Wednesday, March 28, 2007

James White paws at my sleeve for more attention

James White continues his vain attempt to restore his relevance to Catholic discourse by rehashing decade-old debates. The most recent instance is White's response to my observation on the Envoy forum that Fr. Hugh Barbour's "Ancient Baptists and Other Myths" omitted White's name as a deliberate rebuke of White's "scholarship." (Edit -- White's original article, which I would have linked but for CRI pulling it down, is here.) White's response is yet another example of White's ongoing delusion of being competent to address patristics and Catholic theology. I, on the other hand, concur with his critic Fr. Barbour, an expert in both patristics and Catholic theology who is in an excellent position to judge White's competence in both fields. Let's see if White was really treated unfairly.

"Crimson Catholic," Jonathan Prejean, has actually attempted to offer an excuse for Hugh Barbour's refusal in the Envoy article to either name me directly, or even provide meaningful bibliographical references (i.e., so that his readers can do something more than just "trust him" and check things out for themselves). Now, let's remember that Barbour wrote his article in response to a footnote of an article that was on the topic of the Council of Nicea, an article fully referenced to standard works in the field.

The entire point of such silent rebukes is that anyone who knows the target will know the work. As to whether the article was "fully referenced to standard works in the field," it is clear that the footnote in question regarding Athanasius being a "true Protestant" of his day was not (Edit -- Turns out that this wasn't a "footnote" either; "Convinced that Scripture is 'sufficient above all things,' Athanasius acted as a true "Protestant" in his day" is in the body of the text. What footnote is White talking about?). The claim that "The council had no idea that they (sic), by their gathering together, possessed some kind of sacramental power of defining beliefs: they sought to clarify biblical truth, not to put themselves in the forefront and make themselves a second source of authority" was not (and offhand, I don't recall that statement being in a footnote. Edit -- I have confirmed this was a statement in the body of the article, not a footnote). Fr. Barbour's article simply pointed out that the particular statements he criticized were NOT "fully referenced to standard works in the field," because the standard works say no such thing.

Barbour did not even touch upon the actual article itself. He created a straw man and beat it senseless without giving his readers any opportunity of checking him out.

The ones who knew the target would have the opportunity to check it out. The ones who didn't would only have the straw man to consider, so it couldn't be misattributed to White, which is the only way a straw man could do any harm. Therefore, White has no cause for complaint.

I have yet to find a single Roman Catholic who has accurately addressed the situation and in a truthful, honest fashion admitted that Barbour's actions were reprehensible

If White thinks Fr. Barbour's actions were "reprehensible," then he has lost his sanity. There is no moral obligation or canon of scholarly ethics to identify the source of an argument being critiqued. Indeed, someone who produced a substandard argument might well wish that a critic save him the embarrassment. Of course, that would require a sense of shame and a respect for the discipline that White lacks.

nor have I found one who has taken issue with the substance of the article (they can't, since they would have to reject every major scholarly work on Nicea to do so).

Let it never be said that White overlooked an opportunity to overstate his qualifications. Note the implicit claim that he is familiar with every major scholarly work on Nicaea, and the implication that Fr. Barbour (who did indeed take issue with the portions of the article identified above) is not.

And keep in mind as well the fact that in my response, I noted numerous problems with Barbour's own scholarship, including gross misrepresentation of the article he is pretending to review (easy to do when you don't provide any references anyone can follow up on), the presentation of highly questionable theories regarding the role of Sylvester at Nicea, even noting that Barbour used sources that the Westminster Dictionary of Church History describe as "hardly trustworthy."

Let's see what those "problems" were.

Over and over again Barbour argues that it was my intention to turn the council of Nicea into an ancient convention of Baptists. He writes, "The article. . . actually claimed the Fathers of the Council were essentially Evangelical Protestants." But such is simply untrue.

I'm going to love to see how White spins the sentence "The council had no idea that they (sic), by their gathering together, possessed some kind of sacramental power of defining beliefs: they sought to clarify biblical truth, not to put themselves in the forefront and make themselves a second source of authority" as something other than an argument that the Nicene Fathers considered themselves subservient to Scripture a la sola scriptura. So go ahead. Explain it.

What I did say was that in the particular instance of Athanasius' well-known stand against the combined weight of councils (such as the one held at Sirmium, attended by 600 bishops), bishops (including Liberius, bishop of Rome), and Emperors was not something that you would identify with Roman Catholicism, but with Protestantism, especially since Athanasius defended his action via his fidelity to Scriptural truth. Just because his actions were more consistent with modern day Protestantism than with Roman Catholicism cannot logically mean that I was identifying him as a full-blown Protestant.

This is wrong several times over. First, Fr. Barbour responded to both the characterization of Athanasius AND the characterization of the Nicene Fathers. Second, the "essentially Evangelical Protestants" claim was directly responsive to White's claim that "the council had no idea that they (sic), by their gathering together, possessed some kind of sacramental power of defining beliefs: they sought to clarify biblical truth, not to put themselves in the forefront and make themselves a second source of authority." Third, White actually called Athanasius a "true Protestant," following (if I recall correctly) a characterization by one of his students, and so White must surely at least argue that Athanasius must have believed what is essential to being a Protestant. Fourth, and most importantly, White does here exactly what Fr. Barbour accused him of doing; he casts Athanasius as defending his action "via his fidelity to Scriptural truth," as if this made him more Protestant than Catholic, which is exactly the ridiculous, unsupported claim that Fr. Barbour answers in his article.

The early Fathers were neither Protestant nor Roman Catholic. They were who they were, and we badly misrepresent them, and end up engaging in errors of anachronistic interpretation, when we try to force them into our mold.

Apart from directly contradicting White's own claim that Athanasius was a "true Protestant," this is only significant in that the conclusion is based on a ridiculous caricature of what it means to be Catholic. By a reasonable definition of what Catholic means, Athanasius can reasonably be considered Catholic. But as usual, White makes up his own ridiculous definition of what Catholics supposedly believe:

As a Protestant, I can allow all the early Fathers to be themselves, not what I need them to be, simply because my faith is not based upon making claims about the alleged "universal" faith of the early Fathers. I can recognize both truth and error in the patristic sources, even within the same writer. I can appreciate Irenaeus' defense against the gnostics, while rejecting his erroneous view of the atonement, for example. I need not gloss over those places where early writers would have disagreed with me, for I make no claim that they were infallible or perfect in their beliefs, since no Christian today would fit into that category either.

Of course, a faithful Catholic can do all of these things as well, because the "alleged 'universal' faith" in question is material and not formal. As a result, there is doctrinal error all over the place in the Fathers, but never a denial of the material basis for the later doctrine.

But the Roman Catholic, if he or she is faithful to the statements of the Magisterium, does not have this luxury. This can be seen in striking fashion in the words of Satis Cognitum, a papal encyclical promulgated by Leo XIII in 1896, written to explain and defend the definition of Papal Infallibility put forward by the First Vatican Council:
Wherefore, in the decree of the Vatican Council as to the nature and authority of the primacy of the Roman Pontiff, no newly conceived opinion is set forth, but the venerable and constant belief of every age.

The faithful Roman Catholic who seeks to defend the ultimate authority of the Roman magisterium is left with little choice than to believe that the Roman claims on the Papacy (and by extension, the entire Roman concept of authority) are the "venerable and constant belief of every age" (emphasis added).

This is, of course, sheer nonsense. I accept Satis Cognitum; I simply maintain the well-understood distinction between material and formal belief in interpreting "no newly conceived opinion" and "the venerable and constant belief of every age," not to mention similar phrases like "the unanimous consent of the Fathers" and "as it has always been understood by the Catholic Church." Even leaving aside the question of whether such historical judgments even fall under the definition of "faith and morals," I have exactly the luxury White says I do not have, and I consider myself a faithful Catholic in communion with the Holy See. It's the same nonsense Bill Webster and Jason Engwer have been peddling for some time about there being some sort of dogmatic injunction against development of doctrine. You know you're losing when you have to make up what your opponent believes in order to make an argument.

The largest portion of Barbour's article is devoted to skewering the straw-man idea that "the Council attendees were Protestant." I never made such a claim, nor would I. Unfortunately, the main point I did make regarding Athanasius' willingness to stand against the combined weight of bishops and councils was lost in the flourish of demonstrating what was not contested: that Athanasius wasn't a Baptist.

