Catholicity

Most people assume that they know what the word “Catholic” means, but in fact, it means several different things.  Some of the more common meanings are:

1. “Not Protestant.”  The Anglophone world has been dominated by Protestant varieties of Christianity for almost half a millennium, and for much of that time “Catholic” has been used as a denominational label, on a par with “Lutheran” and “Baptist.”  Of course, there are many Christians who are neither Protestant nor Catholic (I’m not thinking of Anglican proponents of a via media here, but rather thinking of Greek and Russian Orthodox, as well as Arab, Syrian, Coptic, and Assyrian branches of Christianity).

2. “Christians who like sacraments, candles, high liturgy with colorful vestments, incense, praying to saints, ecclesiastical hierarchy, and medieval theologians.”  The advantage of this definition is that it is at least positive instead of simply a rejection of Protestantism.  This is the meaning of “Catholic” in the phrase “Anglo-Catholic,” which refers to Anglicans with a fondness for “smells & bells.”  But again, many of these elements (with a different selection of medieval theologians) would characterize varieties of Eastern Christianity.

3. “Part of the Christian denomination presided over by the Roman Pope.”  This excludes both Anglo-Catholics and sede vacantists, the latter being traditionalist Roman Catholics who feel that the recent popes have deviated from traditional Catholic teaching and therefore are not valid popes.  (The name comes from the Latin sede vacante, meaning “while the [papal] throne is vacant.”)  Although a narrower definition than the preceding two, it is not necessarily that much more precise, as there are a variety of ways to define membership in the Roman Catholic Church.  The church hierarchy itself reports membership numbers which include all those baptized into the denomination, regardless of whether they still attend mass or profess to believe any aspect of doctrine, although some rigorists would exclude such nominal Catholics from their definition.

4. “The true Christian Church founded by Christ, present wherever true Christians are.”  This sense of “Catholic” opposes it to “schismatic,” people in a particular locale or region who break away from all Christians elsewhere.  This is the sense in which Augustine used the term in his writings in the 4th and 5th centuries (he certainly didn’t use the term to mean “non-Protestant”!), and is the sense in which Protestants and Orthodox as well as Catholics recite the Nicene Creed’s confession of “one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.”  It would be strange indeed for non-Roman Catholics to recite a creed saying, “I believe there is one true Church over there, and I am not part of it.”

5. In the phrases “Catholic truth” or “Catholic teaching,” it refers to teaching that is universally held among Christians, as opposed to distinctive beliefs of Christians in one area or one group.  Vincent of Lérins offered what has become the most widely accepted definition of “Catholic” in this sense: “What is believed everywhere, always, and by all.”  Of course, universals always require a scope, which Vincent does not make explicit, but “everywhere” and “always” should of course be taken to mean wherever and whenever there were Christians.  “By all” is trickier, because Vincent would presumably not have included heretics such as gnostics or schismatics such as Novatianists in his category of “all,” but if one narrows the category too much then “by all” becomes tautological: any belief is believed by all who believe it.

The contentious question, then, is what these different senses of the term “Catholic” refer to.  Basically everyone agrees that senses #1 and #2 are larger than #3 (this is empirically verifiable).  Between the Council of Trent (the Roman papacy’s answer to the Protestant Reformation) and the First Vatican Council (1868-1870), the Roman Catholic party line was that senses #3-5 simply refer to the same group of people.  They interpreted the patristic doctrine extra ecclesia nulla salus (“outside of the Church no one is saved”) as referring to the Roman Catholic Church specifically, in keeping with the teaching of Pope Boniface VIII (d. 1303) in his bull Unam Sanctam that submission to the Pope was absolutely necessary for salvation.  On this view, all true Christians were within the Roman Catholic Church (although the converse did not hold: those within the Roman Catholic Church were not necessarily true Christians), and “Catholic truth” was that body of doctrine taught by “all” the bishops of the Roman Catholic Church, i.e. the magisterium.  Protestants were ipso facto condemned.

