Monthly Archives: October 2011

Re: Reformation Day: kids don’t celebrate divorce

Good point (an appropriate follow-up to this):

“…Tomorrow will be celebrated by many Protestants as “Reformation Sunday.” To be sure, part of what Protestants celebrate on Reformation Day are what they believe to be the truths upheld and preserved within Protestantism. But without careful qualification, celebrating “Reformation Day” while remaining separated from the Catholic Church is a kind of performative contradiction, because it implies that separation, not reform, is the ultimate goal of the protest. Celebrating Reformation Day can be for that reason like celebrating a divorce, or more accurately, celebrating estrangement from our mother and from all our brothers and sisters who remain in her bosom, when in truth Christ calls us all to full communion and prays that we would be one. Moreover celebrating what is a division can blind the celebrants to the evil of that continuing division, just as celebrating divorce could blind children to its evil, or celebrating abortion could blind the celebrants to its evil.”

(there is a lot in this post that I don’t agree with to, by the way)

That said, we do celebrate the pure preaching and teaching of the pure Gospel of God and the administration of His Sacraments!

photo credit:


Posted by on October 31, 2011 in Uncategorized


Babies in Church (part VIII): judge your mother, o child (the tragic necessity of the Reformation)

Here are the preceding posts in this series: I, Can adults be saved? ;  II, Word or the Church? ; III, The unattractive body, IV, Miraculous, ordinary, conversational experience ; V, The arrogance of the infant (a) ; VI, The arrogance of the infant (b) ; VII, The “Church-speak” that we need

A quote from Gerhard’s On the Church struck me as tremendous, and has caused me to continue this series I started long ago… (at least for one addition : ) ).  I’ll get to the quote in a minute.

Recently, I read the words of one person describing a faithful Roman Catholic (here).  This is what he said:

“Your wish is to love what the Church does and as she does (I deliberately use the feminine pronoun); you wish to understand things as she does; and you wish to give a personal ‘fiat’ in the manner of the Mary of the Angelus and the saints. You see in the Church – the great, vast, aggregate of fallible humans – a spiritual work of a personal God manifest in the God-man Jesus; you take on wholly Paul’s metaphor that the church, in its human imperfection, is a sign and extension of that ‘scandal’, ‘folly’ and ‘stumbling block’ that was the ignominious death on Calvary. Thus, you can assert that the Church ‘belongs’ to Jesus in a sense that it is his work, and thus his, and you then would conclude that each and everyone professing to act for or in the interests of the Church should only do what is discerned as the heart and mind of Jesus, and that the only way to discern that is to contemplate on and assent to the teachings of its popes and councils.”

I am confident that these words could have been used to describe Martin Luther.  If you do not believe me, read this book.

At one point in the Luther movie of 2003 Staupitz, the head of the Augustinian order (and Luther’s faithful father in Christ) says to Luther: “I hoped that you would help reform the church, not destroy it…with all its sins, the Church is still the Church… what is a child without its family… how would people fare left to themselves helpless and frightened…all my life I have seen a world that hates evil more than it loves good… I beg you to look to the good, Martin…” .  To this Luther responds, “That day when you sent me out so boldly to change the world: Did you really think there wouldn’t be a cost?”

Luther never intended to leave the mother that had born him, but the words of Hosea 2:2 may have not been far from him: “Judge *your mother*, judge her, for she is not My wife and I am not her husband; let her put away her fornications and her adulteries from between her breasts”.  Such correction Rome could not endure.  He was as the faithful prophets before him.

Therefore, I conclude: although finally and fully loyal to the Father who provided the seed [of the Word], child-like faith also presumes a desire to stay with the mother that gave them that spiritual birth, that is Holy Mother Church.  Even when she abuses them tremendously, there is loyalty, for there is only One Mother, in addition to the One Lord, faith, and baptism…..

Here is the quote:

Bellarmine… : “According to Philipp Melanchthon and [Matthias] Flacius Illyricus, the church at the time of Christ existed only in Zechariah, Anna, Simeon, Mary, and a few other devout people, but not in the pontiffs [i.e., chief priests] and a certain multitude of Jews.  Yet it is evident that Zechariah, Simeon, and the others communed with the chief priests in the temple and the sacrifices, etc.  Therefore either they were acting badly by being in fellowship with a false church, or the Lutherans are acting badly by not being in a fellowship with us and in not obeying the pontiff.”

We respond. (1)  We accept the comparison that compares our church with Simeon, Zechariah, and the rest of the devout and, on the other hand, the Roman church with the chief priests and the rest of the Jewish multitude.  From this we draw the unshakable conclusion that our church is true and theirs is false.

(2)  If this argument were to have any strength, it would not prove that the church catholic [i.e. the universal church] is visible but that we should not have deserted the Roman Church.  But this question belongs to another place.  Therefore the argument is beside the point.

(3)  If we weight the matter carefully, this argument, rather, confirms our opinion.  In the Jewish church there were pontiffs [i.e., chief priests], priests, Levites, Pharisees, etc., all of whom were claiming the title “church” for themselves.  Actually, they were not members of the church catholic because they were persecuting Christ, the Head of the church catholic, and Christ’s disciples, members of the church catholic.  The church was being preserved in these few people: Simeon, Zechariah, Elizabeth, Anna, etc., who were visible as human beings but who could not be seen according as they were members of the church catholic.  They would go up to the temple with the other Jews, celebrate the sacrifices with them, and were joined to them in external association.  Nevertheless, only they alone, not the other Jews, were members of the church catholic.  Consequently, because one could not recognize with external eyes who of the indiscriminate assembly of the Israelites belonged to the church catholic, it follows that the church catholic was invisible.  From the same argument one also concludes that the visible church is not always evident in the same way, nor is it immune from every error, as the Papists think.  We shall debate this matter in the following questions [#86-125]

(4)  There is a difference between the Israelite and the Roman churches.  The chief priest in the church of Israel was divinely established; the Roman pontiff, however, does not enjoy such an establishment [I note: in the Lutheran Confessions it says that even if this were the case, the Pope would still need to be opposed insofar as he would not accept the doctrine of justification].  God had instituted the temple, the sacrifices, and the entire Jewish polity and had added the promise that these would endure until Christ came and that, before the Messiah came, the temple would be destroyed, the sacrifices abolished, and the Jewish government overthrown.  Despite this, the truly devout remained in the external fellowship of the Jewish church and used the same temple and sacrifices.***  One cannot show, however, as far as the Roman church is concerned, that it has the same promises nor that the church is bound to the city of Rome by a divine promise, as divine worship in the Old Testament was bound to the temple.

(5) In fact, just as Christians in the apostolic church after Christ’s ascent finally left the external fellowship of the Jewish church because the priests and Pharisees and the other Jews were banishing them from the synagogue and were plotting against their lives, so also we – impeded by the thunderbolt of excommunication from the Roman pontiff and driven out of the fellowship of the Roman church by the violence of persecutions – have departed from their communion, not so much fleeing from them as chased away.  If the confession of true doctrine and the legitimate use of the Sacraments had been left free for us, perhaps we would not have departed from the external fellowship of the Roman church.

(6) Just as God saved for Himself a holy seed in that utterly corrupt condition of the Israelite church when all things were seen to be filled with corruptions of doctrine, with idolatry, and with superstitions, so also God preserved for Himself a holy seed in later times when the papacy had spread far and wide, when all things were seen to be depraved and corrupted.  Still today in the very middle of Rome he gathers a church to Himself, a church that, though it has not yet been separated from the external fellowship of the Roman church, nevertheless does have an internal communion with the church catholic and in this respect is invisible.

(bold mine)

–pp. 138, 139, On the Church, 2010

*** – “’The scribes and Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat; keep and do whatever they tell you to keep,’ says Christ in Matt. 23:2[-3].  He commands them to listen to the scribes and Pharisees not absolutely in all things but insofar as they sit in Moses’ seat, that is, insofar as they propose things that are in harmony with Moses’ teaching.  Elsewhere, He commands them to beware of their ‘leaven’, that is, of their false teaching (Matt. 16:11-12).  So, too, we should listen to the church, namely in those matters that are devout and holy and in harmony with the commandments of our heavenly Father.  If the church brings forth anything different from the teaching of Christ, to this extent and in this respect we should not listen to her.  (On the Church, p. 221, see also 201)… the scribes and Pharisees to whom Christ orders us to listen were mixing the ‘leaven of errors’ and corruptions with the pure teaching of Moses and the prophets.” (p. 226, bold mine)


Posted by on October 27, 2011 in Uncategorized


Just funny

OK – a break from our regular fare:

A dog thinks: Hey, these people I live with feed me, love me, provide me with a nice warm, dry house, pet me, and take good care of me… They must be Gods!

A cat thinks: Hey, these people I live with feed me, love me, provide me with a nice warm, dry house, pet me, and take good care of me… I must be a God!

Leave a comment

Posted by on October 24, 2011 in Uncategorized


Dave Armstrong debate update: end of round 1

I had replied to Dave Armstrong, the Roman Catholic apologist, about his reply to the 16th century Lutheran Martin Chemnitz’s Examination of the Council of Trent.

He has replied in full to that now: part 1, part 2, part 3(bonus post), part 4

I may try and post all of his replies at once here, but don’t wait for that.  Go see what Dave has to say.

I hope to start round 2 soon.

UPDATE:  Here is the whole debate.  Dave’s words are in normal font and my words are in italics:

Nathan Rinne (words in blue in this paper) is a friendly and able Lutheran apologist, with whom I have been having cordial discussions. He first showed up on my blog with a comment under a post of mine about Luther. We engaged in many more exchanges in my post, Brief Exchange With Lutheran Nathan Rinne on Luther’s Revolt and Fundamental Differences of Perspective Regarding the So-Called Protestant “Reformation”. Nathan then started expressing interest in replying to my (five) critiques of Chemnitz. Here they are:

Martin Chemnitz is “The Man” for Lutherans; It’s Time to Address His Arguments Directly

Critique of Martin Chemnitz’ Examination of Trent: Scripture I (Poisoning the Well as to the Catholic Rule of Faith and Veneration of Holy Scripture)

Critique of Martin Chemnitz’ Examination of Trent: Bible, Tradition, and the Church Fathers, Part I (Preliminaries, St. Irenaeus, and Tertullian)

Critique of Martin Chemnitz’ Examination of Trent: Bible, Tradition, and the Church Fathers, Part II (Various Fathers and Arguments)

Critique of Martin Chemnitz’ Examination of Trent: Soteriology and Justification in the Church Fathers

His reply is entitled, My reply to RC apologist Dave Armstrong, regarding his examination of Martin Chemnitz’s Examination. In the Introduction, he stated that I “will be answering it line-by-line on his blog.” That was predicated upon his being willing to critique my papers line-by-line. But he has only selectively replied:

Please know that in the lengthy reply to your posts on Chemnitz . . . which follows, I have only picked out those parts that seem to me most important (and I hope my confessional Lutheran brethren would agree).  I may very well have missed some important things I should not have. 

Therefore, I trust that I may be excused if I don’t reply to absolutely every jot and tittle. I will still likely respond to virtually all of his paper, though, because that is my usual method.

I appreciate Nathan’s kind words at the beginning of his reply. I, too, have enjoyed our interactions a lot, and have respect for his work and his demeanor. It’s a true pleasure to take part in a non-acrimonious dialogue, in good faith, with two parties confident and secure in their positions (which generally means there is no need for desperate, evasive personal attacks; charges of lying, etc.). Such a phenomenon seems to be as rare as a square circle anymore online.

Sola Regula Fidei Veritas (True Rule of Faith Alone)

 “The sword of God, which is the living Word of God, strikes through the things which men of their own accord, without the authority and testimonies of Scripture, invent and think up, pretending that it is apostolic tradition.” 

– Jerome, as cited in Martin Chemnitz, Examination of the Council of Trent, Part 1, trans. Fred Kramer (St. Louis: Concordia, 1971), pp. 228–229.

We Catholics agree, since for us, apostolic tradition and Scripture must always be in harmony. The former can never contradict the latter. Note how St. Jerome specifically mentions “apostolic” tradition, over against false traditions of men (“of their own accord . . . invent and think up”). All he’s saying here is that non-apostolic traditions contradict Scripture. He is not denying that apostolic tradition is also authoritative and a norm of faith. Thus it is no evidence whatsoever of a sola Scriptura position (as Chemnitz probably intended it to be).

The same St. Jerome also wrote:

I will tell you my opinion briefly and without reserve. We ought to remain in that Church which was founded by the Apostles and continues to this day. If ever you hear of any that are called Christians taking their name not from the Lord Jesus Christ, but from some other, for instance, Marcionites, Valentinians, Men of the mountain or the plain, you may be sure that you have there not the Church of Christ, but the synagogue of Antichrist. For the fact that they took their rise after the foundation of the Church is proof that they are those whose coming the Apostle foretold. And let them not flatter themselves if they think they have Scripture authority for their assertions, since the devil himself quoted Scripture, and the essence of the Scriptures is not the letter, but the meaning. Otherwise, if we follow the letter, we too can concoct a new dogma and assert that such persons as wear shoes and have two coats must not be received into the Church.

(The Dialogue Against the Luciferians 28)

“The apostles handed down many things orally; apostolic men received many things from the apostles by oral tradition which they on their part later delivered to their own disciples.  But Irenaeus says that all these things were “in agreement with the Scriptures”.  

– Martin Chemnitz, Examination of the Council of Trent, Part 1, trans. Fred Kramer (St. Louis: Concordia, 1971), p 226.

Of course they are in agreement with the Bible. That is the Catholic position of the three-legged stool: Bible-Tradition-Church: all harmonious: all of a piece. Few fathers talked more about the sublime authority of apostolic succession and apostolic tradition than St. Irenaeus. He was no advocate of sola Scriptura. I maintain that it is special pleading to contend that any major Church father was such. I’ve never seen any evidence of it. For much more on St. Irenaeus’ view of authority and the rule of faith, see two papers from an Orthodox writer, Robert Arakaki:

Irenaeus of Lyons: Contending for the Faith Once Delivered

Response to Robin Phillips “Questions About St. Irenaeus and Apostolic Succession”

Also, section X of my own paper (Part II):

Reply to Jason Engwer’s Catholic But Not Roman Catholic Series on the Church Fathers: Sola Scriptura (An In-Depth Analysis of Ten Church Fathers’ Views Pertaining to the Rule of Faith)  (vs. Jason Engwer)

Many patristic passages where Scripture is extolled are falsely interpreted as proclaiming sola Scriptura (whole books have been put together on these lines), but it is not the case. To have a high view of Scripture is not the equivalent of making the Bible the sole infallible rule of faith.

“Holy Scripture is in such sort the rule of the Christian faith that we are obliged by every kind of obligation to believe most exactly all that it contains, and not to believe anything which may be ever so little contrary to it: for if Our Lord himself has sent the Jews to it to strengthen their faith, it must be a safe standard. The Sadducees erred because they did not understand the Scriptures . . .” 

 – St. Francis de Sales, The Catholic Controversy. (1596), p. 88

Amen! This expresses the material sufficiency of Scripture, that I and most Catholics hold. We deny, on the other hand, the formal sufficiency of Scripture, which is sola Scriptura as the rule of faith. This was a 16th-century novel innovation that cannot be traced back to the fathers or apostles or the Bible itself.

