A few weekends ago, I was spending time with my good friend Mary. As she’s a former Roman Catholic, I decided she might be interested in stopping by a Roman Catholic bookstore in the area. While we were perusing the wares, I came across a book by Dave Armstrong entitled The Catholic Verses: 95 Bible Passages that Confound Protestants. I scanned through until I came across one chapter with a subject of interest, so I read through the whole section. By the end, I suddenly felt a great need to respond, or at the very least provide something like a response. At the behest of others I decided to go ahead and read the whole thing. I ordered it online and received it just a few days ago. With pencil in hand and ready to take notes, I began to read to see if these “95 bible passages” really would “confound” me.
The book is divided not by individual passages, but into sixteen chapters, each about particular subjects. Each chapter is then divided into sections, each with a few verses related to the topic. What I’ve decided to do is to respond to each individual section in individual posts. This will be a combination of a counterpoint and a continuous book report. As this is the introductory post, it’s only fitting that we review the…well…introduction of the book.
Strangely enough, the first thing I felt compelled to take notes on was the back cover, which begins with this:
Martin Luther ignited the Protestant Reformation by tacking ninety-five anti-Catholic theses to a church door in Germany. Now Dave Armstrong counters with ninety-five pro-Catholic passages from an authority far greater than Luther: the Bible itself.
Whether it was at the suggestion of Dave Armstrong or (more likely) the idea of Sophia Institute Press, the use of the term “anti-Catholic” completely astounded me. For one, “anti-Catholic” is a phrase used far too easily in certain Roman Catholic circles. It is used so freely that everything from the slanderous lies of Jack Chick to the more reasoned arguments of men like James White or Matt Slick are lumped together. There is a world of difference, however, between someone who is “anti-Catholic” because they spread lies with the intent to badmouth Catholics, and those who are “anti-Catholic” only because their conclusions are opposed to the doctrines and teachings of the Roman Church.
For another, even a casual review of Luther’s 95 Theses (source) shows them to be anything but “anti-Catholic.” We must remember that, at this point in Luther’s life, he was not criticizing the Roman Church as an institution or their doctrine in toto. Luther was not opposed to the doctrine of papal supremacy, purgatory, and other teachings (though he would be later on). The 95 Theses were posted to encourage debate on various matters concerning error that Luther perceived was happening within that institution. For example, he opposed the abuse of indulgences by Johann Tetzel, as seen in #27: “There is no divine authority for preaching that the soul flies out of the purgatory immediately the money clinks in the bottom of the chest.” He likewise asked that Christians be educated on certain matters, such as he writes in #50: “Christians should be taught that, if the pope knew the exactions of the indulgence-preachers, he would rather the church of St. Peter were reduced to ashes than be built with the skin, flesh, and bones of the sheep.” It is true that he was concerned about certain practices within the church, such as in #86: “since the pope’s income to-day is larger than that of the wealthiest of wealthy men, why does he not build this one church of St. Peter with his own money, rather than with the money of indigent believers?” However, we must reiterate that Luther was not completely opposed to the Roman Catholic institution, as evidence in some areas such as #5: “The pope has neither the will nor the power to remit any penalties beyond those imposed either at his own discretion or by canon law.”
Therefore, to call Luther’s 95 Theses “anti-Catholic” is a great historical misnomer. The only way they could be considered “anti-Catholic” is if we accuse any attempt to question the doctrine or actions of the Roman Church as “anti-Catholic.” If this is the case, then we can only wonder how little things have changed since the days of the Reformation. (Also, let’s muse for a moment on how much I’ve written just in response to the back cover).
Turning now to the actual contents of the book itself, Dave Armstrong gives an outline of his goals:
I write as a fellow brother in Christ with a respectful disagreement.
If this book can convince the reader that Catholicism is at least as “biblically respectable” as any brand of Protestantism, I will have succeeded in my goal. In any event, I trust that all students of the Bible will be interested in comparative exegesis and a side-by-side analysis of competing views. Of course, my ultimate aim is persuasion, but increased understanding (even while disagreement remains) is also a worthy accomplishment. [pg. xvi]
…I shall now proceed to offer a critique of common Protestant attempts to ignore, explain away, rationalize, wish away, overpolemicize, minimize, de-emphasize, evade clear consequences of, or special plead with regard to “the Catholic Verses”… [pg. xiii]
Regarding this endeavor, Armstrong humbly admits on the same page: “This is not a scholarly work, as I am no scholar in the first place, but merely a lay Catholic apologist” (ibid). I likewise confess to not being a scholar, let alone an apologist (despite some calling me that) – I’m simply a guy with a blog whose posts are the results of boredom and questions from friends. Therefore I mean this series as no attack against Armstrong’s character or person, but rather his arguments and the contents of his book, both of which are aimed at Protestants. From past experience I have too often been accused of acting as if I believe my opponents know nothing (being told “So-and-so is a lot smarter than you think they are,” etc.). We must recognize that having a disagreement with a person does not denote you think they are certifiably stupid.
