Monday, March 30, 2009

Pseudo-Luther quote: updated information.

Back on April 15, 2008 I posted a THREAD that examined a quite famous quote usually attributed to Martin Luther: “justification by faith alone is ‘the article upon which the church stands or falls (articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae)’”.

I noted that the phrase was actually coined in the early 18th century (1718) by one Valentin E. Löscher. The scholar, Eric W. Gritsch (on whose research I had relied upon for the information), suggested that Löscher’s phrase was probably derived from Luther’s Smalcald Articles (Part II, Article I), which, at that time, seemed like a good candidate to me. However, yesterday afternoon, I believe that I came across a much better predecessor. In the introduction, “The Argument”, to his 1535 “Lectures on Galatians”, Martin Luther said:

In this epistle, therefore, Paul is concerned to instruct, comfort, and sustain us diligently in a perfect knowledge of this most excellent and Christian righteousness. For if the doctrine of justification is lost, the whole of Christian doctrine is lost. And those in the world who do not teach it are either Jews or Turks or papists or sectarians. For between these two kinds of righteousness, the active righteousness of the Law and the passive righteousness of Christ, there is no middle ground. Therefore he who has strayed away from this Christian righteousness will necessarily relapse into the active righteousness; that is, when he has lost Christ, he must fall into a trust in his own works. (Martin Luther, Luther’s Works – Volume 26: Lectures On Galatians 1535, trans. Jaroslav Pelikan, p. 9.)

Another version (Middleton’s) reads:

St. Paul, therefore, in this Epistle, goeth about diligently to instruct us, to comfort us, to hold us in the perfect knowledge of this most Christian and excellent righteousness. For if the article of justification be once lost, then is all true Christian doctrine lost. And as many as are in the world that hold not this doctrine, are either Jews, Turks, Papists, or heretics. For between, the “righteousness of the law,” and “Christian righteousness,” there is no mean. He then that strayeth from this “Christian righteousness,” must needs fall into the “righteousness of the law ;” that is to say, “when he hath lost Christ he must fall into the confidence of his own works.” (Martin Luther, A Commentary On Saint Paul’s Epistle To The Galatians, 1839 ed., p. xcviii.)

Note this phrase: “For if the doctrine of justification is lost, the whole of Christian doctrine is lost.”

IMHO, the above seems to be the best candidate (to date) as the probably source for Löscher’s (in)famous dictum.

Grace and peace,


UPDATING THE UPDATE: It did not take very long for this thread to stimulate further research into the origins of the phrase “articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae”. The very next day, TurretinFan provided some additional information in a subsequent THREAD he had posted on his blog. Within hours, JOHN BUGAY, brought to light some important information that had been posted back on September 1, 2008 by DR. R. SCOTT CLARK. The significant footnote referenced by Dr. Clark from McGrath’s Iustitia Dei is reproduced below:

For the sense and origins of this celebrated phrase, see F. Loofs, ‘Der articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae’. It is necessary to challenge Loofs upon several points, particularly his suggestion that the phrase is first used in the eighteenth century by the Lutheran theologian Valentin Löscher in his famous anti-Pietist diatribe Vollständiger Timotheus Verinus oder Darlegung der Wahrheit und des Friedens in denen bisherigen Pietistischen Streitigkeiten (1718-21), and is restricted to the Lutheran constituency within Protestantism. This is clearly incorrect. The Reformed theologian Johann Heinrich Alsted uses the phrase a century earlier, opening his discussion of the justification of humanity coram Deo as follows: ‘articulus iustificationis dicitur articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae’ (Theologia scholastica didacta (Hanover, 1618), 711). Precursors of the phrase may, of course, be found in the writings of Luther himself ““ e.g., WA 40/3.352.3: ‘quia isto articulo stante stat Ecclesia, ruente ruit Ecclesia’. For more recent reflection, see Schwarz, ‘Luthers Rechtfertigungslehre als Eckstein der christlichen Theologie und Kirche’. (Alister E. McGrath, Iustitia Dei, Third Edition, p. vii.)

[Note: this same information was provided (with minor variations) in the First Edition, 1986, 2.193, footnote #3; and in the Second Edition, 1998, p. 448, footnote #3.]