Let me confess up front that I am a very ignorant man.

Then it shall be very easy going!!! Just teasing . . .

I will try to not make assertions where I ought not, but I know I will fail.  I pray that God would guide us in this venture, and that I would not be too proud to learn what I ought to learn from you in this discussion. 

Likewise. I look at dialogue as an opportunity for both parties to learn and grow, and follow truth wherever it leads. To me, that is the excitement and utility of it. It’s not a means to belittle and put down the other person,with a goal to “win at all costs” (including the cost of forsaking truth). So we are on the same page in this respect. I believe that truth has an inherent power, and that those who sincerely seek it will indeed find it, by the enabling of God’s grace.

As Chemnitz says: “no one should rely on his own wisdom in the interpretation of Scripture, not even in the clear passages, for it is clearly written in 2 Peter 1:20: ‘The Scripture is not a matter of one’s private interpretation.’  And whoever twists the Holy Scripture so that it is understood according to his preconceived opinions does this to his own destruction (2 Peter 3:16)”.  

Amen again! And this immediately brings us to a discussion of what corporate interpretation means.  Lutherans go back to the authority of their confessions in the Book of Concord. But I say that they, in turn, have to be in line with apostolic (and Catholic) tradition, going all the way back, and that in fact they are not in accord with that, where they differ from Catholic teachings and doctrines. Lutherans have enough respect for the fathers to be concerned that their teachings are supported by them. I have not found this alleged patristic support to be the case, however, in my many debates with Lutherans about patristic views.

Let me begin by repeating the quote that I shared earlier from Paul Strawn, who is a fine Lutheran pastor, and I am honored to say is my pastor:

 The concept of a contemporaneous existence of the Word of God in a corrupted verbal form, and a pure written form, spawned Chemnitz’s explanation of traditiones in the second locus, De traditionibus. Here he lists the first of eight different types of traditiones as Scripture itself, i.e. the things that Christ and the Apostles preached orally and were later written down. Then follows: 2) the faithful transmission of the Scriptures; 3) the oral tradition of the Apostles (which by its very nature must agree with the contents of the New Testament canon); 4) the proper interpretation of the Scriptures received from the Apostles and “Apostolic men”; 5) dogmas that are not set forth in so many words in Scripture but are clearly apparent from a sampling of texts; 6) the consensus of true and pure antiquity; 7) rites and customs that are edifying and believed to be Apostolic, but cannot be proved from Scripture. Chemnitz rejects only the eighth kind of tradition: [8] traditions pertaining to faith and morals that cannot be proved with any testimony of Scripture; but which the Council of Trent commanded to be accepted and venerated with the same reverence and devotion as the Scripture. The important element of this last of the traditiones appears not to be the fact that such traditions of faith and morals not provable from Scripture actually existed, but that their status of equality with Scripture was foisted upon the church by the Council of Trent.” P. Strawn, Cyril of Alexandria as a Source for Martin Chemnitz, in Die Patristik in der Bibelexegese des 16. Jahrhunderts, Wolfenbu”ttleler Forschungen, Bd. 85, Hrsg. v. David C. Steinmetz, Wiesbaden 1999, p. 213-14.

 I want to focus on tradition number 8, the one Chemnitz rejects.  Notice the argument of Paul Strawn: the fact that these traditions existed was not necessarily the problem.  The problem was that these traditions regarding faith and morals which were not provable from Scripture were to be regarded as equal to those clearly demonstrable from Scripture.  I take this to mean that they were to be considered central or essential teachings – i.e. as going hand in hand with the rule of faith – and that a refusal to acknowledge them at such (see p. 296 of the Examen) would result in separating one’s self from the Church, and therefore Christ.  This Chemnitz rightly rejects (see p. 269 and 306 of the Examen)

This hinges on what is meant by “proved” from Scripture, and the criterion of “clearly demonstrable.” Those things are subjective, and reasonable men can disagree. The nature and scope of “proof” cannot simply be some tradition of men, itself unattached to biblical criteria. It seems to me that it has to be in harmony with biblical thought. Likewise, clarity or perspicuity is often arguable, concerning particular doctrines and how “proved” they are. I’ve written two books critiquing sola Scriptura (the latest one to be published by Catholic Answers next year). I haven’t seen any biblical proof at all of that doctrine. And I have seen much scriptural disproof of it and also an important component of it: perspicuity of Scripture. As I argued in my Reply to Dr. Gene Veith on Catholic Mariology:

We contend that all Catholic doctrines (including even the dreaded Marian ones) are present in Scripture, explicitly, implicitly, or clearly able to be deduced from either sort of evidence (material sufficiency).

There are different levels of such evidence. The Virgin Birth has but a few support passages. Original sin also has only a few. Yet both are firmly believed by Christians of all stripes. Original sin isn’t even mentioned in the Nicene Creed, and Cardinal Newman noted that there was far more support for purgatory in the fathers than for original sin.

Other things have to be (mostly or largely) deduced. Under this category would come things like the Two Natures of Christ. It’s in Scripture, assuredly, but has to be “teased” out of it by an examination of many passages together. Even the Holy Trinity is mostly of that nature. I have papers giving many hundreds of biblical proofs for the Trinity, but they are not always evident at first glance. As a result, Christology developed in the early Church for about 600 years: . . .

Other things are totally absent in Scripture, yet believed by Protestants, who claim to be “Scripture Alone” (as infallible authority). The canon of the Bible is the best and most undeniable example of that. Protestants are forced to accept a “fallible list of infallible books” — as R. C. Sproul has candidly admitted. And they have to rely on the (Catholic) Church authority that proclaimed the canon (minus the deuterocanon). Sola Scriptura is another. It’s found nowhere in Scripture.

. . . Nowhere does it say in Holy Scripture that the Bible only is the infallible guide and rule of faith, to the exclusion of an infallible Church or infallible apostolic tradition (which is precisely what the Protestant contention is). And the Bible contradicts it all over the place. But that doesn’t stop Protestants from believing it and basing their entire system of authority and method of theology on it: castles made of sand, like the old Jimi Hendrix song . . .

Denominations are nowhere found in the New Testament, which everywhere refers to one Church with one solid set of beliefs, that are non-negotiable. This is beyond all dispute. Many Protestant thinkers readily concede this, and lament it. Yet all Protestants live with the tension of the very existence of denominations being dead-set against what the Bible teaches about ecclesiastical authority and belief-systems of theological truth. . . .

Now, all that was my roundabout way of addressing the criticism that our Marian doctrines are supposedly not “in” the Bible. They certainly are: just not (usually) explicitly, or sometimes (as in the Assumption) not implicitly, either, and able only to be deduced from other things. But this shouldn’t pose any problem for the Protestant (unless we adopt double standards) because, as I’ve shown, they believe many things that are only infrequently indicated in the Bible or not at all. Neither the canon issue nor the denominational scandal ever seem to cause any Protestants to reject their own system.

So that is one reply: we reject the double standard whereby you guys believe all that (and other things, too) with small or no biblical support, while at the same time demanding hyper-biblical-support for every one of our doctrines, as if we don’t have it and you do for absolutely everything you believe and even make a “pillar” of your system.

The second answer is that explicit support is not required anyway, because the Bible never teaches that: that every doctrine must be explicitly indicated in the Bible and nowhere else. If we are fully “biblical” that notion is completely absent. So why follow it? Well, because it is an entrenched, arbitrary tradition of man, is what it amounts to. [last italics added presently]

I add now, that this notion Chemnitz has, that a doctrine more explicitly indicated in Scripture is automatically superior to one that is less explicitly or only implicitly  indicated (or, as he would say, absent altogether, when often this is debatable), is itself a concept that Scripture (to my knowledge) never asserts. So where does it come from? Well, it is a deduction of a notion that is itself not able to be proved from Scripture: sola Scriptura. Chemnitz is thus relying heavily on an arbitrary, unbiblical notion of men that is based on another presupposition that is an arbitrary, unbiblical notion of men. If anyone doubts this, then I would challenge him to find where in Chemnitz he explains and defends the rationale or basis for this notion; on what basis does he hold it in the first place? Where is his biblical proof?

What Catholics would regard as perfectly harmonious with Scripture; therefore, “biblical”; Chemnitz would reject as “unbiblical.” It comes down to a matter of definition and criteria for levels of “proof” or demonstration. In the end, each doctrine will have to be gone through individually, to establish if it is sufficiently “biblical.” That is my apologetic specialty, so I’d be glad — more than happy — to do that. Every time I’ve set out to find biblical indication of a Catholic doctrine, I’ve found it. Relative strength or weakness may be debated, but I found something every time.

I will continue returning to this theme throughout my paper, because I think this is the central point.

Then I will expect you to give individual examples of doctrines supposedly entirely missing from the Bible, and then you’ll have to interact with my arguments that they are present. It’s not enough to merely make the assertion. Now you will have to demonstrate it and interact with rebuttals. Protestants make the bald claims all the time, but when asked or challenged to defend their assertions, oftentimes it is a far different story, with much less confidence exhibited, for some reason.

In a nutshell, here is my contention: The best and most faithful of the Apostolic Fathers (i.e. the most Apostolic among them) believed that all essential doctrines – for all practical purposes, the Rule of Faith – could be proven with Scripture, even if they did hold to other (non-binding) teachings as well.   

Again, it all comes down to what you mean by “proven with Scripture,” and how you arrive at this determination; then it is a matter of examining relevant patristic passages. You may assume this means sola Scriptura, which we reject, while I would argue that it is material sufficiency, which we accept.

For example, Irenaeus essentially says that the Rule of Faith is “in agreement with the Scriptures”.

He does not! To say that true doctrine agrees with Scripture does not contradict the Catholic position at all. This is what he believed (see my three links above). He doesn’t make sola Scriptura (Scripture as the only infallible norm and standard of faith or belief) the rule of faith: that is a whole ‘nother ball of wax. This is a factual matter, and it is easy to prove that St. Irenaeus held a thoroughly Catholic view, not proto-Lutheran or any kind of proto-Protestant view. I’ve already provided several proofs of that, and I have more in my third critique of Chemnitz and also some twenty pages in my book, The Church Fathers Were Catholic (I will send you a free e-book copy via e-mail).

We must take very seriously these own men’s words about the primacy and centrality of Scripture for those legitimately ordained men holding to the true Rule of Faith.  Forgiveness, life, and salvation are at stake.    

Yes, we must — rightly interpreted. We can’t simply anachronistically read in our views. I shall cite two prominent Lutherans with regard to this general point:

As regards the pre-Augustinian Church, there is in our time a striking convergence of scholarly opinion that Scripture and Tradition are for the early Church in no sense mutually exclusive: kerygma, Scripture and Tradition coincide entirely. The Church preaches the kerygma which is to be found in toto in written form in the canonical books.

The Tradition is not understood as an addition to the kerygma contained in Scripture but as the handing down of that same kerygma in living form: in other words everything is to be found in Scripture and at the same time everything is in the living Tradition. It is in the living, visible Body of Christ, inspired and vivified by the operation of the Holy Spirit, that Scripture and Tradition coinhere . . . Both Scripture and Tradition issue from the same source: the Word of God, Revelation . . . Only within the Church can this kerygma be handed down undefiled . . .

(Heiko Oberman, The Harvest of Medieval Theology, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, revised 1967, 366-367)

Clearly it is an anachronism to superimpose upon the discussions of the second and third centuries categories derived from the controversies over the relation of Scripture and tradition in the 16th century, for ‘in the ante-Nicene Church . . . there was no notion of sola Scriptura, but neither was there a doctrine of traditio sola.’. . . (1)

The apostolic tradition was a public tradition . . . So palpable was this apostolic tradition that even if the apostles had not left behind the Scriptures to serve as normative evidence of their doctrine, the church would still be in a position to follow ‘the structure of the tradition which they handed on to those to whom they committed the churches (2).’ This was, in fact, what the church was doing in those barbarian territories where believers did not have access to the written deposit, but still carefully guarded the ancient tradition of the apostles, summarized in the creed . . .   The term ‘rule of faith’ or ‘rule of truth’ . . . seems sometimes to have meant the ‘tradition,’ sometimes the Scriptures, sometimes the message of the gospel . . . In the . . . Reformation . . . the supporters of the sole authority of Scripture . . . overlooked the function of tradition in securing what they regarded as the correct exegesis of Scripture against heretical alternatives.

(Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine: Vol.1 of 5: The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600), Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1971, pp. 115-17, 119; citations: 1. In Cushman, Robert E. and Egil Grislis, editors, The Heritage of Christian Thought: Essays in Honor of Robert Lowry Calhoun, New York: 1965, quote from Albert Outler, “The Sense of Tradition in the Ante-Nicene Church,” p. 29. 2. St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3:4:1)

Likewise, Anglican church historian J. N. D. Kelly:

It should be unnecessary to accumulate further evidence.Throughout the whole period Scripture and tradition ranked as complementary authorities, media different in form but coincident in content. To inquire which counted as superior or more ultimate is to pose the question in misleading terms. If Scripture was abundantly sufficient in principle, tradition was recognized as the surest clue to its interpretation, for in tradition the Church retained, as a legacy from the apostles which was embedded in all the organs of her institutional life, an unerring grasp of the real purport and meaning of the revelation to which Scripture and tradition alike bore witness.

(Early Christian Doctrines, San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1978, 47-48)

For more along these lines, see my paper, Dialogue on Whether the Fathers Taught “Perspicuity” of Scripture and Denied the Necessity of Tradition and an Authoritative Church (vs. Carmen Bryant).

In other words, if these men had been challenged by heresies that took teachings they had never questioned as being non-essential too far (in a way that endangered the proper teaching of Christ, grace, and faith), they would have gone back to the Scriptures, and begin the process of righting their wrongs.   

Indeed, they did do so. They went to Scripture first, and made the appropriate arguments. If the heretic was still obstinate, their trump card was to appeal to the authority of the unbroken apostolic tradition of the Church.

Here is how I will conclude:

 The fullness of the Rule of Faith is often only known tacitly (and will, of course, be confirmable in Scripture – when one finally looks with the right questions and problems in mind: “[the Rule of Faith’s] contents coincided with those of the Bible [for Origin]” [-J.N.D. Kelley]).

Material vs. formal sufficiency distinction . . .

It takes the circumstances of history to “draw out” further explicit content, that is, essential doctrine, starting with the ecumenical creeds and including also the doctrine of justification.  We have begun to really understand, even as we long to understand more (for example, objectively speaking, passages like Isaiah 53 really are clearly about Jesus Christ, even if that knowledge has not become clear or fully dawned in the faithful). 

Development of doctrine is necessary and inevitable for all doctrines. It’s my favorite theological topic, and was the largest persuasive factor in my conversion to Catholicism.

As regards this drawing out of essential doctrine, the matter of interpretation is involved (note also: “[for Origin, the Rule of Faith] was formally independent of the Bible, and also included the principles of Biblical interpretation ” [-J.N.D. Kelley]).  Here you will recall what I said earlier about how the Berean’s treatment of the Scriptures in Acts 17 plays out on the ground: a) their gut impulse is to go to those formal Scriptures held to by believers and test…. and b) things they may not have seen before they clearly are able to locate after Paul has preached and taught.

