Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Scripture and Tradition in Catholicism and Lutheranism: A reply to Curtis

Pastor Weedon has supplied the text of an article which was published in the Lutheran Forum (Subscription only) (courtesy of the author) in the comments section of my second last blog post called "THE RELATION BETWEEN THE BIBLICAL AND CATHOLIC PRINCIPLES" by HEATH R. CURTIS (Lutheran Forum 39.4(Winter 2005): 20-24).

There is a great deal that is good and valuable in this essay, but I must say it had me running back to the safe arms of Mummy (Holy Mother Church) on more than a number of occasions. It reminded me of how, as a Lutheran pastor, I was really left to work it all out for myself "in fear and trembling" (as they say)--and often in open combat with my fellow Lutherans. As a Catholic, I have the blessed relief of simply pointing people to the Catechism. Call me lazy if you like, but the task of trying to form a personal infallible opinion on every article of Christian doctrine is simply beyond my human ability (even in the grace of Christ!).

What can be said about this essay? It is very complicated. I want to agree with a lot of it. I have put ticks next to the following statements (with the qualification that they are true as far as they go). Maybe this is one of those situations which really calls for the methods outlined by Pastor Pearce in his recent blog on polemical theology. Alas, I am too lazy and a blog post is not the best medium for such work. Here's what I agree with:
    • The Word alone established dogma.
    • the point is not how Augustine or Chrysostom interpreted a given passage but how that passage has been received by the entire Church catholic.
    • The bible is the Church's book and it cannot be understood or interpreted rightly outside the Church and neither can the Church stand apart from God's Word.
    • How can I be sure that I have all the right books [in scripture]? The traditionalist Romanists [eg. me and Pope Benedict] answer this question definitively by the authority of the bishops and dogmatically declared the canon of scripture at Trent.
    • The tradition of the Church is our only link to the apostolic scriptures--the Church handed them down to us and they also handed down their interpretation.
But there is so much that raises questions for me. The WEAKEST point of the whole essay is that which addresses the actual definition of what is and is not "scripture":

Lutherans are historical Christians taking the information that the Church handed down concerning the canon and accepting it. So, the Lutherans take seriously the doubt expressed by the Early Church about the apostolicity of seven of the books in the New Testament (the antilegomena books: James, Jude, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Jude, Hebrews, Revelation) and refuse to give them strictly equal status with the twenty sure and certain homolegoumena books of the New Testament (see Luther's Prefaces to these books; Chemnitz Examen I,192; and Pieper, Christian Dogmatics III.330-338). Likewise, Lutherans express grave doubts about the Greek portions of the Old Testament ("apocryphal" or "deutero-canonical" books) yet encourage their reading and even quote one of them (2 Macc.) as "Scripture" in their confessional writings (Ap. XXI.8-9; see also Ap. IV.156ff.)

This is scarey stuff. Consider that the arguement of the paper is that Scripture alone determines dogma, but then Lutherans (according to this paper, which I think is a little skewiff on this matter) hedge their bets on certain books of scripture which have been unanimously accepted as Word of God since the early centuries of the Church.

Part of the difficulty is in the definition of what is and what is not "Word of God". See the previous blog on this matter, but in short, the Catholic Church also believes that no doctrine can be established which is not clearly revealed in the Word of God, but does not restrict God's revealed Word to the written scriptures of the Old and New Testament. The burden of proof remains with the Lutheran parties to demonstrate (yea, even on the basis of Scripture alone) that only the written scriptures may be regarded as Word of God and therefore as the foundation and source of all doctrine.

Another part of the difficulty is that the whole discussion is couched in relation to "Scripture and Tradition". But the Catholic Church knows at least two (in fact three) other players in the determination of doctrine. The first is the living magisterium of the pastors of the Church. What gives the New Testament its authority is the fact that it is written and attested to by the Apostles. But while God's revelation ended with the death of the last apostle, the apostolic authority to teach did not, and continues in the body of men we call "bishops". Even Lutherans today struggle with the question of the degree to which their pastors (as a body) have authority and responsibility for teaching in the Church. We Catholics are definite about the matter: our bishops have the authority to judge authentic Catholic doctrine.

In fact, Curtis' paper is overly concerned with the question of whether Scripture norms the Tradition or the Tradition norms the Scripture. At times he ends up in a circle: Tradition determines the authentic interpretation of Scripture, but "the perspicuity of the Scriptures reins in the fanciful interpretations" offered by the Tradition. He is at a loss to explain why the ecumenical councils of the "undivided church" ("in particular, the first four"--why exactly?) have pride of place in the Lutheran canon. He is at a loss to say what it means that "the whole church" receives a certain tradition. What he is grouping for is the doctrine of the authoritative living Magisterium. It is this Magisterium alone which has determined what elements of the Tradition are authentic and authoritative.

