A Universal Apology Point One Continued: THE PARABLE OF THE MESSENGERS

THE PARABLE OF THE MESSENGERS

I am recounting my reasons for accepting the claims of the Catholic Church above those of other denominations. My faith in the Church rests on several points.

The first one was brought to my attention back when I was an atheist, and had no concern one way or the other as to which side should prevail in an argument I dismissed as being on a completely imaginary topic.

Namely, one cannot argue that the books of the Bible are canonical and argue at the same time that neither the Church nor any one has the authority to canonize them.

Every baptized Christian is in the position of the servant of a king on the forefront of a battlefield. Two thousand leagues away stands the King, who issues both general and specific orders and also appoints his Supreme Allied Commander and eleven General officers, and establishes his chain of command. He leaves no written orders himself, but the Commander and the Generals hears his words and write some of them down. To prove that they work in his name and under his authority, the King grants them certain signs they can show to the doubtful.

The message contains a great commission for a general levy, that is, every man hearing the message is commanded to join the army in the name of the king, and become a messenger in turn, spreading the good news it contains as far and wide as possible.

At His Majesty’s command, these messengers set out toward you. Enemy spies continually attempt to change and corrupt the message, but the message itself contained repeated warnings of this.

For roughly the first 50 to 75 leagues or so, the message is verbal, and the messengers are repeating it the new messengers they recruit as they go. Even from the first step, there is dispute and debate as to how to interpret and enforce the message, or even what it means. Some of them write part of it down, or write down commentary about it, or write exhortations to each other to keep the message faithfully.

By the time the 100 league mark is run, the Supreme Allied Commander and ten of the eleven General officers have been killed after torture by the Enemy, and the final General officer recalled by the king.  At the 200 league mark there are clearly generals (who are also messengers) of Rome, Antioch, Alexandria, Jerusalem, and Constantinople, of which the arch-messenger of Rome is preeminent in honor, and perhaps (this claim is open to dispute) in authority. All these claim to have received their authority from previous messengers who received it from the King. They base their claim of authenticity on this succession, which can be called a ‘chain of custody’ or ‘chain of evidence’ or ‘apostolic succession’.

Between the 300 and 400 league mark, finding that some of the abovementioned writings are fake, and some are real, the chief messengers gathers at what is called an Ecumenical Council, and, with the advice and consent of the Supreme Commander in Rome, decree certain of the writings together to be final and definitive. This is called scripture. But many the messengers before this point wrote down their thoughts about the message and its ramifications, and left a paper trail behind them older than the First Ecumenical Council. These are the Patristic writings.

Disputes are continuous, but all the messengers agree (or seem to) that a general council or a vote between them will settle disputes as they arise. That satisfies some but not others. From time to time other messengers break away, or spies for the enemies arise claiming to be messengers who are not, Arians and Donatists and Montanists and Gnostics, but these are pulled back into the ranks, either gently or roughly.

Before the 500 league mark, two the messengers break ranks and peal off, and go their own way, claiming their interpretation of the message alone is authoritative: these are the Monophysites and the Nestorians.

At the 700 league mark, one messenger throws away all previous written versions of the message, and discards most of the verbal version, and writes a new one which he says is based on secret communication with the King’s superior, the Emperor, whom the messenger saw in a dream. This new message he calls ‘The Recital’. He savagely and continually attacks the other messengers throughout the rest of the trip, pausing only momentary when he is beaten into semi-consciousness and cannot physically continue. He claims the king is not a king, but merely a messenger like himself, but that all the other messengers botched up the message maliciously, and are in the pay of the enemy. The king’s messengers all say he is in the pay of the enemy. Unlike the messengers during the first hundred leagues of the journey, this one produces none of the signs and wonders the king promises will accompany special prophetic messengers acting in His name. This one is called Mohammed.

At the 1000 league mark, the next major break happens, although this time there is no disagreement over the message, only over who has the final authority in case of any garbled messages to establish the authoritative version. These are the Orthodox, who later split into Greek and Russian.

At the 1500 league mark, one of the messengers is unhappy with that part of the message which says he cannot get a divorce, so he peals off. He makes not even a token attempt to pretend to be guarding the original version of the message. These are the Anglicans.

At about the same time, two others, Luther and Calvin break away, on the grounds that only the written version of the message can be trusted, only the written version is necessary. They say the later interpretations and arguments only confused matters. However, oddly enough, these two discard several parts out of the writing, particularly those that happen not to agree with their interpretation of the writing. There is another general council, just the same the ones which determined the contents of the messages and settled all previous disputes, but the new messengers will not accept this as the proper mechanism to settle the dispute. The dispute is so vehement, that they form a new army with new banners and a different chain of command, but they claim to be still loyal to the king, nay, they claim to be the only messengers loyal to the king. Unlike the messengers during the first hundred leagues of the journey, they produce none of the signs and wonders the king promises will accompany special prophetic messengers acting in His name.

When they break away, there is an explosion of many breakoffs from their group in turn, since their group holds, as part of the preamble of the oral message, that it is each man’s duty to break away when he suspects the chief messenger of adulterating the message.

All these messengers, the ones who ran straight as well as the ones who swerved, all reach you at once. They all have orders they say are based on the authority of the King and come from him, but the orders have either minor differences, or major.

On what is the claim based?

The Roman messenger says his authority is paramount and always has been, that he was appointed by the king to settle any disputes and correct any corruptions of the message. The two Orthodox messengers says not so, that the chief messengers of Antioch and Constantinople, Jerusalem and Alexandria were equal, and Rome not greater than they; but the Orthodox accept everything Rome also accepts, at least up to whatever the first seven General Councils agreed.

Luther and Calvin say that the King never granted any messenger authority to interpret the message, only to carry it. The fact that the message was not written down until around the 75 league mark and not finalized into an authoritative version until the 500 league mark is one they do not address. Based on some (rather technical) reasoning about the intentions of the king which is not reflected anywhere in the written message, they both discarded certain parts of their message, including Tobit and Maccabeus and Wisdom. At the same time both claim the other messengers were never granted by the king any authority to carry any oral message. Indeed, Luther and Calvin and Rome all claim each other to be spies in the pay of the enemy, and fall into the most grotesque and deadly combat before your eyes, tearing with tooth and nail, biting ears, gouging eyes, crushing gonads. It is appalling.

At the same time, more messengers appear as if from nowhere. Joseph Smith claims that the king spoke to him personally and gave him a pair of gold tablets written in Reformed Egyptian, a language no one else has ever heard of. He does not have them ready to hand, but he is willing to tell you what is on them. Mary Baker Eddy claims each and every messenger of the king misunderstood the kings message entirely, for he was not the king at all, merely a physician, but she has at her command the same signs and wonders used by the early messengers to confirm that they acted in the king’s authority. Again there is the reverend Sun Myung Moon, whose interpretation of the message is irreconcilable with anything of the previous versions or dispute about the message, and seems to be mingled with elements of Taoism or syncretism, and not even pretending to be part of the original message.

And then there is Mohammed, who shoots your five-year-old daughter in the head, and dances when she dies, and then whines that you are oppressing him, and calls you a racist.

All messengers claim the authority to give the message and the interpretation of the message.

Again, these are not groups of Madison Avenue advertisers attempted to sell you a product. Their message is not an advertisement, which you have the right to ignore, but a command, which you have not. All claim to represent the king whom you are bound and avowed to obey. So disregarding all the messages is not an option, nor is accepting them all an option, since they disagree either in minor or major points, nor is it an option to grant all of them equal credence, since you were warned repeatedly that some messages would indeed be lies from the enemy.

Logically, the only option is to examine their warrant, whatever it may be, on which they rest their claim of authority. If each one claims to be orthodox, the only option is to examine on what grounds each claims the others to be heterodox. It is a partly an historical and partly a legal claim.

The first warrant examined is that of the Protestants. The claim that they make is that the orally transmitted parts of the message were corrupted by the malignancy of the Roman messenger, and cannot be trusted; and moreover that only the written parts of the message are needed to carry out the king’s will. However, even a cursory glance at their practices, since they are Trinitarians and monogamists, shows that they themselves both heed and follow as if by the king’s own command certain things delivered only in the oral parts of the message.

The claim they make that only the written part of the message is to be trusted in not in the written part of the message. Instead, the written part of the message contains quite clear warnings against false messengers, and curses against anyone who alters or contaminates the message.

And the written part of the message is lacking several books. The Protestants claim that they rejected parts of the message which they thought were added by the Romans.

A cursory inquiry as to where and from whom and when each man got the message he carried will reveal the following:

 WHICH MESSENGER  WHERE FROM WHOM WHEN
Catholic Church Jerusalem Jesus Christ 33
Anabaptists Germany Nicolas Stork 1521
Lutheran Germany Martin Luther 1524
Episcopalian England Henry VIII 1534
Unita’n Congregationalists Germany Celarius 1540
Presbyterian (Old School) Scotland General Assembly 1560
Congregationalists England Robert Browne 1583
Baptists Rhode Island Roger Williams 1639
Quakers England George Fox 1647
Quakers America William Penn 1681
Methodist Episcopal England John Wesley 1739
Free-Will Baptists New Hampshire Benj. Randall 1780
Free Communion Baptists New York Benijah Corp ~1790
Campbellites, or Christians Virginia Alex. Campbell 1813
Reformed Methodist Vermont Branch of the Meth. Episcopal Church 1814
Methodist Society New York Branch of the Meth. Episcopal Church 1820
Methodist Protestant Baltimore Branch of the Meth. Episcopal Church 1830
Seventh-Day Baptists United States General Conference 1833
Presbyterian (New School) Philadelphia General Assembly 1840
True Wesleyan Methodist New York Delegates from Methodist denominations 1843

However, at this point, the Protestant messengers say that a strict line of succession of messengers is not necessary to establish to show the authority of the message. There are two witnesses which provide confirmation of the authenticity.

The first witness is a Holy Ghost or Holy Spirit whom the king has sent to guard the authority and continuity of the message. Each messenger makes a claim of inerrancy or infallibility, either express or implied, for to claim otherwise is to claim that the king has no power to send the message.

