Saturday, April 12, 2008

Wow…Luther affirmed the perspicuity of the Scriptures!!!


Yesterday, James Swan posted an excerpt from Luther’s Bondage of the Will, which forcefully exhibited his belief in the clarity (perspicuity) of the Scriptures. Such a teaching from the pen of Luther should come as no surprise to anyone who is even remotely cognizant of the issues surrounding his doctrine of sola scriptura.

Last year on this blog, I addressed some of the inherent difficulties that arise when one attempts to embrace a belief in perspicuity HERE. In that post I concluded that: the doctrine of the “perspicuity of the Scriptures” has died the ‘death of a thousand qualifications.’

In addition to the information I presented in that post, I would like to add the following testimony from The Racovian Catechsim:

You have now shown that the Holy Scriptures are both authentic and sufficient;—what is your opinion as to their perspicuity?

Although some difficulties do certainly occur in them; nevertheless, those things which are necessary to salvation, as well as many others, are so plainly declared in different passages, that every one may understand them; especially if he be earnestly seeking after truth and piety, and implore divine assistance
. (The Racovian Catechism, sec. I, chap. III, p. 17, 1818- English ed.)


Now, it should be noted that virtually every doctrine, apart from sola scriptura (including, of course, perspicuity), that Luther believed was clearly taught in the Scriptures (Trinity, bondage of the will, salvation by faith alone, et al.) was repudiated in The Racovian Catechism, while maintaining the same perspicuity!!!

Once again, I cannot summarize the inherent difficulties of perspicuity any better than Lane has so eloquently already accomplished:

The Reformation principle was not private judgment but the perspicuity of the Scriptures. Scripture was ‘sui ipsius interpres’ and the simple principle of interpreting individual passages by the whole was to lead to unanimity in understanding…It was this belief in the clarity of Scripture that made the early disputes between so fierce. This theory seemed plausible while the majority of Protestants held to Lutheran or Calvinist orthodoxy but the seventeenth century saw the beginning of the erosion of these monopolies…By the end of the seventeenth century many others saw that it was not possible on the basis of Scripture alone to build up a detailed orthodoxy commanding general consent…In the next century birth was given to a movement of evangelicalism which was fervently orthodox but which extended the field of non-essentials wider than the Reformers. This tendency has continued to the present day when the various evangelical confessions of faith are all note-worthy for their extreme brevity. Evangelicalism has retained a belief in the perspicuity of Scripture but confined it to a fairly narrow area of basic doctrine. (A.N.S. Lane, “Scripture, Tradition and Church: An Historical Survey”, Vox Evangelica, Volume IX – 1975, pp. 44, 45.)


Grace and peace,

David

13 comments:

Chris said...

The only problem with the doctrine of perspicuity is that it isn't true.

David Waltz said...

Hi Chris,

You wrote:

>>The only problem with the doctrine of perspicuity is that it isn't true.>>

LOL…well said…and as I am sure you already know, there is not one soul on this planet who could refute your claim.

Nice to see you back at AF!


Grace and peace,

David

Chris said...

>>Nice to see you back at AF!

Oh, I've been around. I subscribe to your RSS feed and read most of the posts, even when I don't comment.

Chris said...

By the way, I recently did a series defending liberal hermeneutics from the apostolic fathers. Given your interest in the Church Fathers, you might find it intriguing.

Of course, not being liberal yourself, you might not. :)

Interlocutor said...

Hi David,
Is it your view that Magisterial teachings and documents are perspicuous? If so, are they perspicuous both outside of and inside the community they are written for? To adapt one of your paragraphs, Is it the case that many doctrines that some Catholics believe are clearly taught by the Magisterium are repudiated by other Catholics, while both parties maintain the same adherence to Roman Catholicism and claim the other is in error in their interpretation? I think you see where this goes....

David Waltz said...

Hi Interlocutor,

You posted:

>> Is it your view that Magisterial teachings and documents are perspicuous?>>

Me: Some are, and some are not. Allow me to clarify: some doctrines have been fully developed, while some are considerably less developed. With this said, development continues in the Catholic Church, with greater degrees of clarity as its fruit. In a very real sense, it seems to me that the CC embraces the principal of “ever reforming” to a much greater extent than most conservative, reformed sects.

>> If so, are they perspicuous both outside of and inside the community they are written for?>>

Me: I would argue that Catholic doctrines are probably best understood by our faithful scholars; but, this does not preclude (IMHO) others outside of our communion from comprehending our faith, especially those who approach the endeavor with objectivity.

