Dialogue on Doctrinal Development (Papacy & NT Canon)

Dialogue on Doctrinal Development (Papacy & NT Canon) April 19, 2020

This is a reply to anti-Catholic Protestant polemicist Jason Engwer’s paper, Dave Armstrong and Development of Doctrine, which was in turn a response to my paper, Dialogue on the Nature of Development of Doctrine (Particularly with Regard to the Papacy). Jason’s words will be in blue.


I. Introductory Remarks

II. William Webster and Development

III. Deductive vs. Speculative Developments (the Holy Trinity vs. the Immaculate Conception)

IV. Development and the New Testament Canon (Difficulties for Protestantism)

V. The Development of the Papacy


I. Introductory Remarks
In replying to Dave Armstrong’s article addressed to me, I’m not going to respond to every subject he raised. He said a lot about John [Henry] Newman, George Salmon, James White, etc. that’s either irrelevant to what I was arguing or is insignificant enough that I would prefer not to address it.

If I didn’t think what I wrote was relevant, I wouldn’t have written it. In any event, those remarks stand unrefuted. Mainly I cited these men as a sort of “review of the literature,” to demonstrate how misinformed many Protestant apologists are as to the definitions and historical progression of doctrinal development (and how they don’t seem to recognize the double standards routinely applied, where Protestant developments are fine, but Catholic ones which are operating on the same principle are “excessive”).

I ask the reader, whether he’s Catholic or non-Catholic, to try to think about what he’s reading as objectively as possible. I think that if we approach these things more from a rational and evidential standpoint and less from an emotional and speculative standpoint, we’re more likely to arrive at the truth.

This is well-stated, and I couldn’t agree more. I always wish and hope that readers will react in this fashion.

These are important issues with a lot of temporal and eternal consequences. They should be taken more seriously, by Catholics and non-Catholics alike, than they usually seem to be. If there are some problems in how you’re perceiving the issue of development of doctrine, you should be more concerned with correcting those problems than with trying to avoid the difficulties involved in changing your position on the issue.


[ . . . ]

II. William Webster and Development
Dave raised the possibility that William Webster asked me to reply to his (Dave’s) article. He didn’t. I decided myself to reply to Dave, and I haven’t had any discussions with William Webster on the subject.

Fair enough. I thought this might be the case, since I have yet to hear from William Webster in a year-and-a-half, as of this writing. I did inform him that I wrote my paper. I remain very interested in seeing his response, if he should ever change his mind.

[deleted citation of my words]

In my first reply, I specifically quoted Dave saying that people like William Webster and James White are “anti-development”.

Mr. White certainly is to some serious degree, judging by his words in a personal letter to me, cited in our last exchange (emphasis and note added):

You said that usually the Protestant misunderstands the concept of development. Well, before Newman [who lived in the 19th century] came up with it, I guess we had good reason, wouldn’t you say? . . . Might it actually be that the Protestant fully understands development but rightly rejects it?

Dave cited Vincent of Lerins, and he repeatedly referred to how the First Vatican Council accepted “development” . . .

As Newman drew directly from the 5th century work of St. Vincent of Lerins, it is exceedingly strange that Mr. White (and George Salmon) seem to think that Newman was the originator of “the concept of development” 1400 years later.

. . . Dave considers George Salmon to have rejected all forms of development of doctrine. (I’m not going to be addressing George Salmon in this article.)

He seems to, yes, as I think I showed near the beginning of my paper.

In his first article, Dave repeatedly associates William Webster with George Salmon. Yet, in his second article, Dave distinguishes between Webster and Salmon, explaining that he’s not accusing Webster of rejecting all forms of development. If you’re not making that accusation against Webster, Dave, then why repeatedly tie him together with Salmon in your first article,

Because their methodologies are quite similar. Neither understands development of doctrine, and both think that Newman was a special pleader who used his theory of development to rationalize away Catholic “problems” with regard to the history of doctrine. Mr. White implied that Salmon’s book (now well over a hundred years old) was the last word on the subject, and asked me if I had read it. Actually, I had consulted it when I was warring against infallibility as an evangelical Protestant in 1990. I’m quite familiar with this way of thinking because it was my own in those days. Webster and White argue on this topic much like I would have in 1990.

why cite Vincent of Lerins,

Because he so obviously, clearly, espouses so-called “Newmanian” development in the 5th century. He came up because William Webster stated that Vatican I rejected development of doctrine. I showed how the Council cited the very work in which St. Vincent’s explicit treatment of development appears.

and why make unqualified references to how Vatican I accepted “development”?

Because it did! Webster denied this in his original paper, with statements like the following:

The papal encyclical, Satis Cognitum, written by Pope Leo XIII in 1896, is a commentary on and papal confirmation of the teachings of Vatican I. As to the issue of doctrinal development, Leo makes it quite clear that Vatican I leaves no room for such a concept in its teachings. Leo states over and over again that the papacy was fully established by Christ from the very beginning and that it has been the foundation of the constitution of the Church and recognized as such from the very start and throughout all ages.

It is true that Mr. Webster is a bit unclear in his choice of words. I see that more clearly now, with the benefit of Jason’s clarifications. I think I was assuming that he couldn’t have been so misinformed as to think that the Catholic Church would rule out development of doctrine on one issue (the papacy), and allow it in others, when in fact, we hold that all doctrines develop over time. Webster’s arguments about the papacy and what Vatican I supposedly taught about it vis-a-vis development were so wrongheaded that I may have assumed wrongly that he was trying to deny all development (I’d have to re-read it to get inside of my specific train of thought once again).

But Webster — without a doubt — badly botches the facts of the matter with regard to what Vatican I’s teaching on the papacy, and how it relates (or doesn’t relate) to development of doctrine. One has to read my paper itself to see how he does this. It is much too complicated to summarize here.

Webster’s confusion pertaining to the development of doctrine is revealed in statements like, “Leo states over and over again that the papacy was fully established by Christ from the very beginning . . . ,” as if this is a contradiction of development. Of course the papacy was there from the beginning; we believe all Catholic doctrines were present in the apostolic age, whether explicitly or in kernel form (the “apostolic deposit” of Acts 2:42 and Jude 3). The early papacy was very much a kernel, but that is no argument whatever as to its somehow not being capable under the same premises of much subsequent development, or not established by Christ Himself.

As I explained in my first reply, William Webster seems to object to Catholic apologists appealing to development on some specific issues, not on any and every issue.

I can understand that, and agree that this shouldn’t be done (though I would disagree with his assessment as to how often Catholic apologists commit this error).

If Dave now agrees with me about this, then much of his first article was inaccurate and irrelevant.

Not really, because it would be limited to a discussion of papal development only, rather than development in general. But since the former subject was the main topic of discussion in both his article and Vatican I itself, my points still stand. I believe Mr. Webster was shown to be in great error with regard to the fact of what was taught by the Council.

If Webster would agree with Dave that Vatican I and Pope Leo XIII would accept some forms of development of doctrine, while rejecting other forms (and Webster thinks modern Catholic apologists are advocating some of those other forms), then what’s the point of Dave citing Vincent of Lerins, Cardinal Newman, etc.? What’s the point of making unqualified references to “development”, as though Webster would deny that Vatican I and Pope Leo XIII accepted development on any issue? I think my argument that Dave misrepresented William Webster’s position has yet to be refuted.

I have no problem admitting that Webster accepts some forms of development and rejects others. That is no big deal, and I accept your word on that. I continue to maintain that he neither understands the true nature of development, nor what Vatican I taught about papal development; and I say he accepts or denies developments arbitrarily, based on Protestant axiomatic presuppositions of which are “proper” and which are not. And Webster seems not to know that the Catholic Church thinks all Christian doctrines undergo development.

The issue isn’t: “Mariology develops but the papacy does not,” but rather: “by what principle do we determine what is a proper development of doctrine x and what is a corruption of doctrine x?” For the Catholic (to offer an example), transubstantiation would be a “proper development” of patristic views with regard to the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. The Zwinglian purely symbolic presence would be a corruption of same.

III. Deductive vs. Speculative Developments (the Holy Trinity vs. the Immaculate Conception)
As this article addresses specific issues such as the Immaculate Conception and the papacy, I want the reader to keep something in mind. We ought to distinguish between possibilities and probabilities. When an evolutionist ignores the probable evidence for creation in favor of highly unlikely possibilities regarding how life may have evolved, conservative Catholics and evangelicals alike condemn that.

When a skeptic of Christianity proposes a highly unlikely alternative theory to the resurrection, such as that all of the witnesses were either lying or hallucinating, and that the corroboration from non-Christians was either forged or reliant on Christian sources, conservative Catholics and evangelicals alike condemn that. When Catholics are responding to skeptics of Christianity, they’re careful in distinguishing between possibilities and probabilities. They ought to do the same when responding to evangelicals, but they often don’t.

I agree with the abstract principle Jason sets down here, but I’m sure we will disagree on its application in individual instances.

Let me cite an example I referred to in my first reply to Dave. According to Dave and other Catholic apologists, Roman Catholic doctrines rejected by evangelicals have developed in a way comparable to how Trinitarian doctrine developed.

Yes. There is no difference in principle. Protestants will always argue, of course, that distinctive Catholic doctrines have no biblical support (and I imagine you will do that here), but that is a separate issue. One can quibble about relative support from the Bible, and then one can wrangle over the actual historical process of development. Sola Scriptura itself is false on other grounds (not the least of which are strong biblical arguments), and the canon of the New Testament is utterly without biblical support, yet Protestants accept it as a legitimate development. That flaw and blatant inconsistency in their system has never been adequately overcome.

Let’s compare the development of a Trinitarian doctrine, the co-existence of the three Persons, with the development of a Roman Catholic doctrine, the Immaculate Conception. Can it be said that the concept of the co-existence of the three Persons developed over time? Yes, if what’s meant is that people’s understanding of the concept and its importance, as well as its presence in various passages of scripture, expanded over time.

