Monday, April 10, 2006

A Few Mixed Thoughts

Sola Scriptura?

Peter Chattaway (incidentally, through whose movie blog I first stumbled upon the online St. Herman's community) questions whether my "reliance on scripture, and not on the interpretation of said scripture provided to us by the Early Church, [is] somewhat eerily like the Protestant principle of sola scriptura?" I got in trouble earlier for using the word Protestant, so I suppose there's an element of fair turnaround at play here. But permit me a vigorous defence.

Well, my first post was largely about an exegetical insight I had (it was present in a less fully expressed sense at the time I was becoming Catholic). The discussion has largely rotated around the interpretation of a single passage- and I have a firmer grasp of exegesis than of the Church Fathers. I grew up Protestant, and I'll have been Catholic for two years come the Easter Vigil. Naturally I responded to Fr. Justin's initial critiques from a perspective I was familiar with. Moreover, I didn't think it necessary to contest the interpretations quoted. However, I won't cavil at elevating Scripture above the Church Fathers. Scripture is inspired. The interpretations of the Church Fathers, however persuasive, are not. They are an authority, but not authoritative. (The Ecumenical Councils are of course, another matter. As is the "ordinary magisterium." (I don't know if Orthodoxy shares the understanding of the ordinary magisterium, or whether there's an equivalent- Fr. Justin?))

The Fathers

Lest my protests fail to calm Peter's concern, I fortunately have a little Patristics up my sleeve. In his latest response, Fr. Justin writes that his Augustine and Origen quotes "both explicitly make the point in their exegesis of Matthew 16:18 that our Lord was not saying that Peter himself is the source of the unity and infallibility of the Church." Firstly, who claims that Peter is the source of infallibility of the Church? Sure, one source, but hardly the only source- we've the Ecumenical Councils and the Ordinary Magisterium. Even so, and perhaps I'm just being dense, but I just don't see that in the quote from Augustine. One key quote from the Origen Fr. Justin cites appears to be "But if you suppose that upon that one Peter only the whole church is built by God, what would you say about John the son of thunder or each one of the Apostles?" I read Origen as rejecting the idea that the meaning I've argued for is the only meaning to Mt. 16:18, a point I've already readily admitted. Moreover, Origen elsewhere is supportive of a pretty robust Petrine pre-eminence, even though it's an admittedly odd passage:
...indeed, if we were to attend carefully to the evangelical writings, we would also find here, and in relation to those things which seem to be common to Peter and those who have thrice admonished the brethren, a great difference and a pre-eminence in the things said to Peter, compared with the second class. For it is no small difference that Peter received the keys not of one heaven but of more, and in order that whatsoever things he binds on the earth may be bound not in one heaven but in them all, as compared with the many who bind on earth and loose on earth, so that these things are bound and loosed not in the heavens, as in the case of Peter, but in one only; for they do not reach so high a stage, with power as Peter to bind and loose in all the heavens.
Nor is the Catholic interpretation absent from the Church Fathers. Tertullian writes "[T]he Lord said to Peter, ‘On this rock I will build my Church, I have given you the keys of the kingdom of heaven [and] whatever you shall have bound or loosed on earth will be bound or loosed in heaven’ . . . Upon you, he says, I will build my Church; and I will give to you the keys, not to the Church" (Modesty 21:9–10 [A.D. 220]). I should note that a high view of the place of the bishop of Rome as successor to Peter is not difficult to come across, even among the Eastern Fathers.

History & The Papacy

David Pasivirta's initial response led me to want to offer some thoughts on the effect of historical circumstances on the development of understanding and practice of the Petrine ministry. Firstly, a great deal of doctrine took time to be fully expressed, and if we look at the Church Fathers, we see increasing articulation of the role of Peter and the Petrine See. Historical circumstances had a great deal to do with it as well- a small Church, often under persecution is likely to be more horizontal in structure. Similarly, the difficulty in communication in the ancient world, aggravated as the Church grew made a strong exercise of the Petrine Office difficult. The basic means of electing bishops in the ancient Church(at least for much of the West- I don't know about the East) similarly strengthened the local Churches and made them less dependent on Rome.

