Trusting the Authority of Scripture Is Not Knowledge (?) – Part II

This morning, I’ve finally been able to read through the several very “meaty” comments from Nathaniel McCallum, Nathan G., and Jonathan Prejean on the “Trusting the Authority of Scripture Is Not Knowledge” thread below. There’s really quite a lot there, and I would like to try to offer some sort of intelligent replies before the (hopefully) big discussion on Ambrose’s On the Mysteries starts next week. In what follows, I will try to be as succinct as I can. Let me know if I’ve misrepresented anyone’s particular concerns, and especially let me know if my brief replies here make any more sense of my position.

<(1) Canonization as a historical, human process: I agree with this fully. I don’t believe that the Christian Scriptures dropped out of heaven, complete and perfect, as the Muslims believe of the Koran. I have no problem admitting that the people of God in both the Old and New Testaments took a long time to recognize what we would now call the “closed canon,” and that much debate took place in which some books that were later rejected by all were initially thought to be inspired by some, and some books that were later accepted by all were initially thought to be uninspired by some.

The profound historicity and humanity of the canonization process (and also of the writings themselves that make up the canon) is one reason that I generally do not use the term “the Bible” to refer to the Church’s Scriptures. “The Bible” is, as I said somewhere, an artifact of the invention of the printing press making the cheap mass production of books possible and also of the rise of near-universal literacy making the private reading of mass-produced books possible. Add to this the fragmentation of culture-in-general that occurred as a result of the Renaissance’s emphasis on vernacular literature (implying more localized and provincial modes of education), and the fragmentation of the Church catholic in the West that occurred as a result of the Reformation / Counter-Reformation wars, and the result is the need to admit that something really drastic happened to the Western Christian approach to the Sacred Texts and we are still dealing with the fallout from this drastic change centuries later. I think that much Protestant talk today about “the Bible” does not understand this, and that much poverty of theological and apologetical discussion is caused by this lack of understanding.

(2) Inspiration as one-time event or ongoing process: I also do not believe that the human authors of Scripture were merely passive instruments recording static information beamed into their heads from on high – the so-called “dictation” theory of inspiration. The Scriptures reveal in numerous ways their profound historicity and humanity, and if anyone thinks that a “dictation of static information to passive stenographers” position is a necessary feature of Protestantism, I can point him to much conservative Protestant scholarship that disputes that.

Both Nathan G. and Nathaniel McCallum mentioned the “problem” of Esther and the Song of Songs in this connection. Well, I don’t imagine that I as a private Protestant individual have to be able to provide some sort of “objective proof” that any particular book in the canon is inspired. Although many Protestants today do, in fact, hold a sort of “me, myself, and my personal copy of the Bible alone with God in my room, no external authorities allowed” sort of position, I deny that this is the position of the Protestant Reformers from whom I trace my understanding of sola Scriptura. There is indeed a subjective and personal dimension to any given individual’s recognition of canonicity, but I don’t think a cut-and-dried case can be made that this dimension is utterly primary in Protestant thought or that it necessarily eclipses the public, corporate dimension of the individual-as-member-of-a-whole-believing community which testifies to the inspiration of the canonical books.

In this sense, I agree with Nathan G. that “The act and manner of inspiration is always within the believing (or often apostate believing) community, so any transcendence that may be possessed by the written product of inspiration can only be appropriated within the believing community.” So, in my view inspiration would have at least two dimensions: the one-time fact of the “God breathing” (theopneustos) of a given instance of Scripture, and the ongoing work of the Spirit in the whole believing community causing them as a whole community to recognize instances of theopneustos. However, I don’t think I’d be comfortable with saying that the “ongoing inspiration” of the community to recognize the theopneustos books was itself an instance of theopneustos. In other words, I’d want to say that the term “inspiration” in the context of this paradigm has two different meanings.

(3) “Original” and “Derivative” revelation: This discussion has helped me to see that much of my terminology was extremely imprecise and even misleading. Honestly, I had not reflected on my terminology as much as I thought I had, so this discussion has been very beneficial to me in that respect. Let me thus restate my position in a hopefully more constructive manner.

I happened over the last few days to read portions of Jaroslav Pelikan’s work Whose Bible Is It? in conjunction with Harold Bloom’s The American Religion. Bloom does a good job of showing that “the American Religion” – into which category he puts several prominent varieties of Protestantism, Christian Science, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the Mormons – is fundamentally a “Gnostic” phenomenon focused on various expressions of the basic idea of “the Inner Light” within the private individual believer. This “Inner Light” provides the private individual with an absolutely unquestionable bedrock for holding the idea that his own private soul is fully competent (the Southern Baptists call this “soul competence”) to judge all religious matters for himself, apart from (and even in willful defiance of) all external authority. Bloom takes pains to argue that this paradigm ultimately turns the Bible into a “limp leather icon” that just hangs there in space, disconnected from all the messy mediatorial features of language and culture – which in turn results in a complex of extraordinarily vapid and unreflective talk about the “inerrancy” of a text that is really never read for what it is, but is basically like a wax nose that can be twisted to support anyone’s particular views, no matter how extreme or distorting.

OK, hold that in abeyance for a minute. Pelikan starts his book with an extremely interesting discussion of “The God Who Speaks,” in which he argues – quite persuasively, I think – that oral speaking always necessarily precedes written accounts of it, and in that sense orality is more fundamental. He doesn’t just cite Plato’s argument for this in the Phaedrus, although for any student of the classics, that argument would be quite persuasive on its own. Pelikan also argues from the text of Scripture that “orality” is primary to “literacy.” A few examples: “The word which came to Jeremiah from the LORD: Thus said the LORD, the God of Israel: Write down in a scroll all the words I have spoken to you…And these are the words that the LORD spoke concerning Israel and Judah.” (Jer. 30:1), and “No one ever spoke as this man speaks…unlike their scribes he taught with a note of authority.” (Mt. 7:29)

However, some pages later Pelikan shows that there is another side to the story: “Because Koholeth was a sage, he listened to and tested the soundness of many maxims. Koholeth sought to discover useful sayings and recorded genuinely truthful sayings” (Ecc. 12:9), and “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope, (Romans 15:4), and, of course, “all inspired Scripture has its use for teaching and truth and refuting error, or for reformation of manners and discipline in right living, so that the man of God may be capable and equipped for good work of every kind” (I Tim. 3:16).

It seems to me that what arises from the texts Pelikan presents and the analysis of “the American Religion” that Bloom presents is that yes, there are a lot of Protestants who don’t think very reflectively about what it means to say that “the Bible is the Word of God.” Not only are the humanity and historicity of the texts downplayed in the search for “timeless truths,” but the basic fact of communication that orality precedes literacy is not understood at all by many. (Think here about the typical Protestant argument that “oral tradition” is always necessarily like the party game of “telephone” while writing is always inherently more stable and reliable.)

