Thursday, October 29, 2009

Guy Davies' review of Return to Rome, part 2

Although I do not plan on responding to Mr. Davies' sequel, I do think that readers of the Return to Rome Blog should get a glimpse on how someone can offer a critical review without sounding mean, nasty, or snarky. To find part 2, go here. For part 1, go here. For my response to part 1, go here.

It is my hope and prayer that I can emulate in my own Christian practice the sort of virtues that I have found in Mr. Davies' public example.


Guy Davies said...

Thanks for the links, the helpful interaction and for your kind and generous remarks.

Guy Davies

lojahw said...

Frank says: “But the Church maintains, quite sensibly, that the Bible cannot be read in isolation from the historic Church and the practices [and beliefs] that were developing [e.g., purgatory, praying for the dead, penance, Eucharistic realism, etc.] alongside the Church’s creeds—creeds that became permanent benchmarks of orthodoxy during the same eras in which the canon of Scripture itself was finally fixed.”

It seems that Frank’s underlying point is that the Reformation’s understanding of Scripture relies on the authority of creeds which were developed alongside practices and beliefs which Protestants reject. His unstated point is: why accept one and not the other? In response, firstly, he begins with a mistaken view of history.

Regarding history, the Trinitarian orthodoxy of the early church prior to the formulation of the Nicene Creed is well attested to in the writings of the Scriptures as well as both the Greek and Latin fathers. The fourth century creeds merely restated what the Scriptures, the church fathers, and the Apostles’ Creed had already proclaimed. Hence, Trinitarian orthodoxy was neither developed alongside the practices and beliefs most strongly rejected by Protestants,* nor was it dependent on a particular ecclesiastical tradition. This ante-Nicene orthodoxy is well documented in the works of Ignatius of Antioch (Philadelphians, 6), the Didache, Justin Martyr (First Apology 1.63), Melito (Fragment 6, on the two natures of Christ), Irenaeus (Against Heresies 1.10), and Tertullian (Prescription against Heretics, 13), to cite just a few within the first hundred years of the writing of the New Testament.

And why would one never arrive at Trinitarian doctrine from Scripture alone? Aside from the Trinitarian references below, the finer details of the Nicene and Apostle’s Creeds are amply supplied by the Bible and can be readily ascertained and defended without the benefit of any particular tradition.

Isa. 48:12-16, I am the first and the last. . . . The LORD Yahweh has sent Me, and His Spirit. (cf. Rev. 1:17-18)

Matt. 28:19 . . . baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. (one name, three persons)

Eph. 2:17-18 for through Him [Jesus] we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father.

Finally, Frank assumes that if the Church got a few things right, it must be right about everything. But the Scriptures and apostolic beliefs and practices of the “faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” were in place long before the developments of the Church he cites. Jesus promised His original disciples that the Holy Spirit would lead them into all the truth, i.e., all truth essential for salvation. I believe Jesus kept His promise, and therefore, the only essential beliefs and practices for all generations of Christians are those handed down by the apostles.

*Note: Purgatory, the sacrament of penance, invocation of departed saints, veneration of images, Marian devotion, etc., were POST-NICENE developments.

Lover of Jesus and His Word

Francis Beckwith said...

FIrst, if you are suggesting that Ignatius had a doctrine of the Trinity, let alone a developed one, then you should deliver a paper on this at the next AAR meeting. That's quite a find.

Second, when I say the "doctrine of the Trinity," I don't mean "belief in the Trinity." One substance and three persons--with all the nuances and distinctions unpacked--was the result of hard work and philosophical reflections, and was by no means the obvious reading of Scripture. If it were, why does not Paul mention the doctrine in all its fullness? Or even Jesus or any of the other NT writers. The Didache, which you mention, fails to offer an elaborate account of the Trinity. And yet, Trinitarianism is at the center of Christian theology.

In similar fashion, to say that the Chalcedonian formulation of the Incarnation as orthodoxy is not to claim that no one prior to Chalcedon believed in the Incarnation. But what exactly the Incarnation meant was not an obvious deliverance of Scripture. If it were, then why did we wait until the 5th century to finally get it right?

You write:
"The fourth century creeds merely restated what the Scriptures, the church fathers, and the Apostles’ Creed had already proclaimed."

You can't possibly believe that this is true. Is Chalcedon a mere restatement of what father or creed? And Nicea contributed nothing to the development of Christian theology?

The Apostles' creed is a thin reed compared to the Nicene Creed, which was only one part of the council's conclusions. The others included rules about penance, ordination, and the viaticum: If penance did not pre-date Nicea, why does Nicea mention it? It seems reasonable to assume that it was a standard practice in the church for quite some time. In fact, we don't have to assume it. We know from the debate over rigorism that penance was an uncontroversial aspect of Christian practice.

