The Orthodox Catholic

55916325FO018_popeThere are many in the Church who would use terms such as liberal Catholics or conservative Catholics.  But for me, these terms are not helpful.  What I want and hope to be is in line with the Church– to be orthodox.  Orthodox means right thinking, to have the heart and mind of the Church.  Orthodox is a term I think we must use today.  There used to be another word that we used–Catholic. Catholic means universal, but what is not often explained is that the word means universal in mission, but also universal in doctrine, right thinking. At one time, it was used to distinguish true believers, “Catholics,” against heretics. Because the word “Catholic” has become confusing with many wondering what type of Catholic you are and how you would define yourself, many might find the term “orthodox” as helpful– meaning you are in line with Church teaching and are open to correction if they error.

Orthodox is not conservative although it can be thought to be so from those on a more progressive or liberal perspective. It is not liberal although it can be thought to be so from some who are from a very conservative viewpoint. It is not a middle of the road position either as you might think using these political terms. Where is the middle between right and wrong? I am not suggesting that either conservative or liberal is right and the other wrong. Rather, I am suggesting that “right” is to think in line with the Church and “wrong” is to not. One cannot pick and choose what they will believe and what they will not believe, what they will hold true, and what they won’t. To that, the term “cafeteria Catholic” was coined. This is relativism and it runs rampant even among Catholics. Cardinal Ratzinger before he was elected Pope says of Relativism, “Whereas relativism, which is letting oneself be tossed and swept along by every wind of teaching, looks like the only attitude acceptable to today’s standards. We are moving towards a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything for certain and which has as its highest goal ones own ego and ones own desire.” A revolution of relativism has taken over our world and infiltrated our Church. It is this revolution that I am countering with another–orthodoxy. In my investigation into the Catholic Church I quickly learned that Catholicism is a package deal with one teaching affecting another and the way we pray affecting the way we live. As I recognized the relativism of the Protestant denominations, I read on the door of the Catholic Church that the “cafeteria is closed.”

Orthodoxy brings with it unity, freedom, and love. It brings with it a sense of comfort not having to rely on our own abilities to make up new doctrine or ways to express our devotion to God. Orthodoxy has a spirit of humbleness about it–not one of triumphitalism. How does one know they are in line with the teaching of the Church? Seems sort of arrogant to say as if we are saying, “We are right and you are not.” In a world of tolerance and non-judgmental attitudes for us to say we are in line with truth and believe rightly sounds rather pompous and egotistical. The reality is there is nothing brash or arrogant about it, but rather quite the opposite–it is really what it claims to be, poor in spirit. Because for instance we are open to correction, open to being wrong. Conforming our thoughts and opinions with that of the Church, not putting our own opinions above that of the Church’s. It truly is a self-emptying and at times a self-sacrifice. It is saying, “I must decrease and you must increase.” More than that, we seek to understand where we error so as to explain the faith it all its splendor. It is a recognition that we are sinners in need of guidance, direction, and healing. We find this in the arms of the Church–in orthodoxy. It is freeing, freeing us to get outside ourselves to serve and to go out to spread the good news in witness and word.

Orthodoxy is not stagnant, but rather adventurous. It is not passive, but dynamic. G.K. Chesterton in his book Orthodoxy remarks that it would be easy to go along with heresy after heresy in its history. “But to avoid them all has been one whirling adventure; and in my vision the heavenly chariot flies thundering through the ages, the dull heresies sprawling and prostrate, the wild truth reeling but erect.” We are in a boat, the Church that is often tossed about by the waves of thought never to be capsized.

Orthodoxy is focused on Christ and as such is closely associated with the Eucharist. Orthodoxy only is possible through the revelation of God fully expresssed in the person of Christ. The “source” of which orthodoxy draws its life is the Eucharist and the Eucharist is the summit of which orthodoxy points towards.

17 thoughts on “The Orthodox Catholic”

  1. Jason, this is excellent! It is true, good, and beautiful, and points toward truth, goodness, and beauty. As Aristotle observed, there cannot be both A and not-A. One is either orthodox or not. I look forward to re-reading this at leisure when I am not so hurried. Excellent post. Thank you!

  2. Hello Jason,

    A very beeautiful and professional blog. I look forward to pouring myself a cup of tea and reading it more thoroughly. I want to forward it onto our BHM board apostolate.

    Thank you for taking the time. You are a man of many talents. Thank you for placing them in the service of the King.


  3. Brother, I commend you for probing this topic. Orthodoxy and what is orthodox is certainly a matter that is worthy of careful, sustained consideration. The question that I have for you is this: How do we know what orthodoxy or right thinking in the matters of God is? I agree that there is something called orthodoxy and that it is precious and to be striven after. What I respectfully and humbly dispute is how you define it.
    In every endeavor for truth we inevitably come to the place where we must select the basic criteria for truth to which we will submit all of our thinking. And because these basic assumptions, these presuppositions are foundational to the entire edifice, we must select them very, very carefully. If we do not, we will inevitably wander off into error.
    This is why I find it so disconcerting that, instead of submitting to Holy Scripture as the final authority, you have elected to make the traditions of a certain body your standard. You will say, “But the scripture requires external confirmation or ratification by the church so that we can know for sure what scripture is and means.” (This is like me saying that Jesus was not Lord until his sovereignty was authenticated and ratified by the church. But there is a difference between recognition and validation!) But how can you not see that this is only moves the question of final authority one step back? If scripture derives its authenticity and authority from a group of men, then from what external source do these men derive their authority? (In other words, making Rome your ultimate authority because Rome says so doesn’t really solve the question of final authority.)
    We need presuppositions, ultimate criteria for truth and a final authority, and choose them we must. But this is a matter of extreme importance. To be sure, while the truth of God is infallible, all human choices are fallible, even our choice of what to make our final authority. May God give us the grace to choose well.
    You may think that it is a good thing to say “I don’t have to struggle with questions of canon or doctrine, Rome tells me just what to believe.” But this doesn’t guard you from the possibility of error. In effect what you have done is concentrated all of the small fallible decisions a non-catholic has to make into one enormous fallible decision – to make Rome your final authority. (And I think that I could make a great case that blindly trusting Rome has constituted a grave error numberless times throughout history)
    Is it not, I ask, infinitely wiser to see that God, who is the Lord of history, has, through his providence, vouchsafed to his people enscripturated revelation that is self-attesting and self-authenticating? Is it not immeasurably better to put our humble trust in words that are God-breathed and have the testimony of the Holy Spirit as their chief and infallible witness?
    I am not just trying to be contentious. The reason that I ask is this: With deepest sincerity, I do not believe that you can take the words of the apostles (read in context and with even a modicum of fairness) and arrive at the mass of dogmatic pronouncements that have been bound upon the consciences of men by the Catholic Church on pain of anathema.
    Let me ask you this: How can you distinguish between a perversion of the gospel over time and the true gospel? If there is an infallible list of all of the traditions that I need in order to understand the gospel, where can I find that list? I guess I don’t understand. The catholic church is either claiming to have a source of fresh revelation it may draw upon throughout history or some enigmatic, unknown body of alleged apostolic traditions that is utterly invisible until a dogma is proclaimed. And in the end we are left with a lot of things that the scripture knows nothing of and which, to all appearances, constitute uber-serious distortions of the gospel. (Just read the council of Trent some time and then read, I don’t know, Romans or Galatians).
    In all this I am not for a moment suggesting that the world is not full of all kinds of rank Protestant silliness. Let the record show that I am an equal opportunity critic. We have our wing-nut televangelists and screw-ball fundamentalists (which I mourn every living day), and you have apparitions in burnt toast and basically everything that happens in South America. True apostolic succession is teaching and indeed believing what the apostles taught. I don’t care if you are Catholic, Protestant or Druid; if what you teach and believe deviates from the teachings of Christ and the apostles, you have embraced error. The authority and indeed orthodoxy of any Church can only be measured by her fidelity to the words of God himself. In the words of Paul:
    “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!” (Galatians 1:8)
    On a slightly less sober note, I leave you to ponder the words of Augustine:
    What more shall I teach you than what we read in the apostle? For Holy Scripture fixes the rule for our doctrine, lest we dare to be wiser than we ought. Therefore I should not teach you anything else except to expound to you the words of the Teacher. (De bono viduitatis, 2)
    Neither dare one agree with catholic bishops if by chance they err
    in anything, with the result that their opinion is against the
    canonical Scriptures of God (De unitate ecclesiae, 10).
    Jason, I hope you will accept some wounds from a friend (Proverbs 27:6) God bless you, man; I love your passion, but you must check your moorings.

    1. Josh, This is exactly what I was hoping for with this blog, spirited dialogue. Your comments will help me sharpen my explanation of the topic at hand. In reading your comments, I definately think there are points that my post was misunderstood or I wasn’t clear, and of course, there are points where you and I are going to disagree and perhaps strongly so.

      Unfortunately, I will be leaving on a trip and will not be back until Monday of next week so a full response from me will have to wait until next week. I wanted to let you know so that you do think I have ignored or left alone the comments you shared. In the meantime, I would encourage others to join in on the conversation and let’s keep this dialogue going. Excellent!

    2. Josh, I enjoyed reading your response to Jason. I would like to respond to some of what you said. I will try to be as organized and clear as I can. Please, feel free to continue this dialogue, as well. (As a quick note, forgive me for the few sentences that I have written in all caps. I cannot do italics, but thought that they are worth emphasizing.)

