January 3, 2018

Peter&Paul

This is one of a series of my reviews of the book by prominent Catholic journalist, editor, and author Philip Lawler, entitled Lost Shepherd: How Pope Francis is Misleading His Flock (due to be released on 26 February 2018). Phil was kind enough to send me a review copy, and he and others have encouraged me to read the book and review it. Their wish is granted!

For background, see my paper, On Rebuking Popes & Catholic Obedience to Popes, and three posts concerning a few statements from the book that I found very troubling and questionable, including dialogues with both Karl Keating (who positively reviewed it) and briefly with author Phil himself (one two / three).

Previous Installments:

#1 Critique of Introduction

#2 Homosexuality & “Judging”

#3 The Pope Annihilated Hell?

#4 Communion / Buenos Aires Letter 

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Phil Lawler goes after yet another of the pope’s homilies in his Chapter Seven, pp. 154-155:

In a memorable homily delivered in May 2017, Francis argued that an excessive concern with doctrine is a sign of ideology rather than faith. Reflecting on the day’s Scripture reading from the Acts of the Apostles, which recounted the debate over enforcing Mosaic Law on Gentile Christians, the pope said that the “liberty of the Spirit” led the disciples to an accord. The dispute, however, he said was caused by “jealousies, power struggles, a certain deviousness that wanted to profit from and to buy power,” temptations against which the Church must always guard.

The disciples who insisted on the enforcement of Mosaic Law, the pope said, were “fanatics.” They “were not believers; they were ideologized.” Thus he appeared to suggest that the early Church leaders who disagreed with St. Paul on the enforcement of Mosaic Law— including St. James and, before the Council of Jerusalem, which settled the question, even St. Peter himself—“were not believers.” The Scriptural account of that council offers no evidence that those on opposite sides of the question rendered harsh judgments of one other. They met, argued vigorously over a point that was not yet clear, and with the help of the Holy Spirit reached a decision that resolved their differences. Francis acknowledged that it is “a duty of the Church to clarify doctrine,” as the apostles did at the Council of Jerusalem. But he did not acknowledge that his critics within the hierarchy were calling for precisely the same sort of clarification with respect to papal teaching on marriage and the Eucharist.

Alright. Let’s take a closer look at the homily and the scriptural passages the Holy Father was commenting upon. Lawler loves clarity. I’m happy — delighted — to do my part in helping him achieve more of that (where the pope is concerned). Here he has temporarily  gotten away from gossipy discussions of “palace intrigue” and internal Vatican politics that take up much of his book (which, personally, I have less than no interest in) and gotten down to a theological issue that can actually be objectively examined.

And as usual (like so many papal critics) he puts quite the obligatory cynical slant on a homily where I (for what it’s worth) see nothing whatsoever contrary to Scripture or good Catholic piety. But it seems that the critics invariably see what they want to see and it just so happens to so often come out as supposedly scandalous and objectionable.

The homily in question was preached on 5-19-17 and is preserved at the Vatican Radio site. Lawler characterizes the pope’s thoughts as “Francis argued that an excessive concern with doctrine is a sign of ideology rather than faith.” I don’t see this at all in the homily.  Lawler spins it as if the pope is somehow hostile to serious doctrinal discussion or examination: as if that is a bad thing, and hence, he dismisses such as mere “ideology.” These notions are not in the homily, folks (sorry, Phil!). The homily is accurately summarized at the top as: “True doctrine unites; ideology divides.” Perfectly true and uncontroversial . . . Pope Francis states:

It was at the heart of the “first Council” of the Church: the Holy Spirit and they, the Pope with the Bishops, all together,” gathered together in order “to clarify the doctrine;” and later, through the centuries – as at Ephesus or at Vatican II – because “it is a duty of the Church to clarify the doctrine,” so that “what Jesus said in the Gospels, what is the Spirit of the Gospels, would be understood well . . . this is the problem: when the doctrine of the Church, that which comes from the Gospel, that which the Holy Spirit inspires – because Jesus said, ‘He will teach us and remind you of all that I have taught’ – [when] that doctrine becomes an ideology. And this is the great error of those people.”

He’s not saying that “excessive concern with doctrine is ideology.” That’s a wholesale distortion. He’s saying that on the one hand there is true doctrine, determined by the Church, and on the other, the distortion or corruption of the true doctrine, which becomes mere “ideology.” This is essentially the same distinction that Cardinal Newman draws in his famous comparisons of true developments of doctrine vs. heretical corruptions, and how Scripture differentiates between good, apostolic tradition and bad “traditions of men.” Why can’t Lawler grasp these rather elementary distinctions? Well, you tell me (if you can figure it out).

For my part, I think it is likely one of innumerable instances where intelligent, qualified people let their passions of one sort or another, cloud their judgment and logic in ways where it normally would be clear and logical. No one is so blind as one who will not see. It happens all the time. I critique it all the time, in my capacity as an apologist. And that’s what I see here, because this homily is not difficult to understand, and there is nothing wrong with it whatsoever. The pope reiterates his clear comparison between the good thing and the bad thing at the end:

The Church, he concluded, has “its proper Magisterium, the Magisterium of the Pope, of the Bishops, of the Councils,” and we must go along the path “that comes from the preaching of Jesus, and from the teaching and assistance of the Holy Spirit,” which is “always open, always free,” because “doctrine unites, the Councils unite the Christian community, while, on the other hand, “ideology divides.”

See what he’s saying? It’s not (Phil’s take): “too much consideration of doctrine is bad!” It is, rather: “doctrine is good and unitive; mere ideology is bad and divisive.” It’s shameful to distort (unconsciously or not) a pope’s words and alleged thoughts like this.

If Lawler had actually cited the pope’s words at any length, readers could actually see what he meant. But instead, we get the cynical summaries. He tries to “frame” how his readers think, rather than letting them think and discern for themselves. He spoon-feeds them carefully selected aspects and phrases, that end up distorted. This is the “propagandistic” approach. One tires of this!

If someone wants to bring up some homily of the Holy Father, and object to it, let the people read it for themselves! He gives no specific date or link. I provide the date and a link, and very considerable excerpts. My readers can go read the homily (or read most of it here) and make up their own minds about whether my interpretation is accurate (or if Phil’s is). I believe that the truth always wins in the end and that knowledge is power.

In his breathtakingly erroneous analysis, Lawler claims that the pope was preaching (and believes) that “The disciples who insisted on the enforcement of Mosaic Law, . . . were ‘fanatics.’ They ‘were not believers; they were ideologized.’ ” Note the internal logic here: he is literally claiming that the pope thinks some disciples were “fanatics” and not “believers” at all (!!!). And this, in a book, one of the central themes of which is that the pope is consistently unclear and incoherent: a dim guide at best. I always appreciate irony.

Now, let’s see what the biblical passage says in the first place. In the passage about the Jerusalem Council itself, “apostles and elders” are referred to, not “disciples.” The text (RSV) refers to “some men” (not “disciples”) who disputed with Paul and Barnabas before the council:

Acts 15:1-2 But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” [2] And when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question.

Then during the council we see this one line:

Acts 15:5 But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up, and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them, and to charge them to keep the law of Moses.”

The word “disciples” never appears in the homily: at least not in this summary of it that appears to be the one Lawler referenced. Acts 15:1 doesn’t even make clear whether those teaching this legalism are Christians. 15:5 refers to “believers.” We only have these little tidbits, so they could possibly be different groups, teaching (perhaps) somewhat different things. The second group was participating in the council, after all, so it is implied that they were at least elders. It’s irrelevant that they called themselves Pharisees. Paul did that, too, and Jesus followed their ritual customs.

The pope seems to reference not only this group of “Judaizers” but the entire group of those who opposed early Church teaching. He often digresses in his talks, to make a larger “footnoted” point. I’m very familiar with such a technique, because I do it a lot, myself, and sometimes people don’t understand my meaning or reference point. The pope does specifically differentiate the apostles from others who disagree (my italics):

The group of the apostles who want to discuss the problem, and the others who go and create problems. They divide, they divide the Church, they say that what the Apostles preached is not what Jesus said, that it is not the truth. . . .

These individuals, the Pope explained, “were not believers, they were ideologized,” they had an ideology that closed the heart to the work of the Holy Spirit. The Apostles, on the other hand, certainly discussed things forcefully, but they were not ideologized: “They had hearts open to what the Holy Spirit said. And after the discussion ‘it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us.’”

As for the Judaizers themselves, respectable biblical scholars disagree amongst themselves whether they were Christians or not. Some of the most eminent ones, like F. F. Bruce, don’t even take a stand for one view or the other. If the pope took one view or another on that question it would be inconsequential and well within the thought of existing scholarship. But it’s just as likely that he is referring to the dissenters described in Acts 15:1-2, and/or generally to the much larger group who dissent from Christian teachings. But he never says that “disciples” are “fanatics” and “not believers” and “ideologized.” Lawler, however, then decides to descend into yet more absurd speculations:

[H]e appeared to suggest that the early Church leaders who disagreed with St. Paul on the enforcement of Mosaic Law— including St. James and, before the Council of Jerusalem, which settled the question, even St. Peter himself—“were not believers.”

Huh? WOW!! It’s beyond my comprehension that a learned Catholic man could include (not as some kind of joke) something so utterly ridiculous in a published book, and not only that: attribute the hyper-absurd opinion to the Holy Father, with no basis whatsoever for doing so. This exhibits a level of illogic and sloppiness (not even to mention, lack of rudimentary Christian charity) that I have rarely seen (and I’ve been around the block many times).

How he arrived at this opinion (assuming he actually would claim to have some reason for it) is anyone’s guess. It’s certainly not expressed in the homily. Anyone can go read it at the link I provide above and see that for themselves. The homily never mentions James or Peter. Lawler somehow nevertheless deduces that Pope Francis thinks as follows:

1) There were arguments at the council;

2) St. James was there, so he must have disagreed with St. Paul;

3) Therefore St. James is not a “believer.”

4) St.  Peter isn’t a believer either, because (before the council) he, too, clashed with St. Paul [who accused him of hypocrisy, not doctrinal error, readers may recall].

Oh boy. I have to really restrain myself at this point. This kind of nonsense is truly its own refutation, so I need not refute it, anyway. Suffice it to say that Paul and Peter never disagreed on Gentiles being received into the Church. It was St. Peter, after all, to whom God first revealed his plans for that. As I read the homily, the pope sure seems to be speaking about heretics in general, not just those (believers or no) who held that Gentile Christians had to observe the entire Mosaic Law.

Nor is there any basis in Scripture to conclude that Paul and James had any fundamental disagreement on this score. From what we know (the account of Acts 15): all three were in perfect agreement (see also Galatians 2:1-9). The Catholic Encyclopedia (“Judaizers”) backs up what I’m saying about Paul and Peter:

This incident [of Paul rebuking Peter] has been made much of by Baur and his school as showing the existence of two primitive forms of Christianity, Petrinism and Paulinism, at war with each other. But anyone, who will look at the facts without preconceived theory, must see that between Peter and Paul there was no difference in principles, but merely a difference as to the practical conduct to be followed under the circumstances. . . . That Peter’s principles were the same as those of Paul, is shown by his conduct at the time of Cornelius’s conversion, by the position he took at the council of Jerusalem, and by his manner of living prior to the arrival of the Judaizers. Paul, on the other hand, not only did not object to the observance of the Mosaic Law, as long as it did not interfere with the liberty of the Gentiles, but he conformed to its prescriptions when occasion required (1 Corinthians 9:20). Thus he shortly after circumcised Timothy (Acts 16:1-3), and he was in the very act of observing the Mosaic ritual when he was arrested at Jerusalem (Acts 21:26 sqq.).

And the pope says nothing different in this homily. He says:

“But there were always people who without any commission go out to disturb the Christian community with speeches that upset souls: ‘Eh, no, someone who says that is a heretic, you can’t say this, or that; this is the doctrine of the Church.’ And they are fanatics of things that are not clear, like those fanatics who go there sowing weeds in order to divide the Christian community. . . .

No one in their wildest dreams, in any imaginable universe, can get out of this homily, that the pope was including St. James and St. Peter in the negative descriptions, let alone pitting Paul against both of them. They absolutely could not be part of those “fanatics”, according to what the pope said shortly after, because they were apostles, and the pope referred to that august group as follows:

The Apostles, on the other hand, certainly discussed things forcefully, but they were not ideologized: “They had hearts open to what the Holy Spirit said. And after the discussion ‘it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us.’”

I suppose Lawler could “argue” next that Pope Francis denies that James and Peter were apostles, too. After all, anything goes in his mind, at this point. If he thinks the pope denies that they are Christian believers, then not being apostles would follow as a matter of course. One claim is as ludicrous as the other.

Case closed. I’d like to see someone defend this shoddy pseudo-“research” of Phil’s. It’s truly (no exaggeration at all!) some of the worst I’ve ever seen in 35 years of Christian / Catholic apologetics and intense Bible study. And remember, he’s accusing the pope (the “lost shepherd” who is “misleading his flock”) of having these views, that he — by some utterly inexplicable and mysterious chain of “reasoning” — invented in his own head.

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Photo credit: Saints Peter and Paul (c. 1608), by El Greco (1541-1614) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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May 26, 2017

PaulConversion3

The Conversion of St. Paul (1600), by Caravaggio (1571-1610) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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Joshua Scott is a Protestant who responded to my challenge to interact point-by-point with one of my articles. He chose to wrangle with the section on the Jerusalem council from my book, The Catholic Verses (2004), and some additional material in an older paper on this topic. His words will be in blue. My words from the book will be in green, and my present counter-replies in regular black.

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In the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:6-30), we see Peter and James speaking with authority. This Council makes an authoritative pronouncement (citing the Holy Spirit) which was binding on all Christians:

Acts 15:28-29: For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from unchastity.  In the next chapter, we read that Paul, Timothy, and Silas were traveling around “through the cities,” and Scripture says that:

. . . they delivered to them for observance the decisions which had been reached by the apostles and elders who were at Jerusalem. (Acts 16:4)

This is Church authority. They simply proclaimed the decree as true and binding — with the sanction of the Holy Spirit Himself! Thus we see in the Bible an instance of the gift of infallibility that the Catholic Church claims for itself when it assembles in a council.

Well, it’s Apostolic authority certainly, but to conflate Apostolic authority with conciliar/church authority requires more than an ipse dixit.  The Apostles were, by any Biblical standard, prophets, and thus had the same authority prophets always had in the OT, namely, the authority of God Himself, Who spoke by/through them.  But they had to provide evidence of that authority to differentiate themselves from false prophets, since anyone could claim to be a prophet.  So the question is, who is a prophet?  How do we know they have prophetic authority?  This question has to be answered in such a way that we can say church councils are full of prophets for this point, as argued here, to be more than a non sequitur.  Alternatively, you would have to show that what made the Acts 15 decision authoritative was not that it was prophetic/Apostolic, but rather because it was done in council.  Since this is just the broad outline of the argument, I’ll reserve discussion of those questions for later as they arise.

It was a council, not just of apostles, but also “elders.” I made an argument along these lines in an article of mine. Here is a good chunk of it:

The Jerusalem council presents “apostles” and “elders” in conjunction six times:

Acts 15:2 (RSV). . .  Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question.

Acts 15:4 When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, . . .

Acts 15:6 The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter.

Acts 15:22 Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church,  . . .

*

Acts 15:23. . . “The brethren, both the apostles and the elders, to the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cili’cia, . . .

Acts 16:4 . . . they delivered to them for observance the decisions which had been reached by the apostles and elders who were at Jerusalem.

“Elders” here is the Greek presbuteros, which referred to a leader of a local congregation, so that Protestants think of it primarily as a “pastor”, whereas Catholics, Orthodox, and some Anglicans regard it as the equivalent of “priest.” In any event, all agree that it is a lower office in the scheme of things than an apostle: even arguably lower than a bishop (which is mentioned several times in the New Testament).

What is striking, then, is that the two offices in the Jerusalem council are presented as if there is little or no distinction between them, at least in terms of their practical authority. It’s not an airtight argument, I concede. We could, for example, say that “bishops and the pope gathered together at the Second Vatican Council.” We know that the pope had a higher authority. It may be that apostles here had greater authority.

But we don’t know that with certainty, from Bible passages that mention them. They seem to be presented as having in effect, “one man one vote.” They “consider” the issue “together” (15:6). It’s the same for the “decisions which had been reached” (16:4).

Therefore, if such a momentous, binding decision was arrived at by apostles and elders, it sure seems to suggest what Catholics believe: that bishops are successors of the apostles. We already see the two offices working together in Jerusalem and making a joint decision. It’s a concrete example of precisely what the Catholic Church claims about apostolic succession and the sublime authority conveyed therein. . . .

The subject at hand is “whether sola Scriptura is the true rule of faith, and what the Bible can inform us about that.” I made a biblical argument that does not support sola Scriptura at all (quite the contrary).

Before going any further, I should describe what I mean by “sola Scriptura,” since my view is probably different than that of the average Protestant.  My approach to the issue starts with the basic position that claims to authority require evidence.  I think everyone would assent to this (if not, I’ll make my claim to authority now and ask you to hand over all your money, thank you very much!).  With that as a given, once I accept Christianity I have to ascertain what sources (be they men or writings or what-have-you) are authoritative based on the best evidence available.  My review of the evidence (and I don’t claim to be an expert by any means, but I’ve studied this more than the average Christian) leads me to conclude that Scripture has met the burden of proof required to be considered authoritative.  Thus far, I have not found any other claims to have met this burden of proof.  Thus, my view of sola Scriptura is not a doctrinal position that Scripture is the only authority so much as an epistemological conclusion (and a tentative one at that) that Scripture has met the requisite burden of proof, while other people/things claiming authority have not met that burden.  If a person came along and started doing things like Jesus and the Apostles did, and did not contradict Scripture or otherwise teach me to abandon God, I would probably consider that person an authority because he would be a prophet.

Everyone agrees that Scripture is an authority, and indeed is inspired. The question is whether it is the only final infallible authority in Christianity. Our argument is that inspired Scripture itself refers to an authoritative Church and tradition (both of which can bind Christians to their teachings); therefore, they are authorities, too, and part of the rule of faith. The Jerusalem council is an example of the biblical teaching on an authoritative Church.

This argument concerning the Jerusalem Council was used in expanded form in my book, The Catholic Verses: 95 Bible Passages That Confound Protestants. Here is that portion of the book, in its entirety (indented):

THE BINDING AUTHORITY OF COUNCILS, LED BY THE HOLY SPIRIT

Acts 15:28-29: “For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from unchastity. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.”

Acts 16:4: “As they went on their way through the cities, they delivered to them for observance the decisions which had been reached by the apostles and elders who were at Jerusalem.”

These passages offer a proof that the early Church held to a notion of the infallibility of Church councils, and to a belief that they were especially guided by the Holy Spirit (precisely as in Catholic Church doctrine concerning ecumenical councils). Accordingly, Paul takes the message of the conciliar decree with him on his evangelistic journeys and preaches it to the people. The Church had real authority; it was binding and infallible.

This is a far cry from the Protestant principle of sola Scriptura — which presumes that councils and popes can err, and thus need to be corrected by Scripture. Popular writer and radio expositor R.C. Sproul expresses the standard evangelical Protestant viewpoint on Christian authority:

For the Reformers no church council, synod, classical theologian, or early church father is regarded as infallible. All are open to correction and critique . . .

(in Boice, 109)

This doesn’t really add anything new to the basic argument above, so my comments there hold.

This is the very topic I understood we were debating: my argument about the Jerusalem council! I proposed just the portion from my book for you to respond to, but you went and replied to the entire paper, and have dismissed this (a key part of the argument) without reply.

One Protestant reply to these biblical passages might be to say that since this Council of Jerusalem referred to in Acts consisted of apostles, and since an apostle proclaimed the decree, both possessed a binding authority which was later lost (as Protestants accept apostolic authority as much as Catholics do). Furthermore, the incidents were recorded in inspired, infallible Scripture. They could argue that none of this is true of later Catholic councils; therefore, the attempted analogy is null and void.

But this is a bit simplistic, since Scripture is our model for everything, including Church government, and all parties appeal to it for their own views. If Scripture teaches that a council of the Church is authoritative and binding, then it is implausible and unreasonable to assert that no future council can be so simply because it is not conducted by apostles.

Here you respond to an argument (similar to mine above) that the council is not binding qua council with an assumption that Scripture teaches that councils are authoritative qua councils.  This begs the question without answering it.

I haven’t begged any question. The council is obviously authoritative (as a council): having been led by apostles (with elders), with the direct assistance of the Holy Spirit, and as indicated in the way that the Apostle Paul proclaimed its binding decision to all and sundry (Acts 16:4 above, that you ignored).

Scripture is our model for doctrine and practice (nearly all Christians agree on this). The Bible doesn’t exist in an historical vacuum, but has import for the day-to-day life of the Church and Christians for all time. St. Paul told us to imitate him (see, e.g., 2 Thess. 3:9). And he went around proclaiming decrees of the Church. No one was at liberty to disobey these decrees on the grounds of “conscience,” or to declare by “private judgment” that they were in error (per Luther).

It would be foolish to argue that how the apostles conducted the governance of the Church has no relation whatsoever to how later Christians engage in the same task. It would seem rather obvious that Holy Scripture assumes that the model of holy people (patriarchs, prophets, and apostles alike) is to be followed by Christians. This is the point behind entire chapters, such as (notably) Hebrews 11.

Besides the fact that you’ve so far not addressed the key distinction of Apostles having authority vs. a council qua council having authority,

Now I have (lengthy citation of my own article above): mere elders seemed  to have equal practical authority in the council. It wasn’t just a matter of apostles, but men just like you and I, who are non-apostles.

I would also point out here that admonitions to imitate holy people (Apostles included) are about private behavior.  We have explicit passages on how to handle church governance, such as Jesus’ admonition in Matthew 18 to take your quarrel to your brother alone, then to 2-3 witnesses, then to the church (congregation is how I would take that), and some material in the pastoral epistles on offices and whatnot, but to say that because Apostles (who no longer walk among us) held a council to address a particular question is hardly an explicit directive that all such disputes would be handled thus by later councils not composed of Apostles/prophets.

See my previous reply. Yours is the usual Protestant response (insofar as the council is dealt with at all). The elders being involved jointly in the decision-making process, overcomes the objection.

When the biblical model agrees with their theology, Protestants are all too enthusiastic to press their case by using Scriptural examples. The binding authority of the Church was present here, and there is no indication whatever that anyone was ever allowed to dissent from it. That is the fundamental question. Catholics wholeheartedly agree that no new Christian doctrines were handed down after the apostles. Christian doctrine was present in full from the beginning; it has only organically developed since.

John Calvin has a field day running down the Catholic Church in his commentary for Acts 15:28. It is clear that he is uncomfortable with this verse and must somehow explain it in Protestant terms. But he is not at all unanswerable. The fact remains that the decree was made, and it was binding. It will not do (in an attempt to undercut ecclesial authority) to proclaim that this particular instance was isolated. For such a judgment rests on Calvin’s own completely arbitrary authority (which he claims but cannot prove). Calvin merely states his position (rather than argue it) in the following passage:

. . . in vain do they go about out of the same to prove that the Church had power given to decree anything contrary to the word of God. The Pope hath made such laws as seemed best to him, contrary to the word of God, whereby he meant to govern the Church;

This strikes me as somewhat desperate argumentation. First of all, Catholics never have argued that the pope has any power to make decrees contrary to the Bible (making Calvin’s slanderous charge a straw man). Calvin goes on to use vivid language, intended to resonate with already strong emotions and ignorance of Catholic theology. It’s an old lawyer’s tactic: when one has no case, attempt to caricature the opponent, obfuscate, and appeal to emotions rather than reason.

I’m not here to defend Calvin, but I will point out that another possible way to read his remark that doesn’t make it a straw man is to read him as saying that Catholics believe the Church has power to decree X, which happens to be contrary to Scripture, and thus Catholics are wrong on that point but don’t realize it because of their mistaken view of Scripture.  Granted, I’m not seeing the full context here, but on its face that seems like a plausible reading.

You’re still not addressing the central issue here: the binding nature of the conciliar decree.

Far more sensible and objective are the comments on Acts 15:28 and 16:4 from the Presbyterian scholar, Albert Barnes, in his famous Barnes’ Notes commentary:

For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost. This is a strong and undoubted claim to inspiration. It was with special reference to the organization of the church that the Holy Spirit had been promised to them by the Lord Jesus, Matthew 18:18-20; John 14:26.

In this instance it was the decision of the council in a case submitted to it; and implied an obligation on the Christians to submit to that decision.

Fortunately, I don’t have to believe Barnes.  Matthew 18:18-20 deals with 2-3 witnesses, then a full congregation, by my reading, not a hierarchy.  John 14:26 has Jesus speaking to his disciples personally without any reference to those who follow them in some visible institution, so there’s no particular reason to believe what he says has application beyond those he was directly speaking to (the Apostles).

You continue to ignore the issue at hand: the council and its authority. I suppose you can skirt around it and avoid it if you like, but then we’re not discussing it. I lose patience with that very quickly.

Barnes actually acknowledges that the passage has some implication for ecclesiology in general. It is remarkable, on the other hand, that Calvin seems concerned about the possibility of a group of Christians (in this case, a council) being led by the Holy Spirit to achieve a true doctrinal decree, whereas he has no problem with the idea that individuals can achieve such certainty:

. . . of the promises which they are wont to allege, many were given not less to private believers than to the whole Church [cites Mt 28:20, Jn 14:16-17] . . . we are not to give permission to the adversaries of Christ to defend a bad cause, by wresting Scripture from its proper meaning. (Institutes, IV, 8, 11)

But it will be objected, that whatever is attributed in part to any of the saints, belongs in complete fulness to the Church. Although there is some semblance of truth in this, I deny that it is true. (Institutes, IV, 8, 12)

Calvin believes that Scripture is self-authenticating. I appeal, then, to the reader to judge the above passages. Do they seem to support the notion of an infallible Church council (apart from the question of whether the Catholic Church, headed by the pope, is that Church)? Do Calvin’s arguments succeed? For Catholics, the import of Acts 15:28 is clear and undeniable.

For reasons I’ve already adduced, the import of Acts 15 is not so clear.  Whether Calvin’s own view is correct is not really pertinent to my argument, and since the quote seems to be lacking some significant context I’ll forego comment.

See my previous reply.