Furthermore, it isn't quite true to say that Scripture gives us dogma and Tradition gives us interpretation. Scripture does have doctrinal/creedal statements, but such statements make up a small percentage of the scriptural material. On the other hand, the Tradition (or in fact, the Magisterium as recorded in the Tradition) is the "go-to" source of declarations and definitions of dogma. The Tradition did not "invent new doctrines" mind you, but throughout history has specifically declared what is to be regarded as the true Catholic faith.

Ah, there is so much here. It really can't all be dealt with at once. By the way, you will have noticed that I said "at least two (in fact three) other players in the determination of doctrine" in the Catholic Church. They are:

1) The Prophetic and Apostolic Scriptures
2) The Sacred Tradition
3) The Living Magisterium
4) The Successor of Peter
5) The Sensus Fidelium

The relationship between all these is an intricate one, and has worked mighty well over the centuries. I believe that it is the security of this matrix of authorities within the Catholic Church which has ensured its faithful survival against the gates of Hell to this day (Past Elder's suspicions not-with-standing). Without all five of these authorities, the Catholic Church would have fallen to the forces of its enemies (most relentless throughout the 20th Century and not showing any sign of letting up in this new century). This is why it, and it alone, remains as the only universal communion of Christians faithful to the Apostolic Deposit of Faith today.

18 Comments:

At Wednesday, June 27, 2007 7:04:00 am , Blogger William Weedon said...

Dave,

The Lutheran approach to the antilegomena is simply - as Pr. Curtis has said - a taking seriously of the Church's historical witness to those books. How do the Lutherans on this differ from what Eusebius witnesses in Book 3 of his Church History, paragraph 25?

Nevertheless, as has been often pointed out, there is no doctrine of the Church that is in any way compromised by insisting that its sedes be in a homolegomena work.

What is striking is how Chemnitz seems to equate the OT apocrypha with the NT in his *Enchiridion* - with the implication that in the Lutheran Church James or 2 Peter has as much and no more authority than Sirach or Tobit.

 
At Wednesday, June 27, 2007 8:00:00 am , Blogger Pr. H. R. said...

Thanks for this kind and thoughtful response - I'll try to get a more detailed reply later. But for now, let me puzzle outloud about something that has puzzled me about the Roman Position.

Romanists often assert that what their position affords is greater certainty. I don't have to worry that I've gotten the Scriptures wrong, because the Pope and his Magisterium will guide me infallibly.

Sounds nice. But then there's Honorius. Now, hold on: I'm going to make the standard Protestant point here about how the pope can err via Honorius. I know the Papist reply. It's that reply that I find to be the thing that cuts the supposed benefit of the Roman Position (certainty) to shreds.

The reply is that 1) the Pope cannot err when he speak ex cathedra on matters of faith and morals and, 2) moreover, that a material heretic cannot be a Catholic and therefore cannot be a pope and therefore cannot speak for the Church.

Under 1) the reply is that Honorius wasn't speaking ex cathedra. Indeed, pushed far enough, some Roman polemicists will claim that this sort of ex cathedra speaking has only happened twice in history. To which I reply: so what use is this supposed infallibility? It is often argued that it will give me certainty in all matters of faith and morals but then I come to find out it's never been employed but for the Immaculate Conception and Assumption of Our Lady! Some certainty!

Under 2) the pope is infallible so long as he doesn't fall. As soon as he were to be a heretic, he would cease being pope: just like Honorius. Where'd my certainty go? The Romanists admit that popes can be personally in error - and that in the case of Honorius he publically taught error. But by being a material heretic he ceased to be pope. So the question remains: how am I to know when one of the boys in Rome has pulled this trick? What about the faithful in Honorius' time who faithfully followed the Holy Father's decrees?

The same could be said for the councils and the Magisterium. If a council teaches what a later pope or council finds to be error, then, poof, it wasn't a proper council.

The Sensus Fidelis is another logical circle. Who are the Fidelis? Those who are faithful to the pope. What if the Sensus Fidelis goes against the pope's teaching? Those aren't the Faithful. (Or read Sasse's critique on vox populi vox dei est. What was the sensis Israelis in Elijah's day? Who gets to count as faithful?)

So, as I see it, the Roman system offers a false sense of certainty that on closer examination leaves them just where we are all left in this fallen world: the promise of our Lord that his sheep hear his voice with all the problems that entails in a world where the oneness, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity of the Church is something we confess we Believe rather than see.

