Monday, June 9, 2008

Searching for a consistent theory of the Church, development and apostasy.

Newman’s theory of development when it first appeared in print was attacked from three different positions. First, was the attack from a few fellow Catholics who saw Newman’s theory as a threat to what I shall term the “traditionalist” position. Second, there was the attack from those who embraced the via media position of the High Anglicans, also called the Tractarians (which, as most know, was Newman’s position before entering the RCC). And finally, there was the Evangelical attack. This post is going to focus on this last position. I briefly touched on this position with the quote from Darby in THIS THREAD. I shall now delve a bit deeper into this viewpoint.

John Nelson Darby’s most detailed articulation of his theory of development (or lack there of) appears in his lengthy essay, “Christianity Not Christendom”. This essay is available online (HERE). [The following quotes will reflect the page numbers from my hard copy (volume #18 of “The Collected Writings of J.N. Darby”) which I believe are the same as the online version.]

“…is any church as now understood, coming down from ages past, however reformed and arranged, a thing of God? Is it to pass in some shape on this descendible principle? Is there that which, calling itself a church, exercises authority over the mind of man according to the mind of God? We are forced to look the whole question in the face: is the existing professing church, whatever shape it may assume, a thing which God owns? Is a successional body, in any shape, true or right according to God? I repeat, this question is forced upon us, the whole question; not, Is this or that church right?” (Page 250.)

Now I look all this in the face, and take the question up, not on the disputed claims of churches, who mutually disprove their respective claims, but on the question of the church, as man looks at it now, as we see it in every time as the subject of ecclesiastical history; and I say it never was, as a system, the institution of God, or what God established; but at all times, from its first appearance in ecclesiastical history, the departure, as a system, from what God established, and nothing else; primitive church and all; and the more it was formally established, the more it was corrupt. Saints, beloved of God I do not doubt were and are in it; but it was a corruption offensive to God from the beginning of its history. Take a history, any history, of the church, it is a history, not of God's institution, but of man's corruption. History and scripture both testify of this, and no man can speak of the church of ecclesiastical history, if he be an honest man, without admitting that it was man's corruption, not God's institution, or denying history and scripture alike; I say, from its outset as the subject of ecclesiastical records, or scripture statements.” (Pages 251, 252.)

Darby’s theory of the “true” Church is summed up with:

Two great principles lie at the base of Christianity, God's righteousness, Christ sitting at the right hand of God, and the presence of the Holy Ghost. Paul tells us (2 Cor. 3) that Christianity (or the gospel) was the ministration of righteousness and the ministration of the Spirit: these are the two great essential elements.” (Page 254.)

He then goes on to write:

But such was Christianity as presented to us in scripture in its essential features. Has it preserved them? Is what is now called the church that Christianity, the system I find there?” (Page 260.)

The church, as understood in modern times in all its compartments, is constituted, has its existence by, and is based on, the clergy and its sacraments, not on an accomplished redemption and the presence and power of the Holy Ghost-a clergy which is called the ministry, and even the church. I take, as a plain popular proof of the truth of this, the Evangelical Alliance. It abhors the corruption that has entered into the church, but it would not admit Quakers and Plymouth Brethren: the former reject clergy and sacraments, the latter clergy only, holding baptism and the Lord's supper, both insisting on ministry by the Spirit. I am not insisting now on their being right or wrong; I merely take it as a popular proof of the basis of the universal system, even where gross corruptions are resisted. It results in this, that the recognition of a clergy is the basis of the church, the sine qua non, the essential condition.” (Page 261.)

My thesis is, not that the church as now held historically was corrupted, but that the church so held was itself the total departure in principle from scripture, from what Christ set up by the Holy Ghost. The doctrine of full justification by faith, founded on accomplished redemption, and the recognition of the Holy Ghost as present and a directing power, were lost, and the clergy and sacraments substituted for them. The Reformation removed many corruptions which had grown intolerable, and many false principles; but the notion of the church was still based on the clergy and the sacraments. It is hard to prove a negative; but it is quite certain that neither a full redemption, nor, though the words be used once or twice, a complete possessed justification by faith, as Paul teaches it, a perfecting for ever by its one offering, a known personal acceptance in Christ, is ever found in any ecclesiastical writings after the canonical scriptures for long centuries.” (Page 262 – bold emphasis mine.)

He then asks:

Was this departure from Christ to be expected at once? or was the successional continuance of the outward body that which was secured by the Lord's promise? What does the word declare? Heresy fully contributed its part; but whatever was the cause, was the continuance of the body under God's approbation contemplated or not?” (Page 272.)