Armstrong does make many good points in his introduction. For example, he writes that “no one comes to the Bible as a completely impartial and objective observer or reader” (pg. xii). This is absolutely true – everyone brings a certain bias or set of presuppositions to anything. He also writes that, as Protestants often use the scriptures to criticize Roman Catholic theology, it is “good once in a while to turn the tables and closely examine and scrutinize Protestant traditions” (pg. xi). This I likewise agree with – we should judge all things by scripture, especially our own theology.
However, a major hurdle comes when Armstrong writes regarding Catholics and Protestants that “the Bible is our common ground” (pg. xvi). While I’ll confess it is unfair for Protestants to portray Catholic opinion of the Bible as their leaders drop-kicking it out of their cathedrals, there is still a world of difference between how Protestants see the authority of scripture and how Catholics see the authority of scripture. Soon after writing that the Bible is a common ground, Armstrong states:
[Catholics] do believe, however, that all our doctrines are present in Scripture, either explicitly or in kernel form (later to be more fully developed), or as straightforward deductions from biblical material. This is the notion of the “material sufficiency” of Scripture. [ibid]
And on the next page:
The fact remains that diverse interpretations arise, and a final authority outside of Scripture is needed to resolve those controversies. This does not imply in the least that Scripture itself (rightly understood) is not sufficient to overcome the errors. It is only formally insufficient by itself (that is, it cannot interpret itself; this is where the Church and Tradition come in). [pg. xvii]
Although some lay Catholics claim that Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and other groups are the result of sola scriptura, the fact is that, in regards to the authority of scripture, these groups are closer to Rome than they are to historic Protestantism. All these groups, like the Roman Catholic Church, believe that scripture is sufficient only so long as it is rightly interpreted by their established governing body. Hence it is not really scripture that truly has the final say, but that “final authority” which gets the final say. However this “final authority” may interpret the Bible, we are to accept it.
At this point, we must address certain presuppositions of Armstrong that will become more relevant as we go along. For one, whenever he uses the word “Catholic,” he always refers specifically to Roman Catholic. Unfortunately, in this day and age, any time the word “Catholic” is used, people immediately associate it with any ecclesiastical body (in whatever rite) attached to the Roman Church. However, the Roman Church does not have a historical monopoly on the word. For example, the Eastern Orthodox Churches to this day still recite the Nicene Creed, wherein they confess and believe that they are the “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church” (source). Even Protestants have historically used the word “catholic”: the 1615 Irish Articles of Religion confess that “there is but one Catholic Church,” clarifying later that catholic means universal (source); the 1618 Belgic Confession states belief in the “one single catholic or universal church” (source); the 1646 Westminster Confession of Faith speaks of the “catholic or universal church” (source), as does the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith (source). We must therefore be very careful when Armstrong describes the Bible as a “Catholic book, produced and preserved by Catholics for nearly 1,500 years before Protestantism even appeared” (pg. xvii), as if the other “apostolic” churches – such as the Eastern Orthodox, Coptics, and Church of the East – had nothing to do with the preservation of scripture. It is no surprise that men like Augustine or John Chrysostom used words such as “catholic” or “orthodox” – however, we cannot read backwards and use those words out of their historical context.
In the same vein, we must note that when Armstrong writes of “Church and Tradition,” it is always within a strictly Roman Catholic context. While there are similarities between the various “apostolic” churches, there are also differences which cannot be ignored. For one, the Eastern Orthodox deny many Roman Catholic “apostolic” traditions, such as purgatory or papal infallibility. For another, they deny original sin and uphold a different view of justification along with a rather semi-Pelagian view of salvation. Many Catholic apologists (though not all), in a desire to win converts, choose to ignore the other “apostolic” churches, as well as their different views on what “apostolic tradition” teaches. Similarly, Armstrong appears, either intentionally or unintentionally, to want to cover his eyes to the existence of these other churches and hope, since he doesn’t see them, that no one else sees them. This might sound a bit harsh, but again remember that I mean this as not an attack against Armstrong’s person, but his position. You cannot state that the Roman Catholic interpretation of “Church and Tradition” is the correct one without first establishing why it is.
Later on, we will see that Armstrong’s constant reference to “Church and Tradition” displays his more apologist than scholarly side, as hinted at earlier. Oftentimes in my dialogue with members of “apostolic” churches, I’ve found that “Church and Tradition” is a fallback to authority without demonstration of how this authority is relevant to the topic of conversation. Part of this is seen in Armstrong’s recollection of how he responded to an Eastern Orthodox’s claim he was adopting Protestant apologetics:
I emphasized to him that when Catholics argue from Scripture, we are acting very much like the Church Fathers, who constantly appealed to Scripture against the heretics, but whose final court of appeal was always Tradition and Holy Mother Church, where the proper interpretation of Scripture was verified. Like St. Athanasius in his dealing with the Arian heretics (who denied that Jesus was God), we can (and it is very good to) argue mostly from Scripture, but rest our final appeal on the Church and unbroken apostolic Tradition. [pg. xvii]
I have to wonder how well Armstrong knows the story of the Arian controversy. Is he aware, for example, that, after the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, Arius had all charges of heresy removed at the Council of Jerusalem in 335 AD? Is he aware that church councils in Tyre and Constantinople condemned Athanasius as a troublemaker in the church and removed him from his position as bishop? Is Armstrong aware that, until the Council of Constantinople in 381 AD, “Holy Mother Church” was virtually run by the Arians, who believed the “proper interpretation of Scripture” was the Arian perspective? Athanasius could not appeal to “the Church” because “the Church” – even at the time of his death – was largely pro-Arian.
