Reformation as rupture

The Cellarer cites the Pope’s comment that the Reformation was ‘a rupture with Scotland’s Catholic past’.

This is most certainly true. The Scottish Reformers were deeply concerned to new-model (to put it anachronistically) Scotland’s religious scene. There were social and political by-products of the religious reformation, of course, but the main thing is the theological or doctrinal development.

At the Reformation, the Scottish church returned to the inscripturated Word as a thoroughly sufficient authority on “all things necessary for the instruction of the kirk, and to make the man of God perfect”. In terms of ecclesiastical structure, the Scottish church became presbyterian rather than prelatical, and repudiated any role for any bishops, including the bishop of Rome. The Reformation in Scotland went back to the scriptural model of only two sacraments, and confessed that the grace which is exhibited in or by the sacraments is not conferred by any power in the sacraments themselves. And the trajectory of Reformed thought was then continued down through the generations through the struggles of the Covenanting times, the increased clarity gained about the nature of the free offer of the gospel in the 18th century, the detailed exegetical work on the nature of the atonement in the 19th century by Smeaton, Martin, et al., and so on – but the breach with Rome was deliberate, conscientious, and thorough.

That’s not to say that no good thing has ever come from Rome, or that people in communion with Rome aren’t lovely people, or that we can’t learn from Rome, or agree on a whole lot of things, theological and not. But there is no denying that, as far as the Reformers were concerned, they were cutting ties with an institution which they regarded as unbiblical in its structure, its soteriology, and its practice.

52 thoughts on “Reformation as rupture

  1. How do you understand or equate ‘the nature of the free offer of the Gospel’ as you term it, with John 10.26, ‘But ye believe not, because ye are not of My sheep.’


  2. Obviously the Catholic Church, and I, would completely refute much of the above!

    Without getting into apologetics, it is of course, authority being the key. The Catholic Church bases it’s faith on scripture, apostolic tradition and the magesterium (bishops in communion with successor of Peter, the Pope) The reformers removed (we would say, rather than ‘returned to scripture’) the last two.

    To sum up, I’m a Catholic as I read scripture, Church history (of various denominations), apologetics (of various denominations) and the Church Fathers, I came to the conclusion that in the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, there was apostolic Christianity. Even if it was for the right reasons (debatable) that the reformers broke with Rome, they should have gone Orthodox. Their theological conclusions and actions were totally unjustifiable.

    Different people reach different conclusions. That’s mine.

    In respect of today, the enemy is relativism. The secularists want to remove us from the public square. Some Christian beliefs are being made illegal. As I’ve said before what we all need to do is hold our beliefs as true, whilst respecting others – not accepting the ‘well it’s all the same really’ or ‘no such thing as truth is there?’ lies.

    In particular, and notably in the last couple of years, the Catholic and Orthodox Churches have moved forward in realising that we (Christians) have to work together or Christianity in Europe could be extinct. Think it can’t happen? An american priest says it better than i could

    Our Lord promised that the Church would survive until He returned.

    He did not promise it would survive in France.. or in England, or the United States or anywhere else…. even Rome.

    Think about the once thriving ancient Churches in North Africa and Asia Minor.

    Wasn’t France known as the Roman Church’s eldest daughter

    There are no guarantees that the Church in your region will survive.

    There are no guarantees that your diocese or your parish will survive.

    They won’t if you are not involved and willing to give support, even at some cost.


  3. Absolutely agree on the need to stand/work together against relativism and secularism. And your American priest’s point is familiar to presbyterians as the “candlestick” metaphor (from Revelation?) – there are no guarantees that any local variety of Christianity will survive, even though the Church itself will never go extinct.

    There was really no way the Reformers could have gone Orthodox though. There was the old schism over the Holy Spirit, if nothing else, to rule that option out from the outset. I think we generally underestimate too how deeply indebted the Reformers were to the theologians who were before them. Obviously there was “rupture”, but there was a lot of continuity too. Of course from their perspective, that continuity had to be restricted to the areas where scripture justified it, and one thing that scripture doesn’t justify is going outside of itself for an authoritative word on anything that is necessary for salvation/faith/life.


  4. But surely, if Christ promised that the church would be a city built upon a hilltop that could not be hidden, and if he promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against it and that he would remain with it until the end of time, then rupture must indicate error. As no recorded thinker agreed with the Scottish Reformers’ views on how we are to be saved prior to the sixteenth century the city built upon a hill top must have been hidden for one and a half millennia, in which case Christ did not remain with the church and the gates of hell prevailed. Or, on the other hand, Christ is faithful, the gates of hell did not prevail and the church remained visible but lots of Scots left it.


  5. Ah. But the Reformers would have agreed that the church was indeed visible prior to the Reformation, just with more and more non-scriptural accretions in the form of prelacy, sacerdotalism, etc over time. It was the Church Visible, but to a large extent in their eyes corrupt or decayed in relation to the scriptural model. The rupture with Rome, though, was not a rupture with the Church as such. The rhetoric changed, I believe, at the time of the Council of Trent, which anathematised as heresy doctrines like justification by faith alone etc, which the Reformers were recovering and articulating at that time. At Trent, the Reformers saw the Roman church as the ones that were rupturing with The Church, by formalising their opposition to such indubitably scriptural doctrines. Quite apart from their robust refusal to accept that the Church Visible must necessarily be identified either with one particular ecclesiastical organisation, or one that is “visible” in the sense of being universally obvious or recognised (where was the visible church when Elijah didn’t know about the 7000, eg, etc).

    Welcome back, by the way (is that you?) :)


  6. Sorry, forgot to add, re recorded thinkers, there was at least the apostle Paul. And Calvin was an Augustinian. And not till after the Puritans did a thorough familiarity with the Church Fathers fade out of the Reformed consciousness. Not that justification came much into the focus of theological dispute until Luther’s time, but it really wasn’t till Trent that the Roman church explicitly and formally repudiated the doctrine of justification by faith alone.


  7. ‘Tis I….

    I don’t see how set upon a hill top and unable to be hidden could be taken to mean anything other than ‘universally obvious or recognised’.

    It is clear none of the Fathers including Augustine held to justification by faith alone or sola scriptura.

    I can’t see how the Church can have been visible if assent to its teachings was incompatible with salvation. This is especially the case given your very strong line on what counts as idolatry. While on the other side the church teaches that certainty regarding one’s salvation is the moral sin of presumption (a sin against the Holy Spirit). So the two positions entail that the adherents of the other are in deep trouble vis-à-vis salvation.

    This problem of where all the real Christians were for fifteen hundred years seems to be why in the sixteenth and seventieth centuries Protestants claimed all sorts of odd mediaeval funnies like the Cathars and the Fraticelii or even the Druids were really Calvinists.


  8. Re visibility, the key term there was “necessarily”. Murderous persecutors, eg, don’t tend to care whether the Evangelical Baptist outfit or the Catholic convent better represents the Church visible, they just want off with their heads.

    Assent to the teachings of the pre-Reformation church was not necessarily (again) incompatible with salvation. To the extent that the doctrines of the the pre-Ref church were scriptural, assenting to these teachings was as necessary as now – eg, the Trinity, the divinity of Christ, etc. The Reformers conserved as much as they could – Apostles Creed, Nicene Creed, Athanasian Creed, Chalcedon – because these creeds were scriptural – while peeling away what had been added to scripture and what was contrary to scripture.

    So, where all the real Christians were – mostly they were within the very same church which, regrettably, had done all sorts of less than ideal things over time, like giving too much power (of the wrong kind) to ecclesiastical offices like bishop, placing too much confidence in the outward forms of rituals like baptism and attributing more efficacy to the ritual than scripture warrants, etc. The Reformers saw these things as symptoms of “decay,” acknowledging that no part of the visible church is free from imperfections, but it wasn’t till the anathemas of Trent that the doctrines confessed by the Church of Rome became formalised as antithetical to scripture, as the Reformers would see it.

    I’m not aware of any sane Protestants who would be so anachronistic as to attribute the theory of Calvinism to groups who predated Calvin, and Luther, and in fact the whole controversy over justification. Maybe, there are Protestants and Protestants, but if “Reformed” can be allowed to mean the type of Protestantism that respects the church and adheres to a confession and is, in fine, intelligent about itself, then we don’t need to go looking for Calvinists or proto-Calvinists before the controversy arose. That’s not to say that all the groups which were regarded by the church as heretical or otherwise dubious really deserved to be treated as such – there were the Lollards, Waldenses, followers of Jan Hus, and so on which approximated to what the Reformers eventually taught – even though not everything about what these groups believed is clear, or, when clear, necessarily to be endorsed wholesale. But Druids? like, helloo?

