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

Monday, November 30, 2009

Pope Greets Ecumenical Patriarch on the Feast of Saint Andrew


The photograph at right (and the one at left) were taken three years ago today, on the Feast of St. Andrew. Pope Benedict's line of succession goes back to the Apostle Peter. The Patriarchs of Constantinople trace their succession back to the Apostle Andrew, Peter's brother. One source in the tradition tells us that St. Andrew preached in "Cappadocia, Galatia, and Bithynia," and "afterwards in Byzantium where he appointed St. Stachys as its first bishop."

Today Pope Benedict XVI sent the following letter to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I.

To His Holiness Bartholomaios I
Archbishop of Constantinople
Ecumenical Patriarch

Your Holiness,

It is with great joy that I address Your Holiness on the occasion of the visit of the delegation guided by my Venerable Brother Cardinal Walter Kasper, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, to whom I have entrusted the task of conveying to you my warmest fraternal greetings on the Feast of Saint Andrew, the brother of Saint Peter and the protector of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

On this joyful occasion commemorating the birth into eternal life of the Apostle Andrew, whose witness of faith in the Lord culminated in his martyrdom, I express also my respectful remembrance to the Holy Synod, the clergy and all the faithful, who under your pastoral care and guidance continue even in difficult circumstances to witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The memory of the holy martyrs compels all Christians to bear witness to their faith before the world. There is an urgency in this call especially in our own day, in which Christianity is faced with increasingly complex challenges. The witness of Christians will surely be all the more credible if all believers in Christ are "of one heart and soul" (Acts 4:32).

Our Churches have committed themselves sincerely over the last decades to pursuing the path towards the re-establishment of full communion, and although we have not yet reached our goal, many steps have been taken that have enabled us to deepen the bonds between us. Our growing friendship and mutual respect, and our willingness to encounter one another and to recognize one another as brothers in Christ, should not be hindered by those who remain bound to the remembrance of historical differences, which impedes their openness to the Holy Spirit who guides the Church and is able to transform all human failings into opportunities for good.

This openness has guided the work of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue, which held its eleventh plenary session in Cyprus last month. The meeting was marked by a spirit of solemn purpose and a warm sentiment of closeness. I extend once again my heartfelt gratitude to the Church of Cyprus for its most generous welcome and hospitality. It is a source of great encouragement that despite some difficulties and misunderstandings all the Churches involved in the International Commission have expressed their intention to continue the dialogue.

The theme of the plenary session, The Role of the Bishop of Rome in the Communion of the Church in the First Millennium, is certainly complex, and will require extensive study and patient dialogue if we are to aspire to a shared integration of the traditions of East and West. The Catholic Church understands the Petrine ministry as a gift of the Lord to His Church. This ministry should not be interpreted in the perspective of power, but within an ecclesiology of communion, as a service to unity in truth and charity. The Bishop of the Church of Rome, which presides in charity (Saint Ignatius of Antioch), is understood to be the Servus Servorum Dei (Saint Gregory the Great). Thus, as my venerable predecessor the Servant of God Pope John Paul II wrote and I reiterated on the occasion of my visit to the Phanar in November 2006, it is a question of seeking together, inspired by the model of the first millennium, the forms in which the ministry of the Bishop of Rome may accomplish a service of love recognized by one and all (cf. Ut Unum Sint, 95). Let us therefore ask God to bless us and may the Holy Spirit guide us along this difficult yet promising path.

(Continue reading)

H/T: ByzTex

Sunday, November 29, 2009

What a homily: An Anglican on the Unity of the Church


'We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.’

+ In the name of the Father …

Every Sunday, week by week, and on certain other feast days, we recite the Creed, and during this Advent, I shall preach on each of its four Sundays on the Church that we say in the Creed we believe to be one, holy, catholic and apostolic. ...

So I start by examining the statement that we believe that the Church is One – although it is very much the case that every part of ‘We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church’ supports and is supported by each of the others. It is one statement, not four.

We believe that the Church is One.

continue reading

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Early Church Fathers on Mary as the New Eve


Duccio
Madonna and Child with Angels
Duccio di Buoninsegna (1300-1305)
Last night Professor Lawrence Feingold (Institute for Pastoral Theology, Ave Maria University) gave a lecture to the Association of Hebrew Catholics on the subject of the early Church Fathers on Mary as the New Eve. The full audio (and Q&A) of the lecture can be downloaded for free here.

First he spoke briefly about the Catholic conception of the development of doctrine, and how Mary herself provides the model for understanding the Church's ever-deepening understanding of the deposit of faith. Then he showed how Scripture itself points to Mary as the New Eve, and how the early Church Fathers recognized and developed this doctrine of Mary as the New Eve, all holding her to be without sin. He carefully explained how the developing understanding of Mary as the New Eve gradually unveiled the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception.

