Sunday, March 27, 2005

Blondel on Theosis?

Maurice Blondel is viewed by some as the father of contemporary Catholic philosophy, notably influencing such luminaries of Vatican II as Karol Wojtyla (now Pope John Paul II) and Henri de Lubac. Of particular significance was Blondel's critique of the idea of "pure nature" to which the supernatural was added. Blondel repeatedly emphasized the correlative working of the supernatural as an elevation and completion of the natural, and although he doesn't appear to have spoken in the terms of Eastern theology (being a philosopher rather than a historian), I think that he would have been quite comfortable with the idea of divinization. I wonder how many Catholics could echo the following statement from a footnote from 1930 commenting on his work The Letter on Apologetics:

Moreover it is not only our fallen state which explains the necessity for surmounting a spiritual crisis: even in man's original state a trial was imposed before he could be confirmed in the happiness of the supernatural state. Thus there is a fundamental condition which has to be accepted and fulfilled in any circumstances, and it becomes clear that this is a question not of arbitrary contingencies or decrees subsequently enacted but of an element which is essential to the destiny of a creature summoned to participation with the divine.

Suffice it to say that an anemic notion of "original justice" as a superadded metaphysical quality could hardly capture the depth of the sentiment that Blondel expresses here.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Not just a Nestorian

Svendsen is gunning for "lying, hypocritical Nestorian" as well. LOL!

On 1/17/05:
One More Time . . .
. . . then I’m through with this for a while. DA has posted an old email I wrote to him in which I apparently used the word “resolve” in reference to certain terms I had used of Roman Catholic epologists several years ago. I believe I called my opponents’ views “stupid,” or some such thing, in response to some insult they issued to me. The statement in question is this one: “From this point on I have resolved not to lower myself to be moved by that kind of insult." I can’t verify whether I did in fact use this word, or whether DA modified the exchange as he has done so often in past exchanges.But it doesn’t matter. DA holds out this example as though it somehow mirrors the kind of oath he has taken. He then cites an example that occurred 13 months later in which I actually referred to the “stupidity” and “nonsense” of some people who just don’t seem to be able to understand a point no matter how carefully you explain it to them. DA concludes that he, in his solemn-oath breaking over the past two weeks—indeed, over the past several years—is doing nothing different from what I did here. Of course, it’s actually worlds apart, and if DA and his cronies can’t see that, that’s no surprise.Why is it different? Because my “resolve” is still meaningful. Indeed, I wake up every morning and resolve in my heart to live in a way that is pleasing to God. What Christian is there that doesn’t implicitly resolve to do this? Does that mean we will always succeed. No, of course not. And why not? Is it because we didn’t see any real value in that resolve, or that we didn’t take it seriously in the first place? No. It’s because we are weak, and because in moments of weakness we don’t always do what we have implicitly resolved to do.But here’s what we don’t do in these kinds of resolutions. We don’t systematically seek out opportunities to break them. Yet that is just what DA has done in his “resolution.” He has written what can only be considered an “official resolution” to cease interaction with us “anti-catholics,” and he has done this no less than three times over the course of the past five years. And yet he has systematically broken those resolutions as though they don’t even exist! Can this simply be written off as a moment of weakness? No one is criticizing DA for writing his first resolution and subsequently breaking it. That would have been considered a product of weakness, and we should have seen one of two results from it: either we would hear from DA only rarely when from time to time he succumbed to a moment of weakness and just had to write about us, or we would hear of him renouncing writing silly resolution statements that he can’t keep. Both of those options would have been understandable and either one would have been acceptable.But DA didn’t do either. Instead, he simply ignored the first resolution as though he had never made it. When he was reminded of it, he then wrote a second resolution statement resolving that this time he would made good on his resolution (why wasn’t the first one enough?). What did he do next? You guessed it. He systematically went about his apologetic activities the same way he had always done in the past, completely ignoring the second resolution as though it didn’t exist. But even then we didn’t make an issue of his resolutions, aside from pointing out briefly that DA was not adhering to them.So now DA makes a third resolution at the end of 2004, and the gist of that resolution is identical to the first two. So what’s the first order of business in 2005 for DA? You guessed it; systematically break the resolution as though it had never been written.Can that type of thing legitimately be chalked up to “a moment of weakness”? Of course not. It’s ridiculous even to suggest such a thing. DA’s violations of his “resolution” are systematic and premeditated violations. My violations of the "resolution" not to refer to my opponents' views as "stupid"--or any other resolution I may make and subsequently break--are moments of weakness. DA intends to violate his resolution, even when he’s reminded of it. There is no such intent in my case. So, DA’s supposed “parallel” to a “resolve” I made years ago, to which I still hold and which I still strive to keep (even though in moments of weakness I may sometimes falter) is really nothing of the kind. It’s really just another "strategy of deceit."Oh, and I would be remiss if I didn't here point out that for all the trouble DA has gone through to mislead his readers into thinking that his systematic breaking of his resolution is no different from the giving in to a moment of weakness on my part, he has once again . . . you guessed it . . . systematically violated his resolution statement.

On 3/25/05, 5:37 AM:
Jonathan Prejean: The Conclusion
One thing about Jonathan Prejean; so far he's proven to be unpredictable. Many have speculated how he might respond to my series. Some thought he would abandon the academic sources (which are clearly against him) and appeal instead to the infallible magisterium. I personally thought he would "counter quote" with a barrage of scholarly citations. Neither of those transpired. We were all promised a "rebuttal" of substance to my series from Jonathan Prejean. What we got instead was a series of denials that he said the things he said, along with a series of empty assertions that I didn't address his points. In case you missed it, I documented his specific statements, and responded to each of them here:
Post 1Post 2Post 3Post 4Post 5He is the one who raised the issues--all of them--not I. His latest dismissive response confirms to me that he's completely unprepared for this kind of dialogue, and that he's unworthy of further interaction. I won't be wasting any more of my time on it.

Two hours and seven minutes later:
It's a Walter Mitty World
That's a pet phrase of David King when he's dealing with RC apologists who deny reality and seem to live in a world of their own making. This is nowhere better illustrated than the blog of Jonathan Prejean, who has now officially stated that he gave me multiple oppotunities to explain my position and that I have declined. Once again, here are my supposed "non-responses":
Post 1Post 2Post 3Post 4Post 5And, of course, you'll search in vain for Jonathan Prejean's interaction with these--but he insists he's adequately addressed them and that he hasn't dodged any of them, and that's all that matters in a Walter Mitty world. Moreover, he keeps citing the same passage that I have already shown is the shared sentiment of the the likes of Brown, McGrath, and other patristic scholars--namely, that Nestorius' objection to theotokos was legitimate--and if Prejean and his uninformed cohorts had just read my series they would know that. Oh well, it's Walter Mitty resurrected from the grave. It's time to leave them to their RC fundamentalism.

Just stop. You're making yourself look even worse than you already did, and I didn't think that was possible. I don't revel in seeing someone debase himself like this.

EDIT -- I'm reproducing my response to Svendsen's Walter Mitty post, just in case people aren't reading the comments.

"That's a pet phrase of David King when he's dealing with RC apologists who deny reality and seem to live in a world of their own making."

This from a guy who made up an imaginary opponent?

"This is nowhere better illustrated than the blog of Jonathan Prejean, who has now officially stated that he gave me multiple oppotunities to explain my position and that I have declined. Once again, here are my supposed 'non-responses.'"

Your conversation with your imaginary opponent is not a response to me.

