Amateur Theology Hour: On Irenicism and Heresy

After my conversion, and having no loyalty one way or the other for any particular communion, and, being an American, having a Constitutional right to join which ever I pleased without fear of legal retaliation, I was in the position of an orphan who, having just discovered that his parents are alive after all, rushes to their arms only to find them divorced, and commanding to chose whether he will live with father or mother. He is put in the position of a judge between them, despite not being trained to judge such disputes, nor being inclined by temperament to do so.

I discovered that you Christians, you foolish Christians, had shipwrecked and severed your Church, and the world is scandalized. The mocking atheist points at this as evidence that She is merely a human institution, no more sacred than the local Zoning Commission, and he says, “Those who preach love and altruism fight over homoousianism and homoiousianism, the difference of an iota! Religion breeds division rather than quells.”

Being a local and lawyerly thinker, I looked to the sources of dispute.

That the Protestants find the Real Presence to be scandalous was no concern to me: I did not see why, if almighty God can incarnate Himself as a Jewish Rabbi, He cannot incarnate Himself as a loaf of bread. Is one so much more dignified than the other?

The existence of icons and statutes likewise meant nothing to me. It was clear even to an outsider that these were objects of reverence but not worship, no more idolatrous than singing a hymn.

I had no enmity against St Mary. I was raised Lutheran, and to this day am not sure what the point of the contempt for St Mary is, or why the mother of the savior merits being ignored.

Whether or not man was justified by works of faith or by faith that produced works was of no moment to me, since I intended both to have faith and to do good works, as do all true Christians.

These were all non-issues, not worth writing a paragraph to discuss, much less write a book, much less fight a war.

So, to me, the only point in contention worthy of consideration was the doctrine of Sola Scriptura. My reasoning was as follows.

It is a paradox for a Christian to hold the Bible to be the sole authority settling all matters of Christian dispute. There is no paradox to hold it as a final authority, and that any doctrine which contradicts unambiguous scriptural teaching, such as the prohibition on divorce and remarriage, is doctrine of men and condemned.

But those who propose the Bible to be the sole authority, and the traditions of the Church to mean nothing, propose either a seeming impossibility or a real impossibility. If it is a seeming impossibility, he who proposes the paradox must resolve it, and show us a way out of the dilemma. The paradox is this: the Gospels cannot have more authority, cannot be trusted, more than the Church who wrote it, compiled it, protected and transmitted it, interprets it and teaches from it. No water can rise higher than its source.

The usual way out of this paradox is to propose that the Church at one time, the Early Church had the authority to write the Gospel, but since has grown corrupt and untrustworthy, as proof of which there is much the Church teaches, such as prayers for the dead or the perpetual virginity of Mary, not found in the Gospels. But this is making an historical claim: one must select a date after which the increasing corruption removes the authority of the Church.

The earlier one pushes this date, the less believable is the claim. If Polycarp and other Fathers who learned from the feet of the Apostles in the early Second Century got the message wrong, and if the only message we have is the message they preserved and taught, there are no grounds to assume a theologian or visionary in the Sixteenth or Nineteenth Century somehow can get the message right. Gnostics say the Apostles themselves got the message wrong, before any of them took pen to paper.

Unfortunately, an investigation of the earliest surviving Church writings shows a continuity rather than a discontinuity with current teaching. I refer the curious reader to Cardinal Newman’s essay on the Development of Christian doctrine.

The error with the argument about Church corruption is Donatism, namely, that if the Church is somehow held responsible for the existence, say, of the Spanish Inquisition, and is said to lack teaching authority on that ground, then once the Spanish Inquisition is disbanded, why does the authority not return? Why did the authority lapse in any territory beyond Spanish control?

Or to put it another way, if some bad men mislead an overly worldly Church in days of yore, what does that mean to me, if those bad man are centuries gone, and the Church no longer worldly? Was the Real Presence in the Eucharist up until the time of Ferdinand and Isabella, then it fled?

And since there is no uncorrupted denominations to which to turn in contrast, the question is moot.

So we are left with two theories: one is that the Church became heretical beyond redemption at a particular point in time, and the other is that the Protestants are heretics no different from any others, with the sole exception that they were more successful in their rebellion against their fathers and teachers.

Now, for personal reasons, this is a difficult subject for me to discuss. As an ex-atheist, I have trouble distinguishing any real difference between the Church and the various schisms and heresies that broke off from her are almost invisible to me.

Having said that, I do know that there are major differences between the various opinions of Christianity, differences vehement enough to provoke wars and persecutions, and an endless flood of letters. Nothing else can be expected: if Christian teaching is correct, it is the only light in the world, and the enemy has no other weapon aside from heresy and division to quench that light.

What I cannot see is why the Protestant ideas are any more authentic and original than those of other break away sects. I agree that they were more successful, but are the obviously so much more reasonable than say –

certain Gnostics, who interpreted Jesus as a purely spiritual being;

the Ebionates, who interpreted Jesus as being a Jewish rabbi and prophet and nothing more;

the Marcionites, who interpreted Jesus are being not Jewish at all, and repudiated the Old Testament;

the Monainists, who interpreted the Church as being the province of private revelation of the Holy Spirit;

the Donatists, who quite reasonably said that no one who betrayed the Church could ever hold Church office again, nor were any of their sacraments valid;

the Arians, who quite reasonably said that if God is One and God is the Father, Jesus was not God, not eternal, but some lesser (but still very dignified) created being;

Pelagius, who, quite reasonably said that the sins of Adam did not necessarily contaminate all human nature, since it would be unfair to punish a son for the sins of the father;

Nestor, who, quite reasonably said that Jesus must be both God and Man, and that the godhead absorbed the human nature (or maybe that is monophysite–I get them confused);

the Monophysites, who, quite reasonably said that Jesus was one being with one nature, and that was a divine one(or maybe that is a Nestorian–I get them confused);

Shall I go on? I am only up to the Fifth Century, and I have not listed the heresies of Menander, Cerenthis, Saturnalius, Basilides, the Nicholites in the First Century;

nor Corpocrates, Valentine, Epiphanes,  Prodicus, Tatian, Severus,  Cerdonius, Marcion, Apelles, the Cataphrigians, Artotirthrites, Peputians, Ascodrogites, Pattalorinchites, Bardesanes, Theodotus the Currier, Artemon, Theodotus Argentarius and Hermogenes in the Second Century;

nor have I mentioned the heresies of Praxeas, Sabellius, Paul of Samostata, of Manes, nor Tertullian and Origen (both of whose whose writings are preserved and respected by the Church nonetheless) nor the heresies of Novatus and Novatian, nor Nepos and the Angelicals in the Third Century;

nor the Circumcellionists of the Fourth Century, who were total nutbags, going around trying to get people to martyr them, and beating and robbing them when they wouldn’t.

Now, at some point, the mind starts aching at all this river of diverse opinion, and one either says, as an atheist does, that it is all imaginary nonsense and there is no truth whatever to be had in this morass, or one says, as the orthodox and catholic Christian does, that there is a malign spirit in the world attempting to stir up controversy and division — because this amount of divergent opinion on these matters, the degree of hair splitting, the degree of hatred, is unusual.

But if one says that each individual man is, by himself, armed only with his own natural wits and a copy of the Bible translated by someone, somewhere, whose names only scholars know, can negotiate this mass of refined and excruciating theological and technical arguments, guided only the Holy Spirit, one also has to say, as many Protestants do, that God does not desire the unity of His Church.

However, nothing in the Bible nor the early Church writings indicates that the Lord desires a marketplace of ideas and a flock without a shepherd.

I admit it is possible that God does not desire a unified Church — Allah certainly does not. Not having a clergy is one of the distinguishing marks to draw the Christians of African and Near Eastern provinces of the Roman Empire into Muslim society. I limit myself to the statement that the scripture and the Patristic writings do not confirm this theory.

I do not see a remarkable difference between Luther and Calvin and any of these other enthusiasms which carried men away from the mainstream Church. The argument in favor of no Real Presence in the Eucharist or in favor of Sola Scriptura has even less evidence, in terms of proof texts from scripture or Patristic writings, than the argument for Arianism.

Worse, I do see that each and every heresy I’ve looked at in detail, with the sole exception of Gnosticism, the first and oldest, was based on political and cultural considerations: Donatism was Romans versus Egyptians, for example, Filioques was Greek-speakers against Latin-speakers, Lutheranism was Germanic Princes on the fringe of civilization against civilization of the Mediterranean, the Holy Roman Empire.

The rebellion of the Anglicans under Henry VIII was not even given the dignity of being hidden behind a theological dispute: it was a naked power grab by the nobles of England, who looted the monasteries that owned most of the land, and the rich dispossessed the poor because no one was strong enough to stop them.

So I firmly pray all the various branches of the tree planted by Christ would gather back together. I doubt it will happen before the end of the world.

The reason for my loyalty to the Roman Catholic Church is merely my human reason telling me that if Christianity means anything at all, it means what the Church teaches; and, given the painfully obvious weakness of men for heresy, the Church must have a legal process for determining what the Church teaches, such as by General Councils.

Following the opinion of a man with a new idea about why the Church should be stricter than she is, is not, and cannot be that process. Following a man with a private revelation, like Joseph Smith, or a radical new theory of healing, like Mary Baker Eddy, cannot be that process.

So, by all means, let us embrace each in only love, as brothers, despite our differences of opinion. Let us also be aware that not just the worldly powers like German princes and English kings want to tear the Church in sunder, otherworldly princes of Hell wish it also, creatures well able to deceive the wise and great.

A little bit of love and good will despite our differences annoys the worldly powers more than anything.

148 Comments

  1. Comment by Pierce O.:

    Re: The Mocking Atheist

    I think Chesterton answered the mocking atheist best in ORTHODOXY:

    Last and most important, it is exactly this which explains what is so inexplicable to all the modern critics of the history of Christianity. I mean the monstrous wars about small points of theology, the earthquakes of emotion about a gesture or a word. It was only a matter of an inch; but an inch is everything when you are balancing. The Church could not afford to swerve a hair’s breadth on some things if she was to continue her great and daring experiment of the irregular equilibrium. Once let one idea become less powerful and some other idea would become too powerful. It was no flock of sheep the Christian shepherd was leading, but a herd of bulls and tigers, of terrible ideals and devouring doctrines, each one of them strong enough to turn to a false religion and lay waste the world.

  2. Comment by CPE Gaebler:

    “The paradox is this: the Gospels cannot have more authority, cannot be trusted, more than the Church who wrote it, compiled it, protected and transmitted it, interprets it and teaches from it. No water can rise higher than its source.”

    Unless the Holy Spirit is the pump ;-)

    • Comment by Mary:

      If the Holy Spirit is in the pump, the Holy Spirit is in the pump. If He provides the authority to faithfully transmit the Good News, well, He provides it, and it is folly to pick and choose which transmission you will believe and which you won’t.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      I was raised Lutheran. I do not recall hearing of any signs and wonders performed by Luther, healing the sick and raising the dead and so on, which showed that he was endowed by the Holy Spirit with the authority of a prophet, the authority to overrule the Gospels, the Books of the Maccabees, Wisdom, Tobit, and the Epistle of James, and abolish the Order of Melchizedek, and break the Apostolic succession. Perhaps there are such stories, but I have not heard them.

      Likewise, the only thing I have heard about Calvin is that he betrayed and killed Servetus, after deceiving him with a false promise of safe conduct. But, not being a Calvinist, if there are stories of his miracles, I have not heard them.

      I have heard about signs and wonders following visions of Our Lady of Fatima, and the healing waters of Lourdes, and wonders performed by St Francis. Whether true or false, such stories exist for the Apostles who founded our Church, and none for the founders of these breakaway denominations. For that matter, I have heard of signs and wonders performed by Mary Baker Eddy and her followers, indeed to this day.

      So if the Holy Spirit is the source of authority that somehow overrules the authority of the Body of Christ which is the Holy Church, Mary Baker Eddy has a better claim to Prophetic authority than Luther or Calvin or Sun Myung Moon.

  3. Comment by Suburbanbanshee:

    Wow, those are some heresies I hadn’t heard of! It’s kinda sad that I didn’t realize that the Ascodrogites were devotees of wine-flask explosions and wine-wasting liturgical dance. I also didn’t know that the Artotyrites were fond of annoying pageant innovations and women’s ordination as well as bread and cheese liturgies. But then, maybe it’s just as well that those modern trends weren’t bolstered by any kind of ancient precedent, however bizarre and discreditable.

    Seriously, though, good article.

  4. Comment by Malcolm Smith:

    The best argument I know is from Commonitorium by Vincent of Lerins in 434, which I quote for the same reason I would quote C.S.Lewis or John C. Wright: not because it is authoritative, but because it is just common sense, and he says it much better than me.

    Here, it may be, someone will ask, Since the canon of scripture is complete, and is itself abundantly sufficient, what need is there to join to it the interpretation of the church? The answer is that because of the very depth of Scripture all men do not place one identical interpretation upon it.

    It is noteworthy that he assumes, and accepts that his readers will assume, that scripture contains all the necessary doctrines, and the only issue is its interpretation. There can be no extra-scriptural doctrines. After listing various sectarians, he continues:

    Now in the catholic church itself we take the greatest care to hold that which has been believed everywhere, always and by all
    That is truly and properly ‘catholic’, as is shown by the very force and meaning of the word, which comprehends everything almost universally. We shall hold to this rule if we follow universality, antiquity, and consent. We shall follow universality if we acknowledge that one faith to be true which the whole church throughout the world confesses; antiquity, if we in no way depart from those interpretations which it is clear that our ancestors and fathers proclaimed; consent, if in antiquity itself we keep following the definitions and opinions of all, or certainly nearly all, bishops and doctors alike.
    What then will the catholic Christian do, if a small part of the church has cut itself off from the communion of the universal faith? The answer is sure. He will prefer the healthiness of the whole body to the morbid and corrupt limb.
    But what if some novel contagion try to infect the whole chruch, and not merely a tiny part of it? Then he will take care to cleave to antiquity, which cannot now be led astray by any deceit of novelty.

    This, in fact, is basically what I said in a comment on this site a few weeks back. Sola scriptura means that nothing can be required to be believed unless it can be found in scripture. I cannot see how there can be a logical argument against this. Why would God expect us to believe something He hadn’t put in His authoritative message?
    But if there is some genuine difference of opinion about the interpretation of scripture, then the logical question to ask is: what was the opinion of the early church on the matter? The closer a writer was to the origin of the faith, the more likely he is to be echoing the consensus of believers ie a writer of the second century is more to be trusted than one of the third, and one the third more than one of the sixth. And if there was a variety of opinions, that itself is important. We do not need to pick a specific date at which the church suddenly went wrong. It is possible, you know, for doctrines to slowing change with time without contemporaries noticing what is happening – like a clock which gains or loses a minute a day. Just as the clock must eventually be adjusted to the natural timepiece of the sun, the teachings of the church must eventually be adjusted to scripture and the very earliest of traditions.
    To avoid striking a hornet’s nest, I shall not attempt to apply these principles to some of the issues recently raised on this site.
    Please note that this comment was written in haste. Eagle eyed commentators may discover a few spelling errors.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      “Sola scriptura means that nothing can be required to be believed unless it can be found in scripture. I cannot see how there can be a logical argument against this. Why would God expect us to believe something He hadn’t put in His authoritative message?”

      Do you actually not understand the argument, or is this a way saying you understand the argument but that it is not convincing?

      All Christians before Luther, and this is a thousand years and five hundred more, believe that God expected us to learn what Jesus transmitted orally to his Disciples, who transmitted it to theirs, and so on through the Apostolic succession. Some of these disciples, for ease of transmission, wrote down notes and circulated letters, and, later, composed Gospel accounts. These, along with an account of the early history of the Church and the apocalyptic prophecies of John were, hundreds of years after the fact defined as authoritative by the Church. The Church did so by her magisterial authority, the authority of the general councils and the Holy Father and the unified opinion of orthodoxy.

      At no time did any early Church father or Apostle or Christ Himself utter the doctrinal idea that God’s authoritative message was null and void unless written down. The Church is a living thing, guided by the Holy Spirit. What she teaches is Christianity. There is no outside source for Christianity. What other denominations teach is part of what the Church teaches, and some ideas or novel interpretations that Reverend Moon or Mary Baker Eddy or Joseph Smith or Luther or Calvin or Mani or Simon Magus or Arius or Pelagius and so on mixed in. No denomination teaches some teaching of Christianity derived from some other ancient source from First Century Palestine independent of the Church. (By ‘the Church’ I here mean the unified Church which later split into Orthodox and Catholic branches.)

      No denomination teaches some teaching of Christianity that is not novel, that is, a teaching once found in Patristic writings, confirmed by one council, later condemned by another, and now repudiated by the Catholic and Orthodox churches. (Maybe the Copts or Armenians have a teaching like this, due to very early splits after the council of Chalcedon, long before the Orthodox schism, but a historian would have to correct my inconsistent knowledge of that.)

      This is the argument. Whether true or false, there is nothing illogical or self contradictory about these statements.

      • Comment by Tom Simon:

        Maybe the Copts or Armenians have a teaching like this, due to very early splits after the council of Chalcedon, long before the Orthodox schism, but a historian would have to correct my inconsistent knowledge of that.

        I cannot say about the Armenian Church from my own knowledge, but from hearsay, its theological differences with Catholicism and Orthodoxy stem not from innovations rejected by the Church at large, but from the latitude of understanding that results from its having gone into schism before some of the finer points of theology were rigorously worked out by the ecumenical councils.

        The Copts, sadly, are orthodox in nearly everything but wording. They are descended from the Hesitant Monophysites of old, who claimed that Jesus has all the attributes of Man and all the attributes of God, but He only has one nature, because it is silly to talk of one person as being different from himself. Whereas the orthodox Chalcedonian position is that Jesus has all the attributes of Man and all the attributes of God, and therefore He has two natures, because human nature is one thing and the nature of God is another. Like so many things in Egypt under Roman rule, the schism was at bottom political; and it was finally beginning to blow over, and cooler heads seemed likely to prevail, when a pack of unregenerate Arabs came ravening along and made any reunion of the churches impossible.

