Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Confusing the nuvo "Reformed"

I have been included, for reasons unknown and by a likely practical joker also unknown, in a discussion with "Reformed Anglicans." I question their use of the word "Reformed," because I am a Recovering Reformed (almost) Presbyterian (as in, "there but for the grace of God, go I"), having broken my addiction to that brand of theology and having been clean for several years through a 12-step program called The Apostle's Creed. Some of the men in this discussion may claim to be both Calvinists and Anglicans (which begs a question of episcopal polity in the most obvious way), and to be Reformed; and they may delude themselves into thinking they base their ideas also on the Articles and Formularies, and somehow on all the Reformers, English and Continental at once; but they are really just "Reasserters," fooling themselves. It is obvious that they will not accept the correct definition of "Tradition." Others are well-read and educated. Here, taking an admittedly naughty delight in confounding their expectations, I defend my use of two words, "Tradition" and "Antiquity."

From me:

The necessary question is this: Who gets to interpret Scripture with the authority to teach its meaning? The Scripture was written and recognized (which recognition is just as important in the long run) within a community that was established with the authority of the Apostles and the men they ordained and consecrated. The Canon of Scripture was recognized, and though this was vox populi (where the people knew they could hear God's own voice), the recognition was ratified by universal episcopal consensus. So, the Church teaches with authority that these books have God as their Author.

The interdependence of the Church and Scripture in Antiquity is impossible to deny. Without the Church having recognized the word of God well enough to define the New Testament Canon as part of One Canon in two Testaments, where would we be? Therefore, the Reformers meant, by sola scriptura, to return the Church to that standard in which the Church and Scripture spoke with one voice on the essential doctrines, such essential doctrines as we confess in the Nicene/Constantinopliatan Creed. The Anglican Article on the Creeds (Article VIII) cannot help but reassert this interdependence, for in it the Church of England taught with authority that the Creeds are to be received, and then adds that they may be received because they agree with Scripture. Therefore, they confidently stated that any interpretation of Scripture that contradicts the Creeds must be rejected automatically, and is not to be given a hearing.

If the Anglican Communion in modern times had held to that Ancient standard, none of today's problems would exist. For example, we see Dr. Rowan Williams interpreting Romans chapter one in a very private manner; and his private interpretation is the standard "Scriptural" defense used by the Homosesexualists. We say he and they are wrong because none of the Fathers in Antiquity, nor the universal Church at any time, interpreted it his way. Will we then receive a Fundamentalist defense of Dr. Williams' private interpretation according to this strange modern definition of sola scriptura?

This gets back even to the subject of Thomas Aquinas. The Reformers accepted the same standard of Sola Scriptura, but they accused the Medieval theologian/philosopher of inconsistency, which allowed for what we call today Development of Doctrine (which has itself developed since the passing of Newman); that kind that both Rome and modern Protestants of the Williams/ Louie Crew variety accept because it allows new doctrines to become dogma.

We may believe in the Reformer's definition of [Thomas Aquinas' pharse] Sola Scriptura, because they meant to bow in obedience to Scripture as understood in Antiquity, which did not reject the authority of Tradition.

Robert Hart +

Reply to me:

No, that was not the intention of the Reformers in the first place. Tradition is NOT limited to Antiquity, or is Antiquity the only best 'interpreter' of Holy Scripture. The value of Tradition is not interpretation but TRANSMISSION, i.e. fidelity to the external clarity of Scripture so that the Deposit of the Faith is maintained inviolate. This is true catholic and apostolic meaning of 'paradosis,' - 'TO PASS ON.'

Hence, the role of Tradition is first and foremost the faithful PROCLAMATION of the oral and sacramental Word in the context of the Divine Liturgy as God's vehicle of grace.
The 'consensus fidelium' lies precisely in the CONTINUATION of the proper distinction between Law and Gospel which constitute the proclamation of the oral and sacramental Word in the life and witness of the Church, as grounded in the hermeneutic reversal wherein it is Scripture which interprets the confessor, and not the other way round because Scripture is self-interpreting.

My response follows:

I am not in complete disagreement. I think this part was very good: "Hence, the role of Tradition is first and foremost the faithful proclamation of the oral and sacramental Word in the context of the Divine Liturgy as God's vehicle of grace."

The word you used, paradosis (παράδοσις), is translated in the New Testament as "traditions" in a positive sense.

"Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle." II Thes. 2:15

You wrote:
"Tradition is NOT limited to Antiquity, nor is Antiquity the only best 'interpreter' of Holy Scripture."

The word Antiquity has been employed in order to make a simple point: Every interpretation should conform to what we know to have come earlier. The Vincentian Canon (Quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est) exists in order to prevent error. To call the Scripture "self-interpreting" is naive and dangerously idealistic, if only due to the dullness and sinfulness of fallen man, including Christians; and it appeals to a level of self-confidence that is frightening, and that is also quite evident in heretics. If the Scripture is to be treated as self-interpreting then obviously, one has to think that the meaning of Scripture is always 100% in accord with every bias of his own and with every gap in his own knowledge. Clearly, one must judge himself infallible in order for your theory to work; otherwise it is impractical at best.