"And, of course, you'll search in vain for Jonathan Prejean's interaction with these--but he insists he's adequately addressed them and that he hasn't dodged any of them, and that's all that matters in a Walter Mitty world."

Assuming Dr. Svendsen isn't living in the dreamworld that he accuses me of inhabiting (and given that he had a five-part dialogue with someone who doesn't exist, that's entirely possible), Dr. Svendsen has now become a bald-faced liar. Quite the contrary, I freely admitted that I hadn't responded to his non-responses, because they were non-responses.

"Moreover, he keeps citing the same passage that I have already shown is the shared sentiment of the the likes of Brown, McGrath, and other patristic scholars--namely, that Nestorius' objection to theotokos was legitimate--and if Prejean and his uninformed cohorts had just read my series they would know that."

Yeah, but we were talking about your own Nestorianism, not Nestorius's objection to theotokos.

Harold O.J. Brown:"To call Mary either 'God-bearer' or 'man-bearer,' although *both are correct in terms of the communication of attributes*, appears misleading. . . ."

Svendsen:"Can we therefore rightly say that God is passible, that he feels pain, that he is weak, that he hungers and thirsts, that his wisdom grows or that he is ignorant of the future? *Doesn’t the communication of attributes allow—indeed, demand—that we be able to make such statements with impunity? Such a notion is blasphemous*."

Harold O.J. Brown agrees with me; Svendsen is Nestorian.

"Oh well, it's Walter Mitty resurrected from the grave. It's time to leave them to their RC fundamentalism."

Have fun in Walter Mitty Land. If you ever care to return to reality, you know just where to find me.

Guess that's it then

I gave Dr. Svendsen multiple opportunities to explain this statement in any way that could possibly be construed as orthodox, and he declined, so for the record once again, here is his public confession of Nestorianism, made on 3/17/05:

But this is the communication of attributes gone awry, and it is something the councils specifically warned against in their prohibition against confusing the natures and in their affirmation that each nature performs only those activities appropriate to that nature. Hence Christ the man was passible—he was weak, tired, hungry, thirsty, sorrowful, felt pain and wept. In addition he grew in wisdom and was ignorant of the day and hour of the end (Matt 24:36). Can we therefore rightly say that God is passible, that he feels pain, that he is weak, that he hungers and thirsts, that his wisdom grows or that he is ignorant of the future? Doesn’t the communication of attributes allow—indeed, demand—that we be able to make such statements with impunity? Such a notion is blasphemous.

For anyone who wants to give any credence to his theological opinions, caveat emptor.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Regarding My Laziness

I've been mulling over Dr. Svendsen's characterization that my earlier response was "paltry" and "lazy." The "paltry" part is his opinion, which can be asserted for any reason or no reason whatsoever, so it would hardly be my place to even comment on it. But the "lazy" part seems interesting to me, most particularly because, being the person in question, I know that laziness had nothing to do with it. Upon further reflection, I guess I can somewhat understand Dr. Svendsen's feelings on the matter. After one puts days and days of one's rare free time into something, there's a degree of personal investment that makes dismissal look cavalier. Granted, I think that should have been slightly ameliorated by the fact that I pointed out exactly what I considered irrelevant to an argument that I myself made, but still, sometimes one's emotional reactions aren't entirely rational. So to make clear that my dismissal in this instance wasn't simply cavalier, I will mention that I actually spend a good deal of time over the last couple of days trying to respond to Dr. Svendsen's series. The problem was that I honestly and sincerely could not find even one point that had a thing to do with my original point. Dr. Svendsen is right that I didn't answer one point he made, because not one point that he made had a thing to do with a point that I made.

As a for-instance, I made it clear (and it should have been clear from the beginning) that the personal beliefs of Nestorius and St. Cyril really had nothing to do with the argument I was making from Second Constantinople. With that being the case, there is really nothing that it would make sense even to say in response to the following:

For now, keep in mind that Cyril of Alexandria is the veritable "hero" of the Roman Catholic view that Mary is the "mother of God."

Brown will go on (as we will see in this series) to vindicate Nestorius and call into question the sometimes muddled view of Cyril, which was Apollinarian-Monophysite at heart. Remember, Cyril is the champion of RC apologists, including Prejean.

Cyril is not the champion of orthodoxy Prejean and his RC apologetic cohorts, in their romantic notions of Roman Catholic history, believe. In fact, Nestorius was much more orthodox than Cyril.

There's your venerable Cyril, champion of Mary, in all his historic glory!

How could he have not known Cyril’s true views (which are well-known by historians—Harnack has gone on record calling Cyril a Monophysite).

He was completely unaware that scholars have assessed Nestorius to be orthodox and Cyril to be heterodox!

Once again, Brown affirms that the "heretic" Nestorius is actually orthodox and that the "orthodox" Cyril is a cryptic heretic. Remember, Cyril is the "champion of orthodoxy" that Prejean so admires and quotes so approvingly. In fact, Prejean holds romantic notions about both Cyril and Nestorius that are deeply entrenched in his pop history.

Once again, Brown affirms that Cyril, the hero of Prejean, was in fact a Monophysite.

Kelly goes on to recognize weaknesses in Theodore's views, but he exonerates him from the charge of Nestorianism leveled against him by--you guessed it--Cyril the Monophysite!

All of them confirm that Nestorius’ views (those condemned as heretical in Roman Catholic apologetic pop-history circles) were in fact orthodox, that Cyril’s views (the hero of modern “mother of God” proponents) were in fact Monophysite, that the councils were in error in condemning Nestorius, that they were equally in error in affirming Cyril, and that Chalcedon and Ephesus in fact contradict each other in just which positions they support (Chalcedon favors Nestorianism and Ephesus is Monophysitism).

I think they are Monophysite only in a derived sense, based on their loyalty to Cyril and the actual outworking of their arguments.

If so, he ends up contradicting the majority view of patristic scholarship who (as even Prejean himself concedes) regards Nestorius’ views as completely orthodox and as vindicated at Chalcedon.

As a matter of fact, I disagree with Svendsen on just about every point he raised here (and I most certainly did NOT make the concession he asserts; I merely remarked that there was controversy on the subject). But since it has absolutely nothing to do with what we are discussing, how would it further the discussion to interact with it?

Similarly, Svendsen had several conversations with phantoms of Catholic apologists past that were entirely irrelevant to what I believe. Some excerpts:

Modern RC apologists, including Prejean, likewise reject the proposition that Jesus possessed a human personality. In their view, Jesus is a divine person who assumed flesh, not humanity--"the God borne by a woman." Flesh is not to be equated with humanity. Flesh is merely a nature; humanity consists of the whole man--body, soul, spirit, intellect, will, etc. Although there are not two persons in Christ there is a unity of personhood in him. But RC apologists deny Christ had a human soul--that's Apollinarianism to the core.

That is exactly what RC pop-apologists claim today when they insist that Jesus was a divine person with a human nature, but was not a real, human person.

He is here making the identical observation I have made regarding RC pop-apologists; namely, that they have unwittingly fallen into the Apollinarian error by so emphasizing the deity of Christ they make him out to be God dressed up in a human suit.

Of course, Prejean’s romanticized version of history will disallow him from viewing theotokos as it was originally intended. All patristic scholars acknowledge the fact that theotokos was not originally intended as an honorific title for Mary, but developed into one centuries later. Hence, as I pointed out in my book Evangelical Answers nearly a decade ago and more recently in Who Is My Mother?, whereas most Protestants would easily accept theotokos in its original intent (though there are other terms that are more precise), Roman Catholic pop apologists such as Prejean subscribe to the title only in terms of what it developed into centuries after the fact. In other words, Prejean’s faith in the “Mother of God” is based on a revisionist history of that word. The sometimes-Apollinarian-sometimes-Monophysite Cyril of Alexandria attempted to supplement theotokos (“God-bearer”) with meter theou (lit., “mother of God”), but that phrase was adopted by neither Ephesus nor Chalcedon.