        Just within the last generation, the Coptic and Catholic Churches finally hammered out their differences and came up with an expression of the divine and human nature(s) of Christ that they can both 100% agree on. Apart from that, the differences of theology appear to be fairly small. This joint statement by the two churches is, I believe, rightly considered as the greatest achievement of the Coptic Pope Shenouda III, who (God rest his soul!) died some days ago.

        May St. Mark’s flock and St. Peter’s be reunited on earth, as their Apostles surely are in heaven.

    • Comment by Mary:

      Sola scriptura means that nothing can be required to be believed unless it can be found in scripture. I cannot see how there can be a logical argument against this. Why would God expect us to believe something He hadn’t put in His authoritative message?

      You reason in a circle. Since sola scriptura is the belief that only the Bible is His authoritative message, you can not argue from it from the necessity of putting everything in His authoratative message.

      Especially since Scripture does not provide us with a table of contents and therefore it is impossible to ascertain what Scripture is — a vital step — from Scripture.

      Plus, of course, Paul explicitly directs that his oral teachings are to be taught to third-parties so that they, in turn, can teach still more people. If Scripture would render this unnecessary, he would not have directed it.

      • Comment by docrampage:

        How does Catholic belief avoid this circle? You take the set of all Catholic-endorsed authorities, and you have the same situation: you don’t have an authority to tell you what the authority is until you have an authority. The idea that this issue is a special problem of Protestants is simply false. Every single system of propositions has the exact same problem of foundations.

        • Comment by The OFloinn:

          Why do you keep saying Catholic? Is the Orthodox church chopped liver?

          The situation is not a puzzle in logic, but a matter of history. That there were teachings not described in the New Testament is obvious:

          “There are also many other things that Jesus did, but if these were to be described individually, I do not think the whole world would contain the books that would be written.” (John 21:25)

          And what you heard from me through many witnesses entrust to faithful people who will have the ability to teach others as well. (2 Tim 2:2)

          Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught, either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours. (2 Thes 2:15)

          The reason is that ancient society distrusted the written word and preferred the “living word,” i.e., testimony of living people. That is why we see Greek histories and bioi not being written until the eyewitnesses begin passing away. The works of Plotinus, for example, were not written down until after Plotinus had died, by his disciple Porphyry, who also wrote his bios. The other sorts of documents written in real time were letters, needed because they were being transmitted over longer distances and, prior to radio it was impractical to shout loud enough to be heard in Thessalonika. Thus, Papias wrote:

          I will not hesitate to add also for you to my interpretations what I formerly learned with care from the elders and have carefully stored in memory, giving assurance of its truth. For I did not take pleasure as the many do in those who speak much, but in those who teach what is true, nor in those who relate foreign precepts, but in those who relate the precepts which were given by the Lord to the faith and came down from the Truth itself. And also if any follower of the elders happened to come, I would inquire for the sayings [accounts] of the elders, what Andrew said, or what Peter said, or what Philip or Thomas or James or John or Matthew or any other of the Lord’s disciples, and for the things which Aristion and John the Presbyter, disciples of the Lord, were saying. For I considered that I should not get so much advantage from matter in books as from the voice which yet lives and remains.

          If you don’t understand what a witness has just said, you can say, “Excuse me, but what did you mean by that parable?” or “Yo! I don’t quite get that.” But you cannot do so with the written word, unless there is an authoritative interpreter who can settle misunderstandings. This applies to all texts. A Constitution needs a Supreme Court. A written text needs its context. (Con-text, that which goes with or accompanies a text.)

          Traditio does not mean folk tale, rumor, or habit, but rather “that which has been handed over/handed down.” as e.g., when Irenaeus writes that “True knowledge is the doctrine of the Apostles, and the ancient constitution of the Church … according to the successions of the bishops, by which they have been handed down that Church” and calls it “a lawful and diligent exposition in harmony with the Scriptures.”

          Thus we find not only Paul urging the authority of the matter-handed-down, but also Irenaeus, Polycarp, Tertullian, Basil, John Chrysostom, and others affirm the centrality of the traditions “which we receive from the Apostles.” The Orthodox Church goes so far as to formulate its source in the Holy Traditions, of which the Scriptures comprise a central part. As previously mentioned, the Orthodox do not typically compile the Scriptures into a single “Bible.”

          Of the beliefs and practices whether generally accepted or publicly enjoined which are preserved in the Church some we possess derived from written teaching; others we have received delivered to us “in a mystery” by the tradition of the apostles; and both of these in relation to true religion have the same force. And these no one will gainsay—no one, at all events, who is even moderately versed in the institutions of the Church. For were we to attempt to reject such customs as have no written authority, on the ground that the importance they possess is small, we should unintentionally injure the Gospel in its very vitals
          St. Basil, “On the Holy Spirit,” Ch. 27

        • Comment by John C Wright:

          Not so, since the Catholic authority reaches through the Apostolic succession to St Peter, to Christ, to God. The Protestant authority reaches through the Apostolic succession, to the writings of the Apostles, but denies that succession. The paradox only exists in the Protestant case of holding the Bible as a higher authority than the tradition which defines the Bible as sacred. A Jew who regards the New Testament as not sacred, or a Mohammedan who regards New Testament and Old as not sacred, likewise is not caught in any such paradox, despite their own reverence for Pentateuch, Torah or Koran. They do not rely on the Church to define the canon of New Testament scripture.

          • Comment by docrampage:

            The point is that you can’t possibly have any authoritative reason to believe your authority because you have to believe the authority first before it becomes an authority that you can believe so that it can tell you that it is an authority. Protestantism is no different from any other belief system in this regard.

            • Comment by Patrick:

              “because you have to believe the authority first”

              How does this square with Protestant doctrines on justification?

              How does this square with Protestant doctrines on the primacy of faith over reason?

              It’s not hard to find Protestant sources that say that saving faith is given to the believer, and no amount of ‘believing’ or striving to believe is sufficient to save the soul bereft of grace.

              It’s not hard to find Protestants writing articles, sermons, tracts, etc. like this:

              http://www.biblestudyguide.org/articles/faith/faith-transcends-reason.htm

  5. Comment by Sean Michael:

    Dear Mr. Wright:

    Very interesting essay. The only quibble I have being the including of Origen in the list of heretics. It is strongly debatable if Origen can fairly be called a heretic. After all, many of the ideas which got him accused of heresy were only suggestions and speculations on his part. Not what he believed to be settled and defined doctrine. Since he was a faithful Catholic, I’m convinced Origen would have rejected and repudiated any of the more controversial ideas he wrote about had the Church judged the truth and orthodoxy of those ideas during his lifetime.

    Sincerely, Sean M. Brooks

    • Comment by Suburbanbanshee:

      Yes, Origen was unwise in the way he made enemies and unlucky in the people who claimed to be his followers after he was safely dead. But he himself always leaned on the Church as the final authority to rule on all his speculations. His actual personal students, like the convert St. Gregory Thaumaturgus, were taught orthodox theology by him; and his own teacher was St. Clement of Alexandria. St. Gregory Thaumaturgus’ farewell speech to his teacher, summing up his teaching methods, is an amazing tribute to a dedicated and responsible educator. I don’t think anyone thinks of him as a heretic anymore, and a lot of popes have spoken well of him.

      That said, he has some very odd ideas. When you read him, you have to bring the Morton’s, because some of his analogies and devotional guidelines are pretty farfetched. He was incredibly prolific, and some of the versions of books we have are pretty obviously unedited dictation. But the brilliance of his other ideas (and explanations, and scholarship) makes reading him worth any amount of trouble.

      • Comment by Sean Michael:

        Hi, Suburbanbanshee! Thanks for your note.

        I’m glad you too agree with me that Origen was never a knowing or deliberate heretic. One of the problems we have coming to a proper understanding of his thought is that many of his works have not survived, or came down to us in mutilated condition. David Laird Dungan, in his book A HISTORY OF THE SYNOPTIC PROBLEM, is very admiring about Origen’s biblical scholarship, esp. his commentary on Matthew’s gospel.

        Sincerely, Sean M. Brooks

  6. Comment by docrampage:

    The existence of icons and statutes likewise meant nothing to me. It was clear even to an outsider that these were objects of reverence but not worship, no more idolatrous than singing a hymn.

    The difference is that God does not dedicate a large proportion of the Old Testament to warning about the dangers of hymns, illustrating how singing leads people into sin, and commanding people not to make songs. In fact, singing is occasionally shown as a positive way to give glory to God. By contrast, God does dedicate a large proportion of the Old Testament to warning about the dangers of idols and idolatry, illustrating how idolatry leads people into rebellion against him, and commanding people not to make graven images. And when Aaron creates a golden calf to represent God, it is by no means treated as a positive way to give glory to God. So when the Hebrews built a statue of a calf to reverence as an image of God, it was worthy of mass killing in punishment, but when modern Catholics build a statue of a bearded long-haired man on a cross, that’s just fine. This strikes me as somewhat far-fetched.

    I was raised Lutheran, and to this day am not sure what the point of the contempt for St Mary

    I’ve never heard Mary treated with anything but respect by Protestants.

    I decided that the rest of my reply is too long for a comment, so I’ve posted it here.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      The distinction you make has no bearing on the argument, or so it seems to me.

      Real idolaters identify their idols as idols. Even an outsider can tell the Catholics and Orthodox say, at least, that they not worshiping the various statues and images they use in their ceremonies. Hence, a statue is not an idol in and of itself. In order to be an idol, it must be an object of worship by the idolater.

      Now this is mental act. If you see a man kneeing before a statue and he testifies he is worshiping only God, and you testify he is worshiping the statue, an honest jury will his testimony over yours, because he is aware of the contents of his mind by direct experience, and you are deducing or guessing.

      So one is left either to suppose that over a thousand years of Christianity was deceiving itself about the meaning of the what is perhaps the most basic and obvious precept of their religion, and were actually idolaters while telling themselves they were not; one must or to suppose that the breakaway groups, iconoclasts in the Early Church, and Puritans later, wanted to smash things like stained glass windows not for fear that they themselves would be tempted to worship a window as a god, but because of a convenient surface similarity to the forbidden practice which allowed them to justify their hostility.

      It is a judgment call which you think is more likely. Myself, I have never met a single Catholic or Orthodox who claims to worship any statues or stained glass images or icons. Nor have I met even a single Protestant who claims to be tempted to worship any statues or stained glass images or icons.

      On the other hand, the thing the Catholics and Orthodox claim their religious art and images do, which is, namely to focus the mind on sacred things, obviously works. One need only look at any well executed art with a religious theme to see that it is the case. Since this is what they say they are doing, as an outsider, I would have needed my Protestant friends to provide me with some evidence, aside from the mere assertion, that the Protestants know the Catholic mind better than the Catholics, and that the accusation of world-wide and aeons-long self deception was accurate.

      Since I myself and routinely accused of thinking and feeling things by would-be mindreaders over and over and over again that I have never thought nor felt, and called a liar when I politely denied the accusation, I should warn you that my skepticism, nay, my hostility toward such “I know what you are thinking but you do not” style arguments is very deep. You would need to produce extraordinary proof.

      Well? Do you have any proof? Do you have, say, forty books written by Catholic leaders praising idolatry?

      • Comment by The OFloinn:

        Second Council of Nicaea, fourth session, presided over by the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople and the legates of the Patriarch of Rome.

        http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/nicea2-dec.asp

      • Comment by docrampage:

        You claim that what the Catholic has in his mind is different from the heathen, and that I can’t know what is in the Catholic’s mind. The second point is true enough, but similarly, neither can you know what is in the heathen’s mind to know that he is any different from you. Kneeling before statues, praying before them, kissing them, touching them with adoration, making offerings before them, those are the things that idolators do, these are the things that draws God’s wrath in the Old Testament, and those are the things that Catholics do.

        Many, probably most, real idolators view their idols as mere symbols of other entities. I’ve talked with modern Hindus who describe their idols in much the same words that Catholics use to describe their images –as a concrete symbol used to focus the attention on the attributes of God. I have no no reason to think that the idolators of the Old Testament were any different. The Greeks and Romans certainly did not think that their stone images of Apollo were actually gods. They viewed the statues as symbols of Apollo. And yet these people were clearly idolators.

        There is a great deal wrong with idols even when you recognize that they are simply images, as shown by the Golden Calf. People think that the Golden Calf was a replacement for God, but that’s not what the text implies. The text implies that the calf was supposed to be an image of God:

        Then they said, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, “Tomorrow there will be a festival to the LORD.

        God does not say that they turned away from him, he says:

        They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it.

        It looks very much like the calf was just supposed to be a tangible representation of God for the people, something comfortably real and visible that they could look at and say, “That’s God”, fully understanding that it was only a representation, but it gave them the comfort of a physical presence to talk to. And that is what brought down God’s wrath.

        And even if sophisticated, theologically-sound Catholics do not sin with idols, there are lots of Catholics who are unsophisticated and theologically weak who are led astray by the customs. I have known several Catholics (most of them Mexican, but not all) who did attribute special magical powers to their various religious charms and symbols. They also treated “Hail Mary” as a magical incantation to protect them from harm. The Catholic Church may not teach these errors, but it lays out a stumbling block to help people fall into them.

        • Comment by Rade Hagedorn:

          Doc

          You might find this link to be of interest: http://orthodoxinfo.com/general/icon_faq.aspx

          Even to this day Orthodox Christans do not make icons of God the Father because we maintain that God the Father has never been seen and that so it is unfitting to create icons of him. Some people believe that the icon of The Ancient of Days is intended as an Icon of God the Father but in fact, for Orthodox Christans, it is an icon of Jesus Christ.

        • Comment by John C Wright:

          This statement:
          “You claim that what the Catholic has in his mind is different from the heathen, and that I can’t know what is in the Catholic’s mind. The second point is true enough…”

          Contradicts this statement:
          “Kneeling before statues, praying before them, kissing them, touching them with adoration, making offerings before them, those are the things that idolators do, these are the things that draws God’s wrath in the Old Testament, and those are the things that Catholics do.”

          And this statement:
          “… neither can you know what is in the heathen’s mind to know that he is any different from you…”

          Is false. Perhaps you don’t know that I know more witches than I know Christians. I know idolaters intimately. You can ask the idolater what he is doing. He will tell you. You can ask the Catholic what he is doing. He will tell you. The answers are not the same.

          To be idolatry requires a mental act which the Catholic claims not to be present. That the physical actions are similar means nothing: eating bread is the same physical act as taking the Eucharist; daydreaming is the same physical act as praying silently; taking a bath the same physical act as baptism. The syllogism that says since the physical acts are the same the mental act must be the same is too shallow to be worth refuting.

          Your argument rests on attributing excruciatingly bad faith to all Christians who lived before the Reformation. There is no evidence to support such a sweeping condemnation of thousands of years of your forefathers, including saints and martyrs who, if they had not died for us, we would know nothing of the Christian message.

          I have asked for proof, not accusation from a man who pretends he can read the hearts of others. I asked for the names of at least 40 Catholic authors admitting that religious art and iconography is idolatry or magic. It is not something the Catholics believe. Your wishing that they did believe it does not make it so.

          As I said before, it is a non-issue.

          Or, rather, it is precisely the same issue as the Mohammedan or the Unitarian who claims Trinitarianism is paganism, on the grounds that Christians, unlike Jews, have three gods rather than one.

          • Comment by The OFloinn:

            That the physical actions are similar means nothing

            One fellow pushes his aged grandmother in front of a bus to gain an inheritance. A Boy Scout pushes her out of the way.

            What difference? They both push old ladies around!

          • Comment by docrampage:

            How is that a contradiction? I said that I don’t know what is in the Catholic’s mind, and then I pointed out physical actions that Catholics take. Where is the contradiction?

            You can ask the Catholic what he is doing. He will tell you. The answers are not the same.

            I don’t know any witches, but I know plenty of Hindus, and in the case of Hindus, the answers are the same.

            To be idolatry requires a mental act which the Catholic claims not to be present.

            This is the point that is in dispute. My arguments against it were that (1) some official idolators seem to treat idols the same way that Catholics do, (2) the Golden Calf seems to have been an image of God in the same sense as the statues of Jesus are. (3) regardless of doctrine, many Catholics are idolatrous and superstitious in even a sense that you would recognize. They think there is magical power in their little crucifixes and saint’s charms and in crossing themselves and in their chanting prayers. They have openly told me so. The only counter argument you gave against these arguments is that you know some idolators who seem to have a different attitude in some way. But is not an adequate counter as my claim is not that Catholic idolatry is exactly the same as all other idolatry.

            Your argument rests on attributing excruciatingly bad faith to all Christians who lived before the Reformation.

            I don’t know where that comes from. None of my arguments requires any dishonesty on the part of Catholics. I can take them entirely at their word and they are still idolators.

            I have asked for proof, not accusation from a man who pretends he can read the hearts of others. I asked for the names of at least 40 Catholic authors admitting that religious art and iconography is idolatry or magic.

            I don’t know where you got this idea that I’m some sort of Dan-Brown conspiracist who thinks that Catholics are deliberate and intentional idolators. It never occurred to me that Catholics might secretly (or openly) consider their statues to be idols or their behavior towards the statues to be idolatrous. I would be shocked to find 40 Catholics in good standing who believe that their religion promotes idolatry. My point is not that they think they are idolators but that they are idolators and don’t know it.

            Also, I haven’t accused the Catholic Church of engaging in magic. I did make that comment about unsophisticated Catholics and I do believe that their errors are related to the Catholic attitude towards religious imagery –in fact, I think that is part of the reason that God is so opposed to idolatry– but I don’t think that Catholic doctrine is wrong in this regards.

            • Comment by Patrick:

              “I said that I don’t know what is in the Catholic’s mind, and then…”

              +

              “My point is not that they think they are idolators but that they are idolators and don’t know it.”

              Come again?

              • Comment by docrampage:

                I’m not sure what you find confusing about that. John accused me of pretending to read minds and I denied that my argument requires this talent. This does not prevent me from taking Catholics at their word for what they believe. That is not mind-reading.

                • Comment by Patrick:

                  “This does not prevent me from taking Catholics at their word”

                  If a Church full of Catholics tells you, “bro, we aren’t idolaters”, and you reply, “Yes you are – despite what you say, and what you’ve been taught, you REALLY believe in idols and don’t know it” – you are not taking Catholics at their word.

