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.

29 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.

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