From Authority to Clarity

Earlier I posted this argument from John Owen (mediated by Richard Muller) on the authority of Scripture. I just realized today that the same argument works for the clarity of Scripture. And this time, we have Scripture itself to attest to the clarity of natural revelation. Romans 1:19-21 are incredibly important here:


19. What may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities-his eternal power and divine nature- have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. 21. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened (emphasis added).

Notice two things about this passage. Firstly, creation reveals God clearly. No magisterium of scientists is necessary to understand God’s invisible qualities, namely, His eternal power and His divine nature, from what has been made. Secondly, the reason why so many people do not see it (and who therefore arrogantly claim that the problem is in the revelation, and NOT in them) is their sin. When they worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator, their foolish hearts become darkened, and they can no longer see the truth.

I will simply point out that if this is true of natural revelation, how much more is it true of special revelation! Natural revelation has a clarity that reveals the things which God intended it to reveal. Special revelation has a clarity that reveals the things which God intended for it to reveal. Why would natural revelation be clearer than special revelation, when special revelation was given for a much more specific reason? God would be stupid to make His special revelation less clear than His natural revelation. Therefore, Scripture is clear in itself, with the Holy Spirit making sure that God’s people understand it. We need no churchly magisterium to understand the Scriptures.

Furthermore, not all the differences among Protestants (which are usually exaggerated while Roman Catholic differences are minimized) can shake this foundation, since, if sin distorts our understanding of natural revelation, how much more would it distort special revelation! The fault of misinterpretation lies not in the fact that Scripture is inherently unclear, but in the fact that sinful people distort its teachings.

15 Comments

  1. AJ said,

    February 5, 2011 at 2:15 am

    If Luther’s novel doctrine of sola scriptura “is not meant to be an inerrant claim”, then why should I take a doctrinal novelty that may actually be false and make it the foundation of my faith? If I can’t ever know with certainty that Luther’s novel doctrine of sola scriptura is true, then why should I accept it in the first place?

    “I should not believe the Gospel except as moved by the authority of the Catholic Church.”
    (St. Augustine, Against the Epistle of Manichaeus Called Fundamental, 5,

    Peace and Grace.

  2. AJ said,

    February 5, 2011 at 2:23 am

    Jesus appointed specific people, 12 to be exact, to carry out his mission. Even though Jesus has many, many followers, he called out 12 specific individuals to guide his flock (1 Tim. 3:1, 1 Timothy 3:10-13, Deut. 34:9, Sirach 45:15 , Numbers 27:18-20, Col 1:25 – Paul calls his position a divine “office.” An office has successors. It does not terminate at death. Or it’s not an office. See also Heb. 7:23 – an office continues with another successor after the previous office-holder’s death. Even in Jesus’ time there was a structured church (as in archangels and angels and early church fathers-very hierachical). In fact the church could not exist if Jesus had not been around to start it himself and he did, but he left it in the hands of Peter (Mt 16:13-19).

    So, we see that there was a church, with a specific structure of leaders that were called by God to lead the church. This is the Catholic (Universal) definition of church.

    Now, if the church is founded upon the leaders then it is safe to say that “the church” can also mean “the leaders” or “the one’s with teaching authority” or we called as Magisterium (Latin).

    Peace

  3. greenbaggins said,

    February 5, 2011 at 2:06 pm

    AJ, I suggest you purchase volume 3 of King and Webster’s Trilogy on the doctrine of Scripture (actually, you should buy all three volumes). But volume 3 consists entirely of early church fathers and their *very clear* doctrine of sola scriptura. Luther was hardly an innovator on this doctrine. Furthermore, it can be demonstrated (and I intend to as we go along) that sola scriptura is the position of Scripture itself. So the Scripture teaches it, and the early church believes it (King and Webster have amassed a mountain of evidence on this). Furthermore, Matthew 16 does not teach what you think it teaches. At the end of volume 2 of their trilogy, Webster amasses all the patristic interpretation of Matthew 16. None of them interpret the passage the way the Roman Catholic church does today. See pages 439-445. Most of them interpreted the rock as Peter’s confession. Certainly, NONE of them mention a perpetual popedom. So, your theory does not fly, AJ.

  4. February 6, 2011 at 8:55 am

    GreenB,

    I own and have read the three king and webster volumes. Actually, volume 3 shows no such thing because it merely shows the fathers held to certain conceptual parts of sola scriptura, but it doesn’t show that they held to all of its parts, particularly the right of private judgment (please, which is far more than the idea that each man has to interpret a text to understand it.)

    As for the biblical material, did people see, 1. Something of that was a created analog to God? 2. saw the divine essence or 3. Something (qualities?) that is deity but is not the divine essence?

    What do you think it means to say that God has “qualities?” What difference if any do you take to be between a “quality” and an “attribution?”

  5. Rohan said,

    February 7, 2011 at 3:38 am

    Lane,

    In my discussions, it seems that our Catholic and EO friends criticize the Webster/King findings in two ways:

    – That many of the CFs who refer to the importance of scripture also encourage the importance of tradition elsewhere. I.e. isn’t that the obvious result of selective/limited quote mining?

    – Where the CFs (especially Chrysostom) believe that scripture should interpret scripture, it is intended for the clarification/reconciliation between those verses, rather than the exclusion of the need for a church that provides the *true* theological system.

    How are we to answer these?

    Are we stuck in a dialogue that will always provide opportunities to maintain presuppositional commitments (like in Bahnsen’s “dead men bleed’ illustration)?