The portion of the article that White describes was a rebuttal to the notion that the Nicene Fathers accepted sola scriptura, not simply that Athanasius "wasn't a Baptist." The outrageous claim was that Athanasius and the Nicene Fathers believed sola scriptura. And as far as Athanasius's willingness to "stand against the combined weight of bishops and councils," Catholics are perfectly free to resist bishops and councils that are not proclaiming the rule of faith as taught in the Church. Fr. Barbour's point was that Athanasius appealed to that same rule to rebut the errant councils and bishops.

A wonderful opportunity was lost for this patristic scholar to explain why, if the members of the Nicene Council were Roman Catholics, they did not believe in the very doctrines that define the Roman communion over against others, doctrines such as an infallible Papacy, Marian dogmas such as the Bodily Assumption, the treasury of merit, indulgences, and devotion to reserved, consecrated hosts that would indicate that the patristic belief in "real presence" was in fact a belief in transubstantiation.[2] The fact is that the early Church was neither Protestant nor Roman Catholic. It was what it was. That's perfectly in line with the Protestant view, but is fundamentally contrary to the Roman Catholic concept.

A better question would be why any explanation is required, given that every Catholic believes in development of dogma. There are all sorts of beliefs that weren't formally held by the Fathers. That's not "fundamentally contrary to the Roman Catholic concept." It IS the Catholic concept. That's not to say that there weren't many Fathers who formally held these beliefs, but it isn't essential that all or even any of them explicitly held anything other than the material antecedent for these beliefs.

While I strongly disagree with Barbour's attempt to turn Athanasius into a follower of the Papacy,[3] a different assertion in his article serves to illustrate best what happens when we view Church History in a partisan fashion. Barbour presents a highly questionable thesis regarding the role of the bishop of Rome, Sylvester, and the calling of the Council of Nicea. It is a well known fact that the bishops of Rome had little to do in the convocation of many of the early Councils. This presents a problem for the Roman apologist only because Rome has anachronistically claimed that she has always held that position. Modern Roman Catholic historians have abandoned this claim, preferring the less strident "development hypothesis," agreeing with Newman that in the early Church the Papacy was more of an "unfulfilled prophecy."[4] Barbour abandons sound historical procedures by pointing to the words of the Council of Constantinople, which met 355 years after Nicea, which claimed that both Constantine and Sylvester together called the council. R.P.C. Hanson, a noted historian, writes concerning this claim:
Religious partisanship has in the past led some scholars to suggest that Sylvester, bishop of Rome, convoked the council of Nicea, but modern Roman Catholic Scholars honourably dismiss this idea.[5]


It's all well and good that Hanson thinks so, but Fr. Barbour hasn't been the least bit dishonest in saying "There is some question as to whether the emperor acted on his own, or in concert with Pope Sylvester." White's accusation that Fr. Barbour "abandons sound historical procedures" badly misunderstands the development of canonical procedures for ecumenical councils and the reasons why the observation by Constantinople is likely indicative of continuity in procedure, an observation that more than one historian (see, e.g., Leo Donald Davis, Dvornik, Carroll) has considered significant.

Likewise, George Salmon describes as "less scrupulous" those who make Barbour's assertion, saying that there is "no foundation" for the claim.[6] Roman Catholic historian and Notre Dame professor Richard McBrien likewise notes that Sylvester "played no part" in the proceedings of the Council of Nicea, that he "did not convene the council," and that even Sylvester's representatives "were given no special status" at the assembly.[7]

Whoop-de-do. Historians disagree. Of course, most of the time one would cite somebody within the last century to show present scholarly disagreement (why is Salmon in this list?), but the fact of the disagreement is surely unremarkable.

Barbour goes on to make an even more questionable claim when he cites Gelasius of Cyzigus (without reference) as his sole basis for making Hosius, bishop of Cordova in Spain, the representative of Sylvester, so that he can then assert, "So the Council proceeded, led by a bishop officially representing the Church of Rome." Barbour, who begins his article by calling himself a "trained patristic scholar," well knows the character of the source he is citing, but how many of his readers do? Gelasius wrote 150 years after Nicea. Renowned church historian Philip Schaff, speaking of the Council of Nicea, said, "There afterwards arose a multitude of apocryphal orations and legends in glorification of it, of which Gelasius of Cyzicus in the fifth century collected a whole volume."[8] Hanson likewise makes mention of Gelasius' claim:
Gelasius alleges that Ossius presided as representing the bishop of Rome, but this is probably because an historian writing in the second half of the fifth century could not imagine that a bishop of as obscure a see as Cordova could have presided over a General Council unless he was a proxy for a much more important ecclesiastic.[9] And the Westminster Dictionary of Church History is very frank in describing the character of Gelasius' work: "Highly imaginative, it is hardly trustworthy."[10] Yet, this is the source Barbour cites to turn the Council of Nicea into a Roman Catholic entity. Such claims look good when the reader does not inquire into their true value. Such can be said as well for Envoy's attempted response.


Hanson is probably the most notorious skeptic of Ossius's connection with Rome. Leo Donald Davis follows Dvornik in assigning significance to Ossius's connection with Rome, while admitting that he was no legate and that his position as the Emperor's spiritual advisor was significant. Henry Chadwick notes Ossius's habitual deference to Rome. Warren Carroll, following De Clerq, believes Ossius probably represented Rome. The current state of scholarship ranges from skepticism to endorsement (with Hanson and Carroll representing the poles). A general description of Gelasius is completely irrelevant as to whether he is accurate on this particular point, and there is ample dispute over whether there is. What's most disturbing is that it has been pointed out to White specifically that there is scholarly dispute over this matter, and he still misrepresents Fr. Barbour as being off the deep end for giving credence to Gelasius's claim.

As usual, White evidently hasn't read even several of the "major scholarly works on Nicaea" sitting in my garage, much less enough to be forming authoritative opinions about the state of history. He reads one book of contemporary scholarship, another book by Richard McBrien (a flaming liberal who isn't even really a historian, much less a Nicene specialist), an irrelevant sentence from an encyclopedia entry, and two works more than a century out of date, and he thinks he can criticize a trained scholar. Ooookay. His response to me regarding Nestorianism on the Dividing Line was equally poor, which is why I just had to laugh in the end. I don't care whether he gives me fifteen minutes or fifteen years on his program; White still boasts on being able to give substantive answers without having either the knowledge or the qualifications to do so.

Back to the latest response:
Evidently, for this apologist, it is perfectly alright to avoid providing meaningful bibliographical material as long as you are truly mocking your target in the service of mother Church. So, if your response is completely over the top, filled with invective and straw-men, then it is perfectly acceptable to behave in this manner! Now, if Barbour had actually tried to provide a fair response that was directed to the actual topic of the article, and did not seek to simply mock me, I guess then he would have to have followed standard canons of scholarly exchange and review. But, for those in Rome, as long as you say the article was that bad, then, it was, ipse dixit.

It has nothing to do with "Rome" or "Mother Church." It has to do with White being a sorry historian and making a ridiculous claim that Athanasius and the Nicene Fathers believed in sola scriptura, claims to which Fr. Barbour directly responded with evidence demonstrating their absurdity. Scientists are just as ruthless against pseudo-science. Why wouldn't a historian be ruthless against pseudo-history? Personally, this is exactly how I think incompetence ought to be treated; it ought to be ridiculed. If people are going to claim competence when they are ignorant, this is what they should get.

Prejean says my replies "are no better," which means he could easily explain the issues in regards to Sylvester, etc. All of this rhetoric is very hopeful: that is, it is written in the hope that no one will track down the original article and realize just how guilty of gross misrepresentation and a cavalier handling of the truth Hugh Barbour, Patrick Madrid, and the Envoy Magazine staff, really are.

First of all, the issue with Sylvester and Ossius was completely a side issue, because whether Rome convoked the council or not is simply a supplemental observation to the main point, which is that the Nicene Fathers did not view themselves as applying sola scriptura, and neither did Athanasius. White should be concerning himself with answering for his outrageous and indefensible claim that "the council had no idea that they (sic), by their gathering together, possessed some kind of sacramental power of defining beliefs: they sought to clarify biblical truth, not to put themselves in the forefront and make themselves a second source of authority," not some cumulative piece of evidence that can be taken or left without impugning the main thrust of the argument. Second, White needs to actually know the material before making reckless and unfounded accusations about "gross misrepresentation" and "cavalier handling of the truth." Third, if anyone is misrepresenting the substance, it is White, who can't seem to deal with the fact that Fr. Barbour's article was directed at White's sola scriptura claims for both the Nicene Fathers and Athanasius and that White hasn't provided any answer on that point, spending his entire time worrying about this side issue of Sylvester and Hossius on which Fr. Barbour's position is entirely legitimate! Fourth, let's not forget that White has also once again raised this ridiculous caricature of Catholic belief as saying that we can't believe in development and that every Catholic belief must have been formally held in virtual unanimity by every Father before we can claim that they are Catholic. As I said, anyone who has to tell his opponents what to believe in order to make an argument probably has no good argument to make.

