Saturday, August 2, 2008

Some Early Church Fathers On Private Judgment

In my previous thread on PRIVATE JUDGMENT we looked at certain LIMITS that confessional churches have placed on the notion of “private judgment”. Our present thread will continue to explore the concept of “private judgment”, this occasion via a few reflections from the early Church Fathers.

…Valtentinians and Basilidians and Saturnillians; each introduced/brought in privately and seperately its own/private opinion (ekastos idiōs kai etepoiōs idian doxan pareisēgagosan), and from them came false Christs and false prophets and false apostles who destroyed the unity of the Church by their poisonous doctrine against God and against his Christ. (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, IV.22 – Greek from the Loeb Classical Library, Eusebius Ecclesiastical History, 1.376 – English trans. mine.)

But since they allege the divine oracles and force on them a misinterpretation, according to their private [ton idion] sense [noun – mind/understanding], it becomes necessary to meet them just so far as to vindicate these passages, and to shew that they bear an orthodox sense, and that our opponents are in error. (Athanasius, Discourses Against the Arians, I.XI.37 – NPNF 4. 327.)

For being forced from the conceptions or rather misconceptions of their own hearts, they fall back upon passages of divine Scripture, and here too from want of understanding, according to their wont, they discern not their meaning; but laying down their own [tēn idian - private] irreligion as a sort of canon [kanona - rule] of interpretation, they wrest the whole of the divine oracles into accordance with it…(Athanasius, Discourses Against the Arians, I.XII.52 – NPNF 4. 337.)

These passages they brought forward at every turn, mistaking their sense, under the idea that they proved that the Word of God was a creature and work and one of things originate; and thus they deceive the thoughtless, making the language of Scripture their pretense, but instead of the true sense sowing upon it the poison of their own [ton idion - private] heresy. (Athanasius, Discourses Against the Arians, I.XIII.53 – NPNF 4. 337.)

However here too they introduce their private [idiais] fictions, and contend that the Son and the Father are not in such wise ‘one,’ or ‘like,’ as the Church preaches, but, as they themselves would have it. (Athanasius, Discourses Against the Arians, III.XXV.10 – NPNF 4. 399.)

But here some one perhaps will ask, Since the canon of Scripture is complete, and sufficient of itself for everything, and more than sufficient, what need is there to join with it the authority of the Church’s interpretation? For this reason, — because, owing to the depth of Holy Scripture, all do not accept it in one and the same sense, but one understands its words in one way, another in another; so that it seems to be capable of as many interpretations as there are interpreters. For Novatian expounds it one way, Sabellius another, Donatus another, Arius, Eunomius, Macedonius, another, Photinus, Apollinaris, Priscillian, another, Iovinian, Pelagius, Celestius, another, lastly, Nestorius another. Therefore, it is very necessary, on account of so great intricacies of such various error, that the rule for the right understanding of the prophets and apostles should be framed in accordance with the standard of Ecclesiastical and Catholic interpretation. (Vincent of Lerins, A Commonitory, II.5 – NPNF 11.132.)


Grace and peace,

David

13 comments:

Kepha said...

Sup, man, you've been quite? Burried in the books?

David Waltz said...

Hi Kepha,

I am pretty much always, “Buried in the books”. Currently, I am trying to let all that I have been reading on DD sink in; attempting to wrap my brain around it all. Every theory of DD has certain difficulties; perhaps our task is to discern which one has the fewest, and which one makes the best sense of how our God is working out His grand plan in history. Any thoughts on this?

Grace and peace,

David

Kepha said...

I don't know, David. For me, I feel that I first have to understand what the Apostles and early Christians believed. I'm not necessarily talking about propositions, but of epistemology. What was the basis of Christian knowledge for them? Did they believe that the depositum fide was organic by nature, and, thus, ever developing? Did they believe that the Papacy had a supernatural intuition that freed it from accountability this side of Heaven?

If these things were not believed by the Apostles and early Christians, then that means that these things have been imposed upon them. Thankfully, for objective seekers, long before the Reformation there was a massive opposition to this ever-growing institution we call the Papacy. And thankfully even in the West there is a long reform tradition likewise opposing the Papacy's growth, culminating in the Reformation.

Anonymous said...

Interesting to note that they didn't believe in sola scriptura either...

;)

BC

Kepha said...

It matters not that they didn't believe in Sola Scriptura, if neither did they believe in the papal claims. All that matters to Orthodoxy and Reformation Christianity is that there was a Catholicism before Papalism. Orthodoxy claims to be it; the Reformation traditions, that they are a branch of it.

Anonymous said...

Kepha,

I think it matters if one is considering becoming a communicant in a Reformed community... especially if their objections to the "papal claims" are the same objections as you have... one could surely reject SS for the same reasons... and, if they wanted to be logically consistent... they would reject SS.

