Debate on the Nature of the Church & Catholicism (vs. Eric Svendsen)

Debate on the Nature of the Church & Catholicism (vs. Eric Svendsen) September 7, 2017


Strasbourg Cathedral, Germany. Photograph by Matthias Zirngibl (11-3-08).  [Wikimedia Commons /  Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license]

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The following series of dialogues with leading anti-Catholic apologist Dr. Eric Svendsen, took place on Bishop James White’s Sola Scriptura discussion list, between 27 May and 5 July 1996. Dr. Svendsen’s words will be in blue; my older cited words in green.

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I didn’t say we need no earthly authorities. Clearly we do, and the NT bears that out. 

Good. This would be progress for many Protestants who have anarchical beliefs. Do you have a bishop, then, by the way? If not, why (it’s certainly biblical)?

But it doesn’t teach anything about Rome’s authority, nor a pope’s authority, nor apostolic succession.

Not Rome – that comes immediately after the NT period, but is directly apostolic, since Peter and Paul both ended up there and were martyred there – surely not for no reason, in God’s Providence. I have my “Peter and the Pope: 50 NT Proofs” paper, if you’re interested (privately, of course). NT has “nothing” about the pope, huh? Shows how profound the gap is between us. Very sad. I’ve shown how apostolic succession is biblical, too. But apostolic succession also flows from simple common sense and a respect for maintaining all Christian truth undefiled.

My point was that it is a non-sequitur to jump from “the NT teaches ecclesial authority” to “that ecclesial authority must be singular, must be Rome, and must be the pope.”

It is not singular, strictly speaking, because it encompasses bishops and councils as well. The pope often acts formally in concert with them (or, at the very least, consults them in every major pronouncement he makes. The “Rome” factor is apostolic, and was present from the beginning (e.g., St. Clement of Rome’s letters). The papacy is grounded in Peter’s extraordinary prerogatives, granted him by Christ,as shown in my paper.

We are not a denomination, but the original New Testament Church.

Many assumptions cloud your perspective: (1) you assume the church is a “visible” organization (a “shell” as it were–which is in contradiction even with your catechism!).

It is visible, but more than that. We hold to the Mystical Body also (which is how we can include you guys, since you deny visibility). I prove visibility in my paper on the Church. Not sure why you use the description “shell,” nor how you think this contradicts the CATECHISM, which speaks of visibility in, e.g., #815, under the category “The Church is One.”

(2) that apostolic succession is a fact (this has not been demonstrated–and probably is not appropriate here);

It is a fact, and has been demonstrated. You guys must deny the fact because you have removed this proof from your ecclesiology and principle of authority. But the fact remains nonetheless. We have the continuity from the Apostles, whereas you have forsaken that by ditching wholesale all the doctrines which Luther and the so-called “Reformers” found personally distasteful, or “unbiblical,” or, in some cases, even politically or morally inexpedient.

(3) that the current Catholic church is the same as the historic catholic church (it is not).

It certainly is. Here, you reveal that you misunderstand development of doctrine (as virtually all Protestants do). You confuse outward appearance with continuous doctrinal essence. This very factor is what made me a Catholic. Once I understood it, my fight was over, as I had no logical, consistent counter-reply. The Protestant has only two choices in this regard, in my opinion. He can either ignore Church history, and what it teaches us (the usual course of action) – or (related) can distort it and engage in dishonest revisionism for polemical purposes, as Dave Hunt and many other anti-Catholics do, or, he can face up to historical realities and apostolic succession and become a Catholic. As John Henry Newman says, “To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant.” Is it any wonder, then, that so many Protestants are abysmally ignorant of Church history? Studying it only creates problems for them, so why start? Ignorance is bliss . . . :-) <—-said half=”” span=”” tongue-in-cheek=””>

I’m happy to renounce much of what happened in the Inquisitions, Crusades, etc. Why can’t you guys renounce your sinful sectarianism, as many Protestants have in fact done?

Who doesn’t admit it? The difference, of course, is that FALLIBLE institutions are allowed to err–infallible ones aren’t. :)

All kinds of people don’t admit it, by pretending that they have unity “in the essentials,” when in fact there is very little of that: And if there were, why not start uniting the denominations if there is so much “agreement,” once having admitted that division is sinful? As it is, usually only the liberals do that, because they all agree in ditching fundamental tenets of faith, and in their indifferentism. You can’t have it both ways.