The second is the written message itself, which can be examined such that it proves itself by its own authority to be authentic and authoritative.

However, it is soon clear that the Roman messenger holds as part of the oral message that the Chief messenger has final authority to rule on what is part of the message and what is not. The Roman makes a clear and formal statement claiming infallibility.

The Protestants make a similar claim for the body of the congregation, or for the written message, or for each individual reading it. No matter how unbelievable the claim is that the king sent an invisible spirit to protect the messengers from error, while it is logically possible that one messenger has this authority, is not logically possible, from the simple fact that all the messengers disagree, that they all possess it.

Also, the redacted sections of the written message provide a logically insurmountable paradox for the Protestant messengers. If their sole authority for the authenticity of their message is the written part of the message, then they have no authority to redact or remove parts of the message on any grounds. The cannot throw away the Book of the Maccabeus or Tobit or the Letters of James or anything else because they claim that neither they nor anyone has the authority to define the cannon.

Finally, when you ask the Protestant messengers, since not one of them saw with his own eyes the king himself give the original copy of the message, written or oral, how they know the king exists at all, their only answer is to say that they take the word for it of the early Roman messenger.

You ask them how they know they written part of the message is the only valid part? Their only answer again is to say they take the word for it of the early Roman messenger.

The Protestants respond that there was a time before the message become corrupted, and the Roman messenger from that time could be trusted, but the later messengers could not. You ask them how they know the early message existed at all? Their only answer yet again is to say they take the word for it of the early Roman messenger.

As far as I am concerned, the argument is definitively over at that point: if the one has no authority and no source of information aside from the other, then the one cannot logically be in a position to overrule the other, or claim his information is better, or his authority higher. It is logically impossible.

But there are a few other questions whose answer lends additional weight to the Roman side of the question.

If you have a legalistic mind, you ask Luther and Calvin to point to the part of the message, or the general standing orders, or the specific field order, which tells them they have the right to disobey their superior officers and create a new chain of command based on different forms than the old chain of command. The Roman messenger claims the chain of command was established from the outset by the King; the Protestants say their authority to rebel comes from the natural reasoning that if the chain of command is disloyal to the king, loyalty to the king demands disobedience to the officers the king placed over you. And the Protestants say that at the time when the messengers all set out, there was no official chain of command. But this is not reflected in the written part of the message, so by the Protestant logic, they cannot rely on any tradition as to what conditions obtained in the early days.

Turning to the other messengers, you discover another astonishing thing. The Greek and Russian and Syriac and Coptic and Malabar messengers, while severed from the authority of the Roman messenger, all reject the specific interpretation of the message maintained by Luther and Calvin. All have priestly hierarchy. All claim apostolic succession. All believe in the Real Presence. None affirm sola scriptura.

The only other breakaway group agreeing with the Protestants on these points is Mohammed. He also believes that the written message was corrupt, so he throws out not one or two, but all the books of the Bible, while keeping the gist of the stories of Genesis, Exodus, and the Virgin Birth. He also denies the sacraments. He also abolishes the priesthood and preaches a simplified version of the message.

Logically, if apostolic succession and so on are corruptions in the message, then the corruption happened independently to all branches, or happened at a point before the rather early point when they split. And if they split for reasons other than the reasons given by the Protestants, then the authority of the Protestants to split is fallacious: if the Protestants accept the authority of the first seven or so Ecumenical Councils, and take the council decisions to be authorized, then they cannot reject the decision of the Council of Trent.

As a purely legal or constitutional matter, if the Church for thousands of years in both eastern and western branches has accepted the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils and Synods as authoritative, and if there is no scriptural authority or traditional practice of disobeying or overruling them, Luther, an Augustinian monk, does not have the authority to declare himself superior to the Council of Trent, and able to overrule its findings.

Americans hold it as self-evident that governments are instituted among men to protect their rights, and when the government is harmful to those rights, the people have the authority and duty to overthrow the government and erect a new one. This is because Americans hold our rights to come from God Almighty, and the government is merely a human institution derived from human wisdom to attempt to safeguard these mighty gifts.  But until the time of Luther, no Christian held that the Church was instituted of men by the wisdom of men, but was rather a divine and mystical body, instituted by Christ.

Whatever the other denominations may say must be decided on its own merit. The claims of the Mormons or Moonies or the Christians of Syria or Malabar has to be decided based on the content of those claims to authenticity. But just the nature of the message we call Christian teaching logically requires that the Protestant claim to be the sole and rightful messengers, based on books whose authenticity is attested to by a Church whose authority they reject, is illogical and impossible.

I have spoken only of Luther, but to my knowledge, all Protestant denominations accept sola scriptura and Luther’s redaction of the books of Tobit and Maccabeus and so on from the canon. All accept the  claims that Christian tradition must and should be rejected as unchristian and unauthoritative if not supported by the Bible. However, the Bible itself does not anywhere authoritatively list which books are canonical, which are deutero-canonical, which are apocryphal, and which are heretical, nor does any book in the Bible give any measure or standard by which this determination is to be made.

But more oddly, the Protestants all agree with each other about which books to exclude. No version of the Bible among the Protestants accepts the Shepherd of Hermas, for example, or the Gospel of Thomas or the Apocalypse of Peter, albeit they all accept the Apocalypse of John and the Book of Esther.

The argument, if it were ever made, that Luther and Calvin and Wesley and Henry VIII and Ebion and  Marcion (and whoever else) each one independently had the authority to determine which books were in the Bible, and each one went through a separate and independent procedure of determination, and each one came to the same conclusions and included the same books and epistles is simply ridiculous.

Historically speaking, what happened is that there were two canons of the Old Testament proposed by Jewish scholars and authorities. One was the Alexandrian canon, which predates the Incarnation, and is the one quoted by Christ. The other was compiled by the Pharisees a century or two after the Crucifixion. The Pharisees were scrupulous to exclude any books of the canon which they could not find in Hebraic (or Aramaic). So if there were only versions of, say, the Book of Maccabeus in Koinic, the Pharisees excluded it. This was the state of the best Jewish scholarship both when Jerome translated the scriptures into Latin, and, later, when Luther inquired of the Jews as to the authenticity of disputed book of the Old Testament. However, in the 1950’s the Dead Sea Scrolls reveals copies of at least some of the disputed books in their original Aramaic. And the Catholic and Orthodox churches have always accepted the Alexandrian canon.

The Lutherans were not being completely arbitrary, but neither was the argument being made in good faith, since one of the points of dispute between Luther and the Catholic Church was the legitimacy of prayers for the dead, which logically implies a purgatory or other intermediate condition aside from heaven or hell. The Book of Maccabeus contains references to Jews praying for the dead. The theologian who argues that scripture is the sole and sufficient source of all learning needed for salvation conveniently leaves out the scriptures that disagree with his pet theories.

Historically again, the final canon of the Bible was not established shortly after the messengers set out, but somewhere around the 500 A.D., after those first few Ecumenical Councils whose decision the Protestants accept, but whose authority they do not accept. And yet everything which the Protestants reject as corruptions, from the anointment of bishops to the consecration of the host to the adoration of Mary to prayers for the dead, are between one to four centuries older than that date, and there is no surviving record of any Christian ever doing things any other way.

 

38 Comments

  1. Comment by distractedbrony:

    As I see it, arguments requiring elements of historical data are often where Catholic apologetic efforts fall flat. The elegant deductive arguments of philosophers just feel out of place when applied to issues that concern historical fact so intimately. There is a general feeling, more unsettling than any objection, that the arguments are being rushed, even forced, that important or even key facts are not being presented or are being glossed over. That feeling does not even require that convincing evidence is not presented; it only requires the suspicion that one’s interlocutor is twisting the facts or is not playing quite fair… I’m sure you understand what I mean.

    I think the ideal argument to establish the authority claims of the Catholic Church would first of all outline the necessary form of the argument involved and the scope of the data available, then would systematically examine each datum (such as patristic quotes, archaeological evidence, etc) while taking very much care to place each of those points of data into their correct context without claiming too much importance for any one piece of evidence, and throughout the argument, examining the data fairly, both through the Catholic perspective and through the perspectives of those who oppose Catholicism. The result would ideally leave the reader enlightened not only about the content of the arguments for and against Catholicism’s claims, but also, as a preliminary matter, about the proper general method of proceeding when arguing for claims that require historical evidence, the proper ways to interpret historical facts, and so on. Just as a well-written and convincing philosophical argument tends not only to convince its readers of its thesis but also shows them how to argue correctly and how to recognize good arguments in general, even so, I wish that more people making historically based arguments would take pains to leave their readers more informed about historical method.

    If that sounds a bit abstruse, let me try to make myself a bit clearer with a simple example. You mention in passing that the Dead Sea Scrolls contain some of the Deuterocanonical books in Aramaic. I am willing to take your word for it on the factual issue. However, it’s difficult to see how that fact relates to your overall contention that the Alexandrian canon is authentic. For the argument for the authenticity of the Alexandrian canon rests on the claim that the Catholic Church has the authority to settle the canon, not on the fact of the matter about whether this or that book was written in Greek or Aramaic. And if Luther is right that the Catholic Church does not have such authority, then it doesn’t matter on what basis he chooses to discard this or that book of Scripture. So this is just one example—and I’m not meaning to pick on you, it’s just a general flaw I’ve noticed in a lot of Catholic apologetic efforts—of a factoid being presented to make an argument sound more convincing without actually being so, robbed of proper context, not set in perspective, the interpretation of the value of that fact being left up to the reader, and it’s this sort of thing—I mean primarily the failure to account for and defend a basic method in these sorts of arguments, so that even if a reader disagrees with one’s conclusions he still comes away more knowledgeable and capable—which, as I see it, casts a shadow of doubt across a lot of apologetic efforts.

