Sunday, April 29, 2007

Prayers requested

UPDATE -- Oddly enough, this whole story about Fr. Rob Johansen turned out to be some sort of hoax. I suppose that it can never be a bad thing to have lots of folks praying for you, even if one isn't actually in distress, so I wasn't too concerned about passing it on. But, if you were worried, worry no more.

The "stuff" theory of revelation

In a combox at Dave Armstrong's blog, I had a discussion with a Protestant who had some anxiety about oral tradition as compared to written tradition. He was arguing that written tradition, because it was not subject to as much transmissional variance, should be the only form of revelation trusted. I characterized his view (a characterization that he accepted) and offered my own in the following response:
You are thinking of the Apostolic teaching as "stuff," material. That's why we're talking past each other. I'll summarize what I see you as saying, using this term "stuff" (which is something like "information," but not quite for reasons that I hope to explain).

The reason that you are making such a big deal about transmission is that you see the goal as taking the "stuff" the Apostles left us and making sure that the "stuff" stays the same, not adding new "stuff" that could be mistaken for the old "stuff" or losing any of the old "stuff." So you think they wrote this "stuff" down so it wouldn't get lost (since in oral transmission, "stuff" gets lost) and told people not to lose this "stuff" so that you can compare new material X to the "stuff" to make sure that it isn't incompatible.

With respect to 2 Kings [22], you are saying that Israel failed at its job of "stuff" protection. It was a good thing that the "stuff" was in writing, because otherwise the failure would have meant that the "stuff" was lost.

With respect to Catholicism, then, you see it as relying on "stuff" that was not properly Apostolic, hence the "stuff" that Catholicism is labeling the Apostolic "stuff" is not really the "stuff." Instead, the new "stuff" should be judged against the original "stuff," and what is contradictory should be thrown out, while what is new should not be passed off as Apostolic "stuff."All that sounds completely reasonable as a concept, and it is equally clear (at least to me) that it could not even possibly be true. This entire "stuff" concept is based on the notion that inspiration is some inherent property, like color or hardness, so that you can just look at the "stuff" and perceive it. That's the source of your romantic (but, alas, incredibly implausible) claim that the Word of God would be known as such simply by looking at it. But given that I consider this claim false, I cannot accept your account of the Apostolic deposit as "stuff."

So if it isn't "stuff," what is it? This is the celebrated distinction between material and formal sufficiency. Inspiration is a property of intended function, so that something is "inspired" as being intended for use according to a specific formal rule.

One of the major differences between the Old and New Testament is understanding. The Israelites were more or less keeping Scripture blindly, but the Church has the understanding (formal awareness) to develop by the gift of the Holy Spirit. You're effectively holding the Church to the Israelite rule (hang onto this, and don't change anything), but that rule was only established in the way that it was because Israel was a mere shadow of the Church. In effect, Israel was holding Scripture for the Church; the inspiration of the prophets was looking forward to the Church. So the reason that they were simply told to hold it and not to tamper with it was that they weren't the intended audience (at least not qua Israel, although certain righteous men were blessed with some insight into the true meaning). They were only the shadow by which the true Church would be identified.

What I would say is that if you are going to advance this "stuff" theory, then you need to articulate exactly what the "stuff" is, how it is perceived, how it gets transmitted, etc. Then show how this "stuff" theory is consistent with the "stuff" itself and how it plays out in history (did the Fathers have this "stuff" idea?). It seems to me that this concept of "stuff" is badly corrupting the discussion between Catholics and Protestants. (Protestants seem to think of material sufficiency as "stuff" and formal sufficiency as being able to see what the "stuff" is, which is clearly not what Catholics teach.) Catholics consider the "stuff" theory completely unbelievable as an account of divine revelation, so we need to come to some understanding before getting past that point.

I also made a couple of additional comments regarding Old Testament deviations from the rule of faith and the advantage of the New Covenant:
In terms of this "stuff" theory, one advantage of the Church over Israel is that it has its own regulative function (i.e., the Magisterium) to prevent deviations from the Tradition. When Israel blew it, God Himself directly intervened to get them back on the straight and narrow, either through righteous men (like King Josiah himself and the prophets) or through punishment. The Church has the Holy Spirit working in Her already, so the corrective feature we see in 2 Kings is internal, not external. Thus, it is reasonable to think that Israel could fail where the Church cannot.
The failure in the New Testament churches (as opposed to Israel, which lacked the Holy Spirit and required external correction) comes from people breaking away from Christ's unity into division and heresy (1 Cor. 1:10-11, 11:18-19), while the faithful maintain unity (Rom. 12:16, 16:17-18; Ephesians 4:1-6; Phillipians 2:1-2; 1 Pet. 3:8).

In response to these comments, someone emailed me to inquire whether there were any Catholic books providing more explanation of this idea, because the "stuff" theory that I described appears to be more or less the orthodox theory of inspiration and revelation as most Protestants understand it. That seems consistent with the Protestant with whom I was having the dialogue accepting the "stuff" theory I outlined as an accurate description of his view. Obviously, it is a serious impediment to Catholic/Protestant dialogue if we do not even understand each other's positions on the most fundamental issue of how God communicates with human beings, because the discussion of every other theological issue is framed by this issue. Consequently, I thought I should present an answer here for public consumption.

As a general matter, the articulation of how to methodologically handle revelation came during the conflict between the Catholic Church and modernism (including its associated skepticism, in both Kantian and Humean form). It is important to recognize that Scripture is simply a special case of Tradition in the Catholic view, so both Scripture and Tradition are implicitly being discussed here. However, the general conclusions were dogmatized by the Catholic Church with respect to Scripture in Dei Verbum. The historical examination of this matter within the Church is surveyed in Aidan Nichols, OP, From Newman to Congar, a worthy excerpt of which can be found here. I agree with Nichols's conclusion that while there might still be questions over how any specific solution deals with questions of pluralism, hermeneutics, and reception, the general parameters of how to approach the matter appear to have been resolved.

The two books from this clash with modernism that I've found most suggestive are Maurice Blondel, Letter on Apologetics and History and Dogma (printed together by Ignatius Press under the combined title) and Bernard Lonergan's Method in Theology. Both are controversial among the more conservative Thomists and students of scholasticism, and I understand why. But I think these are valuable because they rebuke the post-Kantian theological method with the faith of the Church. They don't talk about Scripture directly, but what is important to remember about Catholic thought is that Scripture is simply a special case of Tradition. And I do recognize that any detailed analysis of Tradition must wrangle with the problems that Nichols mentioned: pluralism, hermeneutics, and reception. But what I would suggest is that they have at least offered a framework in which they can possibly be solved through tenacious examination of the contingent events in the history of the Church.