Meanwhile Protestants took a few different lines.  Protestant theologians all (or almost all) asserted that they were part of the “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church,” which required explaining “catholic” differently than loyalty to the pope.  Since the papacy rejected almost all of the reforms proposed by Protestants, many Protestants viewed senses #3 and #4 above as mutually exclusive, although some followed Luther in allowing for a little overlap.  The lack of a unified anti-papal organization distinguished the notion of a “Catholic Church” in this sense from an institutional unity, so that shared doctrine as indicated in sense #5 became more important as a definition of Christian unity and the key to recognizing good Christians who belong to other denominations.

Eastern Orthodox (and Oriental Orthodox and the Church of the East) had long earlier concluded that submission to the Roman pope was not the defining character of the Church of Christ, and they too continue to confess into their creed that they are part of the Catholic Church.  There are different self-governing ecclesiastical hierarchies among both the Eastern Orthodox (Greek, Russian, Bulgarian, Serbian, Rum Orthodox, Georgian, etc.)  and Oriental Orthodox (Armenian, Syrian, Coptic, Ethiopic), so they too concluded that one or another hierarchy was not as important as orthodox doctrine and sacramental unity (shared communion), although they do emphasize the visible unity of the church and the apostolic succession of the bishops to a greater degree than Protestants.  It is obvious to anyone who knows Greek that the term “catholic” comes from καθ’ ὅλην ἐκκλήσιαν (“according to the whole church”) or ἡ καθ’ ὅλην γῆν ἐκκλήσια (“the church in all the land”), and makes no mention of the pope or hierarchy; “catholic doctrine” in sense #5 was understood to refer to “ecumenical councils,” that is, councils which (at least notionally) involved the entirety of the Church and whose decisions were accepted by the Church.

With the modern ecumenical movement, many Protestants dropped the requirement of shared doctrine from their definition of the Catholic (i.e. universal) Church, and have recognized other Christians with whom they have larger theological disagreements.  On this model, sense #3 of “Catholic” describes a part of the group indicated by sense #4.  On the other hand, the Roman Catholic Church at Vatican II adopted as dogma the negation of Pope Boniface VIII’s requirement: it is not absolutely necessary for salvation to be in submission to the Roman pontiff.  (This has caused conservative Catholic sources I have looked at to resolve the tension by arguing one of the following: (1) Unam Sanctam does not in fact fulfill the requirements of the Vatican I definition of papal infallibility, (2) Unam Sanctam does not mean that it is absolutely necessary for salvation to be in submission to the Roman pope, or (3) Vatican II and subsequent popes are apostates and not true Catholics).  Instead, Christians and even non-Christians of good will can be saved.  The doctrine extra ecclesia nulla salus has been reinterpreted to mean that all who are saved are in some sense (without knowing it) spiritually connected to and dependent upon the Roman Catholic Church, even if they reject and repudiate the Roman Catholic Church they know (although perhaps they can’t be virtuous enough for salvation if they reject it too vociferously).  On this view, the Roman Catholic Church (sense #3 of “Catholic”) is still the one and only universal Church (sense #4 of “Catholic”), but now both definitions have significant footnotes: the Roman Catholic Church is held to have this non-visible wing of people who are evidently outside of it but mystically inside of it, and some of them are probably Christians of other denominations (which are not therefore, as denominations, other churches or other parts of the sense #4 “Catholic” Church).  Sense #5 is still understood to be the teaching of the Roman Magisterium, although it is progressively more difficult to interpret all the various teachings throughout the ages consistently, and so some, such as Pope Boniface VIII’s Unam Sanctam, get quietly neglected.

“Ecumenical” is still a dirty word among many Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Christians, although their participation in the World Council of Churches has helped them see commonalities across Christological divisions.

Is the Roman Catholic Church the Catholic Church?  Is the Pope Catholic?  Depending upon whom you ask, the answers will vary.  But in light of varying meanings of the term “Catholic,” it is important in our ecumenical discussions not to equivocate, but to distinguish the different senses of the term, even for those of us who believe there is a common referent.