    As for presumption – it’s still a sin – but being certain that you’re saved is only presumption if it lacks good grounds. It was the burden of John’s first Epistle to write so that believers would know that they had eternal life, giving a wide range of tests to apply so that they would know for sure whether they had “passed from death to life,” that they were “of the truth,” that “he abideth in us,” that “we dwell in him,” etc. If the teaching of the Church is at odds with the teaching of scripture, and if following scripture puts you at odds with the institution of the Church, then, as Luther almost put it, so be it.


  9. Hmmm…..

    Three points occur to me.

    1. The formal motive of faith for the Catholic (as laid down by Augustine and Thomas) the authority of God revealing. The infallibility of the Church’s teaching authority is the warrant for supposing the truth assented to is indeed that revealed by God. One accepts the canonical Scriptures as inspired because the Church teaches that they are. As Augustine says “Ego vero Evangelio non crederem, ni si me catholicae Ecclesiae commoveret auctoritas.” A very serious problem Catholics perceive with sola scriptura is that, for the Protestant, the warrant for the supposition that the teachings to which one adheres are indeed revealed by God is the individual’s own supposition that they are the plain meaning of scripture. Therefore it would seem that a consistent Protestant gives his assent to himself and not to God. The Magisterium (the Church’s infallible teaching authority) is a rule outside the individual capable censuring any misinterpretation and so guaranteeing that the believer assents to God and not to himself. C. S. Lewis complained that to agree with a the Catholic Church one had to agree not just to everything it had already said but also everything it was going to say. I would say this is rather the point. But can both of these types of assent Augustine’s and Luther’s be the same thing? I think they are formally distinct and indeed incompatible with each other they cannot both be saving faith.

    2. As you accept that the doctrine of the Athanasian Creed is scriptural, do you think that assent to the doctrine of the Trinity as contained in the Quicumque is necessary to salvation (as the text itself asserts)?

    3. “it wasn’t till the anathemas of Trent that the doctrines confessed by the Church of Rome became formalised as antithetical to scripture”

    Does that then mean that you accept as true every anathema bearing definition of the eighteen general councils prior to Trent?


  10. Faith is indeed based on the authority of God revealing, but that authoritative revelation is ‘contained in’ or confined to the Scriptures. The main problem with ascribing infallibility to the Church’s teaching authority is that there is no licence in scripture for doing so, which leaves any such teaching authorities vulnerable to the charge that their own claim to infallibility is the only evidence in favour of their infallibility. Councils, synods, churches may err, and many have erred, and therefore they are not to be made the rule of faith and practice, although they are to be used as a help in both faith and practice. The testimony of the Church to the inspiration of the scriptures is one such help, but the ultimate reason for accepting the scriptures as such is their own authority as the inspired word of God.

    Which is not to be confused with the slightly separate question of establishing the meaning of their plain statements.

    Re 2, basically, yes. It’s always a bit of a murky question, how much exactly a person needs to know explicitly or formally, but if a person doesn’t know that the Father is God, and the Son is God, and the Spirit is God, and that there are not three gods but one God, it’s hard to see how they can really stand in a saving relation to that God. But this, being part of the catholic faith, is to be believed on the authority of scripture, and not (ultimately) because it is the treaching of the catholic Church.

    Re 3, not really. According to William Cunningham, the first four are pretty much universally accepted, and possibly the fifth and sixth with caveats, but the later ones officially sanctioned various things which are are not sanctioned by scripture, whether transubstantiation, the necessity of confession, purgatory, etc. These are things which came to be practiced/believed over time, but in the absence of scriptural authority, and always the decisions of church councils need to be measured against scripture, rather than the other way round.


  11. I apologise for the length of this reply but it seemed necessary to deal with the various issues.

    I assume you appreciate that much of your argument is circular. You say that various teachings are unscriptural but that is properly your conclusion you can’t use it as a premise. The vast majority of people who accept the inerrancy of scripture hold that the scriptures teach these doctrines that you reject as unscriptural. It seems you must therefore hold that either

    A. The only people who read the scriptures in good faith are very strict Calvinists, or

    B. Scripture is an inadequate means for the transmission of divine revelation, or

    C. Only a core of necessary teachings are clear in scripture and the rest are obscure.

    The problem with C is that it still leaves the majority of Christians having erred in good faith in a manner incompatible with their salvation (which would seem to send us back to A or B.)

    For most Christians according to your interpretation of Scripture are idolaters. The problem with idolatry is that idolaters don’t worship God they worship something else. To me at least it seems pretty clear from scripture that, unless you repent, if you worship someone or thing other than God you are not going to be saved.

    On the other hand Catholics and Orthodox and others (even many who agree with sola scriptura) hold that certainty concerning one’s salvation is incompatible with salvation and they anathematize Iconoclasts. So there is no core of teaching common to all those who accept the inspiration of scripture (or even those who accept sola scriptura) which would not leave many of them lost through fundamental error concerning the teaching of scripture.

    So we are stuck with A or B. As I assume you don’t want B that gives us A. which returns us to the problem of there having been no Christians for fifteen hundred years.

    Now obviously I opt for B because I hold that the Church must in the words of Scripture

    “hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter” 2 Thess 2:15

    You object that “The main problem with ascribing infallibility to the Church’s teaching authority is that there is no licence in scripture for doing so”

    But that is your interpretation of Scripture. To most people who accept the inspiration of Scripture that is not what it says. It seems they have a quite plausible prima facie case. For example….

    ” He that heareth you, heareth me; and he that despiseth you, despiseth me; and he that despiseth me, despiseth him that sent me.” Luke 10:16

    “Simon, Simon, behold Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and thou, being once converted, confirm thy brethren.” Luke 22:31-32

    “thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven.” Matthew 16:18-19

    “But if thy brother shall offend against thee, go, and rebuke him between thee and him alone. If he shall hear thee, thou shalt gain thy brother. And if he will not hear thee, take with thee one or two more: that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may stand. And if he will not hear them: tell the church. And if he will not hear the church, let him be to thee as the heathen and publican. Amen I say to you, whatsoever you shall bind upon earth, shall be bound also in heaven; and whatsoever you shall loose upon earth, shall be loosed also in heaven.” Matthew 18: 15-18

    It seems pointless for the Lord to set up the Church as an arbiter in this way if each individual defines the Church as those who already agree with him. Moreover the church seems to have a quite clear structure in the Gospels. There are the Twelve among whom Peter holds a unique position (he bind and looses on his own while the others do it collectively, his faith is guaranteed while theirs is not etc.) and there are the seventy and then the apostles commission the seven in Acts. The Catholic Church has preserved this structure down to the present day and claims the prerogatives given to the twelve by the Lord in the gospels. Furthermore the apostles are clearly going around creating Bishops, Priests and Deacons in the NT.

    Obviously you would dispute the interpretation of these passages but that isn’t the point. You have no means of showing that this is not the correct interpretation. The fact that 1.2 Billion people think it is seems to establish that it can’t be completely weird to think so. It is clearly a perfectly plausible claim that the orders of bishop, priest and deacon succeed to the authority of the twelve, the seventy and the seven and that they wield the authority with which they groups were endowed by the Lord and the Apostles. Paul says we must adhere to unwritten tradition and so this obviously requires an authority other than scripture to identify it. The canon itself needs to be identified by an authority outside itself. Peter is told that his faith is uniquely guaranteed and he is given the authority to bind and loose separately from the rest of the twelve. This is a perfectly reasonable account of the primacy of the Pope.

    If this is indeed the structure of the Church and this is how Christ intends the faith to be transmitted then it is clear that it is very easy to determine what is and is not the authentic contents of the Gospel or the correct interpretation of Scripture. There are people to ask, there are lots of definitions and as a last resort if it is really contentious the Pope can summon a General Council or make a solemn definition. My opinion is in no case the basis of the content of my faith and there is a very clear and unbroken line of Christians who believed on this basis from the Apostles to the present day.

