Justification, unity, and papacy: A blind spot

Catechism of the Catholic ChurchOne of the most frequent charges I hear, when I point out the inherent chaos and disunity of Protestantism, is that “there is a lot of disagreement in the Catholic Church, too” — that somehow disagreements within the Catholic Church are equivalent to, or excuse, the fundamental doctrinal disagreements between diverse Protestant churches. In particular, opponents point out the large number of self-identified Catholics who practice artificial birth control or support abortion or same-sex marriage in contradiction to the teachings of the Church. My response is that there is a fundamental distinction between what the Church teaches — the one, consistent, unified and unambiguous teaching of the Church’s infallible Magisterium, as summarized in the Catechism of the Catholic Church — and what individual Catholics do and believe, the doings and failings of fallible people who may make mistakes and stray from the flock. Even if a large number of people should disagree, sin, or fall away from the truth, it does not change the truth that is taught or besmirch the teacher.

The leading charge of the Protestant Reformation is that the Church had fallen away from a true understanding of the doctrine of justification as taught by St. Paul — that in contrast to the claims of Protestants, that justification is “by faith alone” (sola fide), the Catholic Church taught a doctrine of “works’ righteousness,” that somehow by our own working we can deserve or earn our own salvation. I have written a lot on justification and presented frequently here that this is not what the Catholic Church actually teaches. I have attempted to make the distinction before, and I have a new post in the docket in which I want to explore the point further: Catholics do believe in justification by faith and not our own efforts; where Protestants disagree is only in proposing that no human response at all is necessary.

Antonio Rodríguez - Saint Augustine

Antonio Rodríguez, Saint Augustine (Wikimedia).

It’s clear from history that the Church has never actually taught a doctrine of “works’ righteousness,” the thesis that man, by his own effort, can in any way save himself. This is the heresy of Pelagianism, which the Catholic Church has always and consistently condemned. Saint Augustine, Saint Thomas Aquinas, and other monuments of Catholic theology consistently maintain that justification is only by the grace of God through faith and not human effort. Alister McGrath, in his brilliant Iustitia Dei: A History of the Doctrine of Justification, demonstrates convincingly that even throughout the rigorous scholastic debates of the Middle Ages, the teachers of the Church never abandoned the orthodoxy that no effort or merit of man can save him apart from God’s grace. The teaching of the Church, then, I’ve believed, was always consistent in teaching justification by God’s grace alone: what the Protestant Reformers charged and challenged was nothing new and nothing needed.

A blind spot

Gentile da Fabriano, Thomas Aquinas, detail from Valle Romita polyptych, c. 1400 (Wikimedia).

In my recent forays into the history of the Reformation era, I’ve come to realize that in this I may have had a blind spot. Despite the Church’s consistent condemnation of Pelagianism (“works’ righteousness”); despite the clear teachings of Augustine and Thomas and other theological lights; the situation among the Catholic faithful and even many clergy in the late Middle Ages and early modern era prior to the Reformation may have been much like the situation today — with many believing something that wasn’t true, something that was contrary to the actual teachings of the Church. And this idea of the “actual teachings of the Church”: to presume the kind of monolithic unity that we have today, to be able to point at a single compendium of doctrine, the Catechism, and say, “This is the one, consistent teaching of the Catholic Church” — may be projecting an anachronism onto that era. There was no such book in the sixteenth century; there were few printed books at all, at the dawn of the age of printing, and the vast majority of the faithful were illiterate. The “one, consistent teaching of the Catholic Church” was scattered among myriad tomes, among the writings of numerous Church Fathers and the canons of numerous councils; and though it was one and consistent, it was not digestible in a form that any but the most learned academic could grasp. In practice, the actual teaching of the Catholic Church was what individual bishops and priests actually taught the faithful, and the truth is, in very many cases this was pretty shoddy.

John Calvin

John Calvin, by Titian (16th century) (Wikimedia).

For Protestants, the doctrine of justification is the very core of the Gospel, the fundamental essence of the truth, the sine qua non of salvation. This emphasis on justification may be myopic: Sacred Scripture devotes only a few words in a few passages to the idea of justification — much more pervasive ideas being the love and mercy and grace of God. Prior to Augustine in combating Pelagianism, no Christian author paid much attention to the doctrine of justification; in him, both Catholics and Protestants find the foundations of their doctrines. In Eastern Christianity, justification has never been a major focus, let alone the cornerstone of the Gospel. In the West, between the times of Augustine and the Council of Trent, the mechanics of justification were mostly a subject for scholastic exposition and debate, not “the doctrine by which the Church stands or falls.” So I think Protestants too have something of a blind spot in this regard.

But I concede that a lack of emphasis on justification and grace by the teachers of the faithful in the early modern era may have led to poor understandings by many about something that is crucial: how we can have a relationship with God, and how we can be saved. When Protestant preachers arrived on the scene in the sixteenth century, in many cases the idea of justification by faith alone caught on like wildfire, to those who felt they had been striving in themselves for salvation. Even if this belief in human effort leading to salvation was an incorrect understanding of what was in fact the true and orthodox Christian doctrine, it was the failure of the Church, in her individual pastors, to teach that truth. As much as we may deplore the breakdown of Christian unity that followed in their wake, in this even Catholics owe the Protestant Reformers a debt of gratitude, in returning the focus of Christian teaching to the grace of God.

The failure of the papacy?

Brad S. Gregory, The Unintended Reformation

I recently read a review of Brad S. Gregory’s book The Unintended Reformation by Reformed author Carl Trueman. In Gregory’s book, he argues that many of the foibles of modernity, in secularism and postmodernism, were the unintended fruits of the Protestant Reformation’s denial of authority, and the resulting diversity of Protestant interpretations of Scripture and inability to affirm one, unified truth. Trueman’s response is essentially, “That may be so, but what you offer is even worse.” “Perspicuity [the belief that the Scriptures themselves teach a single, clear truth] was, after all,” Trueman writes, “a response to a position that had proved to be a failure: the Papacy.”

Alexander VI

Alexander VI (Cesare Borgia), one of the more notorious Renaissance popes. (Wikimedia)

I was taken aback to read this. The papacy — a failure? Honestly, in all my years, even as a Protestant, I don’t think such a thought ever crossed my mind, that the institution of the papacy was a failure. Trueman presents several respects in which he thinks the papacy was a failure: the medieval papacy was corrupt and caught up in politics and worldiness; the Western Schism of the papacy was such a mess that it took several councils just to sort out who the pope was; the early modern papacy failed to reform the Church with due speed and diligence following the Fifth Lateran Council even when many corruptions and failures were known. Yes, these things are all true. I would add my own: many popes of the medieval and early modern papacy failed to make the pastoral care of souls their chief concern; failed to make teaching the doctrines of the faith the heart of their work; failed to appoint bishops who would do the same. There was a breakdown, and yes, reform was desperately needed. But was the breakdown, the failure, in the office of the papacy, or in the men who held it, who allowed the world to pull their focus from what it should be?

Perhaps the most central concern is whether the papacy is a failure for what we maintain Christ intended it to be: as a guarantor of the truth and unity and orthodoxy of the faith. Yes, some men who held the office of the papacy were failures in some respects: they failed to be “good Christians,” perhaps even good pastors; they failed to keep the heart of the gospel, the salvation of souls, at the center of their concerns. Perhaps they even failed as teachers, in that they could have taught the truth, and overseen the teaching of the bishops, with much better clarity and focus and consistency. But we look to the papacy as the final safeguard between orthodoxy and heterodoxy, the one to whom all other bishops must guide in teaching the truth, to ensure that error is not taught. In this respect, the only way that the institution of the papacy could be a failure is if the pope in fact taught error with regard to doctrine or morals. As near as I can figure, this has never happened. In contrast to the to multiplicity of contradictory interpretations from “perspicuous” Scripture alone, the papacy has taught a single course of doctrine.

The triumph of the papacy

The Council of Trent

The Council of Trent.

So some men of the papacy failed, for a time, even for centuries. Perhaps if popes had done better at keeping the Church on the right course, if they had been reforming the Church all along, then the violent upheavals of the Protestant Reformation might never have occurred. But I maintain that in its essential purpose, the papacy never failed at all — not the way dependence on the “perspicuity” of Scripture has failed. And even the men of the papacy did not fail forever. I would argue that the Council of Trent and the Counter-Reformation, the way that, by God’s grace, the Catholic Church reformed itself, reaffirmed her doctrines, and has driven forward into modernity with a renewed heart and focus, is the greatest triumph of the papacy. I would argue that many modern popes — for example, Pius V, Pius X, and even the popes of recent memory, John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis, do present to the world the gospel of Christ the way a pastor and successor of Saint Peter should. Having divested itself of political and temporal encumbrances, and gained the publicity of mass communications media, the papacy of today, rather than being a “failure,” is succeeding in its mission of maintaining the unity of the faith and guiding the Church toward the gospel and salvation of Christ, perhaps better than it has in many centuries.

37 thoughts on “Justification, unity, and papacy: A blind spot

        • OK, OK. Enough snarkiness from me…sorry.

          To answer your question, the unam sanctum was just poorly done. I mean, the proof-text that is used for the church having both temporal and spiritual authority is that Peter was told by Jesus, “put up thy sword into thy scabbard.” That is not exactly the greatest text to site for such a topic. Not a very telling passage. Not one that I would go to for any seat of doctrine.

          Next, the math is all wrong. First, the bull says, “of the one and only Church there is one body and one head,” and then it says, “not two heads like a monster; that is, Christ and the Vicar of Christ, Peter…” It is saying that there is one head of the church–Christ and the Vicar of Christ (Peter). Doesn’t Christ plus Peter equal two?? Read it and you’ll see what I mean.

          Finally, the last sentence is just beyond me, and it is quite clear. It says, “Furthermore, we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff.”

          The pope is not Jesus. The pope is not apostolic, that is to say, not sent out by Jesus to proclaim the gospel with the other 11 (or 10, depending on if you count Matthias). Therefore, the pope has no more authority than you or I to make such a statement. Am I to be baptized and to receive the Holy Spirit…yes. Am I to repent of my sins and to receive absolution…yes. Am I to receive the body and the blood of the Lord in Holy Communion…yes. Am I to accept the papal bulls as inspired documents from the mouth of the One and Only Triune God…heavens no.