The Crusades and the Inquisition (where they did stray) were instances of moral failure, not doctrinal, thus having nothing to do with infallibility, as defined by the Catholic Church (e.g., in 1870 at Vatican I). If you’re going to bash us, at least use the appropriate club! :-) In any event, Protestants, in my opinion, are far more guilty of religious persecution and intolerance, especially in light of their otensible first premises of freedom of conscience, etc.

I’ve not yet heard an answer as to my query of what is the true, best Protestant faith (i.e., what is true Christianity, with no error mixed in)? Care (and dare) to take me up on that one? Again, if you can’t even tell the man on the street what true Christianity is, what good is that view? It is a disgrace, and a disrespect for God’s truth, I say. At least have the courage of your convictions. I am being obnoxious, but heaven knows all the flak the Catholic Church takes, most of it unjustified. So I return the favor, with all due respect.

One of the reasons why we cannot view Romanism as the true church is because, while we Protestants may not ultimately agree on what every passage of Scripture means, we do know what it cannot mean. Hence, while we may disagree on whether Christ is merely represented, spiritually present, or consubstantiated with the bread and wine, we all agree that He is nottransubstantiated (how’s that for Protestant unity? :).

A pity indeed. I’ve been saying this for years. About all that Protestants can agree on is that the Catholic Church is wrong! Even then, you must split into at least two camps, which regard us as 1) an aberrant form of Christianity, but still within the fold (e.g., Walter Martin, Colson, Geisler, J.I. Packer, Billy Graham) or 2) the Whore of Babylon, the Beast, Pelagians, idolaters, pagans, etc. (e.g., Dave Hunt, Bart Brewer, James White, Boettner, D.J. Kennedy, MacArthur, Ankerberg, ad infinitum). But you must demonize us or at least severely criticize us, else how would you justify your own existence as a schism out of the Catholic Church?

Yet on this subject, I find it quite interesting that Super-Pope Luther did not regard belief in transubstantiation as an obstacle to joining his party, as late as 1543, I believe, and “gentle,” “cultured” Melanchthon opted for the death penalty for those who denied the Real Presence (but later changed his own mind on the subject!). Luther regarded Zwingli, on the other hand, as damned, because he denied the Real Presence. But then again, many a Protestant exhibits not the slightest interest in what Luther taught, thinking it has no relevance whatsoever to their own beliefs.

Rome simply has too many biblically untenable and contradictory beliefs.

A Protestant criticizing someone else for “contradictory beliefs!” Is any further comment necessary?

Why don’t we start instead with the inerrancy and material sufficiency of the Scriptures? What do Catholics believe about these issues? I have yet to receive an answer from anyone on the Catholic side. Are you afraid of these issues? By the way you side-step them, I think you must be.

Nice try. As for fear, I’m waiting to see if James White responds to my simple request for a list of what the Apostles believed [see “Dialogue on the Alleged “Perspicuous Apostolic Message” as a Proof of the Quasi-Protestantism of the Early Church”]. I ain’t scared o’ nuthin’! I believe in inerrancy (always have – what that means exactly, of course, is the topic of much discussion among those who hold to it – and I claim no particular expertise on it). I responded directly to James White’s question on material sufficiency, but gave a nuanced answer, and argued that, in the final analysis, it is largely a moot point.

I agree that defining dogma is useful in distinguishing between heresy and orthodoxy. So here are some of those dogmas that all Protestants in good standing must believe to be within the pale of orthodoxy: the Trinity, the full deity and humanity of Christ, the full deity and personhood of the Holy Spirit, the co-equality and co-eternality of all three persons in the being of God, salvation by grace alone through faith alone (sola fide), final authority in Scripture alone (sola Scriptura), one bride of Christ consisting of all who have ever placed faith and trust in him, the bodily resurrection of Christ from the dead, the bodily second coming of Christ in glory, the bodily resurrection of the saved to eternal life and the lost to eternal damnation.