P.S. I had read the First Edition, cover-to-cover, back in the late 90s, but had obviously forgotten about this important information concerning Alsted; and this, in spite of the fact that I discovered upon checking my personal copy I had actually highlighted the footnote!

P.S.S. I want to thank Dr. Clark, John Bugay, TurretinFan, and James Swan for their efforts on this subject.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Calvin: on the visible Church and apostasy – part 3

In part 3 of this series, we shall continue to explore Calvin’s thoughts on the visible Church, keeping in mind that he was attempting to defend a mediating position between the Catholic churches which remained in communion with the Bishop of Rome, and the Anabaptist sects. [Quotations from the Institutes of the Christian Religion in this post will be from The Westminster Press (1960) edition, translated by Ford Lewis Battles, and edited by John T. McNeill.]

After delineating “the distinguishing marks” of a ‘true’ church, Calvin then goes on to write:

We have laid down as distinguishing marks of the church the preaching of the Word and the observance of the sacraments? These can never exist without bringing forth fruit and prospering by God’s blessing. I do not say that wherever the Word is preached there will be immediate fruit; but wherever it is received and has a fixed abode, it shows its effectiveness. However it may be, where the preaching of the gospel is reverently heard and the sacraments are not neglected, there for the time being no deceitful or ambiguous form of the church is seen; and no one is permitted to spurn its authority, flout its warnings, resist its counsels, or make light of its chastisements—much less to desert it and break its unity. For the Lord esteems the communion of his church so highly that he counts as a traitor and apostate from Christianity anyone who arrogantly leaves any Christian society, provided it cherishes the true ministry of Word and sacraments. He so esteems the authority of the church that when it is violated he believes his own diminished. (4.1.10)

Once again, Calvin takes a very stern stance on the issue of schism, to the extent that he says, “the Lord esteems the communion of his church so highly that he counts as a traitor and apostate from Christianity anyone who arrogantly leaves any Christian society, provided it cherishes the true ministry of Word and sacraments”.

Now, contrast these words of Calvin, with the present day landscape of conservative Calvinism in America. Let’s examine those denominations which embrace the Westminster Standards (Westminster Confession of Faith, and the Westminster Larger and Shorter catechisms). But first, a brief history of the Presbyterian Church in the USA. According to Frank Mead’s Handbook of Denominations (10th edition), “the first American presbytery”, was, “founded in Philadelphia in 1706”. “American Presbyterians met in a general synod in 1729 and adopted the Westminster Confession of Faith, together with the Larger and Shorter Catechism”. A brief split occurred in 1740 between ministers who embraced the “‘new birth’ revivalism…which grew out of the Great Awakening enthusiasm”, with those who upheld “the old creedal Calvinism”. The two sides reunited in 1757 and remained pretty much united until 1837, when a split between “Old School” and “New School” Presbyterians occurred. The civil war precipitated further splits. The Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (PCUSA) became identified with “Northern” Presbyterianism, while in 1857, “several Southern New School synods had withdrawn to form the United Synod of the Presbyterian Church”. This was shortly following by the “greater schism” in 1861, “when 47 Southern presbyteries of the Old School formed the Presbyterian Church in the Confederate States of America. Then in 1867, the two aforementioned “Southern” denominations merged to form the Presbyterian in the United States (PCUS). The PCUSA and PCUS officially reunited in 1983 forming the new PCUSA.

Prior to this reunification, an important schism between the conservatives and liberals had taken place, over what has been termed the “fundamentalist-modernist controversy”. On June 11, 1936 the now famous G. Gresham Machen, a former professor at the Princeton Theological Seminary (on July 18, 1927, Machen, with his colleagues Oswald Allis, Robert Wilson and Cornelius Van Til, formed the conservative Westminster Theological Seminary, in Philadelphia – see Longfield’s, The Presbyterian Controversy, for in depth details), with “a group of about 300 people…met in Philadelphia to form a new church that would be true to the Bible”. But, unity within this new church did not last very long: “A year later it became apparent that the new church was actually composed of two groups with views so divergent [even though both ascribed to the Westminster Standards] as to make continued unity impossible”. A split occurred on September 6, 1938, forming two new churches: the Bible Presbyterian Church, and the church now known as the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC).