  6. Mark B. said,

    February 9, 2011 at 3:40 pm

    My experience tends to confirm Rohan’s, and I think there is some validity to the objections he mentions. However, in my (admittedly less than exhaustive) readings in the fathers, I have found that they don’t have the same views on many things, and RCs seem to be as guilty of selective mining as they accuse us of being… I think it sometimes helps when conversing with a knowledgeable RC if I view the conversation the same way I would approach a conversation with a JW or a Mormon Elder, what they are espousing is another religion, not Christianity. The Magisterium has already told them what the Scripture and/or the fathers say (Scripture or fathers CAN”T contradict the infallible spirit guarded Magisterium in their view, no matter the number of qoutes you offer), they really aren’t interested in learning from them, they are only trying to find things in them to support what the Magisterium says and/or convert us to their cult, and thus the questions they ask are often so loaded with their own assumptions that they are irrelevant to the issues and are geared towards that end. I have been guilty in the past of assuming that they are a Brother in Christ who is interested in the pursuit of truth, when they may not be, in other words, we ARE stuck in a dialoge that has no resolution unless the Spirit changes a heart.. However, I do think forums like Green Baggins are valuable to raise these questions, prayerfully God may use them to reach some lurker’s heart with the Gospel.

  7. Constantine said,

    February 10, 2011 at 11:34 am

    AJ,

    I would respectfully recommend that you reread Augustine’s epistle. You are taking one of his early rhetorical arguments and offering it as his conclusion.

    What actually happens in this letter is this:

    1.The Manichaeans offered their scriptures as proof of their claims of Mani’s apostleship.
    2.Augustine demurs stating that he would prefer the interpretation of his “catholic” friends and the Manichaean interpretation therefore will have “no weight with me.”
    3.But then he asks, if perchance, they could offer scriptural proof for their claims he would not believe either: “I will
    believe neither them nor you: not them, for they lied to me about you;
    nor you, for you quote to me that Scripture which I had believed on the
    authority of those liars..” So Augustine makes the point very clearly that he did NOT accept the authority of the catholics blindly. In fact, in this scenario, he would consider the catholics as “liars”.
    4.That leads him to a point of skepticism; he cannot believe the Manichaens and he cannot believe the catholics. What now? Here is how Augustine resolve the issue.
    5.“But far be it that I should not believe the
    gospel; for believing it, I find no way of believing you too.”

    You see, for Augustine, the sole infallible rule of faith and practice was the Scripture and not the church. Augustine here espouses as clearly as ever can be, the doctrine of Sola Scriptura.

    I think the misinterpretation you use comes from the erroneous promulgation by the Vatican of the writings of a French priest names Portalie. He wrote, if memory serves, in that inter-Vatican period of time where all publications were highly censored by the Vatican and only those passing muster – even if historically inaccurate – were allowed to be published.

    We should maintain clarity about Augustine’s view of authority.

    Peace.

  8. February 10, 2011 at 11:44 am

    Constantine,

    Even if your gloss on Augustine’s epistle were uncontroversial, it still would fall short of proving that Augustine held to the doctrine of sola scriptura. The Laudians for example held that Scripture was the only infallible *rule* of faith. They just thought that the church was the ultimately normative interpreter of that rule over against the Puritans. Sola Scripture is more than the idea that Scripture is the only infallible rule.

    And secondly, Augustine had a much wider canon of Scripture to boot.

  9. greenbaggins said,

    February 10, 2011 at 12:16 pm

    Parry, in your two comments, I have noticed that you haven’t dealt with something that the Webster/King trilogy proved more than adequately, and that is the clarity of Scripture, or the formal sufficiency of Scripture. They proved that the early church fathers definitely taught this. John Chrysostom, in fact, taught this in many places in his commentaries.

    Augustine’s definitions concerning the Apocryphal books are far less than clear. Webster/King also address this issue (as does Whitaker), and there is evidence that Augustine did in fact put the Apocryphal books in a different category than the other canonical books.

    Rohan (what is your full name, by the way, for the record?), Webster/King argue that the word “tradition” does not typically mean in the early church fathers what the Roman Catholic church says it means today. When the early church fathers use the word, they mean what the apostles handed down in Scripture. In other words, for them, tradition means Scripture. As for the second issue, recourse must be had to Chrysostom’s clear doctrine of the clarity of Scripture, which does away with the need for the Magisterium as the Roman Church understands it (of course, Protestants still view the church’s interpretation as a very important aid to understanding the Bible. We just don’t think it is necessary for salvation).

  10. February 11, 2011 at 11:22 am

    GB,

    Suppose what you claim is true, that the early fathers taught the perspicuity of scripture. What follows from this? As I noted, not much of use. First, we have proof then that the fathers weren’t all over the map. Second, that if the question were entirely epistemic, then that would settle a lot, but it doesn’t since that is not the primary question. It is a question of normative judgment. And normativity out paces truth or knowledge, which is why there is a difference between a law professor who comes up with the right reading of the constitution and the supreme court who concurs. One has the normative force of law and the other doesn’t. This is why all the language of perspicuity in the world won’t get you to sola scriptura and the Laudians knew it well maintaining their position against Rome and the Puritans. (Funny how everyone reads the Puritans but not those Anglicans they wrote against?)