    …Apologies for rambling.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      “As I see it, arguments requiring elements of historical data are often where Catholic apologetic efforts fall flat. The elegant deductive arguments of philosophers just feel out of place when applied to issues that concern historical fact so intimately. There is a general feeling, more unsettling than any objection, that the arguments are being rushed, even forced, that important or even key facts are not being presented or are being glossed over. That feeling does not even require that convincing evidence is not presented; it only requires the suspicion that one’s interlocutor is twisting the facts or is not playing quite fair… I’m sure you understand what I mean.”

      Yes, you are calling me a liar. I am happy that you at least phrased it delicately. I will not reciprocate in kind, but I will point out the reason you give is your emotions, not a logical argument. To be blunt, this is not something I respect.

      “I think the ideal argument to establish the authority claims of the Catholic Church would first of all outline the necessary form of the argument involved and the scope of the data available….”

      I wrote several paragraphs explaining the nature of my approach and its limitations, thank you. I am not ambitious enough to attempt an ideal argument. For one thing, I am a lawyer, but I am not a canon lawyer, nor was I present at the Council of Trent, nor did I hear the arguments presented in their ideal form to decide Church doctrine on this point.

      “If that sounds a bit abstruse, let me try to make myself a bit clearer with a simple example. You mention in passing that the Dead Sea Scrolls contain some of the Deuterocanonical books in Aramaic. I am willing to take your word for it on the factual issue. However, it’s difficult to see how that fact relates to your overall contention that the Alexandrian canon is authentic. For the argument for the authenticity of the Alexandrian canon rests on the claim that the Catholic Church has the authority to settle the canon, not on the fact of the matter about whether this or that book was written in Greek or Aramaic”

      I cannot help you if you simply assert the argument rests on a ground on which it does not rest. The Church in the early days, since it was in fact a Jewish sect, accepted the Jewish canon and took their authority on faith. The Alexandrian canon was the only one that existed for the first century or so after the Crucifixion. So if the Early Church had even wanted to use the Palestinian canon, it was not available until 200 AD (or so is the scholarly estimate I read).

      If it is your contention that the Jewish Authorities in Palestine, after the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. consisting of the descendents of the Pharisees who had not converted to Christianity retained the legal or moral right to alter the Old Testament that was being used by the Church, but that the Church did not have this right, that is a difficult argument to make.

      These historical facts are crucial to dispel the claim being made, which is that the Church added material to the established canon and corrupted Church teaching.

      The claim that the Church does not have the right to establish official Church doctrine, including the canon, is illogical. It is the same as saying there is no Bible whatever, merely whatever books the individuals themselves find spiritually enlightening. That is indeed how the Buddhists arrange matters, and in and of itself there is nothing amiss in the matter, but no mainstream Protestant denomination claims that the Bible is not canonical. Indeed, their claim is so far in the opposite direction as to make such an argument, should any man venture it, ludicrous: the Protestant claim is that the Bible is the sole repository of Christian teaching.

      “And if Luther is right that the Catholic Church does not have such authority, then it doesn’t matter on what basis he chooses to discard this or that book of Scripture.”

      Ah. We have now reached the point of absurdity. Like Mrs Clinton, you demand “What does it matter?” — the problem with your argument is that it involves a logical paradox.

      Luther claimed that the deuterocanonical books were not authorized but that the canonical ones were. Your claim is that no books are authorized. My argument is a reductio ad absurdum. I am saying that IF Luther is correct THEN the Pope and the General Councils and Synods of the Third to the Fifth Century do not have the authority to establish the canon of scripture, but that therefore a fortiori Luther himself cannot possess this authority, since his claim is weaker than that of the successor to the Apostles living a thousand years closer to the source material.

      In case it is not clear, Luther cannot logically argue that no one has the authority to define the canon of scripture and then define the canon of scripture for the Lutheran Church; nor can he argue that he can define the cannon of scripture based on the latest modern scholarship of the Fifteenth Century because the even later modern scholarship of the Twentieth Century undermines his central claim, so he has no basis to prefer the Palestinian Canon over the Alexandrian. The Catholic Church has been vindicated. Nor can he argue that he accepts the canon of scripture as defined by the Church for 1500 years, but overrule them in specific instances, unless he shows that the Church exceeded or abused her authority in so doing.

      You do not seem to understand the argument being advanced. I am not even pretending to advance the opinion that the Bible is canonical. I have no authority to speak on that matter. I am not a Biblical scholar nor a theologian. I am not even pretending to advance an argument to show that the Church possesses the authority to define the canon. I am merely pointing out the logical error involved in taking that authority for granted on one case and denying it in the next case, when and if the two cases are identical. You cannot at the same time accept Church authority when she rules that the Gospel of Luke is canon but the Gospel of Thomas is not, and then turn around and say the Church has no authority to confirm the Alexandrian Canon over the Palestinian.

      Again, the historical facts are introduced to show the logical impossibility of Luther’s demand. The Church prior to 200 AD could not have canonized the Palestinian Canon because in fact it did not exist — a fact which was unknown to him, as it was unknown to St Jerome.

  2. Comment by Malcolm Smith:

    John, youve done it again: begging the question, assuming what needs to proved. I’ve noticed this in your earlier posts. You have a particular blind spot: you assume that the Roman Catholic church ie the church now centred on Rome, with the Pope as its head, is the same as the original, early church. This is made very clear by your assertion that the (Roman) Catholic church received its message direct from Jesus.
    Let me suggest an alternative view of history. Jesus sent his apostles out into the world to spread the gospel as far as they could, and they did exactly that. In the process, they wrote books which later became the New Testament. The immediate followers of the apostles are the ones who are most likely to know the correct interpretation of their teachings. In any earlier post you agreed with this position.
    The New Testament grew up with the church, and gained its canonicity by universal agreement. From at least the early 2nd century the Gospels, Acts, and Pauline Epistles were accepted as canonical, but many of the lesser books had to fight a long time for their acceptance. I don’t know of any early theological disputes in which these disputed books were used to establish doctrine. The first list of NT books exactly as they are today occurred in a letter by Athanasius in 367. The first council to list them was the Synod of Cathage in 393. This was a general, not ecumenical council, and it merely stated the general consensus. In other words, the NT grew up with the church. At no stage was it established by ecumenical council, nor specifically by the church of Rome’s authority. It is totally incorrect to state that we Protestants are accepting a canon established by the Papacy.
    Likewise withe Old Testament. The first Christian list is by Melito c 170. It includes all the books of the (Protestant) OT except for Esther, and totally omits the Apocrypha. The same with Origen, who omitted he Apocrypha, and specifically rejected the books of Maccabees. The same with Athanasius. He specifically rejected Wisdom, Sirach, Judith, and Tobit. It is completely incorrect that the Protestants took books out of the OT because they didn’t like them. They were never part of it to start with.
    The Ecumenical Councils achieved their authority by general consensus. The Council of Nicaea essentially involved the Greek speaking churches. Only about 10 representatives – including a couple from the aged Bishop of Rome – attended from the Latin speaking churches. However, the results were accepted because that was what the great majority of Christians believed – as distinct from the later councils called by Constantine’s successors, which produced Arian creeds, which the majority ignored.
    As the chief city in the Latin speaking church, and the only one with a known apostolic foundation, Rome became the centre of the western church. Eventually, its bishop was able to claim total authority over the western churchs, but there was never a point at which the whole of Christendom acknowledges his authority, let alone his claim to infallibility.
    Next, it is a proven fact that no-one can walk a straight line by dead reckoning; without a compass or distant landmark, he will end up deviating to the right or left. Likewise, if a clock is never corrected to match the sun, it will eventually run so slow or fast that it is of no use whatsoever. This is what happened to church: what I prefer to call “theological creep”, a gradual change of emphasis, a gradual modification of doctrine. Each change was too small to notice. There was no particular point at which the church “went wrong”, but by the 16th century it had became obvious that wide gaps had emerged between current teachings and those of the Bible and the immediate post-apostolic church.
    Finally, please give up on Henry VIII. In religion he prefered to run with the hares and hunt with the hounds, beheading Papists as traitors and burning Protestants as heretics. But the Reformation did not take full swing in England until the reign of his successor, Edward VI. Even then, there is a world of difference between reforming a religion and starting a new one. The Church of England is 1000 years older than either Henry or Edward, and still maintains the direct apostolic succession.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      “John, youve done it again: begging the question, assuming what needs to proved. I’ve noticed this in your earlier posts. You have a particular blind spot: you assume that the Roman Catholic church ie the church now centred on Rome, with the Pope as its head, is the same as the original, early church. This is made very clear by your assertion that the (Roman) Catholic church received its message direct from Jesus.”

      False. That is not an assumption I made. It was merely too difficult to phrase the analogy any other way.

      “The first list of NT books exactly as they are today occurred in a letter by Athanasius in 367. The first council to list them was the Synod of Cathage in 393. This was a general, not ecumenical council, and it merely stated the general consensus. In other words, the NT grew up with the church””

      This admission is fatal to any Protestant claim to be the Primitive Church. Any Christian who accepts the authority of the general consensus of the Church has no grounds on which to overrule the decisions of the General Ecumenical Council and the local Synods, bishops and archbishops and Metropolitans and so on, because the general consensus of the Church authorized them as well.

      “Next, it is a proven fact that no-one can walk a straight line by dead reckoning; without a compass or distant landmark, he will end up deviating to the right or left. Likewise, if a clock is never corrected to match the sun, it will eventually run so slow or fast that it is of no use whatsoever. This is what happened to church: what I prefer to call “theological creep”, a gradual change of emphasis, a gradual modification of doctrine. Each change was too small to notice. There was no particular point at which the church “went wrong”, but by the 16th century it had became obvious that wide gaps had emerged between current teachings and those of the Bible and the immediate post-apostolic church.”

      I addressed that issue. No matter how slow or fast the creep, either there is a point after which the corruption is irrevocable, or there is not. If the corruption or creep has not yet reached the point of irreversible damage, then the corruption can be reversed, and abandoning ship rather than helping to bail is unconscionable. If the creep has reached the point of no return, on the other hand, only then can the Protestant argument be made that creating a new Church, one founded by Wesley or Calvin rather than Christ, is reasonable on the grounds of returning to the dictates of the Primitive Church. There are two objections: first, it is not logically shown that there is a right of rebellion when one is beneath a corrupt bishop. Second, it is not shown that the Primitive Church followed Calvinism or what-have-you.