+HRC
--
+Pr. H. R. Curtis
Trinity - Worden, IL
Zion - Carpenter, IL

 
At Wednesday, June 27, 2007 12:34:00 pm , Blogger Schütz said...

Dear Pastor Weedon,

Here's what frightens me about this approach to Scripture:

1) While taking note of the fact that questions were raised about their status in the early centuries, nevertheless the Church, in the years after Eusebius, came to fully own the "antilegomena" as Sacred Scripture. But the witness of Eusebius cannot be taken for a rejection of the canonicity of these books; he notes simply that these books WERE "among the disputed writings, which are nevertheless recognized by many." In other words, there WAS dispute about their canonical status, but there is NOW no longer any dispute about this matter (although scholars will continue to dispute their authorship). It seems as if the attitude you describe as being "Lutheran" (and I don't think all Lutherans would share it) actually rejects the clear process of canonisation which really took place.

2) What sense does it make to argue, on the one hand, that doctrine can only be made on the basis of the clear Word of God, which is to be found solely in Sacred Scripture, and then to start excluding certain books recognised by the Catholic tradition AS scripture? With what authority is such an action taken? If Scripture is to be the basis of doctrine, on what Scriptural authority are some books universally accepted as Scripture in both the Eastern and Western Churches excluded? It seems a little like shifting the goal posts to me.

This is serious and even scandalous. No other Christian Church on earth would agree with this attitude towards these universally accepted canonical books. (As I said, I am not even sure if any single Lutheran Church as a body holds such an opinion as public doctrine). And pointing out that "there is no doctrine of the Church that is in any way compromised by insisting that its sedes be in a homolegomena work" seems to miss the essential point that you are claiming to build upon a single foundation which has crumbling edges.

 
At Wednesday, June 27, 2007 12:50:00 pm , Blogger William Weedon said...

Dear David,

Did you ever have a copy of Pieper? If perchance you might still have it, it would be worth checking out his treatment of the question. It's in volume 1, page 330ff.

Chemnitz deals with the question extensively in Examen I, page 168ff.

The Lutheran Church simply does not disregard the witness of the early Church on these questions. You are quite correct that most Lutherans (this one included) accept the full authority of the antilegomena as completely canonical; but I will NOT put under the anathema (as Trent does) those who question one book or another of it as being authentically apostolic.

I think the Lutheran insistence on sedes being from the homolegoumena is simply wise. It recognizes that the Church herself struggled to discern the authentic Scriptures and marked certain books as being in question in local communities. Does it give no pause at all that St. Gregory Nazianzus in his *Concerning the Genuine Books of Scripture* dares to leave out ALL the OT Apocrypha AND Revelation and then declares: "If there is anything else besides these, it is not among the genuine"? (See PG 37, 471-474; *On God and Man* pp. 85,86 SVS Press 2001) Trent would then anthematize St. Gregory!!!

 
At Wednesday, June 27, 2007 1:45:00 pm , Blogger Schütz said...

Pastor Curtis,

Thank you for taking the time out to find my blog and read the critique. As I said, there was much that was good in your paper--but I would have liked a little more of that "scholastic thoroughness" so ably displayed in the Lutheran dogmatics. Many of your points needed further working out. And some of them lead to conclusions I am sure you would not be at all happy with. I look forward to you engaging my concerns as listed.

Regarding your puzzlement about the "Roman Position" (btw. we prefer to be called Catholics, thank you, rather than Romans or Romanists; I for instance am a Melbournian, not a Roman; in return I promise to call you by whatever term you prefer to be known; I think that would be polite, don't you?):

"Romanists often assert that what their position affords is greater certainty." Well at least it does for me. I can honestly say that I am more certain now than I was as a Lutheran. This certainty remains, of course, the certainty of faith, under grace, under Christ and under his Cross. But as Pope Benedict put it last year just before Christmas when addressing the Roman Curia: "If we do not rediscover the certainty of faith, it will also be ever more difficult for us to give others the gift of life and the challenges of an unknown future."

"I don't have to worry that I've gotten the Scriptures wrong, because the Pope and his Magisterium will guide me infallibly." No, it is more to the point that each individual Catholic is spared the need to reinvent the entire Christian faith for himself. We receive the Faith as a gift from the Church. It isn't up to me to determine the content of the faith with no other tool than Sacred Scripture--and this isn't because Sacred Scripture isn't up to the task, but because I'm not!

"But then there's Honorius." Here we go again. That's one bone you guys have dug up that you intend to keep firmly in your jaws, isn't it?

