William Lane Craig on the Eucharist

Posted August 9, 2012 by Emil Anton
Categories: William Lane Craig

The second major topic of the Defenders podcast’s “Doctrine of the Church” is the Lord’s supper or the Eucharist. Again I enjoyed hearing a theological case for the ordinance view. After presenting the Catholic, Lutheran and Calvinist views Craig settles for the Baptist view according to which Christ is present at the Lord’s supper spiritually in his divine nature as he is everywhere else, but not in his human nature, in which he is in heaven.

Craig’s main arguments against the sacramentalist view are again rather philosophical in nature. First, how could the bread at the Last Supper be Christ’s body, since Christ’s body was right there in front of the apostles? Obviously he didn’t mean the words of institution to be taken literally. Second, the sacramentalist view doesn’t take Christ’s resurrection body seriously enough: he has a concrete risen body, and clearly we’re not eating parts of that body in church.

Craig also pointed out that insisting on the words “this is” like Luther did fails to take into account the metaphorical use of language and that John 6 comes before the Last supper and thus the bread of life discourse is not plausibly about the Eucharist. He also said that there was some diversity in the early Church and in medieval times about this doctrine, and so there is room for differing theological opinions.

During the Q&A session there was a Catholic who gave the usual popular Catholic apologetics arguments from John 6, “this is” and the consensus of the early Church fathers. Craig didn’t have time to respond to everything but said that we should simply agree to disagree. To another question about the necessity of orthodoxy in this issue for salvation, Craig answered with an emphatic negative. Finally, I liked Craig’s point that symbols are not unimportant (like wedding rings), even if the Lord’s supper is merely a symbol, it can still be sacred and it can still be a sacrilege to take it lightly.

Some Thoughts in Response

As with baptism, here too Craig seems to elevate philosophy and human reasoning above the sources of faith. Craig said that one’s theology will depend largely on one’s interpretation of 1 Cor 11, but he didn’t give any explanation as to why Paul calls the Eucharistic elements the “body and blood of the Lord” if it is only Jesus’ divine nature that is present at the Eucharist. Even more astonishigly he totally left out 1 Cor 10, where Paul presents a rich theology of the Eucharist as spiritual food and drink, a sacrifice (comparing it to Jewish and pagan sacrificial meals) and communion (the very thing that makes the Church the Body of Christ).

Craig also tried to get around the teaching of Ignatius of Antioch the same way James White did, by making reference to the anti-docetic context of the words. But that context simply strengthens the point that the earliest followers of the apostles believed Christ’s humanity was present in the Eucharist. Craig said Cyprian and Augustine favored a spiritual view of the Eucharist but cited no texts.

In fact Augustine said that Christ carried himself in his own hands, contradicting Craig’s main argument against the real presence. The argument might appeal to common sense, but Jesus was a miracle worker after all. I have no idea how Padre Pio could bilocate, but with God everything is possible, and similarly I guess Jesus’ body and blood can somehow be present in the Eucharist although Jesus in his resurrected body is exalted in heaven.

The Really Interesting Issue

The really interesting and decisive question here is, however, not the interpretation of this or that scriptural or patristic text. What is more important is the question about unity and heresy. I think Craig is right to point out that there was diversity in both patristic and medieval times – transubstantiation should not be absolutized. Second, I think Craig is right to say that one does not need to have the correct doctrine of the Eucharist in order to be saved. I think Vatican II affirms this by granting that the Holy Spirit works salvifically in Protestant communities, even though these communities don’t hold to the doctrine of transubstantiation.

But the problem here of course is that historically speaking the medieval Church did dogmatize transubstantiation, and Trent anathematized Protestants who rejected its teaching on the Eucharist. The larger picture is this: there are many doctrines over which both sides of the divide anathemized and condemned each other originally, but which now are dismissed as secondary. Craig himself lists only a few doctrines that a person must believe to be a Christian: the existence of God, the divinity of Christ, the physical resurrection of Christ…

The problem is that Craig’s list is simply an opinion of Craig’s, and it sounds a lot like – surprise surprise – a compilation of the main points of interest in Craig’s own apologetics. By contrast take James White for whom “the gospel” is almost equivalent to Reformed soteriology and excludes from salvation a much larger group of people than does Craig’s thin list of “dogmas”. The problem in Protestantism is that there is no objective way to tell the difference between theological opinion, doctrine and dogma.

Not that present-day Catholicism solves the problem, either. For the Catholic Church the problem is at least as acute – what on earth are we to make of preconciliar anti-Protestant “dogmas” after Vatican II and postconciliar ecumenism? If Protestants who still deny Trent but affirm the Joint Declaration, or who don’t care about any official documents but simply live the Christian life to the full, do in fact possess the Holy Spirit and are expected to get to heaven, then how are any of the medieval and modern preconciliar Catholic “dogmas” dogmas in the technical sense?