                  • Comment by docrampage:

                    This makes no sense at all. Saying that someone is mistaken is not the same as saying that the person is dishonest. I have no idea where you and John are getting this from.

                    • Comment by John C Wright:

                      In this case, the ‘mistake’ we Catholics are making is one of massive self-deception: performing a mental act of worshiping statues and idols without admitting to ourselves that this is the mental act we perform. The claim that we are making this mistake logically entails a claim of self-deception hence dishonesty.

                      Let me see if I can make this clear why this issue meant nothing to me and continues to mean nothing. My decision after becoming a Christian was which denomination to join. Nondenominational Christianity or ‘mere’ Christianity is not an option for obvious reasons. The basic choice then was between Eastern or Western Christianity, and, if Western, Catholic or Protestant.

                      The East-West argument over filioque was both highly technical and trivial, a dead issue. That decision was made on non-doctrinal grounds: I went with the West because I am a man of the West, not because of any suspicion that the Eastern and Nestorian and Arminian churches were in the wrong.

                      Of the divisions between Catholic and Protestant, there is a serious claim about Sola Scriptura and Sola Fides which demanded I attend to those controversies seriously, and there was a frivolous Puritan claim equating religious art with idolatry.

                      I call it frivolous because, to an outsider, if I decided to join with the Catholics, I would be deciding to adopt the Catholic interpretation of what the act of erecting a statue to Mary meant, not the Puritan interpretation; if I decided to go with the Puritans, I would be deciding to adopt the Puritan interpretation of what the act of erecting a statue to Mary meant.

                      Blame my legal training if you like, but I never trust an expert witness over an eyewitness, especially when the alleged expert never produces his credentials. I do not trust what strangers say about the inner contents of my mind over what the eyewitness — me — who has access to his own mind says. Any witness has to provide some evidence that he was in position to observe the event in question. Where the event is mental, the witness either has to be a mindreader, or to appeal to the common experience of mankind.

                      Now, go ahead. Look at this statue.

                      Pieta by Michaelangelo

                      Let us say for the sake of argument that it looks like an idol to you, a living totem infected with magic power charged with the manna or mojo of the goddess. Let us say for the sake of argument that to me it looks no more like an idol than the wallet photo of a loved one, who, if in heaven, I can address in prayer the same way I can address a living man, since prayer merely means petition. What is your argument that your way of looking at the statue is the correct one, and mine incorrect? What is your argument that, in looking at the statue as I do, I am in fact looking at it as you do without being aware of the same?

            • Comment by John C Wright:

              The idea that an honest man could sin ergo be guilty of sin and be unaware ergo innocent of the sin is not one we need dwell on. It does not pass the giggle test. We are not talking about violating a regulation, which a man can do by inattention or mistake; we are talking about an act which puts a man out of communion with God, and removes sanctity from his life.

              This statement

              “None of my arguments requires any dishonesty on the part of Catholics. I can take them entirely at their word and they are still idolators.”

              Contradicts this statement:

              “My point is not that they think they are idolators but that they are idolators and don’t know it.”

              In other words, Luther’s father and mother were idolaters without being aware of it, and committed the requisite mental act which defines idolatry while not committing that same mental act, and so likewise were all Christians of East and West for one thousand, five hundred, and fifteen years, more or less.

              And you say you are not accusing Catholics of dishonesty or bad faith.

              Well, sir, using your logic, I claim that you ARE accusing the Catholics of dishonesty, and that you actually believe they are dishonest, but that YOU ARE UNAWARE OF IT! I also claim that you cannot imagine a perfectly straight nor a perfectly thin line. And I claim that the Jack of Diamonds is the next card you shall pick from this deck — because I am a mindreader, you see.

              Religious art and artifacts, even when used as aids to prayer, or when blessed, or when used to focus the attention on divine things, are not themselves objects of worship, which is what the commandment forbids.

              I hope you can tell why this was and continues to be a non-issue with me. It does not even rise to the level being something worthy of dispute. If you tell me I should not carry a crucifix in my pocket, I will tell you not wear a cross around your neck. Is that not an image? If you tell me to smash my stained glass windows, I will tell you to tear the illustrations out of your children’s bible.

              Come, answer me seriously. Is the illustration below truly indistinguishable in any way from the Golden Calf to which the Hebrews nostalgic for Egypt bowed?

              Christ Knocks

              • Comment by docrampage:

                Seriously? You think it is beyond dispute that a person can sin without knowing it? You think that everyone who has sex outside of marriage knows that they sin, or that not knowing, they are not sinning? You think that everyone who gossips knows that they sin, or not knowing, they are not sinning? You think that every Catholic priest who tortured Protestants to force recantation knew that he was sinning, or not knowing, he were not sinning?

                Is this the Catholic position on sin? If so, I was completely unaware of it. But if that is the Catholic position, it is certainly not so obvious as to be beyond debate.

                And I am once again mystified at the contradiction that you claim to find in my comment. My first statement said that Catholics are not knowing idolators. The second one which you say contradicts this says that Catholics are idolators through ignorance. Where is the contradiction.

                In other words, Luther’s father and mother were idolaters without being aware of it

                Yes, although I don’t know why you single them out. Most likely Luther was an idolator too, at least during some portion of his life.

                and committed the requisite mental act which defines idolatry while not committing that same mental act

                The only sense I can make of this is that you seem to be suggestive that idolatry is necessarily a reflective sin; that one can’t commit idolatry without self-consciously reflecting, “I am currently committing idolatry”.

                You can worship something without being consciously aware that you are worshiping it. I’m pretty sure that you discussed this yourself a few weeks ago when you were talking about idolatry towards mundane things like money, fame, or fast cars. If you told someone that he was worshiping money and he denied it, would you have to either drop the accusation or accuse him of bad faith? Couldn’t you take the third route of saying that he does not understand the implications of the way that he lives his life?

                Come, answer me seriously. Is the illustration below truly indistinguishable in any way from the Golden Calf to which the Hebrews nostalgic for Egypt bowed?

                You are arguing against a straw man. There is a large gap between “indistinguishable in any way” and “also idolatrous”. There is also a large gap between “Catholics use religious images in idolatrous ways” and “all religious images are inherently idolatrous”.

                • Comment by John C Wright:

                  “Seriously? You think it is beyond dispute that a person can sin without knowing it?”

                  Don’t waste our time with straw man arguments.

                  To answer your question, yes, idolatry requires a mental act, an act of worship.

                  The argument that all Christians from England to Armenia to Alexandria to Scandinavia up until 1514 were idolaters, and all Catholics and Orthodox Christians (who form the majority on Earth) continue in idolatry, and Luther was an idolater, because they were “using sacred art in idolatrous ways” requires some proof. Where is your evidence? On what do you base this extraordinary claim?

                  While you are pondering that, I suggest you not answer it, nor discuss this topic any more. Here is why:

                  Read, re-read, and memorize Romans 14, in which Paul tackles the question of “pious stuff that matters a lot to a particular subculture of Catholics but isn’t really make or break as far as the Church is concerned”. In his day, the big thing that some Catholics got hung up on was “meat sacrificed to idols”. The problem was this: There was no Safeway grocery store. So you bought the meat in the agora and that meat had (typically) been sold to the vendor by the local pagan temple where, earlier in the morning, it had been a cow sacrificed to Apollo or whoever. As far as the Church was concerned, it was just meat. Eat it with thanksgiving to God and don’t worry about it. But for some people of tender conscience the fear was that by eating the meat, you were somehow participating in the sacrificial banquet offered to the pagan god.

                  Paul’s advice in Romans 14 is summarized much later in the Catholic tradition as follows: “In essential things, unity; in doubtful things, liberty; in all things, charity.” So to the scrupulous vegetarian, he says, “You are doing what you do to honor God. Bully for you!” and to the one with no qualms about eating meat he says, “You are eating with gratitude to God. Bully for you!” Then he tells the vegetarian “Don’t sit in judgment of your brother” and the carnivore”, “Don’t tempt your brother to violate his conscience”.

                  Read more: http://www.ncregister.com/blog/mark-shea/a-ques/#ixzz1r5EaNDjn

                  Now, we both agree that Paul in Romans speaks for the true and authentic teaching of Christ, do we not? So if I say that the medallion of Saint Justin Martyr I have danging over my computer reminds me not to looking at girly pictures on the internet, and that scandalizes you as if I had a statue to Dagon, but to me it is no different from perching a cross on a steeple, on what grounds do you accuse me of violating God’s law? Paul would ask you not to put a stumblingblock in my path.

                  Let us suppose I need a crutch for my devotional life, because I cannot pray without using my imagination. Provided I am warned not to use the images as idols, on what grounds do you kick the crutch away from me, so that you dump a cripple on the ground?

                  Is that the charity St Paul recommends, dear brother in Christ?

              • Comment by Nicholas:

                “Come, answer me seriously. Is the illustration below truly indistinguishable in any way from the Golden Calf to which the Hebrews nostalgic for Egypt bowed?”

                I would say that to compare the two is an insult to the artistic sensibilities of the ancient Hebrews!

                • Comment by John C Wright:

                  To save your refined artistic sensibilities, I will post an image of Michelangelo’s Pieta.

                  • Comment by Nicholas:

                    John,

                    Fair enough. I confess that I have a personal preference for Assyrian and Phoenician bas-reliefs and statues over sentimental slice-of-life paintings of Jesus.

                    This does bring up a point not addressed in the above exchanges. Not all Christian images are fit for church/liturgical veneration. Of course, even something like a santa muerte “icon” could be “used by God” in a positive way, let’s not get silly. But, insofar as we can, there is a decorum, a taxis, as St. Paul talks about in 1st Corinthians, that ought to be kept in mind; even when it comes to religious imagery.

                    Perhaps sentimental snapshot paintings (or the sensual posturing of Michelangelo’s Pieta) are not appropriate for church veneration, even though they may be edifying in a private devotional setting.

                    No offense intended.

        • Comment by Patrick:

          ” but it gave them the comfort of a physical presence to talk to. And that is what brought down God’s wrath.”

          You see no problems with psychologizing some ancient Jews like this? Is this ‘comfort of a physical presence’ in the Bible anywhere? The Jews were lonely, so they had Aaron build a God? I don’t see it.

    • Comment by deiseach:

      “And when Aaron creates a golden calf to represent God, it is by no means treated as a positive way to give glory to God.”

      My quibble here is that the golden calf is not a representation of Yahweh, but rather a falling-away (or falling-back) of the rebellious Israelites into the corruptions they had picked up in Egypt; they demand – when it does not appear that Moses, their intermediary with God, is coming back from Sinai – that Aaron make them an image to worship.

      The image is associated with the Apis bull, and so we have the amalgamation of native Egyptian beliefs with the beliefs of the Israelites, and it’s not going to be the only time we see them falling into this error, as witness Solomon adopting the beliefs of his foreign wives and the worship of Asherah in groves.

      Now, if I did accept that the images of Mary and the infant Jesus, for instance, were just adoptions of images of Isis and the child Horus whereby pagan goddess worship was smuggled into Christianity under cover, then I would agree with the iconoclasts of Byzantium and the Western reformers. But since I’m credulous enough to think that Christians invented their own symbols and imagery, I don’t agree – though I will compromise that some of the imagery was adapted, e.g. the Western Christ in Majesty is adapted from imagery associated with the emperor or that the Eastern Christ Pantocrator takes inspiration from the statue of Zeus at Olympus, but in no way can it then be said that Christ is therefore only Zeus in Christian garb; the difference is too great.

      • Comment by Nicholas:

        I don’t buy the Zeus connection. Christ Pantokrator *also* often draws from imperial representations, though from plainer, earlier examples like the Sinai Pantokrator, it would appear that the “authority/teaching position” was one common to depictions of persons of authority in Hellenistic art in general.

    • Comment by Mary:

      Except that God explicitly orders the Jews to make images — the brazen serpent, the cherubium on the Ark — so idolatry can not equal making images for religious purposes.

      I add that in some churches, they cover the images for Lent. An idolator may cover up — or drag in the dust behind his chariot — his idol, but not for penance on his part, only to punish the idol for failing him.

      • Comment by Suburbanbanshee:

        As St. John Damascene points out, all written language is an image or picture of sounds. So if all images are forbidden as idolatrous, writing is forbidden and the Bible is idolatrous.

        I love that man.

        • Comment by docrampage:

          It sounds like St. John Damascene was failing to distinguish between an image and a denoting symbol. The difference is that an image of X is designed to create sense impressions similar to the sense impressions create by X, but an image of X does not refer to X. By contrast a denoting symbol for X refers to X, not by creating similar sense impressions, but in view of the mere intention of the speaker to refer to X by the use of the symbol in a situation in which his listeners can be expected to understand that intention. A denoting symbol for X is much more like pointing at X than it is like drawing an image of X.

          Sorry, the philosophy of meaning and reference is a hobby of mine. I now return you to your regularly scheduled religious argument.

          • Comment by Patrick:

            “not by creating similar sense impressions, but in view of the mere intention of the speaker to refer to X by the use of the symbol”

            The Bible being a ‘picture of sounds’ seems to sidestep this objection though, doesn’t it?

            The letter X may not be a fully-qualified symbol any more than a brushstroke would be (or humming a note would be), but that doesn’t mean that a tapestry of letters (a book) doesn’t rise above mere brushstrokes in intentionality or convention and could not be a picture and therefore an idol.

            In his sense, it’s not letters or words or symbols that absurdly could be an idol, but the ‘picture of’ them that the words make altogether – not a given rendition of meaning given in one frame of symbols or another, but firstly, as a ‘graven image’, an object itself, requiring no intellectual effort to ‘apprehend’. It used to be words, but now you can pick it up without talking about it.

            The ‘of sounds’ part is most interesting, as it reminds us that conventions on the page correspond to conventions in sound. This is why music can’t be made into an idol, for instance, but a score could be.

            • Comment by Sean Michael:

              I would like to suggest to docrampage and Patrick that St. John Damascene may have simply been indulging in irony at the expense of the Iconoclasts and Muslims with his comments that if letters are images of sounds, that means things like the Bible were idolatrous.

              Sincerely, Sean M. Brooks

              • Comment by Patrick:

                He so is. The Point!!! is, was his irony actually ironical? I think so, and I’m hoping this will become a flamewar. (kidding!)

              • Comment by docrampage:

                Yes, I assume that was the point. Maybe I shouldn’t have left implicit my conclusion: that letters are not images of sounds. They are symbols that denote sounds. As I said, it is much more like pointing to a sound than like drawing an image of a sound. Religious imagery is condemned because it is imagery, not because it denotes or refers.

      • Comment by Nicholas:

        What church covers images for lent?

  7. Comment by Malcolm Smith:

    “Do you actually not understand the argument, or is this a way of saying you understand the argument but that it is not convincing?”
    Actually, it is an argument against what I perceived to be a misperception that sola scriptura meant that tradition is of no value.
    I don’t think your opinion is so different from mine in this regard, but we are talking past one another. I also don’t think that Luther would have much difficulty with the contents of your third paragraph – except that the last sentence is overstated. The canon of scripture was established by general consensus. If you look at the lists given by various Fathers, you will see that most of the New Testament was agreed to by all by the beginning of the second century. After that, orthodox books known to be post-apostolic in date, such as the Shepherd of Hermas, tended to drop out, while the Letter to the Hebrews and many of the smaller epistles took a long time to gain general acceptance. The deciding factor was probably that so many of the churches were using them, and they were definitely orthodox, and so were given the benefit of the doubt. The first complete list of the full 27 books we have today was found in Athanasius’ Easter letter of 367. This was long before the first mention in a council, the First Synod of Carthage in 393 – which was a local, not an ecumenical council, and was merely stating the consensus already established.
    The New Testament was not established by magisterium, general councils, or the Holy Father. The Church and the New Testament grew up together.
    “No denomination teaches some teaching of Christianity which is not novel…” Fair enough. The aim of the Reformation was to remove all these novelties, but it has no problem with putting each of its own doctrines to the same test. As an Anglican, I am quite happy to test any of my beliefs by asking (1) can it be found in the Bible and (2) if so, is the interpretation in line with that of the early church? We only ask that the Church of Rome test its own doctrines in the same manner. All too often its response to any challenge has simply been: This is what you must believe because we said so!

  8. Comment by Robert Mitchell Jr:

    Bad Mr. Wright! Where is our April first thread? Since everyone is being so formal today, let me add a little fun. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4HV0SbJduDc (or search for “Great Macross Song” on Youtube). One of my favorite music videos (Not that I speak any Japanese). Also, check out this Webcomic, http://thepunchlineismachismo.com/. Last, I’m sure money’s still tight after the Grand Journey, have some chocolate on me.

  9. Comment by John Hutchins:

    Satan is indeed the cause of division, however he is also the god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4) and the ruler of this world (John 12:31). It is him that rules from spiritual Babylon with the honors of the world, the power of Caesar, the wisdom of the world. As such, pointing out that the Catholic Church was on the other side of political divides from the heretics would seem to implicate both the ancient heretics and the Catholics. Further, we should ask why the more sensible heresies did not continue to our day? Was it the unshakable love of the Catholics that brought them to the true fold of Christ, with the Catholics willing to give their lives for the salvation of the heretics? Or was it the power of armies, the making of martyrs of the heretics, the knowledge that believing in a heresy was enough to (at best) get one driven from ones lands or (more commonly) get one killed for that belief? Was it the power of Christs infinite love, the power of God, or was it the wisdom and power of the world (and its ruler) that ended the heresies?

    The Holy Spirit is God, a member of the Almighty Ruler of the universe. The Spirit rather than being an insufficient guide to truth is the only possible guide to truth given that the wisdom of God is foolishness to the world, and that the natural man does not receive the things of God, for they are foolishness to him. The things of God can only be understood by way of the Spirit, not by the wisdom and the reasoning of the world. (1 Corinthians 1-3, especially 1 Corinthians 1:25-27, 2:4-5, 2:14, 3:19)

    Moses was alone when he saw the burning bush and the miracles he did were matched sign for sign by the priests of Egypt for quite a while. Abraham was alone for his visions, as was Isaac, Jacob, Noah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and so on. Noah was seen as some loony that was making a great big ark in the middle of somewhere quite dry, until the rains came and the flood started.