It will have to be a separate discussion how all of this relates to Protestant language about “the clarity” of Scripture and the “self-interpreting” nature of Scripture and so forth, but let me just say that between the comments in the original post and what I’ve read from Pelikan and Bloom, I’m convinced that I should not have spoken so hastily about “original” and “derivative” revelation with respect to Scripture. Surely it is true – as the Jeremiah passage above seems to say – that at least some parts of Scripture are “derivative” revelation, derived from an earlier oral proclamation. Yet at the same time, surely the “derivative” writing is no less “the Word of God” than the original oral proclamation on which it is based?

Pelikan also helpfully points out that although the spoken word carries more embodied authority than the written word, the written word does in fact preserve some things that the oral word cannot. I would take this observation to support both the idea that Scripture must be integrally a part of the liturgy (and so the liturgy must inherently be seen as a shaping force on our theological reflections) and the idea that Scripture is in a sense “above” the liturgy. Perhaps this needs more fleshing out, but that’s what I’ve gotten so far as I’ve thought about these things. At the least, however, I will say that I don’t have a huge problem with Nathaniel McCallum’s remark that “early Christianity posited a variety of authorities, viewing them as a self-correcting coherent whole.” I think that the best of classical, magisterial Protestantism is amenable to this view, as may be seen by comparing, say, Chapter 1 of the Westminster Confession of Faith (about Scripture) with Chapter 31 of the same (about the role of Councils in arbitrating doctrinal disputes and cases of conscience).

To bring this to a close, one last point from the discussions below. This one is particularly Jonathan Prejean’s concern:

(4) The need for “objective indicia” of faith: In explaining Aquinas’ view relative to mine, you wrote about “the God-given authority to a man to speak with the same authority as Christ Himself. That is not an authority that can be denied within its bailiwick, any more than God Himself can be denied. And it is specifically that kind of authority, the authority of Christ Himself in another man, that must be experienced in order for any other particular instance of authority, including inspiration of Scripture, to be properly grounded in knowledge. Those kinds of actions, action in personam Christi, is what St. Thomas would consider as objective indicia of divine authority.”

Well, I don’t have a problem with this, because as I labored to explain to you in the last post where you and I discussed this, I do in fact recognize the need for objective, embodied, community “indicia” of faith. Where I don’t follow your reasoning is the point where you want to confine the objective indicia to the Roman Catholic Magisterium and exclude all other possible forms or modes of in personam Christi authority. I have said before that I think much of your argumentation against “Protestantism” (and it not just yours, but the Catholic apologetics community as a whole) is directed for the most part at Protestant Fundamentalism, which is a very American, very democratically individualistic and philosophically-unreflective form of Protestantism. It isn’t the position of the Reformers or their immediate Scholastic heirs in the 17th century, and I can’t help but think that Calvin, Whitaker, and Turretin would not be impressed at all by your “objective indicia” arguments.

Calvin, for instance, doesn’t just write in Institutes Book I about the subjective, internal witness of the Spirit as to the canonicity of Scripture. Calvin is no mere subjectivist about Scripture. In the same Book he also enumerates a number of objective (external) tests for the veracity of Scripture, and says, significantly, I think, that the internal witness is the final test. He doesn’t say it’s the only test. But even further, he goes to great pains in Book IV to expound the idea that the objective Church, outside of the individual believer, is God’s minister on earth and cannot be lightly ignored by the individual. Whitaker and Turretin both testify to the utility of Church Councils in arbitrating doctrinal disputes, and their only litmus test here is whether the Councils “agree” with Scripture.

Now, I would say that what that sort of language means needs very much to be explored, but in any case, I just don’t see how these fundamental facts of classical, Magisterial Protestant position are not relevant to your “objective indicia” argument. Fundamentalist Protestants may run around clutching a Book the origin and interpretation of which they cannot intelligibly explain without merely referring to their own private spiritual experiences, but that is most definitely not the classical, Magisterial Reformation position. Calvin, Luther, and all the Reformed (and probably the Lutheran) Scholastics of the next few generations would have been horrified at such a notion of Scripture.

As one final thought for you, Jonathan , I saw in one of your comments that you said the papacy is a matter of “revelation.” If I’m understanding what you mean by that correctly, does that mean that the papal claims are simply and finally disconnected from the actual lived experience of the Church catholic over many, many centuries, and that the claims can never be modified or corrected by empirical reflection upon that experience? Something like that is what I take Dr. Liccione to be advocating, and as far as I can see, it ultimately reduces to sheer fideism – and therefore betrays the historicity of the Christian religion. Christianity is not a private, gnostic-like religion where all its veracity exists only in the individual head (or to use Liccione’s terms, what is “reasonable to me”). Christianity is a very public religion, and has always appealed publicly to external witnesses of its truth. If the category of “revelation” becomes detached from history, then, frankly, I don’t know what the difference between it and Gnosticism is.

OK, all of his is what I got out of reading through last week’s comments. Have I misrepresented anyone’s concerns, or failed to adequately reply to them? Does my position seem to be any more clearer – and hopefully less objectionable – now?

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16 Responses to Trusting the Authority of Scripture Is Not Knowledge (?) – Part II

  1. Thanks for a great summary, much of which I have great agreement with. I have two lingering questions.

    First, I have not yet seen any engagement with the Apostolic claim that Christ is the Word of God. Considering that this is arguably the most important theological theme in the first 1000 years of Christianity (undeniably so of the first 500 years, until the Arian demise), it would seem to me that any claim that the Scriptures are the Word of God would somehow need to account for this dogma. I should also point out that in the Westminster Confession there is not one single use of the word “Word” in reference to Christ. The Augsburg Confession at least mentions this, though there is still no significant engagement.

    Second, fundamentalist protestantism aside, we still have the problem of how the heretics use the Scriptures. To put it succinctly and without historical examples (which are numerous), the heretics believed their own doctrines and councils were in agreement with scripture and often argued so successfully. So successfully in fact that Irenaeus has to respond to their claims. Irenaeus is the first to systematically ponder this question (“How do the heretics use scripture?”) and he responds by stating that the canon of faith norms our reading of scripture and that the canon of faith is known through apostolic succession (i.e. that which has been taught everywhere where an apostle appointed successors). This argument is too early (180AD) to be cast aside. This is especially true when I have argued that the canon of faith as norm for scriptural interpretation (i.e. Christ as the hypothesis of the scriptures) is the distinction between Paul and the Judaisers in Galatians. Irenaeus is merely ruminating on Paul in his current context.

    Do you think it is possible to articulate a Sola Scriptura which takes seriously Christ as the Word of God and canon of faith as articulated by the bishops as norm for the Scriptures?

    • Tim Enloe says:


      Good questions. I wasn’t aware of the fact of the Westminster Confession’s use of the term “Word,” and I can see how that would be seen as an interesting omission. I don’t have an answer for you on that one.

      As to your second question, you are no doubt aware that the Reformed have quite a different understanding of apostolic succession than either Catholics or the Orthodox. For us, succession is primarily succession in truth, and that may or may not be unified with men succeeding each other in office. Hence, the truth of what the men in office say is to be always compared with what the Scriptures say.

      That said, though I am Reformed myself, I do recognize that the phraseology of “comparing with the Scriptures” needs to be fleshed out hermeneutically in great detail. Many Protestants use that language as if “what Scripture says” is just as plain as day to anyone who can read and who loves “Truth,” but I think you’re right (following the Fathers) to point out the problem of how heretics appeal to the Scriptures.