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15 comments

  1. ‘On the other hand, the Roman Catholic Church at Vatican II adopted as dogma the negation of Pope Boniface VIII’s requirement: it is not absolutely necessary for salvation to be in submission to the Roman pontiff.’

    Do you think that ‘negation’ is perhaps not the most appropriate word to use to describe what Vatican II actually said? It doesn’t seem to do justice to what the documents have to say about salvation outside the Church. For example, in the Catechism (quoting Lumen Gentium) we have the statement that:

    ‘Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it.’

    and also that:

    ‘Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience – those too may achieve eternal salvation.’

    The surrounding passages from the Cathecism can be found here:

    http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/__P29.HTM

    This doesn’t sound like a ‘negation’ of Unam Sanctum at all, but rather a deeper exploration of what role the Church has in salvation, in light of changed circumstances. I think what you’ve written is possibly a bit misleading.

    1. These passages of the Catechism are familiar to me, but they can only be “a deeper exploration of what role the Church has in salvation” instead of “a ‘negation’ of Unam Sanctam” if they are consistent with the indicated papal bull. Boniface VIII taught that “it is absolutely necessary for salvation for every human creature to be subject to the Roman pontiff,” and his language permits no caveats (“absolutely necessary,” “every human creature“). Since Vatican II, in the passages you cite, the Roman Catholic Church is teaching that it is not absolutely necessary for salvation for every human creature to be subject to the Roman pontiff. That’s what I mean by teaching “the negation of Unam Sanctam,” not its opposite in every way: the medieval Pope defined a doctrine, and the modern council has placed a “not” in front of it.

      If you can propose an interpretation of Unam Sanctam which is consistent both with what its words would have meant in its medieval context and with the teaching of Vatican II, I would be fascinated to read it! To my mind (not being a Roman Catholic), Unam Sanctam remains an obvious counter-example to Vatican I’s doctrine of papal infallibility, though the only counter-example I have found.

      1. Thanks for your reply!

        I see what you mean, but I think that what Vatican II has laid out is that the means by which each person may be subject to the Pope can be understood in a broader sense than Unam Sanctum no doubt intended (this is an important point by the way – a Pope himself may have intended one thing in a statement, but as far as I know, it does not have to be shown that his intended meaning was contradicted for papal infallibility to be undermined, only the statement itself).

        Now, as far as I can see from the above quotations from the Catechism, there is no outright contradiction of what Boniface VIII wrote, but rather an elaboration of the ways in which one might be in communion with the Church (and therefore subject to the Pope) , even without knowing it. For example, I think the documents allow for the case of someone remaining as an Anglican all their life, but still being within the Church’s folds, because they were not rejecting the office of the Pope/papal infallibility as such, but a misconceived understanding of it. The key phrase here is I think:

        ‘Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church…’

        I.e.; it depends upon what one’s conception of the Church etc is – people cannot be condemned for rejecting something that is not actually what the Church teaches (this can be due to lack of knowledge or even ulterior motives which are not consciously present to the person in question – how far one goes with this only God knows of course). The case wherein someone completely understands the claims that the Church makes and yet still rejects them is a different case altogether though, and I think that the Catechism (and Vatican II) are pretty clear on that.

        1. As I just remarked on AATW, I am surprised that you paraphrase the phrase “do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church” as “rejecting something that is not actually what the Church teaches” [sc. about itself].

          But I think the more important point, and more surprising to me, is as you note the assertion that a pope’s words may be infallible even if the intention with which the pope framed those words is false. This implies fascinating properties about the meaning of language. In particular, it seems to imply that words have an inherent truth value apart from any intent or mental structure on the part of the author. By contrast, I accept that (almost all) words are arbitrarily links between meanings and sounds (and, in writing, shapes), and therefore an utterance (or written sentence) does not have a context-independent meaning (much less truth value) but means what it means in the context where it was constructed. This is why biblical scholars expend such effort (even if often for antagonistic purposes) to clarify the context in which the scripture was revealed, rather than simply asserting that scripture as it stands has an inherent meaning accessible apart from the context (which of course includes the knowledge of the languages in which the scripture is expressed!).