    Which brings me to….the Athanasian Creed. If you have to believe the truths contained in the Athanasian Creed in order to be saved (and the Athanasian Creed says you do and you say the Athanasian Creed is true) and if your only standard for doctrinal truth is scripture then a huge problem arises. Even if we ignore the problems of literacy and the canon and of translation, it is clearly humanly impossible for an ordinary person with spare weekend, a copy of the KJV, a pad of paper and a sturdy pencil to work out the Athanasian Creed. Even if he flukely hit on the right doctrine he would still have no way of knowing if he was right. You may have noticed I said ‘humanly impossible’ which suggests a way out. But this way out is deceptive, for if the Holy Spirit has to guide the reading of the individual interpreter to an extent that surpasses what the unaided reader could ever accomplish then the Scriptures have been rendered obsolete (and we are back to B). This inspiration logically constitutes a wholly new act of revelation. Instead of a divinely guaranteed text (scripture), context (tradition) and interpreter (the magisterium) given once and for all to the saints and then preserved until the end of time we have a code which must be miraculously decrypted each time it is read. It would be easier just to inspire each believer directly with the fullness of doctrine and cut out the middle man (James VI in this case).

    It also seems odd that Jesus did not write the bible Himself or at least tell His disciples to do so. It seems odd that only half the twelve did write anything, that more than half the NT is written by people who turned up later. It seems odd, if it is intended to be the only means of transmitting doctrine, that there is no Creed in the NT and that it is not carefully divided into sections on Doctrine, Morality, Worship and Prayer. Finally it is very odd that the NT never says that it is supposed to be the only basis of doctrine. In fact, that seems to make sola scriptura self refuting.

    In sum we are left with a hidden succession of real Christians unknown to history passing on a text most people cannot read and no one can understand without special divine revelation only to emerge in the sixteenth century and flourish exclusively in regions unknown to antiquity. I submit that the rupture involved points to a high degree of intrinsic improbability in the entire proposal.

    P.S. If the rejection of sola scriptura and sola fidei by Trent constitutes the formal abandonment of Christianity by the Catholic Church why does the anathema against the Iconoclasts proclaimed by Nicaea II not already do so back in the eighth century?


  12. I’m happy that it’s a conclusion rather than a premise to say that various teachings are unscriptural – we may well be talking at cross purposes but the circularity isn’t glaringly obvious to me so far.

    Options A-C are, i think, related to different aspects of the whole question. And your discussion is worryingly reliant on the view that if vast majorities believe a thing, it’s bound to be true — but there must be a better metric for justifying submission to one authority vs another, than just that many other people have done so.

    Scripture is, I believe (contra B), a wholly adequate means of transmitting divine revelation – it *is* the divine revelation – although (re C) not all parts of scripture are equally plain in their meaning, and re A, people can be mistaken in many things and disagree with very strict calvinists on many points, while still being saved.

    Re the range of texts to do with the Church – it may not be unnecessary to say that the Reformed confessions take a high view of the Church (out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation, says Westminster), and have no problem holding: that the scriptures are delivered to the Church to be both safeguarded and proclaimed by the Church — that the Church will not be prevailed against by the gates of hell — that the office-bearers in the church have the power to state declaratively the verdict pronounced by the scriptures on those who believe and those who do not believe — that the Church is authorised to to exercise discipline among its members in ways that even include excommunication, and so on. It is completely mistaken to think that ecclesiastical structures and authority are missing from Reformed thought – especially among Scottish Presbyterians. But (1) all these responsbilities and functions are bestowed on the Church by Christ speaking in the Scriptures. If it isn’t required in scripture, the Church has no right to impose it, either in matters of belief or practice. And (2) although the Church indeed *must* hold the traditions that were delivered by the apostles, the Church does not do so by sitting in judgement on the apostolic teaching in order to decide whether it can be taken as authoritative or not. The right way round is for the Church to submissively accept the apostolic doctrine because of its own intrinsic authority as the Word of God. If the canon needed to be identified by an authority outside of itself, it could hardly be the canon – identified in the sense of validated or authorised, rather than recognised or acknowledged, obviously.

    The Church in the New Testament does indeed have a clear structure. At the time when Christ was on the earth, he had 12 special disciples who had a special role to play in the early days of the new, post-resurrection, post-Great-Commission dispensation. Peter has perhaps a bigger, bolder personality than the other apostles, but there was no hierarchy among the apostles and although they are distinguishable in what you might call their closeness to the Saviour (Peter, James and John were with him on several special occasions when the others weren’t, John was especially beloved, etc), still, whatever it meant to be an apostle was something they all shared (they were all eyewitnesses of Christ’s resurrection, called by name by Christ, sent out to preach, able to perform miracles, etc). They did indeed ordain men, to two offices in the Church, namely bishops/presbyters and deacons. This was part of their role as apostles, but the office of apostle itself was only temporary, for the earliest days of the church, and died out as the apostles themselves died out, leaving as the officebearers for all the rest of New Testament times, as the epistles to Timothy and Titus explain, bishop/presbyter and deacon. Alternative structures, offices, hierarchies, etc, are of course perfectly plausible to many people, maybe even to 1.2 billion of them :) but that’s rather beside the point. You have the 1.2 billion endorsing the magisterium, which, as no more than the verdict of a smaller number of equally fallible humans, claims to have the power to endorse the scriptures – but it’s all human opinion on human opinion, graciously conceding that God’s Word can be allowed to be authoritative in our faith and practice? In remarkable contrast to: God delivers his Word, humans in and out of the Church hearken and obey.

    I’m not as sceptical as you about the ordinary person’s ability to establish from the scriptures the doctrine of the trinity, without fluke, and using the scriptures alone. Obviously if by “working out the Athanasian Creed” you mean fixing on its precise terms and wording, I wouldn’t hold out much hope, but the doctrine expressed by the Athanasian creed is either assumed or taught on every page of scripture, ie more or less clearly and plainly throughout, for anyone to see who has eyes to see it. I would even add that as well as the doctrine of the Trinity, the ordinary literate person with a decent translation would also be confronted with the fact that he/she is a sinner, the divinity of Christ, and the sufficiency and suitability of Christ to be exactly the Saviour they need. Obviously the scenario is hypothetical though, partly because most ordinary readers either belong to or have access to a tradition of reading the scriptures, which will help or hinder in proportion as its hermeneutic is faithful to the scriptures, and partly because I fear we’re in danger of running into the problem of ignoring the moral/ethical dimension to a reader’s reading, ie that it’s not just a matter of intellect/understading simply, but we also need to recognise that the ordinary reader is a fallen reader and by default out of synch with the nature and message of the scriptures unless and until they are regenerated – but that’s a different question again.

    Oddities – are in the eye of the beholder, really, and the scriptures everywhere assume their own authority and sufficiency. For another post, perhaps, or at least, not for tonight.

    The hidden succession etc – isn’t as hidden as all that, as I’ve already said.

    Re the PS – I think just because of the circumstances, although maybe any readers who know more could clarify. For quite a while, the early Reformers seemed to want to reform the existing structures/practices/doctrines of the church headed by Rome, but Trent ruled that out. The view of the Reformers and their successors was that the church which ended up having, among other things, a bishop in Rome claiming to be its head (etc) was sadly decayed from its pristine NT condition, but the visible church is never perfect, always “more or less pure,” and even at its purest, “subject both to mixture and error,” as we confess with Westminster – the great respect that the Reformers and their successors had for the Fathers and the mediaeval doctors, even when they couldn’t reconcile some of their views with scripture, shows that it wasn’t really an all-or-nothing thing (before the Reformation, no true church, at the 95 Theses, suddenly the Church!).

    (I know i’ve missed some stuff out, but i need to stop somewhere…)


  13. My argument is not that if vast numbers of people believe that a text says something then it does but rather that if it doesn’t then the text is not an adequate warrant for either that interpretation or its contrary.

    Personally I have always taken Jesus to be God’s Word and scripture to be the inspired record of His coming. The revelation is therefore the Incarnation and Scripture is a record of it.

    “In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son”

    You say, “these responsbilities and functions are bestowed on the Church by Christ speaking in the Scriptures” but that clearly isn’t true. Christ addressed Peter and the Apostles directly he didn’t pass them notes. These responsbilities and functions were exercised before the NT was written and for centuries before the canon was defined. You also say “If it isn’t required in scripture, the Church has no right to impose it, either in matters of belief or practice” but Scripture nowhere says this (and I assume you observe the Sabbath on Sunday rather than Saturday).

    Certainly the Church is subject to the authority of the teaching of the Apostles. Her authority is not to judge between Apostolic teachings but to judge what teachings are Apostolic and which are not. Likewise she does not render the books of the canon inspired but she has the authority to identify which books are inspired and which are not. The fact that this authority is necessary is demonstrated Luther’s arbitrary removal of eleven books from the canon.

    It is a bit meaningless to say one cannot be saved outside the organization composed of all-those-people-who-agree-with-each-other-about scripture-and-are-right if the only qualification for membership is being right and no one in the organization needs to know about or meet anyone else in the organization. That is just on odd way of saying you have to be right about scripture to be saved. The ‘church’ on this definition has considerably less reality than Facebook.

