Thursday, January 31, 2008

For a good friend…forgiveness of post-baptismal sin/s in the early Church.


A frequent poster here at Articuli Fidei (Rory) and myself were recently having a conversation concerning the development of doctrine and the boundaries that each of us would be willing to accept for discerning between legitimate and illegitimate development. For instance, I said I would be very uncomfortable embracing infant baptism as a legitimate development if the apostles did not baptize infants. I was then asked if I knew of any significant changes in Church doctrine and/or practice which might pose a similar ‘problem’ and mentioned the forgiveness of post-baptismal sin in the early Church. Rory seemed a bit skeptical as I rattled off from memory my take on this particular development, so I have decided to create a brief post outlining some of the specifics.

For the sake of brevity (and a certain laziness on my part), I am going to limit all of the following quotes from one source: Kenan B. Osborne’s (O.F.M.) Reconciliation & Justification – The Sacrament and Its Theology (Paulist Press – 1990).

In this chapter [“In The Patristic Period”] we will consider the emergence of a ritual of reconciliation as we find it documented in the pages of church history. Remarkably, it is not until the middle of the second century that there is a clear indication in the available data of such a ritual. Nonetheless, even from the middle of the second century onward there are, at first, only scattered historical data which indicate the way in which the early patristic church through a ritual isolated, repelled and negated sin. At the height of the patristic period, i.e. in the fifth and sixth centuries, one finds a clearer picture of both the theology and of the liturgy of reconciliation in this period of church history.

One must keep in mind that in the history of this sacrament there has not been an organic development. One generation’s practice did not, at times, lead smoothly into the next generation’s practice. From the patristic period to the twentieth century, there have been several “official” positions of the church as regards the ritual of this sacrament
. (Pages 52, 53.)

The post-apostolic age up to Hermas (c. 140) provides no identifiable references to any ritualized practice of reconciliation…E. Bourque, among many others, notes that in this sub-apostolic period there was a general tendency toward rigorism (enkratism), so that, once baptized, the Christian was seen as someone who ought never to sin again. Post-baptismal sin was not something which Christians of that era took for granted. (Page 53.)

It was Hermas (c. 140), a lay person apparently connected with the church at Rome, who first clearly mentions the possibility of a penitential rite for serious sins committed after baptism. Whether he had initiated something hitherto unknown in the church, or whether he is propagating something that was already present, is controverted. Nonetheless, it is safe to say that in Hermas’ writings we see the following: a.) After baptism there is one and only one possibility for reconciliation with the church b.) This reconciliation is ecclesial and has a public quality about it…Hermas’ writings affect the discipline of the church for centuries. In the west, Jerome, Ambrose, Augustine, Pacian, Leo, and Gregory the Great, to name only a few, clearly attest to the unrepeatability of penance. In the east, the Alexandrians, Clement and Origen, echo this discipline of unrepeatability…It is only through the influence of the Celtic approach to penance, in the early middle ages, that there is a change in this discipline.

One should also note that in both east and west, during the entire patristic period, there was (a) no “confession of devotion” as we find it in later ages, (b) no private confession, such as that of a later age, and (c) no confession of venial sin.
(Pages 53, 54.)

In spite of some unclarity in the writings of Hermas, we can say that a public form of reconciliation, which could be received only once in a lifetime, became the “canon law” of the entire church, both east and west, for the next nine centuries. (Page 55.)


The rest of the chapter (pages 55- 83) is devoted to citations (and commentary) from the writings of various Church Fathers in support of the above claims. There is also a brief discussion concerning the tria capitalia, the sins of apostasy, adultery, and murder, which some Fathers excluded from the list of sins that the one time (only) rite of reconciliation could forgive, and as such, treated these three as “unforgivable” (post-baptismal) sins.


Let the comments begin…


Grace and peace,

David

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi Dave...I appear to have an easier week coming and will be thinking about your questions. Maybe I won't have to wait for Saturday.