However, as I explained in my first reply to Dave, the difference between something like the co-existence of the three Persons and something like the Immaculate Conception is that the former is logically necessary and non-speculative in what Jesus and the apostles taught, whereas the latter is logically unnecessary and speculative.

Okay; how is the canon of the New Testament logically necessary and non-speculative like the Trinity? If you can’t give any support for that, your argument collapses, since Protestants would then be accepting a notion which is parallel logically and in terms of “solid biblical evidence” with the Immaculate Conception, and you would then have to explain your own arbitrariness in accepting the canon on a different logical basis than something like the Holy Trinity.

When a passage like Matthew 3:16-17 refers to all three Persons of the Trinity existing at once, or some other passages refer to all three Persons raising Jesus from the dead, meaning that they had to have existed at the same time, the co-existence of the three Persons is unavoidable. Might it take a while for a person to realize this, and might his views be said to have developed in that sense? Yes. But does that make this Trinitarian doctrine comparable to a doctrine like the Immaculate Conception? No, it doesn’t. Let me explain why.

I agree that the Holy Trinity is the only possible deduction and consistent interpretation of all the biblical data (and I have two lengthy papers on my website presenting the hundreds of biblical proofs for the Godhood of Jesus and for the Holy Trinity). I also agree that the biblical evidences for the Trinity are far, far stronger than for the Immaculate Conception (though the latter are not entirely lacking, as Protestants suppose). But that is not relevant to the truthfulness of the Immaculate Conception; it is only relevant as to the extent and type of biblical proofs which can be given.

We don’t believe that every Christian doctrine has to be found whole and entire in the Scriptures, because Scripture itself does not lay that concept down as a principle for believing something or not. Protestants simply assume that sola Scriptura is true (thus making many of their arguments about doctrine circular), but, as I said, that is another argument. This discussion is about development of doctrine.

When a passage like Luke 1:28 is cited in favor of the Immaculate Conception, is it logically necessary to conclude that the passage is teaching the concept that Mary was conceived without sin? No, and not only is it not logically necessary, but it’s also highly speculative. The passage doesn’t say anything about sinlessness, much less sinlessness since the time of conception. The “full of grace” translation is an old one, and it’s widely rejected today.

But even if we assume that it’s the best translation of the passage, the Greek just can’t carry the weight that Catholic apologists want to place on it. There’s nothing in the Greek that leads to the conclusion of conception without sin. Even if we just consider the English translation, could “full of grace” be a reference to sinlessness? Yes. Could it also be a reference to sinfulness (Romans 5:20)? Yes. And however we interpret “full of grace”, it doesn’t tell us anything about how Mary was conceived.

One mustn’t claim too much for one’s argument. The Catholic apologist cannot possibly assert that the entire concept of the Immaculate Conception is included in Luke 1:28; only that that verse is entirely consistent with Mary being sinless, which itself is a prerequisite for the Immaculate Conception (and, we say, the kernel of the doctrine). That the verse strongly suggests sinlessness, however, can be shown by examining the linguistic considerations and cross-referencing.

Clearly, it’s false to claim that a concept like the co-existence of the three Persons developed in a way similar to how the concept of the Immaculate Conception developed. I’ll give further evidence to that effect in my section below that specifically addresses the Immaculate Conception doctrine.

I agree with this, but I don’t see how it renders the Immaculate Conception unworthy of belief, except under the assumption of sola Scriptura, which is a falsehood. You can’t simply assume sola Scriptura as some Eternal, Unquestioned Principle Etched in Stone when arguing with a Catholic apologist (because you are assuming what you are trying to prove; thus begging the question). We reject the notion as unbiblical and unworkable and illogical. Your comparison would be like saying:

“The Trinity has far more biblical support than does the canon of the New Testament [which has none whatsoever]; therefore, we gladly accept the Trinity but reject the New Testament canon.”

Obviously Protestants don’t do that, and therein lies their logical dilemma. But with regard to the Immaculate Conception, there is indeed an argument which I have developed from the Bible Alone:

1. The Bible teaches that we are saved by God’s grace.

2. The Bible teaches that we need God’s grace to live a holy life, above sin.

3. To be “full of” God’s grace, then, is to be saved.

4. Therefore, Mary is saved.

5. To be “full of” God’s grace is also to be so holy that one is sinless.

6. Therefore, Mary is holy and sinless.

7. The essence of the Immaculate Conception is sinlessness.

8. Therefore, the Immaculate Conception, in its essence, is directly deduced from
the strong evidence of many biblical passages, which teach the doctrines of #1 and #2.

The logic would seem to follow inexorably, from unquestionable biblical principles. The only way out of it would be to deny one of the two premises, and hold that either (1) grace doesn’t save, or that (2) grace isn’t that power which enables one to be sinless and holy. In this fashion, the entire essence of the Immaculate Conception is proven (alone) from biblical principles and doctrines which every orthodox Protestant holds.

Note again that I do not say the entire doctrine can be deduced from Scripture, but only its essence, which is sinlessness. That is already quite enough for Protestants to be alarmed about . . . The argument is fleshed out to a greater extent in the above-cited papers.

So, then, I ask the reader to remember the difference between a possibility and a probability as you read the rest of this article. Is Dave, along with other Catholic apologists, showing a preference for highly unlikely possibilities over far more likely probabilities? If a skeptic of Christianity did the same thing with regard to the issue of creation or Christ’s resurrection, how would you respond?

And I ask the reader to remember how Jason absolutely will not be able to show that the canon of Scripture has any more support in the Bible than the Immaculate Conception does. In fact, it undeniably has no support at all (whereas I have given support for the Immaculate Conception and have provided much more elsewhere). Everyone admits that the canon is not in the Bible itself.

Yet the Protestant never doubts it. It is as indubitable to him as the Trinity, even though it has not a shred of biblical evidence in its favor, and was, in fact, a decree of a Catholic local synod (a rather late development, coming in the late 4th century; more than 350 years after Jesus’ death), authoritatively accepted by two popes.

If Catholic apologists want to argue that the authority of the Catholic Church makes otherwise unlikely doctrines likely, isn’t that just the point that evangelicals are making? Evangelicals accuse Catholics of accepting doctrines that aren’t supported by the evidence, because the Roman Catholic Church teaches those doctrines.

I vigorously deny that they have no evidence. And I assert that they have much more biblical evidence than the canon of the New Testament and sola Scriptura, which have absolutely no biblical support, yet are bedrock fundamentals of the Protestant system of authority and theology. And since biblical support is made a requirement for every Protestant belief (excepting the two concepts above, though), that is quite a greater internal difficulty in your position than anything you can come up with in our system.

If Catholics are going to admit that concepts such as the Assumption of Mary and the seven sacraments are speculative, and that they can’t be traced back to the apostles historically, that’s an admission of what evangelicals have been saying.

We don’t admit those things in those terms (much as you would love us to, to make your job much easier). All the sacraments are indicated in Scripture, and even the Assumption can be deduced from it (though the historical evidence is weaker than that of perhaps any other Catholic doctrine).

As we’ll see in the section of this article that addresses the papacy, the concept that the Roman Catholic Church has the authority to develop doctrine for us is itself an unlikely and speculative development.

Authority, too, is a very complex (and separate) issue. It seems that Jason’s ambitions in this paper are rather grand. I find that dialogues are more constructive, however, in proportion to how narrow the subject matter is. I will have to limit my answers on all these side issues, having written about all these things at length elsewhere.

[deleted citation of mine and Jason’s reiteration of his argument]

Before going on to some specific doctrines, I want to respond to a comment Dave made in his reply to me. This is an argument that’s made by a lot of Catholic apologists, despite how irrational it is:

In Catholicism, it is not the individual who reigns supreme, but the corporate Christianity and ‘accumulated wisdom’ of the Church (itself grounded in Holy Scripture);

Relying on your own personal judgments is impossible to avoid. Evangelicals trust the Bible as their rule of faith because of their personal interpretation of the evidence. Catholics trust their rule of faith as a result of their personal interpretation of the evidence. So if Dave is referring to reliance on personal judgment, he’s criticizing something that every person does, including Catholics. If Dave wants to argue that he was criticizing something else, then what was he criticizing?

He can’t say that he was criticizing evangelicals for ignoring the conclusions reached by most of professing Christianity, because it seems that most of professing Christianity actually disagrees with Dave on some issues, such as transubstantiation and papal infallibility. According to polls, even many Catholics oppose some of what the Catholic Church teaches. So if Dave’s criticism of “the individual reigning supreme” isn’t a criticism of personal interpretation (which Catholics also rely on), and it isn’t a criticism of ignoring majority conclusions (some of what the Catholic Church teaches is rejected by the majority), then what is Dave criticizing?

I’ve dealt with this vexed issue of private judgment (yet another rabbit trail) many times . . .

[ . . . ]

In my first reply to Dave, I explained that the most straightforward reading of passages like Luke 1:47 and John 2:3-4 is that Mary was a sinner. Just after quoting me saying that, Dave made the following comment regarding Luke 1:47:

The Immaculate Conception was a pure act of grace on God’s part, saving Mary by preventing her from entering the pit of sin as she surely would have, but for that special grace.

Is this interpretation of Luke 1:47, that God is Mary’s Savior in the sense of keeping her from ever sinning, a possibility? Yes, it is. But remember what Dave was responding to. He was responding to my argument that viewing Mary as a sinner is the more straightforward interpretation of the passage. And is it? Yes, it obviously is. There’s no scriptural precedent for Dave’s interpretation of Luke 1:47, whereas there are all sorts of scriptural examples of God being a Savior to a person by saving him from sins actually committed.

In other words, Catholics are appealing to an unlikely interpretation of scripture in order to reconcile scripture with a Roman Catholic doctrine that wouldn’t be dogmatized until about 1800 years later. The point I made, that the more straightforward reading of Luke 1:47 is that Mary was a sinner, is valid.

On the face of it, yes, but this is an overly simplistic reading, without the proper exegesis. I agree that talk of a “Savior” most plausibly (and normally) refers to the need of redemption from sin. But there are exceptions to every rule, too. Just 19 verses earlier than Luke 1:47 we have a statement that Mary is “full of grace” (the Greek word is kecharitomene — which includes the root word charitoo — Greek for grace).

