"Let unity, the greatest good of all goods, be your preoccupation." - St. Ignatius of Antioch (Letter to St. Polycarp)

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Why conciliarism without SMA is a contradiction

When I recently asked this question, a discussion ensued that has prompted me to lay out an argument against the position in which two claims are simultaneously held to be true: (1) some (but not all) Church councils are authoritative, and (2) there is no sacramental magisterial authority.

My argument begins by raising a question for the person holding that position.

(Q1) On what grounds does one determine which councils are authoritative?

For the person holding this position, there seems to be only one available answer to that question: Those councils are authoritative that agree with Scripture. But this answer just pushes us back to a further question:

(Q2) Agree with Scripture according to whom?

At that this point, the person holding this position can reply by appealing either to another council, to the Holy Spirit, or to his own interpretation of Scripture. Let's consider each of these three in turn.

First, if the person appeals to another council, the original question (i.e. Q1) applies to his determination of the authority of that council as well. So this reply simply pushes the question back; it does not answer the question. So this reply is not an option.

Second, if the person appeals to the Holy Spirit, this too pushes the question back to a further question: According to whose determination of what the Holy Spirit is saying? The answer to that question cannot be "another council", since again, that too would just push back the question. Nor can the answer be "the Holy Spirit", because that too would just push back the question. Nor can the answer be "the Scriptures", because the appeal to the Holy Spirit was the answer to Q2. So to appeal to Scripture here would be to fall into circular reasoning. The circularity would look like this: According to whose interpretation of Scripture? The Holy Spirit's. According to whose determination of what the Holy Spirit is saying? The Scripture's. According to whose interpretation of Scripture? The Holy Spirit's. .... So this reply too is not an option.

Third, he can appeal to his own interpretation of Scripture. This amounts to the notion that those Church councils are authoritative that agree with one's own interpretation of Scripture, and that those Church councils are not authoritative that do not agree with one's own interpretation of Scripture. But this completely undermines the authority of any council, for the very nature of authority is not something to which we are subject only when in agreement with it.

But there seem to be no other possible answers to Q2. If there are no other answers to Q2, then since the first two replies to Q2 do not answer the question, the person holding this position is by default treating the third reply as the answer to Q2. This implies that the person holding this position is involved in a contradiction. On the one hand he is claiming that some Church councils are authoritative. But on the other hand, by picking as 'authoritative' only those councils that agree with his own interpretation of Scripture he is acting as though there is no such thing as ecclesial authority. His position would not involve a contradiction if when he says "some councils are authoritative", what he means by 'authoritative' is "in agreement with my interpretation of Scripture". In other words, he can avoid the contradiction by making explicit that he is using the term 'authoritative' in a way that is contrary to its ordinary sense. But if he retains the ordinary sense of the term 'authoritative', then his position involves a contradiction. This implies that if the ordinary sense of the terms is retained, claim (1) and claim (2) are contraries, i.e. they cannot both be true.

Now, the common rejoinder to this sort of argument is a
tu quoque: you too. The claim is that in the process of becoming Catholic or Orthodox, a person must use his own reason and private judgment, and that he too just chooses his ecclesial authority according to his own interpretation of Scripture. So he too faces this same contradiction of claiming that there is ecclesial authority but in fact determining who counts as ecclesial authority by seeing who agrees with himself. But there is a qualitative difference between the two cases. The person who discovers sacramental magisterial authority does not do so by determining who agrees with himself. He does so by finding out (often from the fathers) that the early Church was always governed by sacramental magisterial authorities, and then tracing forward the sacramental line of apostolic succession through the history of the Church to the present. So he is not choosing his ecclesial authority based on whether they agree with his own interpretation of Scripture; he is choosing his ecclesial authority based on whether they are the *sacramental* successors of the Apostles. A sacramental criterion of ecclesial authority is in that way qualitatively different from a doctrinal (i.e. formal) criterion. Sacramentality cannot be reduced to form. And that is why sacramental authority is not properly discovered (as such) by doctrinal agreement with the individual. So the person in the process of becoming Catholic or Orthodox is not susceptible to the tu quoque charge, because his manner of seeking out ecclesial authority is not incompatible with the existence of that authority, whereas the person holding (1) and (2) and determining which councils are authoritative by judging them according to his own interpretation of Scripture is seeking out ecclesial authority in a manner that is incompatible with the existence of actual ecclesial authority.