The only other point I might touch on from the introduction was Armstrong’s friendly outlook towards Protestants. Not that Catholics and Protestants shouldn’t be civil to one another, mind you – however, we shouldn’t cry “Peace! Peace!” where there is no peace. After talking about the harsh terms Protestants often use towards Roman Catholics, Armstrong writes:
Catholics typically do not respond in kind; we gladly acknowledge Protestants as fellow Christians and brothers and sisters in Christ and rejoice in the many things that we hold in common. [pg. xv-xvi]
Is that so? Then why does the Council of Trent anathematize anyone who says “by faith alone the impious is justified” (Canon IX; source)? Why does it anathematize anyone who believes that they “have that great gift of perseverance unto the end” (Canon XVI)? Why does it anathematize anyone who believes “the grace of Justification is only attained to by those who are predestined unto life” (Canon XVII)? Why does it anathematize anyone who believes after a person is justified “there remains not any debt of temporal punishment to be discharged either in this world, or in the next in Purgatory” (Canon XXX)? Individual Catholics such as Armstrong may say that we are brothers in Christ and “rejoice in the many things that we hold in common”…but his own church says that people such as myself – who believe in sola fide and deny Purgatory – are anathema, accursed, damned, etc. Many Catholics – especially Catholic converts from Protestantism – love to try to portray a friendly mode of disagreement, but they cannot get around their church’s actual position towards non-Catholics. To do so reminds me of the famous line from The Outlaw Josey Wales: “Don’t p— down my back and tell me it’s raining.” Many former Protestants and Catholic apologists want to have their cake and eat it too: they want Protestants to be brothers in Christ, but then they also want Protestantism and its beliefs to be heresy, not realizing that the logical conclusions of the latter contradict the former. This contradiction will become more apparent as the book progresses.
We will end with what Armstrong pleads to his non-Catholic readers:
I ask (in fact, plead with) non-Catholic readers to allow the Catholic outlook a fair hearing. Perhaps many will be surprised to see that Catholicism can be so strongly supported by the Bible. [pg. xv]
Therefore, let us, God willing, continue through the later posts in this series to see, as Armstrong claims, Catholicism “can be so strongly supported by the Bible.”
UPDATE: MARCH 5, 2012 – I was surprised (though in a good way) to find that, on the same day I made this post, I received a response from Dave Armstrong himself (incidentally, you can call me Tony-Allen). Before I begin, however, I have to take a moment, out of respect to Mr. Armstrong, to respond quickly to something he wrote at the end of his own post:
But if my critic thinks I am not a brother in Christ and not a Christian, then this discussion is over, because I don’t waste my time anymore debating with anti-Catholics. As far as I know so far, my critic is not an anti-Catholic (as I defined it above: standard usage). So I have answered. If it turns out that he is an anti-Catholic, however, the discussion will abruptly cease, per my time-management policy, now nearly five years old. This paper will remain, if so, because I spent several hours on it.
His definition of “anti-Catholic” (referenced in the above quote) is written as the following:
One who believes that [“Roman”] Catholicism is not a species of Christianity and that one can only be saved by being a ‘bad [“Roman”] Catholic’ and dissenting from several [“Roman”] Catholic dogmas, and cannot be saved if all [“Roman”] Catholic doctrines are accepted in faith.
Unfortunately, I would fit into this category, and therefore I am an “anti-Catholic.” If Armstrong wishes to discontinue interaction, he is welcomed to do so, as I don’t force anyone to respond (let alone read) my blog. He has his priorities, and I am willing to respect them. He has my word of honor I will not “call him out,” or accuse him of cowardice if he chooses to abandon discussion. In any case, he gets a lot more coverage on his blog than I do anyway, and therefore I am compared to him (as Erasmus compared himself to Luther) “a fly [contending] with an elephant.”