          I could see the possibility of asserting that statements have inherent meaning cemented by God’s intention in them. This I take to be the basis for the ancient teaching of a sensus plenior in scripture. But the sensus plenior presumes that the human author means a part of, not something altogether different from, the divine meaning (and in particular not false!). Sensus plenior is not sensus diversus. So I have no trouble with God using a human author to say more than he knew he was saying (something like that must surely happened with the revelation of isaiah 9:6-7), but I have a problem with people claiming God used a human author to say something other than what he intended..

          In particular, I have a problem with anyone claiming that language content X means whatever they want it to mean, in defiance of the context and intent. Because the relationship of sounds to meanings is (in almost all cases) arbitrary, then any particular utterance can mean absolutely anything, if given the right cultural context. Such a context-free approach to meaning makes it simply impossible for people claim either consistency or inconsistency of any two statements, and thus reasoning about anything is impossible.

          I suppose a traditional Catholic would say it’s the job of the magisterium to clarify these earlier statements, but what you are proposing is not “clarification” but alternate (and unforeseen) reinterpretation. And the magisterial documents which supposedly clarify are themselves subject to these same limits of interpretation.

          But whenever one person thinks another has asserted something which implies that thinking is impossible, it usually means a misunderstanding has occurred. So I probably misunderstood you. Can you clarify your point about how anyone can interpret infallible papal statements that were intended by the pope who made them to communicate falsehood?

          1. With regard to your first point (which I saw on AATW and replied to there, and also in my previous reply here), it really does seem to me that many people believe the Church to teach one thing, when in fact it teaches another, and so they can therefore be described as being ignorant of Church teaching as it truly is. Even in cases when someone claims to fully understand the teaching of the Church (and to a great extent does), there may well be some subtle misinterpretation of a doctrine or some unconscious reason that a certain teaching cannot be accepted, which is preventing that person from accepting the teaching as it truly is – many converts have had this experience, wherein they felt for a long time that they fully understood such and such a teaching, but then one day they found it described slightly differently, or personal circumstances changed (or any manner of reasons) and then they saw it differently, subsequently realising that they, according to conscience, had to convert.

            As I said before, how many of these factors are operative in each person is something only God knows, but what the documents of Vatican II have taken into consideration is precisely the wide range of cultural, historical and psychological factors that play a part in one’s reasons for accepting (or not) Church teaching. They still make it clear that culpability can indeed be attributed to a person if they are rejecting it for other reasons – e.g.; if they just don’t like the teaching on contraception, or find the idea of the Magisterium to be a unwanted limit on their freedom to interpret doctrine for themselves, etc.

            This (sort of) ties into what you have said about the distinction I made between the words of a papal statement, and the possible range of meanings that could be attributed to it, because I see Vatican II in this case as clarification, and yes, you could say reinterpretation as well. The question is whether or not that reinterpretation is warranted or not.

            The comparison you make with Scripture is a good one, because as you say, the sensus plenior does (I think) presume that the plain sense of the original words means a part of, and not something altogether different from, other possible meanings. However, when author wrote a particular passage, he may well have meant a great deal more than the plain sense as we have it on the page before us, but we cannot know how much more – all we have to go on is the words. As long as further interpretations do not contradict that plain sense, then we do no violence to the text. But we cannot know any more that what the author wrote, even if they intended something much more forceful.

            Similarly, with Boniface’s statement, I do not doubt that he meant something a lot stronger than the words we have, and he could have made it a lot more unambiguous, with further statements of elaboration and clarification. But, in the Providence of God, he did not, and like the case of Scripture, the Church is thus able to reinterpret that statement in the light of the changing in understanding that I mentioned above, and changing circumstances, to widen the sense of what that statement could mean, so long as it is not contradicted.