In the south, a split between the conservatives and liberals took place a bit later in 1973, and the conservative denomination now known as the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) was formed. However, the schisms were far from over, more splits loomed on the horizon.

In 1981, another split from the PCUSA occurred, forming the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC). 1998 witnessed the emergence of the Confederation of Reformed Evangelical Churches out of the PCA. (This schism has its roots in “Federal Vision” controversy.) And in 2006, the ultra-conservative Westminster Presbyterian Church in the United States (WPCUS) was formed (the OPC and PCA were just not ‘conservative’ enough!)

As of 2009, I am aware of no less than 8 conservative Presbyterian denominations which adhere to the Westminster Standards (the 7th and 8th being the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church and the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America). But, this is merely ‘the-tip-of-the-iceberg’, for there exists many other conservative denominations that have emerged within the Calvinistic/Reformed tradition (e.g. Reformed Baptists, Reformed Episcopal Church, Free Reformed Churches of North America, United Reformed Churches, et al.). Though these other Calvinistic/Reformed denominations have not adopted the Westminster Standards, the standards they have chosen to embrace are virtually identical, doctrinally speaking.

So, our little history lesson ends with a question: how faithful have these conservative Calvinistic/Reformed denominations been to Calvin’s teaching on schism?

Grace and peace,


Thursday, March 26, 2009

Some Subordinationism in Justin, Theophilus, and Tertullian

In the comment section of the recent thread, Apologetics against inferior opponents, our Reformed brother in Christ, Ken Temple, expressed a certain skepticism concerning subordinationism in the writings of the ante-Nicene Church Fathers. While reading a quote from John Thiel’s, Senses of Tradition, which I had cited in THIS THREAD, Ken noticed that Dr. Thiel had not provided references for certain deductions he had made from the writings of Justin Martyr, Theophilus, Tertullian, and Origen. I suspect that Dr. Thiel was of the opinion that his readers would be conversant enough with the literature he was drawing from, that he did not see a need to provide references. Such speculation aside, I shall now remedy Dr. Thiel’s neglect.

First, Justin Martyr, of whom he wrote, “whose reliance on the Middle Platonism of his day led him to portray Christ as a ‘second God’”.

Justin did not actually use the exact phrase “second God” (Gr. deuteros theos) in reference to Jesus. However, he did use a couple of equivalents: “another God and Lord” (Gr. theos kai kurios eteros), and “second place” (Gr. deutera chōra).

Then I replied, “I shall attempt to persuade you, since you have understood the Scriptures, [of the truth] of what I say, that there is, and that there is said to be, another God and Lord subject to the Maker of all things; who is also called an Angel, because He announces to men whatsoever the Maker of all things — above whom there is no other God — wishes to announce to them.” (Dialogue With Trypho, ch. 56 – ANF 1.223.)

Our teacher of these things is Jesus Christ, who also was born for this purpose, and was crucified under Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judaea, in the times of Tiberius Caesar; and that we reasonably worship Him, having learned that He is the Son of the true God Himself, and holding Him in the second place, and the prophetic Spirit in the third, we will prove. For they proclaim our madness to consist in this, that we give to a crucified man a place second to the unchangeable and eternal God, the Creator of all; for they do not discern the mystery that is herein, to which, as we make it plain to you, we pray you to give heed. (First Apology, ch. 13 – ANF 1.166, 167; see also ch. 60.)

Second, Theophilus, “whose strongly Jewish Christianity avowed the creation of the logos by God”.

IMHO, Dr. Thiel overstates what Theophilus actually wrote. Theophilus wrote that God “begat Him [the Logos], emitting Him [the Logos] along with His own wisdom before all things”. (See To Autolycus, 2.10 – ANF 2.98). But, such language exhibits, in very real sense, subordinationism. Theophilus in the same chapter later calls the Logos an “instrument” of God, and “one brought up with Him”.

Third, Tertullian,who still spoke of the created generation of the Son from the Father even as he struggled to maintain the unity of the Father and Son and creaturely difference between the Son and the universe”.