      “As the chief city in the Latin speaking church, and the only one with a known apostolic foundation, Rome became the centre of the western church. Eventually, its bishop was able to claim total authority over the western churchs, but there was never a point at which the whole of Christendom acknowledges his authority, let alone his claim to infallibility.”

      If I may, you are discussing a separate point. I am here discussing about Apostolic Succession, you are discussing the supremacy of the Roman Archibishop, which is irrelevant to the matter at hand. The Protestant claim to be able to overrule the consensus of Church teaching about the real presence, the anointing of Bishops, the apostolic succession, and the traditions of the Church in the names of “Scripture Alone” is just as illogic when argued against the Greek Orthodox position as against the Roman position, and the Orthodox do not recognize any Roman supremacy.

      The claim of the Roman Archbishop to supremacy was settled in the West at least by the Tenth Century, in any case, and was not an open question in the Fifteenth. If you are arguing in favor of the Greek Orthodox claim to Apostolic Succession, I will listen with interest. If your claim is that the Anglican Church or the Lutheran or Calvinist Church, or the dissenters who broke with them, maintain Apostolic Succession, you are making a claim alien to the official position of those denominations.

      St. Peter’s successors carried on his office, the importance of which grew with the growth of the Church. In 97 serious dissensions troubled the Church of Corinth. The Roman Bishop, Clement, unbidden, wrote an authoritative letter to restore peace. St. John was still living at Ephesus, yet neither he nor his interfered with Corinth. Before 117 St. Ignatius of Antioch addresses the Roman Church as the one which “presides over charity . . . which has never deceived any one, which has taught others.” St. Irenæus (180-200) states the theory and practice of doctrinal unity as follows: “With this Church [of Rome] because of its more powerful principality, every Church must agree, that is the faithful everywhere, in this [i.e. in communion with the Roman Church] the tradition of the Apostles has ever been preserved by those on every side. (Adv. Haereses, III)”

      The heretic Marcion, the Montanists from Phrygia, Praxeas from Asia, come to Rome to gain the countenance of its bishops; St. Victor, Bishop of Rome, threatens to excommunicate the Asian Churches; St. Stephen refuses to receive St. Cyprian’s deputation, and separates himself from various Churches of the East; Fortunatus and Felix, deposed by Cyprian, have recourse to Rome; Basilides, deposed in Spain, betakes himself to Rome; the presbyters of Dionysius, Bishop of Alexandria, complain of his doctrine to Dionysius, Bishop of Rome; the latter expostulates with him, and he explains. The fact is indisputable: the Bishops of Rome took over Peter’s Chair and Peter’s office of continuing the work of Christ.

      To be in continuity with the Church founded by Christ affiliation to the See of Peter is necessary, for, as a matter of history, there is no other Church linked to any other Apostle by an unbroken chain of successors. Antioch, once the see and centre of St. Peter’s labours, fell into the hands of Monophysite patriarchs under the Emperors Zeno and Anastasius at the end of the fifth century. The Church of Alexandria in Egypt was founded by St. Mark the Evangelist, the mandatory of St. Peter. It flourished exceedingly until the Arian and Monophysite heresies took root among its people and gradually led to its extinction. The shortest-lived Apostolic Church is that of Jerusalem. In 130 the Holy City was destroyed by Hadrian, and a new town, Ælia Capitolina, erected on its site. The new Church of Ælia Capitolina was subjected to Caesarea; the very name of Jerusalem fell out of use till after the Council of Nice (325).

      The Greek Schism now claims its allegiance. Whatever of Apostolicity remains in these Churches founded by the Apostles is owing to the fact that Rome picked up the broken succession and linked anew to the See of Peter. The Greek Church, embracing all the Eastern Churches involved in the schism of Photius and Michael Caerularius, and the Russian Church can lay no claim to Apostolic succession either direct or indirect, i.e. through Rome, because they are, by their own fact and will, separated from the Roman Communion. During the four hundred and sixty-four between the accession of Constantine (323) and the Seventh General Council (787), the whole or part of the Eastern episcopate lived in schism for no less than two hundred and three years: namely from the Council of Sardica (343) to St. John Chrysostom (389), 55 years; owing to Chrysostom’s condemnation (404-415), 11 years; owing to Acadius and the Henoticon edict (484-519), 35 years; total, 203 years (Duchesne). They do, however, claim doctrinal connection with the Apostles, sufficient to their mind to stamp them with the mark of Apostolicity.

      So, even if the other Metropolitans at one time had an equal say in questions of Church discipline and doctrine, the only one who can make that claim now are the Greeks. And their claim, for all its merit, is weaker than that of the Roman.

      ” Finally, please give up on Henry VIII. In religion he prefered to run with the hares and hunt with the hounds, beheading Papists as traitors and burning Protestants as heretics. But the Reformation did not take full swing in England until the reign of his successor, Edward VI. Even then, there is a world of difference between reforming a religion and starting a new one. The Church of England is 1000 years older than either Henry or Edward, and still maintains the direct apostolic succession.”

      I am afraid this paragraph makes no sense, so I am not sure how to respond to it. I am not concerned with whether Henry also burned other heretics, I am only concerned with the legality of his claim to appoint himself supreme head of the Church. There is indeed a difference between reforming a religion, as Francis of Assisi did, and starting a new one, as all the Protestant sects have done. Your comment about the age of the Church of England is based on some non-standard use of language, unless you are claiming that the English were never part of the general universal church.

      I don’t get your point, and don’t know what the phrase ‘give up’ means. Are you asking me not to examine the claims of legitimacy of the Anglican Church? Are you claiming Henry’s breach was lawful? or are you claiming he was not a Protestant, or what?

      This conversation will soon degenerate to mere exchange of opinions if we do not stick to the topic in a methodical way.

  3. Comment by Jeremiah Hahn:

    John, you mentioned an apologetical defense for the existence of Purgatory can be made by referencing the 2nd Book of Maccabees: “the legitimacy of prayers for the dead […] logically implies a purgatory or other intermediate condition aside from heaven or hell…”
    For a second witness to Purgatory, (the temporal punishment due for sins, specifically), you could also turn to 1 Corinthians 3:11–15. The last three verses, in particular, shed light on how St. Paul viewed our actions and works from the perspective of God’s judgment and eternity.

  4. Comment by Jeremiah Hahn:

    Malcolm Smith, you made an interesting claim:
    “From at least the early 2nd century the Gospels, Acts, and Pauline Epistles were accepted as canonical, but many of the lesser books had to fight a long time for their acceptance. I don’t know of any early theological disputes in which these disputed books were used to establish doctrine.”
    A theological dispute arose in the Church around 140 A.D. that specifically addressed the issue of a canon of Scripture being established for the sake of doctrine. Sorry, distractedbrony, but I’m gonna hyper-simplify some history. (I will, however, cite my source as the book Consuming the Word).
    Marcion, a wealthy ship-builder, joined the Church at Rome around 140 and made himself a busy-body. He taught that the OT had been falsified, as opposed to completed, by Christ and his God of mercy in the NT. Rome declared him a heretic, but because of his resources, he paid for a sort-of counter-Church to be planted all across the Mediterranean.
    After he published a NT with only St. Paul’s Epistles, and a halved-down Gospel of Luke, the Muratorian Canon, containing almost every book in our present-day NT, was published. Both the Canon and the writings of St. Iranaeus establish that the books of the NT had been received by the post-Apostolic Church as the authoritative tradition of writings of the apostles. (This was well before 200 A.D.) These writings were verifiable through those who had participated in the Apostolic Succession.

  5. Comment by Malcolm Smith:

    My, I do appear to have set the cat among the pigeons!
    It would be tedious to respond to everything our host said without making the reply longer than the original post. Instead, let me merely respond to Mr Hahn. Of course I am away of Marcion and the Muratorian canon. That is why I said that the Gospels, Acts, and Pauline Epistles were accepted from at least the second century. But many of the lesser books were disputed up to the fourth century. However, as far as I know – I might be wrong – none of these books were quoted in any of the theological controversies of the period. They confirmed the other books, they did not add anything new.
    1 Cor. 3:11-15 can only be accepted as pointing to Purgatory only by one who is already committed to the doctrine. Even if we accept the doctrine, it is far from obvious that this is what the text refers to. Paul has started criticising the factions identifying themselves with Paul and Apollo. He points out that he laid the foundation and another built upon it. His argument then appears to be that one should take care how one builds on the foundation because, on the Day of Judgment, any of his works that are no good will be destroyed. It is about the results of his actions, not the purging away of his sins.
    2 Maccabees is even less valid. It is not just that the book was not mentioned in any of the early canon lists, and specifically rejected by people such as Athanasius and Jerome. It is that it does not refer to Purgatory at all. Firstly, it must be pointed out that 2 Maccabees is strong on the doctrine of resurrection, which was still an issue of debate at that time. Secondly, the incident involved a number of warriors killed in battle, who had been found to have carried idolatrous talismans in their tunics. The actual text of 2 Macc. 12: 42-45 (RSV) is as follows:
    And the noble Judas exhorted the people to keep themselves from sin, for they had seen with their own eyes what had happened because of the sin of those who had fallen. He also took up a collection, man by man, to the amount of two thousand drachmas of silver, and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering. In doing this he acted very well and honourably, taking account of the resurrection. For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin.
    In other words, we are talking, not about Purgatory, but the Last Judgment and damnation. To atone for the sins of their comrades, they offered sin offerings on their behalf, because that was the only method of atonement available under the Mosaic Law.
    I would be interested to know if anyone can cite any evidence anywhere that the Jews in the 2nd century BC believed in Purgatory.
    In any case, we have recourse to the old Vincentian formula: if in doubt about the interpretation of a text, go back and see how the very earliest members of the church interpreted it. So what is the earliest unequivocal statement of the doctrine of Purgatory? The Protestants may have rejected it, but the eastern churches have never had it. That is because it is an orphan doctrine, which developed wholly in the western church. George Salmon made a telling point about this in his tome, The Infallibility of the Church. One thing the church cannot have is a new tradition. A tradition is only as strong as the earliest link in the chain. He then quoted St Augustine to the effect that, since a sinner may suffer the effects of his sin in this lifetime, even after he has received Christ’s grace, he could not rule out the possibility of further effects after death. Surely, said the Rev. Salmon, this view is fatal to the doctrine of Purgatory, because what is merely a possibility in the 5th century cannot become a certainty in the 6th.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      The Book of Maccabeus was rejected by Jerome because Jerome, like a good scholar, went to the local Jewish scholars to inquire of them which was the authoritative version: and these were Pharisees who had collected the Palestinian canon, not the more Hellenized Jews of the Alexandrian canon, of whose existence Jerome was unaware, the Saducees having been obliterated off the face of the Earth during the war circa 70 AD. Now the Jews and the Christian, by the year 200 AD had enough bad blood between them that the mere fact that the Christians were using the Alexandrian canon, the original and older canon, was enough for them to dispute its authenticity. Their best efforts at the time could turn up no Hebraic version of the deuterocanonical texts (our modern scholarship can) so they concluded (wrongly, as it turns out, but it was the best guess at the time) that the deuterocanonical texts were Hellenic corruptions.