Brown reiterates what is a well-known fact among patristic scholars; namely, that the original intent of the title theotokos is far removed from the modern RC application of it. It is the RC apologist who is out of step with history and the meaning of words when they translate theotokos as "mother of God," with all that implies. To the RC apologist, "mother of God" is a title intended to exalt Mary; not a title intended to affirm Christ's deity in the womb.

I’ll tell you how: because the knowledge of RC apologists like Prejean goes no further than the romanticized version of church history. They use patristic scholars like Kelly and Pelikan as source books for sound bites without ever bothering to notice that these same patristic scholars have as much to say against the traditional Roman Catholic view of history as they have to say for it. I have encountered this numerous times with earlier RC apologists who (a decade ago) used to cite Kelly religiously to support their view on any given doctrine; that is, until we began citing Kelly to show that they misinterpreted Kelly’s own views. Prejean, a relative newcomer to this arena, is merely the new-generation RC pop-apologist repeating the same errors of his forefathers.

Prejean makes fundamental blunders in his criticism of my views precisely because his understanding of the Christological controversies goes no further than the typical Roman Catholic pop-apologetic understanding of them. That acts as the basis for his disagreement with everything else I have to say about this issue.

As Brown has noted, Christ possessed a human personality; he wasn’t merely a divine person dressed up in a human suit as Prejean in his Apollinarianism believes.

The real problem here is that Prejean is attempting to rationalize and “explain” the mystery of the unity of the personhood of Christ in such a way (in this case, an Apollinarian way—a divine person with a human nature rather than the orthodox view of a divine-human person, the God-man) as to go far beyond the decision of the councils.

He thinks theotokos means the mariologically loaded “mother of God,” with all that implies.

Prejean’s statement above is based on the Apollinarian notion that nothing can be stated about Christ in his humanity without stating it about Christ in his deity.

If this paragraph had come from me and not from Augustine, you can be sure Prejean would have accused me of Nestorianism. Yet Augustine gets a pass. Why? Because Prejean can afford to call Svendsen a Nestorian, but he can’t afford to be consistent and call Augustine a Nestorian.

Modern RC pop-apologists commit the same error when they insist that Christ is noting more than a divine person--the Logos--who animates the man Jesus (the flesh, as it were). In their view (whether they admit to it or not, it doesn't really matter since they admit to it tacitly nevertheless) Jesus does not have a human mind, does not have a human personality, does not possess a human intellect--is not a human person. Hence, their Jesus cannot redeem man completely because he has not assumed humanity completely.

I wonder whether Prejean is as trigger-happy to accuse Augustine and Hilary of Apollinarianism as he is to accuse me of Nestorianism? If not, why not? Oh yes, that's right; they are doctors of the church, and he's not allowed to accuse them. Prejean, like all his cohorts, cannot engage in independent critical analysis of this issue because they are prevented from doing so not only by the . Hence, their analysis will always be stilted and partisan--always. They can't get around it. And so nothing they say about this issue can be considered trustworthy.

In other words, Jesus the man is an empty shell into which the Logos pours himself; apart from the logos, the man is not really human at all since there is no animating principle. But this is just what Prejean argues is his position: "Jesus is no person other than the Word of God."

The relevence [sic] of this quote becomes clear when we see that Prejean and RC pop-apologist will give at least theoretical assent to the fact that Jesus had a human mind and soul, even though they can't explain how Jesus has a human mind and soul without actually being a human person. This quote gives them the benefit of the doubt that they acknowledge a human mind and soul in Jesus even though they believe his personhood is divine only.

Modern Roman Catholic apologetics is inherently Apollinari-Monophysite in that it stresses the deity of Christ at the expense of his humanity. In their view, as regards the humanity of Christ, Christ is not true man and true God, but rather God cloaked in a human nature. But the moment we attempt to explain just how those two statements fit together—or worse, to go beyond that and proclaim Mary as “mother of God” is some kind of ramification of all that, or that it acts as a test of orthodoxy—we end up in error. Why? Because at that point we end up abandoning discussion on the communication of attributes in Christ and start down the path of discussing the communication of attributes in Mary.

It becomes objectionable in the hands of RC apologists who would use it to exalt Mary’s status over against the consistent testimony of the very Scriptures to which they purport to acquiesce in the concilliar definitions of Chalcedon and Ephesus about the person and natures of Christ. Indeed, they eagerly seek to defend the Cyrilline Apollinariani-Monophysite view of Christ’s person and natures from the Scriptures--not so they can uphold the deity of Christ, but as a pretext for finding a basis for exalting Mary by somehow proving from that fact that she’s the “mother of God.” I think that much is self-evident in their writings. But in so doing, they ignore the clear statements of Jesus that such a relationship—even if true—avails nothing. Indeed, I am convinced that they would, if they thought they could get away with it, happily throw out the qualifier of the councils that Mary is theotokos only “as regards his manhood,” and that “the difference of the natures [is] by no means removed because of the union, but the property of each nature [is] preserved and coalesced in one prosopon and one hupostasis,” and use the term in an unqualified way to exalt Mary instead of Christ. After all, that is the sense in which they use the term today, completely oblivious to the fact that the title has a historical context.

Hence, my major complaint on this particular issue insofar as Roman Catholic apologists are concerned is not their Apollinari-Monophysite view of Christ; it is the application they think they can make to Mary.

What response can I make to this, other than to say that none of these statements are true of me, that there is no evidence that any of these statements are true of me, and that there has been no argument to demonstrate why I am logically required to hold any of these beliefs? If somebody just makes things up, there's really nothing that one CAN say but "nuh-uh!"

So just based on things that are completely and unquestionably outside of the scope of the discussion, we're already talking about some 1,850 out of the 6,300 or so that Svendsen actually wrote (based on my word processor estimates minus the quotes), and that's not even getting into the parts that would be substantively irrelevant because they depended on false premises in the material quoted above or because they simply weren't intended to be substantive (e.g., introductions). Not only that, some 4,600 of those words were written AFTER I had specifically indicated that this subject matter had nothing to do with the discussion. Would somebody care to tell me exactly what I'm supposed to do in such a situation? Dr. Svendsen? Anyone? I'd love to be sensitive to someone's feelings when he has taken that much time to write something that was intended to be directed at me, but when I told him specifically that what he was writing was entirely non-responsive, and he still continued, what can I do? How much clearer can you be than saying "That's not what we're talking about?"

Anyway, I'd really like to understand this one, so please feel free to hit the comboxes with any theories you might have.

Oh, you've asked for it now

The reply will be forthcoming. It may take a while.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

You talkin' to me?

UPDATE -- Readers, be sure to check out this post after you finish reading this one. The sleeping dragon has been awakened.