"I know the Papist reply....The reply is that 1) the Pope cannot err when he speak ex cathedra on matters of faith and morals and, 2) moreover, that a material heretic cannot be a Catholic and therefore cannot be a pope and therefore cannot speak for the Church." Well, I don't know about the second reply. It might be a reply given to an hypothetical situation, but it certainly isn't one I would give to the situation of Honorius. The first reply is certainly true--that Honorius, in his letter, was not authoritatively defining the faith. That was done only later at the Ecumenical Council, and Honorius, it appears, was quite happy to leave it to an Ecumenical Council to decide. See my separate blog on Honorius (http://cumecclesia.blogspot.com/2007/05/more-on-fallible-pope-honorius.html).

"Indeed, pushed far enough, some Roman polemicists will claim that this sort of ex cathedra speaking has only happened twice in history. To which I reply: so what use is this supposed infallibility?"Well, even something that has only been used twice is still useful! However, as I have blogged before, papal teaching has several levels of authority, and the ex cathedra definition of matters of faith and morals is merely the highest of these. The authority of the Petrine Office is not limited to his charism of infallibility, but rather resides in his ordinary magisterium as Successor of Peter, the Rock upon whom Christ promised to build his Church. The only folk who are worried about arguing whether papal pronouncments are infallible or not are those who don't want to agree with them. I have yet to find a single statement of any Pope I have ever lived under which was not entirely reliable.

Had I lived under Honorius, I would have trustfully followed his lead also, knowing that that the Church would in time determine the matter finally. It is noteworthy that when the Council finally did determine the matter, the Church of Rome did not regard themselves wedded to their former pope's contrary opinion. This itself is evidence, not that they disregarded Honorius' authority (he was highly regarded by all in his time), but that they did not regard his position on this matter as decisively authoritative.

Your second situation is a mere hypothetical, and doesn't really bear answering. The process by which a pope is chosen today (not to mention the grace of the Holy Spirit) makes such an idea an impossibility.

But I should point out that Honorius did not "cease to be pope...as soon as he were [found] to be a heretic". Honorius was dead by the time the decision of the Council was made, and we have no way of knowing what his reaction would have been to the decision of the Council. The Catholic Encyclopedia says of Honorius:

"It is clear that no Catholic has the right to defend Pope Honorius. He was a heretic, not in intention, but in fact; and he is to be considered to have been condemned in the sense in which Origen and Theodore of Mopsuestia, who died in Catholic communion, never having resisted the Church, have been condemned."

So it is true that "The Romanists admit that popes can be personally in error - and that in the case of Honorius he publically taught error." But he did not "cease to be pope" as you say, he was not INTENTIONALLY a heretic (ie. the Church had not yet defined this doctrine, and so he could not be said to have held an opinion contrary to the public faith of the Church).

"What about the faithful in Honorius' time who faithfully followed the Holy Father's decrees?" Honorius made no decrees about this matter for the faithful to follow. Even if he did, I would have been in error had I not accepted his authority, since the faithful owe obedience to their pastors in matters of faith and morals. At the same time, I would have been in error if I not accepted the definitive decision of the Ecumenical Council when it was finally given.

"So the question remains: how am I to know when one of the boys in Rome has pulled this trick? Think about it, Pastor. We know about Honorius' failure (he wasn't trying to pull a "trick" on anyone--he was just wrong) because the Church--in Ecumenical Council and in full agreement with the Roman Pope at the time--exposed his failure publically. A pope cannot (read: is not allowed to) teach an opinion contrary to a matter which has previously been clearly defined by the Church. If he were to express an opinion about a disputed matter (eg. the existence of Limbo for unbaptised babies) this opinion would be tested by the Church, and possibly accepted or rejected at a future date if it were thought that certainty on the matter could be reached and that a public definition was required (by either Pope or Council).

"The same could be said for the councils and the Magisterium. If a council teaches what a later pope or council finds to be error, then, poof, it wasn't a proper council." This isn't quite true--it is necessary that some procedural or canonical requirement for true "ecumenicity" was not met. One cannot arbitrarily declare an Ecumenical Council not to be an Ecumenical Council just because you disagree with its findings. True ecumenical councils in fact bind the decrees and decisions of later popes and councils.

