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Sunday, October 09, 2005

For Dave Armstrong: on development and ecclesiology

Dave,

Here at last is my piece defending the development of Protestant ecclesiology, which I've been promising you for several years now. I've been sitting on it for nearly two years now--finishing it turned out to be easier and quicker than I'd anticipated. Perhaps I really will get a lot of things done now the dissertation ordeal is drawing to a close . . . .

This may not be exactly the kind of dialogue you want to have. That's OK. Writing this has helped me clarify my own views on many points. Here it is:

Newman’s Essay on Development has given Catholic apologists perhaps their favorite argument. Traditionally, the primary strategy of Protestant polemicists was to fend off the claim of “innovation” and revolt by pointing out the clear differences between Catholic teaching of their day and the teachings of the Fathers. The same tactic is employed by some conservative Protestants today—witness William Webster’s The Church of Rome at the Bar of History. Such Protestant polemicists are generally unwilling to question their own views in the light of the Fathers, but employ the argument of historical change negatively, to show that everyone believes differently from the Fathers and therefore that the argument from tradition has no weight against Protestantism.

Against this attack, the doctrine of development is the most effective response. Catholics usually have little difficulty showing that modern Catholic doctrine has important points of continuity with that of the early Church, and that patristic teaching contains many ideas that foreshadow later developments and can plausibly be argued to contain the principles of those later teachings. So for instance Irenaeus’s claim that Mary is the new Eve points toward the Immaculate Conception and other Martian doctrines, and Ignatius’s simple affirmation that Christians eat and drink Christ’s Body and Blood points toward transubstantiation. Furthermore, Catholics can show that Trinitarian Protestants also hold doctrines that have developed historically, and that the negative argument as employed by Webster and his predecessors can equally be used against orthodox Protestantism (and indeed antitrinitarians do use such arguments). So when used purely defensively, the argument from development is effective. If the claim is being made that the Immaculate Conception cannot be true because it is not taught in the early Church, then it is legitimate to point out that the kernel of the idea is found from very early on, and to appeal to a theory of development to account for the later doctrine. If Protestants claim that the Catholic claim of infallibility and authority is made void by the changes in its doctrine, then again, development is a valid and relevant concept to invoke.

But this is only part of the Protestant argument, and not the strongest or most important part. The main use of the “innovation” argument for Protestants is to level the playing field. It is a response to Catholic claims of Protestant innovation. And all too often Catholic apologists appear to be using a double standard—holding Protestants to a close, literal reading of patristic texts to support their position, while invoking “development” when similar arguments are turned against them. Because conservative Protestants have a tendency to think in fairly literal terms and to have a proof-texting approach to Scripture, this is both maddening and effective in an argument with them. Also, the more radical forms of Protestantism clearly are unjustifiable on the basis of Scripture. And finally, development can easily work in tandem with a claim to authority. The argument can be made that we should trust the historic, institutional Church to interpret Scripture rightly, and that the doctrine of development refutes claims that the Church has manifestly failed to do so. I myself would entirely agree with this argument. (Exactly where and how authority is to be located within the historic Church is another issue, about which my opinions waver and which I’d like to try to keep out of this discussion.)

I believe, however, that development is of limited usefulness as an argument against Protestantism, if abstracted from an appeal to authority. On a number of points, a good argument can be made for moderate, traditional Protestant teachings as developments of early Christian doctrine—the same kind of argument on which Catholics rely to justify their own developments. I am not arguing that Protestant doctrines are as clearly or explicitly found in the Fathers as their Catholic counterparts. In some cases that may be true, but that’s not what my argument rests on. Nor am I arguing here that the Protestant teachings are true. I am simply arguing that an appeal to antiquity, bolstered by a theory of development, does not conclusively refute all versions of Protestant teaching on several key points: ecclesiology, the authority of Scripture vs. tradition, and sacramental theology. I argue that no concept of development can be found that justifies Catholic developments without also justifying Protestant developments, unless one simply appeals to the decision-making power of the Church.

For now, I’m going to make this argument with respect to ecclesiology, particularly the doctrine of extra ecclesiam nulla salus and the various definitions of the limits of the Church on which that doctrine depends for its practical meaning. The Protestant ecclesiology I’m going to defend is one held by many orthodox, ecumenical members of mainline Protestant denominations today. Many of my colleagues and professors at Duke Divinity School, for instance, would hold some form of this view. The more traditionally-minded and intellectually sophisticated evangelicals (many of whom are in fact members of mainline denominations) would also hold something similar.

In this view, there is a visible universal Church made up of all local churches that hold to the Christian faith as divinely revealed. This faith is understood to consist in certain essential teachings, best summarized in the Creeds; in acceptance of Scripture as the divinely inspired source of Christian truth and life; the practice of the two sacraments of the Gospel, baptism and the Lord’s Supper; and the moral teachings of Scripture as summarized in the Ten Commandments. I’m aware that Catholics have many questions about how this list of essentials is arrived at, but I’m not concerned to defend this particular list here. I’m giving it only to provide some indication of what the Protestants I’m speaking of would think are the doctrinal limits of the visible Church. Any religious body that denies the divine inspiration of Scripture (as opposed to a particular theory thereof such as inerrancy), or doesn’t practice the two evangelical sacraments (again, as opposed to holding faulty theories about it); or denies a central creedal doctrine such as the Trinity, is not part of the Church and is not, theologically speaking, Christian. (I myself have found this hard to apply in certain places, such as Quakers or Oneness Pentecostals; but again some of my friends at Duke would be quite willing to apply it strictly and say that such people are not Christians.) People outside the Church may be saved, by being judged according to their light, or by baptism of desire, or by some way known only to God alone. But normatively speaking there is no salvation outside the Church.

Division within the Church is seen as tragic but inevitable as long as we live in a fallen world. The full visible unity of the Church will probably only occur at the coming of Christ, just as its members will only be completely holy then. We can however work toward that goal and get much closer to it than we are now. Division among Christians who hold to the essentials of the Faith, however, is seen as division within and not away from the Church, although the parties responsible for such division (in most historic splits this is held to be both parties, at least to some degree) are guilty of a serious sin against charity.

I argue that this way of understanding the Church, whether or not it is true, is defensible as a development from patristic ecclesiology in the same way as (even if not to the same degree as) the ecclesiology of Vatican II. Both ecclesiologies have major points of continuity with the teaching of the Fathers; both attempt to apply patristic principles to a very different set of circumstances; and both find themselves obliged to depart from some things accepted as true during the classic period of patristic theological activity.

I should probably summarize what I think Vatican II’s ecclesiology is, since we may differ on this point. As I understand it, Vatican II taught that the Catholic Church of the Creeds subsists uniquely in those churches in communion with the Pope, and that full participation in the Church is possible only for members of that visible body. Other Christians are still members of the Church, but in a more or less imperfect way. They are united to the Church by baptism, by much orthodox doctrine, by the Holy Scriptures (even if in truncated or interpolated form), and most of all by the grace of the Holy Spirit present among all who truly believe in Christ and endeavor to live a Christian life as best they know. The extent to which non-“Catholics” are united to the Church varies greatly, ranging from the separated Eastern Churches, who are “almost there,” over to non-sacramental or non-trinitarian forms of Protestantism.

The common roots of these two ecclesiologies lie (after the NT) in the second and third centuries of Christianity--the period in which certain people who believed in Christ were coming to see themselves as members of the “Catholic” Church, in opposition to other groups claiming to be Christian. These other groups fell initially into two main categories—on the one hand, those who denied basic elements of the deposit of faith (Marcionites, Valentinians, Sabellians, and later Arians), and on the other, those who separated from the “Catholic Church” on the grounds that it was insufficiently rigorous in its treatment of sinners or otherwise corrupt (Montanists, Novatianists, and eventually Donatists). As Newman has shown (this has been supported by later scholarship with very different ideological biases), early Christianity did not present the unified front of later legend, but was a bewildering chaos of sects not entirely unlike the Christian world today. Then, as now, one particular body of Christians claimed to be the true Church over against all the others (unlike the current situation, it appears that in the early Church all the other groups also made exclusive claims). The picture was not always clear-cut, of course. Some heretics remained within the body of the Church and their status was the subject of some debate (I’m thinking particularly of the Pelagians, a little later than the period I’m discussing). In other cases, such as St. Hippolytus, someone could form his own schismatic group, denounce the reigning Pope as a heretic, and nonetheless go down in history as a saint and martyr (it does appear that Hippolytus and the Pope were reconciled while in exile together). But by about the third century the teaching of “extra ecclesiam nulla salus” was clearly formulated by Cyprian. Here, if anywhere, one can find a solid Catholic affirmation of the unity of the visible Church and the complete illegitimacy of all schismatic bodies.

The problem, of course, is that Cyprian’s position was no sooner formulated than it was rejected by Rome. Rome insisted that Cyprian was wrong to deny the validity of heretical or schismatic baptism. By saying this, the Pope was taking the first step toward the ecclesiology formulated at Vatican II, which allows for varying degrees of membership in the one true Church. (Diane Kamer informs me that Fr. Stanley Jaki has made this argument.) But the Roman position appears, on the face of it, to be nonsense. If baptism is the sacrament of initiation into the Church, then how can a body separate from the Church possess valid baptism? Since the early Church did not want to affirm any kind of “branch theory”—or even the position of Vatican II—this presented a serious difficulty in Catholic ecclesiology for centuries.

Augustine’s treatise on baptism against the Donatists is one of the most thorough attempts to deal with this difficulty. Augustine formulates an ingenious theory whereby baptism administered by Donatists initiates the convert into the true Church, only to be immediately nullified by the fact that the convert has (in that same act) joined a schismatic sect. The grace of baptism thus remains latent until the Donatist reconciles with the Catholic Church. This theory allows Augustine to separate the grace of baptism from the act of baptism itself, keeping the former the exclusive property of the Catholic Church.

Augustine’s position is, as far as I can tell, the standard position of Western Christendom until the Reformation. It allowed little if any hope for the salvation of schismatics and heretics, while nonetheless preserving the objectivity of the sacraments. During the Middle Ages, the major challenge to this ecclesiology was the reality of the East-West split. The fact that East and West were two separate churches seems to have dawned only gradually on both sides. But by the 13th century there are plenty of treatises “against the Greeks,” which seem to hold (from the little I know of them) that the “Greeks” are schismatics in the full Augustinian sense. (I’m open to correction on this point.) Whether this was the official teaching of the Church I’m not sure. Some learned Catholic writers such as Louis Bouyer maintain that the two Churches were not necessarily seen as fully separate until the 19th century—and he maintains that they are in fact one Church. There does appear to be a good deal of ambiguity about the Catholic position toward the Orthodox—and I’d argue that this was precisely because the Augustinian model didn’t fit the reality of the East-West split, and that something like the “Protestant ecclesiology” I’m defending was needed. (Bouyer’s position is in effect the “Protestant ecclesiology” except that it applies only to Catholics and Orthodox, not to Protestants.)

Eugenius V at the Council of Florence sums up the medieval Catholic tradition in a particularly uncompromising way. Florence’s Decree on the Jacobites (actually referring to the Copts) is worth studying because the situation of the “Jacobites” is in many respects similar to that of contemporary Protestants. That is to say, in the Copts the Catholic Church confronted a church that had been in schism for centuries—a church whose members in the 15th century bore no direct responsibility for the schism of their ancestors. Yet Florence declares unequivocally that all members of such a church are damned if they do not unite with Rome before they die. (The one thing that gives me some pause here is that Eugenius speaks warmly of the zeal and piety of the Coptic Patriarch, and of the other eastern Patriarchs, and refers to Mother Church rejoicing that her “sons” were united. But I don’t think this implies that the Easterners in any way belonged to the Church, or were destined for salvation, before the reunion. Rather, they showed their genuine piety by the fact that they worked for reunion.)

