Saturday, November 3, 2007

TurretinFan - Answers to List One

Answers to List One - Questions for TurretinFan

1. Tradition and Basil

Jeff asked: “If you had the chance to respond to the Basil citations, what would you say? Or, what is the Protestant understanding here?”

Quotation 1:
"The one aim of the whole band of opponents and enemies of “sound doctrine”is to shake down the foundation of the faith of Christ by levelling apostolic tradition with the ground, and utterly destroying it. So like the debtors, — of course bona fide debtors. — they clamour for written proof, and reject as worthless the unwritten tradition of the Fathers." Basil the Great, Chapter X, Oration on the Holy Spirit,

Reformed Christians would side procedurally with Basil’s opponents here, and agree with them that the Christian practice is to provide written proof, since anyone can wave their hands and claim “unwritten tradition” as the support for their position. Basil makes fun of them by comparing them to debtors who come to court demanding that their creditors produce proof that the money is owed. We’ll see later whether Basil considers these folks Christians or not.

Quotation 2:
"In the same manner the Apostles and Fathers who laid down laws for the Church from the beginning thus guarded the awful dignity of the mysteries in secrecy and silence, for what is bruited abroad random among the common folk is no mystery at all. This is the reason for our tradition of unwritten precepts and practices, that the knowledge of our dogmas may not become neglected and contemned by the multitude through familiarity." Chapter XXVII, ibid

a) Reformed Christians would point out how Gnostic-sounding this is. Secret mysteries hidden from the multitude and not given to the commoners are standard Gnostic fare.

b) Furthermore, Scripture clearly contradicts Basil here, for Scripture clearly indicates that the apostles’ doctrines were preached openly. John’s writings are particularly strong as an antidote to Gnosticism. Or simply consider:

Colossians 1:26 Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints:

Acts 26:26 For the king knoweth of these things, before whom also I speak freely: for I am persuaded that none of these things are hidden from him; for this thing was not done in a corner.

Hebrews 9:8 The Holy Ghost this signifying, that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing:

c) We would also note with a wry smile that if Basil were right, it would be impossible to use Vincent’s canon, unless the Apostles and Fathers simply did not do a very good job of keeping these secrets.

Quotation 3
"Time will fail me if I attempt to recount the unwritten mysteries of the Church. Of the rest I say nothing; but of the very confession of our faith in Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, what is the written source? If it be granted that, as we are baptized, so also under the obligation to believe, we make our confession in like terms as our baptism, in accordance with the tradition of our baptism and in conformity with the principles of true religion, let our opponents grant us too the right to be as consistent in our ascription of glory as in our confession of faith. If they deprecate our doxology on the ground that it lacks written authority, let them give us the written evidence for the confession of our faith and the other matters which we have enumerated. While the unwritten traditions are so many, and their bearing on “the mystery of godliness is so important, can they refuse to allow us a single word which has come down to us from the Fathers; — which we found, derived from untutored custom, abiding in unperverted churches; — a word for which the arguments are strong, and which contributes in no small degree to the completeness of the force of the mystery?" ibid

We Reformed Christians would note that it is interesting that Basil takes for granted that his opponents the alleged “whole band of opponents and enemies of sound doctrine” (from quotation 1 above) would agree with the confession of faith. In other words, these are not outsiders, but Christians with whom Basil is battling. Basil seems to think that his opponents’ resistance to the use of one particular preposition rather than another is senseless, to paraphrase: “Can’t they just accept that the different preposition has been used everywhere throughout Christendom (even in churches that have generally remained faithful) even if it is not from Scripture? But if the insist on using the exact words of Scripture, where will they find the whole confession of faith, or the details of various items of liturgy?” In other words, Basil is accusing his opponents of stretching the matter beyond its breaking point. If you are going to deny Basil the use of a preposition because a different preposition is used in Scripture, will you deny yourself words like Trinity, which are also not found ippisimus verbis in Scripture?

We would also note that it is interesting that the writings of Basil’s opponents have not been preserved, except in this way, by Basil’s own writings being preserved. It’s one of the problems of trying to make an historical investigation: sometimes only one half a controversy has been preserved.