    Your claim that “there was no hierarchy among the apostles” requires a lot of justification given the constant solemn bestowal of special prerogatives on Peter (his name, his position as first in all lists of the Apostles, the bestowal of the keys, the promise of unfailing faith at the last supper, the threefold command to feed and tend the sheep). You may wish to merge the orders of priest and bishop but there is no evidence for this in the text, that is your eisegesis. It seems strange given three titles are used and there is a hierarchy of three in the Twelve, the Seventy and the Seven that these should not correspond. Especially as all recorded Christian authors (who deal with the point) from the first until the sixteenth century say they do.

    You say, “God delivers his Word, humans in and out of the Church hearken and obey” indeed, but His Word is Jesus of Nazareth. The Scriptures are God’s word given as a record of the incarnation of His Word. Jesus is the revelation of God to man. As the Lord points out to the Jews, “You search the scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to me; yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” John 5:35-40.

    We Jesus said to Saul “why do you persecute me?” He wasn’t complaining about Saul burning copies of the New Testament.

    I am not ignoring the moral/ethical dimension to a reader’s reading. But if only a tiny tiny percentage of the readers of a text understand its central message then it fails as a means of communication.

    The purpose of the gift of scripture is communicate the truths necessary for salvation.

    Un-repented idolatry is incompatible with salvation.

    If the veneration of sacred images is idolatry and the vast vast majority of readers of the Bible think it is compatible with this veneration and anathematize Iconoclasm…

    …then the text completely fails to communicate saving truth.

    If an effectively miraculous intervention is required in order to render the text comprehensible to its readers then the text itself becomes redundant. The necessary truths might as well have been revealed directly without the mediation of a text.

    The scriptures certainly assume their authority but they neither assume nor state their sufficiency. In fact, they deny it.

    “stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter” 2 Thess 2:15

    “there are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” John 21:25

    “First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation” 2 Peter 20

    “our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, beware lest you be carried away with the error of lawless men and lose your own stability.” 2 Peter 15-17


    • >>If the veneration of sacred images is idolatry and the vast vast majority of readers of the Bible think it is compatible with this veneration and anathematize Iconoclasm…

      …then the text completely fails to communicate saving truth.<<

      I want to take issue with this statement of yours.
      You seem to be saying that if the Roman Catholic interpretation regarding images is in fact wrong, the fault lies with the Bible. This is precisely what Cath accused you of – you're hanging the credibility of a particular interpretation on the number of subscribers it has. You might as well be saying that there are too many people who hold to Roman Catholic interpretations for those interpretations to be wrong. The weakness of such reasoning is surely obvious to you?


  14. Nooooooo! this uber-spiritual “Jesus is the Word so the scriptures can’t be” is a fatal road to go down. Jesus is the personal Word, the Scriptures are the written Word. Jesus is the image/revelation of the invisible God, but what he reveals is utterly unknown to us outside of the Scriptures, and the Scriptures share (if that’s the right word) the name “the Word of God” because what they reveal is him. (For the chap who must surely be the current Reformed scene’s most vibrant exponent of this position, see here ) It’s fine to say the scriptures record the incarnation, but the whole point of the connection between the Saviour and the Scriptures, the personal Word incarnate and the inscripturated Word, is that the Scriptures reveal him (not it). He pointed the Jews to their own scriptures in John 5 because their great problem was failing to recognise him in the scriptures: their own scriptures testified to him whether they accepted it or not, as he demonstrated time and again (Luke 24:27, 24:44, etc). The contrast in Heb 1, between God speaking by the prophets and God speaking by his Son, has more to do with the superiority of Christ’s prophetic office over the office of the OT prophet, in the context of the argument there (Hebrews is all about the superiority of Christ, over prophets, angels, Moses, and the Levitical priesthood) – it’s not a contrast between the Old Testament Scriptures versus Christ in terms of revelation.

    The apostles exercised their functions before the NT was written, true, but that was part of what defines their office, that they were called by name by Christ in the flesh (Paul as one born out of due time), to meet the particular needs of the transition period between the Old administration and the New. That also means that they were the only apostles, and had no successors, and as Paul’s pastoral epistles explain, the provision for the leadership/governance/pastoring/oversight of the Church for the rest of NT times is to be done by elders (episcopos/presbyteros) and its temporal affairs to be looked after by deacons (also Acts 6).

    Peter was a special disciple, but so was John, so was James, so was Paul, and so were they all, in different ways. They weren’t arranged in a hierarchy though. When they came asking who was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, Jesus told them that the very question was entirely alien to the atmosphere of the kingdom of heaven, Matt 18, whether among apostles, office-bearers, or ordinary believers. Peter is singled out for some things, but John (and others) for other things. Peter wasn’t the first to be called, for example, he was very severely rebuked, he dissembled later with the Judaisers, and so on. He was specially encouraged with the instruction to feed the sheep and hte lambs – but that was after he had fallen in a terrible way and needed the encouragement that there was still work for him to do for the Lord. It is clearly mistaken to suppose that he alone holds the keys (it is the Church that has the power to bind and loose, the ministers plural of the Church are the stewards of the mysteries of God, and so on). Not does he alone have the promise of unfailing faith: Paul was fully confident about the ordinary believers at Philippi, with their ordinary bishops and deacons, that God who had begun the good work in them would see it through to the end. It took at least a good couple of centuries before the synonmy of bishop and presbyter started to be undermined, and a good deal longer before the notions of authority and hierarchy came to be attached to one rather than the other: Paul’s pastoral epistles set out only the two offices, of bishop/presbyter and deacon, and the drift away from this setup is a drift away from the scriptural pattern.

    There were centuries before parts of the canon were “defined”: only in the sense that it took some time before all the Church had possession of all the Scriptures. It is fundamental to the understanding of what inspiration means, that whatever part of the canon it was, it existed as such from the moment it dropped from the pen of the inspired writer. It didn’t take centuries for any of the inspired epistles etc to become part of the canon: because it was an inspired, it was by virtue of its inspiration canonical, ie both (i) divinely authoritative as a rule/canon of life, and (ii) part of the body of writings which God the Holy Spirit inspired writers to write down. The church only has the “authority to identify” what is inspired or not, in the sense that you have the “authority” to identify that Mr Aelianus Senior is your father, or that the sun’s rays are hot – your affirmation is simply a reflection of the way things are, ie, not really an exercise of “authority” at all.

    The scriptures assume and assert their own authority and their own sufficiency. The four texts you cite are in no way a denial of the sufficiency of scripture in all matters of faith and practice. Eg:

    John 21:25 – presumably the intended point is that the scriptures don’t contain everything that could be written? – which is really not in dispute at all. The scriptures don’t contain all truth, or a complete history of everything, and sola scriptura doesn’t even come close to suggesting that they do. But John 20:30-31 – whatever other signs Jesus did which are not written, these that are written, are written so that you would believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you would have live through his name. If you need something more than what’s written, to make you believe in Jesus for eternal life, you are missing the point of the scriptures: they provide all that you need for this purpose. It’s the same piont, in fact, as 2 Tim 3:16 – the scriptures contain the widest possible range of material for the thorough equipping of the man of God. If you need something in addition to the scriptures to give you doctrine, reproof, correction, or instruction in righteousness, you’re missing the point of the scriptures, which are given for that very purpose.

    2 Thess 2:15 – obviously nobody’s denying that the apostles taught by word of mouth – part of their office was to preach and teach, and Paul had spent time preaching and teaching in Thessalonica. For the Thessalonians, the need was to hold fast to what he had taught them, in person and in writing, rather than being deceived by any other tradition, spoken or written. But that does not mean that the doctrine of the apostles is preserved partly in scripture and partly in an unwritten oral tradition: rather, the doctrine of the apostles (all that is necessary for faith and practice) is preserved in scripture. Thus 2 Thess 3:14 – if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed (yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother).