Let Hermogenes then confess that the very Wisdom of God is declared to be born and created, for the especial reason that we should not suppose that there is any other being than God alone who is unbegotten and uncreated. For if that, which from its being inherent in the Lord was of Him and in Him, was yet not without a beginning, — I mean His wisdom, which was then born and created, when in the thought of God It began to assume motion for the arrangement of His creative works, — how much more impossible is it that anything should have been without a beginning which was extrinsic to the Lord! But if this same Wisdom is the Word of God, in the capacity of Wisdom, and (as being He) without whom nothing was made, just as also (nothing) was set in order without Wisdom, how can it be that anything, except the Father, should be older, and on this account indeed nobler, than the Son of God, the only-begotten and first-begotten Word? (Against Hermogenes, ch. 18 – ANF 3.487.)

For before all things God was alone — being in Himself and for Himself universe, and space, and all things. Moreover, He was alone, because there was nothing external to Him but Himself. (Against Praxeas, ch. 5 – ANF 3.600.)

Listen therefore to Wisdom herself, constituted in the character of a Second Person: “At the first the Lord created me as the beginning of His ways, with a view to His own works, before He made the earth, before the mountains were settled; moreover, before all the hills did He beget me;” that is to say, He created and generated me in His own intelligence. (Against Praxeas, ch. 6 – ANF 3.601.)

Then, therefore, does the Word also Himself assume His own form and glorious garb, His own sound and vocal utterance, when God says, “Let there be light.” This is the perfect nativity of the Word, when He proceeds forth from God — formed by Him first to devise and think out all things under the name of Wisdom — “The Lord created or formed me as the beginning of His ways;” then afterward begotten, to carry all into effect — “When He prepared the heaven, I was present with Him.” (Against Praxeas, ch. 7 – ANF 3.601.)

I confess that I call God and His Word — the Father and His Son — two. For the root and the tree are distinctly two things, but correlatively joined; the fountain and the river are also two forms, but indivisible; so likewise the sun and the ray are two forms, but coherent ones. Everything which proceeds from something else must needs be second to that from which it proceeds, without being on that account separated: Where, however, there is a second, there must be two; and where there is a third, there must be three. Now the Spirit indeed is third from God and the Son; just as the fruit of the tree is third from the root, or as the stream out of the river is third from the fountain, or as the apex of the ray is third from the sun. Nothing, however, is alien from that original source whence it derives its own properties. In like manner the Trinity, flowing down from the Father through intertwined and connected steps, does not at all disturb the Monarchy, whilst it at the same time guards the state of the Economy. (Against Praxeas, ch. 8 – ANF 3.603.)

I sense that this post is getting a bit too lengthy, so I shall reserve Origen for another time.

Grace and peace,


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Ehrman vs. White NT textual tradition debate

I would like to bring to the attention of my readers a new internet resource that just became available today: a pdf transcript of the recent Bart Ehrman and James White debate (January 21, 2009, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida: Can the New Testament Be Inspired in Light of Textual Variation?). [Note: a video dvd of the debate will be available 04/03/09, and can be pre-ordered HERE.]

I thought both men did an excellent job, I must give the ‘win’ to James. In his opening statement, James provided a quote from two of the foremost New Testament textual scholars of our time, Kurt and Barbara Aland. That quote, and James’ subsequent comments, established the most fundamental point concerning the very nature of the New Testament textual tradition. From the debate we read:

It is vital to understand a basic truth about the manuscript tradition of the New Testament, to quote Kurt and Barbara Aland, “The transmission of the New Testament textual tradition is characterized by an extremely impressive degree of tenacity. Once a reading occurs it will persist with obstinacy. It is precisely the overwhelming mass of the New Testament textual tradition…which provides an assurance of certainty in establishing the original text.” Basically what this means is that once a reading appears in the manuscripts, it stays there. That includes scribal errors and even nonsense errors. Why would this be a good thing? Because of what it means on the other side: The original readings are still in the manuscript tradition. This is key! When we have a variant with three possibilities, A, B, and C, we do not have to worry about D, “None of the above!” (Page 13 of the online pdf version -bold emphasis in the transcript.)

The above quote from Kurt and Barbara Aland is from their classic work, The Text of the New Testament. The following is a fuller context of the quote:

The transmission of the New Testament textual tradition is characterized by an extremely impressive degree of tenacity. Once a reading occurs it will persist with obstinacy. It is precisely the overwhelming mass of the New Testament textual tradition, assuming the hygiainousa didaskalia* of New Testament textual criticism (we trust the reader will not be offended by this application of 1 Tim. 1:10), which provides an assurance of certainty in establishing the original text. (Kurt and Barbara Aland, The Text of the New Testament, second edition, translated by Erroll R. Rhodes, 1989, pp. 291, 292 – pp. 286, 287 in the first edition - bold emphasis in the original.)