Finally, we would note that this controversy between Basil and the other Christians of his day is something like the filioque controversy with respect to which the Greeks and Romans officially split. Of course, by that time, the parties were much further removed from the apostles, and so both sides could easily wave their hands and assert unbroken tradition going back to the fathers and apostles, while accusing the other side of improperly innovating or rejecting the apostolic tradition.

Quotation 4:
"Is answer to the objection that the doxology in the form “with the Spirit” has no written authority, we maintain that if there is no other instance of that which is unwritten, then this must not be received. But if the greater number of our mysteries are admitted into our constitution without written authority, then, in company with the many others, let us receive this one. For I hold it apostolic to abide also by the unwritten traditions. “I praise you,” it is said, “that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances as I delivered them to you;” and “Hold fast the traditions which ye have been taught whether by word, or our Epistle.” One of these traditions is the practice which is now before us, which they who ordained from the beginning, rooted firmly in the churches, delivering it to their successors, and its use through long custom advances pace by pace with time. If, as in a Court of Law, we were at a loss for documentary evidence, but were able to bring before you a large number of witnesses, would you not give your vote for our acquittal? I think so; for “at the mouth of two or three witnesses shall the matter be established.” And if we could prove clearly to you that a long period of time was in our favour, should we not have seemed to you to urge with reason that this suit ought not to be brought into court against us? For ancient dogmas inspire a certain sense of awe, venerable as they are with a hoary antiquity. I will therefore give you a list of the supporters of the word (and the time too must be taken into account in relation to what passes unquestioned). For it did not originate with us. How could it? We, in comparison with the time during which this word has been in vogue, are, to use the words of Job, “but of yesterday.” I myself, if I must speak of what concerns me individually, cherish this phrase as a legacy left me by my fathers. It was delivered to me by one who spent a long life in the service of God, and by him I was both baptized, and admitted to the ministry of the church. While examining, so far as I could, if any of the blessed men of old used the words to which objection is now made, I found many worthy of credit both on account of their early date, and also a characteristic in which they are unlike the men of today — because of the exactness of their knowledge. Of these some coupled the word in the doxology by the preposition, others by the conjunction, but were in no case supposed to be acting divergently, — at least so far as the right sense of true religion is concerned." - Chapter XXIX ibid

Notice the camel’s nose argument: if this is the only unwritten thing that we accept as apostolic, throw it out: but if there are a host of such things, then you cannot kick this one out.

More relevantly to the topic, however, here Basil starts to point toward something similar to what Vincent is getting at, though clearly it is not quite the same thing. Basil says he surveyed all his spiritual predecessors and found that some used the preposition and some used the conjunction. He argues that he did not invent the preposition, and he claims that the preposition had apostolic authority. It’s Basil’s claim that in earlier generations both forms were used, and no one accused those using the preposition of heresy, so it must be ok, and not cause a loss of sense. It’s an intuitive argument, even if it lacks binding authority.

Basil makes reference to the court of law, but Basil’s analogy is a bit off. Yes, oral testimony is permitted in many things: but not as to the content of the law itself. That is to say, the law is written and speaks for itself. Witnesses are called as to factual matters: did the man kill the other? or is that Mr. Smith’s horse? Witnesses are not called as to legal matters.

Now, recall that Basil made analogy to debtors demanding written proof. It’s interesting that Basil should make this particular analogy. Perhaps in the time and place when Basil was writing, proof of debt was admitted based on oral testimony. In many places, however, that is no longer the case. Because it is so easy for creditors to fabricate oral testimony, many places have a “statute of frauds” that prevents the enforcement of debts contracted orally if the amount is large. And the same principle should be applied to these alleged traditions. Where there is no writing, there is abundant room for fabrication and mere allegations. Writings settle the matter.