    2 Peter 1:20 – every private man should come to his own understanding of the scriptures, but that understanding needs to be consistent with the scriptures itself (v19), which is equivalent to being consistent with true doctrine as opposed to cunningly devised fables (v16), which is equivalent to being consistent with what the Holy Ghost intended us to understand when he spoke through these holy prophets (v21). Verse 20 itself doesn’t speak directly to the sufficiency of scripture, but the chapter as a whole is an extended discourse on how the scriptures are more sure, as a word of prophecy, than even a firsthand eyewitness hearing of the voice from heaven at the Transfiguration could be (v16-19). The implication of that is that you do well to give heed to them, in the way that you rely on a light to let you see in a dark place, v19, and this ‘more sure word’ is what encapsulates the “all things necessary for life and godliness” that he mentions in v3, and expands on in v4-12. So to paraphrase: He gives us all things necessary for life and godliness, so you need to give diligence to them, so I will remind you of them, for we have not followed cunningly devised fables, but were eyewitnesses of his glory, and actually have a more sure word of prophecy, in the scriptures (but there are false prophets, 2:1, but I write to remind you, 3:1, as Paul has also written, in his epistles which are of the same kind as the Old Testament scriptures, 3:15-16).
    2 Peter 15-17 – don’t have much more to add, and in any case not sure how you intend this to relate to the sufficiency of scripture.


  15. “what he reveals is utterly unknown to us outside of the Scriptures” – another conclusion masquerading as a premise! Surely you must concede that the Lord and the Bible are not univocally but only analogically called the Word of God otherwise you would be guilty of an idolatry of the Bible?

    You repeat you identification of the offices of bishop and priest and again you give no evidence. Have you read the letters of St Ignatius of Antioch? They could not be clearer and they were written while St John was still alive. Besides given the use of two different terms the burden of proof is on the one who would deny the distinction.

    The point of the least/greatest teaching of Jesus is that those who are greater must serve it makes no sense if no one is envisaged as being greater. Jesus is very clear at the Last Supper he uses the second person plural when He says Satan has desired that the apostles will be sifted like wheat and the singular when He promises Peter unfailing faith. There is no comparable institutional status given to John or Paul. Only Peter is given the keys but both Peter and the twelve are told they will bind and loose this closely follows the position of the Pope as font of jurisdiction.

    In regard to your comments on the canon: anyone can tell the sun’s rays are hot but only someone who already is in authoritative possession of Apostolic tradition can tell which texts are and are not canonical. If you allege that a private revelation tells all the elect which books are canonical and which not then you fall straight back into the problem of redundancy.

    All 2 Thess 3:14 says is that we must adhere to the teaching of 2 Thessalonians. It in no way dispenses you from the obligation already given in 2 Thess 2:15 to hold fast to the oral teaching of the Apostles. Which you affectively claim is an impossible command.

    As for 2 Peter it is clear that the ignorant and unstable distort the scriptures to their own destruction so they cannot suffice alone to ensure the communication of saving doctrine (the ignorant at least need not be culpable) without the living authority of the Church. In this case the authority is exercised by Peter who while he uniquely identifies another NT text as scripture ironically does not realise he is writing scripture himself at the time.

    This irony illustrates the central point rather well….

    Let us imagine for a moment that the scriptures are not inspired but are merely accurate and highly valuable historical documents, letters written by Ss Peter, Paul, James, Jude and John to various churches in the Roman Empire, four accurate accounts of the life, teaching and miracles of Our Lord Jesus Christ, a vision of the future transcribed by St John and an additional account of the foundation of the Church and the early careers of Peter and Paul. For, though they are indeed inspired, they are also these things. Let us then seek to ascertain from these documents (without the prior assumption that we are in possession of any Christian scriptural texts) what the authority is that Christ established and the Apostles recognised by which the teachings of Christ are to be promulgated. It is very clear that it is not scripture. None of the writers of the New Testament assert that what they are writing is scripture. Jesus does not tell them to write anything. He appoints a group of twelve and a group of seventy and He tells them “he who hears you hears me”. He refers disputes over moral and doctrinal matters to the Church, St Peter and the twelve collectively to whom He gives the power to bind and loose. Only St Peter in his second epistle ever suggests that any of the New Testament writings are scripture and he does not refer to himself but to St Paul’s epistles and he does not name or enumerate them. St Paul refers us to the “Church of the living God, pillar and bulwark of the truth”. When St Paul commends scripture he is referring to the Old Testament and though we know that his words extend to the New Testament as well there is nothing to indicate that he knew this. We know that the writings of the New Testament are inspired because the authority that the New Testament tells us Christ Himself established- the Apostolic Hierarchy – informs us that they are.

    One may, if one feels so inclined, present an alternative account where each man picks up his own copy or translation of the Bible and feels within him that these are the words of God (and the other claimants are not) and submits to them as such and constructs this thing called ‘Christianity’ from these texts. But this account of a ‘religion of the book’ has nothing to do with the religion actually recorded in the book. It is a work of the imagination based on a crucial assumption about the book itself derived, not from the book, but from the teachings of the very real Church whose early history is recorded therein. But the teaching (the inspiration of the New Testament) though necessary for the creation of this imaginary ‘religion of the book’ does not justify this new religion, and because the teaching (though true) comes from outside the book itself it actually excludes the new religion completely.

    If it is to escape this dependence upon the Church the ‘religion of the book’ has to secretly break its own fundamental precept that nothing is to be admitted as authoritative outside the book itself (not even Jesus, Whose preference for the Church over books is passed over). The ROTB must add to ‘sola scriptura’ a special private revelation given to each adherent of the ‘religion of the book’ that the volume in his or her hand is in fact the genuine article. Without this clandestine private revelation the religion of the book comes crashing to the ground. But this mystical slight of hand makes an absurdity of the whole enterprise, first because it violates the ROTB’s fundamental precept and secondly because if the whole thing is to rely on private revelation anyway than the book has become completely redundant its whole contents might as well have been revealed privately in just the same way.

    How much simpler to return instead to the twenty seven real documents and take them seriously in their own right and accept the answer they give as to the means by which the Gospel is to be transmitted to the world: the Apostolic Hierarchy which Christ set upon twelve thrones to judge the tribes of Israel.


  16. Whilst the above is an interesting exchange, it is classic Catholic appeal to scripture, tradition and magesterium rejected out of hand by a protestant – Protestant appeal to Sola Scriptura rejected out of hand by a Catholic, as noted in my first post.

    It’s like trying to arrange a match when one team insists on playing to the rules of rugby football, the other association football. There is a common origin there and still much common ground, but no chance of agreement on which code is correct.

    With a H/T to Catholic Teuchtar, this should add fuel to the fire!

    The “Catholic” John Calvin: 50 Areas Where His Views Are Harmonious With Catholic Teaching


  17. I think you are too pessimistic there it is really a question of identifying the fundamental premises at stake and testing them by common standards. I think the fundamental difference is this: do you believe in the inspiration of scripture and deduce the divinity of Christ from scripture or do you believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ and accept the inspiration of scripture on His authority? The latter is Catholicism the former is arguably idolatry.


  18. Dunno, I’m inclined to go with the Cellarer. And not sure those two options are opposed to each other, or at least, not a good summary of the fundamental problem. But the Calvin quotes are absolutely fascinating – without really knowing what the purpose of the selection is (Calvin was a crypto-Catholic? Calvinists are Catholics without knowing it?) they hilariously omit all the context which shows how each little excerpt should be understood. And if Calvin’s institutes can be presented in this light, makes you wonder how reliable the readings of other theologians offered from a Catholic apologetic can be – trading on people’s lack of familiarity with many primary texts to make *everyone* seem like they reside comfortably within Rome. Fascinating.

    Aelianus – want to reply to your last, but not sure when I’ll have the chance. Hopefully tonight but it may have to be next week.


  19. Cath

    Which ones are out of context?

    On the Virgin Mary?
    Contraception being a sin?
    Baptismal Regeneration?

    Dave Armstrong makes a point of not saying that Calvins teachings are exactly the same as Catholic doctrine, but his post does show how far modern day Calvinists have moved from the actual teaching of even his Institutes.



  20. CT, are you being serious? I thought it was a spoof to start with – if it’s not, it’s the most irresponsible manipulation of a text since, like, the 45 minutes claim. No doubt modern day Calvinists are out of step with Calvin on a variety of things, but I am honestly struggling to see what possible tactical advantage there could be to arguing that Calvin was actually practically a Catholic. Is this what they normally teach in Catholic Apologetics these days? What an incredible waste of time.


  21. Calvin was a Catholic. Once. :-)

    I dont think you’ve even read the text properly as you fail to give us any example of any assertion of Armstrong’s which are actually out of context.

    But I should have butted out and left you to Aelianus, who was doing just fine.