This “tenacity” of the New Testament textual tradition is maintained by another contemporary textual scholar:

The early New Testament papyri contribute virtually no new substantial variants, suggesting that all of the New Testament variants are preserved somewhere in the extant manuscript tradition. Kenyon (1958:55) says:

The number of manuscripts of the New Testament, of early translations from it, and of quotations from it in the oldest writers of the church, is so large that it is practically certain that the true reading of every doubtful passage is preserved in some one or other of the ancient authorities. This can be said of no other ancient book.

This tells us that it is very unlikely that we would find additional significant variant readings if other manuscripts were discovered—even if these manuscripts were from the first century. We can safely assume, then, that the original text has usually been preserved in the earliest manuscripts
. (Philip Wesley Comfort, The Quest for the Original Text of the New Testament, p. 56.)

Hope you enjoy reading the entire debate as much as I have.

Grace and peace,


*I have transliterated the original Greek; the English equivalent is: sound/correct - teaching/doctrine.

Note: The Fredrick Kenyon work quoted by Comfort is from the 5th revised edition of his Our Bible and the Ancient Manuscripts.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Apologetics against inferior opponents

Knowing that I am probably running the risk of be labeled a “stalker” (“stalker” in James R. White’s vocabulary = one who dares to criticize any of his contributions; others who ‘lovingly’ have been given this label include: Dave Armstrong, Tim Enloe, and Paul Owen), I still feel somewhat compelled to offer a few comments on James’ latest blog post: Reflections on a Two and a Half Hour Conversation with a Witness Elder.

Now, my interest in this particular post primarily stems from two important reasons: first, I was raised a Jehovah’s Witness (4th generation); and second, my ongoing studies into subordinationism.

James wrote:

The conversation focused, properly, on Jesus Christ and His relationship to the Father. Even more importantly, it focused on the text of Scripture. It was not, however, the normal game of Bible ping-pong, one verse cited on each side, back and forth. Though I was happy to respond to any texts he raised, for the most part I was presenting to him key texts demonstrating that the NT writers identified Jesus as Yahweh. Then I added in examples of mistranslation on the part of the NWT as well.”

Me: I suppose that the above approach ‘works’ for one who is a professional apologist and whose ‘opponent’ is a layman (even though Albert happens to be an elder, the actual amount of time he would have been able to spend on the issues that James raised, during his 30 plus years as a JW, would have been quite limited, for most JWs hold down a regular 40 hour a week job, spend at least 10 hours a month in their ‘door-to-door’ ministry, and 5 hours a week in structured ‘meetings’). As James’ debate, Jesus Christ: God or a god?, with Greg Stafford has clearly demonstrated, such an approach does not fair as well with one has acquired a few more skills than the typical JW possesses. (And further, I cannot help but sincerely wonder if the dialogue would have been a different one if the discussion had been between an average lay Christian and an average Jehovah’s Witness.)

James then said:

I should note that the meeting did not just have one goal in mind. Those who observed and listened (Bill, two young people from our congregation) were able to see as well the clear testimony of Scripture to the truth of the Trinity. My hope is that they will be greatly encouraged to proclaim those truths in the future as well.”

Me: My 30 plus years of study into the Bible (as well as the Church Fathers and theology) has certainly taught me that the belief/statement there exists a “clear testimony of Scripture to the truth of the Trinity” is not based on objective evidence—the ‘facts’ present something quite different. For those interested in a bit more sober treatment/s on this topic, I would like to recommend my ongoing series on SUBORDINATIONISM, as well as some of the threads included under the topics on the TRINITY and DEVELOPMENT OF DOCTRINE.

And lastly, if you really want to sink your teeth into an informed, stimulating defense of subordinationism, head on over to FOSTER’S THEOLOGICAL REFLECTIONS, I suspect that even a professional apologist of James’ stature would be significantly challenged.