      One usual answer given in Protestant circles is to appeal to “grammatical-historical exegesis,” which, supposedly, if properly used gives us the “objective” meaning of Scripture. But I think that this can be problematic; I once saw an exegete argue for a dozen pages or so that a single Greek preposition in a single verse absolutely ruled out the doctrine of infant baptism and made it a violation of “the plain meaning of Scripture.” I thought, “How absurd, to pin the truth about the children of believers on a bunch of extremely abstruse (and actually quite debatable, despite the pretensions of said exegete) reasoning about one preposition in one verse.” But that’s where extreme reliance on grammatical-historical method to the exclusion of all other concerns can lead. Grammatical-historical hermeneutics is very useful, but I think that in the unwary it can result in a form of “Scriptural positivism” that for all its apparent linguistic proficiency is basically the Fundamentalist’s naive “literal interpretation” problem.

      Insofar as I understand it, I believe in the “canon of truth” idea – at least, if by that you mean the regula fidei that is used as the baseline for Scriptural interpretation by the Fathers. But at the same time, I find it hard to read, say, Athanasius’ Four Discourses Against the Arians, which is just chock full of grammatical analysis of all the verses the Arians use, and not see some overlap (I don’t say “identity”, please note) with what Protestants call “sola Scriptura.”

      A second Protestant reply is the “analogy of Scripture,” whereby passages that are manifestly plainer become standards for the interpretation of other passages that are manifestly more difficult. This is based, of course, on the idea that Scripture as the Word of the God Who cannot lie or be deceived and who providentially oversaw the process of the inspiration and preservation of the texts, cannot ultimately be found to contradict itself but rather is coherent in all its parts. But perhaps even here the criteria for what is and is not “plainer” ought to be carefully spelled out.

      As I said, I think we Protestants need to take a lot more care in how we use phrases like “the plain meaning of Scripture” and how we appeal to the grammatical-historical method of interpretation. We definitely have some latent biases from the Renaissance and Early Modernity in our hermeneutics at these points, and the question is whether these biases ultimately aid or hinder the proper understanding of Scripture. As I’ve already mentioned several times, just thinking and talking about Holy Scripture in terms of “The Bible” is an extremely concept-laden way of talking, and those concepts may not do justice to the traditional attribution of “the Scriptures.” Unfortunately, I have had a very difficult time these past few years finding other Protestants who even understand these questions, let alone have even a small part of the knowledge that would be required to navigate them. I think this is a weak spot for us, frankly.

      I hope this helps.

  2. It does help and in fact this entire dialog has, I think, been very fruitful. Let me first highlight some areas of agreement so we don’t waste some time on these areas. Then I will move to some areas which I think still need to be discussed.

    First, we agree there is value in the grammatical-historical method (what I have called the historiographical method). This method is used by all of the great Fathers of the Church. Further, the heretics also used the grammatical-historical method. I think we are in agreement on this so far. What I think needs to be considered is that this method alone cannot provide us with the correct interpretation of the Scriptures. This is just a basic observation of the successful use of this method by both orthodox and heretics. Modernity, and sadly much of mainline Protestantism, has largely abandoned the idea that there is any such thing as a correct interpretation of Scripture, or worse, they have merely relegated “correctness” to personal preference, aesthetics or ideology. I suspect that we both mourn this phenomena. What I would like to propose is that modernity assumes that it was the first to think critically on issues of epistemology. I would argue that this is patently false and that, in Irenaeus’ Against Heresies, we in fact have a full fledged hermeneutical epistemology, one developed out of significant engagement with the ongoing conflict of Paul and the pro-circumcisers. I think Irenaeus proposes answers for many post-modern questions and that anyone who wishes to engage these questions needs to seriously deal with Irenaeus (just as any medieval latin scholar had to deal with Augustine). Unfortunately, I think that Irenaeus’ answers provide some difficulty to the traditional epistemologies of both Protestantism and Roman Catholicism. However, these epistemologies are under attack from every angle. Better they be re-articulated by Irenaeus than by Derrida…

    Second, we are in full agreement on the difficulty of the terminology “the Bible” and that “the Scriptures” is a much more accurate term. I would want to further argue that the profundity of what both Irenaeus and Paul are doing in their interpretation of the Scriptures is lost when they are read from a single book (I should point out in the spirit of self-disclosure that, liturgically, the Orthodox do not read from a single book). Namely, the resurrection of Christ opens the eyes of the Apostles and that they being to see that, as Christ says, “the Scriptures speak of me.” Thus, it is only because the Apostles now have the “key” or canon of faith (regula fidei) that they are able to see properly what is meant by a single transcendent author. It is helpful to point out that, to my knowledge, the first references to the written scriptures as the “Word of God” are in the NT. This is because the “Word of the Lord” (verbal) in the OT is theologized by the apostles to refer to Christ and that therefore because the Scriptures refer to Christ, they are the “Word of God.”

    Third, I think we mean the same thing by canon of faith / regula fidei. I would take it to mean the pronouncement of faith spoken at baptism (after the renunciation of Satan; there is a nice footnote to the Ambrose discussion here…) and secondarily in the “canon of the mass” or preparatory prayers for the Eucharist. This is the Nicene Creed for Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism (without and with filioque, respectively). You will notice I have placed emphasis not merely on its content but its use. Since I have a very high view of the canon of faith I would love to agree with you that succession is a “succession of truth.” Unfortunately, following Irenaeus, I have to believe that a succession of truth without a succession of persons is fundamentally docetic (i.e. a truth without “flesh”). Hence it is both the content and use of the canon of faith that is the norm for scriptural interpretation.

    One point further here before we move on, I have not merely said “Nicene Creed” previously to avoid confusion. Most of the material contained in this creed is far more ancient than Nicea itself. In fact, we have excerpts of this early canon in Paul’s writings. The articulation of this canon may have changed, but its use is still the same. I did not use the term Nicene Creed lest anything think I was so foolish as to argue for the authority of the Nicene Creed in Galatians.

    Third, we agree that the historical-grammatical method is used all throughout the early Church. However, I suspect we disagree in its purpose. For the Protestant the canon of faith is determined by the exegesis of the divinely inspired text. For the Orthodox (and I think this claim can be made especially of Athanasius [after whom my parish is named]), I think we would suggest that the exegesis of the text provides evidence for the divinely revealed canon of faith (as well as implying the divine inspiration of the text). The difference between these views it that the interpretive order is reversed.

    I’d like to summarize by saying that I have never argued against the “Common Sense” hermeneutic of modern fundamentalism. I have focused more on what the articulated methodology of Magisterial Protestantism which I perceive to be:
    1. The regula fidei is a product of fidelity to the scriptures
    2. Therefore, although many sources such as councils, theologies, church hierarchy, etc are used authoritatively, the ultimate litmus test is fidelity to the scriptures.
    3. Fidelity to the scriptures is never clearly defined and varies from church to church.

