Monday, November 5, 2007

TurretinFan - Rebuttals to List Two

Rebuttals to List Two

1. Godith’s comment regarding Presbyterians and images

Orthodox seems to be poorly versed in Presbyterian history. In any event, there is a world of difference between “Orthodoxy”’s use of icons and the modern (liberal) Presbyterians use of stained glass.

Orthodox follow up remark that the use of religious images is “all about interpretation” is rather facile. It’s perfectly clear that representations of God were forbidden in the Old Testament, and it is also perfectly clear that the prohibition was continued in the New Testament, despite the incarnation. The fact that people disagree is not a rebuttal to the clarity of the text, it's a testimony to the stubbornness of idolaters.

2. Jeff’s Question regarding the formal sufficiency of Scripture

Orthodox seems to have missed the question entirely on this one. Orthodox doesn’t address the question at all. Instead, Orthodox notes that Abraham had enough without Scripture. It’s too bad Orthodox didn’t take a crack at the actual question, which was a good one.

3. EM’s question regarding Orthodox’s alleged admission of a practice of believer’s baptism

I agree that EM misread Orthodox’s comment.

However, Orthodox also wrote: “Of course from my point of view, having two sola scripturalists fighting it out over infant baptism, is a help to my argument that it is ‘unworkable.’ Thanks for the help.” This is a rather untenable line of reasoning, since non-sola scripturalists fight things out among themselves as well. Indeed, Roman Catholics baptize infants differently than the Eastern Orthodox do.

4. Rhology’s question regarding the 7th EC and whether it interacted with the Scriptural prohibitions on veneration and prayer to images

Orthodox responded: “Of course, we don't pray to images, we pray to Christ represented in the image.”

This is the claim of the Eastern Orthodox – and yet all that is represented is Christ’s humanity (it’s impossible to represent God), which is why the council of 754 decried the iconophiles as incarnation-deniers. Furthermore, the icons are actually prayed to, and venerated with various forms of worship including kissing, elevation, and so forth. Abundant superstitions surround the icons, even to the point of claiming that there are icons that exude holy oil, that cure sickness, and so forth.

Orthodox added: “If you use one of those video phones, do you talk to the phone, or do you talk to the person shown?”

The analogy would hold if the icons were actually capable of transmitting messages to the pictured people. They cannot, of course, which is why video phones are cool gadgets, while icons are superstitious nonsense.

Orthodox wrote: “It should be noted again that the iconoclasts were not against prayer to saints, veneration of saints, or veneration of holy items. That was not a matter that anyone disputed.”

There are many claims about what they were for and/or against. On the other hand, the iconophiles destroyed as much of the iconoclasts writings as possible, so unless we find a cache of hidden iconoclastic writings (besides the Bible), we may have trouble accurately presenting their position. In any event, the iconoclasts were chiefly opposed to the use of icons of Christ, as are we.

Orthodox wrote: “The most famous discussion of the issues contemporary with the 7th council, is of course the apology of St John of Damascus. This is, as one would imagine, full of discussion of the Holy Scripture as it applies to the topic of icons.”

This is Orthodox’s long way of answering: “no, the Seventh Council did not interact with Scripture.”

Orthodox also wrote: “This debate came out of a comment of John Chrysostom. Nobody in antiquity was a bigger proponent of reading the scriptures than he. Nobody knew the scriptures better than he. And yet he was an iconodule.”

I’m tired of this slander against John Chrysostom. “Orthodox” had his chance to try to demonstrate that John Chrysostom was an iconodule, and he came up empty, go back to his post (“Protestant Revision of History”) and check for yourself. None of those quotations (even if they were authentic, which itself is an open question) have John Chrysostom offering dulia to an icon.

5. Saint and Sinner’s comments quoting various historical demonstrations of the absence of icons in the early church, even from sources that might be expected to assert the presence of such icons

Orthodox wrote: “The first epistemological principle is that the Church preserves the true faith. A couple of quotes can't sway one from this.”