Quotation 5:
"Had I not so done, it would truly have been terrible that the blasphemers of the Spirit should so easily be emboldened in their attack upon true religion, and that we, with so mighty an ally and supporter at our side, should shrink from the service of that doctrine, which by the tradition of the Fathers has been preserved by an unbroken sequence of memory to our own day." Chapter XXX ibid

We Reformed Christians would note that this “unbroken of sequence of memory” was a weak argument in Basil’s day (particularly considering that he himself noted a variety of practice). It’s much weaker today, so many more generations having elapsed. Human memories are fallible. If, perhaps, all Christians everywhere held to something we could say that it cannot be that we all have got it wrong, but Basil’s opponents’ easy answer is: then why is not in our memories? If the answer is that they are not part of elite initiated spiritual class, the “Gnostic” shoe fits Basil on this point.

But recall “Orthodox”’s solution: just deny the full Christianity of those outside your group.

2. Is Athanasius your Father?
Lucian had two comments which amounted to the same thing: Lucian questioned that the Gnostics alleged an unwritten Apostolic tradition (based on the dozens of Gnostic Apocryphal works).

I answer: The rebuttal is that Lucian simply does not understand Gnosticism. Certainly Gnosticism did produce writings. Those writings, however, were largely guarded from the outside world. Much of what we know about Gnostic writings comes from recovery of secret stashes of Gnostic writings, and the writings of a few early fathers against Gnosticism.

In some (perhaps most) cases, the Gnostics invented these writings (such as the apocryphal gospels and epistles) long after the Apostles had died. They tried to answer Christian objections to the sudden appearance of these works by alleging that they had been transmitted orally in secret.

3. Chained to a Wall
Lucian quoted my words: “the historic Christian approach, as evidenced by the Bereans in Scripture.”

Lucian responded: “YET, according to Your own belief, You perpetually deny what You just now affirmed (You rather think that the historic Christian consensus, "unfortunately", didn't follow the example and teachings of Scripture). -- Why are You self-conflicting here?”

I answer: The problem here is an inability on Lucian’s part to read carefully. For some reason when Lucian hears the words “historic Christian” he starts imagining the propaganda put forth by Rome and others about Christianity having a single homogeneous view of doctrine through all the ages.

In fact, the historic Christian approach is to compare doctrine to Scripture. Do Christians always get it right? Of course we do not. We are human, after all. What do we see when we turn to most of the Fathers and early Christian writers? We seem the immersed in Scripture, and we see them developing their doctrines and correcting the doctrines of others from there. We see Christians challenging other Christians to prove things from Scripture. Sometimes we see misinterpretations, but that is to be expected because humans are involved.

We don’t accept Lucian’s imagined “historic Christian consensus.” There always have been and always will be fighting and divisions among Christians, until we are glorified in heaven.

Furthermore, we acknowledge that not all Christians have consistently followed the practice of according Scripture primacy. Because we do not imagine a fairytale castle of “historic Christian consensus” we can comfortably admit that a few “fathers” or even many “fathers” disagreed.

4. Mockery of Spirit’s Testimony a Red Herring
Lucian quoted my words: “It feels like persuasion, conviction of fact.”

Lucian asked: “Have You been reading much of Malcolm X lately, ... or ?”

I answer: I’ve never read the man and from the reviews I’ve seen I have no plans to do so. It was a silly question, and it got an appropriate answer.

5. The Council of 754
Lucian commented: “Anyone can call himself anything: that's not a problem, believe me. The problem is if there're also people to bear witness to the truth of those sayings, for anyone who testifies of himself is a liar. The Fathers are (by definition) the masculine element of the equation: they "give" of themselves the "seed" of God's Word (Matthew 13; Mark 4; Luke 8). The Church is the feminine element: she "receives". -- have their [rejected] teachings been "received" by the people of God, the pillar and foundation of all truth?”

I answer: Your metaphor is contra-Scriptural. The Scriptural metaphor is that Christ is the groom and the church (all Christians) is the bride. He is the vine, we are the branches. He is the shepherd we are the sheep. There is a sense in which the elders (all elders, not just those of yesteryear) are shepherds as well. Like Peter, they are under-shepherds of Christ and feed the flock on His behalf. But they do not offer themselves, but Christ to the people. They do not give of themselves, and their gospel is not their own.