  3. Tim Enloe says:


    Briefly, I agree that the succession of truth idea can’t be rigorously separated from the succession of ministerial office. I’m not advocating a kind of docetism. The real distinction I’m making is between succession via episcopacy and succession via some other mode of government. And in fact, there are several ways that Protestants could be in the basic track of the categories of the patristic argument about ministerial succession without adhering to episcopacy per se as the iure divino form of government. One would be to trace succession through presbyters rather than through bishops, especially by noting that the distinction between these two offices was a development and not an original institution of Christ or even the Apostolic or immediately post-Apostolic Church. Another would be to trace a succession of orthodox baptisms. In any case, the problem I see for the way “apostolic succession via de iure episcopacy” claims are usually made is that Paul himself noted that savage wolves would arise from within the episcopate. Also, the very substantial teaching of the Pastoral Epistles regarding the qualifications for leaders seem to indicate that it is conceivable that unorthodox and / or even ungodly men might find their way into the succession. What happens then? Is the injunction to obey our leaders absolute, even if our leaders are manifestly unorthodox? I don’t know what Orthodoxy would say, but I know that discounting the aberrations of the papalist system, the Western tradition as a whole would give a resounding “No!” to that proposition.

    Second, I did try to make clear that I recognize the potential problems inherent in too great an emphasis on grammatical-historical exegesis. I think you’re probably right that the default Protestant position, even among the Magisterials, is that the canon (or rule) of faith was itself derived from Scripture, but I’m not sure that this position must follow from adherence to sola Scriptura. Again, there is a lot of very misleading thought and talk about “the Bible” in Protestant circles, particularly in terms of treating it like a purely self-contained, entirely self-interpreting, utterly crystally self-clear transmission of information the meaning of which all “reasonable” (or should I say all “spiritual”?) minds ought to be able to agree upon. But whether that sort of view is necessarily intrinsic to Magisterial Protestantism is to me at least a debatable proposition.

    Perhaps, that is, our polemics against Rome’s aberrant view of oral tradition have been allowed to go to seed and have themselves become an extreme in need of correction. For myself, I don’t see any reason to pretend that truth just simply can’t be passed down intact over long periods of time outside of a written text (the orality vs. literacy point I made earlier from Pelikan’s book Whose Bible Is It?). Nor do I see any reason to pretend, as many Reformed people in particular implicitly do, that the most fundamental aspect of religion is individual mental contemplation of propositional doctrine, which then makes each individual person’s perceptions about “what the Bible says” become his own private, unaccountable Absolute Standard for judging all occupants of ministerial office.

    I think Magisterial Protestantism is better than this, and I would point as an example to Book IV of Calvin’s Institutes, which argues extensively that individuals should not take it upon themselves to lightly or pretentiously disagree with the ministers of the Church. Elsewhere, particularly in his letters, Calvin argues that Councils are the proper place to resolve doctrinal disputes, and a number of later Reformed divines agree with him – the qualification, of course, being that the Councils are not infallible. Which leads us back to the need to reflect seriously on our language of “the clarity” of Scripture and what it means for a subordinate rule of faith (like a Confession or a Council) to “agree with” Scripture.

    I don’t imagine, as many Reformed seem to, that we have got all the answers already figured out to these questions, and that we don’t have to give an account to anyone for our answers because we are just ipso facto “consistent Christians” who really understand “the Bible.” This sort of arrogance is foreign to my approach to religion, even as a Protestant. It makes me an oddity in my communion, I know, but there you have it.

  4. Thank you for your continuing irenic discussion.

    I’m not sure you are correct that a non-episcopal succession could ever be a patristic argument considering that the patristic argument is precisely the episcopal one. Further, I don’t think there is really enough evidence to suggest that the episcopacy is a development. Surely there is some variance in terminology early on, but the nature of the liturgy only permits a single president. It seems to me that any argument for a such a development will have to answer some tough liturgical questions. Perry Robinson and Dr. Tighe treat this issue in remarkable detail (both in the early Church and Magisterial Protestantism):

    Further, I would not argue that the bishops are “above” the scriptures. I’ve already cited 2 Tim 3:16 as being valuable for correction against wayward bishops. Further, Orthodoxy considers heresy to disqualify one from episcopal office (we do not have a doctrine of enduring charism in heretics and schismatics such as taught by Rome). Thus, the correction and removal of heretical bishops does not, in the Orthodox teaching, impact succession in the slightest since the new bishop is elected by the laying on of hands of three other orthodox bishops. Such a view as you have proposed is I think a caricature of the Orthodox teaching (and perhaps the Roman teaching as well, but I don’t know enough to argue for them). Lastly, Orthodoxy has always held that we are to correct each other in love, regardless of position. There are numerous Orthodox saints who, as lay persons, corrected Orthodox Bishops and Emperors. Thus, for Orthodoxy, the bishops represent a significant part of the self-correcting interplay between the scriptures, canon of faith, liturgy, etc. To put it simply, for the Orthodox, following a false teacher, regardless of his office, is spiritually destructive.

    Following from this it is the job of the bishop:
    1. Maintain the faith without addition or subtraction
    2. Articulate this faith as pastoral care necessitates
    3. Keep his flock in unity (including faith) around the Eucharistic table
    4. Maintain Eucharistic communion with those other bishops who share the same faith.

    Since we have no theology of development of doctrine, we do not view the episcopacy as a sort of hegelian construct to develop the church into greater revelation.

    Regarding the regula fidei and sola scriptura, I have two questions. If the historical-grammatical reading of scripture does not beget the regula fidei, then what is left of sola scriptura? Doing this seems a bit like when neo-caths argue for the immaculate conception without the underlying doctrine of original sin. If original sin is not true, then any understanding of the immaculate conception is meaningless. It seems to me that if one removes the scriptures as the origin of the regula fidei, then sola scriptura basically becomes meaningless.

    However, let me grant your proposition that such a belief might be able to be articulated and be acceptable to Magisterial Protestantism. We still have the problems that our respective canons are different. Your church teaches predestination (monergism) as stemming from a “correct” reading of the scriptures. My church anathematizes such an opinion and instead upholds synergism. Considering that Orange and Trent both dogmatically teach synergism and anathematize monergism, it seems that this teaching is unique to the reformation bodies. I do not with to debate the content or merits of this teaching. I just want to ask the question, if such a canon does not arise from a historical-grammatical reading of the scriptures or from apostolic succession, where does it come from? Why do we have different canons?

    For the Orthodox this is fairly simple: it represents an addition to the apostolic canon. It should come as no surprise to you that we then would see Calvin doing exactly the opposite of his advice in Institutes Book IV. This is also precisely why I estimate that protestantism does dogmatically teach that the regula fidei is a product of the historical-grammatical reading of the scriptures and that this is fundamentally what sola scriptura means (by definition).

    A side question I have always wondered is: how Calvinism squares itself with Maximus the Confessor and the condemnation of Monothelitism? I remember reading a professor at Princeton (I don’t remember who) who argued that Calvin takes a different reading of Chalcedon that precludes accepting dyothelitism. Though I always thought that Calvin accepted Constantinople III (though I can’t see how).

  5. By the way, thank you also for your enduring humility. Augustine is correct in his reflection on the beatitude in relation to theological thought: It is precisely the pure in heart who will see God (which probably means I should stop talking!).