      In your response, you said: “If scripture derives its authenticity and authority from a group of men, then from what external source do these men derive their authority? (In other words, making Rome your ultimate authority because Rome says so doesn’t really solve the question of final authority.)” There is a lot of truth here. I am anything but a constructivist. I do not think one has authority because they simply say he does, or even that a society agrees that he does. In other words, I think that one has authority if it is objectively true, that by nature they do have their authority. To explain this in a way I don’t think will be controversial at all: I think we both can agree that Jesus Christ does not have authority simply because He says that he does; contrarily Jesus Christ has authority because of who He really is. I hope the difference is clear. I want to bring this up because I do not believe that Rome has “ultimate authority because Rome says so”. Now, I do believe that Rome does in fact have authority—but, again, not because they say so. I believe that Rome has authority by the very nature of the organic development of the Church.

      Irenaeus, an early Christian Father (d.c. 202), writes (he is writing about the apostles and the succession within the Church, arguing against heretics—here, the Gnostics): “It would be too tedious…to go through the succession lists of all the Churches. We shall, therefore, take just one, the greatest, most ancient Church, the Church known to all, the Church founded and established in Rome…By showing that the tradition which she received from the apostles, the faith which she proclaims to men, has com down to us through the succession of bishops, we confute all those who, in whatever manner,…set up conventicles. WITH THIS CHURCH, BECAUSE OF ITS MORE EXCELLENT ORIGIN, EVERY CHURCH (in other words, the faithful everywhere) MUST AGREE.” [After this, Irenaeus documents the uninterrupted succession of the 12 bishops from Peter to Eleutherus.] “This is a most complete proof of the unity and identity of the life-giving faith, which has been preserved in the Church from the apostles until now and handed down in truth.” “With such proofs as these, we do not need to seek the truth elsewhere; it is easy to obtain it from the Church. In the most thorough way, the apostles have amassed in the Church, as in a treasure chest, all that pertains to the truth.” [“The Scandal of the Incarnations: Irenaeus Against the Heresies”, Trans. by John Saward (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1990)]

      St. Clement of Alexandria (d. 215): “For neither prophecy nor the Savior Himself announced the divine mysteries simply so that they could be easily apprehended by everyone. They spoke, instead, in parables. The Apostles say that the Lord told all things ‘to the crowds in parables; indeed he said nothing to them without a parable’ (Mt 13:34)…”All [things are] straight,’ says the Scripture, ‘to him who understands’ (Prov 8:9)—that is, to those who receive and observe, ACCORDING TO THE CHURCH’S RULE, the interpretation of the Scriptures explained by Him. [This and following quotes taken from: Mike Aquilina, “The Fathers of the Church: An Introduction to the First Christian Teachers” (Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor, 2006)]

      Saint Melio of Sardis (d.c. 180) calls the Church the “reservoir of truth” in his “Peri Pascha”.

      Saint Clement of Rome (Bishop of Rome 88-97) writes about the order within the Church in his letter to the Corinthians: “The Apostles preached the Gospel to us from the Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus Christ has done so from God. Christ therefore was sent forth by God, and the Apostles by Christ…And thus preaching through countries and cities, they appointed…bishops and deacons.” Regarding this letter, I would like to mention one more aspect. In the text of this letter, “we see the Church of Rome intervening in a controversy in a faraway church in Greece. Clement speaks from a position of authority and does not hesitate to demand obedience: ‘But should any disobey what has been said by [God] through us, let them understand that they will entangle themselves in transgression and no small danger.’ A century later, Clement’s letter was still read alound on feast days in the Corinthian church. In the fourth century, the historian Eusebius attested that St. Clement’s letter was read in many churches throughout the ancient Near East.

      Saint Ignatius of Antioch writes similarly (d.c. 107): “See that you follow the bishop, even as Christ Jesus does the Father, and the priests as you would the Apostles…Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop.” In fact, Ignatius was the first to coin the word “catholic” to describe the Church: “[W]herever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.”

      Why do I bring these early Christians up? All of them were alive before the New Testament Canon was put together in 393. However, surely theology existed before then? Surely authenticity existed before the official Canon of the Bible was established? Surely Christianity existed? My answer to these three question I pose is an emphatic ‘Yes, theology, authenticity, and especially Christianity existed before 393!’ The historical roots of the Christian Church of which Christ laid the stones for in His preaching, life, and Paschal Mystery, point to a certain understanding of succession and unity. In addition, the early Christians seem to place a strong emphasis on hierarchy, and specifically on the Church in Rome. As an added note: no where in Scripture does it say anything about ‘Scripture alone’, or the importance of adhering to sacred scripture alone without other aids. On the contrary, there are verses that say quite the opposite (cf.1 Cor 11:2, 2 Thess. 2:15). It even calls the Church of the living God “the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15).

      In your response, you said: “Is it not, I ask, infinitely wiser to see that God, who is the Lord of history, has, through his providence, vouchsafed to his people enscripturated revelation that is self-attesting and self-authenticating.” I am not entirely sure what you mean when you say that Scripture is self-attesting and self-authenticating. It wasn’t magically put-together; nor did it fall from the sky with God’s signature on it. It was put together by sinful men. Now, I do not mean to dismiss Scripture one iota. Scripture is the Dei Verbum. In fact, I would certainly argue that it is impossible for one to be orthodox and not be at all familiar with Scripture. The Bible must be read. As the Second Council of Orange, First, and Second Vatican Council (cf. Dei Verbum, 25) has declared: “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.” Without a doubt, the Bible is sacred. However, as Clement of Alexandria stated (quoted above), Scripture is quite difficult to understand. It seems almost necessary to me that there needs to be some degree of definitive interpretation. Given the organic development of the Church, and the unbroken chain of the early Church’s history and her writings, it is quite clear the authority of Rome. Also, it is important to understand that the Church is not in competition with the Bible. Your question seems to draw that conclusion, such an implication is untrue.

      Also in your response, you mentioned the Council of Trent. I am not sure the issue that you have with it. Just in Session 6 of the Council, in the Decree on Justification, the document sites Scripture 113 times (compared to other sources that together are cited only 14 times). Moreover, it specifically cites Romans and Galatians 24 times.

      Forgive me for such a long response. I am sorry, too, if it is at all confusing to read. I would love to continue this dialogue, and with the input of others too!
      Peace and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

  4. Tommy, thanks for taking the time to contribute to the discussion. I look forward to weighing what you’ve said and responding when I have a moment. (Hopefully sooner than later) Blessings.

  5. Dear Josh,

    Wow!!! What a great post! I am so thankful for you brother! I wish I could have you come in and speak to my classes. Sometimes we take things for granted and it can be difficult understanding how others can possibly disagree with us. I know this is the case with some of my students, and at times with myself as well. Your post is a good and welcome wake up call. In all honesty, I found it quite refreshing, especially your line, “In effect what you have done is concentrated all of the small fallible decisions a non-Catholic has to make into one enormous fallible decision – to make Rome your final authority.” Of course I disagree with you here, but I found that line SO very refreshing because it gets at the heart of the matter. You understand with great clarity what’s at stake in this discussion, and you highlight so eloquently the situation, if in fact the Catholic Church is wrong regarding its claims to authority. If it’s wrong, then you are dead right that it’s one “enormous” fallible decision…..actually, we probably should make it stronger since a fallible decision can still be a correct one, it’s just not guaranteed to be correct….we should probably say, that if the Catholic Church is wrong here, it’s not just an “enormous fallible decision” but a blatantly wrong decision. In fact, I’d be comfortable with saying it would be demonic. Anyway, I really appreciated your post.

    Since Jason is traveling right now, I thought I’d post a response. The difficulty I’m finding is that you bring up (often explicitly, but sometimes just implicitly) SO MANY really important issues. Whole books could be written (and have been written!!!) responding to similar comments. So obviously I’m going to fail miserably in attempting at any reasonable response. I hope I can at least be clear (I know that’s asking for a lot), and I hope I can be charitable (hopefully less difficult, but we’ll see). I doubt there’s any way I can write only the few words necessary. I’m just not sure what those few words would be, and let’s face it, it’s easier to write more when one is pressed for time, and I simply don’t have the time right now to rush off a response and chop it down.

    First, in Jason’s defense, I think his post was more of an “in-house”-type post focusing on the internal debates raging in the Catholic Church, particularly (although not exclusively) in the U.S. concerning whether or not to be truly Catholic one must be “liberal” or “conservative.” For my part, I thought he did a good job on this front. At the same time, I’m glad you pushed us [I say “us” because the claims you make regarding “moorings” etc. relate to all four of us equally]. The issue of authority is extremely important, and in fact, I think all the issues dividing Protestants and Catholics (and the Orthodox for that matter, although it’s different issue about authority, not simply the papacy but also the authority of the early Councils [including their canons] and the issue of doctrinal development), come down to the issue of authority. From the Catholic side, a very good readable book on this topic written for a popular audience is Mark P. Shea, By What Authority?: An Evangelical Discovers Catholic Tradition (Huntington, Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor, 1996), available on Amazon:

    Ok, now on to the meatier things. You ask how we know what orthodoxy is? That is the 24$ question….ok, so it’s more important than $24, but you get the point. I actually have a future post already written which I’m sure Ryan has already placed a release date on that addresses these issues and the matter of Sola Scriptura, but to be honest, Tommy’s response above covers the same territory (actually, his response is much deeper and broader than my future post!!! Thanks Tommy, in all sincerity! I appreciate especially your citations from the Fathers, I don’t have all of those quotations at my fingertips, so I appreciate your assistance on this matter). Anyway, I know that my post will be inadequate, but this really is the heart of the matter, at least the intellectual heart. I echo Tommy. I believe the Bible tells us that God has other plans than simply making the Bible the final authority…..more on this below (as well as in the future post). As an aside, I think Jaroslav Pelikan’s quotation here is interesting (which he wrote while still a Lutheran before he became Romanian Orthodox): “Despite their protestations of ‘sola Scriptura,’ the Reformers showed that the ‘Scriptura’ has never been ‘sola’” [Reformation of Church and Dogma (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984), vii]. Of course, Peter Candler mentioned in an obscure footnote in his great book, Theology, Rhetoric, Manuduction, or Reading Scripture Together on the Path to God (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2006), that the great Protestant scholar of the Reformation, David Steinmetz, has said that the actual phrase “Sola Scriptura” is absent from the 16th century Reformation and does not actually occur until the following century. Having read far less than Dr. Steinmetz, I can’t speak to 16th century Reformation literature in general (giants like him and Pelikan and Obermann can), but I can concede that I can’t actually find the phrase in 16th century literature. Regardless, I will concede the phrase does capture something I think implied in much of the early post-excommunication Luther (although not the later Luther I would argue), and of course Calvin, Bucer, Zwingli, and others.