          I know that Rome teaches tradition and the voice of the fathers as part of the faith handed down through the ages…but on the subject of the pope being the head of all the church–the one overseer to rule them all–I do not see, and the other overseers do not see, the right for Rome to lord it over the other apostles. Nor did Jesus mandate him as lord over all the other apostles.

          OK. That’s all. I’m done.

          PS> Have you read the Unam Sanctam? http://www.papalencyclicals.net/Bon08/B8unam.htm
          It’s just…well I think you see what I mean.

          • So basically, you don’t like the bull, don’t agree with it, think it’s poorly done, etc. But how does any of this equate the failure of the papacy as an institution?

          • Look, far be it from me to just disagree with the Word of God. To take it flippantly or call it poor in any way. But that is not the case here. Indeed, the Word of God stands true no matter what I have to say about it, no matter how I feel about it, and apart from me altogether. This is how it is with any document written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. However, in the case of the Unam Sanctam, the Pope was speaking under his own inspiration, and misapplying the scriptures at that. Therefore, the institution fails where it fails to teach the truth. And to do so while claiming to make proclamation in the name of the Lord Jesus is even worse. That my friend is a failure of epic proportions, and deserves a healthy dose of repentance on the part of the Pope. (Not that he would ever relinquish his throne, though it would serve the church greatly in matters of unity and peace.)

          • No one claims that papal documents are “inspired” by the Holy Spirit in the same way as Scripture. Neither does anyone suppose that a pope is inerrant, incapable of making mistakes. A pope is certainly capable of “misapplying Scriptures,” though this is a matter of your own opinion, and reading the document, these appear to me to be perfectly reasonable allegorical applications.

      • Are you sure? What about this from Vatican I, Chapter 4, Section 9:

        9. Therefore, faithfully adhering to the tradition received from the beginning of the Christian faith, to the glory of God our savior, for the exaltation of the Catholic religion and for the salvation of the Christian people, with the approval of the Sacred Council, we teach and define as a divinely revealed dogma that when the Roman Pontiff speaks EX CATHEDRA, that is, when, in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church, he possesses, by the divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter, that infallibility which the divine Redeemer willed his Church to enjoy in defining doctrine concerning faith or morals. Therefore, such definitions of the Roman Pontiff are of themselves, and not by the consent of the Church, irreformable.

        So then, should anyone, which God forbid, have the temerity to reject this definition of ours: let him be anathema.

        ———

        And this from the same chapter, section 6 and 7:

        6. For the Holy Spirit was promised to the successors of Peter not so that they might, by his revelation, make known some new doctrine, but that, by his assistance, they might religiously guard and faithfully expound the revelation or deposit of faith transmitted by the apostles.

        Indeed, their apostolic teaching was embraced by all the venerable fathers and reverenced and followed by all the holy orthodox doctors, for they knew very well that this See of St. Peter always remains unblemished by any error, in accordance with the divine promise of our Lord and Savior to the prince of his disciples: I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren [60].

        7. This gift of truth and never-failing faith was therefore divinely conferred on Peter and his successors in this See so that they might discharge their exalted office for the salvation of all, and so that the whole flock of Christ might be kept away by them from the poisonous food of error and be nourished with the sustenance of heavenly doctrine. Thus the tendency to schism is removed and the whole Church is preserved in unity, and, resting on its foundation, can stand firm against the gates of hell.

        ———

        I know that not every document from the pope is EX CATHEDRA, but in the case of the Unam Sanctam, it was. I also know that the pope himself is not said to be inerrant…but, according to the above, when in exercising his teaching office while speaking EX CATHEDRA, he is, “unblemished by any error,” and keeps the flock away from, “the poisonous food of error,” and is, “irreformable.”

        Methinks the doctrine of the establishment of the papacy is a bit puffed up–originating from man and not from our dear and good Lord Jesus Christ.

        P.S. I saw your post on your Pentecostal origins. You and I are in good company–we just landed on two different ends of the Catholic Church. Mine was the reformed 1580 end, yours was the reformed end that dealt with the aftermath of Luther in the negative. I still think you Romans are part of the church…you do, after all, believe in the good news of the gospel as defined in 1 Cor 15: 1-11. We are so close–yet so very far apart.

        • Yes, I’m sure. You are presuming that papal infallibility entails something like the inerrancy or inspiration of Scripture. It does not. You are presuming that because a particular document is held to be an ex cathedra pronouncement, that every part of said document is therefore equally ex cathedra and infallible. This is not the case. I’m not a scholar of papal documents, but by my reading, the only part of Unam sanctam that takes the form of a dogmatic, ex cathedra declaration is the final sentence: “Furthermore, we declare, we proclaim, we define …” The rest of the document, the parts you are arguing are flawed, is the pope’s own argument in support of this conclusion.

          Thanks. I am glad to belong to the non-schismatic end. 😉

          • So what we’re dealing with is not IF a document is infallible, but WHAT part is or is not deemed to be, by one person or another, an ex cathedra pronouncement. But when it IS actually ex cathedra, then it is without error, according to the verbatim from the above passage, since it merely repeats the teaching of scripture. I’m just trying to get this straight so as to not play around with straw men and such.

            You are my best source–you non-schismatic, lol.

            And…I’m just happy to be on the doctrinally pure end. 😛

          • Whether a statement is or is not an ex cathedra declaration is not arbitrary or subjective. As you should be able to tell, the final sentence of Unam sanctam is formally different than the rest. Compare, for example, the two modern dogmatic declarations, of the Immaculate Conception (Ineffabilis Deus) and the Assumption (Munificentissimus Deus) respectively. There is a lot of beating around the bush, offering support from Scripture and Tradition for the declaration about to be made, then the formal declaration: “We pronounce, declare, and define.” This is the ex cathedra declaration.

            Given the further fragmentation (disintegration) of your tradition, and the dubious “doctrinal purity” of the greater part of it, I’m not sure you have much room for bragging.

  1. The Lutheran tradition only follows the church Catholic, and still remains today. And we do have teachers and overseers who are equipped and trained for the purpose of enlightening the truth of Scripture–the Word of the Lord–to those who wish to hear and learn. I am sorry that you were not so privileged under your “Pentecostal” upbringing. You must have be quite frustrated–and at the same time overjoyed as well–to come into a wealth of knowledge that you had formerly known nothing about, but that had been there all the time. I know the feeling. Sorry if I came off as bragging. I was just trying to be academically jovial, as I thought that you were. Peace.

    I cannot help but comment on the Unam sanctam just once more. Under the part that was spoken ex cathedra, since I do not place myself under the subjection of the Roman Pontiff, nor recognize his authority, I am therefore definitively outside of salvation–according to the Roman Church. And so are all my brethren. That is quite the tough pill to swallow.

    • No worries. I was likewise being jovially, academically snooty. 😉

      Yes, it’s true that Unam sanctam dogmatically defines that being “subject to the Roman Pontiff” is necessary for salvation. However, the reality of what this means is more complicated than a simple statement, and hinges on the question of what is the Church. The argument of Unam sanctam is founded on the oneness of the Church as the Body of Christ and the necessity of belonging to that Body for salvation. Even accepting the declaration of Unam sanctam as a true statement, the (“Roman”) Catholic Church has never denied the possibility of salvation for the Eastern Orthodox, for example; never denied the efficacy of Baptism in the name of the Triune God for uniting even rank heretics to Christ; and never taught that the separated brethren of the Protestant Reformation are definitively outside salvation. The Second Vatican Council taught, with just as much infallible authority as Unam sanctam, that “many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside of [the] visible structure” of the Catholic Church, and that even those who “do not preserve unity of communion with the successor of Peter” are “in some real way … joined with us in the Holy Spirit, for to them too He gives His gifts and graces whereby He is operative among them with His sanctifying power” (Lumen gentium 8, 15). So then, is this a contradiction? No. Just as the elements of the truth which your tradition still clings to “derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the [One] Church” (Unitatis redintegratio 3), in the same way, your communities are in some sense “subject to the Roman Pontiff” whether you recognize it or not. 😉

      A very good article by Mark Shea that makes a better argument than I have made here: Unam Sanctam: Just Exactly Where is the Church?

      • I thought you might say that. That is exactly how I would argue if I was in your shoes. Still, whether the “Roman” church assumes this or not, I cannot submit to the pope or call him the living Vicar of Christ on earth. I do not believe that is how Christ intended the church to operate and function.

        The question of, “where is the church,” is an interesting one though, and one that Lutherans had to struggle with in the years following Luther and Chemnitz. Many of the Lutheran scholastics of that day–concerned with the ordination of bishops–teased this out and came to their conclusions not without heated debate and discussion. It is a very interesting history–one that I would care to learn more of.

        Just out of wild curiosity, and since you mentioned Mark Shea, what do you think of Robert Sungenis? Do you know of him?

        • Protestants tend to misunderstand and mischaracterize the term “Vicar of Christ.” A “vicar” is not a substitute, nor is it a “representative” in the sense of a representation. A “vicar” — as the traditional English usage makes clear — is a subordinate official sent as a representative, delegate, or envoy of a superior one (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:20). A vicar in the Anglican tradition is a local pastor who represents his bishop in the local community. Traditionally, all bishops have been called “vicars of Christ” — just as, in common Evangelical parlance, I used to hear that a pastor “represents Christ” to his church and community.

          Scripture does make very clear that each local church should be subordinate to bishops (1 Timothy 3; Titus 1:5,7; Acts 14:23). As St. Ignatius of Antioch taught, “Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is [administered] either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.” (Epistle to the Smyrnaeans 8).

          As I recall, you are a member of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, a sect that has shorn itself of bishops altogether.

          From what I know of Sungenis, I think he is a nutjob.

          • So isn’t an overseer the same thing as a bishop, as the scriptures above indicate? If I’m not mistaken, “bishop” comes from the Latin. Not sure if you’re using the word in a different sense, coming from your circles. But in the LCMS, we have overseers set up over the districts, and our pastor is directly subordinate to one of them. In that way we have bishops. In a much narrower and limited sense, our synod also uses the term “bishop” strictly between a vicar and his bishop–or a local pastor (the superior bishop) and his understudy (the subordinate vicar).

            So…given that information, why did you think that we had “shorn” ourselves from bishops altogether?