Are not apostles models for us? Of course, they are. St. Paul tells us repeatedly to imitate him (1 Cor 4:16, Phil 3:17, 2 Thess 3:7-9). [James] White would have us believe that since this is the apostolic period and so forth, it is completely unique, and any application of the known events of that time to our own is “irrelevant.” He acts as if the record of the Book of Acts has no historical, pedagogical import other than as a specimen of early Christian history, as if it is a piece of mere archaeology, rather than the living Word of God, which is (to use one of Protestants’ favorite verses) “profitable for teaching . . . and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16-17). So now the historical passages of the New Testament are “irrelevant”? Only the straight-out doctrinal teaching can be used to ascertain correct doctrine? If so, then where is that taught in Scripture itself, etc.? Passages like Hebrews 11, which recount the deeds of great saints and biblical heroes, imply that they are a model for us.

That depends on what you mean by “models.”  I can’t model Peter and Paul entirely because I don’t have the signs and wonders they had to back me up.  Neither does the Pope, nor the bishops (even in council).  That’s a relevant difference.  To pretend it isn’t is to ignore basically all Biblical teaching about how to handle prophets.  Which, by the way, is why it’s a straw man to say White’s argument makes the Apostolic period unique–it actually makes that period just like every other period during which a prophet lived.  As to the pedagogical import of Acts, you don’t believe the prohibition of blood and strangled things still applies today, I presume, so even you don’t think everything in Acts has direct application for all Christian history.  Any time you want to discuss relevance, you have to determine why something is relevant.  The Mosaic Law isn’t terribly relevant to us today in some ways, but it is in others.  I would say the same as to the Jerusalem council–it doesn’t necessarily tell us how we should handle doctrinal disputes, but it does tell us important things that are useful to know for other reasons (more on that at the end).

Why does Paul consider it binding for all Christians?

White’s viewpoint as to the implications of the Jerusalem Council is theologically and spiritually naive or simplistic because it would force us to accept recorded, inspired apostolic teaching about the Church and ecclesiology (whatever it is), yet overlook and ignore the very application of that doctrine to real life, that the apostles lived out in that real life. We would have to believe that this council in Jerusalem had nothing whatsoever to do with later governance of the Church, even though apostles were involved in it. That, in effect, would be to believe that we are smarter and more knowledgeable about Christian theology than the apostles were. They set out and governed the Church, yet they were dead-wrong, or else what they did has no bearing whatsoever on later Christian ecclesiology. Since this is clearly absurd, White’s view that goes along with it, collapses.

Force us to accept what recorded teaching about ecclesiology?  The application of what doctrine?  Nowhere in the Bible does it record the Apostles or Jesus as saying as a matter of doctrine that disputes should be handled by a council. 

That’s what the Jerusalem council provides: a model for just that. You referred above to: “Jesus’ admonition in Matthew 18 to take your quarrel to your brother alone, then to 2-3 witnesses, then to the church (congregation is how I would take that)”. That’s already some sort of collective. It’s the church; it’s authorities.

Thus, all we are left with, again, is the bare fact that in this case a council convened and a decision was handed down by Apostles who had signs and wonders

And by elders, as I have pointed out . . .

Absent a clear teaching that the authority they had would be passed to others, I have no obligation to believe such a thing, and in fact to argue from Acts 15 for such passing on of authority is simple non sequitur. 

Apostolic succession is that argument, which I have made in many articles.

Where much is given, much is required (Luke 12:48), and by implication if little is given, little is required.  If I’m not given reason to believe in the passing down of authority, I’m not required to believe it, and thus I would fall back on the default position that prophets have authority, and non-prophets don’t. 

Okay. You would have to familiarize yourself with the many arguments for apostolic succession. Check out my papers on the topic on my Church web page.

Moreover, this is a foolish approach because it would require us to believe that Paul and other apostles were in error with regard to how Christian or Church authority works. The preached a certain thing in this instance. If they believed in sola Scriptura (as models for us), then they would have taught what they knew to be Scripture (in those days, the Old Testament), and that alone, as binding and authoritative (for this is what sola Scriptura holds). If they didn’t understand authority in the way that God desired, how could they be our models? And if the very apostles who wrote Scripture didn’t understand it, and applied it incorrectly in such an important matter, how can we be expected to, from that same Scripture? A stream can’t rise above its source.

It seems pretty clear that this is a straw man of even White’s view of sola Scriptura.  Neither he nor I argue that sola Scriptura is always the rule.  Clearly, when you have prophets (as the Apostles were) walking in your midst, you heed them.  Thus, when a prophet tells you something, you treat it as God’s word even if it isn’t yet written in Scripture.  Although interestingly, in this particular case, I think it’s fair to say that part of the decree was, in fact, merely application of OT Scriptures, but I’ll explain that at the end.

Once again, you ignore the fact that elders co-presided at the council. We’re just going around in circles. Nothing is being accomplished.

Joshua at this point keeps replying to parts of my paper that I didn’t propose debating in the first place . . .

there’s not much for me to say here except to refer back to my point about prophets.  Either we need reasons to believe current councils are composed of prophets, or we need evidence that councils qua councils are meant to have essentially the same teaching authority as prophets.  So far that’s merely an assumption on your part.

I also wrote in my paper on the Jerusalem council, cited at length above:

The council, by joint authority of apostles and elders, sent off Judas and Silas as its messengers, even though they “were themselves prophets” (15:32).  Prophets were the highest authorities in the old covenant (with direct messages from God), and here mere “elders” are commissioning them.

You keep referring to the “example” set by the Apostles.  I’ve mentioned before that their example, to the extent we are explicitly told to follow it, seems to be more about personal character than church governance (the contexts of I Corinthians 4:16 and 11:1 seem to pretty clearly indicate this, in my opinion).  But let’s assume for a minute that we can’t really know Paul meant it that narrowly.  What other examples are the Apostles setting?  Assuming the Jerusalem Council is an example, is it an example of a council qua council making infallible decisions, or an example of a council of prophets making infallible decisions?  How could you know which of the two is the case? 

By the fact that elders participate, and instruct those who call themselves “prophets.”

Everyone who speaks at the Council is an acknowledged leader.  Even James, who was not one of the Twelve Apostles, presumably had the gifts of the Spirit to back up his own claims to authority or he wouldn’t have been considered a pillar of the church.  So even if the Council is an example, it’s unclear that any old council, whether it had prophets or not, would be following the “example.” 

Paul said that we ought to imitate him, and he proclaimed the conciliar decisions as binding upon all Christians.

In wrapping up my direct response, I would point out that your argument here seems entirely based on the unwarranted, unsupported assumption that because prophets (the Apostles) met in a council to decide a matter, future councils (without prophets) would have similar authority.  And even that assumption begs several questions about what a proper “church council” is, how to know when you have properly constituted one, what kind of majority or quorum one needs, etc.  Rather than substantively supporting these arguments, you simply try to show that White’s counterargument is not provable from Scripture.  While that might be true, neither is yours, based on my comments above, so you’re both in the same position, best I can tell.  In fairness, maybe this is because the article is in the nature of a response rather than stand-alone argument, but the point remains that this article doesn’t substantiate your view, in light of my responses above regarding verses about oral tradition, unrecorded teachings, etc.

My position is that claims to authority require proof, as stated above.  If you’re going to claim church councils have authority over me, you have to give me evidence of that.

Acts 16:4 is that evidence.

For the reasons stated above, I don’t think you’ve provided such evidence.  You can’t show that the Apostles or Christ intended for all disputes to be handled by councils (indeed, it’s not clear the issue couldn’t have been settled in a private discussion between Paul, Peter, and James, since they’re the only ones we know spoke), and you can’t even prove Christ and the Apostles taught anything that wasn’t at some point recorded in Scripture.

Paul and Barnabas did not settle the question themselves, and so they went to the council to settle it:

Acts 15:2  And when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question.

Note how apostles went to a council with apostles and elders, to settle the question. This shows that a council was the way to go about it.

So, in my view, your case remains to be made.  That’s all well and good, but one needs a good explanation as an alternative.  If I have no alternative to your theory, then yours still wins by default as having no competitors.  So now I’m going to set forth my basic theory of what’s going on in Acts 15.

The background, of course, is that Jews were telling Gentile converts they had to be circumcised.  That was the question they were all there to discuss.  The answer, I submit, was already known.  Peter had already told the believers in Jerusalem about Cornelius’ conversion, and how he had received the Holy Spirit without being circumcised, and even before he was baptized.  At that point, the believers rejoiced that the gospel was given to the nations (Acts 11:18).  There was no indication that anyone question whether uncircumcised Gentiles could be saved–indeed that was basically the whole point of the episode in Acts 10-11, starting with Peter’s vision.

So when the “decision” of the council comes down, it’s not new to the extent it says Gentiles don’t need to be circumcised.  The other half of the decree is the four-item list of things Gentiles do need to observe from the Law–No blood, no strangled things, no pollutions of idols, and fornication/unchastity. 

It may not be totally new, but what was new then, and most unProtestant now, is the fact (confirmed by Paul) that it is binding upon all.

The question is, why those four?  My answer would be that those four things are immoral, but not obvious if you weren’t already a Jew who knew the history contained in Genesis and the precepts of the Law.   This is why James says in Acts 15:21, after listing the four things, “for Moses has had throughout many generations those who preach him….” So for blood and strangled animals (essentially the same prohibition, since a strangled animal still has the blood in it), the basis for that goes all the way back to Noah, when God first gives humans permission to eat animals but forbids consumption of blood because that is for atonement (see Genesis 9:3-4 and compare Leviticus 17:10-11).

A Gentile wouldn’t understand that consuming blood was problematic because they wouldn’t know that God from the beginning set that aside for atonement purposes.  Similarly, it wouldn’t be obvious to a Gentile that idols were something that represented actual demonic forces or fallen angels, and that being associated with them in certain ways had more import than the merely surface level.  Finally, a Gentile would also not necessarily understand why any given kind of sex would be wrong, since it seems like a natural thing to do even outside the marriage context.

So what the decree is getting at is that Gentiles don’t need to keep the whole Law, but there are aspects of it they do need to keep.  Some of those are obvious (don’t murder), but some aren’t.  The ones that aren’t obvious are the ones listed in the decree.  So when it says “it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us,” I think there’s a two-fold meaning there: 1) We already knew from the Holy Spirit, through Peter, that you Gentiles didn’t have to keep the whole Law; 2) But the Spirit also guided us to know which things you should be made aware of as moral precepts which wouldn’t be clear to you since you don’t have a background in Judaism.

Even though point #2 implies some divine guidance in the council itself, the decision is still based on the OT Scriptures, which if studied carefully enough would have revealed the same thing without divine guidance, though it would have taken much longer and required a fairly astute mind to figure out.

That’s just it: there was no tradition in the old covenant saying that circumcision was not required to enter into the covenant. You have it exactly backwards.

Does this imply that councils after the Apostles would receive the same guidance?

Yes.

I don’t see how it does. 

You have not seen a lot of things, so it doesn’t surprise me at all. What people see is guided by (almost determined by) their prior presuppositions.

Bear in mind the central question already had an answer for anyone paying attention.  Paul and Barnabas went to dispute this with the elders in Jerusalem not so much to get new information, then, but to have Peter and the other elders set the renegade Judaizers straight, which explains Peter’s remarks in Acts 15:7-10, where he refers back to his meeting with Cornelius as something they all know and which showed God counted Gentiles as pure.  He’s literally pointing out that everyone already ought to know this, just not in those words.

Also, these were the Apostles, with signs and wonders to back up their authority.  I’ve harped on this point quite a bit, but it bears repeating: Absent solid evidence that a council is made up of prophets, or that councils were intended to be infallible, we have no reason to believe a given council is infallible just because it’s a council.  We don’t have the former, and for reasons I’ve given above I don’t think we have the latter either.

And I have repeated over and over that elders participated in a seemingly equal status with apostles. These elders even send or appoint apostles, as we see in Acts 15:2-3 and again in 15:25, and they send and appoint prophets as well, as seen in 15:27, 32.

You don’t think it’s just a tad unfair that after I explicitly asked you if you thought I missed something, to let me know so I could clarify, that you then publish it and say that I just ignored a bunch of stuff? Also, your response to my comment about James, the one non-Apostle named as a participant, is utterly non-responsive, and you fail to realize it’s implications for the other parts of my argument (where admittedly I sloppily referred only to Apostles, which I meant to edit but forgot).

And relatedly, your reliance on the presence of “mere” elders is misplaced. Peter was an elder (I Peter 5:1), so there’s no reason to think the elders in the Council were necessarily less weighty than James, at worst. Other than, of course, your own presupposition. And in any event it’s you, not me, who ignored key points of argument–you repeat in your response the same question-begging argument that because the issue was debated in a council, it was the conciliar nature that made the decree binding. It’s like you don’t even grasp the distinction I’m making between Council qua Council and Council as lead by prophets with signs and wonders.

This is untrue. You wrote: “Assuming the Jerusalem Council is an example, is it an example of a council qua council making infallible decisions, or an example of a council of prophets making infallible decisions? How could you know which of the two is the case?”

I replied: “By the fact that elders participate, and instruct those who call themselves ‘prophets.’ . . . These elders even send or appoint apostles, as we see in Acts 15:2-3 and again in 15:25, and they send and appoint prophets as well, as seen in 15:27, 32.”

You never even address the issue of signs and wonders at all. Which means you ignored the crux of my entire response.

I didn’t, because it was completely irrelevant to the discussion (why discuss elementary things that are obvious in Scripture?). There were no signs and wonders at the council. And there weren’t because they weren’t necessary in a Church council of all Christian elders and apostles. Signs and wonders are for nonbelievers, not believers:

Acts 4:29-31, 33 (RSV) And now, Lord, look upon their threats, and grant to thy servants to speak thy word with all boldness, [30] while thou stretchest out thy hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of thy holy servant Jesus.” [31] And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness. . . . [33] And with great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.

Acts 5:12 Now many signs and wonders were done among the people by the hands of the apostles . . .

Acts 14:1-3 Now at Ico’nium they entered together into the Jewish synagogue, and so spoke that a great company believed, both of Jews and of Greeks. [2] But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brethren. [3] So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands.

Acts 15:12 [during the council] . . . and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles.

Romans 15:18-19 For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has wrought through me to win obedience from the Gentiles, by word and deed, [19] by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Holy Spirit, so that from Jerusalem and as far round as Illyr’icum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ,

2 Corinthians 12:12 The signs of a true apostle were performed among you in all patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works.

Hebrews 2:3-4 how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard him, [4] while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his own will.

Of what use are signs and wonders, designed to cause people to believe, for those who already believe? Therefore, it’s irrelevant with regard to the council and its import and significance. So why do you seek to make it a factor in this discussion?

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I wrote on Facebook about Joshua’s last response above: “I’ll add this snotty, snide “reply” to the dialogue. I wouldn’t want anyone to miss it.”

Snotty and snide, eh? Because you’re just the paragon of fairness. This is rich. I don’t even see how my response is snotty to begin with. Those are substantive (and accurate) points.

And incidentally, in your article you say that I chose this topic, when in fact you chose it and stuck by it when I questioned your choice. You offered to let me skip your back and forth with White “if I liked,” but in the article you say I continue to argue about things you didn’t propose to debate in the first place. You chose the article, so the presumption was that your preference was that I handle the entire thing. If you didn’t, you could have left the additional remarks out of the article. Not to mention you could have been honest about who chose this topic to begin with. Instead, you twist it to make it look like I picked a topic, ignored selective bits of it, and irrationally added comments that were irrelevant.

And on the topic of ignoring parts, if you can explain to me why the additional verses you cited from Acts 15 and 16 are relevant to showing that the Jerusalem Council’s decree was binding because it was a council, please do so, because as far as I can tell they don’t add one iota of evidence that wasn’t already addressed in my first long paragraph on the topic.

Jeremiah 13:23 (KJV): Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots?

I think you just proved they can’t. If you can’t even admit you were at best inaccurate about who chose this topic, we have nothing more to say to each other.

I agree:


2 Timothy 2:23 (RSV) Have nothing to do with stupid, senseless controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.
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Titus 3:9 But avoid stupid controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels over the law, for they are unprofitable and futile.


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March 2, 2017

BibleCatholicism2

Photograph by “jclk8888” (7-7-13) [Pixabay / CC0 public domain]

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[This is an installment of an extensive series of mine, in which I interact with the book that I believe is the best Protestant critique of Catholicism in our times: Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: Agreements and Differences, by Norman L. Geisler and Ralph E. Mackenzie (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1995).]
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Dr. Geisler analyzes the Jerusalem Council in the context of his response to Catholic claims that “there is a God-ordained unity to the church. This unity is manifested in two ways: a unity of faith and a unity of communion” (p. 279). I shall be citing his two-paragraph treatment of it in its entirety and examining each piece of it.
[T]he Jerusalem conference was only confirmatory of the revelation Paul had previously received directly from God. . . . it was only confirmatory of the revelation already given by and confirmed by God to an apostle (Gal. 1:11-12). (p. 284)
The problem here is that the passage Geisler cites has nothing directly to do with the subject matter of the council (mainly, circumcision and whether it is required of Gentile converts to Christianity). It simply stated that Paul’s gospel “is not man’s gospel” and “came through a revelation of Jesus Christ” (RSV). Yes, of course. No one (Catholic or Protestant) disagrees with that.  It may be (despite the non sequitur prooftext given) that Geisler is contending that Paul already received the “new” knowledge from God about circumcision. That would at least be relevant to the discussion.
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Assuming that is the case, the Jerusalem Council is generally dated to 50 AD. The Pauline epistles were all almost certainly written after that date. The earliest: 1 and 2 Thessalonians, written perhaps a year or two after the council, do not mention circumcision, in any event. Therefore, anything that Paul wrote about circumcision (in his biblical epistles) was written after the council, and we can’t say that he had a full view of the scope of circumcision with regard to Gentile converts at the time he went to the council, let alone a “revelation” from God. All we know is:
Acts 15:1-2 But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” [2] And when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question.
The text doesn’t say that St. Paul already knew the definitive answer to the question, by direct revelation. Rather, it was to be decided by “apostles and elders” in Jerusalem: at that time still the administrative center of the new Christian movement.

Geisler never mentions the revelation that St. Peter indeed had already received, related to the council. He’s perceived as “the Catholic guy” (being the leader of the twelve disciples and the first pope), so it’s not in Geisler’s interest to highlight him. God gave St. Peter a vision of the cleanness of all foods (contrary to the Jewish Law: see Acts 10:9-16). This was in the next chapter after the one which describes Paul’s conversion. St. Peter is already learning about the relaxation of Jewish dietary laws, and is eating with uncircumcised men, and is ready to proclaim the gospel widely to the Gentiles (Acts 10 and 11).

This was the secondary decision of the Jerusalem Council, and Peter referred to his experiences with the Gentiles at the council (Acts 15:7-11). The council then decided — with regard to food –, to prohibit only that which “has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled” (15:29). Thus, we have no data to suggest that St. Paul had already received from God the notion that Gentiles didn’t have to be circumcised, while St. Peter did receive a revelation about the cleanness of virtually all foods. So why is Geisler only talking about Paul above? All the biblical account says about St. Paul is: “they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles” (Acts 15:12). That’s it: merely part of one verse . . .

 

There was no new infallible declaration from God. (p. 284)
This is untrue. There certainly was.  A letter was prepared that “seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” (15:28). Paul and others (15:22, 27) were then sent to Antioch, where they “delivered the letter” (15:30). Then Paul went with Silas to  Syria and Cili’cia, Derbe, Lystra, and Ico’nium (15:40-41; 16:1-2). Then we are told:
Acts 16:4 As they went on their way through the cities, they delivered to them for observance the decisions which had been reached by the apostles and elders who were at Jerusalem.
The decision was to be observed. It was binding on believers everywhere that Paul went to. Clearly, this was a very authoritative decision (in effect if not also by nature, infallible) that was to be applied church-wide. In practice; historically, it was: henceforth, circumcision would not again be required for Gentile Christians. This is Catholic ecclesiology and Church authority. Protestants, after all (as they endlessly inform us) do not accept anything as of infallible authority, except for Holy Scripture. Any Protestant could, consistently with their rule of faith, declare about the Jerusalem Council: “I don’t care what they decided there. It’s not infallible; therefore, I can dissent in good faith and believe something differently, based on my interpretation of Scripture passages a, b, c, d . . .”
[T]he inquiry into the issue was a voluntary one, coming from the church in Antioch (Acts 15:2-3). (p. 284)
Granted, but the decision rendered was not “voluntary” or optional. It was intended for strict “observance”.
[T]he nature of the event was more of a conference than a church council, since it was not only apostles and elders but also the other “brethren” who made the decision (Acts 15:22-23). (pp. 284-285)
It is universally referred to as a “council”. Geisler foolishly refers to it as a “conference” to try to make it seem less authoritative and church-wide than it was. I could cite a hundred examples, but I’ll provide just one: “The first council of the Church was that described in Acts 15” (Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, “Council”: p. 351).
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He tries to contend that plain old “brethren” as well as “apostles and elders” made the decision, but this isn’t true. Acts 15: 23 in the RSV states: “”The brethren, both the apostles and the elders, to the brethren . . .” This might sound like “brethren” who were not apostles or elders, helped write the letter, but it is saying that apostles and elders are “brethren” as well. Hence, NIV translates: “The apostles and elders, your brothers, To the Gentile believers . . .” New American Standard Bible (NASB) reads: “”The apostles and the brethren who are elders, . . .” Etc. That‘s what the text means. The “whole church” was involved only in deciding who to send with Paul and Barnabas (15:22).
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Of much more significance is the fact that elders were working alongside apostles. This has direct implications for the Catholic belief in apostolic succession, as I argued recently in an article on the Jerusalem Council:

What is striking, then, is that the two offices in the Jerusalem council are presented as if there is little or no distinction between them, at least in terms of their practical authority. . . . They seem to be presented as having in effect, “one man one vote.” They “consider” the issue “together” (15:6). It’s the same for the “decisions which had been reached” (16:4).

Therefore, if such a momentous, binding decision was arrived at by apostles and elders, it sure seems to suggest what Catholics believe: that bishops are successors of the apostles. We already see the two offices working together in Jerusalem and making a joint decision. It’s a concrete example of precisely what the Catholic Church claims about apostolic succession and the sublime authority conveyed therein.

[C]ontrary to the Catholic claim, if anyone dominated the conference it was not Peter but James, giving as he did the last word in the discussion (15:13-21). (p. 285)

From Acts 15, we learn that “after there was much debate, Peter rose” to address the assembly (15:7). The Bible records his speech, which goes on for five verses. Then it reports that “all the assembly kept silence” (15:12). Paul and Barnabas speak next, not making authoritative pronouncements, but confirming Peter’s exposition, speaking about “signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles” (15:12). Then when James speaks, he refers right back to what “Simeon [Peter] has related” (15:14). To me, this suggests that Peter’s talk was central and definitive. James speaking last could easily be explained by the fact that he was the bishop of Jerusalem and therefore the “host.”
[T]he language of the statement is moderate, using phrases like “it seemed good to us.” (p. 285)
This is untrue as well. When it had to do with selection of men to send, the text reads, “it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church” (15:22) and “it has seemed good to us” (15:25).  But when we get to the actual official letter, the language is: “it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” (15:28). That’s a huge difference, isn’t it? But Geisler manages not to mention it, which is beyond silly.
Moreover, St. Luke uses this language at the beginning of the Gospel of Luke (“it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent The-oph’ilus”: Lk 1:3). I guess, according to Geisler, that this is a “moderate” espousal of that inspired Gospel, too.

Indeed, the result of the conference was only a “letter” (15:30), not a papal encyclical with the typical language of anathema. (p. 285)

 

Of course it need not have an anathema, nor be as developed as later papal encyclicals. No one is claiming that it should be like that. The important thing is how authoritative and wide-ranging it is. It was decided by apostles (with elders), confirmed by the Holy Spirit, and sent with St. Paul to be proclaimed in many different cities, for “observance.” That is sublime authority, and is not what Protestants would expect to find in the Bible, given their ecclesiological views.

 

Finally, the conference recognized the supernatural confirmation of God  on the message of Paul (Acts 15:12), which was the divinely appointed sign that he spoke by revelation from God (2 Cor. 12:12; Heb. 2:3-4). (p. 285)

This is neither here nor there. No one disagrees with this, and it has no bearing on Catholic-Protestant disagreements on ecclesiology. But it sounds nice, and mentions Paul (whom Protestants always consider to be “their guy”: as if he teaches their doctrines), so Geisler threw it in for good effect (I guess).

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April 27, 2016

. . .Including Replies to Reformed Baptist Anti-Catholic Polemicist James White

TempleHerod

Reconstruction of Herod’s Temple (at the time of Jesus), with Robinson’s Arch in the foreground [Wikimedia CommonsCreative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license]

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(9-2-04)
*****

This is a continuation of my series of responses to anti-Catholic luminary James White’s response to a talk I gave on Sola Scriptura on the radio show, Catholic Answers Live. [I offer a free download of this interview from 10-10-03]

I have decided to provide a lengthy response to White’s “rebuttal” of just one of the ten points I presented in that appearance. Remember (as I noted before), my talk was a mere summary. I estimated that I had about three minutes to elaborate upon each point, due to radio time constraints. So this was no in-depth analysis (which the extremely multi-faceted and complex topic of sola Scriptura ultimately demands). It doesn’t follow, however, that I am unable to provide a much more in-depth treatment of the topic.

White, after dodging my critiques of his work for nine years now, seized upon this great “opportunity” of my introductory talk on the radio to pretend, on his Dividing Line webcast, that I have “no clue” what I am talking about and “not a bit of substance” (his stock “responses” and insults where I am concerned). In his eyes, I am a complete ignoramus, a pretender, and utterly over my head in this discussion. White was trying to turn this into a half-baked “oral debate” and (as always, as with all his Catholic opponents) to embarrass me as a simpleton and lightweight apologist. We know he thinks this, because he made a statement like the following on his second show:

The problem, of course, is that this is, quite seriously, one of the things I’ve said about Mr. Armstrong and about many Catholic apologists, from the very beginning. They don’t do exegesis, and they don’t know how to. Um, of course, I could argue that they’re not allowed to.

Be that as it may, for my part, I replied that I have dealt with most or all these points (agree or disagree) in lengthy papers elsewhere, which he is most welcome to attempt to refute as he pleases. This one point is no exception. Here is the material upon which I based my radio presentation (I added just a little on the air, but rather than do more tedious transcription, I will cite the original “notes”: indented):

* * * * * 

In the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:6-30), we see Peter and James speaking with authority. This Council makes an authoritative pronouncement (citing the Holy Spirit) which was binding on all Christians:

Acts 15:28-29: For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from unchastity.

In the next chapter, we read that Paul, Timothy, and Silas were traveling around “through the cities,” and Scripture says that:

. . . they delivered to them for observance the decisions which had been reached by the apostles and elders who were at Jerusalem. (Acts 16:4)

This is Church authority. They simply proclaimed the decree as true and binding — with the sanction of the Holy Spirit Himself! Thus we see in the Bible an instance of the gift of infallibility that the Catholic Church claims for itself when it assembles in a council.