In the second part of his lecture he examined the later Church Fathers. From the sixth century on in the East, three Marian feasts were celebrated: the Annunciation on March 25, the Nativity of Our Lady on September 8, and the Dormition commemorating Mary's holy death on August 15. In this part of his lecture Professor Feingold presented a summary of the Mariology of the Eastern Fathers after Nicea. Then he discussed the theological debate concerning the Immaculate Conception in the Latin West, as that led into the time of the Scholastics. He explained why theologians such as St. Bernard, St. Thomas, and St. Bonaventure denied the Immaculate Conception, and how Bl. Duns Scotus resolved the problem. Eventually in 1477 the feast of the Immaculate Conception was made a feast for the universal Church, and in 1708 it became a holy day of obligation in the universal Church (though it had already been a holy day of obligation for centuries in the East). Then in 1854 Pope Pius IX defined it as dogma with the solemn bull, Ineffabilis Deus.

Since the Catholic doctrines concerning Mary remain one of the difficulties for Protestant-Catholic reconciliation, and since understanding Mary as the New Eve serves as the key, I think, to understanding the basis for the other Marian dogmas, considering together what the Church Fathers say about Mary as the New Eve is a very helpful way of resolving the Protestant-Catholic disagreements concerning Mary. Those disagreements can be seen clearly in the recent Evangelicals and Catholics Together document titled "Do Whatever He Tells You: The Blessed Virgin Mary in Christian Faith and Life." It presents both points of view (Catholic and Evangelical Protestant), as well as the common ground both sides share. Some of the Protestant concerns raised in the ECT document are addressed in Professor Feingold's lecture. (Click here to download the mp3 of Professor Feingold's lecture and the Q&A following it.) Or listen to them directly below:

Lecture



Q&A



Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Evangelicals and the Crisis of Authority


Jim Tonkowich has written a must-read article titled "Evangelicals and the Crisis of Authority." The article describes a present authority crisis at Calvin College regarding homosexuality and academic freedom. One person is quoted as saying "academic freedom means I can interpret Scripture in any way I see fit." The article considers the possibility that this seeming primacy of individual interpretive judgment is intrinsic to the essence of Protestantism. But in the last third of his article Jim concludes that that is a false understanding of Protestantism. I have quoted that last section in full:

[Timothy] George argues that Luther and the other Reformers were far more nuanced than a cursory reading of the dialogue at Worms indicates. Rather than seeing themselves as creating something new based on individual insights, they "saw themselves as part of the ongoing Catholic tradition, indeed as the legitimate bearers of it." The Reformers had a "sense of continuity with the church of the preceding centuries." Neither Luther nor John Calvin rejected the past or even the Roman Church in its entirety.

While the Reformers believed Scripture alone was the final authority for life and doctrine, they insisted that assent to ancient creeds was also incumbent upon Christians. They were so strongly persuaded, says George, that they saw justification by faith, the cornerstone of the Reformation, as "the logical and necessary consequence of the ecumenical orthodoxy embraced by Catholics and Protestants alike."

As to academic freedom, the Reformers were marked, "by their desire to read the Bible in dialogue with the exegetical traditions of the church." George writes:

In their biblical commentaries… the Reformers of the sixteenth century revealed an intimate familiarity with the preceding exegetical tradition, and they used it reverently as well as critically in their own expositions of the sacred text. The Scriptures were seen as the book given to the church, gathered and guided by the Holy Spirit.

These three, the sense of continuity with the Church through the ages, an embrace of ecumenical orthodoxy as expressed in the creeds, and a determination to read the Bible with the Church, form guardrails for academic and personal freedom and inquiry. They prevent biblical interpretation from falling prey to the latest cultural fad, the hippest intellectual fashion, and individual predilections.

As John Armstrong comments:

[W]e need to recover a proper emphasis upon tradition. Some Christians are accused of being stuck in the past, especially by progressive and more liberal Christians. I believe the much greater danger is an uncritical acceptance of new teachings and practices that undermine the historic faith itself. We need what my friend, the late Robert Webber, called "ancient-future faith." It is right to lean into the future and to prepare for what the Spirit will do. But the Spirit does not lead us to abandon the historic faith in the process.

Christian freedom—academic freedom and personal freedom—is not the right to interpret the Bible in any way we see fit and then act on our interpretation. It is the freedom to be fully human in company with and under the authority of the Church throughout the ages and in accord with the unchanging truth that is in Jesus Christ.