            Most people do think Sungenis is a quack, but I think he has some interesting things to say. As far as I can tell, he’s just a lone wolf whose trying to turn the tides of modern cosmology, given the current science that’s out there and breaking through. As far as I can tell his science is sound, albeit frustrating for some and definitely difficult to accept. A very prolific writer.

          • The word bishop did come into the English language by way of the Latin episcopus, but this is cognate, a direct transliteration of the Greek ἐπίσκοπος (episkopos). “Overseer” is a translation of ἐπίσκοπος (ἐπί, “over”, + σκοπος, “viewer”); I have also heard “supervisor,” which is more or less the same thing in Latin (super, “over”, + visor , “viewer”). But apart from the literal meaning of the word, ἐπίσκοπος took on the particular connotations of an office in Christian tradition. To invent a new office and call it an “overseer” while denying that tradition does not make that office the same thing as a bishop. By the beginning of the second century, the office of bishop had a very particular understanding as the head of a local church (later, as churches grew and spread, a diocese) whose authority descends from the Apostles by apostolic succession (cf. 1 Tim 4:13-16; Acts 1:15-26; 1 Clement 42, 44; Irenaeus, Against Heresies III.3).

            That said, it was my understanding that the LCMS didn’t have bishops. I didn’t know you had something called “overseers.” So I acknowledge that you have something “bishop-like” that carries out some of the traditional duties of a bishop. But I maintain that you have “shorn yourselves” of the episcopacy as a traditional office of the Catholic Church — which I’m pretty sure was precisely the intent.

            As a professional scientist, I don’t consider Sungenis’s pseudoscience to have any scientific foundation at all, and to be based on faulty premises from the start.

          • We did not invent anything if it is there in the Scriptures, and we were forced to call our own Bishops, Pastors, Preachers, and Elders, seeing as we were all excommunicated and not welcome in the Roman Church, given the tenants of scripture that our group held to. Which gets back to the question of, “where is church?”

            We don’t have any official position called, “overseer.” I was just using that as a descriptive word. I just read in the small catechism last night: “Section 3 – Table of Duties – Certain passages of Scripture for various holy orders and positions admonishing them about their duties and responsibilities – To Bishops, Pastors, and Preachers – The overseer must be above reproach…”

            So we do officially have “Bishops, Pastors, and Preachers,” according to our own catechism. Also elders, laypeople, hearers of the Word, etc, etc. I believe bishops are distributed throughout the synod as “District Presidents.” Under the district president is the “circuit visitor,” who would also be considered a bishop. Under the circuit visitor is the local pastor, and under the local pastor is the vicar.

            Funny how all the districts are under one synod president, but I believe that that president does not have the same powers as given to the pope. It is a leadership and executive office only, and I think that he is under a council in terms of authority.

            I appreciate the debate. It’s forcing me to brush up on my history, as well as my understanding of church and its structure.

          • We did not invent anything if it is there in the Scriptures, and we were forced to call our own Bishops, Pastors, Preachers, and Elders, seeing as we were all excommunicated and not welcome in the Roman Church, given the [tenets] of scripture that our group held to. Which gets back to the question of, “where is church?”

            The word “overseer” (ἐπίσκοπος) is there in the Scriptures, along with some hints about its meaning, yes. But Scripture does not exist in a vacuum. To Christians of the first century, second century, third century, and on through the ages, the office of bishop took on a very specific meaning, connotation, understanding, history, and tradition. You cannot simply transport a scriptural text into the sixteenth century or the twenty-first century, completely cut away that traditional meaning, and pretend it means something completely different. This is, to be certain, invention and innovation of the worst kind.

            And your excuse is invalid. The Orthodox Church was excommunicated from the Roman Church, and yet has continued for ten centuries in the traditional understanding of the episcopacy and apostolic tradition without hindrance. The Anglican Church likewise was excommunicated from the Roman Church and has continued in (more or less) the traditional understanding of the episcopacy. Even most Lutheran sects continue to maintain the office of the bishop. The LCMS’s denial of this office is not only a scriptural, theological, and historical innovation, but a modern one over and against its own recent tradition!

            We don’t have any official position called, “overseer.” I was just using that as a descriptive word. I just read in the small catechism last night: “Section 3 – Table of Duties – Certain passages of Scripture for various holy orders and positions admonishing them about their duties and responsibilities – To Bishops, Pastors, and Preachers – The overseer must be above reproach…” … So we do officially have “Bishops, Pastors, and Preachers,” according to our own catechism.

            This is precisely my point. Luther himself (author of your catechism) maintained the need for the office of bishop. “Bishop,” “overseer,” was not merely a “descriptive word” for Luther, or indeed for any Christian before him, but a specific office. Your sect has denied this, denied the very mark of catholicity which the Church Fathers and Councils have commended to us, and invented something else. And yet you claim to be “catholic” and to uphold the catholic tradition of Christianity? On what grounds?

            Peace be with you.

          • On Sungenis: Now you got me curious. In your opinion as a professional scientist, what false premise might he be operating under? I have been following him for years now and would hate to find that I have been misled all this time. He seems to be an expert on church history and the Roman Church’s plethora of church documents, particularly as they pertain to the Galileo affair. I apologize if this is the wrong forum for such a discussion, but I do intend to keep it brief. 🙂

  2. Then tell me what we have invented. Tell me, what is this great invention of ours? Do we have “invented” bishops? Are they not actual, holding their office and functioning just the same as any other faction or division? You forgot to quote the part where I described the office, and showed you who is included in the office of bishop in the LCMS. If it’s apostolic succession that you’re getting at–I am not convinced that those scriptures you presented are saying what you think they are saying. Besides, if they are, then that would disqualify ANY bishops that aren’t a part of the “original” church catholic. The office exists by virtue of the Spirit’s call, apart from factions or divisions in the church.

    Semi briefly: Sounds like you made that premise up after reading my comment. What does that premise have to do with Sungenis’ alternate cosmological framework? The church documents have to do with history and the role of science within the history of the church. On that, he seems to be an expert. Besides, Einstein’s relativity dictates that the motion of the earth cannot be measured by any observable science anyway, so there are certain aspects of cosmology that are not dictated by observable science, but by operative assumptions followed by mathematical reasoning. The history of cosmology and the motivation of the scientists within, seem to explain a lot. On this history Sungenis has proven to be quite candid, although I will admit, a bit polemic along the way as well. OK, I’ve written too much!!

    • Please be clear: Does your sect have an office called “bishop”? Everything I have read indicates that it does not. Does it have an office called “overseer”? You yourself have admitted here that it does not. Do you have an office that performs the role of a bishop? You’ve pointed to “district presidents,” a term used neither in Scripture nor tradition — which, even if it performs some of the roles of the traditional office of bishop, does not perform them all, does not have the traditional authority of a bishop, and is not a bishop. I’ve read a bit about the history of the Lutheran movement and of the LCMS in particular. In the beginning, the LCMS had a bishop too! The decision to do away with the episcopal office and come up with some something different was intentional and calculated to not have bishops. You cannot have it both ways: If you consider the episcopacy to be a mark of catholicity, as it has traditionally been held to be, then your sect is not “catholic.”

      Yes, apostolic succession has traditionally been held as part and parcel of the doctrine of the episcopacy. You can point to “Scripture alone” if you wish, but again, you are cutting Scripture away from the received tradition of the Church — a tradition that, with regard to apostolic succession, is demonstrated firmly by the early to mid second century.

      No, this has always been my objection to Sungenis: His whole framework and argument is premised on the supposition that what the Catholic Church historically declared must be literally, absolutely, uncompromisingly true, and if the Church declared the earth was the center of the universe, it must be the center of the universe. His whole “alternate cosmological framework” is a post-hoc attempt to justify an unscientific belief. It is exactly the same principle as that employed by the likes of Ken Ham and other young-earth creationists: The Bible says it must be true, so let’s invent “science” to justify that belief against all other evidence. Bottom line: There is absolutely no need for an “alternate cosmological framework”; scientific observation and mathematics gives us a perfectly workable and beautiful model; the only reason for arguing otherwise is the premise that the dictates of faith are somehow in conflict with science, a premise that I find both ludicrous and offensive.

      As a devotee of the space program, and graduate of a leading institution in space science, the argument that most readily renders Sungenis’s claims invalid in my mind is the fact that generations of astronomers and engineers have developed the principles of orbital mechanics to an exact enough science that they can launch probes and spacecraft from the earth, slingshot them around the sun and earth and planets, and successfully reach the far reaches of our solar system. If any part of Sungenis’s “alternate cosmological framework” were true in the least, this would not be possible — and yet we have the evidence against it in the fruits of the space program.

        • “I don’t know what it is, but I’ll tell you if I see it”, eh?

          I’ll say it again, Scripture presents the episcopacy as an office (ἐπισκοπή), not just a role. It describes this office in descriptive terms, not prescriptive ones, telling us what a bishop is like (e.g. 1 Timothy 3:1-7) and some of the things a bishop does (e.g. 1 Timothy 4:11-16) but not what a bishop is. Most of what we know about the duties of a bishop from Scripture we know not by scriptural warrant but by inference, from the term itself (“oversight”), from Paul’s instructions to Timothy (which rests on the assumption that Timothy is a bishop) — and like attempting to draw the duties of a deacon from Scripture, many Protestants simply invent a modern office out of whole cloth. This, more than almost any other argument I can make, shows the fallacies of a “sola scriptura” approach: That what Paul writes about bishops and deacons is not in any way prescriptive is indicated by the fact that just a few years later, Ignatius and others firmly present the bishop as an office with singular authority over the local church, over and beyond Paul — leading more than one “sola scriptura” apologist I’ve read to conclude that the Church apostasized by the end of the first century! Is it not easier to believe that Protestants are projecting a mistaken view of scriptural authority back onto the Church than that the first generation of believers fell utterly away from the truth?

          In any case, the argument you are making is an exclusive one, not a catholic one. You say, “Let me look to Scripture to find what a bishop does, even if that disagrees with every other church.” But to be catholic is not to be exclusive: it is see yourself as part of and in agreement with a larger whole. I’ve suggested before that your claim to being “catholic” seems to rest on excluding everybody else — on your church being the only one! This makes a mockery of the term catholic as it has been used since the second century. Ignatius presents that to be part of the catholic Church is to be in communion with your bishop, who is in communion and agreement with all other bishops in the universal truth. Irenaeus presents that it is only by the universal agreement of all orthodox bishops with one another, and their agreement with Scripture and Tradition, that we can know the truth. These are not exclusive claims at all; they are catholic claims based on the universality of agreement between bishops in a single system of doctrine.