Grace and peace,


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Calvin: on the visible Church and apostasy – part 2

Calvin’s doctrine of the “visible” Church is a unique one—a position which I believe owes a great deal to the historical situation of Calvin’s day. On the one side, Calvin had to defend his schism from the Catholic Church, and on the other, he had to deal with the disregard/neglect of the visible Church as propagated by the various Anabaptist sects. This historical setting gave rise to a view of the Church that attempted achieve a balance of sorts between the two aforementioned positions, and raises two important questions: first, exactly what was Calvin’s doctrine of the Church; and second, is it defensible?

Because Calvin was attempting to achieve a mediating position, his doctrine of the Church is not easy to define. As we shall soon see, on the one hand he speaks of a “universal apostasy” which “seizes the church”; while on the other, he maintains that the churches of his day “remain churches”, and a remnant of “many scattered members of the church persevere in the true unity of the of the faith.” He also tries to defend his schism from the churches of his day that “remain churches”, while he attacks the Anabaptists sects for their schism(s).

Calvin’s most exhaustive treatment of the Church appears in the 4th book of his Institutes. All quotations from the Institutes of the Christian Religion in this post will be from The Westminster Press (1960) edition, translated by Ford Lewis Battles, and edited by John T. McNeill.

From the pen of Calvin we read:

I shall start, then, with the church, into whose bosom God is pleased to gather his sons, not only that they may be nourished by her help and ministry as long as they are infants and children, but also that they may be guided by her motherly care until they mature and at last reach the goal of faith. “For what God has joined together, it is not lawful to put asunder” [Mark 10:9 p.], so that, for those to whom he is Father the church may also be Mother. And this was so not only under the law but also after Christ’s coming, as Paul testifies when he teaches that we are the children of the new and heavenly Jerusalem [Galatians 4:26]. (4.1.1)

The article in the Creed in which we profess to “believe the church” refers not only to the visible church (our present topic) but also to all God’s elect, in whose number are also included the dead. (4.1.2) [Note that Calvin here explicitly states that his “present topic” will be the VISBLE CHURCH.]

But because it is now our intention to discuss the visible church, let us learn even from the simple title “mother” how useful, indeed how necessary, it is that we should know her. For there is no other way to enter into life unless this mother conceive us in her womb, give us birth, nourish us at her breast, and lastly, unless she keep us under her care and guidance until, putting off mortal flesh, we become like the angels [Matthew 22:30]. Our weakness does not allow us to be dismissed from her school until we have been pupils all our lives. Furthermore, away from her bosom one cannot hope for any forgiveness of sins or any salvation, as Isaiah [Isaiah 37:32] and Joel [Joel 2:32] testify…By these words God’s fatherly favor and the especial witness of spiritual life are limited to his flock, so that it is always disastrous to leave the church. (4.1.4)

9. The marks of the church and our application of them to judgment

From this the face of the church comes forth and becomes visible to our eyes. Wherever we see the Word of God purely preached and heard, and the sacraments administered according to Christ’s institution, there, it is not to be doubted, a church of God exists [cf. Ephesians 2:20]. For his promise cannot fail: “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them” [Matthew 18:20]. But that we may clearly grasp the sum of this matter, we must proceed by the following steps: the church universal is a multitude gathered from all nations; it is divided and dispersed in separate places, but agrees on the one truth of divine doctrine, and is bound by the bond of the same religion…

But we must think otherwise of the whole multitude itself. If it has the ministry of the Word and honors it, if it has the administration of the sacraments, it deserves without doubt to be held and considered a church. For it is certain that such things are not without fruit. In this way we preserve for the universal church its unity, which devilish spirits have always tried to sunder; and we do not defraud of their authority those lawful assemblies which have been set up in accordance with local needs
. (4.1.9) [This section is Calvin’s locus classicus concerning the “marks” of a “true church.]

I shall end this second installment of the series with a couple of observations: first, Calvin’s doctrine of the visible Church is certainly a ‘strong’ one, for apart from the Mother’s bosom (i.e. visible Church), “one cannot hope for any forgiveness of sins or any salvation”; and second, we are already seeing Calvin’s belief in the need for unity via the agreement “on the one truth of divine doctrine” (which, IMHO, lends fuel to his somewhat hypocritical hatred of schism).