    On the contrary, I do not grant that perspicuity of the text and formal sufficiency are conceptually isomorphic. I can hold to the former but not the latter. One can hold that say the doctrine of the full divinity of the Son is perspicuous in the Scriptures while also affirming that technical terms like homoousious are required to fix and manifest the meaning of biblical language. Just read the Cappadocian response to the arch heretic Eunomius. If scripture were formally sufficient terms like homoousios would not be necessary. Formal sufficiency speaks to semantic precision and perspicuity speaks to semantic expression. Creeds and Confessions provide the former and the latter, whereas scripture provides only the latter. So they just aren’t the same concepts or at least I don’t take them to be. Lastly, the perspicuity of the text is one thing and the perspicuity of the reader’s mind is an altogether different matter. How did the fathers think that the latter was achieved? Through ascesis and not through some kind of grammatical-historical methodology (which they condemned at the Fifth Council incidentally as Nestorian.) The truths of scripture are spiritually discerned.
    When I read Chrysostom’s commentaries prior to the King/Webster volume, I didn’t think that he held to sola scriptura and I was a protestant at the time. So I was unmoved by the majority of the spoof texting in the Webster/King volumes. And let’s be honest about those volumes. Neither of these men, however much natural talent and private reading they may have done are not patristic scholars. And their work is a self published work that lacks any serious peer review. It is a McDowell kind of handbook for spoof texting. Catholics have their spoof texting volumes and Protestants have theirs. In any case, I don’t think the W/K volumes prove that the fathers taught formal sufficiency.

    Suppose it is true that Augustine put some of the books in a second category. Not much follows from this and for a few reasons. First, he still includes books in the primary category that Protestants reject and so the claim of a wider canon seems to still stand. Second, Athanasius and others do the same and then turn around and quote some of them as inspired scripture. So whatever idea they had in terms of a subordinate category that of itself didn’t imply in every case that they weren’t to be taken as scripture. And none of them produced a protestant canon in any case.

    As for the notion of tradition in your remarks to Rohan, even if they were true, they assume that there is no other position between Rome and Protestantism on tradition. But the Orthodox beg to differ. So I can admit that Rome’s current notion is mistaken, maintain the older notion of tradition and that Protestantism dissents from it. One has only to take a look at Basil’s work to know that when they refer to tradition, they do not always mean what was handed down in scripture. The Sign of the Cross, facing East, and various liturgical practices, which Basil took to have robust Trinitarian content all were from Tradition.

    As to my initial question on Romans 1. What did people see?
    1. Something that was a created analog to God?
    2. saw the divine essence or
    3. Something (qualities?) that is deity but is not the divine essence?

  11. Constantine said,

    February 11, 2011 at 12:15 pm

    Hi Perry,

    Thanks for the note.

    I certainly don’t think my gloss is more controversial than AJ’s when he takes a premise and presents it as a conclusion. Augustine is clearly using the rhetorical skill he was so rightly noted for to bring us to an impasse – if the Manichaens could prove the veracity of their position from their Scriptures, then the Catholics would be “liars” (his word, not mine.) This resulted in a position of skepticism – and Augustine was no skeptic.

    And his resolution is clearly this: “But far be it that I should not believe the gospel; for believing it, I find no way of believing you too.”

    He then goes on to cite how the names of the apostles as therein noted; how the successor to Judas was named; how Paul was called to be an Apostle, etc.

    Then he does something you might find interesting. Here is what he wrote (emphasis added):

    “READ ME NOW, if you can, in
    the gospel where Manichaeus is called an apostle, or in any other book
    in which I have professed to believe.”

    Read me now…that is clearly a reference to the written Scriptures. He never asks the Manichaens to tell him what the Catholics “said”.

    And finally, to prove his belief in the supremacy of the written word, he writes: “Will you READ THE PASSAGE where
    the Lord promised the Holy Spirit as a Paraclete, to the apostles?
    Concerning which passage, behold how many and how great are the things
    that restrain and deter me from believing in Manichaeus.”

    I don’t think this is a stretch or controversial at all, Perry. Augustine held to the possibility that the Catholics could be wrong (i.e. liars) but he never allowed for the possibility that Scripture could err.

    Now you are exactly right that Augustine held to a wider canon than we do today. But all that means is that we was fallible, and mistaken. And, interestingly, he did not hold dogmatically to what he thought the canon was. He left that to be determined by the churches.

    At any rate, thanks for the comeback. I have been concerned about the misuse of the passage from Augustine for some time and am grateful to have the chance to put forth what I hope is a fuller, more faithful reading of it.

    Peace.

  12. bsuden said,

    February 11, 2011 at 1:30 pm

    10 Perry

    Read the passage in Rom. 1 again – and again – and again.

    They understood from what they saw, something about God. Again, they did not literally see God or anything of him.

    IOW the Eastern Orthodox distinctions that generate your questions and permeate your thinking and reply are entirely beside the point. Besides, to mention ascesis rather than a grammatical historical hermeneutic is a dead giveaway.

    Iknow, you’ll probably give us some more witty sarcasm and torrents of “chancred teat” vitriol like last time you were here in full force in ’09, but Paul Dan, amateur or no, pretty much sizes up the EO neo platonic mysticism for what is: demonic madness.

    He writes at:Reformed Orthodoxy and his From Mysticism to the Gospel; The Story of the Reformation with in the Eastern Orthodox Church pierces the veil of obscurity that the EO and its apologists and trolls like to throw over its history and theology. If you read nothing else contra the EO, read this. IMO it explains Mr. Robinson’s terminology and opinions proffered at GB now and in the past to the T.

