The Dongola Times

(Anachronistic) Dispatches from the Kingdom of Makuria.
24th of November, 2014

Summa Contra Papism

Another one, against a Roman Catholic. There are actually two interlocutors, and I have mangled the order up a bit, but since I am only posting my side of the debate, and I quote the interlocutors, it should be fine.

You say "RCC and Reformed alike believe that God communicates through human vessels (and jackasses and other means when it pleases him) ... and that that gift extends to defining dogma."

So how does RCC disqualify non-conciliar authority, as indeed it does? How do they disqualify dogma as defined by jackasses like myself, as indeed they do? I know that they do; but by what "metric"?

"1 Tim 3, I'm not sure I follow the complaint, other than you're irked that Catholics oft cite this verse as in conformity with RCC ecclesiology."

I'm irked that they are inconsistent, since they cite it to establish the RCC's authority over the Scriptures, while in fact it is this self-same Scripture that they rely on for this claim of authority over the Scripture. I would not mind if they were of fideist confession, like the Reformed; but they are not. Aquinas would be screaming right now. Remember that [interlocutor] here is trying to say that Scripture is not self-attesting, so he is already firmly committed to the glaring fallacy (it is in his blog header, and this post of his denies self-attesting Scripture), as indeed is the whole RCC.

I wonder, in fact, how it is that his blog posts, and your comments, are self-attesting, based on the by-line, but that the "Thus Saith the Lord" of the Almighty needs a bunch of Italians to sign off.

"I'm not calling you a jackass, silly.;)"

I know; I am claiming the title. Rightfully. :o)

"The RCC position is that God speaks through scripture as well as through the councils."

The RCC denies that God speaks to individuals through Scripture. It is that "private interpretation" argument they throw around. It is how they justify locking the Bible away, and distributing encyclicals in its stead.

Unfortunately, the RCC also says that God cannot speak through the Scriptures unless first He has spoken through the councils. This is, in fact, the argument [interlocutor] is pushing in the post.

"I think Catholics cite that verse to Protestants because it's from an authority we both accept."

True. But the Roman Catholic application of it is necessarily inconsistent.

"I simply don't see that the canon has been established in any way but through a deliberative Church process (and some tweaking by Protestants on doctrinal grounds some 1500 years into the game)."

The councils and synods that ever deliberated on Scripture all recognised it as pre-existing; they never claimed to have birthed it, but to merely have recognised it. The deliberative process of which you speak was always aware that it had precedents in recognising Scripture, and indeed was always careful not to be novel in any way. Canon was emphatically not established by deliberative Church process.

As for the tweaking of which you speak, that the Protestants allegedly did, in fact the Roman Catholics were the very first to reject the Apocrypha. St Jerome was the very first to reject the Apocrypha; Luther and the others merely followed him. In his case, too, he was confessedly not doing anything novel, but following a righteous precedent from the Jews. However, he, like Luther after him, included the Apocrypha; just not on the same level with the 66.

"The Protestant position (or Reformed, more precisely) seems to have shot an arrow and drawn a bullseye around it."

That is always the sensible evaluation of every faith-based progression. However, it doesn't prove wrongness.

"It seems unbelievable to me that the Spirit self attests on the canon but bugs out when it was time to help parse out soteriology and an understanding of social mission, liturgy, Eucharist, and that there'd be compelling unity on these matters."

There is no unity on canon, either. Some are reprobate; some have to be. Besides, just because you are not wrong on canon does not mean you should be right on everything (see Second-Temple Judaism versus 1st-Century Christianity). Having the canon, you compound the sin by refusing the repentance to which that very canon calls you. Having the New Testament, and the example of Christ, you compound the offense and prove the wrongness by not acting in agreement with the Christ of the New Testament, who, being found as a man, argued from the Scriptures by the Spirit. And also accepting that the Scriptures are good for the edification and regulation of the Church (as Paul told this Timothy whose letter you quote often), you still insist on taking instruction from the cogitations of mere men instead.

See how [interlocutor] argues in paragraph 2: "As Catholics, we'd argue that they can't. An often overlooked point is that the Bible was written to the Church." And yet the Church never needed permission from someone to call the letters Scripture before they were (rightly) considered as such.

"Namely, how can individuals come to know what is and isn't Scripture without the assistance of the Christian community?"

By the witness of the Spirit.

"If each of us knows the canon of Scripture because of a supernatural gift from the Holy Spirit (given to each of us personally), why do we need Scripture anyways?"

Because we were not there at the time of the testaments, and the testaments are extant. If they were not extant, we would still be led by the Spirit, but without the Scriptures to recognise. We are bound to recognise them because they exist as the word of God. God having committed His word to writing, His Spirit in us recognises it of necessity.

"It seems to me that one of the reasons for Scripture is that we're not all equipped with these sorts of prophetic gifts."

Even the prophets would not recognise the scriptures if they were not there. But if they were there, they would; that is, they did.

