On not accepting high church authority claims

Musings from various Michael Horton works:

If the church determines the Bible, whether creating its canon or determining its meaning by some “semper ubique”, patrum consensus, or Magisterium, the following entail:

  • The church is no longer a summoned community but in fact has become the Speaker.
  • No longer a summoned community, and yet ministering to its people, is the church in fact just talking to itself?
  • Precisely why does Christ need to return if he is already here bodily (in the Eucharist) and in authority (Infallible magisterium)?  In fact, some Eastern eucharistic liturgies say exactly this.

What is missing from all of this?  Covenant and Eschatology

Reviewing a Manichean Dialogue

One of my favorite pieces on Manicheanism is written by Vladimir Moss.  Moss re-enacts a discussion between an Orthodox Christian and his Manichean priest.   The discussion is mostly brilliant, but there are a few parts where the “good guy” effectively surrendered the debate.

Orthodox. You do surprise me, Father! Tell me: do you believe that the Apostle Peter was a Christian?

Manichaean. I know what you’re going to say: that he was married. But after becoming an apostle he lived with his wife as brother and sister.

Orthodox. Yes, but he did not have to.

The “Orthodox” initially moves in for a “kill shot.”  This would have effectively ended the debate.  The Manichean responds with some (convenient!) “oral tradition.”    Instead of calling shenanigans on it, the Orthodox agrees and in effect loses the entire thrust of the argument.

Further, and while I have taken a lot of flak from the Humeans at Puritanboard for believing in miracle stories, it should be noted that not every miracle story is to be taken at face-value.   Miracle stories from 1200 years ago in a mostly illiterate culture should be taken with a grain of salt.  There is simply no way of empirical verification.  This is quite different from the well-documented prophecies of Richard Cameron (finally, the Humeans on Puritanboard essentially conceded that Maurice Grant was making this up; that is a polite way of calling him either stupid or a liar).  In any case, the “Orthodox” tries to clinch his argument by these hagiographical stories.   In his context, that will work, I suppose.  The Manichean would also hold to them.

Here is another area where the “orthodox,” for all of his good points, implicitly agrees with the Manichean.

Manichaean. Are you saying that it is possible for there to be no lust in the sexual act?

Orthodox. In practice, because of our fallen state, it is almost impossible to clearly separate the elements of love and lust in the sexual act, just as it is almost impossible to separate greed from restoration of the organism in the act of eating, or sinful anger from righteous anger in the disciplining of children and subordinates

The Reformed Protestant has a healthy response:  why call it lust?  The problem is that the ancient tradition, whether Eastern or Latin, simply could not affirm the…(lack of a better phrase)…loss of momentary control that happens in the act.  One should remember the origins of the word “Ecstatic” to fully appreciate what the Orthodox are saying (I think they are wrong, but this is worth explaining.   The climax of the act is ecstasy, ek-static, which in Greek is a “standing outside of oneself.”)   So they called it lust.   Augustine was fully in line with the Greek fathers on this point. There was no way the Tradition could get around calling the ek-stasis “lust,” and lust is sin.  So if you define the ek-stasis in sexual intercourse, even married intercourse, as lust, then you can’t avoid the charge that it is tainted with sin.

The Reformed simply denied the premise and didn’t have the problem.

Further, the Manichean scores huge points when he brings Maximus the Confessor into the discussion.

Manichaean. Well, you must remember that, according to St. Maximus the Confessor, pleasure and pain were introduced into the world as a result of the fall.

For all of the Orthodox’s good intents, to the degree that Maximus is representative of the tradition, to that degree the Manichean is right.  At this point the Orthodox is simply left in the untenable position of lobbing counter-quotations.  So much for Patrum Consensus.  Further, the Manichean is right in that the fathers seem to view Adam and Eve’s relationship before the Fall as sex-less (Maximus is mostly clear on this point.  Cooper labors very hard to exonerate him on this.   I don’t think he is successful).

At the end of the discussion the Manichean, given the shared anchoretic presuppositions, completely clinches the debate:

If virginity is higher than marriage, the transition from virginity to marriage must be a transition from the higher to the lower, which is sad.

Please consider the logic:  if virginity is higher than marriage, and then you marry, you have definitionally fallen.

Absolutizing the Vincentian Canon

I often come back to problems in the claim that a teaching of the church (or indeed, a church) is true because of the three criteria:  everywhere, always, and by all.   At its broadest level, it’s an unremarkable claim and I can see the truth in it.  If you read the book of Revelation, for example, and find space aliens that no one else find, then the tremendous burden of proof is on you.  On the other hand, when we try to justify a doctrine or a particular church expression by this claim, we run into huge problems.   So far I have only documented problems within the discourse of fellow-Christians.  The problem becomes far more radical if you move the claim outside the Christian religions and attempt to justify your faith by the mantra everywhere, always, and by all.

Judaism:  Whether or not one thinks that the Church replaces Israel or whatever, the fact remains that Jews can claim the always tenet in a way that Christians cannot.   In fact, the Christian scriptures seem to point back to the Hebrew canon (2 Timothy 3:16).  Anchorites love to say how this verse doesn’t prove sola scriptura, but whatever it means, it seems to think that one can find sufficiency in God’s revelation to Israel.  I think Judaism is inadequate, but not because of the Vincentian canon but by using eschatology*–looking forward to the Messiah.

Hinduism and Buddhism:  These religions are far older than Christianity and for a long time could also claim the everywhere tenet as well.

