Monday, December 31, 2007

Here we stand

I got this from an account of The Marburg Colloquy over on Begars All:

Luther: We decline naming them [the Fathers who taught the Real Presence]. Augustine wrote the passage you have quoted in his youth, it is moreover very unintelligible. Besides, I do not concern myself as to what the Fathers teach on this head, but I abide by the words of Christ, (Here he pointed again to the words written in chalk upon the table, "This is my body.") See, so they run. You have not driven us out of this stronghold, as you proudly imagined you would do, and we concern ourselves no farther about proofs.

This occurs near the end of the Colloquy, so very soon afterwards the two camps departed, never to be united in doctrine again. The section I cited above is Luther's final argument, basically, and he says he will stand by Christ's words "This is my body", no matter how many logical arguments Zwingli and co. can come up with. This is, I think, the essence of Lutheran Sola Scriptura, in that what God has expressly revealed, we are to believe because it comes from God, not because logical arguments can be deduced. It also ties in with the ongoing micro-blogstorm regarding Luther's alleged statement that councils would be required to judge between Luther's and Zwingli's divergent interpretation of the Scriptures--an argument made by some RC apologists for centuries. I am not a Luther scholar, but doesn't it seem a little odd that the guy who simply said "I abide by the words of Christ" would suddenly have a change of heart about councils? I am not saying it is impossible, just that the possibility is becoming more remote the more I learn about the events around that time.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Faith in Christ precedes Trust in the Bible

Over on becominghinged, there is a discussion regarding whether or not the CCC contradicts Trent on sin and punishment. While I find that discussion interesting, I was challenged because I wrote that Trent and the CCC apparently contradict on the matter of temporal and eternal punishment. The challenge was

I’ve seen non-Christians use the same argument against the apparent contradictions in scripture. What do we say to them that won’t sound like the same kind of “nuancing” that you accuse the Catholic Church of?

My response was

Regarding what atheists say about the scriptures–I don’t think the Holy Scriptures are meant to be read as a strict history text, but as a proclamation through the writers by God of Jesus Christ. So, I start with Christ and then believe the Bible, I don’t start with the Bible and then extrapolate what it tells me of God. Or, the Bible is true because Christ is true, and Christ has known me, and I him, from my Baptism.

(Here is my stop loss-when I say the Bible should not be read as a strict history text, I meant that questions like how many women were present at Christ's tomb are of no interest to me, because the Gospels are not detailed histories of every event they record, but they are none the less true).

Dr. Liccione responded to this by saying

Your brand of Protestantism is quite problematic even by Protestant standards. You say: “I start with Christ and then believe the Bible, I don’t start with the Bible and then extrapolate what it tells me of God. Or, the Bible is true because Christ is true, and Christ has known me, and I him, from my Baptism.” Well, if your knowledge of and faith in Christ is thus epistemically prior to the Bible, then sola scriptura is out for you, and you claim knowledge of the deposit of faith through a Tradition that is epistemically, and presumably temporally, prior to the Bible. But by whose account of Tradition? Whatever the answer, what authority can they claim? Do you claim to know which ecclesial authority, if any, speaks with the infallible authority of Christ? If so, why? And if none does, at least according to you, then how can you distinguish your faith from mere personal opinion? Even apart from any specifically Catholic-Protestant issue, these are very serious questions for you.

Here is what I mean by "I start with Christ and then believe the Bible, I don’t start with the Bible and then extrapolate what it tells me of God." I believed Christ before I believed the Bible, it is as simple as that. Dr. Liccone says that therefore my knowledge of Christ is before the Bible. I never said anything about knowledge in an intellectual sense, I said I start with Christ before I believed in the Bible. And when I said that I do not then go forth and extrapolate doctrines, I mean that I did not read the Bible, decide it was true, and then decide to believe certain things about Christ--that is a Baptist/Evangelical way of doing things, I am Lutheran and we do not do things that way, we depend on the things Christ provided to the Church to make Christians, Baptism, Holy Communion and the verbal proclamation of the Gospel. So Dr. Liccione is jumping to conclusions here, giant leaps in fact. Sorry, but Sola Scriptura is not out for me, and I think Dr. Liccione's question has a misunderstanding embedded into it. Lutherans believe the Scriptures because they point to Christ, they have Christ as their center, not man. Traditions, infallible "ecclesial authority" or what ever else the RC apologist can throw at me has man at its center, not Christ. Just look at the arguments typically made, or look at Dr. Liccione's statement above; I am to see what authority the ecclesial authority I choose has based on my determination as to whether it speaks with Christ's infallible voice. I am at the center, not Christ, because I decide.

