Thursday, July 24, 2008

On Private Judgment

As comments, and interest, in my series on doctrinal development appeared to be nearing an end, I thought I would devote a bit of my non-committed time to other goings on in the blog world. A thread at the Beggar’s All blog caught my eye (HERE) and I decided to respond. As with many threads at BA, the combox took on a life of its own, moving away from “faith alone” into other controversial genre, one of which was the issue concerning “private judgment”; it seems that I am the ‘guilty’ party, for it was my quote of A.N.S. Lane’s essay (see side bar) which referenced the following: “The Reformers feared private judgement almost as much as did the Catholics and were not slow to attack it in its Anabaptist manifestation.” This prompted a response by Jason Loh, who posts under the name of ‘Augustinian Successor’. Jason wrote:

Well, Lane's thesis is refuted by McGrath in "Christianity's Dangerous Idea: The Protestant Revolution, a history from the sixteenth century to the twenty-first".

Lane is mistaken here. The RIGHT to private judgment was one of the principles of Reformation. The issue relates to USE of private judgment: is it based on sola Scriptura? If so, how is sola Scriptura understood?

Sola Scriptura does not mean abandonment of Tradition but re-defining its use to ensure and maintain continuity. Sola Scriptura does not mean ecclesial and liturgical arrangements for the sake of good order (not by divine institution, unlike Romanism in reference to e.g. the papacy - therein lies the difference) can be opposed with impunity.
And again:

Of course Lane was mistaken. He confused the RIGHT to private judgment with the USE of private judgment. The ABUSE of private judgment could be seen in Luther's confrontation with the Schwaermer (Enthusiasts).

The LIMITS to private jugdment is set out in e.g. Article XXXIV - Of the TRADITIONS of the CHURCH:

"It is not necessary that Traditions and Ceremonies be in all places one, and utterly like; for at all times they have been divers, and may be changed according to the diversities of countries, times, and men's manners, so that nothing be ordained against God's Word. Whosoever through his private judgement, willingly and purposely, doth openly break the traditions and ceremonies of the Church, which be not repugnant to the Word of God, and be ordained and approved by common authority, ought to be rebuked openly, (that others may fear to do the like,) as he that offendeth against the common order of the Church, and hurteth the authority of the Magistrate, and woundeth the consciences of the weak brethren.Every particular or national Church hath authority to ordain, change, and abolish, ceremonies or rites of the Church ordained only by man's authority, so that all things be done to edifying."

Jason’s response reveals two important details concerning “private judgment”: first, there are “LIMITS”; and second, these “LIMITS” involve the issue of Church authority.

I then responded with:

Lane is not saying that Luther, Calvin, Knox, et al. denied “the RIGHT to private judgment” IN A CERTAIN SENSE. As a Catholic, I too have “the RIGHT to private judgment” within a set of historically defined parameters (e.g. Ecumenical Councils and ex cathedra promulgations). What Lane IS saying is that in PRACTICE, there was little difference between Calvin’s “Church” and Sadolet’s “Church”. Though Calvin denied infallibility to creeds, confessions, catechisms et al., they in day-to-day church polity functioned as such.

I sincerely thought that Jason would come to the understanding that Dr. Lane was not “mistaken”, that he was actually affirming what Jason had earlier said with different terminology and emphasis. But I was wrong—Jason then posted:

"The Reformers feared private judgement almost as much as did the Catholics and were not slow to attack it in its Anabaptist manifestation."

David, as the above quotation shows you've thoroughly misread Lane, and Lane was mistaken (as he tried to equate the Reformers' fear of private judgment with the Roman), and you're absolutely wrong. Let me spell this out to you, AGAIN, since you're not listening to me.

The right to private judgment is one of the principles of the Reformation. It is grounded in the priesthood of all believers. The Roman Church denies the latter theological premise and hence private judgment. Private judgment is a dirty word in the Magisterium, remember?

