Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Pastor Weedon's Inquisition

Nobody expects the Lutheran Inquisition, and certainly I was surprised to find it buried deep among the string of 59 comments on the end of a previous blog, but here is Pastor Weedon's list of "fess up" questions for me.
I think I understand a bit of what you're saying, but for a Lutheran it is not about "stopping fighting yesterday's battles" since the battle yesterday was and is part of the history of the Church herself and from a Lutheran perspective that battle still continues. Rome is not burning us at the stake anymore, true, but the points of contention still seem rather the same:

1) what is the source of the Church's dogma?
2) when the NT knows the synonymity of bishop and presbyter, how can the distinction between the two be constitutive of the Church's very essence, and hence church dividing?
3) Is grace a created substance?
4) does Rome persist in claiming that the Bishop of Rome is head of the entire Church by divine right? On what Scriptural grounds?
5) is our justification by faith in Christ truly exclusive of all works of the law, of all our deeds?
6) does the Church subsist in the hierarchy that is in communion with the Bishop of Rome or in the whole company of the baptized?

Oh, so many more. These cannot be side-stepped by Benedict's approach to theology. He wouldn't choose to side-step them, would he?
Heck, no. And neither would his loyal disciple. So here goes, one at at time, off the top of my head (they don't provide theology text books in the torture chamber):

1) what is the source of the Church's dogma?

The revealed word of God is the only source of the Church's dogma. This word was revealed to the prophets before the coming of Christ and most fully in the Incarnate Word of God, Jesus Christ. Christ himself authorised his apostles as teachers of his word to all nations and promised that his Spirit would lead them into all truth. The continued promise of the Spirit's leading implies a continued apostolic office. Thus the Revealed Word of God comes to God's Church today primarily in the writings of the prophets and the apostles, and also in the unbroken "handed down" witness of the Church. This sacred deposit of faith is guarded and interpreted by those who occupy the apostolic office today, the Bishop of Rome and the bishops in communion with him.

2) when the NT knows the synonymity of bishop and presbyter, how can the distinction between the two be constitutive of the Church's very essence, and hence church dividing?

Well, I'm not particularly sure how it became Church dividing, but I guess it takes two to tango there. I am reading NT Wright at the moment, and he makes the point that aside from the book of Acts (which gives us tantalising detail about some issues in the early church and absolutely nothing about other details) we know next to diddlysquat about the Church between AD 35 and AD 135. Sobering thought. Yet by the year 135, we know that there were distinctly bishops, presbyters and deacons in the Church. The Catholic Church generally assumes continuity of practice from the apostles (given that we have no evidence to the contrary), and thus reads the NT in the light of the three fold ministry, believing it to derive from Christ's commission of the apostles (he instituted the episcopate, which is the fullness of ministry, and the priesthood and the diaconate derived from that fullness at a later date). So what we insist upon is the office of bishop. Conceivably, a true Church could exist in which there are no priests or deacons, only bishops. Presumably the Church at Pentecost was just such an entity. So it is the episcopate that is of the essence of the church, containing as it does the priesthood and the diaconate. If some new testament writings give the impression that the ministerial terms were interchangeable that's because they were. But not because the episcopate was lacking.

3) Is grace a created substance?

Que? This is a new one on me. Where is that coming from? My initial reaction is to say "No", but I just know you are setting a trap for me here somewhere!

4) does Rome persist in claiming that the Bishop of Rome is head of the entire Church by divine right? On what Scriptural grounds?

We persist in claiming that the Bishop of Rome exercises the "Petrine Ministry" by divine right. The scriptural grounds are the usual ones (do I have to cite them here? Matt 16:18, Luke 22:32, John 21:15ff, etc. etc). These establish that Peter was given a particular ministry of unity by Christ's own commission. Of course the inheritance of that commission by the Bishop of Rome cannot be proven from Scripture, but depends entirely upon Sacred Tradition. (see my answer to question one). It does make a kind of sense, however. The exercise of the Petrine ministry cannot depend upon human right, because it would be effectively powerless to act in the cause of unity (anyone disagreeing with the Petrine minister could simply say "Oh, I don't have to take any notice of him--his authority is only by human right"). I could go on. You can see where I'm going. How that ministry is best exercised is, however, something we can discuss (as JPII the Great pointed out in Ut Unum Sint).

5) is our justification by faith in Christ truly exclusive of all works of the law, of all our deeds?