This is, in short, why White is no longer taken seriously by any Catholic apologist of my acquaintance. Apart from the personal irritation at seeing good men maligned by White, he would draw no more serious interest than Jack Chick.

UPDATE --

Like many of White's responses to Phil Porvaznik and Gary Michuta, White's response to me simply reinforces his lack of competence in the subject matter.

At least, that's what a Texas attorney who, to my knowledge anyway, has never taught a seminary class, never been published in book form, in a scholarly article, etc., never been chosen to an academic position of any type in the theological realm, and has never, to my knowledge, engaged in a public debate in defense of his position, has concluded.

The fact that White considers teaching a seminary class, being published in book or scholarly article form, being chosen to an academic position, and engaging in public debate as even relevant shows that he doesn't understand what my criticism is. The relevant qualifications would be doing these things in a way that obtains scholarly recognition. It's teaching in accredited schools and doing work that is peer-reviewed by the relevant scholarly community. What scholars have reviewed White's work? What Catholic theologians or patrologists have recognized White's work as a contribution to the state of the scholarship? If it's sauce for the goose, then it's sauce for the gander. Neither of us is a scholar in the area, so both of us should not offer opinions without either doing the work himself or relying on the published work of people who are so recognized.

Yes, the same man who struggled to answer if the Incarnation is a unique event has provided the epitaph to my entire apologetic career!

That's because the Incarnation is not a unique event in terms of being isolated from universal applications. The fact that White considers it either/or (either completely unique or not) says more about White's Christological incompetence than any struggle on my part. This follows into White's motif of asking incompetent questions in cross-examination and then acting as if the answer or lack thereof to his incompetent question has relevance. That is a reflection of White's misunderstanding rather than any real substantive problem.

Of course, I have never wanted to be a force in whatever "anti-Catholic apologetics" is anyway. I'm a Reformed Baptist elder, professor, and apologist, and I'm quite fine staying busy, and active, in that realm.

This would be good if it were true. Unfortunately, this hasn't proved true, because he continues offering opinions in areas that he lacks competence. If he would stick to being a "Reformed Baptist elder, professor, and apologist," rather than opining on Catholic theology and patrology, about which he knows nothing, then everything would be fine. Frankly, if he can't build up his own case without trashing Catholicism, then he doesn't have one.

But while he is big on repeating how much of a dullard I am, I found it ironic that he would make the following statement:

Third, White actually called Athanasius a "true Protestant," following (if I recall correctly) a characterization by one of his students, and so White must surely at least argue that Athanasius must have believed what is essential to being a Protestant. Now, how good a reader is Prejean?

How careful is he? Let's find out. Here is the context from the original article. Note what it is actually saying:

During the course of the decades following Nicea, Athanasius, who had become bishop of Alexandria shortly after the council, was removed from his see five times, once by force of 5,000 soldiers coming in the front door while he escaped out the back! Hosius, now nearly 100 years old, was likewise forced by imperial threats to compromise and give place to Arian ideas. At the end of the sixth decade of the century, it looked as if Nicea would be defeated. Jerome would later describe this moment in history as the time when "the whole world groaned and was astonished to find itself Arian."24 Yet, in the midst of this darkness, a lone voice remained strong. Arguing from Scripture, fearlessly reproaching error, writing from refuge in the desert, along the Nile, or in the crowded suburbs around Alexandria, Athanasius continued the fight. His unwillingness to give place---even when banished by the Emperor, disfellowshipped by the established church, and condemned by local councils and bishops alike---gave rise to the phrase, Athanasius contra mundum: "Athanasius against the world." Convinced that Scripture is "sufficient above all things,"25 Athanasius acted as a true "Protestant" in his day.26 Athanasius protested against the consensus opinion of the established church, and did so because he was compelled by scriptural authority. Athanasius would have understood, on some of those long, lonely days of exile, what Wycliffe meant a thousand years later: "If we had a hundred popes, and if all the friars were cardinals, to the law of the gospel we should bow, more than all this multitude."27 Movements that depend on political favor (rather than God's truth) eventually die, and this was true of Arianism. As soon as it looked as if the Arians had consolidated their hold on the Empire, they turned to internal fighting and quite literally destroyed each other. They had no one like a faithful Athanasius, and it was not long before the tide turned against them. By A.D. 381, the Council of Constantinople could meet and reaffirm, without hesitancy, the Nicene faith, complete with the homoousious clause. The full deity of Christ was affirmed, not because Nicea had said so, but because God had revealed it to be so. Nicea's authority rested upon the solid foundation of Scripture. A century after Nicea, we find the great bishop of Hippo, Augustine, writing to Maximin, an Arian, and saying: "I must not press the authority of Nicea against you, nor you that of Ariminum against me; I do not acknowledge the one, as you do not the other; but let us come to ground that is common to both---the testimony of the Holy Scriptures."28

24Jerome, Adversus Luciferianos, 19, Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, Series II, 6:329. 25Athanasius, De Synodis, 6, Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, Series II, 4:453. 26I credit one of my students, Michael Porter, with this phraseology. 27Robert Vaughn, The Life and Opinions of John de Wycliffe (London: Holdworth and Ball, 1831), 313. See 312-17 for a summary of Wycliffe's doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture. 28Augustine, To Maximim the Arian, as cited by George Salmon, The Infallibility of the Church (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1959), 295

Now, please note what I was actually addressing. I was speaking of a fact that many do not understand today: Nicea had to fight for its teachings. The idea of "ecumenical councils" as understood by Rome today did not exist in that context. Nicea had to fight against Ariminum, Seleucia, and Sirmium. And for a number of years, things did not look good. Athanasius was banned and condemned by the vast majority of the existing church for lengthy periods of time. And it is just here that "Athanasius against the world" comes into view. Is that what Rome teaches its people today? To stand against the entire hierarchy of the established church for years, even decades, all because you are convinced that the Scriptures support you? Anyone with the slightest knowledge of Roman doctrine, practice, and history, knows otherwise.

Actually, anyone with the slightest knowledge of Roman doctrine, practice, and history knows that this is EXACTLY what Rome teaches, and this is EXACTLY what I was pointing out with respect to White. In defense of the rule of faith, you can stand up to the entire hierarchy of the established church for years, even decades, but not merely because you are convinced that the Scriptures support you, but because you are convinced that the Scriptures interpreted according to the rule of faith support you. White is asserting that there is some sort of essential difference between Protestants and Catholics, and that St. Athanasius is on the Protestant side of the divide. Thus, to claim that St. Athanasius is a "true" Protestant, he must have the characteristic White is asserting to be essential. The characteristic White is asserting to be essential to Protestantism is that one follows sola scriptura in resisting authority, but that wasn't what Athanasius did! What he did, as Fr. Barbour pointed out, was that he interpreted the Scriptures according to the rule of faith, which means that he did not consider the Scriptures themselves the rule of faith. This is so well-established historically that no serious scholar would even dream of asserting that Athanasius held the Scriptures themselves to be the rule of faith to the exclusion of the faith of the Church.

But note that aside from ignoring context, Prejean is not even accurate in his representation. The offensive phrase is, "Convinced that Scripture is 'sufficient above all things,' Athanasius acted as a true 'Protestant' in his day. Athanasius protested against the consensus opinion of the established church, and did so because he was compelled by scriptural authority." Notice that I put "Protestant" in quotes. It is an anachronistic term.