The decline of persecution and the need for a central voice in dealing with a Roman Empire that while Christian, had its own interests at stake reversed some of these tendencies. The division of the Roman Empire into East and West, combined with the tendency to require strong voices drew the bishops of Rome and Constantinople increasingly apart, pulled by the political forces both had allowed to get too close.

The Great Schism resulted in an unbalanced Church in the West- Rome's was no longer counterbalanced by the authority, antiquity and stature of the Patriarchates of the East. At the same time, the Latin Church was struggling to prevent subjugation to the State- first the remains of the Roman Empire, then later separate Kingdoms- which resulted in greater centralization. The investiture controversy was important in this. The rise of Islam further strengthened the power of the Pope, as his efforts were key in rallying support across Western Europe for the Crusades- a role which continued as late as 1683, and the Siege of Vienna.

These very brief thoughts are merely to suggest that a great deal of the dynamics of ecclesiastical structure and operation through history can be seen as adaptations to the particular circumstances and challenges of various ages. Some of them are admirable adaptations, some far less edifying. While it doesn't address the doctrinal question, I hope it makes the great leap between Rome in the early Church and its later expression more comprehensible.


For a reference post to the entire debate go here.

15 Comments:

Blogger Fr. Justin (Edward) said...

Gabriel, you write above: "I have a firmer grasp of exegesis than the Church Fathers..."

I'm hoping this is one of those instances in which irony/humour simply fails to come across in the frail medium of text. Surely you are not saying that you have "a firmer grasp of exegesis" than those who shared the same language, a related culture, and a closer temporal connection to the authors of the New Testament than we do ourselves?

As for the quotations from the "Eastern Church Fathers" on FCA, they seem mostly to deal, again, with Petrine primacy, which we do not dispute. Allow me to quote again here my comment on this from the unofficial St. Herman's blog:

'Orthodox Christians do not deny the primacy of the Roman see (although her being in schism from the rest of the Church rather nullifies the effect of that primacy), nor do they deny that Peter was given a leading role amongst the apostles, nor do they deny that Peter and his confession served as a symbolic "litmus test" and thus locus of unity - it is the Roman papacy's unilateral preemption of all of this (and more in addition to this) to herself alone with which we have a problem. As a symbol and locus of unity, St. Peter, like the Creed, and like Rome herself, is the property of the Church as a whole, not the bishop of Rome.'

April 10, 2006 3:31 PM  
Blogger gabriel said...

You may very well eventually be exposed to my odd sense of humour about my outsized self-regard, but not the case here.

Nope, it's an instance where I left out a word- I meant to write "a firmer grasp of exegesis than of the Church Fathers". Misstatement mended in the post.

As for the quotes at FCA- certainly some make sense within a "primacy of honour" framework. I'd suggest that others fit better within the more robust understanding of Catholicism.

April 10, 2006 4:54 PM  
Anonymous Stephen said...

I've been following the exchage for a while, and find it quite interesting. I was just over at the catholic encyclopedia reading up on papal infallibility, and from what I read it appears to be a very slippery subject. From what I understand, it can only happen under certain circumstances, which then allowed the author to explain away any objections or possible exceptions which people had pointed out. The explaination that surprised me the most was that if a pope told heresy, then he was no longer pope, and thus what he said was fallible. But if the pope has the last say, and he doesn't say anything that explicitly contradicts the past but is still heresy, where is the check that will correct this heresy? Unless there is something I missed, it seems to me that by having the dogma of papal infallibility, and having it defined to a T, it makes it too easy for loopholes to be found to either discredit or support whatever a pope has said. I prefer the Orthodox model in which the hiearchs act as checks for each other. Peace.

April 10, 2006 7:28 PM  
Blogger gabriel said...

Thanks for commenting Stephen.

"From what I understand, it can only happen under certain circumstances, which then allowed the author to explain away any objections or possible exceptions which people had pointed out."