          “Sola scriptura,” as I’ve pointed out before, is inherently destructive to communion and catholicity. It says, “This is the truth that we alone read, and if others read something different then they are wrong.” And the Protestant movement has borne the fruit of this in disunity, in an inherent fractiousness and a total loss of catholicity. To be catholic is to embrace a received tradition of agreement with all other Christians. What you are doing here — what your sect has done — is to cast away that tradition and look to Scripture for an exclusive claim. If you are indeed part of the catholic Church, who exactly are you in agreement with?

          • Dear Joseph. Mr. Richardson, sir. Don’t you do the same thing as described in your last paragraph? Don’t you and all the other councils say, “This is the truth that we alone read, and if others read something different then they are wrong…?” (Scripture references included all the way to ensure authority…?). There is a reason for why you do this, and a good one, which is why we also do the same thing. I think it has something to do with truth being objective, or something like that–unless you want to go secular, where everyone’s truth is their own subjective reality. Shouldn’t we confess what we believe, and believe it because it’s in agreement with the truth? Wouldn’t anyone who says something different be wrong and have to be brought to the truth? Isn’t that why we are having this conversation?!? You are holding to your confession–of what scripture says–and are attempting to bring me to the truth, plain and simple. I am attempting to do the same, (and doing a pretty poor job of it, I think).

            I never said that only Lutherans are Christians (members of the Church catholic), but I do confess that the Book of Concord is a true exposition of what scripture says. So if anyone disagrees, although they still may be unified with the Church catholic, they enter the realm of heterodoxy. If someone is heterodox, then we have a disagreement, (we believe they are wrong), but not a disagreement that separates us from them in the unity of the body of Christ. If someone is a heretic and openly teaches another gospel, well then–here we go back to scripture again–we agree with what Paul says about that matter. But if they differ on, say, (we’ll pick an easy one), Christ’s second coming, then they are still unified with the Church, even if they are wrong. Even if they are spreading heterodoxy. Although we can’t commune with most Protestants, (they think we’re pretty much Roman Catholic for our views on the sacraments and different traditions that we maintain, such as the Church Calendar of all things), we can still agree on the gospel, and in that we are unified. (Well, we’re unified in our baptisms, even if they don’t believe that.)

            In the end, it always comes back to sola scriptura.

            OK. In the meantime, here’s a cool, yet somewhat unrelated quote from Augsburg Confession XX: “Although this teaching [of the Gospel] is held in great contempt among untried people, yet it is a matter of experience that weak and terrified consciences find it most comforting and salutary. The conscience cannot come to rest and peace through works, but only through faith, that is, when it is assured and knows that for Christ’s sake it has a gracious God, 16 as Paul says in Rom. 5:1, “Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God.” 19 In former times this comfort was not heard in preaching, but poor consciences were driven to rely on their own efforts, and all sorts of works were undertaken. 20 Some were driven by their conscience into monasteries in the hope that there they might merit grace through monastic life. 21 Others devised other works for the purpose of earning grace and making satisfaction for sins. 22 Many of them discovered that they did not obtain peace by such means. It was therefore necessary to preach this doctrine about faith in Christ and diligently to apply it in order that men may know that the grace of God is appropriated without merits, through faith alone. (Tappert 43-44)

          • Don’t you do the same thing as described in your last paragraph? Don’t you and all the other councils say, “This is the truth that we alone read, and if others read something different then they are wrong…?” (Scripture references included all the way to ensure authority…?).

            No, we don’t do the same thing. There are two key distinctions. The first is your priorities. The most operative part of the phrase is we alone. In your view, being right trumps being one: you look first to “Scripture alone,” regardless of what you have received or what you see in the wider body of Christ. In contrast, Paul urges us to “be united in the same mind and same judgment” (1 Corinthians 1:10): to look first to the unity of the Body; to find truth in agreement and communion with the Body and not in divisive independent conjecture.

            The second distinction is your limitation of your source material. You look to “Scripture alone,” and suggest we do the same. We do not. For catholic Christians, Sacred Tradition is a vivid and viable source of revelation also: it too constitutes the revelation of Christ, His teachings handed down through the Apostles, and the Church’s understanding of those teachings and of the Scriptures. Tradition is the “glue” that holds the Catholic Church together: the common teachings handed down in all the churches, in which the churches must agree with one another: this is what is meant by catholic in the literature of the Early Church, a universality of agreement within the Church rooted in its common received Tradition. You, on the other hand, look to “the truth that we alone read in Scripture,” having abandoned any reliance on Tradition (or at least, accepting Tradition very selectively) or concern for unity or catholicity within the Body; catholic Christians look first to “the truth handed down from the Apostles in all the churches.”

            Shouldn’t we confess what we believe, and believe it because it’s in agreement with the truth? Wouldn’t anyone who says something different be wrong and have to be brought to the truth? Isn’t that why we are having this conversation?!? You are holding to your confession–of what scripture says–and are attempting to bring me to the truth, plain and simple. I am attempting to do the same, (and doing a pretty poor job of it, I think).

            My dispute is more with the premises of your claim — that you are “catholic” despite having abandoned every mark and method of catholicity. You make the term “catholic” empty and meaningless: who, again, are you actually agreeing with? To what universal tradition are you appealing?

            I never said that only Lutherans are Christians (members of the Church catholic), but I do confess that the Book of Concord is a true exposition of what scripture says. So if anyone disagrees, although they still may be unified with the Church catholic, they enter the realm of heterodoxy. If someone is heterodox, then we have a disagreement, (we believe they are wrong), but not a disagreement that separates us from them in the unity of the body of Christ.

            This is nonsense. Catholicity (universality) implies agreement; if you have a disagreement with others, then you cannot very well claim your faith is in any sense universal with those others. It seriously dilutes the term catholic to suppose that anyone can be both heterodox and catholic, and such is not the historical usage of the term.

            In response to the rest of your argument, though, the Catholic Church does acknowledge some degree of communion with our separated brethren, acknowledges that they are part of the Body of Christ — but does not hail them as “catholic” unless they are indeed “united in the same mind and judgment” with the tradition of the Catholic Church. The Second Vatican Council taught:

            “Even in the beginnings of this one and only Church of God there arose certain rifts (cf. 1 Cor. 11:18–19; Gal. 1:6–9; 1 Jn. 2:18–19), which the Apostle strongly condemned (cf. 1 Cor. 1:11 sqq; 11:22). But in subsequent centuries much more serious dissensions made their appearance and quite large communities came to be separated from full communion with the Catholic Church — for which, often enough, men of both sides were to blame. The children who are born into these Communities and who grow up believing in Christ cannot be accused of the sin involved in the separation, and the Catholic Church embraces upon them as brothers, with respect and affection. For men who believe in Christ and have been truly baptized are in communion with the Catholic Church even though this communion is imperfect. The differences that exist in varying degrees between them and the Catholic Church — whether in doctrine and sometimes in discipline, or concerning the structure of the Church — do indeed create many obstacles, sometimes serious ones, to full ecclesiastical communion. The ecumenical movement is striving to overcome these obstacles. But even in spite of them it remains true that all who have been justified by faith in Baptism are members of Christ’s body, and have a right to be called Christian, and so are correctly accepted as brothers by the children of the Catholic Church.” (Unitatis Redintegratio (Decree on Ecumenism) [1965] 3)

            So we do acknowledge in some sense unity (oneness) with our separated brethren, but not catholicity. It is important not to dilute these terms. I’d much rather you denied catholicity with me (claiming Catholics are not catholic — though I’d tell you this was absurd) than to claim “all believers are catholic.”

            In the end, it always comes back to sola scriptura.

            As is always your pitfall.

            In the meantime, here’s a cool, yet somewhat unrelated quote…

            That’s a rather bleak view of Christian history, wouldn’t you say?

            Peace be with you.

  3. It’s a fine thing for the Roman wing to claim both catholicity, (unity, “in the same mind and judgment,”) and oneness, (unity with the Body of Christ, or communion thereof). In this you make yourselves alone both united in being right *and* in being one. If someone disagrees, in order to maintain unity, the authorities that exist simply excommunicate those who are in disagreement over key issues. And, as I have learned, while this excommunication, or this anathema, does not necessarily indicate a disunion with Christ, (so you seem to say), it certainly produces a separation–in some capacity–of said person from the One true Church. So methinks that this is still a case of the pot calling the kettle black.

    …………………………………………….
    –I never said that only Lutherans are Christians (members of the Church catholic), but I do confess that the Book of Concord is a true exposition of what scripture says. So if anyone disagrees, although they still may be unified with the Church catholic, they enter the realm of heterodoxy. If someone is heterodox, then we have a disagreement, (we believe they are wrong), but not a disagreement that separates us from them in the unity of the body of Christ.–

    {{This is nonsense. Catholicity (universality) implies agreement; if you have a disagreement with others, then you cannot very well claim your faith is in any sense universal with those others. It seriously dilutes the term catholic to suppose that anyone can be both heterodox and catholic, and such is not the historical usage of the term.

    In response to the rest of your argument, though, the Catholic Church does acknowledge some degree of communion with our separated brethren, acknowledges that they are part of the Body of Christ — but does not hail them as “catholic” unless they are indeed “united in the same mind and judgment” with the tradition of the Catholic Church. The Second Vatican Council taught: …

    So we do acknowledge in some sense unity (oneness) with our separated brethren, but not catholicity. It is important not to dilute these terms. I’d much rather you denied catholicity with me (claiming Catholics are not catholic — though I’d tell you this was absurd) than to claim “all believers are catholic.”}}
    …………………………………………….

    Semantics are killer. In the above, you used my argument within your argument, (the one about catholicity), only we said things a bit differently. I took much less care than you in how I related what I was trying to say, and so I’m sorry for that. We definitely need to be clear. But I think that the misunderstanding is coming about because we are dealing with a few different types of unity: catholic unity (mind and judgment), and the mystical unity of Christ and His Church, which includes two methods of being unified. a] Baptismal union, (One with His Body–the Church–through the water and the Word, and henceforth in the Spirit), and b] Sacramental union, (union with the Body of Christ through the sacrament of Holy Communion, or the Eucharist).