That’s it! Obviously, this is a bare-bones summary of one argument, that can be greatly expanded, with many aspects and facets of it examined. Also, it is important to note that I was writing a refutation of sola Scriptura, not an apologia for the full authority of the Catholic Church, and papal infallibility, etc. The two things are logically and categorically distinct. One could easily reject sola Scriptura without accepting the authority of Rome and the pope. Many Christians, in fact, do this: e.g., Anglicans and Orthodox. The subject at hand is “whether sola Scriptura is the true rule of faith, and what the Bible can inform us about that.” I made a biblical argument that does not support sola Scriptura at all (quite the contrary). But White, using his usual illogical, wrongheaded, and sophistical techniques, which he has honed to perfection, tried to cleverly switch the topic over to Catholic ecclesiology. 

Beyond that, he also foolishly (but typically) implied that my intent in this argument was some silly notion that I thought I had demonstrated all that (Catholic ecclesiology, the papacy and magisterium, etc.) by recourse to this reasoning. This is part of his opinion that I am so stupid that I am unaware of such elementary logical considerations. Vastly underestimating one’s opponent makes for lousy debates and embarrassing “come-uppances” when the opponent proceeds to demonstrate that he is not nearly as much of a dunce and clueless imbecile as was made out. The Democrats have used this tactic for years in politics. It is disconcerting to see anti-Catholic Baptists follow their illegitimate model in theological discourse.

He is way ahead of the game, of course, and this is a straw man, since I believe no such thing at all. Sola Scriptura means something. It has a well-established definition among Protestant scholars. In the next excerpt, we will see it defined by the well-known, influential Reformed Presbyterian R.C. Sproul. The question at hand is whether sola Scriptura is indicated in the Bible. I gave ten reasons in my talk which suggest that it is not. This particular case, in fact, offers not only non-support, but also direct counter-evidence.

This argument concerning the Jerusalem Council was used in expanded form in my book, The Catholic Verses: 95 Bible Passages That Confound Protestants. Here is that portion of the book, in its entirety (indented):

THE BINDING AUTHORITY OF COUNCILS, LED BY THE HOLY SPIRIT

Acts 15:28-29: “For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from unchastity. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.”

Acts 16:4: “As they went on their way through the cities, they delivered to them for observance the decisions which had been reached by the apostles and elders who were at Jerusalem.”

These passages offer a proof that the early Church held to a notion of the infallibility of Church councils, and to a belief that they were especially guided by the Holy Spirit (precisely as in Catholic Church doctrine concerning ecumenical councils). Accordingly, Paul takes the message of the conciliar decree with him on his evangelistic journeys and preaches it to the people. The Church had real authority; it was binding and infallible.

This is a far cry from the Protestant principle of sola Scriptura — which presumes that councils and popes can err, and thus need to be corrected by Scripture. Popular writer and radio expositor R.C. Sproul expresses the standard evangelical Protestant viewpoint on Christian authority:

For the Reformers no church council, synod, classical theologian, or early church father is regarded as infallible. All are open to correction and critique . . .

(in Boice, 109)

Arguably, this point of view derives from Martin Luther’s stance at the Diet of Worms in 1521 (which might be construed as the formal beginning of the formal principle of authority in Protestantism: sola Scriptura). Luther passionately proclaimed:

Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me, Amen. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise.

(in Bainton, 144)

One Protestant reply to these biblical passages might be to say that since this Council of Jerusalem referred to in Acts consisted of apostles, and since an apostle proclaimed the decree, both possessed a binding authority which was later lost (as Protestants accept apostolic authority as much as Catholics do). Furthermore, the incidents were recorded in inspired, infallible Scripture. They could argue that none of this is true of later Catholic councils; therefore, the attempted analogy is null and void.

But this is a bit simplistic, since Scripture is our model for everything, including Church government, and all parties appeal to it for their own views. If Scripture teaches that a council of the Church is authoritative and binding, then it is implausible and unreasonable to assert that no future council can be so simply because it is not conducted by apostles.

Scripture is our model for doctrine and practice (nearly all Christians agree on this). The Bible doesn’t exist in an historical vacuum, but has import for the day-to-day life of the Church and Christians for all time. St. Paul told us to imitate him (see, e.g., 2 Thess. 3:9). And he went around proclaiming decrees of the Church. No one was at liberty to disobey these decrees on the grounds of “conscience,” or to declare by “private judgment” that they were in error (per Luther).

It would be foolish to argue that how the apostles conducted the governance of the Church has no relation whatsoever to how later Christians engage in the same task. It would seem rather obvious that Holy Scripture assumes that the model of holy people (patriarchs, prophets, and apostles alike) is to be followed by Christians. This is the point behind entire chapters, such as (notably) Hebrews 11.

When the biblical model agrees with their theology, Protestants are all too enthusiastic to press their case by using Scriptural examples. The binding authority of the Church was present here, and there is no indication whatever that anyone was ever allowed to dissent from it. That is the fundamental question. Catholics wholeheartedly agree that no new Christian doctrines were handed down after the apostles. Christian doctrine was present in full from the beginning; it has only organically developed since.

John Calvin has a field day running down the Catholic Church in his commentary for Acts 15:28. It is clear that he is uncomfortable with this verse and must somehow explain it in Protestant terms. But he is not at all unanswerable. The fact remains that the decree was made, and it was binding. It will not do (in an attempt to undercut ecclesial authority) to proclaim that this particular instance was isolated. For such a judgment rests on Calvin’s own completely arbitrary authority (which he claims but cannot prove). Calvin merely states his position (rather than argue it) in the following passage:

. . . in vain do they go about out of the same to prove that the Church had power given to decree anything contrary to the word of God. The Pope hath made such laws as seemed best to him, contrary to the word of God, whereby he meant to govern the Church;
This strikes me as somewhat desperate argumentation. First of all, Catholics never have argued that the pope has any power to make decrees contrary to the Bible (making Calvin’s slanderous charge a straw man). Calvin goes on to use vivid language, intended to resonate with already strong emotions and ignorance of Catholic theology. It’s an old lawyer’s tactic: when one has no case, attempt to caricature the opponent, obfuscate, and appeal to emotions rather than reason.

Far more sensible and objective are the comments on Acts 15:28 and 16:4 from the Presbyterian scholar, Albert Barnes, in his famous Barnes’ Notes commentary:

For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost. This is a strong and undoubted claim to inspiration. It was with special reference to the organization of the church that the Holy Spirit had been promised to them by the Lord Jesus, Matthew 18:18-20; John 14:26.

In this instance it was the decision of the council in a case submitted to it; and implied an obligation on the Christians to submit to that decision.

Barnes actually acknowledges that the passage has some implication for ecclesiology in general. It is remarkable, on the other hand, that Calvin seems concerned about the possibility of a group of Christians (in this case, a council) being led by the Holy Spirit to achieve a true doctrinal decree, whereas he has no problem with the idea that individuals can achieve such certainty:

. . . of the promises which they are wont to allege, many were given not less to private believers than to the whole Church [cites Mt 28:20, Jn 14:16-17] . . . we are not to give permission to the adversaries of Christ to defend a bad cause, by wresting Scripture from its proper meaning.

(Institutes, IV, 8, 11)

But it will be objected, that whatever is attributed in part to any of the saints, belongs in complete fulness to the Church. Although there is some semblance of truth in this, I deny that it is true.

(Institutes, IV, 8, 12)

Calvin believes that Scripture is self-authenticating. I appeal, then, to the reader to judge the above passages. Do they seem to support the notion of an infallible Church council (apart from the question of whether the Catholic Church, headed by the pope, is that Church)? Do Calvin’s arguments succeed? For Catholics, the import of Acts 15:28 is clear and undeniable.

Sources

Bainton, Roland H., Here I Stand, New York: Mentor Books, 1950.

Barnes, Albert [Presbyterian], Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament, 1872; reprinted by Baker Book House (Grand Rapids, Michigan), 1983. Available online.

Boice, James Montgomery, editor, The Foundation of Biblical Authority, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1978, chapter four by R.C. Sproul: “Sola Scriptura: Crucial to Evangelicalism.”

Calvin, John, Calvin’s Commentaries, 22 volumes, translated and edited by John Owen; originally printed for the Calvin Translation Society, Edinburgh, Scotland, 1853; reprinted by Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan: 1979. Available online.

Calvin, John, Institutes of the Christian Religion, translated by Henry Beveridge for the Calvin Translation Society, 1845 from the 1559 edition in Latin; reprinted by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. (Grand Rapids, Michigan), 1995. Available online.

Now let’s examine White’s reply to my argument on his Dividing Line webcast, and see if it can stand up under scrutiny. Let’s see how cogent and biblical it is, and how well the good, exceedingly-wise Bishop White can survive (what he calls a) “cross-examination” (he, of course, claims that I would utterly wilt under his sublime, brilliant questioning, which is supposedly why I refuse to debate him orally). I have given my argument in summary, in depth; I’ve responded to some historic Protestant objections to it; the argument is in print in a published book from a reputable Catholic publisher: Sophia Institute Press) and now I will counter-reply to White’s own sophistical commentary. Whether he wants to respond back, or flee for the hills as he almost always has before, for nine years, when I critique him, remains to be seen. Let his followers closely note his actions now, if they think he is so invulnerable and unable to be “vanquished.”

[White’s words below will be in blue. I am directly citing his words from the Dividing Line webcast of 8-31-04]:

[start from the time: 23:00. This portion ends at 25:00]

Hello, Mr. Armstrong! Acts 15, apostles are there; the Holy Spirit is speaking; the New Testament’s being written; hellooo! This is a period of inscripturation, and revelation! The only way to make that relevant is to say, “you still have apostles and still receive revelation,” but you all believe the canon’s closed, so that doesn’t work. This isn’t some extrabiblical tradition! This is the tradition of the Bible itself! It’s revelation! Uh, again, see why, as long as you don’t allow anyone to cross-examine you; remember Proverbs 18. The first one to present his case always seems right, until his opponent comes along and questions him. That’s what live debate allows to take place. [mocking, derisive, condescending tone throughout]

This is White’s entire answer. On the next Dividing Line of 9-2-04, which I just listened to live, he also added a few brief comments about the same argument:

. . . [the Jerusalem Council is binding] “as a part of Scripture.”

“The Church does have authority; not infallible authority.”

Now let’s see how this stands up, when analyzed closely. I shall respond to each statement in turn:

Hello, Mr. Armstrong!

Hello, Your Eminence, the Right Reverend Bishop Dr. James R. White, Th.D.!

apostles are there

So what? How does that change anything? Are not apostles models for us? Of course, they are. St. Paul tells us repeatedly to imitate him (1 Cor 4:16, Phil 3:17, 2 Thess 3:7-9). White would have us believe that since this is the apostolic period and so forth, it is completely unique, and any application of the known events of that time to our own is “irrelevant.” He acts as if the record of the Book of Acts has no historical, pedagogical import other than as a specimen of early Christian history, as if it is a piece of mere archaeology, rather than the living Word of God, which is (to use one of Protestants’ favorite verses) “profitable for teaching . . . and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16-17). So now the historical passages of the New Testament are “irrelevant”? Only the straight-out doctrinal teaching can be used to ascertain correct doctrine? If so, then where is that taught in Scripture itself, etc.? Passages like Hebrews 11, which recount the deeds of great saints and biblical heroes, imply that they are a model for us.

White’s viewpoint as to the implications of the Jerusalem Council is theologically and spiritually naive or simplistic because it would force us to accept recorded, inspired apostolic teaching about the Church and ecclesiology (whatever it is), yet overlook and ignore the very application of that doctrine to real life, that the apostles lived out in that real life. We would have to believe that this council in Jerusalem had nothing whatsoever to do with later governance of the Church, even though apostles were involved in it. That, in effect, would be to believe that we are smarter and more knowledgeable about Christian theology than the apostles were. They set out and governed the Church, yet they were dead-wrong, or else what they did has no bearing whatsoever on later Christian ecclesiology. Since this is clearly absurd, White’s view that goes along with it, collapses.

Moreover, this is a foolish approach because it would require us to believe that Paul and other apostles were in error with regard to how Christian or Church authority works. The preached a certain thing in this instance. If they believed in sola Scriptura (as models for us), then they would have taught what they knew to be Scripture (in those days, the Old Testament), and that alone, as binding and authoritative (for this is what sola Scriptura holds). If they didn’t understand authority in the way that God desired, how could they be our models? And if the very apostles who wrote Scripture didn’t understand it, and applied it incorrectly in such an important matter, how can we be expected to, from that same Scripture? A stream can’t rise above its source.

Lastly, White implicitly assumes here, as he often does, that everything the apostles taught was later doctrinally recorded in Scripture. This is his hidden premise (or it follows from his reasoning, whether he is aware of it or not). But this is a completely arbitrary assumption. Protestants have to believe something akin to this notion, because of their aversion to authoritative, binding tradition, but the notion itself is unbiblical. They agree that what apostles taught was binding, but they fail to see that some of that teaching would be “extrabiblical” (i.e., not recorded in Scripture). The Bible itself, however, teaches us that there are such teachings and deeds not recorded in it (Jn 20:30, 21:25, Acts 1:2-3, Lk 24:15-16,25-27). The logic is simple (at least when laid out for all to see):

1. Apostles’ teaching was authoritative and binding.
2. Some of that teaching was recorded in Scripture, but some was not.
3. The folks who heard their teaching were bound to it whether it was later “inscripturated” or not.
4. Therefore, early Christians were bound to “unbiblical” teachings or those not known to be “biblical” (as the Bible would not yet be canonized until more than three centuries later).
5. If they were so bound, it stands to reason that we could and should be, also.
6. Scripture itself does not rule out the presence of an authoritative oral tradition, not recorded in words. Paul refers more than once to a non-written tradition (e.g., 2 Tim 1:13-14, 2:2).
7. Scripture informs us that much more was taught by Jesus and apostles than what is recorded in it.
8. Scripture nowhere teaches that it is the sole rule of faith or that what is recorded in it about early Church history has no relevance to later Christians because this was the apostolic or “inscripturation” period. Those are all arbitrary, unbiblical traditions of men.

One could go on and on about the falsehood of White’s opinion here. His view is simply wrongheaded and not required by the Bible at all. It is an unsubstantiated, unbiblical tradition within Protestantism, that has to exist in order to bolster up the ragged edges of another thoroughly unbiblical tradition: sola Scriptura. As the latter cannot be proven at all from Scripture, it, and all the “supports” for it such as this one, are all logically circular.

. . . the Holy Spirit is speaking . . .

Exactly! This is my point, and what makes the argument such a strong one. Here we have in Scripture itself a clear example of a Church council which was guided by the Holy Spirit. That is our example. It happened. White can go on and on about how these were apostles, but the apostles had successors. We know from Scripture itself that bishops were considered the successors of the apostles.

There was to be a certain ecclesiology. The New Testament speaks of this in relatively undeveloped ways (just as it speaks of fine points of Christology and trinitarianism in an undeveloped sense, which was developed by the Church for hundreds of years afterwards).

If the Holy Spirit could speak to a council then, He can now. Why should it change? This doesn’t require belief in ongoing revelation. That is another issue. The disciples were clearly told by our Lord Jesus (at the Last Supper) that the Holy Spirit would “teach you all things” (Jn 14:26) and “guide you into all truth” (Jn 16:13). This can be understood either as referring to individuals alone, in a corporate sense, or both. If it is corporate, then it could apply to a church council. And in fact, we see exactly that in the Jerusalem Council, after Jesus’ Resurrection and Ascension.

Of course, if white wants to assert that the Holy Spirit can’t speak any more, after the apostolic age and the age of revelation, that is up to him, but that is equally unbiblical and unnecessary. He can give us non biblical proof that this is the case, anymore than some Protestants (perhaps white himself) are “cessationists,” who believe that miracles and the spiritual; gifts ceased with the apostles also.

. . . the New Testament’s being written . . . This is a period of inscripturation and revelation!

So what? What does that have to do with how these early Christians regarded authority and how they believed that councils were binding? Where in the Bible does it say that this period is absolutely unique because the Bible was being written during it? The inspired Bible either has examples of historical events in it which are models for us, or it doesn’t. If it does, White’s case collapses again. If it doesn’t, I need to hear why someone would think that, based on the Bible itself, which doesn’t even list its own books, let alone teach us that we can’t determine how the Church was to be governed by observing how the first Christians did it .

The only way to make that relevant is to say, “you still have apostles and still receive revelation” . . .

On what basis is this said? I don’t see this in the Bible anywhere. Why do we have to still have apostles around in order to follow their example, as we are commanded to do? What does the ending of revelation have to do with that, either? Therefore, it is (strictly-speaking) an “extrabiblical tradition.” If so, then it is inadmissible (in the sense of being binding) according to the doctrine of sola Scriptura. If that is the case, then I am under no obligation to accept it; it is merely white’s arbitrary opinion. Nor is White himself. He contradicts himself, and this is a self-defeating scenario, involving the following self-contradiction:

In upholding the principle which holds only biblical teachings as infallible and binding, I must appeal to an extrabiblical teaching.

This is utterly incoherent, inconsistent reasoning, and must, therefore, be rejected.

You all believe the canon’s closed, so that doesn’t work.

The question of the canon is irrelevant to this matter as well. Protestants and Catholics agree as to the New Testament books. So what is found in the New Testament is inspired, inerrant, and infallible. That’s why I cite it to make my arguments about ecclesiology and the rule of faith, just like I defend any other teaching I believe as a Catholic.

This isn’t some extrabiblical tradition! It’s the tradition of the Bible itself! It’s revelation!

Bingo! Why does he think I used it in the first place?! Exactly!!! Dr. White thus nails the lid on the coffin of his own “case” shut and covers it with a foot of concrete. This “tradition of the Bible” in Acts 15 and 16 teaches something about the binding authority of church councils, and it is not what sola Scriptura holds (which is the very opposite, of course). Case closed. White can grapple with this portion of what all agree is inspired revelation all he wants, and offer pat answers and insufficiently grounded, circular reasoning all he likes; that doesn’t change the fact.

Then White stated that the Council is binding “as a part of Scripture.”

This is equally wrongheaded and off the mark. It was binding, period, because it was a council of the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit (a fact expressly stated by inspired Scripture itself). It would have been binding on Christians if there had never been a New Testament (and at that time there was not yet one anyway). Whether this was recorded later in Scripture or not is irrelevant. If Dr. White disagrees, then let him produce a statement in the New Testament which teaches us what he claims: that it was only binding because it later was recorded in Scripture. If he can’t, then why should we believe him? I am the one arguing strictly from Scripture and what it reveals to us; he is not. He has to fall back on his own arbitrary opinions: mere extrabiblical traditions of men.

Of course, the Church later acts in precisely the same way in its ecumenical councils, declaring such things as that those who deny the Holy Trinity are outside Christianity and the Church, or that those who deny grace alone (Pelagians) are, etc. They make authoritative proclamations, and they are binding on all Christians. The Bible and St. Paul taught that true Christian councils were binding, but Martin Luther, James White, and most Protestants deny this. I will follow the Bible and the apostles, if that must be the choice, thank you.

The Church does have authority; not infallible authority.

Sorry to disagree again, but again, that is not what the Bible taught in this instance. Here the Church had infallible authority in council, and was led by the Holy Spirit. This is clearly taught in the Bible. Period. End of discussion. I think White senses the power of this argument, which is why he tried to blithely, cavalierly dismiss it, with scarcely any discussion (an old lawyer’s trick, to try to fool onlookers who don’t know any better). Knowing that, he has to use the “this is the period of inscripturation and the apostles” argument, but that doesn’t fly, and is not rooted in the Bible, as shown. We are shown here what authority the Church has. If White doesn’t like it, let him produce an express statement in the Bible, informing us that the Church is fallible. One tires of these games and this sort of “theological subterfuge,” where the person who claims to be uniquely following the Bible, and it alone, invents nonsense out of whole cloth, when directly confronted with portions of that same Bible that don’t fit into their preconceived theology and arbitrary traditions of men. Our Lord Jesus and the Apostle Paul dealt with this in their time. Sadly, we continue to today.

Addendum: Dividing Line of 9-2-04

This was more of the same silliness, with even less solid reply. It was remarkable (even by White’s low standards) in its sustained juvenile, giggly mocking of Catholics, especially as White sat and listened to the advertising on the Catholic Answers Live show. I found this to be a rather blatant demonstration of the prejudiced mindset and mentality of the anti-Catholic. But as I have known of this tendency in the good bishop for many years, it came as no surprise at all. He started out with the obligatory digs at me:

[derisive laughter throughout]

Dave’s just playin’ along with the game; you know what I mean?
How can you self-destruct two times on your own blog?
. . . I feel sorry for old Dave . . .
We didn’t have a postal debate . . . absolute pure desperation . . .

White even went after Cardinal Newman later on:

[Newmanian development of doctrine is a] convenient means of abandoning the historical field of battle.

He went on to state that this involves a “nebulous” notion of doctrine whereby it can be molded and transmutated into almost anything, no matter how it relates to what went before. Of course, this is a complete distortion of Newman’s teaching (which is an organic, continuous development of something which remains itself all along, like a biological organism), and shows profound ignorance of it by Dr. White, but that is another topic. Those who are familiar with Newman’s thought will see how bankrupt this “analysis” is. But this comes straight from the 19th-century Anglican anti-Catholic controversialist George Salmon (it is almost a direct quote from him). Nothing new under the sun . . .

I hope readers have enjoyed another installment of my writing which has, of course, no substance whatsoever, and where I exhibit yet again my marked characteristic of not having a clue concerning that of which I write. And I’m sure you will enjoy White’s lengthy written reply, too (just don’t hold your breath waiting for that, please!).

*****

Meta Description: Discussion about the relationship of Church authority to inspired Scripture; + exchanges with anti-Catholic polemicist James White. 

Meta Keywords: Anti-Catholicism, apostolic succession, apostolic tradition, Bible Only, Catholic Tradition, Christian Authority, development of doctrine, James White, Rule of Faith, Scripture Alone, Sola Scriptura, Tradition

January 18, 2019

This is an installment of a series of replies (see the Introduction and Master List) to much of Book IV (Of the Holy Catholic Church) of Institutes of the Christian Religion, by early Protestant leader John Calvin (1509-1564). I utilize the public domain translation of Henry Beveridge, dated 1845, from the 1559 edition in Latin; available online. Calvin’s words will be in blue. All biblical citations (in my portions) will be from RSV unless otherwise noted.

Related reading from yours truly:

Biblical Catholic Answers for John Calvin (2010 book: 388 pages)

A Biblical Critique of Calvinism (2012 book: 178 pages)

Biblical Catholic Salvation: “Faith Working Through Love” (2010 book: 187 pages; includes biblical critiques of all five points of “TULIP”)

*****

IV, 8:10 / 9:1-3, 6-11, 14 / 10:21

***

Book IV

CHAPTER 8

OF THE POWER OF THE CHURCH IN ARTICLES OF FAITH. THE UNBRIDLED LICENCE OF THE PAPAL CHURCH IN DESTROYING PURITY OF DOCTRINE.
*
10. The Roman tyrants have taught a different doctrine—viz. that Councils cannot err, and, therefore, may coin new dogmas.
*

But if this power of the church which is here described be contrasted with that which spiritual tyrants, falsely styling themselves bishops and religious prelates, have now for several ages exercised among the people of God, there will be no more agreement than that of Christ with Belial. 

Nice melodramatic, rhetorical touch . . . this is how mere propaganda (as opposed to cogent rational argument and demonstration) proceeds.

It is not my intention here to unfold the manner, the unworthy manner, in which they have used their tyranny; 

Of course there is no antecedent question considered: whether Catholics en masse are indeed “tyrants.” Calvin has said so, after all.

I will only state the doctrine which they maintain in the present day, first, in writing, and then, by fire and sword. 

Ah, yes. And we all know that Protestants never hurt a flea, right?

Taking it for granted, that a universal council is a true representation of the Church, 

. . . which is what the Christian Church had always taught . . .

they set out with this principle, and, at the same time, lay it down as incontrovertible, that such councils are under the immediate guidance of the Holy Spirit, and therefore cannot err. 

That was the case with the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:25, 28-29), and all true councils. Why would Calvin think that this state of affairs is no longer applicable in the Church? Jesus (John, chapters 14-16) said we would have the Holy Spirit to guide us. Has Calvin lost faith in that ongoing guidance? It is a spectacle to behold such continual lack of faith in God’s promises and manifest examples in Holy Scripture. Man-centered outlooks descend to that level.

When one puts one’s faith in God, to guide sinful men for His sovereign purposes, it’s very different. Calvin wants to emphasize God’s sovereignty, which is good, but seems to repeatedly deny it when it comes to examining how God leads men for His sovereign purposes.

But as they rule councils, nay, constitute them, they in fact claim for themselves whatever they maintain to be due to councils. 

It’s not circular reasoning, as he implies, but a biblical notion, as just shown.

Therefore, they will have our faith to stand and fall at their pleasure, so that whatever they have determined on either side must be firmly seated in our minds; what they approve must be approved by us without any doubt; what they condemn we also must hold to be justly condemned. 

That is, whatever is believed by all, everywhere, from the beginning (apostolic succession). Calvin cleverly makes out that there is some sort of “epistemological equivalence” between the Protestant rejection of so many Catholic doctrines, and the Catholic position which had been consistently maintained for 1500 years. That is ludicrous in and of itself. But it plays well to the crowd, in making out that it is supposedly a matter of “arbitrary Catholic dogmatism and power vs. biblical Protestantism.” It’s superb propaganda, but it is nonexistent reasoning.

Meanwhile, at their own caprice, and in contempt of the word of God, they coin doctrines to which they in this way demand our assent, declaring that no man can be a Christian unless he assent to all their dogmas, affirmative as well as negative, if not with explicit, yet with implicit faith, because it belongs to the Church to frame new articles of faith.

The Church had always done this. Why should it cease now? Even granting Calvin’s perspective that his alternative Christian worldview and “system” is equally plausible as the Catholic Church, it is foolish to condemn the very notion of an enforced orthodoxy (by anyone), since, after all, Calvin’s “church” acted in exactly the same way, sometimes to the point of death for those who disagreed.

What he needs to do is show how some Catholic doctrine or other is false, from Scripture and history and reason. But that is too much work. Empty rhetoric suits his purposes just fine. The Institutes is nothing if not preaching to the choir and riling up the true believers to oppose Harlot Rome.
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[ . . . ]

CHAPTER 9

OF COUNCILS AND THEIR AUTHORITY.
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1. The true nature of Councils.
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Were I now to concede all that they ask concerning the Church, it would not greatly aid them in their object. For everything that is said of the Church they immediately transfer to councils, which, in their opinion, represent the Church. 

And Calvin thinks they do not?