>> To adapt one of your paragraphs, Is it the case that many doctrines that some Catholics believe are clearly taught by the Magisterium are repudiated by other Catholics, while both parties maintain the same adherence to Roman Catholicism and claim the other is in error in their interpretation?>>

Me: I believe that there remains a considerable amount of ‘room’ for disagreement among faithful Catholics. However, one must make a clear distinction between those who disagree over less defined dogmas/morals, with those who reject fully defined dogmas/morals. For instance, a faithful Catholic could not reject the doctrine of the Trinity, nor could he/she embrace a homosexual life-style…


Sincerely hope I have been of some assistance.

Grace and peace,

David

David Waltz said...

Hi Chris,

Thanks for the link. Just moments ago, I posted a comment to the linked thread.

Grace and peace,

David

Reginald de Piperno said...

Hello David,

Perhaps you would be interested in the post (and subsequent comments) over here.

Peace,

RdP

Chris said...

Hi David,

Thanks for the comment. It was as thoughtful and weighty as I have come to expect from the proprietor of AF. I should also point out that my latest post links this one. I think you have highlighted an important issue here. On the other hand, I feel obliged to add that I don't agree with your perspective on the implications of perspicuity's failure. Your sidebar quotes Lane thusly:

"By the end of seventeenth century many others saw that it was not possible on the basis of Scripture alone to build up a detailed orthodoxy commanding general assent."

Since I don't think it is a Christian mandate to "build up a detailed orthodoxy commanding general assent," I see any attempt to do so-- whether based on perspicuity or on a magisterium-- as folly. Of the 19th-century Anglicans who proposed solutions in the aftermath of the failure of perspicuity, I find Coleridge and Arnold far more satisfying than Newman and Ward.

Best,

-Chris

David Waltz said...

Hi Reg,

Thanks for the link. I truly enjoyed your post!

I put up a brief response to TF in the combox a few moments ago. Please forgive some of my redundancy.


Grace and peace,

David

Interlocutor said...

Hello David,
"some doctrines have been fully developed, while some are considerably less developed."

I agree this is probably true, but I don't know that you can be sure what is fully developed and what isn't. Those who were around when Unam Sanctam or Florence came about might have reasonably thought the ideas expressed therein were the final fruit of full development.

"I believe that there remains a considerable amount of ‘room’ for disagreement among faithful Catholics."

Sure, of course, as we see with predestination or evolution.

"However, one must make a clear distinction between those who disagree over less defined dogmas/morals, with those who reject fully defined dogmas/morals. For instance, a faithful Catholic could not reject the doctrine of the Trinity, nor could he/she embrace a homosexual life-style…"

Sure, but an RC is supposed to give assent even to non-infallible, non-definitive teachings (including canon law - I'm sure you're aware of this but just for others, see Donum Veritatis, art. 23; Lumen Gentium, art. 25; Canon 752, other documents as well no doubt) as well that could very well be superseded or reversed completely. And then there is the question of just what is "fully defined" - I don't know if you mean by this infallible, or just general binding/authoritative church teaching. I'm sure you're aware of the intra-RC arguments over contraception or biblical inerrancy or the like and the arguments over the (apparently) non-perspicous magisterial documents concerning these issues. Put another way, is dissent from the Church ever justified, and if so, how do you know you are legitimately dissenting rather than sinfully disobeying (again, catholics are supposed to assent to even non-infallible teachings). Presumably, you should only obey if that teaching does not oppose a "fully defined dogma/moral", but how does one know what is "fully defined". Some are pretty clear, i.e. the Trinity or Purgatory or the like. But there are grey areas as well. (And I'm not saying RCs should believe in some type of theological positivism where only infallible statements count and everything else is up for grabs, an RC should give a good faith effort to obey (as should any Christian in any church, be it Protestant,RC,EO), but when should people virtuously try to align their conscience and mind with some teaching, or when should they let that conscience lead them to disobey).
As you said, "it seems to me that the CC embraces the principal of “ever reforming” to a much greater extent than most conservative, reformed sects." which is true to some degree, but just bolsters the idea that RCs kind of just ultimately presuppose their faith in the Church - what the Church says (in my honest and sincere interpretation of its texts), we will try to believe and obey even if it apparently contradicts my interpretation of history and past magisterial teaching (one could I suppose believe that the Church could teach error (in a non-infallible capacity) but have faith that she will never teach an error to such a degree that it is harmful to the soul). I (and most Protestants I don't think) am not saying we have an epistemic advantage over the RCC with sola scriptura, but that the RCC doesn't have such an advantage either.

David Waltz said...

Hello Interlocutor,

Once again, I would like to apologize for not seeing your new posts earlier. You wrote:

>> Hello David,
"some doctrines have been fully developed, while some are considerably less developed."