            There are many other statements, and passages in Scripture, which, if we were to say that we have to take into account the probable intentions of the author, as well as what they wrote, then they would certainly not be reconcilable with other statements and passages. I see it as being part of the mystery of how the Holy Spirit works through flawed human beings and their free will to effect a consistency in both Scripture and Magisterium. Realising the great variety of contrary opinions that human beings would produce, He was still able to ensure that there would be no logical contradictions between their statements and writings, and thus preserve His Church from error. If one does not accept that God can do this, or that for some reason He hasn’t, then fair enough, but that is the underlying principle behind all I have suggested so far.

            I’m not sure if that will satisfy you or not, but I hope it helps to clarify my position at least 🙂

          2. Thank you for taking the time to reply. I think you conflate the author’s intended sense of the words composed with the author’s range of intended effects for the words to accomplish. If we happen to know the latter, it can clarify the former, but the latter is not a matter of truth or falsity; only assertions can be true or false. The rang of intended effects can, of course, be loving or harmful or whatever, just not true or false.

            I have a higher view of God’s inspiration of scripture than you do; while I acknowledge some difficult passages, most things that people claim are contradictions (appealing to the original human author’s meaning) I argue (appealing to the same meaning) are not. There are a few I don’t have good explanations for yet, of course. =-)

            But regarding Unam Sanctam, I have a hard time seeing how he could possibly have meant or said anything stronger than “we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff.” I also do not see any ambiguity here which can be “clarified” in the manner you propose.

            You claim that the Vatican II documents clarify additional ways in which someone may be in submission to the pontiff, but I have not seen that language.in the Vatican II documents themselves. Rather, they broaden what it means to be “in the Church” (in some invisible sense); it is only a systematic theological consideration which prompts you to gloss what the council said as clarifying “submission to the pope.” But then you have the difficulty of a council clarifying what it does not realize (or at least, does not claim) it is clarifying.

            In any event, the best place to clarify the meaning of a statement is the context in which it was made. Boniface VIII clearly rejects the “invisible church” notion offered at Vatican II by his insistence on a visible criterion of membership (not discussed at the modern council). If that was not sufficiently clear from his absolute language, he takes the case of the Greeks explicitly: “Therefore, if the Greeks or others should say that they are not confided to Peter and to his successors, they must confess not being the sheep of Christ, since Our Lord says in John ‘there is one sheepfold and one shepherd.'” All Greek Orthodox Christians who, as you might say, “misunderstand the claims of the Church,” in fact do assert what Boniface says in the if-clause, and therefore Boniface claims that they are thereby excluded from Christ’s flock, the Church.

            I understand why Boniface’s teaching is embarrassing to Roman Catholics, especially those of a conservative sort. I also believe it is false. But the Vatican II documents did not “clarify” his teaching; they precisely contradicted it. To adopt such changes in Roman Catholic teaching as “clarifications” is to make it impossible to understand the history of the Christian thought (as Chalcedon451 is proving by gutting Cyprian’s extra ecclesia nulla salus in favor of modern Catholic open-mindedness). As a historian, I think this is teleologically distorting the record of the past. As a Christian, I think this is dishonest on the part of the Roman hierarchy (not necessarily so on the part of the Roman Catholic Christians who are clinging to them hoping them to be something they are not, i.e. infallible). Instead, as a Christian, I think what the Roman Catholic Church needs to do is repent of the errors of medieval papal teaching (such as that of Pope Boniface VIII) and acknowledge that Vatican I’s definition of papal infallibility is in error. Such a reliance on the current magisterium to re-write history simply makes Roman Catholic historical reasoning impossible. (And Catholics accuse Evangelical Protestants of being ahistorical and anti-intellectual!)