Catholics agree with all of these save for sola fide and sola Scriptura, so this list does not really accentuate our differences. No one taught sola fide from Paul to Luther, according to Norman Geisler, and no one of any note (save for perhaps Wycliffe) set the Bible against Tradition and the Church (which is the usual form and spirit of sola Scriptura) until Luther. So you have an insurmountable historical obstacle where it concerns these two pillars of the “Reformation.” Most Protestants “resolve” that dilemma by simply ditching Church history, and “abracadabra” – no more problem! Is that your solution, too?

Perhaps the issue should really be sola Scriptura groups vs. non-sola Scriptura groups. Within nonsola scriptura groups, there is WIDE disagreement. Non-sola scriptura groups would include Catholicism, Seventh-Day Adventism, the Watchtower, Mormonism, Christian Science, and every other false Christian cult in the world that relies on an infallible interpreter, tradition, or some other extra-biblical authority.

Does that mean Catholics are among these “false Christian cults”? Your sentence could easily be interpreted that way. I think, rather, that the relevant analytical dynamic is private judgment vs. apostolic Tradition and the resultant hierarchical Church structure. You guys are much more similar to these heresies (excluding SDA and the Catholic Church), many of which originated in America (gee, I wonder why?). They invariably result from one man or woman, who, of course, is infallible (and more often than not, an autocrat):

    • 7th-Day Adventists: Ellen White
    • Jehovah’s Witnesses: Charles Taze Russell
    • Mormons: Joseph Smith
    • Christian Science: Mary Baker Eddy
    • The Way International: Victor Paul Wierwille
    • Worldwide Church of God: Herbert W. Armstrong (no relation!)

Heresies have traditionally relied on sola Scriptura, but seen though the lens of one man. The original Arians, e.g., quoted Scripture alone, but the Catholic Church countered with Scripture as interpreted by apostolic Tradition. Likewise the Monophysites, Gnostics, Nestorians, Monothelites, and a host of other non-Christian heresies. They were always countered by recourse to apostolic succession and apostolic Tradition, of which the Catholic Church was Guardian, and of course, Scripture always, too. But Scripture-within-the-Tradition, not Scripture in atomistic isolation, eisegeted by one idiot with a novel idea. Newman discusses this at length in his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, which made me a Catholic.

Now, this heretical dynamic is also very much present in early Protestantism, where Luther formed his own church in which he was infallible (I have MANY quotes substantiating this, lest anyone doubt it for a second). Calvin was the infallible Super-Pope in his church, from which derives Presbyterianism and Reformed sects today. So then, private judgment reigned, but the private judgment of ONE MAN. Zwingli started the novel idea of a symbolic Eucharist, and Bucer, Bullinger and Melanchthon tried to steer a “middle course,” very broadly speaking. And apostolic Tradition and succession was necessarily thrown to the four winds, since the new sects could not even pretend to hold to it in so many particulars. Visible authority had to go too (excepting Luther’s secular princes, who replaced the bishops, and Calvin’s virtual dictatorship in Geneva). The Anabaptists spurned all authority in many cases, which is equally unbiblical.

It goes without saying that Catholicism is entirely different than this. No one man predominates. The popes clearly must respect and build upon doctrines already etablished, and none have remotely the power of infallibility claimed by Luther and Calvin. Our popes make infallible decrees (in the strictest sense) only every 100 years or so, whereas Luther claimed that ALL his teaching was “from God.” He regarded his self-proclaimed authority as tantamount to a prophet: i.e., unquestionable. So where do you guys get off accusing us of “authoritarianism”?

It is the same way (to a lesser degree) with pastors in independent congregations, who have their own little “popedoms,” often regulating peoples’ private lives with impunity and extreme arrogance and impropriety (e.g., Calvin’s Geneva and the modern “shepherding” fiasco). Popes, on the other hand, work together with bishops, Councils, many advisors, and the sensus fidelium, the “sense of the faithful,” in which the beliefs of the masses are by all means taken into account when a new dogmatic pronouncement is being considered. No kidding!