    Josh, I applaud your warning that we must be very careful in selecting fundamental presuppositions. This is so true, and it is true for us Catholics as well as for non-Catholics. You state that, “instead of submitting to Holy Scripture as the final authority, you have elected to make the traditions of a certain body your standard.” On its face, this is true, but it needs to be qualified. Nowhere in Holy Scripture does it state (or even imply, I would argue) that Holy Scripture is the final authority. I hope that by the end of my long series of posts on the papacy (4 or 5 are already complete, although only the first two are posted, and we’re not even in the New Testament yet, that’s when it really gets exciting…at least for me!), a more compelling case for this can be made. We could go lots of places with this. We would all do well to read over all of the biblical verses Tommy cited. One he cited, but didn’t quote, is 2 Thessalonians 2:15, “So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us” (NASB). It would be interesting to do a word study on the “word of God” in the Book of Acts for instance. You’ll find that most often this phrase refers to the oral preaching of the apostles and not written Scriptures. And just because the NT was not completely written nor canonized at this point, didn’t mean that there were no Scriptures to be considered the “word of God.” In fact, when 2 Timothy 3:16 mentions that, “All Scripture is God-breathed” (NIV), it’s probably (at least in St. Paul’s mind) referring to the OT, since not all of the NT books would have been written (nor canonized) yet. I could go on, but it’s a sobering thought that, as far as the NT witness is concerned, Jesus never instructed any of His apostles to write any Scripture. He did, however, found a church and instruct His disciples to preach and teach. Almost as sobering might be the banal fact that few of His 12 apostles actually wrote any Scripture, and of what they wrote, it was only a minority of the books that we find in the NT. I guess I have only implicitly addressed the second part of your comment here, “you have elected to make the traditions of a certain body your standard.” Amen. We believe that it’s the Body of Christ that we have made our standard, but obviously you won’t be satisfied by such an easy jibe (although I am being serious). The point is that the community Jesus sets up is the church. As I think one of my posts on the papacy mentions, I think the background to this word “church,” ekklesia, is better sought in the Greek Septuagint (LXX) translation of the OT than in non-Jewish Greek literature. And thus, I think the Hebrew concept of qahal, which had a hierarchical structure, is closer to what’s going on than to the Greek “assembly” (although even such voting assemblies had a form of hierarchy). The hierarchy of this community have the ability to “bind” and “loose” (Matthew 18:18). And as Tommy mentioned, and as my later post mentions, the Church is identified as the pillar and foundation (NIV) of truth (1 Tim. 3:15).

    You seem to say that Jason would respond to you with, “the Scripture requires external confirmation or ratification by the church so that we can know for sure what scripture is and means.” You then have a great comparison to Jesus being Lord. Much later you imply that Scriptures are self-authenticating and self-attesting. This is bound up with complexities. Where to begin? Where to end? Hmmm….how about I just focus real Christians who were not bishops in the early centuries. You see, until the Reformation, Scriptures were too expensive for average Christians to own…even during the Reformation it was not common to own Bibles. Most Christians encountered Scripture orally (or visually) when they gathered for communal worship. So the Scriptures were self-authenticating for whom????? Average Christians who heard Scriptures read during regular worship? They didn’t hear all of the Scriptures. Oh, and does this self authentication work for any translation of Scripture, or only the original autographs, or only the original languages, or what? Do you really think that it’s clear that the following is inspired by God? “There she lusted after her lovers, whose genitals were like those of donkeys and whose emission was like that of horses” (Ezekiel 23:20, NIV). If it wasn’t found in a bound and labeled Bible, would your average Christian filled with the Spirit really be able to tell you that was inspired by God? What about bad translations? Could bad translations obscure the alleged self-authenticating power of Scripture? Or, do you really even have to understand the Scriptures for them to be self-authenticating? I know one individual who claims that you don’t even have to understand the passage, you simply have to read it (or simply look at it) or hear it read, in any translation, with any variant readings, in any transliteration, and the Spirit of God will give you a burning sensation in your bosom. They would claim that they would know the following was inspired by God: “vataigivah al pilagshishayhem asher bisar-chamoriym bisaram vizimat susim zirmatam.” Of course this is the same verse in Hebrew…..or is it? Of course, to complicate matters I transliterated very loosely, moreover, I did so following a Sephardic pronunciation, and moreover, was purposely inconsistent with vowel transliteration, and purposely deceptive with consonantal transliteration (although I did follow a loose Sephardic transliteration keep an eye to where a dagesh was present or absent in consonants). I’m not even sure what it would look like for Scriptures to be self-authenticating. Would a good test be with someone new to the faith, who just accepted Jesus Christ into their life (or was baptized, depending on your view of baptism), who had absolutely no prior knowledge about the Bible, and then reading to them from printed out pages to see if they would recognize Leviticus as Scripture or not? Or from other ancient Near Eastern Literature? Read through Wisdom of Solomon 2:12-20, which most Protestants do not consider inspired by God: It’s hard for me to imagine any evangelical Christian reading that passage, if they didn’t know where it came from, and if they didn’t have a strong command of the OT, and not seeing it as prophetic. In simpler terms, when I’ve read that to many of my evangelical friends, they assume it comes from the Psalms or the Book of Isaiah, and they are shocked to find out it comes from a biblical book that is not considered biblical by most evangelicals. Moreover, if the Scriptures are so clearly self-authenticating, then why did the early bishops in the early church struggle with this so much? Were none of them Christian until the time of St. Augustine? Why did St. Athanasius, the great defender of the dogma of the Trinity at the First Council of Nicaea, and the first that we know of to officially include all 27 NT books we share in common as NT Scripture (in his 39th Festal Letter of 367 A.D.), fail to recognize that the Book of Esther is Scripture? He did recognize that Wisdom of Solomon was Scripture. The biblical canonization process was long and arduous. The debates concerning exactly in what way Jesus is God and in what way He is also human, and how that works, was very difficult. I intend to do several blogposts (a whole series) on the canonization process at some point in the future. So don’t worry, we’ll come back to this topic. I would agree with you, though, that the Gospel of St. Matthew was inspired by God before it was formally canonized (which formal process was not concluded until the Council of Trent in 1546 during its fourth session). The important point is that we would never have known for sure without it’s faithful use in the Church’s Liturgy, and the formal canonization process which culminated with Trent. [I should make clear, though, that the Four Gospels were agreed upon fairly early….the real debates which lasted to the end of the fourth century centered more on books like Hebrews, Jude, 2 and 3 John, the Book of Revelation]. One last question on this one: If the Scriptures are so self-authenticating, why was it that Martin Luther couldn’t realize the Books of Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation belonged in the Bible? Why was it that the great Swiss Protestant Reformer Zwingli, like Luther, couldn’t recognize that the Book of Revelation belonged in the Bible? How about Calvin, whose doubts about the canonical status of Revelation can be gauged in the fact that he never bothered writing a biblical commentary on it? The late, and great, Protestant NT scholar Bruce M. Metzger’s classic text, The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987) is one of the best scholarly works on the complexities involved in the history of the canonization process of the NT, available on Amazon: I’d also recommend reading the fine scholarly essays in Lee M. McDonald and James A. Sanders, ed., The Canon Debate (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson, 2002), for the full complexities of the scholarly debates concerning both OT and NT canonization processes, from a range of scholars from a variety of Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish backgrounds, also available from Amazon: For those not so academically inclined, the charts at the back of the Protestant scholar Lee M. McDonald’s fine book, The Formation of the Christian Canon (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson, 1995), are absolutely fantastic for showing which books were in included for which Church Fathers and early Councils and early canon lists, also available from Amazon: There is quite a large body of literature on this topic, but these are some good classic standards. There are lots of other good ones. More on this in later posts.

    You write that the “truth of God is infallible,” but that “all human choices are fallible.” Amen!!! However, does this mean that when St. Paul chose the words he chose when writing 2 Tim. 3:16 that he could have chosen the wrong words? Could he have been wrong when he chose to write that all Scripture (funny he didn’t say “only”) is God-breathed? No? Is that because God, Who is infallible, used a fallible human to write infallibly? Could not God also use fallible humans to make infallible decisions? He sure seems to throughout Scripture (Matt. 16:16-17); as he does with some of their oral teachings (1 Thessalonians 2:13). Again, more on this in subsequent posts, especially in my posts on the papacy regarding Matthew 16 and Acts.