To these questions he gives a round of resounding yeses (with “proof” texts). And towards the end of the essay states:

The historical church is man's system, from the beginning, in contrast with God's: that system has been corrupted, but what has been corrupted is man's system, not God's. No doubt God had gathered the first materials into unity, but the principles on the which He founded His assembly resisted, specially by Judaism, during the life of the apostles, were given up when they were gone; and the system they had resisted became that which stood before men's eyes as the church. The free power of the Spirit, and known acceptance in an exalted Christ, ceased to be the constituent principles of those gathered; the clerical principle denying the Spirit, making elders the ministry as a clergy, that is, ordained teachers, not the gift and power of the Holy Ghost. This was first developed in local episcopacy, then in diocesan episcopacy and the hierarchy, and then in popery.” (Page 274.)

And there you have Darby’s theory of the Church, development and apostasy.
Next thread, the reformed scholar, William Cunningham’s view.


Grace and peace,

David

7 comments:

TOmNossor said...

David,
I am surprised to see you suggest that my first post to AF was today. I suspect that you are correct, but I assure you I have been reading from the beginning.
I assume that Darby has a very high view of the Bible. It would seem to me that there are two large issues with a high view of the Bible and the position Darby stakes out.
1. I would suggest that as Father Francis Sullivan lays out, the Bible talks of ordained leaders beginning with the Apostles, their Co-Workers, and various bishops, elders, and deacons. I am aware that the Greek words used for Bishop, Presbyter, and Deacon do not universally connote an office, but if I remember correctly there are some strong instances of their use in the Bible that almost certainly connote an office rather than just an overseer or ???.
2. If Darby has the high view of the scripture that I think he might, how can he explain the inerrant and totally complete nature of the scriptures? History tells us that the scriptures were complied by an organization consisting of ordained leaders. There was debate and discussion. While the general shape of the New Testament was largely present (within a group of ordained folks) in the early 3rd century, the final New Testament would not be declared until the later half of the 4th. If absolute perfection was achieved in this endeavor by men who claimed that they had the Holy Spirit’s guidance partially on account of their apostolic and ordained status, how can Darby except the perfection and reject the reason for said perfection.

If I recall correctly, Chris’s lower view of scripture (I believe I as a LDS have a higher view of the Bible than he does) nicely side-steps both of these questions. I think Chris might say (and he can certainly correct me if I am wrong) some of the NT texts are overly Catholic because the emergent human authority chose what was in the NT. And the NT Canon is not a divine perfection, but a human collection with inspiration, history, and error.

In addition to the problem of believing just too little that I see in Chris’s view (as I mentioned in the other thread), I would also suggest that Sullivan’s laying out of the initial states of clergy is difficult for Chris to explain. I have thought about “follow the Bishop because he is the most experienced fellow, not because he is an ordained leader,” (this is something that I learned as my understanding of Chris’s view long ago) and I think Sullivan offers a lot of very early history to suggest that Bishop and non-Bishop likely thought more highly of these leaders than merely that they were the most experienced fellows.



Finally, I hope you do not change what you hope to offer as the Catholic response to Newman, but I hope you already plan on including Orestas Bronson in that post. And, while Madrid, Sippo, and many others NEVER denigrate Newman; I have long felt that they channel Bronson when they defend Catholicism to the expense of engaging the historical evidence. Do they unwittingly embrace Bronson because Newman really was a modernist and one who departed from Catholic orthodoxy by postulating development? And because I have refrained from saying this for about 4 posts, are Vatican II deniers in all there various ultra-trad varieties also explicitly (in some cases) and implicitly (in others some who even expressly deny this is what they say -grin-) saying that Newman’s development theories have no place in the Catholic Church.

Charity, TOm

Anonymous said...

Hi TOm,

I would like to add my welcome to Dave's and urge you to continued participation. I had been thinking about my last post all day in the thread just before this one, and wanted an excuse to clarify a few things. Thank you for giving me that excuse. Maybe I can get there tomorrow.

TOm said:
Finally, I hope you do not change what you hope to offer as the Catholic response to Newman, but I hope you already plan on including Orestas Bronson in that post. And, while Madrid, Sippo, and many others NEVER denigrate Newman; I have long felt that they channel Bronson when they defend Catholicism to the expense of engaging the historical evidence. Do they unwittingly embrace Bronson because Newman really was a modernist and one who departed from Catholic orthodoxy by postulating development? And because I have refrained from saying this for about 4 posts, are Vatican II deniers in all there various ultra-trad varieties also explicitly (in some cases) and implicitly (in others some who even expressly deny this is what they say -grin-) saying that Newman’s development theories have no place in the Catholic Church.