The justification of the sinner is entirely due to the grace of God in Christ. Need one say any more than this? The Catholic Church completely and utterly rejects all forms of Pelagianism. That doesn't mean that it can't creep in by the back door, however, as even Lutherans know. May I refer you for a fuller explanation to a thing called the "Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification"?

6) does the Church subsist in the hierarchy that is in communion with the Bishop of Rome or in the whole company of the baptized?

Well that's a devil of a way of putting it. The usual formation is that the one Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him. So for a start the subsistence is not in the hierarchy but in the whole Catholic Church. Secondly the subsistence is not in individuals but in this hierarchical communion. Just as in the Sacrament of the Eucharist the substance of the body and blood of our Lord is identified with the visible elements of bread and wine, so the subsistence of the Church requires identification with a visibel communion. For this reason, one cannot speak of an "invisible" subsistence. All baptised persons do indeed belong to the one Church of Christ, but the subsistence of that Church is in the Communion governed by the successor of Peter etc. Is that all too much gobbledegoop?

Now can I get off the rack?


At Wednesday, March 05, 2008 1:25:00 am , Blogger William Weedon said...


You are too funny. It was no inquisition at all. It was an attempt to clarify certain points that remain troubling, even after rejoicing in the "turn" that Benedict XVI (I'm less charitable to his predecessor) makes in returning theology to its foundation in the liturgy, hence, the theology of the cross.

Now, I won't go into all things that you've stated in your response all at once. Just the first two for right now:

The way you have answered #1 does not, so it seems to me (I may be wrong and hope I am?) give the priority to the Sacred Scriptures which the fathers of the Church consistently gave. Where is the room in this for a St. Cyril of Jerusalem telling his CATECHUMENS (!!!) not to believe a thing he says unless he furnishes the proof from the Sacred Scriptures? Where is there room for a St. Basil insisting that "if ‘all that is not of faith is sin’ as the Apostle says, and ‘faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God,’ everything outside Holy Scripture, not being of faith, is sin"?

On the second point, I ask only if you've read through St. Irenaeus' Against Heresies with the question of order in view? He speaks of "the succession of presbyters" from the Apostles. You can find some of the more interesting passages in 3,2,2; 3,3,2; 4,26,5.

I use the word "church dividing" precisely because your current communion declares that mine is no church at all and has not the Sacrament of the Altar primarily, it seems, because we do not have bishops as distinct from presbyters as a divinely instituted office.

Enough for now, my friend. I hope that the above is not truly thought of as "turning the screws" or whatever. :)

At Wednesday, March 05, 2008 1:54:00 am , Blogger Rob said...

-Now can I get off the rack?-

No! Cardinal Biggles! Bring me the Comfy Pillow!

At Wednesday, March 05, 2008 2:43:00 am , Anonymous Lucian said...

Dogma is a given. Why would someone even ask of a source in the first place? :-\

At Wednesday, March 05, 2008 4:52:00 am , Blogger William Weedon said...


Never mind. It's a western thing. You wouldn't understand. ;)

At Wednesday, March 05, 2008 7:18:00 am , Anonymous Lucian said...

Yes, Father Weedon, but it's also a rather Eastern trait to stick one's nose into other's people business, so.. >:)

At Wednesday, March 05, 2008 11:00:00 am , Blogger Schütz said...

Quick answers (I am supposed to be working--I will make long answers a source of further study)

1) I do, as in fact, the Church does, give priority to the authority of sacred scripture. We could not accept any dogma that is contrary to the scriptures themselves. However, it is clear, as Lucian says, that dogma has its source in the revealed Word of God, which (in our understanding, and I think yours and that of the Church Fathers) is Christ himself. We do not hold to the view that all dogma is established by Scripture as if Scripture is its source. The Church has, since apostolic times, been guardian of the Revelation, and there are some dogmas of the Church that historically do not arise from the scriptures themselves. For instance, the central dogma that Jesus Christ rose on the third day was not established by but rather witnessed to by the scriptures. The original source of this dogma was the apostolic kerygma and tradition. In the same way the Eucharist itself and the practice of baptism is not established by Scripture since it was practiced by the Church before the NT was written.