Do your authors have any comments on Sozomen's account which claims a continual practice where "God has decreed that pardon should be extended to the penitent, even after many transgressions."? Book 7, ch. 16

He says further that, "The Roman priests have carefully observed this custom from the beginning to the present time."

David Waltz said...

Hello Rory,

As you can probably discern, I have been ignoring my blog for a few days, so forgive my tardiness in responding to your last post.

Your quote from Sozomen, is indeed interesting, but one must keep in mind that of the three great Church historians of 5th century (Sozomen, Socrates, and Theodoret), he is the least accurate (both historically and theologically speaking). Your quote is no exception; note what Socrates penned concerning the same situation:

>>At this time it was deemed requisite to abolish the office of those presbyters in the churches who had charge of the penitences: this was done on the following account. When the Novatians separated themselves from the Church because they would not communicate with those who had lapsed during the persecution under Decius, the bishops added to the ecclesiastical canon a presbyter of penitence in order that those who had sinned after baptism might confess their sins in the presence of the presbyter thus appointed. And this mode of discipline is still maintained among other heretical institutions by all the rest of the sects; the Homoousians only, together with the Novatians who hold the same doctrinal views, have abandoned it. The latter indeed would never admit of its establishment: and the Homoousians who are now in possession of the churches, after retaining this function for a considerable period, abrogated it in the time of Nectarius, in consequence of an family coming to the penitentiary, made a general confession of those sins she had committed since her baptism: and the presbyter enjoined fasting and prayer continually, that together with the acknowledgment of error, she might have to show works also meet for repentance. Some time after this, the same lady again presented herself, and confessed that she had been guilty of another crime, a deacon of the church having slept with her. When this was proved the deacon was ejected from the church: but the because the deed had brought scandal and degradation upon the Church. When in consequence of this, ecclesiastics were subjected to taunting and reproach, Eudaemon a presbyter of the church, by birth an Alexandrian, persuaded Nectarius the bishop to abolish the office of penitentiary presbyter, and to leave every one to his own conscience with regard to the participation of the sacred mysteries: for thus only, in his judgment, could the Church be I have often remarked, I have spared no pains to procure an authentic account of affairs from those who were best acquainted with them, and to scrutinize every report, lest I should advance Eudaemon, when he first related the circumstance, was this: ‘Whether, O presbyter, your away the means of rebuking one another’s faults, and prevents our acting upon that precept of them.”’ Concerning this affair let this suffice.>> (Ecclesiastical History, 5.19)


Note the section I bolded; I think it pretty much, on its own, explains the situation, and why this particular event held little sway over the great theologians cited in my opening post.

Grace and peace,

David

Anonymous said...

Hi Dave,

John 20:24 is the last of three separate instances where our Lord gradually shed more and more light on the institution of the sacrament of confession. The first time was after Peter declared Jesus to be the Christ, when Jesus merely made Peter alone aware that the Rock upon which the Church would be built would have a power of "binding and loosing" (Mt. 16:18). The second time was to make all of the disciples aware that those who would not hear the judgment of the Church, on occasions when there was a public examination of an offense, should be excluded from fellowship. It was then that He informed them (probably the Eleven) that they had the power of "binding and loosing" as well. This time it seems to indicate the authority to exclude the faithful who had committed a serious offense from fellowship "if he will not hear the church" (Mt. 18:18). The last reference relating to the authority to "bind and loose" is given the evening of Our Lord's Resurrection, and is more explicit: "Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained."

The theory I offer in response to your concern regarding the sporadic and diverse uses of the sacrament of confession in the early centuries will probably come as no surprise to you. It is historically clear that just as Jesus gradually revealed the doctrine to the Apostles, that the Church gradually perfected the practice of the sacrament instituted for the remission of post-baptismal sins. As you know, I have never been among those who imagine that the Apostles understood the import of the revelations with which they were entrusted. The inspired Scriptures are clearly not an attempt at systematization or catechesis. They are documents intended to be poured over lovingly and prayerfully, for one's own spiritual guidance and consolation, and for theology with the insights of the same officers to whom was transferred the power to "bind and loose". In Eph. 4, "One Lord, one faith, one baptism," is how St. Paul describes the results when one looks to the Church which beginning with the Apostles, continues with prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. The Ethiopian eunuch failing to understand the protogospel in Is. 53 (Ac. 8), proclaiming his inability to understand alone, compels us to realize that one must understand doctrine in unity with one Church. In addition to that is the warning against the folly of constructing a system of theology apart from identification with the unity which is the theme of Eph. 4, "That henceforth we be no more children tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine by the wickedness of men, by cunning craftiness, by which they lie in wait to deceive."