It seems to me that they are not. If we look at how the Church officially treats Protestants since Vatican II, if we look at what the recent Popes have thought and taught about Protestants, we cannot really avoid the conclusion that what used to constitute heresy does not do so any more. In other words, the Church has been too harsh, too blind to its own fallibility, it has made secondary issues and developments dogmatic in an unjustified way. The task for Catholic theology now is to figure out the mess and look for credible and tenable criteria for orthodoxy and unity.

William Lane Craig on Baptism

Posted August 9, 2012 by Emil Anton
Categories: William Lane Craig

Tags: , ,

William Lane Craig is one of the best Christian apologists in the world, and I’ve learned a lot from his books, debates, articles and podcasts. I also had the opportunity to see him in Finland not so long ago, and it was a very cordial and inspiring meeting. Having listened to all of his Reasonable Faith podcasts, I finally started listening to Craig’s Defenders podcast, which is really where finally touches on my area of specialty, that is, dogmatic theology.

Dogmatic theology is not Craig’s own area of specialty, he is more at home in philosophy of religion, the resurrection of Jesus and various scientific issues. I feel rather unqualified to comment on most of Craig’s work, in those areas I am just happy to be able to learn from him. But when it comes to dogmatic theology, I feel I can make a contribution, and so I’d like to post a series of articles in response to William Lane Craig’s Defenders lectures, starting from the Doctrine of the Church.

Sacraments and ordinances

I was a little disappointed when I realized that the lectures are not really on ecclesiology as such but simply on the two ordinances of the Church, baptism and Lord’s supper. What about the nature and unity of the Church, the local and the universal Church, the visible and the invisible, the authority of the Church and its leadership, etc? These to me are questions of primary interest, and I think that Craig’s reflections ultimately must lead to them. For the masses of people that read and listen to Craig, I think it would be very useful to give some food for thought concerning these issues.

Craig does a good job in structuring his lectures: first he presents the biblical material on the topic in question, then he explains the various theological positions and gives arguments for them, and finally he explains why he prefers the view that he personally takes on the issue. He tries to be fair to the various positions, and he often gives the listeners a chance to ask questions. This is definitely the kind of doctrinal formation Christians are in need of.

In the first lecture Craig defines the terms and explains the difference between sacrament and ordinance: if you are a sacramentalist, you think sacraments are means of grace, whereas on the ordinance view (which Craig as a Baptist takes) we are dealing with confessional acts, signs or symbols that are of special importance for the Church.

Although Craig mostly does a good job in defining the terms, he makes a couple of basic mistakes in presenting the Roman Catholic view. First he confuses the doctrine of penance with the sacrament of penance (i.e. the sacrament of reconciliation or confession), and then he says that the sacrament of ordination is about religious orders, which is not the case at all (it is only about being consecrated as deacon, priest or bishop).


Craig does a fairly good job in presenting the biblical material, although he (understandably, as a Baptist) omits a lot of the indirectly baptismal passages that sacramentalists read sacramentally (a lot could be said about Ephesians, for example, and about OT prophecies).  It was interesting to note that the force of the baptismal passages and the sacramentalist case made Craig appeal to the audience to get baptized if they hadn’t yet – Craig seems to respect the sacramentalist view here as a viable option, although he rejects it in the end.

I enjoyed hearing a systematic argument for the ordinance view as well, and it does seem like a good case can be made for it. 1) There is the explicit Pauline teaching that grace has been given in Christ through faith, which puts a question mark to the teaching that the sacraments should be means of grace. 2) There are several cases in Acts where baptism occurs at a different point than the reception of the Holy Spirit. 3) Baptismal regeneration is contrary to Christian experience – many have experienced the transforming power of the Holy Spirit before baptism, and it is implausible to think these believers were still unregenerate enemies of God up to the time of their baptism.

I think I and Craig could agree that a good case can be made for both positions. But how then are we to decide what to believe? Here we come to the central problem, which I think Craig dismisses all to easily. As a Protestant he tries to find the answer in “what the Scripture teaches”. But it is left up to the individual to decide which arguments are the most compelling, and here Christians are devided. But 1 Cor 1 and other texts should make it clear that we shouldn’t allow for such division.

God didn’t drop the Bible down from heaven and say, ‘now figure out what Scripture teaches on this or that’. Rather, Jesus sent the apostles to baptize and to teach, and we want to know what those apostles believed and taught. Now of course the primary sources are the NT documents, but if and since they alone do not force us to a unanimous conclusion, we must look at the communities those apostles started and their faith, the faith of their followers.

When the issue of the Church fathers was raised, Craig said that their opinion is interesting but still a matter of indifference, because if they taught something contrary to Scripture, then they simply erred and we should go with Scripture instead.

But as we’ve seen it is not that clear what Scripture teaches here, arguments go both ways, and God started a historical Christianity, he did not give a textbook in year X to his chosen people to figure out how the Church works. Rather, the Scriptures were born in the community of believers, and that community passed its faith along by mouth to the heirs of that community, the next Christian generations.