By the time the Church had a new generation of bishops it had established traditions of doctrine and practice, and these had come from the Apostles. But, the New Testament Canon was not a settled issue yet. The burden you have, in your argument, is the burden of proof. Prove that a doctrine can be true if it is not in accord with both Scripture itself and the understanding of Scripture held by those who learned directly from the Apostolic college that wrote the Gospels and Epistles, and who knew what their own words meant; not to mention the Paradosis as recorded in Patristic times.

The Puritans and others who held to the Geneva Discipline tried to defend their own ideas in England, and they ran into Richard Hooker who knew both Scripture and history better than they. Their "church government" appeared scriptural to them (as it does to Presbyterians today) because they were lazy and sloppy in interpretation, and always had to give recourse to the excuse: "That was a 'special' kind of ministry." When given this reply in my own experience I point out that our polity (episcopacy) has not only the witness of the ancient writers (e.g. Ignatius of Antioch who learned directly from Paul, Peter and John), but it actually fits the pattern in Scripture, especially the Pastoral Epistles. Why must they justify a later innovation with the flimsy excuse that the Biblical pattern is there to be ignored, that is, treated as a "special case"? If only they would have allowed the ancients to interpret, with the humility it requires to heed one's teachers, they would have known better.

No, the problem is not Tradition, but innovation that pretends to be Tradition because it becomes a teaching or practice established by custom or precedent (e.g. all-celibate clergy). These customs and precedents are the actual traditions of men, the man-made traditions, condemned by our Lord, that embolden them to set aside the Word of God.

In English history, the Reformers were the genuine Traditionalists, if only by intention. They demonstrated this by their own appeals both to Scripture and Antiquity, quoting the Bible and the Fathers (assuming we may allow them to speak for themselves). When Cranmer wrote to Calvin, his request for a Synod was an idea modeled after the Ecumenical Councils, and to take a stand not against Tradition, but against innovation. In that letter he wrote, "Our adversaries are now holding their council at Trent, that they may establish their errors." This one line sheds light on many things, including Article XXI.

XXI. Of the authority of General Councils.
GENERAL Councils may not be gathered together without the commandment and will of princes. And when they be gathered together, forasmuch as they be an assembly of men, whereof all be not governed with the Spirit and word of God, they may err and sometime have erred, even in things pertaining to God. Wherefore things ordained by them as necessary to salvation have neither strength nor authority, unless it may be declared that they be taken out of Holy Scripture.

The danger of Trent was the potential for unrestrained innovation, as if the Episcopalians were having a vote in General Convention today that could be forced on millions of people in many countries, no matter what demonic madness gave birth to it. Thank God they have not such power; but Rome was seen as having exactly that kind of international power, with the aid of worldy governments. Transubstantiation * ("which overthroweth the nature of a sacrament" Art. XXV) and other ills were the result. And, none of these errors came from Antiquity, but from refusing to learn from the same. Over time, to justify further innovations (such as Papal Infallibility in 1870) Rome had to say the same thing, Mr.... that you have said: ""Tradition is not limited to Antiquity, nor is Antiquity the only best 'interpreter' of Holy Scripture." Indeed, they overthrew the Vincentian Canon and replaced it with Newman's theory of Doctrinal Development, since nothing else could justify their past innovations and the claim to possess infallible authority to create dogmas in the future (what next? Co-Redemptrix?)

How can they err if Scripture is "self-interpreting"? Because every man, no matter how sinful, thinks his own interpetation to be correct, including whatever man will hold their highest office. So, how do we know the true interpretation of Scripture? Not by innovations, concerning which Cranmer could foresee the outcome of Trent. Yes, we must hold dear the teaching of Antiquity, and avoid new ideas that simply cannot be consistent with the meaning of Scripture, and that the ancient Church would never have tolerated-indeed, in certain cases did not tolerate..

At the moment Rome is free of the error of Women's Ordination: But what is to stop Doctrine from such a Development in years to come, especially with an Infallible authority who reads "self-interpreting" Scripture? Or, we can ask the same about homosexual "marriage."

But, I may ask, just whose side are you on? It seems to me you would make a good Roman Catholic in the worst way. I suggest that instead you cultivate a healthy taste for Quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est.

Dr. ... wrote:

"The cure for this is not the exaltation of Tradition and telling the laity that they don't really know what God's book says..."

Dr. ... The error was not Tradition, but abandoning Tradition- including Traditional interpretation of the Bible, and creating "Development of Doctrine" theories, the worst coming much later from an ex-Anglican, the terribly confused apostate Newman. Tradition does not mean Medieval Roman development; nothing is more Traditional than Billy Graham's trademark claim to authority for his preaching: "The Bible says..."

A proper definition of Tradition does the opposite of telling the people they don't understand. It tells them that they do understand. Even those who are not scholars, but who let the Creeds teach them the meaning of Scripture, are safe from, e.g., the "Jehovah's Witnesses."

Robert Hart+

* As understood in that century.


Fr. John said...

Fr. Hart wrote: 'Even those who are not scholars, but who let the Creeds teach them the meaning of Scripture, are safe from, e.g., the "Jehovah's Witnesses.""'

I am in the Jehovah's Witness Protection Program.

John Edwards said...

Thanks for posting this exchange.