I'm not assuming that because the church got some things right they got all things right. I'm arguing that the best way to make sense of doctrinal development is to have a Magisterium. After all, Nicea settled something, didn't it? Was it merely that it restated Scripture? Couldn't be, since anyone could have rejected the Council without fear of heresy? Who the heck is the Council, unless their conclusions carry real authority?

I think you underestimate the given that you think is obvious. The Catholic Church has provided you (indeed, all of us) the bible, the creeds, and the theologians from which to create Protestantism. But then you look back into that Church History and see how everything turned out just right once 1517 arrived. You see this or that Church father saying something seemingly consistent with the Creeds that were eventually universally accepted. What you fail to understand is that the creeds were created and offered as authoritative documents precisely because the answer was not that obvious. And the case was closed precisely because the Church had the authority to close it. Again, if not, then why did everyone think it was closed?

You're simply mistaken about ante-Nicean Catholic practices. Take a look at Robert Louis Wilken, The Spirit of Early Christian Thought. Yale University Press, 2003, or J. N. D. Kelly, or even Pelikan. gnatius, Irenaeaus, Cyprian, and Tertullian all mention penance.

Wilken writes: “Early in the church’s history Christians gathered at the tombs of martyrs to pray and celebrate the Eucharist. The faithful of one generation were united to the faithful of former times, not by a set of ideas or teachings (though this was assumed), but by the community that remembered their names… The communion of the saints wa a living presence in every celebration of the Eucharist.” (46).

(continued in next post)

Francis Beckwith said...

And from the Catholic Encyclopedia: The testimony of the early liturgies is in harmony with that of the monuments. Without touching the subject of the various liturgies we possess, without even enumerating and citing them singly, it is enough to say here that all without exception—Nestorian and Monophysite as well as Catholic, those in Syriac, Armenian, and Coptic as well as those in Greek and Latin—contain the commemoration of the faithful departed in the Mass, with a prayer for peace, light, refreshment and the like, and in many cases expressly for the remission of sins and the effacement of sinful stains. The following, from the Syriac Liturgy of St James, may be quoted as a typical example: “we commemorate all the faithful dead who have died in the true faith...We ask, we entreat, we pray Christ our God, who took their souls and spirits to Himself, that by His many compassions He will make them worthy of the pardon of their faults and the remission of their sins” (citations omitted)(Toner, “Prayers for the Dead”)

Jae said...

Very well said, Francis! you did your homework!

Your book, "Return to Rome" is an honest, logical and made a lot of sense compared to any differing protestant exegesis of the Scripture.

Related, the Early Church history for Pete's sake, most if not all the Patristic Fathers were either Catholic Bishops or priests who recognized the ("themes") of Church hierarchy, Authority, Eucharist, Mass, penance, fastings and the Primacy of the Bishop of Rome.

These were the "themes" of the early protestant churches?

lojahw said...

Frank, did you read my post quoting Ignatius’ letter to the Philadelphians? Have you read the fathers writings that I cited? Your assertions do not do justice to the Scriptures, the fathers or the Apostle’s Creed. I have 30 pages of quotes from Scripture and the church fathers anticipating every substantive point of the creed. Rather than fill your blog with all the quotes, however, I’ll simply offer the following:

May I assume that you accept the clear teaching of Scripture (e.g., John 1:1; 10:30; 14:9-10; Phil. 2:6; Col. 1:19) and the church fathers on Jesus’ divine nature?

The Scriptures on Jesus’ human nature:
John 1:14 And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.
John 19:5 Jesus then came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, "Behold, the Man!"
Acts 2:22 "Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst…
Acts 25:19 but they simply had some points of disagreement with him about their own religion and about a dead man, Jesus, whom Paul asserted to be alive.
Rom. 5:15 For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many.
Phil. 2:7-8 emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself…
1 Tim. 2:5 For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,

Trinitarian orthodoxy has always affirmed both Jesus’ divine and human nature, yet how He is both God and man at the same time is beyond mere human understanding. Various intellectual constructs to describe the nuances are not essential to saving faith.

The church fathers had no problem integrating the Scriptural teaching on the two natures of Christ:

From Ignatius’ letter to the Philadelphians: “If any one says there is one God, and also confesses Christ Jesus, but thinks the Lord to be a mere man, and not the only-begotten God, and Wisdom, and the Word of God, and deems Him to consist merely of a soul and body, such an one is a serpent… If any one confesses the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and praises the creation, but calls the incarnation merely an appearance, and is ashamed of the passion, such an one has denied the faith…”

Melito: “For, being at once both God and perfect man likewise, He gave us sure indications of His two natures,” (Fragment 6)

Irenaeus: “the ascension into heaven in the flesh of the beloved Christ Jesus … in order that to Christ Jesus, our Lord, and God, and Savior, and King, ‘every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth,’” (Against Heresies 1.10).