12 comments:

Andrew McCallum said...

Bryan,

I’ve just been over at ReformedCatholicism saying that exchanges between Protestants and Catholics never get anywhere so I’m probably an idiot for saying anything here. But your post caught my eye so I wanted to make a few comments.

Timothy Ware wrote a well known defense of Orthodoxy called The Orthodox Church. At the beginning of this book he refers to the Pope as “the first Protestant.” To the EO way of thinking the Pope was the first bishop to break with ancient tradition and declare his episcopate to have authority over the others. And in a certain way we Protestants tend to agree with this Cyprianic understanding of the episcopate. From what we can read the authority of Rome that she claims today has little backing from the Fathers in the early centuries of the Church. When the early Councils convened Rome had little to do with them and then Rome spent most of the Middle Ages trying to suppress the counciliarism which gave rise to the great creedal statements of the Early Church. So it appears to me that there is little to support Rome’s position concerning her authority in matters outside of her episcopate. I assume you would disagree here and you could give me all sorts of quotes and I could give you lots of quotes back. You interpret the tradition concerning the papacy one way, I interpret it another, and our EO friends interpret it yet another. So how do we know how to interpret this tradition? I’m not trying to be cute here, I would really be curious to know what principles you lay down to interpret tradition especially given the many arguments against Roman primacy from the early centuries of the church. Protestants read the Fathers and we are convinced that the data here does not support this magisterial authority that you speak of. We can argue back and forth over this but I don’t think you are going to have much resonance with Protestants until you can lay down some principles of interpretation of tradition. The question Protestants get concerning who interprets Scripture is a good one, but so is the question we ask as to who interprets tradition. You say this: “The person who discovers sacramental magisterial authority does not do so by determining who agrees with himself. He does so by finding out (often from the fathers) that the early Church was always governed by sacramental magisterial authorities, and then tracing forward the sacramental line of apostolic succession through the history of the Church to the present.” But Bryan, this “finding out” is still just your interpretation! You may try to distance yourself from this, but all I hear you tell me is that you have interpreted the Fathers this way. I interpret the same Fathers a different way. So what principles are we going to bring to bear that will help us to adjudicate the matter?

Concerning the Reformers view of the Councils, the first thing to note is that the Reformed creeds did not disagree with each other concerning the definitive creedal statements of the early councils so your argument is theoretical. If they had disagreed on let’s say the true humanity of Christ well then maybe you would have a better argument here. Reformed Protestants don’t hold personal judgments as the basis for determining counciliar statements. There are certainly no lack of Protestant churches that are completely confused about such matters, but I am not defending Protestantism per se. I am saying that we do not need and infallible Magisterium to recognize the statements of those councils which were correct. The Scriptures are theopneustos, but the writing of the Councils and the bishops were not, so the Councils must be corrected by the Scriptures. This was the position of Augustine who was of course the great defender of the pronouncements of the Councils. The Protestants simply recovered this understanding of the authority of Scriptures in the life of the Church. This is not an individual thing, it is a corporate matter for church bodies that are faithful to the Scriptures and respect the authority of the Church. So who interprets the Bible on this matter? The answer is that there are tens of thousands of Protestant churches all over the world who have come to same opinion concerning the Nicean, Athanasian, etc creeds. Is there lots of confusion in Protestantism? Sure there is, just like there is with Catholicism. What individual Catholics believe concerning basic Christian beliefs varies all over the map. Does the administrative unity of the RCC make up for this lack of real unity? Anyway, the interpretation of Scripture is an important matter but so is that of the interpretation of tradition. But from my standpoint the interpretation of tradition is fraught with problems because non-canonical writings are not theopneustos.

Cheers…

TJW said...