      But Christ and the Apostles could not possibly have been referring to the Palestinian canon when they mentioned ‘scripture’ because that pared-down version of the canon did not exist until two hundred years after the Incarnation. For Jerome, and, later, Luther to define the Palestinian canon as the scripture of the early Church is as much an anachronism as a picture of George Washington flying a jet-pack.

      • Comment by Captain Peabody:

        The problem with Protestants arguing about Patristics, in my experience–and I say that with the utmost respect for Protestants, including my parents and most of my friends–is that your arguments are essentially negative and nitpicking. They are practically always arguments from silence, and they rely often on very anachronistic ideas and concepts.

        The reason for this is very simple. It is because it is entirely impossible to establish, justify, or defend any specifically Protestant idea or doctrine from the Patristic period. The world of the Fathers is almost totally alien to the world of the modern Protestant, in a way it is not at all alien to a Catholic or an Orthodox. These can read the works of the Fathers, and feel for the most part right at home–which can sometimes be a dangerous thing in terms of scholarships, since one can sometimes fill in the blanks wrongly, with your own experience. But for a Protestant, the unsettling problem is that you will not find a single uniquely Protestant idea in the Patristic period.

        The canon is a fairly good example. When we look back at the Canon, we think of it in terms of a fixed, written Bible that is read for spiritual purposes or used in arguments; it is a fixed, written text that we can refer to at our leisure, all by our lonesome.

        Sometimes, indeed, early Christians thought in these terms; but this was far from the overriding idea in their heads.

        When the ancients thought of the canon, they thought first and foremost of what books were read in the Churches during the Liturgy–this was the main way in which any idea of a “canon” was necessary. The secondary way in which they thought of a “canon” was in terms of what books could be cited as authoritative in arguments and theology. Finally, sometimes, it was necessary to make lists of the books of the Bible for the purpose of creating books for private or public reading. Later, scholarly writers would then pick apart these books into groups for various purposes.

        In general, “canonicity” tended to flow outward in that way. Books that were read in the Churches were then cited as Scripture by authors, and so published for reading, and then broken down by scholarly Christians into groups. At the same time, though, these various canons were not always the same, and a book that an author accepted in one category he might not accept in another.

        In this miasma, the self-conscious discussion of the “canon” by authors was very much the exception, not the rule. It was mostly done by very scholarly Christians for particular purposes, usually controversial ones. The arguments and lists produced therein did not usually reflect the consensus of the Church, and they did not usually have much effect on what people quoted as Scripture or read in the Churches. Indeed, in some cases they seem not to have been intended to.

        The “deuterocanon” is a good example of this. In the early Church, the Septuagint was the standard version of the Old Testament read in the Churches, and since the Septuagint included those books later known as the “deuterocanon,” these were generally read in the Churches as well, through perhaps not everywhere. As the result of this, these books are cited as Scripture, as divinely-inspired, and as authoritative in practically every ecclesiastical author of the period, from Origen to Tertullian to St. Cyprian to St. Irenaeus to St. Hippolytus. St. Justin Martyr noted this in the 2nd century when he said that the Church’s Old Testament was larger than that used by the Jews of his time. Some of these authors also specifically defend these books as Scriptural and divinely inspired.

        In addition, practically all texts include the Deuterocanon, almost without exception.

        At the same time, as the Church got more intellectual and philosophical, scholars arise who want to pin down these ideas with a little more specificity.

        Origen is a rather interesting example of this. As you point out, in one place he produces a “catalog” of the Old Testament, which does not include the deuterocanon. Now, if I am a modern looking back, I think to myself: “Ah! Origen did not accept the deuterocanon!” Yet, as a matter of fact, the reality is quite different. While this particular list doesn’t include them, Origen elsewhere cites, quotes from, and argues from all the deuterocanonical books as Scripture, and in other places specifically defends them as divinely inspired and sacred, and accepts that they are read in Church. In addition, when he published his own version of the Old Testament, he included the deuterocanon without distinguishing it from the other books of the Bible. Thus, while Origen in some sense wanted to distinguish these books from the rest of the Bible, so as not to include them in one list, he still wanted very much to hold them as sacred, quote from them, and publish them along with all the others.

        This is a pretty common thing, actually. Scholars, who worried about such things, tended to make distinctions between books, using some in one context and not in others. Books they felt comfortable quoting as Scripture they might not feel comfortable including in definitive catalogs to be used in controversial settings, especially when there were many apocryphal books clamoring to be let in. Yet it is very doubtful if the doubts and distinctions of scholars made much difference even to the vast mass of Bishops. Even during the periods when the “deuterocanon” was most called into question by scholars, the vast majority of texts include them with no distinction.

        St. Jerome is a good example of this. He esteemed these books, but the fact that they weren’t in the Hebrew canon troubled him, so he distinguished them from all the others. But he put them in the Vulgate anyway. After all, the Church read them.

        In this, the Bishop of Rome played an important role in settling matters. Rome seems to have not taken these distinctions very seriously, and did not like the idea of admitting different levels of inspiration into the Sacred Scriptures. From the fourth century at least, we have decrees from Pope Damasus, Gelasius, and Innocent of exactly the Catholic canon in Old and New Testaments, without any distinctions at all. They played a large role in transmitting this canons to other Western Churches and to new Churches in Europe. The North African Church seems to have always accepted the deuterocanon as well, and this is reflected in several fourth-century councils affirming precisely the Catholic canon.

        After this period, there was practically no debate about the canon until the Protestant reformation.

        It’s all very interesting and complicated, and there are plenty of places where nits can be picked and holes found and silences noted. Yet what is much more notable about this, at least from a Protestant point of view is that among all these various authors who produce canons, not a single one produces the Protestant canon as it exists today. Even those that come closest include books and parts of books that Protestants don’t, or remove books that Protestants include. This is quite remarkable, especially if the Protestant claim is that their canon is the “original” one.

        In this, John’s argument is quite strong. The Catholic and Orthodox understandings of the Sacraments, of the Church, and of practically everything else are found in the Patristic period, without question. The Protestant ideas are not found at all. Read the letters of St. Ignatius of Antioch, writing less than a hundred years after the Crucifixion of Jesus, and tell me if you are (1) living under a single, authoritative Bishop and following him in all things, rejecting every Christian group and gathering which does not keep communion with him, (2) part of a single, universal or “Catholic” Church of Bishops in communion with each other, and (3) accepting the Eucharist as the Body and Blood of Jesus. Even the heretics he argues against aren’t Protestants, but Docetists and Gnostics.

        Now, you can certainly find things to argue about or dispute in all of this. But the overall picture does not change just because of this, nor does the absolute absence of Protestantism.

        Anyway, as I said, I like a lot of Protestants a great deal, so I hope you don’t take offense at anything. God bless.

        • Comment by vasily:

          “Even the heretics he argues against aren’t Protestants, but Docetists and Gnostics.”

          You might be interested in “Against the Protestant Gnostics”, by Philip Lee (a Presbyterian, I believe) … he makes the argument that much of American evangelical Protestantism is fundamentally gnostic in nature. There ain’t no such thing as a new heresy … and none of the old heresies have really gone away.

          I thumbed through a copy of a book by Madeline L’Engle at a Borders some years ago, and she basically said she believed the three Persons of the Trinity were just job descriptions. I believe the Big Book of Heresies calls that Modalism. ;)

          Just me and my Bible and Jesus doesn’t work very well against the spread of heresy, I’m afraid.

        • Comment by Mary:

          I still remember a Catholic blogger merrily pointing out a Protestant pastor talking at length about how you shouldn’t go and read the early Christians because they will turn you into a Catholic — without quite establishing that if all the early Christans were Catholics, that proved that Catholicism is wrong.

    • Comment by Suburbanbanshee:

      The Orthodox have their own versions of the doctrine of Purgatory, but they’re not all that different. Generally they include both the “waystation” idea (which I don’t understand, frankly, but which is apparently a late-ish thing) and the idea that God is indeed a consuming fire, which does no hurt to the good who have become like Christ already in life, quickly consumes the after-effects of sin in the mostly faithful who were working on it in life, and devours up those who have made themselves nothing at all like God in life. And that version was fairly early, and based on the same Bible passages and Apostolic traditions as Purgatory in the West.

      The Eastern tradition frequently become definite on points that the West leaves deliberately blurry, just as the Western tradition gets definite on points that the East doesn’t clear up. Very seldom do those points actually disagree; they do often betray a difference in theological aesthetics and spiritual charisms, but usually in a complementary way. That’s why Catholicism can have all those Eastern rites joined back up with us, without messing up theology.