Now the astonishing fact is that there is a very early, very widespread unanimity on baptismal regeneration in post-apostolic times. The Shepherd of Hermas, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus of Lyons, just to stay in the first two centuries. Is it plausible that Irenaeus, the disciple of Polycarp, the disciple of John, would have lost the apostolic teaching on baptism? Sure, Irenaeus said some weird things, too, but there you won’t find him confirmed by the Church fathers before and after him in both East and West, as you do with baptism.

The same goes for infant baptism. Craig is clearly uninformed about the history of infant baptism, claiming that it became common only with Augustine and his doctrine of original sin. In fact it was the other way around, Augustine argued for original sin based on the already existing liturgical practice of baptizing infants “for the forgiveness of sins”. Cyprian, Hippolytus and Origen testify to infant baptism in the 3rd century, and Irenaeus in the 2nd, again, a disciple of a disciple of John the Apostle.

Craig’s arguments

What about Craig’s arguments against sacramentalism and for the Baptist view? First I think we should accept the argument that faith in Christ itself is salvific and that the Holy Spirit can be received apart from Baptism. An honest reading of the New Testament requires this. This means that faith cannot be reduced to a mere “preparation” or precondition to justification (as at Trent), God really does justify by faith (as the Joint Declaration teaches), giving us the Holy Spirit to call and equip us to good works.

But now does this have to mean that we should abandon the testimony of the sources of faith to the rich theological significance of baptism? Not at all! The Lutheran-Catholic solution is to keep both, and I think Craig helps us out by pointing out that we can apply the gifts of God both to faith and to baptism because of their close link. In fact it is all Christ, faith and baptism communicate the same Christ to us. There will always be some tension left because of the unsystematic nature of the NT treatment, but the way out is definitely not to empty baptism of its power.

I might join James White in criticizing Craig for elevating philosophical reasoning above the sources of faith. Here, for example, Craig argues from 1 Pet 3:21 and Acts 2:38 that baptism is a human work (an appeal to God for a good conscience) and that it follows repentance, and that therefore it cannot be administered to children. But why should we think we can draw such generalizations from these passages? I see no good reason.

In Acts adult Jews ask what they should do, and Peter tells them to repent and to be baptized. Peter is not giving a systematic treatment on baptism but preaching about its salvific value. He doesn’t teach that baptism must follow repentance, he just tells these Jews who had Christ’s death on their consciences to turn around and get baptized, to join the Church. 1 Pet 3:21 doesn’t force us to see baptism as a human work to the exclusion of its being a divine work, in fact it says baptism “saves you”, which Craig simply passes over without any commentary.

Craig goes on to say that what is “really fatal” is the combination of sacramentalism and infant baptism, because it leaves us with a Church full of nominal Christians who think they will be saved by their baptism although they have never really come to a saving personal conversion. My first reaction is to ask why the sovereign Lord would let his Church take just that view from the very first centuries on. This is the practice and belief of the vast majority of Christendom: Catholics, Eastern and Oriental Orthodox, Lutherans and Anglicans.

Now I admit the problem of nominal Christians, coming from such a country myself, but I can also tell that these nominal Christians don’t usually think they will be saved by their baptism. Either they don’t know what they think about the afterlife, or if they think they’ll be saved, it’s usually based on a vague concept of God’s love.

Nominal, baptized but untransformed Christians definitely constitute an experiential problem for the sacramentalist paedobaptist. But the solution is not to abandon the Christian tradition, rather, the necessity of personal faith and conversion must be emphasized. I should like to add, however, that the experiential problem actually goes both ways.

What about children who grow up in good Christian families? In these countries there are many who have always believed, and it would be flatly contrary to their experience to tell them that if they are really Christians, there must have been a moment in their conscious life when they came to believe in Christ and received the Holy Spirit and turned from enemies of God to children of God. No, they became God’s children in their baptism and received the grace to believe even before they can even remember. This is much more in line with their experience.

White vs. Sungenis on Predestination

Posted June 23, 2012 by Emil Anton
Categories: James R. White, Robert Sungenis

Finally the (almost) full video of the White vs. Sungenis Predestination/Free Will debate is available on Youtube. Again, I will be content with a couple of comments on the debate.


Dr. White did a good job in giving a clear presentation and defense of his Reformed position. His rhetorics and conviction were enjoyable to watch, and at times his presentation of the Pauline Gospel was very powerful and authentic. White was strong on some Pauline texts such as Ephesians 1-2 and Romans 8-9, which Sungenis could not match with a very credible exegesis. I would say the same goes for John 6.