Viewing John Henry Cardinal Newman as a forerunner of this approach, I think it sells him short to think of him as Hegelian. The sort of theorizing Newman does starts from exactly the same place: that one's hypotheses about the regula fidei are not tested in one's head, but by applying a method that allows them full contact with reality. There's an inherent rejection of the Kantian critique of knowledge, because it assumes both that things can be known in themselves and that this knowledge directly impacts what theological alternatives are permissible. Revelation, then, is not directly from God's mind to our mind (which is how the post-Kantian view would necessarily see it), but it is, like natural knowledge, hard-earned conceptual knowledge about real events. It is grace, but not grace that replaces our normal operation of intellect. Rather, it elevates the operation of that intellect in a harmonious way to see an object beyond its ordinary limits (effectively, a mediated realist account of knowledge, which is all Blondel's particular "method of immance" really is).

By way of contrast, I believe that many non-Catholic thinkers (and I am particularly thinking of Thomas Reid, Herman Dooyeweerd, Cornelius Van Til, John Locke, and numerous Humean skeptics) conceded too much to Kant, more or less accepting Kant's critique of knowledge and attempting to show within that perspective that it could be answered. (N.B., As one might gather from my list, I have a theory as to why Calvinism is particularly vulnerable to this affliction, but I want to stick with discussing the Catholic view for now.) People like Blondel and Lonergan demonstrated that Thomist/scholastic ideas, rather than being naively accepted, could be deployed to show where the Kantian critique was fundamentally erroneous. Conservative Thomists like Garrigou-Lagrange (and even less conservative Thomists like Etienne Gilson) thought this sort of justification according to external methods put too much "up for grabs" (and one could cite examples like Loisy in which it did; thence arose the bitter conflct between Garrigou-Lagrange and Blondel). But in the end, I think Blondel, Lonergan, et al. were vindicated in their endeavor to argue for Thomism against modernism. I've located an article by a like-minded author that makes out a case for this view.

At the bottom line, I think the "stuff" theory of revelation is more or less the Kantian anxiety made flesh. To be true or certain, there has to be this real instance of mind-to-mind transmission from God. When these things get tangled up with phenomena, they lose their noumenal purity. Revelation is pure idea, and it must be preserved as such. Note that this is by no means an exclusively religious idea; it can also be found in jurisprudence in the form of legal positivism endorsed by, e.g., Robert Bork. But for those who view even the initial events (e.g., the delivery of revelation, the passage of a law) as themselves being mediated and only imperfectly or partially modeled as pure ideas, such notions of preservation are difficult to swallow, and the associated fears of "error," the "wax nose" anxiety, and the like seem chimerical. They are vain attempts to preserve something that was itself only a creature of the imagination, an unreal ideal, when the focus should instead (according to the Catholic perspective) be put onto the reality in which these things operate. The reality is what maintains unity through the synergistic action of the community as members of the Body of Christ, of which even the delivery of the apostolic deposit is a part.

In the Catholic view, laws and revelation were intended to serve a unitive function in a community to allow no conflict between the members, so it is at some level meaningless to speak of "error" in that function (if it fails, the Body of Christ, ergo Christianity, ceases to exist in reality). As Dei Verbum makes clear, there are truths in both what the original authors assert (the positive content of Scripture) AND in concrete reception of particular texts within the Church:

11. Those divinely revealed realities which are contained and presented in Sacred Scripture
have been committed to writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. For holy mother Church, relying on the belief of the Apostles (see John 20:31; 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Peter 1:19-20, 3:15-16), holds that the books of both the Old and New Testaments in their entirety, with all their parts, are sacred and canonical because written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God as their author and have been handed on as such to the Church herself.(1) In composing the sacred books, God chose men and while employed by Him (2) they made use of their powers and abilities, so that with Him acting in them and through them, (3) they, as true authors, consigned to writing everything and only those things which He wanted. (4)

Therefore, since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings (5) for the sake of salvation. Therefore "all Scripture is divinely inspired and has its use for teaching the truth and refuting error, for reformation of manners and discipline in right living, so that the man who belongs to God may be efficient and equipped for good work of every kind" (2 Tim. 3:16-17, Greek text).

12. However, since God speaks in Sacred Scripture through men in human fashion, (6) the interpreter of Sacred Scripture, in order to see clearly what God wanted to communicate to us, should carefully investigate what meaning the sacred writers really intended, and what God wanted to manifest by means of their words.

To search out the intention of the sacred writers, attention should be given, among other things, to "literary forms." For truth is set forth and expressed differently in texts which are variously historical, prophetic, poetic, or of other forms of discourse. The interpreter must investigate what meaning the sacred writer intended to express and actually expressed in particular circumstances by using contemporary literary forms in accordance with the situation of his own time and culture. (7) For the correct understanding of what the sacred author wanted to assert, due attention must be paid to the customary and characteristic styles of feeling, speaking and narrating which prevailed at the time of the sacred writer, and to the patterns men normally employed at that period in their everyday dealings with one another. (8)

But, since Holy Scripture must be read and interpreted in the sacred spirit in which it was written, (9) no less serious attention must be given to the content and unity of the whole of Scripture if the meaning of the sacred texts is to be correctly worked out. The living tradition of the whole Church must be taken into account along with the harmony which exists between elements of the faith. It is the task of exegetes to work according to these rules toward a better understanding and explanation of the meaning of Sacred Scripture, so that through preparatory study the judgment of the Church may mature. For all of what has been said about the way of interpreting Scripture is subject finally to the judgment of the Church, which carries out the divine commission and ministry of guarding and interpreting the word of God. (10)

Effectively, this implies that the Apostles have given their consent to have their own intent clarified according to the Church's dogma, just as a legislator implicitly gives consent to have disputes resolved according to judicial procedure and the like. This is why you will often see even a Catholic exegete like Raymond Brown of Joseph Fitzmyer point out that something was not necessarily intended by a Scriptural author as a historical matter, but nevertheless, it is an acceptable dogmatic development not contradictory with the original intent because the historical meaning of the passage (as best we know it) does not manifest the intent to foreclose such an interpretation. Naturally, one might speculate what would happen IF such a contradiction were ever to arise, but one ought not based one's commitments to beliefs about reality on what might happen absent some concrete demonstration that the possibility is real.