Well, yes, sort of. But consider this- there are two hypotheses. That the Catholic view of Papal Infallibility is correct, or that it is a cleverly constructed error which avoids clear historic contradiction but maximizes the power of the Pope. The data makes an equal amount of sense under both hypotheses. It may appear at first glance to be an awfully convenient doctrine- but it will inevitably appear to be so if it is correct.

Let's take an alternative hypothesis- that Catholics claimed Popes were infallible in all their public statements about faith and morals and that there wasn't any historical evidence against the contention. I'd find it harder to believe than the doctrine we Catholics do hold. It certainly wouldn't appear convenient, but it would mean that the Holy Spirit had been incredibly active in preventing error in an enormous number of people- to the point where I suggest that the personal freedom of the Popes- to be wrong, to live (largely) under the same constraints of intellect and original sin would be infringed. I also have the curious belief that God never provides proof of an article of faith- and such would provide such incredibly overwhelming evidence of the truth of Papal infallibility that there wouldn't be room for doubt.

April 10, 2006 7:59 PM  
Blogger gabriel said...

On popes ceasing to be popes, I didn't see it in the Catholic Encyclopedia article on infallibility, but I just skimmed. Where was it?

April 10, 2006 8:36 PM  
Anonymous Stephen said...

In the article, the part of popes ceasing to be popes due to heresy is in the last point under the heading "Mutual Relations of the Organs of Infallibility".

When it comes to tradition and the bible, I know the bible a lot better then the church fathers, so I have gone back to it and searched out Peter. I know that you have mentioned some verses, so I won't mention those, but I found some others not mentioned which I feel need to be also mentioned and considered.

While I can see that Peter has been given primacy, he is also extremely fallible-even after Christ has ascended to heaven. I'd particularly like to point out Galatians 2:11-14, which reads (in the English Standard Version), "But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, 'If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?'" It can be argued that Cephas, aka Peter, didn't say anything Ex Cathedra, and so this has nothing to do with papal infallibility. But by his actions 1) Peter did lead several astray, and 2) if Paul or someone else hadn't spoken up, the church would have been led into heresy by Peter. If anyone is infallible here, it would seem that Paul is, and not Peter, though I do not think that that is the point of the verses. This illustrates that for us truth can only exist in community and in consensus, and that alone even Peter, and by extension the popes or any other Christian, can mess up and lead the church astray.

Acts 15, which tells of the Jerusalem council, also stood out. In it, Peter does address the council, but it is James who gives the final decision, and he phrases it as "Therefore my judgement is..." The next thing we read is that "then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose..." After giving his speech, Peter is not mentioned again. Rather, James is mentioned, and then the whole church, which I think is important and that it is pointing out that it is only in the church that truth lies, and not in individuals.

Galatians 2:9 also stood out, which said, "and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me..." Here again, Peter is not the only authority which Paul and Barnabas are under; James and John are also mentioned, and the threesome together gave the hand of fellowship.

I have already gone on for far to long, so I will stop. Like Fr. Justin, I can see the pope as a first among equals, but I can't see from the bible that he is infallible. Also, it is one thing to claim primacy, and it is something very different to claim infallibility. The first implies that the person is still human, and thus might still err. The second implies that error is not possible, and this can only be applied to Christ. And even if the pope is right hypothetically 99% of the time, there is still that 1% when he is wrong, so by claiming infallibilty the papacy has just gone too far. I hope that what I have pointed out is helpful. God bless.

April 10, 2006 11:08 PM  
Blogger Fr. Justin (Edward) said...

Bravo, Stephen! I couldn't have put it better myself!

I'm glad to hear, Gabriel, that you are considerably humbler than your typo made you out to be. :-) I must admit that I am still a little concerned - not so much with your humility as with your methodology - by your statement:

'I won't cavil at elevating Scripture above the Church Fathers. Scripture is inspired. The interpretations of the Church Fathers, however persuasive, are not. They are an authority, but not authoritative.'

Of course the Church Fathers are fallible (even those who were popes! :-) ), but their writings comprise much of the lens (i.e., Church tradition) through which we need to view the Scriptures in order to avoid elevating our own personal interpretation of Scripture above that of the Church. This is not to say that one cannot disagree with the Church Fathers (after all, they often disagreed with one another!), but one has to have a pretty good reason for doing so - as I'm sure you know.