Interpretation had to be within the matrix of the Church’s orthodox theology.  See my papers:

Antidote to William Whitaker’s Sola Scriptura Arguments, Part 7: Church Fathers on the Rule of Faith / Prooftext for Perspicuity (Eisegesis of Deuteronomy 30:11-14) Refuted from Scripture 

Antidote to William Whitaker’s Sola Scriptura Arguments, Part 11: Interpretation of Scripture: Moses’ Seat, Pharisaical Authority, the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15), and Whitaker’s Irrational, Radically Individualist Subjectivism

Antidote to William Whitaker’s Sola Scriptura Arguments, Part 12: Church Councils, St. Irenaeus’ Rule of Faith, and St. John Chrysostom on St. Peter and His Successors

Lactanius said: “For the contest [over who is the true Catholic Church] is respecting life and salvation, which, unless it is carefully and diligently kept in view, will be lost and extinguished.” (as you quoted him)  So again, where is the Church?  I like how Douglas Johnson puts it:  “Salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ is at the heart of all the great controversies that shook the Early church as it tried to work out its own self-understanding”.  Indeed, and in the Reformation, we simply see the continuing of this process.  

Salvation by grace alone (over against Pelagianism) is biblical, apostolic, and patristic teaching, not salvation by faith alone (a Protestant novelty). See my papers:

St. Paul’s Teaching on the Organic Relationship of Grace / Faith and Works / Action / Obedience (Collection of 50 Pauline Passages)

Biblical Evidence for the Nature of Saving Faith (Including Assent, Trust, Hope, Works, Obedience, and Sanctification)

St. Paul’s Use of “Gift” in Romans 5 and Elsewhere as a Proof for Infused (Not Merely Imputed or Declared) Justification

Biblical Evidence for “Power” as a Proof and Manifestation of Infused (Catholic) Justification

Final Judgment in Scripture is Always Associated With Works And Never With Faith Alone (50 Passages)

The Interpretation and Exegesis of Romans 2-4 (Justification and Works of the Law) (Includes Very Extensive Patristic Commentary and Definitional Citations from three Protestant Bible Dictionaries)

Is Sola Fide (Faith Alone) a Legitimate Development of Patristic and Augustinian Soteriology?

Alister McGrath on the Protestant Innovation (Corruption?) of Imputed Justification

Church Fathers vs. the “Reformation Pillar” of Faith Alone (Sola Fide) [Including “Revised Protestant Standard” Variant Readings]

Did the Council of Trent Teach That Man is Saved By His Own Works?

Grace Alone (Sola Gratia): Perfectly Acceptable Biblical and Catholic Teaching (Rightly Understood)

Part II

First, I understand your frustration about Chemnitz questioning the sincerity of RCs, especially as regards their love for the Scriptures and their concern to interpret it properly.  He does seem rather harsh, even if in his day he was not, and it is hard for me, as a modern 21st century Christian, to understand how he could have that kind of attitude.  Of course, perhaps with more knowledge about his context, I might feel differently.  

I appreciate the irenic sentiment. That’s how it was, then, and in many respects or in some places (sadly), still is today. And it is still true in Lutheran circles, too, judging by my recent brief experience on one Lutheran site. Why does it have to be? I would say it is even worse in a sense today, because we should know better by now (and the Catholics of that time were, by and large, no stellar examples of devotion to Christ). We Christians (generally speaking, and particularly on the Internet) have learned little in 500 years about trying to get along and rejoicing in our considerable common ground. But you and I can talk without all that hogwash, for which I am grateful. It is entirely possible.

For example, regarding the opponents he savages in the first several pages of volume 1 (primarily Andrada, for example, who was at the Council of Trent), I would guess that he used them as his typical example of RCC belief because he really believed that they were the only people who had attempted to address the writings of the Lutherans in a substantial way (I wonder if any individuals comparable to the one you held up as a model, namely Francis de Sales, existed during Chemnitz’s time – I’m guessing not). 

St. Robert Bellarmine would be one. He is the primary opponent of William Whitaker, whose defense of sola Scriptura I have critiqued. Not much of his writing is available in English. Erasmus did a fine job of responding to Luther, in his Hyperaspistes (I have excerpted that at length). By Chemnitz’ time the Catholic Reformation was really starting to kick in (since Trent was part of that).

Further, you must know that from the Lutheran perspective, matters as put forth in the Scriptures are very clear – even if Augustine, for example, did not believe quite the way that we do (this will be addressed later on… still, we would continue to argue that on some critical points – on original sin, for example – he is closer to us than you) – and when others won’t acknowledge the essential truths that we see clearly on display in the Scriptures, it can be highly frustrating. . . 

I don’t see that Lutherans are unique in this regard. I see Catholic beliefs as rather evident (or at least supported after close examination) in Scripture (if one is presented with the related biblical data), but Protestants disagree. This is true of all belief-systems. We can only present our rationales, and may the truth prevail, by God’s grace, opening up all our so-often-blinded or hopelessly biased eyes!

As for Lutherans seeing things so clearly, I beg to differ. Luther denied free will; the Lutheran Confessions (following Melanchthon) restored it. Luther had a very “high” eucharistic view; Melanchthon did not. The high view seems to have prevailed, confessionally, but maybe not always in practice or with individual Lutherans (just as many individual Catholics deny transubstantiation). Luther had a very high Mariology; Lutherans for the most part have not continued that tradition. Melanchthon wanted the bishops to be restored, rather than a State Church (only a few bishops are present in the various strains of Lutheranism, as I understand it).

Then there were the fights between the Gnesio-Lutherans and Philippists and Crypto-Calvinists. Melanchthon scorned the beliefs of the first group as “bread-worship” even though they clearly followed Luther’s lead. Melanchthon’s soteriology was far closer to Calvinist than Luther’s was (Luther joined sanctification and justification more closely together and even incorporated theosis). Wikipedia (“Gnesio-Lutherans”) also noted that:

. . . there was a “Centrist party”, which included Johannes Brenz, Jakob Andreae, Martin Chemnitz, Nikolaus Selnecker, David Chytraeus, Andreas Musculus, and others.

It also detailed the various inter-Lutheran controversies:

After the death of Luther, many theological controversies arose among the Lutherans, mostly due to teaching of Philip Melanchthon. Gnesio-Lutherans were profiled by defending Martin Luther‘s doctrine, in the beginning led by Matthias Flacius. The Gnesio-Lutherans exercised strict doctrinal discipline, but they also opposed with equal determination the errors of their fellow-combatants like von Amsdorf (Amsdorfians), Flacius (Flacians), Poach, and others. The centres of Gnesio-Lutherans were Magdeburg and the University of Jena.

Gnesio-Lutherans were involved in:

  1. Adiaphoristic Controversy,
  2. The Majoristic Controversy (Nicolaus von Amsdorf, Nicolaus Gallus),
  3. The Second Antinomian Controversy, (Andreas Poach, Anton Otto)
  4. The Synergistic Controversy (Matthias Flacius, Nicolaus Gallus)
  5. The Osiandrian Controversy and
  6. The Crypto-Calvinistic Controversy.

Other Gnesio-Luherans were Caspar Aquila, Joachim Westphal, Johann Wigand, Matthäus Judex, Joachim Mörlin, Tilemann Heshusius, Johann Timann, Simon Musaeus, Erasmus Sarcerius, and Aegidius Hunnius.

Now, of course you’ll say that all this was wrapped up in a pretty bow and resolved once and for all with the Formula of Concord in 1580, but we can see that there was plenty of disagreement among prominent figures. There are still lots of differences today (as in all denominations); for example, concerning disposal of the consecrated elements; when the real presence ceases, the propriety of eucharistic adoration, etc. (things perhaps not specifically covered in the confessions). I cited an article by Arthur Carl Piepkorn in one of my dialogues with Lutherans (at the end) and afterwards summarized its main points:

1) At least according to some Lutherans, “Between the consecration and the reception the elevation and adoration” are “appropriate expressions” of an “awed acknowledgment” of the real presence of the body and blood of Christ. Thus, true adoration of the host (i.e., Jesus) would be permitted during this particular “interim” period in Lutheran worship.

2) The “real presence” may indeed exist in the consecrated elements after the congregation has partaken of Holy Communion. Lutherans cannot be sure one way or the other; thus cannot dogmatically affirm either a more lasting presence or a limited one. Nor can a Lutheran dogmatically affirm or deny that “the sacramental union is a reality before . . . distribution and reception”.

3) #2 being the case, remaining elements must be treated with reverence, and not profanely. Such a “casual profanation” constitutes a greater corruption in our time than the opposite danger of superstition.

4) Even if a Lutheran believes that the real, substantial presence has ceased after reception of Holy Communion, in remaining consecrated elements, he must believe that they did previously bear Christ’s body and blood; thus still requiring the reverent handling and approach referred to in #3.

5) “Luther had grave misgivings about mixing consecrated and unconsecrated elements and insisted that nothing remain after a celebration.” Luther “strenuously differentiated consecrated from unconsecrated elements.”

6) Luther approved of the elevation of the host.

7) Luther appeared to believe in eucharistic adoration, at least during the particular time period in Lutheran worship discussed in #1. Indeed, he thought (much like St. Augustine) that it would be sin to not do this.

8) Following the uncertainties expressed in #2, “formal adoration [in Lutheranism] is neither to be commanded nor forbidden.”

9) Luther believed in “the communion of the sick in their homes with the sacrament consecrated at the parochial celebration.” This implies some lasting period of consecrated elements beyond the usual confines of a formal Lutheran worship service. Luther believed that “the sacramental action (and the sacramental union) cannot be limited to the reception.”

10) “There is no evidence of a change of heart on Luther’s part that would distinguish the ‘young Luther’ from the ‘mature Luther.'”

11) Melanchthon (Luther’s successor) believed in a “more rigid application of the principle that the sacramental presence did not perdure beyond the immediate sacramental action”

12) “[T]he Melanchthonian view and Luther’s view have persisted side by side in Lutheran churches ever since.”

13) Melanchthon’s view on this was more acceptable to John Calvin and closer to his eucharistic theology.

14) The “reverence” towards remaining consecrated elements referred to in #2-5 must not become a “cult of adoration”.

15) “The view that the sacramental union takes place only during the distribution and reception is a pious opinion that Lutherans must tolerate as long as no exclusive claim for its correctness is made.”

In a 2007 survey of half of all the pastors in the LCMS (3000), it was discovered that: “50.2% of the pastors in the synod actually restrict communion to those with whom we are in fellowship” (the “official” LCMS policy). That means that for half of the pastors in this denomination, it is unimportant to have doctrinal agreement before partaking of Holy Communion: a grossly uncatholic and unbiblical position to take. The Bible is clear on this, but LCMS pastors clearly don’t think so or else they would follow suit and have closed communion: display the courage of their convictions.

But you say, “from the Lutheran perspective, matters as put forth in the Scriptures are very clear.” Well, they are and they aren’t. The Eucharist is both central and essential. In John 6 it is tied directly to salvation and eternal life.

(we must know the Scriptures more, and allow them to deeply form and shape us… Luther was not wrong that their central message and focus was clear, but that presumes seriously listening to and considering what they say – hopefully with the help of a devout Christian).

Absolutely. I couldn’t agree more, and am happy to report that our Catholic official statements (notably of Vatican II and many recent papal encyclicals) highly encourage the same.

That said, I am happy to assume the best about you and your intentions: yes, David – we have an honest disagreement.

And likewise.

Second, I note that you do tend to think that Chemnitz selectively quotes from Irenaeus and Tertullian, for example (or from everyone really, but I’ll focus mostly on these two): “whereas Chemnitz blithely ignores the massive counter-evidence so that his readers remain utterly ignorant of it”.

I’ve found this to be, unfortunately, standard (lay) Protestant practice: cite what seems to fit with one’s view, while ignoring massive patristic data (from the same father) that doesn’t. The same is too often done with Holy Scripture. If only patristic passages about Scripture are cited, while ignoring ones about apostolic succession, bishops, popes, councils, and tradition (in order to get the full picture of what someone thought about the rule of faith), then a false portrayal is set forth, as if a father is proto-Protestant. The Catholic needs merely to produce the other passages that are relevant to the question of authority, and the refutation is rather easy and decisive.

Again, I am a bit sympathetic to your critique.  On the other hand…is it possible that he thought that the framework that he had established, i.e. talking about the eight different kinds of traditions – and how the Rule of Faith and the Scriptures went hand in hand (tradition #4) – and how doctrines were more clearly revealed from the Scriptures as heresy challenged and further clarified the Rule of Faith during the years (tradition #5) – could readily explain the omission of all of the quotations you offer from Irenaeus and Tertullian  (which you say overthrow his understanding and account)? 

In charity, yes, it’s possible, but it is still necessary to produce the “non-Scripture” utterances by the fathers on authority, or else a false picture is given. Half-truths are little better than falsehoods. I get the same treatment myself, all the time. For example, I am accused of being “anti-Luther” or of hating Luther (usually by Lutherans, as we would expect). The same people never seem to realize that I have a few dozen papers at least, where I either defend or don’t disagree with Luther; even praise him. That’s relevant to whether I supposedly “hate” him or not. If they only read criticisms where we have disagreements, they don’t get the whole picture, and even then, couldn’t logically conclude that I have “hatred” due to mere disagreement. But they need to look at my research on Luther as a whole.

The same is true of the Church fathers. To know what they regard as the rule of faith, we need to look at not only their proclamations about the Bible, but about all these other things, too (apostolic succession, bishops, popes, councils, and tradition). In any event, the fathers don’t subscribe to sola Scriptura. If you say that they believe in material sufficiency of Scripture, I agree (and I hold the same view). But that is a different proposition. They say that the Bible is central and inspired and should never be contradicted. Check, check, check; of course.

But they still deny the formal sufficiency of Scripture, which is sola Scriptura, and take far more of a Catholic than Lutheran view. In other words, they don’t support Lutheranism in this regard. They deny whatever is innovative and distinctive in Protestant teaching about the Bible. Someone could even hold to perspicuity (as I do in large part), while not accepting sola Scriptura. One can believe that and still think that Church and tradition are authoritative and alongside Scripture as the authority and (collectively) constituting the rule of faith.

I am inclined to believe that he was assuming that many of the more learned people reading his account would be familiar with all of those things that Irenaeus and Tertullian said that you think he is simply ignoring, or denying (I will address these things specifically below) – and that they would be able to figure out what his response would be to someone like yourself quite readily.  

I hope so (though I don’t find that scenario all that plausible). I answer as I do because I see this time and again in (polemical, apologetic) Protestant treatments of the fathers. But on a scholarly level, I see a lot more full-bodied, objective treatments; such as in Pelikan, Schaff, and Kelly, whom I often consult.  They all repeatedly support our contentions about patristic views. Schaff often does so begrudgingly and with editorial remarks (which amuses and charms me), but he is fair and will say what the fathers on the whole or individually believed, even if it goes against what Protestants would hope to see.