    So to be specific, when I say that someone who is heterodox, (or disagrees with the true exposition of Scripture), is still, “unified with the Church catholic,” I am speaking of their mystical union through baptism, not their agreement with pure doctrine and soundness of mind through the word of Christ. The point was that someone who is heterodox can still be united with the CHURCH catholic, even if only in that sure and mystical union. But I didn’t mean to say that a heterodox person can *be* catholic themselves, and heterodox at the same time.

    Also, when I say that, “we can’t commune with most Protestants,” I mean that we cannot become unified with them through the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, or the Eucharist, and this is because they do not partake, nor do they discern the body and the blood at the Supper.

    So, after all, I never claimed that, “all believers are catholic,” but that, “all believers are part of the Church.” As I said, “not a disagreement that separates us from them in the unity of the body of Christ.” They may not be catholic, but they certainly are united with the Church catholic–*mystically*. And, for the record, we do strive for catholicity, or universality, and try to agree with other Christians in charity and humility wherever and whenever possible. We do agree on many things, and cherish those agreements, but sadly there have been disagreements that have been strong enough to separate us from each other, much as the quote from Vatican II stated in your previous comment.

    …………………………………………….
    –In the end, it always comes back to sola scriptura.–
    {{As is always your pitfall.}}
    …………………………………………….

    As is always your reality.

    Just look at how all of Tradition searches scripture to substantiate its claims, whenever possible, as it should. You have even said within this thread, if I’m not mistaken, that what the pope and Tradition says is not on the same level as Scripture. That it can’t be counted as inspired in the same way that scripture can.

    Scripture has more authority, is used as proof when there is a dispute, and is the ultimate authority in discerning truth and error. The Magisterium can be wrong if it is not in accord with the truth. Tradition can be wrong if it is not in accord with the truth. Scripture can never be wrong, since it *must be* the truth. Scripture can never be un-catholic.

    Tradition can explain and give guidance; teachers can explain and give guidance in understanding the truth; but the foundation of the apostles and prophets is the sole Word that cannot be changed, added to, destroyed, or altered in any way. Teachers may change what they say, and indeed men may change their customs as they see fit, but Scripture alone is our one sure and given foundation that cannot be shifted or misaligned, (Ephesians 2:19-22). Scripture is the Word of God, given to us by the apostles and prophets through the Holy Spirit. It will survive, while everything else will be tested, (1Cor 3:10-23). And what will be tested is less certain for us…less sure…that is, until it is tested by the Lord. So we must always be diligent to be in accord with that sure Word that we have from the apostles and prophets, for it is the Word of Christ.

    …………………………………………….
    –In the meantime, here’s a cool, yet somewhat unrelated quote…—
    {{That’s a rather bleak view of Christian history, wouldn’t you say?}}
    …………………………………………….

    You say bleak, I say unblinded. It might have been heart wrenching, but that was the state of affairs put plainly. People needed the sweet consolation of the gospel in all of its purity–without any addition–and they were not hearing it. The only peace came when they knew that they were justified through faith alone, without merits. Not unlike today.

    • It’s a fine thing for the Roman wing to claim both catholicity, (unity, “in the same mind and judgment,”) and oneness, (unity with the Body of Christ, or communion thereof). In this you make yourselves alone both united in being right *and* in being one.

      Not really. As I said above, the Church acknowledges that the oneness of the Body of Christ and that that One Body includes all true believers, including non-Catholics. Neither is catholicity strictly a “Roman” thing. The Catholic Church is spread throughout the world. Each bishop is the ordinary prelate of his own diocese; it’s the fact that all these worldwide bishops are in communion with every other that makes their catholicity an objective fact. Though the majority of bishops and dioceses in the West can be said to be “Roman” in rite, they are not in nationality, origin, or character. The Eastern Catholic Churches are not “Roman” in any way — not even in rite — and yet are in communion with the Catholic Church. By definition, the Catholic Church is going to be the one in which bishops the world are universally in communion with one another, and it is going to exist universally in every place.

      If someone disagrees, in order to maintain unity, the authorities that exist simply excommunicate those who are in disagreement over key issues. And, as I have learned, while this excommunication, or this anathema, does not necessarily indicate a disunion with Christ, (so you seem to say), it certainly produces a separation–in some capacity–of said person from the One true Church. So methinks that this is still a case of the pot calling the kettle black.

      If someone disagrees with the Church to the point of heresy, it’s they who’ve broken communion with the Church, and formal excommunication is only a formality. Disagreement with the Catholic Tradition is not subjective or arbitrary or open to debate, since that Tradition is manifest and universal (“what was handed down in all the churches”).

      So to be specific, when I say that someone who is heterodox, (or disagrees with the true exposition of Scripture), is still, “unified with the Church catholic,” I am speaking of their mystical union through baptism, not their agreement with pure doctrine and soundness of mind through the word of Christ. The point was that someone who is heterodox can still be united with the CHURCH catholic, even if only in that sure and mystical union. But I didn’t mean to say that a heterodox person can *be* catholic themselves, and heterodox at the same time.

      Yes, semantics are key. You seem to be using the “Church catholic” as a proper entity, as if “Church catholic” is the equivalent of the “Body of Christ.” It’s not. Unity and catholicity are, properly speaking, two completely different marks of the true Church. In view of the schisms in the Church, it is proper to say that in this day and age, the whole Body of Christ, the Church, is One, but it is not Catholic (neither is the whole Church apostolic; whether it is holy is debatable). You are applying the term “catholic” to a diverse body that plainly doesn’t have it. By definition, historical as well as well as current, catholicity refers to conformity, and mystical union through Baptism certainly doesn’t confer that.

      So, after all, I never claimed that, “all believers are catholic,” but that, “all believers are part of the Church.”

      By referring to the One Church as the “Church catholic,” you did make that claim.

      They may not be catholic, but they certainly are united with the Church catholic–*mystically*.

      Yeah, that’s nonsense. If they’re not catholic, they’re not — by definition — united with the “Church catholic,” mystically or otherwise. If catholicity is an attribute of the Catholic Church, then one lacking catholicity certainly doesn’t have membership in the body that is defined by it.

      And, for the record, we do strive for catholicity, or universality, and try to agree with other Christians in charity and humility wherever and whenever possible. We do agree on many things, and cherish those agreements, but sadly there have been disagreements that have been strong enough to separate us from each other, much as the quote from Vatican II stated in your previous comment.

      Agreement in charity is nice, but that alone doesn’t make your agreement “catholic.”

      Scripture and Tradition are not in competition. They do not contradict each other. Tradition informs us how to read and understand Scripture, how Christians have read and understood it from the beginning. Scripture cannot read itself or speak for itself (see my arguments in the “Grappling with Sola Scriptura” series). When you claim, “Scripture alone is our one sure and given foundation,” I must ask, whose reading and interpretation of Scripture can give you so sure a foundation? Your own? Your church’s? How is that any different than looking to the Catholic Magisterium? The Magisterium does not reason or conjecture for itself, but adjudges the meaning of Scripture based on received Tradition. By definition, the Magisterium cannot be wrong unless the received Tradition is wrong — and if that’s the case, we might as well hang up the whole thing, since the Holy Spirit has ceased to guide Christ’s Church into all truth.

      You say bleak, I say unblinded. It might have been heart wrenching, but that was the state of affairs put plainly. People needed the sweet consolation of the gospel in all of its purity–without any addition–and they were not hearing it. The only peace came when they knew that they were justified through faith alone, without merits. Not unlike today.

      In my reading of Christian history, I see, first of all, not a lot of people actually “relying on works” — this is a Protestant cudgel — and second of all, a whole lot of people “at peace with God,” even those poor souls wasting their lives away in monasteries: just read a few of the most beloved saints, for example, Augustine, Ambrose, Gregory, Thomas Aquinas, Bernard, Francis. It is, I say again, a bleak, dismissive, and rather insulting reading of Christian history.

  4. I didn’t take you as one to be given to hyperbole.

    On tradition and, “hanging up the whole thing,” see Luther, who did find certain elements of the tradition to have missed the mark, and who, because of that, did seek to reform that which had gone awry–that is, that which had stretched beyond the church’s foundation, as portrayed in the understanding of what the whole treasury of Scripture teaches.

    The fact that you admit that you are proud of the “catholic reform” that followed Luther says that you do not deny that practiced tradition can be warped by the inventiveness and sinful mind of man. Maybe the Holy Spirit was using Luther to guide the church back into catholicity; to set things straight again and to put into conformity that which had drifted from the truth. Sadly, his efforts (in his time) were rejected, which–he being convinced of the truth of what he read in the Scriptures–led him to make the comments that he made against the Pope and those in the leadership who followed him. Those who deny and suppress the Truth and who approve of those who do the same truly are not of the Spirit of Christ, but are against Him.

    Many are indeed offended by the truth. Yet inasmuch as there has been reform, despite Luther’s persecution, I praise God, as I’m sure he does as well. Maybe there is still room for much reform throughout the whole church–Missouri Synod, Roman, and the rest of Protestantism alike.

    God bless, Joseph.

    • I do not speak in hyperbole, but in all seriousness. After so many years of frustration, of lacking direction, or lacking assurance in the truth, I would sooner become an atheist than a Protestant. Tradition, the paradosis of the faith, is the only key that can make any sense of the muddle we have made of the Christian religion. It is Protestant hubris to place man’s own reason and judgment above the consensus of Christians in the received Tradition of the Truth. It is an essential denial of the power of the Holy Spirit to preserve the faith.

      There is a fundamental difference between the corruption of Christian practice that occurred in the Middle Ages, from which reform was badly needed, and the corruption of essential doctrine. If the Catholic Church had failed in her teaching of true doctrine, then I would not be a Catholic, and again, would probably be an atheist. If Luther had limited his calls to reform to the practice of the Church, to abuses of indulgences, to clerical ignorance and absenteeism and simony, to poor catechesis, and so forth — then he would be hailed as a hero by all Christians; he would never have been excommunicated, and there would be no lasting schism in the Church today. Instead he challenged the fundamental doctrine and authority and structure of the Church, the essential truths that had been handed down from the ages, and the fundamental means of knowing those truths. It is funny that you should speak of “tradition warped by the inventiveness and sinful mind of man.” Luther invented doctrines and interpretations of Scripture that had never been heard of before in the history of the Church. A “truth” that is contrary to the received Tradition of the faith cannot be a truth, and it is the teacher of such innovations that is “not of the Spirit of Christ, but against Him.”