If someone thinks otherwise, I am curious as to what one man would have started Catholicism? Constantine? Ludicrous. Leo the Great? Hardly: the whole system was in place long before his reign. Gregory the Great? Same as Leo, but even more so, as he was 150 years later. I can think of only one Man Who can be thought of as the Founder of my Church, and that Man is none other than our “Great God and Savior,” Jesus Christ. I wouldn’t want it any other way, so that’s one reason I’m where I am. That’s why St. Jerome said:

      I, who follow none as my chief but Christ, am associated in communion with thy blessedness, that is, with the See of Peter. On that rock the Church is built, I know. (Epistle 15,  writing to Pope Damasus)

(which, I am certain, far exceeds the 25,000 denomination figure railed against us by the Catholic side).

I doubt it, Eric. Why don’t you back up this “certainty” of yours with some documented figures.

All sola scriptura groups (so far as I am aware) agree on the deity of Christ. Almost every non-sola scriptura group (with the exception of two that come to mind) [deny it].

But one of those “exceptions” is MY Church!!!!! Talk about non sequiturs! One billion people is one huge “exception”!

I think you get the idea. On this view, sola scriptura has actually prevented churchly disunity that surely would have occurred if every Protestant denomination had their own infallible interpreter.

Ah, I see. But unfortunately for your schema, the first Protestants DID have infallible Super-Popes, and DID experience massive, scandalous disunity. Of course, that was somehow Rome’s fault too, as everything must ultimately be!

We may use strong debating language, but that certainly does not make us anti-Catholic. You’ll remember, my wife is Catholic–I certainly do not despise my wife! :). I think that I can demonstrate that you are just as anti-Protestant as you claim we are anti-Catholic. Note in even this (your last) post:

“Orthodoxy” according to whom? I don’t know what this means (well, it’s “correct doctrine,” but who determines that?). The Arians thought they were “orthodox,” while the Catholics were “heretical.” The Nestorians, Monophysites, Monothelites, Sabellians, Eastern Orthodox, etc. ad infinitum thought likewise, so this is not merely a clever, rhetorical question, but a deadly serious one.

Now, Dave, if I were to take every thing you say personally, I might note here that you have equated me with Arius, Nestorius, Monophysitism, Monothelitism, Sabellianism. And I might find just cause to say to you, Why, you’re nothing more than a Protestant-bashing anti-Protestant! We are no more anti-Catholic than you say you are anti-Protestant.

I think you’re sharp enough to understand the analogy I was making. It doesn’t imply, ipso facto, that Protestants are in the same league with all the early heresies, only that you guys have a problem in determining orthodoxy, just as these others do (in fact anybody who is non-Catholic), because “orthodoxy” means (historically speaking) what was decided upon by the Catholic Church, time and again.

If you say that Catholicism as a system is Christian, then you are not anti-Catholic (by my definition, anyway). I believe in context I was referring more to an attitude of severe bias (and often bigotry), which could spill over onto people who technically aren’t anti-Catholic. I realize this is subjective, so I suggest we just drop it. But I am not anti-Protestant in my terms, because I accept Protestants as Christians. Thus, any criticisms I levy (however severe) are from a brother to a brother, so to speak. I’ve described the difference before as the comparison of a family fight to a struggle between Christian and infidel. James White has a ministry devoted to making Catholics come out of their non-Christian error and convert to Christianity (preferably his own Calvinism, of course). This is quintessential anti-Catholicism. How could it be construed otherwise?

When the debate is sola Scriptura vs. Scripture plus something else, then that something else automatically has to first be proved.

And it was, to my satisfaction, in my “Tradition is not a Dirty Word” paper.

But neither am I going to trust a system which sanctioned Reservations, Indulgences, Expectancies, Dispensations, Nepotism, the Crusades, the Inquisition, and multiple popes (each condemning the others to hell). Catholics . . . shall exterminate the heretics, possess the land without dispute and preserve it in the true faith. . . . Hence if forgers . . . are straightway justly put to death, . . . with much more justice can heretics . . . be not only excommunicated but also put to death. When I referred earlier to Catholics killing Protestants, I wasn’t being anti-Catholic, I was being truthful! Are you one of those Mythical Catholics who revise Catholic history?