    You seem to think that Shanks might say, “I don’t have to struggle with questions of canon or doctrine, Rome tells me just what to believe.” Well, it’s a bit more complicated than that. But your basic point is true in some sense. As Catholics, we do not have to question whether the Bible is the inspired Word of God or not, the Church has spoken, it is. As Catholics we don’t have to question whether or not Jesus is fully God and fully human, the Church has spoken, He is. As Catholics we don’t have to question whether there is only one God, or whether there are two Gods, or whether there are three Gods, we can know that there is only one God, and that this one God is Triune. As Catholics we don’t have to question whether or not the Gospel of St. Luke belongs in the Bible, even though St. Luke was not an apostle nor was he an eyewitness. This is true, but it’s because we believe that Jesus’ promise to remain with His 11 disciples that He would be with them always, to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20), that this goes for the Church, not simply the invisible body of believers, but also the historical visible successors to the apostles. I’m sure we’ll have a lot more on apostolic succession, the role of Councils, etc. in later posts. At the same time, you are correct that we can still make errors, in fact, lots of errors on a lot of matters. God continues to guide His Church.

    You write, “And I think that I could make a great case that blindly trusting Rome has constituted a grave error numberless times throughout history.” Depending on what you mean by this and by what examples you mean, I’d have to agree. But I’d hardly call the complete abandonment to following Jesus blind trust in Jesus. My trust in Jesus is not blind. At my best moments my eyes are wide open and I know in Whom I’m placing my trust. At my worse moments I’m not trusting Jesus at all. The papacy is clearly different, but I believe there is a connection, one that is biblical, historical, logical, spiritual, beautiful, and true. Of course, some popes have been more like the apostle Judas than they have been like Jesus. Some of have been more like the Peter before Jesus’ resurrection than the Peter after Jesus’ resurrection. Actually, when you look at the history and corruption in the Church throughout history, sometimes it’s pretty amazing it has lasted so long. How long did the Roman Empire last? How long has any nation lasted? The Catholic Church has lasted quite a long time, even if you want to date its origins late in the early medieval period, or in late antiquity. Actually, I bet you I could give you a run for your money by showing corruptions and other such evils throughout the history of the Catholic Church [although I would be interested sometime in seeing your list].

    You write, “I do not believe that you can take the words of the apostles (read in context and with even a modicum of fairness) and arrive at the mass of dogmatic pronouncements that have been bound upon the consciences of men by the Catholic Church on pain of anathema.” I’d be interested in knowing specifically what dogmatic pronouncements you’re speaking of. We do intend to go through the biblical basis for Papal dogmas (which I’m in the early stages of doing as we speak), Marian dogmas, dogmas concerning the Sacraments, etc. Hopefully this will be interesting. Of course, little if any of it will be new. There is a score of very good literature out there by an increasing number of Catholics, many of whom are converts (or reverts) who were educated at Protestant seminaries, who do a far better job than I could ever do explaining these teachings and their biblical roots. They simply know the Bible and the Church’s tradition better than me, and are better at communicating it. But, I’ll do my best to site some of it in my bibliographies.

    How can we distinguish between a perversion of the gospel over time and the true gospel? That’s an important question. How did the early Christians know that St. John’s Gospel wasn’t a perversion of the true Gospel? Lot’s of Gnostics loved St. John’s Gospel. I mean, what do you do with all that stuff in John 6 about eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking His blood? This may not be a problem for you, but it was for Zwingli in his debates with Luther over the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. You see, they didn’t accept the authority of the Fourth Lateran Council. It wasn’t simply that the early Fathers thought St. John’s Gospel was self-authenticating….in fact, I’m not sure if that idea dates much earlier than Calvin, but I could be very mistaken on this matter. The NT documents conformed to the traditions that the Apostles passed on to the early church, the NT documents followed the Rule of Faith, and were guaranteed by historical apostolic succession, clearly described explicitly as early as the second century. On these and related matters, I can recommend no finer book giving us an erudite and yet highly readable glimpse into the earliest Christians after the New Testament, than Robert Wilken’s The Spirit of Early Christian Thought: Seeking the Face of God (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003). Wilken is one of the world’s foremost living authorities on the earliest Christians, and this book is absolutely beautiful. It’s so cheap ($12.92) on Amazon it’s almost a sin not to buy this….in fact, Josh, if you send me an e-mail, I’ll buy you a copy: This is by far the best book on early post-NT Christianity that I have ever read. Of course Pelikan’s The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1975) is right up there. Interestingly, both Wilken and Pelikan were ordained Lutheran ministers who earned their Ph.D.’s in Church history at the University of Chicago. Pelikan became Romanian Orthodox and Wilken became Roman Catholic. The length of my post is by now obscene, but it’s so late, and I’m getting giddy with tiredness (is that even a word) that I continue……….Jason, this is all your fault! [in more ways than one ]

    Catholic Church has some “fresh revelation” ….it sure does, it’s always fresh, it’s just not new. You seem to think that these dogmas are invisible until they’re defined? What like papal infallibility which was only defined in 1870, but which was hotly debated at least as far back as the early 14th century, and I think, as I hope to show, can be seen in seed form in Scripture. What like the Assumption of Mary which was only defined in 1950, but which even Martin Luther believed. In fact, Luther’s Sermon on the Feast of the Assumption of Mary, which he preached the year after he was excommunicated, is one of the most moving sermons I’ve ever heard on the dogma that was not at that time yet a dogma. In fact, the feast of the Assumption of Mary was celebrated at least as early as the 6th century. How about Mary’s Immaculate Conception, defined in 1854? Is this another one of those “invisible” dogmas? Luther himself held to the Immaculate Conception, even after his excommunication, for example in his Sermon on the Day of the Conception of the Mother of God, delivered 6 years after his excommunication, where he writes, “It is a sweet and pious belief that the infusion of Mary’s soul was effected without original sin; so that in the very infusion of her soul she was also purified from original sin and adorned with God’s gifts, receiving a pure soul infused by God, thus from the first moment she began to live she was free from all sin.” This is not from the Catholic Luther, but from the Protestant Luther. Of course, since this teaching was not a dogma yet, he could have disagreed with it and still been a faithful Catholic (even though in error had he disagreed with it). Oh, and St. Augustine, the most important figure since St. Paul in developing an understanding of Original Sin, also exempted Mary from Original Sin……Hmmmmmm, and, come to think of it, even before St. Augustine, and in the East, where there is and was no clear concept of Original Sin to exempt Mary from, there was the long-standing the belief that she was all pure and sinless (e.g., St. Ephrem the Syrian). I could go on. Why don’t you pick an “invisible” dogma and I’ll do my best to show it’s visibility. I’m not trying to be ornery, but the issue of doctrinal development is really important, and it’s actually complicated also. But I don’t think it’s accurate to call it “invisible” if by that you mean it popped out of the air, poof, like that. I think these are biblical too, and we’ll get to them in later posts, if I can ever finish this obscenely long post.

    Your comments on Trent are interesting, if obscure. I agree with Tommy that Trent uses Romans and Galatians, moreover, I think Trent gets Romans and Galatians better than Luther does. Have you read Trent’s Decree on Justification lately? Clearly there would be lots of areas for disagreement, but I think you’d actually like some of it….I think Luther, had he lived long enough, would actually have liked some of it (granted, not all of it). It’s available online, e.g.: I think you’d especially like Canon 1, the very first canon that anathematizes heretics: “If anyone says that a man can be justified before God by his own works, whether done by his own natural powers or through the teaching of the law, without divine grace through Jesus Christ, let him be anathema.” I think Luther would have liked that, and I think he would have also liked the fact that this is the first canon. I also think the phraseology here holds Romans 3 and James 2 together better than Luther did (especially since he thought James was an “epistle of straw” that should be burned in a furnace).

    If you can only read two secondary sources I site in this response, I would recommend Wilken’s book, and Richard White’s paper available online: His paper is entitled, “Sola Gratia, Solo Christo: The Roman Catholic Doctrine of Justification.” He wrote it while he was a Reformed evangelical Protestant getting his master’s degree at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, a paper he wrote for Dr. Harold Brown in a course on the Reformation. White eventually earned his Ph.D. at Marquette University, doing his dissertation on the Lutheran-Catholic Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, and entered the Catholic Church. He’s currently the Chair of the Theology Department at Benedictine College, that’s right, as in, he’s Biff’s Department Chair. It’s a really great paper. I’d also recommend taking a look at Francis Beckwith’s recent work, Return to Rome (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Brazos Press, 2008):, because his story includes a lot of responses to the issues you bring up. Dr. Beckwith, as you may know, is a philosophy professor at Baylor University, and he was the President for the Evangelical Theological Society in 2007 (following Edwin Yamauchi in that office), before stepping down mid-office because of the controversy surrounding his re-entrance into the Catholic Church.

    Ok, I could say more, but I’ve said, way, way, way, way too much, or too little with too much length? Oh, and I liked your quote of St. Augustine…..of course, in Against the Manichaeans he admits that, “For my part I should not believe the gospel except as moved by the authority of the Catholic Church” Also, using him for sola scriptura is not such a good move, since he considered all of the deuterocanonical books of the OT canonical, which most Protestants do not consider canonical. You see, he was an important bishop at both the Council of Hippo (393 AD) [which echoed the decisions of the Council of Rome in 382 AD] and the Third Council of Carthage (397 AD) [which echoed the decisions of Hippo], that represent the first time every book found in Protestant Bibles were witnessed in a canonical list——-of course, they also included the deuterocanonicals not found in most Protestant Bibles, but found in Catholic, Orthodox, and north African Jewish Bibles.