This truck driver is proposing the humility of the Ethiopian eunuch for every truth seeker. I am not going to say that the Scriptures and Tradition point unambiguously to a full understanding and continuous practice of the sacrament of confession as we find it today. I am going to say that I can identify the Church of which St. Paul speaks. It isn't a church which recommends that everyone should read the Bible to decide what they believe doctrinally. We have a history of wary encouragement and sometimes discouragement of the practice because of the danger that one can easily imagine himself to be personally and individually enlightened about a doctrine. If doctrine can be best obtained by one's reading the Scriptures alone, why do the Scriptures recommend teachers to us? If the Holy Spirit enlightens individuals rather than a community, perhaps the individual rather than the community should decide what books are inspired Scripture? To the best of my knowledge, the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches are the only ones that could possibly qualify as providing the necessary visible unity of apostles, prophets and teachers that St. Paul tells us to identify if we would avoid doctrinal chaos in our lives. That is why my immediate response to the difficulty you presented was to close my mind, and proceed with faith in the One Visible Church.

Following is what I have discovered from Tradition about the forgiveness of post-baptismal sins, mostly with the help of Ludwig Ott's helpful volume, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma. I am convinced from his very fair and balanced reporting that he could not have imagined anything historically different from what made your "Catholic" author say: "One must keep in mind that in the history of this sacrament there has not been an organic development. One generation’s practice did not, at times, lead smoothly into the next generation’s practice. From the patristic period to the twentieth century, there have been several “official” positions of the church as regards the ritual of this sacrament." What qualifies this so-called son of St. Francis to undertake to declare that the sacrament of confession as we have it now cannot be traced organically to the revelation of Christ to the Apostles? Why is he still masquerading as a Catholic that I should trust him? Yes, that was ad hominem. This religious knows the implications of "there has not been an organic development". O.F.M. or not, he is what we are warned to flee, wolves in sheep's clothing who subtly lie in wait.

I think most people, if they live long enough, believe what they want to believe. We will what we want to believe. That is why the angels did not pronounce peace to men of good intellect, but to men of good will. My will is to identify myself with the One church that will be a refuge against the winds of heresy. I am not dissatisfied with the results even though I suspect neither St. Peter nor any other apostle ever heard a private confession.

-----------------------------------

The sparse testimony of the first two centuries does not confirm or deny the report you swept away by Sozomen that the Roman priests always kept the practice of confession from a certain period. But I concede that you are probably correct. Ott doesn't cite him. He begins with the Didache: "Assemble on the Lord's day, break bread and give thanks, having previously confessed your sins, so that your oblation may be a clean one." (14:1) His modest observation is that in this work which some authors date as early as 80 AD, we see the importance of public general confession of sins to the church, very similar to our modern confiteor (I confess to almighty God and to you my brothers and sisters that I have sinned...) after which the priest absolves the penitents. "In the church thou shalt acknowledge thy transgressions..." (4:14). If there can be seen nothing organically connected in this to the authority of the church to "bind and loose", where do you find organic development of the belief that Christians need not confess their sins to anyone but God alone in their prayer closets?