  22. Aww come on guys, don’t let’s go down this rabbit trail. (But greetings to SY!)

    Random pick – Armstrong’s #19 – Preceding the excerpt: “Now let us consider the ancient church, to make plain that our opponents no less rashly and falsely boast of its support than of hte tesimony of God’s Word. When, therefore, they vaunt that axiom of theirs, that the unity of the church can be maintained only if there is one supreme head onearth for all memberso tobey, and that the Lord accordingly gave the primacy to Peter and then by right of succession to the Roman see to reside hteirein even to the end, they declare that this practice has been always obersved from the very beginning. But since they maliciously distort many testimonies, i wish first to say this: i do not deny that ancient writers everywehre give great honour to the church of Rome …”
    And Subsequent: “But when our opponents wish on this account to ascribe to Rome primacy and supreme power over other churches, they are acting very wrongly, as I have said. To make this clearer, first i shall briefly show what the ancient writers thought of this unity which they so strongly urge. Jerome … Cyprian … The aim of these citations is to informt the reader, by the way, that the principle which the Romanists take to be generally acknowledged and doubted – of the unity of the hierarchy under an earthly head – was utterly unknown to the ancient fathers.”

    => selective quotes, under headings which prompt an interpretation which is consistent with conventional Catholic teachings/terminology, but divorced from the context which would make the actual point clearer, and without any clarification of when terms are being used in different ways. Leaves a nasty taste.

    Of course Calvin was a Catholic once – but the very fact that he did have a “rupture” with Rome makes him all the more vehement against all the characteristic Roman dogmas. I haven’t read him particularly widely – dipped into the Institutes and tried reading a few of his sermons – but you really don’t need to go far before he makes some scathing comment about Romanism – except in points where there was genuine agreement, as i’ve tried to say above actually, on doctrines such as the Trinity etc (the ecumenical creeds).

    And CT cited “baptismal regeneration” – Calvin definitely taught that baptism makes you a member of the church, but that’s not the same as regeneration, either in the thought of Calvin or the Calvinists!

    Caught a glimpse there of somethign about the Eucharist – CT and I discussed this here some time ago –

    i just don’t see what this selection is trying to prove. If it’s purely to stir up controversy, i really don’t want to get involved. If it’s a conscious misrepresentation, then that’s verging on the contemptible. If it’s lack of familiarity with what Calvin actually thought and taught, it’s embarrassing. What is the point meant to be? honest question!


  23. The reason and the only reason why we believe without doubting whatever God has revealed is that God, Who can neither deceive nor be deceived, has revealed it. Because God cannot fail or err in His purposes it is necessary to the fact of revelation that God has furnished us with the objective means of professing the true faith in its entirety without error. Consequently, for an adherent of revelation to dissent from the smallest element of the faith as revealed and guaranteed, is for him to forfeit saving faith in its entirety and thereafter he adheres only to his own opinion. The claim or fact of rupture or disunity in the transmission of revelation necessarily entails the denial of revelation for it entails the claim that God has erred or failed in His purposes. Whether and how far Calvin or Luther or Nestorius or Simon Magus materially continued to advocate various elements of revelation is irrelevant. A formal heretic is an apostate and does not adhere with supernatural faith to any of the articles of faith.


  24. Hi Cath

    I think you are wrong to read so much into Armstrongs point #19. His point # 19 is only that Calvin acknowledges Roman Primacy in some sense in the early church. Not that it extends to the supremacy of the successors of St Peter, or any other Catholic “extension” of that understanding of tradition.

    To quote your own citation of Calvin;
    “i wish first to say this: i do not deny that ancient writers everywehre give great honour to the church of Rome …”

    To quote Armstrongs citation;
    “she (Rome) was held in no ordinary estimation,

    At no point does Armstrong try and say any more than that. And most of his points are the same. With regards the Virgin Mary, Armstrong shows there was an honour and respect Calvinists today refuse to acknowledge. That is all. At no point does he try and insinuate he held to Catholic doctrine on her. (Except her perpetual virginity which Luther and Calvin both held).

    With regards Baptismal Regeneration, Calvin is clearly quoted as “God, regenerating us in baptism, ingrafts us into the fellowship of his Church, and makes us his by adoption, . . . (IV, 17:1)”

    Now, that might not be regeneration in a Catholic understanding, it isn’t. If it was it would be CAtholic and not Calvinist. But again that is not what David Armstrong ever claims. It is still regeneration though. A term seldom if ever used in Calvinist circles today in the context of Baptism.



  25. “What is the point meant to be? honest question!”

    Quote from Armstrong’s page.

    “my hope is that this compendium will give both Catholics and Calvinists a feel for how close we really are in many respects, despite our many honest, serious differences.”

    I think he is trying to contribute something which will contribute positively to ecumenical dialogue, though I’m sure some may use it for other purposes…


  26. Ok, only very briefly, a token gesture of a reply to Aelianus, because there are too many issues floating around and time is sadly short!

    If you hadn’t beaten me to it, I was going to make some point along the lines that we have to take as our starting point that God reveals: the only reason why we believe what God has revealed is that God has revealed it.
    This restricts the question then to where he does in fact reveal whatever he reveals: we are all agreed that he reveals in Scripture (and there is also his other, “second book” of revelation in nature, which we read by the first book, the scriptures, which i add for completeness & is hopefully not controversial), but we disagree on the nature of this revelation. I say: God who cannot lie has provided a truthful revelation in scripture; God who is Lord provides an authoritative/binding revelation in scripture; God who speaks provides a comprehensible revelation in scripture; God who undertakes to provide for his people provides in scripture a complete(-for-faith-and-practice) revelation. You say: … God provides his (for faith and practice) revelation partially in scripture and partially elsewhere.
    Yet this divvying up of the infallible, authoritative, comprehensive revelation is not consistent with the one part that we both supposedly agree is God’s revelation: the scriptures do not license us going outside of them for authoritative/infallible guidance on matters of faith and practice. Rather the consistent testimony of both the Old and New Testaments to themselves is that they are all that you need, to equip you with what we are to believe concerning God and what duty God requires of us. The Scriptures are not a partial light for our path: they are *the* light for our path, Psa 119. They don’t just help to make us wise: because they are sure they *do* make the simple wise, Psa 19. People’s conformity to the law and the testimony determines, alone and in the absence of other yardsticks, whether or not they should be listened to, Isa. The “Thus saith the Lord” was intended to be quite enough to demand implicit obedience from those who heard it (all the prophets). There was plenty material in the scriptures alone for believers to teach their children and keep alive in memory for all time to come (Deut etc). And the need to preserve the scriptures intact, as is, without either subtractions or additions, was most solemnly impressed on the people at seminal moments in their history, eg Deut. In disputes with the Pharisees and others, Jesus relied constantly and solely on the scriptures, castigating in no uncertain terms their extrascriptural traditions which were undeniably devout but were unacceptable because they treated them as being at least equal in importance to the actual scritpures. Then throughout the NT, you have assertions of the sureness of the written word, its power to throughly equip the believer for all good works, its unique role in the hand of the Spirit in converting sinners, its stated purpose to inform, explain, grant assurance, convey the commandment of God, the attribution of all the properties of the OT Scriptures to the NT writings, and the deliberate echo/recapitulation of the OT stamp of final authority in Rev 22: If any man shall add unto these things…

    Now, no doubt the Church is the context in which the Word is safeguarded, proclaimed, explained, preserved, and so on. And no doubt the Reformed world needs a much higher and more decided doctrine of the Church than it currently has. But the insurmountable problem of claiming that the Church has anythng like authority over the scriptures is that it puts fallible human opinion in a position of judging and regulating God’s actual inspired, self-professedly authoritative and complete revelation. The Church Invisible is infallible; the Church Visible loyally confessing just and no more what’s in the Scriptures is to that extent infallible; but the Church’s responsibility is to regulate itself by the Word, not the other way round. The Word is God’s living, powerful revelation; the Church is his mouthpiece on earth for speaking out that revelation, but nothing more. The only source of infallible truth on this earth is the Scriptures: so they claim for themselves: in contrast to Church councils, which may err, and many have erred: as we can easily see by looking at the various pronouncements of various church councils, which you can judge *either* by their own claims to infallibility, *or* by the actual God-given authority, given precisely for the purpose of doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness. Then you can either have as your authority church councils composed of church members exalted to positions which the church and not scripture licenses, or the actual word of God which he gave for that purpose. The main reason why Roman dogma relies so heavily on Roman church-authority is because it finds scripture to be such an inadequate support for so much of what it has produced of itself – extra sacraments, transubstantiation, baptismal regeneration, papal authority, purgatory, veneration of images and saints, veneration of Mary – certainly, it’s not because it’s consistent with Scripture to invest a church structure or council with this authority, or because it helps to actually uphold or foster respect for the authority of scripture with its own self-awarded authority.