    Of course, methinks the gentleman will protest too much at all this, but that comes with the turf.

    Thank you.

  13. February 11, 2011 at 3:39 pm

    Bsuden,

    I’ve read the whole bible numerous times through. If you have a counter point to what I wrote, then make it. Otherwise your remarks do not prove anything other than your choice to prefer rhetoric to a demonstration.

    I grant that they understood what they saw, but that was not my question. What did they see, rather than did they understand? My question was in response to the posters’ way of framing things, in terms of God’s “qualities.” This is not a consistent nor a historical way the Reformed have written about God since given divine simplicity *God has no qualities.* So part of my question was clarificatory.

    If people did not see God or anything of him, can you explain first what Romans 1 is referring to when it speaks of God’s divine power being clearly “seen” or “perceived?” And second, how do you suggest we explain theophanies in the OT? So again, this gets back to my question. Are these created analogs of God or deity? I re-present the question because I simply dismiss your assertions to the contrary as I do not take assertions to amount to demonstrations.

    If the argument of the post depends on the perspicuity of divine power, then the distinctions are not beside the point, especially if the Reformed can’t cash the former out in a coherent way within the parameters of their own system. Hence my remarks were germane.

    Guilty as charged with respect to ascesis, but since the question was in part how the clarity of the text was to be grasped by the reader, and the patristic view of the former was being brought forward, it was only fair to give an accurate picture of the patristic view to mention that this was by ascetical purity or rather progressive sanctification. So I am happy to be guilty of accurately representing historical theology. And it is hardly a controversial point in general as the Puritans had plenty to say about the relationship between progressive sanctification and understanding the scriptures properly.

    I did deploy such rhetoric a while back, but it was hardly the last time I was here. And if memory serves commenters on this blog from time to time seem to be quite comfortable with such rhetorical flare when it comes to their own theological enemies. I simply co-opted Reformation rhetoric used for Rome and redirected it. Turn about is fair play after all.

    I read Mr. Dan’s pieces about a year ago and didn’t deem them to be much better than the work of Drake Shelton. Interacting with critics like these only makes them better critics and so I left him alone. His general approach is about as profitable as cutting of the branch one is sitting on as he has not only to condemn fathers and ideas which are also part of the Reformed tradition in their doctrine of God, Predestination and Christology, but he relies on hostile witnesses to make critical points. What analysis there is, is pretty poor. The over all work is quite sophomoric. But by all means, if you wish to use his arguments in a disputation with me (in another venue as I suspect here it would be off topic), I am more than happy to grant you that disadvantage.

    For my part, I prefer to use major works by representative sources, and peer reviewed journals and publishers, the best that a tradition has to offer in order to mount a critique rather than the work amateur hacks.

    The thesis that the church was hobbled and infected with gross platonism and hellenized has a long history among liberals and now is put to gleeful use by Open Theists and their ilk along with that poor attempt by Credenda Agenda years ago to tar the Orthodox with platonism, which was ably refuted by Fragapane here. http://orthodoxinfo.com/inquirers/frag_salv.aspx

  14. bsuden said,

    February 13, 2011 at 8:46 pm

    13Mr. Robinson.

    Please excuse the delay in replying to a conflicted and confused post.

    I’ve read the whole bible numerous times through. If you have a counter point to what I wrote, then make it. Otherwise your remarks do not prove anything other than your choice to prefer rhetoric to a demonstration.

    It is not whether you have read it numerous times, but whether you have understood what you have read. See immediately below.

    I grant that they understood what they saw, but that was not my question. What did they see, rather than did they understand?

    You couldn’t do better to prove my point if I asked you to. They saw the created universe, nature, by which they understood that the eternal God made it. As man does today and denies that God created it, much more that He exists. They did not see God or any of his qualities or attributes.

    My question was in response to the posters’ way of framing things, in terms of God’s “qualities.” This is not a consistent nor a historical way the Reformed have written about God since given divine simplicity *God has no qualities.* So part of my question was clarificatory.

    No, it’s not. It’s confused and/or ignorant of the Reformed position which acknowledges that God is simple and undivided without attributes or qualities, but yet the creature is confined to language that strictly speaking could be said to contradict simplicity simply because the finite has to resort to that to describe/acknowledge the incomprehensible. But we’ve been here before on this whether or not you choose to deny this aspect of Reformed theology (See Muller PRRD III:195-226.)

    If people did not see God or anything of him, can you explain first what Romans 1 is referring to when it speaks of God’s divine power being clearly “seen” or “perceived?” And second, how do you suggest we explain theophanies in the OT? So again, this gets back to my question. Are these created analogs of God or deity? I re-present the question because I simply dismiss your assertions to the contrary as I do not take assertions to amount to demonstrations.

    You answer and deny your answer above in the same breath. Rom. 1 refers to understanding the eternal and divine nature of God by what is seen. Two, to bring the OT theophanies into the question is to engage in bait and switch. You assert that they are relevant, but do not demonstrate, again three, contra your professed view of assertions vis a vis demonstrations. Regarding the theophanies, the Reformed at least know, that they are not to make likenesses of them, much more bring them into worship/worship them.

    If the argument of the post depends on the perspicuity of divine power, then the distinctions are not beside the point, especially if the Reformed can’t cash the former out in a coherent way within the parameters of their own system. Hence my remarks were germane.

    Right. You either can’t tell us coherently or deny:
    1. What Romans 1 says/means.
    2. The Reformed position on the simplicity of God and his attributes or qualities.
    3. What germane actually means.
    4. Demonstrate that your comments are the last.