This does, of course, render something formally binding that could not possibly be binding according to the "stuff" theory, but recall that the Catholic view is that the Apostolic deposit included a specific commission to make such matters binding in a manner consistent with the spirit of the initial deposit (even to the extent of accepting additions to Scripture, such as the the additions to the book of Daniel, as sharing the same spirit of inspiration). In our view, even the original revelation was deposited under the same conditions, not having been intended to be "pure idea" even when it was first left to us. There's not a fear of Scripture functioning in this way, because that's what Scripture was made to do in the Church (as opposed to Israel, Her antitype in this respect).

Obviously, this only holds given apostolic succession of Tradition; if the chain of formal authority were broken, then even Scripture itself would lack binding authority on this theory. It is not the case, incidentally, that we Catholics assert the need of a Magisterium simpliciter. Rather, we assert the need for a Magisterium on our theory of revelation, which is a different matter. I've seen the accusation bandied about that some Catholics (including Newman himself!) have converted out of some misguided quest for epistemic certainty to assuage their angst over their own personal doubts and struggles. At least in my personal experience, that badly misunderstands what is being asserted. Instead, the argument is that it is the only consistent position that allows development of doctrine to have the same binding force as revelation itself (foreclosing "private judgment" in the Church). Given the real experience of the Church, it seems highly implausible that development of doctrine does not have such force (viz., history is a denial of the "stuff" theory as limiting what is irreformably binding to the "pure idea," the "stuff," of Scripture). Thus emerges the Newmanian dictum: "To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant." Obviously, one might quibble over exactly what sort of authority is required or what degree of division is acceptable, and this is the dispute between the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox churches. But both staunchly maintain that the facts rebut any hypothesis of formal continuity with the Christian Church of ages past without some way of formally declaring irreformable de fide dogma.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

My interaction with anti-Catholics

Having documented what I considered to be the M.O. of the anti-Catholic, which is just B.S. in the philosophical parlance, I thought I should provide a list of the discussions I've had with these folks to make it easier to review them. I've provided a brief summary of the general subject of the discussion as well.

Explaining how Catholics see arguments
On why Evangelical arguments are unconvincing to Catholics (with Scriptural supplement)
On discussion on these matters being functionally impossible (and now I know why!)
The swift and simple refutation to Evangelicalism from the Catholic perspective
On why Evangelical arguments are based on confusion
On the pervasive Evangelical appeal to unjustified authority principles (with clarifications)
Advice from Tertullian
More on the appeal to authority without benefit of argument
On bad Evangelical theology based on this authority principle
Initial assessment of the M.O. used by James White, James Swan, and David King
The diagnosis: sola solipsista

James White:
Interactions with Catholic apologists
Monotheletism (I've found a supplemental reference for this one. White's absurd statement is as follows: "One of the characteristics of personal existence is will. Few would argue the point in relationship to the Father, as He obviously has a will. So too, the Son has a will, for he says to the Father in the Garden, "not as I will, but as you will." (Matthew 26:39) The ascription of will to the Persons indicates the ability to reason, to think, to act, to desire - all those things we associate with self-consciousness. As we shall see later, there is a difference between nature and person, and one of those differences is the will" [my emphasis added]. Yuck!)
White's qualifications in church history
Historical Christianity
The hilarious Vatican Secret Archives account
Trashing Paul Owen
White's Christological problems
White's accusations of his sister's alleged ignorance
White on Fr. Hugh Barbour and Nicaea

Eric Svendsen:
Svendsen's anti-Catholic hate speech
Nestorianism and the term "Mother of God"
Nestorianism (Part 2)
Nestorianism (Part 3)
Nestorianism (Part 4)
Nestorianism (Part 5)
Nestorianism (Part 6)
Nestorianism (Part 7)
My apology to Svendsen (back when I thought Svendsen was sincere but mistaken, an assumption I would now consider inaccurate)
A good statement on how one should respect the truth in these interactions
Giving Svendsen more credit that he deserved
Comments on a relatively decent discussion with Paul Owen (with comments by Paul Owen)
The anti-Catholicism starts cropping up with Paul Owen
Tridentine merit theology (this one, again, was when I thought Svendsen was sincere but mistaken. Seeing how the same topic was handled in the Denver Seminary incident defeats that hypothesis).
Another post on how one should respect the truth even in these interactions
Nestorianism (Part 8)
Nestorianism (Part 9)
Interlude on what makes Nestorianism bad
Nestorianism (Part 10)
Nestorianism (Part 11)
Nestorianism (Part 12)
Nestorianism (Part 13)
Nestorianism (Part 14)
Nestorianism (Part 15) (this is a great example of abandoning rational argument in favor of BS)

Jason Engwer:
Patristics and historical methodology
On Engwer's standards of argumentation (excellent example of the M.O.)
The BS historical argument

David T. King:

Steve Hays:
Tridentine merit theology
Tridentine merit theology (Part 2)
Tridentine merit theology (Part 3) (this discussion went reasonable well, probably because it was a preliminary discussion rather than an actual dispute)
Scriptural authority (again, when it's not a dispute, things usually go well)
Antiochene exegesis (here's where it started getting confrontational, and Hays started trying to BS his way into Scriptural authority)
Antiochene exegesis (Part 2)
On Hays's hand-waving ("hand waving" would be an apt term if done sincerely; if done insincerely, it is the definition of BS)
More of the same from Hays
Evangelicals abandon basic standards of rational argument
Evangelicals abandon basic standards of rational argument (Part 2)
Evangelicals abandon basic standards of rational argument (Part 3)
Evangelicals abandon basic standards of rational argument (Part 4)
General observations on the standards of argument (This was really when I first started to perceive the problem I documented as sola solipsista)

Friday, April 27, 2007

Sola solipsista

In all seriousness, I am becoming convinced that anti-Catholics are starting to take pride in ignorance. I'm not talking even about having a culture that doesn't value intellectual achievement. Anti-intellectualism, a general distaste for certain forms of endeavor, is not the same thing as actively using ignorance as a kind of currency for credibility. It's as if the less these people know about Catholicism, the more spiritually pure their knowledge is, and thus, the more respected they should be. It is, of course, a form of solipsism, because it denies knowledge about reality, and this seems to be a major way of which the anti-Catholic community cultivates its insularity and identity. The behavior appears cult-like to me, particularly given that it tends to gravitate around certain strong personalities. Historically, the only similar profile I have seen as Gnosticism, which emphasized a kind of spiritual "knowledge" that amounted to an ignorance of the phsyical world ("knowledge falsely so called" as Irenaeus described it). And while the make-whatever-you-want-of-revelation attitude of many Protestants is Gnostic in character, it still seems odd to me that the quasi-mystical social patterns would still have traction.