Once again, Dr. Lane is not denying “private judgment”, he is merely affirming that the Reformers placed “LIMITS” on it—greater “LIMITS” than Jason seems to realize. And perhaps even more importantly, Jason seems to think that Catholics deny “private judgment”, when in fact, “private judgment” (with, of course, “LIMITS”) is affirmed. Note what the famous English Catholic convert, Ronald Knox wrote on this issue:

By an equally grotesque illusion, most Englishmen have the idea that Catholics base all their religious beliefs on the authority of the Church…Let me then avoid further ambiguity, give a list of certain leading doctrines which no Catholic, upon a moment’s reflection, could accept on the authority of the Church and on that ground alone.

1. The existence of God.

2. The fact that he has made a revelation to the world in Jesus Christ.

3. The Life (in its broad outlines), the Death, and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

4. The fact that our Lord founded a Church.

5. The fact that he bequeathed to that Church his own teaching office, with the guarantee (naturally) that it should not err in teaching.

6. The consequent intellectual duty of believing what the Church believes.
(Ronald Knox, The Belief of Catholics, pp. 30, 31.)

He follows this with:

“When you have contrived to persuade him that, for Catholics, the authority of the Church in matters of faith is not a self-evident axiom, but a truth arrived at by a process of argument, the Protestant controversialist has his retort ready. ‘You admit, then after all,’ he says, ‘that a man has to use his own private judgment in order to arrive at religious truth? Why, then, what is the use of authority in religion at all? I had always supposed that there was a straight issue between us, you supporting authority and I private judgment; I had always supposed that you criticised me for my presumption in searching for God by the light of my imperfect human reason; it proves, now that you are no less guilty of such presumption than myself! Surely your reproaches are inconsistent, and your distinctions unnecessary. If you use your private judgment to establish certain cardinal points of theology, the existence of God, the authority of Christ, and so on, why may I not use my private judgment to establish not only these, but all other points of theology…” (Ibid., pp. 34, 35.)

To which Knox replies:

“I could not have imagined, if I had not heard it with my own ears, the accent of surprise with which Protestants suddenly light upon this startling discovery, that the belief we Catholics have in authority is based upon an act of private judgment. How on earth could they ever suppose we taught otherwise? I say nothing here of the grace of faith, which is the hidden work of God in our souls. But how could the conscious process by which we arrive at any form of truth begin without an act of private judgment?” (Ibid., p. 35.)

And again:

“Reject private judgment? Of course Catholics have never rejected private judgment; they only profess to delimit the spheres in which private judgment and authority have their respective parts.” (Ibid., 35 – bold emphasis mine.)

So, one can clearly see that Catholics affirm “private judgment”, placing “LIMITS” on its use, as does the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Anglicans cited by Jason; as does the Formula of Concord of the Lutherans, from which we read:

With reference to the schism in matters of faith which has occurred in our times, we regard, as the unanimous consensus and exposition of our Christian faith, particularly against the false worship, idolatry, and superstition of the papacy and against other sects, and as the symbol of our time, the first and unaltered Augsburg Confession, which was delivered to Emperor Charles V at Augsburg during the great Diet in the year 1530, together with the Apology thereof and the Articles drafted at Smalcald in the year 1537, which the leading theologians approved by their subscription at that time.

Since these matters also concern the laity and the salvation of their souls, we subscribe Dr. Luther’s Small and Large Catechisms as both of them are contained in his printed works. They are “the layman’s Bible” and contain everything which Holy Scripture discusses at greater length and which a Christian must know for his salvation.

All doctrines should conform to the standards set forth above. Whatever is contrary to them should be rejected and condemned as opposed to the unanimous declaration of our faith.
(Formula of Concord, “The Epitome”, in The Book of Concord, trans. Tappert, p. 465.)