    There was nothing particularly ironic, meanwhile, about Peter identifying Paul’s writings as scripture. Nor indeed was it unique! Paul identified his own writings as the commandment of the Lord, and the teaching of the Holy Spirit. He also cites Luke as scripture on the same par as Deuteronomy. Also John knew he was writing prophecy, and sending word from the Spirit to the churches, etc. Not that anybody claims to know exactly the ins and outs of the mechanics of writing under inspiration, but the various hints scattered througout the inspired wiritngs seem to suggest that those who were being inspired knew when it was a word from the Lord, as the prophets would say, or, as David equivalently put it, when the Spirit of the Lord was speaking by them, which at least indicates that there’s no reason to suppose that Peter *didn’t* know he was writing under inspiration himself.

    And i’m never sure there’s much value in counter-factual imaginations. The fact is that the scriptures *are* inspired, so supposing that they aren’t, isn’t going to get us very far. How we know they are inspired – i’m sure we’ve discussed this before – the testimony of the Church is Very Important, but what the Church bears witness to is the inherent, intrinsic authority of the scriptures by virtue of their being inspired. The starting point has to be that God speaks! and, bound up with that, that what he speaks comes with all his own authority. There never has been a satisfactory set of criteria (eg apostolic authorship, etc) that would rule in all the 27 books and rule out everything else, so it’s quite right to say that the question has to be decided by recourse to Authority: the only question is, is it the intrinsic authority of God’s Word that you resort to, or the assumed authority of a subset of the Church.

    and that is, in fact, as brief as i can make it!

    I’m not sure how much more time i can spend on this until after the next couple of weeks. Short and sweet i can do, but will have to abstain from the long and meaty.


  27. “Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic Faith. Which Faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled; without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.”

    Your argument relies entirely upon the idea that scripture is self-authenticating. This claim is undermined by the fact that only a minority of Christians accept your canon. Far more serious is the fact that this makes the primary act of revelation the inspiration of the scriptures and not the Incarnation of the Word. It effectively involves the idolatrous claim that scripture is the Uncreated Word of God.

    We believe without doubting everything that God has revealed because He Is God and can neither deceive nor be deceived. This unequivocal assent based on authority is uniquely due to God because He alone can neither deceive nor be deceived. Because this is an exclusively divine attribute, to give it to anyone or anything else is idolatry.

    The NT considered merely as a collection of extraordinarily well attested historical documents makes it reasonable to accept that Jesus said He was God and that this was vindicated by miracles. This would appear to make it reasonable to accept that Jesus is God. However, this is not the case (or at least not on the strength of the New Testament) because the concept of the Incarnation while intrinsically possible is also intrinsically improbable, infinitely improbable. Even just considering the infinite gulf between God and creatures it is infinitely improbable that God would condescend to assume a created nature but given human sin (which being an offence against God incurs infinite guilt) this improbability is multiplied by itself. It is not possible therefore for a human being naturally to assent to the doctrine of the Incarnation. Consequently the act of faith can only be procured by grace. “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: because flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in heaven”.

    Without recognising Jesus as God one cannot know Him. If one learns things of Him without recognising His divinity then one merely attributes certain propositions, true of Jesus, to a fictional person of one’s own invention. Consequently it is only when one is moved by grace to the act of faith that one comes to know Jesus for the first time. Normally our primary act of knowledge against which we judge all other opinions and convictions is the direct apprehension of existing things through the senses. But these things are in fact merely the vestiges and images of the Uncreated Person of the Word who is their archetype and Creator. The knowledge of Jesus made possible for us by the act of faith moved by grace thus exceeds the certainty of the most certain natural form of knowledge. The light of faith is self-authenticating. “God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Christ Jesus.” It possesses this character because Jesus is divine and for no other reason.

    Once we know therefore that Jesus is divine and that seeing Him we see the Father and that eternal life is to know the only true God and Jesus Christ Whom He has sent we know by a hypothetical necessity that whatever saving truth Jesus has revealed He must have given us an infallible means of knowing this truth, for God cannot err or fail in His purposes. But this medium itself cannot be self-authenticating because only the knowledge of a divine person is self authenticating and to attribute this property to anyone or anything else is idolatry.

    The New Testament cannot be the infallible means instituted by Jesus to know His saving truth because we cannot verify the text of the New Testament from the New Testament. Furthermore, not only is no text self collating but no text is self interpreting and no text is self translating. For many people of course, most people who have had faith since the Incarnation, their knowledge of Jesus does not come and their first act of faith was not elicited through reading the New Testament but through the oral preaching of the Gospel and this has continued uninterruptedly from the oral preaching of Jesus Himself, through that of the Apostles, the apostolic fathers and the later fathers down to the present day. For some people their first act of faith is elicited through reading the New Testament but this no more establishes the inerrancy of the text than it establishes the inerrancy of my Primary School RE Teacher. It establishes that they have accurately transmitted sufficient saving truth to elicit the act of faith but not that they have done so without any error whatsoever or that they have communicated that truth comprehensively.

    Nevertheless, the fact of revelation known to the believer through the light of faith entails as a hypothetical necessity that Jesus has established an infallible means of our professing the true faith in its entirety and without error. This inherently requires the transmission of the content of the faith in human language by a living authority instituted by Him that can ensure without doubt that the faith thus transmitted is not misinterpreted. It must be a living authority because if it were not it would be reduced to being a text and the inherent inadequacy of a text cannot be solved by an increase in volume. As we have seen a mere text cannot qualify for this role because we cannot ascertain if it is the correct text and we cannot guarantee that it is correctly interpreted. A text can however be a means by which part of this task (the transmission of the content of the faith in human language) is fulfilled in whole or in part.

    Only one living authority teaching the divinity of Christ claims to be instituted by Jesus Christ, to be able to speak infallibly at any time it chooses and to guarantee absolutely the objective possibility of professing the true faith without error. That authority is the Catholic Church. The Church does indeed accomplish the transmission of the content of the faith in human language through two sets of texts, the 73 books of the canon and the writings of the Fathers. These two sets of texts, it teaches have different authorities. The 73 books of the canon are inspired. That is, they contain only the words God wills them to contain and nothing else in such a way that whatever is asserted in them by their human author is asserted by God and cannot err. The writings of the Fathers preserve the Apostolic tradition in such a way that wherever they unanimously interpret a passage of scripture in the same way they cannot err.

    Herein is contained the entire deposit of faith and the faithful are guaranteed against erroneous interpretations of it through the negative guarantee given to the successor of Peter and the bishops in communion with him that whenever he or they together with him make a definitive judgement in a matter of faith or morals God will prevent them from erring. “Simon, Simon, behold Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and thou, being once converted, confirm thy brethren.”

    To proceed from the inspiration of text of the New Testament to the divinity of Christ is to attribute self-authentication to the text of the New Testament rather than to the knowledge of the Divine Person of the Word which it (but many other things can also) convey. The reason the knowledge of the Divine Person of the Word is self-authenticating is because He Is divine. For the actual text of the New Testament to be self-authenticating it too would have to be divine, not the created word of God but the Uncreated Word of God (as the Muslims claim about the Koran). The Musilms are obliged to claim this about the Koran by the logic of their magisteriumless ‘revelation’ but it is undoubtedly idolatry as is the same claim even when applied to the authentically inspired Christian scriptures. “You search the scriptures, for you think in them to have life everlasting; and the same are they that give testimony of me. And you will not come to me that you may have life.”


  28. Just a quick observation, that the properties which you say it’s idolatrous to attribute to the scriptures, you apparently attribute to your magisterium in at least equal measure. Scripture authoritative, magisterium authoritative. Scripture not self-authenticating, but magisterium self-appointed. When the magisterium’s opinion clashes with scripture, which one should give way?


  29. It is only faith in Jesus Christ that is (or could be) self authenticating, not the magisterium or scripture. This faith necessarily implies that God must have provided an authority to guarantee His revelation (because otherwise he would have failed in His purposes). It is then a matter of seeing what authorities claim to be infallible and to have been established by Christ and then looking at the evidence. It is a very simple exercise because there is only one candidate. The Catholic Church claims to have been established by Christ and to be infallible. No one else even makes that claim. The scriptures were not written by Jesus (as man) and they do not claim to be the means instituted to guarantee His revelation. As a non-self collating, non-self translating, non-self interpreting text they are intrinsically inappropriate for the task. The Magisterium is not self appointed the twelve apostles were appointed by Christ and the bishops succeed to them This is a historical fact was universally accepted as far back as there is any evidence up until the sixteenth century. The passages you claim prove the sufficiency of scripture, as they were all written before the end of the canon, would (if they meant what you say they mean) exclude all the texts written after them from the canon. They do not provide us with a contents page for the Bible or get you out of St Paul’s command to adhere to oral tradition. Furthermore, idolatry aside, if scripture were self authenticating as you claim textual criticism would be redundant. We would need only to proffer the various manuscripts to the elect and then they could tell us all which reading corresponds to the autograph. No doubt it would correspond exactly with the manuscript base of the KJV or perhaps the autographs were in English? Interpretation is a matter of fact not of new inspiration. If God guarantees an interpretation then it cannot conflict with scripture.