Nay, when they contend so doggedly for the power of the Church, their only object is to devolve the whole which they extort on the Roman Pontiff and his conclave. 

Maybe they simply want to defend the way it had been for 1500 years? Since Calvin can’t accept that the historic Church was Catholic, and not even remotely “Protestant,” he must search for nefarious motives somewhere and make out that Catholic arguments are mere power plays.

Before I begin to discuss this question, two points must be briefly premised. First, though I mean to be more rigid in discussing this subject, it is not because I set less value than I ought on ancient councils. I venerate them from my heart, and would have all to hold them in due honour. But there must be some limitation, there must be nothing derogatory to Christ. 

And this clause “some limitation” is a loophole big enough for a truck to drive through, as we’ll see again and again, as we proceed.

Moreover, it is the right of Christ to preside over all councils, and not share the honour with any man. Now, I hold that he presides only when he governs the whole assembly by his word and Spirit. 

No man can preside at all? How can there be order or protocol if this is the case?

Secondly, in attributing less to councils than my opponents demand, it is not because I have any fear that councils are favourable to their cause and adverse to ours. 

Of course not . . .

For as we are amply provided by the word of the Lord with the means of proving our doctrine and overthrowing the whole Papacy, 

As we know, the papacy has long since been overthrown and Calvinism reigns supreme everywhere . . .

and thus have no great need of other aid, so, if the case required it, ancient councils furnish us in a great measure with what might be sufficient for both purposes.

Here is the familiar (but thoroughly erroneous) claim: that the ancient councils and fathers supposedly provide plenty of evidence for Protestantism; over against Catholicism.

2. Whence the authority of Councils is derived. What meant by assembling in the name of Christ.
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Let us now proceed to the subject itself. If we consult Scripture on the authority of councils, there is no promise more remarkable than that which is contained in these words of our Saviour, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” But this is just as applicable to any particular meeting as to a universal council. And yet the important part of the question does not lie here, but in the condition which is added—viz. that Christ will be in the midst of a council, provided it be assembled in his name. Wherefore, though our opponents should name councils of thousands of bishops it will little avail them; nor will they induce us to believe that they are, as they maintain, guided by the Holy Spirit, until they make it credible that they assemble in the name of Christ: since it is as possible for wicked and dishonest to conspire against Christ, as for good and honest bishops to meet together in his name. 

That’s correct; for example, the Robber Council of 449. But of course, the same criticism applies to various Protestant assemblies that adopted false doctrine. In the end, the discussion will always have to reference Scripture and prior received Tradition in order to determine true and false councils (and we contend, also, that popes have to ratify the decisions of true ecumenical councils).

Of this we have a clear proof in very many of the decrees which have proceeded from councils. But this will be afterwards seen. At present I only reply in one word, that our Saviour’s promise is made to those only who assemble in his name. How, then, is such an assembly to be defined? I deny that those assemble in the name of Christ who, disregarding his command by which he forbids anything to be added to the word of God or taken from it, determine everything at their own pleasure, who, not contented with the oracles of Scripture, that is, with the only rule of perfect wisdom, devise some novelty out of their own head (Deut. 4:2; Rev. 22:18).

And of course this is circular reasoning:

1) Catholics declare doctrine X that I disagree with.

2) Doctrine X is unscriptural.

3) Why is X unscriptural? Because I disagree that it is scriptural. My interpretation says that it is not scriptural.

4) I know my interpretation is correct because it disagrees with the Roman interpretation, which is a tradition of men, because it is a novelty devised out of their heads, rather than from Scripture.

Etc., etc. The circularity can be demonstrated in a number of ways, but this shall suffice for now.

Certainly, since our Saviour has not promised to be present with all councils of whatever description, but has given a peculiar mark for distinguishing true and lawful councils from others, we ought not by any means to lose sight of the distinction. 

Indeed. Not every council is true or Spirit-led.

The covenant which God anciently made with the Levitical priests was to teach at his mouth (Mal. 2:7). This he always required of the prophets, and we see also that it was the law given to the apostles. 

Of course, but by the same token, this also establishes authoritative teaching that is ultimately undermined by the individualistic notion of private judgment, and the denial of infallibility to the Church, and rejection of apostolic succession, etc.:

Exodus 18:20 and you shall teach them the statutes and the decisions, and make them know the way in which they must walk and what they must do.

Leviticus 10:11 and you are to teach the people of Israel all the statutes which the LORD has spoken to them by Moses.

Deuteronomy 33:10 They shall teach Jacob thy ordinances, and Israel thy law . . .

2 Chronicles 17:7-9 In the third year of his reign he sent his princes, Ben-hail, Obadi’ah, Zechari’ah, Nethan’el, and Micai’ah, to teach in the cities of Judah; and with them the Levites, Shemai’ah, Nethani’ah, Zebadi’ah, As’ahel, Shemi’ramoth, Jehon’athan, Adoni’jah, Tobi’jah, and Tobadoni’jah; and with these Levites, the priests Eli’shama and Jeho’ram. And they taught in Judah, having the book of the law of the LORD with them; they went about through all the cities of Judah and taught among the people.

2 Chronicles 35:3 And he said to the Levites who taught all Israel and who were holy to the LORD, . . .

Ezra 7:6, 10-11 this Ezra went up from Babylonia. He was a scribe skilled in the law of Moses which the LORD the God of Israel had given; and the king granted him all that he asked, for the hand of the LORD his God was upon him. . . . For Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach his statutes and ordinances in Israel. . . . Ezra the priest, the scribe, learned in matters of the commandments of the LORD and his statutes for Israel:

Nehemiah 8:7-8, 12 Also Jesh’ua, Bani, Sherebi’ah, Jamin, Akkub, Shab’bethai, Hodi’ah, Ma-asei’ah, Keli’ta, Azari’ah, Jo’zabad, Hanan, Pelai’ah, the Levites, helped the people to understand the law, while the people remained in their places. And they read from the book, from the law of God, clearly; and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading. . . . And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them.

Acts 8:27-28, 30-31, 34-35 And behold, an Ethiopian, a eunuch . . . seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah . . . So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless some one guides me?” . . . And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, pray, does the prophet say this, about himself or about some one else?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this scripture he told him the good news of Jesus.

Acts 15:22, 25, 28 Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, . . . it has seemed good to us, having come to one accord, . . . For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us . . .

Acts 16:4 As they went on their way through the cities, they delivered to them for observance the decisions which had been reached by the apostles and elders who were at Jerusalem.

Ephesians 3:10 . . . through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places.

2 Peter 1:20 . . . no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation,

2 Peter 3:15-17 And count the forbearance of our Lord as salvation. So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, beware lest you be carried away with the error of lawless men and lose your own stability.

On those who violate this covenant God bestows neither the honour of the priesthood nor any authority. Let my opponents solve this difficulty if they would subject my faith to the decrees of man, without authority from the word of God.

Obviously, both sides claim scriptural support. The argument has to be an exegetical one, not a “your dad’s uglier than mine” name-calling, schoolyard level. It is not the case that Catholics ignore Scripture in setting forth their theological views (agree or disagree), as Calvin would have it. But it sounds good, and he loves the black-and-white contrast, with the Catholics always being wicked and evil and unbiblical, so he continues to use the technique.

3. Objection, that no truth remains in the Church if it be not in Pastors and Councils. Answer, showing by passages from the Old Testament that Pastors were often devoid of the spirit of knowledge and truth.
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Their idea that the truth cannot remain in the Church unless it exist among pastors, 

It stands to reason, does it not, that if doctrinal truth is to be maintained, that someone in leadership must maintain it, no? If God is truly preserving His Church, this will always be the case, at least with some of the leaders. The Church can never completely fall away (institutionally) from truth. Calvin seems to think this is the case with Catholicism, but this is contrary to Jesus’ promises.

and that the Church herself cannot exist unless displayed in general councils, 

Acts 15 would seem to bear that out. Even Paul the Apostle went around proclaiming the binding decrees of the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 16:4 above).

is very far from holding true if the prophets have left us a correct description of their own times. In the time of Isaiah there was a Church at Jerusalem which the Lord had not yet abandoned. But of pastors he thus speaks: “His watchmen are blind; they are all ignorant, they are all dumb dogs, they cannot bark; sleeping, lying down, loving to slumber. Yea, they are greedy dogs which never have enough, and they are shepherds that cannot understand: they all look to their own way” (Isa. 56:10, 11). In the same way Hosea says, “The watchman of Ephraim was with my God: but the prophet is a snare of a fowler in all his ways, and hatred in the house of his God” (Hosea 9:8). Here, by ironically connecting them with God, he shows that the pretext of the priesthood was vain. There was also a Church in the time of Jeremiah. Let us hear what he says of pastors: “From the prophet even unto the priest, every one dealeth falsely.” Again, “The prophets prophesy lies in my name: I sent them not, neither have I commanded them, neither spake unto them” (Jer. 6:13; 14:14). And not to be prolix with quotations, read the whole of his thirty-third and fortieth chapters. Then, on the other hand, Ezekiel inveighs against them in no milder terms. “There is a conspiracy of her prophets in the midst thereof, like a roaring lion ravening the prey; they have devoured souls.” “Her priests have violated my law, and profaned mine holy things” (Ezek. 22:25, 26). There is more to the same purpose. Similar complaints abound throughout the prophets; nothing is of more frequent recurrence.

Israel went through many periods of more or less complete corruption; this is obvious. But we are in a new dispensation now, after the appearance of our Savior and Redeemer Jesus Christ: the Incarnation, redeeming death, Resurrection, and Ascension. We are indwelt by the Holy Spirit and have the power of the sacraments, and we have God’s promises of guidance and protection. All of that makes the situation after Christ quite different from before the time of Christ.

We see the massive change, for example, in the conduct of Peter, before and after he was filled with the Holy Spirit. Before Pentecost, even the immediate disciples of Jesus were a pretty poor, miserable lot, barely understanding what Jesus was teaching them and failing to understand even the purpose of Jesus’ death on the cross.

After Pentecost, they went out joyously, and triumphantly conquered the world. Yet Calvin would have us believe that nothing whatever was changed from the Old Covenant times and corrupt priests in Israel? It is often thought by Calvin and Protestants that Catholics are stuck in a rut of the Old Covenant (supposedly believing in works-salvation, etc.: which mainstream Judaism did not and does not hold, rightly understood). But here it is obvious that the Catholic position is the progressive one, while Calvin’s Old Covenant redux position is regressive, and lacks faith in the power of God in the New Covenant, and in God’s promises for His Church, built upon Peter himself.

Moreover, this whole line of reasoning would prove too much, because if the idea is that corruption is well-nigh universal, then Calvin’s own version of “church” would be every bit as much subject to the same thing, and there would be no reason to believe that Protestantism is at all superior to Catholicism (if we stick strictly to the “sin” argument). Arguing from sin and corruption never accomplishes much, for this very reason. Calvin can try to maintain that Protestants are singularly freed from corruption and sin and religious nominalism, but it’s a futile effort.

If he wishes to argue a lesser claim: that institutional offices in the Church are null and void because of widespread corruption (real or imagined), then this, too, mitigates against his own position, as he was not opposed to abolition of all Church offices and positions whatever. The entire argument he wishes to make at this juncture is a dead-end. It accomplishes nothing whatsoever.

[ . . . ]
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6. Objection, that General Councils represent the Church. Answer, showing the absurdity of this objection from passages in the Old Testament.
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Hence it is easy to reply to their allegation concerning general councils. It cannot be denied, that the Jews had a true Church under the prophets. But had a general council then been composed of the priests, what kind of appearance would the Church have had? We hear the Lord denouncing not against one or two of them, but the whole order: “The priests shall be astonished, and the prophets shall wonder” (Jer. 4:9). Again, “The law shall perish from the priest, and counsel from the ancients” (Ezek. 7:26). Again, “Therefore night shall be unto you, that ye shall not have a vision; and it shall be dark unto you, that ye shall not divine; and the sun shall go down over the prophets, and the day shall be dark over them,” &c. (Micah 3:6). Now, had all men of this description been collected together, what spirit would have presided over their meeting? 

Not a very good one; I agree. But I have already explained why these examples of Old Testament corruption are non sequiturs.

Of this we have a notable instance in the council which Ahab convened (1 Kings 22:6, 22). Four hundred prophets were present. But because they had met with no other intention than to flatter the impious king, Satan is sent by the Lord to be a lying spirit in all their mouths. The truth is there unanimously condemned. Micaiah is judged a heretic, is smitten, and cast into prison. So was it done to Jeremiah, and so to the other prophets.

Indeed. Men are sinners. If it weren’t for God’s grace, there would be no hope for any religious assembly whatever (including Calvin’s); let alone the Church of God.

7. Passages to the same effect from the New Testament.
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But there is one memorable example which may suffice for all. In the council which the priests and Pharisees assembled at Jerusalem against Christ (John 11:47), what is wanting, in so far as external appearance is concerned? Had there been no Church then at Jerusalem, Christ would never have joined in the sacrifices and other ceremonies. A solemn meeting is held; the high priest presides; the whole sacerdotal order take their seats, and yet Christ is condemned, and his doctrine is put to flight. This atrocity proves that the Church was not at all included in that council. 

Obviously not, as it opposed Christ Himself (at least not insofar as this particular ruling was concerned). Calvin’s difficulty, however, is that Jesus recognized the continuing authority of the Pharisees, and even told His followers to do what they teach them to do (Matthew 23:1-3). This shows that there was authority and truth retained, even within a corrupt institution (one that Jesus excoriated shortly after He said this), not that there was an absolute corruption, leading to a complete downfall or cessation of what once was. Paul recognized the authority of the high priest, even at his trial; even called himself a Pharisee (Acts 23:1-6). The early Christians worshiped at both synagogues and in the Temple.

But there is no danger that anything of the kind will happen with us. Who has told us so? Too much security in a matter of so great importance lies open to the charge of sluggishness. Nay, when the Spirit, by the mouth of Paul, foretells, in distinct terms, that a defection will take place, a defection which cannot come until pastors first forsake God (2 Thess. 2:3), why do we spontaneously walk blindfold to our own destruction? 

Christians should always be vigilant against falsehood and heresy and schism. Paul warned more about divisions than he did about almost anything else.

Wherefore, we cannot on any account admit that the Church consists in a meeting of pastors, as to whom the Lord has nowhere promised that they would always be good, but has sometimes foretold that they would be wicked. When he warns us of danger, it is to make us use greater caution.

This is obvious. A true council has to produce true doctrine. The tree is known by the fruit. Calvin, on the other hand, goes so far as to claim that even the Catholic “tree” has ceased to exist; let alone produce any good fruit. He’s taken the axe to the entire Church and has offered nothing of any particular legitimacy or authenticity to take its place. Whatever was true in Calvinism was merely retained from Catholicism (which is yet another proof that Catholicism had some measure of life in it, since it had preserved so much that even the so-called “Reformers” never dreamt of getting rid of). Self-contradictions abound in Calvin’s position.

8. Councils have authority only in so far as accordant with Scripture. Testimony of Augustine. Councils of Nice, Constantinople, and Ephesus, Subsequent Councils more impure, and to be received with limitation.
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What, then, you will say, is there no authority in the definitions of councils? Yes, indeed; for I do not contend that all councils are to be condemned, and all their acts rescinded, or, as it is said, made one complete erasure. 

Okay; this sounds good, and moderate, but how does it work in practice? The Council of Nicaea, for example, made certain decrees. If at length a Protestant today decides that certain of these decrees are falsehoods and insufficiently “biblical” etc., on what basis does he discard them? On his private judgment alone? If that is the case, several problems immediately arise. Why should his single opinion trump that of dozens or hundreds of bishops, as the case may be? Why should we take the opinion of the one over the opinion of the many?

But granting that such a scenario is acceptable, now (very often, given internal Protestant division and doctrinal chaos) we have two individuals (say, Luther and Calvin) who reject a council and substitute something else in its place with regard to some theological particular. But they disagree as to the substitute.

Now, then, we have an ancient council that is partially rejected, on the authority of a single individual. Two such individuals might very well disagree on the solution to the “error.” Whom do we choose? On what basis? Why should we assume that a lone individual has a superior interpretation of Scripture and theological tradition, over against an assembly of many learned bishops? Or if a group today (some dreaded committee of some denomination) decides to overrule Nicaea or Chalcedon, etc., why should we accept their corporate dogmatic authority more than Nicaea’s or Chalcedon’s (or Pope Leo the Great’s)?

We see, then, that it is arbitrary at every turn, and it always, inevitably logically reduces to radical individualism and doctrinal relativism, to reject the traditional understanding of Christian authority. It breaks down as soon as a few penetrating questions are asked. Calvin cannot give answer, but his followers today do scarcely better when confronted with such difficult conundrums, raised by their rule of faith.

But you are bringing them all (it will be said) under subordination, and so leaving every one at liberty to receive or reject the decrees of councils as he pleases. By no means; 

To the contrary, by all means . . .

but whenever the decree of a council is produced, the first thing I would wish to be done is, to examine at what time it was held, on what occasion, with what intention, and who were present at it; next I would bring the subject discussed to the standard of Scripture. 

Exactly. Calvin thus stands as judge over the council, and this contradicts what he just stated about it not being the case that “every one [is] at liberty to receive or reject the decrees of councils as he pleases.” Councils declare that such-and-such a doctrine is biblical and true; Calvin says it is not. And we are supposed to bow and accept his authority as God’s Oracle? And he complains about the popes having too much theological pull and power and say?

And this I would do in such a way that the decision of the council should have its weight, and be regarded in the light of a prior judgment, yet not so as to prevent the application of the test which I have mentioned. 

That has all sorts of practical difficulties of application, as we shall see again and again.

I wish all had observed the method which Augustine prescribes in his Third Book against Maximinus, when he wished to silence the cavils of this heretic against the decrees of councils, “I ought not to oppose the Council of Nice to you, nor ought you to oppose that of Ariminum to me, as prejudging the question. I am not bound by the authority of the latter, nor you by that of the former. Let thing contend with thing, cause with cause, reason with reason, on the authority of Scripture, an authority not peculiar to either, but common to all.” 

Yes; this was the case precisely because Augustine was talking to a heretic, who rejected the authority of Nicaea (just as Protestants selectively do with all councils). Maximinus was an Arian bishop. They had to argue from Scripture because that was what they held in common. That is exactly what I do with Protestants, who reject conciliar infallibility.

As a Catholic apologist “being all things to all people,” I argue from Scripture 98% of the time, because my Protestant opponents accept the authority of Holy Scripture. I do the same with Jehovah’s Witnesses: today’s Arians. One must either cite Scripture with them or internal inconsistencies and false prophecies in their own published works.

In this way, councils would be duly respected, and yet the highest place would be given to Scripture, everything being brought to it as a test. 

The above example doesn’t suffice to prove this, because it was a methodological decision by Augustine, not a rejection of the same council’s authority. This is so obvious it is embarrassing to even have to point it out.

Thus those ancient Councils of Nice, Constantinople, the first of Ephesus, Chalcedon, and the like, which were held for refuting errors, we willingly embrace, and reverence as sacred, in so far as relates to doctrines of faith, for they contain nothing but the pure and genuine interpretation of Scripture, which the holy Fathers with spiritual prudence adopted to crush the enemies of religion who had then arisen. 

Excellent. Then we must ask: by what principle are later councils rejected? They were convoked by the same principles and authority as these earlier ones. All of a sudden what was “sacred” authority becomes the opposite? If these councils were protected by the Holy Spirit from error, then it stands to reason that others, convened in the same fashion, were also. But these councils that even Calvin reverences were orthodox because all (by mere coincidence) were confirmed by popes as orthodox.

In some later councils, also, we see displayed a true zeal for religion, and moreover unequivocal marks of genius, learning, and prudence. 

Which ones?

But as matters usually become worse and worse, it is easy to see in more modern councils how much the Church gradually degenerated from the purity of that golden age. 

Which ones? Which doctrines? And how do we know this with certainty?

I doubt not, however, that even in those more corrupt ages, councils had their bishops of better character. 

But by his time, councils had become completely corrupt; so argues Calvin, while rarely producing hard evidences for this alleged total defection from the faith.

But it happened with them as the Roman senators of old complained in regard to their decrees. Opinions being numbered, not weighed, the better were obliged to give way to the greater number. They certainly put forth many impious sentiments. There is no need here to collect instances, both because it would be tedious, and because it has been done by others so carefully, as not to leave much to be added.

How convenient (and disappointing) . . .

9. Contradictory decisions of Councils. Those agreeing with divine truth to be received. Those at variance with it to be rejected. This confirmed by the example of the Council of Constantinople and the Council of Nice; also of the Council of Chalcedon, and second Council of Ephesus.
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Moreover, why should I review the contests of council with council? 

Because it is absolutely crucial to his ultimately “anti-conciliar” case.

Nor is there any ground for whispering to me, that when councils are at variance, one or other of them is not a lawful council. For how shall we ascertain this? 

By seeing what Rome determines, which was always the method (most notably with Chalcedon in 451, over against the Robber Council of 449.

Just, if I mistake not, by judging from Scripture that the decrees are not orthodox. 

Men disagree on that. There has to be a final say somewhere.

For this alone is the sure law of discrimination. 

But impossible to implement in practical terms without binding human Church authority . . .

It is now about nine hundred years since the Council of Constantinople, convened under the Emperor Leo, determined that the images set up in temples were to be thrown down and broken to pieces. Shortly after, the Council of Nice, which was assembled by Irene, through dislike of the former, decreed that images were to be restored. Which of the two councils shall we acknowledge to be lawful? The latter has usually prevailed, and secured a place for images in churches. But Augustine maintains that this could not be done without the greatest danger of idolatry. 

That was what the Mind of the Church decided. Idolatry is always a danger with some people, because it is an internal thing, and folks can always use images wrongly, in an impious or idolatrous fashion, if they so choose. That doesn’t make the image wrong in and of itself, as all things can be distorted and misunderstood.

Epiphanius, at a later period, speaks much more harshly (Epist. ad Joann. Hierosolym. et Lib. 3 contra Hæres.). For he says, it is an unspeakable abomination to see images in a Christian temple.

That’s odd, seeing that God Himself commanded this for His own temple. The ark of the covenant was certainly an image. It had carved cherubim (Ex 25:22; Num 7:89). God even said this is where He would meet with His people, on the mercy seat between the two cherubim (Ex 30:6). Joshua “fell to the earth upon his face before the ark of the LORD” (Josh 7:6). Was this idolatry? The temple had huge images in it, by the express decree of God:

1 Kings 6:23-29 In the inner sanctuary he made two cherubim of olivewood, each ten cubits high. [24] Five cubits was the length of one wing of the cherub, and five cubits the length of the other wing of the cherub; it was ten cubits from the tip of one wing to the tip of the other. [25] The other cherub also measured ten cubits; both cherubim had the same measure and the same form. [26] The height of one cherub was ten cubits, and so was that of the other cherub. [27] He put the cherubim in the innermost part of the house; and the wings of the cherubim were spread out so that a wing of one touched the one wall, and a wing of the other cherub touched the other wall; their other wings touched each other in the middle of the house. [28] And he overlaid the cherubim with gold. [29] He carved all the walls of the house round about with carved figures of cherubim and palm trees and open flowers, in the inner and outer rooms. (cf. 2 Chron 3:7; Ezek 41:20,25)

The cherubim were angels (creatures): so use of them as aids in worship is precisely of the sort that Protestants object to in the case of a statue of a saint. But God commanded it. The very holiest places in Judaism (the temple, holy of holies, ark of the covenant) had images. The Bible often mentions praying or worshiping toward the temple (e.g., 2 Chron 6:20-33; Ps 5:7; Ps 28:2; Ps 134:2) or even bowing before it (Ps 138:2) and the temple had images. The temple wasn’t a plain white clapboard building, like New England Calvinist churches. Case closed. See much more on physical items as aids of worship in the Bible.

Could those who speak thus approve of that council if they were alive in the present day? But if historians speak true, and we believe their acts, not only images themselves, but the worship of them, were there sanctioned. 

The veneration of saints by means of an image is perfectly proper and biblical (as the Catholic Church has determined, lo these many centuries). See my papers:

Now it is plain that this decree emanated from Satan. 

It’s not “plain” in the slightest! Calvin has made a foolish, unwarranted, unbiblical conclusion that all images (not just corruption or inadequate understanding of the use of them) automatically reduce to idolatry. If that is so, then it would make God Himself a liar or incompetent judge of these matters, given the scriptural data outlined above. This was the flimsy rationale used by the early Calvinists to engage in iconoclasm and to smash stained glass and even statues of Jesus Christ, as if Catholics were worshiping plaster rather than our Lord Jesus.

This is one of the most curious, odd, altogether stupid manifestations of early Calvinism. It derives far more from Islam than from Hebrew-Christian tradition or the Bible. Historically, it flourished only after the arrival of Islam, because of that religion’s strong iconoclasm.

Do they not show, by corrupting and wresting Scripture, that they held it in derision? 

Anyone who does this is deriding Scripture. The dispute is about who is doing this? If Calvin takes an absolute view against all Christian images, it is He who wars against Scripture, history, and indeed God Himself. God would be reduced to a Being Who was too dumb to know that what He Himself commanded was idolatry, and against Himself. In other words, either God wouldn’t be God, or He would be a self-contradictory, wicked “god” at cross-purposes with himself.

This I have made sufficiently clear in a former part of the work (see Book I. chap. 11 sec. 14). 

Not if he offered no more argument than he has here, which was virtually none at all . . .

Be this as it may, we shall never be able to distinguish between contradictory and dissenting councils, which have been many, unless we weigh them all in that balance for men and angels, I mean, the word of God. 

That has already been done. Why should we renounce all this past established history of the Church and her decrees and dogmas, and now place all responsibility on upstart Calvin, and his “idol”-smashing minions? It’s as if the past means absolutely nothing. All that past generations of Christians have learned, led by the Holy Spirit, can be nullified by the stroke of Calvin’s mighty, All-Knowing pen.

Thus we embrace the Council of Chalcedon, and repudiate the second of Ephesus, because the latter sanctioned the impiety of Eutyches, and the former condemned it. 

That is correct. And the key figure who declared as much at the time, was Pope St. Leo the Great. If it were up to the eastern bishops, the heretical Robber Council of Ephesus (449) would have been accepted as truth.

The judgment of these holy men was founded on the Scriptures, and while we follow it, we desire that the word of God, which illuminated them, may now also illuminate us. Let the Romanists now go and boast after their manner, that the Holy Spirit is fixed and tied to their councils.

We do. The Council of Chalcedon in 451 is a superb example of that. I have used Calvin’s own method (recourse to Scripture) to show that his aversion to all images is most unbiblical. What does it say of Calvin’s exegetical acumen if he could overlook so much plain Scripture?