"If the Holy Spirit is revealing the 66 Book canon, why did nobody prior to the Reformation know this?"

They did.

"first, nobody had the 66 Book canon."

They did. Your own Jerome will testify against you, since he had it.

"even those who argued that we should have the 66 Book canon did so on the basis of Jewish praxis, not because they thought the Holy Spirit gave them the secret answer."

Is this to affirm that the Holy Spirit's "secret" answer cannot be "just take the Jewish canon"?

"If the Holy Spirit is revealing the 66 Book canon, why didn't Luther or Calvin hold to this canon?"

Luther and Calvin are not normative in any denomination (or even to themselves). Do you think I use "Luther" and "Holy Spirit" interchangeably? Plus, I never mention those men approvingly. I despise clay jars in general.

"For that matter, why did it take the Holy Spirit so long to reveal something so fundamental to Christianity?"

I think He was very quick with it; just some centuries. God is not slow as you and others like you think of slow.

"How could every single believer for 80% of Christian history not know that the Holy Spirit was leading us all to endorse the 66 Book canon?"

You seem obsessed with your time on Earth, as though it is the focal point of Christianity's history. God is as just with you as He is with those who lived in the fourth century, and you have no privilege. You have no more right to knowledge of the canon than they do. Many who come last will come first, and many who come first will come last. (On this, in particular, you RCs are very misled, equivocating between antiquity and orthodoxy, and citing all manner of ancient Christians, and insisting that what is ancient is right.)
And why do you charge God with unfairness in this, even when you cannot confess that the position is wrong? Does He not have the right to give everyone as much truth as He wills, in the epochs He wills? God Himself speaks of the outpouring of the Spirit in the last days; and what is that to you?

"How do you get around obviously-inspired texts like Wisdom 2?"

Inspired and canonical are not the same. I would get around Wisdom 2 the same way I get around the Letter of Aristeas, which is inspired.

I know you mean the "Son of God" quote in Wisdom 2, which I can also write in a blog post; and what then? Have you checked the original language artifacts of Wisdom? What answer do you have to those who would say that it is a Christian interpolation? Do you think your patristics were blind to skip over it entirely, rather than use it as a slam-dunk proof?

"For that matter, how can you close your own Biblical canon?"

By the Belgic Confession, which is part of my canon. Parse that. Hint:
The Bible is definite and closed: 66 books, to which all sound doctrine must conform. Scripture, on the other hand, is never closed; for you, it includes everything your pope writes, which is why I wrote last month that "for you Roman Catholics, every other encyclical and bull is legitimately regarded as scripture ... you follow sola scriptura without knowing it", and for me it is the documents that regulate faith (i.e.; the Bible, the Old Creeds, and the Three Forms).

"Are you claiming for yourself the status of a prophet?"

You were the first to use that on this page, and I was taken aback. What a ghastly way to ask: "do you have the gift of prophecy?" Yes.

"And even when he argues for the 66-Book canon, it's on the basis of Jewish consensus, not him claiming to be a prophet or personally guided by the Holy Spirit."

I am claiming it for him. That is, that his insistence on Jewish precendent was not because he was a clever textual critic, but because he was led. He never prevailed on Judith's inclusion, that the truth might be preserved for us. If all this seems as arbitrary to you as it does to my other Roman Catholic interlocutors, consider that Jewish consensus on the OT is even scriptural (Romans 9) such that, of necessity, God preserved for them--in spite of them--the books by which we shall witness to them unto life when the time is right. To "grab them by their canon," as it were. Personally, I have argued (and continue to) for the LXX. I do not agree with him on the Masoretic Text, but on the identity of the books (which the Confession affirms). And this is not because of simple textual-critical considerations, even though those hold, too.

"Can you show me a single self-proclaimed Christian from before the Reformation was saying that he or she is led by the Holy Spirit to affirm exactly these 66 Books?"

Jerome. But, what, are you entirely ignorant of the Hebrew-speaking/Jewish Christians (at least for the time they were there)? You speak of Jewish precedent in Jerome, and then ask where the Protestant precedent is, as though Jewish necessarily excludes Christian.

"You seem to be saying that the Holy Spirit is leading you personally, but that He let the entire Church fall into error on the question of the canon for 80% of its history."

Do you want me to flood you with quotes of the Spirit guiding individuals? They are more than those of the Spirit guiding the Church. But they are not mutually-exclusive. What you call 80% of Church history is nothing of the sort (because the Church's history is not done being reckoned, [interlocutor]); and even if it were, I thought I already explained that it simply would not matter. I even cited for you the parable of the workers in the vineyard, and you still bring this up.

" If the Gates of Hell overcame the entire Church for a single moment (much less, for 1600 years), this would run contrary to the clear promise of Jesus Christ."

They didn't. The Reformation is proof.

"The Belgic Confession isn't canonical ..."