I'd have to say, of the two hypotheses you present ('That the Catholic view of Papal Infallibility is correct, or that it is a cleverly constructed error which avoids clear historic contradiction but maximizes the power of the Pope.'), I think the latter makes much more sense in the light of history. Of course, one could say something similar about the idea that the Church is infallible, but I would say that one is on much safer ground here, since it is explicitly and indisputably the Church about which Christ says "the gates of Hell will not prevail against it", and which the Holy Apostle Paul calls "the pillar and the bulwark of the Truth".

The main logical leap that I keep referring to, and which I have yet to see any really convincing evidence/arguments for, is the idea that the bishop of Rome is infallible because he is the sole successor of Peter - and the fact that this doctrine was only promulgated in the West in the 1800s only increases my suspicion that this idea is not only a recent innovation but is, in fact, "a cleverly [or perhaps not-so-cleverly!] constructed error".

April 11, 2006 12:10 PM  
Blogger gabriel said...

In reply to Stephen-

"It can be argued that... Peter didn't say anything Ex Cathedra"

Actually, I wonder if the reverse can be seriously argued. The passage doesn't even indicate Peter said anything on the issue. It is his conduct which is reproved. Even if there were a statement the context scripture gives to the situation makes it most unlikely that it would have been ex cathedra. No ex cathedra statement, no bearing on papal infallibility.

"This illustrates that for us truth can only exist in community and in consensus..."

Perhaps I'm missing something. What do you mean? At one point, a substantial minority (perhaps a majority) of the episcopate was Arian. St. Athanasius didn't have an easy life. Was the truth not present in the Church because there was no consensus? Because many communities were actively heretical, and others divided? There are some insights into scripture which truly are original. Are they not true until accepted by the broader Church?

The Jerusalem Council is an interesting passage. Who does Luke record speaking? Peter & James. Who got it wrong in Galations? Peter & James. Who is the bishop of Jerusalem? James. And the prince of the Apostles? Peter. You note James giving his judgement- but his judgement is premised on the already stated teaching of the council (by Peter, who precedes James) and pertains to the regulations promulgated by the council. But I'd argue that the principal lesson here is that Peter & James who were villains in the Gentile thing till now are shown in agreement with the Church, and leading it towards the truth. Echoes of Peter being reconfirmed after his denials of Christ.

"After giving his speech, Peter is not mentioned again. Rather, James is mentioned, and then the whole church, which I think is important and that it is pointing out that it is only in the church that truth lies, and not in individuals."

I'm not sure I understand. Of course the truth of the Gospel resides in the Church. The question is who can authoratatively declare what that truth is. An ecumenical council is already a subset. If a group within the Church can define in the service of the Church, by what principle is it impossible for an individual to do so?

April 11, 2006 4:46 PM  
Blogger gabriel said...

Father- I don't actually think we disagree on the role of the Church Fathers in interpreting Scripture. However, Peter had perhaps implied that the Church Fathers are the entirety of the lens through which we can view the Scriptures without falling into an attenuated form of sola scriptura.

I'd also point out that my argument that started all this said we need to approach the Petrine passages with the same hermeneutic as we both (and the Church Fathers) approached the rest of the NT- with particularity, substantiveness and a meaning extending into the life and structure of the Church. Hardly unmoored from the thinking of the Church on scripture.

On papal infallibility- there's a very decent argument that it's implied from Patristic sources- the Catholic Encyclopedia article makes a good case. Let's not pretend it emerged fully formed, like Athena from the head of Zeus in 1870.

A mere primacy of honour appears to me to be inconsistent with a sound NT hermeneutic. I'll have to expand on this later. Moreover, it clearly was not always present. Council in Trullo, anyone? Western Liturgy and discipline of celibacy anathematized? A pretend papal legate presiding over a council composed entirely by bishops of the East? And may I point out, you all recognize it as a valid part of the third Council of Contantinople.