    Guilty as charged with respect to ascesis, but since the question was in part how the clarity of the text was to be grasped by the reader, and the patristic view of the former was being brought forward, it was only fair to give an accurate picture of the patristic view to mention that this was by ascetical purity or rather progressive sanctification. So I am happy to be guilty of accurately representing historical theology. And it is hardly a controversial point in general as the Puritans had plenty to say about the relationship between progressive sanctification and understanding the scriptures properly.

    Au contraire. What did the Puritans have to say about asceticism, monasticism and allegorizing, all of which are part and parcel of the EO tradition? Further, one must understand something about the Scripture, before one can believe them, hence the grammatico – historical principal of interpretation, contra the prevalence of neo platonic mysticism and the primacy of negative theology in the EO, much more are you denying that the ECFs taught the perspicuity of the Scripture or just private judgement?

    Regardless, we are inclined to view the attempt to poison the well by reference to “spooftexting” to be on par with the Romanists who periodically have flooded the boards here with objections to DTK and others quoting the patristics with the constant claim and refrain that everything is out of context. But not only can they not demonstrate that, by and large they do not even try at all to substantiate their rhetoric. In short, smears prevail and substantive rebuttals are nonexistent. IOW nothing new here.

    I did deploy such rhetoric a while back, but it was hardly the last time I was here. And if memory serves commenters on this blog from time to time seem to be quite comfortable with such rhetorical flare when it comes to their own theological enemies. I simply co-opted Reformation rhetoric used for Rome and redirected it. Turn about is fair play after all.

    While we were not aware that you had repented of your rhetorical excesses, it is good thing. It didn’t commend your argument then and it certainly wouldn’t now.

    I read Mr. Dan’s pieces about a year ago and didn’t deem them to be much better than the work of Drake Shelton. Interacting with critics like these only makes them better critics and so I left him alone. His general approach is about as profitable as cutting of the branch one is sitting on as he has not only to condemn fathers and ideas which are also part of the Reformed tradition in their doctrine of God, Predestination and Christology, but he relies on hostile witnesses to make critical points. What analysis there is, is pretty poor. The over all work is quite sophomoric. But by all means, if you wish to use his arguments in a disputation with me (in another venue as I suspect here it would be off topic), I am more than happy to grant you that disadvantage.

    Whatever. IMO he nailed the EO routine to a T from what we have seen of yours here at GB. And that hasn’t changed. (See above.)
    God, Predestination and Christ? Please. (Ah, yes. That old shibboleth of the filioque. Those genuinely interested in the Reformed position can confer with Muller’s PRRD IV:262, 371-78 regarding Jn.14:23-31, esp. v.26, 15:26, 16:13, Rom. 8:9,Gal. 4:6.)
    Disadvantage? Debate? Don’t make us laugh.

    For my part, I prefer to use major works by representative sources, and peer reviewed journals and publishers, the best that a tradition has to offer in order to mount a critique rather than the work amateur hacks.

    And those major works by representative sources are exactly what? Dan refers to/argues from remarks by Schmemann, Lossky and Meyendorff. As EO they are hardly “hostile critics”, but rather creme de la creme. So what was your beef/assertion once again?

    The thesis that the church was hobbled and infected with gross platonism and hellenized has a long history among liberals and now is put to gleeful use by Open Theists and their ilk along with that poor attempt by Credenda Agenda years ago to tar the Orthodox with platonism, which was ably refuted by Fragapane here. http://orthodoxinfo.com/inquirers/frag_salv.aspx

    No, not platonism and the early church, but the EO, neoplatonism and the occult mysticism of Pseudo- Dionysius. But I thought you just told us that you had read Dan?

    Thank you.

  15. February 26, 2011 at 4:38 pm

    Bsuden,

    1 Let me offer a suggestion. If you wish to persuade someone, it is probably best not to write to them in a hostile manner or take cheap shots. If you wish to persuade your readers, this advice works just he same. If you make a claim such as your first line, it I best to make an argument to support it. Otherwise it only displays the weakness of your case.

    2 It is true that the ultimate point is whether I have understood the bible. But my remarks were in response to your suggestion that I read Romans 1 repeatedly. So my reply was on point. You simply shifted the argument now to understanding it.

    Now if the Bible is perspicuous in the way the Reformed suggest, then if I am not an idiot, I should be able to understand a fair amount of it. So rather than recommending that I read a passage repeatedly, you should cut to the chase and make an argument regarding or from the text.

    3 Suppose I concede that the schema is something like the following. People grasp in some way the existence and power(s) of divinity from things they see. Fair enough. But there is still a few fundamental issues on the table. First, are these attributes or properties? Second, is this revelation in Christ or apart from Him? That is, is the revelation Trinitarian and Christological or that of a general deity as in the project of Natural Theology?

    4 If my reading of Reformed theology is “confused” as you allege, then perhaps you can explain your remark that God has no “attributes or qualities?” Now, every Reformed writer from the dawn of the Reformation to today that I have ever read practically takes for granted that God has attributes. If this is denied, then revelation is impossible and agnosticism if not atheism follows. Added to this would follow an explicit denial of Romans 1. Now my reading of Romans 1 may be wrong, but it does not entail agnosticism and a flat denial of the text.