Every interpretation should conform to what we know to have come earlier--this simple statement is as fine an explanation of Holy Tradition as I have read.

No, the problem is not Tradition, but innovation that pretends to be Tradition because it becomes a teaching or practice established by custom or precedent (e.g. all-celibate clergy). These customs and precedents are the actual traditions of men, the man-made traditions, condemned by our Lord, that embolden them to set aside the Word of God. In English history, the Reformers were the genuine Traditionalists, if only by intention.

Precisely. All claims to the Catholicity of Anglicanism ultimately rest on this basis (rather than on externals of rite or ceremony, as beautiful as the externals may be).

Anonymous said...

I note the wry humor in the remark about "recovering" from Calvinism with a 12 step program known as the Apostles' Creed. It may be of interest that the Institutes developed out of a commentatry on the Apostles Creed. As the Institutes expanded, edition after edition, Calvin's wide theological panorama never lost that original shape. The four books of the Institutes correspond to the four sections of the Creed. So when you master the Apostles Creed, perhaps you will be ready to read Calvin. Surely not before.

As for "Scriptura sola," I recently was reminded that this slogan was not so much a rejecton of Tradition as it was a diatribe against "new revelations" claimed by the radical wing of the Reformation.

I would also point out that there is no inherent relationship between Reformed theology and Presbyterian polity. How Scottish and Dutch Reformed Churches eventually became Presbyterian is a complicated chapter in history, originating in the fact that the pre-Reformation Catholic Church in Scotland had allowed its dioceses to become vacant or had absentee bishops.

As for that pesky question about the relationship of Church-and-Canon, what exactly was the status of, say, the Gospel of John between the time the Apostle wrote it and the day the Church made it canonical? Was it less than canonical?

And can anyone give me a citation in Migne's Patrologia showing where and when the Church established the NT Canon? If not Migne, Denzinger's Enchiridion Symbolorum will do. If you tell me Congress passed such and such a law, I am entitled to ask in what year, and by how many votes was that law passed. If the Church created the NT Canon, I would like to know the documentary evidence for that claim.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

The issue of establishing the Canon would indeed be false; but, the historical fact of recognizing the Canon cannot be denied. Otherwise we would not have a Bible. The Church received the Canon; but without having identified what it received, what would we have today? There was real authority in the recognition, and that authority is spoken of in the Epistles of Paul, using such phrases as "the pillar and ground of the truth," and "the mind of Christ."

Also, I do not see any real relationship between this new breed of the "Reformed" and classic Calvinists; just as I see no similarity between them and the English reformers either.

But, about presbyterian vs. episcopal polity, is that not due to the system in Geneva? At least, I thought it was.

But, about the schools of Calvinism (for there is more than one) I do object to one doctrinal view: Double Predestination. That God has willed from all eternity the damnation of individuals for his glory is a doctrine still taught, and in Calvin's name. I heard the students write, in terms to gain approval from the professors, a constantly repeated summary of the Divine plan: That God's purpose in sending his Son was that He will be glorified both in the elect and in the damned.

This always seems a far cry from the Divine motivation spoken of by our Lord (John 3:16). It seems difficult to square this Calvin with the Calvin who wrote so movingly about charity.

Sandra McColl said...

I must be old, but it was 'nouveau' when I was at school.

More on point: following from Fr Wells's comment, is there a date or an occasion that can be identified at the point at which the NT Canon was closed? I recall learning once on telly (so it must be true) that the closure of the Canon was the work of St Irenaeus, who was a man (hiss), and accordingly suppressed books written by women, such as the Gospel of Mary (Magdalene).

Veriword is 'spatio'.

poetreader said...

Joke, Sandra.

It's the nuvo way of spelling nouveau, just as we no have the nuvo way of being Reformed or Anglican or whatever. Sounds right, but its off.

When was the canon closed? Well, in one way of seeing it, the moment the latest of the books (whichever that might be) was written. When and how was the real canon identified? That's the better question, and that is a fascinating story. Anyone who hangs this on one person or one council or one identifiable flexing of authoritative muscle only shows his ignorance. Over time the Church, rather informally, came to regognize which books bore the stanp of inspiration and lists gradually came to look more like each other.

The NT was written by churchmen from within the church and for the church, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and its books came to be read by churchmen to the church in the context of worship, becoming accepted, by inspiration of the holy spirit as the very Word of God. This has long appeared to me as an excellent model of how God has chosen to govern His Church - not so much through centralized structures as in a diffused action of the Holy Spirit throughout the Apostolic fellowship. The difficult-to-define establishment of the Canon appears to me as both a powerful witness to God's guidance of His Church, and a strong questioning of Western (RC) notions of how that guidance works.


Anonymous said...

Brethren (and sisters?)

I can speak with some authority as a former staunch Calvinist (even the 5 point brand) who imbibed in the Institutes (read them at 21 after becoming Reformed), Turretin's Institutes of Elenchtic Theology, Murray, Warfield, Hodge, Bavinck, etc... that such designations like "Reformed" admit historically to more than "Presbyterianism" or "5 point Calvinism", etc. It's worth noting that even the Dutch Remonstrants were squarely within the Reformed tradition even though they rejected unconditional election. This newfangled (relatively speaking) insistence on the TULIP being somehow *THE* definitive marker of Reformedom is a little sophomoric at the very least, and displays a very truncated reading of history.

