Thursday, February 4, 2010
I begin this thread with the above provocative question/title, knowing full well that devout Catholics will answer with something like: only those councils and creeds which have been determined to be Ecumenical and Universal by the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, when speaking on “faith and morals”, are to be deemed infallible.
Lumen Gentium addresses this issue as follows:
Bishops, teaching in communion with the Roman Pontiff, are to be respected by all as witnesses to divine and Catholic truth. In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent. This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will. His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking.
Although the individual bishops do not enjoy the prerogative of infallibility, they nevertheless proclaim Christ's doctrine infallibly whenever, even though dispersed through the world, but still maintaining the bond of communion among themselves and with the successor of Peter, and authentically teaching matters of faith and morals, they are in agreement on one position as definitively to be held. This is even more clearly verified when, gathered together in an ecumenical council, they are teachers and judges of faith and morals for the universal Church, whose definitions must be adhered to with the submission of faith.
And this infallibility with which the Divine Redeemer willed His Church to be endowed in defining doctrine of faith and morals, extends as far as the deposit of Revelation extends, which must be religiously guarded and faithfully expounded. And this is the infallibility which the Roman Pontiff, the head of the college of bishops, enjoys in virtue of his office, when, as the supreme shepherd and teacher of all the faithful, who confirms his brethren in their faith, by a definitive act he proclaims a doctrine of faith or morals. And therefore his definitions, of themselves, and not from the consent of the Church, are justly styled irreformable, since they are pronounced with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, promised to him in blessed Peter, and therefore they need no approval of others, nor do they allow an appeal to any other judgment. For then the Roman Pontiff is not pronouncing judgment as a private person, but as the supreme teacher of the universal Church, in whom the charism of infallibility of the Church itself is individually present, he is expounding or defending a doctrine of Catholic faith. The infallibility promised to the Church resides also in the body of Bishops, when that body exercises the supreme magisterium with the successor of Peter. To these definitions the assent of the Church can never be wanting, on account of the activity of that same Holy Spirit, by which the whole flock of Christ is preserved and progresses in unity of faith. (Vatican II, Dogmatic Constitution On The Church, accessed at the Vatican website - footnote numbers removed – bold emphasis mine.)
I am going to reserve for a later post the issues concerning when can one know a teaching falls under the categories of “faith and morals”. What I would like to explore further in this thread, is whether or not the above criteria can be found in the teachings/writings of the early Church.
The renowned historian, Ramsey MacMullen, lists no less than 255 councils between the council of Nicea (325) and the council of Constantinople (553) in his book, Voting About God, and then goes to state that, “the councils over this time-span cannot have totalled less than 15,000.” (See pages 2-7.)
Now, do ANY of the councils listed by MacMullen exhibit/meet the conditions detailed in Lumen Gentium in order to qualify as Ecumenical and infallible? To my knowledge, not a single one does. But, I certainly make no claim to infallibility in these matters, and shall eagerly await others to weigh in.
Moving on, Dave Armstrong in this heartfelt post wrote:
But they are not, I submit, troubling at all! Even the source you provided verifies that. I don't see the "troubling 'cracks'" that you see. If this is the sort of thing you actually start with as a premise, and move on from there, then it is a castle made of sand. You haven't even established (by any stretch of the imagination) that this is a solid difficulty in the Catholic position.
Apart from acknowledging that doctrine does indeed develop, what I am attempting to do in this new series of threads on councils, creeds, and infallibility is look at the historic evidences and processes without ANY premise(s), save the presupposition shared by ALL the varying theological schools of thought in this period that the Sacred Scriptures were divinely inspired and infallible.
With the above in mind, I would now like to ask another question: by what means did the Christians living between 325 and 553 AD come to make their decisions about authority, councils, and doctrine?
In the previous thread, I presented some historic facts concerning the council of Constantinople in 381 and the creed that was promulgated there. I sincerely wonder what would have compelled someone living in the Western region of the Roman Empire to believe that this clearly regional council (see below) was an Ecumenical/Universal council, and that its creed was infallible?