White’s weak points, biblically, were in connection with classic passages such as 1 Tim. 2 as well as the warning passages. His exegesis is simply not credible here. “Kings and rulers” doesn’t “define” the passage to mean “groups of people”, a more natural reading would be “especially/including kings and rulers”. And I don’t find it credible that Matthew is simply describing the persevering faith of the elect in “who perseveres to the end will be saved” or that Paul really meant that no regenerate person would ever deny God when he said “if we deny him”.


Dr. Sungenis did a good job in putting the whole debate into perspective in terms of Church history. For most of the debate, it seemed to me that both debaters were stuck in the 16th or 17th century, claiming that “the Bible teaches/does not teach” this or that and trying to harmonize difficult passages with little credibility. But in his closing statement Sungenis in my opinion got the better of White by admitting some sort of a plurality of theologies in the Bible (which is now widely recognized by both Catholic and Protestant Scripture scholars) and pointing to the need of a unified Church.

Sungenis was weak, however, in over-idealizing the Catholic position – as if the Catholic Church really took all Scripture at face value (this White successfully countered) and as if “making distinctions” was not a plague (if not a blessing) of Catholic as well as Protestant theology (just have a look into the Thomist TULIP suggested by James Akin to get an idea). Sungenis also lost credibility by not understanding basic Reformed concepts and terminology (or not being able to repeat a word like theocentric [not theopocentric]).


In conclusion, I would say that both won in a sense. White won, because the resolution is correct: the Bible does not teach, explicitly, that man has free will to accept or reject the Christian faith, and White was able to show that the Bible teaches that God effectively saves through Christ in the Spirit.

On the other hand, Sungenis won because he could show that the Bible in other places assumes that man does have the freedom to accept or reject the salvific Gospel, and that White’s one-sided theology taken to its logical conclusions leads to absurdities (denominationalism, a very questionable view of God).

To me, the best solution is to keep what is good from both sides. First, stay Catholic – there is no reason to jump into the ocean of denominations and interpretations over these issues. Second, take seriously the sovereignty of God in salvation, give all the glory to him, while working out with fear and trembling what he has given and promised us.

Sungenis vs. White on Purgatory

Posted June 11, 2012 by Emil Anton
Categories: James R. White, Robert Sungenis

Just a couple of words on the Sungenis vs. White debate on Purgatory (beginning missing, but see parts 1 and 2 here and here). In my judgment the debate was rather even on 1 Cor 3, but it focused on it too much, precisely its openness to interpretations requires that it be put in a larger context of Scripture and Tradition. Here I must say that White did a better job, he problematized the doctrine in the light of the development of dogma, which Sungenis didn’t really address (eg. by discussing the patristic evidence in depth).

White’s biggest problems seemed to be his terminological distinctions, first of all the idea of legal punishment as opposed to disciplinary punishment. To me he seemed to have a double standard using this criterion – it only works against Catholicism (there “punishment” immediately means “legal punishment”) but for his own position (there punishment can be fatherly discipline). The Calvinistic distinctions between different sorts of judgments also seem a bit contrived sometimes.

On the other hand, I couldn’t believe that Sungenis would attack White on the basis of distinctions and different judgments. As White pointed out, Catholic theology is full of all kinds of distinctions unknown to early Christian theology. And the claim that for the Catholic Church there is only one judgment, the final one, is simply false, and in fact completely destructive to a defense of Purgatory, to which (according to standard Catholic theology) people are consigned at the particular judgment at their death rather than the final judgment, after which there is only eternal life or eternal death.

The most interesting part of the debate was Sungenis’ rather liberal comment that he believes White will go to heaven. White interpreted that, giving Sungenis the benefit of the doubt, in preconciliar terms as conversion to Catholicism. That, however, doesn’t seem to be what Sungenis meant. It sounded much more like a postconciliar statement to the effect that the Holy Spirit works salvifically in non-Catholic Christians as well.

This raises interesting questions. If one can be saved even though one consciously and publicly opposed Catholic dogmas, then dogmas are not necessary for salvation, in which case they are no longer dogmas in the traditional sense. In other words, Purgatory might exist, and we might even have good reasons to think it exists, but if we follow the logic of Vatican II, its dogmatic status has been relativized if not done away with.

Dave Armstrong on Infallibility

Posted February 24, 2012 by Emil Anton
Categories: Dave Armstrong, Papal Infallibility

Today I have been going through the apologetics articles of Dave Armstrong on the doctrine of infallibility. (You can find them under this link when you scroll down to “Papal Infallibility and Supremacy”) I did not read every line (and so I might have missed something), but I read a lot (and there is a lot!), and I have a lot to comment.

First I need to give Dave credit for his wide-ranging apologetics. He has read and written a lot, and he deals with issues that other apologists don’t. Taking Infallibility as an example, he is aware of the work of Döllinger and Tierney and posts some responses. Unfortunately, however, Armstrong’s arguments aren’t so strong.

(In what follows, I will be referring to Armstrong’s writings in general without giving exact citations and links. I take the responsibility for possible inaccuracies in presenting Armstrong’s views.)

Historical positivism?