I think that the most educated Lutherans back then were far more immersed in the early church writings than we might think….(as at this time, editions of the fathers were being printed like never before and evidently everyone in the academic world was buying them, if not reading them).  As for those who were less learned, it is probably true that Chemnitz would have wanted to write in such a way so as to give them an account that was not inaccurate (from his perspective), but also leaned heavily in the direction of Lutheran views (since he obviously felt strongly that he had the truth and the most important thing would be that these pastors be confirmed in the true doctrine, not that they be able to address every single nuance of church history [like we are : ) ]) while also being nuanced enough for the intellectuals I speak of above (again, where they would be able to see that he had not really been dishonest, seeing as how they could fill in the gaps readily – like I will below)

It’s interesting that you are writing about why Chemnitz did what he did, rather than confidently bouncing off of it to demonstrate that these fathers were indeed more like Lutherans.  It is almost like a half-concession. I would say that your task is to determine who is right: is Chemnitz right, meaning that Irenaeus and Tertullian were closer to you guys than to us (in this respect), or is my fuller account correct: meaning that they were quite Catholic, and don’t bolster the case he hoped to make? Instead, we are speculating on why he argued as he did, which is fun and pleasant (I like to play amateur sleuth as much as anyone), but doesn’t advance the dialogue forward.

Third… your main argument seems to be that the Scriptures are more important than the Rule of Faith for Chemnitz, and that his belief in the authority of the Scriptures is simply another variant of the Protestant “Sola Scriptura”.  Perhaps there is some truth to what you say here.  At the same time,  as I have pointed out to you, I do not think any early Lutheran used that phrase, or thought in the way this phrase is typically thought of today.  It certainly is not in our Confessions.

The concept is there. I noted this in a comment under Part I. I’ll reproduce it here (immediately following, with some added material now):

Bottom line is one’s view of the Church. As far as I know, all Protestants deny that the Church is an infallible authority. They make Scripture the sole infallible authority. This is the definition of sola Scriptura. I highly doubt that Chemnitz will be found to be any different, in the final analysis. Once a person denies that attribute to the Church, it is pure Protestantism, and a new rule of faith.

I looked through Chemnitz and he claims that he believes in the indefectibility of the Church, but he has to redefine the Church in order to do so. Typically of Protestants, he simply assumes that the historic Catholic Church lost its way and is no longer a true Church (or the most “pure” line or whatever). That all remains to be proven. Neither Luther nor Chemnitz has demonstrated this.

The burden for the Lutheran who cares about history is to show how the Catholic Church supposedly went off the rails (which is impossible, because indefectibility was promised in Scripture) and/or why Lutheranism is supposedly the superior choice.

If you go the “invisible church” route, you forsake historical criteria as always understood all through Church history. If you argue in terms of visible Church, you have a host of other (never-ending) epistemological and ecclesiological problems. Lutherans redefine apostolic succession as well, in a way quite different from how it was always understood. The Church proclaimed about ecclesiology in the 4th Council of Constantinople (869-870):

Can. 21. We, believing that the word of the Lord which Christ spoke to His Apostles and disciples: “Who receives you, receives Me” [ Matt. 10:40 ]: “and who spurns you, spurns me” [ Luke 10:16], was said to all, even to those who after them according to them have been made Supreme Pontiffs and chiefs of the pastors, declare that absolutely no one of the powerful of this world may try to dishonor or move from his throne anyone of those who are in command of the patriarchial sees, but that they judge them worthy of all reverence and honor; especially indeed the most holy Pope of senior Rome; next the Patriarch of Constantinople; then certainly of Alexandria and of Antioch and of Jerusalem; but that no one compose or prepare any writings and words against the most holy Pope of older Rome under the pretext, as it were, of some evil crimes, a thing which both Photius did recently, and Dioscorus long ago.

Whoever, moreover, shall use such boasting and boldness that following Photius or Dioscorus, in writings or without writings he may arouse certain injuries against the See of Peter, the chief of the Apostles, let him receive the equal and same condemnation as those. But if anyone enjoying some secular power or being influential should try to depose the above mentioned Pope of the Apostolic Chair or any of the other Patriarchs, let him be anathema. But if the universal Synod shall have met, and there will have arisen even concerning the holy church of the Romans any doubt or controversy whatever, it is necessary with veneration and with fitting reverence to investigate and to accept a solution concerning the proposed question, either to offer to have offered but not boldly to declare an opinion contrary to the Supreme Pontiffs of senior Rome.

(13) If anyone should employ such daring as, like Photius and Dioscorus, in writings or without writings, to rouse certain inquiries against the See of Peter, the chief of the Apostles, let him receive the same condemnation as those; but if, when the ecumenical synod has met, any doubt arises even about the church of the Romans, it is possible to make an investigation reverently and with fitting respect concerning the question at hand, and to accept the solution either to be assisted or to assist, but not boldly to deliver (an opinion) contrary to the Supreme Pontiffs of senior Rome.

(Denzinger 341)

The one visible, hierarchical Catholic Church with bishops, apostolic succession, councils, had long since been established. We see it in operation already in the Bible (Jerusalem Council and a host of indications of Petrine Primacy: the kernels of the papacy). There are all sorts of instances of papal authority in the first millennium: one of the most notable being the acts of Pope Leo the Great at the Council of Chalcedon in 451.

There are problems any way you look at it. But it seems to me that Chemnitz has to echo Luther’s stand: if the Catholic Church says x and he disbelieves x (based — allegedly — on “clear” scripture, etc., etc.), then he rebels and rejects Church authority. This is what it means to be a Protestant. Private judgment is supreme.

Lip service can be given to Church and tradition and the fathers but in the end the individual can always revolt and go their own way. It’s the very essence of the Protestant Revolt and Luther (and the Lutheranism that followed). The Formula of Concord, Part I: Epitome, asserts sola Scriptura:

. . . Holy Scripture remains the only judge, rule, and norm according to which as the only touchstone all doctrines should and must be understood and judged as good or evil, right or wrong. (my bolding)

This excludes both the Church and apostolic tradition from the equation of final authority, and is the classic sola Scriptura position, that virtually all Protestants adhere to. It is a radical departure from Scripture, the fathers, and previous unbroken Christian tradition. The same teaching is repeated in Part II: Sandy, oops, Solid Declaration; Summary Formulation:

. . . the only true norm according to which all teachers and teachings are to be judged and evaluated. (my bolding)

It all (the “Scripture Alone” business) comes from Luther, notably in the Leipzig Disputation of 1519 and again at Worms, with his famous statement of rebellion against the traditional rule of faith (Bainton version):

Since then Your Majesty and your lordships desire a simple reply, I will answer without horns and without teeth. Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other. My conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise.

I think this is an excellent short summary of the Protestant outlook (and it is pure sola Scriptura, right from the originator of that error):  “I’m king; I’m the quasi-prophet super-pope: me, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit; I know more than the entire history of the Church; I know more than popes and councils [i.e., a rejection of the infallibility of the hierarchical Church];  I go by the Bible alone [i.e., how he interprets it, regardless of precedent]. I go by reason and conscience, too” [i.e., he ultimately decides what is reasonable and true, rather than a Church doing so]. The problem is that when everyone takes such a radically subjectivist and individualist view, chaos necessarily ensues, and it did, and has characterized Protestant division and sectarianism ever since.

Luther couldn’t and wouldn’t recant because he had changed the principles of authority: in his decided mind, he no longer had to abide by what Holy Mother Church required him to do (recant his heresies). Yet it is said that we booted him out. Luther had already long since decided he could believe what he liked regardless of what the Church taught, as early as three or four years previously, and espoused some bizarre teachings (like Jesus literally going to hell and being tormented there), even a few years before that. He had forsaken the Church in spirit (in the Catholic sense of full obedience), by spurning the traditional rule of faith. He had rejected at least 50 Catholic doctrines or practices in his three great treatises of 1520, as I have documented.

The unbiblical invisible church notion is espoused in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Articles VII and VIII: The Church:

. . . the church in the proper sense is the assembly of saints who truly believe the Gospel of Christ and who have the Holy Spirit.
In practice, this inevitably reduces to theological relativism and ecclesiological chaos, because it is, in the end, subjective mush. These things are real, but when it comes to deciding who truly has the Holy Spirit, who believes the gospel, what the gospel is, then we are back to doctrine and must rely on authority, because men endlessly differ in interpreting the Bible.

To say that the Scriptures are the supreme authority does not mean they are to be – or can be set – against the true Rule of Faith.  As you say, it’s a both/and kind of thing.  Perhaps this it not so much “Sola Scriptura”, as “Scriptura sans Aristotolus” (Scripture without Aristotle). : )

It’s set against the infallible Church and tradition, which (with Scripture) comprised the patristic, traditional rule of faith up till that time, as the fathers taught (the “three-legged stool”).

Part III

Dave, I appreciate your approach and your clarity with which you write, but at the same time, it seems to me that right from the get-go you have not been nuanced enough in your presentationYou have, I believe unintentionally, misrepresented Chemnitz’s true position.  The problem is not elevating “Tradition and Church Authority higher in the scheme of things than they ought to”.  The problem is the improper use of Church Authority and the concept of Tradition, in violation of the Rule of Faith. 

Okay; I’ll wait to see how you unpack that. I need particulars to grapple with before I can reply intelligently.

(at one point, Chemnitz says that some “excellent men in the church” “attributed too much beside the Scripture to the unwritten traditions”, p. 278, so maybe this is where you got the idea for framing things the way you did).  Again, there is no doubt that the church with its proper Rule of Faith (and Apostolic Ministry to, by the way – this is clearly something that Jesus established and we have no reason to assume that it will not exist until his return… Jesus approves Apostles who approve pastors who approve pastors who approve pastors…) goes hand in hand with the Scriptures. 

The Catholic-Lutheran (or Catholic-Protestant) beef is not whether the Church (however defined) has authority at all, but whether it has infallible authority. Lutherans and Chemnitz reject the latter; we affirm it. I’m either right or wrong about it. If I am right, then the discussion must proceed on that basis (disputing the parameters of infallibility). If I’m wrong, then please show me where Chemnitz affirms an institutional, historical, infallible Church. When he talked about indefectibility, he simply defined that as the invisible, mystical Church, whereby anyone can assert just about anything, because it is not historical, objective analysis. He certainly rejected the authority of the existing (Roman) Catholic Church.

Having done that, he has to argue why that Church somehow ceased to be the Church (since there is only one such), and by the same token, why anyone should believe that a new movement begun in the 16th century somehow magically becomes “the Church” to the exclusion of the historical one, or why the definition of “Church” all of a sudden becomes purely mystical and invisible, when it had always included a visible, institutional, historical aspect. He can’t do any of that. This is always the unsolvable problem that belief-systems run up against in trying to argue from Church history. There are a host of interconnected problems that I don’t see can be resolved at all.

They are a whole, part and parcel of one another.  The real problem, as Chemnitz would see it, is going beyond that proper Rule of Faith, in the sense that this means insisting that certain traditions without sufficient Scriptural warrant (this does exist for infant baptism – it is unacceptable to deny the wealth of evidence implicit in Scripture, as well as the consensus of antiquity [save Tertullian] here) need to be adhered to with the same level of devotion as those revealed in the Scriptures (with the implication that, for those who know better, salvation is at stake if the Magisterium is refused). Furthermore, things become especially problematic when these said traditions clearly mitigate the Gospel comfort that God means to provide.  In other words, this would, in effect, actually be mitigating the Rule of Faith itself, that central truth in the creed: that God, in His grace, promised to, and was, reconciling man to Himself through His Son Jesus Christ, rescuing us from sin, death, and the devil by the confidence-creating proclamation of His forgiveness, life and salvation won by His life, death, and resurrection (the Gospel in its narrow sense, particularly comforting to Christians who are struggling against the sin that continues to best them [see Romans 7])

Again, the charge has to be argued with regard to particular individual instances. I can’t dispute these summary statements.We believe in Jesus Christ and His all-sufficient saving work on the cross (ours to receive by Grace Alone), just as you do. We only deny an extreme Faith Alone position (which does not deny Grace Alone, since they are distinct).

As to Tertullian seeking to ground all doctrine in Scripture, or harmonious with Scripture (meaning that there may not always be explicit proofs, as Chemnitz himself later concedes with regard to, e.g., infant baptism) we have no disagreement.

 I don’t think Chemnitz is conceding anything here.  That there may not always be explicit proofs is a key part of Chemnitz’s point and method.  However saying that there need not always be explicit proofs does not mean that there can be no proof – or proof that is less than strong and insurmountable.  What is really essential about this quotation is that Tertullian really believed that all essential and binding doctrine should be grounded in Scripture.

So do Catholics; so do I. The question here is what is meant by “grounded.” I already went through all this in the paper from which you drew this quotation of mine, and you have not refuted it in the slightest. Tertullian’s view was documented and commented upon at great length (green font). You’re still making bald summary statements rather than actually interacting with my arguments. Tertullian believed in the Catholic rule of faith: all doctrines must be in harmony with Scripture; not necessarily expressly stated in Scripture. Two sentences after my words above, I also stated:

Yet in this same work, Tertullian clearly opts for the binding authority of apostolic succession and the Church: exactly what Chemnitz and Lutherans deny: [followed by lengthy Tertullian citations]

I followed the lengthy citation with this comment:

Chemnitz doesn’t write like this; most Protestants do not. This is (again) Catholicism. It is perfectly permissible to say that truth is grounded in apostolic succession and the Church grounded therein. It is also true to say that truth is grounded in Holy Scripture. The two do not contradict. But they need not always be stated together. Chemnitz will only state them together while stressing over and over again that Scripture is over Tradition and the Church.

But Tertullian, Irenaeus, and other Fathers saw no need to dichotomize and categorize like that. They simply didn’t think in those terms (as historians of doctrine have stressed). It requires revisionism and historical anachronism to make out that they thought like 16th century Lutherans on these issues. Chemnitz has the same exact problem, then, with Tertullian here, that he had with Irenaeus (since he made the same exact argument for both, and both are seen to not conform to his characterization).

I then cited historian J. N. D. Kelly at length, about Tertullian. That can be read in the other paper. Here are the most relevant two of the five paragraphs:

But Tertullian did not confine the apostolic tradition to the New Testament; even if Scripture were to be set on one side, it would still be found in the doctrine publicly proclaimed by the churches. Like Irenaeus, he found [E.g., de praescr. 21; 32; c. Marc. 4, 5] the surest test of the authenticity of this doctrine in the fact that the churches had been founded by, and were continuously linked with, the apostles; and as a further guarantee he added [De praescr. 28] their otherwise inexplicable unanimity . . .

This unwritten tradition he considered to be virtually identical with the ‘rule of faith’ (regula fidei), which he preferred to Scripture as a standard when disputing with Gnostics . . . where controversy with heretics breaks out, the right interpretation can be found only where the true Christian faith and discipline have been maintained, i.e., in the Church [De praescr. 19] . . .

I don’t see the purpose of my simply having to repeat arguments I already made, that you are not interacting with, and passing by as if they weren’t there. Your task is  to overthrow my contentions, not merely state that they are wrong: which is mere bald assertion.

In the introduction to the Examination of the Council of Trent, translator Fred Kramer says that Chemnitz is the source of the “formal principle of the Reformation”: “that the Scriptures, and not tradition of a combination of the Scriptures and tradition, is the source and norm of doctrine in the Christian church” (p. 22). 