10. Errors of purer Councils. Four causes of these errors. An example from the Council of Nice.
*

Even in their ancient and purer councils there is something to be desiderated, either because the otherwise learned and prudent men who attended, being distracted by the business in hand, did not attend to many things beside; or because, occupied with grave and more serious measures, they winked at some of lesser moment; or simply because, as men, they were deceived through ignorance, or were sometimes carried headlong by some feeling in excess. 

Did I not predict not far above that Calvin’s radical new anti-conciliar principle would eventually chip away at the authority of even those councils he claims to especially revere? It’s happening right before our eyes as we read. Everyone understands (if this is Calvin’s primary meaning) that there is human corruption in councils. The question is whether any of these human shortcomings corrupt the doctrines promulgated.

Of this last case (which seems the most difficult of all to avoid) we have a striking example in the Council of Nice, which has been unanimously received, as it deserves, with the utmost veneration. For when the primary article of our faith was there in peril, and Arius, its enemy, was present, ready to engage any one in combat, and it was of the utmost moment that those who had come to attack Arius should be agreed, they nevertheless, feeling secure amid all these dangers, nay, as it were, forgetting their gravity, modesty, and politeness, laying aside the discussion which was before them (as if they had met for the express purpose of gratifying Arius), began to give way to intestine dissensions, and turn the pen, which should have been employed against Arius, against each other. Foul accusations were heard, libels flew up and down, and they never would have ceased from their contention until they had stabbed each other with mutual wounds, had not the Emperor Constantine interfered, and declaring that the investigation of their lives was a matter above his cognisance, repressed their intemperance by flattery rather than censure. 

This is exactly what I referred to: human flaws and shortcomings were present, but they did not pervert the doctrinal decrees. The same thing applies to the more notoriously immoral popes. God manages to overcome these things by His power and providence.

In how many respects is it probable that councils, held subsequently to this, have erred? 

In hundreds of respects, but for the supernatural protection from God, which is the entire point.

Nor does the fact stand in need of a long demonstration; any one who reads their acts will observe many infirmities, not to use a stronger term.

No argument or particulars offered; so I’ll pass . . .

11. Another example from the Council of Chalcedon. The same errors in Provincial Councils.
*

Even Leo, the Roman Pontiff, hesitates not to charge the Council of Chalcedon, which he admits to be orthodox in its doctrines, with ambition and inconsiderate rashness. 

Just one part of it, where Constantinople is placed on a level with Rome. Leo vetoed that, saying that Constantinople can never be made an apostolic see. It’s history was very recent. Popes were needed to oversee and rule as out of order the mere political pretensions and machinations of men.

He denies not that it was lawful, but openly maintains that it might have erred. 

That’s why we Catholics believe that ecumenical councils are only valid insofar as the pope agrees to all their decrees.

Some may think me foolish in labouring to point out errors of this description, since my opponents admit that councils may err in things not necessary to salvation. 

Indeed.

My labour, however, is not superfluous. For although compelled, they admit this in word, yet by obtruding upon us the determination of all councils, in all matters without distinction, as the oracles of the Holy Spirit, they exact more than they had at the outset assumed. 

Some Catholics may be guilty of this; sure. They are wrong.

By thus acting what do they maintain but just that councils cannot err, of if they err, it is unlawful for us to perceive the truth, or refuse assent to their errors? 

We claim more for ecumenical councils, not every council whatever. Like the fathers, we accept the received apostolic tradition, as manifest in such councils and made binding.

At the same time, all I mean to infer from what I have said is, that though councils, otherwise pious and holy, were governed by the Holy Spirit, he yet allowed them to share the lot of humanity, lest we should confide too much in men. 

That argument doesn’t work, since many of the Bible writers were great sinners, too (especially David and Paul). Calvin doesn’t conclude that the Bible is questionable because of that. In both instances it is God’s protection that overcomes these limitations.

This is a much better view than that of Gregory Nanzianzen, who says (Ep. 55), that he never saw any council end well. In asserting that all, without exception, ended ill, he leaves them little authority. 

I tried to locate this but the “Epistle 55″I found had nothing to do with this and was rather short. Without more information, I can’t comment further.

There is no necessity for making separate mention of provincial councils, since it is easy to estimate, from the case of general councils, how much authority they ought to have in framing articles of faith, and deciding what kind of doctrine is to be received.

Obviously, more local councils have less general authority.

[ . . . ]
*
14. Impudent attempt of the Papists to establish their tyranny refuted. Things at variance with Scripture sanctioned by their Councils. Instance in the prohibition of marriage and communion in both kinds.
*

But the Romanists have another end in view when they say that the power of interpreting Scripture belongs to councils, and that without challenge. For they employ it as a pretext for giving the name of an interpretation of Scripture to everything which is determined in councils. Of purgatory, the intercession of saints, and auricular confession, and the like, not one syllable can be found in Scripture. 

This is massively untrue:

25 Bible Passages on Purgatory [1996]

A Biblical Argument for Purgatory (Matthew 5:25-26) [10-13-04]

Purgatory: Refutation of James White (1 Corinthians 3:10-15) [3-3-07]

50 Bible Passages on Purgatory & Analogous Processes [2009]

50 Biblical Indications That Purgatory is Real [National Catholic Register, 10-24-16]

“Armstrong vs. Geisler” #1: Purgatory (Mt 12:32) [2-17-17]

“Armstrong vs. Geisler” #2: Purgatory (Lk 23:43) [2-17-17]

Does Matthew 12:32 Suggest or Disprove Purgatory? [National Catholic Register, 2-26-17]

25 Descriptive and Clear Bible Passages About Purgatory [National Catholic Register, 5-7-17]

*

Bible on Invocation of Angels & Saved Human Beings [6-10-08]

Praying to Angels & Angelic Intercession [2015]

Asking Saints to Intercede: Teaching of Jesus [2015]

Dialogue on Praying to Abraham (Luke 16) [5-22-16]

Prayer to Saints: “New” [?] Biblical Argument [5-23-16]

Invocation & Intercession of Saints & Angels: Bible Proof [10-22-16 and 1-9-17]

“Armstrong vs. Geisler” #5: Prayer to Creatures [2-20-17]

Dialogue: Rich Man’s Prayer to Abraham (Luke 16) and the Invocation of Saints (vs. Lutheran Pastor Ken Howes) [5-3-17]

Dialogue on Prayer to the Saints and Hades / Sheol [12-19-17]

Prayers to Saints & for the Dead: Six Biblical Proofs [6-8-18]

4 Biblical Proofs for Prayers to Saints and for the Dead [National Catholic Register, 6-16-18]

Angelic Intercession is Totally Biblical [National Catholic Register, 7-1-18]

*

Formal Human Forgiveness of Sins in the Bible [6-10-07]

*
Confession and Absolution Are Biblical [National Catholic Register, 7-31-17]
*
But as all these have been sanctioned by the authority of the Church, or, to speak more correctly, have been received by opinion and practice, every one of them is to be held as an interpretation of Scripture. And not only so, but whatever a council has determined against Scripture is to have the name of an interpretation. 

Individuals can just as easily declare that their view is the “biblical” one. Calvin does this all the time. I do it myself (most people who do any theology at all, do it), but the difference is that I submit my judgments to that of the Church, and where I differ from the Church, I submit my understanding to her.

Christ bids all drink of the cup which he holds forth in the Supper. The Council of Constance prohibited the giving of it to the people, and determined that the priest alone should drink. Though this is diametrically opposed to the institution of Christ (Mt. 26:26), they will have it to be regarded as his interpretation. 

There are straightforward biblical arguments for it.

Paul terms the prohibition of marriage a doctrine of devils (1 Tim. 4:1, 3); and the Spirit elsewhere declares that “marriage is honourable in all” (Heb. 13:4).

Paul also assumes and defends celibacy in those who want to fully devote themselves to the Lord.

Having afterwards interdicted their priests from marriage, they insist on this as a true and genuine interpretation of Scripture, though nothing can be imagined more alien to it. 

It’s plain as day in 1 Corinthians 7. Jesus also refers to “eunuchs” for the sake of the kingdom.

Should any one venture to open his lips in opposition, he will be judged a heretic, since the determination of the Church is without challenge, 

That is, the Church, in direct accordance with plain words of our Lord Jesus and St. Paul . . .

and it is unlawful to have any doubt as to the accuracy of her interpretation. 

Not if it is a tradition that has historical and biblical pedigree . . .

Why should I assail such effrontery? to point to it is to condemn it. Their dogma with regard to the power of approving Scripture I intentionally omit. For to subject the oracles of God in this way to the censure of men, and hold that they are sanctioned because they please men, is a blasphemy which deserves not to be mentioned. 

Scripture always has to be interpreted by men. The only question is who will do this, and how binding it will be.

Besides, I have already touched upon it (Book 1 chap. 7; 8 sec. 9). I will ask them one question, however. If the authority of Scripture is founded on the approbation of the Church, 

It is not. It is what it is, prior to the Church’s approval:Catholic Church: Superior to the Bible?: Does the Catholic Church Claim to be ‘Above’ the Bible and Its “Creator”? 

will they quote the decree of a council to that effect? I believe they cannot. 

Of course not, because it is not what we believe.

Why, then, did Arius allow himself to be vanquished at the Council of Nice by passages adduced from the Gospel of John? 

Because the Gospel of John is quite sufficient to refute Arianism.

According to these, he was at liberty to repudiate them, as they had not previously been approved by any general council. They allege an old catalogue, which they call the Canon, and say that it originated in a decision of the Church. But I again ask, In what council was that Canon published? 

The councils of Carthage in 393 and 397.

Here they must be dumb. 

Really?

Besides, I wish to know what they believe that Canon to be. 

The legitimate, genuine, inspired books of the Bible.

For I see that the ancients are little agreed with regard to it. 

All the more reason for an authoritative Church to acknowledge what the canon is and to end the discussion. Bingo!

If effect is to be given to what Jerome says (Præf. in Lib. Solom.), the Maccabees, Tobit, Ecclesiasticus, and the like, must take their place in the Apocrypha: but this they will not tolerate on any account.

St. Jerome submitted his judgment to that of the Church: just as every good Catholic does. Catholicism is not a “magisterium of scholars and Bible commentators” but of priests, bishops, councils, and popes.

[ . . . ]

CHAPTER 10

OF THE POWER OF MAKING LAWS. THE CRUELTY OF THE POPE AND HIS ADHERENTS, IN THIS RESPECT, IN TYRANNICALLY OPPRESSING AND DESTROYING SOULS.
*
21. An argument in favour of traditions founded on the decision of the Apostles and elders at Jerusalem. This decision explained.
*
It gives them no great help, in defending their tyranny, to pretend the example of the apostles. The apostles and elders of the primitive Church, according to them, sanctioned a decree without any authority from Christ, by which they commanded all the Gentiles to abstain from meat offered to idols, from things strangled, and from blood (Acts 15:20). 

Not according to Catholics, but according to the Bible.

If this was lawful for them, why should not their successors be allowed to imitate the example as often as occasion requires? 

Exactly! Why, indeed? Why should there be an example of a council in the early Church, in Scripture, if not as some sort of model for later Christianity? Is that not an eminently sensible, reasonable conclusion? That is the biblical model. Calvin’s model, however, is his casual assumption of his own authority — that he doesn’t in fact possess, and arbitrary decrees of doctrines and condemnations of existing Catholic traditions. If anything is unbiblical and contrary to previous Christian history, it is that, as opposed to Catholics daring to actually follow an explicit biblical example.

Would that they would always imitate them both in this and in other matters! 

The same applies to Calvin and all Protestants. If he wants to condemn Catholic instances of alleged or actual departure from apostolic and biblical and patristic precedent, then by the same token he ought to subject Protestantism to the same scrutiny and the same standard. But so often, of course, he does not do so. It’s all one-way, and winking at the glaring faults and false premises of his own general party.

For I am ready to prove, on valid grounds, that here nothing new has been instituted or decreed by the apostles. For when Peter declares in that council, that God is tempted if a yoke is laid on the necks of the disciples, he overthrows his own argument if he afterwards allows a yoke to be imposed on them. But it is imposed if the apostles, on their own authority, prohibit the Gentiles from touching meat offered to idols, things strangled, and blood. 

The Church has authority to make decrees, and to bind and loose. That came straight from our Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 16:19, 18:18; John 20:23). Jesus even granted the Pharisees a continuing teaching authority (Matthew 23:2-3). But Protestants have to always maintain an unbiblical “loophole” by denying the infallibility of the Church and ecumenical councils and popes.

The difficulty still remains, that they seem nevertheless to prohibit them. 

What difficulty?

But this will easily be removed by attending more closely to the meaning of their decree. The first thing in order, and the chief thing in importance, is, that the Gentiles were to retain their liberty, which was not to be disturbed, and that they were not to be annoyed with the observances of the Law. As yet, the decree is all in our favour. The reservation which immediately follows is not a new law enacted by the apostles, but a divine and eternal command of God against the violation of charity, which does not detract one iota from that liberty. It only reminds the Gentiles how they are to accommodate themselves to their brother, and to not abuse their liberty for an occasion of offence. Let the second head, therefore, be, that the Gentiles are to use an innoxious liberty, giving no offence to the brethren. Still, however, they prescribe some certain thing—viz. they show and point out, as was expedient at the time, what those things are by which they may give offence to their brethren, that they may avoid them; but they add no novelty of their own to the eternal law of God, which forbids the offence of brethren.

In a sense it is new; in another it is nothing new; as is the case with all legitimate developments of doctrine and practice. How Calvin thinks any of this is somehow an argument against the Catholic Church, is a mystery. He surely doesn’t demonstrate such a glaring inconsistency here.

***

(originally July 6, 8-9, 2009 / 25 August 2009)

Photo credit: Historical mixed media figure of John Calvin produced by artist/historian George S. Stuart and photographed by Peter d’Aprix: from the George S. Stuart Gallery of Historical Figures archive [Wikimedia Commons / Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license]

***

January 9, 2019

This is an installment of a series of replies (see the Introduction and Master List) to much of Book IV (Of the Holy Catholic Church) of Institutes of the Christian Religion, by early Protestant leader John Calvin (1509-1564). I utilize the public domain translation of Henry Beveridge, dated 1845, from the 1559 edition in Latin; available online. Calvin’s words will be in blue. All biblical citations (in my portions) will be from RSV unless otherwise noted.

Related reading from yours truly:

Biblical Catholic Answers for John Calvin (2010 book: 388 pages)

A Biblical Critique of Calvinism (2012 book: 178 pages)

Biblical Catholic Salvation: “Faith Working Through Love” (2010 book: 187 pages; includes biblical critiques of all five points of “TULIP”)

*****

IV, 7:1-2

***

Book IV

CHAPTER 7

OF THE BEGINNING AND RISE OF THE ROMISH PAPACY, TILL IT ATTAINED A HEIGHT BY WHICH THE LIBERTY OF THE CHURCH WAS DESTROYED, AND ALL TRUE RULE OVERTHROWN.
1. First part of the chapter, in which the commencement of the Papacy is assigned to the Council of Nice. In subsequent Councils other bishops presided. No attempt then made to claim the first place.
*
In regard to the antiquity of the primacy of the Roman See, there is nothing in favour of its establishment more ancient than the decree of the Council of Nice, by which the first place among the Patriarchs is assigned to the Bishop of Rome, and he is enjoined to take care of the suburban churches. 

This is untrue. I have already mentioned St. Irenaeus. He died around 202. In his work, Against HeresiesBook III, Chapter 3, Section 2, he writes:

2. Since, however, it would be very tedious, in such a volume as this, to reckon up the successions of all the Churches, we do put to confusion all those who, in whatever manner, whether by an evil self-pleasing, by vainglory, or by blindness and perverse opinion, assemble in unauthorized meetings; [we do this, I say,] by indicating that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; as also [by pointing out] the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops. For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on account of its preeminent authority, that is, the faithful everywhere, inasmuch as the apostolical tradition has been preserved continuously by those [faithful men] who exist everywhere.

St. Clement of Rome died around the year 101. He was one of the early popes, and this is indicated in his letter, 1 Clement (59:1), written to the Corinthians:

But if some should be disobedient to the things spoken by him through us, let them know that they will entangle themselves in no small transgression and danger,

Calvin, to be fair, probably didn’t know about 1 Clement. A complete copy of the manuscript was not discovered till 1873. Max Lackmann, a Lutheran, commented on this epistle:

Clement, as the spokesman of the whole People of God . . . admonishes the Church of Corinth in serious, authoritative and brotherly tones to correct the internal abuses of their ecclesiastical community. He censures, exhorts, cautions, entreats . . . The use of the expression send back in the statement: Send back speedily unto us our messengers (1 Clement 65,1), is not merely a special kind of biblical phrase but also a form of Roman imperial command. The Roman judge in a province of the empire sent back a messenger or a packet of documents to the imperial capital or to the court of the emperor (Acts 25:21). Clement of Rome doubtless also knew this administrative terminology of the imperial government and used it effectively. (In Hans Asmussen, et al, The Unfinished Reformation, translated by Robert J. Olsen, Notre Dame, Indiana: Fides Publishers Association, 1961, 84-85)

While the council, in dividing between him and the other Patriarchs, assigns the proper limits of each, it certainly does not appoint him head of all, but only one of the chief. Vitus and Vincentius attended on the part of Julius, who then governed the Roman Church, and to them the fourth place was given. I ask, if Julius was acknowledged the head of the Church, would his legates have been consigned to the fourth place? 

Again, we give Calvin a pass for having less accurate historical information than we do now. Pope Julius reigned from 337-352, whereas the Council of Nicaea took place in 325, during the reign of Pope Sylvester (or Silvester: 314-335). The Catholic Encyclopedia (“General Councils”) observes:

At Nicaea, Hosius, Vitus and Vincentius, as papal legates, signed before all other members of the council. The right of presiding and directing implies that the pope, if he chooses to make a full use of his powers, can determine the subject matter to be dealt with by the council, prescribe rules for conducting the debates, and generally order the whole business as seems best to him. Hence no conciliar decree is legitimate if carried under protest — or even without the positive consent– of the pope or his legates. The consent of the legates alone, acting without a special order from the pope, is not sufficient to make conciliar decrees at once perfect and operative; what is necessary is the pope’s own consent. For this reason no decree can become legitimate and null in law on account of pressure brought to bear on the assembly by the presiding pope, or by papal legates acting on his orders.

For much more on this, see my paper, Pope Silvester and the Council of Nicaea. Brian W. Harrison, in his article, “Papal Authority at the Earliest Councils” (This Rock, January 1991),, wrote:

The Eastern priest-historian Gelasius of Cyzicus, who had no Roman ax to grind, affirms that Ossius “held the place of Sylvester of Rome, together with the Roman presbyters Vito and Vincentius.” [Migne, Patrologia Graeca, 85:1229; Gelasius wrote around 475 and claimed to base his history on the Council’s original acts, which are now lost.]

That Rome was acknowledged as the first of all sees is shown by the fact that the signatures of its undisputed legates, Vito and Vincentius, come immediately after that of Ossius. It is likely that Ossius, being a Western prelate and the foremost champion of anti-Arianism, was accepted by Sylvester as an ad hoc representative and presided by mutual agreement with Constantine.

Would Athanasius have presided in the council where a representative of the hierarchal order should have been most conspicuous? 

No, because he was neither a bishop of Rome nor a legate of one.

In the Council of Ephesus, it appears that Celestinus (who was then Roman Pontiff) used a cunning device to secure the dignity of his See. For when he sent his deputies, he made Cyril of Alexandria, who otherwise would have presided, his substitute. Why that commission, but just that his name might stand connected with the first See? His legates sit in an inferior place, are asked their opinion along with others, and subscribe in their order, while, at the same time, his name is coupled with that of the Patriarch of Alexandria. 

This is inaccurate, and records of the council confirm that it is an inaccurate representation of what took place, and show that the pope was regarded as the head of the council and the Church:

The council assembled on 22 June, and St. Cyril assumed the presidency both as Patriarch of Alexandria and “as filling the place of the most holy and blessed Archbishop of the Roman Church, Celestine”, in order to carry out his original commission, which he considered, in the absence of any reply from Rome, to be still in force. . . .
*

At last on 10 July the papal envoys arrived. The second session assembled in the episcopal residence. The legate Philip opened the proceedings by saying that the former letter of St. Celestine had been already read, in which he had decided the present question; the pope had now sent another letter. This was read. It contained a general exhortation to the council, and concluded by saying that the legates had instructions to carry out what the pope had formerly decided; doubtless the council would agree. The Fathers then cried:

This is a just judgment. To Celestine the new Paul! To the new Paul Cyril! To Celestine, the guardian of the Faith! To Celestine agreeing to the Synod! The Synod gives thanks to Cyril. One Celestine, one Cyril!

The legate Projectus then says that the letter enjoins on the council, though they need no instruction, to carry into effect the sentence which the pope had pronounced. . . . Firmus, the Exarch of Caesarea in Cappadocia, replies that the pope, by the letter which he sent to the Bishops of Alexandria, Jerusalem, Thessalonica, Constantinople, and Antioch, had long since given his sentence and decision; and the synod — the ten days having passed, and also a much longer period — having waited beyond the day of opening fixed by the emperor, had followed the course indicated by the pope, and, as Nestorius did not appear, had executed upon him the papal sentence, having inflicted the canonical and Apostolic judgment upon him. This was a reply to Projectus, declaring that what the pope required had been done, and it is an accurate account of the work of the first session and of the sentence; canonical refers to the words of the sentence, “necessarily obliged by the canons”, and Apostolic to the words “and by the letter of the bishop of Rome”. The legate Arcadius expressed his regret for the late arrival of his party, on account of storms, and asked to see the decrees of the council. Philip, the pope’s personal legate, then thanked the bishops for adhering by their acclamations as holy members to their holy head — “For your blessedness is not unaware that the Apostle Peter is the head of the Faith and of the Apostles.” The Metropolitan of Ancyra declared that God had shown the justice of the synod’s sentence by the coming of St. Celestine’s letter and of the legates. The session closed with the reading of the pope’s letter to the emperor.
*

On the following day, 11 July, the third session took place. The legates had read the Acts of the first session and now demanded only that the condemnation of Nestorius should be formally read in their presence. When this had been done, the three legates severally pronounced a confirmation in the pope’s name. The exordium of the speech of Philip is celebrated:

It is doubtful to none, nay it has been known to all ages, that holy and blessed Peter, the prince and head of the Apostles, the column of the Faith, the foundation of the Catholic Church, received from our Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour and Redeemer of the human race, the keys of the Kingdom, and that to him was given the power of binding and loosing sins, who until this day and for ever lives and judges in his successors. His successor in order and his representative, our holy and most blessed Pope Celestine. . .

It was with words such as these before their eyes that Greek Fathers and councils spoke of the Council of Ephesus as celebrated “by Celestine and Cyril”. A translation of these speeches was read, for Cyril then rose and said that the synod had understood them clearly; and now the Acts of all three sessions must be presented to the legates for their signature. Arcadius replied that they were of course willing. The synod ordered that the Acts should be set before them, and they signed them. A letter was sent to the emperor, telling him how St. Celestine had held a synod at Rome and had sent his legates, representing himself and the whole of the West. (The Catholic Encyclopedia“Council of Ephesus”)

What shall I say of the second Council of Ephesus, where, while the deputies of Leo were present, the Alexandrian Patriarch Dioscorus presided as in his own right? They will object that this was not an orthodox council, since by it the venerable Flavianus was condemned, Eutyches acquitted, and his heresy approved. Yet when the council was met, and the bishops distributed the places among themselves, the deputies of the Roman Church sat among the others just as in a sacred and lawful Council. Still they contend not for the first place, but yield it to another: this they never would have done if they had thought it their own by right. 

This is a fanciful interpretation as well, once we consult the actual proceedings of this illegitimate council:

No time had been left for any Western bishops to attend, except a certain Julius of an unknown see, who, together with a Roman priest, Renatus (he died on the way), and the deacon Hilarus, afterwards pope, represented St. Leo. The Emperor Theodosius II gave Dioscorus, Patriarch of Alexandria, the presidency — ten authentian kai ta proteia. The legate Julius is mentioned next, but when this name was read at Chalcedon, the bishops cried: “He was cast out. No one represented Leo.” . . . The brief of convocation by Theodosius was read, and then the Roman legates explained that it would have been contrary to custom for the pope to be present in person, but he had sent a letter by them. In this letter St. Leo had appealed to his dogmatic letter to Flavian, which he intended to be read at the council and accepted by it as a rule of faith. But Dioscorus took care not to have it read, and instead of it a letter of the emperor, . . . Dioscorus decided that the Acts of the trial should have precedence, and so the letter of St. Leo was never read at all. . . . Flavian and Eusebius had previously interposed an appeal to the pope and to a council under his authority. Their formal letters of appeal have been recently published by Amelli. . . . The papal legate Hilarus uttered a single word in Latin, Contradicitur, annulling the sentence in the pope’s name. He then escaped with difficulty. Flavian was deported into exile, and died a few days later in Lydia. . . .

In the next session, according to the Syriac Acts, 113 were present, including Barsumas. Nine new names appear. The legates were sent for, as they did not appear, but only the notary Dulcitius could be found, and he was unwell. The legates had shaken off the dust of their feet against the assembly. It was a charge against Dioscorus at Chalcedon that he “had held an (ecumenical) council without the Apostolic See, which was never allowed”. This manifestly refers to his having continued at the council after the departure of the legates. . . .

Theodoret had tried to make friends with Dioscorus, but his advances had been rejected with scorn. A monk of Antioch now brought forward a volume of extracts from the works of Theodoret. First was read Theodoret’s fine letter to the monks of the East (see Mansi, V, 1023), then some extracts from a lost “Apology for Diodorus and Theodore” — the very name of this work sufficed in the eyes of the council for a condemnation to be pronounced. Dioscorus pronounced the sentence of deposition and excommunication. When Theodoret in his remote diocese heard of this absurd sentence on an absent man against whose reputation not a word was uttered, he at once appealed to the pope in a famous letter (Ep. cxiii). He wrote also to the legate Renatus (Ep. cxvi), being unaware that he was dead. . . .

Meanwhile St. Leo had received the appeals of Theodoret and Flavian (of whose death he was unaware), and had written to them and to the emperor and empress that all the Acts of the council were null. He excommunicated all who had taken part in it, and absolved all whom it had condemned, with the exception of Domnus of Antioch, who seems to have had no wish to resume his see and retired into the monastic life which he had left many years before with regret. (The Catholic Encyclopedia“Robber Council of Ephesus”)

For the Roman bishops were never ashamed to stir up the greatest strife in contending for honours, and for this cause alone, to trouble and harass the Church with many pernicious contests; but because Leo saw that it would be too extravagant to ask the first place for his legates, he omitted to do it. 

