Friday, January 08, 2010

Clarifying Some Points of David Waltz's Present "Doctrinal Limbo" Status (Including Discussion of the Holy Trinity and the Definition of "Christian")


[ source ]

David Waltz was raised in the Jehovah's Witnesses, spent many years searching; then was, I think, some kind of Protestant for some time, has studied Mormonism in extreme depth, and entered the Catholic Church in 2002. He recently announced that he can no longer accept all Catholic dogmas in good conscience. I've gotten involved by responding to a paper by anti-Catholic Jason Engwer, that David said was part of the reason he has changed his mind.

The reason for the present post is to offset the current behavior of some anti-Catholics (James White and a few others). They are, in effect, "gloating" and using this situation as a pretext for mocking both Catholicism and Catholic apologists. Other instances of Catholics (even converts) leaving the faith have been brought up as well.

I have nothing whatever against David Waltz, and in fact, have been spending a considerable amount of my own time in the past week, producing argumentation that I thought might be helpful to him in working through the issues that trouble him.

But he has to understand that this whole thing has occurred in public. He decided of his own free will to enter into apologetics (and to discuss all this stuff publicly). Public discussion of these sorts of issues is much different from private. In his first blog post of 8 August 2007 he wrote:

I shall initially try to focus on issues/studies that are of great interest to me: Catholicism, Mormonism, Patristics, and “counter-cult” apologetics/ministries.

In a second post on the same day, he was already recounting grappling with James White: the most active and vehement anti-Catholic Protestant apologist online (one who also has many published books, and is known for public debates). This is clearly an apologetic emphasis, whether he wants to refer to himself as an "apologist" or not. One doesn't go right to the "top guy" if they wish to shy away from that. Topics-wise, the leading number of posts on his blog are in the following categories:

Catholicism: 43

Apologetics: 39

Sola Scriptura: 34

When someone engaged in online apologetics like this later changes his mind, it is a bit of a scandalous situation, which casts a bad light on both Catholicism and the enterprise of apologetics. I'm not trying to imply that David Waltz enjoys that, or sought it, or anything of the sort. I'm not blaming him at all. This is not "personal" in the slightest degree. I'm just saying that certain things follow and have to be taken into consideration, due to the public nature of the discussion.

This situation necessarily enters into the public scenario of competing theological truth claims, since it is a "public limbo" of a person who has had a website and has been active in Catholic apologetics: often visiting Protestant blogs for discussion. He announced his "limbo" publicly and continues to write.

Therefore, it is not out of place for those of us who remain orthodox Catholic, and in the apologetics realm, to take a closer look at exactly what might be going on here, on a doctrinal plane: especially at the level of premises.

In looking over some of David's past discussions on his own thread (that he himself linked to, for the purpose of explaining the course of his thinking in the last few years), I started suspecting that there may be much deeper, fundamental issues at stake than development and infallibility and Real Presence (the given reasons so far). There are quite possibly factors in play that would place him just as far away from Protestants as from Catholics.

So I asked some questions, to clarify the situation in my own mind. A mountain of reading material from his past blog posts has been suggested, but there are many vague, unclear things in the overall discussion, and it is also good to get some basic answers to presuppositional questions: to cut to the quick, as it were (his replies will be in blue), as none of us have the luxury of unlimited time:

* * *

Hi David,

Just for point of reference, I was wondering about the following things (brief answers will suffice as long as they are unambiguous):

1) Do you accept the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, as accepted by the three branches of Christianity: Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and Protestantism?

2) Do you adhere to the Nicene Creed?

3) What is your position regarding the filioque clause?

4) Do you adhere to the Athanasian Creed?

5) Do you classify Arianism as a species of Christianity?

6) Do you classify Mormonism as a species of Christianity?

7) Is Jesus God the Son: God incarnate: the second Person of the Holy Trinity?

8) Is the Holy Spirit God, and the third Person of the Holy Trinity?

9) How do you determine the meaning of "orthodox" (theological doctrine)?

Thanks. (1-18-10)

Almost all of these are issues, I should note, are ones where Catholics and Protestants agree. My own answers to all of these questions, save #9 alone, did not change when I moved from Protestantism to Catholicism.