I made a deductive biblical argument above showing that she is sinless, based on the straightforward meaning of this verse. If she is sinless then she wouldn’t have sinned! That being the case, then in order to harmonize two seemingly contradictory statements in one passage, one must either reinterpret “Savior” or “full of grace.” The Catholic reinterprets the first; the Protestant reinterprets the second.

The difference is that the linguistic considerations for kecharitomene are fairly strong arguments favoring the Catholic position, whereas the Catholic argument with regard to “Savior” does not attempt to deny that Mary is saved; we are only saying that she was saved by grace in a different fashion than those who fall into actual sin.

She needed a Savior by the simple fact that she was a member of the fallen human race, just like every other creature. Yet the essence of being a human being is not sinfulness. If that were true, then Jesus wasn’t truly man; nor were Adam and Eve ever sinless at any time, nor was God’s creation originally “good.”

[deleted further material on the Immaculate Conception, private confession, the seven sacraments, and transubstantiation, so as to concentrate on the underlying premises of development itself, not specific doctrines dealt with elsewhere in my writings and website — all of which deserve their own in-depth treatments]

IV. Development and the New Testament Canon (Difficulties for Protestantism)
[N]otice how the term “essence” is being used. It’s important that you understand what’s going on here. What’s the primary “essence” that’s objected to by evangelicals in the concept of the seven sacraments? The numbering of the sacraments at seven. The Council of Trent anathematized anybody who says that there are less or more than seven sacraments. Can Dave and other Catholic apologists make an argument that the concept of sacraments is Biblical? Yes, they can. But can they make a rational Biblical argument for numbering the sacraments at seven? No, they can’t.

Can Jason and other Protestant apologists make an argument that the concept of biblical books is biblical? Yes, they can. But can they make a rational biblical argument for numbering the New Testament books at twenty-seven? No, they can’t.

Notice, then, what’s going on here. Dave is taking something not being disputed in this context (that the concept of sacraments can be defended as Biblical), and he’s saying that it represents the “essence” of what is in dispute (numbering the sacraments at seven).

I may have been unclear in my wording. What I was intending to argue was that (biblically established) sacramentalism itself is the essence of having seven sacraments, just as charisms in Scripture form the basis of spiritual gifts, no matter how many gifts are determined to exist. Having seven sacraments is, of course, not any bit more arbitrary than Luther’s and Calvin’s two, or Baptists having none.

Likewise, the essence of the biblical books is that they are all inspired. But determining exactly which and how many books possess this characteristic, and why, is another matter entirely, just as the determination of the number of sacraments must necessarily rely on human authority (guided by the Holy Spirit into all truth).

The same sort of thing is done by Catholic apologists on other issues. For example, the concept that Mary is a Second Eve is portrayed by Catholic apologists as an expression of the “essence” behind the Immaculate Conception, the “essence” that hasn’t changed over the years. But is that accurate? No, the concept of a Second Eve doesn’t have to involve an immaculately conceived Mary.

That’s right, but it is irrelevant, because no one is saying that it does. The Immaculate Conception is the development of the Second Eve concept, so by definition, the latter wouldn’t fully contain the former, else there would be no development at all to speak of. This is such an elementary consideration that Jason seems to have completely overlooked it.

The essence in this instance is sinlessness. That is what doesn’t change through the years, with increased understanding. So the Second Eve (as advanced by Church Fathers such as St. Irenaeus) doesn’t have to be without sin from conception, but the Immaculate Mary has to be sinless.

Upon reflection of what it means to be sinless and to be the Theotokos, or “God-bearer,” and — following the parallelism — how original sin stands in relation to the First Eve and the Second Eve (itself an analogy to the Pauline motif of “in Adam all men fell / in Christ all men are saved”), the mind of the Church arrived in due course at the Immaculate Conception, which amounts to no more than God bringing Mary to the place that Eve was before the Fall and the introduction of original sin.

It is really quite simple. Protestants make it much more complicated than it has to be, because of their prior hostility to a sinless creature, and what they falsely think this means with regard to the inherent nature of Mary (i.e., they suspect that Catholics are raising her to an idolatrously exalted position that no human being can attain).

To say that the concept of a New Eve is an expression of the “essence” that Roman Catholics still believe today, and to act as though that proves that the Immaculate Conception has always been a doctrine of the Christian church (as Pope Pius IX taught), is fallacious.

Jason’s reasoning is what is “fallacious” here. He doesn’t understand how the Catholic Church applies development in individual instances. When the Church states that something has “always been believed,” what it is saying is that the kernel or essence has always been believed, not the entire developed doctrine (just as St. Vincent of Lerins combined his famous “canon” or “dictum” — “what has been believed everywhere, always, and by all” – with a superb exposition on development, in the very same writing).

In other words, it is not a matter of the Church being intellectually dishonest with history and engaging in self-serving historical revisionism (as is the charge from the contra-Catholic critics of development); rather, it is the Protestant polemicist who has only a dim understanding at best of how we view development of doctrine.

Catholic apologists are taking concepts that aren’t in dispute and are calling them expressions of the “essence” of what is in dispute, even when there’s nothing that logically requires the disputed concept to be part of the undisputed concept that allegedly has the “essence”.

But again, this is a non sequitur. Apparently Jason is looking at Second Eve without taking into consideration that sinlessness is part and parcel of that concept, by its very nature, and can’t be separated from it. Eve was originally sinless. This is the whole point of the Second Eve analogy in the Fathers. Mary is a “second chance,” so to speak, for the human race to do the right thing, rather than rebel against God.

Mary’s “yes” at the Annunciation undoes Eve’s “no” at the Fall. They both had to be without sin for their acts to have the significance that they both did, and for the parallelism to apply. Therefore, the initial concept or “kernel” (New Eve = Mary’s sinlessness) is disputed by Protestants, just as the development (Immaculate Conception) is, and Jason’s point has no force, based as it is on a misunderstanding once again.

The example I used earlier was the fact that somebody like Tertullian could see Mary as a New Eve, yet consider her a sinner at the same time.

There are always exceptions to the rule. Catholics don’t say that all Fathers agree on any given point; only that there was a great consensus; precisely as with the canon of Scripture. Protestants minimize the dissenting opinions on the canon of Scripture, whereas they maximize them when it comes to Mary’s sinlessness and the Second Eve patristic motif. The only difference is that one involves a notion they accept, and the other, one that they reject; hence the historical bias and conveniently selective historical emphasis.

But that’s not fair, open-minded inquiry. It is special pleading. Rather than acknowledge the patristic consensus on Mary, Protestant polemicists dwell on the exceptions to the rule, as if this disproves anything (as the Catholic Church already agrees that exceptions will and do occur).

I could just as easily make a vacuous, specious argument that the 27-book New Testament canon is illegitimate because, up to 160 A.D no one seemed to acknowledge the canonicity of the books of Acts, Hebrews, James, 1 and 2 Peter, 1, 2, 3 John, Jude, and Revelation (that’s 10 out of 27 books). Justin Martyr (d.c. 165) didn’t recognize Philippians or 1 Timothy, and his Gospels included apocryphal material. Clement of Alexandria and Origen (before the mid-3rd century) seemed to think that the Epistle of Barnabas was inspired Scripture.

They thought the same about the Didache, and the Shepherd of Hermas (along with Irenaeus and Tertullian, in the latter instance). Clement of Alexandria (d.c. 215) also thinks that The Apocalypse and Peter and the Gospel of Hebrews were Scripture, and Origen accepted the Acts of Paul. No Father got all the books right (and excluded others later decided to be uncanonical) until St. Athanasius in 367, more than 300 years after Christ’s death.

The famous Muratorian Canon of c. 190 excluded Hebrews, James, and 1 and 2 Peter and included The Apocalypse of Peter and Wisdom of Solomon. The Council of Nicaea in 325 questioned the canonicity of James, 2 Peter, 2 John, 3 John, and Jude. James wasn’t even quoted in the West until around 350 A.D.! Revelation was rejected by Cyril of Jerusalem, John Chrysostom, and Gregory Nazianzen, and the Epistle of Barnabas and Shepherd of Hermas were included in the Codex Sinaiticus in the late 4th century.

By Jason’s reasoning process, then, we ought to reject the New Testament canon, as there were so many anomalies in lists of the books well into the 4th century (people didn’t know what the essence of the canon was, and later interpreters anachronistically imposed their views back upon the earlier Fathers). Some local Catholic Councils make an authoritative list in 393 and 397 (which are authoritatively approved by two popes as binding on all the faithful), and this is accepted pretty much without question by all Christians subsequently, as if the list itself were inspired.

Yet when it comes to something like the Immaculate Conception, the fact that some altogether predictable anomalies in the Fathers can be found is proof positive to Jason and many Protestants that the doctrine is illegitimate and to be discarded, on that basis alone, not to mention alleged complete lack of scriptural proofs. Here is some of the evidence which is present in the Fathers for the Second Eve concept and Mary’s sinlessness, and kernels of the later fully-developed Immaculate Conception:

In the second century, St. Justin Martyr is already expounding the “New Eve” teaching:

Christ became man by the Virgin so that the disobedience which proceeded from the serpent might be destroyed in the same way it originated. For Eve, being a virgin and undefiled, having conceived the word from the serpent, brought forth disobedience and death. The Virgin Mary, however, having received faith and joy, when the angel Gabriel announced to her the good tidings . . . answered: Be it done to me according to thy word. (Dialogue with Trypho, 100:5, in Graef, Hilda, Mary: A History of Doctrine and Devotion, combined ed. of vols. 1 & 2, London: Sheed & Ward, 1965 — as are all patristic quotes following unless otherwise noted)

St. Irenaeus, a little later, takes up the same theme: “What the virgin Eve had tied up by unbelief, this the virgin Mary loosened by faith.” (Against Heresies, 3,21,10) In the third century, Origen taught Mary as the second-Eve (Homily 1 on Matthew 5) Eusebius, the first Church historian, calls her panagia, or “all-holy.” (Ecclesiastica Theologia) St. Ephraem is thought to be the first Father to hold to the Immaculate Conception: “You alone and your Mother are good in every way; for there is no blemish in thee, my Lord, and no stain in thy Mother.” (Nisibene Hymns, 27,8) He invokes the Blessed Virgin in very “Catholic” fashion:

O virgin lady, immaculate Mother of God, my lady most glorious, most gracious, higher than heaven, much purer than the sun’s splendor, rays or light . . . (“Prayer to the Most Holy Mother of God”)

St. Gregory Nazianzen, still in the same century, frequently refers to Mary as “undefiled.” (Carmina, 1,2,1) St. Gregory of Nyssa calls her “undefiled,” (E.g., Against Appolinaris, 6) and develops the Mary-Eve theme. (Homily 13 on the Canticle / On the Birth of Christ) St. Epiphanius, like all the Fathers, he places Mariology under the category of Christology and states: “He who honours the Lord honours also the holy vessel; he who dishonours the holy vessel, also dishonours his Lord.” (Panarion, 78,21) St. Epiphanius also teaches the parallelism of Eve and Mary (which was the common belief of Eastern, Greek Christianity, and concludes that Mary is “the mother of the living.” (Panarion, 78,18).

