Friday, April 01, 2005

2nd Reply to Anglican Edwin Tait on Historical Ecclesiological Arguments and Development of Doctrine, Part I

I wrote a previous reply, which Edwin answered on his blog, in the paper: Response to Dave Armstrong. Readers are urged to at least scan the previous two installments. I'll try not to cite too many of my previous words, to save space. But for contextual and "comprehension" purposes, it is good to be aware of the outlines of previous argumentation. Links make that quite easy. I always greatly enjoy my dialogues with Edwin and consider him one of the most thoughtful and challenging (as well as cordial) discussion partners I have had the pleasure of "meeting" on the Internet. His words will be in blue. Any past words of mine will be in green. Past words of Edwin's will be in red.


Dave, please accept this as a temporary payment in lieu of my long-in-arrears discussion of development!

Gladly! I hope we can keep it going as some sort of sustained discussion this time. I stopped blogging for most of Lent (looks like you did too); before that I wasn't aware that you had posted this, but I've been eagerly looking forward to replying.

I appreciate Dave's courtesy in quoting my entire post.

I'm delighted that someone appreciates this. I've always thought it was a courtesy myself to do so, but many don't seem to recognize it as such. I believe it shows respect to an opponent to not overlook any of his words, and to devote time to all of them. It's not a requirement of discourse (sometimes time factors won't allow it), but I think it is good to do if possible.

In areas where Catholicism appears, at first glance, to be significantly different from earlier Christianity, I think this is able to be sufficiently explained by development of doctrine . . .

And here we run yet again into the need for some kind of dialogue on development. As I said above, I've been trying to put together an argument concerning ecclesiology specifically. Our most serious attempt to discuss development, if I remember rightly, ran aground on questions of definition.

Possibly. I think mainly it ended because of your understandable lack of time, with your academic pursuits. I believe I may have partly persuaded you to avoid discussion boards, as I do. That will give you more time for our ongoing debate. :-)

Development is a vast and tricky subject

Indeed . . .

and I don't claim to have a good handle on it. But it seems to me that its primary usefulness for Catholics is simply in establishing internal consistency.

That is certainly one purpose. As we are accused of inconsistency vis-a-vis our beliefs and those of the early Church, it makes sense to utilize it in this sense (where applicable) to overcome the charge. Obviously I believe it is sufficient to do so, along with other relevant factors.

I don't see how it can be used to overcome the a priori impression that Orthodoxy is more like the early Church in most respects than Catholicism.

First of all, a priori impressions are often faulty and inadequate. One needs to take a deeper look: all the more so regarding a "vast and tricky" topic like development.

Secondly, you are begging the question to a large extent by assuming that the early Church and the Church today ought to be more or less identical. Proponents of doctrinal development (and I argue that everyone is and must be that, given the history of doctrine: it's only a matter of degree) argue that the Church today will look different from the early Church in a way similar to an old man looking different than how he looked as an infant. It's the same person, but he looks rather different now. What we should expect to find is an essential or fundamental continuity, so that nothing in the present is contrary to the early Church; only more developed and complex in detail. Once this is understood, ["Roman"] Catholicism "wins" this "contest" hands-down, in my humble opinion, whether the other contestant is Anglicanism or Orthodoxy or some Protestant sect.

If one is convinced on other grounds that Catholicism is truer--if for instance one decides that the existence of a papacy is more important than changes in how the papacy functions--then development is a legitimate explanation for the fact of considerable apparent change.

That's a fairly agreeable statement. But I would quibble that development does not necessarily depend on prior belief in Catholicism on other grounds. After all, I was more or less convinced on the grounds of development alone. So was Cardinal Newman, whose book shot me into the Tiber, close to the shore of Rome. Also, it is a fact that there was a papacy in the early Church. No one can dispute that. The office has developed, but in the very basic sense, it was there then and it is here now (in only one place). Therefore, the fact that Orthodoxy has no pope within its system, is a serious objection to its being a claimant to being the Church (continuous with the early Church), particularly if its self-definition is conceived as being over against, and superior to the Catholic Church.

We look far more like the early Church than Orthodoxy (or anyone else) does, in this important matter, and have an organic continuity in the office of the papacy itself. You can't go from x to not-x and claim continuity, if x is indeed a crucial component of what existed previously. The only way out of the dilemma is to deny the "non-negotiability" of x (the papacy). One can try that, but then there are great difficulties in interpreting early ecclesiology. One can say that the current papacy corrupts the ancient office, to which I would reply: "fine, then where is your substitute papacy, for our supposedly "corrupt" one? Why don't you come up with a better papacy than we have, if you agree that the office is an indispensable part of the governance of the universal Church?"