Certain answers, therefore, would place you outside all three branches of Christianity, in which case there is no room in certain predictable anti-Catholic quarters (Bishop White et al) for gloating and chest-puffing because you have concluded that Catholicism is not the fullness of truth, since it would mean you are as far from their camp (in these respects; if you answer in certain ways) as you are from ours. (1-18-10)

Hello Dave, Hope you do not think that I have been avoiding you, my wife has been keeping me very busy getting ready for our upcoming vacation, yet I have tried to keep up with the newer posts concerning Jason Engwer. (For the record, I too see a massive difference between Jason and the gents he rubs shoulders with, will be looking forward to your continued dialogue with him.) As for your questions, response/s to all of them is just too complex for me to give definitive answers at the present; I say this because my theology has always flowed from the worldview/paradigm that I embrace, and as you know, I am currently in limbo (no pun intended) concerning my worldview/paradigm—sincerely hope you understand… But, in lieu of a response from me, I would like you to ponder over the following from a Catholic author/apologist:
Catholics view the body of Christ on earth as those communities which acknowledge the Pope as the successor of St. Peter whom Jesus appointed as head and leader of the apostles. Thus the visible body of Christ is that Church in communion with the Pope.

But what about the other Christian Churches? Are they part of the body of Christ in some way?…There are sects who, while they do not profess the traditional Creed, still seek to follow Jesus. These are groups like Mormons and the Jehovah’s Witnesses. These are part of the Church.

(Fr. Richard Chilson, Full Christianity, p. 85.)
Know you are very busy, but would be very interested in your thoughts… God bless, David (1-18-10)

You hesitate even in answering #1, #7, and #8?

Only because of the many differing views that can be (and are), classified as “Trinitarian”. For background see the threads under the LABELS Trinity and Subordinationism. [two categories linked to the left] (1-19-10)

The context would be super-important to see exactly what Fr. Chilson meant. He may have meant something along the lines of what an August 2004 This Rock article expressed, in discussing a video where Fr. Chilson's positions were distorted by anti-Catholic James McCarthy's cohorts:

Chilson, whose doctoral work has been in Mahayana Buddhism, with a specialty in Tibetan Buddhism, said he selected this area of study because Buddhism 'seemed to be as contrary to Christianity as it was possible to be.'

The video quotes him as saying that, although Buddhists do not believe in God or the soul, behind their myths is a reality that corresponds to the reality addressed by Christianity. In this, Chilson, properly understood, is correct. Since all people face the same reality around them, even those without access to authentic revelation are able to g.asp certain elements of that reality accurately—while misconstruing others. Even Buddhists (not to mention Muslims, Mormons, and Protestants) get some things right, for, as Paul taught, creation itself teaches us about God (Rom. 1:20), and the laws of God are written on the hearts of men (Rom. 2:14–16).

But the narrator’s comments before and after Chilson’s brief remarks on Buddhism lead the viewer to believe that Chilson in particular and the Catholic Church in general are working toward some kind of syncretistic amalgamation of Catholicism and Buddhism, something not even remotely implied in Chilson’s remarks.

In his 1987 book, Catholic Christianity (p. 388), Fr. Chilson defines Unitarians, Mormons, JWs, Christian Science, and Unification Church (Moonies) as non-Christian. (1-18-10)

Dave, are we reading the same book? Fr. Chilson’s Catholic Christianity – A Guide to the Way, the Truth, and the Life, is essential an expansion of what he said two years earlier in his Full Christianity—below is a fuller quote of the section I provided earlier:
Catholics view the body of Christ on earth as those communities which acknowledge the Pope as the successor of St. Peter whom Jesus appointed as head and leader of the apostles. Thus the visible body of Christ is that Church in communion with the Pope.

But what about the other Christian Churches? Are they part of the body of Christ in some way? To answer this question the Church views herself as a series of concentric circles, one within another. In the inner circle stands the Pope—a sign of unity going back to Jesus. Around him is found the Roman Catholic Church and those Eastern Churches (called Uniate) in communion with Rome. Next comes the Orthodox Churches who hold the same faith but who are in schism. Next come the various Protestant Churches who cling to the traditional definition of faith in the Nicene Creed. Together these Churches form official Christendom.

But the Church does not stop here. There are sects who, while they do not profess the traditional Creed, still seek to follow Jesus. These are groups like Mormons and the Jehovah’s Witnesses. These are part of the Church.