Anti-Protestant polemic during and after the Reformation is forthrightly Augustinian—or even Cyprianic. Protestants are seen as in no way part of the Church, having completely separated themselves from it. Given the fact that many Protestants rejected the Catholic doctrine of baptism, Catholics in fact regarded Protestant baptism as dubious at best until the 20th century. By the 19th century, the Catholic Church was willing to grant that those Protestants who were “invincibly ignorant” could be saved, but I’m not aware of any expression of this view on the Catholic side during the 16th and 17th centuries. Indeed, in the late 17th century one work of Protestant apologetics (a fictional dialogue between a “Papist” and a Protestant) presents the “Papist” as arguing that Catholicism is the safer choice because Catholics regard Protestants as necessarily damned, while Protestants do not reciprocate. The Protestant has to argue that while theoretically members of the Catholic Church can be saved, in fact the errors of Rome make this practically impossible. (I regret that I don’t have the reference to this—I came across it at Duke and did not write down the specific information. I believe it was by Richard Baxter but I could be mistaken on this point.) I think this is a reliable source (or would be if I could find the reference again) because the Protestant writer seems to regard the somewhat more inclusive Protestant view as a liability, and the alleged Catholic claim to be a dangerous argument the Papist would be likely to use. Thus, it’s unlikely that this is a misrepresentation of the contemporaneous Catholic position. But I’m sure there is better evidence one way or another. I’m just citing something that I happen to remember (without of course any illusion that this would pass muster in an academic context).

Meanwhile, Protestants themselves initially tended to adopt a more or less Augustinian ecclesiology themselves. As late as the end of the 17th century, even a relatively irenic Lutheran like Philipp Jakob Spener could refer to Lutheranism as “the true Church out of which there is no salvation.” However, the divisions and confusions of Protestantism made this sort of position untenable for most Protestants fairly early. Contrary to what is commonly believed, the Protestants did not substitute an “invisible Church” for traditional claims concerning the visible Church. If we take Calvin as representative (he isn’t, exactly, but he is extremely influential) of classical Protestant thought on this point, we find that he affirms the visible Church to be our mother out of whom there is no salvation. Calvin, however, doesn’t identify the universal visible Church with an institution but with the sum of local churches where the Word is preached and the Sacraments are administered. This gave Protestants a good deal of flexibility—when it suited them, they could open the arms of brotherhood to Christians with whom they differed, while at other times taking a narrower view.

Modern ecumenism, then, was born from the practical realities of Christian division. The ecclesiology of Vatican II is a thoughtful and reasonable response to the reality of Christian piety among Protestants and to the development of Protestant ecumenism. But it is not, on the face of it, obviously continuous with patristic or medieval ecclesiology (with regard to EENS at least) in a way that Protestant ecclesiology (as I’ve defined it) is not. On the contrary, as my Duke colleague Roger Owens once pointed out to me, Protestants can maintain EENS more straightforwardly than Catholics.

Neither orthodox Catholics nor (most) Protestants maintain the strict Cyprianic view. Nor does Vatican II lend itself to Augustine’s view as originally expounded, although it builds on that position. We agree against Cyprian that validly baptized people exist in more than one Christian communion. And we agree against Augustine that such people may (while still being separated) receive grace from their baptisms and lead lives of Christian holiness. This is a major break from pre-Reformation ecclesiology.

Yes, ecumenical Protestants go further than Catholics inasmuch as we deny that the Church subsists fully and uniquely in any one communion. But we are more traditional than Catholics inasmuch as we hold that the Word and the Sacraments have no saving efficacy outside the bounds of the visible Church. You modify the traditional view by allowing that communities separated from the Church can receive grace from Word and Sacraments; we modify it by defining the visible Church as existing wherever the Word and Sacraments are present. Granted, Vatican II tries to avoid a break with the tradition by saying that separated communities have some degree of union with the Church. And some doctrine of degrees of communion is necessary for both ecclesiologies. Again, I’m not trying to compare which ecclesiology is more traditional as a whole. Rather, I’m saying that if we contradict the Tradition, then so do you. The only way (to borrow a metaphor from The Pilgrim’s Regress) that you can cross the drawbridge while keeping us from crossing it is to invoke authority to define just how much change constitutes a genuine break with Tradition.

I apologize for the length of this argumentmost of which dates from nearly two years ago. If I were starting from scratch now I’d keep it briefer. But here it is. Reply to it when and how you wish.

47 comments:

thoughtspot said...

Hello, and congratulations on getting the thesis in. I just want to chime in with a couple of observations on your essay.

First, it has in general been Protestants (from Martin Luther to, I would argue, most Protestants today, including the much-maligned but still thriving Baptists) who have based the most on claiming that their theology is more in continuity with the earliest church (New Testament, but also the fathers) than Catholicism. In other words, according to most Protestants you sell the farm if you allow for "development" and see it more or less equally at work in RCs and Protestants. For if that is the case, why bother to start (or maintain) a Reformation?

Second, although I tire of making every discussion about authority, I'm not sure you can talk about development without talking about authority. I recently read a very nice scholarly book (by N. T. Wright) in which "developing" a theological doctrine was consistently contrasted with "deviating" from the earlier doctrine. And yet Wright did not (at least in that work) tell us how to distinguish between the two. I'm afraid that, with no neutral place to make such judgments, authority of some sort may sneak back in as the way to distinguish "development" from "deviation." Again, this is as true (potentially) for Protestants as for RCs.

Tell me if these observations are on target, and at least somewhat relevant to your little essay.

T.J. Woodlock said...

Would I be correct in saying that your main issue with the Catholic Church relates to authority? Not so much it's use or abuse, but it's scope and nature?

phillywalker said...

Congratulations on the thesis - I do know what an immense relief that is.

I have enjoyed your thoughtful and sensible posts so very much - thank you!

I have often thought that, just as fundamentalist Protestants need to tie themselves into weird intellectual knots trying to prove that there are no errors, contradictions, or difficulties with the Bible, Catholics tie themselves into weird logical knots trying to prove that the doctrines of the Church have never really changed (only developed) and contain no contradictions or errors. Both situations stem from the untenable position of claiming that some authority other than God is perfectly clear, errorless, and unchanging. We are so frightened of living in an imperfect world with an imperfect church and imperfect guidance!

Dave Armstrong said...

Hi Philly,

>I have often thought that, just as fundamentalist Protestants need to tie themselves into weird intellectual knots trying to prove that there are no errors, contradictions, or difficulties with the Bible,

What are some of these, in your opinion, if you don't mind my asking?

>Catholics tie themselves into weird logical knots trying to prove that the doctrines of the Church have never really changed (only developed)

Just curious: how do you define "change" and "develop"?

>and contain no contradictions or errors. Both situations stem from the untenable position of claiming that some authority other than God is perfectly clear, errorless, and unchanging. We are so frightened of living in an imperfect world with an imperfect church and imperfect guidance!

Are you contending for either of these two things?:

1) God is unable to preserve Christian doctrine without error throughout history by means of (in and of themselves, without His aid) fallen, imperfect, fallible men and an imperfect Church run by such men (i.e., sinners).

[since you seem to think He was unable to do that with the Bible, too, I suppose you would affirm this, but I'm asking, to be sure]

2) God was, of course, able to do this if He chose to (being omnipotent), but He chose not to do so.

If you chose #1, why do you believe that? Is it because you deny God's omnipotence?

If you chose #2, why do you think God would not protect true theology from corruption, especially in light of the biblical teaching that the Holy Spirit will guide us into all truth?

Contarini said...

Dave,

:If you chose #2, why do you think God would not protect true theology from corruption, especially in light of the biblical teaching that the Holy Spirit will guide us into all truth?:

Speaking for myself, I think it's highly presumptuous to make assumptions about why God would do this, that, or the other. To turn around an excellent argument of Newman's (regarding sinful Popes), given the obvious existence of evil in the world any argument of the form "Why would God allow . . ." is rather unconvincing. Given all the horrible things God manifestly does allow, I see no good reason to think that He would balk at a little thing like a mistake in the precise definition of the Real Presence. We come back to what I think is the epistemological hyper-sensitivity of modern Western Christians (Newman being one of the greatest examples of this). Epistemology has taken on such a dominant role in modern (i.e., postmedieval) thought that it's easy for us to assume that uncertainty about doctrine is the worst of all evils. But I think that's a very hard position to defend.

Yes, Christ promised to lead us into all truth. He didn't promise that the path into all truth would be short or easy or free from brambles.

BTW, I'm defending my dissertation in just under six hours . . . .

Dave Armstrong said...

Hi Edwin,

>Speaking for myself, I think it's highly presumptuous to make assumptions about why God would do this, that, or the other.

I don't; not when it is a function of His omnipotence, if it is indicated in Scripture as harmonious with what we in fact see Him doing, and when it involves something of high importance to the well-being of souls.

Basically my argument here is a subtle variation of a reductio ad absurdum: I am working from what we know to more speculative things. I don't regard it as a species of epistemology at all; rather, it is an exercise in consistency of logic combined with data from revelation that Protestants and Catholics hold in common. And, as usual, I am probing premises, because I think they have been insufficiently scrutinized in this instance.

>To turn around an excellent argument of Newman's (regarding sinful Popes), given the obvious existence of evil in the world any argument of the form "Why would God allow . . ." is rather unconvincing. Given all the horrible things God manifestly does allow, I see no good reason to think that He would balk at a little thing like a mistake in the precise definition of the Real Presence.

He certainly does allow all kinds of errors in eucharistic theology and other forms; just not in the Catholic Church. :-)

Anyway, if we grant that He allows
error, how much error, then, do you think He allows? You give a nod to the Holy Spirit's guidance below, so you think it goes a certain distance and then we are on our own? That wasn't the view at the Council of Jerusalem (nor St. Paul's). Everything was quite certain then, and "seemed good to the Hoy Spirit and us." But that is before the days that denominations and division had to be rationalized as somehow remotely sanctioned by Holy Scripture.

>We come back to what I think is the epistemological hyper-sensitivity of modern Western Christians (Newman being one of the greatest examples of this). Epistemology has taken on such a dominant role in modern (i.e., postmedieval) thought that it's easy for us to assume that uncertainty about doctrine is the worst of all evils. But I think that's a very hard position to defend.

Nice attempt at absurdly exaggerating my argument and trying to create a straw man. My questions were very straightforward, and it would be refreshing to receive an equally straightforward answer to them. You never know; it might be fun.

I deliberately compared this situation to the infallible, inspired Bible, because most orthodox Christians throughout history have held a very high vierw of Scripture. God did that via sinful men, so the question becomes: "why should doctrine or creeds be any different?"

It's a very serious (and I believe, important) question, and truly, I am trying to understand where you (or your friend whom I questioned) are coming from on this. That won't happen if you distort what I am arguing into a gross caricature.

I don't see this as epistemology; rather it is a matter of trust in God and acceptance of what seems fairly obvious (at least to me) in Scripture; i.e., a matter of revelation, which exists apart from a necessary epistemological rationale. We accept what it says in faith. One could say it comes down to hermeneutics, too, since what I see in the Bible seems perfectly harmonious with an authoritative Church, preserved from error.

>Yes, Christ promised to lead us into all truth. He didn't promise that the path into all truth would be short or easy or free from brambles.

Who said it was easy? So do you believe this or not? If you do, then what is the immediate a priori objection to the Catholic conception? If you don't, then on what grounds, biblical or otherwise?

Maybe you have touched upon this in your paper above. I haven't set aside time yet to read it and really soak in what you are arguing. I hope to sometime in the coming week.

>BTW, I'm defending my dissertation in just under six hours . . . .

Congrats! That means it is already history. I hope it went well for you. What a relief that must be.

thoughtspot said...

First, the simple answer to your question: God preserves true doctrine, and leads us (as the NT promises) not only into all truth but into all purity. But God has not (alas) embodied all truth (doctrinal perfection), or all purity (moral perfection), in any single institution or person.

I think Edwin's point is that we don't have to pretend we know why God hasn't done so. As a rough analogy: If I think God has allowed errors in Scripture (to avoid an argument, let's just say in the copying of Scripture, though it also works for the originals), I don't have to explain WHY he has done so. I can come up with lots of Scriptures (the one about jots and tittles comes to mind) that make me think God wouldn't allow any errors in the copying of Scriptures. But I find, to my puzzlement, that God did.

I think there's something odd about those who want to argue about why God "would have" done something--use evolution, or allow Scriptures to be copied wrong, or allow several popes to be jerks--rather than look at the evidence about what God has, indeed, done. Most of which is not what I would have done!