I don't at all doubt the sincerity of the individuals that rejected the authority of the sixteenth century Catholic Church but in order to reject it they appear to have implicitly claimed for the individual the right to scrutinise all doctrinal claims and assess them upon their merits - as they understand them to be. In other words they implicitly, if not explicitly, rejected the pre-existing jurisdictional authority that arbitrated doctrinal matters at the time.

There appear to have been attempts to 'reconstitute' new decision making authorities but instead of a basis or source in the successive transfer of jurisdictional authority from bishop to bishop, back to the apostles and then ultimately to Christ they now had to be justified on secular democratic grounds. Secular governments can be overthrown because the people are simply taking back the power that they as individuals inherently possessed and thus are able to then vest it in a new government. But what inherent right do individuals have to determine religious doctrine? My understanding is that none of the Apostles were elected to office - they were leaders 'imposed' upon followers by Christ. He gave them authority to decide doctrinal matters - a power which they then handed to their successors.

I am an agnostic at present, and still have a fair amount of respect for most of the people discussing these issues. There are a number of arguments that I imagine are within the scope of reason but still come to conclusions that differ to mine above. But after reading a great variety of blogs and a number of apologetic works over the past several years I could not find a satisfying definition of Protestant authority.

Joseph said...

Bryan,

I agree. When I converted, it was precisely because I came to believe (Scriptures, Early Fathers, and an objective historical study of the Church before the Great Schism) that St. Peter was the Prince of the Apostles and was given authority over the other Apostles by Christ Himself, as were his successors.

Once I came to believe that I had to bend my will, by the grace of God, to accept, by learning about, the rest of Church teaching. It is a true act of faith to convert from Protestantism to Catholicism.

Andrew,

I'm troubled and so are my Russian Orthodox friends that many Protestants seem to be taking up their banner if only to try and somehow feel justified in their disdain for the papacy. I would be careful in that regard if I were you. The Eastern Orthodox do not visualize themselves partnered with Protestants on anything. In fact, they view the Protestant religion as the furthest thing from the Truth (as a form of Christianity).

I don't think that you are representing the proper view of Catholicism from an Orthodox perspective. They view the Catholic Church exactly how the Catholic Church views the Orthodox. They both consider each other true churches with a defect, they both believe each other to have Apostolic Succession, and they both believe each other to have valid Sacraments. The Orthodox, as well as the Catholics, do not believe that the Protestant communities can be considered "churches" because they have abandon the Sacraments and do not have the Apostolic Succession and valid priesthood to confer them even if they wanted to. They have also long abandoned orthodox belief in the Real Presence in the Eucharist. The Orthodox refer to Protestantism as "the Protestant Heresy". On the contrary, they don't consider the Catholic Church in heresy, they consider Her in schism (inverse for the Catholic Church). Because the Protestant religion has completely failed to carry forth any resemblance to orthodox Christianity in thier view, I don't think that Protestants are welcome allies on the viewpoint of anti-papacy. I know this trend is very disturbing for my Orthodox friends. Largely because Protestants, in their view, strip the Early Fathers of snippets like they do the Scriptures to justify their positions. The Early Fathers are just another buffet.

If you wouldn't mind referencing where Metropolitan Ware wrote that the Pope is the first "Protestant", I would appreciate it. I read that book a few years ago and I can't remember that statement. Regardless, even if he did say that, is he the sole authority of the Eastern Orthodox Church? Does Partriarch Bartholomew I agree with Ware? What about Patriarch Alexy II? Would the Orthodox Church still be considered one who holds valid Apostolic Succession from St. Peter a Protestant? I'm afraid the Orthodox have alot more reverence for the bishop of Rome than you seem to be illustrating here.

Also, you mention the "Cyprianic" understanding of the episcopate. Perhaps you'd be interested in reading all of the other Early Fathers. Was St. Cyprian's view of the episcopate dogmatic? Do the Early Fathers agree on everything? He was the only Early Father that I could find that had a view which excluded St. Peter and his successors (in Rome) as the bishop supreme. St. Chrysostom seemed to have some pretty strong loyalties to St. Peter and his successors, and he was the Patriarch of Constantinople. Wasn't his loyalty to the Pope also one of the reasons he was sent into exile? St. Chrysostom is also the greatest Doctor of the East.