"The Sensus Fidelis is another logical circle. Who are the Fidelis? Those who are faithful to the pope. What if the Sensus Fidelis goes against the pope's teaching? Those aren't the Faithful." The Faithful are all the baptised--lay and ordained. The matter is not that the Faithful act as judges of doctrine pronounced by Pope or Council (eg. Humanae Vitae and the decision on Contraception is not to be judged by what percentage of those who claim to be Catholics follow its dictates in the bedroom), nor is the Sensus Fidelium made apparent in democratic assemblies. Rather, as I suggest in another post, the Faithful raise questions about the faith and look to the Magisterium for answers. The way in which these questions are raised in itself is a determinative factor in the direction of the development of doctrine.

"So, as I see it, the Roman system offers a false sense of certainty ...we are all left [with] the promise of our Lord that his sheep hear his voice ...[and that] the oneness, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity of the Church is something we confess we Believe rather than see." Well, I won't get into the visible, invisible Church thing as we have treated that in many blogs on this page before (just use the search engine in the bar at the top to find them). And indeed it is the voice of the Lord to which all his sheep listen for the certainty of faith. We Catholics simply believe that we hear that voice speaking to us from our Pope and the Bishops in communion with him. And you might think that it is a false sense of certainty, but it seems pretty real to me.

It is not a certainty that can be scientifically proven--it is and always will be the "certainty of faith"--but I can certainly say that I have never experienced such inner calm and peace with regard to what I am to believe as being authentically Christian as I do every day in the Catholic Church. Long gone for me are the endless battles with other pastors to make sure that the next Synod votes the right way. Long gone for me are the doubts and despairs of the elusive truth that I was supposed to find in my own study of the Scriptures, or my own theological abilities and comprehension. There is great joy and peace in submission to the Church and her authority. I admire the dogged pioneering spirit of those who like to go out and build the City of God on their own, but it just looks slightly ridiculous when this is being done in territory that has been settled and civilized for 2000 years!

 
At Wednesday, June 27, 2007 1:59:00 pm , Blogger Schütz said...

Regarding the NT Canon, it was clear that there was dispute in the early Church. St Gregory says the Revelation is out, St Athanasius at about the same time says that it is in. I doubt if St Gregory and St Athanasius were intending to declare each other heretics because of this dispute. The fact is that it was not yet then settled. Like poor old Honorius, St Gregory was wrong on this matter. The Revelation is the Word of God. Full-stop. No question. This was confirmed by the Ecumenical Council of Trent, the first Ecumenical Council to define this. It had every right to define it: just as the Council of Constantinople had the right to define whether Christ had one or two wills.

If the book of Revelation isn't the Word of the Lord, how do you dare to read it in Church and then proclaim afterwards: "This IS the Word of the Lord"?

What gets me is how you, Pastor Weedon, can say that you accept the canonicity of these books (in other words, you believe that they ARE the Word of God) and yet at the same time you are happy to accept the right of others to say that it is not God's Word. That would be as if the Lutherans and the Calvinists were to get a union together where one lot said "This is the Body of Christ" and the other lot said "No, we follow a venerable tradition which says it isn't" and you were all happy with that! Either it is the Word of God or it isn't. You can't have it both ways just because of a gentleman's agreement not to use the antilegomena as a basis for the formulation of doctrine!

 
At Wednesday, June 27, 2007 3:17:00 pm , Blogger Past Elder said...

"The process by which a pope is chosen today (not to mention the grace of the Holy Spirit) makes such an idea an impossibility."

Then what shall we say about the process by which popes were chosen before "to-day", when the papacy, as well as other important bishoprics, and being a graduate of a Benedictine school I should add abbacies too, were bought and sold and bartered like any other political and corrupt office. Is there a discontinuity, or hermeneutic thereof, there? Was such an idea an impossibility then? If so, how so?

I was taught, pre Revolution, er, Vatican II, that the College of Cardinals was formed to take the election of popes out of the hands of secular rulers. I was also taught, to give you a card, that a proper perspective on papal abuse is found in remembering that no pope's horrors ever exceeded that of the first one, Peter, who denied knowing Christ, for which he was not removed from his ministry by Christ.

But what say you?

And PS -- we seem to be at odds even on Catholic marginal types -- I rather liked Teilhard!

 
At Wednesday, June 27, 2007 3:30:00 pm , Blogger Schütz said...

"I rather liked Teilhard". Mmm... interesting. You can tell a lot about a man from his bookshelf...

Throughout history the process of papal election has varied. Just this very day, Pope Benedict has issued a motu proprio on the matter.

No matter how corrupt the process of choosing popes may have been, the pope was and is always chosen by God's grace. He works through sinful men... (not women in this case).

It's not a doctrinal but procedural matter. Continuity and discontinuity don't enter into it.

I've never heard the one about the horrors of St Peter, but I guess that is true. No pastor is perfect.

