Roman Catholic readers of this blog, is Reginald right?

The Compendium of the CCC (I guess that would make it the CCCC) seems to suggest so.

Is that right? Do Catholics seek remittance of their involuntary sins or not? If so, why?


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