In Catholic ecclesiology, I'm not sure what account has been made for what God has done among Protestants. But in Contarini's (and my) ecclesiology, what God has done among Protestants AND among Catholics is a messy, but still faithful, fulfillment of his promise to lead us into all truth AND all purity. The church as it actually is--including a smattering of morally corrupt popes and nearly heretical Baptists--still has a Spirit-led morality, and a Spirit-inspired orthodoxy, that testify to the gracious faithfulness of God.

If you want to nuance the question--how far will God allow the church to drift in doctrine (or in morality)--that's worth discussing. But if your question is an epistemological set-up to support the claim that certain doctrines (proclaimed by certain people wearing certain hats) can't be in error, I just don't see how this follows what we know about the church and about God.

Dave Armstrong said...

>If you want to nuance the question--how far will God allow the church to drift in doctrine (or in morality)--that's worth discussing.

Sure, please do. I thought I was doing that. If it wasn't obvious (as appears to be the case, at least in your own perception of what I was trying to do), then I can assure you this was the general drift of my argument.

Dave Armstrong said...

Since it seems deader than a doornail over here, I've made a paper of most of the above over on my blog, if anyone's interested in starting up what I think could be a very fun and educational discussion:

http://socrates58.blogspot.com/2005/11/on-whether-god-could-would-or-should.html

cparks said...

Wow, that was some piece, Edwin. Took me awhile to get through it.

I think you did a great job of explaining this delicate dance we're all doing with Cyprian and Augustine.

cparks said...

I don't see this as epistemology; rather it is a matter of trust in God and acceptance of what seems fairly obvious (at least to me) in Scripture; i.e., a matter of revelation, which exists apart from a necessary epistemological rationale. We accept what it says in faith.

How, exactly, are matters of trust, revelation and faith not, by definition, matters of epistemology?

dave armstrong said...

hey CP; how r ya?

ME: "I don't see this as epistemology; rather it is a matter of trust in God and acceptance of what seems fairly obvious (at least to me) in Scripture; i.e., a matter of revelation, which exists apart from a necessary epistemological rationale. We accept what it says in faith."

>How, exactly, are matters of trust, revelation and faith not, by definition, matters of epistemology?

The latter is a species of philosophy. Neither faith, revelation, nor trust in God are merely species of philosophy. I'm highly surprised that you ask this, coming from an Orthodox perspective, since y'all are always harping on supposed western "ultra-rationalism," etc.

I've never reduced Christianity to philosophy. In fact, this has been one of my ongoing criticisms of a certain Protestant approach which seems to leave no room for a humble, simple faith (e.g., the silly "infinite infallible regress" argument used by Enloe and many anti-Catholics, in an effort to undermine Catholic belief in the binding authority of the Church).

Not very lively around here, is it? I have responded to three people in this thread and not a single one has yet responded back. Maybe you'll be the first to get to Round Two, huh? LOL

thoughtspot said...

How far God would let us go in doctrinal error, given his promise to guide us into all truth--Hmmm. Worthwhile question, I guess. Forgive me for thinking your original question sounded (in context) like a Catholic version of the evangelical inerrancy argument, both of which are "all or nothing."

Once we take away all or nothing, the question seems to me to be basically one of those unanswerables, like "how far will God allow me to err morally without giving up on me?" I will say that I do (perhaps naively) see a consensus fidelium of those in various traditions (certainly Orthodox, Catholic, and most major Protestant groups) which is doctrinally sound. And I do see, in historic Christianity throughout the ages, a moral purity that stands out from the world. But a skeptic--either a skeptic of Christianity, or of Protestantism, or of Catholicism--would not be able to understand why I see what I see.

Contarini said...

Dave,

I wasn't sure how to respond to your post, because you appeared offended by my interpretations of what you are doing, but I don't know how to see it any differently. When I describe the only presuppositions that (as I see it) would make your arguments meaningful, you say that that's a caricature of what you are saying. But since you clearly want to carry on the discussion, here goes.

I wrote:

>Speaking for myself, I think it's highly presumptuous to make assumptions about why God would do this, that, or the other.

You responded:

:I don't; not when it is a function of His omnipotence, if it is indicated in Scripture as harmonious with what we in fact see Him doing, and when it involves something of high importance to the well-being of souls.:

I'm not sure what it means for something to be "a function of God's omnipotence." Surely everything not self-contradictory or incompatible with God's nature is a function of God's omnipotence!

I do not think that preserving the Church from all error is compatible with God's observed actions either in Scripture or in history, no. It is compatible with what we would presume God would do, but not with what it appears He has actually done.

And of course preservation from error would promote the well-being of souls. Preserving all Christians--or at least the leaders of the Church--from gross and scandalous sins would also do so. But we know God hasn't done that. Again, I think we should let God decide what is for the well-being of souls instead of trying to figure that out for Him.

:I don't regard it as a species of epistemology at all; rather, it is an exercise in consistency of logic combined with data from revelation that Protestants and Catholics hold in common.:

And again, I don't know how to argue with this. It seems clear to me that any argument about how we know the truth is an argument about epistemology. You are uncomfortable with a process of being led into all truth that involves slips and falls and loops and bends. I'm sorry if this is a caricature, but I don't know how else to describe what I see throughout your online arguments.

In the strict sense I don't see how we are anywhere near anything that could be called a problem of "consistency of logic." Certainly you haven't pointed out a contradiction in what I'm saying, and I have not even tried to point out a contradiction in yours.

So I think we do come back to a difference in epistemology. You rely much more closely on what you think are syllogistic, logical arguments. I fail to see the cogency of most of these arguments, and I think that a much looser method is the only one that properly applies to questions as vast as those we're discussing here (I'm thinking of what William Abraham calls "soft rationalism," to which I've referred previously on this blog).


:Anyway, if we grant that He allows
error, how much error, then, do you think He allows?:

The error that I see around me as a matter of fact, minus the errors I think I see that aren't, plus the errors I'm committing right now without knowing it!

In other words, God permits the error that actually exist. I think what you are asking is how much error could God theoretically allow without the gates of hell prevailing against the Church. And I think that's probably a presumptuous question. The only answer I can give is to say that if we were to come to believe in a different Jesus, then that would clearly violate Christ's promise. And I would also say that generally speaking even fairly moderate errors never engulf the whole Church. Any Protestant argument that assumes that some vital truth was totally lost for centuries _does_ in fact constitute unbelief in Christ's promise. But it is pretty clear that Christians can get an awful lot wrong on an awfully large scale for an awfully long time.

I can't be more specific than this, because from my perspective that would be to bind God down to my expectations.

: You give a nod to the Holy Spirit's guidance below, so you think it goes a certain distance and then we are on our own?:

We are never on our own. But it seems clear that God prefers to allow us an astonishing degree of freedom--far more than most of us would do if we were God! And often that means freedom to mess up. God prevents us from falling into error when such an error would completely distort the nature of the Christian Faith. I don't think any of us are in a position to make very specific statements about just how that works.

: That wasn't the view at the Council of Jerusalem (nor St. Paul's). Everything was quite certain then, and "seemed good to the Hoy Spirit and us.":

I see no reason to discount the idea that the apostolic age saw clearer and less ambiguous guidance from the Spirit than later ages, precisely so that the rest of us would have a fixed standard to appeal to.

But as a matter of fact the rest of the New Testament shows that even the Council of Jerusalem's decision wasn't as clear and final as you're implying. Paul does not seem to have taught his gentile converts that they could not eat food offered to idols in any circumstances--his discussion of the issue in 1 Corinthians lacks any reference to the Council of Jerusalem which had occurred just a few years previously. If you read Acts 15 in the light of 1 Cor. 8, it appears clear that Paul would think that the elders at Jerusalem were "weak," or at best were making provision for the "weak" but making such a course binding on all Gentile Christians in all circumstances, which Paul is clearly not doing. (I'm sure you can reconcile the two by saying that the Council was condemning such eating where it implied participation in idol worship, but that isn't what the text in Acts most naturally implies given the association with the eating of strangled animals.)

:But that is before the days that denominations and division had to be rationalized as somehow remotely sanctioned by Holy Scripture.:

I don't think divisions are sanctioned by Scripture. Denominations are such diverse phenomena and so completely outside the paradigm of the NT writers (as are "sui juris churches," the Catholic equivalent) that I wouldn't know how to address such a question. I read the NT in the light of the early Fathers and therefore believe that "one bishop, one church" is at the very least an ideal for which we should strive. But the existence of sui juris churches within Catholicism violates this no less than the existence of Protestant denominations does. (I'm not claiming that Catholic sui juris churches are exact equivalents--how close an equivalent depends on which relationships among which denominations we're talking about. In other words, sui juris churches are not the proper parallel for the relationship between ECUSA and the SBC, but they might parallel the relationship between ECUSA and ELCA or between the ACA and the REC).

However, the idea that we have in some manner declined from the days of the apostles is an old one in Christianity. It's certainly not patently absurd, however much we might want to nuance it by rejecting an idealization of the apostolic era.


:Nice attempt at absurdly exaggerating my argument and trying to create a straw man.:

This is the part I didn't know how to respond to, because I don't think it's a straw man at all. I'll try to show why, giving you that "logical consistency" you're looking for!

In your view God cannot allow even the smallest error in defined dogma, but God can and clearly has allowed the Church (as a visible, earthly institution--i.e., Popes and bishops and priests and others outwardly identified with the Church) to commit horrible moral evils. I originally tried to pick examples, but I'll avoid that because we could argue about the applicability of the examples. But I'm happy to give you examples if you want them!

If God allows (A) horrendous moral evils but not (B) doctrinal errors even on relatively minor points ("relatively" compared to the Trinity or the Incarnation), it therefore follows that

1. B is a greater evil than A, or
2. God allows greater evils but does not allow lesser ones.

If B is a greater evil than A, it follows either that

3. There is a third thing greater than either doctrinal error or hideous moral evil, or
4. Doctrinal error is the greatest of all evils.

The only way you can escape this argument is to adhere to proposition 2. That would mean that your belief that God allows A but not B is totally unrelated to the relative gravity of A and B. In which case you need to show that there is some other a priori reason why God cannot be supposed to allow B, or else you need to provide actual evidence that God has not allowed B or has promised that He would not (and such a promise cannot be a general promise such as "the gates of hell will not prevail," or we are back to proposition 1!).


:I deliberately compared this situation to the infallible, inspired Bible, because most orthodox Christians throughout history have held a very high vierw of Scripture. God did that via sinful men, so the question becomes: "why should doctrine or creeds be any different?":

There are two complementary answers to this.

First, while Christians have historically had a "high" view of Scripture, many Christians have also admitted that Scripture is not the sort of book they would inspire if they were God (particularly with regard to style). This makes me very grateful that they (Origen, Jerome, Augustine, Erasmus, etc.) are not God and God is! As, I should add, were these pious theologians (grateful for not being God, I mean). The point is that we have to learn from the actual text of Scripture what a divinely inspired text looks like. If we start with preconceptions about what a DIT ought to be, we will probably not arrive at Scripture.

I'm enough of a "liberal" to think that modern historical method has further shaken up our conception of what an inspired text must be. I don't see this as a radical break with the Tradition (I hasten to add that I reject the more radical conclusions of much historical criticism, which in fact goes far beyond normal good historical method and embraces an almost pathological skepticism), but simply as a further development of what Christians have always confessed: God's revelation is surprising. It challenges our preconceptions rather than confirming them. It uses instruments that by our standards are rough and imperfect, precisely to show us how warped our standards are. So I don't think your Biblical analogy works in your favor even if we grant its validity.

But in the second place, I think the early Christians would be rather shocked by your question: "Why should doctrine or creeds be any different?" Please note that I'm not arguing that "the Fathers believed in sola scriptura" (whatever sola scriptura is). I know that they believed Tradition was authoritative, and at times they could speak as if there were no real distinction between extra-Scriptural Tradition and Scripture (Chrysostom says in commenting on 2 Thess. 2:15: "It is tradition; seek no further"). But there is a pretty strong consensus among the fourth-century Fathers (Athanasius and Augustine being the two principal examples that come to mind) that Scripture was on a completely different level than any kind of creed or council or non-Scriptural tradition. Not that these other things were not authoritative, but that they were subsidiary to divine revelation in Scripture. At the very least, this is a strong tradition among the Fathers, even if it's not unanimous (I don't think Chrysostom's quote actually disagrees with this, but I don't want to argue the point here).