      Peace be with you.

  5. It’s very sad to hear you say that you’d rather abandon the faith than be a Protestant. Just because the teaching had broken down, did not mean that the Truth was lost; the Scriptures still prevailed, if only in the Latin and the original languages…but the Truth was still there all the same. Much as the finding of the Book of the Law in 2 Chronicles 34:14, this is not a new phenomena to the history of the faith. It is not as if the Holy Spirit failed, nor ever ceased to function and point those of the faith to Jesus, speaking to them through the Word preached.

    But on these practices and doctrines or teachings, the Roman Church still teaches, and practices indulgences. It still teaches of the treasury of merits, and practices come forth from that teaching. It is out of the teaching, possibly even stemming from something simple and fundamental, that practice develops and takes its form.

    But again, the entirety of the Church was not corrupted, even as Luther himself said in 1528,

    “. . . We do not rave as do the rebellious spirits [crazy Protestants], so as to reject everything that is found in the papal church. For then we would cast out even Christendom from the temple of God, and all that it contained of Christ. . . .

    . . . [256] if the first, or child, baptism were not right, it would follow that for more than a thousand years there was no baptism or any Christendom, which is impossible. For in that case the article of the creed, I believe in one holy Christian church, would be false . . . [257] If this baptism is wrong then for that long period Christendom would have been without baptism, and if it were without baptism it would not be Christendom. (LW, vol. 40, pp. 231-232, 256-257)

    He even said the following:

    . . . We on our part confess that there is much that is Christian and good under the papacy; indeed everything that is Christian and good is to be found there and has come to us from this source. For instance we confess that in the papal church there are the true holy Scriptures, true baptism, the true sacrament of the altar, the true keys to the forgiveness of sins, the true office of the ministry, the true catechism in the form of the Lord’s Prayer, [232] the Ten Commandments, and the articles of the creed . . . I speak of what the pope and we have in common . . . I contend that in the papacy there is true Christianity, even the right kind of Christianity and many great and devoted saints.

    . . . The Christendom that now is under the papacy is truly the body of Christ and a member of it. If it is his body, then it has the true spirit, gospel, faith, baptism, sacrament, keys, the office of the ministry, prayer, holy Scripture, and everything that pertains to Christendom. So we are all still under the papacy and therefrom have received our Christian treasures. (LW, vol. 40, pp. 231-232)

    Although this is early to mid Luther speaking (1528), the regard that he had for the papal church remained the same, despite the abuses, false practices, and persecutions coming out of it.

    On the fathers, he was shaken:

    “I tell you it is difficult to stand before the impact of the argument that holy people such as St. Augustine and others were subject to error. For about twenty years I have been greatly concerned about this matter, have argued with myself about it, and have been troubled by the fact that one does not believe all the pope says; likewise, that the church should be in error, and that I should really believe all that the fathers say. This view certainly had a great appearance and reputation, for they were considered great teachers of the church, and all emperors, kings, and princes of the world held to them and their teaching; and all the multitudes in the papacy (which possesses the kingdoms and the goods of the world) hold to their view. What are we compared to them? A small, poor, lowly flock . . .

    No one believes what a great obstacle this is and how deeply it offends a person to teach and believe something contrary to the fathers. I, too, have often had this experience. Again, it is an offense to see that so many fine, sensible, learned people, nay, the better and greater part of the world, have held and taught this and that; likewise, so many holy people, as St. Ambrose, Jerome, and Augustine. Nevertheless the one Man, my dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, must certainly mean more to me than all the holiest people on earth, nay, more even than all the angels of heaven if they teach otherwise than the Gospel teaches or if they add anything to, or detract anything from, the teaching of the divine Word. When I read the books of St. Augustine and find that he, too, did this and that, it truly disconcerts me very much. When to this is added the cry: Church! Church! that hurts most of all. For it is truly a difficult task to conquer your own heart in this matter and to depart from the people who enjoy a great reputation and such a holy name, aye, from the church herself, and no longer to rely on and believe her teaching. But I mean that church of which they say: The church has decreed that the rule of St. Francis and St. Dominic, and the order of monks and nuns, is right, Christian, and good. This truly offends a person. However, I must, in a word, answer that I need not pick up everything that anybody says; for a man may be a pious and God-fearing person and yet be in error.” (#2710-2711, p. 868; sermon on John 3:23-24 on 16 March 1538)

    I will not defend Luther on every jot and tittle–he too was a man who was fallible, just as the Fathers were. But inasmuch as Luther was for the preservation of the true church, I am for Luther.

    I think our biggest differences occur with the topic of the papacy.

    Again, practice has to be taught. And the teachers are learning from somewhere within the Tradition. Much that needed to be reformed was the teaching itself. Since there was no official position for much of what was being taught, order and reform had to be reached. Hence, the council of Trent and the reforms thereafter–(only without the extraction of the papacy and the Tradition that accompanied him).

  6. It’s very sad to hear you say that you’d rather abandon the faith than be a Protestant.

    I was a Protestant for over thirty years of my life. I do not believe that everything Protestants believe is false, but speaking personally, the fundamental epistemological premises of Protestantism — namely, “sola scriptura” and the notion of submitting the truth of Scripture to my own naked human judgment alone — fill me with such trepidation that yes, it is easier to believe that there is no God than to believe that God would abandon His people to be their own errant shepherds. This is not a statement of disdain but of principle.

    Just because the teaching had broken down, did not mean that the Truth was lost; the Scriptures still prevailed, if only in the Latin and the original languages…but the Truth was still there all the same.

    If you claim the truth of teaching, of doctrine, had broken down, then yes, that does mean the Truth had been lost. If no one was teaching the Truth, and the doctrines Martin Luther, or you, or whoever, interprets from Scripture are contrary to what was being taught, or has ever been taught, then what assurance is there that this new doctrine is the Truth, and not just any other novel reading of Scripture? What gives any assurance at all that your reading is correct, and the traditional reading is false, other than your own smug self-assurance? To even claim that “teaching had broken down” requires a subjective interpretation of Scripture.

    Much as the finding of the Book of the Law in 2 Chronicles 34:14, this is not a new phenomena to the history of the faith.

    In 2 Chronicles 34, the Kingdom had been overrun with corrupt practice and the Law had ceased being taught. The discovery of the Book of the Law brought about a renewal of the teaching of the Law. This may seem a romantic comparison to a Protestant, but the claim that the Gospel or the Scriptures had ceased being taught in the Middle Ages is simply false. The fact that you disagree with the doctrines of the Catholic Church does not mean that these doctrines were absent, and to claim that they are false, again, requires a subjective interpretation of Scripture.

    It is not as if the Holy Spirit failed, nor ever ceased to function and point those of the faith to Jesus, speaking to them through the Word preached.

    But I thought teaching and preaching had broken down?

    But on these practices and doctrines or teachings, the Roman Church still teaches, and practices indulgences. It still teaches of the treasury of merits, and practices come forth from that teaching. It is out of the teaching, possibly even stemming from something simple and fundamental, that practice develops and takes its form.

    There is nothing incorrect, false, or contrary to Scripture about the doctrines of indulgences or merit, properly understood. Certain practices (e.g. the possible sale of indulgences) may have become corrupt or misguided.

    I am glad Luther did not reject all teachings of Tradition or the Catholic Church. The statements you cite echo the teachings of the Catholic Church in similarly not rejecting all teachings of Protestants.

    Yes, Church Fathers, bishops, even popes, are subject to error in their individual and private teachings. It is when one teaches and believes something contrary to the consensus of Tradition in the Church, the agreement of all the Fathers, that a teacher of novelties truly gives offense. Where Augustine, Ambrose, and Jerome differ in their teachings, there is room to disagree. Where Churches the world over agree, and have embraced since the earliest times, doctrines and practices such as monasticism as “right, Christian, and good” — and a single disgruntled monk comes along and rejects it all with fire and condemnation — “this truly offends a person.”

    But inasmuch as Luther was for the preservation of the true church, I am for Luther.

    Isasmuch as Luther’s imagination of “the true church” represents something new and never before seen in Christianity, I am against him.

    • A) I did not say that the finding of the book of the Law was a perfect comparison, but it is much the same–there are similarities as to draw certain comparisons. Not sure if I need to go into that because it seems obvious to me. If you would like, I can elaborate.

      B) God forbid that he would ever abandon his people to lead themselves…and if you think that that is what we are doing, then I don’t know what else I can say to you. Yet Christ said that he would be with all of us to the end of the age–to those who believe on His name and who are Baptized; the true Church. He has never left, nor abandoned His church, neither through schism or through anything else. For those who are in Christ Jesus, as Paul has said, nothing can separate us from the love of God, (Romans 8:38-39). He still Shepherds you, he still shepherds me, and he still shepherds all who call upon his name, such as the Eastern Orthodox church, Coptic Christians, and those who look to the name of Jesus for the salvation of their souls. The Spirit is alive and well, and still uses His offices to guide and to care for us poor sinners, as well as to administer the forgiveness of sins with the keys, feed his sheep with the distribution of his body and blood upon the observance of the Sacrament of the Altar, make certain our faith and brotherhood with the Baptizing of sinners into His Name, etc, etc.

      C) This won’t be the greatest analogy, but humor me. If your car breaks down and is stranded on the side of the road, does it cease to be a car? No, it’s just not working as it should, not operating properly. It still has a bumper, it still has an engine, still takes gas, still has great leather seats, still has a steering wheel in order to direct the vehicle. It just might have overheated from a lack of coolant. It might have a worn out gasket that caused a low level of oil, which caused it to overheat. All this to say, the true church was still there with the Word of Christ and with true believers, it just had an excess of “other” teaching that did not belong and was corrupting it alongside of the Truth, even as the Truth–Christ Himself–fought to keep her pure. For instance, the medieval church taught that Christ bled and died for our sins. Taught that the second person of the trinity was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary and was made man. It still taught the “our Father.” Taught the ten commandments. Taught the Creeds. Things that are inherent in the Church were there. But when it–no, when men–added to that Scriptural teaching and so drifted from the apostles’ teaching by adding to it things that man cannot know, things that exist so as to put distance between the sheep and the shepherd, then, no matter who the teachers may have been, a problem existed that needed to be corrected. The truth was there, but there were other teachings present that crowded it and made it harder to see. Like looking at a diamond through muddy water–what color is it, what is its clarity, its value? Or, take science. Dinosaurs existed, as evolution teaches from the fossil record, which is inexcusably true…those fossils just didn’t exist millions of years ago, which is an evolutionary and added statement of faith. One CAN arrive at other natural conclusions from the given evidence as to the dinosaurs age, but one cannot deny the evidence that they existed. Truth and “other teaching” existing alongside each other, muddying the appearance of the real truth…the real appearance of a perfect diamond.

