Archive for the ‘Robert Sungenis’ category

White vs. Sungenis on Predestination

June 23, 2012

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.

White

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”.

Sungenis

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]).

Conclusion

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.

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Sungenis vs. White on Purgatory

June 11, 2012

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.

Catholic Answers on Papal Infallibility

February 6, 2012

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.

Robert Sungenis vs. Peter Dimond on NA and Islam

October 10, 2011

I can’t help but to comment on the recent debate between Robert Sungenis and Peter Dimond on whether Nostra Aetate 3’s teaching on islam is heretical. The comment won’t be long though, for the general impression of the debate was simply that of a “foolish controversy” (Tit. 3:9).

The debate can be listened to here. The debate was not a formal, public, well-organized debate like most of the ones Sungenis has done with James White. It was rather a privately organized, rather poor-quality (probably via Skype or something) debate, where both parties kept repeating more or less the same arguments for about an hour, changing turns every 2 minutes.

Robert Sungenis

Sungenis’ arguments can be summed up in his post-debate summary here. He did a good job in showing how esteeming other religions is in line with Paul’s approach in Acts 17 (as well as Romans 1-2, perhaps). Sungenis also pointed out that NA 3’s “esteem” is linked with monotheism (as well as other elements common between us, perhaps), not all of islam.

Sungenis did a poorer job in answering Dimond’s quotes from earlier Popes as well as St. Thomas. Sometimes he didn’t answer at all, he didn’t seem to be familiar with the particular texts or prepared to deal with them in this context. Sungenis also lost a lot of credibility in trying to explain away consistent papal teaching on Vatican II (labeling them mere “private opinions”).

Sungenis’ intention to keep all Church doctrine together is laudable, but he ends up not “thinking with the Church”. In my view his problem is in the hierarchy of truths: for him, infallibility, authority and inerrancy are in the center (if there’s one error, there can be all kinds of errors and the whole thing goes), rather than at the periphery where they should be (the Gospel, Christ and the Church communion are in the center, inerrancy and infallibility were late developments from, not the foundation of the faith).

Peter Dimond

Peter Dimond did a good job in showing the contrast between the pre-conciliar and post-conciliar approaches to Islam. They truly are very different, although some aspects might be explained by different emphases. Dimond did a good debating job as well, sometimes making the debate a bit awkward for Sungenis (eg. the Thomas Aquinas quote as well as the post-conciliar papal teaching argument).

Dimond’s problem is his obsession with heresy. He sees heresy everywhere, when he is in no position to judge. Dimond is also obsessed with ex cathedra dogmas and infallibilities. The fact that a Pope has stated in an encyclical that something is a dogma does not make it a dogma, for encyclicals are not dogmatic definitions. He should point to the dogmatic definition rather than non-infallible papal documents to prove his point.

Dimond suffers from the same problem as Sungenis: a failure to recognize the development of dogma and a fixation in the, say, 13th-19th centuries. The fact is that 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th century Christianity looked very different than medieval Catholicism should make a Catholic open to further developments as well.

Jesus Christ does not change, but he lives and works miracles in His Church, one of which is Her new attitude toward Islam, which can facilitate world peace, fruitful religious dialogue and hopefully true and informed conversions.

Sungenis’ critique of Pope John Paul II

April 23, 2011

Yes, I am forced to write another post against Robert Sungenis, this time because of his recently (re-)published article against His Holiness John Paul II and his holiness;) Despite the argument, I still wish to express and maintain my respect and friendship toward Mr. Sungenis. The Church needs honest, good debates, it’s a sign of the love of Truth.

Again a couple of introductory words about my personal spiritual journey. The first time I wrote against Sungenis I was in crisis, the second time I was more at peace, now I am doing even better, loving the Church and trying to think with it and spread its message in fresh ways. The prayers of Sungenis and his friends might well have been heard:)

1000 against 10

Some general comments about why I disagree with Sungenis and where I think his mistakes lie. First, I have spent the last 6 months in Cracow, the city where John Paul II (henceforth JP2) studied, was ordained and ruled as Bishop and Archbishop. This was his home, this is what he left behind him, here you find his legacy, one feels it.

As a theologian I’ve been digging deep into JP2 and his pupils, read 4 biographies, seen 2, heard 1. Most recently I went to the movies to see the new documentary film about him, “Szukałem Was…” I attended Mass in his private chapel, where he also received Orders, and met people who knew him. The overwhelming overall impression one gets from everything and everyone is that of holiness.

Sungenis has some valid concerns, but his 10 pages (actually 9) of argumentation pale in comparison with the 1000 pages of biographies that show the true face of the saintly Pope, his everyday life, conduct and faith. Of course everyone should find out and judge for themselves, but there are some good reasons why Sungenis is in the tiny minority.

I don’t know how many biographies of JP2 Mr. Sungenis has read, but I feel one of his problems is a lack of honest research – instead of the authentic sources he repeats the arguments of traditionalist Catholics. I will illustrate this later on. Another problem seems to be Sungenis’ hyper-Tridentine Catholicism. What is wrong with this, I will also illustrate below.