            But then, I’m not Christ, and Pope Francis does not answer to me. Though I argue against certain points which I perceive to be errors in Roman doctrine, it is only in the hope of reuniting visibly the family of Christ which is already united spiritually in Christ. I’ll probably say more about that in a future post, when I find the time. Given my schedule, it may be a few weeks, but then, that’s one part of why this blog is “finite…”

          3. Thanks also for your reply here, and previously!

            First of all, I don’t think that I conflate the author’s intended meaning with the range of possible intended effects for the words to accomplish. My point rather was that the former is something that (in many cases) we cannot know with confidence, and that we are left solely with what it is written and handed down. Subsequent interpretations of a given statement, are then valid so long as they do not contradict the plain sense of what is written – we cannot know if they contradict the fullness of the author’s intended meaning if we do not know the full scope of their intentions.

            Now, you argue that to admit interpretations that contradict the obvious intentions of a statement (when we do know those intentions), such as in the case of Unam Sanctam, is essentially a particularly dishonest form of casuistry that is unwilling to look reality in the face (not your words I know, but I think a fair assessment of your position). My point is that me must approach papal statements and Scripture in this way, or give up any claims to infallibility in either case. Personally, I do not find anything dishonest about it – it is merely admitting the fact that in using human instruments to transmit and preserve His truth, God will necessarily have to permit the broadest possible means in order to both prevent error (i.e.; complete logical contradictions) and allow the full range of free human expression, and not override free will.

            As for my view of the inspiration of Scripture, I presume that you claim to have a higher view of it than I do because I admit the existence of apparent contradictions, according to the author’s intended meanings of the text. Firstly, I would definitely agree that the vast majority of even these contradictions are indeed only apparent. Secondly however, I would also admit (as you do) that there are real cases which are not so easily resolved, and that given all Scripture must be read in the light of Jesus Christ – who He is and what He has done and does for us – then there must and do exist interpretations that go beyond the authors’ intended meanings, again without contradicting them. The writers of the New Testament themselves used the typological method of interpretation a great deal, and so I don’t see anything in such methods that indicates having a less than high view of Scripture.

            I admit that it is difficult to see the documents of Vatican II can be reconciled with the plain meaning of Boniface’s statement, but I also don’t see a flat-out contradiction between them. You say that the documents only:

            ‘broaden what it means to be “in the Church” (in some invisible sense); it is only a systematic theological consideration which prompts you to gloss what the council said as clarifying “submission to the pope.”’

            But again, this broadening of what it means to be in the Church necessarily implies that those who have an imperfect communion with that Church will also be in someway ‘subject to the Roman Pontiff’, because the Church they are imperfectly united to is the same one that is united in communion with the See of Peter. As for the Orthodox who do indeed overtly reject papal claims, I would venture that such rejection is often contaminated by deep cultural prejudice, which is ingrained that one could argue many are unable to validly assess Catholic claims on their own merits. As for those whose minds are completely clear of such mitigating factors and still reject the claims, then the Vatican II documents are clear on that – it is no longer ‘through no fault of their own’ that they make the rejection. But, noone is in a position to know whether this is the case or not in any given individual – only God knows such things.

            I know this is not what Boniface intended, and these are valid points you make, but see my other comments above re intended meanings and contradiction. I don’t expect you to agree obviously, only to see that the Catholic position is that so long as there is no absolute contradiction here, the Holy Spirit can continue to work in preserving Truth, despite the manifest disagreements between individuals within the Church. Instead of ‘teleologically distorting the record of the past’, the Catholic Church sees this as precisely the nature of the development of doctrine – the preservation of Truth through the messy realities of human history.

            Anyway, I don’t think I can make my case any clearer, so I think the only other thing that might be worth adding is that I am personally committed to the interpretative paradigm that I am advocating here because it makes the most sense to me out of the promises Jesus made (e.g..; Matthew 16:16ff; Matthew 28:19-20; John 20:23; John 16:13-15; Luke 10:16) and I find it hard to conceive of a means of preserving orthodoxy that does not involve the invocation of infallibility – the Catholic claims to having a living, infallible, interpretive voice make a great deal of sense to me on logical and scriptural grounds, and it is thus with that view in mind that I approach history, which is obviously a lot more ambiguous. Just out of interest, as an (I presume) Evangelical Protestant, how do you see Christ as having made provisions for guaranteeing the preservation of Truth through the ages (if you see Him as having done so at all)?