To clarify my previous stance, I do not point to everyone within the spectrum of “Roman Catholic” and declare “You’re all going to hell,” or “None of you are Christians.” I do, however, believe that anyone who believes and follows unbiblical and man-made beliefs such as purgatory, the treasury of the saints, and other Roman Catholic doctrine and dogma which contradicts God’s plan of salvation and the truth therein, is following an authority other than God, and is not truly putting their faith into the authority of God. I reject, for example, the statement made by Mr. Armstrong that if someone was “baptized in a trinitarian fashion, they are Christians.” I do not subscribe that being baptized (even in the Trinity) automatically makes you a Christian, except in name only. Again, I do not label all Roman Catholics as heretics, but I do believe that in order to be saved you would have to in essence be a “bad Roman Catholic.” I also believe that all Roman Catholics have a chance to be saved as much as anyone else in the world.
I will, however, respond to Armstrong’s response to me, for the benefit of my readers and anyone finding this conversation between the two of us.
Firstly, in regards to the back cover’s use of “anti-Catholic,” I was happy to see that my intuition was right, and this was not Armstrong’s idea, as he himself admits, adding “I wouldn’t have used this phraseology in this particular context: partially for the reasons given by [Tony-Allen].” He does, however, confirm my fear near the end that Luther’s 95 Theses were “‘anti-Catholic’ in the sense of generally ‘opposing current Catholic teachings and practices.’”
In regards to my statement concerning Luther not dissenting to Roman Catholic beliefs, Armstrong writes: “That’s correct. I agree. But he was soon after to massively dissent: to the tune of at least 50 departures by the year 1520.” I didn’t deny this, as I added at the end of the quote (in a parenthetical statement, such as this one) that “[Luther] would later on.” However, it was brief, and it’s easy to miss those things, so perhaps I should apologize for not clarifying that point. Admittedly I have a bad habit of being brief where I should belabor, and belaboring where I should be brief.
Armstrong’s other responses to the section regarding Luther and his 95 Theses are, I think, straying away from my intent in citing them. I feel he thought either I was supporting the individual theses or trying to suggest larger things from them (ie., no one in the church at the time was pushing for reform, etc.). For the record, all I was doing was pointing out that Luther (at that time) was not attacking the Roman Church as an entity in the way he did later on.
Secondly, in response to my comment regarding Roman Catholics, Protestants, and the Bible being “common ground,” Armstrong writes:
This is equating two things that are not equivalent. My point was that Catholics and Protestants both revere the Bible as the inerrant, inspired, revelation of God. No difference there. How to interpret its authority and relation to Church and tradition is a separate issue, not equivalent to the Bible itself and how it is regarded, which is what I was referring to as “common ground.”
As I said in my original post, I agree that it’s unfair for Protestants to act as if Catholics never ever read their Bible, or that Catholics hate the Bible, or corrupt the Bible a la Muslim conspiracy theories. However, how we define that book as an “inerrant, inspired, revelation of God” is another matter. For the Catholic, the Bible is “inerrant” so long as their understanding of it agrees with the theology of Mother Church, and the Bible is an “inspired revelation of God” only so long as those books are declared by Mother Church to be “inspired revelation of God.” That’s a presupposition that has to be addressed, for while on the surface both sides may appear the same, the root is still different. I might compare it to when Mormons say they believe “God the Father is God of this world,” which sound similar to orthodox Christianity, but the phrase “of this world” means something different for a Mormon than for a Christian.
Thirdly, in response to my comments regarding Roman Catholicism, Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses and the authority of scripture versus a final authority, Armstrong writes:
This involves a long, detailed discussion about sola Scriptura, the rule of faith, the nature of tradition and of Church authority, and of material sufficiency of Scripture…Calvinists are no different from anyone else. They believe that they have a unique insight as to correct interpretation of Scripture. Hence, Calvinists believe in TULIP. If a Calvinists dissents from that belief-system, he is not considered an orthodox Calvinist. It’s assumed that this is the correct teaching of Scripture…
I think I may have been misunderstood here. It isn’t that someone has an organized, systematic theology they follow, but rather where that authority comes from. On this point, we run into trouble with the TULIP example, which is related more to a question of how orthodox a person is in regards to their individual label versus where a person gets their authority. A Calvinist who doesn’t believe in predestination may have his Calvinism questioned, but that is a matter of theological identity according to terms. I might compare this to a Roman Catholic who supports birth control and abortion, thereby going against the teachings of their church. Yet it is different for one to say that they are orthodox within their label, and then for one to say that their authority comes from the infallible teachings of a governing body of leaders, be it whatever form. It would be one thing if a person submitted to TULIP because they wanted to be Calvinist or simply because their church, perceived to be infallible, told them to accept TULIP, versus a person submitting to TULIP because they find it written on the pages of holy scripture (as George Whitefield told John Wesley).
So for the purposes of this dialogue it must be reiterated that my discussion was on where that interpretation comes from – does it come from an established religious body that infallibly declares what scripture says for its members (which is what Catholics, Mormons, JW’s and others have in common), or from the very pages of scripture itself? Lest someone accuse me of presupposing Calvinists as the only ones whose authority is from scripture, permit me to put it another way, and taking Catholics out of the picture entirely. I have a very good friend who is an orthodox Nazarene, so him and I obviously share some theological differences. However, I would never say to him “You’re just repeating what your church believes!” because I know his primary authority is the word of God. I might have a brotherly disagreement with how he or his church interprets scripture, but I know he would never argue anything with the underlying thought of “I believe this because the Nazarene Church says it is, and the Nazarene Church is infallible.” If he did, then he too would be guilty of what Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses and others believe.