 
At Wednesday, June 27, 2007 5:05:00 pm , Blogger Past Elder said...

I remember once attending a lecture by William Grosvenor Pollard at the Oak Ridge Institute of Nuclear Studies, of which he was then director; he was also an Episcopal priest.

He was discussing Creation from a physicist's point of view, especially with regard to the expanding universe. At one point he got to what then is it expanding into, and said that not only did God create something, he had to create nothing first.

This had everyone scratching their heads. That is the most memorable lecture I ever attended. And I sure was glad for a little Teilhard under my belt, because it made perfect sense to me.

 
At Wednesday, June 27, 2007 9:37:00 pm , Blogger Pr. H. R. said...

Mr. (Dr.? Dc?) Schütz,

My apologies if my terminology offended you - that was not my intention. Rather, my intention was to be clear. For, we too prefer to be called Catholics and even Roman Catholics. See Augsburg Confession, conclusion to Part I (between Art. XXI and XXII). But you can call me what you like.

A statment from your comment in reply to my comment: "'What about the faithful in Honorius' time who faithfully followed the Holy Father's decrees?' Honorius made no decrees about this matter for the faithful to follow. Even if he did, I would have been in error had I not accepted his authority, since the faithful owe obedience to their pastors in matters of faith and morals."

Thank you for that honest repsonse. Many a time the Roman Catholics (I mean the ones who follow the current pope at Rome) I debate with try to argue their way out of your clear statement. But your clear statement is exactly why the papacy is so roundly condemned in the Lutheran Confessions. You say it would be a sin not to follow Honorius in his error. My dear brother in Christ, is this not a monstrosity and caricature of proper obedience? Yet you are right: this is exactly what the papacy demands of its subjects. Acts 5:29 is out the window.

In Christ,
+Pr. HRC

And another: "I have yet to find a single statement of any Pope I have ever lived under which was not entirely reliable." It seems that the sheep judging the shepherd's teachings has snuck in the back door. Kind of unavoidable, isn't it?

 
At Wednesday, June 27, 2007 10:27:00 pm , Blogger Schütz said...

Dear Pastor,

It is not "Dr" or "Deacon", just plain "Mr", I'm afraid.

You quote Acts 5:29 at me? Obey God rather than man? What do you think I mean when I say that we owe our pastors obedience? Are they not Christ to us? Are they not the ones to whom Christ has entrusted his word for it to be preached and taught? To be sure, if I was aware that my pastor was teaching what the Church had declared to be heresy, I would be wrong in following him. But unless this was the case, I think that, out of reverence to Christ, I should submit to his authority.

Now at the time of Honorius the Church had not yet spoken definitively on the matter of Monothelitism. It later became clear that the opinion held by some theologians--Pope Honorius himself--were in error. But without the Church's guidance, how would I, as a lay member of the Church, have any idea whether Christ had one or two wills?

To tell you the honest truth, if the Church were not there to tell me that Monothelitism was a heresy, I would have a bugger of time working it out for myself. And honestly, do you yourself believe that you would have been able to work it out on your own, armed with nothing other than scripture, if you had not in fact been taught it? And when you came to a personal conclusion on the matter, how would you have been certain you were right?

I do have a bit of sympathy for poor old Honorius. He might have been pope, but, like me, he sometimes struggled when he tried to play with the big boys as a theologian and a philosopher. By all accounts he was a good pastor though.

If you condemn the authority of the pope on the basis of my statement that I owe him obedience as my pastor, you also condemn your own ministry and your own authority as a teacher of the word, for do your own people not owe you and your fellow pastors obedience in matters of faith? Or are they also to work it all out for themselves, starting with the mystery of the Holy Trinity and which are the true books of Scripture and how many wills Christ has? And if you made a theological error which was later condemned by one of your Synods, would those of your people who trusted you and followed you in your belief (as their God-given and Church-authorised pastor) have been in error?

And having declared my complete submission to the authority of the Pope (something you find damnable and incomprehensible), the very next thing you criticise me for is using my own judgement when I said that I have found the Pope's teaching to be entirely reliable. In saying this I am only saying that I have found myself enriched and edified by the Pope's teaching; that in my experience, rather than in my judgement, I have found papal teaching a sure path to follow, one that has led me closer to God, and which has strengthened my faith rather than one which has caused me to doubt or falter. That is what I mean when I say that I find the Pope's teaching "reliable".

 
At Wednesday, June 27, 2007 11:49:00 pm , Blogger Pr. H. R. said...

The faithful owe obedience to Christ - they owe obedience to His servants only in so far as they act as his servants. If I were to teach false doctrine, the people owe obedience to Christ and should run me out of town if I refuse to repent.