I started pondering this phenomenon in a comment on Dave Armstrong's blog. A commenter named Peter was discussing a comment by the anti-Catholic David T. King, in which King had made what appears to be an insane comment in response to David Waltz: "We disagree again on both Ratzinger and [Raymond] Brown. I don’t care what they said in other contexts. I know what they said in the statements I gave."

Peter noted:
King’s comments regarding context illuminates this man’s attitude towards the truth. I no longer take him seriously and I consider him untrustworthy.

I replied as follows:
You know, I am really starting to come around to the idea that it is NOT reflective of his attitude to the truth but rather his ability to perceive logical connections. Quite honestly, I'm starting to think that the problem is that they literally can't grasp the conceptual structure involved. In the case you cited, for example, it's not so much that the statement is out of context (though it is), but that he doesn't understand the concepts implicit in the argument enough even to understand what the context would be.

I first remarked on the problem here:

I admit that I didn't see how it could possibly be that what I said would just go over someone's head. But then I read this:http:// beggarsallreformation.blo...calvinists.html

Seeing Swan call this "one of the best epistomological questions I've heard in a long time" was another one of those jaw-dropping moments. This is, of course, the very same epistemological question is posed by almost every historical argument against sola scriptura that I have heard (viz., how does one explain the Fathers, or anyone else, making major mistakes if they were faithful Christians?), and I was stunned that Swan could have missed this.

And then came the real clincher: this comment.

The impression I got from this was "Let's have a discussion on the Catholic doctrine of the canon, but let's not talk about the Catholic view of what the canon is." Same problem here:

I know, it seems like an improbable hypothesis at this point, but the evidence is there. For Swan to say what he did and for King to respond to David Waltz as he did just doesn't make sense unless they honestly don't get the conceptual framework of Catholicism. I know it's difficult to be charitable to people who have been that nasty, but we have to confront the fact that "what we have here is a failure to communicate." I don't know how to fix it, but maybe rather than being in hostile rebuttal mode, we ought to work on being more positive and trying to find some helpful illustrations or analogies to give some kind of handle on the concepts.

Dave A. proposed an alternative explanation:
They won't accept any such instruction, of course. For the anti-Catholic, a Catholic supposedly teaching them anything about theology is, in their mind, sort of like an infant teaching Einstein about nuclear physics.

That gets back to both the personal element and the presuppositions. For them, we aren't even Christians, and an unregenerate mind can't grasp the things of God at all, so how could we possible teach them anything?

But while I resolved to think on that possibility, that didn't strike me as particularly satisfying either. It wasn't even personal disdain I was perceiving as simply a systematic disregard of the content of what was being said. It's as if conveying one's lack of awareness of what was being said was, in some bizarre way, a testament of one's understanding.

The discussion continued at Dave's blog, with Dave remarking
Swan is a strange bird. He's not the only anti-Catholic who does this "method", of course (White, King, Svendsen, all do the same thing, and William Webster has utterly ignored two lengthy critiques of mine too; even Jason Engwer eventually fled for the hills after being repeatedly refuted), but his is a particularly dense and obtuse case.

He's not stupid, yet he acts like he is profoundly unaware of folks' answers to his materials (almost like a deaf person to a symphony or a blind person to a spotlight). After four years of this, I have pretty much concluded that he is simply an intellectual lightweight and a mere annoyance as regards serious discussion. To put it in the mildest way I can think of: he just doesn't get it.

One wonders if these guys consciously adopt a strategy of deliberate propaganda and suppression of opposing views. It's fascinating to observe how they act, from a psychological perspective. They must feel that it is working. If you can mock and ridicule and caricature and belittle a theological opponent long enough, then your fan club will believe anything you write about them, no matter how irrelevant, long since refuted, or ridiculous.

That's all I can figure out. White's been doing this for 12 years now, and Swan, as a member of his fan club, has adopted the same cowardly, idiotic "strategy".

That's when it occurred to me that demonstrating one's ignorance about Catholicism was actually a form of social currency. They're not even trying to understand, for the public demonstration that one does not understand is evidence that one is "regenerate" in one's thinking. When it clicked into place that this was the social function being performed by these exercises, this behavior started to make sense. And it turns out that I even had a test case that I had been mulling over on which to test this hypothesis: Eric Svendsen's attack on Timothy George.

For those who don't know, Timothy George is a well-regarded Baptist scholar and professor of church history. Despite being a Calvinist himself (albeit with some caveats about human limits to knowledge in this area), he committed the ultimate sin of actually involving himself in Catholic/Protestant ecumenism, including the Evangelicals and Catholics Together initiative. If my theory of intentional solipsism were correct, then the fact that George himself was Evangelical ought not prevent him from being deliberately misunderstood as a demonstration of Svendsen's ignorance of Catholicism (and therefore, perversely, his regenerate knowledge), just as he did in the case of Denver Seminary.

Suffice it to say that the application of the hypothesis in this instance gave me tremendous confidence in its accuracy. I note from the introduction:

The article (Evangelicals and the Mother of God) is by Timothy George, a man for whom long ago I had some respect. It is sad when formerly sound-thinking theologians, blinded by the draw of ecumenism, go down this path. As one whose doctoral thesis was on this very issue, I can say with confidence that the depth of George's knowledge of this issue rivals the depth of Jon Meacham's paltry knowledge of Christianity whenever he attempts an article about Jesus in TIME magazine.

So this establishes the neo-Gnostic mindset, contrasting Svendsen's spiritual knowledge ("one whose doctoral thesis was on this very issue") with George's lack thereof ("blinded by the draw of ecumenism"). Svendsen is the insider; George is the outsider ("formerly sound-thinking," "for whom long ago I had some respect").

When one begins an article with "It is time for evangelicals to recover a fully biblical appreciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary," it fast becomes clear where he is headed. George proceeds from there to make every exegetical error that characterizes Rome's view of Mary, even inexplicably conceding the Roman Catholic distinction between latria and hyperdulia--on what basis, we are never told.

Here we move into the detachment from reality. It is wrong even to accurately describe the Catholic concepts; spiritual knowledge is equated with not even knowing them. Note that George's remark itself was innocuous, not claiming belief in the Roman distinction, merely remarking that it exists and even evincing outright skepticism as to how coherently it is applied ("Good Catholics know, of course, that Mary is not the object of worship or the kind of adoration given only to God (latria), but rather of veneration (doulia), albeit of a special kind (hyperdoulia). But this distinction often seems to get lost at the local level."). But in this neo-Gnostic, even conceding the Catholic categories for purposes of accurate description is too much; George is an "outsider."