I must admit that Eric Svendsen took a ... shall we say, unique? ... tack in "responding" to my posts. He never showed my beliefs were Apollinarian or Monophysite (in fact, he never interacted with my beliefs at all), although he did manage to show that a set of "RC" beliefs that he invented out of thin air were, which admittedly was quite an impressive display of his ability to write fiction in a short time frame. He also never actually denied my charge of Nestorianism, which was based on the anathemas of Second Constantinople. He did, however, make a very strong case for the possibility that the terms "Nestorianism" or "the error of Nestorius" might not be technically accurate as a description of the condemned doctrines, since there are scholars who think that Nestorius might not have actually held those beliefs. Of course, after centuries of common use, the attribution of the condemned error to Nestorius has become a matter of historical convention to facilitate communication and to preserve continuity with previous work, but I have to give Dr. Svendsen his due for being so obsessively dedicated to technical correctness that he is willing to sacrifice such petty things as common sense and practical utility. Just think, if you brought that kind of pedantry to other fields, the term "Civil War" might finally be eliminated in favor of the more descriptive "War between the States," and perhaps Fermi's Golden Rule would be credited to Dirac instead.

In all fairness, I will say that Dr. Svendsen was not only focused on matters of terminology. He also provided a rather convenient definition of Nestorianism as well:

But this is the communication of attributes gone awry, and it is something the councils specifically warned against in their prohibition against confusing the natures and in their affirmation that each nature performs only those activities appropriate to that nature. Hence Christ the man was passible—he was weak, tired, hungry, thirsty, sorrowful, felt pain and wept. In addition he grew in wisdom and was ignorant of the day and hour of the end (Matt 24:36). Can we therefore rightly say that God is passible, that he feels pain, that he is weak, that he hungers and thirsts, that his wisdom grows or that he is ignorant of the future? Doesn’t the communication of attributes allow—indeed, demand—that we be able to make such statements with impunity? Such a notion is blasphemous.

Note the classic Nestorian condemnation of the communication of attributes as blasphemy, so that nothing associated with the human nature can be attributed to the personal term "God." Any scholar would immediately recognize this as the hallmark of heretical Nestorianism. Obviously, a corollary of this position would be that God cannot be born of woman, and hence, the term "God-bearer" would be considered similarly blasphemous to the Nestorian mind. By contrast, someone who held to an orthodox conception of the communicatio idiomatum would recognize that expressions like "God-bearer" are "correct in terms of the communication of attributes" (to use Harold O.J. Brown's phrase). Thus, we see here an excellent example of how someone holding an orthodox view will recognize the distinction in natures without thereby denying the communication of attributes, while a Nestorian heretic will reject the communication of attributes based on the distinction between natures. Congratulations to Dr. Svendsen for really capturing heretical Nestorianism in just a few short sentences.

At any rate, Dr. Svendsen's somewhat-unusual style of response inspired a couple of questions on the NoTRoMan (or should I say NesToRian) Board, so I thought I'd give my $0.02 in response.

Has it been the experience of others in this forum that most internet RC's hold to a Christology similar to J. Prejean?

Since I don't even hold the Christology that Dr. Svendsen described and it seems to have been invented by Dr. Svendsen entirely on the spot, I'm going to say "no" to that one.

After completely reading through the series of blog entries concerning the interaction with JP, I can honestly say that I was utterly amazed after reading the one listed above. It makes me scratch my head and think - "What is going on"?

You know, I had exactly the same impression after seeing an entire series that never managed to address any of my points. But you really do have to appreciate that someone can have an entire dialogue with an imaginary opponent without managing to touch on the real opponent's positions at all. There are politicians who couldn't pull that one off.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005


Scott Waddell advertises his AntiCatbot 2.0.

Still waiting for Dr. Svendsen to finish

Sadly, I'm probably going to be incommunicado from Friday through Monday. I hope that will be enough time to finish the series, because I expect people will learn a great deal from my responses when they finally get posted.

UPDATE -- After having read Dr. Svendsen's first couple of forays into this area, I'm going to say a couple of things strictly in the interest of saving both his time and mine. Everybody with any familiarity in the relevant history knows that it is somewhat doubtful that Nestorius was Nestorian and that some scholars have made the argument (albeit pretty convincingly discredited by recent scholarship) that St. Cyril was a monophysite. While interesting as a historical matter, it has absolutely nothing to do with the heresy of Nestorianism (aka, the error attributed to Nestorius), which is the substance of my charge against Dr. Svendsen. Rather than wasting time discussing historical matters on which we completely agree (or matters entirely irrelevant to the Christological discussion, such as Catholic Mariology), it would probably be more expedient to address the actual disagreement.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005


After this, I thought that people might have realized the error of their ways. Rather than substantively interacting with the problems I raised, they have decided to continue propagandizing (see the comments section here). Apparently, that takes less time away from a dissertation than actually thinking through one's arguments. Since there's nothing new raised here, I'll leave the demonstration of the errors as an exercise for the reader. I'm sure there's probably more that I could criticize, but these seem to capture the problem pretty well.

Josh S says:
Chemnitz clears away the whole mess in one gesture by saying that the natures are united to each other, and that the Person is composed of this union, rather than the Person being a third thing to which the natures are joined.

Eric Phillips says:
We do not teach that the divine makes the humanity unlimited, or that the human makes the divinity limited. We teach that the One Person of the God-Man, at any given time, in any given way, could and can act according either to the strength of His divine nature, or the weakness of His human nature.

That is to say, we teach what the Council of Chalcedon says.

The most entertaining part was Phillips' reflection on his benighted days as a Baptist:
Studying the Church Fathers had perplexed me previously, because they all seemed to believe in baptismal regeneration. How could they all have been wrong about that? I wondered.

It's funny to look back on that question now.

Not half as funny as thinking that Lutheran theology is compatible with the patristic understanding of baptismal regeneration or the Council of Chalcedon.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Room for agreement

Based on his last response, I'd say that there are more things on which Dr. Svendsen and I agree than I previously thought. He opines as follows:

In [the blog entry on Theodoret of Cyrus] he mentions me in an incidental way toward the end of the article, and then proceeds to offer rather snide, but otherwise tenuous comments on selected quotations from an article I wrote about modern Roman Catholic epologists (of which he is one).

Considering that the entire entry was posted in response to the "snide" suggestion by someone on your board that Catholics were condemning their own writers as Nestorian, perhaps it will be understandable that I undertook to expose the position for being exactly as ridiculous as it is. As far as being an epologist, I pretty much restrict myself to being an epologist for historical fact, not Catholicism in particular.

In those selected quotes, I cite Augustine's view of Jesus' relationship with his mother--which, by the way, is opposed to modern RC musings about it. In his snide comments, Prejean presumes to accuse me of not knowing the difference between person and nature, although his emotion-laden ramblings do not make it clear just why he thinks this. The quotes he cites from my article certainly do not lend credence to his false accusation (again, for the sake of justice, I do hope he's a better analyst of things legal than he is of things theological).

Let's look at the record. The quote from Augustine was as follows:

Since, then, Christ is God and man . . . we must take account of both these natures in Him when He speaks or when Scripture speaks of Him, and we must mark in what sense anything is said. When we say that Christ is the Son of God we do not separate His humanity from Him, nor when we say that the same Christ is the Son of man do we lose sight of His divinity. For, as man He was on earth, not in heaven where He now is . . . although in His nature as Son of God He was in heaven, but as Son of man He was still on earth and had not yet ascended into heaven. . . . and He will so come, on the testimony of the angel's voice, as He was seen going into heaven, that is, in the same form and substance of flesh to which, it is true, He gave immortality, but He did not take away its nature. According to this form, we are not to think that He is everywhere present. We must beware of so building up the divinity of the man that we destroy the reality of His body. It does not follow that what is in God is in Him so as to be everywhere as God is. . . . God and man in Him are one Person, and both are the one Jesus Christ who is everywhere as God, but in heaven as man" (Augustine, Letter 118.8-10).