Principium unitatis said...

Hello Andrew,

Thanks for your comments, and for your general tone. I saw your comment (on RC) about the seeming impasse between Catholics and Protestants because of the absence of neutral conceptual space. I think there is a way out of the impasse, but it involves taking up a different way of thinking. MacIntyre has a chapter titled "Tradition and Translation" in his book Whose Justice? Which Rationality? He points to the way we learn other languages, even, say, to the point of being able to translate poetry between languages. We have to immerse ourselves in the other community. And I think that observation offers hope to overcoming the impasse to which you refer. It is not enough to criticize Catholicism from a Protestant point of view, or criticize Protestantism from a Catholic point of view. We have to be able to evaluate both from both points of view. Then I think we can engage in more fruitful dialogue.

Regarding the papacy, my argument [that conciliarism without sacramental magisterial authority is a contradiction] does not depend for its soundness upon the primacy of the successor of St. Peter.

As for the Church fathers, do you know of any Church fathers who thought that ordination was non-sacramental? They all believed that the Church was governed by sacramental magisterial authority, i.e. authorities ordained in sacramental succession from the Apostles. If you can find an exception, please let me know. It was precisely this by which the early Church showed the Gnostics to be outside the Church; they did not have sacramental succession from the Apostles. This is especially clear in the writings of Tertullian and St. Irenaeus, as I have shown here. Here is a quotation from Tertullian's Prescription Against Heretics:

"But if there be any (heresies) which are bold enough to plant themselves in the midst of the apostolic age, that they may thereby seem to have been handed down by the apostles, because they existed in the time of the apostles, we can say: Let them produce the original records of their churches; let them unfold the roll of their bishops, running down in due succession from the beginning in such a manner that [that first bishop of theirs] bishop shall be able to show for his ordainer and predecessor some one of the apostles or of apostolic men,—a man, moreover, who continued steadfast with the apostles. For this is the manner in which the apostolic churches transmit their registers."

There is an important difference between interpreting Scripture so as to deduce and derive theology, and interpreting the fathers so as to determine whether they believed ordination was by sacramental succession. The former is much harder than the latter because the former is a question of systemization, and the latter is a question of fact (i.e. Did, or did not, the fathers believe ordination was by sacramental succession from the Apostles to the bishops they ordained, and the bishops in turn that they ordained, and so on?)

Concerning the Reformers view of the Councils, the first thing to note is that the Reformed creeds did not disagree with each other concerning the definitive creedal statements of the early councils so your argument is theoretical.

The soundness of my argument does not depend on whether the Reformers did or did not disagree with each other concerning the creeds of the early Church. The soundness of my argument depends on the truth of the premises, and the validity of its form; both of these are untouched by the agreement of the Reformers with the early creeds.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Principium unitatis said...

Tysen,

I agree. Thanks for your comments.
In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Andrew McCallum said...

Joseph,

I agree with you. The EO wouldn’t like me using their theology as proof against Catholicism. But my purpose in quoting an Orthodox scholar is that I thought it much more likely that a Catholic would listen to someone with whom they have communion rather than one of us renegade Protestant folks :) So my point is that you can only come to the position that Rome does on the papacy if you interpret tradition in a certain way. And that’s where the debates often go and then stop. Catholics assume that the data the underlies the dogma of the papacy is supported by the historical facts of the early church. And I am questioning that assumption because it seems to me that Cyprian and those who thought like him were right and Stephen and others were wrong. That seems to me to be a reasonable interpretation. But rather than ask for the RC interpretation on this bit of history (since I already know it) I’m asking my RC friends to give me the ground rules for their interpretation. How do we interpret tradition? When you speak of “snippets” of the church Fathers that we appeal to, all I can do is point to the fact that (to take the example at hand) Cyprian was not a renegade and the concept of the primacy of Rome was not widely held (let alone the infallibity of Rome) before him (if it was just Cyprian, then the EO would not hold to their position, would they?). And so how do we get to primacy given Cyprian and those who sided with him? Your interpretation here is just that, your personal interpretation and to appeal to the Magesterium is to assume what I am questioning.