In dealing with Döllinger, Armstrong criticizes what he calls “historical positivism”, i.e., reading history without faith. Similarly, when Küng published his book, he was mostly attacked on methodological grounds. It seems the most sophisticated Catholic criticism of non-infallibilists is precisely this: calling their method rationalism, positivism, historicism, or something of the sort.

I find this strategy very telling. In Church history, when there were dogmatic quarrels, it was customary to appeal to the sources of revelation, to Scripture and Tradition. Somehow in this debate the “orthodox” side has practically given up this method and resorted to a wholly new strategy.

It would be just as easy for me to label the “orthodox” position “fideistic”, “anachronistic” or something of that sort. But that is not the way to solve doctrinal questions. It is not a question on our side of approaching history without faith. Nor is it true that non-infallibilists presuppose their position when approaching history.

As far as I know, both Küng and Tierney changed their mind during their study. They both started with faith, they both changed their mind during their study. I myself came to doubt infallibility precisely because I was approaching history with faith and trying to defend the Church’s message. It was my faith in Paul, Irenaeus and Vatican II (that is, in Scripture, Tradition and Magisterium) that forced me to abandon the infallibility of the medieval councils.

The answer, then, to Armstrong’s two main rebuttals to non-infallibilists, is clear. He asks: 1) Why, then, be Catholic? What keeps you from becoming Anglican or Orthodox? 2) What criterion do you propose for determining orthodoxy, if you reject the Church’s dogmatic teachings?

I answer: 1) Because I belong to the Catholic Church which is my home and my family, because I love the Gospel delivered to the fathers of my Church, and because I am committed to the Church in love. If my father suddenly said he was infallible, I would not tell him I’m changing fathers. Rather I’d try to talk sense to him. 2) The Gospel, the Rule of Faith/Apostles’ Creed, communion with the Church (one’s Bishop who is in communion with the Pope).

Scripture and Tradition

I remarked that theologians used to appeal to Scripture and Tradition, but in this case the strategy has changed. Although Armstrong partly follows this new strategy, he also tries to play the old game. His major Scriptural argument for infallibility is Acts 15:28. It is also the passage Theodore Abu Qurra used when he first invented conciliar infallibility in the 9th century.

But the passage does not teach the a priori infallibility of ecumenical councils. All it says is that after the Apostles had agreed on the issue, they believed that the Holy Spirit had spoken. A modern parallel would be Vatican II: to be sure, the Holy Spirit spoke through the Bishops, when they (virtually) unanimously reformed many outdated magisterial teachings (like extra ecclesiam and religious liberty). And yet Vatican II worked without claiming infallibility to back up any of its teachings.

Armstrong rejects Protestant explanations (that this was isolated and unusual and restricted to the apostolic age) of Acts 15:28 as if they were the only arguments against this passage teaching infallibility. But of course it is as simple as this: the passage does not mention infallibility, the a priori immunity from error of ecumenical councils’ dogmatic definitions.

Another point to be made is that the Council in Acts, like Vatican II, made its decisions in favor of the Gospel, removing obstacles from its way (Acts: circumcision and Mosaic Law, V2: extra ecclesiam in favor of the common witness to the salvific Gospel by all Christians and the recognition of non-Catholic Churches). By contrast, many of the so-called infallible definitions from 325 to 1950 have done the opposite: they have added new obligations and conditions allegedly necessary for salvation, making the Gospel void.

Infallibility works only if God guaranteed it, if Christ taught it and if the Apostles passed it on. This is what Vatican I claims. If and since Vatican I is wrong on this and infallibility is a medieval theological opinion that made it to a conciliar teaching, then for the sake of truth it is better to question conciliar infallibility than to abandon faith or reason.

As far as Tradition goes, Armstrong sometimes appeals to the development of doctrine, but sometimes he seems to hint that the Church believed in infallibility from the very start. Specifically, he quotes Pope Leo, Thomas Aquinas and Francis de Sales. The only one of these with a doctrine like that of Vatican I is Francis de Sales, which simply confirms the fact that the doctrine is no older than the Middle Ages.

As for the development of doctrine, Armstrong appeals to Newman. But the problem here is that Pastor Aeternus does not present its doctrine as a development but as something given by Christ and believed from the beginning. The whole Tradition from Irenaeus to Vatican I operates under the idea of doctrinal immutability. If Newman is right, the Tradition is wrong, and the Councils are not infallible.

The meaning and merit of the doctrine

With Newman, Armstrong endorses moderate infallibility and claims that the Council (V1) was actually a defeat for the Ultramontanists – the definition is supposedly very restrictive, a win for the inopportunists (like Newman). My understanding is quite different.

First of all, the Faith Commission that was in charge at Vatican I consisted of infallibilists alone, no inopportunists were allowed to it. Although the inopportunists had been going out of their way to include a phrase about the other Bishops, Tradition, or the larger Church into the definition, the only significant last-minute correction to the text of the definition was the addition of the infamous ex sese -clause, stating that the Popes’ definitions are irreformable of themselves.