So first of all I don't think Scripture is free from ambiguity and conflict and even, if seen from a certain perspective (though not that of God's purpose in inspiring it), imperfection. And furthermore I completely reject the claim that non-Scriptural teachings should be expected to have the same kind of perfection Scripture does. That is why the Church recognized Scripture as Scripture--to say that certain books are Scripture is to recognize in them a unique kind and degree of divine inspiration.



:I don't see this as epistemology; rather it is a matter of trust in God and acceptance of what seems fairly obvious (at least to me) in Scripture;:

And that's exactly what we'd like to see in Scripture. It certainly doesn't seem obvious to us.

: what I see in the Bible seems perfectly harmonious with an authoritative Church, preserved from error.:

No doubt it is. The question I'm interested in is whether the Biblical revelation is compatible with a Church that slips and falls and messes up and is divided along the way to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb at which all disunity and all impurity will be swallowed up for ever. It seems to me that it is--that indeed it's more compatible with such a picture than with your ecclesiology. But that latter point is not what I'm concerned to argue. At face value, the reality that confronts me appears to be that of an imperfect and divided Church. To believe that this is not the case I need strong evidence, not simply evidence showing that the Biblical revelation is also compatible with an authoritative Church preserved from error and disunity.

>Who said it was easy? So do you believe this or not? If you do, then what is the immediate a priori objection to the Catholic conception?:

I don't have an a priori objection. I have an a posteriori objection, based on the reality that confronts me. I would need a very strong a priori argument to overcome the evidence of my senses and convince me to accept what seems like some rather convoluted pieces of special pleading (i.e., the Catholic explanations for how Christians can be divided without the Church being divided, or how "members of the Church" can be sinful but the Church be perfectly holy, etc.). It seems to me that most converts become Catholic because they are convinced by such an a priori argument, and this argument is epistemological in nature insofar as it concerns the question of how we can be certain of truth in a world full of conflicting claims to authority. That is what I mean when I engage in these "caricatures."

Contarini said...

Dave,

One comment on the "infinite infallible regress" argument (in your reply to cparks). If used as you describe, it is indeed silly. But in my experience it's usually used as a response to the Catholic claim that if you don't have infallible authority you are prey to "private judgment." In that context the argument is a perfectly legitimate reductio ad absurdum.

In other words, of course it's silly. That's the point. It shows how silly it is to think that the only solid basis for a religious belief is infallible authority.

Dave Armstrong said...

Hi thoughtspot,

Good comment; however, it didn't address what I thought was the central issue under dispute: viz., what can we reasonably, plausibly suppose about how far God would allow doctrinal error to occur, and why we believe whatever we do on that matter.

The question only makes sense given the views of most traditional Christians that the Bible is infallible (in whatever sense, etc.).

I am making my customary analogical argument, in a Socratic manner, trying to get simple answers to simple questions about complicated matters, and to understand why those who differ from my opinion think the analogies are unsuccessful. :-).

What I was trying to illustrate was my suspicion of a priori biases which would rule out Catholic positions without argument or analysis. If you take an "agnostic" approach and say we can't know this, that, or the other, then it seems to me that this would rule out automatic objections to an infallible Church.

That being the case, one would have to argue that point of contention on a case-by-case basis. I know: more work and tedium, but this is what reason in this instance would require.

Failing such work, Protestants ought to cease from rhetoric which more or less assumes that Catholic ecclesiology is either absurd or impossible in reality, or both, since the proper reasoning for establishing such a conclusion is lacking.

Probably clear as mud, but there it is . . .

dave armstrong said...

And here is my reply to Edwin's response below:

"God, the Infallible Bible, and Doctrinal Error of Churches: Round Two"

http://socrates58.blogspot.com/2005/11/god-infallible-bible-and-doctrinal.html

Next on the docket: my response to his post under which these comments lie.

Contarini said...

Dave,

I'm not sure who you think is making "a priori" arguments that rule out Catholic claims from the start. That certainly isn't what I think I'm doing. Perhaps you could say that phillywalker's post was doing this, but I don't really see that either. Phillywalker was pointing to the convoluted arguments that orthodox Catholics (like inerrantist Protestants) are forced to make in order to preserve their dogma in the face of historical reality. If you want examples, I'd point to the common Catholic interpretation of Boniface VIII's _Unam Sanctam_ and the even stronger language in the Council of Florence's decreeon the Jacobites. I'm not going to enter into an argument as to whether such interpretations are tenable--but I think it's undeniable that they would not have occurred to anyone if the necessity for harmonizing these decrees with Vatican II had not arisen.

I repeat what I said above: it seems to me that defenders of Catholicism are the ones who habitually begin with a priori arguments. Witness the many times on Internet discussion boards a Protestant critique of some specific Catholic doctrine is shut down with a rhetorical question beginning: "Where do you get the authority to . . . . "

I understand why it would be convenient for you to position yourself as the one opposing a priori generalizations with hard examinations of the specifics, but I don't understand how you can honestly claim that this is the state of the argument. Since you are an honest person, clearly you look at the nature of the argument we're having very differently than I do. So I'm putting you on notice that I am not making a priori claims about the untenability of infallibility, and I am uninterested in having any discussion that starts from such a premise. On the contrary, the purpose of my original essay is to challenge the Catholic use of "development" as some kind of a priori principle that gives a blanket sanction to all the specific developments of Catholic doctrine.

Dave Armstrong said...

Hi Edwin,

Keep replying to the objections I raise and we'll see where this goes. The problem in the past in our dialogues is that they always ended just as they were barely beginning. I hope this one can continue long enough to actually accomplish something.

cparks said...

Edwin: And again, I don't know how to argue with this. It seems clear to me that any argument about how we know the truth is an argument about epistemology. You are uncomfortable with a process of being led into all truth that involves slips and falls and loops and bends. I'm sorry if this is a caricature, but I don't know how else to describe what I see throughout your online arguments.

Precisely my confusion as well. Epistemology is simply a handy (not to mention well established) term for discussing what we can know and how we know it. As a result, a Christian epistemology will include faith and revelation. I don't see how this reduces Christianity to "a species of" philosophy.

(Nevertheless, I was a bit confused about your use of it as well. Since you mentioned it in the context of arguing for a degree of uncertainty, I was clear as to how epistemology itself taking a "dominant role" necessarily led to thinking we can be certain about things you suggest we can't be certain about. Again, my understanding of epistemology is simply what we can know and how we can know it--the extent of what we can know is part of the discussion/argument. Or did I simply misunderstand you?)

So, if someone says, "we can know this" and another says, "no, we can't," what you have is an epistemological difference. I can't see how simply calling it that "reduces Christianity to philosophy." It's simply definitional. Philosophy uses terms like "ethics," too, but using the term in the context of Christian theology doesn't reduce Christianity to philosophy.

That being said, I'm also not entirely clear how your statement about "slips and falls" on the path to more, better or higher knowledge couldn't also be an argument for development. Such an approach would seem to allow for the same level of certainty as you object to in DA, it would just mean that you disagree about where we're at on the path.

IOW, it still appears to be an essentially "scientific" approach to knowledge that involves progress which, if valid, simply means that you and Dave are really arguing about at what point on the path we're on. I'm unclear on how it establishes a differing level of what we can be certain about to begin with.

Whether anyone likes or dislikes the use of the term "epistemology," we still have a question of what we can know and how we can know it.

And since I'm just waiting around for a phone call at the moment, I have the time to forestall any assertions of my objection to development just because I'm Orthodox. Some years ago, I ran across a book called "Darwin, Marx and Wagner: Critique of a Heritage," by the cultural historian Jacques Barzun. If he'd taken up theology in addition to science, politics/economics and art, then ISTM that Newman's name could have been in there as well. In order to "really" discuss whether doctrine develops or not, it has to be unpacked and separated from the 19th century fascination/utter obsession with progress, etc. Was it a 19th century fad stemming from romantic ideas of the late 19th/early 19th century or an eternal truth?

All I'm saying is that the presuppositions are generally taken for granted. And, even if they're not, I think whether our understanding and growth in theological knowledge progresses in the same manner as scientific knowledge (meaning that I see no essential difference between Newman and Origin of Species) is a valid question. But it seems to be assumed. I'm constantly told how "obvious" it is. But that doesn't really solve the problem or answer the question. It seems I have to share the premise before it can be proved to me.

thoughtspot said...

Dave,

I am mainly a concurring voice to Contarini. And I do have to agree with him that your characterization of our response--as somehow being biased against Catholicism, especially in an a priori way--does not match what we actually wrote.

My own experience is that Evangelicals (my own family) and Catholics (of whom I know few) move very quickly from the "state of things as they are" that Contarini and I have both appealed to, and turned very quickly to arguments about "what God would have allowed." And Contarini and I have (IMHO, conclusively!) argued that this move is simply unsupportable.

What God has allowed is a church that has divisions, moral flaws, and doctrinal flaws. In every age, in every tradition, those divisions, moral flaws, and doctrinal flaws have been different, but they've been there from 1st-century Corinth to any group you would name today. Certainly it is "reasonable" to suppose that God would either keep this from happening, or be on the verge of giving up on his Church entirely.

Or, of course, fix things; which I am sure He is doing all the time, but not in the ways (or at the pace) we might expect. I hope he is using me to bring greater doctrinal correctness, and moral purity, to part of Christ's body. I'm sure you hope the same of your own ministry, as does Contarini.

dave armstrong said...

Hi cparks,

>In order to "really" discuss whether doctrine develops or not, it has to be unpacked and separated from the 19th century fascination/utter obsession with progress, etc. Was it a 19th century fad stemming from romantic ideas of the late 19th/early 19th century or an eternal truth?

It can hardly be merely a 19th century fad, seeing that all the essentials of Newmanian development are found in St. Vincent of Lerins' Commonitorium, from the 5th century. As I've pointed out again and again (sometimes I feel like I'm "spinning my wheels"), this was the same exact writing which contained his famous dictum: "That which has always been believed everywhere by all" or however it goes. Yet the same work provided the most explicit statement of development of doctrine in the Fathers that I am aware of.

All Newman did was add some further particulars (such as his "seven notes") - precisely as we would expect all developments of an earlier, more primitive explanation, to provide. Thus, Newman merely developed the work of St. Vincent, 14 centuries earlier. :-)

>All I'm saying is that the presuppositions are generally taken for granted.

I don't take anything for granted. I've defended all of my beliefs (which one would expect, since I am an apologist). But very few people want to truly debate the ins and outs of Newmanian development (believe me, I know, because I've written about or debated the issue dozens of times).

Instead, we see ridiculous put-downs from people who clearly don't have a clue what they're talking about (a la Tim Enloe), or else (distressingly often) caricatures such as yours below, where you compare development to evolution, which suggests that you are at least highly confused as to the differences.

>And, even if they're not, I think whether our understanding and growth in theological knowledge progresses in the same manner as scientific knowledge (meaning that I see no essential difference between Newman and Origin of Species) is a valid question. But it seems to be assumed.

There is clearly an essential difference, and it is remarkable that you haven't grasped this. Neo-Darwinism, the modern development of Darwin (pun intended), holds that (setting aside the materialism vs. theism sub-debate) every living thing came from the primeval soup. Everything developed from earlier precursors or more primitive forms.

There are, strictly speaking, no "corruptions" in such a grand process (unless one says that mutations serve as that). There are only well-adapted organisms and less well-adapted organisms. There is no "norm" for what is "right and wrong." There are only the flourishing of some species and the dying off of others.

A man is not an amphibian; an amphibian is not a repltile; neither is a mammal. They are fundamentally different from each other in many ways. Macroevolution has the largest categories of living things evolving from other of the largest categories. Something can evolve into something else. So amphibians evolved into reptiles and reptiles into mammals, according to that theory.

