Monday, December 28, 2009

A good movie: The Nativity Story (2006)

I saw this movie just before Christmas an I enjoyed it. What really struc me was the portrayal of St. Joseph. In most nativity movies I have seen he is sort of just "there". In this movie he fulfills the traditional role as his family's provider and protector. He brushes off some pick-pockets, for instance. To be honest, I never thought of St. Joseph as a shrewd and capable protector, though I did always think of him as a protector.

Also very interesting is the protrayal of Mary and Joseph's relationship. While not portrayed as a romance, there is some affection and an emotional bond between the two.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Irenaeus' "Against Heresies" and Apostolic Succession

This is from a post a while back on TWEB:

"Apostolic Succession" as typically used by EO and RC apologists here is anachronistic when read back into e.g. Irenaeus or the Scriptures, or other fathers they cite. I will give a thumbnail regarding Irenaeus, the most popular Father used to establish AS as a way to identify the true Apostolic Church.

For Irenaeus, all the apostolic churches taught correct doctrine because they were founded by apostles and faithfully passed down what the Apostles taught--which incidentally was also written down in the Scriptures according to Irenaeus--the true churches could trace their bishops/elders/presbyters back to the Apostles through showing this faithful traditioning from the days of the Apostles down to Irenaeus' day. It was easy to spot the innovations of the various Gnostic sects because their doctrines were contrary to what was preserved by the bishops/elders/presbyters in succession to the Apostles in the Church, and it was equally as easy to show they believed contrary to Scripture. However, Irenaeus apparently assumes that if a Church is in Apostolic Succession, it has the rule of faith, which is similar to the Apostles' Creed and contradicts the Gnostics who also contradict each other. That last is key for Irenaeus, because he often compares the cacophony of the Gnostic doctrines with the homogeneous teachings of the Apostolic Churches.

His system breaks down when one or more bishops/elders/presbyters disagree on what constitutes Apostolic Doctrine and anathematize each other--something which didn't really happen much in his day. It is even worse if groups of bishops/elders/presbyters do this. This causes a breakdown for two reasons. First, if division is evidence against the Gnostics, it is evidence against a group of churches claiming AS. Second, as Irenaeus assumes ipso facto that what the Apostolic Churches teach is the true Apostolic Doctrine, if Apostolic Churches disagree there is now no way to simply say "here is the Church in valid succession to the Apostles because they teach ABC" as could be done in Irenaeus' day. Basically, the schisms of the later Church cause the old wineskins of Irenaeus' AS to burst due to circumstances which did not obtain in his day.

Irenaeus did say that the Scriptures are the same message the Apostles proclaimed, and that they are the ground and pillar of truth.

Against Heresies III 1-2

1. We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith. For it is unlawful to assert that they preached before they possessed “perfect knowledge,” as some do even venture to say, boasting themselves as improvers of the apostles. For, after our Lord rose from the dead, [the apostles] were invested with power from on high when the Holy Spirit came down [upon them], were filled from all [His gifts], and had perfect knowledge: they departed to the ends of the earth, preaching the glad tidings of the good things [sent] from God to us, and proclaiming the peace of heaven to men, who indeed do all equally and individually possess the Gospel of God. Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter. Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him. Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon His breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia.

2. These have all declared to us that there is one God, Creator of heaven and earth, announced by the law and the prophets; and one Christ the Son of God. If any one do not agree to these truths, he despises the companions of the Lord; nay more, he despises Christ Himself the Lord; yea, he despises the Father also, and stands self-condemned, resisting and opposing his own salvation, as is the case with all heretics.

"Tradition" was taught and written down by the Apostles according to Irenaeus. I do not mean by "tradition" here things like praying to the East, but doctrines and dogmas like the Incarnation.

