[#] The matter of Authority (3 Q's)

    OK: you and I can agree that the Faith – which is to say, the common ground upon which the church rests; the basis for the great cloud of witnesses – is not idiosyncratically subjective and does not manifest itself uniquely every time someone receives the second birth.
    Yet, you and I still disagree (I think). Here are questions that indicate why:
    (1) If we admit that the ordinary method of resolution is conciliar, on what basis are you and I (neither of us are ministers in the sense the WCF uses, yes?) valid advocates for either side of a doctrinal debate?
I never claimed to be a minister. I'm talking as a layman, and mostly to other laymen. I do think that laymen should have some kind of representation in Church councils--that was one thing that was heavily debated in some of the fifteenth century councils, and throughout the fifteenth and into the Reformation period it helped give rise to what I think has to be called a true recovery of the biblical doctrine of the "priesthood of all believers" as over against the essentially Gospel-denying "special ontological caste" notion of priesthood, or even the more general notion that only special "doctors" have any right to speak on disputed issues. As an individual, I don't have the right to speak ministerially for the Church, but that doesn't entail that all I can do is simply be a cog in a machine, either.
OK: that doesn’t answer the question, but I’ll admit to fallibility in the asking of the question. In this discussion, which is not just between you and I but between larger parties of advocates, who cares what you think or what I think? For example, what right or basis does Perry have to call anyone a “Gnostic”? If I agree that the problem is not either “he’s a magisterial advocate” or “he’s just some loudmouth” (sorry, Perry), I want you to define for this discussion on what basis you or I or Perry are more than clanging gongs.

Keep this in mind: if your answer is “priesthood of the believer”, superficially we agree. But I think it needs more fleshing out. I don’t think you and I are saying the same thing when we say those words, and if we are, you have some explaining to do (for my sake) in your views below.

    (2) Let’s accept for a second the premise that you and Pastor Wilson put forward – that all those who have Trinitarian baptism are rightly named inside the covenant. That is, they will know we are Christians by our baptism. Given that the WCF does not anathematize anybody, but Trent does, on what basis should I (the individual believer) be convinced that the WCF offers a valid correction of Trent so that I may personally follow the magisterial authority which represents the church?
What an incredibly complicated question.
Yes. I knew that when I asked it, and I appreciate you seeing the complexity.
The major problem with this is that it simply repeats standard Protestant polemicizing about the Council of Trent --
What I do not appreciate is being labeled (again) as “polemicizing” about Trent. My question was not “why was Trent bad and the WCF good?” My question was that we have two statements of conflicting doctrine all made (for the sake of this discussion) by men inside the covenant and of some degree of conciliar (which does not say “ecumenical”) authority. They are both exercising, to some degree if not the final degree, the “ordinary” method of resolving theological disputes.

Here I am, just Frank, guy with a bookstore who just lost his daytime help, and I have Trent in one hand and WCF in the other. They do not agree. Now think on this: you and I agree that the word “faith” in both documents does not mean exactly the same thing – but even in that context, the documents cannot be reconciled meaningfully. There is no basis for harmonization – the semantic issue, in fact, may be a fatal matter for ever reaching a conclusion.

How do I decide which one I follow? How do I know that my Pastor, for example, does the right thing by following one and not the other? I want to do the right thing. How do I do that?
--polemicizing which is increasingly coming to be questioned in our day precisely because it's generally very ignorant of the actual history leading up to the Council and also simply gratuitously assumes that everyone both for the Council and against it accurately understood what everyone else was saying and trying to do. One of the first things that stands out about the Council of Trent when one stops to set it more basically within its late Medieval context is that it used the term "faith" entirely differently from the way the Protestants did.
Sure. No doubt. I would agree without any reservation.
This being the case, it NECESSARILY follows that a denial by Trent that "faith alone" saves is not NECESSARILY a denial of what the Protestants were saying. Of course, Trent THOUGHT it was totally condemning the Protestants, and the Protestants of that day THOUGHT it actually had, but those facts alone mean about as much as two sides in a trench warfare campaign constantly yelling at each other "You started it!" "Nuh-uh, you did!" At some point somebody has to stop yelling long enough to LISTEN, but unfortunately that's very hard to do in the thick of the actual battle itself, much less after 500 years of subsequent yelling ourselves hoarse.
That would be great if the only thing that Trent did was anathematize those people sloganeering “sola Fide!” We would have to run up the white flags and have a day off for thanksgiving because the matter of your party’s disagreement with my party would be, in effect, reconciled.