Development (of doctrine) is completely different. It is much more analogous to microevolution, where the type evolves, but consistent with itself, and consistent with it remaining fundamentally what it is. The purported evolution of the horse would be an example. We're talking about horses all along. They may be large and small, but they are horses. The famous examples of the fruitflies or the moths changing color or of ionsects evolving resistance to pesticides would be others. In each case, no fundamental change occurs, because they remains moths, fruitflies, and whatever particular insect had further resistance capabilities.

A trilobite or an amoeba evolving over millions of years into you and I (i.e., macroevolution, which is the heart of Neo-Darwinist evolutionary theory) is quite another thing altogether. Newman and others make clear that development is not evolution. Therefore, for folks to continue to assert that it is, no matter what is clarified about it, is simply uninformed or highly confused as to category, or both; I'm sorry.

You can quibble with the definition of epistemology if you like (my largest dictionary actually supports my usage - i.e., as a particular branch of philosophy - , but I wouldn't deny that you and Edwin could properly use it in a secondary sense; in which case neither of us would be right or wrong, but I certainly wasn't, according to the dictionary).

But when you confuse evolution and development, this is a serious category error that you must be disabused of, if there is to be any constructive discussion on the overall topic at all.

This is not the first time I have gone through these kinds of category disputes with you, either. One of our big discussions in the past involved your claim that my abundant use of Scripture in my apologetics basically reduces to a Protestant-like sola Scriptura methodology. It does not at all. Your problem is similar to that of someone looking at two mountain ranges in the distance, thinking they are part of the same range. In fact they are quite different. It is the failure to make crucial distinctions.

We all learn all the time. I don't blame someone who has never pondered either evolution or development, if they confuse the two, as there are some very broad similarities. But I think you (and Edwin) know more than enough to know the difference between the two, so that we don't have to go over fundamental ground and argue about things that are, I think, with all due respect, rather obvious.

dave armstrong said...

Hi thoughtspot,

>What God has allowed is a church that has divisions, moral flaws, and doctrinal flaws. In every age, in every tradition, those divisions, moral flaws, and doctrinal flaws have been different, but they've been there from 1st-century Corinth to any group you would name today. Certainly it is "reasonable" to suppose that God would either keep this from happening, or be on the verge of giving up on his Church entirely.

We Catholics argue that God has indeed preserved doctrine free from error in the infallible doctrines of the Catholic Church. If you don't deny a priori that this is a possibility, then you are left with having to argue all the historical and theological particulars, which involves a hundred different discussions.

If you claim that you have no a priori objection, I believe you; however, you still seem to think it is almost self-evident that the claims of infallibility of the Catholic Church are absurd and unworthy of the belief of any thinking person, as if it isn't even arguable.

The Catholic trying to defend such things (in your schema) becomes a Don Quixote-like figure. I find this, frankly, condescending and patronizing. Atheists observing all of Christianity make the same kinds of judgments which we all disagree with. I think it is equally wrong to have such a low low view of Catholic claims, even if one disagrees with them. It's one thing to have a principled disagreement; another to reduce the thing disagreed with to supposedly self-evident ludicrosity and irrationality.

Technically, you may be advancing an a posteriori objection, but it is still so strong that - in terms of sheer bias - it has virtually the same effect as an a priori objection which would rule out such a thing as impossible even for an omnipotent God to bring about.

Well, if it is so prima facie absurd, then I wonder: how did infallibility become such a prominent "plank" of the belief-system of the largest Christian body: the Catholic Church? Disbelieve it if you like, but why do you think it came to be? Because Catholics are a bunch of reality-denying, insecure types who can't accept anything short of perfect certainty (as Edwin has implied)?

You guys can critique all you like (I love challenges), but I don't think it is ridiculous to believe in an infallible Church, or unworthy of belief, or "impossible in light of the facts of history," and all the rest, that I used to believe myself.

I don't believe that things have to be so perpetually uncertain or that God set it up that way or that He is unable to overcome that obstacle. I continue to maintain that accepting such a "counsel of despair" (doctrinally-speaking) is simply a form of special pleading which has to rationalize existing innumerable Protestant divisions and contradictions.

If that makes me a reality-denying, head-in-the-sand troglodyte, then so be it. It wouldn't be the worst thing I have been described as, as I defend the Catholic Church, and it would be no different from all the false things that Christians have been characterized as through the centuries, so I wear any such labels proudly. I agree wholeheartedly with G.K. Chesterton:

"So far as a man may be proud of a religion rooted in humility, I am very proud of my religion; I am especially proud of those parts of it that are most commonly called superstition. I am proud of being fettered by antiquated dogmas and enslaved by dead creeds (as my journalistic friends repeat with so much pertinacity, for I know very well that it is the heretical creeds that are dead, and that it is only the reasonable dogma that lives long enough to be called antiquated."

-- From his Autobiography (1936) --

cparks said...

But I think you (and Edwin) know more than enough to know the difference between the two, so that we don't have to go over fundamental ground and argue about things that are, I think, with all due respect, rather obvious.

Suit yourself.

Peace.

Dave Armstrong said...

Hi cparks,

I see. So I am not entitled to have an opinion of your views if it is too critical, without you taking your bat and going home? What do you expect me to do: just admit that you are right: evolution = development?

I don't believe that, so I can't do it. Now you won't defend yourself. So why start a supposed dialogue in the first place if you are unwilling to carry it through? You won't do that, yet you are quite willing to continue spouting public falsehoods about what development supposedly is and isn't, while being unwilling to accept any corrections from one who has studied the issue in some depth. What's the point? If I don't agree with you, then suddenly the dialogue is over?

Granted, I get tired of explaining some of these things over and over and so I showed some frustration and probably wrote too harshly. But it's no worse than what is regularly written about development and Cardinal Newman. There is a legitimate frustration to be had. So while I am happy to apologize for being too harsh or blunt, I do not for the perfectly-understandable frustration.

My reply to Edwin's original paper is now posted:

http://socrates58.blogspot.com/2005/11/counter-reply-to-dr-edwin-taits-for.html

cparks said...

So I am not entitled to have an opinion of your views if it is too critical, without you taking your bat and going home? What do you expect me to do: just admit that you are right: evolution = development?

No, you're not entitled to "disabuse" me of anything if you aren't familiar with Barzun. If you get the book and read it, however, I'll be glad to debate my conclusions about Newman being in the same vein with the rest of his 19th century colleagues.

Barzun is a respected cultural historian. While some of his conclusions are debated, he's not some kook with a kooky idea.

You plead with people to actually read Newman before jumping to conclusions, and you're right. I think it's only fair to reciprocate.

If you're up for it, it's readily available at amazon and elsewhere.

Dave Armstrong said...

Hi cparks,

I'm not required to read Barzun writing about Newman (apparently, alas, only in an indirect way in a book dealing with Marx, Darwin, and Wagner) when it is quite sufficient to read Newman himself to see that development is not evolution.

I gave the reasons why in my post, but you're not interested in that and instead demand that I read a book in order for us to continue the discussion.

Well, if the topic was Barzun and some quack claim about him then one should read him. But since the discussion is about Newman (who comes up in pretty much any discussion about development), one ought to read Newman and not a secondary source.

But for my part I certainly wouldn't reqire that (at least not book-length reading) if the debate were only over a simple matter of definition. If someone were making all sorts of negative claims about Newman (again, a la Tim Enloe or anti-Catholics like Webster, King, Svendsen, and White) without doing the necessary preliminary study, that would be different.

Tim Enloe was the one making all these asinine ignorant claims about Newman and claiming (literally) that he would "rip him to shreds" (concerning development) when at the time he admitted that he hadn't even read the Essay on Development. In other words, he was posing as an expert when in fact he was almost utterly ignorant of that which he opined endlessly and obnoxiously. And this is not an isolated instance in his case, sad to say, but I digress.

St. Vincent of Lerins is sufficient himself to prove that Newman's development was not solely or even primarily a product of evolutionary theory. Newman was a patristics scholar, and his thought was influenced much more by the Fathers than by the 19th century cult of evolutionism.

I continue to maintain that if simple definitions and understandings of the things being debated cannot be established, then there is no point proceeding further with a discussion. One must define their terms and understand the views of the opponent before one can take dialogue to the next phase or stage.

Neither element is present here because you continue to misdefine development and thus wrongly apply extraneous notions to Newman's influential explanation of it. But when called on that you appeal to someone else and require me to read a book.

If you want to cite Barzun and make some argument, fine; I'll play along, but I won't buy some book to read if it is going to argue an idea that is patently false, which has already been established on several other solid grounds. We all make such decisions.

You yourself have often decided not to not interact with me (when we were both present on some board) since you thought I was so dead wrong on some things, and you just didn't have the time.

Well, why can't I make the same judgment of Barzun, insofar as he is going to argue some goofy theory about Newman which I already know to be false, since I have read about and debated the topic of development perhaps more than any other theological topic (with the possible exception of the Bible and Tradition issue)?

Like I said, we all do this. The only difference is the particular ideas or theories that we deem unworthy of our time.

cparks said...

Well, why can't I make the same judgment of Barzun, insofar as he is going to argue some goofy theory about Newman which I already know to be false, since I have read about and debated the topic of development perhaps more than any other theological topic (with the possible exception of the Bible and Tradition issue)?

I'm not interested in recreating the arguments of an entire book just because someone else doesn't feel like taking the time to read it.

You yourself have often decided not to not interact with me (when we were both present on some board) since you thought I was so dead wrong on some things, and you just didn't have the time.

What I've said (maybe I can find the emails; I don't know if I still have them; I should have kept them for moments like this...), which is entirely consistent with what I'm asking of you, is that I bow out of discussions when it's clear to me that I don't have the time to read the Newman you're referencing that maybe I'm not familiar with. For you to represent it simply as a matter of time is false. I don't do homework for other people and I don't ask them to do any for me. It's a simple matter of respect that I try to be consistent about.

I'm not required to read Barzun writing about Newman (apparently, alas, only in an indirect way in a book dealing with Marx, Darwin, and Wagner) when it is quite sufficient to read Newman himself to see that development is not evolution.

Of course, I could say that I've read enough Newman to see that his theory isn't valid. But that's not enough if I'm going to have a meaningful discussion with someone and speak intelligently about the totality of his thought.

But, like I said, suit yourself. You're not obligated to read Barzun. But you would be if you wanted to really understand where I was coming from and have any meaningful interaction with me on the topic. But you're also not obligated to be interested in interaction with me on the topic. What concerns and interests me may not concern and interest you. That's just life and there's nothing right or wrong about it.

Plus, you need to learn the difference between someone misunderstanding something and someone trying to write a brief summary of a thing for the purpose of starting conversation which may not wholly describe the big picture accurately. Brief summaries can never do that. Asking clarification questions about what appears wrong to you helps; I generally respond very well to that. Picking them apart as if they were theses to be defended in toto doesn't; I generally don't respond very well to that. FWIW.

Contarini said...

I'm going to try to respond to the issues that have been raised in the past few posts. Please let me know (any of you) if there's something I haven't addressed.

I know that Newman and his followers in orthodox Catholicism (such as yourself, Dave) do distinguish clearly between evolution and development (as opposed to someone like Loisy, who does seem to have had a more Darwinian view of development). As I understand it, the point of divergence is the claim that development only unfolds what was implicitly there and does not _contradict_ anything about what preceded.

Cparks is obviously right that Newman's interest in development is part of a broader 19th-century trend. Of course one can't just plug Newman into a paradigm formed by Marx, Darwin, and Wagner, and ignore the serious differences. But neither, I think, can one cavalierly dismiss the historical context and assume that one understands Newman if one has only read Newman. I don't think anyone here is competent to speak authoritatively about Newman's historical context. I think I'm probably the most knowledgeable person here on the subject of 19th-century intellectual history (though I won't fight for the crown if there's a challenger), but I don't claim to be an expert.

My issue with Newman, as I've said to Dave long ago, is that he seems to think that he can establish a priori a set of criteria for distinguishing between "development" and "corruption," and that these criteria apply regardless of whether the ideas being developed are true or false. I don't think this is the case, and I do think this is an example of a strong 19th-century tendency toward over-generalization and the construction of highly dubious laws governing everything.