The solution to this authority problem, according to Jim, is that present-day Protestants need to recover a sense of continuity with the Church, embrace the orthodoxy of the ancient creeds, and read the Bible in dialogue with the exegetical traditions of the Church. The problem with Jim's suggestion is that it is just that, a mere suggestion. It has no authority. The things he proposes are all good things, but they are not, and cannot be, the solution to the authority vacuum within Protestantism. An authority problem cannot be solved without authority. Appealing to "the authority of the Church,"as he does in the last line of his article, is impossible when "the Church" is ultimately defined by each individual in terms of "those who agree with my general interpretation." Jim is trying to hang on to the solo scriptura / sola scriptura distinction in order to salvage Evangelicalism's decay. But as Neal Judisch and I recently argued in "Solo Scriptura, Sola Scriptura, and the Question of Interpretive Authority," there is ultimately no real distinction between solo scriptura and sola scriptura. By its rejection of apostolic succession Protestantism necessarily makes the individual the ultimate interpretive authority. And that entails that anyone can reject the ancient Church and her creeds as outdated and antiquated, and give no heed to the various exegetical traditions. Merely calling for a "sense of continuity" and an "embrace" of the ancient creeds and for reading the Bible in continuity with ancient exegetical traditions will not stop the flowering of the seeds sown almost five hundred years ago, when Protestants rejected apostolic succession and the authority of the Church. In doing so, they unwittingly made each man his own pope, though the full fruits of this sowing remained hidden under the gradually declining inertia of Catholic Tradition. Those who sow rejection of apostolic succession must ultimately reap the individualism and fragmentation of "solo scriptura." As Louis Bouyer argued:

The Protestantism which rejects the authority of the Church because it rejects all authority has come out of the Protestantism which rejected the authority of the Church because of the fear it wronged that other authority, held to be sovereign, of the Scriptures. If it was possible for the first to come from the second, it must somehow have been contained therein.

The only solution to this authority problem is a recovery of apostolic succession.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Guide to Rational Ecumenical Dialogue


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Aristotle
Two years ago today I wrote, "One Precondition for Genuine Ecumenical Dialogue," in which I pointed out the distinction between rational dialogue and sophistry, and then described three signs of sophistry.

As surprising as it may sound, a major impediment to fruitful ecumenical dialogue is an unfamiliarity with the rules of rational dialogue, including the basic rules of logic. Many persons in the general populace have never taken a course in logic or even studied logic, and the result is that relatively few people know how properly to engage in rational dialogue. The new media encourages a soundbyte mode of interaction, which is usually unproductive and often counterproductive. It lends itself to sophistry rather than furthering mutual understanding and converging upon the truth. When the rules of rational dialogue are not followed, discourse tends to descend into the cacophony of narcissism and verbal violence. In many cases this is precisely what we find in comboxes. Here are some things that anyone who wishes to participate in ecumenical dialogue needs to know.

First, we need to know what an argument is. In common popular usage, an 'argument' is thought of as a quarrel or debate. But with respect to logic, an argument is a set of propositions or statements, one of which (called the 'conclusion') is said to follow from the others (called 'premises'). An argument is the smallest unit of speech containing reasoning from one proposition to another. So if some instance of communication does not include arguments, then that communication is only a series of assertions or questions. If it is part of an interchange, asking and answering questions can allow for shared contemplation and consideration of respective positions. And such exchanges can be very effective at paving the way for presenting arguments from shared common ground, because sincere questions and authentic answers are absolutely essential for coming to understand each other. And sometimes when we come to understand two positions more clearly, the superiority of one over the other becomes self-evident, and does not need to be demonstrated by further argumentation. But merely exchanging assertions is not shared reasoning by which two or more persons move together rationally toward agreement about the truth. In general, without arguments there can be no mutual movement of the intellect toward a shared conclusion. Merely trading assertions is futile, and for that reason a wise person will not do it.

In rational dialogue, when someone presents an argument, we evaluate the argument according to two criteria. First we evaluate the truth of the premises. That is, we check each premise to determine whether it is true. If we find that one or more of the premises is not true, then we show why those premises are false, or why the available evidence indicates that those premises are false. Then we evaluate the form of the argument. That is, we make sure that the conclusion follows from the premises. If the conclusion does not follow from the premises, then we show how the truth of the premises does not guarantee that the conclusion is true. However, if we find that the premises are all true, and that the conclusion follows by necessity from the premises, then we accept the argument as a sound argument, and we accept the truth of its conclusion.