Instead of this, I proclaim that Christ himself baptized me and made me his own, so he knew me and I know him--though not intellectually--more like how an infant knows his mother and father. The "ecclesialogical authority" gives me Jesus' body and blood, and proclaims his love for me and what he did. It is infallible becausse Christ made promises, and he never lies, the infallibility is centered on Christ and not on man. If an "ecclesial authority" can provide people with the things Christ promised, it "works" as an "ecclesial authority", though it may sow tares of false traditions among the wheat of the Sacraments and Gospel preaching, and therefore may destroy trust in the promises of Christ. And we also therefore don't need detailed formulations about exactly when the infallible "ecclesiological authority" is infallible or not--because the Sacraments are infallible, because Christ himself made promised regarding what he does in and through them.

As for Sola Scriptura, I know this is true because God tells me so in his word, the Bible, which proclaims Christ, how he gives himself to us in Baptism and Holy Communion, and in the absolution I receive from the ordained minister in the Church I attend. I don't think it is too hard to grasp.

Now, I suppose Dr. Liccione or another RC apologist might say "How do you know what the Bible tells you about Christ without an infallible "ecclesial authority?" But I am not too interested in elaborate, abstract ideas of authority, in which one must make apologetic arguments to determine which part of what document under which circumstances constitutes an infallible statement. I want Christ where he promised to be, and he says where he will be in his word. I find him in Baptism, Holy Communion and the preaching of the Gospel. He does not lie, and I believe him.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Interesting Church History Papers

I have been browsing this site recently, and it has some good material. I especially interested in the period of the Western Schism, where there were two or three claimants to the papal office at any particular time. This caused a traumatic decline in the prestige of the papacy. This is important for Reformation history because a council, that of Constance, elected a new pope and deposed the other three popes, in other words, a council was in an important sense superior to the pope, because a council selected a pope after John XXIII abdicated. This adds a little context to what a "council" or "free" council is when Martin Luther mentions the need for a council. It is one not convened by the pope, but one in which the pope is a participant and not a judge, like Constance. Anyway, have a look, there is some interesting stuff there.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Binding the Strong Man

Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house.

Today we celebrate Christmas, where God became flesh to bind the strong man and plunder his house.

God as plunderer! Well, he is plundering the house of a usurper, the devil, who holds us captive. In any case, the idea that a little baby begins the overthrow of the devil's kingdom is one of the best, and oddest from a purely rational standpoint, teachings of the Church. The idea that a baby, who depends on his mother and father for his life, is the savior of the world, born a King, Lord of Lords is something I keep coming back to. God is truly an awesome God.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Martin Luther--Justifying Faith and Union with Christ

Here is what the good Doctor said:

..[F]aith does not merely mean that the soul realizes that the divine word is full of grace, free and holy; it also unites the soul with Christ, as a bride is united with her bridegroom. From such a marriage, as St. Paul says, it follows that Christ and the soul become one body, so that they hold all things in common, whether for better or worse. This means that what Christ possesses belongs to the believing soul; and what the soul possesses belongs to Christ. Thus Christ possesses all good things and holiness; these now belong to the soul. The soul possesses lots of vice and sin; these now belong to Christ. Here we have a happy exchange and struggle. Christ is God and human being, who has never sinned and who's holiness is unconquerable, eternal and almighty. So he makes the sin of the living soul his own through its wedding ring, which is faith, and acts as if he had done it himself, so that sin could be swallowed up in him. For his unconquerable righteousness is too strong for all sin, so that it is made single and free from all its sins on account of its pledge, that is its faith, and can turn to the eternal righteousness of its bridegroom, Christ. Now is this not a happy business? Christ, the rich, noble, holy bridegroom, takes in marriage this poor, contemptible and sinful little prostitute, takes away all her evil, and bestows all his goodness upon her! It is no longer possible for sin to overwhelm her, for she is now found in Christ and is swallowed up by him, so that she possesses a rich righteousness in her bridegroom.
(The Christian Theology Reader--Alister McGrath, page 229, Cited Luther's Works 25.26-26.9)

I really like the images Luther uses here. The union between the believer and Christ swallows up sin, not only because Christ's righteousness is applied to the believer in the "happy exchange", but because Christ's omnipotent righteousness swallows up sin.