Fourthly, in regards to my comment that many people associate the word Catholic with “Roman Catholic,” despite the historical development of the word, Armstrong writes:
That is the historic usage and current-day usage. Just look, for example, at the current debate over the contraception mandate of government. When people involved in that say “Catholic Church”, does anyone think people don’t know to what communion they refer? Many Protestants like to play games with the word Catholic. It gets quite ridiculous at times.
Actually, I didn’t deny most people today refer to “Catholic” today within the context of “Roman Catholic.” I clearly stated that in my original post.
And again, referring to my citation of Eastern Orthodox using the word “catholic” as well:
There is a wider use of the word catholic (lower-case). But that is also true of Reformed. Reform is a larger concept (hence we Catholics speak of The Catholic Reformation). But it can also be a title, just as Catholic can be a title. Hence, we refer to Reformed Judaism [sic]. That is a title. It doesn’t have the same meaning as Reformed Protestant (Calvinist). Yet a Reformed Jew [sic] might simply call himself “Reformed” and it is understood in context what that means. Likewise, “Catholic” as a title has a certain referent and anyone (pretty much) knows what it is referring to, because that is the use of the word as a widespread title.
And again, referring to my citation of Protestants using the word “catholic”:
But this is irrelevant in relation to what I just wrote, because we are using “Catholic” as our chosen title; secondly, Protestant use of the word redefines it in relation to its historical usage, so there is “sleight-of-hand” there that must be noted. The first thing any revolution does is redefine terms.
I agree that words can have a broad range of meaning, and it stands from this that we have to take every use of a word within its proper context. I wouldn’t read backwards to any time a Church Father uses the word “reformed” or “reform” and automatically attach it to the doctrines of grace. I also wouldn’t assume that a Reform Jew is a Calvinistic Jew, and Reform Jews are permitted to use “Reform” as their title. I also know there’s a difference between Reformed theology and Reformation-era theology, but again, that’s all my point. Words have meaning, and they have historical development. We cannot read any use of the word “catholic” by those before the great schism as having the “Roman Catholic” connotations of today any more than an Eastern Orthodox can assume any use of the word “orthodox” by those before the great schism is a reference to Eastern Orthodoxy. The reason the Eastern Orthodox and other “apostolic” churches use the word “catholic” is because that word always had a broader context than the church in Rome, and only in recent centuries has it begun to develop to refer solely to the church in Rome and all rites associated with it.
Fifthly, regarding my statement regarding the Bible being a “Catholic book” and the other “apostolic” churches, Armstrong writes:
They did (though the Catholic Church headquartered in Rome was central in the process). I wasn’t necessarily denying that. I was responding in this section to the insinuations that Catholics are supposedly hostile to Scripture. Again, my critic can’t see the forest for the trees. In his rush to criticize minute particulars, he misses the context and broad nature and rhetorical thrust of my point.
Actually, the point of my reference to the “Bible is a Catholic book” quote was to demonstrate an example of why one should take presuppositions into consideration with words.
And finally, regarding the use of “Catholic” meaning specifically “Roman Catholic”:
To always say “Roman Catholic” is to ignore 21 other rites beside the Latin (Roman) rite in the Catholic Church. It’s not only historically and etymologically, but also sociologically misinformed.
I didn’t ignore that at all, as I’m well aware of the various rites within what calls itself today “Catholicism.” If one reads my original blog post, they will see that I even said this:
Unfortunately, in this day and age, any time the word “Catholic” is used, people immediately associate it with any ecclesiastical body (in whatever rite) attached to the Roman Church. [emphasis mine]
So I wasn’t ignoring the various rites. However, all those rites pay allegiance to Rome, and the head of the Catholic Church in toto is the Bishop of Rome. I have had Catholics tell me (in regards to the other “apostolic” churches) that truly following the apostles involves allegiance to Rome. This is something that can’t be ignored even whilst considering the other rites. Though on a side note, in reference to missing that part about rites – it’s rather brief, so I probably would have missed that myself if I was reading the post.
Sixthly, regarding my statement that the Eastern Orthodox have various beliefs different than Roman Catholics regarding “Church and Tradition,” Armstrong writes:
Let them defend their own views. I am defending mine, so I assume certain things as premises, just as anyone does. My critic has his own premises, that I would dispute (and I am presently doing so). But it’s not circular reasoning. There is a consistent body of teaching: what we call apostolic tradition, that consistently develops from the original apostolic deposit: given by our Lord Jesus Christ to His Church: initially led by His disciple, St. Peter. This body of teaching is historically continuous and demonstrable as such by independent historiographical methods.