Yes, but that "anachronistic term" is being identified with "protest[ing] against the consensus opinion of the established church ... because he was compelled by scriptural authority," and that itself is the claim that is ridiculous, at least if "compelled by scriptural authority" is to be given some meaning that distinguished Protestant from Catholic. If the claim is that Athanasius was, in the face of unanimous Church authority, saying "Here I stand, I can do no other," then THAT CLAIM is ridiculous. That's what White doesn't seem to grasp. The very idea that Athanasius was rebelling against the rule of faith of the Church based on Scripture that White absurdly infers from Athanasius resisting the hierarchy is absurd. Catholics throughout history have rebelled against the hiearchy numerous times, but they have never rebelled against the hierarchy when the hierarchy reflects the formal rule of faith. That was the innovation of Tyndale, Wycliff, and Luther: to say that they could invent their own rule of faith and assert it against the faith of the Church based on Scripture. White may be claiming that the general term "Protestant" is anachronistic, but my point is that it is anachronistic (indeed absurdly so) in exactly the sense that he is saying it truly applies!

I was clearly, in context, referring solely to his insistence upon standing on Scripture even against the condemnations of councils and bishops. Prejean does not even seem to have bothered to read the original article! Or, if he has, he has dishonestly misrepresented it.

On the contrary, I am saying that it is ridiculous to call that very thing Protestant! White is the one who is not reading, because he is so bigoted that he actually thinks that Catholics are just mindless sheep who cannot resist the hierarchy when they err, even though historically, Catholics have done just that. Absent White's distorted and ridiculous view of Catholic intellectual freedom, what Athanasius did looks perfectly Catholic! I am not misrepresenting anything; I am saying that White's assertion "standing on Scripture even against the condemnations of councils and bishops" is Protestant is absolutely ridiculous. Only someone who didn't know the history of Nicaea, the Catholic Church, AND Protestantism would say that. This sounds like the ridiculously anachronistic conspiracy theories of Leonard Verduin, not serious history.

Note he writes, "White actually called Athanasius a 'true Protestant,' following (if I recall correctly) a characterization by one of his students, and so White must surely at least argue that Athanasius must have believed what is essential to being a Protestant." I said Athanasius acted as a true "Protestant" with reference to his refusal to give in to ecclesiastical censure and condemnation. Prejean does not even have a clue what I was actually talking about! But, facts not withstanding, he's certain I'm washed up anyway.

If you think that Catholics can't refuse to give in to ecclesiastical censure and condemnation, then you certainly aren't dealing with reality.

Well, once again, the bankruptcy of this entire spectrum of RC apologists has been seen and documented. Notice again how one side can cite references and provide links to both sides of the conversation, but, one side cannot.

I linked both articles, as did Dave Armstrong, so evidently, lying about the other side is acceptable in White's apologetics.

One side invites the other to call and prove their point, the other banishes people and removes links from web posts. I cannot help but think of the Index Prohibitorum of old, and express my thanks that we live in a day when Rome does not determine who gets to speak and what they get to say.

Apparently, White's side doesn't even have to prove its point. Rather, it can simply resort to bigoted stereotypes as if they reflected the truth of the matter, and that is adequate justification. Unfortunately, I didn't get my bishop's approval for this message, and since White's stereotypes are reality, I guess that means I didn't publish it or that I am now in rebellion! This is what happens when you confuse conspiracy theories with reality. It reminds me of White's completely looney-tune post on the Secret Vatican Archives, as if the guards at the library were trying to hide the truth from the public. It's proof; being indoctrinated in hatred of people's views rots your brain.

P.S., One more thing: EVERYBODY knows that Athanasius contra mundum and the world "groaning to find itself Arian" aren't literally true. White seems to have this bizarre idea that Athanasius was literally the only orthodox bishops and that all other bishops were against him. That was never actually the case; there were always a significant number of bishops (and the majority of the laity to boot) that resisted the authority of the heretical Arian bishops being imposed on them. And as Catholics, they had ever right to do so.

34 Comments:

At 6:16 AM, Blogger Acolyte4236 said...

First, It seems strange to me that White is making a lot of hay about Hanson. if you read his article in the CRI Journal, he seems unaware of it, even ten years after its printing. He uses Schaff instead. This makes me doubt that he is as up on contemporary scholarship. Hanson's work is huge-about 800 pages and is a standard work since the late 80's. I don't know he missed it or would use Schaff instead.

2nd even if everyting he said were correct re Sylvester, his view of bishops at the time is still wrong. One has only to read various writers starting from Hippolytus onward to know that at least by Nicea sacerdotalism was firmly in place.

3rd. As for Sirmium et al, it is funny that White references them, when Hanson makes it quite clear why Athanasius and others would, could and did reject such councils on procedural grounds along with their theological critique. While the number of bp was high, a number of the major sees were not present.

And even if Rome is wrong, it doesn't prove Protestantism, much less the tiny sliver of Reformed Baptists correct. One can easily give an Orthodox read of the events with Sylvester, Athanasius, etc. So it is just plain false that one would identify the actions of Athanasius more with Protestantism if one can't do it with Catholicism. I don't know if it is White's ignorance at work or something else, but this is a manifestation of a false bifurcation.

Athanasius is no Protestant for I have never heard of a Protestant recommending using the Creed as a rule of faith to interpret the Bible, claiming Apostolic Succession or using the Wisdom of Sirach as inspired Scripture.

White is still primarily relying on 19th century works and seems oblivious to te state of church polity and sacramentalism in the 4th century, regardless of how he thinks those structures and ideas came about.

 
At 8:58 AM, Blogger CrimsonCatholic said...

Ad (1), I was convinced that he was bluffing when I saw Meyendorff's Byzantine Theology on his bookshelf after his discussion with me betrayed that he hadn't read it or understood it. That, and the fact than in a debate that he was using RPC Hanson as a source to demonstrate that the ministerial priesthood was not present in the Biblical Church. He evidently didn't notice or didn't understand that Hanson felt compelled to deny the authenticity of Matt. 16 to make his case, because he viewed that passage as so clearly supportive of the ministerial priesthood. Evidently, White finds it permissible to support denials of inerrancy, so long as the opponent is Catholic/Orthodox. "Doubt" is not strong enough. I KNOW he isn't up on contemporary scholarship.

Ad (2), exactly. The Sylvester issue is entirely a side issue.

Ad (3), please stop your unfair attacks on White. The fact that someone says something outrageous and blatantly contrary to the facts should never be pointed out.

Ad (4), Fr. Barbour mentioned the Orthodox as well, so if White is ignorant of the problem, it's because he didn't read the article that he was allegedly answering.

Your last two paragraphs are exactly why Fr. Barbour considered White's article so laughable.

 
At 10:45 AM, Blogger Acolyte4236 said...

Well now he is side stepping the matter by whininng that if it is so easy why didn't others do it. Maybe because no one wanted to write for that lousy journal? Maybe because there already was plenty of basic material out? I can think of a lot of other reasons. And even if not, it still doesn't excuse his glarring mistakes.

 
At 10:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Having read Jonathan's exchanges with Ken Temple, it's obvious that Jonathan's thinking in this area is well beyond and goes into much more depth than the average Christian or Catholic ever even contemplates.


I think that's where Prejean (granted, it's quite a noggin' he's got there!) fails.

Perhaps the James White perceived the fact that Prejean's knowledge is above the heads of regular folks; thus, he resorted to tactics that the mob typically responds well to such as those which he, in fact, utilized on this show.

For example, he took advantage of anything that can be mis-represented as weakness (such as the so-called 'stuttering' of Prejean) and tried to guide the minds of his audience according to the perception he wanted them to have of Prejean, regardless of whether it was true or not.

I think Prejean might want to beat White at his own game; not necessarily resorting to such low-life scum tactics, but try to relate to the audience by not 'overthinking' things and providing information at their most basic level.

The heavy stuff can come later (e.g., on blogs, or other forums where there is an actual opportunity to elaborate).

Like they say: "Know Your Audience"
e. of ja.o | 03.29.07 - 1:30 pm |

 
At 11:54 AM, Blogger Acolyte4236 said...

The latest defence amounts to, "Don't criticise me for producing crap if you aren't going to produce scholarly works yourselves. Besides, you'd have to produce scholarly works to know what crap is."

Uh, no, don't think so.

 
At 3:54 PM, Blogger CrimsonCatholic said...

I really wish I had time to call in right now. Esau, I'll try to explain the strategy in calling his program, but just to give a basic idea, I have to give people at least credit for knowing that one can't possibly win any sort of substantive point under those sorts of conditions. The point is essentially to demonstrate (1) that I'm not intimidated and (2) that White has considerably less knowledge on the subject than I do.

 
At 5:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jonathan:

I can see where you were coming from even from my first hearing of the audio.