Much more to come, the Lord willing…

Grace and peace,


Monday, March 16, 2009

Calvin: on the visible Church and apostasy – part 1

Recently, a new site (Called to Communion – Reformation meets Rome), featuring contributors who are converts to the Catholic Church, made its Internet debut. The site has a “Library”, podcasts and a blog; it was via this last feature that I ‘discovered’ the site—more specifically, via the thread: Does Calvin teach that the Church ceased to exist on account of the Eucharist?.

Though I am certainly not a Calvin scholar, I have read the majority of his works (including the Institutes—twice), and numerous books on his life and theology. In the opening post, Taylor Marshall, posted the following:

In Institutes IV, 18, 7 Calvin writes:

I come now to the crowning point, viz., that the sacred Supper, on which the Lord left the memorial of his passion formed and engraved, was taken away, hidden and destroyed when the mass was erected.

Now, something just did not seem ‘right’ with the quote, so I checked the two English editions (Allen and Battles) I have in my library, and immediately confirmed my suspicions. I then tracked down the translation that Taylor had used (Beveridge) and a Latin edition (Tholuck). The following is the ‘fruit’ of my labor:

I come now to the crowning point, viz., that the sacred Supper, on which the Lord left the memorial of his passion formed and engraved, was taken away, hidden and destroyed when the mass was erected. (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 4.18.7, trans. Henry Beveridge, Edinburgh 1845 ed., p. 3.465)

Now I come to the end: namely, that the Sacred Supper (in which the Lord had left graven and inscribed the remembrance of his Passion) has been taken away, destroyed, and abolished by the raising up of the Mass. (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 4.18.7, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, The Westminster Press ed., p. 1435.)

I come now to the concluding observation; that the sacred supper, in which our Lord had left us the memorial of his passion impressed and engraven, has, by the erection of the mass, been removed, abolished, and destroyed. (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 4.18.7, trans. John Allen, 7th American ed., 2.719.)

is by the fetting [setting] up the Maffe [Mass], taken away, defaced, and deftroyed [destroyed]. (John Calvin, Institution of the Christian Religion, 4.18.7, trans. Thomas Norton, 1634 ed., p. 707.)

Ad coronidem nunc nunc venio, nempe sacram Coenam, in qua Dominus passionis suae memoriam insculptam formatamque reliquerat, erecta Missa e medio sublatum, inductam et deperditam…(Ioannis Calvini, INSTITUTIO CHRISTIANAE RELIGIONIS, 1834 ed., p. 446.)

So, as the careful reader can readily discern, Beveridge has added the word “hidden” in his translation of the passage. In my next thread (Lord willing), I am going to explore some possible reasons as to why he may have done so.

Grace and peace,


Friday, March 13, 2009

‘Old News’, but not to me—“The Coming Evangelical Collapse”

While meandering in cyberspace earlier today, I came across an interesting article (“The coming evangelical collapse”) by Michael Spencer (The InternetMonk) at the Christian Science Monitor website. To help pique some interest, I am going to quote the first paragraph of the online article:

We are on the verge – within 10 years – of a major collapse of evangelical Christianity. This breakdown will follow the deterioration of the mainline Protestant world and it will fundamentally alter the religious and cultural environment in the West.”

Certainly a frightening scenario from the pen of “The InternetMonk”. This particular article is but a synopsis of a more in depth series by Michael Spencer.

Off to read more of Michael’s prognostications…

Grace and peace,


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Optatus and the sacrament of baptism

In the COMBOX of the previous thread, our Reformed brother in Christ, Ken Temple, wrote:

Here is an area that I would like to understand better, that is, the ex opera operato ideas and when they started and who came up with it. That seems to be later than the first 3 centuries. Am I right in that the issue came out more when Augustine was debating with the Donatists? 4th and 5th Centuries onward. (Ken Temple, March 7, 2009 – 10:11 AM)

The next day (in the same combox) I responded to Ken with the following:

Me: From my studies, I am pretty much in agreement with the consensus of patristic scholars who believe that the CFs of the first three centuries linked baptism with regeneration (and the forgiveness of all previous sins). The efficacy the Eucharist is not nearly as clear-cut.

