Saturday, February 09, 2013

The Three Things

There are three big poles that are the basic thrust of what the Church fathers had to say: 1. Petrine primacy, 2. Apostolic succession, and 3. Eucharist. Sure, they had tons of interesting opinions on other things, but these three things tell us how the Fathers identified the Church. (But see for yourself.)

Interestingly, the Catholic Church stakes its claim on these same 3 things. That's how someone like me can choose to seek full communion with the Catholic Church. "It's a match," I said. It doesn't matter whether or not I understand the theology of any one particular thing; first I must establish that the one proposing it has the credibility to do that. If the one proposing it is in fact God, via the Church that Christ established, it matters very little that whatever it is (say, Marian dogmas) might be something I had never heard before.

I wasn't going to say anything about this, but the commenters made me do it! Anyway, for intellectual honesty's sake, I would mentally separate any interaction with the doctrines of the Catholic Church today from the Church of the Fathers as best I could, because you are testing the claims of the Catholic Church, not proving them, if you take on this task.

[Protestant Cross-Examination Paragraph] We've already said the Church cannot be normed by a norm that didn't exist. (Sacred Scripture in its current form.) So that presents several problems: 1. How was the deposit of faith deposited fully in a means that did not exist? Why, if that inscripturated word is so vital, so as to be the only infallible rule of faith, did it take the Church well over 300 years to propose it as a norm to the faithful? How did the Church function until that time, if the oral transmission of revelation ceased with the death of the last Apostle? Why does every subsequent list of the canon of Sacred Scripture differ from the 66 book canon proposed (eventually) by the 'Reformers'?

You first.


Timothy R. Butler said...

1.) Don't forget the Old Testament.

2.) By the time Peter wrote his epistles, Paul's writings were already held to be useful, authoritative Scripture. By the end of the first century, we find all sorts of quotes and allusions to the same and other NT texts.

3.) The NT, of course, isn't at the heart of the debate for how many books. Protestants, of course, do follow an early established canon, but it is the canon of the Rabbis... We can find debate on the exactly proper view of the deuterocanonical books well into the Late Middle Ages. As such, it shouldn't surprise us that this debate bore fruit from the Late Middle ages into the Renaissance, since that was the time of "ad fontes."

Don't forget the Orthodox don't agree about the whole Petrine primacy as a mark of the church, thing. I think us Protestants would be a lot more likely to buy the argument if the Orthodox and the Catholics could agree on it. The point being, they have plenty of Fathers who seem to support them, too. I've read some of them -- I won't claim all of them, of course. Frankly, I find the Orthodox argument more convincing in how it aligns with the NT church, the Patristic church and even the OT church.

Jason said...


Oh, come now. You don't find the Orthodox argument all that convincing, or you'd be Orthodox. Petrine primacy is pretty obvious in the fathers; how to understand that in light of the collegiality of all the bishops may well be interesting.
On Scripture, two things: It is difficult to determine what Scripture says if we do not agree what Scripture is. Moreover, the OT is likewise a written product of a community. It amplifies the Catholic point; it certainly doesn't shrink it.

Timothy R. Butler said...

I didn't say I found the Orthodox argument convincing enough to make the move, but I find the basics compelling. More compelling than I find the Catholic case. Of course there was deference to Rome, although precisely why, how and what that meant is another matter. I get it in the sense the Orthodox describe it, but I don't get the Catholic doctrine.

Yes, the OT was written by a community. It was also written by individuals, but we'd never argue the individuals imbued it with authority. When the later prophets referred back to the Law as Scripture, who made that Law authoritative? Moses? The Israelite community? Or God? I certainly wouldn't count on the Israelites doing it...

In any case, the basic canon of the OT was already in place for Jesus and the disciples. Who set that canon?

Note also that the OT community operated without a shred of infallible authority. On the contrary, the very prophets of God criticized God's OT "church" for its errors. So, who formed the canon?

Jason said...


We actually don't know who formed it. There are good guesses, I suppose, that are not germane to this discussion. The point is that the OT is the written product of a witness that was communicated orally. The reason this could happen is that the people knew they were God's People, and in fact personally existed because of God's covenant(s) with them. In other words, the community created by God's redemptive action pre-dated that which you say normed it. That is itself problematic.
I do not concede the point on the OT canon, because the Jewish rejection of the relevant books was in response to their acceptance by Christians. There is no "basic OT canon" that isn't defined by you.

Timothy R. Butler said...

So, you'd late date the Torah? If not, the community could look to the written Torah easily and in fact were called to -- it gives instruction on how to judge prophets and the like.

What we do know is that it was able to be cited during the time of Christ. Further, we know the Septuagint existed well prior to that time. So it was formed prior to the Catholic Church. This is what I mean by the basic OT canon. Were there disputes? Yes, of course. But, people could refer to the Law, Prophets and Writings and know what was being referred to. This is quite germane.

(As to the deuterocanonical books, they were distinguished to some greater or lesser degree from the Hebrew Bible for pretty much all of church history -- there was just a debate on how to make sense of them.)

So the question then is this: Scripture argues against many of those who are the alleged predecessors to the Catholic Church. Similarly, the "oral Torah" (the tradition) often contracted the prophets and ultimately Christ. Therefore, Scripture and the authorities opposed each other at key points. What gives? How could an authority that often opposed Scripture be that which defined it?

Jason said...


I don't know what the date has to do with this point; It wasn't fully compiled for centuries anyway, so most average people would have learned it orally. You can't pit the written word against the spoken without failing to account for the dissimilarity of the testaments, and why Jesus spoke against the leaders of his day; it wasn't an anti-tradition impulse; it was an anti-non-Jesus impulse. (See Luke 19:41-44)