This is a great example of why the epistemology doesn’t work. It claims to be supported by the evidence, and to be based in objective evidence, but when the evidence turns out to be against it, it reduces to bare fideism: faith in the church.

Orthodox wrote: “Even a protestant must hold this principle. Think of the alternative, if the faith isn't preserved. Maybe scripture isn't preserved, either in its text or in its canon.”

Non sequitur. One can hold to the providential preservation of Scripture, without holding to the maintenance of error free Orthodoxy or Orthopraxy, just as one can hold to the providential preservation of a nation’s constitution, without holding to a view in the maintenance of laws consistent with that constitution.

Orthodox wrote: “What if we take (a) skepticism in the Church preserving the true faith, and combine it with (b) an early church quotation and (c) some silence in the historical record and perhaps (d) some conspiracy theories? What do we get? You get exactly what Basil was talking about shaking down the foundation of the faith of Christ by levelling apostolic tradition with the ground.”

Basil was fond of bolstering his arguments with swelling words, and “Orthodox” seems mistakenly to have bought into the rhetoric. Basil’s point, furthermore, was not about the four-part combination Orthodox presents, but simply about what Basil felt was an unreasonable demand for written proof in a particular case. Nevertheless, it was a demand that Basil conceded to, and a demand that Basil attempted to meet by presenting Scripture.

Orthodox wrote: “No rule of faith can stand this radical skepticism, whether it be the canonicity of 2 Peter, 1 John, Revelation or the Pauline epistles, or the originality of the trinitarian formula, or anything else. If lack of clear evidence in the earliest strata is a problem, what of 2 Peter which doesn't appear in the extent evidence until AD 200 ? On the other hand, we have hard archiological evidence of icons in Christian churches and baptistries from AD 240. Are we going to quibble over 40 years? And there are frescos in the catacombs from the mid 2nd century too.”

Strong historical evidence that icons were a development, not an original practice, from sources that would be expected to favor icons as original, if that were the case, is hardly “radical skepticism.” Orthodox’s “hard [archaeological] evidence” is laughable: the “Dura-Europos” series worth reading more about, but the town is the exception, not the rule (see here, for example, Finally, of course, while the house-churches may have been highly decorated, one doesn’t find icons of Christ, the icon that really stirs controversy. See more below about the alleged “frescos” in the “catacombs.”

But that won’t faze “Orthodox.” After all, the historical investigation is all a pretext, for it does not matter in the least what historical investigation shows: if it differs from what his church currently teaches, it must be wrong.

Orthodox continued: “As to these specific quotes, Minucius Felix actually lays out the Orthodox doctrine of icons nicely. The doctrine about icons isn't purely about painted pieces of wood, it is much wider. Everything can be an icon. All sorts of things in every day life are considered to be physical reminders or representations of spiritual realities. A priest for example is an icon of Christ (which is one reason he wears a beard, as Christ did). Christ was an icon of God (Heb 1:3, 2Cor 4:4, Col 1:15). Man is an icon of God (Ge 1:26, 1Cor 11:7). Christians are icons of Christ (1 Cor 15:49, Ro 8:29).”

All of those points are really red herrings. The iconoclasts were quick to point out that there was a primary icon of Christ already in the church: the Eucharist! That’s why a painted image was redundant, unnecessary, and unauthorized, in contrast to the authorized icon of the bread and wine. Oh yes, they are physical reminders, but they are not likenesses, just as the pascal lamb was a physical reminder, but not a likeness.

Orthodox continued: “So Felix says: "Your victorious trophies not only imitate the appearance of a simple cross, but also that of a man affixed to it. We assuredly see the sign of a cross, naturally, in the ship when it is carried along with swelling sails, when it glides forward with expanded oars; and when the military yoke is lifted up, it is the sign of a cross; and when a man adores God with a pure mind, with hands outstretched." So when Felix sees a cross, or when he sees a man with arms outstretched, what he really sees is a crucifix. Even if Felix doesn't have more sophisticated painted icons, he is looking at the world in an orthodox fashion. He sees the image of spiritual realities sanctified in ordinary symbols and images. Whether he has actually solidified the image into wood and paint, hardly makes any theological difference.”