I think I have mostly answered your last paragraph. If we wanted to we could line up supporters of Cyprian with supporters of Stephen. But where does that get us? What if it came out 50:50 or 20:80 or 80:20. Who decides which side is right? And what if 100% of the Church Fathers sided with something, does that make it correct? 100% of the RCC theologians of the Middle Ages believed Dionysius to be the friend of Paul in Acts and as the RCC later found out 100% were wrong. I think you might guess where I’m going. As some historians have pointed out the problem with interpreting church history is that you can find support for just about any position you want. When I ask about how you interpret tradition I don’t really expect you to have an answer because I don’t see that there is a good answer here. The Scriptures provides an infallible source for interpretation but the writings of the Fathers (as important as they are) are not infallible. So, like Augustine (taking him as representative), we believe that the writings of bishops and Councils err and must be corrected by the Scriptures as new data and new understanding become available. This process of reformation is to the Protestant is absolutely necessary.

I got Ware’s book from a library so I don’t have it at hand now. As I remember he was favorably quoting a EO theologian and I think it was Alexis Khomiakov. Look that name up in the index and if it’s not there I’ll get hold of the Ware’s book – I hope I’m not mis-remembering this. You can Google Khomiakov on the web and find his quote. He also calls Protestants “crypto-papists.” Anyway, the principle here is that to the EO it is quite obvious that Rome broke with ancient tradition and for what it’s worth I think they are right.

Andrew McCallum said...

Bryan,

I don’t know the MacIntyre book, but this is a similar point to that which C.S. Lewis makes in An Experiment in Criticism, my favorite non-fiction Lewis book. It’s a book about literary criticism but Lewis extends the concept of criticism beyond just literature and implores his readers to get inside the mind of the reader and comprehend their mindset before moving to the process of criticism. Lewis was a master at this and this approach he took is I think one reason why Catholics still read him (or why Protestants still read Chesterton for that matter). Anyway, I probably am being too skeptical.

I know the term “Magisterium” and “Living Magisterium: and “magisterial authority” but I have not heard of the term “sacramental magisterial authority” so I may be missing your point. As to when in history the adjective “sacramentum” would have been applied to the concept of orders and given the kind of meaning Lombard gave it, I don’t know. But whether orders have a sacramental character to them is not at the heart of the matter, is it? The main question it seems to me is whether there should be a literal succession of bishops. And to that question I would argue that the succession of bishops was to insure that qualities of the bishop were carried on to the next man holding the position. But is this the only attribute of the bishop than makes him valid? What about when during the Middle Ages the bishops of Rome became corrupt and were exactly the opposite of what a bishop should be from the standpoint of the biblical qualifications. What then? What happens when the bishop (note valid orders) becomes the persecutor of the people of God rather than their protector? At that point it’s time to appoint a new bishop from faithful men who have been ordained. This is what happened during the Reformation. The whole system that the Early Fathers was turned on it’s head later in history and rather than appoint a simoniac or something worse and then declare his orders valid, it would be better to appoint one who was obviously faithful to the basics of the faith rather than one who was obviously unfaithful even though this literal chain was broken. The chain was only a chain in the Early Church to defend against unfaithfulness; I don’t think it was meant to become an absolute literal chain that was never broken no matter what.

On my answer about the Reformers and their view of the Councils, I wanted to give you anther possibility as to how the Protestant might answer your question. It is not a matter of personal interpretation, it is a matter of the church reading the Councils through the lens of Scripture. And I think it is telling that all the Reformed creedal statements all come to the same conclusion concerning these basic issues of the Christian faith. In other words, this system of interpreting the creeds comes to consistent and faithful conclusions.

TJW said...

A person cannot give to others greater authority than they themselves have. A recipient of authority though apostolic succession is the only person that can give it to others - from Christ (inherent authority) to the Apostles (delegated authority) to the bishops. No one in this chain gives to others more power than they themselves received. It's nonsensical to talk about the 'appointment' of a new bishop or bishops by a group that does not have the authority themselves. It would be like a group of unelected Americans getting together with a copy of the Constitution and appointing a new Supreme Court judge.