Obviously, Tertullian does not take the same view; therefore, Chemnitz could not reasonably enlist him for his side, just as he also could not “claim” St. Irenaeus (dealt with in the same paper). They don’t help his case. They only appear to if they are cited hyper-selectively.

I think Kramer himself is not being nuanced enough!  Remember, Chemnitz lists 8 kinds of tradition, only rejecting the eighth one.  Please note that in most modern interpretations of the formal principle of the Reformation, types 3-7 are typically rejected as well.  Chemnitz, contra J.A.O. Preuss even (evidently) did not simply use the fathers as “witnesses” to the Reformation doctrine, but they are sometimes essential in working out tradition #5: “dogmas that are not set forth in so many words in Scripture but are clearly apparent from a sampling of texts”.  So the question here is this: how does Chemnitz go about using the Scriptures as the “sole source and norm”?  This can be seen in how he teaches infant baptism in his Enchidrion. First, he says that it has been practiced in the church from the time of the Apostles: the writings of the fathers provide the proof for the practice and its defense. Notice that here the writings of the church fathers function as more than witnesses.  They are pointing back to the apostolic interpretation of the applicable texts.  After one has been exposed to this patristic testimony, when the texts are read again, their true meaning becomes clear (yes, even if the Baptist continues to deny it…and no, the same cannot be said for the hierarchical distinctions between bishops and presbyters, as Jerome pointed out).  This also goes beyond issues like Baptism into things like the Trinity and Christ’s divine and human natures.  Chemnitz elsewhere states that certain fathers explain certain concepts the most clearly of all, and that the fathers taught these concepts after clearly drawing them from Scripture (more on this below). (P. Strawn, Cyril of Alexandria as a Source for Martin Chemnitz, in Die Patristik in der Bibelexegese des 16. Jahrhunderts, Wolfenbu”ttleler Forschungen, Bd. 85, Hrsg. v. David C. Steinmetz, Wiesbaden 1999213)

Okay; I have no particular reply. Chemnitz may do any number of things. That is not my primary interest, but rather, whether the fathers and the Bible support the Catholic or the Lutheran position (where we disagree). Whether Chemnitz is in perfect accord with the Lutheran confessions or not is as irrelevant (for the Lutheran dogmatic standpoint) as whether Luther in in accord with them. It may be interesting as an historical matter, but resolves nothing by way of comparing Lutheranism and Catholicism.

Now, it is true that one can label Chemnitz’s view as “Sola Scriptura” in a sense.  He believed, as the Chemnitz-infused Formula of Concord would later say, “We receive and embrace with our whole heart the Prophetic and Apostolic Scripture of the Old and New Testaments as the pure, clear fountain of Israel which is the only standard by which all teachers and doctrines are to be judged” (851, Triglot, Bente and Dau).  Paul Strawn explains Chemnitz’s view in more detail: “the Word of God, first given verbally to Adam, underwent a continuous process of corruption and restoration until the time of Moses” [which explains God doing things in Tablets of Stone: the Word committed to writing preserved the true doctrine]… and “Christ and the Apostles repeated the process with the production of the New Testament writings…. Christ and the Spirit assisted Apostles who gave the Word verbally, and after a time the Apostles or their assistants committed the Word to writing to secure it from the dangers of verbal transmission.”  In sum: “The verbal and the written Word continued to exist side by side, but the latter always corroborated the former” (P. Strawn, Cyril of Alexandria as a Source for Martin Chemnitz, in Die Patristik in der Bibelexegese des 16. Jahrhunderts, Wolfenbu”ttleler Forschungen, Bd. 85, Hrsg. v. David C. Steinmetz, Wiesbaden 1999213)

This is essentially asserting the material sufficiency of Scripture, which I and Catholics generally accept. Thus, this particular aspect of Lutheran teaching on authority, we have no gripe with.

Strawn concludes: “Chemnitz’s enumeration of the Scriptures as the first of eight types of traditiones clearly reflected, and generated, an optimistic assessment of the non-apostolic writings of the church.  The basis for such a construction, the pre-biblical, co-biblical, and post-biblical verbal transmission of the Word of God [I note: tradition #4 – Scripture’s proper interpretation] assured a dynamic interaction between the verbally transmitted Word, and the Word committed to writing.  The concepts of source and norm therefore do not violently tear the Scriptures away from the fabric of the theological writings of the Church, but in fact the opposite: they assure their continual interaction and help to retain the apostolic witness in its dominant position….” (217).

Great. But there is still the issue of the denial of the infallibility of anything besides Scripture, that I delved into in the last installment.

Again, I would add that this looking back to the Scriptures is part and parcel of the Rule of Faith, and one we see clearly outlined in Scripture with the Bereans in Acts 17 (note also Isaiah 8:20 especially).  Strawn, again, is very helpful here:  “obviously, the Bereans went searching the Scriptures because Paul’s sermons contained ideas or concepts they had not formerly heard, understood, or realized.  Paul introduced nothing new, however, just pointed to something that before had not been properly noticed.  This interpretation of the Bereans’ actions creates the possibility that the fathers could introduce ‘new’ concepts into the sixteenth century, i.e. those concepts that the reformers had not understood before reading the fathers, that were then affirmed by a rereading of Scripture.”  (p. 215)

Interesting.  We would only qualify this by saying that any such true concepts would have to be grounded in continuous Catholic teaching. St. Vincent of Lerins’ “dictum”: “believed always, everywhere, and by all” (which is a strong generalization, but we get the point). Development of doctrine comes into play here. Things were present in kernel form at first, for many doctrines, and developed through the centuries.

I agree with this assessment.  However, I want to see this challenged as well: what is there that I have not “properly noticed” I wonder?  (I can think of one that I am actually somewhat curious about, and open to hearing more about: the establishment of a head Apostolic Office by Divine rite, although in the sense of primacy of honor rather than by jurisdiction…)
I think that is in the Bible itself, with a great deal of indication. See many articles about biblical evidences for the papacy on my Papacy and Infallibility web page. And it’s more than just “honor”; it is jurisdiction by divine and scriptural proclamation.


 And we confess that we are greatly confirmed by the testimonies of the ancient church . . . Nor do we approve of it if someone invents for himself a meaning which conflicts with all antiquity, and for which there are clearly no testimonies of the church. (pp. 208-209)… We confess also that we disagree with those who invent opinions which have no testimony from any period in the church . . . We also hold that no dogma [I say: note the word “dogma” – this is key] that is new in the churches and in conflict with all antiquity should be accepted. What could be more honorably said and thought concerning the consensus and the testimonies of antiquity? . . . we search out and quote the testimonies of the fathers . . . (p. 258)

Is Chemnitz right?

He is wrong about Lutheranism being “greatly confirmed by the testimonies of the ancient church.” The exact opposite is the case (i.e., if we are comparing the relative strengths of Catholic and Lutheran doctrines where we disagree — which is always my primary interest as an apologist). He is right about things not conflicting with “all antiquity,” but I would say he is inconsistent in the application of that standard, as a Lutheran. As for “new dogma”: that has to be carefully defined. Development of doctrine is intricately involved in all that.

So, for example, the Catholic would say that the initial kernel and essence of the Immaculate Conception is the sinlessness of Mary: almost universally held by the fathers (a tiny minority thought she committed a few sins), and the notion of the Second Eve (Mary said “yes” to God whereas Eve had said “no”, thus opening the way to the Incarnation; Eve was sinless; by analogy, so was Mary).

This essential kernel (that is indeed indicated in Scripture: I make no less than four distinct biblical arguments for that (see my dialogue with Dr. Gene Edward Veith), then develops over centuries, with much reflection, to the Immaculate Conception, which is a consistent development of sinlessness: merely extending it back to her conception and to original as well as actual sin. So if you or Chemnitz claim there is “nothing” in Scripture whatever about this doctrine, I strongly disagree, and demonstrate otherwise. The Assumption follows logically: if Mary is without sin, even original sin, then it follows that she would not necessarily have to undergo the decay of death: she becomes like Adam and Eve before the fall. Thus it is directly deduced from a doctrine that has much implicit indication in Scripture, which is completely in accord with material sufficiency.

David, first, I agree with you that it is not right to take “grace alone” quotes and use them as if Catholics do not affirm grace alone in some sense (we must acknowledge our different definitions of grace here).  Agreed.  If, however, in any quote grace is put in opposition to works it would certainly be appropriate to use such quotes.

St. Paul does the latter in Scripture, but it is in a particular sense: the “works” of Jewish ritualism by which the Jews gained their unique identity (e.g., circumcision). This is the crux of the new perspective on Paul, by Protestant scholars like James D. G. Dunn, E. P. Sanders, and N. T. Wright.  The Wikipedia article on the movement gives a description of the central motif:

Paul’s letters contain a substantial amount of criticism of “works of the law”. The radical difference in these two interpretations of what Paul meant by “works of the law” is the most consistent distinguishing feature between the two perspectives. The old perspective interprets this phrase as referring to human effort to do good works in order to meet God’s standards (Works Righteousness). In this view, Paul is arguing against the idea that humans can merit salvation from God by their good works (note the New Perspective agrees that we cannot merit salvation- the issue is what exactly Paul is addressing).

By contrast, new perspective scholars see Paul as talking about “badges of covenant membership” or criticizing Gentile believers who had begun to rely on the Torah to reckon Jewish kinship.

The Apostle Paul doesn’t oppose grace, faith, and works, and in fact, constantly puts them together, in harmony, as I have shown, with 50 of his passages and color-coding, to make it easy to spot each conceptual category. A few examples:

1 Corinthians 15:10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God which is with me.

2 Corinthians 6:1 Working together with him, then, we entreat you not to accept the grace of God in vain.

Grace and works are for Paul, quite hand-in-hand, just as faith and works are. The new perspective on Paul “gets” this. I’m glad to see it. We Catholics have maintained something like this for 2000 years, and have refused to dichotomize grace, works, and faith. We only pit grace against works insofar as we deny (with you) Pelagianism: man cannot save himself. Trent is very clear on that. We don’t teach works-salvation (we vigorously deny it), despite what the Lutheran confessions wrongly (and frequently) assert about us.

Second, if the Fathers did not perceive a clear challenge to the idea that a person was saved by grace alone and not “one’s own works performed in righteousness” in the early church, we would not really expect to find explicit statements talking about imputed justification, since they would have been unnecessary

That’s one theory. I think  a more plausible views is that they didn’t discuss it because it wasn’t part of apostolic doctrine in the first place: being absent from Scripture.

Analogously, Cyril of Alexandria’s ideas about Christ’s divine and human nature were somewhat “new” (a new way of putting things) and only implicit in the writings of other early church fathers – not to mention few and far between.    To my knowledge, in the early fathers there is no “explicit” Cyril-like talk about Christ’s divine and human nature in the centuries before him (much like the situation with Luther and his understanding of the peace and confidence-creating power of justification). 

Yes, but that is the distinction between a development and a novelty. Scripture states all over the place in many different ways that Jesus is God and that he is also Man. The two natures develops what is clearly already there (describing how He can be both God and man, and the relationship). But Scripture doesn’t teach faith alone at all; thus the fathers do not, either. In fact, the only time the phrase appears in the Bible, it is expressly denied:

James 2:24 (RSV) You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.

Paul states:

Romans 3:28 For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law. (cf. 3:20; 3:24: “justified by his grace as a gift”)

But saying “justified by faith” is different from saying  “justified by faith alone“. The “works of the law” he refers to here are not all works, but things like circumcision. In other words, we are saved apart from Jewish rituals required under Mosaic Law. Paul makes clear that this is what he has in mind, in referencing circumcision in 3:1, asking rhetorically, “Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all” (3:9), multiple references to “the law” (3:19-21, 28, 31), and the following statement:

Romans 3:29-30 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, [30] since God is one; and he will justify the circumcised on the ground of their faith and the uncircumcised through their faith.

Paul is not against all “works” per se; he tied them directly to salvation, after all, in the previous chapter:

Romans 2:6-8 For he will render to every man according to his works: [7] to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; [8] but for those who are factious and do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness, there will be wrath and fury.(cf. 2:13: “the doers of the law who will be justified”)

So when Luther (or more so, Melanchthon and Calvin) introduce a novel notion of justification, there is no precedent; thus it is an instance corruption of doctrine; a heresy, rather than a consistent development of what came before.

The only difference here would be that Cyril’s new way of putting old truth (and Athanasius’ too, by the way) found wide acceptance among the faithful (though we see many break-offs here at this point as well), in a relatively speedy fashion, 

Yes, because it is true and a biblical doctrine; therefore it caught on. The Holy Spirit guides His Church.

whereas with Luther, he was taken up quickly only in some quarters, with the lion’s share of the work to still be done, as the devil fights against this doctrine of justification with everything he has.

It was new in his time precisely because it was a false doctrine, and unbiblical (some of the evidence of which I have shown above). If it had been a true doctrine it would have been present before in history, as opposed to supposedly being rescued from obscurity, being “lost” and all the other self-justifying (pun half-intended) “Reformation” rhetoric. It was obscure because it was a false doctrine! All heretical doctrines are “obscure” until someone dreams them up in their head. Pedigree and being able to be traced was always central in the patristic apologetic for Catholic orthodoxy. The “devil” doesn’t fight against justification by faith alone; the Church does, because it opposes what is novel and false and unbiblical.

Nothing personal; this is our view of it . . .

Now, to preach justification rightly, one needs to take into account the purpose of the Word to comfort sinners and bring them real peace with God (Rom. 5:1, I John 5:12), and this brings us to the next three points….

Yep; regeneration, justification and peace with God are all crucial in the Christian life.

Third, the doctrine of “Faith alone” (found in the fathers and the Scriptures, insofar as Paul places faith and works in opposition) 

It’s found in neither. I’ve shown how Paul doesn’t place them in opposition; it’s a fundamental misunderstanding of his teaching that is now (thankfully) finally being corrected in Protestant circles after centuries of rather elementary error.

is really useful when people do not feel like they have done enough – we do preach works, but for the purposes of pastoral comfort, we must acknowledge that the idea of “faith alone” (see Romans 4:5 and Romans 7 here especially) is a crucial tool to have in the pastor’s tool box.

It’s not crucial anywhere if it is a false doctrine.

Romans 4:5 And to one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness.

The Catholic interpretation is similar in many ways to the Lutheran; different in some other ways. Here is what the Navarre Commentary states about this passage:

The act of faith is the first step towards obtaining justification (= salvation). The Magisterium of the Church teaches that, usually, those who are making their way towards faith predispose themselves in this sense: moved and helped by divine grace they freely direct themselves towards God because they believe in the truth of Revelation and, above all, believe that God, in his grace, justifies the sinner “through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:24). This first act of faith moves the person to recognize and repent of his sins; to put his trust in God’s mercy and to love him above all things; and to desire the sacraments and resolve to live a holy life (cf. Council of Trent, De iustificatione, chap. 6). God reckons this faith “as righteousness,” that is to say, as something which deserves to be rewarded. It is not, therefore, good works that lead to justification; rather, justification renders works good and meritorious of eternal life. Faith opens up for us new perspectives. [bolding my own]

Paul uses the example of Abraham in Romans 4, in emphasizing faith, over against the Jewish works of circumcision as a supposed means of faith and justification (hence, he mentions circumcision in 4:9-12, and salvation to the Gentiles as well as Jews in 4:13-18).