    Now if you take qualities and attributes to be understood entirely in the former term, then it is clear that you do not grasp the difference between the two terms. Here is why. Attributes are predications or things we say or attribute to God. They are to put it simplistically, perspectiveally different, that is, different things in our thinking. But in God, on Catholic and Reformed readings, they are not different. They are the one God. Qualities or properties are something different for qualities exist as distinct things inherent in a thing. They are not merely different to the viewer of them, but are different even if they are never been known. They are not merely epistemically distinct but metaphysically so. So either way it seems you are confused about what the primary terms of the debate mean.

    Since the Reformed pretty much derive this view and share it with Rome, I’d suggest not only looking at Muller’s work to get clear here, but also looking back to Rome in some Aquinas and Scotus, from which the two ways of glossing the matter predominant among the Reformed are derived.

    Now Romans 1 speaks of qualities or attributes in the plural. If we take it in the sense of qualities, not only is the Reformed (and Catholic) view of divine attribution in serious trouble (along with divine simplicity) but it seems to imply or go some way in implying that to know one of them may not entail knowing all of them. If that is so, the argument regarding perspicuity framed above faces some obstacles.

    If on the other hand, we take it as attributions to exclude a real plurality this might be simpler but the cost is to make either the revelation more opaque (and non-Trinitarian and non-Christological) and/or to dim the faculties or status of human nature.

    I own and have read that volume of Post Reformation Reformed Dogmatics. If you wish to pick out something particular there, then do so. Otherwise simply referencing it doesn’t touch my remarks, especially when Muller asserts what you explicitly denied.

    One of the reasons I think there is more to heir seeing than an inference form cause to effect is that the successive passages speak of their exchange of divine glory for temporal and lesser glories. Their actions of idolatry are very bad forms of mimickery (contra cherubim and seraphim). But on the previous reading, no glory was ever present for them to mimic via gold and such.

    Second, your reply simply skirts the question of analogy. Do you subscribe to the analogia entis or no? If not, then how do you propose that people “perceived” the divine power from created effects? Calvin for example doesn’t appear entirely consistent here. http://energeticprocession.wordpress.com/2010/02/22/de-deo-uno-in-calvin/

    I did not engage in bait and switch since the OT presents them as cases of seeing the divine glory. If understanding from an effect can lead to idolatry, so much the more seeing with the eyes and so they are all the more relevant. Second, the context of Romans 1 is not just that of the gentiles but of the Hebrews who did the same thing with the golden calf. This is why they are relevant, especially in light of OT works like Job which predate all of that material. And certainly the Theophanies were cases where divine glory was apparently seen. If you think otherwise, then say so.

    As for your charge that the Orthodox without warrant bring images into church, then I suppose you have a problem with the Temple having the same or Solomon doing so, particularly without divine command and without divine sanction. ( ) As for worshipping them, this is a case of evaluating Orthodox theology on presuppositions alien to it. We simply do not interpret the practice in the way you do. So you’d need to construct an internal critique to actually make some headway in the argument rather than confirm in your mind and others your presuppositional reading of the evidence and theology.

    Besides, the question was not what the Reformed supposedly know regarding the use of images in worship, but rather how they understand divine theophanies. Are they created analogs of divinity or divinity? Consequently your remarks here constitute a red herring.

    5 Suppose you are correct in your charges in 1-4, that amounts to nothing more a tu quo que. As for germane, it means to be related in a significant way, relevant, pertinent and so on. And that is exactly how I used it.

    As I pointed out above regarding simplicity, qualities and attributes, it seems that I am not the one unable to correctly gloss the Reformed tradition on this point.

    6. As for the Puritans, the puritans had plenty to say about mortification and sanctification. I’d suggest picking up some of Owen’s or Watson’s works on that. They engaged in some of the same strategies in dealing with outward behavior and inward thoughts as monastic did. I grant that they aren’t isomorphic, but the fundamental point was that they too thought that moritification or asceticism aided in reading scripture rightly and they did not take them to be disconnected. That was my major point which you ignored. Regardless of that they said about those other things, they still maintained a strong relationship between rightly interpreting the scriptures and mortification. So your remarks constitute a red herring here.

    As for allegory, I think looking at the primary and secondary literature on allegorical interpretation in the early church that it wasn’t the unprincipled free for all that many seem to think it was. In any case, all the things you list are part of the patristic tradition. Pawning those things off on the Orthodox tradition while ignoring the fact that these are part and parcel of the early church for the first thousand years of Christianity. Consequently impugn them to your heart’s desire as it will only impugn the early church.
    Secondly, no one denies that one must know something about the Scriptures before one can believe what they teach, but whether that something entails the grammatical-historical method is another claim altogether. Moreover, the fact that the church condemned that type of methodology in the 5th Ecumenical Council via Theodore of Mopsuestia doesn’t bode well for the Reformed, especially since they claim to adhere to its doctrinal decisions. (http://thirdmill.org/newfiles/jul_grisham/CH.Grisham.theodore.mopsuestia.pdf )

    If you wish to charge us with late platonic mysticism, then you’ll need to explain why those rites and beliefs clearly predate late Platonism in Christianity. Anthropoesis and theosis aren’t exactly later terms and concepts in Christianity. Secondly, it assumes that Damascius, aka Pseudo-Dionysius, was not a Christian. But we have clear evidence from Proclus that he did become one. (Proclus complains that he went over to the “other side” of the Christians.) And the reading you seem to follow of him is the standard Catholic reading, which I freely admit is quite Platonic. But the Orthodox do not accept that reading as is spelled in Lossky’s, The Vision of God. The aim of that reading is a subversion of Platonism and the superiority of Christianity. But even if this weren’t so, you’d end up condemning practically every orthodox church father and their teaching the Reformed wish to uphold from Athanasius to Maximus in the Sixth council.