The difficulty that I have with your quotations from Cyril and Basil is that they have a nice rhetorical ring to them, and indeed demonstrate the priority of the scriptures, but these very folk believed and practiced many things that Lutherans reject on the basis of their "scripture alone" claim. In other words, I think you are taking them to mean something that they did not. They would have, for instance, defended the practice of infant baptism, but they would not have been able to find "proof" for this in scripture of the kind that you seem to be asking for. Neither did they use this criterion to "purge" the church of their time of "unscriptural" practices.

2) It seems clear enough to me that St Irenaeus is at an early enough stage to be using the two terms "presbyter" (eg. 3,2,2) and "bishop" (eg. 3,3,2) interchangeably (as in fact is proven by 4,26,5). The Church dividing issue (and recall that Lutherans divided from Catholics on this score not the other way around--see William Tighe's research--and we are always ready to help you correct this "defect") is that more than a 1000 years before the Reformation these two offices became distinct and that the fullness of the office of the ministry plus the authority to pass it on was generally (except for a few exceptions that rather prove the rule) thought to reside in the bishop alone, not in the presbyter. The common origin of both offices does not empower both offices in the same way. One could simply note that Irenaeus never talks about the "succession of deacons" because, even though this office was also established when Christ gave the fullness of the ministry to the apostles themselves, it had became distinct from that of bishop/presbyter long before the time of Irenaeus (even in apostolic times).

I think I have made this point somewhere before. So you cannot claim that "succession of presbyters" means today what it did in Irenaeus' own time. It is simply impossible today to turn the clock back to the apostolic era before the offices became divided, or to say that the office of the episcopate was "invented" by human right and the foundational office is that of presbyter.

This is proven by the fact that in an heirarchical order, an office with lesser authority (ie. a presbyterate) cannot create a new office with greater authority (ie. the episcopate). This does happen in democratic organisations of course--where the office with "greater authority" simply exercises a sort of collective delegated authority of the masses, but the Church is not a democracy and this is not the sort of authority that a bishop has. In a heirarchical order where authority has its source in the Father and is given to the Son who then gives it to his apostles to delegate on to their successor, only an office with the full authority of the ministry (ie. the episcopate) can institute an office which shares in some of its authority on a lower level of hierarchy (ie. the priesthood and the diaconate).

At Wednesday, March 05, 2008 2:50:00 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really don't think that Scripture proves anything more than, at most, "the synonymity of bishops and presbyters" during the lifetimes of the apostles (and doubt that it proves even that). It cannot answer the question of whether the ministry of the apostles died with them, or whether they arranged for it to continue in some fashion or other. I think that the famous passage in the Epistle of Clement, ch. 44, read literally and grammatically, indicates that the apostles made a "further enactment" after instituting bishops and deacons, that when they themselves, the apostles in other words, died, other approved men should succeed them, the apostles, in their own ministry -- rather than that they made a "further enactment" that when the bishops and deacons died, other approved men should succeed them in their episcopal or diaconal ministries. (I also think that it is as likely, or rather more, that Clement's epistle was written around 70 AD than in the mid-90s.)

I thus don't think that what Scripture shows, or appears to show, about bishops and presbyters in the apostles' time has much to say one way or another about Church Order "after the apostles." St. Jerome asserts dogmatically, as was his wont, that bishops "emerged upwards" out of presbyters after the apostles passed from the scene, while Theodore of Mopsuestia thought that the apostles did indeed appoint successors to their own ministry, who out of not wishing to appear to put themselves on the level of the apostles took the title of "episkopos" to themselves, leaving that of "presbuteros" to those whom the apostles had appointed to rule and preside over the churches they had founded, with whom the new "apostolic episcopoi" would henceforth be "sumpresbyteroi" without the presbyters being "cobishops." I find Theodore's view as plausible as Jerome's, and since all of this would have happened at the very end of the period in which the NT books were written, or with which, at least, they concerned themselves, the Scriptures have therefore have nothing much to say about the post-apostolic orfering of the Church.

William Tighe

At Wednesday, March 05, 2008 5:03:00 pm , Blogger Schütz said...

Thanks Dr William. I am not an historian of the period, as you can easily tell. The real question is whether to accept Jerome's account or Theodore's. The Church has certainly opted for the latter while Lutherans have opted for the former. From a logical point of view, it would seem to me to be problematic to accept Jerome's theory, for as I said this would lead to bishops having their ministry by human right only and their office being optional in the Church (as indeed Lutherans assert). What is certain is that in the universal tradition, both East and West, Jerome's idea was not embraced.