Regular contributor to my blog, “Adomnan” offered some very helpful commentary on Romans 4:5:

. . . “the one who does not work but believes — I would translate “believes” rather than “trusts” here — him who justifies the ungodly” is not a generalization about all who believe, but refers specifically to Abraham. Paul sees Abraham at this point as typical of all Gentiles who believe, or perhaps as their exemplar or “father.” However, Abraham is the sole person being spoken of.

[Dave’s note: “trusts” in RSV for Romans 4:5 is pisteuo (Strong’s word #4100),  which is translated in the KJV “believe” or “believer” (1) or “believing” (1) 238 times out of  246 total appearances, or 97% of the time (“trust” also a few times) ]

When Paul says that Abraham “does not work,” he isn’t saying that Abraham has not done good works. In fact, Abraham had been justified since he responded to God’s self-revelation in Ur and had done many good works worthy of being reckoned as righteous. Romans 4:5 is describing but one instance of a good work (an act of faith) that was reckoned as righteous.

In context, “does not work” means “is not doing the works of the Law:” that is, Abraham has not yet been circumcised and is still a Gentile. He does not do works of Jewish Law, works of Torah.

In Greek the phrase “the one who does not work” could be translated — clumsily — as “the non-working one,” non-working not in the sense of not doing good works but in the sense of not doing works of Torah. Paul’s use of the definite pronoun suggests he has a definite person in mind (Abraham).

In the second part, “believes on him who justifies the ungodly,” the word “ungodly,” in context, does not mean wicked. Abraham was not wicked at this stage in his life. He was already justified. It means “Gentile.” “Ungodly” in Greek is asebes, a word that refers to the sphere of religious observance, and not to evil in a wider moral sense. Essentially, it means “non-observant” of the Jewish Law, or “impious” from the point of view of the Jewish Law (which would be the point of view of the Judaizers). We have no adequate word to render this concept in modern English, but “Gentile” comes closest.

Paul is saying that someone — Abraham in this case — could be “impious” from the point of view of the Jewish Law (i.e., a Gentile), but righteous from the point of view of God. “Justifies the ungodly” thus amounts to “regards the Gentile Abraham as righteous.”

In sum, Paul is saying that God reckoned righteousness to Abraham (not for the first time!) while he was still a Gentile. And this is the same point that Paul makes throughout Romans 3 and 4; i.e., Gentiles don’t have to become Jews to be judged righteous by God. They only have to respond to God’s revelation with faith, as Abraham did while still as Gentile.

Or, to paraphrase all of Romans 4:5: “And to Abraham before he had done any works of Torah but still believed in Him who regards the Gentile as righteous, his belief was credited as an act of righteousness.”

Abraham’s justification is also discussed in James 2, and there it is explicitly tied in with works, thus providing a perfect complementary (very “Catholic”) balance with Romans 4:

James 2:20-26 Do you want to be shown, you shallow man, that faith apart from works is barren? [21] Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar? [22] You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by works, [23] and the scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness”; and he was called the friend of God. [24] You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. [25] And in the same way was not also Rahab the harlot justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? [26] For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead.
This is a wonderful cross-reference to Romans 4 in another respect: both cite the same Old Testament passage (Gen 15:6: seen in Rom 4:3 and James 2:23; also Gal 3:6). James, however, gives an explicit interpretation of the Old Testament passage, by stating, “and the scripture was fulfilled which says, . . .” (2:23). The previous three verses were all about justification, faith, and works, all tied in together, and this is what James says “fulfilled” Genesis 15:6. The next verse then condemns distinctive Protestant and Lutheran soteriology by disagreeing the notion of “faith alone” in the clearest way imaginable.

Scripture has to be interpreted as a harmonious whole. We Catholics can easily do that with these two passages: Roman 4 shows that the specific works of the Law that Jews lived by were not absolutely necessary for salvation, and that Abraham’s faith was the key, while James 2 is discussing the organic connection between faith and works (in a general sense, using the willingness to sacrifice Issac as an example), thus showing how “faith alone” is a meaningless and unscriptural concept: faith can never be totally separated from works, except in initial justification, since (in Catholic teaching as well as Protestant) no work we do can bring us initially to justification: that is all God’s grace.

If you have a superior explanation, I’d love to hear it. James 2 is usually applied by Protestants to sanctification, but that is not what the passage says. It mentions “justified” (dikaioo: Strong’s word #1344) three times (2:21, 24-25): the same Greek word used in Romans 4:2, as well as 2:13; 3:20, 24, 28; 5:1, 9; 8:30; 1 Corinthians 6:11; Galatians 2:16-17; 3:11, 24; 5:4; and Titus 3:7. If James actually meant sanctification, on the other hand, he could have used one of two Greek words ( hagiazo / hagiasmos: Strong’s #37-38) that appear (together) 38 times in the New Testament (the majority of times by Paul himself).

Catholic apologist Jimmy Akin offers some great commentary about Abraham, and the multiple instances of his justification, as seen in these passages and others in Genesis:

But however attractive the single, once-for-all view of justification may be to some, there are serious exegetical considerations weighing against it. This may be seen by looking at how the New Testament handles the story of Abraham.

One of the classic Old Testament texts on justification is Genesis 15:6. This verse, which figures prominently in Paul’s discussion of justification in Romans and Galatians, states that when God gave the promise to Abraham that his descendants would be as the stars of the sky (Gen. 15:5, cf. Rom. 4:18-22) Abraham “believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness” (Rom. 4:3). This passage clearly teaches us that Abraham was justified at the time he believed the promise concerning the number of his descendants.

Now, if justification is a once-for-all event, rather than a process, then that means that Abraham could not receive justification either before or after Genesis 15:6. However, Scripture indicates that he did both. First, the book of Hebrews tells us that “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance, not knowing where he was going.” (Hebrews 11:8) Every Protestant will passionately agree that the subject of Hebrews 11 is saving faith—the kind that pleases God and wins his approval (Heb. 11:2, 6)—so we know that Abraham had saving faith according to Hebrews 11.

But when did he have this faith? The passage tells us: Abraham had it “when he was called to go out to the place he would afterward receive.” The problem for the once-for-all view of justification is that the call of Abraham to leave Haran is recorded in Genesis 12:1-4—three chapters before he is justified in 15:6. We therefore know that Abraham was justified well before (in fact, years before) he was justified in Gen. 15:6.

But if Abraham had saving faith back in Genesis 12, then he was justified back in Genesis 12. Yet Paul clearly tells us that he was also justified in Genesis 15. So justification must be more than just a once-for-all event.

But just as Abraham received justification before Genesis 15:6, he also received it afterwards, for the book of James tells us, “Was not our ancestor Abraham justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was brought to completion by the works. Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,’ and he was called the friend of God.” (James 2:21-23)

James thus tells us “[w]as not our ancestor Abraham justified … when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?” In this instance, the faith which he had displayed in the initial promise of descendants was fulfilled in his actions (see also Heb. 11:17-19), thus bringing to fruition the statement of Genesis 15:6 that he believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.

Abraham therefore received justification—that is, a fuller fruition of justification—when he offered Isaac. The problem for the once-for-all view is that the offering of Isaac is recorded in Gen. 22:1-18—seven chapters after Gen. 15:6. Therefore, just as Abraham was justified before 15:6 when he left Haran for the promised land, so he was also justified again when he offered Isaac after 15:6.

Therefore, we see that Abraham was justified on at least three different occasions: he was justified in Genesis 12, when he first left Haran and went to the promised land; he was justified in Genesis 15, when he believed the promise concerning his descendants; and he was justified in Genesis 22, when he offered his first promised descendant on the altar.

As a result, justification must be seen, not as a once-for-all event, but as a process which continues throughout the believer’s life.

[Footnote: Protestants often object to this understanding of James 2, claiming that in that passage Abraham was said to be justified before men rather than before God. There are abundant exegetical reasons why this is not the case. Abraham was justified before God by offering Isaac, as will be shown in our chapter on progressive justification. But once the Protestant recognizes that the Bible teaches in Hebrews 11:8 that Abraham was already justified before he was justified in Genesis 15:6, there is not nearly so much motive to try to twist James 2:21-23 into meaning something else. Hebrews 11:8 already showed that justification is a process, and James 2:21-23 merely confirms that fact.]

(Salvation Past, Present, and Future; a somewhat expanded printed version of this argument occurs in his book, The Salvation Controversy [San Diego: Catholic Answers, 2001], 19-21)

As for Romans 7: the human difficulties with sin described there find their solution in the redemption through Jesus that Paul describes in Romans 8: one of the most fabulous chapters in the Bible. And at the climax of that chapter Paul makes reference to necessary works:

Romans 8:16-17 it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, [17] and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

We have to be willing to undergo voluntary suffering in order to receive this justification and salvation, which is a work. It’s not doing nothing whatsoever besides accepting the free gift; otherwise all the words after “provided” wouldn’t be there, because they make no sense: talking about doing something when it is a completely free gift. Other passages in the chapter imply works as well: “walk not according to the flesh” (8:4), “those who live according to the Spirit” (8:5), and “if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live” (8:13)

This is all in accord with judgment passages. I found 50. All of them without exception discuss works as the criterion for eternal life and salvation, while faith alone is never mentioned. Faith occurs a few times, but always in conjunction with works.

Justification is a one-time event in that it begins at a point in time, but it is to be applied perpetually until we die. We need the constant reassurance and actual forgiveness of God in Christ applied to us throughout our Christian lives. We need to know that we do have, in some very real sense, peace with God, as Romans says.  Otherwise, our faith dies.  Chemnitz says this well: “God does not confer and convey grace in this life just once, so that it is at once complete and perfect, so that as long as we are in this life God would will and convey nothing more, and that a person would need to receive nothing more from God; but God is always giving and man is always receiving, in order that we may be joined more and more fully and perfectly to Christ, and may hold the forgiveness of sins or reconciliation more firmly, so that the benefits of redemption, which have been begun in us, may be preserved and strengthened and may grow and increase.”  – Examen II: 76,77.

The “applied perpetually” part makes it not much different from our view. We say that justification is described in the Bible as having a past (Rom 5:1-2, 1 Cor 6:11), present (Rom 5:9; Phil 2:12), and future orientation (Rom 2:13; 3:20; Gal 5:5). You say it is “a one-time event” that is “applied perpetually.” We say it is not a one-time event because it is multiple and perpetual. But it’s not that different, since “perpetual application” is little different from “ongoing” or “multiple.” If Scripture refers to it in three tenses, then multiple occurrence is a plausible interpretation.

Fourth, Lutherans believe in giving people the confidence of faith, but also talk about how you can lose your faith (we are not Calvinists) – there is nothing un-Lutheran about saying that “we walk in danger all the way”, and that we must strive in faith (faith has a passive and active element) to continuously cling to Christ, huddle up next to His side (where He is we will also be) as His sheep, and run to Him to repeatedly hear His life-giving words, etc.  Again, if we do not, our faith dies.

We agree.

Fifth, when it comes to the life of the believer, we simply do not believe in a separation of justification and sanctification.  The simple child who lives in a relationship with God does not need to distinguish between justification and sanctification – they simply live as His child, and insofar as they are saints, they eagerly hear His voice and do what He commands (I once wrote the following: “The complicated systematic, theological / philosophical constructs that [we often depend on], though certainly able to influence the experiences of the few who think in their grooves, primarily derive from and serve to make sense of the general experiences of all believers, simple and sophisticated alike. Simple words which even children can understand shape Christian experience and are the foundation of the deeper systematic and theological / philosophical constructs, which also, certainly, serve useful purposes.”)   They happily and freely acknowledge that even though they are saved by faith, at the final judgment the Judge will judge them according to works before their neighbors.  They learn that those who are tempted to stray from His ways and do may, at some point in the future, no longer desire His forgiveness for their wanderings – and hence, no longer desire Him.  Further, there is no doubt that it is true that no one who is not sanctified will be saved, as Luther himself indicated.  We believe in distinguishing between justification and sanctification only because Rome’s understanding of it was so faulty and destroyed good pastoral practice (see above).

Mostly common ground. If you want to show how Lutherans distinguish the two from Scripture (and whatever it is in our understanding that is so “faulty” according to you), then I’ll be happy to show how we put them together, based on Scripture.I have documented, myself, how Martin Luther stressed the necessity of good works and how he even espoused some notion of theosis; also his opposition to antinomianism. I also show, however, that he didn’t understand Paul’s use of “works of the law”, in two papers (one / two). How he thoroughly misrepresented Catholic soteriology and fought many straw men in that respect would require a dissertation in itself.

I enjoyed this; especially the delving into Holy Scripture, which I always love with a passion. I found some things I don’t think I’ve noticed before, in the justification debate.

Part IV

See Part One, Part Two, and Part Three. Nathan’s words will be in blue.

I concede that just because an early church father argues from Scripture this does not necessarily mean “that only Scripture has authority to rebuke error and bind people…”.  Not necessarily.  But – do we find the church fathers consistently rebuking error and binding people for not believing non-Lutheran things in the Church without using evidence from Scripture (whether this is implicit or explicit evidence)?

No. They usually argue from Scripture; then if that fails, they appeal to the Church, apostolic succession, unbroken historical tradition of doctrine, and the authority of the Church (St. Irenaeus probably being the prime exemplar of this method). The whole process of appeal to the pope to settle doctrinal controversies is an obvious example of “pure” Church authority.

(Or: do the early church fathers explicitly [and consistently] say that [non-Lutheran] doctrines are inseparable from the Rule of Faith?) 

Church fathers (like the Bible and the Catholic Church) generally think all doctrines and practices are important, and don’t as readily draw fine-point distinctions along these lines that Protestants are prone to make.

In other words, we are not just talking about this or that father, for instance, simply sharing how churches in their region, for example, use this or that custom [perhaps from this or that Apostle]  – after all, while essential doctrines are not adiaphora, or “indifferent things”, how they are taught and encouraged though rites and ceremonies can be.  Further, if you can come up with examples of them rebuking error and correcting and binding people in this way (i.e. without Scriptural demonstration), what are the reasons that they give for saying that people should believe/do  these things – and what are or should be the consequences if they don’t? 

Because the Church says so, in turn because it had always been believed in some fashion. If we want to move forward, we’ll have to get specific and discuss one doctrine or one father at a time.

Just because these Fathers also clearly uphold the authority of the Church as the ground of truth in addition to Scripture – admittedly, talking in ways that most Lutherans generally don’t talk today – does not mean that they, in actual practice, do not utilize the Rule of Faith the way Chemnitz says the Church does/should (i.e. they do not do the wrong tradition of #8)  

They believe in an infallible Church. Ecumenical councils presuppose this. Lutherans do not. It’s as simple as that. You guys have departed from the precedent set by 1500 years of Church history. Pelikan, Schaff, Oberman, and Kelly all confirm that the Church fathers en masse viewed the rule of faith in this way. They did not hold to sola Scriptura.

After all, in their own words do they not  talk about how it is true that the Apostolic Faith and its Rule that was received were “in agreement with the Scriptures”?