Svendsen drew the following conclusion:

According to Augustine, Mary could not have been the "Mother of God," since Jesus in His divinity had no mother. He insists over and over again in this passage that Mary was the mother of Jesus humanity only.

So I argued that Svendsen can't distinguish between person and nature, which I thought was obvious based on the conclusion he drew. However, to spell it out clearly and obviously, Jesus is no person other than the Word of God. Therefore, it is plain theological error to say that what happens to the person does not happen to God. Obviously, God in that context doesn't mean the divine nature, because God's divine nature is impassible and eternal. But it does mean that Jesus is truly the Second Person of the Trinity. If you deny that Mary is the Mother of God, then you are denying that Christ the person is the Word of God, the Second Person of the Trinity. Svendsen asked previously, "Where in the world have I denied the full humanity and divinity of Christ--especially since I am a staunch defender of these things?" Far from that being the case, Svendsen has explicitly denied that Jesus Christ is the Second Person of the Trinity. I'd call that a pretty significant error for a "staunch defender." And I imagine that I am far better acquainted with law than I am with theology, but to be honest, spotting this one is a lay-up for anyone who's even decently well read in patristic theology. That's why Svendsen's position is so inexplicable.

Incidentally, Svendsen failed to mention another error that he made in the same article, when he said "In short, Apollinaris' view was that Christ was a body of flesh formed and animated by a nous (spirit and intellect), but that the nous was not human, but rather divine. What Apollinaris means by nous is 'person'." The Apollinarian belief was actually that Christ did not have a human rational soul, but was instead "possessed" by the divine nous. Nous doesn't mean person; it means something akin to the divine "soul." The Apollinarian error was in not realizing that spirit and intellect went with nature rather than person, so that a human being without a rational soul did not have human nature at all. Hence, the Apollinarian heresy maintained that Christ was not fully human. Again, this is evidently sheer ignorance on Svendsen's part, as the issue was nature rather than person.

He then presumes to think I might care whether I fall under the condemnation of the fifth ecumenical council. The magnitude of such a charge is tantamount to the reverse charge that Prejean falls under the condemnation of the Westminster Confession! Just in case that analogy is lost on Mr. Prejean, let me make it clear to him in no uncertain terms. This may come as a shock to him, but the fifth ecumenical council is not authoritative for me! Does it condemn me? Who cares? The ecumenical councils--all of them--were wrong in many, many things.

Two points. First, I was and will continue to be the first to applaud your willingness to own up to your Nestorian error. Heck, I think you ought to rename your entire ministry "NTR Nestorian Ministries" so that people will know exactly what they are getting. Please, by all means, publish your rejection of the ecumenical councils, put a notice on your discussion board, and shout it from the highest rooftop. Just please restrict your claims of historical support for your position accordingly, such as removing the spurious claims from your website that the church fathers were closer to modern-day evangelicalism than Catholicism.

Second, the particular condemnations are Christological, and they relate particularly to the denial that Christ is fully God and fully man. By your own reasoning, that would jeopardize the basis of our salvation. So while you may be indifferent to your condemnation by an ecumenical council, the more serious problem is that you have condemned yourself by your own standards.

News flash to Mr. Prejean: I cite councils and church writers as hostile witnesses against the Romanists who do hold these gatherings as authoritative. But you can't cite them against an Evangelical who does not hold to some inate authority of catholic church councils. They don't speak on my behalf. But you hold they do speak on your behalf. Hence, I can use them against you but you can't validly use them against me. Didn't you learn anything about the valid use of hostile witnesses in law school Mr. Prejean?

My point was exactly to defend against your erroneous charge against Catholicism based on incorrect citations of councils and church writers. That's my entire point; you are speaking in an area in which you have no competence, and you are making elementary errors in doing so. And incidentally, it is only your interpretation of councils that makes them hostile; I feel perfectly comfortable dealing with them.

As far as being able to cite councils against you, you've already conceded the premise that Christ must be fully God and fully man to save us. In that respect, it doesn't matter than the councils are authoritative. They just happen to be right. You are essentially accusing the council of being wrong in saying that Christ was fully God and fully man, so the fact that they aren't authoritative doesn't really help your case much.

[Re: my acceptance of the Letter to Hebrews] Including the one that says he is without [human] father or mother?

Of course. The fact that you're equivocating between the sense in which "without father or mother" is true and the sense in which "Mother of God" is true doesn't really amount to an argument.

In all of this, not once does Prejean demonstrate what he has been blustering about for the past few days: namely, that my view contradicts the views of patristic scholars. Prejean doesn't cite even one patristic scholar in the article, let alone one who provides an assessement of the views of RC epologists.

Perhaps Dr. Svendsen would care to explain why he ventured to write an article accusing Catholics of a heresy without substantiation. How many patristic scholars agree with your explanation of "Apollinarimonophysitism?" If I am so wrong on this subject, it should be trivial to produce some kind of evidence on this point. I, for one, am not going to waste my time producing quotes from Meyendorff and Pelikan (although I could do so rather trivially, as anyone who actually reads those books would realize) when (1) you have produced exactly zero patristic scholars to substantiate your charge against Catholicism and (2) you have admitted exactly what I argued, which is that you deny the full humanity and divinity of Christ by your Nestorianism. Trust me, if you're going to use as your sole defense that I don't have support for what I'm saying, I am all too happy to let people consult the sources. Meyendorff's Christ in Eastern Christian Thought (not to mention Byzantine Theology) and Sherrard's The Greek East and the Latin West are excellent (and short) introductions to the subject by actual scholars that will quickly expose the absurdity of your position. So by all means, if you want to call it quits here as having offered the best defense of your position that you can, please do so.

And not once does he interact meaningfully with my articles. It is exceedingly difficult for me to believe that these are the "objections" that Prejean thinks were instrumental in my being "plainly corrected beyond doubt." I'll give him one more chance: But if Prejean doesn't produce something of substance in his next reply, I'll be turning my attention to more productive things.

Again, what incentive do I have to waste time when you have put yourself in such an indefensible position already? I can just link this dialogue in response to your works being cited anywhere, and anyone who isn't convinced by that is probably beyond convincing anyway.

By the way, Mr. Prejean might want to begin reading historical works that lean less toward the RC view of these issues (Jurgens, Newman, etc.) and more toward the Reformed view. It is beyond obvious that Prejean's exposure to historical analysis is limited to a select few "quote books" that are commonly cited (although erroneously) by the Catholic Answers crowd, and that he has no idea what the "overwhelming majority" of patristic scholars even looks like.

Most of my patristics reading has been outside of the Catholic camp. I just mentioned Jurgens and Newman for the sake of completeness, but you'll notice that my list included three from the Orthodox camp, two Anglicans, and a Lutheran, leaving out several that I didn't mention.

One such work I might recommend to him (to get him started) is Harold O. J. Brown's Heresies: The Image of Christ in the Mirror of Heresy and Orthodoxy from the Apostles to the Present (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984). Brown received his Ph.D in Historical Theology at Harvard. The foreword was written by George Williams, Hollis Professor of Divinity Emeritus, at Harvard. If I'm not mistaken, that's Prejean's alma mater, so I assume he would regard this work as "authoritative" enough. Time will tell.

I certainly will take a look at that work. I've put it on my Amazon list, and I'm looking forward to getting it as soon as I can. But I'm not sure how it bears on the present controversy. Was Dr. Brown arguing that Nestorianism was something other than a denial of the full divinity and humanity of Christ?

UPDATE -- Pursuant to Dr. Svendsen's request, I will refrain from replying to his arguments until he is finished making his argument.

