By Dave Armstrong (12-2-07)
A lot of people may not realize that I have done a little (observed, recorded) mini live debate with the renowned Reformed Baptist anti-Catholic champion James White, in his chat room. Since then (perhaps as a result of this experience?) he has turned down two further challenges to do another one, where I gave him a handicap of more time to question than I would have (in the first challenge, I offered him "all night long" if he wished). The second one was even a "double cross-ex" format, designed to make him stop running and to put his money where his mouth is (as one who constantly sings the praises of the glories of cross-examination as a vehicle of undiluted truth and exposure of abominable error). All to no avail.
This encounter took place on 29 December 2000, and came about spontaneously as a result of the dissipation of the prearranged format of a debate that I had with another anti-Catholic (it ended prematurely, by his choice). White then jumped in and we went at it for a few moments. The topic (determined by White's relentless questioning) was "Mary in the Church fathers"). I didn't have all the information required at my fingertips and so was slightly off-guard at first.
But then I sort of turned the tables and went on the offensive myself, puncturing holes in White's flawed analysis and making him answer a few of my questions. Just when I thought it was getting really interesting indeed (and fun, too, because I love a challenge and love "answering on my feet"), White's computer (far as we can tell) malfunctioned and he was never heard from again. I hung around for quite a while, chatting with others in his own room, awaiting a return that never came.
I thought that it would be worthwhile to take a look at my own live encounter with White and to do a running commentary on how he used sophistry and flawed information (or mis- or disinformation) in my own case. It's most illuminating as to his pathetic methodology in debate, that many many people have observed and objected to. In my original footnotes, I had noted that "White's rapid-fire questioning and constant switching of topics and subtle changing even of terms within topics hardly allowed me to deal adequately with such a complex subject."
Bishop White's words will be in red. My responses at the time will be in black. My current "commentary on White's sophistry and illogic" will be in blue, with brackets.
* * * * *
Dave: The earliest reference in all patristic writing to something "passed down from the Apostles" that is not in Scripture is Irenaeus' insistence that those who knew the Apostles confirmed that John 8 teaches that Jesus was more than 50 years of age at his death. Rome has rejected this idea. If "tradition" can be corrupted in its first instance, upon what basis do you affirm the idea that such doctrines as the Bodily Assumption, without witness for over 500 years, is truly apostolic?
who claims that this is the first instance of Tradition passed down? Now we are in areas that require research to answer, so I can hardly do that on the spot.
Well, if you can find an explicit statement that is earlier, I'd like to see it. To my knowledge, it is the earliest example.
I doubt that.....the principle is explicitly biblical in the first place. If indeed the notion
I'm sorry, I must have been unclear: I was referring to a statement by an early Church Father concerning an alleged extra-biblical tradition passed down from the Apostles. And I believe Irenaeus' claim is the earliest....but that point aside....
Okay, that may be (I don't know).
[In fact, St. Clement of Rome described an extra-biblical book as "Scripture" (I assume he would hold that the Bible was "passed down from the Apostles" and that Bishop White would grant the point). In his Letter to the Corinthians (aka First Clement), dated 95-96 A.D., he writes (23:3):
Let this Scripture be far from us where he says . . . .Then he proceeds to cite a passage which is not in present-day Scripture (it is also cited in 2 Clement 11:2-4 - not considered to have been written by St. Clement, but perhaps the oldest Christian sermon extant: c. 100 A.D. -, where it is described as "the prophetic word"). The famous Protestant scholar J.B. Lightfoot speculated that it was from the lost book of Eldad and Modat mentioned by Hermas (Vis. 2.3.4).
Any citation, in fact, of a book as Scripture, whether it was or not, is an "extra-biblical tradition" since the biblical books (as decided by the Church and tradition) never list the books. White surely should have known this. But he wants to pass off this nonsense that Irenaeus thinking Jesus lived to fifty is the "earliest reference in all patristic writing to something 'passed down from the Apostles' that is not in Scripture." It's not so. The tradition of the biblical canon itself disproves it.
Furthermore, Clement teaches apostolic succession in 42:1-4 and 44:1-4 (“Our apostles . . . gave the offices a permanent character; that is, if they should die, other approved men
should succeed to their ministry . . .”), a notion that White rejects and regards as unbiblical.Finally, according to the eminent 19th-century Protestant patristics scholar Brooke Foss Westcott, there is some indication in Justin Martyr (100-165) of acceptance of an apostolic Tradition, including an oral component. After an exhaustive, remarkable 75-page exposition of Justin's understanding of the canon of the New Testament. Westcott concludes:
There are indeed traces of the recognition of an authoritative Apostolic doctrine in Justin, but it cannot be affirmed from the form of his language that he looked upon this as contained in a written New Testament.