The problem is that for those folks in the audience not perceptive enough to catch on to this, they can easily be led by the tricks that White resorted to in his program, if unaware that these were actually tricks to begin with.

It kind of reminded of the time Fr. Pacwa was on that one Protestant show way back when.

Those tactics are what folks devoid of any real substantive argument resort to when confronted with somebody whose knowledge and reasoning are beyond their own.

Instead of playing the game they're sure to lose, they end up doing the alternative (the only sound contigency in terms of game theory for them) which is catering to the mob, if you will, rather than actually engage in the debate itself since, to them, the only game they can actually win is over the ignorant and, of course, the lackeys.

This way, they still win in the end.

If anything, they make you look foolish (at least, to those in the audience that would actually feed on this absurd group mentality rather than sound logic) as well as gain further admiration and support from such folks.

 
At 6:29 PM, Blogger CrimsonCatholic said...

Those tactics are what folks devoid of any real substantive argument resort to when confronted with somebody whose knowledge and reasoning are beyond their own.

Exactly. It's the same thing you see from lawyers with no argument. They figure that if they obfuscate the issue sufficiently, they'll have a chance of winning when they oughtn't. But it's just like the courtroom. I think non-lawyers are often surprised at how rarely these tactics work and how often they backfire. You only hear about the freakishly bad examples, but not the 90+% of the cases in which the judge and jury gets the answer right despite the use of such tactics. Based on my experience, I just don't believe that people ordinarily fall for this stuff. It happens, but there is generally some psychological or emotional bias there already. Let's not forget that a lot of these people are just rationalizing bigotry; they just don't like Catholics, and they will find some way to excuse their evil dispositions toward us.

Instead of playing the game they're sure to lose, they end up doing the alternative (the only sound contigency in terms of game theory for them) which is catering to the mob, if you will, rather than actually engage in the debate itself since, to them, the only game they can actually win is over the ignorant and, of course, the lackeys.

This way, they still win in the end.


You just don't have enough faith in people. It's inevitable that the dumbest people are the loudest, but the silent majority has much more common sense than that. If we run on game theory, it's probably nine times out of ten that people get the answer right just on a general perception of the justice and the reality of the situation, even if they don't understand the technicalities. That's not to say that I consider it anything less than reprehensible to trade on ignorance and deception, but the fact is that it won't pay off even if they do it.

If anything, they make you look foolish (at least, to those in the audience that would actually feed on this absurd group mentality rather than sound logic) as well as gain further admiration and support from such folks.

Looking foolish to the wicked is a job hazard of spreading the Gospel. You've just got to have faith in the Word. For those with ears to hear, it really does work. Have some faith that you are reaching those who can be reached. They are out there.

 
At 7:10 PM, Blogger CrimsonCatholic said...

Well now he is side stepping the matter by whininng that if it is so easy why didn't others do it.
...
The latest defence amounts to, "Don't criticise me for producing crap if you aren't going to produce scholarly works yourselves. Besides, you'd have to produce scholarly works to know what crap is."


Our point is exactly the opposite of what White thinks it is: we are saying that it is HARD to write a good article, and that people who can't do the necessary work don't need to be writing articles at all. By contrast, it is easy to write a BAD article. Anyone who has had to read college papers knows how little effort it takes to produce bad work. What's hard is writing a GOOD one that is a valuable and worthwhile addition to the knowledge on the subject. The entire point of Fr. Barbour's diatribe was that White should have done what it takes to write a good article. Even if it's just popularizing for the layperson, it should meet basic standards of quality and accuracy. White couldn't even manage that, and ironically, Fr. Barbour's article, which was almost exactly the same length, was a perfect example of what a good popular-level article should be.

Regarding Catholic responses to the Jesus Tomb story, that's another example of laughable scholarship, so the most common Catholic response has been to laugh it off. Jimmy Akin gives several reasons why no one should believe it, as did Amy Welborn, debunker of the Da Vinci Code, here and here. I don't know what more needs to be said, although I do appreciate Ben Witherington's work at the forefront of collecting all this information, which made it a lot easier for the rest of us to disseminate.

As far as the pseudo-scientific use of mitochondrial DNA, unless people are simply dazzled by the use of scientific terminology (and alas, many are), a cursory survey of evolutionary studies of mDNA would have cleared the matter up (the original "Eve" article is here. Of course, if you weren't taught evolutionary biology, you might not learn the science, but that's just a commentary on the woeful state of scientific education generally. At any rate, I certainly endorse better science education so that people don't get sucked in by these deceptions as a general matter, but as usual, I presume that people aren't THAT gullible that they need to have their hand held every time the latest pseudo-science comes up.

 
At 7:17 AM, Blogger Acolyte4236 said...

Well, I think the appropriate answer to the Lost Tomb stuff is either,

1. Its good that JW did write something. I suppose someone has to do that kind of "work."

2. Mockery is a better answer, as Ireneaus did. Its the same Gnostic myth spinning to undermine belief that they engaged in. By taking them seriously, JW is simply engaging them on their own playing field.

As for his clamoring that you haven't published etc. I wouldn't exactly brag about Bethany House. It amazes me that none of his toadies ever wonder why he publishes with the same publisher who puts out Dave Hunt's garbage. I wouldn't brag about being appointed to Golden Gate Seminary or being published by the Reformed Baptist Theological Review either.

This is not to say that White is stupid. He has all of the qualities of being self taught, including the bad ones. He'd be a bit more gracious, humble and wouldn't need to win every argument and respond to every personal remark if he were academically acountable to someone...anyone.

And I certainly wouldn't brag about his seminary background. The dude never did a defense for his "dissertation." When I did my MA Thesis, committee's drove my nuts. They drove every grad student nuts. Everything had to be perfect. I mean EVERYTHING and PERFECT.

To pick off his toadies, a better covert strategy is just to have them read better Reformed material. Eventually they'll notice the difference in quality.

Btw, he was saying all kinds of wonderful things about you last night on his irc channel.

 
At 9:29 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

(Jonathan -- I didn't know quite where I could catch you, so please forgive the redundancy in my post below, but I just wanted to share with you a perspective that many, if not, some of the audience might have had concerning your brush with White. I just offer it for what it is -- not really to put you down but, on the contrary, to make you even better than you already are right now.)


Although I have a great appreciation for the intellectual elements in your argument (as well as in your approach as well), but what Slowboy says here:

"Prejean was too "intellectual". I doubt anyone understood what he meant by, " participation in the hypostatic union" White pounded his bible and made Prejean look stupid. I see why he likes oral arguments."

is one of the things I was driving at in my post regarding "knowing your audience".

When during my time at a Protestant church, the only thing we ever cared about was what the Bible said and not what Rome said (or had to say) or any of the rubbish concerning "hypostatic union" and what not, which would not only strike the nominal bible-believing Protestant as something alien but, not to mention, insignificant.

"Hypostatic union" as well as any other Catholic terms would simply be dismissed as another invention by Rome.

White capitalized on what his typical audience would more likely feed on and respond more positively to, and that would be promoting the message of Sola Scriptura and that it's the Bible that matters and not anything Rome has to say.

As I mentioned previously, he resorted to tactics in the trade and used what he could in terms of what he observed from his opponent, such as your voice pattern and other such behavourial particulars that he could misrepresent as weakness, even if this may not even have been the case.

All in all, he attempted to present a (mis-)perception of "Prejean" as a stuttering incompetent who really didn't know what he was talking about, couldn't answer the most basic questions as put forth by White, and actually did not care at all what the Bible (the heart of their most cherished beliefs) had to say, but even further, would go as far as to promote a history based on what Rome's interpretation and not based on actual history (as per White).

So, all in all, although you may have had such an intellectual approach in engaging White, this, however, may have been lost on the audience.

e. | 03.30.07 - 12:27 pm |

 
At 10:49 AM, Blogger Joseph said...

Jonathan,

I just listened to his audio clip of your phone conversation from august and almost pissed myself. The guy needs a laxative real bad.

I have come to the conclusion that you cannot honestly debate a protestant on anything at all until that person first abandons sola scriptura. Using the term "biblical" as used by protestants is completely question begging. They have no way of proving sola scriptura from Scripture, so they end up launching their whole defense of anything on a self-refuting foundation. The charge of "sophist" to you is ironic at best. Have a blessed Holy Week.

Joseph

 
At 11:37 AM, Blogger Dave Armstrong said...