    Time and again such prophets were judged by the world and religious leaders for their private revelations and put to death, only to be generations latter accepted by those that say they would not have killed such prophets, while they continue to reject and ignore the same.

    Many of the prophets spoke quite sharply against what was the accepted doctrine and beliefs of their day. Jesus Christ for instance overturned the Oral Law, what was considered the sacred tradition of his day, and was a poor preacher from a poor and despised part of a poor and despised part of the Roman Empire. His primary teaching was not to learned doctors of religion or kings or the emperor but to the poor, the fishermen, the even more poor and despised Samaritans, those that were not so caught up in their own wisdom and the wisdom of the world that they were able to see the Son of God for what He was.

    That is the pattern of God that is found throughout the scriptures and that is the pattern that I know the Living and Unchangeable God has followed in our day, appearing to a poor unlearned boy in a back water part of a young nation in a pillar of light in response to a simple prayer as what of all the confusion that is Christianity was right.

  10. Comment by Bob McMaster:

    Do I find the Real Presence scandalous? Not terribly so, I must confess. I find it far more scandalous that I a puffed-up Roman prelate who has taken a few words of the Lord from a gospel and stretched them beyond all proper meaning in order to accrue authority to himself will call me “not-a-true-Christian” if I dare express any doubt at all about whether or not my Lord has chosen to incarnate Himself as a loaf of bread. Or if I find the gospels and epistles to say that the Lord had biological half-siblings.

    I don’t know that I find Sola Scriptura (as you define it) to be very convincing, but I’m still unclear about why the historical accretions of tradition need to be reverenced above and beyond the testimony of those who were closest in time and space to our Lord and His words. Tradition is well and good, but are any of these traditions demonstrably of greater or equal age to the words and practices both you and I find to be from canonical Scripture? I understand Mr Smith to be arguing that when requirements of belief are placed upon Christians that are not explicitly required by the best sources we have as to what our Lord required, we are put in the bind of believing either, that the Lord and his apostles failed to communicate a required doctrine for hundreds of years, or that perhaps those who have set themselves up as our leaders are adding to the words of God.

    My greatest problem with the church that calls itself Catholic is that the hierarchical organization it has put in place seems more to serve the ends of those who hold its offices rather than the flock it oversees. My ability to be in union with other Christians depends less on whether their doctrine and lives are in order, than whether they are permitted to call me brother by their bishop. Now that Christ has come and removed all need for intercessors on our behalf when we approach the throne of God, it seems hardly in keeping with this great change that the Catholic Church should spend a great deal of its time demanding that I accept their priests as intercessors, long dead saints as intercessors and trust not to my own checking of scripture.

    If I’ve seemed intemperate, I do apologize. I’ve tried to be careful not to say things merely to inflame, but I confess I may well not have succeeded as I felt rather nettled by your remarks. Emotion has its place, but it is difficult to convey the proper emotional investment on the intertubes without seeming over the top. It’s tough to keep that emotion in check when I’m told that all my beliefs stem merely from a political consideration rather than any true seeking after the truth, but, bless our poor, little hearts, you won’t hold it against us poor, benighted fools.

    Forgive me for not knowing how to create the nice, neat blockquotes:

    “Worse, I do see that each and every heresy I’ve looked at in detail, with the sole exception of Gnosticism, the first and oldest, was based on political and cultural considerations…

    So, by all means, let us embrace each in only love, as brothers, despite our differences of opinion.”

    • Comment by Patrick:

      “and trust not to my own checking of scripture.”

      But wait a minute. Why, a priori, should your ‘checking’ of Scripture be more viable than theirs?

      I can read the Bible. I don’t know what half of it means, and can’t figure out why I’d ever believe it were true if somebody didn’t explain it to me.

      So I read, but I mostly listen.

      You come right out the gate with declamations of hubris against the Church for preaching what she practices, but it’s not at all clear why you prefer your interpretations – or indeed, any interpretation at all – on the Scriptures.

      It doesn’t seem like you’ve given the Church a charitable hearing on her own books and doctrines, let alone established your own authority on the subject, moral or scholarly.

      But if it’s only between accepting on faith the accretions of two thousand years of Christian tradition or believing whatever you think you found (when you ‘checked’) in a bunch of books that seemed to make your feel better about your life (is there any difference?), why choose?

      And of course, why do the answers you find in the Bible satisfy you? Other than habit and tribalism, of course. Should they satisfy me if you explain them, or is it really in the nature of Christian thought that we make up the truth for ourselves? Honest question.

      And why choose to disbelieve the real presence, of all things?

      I imagine being a priest in the 2nd century, waving my hands over a bunch of bread, doing as Jesus said – of course, nothing happens. You and your doubts and your kind were right. The next 18 centuries of this gesture is a complete waste of time and blood, but my doctrine perseveres. It was a mistake, practically hearsay. I learned it from a man who learned from a man who learned from a man named Jesus, but Jesus didn’t teach well or we didn’t learn well, and so it’s all lost. We priests learned to care about something “real” but it was only a symbol. The real thing was.. well, we wrote down everything we remembered except the gestures and the mumbling – maybe it’s in the book…

      If you were right, you ‘checked’ in the book and there’s no real presence, shouldn’t we just go home?

      Philosophically speaking, the Protestant ‘ideal’ of living by the Book always seemed like a kind of despair to me – like Japanese kids at cram school until midnight 6 nights a week, burning their childhood up on the unfounded, unsupportable, hopeless cultural assumption that extreme studiousness must lead to success. This seems to me not naive or noble, but grotesque – an unreasonable perversion of reason so as to cut away the natural appeals of competing goods, all the indefinite traditions and solemnities of being a kid. I tend to view Sola Scriptura and such doctrines as similarly unreasonable and perverse: they promise freedom and deliver futility. The man of Ecclesiastes knows something of this. Why are you more confident?

      If you quote Scripture, you’ll realize that’s circular reasoning, of course.

      • Comment by Bob McMaster:

        You don’t seem interested in addressing what I say, so to avoid chasing off on a tangent unrelated to my point, I’ll refrain from a detailed reply. You’re arguing as if I’m wanting to argue about the validity of Scripture rather than its authority. But the Catholic and I deal with the same set of premises regarding Scripture and arrive at different conclusions.

        We both agree that Scripture was sanctioned by the early church.

        We both agree that Scripture is the inspired Word of God and faithfully records what the Lord and His apostles said and did.

        But I then say that when I find a conflict between Scripture and modern Catholic practice, I ought to give more weight to Scripture because we both agree that it is the words of the Lord and the original apostles.

        The Catholic says that despite the fact that it is the words of God Himself and his apostles I should ignore that and listen to the modern man 2000 years removed from the events and words. You’re not even trying to square that circle in your comment.

        • Comment by Rade Hagedorn:

          Where does the Roman Catholic or more to my interest, as I agree that the Roman Catholic Church does something akin to this though we undoubtedly disagree on the particulars, the Eastern Orthodox Christian engage in this behavior? Particulars are always more useful than generalizations. Also, what particular faith tradition do you believe is correct as I imagine that we might both agree that generic Protestantism ranges from Biblical literalism to atheism.

        • Comment by John C Wright:

          “The Catholic says that despite the fact that it is the words of God Himself and his apostles I should ignore that and listen to the modern man 2000 years removed from the events and words.”

          I note the symmetry of this objection: it is very alike the objection of the Catholics to the Reformation, who preferred the opinion of theologians 1600 years removed from the events and words rather than the unedited Bible, the words of the Early Church fathers, and the living tradition.

          To the degree that the claim is which set of teaching, Catholic or Protestant, more nearly fits with the Early Church, that is an historical claim which we, ironically, are in a better position to investigate now than when Luther or Calvin wrote.

        • Comment by Patrick:

          “But the Catholic and I deal with the same set of premises regarding Scripture”

          This is asserted but nowhere explained how it could be. Its been noted that your objection seems inconsistent – how could a body be competent to assemble documents but not doctrines? You seem to be replying, “God did it”. I ask, at length, how? Why? How do you know? How do you know that you know? What is it you are even claiming to know, when you assert this? You reply, “Whatever.”

          In my view, you can’t evade the validity issue by appealing to the convention of Church fathers or councils on Scripture while heckling at them about Tradition.

          Your whole basis for dispute seems to be a preference for paper instead of people – for the letter of the Book instead of the word of the men who wrote, compiled, and taught it. It’s not too late to explain why this is so, or why and on what authority we depart the norm and adopt Theological Autism as our hermeneutic.

          (as other people keep saying, it’s not in the Book.)

          I think the question that matters is not “IS the Bible authoritative?”, but “HOW IS the Bible authoritative?”

          • Comment by John C Wright:

            If I may play the devil’s advocate for a moment, the Protestant claim is not that tradition in not authoritative, but that the Catholic Church became corrupt beyond correction after a certain point in time, so that anything taught by the Church as authoritative after that time is suspect, and must be checked against older ergo pre-corrupt sources, such as the scripture and the first seven ecumenical councils. Whatever cannot be confirmed from the early writings is to be rejected as an accretion or Pharisaical a doctrine of man.

            The angel’s advocate would call upon the devil’s advocate in reply to back the claim: not that Church officers were not guilty of peculation and corruption, but that the Church magisterium was teaching unsound doctrine. (I note that even when the Borgia Popes kept mistresses, they never used their moral authority to tell people it was okay to keep mistresses. Unlike Clinton apologists, for example).

            The claim then becomes an historical claim. After selecting a date for the Great Apostasy, one can compare the teachings before and after to detect, if it exists, the later teachers contradicting the earlier teachers, adding material or subtracting it. One can comb through the writings of the Early Church Fathers and see whether they or any of them teach Sola Scriptura or teach the perpetual Virginity of Mary and so on.

            The miracle of modern technology allows even a casual reader to do so with relative ease:
            http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/index.html
            http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Ante-Nicene_Fathers
            http://www.ccel.org/fathers.html

            Obviously, the earlier the date is pushed for the Great Apostasy, the less believable becomes the claim. A man from AD 1500 saying he perceives in the teaching of Christ more clearly than a man from AD 500 has lower burden of proof than a man from 1900 saying he perceives the teaching of Christ more clearly than Saint John the Beloved Disciple.

            • Comment by Patrick:

              “the Protestant claim is not that tradition in not authoritative”

              Actually, if TopicalBible is any indication, they do claim this, and here are their proof texts:
              http://topicalbible.org/naves/t/tradition–not_authoritative.htm

              And on the other hand, you have John Calvin, for whom the inheritance of pious tradition is generally fit for not more than scoffing or phillipics – in any event, he is the prototypical Autistic Theologian.

              • Comment by John C Wright:

                If the Protestant claim rejects all tradition whatsoever, they can neither believe in the Trinity nor the Incarnation, nor refute Arianism, nor refute Pelagianism, nor can they affirm monogamy nor reject aborticide nor use the cross as a symbol, or a fish, or the Labarum.

                The date of the celebration of Easter must be made each man for himself, what liturgy, if any, their denomination retains, prayers and hymns and other things of the sort, including celebrating a mass at the anniversary of the nativity of Christ — all of this and more is not found in the Bible. It is all tradition, teachings of the Apostles and of other Christian leaders, or popular customs.

                I do know of Protestant writers who sternly urge a return to the Jewish calendar and holidays, and a rejection of all Christian thinking after circa AD 100, which is what the rejection of tradition implies, but they are in a distinct minority.

                For that matter, arguing by ‘proof-texts’ is a tradition, and not the best method of Biblical exegesis.

                • Comment by CPE Gaebler:

                  There are prooftexts for a lot of those things in Scripture. The beginning of the Gospel of John is fairly clear on the Incarnation; Christ’s claim to be One with the Father is evidence for the Trinity and a refutation of Arianism; “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Polygamy is in the epistles prohibited for church leaders; I know not how this is applied to the general Protestant populace. Opponents of pre-natal infanticide have at least some small support in Psalmic passages such as “you knit me together in my mother’s womb.”

                  My point is, those who reject Tradition still have reasons to accept many of the same conclusions as those who adhere to Tradition. They just try to sneak it in through the back door.

                • Comment by docrampage:

                  Protestants are not prevented from believing something just because it is tradition. When a tradition has strong support from scripture such as both Tritinitarianism and the Incarnation, Protestants follow it (we had this argument before when you were claiming that Protestants despise tradition).

                  As to most of your other examples, they are nothing but social traditions, sort of like using a tree at Christmas. In the absence of a scriptural reason to reject such traditions, why would Protestants do so?

                  • Comment by Patrick:

                    “In the absence of a scriptural reason to reject such traditions, why would Protestants do so?”

                    In the absence of a Scriptural reason to follow a tradition, why wouldn’t Protestants denounce it as a stumbling block?

                    It’s always Protestants declaring Christmas trees to be absurd crypto-Pagan signatures of devil-worship among the benighted masses of un-reformed, un-regenerate Catholics and Christians too ignorant of Scripture to know that God despises their worldly traditions and priestcraft.

            • Comment by docrampage:

              the Protestant claim is not that tradition in not authoritative, but that the Catholic Church became corrupt beyond correction after a certain point in time, so that anything taught by the Church as authoritative after that time is suspect

              That is not the Protestant claim. The Protestant claim is that there was never an organization that spoke for God. There were individuals who spoke for God and proved so by signs and miracles, by the words of Jesus when he was on Earth, and by their self-sacrificing lives. Some of their words are recorded for us in scripture.

              The words that were not written down were passed on in oral tradition, but once they entered the meme ecosystem, they began the usual, inevitable corruption that all ideas do. Ideas become corrupt, not only because they are filtered through people who do not have the same authority as those who originally spoke it, but because they became mixed with false ideas from false prophets, and it becomes impossible to tell which are true and which false. Even two or three generations after the apostles were gone, their oral traditions were no longer reliable.

              • Comment by The OFloinn:

                There are no such thing as “memes,” let alone a “meme ecosystem.”
                + + +
                For an explanation of how oral traditions are passed on in actual real-world societies and what accounts for reliable traditions, see Jan Vansina, Oral Tradition as History, Univ. of Wisconsin Press, (Madison, 1985).

        • Comment by Mary:

          You don’t seem interested in addressing what I say, so to avoid chasing off on a tangent unrelated to my point, I’ll refrain from a detailed reply.

          On the contrary, we are refusing to wear the blinkers you are trying to insist on. The “tangent” you reject is in fact our main point, because it exposes the central weakness in yours.

  11. Comment by Mary:

    I’m still unclear about why the historical accretions of tradition need to be reverenced above and beyond the testimony of those who were closest in time and space to our Lord and His words. Tradition is well and good, but are any of these traditions demonstrably of greater or equal age to the words and practices both you and I find to be from canonical Scripture?

    You beg the question by terming them “historical accretions.” (Considering that one is the canon of Scripture, you should really be wary there.)

    And the reason why you find them in canonical Scripture is that you accept the tradition that they are canonical Scripture. If you’re going to reject it, you have to reject it all and not reserve what you please.

    • Comment by Bob McMaster:

      No, I don’t agree that it begs the question. If we were debating the validity of Scripture, it would indeed beg the question to appeal to it. But we are not; we both agree to the validity of Scripture and its authority. But the authority that it has regarding the doctrine it contains is not a result of the acceptance of that Scripture by the later church, but by the virtue of it being an accurate recording of the Word of God. Thus, if it is an accurate rendering of the very words of God, and I think it conflicts with the later words of men, why then should I credit those words of men above those of God?

      Perhaps I am unclear and an analogy would serve. If we consider a work purportedly written by Shakespeare, and there is agreement about the fact that it is written by Shakespeare, what it says about himself is not invested only with the authority of those who vetted it for authenticity, but with the authority of Shakespeare himself since all agree that he wrote it and who knows his life better? I can certainly agree with the authenticators about the authenticity of the work without needing to place their other pronouncements about the man himself on a par with his own words.

      Or, again, if I find that the later words of men as to things required and necessary are not then things spoken of as required and necessary by the Son of God, must I invest them with the same significance as I do the things spoken of as required and necessary by the Son of God? It seems not to me. Particularly as I find the reasons given for the degree of authority assumed by these men to be dubious.

      I can certainly reject some notions of men as being incorrect without having to reject all their notions. The early church could well have done a bang-up job collecting the canon of Scripture and completely fallen down about the perpetual virginity of Mary (or any other doctrine not explicit in Scripture, I merely use this one as an example). These positions are not necessarily in conflict.

      • Comment by Mary:

        If we were debating the validity of Scripture, it would indeed beg the question to appeal to it. But we are not; we both agree to the validity of Scripture and its authority.

        It is entirely begging the question, because it was addressed to your attack on the Sacred Tradition.

        But the authority that it has regarding the doctrine it contains is not a result of the acceptance of that Scripture by the later church, but by the virtue of it being an accurate recording of the Word of God.

        Sez who? You have no reasons and no grounds to declare that it is the accurate recording of the Word of God. The claim that it can be known to be such on no ground whatsoever is certainly a historical accretation.

        • Comment by John Hutchins:

          Sez who? You have no reasons and no grounds to declare that it is the accurate recording of the Word of God. The claim that it can be known to be such on no ground whatsoever is certainly a historical accretation.

          I know of nothing in the new testament that would even be capable of claiming the new testament was an accurate recording of anything, though Peter does mention the epistles of Paul.

          That said, however, we have multiple statements from Jesus in the Gospels and the epistles of the Apostles that testify that the Old Testament does indeed contain a recording of the Word of God.

          Presumably, one could ask God and receive a witness through the Holy Ghost that the Bible is the Word of God. In which case one would have the reasoning of the Most High God and the grounds of that Spirit that leads to all truth.

          • Comment by Mary:

            Presumably, one could refrain from claiming to have a personal revelation from God, “a witness through the Holy Ghost,” when it is manifestly obvious that most people thus claiming are lying or deluded from the simple and obvious fact that they contradict each other.

            I am aware that you don’t think this a problem because you have in the past deplored that a certain group of Catholics did not pray for the inspiration of the Holy Spirit when the only evidence was that they did not agree with you. Nevertheless, you get indignant when someone doubts yours. Perhaps you ought to judge others by the same rule as you wish to be judged.