George goes on to engage in the very same symbolic reading of supposedly Marian-centric OT passages that even Roman Catholic scholars have abandoned these days. In other words, George is clearly a novice in this area, and has not yet discovered that the supposedly biblical defense he gives for an exalted Mary has long ago been rejected as time-worn nonsense by his more informed Roman Catholic counterparts. Only RC polemists use these kinds of arguments anymore. But if that's the case, what business does a supposed evangelical have in resurrecting them?

This turns out to be a drastic misrepresentation of George's position, but it fits the pattern perfectly. In fact, George doesn't even claim belief in the perpetual virginity of Mary, but simply saying that "there is nothing theologically difficult about affirming Mary’s perpetual virginity" is enough to end up on the bad list. This is too much understanding, and understanding of Catholic positions is bad. We may continue...

George's treatment of Mary's perpetual virginity and title of theotokos is lamentable. He somehow thinks that upholding the virgin birth is equivalent to upholding continued virginity after that birth, shamelessly evoking J. Gresham Machen as someone who would support his thesis

In fact, George said this in the context of the title "Virgin Mother," not "Ever-Virgin," which he discusses later. But again, pointing out any degree of commonality or understanding with Catholics, even one that Machen himself realized, is too much. Note that Machen, who is revered as a true Gnostic, could not have possibly shared George's beliefs (even though it is evident in this case that he did), and this becomes part of the detachment from reality.

George's woeful ignorance on what constitutes agreement with Rome is simply stunning. Because Machen was a staunch defender of the virgin birth--something that is explicitly biblical--he somehow implicitly agreed with Rome's doctrine of Perpetual Virginity--something that is demonstrably unbiblical?

Of course, George wasn't even discussing the perpetual virginity, but again, because George is ecumenical, he must be convicted of "woeful ignorance." Again, this is the tactic of knowledge by contrast; George's actual knowledge (which includes knowledge of Catholic belief) must be condemned in contrast with Svendsen's spiritual knowledge.

Then Svendsen moves on to a topic that should be well-known to readers of this blog: Nestorianism. As with me, Svendsen attacks Chalcedonian Christology, which he associated with Catholicism and excessive veneration of the Virgin. And as he did with me, he cites Nestorius as orthodox. But let us take heed of the neo-Gnostic tactics:

But George's ignorance does not stop there. Note well what he thinks about the Christological controversy:
The Church was right to reject Nestorius’ preferred title for Mary, Christotokos, “mother of Christ,” as an inadequate description of Mary’s role in the mystery of the Incarnation. We are not at liberty to construct a merely human Christ, cut off from the reality of his entire person.

Nestorius' alternative title, Christotokos, did not "construct a merely human Christ"; quite the opposite. The title "Christ" accounts for both the human and divine in Jesus, whereas "mother of God" does not. That George does not know this is just stunning.

This is probably the most concrete example we have of the tactic of contrasting real knowledge with spiritual knowledge. George's real knowledge of the subject matter is cast as ignorance, because real knowledge of Rome is evil, as contrasted with Svendsen's spiritual knowledge. And when I say "real knowledge," I mean real knowledge demonstrable by any criterion of reasonable certainty one might want to choose. Thus, for example, George is well-recognized as a knowledgable church historian, having reviewed the work of Daniel H. Williams (whose scholarly credentials are beyond question) and being known for being generally aware of scholarly works in the area. Svendsen is someone who by his own admission has "never claimed to have training in patristics," making his claim to convict George of ignorance completely unbelievable. (N.B., One might also note the same neo-Gnostic tactics regarding my "ignorance" and "delusion" being used against me in the linked article.) But even if the claim of ignorance were not prima facie unreal, it would be obviously disproved by the evidence of George's own words:

Some forty years ago, Heiko A. Oberman published an important article, using the research of Bishop Paulus Rusch of Innsbruck, in which he argued that the negative Nestorian reaction to Theotokos was initially a response to heretical groups who claimed that Mary was the mother of God not only according to the humanity of Christ but also according to the divinity of Christ, in the same way as there are mothers of gods in pagan religions. Epiphanius of Salamis attested the existence of such heretical groups, one of which he located in Palestine: a community of women who made circular cakes and offered them to the Virgin Mary, whom they had come to look upon as a deity. (This group was called the Collyridians, after the shape of the cakes in their ritual.)

Thus, according to Oberman and Rusch, in rightly opposing an exaggerated, heretical Mariolotry, Nestorius himself unwittingly fell into Christological heresy. This may be a more charitable reading of Nestorius than the facts warrant, but it points to a continuing concern of Protestants: Granted the legitimacy of doctrinal development, including the Christological clarification that led to the councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon, where are the checks against exalting the Virgin so high that her son is obscured?

So George is clearly familiar with Oberman's scholarship (which is essentially the line of argument to which Svendsen refers) and more contemporary scholarship to boot, as the reference to this characterization being "a more charitable reading of Nestorius than the facts warrant" (which is exactly what I pointed out to Svendsen as being the overwhelming scholarly view today). So the charge against George is obviously unreal (indeed, if anything, George is conceding the legitimacy of the risk of excessive veneration), but again, the neo-Gnostic operation is about showing one's spiritual knowledge by denial of real knowledge. Moving to the conclusion...

George's focus in this article is on all the typical Roman Catholic polemical points (with which he substantially agrees), and he somehow ignores all the exegetical points regarding Mary's staus in the NT. Yet it remains a well known fact that whenever Jesus and Mary appear together in the NT, Jesus is at pains to distance himself from her and to put down any supposed privileges she might assume based on biological ties--indeed, going so far as to sever biological ties with her. George seems oblivious to this, which disqualifies him from speaking on the issue in the first place.

This is a nice tight summary of the neo-Gnostic mindset. George is accused of agreeing with "all the typical Roman Catholic polemical points," when in fact, all George did was accurately describe them, often for the express purpose of critiquing them. There's the charge of ignorance of the spiritual knowledge of Scripture, a bread-and-butter Gnostic claim. And note the Gnostic reading of Scripture in exactly the same way; the truth of Scripture is framed exactly as a negation of the knowledge that the Gnostic considers profane. And finally, of course, there is the charge that George is "oblivious" to the spiritual knowledge, which "disqualifies him from speaking on the issue." This is vintage Gnosticism; it could have been quoted verbatim in the second century.