Second, it was not Newman but Manning who sat in the Commission of Faith at the Council, and Manning continued to interpret papal infallibility in maximalist terms even after the Council. For him, Pastor Aeternus did not restrict papal infallibility to rare cases. The conditions could well be interpreted much more widely.

Third, in fact the “official” interpretation given by Bishop Gasser favored precisely this maximalistic view. As I quoted in my review of Gasser’s relatio, he says there have been “thousands and thousands” of dogmatic definitions, not 6-12 like some postconciliar theologians have concluded.

And this brings me to the final issue of the merits of the doctrine. In a dialogue with a Protestant, Armstrong defends the very naive position that it is clearly laid out what Catholics must believe. He says that it is irrelevant which definitions are infallible, because Catholics are bound by all magisterial teaching.

Well, first of all, the CDF conceded in 1990 that theologians can disagree with the Magisterium on non-definitive teachings after prayer and study. Many bishops’ conferences reacted similarly after Humanae Vitae. Whereas Armstrong thinks HV is infallible doctrine (whether ex cathedra or not), many doubt this, and not just dissidents but top theologians such as Francis Sullivan.

So even though Armstrong says the intricacies of “what is infallible and what not” don’t make a difference for the ordinary Catholic, it is very clear that this is a utopia. Bishops worldwide disagree on such a concrete life-affecting issue as contraception.

Armstrong also appeals to the Catechism. But Ratzinger has written that the individual doctrines in the CCC receive no other weight than that which they already have, and that the CCC can be criticized. Which takes us back into determining which teachings are definitive and which are not. And there is no definitive list.

Armstrong did well to point out that the Catholic is in a better position that the solascripturist, because the various theological issues have been dealt with at one point or another. We are not ahistorical, we need to take the history of dogma into account. But it is that very history of dogma that shows us how flawed the infallibility doctrine is.

The Nature and Mission of Theology – Ratzinger on Infallibility

Posted February 22, 2012 by Emil Anton
Categories: Joseph Ratzinger, Papal Infallibility

In his book The Nature and Mission of Theology (Ignatius Press 1995), then Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) gives an interesting commentary on the CDF Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of a Theologian (from 1990). In it the CDF admitted a theologian could disagree with the Magisterium with regard to non-definitive teachings. But there was a point that provoked understandable criticism.

“Regarding the matter itself, it must be conceded that numbers 29 to 31 of the Instruction can be misunderstood if they are isolated from their context, especially paragraphs 25 and 26. Taken out of context, in fact, they can give rise to the impression that the Instruction allows the theologian the sole option of submitting divergent opinions to the magisterial authorities in secret and obliges him to suffer in silence if he is unsuccessful.” (p. 117)

Ratzinger goes on to give the correct interpretation: “Nevertheless, in the light of the whole text, which speaks of fruitful tensions and their value, it is quite obvious that the Instruction is not proposing ‘secret’ communications but dialogue which remains on an ecclesiastical and scientific plane and avoids distortions at the hands of the mass media. If this is ‘secret’, then all science must be called ‘secret’. In actuality, the point is precisely to use arguments instead of pressure as a means of persuasion.” (p. 117)

The only remaining problem is that this is allowed only with regard to so-called non-definitive teachings. What should be recognized is that since there is no list of such teachings and since many teachings once considered definitive have been reversed, such a distinction is not fruitful. In terms of papal infallibility, it can be questioned on the basis of the non-definitiveness of conciliar infallibility.

Ratzinger on infallibility

Ratzinger knows the problems of infallibility. He reacts in his comments to a tendency which wishes to limit obedience to Church authority solely to infallible statements, whereas the rest would rest on arguments alone.

“It seems to me that we have before us a typically Western restriction and legalistic reduction of the notion of faith which radicalizes certain one-sided developments which begin to make their appearance around the High Middle Ages.” (p. 111)

Pay attention to how Ratzinger describes the doctrine of infallibility: it is a one-sided medieval development, a far cry from the Christ-given truth-guaranteeing dogma of Vatican I. Ratzinger concedes, “as was demonstrated in the controversy with Küng”, that “infallibility first developed with such rigorous clarity in the Middle Ages” (p. 112). When faith is restricted to the “skeleton of infallibility”, “what really matters is lost”, that is, “the rule of faith and the Creed” (p. 112).

Ratzinger proposes the concept of auctoritas as more important than infallibility. States and parents are obeyed and their decisions are binding even though not infallible or irreformable. The same should apply to the Church. (p. 112-113)

All of that is exactly what I have been saying on this blog for some time already. The only thing Ratzinger doesn’t seem to see or want to admit is that the whole infallibility doctrine is the very reason why these wrong distinctions have been made and why what really matters has been lost. He says the “knowledge” of the gift of infallibility “cannot and ought not be withdrawn” (p. 112).

