Saturday, November 14, 2009

Modern day Donatists: “wheat and tares” parable is not referring to the visible Church

In the combox of a November 11, 2009 THREAD at Beggars All, I responded to the individual who posts under the name “Rhology” after he raised questions about unity and the Church:

>>Why is that reasonable? Isn't it the RC position that you have all this unity and the truth on your organisation's side?>>

Me: The Church on Earth has wheat and tares. (Accessed online 11-14-09.)

Rhology responded with:

Christ's parable of wheat and tares refers not to the church but to the world. (Accessed online 11-14-09.)

And our old “friend”, TurretinFan, posted:

Augustine says: "He said, "The field is the world;" He said not, "The field is Africa."" (Letter 76) (Accessed online 11-14-09.)

A bit later, Matthew Bellisario entered into the dialogue, and wrote:

St. Jerome and St. Augustine applied a symbolic interpretation of the text to the Church, and those within it, including pastors and bishops. Other Church Fathers and writers reference the passage as the sewing of heresies in the Church. (Accessed online 11-14-09.)

Rhology and TurretinFan in subsequent posts attempt to defend their view that the parable of the wheat and tares is not referring to the visible Church, while Matthew argues to the contrary, even citing the following from John Calvin:

It is an appropriate comparison, when the Lord calls the Church his field, for believers are the seed of it; and though Christ afterwards adds that the field is the world, yet he undoubtedly intended to apply this designation, in a peculiar manner, to the Church, about which he had commenced the discourse. (Accessed online 11-14-09)

I would never have thought that one would get the following response from Rhology:

Can the passage be interpreted symbolically as referring to the Church?

Sure, it CAN be. The question is: Is it correct to do so?

And the answer is no, it can't.

And whoopie - you know how to read Calvin. MB, do you believe we consider Calvin to be infallible? Yes or no? (Accessed online 11-14-09.)

There, I think I have now provided enough background for my subsequent rebuttal (if some feel more is needed, please feel free to read the entire original thread, and comments).

MY REBUTTAL –

TurretinFan (hereafter, TF) has abused yet another Church Father—this time it is St. Augustine. The upcoming quotes from Augustine were provided by TF after he wrote:

Rhology's interpretation in this case is "the field is the world." This is the one infallible interpretation of the "field" that exists, not because Rhology said it but because Scriptures say it.


But your claim that the fathers thought that the field is something other than the world, is interesting. I notice that you haven't provided much documentation - just an ambiguous fragment from Chrysostom. (Accessed online 11-14-09.)

Now the Augustine quotes:

Augustine says: "He said, "The field is the world;" He said not, "The field is Africa."" (Letter 76)


"For the field is the world — not only Africa; and the harvest is the end of the world — not the era of Donatus." (Answer to Petilian the Donatist, Book III)


"For it is the Church which the Son of man has sown as good seed, and of which He has foretold that it should grow among the tares until the harvest. For the field is the world, and the harvest is the end of time." (Letter 93) (Accessed online 11-14-09.)

Now, do any of the above quotes contain the statement that the field/world is NOT the visible Church? Clearly, they do not. And if TF had read a bit more of Augustine’s writings on the Donatists he would have discovered that Augustine does in fact equate the field/world with the Church, and that it was his Donatist opponents who denied this.

In Letter 76 (Augustine to the Donatists) we read:

Hear, O Donatists, what the Catholic Church says to you: “O ye sons of men, how long will ye be slow of heart? why will ye love vanity, and follow after lies? “Why have you severed yourselves, by the heinous impiety of schism, from the unity of the whole world? You give heed to the falsehoods concerning the surrendering of the divine books to persecutors, which men who are either deceiving you, or are themselves deceived, utter in order that you may die in a state of heretical separation: and you do not give heed to what these divine books themselves proclaim, in order that you may live in the peace of the Catholic Church. Wherefore do you lend an open ear to the words of men who tell you things which they have never been able to prove, and are deaf to the voice of God speaking thus: “The Lord hath said unto me, Thou art My Son; this day have I begotten Thee. Ask of Me, and I shall give Thee the heathen for Thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for Thy possession”? “To Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, ‘ And to seeds,’ as of many, but as of one, ‘And to thy seed,’ which is Christ.” And the promise to which the apostle refers is this: “In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” Therefore lift up the eyes of your souls, and see how in the whole world all nations are blessed in Abraham’s seed. Abraham, in his day, believed what was not yet seen; but you who see it refuse to believe what has been fulfilled The Lord’s death was the ransom of the world; He paid the price for the whole world; and you do not dwell in concord with the whole world, as would be for your advantage, but stand apart and strive contentiously to destroy the whole world, to your own loss. (Letters of St. Augustin, trans. J.G. Cunningham – NPNF 1.343 – bold emphasis mine.) [An online version can be accessed HERE.]