The real lesson in all this is exactly the one George raises:
Beyond the theological constraints of a biblical religion, however, there was also what might be called an ecclesiological hardening of the arteries within the Protestant and evangelical traditions. To be an evangelical meant not to be a Roman Catholic. To worship Jesus meant not to honor Mary, even if such honor were biblically grounded and liturgically chaste.
Perhaps we should ask what Catholics, without ceasing to be Catholics, can learn from evangelicals about Mary. Certainly we should ask what evangelicals, without ceasing to be evangelicals, can learn from Catholics about Mary. If Catholics need to be called away from the excesses of Marian devotion to a stricter fidelity to the biblical witness, evangelicals should reexamine their negative attitudes toward Mary, many of which derive from anti-Catholic bias rather than sound biblical theology. They need to ask themselves, as the Groupe des Dombes suggested, “whether their too frequent silences about Mary are not prejudicial to their relationship with Jesus Christ.”

It seems undeniable that the anti-Catholics have fled to the tactics of Gnosticism in order to cling to these same biases in the face of a reality that directly contradicts them. Consequently, when confronted by what are patently unreal responses, we should remember that this is the purpose of neo-Gnostic methodology (viz., to establish credibility through denial of reality), and we should cling to the wisdom of St. Irenaeus, who patiently demonstrated the contradictions between the Gnostics and reality so that no sincere truth-seeker could follow them, even by mistake.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Theme for the Week: Touching My Past

I don't know if it's the thirty-deuce birthday coming up or what, but for some reason, reminders of the past are cropping up all over the place. It started (after a bit of foreshadowing) when I got the welcome surprise of an email out of the blue from someone I knew in high school but hadn't heard from in a very long time. And then the parents of my godchild ran into another friend of mine at a wedding, and that friendship goes all the way back to 6th grade! So it already seemed like the past was being made a bit more palpable than usual, in that good way that rediscovery of old friends always makes what was old new again.

So it just seemed to fit with the theme that I would happen across this blog entry. For those who don't know why this might be curious, Lake Charles is my hometown, where my parents live and where my sister got married a couple of months ago. Dallas, of course, was my last place of residence. In fact, I received the Sacrament of Confirmation almost exactly 5 years ago at St. Thomas Aquinas (hmm, maybe that explains why I've been obsessed with metaphysics ever since...). To have an occasion of joy like the reception of a new shepherd for the Diocese in not one but two places dear to me "gladdened my heart" (in King James parlance).

I'm not sure if there is any message here, but I am thankful for God's little reminders of people and places that helped me to become who I am today. These experiences didn't make me wistful or nostalgic for something missing, as encounters from the past are liable to do. Instead, they made me feel a little more whole.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Musings on the collective quality of being human

We reached the 50-comment limit on this Catholic/Orthodox discussion on original sin, but Perry Robinson asked me a good question that I ought to answer.

Perry said:
God could still have Mary as the Theotokos and have prevented everyone else from inheriting original sin.Why not both? This I think shows the inadequacy of appealing to her unique vocation to address the underlying worry about the problem of evil.

I replied:
I could have prevented the possibility of either of my children committing actual sin by slaughtering them after they were baptized. Why didn’t I do that? This I think shows the inadequacy of your underlying worry about the problem of evil.

There is a purpose in people being allowed to be subject to evil, even if that purpose is necessarily inscrutable to reason. I will let my children possibly be damned to Hell, not because I hate them, but because I love them. I suspect it is the same with God.

Perry, as is his usual habit, asked a good question:
I don’t think you have given the proper analogy. God could have prevented lots of moral evil, not by doing some evil to human agents but by doing some great good to them. If you could have given your child a proverbial pill to prevent them from not only sinning but ever dying or any serious suffering, wouldn’t you do so? Now, you may object that your ways aren’t the ways of God. Fair enough, but given the imago dei, it is also true that we have via reason, barring Calvinism and Jansenism, a genuine notion of goodness. I can’t see why it wouldn’t be good to give them the pill. Do you?

My point was exactly that it isn't at all clear to me that God could have prevented lots of moral evil by doing some great good to them. For example, protecting people from evil is unquestionably a good, but it isn't at all clear to me that protecting every person from all evil (which God could assuredly do) would be doing humankind a great good. The reason I would present is that the interconnectedness between human beings isn't such that what grace was given to one or another person in some particular situation could be equally given to all in all situations without substantially disrupting the entire arrangement and diluting the context in which people have experiences that make them unique. The reason Catholics appeal to the Blessed Virgin's vocation as Theotokos is that this role is special in history, so that special intervention in this case is more fitting and consonant with the role that she plays, even though it most assuredly would not be for everyone. If this were done indiscriminately, then it would wash out all of the differences between people, and it would compromise their individuality as humans. Part of what separates us from the angels is that we each live our own lives in a fundamental connection to one another. Thus, we have an ability to experience God that is both more profoundly individual and yet closer even than what the angels have.

Therefore, I think the analogy is apt. I can deprive my children of their opportunity to grow and to have their own experiences and to be their own people. But it would not be good of me to do so. Why would I think that it would be any different with God? Certainly, God might tolerate evils as between people that have the same effect, but He has also revealed to us that they are tolerated, not caused by Him in any sense (James 1:13-18), and even these are tolerated for the sake of allowing each individual, even the wicked, a measure of life and opportunity (Rom. 9:22, 2 Pet. 3:9). So God wishes to preserve the fullness of human experience wherever possible, and in only one person's life in all of human history would it have actually been consonant with her particular experience to experience His presence for her entire life: the one who would bear His Son. It doesn't seem to me that the gift of sanctifying grace "out of order" (so to speak) would be a great good for all human beings. It would undermine the entire form of Christian life, including particularly the Sacrament of Baptism and the Eucharist. On the contrary, I think that God values our individual existence as human beings, even with all the risk and vulnerability that it includes. Otherwise, He would have stopped creating with the angels.

And by the way, what counts as good in terms of God's allocation of graces and the circumstances that face us is thoroughly shrouded in mystery, and rather than speculating about the reason for these differences, we ought to admit the real impossibility for created intellect to know these things. Indeed, the entire rationale for imprecatory and intercessory prayer is that we do not and cannot know, coming to God and our brothers and sisters in the faith to pray for His mercy.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Dr. Prejean on the radio

My wife and I often listen to Dr. Laura, since she is one of the few people left on the radio who refuses to capitulate to the modern nonsense regarding the role of women and the family. This morning, Dr. Laura mentioned someone on the Today Show who legitimized the feeling of some women that they were "wasting their education" by staying home to mother their kids. Like Dr. Laura, my better half was having none of that! She fired off an email to Dr. Laura pointing out that it was foolish for educated women to fall into the trap of running around on a hamster wheel for eight hours a day in lieu of parenting. She noted that she had used her Ph.D. to create opportunities to work without leaving home by taking positions as an online professor, and she also observed that she had married a good man who provided for the family so that she could be flexible in the employment she took.