    Please forgive me for writing so much. If anyone reads all of this, then I’m impressed. I’m pretty sure I’m completely incoherent at this point. I would just scrap this whole thing and forget about posting, except that I’ve been writing uninterrupted now for too long. I hope none of this was offensive. If it is I beg the pardon of all. I need to go and get some work done before I crash.

    Josh, please keep the comments coming. I hope my verbosity doesn’t intimidate anyone. If anything it just shows I have a lot to learn about how to communicate better. If anyone reads even one of the sources I mentioned, I’ll take this as a successful post.

    All the best to all, in Christ,


  6. Wow. I can tell that I am going to have to quit my day job. What ever happened to the days when you could just nail 95 theses on the door of the village church and retire to your cell for the evening? I haven’t had time to read Jeff’s tome yet, but here are a few quick thoughts on what Tommy had to say:
    One thing that I would caution against is the kind of anachronism that says that every time an ancient writer says “the Church” or even “the Catholic Church” we are to read into that the full-blown modern Roman Catholic church as we find it in later ages. In other words “Church” or “Catholic Church” should not be read as a technical term that simply means “exactly what I and my church currently believe.” This would amount to simply assuming what you are setting out to prove. (Let the arguer beware: If you always begin with the assumption of what you intend to prove, you will always be sucessful, but the truth, which is stubborn will forever elude your grasp.) As far as this goes, I would say that I ( as a non-catholic in the current, narrow sense) have as much claim to what they are talking about there as any modern catholic (in the specific Roman sense). In fact, if I am right, I would have more.

    To your point regarding Irenaeus: As you indicate Irenaeus is here attempting to defend the true Christian faith from the destructive and heterodox teachings of the gnostics et al. He is trying to argue that the true church everywhere believes the things that were taught and believed by the apostles, what the Bible calls the faith once delivered to the saints. Whatever could he mean? He explicitly states what he is talking about in places like (Against Heresies X.1). The articles of faith he describes here (apostles creed kind of stuff) is the content of the faith that all true churches everywhere profess. If they do not, then they, like the gnostics and others who invent and introduce new and foreign doctrines, are not part of the true universal church.

    I might point out here that the beauty of what he is saying is that the essential core of orthodoxy is believed universally in all true churches. Unlike the gnostics who claimed to possess super-secret spiritual knowledge, the content of orthodoxy (which he summarizes) is such an open and published thing as to be universal. Now what I find fascinating and odd beyond degree is how those who lay claim to this deposit of truth say that they are only propounding what the apostles themselves taught. And yet we have real gems like the selling of indulgences and the bodily assumption of Mary that just appear as if out of nowhere as part of the (apparently long dormant and utterly secret) “apostolic teaching.” Are we really to believe that things of this kind are part of the teaching of the apostles if no one ancient or otherwise seemed to know about it until it was declared.
    (Theodoret got it right: “The doctrine of the Church should be proven, not announced; therefore show that the Scriptures teach these things.”)
    But, I digress. The point Irenaeus makes is a good one, and I do not dispute it. He is saying, “Look here you wild-eyed heretics, there there are churches in this world founded by the apostles themselves that know and teach and believe the truth that the apostles taught. All true churches believe the same core truths that were received from the apostles. Therefore enough with your crackpot gnostic fabrications.” And he is right. However, this in no way proves what you seem to think it proves. Irenaeus is saying, “Look there is a true church and a true faith in the world, so beware of independent upstarts with novel ideas of their own making.” But, do you really think that what he is saying here is that a church planted by the apostles is forever immune from apostasy or error? Of course he is saying that there are extant ancient churches that hold unswervingly to the core teachings of the faith. Of course. But are we to deduce from this that the church in Rome or any other church is forever immune from retrogression or adopting aberrant views. I think not. The very Churches of the New Testament, founded by Paul and others were anything but immune from error. This is why Paul instructed Timothy to guard his doctrine. For Pete’s sake, Peter himself had to be rebuked by Paul in Galatians when his actions seemed to be compromising, in the words of the text, “the truth of the gospel.” Paul even says if “we,” meaning himself, preach a gospel other than the true original, may he be accursed. (I am feeling the urge to delve into how the New Testament itself fails to substantiate and even debunks the alleged “Petrine Primacy”, but that is another post for another time).

    If one church is forever free from error how can you explain the decades during which it was “Athanasius contra mundum” during the Arian controversy? What do we do with Pope Honorius who was condemned by future councils and Popes as a heretic? (I know, I know, you will speculate that he was not really speaking ex cathedra when he agreed with the heretics.) Unless we just whitewash history and assume that it was all sunshine and lollipops, there is no end to the confusion that comes about by making the church the supreme authority. Let me provide you with a more contemporary and you be the judge:

    The Council of Florence – the 17th Ecumenical and consequently “infallible” Council of the Roman Catholic Church, states the following:

    Those not living within the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but also Jews and heretics and schismatics cannot become participants in eternal life, but will depart “into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels” [Matt. 25:41], unless before the end of life the same have been added to the flock; and that the unity of the ecclesiastical body is so strong that only to those remaining in it are the sacraments of the Church of benefit for salvation, and do fastings, almsgiving, and other functions of piety and exercises of Christian service produce eternal reward, and that no one, whatever almsgiving he has practiced, even if he has shed blood for the name of Christ, can be saved, unless he has remained in the bosom and unity of the Catholic Church.

    However section 841 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1993) says:

    The Church’s relationship with the Muslims. “The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind’s judge on the last day.”

    On September 9, 1998, this comes out of the Vatican:

    The Holy Father explained that in all authentic religious experiences, the most characteristic manifestation is prayer. … Every true prayer is inspired by the Holy Spirit, Who is mysteriously present in the heart of every person. Through the practice of what is good in their own religious traditions, and following the dictates of their consciences, members of other religions positively respond to God’s invitation and receive salvation in Jesus Christ, even though they may not recognize Him as their Savior.

    In a General audience on December 6, 2000 we get this:

    The Holy Father explained that in all authentic religious experiences, the most characteristic manifestation is prayer. … Every true prayer is inspired by the Holy Spirit, Who is mysteriously present in the heart of every person. Through the practice of what is good in their own religious traditions, and following the dictates of their consciences, members of other religions positively respond to God’s invitation and receive salvation in Jesus Christ, even though they may not recognize Him as their Savior.

    This is where the rubber meets the road for me. We can construct and deconstruct elaborate arguments for the supreme authority of the Roman Church ad infinitum and ad nauseam. The bottom line is that I do not find the voice of Rome either consistent or Biblical on many, many scores. I am persuaded that the scriptures are the only infallible rule of faith and life, but these guys leave much to be desired, to put it charitably. Somehow I think that if Irenaeus were alive today he would have a few choice words of his own on these matters.

    I have a lot more to say, but I will save some for a latter time. Blessings brothers.

    1. Josh, forgive me for not being able to respond adequately to your comment, as I am very busy and as this is finals weeks, do not have a lot of time on my hand.

      To being, I am not sure if I am exactly following what you are saying as a response to my comments. In fact, it seems like you begged what I tried to bring up. Nonetheless, your response does deserve attention, as you bring up good points. At one level, I feel like I can not respond sufficiently to some of your thoughts as I am not a well versed historian/theologian. Nonetheless a few points:

      Without a doubt, you are right that when the word “Church” is used, it is probably not talking about the Roman Catholic Church. However, it is clear that in those quotes that I used, and with an understanding of the early Church, that there was a clear emphasis on “church” (i.e., a church, a community, a congregation). The point is that these early Christian leaders understood the importance of an institution, of a community, and of hierarchy. Moreover, as the Church is living, it is necessary to understand it as organic, and so able to develop. Do not take this rudely, but it just seems awkward to me that if the Protestants really have it right, how did they develop 1500 years after the beginnings of the Church? On the contrary, I do think that as history proves, and especially with an understanding of the early Church, that the Catholic Church is what organically grew from the foundations that Christ laid.

      Regarding your comments about bad popes and inconsistency. (Again, I am not educated enough to respond sufficiently, but here is a couple of points nevertheless.) If any Catholic (specifically a Roman Catholic) has ever said that the those within the Church hierarchy have never done stupid things, then they are very ignorant, to be blunt. I think a much better understanding is that the Holy Spirit preserves the truth through means of an imperfect, human institution such that Christians know the truth of Jesus through the Church.

      In one of your statements you said: “But, do you really think that what he is saying here is that a church planted by the apostles is forever immune from apostasy or error?” To a certain degree, I do hope that the Church in which Christ laid the foundations for is immune from error. It seems like if not, then one must question why He didn’t do a better job. And I hope He didn’t leave Christianity up to individual interpretation of the Bible (implying that Christianity didn’t exist until the end of the 4th Century), which in turn causes tens of thousands of disagreements over objective issues. That said, you may respond that I admitted there have been errors within the Church hierarchy and common practices. However, God’s graces cannot contradict. He cannot make us perfect without us cooperating. Therefore, considering how everyone is sinful, issues, errors, and mistakes are bound to happen. But, even in the face of that, it only seems right that the Church of which Christ laid the foundations for is one that the Holy Spirit is able to work through and preserve truth within. This is the Church that I think the early Christians, early bishops, deacons, presbyters, theologians were talking about, and it has a organic component to it which means that it develops.

      Now, like I said, I really wish I could write more. However, time is limited. There is much more to be said to some of your thoughts (perhaps Morrow or one of the other authors can respond better than myself). But since we have already engaged in conversation, I wanted to continue, however inadequately or insufficiently.

      I have greatly enjoyed all of this. Peace and grace to you; and may the Eternal Author lead us into Truth! If I time to respond again–with more organization and source–I will for sure do so.