If doctrine is to be determined on some basis other than church authority, then any heretic could have been permitted to ignore the findings of any councils or consensuses among early Christians - after all, they thought that reason demanded that they draw the conclusions that they did. These authorities had to have been binding even when people passionately felt that they were wrong or else no disputes would, nor could, have ever been resolved.

Joseph said...

Andrew,

Thanks for your reply. I was worried after I submitted my post that it seemed a little harsh and would through the conversation off in a bad direction. When I didn't see it appear I was thanking God that Bryan didn't post it!

I understand your viewpoint, but I'd like to discuss a couple of points you made. First, just like I don't think that one can paint the teachings of the Catholic Church by the brush of Catholic scholars and theologians, neither do I think one can do the same with the Orthodox Church. I believe that theologians and scholars are a good source to learn about the Church, but I also believe that they cannot be considered to have sacramental magisterial authority. Everything they say must be qualified by the official teachings of the Church. I don't doubt that there are some Orthodox theologians who believe that Catholics were the first Protestants, but, judging by remarks made by Patriarch Alexy II and Patriarch Bartholomew I, I'm left wondering if those theologians are teaching in accordance to Orthodox teaching authority.

About the Early Fathers. I agree with you. They are not infallible. That became part of the discussion because you had used Cyprian as part of your original post. You're right, it doesn't make any sense to line up the "for" and "against" teams. However, the Fathers, in this particular sense, are good to give us an understanding of the mind and practice of the Early Church. All of the Early Fathers (that I have read) unanimously believed in a sacramental magisterial authority, just like they unanimously believed in the Real Presence in the Eucharist as the Catholics and Orthodox believe it today. In my opinion, those two things alone automatically disqualify any brand of Protestantism as having ties to the Early Church, but I digress.

The question that you raised was whether or not the primacy of the Successor of St. Peter in Rome was widely held. In that case, I believe it does matter to separate those Fathers who believed so and those who did not to determine what the collective mind of the Early Church, East and West, believed and acted on. That is why I referenced St. Chrysostom. He is not only considered the greatest Father of the East, but he was also the Patriarch of Constantinople, the Ecumenical Patriarch. He was also persecuted for his faithfulness and loyalty to St. Peter's successor. That doesn't mean I consider St. Chrysostom infallible and Cyprian fallible. From a historical and unitive standpoint, however, it seems to me that almost all of the Fathers (besides Cyprian) were in agreement that the Successor of St. Peter is the bishop supreme. I believe that St. Peter was chosen as the head of the Apostles and the visible Church in the Scriptures, so the Fathers, to me, are just a valuable reinforcement of that belief.

I was a very anti-Catholic Protestant, who was heavily influenced by Eastern Orthodox friends. I ended up persuing Orthodoxy and I had an Orthodox support group. Despite my violence towards Catholicism, I could not believe that Christ did not give St. Peter the keys and appoint him head of the visible Church based on Scripture (read in the light of Tradition) and the history of the Early Church. I ended up becoming Catholic. Was it my own interpretation? I don't think so. How do I know? Well, I can only judge by my past experiences. When I was a Protestant, it was easy for me to hop from church to church as long as they interpreted the Scriptures how I thought they should be interpreted. There was no struggle. Converting to Catholicism, however, was not only unlikely for me, it was a severe spiritual and mental struggle; bending my will, reading book after book, writing after writing, encyclical after encyclical to try and make sense of the doctrines and dogmas that I would have to believe if I were to become Catholic. All why rejecting them wholesale. It wasn't by my power that I conquered those struggles. My point is, if it were my interpretation, I don't think that it would have been such a struggle for me as it hadn't been in the past. I had to accept on faith, and later understanding, something that I was taught to reject for many years. I also had to deal with a family that was aggressive towards me for my thoughts of converting.

Sorry for the length. The Orthodox do have alot of strong arguments. I almost became Orthodox and it was easier to lean that way given my anti-Catholic background. What can I say, I'm Catholic! I'm sure Bryan can give you much more of an intellectual argument than I can.