  6. Comment by vasily:

    You wrote: “At the 1000 league mark, the next major break happens, although this time there is no disagreement over the message, only over who has the final authority in case of any garbled messages to establish the authoritative version. These are the Orthodox, who later split into Greek and Russian. …

    The two Orthodox messengers says not so, that the chief messengers of Antioch and Constantinople, Jerusalem and Alexandria were equal, and Rome not greater than they; but the Orthodox accept everything Rome also accepts, at least up to whatever the first seven General Councils agreed.”

    Regarding the Orthodox view of the authority of the See of Rome, that’s partially right. Orthodox (and I am one, though I grew up Roman Catholic and had 12.5 years of Catholic theological education before “falling away” as a college student) do not deny the Primacy of Peter, but rather the Roman Catholic claims regarding that primacy. I suggest reading “The Primacy of Peter: Essays in Ecclesiology and the Early Church”, edited by John Meyendorff and available on Amazon for clarity on the Orthodox position regarding primacy. I also recommend “The Roman West and the Byzantine East”, by Archbishop Chrysostomos of Etna and Bishop Auxentios of Photiki which does a good job of presenting the Western vs Eastern view of history (except for the last two pages, in which he engages in a rant against modernism, ultra-traditionalist that he is).

    The Orthodox did not split into Greek and Russian … I don’t know where you’re getting this. The Rus were evangelized by Ss Cyril and Methodius in the 9th century. All canonical churches have one theology and one set of sacraments, and elevating one national manifestation of Orthodoxy above others was declared heretical at a pan-Orthodox synod in 1872: it’s called phyletism, and is condemned by the Church … all the “Hellenic Societies” and “Greek Schools” you see in Greek churches here in the US aside. I have no idea who you’re referring to as the “two Orthodox messengers”, but if you mean Greeks and Russians, that’s incorrect from the perspective of polity … there’s one Orthodox church.

    And we don’t view ourselves as splitting from the Roman Catholic church … we view Rome as splitting from the Holy Orthodox Church. It’s a matter of perspective, isn’t it? If you talk to many Catholic theologians, you’ll see that they agree with the Orthodox view of the Primacy of Peter and history; however, they will claim that the position of the Pope “evolved” in the West, and over centuries, the Roman See became “aware” of its authority (unfortunately, I don’t recall a reference for this). From our perspective, there’s no scriptural or theological warrant for claiming such an evolution of the role of the Bishop of Rome … other than that They Say So.

    The principle theological issues between us remain: the filioque which was introduced under the influence of Charlemagne’s pet theologians (BTW, the cathedral of St John Lateran consecrated in the 4th century has the text of the Nicene Creed engraved on it, without the filioque), the claims regarding papal infallibility (again refer to Meyendorff’s collection for a discussion of this), and the distortion of the doctrine of original sin which ultimately led to the elevation of the Theotokos to Co-Redemptrix in R.C. thinking (this all due to St Jerome’s incorrect translation of Romans 5 in the Latin Vulgate).

    Beyond that, the massive bureaucracy of the Vatican is worrisome; certainly the Orthodox branches who have chosen union with Rome have been promised a lot, but Rome has reneged on promises in the past. The issues of use of azymes in the West in the Eucharist, and the issue of married priests are probably fairly minor compared to these (though they are the issues that led to the schism), and to the theologians who have been declared anathema in the centuries since (or who are considered saints in one realm, and not saints in the other … Augustine of Hippo, for example, who is held in suspicion in the East for his distortion of the doctrine of original sin due to his dependence on the Latin Vulgate).

    Regarding “the chief messengers of Antioch and Constantinople, Jerusalem and Alexandria were equal, and Rome not greater than they”, again, refer to Orthodox positions on primacy … the Bishop of Rome was First among Equals, and held a tie-breaking role in synods and councils until (in our view) Charlemagne mucked things up for his own political reasons (and part of the break was rooted in the fact that Greek texts were not widely read among Western theologians, and Latin texts were not widely read among Eastern theologians, as well as in Charlemagne’s ambitions for his empire).

    There is, as John Crowley wrote in his Aegypt tetralogy, more than one history of the world. And to declare oneself Roman Catholic, or Orthodox, or Protestant involves placing one’s faith in a certain telling of ecclesiastical history. If there is to be talk of union between East and West, there must a recognizing of these multiple histories, and an acknowledgement of the damage that has often resulted from the assumptions implicit in these histories. I see some hope in the last three Roman Popes (there are a couple of Orthodox popes floating around, too), who have shown a spirit of repentance and brotherhood toward us. It would behoove us as laypersons to approach each other in the same spirit.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      The only thing you say that comes as a surprise to me is the claim that the Orthodox Church considers the Russian Orthodox Church to be part of it. This is due to my ignorance, for I had heard that the Czar retained so much control over it, including the appointment of bishops, that he had reduced it to servility. I hope that is no longer the case.

      I could indeed have added layers more of detail to my little analogy to make it more historically accurate, and had each messenger speak his claim in detail. But I did not give the Roman version any more time or less than the Protestant or the Orthodox.

      Myself, I regard the actual theological differences between the Western and Eastern Churches to be so minor as to be not worth discussing. To me it seems like a schism, an argument over who should lead, not a heresy, an argument over who is speaking the truth. This schism has always seems tragic to me, because so unnecessary. It was a political dispute between Latin and Greek speaking parts of the world in the Fifth to Tenth Century, and we still suffer for our forefathers failure of charity. If I were given the choice, and I had to chose between the doctrine of the Primacy of Rome and the unity of the Church, I would pick unity. I assume there are many charitable Orthodox who would prefer unity to the constitution of the Orthodox Church.

      In my personal search, the claims of the Romans and the Greeks seemed a tie to me. There was no logical reason to prefer the one to the other, so I decided for subjective reasons. Unlike the Protestants and the Mormons, I do not think the Orthodox claim to orthodoxy contains any paradox. The question of the historical basis of the Petrine supremacy is more narrow than you hear portray it, but I am not competent to argue the nuances of a historical question where so few clear records survive.

      • Comment by vasily:

        Orthodoxy in America was under the Russian Church from the 18th century on. This included other nationalities who were immigrating to North America. Today, this jurisdiction is the Orthodox Church in America (OCA). Today, you have separate jurisdictions in North America due to the tragedy of the Russian Revolution … in its wake, there were those who fled Russia and would not live under the Patriarch and they ended up forming the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR). That schism has been largely healed in recent years … however, there are Greek and Russian Old Calendarists who are not in union with the canonical Church, as well as those who believed ROCOR was too “modernist”; think of them as Orthodox fundamentalists. Regarding the Tsar, I don’t know about that … but there’s a tradition in the West as well as the East of monarchs choosing bishops going back to Charlemagne so it wouldn’t surprise me. Portions of the Russian Church have traditionally viewed Moscow as the third Rome, after Constantinople … and in that view, Tsar Nicolas was the last emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. There are Orthodox groups that are not in communion with the canonical Church, including the monophysites in Africa and the mid-East … however, there’s movement there since we’re starting to realize most of them either no longer hold authentic monophysite views, or language differences caused the differences in the past to be exaggerated. I believe in the Antiochian tradition, Copts and Ethiopians are welcomed to the communion table without fanfare but I’m not completely sure of that.

        Regarding the theological differences, Roman Catholics tend to underestimate their seriousness; our priest was sometimes invited by a prof at a local evangelical college to debate theology with a Roman Catholic priest, and at one such presentation, the RC priest said he didn’t see what the big deal was with the filioque, if we didn’t want to say it, we didn’t have to. The problem is this: words do matter, and by saying the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son you’re subordinating Him to the Father and Son, and introducing an asymmetry into the Trinity … which in turn has implications for Christology. Calling Mary Co-Redemptrix is similarly problematic for us, since it is grounded in the Immaculate Conception which was needed due to the aforementioned mistranslation of Romans 5, and it makes Mary a special kind of creature, the only Homo Sap born without original sin … no one else can aspire to be like Mary, since she is sui generis. For us Orthodox, original sin is primarily about death rather than an inborn taint on the soul … the doctrine as adopted in the West is both unnecessary and viewed as theologically harmful. These things are not therefore the trivial matters that most Roman Catholics believe them to be.

        I highly recommend you and every other Roman Catholic interested in true dialogue with the Orthodox read “The Primacy of Peter: Essays in Ecclesiology and the Early Church”, edited by John Meyendorff … it will clarify the Orthodox position on primacy much better than I can. Most Orthodox are indeed interested in unity … but as equals, and not at any price. We’ve been burned before.

        EDIT: Forgot this book on the Orthodox view of the Papacy, which is also excellent: “You Are Peter: An Orthodox Reflection on the Exercise of Papal Primacy”, by Olivier Clement

        • Comment by Andrew Brew:

          The only note (correction?) I would add here is:
          The Holy Roman Empire does not refer to the empires of the east, neither in Constantinople nor in Moscow. There, the church was indeed held captive to the state as it had been in the West going back to Theodosius the Great. With the fall of Constantinople the tradition was continued when the Tsars took up the Imperial mantle.

          Perhaps in the west it was the fact that the empire died, to be recreated in a new form under papal auspices in 800 AD, that allowed the Latin church to ultimately escape through the Hildebrandine reforms. Apart from the unbroken apostolic succession this is another point in favour, I think, of the claims of Rome – they are the only church that has achieved a position independent of the host state.

          • Comment by vasily:

            “The Holy Roman Empire does not refer to the empires of the east, neither in Constantinople nor in Moscow.”

            Constantinople has historically been called the second Rome, and since Constantinople fell to the Ottomans Moscow the third Rome. Though I believe the Bulgarians and the Austrians also made claims to be the third Rome title at one time or another. The claim in both cases is, I think, a claim to be the continuation of the Holy Roman Empire. However, it appears you’re right … properly the term only applies in my books to the Eastern Roman Empire.

            • Comment by Andrew Brew:

              I have never heard of the “Third Rome” title applied anywhere but Moscow. There was no legal continuity between the Roman and Holy Roman empires, although the latter certainly regarded themselves as a legitimate successor state. In the east there was legal continuity right up to 1453. Moscow was likewise a successor state, with legal and Moral authority approximating that of the HRE in the west.