How could anyone question that Augustine in Letter 76 equated the world with the Church?

Next, from Book III of Augustine’s Answer To the Letters of Petilian the Donatist we read:

For if you cling most firmly to what I urge on you with all my might, that every one is cursed who places his trust in man, so that none should make his boast of man, then you will in no wise desert the threshing-floor of the Lord on account of the chaff which either is now being dispersed beneath the blast of the wind of pride, or will be separated by the final winnowing; nor will you fly from the great house on account of the vessels made to dishonor; nor will you quit the net through the breaches made in it because of the bad fish which are to be separated on the shore; nor will you leave the good pastures of unity, because of the goats which are to be placed on the left when the Good Shepherd shall divide the flock; nor will you separate yourselves by an impious secession, because of the mixture of the tares, from the society of that good wheat, whose source is that grain that dies and is multiplied thereby, and that grows together throughout the world until the harvest. For the field is the world, — not only Africa; and the harvest is the end of the world, — not the era of Donatus. (Trans. J.R. King - NPNF 4.597, 598 – bold emphasis mine.)

Prior to this in Book II, Augustine, yet once again, equates the world with the Church:

…according to the saying of the Lord, “It is not for you to know the times, which the Father hath put in His own power. But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in Judea, and in Samaria, and even in the whole earth.” Here you have the origin of the name “Catholic.” But you are so bent upon running with your eyes shut against the mountain which grew out of a small stone, according to the prophecy of Daniel, and filled the whole earth, that you actually tell us that we have gone aside into a part, and are not in the whole among those whose communion is spread throughout the whole earth. But just in the same way as, supposing you were to say that I was Petilianus, I should not be able to find any method of refuting you unless I were to laugh at you as being in jest, or mourn over you as being mad, so in the present case I see that I have no other choice but this; and since I do not believe that you are in jest, you see what alternative remains


You look at the tares throughout the world, and pay no heed to the wheat, although both have been bidden to grow together throughout the whole of it. You look at the seed sown by the wicked one, which shall be separated in the time of harvest, and you pay no heed to the seed of Abraham, in which all nations of the earth shall be blessed…Why then is baptism, given by men like these, held valid among you, and the same baptism of Christ not held valid, by whatsoever men it may be administered throughout the world? You see, in fact, that you are separated from the communion of the whole world in so far as this, that you are not indeed all drunk, nor all of you covetous, nor all men of violence, but that you are all heretics, and, in virtue of this, are all impious and all sacrilegious.


But as to your saying that the whole world that rejoices in Christian communion is the party of Macarius, who with any remnant of sanity in his brain could make such a statement? But because we say that you are of the party of Donatus, you therefore seek for a man of whose party you may say we are; and, being in a great strait, you mention the name of some obscure person, who, if he is known in Africa, is certainly unknown in any other quarter of the globe. (Trans. J.R. King - NPNF 4.554, 555 – bold emphasis mine.)

Once again, contra the Donatist’s, Augustine equates the “whole world” with the Catholic Church.

And from Augustine’s lengthy letter (93) to Vicentius:

In like manner it is said, on the one hand, “the whole world lieth in wickedness,” because of the tares which are throughout the whole world; and, on the other hand, Christ “is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world,” because of the wheat which is throughout the whole world.


The love of many, however, waxes cold because of offenses, which abound increasingly the more that, within the communion of the sacraments of Christ, there are gathered to the glory of His name even those who are wicked, and who persist in the obstinacy of error; whose separation, however, as chaff from the wheat, is to be effected only in the final purging of the Lord’s threshing-floor


Therefore it is the same Church also which within the Lord’s net is swimming along with the bad fishes, but is in heart and in life separated from them, and departs from them, that she may be presented to her Lord a “glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle.” But the actual visible separation she looks for only on the sea-shore, i.e. at the end of the world, — meanwhile correcting as many as she can, and bearing with those whom she cannot correct; but she does not abandon the unity of the good because of the wickedness of those whom she finds incorrigible…(Letters of St. Augustin, trans. J.G. Cunningham – NPNF 1.394 – bold emphasis mine.)