*Is the category of Eschatology in fundamental tension with the Vincentian canon?  The former looks forward to God’s action of shalom and wholeness while the latter looks backward and absolutizes the past.

PaRDeS and the Patrum Consensus

I was reflecting on the debate between Messianic “John” and the guys at Orthodox Bridge.  Of course, John won the debate catastrophically.   He raised an interesting point that I want to pursue.   The Patrum Consensus, so key to Orthodox theology and tradition, states that the true faith is that which is believed everywhere, at all times, and by all.  John explored a number of obvious difficulties with that claim.  One new problem he raised was in asking if the Jerusalem church circa 120 A.D. would have used the not yet existing Alexandrian hermeneutics of allegory or the Hebrew PaRDeS system of interpretation.   The implication is obvious: how could the Jewish church use the method of interpretation that a) was not yet invented and b) in contradiction to how Jewish texts (or texts in general) were read until then?

We commonly hear: the right knowledge of Scripture is based on the right interpretation.  That of course is true.    What is the right interpretation?  It is that passed down by the Fathers.    This becomes more problematic.  The Fathers before the 4th century (or may mid 3rd century) did not use the more extreme allegorical, Alexandrian model.  This is especially true within the Jerusalem orbit.  How could one seriously read Hebrew prophetic texts which anticipated a kingdom of Yahweh on earth, which interpretation could only be yielded by a plain reading of Scripture, by allegorizing and spiritualizing the passages?  Never mind the logical problems involved in such hermeneutics.

Already we see two of the legs of the Patrum Consensus undermined:   this is not the way Scripture was read in the Jerusalem church (contra “everywhere”) in the first century (contra “at all times”).   This raises yet another problem:  if it is acknowledged that the Jerusalem Church, which is/was considered Orthodox, had a strikingly, indeed logically differing method of interpreting Scripture, then how can one affirm the yields of such a method by continuing to use a model in logical contradiction to it?

But I don’t agree with everything in the PaRDeS model.    I am not convinced that it fully avoids the allegorical silliness that was inherent in the later Byzantine model.  Further, I am not convinced it would have yielded the kingdom expectations of 1C Judaism.  But someone will reply, “Paul used allegory!”   True, but how did he use allegory?  This raises a problem in typology that is difficult to deal with today because various schools of typology have been institutionalized.   Typology, or “allegory” in the sense of how Paul is using it, is always in service to a larger theological method.  Therefore, to use typology to prove a theology is question-begging.   To use typology to illustrate a theological point is fine.

I’ll keep it open

I will keep this blog open and update occasionally.   My other idea I will shelve and slowly nurture into something like a “Post-Trib Research Center,” in direct contrast to another site of similar name.

I had wanted to write a Reformed response to the recent claims of some convertskii, but I wondered what exactly I had to offer that was new. I think I’ve got it now:   a premillennial, or more specifically, a chiliastic response to Anchoretic claims.   I see a two-fold strand developing: hermeneutics and the patrum consensus.  Ultimately, it’s the same thing:  if I can trust my senses to read the fathers objectively, why can I not  per the Scriptures?  Secondly, the patrum consensus is kind of embarrassing if the eschatology of the Nicene Creed forces us to reject Irenaeus’ eschatology.

Another Problem I have with Patrum Consensus Claims

Jerome notes

After these proceedings the Council [i.e. the Synod of Ariminum] was dissolved. All returned in gladness to their own provinces. For the Emperor and all good men had one and the same aim, that the East and West should be knit together by the bond of fellowship. But wickedness does not long lie hid, and the sore that is healed superficially before the bad humor has been worked off breaks out again. Valens and Ursacius and others associated with them in their wickedness, eminent Christian bishops of course, began to wave their palms, and to say they had not denied that He was a creature, but that He was like other creatures. At that moment the term Usia was abolished: the Nicene Faith stood condemned by acclamation. The whole world groaned, and was astonished to find itself Arian. NPNF2: Vol. VI, The Dialogue Against the Luciferians, §19.

It’s simply too difficult to generalize about “everywhere believed” what group x teaches for all time.

Did Athanasius teach human passivity?

One of the repeated and more annoying complaints against Reformed theology is that we teach the human nature (primarily, the will) is completely passive in salvation.   That has been demonstrated to be false on a number of occasions.  To repeat the charge is simply willful ignorance.  It does raise some problematic concerns for the Anchorites on the subject both of human nature and the patrum consensus.  Athanasius, like Apollinarius and Cyril, held to a divinization soteriology.  As both Sergii Bulgakov and Bruce McCormack make clear, divinization soteriologies demand seeing the human nature of Christ as an instrument (in short:  Christ uses the human nature to divinize it).   Athanasius scholar Khaled Anatolios makes this repeatedly clear (Coherence, p.71ff).

Instruments by their very definition are passive.  There is no such thing as an active instrument (contra McGuckin who sees Cyrillian Christology as an “omnipotent instrument”).   If the human nature is an instrument, and will is a faculty of nature, then how can the will be active?  Because Reformed theology does not demand an instrumentalization thesis, we are not obligated to view the human nature as a passive recipient.  At least in the mode of conversion we posit that the human will is active.

This raises a deeper problem for the patrum consensus:  Here and elsewhere Athanasius is saying things that sound a lot like what Anchorites charge Reformed theology with teaching.   Of course, one father doesn’t equal the patrum consensus. I grant that. But if any father should be representative on Christology, then surely it is Athanasius!