Dr. Laura liked the email so much that she made it the "Email of the Day" and read it on the air. Props to the missus for articulating a valuable lesson well enough to reach an audience of millions, and thanks for making me the good guy in the story! There are a lot of accomplishments of which one might be proud, but in my experience, nothing is better than the family saying "Ya done good!"

On not understanding the issues

The oddest thing that I have encountered in anti-Catholic apologists is a bizarre tendency not even to understand what the conflict between Protestants and Catholics is. Moreover, there is not only misunderstanding, but a stubborn adherence to the misunderstanding even in the face of correction on the point. I have no idea why there is such a stern insistence on creating conflict where there isn't one and ignoring conflict where there is. But that is clearly the pattern, which is why most Catholics have given up on even trying to deal with numerous anti-Catholics.

There have been two recent examples.

In the first, James White says the following (my words are in blue):

James Swan pointed out some very interesting quotes from Jonathan Prejean this morning. I thought this one was instructive enough to provide it:

"In my view, sola scriptura is the #1 problem (like Joseph said in a comment on my blog), and I WANT to be the guy who is doing theology outside of the "The Bible says it; I believe it; that settles it!" mentality. The problem that I see is that Protestants have the idea that the way White does theology is the only way theology is done. I just want them to see that isn't the case, and that if something more appeals to them, there are other options out there. On the other hand, if people think that is the way to do theology, then I would go as far as to say that they *should* stay Protestant. I'm not out to steal sheep who aren't called to leave the flock. I'm content to wait on God's grace for that. I just provide the occasion for them to see how I live Catholicism, as the Spirit moves me. If it doesn't appeal to them, that's OK. If it needs to do so, it will."

If you will but press Rome's apologists they will eventually say things like this. Remember when Gerry Matatics, in response to my asserting that his choice to follow Rome was a fallible choice, replied that my choice to follow the Bible was likewise fallible? Excellent example. Here Prejean is admitting quite openly that the realm in which he "does theology" is not circumscribed by the Scriptures. It was obvious, from his phone call, that he is far more concerned about knowing obscure opinions of Cyril of Alexandria than knowing how John testifies of the deity of Christ or Paul presents the glory of God in salvation in the golden chain of redemption in Romans 8. He is not an exegete, and he knows it. He cannot stand in the realm of the Scriptures and defend his views, for his views have precious little connection to the divine revelation that Jesus said "could not be broken." He is more concerned about throwing about the accusation of "Nestorianism!" (what percentage of people have a clue what that means?) than he is discerning the mind of God in the Word. And so we definitely differ, fundamentally, and always will. But what seems painfully obvious to me is that God's grace never leads anyone to embrace Prejean's odd viewpoints. His blog presents his mission: "Sharing the Christian metaphysics of Xavier Zubiri and the fullness of Western Tradition under the patronage of St. Cyril of Alexandria and St. Bonaventure." Yes, that's what the grace of God and the Holy Spirit are doing in the world, leading folks to...that. Not to the Word, but to...Xavier Zubiri. There you go. If I had just read more Zubiri, and less Paul! Then I'd be up to taking on the likes of Prejean and I could laugh at the uniqueness of the incarnation and the outmoded law of God against the worship of images! That's where I missed the boat! It is all so clear now.

There are several points of interest:
1. It's misleading to imply that I needed to be "pressed" into the admission that I do not circumscribe theology by the Scriptures in the way that White means. I am not the least bit ashamed of that admission so that I would need to be pressed, and I have even go so far as to point out that such circumscribed exegetical techniques are no more relevant for Christian theology than the Qu'ran or the Book of Mormon. Scripture is a Christological document, and it must be read as one. If one restricts the interpretation of Scripture to authorial intent or other such mundane considerations, then one "breaks" the Scripture by removing its Christological unity. And as St. Irenaeus points out, once you do that, you can rearrange the image of the King into an image of a fox or whatever else you want to make of it. The rule of faith is a prerequisite to correct Christian exegesis.
2. In that regard, Cyril of Alexandria was probably the greatest Christological exegete in all of Christian history. He understood the rule of faith for interpretation of the Scriptures as well as any Christian ever did. Given the choice between Cyril's commentary on the Gospel of John and White's commentary on John, I'll take Cyril. Likewise for the patristic concept of the "glory of God" versus White's nominalist/legalist concept. I make no bones about that: guilty as charged. Moreover, there are even Baptists who recognize Cyril's exegetical mastery; see, e.g., Steven A. McKinion.
3. I am an exegete; I am not an exegete of Greek. But since inspiration isn't limited to the original autographs, it doesn't much matter whether I am or am not a Greek exegete.
4. Regarding standing in the realm of Scriptures, I simply view the realm of Scriptures more broadly than White does, and I consider White to have "broken" the Scriptures by taking such a myopic view of them. This is simply an obvious point of disagreement, but absent an argument for his view or against mine, the accusation itself accomplishes nothing.
5. The fact that such a small percentage of people know what Nestorianism is simply demonstrates that very few people have any sort of coherent concept of what it is to be both God and man. Nonetheless, the denial of Nestorianism is necessarily an implicit belief of anyone who actually believes that Christ is both God and man, so anyone who denies it, even implicitly, denies the Gospel. I would suspect that most people would not want to deny that.
6. Ultimately, the reason one reads someone like Zubiri, Cyril, or Bonaventure is to understand better what it is that the Scripture proclaims. What Zubiri, Cyril, and Bonaventure offer is exposition of the Scriptures; that is where all their work returns. To treat them as ends in themselves is to misunderstand their work. Moreover, to study them without also first knowing the Scriptures is to err as well, as would become apparent to anyone who began even a cursory study of their work. They aren't about bypassing the Scripture, but rather, they elevate and deepen the understanding of those who already know it. One can't bypass the milk for the meat.
7. I wouldn't suggest less Paul for White. I would suggest more Christ, which would actually mean getting more out of Paul, because White could perceive Paul's spiritual meaning, rather than merely the lower limit of the grammatical/historical method.
8. It certainly is laughable to think of someone who actually knows the risen Christ to consider His Incarnation as recapitulating less than the entire creation (John 6:38-39; Rom. 5:18; Eph. 1:9-10; 1 Cor. 15:20-28) or to assert that we ought to be limited by shadows like the prohibition on the use of graven images when the Incarnation has revealed the recapitulation of all creation in Christ. If the prohibition on idolatry were maintained after the Incarnation, then it would be idolatry to worship Christ, and this is obviously not the case. If Judaizers wish to impose the restrictions of the Law on Christians without Christological justification, they are condemned by the Apostle (Gal. 2:11-21), even if the one maintaining the view is such a one as St. Peter.
9. It is quite evident that we have fundamentally different beliefs, but White has yet to present any argument why his are to be preferred. Until he does offer some sort of objective reason to justify why his view of authority/revelation is preferable or why our view accurately presented is inconsistent on its own terms, we aren't obliged to make any demonstration as to why our version would be preferable to his. Note that White isn't the only one who doesn't carry his burden of persuasion in this regard. In response to an essay by Philip Blosser explaining why Catholics had numerous reasons NOT to believe in sola scriptura, Steve Hays wrote 200 pages demanding Philip Blosser to show why the Catholic account was preferable without once answering the original challenge: to provide objective reasons for any Catholic to listen to him. All sorts of people hold all sorts of unjustified opinions, but when you are demanding someone else to make a demonstration of theirs, you have to do better. Of course, neither White nor Hays understand basic principles of argumentation, so this isn't really surprising.
10. I think White would be unpleasantly surprised at the number of people who have inquired about my work. There are certainly more than none.