            I don’t ask this to get engaged in a debate about authority etc – it is purely out of interest, and also because it might shed a bit more light on how you see Catholic claims to infallibility (i.e.; why it is that you reject them, apart from the above scenario of course!)
            Many thanks again for taking the time to respond to me here by the way – it has been interesting, and (for me at least) edifying 🙂

          4. It has been a privilege for me to engage with such an eloquent and thoughtful conversation partner! I appreciate your comments, and am afraid that I do not have the time to do them justice in my briefer responses.

            Regarding the intended meanings of past human authors (especially dead ones), I agree that we cannot know the full range of meanings, but that doesn’t mean we cannot know anything about them with confidence. And thus we are not “left solely with what is written” in the sense of bare words susceptible to any interpretation we care to give them.

            I think you are right to say that papal infallibility must be given up if it is not propped up by the hermeneutic approach you outline. Since I regard that approach as illegitimate, I argue that papal infallibility should be jettisoned. I do not think scriptural infallibility needs to be jettisoned on the same criterion, and that was the basis for my remark that I view scripture more highly than you. It has nothing to do with admitting additional divine meaning, which (as you point out) the apostles also did, as have Christian writers throughout the history of the Church (some more credibly than others).

            Those are good passages you cite, and at some point I will write more about them, as I suspect I interpret them rather differently than you. I am probably what you would call an evangelical Protestant, although I’m more comfortable with “evangelical” than “Protestant,” because there are a number of points that the early Protestant Reformers protested where I think the Roman Catholic (and Orthodox) churches have the right of it. This led one Lutheran church historian to label me the most Protestant person he knew. Anyway, contentious labels aside, I certainly think Christ has “made provisions for guaranteeing the preservation of Truth through the ages,” but to outline all of those provisions here would make this comment longer than the original post! Lord willing, I shall make that a future post, although I have something else cooking before it, and in any event I will have very limited time for the next few weeks as I move across country.

            Thank you again for your engaging explanations!

          5. Many thanks for your kind comments, and thank you again for taking the time to respond to my queries – it has also been a privilege for me to be presented with such a robust case against my own views!

            Thanks also for sharing something of your confessional background – it would be interesting to see in future posts which protestations you receive and which you do not (and of course why those particular ones and not others). I also look forward to the post you hope to write (and I hope is written) on the provisions Christ made to preserve Truth – the only thoroughgoing analysis that I have read of how evangelicals deal with the issues of authority and interpretation (which I presume you would agree are the key issues here) is in J. I. Packer’s ‘Fundamentalism and the Word of God’, and so would be glad to read another viewpoint on this from the evangelical perspective.

            Thank you again for your time and the explanations you’ve provided here, and good luck with your journeying across the country 🙂

          6. Interesting. I haven’t read that work by Packer, and I would not tend to say that the provisions Christ made for the continuation of the truth of the gospel are primarily authority and interpretation. But perhaps I am misunderstanding you, or you would use those terms to describe what I will describe, when I get to it, deo volente. I guess I’ll have to write the thing and see your response. 🙂

      2. Yes, to clarify, I wouldn’t say that authority and interpretation are the provisions Christ made for preserving His truth, but rather that these are the areas in which debate about how He did so tend to take place (i.e.; who has the authority to say what orthodoxy is, and is interpretation to elucidate the truths of the gospel done with a particular tradition in mind – if so, what tradition? Etc, etc…) These tend to be the areas over which there is disagreement about how the truths about God and His will are preserved – at least that’s what I’ve found for the most part! 🙂

        Would definitely recommend the book by Packer – he provides a very good assessment of what Fundamentalism actually is (both its essence, and its historical roots) contra the caricatures often associated with that word, and also gives one of the best analyses of the different approaches to authority and interpretation (in the sense I’ve outlined just now) that I have read.

    1. It’s easy to do, especially since “sanctum” is an English word while “sanctam” is not! I realized that my first draft had butchered the Greek declension, so I fixed that silently…

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