Yes. All doctrines agree with the Scripture. Ho-hum. Truth is truth. It’s all of one piece.

As best I can tell, in the earliest church writings (like Ignatius, Polycarp, Clement, the Didache, Justin Martyr, and Athenagoras, for example), heresy is fought via appeals to the Scriptures (yes, Ignatius does talk about being in fellowship with bishops quite a bit : )).  With Irenaeus and Tertullian, it seems they assert that all the essential, Rule-of-Faith, teachings that are given orally are rooted in the Scriptures and can be proven from them.  Irenaeus’ “ace-card” vs. the Scripture-mangling (claiming it both supported them and that parts of these were in error, that they had the true tradition of its interpretation, etc.) gnostics may have been the argument from Apostolic succession (i.e. this was the most effective argument to make against them), but as Chemnitz reminds us, he afterward spent the lion’s share of his treatise proving from the Scripture “the same thing that he had first shown from tradition” (237).  Another way of saying this is that Scripture simply must be interpreted by its guardians according to its own rule and hypothesis (and though Church may disagree on what constitutes the canon en toto, the books that all agree are Scripture – some are more clearly inspired than others – certainly contain the Rule of Faith [what essential doctrines do Esther, Nehemiah, Ezra, the deutoerocanonical books, James, Hebrews, II Peter, and Revelation have anyway that cannot be found elsewhere?]).  Tertullian says “I adore the fullness of the Scripture… If it is not written, let [Hermogenes] fear that woe which is destined for those who add or take away” (156).  Chemnitz also quotes Jerome saying “Whatever does not have authority in Holy Scripture can be rejected as easily as it can be approved.” (i.e. it is not binding, and therefore, not a part of the authentic Apostolic tradition and Rule of Faith) and then says himself “it was not a contrary, nor a different, nor another, but one and the same doctrine which Paul delivered either by word of mouth or by epistle”. (p. 109).  To this, you [and evidently the Roman Catholic Magisterium] say: “”of course!” and “Amen!” — “twin fonts of the same divine wellspring” . . .” (quoting the late 16th century Saint Francis de Sales, I believe)

Yep, amen. Nothing new here that I haven’t dealt with 20, 25 times in various papers and books.

It seems to me, that if this is true, it is important that all the essential doctrines of the faith ought to be able to be clearly established, demonstrated, and proved from the Scriptures – not just for the Lutheran but for the Roman Catholic.  I guess this is your calling card Dave… after all, you are the guy who literally writes the books about how, after being correctly informed about Roman Catholic teachings, one can then go back to the Scriptures and find Scriptural support for those teachings (e.g. the “Catholic verses”, etc.: “all Christian, Catholic doctrines can be found in Scripture, explicitly, implicitly, or deduced from same. And all Catholic doctrines are certainly harmonious with Scripture” you have said). 

Indeed. We can provide such corroboration. Protestants cannot when it comes to key distinctives that they invented in the 16th century.

In any case, I think even you will admit that one can demonstrate infant baptism from the early Church Fathers and the Scriptures in ways that other non-Lutheran doctrines cannot. 

There is a decent biblical case to be made, by deduction of whole families being baptized, and the analogy to circumcision.

Without any reasonable doubt, the evidence is definitely stronger any way you slice it (what would you say are your “strongest cases” from the “Catholic verses” you find in the Scriptures?).  It seems to me that even non-believers would be able to agree with this (external clarity), even if they do not see the Fathers and Scriptures with the eyes of faith (internal clarity).

The Catholic rule of faith (falsity of sola Scriptura), the Catholic view of justification, purgatory, and the papacy.

In any case, let’s not get too far away from the point I am making here. 

You said it; not me! 🙂

I just conceded that simply because an early church father argues from Scripture this does not necessarily mean “that only Scripture has authority to rebuke error and bind people…”.  But again – if it really is the case that the church father’s ability to rebuke goes beyond Scripture, my question is whether we find the church fathers consistently rebuking error and binding people for not believing distinctly non-Lutheran things in the Church without using evidence from Scripture (whether this is implicit or explicit evidence)? 

Sometimes we do find that. I’ve already provided several examples, when we got into individual fathers.

And again, if this is the case, what are the reasons for why they are doing so – and the consequences if people do not obey? (does a refusal to acknowledge them as binding doctrines result in separating one’s self from the Church, and therefore Christ?)

It could eventually, if someone is obstinate in a heresy.  Church authority is sufficient. When the Jerusalem Council made its ruling, as far as we know from the account in Acts 15, Bible passages about circumcision weren’t even discussed. Yet it was a binding decree that Paul even proclaimed in his missionary journeys (Acts 16:4).

Lutherans accept that there are non-essential teachings or practices (i.e. those that cannot be clearly demonstrated from the Scriptures) that can, in principle, be present, and practiced, and even upheld in the Church (how is it upheld though?). 

Well, then it is the game of “essential” vs. “non-essential” that is another arbitrary Protestant tradition of men, and very difficult (if not impossible) to prove from the Bible itself.

Remember the argument of Paul Strawn: the fact that these traditions existed was not necessarily the problem.  The problem was that these traditions regarding faith and morals which were not provable from Scripture were to be regarded as equal to those clearly demonstrable from Scripture.

Then the argument comes down to what is “provable” and complicated aspects of development and material sufficiency.

Now, could we have had fellowship with Augustine?: Lutherans themselves do not decry penance, venial sins, prayers for the dead, and free will it they are understood correctly – I know that the Lutheran confessions actually say we believe in the last 3 for sure.  Nor do we believe in double predestination.  Regarding things like merit, infused justification, purgatory, the sacrifice of the mass, and faith alone, I’m sure we could have had a very fruitful discussion with Augustine (or his faction at Trent) – more so than the folks at Trent, at least!  In any case, I can actually conceive of Lutherans content to be a part of a church with people who believe in purgatory, do the Corpus Christi festival, think bishops are a good practice by human rite, do the sacrifice of the mass (yes, really), do prayers for the dead (we do this by the way, in our own way), pray to the saints and Mary, do pilgrimages, think there is holy water, think of the Apocrypha as Scripture, don’t eat meat on Friday, etc. 

Luther felt himself to be closer in spirit to Catholics than to the Sacramentarians, who denied the real presence in the Eucharist. He thought they were damned.

So long as they do not contradict the doctrine of justification in the way they do these things – and do not tell us we are cutting ourselves off from the Church if we think that such opinions either ought not be held at all or not be held with the same reverence as those essential things clearly revealed in the accepted Scripture.  In other words, these could perhaps be held as “pious opinion” or “pious practices” – concepts I know are not foreign to Roman Catholics.  As early 17th c. theologian John Gerhard said, “If the confession of true doctrine and the legitimate use of the Sacraments had been left free for us, perhaps we would not have departed from the external fellowship of the Roman church”. (On the Church, p. 139)

The problem is that all this is merely abstract and a mind game. It’s like Anglo-Catholicism. In principle, there could be all sorts of Lutheran approaches to Catholicism and affinities and warm touchy-feeling unity on many fronts. But in practice, it can scarcely be found in actual existing Church bodies. It exists only on paper and in a few individual heads (like yours) who care about Church unity. Cardinal Newman observed this about his friend Edward Pusey’s religious views. The Catholic Church is the only Christian body that can demonstrate historical continuity and institutional unity all the way back to Christ. We still have a pope and councils, and bishops and all the rest, as they had existed in the Church from the beginning.

Again, serious Lutherans like Chemnitz believe the same thing.  Note that insofar as any tradition not specifically sanctioned in Scripture does not mitigate the Gospel, it can be accepted (i.e. we are “conservative” when it comes to traditions: with Chrysostom we think that even unwritten traditions of the Church are “also worthy of credit”) – but again: only insofar as it is not insisted that these traditions be held with the same reverence as those which are clearly put forth there (i.e. stuff that was so important it found its way into the Scriptures in a way that cannot be denied: even baptism is like this: “the Promise if for you and your children”) in the Scriptures.  And of course, in the background here is the idea that our very salvation depends on our keeping these traditions that Rome insisted on.  Saying all this is not to say that Lutherans will never have a good, knock-down debate about what we believe among ourselves, but this is indeed our faith – which we would contend is synonymous with the Rule of Faith. 

Again, I would contend that the Bible itself doesn’t seem to make these distinctions of primary or essential and secondary (or optional) doctrines. About all that can be found along these lines is Romans 14; but note what Paul is discussing there: what to eat and drink and what holy days to observe. That is not even doctrine; it is practice. I devoted 20 pages in my book, 501 Biblical Arguments Against Sola Scriptura, to this question of so-called essential and secondary doctrines.There I provided dozens of Bible passages that don’t seem to differentiate; they merely assume a “truth” that is known and binding upon all believers:

John 8:31-32 (RSV) Jesus then said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”

John 16:13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.

1 Corinthians 2:13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who possess the Spirit.

Galatians 5:7 You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth?

1 Timothy 2:4 who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

1 Timothy 3:15 if I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth.

1 Timothy 4:3 . . . those who believe and know the truth.

2 Timothy 1:14 guard the truth that has been entrusted to you by the Holy Spirit who dwells within us.

2 Timothy 3:7-8 who will listen to anybody and can never arrive at a knowledge of the truth. As Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men of corrupt mind and counterfeit faith;

2 Timothy 4:4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths.

Titus 1:1 Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to further the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth which accords with godliness,

Titus 1:14 instead of giving heed to Jewish myths or to commands of men who reject the truth.

Hebrews 10:26 . . . the knowledge of the truth, . . .

James 5:19 My brethren, if any one among you wanders from the truth and some one brings him back,

1 Peter 1:22 Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth. . .

1 John 2:21 I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and know that no lie is of the truth.

2 John 1:1-2 The elder to the elect lady and her children, whom I love in the truth, and not only I but also all who know the truth, because of the truth which abides in us and will be with us for ever:

3 John 1:3-4 For I greatly rejoiced when some of the brethren arrived and testified to the truth of your life, as indeed you do follow the truth. No greater joy can I have than this, to hear that my children follow the truth.

Jude 3 . . . contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.

An example of a non-biblical matter being made binding and obligatory was the Quartodeciman controversy, regarding setting the date of Easter. The Council of Nicaea in 325 settled it once and for all: Easter was to always be observed on a certain Sunday of the year. There is nothing about that in Scripture. Lutherans agree with Catholics on the date of Easter.

Scripture is not over the oral, unwritten tradition, the Rule of Faith – insofar as the Rule of Faith really is the rule of faith.  As Irenaeus and other Fathers pointed out, these must always go hand and hand and say the same thing (more on how this plays out on the ground with Lutherans and Irenaeus directly below).  Further, the continuance of the Apostolic ministry is critical: necessary, but not sufficient.  We simply see this as unfolding and playing out in a different way.

Lutherans deny an infallible Church. It always comes down to that. It is the essential difference: the nature and role of the Church.

Irenaeus may not be consistently applying his method to everything that he assumes is true about the church (and indeed, there really was no need to, as there was no challenge).  For us the question would be whether Irenaeus, if he had been explicitly asked about it, would have believed that all of these things were clearly given in the Scriptures.  If he answers this question in the positive, we’d have a lot of questions for him, based on the Scriptures, that would no doubt get him thinking (For example: Why are there multiple bishops in one city? [Phil. 1:1] ; Why not only this, but why are they also called presbyters? [Acts 20:17-28, Titus: 1:5-7] ; Why do presbyters ordain? [I Tim. 4:14], Etc., etc.  What do the Scriptures seem to imply is the genuine Apostolic tradition here?)  If he answered this question in the negative, the question would then be how he would treat persons who respected these traditions (i.e. the place of bishops over and against pastors) but did not revere them the same way which they revered other doctrines that were essential (i.e. the creeds, the Rule of Faith).  In any case, I would guess that it would be unlikely that Irenaeus would have felt any compulsion to search the Scriptures for verification on this issue unless circumstances had arisen in which he would have felt he needed to.  Since having bishops was a useful arrangement at this time, there was no reason for anyone to question it. In other words, we can agree that these things, in particular situations and times may have been useful and important –

Bishops are casually assumed in the Bible to be a permanent Church office. Why is it, then, that Luther got rid of them and placed power in the secular princes? Why do most Lutherans no longer have bishops today? Some things (like this) are absolutely obvious in Scripture, yet various Protestants dissent against them. It is an unbiblical, non-apostolic tradition of men to ditch things that Holy Scripture presents as necessary and permanent.

but here is the ultimate question: is Irenaeus’ case here ultimately a practical argument (whether he would have put it in these terms or not) or is it one that actually hinges on the infallibility of the church which is delivered in Apostolic Succession (after all, note that for Ireneaus, it is not only the bishops and the bishop of Rome who have received “the infallible charism of the truth”, but presbyters [“order of the priesthood”] as well [of whom Luther was one of those validly ordained] – note how Jerome, for example,  also speaks about how these distinctions were by human rite)?  Lutherans argue the first, RCs the latter.  In short, if he had been pressed, would he have said that the office of bishop was something that was by divine rite or human rite? Again, if the latter is a possibility (and I think it clearly is, given other things that Irenaeus says about the importance of proving things from the Scriptures, where in the Scriptures it is clear that presbyters and bishops are sometimes used synonymously, and there is no explicit command that an office of bishop be put in place which is over that of presbyter) how would Ireneaus respond to someone who insisted that these things were by divine rite – and that this must be held to with the same level of conviction as the essential Christian doctrines (found in things like the Rule of Faith for example)?  That is the question.

Now we’re off into fine points of ecclesiology. My most basic treatment of this question is in my paper, The Visible, Hierarchical, Apostolic Church. I have many other papers on my Church (Ecclesiology) web page.

After this you do a lengthy commentary on what Irenaeus supposedly might believe (if asked certain things). I think the methodology is fruitless, where people have generally different interpretations. Instead of speculations upon speculations and summary statements (which mean little, as neither you nor I are patristic scholars), your burden is to try to establish and document by the actual words of Irenaeus that he believed such-and-such and denied so-and-so. I’ve done that in several of my papers and books, and in links that I have provided.  I have provided concrete facts; by and large you have not. So it makes it awful difficult to interact with. If you give me some quotes to examine, I can look them over and make some kind of cogent reply.

The wider in scope and more abstract and “summary” our discussion becomes, to that extent it is fruitless and inconclusive for readers, of whatever persuasion. It’s simply an exercise of one party saying, “I think X believed a” and the other saying, “no; X actually believed b” — with no documentation, or saying, “X woulda done y if c were the case”. That helps no one. We have to either document words of the person being discussed, or at least cite a scholar who is familiar with all the relevant data.

Now, Irenaeus says: “Inasmuch as the apostolical tradition has been preserved continuously…”  And he can speak from experience.  He knows that this has worked – that the faithful men really have held to the Apostolic teaching, and this is clearly what the Scriptures put forth, even if the heretics deny it.  There is no good reason for him to be speaking and thinking any differently at this point.  But now: what if historical circumstances, when compared vis a vis Scripture, seem to clearly imply that “the apostolic tradition has not been preserved continuously” – at least, among the majority of the top leaders of the church?

