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...


Acolyte4236 said...

I don’t think you’ve captured argument. The argument is that AS is a necessary condition and without it, non-Orthodox may have legitimate theological concerns, but lack the position from which to deploy them. If Christ’s teaching authority and power is passed through the episcopate, then whatever the Lutherans maybe doing in advancing claims, it isn’t teaching per se.

At the level of AS per se as a concept, you’re right that it won’t distinguish between various claimaints of it, but neither will an adherence to Sola Fide. Lots of groups claim Sola Fide but aren’t Lutheran. So it doesn’t seem that you’re in a better position. Of course, AS includes in it the idea of right teaching as well as other conditions so there does seem available some principled reply to distinguish Rome, the Copts, etc from the Orthodox as far as AS goes. So things aren’t as bleak as you make them out to be. Moreover, even if your argument went through, it would only prove the joint universality and antiquity of AS as a necessary condition which seems to be a significant problem for Reformation bodies.

As to proving the authority without it, I think Lutheranism has this problem and Orthodoxy doesn’t. How are we to know which texts are inspired and normative according to Luther, since it is the inspired texts which are our authority? Well those that rightly distinguish between Law and Gospel. But this presupposes that we already know what the right distinction between Law and Gospel is. Where did we get that from, since we didn’t get it from the Scripture? Que the wedding of Biel and Augustinianism. (Augustinian pre-emption meets Ockhaistic taxonomic theory.) Zwingli had a simple solution to this Lutheran problem. He thought God told him audibly and directly which texts and interpretations were correct.

Acolyte4236 said...

2nd as to private judgment, your argument turns on an equivocation of that term. The doctrine of the right of private judgment (DOTROPJ)is not the idea that each person needs to fulfill the conditions on knowledge in order to know something. And this is for a simple reason. The DOTROPJ is concerning the normativity of judgments that bind the conscience of all church members and not about how we know about them. So it isn’t an epistemological question, but an ethical one. For the Lutheran and other Protestants their own private judgment is the only thing that can bind their consciences. No ecclesiastical authority can bind the conscience, which implies that all ecclesiastical authorities are non-divine. (This tells us quite a bit about Reformation Christology)Consequently all ecclesiastical judgments and formulations are not only pen-ultimatly normative at best, but are revisable. Consequently all Protestant doctrinal formulations are in principle revisable. They are human reconstructions of divine data, a kind of formulary Pelagianism if you will. The individual conscience is a self contained monad impervious external obligation.

Now in order to know that such and so claim is true, that doesn’t entail the use of private judgment. It entails the use of my cognitive abilities and epistemic powers to know and judge if such and so is true, if there is a good reason for it and whatever the other conditions on knowledge may turn out to be. (JTB + ?) To discover that requires that we examine documents, trace out historical practices and beliefs, etc. None of that entails that I subscribe to the authority of AS or the DOTOPJ any more than that I must presuppose the authority of the New Testament to find out using historical data that Jesus rose from the grace. Your argument here then conflates epistemological matters with matters regarding normativity.

If the Lutherans are not sui generis, then we are owed an account of where their distinctive doctrines were in the tradition. I take it as fairly well established by historians of theology that sola fide isn’t in the preceding tradition. Augustine for example certainly didn’t adhere to it. Here I do not mean the use of the phrase since the same phrase can be used to convey different conceptual content. Also, the usual lines of claiming scholastic obfuscation won’t be available to explain where sola fide was lost or obscured when dealing with the East. The same goes for things like a penal model of the atonement as well as the underlying nominalistic conception of taxnomies. Moreover, AS is just as widely and early attested to as the doctrines of the divinity of Christ, baptism of infants, etc and so qualifies as part of the Apostolic tradition.

If the gospel is the regula fidei, then why does Athanasius for example speak of Catachumen needing to learn it prior to reading the Scriptures? How the church prayed and worshipped in the East doesn’t seem to really help the Lutheran case. The Liturgies of St. James, John Chrysostom and Basil doesn’t strike me as particularly Lutheran. Also, what are we to make of St. Basil’s talk of tradition not written down, such as making the sign of the cross? You seem to limit the Tradition to the Scriptures, in which case the canon of Scripture will not be unrevisable since it is not Tradition.

As far as our culture, our culture isn’t Post-modern. Modern maybe, but PM isn’t relativistic since relativism still thinks there is a truth value to judgments made in ethics and epistemology. PM denies that there is any such truth value. There is also no necessary connection between sign and signifier and so needing an interpreter isn’t a decidedly PM thing, but a pre-PM thing. In PM, meaning is social and contingent. To cite Hilary Putnam, Meanings ain’t in the head. PM is therefore a form of semantic nihilism.

Edward Reiss said...


" Lots of groups claim Sola Fide but aren’t Lutheran. So it doesn’t seem that you’re in a better position."

I don't claim Lutherans are in a better position. But the various "Apostolic" churches do make such a claim are not in such a superior position s they claim.

regarding "revisability", it is true, is it not, that Chilliasm was the default position of the early Church? For instance, did Irenaeus learn his Chilliasm from Polycarp? You als ospeak a lot about e.g. Lutheranism "in principle" being revisable. OK, but the same is true of all churches, despite your claims. Any church can fall into heresy or wither away. I don;t think EOdoxy is as stable as you seem to maintain.

BTW, nothing in this post disproves EO claims, IMO, but I think the way the claims are advanced is rather bogus.

Re: Sola Fide. I don't want to get into that right now. But I will say that I don't think it was absent, and if the East hid it so much the worse for the East.

Post a Comment