Anglicans considered themselves part of the "Reformed" Church not because of some one-to-one correlation to Calvin's system of thought, but because on the whole the program of reform resonated in England and echoed sympathies from her divines for Luther, Calvin, Bucer, and even Zwingli's concerns. Reformation was initially a genuinely Catholic impetus.

That said, while I have to this day deep admirations for Calvin on a great many things, I don't align myself with him as *my* spokesman anymore than I would Martin Luther, similarities and agreements notwithstanding. I am a Reformed Catholic in a very real way, though I don't like using the adjective so much among my Calvinistic brethren. The historically astute ones will understand what is meant, while pop-Calvinism's followers will have no idea what is meant.

Re: the Canon, this sticky wicket is not resolvable to merely, "I feel that 2nd Peter is canonical", but what does the widest tradition give us? Yes, the Church "recognizes", but hear the words, "the *Church* recognizes" these things, and that authority transcends my personal views about 2nd Peter. Even if I believe I have real grounds for questioning the inclusion of, say, the book of Jude, I am not thereby justified in removing it from the life of the Church. It does come down to authoritative declaration, which no one person has.

Finally, I'm with Fr. Hart on some of the more objectionable elements of Calvin and what unfolded in his immediate successors. Double predestination is bothersome if not heretical, as well as limited atonement. When I talks with my Calvinistic friends (the 5-pointers), I always tell them I'm an Augustinian, not a Calvinist. I personally believe in unconditional election, even total depravity, but the rest of that flower is wilted in my very humble opinion, and introduces highly unbiblical concepts and difficulties.

Oh yeah, I am an advocate of urging evangelical Christians to read Calvin's Institutes, and then Luther's Catechisms, as these are wonderful gateways to a more catholic theology.

Done rambling!

St. Worm

Anonymous said...

The distinction between "establishing" the Canon and "recognizing" it is necessary, correct, and generally over-stated.
I recognize Michelangelo's Pieta as a great work of art, and so do a large body of people. But that does not make it what it is. Most of the NT was accepted as authoritative from the day(s) of its (their) writing. When Paul wrote, for example, Galatians, he intended and expected this to be received as authoritative Scripture, nothing less than the very Word of God. That is the whole point of his claiming the title "apostolos." In the infant Church, that was no honorific title.

The few NT books whose canonicity has been challenged (the so-called antilegomena) are only a few (Hebrews, Revelation, II Peter, II and III John). They were never universally challenged, and won their place gradually through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, not through any conscious or official action of the Church. The NT Canon was securely in place by the time of Athanasius's Easter Letter. It was never the topic of debate between the orthodox mainstream and any heretical movement. Athanasius and Arius agreed on that much! Too much has been made over the occasional inclusion of a few other bits of literature (Ep Barnabas, Shepherd of Hermas, etc). That was never universal or long-lasting. The bulk of the NT (the Gospels, Acts, and the Pauline Corpus) were NEVER under dispute.

As for your aversion to double predestination, I have pointed out before that many people use something called "Calvinism" as their theological whipping boy when they really do not know much about it. When the so-called doctrine of "double predestination"
is criticized, it is always criticized in its supralapsarian form. Although supralapsarianism was taught by Theodore Beza (Calvin's successor in Geneva), it has never been more than a tiny minority position and has never been the official position of any of the Calvinist churches (saved the tiny group called the "Protestant Reformed Churches").
What you have heard some seminarians writing is quite different from what responsible Reformed theologians assert. GC Berkouwer, for example, is at great pains to assert that election and reprobation are NOT parallel degrees.

For real Reformed theology, Divine election is simply a corollary doctrine to Gratia sola. Calvin's theologizing on the matter(which tended to become strident in controversy) was hardly different from that of Thomas Aquinas or Thomas Bradwardine. In fact, it was somewhat of an improvement, in that Aquinas made Election a matter of Divine sovereignty and providence whereas Calvin presented Election as a matter of soteriology, IOW, a doctrine of GRACE.

Canon Tallis said...

Father Hart,

Very well written and from my own view precisely to the point. It would seem to me that the reason that the Catholicity of Anglicanism failed to be recognized was that, for political reasons, it became impossible to demand obedience to the Book of Common Prayer in the same way that Rome at that time could and did demand obedience to its own service books. If the same level of obedience to the prayer book as was practiced by the chapels in exile during the Cromwellian interregnum had continued in England after the restoration our present issues might be entirely theological.

Anonymous said...

Fr. Wells,

Re: GC Berkouwer, he was roundly criticized by some fellow Reformed peers (scholars, no doubt) as violating the "true" Reformed view of predestination and election.

Regardless, Calvin broaches double predestination in his Institutes *in a way* that Aquinas does not in his Summa (at this point an Aquinas expert would have to come to the fore to show me otherwise, in which I'm willing to be corrected). Also, I'm not sure you'll find Aquinas dissociating election from christology even if it isn't treated under that heading.

Granted, the majority "Reformed" opinion has been infralapsarianism, but the supralapsarian minority is still substantial and legitimately boasts Calvin as a key progenitor.