But Trent did a lot more than merely anathematize those who affirm sola Fide. An extremely important matter is the anathematization of those who reject the Apochrypha. This is not a matter of confused meaning – and it particularly relates to the subject at hand, which is what we mean when we say that our theology is based on sola Scriptura. It is, again, a point where “me” has to say, “well, Trent doesn’t agree with the WCF, so which one do I follow?”
Second, I do not believe that either the Council of Trent or the Westminster Assembly qualify as "Ecumenical Councils", and thus, neither one of them speaks for the Church catholic with anything approaching truly ecumenical force. I think that we need a new Council to revisit the issues that are in dispute between Rome and the Reformation--a Council made up not mostly of a bunch of hotheaded radicals (Trent) who in turn are viciously excoriated by their radically unjustly accused victims (the Reformers) so that a great big huge cycle of Mutually Assured Destruction gets started again, but instead a Council made up of calmer folks from both sides, folks dedicated to not automatically thinking the worst of each other and commited to actually hammering out an agreement, if possible, that each will pledge to live by. This doesn't fit the typical war-monger approach of either side, obviously, but look where the war-mongers have gotten us. Maybe it's time to put them out to pasture and let cooler heads prevail.
If I thought that the new Pope was going to come out and say, “well, you know what? Vatican I was not quite right. We’ve made some doozers here in Rome and I’m ready to come clean,” I’d be right there with you. But be serious, Tim: do you think that’s going to happen in the next 100 years? Or ever?

And what do you think the popular response to that move would be? I can just see Catholic Answers now: “In the spirit of the Vaticanus Ecumenicus council, we are taking the website off-line until there is a final statement of unity.” It would make an interesting blog entry on April 1, but I think it is much more likely that my pants will turn into a clarinet.
Of course, I am here assuming that Protestantism can get it's act together and recover its own conciliarist background sufficiently to actually want a new Council, and actually commit itself to adhering to the Council's lawfully-declared decisions.
And that, as we move on to question (3), fails to answer my question. There’s a lot of good, meaty stuff in your response, Tim, but the question is: when two non-ecumenical bodies (which might be to say, regional bodies, or provincial bodies) issue teaching positions which are contrary, what does a guy like me do with that? That is to say, how can he sort it out? There might be political reasons for the disagreement, or perhaps a rhetorical/linguistic reason, or perhaps it’s personal because somebody ran over the Pope’s cat – but when it all shakes out, “me” the guy in the pew has to have some method for taking both documents and asking, “How do I serve Jesus and still respect the authority of these men?” AND coming to a godly conclusion.
    (3) The 3rd decree of the Council of Chalcedon dictates that, unless pressed to do so to care for the needy (widows and orphans), no minister of any rank shall manage property or administer “worldly business”. I suspect that you would not condemn a minister who rented rooms to college students – and that’s a suspicion based on zero points of evidence, so I accept I might be wrong. However, I am not familiar with any conciliar document that overturns the decree of Chalcedon on this matter. How would you square up the opinion that a minister who conducts this kind of worldly business is not usurping conciliar authority?
When I speak of ecumenical conciliar authority, I'm talking primarily about the dogmatic definitions covering foundational matters of Christology.
If here you are saying that you accept all the dogmatic definitions covering foundational matters of Christology of the councils, but that the rest is only some kind of artifact, you are yourself taking one of your one major premises and turning it on its head: societas Christiana. Now what do I mean by that?