Principium unitatis said...

Andrew,

But whether orders have a sacramental character to them is not at the heart of the matter, is it?

Yes, I think it is. If orders were non-sacramental, then the magisterium would have its authority either from the people, or by force. That is, the Church would be either a democracy or some sort of tyranny. But clearly, tyranny is not the way Christ set up His Church. And likewise, Christ did not set up a democracy. Typically, the Church (including the laity) would nominate candidates to replace a bishop who had died, but bishops were always ordained by other bishops, because magisterial authority was always treated as something that was passed down from God the Father to Christ (cf. Matthew 28:18; John 17:2; Revelation 2:28), from Christ to the Apostles, and from the Apostles to the bishops through the laying on of hands (1 Tim 4:14; 2 Tim 1:6). This is why submitting to the sacramental magisterial authorities (i.e. the bishops) was described (see here) by St. Ignatius (d. 107 AD) as submitting to Christ.

The main question it seems to me is whether there should be a literal succession of bishops. And to that question I would argue that the succession of bishops was to insure that qualities of the bishop were carried on to the next man holding the position.

I'm not exactly sure what you mean by "literal succession". I agree that bishops were enjoined to ordain successors with the character and dispositions proper to the episcopate. But you seem to think that the very form of Church government (i.e. sacramental episcopal succession) established by the Apostles is something that can be modified or abandoned. By what authority do you propose to depart from the governmental structure that Christ through His Apostles delivered to the Church?

What about when during the Middle Ages the bishops of Rome became corrupt and were exactly the opposite of what a bishop should be from the standpoint of the biblical qualifications. What then? What happens when the bishop (note valid orders) becomes the persecutor of the people of God rather than their protector? At that point it’s time to appoint a new bishop from faithful men who have been ordained. This is what happened during the Reformation.

This is an extremely important question. It is so important, that I think I will address it in a forthcoming post. So, if you don't mind, I'll hold off on my answer here in the comments section, and make it into a post of its own.

I don’t think it was meant to become an absolute literal chain that was never broken no matter what.

That is a claim that would need some substantiation.

On my answer about the Reformers and their view of the Councils, I wanted to give you anther possibility as to how the Protestant might answer your question. It is not a matter of personal interpretation, it is a matter of the church reading the Councils through the lens of Scripture.

So you are saying, if I understand you correctly, that a fourth answer to Q2 is "the church". But this simply pushes back the question: According to whose determination of what is the church? Any heretic or schismatic could claim that the church is anyone who agrees with his own interpretation of Scripture. If we fail to answer the question "According to whose determination of what is the church?", the default answer is: "our own". So it seems to me, for this reason, that this fourth answer breaks down into the third answer, and thus the conclusion of my argument still follows.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Principium unitatis said...

Tysen,

These authorities had to have been binding even when people passionately felt that they were wrong or else no disputes would, nor could, have ever been resolved.

The interesting about your statement here is that this is something I think we can know even from reason alone. If we recognize and affirm the unity of the Church as a great good to be pursued and preserved, we have to recognize also that which must be the case in order for there to be such unity. If each individual is his own interpretive and magisterial authority, there can be no true unity. The unity of the Church would be, at best, like the unity of the clay and iron mixed together to compose the feet of the statue in King Nebuchadnezzar's dream (Daniel 2). We see the same thing, I think, in Plato's Republic. In order for a composite [a thing composed of many parts] to have true unity, the parts must be related hierarchically. They cannot be a mere mixture or aggregate and be a true unity. And I think this same point is made by the Apostle Paul when he describes the Church as the Body of Christ, and talks about how the parts of a body have different functions; they are not all the head (1 Corinthians 12).

Thanks again for your comments.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Andrew McCallum said...