Herewith we again whole-heartedly subscribe this Christian and thoroughly scriptural Augsburg Confession, and we abide by the plain, clear, and pure meaning of its words. We consider this Confession a genuinely Christian symbol which all true Christians ought to accept next to the Word of God, just as in ancient times Christian symbols and confessions were formulated in the church of God when great controversies broke out, and orthodox teachers and hearers pledged themselves to these symbols with heart and mouth. Similarly we are determined by the grace of the Almighty to abide until our end by this repeatedly cited Christian Confession as it was delivered to Emperor Charles in 1530. And we do not intend, either in this or in subsequent doctrinal statements, to depart from the aforementioned Confession or to set up a different and new confession. (Formula of Concord, “Solid Declaration”, in The Book of Concord, trans. Tappert, p. 502.)

And so with The Genevan Confession:

The Confession of Faith which all the citizens and inhabitants of Geneva and the subjects of the country must promise to keep and hold. (1536) (Calvin: Theological Treatises, ed. J.K.S. Reid, p. 26.)

So much for my musings on “private judgment”; I sincerely hope I have shed some important light on this issue.

Grace and peace,


Friday, July 18, 2008

Presuppositions and Doctrinal Development

I have finally finished the reading list concerning doctrinal development (hereafter DD) that I imposed upon myself (though I am quite sure that there shall be further additions to the list in the near future).

My introduction for this thread will be a recommended bibliography (abbreviated and English only) on DD, with brief notes. [Please note: if a referenced work is available online in either a ‘full view’ or ‘limited preview’, a link (or links) in brackets shall immediately follow the citation.]

The second portion of this thread shall summarize the fundamental assessments of my readings on DD.

First, and foremost, on my abbreviated list of essential readings concerning DD is John Henry Newman’s, An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine [1845 ed./pdf HERE; 1878 ed./html HERE]. This book is the “classic” work on DD in English. Though other DD treatments preceded this tome, none were as comprehensive, and/or focused. To my knowledge, virtually all subsequent books on DD reference Newman’s Essay, as do the vast majority of essays and articles. (Note: I highly recommend that the reading of Newman’s autobiography, An Apologia Pro Vita Sua [1864 ed,/pdf HERE; 1865 ed./pdf HERE; 1864-1865 ed./html HERE], immediately follow the reading of his Essay.)

My second recommendation is Peter Toon’s, The Development of Doctrine in the Church [full view/html HERE]. Dr. Toon’s book includes summaries of Newman’s Essay, critiques of Newman, Roberty Rainy’s and James Orr’s DD contributions, recent (but prior to 1979) Protestant and Catholic DD views, and his own theory of DD. This work is the most comprehensive, single treatment of the theory and history of DD from Newman through 1979 I have read. What the book lacks in depth of the particulars, it more than makes up for in its breadth.

Next are three essays by ecumenically minded Catholic theologians: Karl Rahner’s “The Development Of Dogma” (in Theological Investigations – Volume I, pp. 39-77; his “Considerations On The Development Of Dogma” (in Theological Investigations – Volume IV, pp. 3- 35; and Nicholas Lash’s “Dogmas and doctrinal progress” (in Doctrinal Development and Christian Unity, pp. 3 – 33). These three essays, while remaining faithful to Newman’s theory, are sensitive to Protestant concerns.

James Orr’s, The Progress of Dogma [limited preview HERE; unfortunately, the most important chapter/lecture (I) is not in the preview]. In many respects, this work is a Protestant version of Newman’s Essay.

R.P.C. Hanson’s, The Continuity of Christian Doctrine. This work is an interesting one; it written by an Anglican patristic scholar, who upholds the Bible as “authoritative” and “a norm for development”, while denying inerrancy; I would describe him as a “moderate”.

D. H. Williams, Retrieving The Tradition & Renewing Evangelicalism [limited preview HERE]. This book is a must read for Evangelicals who see little need to reflect on importance of tradition in its relationship to the Scriptures, and the fact of DD in history.

Johan Adam Möhler’s, Unity in the Church or The Principle of Catholicism. The book is perhaps the most important Catholic treatment of DD concerning the pre-Nicene Church period.