No, but I think it quite fair to point out that Protestants are in no better shape (I think much worse, actually) once their own scandalous history is examined (which it rarely is). I don’t even attempt to defend the Crusades or Inquisition, although I regard neither as intrinsically evil. I simply attempt to balance the scales by teaching others about how Protestants did the same sorts of things. And their acts are all the more heinous since they supposedly believed in the primacy of conscience and private judgment from the beginning.

Yes, the pope’s authority (in the final analysis) is distinct from the Councils – this was defined so as to avoid the error of conciliarism, which is a root problem of the Orthodox, who have no non- arbitrary way of determining the legitimacy of an Ecumenical Council.

Oh, I see. To prevent the error of adhering to the consensus of opinions, we adopt the non-arbitrary method of adhering to the opinion of one man. HELLO!!!

HI!!! You guys decide which Councils are or are not legitimate individually. We do it through the institution of the papacy (with all its guarantees of infallibility, etc.). Either way, one is left to judge Councils. One man provides a unity that no group can ever attain. But in large measure, the pope agrees with conciliar decisions, so it isn’t an either/or proposition.

I’m talking about the interpretation of one man entirely dominating a denomination. You simply can’t assert that about any one pope. It can’t be done, period.

Is not your pope an infallible interpreter? Besides, your criteria is a bit arbitrary and self-serving. The pope is seen in RC as the vicar of Christ on earth and his pronouncements are seen as infallible. Put it this way; even if he doesn’t say its infallible, if the pope says it, you may be certain the Catholic church will heed it. THAT is one-man dominance.

You miss my point entirely yet again. No single pope has constructed the edifice of the Catholic Church and its dogmas. Not even close. So my argument stands, entirely unchallenged. In other words, no pope can be said to be the Founder of Catholicism.

Your opinion on Luther is irrelevant to my argument, since it is an analogy between Protestantism and the non-trinitarian heresies. Luther had more power in his sphere than any pope ever dreamt of, and this is the whole point. You keep switching the terms of the debate, whenever you’re trapped by the incoherence of your own position.

I honestly do not follow you here. What terms am I switching? On the contrary, to equate Luther as some kind of infallible interpreter is indeed to throw a red herring into the argument.

My original argument (countering you) was that the heresies and Protestantism are similar in that they adhere to sola Scriptura, but seen through the lens of one man. And this was certainly the case with Luther and the Lutherans, at least in the beginning, which was my primary emphasis. Thus, in terms of refuting my analogy, it is absolutely irrelevant what you think of Luther or his claims. The fact remains that he made himself infallible. Do I have to give you the quotes? This is no “red herring,” whatsoever. It is a valid analogy (I love analogical arguments, because they are largely what made me a Catholic – from Newman’s Essay on Development, which is chock-full of ’em).

You seem to view Luther as somehow the genesis of apostolic succession of Protestants;

All Protestants stem from his dissent.

This is simply not true. The Anglicans have no connection to Luther other than the fact that they departed about the same time. Calvin admired Luther, but noted that he was wrong on many points. The Anabaptists absolutely had no connection to Luther. Well, that just about covers all the reformed groups of the sixteenth century.

I meant in spirit, not technically, or “apostolic succession,” as you put it, as if Protestants had no disagreements (which would be like saying that zebras have no stripes). Luther was the first to successfully break, thus making the unthinkable (excepting the Orthodox) thinkable. The similarities are such that I think my opinion is valid. All are agreed in antipathy to Catholicism, and especially in opposing the pope.

By the way, my wife was very disappointed to discover (last night) that the Catholic Biblical College where she was enrolled teaches the legitimacy of higher criticism (JEPD, Source, Form, and Redaction), and that Gen 1 not only contradicts Gen 2 (since, they argue, they were written by two different authors), but also that Gen 1 and 2 are examples of Biblical myth, not history.

Classic liberalism, ain’t it?

The book she was reading had both the Imprimatur and Nihil Obstat, guaranteeing that there are no doctrinal errors.

This is obviously often abused.

Several questions for you. First, I am assuming (and I would hope) that you see a mythicalreading of Gen 1 and 2 as doctrinal error. Yet the Catholic Magisterium has placed its stamp of approval on it. Who is right? You or the Magisterium? Second, I am assuming (and I would hope) that you disagree with the mythical interpretation of Gen 1 and 2, no? But if so, then where is your unity of belief with other Catholics on this point?