  6. Tim Enloe says:


    Let me first reiterate that I have several times now said I do not know much about Orthodoxy. I am not attempting at all to caricature it; I learned a few years ago when talking to Perry Robinson that I needed mostly to just shut up about Orthodoxy and listen to actual Orthodox people describe their faith. Let me use the categories of classical education (in which I am trained), which divides the study of a subject into three phases, (1) grammar, (2) logic, and (3) rhetoric. Orthodoxy is to me a foreign language about which I have yet to learn much of the basic grammar, so I certainly cannot proceed far into its logic and rhetoric. Please forgive me if I have not been clear that I am in no way polemicizing against Orthodoxy. In fact, what little I do know of it is more appealing to me, even as a Western Christian, than most points of Rome and many points of Protestantism (at least, as it is popularly construed these days).

    OK, onward. My reason for mentioning the variance of terminology (bishop, presbyter) at an early date is precisely that in Presbyterianism, which is my denomination, it might be possible to argue that the pastor, the head presbyter, is essentially a sort of bishop – albeit, without the title itself. As the head presbyter, he does in fact function as a single president in the liturgy. If I can find the time, I will see about reading the discussion between Perry and Dr. Tighe to which you link. At any rate, one thing I do not understand about the apostolic succession arguments as I have usually seen them displayed (chiefly by Catholics, but also by Orthodox such as Perry) is that they seem to me to be overly concerned about terminology rather than substance. Perry, for instance, always liked to rhetorically demand of me why my pastors are not called bishops, as if the really substantive thing is the name of the office. No doubt I did not “get” all of his arguments, as he also frequently liked to tell me that he had read 4 large bookshelves full of treatments of apostolic succession, and that I would have to do something similar if I really wanted to understand the issues. Oh well. I don’t want to get wrapped up in merely terminological disputes, so I don’t see why if I have a pastor who is exercising all the functions of a bishop, why has to be called a “bishop” in order to be a “bishop.” And if that does not obtain, then perhaps, as I said, it is possible for Protestants to make use of the patristic logic even if not of their terms. I’m genuinely sorry if I’m missing something; but that sort of crude literality is how the argument has very frequently been presented to me.

    As for the regula fidei / sola Scriptura questions, I have to admit that you’re really challenging me to think further about these things than I have. I’ve spent a good bit of time thinking about them these past few years, but I can see from your questions that I have a ways to go yet before I reach definitive answers to some particular questions. Let me just take a provisional stab here, though. If sola Scriptura properly defined means that Scripture is the only infallible rule of faith – not the only rule of faith, period – then I don’t see why the regula just absolutely must be itself derived from Scripture rather than being able to come to us from another source, yea, even the succession of bishops. Honestly, I find a lot of Protestant talk about “tradition” to be hopelessly convoluted and unhelpful, not to mention in flat out denial of certain rather fundamental aspects of the sorts of creatures God has made us and of the sort of world in which He has put us. Perhaps at some point I’ll have to expound what I mean by this, but I don’t want this to become overly long.

    As I have said repeatedly, I think a lot of our language needs to be tightened up and dramatically clarified, and to do this there has to be a lot less polemics than we typically like to have in our spiritual diets. But also as I have said, I have had a very difficult time finding other Protestants to talk to about these issues in a way that does not readily fly off into the tired old threadbare polemics. I have participated in a couple of different websites (Reformed Catholicism, Evangelical Catholicity) the past few years that tried to get substantive discussions of these things going, but alas, they were repeatedly sidelined by the large mass of firebreathing polemicizers that unfortunately control much of Reformed discourse online.

    Lastly, let me once again note that there is much about Orthodox “grammar” that I do not understand and so certainly there is much of its logic and rhetoric that I do not understand. I will also honestly admit that I am no expert on the Reformation teachings about predestination. I of course know that all Reformation bodies follow Augustine heavily on this point, and I know that both Rome and Orthodox reject Augustine on this point. Speaking for myself, my basic concept of doctrinal orthodoxy restricts that category to the ecumenical creeds, and so restricts the category of doctrinal heresy to denial of credal articles. I do not consider any teachings about predestination to be matters of “True Christianity” vs. “False Christianity,” or even just of orthodoxy vs. heresy.

    I am also aware, via Perry Robinson, that predestination must somehow be connected to the Person and work of Christ, but honestly, I just flat do not understand the metaphysical implications of the Councils well enough to follow the arguments that Perry, among others, have made. I’ve done the best I can over the past few years to “bone up” on my understanding of the Councils, but I am still very woefully far from a really good understanding of the categories of thought used by them and how those categories may or may not have to be allowed to shape subsequent theological reflection.

    So on that point, the best I can tell you right now is that my understanding is “in via,” and I beg your indulgence with my ignorance and, when they occur, very much unintended caricatures.

  7. Tim Enloe says:

    By the way, you have several times mentioned what you see as a developed hermeneutical argument in Irenaeus. It has been many years since I read Irenaeus, and at the time that I did I had perhaps 1% of the knowledge that I now have and certainly must have missed an enormous amount of what he was saying. Perhaps when we are done with Ambrose’s On the Mysteries, we might go into Irenaeus. That might take a while, but I’d be very willing to pay heed to your observations about his text and work through it, should you wish to do so.

  8. Please forgive me if I have implied that any caricatures were intentional. I only meant “the typical caricatures.” I must also fully admit that I know very little about Calvinism. I do know that the sort of pop Calvinism that floats around these days is but a caricature of his depth and subtlety. I myself grew up in the Wesleyan tradition, though I have no antipathy for it (or Calvinism). I have no desire to wax about my conversion, but let me briefly say that I grew to have a great love of the early pre-Nicenes and, having ingested much of their theological vision, came to believe that Orthodoxy was the “one holy, catholic and apostolic Church.” But, I have probably said too much.

    I don’t know the context of your discussions with Perry, but perhaps I can speculate. I think the “concern over terminology” is more a concern over rite. We believe ordination to be a sacred mystery in the same sense of baptism or communion. As such there are certain rites which apply, rites which can only be performed by those ordained to perform that task and in good standing with the Church. The purpose of these rites and their mystery is one and the same: that all things may be done in good order so that, avoiding schism, we may offer one oblation in love. Our ecclesiology is all about the Eucharistic table. To quote again from Ignatius:

    As therefore the Lord did nothing without the Father, being united to Him, neither by Himself nor by the apostles, so neither do anything without the bishop and presbyters. Neither endeavour that anything appear reasonable and proper to yourselves apart; but being come together into the same place, let there be one prayer, one supplication, one mind, one hope, in love and in joy undefiled. There is one Jesus Christ, than whom nothing is more excellent. Therefore run together as into one temple of God, as to one altar, as to one Jesus Christ, who came forth from one Father, and is with and has gone to one. — Magnesians VII

    The rejection of the episcopal office as an office represents such a significant disruption in the life of the Church that the end result is interrupted communion. Sola Scriptura also represents this disruption, since the intention of this doctrine is a simple (in the sense of unitary), objective authority which can be used to refute Catholic claims: thus, the scriptures under Sola Scriptura become more of a legal document than a set of texts which find their unity in the oblation of the Church. In this second way, the scriptures actually become a sacrament through which we find our common life. This is the mystery of the scriptures.