Finally, the canonical question still boils down to a received tradition about the text and not about your personal recognition of any given book. A whole slew of Syrian Christians (Nestorians admittedly) exclude 7 books on a received tradition. Lutherans to this day allow for antilegomena books of the NT to be safely ignored in theological controversy (in other words, you can't and shouldn't try to prove dogma from the 7 disputed books), this much is historically certain.

My question to you, dear Fr. Wells, would be: if a priest in the ACC rejected 2nd Peter, what would be your apologetic against him? Would you simply say, "Ahh, you're just benighted or deceived?" Or would you appeal to tradition? Do you believe that indicates an unregenerate heart?


St. Worm

Anonymous said...

St Worm:

I am aware that Berkouwer was criticized for being less than satisfactory to the true-blue Reformed. I believe I could have made the same point by dropping the name of Herman Bavinck, RCSproul, John Murray, Michael Horton. If there is a single Reformed theologian who has expicitly said that Election and Reprobation are parallel degrees, I would be interested to hear of him.

Supralapsarianism still a strong position? The only one I ever encountered was a self-educated layman on the Warfield Forum. He was kicked off the Forum for declaring that Infralapsarianism was a form of idolatry, even though they tolerated my scornful dismissal of the RPW.

As for Aquinas's view, I am thankful for the cut and paste feature. Google in Summa Theologica and choose the "Index" link. In First Part, Treatise on the One God, we find Question 23 "Of Predestination," significantly placed between Question 22 "Of Providence" and Question 24 "The Book of Life." That should arouse your Calvinist antennae!

In Question 23, go to Article 3, "Whether to God belongs the reprobation of some men." After
listing a string of objections still heard today, this is the Angelic Doctor's answer:

"I answer that, God does reprobate some. For it was said above (A[1]) that predestination is a part of providence. To providence, however, it belongs to permit certain defects in those things which are subject to providence, as was said above (Q[22], A[2]). Thus, as men are ordained to eternal life through the providence of God, it likewise is part of that providence to permit some to fall away from that end; this is called reprobation. Thus, as predestination is a part of providence, in regard to those ordained to eternal salvation, so reprobation is a part of providence in regard to those who turn aside from that end. Hence reprobation implies not only foreknowledge, but also something more, as does providence, as was said above (Q[22], A[1]). Therefore, as predestination includes the will to confer grace and glory; so also reprobation includes the will to permit a person to fall into sin, and to impose the punishment of damnation on account of that sin."

Did Thomas Aquinas teach double predestination? The answer is yours.

Anonymous said...

St Worm: Not to neglect your question regarding the hypothetical priest who "rejects" 2 Peter. I have never encountered such a clergyman and am unclear as to what you mean by "rejects." No-one in my experience has said such and such a book should be removed from the canon. But there are many who are soft on the authorship of various Epistles, unity of Isaiah, Mosaicity of the Penteteuch, etc. My apologetic is to expose the fallacies of their negative critical attitudes. Appealing to tradition will only serve to undermine their wavering respect for tradition.

Sandra McColl said...

Thanks, Ed, even if you have managed to prove to me that I am indeed getting old!

Anonymous said...

Questions for Continuum:

(1)How well do the "five points of Calvinism" fare when measured by Vincent's Canon?
(2)How well would the Articles of the Remonstrance fare?
(3)How about "Augustinianism" in general?

I'm interested to see your thoughts on this.

Doubting Thomas

Anonymous said...

Fr. Wells, I offer you the consideration of Supralapsarian folks like Dr. Robert Reymond for starters.

As for Aquinas, I fully anticipated your quote, and that's why I qualified my words in saying he doesn't broach the topic *IN THE WAY* Calvin does. Does Aquinas have a supralapsarian framework here? I don't think you can find a hint of that in his writings. Clearly he taught predestination unto life and unto death. The will to pass over many and save some is not what I'm objecting to, rather the idea that God elected and damned apart from the consideration of the fall, and that the fall is somehow simply a means to damn people who were not elected unto salvation.

As for the example of 2 Peter, I mean if a clergyman simply feels the Syrians are right about the canon, would you appeal to him on traditional grounds or on subjective ones?

Thank you, dear Father, for the spirited exchange. Sorry I missed you at Synod. I believe you and Fr. Brookshire conversed along with Fr. Hart. God willing I'll be at next year's Synod.

In Christ,
St. Worm

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Fr. Wells wrote:

The distinction between "establishing" the Canon and "recognizing" it is necessary, correct, and generally over-stated.
I recognize Michelangelo's Pieta as a great work of art, and so do a large body of people. But that does not make it what it is.
I have never suggested that the Church's recognition gives authority to the canon. Rather, it is a mark of the Church's special gifts of "the mind of Christ" and guidance by "the Spirit of Truth" that she recognizes the Lord's voice. The sheep hear the Shepherd in these books, and show that they belong to him. They show also that they are the ones with the Unction to know truth from error upon hearing (I John 2:20 in context).

The Church's authority is in declaring and teaching the same word, speaking in her Tradition the same word that is written in Scripture. The lesser traditions and customs come from Right Reason; but Tradition and Scripture speak with one voice.

Therefore, the value of recognition is twofold:

1) It verifies those who are truly His sheep.

2) Until we recognize what we are looking at, it can render us little good if any.