Geisler in his recent book Roman Catholics and Evangelicals points out that all Catholics must agree that:

      . . . the first 3 chapters of Genesis contain narratives of real events . . . no myths, no mere allegories or symbols of religious truths, no legends. (p.63)

I understand this to be the Catholic dogma on the subject, with which I agree (as a good Catholic). To believe otherwise would be to deny the reality of original sin, as I’ve already stated. Ludwig Ott also discusses this, under “Creation” (if you have his book). By the way, Geisler also strongly confirms what I said about our views on inerrancy (pp.29-31). Very good! Liberals will be liberals. All you need is a liberal bishop (or even an orthodox one who wants to avoid controversy and unpopularity) to grant an illegitimate Imprimatur.

This same point could be made, of course, about the hundreds of other places where your interpretation would differ from the scholarly interpretation. 

As is the case in evangelicalism as well. But, again, we have the “books” to authoritatively ascertain what is an error.

In light of this, I cannot see how you can maintain that the Catholic church is united in its interpretation of Scripture in any meaningful sense. Remember, Dave, this teaching is stamped with both the Imprimatur and Nihil Obstat.

The books, Eric, the books. That’s all I care about, and that is our system, not a collection of dissenting, intellectually-dishonest, “bleeding-brain” liberals.

This decision was made twenty-six years before Hippo. The Western (Roman) church accepted a Canon that did not include the book of Hebrews, but eventually followed the East in including all twenty-seven books. In other words, the Roman church relied upon the Eastern Orthodox church for her Canon. Far from making an infallible decision, the Roman church, at Hippo and Carthage, simply adopted the decision of the Eastern church. Therefore, the Canon that we currently have is the work of the Eastern Orthodox church, which doesn’t claim infallibility.

Again, there was no “Eastern Orthodox church” at this time, so the argument is altogether fallacious. So what if a truth comes from the East in its entirety or partially? Catholic means “universal.” We rejoice in such occurrences. This has nothing whatsoever to do with our current argument, nor will it resolve your insuperable difficulties vis-a-vis the Canon.

The point, of course, is that this was at a time before Roman Catholicism existed.

Alright, then: Please define for me: 1) Catholicism, and 2) Roman Catholicism, and inform me as to when each (or either, as the case may be) began. I’ve yet to hear any Protestant apologist give a cogent, sensible answer to this. This viewpoint, frankly, reminds me of pro-abortionist arguments as to when a “fetus” becomes a “person,” all theoretical points of origin being purely arbitrary and subjective. It will do no good to say that my question is irrelevant, since you yourself have stated that there was a time (i.e., the 4th century) when “Roman Catholicism” did not yet exist.

If you can’t tell us when it did begin to exist, then your historical statement is unfalsifiable and therefore suspect. You do use the term “Roman church” above. Is that body synonymous with either the “Catholic Church” or the “Roman Catholic Church”? This is a particularly relevant consideration in light of the fact that you make reference to the “Eastern Orthodox church” as presumably existing in the same time period. I say that this historical/ecclesiological scenario is hopelessly muddled. Perhaps your clarification will clear up my confusion.

If later on, the East and West split, what gives you the right to claim an Eastern father?

If you’re speaking of St. Athanasius, the Western church leaders and the pope “claimed” him to a far greater extent than the Eastern (almost always caesaropapist) political and church leaders did (which fact I mentioned in the same post). The Eastern Orthodox today venerate, e.g., Pope St. Leo the Great, while they frown upon, e.g., St. Augustine. Pick and choose. For our part, we venerate and hold in high esteem all the Fathers. It is of no consequence to us whether they are Eastern or Western. But the fact remains that there was but one universal Christian Church at this time, and you’ve shown me nothing to cause me to jettison that “perspicuous” fact of Church history.

Furthermore, it is quite amusing and ironic for any Protestant to chide us for claiming “Eastern fathers” as our own, when it is patently ridiculous for a Protestant to claim any Father, Eastern or Western, as their own, or even anywhere close to “proto-Protestant” (most notably, St. Augustine, who was present at both Hippo and Carthage and exercised a prevailing influence).