      D) Monasticism was never a part of the early church, and if tradition brought it in, then it bred a substantial amount of corruption from certain men (not all of them) and an unhealthy reliance upon the Law for sanctification. Not my own argument, just those of the ex-monks.

      E) What about faith in the Word of Christ? I believe in what He says, because of what he’s done for me and because of the effect of that written and preached word. Certain things can either be self-evident, or taught and understood. Whether from the preaching of Paul, from the preaching of Luther, from the preaching of a papal priest. Christ can be preached and understood from the pages of scripture, and our faith in that reading is OK, necessary even. Call it subjective, but that faith in the word of Christ is real, and doesn’t just come from “my own interpretation” but from the teaching of the Word and the Spirit. That Christ died for my sins–I believe that, and you believe that, because the Spirit has enlightened our hearts by the Word of God. We believe what it says. As it is with the other Scriptures. Unlike the atheist, who does not believe and calls into question–rather than teaches the faith–of all of Scripture.

      F) Again you speak in hyperbole…it wasn’t a single, disgruntled monk.

      G) Luther claims that he taught nothing new…only that which was old and ancient. Exposing the teaching of scripture. But you are convinced that “sola scriptura” is evil, so what more can I say? You left the reformation without the scriptures, how can I use the scriptures to bring you back? You’re gonna do what you want to do, so how can I oppose you and stand in your way? Follow the pope. Go ahead and take on his leadership, as I’m sure that you gladly will. After all, scripture says that you should, right? And what’s more, the consensus of Tradition says that you should. So don’t listen to me or any man at all. Listen to your own reason, that says Tradition must be the key. You love the monkery, so become a monk. Try it out, if nothing else. Take some vows. Go deeper. Learn more. Learn more of the gospel. Learn more of the Law. Learn more of everything. Learn more of nature. Learn more of science. Learn more of love. Learn new things. Learn old things. Just stay away from us poor sinners. Us worse than atheist protestants.

      In sadness, your would-be brother,

      Chris

      • I did not say that the finding of the book of the Law was a perfect comparison, but it is much the same–there are similarities as to draw certain comparisons. Not sure if I need to go into that because it seems obvious to me. If you would like, I can elaborate.

        Yes, please do elaborate.

        God forbid that he would ever abandon his people to lead themselves…and if you think that that is what we are doing, then I don’t know what else I can say to you.

        All of that is nice and good, and I agree. God does still shepherd us by the Holy Spirit, and Christ is still present in the Church, even in yours. What I refer to by the comment about being our own errant shepherds is the specific epistemological situation that “sola scriptura” places us in. I would think if you’ve read what I’ve written that you understand what I’m talking about, but if you don’t, please read my series on “Grappling with Sola Scriptura.”

        Scripture presents to us personal shepherds in the Church, especially in the person of bishops. “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you bishops, to shepherd the Church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28). “Therefore, I exhort the presbyters among you, as your fellow presbyter and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight [ἐπισκοποῦντες (episkopountes)] not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God…” (1 Peter 5:1–2). The Old Testament, too, promises shepherds: “Then I will give you shepherds after My own heart, who will feed you on knowledge and understanding” (Jeremiah 3:15). And these shepherds are leaders to whom we, as a flock, are called to submit: “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account” (Hebrews 13:17).

        As we have already discussed, the Evangelical tradition broadly, and your sect in particular, has rejected the concept of any sort of authoritative bishop, certainly of any sort of office with personal oversight or authority over the faithful. Yes, you still have pastors, and that’s nice, but — and here’s the key: “Sola scriptura” imposes an entirely different model of authority on the faithful than simply “obeying your leaders and submitting to them.” If you have a pastor whom you trust and respect and feel comfortable submitting to, then that’s nice and good. But — as my experience as a Protestant, and my witness of every Protestant I have ever known, conveys, in actuality, the Protestant is always submitting everything his pastor says, everything his church teaches, to his own personal and private interpretation of Scripture. That personal understanding is certainly shaped by the tradition in which one finds himself or has placed himself, such that a Lutheran tends to agree with what he hears from a Lutheran pastor, a Baptist with a Baptist pastor, a Presbyterian with a Presbyterian pastor — but the moment he hears something he disagrees with, or that doesn’t sit well with his own interpretation of Scripture, he feels secure in rejecting his pastor’s teaching. He announces, “Well, I just don’t agree with that.” He may continue following the guy, stating that “Most of what he teaches is sound, at least”; but if he should find himself disagreeing with his pastor too frequently, his response is not greater submission to his pastor, but to leave his church and find a different pastor to follow, one whom he agrees with. And his submission to the authority of his pastor and church is revealed to be the sham it always was: nothing more than self-guidance by his own personal judgment and private interpretation of Scripture.

        And the model for this is amply demonstrated by your earliest leaders: Martin Luther, rather than submitting to his bishop, the teachings of his professors and pastors and monastic superiors, looked to his own personal judgment and private interpretation of Scripture. He rejected the teachings of those charged with pastoring and educating him, rejected the teachings of his Church in matters on which he personally disagreed; ultimately left his Church and founded his own. Where is “obeying your leaders and submitting to them”? You respond, “Well, his leaders were wrong.” And I answer that this demonstrates precisely what I am talking about. To conclude that your God-appointed leaders are “wrong” in their teachings and interpretations of Scripture is to place yourself and your personal judgment as the highest authority, to make yourself your own shepherd. And this is the Protestant way. If Luther can do it, then so can any other Protestant. And they have and do, to the tune of thousands of disparate and disagreeable Protestant sects, almost daily splits of churches and whole denominations, and untold millions of wandering and errant souls, shepherds of themselves, who leave their churches or denominations and strike out on the own to seek a truth that better agrees with them.

        But when it–no, when men–added to that Scriptural teaching and so drifted from the apostles’ teaching by adding to it things that man cannot know, things that exist so as to put distance between the sheep and the shepherd, then, no matter who the teachers may have been, a problem existed that needed to be corrected. The truth was there, but there were other teachings present that crowded it and made it harder to see. Like looking at a diamond through muddy water–what color is it, what is its clarity, its value? … Truth and “other teaching” existing alongside each other, muddying the appearance of the real truth…the real appearance of a perfect diamond.

        What you claim happened has never happened. No teaching has been “added to the Scriptural teaching” or has “added to [apostolic teaching] things that men cannot know.” Perhaps you should be specific about what you mean. You refer to “evolution.” I’m not sure I understand your analogy there, but to me, it is apt. You appear to reject, in rejecting “truth and ‘other teaching’ existing alongside each other” as “muddying,” any development, expansion, or elaboration of doctrine. You want only the bare and unadorned diamond; anything else is distracting and worthless to you. I think this is a mistake.

        A diamond in its perfect, pristine, uncut state looks like little more than a rock. It is not much to look at, not much to inspire, not much to draw men to. But suppose we cut the diamond and polish it, bringing out its beauty and majesty more greatly to those who gaze upon it. We have not lost any of the diamond, not changed the substance or the fact of what it is or what we have received or been given. Suppose we set the diamond in a magnificent golden setting, and build a glorious hall in which to display it to the world. We have not added substance to the diamond, only accompanied it with material with which to better present it to others.

        You seem to mistake the housing of the diamond as a rival to the diamond itself. No one presents it as that. No one supposes that the housing itself is a thing of value or by itself a thing of beauty. It is only when it is used in its proper function, to enhance the diamond, that the housing is beneficial and beautiful.

        All of this is to say, that yes, doctrine has developed. But the pristine and primordial truth of Christ’s revelation and the Apostles’ teaching remains pure and intact. This is what the Church refers to as “Sacred Tradition”; it is also contained in Sacred Scripture. When doctrines develop, they are not an altering of or an adding to of this original deposit of faith: they are an evolution, an unfolding of the Church’s understanding of the Truth; they are an elaboration, an accompaniment of the Truth with teachings and practices and traditions that are supposed to aid the faithful in understanding and living out the Gospel. In time, it’s true, sometimes these ancillary practices and traditions have gotten off track and failed to be beneficial; that’s when reform is needed. But that is not to say that the Truth itself has ever been corrupted, or that any of the ancillary practices are themselves the Truth or to be confused with the Truth.

        Monasticism was never a part of the early church, and if tradition brought it in, then it bred a substantial amount of corruption from certain men (not all of them) and an unhealthy reliance upon the Law for sanctification. Not my own argument, just those of the ex-monks.

        Evidence of deliberate Christian monasticism can be found as early as the second century, and attained universal acceptance in the Church in both the East and the West by the third and fourth centuries. It has biblical precedents in the examples of Elijah and John the Baptist, in the vows of the Nazirites, and in Jesus’s fasting in the wilderness, and historical precedents in the lifestyles of the Essenes and other Jewish ascetic communities. Thus it is, I would argue, “part of the early Church,” and exemplified as a godly practice in the very truth of Scripture. Jesus calls us to live lives of chastity, poverty, and obedience. If living as a hermit or living in a religious community would aid me in biding those counsels, then that is surely a godly and beneficial practice. Forgive me if I trust the testimony of Tradition and of godly men such as St. Benedict and St. Bernard over your fallen “ex-monks.”

        And this is an example of what I am talking about. No, monasticism is not “the Truth” that was preached by Jesus or the Apostles. But monasticism is a practice that developed for the benefit of those who desired to live out the teachings of Jesus in a dedicated community. If you want to reject the traditional “housing” the Christian tradition has given the diamond, that’s your business; but there can never again be a naked, uncut diamond. The Lutheran tradition adds its own traditions, its own “housing” — albeit generally a rougher and less attractive one, giving perhaps the illusion of a “purer” state. You are merely exchanging one “housing” for another.