What say you?

BC

David Waltz said...

Hi Kepha,

Thanks for responding to my query; you wrote:

>>I don't know, David. For me, I feel that I first have to understand what the Apostles and early Christians believed. I'm not necessarily talking about propositions, but of epistemology. What was the basis of Christian knowledge for them?>>

Me: First and foremost I would say that it was the person and ministry of Jesus Christ which served as the primary epistemological foundation for the Apostles and early Christians. Second, the work of the Holy Spirit in producing the documents that became our NT, and also upon the hearts and minds of all who believed “the Gospel”. Beyond this, the whole issue gets a bit more complex…


>>Did they believe that the depositum fide was organic by nature, and, thus, ever developing?>>

Me: I think the example of the council in Acts 15 would lead one to say yes.

>>Did they believe that the Papacy had a supernatural intuition that freed it from accountability this side of Heaven?>>

Me: No, there was no need for the Papacy while the Apostles were still alive.

>>If these things were not believed by the Apostles and early Christians, then that means that these things have been imposed upon them. Thankfully, for objective seekers, long before the Reformation there was a massive opposition to this ever-growing institution we call the Papacy. And thankfully even in the West there is a long reform tradition likewise opposing the Papacy's growth, culminating in the Reformation.>>

Me: Just as Israel’s anointed kings, priests and prophets were prone to many human frailties, so too the Apostles, and those whom they ordained. Authority was given to the Church, but authority can be (and almost always is) abused. Just as David waited on God to remove king Saul, so too Christians wait upon the same God to take care of the abuses.


Grace and peace,

David

Kepha said...

David,

I agree with your first comment. Your second comment, however, is not so agreeable, specifically your use of Acts 15 as an example of development. I think you should take to heart the scholarly advice of Fr. Rondet, S.J.:

"Everyone agree, too, in making a clear distinction between progress in Revelation [e.g., Acts 15], developmentof doctrine and the history of theology. If this distinction is not made, there is grave risk that discussion will reach deadlock" (Do Dogmas Change?, p. 8).

Your opinion that the Papacy was not in need during the lifetime of the Apostles seems odd in light of what Cardinal Charles Journet wrote:

"St. John [the Apostle] was equal to Pope St. Clement with respect to the power of executing Christ's plan, for example, in founding local churches. St. Clement was superior to St. John with respect to the authority of governing the Church universal" (Theology of the Church, pp. 129-130, footnote 27; emphasis in original).

As for your last point, I apologize for giving the impression that I was speaking of the sinfulness of popes. In no way did I have that in mind. You specifically mentioned the abuse of power; I specifically mentioned the usurpation of power. Thus, your analogy is irrelevant.

David Waltz said...

Hello again Kepha,

A few of quick comments on your last post: first, in reference to Acts 15 I do not think one has to necessarily believe that the council itself was revelatory (i.e. God-breathed) any more than the sending of Paul and Barnabas by the church at Antioch was revelatory (i.e. God-breathed). Much of the historical narrative within Scripture in and of itself is not revelatory, but becomes revelation by being a part of what is Scripture. Note the words recorded in verse 28:

“For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things”

“Seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us” seems (wink) to fall short of necessarily maintaining that the gathered apostles and elders thought they were creating Scripture. IMHO it is an important distinction.

Yet with that said, for sake of argument, let’s say they did believe that their decision was Scripture: does not Acts 15 establish a pattern to be followed when future controversies arose in the Church? Should not the officers appointed by the Apostles and their lieutenants gather together to deal with such controversies? Even with the close of public revelation does not the Holy Spirit still guide the Church’s officers? Is it impious to think that the decisions made in the Ecumenical councils, “seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us” [the bishops]. Not attempting to be dogmatic here, just trying to look at the issue from other angles.

And second, could you explain the difference/s between “the abuse of power” and “the usurpation of power”?


Grace and peace,

David

Kepha said...

David,

For someone to abuse of power presupposes that they have that power; how else could they abuse it, e.g., the vice president using his position to ensure that his person company gets certain job contracts? The usurpation of power is, as the word indicates (see Wesbters Dictionary), is the taking of power that belongs not to you, e.g., if America decides to just make Iraq a formal part of America.

As for your comments about Acts, I'm not following how they relate to Fr. Rondet's distinctions. Can you clarify? Or are you disagreeing with him? Are you coming up with your own distinctions?

David Waltz said...

Hey Kepha,

Thanks for the clarification. Have you read Papal Primacy and the Universal Church – Lutherans and Catholics in Dialouge V? What I learned from the book is that the extent, role, and limitations of authority concerning Peter’s successors is still developing; as such, I see a considerable amount of overlapping and blurring (historically speaking) between the distinctions you pointed out.