      1. Tommy, thanks for taking time to respond during finals week. Hope your testing goes well. I’m looking forward to continuing the conversation. I’ve appreciated your thoughtful comments so far.

  7. Josh, brother, you’re the greatest!!! I love you to death, and I think your insights are so important, and your criticisms might even be more important. Again I don’t know where to begin, but I know I don’t have the time at this moment.

    I will say that your statement, “In fact, if I am right, I would have more”—–is exactly right! You are completely correct. Obviously I don’t think you are, but your conclusion here is so important, and I am so glad you highlighted it.

    So much needs to be said. My largest obstacle to saying anything of substance here is that, as with your previous post, you bring up SO SO SO SO MANY MANY MANY issues, that it would take even longer than my previous post for someone as inadequate as myself to respond with even a modicum of attempted adequacy. I think it merits a response, but I need some time to pray about it first, and then see where to proceed. One confusion I think is that it seems you might think that we might think that there are no differences between the worldwide “orthodox” church of St. Augustine’s time and the Catholic Churches (Eastern and Western, or even just Western) of today. At least Ryan, Biff, Jason, and myself think no such thing.

    I think it might be possible that you have a different understanding of what the Roman Catholic Church claims about itself and its teachings [and clearly what the early church fathers thought] than we four do.

    Every point you bring up is so important, that I’m going to stop now, and I will spend time going through your post more carefully reflecting on what you’ve written, thinking through the issues, and praying before I attempt a response, which I know will be grossly inadequate.

    But you know what? I think I’ll risk responding again (unless Ryan, Biff, Jason, or some other wise council cautions me against it), because even if no one else reads our responses back-and-forth, you and I will be communicating on such weighty matters that are so close to my heart, and so often in my mind (as are you, dear brother). So, even while the other posts start coming out (which it seems my next one has already!!!!!!!!!! Gosh, I better find the time to write more posts!), we can continue this dialogue in the response boxes here.

    Nothing but love here for you bro.


  8. Thanks Jeff. I am finding this conversation really profitable. Of course you know that right now we are just planting the seeds. The harvest comes when in a few years when you, me, Biff, Jason and Ryan are all contributors to a retooled blog called Semper Reformanda. (I can joke like that now, because I know for sure that no one could possibly be reading the thread this far down without coming up for air.)

  9. Thanks again guys for all of the engaging comments. A couple points of clarification. Jeff I agree that my declaration that scripture is self-attesting and self-authenticating is somewhat confusing and over-simplistic. I don’t mean to say that it is necessarily always obvious that inspired scripture is what it claims to be. However, I think that we will all agree that there is a sense in which those who belong to Christ can recognize the voice of the true Shepherd, as he himself indicates in John. But you are right, my formulation of that concept needs work. I think that there is truth there, but I need to mull over how to best articulate what I’m trying to convey.

    On another note, I find the way you read 2 Thessalonians 2:15 fascinating. The implication you seem to be making is that they were given some kind of oral teaching that contains data not recorded in scripture. But, in fact, the preceding verse tells us what he was talking about – the gospel of Christ. They had the unique privilege of sitting under an apostle and he is saying “Hold on to what you have heard from me, both in writing and in person.” Do you really want to say that the Thessalonians had delivered to them the doctrines that you say I must believe to be in harmony with Rome? I cannot wrap my mind around what you mean by tradition. I agree that it is a useful idea if you want to have the freedom to introduce any manner of teaching at any time in history. It is just vague enough to fill with any kind of meaning. But, are you saying that everything that is currently taught by the Roman Church was passed on orally as ‘tradition’ by the apostles themselves to the early church? Do you believe that at some point the apostles taught the first believers about indulgences and the veneration of relics?

    And, to be clear, when I say ‘go back to the apostles’ I mean just that. I’m not asking if someone in the year 600 was talking about it. I am certain a lot of really dubious ideas cropped up right after the apostles left town, much less centuries later. The early church fathers believed all kinds of things that were mutually contradictory and are currently rejected by all sides. You can find a saying in the early fathers to support almost any kind of aberant view, if only in seed form. I think this is really just another example of anachronism skewing our view. We are making ‘tradition’ a technical term and taking a modern notion and reading it back into the text so that we can say, “See, here is where he is teaching them about Mary being the mediator of all graces and papal infallibility.”

    And Jeff, I agree with Jaroslav Pelikan that the Scriptura has never, in a certain sense, been Sola. No responsible theologian will claim that the ideal is scripture in isolation. They have a word for people who read the Bible in utter isolation and come up with private interpretations – heretics. Whenever I read the scriptures I want to do so in conversation with the community of believers throughout history. God, by the Spirit, certainly works in the Church, both in individuals and as a body. Nevertheless, what I am saying is that the scripture is the only infallible norm. All else, whether creed, confession, tradition or ecclesiastic authority is inferior and subject to correction by scriptural revelation.

    Is our understanding of scripture free of error? No. Very often individuals and entire communities lose their way. Sometimes even the great majority do so (As with O.T. Israel, as during the Arian controversy, as when Luther had to emerge and, compelled by the scriptures, say “Here I stand, I can do no other.” (Not that he or Calvin or anyone else got it all right. But then that is just the point I am trying to make!) However, what I think should be maintained is that the scripture (which is God-breathed and which Paul says is able to thoroughly equip the man of God for his work), is the only infallible and utterly trustworthy rule for faith and life.

    To be sure, the only alternative to sola scriptura, rightly defined, is sola ecclesia. If the church, on your view, determines the content, meaning and interpretation of scripture as well as the nature and content of “apostolic” tradition, we have simply traded one ultimate authority for another. We are simply transferring the prerogatives of the speech of God to men. This is not unlike the way in which your position seems to want to take all of the explicitly stated scriptural offices of Christ (Highly Priest, Steward over the House of God, Foundation, Great Shepherd, one mediator between God and man) and give them to men.

    But I think that it is altogether demonstrably true that no church, including the Roman church is infallible or utterly trustworthy. Even if we avoid the doctrines of the church that you embrace and I reject as contrary to scripture, this is the case. Let me ask you this|; I have mentioned the Arian controversy a couple of times. But upon what grounds could the great Athanasius possibly fight for the truth if not scripture? If your claim about Rome is correct, how could he possibly contend for the truth while Pope Liberius was signing the Arian Sirmium confession and the vast majority of Christendom was following suit? The answer is that he recognized that scripture is the true final authority and that when a church departs from the truth it enshrines, that church is in error.

    There is no way around this. Sometimes when people try and critique Christianity on the basis of things like the Crusades and the Inquisition etc, I say “Never judge a philosophy by its abuses.” But if your view of Rome is correct, the philosophy and its abuses are inseparable. Indeed, they are one and the same. Either Rome is an infallible authority or it is not. It is, I say, manifestly not. I am not just talking about bad Popes. That I can understand. You could have many, many naughty Popes and say that the truth of the gospel has been preserved. But what I am talking about is bad doctrine. That is the Achilles heel of your position. If you will agree that even once Rome has mislead in matters of doctrine, your position self-destructs. I say look at the full record of history and it dies a thousand deaths.

    But even if we leave the realm of history and simply look at this as a purely philosophical proposition, it is untenable. All of this talk about an authoritative interpretation of theological truth and scripture is highly problematic and (not to sound too stuffy and academic) epistemologically naive. It is another magnificent example of the way in which the Catholic view doesn’t really solve any of the problems it claims to solve, but merely pushes the problem one step down the line and tries to hide it in the basement of the Vatican.

    Think about this: You say “In order to understand scripture (which is terribly difficult and confusing), I need to have an infallible bishop tell me what it means. Alright. Well, suppose said bishop does tell you what it means and then, for safe-keeping, we write it down and call it, I don’t know, Canon Law or the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Now, I ask you, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, is your understanding of what the bishop has told you and put in writing fallible and subject to error or not? Of course, the answer is yes. You have not therefore magically manufactured infallible knowledge by having a man or a group explain it to you and tell you what to believe.

    Yes, we need the Church and each other to understand the truth of God, but there no magic silver-bullet that gives you certainty. We are fallible men dealing by the grace of God with infallible and eternal truths. If you think that the mass (no pun intended) of catholic casuistry that has been churned out clarifies the gospel better than, say, Paul or John, then you need to go back and read the final portion of my last lengthy post.

    I am an outsider to be sure, but for all the world, this is what the Romanist position seems like to me: “You can’t know for sure what the Bible means, so come to me and I will tell you and then you will be able to sleep at night.” (Unless you have bad dreams because I infallibly told you that faith in the person and work of Christ was not enough to justify you and give you peace with God, but that when you die you will be roasted for millenia on end over preternatural fire to burn out the impurities.)

    Okay, if I am starting to sound shrill, blame it on zeal for the truth. If I have caricatured your position I apologize. My intention is not to offend, but to challenge in love. It is no doubt true that I don’t fully understand what you believe. May God bless us as we seek to discern the truth.

  10. Dear Josh,

    Just a few thoughts on your post responding to Tommy.