Therefore I place recognition not under the category of authority, but under that of grace.

Brian G. said...

I can't muster much enthusiasm for the supralapsarian/infralapsarian debate (at least since I've left Presbyterianism behind), but since Robert Reymond was mentioned, I will say that his New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith has been one of my favorite reference books. (Along with Bicknell's Thirty Nine Articles and the Catechism of the Catholic Church.)

Anonymous said...

Doubting Thomas raises some valid questions:

1)How well do the "five points of Calvinism" fare when measured by Vincent's Canon?
(2)How well would the Articles of the Remonstrance fare?
(3)How about "Augustinianism" in general?

To which I answer:
(1) Not too well. They barely find consensus within the Reformed Tradition itself. At most, the "five points" are Five Disputed Points.

(2) Not much better.

(3) Ambiguous. The Pelagian heresy was condemned at the Third Ecumenical Council. Pelagius wrote a Commentary on Romans (yes he did!) which SEEMS to show that he actually held a position more like that later called Semi-Pelagianism. The commentary might have been doctored by his followers, but if it is authentic, what Ephesus condemned was really more like the semi-Pelagianism which is almoast universal today.
One of the Fathers remarked at the time "a Nestorian Christ can save a Pelagian man." No matter what happened at the Council of Ephesus, no hard universal consensus have ever emerged, in spite of a strong Augustinian tradition right down to the Reformation. So I guess we will just have to open our Bibles and start digging in our Greek and Hdebrew lexica.

Anonymous said...

St Worm: I have heard and read of Dr Robert Reymond, but it had honestly not occurred to me to consider him a major theologian.
I have not read him at all, but in the reviews and critiques of his Systematic Theology (if that if the exact title) I placed him on the list of people not to bother with.
Robert Letham, in his magnificent work "The Holy Trinity," does a rather devastating critique of Reymond's handling of the Trinity. Generally speaking, that is the touchstone of a theologian. His theology might get worse after that point, but it surely will not get any better.

Since Aquinas's handling of Predestination is sadly non-soteriological and non-Christological, the supra- and infra- question does not arise.

I had hoped to meet you at our recent splendid Synod. Meeting Fr Hart was a joy. He, Brian G., Shaughn and I had a happy reunion. We talked about getting together, but my lawyer was unavailable and my body-guard was unable to attend.

Anonymous said...

Fr Hart: We are not in any real disagreement about the Church's role in discerning the Canon, and I like your two points about the "value of recognition," particularly the first.
That leads us right into the gaping jaws of unconditional election.

I am nervous, however, about that word "authority." Since the NT Canon emerged in an almost spontaneous way under the leadership of the Holy Ghost (and I personally believe at a very early time, much earlier than commonly granted), the Church did not have to exercise authority in the manner she truly did in the Councils. I do not quibble over the reality of that authority. But the spontaneity of the Canon makes that authority beside-the-point.

One of the most valuable insights of the Reformation is that the Christian recognizes the Word of God wirtten in the Scriptures through the "testimonium internum Spiritus Sancti." The Church's discernment of the Canon is analogous to the "testimonium internum" of the Christian; in fact it is prior to it historically speaking and necessary to protect that testimonium internum from pure subjectivity.

Anonymous said...

Dear Fr. Wells,

Just a point re: "Major Theologians" in our discussion. You stated this: "If there is a *single* Reformed theologian who has expicitly said that Election and Reprobation are parallel degrees, I would be interested to hear of him."

I didn't think Reymond counted as a "major" thinker, but he is a sharp fellow (his ghastly rejection of the Nicene Creed notwithstanding), and does have a degree of influence in popular Reformedom.

Beyond this, we're all Anglican churchmen who agree with the St. Louis Affirmation, so I'm not worried much about any slight disagreements on these debatable matters.

Again, such a joy to interact with you, Fr. Wells.

In Pax Christi,
St. Worm

Brian G. said...

Ha, ha: I should have known that as soon as I said I liked something touching on Reformed theology, Fr. Wells would come along and smack it down.

Anonymous said...

I have read the Amazon reviews of Reymond's opus, and this reminded me of why I am no longer a Presbyterian.
This is worse than I remembered. They burned Servetus and let this man teach theology? Something is wrong in this picture.

For those who want a sound comprehensive study of Reformed theology, there is Charles Hodge's three volumes "Systematic Theology," WGT Sheed's heavy one volume "Dogmatic Theology," Louis Berkhof's "Systematic Theology" and (my favorite) Herman Bavinck's four volumes "Reformed Dogmatics."
But I am horrified to hear of anyone rejecting the Nicene Creed.

And he is the only example produced so far of a supralapasrian? I rest my case.

Fr Matthew Kirby said...

I have come late to this conversation, but it seems to me that there is a fundamental distinction which must be made in discussing Canonicity, and one which would resolve the tensions between Fr Wells and others. That distinction is between the Scriptures considered ontologically (i.e., what they are objectively in themselves) and their authority considered epistemologically (i.e., how their identity and nature is known by us).

Ontologically, the Scriptures are and were from the beginning the Word of God written, and so intrinsically partake of the authority of Divine Revelation, to which all must submit whether individually or corporately. In this sense, the Scripture has authority over the Church, insofar as the latter is considered in its human aspect. To say, in this context, that the Church "wrote" Scripture and therefore "controls" its content or interpretation is heretical and probably blasphemous.