You are simply assuming that Rome was on the right side of the issue,

As it always was. This is what made Ronald Knox and Newman sit up and take notice, so striking and far beyond coincidence was it. As I said, historically speaking (most strikingly in the early centuries of the Church), “orthodox” is equivalent to the Roman position on any given issue. It was not very easy to know what Christian orthodoxy was (there were many competing heretical groups), apart from an acceptance of the authority of the Roman see and the papacy, which was shown (with hindsight) to be “orthodox” again and again. This, to us, is compelling evidence of divine guidance and protection from error. On the other hand, one constantly finds in the East in those centuries heretical patriarchs, and massive, widespread defections from orthodoxy, such as the “Robber Council” of 449 and the huge, tragic Monophysite schisms after Chalcedon in 451.

that everyone before that time were Romanists,

This is far too broad of a statement to tackle rationally.

Put it this way; suppose the Eastern Orthodox were to claim, say, Clement of Rome as one of their own against Romanism. How would you feel about that?

For the third time: such talk is meaningless and moot, since there was but one Church then. It is a common heritage, just as medieval England is the common antecedent of both America and Canada. One doesn’t speak of Shakespeare as “American” or “Canadian.” Now, if some Orthodox want to claim that they are the true Church over against us, that is another quarrel (one which they will lose), but one beyond our purview here. The Catholic Church is presently trying its utmost to be ecumenical and accepting of the Orthodox, with, e.g., word pictures such as Pope John Paul II’s “two lung” perspective on ecclesiology, and ecumenical Encyclicals such as Ut Unum Sint (1995).

Besides, one letter from a single patriarch is not a binding requirement. The East still believed in ecumenical Councils at that time — they  would be binding, not a single epistle. And you act like infallibility must necessarily possess the attribute of “first time mentioned,” which is untrue.

Are you under the impression that Hippo and Carthage were ecumenical councils? They were neither ecumenical nor councils–both were nothing more than local synods.

Of course. You misunderstood my point. All I was saying was that St. Athanasius’ letter was not binding since it was not conciliar (which is the least one would expect in the East, if one wants to maintain – incorrectly – that they rejected the papacy en masse in this period).

So, again, we are faced with the consistency of Rome’s decisions. Are all local synods infallible and binding?

Obviously not. If they are orthodox then they are part of the ordinary magisterium, as David Palm noted.

If not, then you end up picking and choosing which are and which are not. Why do you arbitrarily pick Hippo and Carthage as infallible and binding on the church? Let me guess–because Rome tells you to, right?

Well, yes. They were ratified by Pope Innocent I (d.417) and Gelasius I (d.496). This is how Ecumenical Councils are determined as well. The “conciliarism” of Eastern Monophysite heretics brought us the “Robber council” of 449. The leadership of the Western papacy, on the other hand, led to Chalcedon in 451. Before you deride this outlook, let me remind you that you have proposed nothing as a substitute for authoritative determination of the NT Canon. Our system is consistent, but yours is incoherent. You can deny our premises (as is the case in any belief-system), but at least we proceed logically from them, whereas Protestantism is self-defeating with regard to the question of the NT Canon & how it was finalized (and sola Scriptura also).

Thank you for your candor.

You’re most welcome.

We Catholics eagerly await a non-contradictory, plausible alternate Protestant explanation of how Christianity came to obtain the present NT Canon. Such insurmountable obstacles are representative of the reasons many of us former Protestants felt compelled to accept Catholicism, not some dreamt-up psycho-babble of an alleged infantile desire for fideistic dogma-without-reflection-and-exegesis, as James White would have it.

Note well, folks, the circularity here. We as Protestants are told that we have no right to pick and choose which decisions of the church we hold and which we jettison–that it is all or nothing.

In a word: nonsense. What you’re “told” is that you ought to retain doctrines which have been the historical teaching of the Church from the beginning (e.g., infused justification, baptismal regeneration, Real Presence and apostolic succession come to mind immediately as striking examples of the general Protestant departure from orthodoxy). Protestant “picking and choosing” of “correct” doctrines is, in the final analysis – completely arbitrary, often based historically on the whim of one man (e.g., Luther, Calvin, Zwingli). When these depart in essence from historic Christian teaching they can only be deemed heretical.