              • Comment by John C Wright:

                The British for a while were calling Rome the Second Troy and their town of London the Third Troy or New Troy, “Troynovant” or “Trinovantum”. This is based on the myth that it was founded by Brutus, a Trojan refugee.

                So this is a similar claim to Second Romanhood, I suppose.

        • Comment by John C Wright:

          Regarding the Tsar, I don’t know about that … but there’s a tradition in the West as well as the East of monarchs choosing bishops going back to Charlemagne so it wouldn’t surprise me.

          It was like stepping into a time machine when I went to China, and found out that the main dispute between the Church and the Party was over the appointment of Bishops.

          In the early days, the Pope wrote a letter to the new government of the United States of America asked what permission or concordat was needed to allow the Holy Father to appoint bishops here. The puzzled Americans wrote back and said our new form of government, Republicanism, does not allow for the state to interfere with Church matters at all, in any way.

          God bless America. It is the only nation in history that never gave the Church grief about appointing bishops.

        • Comment by garycblack:

          Underestimate the importance to Orthodox persons, yes. As far as the filioque is concerned, I must only ask a simple question that will both espouse your personal understanding of the organization of our God and clarify our position. Would you find it orthodox to say, “The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son.”?

          This question, of course, is the position of the Greggory of Nicea and the Church generally. The only distinction left is to understand that procedit does not mean the same thing in Greek. This is precisely why even Catholics believe it is heresy to adopt the phrase into that tongue (but OK in English).

          I have seen a handful of Orthodox scholars have the good will to admit as much, but it’s a sad fact that you believe your culture and identity are at stake. Catholics must be damnable heretics or you risk being Latinized.

          • Comment by vasily:

            “Would you find it orthodox to say, “The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son.”?”

            Yes.

            “This question, of course, is the position of the Greggory [sic] of Nicea and the Church generally. The only distinction left is to understand that procedit does not mean the same thing in Greek.”

            As far as I know, there’s no controversy in the current Orthodox Church over the meaning of procedit.

            “I have seen a handful of Orthodox scholars have the good will to admit as much, but it’s a sad fact that you believe your culture and identity are at stake. Catholics must be damnable heretics or you risk being Latinized.”

            This is offensive and condescending, and overgeneralizes about Orthodoxy. It also evidences a serious misunderstanding of what heresy is all about in the eyes of the Church. I personally know no one in the Church who would call Roman Catholics “damnable heretics”, or presume to stand in judgement of anyone … including non-Christians.

            EDIT: By the way, most of the people who’ve converted to Orthodoxy over the past 20 or 30 years have done so for reasons historical and/or theological; it has nothing to do for us with culture or identity or fear of being “Latinized”. And though there are cradle Orthodox for whom culture and identity are the most important aspect of being Orthodox, it’s unfair as well as inaccurate to generalize about cradle Orthodox. As I wrote earlier, most Orthodox would welcome unity but only if the conversations are approached as equals, not as we being subordinates to Rome. Trivializing the positions of the other side and generalizing about them is no way to convince anyone of one’s good intentions regarding dialogue or one’s desire to approach the other in a spirit of agape.

            Many of us who have converted to the Church from Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, or something else have paid a heavy price for doing so: rejection by family and friends, being viewed suspiciously by cradle Orthodox who view the Church as theirs (“why are you going to a Greek church; you’re not Greek?”). We get it from all sides … including some of our Roman Catholic friends who choose to confront us on our choices rather than celebrating them. Most of us who have converted have spent a lot of time studying and praying over our choices … we did not take our choices lightly. Neither did Mr. Wright, it would seem.

            • Comment by John C Wright:

              Honestly, my reasons for not joining the Orthodoxy were very slight. I regard them as the same Church, just with different leadership. The argument about Filoque strikes me as insignificant, or the use of unleavened bread. The Orthodox have Apostolic succession and legitimate sacraments. Their Eucharist is valid, and they are just as old as the Roman branch, if not older.

    • Comment by John's Web Support:

      From our perspective, there’s no scriptural or theological warrant for claiming such an evolution of the role of the Bishop of Rome … other than that They Say So.

      I have great love for the Orthodox Church. With no disrespect intended toward it, here is a scriptural argument for the primacy of Peter and, by extension, the Petrine office.

      It starts with Mt 16:13-19, wherein Christ founds His Church upon Peter and sets Peter as its earthly steward.

      Mt. 16:13-19:

      When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi
      he asked his disciples,
      “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
      They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah,
      still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
      He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
      Simon Peter said in reply,
      “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
      Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah.
      For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.
      And so I say to you, you are Peter,
      and upon this rock I will build my Church,
      and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.
      I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven.
      Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you
      loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

      To understand all that is happening in this Gospel reading, you have to look at the multiple, intentional OT parallels and echoes, the cultural context, and the geographic context.

      CONTEXT: Matthew 16:18-19 echoes Isaiah 22:15,19-24!

      The context for Isaiah 22 is that King Hezekiah ascended the throne of David in 715 B.C. and ruled the land of Judah. The key of David, a literal key, was worn on the shoulder of Shebna, the royal steward, as a symbol of his authority. Isaiah prophecies that God will replace Shebna with Eliakim, giving the authority (and the key) over to him.

      15 This is what the Lord, the LORD Almighty, says:
      “Go, say to this steward,
      to Shebna, who is in charge of the palace:

      19 I will depose you from your office,
      and you will be ousted from your position.
      20 “In that day I will summon my servant, Eliakim son of Hilkiah. 21
      I will clothe him with your robe and fasten your sash around him and
      hand your authority over to him. He will be a father to those who live
      in Jerusalem and to the house of Judah. 22 I will place on his
      shoulder the key to the house of David; what he opens no one can shut,
      and what he shuts no one can open. 23 I will drive him like a peg into
      a firm place; he will be a seat of honor for the house of his father.
      24 All the glory of his family will hang on him: its offspring and
      offshoots — all its lesser vessels, from the bowls to all the jars.

      Both speak of keys, and Jesus is clearly mimicking the language (“what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open” / “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”), and any Jew would have recognized the significance. Jesus was addressing a parallel context. Both involve kingdoms, both delegated authority, and both the appointment of royal stewards. A new steward is being placed over the
      kingdom of Judah in the former; in the latter Jesus appoints Peter as steward over his kingdom. Jesus came, the Messiah, and ascends the throne of David as the heir and successor of the kings of Israel and Judah, and he too appoints a steward over his kingdom. The physical kingdom of Israel has been superseded by the spiritual kingdom of God, and the office of steward has been superseded by the Petrine
      office.

      David Stern, a Messianic Jew, writes in his Jewish New Testament Commentary that Jesus makes Peter both “shammash (steward), with the keys, and dayan (judge), who, as the one who can prohibit and permit, establishes new covenant halakhah (law, customs).”

      Protestant theologian F. F. Bruce writes, in “The Hard Sayings of Jesus”, that “The keys of a royal or noble establishment were entrusted to the chief steward or major-domo; he carried them on his shoulder in earlier times, and there they served as a badge of the authority entrusted to him. About 700B.C. an oracle from God [through Isaiah] announced that this authority in the royal palace in Jerusalem was to be conferred on a man called Eliakim: (Isaiah 22:22 redacted). So in the new community which Jesus was about to build, Peter would be, so to speak, chief steward.”

      CONTEXT: Matthew 16:15-17 echoes Genesis 41:38-44!

      The royal model of the Jews was largely based on that of the Egyptians. During their captivity, the Pharaoh appointed Joseph his vizier, or steward.

      Genesis 41:

      38 So Pharaoh asked them, “Can we find anyone like this man, one in
      whom is the spirit of God?”
      39 Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has made all this known to
      you, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. 40 You shall be in
      charge of my palace, and all my people are to submit to your orders.
      Only with respect to the throne will I be greater than you.”
      41 So Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I hereby put you in charge of the
      whole land of Egypt.” 42 Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his
      finger and put it on Joseph’s finger. He dressed him in robes of fine
      linen and put a gold chain around his neck. 43 He had him ride in a
      chariot as his second-in-command, and men shouted before him, “Make
      way!” Thus he put him in charge of the whole land of Egypt.
      44 Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I am Pharaoh, but without your word
      no one will lift hand or foot in all Egypt.”

      The signet ring here has the same significance as the key. Joseph achieves this position by correctly interpreting Pharaoh’s dream — thanks to direct revelation from God. This parallels Christ’s appointment of Peter.

      Matthew 16:
      15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
      16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
      17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was
      not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.

      Just as Joseph was appointed the Pharaoh’s steward based on direct revelation from God, so too is Peter appointed Christ’s steward based on direct revelation.

      The Pharaoh recognizes that Joseph has been given the charism of infallible interpretation from God, and recognizing this he makes Joseph’s the final word in legal and judicial matters. So too does Jesus entrust Peter with infallibility in interpreting the revelation of God in order to preserve and feed the Church.

      Also, in both cases the steward’s name is changed: Joseph becomes “Zaphenath-Paneah” and Simon Peter becomes “Peter”. Names changes in the OT were momentous, the most famous example being when Abram is renamed Abraham by God. When Christ changed Simon Peter’s name to “Rock”, he signified a change in status, a new calling, a commission.

      In Jesus’ time, to call someone a “rock” was a great compliment. The ancient rabbis had a saying that when God saw Abraham, He exclaimed, “I have discovered a rock to found the world upon.” Jesus’ selection of Peter parallels this. Just as God established a nation for Himself through Abraham, Jesus now establishes a Church for himself on Peter.

  7. Comment by Nostreculsus:

    The[y] cannot throw away the Book of the Maccabeus or Tobit or the Letters of James…

    I’m afraid the reaction of many papists, who notoriously do not read the Bible much, will be, “Huh? Book of Tobit? Never heard of such a thing!” So, I went to the library to examine the old family bibles. Our Douay bible (“By the English College of Doway”) has “The Booke of Tobias”, which tells an anecdote of Tobias, a pious man who had the misfortune of being blinded – “and as he was sleeping, hot dung out of the swallowes nest fel vpon his eyes, and he was made blinde.” And so, in dire poverty, he sends his son to collect an old debt, “tenne talentes of siluer”. His son, confusingly also named Tobias, sets off with his dog and with a guide who will prove to be the angel Raphael in disguise.