Epistemologically, individual Christians depend on the Church for their knowledge of what is and is not Scripture, and for protection from unfaithful interpretation of its contents. God does not promise to individual Christians (or even to individual Churches within the Catholic Church, as early Church history makes clear) indefectible and autonomous guidance on what is canonical and how to understand all of Scripture without heresy. He does promise this to the Body of Christ as a whole. While it is true that an "inward witness" responding to Scripture for every Christian is given, and that it is this very insight as distributed to each that goes together to make up the binding Church consensus, this is a case where we might say that "the whole is more than the sum of its parts".

As for the question of what Conciliar decisions are relevant and whether they decided or merely reported what the Canon was, I will tke the liberty of quoting something I wrote not too long ago, with some minor editing:

"The Seventh Ecumenical Council, once one includes all the other letters of the Fathers, Canons of local Councils, etc, it lists as authoritative by implicitly recognising the Trullan Canons, gives 4 different Canons (of the whole Scripture). Interestingly, those that include all 27 NT books also include at least one of the Deuterocanonicals. None of these lists is identical to each other, and none are identical either to the Tridentine or Protestant Canons. The Canonical list of the Third Council of Carthage comes closest to the Tridentine, but does not specifically mention Baruch. The Athanasian list is closest to the Protestant Canon, but omits Esther (placing it in what we would call the Deuterocanon) and includes Baruch. The latter two lists both include prohibition of inconsistent lists!

Additionally, two of the four lists abovementioned were decreed after the Council and papal decree of 382 to which some refer as the earliest binding decision, but they did not cite it at all, let alone as authoritative. It should also be noted that many scholars believe the Canon ascribed to the Roman Council of 382 under Pope Damasus is actually a much later pseudepigraphical addition.

However, most of the disagreement discussed above was over the precise scope of the Old Testament, with a large majority of Churches accepting all 27 books quite early, and treating this as assured by the Church's consensual recognition, not as assured by any particular conciliar or papal decree. Indeed, where the lists are given authoritatively they are given as a kind of "report" on the existing practice and belief considered as binding in itself. The discussions of the issue by both St Augustine and St Athanasius make this quite clear."

Fr Matthew Kirby said...

As for Calvin and Calvinism, I wish to start by making some general comments. If "5 point" T.U.L.I.P. Calvinism is not really the teaching of Calvin, then I am gladdened by this, but it does seem strange that the majority of Calvinists have thought it was. Nevertheless, it would not be the first time a theologian's followers went further than their "master" and confused the issue. More importantly, it is Calvinism as conventionally understood and as widely believed that we have to deal with, not Calvin, who is dead and has already met his Lord. The Westminster Confession and those who still subscribe to it are not a figment of our imagination. So, if Calvin was not a Calvinist, so to speak, that doesn't necessarily help us much.

Conventional Calvinism, in its classic institutional formularies and standard apologetics denies: Baptismal Regeneration; any sort of necessity for the Episcopacy; the Real Objective Presence of Christ in the Eucharistic Elements independent of the Recipient's faith; the lawfulness of prayer for the dead, the invocation of saints or reverence for icons; and the guarantee that the outwardly recognisable Church will never fall into heresy as a whole or even with near unanimity, such that the Church's consistent and corporate doctrinal decisions are binding on all Christians. So, Calvinism is formally and materially heretical by normal Catholic standards, whether Eastern or Western. Materially, for obvious reasons. Formally, because there is a conscious choice to reject the ecclesial consensus, whether just before the Reformation or long before, as determinative.

The Anglican Tradition (in its formularies and most of its official apologetics), however, from the beginning at least theoretically accepted the Vincentian Canon (and even the authority of a then contemporaneous General Council -- as long as it was truly Ecumenical, including them and the East, for example, which Trent did not) and considered outside the pale whatever they understood to with this Canon.

Fr Matthew Kirby said...

Regarding predestination, it is quite true that Thomism and Calvinism (with TULIP and all!) are close on this and other soteriological issues. See the following for a reasonable comparative summary:

As for who is better on Predestination, as one inclined to the Eastern/Molinist/Arminian view, I may not be entitled to an opinion :-)

Nevertheless, I do think it is unfair to consider Aquinas' approach to predestination inferior because it is founded in consideration of Providence, rather than Christology, and for three reasons.

1. St Thomas also said "Predestination presupposes election in the order of reason; and election presupposes love." (S.T. P1 Q23 A4) So, in fact he bases predestination on God's Love, fundamentally, and explicitly so.