The brothers in Jerusalem who followed Peter's example of refusing to eat with the Gentiles were wrong - not godly and pious in being obedient to Peter's false teaching.

Those who followed Honorius in his error were wrong: they were obedient to the word of Satan in Honorius not the Word of the Father (cf. Matt. 16 where Peter is the vehicle for both in the span of 10 verses).

And isn't it clear that Monothelitism is false? Is it really that hard? The condemnation of monothelitism says nothing more than that Christ is God and Man - true God and true Man. Not just part of a man possessed by the Logos. I do not mean to belittle those who struggled with this. We all struggle with the mysteries of the faith. But surely on hearing Maximus make the good confession once or twice, all those bishops should have come around post haste had they really "shared in the chrism of infallibility."

But historical tit-for-tat rarely leads to clarity. I'll stick to the criticism of your words above: it is an ethical and moral monstrostity to say that as long as I was following my higher-up's orders, I can do no wrong. It's wrong to follow error, even if your dad, president, pastor, or bishop tells you to do so. Indeed: "even if an angel from heaven..."

I wish you all the best,
+Pr. HRC

PS: If you haven't read it, this piece by Walther on the relation between the authority of the clergy and the duties of the laity to hold fast the Word might be helpful (well, it will actually drive you nuts, probably :)): http://www.reclaimingwalther.org/articles/sheep.htm

 
At Thursday, June 28, 2007 7:47:00 am , Blogger Past Elder said...

I'm with Pastor HR.

You cannot say "I was just following orders". Ultimatly this locates faith in the order giver not the order itself. Even Aquinas said ultimately we obey our consciences (and are responsible for forming them). And that appears to be your criterion anyway -- "that in my experience, rather than in my judgement, I have found papal teaching a sure path to follow, one that has led me closer to God, and which has strengthened my faith rather than one which has caused me to doubt or falter." This may be labelled experience rather than judgement, but clearly it is not an unexamined experience but one that has been, well, judged.

I was an elder. Not in my present synod, LCMS, but an elder. Part of that included oversight of the pastor, which potentially included just what Pastor mentions, the removal of the pastor. To be sure, nothing even remotely like that happened on my watch, but the protocol was there had it. I know some pastors chafe at oversight by laymen, and I know there are horror stories of abuse. Our presumption was in favour of the pastor -- he is the one trained, ordained and called, and one would assume he's innocent until proven guilty, as they say. Point being, there isn't anything like an elder at the parish level in the RC church unless something even further has happened since I left. But, elders are not a guarantor; rather, we all report to the same C.O.

I think those outside the RC church, especially those who were once in it, would hear the RC arguments about the divinely established guarantees through apostolic succession if it seemed to produce other than in theory some sort of uniformity of belief or consistency in the church, rather than the cafeteria Catholicism that seems to be the norm. I am not saying there isn't cafeteria Lutheranism, the point is, the surety in which you find such comfort is based on a personal belief, which is not to call it bad or invalid, just to say it is not by way of corresponding to a reality observable apart from personal faith. Catholic is as Catholic does.

As a PS, I remember the Pastor for whom I was an elder took communion after everyone else, like everyone else (without him as a disributor meaning one of us elders), which said a lot to me about what is human and what is divine in the church.

 
At Thursday, June 28, 2007 8:36:00 am , Blogger William Weedon said...

"Neither dare one agree with catholic bishops if by chance they err in anything, with the result that their opinion is against the canonical Scriptures of God." - St. Augustine (De unitate ecclesiae, ch. 12)

 
At Thursday, June 28, 2007 11:05:00 am , Blogger Schütz said...

I have attempted to be very clear about what the Catholic teaching is. I accept that Lutheran theologians will not accept this. But once again, for the record:

1) The charism of infallibly teaching the faith is attached to the papal office when that office is exercised in a particular public manner. It is not a personal charism apart from this teaching office.

2) The Heresy of Honorius was a personal error expressed in a private letter which only came to light after his death. It related in no sense to the papal teaching office and charism. At no time did Honorius teach his flock the heresy of Monothelitism or require them to believe it.

3) In matters of faith, the Faithful rely upon their pastors, acting collegially and in union with the Successor of Peter, who alone are authorised by Christ to teach in his person and to declare the truths of the faith.

4) As a college under the presidency of the Successor of Peter, the Pastors of the Church are constrained to teach in accordance with Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition (where the latter is understood as the Catholic Faith as it has been defined by the Church's authority in the past).