            One notes that the Spirit that leads into all truth was not promised even the Apostles individually but in a group.

            • Comment by John Hutchins:

              One notes that the Apostles routinely gave individual people the Holy Ghost (see the book of Acts).

              • Comment by Mary:

                And their successors still do. I, like so many Catholics, received it at the sacrament of Confirmation.

                This, of course, does not mean we can guarantee our interpretation of Scripture is correct. This is why the Bible prohibits private interpretation of Scripture.

      • Comment by Mary:

        If we consider a work purportedly written by Shakespeare, and there is agreement about the fact that it is written by Shakespeare, what it says about himself is not invested only with the authority of those who vetted it for authenticity, but with the authority of Shakespeare himself since all agree that he wrote it and who knows his life better?

        I wonder which claim is sillier? That we can trust a man’s autobiography — I advise you, they are often packed with lies — or that it would not be invested only with the authority of those who vetted it for authenticity? The latter, I think, since that’s where the analogy lies. If their ability to judge such things is weak, we would say it was weak, if strong, strong. Given that it’s merely a human document about a man, we would not demand more thsn strong evidence, but that’s because our eternal destinies do not rest on it.

    • Comment by Bob McMaster:

      I tried this a minute ago, but nothing appears to have happened, so if end up largely repeating myself, I do apologize.

      I don’t think it begs the question to credit Scripture with a higher degree of authority than the men who comprise the church today. Firstly, these men are not even the same men who agreed on the Scriptural canon. They may be their intellectual heirs, but they are not the same men. But secondly, and more importantly, neither of us is questioning the validity of Scripture. I could only beg the question if I were referring to Scripture for my authority to accept Scripture.

      What I am saying is that, on topics other than the validity of Scripture, I prefer Scripture to the words of men. I think we could agree that the best testimony about what God wants is God Himself. And we both agree that Scripture is the Word of God. So why then should I credit the word of men above the Word of God simply because these men were chosen to determine whether or not these were the true words of God?

      Put another way, if we both agree that a certain book is an autobiography, I think that book ought to be given more credence about its subject than anyone who was involved in authenticating that book. The question is not whether the book is authentic, but once that is agreed upon, whether the book is authoritative about its subject.

      If I reject the notion that Mary was perpetually a virgin because the best evidence I can find is in Scripture to the contrary, why should I consider the words of God and Mary’s own Son less authoritative than the bishop of Rome some hundreds of years later? The fact that his organization did a good job determining canonical Scripture doesn’t necessarily mean he’s right about anything else.

      (Edited for pronoun clarity.)

      • Comment by Patrick:

        “The question is not whether the book is authentic, but once that is agreed upon, whether the book is authoritative about its subject.”

        The tragedy is this: how does one become authoritative on the authorities?

        For Christianity, we have our books and our teachers. Our teachers had their books and their teachers, and so on. But the matters they taught us aren’t out in the world, to be found around and put in a book – they are the ways of a Teacher, nothing more.

        You can read all the books, but that won’t make you a teacher. Try it seriously, and you will waste your life trying to hang your faith on an impossible, useless consensus, because faith is not knowledge. The Christian faith is a way to make tea or run a nation or conduct a business (all these, certainly!), but it is not a fact about the world, or an account of an event.

        You begin seeking truth and end up settling for empiricism. This is the tragedy.

        • Comment by Bob McMaster:

          If you’re saying that you don’t think the Bible is authoritative, then I would guess I’m actually less heretical then you. If you’re not saying that, then your whole comment seems like a non sequitur and I don’t see anything to remark upon.

  12. Comment by Gian:

    An analogy can be made between the Protestant use of the letter of Scripture to attack the Catholic Church and the Left’s use of the letter of Constitution to attack the American Republic.

    The American Constitution was one written thing among many unwritten things that made possible the American Republic. The customs, manners, virtues of the American people were as vital as the mere wording of the Constitution in making the Republic great.

    The Left hates American traditions and seeks to destroy them by any means possible, and that includes interpretation of the wording of the Constitution in a way hostile to the traditions.

    Thus, the wording of the first amendment is used to establish public pornography while banning political expression. Or to attack religious expression.

    It is all very reminiscent of the Protestantism.

    • Comment by Bob McMaster:

      Arguing by analogy that Protestants not believing all the doctrines held by the Catholic Church means that we actually hate all Christianity and Christ himself is beneath contempt. Perhaps we are all terribly, terribly wrong and what we do does undermine the work of God. But to assume bad faith on the part of all Protestants everywhere, that we are none of us sincere, is disgusting.

  13. Comment by Suburbanbanshee:

    Oh, there was tons of blowback at Muslim ideas, given that the man lived in conquered Damascus and worked most of his life for the local Muslim ruler. But the actual target-du-jour was the Iconoclasts and their iconoclast Roman/Byzantine emperor, across the border. St. John could safely criticize the Iconoclasts, which other icon fans couldn’t. (He wrote other stuff that was explicitly apologist stuff against Islam, which his former bosses were a lot less happy about.)

    The other funny bit was “graven”, which of course is a pretty straight connection to “graphein”. Writing was usually done with styluses on wax tablets, for normal use, and that was cutting or scratching into the wax. Graven. If you wanted to make it more permanent, you poured ink or paint into the scratches. Graven. If you were writing with ink on papyrus with a reed pen or a feather pen, you were still scratching away. Graven. And if you painted the words with brushes, that was just like painting the regular way. If you made a Biblical inscription on stone, it was graven too.

    There’s a great deal of discussion of how breath and vocal sound presses or cuts through air making shapes, also, and how the mind’s understanding of sound is not the sound itself but its image and likeness (if I’m remembering correctly and it wasn’t some sarcastic thing St. Augustine said). All kinds of fun for linguists.

    But anyway… the point is that even arbitrary symbols are in some way pictures that are graven; and if you’re fluent in reading a language, they are even more pictures. Given the propensity of contemporary Christians and Jews, as well as Muslims, to strive to write their scriptures with beautifully shaped words and to place them all over buildings and the like, it’s an even funnier point to make.

    • Comment by Sean Michael:

      Hi, suburbanbanshee!

      Oh, I knew St. John Damascene wrote largely against the Iconoclasts when it came to the controversy over the icons. Yes, it was safer to do so in Muslim conquered Syria when an Iconoclast as fierce as Constantine V ruled the Eastern Empire.

      There seems to be no getting away from “graven images” if even SOUNDS “cuts” images in the air they pass through. (Smiles) Which makes me glad the Second Council of Nicaea settled the matter of images once and for all.

      Sincerely, Sean M. Brooks

  14. Comment by MikeR:

    The simplest argument against Sola Scriptura is this: that explicit support for it is not found in the bible. Sola Scriptura is an extra-biblical doctrine and, hence, self-refuting.

    • Comment by Bob McMaster:

      The argument that tradition should take precedence is itself part of tradition and appealing to that to support it merely begs the question and the argument becomes self-refuting.

      Clearly, each of us would have to find a shared premise to work with before we’re going to have any chance of find the other’s arguments convincing.

      • Comment by Rade Hagedorn:

        Holy Tradition does not take precedence over the Holy Bible. The Holy Bible is part of Holy Tradition.

        For example, Islam is a book based religion. The Koran was dictated by Gabriel to Mohammed and Islam is unimmaginable without the Koran.

        Christianity is a person based religion. Jesus Christ, not the Holy Bible, is the central truth of Christianity. Christianity is not only imaginable without the Holy Bible but it existed for centuries without the New Testament.

        Jesus Christ did not write a book or even commission the production of a book. Instead He brought together apostles to spread His message and found a Church.

      • Comment by MikeR:

        Re: Bob McMaster

        That’s not how I see it. If tradition is a valid source, you can look to tradition. (If I stop here, I agree with you that this amounts to begging the question.) However, I agree that this doesn’t prove that it is true; it merely shows that a system that includes tradition is a self-consistent system (at least to that extent). OTOH, sola scriptura is not self-consistent because one cannot look to the bible alone for support of the doctrine of sola scriptura.

        So if the choice is between a system which includes tradition and between a system that looks solely to the text of the bible, the system that includes tradition wins because it, alone of the two options, is self-consistent, and I expect any true system to be self-consistent. (Perhaps there are other systems, systems that don’t include tradition and don’t look solely to the bible, but I’m not aware of such systems.)

        I think there are much stronger cases *for* tradition to be made than I’ve made here, but I do think that the case I’ve made here *against* sola scriptura is sufficiently strong.

        (And I agree with Rade: tradition does not take precedence over the bible.)

        • Comment by docrampage:

          Once again, I have yet to see any evidence that any Protestant actually endorsed this “sola scriptura” idea that John has been describing. The Protestant tradition that I’m familiar with is well-supported in scripture:

          (1) there are various instructions in scripture to study and obey scripture as well as statements that scripture is true and good.

          (2) there are instructions in scripture to test anyone who claims to speak for God to make sure that they are consistent with sound teaching and that they bear good fruit (this is the scriptural reason that Protestants reject Catholic tradition; the Catholic church and various Catholic teachings fail the scriptural tests).

          What Protestantism doesn’t have is an explicit list of the books that are authoritative within scripture. However, it isn’t clear why this would give any additional certainty or confidence since the book that contained the list could be non-scriptural or the passage with the list could have been added at a later date. In other words, you would already have to believe that the scriptures are correct in order for this list to give you any confidence, but if you already believed that, then the list would add nothing to your confidence.

          The idea that a system of evidence is more reliable if it supports itself is not logical.

          • Comment by MikeR:

            I want to thank people for their thoughtful engagement with my comments.

            As to docrampage’s comments, let me take the last first: I believe that a system of thought that is self-consistent is more likely to be reliable than one that is not self-consistent. This is different from docrampage’s statement.

            The inconsistent system is what I will call a “strong” version of Sola Scriptura. Wikipedia describes it thus: “Beyond the Reformation, as in some Evangelical and Baptist denominations, sola scriptura is stated even more strongly: it is self-authenticating, clear (perspicuous) to the rational reader, its own interpreter (“Scripture interprets Scripture”), and sufficient of itself to be the final authority of Christian doctrine.” This is the system I say is not self-consistent. For example, the bible is not self-authenticating. It is only through the common assent of nearly all Christians throughout history that we agree that the Bible, in any of its forms, is Scripture, rather than some of the apocryphal gospels or, say, the works of L Ron Hubbard.

            The Wikipedia entry also describes a “softer” version: “sola scriptura demands only those doctrines are to be admitted or confessed that are found directly within or indirectly by using valid logical deduction or valid deductive reasoning from scripture.” I am not aware of any denomination that follows this strictly, if the term “valid” is used as it is used in formal logic. For example, all denominations (of which I am aware) take a firm position on the nature of the elements used during communion, yet (so far as I can tell) the nature of these elements is not logically entailed by the text of the Bible. Good (even strong) arguments can be made for the various positions (e.g. mere symbol, the actual presence, etc.) from the text, but the text alone is not sufficient to reach a definitive conclusion on this most basic belief.

            Again, I believe that no Christian would object to the non-parenthetical portions of the two enumerated points, yet the fact that sincere and diligent believers have significantly different and mutually contradictory beliefs suggests that the points don’t go far enough to ensure belief in right doctrine.

  15. Comment by Malcolm Smith:

    Let us go back to the beginning. You (Mr Wright) said you moved to Roman Catholicism because of the perceived paradox in sola scriptura: that the Scriptures themselves were produced and authenticated by the Church.
    I have tried to explain that Protestants do not hold “the traditions of the Church to mean nothing”, and that the Chruch did not produce the Scriptures, but both the Scriptures and the tradition grew up together as a unified whole, and that the Reformation sought to get back to this.
    But what I now want to query is the next step you made: the “The Church” equals the Roman Catholic Church, which is assumed to have either maintained the tradition unchanged and undefiled throughout the centuries, or that they have authority to make decisions on on-going tradition. (I am uncertain exactly what your exact position is.) Why not join the Eastern Orthodox church? They make exactly the same claims: that they have kept the tradition unchanged and undefiled throughout the centuries, that their councils and pronouncements are authoritative, and that it is the western church, centred on Rome which has deviated off at a tangent.
    It seems to me that, in order to determine which branch of Christianity has followed the original path, you must have some objective method of determining what the original path was. And once you do, it opens the possibility that both have deviated to some greater or lesser extent.
    For a start, is there anything seriously wrong with the method provided by Vincent of Lerins, which I originally quoted?

    • Comment by Patrick:

      “Why not join the Eastern Orthodox church? They make exactly the same claims”

      They have an indisputably valid Apostolic Succession, so it shouldn’t be surprising that Orthodoxy and Catholicism are really similar.

      To use an analogy, encountering Roman Catholicism vs. Orthodoxy is less a case of which of two travelers is following the original path and which is lost, but more about learning why these two Christian brothers are evidently travelling together in awkward, stifling silence.

    • Comment by Rade Hagedorn:

      Mr. Smith

      The Orthodox Christian Church teaches, as does the Roman Catholic Church, that the Holy Bible and Holy Tradition did in fact grow up together because we don’t separate them as many (all?) Protestants do. I believe Mr Wright’s, and certainly my own, question is by what authority do Protestant churches who claim Sola Scriptura discard books of the Holy Bible? Mormons and Muslims, for example, claim new divine revelation (and for Mormons, continuing revelation) that supersedes the Holy Bible.

      What authority, power, or privilege did Luther or Calvin claim so that they could change the canon and why do you believe that they had said authority, power, or privilege? Was it personal revelation, an angelic visit, human reason, or something altogether different? Could someone still add or delete books from the canon of the Holy Bible even today?

      The Orthodox Christian Church does not have any councils (which by I assume you mean Ecumenical Councils) that are not accepted by the Roman Catholic Church. The Roman Catholic Church however does have many Ecumenical Councils that are not accepted by the Orthodox Christian Church. Essentially there is a difference in opinion on authority between the Roman Catholic Church and Orthodox Christian Church (the RCC being monarchical and the OCC being collegial) and all of our essential differences have grown out of that disagreement–and have often been ossified by the RCC dogmatizing those differences.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      “Why not join the Eastern Orthodox church?”

      I considered their claims very carefully. I determined that they were schismatic, not heretical. The two differ in hierarchy, not doctrine. Personally, I think their argument during the Filioque controversy was the better argument, and historically speaking, Rome, not Constantinople, changed the wording of the creed.

      My decision not to become Orthodox was not based on doctrinal considerations. Were the Greek and Russian Orthodox churches not national Churches, I may well have joined one or the other.

      As for your other question, if a heretic breaks away from the main flock, it does not raise in my mind a presumption of moral equivalence or place the burden of proof on the orthodox to prove his orthodoxy. I have no objection to the rule uttered by Vincent of Lerins, because it sustains the orthodox (small o) and catholic (small c) opinion.

      The Christians have a mechanism for resolving serious doctrinal disputes. They hold synods and councils. African denominations broke away as early as the council of Ephesus and Chalcedon in the Fifth Century, forming the Nestorian and Monophysite denominations because they would not submit to Church authority, and, unlike the Protestants, they had apostolic succession. Cyprus was made autocephalic, not subject to a patriarchate. The Protestants likewise submitted their claims of doctrinal interpretation to the Council of Trent. The results were unambiguous: that which was believed by all men of all times rejected the novel doctrines of Sola Scriptura, Sola Fides, and the oddly non-sacral Eucharist. Instead of submitting to the authority, they turned to the secular powers of the world, English Kings and German Princes, and broke away, abolishing five of the seven sacraments, and a priestly order with its roots as old as Melchizedek. To be blunt, and I mean no insult, I confess that I see even less legitimacy in this than in the Nestorians and Monophysites, who at least continued with the Eucharist and episcopate of their fathers.

      History since that time has not been kind to the Protestant churches: they either became national churches, merely agents of royal authority, as in England, or they abandoned doctrines held for centuries when the world changed its fashion, as with contraception. When I lost my faith in atheism, I was not inclined to join a denomination in the middle of schisming over questions of ordaining priestesses and homosexuals not to mention ordaining homosexual priestesses joined in lesbian marriage. Again, I sincerely mean no insult, but in my heart of hearts, I could not make myself believe that when Christ founded His Church, He meant the institution to last up until the divorce of Henry the Eighth, and thereafter become a department of the state. The character of Jesus Christ I read in the Holy Writ, which defies the character of the world, I see in the Roman Catholic Church, who remains loyal to the ancient precepts, and will not ordain priestesses and will not teach that contraception is licit — a point that all denominations of Christendom had agreed upon up until the 1930′s.

      Christians have a mechanism for resolving their disputes. Unless the mechanism is dismissed as illegitimate, its findings are binding. And if the mechanism is dismissed as illegitimate, then there is no Church and never had been, for Arians and Unitarians and Albigensians and Pelagians and Gnostics and even Moslems then have an equal claim to teaching the true doctrines of Christ as the Vicar of Christ.

      In short, it seems to me that the rule of Vincent of Lerins supports rather than undermines orthodoxy. A more complete answer to you would require a book. Fortunately, there is one at hand, already written by another which examines the point: http://www.newmanreader.org/works/development/index.html The author was, oddly enough, was an Anglican divine when he began his writing and Catholic after he finished it.

      • Comment by Rade Hagedorn:

        Mr. Wright

        The Greek Orthodox and Russian Orthodox churches are not national churches but it s a very common misconception — and one I shared until I joined the Orthodox Christian Church. There tends to be four reasons that people believe this. The first is that of how the various churches are named — this is also why I tend to avoid using the term Eastern Orthodox as I believe that it contributes to this belief, the second is because most non-Orthodox Christians are most familiar with Orthodox Christan churches through the annual ethnic food festivals that most churches hold, the third reason is that particularly in the US most Orthodox churches have a strong ethnic component because of how the Orthodox Christian Church arrived in the US, and the fourth is because some churches have been dominated by their political states — this of course was particularly true of the Russian Orthodox Church which is why the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) — but this is not anymore different than when the Roman Catholic Church has been dominated by secular authorities.

        Hopefully we will eventually see all of the various diocese in the US come under one autocephalous American church in the future and this will help prevent some of the current confusion.