Thursday, December 20, 2007

Choosing to Believe, can we even do such a thing?

I was reading an older post on metalutheran, and I thought it has something to say about people who say they believe something based on the authority of the person saying it, ala Cardinal Newman. To refresh, Cardinal Newman basically said that if we believe something because we weigh the evidence, we do not have faith. We only have faith when we believe based on the authority of the one teaching, otherwise we are engaging in private judgment.

Oftentimes, I will hear a RC or EO claim they believe something based on the authority of the Church, which sounds like they choose to believe based on authority. But can anyone really "choose to believe", or is belief something which happens outside of what we want? In other words, does the EO or RC, or anyone else, including Cardinal Newman, Lutherans, lawyers etc. really believe something based on an authority, or do they just behave like they do until later? This is important, because Lutherans believe faith, which is belief in the Gospel, trust in Christ etc., is a gift of God, we don't choose, we can't choose. When we are born, we cannot believe, like I cannot choose to believe something which seems not to be true to me--even if I act like I do believe. Belief is out of our hands, no matter what we may like.

So, this raises the issue of whether believing based on the authority of the Church, rather than just believing, is really belief. It also implicitly, if not explicitly, makes "belief" into a work we accomplish. All good Lutherans will no doubt sneeze now.

Now, perhaps one can say that behaving as if one believes trains the flesh in the faith, and then belief will follow. But that still means that at some point, it is likely one is only acting out the faith, rather than actually believing it. And if we only act and don't believe, don't we give only lip service? But if we believe, really believe by an act of the Holy Spirit, won't we give godly service?

Just wondering.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Still Unsatisfied with Temporal Punishment

Rusty responded to my post over on his blog, becoming hinged.

Rusty says I got Trent wrong, that it says what Fr. Kimel says, that temporal punishment is not an external inflicted punishment:

In other words, this ‘punishment’ should be understood in exactly the way that Fr. Kimel (and the Catechism) explicitly states: not external acts of divine vengeance. So how should it be understood? Well, remember that the Bible teaches that the Husbandman purges the branches in Christ. Also, that God chastises those whom he loves. Corrects those who need correction. So, if we, as Mark Shea advocates, understand ‘temporal punishment’ as the purging, correcting, chastising of God’s people - I think we are closer to the truth of what both Trent and Fr. Kimel are getting at.

Fr. Kimel says that the sin brings with it its own punishment--for instance a drunkard with cirrhosis of the liver (my example, not his). The "punishment" is an effect, and not a punishment in the sense of getting a traffic ticket for speeding. But I don't think that does justice to either Trent, or even Rusty's use of "chastizing" point above, because "chastizing" is another word for punishment, and if punishment is not because we have done something wrong, i.e. "vengence", or "[i]nfliction of punishment in return for a wrong committed; retribution" {American Heritage Dictionary,, what is it for? I simply don't see what the difference is between Rusty's point above is, and the idea that God inflicts actual punishments on the penitent. Trent seems to support my view. Here is Trent 14 9 again:

It [the council] teaches furthermore that the liberality of the divine munificence is so great that we are able through Jesus Christ to make satisfaction to God the Father not only by punishments voluntarily undertaken by ourselves to atone for sins, or by those imposed by the judgment of the priest according to the measure of our offense, but also, and this is the greatest proof of love, by the temporal afflictions imposed by God and borne patiently by us.

Remember, according to Trent 14 8, there is no forgiveness without this satisfaction: "And it is in keeping with divine clemency that sins be not thus pardoned us without any satisfaction, lest seizing the occasion and considering sins as trivial and offering insult and affront to the Holy Spirit, we should fall into graver ones." Now, "satisfaction" is a work of penance, which in turn, according to Trent 14 9, is imposed by an agent; God himself, or a priest, or ourselves. The mere fact it is imposed is enough to show that it is not something which is an effect or "sin that brings with it, by divine ordination, its own punishment". In the Middle Ages, when a priest told a penitent he had to go to Jerusalem for penance, this was not sin's own punishment, it was imposed, and it was meant to "restrain from sin, check as it were with a bit, and make penitents more cautious and vigilant in the future; they also remove remnants of sin, and by acts of the opposite virtues destroy habits acquired by evil living". By the same token, Trent specifically states that God also inflicts punishment on the penitent. So, I don't see how Fr. Kimel's "clarification" has much in common with Trent.