Again, the above account reveals Calvin’s take to be a highly fictitious reading.

2. Though the Roman Bishop presided in the Council of Chalcedon, this was owing to special circumstances. The same right not given to his successors in other Councils.
*

Next came the Council of Chalcedon, in which, by concession of the Emperor, the legates of the Roman Church occupied the first place. But Leo himself confesses that this was an extraordinary privilege; for when he asks it of the Emperor Marcian and Pulcheria Augusta, he does not maintain that it is due to him, but only pretends that the Eastern bishops who presided in the Council of Ephesus had thrown all into confusion, and made a bad use of their power. Therefore, seeing there was need of a grave moderator, and it was not probable that those who had once been so fickle and tumultuous would be fit for this purpose, he requests that, because of the fault and unfitness of others, the office of governing should be transferred to him. That which is asked as a special privilege, and out of the usual order, certainly is not due by a common law. When it is only pretended that there is need of a new president, because the former ones had behaved themselves improperly, it is plain that the thing asked was not previously done, and ought not to be made perpetual, being done only in respect of a present danger. The Roman Pontiff, therefore, holds the first place in the Council of Chalcedon, not because it is due to his See, but because the council is in want of a grave and fit moderator, while those who ought to have presided exclude themselves by their intemperance and passion. 

This is profoundly untrue, as can readily be verified by the documentation above, alone, and additional related facts, as outlined in my paper, Papal Participation (Through Legates) in the First Seven Ecumenical Councils. Pope St. Leo the Great’s Letter XCV to St. Pulcheria Augusta, wife of the Emperor Marcian Augustus (see more about her), dated 20 July 451, shows no such lack of papal authority, as Calvin suggests:

I . . . nominate two of my fellow-bishops and fellow-presbyters respectively to represent me, sending also to the venerable synod an appropriate missive from which the brotherhood therein assembled might learn the standard necessary to be maintained in their decision, lest any rashness should do detriment either to the rules of the Faith, or to the provisions of the canons, or to the remedies required by the spirit of loving kindness.

His famous Letter CIV to the Emperor (22 May 452) reveals the same self-awareness of papal authority and Roman primacy:

For although the liberty of the Gospel had to be defended against certain dissentients in the power of the Holy Ghost, and through the instrumentality of the Apostolic See, yet God’s grace has shown itself more manifestly (than we could have hoped) by vouchsafing to the world that in the victory of the Truth only the authors of the violation of the Faith should perish and the Church restored to her soundness. . . .

Let the city of Constantinople have, as we desire, its high rank, and under the protection of God’s right hand, long enjoy your clemency’s rule. Yet things secular stand on a different basis from things divine: and there can be no sure building save on that rock which the Lord has laid for a foundation. He that covets what is not his due, loses what is his own. Let it be enough for Anatolius that by the aid of your piety and by my favour and approval he has obtained the bishopric of so great a city. Let him not disdain a city which is royal, though he cannot make it an Apostolic See; and let him on no account hope that he can rise by doing injury to others. For the privileges of the churches determined by the canons of the holy Fathers, and fixed by the decrees of the Nicene Synod, cannot be overthrown by any unscrupulous act, nor disturbed by any innovation. And in the faithful execution of this task by the aid of Christ I am bound to display an unflinching devotion; for it is a charge entrusted to me, and it tends to my condemnation if the rules sanctioned by the Fathers and drawn up under the guidance of God’s Spirit at the Synod of Nicæa for the government of the whole Church are violated with my connivance (which God forbid), and if the wishes of a single brother have more weight with me than the common good of the Lord’s whole house.

And again Leo writes to St. Pulcheria Augusta (Letter CV, 22 May 452):

For no one may venture upon anything in opposition to the enactments of the Fathers’ canons which many long years ago in the city of Nicæa were founded upon the decrees of the Spirit, so that any one who wishes to pass any different decree injures himself rather than impairs them. And if all pontiffs will but keep them inviolate as they should, there will be perfect peace and complete harmony through all the churches: there will be no disagreements about rank, no disputes about ordinations, no controversies about privileges, no strifes about taking that which is another’s; . . .

Because if sometimes rulers fall into errors through want of moderation, yet the churches of Christ do not lose their purity. But the bishops’ assents, which are opposed to the regulations of the holy canons composed at Nicæa in conjunction with your faithful Grace, we do not recognize, and by the blessed Apostle Peter’s authority we absolutely dis-annul in comprehensive terms, in all ecclesiastical cases obeying those laws which the Holy Ghost set forth by the 318 bishops for the pacific observance of all priests in such sort that even if a much greater number were to pass a different decree to theirs, whatever was opposed to their constitution would have to be held in no respect.

Of the general opinion of Pope St. Leo the Great on the supreme authority of the papacy, there is no doubt, since he wrote some of the most explicit statements in this regard, in the history of the papacy. See: Pope Leo the Great (r. 440-61) and Papal Supremacy.

This statement the successor of Leo approved by his procedure. For when he sent his legates to the fifth Council, that of Constantinople [in 553], which was held long after, he did not quarrel for the first seat, but readily allowed Mennas, the patriarch of Constantinople, to preside. 

More myths to dismantle . . . Clearly, Calvin deliberately seeks to undermine papal authority at every turn, and is (shall we say?) “modifying” his interpretation of the known facts, toward that end. Pope Vigilius was being held as a prisoner, and due to this and various imperial coercive tactics, no papal legates were present. It is no argument against Roman and papal primacy, if and when a pope is held in physical bondage:

From 25 January, 547, Pope Vigilius was forcibly detained in the royal city; . . . Vigilius had persuaded Justinian . . . to proclaim a truce on all sides until a general council could be called to decide these controversies. Both the emperor and the Greek bishops violated this promise of neutrality;. . .

For his dignified protest Vigilius thereupon suffered various personal indignities at the hands of the civil authority and nearly lost his life; he retired finally to Chalcedon, in the very church of St. Euphemia where the great council had been held, whence he informed the Christian world of the state of affairs. Soon the Oriental bishops sought reconciliation with him, induced him to return to the city, and withdrew all that had hitherto been done against the Three Chapters; the new patriarch, Eutychius, successor to Mennas, whose weakness and subserviency were the immediate cause of all this violence and confusion, presented (6 Jan., 553 his professor of faith to Vigilius and, in union with other Oriental bishops, urged the calling of a general council under the presidency of the pope. Vigilius was willing, but proposed that it should be held either in Italy or in Sicily, in order to secure the attendance of Western bishops. To this Justinian would not agree, but proposed, instead, a kind of commission made up of delegates from each of the great patriarchates; Vigilius suggested that an equal number be chosen from the East and the West; but this was not acceptable to the emperor, who thereupon opened the council by his own authority on the date and in the manner mentioned above. Vigilius refused to participate, not only on account of the overwhelming proportion of Oriental bishops, but also from fear of violence; moreover, none of his predecessors had ever taken part personally in an Oriental council. To this decision he was faithful, though he expressed his willingness to give an independent judgment on the matters at issue. . . .

The decisions of the council were executed with a violence in keeping with its conduct, though the ardently hoped-for reconciliation of the Monophysites did not follow. Vigilius, together with other opponents of the imperial will, as registered by the subservient court-prelates, seems to have been banished (Hefele, II, 905), together with the faithful bishops and ecclesiastics of his suite, either to Upper Egypt or to an island in the Propontis. Already in the seventh session of the council Justinian caused the name of Vigilius to be stricken from the diptychs, without prejudice, however, it was said, to communion with the Apostolic See. Soon the Roman clergy and people, now freed by Narses from the Gothic yoke, requested the emperor to permit the return of the pope, which Justinian agreed to on condition that Vigilius would recognize the late council. This Vigilius finally agreed to do, and in two documents (a letter to Eutychius of Constantinople, 8 Dec., 553, and a second “Constitutum” of 23 Feb., 554, probably addressed to the Western episcopate) condemned, at last, the Three Chapters (Mansi, IX, 424-20, 457-88; cf. Hefele, II, 905-11), independently, however, and without mention of the council. (The Catholic Encyclopedia“Second Council of Constantinople,” written by Thomas Shahan)

In like manner, in the Council of Carthage, at which Augustine was present, we perceive that not the legates of the Roman See, but Aurelius, the archbishop of the place, presided, although there was then a question as to the authority of the Roman Pontiff. 

This was not an ecumenical council, so it is a moot point. In any event, Pope Innocent I concurred with and sanctioned the canonical ruling of the Council of Carthage in 397, in his Letter to Exsuperius, Bishop of Toulouse (dated 405).

Nay, even in Italy itself, a universal council was held (that of Aquileia), at which the Roman Bishop was not present. 

So what? That is irrelevant.

Ambrose, who was then in high favour with the Emperor, presided, and no mention is made of the Roman Pontiff. 

That is no more necessary than it is for any state Senate assembly in America to mention the President of the United States every time it meets.

Therefore, owing to the dignity of Ambrose, the See of Milan was then more illustrious than that of Rome.

Since no proof is given, since it is a subjective statement, and a ridiculous one at that. I shall pass on commenting. We have seen that when Calvin tries to rely on historical fact (rather than unsubstantiated subjective assertion) to support his case, he can easily be amply refuted at every turn. The Institutes is compelling and convincing only on the surface. Once examined and opposed with counter-factual information, it quickly becomes infinitely less impressive.

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(originally 6-15-09)

Photo credit: Historical mixed media figure of John Calvin produced by artist/historian George S. Stuart and photographed by Peter d’Aprix: from the George S. Stuart Gallery of Historical Figures archive [Wikimedia Commons / Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license]

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April 6, 2018

Did the popes in fact ratify, confirm, accept, approve the conciliarist decrees of the council of Constance? They did not. Here is the council of Constance’s decree Haec sancta (also known as Sacrosancta), promulgated on April 6, 1415:

This holy synod of Constance, forming a general council for the extirpation of the present schism and the union and reformation, in head and members, of the Church of God, legitimately assembled in the Holy Ghost, to the praise of Omnipotent God, in order that it may the more easily, safely, effectively and freely bring about the union and reformation of the church of God, hereby determines, decrees, ordains and declares what follows: – It first declares that this same council, legitimately assembled in the Holy Ghost, forming a general council and representing the Catholic Church militant, has its power immediately from Christ, and every one, whatever his state or position, even if it be the Papal dignity itself, is bound to obey it in all those things which pertain to the faith and the healing of the said schism, and to the general reformation of the Church of God, in bead and members. It further declares that any one, whatever his condition, station or rank, even if it be the Papal, who shall contumaciously refuse to obey the mandates, decrees, ordinances or instructions which have been, or shall be issued by this holy council, or by any other general council, legitimately summoned, which concern, or in any way relate to the above mentioned objects, shall, unless he repudiate his conduct, be subject to condign penance and be suitably punished, having recourse, if necessary, to the other resources of the law. (translated by J.H. Robinson)

 

The biblical model is the pope as leader working “collegially” with bishops and even the opinion of the mass of laypeople (sensus fidelium). Just because they may not have final say, it doesn’t follow that their input is worthless.

The Orthodox have councils and no pope; the Protestants have neither councils nor popes. We have both, and I think that is the biblical model (for example, the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, presided over by St. Peter).

A pope can recognize a legitimate ecumenical council without accepting every particular in it. The most famous example is Pope St. Leo the Great, with regard to the 28th canon of the Council of Chalcedon in 451, having to do with the apostolic status of Constantinople (which he rejected). Historians and other scholars disagree that this council had papal approval in its entirety and also the view that these conciliar decrees on conciliarism were not “radical” but only “moderate”.

Philip Hughes is one such prominent Church historian. In his book, The Church in Crisis: A History of the General Councils, 325-1870 (Garden City, New York: Doubleday / Hanover House, 1961), he writes, concerning the conciliar decree of Frequens, calling for very frequent ecumenical councils: “There is no need to explain what a revolution in the government of the Church was thus attempted” (p. 270).

Referring to seven decrees that didn’t include Sacrosancta and Frequens, Hughes writes: “to which alone of the reforms of Constance the papal approval was given” (ibid., p. 271). He then reiterates that these attempted conciliarist reforms were not in accord with sacred tradition: “[T]hings have been done and things said — things impossible to harmonise with the tradition — with all the apparent prestige of a General Council” (ibid., p. 273).

In another similar book, The General Councils of the Church (Milwaukee: Bruce Publishing Co., 1960), John L. Murphy states:

Martin V, who was to emerge from the council as the next pope, approved most of the decrees of the Council. Thus it was a General Council of the universal Church, even though some of the decrees issued were out-and-out heresy; these decrees were rejected by later popes. In this, the gathering was not unlike some of the earlier Councils, which also got out of hand, and were approved only in part by the Roman Pontiff. But like them, this Council remained a General Council in the proper sense of the word in those matters which were approved by the head of the body of bishops.

. . . Pope Martin V approved the acts of the Council, with the exception of those which proposed Conciliarism. (pp. 131-132, 137)

Murphy writes about the next pope, Eugene IV:

[T]he bishops who had gathered at Basel were angered when they heard that the Pope had dissolved the Council. They reissued the heretical decrees of Constance, stating once again that the General Council is superior to the Pope, and that he has no power to dissolve such a gathering . . . the Pope . . . refused to accept the decrees concerning the supremacy of a General Council. (pp. 139-140)

Eminent Church historian Warren H. Carroll fills in more details of this selective papal acceptance of the decrees of these Councils, in the third volume of his seven-volume A History of Christendom:

As he prepared his decree dissolving the Council, Pope Martin V faced an extraordinarily difficult and delicate decision: how much, and to what extent, to confirm its actions. Under canon law and the unbroken tradition of the Church, no action even of an ecumenical council is authoritative for the universal Church without the approval of the Pope. Clearly Pope Martin V did not and could not approve the decrees Sacrosancta and Frequens . . . But for Martin V openly to strike down these decrees, which had been overwhelmingly approved, could well resurrect the schism in a different and even more virulent form, Council against Pope.

. . . The phraseology he found was masterful. He confirmed the work of the council, “all that here has been done, touching matters of faith, in a conciliar fashion, but not otherwise or after any other fashion.” Unpacked, this meant that he confirmed everything the Council had decreed regarding doctrine and heresy, and everything else it had done in its proper role as a council, that is, not against the necessary authority of the Pope; but that he did not confirm anything it had done which was not proper for a council, that is, which did challenge the necessary authority of the Pope. Neither the Pope nor the Council wanted to say or ask what this convoluted formula precisely meant, though its meaning can hardly have been unclear to any well-educated canonist.

. . . Pope Martin’s very carefully qualified endorsement of the Council’s decrees did not confirm any action placing the Council’s authority above the Pope’s, which Frequens as well as Sacrosancta specifically stated.

. . . But the Pope [Eugenius IV] would not yield to their demands, and on July 29, 1433 he formally annulled all decrees of the Council [Basel] “contrary to the Holy See” (obviously including Sacrosancta).

. . . In December [1433], in a new version of the bull Dudum sacrum, Pope Eugenius IV restored recognition to the Council of Basel, withdrew his decree dissolving it, and authorized it to deal with heresy, war and peace, and reform, but without specifically confirming any of its acts, notably its reiteration of the heretical decree Sacrosancta. (The Glory of Christendom, Front Royal, Virginia: Christendom Press, 1993, 502, 526, 530-531)

The Catholic Encyclopedia (1911) also elaborates upon the nullity of the radical conciliarism decrees:

[I]n a papal consistory (10 March, 1418), Martin V rejected any right of appeal from the Apostolic See to a future council, and asserted the supreme authority of the Roman pontiff as Vicar of Jesus Christ on earth in all questions of Catholic Faith (Nulli fas est a supremo judice, videlicet Apostolicâ sede seu Rom. Pontif. Jesu Christi vicario in terris appellare aut illius judicium in causis fidei, quæ tamquam majores ad ipsum et sedem Apostolicam deferendæ sunt, declinare, Mansi, Conc., XXVIII, 200). Von Funk has shown (op. cit., 489 sqq.), that the oft-maintained confirmation of the decrees of Constance by Martin V, in the last session of the council (omnia et singula determinata et decreta in materiis fldei per præsens concilium conciliariter et non aliter nec alio modo) must be understood only of a specific case (Falkenberg, see below), and not of any notable part of, much less of all, the decrees of Constance. It is true that in the Bull Inter Cunctas, 22 Feb., 1418, apropos of the Wycliffites and Hussites, he calls for a formal approval of the decrees of Constance in favorem fidet a salutem animarum, but these words are easily understood of the council’s action against the aforesaid heresies and its efforts to restore to the Church a certain head. In particular the famous five articles of the fifth session, establishing the supremacy of the council, never received papal confirmation (Hergenröther-Kirsch, II, 862, and Baudrillart, in Dict. de théol. cath., II, 1219-23). For a refutation of the Gallican claim that these decrees possess a dogmatic character, see GALLICANISM. Nevertheless, the Council of Constance is usually reckoned the Sixteenth General Council; some, as stated above, acknowledge it as such after the fourteenth session (reconvocation by Gregory XII); others again (Salembier) after the thirty-fifth session (adherence of the Spanish nation); Hefele only in the final sessions (forty-second to forty-fifth) under Martin V. No papal approbation of it was ever meant to confirm its anti-papal acts; thus Eugene IV (22 July, 1446) approved the council, with due reserve of the rights, dignity, and supremacy of the Apostolic See (absque tamen præjudicio juris dignitatis et præeminentiæ Sedis Apostolicæ). (Vol. IV, 291, “Constance”)

Well-known Protestant historian Phillip Schaff, whose work is widely-used, elaborates:

Its fourth and fifth sessions, beginning April 6, 1415, mark an epoch in the history of ecclesiastical statement. The council declared that, being assembled legitimately in the Holy Spirit, it was an oecumenical council and representing the whole Church, had its authority immediately from Christ, and that to it the pope and persons of every grade owed obedience in things pertaining to the faith and to the reformation of the Church in head and members. It was superior to all other ecclesiastical tribunals. This declaration, stated with more precision than the one of Pisa, meant a vast departure from the papal theory of Innocent III. and Boniface VIII.

. . . The conciliar declarations reaffirmed the principle laid down by Nieheim on the eve of the council in the tract entitled the Union of the Church and its Reformation, and by other writers . . .

These views were revolutionary, and show that Marsiglius of Padua, and other tractarians of the fourteenth century, had not spoken in vain. (History of the Christian Church, vol. 6, chapter 2, § 16. The Council of Constance. 1414–1418)

 

Likewise, reputable Protestant Reformation historian A. G. Dickens, in his work, The Age of Humanism and Reformation (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1972, 42), described the conciliarist declarations concerning the papacy as “revolutionary work,” and the ideas of the Council of Basle (1431-1439) “even more radical.”

I shall conclude with renowned Catholic historian Joseph Lortz (generally considered “fair” to Protestantism, conciliatory, and the very opposite of a so-called “triumphalist” historian, while remaining an orthodox Catholic). Note his descriptions of the conciliarism of Constance as a new innovation:

The council [of Constance] enumerated the doctrine of the supremacy of the universal council (conciliar theory) over the pope. It is true that the most influential leaders of the movement at the time were not extremists. They realized that the theory was novel but felt that the present exigency called for this new way. In fact they could find no other solution to the crisis. But even though viewed as a temporary expedient, the theory is false and contravenes the order established by Christ for the government of His Church. It was never approved by the pope — in confirming the canons of the council Martin V rejected it. (History of the Church, translated and adapted from the 5th and 6th German edition by Edwin G. Kaiser, Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Co., 1939, 268)

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(originally 5-2-04)

Photo credit: illustration of the council of Constance (bet. 1460-1465) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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February 23, 2018

The following evidence documents papal presence (personally or through legates) at the first seven councils:

1) Nicaea, 325 [papal legates; possibly including Hosius or Ossius, who presided]

The recommendation for a general or ecumenical council . . . had probably already been made to Constantine by Ossius [aka Hosius], and most probably to Pope Silvester as well . . . Ossius presided over its deliberations; he probably, and two priests of Rome certainly, came as representatives of the Pope. (Dr. Warren Carroll, The Building of Christendom, Christendom College Press, 1987, 11)

For much more on this, see the Brian Harrison article cited below in #2 and my paper, Pope Silvester and the Council of Nicaea, and the much more in-depth article, Council of Nicea: Reply to James White: Its Relationship to Pope Sylvester, Athanasius’ Views, & the Unique Preeminence of Catholic Authority.

2) Constantinople, 381 [no pope and no legates]

No bishops from the west were present, nor was the Pope represented. Therefore, this was not really an ecumenical council, though due to later historical confusion and the enthusiastic acceptance by the whole Church of its strongly orthodox creed, including an explicit confession of the full divinity of the Holy Spirit, it came to be regarded and numbered as such. (Dr. Warren Carroll, The Building of Christendom, Christendom College Press, 1987, 62)

With the First Council of Constantinople (381) we are dealing with another case in which there are not extant acts. This council also was convoked by an emperor, Theodosius I. [Ibid.] The language of his decree suggests he regarded the Roman see as a yardstick of Christian orthodoxy. He commands all his subjects to practice the religion which Peter the apostle transmitted to the Romans. In calling the Council, Theodosius did not envisage the assembled bishops debating Roman doctrine as thought it were an open question.

The fact that Meletius of Antioch presided at Constantinople I, and the absence of any Roman legates, might appear to be evidence against the Roman primacy. It must be remembered that the Council was not originally intended to be ecumenical in the same sense as Nicaea.

It included, after all, only 150 bishops from Thrace, Asia Minor, and Egypt and was convoked to deal with certain Eastern problems.[New Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v. “Constantinople, First Council of.”] In fact, it was not recognized as ecumenical by the Council of Ephesus half a century later, and it was left to Pope Gregory the Great to elevate it to that status. (“Papal Authority at the Earliest Councils,” Brian W. Harrison, This Rock, Jan. 1991)

3) Ephesus, 431 [papal legates Arcadius, Projectus, and Philip]

The pope . . . sent two bishops, Arcadius and Projectus, to represent himself and his Roman council, and the Roman priest, Philip, as his personal representative. Philip, therefore, takes the first place, though, not being a bishop, he could not preside. It was probably a matter of course that the Patriarch of Alexandria should be president. The legates were directed not to take part in the discussions, but to give judgment on them. It seems that Chalcedon, twenty years later, set the precedent that the papal legates should always be technically presidents at an ecumenical council, and this was henceforth looked upon as a matter of course, and Greek historians assumed that it must have been the case at Nicaea. (Catholic Encyclopedia: “Council of Ephesus”; written by John Chapman)

4) Chalcedon, 451 [papal legate Paschasinus, who presided]

The honour of presiding over this venerable assembly was reserved to Paschasinus, Bishop of Lilybaeum, the first of the papal legates, according to the intention of Pope Leo I, expressed in his letter to Emperor Marcian (24 June, 451). Shortly after the council, writing to the bishops of Gaul, he mentions that his legates presided in his stead over the Eastern synod. Moreover, Paschasinus proclaimed openly in presence of the council that he was presiding over it in the name and in the place of pope Leo. The members of the council recognized this prerogative of the papal legates. When writing to the pope they professed that, through his representatives, he presided over them in the council. In the interest of order and a regular procedure the Emperor Marcian appointed a number of commissioners, men of high rank, who received the place of honour in the council.

Their jurisdiction, however, did not cover the ecclesiastical or religious questions under discussion. The commissioners simply directed the order of business during the sessions; they opened the meetings, laid before the council the matters to be discussed, demanded the votes of the bishops on the various subjects, and closed the sessions. Besides these there were present several members of the Senate, who shared the place of honour with the imperial commissioners. At the very beginning of the first session, the papal legates, Paschasinus at their head, protested against the presence of Dioscurus of Alexandria. Formal accusations of heresy and of unjust actions committed in the Robber Council of Ephesus were preferred against him by Eusebius of Dorylaeum; and at the suggestion of the imperial commissioners he was removed from his seat among the bishops and deprived of his vote. . . .

When the pope’s famous epistle was read the members of the council exclaimed that the faith contained therein was the faith of the Fathers and of the Apostles; that through Leo, Peter had spoken. . . .

At the closing of the sessions the council wrote a letter to Pope Leo I, in which the Fathers informed him of what had been done; thanked him for the exposition of Christian Faith contained in his dogmatic epistle; spoke of his legates as having presided over them in his name; and asked for the ratification of the disciplinary matters enacted, particularly canon 28. This letter was handed to the papal legates, who departed for Rome soon after the last session of the council. Similar letters were written to Pope Leo in December by Emperor Marcian and Anatolius of Constantinople. In reply Pope Leo protested most energetically against canon xxviii and declared it null and void as being against the prerogatives of Bishops of Alexandria and Antioch, and against the decrees of the Council of Nicaea.

Like protests were contained in the letters written 22 May, 452, to Emperor Marcian, Empress Pulcheria, and Anatolius of Constantinople. Otherwise the pope ratified the Acts of the Council of Chalcedon, but only inasmuch as they referred to matters of faith. This approval was contained in letters written 21 March, 453, to the bishops who took part in the council; hence the Council of Chalcedon, at least as to the first six sessions, became an ecumenical synod, and was considered as such by all Christians, both in the time of Poe Leo and after him. (Catholic Encyclopedia: “Council of Chalcedon,” written by Francis Schaefer)

5) Constantinople, 553 [no pope and no legates, due to imperial strong-arm tactics and imprisonment of Pope Vigilius]

From 25 January, 547, Pope Vigilius was forcibly detained in the royal city; . . . Vigilius had persuaded Justinian . . . to proclaim a truce on all sides until a general council could be called to decide these controversies. Both the emperor and the Greek bishops violated this promise of neutrality;. . .

For his dignified protest Vigilius thereupon suffered various personal indignities at the hands of the civil authority and nearly lost his life; he retired finally to Chalcedon, in the very church of St. Euphemia where the great council had been held, whence he informed the Christian world of the state of affairs. Soon the Oriental bishops sought reconciliation with him, induced him to return to the city, and withdrew all that had hitherto been done against the Three Chapters; the new patriarch, Eutychius, successor to Mennas, whose weakness and subserviency were the immediate cause of all this violence and confusion, presented (6 Jan., 553 his professor of faith to Vigilius and, in union with other Oriental bishops, urged the calling of a general council under the presidency of the pope. Vigilius was willing, but proposed that it should be held either in Italy or in Sicily, in order to secure the attendance of Western bishops.

To this Justinian would not agree, but proposed, instead, a kind of commission made up of delegates from each of the great patriarchates; Vigilius suggested that an equal number be chosen from the East and the West; but this was not acceptable to the emperor, who thereupon opened the council by his own authority on the date and in the manner mentioned above. Vigilius refused to participate, not only on account of the overwhelming proportion of Oriental bishops, but also from fear of violence; moreover, none of his predecessors had ever taken part personally in an Oriental council. To this decision he was faithful, though he expressed his willingness to give an independent judgment on the matters at issue. . . .