        Christ can be preached and understood from the pages of scripture, and our faith in that reading is OK, necessary even. Call it subjective, but that faith in the word of Christ is real, and doesn’t just come from “my own interpretation” but from the teaching of the Word and the Spirit.

        Yes, Christ teaches and Scripture teaches and the Spirit teaches. But you, like me, like everyone, have a mind through which that teaching must be mediated. You must receive and interpret and understand that teaching. You’ve chosen, as I recall, to reject at least one interpretation and embrace the one you now adhere to. So you are exercising that mind and judgment — as I have. The difference is that my mind has brought me to submit my judgment to the received Tradition and apostolic authority of the Church.

        Unlike the atheist, who does not believe and calls into question–rather than teaches the faith–of all of Scripture.

        Like the atheist, you are calling into question many traditional interpretations of Scripture, and rejecting many traditional Christian practices as ungodly or false that have made up the fabric of the Christian tradition and the Church.

        Again you speak in hyperbole…it wasn’t a single, disgruntled monk.

        It did start with a single disgruntled monk. A single disgruntled monk cast the first stone that started the avalanche.

        Luther claims that he taught nothing new…only that which was old and ancient. Exposing the teaching of scripture.

        Luther can claim that, but I’m an historian by training. In order for a claim that his particular teachings are “old and ancient” to be true, they ought to have some attestation in the historical record; some evidence, any at all, that the particular claims and teachings of Luther were in fact the teachings or beliefs of early or apostolic Christians. I have read many of the Church Fathers, read the earliest writings of Christians after the New Testament, read the teachings of Christians that were in fact “old and ancient.” I find no trace of “sola scriptura,” no trace of “sola fide,” no evidence whatsoever of “imputed righteousness.” What I find instead is a faith in the received tradition and authority of the Catholic Church and her bishops, and a steady, unbroken trajectory of the that tradition and faith through the ages to the present. Protestant apologists seek to cherry-pick bits of the Church Fathers that appear to agree with or support Protestant claims, but any thorough reading of content and context reveals that such claims are empty. Anglican historian Alister McGrath, for example, writes, with regard to the Lutheran concept of justification (specifically to the Lutheran distinction between justification and regeneration, the concept of “imputed righteousness”):

        A fundamental discontinuity was introduced into the western theological tradition where none had ever existed, or ever been contemplated, before. The Reformation understanding of the nature of justification — as opposed to its mode — must therefore be regarded as a genuine theological novum.

        “Old and ancient” indeed. The fact is that Luther had little if any regard for history or tradition, privileging above all else his own interpretation of Scripture, and Protestants have sought only post-hoc historical support in his wake.

        But you are convinced that “sola scriptura” is evil, so what more can I say? You left the reformation without the scriptures, how can I use the scriptures to bring you back? You’re gonna do what you want to do, so how can I oppose you and stand in your way? Follow the pope. Go ahead and take on his leadership, as I’m sure that you gladly will. After all, scripture says that you should, right? And what’s more, the consensus of Tradition says that you should. So don’t listen to me or any man at all. Listen to your own reason, that says Tradition must be the key. You love the monkery, so become a monk. Try it out, if nothing else. Take some vows. Go deeper. Learn more. Learn more of the gospel. Learn more of the Law. Learn more of everything. Learn more of nature. Learn more of science. Learn more of love. Learn new things. Learn old things. Just stay away from us poor sinners. Us worse than atheist protestants. In sadness, your would-be brother.

        Now who’s speaking in hyperbole? Sheesh.

        • I never said that “sola scriptura is evil.” I’ve said that I reject it, that I think it’s wrong, that it caused me a great deal of pain, and that I’d sooner not believe in God than believe that again. Hint: That’s not going to happen. I have just as much faith in God and in Christ and in the truth of Christianity as you do. I’m not going to become an atheist and I’m not going to become a Protestant.

        • I haven’t “left the Scriptures” or rejected Scripture in any way. I have just as much faith in the Word of God as you do. You’re suddenly wielding an old Protestant, anti-Catholic cudgel, and it doesn’t suit you.

        • Yes, I do follow Scripture and Tradition in submitting to my bishop and to my pope.

        • I am a sinner too, and you are my brother. Most of my beloved family and friends are Protestants, and I love them and their faith and their tradition. Don’t be crass. I would have thought we’d discussed enough things through that even though we don’t agree, we were beyond such ugly rhetoric.

        The peace of the Lord be with you.

        • Joseph, thank you for your kind reply. I was outside myself last night. I just got tired, frustrated, and I am sorry for resorting to that, “ugly rhetoric.” Thank you for your gracious remarks on that bit. It does me great service to hear you call me brother. Maybe, in my crassness, that is all that I was looking for…struggling for. And you’re right, it was anti-Catholic.

          On another note then, you really do seem to say that sola scriptura is evil.

          But what do you think of this quote:

          “Let us therefore hold it for certain and firmly established, that the soul can do without everything, except the word of God, without which none at all of its wants are provided for. But, having the word, it is rich and want for nothing; since that is the word of life, of truth, of light, of peace, of justification, of salvation, of joy, of liberty, of wisdom, of virtue, of grace, of glory, and of every good thing. It is on this account that the prophet in a whole Psalm (Psalm 119), and in many other places, sighs for and calls upon the word of God with so many groanings and words.”

          Again, I think our biggest division comes about from the acceptance of the pope. Where in the world did he come from??? He seems to come out of thin air within the desires of the bishops–not from Christ’s mandate.

          Your brother,

          Chris

          • Chris, thanks for the kind apology. I am glad for the return to a friendlier tone. To be fair, I probably got it started down a negative slant a few comments back in calling out Luther as a heretic and in the whole line about sooner being an atheist than a Protestant. I was being a bit overdramatic, but truthfully I don’t think I could ever turn back from the commitments I’ve now made and the convictions I’ve now come to.

            No, I would not say that sola scriptura is evil. “Evil” implies that it’s diabolical, the work of Satan, or that it’s intended to do harm. I don’t think either is the case. Like many things, it’s a case of a true conviction coming unhinged and being taken too far. It’s misguided, I would say, rather than evil. Yes, all of what Luther says in your quote is true. Scripture is all those things; it’s all the things Paul says it is in 2 Timothy 3:16-17; it’s all the praiseworthy things the Psalmist says it is. It is the Word of God, the highest authority of our faith. I can understand why Luther came up with the idea; and yes, I acknowledge that some before him, like Wycliffe, had similar ideas. For Wycliffe, to an even greater degree than Luther, his ideas and interpretations of Scripture departed radically from the established doctrine of the Church and from Christian Tradition. It is only by rejecting the magisterial authority of the Church that one can reject such doctrines; and if one rejects the Church, the only authority left is Scripture. The problem with appealing to Scripture apart from the Church is that Scripture has no head of its own. It cannot speak for itself or interpret itself or teach itself. “Sola scriptura” forces the reader to supply his own head.

            Again, I think our biggest division comes about from the acceptance of the pope. Where in the world did he come from??? He seems to come out of thin air within the desires of the bishops–not from Christ’s mandate.

            I intentionally haven’t been appealing to the pope. I think the truly defining feature of apostolic and catholic Christianity is the authority of the bishop. It exists in all forms of apostolic Christianity, in the western Catholic Church, in the eastern Orthodox Churches and Church of the East; and it exists from the very beginning, from Scripture itself, and is the defining element of catholicity from the very first documented reference to the Catholic Church, in Ignatius, as I detailed above.

            Even if there were no pope, I would still be catholic. I submit to my bishop, Bishop Robert Baker of the Diocese of Birmingham in Alabama. Adherents of the Eastern Churches, so long as they submit to their bishops, are also catholic in the broad sense. By and large, with only few exceptions, the bishops of both the East and West have retained unity and catholicity in essential matters of faith with all other bishops; they have clung to the received Christian Tradition and continue to teach the Truth.

            The pope, in the plainest sense, is a bishop like any other bishop. He is first and foremost the bishop of the city and diocese of Rome. As the episcopal successor of St. Peter, however, the bishop of Rome has been accorded a place and a primacy of honor since the earliest centuries of the faith. At the level of doctrine, the bishop of Rome is “first among equals,” the chief bishop, the one to whom all other bishops are supposed to guide, in order to preserve agreement in unity and catholicity. St. Irenaeus writes that:

            [We confound the heretics] by indicating that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; as also [by pointing out] the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops. For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on account of its preeminent authority, that is, the faithful everywhere, inasmuch as the tradition has been preserved continuously by those [faithful men] who exist everywhere. (Against Heretics III.3.2, ca. A.D. 180)

            St. Cyprian writes, in addressing The Unity of the Church:

            On [Peter] He builds the Church, and to him He gives the command to feed the sheep; and although He assigned a like power to all the Apostles, yet he founded a single Chair, and He established by His own authority a source and an intrinsic reason for that unity. Indeed, the others were that also which Peter was; but a primacy is given to Peter, whereby it is made clear that there is but one Church and one Chair. So too, all are shepherds, and the flock is shown to be one, fed by all the Apostles in single-minded accord. If someone does not hold fast to this unity of Peter, can he imagine that he still holds the faith? If he desert the chair of Peter upon whom the Church was built, can he still be confident that he is in the Church?” (On the Unity of the Church 4, ca. A.D. 251)

            Admittedly the passage from Cyprian is controversial, and understandably so. It exists in the manuscript tradition in two forms, one with less specific references to Roman primacy. Various scholars consider one or the other authentic, or both as authentic as different revisions by Cyprian himself. Regardless of the controversy, it demonstrates the role the bishop of Rome holds in the Western tradition: as a guarantor of unity, of the single-minded accord accord to which we as Christians are called; not to lord authority over other bishops, but to provide one pastor for the earthly church.

            “Where in the world did [the pope] come from?” Well, Scripture pretty plainly presents Peter as the foremost and leader of the Apostles. And if we suppose that the bishops also needed a leader — and the earliest doings of the Church seem to reflect this supposition — then the bishop of Rome and successor of Peter seemed and seems the logical choice. This doesn’t seem to have “come out of thin air” at all, but to have come organically out of the teachings of Scripture and indeed the mandate of Christ. See the lengthy thing I wrote a while back.

            Peace be with you.

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