He identifies the Woman of Revelation 12 with Mary and suggests that she may have been assumed bodily into heaven (Panarion, 78,11). St. Ambrose contended that she was sinless. (Commentary on Luke, 2,17 / Commentary on Psalms 118, 22,30) St. Jerome, in the late fourth and early fifth century, continued the Second Eve motif. St. Augustine affirms the sinlessness of the Blessed Virgin Mary:

The holy Virgin Mary, about whom, for the honour of the Lord, I want there to be no question where sin is mentioned, for concerning her we know that more grace for conquering sin in every way was given to her who merited to conceive and give birth to him, who certainly had no sin whatsoever — this virgin excepted, if we could . . . ask all saints, whether they were without sin, what, do we think, would they answer? (Nature and Grace, 36,42)

Just as Catholics argue for seven sacraments, somebody else could argue for two, three, six, or twelve.

Precisely my point earlier. It obviously rests on human ecclesiastical authority. That Calvin and Luther (or Zwingli) would possess this necessary authority, rather than the Fathers or the Council of Trent and other Ecumenical Councils, or popes, are different questions entirely, and ones which cause innumerable problems for the Protestant position vis-a-vis any consistent notion of Church history and the biblical basis of authority.

In fact, before the Middle Ages, there were all sorts of numbers given to the sacraments. The concept that there are no less and no more than seven is a concept of the Middle Ages that cannot in any rational way be traced back to the apostles.

In fact, before 367, there were all sorts of books considered to be inspired and part of the New Testament (and a lack of acknowledgment of certain inspired books). The notion that there are no less and no more than twenty-seven is a concept of the mid-4th century at the earliest (St. Athanasius), that cannot in any rational way be traced back to the apostles.

Therefore, the New Testament canon is every bit as arbitrary as the seven sacraments of Catholicism (and Orthodoxy).

What if some group was to declare dogmatically that there are nine sacraments, the seven of the Roman Catholic Church, along with foot washing (John 13:5-15) and taking offerings (1 Corinthians 16:1)? What if this group would anathematize anybody who disagrees, and would claim that its tradition of nine sacraments had developed no differently than Trinitarian doctrine has?

We would show that such a group has neither the authority of the Catholic Church, nor the historical or biblical arguments which we have in support of our notions of development of doctrine.

This [the canon] is an issue that Catholic apologists consider one of their greatest strengths.

Indeed. We are seeing a demonstration of the weakness of opposing arguments unfold before our very eyes. :-)

It’s actually one of their greatest weaknesses.

We shall see as the discussion unfolds. It is always to a person’s “tactical” advantage if their dialogical opponent greatly underestimates the strength of their arguments. It’s like the old Chinese maxim about warfare: that one must always start with a proper respect for their adversary, in order to prevail in battle.

Unfortunately, most evangelicals, even well-known evangelical apologists, haven’t thought through the issue enough to realize its potential for disproving Roman Catholicism.

The first part doesn’t surprise me at all; the second part is simply untrue, as will be shown.

. . . I’m aware that Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and other church fathers held a different New Testament canon than I hold today. And I would add, . . . that there were disagreements on the New Testament canon even beyond the fourth century.


1. True developments must be explicitly grounded in Scripture, or else they are arbitrary and “unbiblical” or “antibiblical” — therefore false. Dr. James White (a la Confucius) says: “The text of Scripture provides the grounds, and most importantly, the limits for this development over time” (Roman Catholic Controversy, p. 83).


2. The Trinity and the Resurrection of Christ and the Virgin Birth, for example, are thoroughly grounded in Scripture, and are therefore proper (but Catholics also hold to these beliefs).

3. The canon of the New Testament is (undeniably) not itself a “biblical doctrine.” The New Testament never gives a “text” for the authoritative listing of its books.

4. Therefore, the canon of the New Testament is not a legitimate development of doctrine (according to #1), and is, in fact, a corruption and a false teaching.

5. Therefore, in light of #4, the New Testament (i.e., in the 27-book form which has been passed down through the Catholic centuries to Luther and the Protestants as a received Tradition) cannot be used as a measuring-rod to judge the orthodoxy of other doctrines.

6. #5 being the case, the Engwer/White criterion for legitimate developments is radically self-defeating, and must be discarded (along with sola Scriptura itself).

The Roman Catholic rule of faith doesn’t list its own canon either. There is no allegedly infallible ruling of the Roman Catholic Church that lists every oral tradition, every papal decree, every council ruling, etc. that’s infallible.

We’re talking about the canon of the New Testament at the moment. Switching the subject does not alleviate internal Protestant difficulties and inconsistencies (in fact, Catholic views – whatever one thinks of them – obviously have nothing to do with alleged Protestant inconsistencies). We’re not discussing at the moment which system is preferable, but rather, whether Protestantism is logically consistent with regard to the canon and other developments which proceed on (we hold) scarcely any different principles. These are two separate discussions. At the moment, I hope that Jason will deal with my critique of his system, per the lengthy citation of my words he has posted above.

At least evangelicals have a specific canon for their rule of faith, which is more than can be said for Roman Catholics.

That is not at issue here. We know what the Protestant measuring-rod is. We want to know the process by which it is arrived at within Protestant presuppositions, and how and why this (epistemological) process is self-consistent and supposedly different in kind than the same sort of processes we would cite pertaining to the development of doctrines with which Protestants disagree.

There is no “measuring rod” in Roman Catholicism that’s specifically defined. That’s why the path is wide open to whatever speculations and heresies Roman Catholic theologians can convince their hierarchy to teach.

This is simply evasion of Protestant difficulties by switching the topic over to Catholicism.

Do you want to claim that Mary was immaculately conceived? How about calling her the dispenser of all grace?

This is even further removed from our topic (perhaps we could also take up the subjects of plate tectonics or how to improve the fortunes of the Detroit Lions next season?). The Mediatrix issue is complex in and of itself, and involves a huge discussion (and many elements vastly misunderstood by Protestants).

Maybe you want to proclaim her the incarnation of the Holy Spirit, as I’ve heard some Catholic theologians have proposed?

Name them . . . and explain what you think they mean (in another exchange, where it is on the subject).

There is no specific canon for the Roman Catholic rule of faith. The sky is the limit, and it seems that even the sky can be removed if it gets in the way of elevating Mary, for example. Catholics claim that “Sacred Tradition” is part of their rule of faith, but the term is so unspecified as to lead to all sorts of speculative and unverifiable conclusions. If the absence of a specific list of canonical books in scripture has been a fault in evangelicalism, then the absence of a specific list of all “Sacred Traditions” in Catholicism has been an even worse fault.

Why do I say that it’s been even worse? Wouldn’t it just be an equal problem? I say that it’s been worse because at least evangelicals have used specific principles to define a specific canon, whereas Catholics leave their canon undefined and ripe for abuse. (The reader may want to see my article titled “A Question for Those Who Oppose Sola Scriptura“)

This is all perfectly irrelevant to my immediate critique, as succinctly summarized in my six-part argument that Jason cited above. The only relevant part is the half-sentence: “at least evangelicals have used specific principles to define a specific canon.” I hope that Jason will expand upon that and actually deal with my arguments. It is sort of like the child’s taunt, “well, well, . . . well, your dad’s uglier than my dad!” “At least my dad doesn’t do so-and-so like yours does!” This sort of “reasoning” is also often applied to political matters and (as we see) to religious issues as well.

The primary canonical criterion of evangelicals is the same as that of the church fathers: apostolicity. And the concept of the unique authority of the apostles is undeniably Biblical. The Protestant historian J.N.D. Kelly explains in Early Christian Doctrines (San Francisco, California: HarperCollins Publishers, 1978) that “the criterion which ultimately came to prevail was apostolicity. Unless a book could be shown to come from the pen of an apostle, or at least to have the authority of an apostle behind it, it was peremptorily rejected, however edifying or popular with the faithful it might be.” (p. 60)

This is fine, but it has no bearing on the arguments I have presented with regard to Protestants and the canon, according to their own principles of authority, and in relation to other developments. We agree on this general notion of apostolicity, so it is not at issue.

The criterion of the early post-apostolic Christians was whether a book was apostolic (John 16:13-15, Acts 1:8, 1 Corinthians 12:28, 2 Peter 3:2), not whether a hierarchy in Rome approved of the book.

How come no one in the early period seemed to know that the book of Acts was apostolic then (written, as it was, by Luke, whose Gospel was accepted early on)? We don’t hold that a book is apostolic simply because Rome says so. The Church merely recognizes what is inherently what it is: an inspired document. But there still must be some authoritative recognition. This is part of my point.

To the contrary, Eusebius tells us in his church history (3:3) that most churches accepted the canonicity of Hebrews even while the Roman church was not accepting it. And individuals and churches accepted and rejected other books that were not accepted and rejected by the Roman church. The early church’s approach toward the canon contradicts the Roman Catholic approach.