So, in one sense, Augustine can say that the Church is in the world, and yet, in another sense the world is identified as the visible Catholic Church. Calvin agrees with Augustine on this issue—once again, here is the quote from Calvin:

In my opinion, the design of the parable is simply this: So long as the pilgrimage of the Church in this world continues, bad men and hypocrites will mingle in it with those who are good and upright, that the children of God may be armed with patience and, in the midst of offenses which are fitted to disturb them, may preserve unbroken stedfastness of faith. It is an appropriate comparison, when the Lord calls the Church his field, for believers are the seed of it; and though Christ afterwards adds that the field is the world, yet he undoubtedly intended to apply this designation, in a peculiar manner, to the Church, about which he had commenced the discourse. But as he was about to drive his plough through every country of the world, so as to cultivate fields, and scatter the seed of life, throughout the whole world, he has employed a synecdoche, to make the world denote what more strictly belonged only to a part of it. (John Calvin, Commentary on A Harmony of the Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Vol. II , in Calvin’s Commentaries, Volume XVI, Baker Book House 1979 reprint, pp. 119, 120 - bold emphasis mine.) [An online version can be accessed HERE.]

And not just Calvin, but also Jonathan Edwards:

Concerning purging the tares out of the field, or casting men out of the church, there is no difference between me and those whom I oppose in the present controversy. (“Qualifications for Communion”, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Vol. 1, The Banner of Truth Trust 1984 reprint, p. 468.) [An online version can be accessed HERE.]

And finally, some thoughts from a commentary on Matthew:

When the Donatists undertook to excommunicate all persons known to be evil, and in the case of traditores, who had given up copies of Scripture to be burned during persecutions, were unwilling ever to restore them to the church connection, Augustine wrote against their views a great number of treatises, in which he constantly appealed to this parable [i.e. wheat and tares], as showing that good and evil persons must dwell together in the church. He says the Donatist bishops would reply, “It does not refer to the church; the Lord said, the field is the world, not, the field is the church.” But Augustine would say that the world means the church. (John A. Broadus, Commentary On The Gospel of Matthew - An American Commentary on the New Testament, Issue 1, ed. Alvah Hovey, page 300 – bold emphasis mine.)

So I ask, which interpretation are you going accept? Will you side with Augustine, Calvin, Edwards, and Broadus, or with the modern day Donatists?


Grace and peace,

David

15 comments:

Alex said...

Jeff Downs of Alpha and Omega says that there are two different interpretations of the parable, but he is more in line with the modern interpretation.

http://www.aomin.org/aoblog/index.php?itemid=3495

"Now, do any of the above quotes contain the statement that the field/world is NOT the visible Church? Clearly, they do not."

Here is yet again another example of the faulty logic often used against Catholics. You are correct, just because Augustine affirms one interpretation, this in itself does not indicate that he would deny the other. An acceptable interpretation in this case is not a necessary either/or.

Richard Froggatt said...

David,

This was a good read.

Rhology said...

David,

Why didn't you include the text of Matthew 13 whence I derived my entire point? That wasn't entirely up front.

Peace,
Rhology

David Waltz said...

Hi Alex,

Thanks for the link to Jeff’s sermon—difficult for this NW beachbum to get past the Southern drawl…

You wrote:

>> Jeff Downs of Alpha and Omega says that there are two different interpretations of the parable, but he is more in line with the modern interpretation.>>

Me: IMHO, the “modern interpretation” seems to be somewhat the by-product of a pessimistic eschatology (e.g. dispensationalism, Adventism, etc.). However, with that said, the “modern interpretation” can be found in a few early CFs.

>>Here is yet again another example of the faulty logic often used against Catholics. You are correct, just because Augustine affirms one interpretation, this in itself does not indicate that he would deny the other. An acceptable interpretation in this case is not a necessary either/or.>>

Me: Indeed, I too have noticed that doctrinal balance is rarely achieved via an either/or principle, but rather via a both/and…


Grace and peace,

David

David Waltz said...

Hi Richard,

I appreciate the kudos…thanks much for the support.


Grace and peace,

David

David Waltz said...