Out of his depth

James White may have had his heart in the right place, but this post provides some pretty clear examples of why he simply can't interact meaningfully with Catholic or Orthodox dogma. In point of fact, he doesn't even understand Catholic or Orthodox dogma.

I have often thought back, with a smile and the feeling of incredulity, at the scene which unfolded in Denver, Colorado in 1993. It was the second night of the debate on the Papacy with Gerry Matatics. Gerry was really scrambling. He had never been hit with so many patristic citations in his life, that was obvious. During the break he ran up into the choir loft and madly scribbled notes for the second part of the debate. Then at one point he actually stood before that crowd (oh how I wish it had been video taped!) with the first volume of William A. Jurgens' The Faith of the Early Fathers in his hand, opened to the "doctrinal index" in the back. And there he stood, reading names of early writers as if the appearance of their names in a Roman Catholic historical work means they in fact believed what he believed concerning the Papacy and Petrine primacy. I was dumbfounded. I had often found Jurgens a biased or, at best, incomplete source, and to cite such a secondary source as if it had relevance in debate surely would have resulted in his immediate disqualification under formal rules.

I have no idea what Matatics was even arguing, so I can't meaningfully interact with White's account of the debate. But what is noticeable is that someone with no qualifications (viz., White) is making judgments about Jurgens (an expert by anyone's lights) being a "biased or, at best, incomplete source." Implicit in such a statement and White's reference to "many patristic citations" is that White perceives himself to be a competent handler of primary sources despite having no training in the field. Perhaps one might actually sustain such a belief when there isn't an overwhelming weight of people who are actually trained in the field contradicting one's uninformed opinion. However, in such a situation, it is simply unreasonable to maintain the contradictory opinion without a compelling reason. I've analogized such thinking to the irrationality of people who adopt conspiracy theories, from those as innocuous as the belief that the Moon landing was faked all the way to much more pernicious ideas, like denying the Holocaust or accusing President Bush of having orchestrated 9/11. By definition, you can't reasonably interact with such beliefs, so the only course is to ignore them. I've demonstrated this mentality in action with Eric Svendsen, and I believe it will become apparent here with White.

And yet, for a large portion of Roman Catholics today, the simplistic citation of an early writer, without the first attempt to contextualize or prove that the language he used carries the same meaning as the modern era, is enough to satisfy, and substantiate the oft-repeated phrase, "to go deep into history is to cease to be Protestant." Ol Newman could write a line, but folks like Salmon sure did put him in his place.

This is perhaps the most telling indication that one ought to be suspicious. I'd expect that White isn't at all familiar with Newman's qualifications, but some well-respected non-Catholic scholars consider Newman to be one of the greatest (if not the greatest) patristic scholar of the nineteenth century, so the notion of dismissing Newman as some foolish "proof-texter" who simply grabbed quotes out of context is ridiculous. It simply indicates a profound ignorance of Newman's theory of development, frequently echoed in the shallow criticism of less thoughtful commentators (including Salmon) but rejected by people who actually study Newman's work in any depth. On the other hand, citing the much-criticized Salmon as an example of a competent historian given the current availability of patristic scholarship is practically a public profession of incompetence. Might as well cite Darwin as an authority against modern evolutionary theory or Newtonian mechanics as an argument against relativity. Salmon was simply wrong on numerous points of criticism against Newman (in fact, his work was definitively rebutted by B.C. Butler, and no modern scholar would take it seriously). If you want to talk about taking works out of context, a great example would be ignoring the vast influence of Newman in reputable modern scholarship as compared to the utter absence of Salmon in those same circles in determining which source is reliable.

In any case, both Roman and Orthodox churches "do battle" on the field of history for the simple reason that their respective claims of authority necessitate it. And yet, if there is anything you learn from reading, fairly, the first four centuries of currently extant "Christian" writing, it is this: there is no consistent, universal position on almost anything, outside of, possibly, the fact that there is only one true God (over against pagan polytheism) that can be derived from these writings. The idea that there is, in fact, this kind of unanimity, is almost always born from the most selective reading of the texts.

No, the idea that this kind of unanimity exists is nonsense. That's why no one argues for it, be they Catholic, Orthodox, or otherwise. White appears well-disposed to "do battle" with a straw man.

What should concern our pilgrim on the road to Antioch, if what he once believed is still relevant at all, is whether he finds the writings of those early centuries compelling on biblical grounds. We know that there were false teachers in the days of the Apostles. We know apostasy was a real problem even while apostles ministered in the primitive church. We know they warned us of the continuation of that problem in the coming generations (Acts 20, 2 Tim. 3, Jude). So the real question our pilgrim must consider is, given the manifold contradictions and inconsistencies between early writers (and, at times, within the extant writings of a single person), and their acknowledged non-inspired status, what is, in the final analysis, the only sure word he has from God today? Peter warned that untaught and unstable men would plague the church: and they wrote books, too. Should we not hold ancient writers to the same touchstone as a person in the modern period?

At least this gets to the real heart of White's position, which is that there were no such thing as Christians until well after the Reformation (assuming that White's Reformed Baptist position is purported to be Christianity). Notice the sheer inconsistency of simultaneously arguing for the reliability of Scriptures and historical evidence of Christ while making this argument. The Scriptures somehow arrive without ever intersecting history in any way, but the intervening people are all just a fountain of error.

I liken the almost starry-eyed view of the early writers to a person who would rummage through the wreckage of a modern Christian bookstore after it has been hit by a force five tornado. If one attempted to recreate the theology of Christianity in America by reference to a jumbled sample of what would be found in such a mess, what would the result be? Piecing together a tangle of T.D. Jakes, Zane Hodges, Jerry Jenkins, Rick Warren, the Dake Study Bible, Benny Hinn, and maybe a few pages of good stuff in the process, would result not only in utter theological pandomonium, but it would also create a representation that would have no meaningful connection to the actual historical situation. When one considers the fact that we have but a small sampling of the actual beliefs of the earliest generations of believers (it is sort of hard to develop a full body of doctrinal writing while hiding from armed Roman soldiers and being fed to lions), and even then, the later generations exercised a "filtering" influence at that (look at what happened to Melito of Sardis' writings for just being on the "wrong" side of the Quartedeciman controversy!), how can we even say we have a meaningfully balanced view of that period, let alone one that can provide us with such "uniformity" on issues as later sacramental theology?

This is simply a spurious argument. White can reject the notion of ancient history if he wants, but no reasonable person would take a view so extreme.

Turning this body of literature into the filter through which we are to view the qeo,pneustoj ("God-breathed") scriptures is to enslave the Scriptures, not to aid in their interpretation. While we may well be able to learn from a "Clement of Rome" (i.e., the writer of the letter representing the plurality of elders at Rome to the church at Corinth), or the writer of the epistle to Diognetius, or Athanasius, etc., we find ourselves more often learning what happens when untaught and unstable men are put in positions of leadership than otherwise.

Again, the Scriptures must have come magically from nowhere. But notice the "untaught and unstable" reference once again. These guys are evidently hopeless apostates who deny the fundamental tenets of the Christian faith, and yet they are the only ones who appear in the historical record.

So the real question that should concern our pilgrim is the same that concerns us to this very day: when examining any man's teaching, its value is to be determined solely by its fidelity to the plumbline that is the God-breathed Scriptures.

No, the real question is why anyone with a brain would believe in the Scriptures given White's account of history.

Does this one handle the Word aright? Does he cut it straight? Is he consistent in this matter, or is tradition his Master? Just as one cannot serve God and mammon, one cannot serve the Word and "tradition."

