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.


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.

Monday, March 19, 2007

What is not individual is common

William B. of Neochalcedonian reprises a mainstay of the anti-Western argument on the Envoy forum. Coming as this reply does following the plea for charity from Mike Liccione and Brandon Watson regarding this very same topic, I am hoping that it will be taken in a good spirit, despite being a mite critical of one of one of the great Eastern Fathers.

William reproduces an argument from a soon-to-be-ex-Byzantine Catholic (I'm guessing Todd Kaster) that could have come straight from St. Basil the Great:

Spiriation is either a personal attribute (specific to one Person of the Holy Trinity), or an attribute common to all three Persons. If both the Father and the Son spirate the Spirit, then the Spirit must spirate as well, and then there would be endless spirations and endless Persons of the Trinity. You can't say that two Persons spirate, but the third Person doesn't

It's the same argument advanced by St. Basil, and alas, it relies on the same false dichotomy that his did. Ever wonder why St. Athanasius wasn't swayed by St. Basil's plea to condemn Marcellus ("do not despise the hypostases")? I think it's because St. Athanasius knew St. Basil's formulation was inessential, so that it wasn't a good basis for condemning anyone. That's not to say that Athanasius would have followed Marcellus in equating the manifestation of a reality with the reality itself (indeed, it is fair to say that he certainly would not have), but he appeared to have considered Basil's requirements insufficient to justify the condemnation.

So why doesn't it follow from homoousion that whatever is not individual is common? This idea that it does results from the premise that individuals are realizations of natures, which in turn results from the equation of being with form (and non-being with formlessness). Thus, for example, the eidos of an individual is the combination of body and soul, which together form a single logos. There is not composition of existence and essence, but rather, there are commonalities between many logoi (natures) and individuality that distinguishes them. Activity is explained in that each nature (logos) has a characteristic activity (dynamis) that is exercised according to an individual mode of use (tropos, see also divine persons as tropos hyparxeos = "mode of existence"), viz., the possibility of activity is referred to nature while the actuality is referred to person. In general, and particularly with regard to deification, the entire distinction between created and uncreated becomes the One-Many problem writ large: how does the Creator unite all things in Himself so that the existence of multiple things does not disrupt his unity?

St. Maximus deployed various aspects of Neoplatonism in offering a solution of this problem, rebutting the belief that "distinction is opposition" and the notion that distinction inevitably required fragmentation. His Christological and Triadological solutions were applications of this method, and it appears to be that, pace Eric Perl, he did not derive his solution from neo-Chalcedonian Christology. Rather, like his predecessors (including the famous Leontioi), he deployed Neoplatonic concepts in his explanation. See Melchisedec Toronen, Union and Distinction in the Thought of St. Maximus the Confessor.

That more or less suffices for the East, but why was the West different? I think that it starts with having a Stoic (Tertullian) as a magisterial figure in Triadology. The reason I think this is the case is that it introduced room for a tertium quid. Remember that in the Stoic picture, there is an immanent energy (fire, reason, providence, or most aptly, pneuma) that shapes matter, so there is a feeling that everything is the same "stuff" (matter) except as to the extent that it is active in some particular. Essentially, a thing is its doing; what it does constitutes what it is. Tertullian is extremely materialistic in his understanding of this idea; he thinks of the immanent principle as immanent "stuff" (which he calls "spiritus") that is the principle of material activity. If you look at what he says in Against Praxeas 2-3, it becomes pretty clear that he thinks of the Son and the Spirit as having been given this power in their entirety, despite being separate in operation, while lesser spiritual beings (angels) receive this power to a lesser degree, with humans (as material but ensouled) trailing just behind that. Thus, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit differ in degree, form, and aspect (gradus, forma, species), but not in condition, substance or power (status, substantia, potestas). That turns out to be the key point in the Homoian controversy; non-identical activities (viz., different acts of manifestation) can show the same power.