I don't think one can do this. I think one can only distinguish "development" from "corruption" if one believes that the idea is true. In other words, a "development" is an apparent change that does not in fact change the essential idea. From the point of view of an outsider, it may look like a change (certainly 13th-century Eucharistic piety and theology look rather different from that of the 4th century, for instance). Only someone who believes in the truth of the idea has any criteria for deciding whether that truth has been preserved in the course of its development.

My view of "development" allows much more frankly for genuine change. I don't have to find a way to show that there is no change or contradiction of any kind in the history of orthodox Christian doctrine. Rather, I believe that there is a central deposit of faith and that Christians come to understand that deposit in varying ways. Some are truer than others, and on the whole there is a movement toward the fullness of truth, which will only be consummated when Christ returns. But this movement may take the form of various Christian groups getting a hold of different aspects of the truth and anathematizing each other as heretics. The gates of hell have not prevailed as long as the Gospel (however imperfectly interpreted) remains in the Church and produces lives of holiness. But it's a long, rocky road with plenty of moments where things look bleak, and the journey includes doctrinal error as well as human sinfulness. Just as there is no part of the Church Militant that one can assume will not be contaminated by sin, so there is no part that one can assume will not be touched by error. But in the end the Church will be led into the truth, through the ministry of heretics and rebels as well as through the ministry of popes and bishops.

It is no doubt unfair of me to assume that these two views (your orthodox Catholic Newmanesque view and the view I've just outlined) necessarily correspond to different epistemologies. In fact, in my blog post "Two reasons for converting" I explicitly said that one could believe in infallibility (which in the modern western world probably does require adherence to something like Newman's theory of development) on the basis of a concern for unity rather than for certainty (or, as I then put it, "authority").

Perhaps I've been interjecting too much of my own autobiography into this. I myself was obsessed by issues of authority and how we know the truth. One of the major points of appeal of Catholicism for me was the claim to provide certainty--not a static certainty about every point at issue but clear boundaries within which one could live and a rationale for continued growth and development.

Contrary to what Dave claimed about thoughtspot (I don't know if this is true of thoughtspot's position or not, though I rather think not), I do think that one can believe in infallibility without any loss of intellectual integrity. The facts of history are compatible with the Catholic claims. But just barely. It takes a lot of work. One has to be continually explaining this and nuancing that. As a historian in training, I was perpetually confronted with these things. In other words, while one can believe in the Catholic claims of infallibility without violating historical honesty, one has to have a very good reason for doing so. In my considered judgment, it is not something that would simply emerge as a conclusion from an honest study of history. I'm afraid I've been assuming that, and this has led to miscommunication. If you really claim, Dave, that a study of Scripture and history lead you to the conclusion that infallibility is likely, then that's a different argument. I've always approached things from the opposite angle--I thought there was a need for a unified, authoritative Church, and that involved infallibility. In other words, I've assumed that one would only believe in infallibility because one thought it was theologically necessary (or because one thought the unity and authority of the Church were theologically necessary, and the Church taught infallibility). I don't think there's any intellectual dishonesty in this at all, since I don't think the facts _refute_ infallibility. I just don't think they would lead one to posit such a doctrine unless one had a priori reasons to do so.

Finally (since I need to go and do other things!), I want to address the epistemology issue. Clearly we're using language very differently. I'm not sure what you are saying when you say something is "a branch of philosophy." What do you think philosophy is? I understand philosophy to be any rational inquiry into the nature of the world in which we live (if you want to distinguish it from science, then I suppose you could say that it proceeds on the basis of reflection and deduction rather than observation and experiment). An inquiry into the way we know things is epistemology. I simply do not understand what you mean by saying "epistemology is a branch of philosophy" as if that meant anything more than "epistemology is one of the ways in which we try to arrive at a rational account of the nature of things."

Christian theology cannot be reduced to philosophy, but it cannot be separated from it either. Catholics have always recognized that (even Pascal did, I'd argue, in spite of his famous statement implying the contrary). I'm rather confused by why you would want to deny it. But very likely I'm not understanding you.

When you say that your belief in an infallible, authoritative Church is "simply a matter of trust in God," this does not avoid philosophy, because the question is why you think God is the sort of God who would make Himself known to us in that particular way. That's an inescapably philosophical question.

If by "trust in God" you simply mean "trust in the Church's teaching," then that's a different matter. Or if you mean that you think Scripture clearly teaches infallibility somewhere (which I'm confident it doesn't), then that's another matter again. But if we aren't simply discussing exegesis of Scripture or the facts of history, it seems to me that we are necessarily discussing philosophy when we talk rationally about who God is and how He has made Himself known. (I don't think a discussion of Scripture or history can be kept separate from philosophy for long either, for that matter!)

No doubt there is much yet to say. But it will have to wait.

cparks said...

Cparks is obviously right that Newman's interest in development is part of a broader 19th-century trend. Of course one can't just plug Newman into a paradigm formed by Marx, Darwin, and Wagner, and ignore the serious differences.

Agreed (about the latter, not that I'm "obviously" right. LOL). I hope I didn't give the impression that I thought it was that simple.

I don't think anyone here is competent to speak authoritatively about Newman's historical context. I think I'm probably the most knowledgeable person here on the subject of 19th-century intellectual history (though I won't fight for the crown if there's a challenger), but I don't claim to be an expert.

Agreed again. I hope I wasn't presenting myself as an expert, just as someone offering something that seems to me to be a necessary part of the discussion.

thoughtspot said...

I'm sorry if I seemed to treat any Catholic doctrine with contempt. I did treat certain things as as shared ground between us, but I did so with a) the willingness to clarify if some of it didn't sound obvious to you, and b) the willingness to back up if it really didn't reflect shared ground.

First, I must say that I didn't know the topic was "the infallibility of certain doctrinal pronouncements of the Catholic Church." I don't (at present) have any good reason to think this is true or helpful, but I'm not assuming it is wrong, either.

I thought the question was the doctrinal purity of the church. If by "church" you mean its offices and pronouncements, I haven't even begun to discuss (either way) whether they are infallible. I, however, was talking about the church itself, which is a body of which all Christians are members. To argue that the church is doctrinally infallible sounds, to me, equivalent to saying that the members of the church do not think things that are in doctrinal error. This statement, as I'm sure you'll agree, simply is not true--not of the church worldwide, not of the RC in particular, and not even of RC leaders. That's all I was intending to address.

I still haven't heard your arguments for the infallibility of--what? If you say, RC teaching, you must specify which teachings (I'm ignorant enough to think you mean everything any RC has taught.) And you must explain why the whole distinction between pronouncements made ex cathedra and other teachings, etc., is helpful. I may be too ignorant for that discussion.

I only meant to point out (humbly, I thought!) that "all or nothing" is an essential character of calling something "infallible"; that the people we can actually point to (or, in the case of Scripture, the documents we can actually point to), do seem to have what (on the evidence) appear to be errors; and that arguments for infallibility require faith. That doesn't make them ludicrous, any more than Christianity is ludicrous; it does mean that they are (in some sense) a priori, based on some (epistemological?) need for infallibility, rather than on an a posteriori judgment that we have actually examined all the evidence and failed to find errors.

I myself have enjoyed an epistemology in which I can do without infallibility entirely. But certainly my epistemology doesn't disprove infallibility; it just reduces the lure of arguments that God "must have" kept something infallible, all or nothing, without messiness.

Dave Armstrong said...

cparks wrote:

>Asking clarification questions about what appears wrong to you helps; I generally respond very well to that. Picking them apart as if they were theses to be defended in toto doesn't; I generally don't respond very well to that. FWIW.

Okay; sure. In what way is development the equivalent or near-equivalent of evolution, if the latter is understood to mean the grand theory of macroevolution, as outlined in one of my replies?

cparks said...

In what way is development the equivalent or near-equivalent of evolution, if the latter is understood to mean the grand theory of macroevolution, as outlined in one of my replies?

LOL I admire your persistance Dave, and also what is obviously a sincere attempt to communicate. Nevertheless, the specific reason why I don't want to discuss development in general with you, as I've stated both here and elsewhere recently, is that there are issues I deem relevant that you don't. As a result, I simply can't discuss development who doesn't believe that this "broader trend" has any bearing on the topic and does believe that Newman merely added a few particulars to a Vincentian Canon and, further, that the Vicentian Canon itself isn't also a subject of legitimate debate.

So, I appreciate the effort, really. But for you, the matter seems to be settled. Which is fine, I guess. It just means we don't have anything to discuss, unless we're going to just try to convince each other what is and isn't relevant. That doesn't interest me. Which isn't a crime, it just is what it is.

Dave Armstrong said...

This discussion is exhausting me. I don't think we'll accomplish much unless we choose to narrow down the subject matter and wrangle about particulars of fact or biblical teaching, where we can grab onto something definite, concrete, identifiable, verifiable, etc.

The methodologies of discussion are so vastly different that I don't know how to overcome them. I had or have no intention at all of getting into the extremely complex Catholic perspective on infallibility. I started by asking a simple question about whether y'all thought God would likely preserve a Church free from doctrinal error, or (failing that), how much error would He allow? That was never answered directly, as I recall (at least not to my satisfaction), and instead, we're all over the ballpark talking about 100 different things.

I think this is what happens when folks have very different starting-points, whether epistemologically (in the broad sense of the word!!!) or their initial faith premise or whatever one wishes to call it. The more different those are, the more difficult it is to have constructive discussion (I think, in direct proportion to how broad the subject matter is).

Even small changes in premises lead to very large differences down the line, just as a slight turn in a ship's rudder will land one perhaps thousands of miles away from where one would have ended up.

So it seems necessary to bring discussions between different parties (here we have Anglican, Catholic, and Orthodox - if thoughtspot is in one of those categories too) down to a very particular level, with some kind of shared premise or resolution for debate which makes sense to all; e.g.,:

1) Did St. Irenaeus believe in the perpetual virginity of Mary?

or:

2) Does the Bible teach a congregational form of governmment?

or:

3) Did all major Protestant denominations believe that contraception was a grave sin before 1930?

or:

4) Is it true that Protestants more often forbade the Mass in their territories than Catholics prohibited Protestant worship?

[My answers: likely yes, no, yes, and yes :-)]

I thought that my initial queries were of a quite limited subject matter and purview, but it hasn't worked out that way, in terms of where the discussion has led. Different strokes; I have no problem with that (in the sense of claiming it is wrong or something). It's just a matter of taste, style, and discussion methodology.

But personally, I am becoming less and less motivated to continue this "thread" (whatever it can be said to be about anymore) from sheer exhaustion (esp. after my latest long reply to Edwin) and some frustration (given my own preferences of how it should have proceeded to be more constructive).

When that happens (again, speaking just for myself), I find it best to narrow the topic way down to something that can be discussed pro and con, without lots of other related issues being thrown in, so that it becomes overwhelming.

Actually, there may be some common ground here with what cparks was saying, about asking more specific questions rather than dwelling on theories and grand hypotheses all at once. I think that is a wise approach when there are conflicting premises, and to some extent, even worldviews (not to mention, ecclesiologies) swirling around.

Dave Armstrong said...

Well, I tried, didn't I? I asked a question which (so I thought) seemed perfectly relevant from cparks' perspective, but he didn't wanna answer it, and went further and said that there was nothing further that we could discuss regarding development (implied: because I won't read a whole book by Barzun which was devoted to Marx, Wagner, and Darwin and perhaps only tangentially at best to Newman and development per se).

I find that funny, too, cparks, and this was exactly what I was talking about, when I alluded to your reluctance to dialogue in the past. You make these decisions that suddenly you are not interested because the discussion goes in a way that you don't care for.

To address something else you raise: whether I am convinced (or you are convinced) of something is a perfect irrelevancy to me, in terms of whether something is worthwhile to discuss.

I was a very convinced Protestant before I converted to Catholicism. If I had had the opinion then that Catholicism was worthless to discuss because I was already very happy and convinced as a Protestant, then I would have never converted because I would have cut off the necessary information and worldview that in due course persuaded me to change my mind.

Now granted, I am sort of "burned out" regarding this present discussion, too, but it is for very different reasons (because it is so broad and because differences of premises make it difficult to achieve an orderly progression of thoughts and ideas to debate).

It has nothing to do with your apparent rationale of "Dave is convinced that Newman is right and that Barzun and the comparison to evolution is goofy and so we have nothing further to talk about."

