Thursday, August 09, 2007

From Jimmy Akin's combox re: James White

The post can be found here.

You seem to have missed the point as badly as White.

Not one word about the essence of Mr Whites point, which really was a simple one.
The point seems to be proven, namely that Beckwith all those years ago, and I will assume the man was reasonably intelligent even then, was unable to grasp what is so plainly stated in Trent, that even 20 years later, the man is able to draw such sharp contrasts to his previous reading of that material.
Listen folks, maybe you all have met these so called Protestants that would not know one end of a sentence to the next, but surely Beckwith was not one of them!

Then White failed to grasp the simple point that it isn't reading Trent but grasping the underlying philosophical concepts that is the problem. Note Dr. Beckwith's explicit statement: "My reading was both prejudiced and meaningful. It was shaped by my Lutheran professors and my lack of philosophical sophistication." And there are very few Protestants who are expert in Aristotelian philosophy and practically none who are conversant in St. Thomas. Indeed, many Protestants rely on the Reformers for their interpretation of both St. Thomas and the Fathers, which modern scholarship has consistently shown to be erroneous. Given the paucity of Protestant expertise on this subject, it is unsurprising that (1) Protestants read texts all the time without understanding them and (2) Protestants who become conversant in these texts have a suspiciously high rate of conversion to Catholicism. James White is clearly not an expert on Aristotelico-Thomism; indeed, I think it is fair to say that he has practically no knowledge on the subject, despite being able to read Greek. Someone who lacks this knowledge is not even competent to exegete most Catholic theological texts, which routinely use terms like "formal sufficiency" and "efficient cause" that have narrow technical meanings.

Take, for example, Trent on justification:
Of this Justification the causes are these: the final cause indeed is the glory of God and of Jesus Christ, and life everlasting; while the efficient cause is a merciful God who washes and sanctifies gratuitously, signing, and anointing with the holy Spirit of promise, who is the pledge of our inheritance; but the meritorious cause is His most beloved only-begotten, our Lord Jesus Christ, who, when we were enemies, for the exceeding charity wherewith he loved us, merited Justification for us by His most holy Passion on the wood of the cross, and made satisfaction for us unto God the Father; the instrumental cause is the sacrament of baptism, which is the sacrament of faith, without which (faith) no man was ever justified; lastly, the alone formal cause is the justice of God, not that whereby He Himself is just, but that whereby He maketh us just, that, to wit, with which we being endowed by Him, are renewed in the spirit of our mind, and we are not only reputed, but are truly called, and are, just, receiving justice within us, each one according to his own measure, which the Holy Ghost distributes to every one as He wills, and according to each one's proper disposition and co-operation.

Now, if you actually know what "efficient cause" means, this statement directly contradicts your statement:
"And if that is not enough, the most important issue that James was getting at, and has always been the issue with Trent, is not that Grace etc is necessary as Trent teaches, but the issue is 'sufficiency.' Is Grace alone, by faith Alone in Christ alone Sufficient for the saving of the soul and Justification?"

In fact, this was NOT the issue, and people who have studied this issue in detail know for certain that it was not the issue. For a study by an actual scholar on the subject (as contrasted with White), see Christopher Malloy's study Engrafted in Christ, for example. So what you say here is just wrong, period. There's no debate on it; "efficient cause" means the agent's power to cause the effect is sufficient, regardless of instrumentality. Nobody whom the merciful God wishes to justify and anoint with the Holy Spirit is not justified. Nor is there any difference between initial justification and recovery of justification in this regard (see Chs. XIII-XIV). You are wrong as a historical matter, and the reason that you are wrong is that you don't know what an efficient cause or a formal cause is. And given the number of Protestants who know Aristotle and St. Thomas well enough to form a scholarly opinion on the matter, it is unlikely that this error will ever be corrected.

That means that White has made the same mistake, by his own admission, for EIGHTEEN YEARS. This is practically the paragon case for Ralph Waldo Emerson's "foolish consistency" that is "the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines." Consistency in error, particularly consistency in foolish error resoluting from lack of study, is not a virtue but a vice, and that is the point of Jimmy's (2). You yourself have mindlessly followed White, who is incompetent on basic matters of Catholic theology, without checking the matter yourself, which is little better. Dr. Beckwith, a genuinely great mind, was not attached to foolish consistency when his studies revealed an error. But White, a little mind if there ever was one, prides himself on consistency with himself more than consistency with the truth. If you cannot decide which example to follow, then God help you, because reason clearly can't.


While I'm thinking about it, I noticed once again that every time anyone converts, White seems to make much of "the best" Protestant arguments for Scriptural authority being those given by William Goode, William Whitaker, and George Salmon, asking whether the person has read any of these. I have no idea why White is impressed with any of these arguments, other than their habit of misrepresenting Catholic dogma almost as badly as White himself does. However, anybody who wants to read them can read them on the Internet Archive: Whitaker, Goode (vol. 1, vol. 2, vol. 3), and Salmon. Of the three, Whitaker is far and away the most reasonable, although prone to uncharitable misrepresentation of Bellarmine and the Jesuits. Goode and Salmon are what you expect from their age, both in terms of writing style and mindless anti-Catholic hostility. The former irritates me even when reading Newman, although many fans of 19th century English literature doubtless consider Newman's prose excellent. The latter will doubtless make it difficult reading for Catholics, but if you feel the need to slog through these works, you have been warned.


At 12:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whenever a Protestant like Beckwith converts to the catholic faith, White does his best to poison the well, discrediting the person by saying his motives are unpure and that he hadn't read this or that or that he hadnt thought through his decision to convert, etc, etc. Beckwith said something very imporant that rings true to me: some people do not read others charitably. And there is no greater example of this than James White.