The decisions of the council were executed with a violence in keeping with its conduct, though the ardently hoped-for reconciliation of the Monophysites did not follow. Vigilius, together with other opponents of the imperial will, as registered by the subservient court-prelates, seems to have been banished (Hefele, II, 905), together with the faithful bishops and ecclesiastics of his suite, either to Upper Egypt or to an island in the Propontis. Already in the seventh session of the council Justinian caused the name of Vigilius to be stricken from the diptychs, without prejudice, however, it was said, to communion with the Apostolic See.

Soon the Roman clergy and people, now freed by Narses from the Gothic yoke, requested the emperor to permit the return of the pope, which Justinian agreed to on condition that Vigilius would recognize the late council. This Vigilius finally agreed to do, and in two documents (a letter to Eutychius of Constantinople, 8 Dec., 553, and a second “Constitutum” of 23 Feb., 554, probably addressed to the Western episcopate) condemned, at last, the Three Chapters (Mansi, IX, 424-20, 457-88; cf. Hefele, II, 905-11), independently, however, and without mention of the council. (Catholic Encyclopedia: “Second Council of Constantinople,” written by Thomas Shahan)

For more, see the Catholic Encyclopedia article, “Pope Vigilius”.

6) Constantinople, 681 [papal legates]

Owing to the desire of Pope Agatho to obtain the adhesion of his Western brethren, the papal legates did not arrive at Constantinople until late in 680. The council, attended in the beginning by 100 bishops, later by 174, was opened 7 Nov., 680, in a domed hall (trullus) of the imperial palace and was presided over by the (three) papal legates who brought to the council a long dogmatic letter of Pope Agatho and another of similar import from a Roman synod held in the spring of 680. They were read in the second session. Both letters, the pope’s in particular, insist on the faith of the Apostolic See as the living and stainless tradition of the Apostles of Christ, assured by the promises of Christ, witnessed by all the popes in their capacity of successors to the Petrine privilege of confirming the brethren, and therefore finally authoritative for the Universal Church. . . .

The greater part of the eighteen sessions was devoted to an examination of the Scriptural and patristic passages bearing on the question of one or two wills, one or two operations, in Christ. George, Patriarch of Constantinople, soon yielded to the evidence of the orthodox teaching concerning the two wills and two operations in Christ, but Macarius of Antioch, “almost the only certain representative of Monothelism since the nine propositions of Cyrus of Alexandria” (Chapman), resisted to the end, and was finally anathematized and deposed for “not consenting to the tenor of the orthodox letters sent by Agatho the most holy pope of Rome”, . . .

The letter of the council to Pope Leo, asking, after the traditional manner, for confirmation of its Acts, while including again the name of Honorius among the condemned Monothelites, lay a remarkable stress on the magisterial office of the Roman Church, as, in general, the documents of the Sixth General Council favour strongly the inerrancy of the See of Peter. “The Council”, says Dom Chapman, “accepts the letter in which the Pope defined the faith. It deposes those who refused to accept it. It asks [the pope] to confirm its decisions.

The Bishops and Emperor declare that they have seen the letter to contain the doctrine of the Fathers. Agatho speaks with the voice of Peter himself; from Rome the law had gone forth as out of Sion; Peter had kept the faith unaltered.” Pope Agatho died during the Council and was succeeded by Leo II, who confirmed (683) the decrees against Monothelism, and expressed himself even more harshly than the council towards the memory of Honorius (Hefele, Chapman), though he laid stress chiefly on the neglect of that pope to set forth the traditional teaching of the Apostolic See, whose spotless faith he treasonably tried to overthrow (or, as the Greek may be translated, permitted to be overthrown). (Catholic Encyclopedia: “Third Council of Constantinople,” written by Thomas Shahan)

7) Nicaea, 787 [papal legates archpriest Peter and abbot Peter]

The pope’s letters to the empress and to the patriarch prove superabundantly that the Holy See approved the convocation of the Council. The pope afterwards wrote to Charlemagne: “Et sic synodum istam, secundum nostram ordinationem, fecerunt” (Thus they have held the synod in accordance with our directions).

The empress-regent and her son did not assist in person at the sessions, but they were represented there by two high officials: the patrician and former consul, Petronius, and the imperial chamberlain and logothete John, with whom was associated as secretary the former patriarch, Nicephorus. The acts represent as constantly at the head of the ecclesiastical members the two Roman legates, the archpriest Peter and the abbot Peter; after them come Tarasius, Patriarch of Constantinople, and then two Oriental monks and priests, John and Thomas, representatives of the Patriarchs of Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem. The operations of the council show that Tarasius, properly speaking, conducted the sessions. (Catholic Encyclopedia: “The Second Council of Nicaea,” written by Henri Leclercq)

* * * * *

Conclusion: popes were not personally present at the first seven councils. The custom in those days was to send papal legates. These were present at five of the seven councils. They weren’t at Constantinople in 381 because no western bishops at all were present; hence it was not regarded as an ecumenical council at first, because it was of an exclusively eastern nature and not representative of the universal church. But it was orthodox, and so was later declared to be ecumenical.

And they weren’t present at Constantinople in 553 because the pope was being held prisoner and the Emperor didn’t want western Catholicism to be proportionately represented. Pope Vigilius refused to participate (i.e., through legates) because of the disproportion, and due to fears of further violence. It was later deemed an ecumenical council by Rome since it was also orthodox in outcome (by God’s grace, as always).

***

(originally 4-22-09)

Photo credit: Icon from the Mégalo Metéoron Monastery in Greece, representing the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea 325 A.D., with the condemned Arius in the bottom of the icon. Photograph by Jjensen (8-23-08) [Wikimedia CommonsCreative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license]

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November 9, 2017

DavidKingSpoof

This comes from a vigorous combox on the great site Shameless Popery, under the post, “Reformation Day Ironies, 500th Anniversary Edition” (by Joe Heschmeyer). Anti-Catholic Barry Baritone’s words will be in blue. Words of “Irked” will be in green.

I had written two papers about this general topic before. The first was raised by someone in the discussion; I cited the second:

Cyril of Jerusalem (d. 386) vs. Sola Scriptura as the Rule of Faith [8-1-03]

David T. King & William Webster Misinterpret the Fathers on Authority: Part I: St. Cyril of Jerusalem [11-9-13]

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St. Cyril wrote:

For concerning the divine and holy mysteries of the Faith, not even a casual statement must be delivered without the Holy Scriptures; nor must we be drawn aside by mere plausibility and artifices of speech. Even to me, who tell thee these things, give not absolute credence, unless thou receive the proof of the things which I announce from the Divine Scriptures. For this salvation which we believe depends not on ingenious reasoning, but on demonstration of the Holy Scriptures. (Catechetical Lectures 4:17)

That’s… pretty darn close to what Luther would eventually say.

You are absolutely correct. There could be no clearer statement of the principle of S.S. than what we read in Cyril. He says that all he teaches must be verified by S and nothing is to be accepted without it. He does not say one word about an oral tradition independent of Scripture, much to the dismay of the RC community. Catholics are desperate to minimize the impact of Cyril, so they seek to get around it by way of Dave Armstrong quoting Patrick Madrid as saying, “Hey, Cyril believed in the Mass, etc…and so Sola Scripture fails”

WHO CARES if Mr. C believed in the Mass! S.S. most certainly does NOT fail by Mr. C’s example because he was attempting to derive his doctrine from Scripture, PERIOD.

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I could give you a whole list of names and their quotes which they extol Holy Writ above all else. But I would like to know that if I did that, will you admit you were wrong? Experience has shown that when Catholics find out they’ve been duped, they NEVER admit they were wrong, and usually get on their high horse and disappear into the sunset. So I ask you: do you have any intention whatsoever to change your mode of thinking when you find out your master, Dave Armstrong, is so full of baloney he could open up a delicatessen? If your answer is no, then why should anyone waste their time answering you?

At the end of the day, you can find the principle of S.S. very clearly laid out in all 176 verses of Psalm 119, the longest chapter in the Bible.

Baritone brought up Psalm 119 as an alleged prooftext of sola Scriptura. I dealt with a portion of that in my book, 100 Biblical Arguments Against  Sola Scriptura:

88. Psalms 119:159-160: “Thy Word is Truth”

Consider how I love thy precepts! Preserve my life according to thy steadfast love. The sum of thy word is truth; and every one of thy righteous ordinances endures forever.”

Again, we see an exercise common in such alleged “evidence”: assuming what one is trying to prove, sometimes called circular reasoning or “begging the question.” This passage simply doesn’t rule out other authorities. No Christian would argue against what the text says: God’s word is truth. Of course it is! But this is no proof of the Protestant novelty that is sola scriptura. The notion supposedly being supported isn’t even present in the text. It is merely read into it, or super-imposed onto it. Protestants think sola scriptura is “obvious” and “unquestionable” in the way that a fish in an aquarium thinks it is “obvious” that the entire world consists of water and that all creatures live in it.

If sola scriptura is all one knows or hears about, then of course one will come away with that viewpoint. But remove the Protestant’s set of presumptions (which must be argued for, not used as evidence), and the plain meaning of this passage does nothing to support sola scriptura. (pp. 118-119)

Getting back to the man and the S.S. principle, his was not that we should be conformed to what the CHURCH says, but rather, conformity to Scripture was the pancake batter that oozed into THAT man’s frying pan.

“Even to me, who tell thee these things, give not absolute credence, unless thou receive the proof of the things which I announce from the Divine Scriptures. For this salvation which we believe depends not on ingenious reasoning, but on demonstration of the Holy Scriptures.”

Catholics can knock their heads up against the wailing wall as much as they like in trying to deny it, but there is simply no way to subsume Cyril’s understanding of the authority of Scripture into the Roman Catholic paradigm! NO WAY. . . .

Let me put this in big letters: EVERY DOCTRINE MR. C PROCLAIMED, HE DECLARED TO BE BASED ON PROOF FURNISHED FROM HOLY WRIT. We certainly don’t agree with everything he said, but so what? No one has a monopoly on truth and nowhere are promised to know it all. Nonetheless, the underlying presupposition of S.S. is right there before your eyes, crystal clear, like it or not. And like it or not, Mr. C does NOT agree with the authority structure and underlying presuppositions of the RCC! 

A given Church father’s views has to be determined by his entire body of teaching, not isolated prooftexts. Cyril clearly held to a very strong version of material sufficiency (Catholics also accept material sufficiency of Scripture, but deny formal sufficiency; i.e., sola Scriptura), but he did not hold to sola Scriptura. How do we know that? We know by the passages from his writings that I have already produced: that have been mostly ignored or rationalized away.

In my book, 100 Biblical Arguments Against Sola Scriptura, I cited the most zealous Protestant defenders of sola Scriptura in my Introduction, in order to define it as these defenders do. Norman Geisler stated that “the Bible alone is the infallible written authority for faith and morals” and “the sufficient and final written authority of God.” He explains that “the Fathers and early councils . . . Christian tradition” have their “usefulness” but that they are “of secondary importance.”

Keith A. Mathison teaches that only Scripture is “inherently infallible” and “the supreme normative standard” and the “final standard” and “only final authoritative norm.” Any other “authorities” are “subordinate and derivative in nature.”

I cite James White for almost a page. He contends for the same notions. Scripture contains “all God intends for us to have that is infallible, binding, and authoritative.” Neither Church nor tradition possess this authority. Hence, any tradition “must be tested by a higher authority, and that authority is the Bible.” So White concludes that “the Scriptures alone are sufficient to function as the regulafidei, the infallible rule of faith for the Church.”

That is the definition of sola Scriptura, and it precludes by inescapable logic, these propositions:

1) The Church is infallible and has binding authority.

2) Sacred / apostolic tradition / apostolic succession are infallible and has binding authority.

Therefore, if a Church father asserts #1 or #2 he does not teach sola Scriptura. It’s as simple as that. I’ve already proven this in my two papers about St. Cyril, but I will offer more here. In Catechetical Lecture 18:23, Cyril informs us that the Catholic Church has a sublime (infallible) teaching authority: “it teaches universally and completely one and all the doctrines which ought to come to men’s knowledge, concerning things both visible and invisible, heavenly and earthly.” He also wrote about this Church in 18:25:

the Saviour built out of the Gentiles a second Holy Church, the Church of us Christians, concerning which he said to Peter, ‘And upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.’ [Matthew 16:18] . . . Concerning this Holy Catholic Church Paul writes to Timothy, ‘That you may know how you ought to behave yourself in the House of God, which is the Church of the Living God, the pillar and ground of the truth’ [1 Timothy 3:15].

I wrote a post in which I gave three biblical arguments for an infallible, authoritative Church. Two of them are above (and I hadn’t read the above before I wrote my post). The third is the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15.

In 18:26 he decries “the heretics, the Marcionists and Manichees, and the rest,” and provides the solution to falling into their errors: “for this cause the Faith has securely delivered to you now the Article, And in one Holy Catholic Church; that you may avoid their wretched meetings, and ever abide with the Holy Church Catholic in which you were regenerated.” He makes the Church necessary for salvation in 18:28: “In this Holy Catholic Church receiving instruction and behaving ourselves virtuously, we shall attain the kingdom of heaven, and inherit eternal life; for which also we endure all toils, that we may be made partakers thereof from the Lord.” He refers to sacred tradition and apostolic succession in 18:32 (“the Holy and Apostolic Faith delivered to you to profess”).

He also mentions the centrality of Scriptures in determining doctrine (e.g., 18:30, 18:33), but not in a way that precludes or excludes Church and tradition. This is what is not understood by those who claim that Cyril is teaching sola Scriptura. He does not. He teaches precisely what Catholics believe today, as the rule of faith: the “three-legged stool” of “Bible-Church-Tradition.”

The sola Scriptura advocate could never say the things that Cyril said above about both Church and tradition, because he denies that they are infallible, and that they are a final authority alongside Scripture. Thus, Luther at the Diet of Worms specifically places Scripture higher than the Church and tradition by saying, “councils and can and do err. Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason, here I stand, I can do not other, etc.” He couldn’t and didn’t argue like Cyril does above because that is the Catholic Mind and Rule of Faith, which he was rejecting, by introducing the unscriptural novelty of sola Scriptura.

Cyril talks about the inspired authority of Scripture, as he should, and as we do, but he places it within the authoritative interpretation of Holy Mother Church. Hence, he wrote:

But in learning the Faith and in professing it, acquire and keep that only, which is now delivered to thee by the Church, and which has been built up strongly out of all the Scriptures. For since all cannot read the Scriptures, some being hindered as to the knowledge of them by want of learning, and others by a want of leisure, in order that the soul may not perish from ignorance, we comprise the whole doctrine of the Faith in a few lines. . . . So for the present listen while I simply say the Creed , and commit it to memory; but at the proper season expect the confirmation out of Holy Scripture of each part of the contents. . . . Take heed then, brethren, and hold fast the traditions which ye now receive, and write them on the table of your heart. Guard them with reverence, lest per chance the enemy despoil any who have grown slack; or lest some heretic pervert any of the truths delivered to you. (Catechetical Lectures 5:12-13)

He refers to “the tradition of the Church’s interpreters” (Catechetical Lectures 15:13)

When Cyril refers to “proof” and “demonstration” from the Scriptures in 4:17, it depends what he means. If he means by that, “all doctrines to be believed are harmonious with Scripture, and must not contradict it,” this is simply material sufficiency and exactly what Catholics believe. If he means, “all doctrines to be believed must be explicitly explained and taught by Scripture and not derived primarily or in a binding fashion from the Church or tradition” then he would be espousing sola Scriptura.

But it’s not at all established that this is what he meant. It is established, on the other hand, that he accepted the binding authority of Church, tradition, and apostolic succession (“that apostolic and evangelic faith, which our fathers ever preserved and handed down to us as a pearl of great price”: To Celestine, Epistle 9).

The notion that all doctrines must be explicit in Scripture in order to be believed (and only binding if so), is simply not taught in the Bible; i.e., sola Scriptura is not taught in the Bible. An authoritative, binding Church and tradition certainly are taught in Scripture, and those two things expressly contradict sola Scriptura.

Conclusion: neither the Bible nor St. Cyril of Jerusalem teach sola Scriptura.

The only way anyone could read and understand what I just wrote above and still claim that St. Cyril of Jerusalem believed in sola Scriptura would be to:

1) not understand the definition of sola Scriptura, as explained by credentialed, informed Protestant apologists and theologians,

or

2) insufficiently understand classical logic; i.e., how Cyril’s statements elsewhere logically prove that he can’t possibly have held to sola Scriptura, as defined by its most vocal and able Protestant defenders: folks like Geisler, Mathison, and White.

An advocate of sola Scriptura cannot possibly state, “x is true because the Church teaches it” or “x is true because sacred tradition passed down, teaches it”. They cannot because those sentences presuppose an authoritative, binding Church or tradition (which sola Scriptura expressly denies). The advocate of sola Scriptura has to say, rather, “x is true because the Bible teaches it” or “x is true because the Bible — corroborated also by non-binding Church and/or traditional teaching — teaches it”. The Church or tradition can never be central in providing the basis for a belief, in a sola Scriptura understanding. They can be secondary and optional, but never primary, sole, or binding.

This is why, again, there is no way in any conceivable universe, that St. Cyril held to sola Scriptura. And I have found this to be the case with any and every Church father, insofar as I have studied them or looked over supposed prooftexts from them, produced by anti-Catholic apologists and historical revisionists like Jason Engwer, David T. King, William Webster, or James White, or Martin Chemnitz or William Whitaker  (see the “Bible / Tradition / Church . . . section of my Church Fathers web page). It fails every time, and it is almost always the same logical fallacy and tunnel vision involved.

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As we have been saying, a given Church father’s views have to be determined by his entire body of teaching, not isolated prooftexts.

That is true to a POINT, but not to the exclusion of the similar truth that isolated texts may very WELL, and often do, stand on their own (e.g., being told, “thou shalt not steal” is clear enough). The fact that Cyril said not even to believe HIM, but to check things out with Holy Writ, WE SAY, can stand on its own. I have read your quotes which supposedly prove the contrary and I am not convinced.

Now to everything else in you said in your post here, there is a reply that can stand head and shoulders over your assertions. I had to decide if it was worthwhile to go through all your dicta in light of the fact that your foundation is cracked at the get-go. I decided it was NOT worth the time, because if your foundation is cracked, then it follows that everything else you submit has splinters also. Here’s your crack… [he then proceeds to do an off-topic analysis of the material vs. formal sufficiency of Scripture issue, including charges that I am “dishonest” regarding Catholic teaching in this respect]

Yeah, I check everything with Scripture, too (as does the Catholic Church). It’s my specialty: my website is called “Biblical Evidence for Catholicism”. So what? That determines nothing one way or another with regard to sola Scriptura. The sooner you figure that out, the better for the logic of your analyses. I think you understand the definition of sola Scriptura (but maybe not); so you must not understand the logic of the various propositions being discussed and how they relate to each other.

I had to decide if it was worthwhile to go through all your dicta in light of the fact that your foundation is cracked at the get-go. I decided it was NOT worth the time, . . .

Yes, of course! This is what folks always do when faced with matters of verifiable historical fact that don’t go along with their preconceived notions, for which they want to special plead: play logical games, rationalize why the relevant data ought not be reckoned with and refuted (if indeed that is able to be done).

You have written enough words in this combox to make War and Peace look like a comic strip on a bubble gum wrapper, yet you can’t bring yourself to refute a few passages from St. Cyril that demolish your pretentious claims about him.

It’s classic anti-Catholicism. I’ve encountered it again and again in the current crop of anti-Catholic polemicists (White, Webster, Engwer, King, Ken Temple, Turretinfan, James Swan, Eric Svendsen, Steve Hays) and in the historic ones as well (Whitaker, Goode, Chemnitz, Luther, Calvin).

However you try to distract unsuspecting readers, the fact remains, and has been demonstrated, that St. Cyril of Jerusalem could not possibly have believed in sola Scriptura, as defined by the most able Protestant defenders of the past (Whitaker and Goode: against whom I wrote an entire book) or present (Geisler, Mathison, White).

I’m not gonna play your sophistical games and ring-around-the-rosey. You may think that impresses people. I don’t think it’s impressive at all. It’s merely a subterfuge and sophistry to avoid the point at hand (and the only one I am addressing):

+++++ Did St. Cyril of Jerusalem espouse sola Scriptura? +++++

He did not, and I proved that. You obviously haven’t disproven my contentions because by your own words you have chosen not to engage them at all. You make a bald denial (“I am not convinced”), which is, of course, no rational argument. Then you “decided it was NOT worth the time” to address my actual arguments (which are simply citations of Cyril and drawing the rather obvious conclusions from them), and that you would be “dismissing the rest of [my] post.”

Having done that, you attempt to move the discussion to the finer points of material and formal sufficiency. Nice try, but that’s not the topic at hand, and you fool no one by cynically switching horses in mid-stream.

Again, I don’t play those games, and I’m interested in true dialogue and debate and arriving at the fullness of truth and the historical facts (the present discussion being of the nature of historical determination of what a certain person believed in theology), as can best be ascertained.

If your case is indeed so superior, you would dismantle my claims and prove them wrong. It would and should be easy. But since you can’t do that, you chose sophistry, obfuscation, obscurantism, and evasion instead.

At least you give some sort of reply (though it’s pitiful). Webster and King never do so. I refuted Webster at length twice, regarding development of doctrine and tradition (in 2000 and 2003), informed him of it, and never heard a word back. He is massively ignorant of both things.

David T. King claimed (loudly and condescendingly, on Eric Svendsen’s old discussion forum) that Cardinal Newman was a modernist, and that Pope St. Pius X thought so, too. He mocked people who started disagreeing with him. I proved  from a personal letter of that pope that this was the exact opposite of the truth. That was in March 2002. King then shut up and has never attempted to interact with an argument of mine ever since (now 15 1/2 years, with no end in sight): though he has called me lots and lots of names. And I have refuted contentions of his several times since (examples: one / two / three / four / five). He never replies. He’s simply (along with Webster) a [solely] self-published blowhard.

So you keep up the same pattern, with which I am quite (and sadly) familiar. It’s pathetic. I don’t know how you can look yourself (“intellectually”) in the mirror.

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August 22, 2017

Calvin17
Historical Mixed Media Figure of John Calvin produced by artist/historian George S. Stuart and photographed by Peter d’Aprix (9-18-07). This image, from the George S. Stuart Gallery of Historical Figures archive (http://www.galleryhistoricalfigures.com) is provided for all uses with appropriate attribution. Any derivatives must be shared in the same manner. Contributor mharrsch is webmaster for the gallery site. [Wikimedia CommonsCreative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license]

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(6-14-04)

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Reformed Protestant (or Reformed Catholic; take your pick) Kevin D. Johnson has been making the argument that these two men have a similar theology regarding the Holy Eucharist. He wrote in his blog entry, “The Catholic Nature of Calvin’s View of the Real Presence” (blue-colored emphases added):

For Calvin, his view of the Real Presence very much agreed with Cyril of Jerusalem and a better term to understand him is the “mystical presence” of Christ . . . The term “spiritual presence” can be misleading because Calvin’s opponents (both Lutheran and Roman Catholic) tried to emphasize a presence that avoided the fuller definition given above and claim that he believed that Christ was only present in spirit and not bodily. Christ’s bodily–physical–presence was there in the sacrament according to Calvin, but this was so by the Spirit (hence the usage of the term “spiritual” which refers to the Holy Spirit making this presence possible). This is in line with the orthodox catholic teaching of the subject over the ages–and Calvin very much resonated with the Church in this regard. It is wrong to think somehow that he broke with catholic tradition here. 

. . . I think Roman Catholics must admit that at the very least, transubstantiation as it was approved at the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 and Trent in the mid-sixteenth century was a later development of the doctrines both of the Real Presence and the Lord’s Supper and while it is certainly a part of Roman Catholic orthodoxy now it was not so clear cut prior to 1215 when it was made a part of the deposit of the faith. Indeed, it had been hotly debated for 400 years prior to the Fourth Lateran Council starting with its chief protagonist Radbertus.

Calvin’s view actually represents an earlier tradition via Cyril of Jerusalem among others (arguably, Augustine since that is where Calvin primarily pulls his definition of a “sacrament” in his Institutes) and is truer not only to the text of Scripture but also to the orthodox theology of the Church over the ages. In addition, it avoids the heavy influence of a scholastic look at such an issue that transubstantiation clearly represents. 

The scholastic theology of Rome caused a break between the orthodoxy of the early and medieval Church and while there are Roman Catholic apologists out there who can look back at the early fathers and read transubstantiation back into their statements, it is very difficult for a true scholarly effort to accomplish the same thing without admitting a great deal of prejudice in interpreting those early texts in such a manner.

Calvin and the other magisterial Reformers very clearly viewed themselves as part of the historic Catholic Church and felt that it was the hierarchy of Roman Catholicism that had departed from the ancient deposit of the faith. Regarding this issue, it is very easy to see why they felt that way once one acquaints himself with all of the historical data on the matter of the Real Presence and the development of transubstantiation as the Church approached the High Middle Ages.

This concisely summarizes Kevin’s position and gives us a solid statement of his position, that we can work with as we examine the historical data (in which alone the question can be satisfactorily and substantively settled). In his blog entry, “A Reformed Doctrine of the Eucharist and Ministry and its Implications for Roman Catholic Dialogues,” Kevin cites at length the following article by David Willis: “A Reformed Doctrine of the Eucharist and Ministry and Its Implications for Roman Catholic Dialogues”, Journal of Ecumenical Studies, 21:2, Spring 1984, pp. 295-309. Here are some highlights from his post (all from Willis, and emphases again added):

. . . Calvin maintained a doctrine of the real presence in the Lord’s Supper. The starting point for his doctrine, one which he shares with Cyril of Jerusalem, is the mystical union of Christ with believers. According to Calvin, in the eucharist we participate not just in the benefits of Christ but also in his substance, that of his humanity no less than of his divinity; Christ is substantially, not just sacramentally, present. Calvin’s objection to the doctrines of transubstantiation and bodily ubiquity is that they constitute threats to a correct doctrine of the real presence–the former by weakening the reality of the signs which Christ uses as the instruments for his presence, the latter by weakening the reality of the humanity of Christ . . .

Saying that Christ is really present by the power of the Spirit was not an adequate account of Christ’s real presence, according to those who insisted that the real presence had to be guaranteed either by a doctrine of transubstantiation or bodily ubiquity.

We may, then, summarize (using the above data) Kevin’s interpretation of Calvin’s eucharistic theology and its relation to St. Cyril of Jerusalem, in the following way:

1. Calvin’s notion of “real presence” was “very much” in agreement with St. Cyril.

2. Calvin’s understanding of “real presence” is “in line with the orthodox catholic teaching of the subject over the ages.” He did not break with catholic tradition on this point.