    It is, I think, in this context that Perry attempts to convey the scandal of having a bishop without calling him such, or discarding succession as it has been traditionally understood. It is nothing less than rending asunder the body of Christ.

    I should be clear that the episcopal scandal is not actually the root scandal, which is instead doctrinal. The to summarize the link I sent you (which I mistakenly attributed to Perry, it is actually the argument of Rev. Little), Protestantism failed to maintain the episcopacy and then later justified it by rejecting it on “principled” grounds (while giving all the episcopal authority to each parish pastor). This lack of succession, specifically in the ordination rite, while holding the authority of the episcopacy in the presbyteriate, is thus a bit like having the baptism without the Trinitarian utterance: the candidate is just taking a bath. Thus, what you propose is a bit like having the power without the form; both are necessary.

    I don’t mean this to be polemic, I am only attempting to communicate the scandal of the Protestant effort in the Orthodox mind.

    I want to preface the following by saying that it is not the teaching of my Church, but merely my own (unenlightened) reflections. I think as regards a movement towards any statement of infallibility I would want to proceed ontologically with the person of Christ. I am suggesting that terms like infallibility and fallibility are roughly equivalent to uncreated and created, respectfully. Thus, Christ is infallibility made visible. I think there is much to say when we begin by saying that the cross is infallible (especially since the Exaltation of the Holy Cross is on Monday). Needless to say, the canon of faith is nothing else than the passionless passion; it is, to put it another way, the Eucharist and our baptism into his death. Since it is Christ, it is infallible. The challenge of course when speaking of the infallibility of the Scriptures is that the process through which we now possess them is remarkably human (created). Some Protestants, including my former communion, posit infallibility in the autographs. Yet this is just a retreat into meaninglessness. I would argue that when we speak of the infallibility of the scriptures we speak our interpretive engagement with them according to the canon of faith (which is Christ) enabled by the Holy Spirit through our participation of the uncreated energies of God. Further, we can say in a sense that our ecumenical councils are infallible since they, like Pentecost, enabled by the Holy Spirit, articulate the canon of faith which is received by the Church.

    To conclude, speaking like this enables us to claim infallibility for:
    1. The Canon of Faith
    2. The Scriptures
    3. The Sacraments
    4. The Councils

    One could argue that such a view, since it moves infallibility into the interpretive realm is essentially a post-modern reading. Yet it is precisely this type of reasoning we see throughout the apostolic and post-apostolic age.

    Lastly, I think a unique feature of this view is the argument for the infallibility of the sacraments, which I believe has never been argued for in the Western dialogues on infallibility.

    Regarding predestination, while it would be nice for us to relegate this issue to theologoumena (pious theological opinion), we are unable to do so, being bound to uphold the Confession of Dositheus, ratified by a council at Jerusalem in 1672. In it, unconditional election is condemned and God as cause of eternal punishment is anathematized (see decree 3).

    Further, although there is no authoritative dogmatic opinion that I am aware of, it would seem to me that unconditional election would essentially destroy the requirement that Christ have both a divine and human will (Sixth Ecumenical Council / Maximus the Confessor) since the human will is entirely passive to the divine. Synergism is the reason that Christ must have two wills, so that He can redeem our wills through his obedience to the divine will.

    Regarding reading Irenaeus, I would take any opportunity to read him. However, I’m sure you will find Behr’s comments on Irenaeus far more valuable than mine. If you have not read his “The Mystery of Christ: Life in Death” and “The Way to Nicea” they are, IMHO, two of the most important contemporary works available.

  9. I wanted to mull this over a bit before responding, but I don’t think you have overcome the objections that I have, and I’ll try to get across why that is.
    Where I don’t follow your reasoning is the point where you want to confine the objective indicia to the Roman Catholic Magisterium and exclude all other possible forms or modes of ‘in personam Christi’ authority.

    This probably was clarified in a response to Mr. McCallum, but in case you didn’t see it, I am not necessarily confining the objective indicia to the Catholic Magisterium. That was the context of my response to Mr. McCallum’s argument re: the Scholastic arguments specifically for the papacy arguing that a single head was a necessity. I actually *don’t* argee with those arguments. I believe that the Magisterium could have in principle been otherwise, but that the content of Scripture and Tradition reveals that the papacy was in fact the government of the Church established by Jesus Christ. However, I recognize that there are disagreements on that point, and one would not expect every disagreement over matters of the faith to be indubitably resolved by mundane methods anyway.

    What I am emphasizing instead is that regardless of those disagreements, there are a couple of features that any objective government of the Church qua Church must have, meaning that whatever disagreements might be had within that scope, it is nonetheless impossible that anything outside that scope could be a legitimate Christian alternative.

    That is where I think our positions must necessarily diverge. You said:
    I can’t help but think that Calvin, Whitaker, and Turretin would not be impressed at all by your “objective indicia” arguments.
    Indeed, there were not, but perhaps they should have taken the objections more seriously, because I find their own position intractable for the same reasons. What I am saying to you simply reproduces the same impression I have of Whitaker, who speaks of Scripture as being like “the Law for Christians” in a way that I consider every bit as objectionable as what you are advocating. A free-floating system of law, a brooding omnipresence in the sky, does not exist; it requires a system of divine authority just as mundane law requires. Whitaker’s notion that Scripture serves as a law around which the Church organizes (“For the scrip-
    ture is in the church what the law is in a state, which Aristotle in his Politics calls a canon or rule”) strikes me as implausible for the same reasons. None of those people you’ve cited may have been “impressed” by the criticism, but they seem to have answered it with complete bluster. And with all due respect, if there were EVER a statement of “Scriptural positivism,” Whitaker’s would be it, which is why Webster and King rely so heavily on Whitaker and Goode in their three-volume work on Scripture.

    And I don’t think I’m out on a limb here among Catholics with that opinion. St. Robert Bellarmine, Whitaker’s adversary, is a Doctor of the Church, and while he respectfully disagreed with Whitaker (exemplified his famous remark “Quod quamvis haereticus erat et adversarius, erat tamen doctus adversarius”), his argument was little different than mine in the suggestion that the Scripture could not actually serve as law without the divine institution of the Chuch. And I’d note that his explanation of papal infallibility in this context (not to mention the government of the Church generally, including the case where the Pope is a manifest heretic) is similar to mine. So let’s dispense with the objection being merely a populistic response to Fundamentalism; the argument bears the imprimatur of at least three Church Doctors (Aquinas, Bellarmine, and St. Francis de Sales) and pertains to an essential difficulty, and this even against Protestantism in a time where there could have been some remnant of an episcopacy left.