If that's true, then White's interpretive methodology (which is nothing more than "tradition," unless it originated magically from nowhere) puts him outside of the scope of serving the Word. That, or this statement is ridiculous, the latter of which is my estimation.

And when you begin examining the early writers on that basis, very few pass the exam with very high grades. The reasons are many. Some in the very early period did not have a full canon of Scripture upon which to base their teaching, leaving them subject to imbalance. Very, very few, from what we can see, functioned within a biblical view of the church, and hence did not have the maturing, corrective structure of a plurality of elders. Given the cultural context, many brought massively unbiblical influences from their philosophical backgrounds and forced the Scriptures into the mold of their philosophy (Clement of Alexandria, Justin Martyr). Their writings provide a veritable handbook on exegetical error, yet, for those looking to substantiate an unbiblical dedication to an "ancient tradition" they are given a "pass" on the exegetical issue, their inconsistencies are swept under the rug, all so as to create some kind of unanimous view "of the Fathers."

I greatly appreciate the admission from White that his view is completely and totally incompatible with historical Christianity and that his argument is based on the existence of literally no Christians for more than a thousand years ("very, very few" is literally zero, BTW). It also highlights the elevation of human reason above God's Word. White's entire analysis of what Scripture is and what it does is made in terms of human reason, and what's even worse, White's low view of Scripture conditions Scripture's effectiveness on human reason. If that's not idolatry of man, I don't know what is. And that "corrective structure" that is alleged to maintain orthodoxy certainly isn't doing its job either.

So I would ask our pilgrim just what it is he seems to be "missing" from the proclamation of the inspired Word? There must be a reason to be "looking" for something else, something in the smells and bells that is more attractive than the spiritual, miraculous, incredible activity of the Word working in the hearts and minds of believers as it is proclaimed within the context of the Body of Christ.

It's that "proclaimed within the context of the Body of Christ" that is exactly what's missing. Protestant churches don't fall within that context, although individual people within Protestant churches are certainly within the Body of Christ. But they aren't participating fully in the Body of Christ. Consequently, the work of the Word is stunted and hindered by the elevation of man and man-made traditions above the Word.

Granted, us Reformed Baptists have a long, wide streak of Puritanism in us, and a person given to ceremony and ornate liturgy might end up comatose in our company. But doesn't the accurate, consistent, God-honoring handling of the sacred Scriptures trump censers and candles and bells and icons?

If the handling of Scriptures in Protestant churches were more "accurate, consistent, and God-honoring," then there might be a point here. Unfortunately, Catholic and Orthodox churches have Protestant churches beat in both respect for Scripture AND liturgy.

None of those things change you, none of them conform you to the image of Christ.

And this statement is the best elucidation of exactly why White is completely and totally outside of the scope of historical (or even Biblical) Christianity. Heck, this is outside the scope of the Reformation. In fact, the liturgical and Eucharistic worship is exactly the context of the Body of Christ in which the Word conforms you to the image of Christ. White has essentially given up everything necessary to give the Word meaning, and thus, he has stripped the Word of its life.

And very importantly, is it possible for a faithful Orthodox priest, for example, to engage in exegesis of the text on those issues where Orthodoxy has defined a traditional belief through its liturgy and prayers? How can Scripture function as a corrective in that kind of situation?

Scripture functions as a corrective by its coherence, obviously. If Scripture and Tradition contradict one another, then either your interpretation of Scripture is wrong or your interpretation of Tradition is wrong. But since the people of the tradition in question are constantly in dialogue with the Scripture, the odds that a contradictory position are going to overwhelm the Church are extraordinarily slim. Even if those rare instances when heretical beliefs spread widely, there has always been a significant bastion of resistance, and the error became apparent after an ecumenical council. Indeed, it is far more likely that the true meaning of Scripture would be lost when someone neglects Tradition than that a constant dialogue between Scripture and Tradition would allow error.

In reference to our pilgrim's question about the "true" church being a minority, I do wonder if that is not how John felt when he wrote 1 John. Sure sounds like it to me. And did Paul wonder if the truth had become a minority in the churches in Galatia? Things could not have been overly rosey in Jude's day, either. I truly wonder about those who think truth should be determined by majority vote. Look at the situation in the Lord's day: the Scriptures were readily available, yet the very ones with the most access to it overlaid it with the dead crust of tradition, bringing the strongest words of condemnation from Christ (Matthew 15, 23). In Christ's day, had it not been for Luke's recounting of Simeon and Anna, we would have not even know of this "remnant" in Israel, just as Elijah despaired in his day. When our pilgrim speaks of an "unheard of minority," is he seriously thinking that if you have the truth, your writings will prevail over error in the long run? If the Word of God brings reformation while the bent of man is always toward error and suppression, will there not be times when following his viewpoint will lead solely to error? And is it not equally true that following the Word of God will always provide you a firm foundation?

If it were simply a question of occasional error, this might be a valid argument. But when we actually deal with the reality of the situation, the Word of God would have returned void if White were correct. This account fails for reasons both historical and theological. The historical reasons are obvious; we have much better historical records of the last two millennia than we do of previous times. While it might be plausible to plead that there was no record of the remnant in ancient Israel, there is absolutely no way that historical evidence of such a remnant could fail to exist if such a remnant existed. We have significant evidence about even relatively minor heretical sects, yet somehow, all trace of this one particular "remnant" would have to have been eradicated. Like I said, this is "conspiracy theory" history. The theological reasons are equally obvious. By White's theology, the unregenerate consider the Word of the Cross foolishness, and yet, they continued to preserve Scripture faithfully for centuries, despite not a single person in recorded history having accepted its message according to White's view of the Gospel. Analogies are often drawn to the Jewish people having accepted Scripture without understanding it entirely, but those analogies break down in light of the contrast between the New and Old Covenants. Unlike Israel, the New Covenant people form around the Word, so that it would make zero sense to have a universally apostate group of people preserving and cherishing Scripture without having sufficient capacity to discern the Gospel within it (according to White's theology). Thus, one must either reject universal apostasy and accept the completely unbelievable hypothesis of a "remnant without records," or one must accept a concept of universal apostasy more harmonious with Mormonism than Christian theology.

If I were to sit down with our pilgrim, I would want to know how it is that once he would have confessed justification by grace through faith, and the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ, as his sole ground of peace with God, and now he is willing to abandon that for...the mystery of liturgy?

The only thing in that list that would actually be abandoned is imputed justification, which is simply an invention of late medieval nominalism that has zero connection to Scripture or history. Sacrificing that for a true liturgy seems like a pretty good trade.

Isn't it the Word which gives life, light, and wisdom? Isn't the only thing that animates any and all liturgy the truth of the Word? How can you give up the very focus of your peace with God for a sacramental system that cannot offer you that same biblical truth?

Easy. Because it gives you more Biblical truth.

Maybe our pilgrim will stop in the way and think about his priorities. Maybe not. All I know is that Christ never fails to bring His own into His kingdom, and in the long run, the pilgrim's soul is in His hands.

Yep. That's exactly why the truth of the traditions of the Christian Church is speaking to him. We can only pray that White will meditate on the same matters and receive such a blessing.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

And speaking of a complete lack of qualifications

James White is in the process of biting off more than he can chew:

The Reformed Baptist-turning-Orthodox asks a number of the most common questions you see in situations like this in his writings on the RBDL. First he asserts that there was a "universal" view of the early Fathers regarding a "sacramental view of the church," and asks why we should reject this "universal view." Secondly, the old question of how the church is led, combined with the idea that, in essence, to belong to any other organization than one of the "historical" churches (i.e., Romanism or Orthodoxy) is to believe that the "true" church is an unheard of minority, appears once again. And thirdly, though rather closely related to the first point, how do Reformed Baptists in particular defend the idea of holding to a "radically different theology than the early church"?