Supposedly the reason the doctrine of infallibility is “knowledge” and why it “cannot be withdrawn” is that it was defined by Vatican I and that magisterial dogmas are to be taken as a given in Catholic theology. However, if the sense of faith of the Church does not support the dogma (let’s say, optimistically, that 30-50% of Catholics believe it), it might be a sign of its non-infallibility.

The curious thing about this sensus fidei argument is that for Ratzinger it works only one way: “the dogmas of 1854, 1870 and 1950 became possible because of the sensus fidei had discovered them, while the Magisterium and theology followed its lead and tried slowly to catch up with it” (p. 105). But when the same phenomenon takes place in the other direction, it is called “dissent”, “principle of majority rule”, “a countermagisterium” (p. 107).

Yet Ratzinger himself was the one who, in the CDF document of 1990, allowed that “there are magisterial decisions which cannot be the final word on a given matter as such” but are a “sort of provisional policy” whose “particulars determined by circumstances can stand in need of correction” (p. 106).

Examples? “In this connection, one will probably call to mind both the pontifical statements of the last century regarding freedom of religion and the anti-Modernist decisions of the beginning of this century, especially the decisions of the then Biblical Commission.” “They were superseded after having fulfilled their pastoral function in the situation of the time.” (p. 106)

The problem here is threefold. 1) The documents in question were not always presented as prudential provisional policies but as absolute truths the opposite of which was condemned as grave sin. 2) The Church has never officially revoked these statements or explicitly declared them superseded. 3) Under the assumptions of doctrinal immutability and maximal infallibility of many of the infallibilists of Vatican I, these statements would qualify as infallible.

Conclusions? Ratzinger’s view already relativizes Vatican I, so why not be consistent and go back to “what really matters”? The Church’s authority is based on the truth it has received from the Apostles, the truth expressed in the rule of faith and the Creed. The additional doctrine of infallibility adds nothing but confusion.

Catholic Answers on Papal Infallibility

Posted February 6, 2012 by Emil Anton
Categories: Catholic Answers, James R. White, Papal Infallibility, Robert Sungenis

Since Catholic Answers is the largest Catholic apologetics organization, many people interested in apologetics on a popular level rely on their materials. I also used to be one of those who thought, more or less: “If it appears in the pages of C&F [Karl Keating's Catholicism and Fundamentalism], it must be true!” (That is how James White put it in this article.)

The Catholic Answers tract on Papal Infallibility is still substantially the same, decades after C&F and over a decade after White’s criticism. White did receive two responses (links provided at the end of the article), but the Steve Ray link doesn’t work, so there is really only one, by Scott Windsor.

Scott Windsor’s response is, I concur with White, in stark contrast with the scholarship provided by White. The patristic Peter-quotes are provided with no awareness of the fact that these do not necessarily need to have anything to do with the Bishop of Rome.

Also, the “three conditions” for infallible statements are not those of Pastor Aeternus, and anyway Vatican I interpreted its conditions much more widely than these modern apologists. By the standards of the intention of Vatican I, the Zosimus case is indeed a strong argument against the dogma.

The Catholic Answers Tract on Papal Infallibility

Treating the inadequacy of Keating’s patristic arguments as established by White’s article, I would like to take a look at the rest of the arguments made by Keating in favor of papal infallibility. I will also deal with Jason Evert’s article “How to Argue for Papal Infallibility“.

Keating’s article begins by saying what papal infallibility is not. Among other things, it is not only the Pope that is infallible but also the bishops in union with him (the ordinary and universal magisterium), when they solemnly teach a doctrine as true. This teaching, first taught officially at Vatican II (LG 25), Keating claims we have “from Jesus himself” in Lk 10:16 and Mt 18:18.

Jesus didn’t say anything about the infallibility of the ordinary and universal magisterium in solemn doctrinal teachings. He said that people would be hearing his voice when the 70 disciples preached the gospel of the Kingdom (Lk 10:16) and that the Apostles could forgive sin and excommunicate (Mt 18:18).

The infallibility of the ordinary and universal magisterium is a product of the Counter-Reformation, as far as we know, and it has never been dogmatically defined. The same goes for the infallibility of ecumenical councils, which was first suggested by Theodore Abu Qurra in the 9th century.

Early Church and development

Keating goes on to say that the doctrine of papal infallibility is not a doctrine that suddenly appeared in the Church. But the historical study of Brian Tierney suggests just that: it appeared rather suddenly in the Middle Ages. I am not aware of Catholic Answers materials dealing with Tierney.

Keating basically admits that the doctrine was not taught explicitly in the Bible or in the early Church, rather, it is “implicit” in the early Church and in the three Petrine texts (Mt 16, Lk 22, Jn 21). He admits that Christians “developed” an understanding of papal infallibility, and the “clear beginnings” of this development are seen in the early Church.