As for Acts 15, it depends on exactly what Rondet meant by a “progress in Revelation”. Personally, I see Acts 15 as an interpretation/clarification of revelation, a historical account of which was later a part of the NT canon/Scripture.

BTW, I ordered Rondet’s book earlier today; found a very nice copy for just $3.00 (the shipping was more than the book…sigh).


Grace and peace,

David

Apolonio said...

Very nice quotes David. Rather than going over the usual apologetics stuff, which is boring if you ask me, I would like to analyze what these Fathers meant. The Fathers, when speaking of "private judgment," was not speaking of "personal judgment," that is, judgment made by the individual. A personal judgment can conform to the judgment of the Church. Private judgment, however, is a normative judgment outside of the Church's sense of faith. In fact, it is a judgment contrary to the faith of the Church.

But in what way can we critique the Church? I think this is a better question. All of us can critique the Church in some way. This is because, by definition, the Church is divine and human. In fact, the Fathers, as Balthasar have shown, speak of the Church as a whore, a virgin whore, even (cf. Explorations in Theology vol. 2). The Church, then, is both perfect and imperfect. The Church is perfect in that she is linked to Christ and she is imperfect in that the intensity or "degree" of this link can increase.

Msgr. Giussani always told us that we should be critical of Tradition. By this, he meant we must submit Tradition and tradition to our experiences. When we do this, we actuall understand Tradition better, understand the reason, for example, why we should fast one hour before we receive Him. So what is the criterion of judging Tradition? It is not logic or science. Of course they are included, but it is *broader* than that. Here we understand what Pope Benedict has been speaking about, that is, the broadening of reason. The way we judge something is whether **it corresponds to the heart**. By "heart," I do not mean a subjective feeling, but elementary experiences, such as the desire for beauty, truth, justice, etc. In fact, it is this way that the apostles were attracted to Christ. Why were they attracted? Because of his **exceptionality**. What makes something exceptional? Remember when you first met your wife? What attracted you? Simply her looks? Her looks, yes. But something more. What attracted the Roman centurion of Christ? He saw many crucifixions before. What made this man different? He was exceptional, that is, he corresponded to the deepest desires of our hearts. Christ corresponded to the humanity of the apostles. I mean, what was the first question of Christ? He asked, "What are you looking for?" He was awakening our desires, what we want. The hard part is knowing what we want. When we see someone who is exceptional, we see that the person has what we want. Christ has what we want. We want God.

So, to judge everything, we must have a criterion, that is, the heart. Giussani said that his first authority is his heart (the second is the liturgy). It is the heart because only that which corresponded to our humanity is reasonable (a human is a rational animal). So when we judge something, we judge things if it corresponds to our elementary experiences.

Here is another premise: we need a witness. Who is the one who corresponds to our hearts, who reminds us of our destiny? I think this is the only way we can critique the Church..when we have a companionship, when we follow, our witness. The witness is one who even knows us more than ourselves. Because they know us more than ourselves (and did not Christ know the Samaritan woman more than her five husbands?), we follow them. By following them, we begin to change. The first critique of the Church, then, is a critique of one's self, that is, getting deeper to one's desires. Only when we do this, and we do this by following a witness, then we can judge things properly. The problem is following people, following your witnesses. This is one of the greatest thing in the world because we follow Christ not through following what the Bible says, but by following the witness: the Word was made flesh. Scripture makes no sense without being incarnated. Hence, to follow Scripture is to follow a witness. This is what it means to submit our reason to our experience. This is great because it reminds us of our original dependency.

There's so much to say, but I would like to point out one more thing. I love the fact that when the apostles found something incomprehensible, they did not leave Christ. It is irrational for them to leave Christ because of what they have experienced and verified. They have verified over and over that this man corresponded to them. Peter's answer, "To whom shall we go?" is saying, "If we don't believe you, I cannot even believe my own eyes." Incomprehensibility, of Church doctrine or practices, is not a reason to leave the Church. Rather, incomprehensibility unleashes a desire to follow more intensely. This is what critique of the Church is. It includes one's self. Otherwise, we become our own magisterium, making normative judgments outside of the Church.

So what I proposed is how we can critique the Church without falling into private judgment. Tell me what you think.

David Waltz said...

I read through your post twice now, and here is what I think: OUTSTANDING!

I have often pondered over how one is to balance such inspired statements as, “Obey your leaders and submit to them” (Heb. 13:17) with “you have no need that any one should teach you” (1Jn. 2:27). Your post has given me some great insights as to how one is to gain such a balance; and not only with some ‘chestnuts’ within Sacred Scripture, but also with Tradition. Thanks much…


Grace and peace,

David