This is where Lutherans and Protestants at large lack faith in God’s preservation of His Church, which is discussed in Scripture, with promises of indefectibility. We have the faith that God can preserve truth in an institution comprised of a bunch of sinners, just as He preserved inspired words in a Scripture written by a bunch of sinners. Infallibility is not as extraordinary of a thing as inspiration is. Therefore, if one can believe in an inspired Scripture (the more difficult proposition), one can certainly believe in faith the lesser proposition of an infallible, indefectible Church. But Protestants reject the latter. In short, it is most unbiblical to believe that the Church could fall away, institutionally, and depart from the apostolic deposit of faith. To believe that is not simply not being (distinctively) Catholic. It is also a most “unbiblical” notion.

The question also becomes: who is competent and has the authority to judge, by scriptural criteria, if and when the Church has not faithfully preserved the apostolic tradition? Certainly one monk had no such authority. It is ridiculous to think that he did.

Irenaeus himself indicates that even those who have received the “infallible charism” can fall, for he says, “if they discharged their functions honestly, would be a great boon [to the Church], but if they should fall away, the direst calamity “ (Book 3, chapter 3). 

Yes, any individual could fall away, but it doesn’t follow that they were not infallible, when they exercised their office. St. Irenaeus (in context of Book 3, chapter 3), never says that apostolic succession is or ever would be in any peril. One bishop falling away no more endangers that than one disciple out of twelve falling away, upset the initial apostolic succession. It didn’t at all. They simply chose another (Matthias) to take the place of the traitor.

Yes, what if under the temptations of the world, the Church has gone astray, with the pastors, though rightly holding their blessed offices, have ceased to shepherd appropriately?  What happens when persons who were at one point given the infallible charism faces off against others?  Then what? The highest authority is always right?  The “consensus” is always right?  Does the consensus mean “majority” (one thinks of the sizable faction of more “radical” Augustinians voted down at Trent)?  How does the concept of remnant fit it to all of this? 

The Church can, and often has become very corrupt, yet true doctrine was preserved, because God saw to that. Consensus means what has always been believed; what has been passed down.

What happens when presumably faithful believers in the Church can no longer convince themselves that the Scriptures and the supposed “Apostolic tradition” – which one knows really must not (can’t ever?) contradict each other – are saying the same thing?  

Then obviously they reject the Catholic Church, having lost faith in God’s guidance of her, and in the infallibility and indefectibility of the Church. They do so by adopting new arbitrary traditions that are not Bible-based (things like sola Scriptura, an invisible church, denominations, etc.).

Then, it seems to me that one must use their Spirit-inspired wisdom to choose…

Yep, it is radical individualism and private judgment vs. an unbroken theological doctrine and tradition, preserved by the Holy Spirit in the Church.

(note we are talking about consciences captive to the Word of God, not UCC consciences….) even if Ireneaus would have never been able to conceive of such a tragic and painful situation… 

No, he wouldn’t, because it is so far from the biblical picture of one faith, one Church, total unity of doctrine.

Let us remember that something similar happened in Jesus’ day.  The Assembly, or Ekklesia (Church), or that day – those who sat in Moses’ very seat – rejected the One who told the people to listen to them (obviously, insofar as they, the legitimate rulers of the Assembly [at this time], spoke the truth – elsewhere he counters them as false teachers nonetheless). 

And he told his followers to do what they teach, even though they were hypocrites, and Paul acknowledged the authority of the high priest  and kept calling himself a Pharisee, and Jesus and Paul and early Christians still observed temple rituals, even though they were not “Christian” rituals, and observed feast days, etc. Therefore, none of that can be applied to any analogy of Lutherans and other Protestants deciding to split from the Catholic Church.

Likewise, similar things happened in the days of the prophets, when those who were supposed to be the leaders (priests and prophets) failed to speak the oracles of God, running where God had not told them to run.  The Assembly has always been unfaithful in their teachings and their practices, but God has always been faithful in spite of this, bringing the Church through via faithful remnants in this or that quarter. 

The Old Testament proto-Church did not have the Holy Spirit and express promises from God that it would be protected and never defect. So that analogy won’t fly, either. We’ve advanced and developed far beyond the Old Covenant. God is indwelling each individual believer.

Roman Catholics may think that this indicates that we do not believe that God preserves the visible Church, but in the case of Lutherans at least, nothing could be further from the truth.  Using our both our eyes and our ears, we can know with certainty where Church is being created and growing – and also where the opposite, due to Christ-denying doctrine, is happening (this place we can reserve for all non-Christian religions as well as the folks like the modern day Arians among us, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons, for example). 

“Christianity” and “the Church” are different things. This gets into visible vs. invisible church categories. Whatever the Church is, (biblically speaking) it has one unified doctrine. This notion can’t be sustained within an invisible church (Protestant) paradigm.

Of course, there may be a lot that we may not know as well (in other words, a lot in between those two poles), but we are happy to be a part of the remnant that holds to the Rule of Faith in its truth and purity.

You can’t establish that you hold it “in its truth and purity”: neither historically nor from the Bible.

. . . whether he [St. Irenaeus] would have thought this way in different circumstances. – circumstances that might drive him back to the Scriptures for answers. 

By this method of speculation about “woulda coulda shoulda”, debate about it becomes impossible: it is subjective mush. All we can go by is what  father did write and believe. If we start rationalizing and saying, “well, if Church father X were alive in the 16th century, he would have changed his mind and become a good Lutheran . . .” based on sheer speculation, that proves nothing. It’s just special pleading, trying to transform a person who believed a certain thing at a certain point of time, into what we want then to be.

On the contrary, we would see Apostolic Succession as a sign which is a good indicator that something is genuine… but stops short of offering a “guarantee”.

Then you depart from the fathers in so believing. People can believe whatever they like. It’s when they wrongly appeal to the facts of what the fathers believed, that it is objectionable.

Irenaeus: “the faith of all is one and the same, since all receive one and the same God the Father… and preserve the same form of ecclesiastical constitution”… Those, therefore, who desert the preaching of the Church, call in question the knowledge of the holy presbyters, not taking into consideration of how much greater consequence is a religious man”.

Note here again the focus on presbyters, as opposed to bishops and Popes.

Against Heresies, Book III, Ch. 3:

It is within the power of all, therefore, in every Church, who may wish to see the truth, to contemplate clearly the tradition of the apostles manifested throughout the whole world; and we are in a position to reckon up those who were by the apostles instituted bishops in the Churches, and [to demonstrate] the succession of these men to our own times; those who neither taught nor knew of anything like what these [heretics] rave about. (1)

. . .the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops. (2)

St. Irenaeus was a bishop himself.

But the faithful will also recognize them by the words they speak, for even faithful laypeople recognize the voice of their Shepherd, and even if their understanding of the Rule of Faith is not terribly firm and strong, they still know enough to be driven back to the Scriptures, which were firmly established by the fulfillment of prophecy, the workings of signs (“miracles”) and of course their continuity with the faith received by Adam and Eve from the beginning (Gen. 3:15) up until their present time…  Again, the sheep hear the voice of the Shepherd …and they are always going back the sacred writings of those prophets and Apostles whom their Shepherd chose.  . . . Of course, the sheep do not go looking for gross falsehood among the pastors who have been validly ordained, but when they encounter it, they know something is wrong…. 

Show me in the Bible where there is ever such a thing as a mere layperson disagreeing doctrinally with a leader in the Church based on Bible reading and thereby being justified in his dissent and schism by that method? I say it isn’t there. And if that is true (if you can’t produce it), the question becomes: why do you believe this in the first place, since it isn’t biblically grounded at all? St. Paul warns against division, contentiousness and schism again and again and again. It’s believed because this was Luther’s initial methodology, and to deny it would be to go against the entire spirit of his revolt from the Church. One can’t start denying foundational things that typified the founder of the belief-system one is part of.

And when a shepherd arises among them (Luther) who gives voice to what they have been knowing deep down was wrong – they still are hearing the True Shepherd’s voice. God preserves His remnant, in the visible Church at large (as the south [Judah] falls out of fellowship with the north [Israel], within the visible Church [the wheat, not the tares], and even outside of the visible church [“I have preserved 7,000 in Israel”]).  

Now the burden of proof (besides the unbiblical ecclesiology) is to prove one’s beliefs from Scripture (having claimed to be based on Scripture alone). And you have to disprove the import of the biblical evidence for the indefectibility of the Church, in order to bolster the scenario of Luther and Protestants who followed him “dissing” the historical Catholic Church.

. . . as time rolls on, and Satan steps up his efforts more and more as the Last Day nears…  To the tragic chaos created by the Reformation, I simply say this: “Is Christ divided?” In Gods’ eyes, of course not (intrinsic, see Eph 4:4-5). In our eyes, yes. We are hid in Christ; the Church is hidden under the cross (extrinsic).  In spite of the fact that in this fallen world “there must be divisions among us”, let us always work towards agreeing with one another (I Cor 1:10).

We don’t do that by creating or winking at hundreds of denominations, whose doctrines contradict, so that falsehood is necessarily massive present.

Of course the “Church’s peculiar and traditionally handed down grasp of the purport of revelation” can also be found in the Scripture as well, although this does not thereby mean that an authoritative and interpreting church is not necessary!   

How is a Church”authoritative” if any individual can judge it and decide it’s wrong and split? Of what use is it? Even civil laws are more binding than that! This is what Luther did. He thumbed his nose at the authority of the Catholic Church of history, and now he expects his followers to respect the merely arbitrary authority in Lutheran circles? Hence Protestant tradition and history has at least been consistent: men can decide to start new denominations at whim. Luther detested that, but he never showed how it wasn’t consistent with his own actions and beliefs.

Dave: “The always partisan yet thoroughly fair-minded Schaff takes the position himself that Athanasius ‘ position is neither the present-day Catholic or Protestant one.”

Right.  It’s the Lutheran one, as expounded by Chemnitz.

Not at all. St. Athanasius was a Catholic, not any kind of proto-Protestant. See my papers:

St. Athanasius Was a CATHOLIC, Not a Proto-Protestant (+ Counter-Reply to James White on Tradition, etc.)

Did St. Athanasius Believe in Sola Scriptura? (vs. Ken Temple)

The Sufficiency of Scripture and the Church Fathers (Particularly, St. Athanasius and the Trinity) (vs. E. L. Hamilton and “Cranmer”)

Orthodox View of OT Canon / Athanasius’ Slightly-Qualified Acceptance of the Deuterocanon / Jerome’s Anomalies in His Rejection of the Deuterocanon
Reply to James White on the Council of Nicaea and Its Relationship to Pope Sylvester, Athanasius’ Views, and the Unique Preeminence of Catholic Authority

But Lutheranism does not reject this [an infallible Church].  We believe that this is indeed the case, but that we need to take more seriously than ever before the concept of remnant, and the actual histories of God’s people in the Old and New Testament.  As regards infallibility, here it is like what C.S. Lewis said about not getting the “second things” unless the “first things” are focused on.

It does indeed reject it in effect, by changing the definition of the Church. If I have to change the rules of arithmetic so that 2+2 no longer equals 4, then it is a rejection of arithmetic as it has always been known. That being the case it would be foolish to call “arithmetic” by the same name, because it had always meant something — always had certain characteristics — and now no longer does.

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Posted by on October 19, 2011 in Uncategorized


Early childhood is to this life what this life is to eternity

Very good stuff lifted entirely from Joe Carter at First Things.:

In a wonderful article that I wish I had read when my daughter was younger, Graham Scharf explains the importance of the vocation of parenting a young child:

For the past four years, I have taken my now-seven-year-old daughter to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for a weekly class called Start with Art. A friend recently asked me, “Do you think she’ll remember those trips to the Met when she is older?” The answer is, I don’t know. However, I do know that those repeated early experiences will shape how she sees and enjoys the world around her for the rest of her life, because early childhood is to this life what this life is to eternity. Though we may remember very little of it, early childhood experiences shape our ability to understand, enjoy, and embrace our Creator and His good creation. In a similar way, though “the former things shall be forgotten” in the age to come, yet this life of faith will shape the capacity of our souls to enjoy God to all eternity.

Read more . . .

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Posted by on October 17, 2011 in Uncategorized


I scorned to be a little one…

I resolved, therefore, to direct my mind to the Holy Scriptures, that I might see what they were. And behold, I saw something not comprehended by the proud, not disclosed to children, something lowly in the hearing, but sublime in the doing, and veiled in mysteries. Yet I was not of the number of those who could enter into it or bend my neck to follow its steps. For then it was quite different from what I now feel. When I then turned toward the Scriptures, they appeared to me to be quite unworthy to be compared with the dignity of Tully [Marcus Tullius Cicero].  For my inflated pride was repelled by their style, nor could the sharpness of my wit penetrate their inner meaning. Truly they were of a sort to aid the growth of little ones, but I scorned to be a little one and, swollen with pride, I looked upon myself as fully grown.

–Augustine, Confessions, Book 3, chapter 5

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Posted by on October 13, 2011 in Uncategorized


The faith to be idle: kids know supper is coming

Dr. Veith has been providing much material for me of late.   Here, in this post called The Virtue that is Laziness, he posts the golden words of one of his commenters:

“Thanks Dan. I loved what you wrote. I read it to my wife because we’ve been on and off discussing this issue. It was so encouraging. I think, no rather, I know you’ve nailed it. That last sentence was golden, “do you have the faith to be idle”. It rings of Luther’s similar statements recognizing unbelief hidden inside “virtues”. Few between Paul and Luther, and damn few after Luther recognize the devil’s real tricks. Even a pagan recognizes the “black” devil as Luther put it, few recognize the “white” devil (the angel of light) as he also put it.

E.g. when Luther was once asked what he’d do if he found out Christ was coming today his reply was “plant a tree”. He recognized the unbelieving trap behind the question of Christ’s sufficiency. Similarly Luther points out numerous times the good works, that false piety or unbelief guised as faith would never in a thousand years allow as good works as being when the believer eats, drinks, sleeps, etc… Luther in kind commented on he and Phillip drinking beer while the Word delivered the blow to the pope.

An analogy might be a child completely secure in his/her home who simply eats an apple or play in the mud with great joy. They do not toil and spin in anxiety over satisfying their parents as if to “merit” their love, they believe their parents love them, so in this earthly faith over earthly parents they play and laugh in perfect secure faith in their parents supplying all they need. They believe their parents. They know supper is coming because they are children and not slaves or rejected whereby they must merit their meals, bed, clothes, shelter, etc…

The scriptures are pregnant with this. Christ Himself says the lilies of the field and birds of the air do not toil and spin but in perfect created placement know their heavenly father knows their need and gives to them. Jesus sleeping on a cushion as the storm waves rage about the boat in PERFECT faith, yet the disciples start to become anxious and then toil in their unbelief. It apexes at the cross where Christ on one hand cries out “why hast Thou forsaken me”, then “into Thy hands I commend my spirit”….

Carl Trueman, I believe he is Reformed, writes well on this: “Indeed, we have surely lost the virtue that is laziness. As Kierkegaard once said, ‘Far from idleness being the root of all evil, it is rather the only true good’ — a truly amazing theological insight. Some may think that that maybe going a bit far, but compared to the idea that the essence of humanity is busy-ness, it is much to be preferred.”….”

Italics mine.  Read the whole thing.

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Posted by on October 7, 2011 in Uncategorized