In other words, I am more concerned about consensus on method of how to proceed in dialogue, whereas you seem much more concerned about specific subject matter, and are very particular about what you deem worthwhile to talk about and what is to you a waste of time. There's nothing wrong with that. I admire folks who are concerned with time management and good stewardship of time. But it makes it a bit frustrating with you and I.

Thus we just sort of pass in the night in terms of subject matter that we both would want to talk about. I think that's a shame because you are a sharp, insightful guy (also generally cordial) and I always enjoy interacting with those because I learn a lot and get challenged.

If you come up with something, then, that you think we could both profitably discuss without it being (from where I sit) prematurely cut off, please let me know. I find it very difficult to believe that we can find nothing to profitably discuss.

And, per my last post, I would prefer (speaking to all) to deal with a much more specific, concrete subject matter. Then maybe I wouldn't feel so burned out and exhausted (which is relatively rare for me, given the vast amounts of writing that I do).

cparks said...

Dave, I don't think we should try Edwin's patience on this. It's his blog, after all, and it occurs to me that he may not appreciate us taking up so much bandwidth bickering. If I decide I want to bicker more, I'll go to your blog. LOL

Seriously, it's as simple as this: you don't have to come up with any new questions. Edwin agreed with me that "Newman's interest in development is part of a broader 19th-century trend. "

It's that broader trend I'm interested in discussing. If you're not, that's fine.

But please don't decline to address the issue that I initially raised (and I stated clearly that it was the only issue I was interested in discussing, as everything else has been sufficiently beaten to death, from my perspective), raise another issue, and then call me a spoil sport for not being interested in your question.

In any case, it wasn't addressed to you anyway. I stated clearly that I expressed my opinion "to forestall any assertions of my objection to development just because I'm Orthodox" in the context of my asking Edwin about his statements on development.

So it's not like I jumped into a discussion on development with you and then decided I didn't want to discuss development with you.

cparks said...

Then again, the problem may simply be that I can't properly construct a sentence in the English language. I said, "to forestall any assertions of my objection to development just because I'm Orthodox." Of course, I meant "to forestall any assertions that I'm objecting to development just because I'm Orthodox."

Yikes.

Dave Armstrong said...

Hi cparks,

I have tried to be polite to you and to address your concerns as best I could, within the framework of my own beliefs in an area I am pretty well acquainted with. I even apologized and offered several quite sincere compliments. I won't descend into potshots or an unhelpful sort of sarcasm.

And just for the record, I have never claimed that Newman was totally immune from the intellectual trends of his time; I simply denied that development is evolution or that Darwin's theory played a key or decisive role in Newman's.

For heaven's sake: the Essay on Development was published in 1845, and Darwin's Origin of Species in 1859. And some semblance of evolutionism was written about at least as far back as Augustine.

The most profound intellectual influences on Newman, as far as I know, were Butler (1692-1752), Locke (1632-1704), the Fathers in general, and St. Vincent in particular - with regard to doctrinal development. None of them were 19th-century figures.

It's quite possible to be most influenced by figures from earlier centuries, just as Aquinas' largest influences were Augustine and Aristotle, and just as many modern-day Calvinists and confessional Lutherans' most profound influences are John Calvin / Francois Turretin and Martin Luther / Melanchthon / Chemnitz, etc.

My own biggest influence is Cardinal Newman himself, who died 115 years ago. So it is by no means self-evident that just because one lives in a certain time period, that their most profound, inescapable influences are current-day figures.

In a way, all of us Christians are throwbacks and intellectual anachronisms, because we reject much of the nonsense and hogwash which passes for knowledge these days, and are oftentimes steeped in the medieval and/or patristic periods, not to mention also the apostolic, of course.

Dave Armstrong said...

For a copiously-documented survey of Newman's philosophical influences and commitments, I would recommend a paper I put together:

Questions & Answers on Cardinal Newman's Philosophical & Epistemological Commitments (Contra Tim Enloe)

(http://socrates58.blogspot.com/2004_10_17_socrates58_archive.html#109825395597249132)

Among many many facts derived from various scholars, I argued that Newman was (as with most geniuses) much more ahead of his time than he was a mere product of it. He anticipated both phenomenology and analytic philosophy. Articles have been written, e.g., about his affinity with the method and thought of philosopher Michael Polanyi. Here are a few quotes:

"Then there is the Grammar's method that looks very similar to what later took by storm the philosophical and theological scene under the name phenomenology. It stands for a systematic aversion, to use a Pauline phrase again, to reasoned assurance about things that do not appear, that is, are not phenomena. Finally, there is the perspective of the Grammar, a perspective of unabashed personalism."

(Stanley Jaki, "Meditation on Newman's Grammar of Assent," Faith and Reason, Spring 1989. (http://www.ewtn.com/library/THEOLOGY/FR89101.htm)

Anthony Kenny, philosopher and President of the British Academy, gives a much more accurate appraisal of Newman's philosophical acumen, foresight, and influence:

"In the analytic tradition, which is dominant here and in much of the United States, the beginning of modern philosophy is often taken to be the writing, by Gottlob Frege, of an essay entitled Begriffschrift in 1879.

". . . Ten years before the Begriffschrift, in the Grammar of Assent, Newman had made many of the same distinctions which Frege was to make, sometimes in the same terms, sometimes in different terms. Newman distinguished between the apprehension of a proposition and assent to a proposition, between the notional or logical content of a proposition and the realization of its content in the imagination. But whereas Frege disjoined logic from psychology in order to discard the psychology, Newman disjoined the two to downgrade the logic. Unknown to Newman, the logic which he downgraded was in its last days.

". . . in recent decades professional philosophers in the analytic tradition have become interested in the topics which concerned him.

". . . Wittgenstein turned in his last years to the traditional problems of epistemology, seen from a new standpoint. His posthumously published On Certainty covers many of the same topics as the Grammar of Assent, uses many of the same illustrations, and draws some of the same conclusions.

"The most influential philosopher of religion in the analytic tradition at the present time, Alvin Plantinga of Notre Dame University, has devoted much of his best work to the question which is at the centre of Newman's book: How can religious belief be justified, given that the evidence for its conclusions seems so inadequate to the degree of its commitment?

(Kenny, Anthony, "Newman as a Philosopher of Religion," pp. 98-122, in David Brown, editor, Newman: A Man For Our Time, Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Publishing, 1990, 98-100)

For much much more, see the paper. I think it aundantly verifies that a simplistic reading of Newman's development as some kind of equivalent of Darwinian evolution must be rejected.

Nor is Newman an "a priori rationalist," rightly understood. In fact, he was quite the contrary, with strong affinities to nominalist thought, Anselm, etc. He was not a scholastic at all, Newman wrote in his most philosophical work, Grammar of Assent, contra Edwin's assertion in his lat post above:

"General laws are not inviolable truths; much less are they necessary causes."

And:

". . . as to reasonings in concrete matters, they are never more than probabilities, and the probability in each conclusion which we draw is the measure of our assent to that conclusion . . . Abstract argument is always dangerous . . . I prefer to go by facts."

Biographer Ian Ker wrote about him:

". . . it was clear to him that syllogistic reasoning would not solve the problem he had attempted to meet."

Fr. Jaki stated:

"He has more scorn than praise for the universals."

And:

"For him universals are wholly subservient to individual things.

". . . Newman's thinking is poles apart from Kantianism, and even from that Aquikantianism that is transcendental Thomism, as shown by his flat declaration: 'By means of sense we gain knowledge directly.' The Kantian principle whereby the mind's categories create reality is contradicted by Newman's statement: 'We reason in order to enlarge our knowledge of matters, which do not depend on us for being what they are.' "

Ian Ker highlights Newman's goal in his Grammar of Assent:

"Newman insists that his purpose is not metaphysical, like that of the idealists who defend the certainty of knowledge against sceptical empiricists, but is 'of a practical character, such as that of Butler in his Analogy', namely, to ascertain the nature of inference and assent."

The famous historian of philosophy Frederick Copleston explains:

". . . when he is reflecting on grounds for belief in God, he tends to neglect impersonal metaphysical arguments addressed simply to the intellect and to concentrate on the movement of the mind which, in his opinion, brings a man up against God as a present reality, as manifested in the voice of conscience . . . He does not profess to provide demonstrations modelled on those of mathematics. Given this approach, it is not surprising that the name of Newman has often been linked with that of Pascal.

". . . As for Platonism, which in certain respects he found congenial, Newman's knowledge of it seems to have been obtained mainly from certain early Christian writers and the Fathers."

Newman wrote:

Newman wrote:

". . . universals are ever at war with each other; because what is called a universal is only a general; because what is only general does not lead to a necessary conclusion . . . Let units come first, and (so-called) universals second; let universals minister to units, not units be sacrificed to universals.

"Each thing has its own nature and its own history. When the nature and the history of many things are similar, we say that they have the same nature; but there is no such thing as one and the same nature; they are each of them itself, not identical, but like. A law is not a fact, but a notion."

(Grammar, 223-224)

And:

". . . deductions have no power of persuasion. The heart is commonly reached, not through the reason, but through the imagination, by means of direct impressions, by the testimony of facts and events, by history, by description."

And:

". . . Logic makes but a sorry rhetoric with the multitude; first shoot round corners, and you may not despair of converting by a syllogism . . . Logicians are more set upon concluding rightly, than on right conclusions. They cannot see the end for the process . . . man is not a reasoning animal; he is a seeing, feeling,
contemplating, acting animal."

(Grammar of Assent, 89-92)

If anyone is trying to figure out where I come down on all these issues, I concur with Newman on almost every point. My own thinking has been caricatured (in the course of my now 340+ debates) times without number by folks trying to put me into a box in order to casually dismiss what I am trying to argue.

I do, however, like the teleological (design) and cosmological arguments for God quite a bit, and they come from the Thomist school of apologetics, which was quite foreign to Cardinal Newman. I incorporate ideas in my apologetics from many different schools, since I believe that the force and compulsion of a belief derives from the strength of accumulated evidences of many different kinds.

phillywalker said...

Sorry to barge in with an astoundingly uninformed question. All this talk about the infallible doctrines of the RC got me to wondering: where can I find the book or books in which these doctrines are set forth? Is there some kind of list, like all the decisions of all the Councils plus all the Papal bulls, or something like that?

Is there an official set of agreed-upon infallible doctrines somewhere, and maybe a supplementary list of probably-true-but-not-definitely-true doctrines?

Again, I am actually enjoying the comments very much. Thank you, Contarini!

dave armstrong said...

cparks continues haggling over stuff on my blog. I thought it was important to clarify my response to one particular thing here, since most of the prior discussion (and seemingly, ruffled feathers) took place here. If it is out of place according to Edwin, my apologies. Personally, I haven't seen Edwin shut down comments, and after all, the topic has to do with development, which was part of the post (as indicated by its title).

======================

cparks a day or two ago:

". . . I see no essential difference between Newman and Origin of Species)"

(cited in the post immediately below). ---i.e., on my blog; it is present in these comments.

me (describing the above): . . . a simplistic reading of Newman's development as some kind of equivalent of Darwinian evolution must be rejected.

cparks: I never said that.

logic and the English language:

cparks: "no essential difference"

me, describing how cparks put it:

"some kind of equivalent"

no essential difference = some kind of equivalent

Y'all be the judge if those two descriptions are similar enough for most reasonable folks to wonder why cparks denies that he stated such a thing. I don't, however, question his current statement that he didn't mean to.

All I'm saying is that a normal interpretation of some of his words leads straightforwardly to such a conclusion, and that he has no grounds to get all ticked off about an interpretation of his words that I would wager 90 out of 100 people would make.

cparks still wants to argue and make out that I am some oddball for pressing this? Well, how about we check out A Dictionary of Synonyms and Antonyms (Joseph Devlin, New York: Popular Library, Inc., 1961 edition):

If one looks up difference (p. 70), one finds as antonyms (i.e., opposites) the following words:

"agreement, similarity, similitude, assent, consent, concurrence, accord, accordance, harmony, amity, concord, congruity, unison, union."