5) From this it follows that the teaching of any Catholic bishop or bishops which is contrary to any clearly defined doctrine of the Church (which includes the Church's accepted understanding of the canonical scriptures) must be rejected. Augustine is quite correct; but surely his meaning is that no-one should dare to agree with such a bishop if he has CERTAIN KNOWLEDGE of the error. For how can one refuse to agree with a teaching that one does not know to be in error? And if the matter about which Honorius expressed a private opinion was so self-evident (as my correspondents seem to think) how come there was any dispute about the matter in the first place?

5) Many people in Rome belonged to the flock of Honorius during his papacy. Most if not all of them would have been ignorant of his position on the question of the will/s of Christ. Most if not all of them would have been very poorly equipped to judge the matter for themselves.

[I am obviously dialoguing here with very wise and erudite theologians who believe that they, without the guidance of the Church's definite teaching and armed only with the canonical scriptures, could have rightly judged the Word of God on this matter on their own ability and authority. I accept that it might be so. I just don't think I could have trusted myself to arrive at the right conclusion under the same circumstances.]

Therefore, given that the faithful of Honorius flock were not asked to follow his private opinion on this matter, nor in any sense generally informed of his private opinion, nor even was there yet a defined position of the Church on the matter, they did not err in continuing to give Honorius filial obedience in every matter as they would have done to Christ himself. Given also that, although the matter was grave, neither Honorius nor any of his flock committed this error of belief intentionally or in full knowledge of their error, it could not be held that in this matter their sin was mortal.

I know that isn't going to please you, but I'm going to leave it there. You can argue all you like from this point onwards. I'm taking my bat and ball and going to play a different game.

 
At Thursday, June 28, 2007 11:30:00 am , Blogger William Weedon said...

David,

Heath IS rather erudite and very much a theologian. I'm just a pastor with nowhere near his knowledge. But the Honorius matter really isn't so difficult, provided he had remembered the words of Nazianzus that what was not assumed has not been healed. If there is no human will that was assumed, our will (which is the source of all the mischief in the first place) could not have been healed. If He became like His brothers in all things but sin, how could he not have had a human will?

Thanks for the discussion, though. Even when we come out on different sides, you always make me think. I appreciate that a lot.

 
At Thursday, June 28, 2007 12:30:00 pm , Blogger Past Elder said...

Since we're issuing our valedictories, here's mine, point for point to yours.

1. No issues -- at least as to whether or not that is true Catholic teaching. It is.

2. No issues. Of all the legs on which to stand against the infallibilty thing, Honorius' is the weakest.

3. Sounds just great in theory. Doesn't descibe much of anything I've seen in actual Catholic life in practice.

4. The whole reason I ever posted on this blog to begin with. The current Vatican II church departs significantly from both Scripture and Tradition, and rather than offer an amateurish exposition of that here, I defer to the substantive examination of this topic on the SSPX site.

5. Vide nr. 1 re Honorius himself. Given the lack of intent, agree re mortal sin, add it is not mine to judge. I do not consider myself a wise theologian, and I do not believe that armed with canonical Scripture alone I can rightly judge the Word of God, which is why I have a pastor and pastors in print (so to speak, some on paper and some on a screen) who offer preaching and teaching based on canonical Scripture and refer me to it as the final authority.

Now to dust off a little Teilhard! I think Bishop Sheen turned me on to him. Speaking of which -- Bye now, and God love you!

 
At Monday, July 09, 2007 9:23:00 am , Blogger Fr John W Fenton said...

If I may (a little late and more than a few dollars short)...

Pr Curtis writes, and Mr Schutz highlights, the following statement: "the point is not how Augustine or Chrysostom interpreted a given passage, but how that passage has been received by the entire Church catholic. This, of course, requires that we continually stay in contact with the whole catholic tradition."

What I find curious about this statement is that "the entire Church catholic" is no different from "the Catholic Church." In other words, an interpretation is not received by a consensus of those who identify themselves as catholic although not in communion with the Catholic Church; or those who define catholic as "the invisible faithful both within and outside the canonical boundaries of the church." Rather, an interpretation is received only within the true visible church.

This is the argument of Rome as well as the other Patriarchates.

I suggested some years ago that this was the argument originally made by Lutherans (i.e., they saw themselves as the continuation of the true visible catholic church in the west, contra the bishop of Rome). However, as that definition of "catholic church" or "Church" dissipated, the claim to be part of the "entire Church catholic" also dissipated; and hence, any hermeneutic based within the church's tradition begs several questions, most notably "What is Church."

In essence, then, I am building off the argument by Walter Cardinal Kaspar and its apt summary by Fr Richard John Neuhaus.

 

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