Jaroslav Pelikan’s, Development of Doctrine – Some Historical Prolegmena [limited preview HERE]. This book presents some of the author’s explorations into nature and history of DD. IMHO, this book should probably be read before his magnum opus, The Christian Tradition – A History of the Development of Doctrine (5 vols.).

Philip Schaff’s, The Principle of Protestantism [full view/pdf HERE]. Though a bit too polemical at times, it still remains as a substantial Protestant contribution to DD readings, and includes an important “Introduction” by John W. Nevin.

Maurice Wiles’, The Making of Christian Doctrine. Presents some excellent assessments concerning the “motives for development” in the early Church. His interaction with the historical examples he provides is also useful.

Aidan Nichols’, From Newman To Congar. Provides excellent summations and assessments of important DD scholars from Newman to Yves Congar.

Owen Chadwick’s, From Bossuet To Newman [limited preview HERE]. Excellent summation of DD precursors to Newman, and a good treatment of Newman’s theory, plus some of the shortly following critiques.

The above is my “short” list of DD reading materials. I have purposely left out treatments that lie at the extreme “right” and “left” ends of DD (see Joseph F. Kelley’s cited comments provided at the beginning of my last THREAD), for both personal and intellectual reasons. And as one who adheres to the dictum, “you can’t beat something with nothing”, I have also chosen not to list works that are strictly critical in nature (e.g. Brownson, Cunningham, Faber, Moberly, Mozley, et al.).

So, what have I gleaned from my recent DD readings? First, DD is a historical fact; second, one’s presuppositions have a tremendous impact on one’s accepted theory of DD; and third, the theory of DD is still developing!

Moving beyond my above general assessments, I would like to reproduce my responses to questions posed by Ken Temple in the combox of the last thread here at AF:

what are the main presuppositions of the John Henry Newman DD and Roman Catholicism?

Me: 1.) the Scriptures are “God breathed”, and as such inerrant, and materially sufficient; and 2.) the Church is the “pillar and ground of truth”, is the “body of Christ” and indwelt by the HS, and as such is guarded from error in doctrine and morals.

What are the main presuppositions of Darby, Calvin, and Cunningham?

Me: The Scriptures are “God breathed”, and as such inerrant, and materially and FORMALLY sufficient.

What are the main presuppositions of the liberals?

Me: The Scriptures are human accounts of God’s revelation, and as such, are not inerrant.

Anyone who attempts to build a comprehensive view of DD will do so by beginning with one of the three above presuppositions/positions (the first embraces two components). At this stage of my studies, I have come to the understanding it is the first position that leads one to the most consistent theory of DD (though it certainly still retains its own set of difficulties). This conclusion is essentially reached by default, for the second position (P2) borrows from the third (P3) to refute the second component (C2) of the first (P1), while borrowing from P1 to build its theory of DD; and P3 offers no serious objective reasons to combat Harnack’s assault on any theory of DD, claiming all DD constitutes a corruption of the “pure Gospel” (which has been adopted with slight variations by those who lean towards Kelley’s far “left”).

By way of illustration, James Orr and Peter Toon whole-heartedly embrace modern historical critical methods to attack the C2 of P1, yet then refuse to apply the same methods to P2. They also borrow Newman’s general principles to determine “true” developments from “false” ones. James Orr wrote: “Dr. J.H. Newman, e.g., in his famous essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, laid down what we must recognize as sound general principles—the very soundest—however much we may differ from him in the application of them” (The Progress of Dogma, p. 20).

In ending, I find that when I apply the same methods I use to defend the C1 of P1 to the C2 of P1, I end up with the same results; and on the flip side, if I apply the methods of P3, used by proponents of P2 to confute the C2 of P1, to P2, P2 does not hold up any better than P1. (All this is not to say that P1 is without ‘difficulties”, but rather, once again, that P1 appears to be the most consistent position of the three.)

Grace and peace,