Monday, May 19, 2008

Luther and James Swan on authority.


This morning, I came across an interesting thread posted by James Swan on his Beggar’s All blog (HERE). I typed up a brief response, only to discover that he is not allowing any comments to be posted. Not wanting my efforts (meager as they may be) to never see the ‘light of day’, I have chosen to create a thread here at AF as a vehicle for my musings. The following is my response to James’ closed thread:

Hello James,

Attempting to understand Luther can, at times, be quite difficult, for Luther is not always consistent with himself. I find his treatment of Matt. 23:2-4 to be somewhat muddled; Luther wrote:

So much for the call into the office. But Christ is not speaking of that here; for something more is required, namely, that no rival or supplementary doctrine be introduced, nor another word be taught than Christ has taught. Christ says in Mt. 23:2-4: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat: all things therefore whatsoever they bid you, these do and observe: but do not ye after their works; for they say and do not. Yea, they bind heavy burdens too grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger.” Although these of whom Christ here speaks were regularly appointed, yet they were thieves and murderers; for they taught variations from Christ's teaching. Christ reproves them in another place, in Matthew 15:3, where he holds up before them their traditions and tells them how, through their own inventions, they have transgressed the commandments of God, yea, totally abolished them. We have also many prophets who were regularly appointed and still were misled, like Balaam, of whom we read in Num. 22; also Nathan, described in 2 Sam 7:3. Similarly many bishops have erred. (Sermons of Martin Luther, Vol. III, p. 375 – Baker Book House reprint – no date.)

Our Lord sure seems to defend the ‘official’ teachings of the “scribes and the Pharisees” who “sit on Moses’ seat”, for he admonishes his listeners with: “all things therefore whatsoever they bid you, these do and observe”.

Luther sure seemed to ‘wink’ at Christ’s counsel concerning those in authority during his revolt…


Grace and peace,

David

5 comments:

Interlocutor said...

Hi David,
This is a copy/paste from a posting I made a while back in the perspicuity thread (if you need to refresh the context) - wasn't sure if you ever had a chance to read it but thought it was somewhat germane to this post as it touches on authority/submission. (If you did read the post and just didn't feel like responding - no worries of course):

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).

David Waltz said...

Hello Interlocutor,

So good to see you back at AF; you posted:

>>Hi David,
This is a copy/paste from a posting I made a while back in the perspicuity thread (if you need to refresh the context) - wasn't sure if you ever had a chance to read it but thought it was somewhat germane to this post as it touches on authority/submission. (If you did read the post and just didn't feel like responding - no worries of course):>>

Me: I am a bad blog manager [sigh]…missed your post; thanks so much for taking the time to repost it.

>>"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)">>

Me: When it comes to “official” Catholic dogma, I am, what I have termed, a “minimalist”. This simply means that I limit the “official” teachings of the Catholic Church to defined dogmas and morals that lie within the Ecumenical Councils, and the two (and only two) ex cathedra papal promulgations.

>>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?>>

Me: As I pointed out in the original thread where you posted these comments, the early Church Fathers indicated that there was a regula fidei that was maintained via episcopal succession in the apostolic churches (i.e. churches founded by the apostles and their immediate companions). Irenaeus saw the Spirit of God protecting the Church via this succession, and later Fathers saw the Spirit of God working via the Ecumenical Councils.

With these factors in mind, I would say that any bishop and/or presbyter (priest) who clearly rebel against the dogmas that have been promulgated within the above framework should be suspect.

>>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.>>

Me: Many Catholics rebelled against the promulgations of the 4th Ecumenical Council (Chalcedon), many Catholics rejected Vatican I, and more than a few Vatican II. I see a pattern here. If we are to question the Ecumenical Councils via private judgment, then all the Councils need to be questioned, including Nicea (325). If we question all the Councils (as Luther suggested) then were does one look for “true” teaching authority? Once the Biblical canon was finished and recognized, why the need for any teachers? Why not just hand an individual the Bible and step out of the way, letting the Holy Spirit work via the pure, and only infallible deposit? This is but one of the reasons why I quoted from Mathison…(and btw, it is certainly a rarity among the blogging community to find one who is aware of Calvin’s “autotheos” construct concerning God the Son).

>>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.>>

Me: I would recommend Newman’s Apologia Pro Vita Sua after his Essay, and before his Grammar. As for Mozley’s critique, arrgh, I started the work a few months ago, and got side tracked. Tell you what, I will read Mozley if you will read the Essay and Apologia. (BTW, I linked Rory to an interesting critique of the Apologia by Darby, in the comment section of the thread just before this one – perhaps if you and Rory read Darby’s critique, I could start a thread to discuss it.)

>>"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).>>

Me: Ahhh, I see you did notice my comments on apostolic succession. It is getting late, so my musings on the above will have to wait until tomorrow; I need to read through the material that you linked to…

Grace and peace,

David

Interlocutor said...

"When it comes to “official” Catholic dogma, I am, what I have termed, a “minimalist”. This simply means that I limit the “official” teachings of the Catholic Church to defined dogmas and morals that lie within the Ecumenical Councils, and the two (and only two) ex cathedra papal promulgations.