The next excerpt was from James Swan regarding a quote from St. John Chrysostom, but what intrigued me was David King's opinion:
Anyone who understands the distinction between the material and formal sufficiency of Holy Scripture can readily see that Chrysostom's quote here assumes the basic perspicuity (formal sufficiency) of Holy Scripture, as he urges his readers not to wait "for another to teach thee." His quote also assumes the availability of the NT scriptures for his audience, and its sufficiency to meet the needs of those who read them. Chrysostom here does not, as you suggest, treat Scripture as one would "vitamin supplements," but as utterly essential for he says that the ignorance of Holy Scripture "is the cause of all evils." The failure to take vitamin supplements is not the cause of all bad health in the physical realm. His analogy is clear for anyone to see, i.e., unless someone is determined not to see it.

It certainly isn't obvious to me, and while one might speculate wildly about my being "determined not to see it," I think the parsimonious explanation is that I simply know better than Pastor King what the term "formal sufficiency" means. If the Scriptures were formally sufficient, then Chrysostom is effectively advocating a self-contradiction: listen to my teaching that you shouldn't listen to me regarding the Scriptures. Such "don't even listen to me" statements would be self-referentially absurd along the lines of "this statement is not true," except in cases of obvious hyperbole (see, e.g., Gal. 1:8). Rather, Chrysostom's homily to his flock obviously presumes that they are listening to them, which assumes some existing formal competence (viz., the person's will and intellect is already properly formed in some respect).

I certainly consider it essential for Catholics with a well-formed faith to study Scripture to avoid making a shipwreck of their faith ("once saved always saved" not being a tenet of Catholic faith). But that is hardly the same thing as saying that one can form one's faith correctly from Scripture alone; by contrast, see, e.g., Luke 24:25-27 and Acts 8:27-35. That's precisely why I (as James Swan noted from my remark at Dave Armstrong's blog) consider it essential for people to form their faith correctly before studying Scripture, rather than expecting that studying Scripture will form their faith. There is no doubt that Catholics should study Scripture; that is presumed in everything I do. I wouldn't be pointing to people like Zubiri, Cyril, and Bonaventure if I didn't want people to take Scripture seriously. But it is equally true that if one relies on Scripture alone to form his faith, he will be led astray just as easily as if he never read it at all.

It would accordingly seem that anyone who knows the difference between formal and material sufficiency would know that King doesn't understand the distinction. The failure to grasp even basic logical distinctions makes it impossible for any Catholic Christian (or Orthodox Christian, as in the case of Stephen) to take Hays's, White's, King's, or Webster's position seriously. That in itself is presumably just reporting, as there shouldn't be any surprise that Catholics uniformly consider their charges against Catholicism to need no further answer. Until they stop misrepresenting the differences between Catholicism and Protestantism and start making arguments rather than merely asserting the differences themselves as if they prove something, the Catholic position will persist cheerfully unfazed by all this sound and fury.


Uncanny! David King STILL doesn't get it:
There is a specimen example of someone who is determined not to see it. All things are clear and open that are in the divine Scriptures; the necessary things are all plain.

Plainness is a matter of formality; the necessary things are all plain to someone with a properly formed will and intellect.

Remember the eunuch of the queen of Ethiopia. Since therefore. while he had no man to guide him, he was thus reading; for this reason he quickly received an instructor. God knew his willingness, He acknowledged his zeal, and forthwith sent him a teacher.

If if the Scriptures were formally sufficient, he wouldn't have needed a teacher! This is incredible; King says exactly that willingness is not enough for understanding, which directly contradicts the formal sufficiency of Scripture. As I said, King has no idea what formal sufficiency even is.

But, you say, Philip is not present with us now. Still, the Spirit that moved Philip is present with us. Let us not, beloved, neglect our salvation!

Goodness, now King is admitting that we need spirit-led teachers to understand Scripture? Might as well just put up an advertisement for the Catholic Church!

Cyril of Alexandria (patriarch, 412-444): Such subtle and out-of-the-way problems do not require a doctrinal decision so much as a questioning and speculative investigation accompanied by a refusal to let the mind fall into improper views to be carried away from reasonableness. For it is written ‘seeking do thou seek and dwell with me.’ How can one clearly explain what holy writ has not stated clearly? For example it is written in the book of Genesis that in the beginning God made heaven and earth. Holy writ declared that he has made it and we accept this truth in faith. But meddlesome inquiry into the means, origin or method whereby heaven, earth and the rest of creation were brought into being has its harmful side, for there is no need to involve the mind in profundities. What divine Scripture does not state very clearly must remain unknown and be passed over in silence.

Again, clarity is a matter of formality, meaning that it depends on the formation of the will and the intellect. A well-formed intellect does not inquire into what cannot be explained, into mysteries that are impenetrable. What does King think judges what are and are not "improper views" in Cyril's mind? Scripture itself? Anyone familiar with Cyril would immediately perceive the absurdity of that assertion. But because King wants to read Cyril like a Protestant, he can't even exegete Cyril from a historical perspective, as evidenced by the fact that not one single Cyrillian specialist would take King's view here. Let King point to a Keating, a McKinion, a McGuckin, or a Russell who agrees with him. He can't, because his view is ridiculous.

By all accounts, I've heard that Pastor King is one of those human beings who would literally give you the shirt off his back (at least if you weren't a Catholic apologist). But being a good guy doesn't make you competent, and Pastor King is clearly not competent in this area.