Where does one begin? We have addressed so many of these issues before, but mostly in reference to Rome's claims regarding them. In tomorrow's entry I'd like to address the common problem with the first and third questions: the idea, prevalent in Orthodoxy via tradition, but present in Rome via dogma, that there is some kind of universal viewpoint of the early church that we have "abandoned." Is that the case? Does a fair reading of the patristic sources substantiate such a belief?

Like Svendsen, White lacks any sort of qualifications in church history or metaphysics, so this situation is analogous to a high school biology student offering to explain heart surgery to a thoracic surgeon. White doesn't even know what a "fair reading" is, much less what such a reading would "substantiate." And yet again, White thoroughly mischaracterizes the Catholic and Orthodox belief based on his own dubious (and I would argue false) metaphysical account of what Scripture is. I hope that I have time to address each of his responses in detail, because this should be an excellent example of White's willingness to accept blatantly false accounts of history and patristics in a desperate attempt to give his position some kind of historical legitimacy, which it entirely lacks.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Selective intelligence

Eric Svendsen recently posted this response to my suggestion that he was incapable of thinking clearly, citing the particular example of his seeming inability to avoid the heresies of Arius and Nestorius:

As for the return insult by Prejean that I don't think with clarity; just because he happens to disagree with me on the issue of the title of "mother of God," and just because he (in so doing) happens to be guilty of the heresy of Apollinarimonophysitism, does not mean that it is I who thinks and writes without clarity. This is the same Jonathan Prejean who a month or so ago commented on Dave Armstrong's blog that I write with "analytical precision." Go figure. Maybe he was just offended because the abbreviation for postmodernist is "pomo," and that sounds too much like another word.

For one thing, it's not a matter of simply happening to disagree on the subject. Svendsen is flat-out wrong, and it's not even debatable. He's completely out of his league here. He has zero qualifications in the field of patristics or church history (his Ph.D. is in New Testament), and his opinion conflicts with the overwhelming scholarly opinion on those subjects without the least bit of justification for doing so. Normally, when one talks about a subject in which one is entirely unqualified, one maintains a certain humility that allows one to be corrected, at least if one is behaving reasonably. Now when someone has been plainly corrected beyond doubt on such a subject (such as would be completely obvious to anyone who consults any scholarly authority on Apollinarism, monophysitism, or indeed any survey of Byzantine Christology) and that same person persists in the plain and obvious error without even a hint of acknowledgment, it is obvious that the person is ranting irrationally, having abdicated the field of reason altogether.

This brings me exactly to the question that I raised, which is that if the excuse for David's alleged "lack of clarity" is his postmodernism, then what excuse does Svendsen have for his departure from logic and reason? As I have said before, there is ample evidence that Svendsen's logical and rational capacity functions normally in other applications (the aforementioned "analytical precision"), so why do we see such blatant irrationalism in this instance? The only factor that I can see in common is irrational antipathy toward anything remotely Catholic, which is so overpowering that it compromises judgment, logic, and reason. This isn't to say that his reason is entirely compromised to the point of lunacy, of course, but it does mean that his judgment, opinion, and interpretation cannot be trusted with regard to any patristic sources, Catholic dogmas, metaphysics, and the like. In addition to the current example, his routine butchery of the Catholic theology of merit and his complete obliviousness to the relationship between his "4.5 point Calvinism" and Catholic/Orthodox soteriology testify clearly to the reality of the situation. That being said, I don't begrudge him his exegetical abilities, but without a coherent metaphysical account of revelation in which to place his exegetical arguments, his arguments will have little or no significance to those who don't share his peculiar philosophical predisposition.

Some people view this brand of irrationalism as amusing. Some are angered by it. Apart from shock that people can continue to nurture such prejudices even today, my central emotion is pity. The notion that one would be so motivated by this mindless, thoughtless drive to attack and attack, heedless of any sense of prudence or shame, is certainly a sad one. One is reminded of an addict who simply cannot help himself, no matter how obvious the problem becomes. As I would in the case of the addict, I exhort all readers to pray for Dr. Svendsen to be released from the grasp of this compulsion. It is something that only the Great Physician can heal.

[N.B., I have just noticed that Dr. Svendsen referred to me as an "anti-evangelical antagonist." Depending on how broadly one reads the term "anti-evangelical," I suppose that I might be in the sense that I (and everyone who is not in the category "evangelical" as it is conventionally used to refer to a certain class of Protestants) must be anti-evangelical in some way, shape, or form, else we would all be evangelicals. However, I suspect that this is part of the entirely disingenuous assertion that Catholics label their opponents "anti-Catholic" as a defensive rhetorical tactic without providing any justification for doing so. I have, in fact, presented explanations both in this post and in previous posts for what I mean by anti-Catholicism, specifically documenting exactly where Dr. Svendsen's antipathy toward Catholicism has undeniably compromised the rational integrity of his arguments. Furthermore, far from being a spurious attempt to avoid discussion of the issue by labeling an opponent, my observation of anti-Catholicism is tied directly to manifest flaws in the argument that Dr. Svendsen is making. Now that I have explained that references to anti-Catholicism actually result from substantive engagement of issues rather than avoidance, I hope that Dr. Svendsen will substantively engage the objections that I have raised to his position, particularly that his denial of the full humanity and divinity of Christ amounts to a denial of our salvation.]

UPDATE -- Exactly as I predicted, Svendsen turned from a substantive attack to a personal one by attacking my personal qualifications. Of course, he completely missed the point that the reason I was attacking his qualifications is because he was running afoul of people who actually do have those qualifications. If I were the one running afoul of Meyendorff, Pelikan, McGrath, Kelly, Sherrard, Schatz, Jurgens, Quasten, Newman, Thunberg, and just about every other patristics or church history scholar of significant repute, then it might be relevant to raise my qualifications. But since I am relying on their arguments, it is *their* qualifications that are relevant, not mine. I'd love to see Svendsen attempt to justify his position using any reputable work, as that would clearly expose how absurd his position is.

To respond to Dr. Svendsen's query of 3/14/05, I refer to my post here, which clearly points out Svendsen's Christological errors (fundamentally based on the complete inability to make a distinction between person and nature, an error that was shared by Arius and Nestorius). As far as my alleged attacks ad hominem, one of them I consider entirely legitimate, namely, calling into question the qualifications of someone who repeatedly asserts a position contrary to the bulk of scholarship without providing any good reason for doing so. If Svendsen can show to me such a deviation from respectable scholarship that would put my own qualifications in issue, he is welcome to respond in kind. Otherwise, he is simply distracting attention from the real issue. The remainder of the negative characterizations were solely directed at the quality of the arguments themselves (which were, in fact, irrational). There is nothing the least bit personal in attacking someone's arguments. And as far as my prediction that Svendsen would retaliate with personal attacks, obviously, one need not hope for something if one does not think that there is a reasonable chance of the contrary occurring. If it was not sufficiently plain from reading between the lines that I did not think much of the likelihood that I would get a substantive response, then let me make it plain that I did not then and do not now expect to receive any substantive engagement of my argument.

UPDATE #2 -- In his last response, Svendsen maintainted that I hadn't presented a substantive argument with which to interact. I have laid out my argument in greater detail in my response.