At 2:46 PM, Blogger The Scylding said...

"some people do not read others charitably..". Well, that is presuming that they read them at all. Just reading, albeit uncharitably, is a great leap forward already.

But that is a disease of the modern (and postmodern) times, not confined to any particular denomination or group.

At 3:27 PM, Anonymous David Waltz said...

Hello Jonathan,

Excellent thread. I especially appreciated the links to Goode’s 3 vol. 1853 edition of The Divine Rule of Faith and Practice which I own on microfiche. BTW, the first edition (1842 – 2 vol.) is also available online in a PDF format:


Much of the work is dedicated to “proving” that the Reformers view of sola scriptura (material and formal sufficiency) was taught by the early Church Fathers. John Henry Newman, concerning so many of the quotes used in common by Goode and E. B. Pusey (in his work, An Eirenicon) to “prove” their assertions about the Holy Scriptures, wrote:

“You have made a collection of passages from the Fathers, as witnesses in behalf of your doctrine that the whole Christian faith is contained in Scripture, as if, in your sense of the words, Catholics contradicted you here. And you refer to my Notes on St. Athanasius as contributing passages to your list; But, after all, neither you, nor I in my Notes, affirm any doctrine which Rome denies. Those Notes also make frequent reference to a traditional teaching, which (be the faith ever so contained in Scripture), still is necessary as a Regula Fidei, for showing us that it is contained there; vid. Pp. 283-431; and this tradition, I know, you uphold as fully as I do in the Notes in question. In consequence, you allow that there is a two-fold rule, Scripture and Tradition; and this is all that Catholics say. How, then do Anglicans differ from Rome here? I believe the difference is merely one of words…” (John Henry Newman, Certain Difficulties Felt By Anglicans In Catholic Teaching Considered, vol. 2, pp. 11, 12.)

As for the issue of “formal” sufficiency, the Protestant scholar, A.N.S. Lane stated:

The Reformers unequivocally rejected the teaching authority of the Roman Catholic Church. This left open the question of who should interpret Scripture. The Reformation was not a struggle for the right of private judgement. The Reformers feared private judgement almost as much as did the Catholics and were not slow to attack it in its Anabaptist manifestation. The Reformation principle was not private judgement but the perspicuity of the Scriptures. Scripture was ‘sui ipsius interpres’ and the simple principle of interpreting individual passages by the whole was to lead to unanimity in understanding. This came close to creating anew the infallible church…It was this belief in the clarity of Scripture that made the early disputes between Protestants so fierce. This theory seemed plausible while the majority of Protestants held to Luthern or Calvinist orthodoxy but the seventeenth century saw the beginning of the erosion of these monopolies. But even in 1530 Casper Schwenckfeld could cynically note that ‘the Papists damn the Lutherans; the Lutherans damn the Zwinglians; the Zwinglians damn the Anabaptists and the Anabaptists damn all others.’ By the end of seventeenth century many others saw that it was not possible on the basis of Scripture alone to build up a detailed orthodoxy commanding general assent. (A.N.S. Lane, “Scripture, Tradition and Church: An Historical Survey”, Vox Evangelica, Volume IX – 1975, pp. 44, 45 – bold emphasis mine.)

IMHO, it is time to put Goode to rest…

Moving on, I would like to invite you to look over a new thread I just started today concerning some comments you recently made on the issue of grace (specifically the “necessity” vs. “sufficiency” red-herring) over at the “Stand To Reason” blog:

Grace and peace,


At 10:45 AM, Blogger David Waltz said...

Hello again Jonathan,

I think the following post that I just now put up should put an end to James White's confusion on the issue of "sufficient grace":

Grace and peace,


At 4:25 PM, Blogger Apolonio said...

I just have to laugh at Mr. White's logic and reasoning about Beckwith's reading of Trent. That's one of those nice arguments that you can refute in a logic and reasoning 101 course here in Rutgers, arguments that graduate students use to show what bad reasoning is. Maybe if he tried getting real a doctorate he will understand how arguments work and he will understand what arguments are bad. And who cares if he had those public debates with Crossan and Spong. They're dead horses. His arguments would be laughable in a prominent academia.

At 2:16 PM, Blogger CrimsonCatholic said...

I've added you to my blogroll BTW. The confusion on these matters tends to show me that Protestantism is simply at its root unjustifiable. All the Reformers had to borrow concepts from Catholicism but were never justified in doing so, meaning that their views could never stand independently.

At 10:55 AM, Blogger David Waltz said...

Hi Jonathan,

You posted:

I've added you to my blogroll BTW.>>

Me: Excellent—but, you should realize that our detractors will probably accuse us of inbreeding [grin].

>>The confusion on these matters tends to show me that Protestantism is simply at its root unjustifiable. All the Reformers had to borrow concepts from Catholicism but were never justified in doing so, meaning that their views could never stand independently.>>

Me: The borrowing of concepts that you mentioned is a certainty, and probably includes many more ingrediants than all of us realize. One concept that is usually “missed” is mentioned in following quote:

Unlike modern Evangelicalism, the classical Protestant Reformers held to a high view of the Church. When the Reformers confessed extra ecclesiam nulla salus, which means “there is no salvation outside the Church,” they were not referring to the invisible Church of all the elect. Such a statement would be tantamount to saying that outside of salvation there is no salvation. It would be a truism. The Reformers were referring to the visible Church…The Church is the pillar and ground, the interpreter, teacher, and proclaimer of God’s Word…The Church has authority because Christ gave the Church authority. The Christian who rejects the authority of the Church rejects the authority of the One who sent her (Luke 10:16). (Keith A. Mathison, The Shape of Sola Scriptura, pp. 268, 269.)

I shall ask our separated brethren: What visible Church are you going to pick?

Grace and peace,



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