Our system, on the other hand, is neither circular, nor based on a radically individualistic, subjective, anarchical principle. We’ve said all along that Rome, and more specifically the pope, were the arbiters of orthodoxy. The pope is the final court of appeal, and he ratifies councils, whether local or Ecumenical. I’m glad you press this point, Eric, because now I will post a lengthy comment by Newman regarding what can happen in Council (Robber Council of 449) without the pope and what happens with the pope presiding by common consent (Chalcedon – 451). That will illustrate our perspective quite adequately, I think.

Note that both Protestants and Orthodox have a problem in determining which Council is orthodox and which not. But we have always held to papal primacy and jurisdiction. This is precisely why the pope is needed – as a principle of unity (as even many Lutherans and Orthodox are willing to admit). And of course papal primacy is in turn a fairly explicit biblical doctrine. We need not ditch history, nor the Bible, nor consistency, as you guys do when it comes to these sorts of questions. Your principle of individualism and sola Scriptura, on the other hand, leads to “200 Interpretations of ‘This is My Body‘” within 60 years of the 95 Theses(a book by that title which appeared in Germany).

Moreover the specific test case for this, provided by the Catholic side, is the issue of the canon.

In this discussion, perhaps, but of course there are many, many test cases in which the Protestant position is revealed to be utterly incoherent as well.

Unless we ascribe infallibility to the church in deciding upon the canon, we cannot know with certitude if the church chose the right books. And the minute we ascribe infallibility to the church in this area, then we are inconsistent if we do not likewise ascribe infallibility to the church in all areas.

Yes, you make a tacit exception to your system by bowing to a local council (not even an Ecumenical one) and conceding that a bunch of Catholics “got it right.” Why would, and how could, that be? God made an exception to the rule of sola Scriptura and individualism just because the Bible was involved? Why accept any councils in the early days but not later ones? Protestants hold no councils that I’m aware of. When was the last: the acrimonious Marburg Colloquy in 1529, in which Luther and Zwingli butted heads over the Real Presence?

Yet the minute we press the issue, we get another story altogether! Were Hippo and Carthage councils? Well, no, they were synods. Were they even ecumenical? Well, no, they were both local. Indeed, were they even infallible? In the words of David Palm: Let’s make sure we’re precise. The decisions of local councils are never taken as intrinsically infallible in and of themselves. 

“Another story”? This is silly. There are no big “revelations” here. Only Ecumenical Councils are infallible, and only insofar as they are in accordance with the pope, who may “veto” some of the proceedings. It must be this way, otherwise one is faced with the sad reality of the Robber Council, in which the East adopted Monophysitism wholesale.

But if this is the case, then Catholics themselves pick and choose which synods and councils are infallible and which are not. And in fact, the very synod (often posed to Protestants as a council until challenged) Catholics point to as their coup de grace ends up not even being infallible itself. Ah but (we are told) Hippo and Carthage are infallible by virtue of the ordinary magisterium. Do you know what ordinary magisterium really means, folks? It simply means that the Catholics can have their cake and eat it to. They can neatly avoid labeling all councils and synods as infallible (as avoid they must since many councils and synods subscribed to heresies); yet at the same time they can reserve the right to label those councils and synods by which they are well-served infallible via an esoteric principle that the Catholic church could not possibly be led into error. 

In other words, they’ve covered their tracks. How do we know whether a synod or council is infallible or not? Why, only the Catholic church can tell us. Conveniently enough, Hippo and Carthage just happen to be included within the infallible ordinary magisterium. That, my friends, is circular reasoning at its best. I dare say that if the Protestant side tried this kind of rationale, the Catholic side would be only too quick to point out our faulty reasoning. 

A fair enough description of our system (at least by you :-). But you ought to substitute “pope” for the “Catholic Church” and “Catholics” in a couple of places, for accuracy’s sake. Pure conciliarism is the principle of the Eastern Orthodox, although they don’t seem to have many Councils lately. Again, our system is not circular. You have not proven that in the least here. But yours is, as I’ve shown in my Fictional Dialogue on Sola Scriptura, which has not really been answered.

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