And likewise, regarding my lack of demonstrating why the Roman Catholic position should be verified:
It has nothing to do with my goal in the book. I am defending Catholic viewpoints and showing in this book how Protestant arguments fall short of the mark over and over. The book is primarily devoted to the failure of Protestant contra-Catholic arguments, whereas my first book, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism, was devoted to a straightforward presentation of our arguments in favor of Catholic theology.
Once again, the critic, in his zeal, fails to comprehend the larger context of the purpose of the book. If he thinks I am unaware of Orthodox arguments, he obviously hasn’t perused my blog very closely…It’s not the purview of this book. One can’t write about everything all at once. These are essentially silly misguided trifles and rabbit trails.
Everyone does have premises, I wholeheartedly agree with that. However, acknowledgement of differing viewpoints in regards to a certain position requires at least offering some establishment that your own position, out of them all, is the right one. I’m certain Armstrong is aware of what the Orthodox arguments are, but I would move that, if one desires to show how Protestants have failed in “contra-Catholic arguments,” one must first establish that argumentation has any legitimacy to begin with. I recognize that one can’t write about everything all the time, all at once, but one could at the very least touch upon these arguments briefly in their opening premises. I agree that to fail to do so is not circular reasoning, however it is begging the question. Part of showing someone they “missed the mark” is to first show them where that mark is. Otherwise, you are declaring yourself correct and then declaring the other person to be incorrect without establishing a control group in the scenario. Eastern Orthodox views are not necessarily “beyond the subject matter” if a denial or avoidance of dealing with that issue affects the intended conclusion of an argument. There are many former Protestants out there who have heard arguments against Protestantism, but have gone to Eastern Orthodoxy rather than to Rome – what makes that turn any less legitimate than someone convinced to turn towards Rome? I realize Mr. Armstrong can’t write about everything all the time, but it’s worth at least briefly covering the other positions or addressing general problems that may erupt within your position.
On a side note: I appreciate his reference to his book A Biblical Defense of Catholicism. I may drop my “after reading report” of this book (writing a normal review) and choose that instead, depending on how this plays out or what people request of me. We will see in time – I’m still pondering and praying over this. Feedback would be appreciated.
Seventhly, regarding Athanasius and the Arians, Armstrong writes:
Nothing new here. Nicaea was an ecumenical council, and got it right. Jerusalem and Tyre and Constantinople were local eastern councils (and those were often rife with heresy). What the critic doesn’t grasp is that Rome was never corrupted by Arianism.
This is actually something I intended deal with eventually in the later posts dealing with the specific sections, but I’ll respond briefly to it here.
The very distinctions between the infallibility of an “ecumenical” and potential fallibility of a “local” were a later development in history – certainly no one at Nicaea were thinking to themselves, “This is the First Ecumenical Council!”, and that name for it came at a later time. Before Nicaea and during the time period between Nicaea and Constantinople in 381 AD, local councils were generally seen on a higher platform, and Nicaea was, for all intents and purposes, an experiment of sorts by Constantine to resolve empire-wide issues. Very few people, in the years following Nicaea, treated it any differently than a local council, including hundreds upon hundreds of “Catholic” bishops, along with Constantine and some of his successors. Throughout church history there were even arguments – either at the time or later on, and either between heretics and orthodox or between east and west – about which councils constituted “official” ecumenical status. This is one reason why Augustine, in writing against the Arian Maximinus, said that he could not appeal to Nicaea, nor could Maximinus appeal to Ariminum, but rather they should appeal to “the authority of the scriptures that are not the property of anyone.”
Certainly Athanasius referred to Nicaea as “ecumenical,” but more so in regards to the extensiveness of bishoprics represented and the overall scope of its subjects (example:De Decretis., 4). It was not in regards to its classification versus other degrees of synods. Athanasius also often mocked the plurality of councils (from both sides), pointing towards the sufficiency of Nicaea. Not because it was ecumenical in function, but also because it clearly stated the doctrines taught in scripture, and hence no further council was necessary:
Vainly then do they run about with the pretext that they have demanded Councils for the faith’s sake; for divine Scripture is sufficient above all things; but if a Council be needed on the point, there are the proceedings of the Fathers, for the Nicene Bishops did not neglect this matter, but stated the doctrine so exactly, that persons reading their words honestly, cannot but be reminded by them of the religion towards Christ announced in divine Scripture. [De Synodis, 6; source]
We must also remember that Tyre and Constantinople were still councils held within the church. That they were run by Arians or didn’t “get it right” is beside the point – they were official church councils, held not by Baptists, Lutherans or Presbyterians, but by people proclaiming to be “Catholics” (and Armstrong confirms, in his book, that there are sinners alongside saints within the Church). We are also forgetting that my original post was saying that in many times through his life, Athanasius could not appeal to “Mother Church” for theological backing because the vast majority of “Mother Church” was being run by Arians and opposed to him. You cannot have Athanasius contra mundum without the mundum (church included) being contra to Athanasius.