Your own patristics used the word "canon" differently from modern English polemic. Canon included the creeds! Canon is simply the rule of faith. Do you consider it word games when Jesus speaks of Scripture, yet does not include the NT? Do you want us to use another word for that? Do not just oppose precision of words, just beacuse you are used to the ambiguities.

The Belgic Confession does not claim to be equal to the Bible, but rather expressly sets the Bible apart as the Bible (the way we understand it). This sound doctrine is of the Spirit, and recognised thereby. If it had claimed otherwise (as Exsurge Domine did), it would be bad toilet paper. We recognise this document as a sound rule of faith because of its orthodox faith, regarding the Bible (among other things). Nobody is at risk of heresy by subscribing to it, and it rightly orders life according to sound doctrine. The Synod of Dordt recognised this, and the spiritual man recognises these, by the Spirit, to be sacred Writings. Hence this set, the Three Forms' is a sound rule of faith--the original and only sensible meaning of "canon".

"And if, by all this, you're hinting that "Scripture" just means "Writings," then you're misunderstanding the specific use that Scripture has in a Biblical context"

No, I mean sacred writings; that is why I include the Three Forms, but not Exsurge Domine. My receipts are not Scripture. The Heidelberg Catechism is. The Bible is. The Heidelberg Catechism is not of the 66; neither is Tobit. Tobit is not scripture. Neither is Verbum Dei. Get it now?

"The issue seems to me is how historically reasonable is the self attestation model."

On the contrary, the issue is that nobody has an alternative. After all, do you not claim gnosis of the councils (or what the true Church is)? And if this charge can be laid on us, who believe in God's self-revelation, why not on you who believe in man's self-proclamation? Yet I would rather be charged with believing in God unduly, than with believing in man (at all). Even if I were to accept a council, as I do, I only do so by the testimony of the Spirit. The only consistent view of this is opposed by (and opposed to) the Roman Catholic position.

"Obviously, the Church had other wellsprings from which to draw, but not knowing if, say the Maccabbees belong in the canon or to what that canon must conform has profound doctrinal ramifications."

Why do you make a distinction between the Maccabees books (which I love, by the way), and the Qur'an? How do you decide on one so differently from the other? Most-certainly you do not have a conciliar opinion on either. (No; the Roman Catholics never actually accepted Maccabees in the way, say, the Eastern Orthodox do.)

"... and we RCs believe that it is a charism of the Church ..."

As in, you RCs claim gnosis that it is a charism of the Church. Fine. We claim gnosis that it is a charism of the Spirit-filled Christian.

"... unless you go "true Scotsman" and say well, you know, only those supporting my view of the canon are believers."

I go "true Scotsman" on the Muslims and Mormons, on this matter, and rightly-so. Roman Catholics are not somehow exempt. Of course, my Scriptures are what teach me that canon is not what defines orthodoxy, but faith in the Christ (Romans 14, for instance); if I were Roman Catholic, I would have no option by to takfiri those who disagree. However, I am arguing here for how we recognise canon, regardless of what we end up recognising. There is only one sound option. (At risk of confusing you, I prefer the readings of the LXX over the Masoretic Text readings. I use the LXX in my personal study. But only those 66 books.)

"... we do hold that you don't get to decide that, say, the "born again" passage isn't a reference to the Sacrsment of Baptism ..."

It is not you who do. There aren't many opposed meanings of Scripture. What they mean is clearly understood in various places. That X cannot be interpreted as not-X is not something you get to decide. It is something the Scriptures themselves insist on. Do you think I am free to read your comment any way I like, just because it is not hedged with anathemata?

"Lectio Divina, the Benedictine spiritual discipline, is a wonderful example of this sort of prayerful, devotional reading."

I agree; much of what is in RCC is good religion, but devoid of the gospel. I hate that the cancer of rebellious unrepentance and clinging to honourable errors is destroying the many good things about the RCC that Prots could do well to learn, copy, study, and perpetuate fiercely. Nevetheless, they seem to be left with no choice but to throw the accursed baby out with the bath-water. It is very regrettable for me personally that you guys are taking with you these good things, as you are getting cut out of the olive branch. No wonder your pope had a Muslim imam declare war on the grounds of the Vatican this year, and you are too blind to see what is coming! Revelation 2 mentions you! The Muslims are closing in on you in your lands, and your own traditions tell you that this is the form of punishment, and you still do not see.

"It's a bit like me saying "you've placed sermons over the bible.""

If I locked the Bible away from the hearers, then yes, it would have been the same.

"... a solid source of teaching. One of these, Dei Verbum, actually delves into this issue of revelation, scripture reading. Highly recommended."

Until they are recanting the heretical Exsurge Domine, I do not recommend them. Dei Verbum is no better than any other of the hundreds of similar deliberations on, many of which are better-researched, better-educated, and more-scriptural. Perhaps the biggest problem with the encyclicals is that they take themselves as seriously as the Roman Catholics take them. They could benefit more from realising they are just the ruminations of some aged Christian man, which may be right or wrong, and should be entirely subjected to the Bible.