        • Comment by John C Wright:

          When I spoke of national churches, I did not mean ethically, I meant politically. The Church in Istanbul had been under the Turk during the time of the Ottoman Empire; I know that the Russian Orthodox Church was little more than a department under the Czars. I don’t know the present situation. I thought these were still national churches in the same sense that the Anglican Church takes the Queen of England as its Pope.

          To be sure, the Catholic Church in times past, either under German Emperors, or Spanish Kings, has been reduced to little better than a national church, but her ecumenical and international nature tends, as the years turn, to re-emerge. If that has happened in the East with the fall of the Ottoman Empire, I salute you.

          • Comment by Rade Hagedorn:

            I suspect that we are employing different contexts which is causing us to misunderstand one another. The Orthodox Christian Church has always been ecumenical and international whether it be under Soviet commissars or what-have-you.

            An interesting way to think of the Orthodox Christian Church is to envision it as you might imagine the United States of America–particularly as it was envisioned under the Articles of Confederation (and here I am not referencing the secessionist Confederate States of America) though the analogy somewhat holds even under the Constitution albeit not as clearly.

            The head of the Orthodox Church is Jesus Christ and not the Patriarch of Constantinople (Istanbul) or the Pope (should Rome return to the fold). There is a structure in place regarding seniority and respect among the Orthodox bishops (and in the absence of the Pope the Patriarch of Constantinople fills that role) and specific duties each bishop has as regards to the running of the various local churches (and any Ecumenical Councils should any more occur) but essentially the authority of each of the bishops is the same and decisions are made within each local church is made by a synod of bishops of said local church. That means, for example, that the Patriarch of Constantinople has no particular authority over my local bishop or my Metropolitan or my Patriarch — seeing as I belong to the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch (which is currently in Damascus) and All the East (more commonly called the Antiochian Orthodox Church) though he is of course respected and honored not only as a Patriarch but as the Ecumenical Patriarch.

            Geographically the Orthodox Church is administratively divided along the administrative lines of the Byzantine Empire (which never called itself that and was simply the continuation of the Roman Empire). When the Church spreads outside of the limits of the historical Byzantine Empire there are periods of confusion which are eventually settled in synod and the new local church usually conforms to (at least broadly) the then current political realities. In all likelihood North America will eventually have a single autocephalous church that administratively covers both the United States and Canada and perhaps even Mexico. Some hostile governments have (for lack of a better term) captured individual patriarchates or even entire churches and temporarily imposed their will on those churches. There has never been a period of utter domination (even under the USSR) and as I said this does not really differ from the history of the Roman Catholic church. It us important to realize that these divisions are administrative and an Orthodox Christian can travel to any Orthodox church anywhere in the world, regardless of which Patriarch or Metropolitan administers it, and take communion. To dogmatize anything requires an Ecumenical Council.

            Local Orthodox churches have rarely (if ever) engaged in secular struggles with the states they find themselves in for control of the levers of secular government that the Roman Catholic Church sometimes has had — for both better and for worse. Sometimes bishops have been forced on a local church.

            • Comment by John C Wright:

              Unlike most Westerners, believe it or not, I am aware of all of this, since I did research the Eastern communions before deciding to become Catholic. The impression I came away with was that the Greek Orthodox Church, and the Russian Orthodox while nominally under the Patriarch of Constantinople, for all practical purposes were controlled by the state, similar to the situation of the Catholic Church in Spain, frankly, during the reign of Ferdinand and Isabella.

              • Comment by Rade Hagedorn:

                Mr. Wright

                I have no doubt that you researched the Orthodox Christian Church as you say. My comments were mostly to ensure that other readers were clear that the Orthodox Christian Church is not a series of national churches, ethnic churches, or competing churches.

                • Comment by John C Wright:

                  My research was not as thorough as it could be. Since I knew full well that most Western Christians are not even aware of the Great Schism, nor of the existence and manifold sufferings of the eastern half of the body of Christ, your comments here are most welcome. Anything to draw attention the Orthodox Church (which, in the Middle East especially, is suffering more persecution now than perhaps any time in history) is welcome. I did not mean to sound dismissive.

      • Comment by The OFloinn:

        But now, in the Lord’s name, I will set about the object I have in view; that is to say, to record with the fidelity of a narrator rather than the presumption of an author, the things which our forefathers have handed down to us and committed to our keeping, yet observing this rule in what I write, that I shall by no means touch upon everything that might be said, but only upon what is necessary; nor yet in an ornate and exact style, but in simple and ordinary language, so that the most part may seem to be intimated, rather than set forth in detail.
        – Vincent of Lérins, Commontory [Remembrance]

        The Latin for “things handed down” is traditio, or “traditions.” Hence, when he says:

        Here, it may be, someone will ask, Since the canon of scripture is complete, and is itself abundantly sufficient, what need is there to join to it the interpretation of the church? The answer is that because of the very depth of Scripture all men do not place one identical interpretation upon it.

        It is that the traditions of the Church place a canonical interpretation upon these things, not only scriptures, but also

        [that] which the whole church throughout the world confesses; antiquity, if we in no way depart from those interpretations which it is clear that our ancestors and fathers proclaimed; consent, if in antiquity itself we keep following the definitions and opinions of all, or certainly nearly all, bishops and doctors alike.

        And of course, it is “those” interpretations, definitions, and opinions that constitute the traditions of the Church. Vinnie goes on to say:

        I have often then inquired earnestly and attentively of very many men eminent for sanctity and learning, how and by what sure and so to speak universal rule I may be able to distinguish the truth of Catholic faith from the falsehood of heretical pravity; and I have always, and in almost every instance, received an answer to this effect: That whether I or any one else should wish to detect the frauds and avoid the snares of heretics as they rise, and to continue sound and complete in the Catholic faith, we must, the Lord helping, fortify our own belief in two ways; first, by the authority of the Divine Law, and then, by the Tradition of the Catholic Church. [after which he continues as previously quoted:]

        But here some one perhaps will ask, Since the canon of Scripture is complete, and sufficient of itself for everything, and more than sufficient, what need is there to join with it the authority of the Church’s interpretation? For this reason—because, owing to the depth of Holy Scripture, all do not accept it in one and the same sense, but one understands its words in one way, another in another; so that it seems to be capable of as many interpretations as there are interpreters. For Novatian expounds it one way, Sabellius another, Donatus another, Arius, Eunomius, Macedonius, another, Photinus, Apollinaris, Priscillian, another, Iovinian, Pelagius, Celestius, another, lastly, Nestorius another. Therefore, it is very necessary, on account of so great intricacies of such various error, that the rule for the right understanding of the prophets and apostles should be framed in accordance with the standard of Ecclesiastical and Catholic interpretation.

        IOW, he has written that even though the Scriptures are complete, we need the Traditions to ensure consistent and common interpretation thereof, and that this “calibration department” is the Catholic church [in his day Latin and Greek were still one Church]. He writes later: “in the beginning of this Commonitory, we said that holy and learned men had commended to us, that is to say, they must interpret the sacred Canon according to the traditions of the Universal Church and in keeping with the rules of Catholic doctrine…” Vincent of Lérins can hardly be a comfort to those individual interpreters more recent than Arius, Pelagius, or Nestorius.

        Those interested in the Vincent of Lérins full monte, can go here: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/3506.htm

        Of particular interest are:
        Chapter 7: How Heretics, craftily cite obscure passages in ancient writers in support of their own novelties.
        Chapter 25: Heretics appeal to Scripture that they may more easily succeed in deceiving.

        Whether among their own people, or among strangers, in private or in public, in speaking or in writing, at convivial meetings, or in the streets, hardly ever do they bring forward anything of their own which they do not endeavour to shelter under words of Scripture. Read the works of Paul of Samosata, of Priscillian, of Eunomius, of Jovinian, and the rest of those pests, and you will see an infinite heap of instances, hardly a single page, which does not bristle with plausible quotations from the New Testament or the Old.

        and, for fans of Origen, Chapter 17, esp. the last paragraph.

        • Comment by John Hutchins:

          Those very same arguments, unaltered in the slightest, justify the Jews in their seeking the death of Christ for blasphemy and ignoring his teachings.

          • Comment by Patrick:

            This is interesting – what’s your point?

            Also, Jesus’s response to the crimes he was convicted of – being ‘King of the Jews’ – was the almost-diffident, “You say that I am.” Not exactly an outspoken challenge to the establishment.

          • Comment by John C Wright:

            Is it your statement, sir, that appealing to the scriptures and holding to the correct interpretation as established in the teachings of the Apostles guided by the Holy Spirit formed the basis for the Jewish hostility toward the claims that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ? The Gospel reports that it was because “If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him; and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation.”

            I fear I not only do not detect an identity between the two statements, I do not even see the similarity. Unless you mean something along the lines of “Jesus was opposed by authorities, the Pope is an authority, therefore Jesus opposes the Pope?”

            Since Jesus Himself did not write a line, nor a word, nor a jot and title of the New Testament, absent human hands writing it and human teachers interpreting it, there is no New Testament.

            During the period between AD33 and AD70, as far as we know, nothing of the New Testament was yet written. It was all oral tradition then. Would your argument be that circa AD 50, it is the same as the Jews rejecting Christ for the men of Athens or Antioch to hear and believe the good news?

            • Comment by John Hutchins:

              The Jewish leaders have a set of traditions that are claimed to have been handed down from the time of Moses as well as having a set of authorities on the subject. They did at the time of Christ have a very well defined canon of scripture which was considered complete and the rule on the interpretation of the scripture as given was held.

              Jesus quoted extensively the Jewish scripture but threw in novel interpretations that were certainly not what was commonly held by all everywhere, nor was it in accordance to the traditions that had been handed down by the forefathers, nor was it in accordance to the teachings of the authorities on the subject. Jesus, in fact, claimed repeatedly not to be teaching things of His own.

              So given the sacred canon they had and the traditions that are to be used to interpret it, and applying the argument as given, the Jews were correct in rejecting Jesus.

              My point being that when one is making an argument that if it were to be made in the days of Christ or one of the previous prophets would justify, or lead to, the martyrdom of Christ or the prophets then perhaps one should reconsider the argument they are making.

              • Comment by John C Wright:

                I understood your point, but did not see the application. You have provided the missing step by saying that the Jews had a magisterium or something like it. The argument is that since the Jewish hierarchy misunderstood the prophecies pointing to Jesus, and since the Jewish interpretation of scripture was inferior to Jesus’ interpretation, therefore … what? Therefore what the Catholic Church put into the New Testament is divinely sanctioned, and so clear all reasonable men agree on its interpretation, but the surrounding writings of the Catholic Church, written by the students of the Apostles, are to be given less credit than theologians living 1600 years later, or lone prophets 1800 years later? That would not seem to follow either.

                As a lawyer I am constitutionally incapable of believing that laymen can interpret documents until and unless they familiarize themselves with the surrounding literature, that is, become laymen no longer. During the Clinton impeachment I had to listen to news commentators give their opinion of what the phrase ‘high crimes and misdemeanors’ meant, which any first year law student could have corrected. So I have an ingrained respect for precedent and an ingrained mistrust of new, novel, exciting and different interpretations of settled matters, particularly when no new evidence is being presented. All these old heresies are new heresies, dressed up.

                So if I reconsider the argument and come to the same result, what then? What other result can I come to?

                Let me ask you hypothetically, supposing we grant that the conclusions of all men over all time do not matter, and no one and nothing can help me interpret the manifold ambiguities, parables and theological paradoxes of the Bible. Would you then recommend any Mormon to convert from Mormonism to Christian Science? Mary Baker Eddy also has her own special and unique interpretation of the Bible, something more akin to Hinduism or Mohammedanism than mainstream Christianity, and, unlike other prophets, has a string of miracles to attest to her divine sanction.

                If you would not make the recommendation, what argument can you use against Mary Baker Eddy which a Catholic apologist cannot use with equal force against the Church of Latter Day Saints? Are we going to denounce her understanding of God and Christ because it does not match tradition? It is not the same as the Mormon nor the Catholic understanding of God and Christ. Not only does she aver that God is a spirit without a material body, she proposes that believing we have material bodies is the sole source of sin, sickness and death.

                • Comment by John Hutchins:

                  So the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is not based on some lone dead prophet, or biblical scholar that came to a novel interpretation of the scriptures based on the power of faith healings, but on a restored line of prophets and apostles that have the priesthood as restored by Peter, James, and John. The Church depends on continuing revelation and a open canon, the heavens are not closed.

                  As for evidence, I can point to the Book of Mormon which does not claim to have been discovered by way of reading the Bible but instead claims to be a record of God’s dealing with a part of scattered Israel on some part of the American continent. I could also point to quite a lot of fruits, which fruit is not limited to, but does include, miraculous healings and much of that fruit is better documented by those not Mormon.

                  I note that Catholics and Christian Scientists both at least claim to believe that God hears and answers prayers. I note that they also both believe in the power of God and that God is in some sense alive. Both then at least claim to believe that there is a Living God which is able to answer questions as to whether or not the claims of each are true, though based on what I have read of each it would seem that the Christian Scientists may have an easier time with actually praying in such a way as to receive an answer to their prayers. Not only them but all are able to read the Book of Mormon and then ask God as to the truth of it, according to Moroni 10:3-5.

                  As to interpretations of scripture, the gospel is simple enough that a child can understand it and follow it. It is not a study of the intricacies of the background material or theological questions that is important, we are not to ever study but never come to a knowledge of the truth, but to have the power of God that teaches all things and to be as little children, willing to be taught from on high rather than teaching God what He should be.

                • Comment by docrampage:

                  I had been assuming that when you referred to Protestants believing that “just anyone” can interpret the Bible that you were using hyperbole. Now I begin to wonder if you really do think this. If you do, I can assure you that Protestants are fully aware of the value of scholarship in understanding the Bible. That’s part of the reason that so many evangelical churches have classes for the members that are essentially mini seminaries.

                  As to your snide comments about Scientology and other cults, I’ll note that such arguments, even if they had any persuasive power at all, would not be persuasive to someone who believes (like most Protestants) that the Catholic Church itself is just another Christian cult that fell into error, but unfortunately had political power because they were based in Rome and so they were able to conquer other churches all over Europe, torturing and murdering any who opposed them until they became the dominant cult. Protestants view the Reformation, not as a break up of the real Church, but as throwing off a cruel and tyrannical false authority that used political power to force people to espouse doctrinal errors.

                  Your repeated appeals to the assumption that the Catholic Church is the real Church is begging the question –assuming the point to be proven.

                  • Comment by John Hutchins:

                    Christian Science is in no way related to Scientology.

                    And I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saint, often referred to as Mormons. His wife is a member of the Church of Christ, Scientist (which is Christian Science) . He was responding to me so I don’t think he was trying to be snide.

                    Cult means the same things as sect, in Portuguese the connotations are flipped between the two.

                  • Comment by John C Wright:

                    I made no snide comments about scientology or other cults. My wife is a Christian Scientist, and they can work miracles, one or more of which I have seen with my own eyes. I now suspect that your ability to observe Catholics and detect magical and idolatrous thinking in their hearts is as acute as you ability to detect snideness and disrespect in me: namely, none.

                    I was raised Lutheran, and read him in school, so I am familiar with the basics of that denomination.

                    As for begging the question, since the Reformers broke away from the Church, and since they did not abide by the mechanism in place, the finding of ecumenical councils, to settle doctrinal disputes, and since they intended at first to reform the Church, it is beyond serious dispute that the Catholic Church is what she says she is: the original Church.

                    There is now a separate claim, not one made in the first generation of Reformers, that the Church has lost the mandate of heaven and the grace of God, which has since passed along to whatever your denomination is. This would turn on specific claims as to when the corruption happened, and at what point the corruption was beyond correction. I assume we are not talking about the personal corruption of a Renaissance Pope, but a corruption of doctrine.

                    In order to prove that point, you would need to show a doctrine believed by the universal or near-universal opinion of the Early Church, which has since been repudiated by later councils, and which doctrine you denomination seeks to return.

                    Arianism is a good candidate. Many writers who cannot be easily dismissed as heretics or lightweights believed it. If you are a Unitarian who does not believe in the divinity of Christ, or a Mohammedan, or a Christian Scientist, you have a doctrine you can point to as a candidate for Papal corruption of doctrine.

                    Here are doctrines that, as the best historical records show, do not fit the bill: sola scriptura, sola fides, Antidicomarianitism (the doctrine that Mary had other children after Jesus), opposition to infant baptism, to the reverence of the saints, to the gathering of relics of the saints, to prayers for the dead, to the seven sacraments, to the priesthood, to the Septuagint version of the Old Testament, to the canon of the Bible, including the Deuterocanonical books. Nothing on this list was ever taught as an official Church teaching, or even held by a majority opinion in the Church.

                    So, no, I am not begging the question. I am saying the innovator wishing to change the settled doctrine has the burden of proof of showing that his authority, based on an eccentric personal reading of scripture, exceeds the authority of the Church. If the Church never had any authority to begin with, then there is no scriptural authority.

                    I thought Protestants made the claim that they were returning to the original authority of the early Church, an authority we betrayed. It is a novel argument to me to hear that the Church, now or ever, never had any authority to define Christian teachings. Is that not the argument?

                    • Comment by John Hutchins:

                      “universal or near-universal opinion of the Early Church”

                      Like that Christians must be Jews which was believed universally until Peter had a private revelation on the subject. Or that Christians must be circumcised and obey a lot of the strictures of the Law of Moses which was believed by the near-universal opinion of the Early Church, including many of the Apostles. Or that everyone should worship a golden calf which was the near universal belief of the children of Israel when Moses was on the mountain. Or that Noah was a lunatic and that breaking the Noahide laws is perfectly fine and great fun, as was universally believed by all up until the rain started falling.

                    • Comment by John C Wright:

                      I don’t understand this response. Are you simply denying that, before the Great Schism, the Church existed for a thousand years, and followed an official dogma? Or are you saying that the Church has no authority to be a Church? Because a collection of men each following his own private opinion is not a Church, it is what the pagans had before Christianity.

                      I feel like a Constitutional lawyer arguing with an anarchist. Your basic assumptions of the relation between God and Man are unknown to me. I thought the Latter Day Saints respected the Bible and believed the Gospels? Did you think, like Mohound and his al-Coran, that the holy books simply dropped out of the sky one day and struck Jesus in the head? These things were decided by the Church, by votes of ecclesiastics. Is your argument then that because a doctrine is revealed truth taught by the Church, therefore it is not legitimately Christian? That is odd indeed.