Well, I think the appropriate answer to the Lost Tomb stuff is either,

1. Its good that JW did write something. I suppose someone has to do that kind of "work."

2. Mockery is a better answer, as Ireneaus did. Its the same Gnostic myth spinning to undermine belief that they engaged in. By taking them seriously, JW is simply engaging them on their own playing field.


I actually think both responses are needed (it's just like how anti-Catholics ought to be approached).

#1 is necessary for the gullible and folks whose faith is so weak that it can actually be harmed or threatened by this tomb nonsense. In that sense I would actually direct people to JW's stuff on this because it is something on a popular level to counter the idiocies of the skeptics. When white gets off the subject of Catholicism he is actually capable of some educational, helpful apologetics. He's not stupid; he is simply subject to the usual false premises and bias of anti-Catholicism.

#2 is more appropriate for those who have any acquaintance with apologetics and archaeology, etc. (which is, we must remember, always a small minority in any case). This stuff is so ridiculous and incredible that it is quite appropriate to laugh it off.

But both responses are necessary because the audience out there reading and taking in this hogwash is not monolithic. The same exact dynamic applies to our response to anti-Catholics. It accounts for my own radially-mixed feelings as to whether to respond to people like White.

If I were just writing for myself, I wouldn't have given him the time of day or read a word of his stuff since his nuclear blast against me in a snail mail letter in 1995.

But as an apologist (and this would apply to anyone writing apologetics at all), I don't just write for myself. I am trying to help the weak in faith have more confidence and intellectual justification for their beliefs. It's not about me or White or Jonathan or personality clashes or the pride of winning a debate; it's about truth: Christian truth.

Paul would say "I have become all things to all people." Or to put it in more common terms: "different strokes for different folks."

 
At 11:45 AM, Blogger Dave Armstrong said...

I should clarify that I don't think apologetics is only for the "weak in faith." One could have a quite strong faith, but we all still need to harmonize faith and reason. That is the bottom line of the function of apologetics.

It applies more so in a practical sense to one who is weak in faith, because apologetics strengthens faith, but not only to them.

In this instance, if people are unacquainted with the general evidences of biblical archaeology, then it is good for them to read such a refutation, so that they are not led astray by the opportunistic, irrational skepticism.

 
At 2:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's not about me or White or Jonathan or personality clashes or the pride of winning a debate; it's about truth: Christian truth.


Dave:

It shouldn't ever be about 'winning' the debate; but evangelization and getting people to learn (and perhaps later accept) the "Fullness of the (Christian) Faith".

e.

 
At 3:15 PM, Blogger Dave Armstrong said...

I think White has made a good point, that is consistent with the same one I made above:

"This is a very common means of responding to the Talpiot Theory. I call it the Ostrich Defense. Just stick your head in the sand and laugh about how "silly" the argument is. . . . It surely does not help those who are confused by such attacks, and it does not help the saints to grow in grace and knowledge. You do not become deeply rooted in truth with your head stuck in the sand.

"Let's say the scholarship in The Lost Tomb of Jesus is laughable. So what? Do you respond to laughable scholarship with...laughter? Or do you respond with sober, sound examination that demonstrates the inconsistencies of the argumentation? The Ostrich Defense has led to the situation we face in education today. We raise our children in the church, send them off to the local college or university, and there they find themselves unarmed and ill prepared to deal with the gun-slinging professor of philosophy and world religions who has The Lost Tomb of Jesus on constant reruns in his classroom and whose bookshelf is filled with the works of John Shelby Spong and The Jesus Seminar. Many find Mormonism as a religion laughable, too. That does not mean you do not prepare yourself to give a reasoned response to their claims."

http://www.aomin.org/index.php?itemid=1886

He's right. I agree completely. That's why I have commended him for this work and would even recommend it to others, despite the fact that he continues to mock and insult me.

 
At 8:38 PM, Blogger CrimsonCatholic said...

#1 is necessary for the gullible and folks whose faith is so weak that it can actually be harmed or threatened by this tomb nonsense. In that sense I would actually direct people to JW's stuff on this because it is something on a popular level to counter the idiocies of the skeptics.

I concur. If he's willing to do the work to come up with a quality rebuttal, then there is no reason not to do so.

At the same time, I don't think the rebuke by more serious students in the form of ridicule lacks value. And Aristotle emphasizes that at times, it can even be immoral to answer someone on his own terms. This is the case, for example, where someone breaches the standards of rational argument, because it would give the impression that the position actually deserved an answer. It's a fine line, of course, but sometimes one ought not answer an opponent in order to avoid lending legitimacy to his position, particularly when one is in a position of authority.

I do disagree quite strongly with one point White raised:
The Ostrich Defense has led to the situation we face in education today. We raise our children in the church, send them off to the local college or university, and there they find themselves unarmed and ill prepared to deal with the gun-slinging professor of philosophy and world religions who has The Lost Tomb of Jesus on constant reruns in his classroom and whose bookshelf is filled with the works of John Shelby Spong and The Jesus Seminar.

I think White has identified exactly the OPPOSITE of the problem, which is that people today are taught to rely on others rather than doing the work themselves, which encourages demagoguery. The reason they are, by and large, unarmed is that they have always had their parents, their pastors, their teachers, or whoever else spoon-feeding them answers that they can't handle it. Moreover, because they are in the habit of simply trusting what people say, they believe too easily what people say to them. The only way people really get knowledge is to get into the library, crack some books, and do their own research. That's the only thing that lets you develop judgment about when you CAN laugh. I recognize that not everyone is going to be at that level, which is why people might take seriously things that they probably shouldn't. But the goal is to teach them to develop their own judgment, and the only way to do that ultimately to do the work themselves. I can't help but think that White actually wants to encourage dependence on him, which is natural for a demagogue, but I want people to think for themselves.

 
At 10:29 PM, Blogger Dave Armstrong said...

Very true; however, you still can't rule out the reality that some people will be more studied up on certain things than others.

Apologists devote themselves to defense of the faith. The very fact that they are apologists (the full-time types) demonstrates my point here: they are specializing in apologetics in order to provide a service to those who don't do that.

They put in the hours, devoting themselves to the task, so that others can (hopefully) get some benefit without having to do all that laborious research themselves.

It becomes a matter of time management. Does everyone have time to do their own research on every single topic that comes up? Of course not.

Hence the need for experts in various areas who do the specific grunt work and research, and then others can go to them as a resource. That's not a pass on developing one's own judgments, but a function of intellectual compartmentalization that is necessary. Not everyone can do everything. Why should they?

Of course, then the issue becomes how to use one's critical judgment to know what expert to turn to. I'm saying that if the topic is Catholicism, White is the wrong choice for anyone, because of his hostility and ignorance and refusal to be corrected in his errors.

But on the empty tomb stuff, everything I've seen so far from his blog posts shows me that he is on the side of the angels, and that his book is probably a decent (though hyper-rushed) lay-level treatment.

 
At 5:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jonathan Prejean,

Your 8:38 comment is the kind of "insightful thinking" that I have come to know of you!

If only more folks were similar in this regard, perhaps the world would be quite different and more sophisticated in both their thinking and judgment, given some of the idiocy that has become part of the norm of society these days and the overwhelming ignorance that sweeps the populace.

God bless you and, please, keep up the great work!

e.

 
At 11:31 PM, Blogger CrimsonCatholic said...

Thanks, e.

I can't really disagree with anything that Dave said, and I personally don't have any objection to writing a book to address the Jesus Tomb. I'm simply saying that there are many good reasons why one might not even feel the need to do so, one of them being that the critically trained mind would not find them convincing even prima facie. Thus, if one is concerned with primarily what the critically trained mind will find persuasive, then one might well laugh it off as an indication that this is not worth the time of those who share this primary concern. That certainly isn't a case of "ostrich mentality," because an exhaustive refutation could be written with sufficient time and effort, but the time in writing such a refutation would be wasted for the critically minded audience. The message to other like-minded individuals is more or less "Don't bother, because we as a scholarly community don't need it, and there are better uses of your time." That's not to say that it couldn't be a useful pedagogical example, but in terms of there being an actual need, in the sense of an objective need that requires additional research and synthesis beyond what is ordinarily available to someone motivated to dig out the truth of the matter, there isn't one.

