I Refuted James White’s Favorite Defenses of Sola Scriptura

I Refuted James White’s Favorite Defenses of Sola Scriptura May 11, 2020

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Words of Bishop “Dr.” [???] James White will be in blue.


In an article on his blog, dated 10-31-09 [linked below], he attacked Dr. Francis Beckwith:
We get the distinct feeling that despite spending 90 days doing the study that led him back to Rome, Dr. Beckwith somehow missed the best works from the non-Roman Catholic viewpoint. I see no reason to believe he worked through Chemnitz or Whittaker [sic] or Goode or Salmon. It seems most of his reading was in secondary, pro-Roman sources, or at least fuzzy ecumenical ones.
One will scan his notes in vain for any reference to any classical works on, say, sola scriptura, such as William Whitaker’s late 16th century classic, Disputations on Holy Scripture, or William Goode’s mid 19th century work, Divine Rule of Faith and Practice.
And again, about someone else on 9-3-07:
Of course, these issues have been addressed many times, so I wonder if this writer has, in fact, read Goode or Whitaker . . .?
Have you listened to both sides? That is, have you done more than read Rome Sweet Home and listen to a few emotion-tugging conversion stories? Have you actually taken the time to find sound, serious responses to Rome’s claims, those offered by writers ever since the Reformation, such as Goode, Whitaker, Salmon, and modern writers?
I see. Now, Dr. Beckwith is a professional philosopher (i.e. — very unlike Mr. White — , a professor, with a real doctorate, not a fake one bought with cereal boxtops: like White’s). That’s his life’s work. I doubt that he would even have a tenth of the time that full-time Christian apologists like myself and Bishop White have, to deal that fully in primary anti-Catholic or contra-Catholic Protestant sources.
I do have that time, and lo and behold, when I wrote one of my three books on sola Scriptura (the 310-page Pillars of Sola Scriptura: Replies to Whitaker, Goode, & Biblical “Proofs” for “Bible Alone” from 2012), it was a point-by-point refutation of the two men whom White and many other Protestants consider the best historic defenders of the false doctrine of sola Scriptura (absolutely central to Protestant thinking).
I devoted pages 13-186 to the 1588 work, Disputation on Holy Scripture: Against the Papists, Especially Bellarmine and Stapleton, by the Calvinist Anglican William Whitaker (1548-1595). And I devoted pages 187-236 to the 1853 tome, The Divine Rule of Faith and Practice, by the evangelical Anglican William Goode (1801-1868).
How’s that for “work[ing] through” the “best works from the non-Roman Catholic viewpoint”? This is what White constantly demands, yet when a Catholic actually does it, it’s crickets on his end: no response whatever from him or any other Protestant apologist.
He also mentions Martin Chemnitz (1522-1586), the Lutheran theologian, as one of these “best” sources. I haven’t written a book about him, but I’ve read his main polemical book and have done three lengthy examinations of his highly flawed arguments regarding the Church fathers and their supposed quasi-Lutheran leanings:
Moreover, I read George Salmon’s book against infallibility back in 1990 when I was fighting against the Catholic Church (infallibility was my biggest objection), and I have addressed it twice as a Catholic:
It contains atrocious and rather easily refuted argumentation, too. White has utterly ignored all of that material, too. I not only was familiar with Salmon’s polemics; I heavily utilized it when I was fighting against the Catholic Church an particularly infallibility in 1990. In a portion of my longest (75-page) conversion story I wrote (links added presently):

I quickly found some of the leading polemics against Catholic infallibility, such as the Irish Anglican anti-Catholic George Salmon (1819-1904), author of The Infallibility of the Church (1888) and Johann Joseph Ignaz von Döllinger (1799-1890), the German historian who rejected the ex cathedra declaration of papal infallibility and formed the Old Catholic schismatic group. His books, Letters of Quirinus and Letters of Janus, were written during the First Vatican Council in 1870.

Salmon’s work has been refuted decisively twice, by B.C. Butler, in his The Church and Infallibility: A Reply to the Abridged “Salmon” (New York, Sheed & Ward, 1954), and also in a series of articles in The Irish Ecclesiastical Record, in 1901 and 1902 [see p. 193 ff., March 1901] (probably able to be found online).