I agree this is probably true, but I don't know that you can be sure what is fully developed and what isn't. Those who were around when Unam Sanctam or Florence came about might have reasonably thought the ideas expressed therein were the final fruit of full development.>>

Me: Agreed. Yet with that said, I would once again like to point out that there are many dogmas and morals that cannot be changed—e.g. The Trinity, Christology (two natures), seven sacraments, etc.—basically, I would argue that the doctrines which have been delineated in the Ecumenical Councils as responses to clear heresy are more fully developed than those which have not had underwent the same procedure. Heresy, in a very real sense, precedes development. [For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you. (1 Cor. 11:19).]

As for the rest of your post, I can pretty concur with most of the content (and may I say, nicely done). You ended with:

>> I (and most Protestants I don't think) am not saying we have an epistemic advantage over the RCC with sola scriptura, but that the RCC doesn't have such an advantage either.>>

Here is where I shall invoke the Reformed scholar, Keith Mathison, who wrote:

Unlike modern Evangelicalism, the classical Protestant Reformers held to a high view of the Church. When the Reformers confessed extra ecclesiam nulla salus, which means “there is no salvation outside the Church,” they were not referring to the invisible Church of all the elect. Such a statement would be tantamount to saying that outside of salvation there is no salvation. It would be a truism. The Reformers were referring to the visible Church…The Church is the pillar and ground, the interpreter, teacher, and proclaimer of God’s Word…The Church has authority because Christ gave the Church authority. The Christian who rejects the authority of the Church rejects the authority of the One who sent her (Luke 10:16). (Keith A. Mathison, The Shape of Sola Scriptura, pp. 268, 269.)

Me: The question becomes: What Church?

What Church formulated the doctrine of the Trinity at Nicea and Constantinople to combat Arianism?

What Church developed the two-nature and two-will Christology to deal with the monophysties, Nestorians, and monothelites?

What Church has maintained a true organic succession from the time of the apostles?

I would argue, to all of the above, that it is the same Church that convened the Council of Trent, Vatican I and Vatican II.

That is my short-version. My longer version would proceed along the lines of John Henry Newman’s two quite famous books: An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, and Apologia Pro Vita Sua.


Grace and peace,

David

interlocutor said...

Hello David,
"As for the rest of your post, I can pretty concur with most of the content"
Hmm, a bit surprising. So how would you define what is "necessary for salvation" (the core of the perspicuity doctrine) in an RC context? Would it just be "whatever the church is currently teaching (even though portions of that might not actually be infallible - or could be in error, but not heretical/hurtful to the soul)"

As to Mathison's quote, certainly the Reformers weren't completely averse to ecclesiology, sacraments, and church authority. But of course, were they then just completely betraying their principles by separating from Rome and proclaiming her corruption and apostasy, while still holding "The Church has authority because Christ gave the Church authority. The Christian who rejects the authority of the Church rejects the authority of the One who sent her" or is there perhaps a more nuanced and guarded perspective that reconciles those 2 points? This also touches on my previous point, how do you determine when it is lawful/not sinful to disobey or dissent from your church leader (be it your priest, bishop, conference of bishops, or the pope) and when it would be virtuous to obey/submit your mind/will even if you believe them to be in error?

Reformers and Protestants (well most) don't believe Rome was apostate from the get-go (nor were the churches/groups chastised by Christ in Revelation that had been founded by Paul), but gradually became corrupted (well actually Calvin even tried improving upon Nicea a bit with autotheos (though Bellarmine defended him)), which crystallized in the middle ages with the growing Pelagianism from via moderna and indulgences and the like. So of course they would disagree that the Church of Nicea is necessarily the same Church as Trent or Vat2.

I do have to reread the Essay again as its been a long time and I read it when I was just starting into theology/church history which wasn't the best idea :) and need to read the Apologia as well as Grammar of Assent sometime. I read in one of Steve Hays articles on Triablogue that the Essay was responded to by J. B. Mozley and William Cunningham so not sure if you've read those or found them making any strong points against Newman.

"What Church has maintained a true organic succession from the time of the apostles?"

Right, now this is a hallmark point from EO/RC apologists. Because it is so vital to the authority claims both hold (and was so during the Reformation as well), I would think that it would have been one of the top priorities of Rome to have a documented, genuine list of episcopal lineage for all its priests and bishops. However, this researcher - who seems knowledgeable; I admit I never heard of the term 'episcopologist' before :) - has only been able to track down through the 16th century - http://mysite.verizon.net/res7gdmc/aposccs/. (also confirmed at www.catholic-hierarchy.org) I would think given the stake Rome puts on this claim that they would have put all their resources on this issue at the start of the Reformation and gilded and framed the results and made sure everyone maintained records afterward so that the lineage of any priest or bishop was never in question. Or do you think it's possible if there was a break somehow somewhere in some branch, as long as the bishop/priest remained in communion with Rome, that would suffice somehow? (Obviously that means the lineage of the popes would have to be verified which runs into the same problem, but I don't know the history of papal ordination - I'm guessing multiple bishops have always been involved since the early centuries so might mitigate against such an issue).