Rory:
Brownson wrote an article about Newman's essay that I don't see as significantly engaging of the facts of history. That doesn't prove Newman right, but Brownson's objections, if I understand them correctly, fail to undermine development.

I don't know who you could mean when you talk about Vatican II deniers, unless it is someone like me, who suggests a nuanced approach to it required by unique circumstances. But I hold to the full validity and authority of the Council. I consider myself in respect to Vatican II to be progressively Newmanesque. In my opinion, there are many good conservative "Brownsonesque" Catholics, far to the right of me, who insist upon maintaining a static, confused and undeveloped interpretation of the ecumenical council. Ironically, it is the most liberal of Catholics who are the theological Neanderthals, the real "ultra-trad radicals", when it comes to Vatican II. It is true that the view of Vatican II which I take is sometimes confused with being "ultra-traditionalist". However, I am confident that I stand squarely in the tradition of the Church and Newman's theory with regard to the Council.

When people discuss Newman, they regularly fail to recognize the balance which his theory requires if it be applied properly. He was as eager to show how to recognize corruptions of the apostolic deposit, as he was to help us see true development. I don't speak for anyone but myself, but I personally reject Brownson as I have said. In my opinion, a proper understanding and application of true doctrinal development has been an essential key to my "liberation" as a 21st Century Catholic.

I am not being tongue-in-cheek when I talk about myself as the progressive. I consider myself integrally progressive wherever it can be permitted even as discussed in by the fathers of Vatican II): "Thus, as the centuries go by, the Church is always advancing toward the plenitude of divine truth, until the words of God are revealed in her." Dei Verbum ch. 2, paragraph 8

It happens that it repeats what was said at Vatican I, when that Council quoted Vincent of Lerins who was also concerned with true progress in knowledge: "Therefore...let the understanding, the knowledge, and wisdom of individuals as of all, of one man as of the whole Church, GROW and PROGRESS strongly with the passage of the ages and the centuries; but let it be solely in its own genus, namely in the same dogma, with the same sense and the same understanding." Session III, Ch. 4, April 24, 1870 (Denz. 1800)

Of course I am a progressive. Of course I am a traditionalist. That is what the Catholic Church has always taught.

Tomorrow on the other thread Lord willing...where my heart lies, lay, lays...you know what I mean? Heh. Good seeing you Tom.

May God guide and bless,

R

Anonymous said...

Shoot. I entered too quickly. I don't deny that I believe it, but I would strike the short "Of course I am..." comments toward the end. It is not as easy to see as matter of course as the comments seem to say. Please forbear...

Thanks,

Rory

Chris said...

David,

Thanks for the run-down of Darby's views. I think that Tom, above, offered a very simple, slam-dunk critique of it.

In your mention of the "three different positions" from which development was attacked, you forgot the liberals! *grin*

In addition to Maurice's critique, I also last week ran across a brief critique by Julius Charles Hare and one by Matthew Arnold. Maybe I'll read these sometime in the next few weeks, summarize them over on my blog, add a few of my own thoughts, and link here.

Chris said...

Oops! The Maurice link above should point here.

David Waltz said...

Hi Chris,

Thanks much for you participation (here, and especially in some of the other threads wherein you delineate your worldview). You posted:

>>In your mention of the "three different positions" from which development was attacked, you forgot the liberals! *grin*>>

Me: As I think you have probably already suspected, the Beachbum did not forget the liberals (Latitudinarians), but rather, purposely ignored them [wink].

As the risk of offending you (which is certainly not my intention, and please forgive me if I do), allow me to explain. It is difficult for me to add the critiques of the liberals into these threads concerning the development of dogma, for their epistemological basis is of a different nature than the ‘main players’ involved (Catholics, Orthodox, Evangelical/Confessional Protestants). Though I have certain sympathies towards religious pluralism (thanks to writings of Frithjof Schuon, the Sufis, and the Bahais), the inspiration, authority and uniqueness of Bible at this point in my life is not negotiable. (On this issue I have been significantly influenced by Carl F. Henry’s massive and informative 6 volume work, God, Revelation and Authority—which to date, at least to my knowledge, has had no solid ‘answer’ from the liberal camp.)

Yet with that said, if you do choose to delineate the liberal position concerning the development of dogma, please make sure that you let know me, for I definitely would like to read your reflections.


Grace and peace,

David

Chris said...

Will do, David. These Broad Churchmen's critiques actually do not all rely on challenging the authority of the Bible. You might, in fact, be surprised just how dedicated they were to the biblical text, even if they did not read it or treat it the same way that the more conservative theologians did. I'll try to get around to writing up their views in the near future.

As always, your blog's a pleasure to read (even if it does have certain non-negotiable assumptions that could do with some reassessment :-P). All the best!

-Chris