A third problem, connected to the second, is a lack of consistency in thinking with the Church. A fourth problem, connected to the third, is a negative attitude, not giving JP2 a charitable interpretation or the benefit of a doubt. All of this leads to the fifth problem which is Sungenis’ inconsistency in his own apologetics.

Lack of honest research

What caught my attention here at first was Sungenis’ treatment of Islam. He claims the Koran says in “Article 2: ‘He who believes in the Trinity is impure, just like excrement and urine.'” First of all, there are no “Articles” in the Koran, but Surahs and Ayahs, sometimes called chapters and verses.

I looked into Surah 2 but found no such verse there. In fact, when I copy-pasted and googled the sentence, all I found was traditional Catholic apologetics sites with the same argument. This is when I started doubting the quality of Sungenis’ research. I recall he has been “caught” before for having copied incorrect materials from other websites.

I have been following both serious debates between Christians and Muslims as well as the interreligious dialogue between Christianity and Islam. This (as it seems) made-up verse has never come up in any of these debates, but more importantly, Sungenis is out of touch with what these religions have achieved in their common dialogue and how one should deal with the differences in them.

I would recommend Pope Benedict’s interview The Light of the World on this topic as well as his recent Good Friday response to a Muslim woman inquiring about Jesus and peace. This is a perfect example of how the Church should interact with Islam. Pope Benedict doesn’t start by condemning Islam for its denial of Christ but starts with a prayer for God’s blessing and a recognition of Islam’s faith in Jesus as prophet.

But then the most important part: the Pope doesn’t leave it there, but goes on to explain how the Incarnate God in Christ Crucified reveals that violence can never come from God. The Pope calls this the “true” message of Jesus. Similarly, Pope John Paul II was invited to address about 100 000 young Muslims in Casablanca by King Hassan II, and he spoke to them about his Christian faith.

Hyper-Tridentine Catholicism

Let’s deal with the Tridentinism of Sungenis’ approach. I understand it. Been there. One sees the problems in Sola Scriptura, one embraces the “infallible” Magisterium and especially Trent and Vatican I, since they deal with the issues we too face: Protestantism and the Enlightenment. Vatican II, however, is a bit suspect, because its approach is so different from the two previous councils, which supposedly represent the perennial Faith, the changeless Truth.

The problem with this approach is its naivety. Trent is simply Trent, it’s 16th century. The Apostolic Christianity of the first two centuries was not Tridentine Catholicism, and the teaching of the Catholic Church today is not Tridentine Catholicism. There is no good reason to make Trent the ultimate standard.

A nice illustration occurs toward the beginning of Sungenis’ paper, where he calls the Tridentine Catechism (CR) “one of the purest publications of doctrine the Church has ever produced”. Judging by what? If “pure” means “Tridentine” as it seems to do for Sungenis, then it’s no surprise the Catechism of the Council of Trent is pure. But if your standard is, for example, the Apostolic Faith (see eg Irenaeus and the Apostolic Creed) or the latest ecumenical council, one thanks God one has the CCC instead.

To list three main problems with the CR: 1) Its ignorance of early liturgies and the development of doctrine. The CCC is much more patristic and liturgical. 2) Its scholastic method of Scripture interpretation, using naive proof-texting. The CCC is much more biblical, entering into the vision of the inspired authors. 3) Its naivety in proclaiming that the faith (its faith) is certain and cannot be at all doubted – which the CCC implicitly does by teaching many things very differently.

Examples of concrete doctrinal defects: The CR teaches the damnation of babies who die without baptism, it teaches all sorts of late baptismal liturgical ceremonies were “no doubt” instituted by the Apostles and that the words and chrism of Confirmation were ordained by Christ Himself.

The CR says Luke 13:3 refers to post-baptismal mortal sins and the sacrament of confession and contradicts Paul on whether all men will die. Also compare the CR and the CCC on the sacrament of orders and its stages – the CCC obviously being much more biblical and apostolic (deacon, priest/presbyter and bishop).

Think with the Church

I remember a conversation I personally had with Mr. Sungenis when I visited him in 2009. He complained that some of his traditionalist friends don’t want to accept Vatican II, and said that one must accept all the councils.

Vatican II did not proclaim its teaching infallible, but it is what the Church officially believes and teaches, and so a Catholic should wish to embrace it and think with it. The same goes for post-conciliar official teaching. Of course one is free to question some of these teachings, but one should also be self-critical.

There are many examples of where I think Sungenis uncritically sticks to the 16th century and thus fails to think along with the Church, guided and inspired by the Spirit of God. One such case is the issue of justification. With the Joint Declaration (JD), Sungenis exclaims, “The Council of Trent is overruled!” Again, Sungenis remarks: “Apparently the Council of Trent wasn’t good enough for John Paul II.”

Again one wonders whether Sungenis is at all up to date with Catholic-Lutheran dialogue. I happen to live in the most Lutheran country in the world, and I’m well aware of and grateful for the progress made in the ecumenical encounters on this topic. In Cracow also talked to a Polish priest and scholar who wrote his doctorate on this very topic.