What this has done, although it isn't apparent except by comparison, is that it has introduced conceptual space (a diastema, even) between the individual form and outward (non-exhaustive) activity. The significance of that gap has been grossly underestimated; as far as I can tell, it is cataclysmic. Recall: the Eastern view localizes the difference between essence and activity in the gap between what would in Aristotelian parlance be first substance (individuality) and second substance (essence). That's why it is so crucial to locate the source of personal existence and personal activity in an individual and to separate what is common from what is individual. In the Western view, on the other hand, the only necessary distinction was exhaustive/non-exhaustive. This bears no coincidental resemblance to the relationship between infinity and finitude, with the Trinitarian life being actually infinite and the finite forms of communication being divisible into the truly finite and the potentially infinite (viz. deification; see also Clement of Alexandria on Christ's "magnitude"). The fact that each Person could truly reveal the divine in different ways (and indeed, the divine power entailing the freedom to do so, as Dr. Liccione points out) opened up the possibility that the terminus of an internally exhaustive transfer could manifest itself in the Economy in entirely different ways (which acts of manifestation Marcellus unfortunately confuses with the persons themselves). And the concept of matter/potency as a real delimitation of the composite provides an excellent metaphysical complement to the distinction between the infinite and finite, between exhaustive act (actus purus) and created acts.

The Incarnational question was then to understand how the same subject brought these two modes of action into one reality, which led to two-form Christology (Phil. 2:5-11). The Triadological question was to explain how, in light of the affirmation of the Son and the Spirit (which existence would otherwise be opaque from the activities alone), that the intra-Trinitarian relationships were exhaustive. Augustine came up with his famous "psychological analogy," which oughtn't be taken too literally, as it is only intended to show the conceivability of a relationship that is exhaustive in terms of creating identity. Anselm's argument can quickly be used to demonstrate that, if there is more than one Person, there can be exactly and only three based on the bipolarity of the relations, and Photius's reductio doesn't work on it (the relations are exhaustive, ergo non-separating by the infinite/finite distinction). That distinction was adopted quite comfortably in the West, providing a rather convenient answer to the Homoian Arians as to how different economic activities of the persons did not show different natures and to how begottenness/spiration does not imply subordination. Consequently, it ain't exactly surprising that the author of the Tome to Flavian has no qualms about using the filioque in defending orthodox Triadology. While it's understandable that this might have looked a bit curious even to sympathetic Greeks (like St. Cyril), it seems to me that it is a self-consistent explanation of the data of revelation, even if it departs in some respects from points of Cappadocian theology. To really see the underlying contrast up close and personal, it is useful to compare the difference between St. Augustine and St. Gregory Nazianzen on the subject of schesis or to compare Nicholas of Cusa's view of the Neoplatonic infinite sphere (building on Eckhart's description of God as a sphere whose "center is everywhere and radius is nowhere") with St. Maximus's account, as recounted by Toronen (see above). Cusanus is clearly dealing with the act of existing (as distinct from essence) while St. Maximus is dealing with the one/many problem of logoi.

I don't say this to trash St. Basil or St. Maximus relative to St. Thomas or Cusanus. I confess that I find the Western account makes more intuitive sense to me, because I've been immersed in Western physical science practically from birth, meaning that Aristotelianism is ingrained at this point. But the Western account is vulnerable to misreads at the point of divine causation, so if you're looking for a clear affirmation of libertarian free will (which is necessarily mysterious in the Western account, meaning that you have to punt on how God and humans are free), Maximus is probably better. The Western view is more abstract regarding sin but more concrete regarding the centrality of the Lord's Passion. But the overarching point I would make is that they aren't in conflict, unless they are forced to be.

Brandon Watson gives some sage advice in this regard about the issue at stake in simplicity being wholly different between Thomas and Palamas. There have been enough attempts to try to beat the other side into an incompatible metaphysical framework in order to cast the opponent as a long-despised enemy. This problem is not going to go away until we realize that some ideas aren't portable between the sides but that this is not a good basis for charging the other side with hopeless inconsistency.