It is one good argument, which has to be weighed as part of a complex set of arguments on both sides. It [the question of the papacy] is not decisive in and of itself unless one has decided already that the question of legitimate authority is the dominant question.

It doesn't have to be the "dominant" question (you beg the question again, and I don't know what is causing you to do that). This is simply one matter among many that have to be worked through, if the project is to look at the early Church and then look at the choices available today, in order to determine which has continued consistently from the early Church. On the papacy issue (alone), the Catholic Church "wins" a decisive victory. So give us a mark for that, and then proceed on to other issues of comparison. If this is your "epistemological method," I think Catholicism will come out with the most marks on the chalkboard. It can be plausibly defended with regard to all other doctrinal issues too. The cumulative effect is Roman primacy and papal supremacy.

It may be that Rome has in fact fallen into heresy,

Who would authoritatively decide that?

If that is the first question that comes to mind, then the answer is clear--and it's the answer you've chosen.

Again, it seems like you are introducing all these unnecessary requirements. It doesn't have to be the "first question." It is an important question in and of itself, period. It needs to be answered. If you want to claim that Rome (possibly) fell into heresy, the obvious, relevant retort is "how do you determine that?" And you have to come up with some answer, or else your question and statement of an historical hypothetical is quite meaningless or of no force, since at first challenge you cannot back it up with a solid rationale.

But something can be true--and can be known to be true--in the absence of some kind of formal and final judicial authority for determining it.

Yes; however, with regard to the issue of heresy, by definition it has to be determined by authoritative pronouncements. So it makes little sense talking about "heresy" and "orthodoxy" minus authoritative statements of same, because folks will always disagree. The very notion of heresy presupposes a standard and an unmovable line, and that standard has to come from a living body, which interprets the living Tradition and the living Bible. So I asked a very sensible question (fleshed out a bit now): "if indeed Rome succumbed to heresy [which I deny], who made this judgment, and on what grounds?"

The fact that I said "it may be" is an admission that I do not think that this can be known with certainty at this point.

Fair enough. That's why this is a good discussion, because you are working through the issues. I'm coming from a strong advocacy of my position and am trying to persuade you of it. You can try to persuade me, too, of course, but since my position is quite firm, it's less likely that you will succeed than vice versa, I think.

Again, if one is putting questions of authority in the forefront, that settles the issue there and then.

I think it needs to be dealt with, regardless of how relatively important one thinks the question of "authority" is (per your original paper and its thesis). Every Christian must decide how orthodoxy and heresy is defined and how the parameters are worked out. So there is no "methodological 'if'." I think it has to be worked through in any case.

I don't see anything incoherent or inconsistent about my position. It is not inconsistent with high-church Protestantism (it may or may not be inconsistent with Orthodoxy), and it is inconsistent with Catholicism. So I don't see that my logic leads to Rome. A sense of intellectual comfort leads to Rome, true enough. It's a delicate balance holding the position I do, and that's the single biggest argument against it--one Diane Kamer has pressed on me in the past. Can orthodox Christianity really depend on intellectual gymnastics?


My response would be that in my ecclesiology, ecclesiology itself is not vitally necessary to the Christian life.

Then that is obviously one reason why you remain Protestant, as no Orthodox or Catholic can hold such a view.

Most Catholics don't understand the nuances of their own Church's position (does anyone?), but they hold to it nonetheless by implicit faith. In much the same way, most Protestants hear the Word and receive the Sacraments, and in my view this is sufficient for them to participate in the reality of the Church, even if they have what I think are muddled or downright mistaken views of what the Church is.

It depends on what you mean by "vitally necessary." I was thinking more in terms of rule of faith, not "central Christian doctrines" in the Nicene sense. Yet even in that creed, a certain form of Church is described, which I find to be inconsistent with any group besides Catholicism or Orthodoxy. Of course we believe that all Protestants partake of a valid baptism, and that marriage is also a sacrament to married folks. The Eucharist is not so certain, from our perspective, as you well know.

There are more of us "papal Protestants" than you might think. My wife had to read Veritatis Splendor in her ethics class in seminary, and I think this attention to JPII by many Protestants isn't just a matter of recognizing him as an important Christian thinker of our time (though it may be largely that), but also acknowledges implicitly or explicitly that his office as such demands some regard from us. Increasingly, I think would-be orthodox Protestants are being pushed in that direction.