So, how is one to assess Sungenis’ approach? First, he misrepresents the JD, which does not “overrule” the confessional documents of the dialogue partners, but achieves an understanding acceptable to both so that the condemnations do not apply to the Catholic&Lutheran views as formulated in this document.

I’d rather say that Trent was good, but not enough – the theologians at the council often worked on the basis of citations of Protestant doctrine taken out of context, not having the Protestants themselves present to explain their faith and have an honest dialogue with them.

“Trent’s anathemas didn’t much matter to the liberal Catholics” – well, look at Unitatis Redintegratio and ask who are the Catholics in line with the Church’s mind? If the Church views Protestants as brothers who have the Word of God, the Gospel, faith, hope and charity, the grace of the Spirit, baptized into the body of Christ, one is bound to question the weight of the disciplinary anathemas of times past, still characterized by the newness of the problem and predating the ecumenical conversion.

Charitable interpretations

Closely linked with the previous is the question of one’s attitude toward controversial issues. A prime example is the Prayer meeting in Assisi. I recall Sungenis telling me he asked other Catholic apologists why they didn’t stand up for the truth in this issue and speak out against the Pope. I ask Sungenis why he won’t give the Pope a charitable interpretation.

Sungenis’ critique of the Pope is very similar to the one presented by more radical traditionalists (Sedevacantists and the like). They immediately speak of syncretism and praying together with pagan religions, which is of course against what previous Popes have taught, and so condemn JP2.

Well, in Poland I got to read the Pope’s personal secretary’s telling of the story. So far I had only read about Assisi from its antagonists. What a fresh read it was, Stanislaw Dziwisz’s A Life with Karol. Here the Cardinal explains the political background for the Pope’s idea. The cold war was on and the Pope could sense further trouble (cf. the Balkan, the Gulf). As a world leader he was searching for a way to peace.

He was praying intensively and received a sudden inspiration that convinced him. A religious way to peace, which would bring religion back to the forefront in the face of secularism and atheism: let’s get as many people as possible to pray for peace! And now the most important part: Dziwisz says JP2 had to remind critics repeatedly that we are coming together to pray, not that we are coming to pray together.

These two facts, the political background and the distinction cited above, are never honestly presented by the traditionalist critics. They wish to hide them and make it look as bad as possible, as if the Pope was just looking for a way to show his religious indifference and relativism. On the contrary, the Pope expressly spoke out against syncretism and underlined the necessity of witness.

Consistent apologetics

At the end of his paper Sungenis states that John Paul II’s canonization would settle the debate about the infallibility of canonizations for him. I take this to mean that Sungenis would then disagree with an official papal declaration, and perhaps even doubt that John Paul II, whom the whole Church would be venerating and praying to, is in heaven.

Again this goes against Sungenis’ apologetic goal to accept everything the Church says, and not pick and choose parts of it. In fact, he has strongly attacked the “it’s not infallible” -kind of argumentation when it suits him. A recent example is his response to Dave Armstrong on the Galileo case.

Sungenis grants the Church didn’t infallibly reject heliocentrism, but maintains that a Catholic shouldn’t infer that it’s not official or binding Church teaching that heliocentrism is wrong. In his book on Galileo he says it’s one thing to admit a teaching isn’t infallible (which goes for most teachings, anyway), another thing to say it’s in error. The latter is what Sungenis doesn’t want to allow, in order to rescue the Tridentine axiom “the Church cannot err”.

But now Sungenis is ready to give up and make his own apologetics much less credible: he is prepared to reject not only doctrinal documents approved by the Church (the JD, and indirectly the UR), not only to oppose the pastoral decisions of the Pope (Assisi, the approach to Islam), but to question an official declaration of the Pope, which is supposed to bind the whole Church. That’s something to ponder.

Conclusion

Gentile Christianity certainly seemed novel to some Jewish Christians in the 1st century. Augustine’s Christianity and his synthesis of Christianity with Platonism was novel in his time, and again Thomas’ Christianizing Aristotle was novel in his time. Why should all these be great, but John Paul II’s theology of the body, his great synthesis of Christianity with modern philosophical currents (personalism, phenomenology), be all bad?

So in closing I would like to say to my friend Mr. Sungenis, and to the Catholics that take these positions with him: get real! It’s not the 16th century any more, it’s the 21st, and if the Spirit is still at work in the Church, and it is (open your eyes to the amazing expansion of the Church in Africa and Asia, for instance…), then the Spirit is leading the way and you’re in need of the same conversion the Church has already experienced.

Praise God, I’ve had this conversion myself and it is a beautiful thing to be able to look at the world and the Church and see so much good, so much hope, so much joy. Jesus is present where two or three are gathered in His name, much more than in the lonely and bitter voices of the ultra-orthodox traditionalists. I now return the favor to Mr. Sungenis and ask my readers to pray for him. God bless!

Response to Robert Sungenis

January 28, 2011

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.