As for Armstrong’s comment “what the critic doesn’t grasp is that Rome was never corrupted by Arianism,” this is easily disprovable from history. That the western church did not have nearly as many problems as the east is certainly true, but even Rome itself, and many western churches, were run at one point by Arians. For example, the Emperor Constantius, in an effort to exert Arian control over the west, held a few councils throughout the 350’s, including one in Milan in 355 AD. One of the results of this was to banish many orthodox men from the western church, including the celebrated Church Father Hilary of Poiters. To quote a source on church history:
Constantius was compelled, indeed, by his brother to restore Athanasius to his office in 346; but after the death of Constans, a.d. 350, be summoned three successive synods in favor of a moderate Arianism; one at Sirmium in Pannonia (351), one at Arelate or Arles in Gaul (353), and one at Milan in Italy, (355); he forced the decrees of these councils on the Western church, deposed and banished bishops, like Liberius of Rome, Hosius of Cordova, Hilary of Poitiers, Lucifer of Calaris, who resisted them… [Philip Schaff; History of the Christian Church, Vol. III; source]
The papal seat itself was not left untouched by the Arians, as shown by Pope Felix II, who held the position roughly between 355 and 358 AD.
Even the papal chair was desecrated by heresy during this Arian interregnum; after the deposition of Liberius, the deacon Felix II., “by antichristian wickedness,” as Athanasius expresses it, was elected his successor. Many Roman historians for this reason regard him as a mere anti-pope. But in the Roman church books this Felix is inserted, not only as a legitimate pope, but even as a saint, because, according to a much later legend, he was executed by Constantius, whom he called a heretic. [ibid]
And from a non-Protestant church historian:
And first Liberius, bishop of Rome, having refused his assent to that creed, was sent into exile; the adherents of Ursacius appointing Felix to succeed him, who had been a deacon in that church, but on embracing the Arian heresy was elevated to the episcopate. [Socrates Scholasticus; Ecclesiastical History, Book II, 37; source]
And from the online Catholic encyclopedia:
In 355 Pope Liberius was banished to Beraea in Thrace by the Emperor Constantius because he upheld tenaciously the Nicene definition of faith and refused to condemn St. Athanasius of Alexandria…The emperor, however, who was supplanting the exiled Catholic bishops with the bishops of Arian tendencies, exerted himself to install a new Bishop of Rome in place of the banished Liberius. He invited to Milan Felix, archdeacon of the Roman Church; on the latter’s arrival, Acacius of Caesarea succeeded in inducing him to accept the office from which Liberius had been forcibly expelled, and to be consecrated by Acacius and two other Arian bishops. The majority of the Roman clergy acknowledged the validity of his consecration but the laity would have nothing to do with him and remained true to the banished but lawful pope. When Constantius visited Rome in May, 357, the people demanded the recall of their rightful bishop Liberius who, in fact, returned soon after signing the third formula of Sirmium. The bishops, assembled in that city of Lower Pannonia, wrote to Felix and the Roman clergy advising them to receive Liberius in all charity and to put aside their dissensions; it was added that Liberius and Felix should together govern the Church of Rome…Later legends confound the relative positions of Felix and Liberius. In the apocryphal “Acta Felicis” and “Acta Liberii”, as well as in the “Liber pontificalis”, Felix was portrayed as a saint and confessor of the true Faith. This distortion of the true facts originated most probably through confusion of this Felix with another Felix, a Roman martyr of an earlier date. [source]
For the record, this incident with Felix and Liberius had later consequences. Although not directly related to Arianism, it demonstrates that this wasn’t just a brief thing, and that there was some form of corruption from the Arian controversy:
After the death of Liberius in 366, Damasus was, by the party of Felix, and Ursinus by the party of Liberius, elected successor of Peter. It came to repeated bloody encounters; even the altar of the Prince of Peace was desecrated, and in a church whither Ursinus had betaken himself, a hundred and thirty-seven men lost their lives in one day. Other provinces also were drawn into the quarrel. It was years before Damasus at last, with the aid of the, emperor, obtained undisputed possession of his office, and Ursinus was banished. [Philip Schaff; History of the Christian Church, Vol. III; source]
Eighthly, regarding the Council of Trent and it’s anathemas, Armstrong responds point by point, even though I wasn’t necessarily seeking to defend against each anathema by Trent, merely pointing out that, for someone like myself, there were anathemas that prevented me from fully accepting the friendly gesture that I was not considered anathema by the church. This, combined with the earlier point-by-point response to my 95 Theses paragraph, are somewhat strange given that Armstrong accused me of being “in [a] rush to criticize minute particulars.”
In his blog post regarding the anathemas (source), Armstrong makes the initial statement that the anathemas were aimed not at individuals, but beliefs. This can be refuted by examining even just one of Trent’s anathemas. Canon 16, as an example, reads: “if any one saith, that he will for certain, of an absolute and infallible certainty, have that great gift of perseverance unto the end,-unless he have learned this by special revelation; let him be anathema” (emphasis mine). Note that it is in reference to the individual who holds the belief, not the belief itself, and the object of the anathema is not the belief, but the person. It does not say “regarding this belief, this belief is anathema,” but “those who hold this belief, they are anathema.” The direct object of the being anathema is not the belief, but the person holding the belief.