Be that as it may, it doesn’t affect my argument one way or another. You have to answer to my specific arguments, both in the original paper, and elaborations in this one. So far you haven’t touched them with a ten-foot pole.

It will do no good to argue that the Roman church allowed people to follow whatever canon they wanted to follow early on.

I agree, which is why I didn’t make such an argument.

The early writers cite books of scripture as Divine revelation, and they hold all people responsible for obeying those books as the word of God. They didn’t view this as a matter of freedom that was allowed by a Pope. Rather, they personally evaluated the evidence for which books should be considered canonical, and they arrived at their own conclusions.

They were just as confident in and reliant upon personal judgments in these matters as evangelicals are today. They obviously didn’t agree with the modern Catholic apologists who argue that we can’t be confident about whether a book is scripture unless we have an infallible ruling from the Roman Catholic Church.

More non sequiturs . . .

I referred to personally evaluating evidence to arrive at a canon. And here I want to quote a comment Dave made:

So I guess that means Jason thinks he has “replied” to my six-point argument and is now content to “move ahead.”

On what basis can you absolutely bow to (Catholic) Church authority in that one instance, while you deny its binding nature in all others, and fall back to Scripture Alone, the very canon of which was proclaimed authoritatively by the Catholic Church?

Elsewhere at his web site, Dave argues that one of the regional councils in Africa late in the fourth century settled the canon. How can a regional council in Africa settle the canon for Roman Catholics? The council of Carthage in 397 doesn’t even correspond with the canon of Roman Catholicism. For example, it apparently defined 1 Esdras differently than the Roman Catholic Church does. (Different groups have defined 1 Esdras in different ways over the centuries. The term “1 Esdras” refers to different books in different contexts.) Getting back to the main point, though, how does a regional council in Africa settle the canon for Dave and other Catholics?

Because it was granted the authority of papal approval, just as Ecumenical Councils historically were. Pope Innocent I concurred with and sanctioned the canonical ruling of the councils of Hippo and Carthage (Letter to Exsuperius, Bishop of Toulouse) in 405 (he also reiterated this in 414). Carthage and Hippo were preceded by a Roman Council (382) of identical opinion, and were further ratified by Pope Gelasius I in 495, as well as the 6th Council of Carthage in 419.

The Protestant reference work, Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (2nd edition, edited by F. L. Cross & E. A. Livingstone, Oxford Univ. Press, 1983, 232) states:

    A council probably held at Rome in 382 under St. Damasus gave a complete list of the canonical books of both the Old Testament and the New Testament (also known as the ‘Gelasian Decree’ because it was reproduced by Gelasius in 495), which is identical with the list given at Trent.

I’ve noticed an inconsistency on the part of Catholic apologists. When discussing papal infallibility, we’re repeatedly told that we must be careful to realize just what is infallible and what isn’t. In fact, we must be so careful that perhaps only two or three documents in church history qualify as representing an exercise of papal infallibility. But, on the other hand, when discussing an issue like the canon, it seems that just about anything will do. Does a regional council in Africa agree with most of the Roman Catholic canon, but not all of it? Close enough! We thereby have an infallible ruling on the Roman Catholic canon.

I have explained it sufficiently above, I think. This will suffice for fair-minded and open-minded readers.

The truth is that the Roman Catholic canon was settled for Catholics at the Council of Trent.

In the highest level of authority, yes. But that was simply a stronger statement of what had occurred more than 1100 years earlier.

But, if you’re a Catholic apologist, try telling people that Christians for over 1500 years had no reason for being confident in what is and isn’t scripture.

Note that Jason is again (maybe he is unaware of his tendencies) speaking about alleged Catholic internal inconsistencies (and in a factually-incorrect manner at that), rather than dealing with my critique of the Protestant system. and what I contend is internal incoherence and radical inconsistency.

Actually, we can go back more than 1500 years. James White has made an argument on this subject for years now, and I’ve never seen a Catholic apologist respond to it intelligently. Jesus and the apostles repeatedly held people responsible, in the strongest terms, for knowing the Old Testament scriptures and obeying them. How did a man living at the time of Christ or earlier know that a book like Psalms or Isaiah was scripture, the word of God? Did he have some infallible ruling on the matter comparable to how Catholics view the Council of Trent? No, he didn’t.

There was no significant disagreement as to the books (unlike that of the New Testament canon, for over 300 years), excepting the deuterocanonical books, which might be regarded as a “post-canonical” dispute. These books were included in the Greek Septuagint, which was the one the apostles were most familiar with, but Protestants later saw fit to exclude them from their canon. This by no means overcomes my objection, and is only barely relevant.

The practice of people living in the Old Testament era was to accept books as scripture as a result of a personal judgment of the evidence, without any infallible hierarchy passing an infallible ruling on the matter. The people of Jesus’ time, the apostolic Christians, and the early post-apostolic Christians did the same. Modern evangelicals do that as well.

Quite the contrary: the Jews had an authoritative oral tradition, and rejected sola Scriptura. They were far more similar to Catholics in terms of authority-structure, than to Protestants. I demonstrated this at length in the chapter, “The Old Testament, the Ancient Jews, and Sola Scriptura,” on pages 52-60 of my second book, More Biblical Evidence for Catholicism.

On the other hand, we have modern Catholic apologists. (Some modern Anglicans, Eastern Orthodox, and other groups make similar arguments, though there are some differences.) Who do you think is right? The people mentioned in the paragraph above? Or the people mentioned in this paragraph? I side with the former, and I see no rational argument for doing otherwise.

I think both are right, because they operate on a largely analogous principle, whereas Protestants have adopted a radically different principle.

And just what am I referring to when I say that evangelicals arrive at their canon by means of examining evidence? Are Dave and other Catholic apologists correct in saying that I’m just referring to “Sacred Tradition”? No, that’s a false label. When a manuscript of the gospel of John is discovered that dates to the early second century, using such evidence to reach your conclusion about the dating of the gospel of John is not equivalent to relying on Roman Catholic “Sacred Tradition”.

Of course it isn’t. Who ever stated otherwise? But I fail to see how this has anything to do with what we are (supposedly) talking about.

What Catholics call “Sacred Tradition” didn’t even exist during the earliest centuries of Christianity. The church fathers who referred to “tradition” in one way or another defined it in different, and sometimes contradictory, ways. They never defined it just as Catholics do, with a Pope, a magisterium, and concepts like the seven sacraments and the Assumption of Mary.

So now we are off to the dog races of the nature of Tradition (a gigantic topic in and of itself), and indeed, the papacy, the magisterium, seven sacraments, and the Assumption (practically every topic except the kitchen sink). This is most unimpressive.

Do evangelicals rely on post-apostolic Christian documents as part of the evidence that leads them to their canon? Yes, they do. They also rely on internal evidence within the New Testament documents, archaeology, manuscript evidence, non-Christian writers, etc. To say that doing this is equivalent to “absolutely bowing to (Catholic) Church authority”, as Dave claims, is irrational. Agreement isn’t equivalent to submission. I agree with the monotheism of Islam, but that doesn’t mean that I submit to the Moslem hierarchy as my infallible guide in matters of faith.

And I agree with the New Testament canon of the Roman Catholic Church, but that doesn’t mean that I submit to the Roman Catholic Church as my infallible guide in matters of faith. It doesn’t even mean that I submit to the Roman Catholic Church on this one issue. I agree with the Catholic Church’s New Testament canon. I disagree with its Old Testament canon. Both conclusions are the result of my personal evaluation of evidence.

And this entire paragraph does nothing whatsoever to soften my critique of Jason’s position, because it never deals with my critique. I already knew that Jason didn’t submit to the authority of the Catholic Church. Nothing new or surprising there.

In closing this section of my article, I want to address the claim that the canon is a development of doctrine comparable to the seven sacraments, the Assumption of Mary, papal infallibility, etc. We have specific evidence for the authenticity of the New Testament books. Even most liberal scholars date all of the New Testament books, or the large majority at least, to the first century. The arguments against the authenticity of a book like 1 Timothy or 2 Peter are, in my view, unconvincing.

The grammatical arguments can reasonably be answered on the grounds of the use of a secretary (1 Peter 5:12). The internal arguments for authenticity, along with the external evidence, outweigh the arguments against authenticity. 2 Peter is the most doubted book in the evangelical canon. Yet, I think even the evidence for that book is more than sufficient. (See, for example, the discussion of this issue in D.A. Carson, Douglas J. Moo, and Leon Morris, An Introduction to the New Testament [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1992], pp. 433-443.

Also, see Glenn Miller’s article at http://www.webcom.com/ctt/ynotpeter1.html.) The New Testament books are written documents that we can examine by means of internal evidence and early and widespread external evidence. The same cannot be said of a doctrine like the Immaculate Conception, the seven sacraments, or private confession of all sins to a priest.

Interesting, and Catholics agree with this assessment of the canon, but (as always, thus far) this doesn’t deal with my critique. It is no dialogue to simply write about things concerning which both sides agree.

The canon is just a collection of books. When the specific collection we accept today was recognized as a collection is, in a sense, irrelevant.

Maybe that is the key to why Jason continually avoids interacting with my actual arguments.

What matters more is whether each individual book is authentic. Being given one long string of books, a canonical list, isn’t the only way to arrive at a canon. You can also arrive at a canon by stringing the books together one at a time, without a list.

Then why wasn’t anyone able to do that for more than 300 years after Jesus’ death and Resurrection? It’s easy to talk about abstractions and theories from our armchairs 1600 years or more after the fact; quite another to explain why it didn’t quite work out that way in the actual history of the process by which the Church arrived at the present canon.

Protestantism, however, has an inherent a-historical tendency, hence Jason’s assertion that historical “difficulties” are “irrelevant” because now we have archaeology and the Holy Spirit, etc. I suppose that if Jason takes the route of fideism and a-historicism, then that might be construed as his “reply” to my criticisms (not by me, but by some people who are themselves of the same general mindset).

The evidence for the 27 books of the New Testament canon is early, widespread, and specific.