At Wednesday, March 05, 2008 6:10:00 pm , Blogger Past Elder said...

Maybe there was no Bishop/Presbyter split but more like the "bishops"/"presbyters" continued and continue to this day, while what emerged "upward" out of them by human right was a new type of "bishop" derived from the Empire, not the Gospel, who over time subjugated the real deal making them presbyters to their supposed episcopal "authority".

At Wednesday, March 05, 2008 11:09:00 pm , Blogger Joshua said...

As for grace as a created substance - we mustn't reify grace, treating it (as Billy Connolly once described it) as "thick lumpy yellow custard come down from heaven". It is not a thing (res), but a quality, an 'accident' in scholastic or hylomorphic terminology, a change created by God in the soul, which he thus 'graces' - perhaps we should see it (I am being bold here) as a verb not a noun? For as recipients of grace,or rather as being graced by God, we are moved to act more perfectly, and in a supernatural manner beyond our own merely human natural capacities.

If I understand correctly, the Holy Ghost gives a new supernatural accidental perfection to the soul, which we call created grace (as opposed to Uncreated Grace, Who is the Holy Ghost, the Gift of the Father and the Son), raising us above our natural level to a new supernatural level, which of ourselves we could never hope to enter upon, since it is absolutely above the natural capacities and capabilities of man. The soul remains the same substance as it was, but it is transformed by the addition to it of grace, so that it now is made capable, ultimately, of entrance into the supernatural life of heaven.

One must distinguish two senses of human potency here - our ability to achieve something of our own acts, and our ability to receive something which will then give us a capacity to attain what we never could otherwise. We have no natural potential of our own to win grace for ourselves by our own efforts. Grace is a gift. (Tout est grace, as St Therese of Lisieux opined.) However, the human soul is radically capable of receiving grace (since ultimately it is capax Dei), and once it has received it, the soul now has access to a supernatural mode of existence, to a whole new realm of possibilities, to a new and higher level of flourishing, issuing in the possibility of attaining everlasting salvation by this gift of empowering grace.

Of course, one can subdivide grace into habitual grace (the sort I;ve been writing about) and actual grace (the graces given to us to move us to undertake, carry out, and complete supernaturally good works). We don't need grace to do natural good deeds, such as breathing, of course! I won't get into graces prevenient, or those causing physical pre-motion of the will, or again those we distinguish as efficacious versus sufficient... but all of them are supernatural improvements, as it were, produced in the soul by the action of God, and supernaturalize the soul, giving it abilities it never had on its own.

Grace is truly a priceless gift, because totally unattainable by any conceivable human effort or act, because won for us more bitterly on Calvary at the cost of Christ's Blood beyond all price, and because given to us utterly gratuitously by the Divine good pleasure alone, without any consideration of human merits (else we should be Pelagians).

In similar fashion, the supernatural gift of divine faith, bestowed at Baptism by the Holy Spirit the Comforter, leading us into all truth, is absolutely above all human faith or trust (even the unformed, merely natural faith or belief of the catechumen); it is an infused supernatural intellectual virtue, allowing us to grasp the truth of God in a manner mysterious and firmer than even logical reasoning, since it depends, not upon our own intellect, but upon God, Who can neither deceive nor be deceived.

*End of what I think I learnt during my philosophical and Thomistic studies.*

At Thursday, March 06, 2008 12:20:00 am , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps "Past Elder's" speculations are true; at the very least they can't be disproved. It is a trait that his speculations share with the author of *The Passover Plot* from the 1960s, or with the writings of Erich von Daniken on christian origins.

Or perhaps the central assertion of the "Streeter Thesis" of the 1920s, which has had so long and so undeserved an afterlife in Protestant circles (B. H. Streeter, *The Primitive Church* [1929]) that the megalomaniacal, "will-to-power prone," charismatic figure, with his penchant for "psychological dissociation" and "trance states," St. Ignatius of Antioch succeeded in foisting "divine right episcopacy" on the Church, and sealing his success with his martyrdom.

Such fantasies are a nice way, both to pass the time, and to justify one's own a priori theological committments.

William Tighe

At Thursday, March 06, 2008 1:19:00 am , Blogger William Weedon said...