And again, concerning my statement regarding Catholics and Protestants engaging in ecumenical dialogue, Armstrong writes:
It’s all perfectly consistent. Our view has developed through the centuries, and both sides understand the other far better than they did 500 years ago. Current Catholic ecumenism is exemplified in Vatican II, papal encyclicals (especially since Pope John XXIII), the Evangelicals and Catholics Together negotiations, and the Lutheran-Catholic agreements on justification and other areas, as well as high-level Catholic-Orthodox discussion. My critic can stay back in the 16th century if he likes. We are moving ahead and pursuing several lines of ecumenical talks.
That next-to-last comment is a little harsh. The only reason I’m stuck in the 16th century is because my flux capacitor broke and I’m awaiting a good thunderstorm.
But in all seriousness, I’m well aware of the Catholic-Protestant ecumenical movements, such as the Lutheran-Catholic talks. I am also aware that, in a dialogue between Christian Smith and Michael Horton of the White Horse Inn (see my post here), it was pointed out that the Lutheran-Catholic talks were solely between the Roman church and the liberal Lutheran churches (the orthodox Lutherans refused to cooperate), and the language of the agreements merely said that the Roman church accepted that those Lutherans were no longer preaching anything contrary to what Rome believed.
At this point, we’ve reached the comments regarding “what makes an anti-Catholic” and Armstrong’s “time-management policy,” which is “I don’t waste my time anymore debating with anti-Catholics.” As I said, I won’t force Armstrong to continue. If you do desire to finish conversation here, Mr. Armstrong, please know that I appreciated your response and the “mind exercise,” as it’s rare I get fleshed out arguments to my posts. Also know that I will be praying for you. God bless.
UPDATE: MARCH 6, 2012 – Mr. Armstrong does not desire to continue conversation, and, as I said in my last update, I will respect that. I would also ask that anyone who reads my post respect that as well.
However, I will briefly respond to one individual named Adomnan, who posted on Armstrong’s original blog post, saying this:
Tony-Allen: Hence it is not really scripture that truly has the final say, but that “final authority” which gets the final say. However this “final authority” may interpret the Bible, we are to accept it.
Adomnan: I have yet to encounter a hard-core Reformed Protestant who gives scripture the “final say.” It is always their personal take that has the final say, and their take is based entirely on the presuppositions they bring to the text. This renders the text itself irrelevant, since any arbitrary meaning can be given to it.
Here’s an example: The Reformed notion of the “imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the believer” is not only absent from scripture; it explicitly contradicts scripture. Yet, given that Reformed presuppositions trump Paul’s actual words, they simply interpret his statement that “faith is imputed as righteousness” to mean the opposite of what it says — to mean that “faith is not imputed as righteousness, but ‘Christ’s righteousness,’ which Paul never mentions, is.”
If someone wants to construe a text to mean the opposite of what it says, who can stop him?
That is why it is almost always a waste of time to dialogue with hard-core Reformed people. We really have no common ground.
The only thing one can do is to point out how starkly their tenets contradict what the scripture actually states. In the end, though, they don’t care. They often take an interest in the wording of a pssage [sic], because sophists love to play around with words. However, letting the scripture speak for itself and searching for its true, objective meaning is of no interest to them. In short, scripture has no say in their theology and is no authority whatsoever, final or otherwise. It’s simply a grab bag of pious-sounding words and isolated sentences that can be fit into any preconceived scheme.
I have seen this over and over. It’s just the way it is.
Adomnan – I humbly invite you to go through my blog and respond to any post where you think I have construed what a verse says and gone with my presuppositions and demonstrated “simply a grab bag of pious-sounding words and isolated sentences that can be fit into any preconceived scheme.” I would enjoy the discussion.
Thanks for the invitation, Tony-Allen; but I don’t accept it.
Take another look at the example I gave in my original comment on this thread.
I am sure that you would be willing to write reams “arguing” that the imputation of Christ’s righteousness is biblical, even though it plainly isn’t. Your Reformed presuppositions will always trump the text.
In any event, I have already discussed this topic at length on Dave’s blog, most recently with someone named John Bugay. If you’re curious and wish to look it up, Dave has posted that discussion on his justification page. There’s no point in my going over the same ground with you.
Of course, hypothetical or anecdotal arguments against Reformed Christians do not say anything about myself in general. I might also point out that to respond to the argument that some Catholics appeal to church authority with “Reformed people do too!” does not answer that charge. In internet speak the equivalent of the argument is “NO, U!” Failing to address how the individual Reformed person in question has done this makes your position a complete non sequitor. In fact, I would say this is a high form of disrespect to the other side.