(A General Survey of the History of the Canon of the New Testament, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1980, from the 1889 sixth edition, 172) ]
[again, I could hardly answer on the spot, completely unprepared, not even knowing this exchange was gonna take place. I had prepared myself to debate someone else. But note how White uses the "rapid-fire" approach. It's the illusion of appearance of strength via mere method: one of the oldest tricks of sophistry in the book. This is the second thing he quickly introduces. Then he introduces a third: whether Mary sinned]
[this is sheer nonsense (the second sentence above), as I will proceed to show, even on the spot, because it is so outrageously false]
That all depends. :-)
[I don't know what White thinks it "depends" on. According to The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (p. 504): "the patristic period is generally held to be closed with St. Isidore of Seville in the West and St. John of Damascus in the East." White likes historian Philip Schaff, who described John Damascene as the "last of the Greek Fathers" (History of the Christian Church, Vol. IV: Chapter 14, section 144, p. 626). So why does he question (and "smile" about) this assumption of mine?]
Would it follow, then, that you believe the "patristic consensus" up through John Damascene supports such doctrines as the Immaculate Conception and the Bodily Assumption?
[I was still referring to the previous "sins of Mary" question. White would fire out a new question (like having 15 peas in a pea shooter) before I barely answered his last one. Anyone can see the foolishness of such a juvenile method of supposedly "seeking truth"]
Yes. Origen, Chrysostom, Cyril of Alexandria, Basil. Big names. :-) Even Anselm held Mary was born with original sin.
how about western fathers? Those are all eastern guys. :-)
Anselm isn't. :-)
Anselm was not a father.
Let's hope not. :-) He was under orders.... just kidding.
[his humor was more successful than his arguments and pseudo-facts. I suggest that White stick to stand-up comic routines rather than attempted serious patristic argument]
all you're doing now is helping to support Roman primacy and orthodoxy. The east had a host of errors. They split from Rome five times, and were wrong in every case by
Hmm, so you are switching now to a Western "consensus"?
no, but your citing of only eastern fathers hardly suggests that this is overall "patristic consensus," does it?
[this is ludicrous sophistry. I made the rather obvious point. White was the one claiming "patristic consensus." Anyone knows that this means all fathers: east and west. He cites only eastern ones; I call him on it, and then he makes this dumb remark that I am calling for (or "switching" to) a "western consensus." Unbelievable . . . but then it shows that he was on the ropes and was trying all the more to exercise sophistry to extricate himself from his foot firmly entrenched in his rather big mouth. I don't think he is even conscious that he is doing this. Like Bill Clinton and lying, for Bishop White sophistry has so long been the trick of his trade in debating Catholics that it just comes out like breathing or blinking without having to think about it at all. He always has to oppose the Catholic, no matter how silly and absurd his objection may be. This is an absolutely classic case of poor debating and arguing on his part]
I would dispute that, actually,
[fine, then make an argument; but he never does. Instead he moves onto something else. The slippery fish / moving target / 101 topics routine, perfected by folks like Jehovah's Witness evangelists and James White . . .]
but I'd like to stick to the issue I've raised here.
[White talking -- with a straight face, apparently, actually serious -- about sticking to the issue, after how he has behaved, is about the equivalent of an alcoholic saying we shouldn't drink liquor . . .]
Is it your belief that these two dogmas are apostolic in origin?
first name me western fathers who thought Mary sinned, since you brought this up.
Actually, Augustine's influence regarding the universality of original sin had to be overcome for the Immaculate Conception to be contemplated and codified, sir. :-)
[lacking any good answer for my actual question, White obfuscates and engages in obscurantism (tried and true methods of the sophist) by changing the topic to original sin and Augustine's view, rather than actual sin of Mary, which was his own original claim as to "patristic consensus". This is very clever. But we can all see through it, especially when analyzed in this fashion. White loves "post-mortem" debate analysis. Well, now we have given him a bit of his own medicine]
but that's a separate issue. Did Augustine think Mary sinned?
No, not in her personal life. But he did believe she contracted original sin, correct?
[the quick answer and then quickly moving on to another separate question, so as to do some quick damage control . . .]
