Response to Robert Sungenis

I would like to respond to Robert Sungenis’ response to my post on the White vs. Sungenis debates. With that the nature of this blog necessarily changes from Catholic apologetics responding to Calvinism and Sedevacantism into something that includes intra-Catholic theological debates. Which is not bad, since debates are kind of what the name of the blog suggests.

I have removed the subtitle “Catholic apologetics from Finland” (now that I’m in Poland, anyway:) and will also give up the (costly) domain saunadebates.com. From February on, this blog will be available at saunadebates.wordpress.com. Now, the response to Mr. Sungenis.

Opening remarks about personal issues

Mr. Sungenis was right to point out that my problems were deeper than the arguments of the debates. The debates were one factor among many that launched a sort of a period of crisis of faith in my life, not the first of the kind. I used the debates in order to show some of the reasons for the problems I was having. I am grateful for Sungenis’ response and attitude, especially his plea to his readers to pray for me.

I am grateful for all the prayers and am more at peace with my faith at present. Which doesn’t mean Catholicism doesn’t have its problems, and I welcome the opportunity to be able to discuss some of these tough points with Mr. Sungenis. I wish to confirm my friendship and respect for Mr. Sungenis and apologize for some overly critical language. Having said this, I will move into the main points at issue.

Acts 15 and infallibility

Sungenis called attention to the distinction between Acts 15 and what Peter says in Acts 15. If Peter made the decision, then the Amos quote is irrelevant. Let us concede that Peter made the decision, without scriptural precedent, citing only his experience with Cornelius (as Sungenis pointed out) as the basis.

Very well. There was a direct revelation from God to Peter as the basis of the decision in Acts 15, confirmed by the whole apostolic Church. By contrast, in 1950 the Church had long believed that revelation had ended around 1850 years earlier (not counting private revelations which cannot be made dogmatically binding), so there is no parallel revelation to the Pope here.

In addition, the whole point of the dogma of papal infallibility is to say that the Pope has the power to bind dogmas on the Church even without a council. Acts 15 obviously cannot serve to prove such a position. I might also add that Acts 15 wasn’t that similar to the second, third etc. councils, because in the earliest ecumenical councils the Pope did not preside or decide, sometimes he only later accepted the originally local Eastern councils as representing the Church’s faith.

The idea of infallible ecumenical councils developed over the centuries (as I recall from Sullivan’s Magisterium, the idea first came up, suprise surprise, as a reflection on Acts 15, in the 8th or 9th century or so), and so did papal infallibility (even later). Even the current Pope recognizes this in his new book Light of the World. In his answer about infallibility he doesn’t appeal to God as its source in Mt 16:19 but to its long historical development.

The Gospel and the Church

Pope Benedict goes on to explain papal infallibility as something that the Pope has in cases where the Tradition is clear. But in the case of the Assumption the Tradition is all but clear, what we have is apocryphal texts from the 4th century on and some very late patristic texts. Sure, we can believe in the Assumption, but does the Church have the right to make it a binding obligation, a dogma?

Sungenis appealed to the “whatsoever” of Mt 16:19. But first he should show why this whatsoever must be understood as referring to so-called infallible dogmatic definitions. Who was the first Christian to interpret Mt 16:19 this way? Did Acts 15 refer to this text? And if Mt 16:19 is about infallible papal definitions, did it really mean anything for 18 centuries (since Sungenis holds the only infallible dogmatic definitions come from 1870 and 1950)?

As far as I know the traditional patristic understanding of Mt 16:19 is that the Church has the right to forgive sins and that one must thus be in communion with the Church built on Peter and his faith. Now this faith was the faith that Jesus is the Son of God, which is what the Gospel is about (see eg Romans 1:2-3). I think Mr. Sungenis missed my point a bit in terms of the Church being in service of the Gospel.

If the Gospel is the message about Christ (again, see eg. 2 Tim. 2:8), crucified and risen for our salvation (see 1 Cor 15:3, Rom 4:25 and my previous post on the Pauline Gospel), and if it in itself is salvific (Rom 1:16, 1 Cor 15:2), and if other Gospels are forbidden (Gal 1:8), then does it not follow that binding something like the Assumption on all Christians as a requirement for saving faith is rather suspect?

The Magisterium (and Mr. Sungenis as its defender) needs to either show that the Assumption was a part of the Gospel all along or say that the Gospel in itself is not salvific unless one believes a whole set of later theological definitions. Or find some third way out of the problem.

This is all very relevant to the debate, because starting from the assumption (ha-ha) that Christ’s death and resurrection are salvific for the baptized believer, the issue of circumcision and the dogma of the Assumption cannot be equated. If the Gospel saves, then circumcision cannot be an additional requirement. And if the Gospel saves, then faith in the Assumption cannot be an additional requirement either.

My rules or apostolic rules?

Mr. Sungenis argues that I am making my own rules as to what the Church is allowed to teach and what it is not. I would like to reply that Paul himself sets down the rules when he commands the Corinthians and Timothy to hold on to what he passed on to them and not believe other gospels. And Paul passed on to them the apostolic rule of faith in one God who sent his Son to die and rise for us, in whom we participate in the Spirit who spoke through the prophets and thus form one body, the Church.

To prove that it is not my invention that the Church is not allowed to add to the apostolic rule of faith, let me cite Irenaeus , a powerful apostolic witness to the content of the apostolic rule of truth, contained in the inspired writings and passed down by tradition. Irenaeus insists that the rule of faith is one and the same and that it allows no additions. And the rule does not contain the Assumption or Papal infallibility.

I think this post is long enough already, so I will skip the homoousios issue (though briefly: both sides thought Christ was God and both sides thought they were with the Church, there was no universally recognized infallible instance to settle the dispute) and the Predestination debate (briefly: I simply agree with White’s “no answer” because Sungenis’ answers were evidently too far-fetched, if someone doesn’t see it, fine, anyway one is free to be a Thomist or a Molinist so no big deal).

In closing, I would like to thank Mr. Sungenis and anyone else willing to continue this discussion in a common quest for truth. Let us compete in respecting one another, as Paul urged.

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