So there are essentially three possible proper responses to a deductive argument. Either we show the argument to be unsound, or we accept the truth of its conclusion, or we withhold judgment for the time being, explaining that we need time to think about it or investigate it more deeply, and we take the time to think about it, until we can either refute the argument or accept the truth of its conclusion. We do not change the subject or criticize the person presenting the argument or talk about ourselves. Arguments are not properly evaluated by self-referring statements, such as, "I don't buy that argument" or "I am unpersuaded" or "I am skeptical" or "I am ...." The question at hand is not about oneself, but about whether the argument is sound. So talking about oneself is changing the subject, and avoiding the question at hand. The only two ways to refute an argument are to show one or more of the premises to be false or show that the conclusion does not follow from the premises. That is why none of the following statements refutes an argument:

(1) "That argument does not work."

(2) "That argument is unhelpful."

(3) "That argument is old."

(4) "That argument is convenient."

(5) "That argument is tired/tiresome."

(6) "That argument is impossible."

(7) "That argument is unsatisfactory."

(8) "That argument is offensive."

Other points:

(9) "I'd like to suggest that ... " or "I suggest that ..." or "I submit that ..." are not arguments; they are mere suggestions.

(10) An assertion is not an argument; it is merely an assertion. Assertions demonstrate nothing, establish nothing, show nothing.

(11) Avoid begging the question (i.e. presuming precisely what is in question between you and your interlocutor).

(12) We rightly accept or reject claims ultimately by their truth or falsity.

(13) "Your attempt rings hollow" transfers focus to the will (i.e. an 'attempt'), which is internal and subjective, rather than keeping the focus on one's argument, which is external and objective). It also uses an entirely subjective and vague evaluative criterion (i.e. "rings hollow"), rather than using "truth" and "falsity", "soundness" and unsoundness" as criteria.

(14) Similarly, an argument is not properly evaluated by whether it is "compelling," "convincing," or "persuasive." Those are subjective criteria. Just because I am not compelled, convinced or persuaded by the argument does not show that the argument is unsound. (Only if I were the Logos Himself would this follow.) To use one's own not-being-persuaded, not-being-convinced, or not-being-compelled as the criterion by which to evaluate arguments is to treat oneself as God, and for this reason can be referred to as the divine identity fallacy.

(15) "That argument doesn't hold water" is not a refutation of an argument.

(16) "I would argue that x" is not an argument for x, but a claim that under other conditions, one would provide such an argument. This phrase is typically used because of a conflation of 'argument' and 'claim.' It is the subjunctive phantom argument fallacy.

(17) "That argument is hard to take seriously in all honesty." The fact that a person has difficulty taking an argument seriously (in all honesty) is not a refutation of the argument, but a statement about the person.

(18) "Why do you feel the need to say things like [x]?" This is an ad hominem. Instead of showing that x is false, it sophistically calls into question the interlocutor's motivations, by framing them in terms of misguided feelings aimed at alleviating some psychological need. Psychological deconstruction avoids refuting the interlocutor's claim, but instead presumes its error and attempts to construct a psychological reason for the interlocutor's [alleged] error. This is a form of the bulverism fallacy.

I will be updating this page on a regular basis, with the intention of making it into a more thorough guide for rational ecumenical dialogue. If you have any suggestions, I'd be glad to hear them.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Russian Orthodox Relations: a Warming and a Cooling


Rorate Caeli posted an article two days ago indicating a possible forthcoming meeting between Pope Benedict and Patriarch Kirill, the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church. Yesterday the Telegraph published an article titled, "Russian Orthodox and Catholic Church may end 950-Year Rift." The article begins:

Relations between the Vatican and the Russian Orthodox Church have been tense for centuries, but in a sign that relations are finally thawing, Archbishop Ilarion, who heads the Russian Orthodox Church’s foreign relations department, said that both sides wanted a meeting, although he emphasised that problems remained.

Ilarion spoke of a rapprochement under Pope Benedict XVI that would allow for a meeting with the new Russian Orthodox Patriarch, Kiril, who took up his office in February after the death of the previous patriarch.

"There have been visits at a high level," said Illarion. "We are moving towards the moment when it will become possible to prepare a meeting between the Pope and the Moscow patriarch." (Continue reading)

This comes after yesterday's news that the Russian Orthodox Church may sever relations with the German Evangelical Church over the latter's election of Margot Kassman (in the photo at right) as its bishop.

The Russian Orthodox Church may sever relations with the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), a major Protestant church of Western Europe that has elected a woman to chair the EKD's council.

The Orthodox clergy say this runs counter to evangelical principles. Analysts fear this could provoke a big inter-faith conflict.

Bishop Margot Kassmann, the first woman to lead the Evangelical Church in Germany, which unites some 24 million Protestants of more than 20 Lutheran and Reformed churches, was elected at the council's meeting on October 28. The 51-year-old bishop of Hanover is divorced and has four daughters.