Surely anyone will recognize that this claim is preposterous? Hardly makes any theological difference? The primary purpose of calling the so-called Seventh Ecumenical Council was to overthrow the ecumenical council of the previous generation, so that wood and paint could be reintroduced! Hardly any difference? Bah.

Orthodox continued: “Now if, per chance, Christians of that era didn't have images as we now know them, what of it? What if Christians in that particular place and time didn't have painted temples and altars and painted images either because of persecution, or some other reason. What of it. The Orthodox world view is still evident in Felix's thinking. He is venerating the crucifix he sees in everyday things, the Christ with his arms outstretched.”

What of it? “Orthodox” thinks that we can acknowledge that icons were an innovation, and that the legend of the icon-made-without-hands is a superstitious lie, and yet it makes no difference? Surely “Orthodox” should reconsider. After all, if icons were innovated, what else in the liturgy was innovated, and the sweater unravels until we see that “Orthodoxy” is wearing the Emporer’s clothes.

Orthodox wrote: “Still, I don't see the need to assume Felix's experience is standard for all Christians. That they lacked temples then due to the circumstances of persecution doesn't stop even baptists from having temples. And again, as we saw in the debate, Presbyterians have icons, and they have a lot of them. Where is the controversy? Does Francis wish to excommunicate his fellow Westminster Confession following Presbyterians?”

The claim that “Presbyterians have icons, and they have a lot of them,” is the sort of bogus historical claim that gets folks into trouble. Surely some liberal Presbyterians have abandoned the Westminster Standards view on representations of Christ, but it is abundantly clear that the historical Presbyterian churches all uniformly rejected visual representations of Christ for use in worship. While some theologically liberal Presbyterian churches may have incorporated representations of Christ in stained glass (mostly starting towards the beginning of the 20th century), even they did not incorporate those images into worship, venerate those images, or treat those images anything like the way that Catholicism and “Orthodoxy” treat icons.

Orthodox: “Concerning Epiphanius, the church has long felt this work to be spurious, at least since the time of the 7th council. (See John of Damascus' apology) How reasonable this is, I don't know. Long have debates raged about the authenticity of documents, both the canonical books, and others, both in antiquity and today. While nobody is completely off the hook from making their own assessment of such things, I personally want to give the church the benefit of the doubt when the authenticity has been questioned.”

See above. The issue, of course, is not whether the work is spurious (i.e. whether it has been ascribed to its true author), but whether it is ancient. It clearly is ancient. That has never been questioned, and given John of Damscus’ apology, how could it be questioned?

Orthodox wrote: “Concerning Origen, who comments on Christians AND Jews "avoiding images" and "not praying to them". Origen lived in Alexandria till the mid third century, 254 AD. On the other hand, as was mentioned in the debate, we have Christian icons in Alexandrian catacombs from the mid third century depicting Mary with Christ child. And Dura-Europos, also from the mid third century, not too far from Origen, contained many images in both Jewish and Christian temples.”

This is an example of historical revisionism. A single image tentatively dated to the mid-third century in an underground catacomb (during a time when Christians were not persecuted), and whose identification with Mary depends on an inscription that is “Hagia Maria” not “Theotokos” or “Christokos” or the “Virgin Mary” or anything like that, becomes “Christian icons in Alexandrian catacombs.” The painting is a straw that a desperate mind will grasp.

Orthodox wrote: “So the question is whether Origen draws the distinction that modern Orthodox do, between pagans, having images as deities, and praying TO blocks of wood, compared to the Jewish and Christians who also have images, but images of things real, the saviour, the saints. Well it seems reasonable to me that we should not try and make the fathers and archeology contradict each other. Obviously the Jews did NOT avoid images, as we see in both Exodus itself which commands images, or the factual evidence of Jewish synagogues from the period Origen was alive. As we know, Origen knew Hebrew better than anyone of the period. So do we assume Origen was completely ignorant of the Jews, or do we assume he distinguishes between the false deities in the images as used by pagans and images as used by Christians?”