    (1) You mention that “catholic” in early church didn’t refer to modern Roman Catholicism. Again, clearly you are correct, at least as far as the basic (or plain sense) meaning of your words. But, I’m fairly confident that you mean your words to mean more than I mean the words to mean. {not sure if thtat makes any sense] So, I’ll clarify. I’m fairly confident that you would mean by that that a number of the points of dogma or doctrine that we would associate with dogmas of the Roman Catholic Church which are not generally believed among evangelicals (so we’d be excluding here things like Jesus’ divinity, etc., which evangelicals and Catholics both use Scripture to defend): e.g., the Assumption of Mary, her Immaculate Conception, etc. This I think we would disagree. I mentioned some of these specifics in my last response, so I’ll try not to repeat, but what we find in the earliest centuries, among the very disciples/students of the apostles themselves, e.g., Clement of Rome and Ignatius of Antioch [who is the first to use the word “catholic” as applied to the church] (not to mention the Didache), all from the end of the first century (same century as Jesus and the apostles) or at least the early part of the second century (when people, like Ignatius, who actually knew John the Apostle [or their students]…interesting that no early testimony disputed this tradition, and it’s not like early Chrisitanity, especially regarding disputes about Johannine traditions [e.g. Gnostics], had no opponents). I think that’s an incomplete sentence. My point is that the earliest centuries attest to things like the basic structure of communal worship (St. Justin Martyr) which looks an awfully lot like the Mass and Divine Liturgy celebrated from East to West, in seed form—they believed in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist (e.g., Ignatius), the Episcopal and hierarchical structure of the Church (again, e.g., Ignatius, Irenaeus, et al), the importance of baptism for salvation (e.g., the implications of Ignatius’ idea that Jesus purified the water through His baptism; as well as the Epistle of Barnabas, etc), and even the primacy of Rome (if not as clearly with the singular office of bishop of Rome itself) implied in comments by Ignatius, Clement’s very letter to the East itself, etc. We could go on, and of course to do justice, we’d have to examine these passages carefully, because they do not all clearly support what I’m claiming they do. I’m writing the next in bold, because I think it’s central but so often forgotten, that: WHAT’S REALLY SIGNIFICANT I THINK IS HOW OFTEN VIEWS COME UP, SAY ABOUT MARY (I’m thinking here especially about Pelagius’ debates with Augustine) OR WHATEVER, WHEN WHAT GETS TAKEN LATER AS CATHOLIC DOGMA IS NOT DISPUTED OR IS ASSUMED AND NO ELABORATE EXPLANATION OR DEFENSE IS DEEMED NECESSARY—————-THIS IS TO SAY THAT SOMETIMES WHEN WE LOOK IN THE FATHERS FOR EVIDNECE AND FIND IT SCANT OR LACKING, OR ESPECIALLY WHEN IT’S WRITTEN IN PASSING, IT’S NOT THAT IT IS ABSENT, BUT THAT IT CAN BE ASSUMED BY THE AUDIENCE, BECAUSE IT’S PUBLIC AND UNIVERSAL, NOT HIDDEN. In this regard, I think it is especially instructive, that more often than not, even in the first 5 centuries, we find both the heretics (or even those being opposed for behaviors) and the orthodox going to Rome to get the bishop of Rome’s decision on a matter of dispute. This is indeed the case in the dispute with Antoninus of Fussala and St. Augustine, which I’ve published on [Jeffrey L. Morrow, “Papal Primacy in the Early Church: St. Augustine and the Case of Antoninus of Fussala,” Fides Quaerens Intellectum 2, no. 2 (2003): 305-326]. All of this is to say that I think that by Catholic the early church meant what you meant in the sense of universal church, but I think the teachings included things you would not think they included, and looked more like the Roman Catholic Church, Melkite Catholic Church, Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, etc., of today, than it does say any Baptist Church of which I’m aware.

    (2) You state that Irenaeus is trying to defend against heresy (e.g., Gnostics). True church believes what the apostles believed. The content is like what’s in apostles creed. I agree. But there’s more to it than what you write (and of course more to it than I’m going to be able to write now). Take a look carefully at what Irenaeus writes. He’s using the very fact of historical apostolic succession, and even providing a few complete lists from the beginning, to make his points. The Gnostics claim a form of “apostolic” succession, by using Scriptures they allege are written by apostles (including some we would clearly dispute, like the Gospel of Thomas, but also using some we would agree with like the Gospel of John—-in fact, unless I am mistaken, the Gnostic Heraclion was the first of which we are aware to write a commentary on John’s Gospel). They claim they have a secret hidden knowledge. Irenaeus is combating this by pointing out that the guarantee of orthodoxy here is not the hidden knowledge but on the historical apostolic succession. It’s not just that the content is apostolic (both communities made similar claims, hence apocryphal works attributed to Peter, Thomas and others), but that it’s guaranteed because it’s guarded by the Episcopal successors to the apostles, in Rome and in the other significant Sees. Much more could be said, but I must move on for now.

    (3) You mention that, unlike Gnostics who claimed secret knowledge, true orthodoxy is universal and public, and is only what the apostles taught. Sure, ok. But it’s also passed on and guarded by the visible structures in place in the Church, like the offices of bishops. This does not mean that bishops never make errors (nor that popes never make errors). In fact, the Cahtolic Churches teachings about the infallibility of the church and the infallibility of the pope do not mean that they never make errors (in an unqualified way). If you think that’s what it means, then we have a major disagreement about what Cahtolics actually believe (or should believe).

    (4) how do you get from there to things like selling indulgences?

    First of all, Trent addressed abusive sales of indulgences, and agreed with the Reformers on important insights of their critiques, in which they were not alone.

    But the idea of indulgences in general, and of the treasury of merit, is actually in the OT, in 2nd Tmeple Judaism (as well as later rabbinic Judaism), the NT and early Christian writing. It’s one of the interpretations both early Jewish and Christian interpreters gave to Moses’ call to “remember” the deeds of their righteious ancestors Abrhaam, Isaac, and Jacob. We’ll talk more about this in later posts on indulgences as well as on the Communion of Saints.

    On this issue, I would really recommend reading Gary A. Anderson, “Redeem Your Sins by the Giving of Alms: Sin, Debt, and the ‘Treasury of Merit’ in Early Judaism and Christianity,” Letter & Spirit 3 (2007): 37-67. Dr. Anderson is a fantastic writer. He’s especially interesting, not only because he is a Protestant convert to Catholicism, but because he’s recognized as a leading international authority on Second Temple Judaism. He was trained in OT at Harvard, where he later taught, and now teaches Bible, early Judaism and Christianity at Notre Dame, and he’s completely literate in Aramaic, Greek, Hebrew, Latin, Syriac, etc. I can get you an electronic copy of his article if you send me an e-mail. I think it’s the best one out there on this topic.

    (5) how do you get from there to things like bodily assumption of Mary?

    I’ve already discussed this a bit in my previous response. Keep in mind, this dogma does not mean she never died. If, as you say, this is some hidden, secret teaching until it’s dogmatic definition by a papal infallible decision in 1950 by Pope Pius XII, then why do the Eastern Orthodox accept this teaching, when they deny papal infallibility? Where on earth did the Eastern Orthodox get this teaching? I am aware of some distinctions between Catholic understandings of the Assumption and the Eastern liturgical celebrations of the Dormition, but the part you seem to have difficulty with, namely that Mary’s body and soul were taken to heaven, is found in both Catholic and Orthodox traditions. Moreover, how on earth did Luther know about it, and why would he accept it? Part of the answer is that it’s an old feast with a long tradition of being celebrated liturgically in the Church.

    (6) You ask, Are these things just part of some “long dormant and utterly secret” so-called apostolic teaching? “Are we really to believe that things of this kind are part of the teaching of the apostles if no one ancient or otherwise seemed to know about it until it was declared?” Define “ancient.” Dr. Anderson (as in Gary Anderson) has done a pretty thorough job showing how the idea of a treasury of merit even predates Jesus. What comes to be understood as indulgences are very old indeed. I’m not sure what you mean when you refer to indulgences…do you mean the abuse in practice that was criticized at Trent, or do you mean the current Catholic teaching on indulgences, or are you lumping them together, or something else? We plan on posting on this in the future, so it will come up again.

    (7) You seems, to me, to imply that no churches are immune from error, so how could Rome be? [we’ll get to the issues you bring up concerning Peter in later posts about the papacy in Scripture in later posts in the series I’m trying to complete but haven’t had time yet] I’m not sure you understand infallibility the way we do….not so much what infallibility is but how the Catholic Church claims it works in Catholic history. None of the 21 Ecumenical Councils, no papal statement that the Church considers an exercise of infallibility, no text in Scripture, no teaching of the ordinary magisterium, nowhere in the Catechism, etc., can you find something that supports the idea that bishops, church fathers, popes, etc., never make mistakes. That’s not the claim.

    (8) How do you explain Athanasius against the world, if the church is free from error? What about Pope Honorius, condemned by later council as heretic? Athanasius was not the only Trinitarian. Are you implying that Pope Sylvester was an Arian? The bishops of Rome are famous for being Trinitarian, even when this was a minority position (hence the idea of Athanasius against the world—-he wasn’t alone, but he was the most vocal defender of the Trinity at the Council). The case of Honorius is much more complicated, and I concede that he may very well stand condemned—Constantinople III sure has some harsh words for him—and I do not wish to defend him, and I would be the first to condemn the monothelite heresy (St. Maximus the Confessor is a personal hero of mine). At the same time, although Councils provide very strong language of condemnation, I would be more cautious. As a Catholic I’m allowed such caution since not every decision of every Council is seen as infallible. This is a difference between Eastern Orthodox and western Catholic views of councils. The east tend to view even disciplinary canons of councils (the first 7) as foreover binding, whereas the Catholic Church does not. I concede that at the time of the Councils it would seem that even these disciplinary matters were envisioned as more long-lasting. The doctrinal matters themselves are infallible. But we have to be careful when looking at individuals who held beliefs, whether in error or not, before the Church solemnly made a pronouncement on the matter. Gerald O’Collins and others have made cases for reading Honorius’ views as not the same monothelitism condemned by the later council. I remain agnostic on that matter. Constantinople III’s teaching, indebted to St. Maximus, seems to be a logical conclusion of Chalcedon, not to mention the Gospel passages concerning Jesus’ agony in the Garden which was an important passage for Maximus. Again, even if we grant Honorius’ position was later defined as a heresy, that doesn’t pose a problem for the First Vatican Council’s definition of Papal Infallibility, since this guarantee of infallibility does not apply to everything a pope teaches. Again, I concede that I’m very sympathetic with such heretics as even Arius and Nestorius. I think Arius was dead wrong, but I’m very sympathetic. I’m less sympathetic to Pelagius. Nestorius, on the other hand, eventually accepted Ephesus.