367 (the first complete list, from St. Athanasius) is “early”? The evidence was “widespread and specific” prior to that, yet there were many, many anomalies, as I have outlined, and no one able to “get” what every Protestant with a black leather Bible in his lap “knows” today? This “argument” of Jason’s just gets more and more distant from both historical reality and logic.

In comparison, the alleged evidence for something like the Immaculate Conception or the Assumption of Mary is late and not widespread until even later, and is often vague and highly questionable. To say that the evidence for a collection of first century documents is similar to the evidence for a concept like the Assumption of Mary, which first appears hundreds of years after the time of the apostles in an apocryphal, heretical document, is absurd. It’s spurious to argue that the canon developed in a way comparable to the development of something like the Immaculate Conception or the seven sacraments.

For the 15th time, citing Catholic doctrines and the usual garden-variety objections to them will not overcome alleged internal difficulties of Protestantism. I’ve carefully replied to the numerous charges made, insofar as they were remotely related to the subject matter, and time-permitting (and referred readers to other papers where appropriate). But Jason will not respond to my various arguments which charge that Protestantism is internally-inconsistent.

I think anybody open-mindedly and honestly considering the canon and the issues related to it would have to conclude that the subject is far more problematic for Catholics than for evangelicals.

I submit that the opposite is true, judging by this dialogue . . .

Roman Catholic apologists have repeatedly proven that they don’t even understand the issue, much less can they use it to refute evangelicalism.

Well, we make the same charge towards Protestants, so I can’t fault Jason for the mere charge. I think the record of this present exchange demonstrates that I have given careful answers to Jason’s on-subject arguments, whereas he has not reciprocated. One can only hope that he will in his presumed counter-reply. The record of what has occurred speaks for itself and I believe I have accomplished my task of defending the Catholic position and revealing difficulties in the Protestant one.

V. The Development of the Papacy
The papacy is the most important doctrinal development Catholics have to defend.

It’s pretty high up on the list; I agree.

The papacy is the development that’s used to defend other developments that aren’t supported by the historical evidence.


A Catholic may not be too concerned when he realizes how historically groundless the Immaculate Conception is if he’s been convinced that the papal authority behind that doctrine is authentic.

As a momentary aside: I don’t see how such an approach of accepting authority without looking into the evidence is all that different from how a Calvinist approaches Calvin’s authority, or an historically-minded Protestant, Luther’s authority in those aspects in which he differs from the Catholic Church. Of course I deny the “groundless” charge.

If the Immaculate Conception isn’t convincing on historical grounds, it’s at least convincing on the basis of papal authority. But what if the papacy is itself an unverifiable development? What if it’s not only unverifiable, but even contrary to the evidence?

What if, indeed?

Dave Armstrong wrote in response to me that “the papacy is explicitly biblical”. That’s a strong claim. It’s also a false claim and an inexplicable one, given that the New Testament doesn’t say anything about Peter having jurisdiction over the other apostles,

It shows him as the preeminent apostle in many ways. See my 50 NT Proofs for Petrine Primacy and the Papacy.

having successors with that same authority,

That is just common sense. Why establish an office (Peter was, in effect, was made the prime minister of the Church by Jesus, as the exegesis of the “keys of the kingdom” establishes – as shown in my last exchange with Jason, with much Protestant support), only to have it cease with the death of Peter. That makes no sense. The very nature of an office is to be carried on; to have a succession. One doesn’t start a business, e.g., with a president, and then after the first president dies, the office ceases to exist and everyone is on their own. His former office is made into a lounge . . .

or Roman bishops exclusively being those successors.

That makes sense too, as Peter was the bishop of Rome, and the Roman See had prominence with both Peter and Paul being martyred there.

In fact, the Bible doesn’t mention Roman bishops at all.

So what? It doesn’t mention the canon or sola Scriptura at all, either. But it certainly does mention bishops and mentions distinct churches. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to put two and two together.

Most likely, the earliest Roman churches were led by multiple bishops, and none of them were perceived as Popes. I agree with the late Roman Catholic scholar Raymond Brown, writing in his Responses to 101 Questions on the Bible (Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press, 1990):

Obviously, first-century Christians would not have thought in terms of jurisdiction or of many other features that have been associated with the papacy over the centuries. Nor would the Christians of Peter’s lifetime have so totally associated Peter with Rome, since it was probably only in the last years of his life that he came to Rome. Nor would their respect for the church at Rome have been colored by the martyrdom of Peter and Paul there, or by a later history of the Roman church’s preservation of the faith against heresy. (p. 134)

I see no problem with this, as it was very early in the development of the papacy. Cardinal Newman has already ably answered this fatuous charge that the early papacy didn’t exist at all because it was different than today, etc.:

Let us see how, on the principles which I have been laying down and defending, the evidence lies for the Pope’s supremacy.

As to this doctrine the question is this, whether there was not from the first a certain element at work, or in existence, divinely sanctioned, which, for certain reasons, did not at once show itself upon the surface of ecclesiastical affairs, and of which events in the fourth century are the development; and whether the evidence of its existence and operation, which does occur in the earlier centuries, be it much or little, is not just such as ought to occur upon such an hypothesis.

. . . While Apostles were on earth, there was the display neither of Bishop nor Pope; their power had no prominence, as being exercised by Apostles. In course of time, first the power of the Bishop displayed itself, and then the power of the Pope . . .

When the Church, then, was thrown upon her own resources, first local disturbances gave exercise to Bishops,and next ecumenical disturbances gave exercise to Popes; and whether communion with the Pope was necessary for Catholicity would not and could not be debated till a suspension of that communion had actually occurred. It is not a greater difficulty that St. Ignatius does not write to the Asian Greeks about Popes, than that St. Paul does not write to the Corinthians about Bishops. And it is a less difficulty that the Papal supremacy was not formally acknowledged in the second century, than that there was no formal acknowledgment on the part of the Church of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity till the fourth. No doctrine is defined till it is violated . . .

Moreover, an international bond and a common authority could not be consolidated, were it ever so certainly provided, while persecutions lasted. If the Imperial Power checked the development of Councils, it availed also for keeping back the power of the Papacy. The Creed, the Canon, in like manner, both remained undefined. The Creed, the Canon, the Papacy, Ecumenical Councils, all began to form, as soon as the Empire relaxed its tyrannous oppression of the Church. And as it was natural that her monarchical power should display itself when the Empire became Christian, so was it natural also that further developments of that power should take place when that Empire fell . . .

On the whole, supposing the power to be divinely bestowed, yet in the first instance more or less dormant, a history could not be traced out more probable, more suitable to that hypothesis, than the actual course of the controversy which took place age after age upon the Papal supremacy.

It will be said that all this is a theory. Certainly it is: it is a theory to account for facts as they lie in the history, to account for so much being told us about the Papal authority in early times, and not more; a theory to reconcile what is and what is not recorded about it; and, which is the principal point, a theory to connect the words and acts of the Ante-nicene Church with that antecedent probability of a monarchical principle in the Divine Scheme, and that actual exemplification of it in the fourth century, which forms their presumptive interpretation. All depends on the strength of that presumption. Supposing there be otherwise good reason for saying that the Papal Supremacy is part of Christianity, there is nothing in the early history of the Church to contradict it . . .

Moreover, all this must be viewed in the light of the general probability, so much insisted on above, that doctrine cannot but develop as time proceeds and need arises, and that its developments are parts of the Divine system, and that therefore it is lawful, or rather necessary, to interpret the words and deeds of the earlier Church by the determinate teaching of the later. (Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, 1878 edition, Univ. of Notre Dame Press, 1989, 148-155; Part 1, Chapter 4, Section 3)

[deleted material about Newman, a Catholic historian, and Tertullian’s writing from his heretical Montanist period]

The Roman church is one apostolic church among others. Its importance is due not to a Divinely appointed papacy, but to practical factors, such as having been the location of the persecution or martyrdom of Peter, Paul, and John. Can you imagine a modern Catholic referring to the Roman church the way Tertullian does above, naming it as one apostolic church among others, recommending that you could consult it if you want to, since you’re geographically close to it?

Yes, because there were many apostolic churches. So what? We think the Orthodox have apostolicity, and they are not in communion with us at all.

The early Roman church was one of the most prominent of all the churches, sometimes even the most prominent. It was prominent, not papal. And it was the Roman church that was prominent early on more than the Roman bishop. (Dismissing Tertullian as a heretic won’t work in this case, since the above quotation is taken from something he wrote before becoming a Montanist, and it’s obvious that he held a positive view of the Roman church when he wrote the above. It’s just that his positive view of the Roman church didn’t have a thing to do with any papacy.)

That is all adequately explained by the Newman citation above, and perfectly consistent with his theory of development and the standard Catholic view of the nature of the developing government of the Church Universal.

. . . I’m familiar with Dave’s list of 50 alleged proofs of Petrine primacy. A lot of them are insignificant, despite his claim to the contrary. If he can see evidence of a papacy in the fact that Jesus preached from Peter’s boat or in the fact that Peter was the first disciple to enter Jesus’ tomb (John got there first, but stopped at the entrance), he has a much lower standard for “proof” than I have.

As I said, Jason is highly encouraged to actually offer reasonable replies to all 50 evidences, as opposed to merely belittling and dismissing them out of hand.

As I said in my first reply to Dave, there are a lot of unique things said or done by or about Peter. But there also are a lot of unique things said or done by or about other apostles. Why is it that when I ask a Catholic apologist whether John being referred to as “the beloved disciple” is evidence of a papal primacy of John, he responds as though the thought never occurred to him?

Probably because this was John’s description of himself. It was a form of humility, in referring to himself, in his Gospel (John 19:26, 20:2, 21:7,20). No one else in the Bible referred to him in that fashion, to my knowledge, but I might be wrong about that.

Why is it that a Catholic apologist can see the unique reference to John in John 21:22, the fact that only John called himself “the elder”, the fact that John lived the longest among the apostles, etc.,

Great age? Gee, that’s a new one on me.

yet never see any papal implications in any of those things?