The next instance is from St. Clement of Rome who in closing his admonitions to the Corinthians who had erred tells them "to be subject to the presbyters and to accept discipline to penance, bending the knee of the heart" (57:1). Ott comments, "As the penance is imposed by the presbyters it appears that an ecclesiastical penance is meant." He is not claiming that this proves auricular confession in the first century. But we certainly seem to see a very early tradition of the exercise of ecclesiastical authority imposing discipline upon a penitent. What is organically developing here? Is there another witness from this period who can contest the authority of the Corinthian priests which St. Clement is recommending? Is this already a corruption of the primitive authority of the Church to "forgive and retain sins"? To one who unabashedly wills to retain his Catholic faith, it seems like a step forward from John 21:24 toward what Catholics have now. Protestants wrestle with this Scripture and acknowledging no visible ecclesiastical authority to "bind and loose", are almost unanimously at a loss for a good reason why Jesus would use such expressions.

St. Ignatius of Antioch also connects the forgiveness of post-baptismal sins with the church: "The Lord forgives those who do penance when they return to unity with God and to the communion with the bishop." Here we are finding that ordinarily, the baptized one who appeals to the Lord alone is not forgiven if he fails in communion with the bishop. As Ott says without any faith-promoting embellishment: "The forgiveness of sins by the Lord presupposes the performance of the penance and and the reconciliation with the Church." So far, the three earliest post apostolic witnesses we have, the Didache, St. Clement of Rome, and St. Ignatius of Antioch all three point to confession of sins associated with the Church, implying that in their day at least, the Church was continually moving forward in understanding the ordinary necessity of ecclesiatical authority for the remission of post-baptismal sins. Who do you think understood John 21:24 better? The Apostles on the evening of the Resurrection, or Ignatius of Antioch? I vote St. Ignatius. To me, that is organic development.

I could continue with quotes form Sts. Dionysius and Irenaeus. Ott says that they reported that apostates and adulterers were reconciled after public confession and penance. Who do we think assigned them penance? Themselves? The Emperor? I suggest it was probably the priests, which would make for a valid sacrament. It wasn't until the third century rigorism, that we see the Church beset with some of the difficulties of public penance, it being complicated by the divisive Novationist heresy. Ott provides some quotes from Tertullian when Catholic and another when Montanist, Pope St. Callistus, St. Clement of Alexandria, and Origen to show that the exclusion of some sins from the category of those the Church could forgive was not at all the norm in the first half of the third century on p. 421. The entire pertinent section is pp.419-421. We know that at least by the time of Origen, the presbyters had begun to hear confessions privately, as Ott quotes him on p. 432: "Look carefully around when thou art to confess thy sins. Test carefully the doctor to whom thou art to explain the cause of they disease...if he recognizes that thy disease is of such a nature that it should be confessed in the sight of the whole church..." (Homily on Ps. 37, 2:6). Obviously this was a private confession. Ott also records on p. 432 that Pope Leo the Great (died 461) ruled that private confession was sufficient: "it is enough to reveal the guilt of the conscience to the priest alone in secret confession." (Denz. 145)

I suppose your Franciscan sees the introduction of rigorism, and the authority of the church to "bind and loose" publicly during the third century persecutions as a disqualification of its organic development. Surely the Church was afflicted with false ideas (Novationist heresy) which frowned on mercy toward those who had wavered by those who did not. But this is no argument against the organic development in understanding of the authority Christ gave to the Church. Since when is public confession and penance an invalidation of the Sacrament? Jesus did not reveal that the Church only had authority to operate in one particular way, that being auricular confession which recognizes that God forgives murder, adultery, and apostasy. He gave the Church a blank check! In God's providence, the elect are ordinarily and sacramentally forgiven in times of rigorism or laxity, whether sins are heard publicly or privately. And of course God's grace has never been limited to the sacraments. It obviously wasn't until later that the Church, after much reflection and experience, prudently (in my opinion) moved toward what we now have, although another era may decide to make different arrangements for using this authority.