While it is true that St. Irenaeus has a sort of AS which looks like EO AS, it is not really the same. We see that the succession is one of teaching the tradition handed down--and remember that for Irenaeus tradition is written down in the Scriptures and is not another source of revelation. A Christian could have confidence the tradition taught in his church was true because of two factors: The tradition taught is in the Scriptures (Irenaeus has a lot of fun ripping apart the ridiculous interpretations of Scripture offered by the Gnostics, who were the ones who claimed one could not understand the Scriptures without a secret "key") AND that the line of bishops/presbyters/elders could be traced back to the Apostles. This "works" because the Apostolic Churches agree on the tradition. That does not obtain throughout Church history though, because widely acknowledged Apostolic Sees, such as Rome from an EO perspective, lost the "tradition" and so there is no successtion there. Now, since Rome can trace her bishop back to Sts Peter and Paul, she is Apostolic and Rome claims there is a line of teaching back to the Apostles which agrees with her tradition. But it is no longer the case that because a Church is can trace herself back to one or more Apostles that she is therefore Apostolic. Now, maybe there could be councils and majorities of bishops to decide these things--but that is not what St. Irenaeus teaches, that is a later innovation. In other words, reading e.g. EO AS back into Irenaeus is anachronistic.

Irenaeus ipso facto assumes the Apostolic Churches agree in doctrine, hence even barbarians can learn the capital "T" Tradition, just point to the Apostolic Churches and listen. That does not help the EO/RC use of Irenaeus either, because it is not the case that all Apostolic Churches (churches which have been publicly proclaiming the Tradition and who can trace their origins back to the Apostles) have agreed on all points over time--one of Irenaeus' arguments against the Gnostics. So, the current state of the Apostolic Churches means this particular argument by Irenaeus does not really apply today.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Reformation a template for "Climategate"

Well, I for one see a resemblance, if not an identity. Like all comparisons of commonality, this is a little arbitrary, but I hope you will bear with me and "get" the main point.

Tha papacy before the Reformation enjoyed:

1) Being the "default" position, and being locus of religious authority in the West
2) The ability to dictate the terms of debate such that disagreeing with Church dogma came with severe civil penalties in addition to the ecclesial penalties
3) The ability to cut opponents off from the Sacraments, depose emperors (or at least make their lives very, very difficult), tell subjects their oaths of allegiance need not be obeyed etc.

The global warmists before Climategate enjoyed

1) Being the default position and the locus of authority for human generated global warming
2) The ability to dictate terms of debate such that anyone who disagreed with AGW was more or less ostracized
3) The ability to cut opponents off from being published, and from funding for their research.

As I said, the comparisons are not exact, but what I see as the main commonality is the collapse of authority and the resulting inability to control the terms of debate and to deny opponents access to things they want or need. In the case of the Reformation, the printing press took care of 2, and the various protestant princes took care of 3. 2 meant that protestant ideas could spread despite the institutional authority and power of the RCC, while 3 means that there are different churches in Western Christianity now; broadly speaking the Lutherans, the Reformed and the Anabaptists. When these events combined, these reduced 1 to a great degree, such that the pope had to play defense for a century or two and it was no longer a strong argument to say "the pope says...".

In the case of Climategate, the "direction" of the collapse went in a different direction. First, the content of the emails made 1 quite problematic. This means that 2 is gone--it is no longer good enough to simply cite the authority of the global warmists to stop discussion. Nor can the dissemination of the emails be stopped, and they cannot just wave away the dissenter anymore or stop their ideas from getting out. This is mainly due to the Internet. 3 looks like it may be tottering, but I am not sure it has occurred yet. Some signs it has are newspaper accounts which cite warming skeptics in a more respectful, if not sympathetic light. It is probably still more difficult for a warming skeptic to get funding etc. but that may change.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Authority Claims

Although I have written about this before, I would like to make the point again.

In a typical discussion about any controversy between a Lutheran and a Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox, the RC or EO will just claim apostolic succession means his church is the church. Since his church is the ancient church and the Lutherans are not, Lutheran claims can be given a polite hearing, but ultimately they cannot be true because the Lutherans don't have apostolic succession, which the real church has. In this way, apostolic succession can rhetorically do away with any issue which is difficult for a RC or EO to deal with. Anything the Lutheran says is either his personal opinion or the received personal opinion of someone who is outside the Church while the RC or EO is merely following apostolic succession. So, no headway can ever be made, though as I said the Lutheran may be given a polite hearing.