Yet Protestant apologists Norman Geisler and Ralph MacKenzie still claimed in 1995, in a major critique of Catholicism, Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: Agreements and Differences (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, p. 206; cf. p. 459) that Salmon’s book has “never really been answered by the Catholic Church” and is the “classic refutation of papal infallibility.”

Prominent professional anti-Catholic James White, in the same year, claimed that I must have never been familiar with the best Protestant arguments against infallibility and Catholicism in general — hence my eventual conversion on flimsy grounds.

The truth was quite otherwise: the above works are the cream of the crop of this particular line of thought, as evidenced by Geisler and MacKenzie’s citation of both Salmon and Küng as “witnesses” for their case (ibid., pp. 206-207). Church historian Döllinger’s heretical opinions are also often utilized by Eastern Orthodox apologists as arguments against papal infallibility.

Using these severely biased, untrustworthy sources, I found the typical arguments used: for example, Pope Honorius, who supposedly was a heretic. I produced two long papers containing difficult “problems” of Catholic history and alleged contradictions and so forth (just as atheists love to do with the Bible), to “torment” my Catholic friends at the group discussions.

George Salmon revealed in his book his profound ignorance, not only concerning papal infallibility, but also with regard to even the basics of the development of doctrine:

Romish advocates . . . are now content to exchange tradition, which their predecessors had made the basis of their system, for this new foundation of development . . . The theory of development is, in short, an attempt to enable men, beaten off the platform of history, to hang on to it by the eyelids . . . The old theory was that the teaching of the Church had never varied. (The Infallibility of the Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House [originally 1888], pp. 31-33; cf. pp. 35, 39)

Here Salmon is quixotically fighting a straw man of his own making and seeking to sophistically force his readers into the acceptance of a false and altogether logically unnecessary dichotomy. He contended that development of doctrine implies change in the essence of a doctrine and therefore is utterly contrary to the claims of the Church to be the guardian and custodian of an authoritative tradition of never-changing dogma.

But this is emphatically not the Catholic notion, nor that of Cardinal Newman, to whom Salmon was largely responding. Nor is it true that development was a “new” theory introduced by Cardinal Newman into Catholicism, while the “old theory” was otherwise. This is proven by the writing of St. Vincent of Lerins, one of the Church fathers, who died around 450 A. D., in his classic patristic exposition of development, The Notebooks:

Will there, then, be no progress of religion in the Church of Christ? Certainly there is, and the greatest . . . But it is truly progress and not a change of faith. What is meant by progress is that something is brought to an advancement within itself; by change, something is transformed from one thing into another. It is necessary, therefore, that understanding, knowledge and wisdom grow and advance strongly and mightily . . . and this must take place precisely within its own kind, that is, in the same teaching, in the same meaning, and in the same opinion. The progress of religion in souls is like the growth of bodies, which, in the course of years, evolve and develop, but still remain what they were . . . Although in the course of time something evolved from those first seeds and has now expanded under careful cultivation, nothing of the characteristics of the seeds is changed. Granted that appearance, beauty and distinction has been added, still, the same nature of each kind remains. (23:28-30; cited from William A. Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers; Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1979, vol. 3, p. 265)

St. Augustine (354-430), the greatest of the Church fathers, whom Protestants also greatly revere, expressed similar sentiments in his City of God (16, 2, 1), and On the 54th Psalm (number 22). The (explicit) concept predated Newman by at least fourteen centuries, Salmon’s claims notwithstanding.

George Salmon thus loses much credibility as any sort of expert on Christian history, papal infallibility, or development, for this and many other reasons, as demonstrated by his Catholic critics. Yet Geisler and MacKenzie, while presenting a fairly accurate picture of Newman’s (and Catholic) development of doctrine, state that Salmon’s book is “a penetrating critique of Newman’s theory” (ibid., p. 459).

It is beyond our purview here to examine the faulty and jaundiced reasoning employed by the above-cited “anti-infallibility” works, and my own ambitious and zealous adoption of them, in my effort to refute the Catholic Church on historical grounds. Suffice it to say that it is largely a matter of misunderstanding or misapplying the true doctrine of infallibility, as defined dogmatically by the First Vatican Council in 1870, or else a conveniently selective and dishonest presentation of historical facts and patristic citations.

I thank James White for the unintended compliment.
(originally posted on Facebook on 11-11-19; expanded on 5-11-20)


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