Dr. Tighe,

What are you thoughts on the legitimacy of the epistles of St. Ignatius. A friend of mine who is a scholar of these matters insists that the jury is still out in scholarly circles on whether they ARE genuine. I am way too biased: I WANT them to be genuine (though I do not believe that what St. Ignatius describes as a bishop matches what your communion calls ones!). Any thoughts?

At Thursday, March 06, 2008 9:37:00 am , Anonymous Lucian said...

Herr Schuetz, You've been *spotted* !. >:)

At Thursday, March 06, 2008 3:18:00 pm , Blogger Past Elder said...

Well, as they say, nothing can be proven right, it can only be proven wrong.

Actually, my a priori theological committment was that apostolic succession exists in the unbroken succession of ordination from the Apostles to the bishops of the Roman and Eastern churches of the present.

Now there's a fantasy that I would not say originates in a trance state, but ends up in one!

At Thursday, March 06, 2008 5:18:00 pm , Blogger Past Elder said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At Saturday, March 08, 2008 1:37:00 am , Blogger Jeff Tan said...

Great discussion here. I just want to add

1. Let's not forget that Scriptures include an Old Testament, too. When that is included in the picture, we can have additional insights about succession of leadership in the household of God by anointing that is not only the vehicle of God's grace of appointment but as a public means for people to see and be clear about the succession. This, it seems to me, is consistent with the succession of bishops also, coming from the Apostles who received the wondrous grace of authority from Christ who had it in full.

The Old Testament also provides insight to the relationship between Scripture and Tradition, which, at least in Catholic understanding, does not make the former equivalent to the latter, nor is the former the origin or source of the latter.

2. The Old Testament in Isaiah 22 also gives light to the Petrine succession as it relates to the office of Shebna, holder of the keys of David and the authority to shut and to open, who is succeeded by Eliakim, to whom the keys and the authority -- and the role of chief steward as well as being "as a father" to Jerusalem and the house of Judah.

3. I seem to recall too the catechism (or perhaps the joint declaration) being clear that nothing we do prior to justification effects or merits our justification because it is an entirely unmerited favor.

2 cents..

At Saturday, March 08, 2008 6:33:00 am , Blogger orrologion said...

What is certain is that in the universal tradition, both East and West, Jerome's idea was not embraced.

More to the point, St. Jerome's declaration was not recognized by the universal Church as being consistent with Her self-understanding. This ecumenical, catholic testimony to the Church's understanding is an important context within which to read any and all 'exceptions' that are trotted out as 'proof' of a dissenting, 'equally valid' opinion in the Fathers or Church History. This lack of catholicity, a breadth and depth of recognition in the Church, is lacking in most of the heresies of the Church from the localized support for Nestorius and anti-Chalcedonianism, to particular ethnic or cultural stresses on one particular doctrine or 'way of theology' over others. While it may be possible for significant portions of the Church to fall into heresy, to assume that one's own linguistic, cultural or ethnic group and its theological 'school' is the only 'right' opinion is usually good grounds for thinking one has fallen into prelest (delusion).

At Saturday, March 08, 2008 7:14:00 pm , Blogger Past Elder said...

Funny how they look right, left, to one side, then the other, infer this, develop that -- anywhere but to the clear words of Christ.

BTW happy feast of St Thomas (Aquinas). Oh yeah, the revolution moved it.

At Saturday, March 08, 2008 9:45:00 pm , Blogger Joshua said...


Thanks for your best wishes (I guess you can't help slip in a snide allusion, so I forgive it), though you are a day late - it's the 8th already, here in Australia!

If I had made it to Mass yestereven, since I would've gone to Stations followed by Low Mass according to the Trad. liturgy, divus Thomas would indeed have been celebrated.

As you will see from my blog, I have been thinking on and commemorating SS Perpetua and Felicity, who - fair enough - were moved to the 7th as their apparent date of death and therefore true day of birth (dies natalis) into heavenly glory, as saintly martyrs for Our Lord Jesus Christ.

At Saturday, March 08, 2008 9:49:00 pm , Blogger Joshua said...

Is no one to take up the cudgels against my Romanist reading of what grace is, or:

(a) Does no one care;

(b) Everyone is still intent on the threefold ministry conundrum;

(c) Everyone actually agrees with me, mirabile dictu?

I'll assume the last possibility, in charity.

At Sunday, March 09, 2008 9:55:00 am , Blogger orrologion said...

Likely A and B. Online and in religious, philosophical and political conversation it's never c.


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