However, when the Lutheran simply asks "why is your apostolic succession better than (insert alternative apostolic succession)?" the RC or EO has no comeback which can be compelling. This is because it is not logically necessary that if one believes in apostolic succession one will therefore be RC, EO, Armenian, Coptic etc. And since in the vast majority of cases online the RC or EO is arguing from authority either explicitly or implicitly, if he cannot prove his authority there is no reason to take his claim of authority seriously . That is, unless he can show that his authority must be the true authority without appealing to that authority. It is as if I just cited passages from the Book of Concord and then waited for all the RCs and EOs to accept what the Lutheran Church teaches as gospel. (Which it is...) This means the RC or EO has to use (get ready!) private interpretation to determine for himself or prove to another why his apostolic succession is the apostolic succession. Given that much of their polemic is based on a Lutheran's private interpretation as opposed to their mere reception of the teachings of the church in apostolic succession, they are loathe to do so. In fact, in my experience they do not do so but just try and assert that their apostolic succession is the real deal.

Now, I don't think this makes their claims necessarily wrong, it is just that it is a byproduct of their over investment in the argument from authority. Since they have been arguing for years (often in Newmanian fashion) that they are fortunate they do not have to use private interpretation while Lutherans do, the wheels basically come off the cart and they don't have a lot to say, for it turns out they are choosing and judging, too.

I really think this simple argument defangs theirs, though it does not disprove it.

Interestingly, we Lutherans have a stake in this. We do not believe we are sui generis but the inheritors and preservers of the Tradition, which is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and which is preserved in the Scriptures, as St. Irenaeus said. This Tradition was handed down through the Church, i.e. an institution, and does not come to us apart from the Word. So in many cases we will argue like the RC or EO--the Church has said e.g. Jesus Christ is of the same substance (or ousia) as the Father, and this is the correct interpretation of the Tradition handed down from the Apostles. Anything which differs from this is not part of the Tradition handed down from the Apostles.

Yet it is different, because we believe the Church is gathered around the Gospel proclamation--here in the form of Baptism, there in the form of a sermon, over the hill in the form of a book or a believer's testimony. The Gospel is the "regula fide", not the pronouncements of councils, bishops or popes. For example, Arianism is wrong not because it is implausible or because no one spoke like an Arian before Arius (Justin Martyr had some odd ideas about the Logos.....), but because if Arius was right, their is no longer a Gospel. We know this from the Scriptures and it is clarified because of how the Church prayed and worshiped. So for us, the worship life of the Church points to the Tradition written down by the Apostles, and when it agrees with this written Tradition we can know to a certainty what that Tradition is. I contrast this with the RC and EO way of presenting things--at least online: We don't know anything unless we have an interpreter. Anything you say is unsure because words can mean anything etc.

Which brings me to my final point. I wonder how much of the reliance on authority, and how many converts move from Wittenberg to Rome or Constantinople, because our culture is imbud with and drunk upon post-modernism. If words can literally mean just about anything, then I suppose we do need an infallible interpreter. I just wish he didn;t have to use words to infallibly teach...

Thursday, December 3, 2009

If God cannot be moved by something outside himself, why do I matter to him?

Basically, this thought just came to me. It is an axiom of theology that God is impassible, that nothing external to God "moves" or affects him. This would seem to mean that anything I do for God and my neighbor doesn't matter to God in the slightest. Whether I live or die eternally, or my predecessors, or my family, or my descendants are all beings to whom God is indifferent, as he cannot be moved by their fate.

Now, as a Lutheran I could answer "Well, this same God became man, lived, suffered, died and rose again, and promises eternal life to all who believe this. That is how we know this impassible God of which you speak"

Come to think of it, that is probably why we don't start with grand definitions of God and his properties, such as his impassibility, his glory, his omnipotence etc. We as Lutherans start with the little baby in Mary's bosom--passable, inglorious, weak etc. who grew up and was killed, and yet rose again. I suppose this is a species of the "Theology of the Cross". Most of the time God in his glory, omnipotence etc. are hidden to us, and for all appearances he may even seem to be absent all together at times--picture the Apostles and Mary at the foot of the cross--and yet he is glorious, omnipotent none the less. It is just that in the apparent weakness and wickedness of the world, his glory and omnipotence are not readily seen.