I'm delighted to hear it. A case in point is the recent Terri Schiavo judicial murder. Can you think of any Protestant document that comes remotely close to the majesty of Evangelium Vitae, which discusses euthanasia in great depth?

I would also like to make the caveat that I think the problem is the lack of an authority Christ ordained for the Church--not necessarily "the lack of central authority," which is the kind of generalized epistemological argument I'm rejecting.

Seems like that would get you out of Anglicanism pronto. But I'm not one to push quick conversions at all.

But why would you regard the line of development leading to Rome as more plausible than the line leading to Orthodoxy, unless you saw Rome's claims of authority as decisive?

Because I believe that historical facts demand it. I already discussed the papacy. Another undeniable historical fact is the history and nature of widespread eastern schism and heresy. Newman outlined how virtually the entire East (represented by its bishops) defected from orthodox Christology on two occasions. The East also split from Rome on five occasions, for lengthy periods. It so happens that in all five cases, later Orthodoxy agreed and agrees with what the Roman positions were in all five instances (e.g., iconoclasm). So it is beyond odd to believe that one branch of Christianity is the "main line" of apostolic continuity when it defected from orthodoxy (as later defined by both Orthodoxy and Catholicism) some seven times, while Rome remained firm as she always was.

That's two good reasons: neither of which depend on a prior assumption of Roman superiority (which is circular reasoning). The conclusion comes from a simple examination of what happened in history, not from axiomatic presuppositions. I don't think things like that are all that complicated to figure out. Aspects of development are, but not examinations of actual historical departures from orthodoxy and the universal Church. And of course the popes played a key role in these scenarios too (notably, Pope St. Leo the Great at Chalcedon). It all works together.

So the Orthodox want to make a big deal out of the filioque, as supposed proof of Catholic defection from orthodoxy? That's strange, too, because it isn't all that difficult to show how the filioque is (plausibly, reasonably) a consistent development of earlier Christology and trinitarianism (not at all contrary to it), and it is just as easy to produce many Eastern Fathers espousing some form of it. It's a far more difficult task to synthesize Monophysitism and Monotheletism with orthodox Christology, which were two heresies widespread in the East, often (usually) at the highest levels. Thus, the two opposing ecclesiologies manifest qualitative differences which are highly significant.

I know that the contraception issue is important for you--was that (and divorce) the deciding factor?

Contraception was what started the ball rolling for me, and it was a decisive victory for Catholicism, by default, since only she has kept the ancient teaching unchanged (divorce provided another example; almost as compelling; though I didn't work through the issue in the depth that I dealt with contraception back in 1990, when I went through my conversion process). But Newman's development (generally-speaking) was what put me over the edge, because of its great explanatory value and (for me) it's plausibility and coherence as an interpretive grid for Church history. I simply couldn't refute it. When it came to the task that you are now attempting, I quickly surrendered (and I had been putting up a ferocious fight against infallibility, believe me), because I couldn't see how Newman could be refuted at that point. That's one reason why I am so extremely interested in our ongoing dialogue on it. I want to see someone try to refute it. I don't think it can be done.

From our previous discussion of development, I don't recall where we left this issue (which I'm pretty sure I did raise--in fact I think this was the initial claim on my part that drew you into the discussion),

Here it is, if you or readers want to take a look at it.

but one of my criticisms of Newman is that he really seems to have thought that development was some sort of discernable pattern that you could in some sense predict beforehand. In other words, he seems to be arguing that there is some sort of discernable philosophical necessity for Christian dogma to develop in the forms it did in Catholicism, and that this is a decisive reason to choose Catholicism over other forms of Christianity.

I don't think that quite accurately describes it (I could go find some relevant citations from Newman, but I'm too lazy at this hour -- I have them in other online papers, I'm sure). [Name] is always arguing that Newman thinks history must have developed the way it did, and couldn't have done otherwise, according to some extreme realist-Platonist schema. As far as I know (and I know a little bit about Newman), this is untrue, and even a gross distortion.

I'm not sure if you're trying to argue something similar, or whether your view is a lot less ambitious than [Name]'s. But in any event, Newman approached the thesis as an entirely hypothetical construct. He tried to find motifs and commonalities in the way different doctrines developed (thus leading to his "seven notes"). It is a falsifiable theory; that's the whole point. It isn't "dogmatic" at all in the sense that it couldn't be other than what it is, with regard to its application to various doctrines through history. He simply found the Catholic Church the most plausible "solution" after examining and testing his own provisional theory. It could hardly be otherwise, since he undertook the project as an Anglican. He had written about development even earlier, from his Anglican perspective.