2. While Calvin roots our election in our incorporation into Christ, he does so in a way that seems in one place to deny that God's love towards us is fundamentally unmerited (even if our salvation is merited) and the cause rather than the effect of any "goodness" in the object of love. He said: "Of those whom God has chosen as his children it is not said that he elected them in themselves, but in his Christ, because he cold not love them except in him" [emphasis added]. But Scripture teaches that it is a sign of the greatness of God's love that it is directed to us precisely as sinners (Rom. 5.8) And St Thomas Aquinas says that "in us the will in loving does not cause good, but we are incited to love by the good which already exists; and therefore we choose someone to love, and so election in us precedes love. In God, however, it is the reverse. For His will, by which in loving He wishes good to someone, is the cause of that good possessed by some in preference to

3. Whereas for Aquinas reprobation proceeds from God's permission (note the repeated use of "permit" in the quotation supplied by Fr Wells), and He is not the cause of the reprobate state itself, and is distinct from predestination in his terminology, this is arguably not the case for Calvin. Compare the following:

"Thus, those whom God leaves out of his election he is also reproving, and this for no other reason than that he wills to exclude them ...

[T]hey are predestined to eternal death solely by his decision, apart from their own merit.

. . . those, then, whom he created for dishonor in life and destruction in death . . .

. . . his immutable decree had once for all destined them to destruction."

(Institutes of the Christian Religion, III, 23, 1; III, 23, 2; III, 24, 12, III, 24, 14)

"The causality of reprobation is unlike that of predestination. For predestination is the cause both of what is awaited in the future, namely glory, and of what is received in the present, namely grace. Whereas reprobation is not the cause of present fault, but of future result, namely, of being abandoned by God. Fault is born of the freewill of the person who is reprobated ... In this way, the word of
the prophet is true — namely, 'Destruction is thy own, O Israel.' "

(Summa Theologica, PI Q23 A3)

However, I am willing to accept that other statements of Calvin may qualify the apparently heterodox nature of the above statements. And I would be interested in a presentation of these "balancing" texts, if such are to be found.

When Calvinists qualify "total depravity" to say that it does not mean men are as bad as they can be or altogether evil but that all parts of our humanity are infected unto death by sin, as I have heard done, they are really being Thomist. When they deny Supralapsarianism in their concept of reprobation and unconditional election, they are being Thomist.

If they would admit that not all who receive grace necessarily receive effectual/irresistible grace and the grace of final perseverence, and that the Atonement is universal in effect and scope potentially but not actually, then they would also be Thomist on these points as well, with but minor modification of their Calvinism. I still think they would be quite possibly wrong, but they would be well within the realm of orthodoxy.

Fr Matthew Kirby said...

Correction to last part of post before the previous one of mine:

"whatever they understood to CONFLICT with this Canon."

Fr Matthew Kirby said...

Sigh. Other corrections:

"he could not love them" for "he cold not love them" in bold

This awful sentence -- "Whereas for Aquinas reprobation proceeds from God's permission (note the repeated use of "permit" in the quotation supplied by Fr Wells), and He is not the cause of the reprobate state itself, and is distinct from predestination in his terminology, this is arguably not the case for Calvin" -- must be rewritten as below.

For Aquinas reprobation results from God's permitting it (note the repeated use of "permit" in the quotation supplied by Fr Wells), and He is not the cause of the reprobate state itself. Additionally, "reprobation" is distinguished from "predestination" in his terminology. However, this is arguably not the case for Calvin.

Anonymous said...

Fr Kirby's distinction of an "ontological" and "epistemological" view of the Canon is extremely helpful, and I am genuinely glad to see him write, "To say, in this context, that the Church "wrote" Scripture and therefore "controls" its content or interpretation is heretical and probably blasphemous."

I could not have said it better myself. But this only goes to show there is a lot of blaspheny going on. Ex-bp Bennison, sometime of Pennsylvania, stated that crudely once or twice, but his shocking revisionism bore a certain resemblance to popular versions of EO and RC theology. So perhaps Fr Kirby and I are too far apart on this matter. This is more or less what I was driving at when I brought up the testimonium internum Spiritus sancti.

But I would still raise the question of how early the epistemological process of discernment took place. When Peter wrote (2 Peter 3:16) in an off-handed manner comparing the letters of "our dear brother Paul" to "the other Scriptures," he provided evidence at an early time of a Canon already taking shape, a "Proto-canon" if you will. The careful editorial arrangement of the Corpus Paulinum, in which the letters descend from Romans (the longest) to Philemon (the shortest) suggests strongly that the collector was putting together writings regarded as endowed with apostolic authority.

When the author of 2 Clement (writing early in the second century) quoted Matt 9:13 = Mark 2:17 as "another Scripture" (after a long quotation from Isaiah), he did not wait for the Seventh Ecumenical Council to give its approval. The Apostolic Fathers are replete with quotations and allusions to the NT, a literature they knew well and regarded as authoritative. Whatever happened that this or that Council was little more than acknowledgement of a Canon already secure. Any "open-ness" would have provided an opportunity for debate. Such debate did not happen.

As far as the minor variations in the OT Canon, I have never lost any sleep over them. It is surely significant that both OT and NT canons consist in three parts. In both Testaments, the first two parts are very secure (Torah//Gospels, Former and Latter Prophets//Acts and Paul's Epistles), but the Antilogemena always occur in the third part (Writings//General Epistles). The Book of Esther, for example, is problematic, but I cannot convince myself that the Christian religion hangs on the status of Esther in the Canon. Perhaps God does not mean for the Canon to be a locked-box in which His Revelation is imbedded in concrete. Biblical inerrantists (such as myself) must humbly acknowledge that the limits of the Canon are, at a point or two, shrouded in mystery. I can live with that.