Rusty goes on to say:

UL spends the remainder of his post aghast that the Catholic “can have no confidence our sins are forgiven unless and until we have made enough “satisfaction” for our sins.” Of course, he neglects the most important part of the whole of Trent’s treatment of satisfaction, a part which is prominently quoted in the Catechism - that when we enter the very act of penitence, we unite ourselves with His suffering, His supreme satisfaction. That any acts of penance are done through his efficacy won on the Cross. Any purging, any correcting, any straightening is done because we have entered the realm of surrender to Him, He who strengthens us.

Well, if it is true that without satisfaction--good works done to remit the temporal punishment we deserve because of God's justice, our sins are not forgiven, then isn't it true the Catholic can have no real confidence his sins are forgiven? I mean, how much "satisfaction" or "purging" does one have to do before God forgives our sins? Maybe we could remit this punishment with something, say an indulgence. That will soothe the conscience. ;-) (I am only half joking here, because these issues are intimately tied in with the Reformation).

I don't think the "pruning" and "purging" really captures what Trent is saying.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

"Satisfaction" and Trent Session 14, section 8 and 9

Over on TWeb, I spotted a post which cited a post that says the doctrine of Purgatory is being "clarified". Now, since I don't subscribe to the RC dogma of papal or magisterial infallibility, I usually see "clarification" as a rewrite of a previous position held by the RCC which they no longer want to defend. In any case, what is being developed is what "temporal punishments" we have to make "satisfaction" for. Now, in RC theology, when the priest absolves you, the eternal consequences of your sin are done away with, but the temporal punishments remain. So, I may lie about my neighbor, repent and be forgiven, but I will still be punished for the sin I committed, maybe because I was cought lying, or my neighbor had his reputation damaged etc. But Fr. Kimel writes

The language of punishment is retained, yet note the insistence that this "must not be conceived of as a kind of vengeance inflicted by God from without, but as following from the very nature of sin." It is sin that brings with it, by divine ordination, its own punishment.

Unfortunately, this seems to contradict Trent Session 14, section 8:

[T]he holy council declares that it is absolutely false and contrary to the word of God, that the guilt is never remitted by the Lord without the entire punishment being remitted also. For clear and outstanding examples are found in the sacred writings, by which, besides divine tradition, this error is refuted in the plainest manner. Indeed the nature of divine justice seems to demand that those who through ignorance have sinned before baptism be received into grace in one manner, and in another those who, after having been liberated from the servitude of sin and of the devil, and after having received the gift of the Holy Ghost, have not feared knowingly to violate the temple of God and to grieve the Holy Spirit. And it is in keeping with divine clemency that sins be not thus pardoned us without any satisfaction, lest seizing the occasion and considering sins as trivial and offering insult and affront to the Holy Spirit, we should fall into graver ones, For without doubt, these satisfactions greatly restrain from sin, check as it were with a bit, and make penitents more cautious and vigilant in the future; they also remove remnants of sin, and by acts of the opposite virtues destroy habits acquired by evil living. Neither was there ever in the Church of God any way held more certain to ward off impending chastisement by the Lord than that men perform with true sorrow of mind these works of penance. Add to this, that while we by making satisfaction suffer for our sins, we are made conformable to Christ Jesus who satisfied for our sins, from whom is all our sufficiency, having thence also a most certain pledge, that Neither is this satisfaction which we discharge for our sins so our own as not to be through Christ Jesus; for we who can do nothing of ourselves as of ourselves, can do all things with the cooperation of Him who strengthens us....

It [the council] teaches furthermore that the liberality of the divine munificence is so great that we are able through Jesus Christ to make satisfaction to God the Father not only by punishments voluntarily undertaken by ourselves to atone for sins, or by those imposed by the judgment of the priest according to the measure of our offense, but also, and this is the greatest proof of love, by the temporal afflictions imposed by God and borne patiently by us
(Trent 14,8, 9--emph. added)