Tertullian: “as He is of the Spirit He is God the Spirit, and is born of God; just as He is also born of the flesh of man, being generated in the flesh as man. … Not without reason, however, did He descend into a womb. Therefore He received (flesh) therefrom.” (On the Flesh of Christ, 18-19).

Finally, according to Tertullian ca. AD 200: “…the mystery of the dispensation is still guarded, which distributes the Unity into a Trinity, placing in their order the three Persons— the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost: three, however, not in condition, but in degree; not in substance, but in form; not in power, but in aspect; yet of one substance, and of one condition, and of one power, inasmuch as He is one God, from whom these degrees and forms and aspects are reckoned, under the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. (Against Praxeas 2)

I’d be happy to provide additional quotes from the Scriptures and the fathers to support my claim that the Trinitarian faith affirmed by the Protestant Reformers was widely taught before the development of the dogmas Protestants have not accepted.


Francis Beckwith said...

Thanks for the citations and quotations. You're absolutely correct. In fact, those very quotes were instrumental in helping me to return to the Church. Take, for example, Tertullian, who is never beatified. Why? Because he drifts into heresy, a heresy that leads to schism. So, how is this problem resolved? By the Church. Moreover, as these orthodox ideas begin developing within the writings of the Fathers, and eventually find their way into the creeds in a more developed form, we have side-by-side and symbiotically the development of liturgies, practices, and beliefs unique to the Eastern and Latin rites of the Catholic Church. That is, the Scriptures that eventually make the canon are read in churches that practice liturgies that embrace Eucharistic realism, penance, etc. and do so under the authority of the bishop. So, what we have here is an organic development--a full integration of word, authority, and sacrament.

So, the passages from the Fathers you cite must read in that historical and eccelsiastical context rather than as passages detached from that context.

lojahw said...

That Tertullian later slipped into error does not invalidate his nor any other orthodox statement of faith grounded solely in the Scriptures handed down by the apostles. Your claim that the church fathers’ Trinitarian beliefs depended on traditions developed over centuries is simply unfounded - you have failed to demonstrate otherwise. That other beliefs and practices were developed over the centuries in the Church is irrelevant. One cannot read the early church fathers without recognizing their orthodoxy (with which the Protestant Reformers agreed), long before the beliefs and practices rejected by the Reformers were developed by the Church.

This post began with the assertion that the interpretation of Scripture upon which Protestants depend grew out of traditions developed over many centuries. I have cited a number of references which demonstrate otherwise. Appealing to generalities about liturgical practices and the canon of Scripture do not refute my argument. Can you name one substantial creedal truth that was not clearly anticipated by both the Scriptures and the early church fathers?


Francis Beckwith said...

lojahw: I'm just not sure what to make of your last comments. I did no say that Tertullian's heresy invalidates his Trinitarian beliefs. What I did say was that in order to distinguish Tertullian's Trinitarianism from his heretical beliefs an authoritative body was required, the same authoritative body that agreed with Tertullian that the deutercanonical books were Scripture (in addition to the Book of Enoch!)

As for what the fathers anticipated in terms of creedal formulations, again, that is the Catholic narrative. Doctrine develops, and the more developed version helps us to see, in retrospect, how it in fact developed. Prior to Tertullian's "Trinity," there were less developed versions of the Trinity for which the term "Trinity" had not yet been coined. In fact, the NT does not offer a formulated doctrine of the Trinity. And even after Tertullian the nuts and bolts of the doctrine had to be worked out. But even more important was the carefully crafted presentation of Christ's two natures in Chalcedon. In that case, the Church indeed had accepted that Jesus was both God and man. But what precisely did that mean, since the natures of God and man actually have inconsistent properties, e.g., eternality v. finitude, omnipresence v. limited to space and time, etc.

By the time we hit the Reformation in 1517 all the work's been done: fixed canon, catholic creeds, etc. Thus, it seemed relatively easy for the Reformers to see in Scripture that doctrines that already been established. But it didn't take that long to unravel as others who took the Bible seriously began to apply the Reformers' skepticism to those doctrines they took for granted. This is why we eventually get Unitarianism, "no creed by Christ" Campbellites, as well as the rejecting of the moral and social views entailed by Scripture on matters of marriage, women's ordination, family, procreation, abortion, etc.

Moreover, there are several scholars who make a pretty convincing argument that Calvin in fact reject aspect of Chalcedonian Christology and at times sounds Nestorian. I'm no expert on Calvin or Nestorius. But it seems to me that these arguments have merit.

Francis Beckwith said...

Clarification. I was not saying that the Church accepted the book of Enoch as scripture; just that Tertullian seems to have done so. I need a proofreader!