                    • Comment by Rade Hagedorn:

                      Mr. Hutchins

                      You never seem to grasp tightly on to the idea of Ecumenical Councils. There is no doctrine by Peter, Paul, or Mary (to be somewhat irreverent) that someone came up with by private revelation where the rest of the Church or Apostles simply said, “Oh we’ll, didn’t realize it was a private revelation. Everyone, what he said”. The concept of Ecumenical Councils is taken directly from how the Apostles acted and how the Holy Spirirt moved within them as a group.

                    • Comment by John Hutchins:

                      I would quite appreciate more explanation of how you see what you claim happened in the record as given in Acts, as that is not what I see happening. I would prefer you extend such analysis to while Christ was alive and to the previous prophets that were sent to Israel, but I realize that, despite evidence to the contrary, you may believe that such an analysis can only be applied after the resurrection of Christ.

                    • Comment by John C Wright:

                      I don’t understand the question. What analysis are you talking about? You listed a number of times when some heretics, Jewish or Christian, rebelled against the authority of God, and were struck down. Then you ask in a snide tone whether orthodoxy should also be stuck down. You see some sort of equivalence between the two that I do not. I am not even sure if that is what you are saying, since you have decided on an indirect and rhetorical method of talking, as if snideness made your argument stronger.

                      The Mormons are not in the same position to the Christians as the Christian stand into the Jews, since there are no New Testament prophecies pointing to Joseph Smith or the Book of Mormon.

                    • Comment by John Hutchins:

                      Mr. Wright,

                      The nesting is crazy, sorry, that response was to Rade. I hadn’t seen your response when I wrote it, and so it has nothing to do with what you had written. It is to his claim that somehow the revelation to Peter that swayed the council at Jerusalem, as well as allowing the preaching of the Gospel to the gentiles was given to all of the Apostles and to the whole church at once. I was not trying to be snide, I really do not understand how he is meshing what he says happened with the written record.

                      There are indeed biblical scriptures that talk of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon and the restoration of the Gospel. Book of Mormon:(Ezekiel 37:15 – 19, Gen. 49:22-26, Deut. 33:13-17, John 10:16, Revelation 14:6 – 7, Isaiah 29) Restoration: (see Book of Mormon prophecies, Acts 3:19-21, Isaiah 2:2-5, Isa. 11:10–12, Romans 11:15-25, Daniel 2:34-35, 44, Ephesians 1:10)

                      Now on to my response to you:

                      I don’t understand this response. Are you simply denying that, before the Great Schism, the Church existed for a thousand years, and followed an official dogma? Or are you saying that the Church has no authority to be a Church? Because a collection of men each following his own private opinion is not a Church, it is what the pagans had before Christianity.

                      I am saying that following the belief of what the majority of the people that called themselves Christians does not give certainty as to the correctness of their beliefs, God is always capable of revealing more and mankind has shown the propensity to rapidly wander from the true path.

                      Furthermore, in relation to the Protestants they could easily argue that even the smallest splinter sect of early Christianity represented the true church and everyone else was in some degree wrong. They only need find a single example of an early writer supporting, or appearing to support, their interpretation of the Bible and they then have some justification for their beliefs, they don’t need the universal belief of everyone because it could easily be the case where all but a handful had gone astray, as in the time of Jeremiah or Noah and etc.

                      I feel like a Constitutional lawyer arguing with an anarchist.

                      I can see how you might feel that way.

                      One of the articles of faith of the LDS Church says “We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.”

                      We also have this as part of our scripture:

                      “78 That every man may act in doctrine and principle pertaining to futurity, according to the moral agency which I have given unto him, that every man may be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgment.”

                      Which is in reference to the Constitution of the United States. According to scripture the agency of man is one of the greatest gifts God has given us and without it there is no real existence. However, I am sure you have noticed that Latter Day Saints are anything but Anarchists, not even in the sense I believe you mean, as I will try to show.

                      Your basic assumptions of the relation between God and Man are unknown to me.

                      God is the Father of our spirits, hence we are His children and our relationship to God is that of parent and child. We have been sent to this earth to gain a mortal body and to be tried and tested in all things to see if we will do what is needed to return to live with our Father. To assist in this God has called and ordained men at various times to teach gospel of Jesus Christ, starting with Adam.

                      I thought the Latter Day Saints respected the Bible and believed the Gospels?

                      We do respect the Bible and believe in the Gospels, though our scriptures also say that the Bible does not contain everything that was revealed to either the Jews or the Early Church.

                      that the holy books simply dropped out of the sky one day and struck Jesus in the head? These things were decided by the Church, by votes of ecclesiastics. Is your argument then that because a doctrine is revealed truth taught by the Church, therefore it is not legitimately Christian? That is odd indeed.

                      No, the books were written by the Apostles and their successors, I would say that based on what others have said that the LDS more firmly believe that the books of the Bible were written by Prophets and Apostles (excluding Song of Solomon) than most others that claim to believe the Bible. The books that we have as the Bible were deemed legitimate by council, but in large part the canon had already been determined by what people were using as scripture.

                      What I was saying was that I can see no instance in the Bible where what the majority wanted was used to determine what was correct. Most of the time what the majority believed appears to have been wrong.

                      God works by way of revelation, not by way of what is universally believed by all. That revelation comes to those that are authorized to receive it, there is at any one time only one person that is authorized to receive revelation for all and have that revelation be binding on all. There are others that are authorized to receive revelation for all that are assigned to them, and everyone is authorized to receive revelation for himself (or herself). There is only one truth and only one true and living God, therefore though there may be a diversity of opinions and beliefs if anyone actually seeks the living God they will come to a knowledge of the truth, revelation to the individual will not contradict revelation to the Prophet. If the prophet is not acting as a prophet then what he says is not binding, if the prophet attempts to lead the church astray the Almighty God will remove the prophet and another will be appointed. Even in the case of revelation to the prophet for the whole world or church each is to seek God and confirm the truth, though the witness that it is true does not always come at once.

                      So yes, you trust in the power of precedence and of documents and of rulings and councils. I trust that if each person is free to seek the Lord that they will come to a knowledge of the truth through the power of God.

                    • Comment by John C Wright:

                      Well,, with all due respect, this is a straw man argument on your part. I place trust in the Church (what you call precedence and documents and rulings and councils) because the Church is guided by the Holy Spirit, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against her. There is no such promise from God that every individual heretic, reading into scripture whatever he cares to see there, is likewise protected from error and guided. The historical record, the sheer overwhelming number of heresies, would seem to militate against it.

                      “I am saying that following the belief of what the majority of the people that called themselves Christians does not give certainty as to the correctness of their beliefs, God is always capable of revealing more and mankind has shown the propensity to rapidly wander from the true path.”

                      But if so then following what “the majority of the people that called themselves Christians” established as the doctrinal writings known as the Bible is even less able to give certainty to the correctness of their beliefs, and certainly not following one alleged prophet whose writings do not cohere with the rest of scripture, considering the number of warning against false teachers, lying spirits, and false prophets riddled through scripture.

                      In sum, it is no defense against error to say, “the majority sometimes errs, therefore I will go with the submicroscopic minority, since minorities never err.”

                      Also, the whole argument, as I said, is a strawman argument. I believe in the holdings of the Church Councils, the Nicene Creed and so on, not because these things are the majority view, but because this is the established procedure of the Church, this is the method we are given to resolve disputes. The only alternative is not to have a method, and therefore to have no Church at all, and let each man do what is right in his own eyes.

                      Finally, even so novel a heresy as Mormonism cannot escape from the inherent paradox that haunts all heresies: you have to assume something in the Church, such as the scriptures we wrote, protected, taught and compiled, are legitimate, but that some or all of the rest of the Church is illegitimate. On what basis is the distinction to be made? You would not even know Christ existed were it not for us. You think He is holy because and only because we told you so. You only read our holy book because we wrote it. On what grounds is the Church that wrote the Gospels and declared it holy illegitimate whereas the Gospels the Church wrote legitimate? You say that with the death of Saint John, the mandate of heaven passed away from the Church and waited thousands of years for the coming of Joseph Smith. So Saint John was given the power to drink venom and live, but given the authority to teach the Christian message to Polycarp, who for some reason also lacked the power to pass it along to his disciples?

                    • Comment by Rade Hagedorn:

                      Mr. Hutchins

                      How now brown cow? The nesting has become crazy enough that my response will be in a fresh post at the bottom of the page.

                  • Comment by Rade Hagedorn:

                    I suspect that there are three significant obstacles to this conversation. The first is that we are discussing generic Protestants and there are virtually no commonalities between all Protestants. Indeed many people take umbrage to being referred to as Protestants–a term which is often applied, at least colloquially, to any Christian denomination that is not Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, or Roman Catholic (some also place Anglicans within the non-Protestant set).

                    The second and third obstacles are interrelated. The second obstacle is that Protestant denominations did not arise/emerge at the same time. The earliest Protestant denominations were attempting to REFORM the Roman Catholic Church which is why we had the historical period commonly labeled the Protestant Reformation. These reformers were the Calvins and Luthers which Mr. Wright usually references. When they couldn’t reform the existing Roman Catholic Church these reformers usually founded (or supported the foundation of) reformed institutional churches which very often had state sponsorship and were attempts to return to a monolithic uncorrupt institutional Church. Some of these reformers even wrote back and forth with leaders in the Orthodox Christian Church but I don’t believe that anything ever came of these missives.

                    Some of the later more radical reformers that followed believed that the earlier reformers had not gone far enough and that they were simply reinventing the Roman Catholic Church under a different name. These radical reformers typically taught that any form of institutional Church was not supported by a reading of the Holy Bible and that the Church became corrupt when Constantine (maybe slightly before or slightly after) institutionalized the Church–moving it from an underground and persecuted religion to a state-sponsored religion.

                    Among the first reformers it was not uncommon for the denominations to split into new denominations along state boundaries because they very often had strong ties to the states that supported them. The latter more radical reformers denominations tended to splinter more rapidly because part of their design was a rejection of institutions and therefore overarching leadership.

                    As time went on new movements sprang up (typically, but not always, within the more radical denominations) especially within the United States. In the United States these were often Restorationist movements that sought a return to a more authentic Biblical Christianity that the Protestant denominations (radical or otherwise) had failed to achieve and this is typically when you begin to see the return of denominational roles such as Prophet and/or Apostle. Most often Restorationist denominations most vehemently oppose the label of Protestant because they are not (and did not) seeking to Protest the Roman Catholic Church nor do they seek to reform it. They usually believe that the Roman Catholic Church was never the Church and so is completely beyond reform. Instead they are attempting to restore a lost Apostolic Church that died with the Apostles.

                    The final obstacle, is that I don’t believe that anyone knows what denominational position that you are arguing from. It might be mainline Protestant (Lutheranism, Reformed, etc), it might be radical Protestant (Anabaptist, Mennonite, etc), it might be Reformation (LDS, Disciples of Christ, etc) or it might be some mixture of these (Baptists differ as to what group they fall into often by individual church), something I haven’t even hinted at here (and there is a tremendous amount that I either sidestepped or grossly simplified), or it might be that you are simply intending to argue liturgical traditions vs. non-liturgical.

                    One of the questions I had asked, but it might not have been to you specifically, is why do you accept the Holy Bible that you do. If Jesus Christ and the Apostles used the Septuagint (which is what the Orthodox Christian Church uses), and the Roman Catholic Church uses something so close to the Septuagint to be VIRTUALLY indistinguishable, why would you use a Holy Bible that was modified by, let us say, Luther. A man who made no claim to being an apostle or prophet, or receiving an angelic visitation to direct him. What is the process to add to, reduce, or otherwise amend the Holy Bible or is Luther’s alteration the last authorized change? If so (or not), then why?

                    • Comment by John Hutchins:

                      “it might be Reformation (LDS, Disciples of Christ, etc)”

                      I think we can, based on his comments, exclude anything that is explicitly reformation.

                      If I had to guess I would say some form of Evangelical, possibly tending toward mainstream evangelical.

  16. Comment by Rade Hagedorn:

    Mr. Hutchins

    I don’t believe that I commented on whether Peter’s revelation was private or not. I’m not even certain that I know what you mean by private. What I did say was that Peter did not tell the other apostles that the Holy Spirit spoke to him and then gave the apostles their new marching orders.

    Instead Paul and Barnabas were told to go before the other apostles and elders in Jerusalem to settle the matter. There Peter, Paul, and Barnabas declared the miracles and wonders God had worked through them among the Gentiles. Then James, an apostle and the bishop of Jerusalem who is presiding (not Peter) interprets the testimony of the three apostles in the light of Scriptures and finds it in agreement with the OT prophets. At this point James makes a ruling and the apostles and elders in attendance agree with it. The judgment is then sent out to the churches. This is the model of the Ecumenical Councils that I referenced.

    On a side note, Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians do not agree that Protestants (or anyone for that matter) only need find a single example of an early writer supporting, or appearing to support, their interpretation of the Bible to provide its justification. The Roman Catholic Church (to a large degree at least) and the Orthodox Christian Church maintain not that the Holy Spirit will protect any individual from error but that the Holy Spirit will protect the Church from teaching error. This is also why the Church has all of the synods and Ecumenical Councils and not just individuals making fiat announcements – it is through the collegial tradition that the Holy Spirit works (and here I know my Roman Catholic friends have some disagreement with me).

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      Unless I misunderstand the statement, I, at least, have no disagreement with that. I would disagree if you said it is only through the college that the spirit works, however. But it would be a polite disagreement.

      • Comment by Rade Hagedorn:

        No, I believe that the Holy Spirit works through individuals as well. My argument would be that the Holy Spirit speaks to the Church doctrinally through Ecumenical Council. Meaning an individual might bring forth a proposal or provide clarity to a topic but one can only be sure that it is a manifestation of the Holy Spirit addressing all of Christendom through the path of Ecumenical Council and acceptance by the faithful.

        Which brings me to a topic that may place me into some form of heresy, in which case I pray that I might be delivered from it.

        I believe that honest atheists and many believers have a complete misconception of how God acts in the world. I believe that God exists and acts outside of time but His actions place inside of time and if they were to be studied by scientific method would appear completely natural. The Jews were God’s chosen people because they were intended to prepare the way for Jesus. Jesus Christ then delivered his message to the world through His Church. The Church is not comprised of magical people mumbling magical incantations as atheists seem to think. It is filled with fallible people many/most of whom are trying to hear the still small voice of God and that it is by acting as a community that they work God’s will. I am not saying that there are not exceptions to this communal focus, but even the exceptions are intended to work through the community of believers.

        While I think that the LDS are the perfection and highest expression of the Protestant ur-philosophy what I never understand is how they diminish the role of Jesus Christ while saying that they are not. Mormons essentially say (and this is my interpretation especially after listening to Mr. Hutchins at length) that Jesus did not found a Church but rather a temporary movement so that some books could be written and published all in preparation for the arrival of Joseph Smith ~1,800 years later. This is bewildering to me on many levels and makes me wonder why Jesus went through the whole calling together of apostles to preach a message that wouldn’t outlast the Soviet Union had Lenin existed at the same time.

        • Comment by John Hutchins:

          “Jesus did not found a Church”

          No, He did found a Church, like people had done for thousands of years previously the people in his time ended up rejecting the Apostles and continuing divine revelation.

          Also, if you knew anything about our beliefs in work for the dead then you would see that while the authority may have been lost and doctrine corrupted, Christians were still able to follow the teachings of Jesus to a sufficient degree to end up receiving eternal life.

          • Comment by Rade Hagedorn:

            I don’t want to engage in another Mormon vs. Orthodox slugfest, but I was rather under the impression that virtually everyone has the possibility of being saved regardless of their religious beliefs — at least if they are baptized after death and then accept said baptism.

            • Comment by John Hutchins:

              You are essentially right, however, even if baptized after death and accepting one is still judged according to ones works in the flesh. I could point out the references in the D&C that explain the subject in detail.

    • Comment by John Hutchins:

      See Acts 10 and 11, which documents the church accepting the preaching to the Gentiles, which is a different occurrence from the debate on circumcision, which is in Acts 15.

      • Comment by Rade Hagedorn:

        Mr. Hutchins

        You may assume that I have a passing familiarity with Scriptures.

        Cornelius received a vision from God -> Peter received a vision from God -> Peter preached to the uncircumcised Gentiles -> the Gentile Pentecost occurred for many witnesses Gentile and Jew to see -> unidentified apostles and brethren tell Peter he can’t preach to the uncircumcised -> Peter tells the gathered apostles and brethren that he had a vision, Cornelius had a vision, there was a miracle, and then he recalled something Jesus said -> the gathered are suitably impressed and decide the uncircumcised can become Christians -> Barnabus and Paul start preaching to the uncircumcised -> Barnabus and Paul are told that the uncircumcised cant be saved -> an argument ensues -> Barnabus and Paul are sent off to synod -> there is a debate -> James rules in favor of Peter, Paul, and Barnabus -> letter goes out -> we would now say this has become doctrine.

        Let me provide a relatively modern example. Within the Orthodox Christian Church the concept of Purgatory has not been dogmatized — meaning the Church has not ruled on itse existence or lack of existence and currently maintains that a belief or lack of belief in Purgatory is not essential to salvation. That means Purgatory or Aerial Toll Houses or what-have-you are matters of individual conscience. If it someone began to argue that Purgatory is essential to salvation and this caused a breach among the faithful then there would need to be an Ecumenical Council to resolve this. I return you back to my above paragraph.

        • Comment by John Hutchins:

          Peter received a vision from God -> Peter preached to the uncircumcised Gentiles -> the Gentile Pentecost occurred for many witnesses Gentile and Jew to see -> unidentified apostles and brethren tell Peter he can’t preach to the uncircumcised -> Peter tells the gathered apostles and brethren that he had a vision, Cornelius had a vision, there was a miracle, and then he recalled something Jesus said -> the gathered are suitably impressed and decide the uncircumcised can become Christians -> Barnabus and Paul start preaching to the uncircumcised

          So Peter has a vision and preaches to the Gentiles, while the rest of the church still thinks that can’t happen. Then Peter told the church of his vision and preaching and they agree that it was revelation from God and allow preaching to the Gentiles. Which, as far as I can tell is the equivalent to:

          “What I did say was that Peter did not tell the other apostles that the Holy Spirit spoke to him and then gave the apostles their new marching orders.”