In most such cases, it simply suffices to point out that the person making the outrageous claim has not given adequate support for the claim and to indicate the existence of scholarly opinion to the contrary. If someone is inclined to dig further, you have at least let them know that there is something out there to find. It's nice to have it all pieced together in an easily digestible form. But it's important to remember that even in that case, unless a reader actually follows up all the footnotes and does the reading himself, he is still just taking someone else's word for it. And if he is going to take someone else's word for doing the work, then it is really no worse for him to simply take the person's word that it isn't a problem in the first place. In either case, the reader is really taking a claim on authority, and it doesn't much matter whether the authority claim is based on the person reading a bunch of footnotes he will never actually check or whether it's simply the acceptance of someone's expert opinion blindly.

What really matters is that people ought to be discerning about the sources on which they rely. One good proxy for that reliability is success within the discipline of a scholarly community. In that respect, I completely disagree with White's work having much value, as he has more or less compromised whatever realibility he might have as a popularizer of scholarship by his mishandling of Catholic and patristic scholarship. If he can't even handle these subjects with honesty and competence, why would I trust him to get others right? I suppose one could make the argument that he has demonstrated himself competent in these other areas and that he has a form of "topical insanity" with respect to Catholicism. But frankly, I find that many of his arguments against Mormons or Muslims suffer from the same analytical deficiencies, and even if he is on the right side, he isn't presenting good arguments for being so. My criticism of White, like Perry's, goes to his capacity for critical thinking generally, and while a popularizer need not himself be a scholar, he does have to cultivate sufficient proficiency in critical thinking to allow him to follow arguments and to accurately report the scholarly opinion. That tends to make everything he writes questionable, even general apologetics, because he is so untrustworthy that you can't tell when he is and isn't accurately reporting what his sources say.

Incidentally, I would also point out that it isn't a good idea to attempt to resolve at the popular level issues of legitimate scholarly dispute; the popular level should not attempt to offer answers where there is not real and definite knowledge. And part of the concern in what I have laid out above is in identifying where there is and is not real scholarly dispute. To laugh something off essentially requires that there be no real scholarly dispute on the falsity of the thesis. That is legitimately the case with the Jesus Tomb or with Athanasius believing sola scriptura, so there is no question of it being an "ostrich defense" to simply report that no scholar takes the outrageous thesis seriously. I think that has been a cause of several unfortunate disputes within the Catholic community, as people have too quickly jumped to the conclusion that the other side's position is entirely untenable without sufficient examination. In that respect, White is correct; you shouldn't laugh something off unless it really is ridiculous. But on the other hand, if a position really does have legs, then it should have support in the scholarly community as well, so it should always be legitimate to ask "What qualified scholars in the area have reached the same conclusion as you?" If you can't find even one expert who agrees with your thesis in its entirety, then your position probably is ridiculous.

 
At 10:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sure, Jonathan -- and it is certainly well-deserved!


About your latest comments here:

"If he can't even handle these subjects with honesty and competence, why would I trust him to get others right?"

"That tends to make everything he writes questionable, even general apologetics, because he is so untrustworthy that you can't tell when he is and isn't accurately reporting what his sources say."


This is exactly why I am rather skeptical and, actually, bewildered why Dave would actually go as far as advocating one of his works.

If White can't be honest and competent in one area, what of the others he has engaged in?

 
At 1:04 PM, Blogger Dave Armstrong said...

This is exactly why I am rather skeptical and, actually, bewildered why Dave would actually go as far as advocating one of his works.

If White can't be honest and competent in one area, what of the others he has engaged in?


Well, there are different levels to this. You see that Jonathan pretty much agreed with what I wrote. It depends on goals and target audiences, and those can differ.

Apologetics is not about writing to other academics and all the "smart" people (and White is right about this; he is about as far from being an elitist as he can be, and that's good). It is about teaching the masses and helping them to incorporate reason into their religious belief-system and their faith.

I think the second paragraph above is, technically, a fallacy. Sure, if someone is grossly incompetent such that their research is persistently shown to be atrocious (with basic errors), then one could reasonably assume these poor skills would carry over to anything else.

With anti-Catholics, however, I've often noticed that they can be terrible when examining the Church, but quite rational and sensible in other areas. R.C. Sproul comes immediately to mind as one clear example.

Steve Hays' reasoning is filled with fallacies in dealing with Catholicism, but when I see him writing against atheists, he is
very sharp and effective (aside from incessant smart-ass tendencies).

The reason for this is the emotional hostility, the sad history of Catholic-Protestant conflict (including notions of "traitor" and "apostasy" and so forth, that don't help things), and the presence of false premises. As with most things in life, the causation is complex.

I don't see why an intelligent man like White can't do good work refuting the cults or the liberals or the homosexual activists. Truth is truth wherever it is found. Vatican II stresses this a great deal. We can "side with" White when he tells the truth because he is doing a good thing, and we ought to rejoice wherever truth is being promoted.

I don't see the purpose of demonizing people as idiots and incompetent stooges who can't do any good thing at all, even if they are doing that to us (White certainly does that to me, as do many anti-Catholics, and increasingly so with Jonathan now, too). Why should we sink to that low level? It's wrong, and there is no need to do it anyway.

I think it's a great discussion to have. My own views flow from my ecumenism and desire to extend charity to all, even my stated bitter enemies, and to see the good things that they do, and try to better understand why they spread falsehoods as well (in all sincerity). Truth is truth.

 
At 1:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't see the purpose of demonizing people as idiots and incompetent stooges who can't do any good thing at all, even if they are doing that to us (White certainly does that to me, as do many anti-Catholics, and increasingly so with Jonathan now, too). Why should we sink to that low level? It's wrong, and there is no need to do it anyway.

I don't believe I was actually demonizing White or even calling him an idiot by my asking:

"If White can't be honest and competent in one area, what of the others he has engaged in?"

I believe demonizing and idiot were your words which you were attempting to put in my mouth, and not actually mine.

What I was saying was actually in line with what Jonathan rightly mentioned:

"If he can't even handle these subjects with honesty and competence, why would I trust him to get others right?"

"That tends to make everything he writes questionable, even general apologetics, because he is so untrustworthy that you can't tell when he is and isn't accurately reporting what his sources say."

 
At 4:57 PM, Anonymous SLowboy said...

Sorry to go a little OT here but can you point me to an explanation of,
"That's because the Incarnation is not a unique event in terms of being isolated from universal applications"

If I didn't trust the source my BS meter would be jumping pretty high here.

 
At 5:08 PM, Blogger Dave Armstrong said...

I didn't mean to imply that you or Jonathan were "demonizing people as idiots and incompetent stooges". I was referring (in context and by intent) to White's tactics and that of many anti-Catholics.

I also contended (poorly, as it turned out) that we sort of start going down that same road if we dismiss everything a man does because he does a lousy job examining Catholicism.

That reminds me too much of what I myself am constantly subjected to by the anti-Catholics. They can't stand it when I critique their nonsense, and so they pretend that I do NOTHING of any worth, even if it is defending the Holy Trinity, or biblical inspiration, or the Resurrection, or opposing Arians and Mormons and liberals and sexual sin, abortion . . . anything and everything.

The way they do that is to collapse everything I do into idiocy, with various smear tactics and poisoning the well methods.

For this reason and others I don't like talk whereby someone like White is seen as having nothing good to offer, even if we substantially agree with what he is doing, as in the Empty Tomb business.

Jonathan wrote:

"If he can't even handle these subjects with honesty and competence, why would I trust him to get others right?"

Well, the premise here must be examined. Is White deliberately fudging facts and being dishonest? I don't believe so. I think he is sincere. He is not being dishonest, given the false premises he brings to the table vis-a-vis Catholicism.

He's simply operating consistently based on those erroneous premises, and so he comes to false conclusions, which the Catholic will tend to judge as his being "dishonest." But being mistaken or ignorant and being dishonest are two different things. I think he is a sophist, but even that is often only borderline dishonesty. It's an immensely complex psychological-intellectual matter.

I would, far sooner, attribute some of his arguments to stubbornness, pride, or intransigence, than to dishonesty. True, it is a fine line, but we all struggle with pride. It's only a matter of degree. We think our opinions are right, and think that we have arrived at them honestly, with proper consideration of the facts and reasons involved. White and anti-Catholics are no different.

We need not attribute dishonesty or nefarious motives to them. We don't have to go down that path. Jonathan seems to take a far lower view of White and anti-Catholics in general than I do. I understand how frustrating interactions with these guys can bring about negative statements of this type, but it is still not good to go too far in returning fire with fire.