Bryan,

When I spoke on orders, I was focusing on the term “sacramental.” And I did not think that the *term* was what at the center of the disagreement between Catholics and Protestants. But I see how it could be. Anyway, when we when are talking about valid orders, I understand you to be saying that one bishop consecrates another. You say it here as, “…bishops were always ordained by other bishops, because magisterial authority was always treated as something that was passed down from God the Father to Christ (cf. Matthew 28:18; John 17:2; Revelation 2:28), from Christ to the Apostles, and from the Apostles to the bishops through the laying on of hands (1 Tim 4:14; 2 Tim 1:6).” I understand this (I think). I would agree that bishops/elders should not be chosen outside the context of the church. The church should elect her successors which is the way conservative Protestants generally operate. However, it seems to me that there other more important matters to consider. Yes, the bishop should be chosen by the church. The Early Church held to this so that truth would be propagated and heretics kept out. But like I asked before, what happens when the reverse occurs? In the case of many of the Renaissance popes there were all sorts of derelicts who got the job and for all the wrong reasons. I’m sure you are aware of the history of the Medieval popes as I am. There were some pious, some not so pious, and some just despicable. The succession of bishops in some cases insured that the good was suppressed and the evil exalted. The popes (as well and many other bishops) were not in any way bishops either from the definition of a bishop in the traditions of the Early Church or more fundamentally from the definition of a bishop in I Timothy and elsewhere in the Bible. Catholics assume that the succession of bishops is mandated and I think they conclude this based on inference from the example of the early Church. The descriptive events become the prescriptive model for the Catholic. But I think that the Fathers of the Early Church could not have possibly foreseen what would have happened hundreds of years down the line when the papacy fell to its lowest, and I doubt they would have held that this succession should have continued no matter how corrupt the bishops in question were. In Scripture we see the explicit commands for what a bishop should be, and from this standard there were many popes who were invalid. I think when judging the validness of a bishop we need to start with this clear and explicit definition of a bishop and only allow such a man to serve here who has these characteristics.

I realize that this is difficult matter because there has been so much abuse of the appointment of church leaders by Protestants. To me it seems that there are two extremes, one where anyone can be a church officer for the flimsiest of reasons (as in many of the weird Protestant sects) and the other where a man can be made a bishop also for the worst reasons as long as he is validly appointed by the church hierarchy (RCC in some cases). Let me give you a practical example of this. In South Texas where I am we get some news of the church in Mexico. The RCC has been concerned for some time that too many Catholics are becoming Evangelicals. It’s a curious worry because so many of the converts were never really Catholic to begin with, but were rather a strange syncretistic blend of Catholicism and the local pagan religions. But the bishops and priests in these areas are still in full communion with Rome and were validly consecrated for their offices. When the people in their diocese become Protestants they then move under the authority of elders/bishop who are orthodox (Nicean, etc) where they were not before. These people are now acting like Christians (no fornication, abortion, etc – things that you and I would agree should mark the Christian) when they were not before. My contention is that these leaders of the Protestant churches have a greater claim to validity (based on the basics of the Christian faith that you and I would agree to) more than the leaders of the Catholic churches where there is little or no qualification of elders/bishops as per the clear Early Church and Scriptural definitions. Do you see my point?

I just read down further in your reply and saw that you are going to reply to the kind of thing I am writing about above, but I still think I will post this. BTW, “literal” was not a good word choice. Scratch that.

Yes, I would argue that the church determines the validity of creedal statements. Historically the Reformed congregations never adopted a model either theoretically or practically where anyone could be their own church. This is just un-Reformed. I think that the difference between us here is that you would hold that the church judges infallibly and we would not. And it is the infallibility of the Roman bishop on de fide matters that would set us apart. And I think I can safely say that the lack of an infallible human source to judge the infallible divine source (Scriptures) does not separate Protestants from the belief of the Church in its early centuries.

Joseph,

I think I’ve sort of covered some of your thoughts in my response above. I did not think you were being harsh. I like your personal testimony and I agree there is much too much church hopping in Protestantism. It’s a reflection of our very individualistic culture. From the other side of things, when I have talked to conservative Catholic friends they tell me how much little practical unity there is in their local church despite the administrative unity. Even in a culturally conservative area like where I am what Catholics believe is all over the map just like it is with the Protestants. Ironically if became convinced that I should join a Catholic communion for the sake of unity, I would find much less practical unity in the local diocese here on basic matters of the Christian faith than where I came from.

Cheers...