Well, if Jason works up a list of 50 Biblical Proofs Suggesting that John, Not Peter, Was Pope, I will reply to it, point-by-point, even though Jason won’t grant me that courtesy.

Why can they see Paul publicly rebuking and correcting Peter,

That is perfectly irrelevant, and I addressed it in my paper, “Dialogue: Is St. Paul Superior to St. Peter?”

referring to his authority over all churches, referring to the gospel as “my gospel”, etc., yet not draw any papal conclusions from such things?

Well, for one thing: Paul wasn’t given the keys of the kingdom or chosen by Jesus to be the Rock upon which He chose to build His Church. This was Peter’s role.

Yet, let just about anything unique be said or done by or about Peter and it’s a significant “proof” of Peter being a Pope.

It is a cumulative argument. The main things, far and away, were Jesus’ own words to Peter. That’s where the whole notion originated. It didn’t come from nowhere, or “vain Romish imaginings and wishful thinking.” And that’s a pretty good place to start (with our Lord and Savior Jesus). Jason can mock the paper all he wants. The fair-minded reader who seeks truth may wish to take a look at it and see whether the evidences presented, taken together, are as extremely weak and insignificant as he makes them out to be.

Is it just me, or does referring to your authority over all churches (1 Corinthians 4:17, 7:17, 2 Corinthians 11:28) sound more papal than being the first disciple to walk into Jesus’ tomb after the resurrection?

An apostle certainly does have such authority. Peter exercised plenty of authority, and, e.g., exhorted all the other bishops (1 Peter 5:1), but since Jason has chosen to not reply to my paper, he has basically forfeited that particular argument by refusing to engage it from the outset. My job as an apologist would be a piece of cake if I concluded that all other arguments were without any merit; not even worth spending any time at all on. I could sit on my hands all day and revel in the superiority and unbreakable strength of my own position. That’s very easy.

If, however, Jason wishes to truly be acknowledged as an able apologist and respectable critic of the Catholic viewpoint, he will have to, at some time in the future, decide to engage opponents’ arguments in the depth which is required to qualify as a true, comprehensive rebuttal, as opposed to merely spewing out rhetoric, far too many topic-switching non sequiturs, and subtle mockery. He is even claimed to be an expert on the papacy on the prominent contra-Catholic website where he is now an associate researcher.

But if he refuses to adequately interact with my material (e.g., tons of citations in my last exchange with him, from Protestant scholars on Peter, which he has pretty much ignored in terms of direct interaction), I certainly won’t spend any more of my time in the future interacting with his writing, because I am interested in dialogue, not mutual monologue.

So much of what occurs with Peter is related to his personality. He didn’t open his mouth more often than other people, try to walk on water, cut off Malchus’ ear, etc. because he was a Pope. When he did these things, the disciples apparently had no concept of Peter being their ruler (Luke 22:24). Could Peter’s aggressive, risky behavior have something to do with him having an aggressive, risky personality rather than having to do with him being the Pontifex Maximus and the Vicar of Christ on earth? Could Jesus’ special care for Peter have something to do with him needing it rather than Jesus viewing him as a Pope?

Rock, possessor of the keys of the kingdom . . .

Maybe John didn’t need to have a triple affirmation of his love for Christ (John 21:15-17) because he hadn’t falsely boasted about how he would never betray Christ, only to give a triple denial of Christ shortly thereafter (Mark 14:66-72).

Without doubt this is a parallelism, but that no more proves that Peter wasn’t pope, than David’s sin with Bathsheba and murder of her husband proved that he wasn’t king, or the subject of a covenant with God, or the writer of most of the Psalms. Paul killed Christians before God knocked him off his high horse. So what? What does the fact that a person sins have to do with anything? Isn’t that what Christianity is about? To redeem sinners? If sinners can write an inspired, inerrant, infallible Bible, they can certainly be used as infallible popes as well.

Jesus took a personal, unique approach toward Thomas (John 20:26-29), toward Peter (John 21:15-17), toward John (John 21:22), and toward Paul (Acts 9:3-16). To read papal implications into any of those relationships is absurd.

I agree. Now perhaps Jason can enlighten me as to where I did that?

Peter was obviously the foremost of the 12 disciples, but he fades into the background once Paul comes on the scene. And Peter is the foremost of the 12 disciples even during Jesus’ earthly ministry, when he wasn’t perceived as any sort of Pope (Luke 22:24).

It was a growing understanding, just as the Bible was. The Bible and sola Scriptura are even more central in Protestantism than the papacy is in Catholicism, yet the New Testament wasn’t known in its final form for 300 years, and hence, sola Scriptura couldn’t have been exercised fully in all that time, either (and not by illiterate folks for another 1100 years until the printing press made widespread literature available, and widespread literacy was finally achieved). If that doesn’t sink Jason’s position, then a slowly-growing understanding of the papacy doesn’t sink ours.

Even before Matthew 16 was spoken, we see Peter as unique among the disciples in some ways. To attribute these things to a papal primacy is speculative and irrational.

I don’t see how that follows. Once one admits that Peter was the leader of the apostles, then that is perfectly consistent with our argument that this is an indication that he would be the leader of the Church Universal.

. . . It’s possible that the First Vatican Council meant what Dave thinks it meant, but the context suggests otherwise. If the papacy is a “clear doctrine of Holy Scripture”, as the First Vatican Council calls it, and is “explicitly biblical”, as Dave calls it, where are we to see that if not in passages like Matthew 16 and John 21? If it’s not clear and explicit there, where is it? In Jesus preaching from Peter’s boat? In Peter being the only disciple to try to walk on water?

It certainly is clear in Matthew 16. I gave a host of exegetical arguments in our last exchange, but Jason refuses to interact with them. So this is not a dialogue, as far as I am concerned. I decided to answer his reply, because he is the only person I am aware of who had produced a response to one of my papers that I hadn’t counter-replied to (it is my policy to always do so). But I won’t reply again unless my material is directly interacted with.

If the church fathers didn’t see a papacy in passages like Matthew 16 and John 21, where did they see it?

They saw it. It took a little time, just like the canon and trinitarianism and Mariology did. Faith alone and imputed, forensic justification took a lot of time, too, didn’t they? Protestant scholars Norman Geisler and Alister McGrath both essentially admit that such doctrines were absent from the Christian Church between the time of Paul and Luther (the same is certainly true of a symbolic Eucharist and baptism, and many other novel Protestant doctrines).

1500 years for one of the pillars of Protestantism to be understood as the “plain” teaching in Scripture that it is claimed to be? That has a full development and understanding of the papacy beat by a good 900 years (if we date the fully-developed papacy from Pope Gregory the Great’s reign (590-604). Yet Jason is quibbling about the short timespan of two or three centuries? This is what I call “log-in-the-eye disease.”

We know that the early post-apostolic writers admired the Roman church for its faith, its love and generosity, Peter and Paul having been martyred there, etc. But they don’t say anything about the Roman bishop being a Pope. Is Dave going to argue that they believed in a papacy without mentioning it, and that they believed in it for reasons that are unknown to us today? If they didn’t believe in it because of what’s described in Matthew 16, John 21, etc., why did they believe in it? (Dave can give me some speculations if he wants to, but I would prefer something he can document.)

I will stand by the Newman quote above. As for “documentation,” I gave a great number of exegetical arguments previously, citing mostly Protestant Bible scholars. Jason has seen fit to ignore almost all of that, for some strange, curious reason. Why should I do any more work for his sake? It’s all there. He may not be convinced, but many more people will be, due to the blessing of the Internet.

In his reply to me, Dave spent a lot of effort documenting that most modern Protestant scholars view Peter as “this rock” in Matthew 16. I agree with his perception of a scholarly consensus on the issue. That’s my perception also, though I haven’t done any counting. One of the reasons why I wouldn’t make the effort to count is because of how irrelevant the issue is. The fact that so many non-Catholics can view Peter as “this rock”, yet not arrive at the doctrine of the papacy, should tell Dave something. The doctrine just isn’t taught in Matthew 16, even if you conclude that Peter is “this rock”. Where do you get concepts such as authority over the other apostles, successors, Roman bishops, etc., even with Peter being “this rock”?

Jason misses the point. As it is a cumulative argument, showing that the consensus today is that Peter was the Rock is one aspect of that. It isn’t the whole ball of wax. We also show what was meant by having the keys of the kingdom, etc. We support our positions one-by-one and then conclude that the evidence is strong. It is irrelevant whether the scholars cited accept the papacy or not. If anything, they are important as “witnesses” for our biblical “case” precisely because they are ultimately “hostile” witnesses, who cannot be accused of Catholic bias.

Dave tried to make a lot out of the keys of Matthew 16:19, far more than the text itself says. I address the issue of the keys in my debate with Mark Bonocore See specifically the Opening Remarks and Rebuttal sections. To summarize here, I’ll point out that the scriptures repeatedly associate keys with binding/loosing and opening/shutting. To try to separate these things, as though Peter is being given one power in Matthew 16 and the other disciples are being given some lower power in Matthew 18, is spurious. Nobody would argue that there was some power Jesus didn’t have in Revelation 1:18, just because keys are mentioned without reference to binding/loosing, opening/shutting. It goes without saying that Jesus had those latter powers if He possessed the keys.

Likewise, if you have the latter powers, it goes without saying that you have the keys. They’re all part of the same imagery. Thus, in Matthew 23 we see the religious leaders of Israel criticized for abusing the power of opening and shutting, whereas the parallel passage in Luke 11 criticizes them for abusing the power of a key. (Notice also that these religious leaders could have a key without having unique papal authority. To equate “authority” with “papal authority” is fallacious.) I address Isaiah 22 and some other issues related to the imagery of keys in my debate with Mark Bonocore. The reader can consult my comments in that debate if he’s interested in reading more about my views on this subject.