    Meanwhile, a certain good woman Sara, daughter of Raguel, prays to the Lord to be delivered from a demonic curse, for ” a diuel named Asmodeus” has successively killed seven of her bridegrooms. And Raphael was sent to deliver her as well.

    As Tobias (the son) passes by the river Tigris, he pauses to wash his weary feet and a huge fish appears to devour him. But the Angel advises “take him by the gille”. After a struggle, the Angel tell him to keep the entrails, heart, gall and liver as medicine. And when the travelers stay the next night at the home of their kinsman, Raguel, the Angel has them place the fish liver upon live coals to drive the demon from Sara. And the demon flees for upper Aegypt, so that Tobias can safely wed Sara, pausing on his journey for two weeks.

    All this time, Tobias the father is distressed at the delay. “Why thinkest thou doth my sonne tary or why is he held there?” With great joy, he hears the dog which has accompanied his son on his adventures. The blind father gropes and rises to greet his son and his new daughter-in-law, bringing wealth and the gall of the monster fish. And the son, “taking the gal of the fish annoynted his fathers eies…and the white blemish began to come out of his eies, as it were the skinne of an egge”.

    And all lived happily ever after.

    Now this is a charming tale with many edifying messages. One would not like it to be lost. Naughty Protestants for jettisoning the thing! Imagine my surprise then when I examined a King James Bible and found the selfsame yarn in something the translators call, “The Book of Tobit”. The translation differs somewhat and here the father is named Tobit while the son remains Tobias, which makes things a bit less mystifying to the casual reader. And the story is moved to a separate section called “The Apocrypha”.

    Is this entire squabble over things like the precise status or placement of the book of Tobias? These may be of some interest but I am not a Biblical scholar and am willing to accept expert opinion on this. Can we not have a dispute where there is some large difference between the sides?

    Could we not have a discussion with a Hindu on the proper response to the obvious distinctions in aptitudes and interests within humanity. Should society take explicit notice of the castes that exist or should the West go on pretending that it is bad taste to notice such things? Dispute with a Jew or a Muslim that Jesus is not divine. Dispute with a Confucian who holds that society should be a hierarchy of paternalistic duties and respect and that equality of power is highly undesirable and even destructive. Argue with a materialist on the precise nature and status of mental entities or with a magician on the primacy of anything but will.

    Or carry on as before, but please note the relatively niggling nature of the difference in opinion here. Jesus certainly was not bothered by chumming around with Samaritans.

    • Comment by Tom Simon:

      Is this entire squabble over things like the precise status or placement of the book of Tobias?

      No indeed. It was Luther’s position that the so-called deuterocanonical books, viz. those books found in the Septuagint but not in the Masoretic Text, were not scriptural at all and ought not to be included in the Bible. Most editions of the King James version, in fact, do not include the Apocrypha. You had the good fortune to be in possession of one of the exceptions.

      One of Luther’s clear motives for excluding the Apocrypha was the reference to prayer for the dead in Maccabees. This passage destroyed his argument against the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory; that the Jews of the Diaspora, in adopting the Masoretic Text, left Maccabees out of their canon, provided him with an excuse for deleting the evidence in favour of a doctrine he personally opposed.

      Luther also declared that the Epistle of James was ‘an epistle of straw’, and strove to have it removed from the canon of the New Testament, because it reminds us that ‘faith without works is dead’, which tells against Luther’s doctrine of sola fide. On that point, however, he did not prevail. My point is that he is not to be trusted as an authority on the canonicity of texts, as he always had his own doctrinal axe to grind.

      By the way, I do not thank you for using the term ‘papist’, which is always intended as an insult, nor for telling me that I ‘notoriously do not read the Bible much’. If you want to claim that there is only a ‘niggling . . . difference of opinion’, and that the two sides ought to discuss the matter civilly, it would behove you to be civil yourself.

      • Comment by Nostreculsus:

        Dear Mr Simon,

        I apologise for any offense given by the term “papist”.

        If you read more carefully, you might noted I intended only a self-deprecating reference to myself as the papist and poor biblical scholar in question (did you even notice the extensive quotes from the family Douay bible?). And I am much too conceited to insult myself, even though I often make a fool of myself.

        And now, I will proceed enrage everyone else here by gratuitously insulting Protestants. Because in rereading the fascinating story of Tobias, the magic fish and the demon-cursed bride it occurred to me that there are certain people, usually Protestant fundamentalists, who take the Bible as literally and factually precise. The idea of literary genre, of a parable or of an edifying story that teaches a lesson, is alien to them The universe was literally created in six days.

        Clearly, such people would have big trouble with a plainly fanciful tale such as that of Tobias.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      I am giving my personal reasons for preferring one denomination to the other: I am somewhat taken aback by your sneering tone. The decision was important enough to me, and even had it been unimportant, one cannot be a nondenominational churchgoer because there is no such thing.

      My firm opinion is that all these doctrinal disputes were excessively minor because the real reasons for the schisms were political: as English and German princes were resentful of an international institution hindering their lust for absolute power was behind the Protestant break, or disputed between Western princes and the Byzantine Emperor was behind the Great Schism, or disputes between Africa Churches and haughty Imperial conquerors was behind the Nestorian and Monophysite schisms.

      Any decision is niggling if someone else makes it for you. I did not have that luxury.

      • Comment by Andrew Brew:

        Nestorian and Monophysite schisms

        Better. You earlier referred to these as heresies, I think, although neither was ever declared as such.

        • Comment by John C Wright:

          If so, this is a surprise to me.

          The heresy of Nestorius concerning the two persons in Christ was condemned by the Council of Ephesus in 431. Fourth Ecumenical Council at Chalcedon held in 451 condemned the heresy of Eutyches and the Monophysites, albeit this was in contradiction to the “Latrocinium”, or Robber Council, of Ephesus in 449, a name that clung to it for its procedural irregularities (only the friends and partisans of Dioscurus and Eutyches were allowed to have a voice; The Alexandrine patriarch ignored the papal delegates, would not permit the letters of Pope Leo, including the “Epistola Dogmatica”, to be read in the assembly). The second Ecumenical Council held in 553 upheld the findings of Chalcedon.

          So I believe Nestorianism and the opposite error of Eutachyanism were and are officially anathematized by both Orthodox and Catholic (at that time, one and the same Church) authorities according to the proper due process, and are therefore both heretical, as well as being schismatic (in that certain African Churches rejected the findings of Ephesus and Chalcedon, I believe.)

          • Comment by Andrew Brew:

            On second glance, I believe you are correct. The “Robber Council” had me confused, I think, although there were enough shenanigans to go around at the council itself. Nestorius’ contention was ostensibly about the role (and therefore proper title) of Mary, although that of course has implications for the nature of Christ. He and most of his supporters boycotted the council as a political ploy by Cyril of Alaxandria, took no part in its resolutions, and did not recognise its validity. Since the church of the east was not denying any item of the creed to which they had previously assented they did not regard themselves as heretics, but once the council was ratified they were so, willy nilly, from the Orthodox perspective. A common formula could surely have been found if either Nestorius or Cyril had been prepared to climb down from their respective high horses, but it did not happen.

            I withdraw my statement, and cease, for the time being, my thread-jacking.

            • Comment by John C Wright:

              What makes it even more complicated is that (if I am recalling the story right) Nestorius himself was not a Nestorian. He objected to the term “Mother of God” for arguably reasonable technical reasons, but some of his followers took that idea and ran it off the edge of the cliff, saying Mary gave birth only to Jesus’s mortal man half, not his divine god half, which implies that the two halves were two different things, not one being. To counteract this, the Monophysites said Christ had only one nature, that he was entirely divine, and so was not really a human being at all. Both of these are rational positions, because it is possible to understand how a man could be fully god and fully man without being one or the other or both at once. Nonetheless, the orthodox (that is, what is now the Catholic and the Orthodox Church) took this mysterious paradox as the orthodox position, and anathematized the more understandable positions that Christ was half god and half man, or was all god and no man.

              I am of course grossly simplifying the debate, which was about matters that call for a technical vocabulary, and which, ultimately, cannot be expressed clearly in human speech at all. But I notice the Church, as during the Arian debate, did the wild thing, not the safe and reasonable thing. That is another reason why I cannot regard these doctrines as the product of some corruption on the part of the post-Nicene Church. That is not the way corrupted institutions act. Corrupted institutions play it safe, and make the slogans simple and dumb — something that can be written on a bumper sticker.

  8. Comment by Nostreculsus:

    My firm opinion is that all these doctrinal disputes were excessively minor because the real reasons for the schisms were political

    That was precisely my point. You phrased it more concisely than I and gave the undoubted reason. This political origin of sectarian disputes is particularly plain in Irish history. And that same history gives ample evidence why I have misgivings about wading into these doctrinal thickets. Perhaps that is why a Belfast lad like C S Lewis pushed for “Mere Christianity”.

    Any decision is niggling if someone else makes it for you.

    Sorry. This makes no sense. If, for instance, I am in an arranged marriage, this is still a large decision.

    The differences between Christianity and either materialism, occultism, Confucianism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam are large. They concern the world’s immediate future. The precise status of the Apocrypha is, by comparison, exceedingly minor.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      The differences between Christianity and either materialism, occultism, Confucianism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam are large.

      Maybe so, but I notice that the Declaration of Independence only complains about the tyranny of the King of England, and not about the greater tyrannies of the Sultan of Turkey or the Emperor of Japan. This is because the choice facing the American colonists was whether to rebel or not. Likewise, here, in the essay given above, the choice facing the writer was which denomination to enter.

  9. Comment by RogerGriffin:

    Seems to me that the trouble began when the catholic Church began to call itself the Catholic Church.

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