3. Transubstantiation was a development postdating the Fathers, and was quite questionable even strictly in terms of “Roman Catholic orthodoxy” prior to 1215.

4. The eucharistic theology of St. Cyril (reflected by Calvin) is basically at odds with transubstantiation, which is primarily a result of late medieval scholastic theology, and constituted a “break” with earlier tradition.

5. To find transubstantiation in the Fathers is “very difficult” for one engaged in a “true scholarly effort,” and requires a “great deal of prejudice” (in other words, it is anachronistic interpretation).

From these opinions, I therefore logically conclude (expressing it in a different manner which follows straightforwardly from the above):

1. If transubstantiation, or something closely approximating it, or a lesser-developed version of it, can be found in the Fathers, then Kevin’s argument collapses, since he holds that it was only a later scholastic development, and a break with the Fathers. If the development can be shown to have occurred in the patristic age, then so much the worse for Kevin’s historical scenario regarding “catholic orthodoxy” and the Eucharist.

2. If, in particular, St. Cyril of Jerusalem can be shown to adopt something akin to transubstantiation or otherwise opposed to Calvin’s opinions (e.g., acceptance of the Sacrifice of the Mass or adoration of the consecrated Host), then the strong comparison and parallel must be withdrawn as factually inaccurate. This follows from the content of #1 and #2 above. If he can be shown to have accepted a primitive form of transubstantiation, then #3 and #4 must be discarded as well.

3. If non-Catholic scholars can be produced who find transubstantiation, or something closely approximating it, or a lesser-developed version of it, in the Fathers (or in St. Cyril particularly), then we must conclude that they, too, are guilty of anachronistic interpretation, are lacking in a “true scholarly effort,” and suffer from a “great deal of prejudice” — and for no particular reason, as they are not Catholic apologists, etc., determined to shore up a [Roman] Catholic position at all costs, in the face of demonstrable facts.

Now, to begin our study, let us examine John Calvin’s opinion concerning transubstantiation, adoration of the Host, and the Sacrifice of the Mass. We will then proceed to inquire as to whether this was in accord with the Fathers and St. Cyril in particular, and thus merely continuing that earlier “orthodox tradition,” or whether it was, in fact, a break from the same (rather than transubstantiation being the decisive break and corruption of earlier doctrine). Blue-colored emphases remain my own throughout. Italics are in the originals.

TRANSUBSTANTIATION

From: Reply to Jacopo Cardinal Sadoleto

(September 1, 1539; translated by Henry Beveridge, 1844; reprinted in A Reformation Debate, edited by John C. Olin, New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1966; citation from p. 71)

In condemning your gross dogma of transubstantiation, . . . we have not acted without the concurrence of the ancient Church, under whose shadow you endeavor in vain to hide the very vile superstitions to which you are here addicted.

From: Jules Bonnet, editor, John Calvin: Selected Works of John Calvin: Tracts and LettersLetters, Part 2, 1545-1553, volume 5 of 7; translated by David Constable; Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1983; reproduction of Letters of John Calvin, volume II [Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1858]:

. . . transubstantiation was a mere fiction . . . (Letter to Farel, 11 May 1541, p. 261)

From: The True Method of Reforming the Church and Healing Her Divisions

(1547; translated by Henry Beveridge, 1851; reprinted in Selected Works of John Calvin: Tracts and Letters, Vol. 3: Tracts, Part 3, edited by Henry Beveridge and Jules Bonnet, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1983; citation from p. 277):

In treating of the Supper they bring back the fiction of Transubstantiation, against which all are forced to protest who are unwilling that the true use of the Supper should be lost to them. A common property of the Sacraments is, that in a manner adapted to the human intellect, they exhibit what is spiritual by a visible sign. The spiritual meaning of the Supper is, that the flesh of Christ is the meat and his blood the drink on which our souls are fed. Unless the sign correspond to this the nature of the Sacrament is destroyed. It is therefore necessary that the bread and wine be held forth to us, that from them we may learn what Christ sets before us in figure. But if the bread which we see is an empty show, what will it attest to us but an empty shadow of the flesh of Christ? They pretend that there is only an appearance of bread, which deceives the eye. How far will this phantom carry us?

ADORATION OF THE HOST

From: On Shunning the Unlawful Rites of the Ungodly, and Preserving the Purity of the Christian Religion.

(1537; translated by Henry Beveridge, 1851; reprinted in Selected Works of John Calvin: Tracts and Letters, Vol. 3: Tracts, Part 3, edited by Henry Beveridge and Jules Bonnet, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1983; citations from pp. 383, 386-387, 393):

. . . the abominable Idolatry, when bread is pretended to assume Divinity, and raised aloft as God, and worshipped by all present! The thing is so atrocious and insulting, that without being seen it can scarcely be believed . . . A little bit of Bread, I say, is displayed, adored, and invoked. In short, it is believed to be God, a thing which even the Gentiles never believed of any of their statues! And let no one here object that it is not the Bread that is adored, but Christ who becomes substituted for the Bread the moment it has been legitimately consecrated.

. . . At last, behold the Idol (puny, indeed, in bodily appearance, and white in colour, but by far the foulest and most pestiferous of all Idols!) lifted up to affect the minds of the beholders with superstition. While all prostrate themselves in stupid amazement . . . What effrontery must ours be, if we deny that any one of the things delivered in Scripture against Idolatry is inapplicable to the Idolatry here detected and proved! What! is this Idol in any respect different from that which the Second Commandment of the Law forbids us to worship? But if it is not, why should the worship of it be regarded as less a sin than the worship of the Statue at Babylon? . . . how can it be lawful to keep rolling about in such a sink of pollution and sacrilege as here manifestly exists?

. . . Away, then, with those who, on the view of a missal-god of wafer, bend their knees in hypocritical adoration, and allege that they sin the less because they worship an idol under the name of God! As if the Lord were not doubly mocked by that nefarious use of his Name, when, in a manner abandoning Him, men run to an idol, and he himself is represented as passing into bread, because enchanted by a kind of dull and magical murmur! 

From: Reply to Sadoleto (ibid., p. 71):

In . . . declaring that stupid adoration which detains the minds of men among the elements, and permits them not to rise to Christ, to be perverse and impious, we have not acted without the concurrence of the ancient Church, under whose shadow you endeavor in vain to hide the very vile superstitions to which you are here addicted.

From Bonnet, Selected Works (ibid.):

. . . the reposition of the consecrated wafer a piece of superstition, that the adoration of the wafer was idolatrous, or at the least dangerous, since it had no authority from the word of God . . . I condemned that peculiar local presence; the act of adoration I declared to be altogether insufferable. (Letter to Farel, 11 May 1541, p. 261)

From: Institutes of the Christian Religion:

(1559 ed., translation of Ford L. Battles; edited by John T. McNeill;, Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 2 volumes, 1960):

. . . fictitious transubstantiation . . . the first fabricators of this local presence could not explain how Christ’s body might be mixed with the substance of bred without many absurdities immediately cropping up . . . But it is wonderful how they fell to such a point of ignorance, even of folly, that, despising not only Scripture but even the consensus of the ancient church, they unveiled that monster . . . they all [the Fathers, or “old writers”] everywhere clearly proclaim that the Sacred Supper consists of two parts, the earthly and the heavenly; and they interpret the earthly part to be indisputably bread and wine. 

Surely, whatever our opponents may prate, it is plain that to confirm this doctrine they lack the support of antiquity . . . For transubstantiation was devised not long ago; indeed, not only was it unknown to those purer ages when the purer doctrine of religion still flourished, but even when that purity already was somewhat corrupted. (IV, 17, 14)

They could never have been so foully deluded by Satan’s tricks unless they had already been bewitched by this error . . . among them consecration was virtually equivalent to magic incantation . . . Even in Bernard’s time [1090-1153], although a blunter manner of speaking had been adopted, transubstantiation was not yet recognized. (IV, 17, 15)

THE SACRIFICE OF THE MASS

From: On Shunning the Unlawful Rites of the Ungodly, and Preserving the Purity of the Christian Religion.

(1537; translated by Henry Beveridge, 1851; reprinted in Selected Works of John Calvin: Tracts and Letters, Vol. 3: Tracts, Part 3, edited by Henry Beveridge and Jules Bonnet, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1983; citations from pp. 383, 386-388):

. . . the mere name of Sacrifice (as the priests of the Mass understand it) both utterly abolishes the cross of Christ, and overturns his sacred Supper which he consecrated as a memorial of his death. For both, as we know, is the death of Christ utterly despoiled of its glory, unless it is held to be the one only and eternal Sacrifice; and if any other Sacrifice still remains, the Supper of Christ falls at once, and is completely torn up by the roots . . .

Will it still be denied to me that he who listens to the Mass with a semblance of Religion, every time these acts are perpetrated, professes before men to be a partner in sacrilege, whatever his mind may inwardly declare to God? 

. . . Taking the single expression which gives the essence of all the invectives which the Apostle had uttered against Idolatry — that we could not at once be partakers at the table of Christ and the table of demons — who can deny its applicability to the Mass? Its altar is erected by overthrowing the Table of Christ . . . In the Mass Christ is traduced, his death is mocked, an execrable idol is substituted for God — shall we hesitate, then, to call it the table of demons? Or shall we not rather, in order justly to designate its monstrous impiety, try, if possible, to devise some new term still more expressive of detestation? Indeed, I exceedingly wonder how men, not utterly blind, can hesitate for a moment to apply the name “Table of Demons” to the Mass, seeing they plainly behold in the erection and arrangement of it the tricks, engines, and troops of devils all combined . . . I have long been maintaining on the strongest grounds that Christian men ought not even to be present at it! 

. . . will you represent the Supper under the image of a diabolical Mass? Will you persuade us that in an act in which you ignominiously travesty the death of the Lord, you observe his Supper, in which he distinctly exhorts us to shew forth his death?

From Reply to Sadoleto (ibid., p. 74):

. . . We are indignant, that in the room of the sacred Supper has been substituted a sacrifice, by which the death of Christ is emptied of its virtues . . . in all these points, the ancient Church is clearly on our side, and opposes you, not less than we ourselves do.

From: Institutes of the Christian Religion

(1559 edition; translated by Henry Beveridge, 1845)

Scarcely can we hold any meeting with them without polluting ourselves with open idolatry. Their principal bond of communion is undoubtedly in the Mass, which we abominate as the greatest sacrilege. (IV, 2, 9)

From: Institutes of the Christian Religion:

(1559 ed., translation of Ford L. Battles; edited by John T. McNeill;, Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 2 volumes, 1960)

The height of frightful abomination was when the devil . . . blinded nearly the whole world with a most pestilential error – the belief that the Mass is a sacrifice . . . It is most clearly proved by the Word of God that this Mass . . . inflicts signal dishonor upon Christ, buries and oppresses his cross, consigns his death to oblivion, takes away the benefit which came to us from it . . .

Let us therefore show . . . that in it an unbearable blasphemy and dishonor is inflicted upon Christ . . . they not only deprive Christ of his honor, and snatch from him the prerogative of that eternal priesthood, but try to cast him down from the right hand of his Father . . .

Another power of the Mass was set forth: that it suppresses and buries the cross and Passion of Christ. This is indeed very certain: that the cross of Christ is overthrown as soon as the altar is set up . . . 

This perversity was unknown to the purer Church . . . It is very certain that the whole of antiquity is against them . . . Augustine himself in many passages interprets it as nothing but a sacrifice of praise . . . Chrysostom also speaks in the same sense . . .

But I observe that the ancient writers also misinterpreted this memorial . . . because their Supper displayed some appearance of repeated or at least renewed sacrifice . . . I cannot bring myself to condemn them for any impiety; still, I think they cannot be excused for having sinned somewhat in acting as they did. For they have followed the Jewish manner of sacrificing more closely than either Christ had ordained or the nature of the gospel allowed . . .

What remains but that the blind may see, the deaf hear, and even children understand this abomination of the Mass? . . . it . . . has so stricken them with drowsiness and dizziness, that, more stupid than brute beasts, they have steered the whole vessel of their salvation into this one deadly whirlpool. Surely, Satan never prepared a stronger engine to besiege and capture Christ’s Kingdom . . . they so defile themselves in spiritual fornication, the most abominable of all . . . The Mass . . . from root to top, swarms with every sort of impiety, blasphemy, idolatry, and sacrilege. (IV, 18, 1-3,9-11,18; from vol. II, pp. 1429-1431, 1437, 1439-1440, 1445-1446)

* * * * *

Important Protestant Church Historians Differ Radically From Calvin (and Kevin Johnson) Regarding the History of Transubstantiation, Adoration, and the Sacrifice of the Mass:

Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, vol. 3, A.D. 311-600, rev. 5th ed., Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, rep. 1974, orig, 1910, 492-495 [see further primary documentation by visiting the link provided]:

The doctrine of the sacrament of the Eucharist was not a subject of theological controversy and ecclesiastical action till the time of Paschasius Radbert, in the ninth century . . . In general, this period, . . . was already very strongly inclined toward the doctrine of transubstantiation, and toward the Greek and Roman sacrifice of the mass, which are inseparable in so far as a real sacrifice requires the real presence of the victim. But the kind and mode of this presence are not yet particularly defined, and admit very different views: Christ may be conceived as really present either in and with the elements (consubstantiation, impanation), or under the illusive appearance of the changed elements (transubstantiation), or only dynamically and spiritually.

. . . I. The realistic and mystic view is represented by several fathers and the early liturgies, whose testimony we shall further cite below. They speak in enthusiastic and extravagant terms of the sacrament and sacrifice of the altar. They teach a real presence of the body and blood of Christ, which is included in the very idea of a real sacrifice, and they see in the mystical union of it with the sensible elements a sort of repetition of the incarnation of the Logos. With the act of consecration a change accordingly takes place in the elements, whereby they become vehicles and organs of the life of Christ, although by no means necessarily changed into another substance. To denote this change very strong expressions are  used, like metabolhvmetabavlleinmetabavllesqaimetastoiceiou’sqaimetapoiei’sqaimutatiotranslatiotransfiguratiotransformatio; illustrated by the miraculous transformation of water into wine, the assimilation of food, and the pervasive power of leaven.

Cyril of Jerusalem goes farther in this direction than any of the fathers. He plainly teaches some sort of supernatural connection between the body of Christ and the elements, though not necessarily a transubstantiation of the latter. Let us hear the principal passages. “Then follows,” he says in describing the celebration of the Eucharist, “the invocation of God, for the sending of his Spirit to make the bread the body of Christ, the wine the blood of Christ. For what the Holy Ghost touches is sanctified and transformed.” “Under the type of the bread is given to thee the body, under the type of the wine is given to thee the blood, that thou mayest be a partaker of the body and blood of Christ, and be of one body and blood with him.” “After the invocation of the Holy Ghost the bread of the Eucharist is no longer bread, but the body of Christ.” “Consider, therefore, the bread and the wine not as empty elements, for they are, according to the declaration of the Lord, the body and blood of Christ.” In support of this change Cyril refers at one time to the wedding feast at Cana, which indicates, the Roman theory of change of substance; but at another to the consecration of the chrism, wherein the substance is unchanged. He was not clear and consistent with himself. His opinion probably was, that the eucharistic elements lost by consecration not so much their earthly substance, as their earthly purpose.

Gregory of Nyssa, though in general a very faithful disciple of the spiritualistic Origen, is on this point entirely realistic. He calls the Eucharist a food of immortality, and speaks of a miraculous transformation of the nature of the elements into the glorified body of Christ by virtue of the priestly blessing . . .

Of the Latin fathers, Hilary, Ambrose, and Gaudentius († 410) come nearest to the later dogma of transubstantiation. The latter says: “The Creator and Lord of nature, who produces bread from the earth, prepares out of bread his own body, makes of wine his own blood.”

Right after this, Schaff tries his hardest to minimize all instances which strongly suggest transubstantiation (“closely as these and similar expressions verge upon the Roman doctrine of transubstantiation, they seem to contain at most a dynamic, not a substantial, change of the elements into the body and the blood of Christ”), but his scholarly fairness compels him to acknowledge that this thought was present in the Fathers. The evidence is too strong for him to deny it. Thus he is already clashing with Calvin’s historical account.

Likewise (unable to wholly hide his polemical partisanship), he minimizes adoration, but is honest enough to present instances of this teaching from four very prominent Fathers (pp. 501-502):

As to the adoration of the consecrated elements: This follows with logical necessity from the doctrine of transubstantiation, and is the sure touchstone of it . . . Chrysostom says: “The wise men adored Christ in the manger; we see him not in the manger, but on the altar, and should pay him still greater homage.” Theodoret, in the passage already cited, likewise uses the term proskuvnei’n [Greek for “worship”], but at the same time expressly asserts the continuance of the substance of the elements. Ambrose speaks once of the flesh of Christ “which we to-day adore in the mysteries,” and Augustine, of an adoration preceding the participation of the flesh of Christ.

So both transubstantiation and adoration are clearly present among the Fathers, even according to a prominent Protestant historian who completely disagrees personally with these doctrines. Calvin is simply in error. Schaff then takes up the subject of the Sacrifice of the Mass in his next section (§ 96. “The Sacrifice of the Eucharist”), and we find no absence there, either, contra Calvin’s dogmatic pontifications (pp. 503-508, 510):

The Catholic church, both Greek and Latin, sees in the Eucharist not only a sacramentum, in which God communicates a grace to believers, but at the same time, and in fact mainly, a sacrificium, in which believers really offer to God that which is represented by the sensible elements. For this view also the church fathers laid the foundation, and it must be conceded they stand in general far more on the Greek and Roman Catholic than on the Protestant side of this question. 

. . . In this view certainly, in a deep symbolical and ethical sense, Christ is offered to God the Father in every believing prayer, and above all in the holy Supper; i.e. as the sole ground of our reconciliation and acceptance . . .

But this idea in process of time became adulterated with foreign elements, and transformed into the Graeco-Roman doctrine of the sacrifice of the mass. According to this doctrine the Eucharist is an unbloody repetition of the atoning sacrifice of Christ by the priesthood for the salvation of the living and the dead; so that the body of Christ is truly and literally offered every day and every hour, and upon innumerable altars at the same time. The term mass, which properly denoted the dismissal of the congregation (missio, dismissio) at the close of the general public worship, became, after the end of the fourth century, the name for the worship of the faithful, which consisted in the celebration of the eucharistic sacrifice and the communion.

. . . We pass now to the more particular history. The ante-Nicene fathers uniformly conceived the Eucharist as a thank-offering of the church; the congregation offering the consecrated elements of bread and wine, and in them itself, to God. This view is in itself perfectly innocent, but readily leads to the doctrine of the sacrifice of the mass, as soon as the elements become identified with the body and blood of Christ, and the presence of the body comes to be materialistically taken. The germs of the Roman doctrine appear in Cyprian about the middle of the third century, in connection with his high-churchly doctrine of the clerical priesthood. Sacerdotium and sacrificium are with him correlative ideas,

. . . The doctrine of the sacrifice of the mass is much further developed in the Nicene and post-Nicene fathers, though amidst many obscurities and rhetorical extravagances, and with much wavering between symbolical and grossly realistic conceptions, until in all essential points it is brought to its settlement by Gregory the Great at the close of the sixth century.

. . . 2. It is not a new sacrifice added to that of the cross, but a daily, unbloody repetition and perpetual application of that one only sacrifice. Augustine represents it, on the one hand, as a sacramentum memoriae, a symbolical commemoration of the sacrificial death of Christ; to which of course there is no objection. But, on the other hand, he calls the celebration of the communion verissimum sacrificium of the body of Christ. The church, he says, offers (immolat) to God the sacrifice of thanks in the body of Christ, from the days of the apostles through the sure succession of the bishops down to our time. But the church at the same time offers, with Christ, herself, as the body of Christ, to God. As all are one body, so also all are together the same sacrifice. According to Chrysostom the same Christ, and the whole Christ, is everywhere offered. It is not a different sacrifice from that which the High Priest formerly offered, but we offer always the same sacrifice, or rather, we perform a memorial of this sacrifice. This last clause would decidedly favor a symbolical conception, if Chrysostom in other places had not used such strong expressions as this: “When thou seest the Lord slain, and lying there, and the priest standing at the sacrifice,” or: “Christ lies slain upon the altar.” 

3. The sacrifice is the anti-type of the Mosaic sacrifice, and is related to it as substance to typical shadows. It is also especially foreshadowed by Melchizedek’s unbloody offering of bread and wine. The sacrifice of Melchizedek is therefore made of great account by Hilary, Jerome, Augustine, Chrysostom, and other church fathers, on the strength of the well-known parallel in the seventh chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews.

. . . Cyril of Jerusalem, in his fifth and last mystagogic Catechesis, which is devoted to the consideration of the eucharistic sacrifice and the liturgical service of God, gives the following description of the eucharistic intercessions for the departed:

When the spiritual sacrifice, the unbloody service of God, is performed, we pray to God over this atoning sacrifice for the universal peace of the church, for the welfare of the world, for the emperor, for soldiers and prisoners, for the sick and afflicted, for all the poor and needy. Then we commemorate also those who sleep, the patriarchs, prophets, apostles, martyrs, that God through their prayers and their intercessions may receive our prayer; and in general we pray for all who have gone from us, since we believe that it is of the greatest help to those souls for whom the prayer is offered, while the holy sacrifice, exciting a holy awe, lies before us.

This is clearly an approach to the later idea of purgatory in the Latin church. Even St. Augustine, with Tertullian, teaches plainly, as an old tradition, that the eucharistic sacrifice, the intercessions or suffragia and alms, of the living are of benefit to the departed believers, so that the Lord deals more mercifully with them than their sins deserve.

From: F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone, editors, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, Oxford Univ. Press, 2nd edition, 1983, pp.476, 1221:

It was also widely held from the first that the Eucharist is in some sense a sacrifice, though here again definition was gradual . . . In early post-NT times the constant repudiation of carnal sacrifice and emphasis on life and prayer at Christian worship did not hinder the Eucharist from being described as a sacrifice from the first . . . 

From early times the Eucharistic offering was called a sacrifice in virtue of its immediate relation to the sacrifice of Christ.

From: Jaroslav Pelikan, The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600), Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1971, 146-147:

By the date of the Didache [anywhere from about 60 to 160, depending on the scholar]. . . the application of the term ‘sacrifice’ to the Eucharist seems to have been quite natural, together with the identification of the Christian Eucharist as the ‘pure offering’ commanded in Malachi 1:11 . . .

The Christian liturgies were already using similar language about the offering of the prayers, the gifts, and the lives of the worshipers, and probably also about the offering of the sacrifice of the Mass, so that the sacrificial interpretation of the death of Christ never lacked a liturgical frame of reference . . .

St. Cyril of Jerusalem [c.315-386] in Particular

From: J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, San Francisco: Harper, revised edition, 1978, 441, 443-444:

Even the pioneer of the conversion doctrine, Cyril of Jerusalem, is careful to indicate that the elements remain bread and wine to sensible perception, and to call them ‘the antitype’ of Christ’s body and blood: ‘the body is given to you in the figure of bread, and the blood is given to you in the figure of wine’.  (Cat. 22, 9; 23, 20; 22, 3)

. . . He uses the verb ‘change’ or ‘convert’, pointing out that, since Christ transformed water into wine, which after all is akin to blood, at Cana, there can be no reason to doubt a similar miracle on the more august occasion of the eucharistic banquet. (Cat., 22, 2)

Chrysostom exploits the materialist implications of the conversion theory to the full . . . Thus the elements have undergone a change, and Chrysostom describes them as being refashioned or transformed. In the fifth century conversionist views were taken for granted by Alexandrians and Antiochenes alike. According to Cyril . . . the visible objects are not types or symbols . . . but have been transformed through God’s ineffable power into His body and blood. Elsewhere he remarks that God ‘infuses life-giving power into the oblations and transmutes them into the virtue of His own flesh.’ (Chrysostom: In prod. Iud. hom. I, 6; in Matt. hom. 82, 5; Cyril: In Matt. 26,27; In Luc. 22, 19)

Now I shall cite St. Cyril’s Catechetical Lectures:

7. Moreover, the things which are hung up at idol festivals , either meat or bread, or other such things polluted by the invocation of the unclean spirits, are reckoned in the pomp of the devil. For as the Bread and Wine of the Eucharist before the invocation of the Holy and Adorable Trinity were simple bread and wine, while after the invocation the Bread becomes the Body of Christ, and the Wine the Blood of Christ, so in like manner such meats belonging to the pomp of Satan, though in their own nature simple, become profane by the invocation of the evil spirit. (Lecture 19, 7)

3. Wherefore with full assurance let us partake as of the Body and Blood of Christ: for in the figure of Bread is given to thee His Body, and in the figure of Wine His Blood; that thou by partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ, mayest be made of the same body and the same blood with Him. For thus we come to bear Christ in us, because His Body and Blood are distributed through our members; thus it is that, according to the blessed Peter, we became partakers of the divine nature.

6. Consider therefore the Bread and the Wine not as bare elements, for they are, according to the Lord’s declaration, the Body and Blood of Christ; for even though sense suggests this to thee, yet let faith establish thee. Judge not the matter from the taste, but from faith be fully assured without misgiving, that the Body and Blood of Christ have been vouch-safed to thee.

9. Having learn these things, and been fully assured that the seeming bread is not bread, though sensible to taste, but the Body of Christ; and that the seeming wine is not wine, though the taste will have it so, but the Blood of Christ; . . . (Lecture 22: 3, 6, 9)

7. Then having sanctified ourselves by these spiritual Hymns, we beseech the merciful God to send forth His Holy Spirit upon the gifts lying before Him; that He may make the Bread the Body of Christ, and the Wine the Blood of Christ ; for whatsoever the Holy Ghost has touched, is surely sanctified and changed.

8. Then, after the spiritual sacrifice, the bloodless service, is completed, over that sacrifice of propitiation we entreat God for the common peace of the Churches, for the welfare of the world ; for kings; for soldiers and allies; for the sick; for the afflicted; and, in a word, for all who stand in need of succour we all pray and offer this sacrifice. (Lecture 23: 7-8)

We see, then, that at all points, the beliefs of John Calvin and Kevin Johnson about the Eucharist, as held by the Fathers and St. Cyril of Jerusalem, vis-a-vis Calvin’s view, have been strongly challenged (and I dare say, refuted). If these beliefs are so monstrous as is made out by Calvin, then the Church Fathers en masse are guilty of them just as modern-day Catholics are, and it is absurd to contend that present-day Reformed Protestants (following Calvin) are merely continuing the heritage of the early Church in this regard and others, while Catholics have supposedly departed from it. The exact opposite is true, and I have proven it by citing exclusively Protestant sources and primary patristic sources.

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