"We plan to celebrate 50 years of dialog with the German Lutheran Church in late November and early December," Hilarion, the bishop of Volokolamsk and head of the Moscow patriarchy's external church relations department, said on Wednesday. "The celebrations will also mark the end of that dialog."

The Russian Orthodox Church does not accept female clergy. (Continue reading)

H/T: Koinonia, ByzTex, Ad Orientem.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Early Church Fathers on Scripture (Prof. Feingold lectures)


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Christ Appears to two Apostles on the way to Emmaus
Duccio Buoninsegna (1308-1311)
Dr. Lawrence Feingold of Ave Maria University recently presented two lectures on the early Church Fathers and Scripture, continuing his series of lectures sponsored by the Association of Hebrew Catholics, and devoted to the subject of the early Church Fathers. Last week's lecture was titled "The Early Church Fathers on the Authorship of the Four Gospels." The most recent lecture was titled "Patristic Exegesis: Biblical Typology." Both lectures can be downloaded as audio files (mp3) here. Or listen to them by pressing 'play' below. In the latter lecture he explained how the early Church Fathers understood Scripture to have a spiritual sense in addition to its literal sense. This spiritual sense could include an allegorical, moral, or eschatological meaning. He gave more detailed treatment to some of the writings of St. Melito (bishop of Sardis around AD 170) and of Origen.

Next Wednesday (November 18), Dr. Feingold will be giving a lecture titled "The Early Church Fathers on Mary as the New Eve." If you have questions about the subject of Mary as the new Eve, and you would like Dr. Feingold to address those questions during his lecture (or the Q&A following the lecture), please send them to me as soon as possible at my email address listed in my profile (lower left of this page), and I will forward them to him. A very helpful book on the subject of Mary in the Fathers is titled Mary and the Fathers of the Church: The Blessed Virgin in Patristic Thought, by Luigi Gambero.


Early Church Fathers on the Authorship of the Four Gospels


Q&A



Patristic Exegesis: Biblical Typology


Q&A


Friday, November 6, 2009

Is Sola Scriptura in the Bible? A Reply to R.C. Sproul Jr.



R.C. Sproul Jr. recently wrote a short article titled "Is Sola Scriptura in the Bible?" In light of our recent article treating the subject of sola scriptura, it might be helpful to examine Sproul's comments from a Catholic point of view. (Continue reading)

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Solo Scriptura, Sola Scriptura, and the Question of Interpretive Authority


According to Keith Mathison, over the last one hundred and fifty years Evangelicalism has replaced sola scriptura, according to which Scripture is the only infallible ecclesial authority, with solo scriptura, the notion that Scripture is the only ecclesial authority. The direct implication of solo scriptura is that each person is his own ultimate interpretive authority. Solo scriptura is, according to Mathison, an unbiblical position; proponents of sola scriptura should uphold the claim that Scripture is the only infallible authority, but should repudiate any position according to which individual Christians are the ultimate arbiters of Scriptural truth. In this article Neal Judisch and I argue that there is no principled difference between sola scriptura and solo scriptura with respect to the holder of ultimate interpretive authority, and that a return to apostolic succession is the only way to avoid the untoward consequences to which both solo scriptura and sola scriptura lead. (Continue reading)

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Internet Monk Interview

I mentioned a few days ago that Michael Spencer (aka Internet Monk) had asked me to do an interview for his site. He is going to post the interview in five parts. He has already posted Part 1.

Especially over the last year or so Michael has been doing things that no other prominent Evangelicals (that I know of) are doing.  It might be called an honest and transparent self-examination of Evangelicalism, seeking to determine its strengths and its weaknesses, its identity and its future. He's not doing it to be critical, but to save it. The fascinating part of this endeavor, from my point of view, is that in seeking to understand and preserve Evangelicalism, Michael, in a sense, has flung open the doors to receive insight from other Christian traditions. And that has begun an ecumenical conversation. Such conversations can easily devolve into ugliness, especially on the internet. But Michael runs a tight ship, and so has fostered a safe context in which these discussions can take place. The result is often that Baptists and Lutherans and Calvinists and Catholics and Pentecostals and Orthodox and Anglicans are all talking to each other in a friendly, respectful way, about their theology and practice. In this respect, what Michael is doing ecumenically is pioneering. So I'm grateful for his invitation to contribute to the discussion.

UPDATE: Part 2 is posted.

UPDATE: Part 3 is posted.

UPDATE: Part 4 is posted.

UPDATE: Part 5 is posted.

UPDATE: Michael's response.