  30. The Scriptures consistently both claim and assume themselves to be the infallible, authoritative, perspicuous, sufficient-for-faith-and-practice revelation of God. It’s either a lack of acquaintance with them or just a refusal to accept what they say that would lead anyone to think otherwise. It is simply not legitimate for any group or person within the Church to claim to be infallible, if by that they mean anything other than their loyal adherence to the infallible scriptures. And similarly, the Church can only claim apostolicity to the extent that she conforms to the apostles’ doctrine – the apostles were one-offs, so that although they do have successors who succeed them in point of doctrine, their office died out with themselves.

    Re the passages i cited – these properties are attributed to scripture itself, ie they are true of whatever is God-breathed (every piece of inspired scripture up to and including Psalm 19 is ‘perfect, soul-converting, sure, wise-making, right, heart-rejoicing, pure, etc’ – because it is inspired – the same is true of any and every piece of inspired scripture following the composition of that psalm – because it is inspired).

    Starting to struggle, meanwhile, even with the short and sweet :-) have the last word if you like but at 30+ comments this post is starting to feel the strain …


  31. I agree that the scriptures are inspired and inerant. They are not infalible because that is an atribute of persons not of texts (this is a technicality though an important one). They are authoritative because they are inspired (God wrote them) and inerant (they consequently contain no error). They are clearly not ‘perspicuous’ and to say they are argues a lack of acquaintance with them or just a refusal to accept what they say “in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are certain things hard to be understood, which the unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, to their own destruction” 2 Peter 3:16. They are explicitly not ‘sufficient-for-faith-and-practice’ : “stand fast; and hold the traditions which you have learned, whether by word, or by our epistle” 2 Thess. 2:14.

    The word ‘infallible’ is, of course, not used in scripture. What it means is that the faith of the person in question cannot fail. This is explixitly promised to Peter in Luke 22:31; and, that, in their official capacity, their acts will be ratified in heaven. This is explicitly promised to Peter and (conditionally upon their unity with him) his fellow Apostles in Mtt 16:19 & 18:18. Apostlic succession is attested in Acts 1:20 & 2 Timothy 2:2.

    Your other assertions are mere assertions, either circular or unsuported by scriptural (let aone patristc) evidence. But this is all irrelavant because the absence of any inspired contents page from the Bible means that your entire argument is absurd. Far more important than any of these points is the totaly unaddressed fact that to ascribe self-authentication to anything or one other than a Divine Person is idolatry. For “The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not. He came to his own, and his own received him not. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth”


  32. The Scottish Church cannot have “returned” to anywhere or anything as it was an entirely man made new entity.
    The break from Rome was enforced. One need only look at the Remote outer Hebridean Islands and remoter parts of the highlands, where it was not enforced, it did not happen
    EG Barra, South Uist, pats of Aberdeen and Banff.


  33. Good. Thanks for reading on. Hard to tell at first sight whether new comments are just drive by shootings or if folks are willing to talk.

    Not quite sure what you mean by enforced though. The mood at the time was widespread dissatisfaction with a Church that was not behaving in the way a Church should (poorly educated & immoral priests etc) and whether or not you agree that the Scottish populace did the right thing by embracing Reformation principles, it’s hardly accurate to say they only did so by coercion. (Far less in the Highlands, which didn’t really have much exposure to Reformed doctrines till a couple of generations later than the Lowlands.)

    I’d have thought it was pretty uncontroversial that the Reformation brought the church back much closer to the Scriptures than it had been in the run-up to the Reformation.


  34. Indeed The Church was in need of reform,as it constantly still is. But reform is different to rupture. “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” comes to mind!
    Of course it was not only by coercion, some people welcomed the chance to get their hands on Church property, and some probably did think that the Calvinist version of Church was the best. A new broom so to speak.
    But as to what the majority wanted, well who knows. Evidence is patchy. Though there is some suggestion that some reformed clergy who had been Priests a short time before, still offered Mass in private before “taking the service” later on the Sunday. Though clearly this practice would have died out within a generation.


  35. “The voices of Morebath” by Eamonn Duffy is an excellent account of one Parish in peri-Reformation England. Sadly there is no equivalent in Scotland.


  36. Ah, Eamonn Duffy. I believe his middle name is Revisionist.

    The ‘rupture’ (as i said in one of the comments further up this thread) was really with Rome and not with The Church as such.

    I think the majority voted with their feet, really.


  37. I think your being a little unfair to Pro. Duffy as that particular book is based on fact. Stuff recorded by the clergyman at the time.
    I do not see how “the rupture” was not with “The Church” as the only Church up until then was The Roman Catholic Church. So surely “The Rupture” was with one and the same.
    I doubt we shall ever know the majority feeling at the time. But at least now people are able to choose and not be persecuted, or killed for being of a particular belief.


  38. Well, indeed, and what would Patrick Hamilton have given for that kind of tolerance, one wonders.

    But, as we’ve been discussing in this thread already, the church prior to the Reformation (a) was not quite the same as what we know today as the Roman Catholic Church, and (b) did not match particularly closely with the description given in the Bible for what a church is meant to look like.

    Which brings us neatly back to Sola Scriptura again, the formal cause of the Reformation.


  39. True, The Church in those days was not quite the same as now. But the beliefs and practices were very similar. The Mass being the central act of worship, then as now. Just as The Master asked.
    There are lots of descriptions in The Bible of forms of worship. All Churches have been , and are, found wanting when it comes to perfection both in worship and in the fruits of worship, ie good works. I imagine thats because they are full of imperfect human beings. Hence the need for Church. A bit of a circle.
    However it was always held ( until the 16 the century) that when Jesus said “This is my Body, This is my Blood”, that was what he meant. Hence The Mass. The form of worship most pleasing to God.


  40. Cath,
    I must thank you for the opportunity to chat on here. I do not know many presbyterians (though my father was one) let alone the Free kind. So its been enlightening.


  41. The mass as the central act of worship – well, precisely the point of contention is whether this is biblical. Both whether the centrality of the mass is biblical, and whether the mass itself is biblical.

    Some earlier discussion on this point –

    I feel personally that I have benefited a great deal from this kind of discussion with my Catholic friends. You’re welcome here. I would also be very interested to hear how someone from a presbyterian family came to be Catholic, but feel perfectly free not to treat that as a question if it’s too personal.


  42. Thanks for the welcome. Well lots in your last post. Starting with The Mass. Biblical? I would say yes. As it contains at least two( Sundays three)readings from scripture and a psalm, ie The Liturgy of the word. The second main part The Liturgy of the Eucharist, is also biblical, in that the Priest and people re-present the sacrifice of Christ in a sacramental form. ” Do this in remembrance of me”
    I think people in other Churches sometimes think the Catholic Position is that we offer new sacrifices. This is not so, as there can only be one. This is made present to all people , in all times and ages, in the Mass.
    I think it was Saint Paul who said that anyone coming to this celebration unworthily was denegrating, not bread and wine, but the Body and Blood of Christ.
    As for me, I was not brought up a Presbyterian, though my father had been one, but my mother was an Episcopalian, so we all attended there. Though both my Grandmothers had beenRC S !
    It was a very short leap from there to Rome. Much shorter than if it had been from the Church of Scotland.


  43. Re-presenting the sacrifice: why is it necessary for the priest to do this? (and the people?) who are they presenting it to? It’s just that when the bible speaks about the priestly actions that are needed in relation to Christ’s sacrifice, it always seems to be Christ who is the priest involved, not any human priest. I wonder if I should start a new post about this, actually.


  44. The Church, The people of God, are a Priestly people. Each member, through Baptism,shares in the threefold ministry of Christ. Prophet, Priest and King.
    But our high Priest, Jesus Christ, also chose some of his followers to carry out publicy, in the church, a priestly ministry in His name on behalf of mankind.
    So Priests and (to a lesser extent) people participate in the one Priesthood of Christ.
    Just as Christ redeemed us by a Priestly act of worship. So the ordained Priest, by virtue of his participation in Christ s Priesthood. offers that same sacrificial act of Worship on the Altar. ( To God the Father)


  45. Pingback: one is enough « ninetysix and ten

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