There is the distinction between actual sin and original sin in Mary's case.
Do you consider Tertullian a Western?
Would you include Hilary? J.N.D. Kelly lists them both in that category. I think that makes six, does it not?
I'm not sure, but you started by discussing acts of sin, now you are switching to original sin.
Actually, for both Tertullian and Hilary, it would be acts of sin.
okay, so you have two?
[I wrote in my commentary soon after the debate:
So Bishop White offers one western father (who held a quite "mild" opinion on the subject - not exactly a spectacular, bold dissent), and another in his heretical period, plus four eastern fathers (which I was already generally aware of - one always finds exceptions to the rule). This is what he considers a "patristic consensus." I consider it a pathetic argument. Ludwig Ott states that the western patristic consensus was "unanimous." Thus, Bishop White is trapped by the facts of history, not any rhetorical brilliance on my part. ]
[how, then, is this a "consensus"? I recently wrote a book compiling patristic beliefs, and listed sixty Church fathers who are widely cited as such, up through John Damascene). White has provided us with exactly six names of fathers who held that Mary sinned (and of the two westerners, one later became a Montanist heretic and the other spoke of it just once, and rather mildly), or about 10% of the fathers (or reasonable facsimile thereof). And he wants us to think this is a "consensus". How stupid does he think we are, anyway? Part of the method of sophistry (for those aware they are doing it, and I don't think White is), is assuming that hearers are so dumb and ignorant that they can be fooled by the method in the first place]
May I ask how many you have that positively testify of the later Roman belief in the same time-period?
one second....consulting some papers.
Be that as it may, does it not follow from these considerations that there is no positive consensus upon this issue? The only relevant answer to that would be to ask, "Who wrote on the specific question of Mary's sinlessness? Not many."
As for Church Fathers who refer to the Blessed Virgin Mary as the New Eve (Eve was originally sinless or immaculate), Second Eve, sinless, spotless, pure, without stain, immaculate, the Ark of the Covenant, or (negatively) who never attributed any actual sin to her, we find the following:
Hippolytus, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Gregory Nazianzen, Gregory Nyssa, Cyril of Jerusalem, Epiphanius, Athanasius, Jerome, Eusebius, Ephraim, Ambrose, Augustine, Proclus, Theodotus, Peter Chrysologus, Andrew of Crete, Fulgentius, Leo the Great, Gregory the Great, Germanus, John Damascene.
That makes at least 22 fathers in the affirmative, compared to 5 who attributed sin to Mary (not counting the Montanist heretic Tertullian).]
The Tertullian citation is De carne Chr. 7.
Sure enough, The Flesh of Christ (dated 208-212 A.D.) is from Tertullian's semi-Montanist period. Protestants often fail to note the different theological periods with regard to citing Tertullian. Many will conveniently ignore this if a Tertullian quote suits their purpose (or else some are ignorant of the dating and/or of his later heresy altogether). Whichever the case with Bishop White, he failed to answer my question during the dialogue, thus illustrating another reason why these clarifying notes are important and useful. What I suspected turned out to be true. Whether Bishop White knew this beforehand or not, we don't know, as he didn't say.
I think you can see my point, can you not, Mr. Armstrong? If these concepts were, in fact, passed down through the episcopate, how could such widely differing church leaders be ignorant of these things?