(Richard Chilson, Full Christianity, Paulist Press, 1985, p. 85.)
In the link I provided above to his other book [link], the context (pp.386-388) surrounding the tiny snippet you linked to can be read—below I provide part of it:
Christian Groups

Beyond lie groups which are similar to Christians in some ways, yet differ so significantly that they fall outside the traditional definitions of a Christian Church. They deny the Trinity, such as the Unitarian-Universalists. Or They they may hold non-traditional doctrines, such as the Mormon ideas of pre-existence of souls or baptism for the dead. Other communities in this category are the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Science, and the Unification Church of Reverend Moon.

(Catholic Christianity – A Guide to the Way, the Truth, and the Life, Paulist Press, 1987, p. 388.)
Notice how he lists the above sects under “Christian Groups”; and though he states that they “they fall outside the traditional definitions of a Christian Church”, I nowhere found were he said that they are “non-Christian” as you wrote.

Hope this helps to clarify.

Grace and peace,

David (1-19-10)

Hi David,

Fr. Chilson's language is a little ambiguous, but I think he stretched himself too thin (in his subtitle) in trying to be as ecumenical as he could.

The fact remains that logic requires that Mormons and the other groups are distinct from Christians (as he noted); therefore they are not Christian groups (also indicated by the word "beyond"). Fr. Chilson wrote:

Beyond lie groups which are similar to Christians in some ways, yet differ so significantly that they fall outside the traditional definitions of a Christian Church.

Just substitute whatever religious group you like into this sentence and you can see that you can't possibly hold that he is saying (at least in this sentence) that they are Christian:

Mormons are similar to Christians in some ways, yet differ so significantly that they fall outside the traditional definitions of a Christian Church.

If you say he holds that Mormons are Christians, then this involves a vicious self-contradiction:

Subset Christian Group X is similar to the larger set of Christians in some ways, yet differs so significantly that it falls outside the traditional definitions of a Christian Church.

Huh?

Let's do another analogy. Michigan is a species of the set that we call states. So using Fr. Chilson's sentence, we get:

Michigan is similar to states in some ways, yet differs so significantly that it falls outside the traditional definition of an American state.

It's logical nonsense. Let's do one more, if anyone misses the point:

Beyond lies apples and oranges, which are similar to fruits in some ways, yet differ so significantly that they fall outside the traditional definitions of a fruit.

Conclusion: yes: he is classifying them as non-Christian, because they are "beyond," are contrasted with Christians (therefore are not in that classification), and cannot qualify by definition as a Christian church.

First, I think you and I will have to agree to disagree on what Fr. Chilson wrote; for my part I am willing to let what he penned remain as originally stated—i.e. the sects in question are not “traditional” Christians, but they are listed under the section “Christian Groups”—I see no need to add any of my own personal interpretations. (1-20-10)

It's not a matter of personal interpretation, I don't think, but of simple logic. Words mean things. Ideas have relations. His words contain internal contradictions if they are interpreted as you have done, that I repeatedly demonstrated, using three analogies.

The use of "Christian groups", on the other hand, could easily be construed as a broad ecumenical, somewhat sloppy usage. There is a sense in which one can say "Christian heretics" insofar as certain groups came out of Christianity, and not another religion. It's the same for Islam (Black Muslims, the Islamicist terrorists) and other religions. For the Orthodox Jew Christianity is a Jewish heresy.

In any event, the Catholic Church and Orthodoxy (and most Protestants who still hold to classic theistic doctrine) have all determined that these groups are outside of Christianity. Even if Fr. Chilson believes as you do, so what? He would simply be wrong, in light of what historic orthodoxy has decreed. Why put so much stock into what he says? (1-20-10)

* * *

Mormons aren't Christians because (among many other things) they deny the Trinity, as all three branches of Christianity define it.

Mormon doctrine on theology proper contradicts the de fide dogmas of the Catholic Church on trinitarianism, which is why the Church clarified that Mormon baptisms were invalid, because of the radically different conception of the Godhead (many thanks to Dr. Ludwig Ott for the following info.):

1) Letter of Pope Dionysius (259-268) to Bishop Dionysius of Alexandria: rejected Sabellianism, Tritheism, and Subordinationism (Denzinger 48-51).