    As for negative theology or apophatic theology, here I think you are entirely inconsistent. For the Reformed, like everyone else have historically endorsed some form of it in maintaining the doctrine of divine incomprehensibility. Via negativa isn’t exactly a Greek term after all. And it is a historical and theological fact beyond dispute that the Reformed sources for doing so and the trajectory of the thought, is directly dependent on the Catholic Scholastic reading of Dionysius. So if we are to throw out apophatic theology, then we are going to have to rip out whole chunks of Reformed systematic theologies for the last 300 years plus on the doctrine of God.

    And that is just the start. If we want to rip out the platonism you seem to detest so much, we should also rip out the Reformed doctrine of divine simplicity (as well as impassability) which are uncontroversially taken over in large measure from late platonism. If you think not, just produce one passage of scripture that can upon reasonable exegesis show that God is metaphysically simple.

    Not only that, but if we go through the Reformed arguments for the harmony of free agency and divine determination, these are almost all taken over in whole from Stoicism and late Platonism. One could simply do their devotions out of Plotinus rather than Calvin or Edwards on this point. The entire line of reasoning concerning secondary causation preserved in the face of determinism is taken over completely from Platonism and Stoicism. Much the same could be said for a collective personal guilt upon all humans via the archetypal man in whom they all existed. What do you think the Humanists were reading if not Platonic sources? (I especially like to bring to mind Calvin’s remarks on the body as the prison of the soul when reading Plato’s Phaedo. Is it any wonder his first theological work was against annihilationalism?)

    Christology is no different here as can be seen in Muller’s work on predestination and Christology. The Reformed position is that Christ is a composite hypostasis, the product of the union so that Christ is a human and divine person/hypostasis (WCF 8.2), rather than the Chalcedonian tradition of Christ being all and only a divine person in whom human nature has been united. (See Ursinus’ commentary on the Heidlberg Catechism, Q. 36, sec.2, objection 2 and reply. Page 210) This is motivated by Hellenistic views on the nature of essences being simple and thereby excluding any exchange of properties or activities and also precluding the distinction between the divine essence and the divine person of Christ. Consequently, the Reformed due to this Hellenism in their Christology, along with the Platonic influence via impassability follow in the Christology of Theodoret of Cyrrus and Nestorius contrary to Ephesus and Chalcedon, which they profess to maintain.

    As for mysticism, I think it would be helpful to spend some time reading Edwards or say Whitfield’s Journals where you can see quite clearly Reformed mysticism to the hilt. Much the same can be seen in the earlier Puritans as well. Or perhaps you think it not mystical to claim that God speaks to you audibly practically every day? Reformed theology is no less mystical and in no less in debt to Platonism than the charge they make against the Orthodox. One just needs to know where to look for it.

    I deny that the Fathers in the main taught the Reformed view of perspicuity and I deny that they taught the doctrine of the right of private judgment. I think I’ve made that clear.

    As for spoof texting, I generally do not engage in it. Rather I prefer to take a text that I view to be decisive or to very strongly favor a view and give a contextualization of the history and the use of terms, the theological and philosophical issues at play and make an argument. And I am an equal opportunity objector to it as you can see here. (http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2010/12/church-fathers-on-transubstantiation/ ) Besides, it isn’t poisoning the well when the source in question does it. Just look at the use of Edward Moore’s work on Maximus. Its comical to anyone who knows any of the primary and major monographs produce don Maximus in the last twenty years.

    As for DTK, if you read the three volume work he did, he actually has very little to say and even less clearly, on what exactly the right of private judgment amounts to. He seems, like too many others, to confuse the idea of making a judgment as to the truth of some claim with making a normative judgment sufficient to bind the consciences of all. Non-Protestants claim to be able to do the first, but not the second. Protestants conflate the two but limit and reserve ultimate normative judgment to each person. The two concepts are quite distinct just as is the judgment of a law professor and that of the supreme court..

    I don’t take my earlier remarks to be excesses and so there is nothing to repent of. They just aren’t as profitable as a more dispassionate approach. I’d recommend the same to you. :)

    The material from Muller that you cite in favor of the Filioque, which also depends on certain Hellenistic philosophical assumptions doesn’t help your cause. Muller only catalogs what the Reformed tradition has said. In no way does the material you refer to give an exegetical justification for the doctrine. Ultimately it matters not if the Reformed have consistently held to and articulated certain (Roman) positions or arguments. On their own principles it matters if the doctrine is derivable from Scripture or not since none of the authorities he lists, even the confessions which advocate it are infallible and are to the contrary normed by Scripture. But if you look in Reformed exegetical and technical commentaries on the passages you list, by and large you find one of two things. Either an admission that the doctrine can’t be derived from the text, at least not without the aid of importing certain philosophical assumptions or essentially an ignoring of the doctrine with perhaps a mention of how the Reformed have historically taken the passage.