Eusebius, the great Church historian . . . calls her panagia, “all-holy”. (PG, 24, 1033B)
Athanasius: . . . pure and unstained Virgin . . . (On the Incarnation of the Word, 8)
O noble Virgin, truly you are greater than any other greatness. For who is your equal in greatness, O dwelling place of God the Word? To whom among all creatures shall I compare you, O Virgin? You are greater than them all O Covenant, clothed with purity instead of gold! You are the Ark in which is found the golden vessel containing the true manna, that is, the flesh in which divinity resides. (Homily of the Papyrus of Turin, 71, 216)
Ephraem: Thou and thy mother are the only ones who are totally beautiful in every respect; for in thee, O Lord, there is no spot, and in thy Mother no stain. (Nisibene Hymns, 27, v. 8)
Gregory Nazianzen: He was conceived by the Virgin, who had first been purified by the Spirit in soul and body; for, as it was fitting that childbearing should receive its share of honor, so it was necessary that virginity should receive even greater honor. (Sermon 38, 13)
Gregory of Nyssa: It was, to divulge by the manner of His Incarnation this great secret; that purity is the only complete indication of the presence of God and of His coming, and that no one can in reality secure this for himself, unless he has altogether estranged himself from the passions of the flesh. What happened in the stainless Mary when the fulness of the Godhead which was in Christ shone out through her, that happens in every soul that leads by rule the virgin life. (On Virginity, 2; NPNF 2, Vol. V, 344)
[T]he power of the Most High, through the Holy Spirit, overshadowed the human nature and was formed therein; that is to say, the portion of flesh was formed in the immaculate Virgin. (Against Apollinaris, 6)
Ambrose: . . . Mary, a Virgin not only undefiled but a Virgin whom grace has made inviolate, free of every stain of sin. (Commentary on Psalm 118, 22, 30)
Jerome: 'There shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a flower shall grow out of his roots.' The rod is the mother of the Lord--simple, pure, unsullied; drawing no germ of life from without but fruitful in singleness like God Himself... Set before you the blessed Mary, whose surpassing purity made her meet to be the mother of the Lord. (Letter XXII. To Eustochium, 19, 38; NPNF 2, Vol. VI, 29, 39)
Augustine: We must except the holy Virgin Mary, concerning whom I wish to raise no question when it touches the subject of sins, out of honour to the Lord; for from Him we know what abundance of grace for overcoming sin in every particular was conferred upon her who had the merit to conceive and bear Him who undoubtedly had no sin. Well, then, if, with this exception of the Virgin, we could only assemble together all the forementioned holy men and women, and ask them whether they lived without sin whilst they were in this life, what can we suppose would be their answer? (A Treatise on Nature and Grace, chapter 42 [XXXVI]; NPNF 1, Vol. V)
Cyril of Alexandria: Hail, Mary Theotokos, Virgin-Mother, lightbearer, uncorrupt vessel . . . Hail Mary, you are the most precious creature in the whole world; hail, Mary, uncorrupt dove; hail, Mary, inextinguishable lamp; for from you was born the Sun of justice . . . (Homily 11 at the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus)
Theodotus: Innocent virgin, spotless, without defect, untouched, unstained, holy in body and in soul, like a lily-flower sprung among thorns, unschooled in the wickedness of Eve . . . clothed with divine grace as with a cloak . . . (Homily 6, 11)
Leo the Great: For the uncorrupt nature of Him that was born had to guard the primal virginity of the Mother, and the infused power of the Divine Spirit had to preserve in spotlessness and holiness that sanctuary which He had chosen for Himself . . . (Sermon XXII: On the Feast of the Nativity, Part II; NPNF 2, Vol. XII)
Gregory the Great: The most blessed and ever Virgin Mary, Mother of God . . . has completely surpassed the height of every elect creature. (In I Regum, 1, 5)
Andrew of Crete: . . . alone wholly without stain . . . (Canon for the Conception of Anne)
John Damascene: O most blessed loins of Joachim from which came forth a spotless seed! O glorious womb of Anne in which a most holy offspring grew. (Homily I on the Nativity of Mary) ]
[meant to convey the blatant double standard in White's previous question. I could disprove his claim about the Mariology of the Fathers, but he couldn't change the fact that both Luther and Calvin got major things wrong, by his own Baptist reckoning, some 700 years after the patristic period. In other words, anti-catholics always want to carp on and on about supposed "late inventions" while ignoring the host of those introduced by their own founders]
Well, it would seem that if you wish to substantiate a dogma of the Immaculate Conception, the task would be rather easy to demonstrate a positive witness to the belief in the patristic period, would it not?
I think this can be done, but probably not to your satisfaction.
[one must understand that the sinlessness of Mary is the developmental kernel of the Immaculate Conception, which extends the divine grace given to her also to removal by God of original sin. No one is claiming that the immaculate conception is in the Fathers. But White, remember, denied even that denial of actual sin was the "consensus"]
Does it follow, then, that you parallel individual Reformational leaders with the early Fathers, the very ones entrusted with "apostolic tradition"? Or was that rhetorical?
I was making a point about noted leaders and teachers differing. We would expect that in the Fathers to an extent, being human; nevertheless, there is still overall consensus.
Have you ever listened to my debate with Gerry Matatics on the subject of the Marian dogmas, Mr. Armstrong?
no. Did you win that one? :-)
It's on the web.....Gerry said I did, actually. :-) As did Karl Keating. Does that count? :-)
I can name names as to who believed in sinlessness, but I don't have it at my fingertips......
Be that as it may, during the course of the debate I repeatedly asked Gerry for a single early Father who believed as he believes, dogmatically, on Mary. I was specifically focused upon the two most recent dogmas, the Immaculate Conception and the Bodily Assumption.
of course, if you are looking for a full-blown doctrine of Immaculate Conception, you won't find it.
How would you answer my challenge? Did any early Father believe as you believe on this topic?
the consensus, in terms of the kernels of the belief
So many generations lived and died without holding to what is now dogmatically defined?
Three centuries.....you would not include Athanasius?
I think his correct list was in the 4th century [indeed, it was in 367, and he was born around 296], but at any rate, my point is established.
[T]he present-day "perspicuous" NT canon took longer to finalize than trinitarianism and the divinity of the Holy Spirit! But I guess a "consensus of one" in the year 367 is good enough for Bishop White, provided that it is harmonious with his own largely 16th-century-derived Baptist version of Christianity. This is all doctrinal development, pure and simple. But Protestants - for some odd reason - so often wish to ignore it when it touches upon their own peculiar doctrines.How is it that Bishop White is so concerned about five fathers attributing fairly minor and very rare sin to the Blessed Virgin Mary, while in the "late" period from 250-325, the "perspicuous" biblical books of Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2 John, 3 John, Jude, and Revelation were still being widely disputed in the Church Universal? Is that state of affairs not far more fatal to Protestant claims concerning Scripture Alone, than minor dissent on Mary is to the Catholic position?
[White knows he is on shaky ground here, too, when pressed about other Protestant parallels of "late-arriving doctrines" and so he obfuscates]
The issue there would be how many addressed the issue (many did not). But are you paralleling these things with what you just admitted were but "kernels"?
If even Scripture was unclear that early on, that makes mincemeat of your critique that a lack of explicit Marian dogma somehow disproves Catholic Mariology.
[BOOM! This was the clinching remark, as far as I was concerned then, and now. In my opinion, White lost this debate at this point, if not earlier]
I'll address that allegation in a moment. :-)
[He never did. Alas, technical computer problems soon whisked White away, safe from annoying and revealing cross-examination questioning. Ah, but what could have been. The "if only's" of history . . .]
By the way, would you like that specific Irenaeus reference to look up? Just in passing?
[who cares, by this point? A desperate return to an earlier futile argument . . .]
I can look it up...I have enough resources. The question of this dialogue is whether we are gonna address topics which require heavy research..... That is more appropriate for a paper. If I were answering all your questions in a paper I would have spent a good three hours already.
[I wrote in my footnotes to the debate:
Bishop White seemed to require me to give rapid answers to his lightning-quick and ever-changing technical questions concerning particular patristic beliefs. That was not possible (I wouldn't be able to type fast enough even if I had all the answers in my head), but I believe I managed to "de-fang" him by the use of analogy, which has been fleshed out to full effect in these notes.]
so where do we go from here?
Anyway....You seem to think that if there is disagreement on any issue, this means the Scripture is unclear, correct?
[another topic introduced; White deftly avoids the devastating implications of my previous progression of analogical argument. The man knows when he is bested; he proves it by his change-the-subject tactics. On the other hand, when he senses he is prevailing in a line of argument, he keeps honing in for the kill. Anyone can see which tack he took with me. He was on the ropes, faltering, failing, floundering away . . . ]
no; rather massive disagreement on many issues seems to me to fly in the face of this alleged perspicuity. I think Scripture is clear, by and large, actually, but human fallibility will lead to "hermeneutic relativism," thus requiring authoritative interpreters.
[the nuances and complexity of the actual Catholic view of Bible and Tradition were and are lost on White. I should have known. Why even bother? But, of course, others were observing, too]
What do you do with Peter's words? 2 Pet 3:15-16:
and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction. (NAS)
If the untaught and unstable distort the Scriptures, then what can the taught and stable do, of necessity?
it doesn't follow logically that if the unstable distort the Scripture, that the stable will always get it right, does it?
()()() James is Away. Lord willing, he will return. :) ()()()
[what a shame that he could neither stick around nor stick to any given subject, to reach any sort of conclusion. I think it is unarguable that he used many techniques of sophistry, obfuscation, and obscurantism in this pathetic exchange. I should have made an analysis like this years ago, along with my footnotes. I'm really glad I did so now, so as to give concrete demonstration of the shortcomings in White's debate method that so many Catholics have observed and become fed up with by now]