He wound up convincing himself. How could he do that if he was approaching the theory as a preconceived "slam-dunk" for the Catholic position? You can't argue yourself into a position by accepting it before you begin. That makes no sense at all. Therefore, it isn't accurate to speak of "necessity" of future development. The whole point of it was to exercise the benefit of hindsight. One accepts the present Christian ecclesiological reality, and then tests the provisional theory by examining history to see if it makes sense. He found that it did. So did I. Newman was already a high-church Anglican, whereas I was as low church as you can get. But I had a very high respect for Church history, while retaining a belief in sola Scriptura (even approaching a quasi-Anglican view in many respects). Part of that came from my experience as a cult researcher, dealing mainly with Jehovah's Witnesses. I had to utilize Church history in my arguments (origins of Arianism, the Fathers and trinitarianism, etc.).

His argument about the Virgin Mary being parallel to the Arian view of Christ is a prime example of this--

I'd have to take a look at that again . . .

but his belief that erroneous doctrines also have "corruptions" as opposed to "developments" is a more fundamental one.

That would depend on internal consistency, which is distinct from truth or falsity. So a false idea can have a development that is consistent with itself, or a corruption-of-a-corruption, because of a logical disjunction.

I don't think "development" can be meaningfully distinguished from "corruption" except in the case of true ideas.

I have to disagree, on the above grounds. It is a simple logical matter. But if you want to restrict the analysis to orthodox doctrines vs. heretical ones, it makes more sense. I (and Newman) would say that Protestantism has its own developments: themselves erroneous to the extent that Protestantism itself is in its fundamentals. If something is an error, it can develop, and the error become more complex (and equally wrong, if not more so). If something is true, it can also develop. If the error becomes corrupted, that is no longer a consistent development, but rather, the origin of a new heresy (out of an old one), by definition.

To give an example, I would say that sola fide was a clear corruption of patristic soteriology, because it can't be traced to the Fathers (which is freely admitted by scholars such as Alister McGrath and Norman Geisler). It was something new and different (particularly as developed by Melanchthon). It was an error and a corruption. But it has obviously developed within Protestantism for 500 years. it was wrong from the outset and continues to be, but it has developed, because all ideas do, whether true or false, if they last over time. How could it be otherwise (unless no thinking or speculation at all is allowed to take place)?

In other words, a development of an idea is linked to it by the fact that they are both true. Otherwise "development" is simply another word for change.

No; it depends on whether the subsequent development is logically consistent with what it came from. A premise can be developed in many directions consistent with itself. But the premise itself may, of course, be false. So development doesn't depend on true premises, but on the principles of logic. If there is a logical contradiction, then one or both doctrines are false. That's why this analysis is so appropriate for analyzing patristic doctrine, because most Christians believe that current doctrine should be that of the early Church. Thus, if a contradiction is found between present and patristic doctrine, the claim of historical continuity is bogus, by the rules of logic. That's true again and again in Protestantism . . .

I raise this point because, as I said, in my view development is only useful as an apologetic tool once one has other reasons for suspecting that Catholicism may be true.

I have been repeatedly objecting to this view, and I don't think you have sufficient reason to adopt it in the first place. It's a highly questionable premise (and I'm notorious for attacking premises, as a thoroughgoing Socratic).

"Development" is a legitimate response to the claim that Catholicism (or, hypothetically, some other system one believes in) can't be true because it has changed over time. A theory of development shows the continuities lying underneath the change. But I think that such a claim can be made for most religious systems that command the loyalty of significant numbers of people.

Yes, I agree (because of internal consistency). That's why, again, it comes down to what the Fathers actually believed, and who has faithfully preserved that set of Christian beliefs. This is purely an historical matter: one finds out what they believed and then can proceed to apply the analytical tool of development to see who has best maintained apostolic, patristic doctrine in a more (inevitably) developed form. The argument becomes one primarily of historiography, not epistemology or philosophy, generally-speaking. This is what tried to get through to [Name], till I was blue in the face (I eventually gave up). He doesn't get it. He's trying to force Newman into a foreign grid of his own making, because he doesn't understand him in the first place, and is, in fact, quite irrationally and emotionally hostile to him. I don't see that in you at all, but I think (with all due [great] respect) you have made some mistakes in fact and logic.

I don't think it's a useful way of distinguishing a true belief system from a false one--only for refuting objections to a system one is inclined to accept on other grounds.

I couldn't disagree more, per my above reasoning, or even the reasons for my own conversion, that I have detailed in several accounts.

[to be continued]

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