    (9) Regarding the Council of Florence and extra ecclesiam nulla salus (outside of the Church there is no salvation) which you pit against the Catechism and other sources….this might be the most complicated of all the things you bring up. The Church still maintains this view, even in Lumen Gentium, which is the source of the citation from the Catechism that you cite. I won’t even attempt to get into this issue here….we should perhaps do a post on this at some future point, but the complex development from Cyprian all the way to Boniface the VIII’s bull, Unam Sanctam, through the Second Vatican Council is extremely complex. I do think I have sufficient understanding of this to be able to say that I think the Church’s teaching here makes sense, is rooted in Scripture, and is not a simple contradiction. But it’s extremely complicated, misunderstandings of which did lead to the excommunication of one American Catholic priest in the 20th century.

    (10) Some of your comments on apparitions and other things in your two posts seem to imply things that I simply don’t accept. I actually do believe in the existence of apparitions…no not every alleged one…BUT NO CATHOLIC IS OBLIGED TO BELIEVE IN ANY OF THEM. Apparitions are not a part of the sacred deposit of revelation. Catholics aren’t even required to pray the rosary. Don’t get me wrong, I love praying the rosary, and I think everyone should pray the rosary, but it’s not in the same category, as say, baptism. I know you never claimed it was, but some of your comments about apparitions in toast and things are not Catholic. The Apparition at Fatima, which miracle was witnessed by over 70,000 people (in the 20th century no less!!!) at the same time, is Catholic, but is not dogma. I do believe that Fatima is real, but no Catholic is required to. It’s not infallible dogma.

    Again, there’s much more in your comments that need addressing, and I’m sorry if I have not hit all of the many points you bring up.

    We’ve covered so much ground in the responses to Jason’s initial post, everything from Mary’s Assumption into heaven, to sola scriptura, to Irenaeus against the Gnostics. May I make a suggestion? In the future, it might be more profitable if we pick one issue at a time to address. I know this could be difficult, because there is so much disagreement, even on fundamental matters. It’s just a suggestion. That might help cut down on such lengthy posts that few readers will persevere through reading. I know for myself, that when I’m dealing with one issue at a time, I’m able to think clearer on that issue, and write clearer. We may not come to any agreement this way, but I think we will come to a better understanding of each other’s actual views, and come to understand better the reasons we each hold such different views, and claim the same Scriptures in support of them.

    All the best,


  11. Dear Josh,

    I love your zeal!!! So don’t feel bad about that. You haven’t offended me in any way whatsoever. I guess I should have paused and looked to see you had another post before I posted my last one. I didn’t see it initially when I went to post my last comment. Woops!

    I still stand by my last few comments in the last post. I’m not sure our long comments back and forth are very helpful, let alone for other readers. It’s beginning to feel to me like we’re writing long private e-mails to each other and just posting them on the blog. At least on my end, I feel like I’m playing some Milbankian outnarration game that I’m not sure is beneficial.

    A suggestion, perhaps we should limit our responses on the blog to a few points that are brought up in the actual post.

    I think we (you and I) do read the Scriptures differently, we do read the history differently, and we seem to read what the Catholic Church claims about itself differently. You are correct that my reading of infallible papal statements, of infallible conciliar decisions, of the infallible Scriptures, etc., are fallible. The other statements are meant to guard and guide us as we ponder the mysteries of salvation which Scripture tells us about. But even more so because of our different hermeneutics, etc., I think limiting ourselves to a few points brought up in the blogposts might be more beneficial to all. I hope this is the beginning of a long conversation. It’s going to take me several blogposts to try to say what I’m going to say about the papacy in Scripture. You see Jesus as the steward of God’s house…..Jesus is certainly the steward in the house of the master of the Gospel parable. But He’s the King of God’s house, He’s the head of God’s house, the Church, which is His body. Eliakim is not a symbol for Jesus, but for Peter. Hezekiah, the Son of David (as in the royal descendant of David) is the symbol for Jesus, not Hezekiah’s steward Eliakim. Just as David represents Jesus, not God the Father. Solomon too, as the paradigmatic OT son of David, represents Jesus (we’ll see this more when I discuss papacy in Matthew’s Gospel) and Solomon’s royal steward represents Peter, just as Moses represents Jesus, and Aaron represents Peter. We’ll get into the high priesthood of Jesus, don’t worry.

    Here’s some examples of the difficulties in our long responses:

    Relics are not dogma, although they are the logical counterpart to certain things that are dogma, and yes, I think relics go back even to Judaism before Christianity, and yes I think we can find hints of that in the NT (that’s for later posts….don’t have time to spoil it here).

    You say you’re not asking for something from 600s (do you mean 500s?) since that’s not the time of the apostles….are you referring specifically to Assumption of Mary (you’re probably being more general). My point is that I wasn’t bringing up liturgical things etc. in these centuries to prove to you that, “see, it goes back to the apostles and Jesus” (I’ll try to show evidence of that in my Scriptural posts on these dogmas later, if I ever get the chance to write them)….what I was doing was responding to your claim that they were invisible teachings until they were defined. So, I was trying to show, e.g., that the Assumption of Mary was actually quite visible in the Church’s teachings (not to mention liturgy) prior to its definition in 1950. I do hope to show where these things are in the Bible in blog posts.

    Sola ecclesia? I believe in the Bible. But I also believe in the Church. I believe Jesus founded the Church, that it’s both visible and invisible, that the Church identified what belonged in Scripture (and this was no easy task), and that we would have no Bible without the Church. The Bible in the Church are, in other words, inseparable: both or neither (as a friend of mine likes to say).

    Your stuff on Athanasius I especially find confusing. Pope Liberius? I might be wrong, but I always thought that Pope Sylvester the First was reigning during the First Council of Nicaea, and I don’t know of any evidence that he condemned Athanasius. That’s the first I’ve ever heard of it. The later Pope Liberius defended Athanasius, and was actually one of the few bishops to refuse the emperor’s command to condemn Athanasius and uphold Arianism. It was because of this upholding of the orthodox position that Liberius was eventually exiled. Now there is a question of him signing a heretical arian confession, or even multiple ones, but this is not a certainty of history. Moreover, all of the scholarship I have read on the matter seems to agree that even if he actually did, it was under duress while in exile. Again, none of this has any bearing on Vatican I’s teaching in Pastor Aeternus. It doesn’t appear that you and I have the same understanding of what the Church means by papal infallibility. Another reason to limit our comments to a few points. Athanasius going to the Scriptures???????? There was no complete agreed upon canon yet. Now I concede that most of the books were agreed upon at this point, and that Athanasius used the same 27 books in his NT that we use. But he excluded Esther from the OT. If you look carefully at the Arian debates, what you find is that both sides used Scriptures. Arius himself used Scriptures as did Athanasius. But part of the big arguments Athanasius and others used had to do with Arius’ inconsistencies: you baptize with the triune formula, how can God not be triune. You claim Jesus is God, how can He be a creature of God. Etc. I think these issues are more complex than your posts indicate, and I concede they’re more complex than I have time to respond to. Another reason for limiting our posts sizes and topics.

    You’ve said much more, but I have to go for now. I love your zeal. I’m sure you probably think I’m confused on these matters, and I’m misunderstanding things. This is difficult stuff. I think the best way forward is to try to limit ourselves to one or two points that we think we can go into with some thoughtful and prayerful consideration. We can get to all of them, over several years period of time. I’m still learning lots, and I have still have lots to learn. Gotta go, but I’m encouraged by your zeal for truth, and your love for us, since much of this zeal only shows how much you love Jesus and how much you love us. I really appreciate how much you care for us. Because if we are wrong about the Catholic Church, we’re guilty of a lot of things.

    In Christ,


  12. Love the “feels like I’m playing some kind of Milbankian outnarration game.” I agree. It would be helpful to pace ourselves and confine our comments to a few specific points. But as you know, that is so very hard. One topic seems to just bleed into the next. It is very problematic that we are both bringing very different hermeneutics and grids to this. For example, the very idea that there is solid Biblical support for a “treasury of merit” sounds about as fanciful to me as possible. (Incidentally, you can find all kinds of coo-coo for cocoa puffs stuff in Second Temple Jewish literature, as you are certainly aware.) I would sooner believe that there is legitimate Biblical evidence for Leprechauns than for this gospel evicerating idea. But I would love to read the Anderson article you referenced. I’ll send you my email on Facebook. I need something more than “remember” the righteous deeds of your ancestors. I am a reasonable man, but I feel like you are keen on hightly allegorical hermaneutics that would allow one to demonstrate almost anything, even if a far more plausible interpretation that is more in accord with the entire system of scripture is at hand. In many ways this dialog is a superb example of the way our presuppositions color our views of everything, even what is admissible as evidence for a position. What a complex world we live in! Anyway, thanks for all of your engagement on the issues. I am sure by now your wife has begun to resent me for taking you away from your family. So take the day off; You’ve earned it.

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