Hello Rhology,

You posted:

>> Why didn't you include the text of Matthew 13 whence I derived my entire point? That wasn't entirely up front.>>

Two reasons: first, the passage is so well known I did not think it necessary; and second, for the few that may not be familiar with the passage, I provided the link to the original thread and combox.

I can assure you, nothing sinister was afoot…


Grace and peace,

David

Rhology said...

Well, since the entirety of my response to your original assertion was to quote Jesus in Matthew 13 and then pretty much to let our RC opponents tie their own nooses, I'd say it's sort of relevant. I mean, you write this whole post to say that the field could be the church, and Jesus says "The field is the world". It's one of the most amazing displays of willful blindness I've seen...this week at least.

David Waltz said...

Hello Rhology,

So Augustine, Calvin and Edwards have displayed “willful blindness”? Hmmmm…

You can add the great Evangelical, R.C. Ryle to your list:

“The parable of the wheat and tares, which occupies the chief part of these verses, is one of peculiar importance in the present day. It is eminently calculated to correct the extravagant expectations in which many Christians indulge, as to the effect of missions abroad, and of preaching the Gospel at home. May we give it the attention which it deserves!

In the first place, this parable teaches us, that good and evil will always be found together in the professing Church, until the end of the world.

The visible Church is set before us as a mixed body.

It is a vast “field” in which, “wheat and tares” grow side by side.” (R.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts On The Gospels – St. Matthew, 1860, pp. 146, 147.)


Now, the parables in Matthew 13 are called “kingdom” parables for a good reason: they concern the visible Church (God’s kingdom on Earth) in history. Take note that the “field” is “His [Christ’s] field” (v.24); and a bit later we read: “So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares?” (v.27) Who are the “servants”? What is the “field”? (Please keep in mind that the Greek term κόμος is used in many different senses.) Now, ask your self this simple question: if the “world” (v.38) is not a geographical symbol for the expansion of the Church but merely means our fallen world, why would our Lord’s servants attempt to pluck the tares?

IMO, there is much more going on in the parable of the “wheat and tares” than your simple reductionist interpretation; as such, I am going to side with Augustine, Calvin, Edwards and Ryle on this issue.


Grace and peace,

David

Matthew Bellisario said...

I really can't believe these guys! Now Rhology has put a poll up on the Beggars All website. These guys are so dishonest, and I really can't take it anymore. Did anyone ever say the passage did not refer to the world? I think the point we have all been making is that it doesn't ONLY refer to the world. I have written that from the beginning, and emphasized it over and over. Yet Rhology and his side-clown Turretin Fan are trying to change the argument on us as if we all have said that it does not reer to the world at all. Oh well, this is par for the course for these guys. Did we expect them to admit they were wrong?

Rhology said...

Yet Rhology and his side-clown Turretin Fan

No no no, you've got it all mixed up. I'm HIS side-clown.

tap said...

I'm seriously reading that thread over at Beggars all, and 'Loling'. I assume the owner of the blog is embarrassed by Rhology's 'dullness' (to put it mildly). But he won't say anything because he probably doesn't want to throw him under the bus. (plus traffic doesn't hurt).

David Waltz said...

Hi Tap,

An interesting peek into the minds of folk who embrace nuda scriptura; I have tried to simplify the issue for our brothers in Christ in my latest thread:

http://articulifidei.blogspot.com/2009/11/parable-of-wheat-and-tares-part-2-im.html.

I sincerely hope my little summation ‘sinks in’.

Getting a bit ‘burned-out’ with this matter for now, off to spend some time in my Arabic studies…


Grace and peace,

David

tap said...

Dude what the heck? you are learning the language or you already know the language and are just reading Arabic books? Either way that's some crazy deep dedication bro! Perhaps you might one day discover/translate the lost Canon's of Nicea somewhere in Ctesiphon.
May God bless you in your endeavors!

David Waltz said...

Hi Tap,

I have been deeply interested in Islam since the early 90s. To assist my studies, I have collected a bit over 600 books on Islam; but I am at the point in my studies that I need to go beyond English translations, so I am learning Arabic (trying to devote at least 1 hour a day to this endeavor).

God bless,

David

Anonymous said...

I'm seriously reading that thread over at Beggars all, and 'Loling'. I assume the owner of the blog is embarrassed by Rhology's 'dullness' (to put it mildly). But he won't say anything because he probably doesn't want to throw him under the bus. (plus traffic doesn't hurt).