Augustine’s debate with the Donatists primarily concerned the status of the administrator of the sacraments, and not their effects. (David Waltz, March 8, 2009 – 12:01 PM)

To which Ken replied:

But they did not use the formula, "ex opera operato" - when did that phrase first come into use and by who?I thought I heard someone in a church history lecture say it was Optatus (??). (Ken Temple, March 8, 2009 – 3:53 PM)

Now, I remembered that Optatus, bishop of Milevis, in his treatise, “Against Parmenian the Donatists”, had devoted an entire chapter to the issue of baptism. This morning, I pulled Mark Edwards’ translation (Optatus: Against the Donatists) down from the shelf and reread chapter five. I also was able to find a much older translation by O. R. Vassall-Phillips (The Work of St. Optatus Againsit The Donatists). And finally, I tracked down the work in Mignes’ Patrologia Latina (volume XI). The following quotes from the above three mentioned works is THE locus classicus from Optatus’ pen concerning the issue of ex opera(e) operato*, as it pertains to the sacrament of baptism:

When therefore you see that all who baptize are agents, not masters, and the sacraments are holy through themselves, not through human beings, why is it that you claim so much for yourselves? (Optatus: Against the Donatists, trans. Mark Edwards, 1997, p. 103.)

Since therefore you see that all who baptize are labourers, not lords, and that the Sacraments are holy through themselves, not through men, why do you claim so much for yourselves? (The Work of St. Optatus Againsit The Donatists, trans. O. R. Vassall-Phillips, 1917, pp. 219, 220.)

Cum ergo videatis, omens qui baptizant, operarios esse, non dominos, et sacramenta per se esse sancta, non per hominess, quid est, quod vobis tantum vindicates? (Migne, PL, XI. 1052, 1053.)

Though Optatus does not use the phrase ex opera(e) operato, he does use an equivalent: sacramenta per se esse sancta, non per hominess (the sacraments are holy in/through themselves, not through men).

Concerning this particular passage, O. R. Vassall-Phillips, writes/quotes the following:

Harnack writes of these words (History of Dogma, v, p. 42) : ' This is the famous principle of the objectivity of the Sacraments, which became so fundamental for the development of the dogmatics of the Western Church, although it could not be carried out in all its purity in the Roman Church, because in that case it would have destroyed the prerogatives of the clergy.' It is difficult to see what Harnack had in his mind when he wrote this last qualifying sentence. Nothing can be more certain than that the Roman Church has always taught, without any limitation or qualification whatsoever, that the efficacy of the Sacraments is always and everywhere independent of the virtues or vices of those who administer them. (The Work of St. Optatus Againsit The Donatists, trans. O. R. Vassall-Phillips, 1917, p.220 – footnote 1.)

And earlier, he penned:

…it is a most striking and moving fact that this old Father of the Church bears his express and unequivocal witness not only to the necessity of union with the Cathedra Petri, but also to most of those Catholic Doctrines so violently assailed in the days of Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Cranmer, Knox and their associates, and still denied on all sides around us.

For example, St. Optatus affirms explicitly the truth of Baptismal Regeneration; again and again makes reference to the Sacrifice of the Altar ; states the doctrine of the Real Presence in words that are incapable of any misunderstanding ; insists on the sacredness of the Holy Chrism ; writes of the adornment of altars for the offering of the Sacrifice ; refers to the ceremony of Exorcism before Baptism ; appeals to deutero-canonical Books as to authentic Scripture ; takes the continuance of Miracles in the Church for granted ; and is quite express in his references to cloistered Virginity and the difference between the Commandments of God and Counsels of Perfection. Sometimes indeed he is so modern in his expressions (or at least his words are so directly applicable to our modern circumstances) that when we first read them we rub our eyes and ask ourselves Can it be a Catholic writer of the fourth century, whom we are reading, not one of the twentieth ?
(Ibid., Preface, xi, xii.)

In ending, I would like to recommend to all that they take the time to read Optatus’ entire work. I suspect that many will ponder, along with Vassall-Phillips, whether they are reading a “a Catholic writer of the fourth century”, or one from “the twentieth?

Grace and peace,


*The following is a working definition for the Latin phrase ex opera(e) operato:

(Lat. “from the work done”) In Roman Catholic tradition, the view that the efficacy of a sacrament depends on it being a valid sacrament and not on the spiritual goodness of the one who administers it. It seeks to emphasize a sacrament as an objective pledge of God’s grace.” (Donald K. McKim, Dictionary of Theological Terms, pp. 97, 98.)