Ott concludes on p. 421, "From the testimonies cited it is evident that antiquity bears witness to the existence of an unlimited power to forgive sins conferred by Christ on His Church." I do not know what churches besides the Orthodox and Catholic could be said to have authentically developed John 21:24. I suppose you could argue that Jesus only gave this authority to the Apostles and then it ended. But why? Wouldn't subsequent generations of sinners be in as much need of such an authority as would those who were so privileged as to meet an Apostle? And even if someone thinks the Church Fathers might have taken too much time in arriving at a more nuanced Catholic teaching, they slaughtered the modern Evangelical doctrine which doesn't permit that the Church has authority to forgive anything, nevermind adultery, murder, and apsotasy. So what is it? Catholic and Orthodox? Protestant? Restoration? From my best way of understanding John 21:24, together with the doctrinal chaos predictably inherent to all of Protestantism per Ep. 4:14, I continue to say with John Henry Newman, "Whatever history teaches...to be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant." As for Restoration? If this kind of nitpicky "corruption" describes apostasy, show me the Restoration movement of four hundred years that couldn't be similarly critiqued.

I believe the Apostles Creed. I believe the Nicene Creed. I believe the miracles and appearances of our Lord, our Lady, and the Angels to many wonderful saints who worked miracles and lived heroic lives while closing their minds to skepticism and fully opening their hearts to the discipline and doctrine of the Catholic Church. I think Blessed Mary gave the Rosary to St. Dominic. I believe very strongly that she appeared to Juan Diego and gave him the Castilian roses. How can I help but believe the physical evidence of 70,000 witnesses to stories prophetically given by Mary to three Portuguese peasant children who outlined the course of world history dating from the Russian Revolution to this day?

It is my opinion that we live in an era especially susceptible to the plague of misinformation which has always followed the truth. Now that we have the internet, one could spend a lifetime, laboring day and night, sorting through and cataloguing clever error after error, without finishing and finding joy. There has to be an easier path to God's truth. There has to be someone we can trust. Like the Ethiopian said, "How can I (understand what I read) unless some man should guide me." I am suggesting that there is no safer guide for the Ethiopian and ourselves than to humbly commit ourselves intellectually and devotionally to that community of happy souls who transcend the ridiculous fads and fancies of various ages and recommend for our belief, the teachings and practices of the Catholic Church. I wouldn't be saying this if I didn't know the lives of St. Alphonsus Liguori, the Cure of Ars, Padre Pio, St Francis de Sales, St. Teresa of Avila, and so many others whose lives are so eminently admirable and whose teaching is so wonderfully unanimous with that of the Catholic Church.

Our modern age practically worships books. If words are typeset and bound, they are worthy of preservation forever. Only the cowards censor themselves or others. Whatever. Against the zeitgeist (spirit of the age) I close with a quote from His Holiness Pope Gregory XVI, the Encylical Mirari Vos (On Liberalism), 16: "The Church has always taken action to destroy the plague of bad books. This was true even in apostolic times, for we read that the Apostles themselves burned a large number of books (Acts 19:19)." He then cites the Fifth Lateran Council, Pope Leo X, the Council of Trent, and Pope Clement XIII to show that "it is evident that this Holy See has always striven, throughout the ages, to condemn and to remove suspect and harmful books. The teaching of those who reject this censure of books as too heavy and onerous a burden causes immense harm to the Catholic people and this See." We need to bring back the Index!

Yours Very Truly,

Roars

Interlocutor said...

David,
A few things - apologies if it deviates too much from the topic.

"I would be very uncomfortable embracing infant baptism as a legitimate development if the apostles did not baptize infants."
Do you extend this line of reasoning to other RC dogmas (Purgatory/indulgences, Assumption/IC, PI, transubstantiation/eucharistic adoration, etc.)? I'm guessing you would say it is not necessary for the NT writers to have full-orbed understanding of these (indeed even traces of it) as most of the RC hermeneutic approach would not strictly be limited to GHM/authorial intent but sensus plenoir/multiple meaning interpretation that the authors might not have grasped themselves. I was just surprised by your comment seeking explicit Apostolic support in validating genuine development; it seems its more of a "sola ecclesia" type approach where you have faith the Church is the guardian of truth and hence, what she says is valid development/dogma is indeed valid development/dogma.