The truth is objective, not subjective. Whether the truth is received or rejected is important only to the status of the subject. The stone that the builders rejected has become the head cornerstone. The Jewish nation was the church of God until Pentecost, and yet clearly the truth of Gospel was in now way dependent on the acceptance of the truth by the people of Israel. The nation of Israel was condemned for its unbelief, and such is the fate of all bodies of men who reject the truth, whether they call themselves Christian or not. As Lucian correctly noted, “anyone can call himself anything.” Indeed, Jesus Himself cautioned that there will be many who will say “Lord, Lord,” but will not enter into heaven.

Lucian continued: “Apropos corruption of dogma via foreign, pagan influences: guess what foreign, pagan religion appeared on the face of the earth about the time the iconoclasts had their way with the Orthodox?”

Lucian is referring to Islam which was founded around 150 years before the council of 754. That’s not “about the time” in any normal way of speaking. Furthermore, the original iconophiles (who persecuted the iconoclasts and burnt the historical documentation against icons) tended to accuse the iconoclasts of being Judaizers, not Muslims. Historical revisionism, it seems, is favored not only by the iconophiles but their spiritual descendents.

Lucian quoted my words: “We've already established the relative paucity of early priests and doctors affirming the use of icons in worship”

Lucian responded: “Why? ... has anyone by any chance denied icons? ONE example?”

I answer: It’s vain to look for rejection of the practice before the practice existed, except among the works of the prophets. You will find it there in John’s epistles.

Lucian also quoted my words: “(you could only identify a small handful of alleged teachers of the doctrine, while you acknowledge that there were dozens of doctors and thousands upon thousands of priests).”

Lucian asked: “So? Name at least ONE that said anything to the contrary.”

I answer: Lucian seems to miss the point. Let’s be clear. Vincent’s canon does not call for acceptance of doctrines that simply lacked debate in the early church. Vincent’s canon calls for acceptance of doctrines that were believed by all or nearly all of the folks in the early church.

Let me illustrate with a reduction to absurdity:

Suppose we dug up the library of an obscure and long-perished monastery in some desert region and found 100 witnesses (apparently from various writers – some bearing the names of “fathers” of the church – collected in a small library) testifying to a view that Mary’s mother was immaculately conceived and bodily assumed, and also testifying that when Jesus spoke he frequently lisped. We cannot find any early fathers who contradict either of those views.

Do we therefore automatically accept those writings as presenting the correct view? Of course we would not. Would such documents pass Vincent’s test? Of course they would not. Vincent’s test is not about finding uncontradicted views, but about finding the unanimous or nearly unanimous views. Twenty-five (even if that number were accurate, which it is not – and even if we could be sure of the authenticity of the writings, which we cannot) is not nearly unanimous.

Lucian continued: “Christ Himself said: if these will shut up, the stones will speak for them: name to me at least ONE un-decorated, un-icon-clad Church building found among the ruins of ancient Christian cities. -- doesn't common-semse tell You that all these "thousands upon thousands" of priests had to serve SOMEWHERE (I mean, they're priests, right?) -- so why weren't they shocked and horrified by the presence of "all za colours" on the Church-walls?”

I answer:

a) It’s pretty well known that church buildings were a later development of Christianity. You cannot very conveniently have church buildings when you are under intense persecution. The Jewish synagogues where the very early church would have met were not – from the historical records we have – icon-clad. The pagan temples, however, were.

b) It’s fairly obvious that only the temple-like buildings are going to survive in ruins for extended periods of time. In other words, an undecorated wooden hall is not going to be a recognizable church after 100 years of lying in ruins. Thus, the analysis employs the statistical fallacy of filtering.

c) There are not a particularly large number of ruined ancient churches to analyze.

d) The ruined ancient churches we can analyze are mostly post 7th EC anyhow.

Lucian concluded: “P.S.: passages from works directed against paganism don't particularilly impress us. Try something else for a change... OK?”

I answer: You engage in the practice of pagans, worshipping idols, so you should expect to hear from the passages of works that are directed to your pagan practices.

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