Again, “Orthodox” revises the historical record. The “house-synagogue” at Dura-Europos is unique (not “synagogues”) and the fact that it contains any representations at all was unprecedented and was unexpected by archaeologists.

The better way of interpreting the evidence is that the town of Dura-Europos was an exception rather than the rule.

Orthodox wrote: “I know which way I want to go. And again, if real Christians "avoid images", as claimed, when is Francis going to disown Presbyterianism?”

Unlike “Orthodox” I don’t have to label everyone that errors in doctrine and practice (from my point of view) as not a “real Christian.” I have been clear that those Presbyterians that have strayed into the use of representations of Christ have strayed from Scripture and from the Westminster Standards.

6. Saint and Sinner noted that “Orthodox” in his “Show us the Canon” post had quoted from liberal and historical-critical writers.

Orthodox responded: “So a liberal or historical-critical scholar is basically someone who disagrees with you? So which of those was Jerome when he said that 2 John was not written by the apostle? Which of those was the Syrian church that didn't accept these books? Which of these was the Ethiopian church that had 1 Clement as scripture? Which of those was Athanasius who didn't have Esther as scripture?”

This abuse is unjustified. S&S provided an accurate characterization of the writers who were referenced, and probably a description that the writers themselves would not disagree with. The alleged mistakes of those that have gone before are a red herring, since they were not the ones cited.

Orthodox continued: “If one of these references can demonstrate that a book is God-breathed scripture, get back to me. In the mean time, I define liberals and historical-critical scholars are those who doubt the orthodox christian faith.”

That’s by no means a standard definition, or even a useful definition. Good scholarship has little to do with one’s religious beliefs.

7. L P Cruz noted that because tradition is self-correcting it is therefore fallible, and if fallible it is not inspired.

Orthodox’s response that tradition “is self-correcting in the sense that it can correct ambiguities,” is obviously a hasty retreat. The logical conclusion, though, is quite interesting: self-correcting tradition is really ever-growing tradition. You see, tradition in this generation can “correct” ambiguities from previous generations. Thus, tradition keeps building on itself. This is a totally different model from tradition that is handed down from the apostles.

So this hasty back-pedaling shows that the term “tradition” is being used equivocally. We can see that again when we look at the application of Vincent’s canon. How can the application of such a canon “correct ambiguities”? Of course, it cannot. In fact, any ambiguities in the generations of the fathers automatically prevent Vincent’s canon from being helpful. So we can see that the two (or more) kinds of tradition are not just equivocal, but they are at each other’s throats!

8. Benjamin asked to hear more about the three Johns and noted that one of his New Testament professors swears by 1 Clement’s canonical status.

Orthodox replied: “Benjamin, you are a presbyterian, and your professor says that 1 Clement is canonical scripture? All I can say is thanks for the help showing that sola scriptura doesn't work.”

This is a very odd statement, not only because many seminaries employ theological liberals, but because the Ethopians (who also swear by 1 Clement’s canonical status) are not Sola Scriptura folks.

9. Albert asked: “Can you tell us the doctrinal content of "traditions" in the context of Paul's Epistle? Thanks.

Unfortunately, Orthodox failed to answer this question meaningfully. Instead, Orthodox wrote: “Traditions for Paul is everything taught by Jesus and the apostles whether in writing or by word of mouth. If you want to know what the full content of the apostolic tradition is, come and see Orthodoxy.”

On the contrary, if Paul were to walk into a modern Orthodox church, he’d think he had found himself in a Greek temple: gold everywhere, incense burning, candles burning, highly vested priests muttering, and so forth. When he realized that it was supposed to be a church, he’d be scandalized, and would not hesitate to tell folks what he thought.

And, of course, the bottom line is that “Orthodox” cannot tell you what the doctrinal content of the “traditions” mentioned in Paul’s Epistle was, except for those actually mentioned in the epistle. Whatever they were, though, they were not the ambiguity-correcting sifting process that “Orthodox” also likes to call “tradition,” and they were not the churches of Paul’s day always getting things right and never straying from the truth.

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