    As to the Johanine material it refers to an economic sending of the Spirit quite clearly, not to what the Filioque doctrine asserts, an eternal hypostatic origination. The only way out is to inject certain philosophical assumptions, as Rome does, or maintain the doctrine and affirm that the Spirit was created when the Son sent Him into the world.
    Rom 8:9 and Gal 4:6 offer no serious help since speaking of the Spirit of Christ doesn’t necessarily imply a relation of hypostatic origination anymore than Gospel’s speaking of the Spirit as the Spirit of Truth implies that the Spirit’s eternal person is eternally generated from the divine property or attribute of truth. It only denotes an eternal relationship between the persons at most in these two passages. It doesn’t imply one of hypostatic origination. It is only on certain philosophical assumptions that the only space available is either that of essential or hypostatic relationship. Without those there is no reason to assume that speaking of the Spirit as of Christ implies his hypostatic origination from the Son. And in any case, those passages could just as easily refer to their consubstantiality rather than hypostatic origination.

    When I refer to hacks, I refer to Dan’s piece. Second, hacks can and do use well respected authorities. Jehovah’s Witnesses do it all the time as does Dave Hunt. The use of respected sources doesn’t imply the correct use of them or that the person is not a hack. So the fact that Dan uses Schmemann, Lossky and Meyendorff says nothing, anymore than Dave Hunt’s use of Calvin, Hodge or Warfield. Third, take page 36 of his The Story of Reformation Within Eastern Orthodoxy. He charges Maxmius with holding to universalism, but this is laughable, since it was Maximus’ theology represented at the 6th council which supported the continuing condemnations of Origenism and universalism. It is a well known fact that Maximus re-interprets the Origenistic doctrine of apoktastasis and turns it on its head in an anti-universalistic way. If Dan had actually read any of the major sources he claims to have, they say this explicitly.

    Maximus writes in his commentary on the Lord’s Prayer, “Indeed there exists but one happiness, a communion of life with the Word, the loss of which is an endless punishment which goes on for all eternity.” P. 112, Translation & Notes by Berthold.

    In the Four Hundred Chapters on Love he writes, “If ‘love is the fulfillment of the law,’ how can the one who keeps a grudge against this brother and sets a strap for him and curses him and rejoices over his misfortune be anything but a transgressor and liable to eternal punishment?” p. 41.

    You can also see this upheld in the secondary literature in Trever Hart’s essay, “Universal Salvation in Origen and Maximus” in “Universalism and the Doctrine of Hell” edited by Nigel M. de S. Cameron, baker Book House, 1992.

    Dan cites a number of well known authors-Berthold, Thunberg and such to the effect that Maximus taught some kind of obliteration of the human person, but Maxmius’ anti-Origenistic stance is exactly the opposite of this since he maintains the permanence of the human person in the eschaton.

    Take Thunberg, “It is thus rather of a harmony of wills-and of a life in harmony with the God-directed principle of human nature-that he speaks, not of the extinction or annihilation of the human will.” Microcosm and Mediator: The Theological Anthropology of Maximus the Confessor, pp.228-229.

    And what is more, the preceding ecumenical council (5th) condemned Origenistic universalism and Maximus upheld that council numerous times and refers to its judgments approvingly against Origenism.

    As for Edward Moore, he is a hostile critic since he thinks Origen was right in affirming universalism and Maximus was wrong in denying it. His entire book is a castigation of Maximus in favor of Origenism. The irony being that Moore advocates the kind of universalism that Maximus rejects and Dan is using Moore to prove Maxmius taught universalism. So when I refer to employing hostile sources I was correct.

    And Dan isn’t even honest with the hostile sources he does cite. Edward Moore, in the article he uses on page 36 (http://reformedorthodoxy.files.wordpress.com/2009/05/reformation-within-e-orthodoxy9.pdf ) says “Maximus, of course, did not accept the Origenian doctrine of apokatastasis or “restoration of all beings,” which was condemned as a heresy by two Oecumenical Councils.” But Dan clips this from the citation and inserts ellipses on the bottom of page 36. Why remove this piece of information? Because it directly contradicts what he’s claimed about Maximus and Orthodoxy in general. This means that either he cited it in the edited form or he redacted the material from Moore himself. If the former he is inept and if the latter he is flat out dishonest. At best it is ineptitude, cherry picking and stacking the deck. Any way you slice the matter it is a hornet’s nest of fallacies and dishonesty. And this is not the only place Dan makes these kinds of errors and dishonest moves. These are just the ones I picked out for display here. This is why it is best to stick to peer reviewed works, which this isn’t. Your continued advocacy for this work will make you materially complicit in bearing false witness and deception.

    As for Dionysius, aka Damascius, if you think there is something occult in his works then you’ll need to point it out and make an argument. But as for divorcing him from the early church, he is a fifth century figure so I don’t know how you are going to plausibly do that. As for his Platonism, I think the remarks of Lossky are sufficient to show how the Orthodox have read him.

    “Common opinion would see in Dionysius (or pseudo-Dionysius) a Platonist with a tinge of Christianity, and his work as a channel through which neo-Platonist thought will be introduced again into the Christian tradition after Clement and Origen. After studying St. Dionysius it seems to me that just the opposite is true: here is a Christian thinker disguised as a neo-Platonist, a theologian very much aware of his task, which was to conquer the ground held by neo-Platonism by becoming a master of is philosophical method. Fr. Ceslas Pera is right when he says: ‘The position of Dionysius with regard to the thinkers of Greece is a relationship not of generic dependency but of victorious opposition. He does not speak idly and there is no reason to doubt his sincerity when he mentions having been accused as a parricide for making impious use of the Hellenes against the Hellenes.” The Vision of God, p. 122.

    So I’d recommend that if you are going to consult works against Orthodoxy, either stick with primary source material from the tradition or at least use Letham’s work, while imperfect, it is the best thing to date from the Reformed tradition on the subject.


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