          • Comment by Rade Hagedorn:

            I’m really not certain why you find this particularly complicated.

            Peter has far more than a private revelation occur (two revelations for two different people and a local miracle). Peter then runs into some apostles — lets call them Paul and Barnabus. Paul and Barnabus rebuke Peter for eating with and preaching to the uncircumcised. Peter tells his story of two revelations and a miracle and then says, “I remember Jesus Christ saying… Which totally backs me up guys.” Paul and Barnabus may or may not have been privy to what Jesus said about this particular issue but they are bought in and set off to preach to the uncircumcised. Paul and Barnabus encounter a group of people. Priests, war veterans, pot smoking slackers whatever, the point is that this group disagrees with what Paul and Barnabus are doing. An argument ensues. They are not convinced that the new recruits can keep their foreskins. As it so happens this whole matter is covered in Exodus 12:48 which has dictated for some small amount of time that Gentiles can join the tribe as long as they get…well cut. We now have a dispute. Some people are convinced by Peter and his story and clearly believe that the uncircumcised can be saved. Some reactionary types disagree and say that Exodus says no and therefore the souls of the Gentiles are still in peril. Enter James and his council of apostles and priests to decide the matter.

            You might note that it had long been the practice to make a gentile “as a native” through circumcision. The fact that Cornelius wasn’t circumcised was one of the specific complaints that the apostles had rebuked Peter with. If it isn’t clear to you that some Early Christians rejected Peter’s claim and evidence and required a council to resolve the matter I can only assume that you are blinded by the heretical teachings of your church.

            Orthodox Christians only recognize 7 Ecumenical Councils. Since Roman Catholics have found grounds for 14 more you can be assured that there is a plurality of opinion about many things in the Church. As long as these opinions do not venture into heresy or a division of opinion is harming the Church or otherwise endangering men’s salvation there is no need for a council.

            • Comment by John Hutchins:

              Based on the narrative in Acts and that given by Paul in Galatians it was something like 15 years (at least possibly 17 or 18 based on Galatians) between the gospel starting to be preached to the gentiles and the controversy over the law and the circumcision. Peter gave his report at Jerusalem and messengers (such as Barnabas) were sent out with the tidings, who brought Paul to Antioch. Then Paul and Barnabas made their journey (and Paul says he also made one to Arabia) and after 14 years they went to Jerusalem for the council. The Church at Jerusalem and among the Jews had heard of the Gospel being preached to the gentiles but it appears most of them thought that the gentiles were getting circumcised and following the law of Moses, and when some of them learned otherwise took it upon themselves to inform the converted gentiles that they needed to undergo the procedure.

              I certainly agree that it required the council and the evidences of Peters revelation and Paul and Barnabas’s preaching to convince the church that gentiles didn’t need to follow the law of Moses after being converted. Even then it appears that the issue didn’t die and large portions of the church had trouble accepting the ruling, with some of them apparently claiming to have excommunicated Paul over the issue.

              • Comment by Rade Hagedorn:

                I’m not certain what we are arguing about. Nor do I know what you use a term like private revelation. Do you mean a revelation that is binding only on an individual (ths is what Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians use the term for) or a revelation that was only sent to one individual and everyone is to accept that revelation (which is what I’ve assumed you mean)? Clearly not only were there two recorded revelations and a public miracle, but the revelation was intended for the entire Church.

                There has always been disagreement within the Church about important spiritual matters. There have always been individuals who err within the Church. Both of these are true among the LDS as well.

                There were early Christians who thought that Gentiles had to become Jews and adhere to the Jewish laws such as circumcision in order to be saved and there were other Christians who thought that the Church was a universal Church open to Gentiles. The Jerusalem Council was called to settle the matter. This is as clear as could possibly be.

                Throughout history some groups have chosen to schism rather than submit to the rulings of the Councils. This is true, for example, of the Oriental Orthodox Church. If you are positing that some people did not submit to the Council of Jerusalem then I would answer that you are undoubtedly correct. A council does not magically change people. What it does is set the boundaries of doctrine. So those who continued on teaching that Gentiles had to be circumcised in contravention of the council were practicing heresy.

          • Comment by Rade Hagedorn:

            Oh, and no. Paul, Barnabus, and Peter did not “comprise” the Church.

    • Comment by John Hutchins:

      Also, I am not saying that you have to agree with the Protestants, but that their position makes sense as long as they can find any support for a particular doctrine.

  17. Comment by John Hutchins:

    There is no such promise from God that every individual heretic, reading into scripture whatever he cares to see there, is likewise protected from error and guided. The historical record, the sheer overwhelming number of heresies, would seem to militate against it.

    Never said that reading the scriptures by themselves will prevent any error at all, I said that actually seeking the will of the living God will.

    But if so then following what “the majority of the people that called themselves Christians” established as the doctrinal writings known as the Bible is even less able to give certainty to the correctness of their beliefs,

    Okay.

    and certainly not following one alleged prophet whose writings do not cohere with the rest of scripture, considering the number of warning against false teachers, lying spirits, and false prophets riddled through scripture.

    Also, okay. I do not follow one alleged prophet (and the one you allege I follow writings do cohere with the rest of scripture), I follow a line of prophets and claim that everyone can be a prophet, in the sense that everyone can receive revelation from God.

    In sum, it is no defense against error to say, “the majority sometimes errs, therefore I will go with the submicroscopic minority, since minorities never err.”

    God never errs, therefore if one seeks God then one will always be able to correct ones errors.

    but because this is the established procedure of the Church, this is the method we are given to resolve disputes.

    Where is the evidence that this is the procedure that God established?

    The only alternative is not to have a method, and therefore to have no Church at all, and let each man do what is right in his own eyes.

    Counter-example, The LDS Church.

    Finally, even so novel a heresy as Mormonism cannot escape from the inherent paradox that haunts all heresies: you have to assume something in the Church, such as the scriptures we wrote, protected, taught and compiled, are legitimate, but that some or all of the rest of the Church is illegitimate.

    “We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly”. You did not write the books, unless you are claiming that the books in the new testament are not actually from the Apostles? You certainly didn’t write or compile the Old Testament.

    . On what basis is the distinction to be made? You would not even know Christ existed were it not for us.

    Really? In 1820 God the Father and Jesus Christ appeared to a 14 year old boy in such a way that everyone agrees that the LDS’s view of Jesus is nothing like traditional Christianity and you claim that we would know nothing of God were it not for you? The Jews for over a thousand years longer then you have taught that God is holy, and I only use your holy books because by the power of the Holy Ghost I know them to be in large part true, though I also know things like the Popol Vuh come from what was at one time a true source (it is much more corrupted then the Bible so not sufficiently close to its original to be used as scripture). I, personally, would likely read them regardless of their truth value, but that is besides the point.

    On what grounds is the Church that wrote the Gospels and declared it holy illegitimate whereas the Gospels the Church wrote legitimate?

    On what grounds are the Jewish scribes that compiled and transmitted the Old Testament (what you call wrote in exactly the same way) and declared it holy illegitimate whereas the scriptures they wrote legitimate?

    You say that with the death of Saint John, the mandate of heaven passed away from the Church and waited thousands of years for the coming of Joseph Smith. So Saint John was given the power to drink venom and live, but given the authority to teach the Christian message to Polycarp, who for some reason also lacked the power to pass it along to his disciples?

    Not exactly, but yes, close enough for the purposes in question.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      I claim you would know nothing of God were it not for us, yes. Had Joseph Smith been found not in a highly Christian country in the midst of a period of fierce religious foment, I would be more willing to believe his independent revelation. As it is, I suspect he heard about Christ from his parents and teachers and neighbors, who heard of Christ through their teachers, and so one back through history to the Church, and, ultimately, to the exact moment when Christ called St Peter the rock. So, absent Christ and absent St Peter and absent the apostles and absent their disciples, the earth Church fathers, and the generations coming from them, no, you would not be a Christian this day.

      You might be a Jew, perhaps. But even the Mohammedans get their ideas from us.

      “God never errs, therefore if one seeks God then one will always be able to correct ones errors.” Does this include the errors of Apollanarianism, Nestorianism, Monophysitism, Pelagianism, Modalism, Donatism, Monarchianism, Adoptionism, Socinianism, Gnosticism, Arianism, Sabellianism, Docetism or Albigensianism, and so on? Those are errors which were corrected by the general ecumenical councils.

      Why does this process work for you and not for us? Those of us who accept the findings of Nicene Council number somewhere above 2,100,000,000 and have been around since before the fall of Jerusalem in 79 AD. You and yours have been around since before the Civil War and number 1,400,000. I may have miscounted a decimal point, so that figure might be ten times higher or lower. Why does never-erring God produce only truth in your little corner of the world? We are not living in the time of the Acts of the Apostles, when the whole church was less than five thousand folk.

      What accounts for the astonishing failure of the Apostles to evangelize? Given that God never errs. Why did Polycarp, Justin-martyr, Agatha, Perpetua, Dorcas, Irenius, Augustine, and so on all fail to grasp the truth of Mormonism?

      • Comment by John Hutchins:

        I fully intend to respond to this, but I feel that it requires a more serious response then what I have the time to do today; I think I should have taken some more time on the previous few comments instead of mostly arguing technicalities, which I am, unfortunately, very prone to do and it is very easy for me to do. Not that I feel it right to retract my last response, but it wasn’t exactly a fair pass at what you had said or to your position or to Catholic or Orthodox Churches, for which I am sorry. I will have time to work on this possibly tomorrow but certainly by Sunday.

      • Comment by John Hutchins:

        “I claim you would know nothing of God were it not for us, yes.”

        Anyway I look at this particular part of what you are saying I still have to reject it. Say, for instance, instead of the just the loss of authority and the corruption of some doctrine that all knowledge of God and all scripture had been lost. Then, like in the days of Abraham (where that was the case locally), God could still step in and reveal Himself to man and could still restore the ancient records of the extinct believers. Things would be very different in that case, a huge debt is owed to those that were faithful throughout the centuries and kept faith alive, but God is still the living God.

        Had Joseph Smith been found not in a highly Christian country in the midst of a period of fierce religious foment, I would be more willing to believe his independent revelation. As it is, I suspect he heard about Christ from his parents and teachers and neighbors, who heard of Christ through their teachers, and so one back through history to the Church, and, ultimately, to the exact moment when Christ called St Peter the rock. So, absent Christ and absent St Peter and absent the apostles and absent their disciples, the earth Church fathers, and the generations coming from them, no, you would not be a Christian this day.

        Had Joseph Smith not been found in a Christian country where freedom of religion was written into law by the hand of inspired men of God then in all likelihood his martyrdom would have occurred in June of 1820 rather than June of 1844, certainly by June of 1829. Had he been found in a Christian country without religious freedom then again his martyrdom would likely have occurred in June of 1829 or 1830 rather than 1844, regardless of whether the state church was Protestant or Catholic.

        As it is, Joseph Smith did learn to read off of the Bible, something that he can thank the Reformers for (and thus the Catholics), in a nation where there was religious freedom, for which every sect can in part be thanked, most for multiple reasons. He was indeed taught of Christ by his parents and grandparents, for which you are right he must thank generations of faithful Catholics for.

        Latter Day Saints tend to have this idea that heavens were completely sealed during the time between the primitive Church of Christ and the restoration of the gospel, I know I, at least, tend to talk as though this was the case. This idea is deeply false, and shown to be false by our own scriptures. Angels still came to men and women, inspiration still fell on the same, and God continued to work and to reveal as much as people were willing to accept. Explicitly in our scriptures we have that the discovery and colonization of America was inspired, that the men that wrote the Constitution were called and inspired for that purpose, that the American Revolution was fought by the hand of God, that while most erred there were still humble followers of Christ, with the associate promises of signs and such to the same, and that the olive tree of faith, though corrupted and not producing pure fruit, was still very much a living tree in need of pruning. Furthermore, I can think of at least three people that did not live to be baptized in the church but did live to see the book of Mormon who had previously written and told others that they had visions promising them the same, and I have no reason to believe that they were unique among the generations. The many of the reformers were also inspired to do what they did. I have no reason to doubt that most of those that the Catholic Church has sainted that claimed to see visions or angels did see such visions or angels or that certain wars or battles that were felt to have been guided by the hand of God were so fought.

        You might be a Jew, perhaps.

        Jews are of the tribes of Judah and his companions, Latter Day Saints are primarily of the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. Those of Judah and his companions that will not accept the gospel have been called since the earliest days of the restoration to return to the holy land of Israel. Latter Day Saints are called to gather and build the stakes of Zion wherever they are found, for now. We do not follow the Law of Moses. I was under the impression that Catholics, and all Christians, also claim to be of Israel, at least that is what Paul repeatedly says and that is what appears in councils, and encyclicals, and other documents of the Catholic Church. Obviously, both you and me are largely gentiles as well, in the sense that even if we do have ancestors that are Jews or scattered Israelites that is not the primary source of our ancestry and we are largely of Israel through adoption, as Paul says.

        Does this include the errors of Apollanarianism, Nestorianism, Monophysitism, Pelagianism, Modalism, Donatism, Monarchianism, Adoptionism, Socinianism, Gnosticism, Arianism, Sabellianism, Docetism or Albigensianism, and so on? Those are errors which were corrected by the general ecumenical councils.

        Some of those errors are, in part, not errors. As for the councils, I feel it only right to point to Pearl of Great Price: Joseph Smith-History 1:19 and Doctrine and Covenants 1, which should explain why I believe the record of the councils as written: that they involved debate, and committees, and discussion, and the throwing of punches in at least one case, rather then the process of sharing revelation and seeking confirmation from God.

        Why does this process work for you and not for us? Why does never-erring God produce only truth in your little corner of the world?

        The process of seeking to know God and asking God to know of God’s will does produce truth wherever it is actually applied. I do not deny that many Christians throughout the world do try to know God and follow what they have received.

        I am going to talk of Mitt Romney for a bit, because he is a public figure, not that I necessarily support him as a candidate. Mitt Romney has been a bishop and a stake president, meaning he was over hundreds and then thousands of latter-day saints, however he doesn’t appear to know the Bible particularly well, nor does he know anything about philosophy of religion, nor does he appeared to be skilled at explaining or defending his faith.

        I, on the other hand, seem to know the Bible well enough that when defending my faith using the Bible I am accused of Bibliolatry, which were you more familiar with Latter-day Saints would be funny. I have studied some philosophy and I don’t think I am that skilled but I do explain and defend my faith in comments on blogs and news articles in my free time. Yet, my calling (currently) in the church is that of a hometeacher, which everyone has, and that is it and were I to spend my whole time studying religion, getting degrees in philosophy and theology, and have memorized all scriptures and explain them all, it would make no difference.

        The authority from God comes to those that are called of God by way of revelation and prophecy by way of those that already have such authority through the laying on of hands, which authority can not be bought and, for those not Levites and literal sons of Aaron, comes in no other way.

        Going back to Mitt Romney, I have seen news articles saying that he might lead the LDS Church should he not get the US presidency, this first shows a complete lack of understanding of how the LDS Church is run and assumes that after being a stake president one is likely to become a general authority. The reality is that it is more likely that he would be teaching preschoolers during Sunday services then become a general authority. As for leading the church…well it is technically possible but unless the pattern that God has been following changes then 15 people would have to die, some younger then him (and they tend to live fairly long), and he would have to be called as an Apostle as soon as the first opening appeared, which is possible but again not at all likely.

        What accounts for the astonishing failure of the Apostles to evangelize? Given that God never errs. Why did Polycarp, Justin-martyr, Agatha, Perpetua, Dorcas, Irenius, Augustine, and so on all fail to grasp the truth of Mormonism?

        What accounts for the astonishing failure of Adam and then Noah to evangelize their children and decedents? Why did the Pharaohs and the people at the tower of Babel and so on fail to grasp the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ? God gives to all nations that portion of His word (and the Gospel of Jesus Christ) that they are willing to receive, and men are very corruptible and prone to trust reasoning of men that have not talked with God as to the nature of God, but are very eloquent and learned, over the simple account of those that have spoken with God face to face as a man speaks with a man, but are unlearned and not very eloquent (see Augustine and the question of God having a body, for instance).

        For the LDS claim that the authority was lost, or rather rejected, to be true requires only one generation to reject the duly appointed minsters in favor of ministers that are not duly appointed, or something similar. For the Catholic claim to be true not only must there have been no break in authority but also all current Latter-day Saints and all past Latter-day Saints, and all converts that are rejected of family and friends , must be lying when we say that we have witnesses from God that our church is true. I do not know how familiar you are with Latter-day Saints or with things like the recent pew study on Latter-day Saints but claiming we are all lying or deceived certainly doesn’t fit the evidence.

        • Comment by John C Wright:

          “Then, like in the days of Abraham (where that was the case locally), God could still step in and reveal Himself to man and could still restore the ancient records of the extinct believers. ”

          I did not say, my dear sir, that some other parallel version of you living in a parallel version of history where there was no Saint Peter, the first Pope, and no Church, God Almighty could not have appeared before you in a vision and described Himself to you to His hearts content.

          What I said was that YOU, a real person born in the real version of real history, you know of Christ and the message of Christ because of us, the Church Christ Himself founded and anointed gave you the message we gave you. You got it from your generations of teachers who got it from your prophet who added his vision to the Christianity as it already existed in the Nineteenth Century, who got it from the Protestants who are a simplified and streamlined version of what we teach and have always taught, which we get from the apostolic succession from the apostles, who get it from Christ, who gets it from God.

          Since your church has or claims to have a revelation from God independent of the revelation we claim, I restrict my comments only to those things we have in common, and heresies springing from those things.

          You could, of course, have been a Jew. I was not claiming the Old Testament was written and preserved by the Church.

  18. Comment by MikeR:

    I wonder how many of us who venture to comment feel like this guy?

    http://www.americamagazine.org/blog/entry.cfm?blog_id=2&entry_id=5053

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