    The question is whether this proposal gets around it:
    The real distinction I’m making is between succession via episcopacy and succession via some other mode of government. And in fact, there are several ways that Protestants could be in the basic track of the categories of the patristic argument about ministerial succession without adhering to episcopacy per se as the iure divino form of government. One would be to trace succession through presbyters rather than through bishops, especially by noting that the distinction between these two offices was a development and not an original institution of Christ or even the Apostolic or immediately post-Apostolic Church. Another would be to trace a succession of orthodox baptisms. In any case, the problem I see for the way “apostolic succession via de iure episcopacy” claims are usually made is that Paul himself noted that savage wolves would arise from within the episcopate. Also, the very substantial teaching of the Pastoral Epistles regarding the qualifications for leaders seem to indicate that it is conceivable that unorthodox and / or even ungodly men might find their way into the succession. What happens then? Is the injunction to obey our leaders absolute, even if our leaders are manifestly unorthodox? I don’t know what Orthodoxy would say, but I know that discounting the aberrations of the papalist system, the Western tradition as a whole would give a resounding “No!” to that proposition.

    I’ll take the latter suggestion first; I don’t think a “succession of baptism” is meaningful because there is no successive element in baptism. A non-Christian who intends to baptize according to the Christian ritual can baptize, even if he himself doesn’t believe in God. The minister of baptism is any person, so there can be no successive element by definition.

    As to whether there can be a presbyteral succession, I’d have to agree with Mr. McCallum entirely on this point. Presbyteral authority, divine authority in this context, is inseparable from liturgical authority. Regardless of whether one accepts the argument from silence that there was no presbyteral order separate from the episcopate, it remains utterly undeniable that only ministers ordained in succession from other ministers could preside over the Eucharist. That goes back to the Apostolic Fathers and the Didache; there’s simply no way around that one.

    To separate the authoritative and sacerdotal functions is untenable, and indeed, the rejection of the sacerdotal functions is essentially a denial of any sort of authority the Christian Church has ever seen. So even if one were to posit differences in polity (e.g., collegial or synodal rather than monarchial presbyterate), there’s no real question that the “who” of authority is the presider over the Eucharist, and indeed, that control over the Eucharistic communion is the most elemental foundation of authority in the Church.

    As to what happens when there are wolves among the episcopate, one could easily argue that the entire purpose of councils is to assemble those with authority so as to have them exercise their authority over Eucharistic communion for this purpose to separate the heterodox from the orthodox. Cut off from the nurturing communion of their fellow bishops, the heresies are pruned and die away from their lack of vitality. That is the *Biblical* prescription for heresy, as in 1 John, which was written specifically against the Gnostics: “If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live according to the truth; but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” (1 Jn. 1:6-7). Cf. 3 John 9-10 (Diotrephes denying John’s authority over communion and starting his own church by excommunication); Jude (especially the sacrificial overtones of vv. 11-12). The principle is unambigious in both Scripture and the Apostolic Fathers. The Eucharistic communion around those with apostolic authority is the nourishing and vital life of the Church, and that is explicitly affirmed in the great Fathers of the Councils, including Sts. Athanasius and Cyril.

    I think viewing my argument as a “Catholic versus Protestant” position has really missed the point. No matter how far back you go, there is Eucharistic authority invested only in particular people, and while they can lose that authority, there is no provision for gaining it outside of succession. Historically, if there was a doubtful Pope for whatever reasons (and it’s not as if antipopes are an unknown phenomenon in Church history), the way you resisted the authority was to have a substantial body of orthodox bishops refusing to commune with the antipope or to recognize his authority, then those bodies of bishops either worked it out or persisted in schism (see, e.g., Rome vis-a-vis the Eastern Orthodox Church). What you don’t see historically are random self-appointed gatherings with no bishops, or rather, you do seem them, but exclusively among the apostate and the heterodox. Even the Arians were upset at having been labelled Arians, as if they were servants of a “mere presbyter,” and they denied the divinity of Christ! And this was for good reason, since it seems to have been the normative approach all the way back to the Epistles of the New Testament.

    Moreover, I don’t see any divisions based on geography; the fact that there isn’t a real Western alternative wouldn’t excuse people who oppose papal authority from going East. But in the West, it looks far more like the Protestants simply didn’t have any interest in maintaining the episcopate or the sacramental orders, apart from some nominal adherence. There were plenty of Eastern bishops available who denied papal authority, but their theological opposition to those bishops kept them from allying with them, which looks to me more like a movement based on theological heresy than a sincere desire to maintain Christian authority distinct from the Pope.

    That’s a long-winded explanation of a simple patristic principle: where the Eucharistic priesthood is, there is the Church. The way to cut off heresies was to cut off their Eucharistic communion, in which case they will either die or (more likely) survive through mundane, political support without any spriritual core, since a world full of darkness is relatively good at sustaining all sorts of mistakes. That in no way makes the ones cut off somehow equivalent with the orthodox, any more than Diotrephes was equivalent with St. John because he founded his own Church. What matters is whether these Eucharistic communions bear the supernatural Life that is the Body of Christ and thus form one fellowship. In the case of the various organizational units of Protestantism, it seems clear they are not.

    • Tim Enloe says:

      Jonathan, thanks for the response. I, too, will need to mull this over for a bit before responding – if indeed I can respond. As has often happened in my discussions with you and others such as Perry, I fear we’re getting into a depth of waters that I have not yet been able to properly navigate for lack of sufficient time to get the basic “grammar” down well enough to really thoroughly follow the arguments. I’m not confessing utter ignorance, mind you, but just trying to keep in mind my limitations so that I don’t wind up doing the usual Protestant polemicizing thing about contrary claims that, if taken fairly, ought to be seen at least as rational and worthy of serious consideration.

  10. Jonathan,

    Your latest response is, I think, immensely helpful. If you would permit me to add some comments and historical data.

    First, Tübingen did in fact attempt ecumenical gestures to the Eastern Church. This took shape as a dialogue between Tübingen and Patriarch Jeremias II. Melancthon provided Patriarch Jeremias II a extremely “loose” translation of the Augsburg Confession which attempted to express Lutheran dogma in, as much as possible, Byzantine theological language. Although the dialogue was polite and an offer of union was extended (contingent on acceptance of apostolic dogma), it was terminated by the Orthodox due to the refusal of the Lutherans to accept the authority of tradition in six primary doctrines:
    1. free will / predestination
    2. justification
    3. sacraments
    4. the invocation of the saints
    5. monasticism
    6. filioque

    Second, I want to be clear that Orthodoxy does not reject the authority of the pope, only its jurisdiction. All of our ecumenical dialogue with Rome has agreed that, should Rome return to its old position of rejection of the filioque and renounce universal jurisdiction, we could enter communion with Rome as the ruling primate of an Orthodox-Catholic Church. The dispute over authority has always been over whether or not Rome can appoint or depose Eastern Patriarchs at will. We have always accepted Rome’s universal primacy and have never questioned the pope’s absolute authority (with the Roman Curia) within the churches under his rule.