Thus, if one uses the phrase "no essential difference," one is (to apply simple logic and English grammar) also claiming that an idea is essentially in agreement, similarity, similitude, assent, consent, concurrence, accord, accordance, harmony, amity, concord, congruity, unison, or union with another idea.

"some kind of equivalent" is clearly another synonym of these terms. It wasn't even definitely stated on my part ("some kind of"), so I would submit that virtually no one would deny the close similarity of thought here.

Unfortunately, equivalent is not listed in this work.

This whole thing is much ado about nothing. I was a bit harsh and blunt at first out of a legitimate frustration at yet another misrepresentation of Newmanian development, and I apologized (it had nothing to do with sarcasm), and tried to balance it off with compliments and an effort to meet cparks on ground that he had just explained was more amenable to him.

But that was not enough for cparks. He blew me off nicely at first, but the incipient hostility latent in his recent remarks suggests that something is in play here beyond the ideas being debated. It's not for me to figure out exactly what it is (nor do I care to), but I know when someone is reacting in ways that go far beyond the ideas, to other elements which interfere with an objective appraisal of competing ideas.

Here he is denying that he "said" (wrote, in this context) something of a certain nature (a comparison of a with b). But he certainly did express it, and I have shown exactly how he did so. It may have been poorly expressed; he may have written something in haste that he doesn't mean, and would change upon reflection; lots of things are possible. That's all fine and well and good. But he still wrote what he wrote, and I did not distort it when I described it in terms that were synonyms.

People react to others' words. Words mean things. Logic and grammar exist to help us define and distinguish and understand words and thoughts and how they relate to each other. I don't apologize for delving into this. This is what has to be done when disputes come down to nitpicking about words. Otherwise, mutual misunderstandings continue and that does nobody any good.

dave armstrong said...

hi philly,

It's not an "astoundingly uninformed question" at all! :-)

The best source I know (esp. for laymen) is Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, by Ludwig Ott (4th edition published by TAN Books, Rockford, Illinois, 1974).

He starts out by explaining the various levels of dogmatic certainty. Many folks are unaware that the Catholic Church distinguishes between various levels of infallibility itself, with the famous ex cathedra being the very highest and the infallibility of the ordinary magisterium being an example of a lower-level infallibility.

Catholics are bound to accept dogmas under any of these categories (a thing which has been cynically, ruthlessly or ignorantly exploited by liberal or dissenting Catholics who wish to reject certain Catholic dogmas that they don't care for).

But anyway, after explaining the different levels of authority, Ott then presents a systematic theology of various doctrines, by giving simple one-line propositions or doctrines and then classifying them (de fide dogma being the highest in the book). That allows one to see how authoritative different Catholic doctrines are, according to the Catholic Church.

Then there is Joseph Denzinger's Sources of Catholic Dogma, but it doesn't make the helpful distinctions that Ott makes, and merely lists dogmatic documents.

thoughtspot said...

Dave, is it possible that because you are an apologist (trying to find the tightest defenses for something you hold to be true) and the rest of us are musers (pointing out things that seem true to us) that you may occasionally miss points that seem clear to the rest of us? That you may place a lot of weight on our not answering your carefully constructed question while we're still musing about whether it's a helpful question at all? Or you may delve into contradictions and distinctions while we're trying to decide whether a given insight (e.g., linking Newman's view of progress to the evolutionary thought common to his culture) may have some truth to it?

My own attempt to make a more careful, specific, and debatable claim about development would be this: Both Protestants and Catholics affirm things doctrinally, even in official church settings, that would not have been dreamed of by the first-century Christians (my field of study) or by the first 2d/ 3d century Christians (Edwin's field of study). I know of no fair reason not to call these doctrines innovations. I know of no neutral ground for determining which of these innovations are "in continuity" or "developments" of earlier doctrines--much less of determining which ones are "infallible."

Certainly the official RC line is that the official RC line is correct. (Surprise, surprise!) But the average RC (in my experience) seems to think that his own church is mostly right most of the time, just as I think mine is mostly right most of the time, in a humbler fashion.

dave armstrong said...

hi thought,

>Dave, is it possible that because you are an apologist (trying to find the tightest defenses for something you hold to be true) and the rest of us are musers (pointing out things that seem true to us) that you may occasionally miss points that seem clear to the rest of us?

Sure, no doubt. We're all subject to force of habit. But of course I might dispute what exactly you think I have "missed" presently.

>That you may place a lot of weight on our not answering your carefully constructed question while we're still musing about whether it's a helpful question at all?

Hey, I felt that cparks was giving me a hard time, with (almost certainly, in my opinion) a personal animosity behind it, so I thought it was necessary to explain that particular thing, which was tedious and boring. In any event, I see nothing wrong with applying logic and dictionary definitions to something. That is not a method confined to apologetics.

If you observed how I interacted with cparks, you saw that I made a good faith attempt (after my apology) to meet him where he wanted to be met. But he blew me off, and has continued with mildly-veiled insults on my blog. So my last lengthy post was a detailed reply to one of his unjustified charges.

>Or you may delve into contradictions and distinctions while we're trying to decide whether a given insight (e.g., linking Newman's view of progress to the evolutionary thought common to his culture) may have some truth to it?

I know something about Newman, mand I am telling you that this is nonsense (that it is the equivalent of evolution). Edwin explained why. It isn't rocket science. It's pretty simple. As for progress and 19th century ideas generally-speaking, I have already stated that I don't deny that there was some influence.

I just don't think it was all that significant (i.e., the dispute here is not black vs. white, but over various shades of grey), let alone the leading influences on Newman's thought, and I have explained why, with much documentation from one of my papers.

But neither cparks nor anyone else has been willing to interact with the points I have raised. So what can I say? If you disagree with what I have argued, you are free to explain why. That would be good. Instead, we are reduced to nitpicking about method (and alas, words in some instances), which usually spells the death of any potentially fruitful conversation.

>My own attempt to make a more careful, specific, and debatable claim about development would be this: Both Protestants and Catholics affirm things doctrinally, even in official church settings, that would not have been dreamed of by the first-century Christians (my field of study)

I agree. But (here is my own explanation of that) they wouldn't have been because Christians in those times were far too early to have understood the more complex reflections that came about due to centuries of reflection. No first or second century Christian could have grasped the complicated Chalcedonian Christology and trinitarianism (even many Christians who lived in that period failed to accept or grasp it: the Monophysites and Nestorians, etc., and later the Monothelites).

Yet the doctrines of the Holy Trinity or the Deity of Christ are no innovations (as I assume you would agree). So I must dissent from what you say here, that we are talking about innovations rather than developments.

>or by the first 2d/ 3d century Christians (Edwin's field of study).

To a lesser extent than in the post-apostolic age, but yes, it was still a relatively early stage. Plus, one figures that (from a Protestant perspective) it also took 15 centuries to grasp supposedly elementary and altogether biblically perspicuous claims such as sola fide and sola Scriptura. :-) :-)

>I know of no fair reason not to call these doctrines innovations.

I just gave one (I think) rather obvious example to the contrary. I could provide many more, but that would involve getting into particulars. I think the only way to properly resolve this dispute is to either 1) laboriously go over the principles of development and how they are arrived at (Edwin and I started that years ago but it was never resolved one way or the other, including my recent exchanges with him), or 2) to examine some individual doctrine and to discuss what elements were legitimate developments of it and which were corruptions. Newman does both in his Essay on Development.

If you would be willing to engage in either discussion, nothing (in terms of interaction with opposing ideas) would interest me more, as development has long been my favorite theological topic (and of course it was key in my own conversion).

>I know of no neutral ground for determining which of these innovations are "in continuity" or "developments" of earlier doctrines--much less of determining which ones are "infallible."

That requires one of the two huge discussions I mentioned above to determine pro or con. I don't see how you can contend this, given the actual course Christian theology has taken, even considering only the doctrines that we all hold in common.

>Certainly the official RC line is that the official RC line is correct. (Surprise, surprise!)

This has nothing to do with that anymore than Newman's Essay did. He wrote it while still an Anglican. This is about serious consideration of particular Christian doctrines and what is or isn't consistent with them: something which has always been done by all kinds of Christians without necessary consideration of development.

Secondly, it is an historical question which can be verified or falsified by historical fact (inasmuch as we can ascertain same, within historiographical guidelines for determining historical "fact"), just as any other historical dispute proceeds.

>But the average RC (in my experience) seems to think that his own church is mostly right most of the time, just as I think mine is mostly right most of the time, in a humbler fashion.

Of course, but again, none of that is required here. I rarely appeal merely to Catholic Church authority in my apologetics. I appeal to historical fact, reason, and the Bible. At the end of that inquiry, of course I might state that this is what the Catholic Church teaches, and that it has just been supported by the above three elements of proof and evidence, but the authority itself formed no part of my actual apologetic argument.

What is your church, by the way?

Thanks for your comments, and let me know if you want to do a serious discussion on one or more of the very important questions that you raised.

Dave Armstrong said...

Here is the highly-related discussion between Edwin and I:

Preliminary Dialogue With an Anglican on the Nature of Legitimate Development of Doctrine

http://ic.net/~erasmus/RAZ453.HTM

I've also posted the second part of my last exchange with thoughtspot on my blog:

http://socrates58.blogspot.com/2005/11/preliminary-dispute-over-nature-of.html

thoughtspot said...

Hey, Dave. Thanks. You've pretty much cleared up for me what you're discussing and why. I'm not sure how much I'd agree with or not, but much of it isn't my area of interest enough for me to have done the "homework" necessary for the discussion. (BTW, I wasn't assuming that an "innovation" was invalid; I wasn't opposing it to "development.")

As to my own "church"--well, I belong to the only church there is (as, I trust, do you). But my own "chunk" of it is called the Christian Churches (Restoration Movement). We are an "ad fontes" group who are slightly uncomfortable with leaning too heavily on doctrinal reflections that the first-century Christians "could not have grasped." So development is less important to me than to you.

My question is always--if I believe, and teach, the doctrinal content that Paul's churches believed and taught, why isn't that enough? I'm not saying that everything subsequent--from Chalcedonian Trinitarianism (with which I think I agree) to Catholic doctrines of the papacy(with which I think I disagree)--is be a corruption. But surely it is most important, and even sufficient, to believe/teach things that Paul COULD have grasped.

Restoring first-century docrines is, I know, a debatable project. But the project is (in its own way) interesting and (I think) a more solid basis for truth and unity than choosing between competing doctrines neither of which 1st-century Christians could have understood. So I'm a Biblical scholar more than a historical theologian.

Thanks for the discussion. Have fun.

Dave Armstrong said...

Hi thought,

>My question is always--if I believe, and teach, the doctrinal content that Paul's churches believed and taught, why isn't that enough?

Of course it is enough. The Bible is materially sufficient for doctrine and salvation. I believe that as a Catholic. I deny, however, that it is formally sufficient as a rule of faith, which is a different question altogether, involving the role and place and relative authority of Church and Tradition as well as Scripture.

>I'm not saying that everything subsequent--from Chalcedonian Trinitarianism (with which I think I agree) to Catholic doctrines of the papacy (with which I think I disagree)--is a corruption. But surely it is most important, and even sufficient, to believe/teach things that Paul COULD have grasped.

I don't disagree. Everything was present in the apostles (what we call the "apostolic deposit") that was later developed by theologians and saints. The essentials or "kernels" were there, from which later orthodox reflection derived. We simply understand some things more deeply with the reflection of centuries. Theology is not a static enterprise.

As for St. Paul himself, it is not necessarily the case that he wouldn't have been able to grasp the Chalcedonian theology of God. He happened to have been philosophically trained and I think he would have readily understood it if it had been explained to him by a hypothetical visitor from the 5th century.

On the other hand, he may have simply never have thought of such things as were discussed 400 years later (just as many Fathers previous to that did not, if their lack of treating certain topics is any indication). That is no reflection on him, anymore than a lack of understanding of Einstein's relativity by Isaac Newton diminishes the latter's import and profound influence on later physics and astronomy.

It's also true that St. Paul, being an apostle, and an instrument of divine inspiration when he wrote Scripture, may have likely understood a far more complex theology, but simplified it in his writing because of the purpose of the New Testament and the capacity of the great bulk of those who would read it through the centuries.

Fascinating to ponder . . .