Concerning the creed, Hanson wrote:
The alterations which may be significant are the omissions by C of ‘that is, of the substance (ousia) of the Father (iii), originally in N; the new clause in C ‘and there will be no end of his kingdom’ (x); the considerable addition to the article on the Holy Spirit (xi); and the omission of N’s anathemas…The omission of ‘that is, of the substance ousia of the Father (iii) has caused much heart-searching among scholars. (R.P.C. Hanson, The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God, p. 817)
And Tanner penned:
Scholars find difficulties with the creed attributed to the council of Constantinople. Some say that the council composed a new creed. But no mention is made of this creed by ancient witnesses until the council of Chalcedon; and the council of Constantinople was said simply to have endorsed the faith of Nicea, with a few additions on the holy Spirit to refute the Pneumatomachian heresy. Moreover, if the latter tradition is accepted, an explanation must be given of why the first two articles of the so-called Contantinopolitan creed differ considerably from the Nicene creed. (Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils, Volume 1, Norman P. Tanner, S.J. editor, 1990, p. 21 – bold emphasis mine.)
As for the nature of the council itself, we read:
The Second Council of Constantinople, A. D. 381, was not originally a general council. (Joseph Pohle, The Trinity, English trans. Arthur Preuss, 1912, p. 129.)
In the spring of 381 Theodosius assembled a council of 148 bishops at Constantinople, with Meletius of Antioch presiding. None who would not profess the Creed of Nicea were allowed to attend. No bishops from the west were present, nor was the Pope represented. Therefore this was not really an ecumenical council…(Warren H. Carroll, The Building of Christendom, p.62)
The Council of Constantinople owes its œcumenicity to the agreement of its doctrinal decisions with the mind of the Universal Church. In the stricter sense of the word the Council certainly was not œcumenical, for the West was unrepresented. Nicephorus distinctly states that Theodosius, as Emperor of the East, summoned only the Bishops of the East. (H.B. Swete, On The Early History Of The Doctrine Of The Holy Spirit, p. 79.)
Dr. Bryan Cross, in the combox of our previous thread, linked to a thread at De Regnis Duobus I had not read before. In that thread, I found the following POST by Andrew McCallum to be germane to our current discussion:
You almost get the impression (and I'm not finished with his essay and am hardly qualified to really deconstruct it yet) that even if there were no real "pope" in Rome for the first handful of decades, it wouldn't really matter.
I agree that this approach does seem more plausible at least from a strictly historical standpoint. It's really stretching things to argue that Clement, etc. had the same conception of their authority as those RC bishops in let's say the High Middle Ages. But on the other hand if Newman's position is correct on development then, as you have pointed out, everything that cannot be explained by the data of history can in an ad hoc manner be relegated to development. From my perspective John's list above was relevant even if not everything was a necessary condition to justify the papacy. But if Newman is right then John's list is completely irrelevant. Any Roman Catholic dogma then is unfalsifiable. In that case we might as well all hang this up and go have another margarita or beer or wine... (Saturday, September 12, 2009, 5:56:45 AM – found on page 7 of the comments section.)
I shall end this post with a thought provoking selection from the pen of St. Augustine:
Now let the proud and swelling necks of the heretics raise themselves, if they dare, against the holy humility of this address. You mad Donatists, whom we desire earnestly to return to the peace and unity of the holy Church, that you may receive health therein, what have ye to say in answer to this? You are wont, indeed, to bring up against us the letters of Cyprian, his opinion, his Council; why do ye claim the authority of Cyprian for your schism, and reject his example when it makes for the peace of the Church? But who can fail to be aware that the sacred canon of Scripture, both of the Old and New Testament, is confined within its own limits, and that it stands so absolutely in a superior position to all later letters of the bishops, that about it we can hold no manner of doubt or disputation whether what is confessedly contained in it is right and true; but that all the letters of bishops which have been written, or are being written, since the closing of the canon, are liable to be refuted if there be anything contained in them which strays from the truth, either by the discourse of some one who happens to be wiser in the matter than themselves, or by the weightier authority and more learned experience of other bishops, by the authority of Councils; and further, that the Councils themselves, which are held in the several districts and provinces, must yield, beyond all possibility of doubt, to the authority of plenary Councils which are formed for the whole Christian world; and that even of the plenary Councils, the earlier are often corrected by those which follow them, when, by some actual experiment, things are brought to light which were before concealed, and that is known which previously lay hid, and this without any whirlwind of sacrilegious pride, without any puffing of the neck through arrogance, without any strife of envious hatred, simply with holy humility, catholic peace, and Christain charity? (On Baptism, II.3-4 – NPNF 4.427.)
Grace and peace,