Here’s what I mean: you yourself advocate the following view of “a Truly catholic Theory of Authority”. You say this, in fact, in advocating for it:
    Authority is good and is to be honored and obeyed until it blasphemes God and His Word. No law is valid if unjust, and lawful resistance to tyrants is permitted by those who recognize their own sins and repent. Rulers who do not fulfill their God-ordained duties as rulers forfeit the right to the obedience of their subjects. This is especially true if they are so unreasoningly insane that they cannot tell the difference between ruling and wrecking the society. And when insane rulers despicably hijack the mechanisms of reforming the Church (including Councils), it is lawful to search for other methods.
In the example I cite, the council did not have merely spiritual authority but was conducted in a historical context when it had both spiritual and political authority. It has “political” authority in the specific case of the manner in which clerics ought to be performing their duties because it had church polity authority at the ecumenical level, the broadest possible level.

Unless you are willing to assert that Chalcedon was tyrannical, or corrupt, or sinful, or somehow failing to fulfill its duties in ruling, or that they were wrecking Christian society, by your definition you ought to accept the third canon as binding on clerics – and you do not.

You are doing exactly what you have excoriated Dr. Svendsen for doing: not taking the council at face value within its apparent scope of authority. I think, instead of saying, “wow, Tim’s really a bad guy,” or “So There! Dr. Svenden is vindicated!” what we have instead is a different operating principle than we expected to find on either side – something much more in compliance with this idea we have tossed around which I have called “no singular, definitive ecclesiastical theology”.
Councils usually deal with all kinds of issues, and end up issuing all kinds of decrees. Conciliarism does not stipulate that all decrees whatsoever of any Council are of equal epistemic-doctrinal status and must always, everywhere, and by all be obeyed upon penalty of anathema.
No, I am sure that this is exactly the case – but at the same time, matters of canon law (which is what the third canon is: a matter of ecclesiastical law binding for the sake of polity) were not suggestions. They were not matters which issued forth from the council “to be taken under advisement”, so to speak. Canon 3 here is clear in its (political) decree, has never been overturned as far as I can tell up through the 16th century (where, I think, we can agree there is some kind of problem of continuity), and occurred within the scope of the power of the council to make it “so”.

Let me be clear: I am not saying that Canon 3 cannot be changed, or must be infallible in some way. I am saying that is never has been changed by a council of equal standing, and if we apply your view of conciliar authority, you and I do not have the right – be that convenantial, political or whatever – to say, “I just don’t agree. My pastor can go ahead and rent rooms to students of he wants to.”

Certainly, the spiritual matters of Chalcedon are weightier than this canon; certainly there is something more “important” in the doctrinal assertions of Chalcedon than in canon 3. But the problem that we are faced with, for lack of a better term (forgive me for being stupid), is the great chain of being: the Ecumenical council has authority to make this statement in such a way that, (as you have said plainly) unless it is unjust or corrupt, we are compelled by our (which is to say, your) view of society to accept and to obey.

Unless, of course, the matter of “unjust or corrupt” is not a matter of self-evidence or intention, but a matter of adhering to a higher standard which we as disciples of Christ have some access to. It is there we find our way back to the topic which started this discussion.
I'm sure there was a very good reason for Chalcedon's decree on the point you mention. Whether it needs to be obeyed today by anyone is a far different matter (i.e., a disciplinary one) than is adherence to its dogmatic definition about the person of Christ.
This is exactly my point, and that you see it but do not do more with it than point it out seems somewhat incongruous – because it is exactly the matter by which you have criticized Dr. Svendsen.

2 comments:

James Swan said...

why don't you make the fonts even smaller, and use an even lighter blue lettering?

centuri0n said...

I thought about making my statements smaller and lighter, but then I realised that those were really the parts I thought were important.

I have changed them for the sake of your ailing, aging eyes, James. See: I thought that if you ate the candy rosaries I sent you, your health would be totus tuus.