Given this post is touching DoD - I'm curious as to how this impacts your view of heresy/the gospel. For instance, you wrote an essay in which one of the main points was pointing out that Subordinationism was pre-Nicene orthodoxy held in one form or another by every father before Athanasius (http://www.fairlds.org/Mormonism_201/m20100b.html).
So, is your view that before Nicea ironed out the Trinity, one could be a Christian without subscribing to it, but then after Nicea, it changed things so now you must subscribe to Nicea to be a Christian? Before Nicea, the Trinity wasn't (explicitly) part of the Gospel, but afterwards it is? This is also getting to a comment you post frequently at Protestant boards about sola fide, asking where was the gospel for 1600 years if sola fide is integral to the gospel. Protestants believe in DoD as well, so it seems a bit of a double standard to claim we have a problem claiming sola fide as part of the gospel when you as an RC claim dogmas that were virtually unheard of or had a wide variety of views in much of the patristic period are also now part of the Gospel (not just say Mariological or ecclesiological ones, but including soteriological ones such as original sin, Western view of the atonement). Thanks.

David Waltz said...

Hello Rory,

Thanks for responding; and what a post! Given the length, I think it best to address one topic at a time. First off, I would like to discuss the quote from St. Ignatius: “The Lord forgives those who do penance when they return to unity with God and to the communion with the bishop.” This is from his epistle to the Philadelphians (8.1). I shall put the quote in its greater context:

“For though some would have deceived me according to the flesh, yet the Spirit, as being from God, is not deceived. For it knows both whence it comes and whither it goes, and detects the secrets [of the heart]. For, when I was among you, I cried, I spoke with a loud voice: Give heed to the bishop, and to the presbytery and deacons. Now, some suspected me of having spoken thus, as knowing beforehand the division caused by some among you. But He is my witness, for whose sake I am in bonds, that I got no intelligence from any man. But the Spirit proclaimed these words: Do nothing without the bishop; keep your bodies as the temples of God; love unity; avoid divisions; be the followers of Jesus Christ, even as He is of His Father.

I therefore did what belonged to me, as a man devoted to unity. For where there is division and wrath, God doth not dwell. To all them that repent, the Lord grants forgiveness, if they turn in penitence to the unity of God, and to communion with the bishop. I trust [as to you] in the grace of Jesus Christ, who shall free you from every bond. And I exhort you to do nothing out of strife, but according to the doctrine of Christ. When I heard some saying, If I do not find it in the ancient Scriptures, I will not believe the Gospel; on my saying to them, It is written, they answered me, That remains to be proved. But to me Jesus Christ is in the place of all that is ancient: His cross, and death, and resurrection, and the faith which is by Him, are undefiled monuments of antiquity; by which I desire, through your prayers, to be justified.” (Philadelphians 7, 8 – ANF 1.83,84.)

IMHO, the context of quote you provided pertains to the issue of authority among those of the church at Philadelphia, and not mortal sin/s. The repentance that Ignatius is calling for is the rejection of division, and a return “to the unity of God, and to communion with the bishop”.

Next, your quote of Ott:

>>Ott concludes on p. 421, “From the testimonies cited it is evident that antiquity bears witness to the existence of an unlimited power to forgive sins conferred by Christ on His Church.”>>

The visible nature of Christ’s Church most definitely means that the authority to receive a repentant sinner back into full communion (i.e. forgiveness) lies within Her bonds. Unfortunately, Ott does not address that the fact that for centuries, such forgiveness and reception was limited to but ONE time.

But, as you well know, I allow a considerable amount of ‘room’ when dealing with the issue of doctrinal development. Yet with this said, I must admit that the Church’s early practice of limiting the forgiveness of post-baptismal sin to but ONCE, carried with it serious repercussions for the faithful. I cannot help but wonder about believers who may have lapsed into sin more than once during those centuries, who lost all hope of salvation because of an incorrect practice.


Grace and peace,

David

David Waltz said...

Hi Interlocutor,

I sincerely appreciate the post you put up last evening. As with Rory’s post, there is a considerable amount of content, so forgive me if I do not adequately address everything you brought up. You wrote:

>>"I would be very uncomfortable embracing infant baptism as a legitimate development if the apostles did not baptize infants."