Now, at first I thought "Hey!, they are saying that God forgives the sin and the punishment! Well, tat is not so bad." But then I re-read the passage and realized it says just the opposite, it does not say God forgives our sins and our punishment, it says that unless we make satisfaction, i.e. are punished, our sins are not forgiven. Not only that, it seems to me that, contrary to Fr. Kimel's claims about the "development" of this doctrine, the council clearly calls the "effects" punishments. i.e. they are not "accidents of sin" as it were, but punishments inflicted by God, or ourselves. But the worst part of this is that we can have no confidence our sins are forgiven unless and until we have made enough "satisfaction" for our sins. Who can know when he has made enough satisfaction? Perhaps the RC will say that what ever the priest/bishop etc. say is satisfaction, satisfies. I, however, like when Pr. Nuss says "In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, Amen!" And it is so. The Roman system, even if "temporal punishment" has "developed" to mean the effects of sin, will tend to put our focus on ourselves or the satisfaction imposed by the priest. The Lutheran and Apostolic doctrine is that our sins are forgiven, because we cannot add to the satisfaction of Jesus Christ on our behalf.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Mixing the Two Kingdoms--Mike Huckabee

Mike Huckabee wants the US government to turn the other cheek in international relations. From the article:

He (Huckabee) wants to anthropomorphize international relations and bring a Christian commitment to the Golden Rule to our affairs with other nations. As he told the Des Moines Register the other day, “You treat others the way you’d like to be treated. That’s to me the fundamental issue that has to be re-established in our dealings with other countries.”

International relations to not work according to the precepts of the Gospel. The Gospel is about forgiveness of sins for Christ's sake, the president of the United States is not a minister of the Gospel to other nations, forgiving their sins and absolving them before the mercy seat of the Father. The president of the United States is there to enforce the laws enacted by Congress, and protect the Republic from its enemies, not turn the other cheek to those who would attack us.

As Lutherans, we believe in the "Two Kingdoms". The Kingdom of the right hand is the domain of the Church, where sin is condemned and forgiveness dispensed. The Kingdom of the left hand is the earthly government, it is primarily concerned with justice--rewarding good and punishing evil. When we mix the two, we may compromise one or the other, or both.

God humbled a proud convert

Let me tell you a personal story.

When I became Lutheran at about 27 years, I was filled with joy at what God offered me in Word and Sacrament. But as always, the devil is right behind with his lies.

I was reading the Bible several times a day, everything seemed to just "click" for me in my new church. My beliefs were constantly being reaffirmed in word and deed. Not only this, I became involved in online discussions, and I seemed to be doing well there too. In fact, I said to myself "You are pretty darn good Ed, you can destroy all these heterodox arguments with ease!" Things were perfect.

Then, it happened. Suddenly I couldn't believe anything. Not.A.Single.Thing. Not the Trinity, not the Atonement, not Holy Communion. Oh, I could read the Bible, see what it was saying, know what the truth is etc. But I couldn't believe a word of it. No matter what I read, who I spoke with, how often I went to service, I just couldn't believe anything. I began to despair, like someone who knows his habits will destroy him, yet he simply cannot take the elementary steps to stop his demise. I knew what was the fate of those who do not believe is, yet I could not believe even though I had knowledge of the truth. In this despair all I did is ask my Lord, like a child "Don't leave me!" And with that, I was able to believe again. This burned into my conscienceless that faith, i.e. trust and belief in God and his promises, really is his gift. I could not "choose to believe", I could not submit to God's command to believe the Gospel, I couldn't do any of these things. In my opinion, God humbled me to teach this to me.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Peter the Rock

Regarding RC apologetics about Peter being the first pope, I wrote:

"'You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church' means that Peter can infallibly determine doctrine, he can dispense indulgences, and only those who are in fellowship with his direct successors can do this."

The RC (Who is a good guy, BTW) replied:

"Oh heck. This is too easy. So, you are saying that the entire doctrine of papal infallibility is a conclusion based on a low-probability meaning of this passage alone? There are no other supporting factors in the Catholic argument. It's this or nothing. ..."

Well, on Catholic Answers I found 17 "proofs" of Peter's origins as pope. Of the 17, 12 were direct citations of Matt 16:18, or direct allusions to it. So, I think it is fair to say that the RCC bases its interpretation of Matt 16:18 on a low probability meaning of the passage, because popes have all these powers, e.g. releasing peple from purgatory, anything which proves Petrer was pope means he has these powers. Hence, in RC apologetics (and the link I provided to Catholic Answers has a nihil obstat and an imprimature, it is pretty close to a done deal)it is indeed true that "You are Peter" really means he has the power of indulgences. It is this kind of thing, reading back onto a passage, whether of the Bible, or the Fathers, or anyone also, which I find objectionable in the way apologetics is done. Nothing is ever as it seems, I suppose.