If 'primacy of honour' falls short, I'm not sure there's a waystation before you arrive at papal infallibility.

April 11, 2006 5:30 PM  
Anonymous Stephen said...

Well, Gabriel, it seems like we are now merely going around in circles, and we are unable to say anything fresh. So maybe it is time to stop the debate, though I will clarify a few things and ask a couple of random questions.

You said, "No ex cathedra statement, no bearing on papal infallibility." By the way papal infallibility is defined, this statement you made is true. And because of that I am profounded disturbed and wary of papal infallibility. Because you are saying that speech has been divorced from action, so that even if the pope doesn't practice what the church teaches, he is still technically and legally correct and infallible even if in the sight of God he is morally damned. Personally, I think it is more important to look at what a person does instead of what a person says, and by separating the two, it makes it much easier to simply pay lip-service to the truth instead of actually doing it, especially if the pope is setting an example of doing precisely that. And as the passage showed, actions speak just as loudly, if not more so, than words, and so it is wrong to separate words and deeds.

I also have a few questions, which may be a little off topic. Why did the pope, almost 1900 years after Christ, suddenly feel the need to declare himself infallible? That just sounds fishy in itself, and awfully convienent, even if it is just affirming what was implici throughout history (and I don't feel that it is implicit.) And, why does the pope allow eastern-rite catholic priests to marry, and not western-rite priests? Though you will probably say that priestly celibacy has nothing to do with doctrine (though I would argue that the sex scandels have shown that actions have everything to do with how doctrine is recieved and understood), and that it has nothing to do with papal infallibility, isn't this double standard extremely hypocritical of the popes? And I know that you can point out hypocritical Orthodox Patriarchs (I can do that as well), but at least the Patriarchs don't claim infallibility, nor do they claim the right to control everyone.

Well, it is time to end this. As my closing statement, I want to affirm that I do want unity between all Orthodox and Catholics and Prostestants. That is my fervent prayer and dream. But as you pointed out earlier, true unity lies in full agreement with each other over doctrine, and there are differences between the Orthodox and Catholics. Papal infallibility is only one of them, though granted it is an important one. Perhaps the truth of the matter, and only God knows this, is that we are all in error on some matter or other. Until we find out though, I'm glad to see that you are being faithful to what God has apparently called you to, and I'll be faithful to what I believe God is calling me to. I hope to meet you one day in heavan, if not before. God bless.

April 12, 2006 1:02 PM  
Blogger Fr. Justin (Edward) said...

At the risk of extending this debate beyond the point of profitability, since, like Stephen, I have noticed that we are now tending to return to topics we have already visited and revisited...

Gabriel, you wrote that

'my argument that started all this said we need to approach the Petrine passages with the same hermeneutic as we both (and the Church Fathers) approached the rest of the NT- with particularity, substantiveness and a meaning extending into the life and structure of the Church.'

My point was that you are not approching the Petrine passages with the same hermaneutic as the Church Fathers. While they do refer Petrine primacy back to some of the same passages that you cite, they do not derive Papal supremacy or infallibility (of any sort, limited or unlimited) from those passages.

Nor are interpretations of such passages that do not conclude with Papal primacy/supremacy (and we have seen that there are such interpretations, even among the Fathers) necessarily void of "particularity, substantiveness, and a meaning extending into the life and structure of the Church."

The usual Orthodox interpretation of such "Petrine" passages applies them quite particularly and substantively to the very practical role of the episcopacy (as a whole) in maintaining the fidelity of the Church to Peter's confession of Jesus as "the Christ, the son of the living God" in all its implications for life and doctrine. Of course, within any collegial structure such as the episcopacy, there is a hierarcy of order and honour, and no one disputes that, among the college of the apostles, the primacy went to Peter. That being said, Stephen's point is a good one: while Peter was certainly the natural leader of the apostles, the other apostles did not exhibit any slavish obedience to him - and, likewise, while the primacy of the Roman see was certainly acknowledged and even ocassionally touted by the Fathers, there is no shortage of historical examples which show that this primacy was by no means understood as absolute or unconditional amongst the Fathers. Irenaeus' rebuke of the pope comes to mind and you yourself seem to have cited evidence of this:

'A mere primacy of honour appears to me to be inconsistent with a sound NT hermeneutic. I'll have to expand on this later. Moreover, it clearly was not always present. Council in Trullo, anyone? Western Liturgy and discipline of celibacy anathematized? A pretend papal legate presiding over a council composed entirely by bishops of the East? And may I point out, you all recognize it as a valid part of the third Council of Contantinople.'