Irenaeus saw the Spirit of God protecting the Church via this succession, and later Fathers saw the Spirit of God working via the Ecumenical Councils.
With these factors in mind, I would say that any bishop and/or presbyter (priest) who clearly rebel against the dogmas that have been promulgated within the above framework should be suspect."

Ok, I think we may be starting to come full circle. So, given your minimalist approach, but also given that you are called to submit your mind/will even to non-infallible teachings (unless you posit the documents calling you to do that are themselves outside your minimalist circle and so could actually be considered unofficial/non-binding - I'm partly kidding here since I doubt you would do that but you can see how hairy it can get when trying to attach levels of authority to official/non-official/infallible/etc. teachings), I assume your approach would then be to obey your priest/bishop/pope in all teachings unless they clearly (clarity is subjective but by clearly, I would guess you mean it would just be absolutely blatant and obvious and cause a mass outcry from your fellow parishioners or diocesan priests, not just from you or a handful of catholics - or if it's a matter of private spiritual direction, perhaps after you consult with other priests and perhaps your bishop) contradict the 2 ex cathedra statements (again, there are conflicting lists as to what statements have been ex cathedra - but I agree that the term should only be applied to those teachings coming after vatican 1 and not read back into history, ex cathedra being a nuance of infallibility and not encompassing the whole notion of infallibility and indefectibility) and Ecumenical Councils, basically giving them the benefit of the doubt if your hesitant or suspicious, even though they may in fact be wrong.


"If we question all the Councils (as Luther suggested) then were does one look for “true” teaching authority?"

Right, but as this thread and the gospel one sort of showed, the teachings/statements of those councils have to be interpreted - there's a disconnect between the Magisterial teachings and the faithful somewhat (to differing degrees depending on the teaching - some are clear as I've said before) - so the question can become, I look to the RCC (and local priest) for true teaching authority, but am I ever justified in resisting those authorities in certain capacities? It looks like your minimalist approach is how you tackle this; other catholics I'm sure might have other approaches.

As for Newman, I'll try to get to him - I unfortunately am no "beachbum" at the moment :)

David Waltz said...

Hi Intercolutor,

I certainly can understand your major premise concerning the Magisterial teachings of the RCC: they too need interpretation. Yet I still cannot help but feel that greater clarity exists concerning many important doctrines.

I think you can tell that I have not ‘turned my brain off’, and still exercise a considerable amount ‘private judgment’, yet within certain boundaries, and maintain that is a very important distinction.

Now, I have a question for you: do you believe that the official dogma of the RCC is teaching “another Gospel”?


Grace and peace,

David

Interlocutor said...

Hi David,
Certainly didn't ever mean to imply RCs turn their brain offs (although some internet zealots practically end up arguing for that against sola scriptura heh) but just wanted to point out the epistemological/authority difficulties that still seem to pop up even when accepting the RC paradigm. SS paradigm has its difficulties as well of course - a driving question is which gels more with the OT (divine precedent is significant as I mentioned in the perspicuity thread) and NT models given we don't have inspired prophets and apostles walking around anymore.

Anyways, I do not believe the gospel is corrupted to such an extent in the RCC (or EO) to be a false gospel; although it does seem to come dangerously close, I believe enough light exists so that it can shine forth to the faithful so that they may have faith in Christ. Unfortunately, poor catechesis seems to lead a lot of faithful astray - I doubt many catholics know of thomism's view of grace or pelagianism (as many surveys indicate when catholics are asked about soteriology) - probably many average evangelicals are like that too - but I doubt many classical lutherans/reformed/anglicans are (As I've said before though, salvation isn't all about a theology exam/absolute orthodoxy). I guess I'm more of the mind of the contributors at reformedcatholicism and evangelicalcatholicity - critical of Rome but recognizing there's enough truth that it's not completely apostate and the gospel can still be heard in the liturgy and certain homilies, rather than beggarsall or triablogue.

Why do I think the gospel is muddled to a significant extent in the RC that could possibly be dangerous for people? A few doctrines - the mortal/venial sin distinction coupled with confessional absolution, the belief that the church can define its precepts/laws as matters of grave sin (such as fasting/abstinence rules, holy days of obligation, etc.) that are by nature revisable by canon law at anytime and also by any nation/bishop but do not apply to Christians who are not RC, indulgences/penance, relics to some degree - the fact that the faithful are led to believe in venerating certain relics when subsequent examination showed them to be frauds (as Calvin and the Reformers noted quite a bit) - note that intent of the faithful does not preclude culpability (ie Uzza with the Ark), Eucharistic adoration. Also the seemingly growing trend towards universalism or theological relativism in many ecumenical efforts from top RC officials/theologians.

Most of the other dogmas I do not think do great damage - though that the Church can bind the faithful to believe them under pain of heresy is sometimes troublesome with certain doctrines such as the Assumption - pious opinion no problem - but was it really absolutely vital to the gospel to define this dogma in the 20th century? Not the most prudent pastoral moment imho.