Well, good. I’m delighted to hear that Jason has done some in-depth exegesis of the passages. I still contend that it is significant that Peter as an individual was given the power to bind and loose, whereas the other disciples received it corporately. To me that signifies a leadership or preeminence. That is the Hebrew and biblical mindset. He is also given the keys of the kingdom, which cannot be without great import. And no one else is called the Rock, upon which Jesus builds His Church. There is no way out of that uniqueness. We agree that others bind and loose as well (they even “loose” the pope from sin, as he regularly confesses his sins to another priest). Bishops and priests also have granted prerogatives from God.

Even if we assume that Peter is “this rock”, and that the keys of Matthew 16 were unique to him, we’re still far from a papacy. Peter could be unique without being uniquely a Pope. He could have fulfilled Matthew 16 by his unique role at Pentecost, for example. In fact, that’s how some of the earliest interpretations of Matthew 16 saw the passage.

It is clear that no biblical indications will suffice. Jason doesn’t want to believe this doctrine, so he will not. At the same time, he is quite content to accept the myth and pipe-dream of sola Scriptura, which is nowhere taught in Scripture, and the 27 New Testament books. He accepts those things as axioms, with no biblical evidence whatever, yet is hyper-skeptical and never satisfied with the many biblical arguments which can be adduced for the papacy. It is a very odd phenomenon, which fascinates me to no end.

Speaking of the earliest interpretations, the reader ought to ask himself why Dave focused so much on modern scholarly consensus about Matthew 16 rather than church father consensus.

Because they were “hostile witnesses,” and because, formerly, Protestant scholars often took a diametrically opposed position. Why shouldn’t I focus on this? Is Jason opposed to modern conservative Protestant biblical scholarship?

The most popular interpretation of “this rock” among the church fathers was that Peter’s faith is the “rock”.

It was both. This understanding developed, just as the papacy itself did. No big deal.

The Protestant historian Oscar Cullmann explains that the interpretation of Matthew 16 advocated by the Protestant reformers:

was not first invented for their struggle against the papacy; it rests upon an older patristic [church father] tradition (Peter: Disciple – Apostle – Martyr [Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Westminster, 1953], p. 162)

This makes sense to me. Protestants, having chucked huge elements of the historic faith arbitrarily, would reasonably be expected to hearken back to the earliest centuries, before all the developments which they loathe had taken place. That gets back to the sort of anti-incarnational a-historicism, so typical of Protestant thought.

Even among the church fathers who saw Peter as “this rock”, assuming that they therefore believed in a papacy is bad reasoning. For example, Origen saw Peter as “this rock”. He was one of the most influential of the early church leaders, as well as one of the most prolific, having authored thousands of works. Yet, as Catholic historian Robert Eno explains, “a plain recognition of Roman primacy or of a connection between Peter and the contemporary bishop of Rome seems remote from Origen’s thoughts” (The Rise of the Papacy [Wilmington, Delaware: Michael Glazier, 1990], p. 43). Here’s Origen commenting on Matthew 16:

And if we too have said like Peter, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,” not as if flesh and blood had revealed it unto us,  but by light from the Father in heaven having shone in our heart, we become a Peter, and to us there might be said by the Word, “Thou art Peter,” etc. For a rock is every disciple of Christ of whom those drank who drank of the spiritual rock which followed them, and upon every such rock is built every word of the church, and the polity in accordance with it; for in each of the perfect, who have the combination of words and deeds and thoughts which fill up the blessedness, is the church built by God. But if you suppose upon the one Peter only the whole church is built by God, what would you say about John the son of thunder or each one of the Apostles? Shall we otherwise dare to say, that against Peter in particular the gates of Hades shall not prevail, but that they shall prevail against the other Apostles and the perfect? Does not the saying previously made, “The gates of Hades shall not prevail against it,” hold in regard to all and in the case of each of them? And also the saying, “Upon this rock I will build My church”? (Commentary on Matthew, 10-11)

The same Origen also wrote:

Peter, upon whom is built the Church of Christ . . . (Commentaries on John, 5,3)

Look at the great foundation of the Church, that most solid of rocks, upon whom Christ built the Church! (Homilies on Exodus, 5,4)

The two sentiments are not necessarily mutually-exclusive. Origen might be emphasizing the collegiality of the Church in the one statement, and the Head of the Church in the other. Catholics believe in both, so this is no problem for us. Remember Vatican II? Remember the Council of Trent?

Do you see how irrelevant it is to say that a church father viewed Peter as “this rock”?


Even if he did, that doesn’t equate to belief in a papacy. And the most popular view of “this rock” among the church fathers was to see it as Peter’s faith, not as Peter himself. The earliest interpretations (Tertullian, Origen, Cyprian, Firmilian, etc.) were either non-papal or anti-papal.

So what? Why does Jason expect to see everything early in Church history? Why cannot he see that development doesn’t require that? The canon, as always, is the thorn in the Protestant’s flesh, revealing the double standards applied to these discussions.

[deleted assertions by Jason and the liberal Catholic historian that St. Augustine was a conciliarist rather than a “papalist”]

Are we really to believe that the bishop of Rome was by Divine appointment the standard of orthodoxy, the Vicar of Christ, the ruler of all Christians on earth, yet people like Paul, Tertullian, Origen, and Augustine never mentioned it? They even denied it?

Are we really to believe that the 27 books of the New Testament were by Divine appointment the standard of orthodoxy and the rule of faith, the Word of Christ, the final authority of all Christians on earth, yet people like Paul, Tertullian, and Origen never mentioned them all together, with no other books? They even denied the canonicity of some of the New Testament books?

I know Dave believes that a doctrine can be true even if some church fathers don’t mention it or reject it, but doesn’t it stretch credibility way beyond the breaking point to argue that people like Origen and Augustine, in hundreds of works spanning thousands of pages, would not only not mention a papacy, but even contradict the concept? (I know that Augustine’s Letter 53 might be cited here by some Catholic apologists, but Augustine is addressing something that specifically happened in Rome. In that context, what Petrine successors would you expect him to mention? The ones in Antioch? We know from other passages in Augustine’s writings that he considered all bishops to be successors of Peter.)

Alright; enough of this nonsense that St. Augustine had a weak view of the papacy at best:

If the very order of episcopal succession is to be considered, how much more surely, truly, and safely do we number them from Peter himself, to whom, as to one representing the whole Church, the Lord said: Upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not conquer it. Peter was succeeded by Linus, Linus by Clement, Clement by Anacletus, Anacletus by Evaristus . . .(Letter to Generosus, 53, 1, 2 [c.400] )

The succession of priests, from the very see of the Apostle Peter, to whom our Lord, after His resurrection, gave the charge of feeding His sheep, up to the present episcopate, keeps me here [in the Catholic Church]. (Against the Letter of Mani Called The Foundation, 4,5 [written in 397] )

Protestant historian J. N .D. Kelly states:

[Augustine] . . . regarded St. Peter as the representative or symbol of the unity of the Church and of the apostolic college, and also as the apostle upon whom the primacy was bestowed (even so, he was a type of the Church as a whole). This the Roman Church, the seat of St. Peter, ‘to whom the Lord after His resurrection entrusted the feeding of His sheep’ [C. ep. fund. 5], was for him the church ‘in which the primacy (‘principatus’) of the apostolic chair has ever flourished’ [Ep. 43,7]. The three letters [Epp. 175-177] relating to Pelagianism which the African church sent to Innocent I in 416, and of which Augustine was draughtsman, suggested that he attributed to the Pope a pastoral and teaching authority extending over the whole Church, and found a basis for it in Scripture. At the same time there is no evidence that he was prepared to ascribe to the bishop of Rome, in his capacity as successor of St. Peter, a sovereign and infallible doctrinal magisterium. (Early Christian Doctrines, San Francisco: HarperCollins, rev. ed., 1978, 419)

This is perfectly in accord with what we would expect at that time, in that period of development.

Would the office of the papacy be the sort of thing that people like Paul, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, etc. wouldn’t mention, even when specifically addressing all sorts of matters of church government and doctrine?

Would the 27-book canon of the New Testament be the sort of thing that people like Paul, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, etc. wouldn’t mention, even when specifically addressing all sorts of matters of church government and doctrine?

I think Dave, along with conservative Roman Catholic apologists in general, has taken the development of doctrine argument much further than it can credibly go. The doctrine of the papacy as cited as the development that authenticates all other Roman Catholic developments. But the development of the papacy itself is spurious.

Dave, in his original article that I responded to, quoted Cardinal Newman saying that the acceptance of the papacy as a valid development depends on the assumption that God wants a monarchical form of church government. In other words, you have to assume the Divine intention for a papal office in order to see the development of such an office as authoritative. But as I explained in my first response to Dave, not only is such an assumption speculative, but it’s also contrary to how God carried things out during the Old Testament era, and it’s contrary to what Jesus and Paul teach in Luke 9:49-50 and Romans 11, respectively.

To refer to organizational unity not being necessary (Luke 9:49-50) and to refer to God working through independent remnants (Romans 11) isn’t consistent with the claim of conservative Catholic apologists about how everybody should belong to one organizational structure headed by a Pope. There’s to be one faith, not one denomination (Ephesians 4:5). Cardinal Newman and others may like the idea of one worldwide denominational structure that everybody belongs to, that has all of the authority the Roman Catholic Church claims to have, but such a philosophical preference (Colossians 2:8) doesn’t weigh as much as the historical facts that are against it.

I think I’ve more than sufficiently documented that modern Roman Catholic claims about development of doctrine are unverifiable, sometimes contrary to what the Catholic Church has taught, and sometimes contrary to the facts of history. What seems to be at the heart of these Catholic arguments isn’t a concern for truth as much as a concern for a philosophical ideal that Catholic apologists want to exist, an ideal expressed in an institution that can do everything from infallibly interpreting the scriptures for you to administering a system of sacramental salvation. I think Roman Catholicism is one of the worst examples the world has ever seen of just what Jesus and Paul were warning against in Matthew 15:9 and Colossians 2:8.

Sometimes getting what we want, or thinking we’re getting what we want, isn’t good. Our desires might be misguided, or we may be pursuing a good intention in the wrong place . . .


(originally posted on 2-26-02)

Photo credit: Christ’s Charge to Peter (1515), by Raphael (1483-1520) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]


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