While I am not familiar with all the details you may be referring to in these cases, it would seem to me that the disagreements with Rome that you cite here would actually be largely consistent with according Rome a primacy of honour that did not include the idea that Rome was either supreme or infallible.

It should also be noted that many of the patristic quotes that most strongly indicate the primacy of the Roman see (1) were predicated on the notion of Rome's conservatism and thus its fidelity to the apostles' teachings - it was this that made the Roman Church such an important point of reference, and (2) refer more often to the Church of Rome as a whole than to her bishop in particular - although it was usually assumed, of course, that the Church of Rome's fidelity to the apostle's teachings meant that her bishops too could be trusted. Either way, the main point of apostolic succession is fidelity to the teachings of the apostles, not some magical guarantee that the bishops of Rome will be correct whenever they happen to make official pronouncements that are correct.

Finally, I hope I can clarify what Stephen meant when he asserted that "it is only in the church that truth lies, and not in individuals". You ask, in response to this,

'I'm not sure I understand. Of course the truth of the Gospel resides in the Church. The question is who can authoratatively declare what that truth is. An ecumenical council is already a subset. If a group within the Church can define in the service of the Church, by what principle is it impossible for an individual to do so?'

While it is true that an ecumenical council is only a subset of the Church, it is not an ecumenical council in and of itself that we understand as authoritative. After all, there were the "Robber Councils", and then there were the bishops who agreed to reunion with Rome at the Council of Florence who were thrown into the river by the members of their congregations! We understand only those councils that the Church as a whole has accepted and acknowledged as having promulgated and clarified the apostles teachings as being truly ecumenical and authoritative. In other words, Stephen is correct: in order to accurately determine the leading of the Holy Spirit, the whole Church needs to be involved - which means not just the "magisterium" but also the laity, in the reception of the conciliar pronouncements. We see this even in Acts 15, where, after the Council of Jerusalem has delivered its judgement, St. Luke also makes note of the fact that upon receiving the council's decision, the whole multitude of the church in Antioch "rejoiced for the consolation" (verses 30-31).

April 12, 2006 5:36 PM  
Anonymous Stephen said...

Thanks, Fr Justin, for clarifying what I meant. And thank you, Gabriel, for starting the discussion. It has been very thought provoking, and I have learned a lot. Cheers.

April 12, 2006 6:26 PM  
Blogger gabriel said...

Yes- I've concluded we ought to at the very least put this on hiatus for a time. I look forward to meeting you all in person, and to sharing in the worship of the Almighty with you.

I'll add one thing to the discussion- that papal infallibility is in service to the Church. It doesn't take the place of personal holiness or make it irrelevant for the Popes.

April 12, 2006 8:05 PM  
Blogger Fr. Justin (Edward) said...

I would agree, Gabriel, that the personal holiness (or lack thereof) of the pope is largely (though perhaps not wholly) irrelevant to the question of papal infallibility, although I would also point out that the notion that papal infallibility is "in service of the Church" is similarly largely irrelevant to the question of whether or not the pope is infallible.

I would also agree that giving this debate a rest is a good idea. Have a blessed Easter! I look forward to meeting you "face to face, which is far better" sometime if God is willing. Please forgive me if I have offended in any way. And, Stephen, have a blessed Holy Week and Pascha!

Love in Christ,

Fr. Justin.

April 13, 2006 10:36 AM  
Anonymous Stephen said...

Likewise, Fr Justin and Gabriel. I can't wait for Holy Week and Pascha. Cheers! God bless!

April 13, 2006 11:44 AM  

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