Here Keating cites Cyprian and Augustine, and these are the texts James White shows do nothing to show these fathers believed in papal infallibility. One might defend Keating’s tract by saying he only talks of the beginnings of a development. But Keating does not even try to justify his “development” approach which runs counter to the “doctrinal immutability” approach taken by Vatican I.

Maximalism or minimalism?

Under “Some Clarifications” Keating makes some general comments about infallible definitions, implying that there are quite many of them in the end, when you combine those of the Popes, the councils and the “ordinary magisterium” (he must mean “ordinary-and-universal”). Later, citing Knox, Keating seems to affirm that all the anathemas of the Popes throughout the centuries are infallible.

But at the same time Keating points out there are many teachings which haven’t been defined and that infallibility only applies to “solemn, official teachings on faith and morals, not to disciplinary decisions or even to unofficial comments on faith and morals”. He does not specify what he means by “solemn” and where simply “official teachings on faith and morals” would belong (these, of course, are the most common!).

This ambuguity is quite standard. The positive presentation only excludes discipline and unofficial teachings from infallibility. But when cases of erroneous official doctrine are presented, the defender retreats to the word “solemn” and restricts infallibility to only a few cases. Usually it is not asked how the distinction between doctrine and discipline has traditionally been understood and whether it was Vatican I’s intention to restrict papal infallibility to only a few cases.

The same applies to the examples from the Bible and Church history. The Gal. 2 case as well as the cases of Liberius, Vigilius and Honorius are dismissed because they do not meet the requirements for an infallible definition set out by Pastor Aeternus. It is not asked how the Council Fathers interpreted these requirements, nor is it asked whether such distinctions were recognized by Jesus and the Apostles or the early Church.

A case in point is Honorius the Monothelite. The tract cites Knox, who resolves the problem by saying that Honorius was an inopportunist who decided not to define doctrine. I wonder whether Knox and Keating are confusing two things. Honorius did not take a stand in the debate over operations, but he did write rather solemnly that we confess one will in Christ. And Ecumenical Councils and later Popes condemned him for that. This Keating ignores. Was Honorius wrong, or were those later condemnations wrong?

Speculation with unproven assumptions

Keating continues with a theological speculation about infallibility where he states the Tridentine understanding of infallibility: “[The Church] must prove itself to be a perfectly steady guide in matters pertaining to salvation.” But this can be maintained with a general indefectibility and without solemn papal additions to the deposit of the faith (such as the Marian dogmas).

A related argument goes as follows: if the Church ever apostatized by teaching heresy, then it would cease to exist; “because it would cease to be Jesus’ Church”. This is naive. As long as there are people baptized and believing in Christ and gathering in his name and as long as the Eucharist is celebrated, the Church endures.

One would need to define “heresy”, “Church”, “apostatize”, and see how these terms have been understood throughout the centuries. We would see that Keating’s logic stands on fallible ground – his assumptions are unnecessary and unapostolic.

One more time Keating commits the same mistake: “Thus the Church cannot teach heresy, meaning that anything it solemnly defines for the faithful to believe is true”. The Church is “God’s spokesman” – 1 Tim 3:15 and Lk 10:16 cited as purportedly evidencing the same mindset. Of course the Church is God’s spokesman when it proclaims Christ and his gospel faithfully. But this needn’t have anything to do with new dogmatic definitions about Mary in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Again Keating’s above sentence is initially very wide-ranging (the Church cannot teach heresy) and fits well with the idea that the Church is God’s spokesman. But the second sentence restricts this to “anything it solemnly defines”, again leaving the interpretation vague enough to help run from counter-arguments. Keating knows that there are problematic magisterial documents, that Bishops and even local councils can teach heresy, that large parts of the people of God have believed heresy, etc.

No explanation is given why “Church” should be equated with “solemn” (the meaning of which remains unexplained) definitions (also unexplained) of the magisterium (the development of which is also ignored).

Evert’s article

Jason Evert’s article adds little to Keating’s. He often confuses papal infallibility (which he is trying to defend) with the infallibility of the Church. Again 1 Tim 3:15 is cited as well as Cyprian, and, lo and behold, Robert Sungenis! But no patristic evidence is given for this intepretation of Mt 16.

The Irenaeus passage is quoted, again (as almost always) ignoring the fact that Irenaeus has presented the faith/tradition he is talking about in 1,10,1, and it doesn’t include papal infallibility. The same goes for the Sixtus quote: Rome was authoritative because it bore witness to the truth, truth was not made truth by Roman decisions. None of these quotes absolutely preclude the possibility of future error.

Evert also argues from the parallel between inspiration and infallibility. Incidentally, Scott Hahn argued similarly just recently on Catholic Answers Live. “If God could take fallible men and use them as authors of infallible Scripture, why couldn’t he make fallible Popes infallible, too?” Well, of course he could, but this is pure speculation in the absence of evidence that he did.


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