2) The Nicene Creed (D 54): stressed the divinity of the Son and consubstantiality with the Father.

3) Symbolum Nicaeno-Constantinopolitanum (381): against Arianism and Macedonianism; stressed divinity of the Holy Spirit and of the Son (D 86).

4) Athanasian Creed (Symbolum Quicumque) (D 39 ff.).

5) Symbol of the 11th Synod of Toledo (675) (D 275-281).

6) Council of Florence: Decretum pro Jacobitis (1441): summary exposition of the Trinity (D 703 ff.).

The continued refusal to answer the questions is very telling and troubling. You can't even state without hesitation or doubt, that Jesus is God and that the Holy Spirit is God?

I could see discussion on something like the filioque (#3) and fine points of how orthodoxy is ultimately determined (#9), but c'mon: now you are unsure even about the basic truths of the Godhead? You've been reciting the Nicene Creed all those Sundays without even being sure that you accept it? (1-19-10)

You are reading way to much into my hesitancy to begin a complex dialogue into the questions you asked before my vacation; on my return, I will, if you are still interested, attempt to answer all of them in depth (will probably deal with one at a time given what I believe to be the necessary length that will be required). (1-20-10)

What is so complex about a simple "yes" to the question of whether Jesus and the Holy Spirit are God? If you believe those things, there is no reason in the world to not unhesitatingly say "yes" or "I do (believe that)". They are either God or not. What is there to even discuss? What: are you gonna do a huge paper showing that Jesus is NOT God? If so, that would clearly mean that you are not a Christian.

Any orthodox Christian (in the Nicene, Athanasian sense) answers those questions immediately, it seems to me. I can't imagine what would cause a hesitation except for some level of doubt. And I sure hope I am wrong (I really do), and that you can explain, but you're on your way to Mexico . . .

Some of my questions involve complexities, sure, but those two do not (which is why I singled them out and asked again). Yet you included them in the list of things that you think are too nuanced and complex to answer quickly and briefly with a simple yes or no.

Thus I can only reasonably conclude that you are wavering even on something as basic as the trinitarian Godhead and the deity or divinity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (and of the Holy Spirit). If you are trying to define Christology in a way that would include Mormon conceptions within its parameters (as I suspect, the more I find out), this is part and parcel of the problem. It's an impossible task. (1-20-10)

As for the Nicene Creed, I have no problem reciting it as we speak;

Then why in the world couldn't you give a simple affirmative answer as to the divinity of the Holy Spirit and Jesus?

however, I do have reservations concerning subsequent interpretations of the NC, some of which may in fact negate the original intent of bishops who met in 325 and 381.

Okay. I assume you refer to the filioque; perhaps other matters, too. (1-20-10)

Anyway, the timing of my vacation has both positive and negative elements: positive in that it has been a pretty rough winter here and a few contiguous days of sunshine and warm weather will be much appreciated; negative in the sense that I am going to have to delay the areas of discussion that I wanted to closely follow my 01-06-10 post.

Well, have a wonderful time (and don't drink local water!). We all need to get away. I look eagerly forward to my vacations every year: regarding them as a sort of Sabbath for the entire year.

Hope that you are willing and able to be a continuing participant upon my safe return.

Yes, but within certain time and topical limits. When I got involved, I thought development and infallibility were the main issues. Now all of a sudden trinitarianism needs to be discussed as an issue that is debatable?

What would need to be done to establish the Trinity as true? Is not scriptural testimony enough in and of itself (I believe in material sufficiency)? The dogmatic pronouncements I summarized last time are clear, are they not?

I find all this very troubling. But I think it all goes back to the need of supernatural faith, that I stressed when I first got involved in this. We can't go by reason alone. We have to yield to supernatural faith and acceptance of dogma at some point. No one person can even figure everything out anyway. That is the ultimate folly of sola Scriptura and private judgment.