Do you extend this line of reasoning to other RC dogmas (Purgatory/indulgences, Assumption/IC, PI, transubstantiation/eucharistic adoration, etc.)? I'm guessing you would say it is not necessary for the NT writers to have full-orbed understanding of these (indeed even traces of it) as most of the RC hermeneutic approach would not strictly be limited to GHM/authorial intent but sensus plenoir/multiple meaning interpretation that the authors might not have grasped themselves. I was just surprised by your comment seeking explicit Apostolic support in validating genuine development; it seems its more of a "sola ecclesia" type approach where you have faith the Church is the guardian of truth and hence, what she says is valid development/dogma is indeed valid development/dogma.>>

Me: Before going into a little more depth, I think it is important out the issue of baptism is one that is ‘black or white’—either the apostles baptized infants, or they did not. As such there is no room for doctrinal development over this specific issue. Moving on to the larger issue of doctrinal development, given my belief in the material sufficiency the Scriptures, the balance between the living voice of the Scriptures itself and Church’s authority to interpret them has been THE ISSUE have been trying to wrap my brain (and spirit) around for quite sometime now. Newman’s theory of development seemed to be the best ‘fit’ for one who has a decent grasp of the history of the development of doctrine/theology. Within Newman’s paradigm, the early battles fought and won via the Church’s Ecumenical Councils served as concrete example how of the Holy Spirit ‘worked’ in this process of development. In all honesty, my ultimate acceptance of the doctrine of the Trinity rests in a large part on the decisions that were reached at these early councils. I do not know if such a view qualifies as “a ‘sola ecclesia’ type approach”; but then, with well placed nuances, maybe it does…

>>Given this post is touching DoD - I'm curious as to how this impacts your view of heresy/the gospel. For instance, you wrote an essay in which one of the main points was pointing out that Subordinationism was pre-Nicene orthodoxy held in one form or another by every father before Athanasius (http://www.fairlds.org/Mormonism_201/m20100b.html).
So, is your view that before Nicea ironed out the Trinity, one could be a Christian without subscribing to it, but then after Nicea, it changed things so now you must subscribe to Nicea to be a Christian? Before Nicea, the Trinity wasn't (explicitly) part of the Gospel, but afterwards it is?>>

Me: That has pretty much been my understanding during the last few years.

>>This is also getting to a comment you post frequently at Protestant boards about sola fide, asking where was the gospel for 1600 years if sola fide is integral to the gospel. Protestants believe in DoD as well, so it seems a bit of a double standard to claim we have a problem claiming sola fide as part of the gospel when you as an RC claim dogmas that were virtually unheard of or had a wide variety of views in much of the patristic period are also now part of the Gospel (not just say Mariological or ecclesiological ones, but including soteriological ones such as original sin, Western view of the atonement). Thanks.>>

Me: I think I truly understand your concerns, and believe it is at this point that we now reach the crux of the entire matter: during the epic struggles of the Church throughout history to discern true doctrinal developments from false ones, is there any pattern which unfolds? As I earlier pointed out, the decisions of the early Ecumenical Councils seemed to be an important vehicle by which the Holy Spirit guided the Church to the correct choices. With this in mind, I submit to any Protestant brother/sister in Christ who embraces doctrinal development as a truism, that he/she has/is neglecting/rejecting a very important ingredient of the doctrinal development paradigm. The rejection of the doctrinal decrees of the Council of Trent by the magisterial Reformers marked significant departure from DoD paradigm. To date, I have had major difficulties with that departure. However, if such of view of the DoD paradigm is defective, I am sincerely interested in what you think would be a more consistent option and/or pattern.


Grace and peace,

David

Anonymous said...

Hi again Dave,

I concede the Ignatius quote. Have you anything to concede?

I see that you remain troubled about the early practice of administering
the sacrament of penance only once: "I cannot help but wonder about believers who may have lapsed into sin more than once during those centuries, who lost all hope of salvation because of an incorrect practice."

How do you know that the Church's current discipline regarding the Sacrament of Penance is the "correct practice"? The teaching of the Church is that Christ left the Apostles with the power to forgive all sins repeatedly. (John 20:23) You seem to be assuming that Christ commanded the Apostles to forgive all sins repeatedly. Not so. He gave them the discretion to apply the remedy according to their own wisdom or lack thereof. If He had intended that all sins must be forgiven repeatedly, He would not have said, "Whosesoever sins you retain, they are retained."

Your concern about the discouragement of repeat offenders is not lost upon those Fathers who nevertheless defend the practice of a singular penance. St. Augustine suggests that it should not be granted more frequently, "Lest that medicine, by becoming too common should thereby become less useful to the sick, which now is the more healthful as it is the more respected..." (Letter 153 to Macedonius)

Maybe the practice of singular application even obscured in the minds of some Fathers, the fact that Christ gave the Church a blank check, unlimited power to forgive or retain sins. The fact that you use the word "correct" to describe current practice shows that the practice of multiple application has obscured the doctrine in your mind. The application is a question of prudence, not doctrine. The doctrine is that there is the widest possible range of application according to John 20:23. I'll end briefly tonight with a quote from Canon George D. Smith: "The evidence of the first three centuries shows that heresy doubted the Church's power to forgive sin; Catholic truth maintained this power in its fulness. As Lactantius at the opening of the fourth century wrote" 'That is the true Church, in which there is confession and repentance, which cures effectively the sins and wounds to which carnal weakness is subject.'"---The Teaching of the Catholic Church, Vol. II, Canon George D. Smith, ed. 1956, p. 970, (Lactantius, Divinae Institutiones, iv, 30-36)

You obviously favor the current practice of confession over that which was most common in a thriving early church that ultimately prevailed over pagan Rome. Allow me to ask what church, mosque, synagogue, or stake do you think has from their beginnings been more faithful to John 20:23 and Christ's conferral of His authority to forgive and retain sins than the Catholic Church?

Blessings,

Rory

PS: Big day tomorrow. My trailer is broken and I can't even get out of town until probably ten o'clock so as they say: "I'll see you on the flip side." Heh. Tuesday. I'll probably be thinking about this stuff all day long.

James said...

I think one needs to be careful by assuming that we are going to find every doctrine laid out for us in a nice neat fashion that the Catholic Church teaches in the documents that we have from the early centuries of the Church. It is truly amazing that we have the limited amount of information concerning our faith from these distant eras. The absence of information does not necessarily negate the existence of a practice or doctrine from these times. It means that they either did not see a reason to write about it, or the writings that may have contained such information was not preserved for us here in our age almost 2000 years later. I must suggest a great read on the development of doctrine written by John Henry Cardinal Newman. An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine. Enjoy!

David Waltz said...

Hi James,

So nice to see a new face commenting here at AF; you posted:

>>The absence of information does not necessarily negate the existence of a practice or doctrine from these times. It means that they either did not see a reason to write about it, or the writings that may have contained such information was not preserved for us here in our age almost 2000 years later.>>

Me: I totally agree with the first sentence of your post. However, I would have to add a couple of additional components to your second sentence. First, John Henry Newman in his An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, identifies an important ingredient of his theory: “No doctrine is defined until it is violated” (p. 151 – Univ. Notre Dame, 1989 edition). Another way of stating this principle is that heresy precedes orthodoxy. This principle seems to hold true for any doctrine and/or practice that is not strictly ‘black or white’. My second addition would be the need to identify any ‘clear’ violation of Newman’s seven “notes” of “genuine development/s (pp. 169-425 – ibid.), and/or certain other important principles, like the one I just identified. These very notes and principles are (IMHO) the foundational basis for this particular thread.

>>I must suggest a great read on the development of doctrine written by John Henry Cardinal Newman. An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine.>>

Me: As you probably already sense by now, I have read this work of Newman, as well as dozens of other important books and essays of his, and Johann Adam Möhler’s equally important, though often neglected, Unity in the Church or the Principle of Catholicism (1996 English edition, trans. by Peter C. Erb).


Grace and peace,

David