    Third, I still have difficulty with scriptures as “law” which “requires a system of divine authority just as mundane law requires.” Is it not precisely this line of theologizing which permits the rampant simony and ordination of prince-bishops who have absolutely no ecclesiastic function which flourishes in the post-schism era in Western Europe? Further, is this not the intellectual justification for the German Kings (and Prussian prince-bishops) to take the interpretation of the scriptures into their own hands (Rome long supporting their divine right)? Perhaps I’m wrong. But it seems to me that the key to the episcopal office is the Eucharist, and that arguments from law or divine right reduce the bishops to lawyers or kings…

  11. Nathaniel:
    Thank you for your comments.
    As to your first point, I vaguely knew that there had been some such dialogue, but I didn’t know any specific details. Your comments in this regard are quite helpful.
    To the second point, I accept your correction, which is entirely fair. While it doesn’t much affect the substance of my response to Tim, it is an important reminder to present all of the relevant positions clearly so that later discussions aren’t confused.
    To the third point, what I mean to say by that is only that the Protestant concept of Scriptural authority is self-defeating, not that I would limit divine revelation in the same way. That is to say, if one were to take the authority of divine revelation in the manner that Whitaker does, Scripture alone would fail to be an adequate authority for the same reason that human positive law would fail to be an adequate authority without personal authority. But I would not myself reduce the concept of Scriptural authority to this sort of political analogy, nor the authority of bishops to juridical authority, but rather to affirm the real core of such authority is the presidency over the Eucharistic communion.

  12. Tim:
    On the grammar issue, there was a recent discussion in which someone mentioned a real contrast between the notion of faith as intellectual assent (assensus) that I am elucidating (per Aquinas) and a prevailing Protestant notion of faith as a combination of notitia, assensus, and fiducia. St. Thomas means by the knowledge of faith “primae veritatis notitia per fidem infusa,” and the question is how this “notitia” counts as knowledge from an Aristotelian perspective. From a Neoplatonic metaphysics, this could simply be some sort of infused knowledge or innate idea, but that is clearly NOT what Aquinas has in mind (and what Aquinas does have in mind is similar to Augustine and Bonaventure, but emphatically NOT the Platonic version of “innate ideas” endorsed by Calvin). I still don’t have my books unpacked, but thankfully, Google Books has an excerpt of Douglas C. Hall’s _The Trinity: an analysis of St. Thomas Aquinas’ “Expositio” of the “De Trinitate” of Boethius_ at pp. 49-53 that gives a nice summary, so that might help to get the idea across if it remains obscure from the relevant ideas of the Summa.

    The gist of my argument is that when St. Thomas says assensus, he means intellectual assent and not “trust” (fiducia) in any sense of the word, which would be a contradiction in terms from his perspective. The reason that assent is a matter of the will is in no sense because it is an act of trust, but results solely because the object of knowledge (First Truth) is beyond the comprehensive grasp of the intellect, so one has to accept God in pieces (articles), the wholeness of which in turn points beyond itself. These are articles that you know because God has made them available for you to know, not assertions that you trust because God has said them, which is a subtle but real difference.

    The closest mundane experience is sensory knowledge. You don’t merely trust your senses; you know for a fact that they are reporting on reality. You may have more or less certainty in your interpretation of sensory data (say, if a hallucinogen is in your system), but to say that you “trust” your senses is a misnomer. The difference is that with your senses, you have literally no choice about what comes in, but faith requires an act of will to steer the intellect so as to perceive that there is an authority behind certain actions and experiences that you sense.
    The fact that faith is intellectual assent rather than trust is reinforced at several points in the Summa, including the question in II-II of whether something false can come under faith (Q. 1, a. 3, RO 1): “Since the true is the good of the intellect, but not of the appetitive power, it follows that all virtues which perfect the intellect, exclude the false altogether, because it belongs to the nature of a virtue to bear relation to the good alone. On the other hand those virtues which perfect the appetitive faculty, do not entirely exclude the false, for it is possible to act in accordance with justice or temperance, while having a false opinion about what one is doing. Therefore, as faith perfects the intellect, whereas hope and charity perfect the appetitive part, the comparison between them fails.”

    Notably, faith precedes hope in the theological virtues (1 Cor. 13:13; II-II, Q.17, a. 7). If you lack knowledge of the object of your hope, then you cannot have hope; hence, faith is the substance of things hoped for (Hebr. 11:1). The logical order then is that you know by faith, which causes you to hope and to work for the end, which cause you to love others and God, i.e., faith perfected in charity. This is therefore the Catholic explanation of being saved by faith, not to combine the theological virtues so as to confuse trust (fidcuia) with faith when it more fittingly rests under hope, but to note this natural progression that is the perfection of what begins with faith. Hence, it is by grace not only to have faith ab initio but to be *saved* by faith (Eph. 2:8), since even the demons can have faith but not thereby be saved (Jas. 2:19). They assent to the divine authority in what has been revealed to them, but they reject it as good through an act of will, and so they fell (II-II, Q. 5).

    So while there is a perfectly good reason to speak of trusting in God BY faith, it is wrong to say that the trust IS faith. I think that might be where we have gotten crosswise with one another on passages like “Thy word is a lamp to my feet
    and a light to my path.” (Ps. 119:105; cf. 2 Tim. 3:14-17). Before the walk comes faith: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen…. And without faith it is impossible to please him. For whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. ” (Hebr. 11:1,6; cf. Jas. 1:3-4). To speak of trust before one speaks of knowledge (or as the basis of knowledge) is wrong-headed both from a Traditional and a Scriptural perspective. The knowledge in the Old Testament was limited as compared to those in Christ, of course, narrow, particular, and incomplete so that they did much knowing only a little. But the basic order of operations has not changed.

    Israel, for example, did not *trust* that God was One; they *believed* without any doubt that God is One, which is a different thing entirely. The order of the Shema reflects this; it begins with the sure proclamation of the God Who Is, and *then* proceeded to how they would therefore live.

    So I think the most basic point here is to remove all hint of trust from your concept of authority from the Catholic perspective. There is no concept of believing what someone says because of trust in who proclaims it; this is not that kind of authority. We do not believe in Scripture because it is the Word of God and God is trustworthy in His word, nor because it is “self-attesting,” which is a version of the same thing. Rather, we intellectually assent to the divine authority testifying to its inspiration as an article of faith. That is the only way one can have the sort of faith that St. James describes “with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways, will receive anything from the Lord” (Jas. 1:6-8). This admission of fiducia as a component of faith confesses doubt that one is trusting to overcome, and that doubt, that double-mindedness, is an obstacle to theological faith. It is akin to the Kantian act of will that introduces a false sort of distrust of the senses as compared to a priori knowledge.

    This is not to say that people do not encounter doubts as temptations; absolutely, they do. But temptations take their hold in the will, and what fails is not the certainty of the knowledge you have, but your affection for it as true. It’s not an intellectual doubt, not any reason or evidence you have for believing that what you believe is false. One might perhaps encounter an apparent difficulty, but the man of faith does not lose confidence on that account, since he expects that he will be able to resolve it with sufficient effort. It is something like the confidence one has in a well-confirmed scientific theory; one wouldn’t think to doubt it absent contrary evidence.

    That’s long again, but I think this work will be arduous if done seriously, so I don’t want to cut corners with it.

  13. Jonathan, thanks for your response. I think we are in substantial agreement.

    All, I just came across this interesting book which seems to compliment the hermeneutics we have been discussing. Now I just need to buy it. :)

  14. The one thing I have completely forgotten to mention in this discussion is the plain statement of Behr on the hermeneutics of the early Church: it is not the scriptures which are exegeted, but Christ.

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