I think the anti-Catholic view itself is intellectual suicide, so I am little different in that regard than Jonathan, but I also am extremely reluctant to make accusations having to do with dishonesty and basic competence. It's too easy to do, most often unwarranted, and only makes a very difficult task (trying to relate to and communicate with these guys) even more difficult.

White is not always trying to be a "scholar" in his apologetics, anymore than I am (even though he has a Masters' degree and claims to have a "doctorate"). He is writing popular-level stuff.

So it isn't quite fair to accuse him of not being a scholar in, say, the archaeological area (relating to his latest book) when he isn't claiming to be that, but rather, simply a Christian apologist defending Christianity against this silly and sensationalistic nonsense.

That's why he keeps coming back with, "hey, I'm writing against these guys who are running down the Christian faith. What are YOU doing with YOUR tie?" The insinuation is, of course, "even YOU guys agree with this, so why are you running me down for doing it?"

Of course he is not consistent because he doesn't recognize when we Catholics do general apologetics, too, but that is another issue. His hypocrisy can be endlessly documented, but even THAT doesn't necessarily prove dishonesty; only tunnel vision and a certain blindness caused by the severe bias against Catholics, etc., etc.

 
At 5:13 PM, Blogger Dave Armstrong said...

Typo alert:

"What are YOU doing with YOUR tie?"

tie = time.

 
At 6:10 PM, Blogger TJW said...

"Sorry to go a little OT here but can you point me to an explanation of,
"That's because the Incarnation is not a unique event in terms of being isolated from universal applications"

If I didn't trust the source my BS meter would be jumping pretty high here."


I think that this relates to White's question to Prejean about whether or not the incarnation was 'unique'. It is unique in the sense that it only occurred once. But it was not unique in the sense that it was closed off and isolated from all reality. In other words, the incarnation had consequences that went beyond it's own occurrence. It would be like someone adding a law of physics. We could say that the event (the creation of the new law) was unique in that it only happened once, but we wouldn't say it was unique in the sense of being isolated, because it would have permanently changed the fabric of reality in all space and time, for every person in the universe.

I got the impression that White was saying that the incarnation was unique, therefore we can discuss it as a powerful but isolated event that did not "rewrite all the rules". Prejean, on the other hand, appeared to be saying that while the incarnation was unique in history, it wasn't without non-unique consequences because it fundamentally changed the nature of all reality and thus everything, including scripture, must but be interpreted in a new way.

This is what I understood Prejean to mean, and if I am even slightly correct, then you can see how a "yes or no" answer would not have been sufficient.

 
At 10:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

tjw -- great and insightful explanation there!

The Incarnation did have ramifications as far as our universe is concerned, making it a significant part of our permanent reality (and salvation)!

I think Jonathan had a higher (more intellectual) view of the Incaranation whereas White's seems to be more simplistic in nature.

This can be a 'plus' for Jonathan as well as a 'minus' since he was unable to get such notions across to White (though, given the existing constraints at the time, it's no wonder) and, thus, may have failed to give an adequate exposition of his beliefs on the matter.

e.

 
At 3:54 PM, Blogger CrimsonCatholic said...

Thanks, tjw. You got the idea.

I agree with you in general, Dave, so we then need to think a bit more closely about when we can and can't rely on someone like White. Personally, I think he is only reliable on extremely basic notions of natural law, like abortion, homosexuality, and the existence of God at an extremely basic level, which are by their nature the most easily understood and the most straightforward to grasp from Scripture. But on practically any matter of revealed theology, he's off the range: Trinity, Incarnation, atonement, etc. I won't go so far as to say that he doesn't believe in Christ, but it's clear to me that he doesn't believe in Christ coherently. Since you yourself have pointed out implicit Nestorian tendencies in Protestantism, particularly regarding the concept of sin and atonement, you know what I mean. In those cases, the mistakes are so fundamental that I almost consider it necessary to break them down and start over. That's not to say that if a JW or Mormon were persuaded and baptized even for such imperfect reasons that it would be a bad thing, but we can't make that the normative guideline for what we do, and that's why I'd be reluctant to direct anyone to White for anything beyond basic matters of natural morality.

 
At 8:42 AM, Anonymous SLowboy said...

@TJW: thanks

 
At 11:39 AM, Blogger Photius said...

The "Incarnation is unique" stuff in the way that White is presenting it is a red-herring. Of course it is unique, but here's the real question: Does our consubstantial communion with Christ affect a change in us? Do we really now share in the divine power as a result of that unique event? If so, the person that is personally affected (every single person is naturally affected), through their personal co-operation, is courted a special honor, due to the perichoresis of divine and human by dent of the person. We don't give worship to the person, because "there was a time when he/she was naught," whereas Christ is an uncreated hypostasis. We become uncreated in every way that Christ is except by essence. Do we not rightly give honor to great deeds from even a secular stand-point, and yet we are told not to give honor to a person that has become God by grace (energeia)?

Why have the dietary laws now changed as a result of the Incarnation? Why was that which was considered unclean, now clean? Same reason. Not only is human nature recapitulated, but everything created.

This is all good and well, and I like the way you are presenting this, but then again, I'm curious of how this is all going to work together without the type of PERSON-NATURE relationship I've been advocating for some time and the use of "natural theology" and whichever medieval theology you wish to choose from.

Photios

 
At 8:24 PM, Blogger CrimsonCatholic said...

I'm curious of how this is all going to work together without the type of PERSON-NATURE relationship I've been advocating for some time and the use of "natural theology" and whichever medieval theology you wish to choose from.

I think that there are multiple coherent ways to articulate the same conceptual distinction; that's all there is to it. I think that the West did it one way, and the East did it another way. The heretics in the East, operating in the same philosophical framework, collapsed the distinction within that framework. The heretics in the West did the same in the West.

 
At 8:37 AM, Blogger Photius said...

"The heretics in the East, operating in the same philosophical framework, collapsed the distinction within that framework. The heretics in the West did the same in the West."

Agreed, but it is also my contention that the orthodox in the East and the orthodox in the West did it the same way, conceptually, albeit slightly different terminology, with the wild-card being only Augustine.

Another thing that is an incredible frustration: "Where did Nicea II deal with X terms in the Old Testament?" It is the purpose of the Council to form a theological mindset that is based on the exegetical and experiential theology. If he wants to know that question, you turn to the Nicene II theologians, who did deal with those biblical texts. John and Theodore are the most apparent.

Photios

 
At 1:30 PM, Blogger CrimsonCatholic said...

Agreed, but it is also my contention that the orthodox in the East and the orthodox in the West did it the same way, conceptually, albeit slightly different terminology, with the wild-card being only Augustine.

I would have liked to think so, because it certainly would have simplified things, but I don't think the history bears it out. Augustine just doesn't look like a "wild card," and lumping him in with the Neoplatonists doesn't seem to work historically. We know that there were two schools of thought in Milan, one of which was more philosophically minded (Simplicianus as contrasted with Ambrose), but both of which knew Christian Platonism from Eastern authors (we suspect primarily Origen, but I wonder whether Clement wasn't there as well). We know that the philosophically minded school was acutely conscious of the problem of Origenism, so much so that Augustine likely suppressed mention of his reading of Origen entirely in the Confessions, making reference only to the "books of the Platonists." It doesn't make sense, pace Gilson, that Augustine was simply trying to accommodate Christianity to his Platonic predilections, unaware of the grave danger that Platonism potentially posed. If anything, it looks like an attempt to deploy a Christianized philosophical framework against a pagan one, much like what was done in the East.

It's the source and pattern of that Christian philosophical framework in the West that appear to have been much ignored. It has all too easily been subsumed in the attempt to account for all of this as coming from the East. Neoplatonic beliefs? Must be from Origen or Plotinus. Hilary went East, so he must be an Easterner. The Semipelagian controversy must have been Christian East (John Cassian) versus pagan East, because that's the only place it could originate, right? I've seen a lot of that, but it doesn't seem like it holds up the more we learn about the intellectual history. The assumption has been that the West was ignorant of the issues faced in the East until some information leaked over to the West. But it looks to me like the East and West were dealing with issues in parallel, and whatever came from the East was simply incorporated into the Western discourse, rather than representing any sort of fundamental contribution to Western thought.

I suppose the short version is that I don't believe the contention either that the Westerners had a more or less Eastern mindset or that Augustine was a "wild card," as opposed to a relatively stable example of the Western view held more or less uniformly by all.

 

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