But God can lead us to something far bigger than ourselves, that we can accept in faith, by His power, without having to throw away our minds or ceasing all historiographical analysis. The latter occurs within the framework of orthodoxy, and is not the be-all and end-all. (1-20-10)

* * * * *

At this point, a Mormon, Tom, entered the discussion (and I responded). I have changed his original caps to bolding. His citation of my former words is indented:

I looked at the two passages cited by you and David W and agreeded with David W’s assessment. I then saw your argument and could allow that perhaps Father Chilson meant what you thought he meant. David W suggested that this would just be a thing you would have to agree to disagree on. Which seemed reasonable based on the data to me. You then responded as follows:

It's not a matter of personal interpretation, I don't think, but of simple logic. Words mean things. Ideas have relations. His words contain internal contradictions if they are interpreted as you have done, that I repeatedly demonstrated, using three analogies.

The use of "Christian groups", on the other hand, could easily be construed as a broad ecumenical, somewhat sloppy usage. There is a sense in which one can say "Christian heretics" insofar as certain groups came out of Christianity, and not another religion. It's the same for Islam (Black Muslims, the Islamicist terrorists) and other religions. For the Orthodox Jew Christianity is a Jewish heresy.

In any event, the Catholic Church and Orthodoxy (and most Protestants who still hold to classic theistic doctrine) have all determined that these groups are outside of Christianity. Even if Fr. Chilson believes as you do, so what? He would simply be wrong, in light of what historic orthodoxy has decreed. Why put so much stock into what he says?

Perhaps your last sentence is a bow to your lack of infallibility in the interpretation of Fr. Chilson, but your first 2.5 paragraphs in my opinion demonstrate a problem I regularly see in apologetics.

The ECF are dead. I regularly hear Protestants claim Catholics read their doctrines back into the ECF. I regularly hear Catholics claim Protestants read their doctrines back into the ECF. And everyone agrees that Mormons are simply the worst at this!

I think the truth is that none of these three groups is free from reading with bias.

Of course they aren't. It's always been my position since time immemorial that we all have a bias. That's why I like dialogue. Let me express my biased view; you can do yours, and an onlooker can decide which is more worthy of belief.

We should all attempt to be objective; on the other hand, the nature of dogma restricts us, so that we can't go in unlimited, unrestrained directions.

I follow Chesterton's philosophy. He compared orthodoxy to a fence around a high hill, with steep cliffs on all sides. When it is there, the children feel more free to play because they don't have to worry about falling off. Without it, they are not really free, because they could either fall off or else worry so much about doing so that they can't have any fun. Thus, orthodoxy and dogmatic restriction frees the mind to be truly free, and itself.

None of them are as out to lunch as their opponents often suggest. And, the degree of certainty you and others exhibit when you espouse your reading and condemn the reading of other folks seems to me to be unwarranted.

The Chilson thing was a matter of simple logic. I made analogical arguments which are purely logical. The way to defeat that is not to condemn it verbally but to actually show me where my logic went awry. Neither you nor David have done that, so why in the world would I change my mind on the matter? I don't change my mind by being told I am wrong (or supposedly arrogant or what not, or the typical apologist, etc.), but by being shown with rational argument how I was wrong (if indeed I was). I'm weird that way. I guess I am a throwback. It has nothing directly to do with the subject matter. It was strictly logical. Fr. Chilson could have been talking about the man in the moon or the moon made of green cheese, or pink panthers. The laws of logic remain the same nevertheless.

I think that if Father Chilson were asked “Are Mormons or JWs Christian?” he would respond with a qualified “Yes.”

Then I would immediately ask him by what criterion he defines "Christian." The fact remains that the citation in question is somewhat ambiguous, so it looks like we won't resolve the question by it alone.

I am guessing you would expect a charitable “No.”

I think it could go either way, because there was a possible contradiction in the words he used.

So my question to you is, “Do you really believe deciding this is, ‘not a matter of personal interpretation, I don't think, but of simple logic. Words mean things. Ideas have relations.’?”

Yes, as explained above. But by that, I mean not Fr. Chilson's overall opinion, which remains ambiguous and uncertain, but the logical problems that occur in this citation if we take your view and David's that he thinks Mormons, etc., can be classified as Christian.

To me this sound like far more than is warranted from the words we have on the page. I would suggest you are either guilty of reading into Father Chilson’s words your own position or of inserting in false surety for apologetic effect.

What do you think?

I have explained. Whether I have done a good job of that is for others to judge. I never do things merely for effect. What I write I truly believe. I mean what I say and say what I mean. I do surely argue vigorously and passionately. Of that I will plead guilty every time.

No comments: