Apostolic Succession and Civic Freedom (pt. 1)

In our previous discussion, our Roman Catholic friend Mary Campion raised a new question regarding the theory of Apostolic Succession.  Fearful that much of the modern political settlement is a byproduct of non-Christian philosophy (it is a product of the Enlightenment after all) she suggests that apostolic succession would be a more desirable safeguard to the notion of Christian citizenship.  Mary writes:

Apostolic succession avoids the flaws of the modern “separation of church and state” approach, as held by Darryl Hart, as I read him, in that the church is divinely instituted as a historical presence. God has, through his church instituted by Christ (“and I will give to thee the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven”) been given, in the words of the Bard, “a local habitation and a name.” An address if you will. As a result, the state must be subordinate to the church. However, as formulated in Unam Sanctum, the “Two Swords” are not to be conflated. Rather, “it belongs to the spiritual power to establish the terrestrial power and pass judgment if it has not been good.” This means that the Spiritual power only rules the Temporal power mediately, as opposed to immediately, as it does within the church. What this usually means in practice is subordination on questions of “faith and morals.” This makes the church/state relationship complimentary rather than either 1) merged, such as in Islam or a theocracy or 2) alienated, as in modern liberal “wall of separation” thinking.

Apostolic succession also avoids what I believe are the weaknesses in the approach of reformer’s view. For because of the two radically different loves of the heavenly and earthly cities, the two cities seem destined to be always at war to some degree. Jesus seems to accept this state of affairs when he advises to “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s,” and speaks of his Kingdom as “not of this world.” History certainly bears this out as well. As such, while the invisible church, which will be the bride of Christ at the Great Wedding, is not simply to be identified with the visible church in this world, there is however an inseparable link through apostolic succession. This gives God’s church an anchor and sticking point, if you will, which no totalitarian regime, or soft despotism of consumer degradation- indeed, not even the gates of hell- can prevail against. In short, it seems to me that the idea of making the Magistrate a Christian, while admirable, and perhaps possible and hoped for, is not to be relied on or expected.

As with many of my posts, this is hopefully an elaborate ploy to entice Peter Escalante to write in public, but I will take the first opportunity to offer a response.

Mary here offers the classic Roman Catholic position.  This is most welcome in the face of too many modern RCs who wish to evade the teaching of their own church through various “developments.”  Mary lays it out for us: “the state must be subordinate to the church.”  The Reformers all rejected this position out of hand, and I continue to do so today.

1) What precisely constitutes “the church”?  Mary begins with what seems to be the inescapable concept of the institutional church, the one with an address.  She also says that the invisible church is linked to the visible church through apostolic succession.  Thus we’ve got an additional question to field as well.  2) What is apostolic succession, and is it a valid theory?  3) Mary also concludes with the question, “[Do] you think that modern democratic liberalism is inherently the regime most compatible with Christianity?”

We’ll handle these one at a time in individual posts.  To the first question:

1) a) Since the kingdom of God is within you (Luke 17:20-21) and the true mother church is the Jerusalem that is above (Gal. 4:26), we can confidently say that the Reformation doctrines of the invisible church and the spiritual kingdom are not simply Hellenistic accouterments or proto-Enlightenment errors, but instead authentic attempts to consistently read the New Testament.

b) God’s local habitation is within each and every believer (John 7:38, Acts 17:24-28).  He is not restricted to institutional boundaries, nor merely the clergy.

c) The State (not really the best nomenclature, but we’ll use it for now as a shorthand for the civic magistracy) is given holy titles throughout the Scripture.  The term “son of God” itself is a name for kingship, Cyrus is called the Lord’s anointed, and Paul says that the civil powers are God’s ministers unto righteousness who must be obeyed because of conscience’s sake (Romans 13:1-7).

In many points of Church history, notably 4th cent. Byzantium and 16th cent. England, the monarch/emperor was considered a special diaconal office within the church.  We do not see the apostles attempting to subordinate their magistrates to themselves, but rather the reverse, and finally, Jesus says that there is a difference in jurisdiction between the two powers, with each possessing their appropriate and distinct claims.

d) In fact, Jesus does not rule his kingdom with force (Matt. 26:55), thus it seems impossible that his successors would later do so.  If his kingdom were a coercive kingdom, then his followers would fight accordingly, but as it is, they do not (John 18:36).

e) This view is that of the Reformation, but also that of the earliest of the Church fathers.  The Letter to Diognetus states:

For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity. The course of conduct which they follow has not been devised by any speculation or deliberation of inquisitive men; nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines. But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life. They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life. They are poor, yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonored, and yet in their very dishonor are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honor; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life; they are assailed by the Jews as foreigners, and are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred.

Justin Martyr adds:

And when you hear that we look for a kingdom, you suppose, without making any inquiry, that we speak of a human kingdom; whereas we speak of that which is with God, as appears also from the confession of their faith made by those who are charged with being Christians, though they know that death is the punishment awarded to him who so confesses. For if we looked for a human kingdom, we should also deny our Christ, that we might not be slain; and we should strive to escape detection, that we might obtain what we expect. But since our thoughts are not fixed on the present, we are not concerned when men cut us off; since also death is a debt which must at all events be paid.


And more than all other men are we your helpers and allies in promoting peace.

Finally we have Augustine:

This heavenly city, then, while it sojourns on earth, calls citizens out of all nations, and gathers together a society of pilgrims of all languages, not scrupling about diversities in the manners, laws, and institutions whereby earthly peace is secured and maintained, but recognizing that, however various these are, they all tend to one and the same end of earthly peace.  It therefore is so far from rescinding and abolishing these diversities, that it even preserves and adopts them, so long only as no hindrance to the worship of the one supreme and true God is thus introduced.

It is interesting that in that passage from Augustine, taken from City of God 19.17, the contrast is between earthly and heavenly with Augustine adding at the end that the earthly is not by faith.  The heavenly city is grasped only by faith, and the Christians attain their distinctive peace only by faith.  This is essentially the same Pauline theology that would be so staunchly advanced by Calvin and others.

f) Lastly it is not at all clear to me that an Unam Sanctam political theory differs from an Islamic one.  Peter can help me out here, but it is my understanding that Boniface was himself influenced by Islamic jurisprudence.  Furthermore, something like the Ayatollah’s newer political theology in Iran is very close to medieval Rome, with its vicar of the Imam who rules on earth.

Are we sure that we aren’t too quickly dismissing Islam only because it is one of “the other guys”?  On the level of principles, it doesn’t seem to be that far removed.

This should be enough for one installment, and so we’ll leave it to the comments for further conversation.  The specific question of apostolic succession will be taken up in a later post as will be that of modern democratic liberalism.


100 thoughts on “Apostolic Succession and Civic Freedom (pt. 1)

  1. Steven,

    A couple of thoughts: First, I know you don’t like their approach, and consider it semi-Papist, but the Presbyterians, the Massachusetts Puritans and Cromwell did seem to believe something much closer to the Catholic practice than you allow.

    And second, I’m not entirely sure guilt by association like in your accusations that Catholic political theory is essentially Muslim is any more appropriate than Catholic guilt by association attacks which identify Protestantism with Islam because of their common iconoclast position.

  2. 1) What precisely constitutes “the church”? Mary begins with what seems to be the inescapable concept of the institutional church, the one with an address.

    Steven, I think this is the nub of the issue. Roman Catholics since Turretin’s time “still boast of their having alone the name of church and do not blush to display the standard of that which they oppose. In this manner, hiding themselves under the specious title of the antiquity and infallibility of the Catholic church, they think they can, as with one blow, beat down and settle the controversy waged against them concerning the various most destructive errors introduced into the heavenly doctrine.” (Turretin, Institutes vol 3, pg. 2.) Thus they say that “the faith” is what the Church says it is; whereas Protestants define the various points of faith from Scripture, “so examination of faith and knowledge ought to precede knowledge of the church.” (3)

    Newman, too, never bothered to define “what precisely constitutes ‘the church'”. He merely said that “it is not a violent assumption,” barring “proof to the contrary,” that “the Christianity of the second, fourth, seventh, twelfth, sixteenth, and intermediate centuries in its substance the very religion which Christ and His Apostles taught in the first [century].” (Newman, “Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine” Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1989, pg. 5). He then proceeded from that assumption.

  3. Matt,

    1) I’m not sure which specific point you have in mind, but just taking a guess I’d say that you are right about many of the original Presbys and the Mass. Puritans, but not about Cromwell.

    2) Not all association with Islam is guilt. It comes from a shared historical and cultural locale as Christianity and Judaism, and so it is not a surprise to see points of common ground as well as contrast. My point “f” was in response to something Mary explicitly wrote (end of her first paragraph in my quotation).

  4. Steven,

    1) Yeah, after I posted that I realized I wasn’t entirely clear. I meant the section where you said:

    “Mary here offers the classic Roman Catholic position. This is most welcome in the face of too many modern RCs who wish to evade the teaching of their own church through various “developments.” Mary lays it out for us: “the state must be subordinate to the church.” The Reformers all rejected this position out of hand, and I continue to do so today.

    I personally would say there are Ecumenical difficulties with this. Not in the silly sense that you may offend Catholics, or some such; but that the Church’s jurisdiction is, and must be, Ecumenical; whereas, there has not been an Ecumenical Emperor since the third century or so. The concerns of the English Church must not be the concerns of the English Church, but of the English Church. Of necessity, the Church’s jurisdiction transcends England, and speaks to England, authoritatively, from outside.

    But that’s a different concern from how the English Church should be governed, internally. It is an entirely coherent position (though not one I hold to) that the English Church, when considered in herself should be ordered by the monarch, yet when the Church speaks Ecumenically, it speaks to the English King.

    2) Ah I missed that you were replying to her specific concern. That makes more sense.

  5. Brethren,

    At first I couldn’t reply at leisure to Mary’s comment because of family considerations, and then, just a bit later, I had advance notice that Pastor Wedgeworth was going to post this new post, and that I ought to wait until then to reply. So, I’ll be replying at greater length to Mary’s question shortly, but for now, I’d like to make a brief remark regarding Matt’s mention of Cromwell: in fact, Cromwell was not at all like the de jure divino Presbyterians, and thus was not at all like the RC position. Cromwell was simply a classical Protestant, and cared only about “the heart of the matter”; he was the man who famously begged the fanatical Presbyterians, “I beeseech you, in the bowels of Christ, to consider that you might be wrong.”


  6. While we are waiting for Peter’s response, I’ll go ahead and throw my own ideas into the ring and say that the way the Roman Catholic Church approaches political power is a very recent development, sealed at the Second Vatican Council, but prepared by the long march of ultramontanism that seized the Church after the French Revolution. I say this as one who is now reading more on the Jansenist crisis in 18th century France and who has studied various other questions of historical theology. Before the French Revolution and even in some ways after it, the domus Christi was an integral part of the Catholic ecclesial vision. In other words, I don’t think that “the Church” was so separate from the polity in which it existed. Part of the reason why the Jansenist / Gallican crisis in the 17th and 18th centuries were so severe is that Rome was seen as usurping unnecessarily the rights and privileges of the Eldest Daughter of the Church, and her king in particular. Indeed, perhaps this was a liturgical abuse from the era of the absolute monarch, but in the French court during Mass, all were supposed to face the king and not the altar. The Holy Roman Emperor could veto the choice of pope at a conclave (which he did at the conclave to replace Leo XIII, bring St. Pius X to the throne in the early 20th century). The Holy Roman emperor could not just appoint bishops, but he could also institute liturgical “reforms” in his kingdom, as Joseph II did in the 18th century, as well as mandating that all clergy, Catholic, Orthodox, and Jewish, were to wear special hats during services.

    The modern Roman Catholic of course is shocked by this intrusion of “secular” power into the affairs of the Church. It is almost unimaginable now that such things used to take place. How many Catholics, for example, would be horrified if Congress could mandate the length and shape of our church services? Well, it has been done before, and the Pope didn’t say mum. It was only with the rise of ultramontanism, and the Pope as the “suffering servant” during the papacy of Pio Nono, that absolute representation of God on earth was usurped by a little place called “the Vatican”. Ultramontanism, the idea that the Pope is the Church, and the Church the Pope (Pio Nono actually cried out, echoing Louis XIV, “I am tradition!”) began to dominate the Catholic consciousness. After that, the crack in the Catholic consciousness between the secular and the sacred only grew wider and wider. I would argue that for the modern Catholic, from the liberation theologian in the Latin American slum to the most right wing French fascist integrist, “the State” is a dirty word, devoid of any real sacral dimension. But this was not always so, and it was a process that took centuries to complete. It is no wonder that Dom Gueranger, Benedictine monk and liturgical reformer, wrote at the height of the ultramontanist ascendency a little book called, “The Papal Monarchy”. It is the only “monarchy” left on earth that any “good Catholic” is supposed to respect.

  7. Arturo,

    You sound so very near to the good Protestant position, though I’m not sure I agree that the papal monarchy began as late as you put it. I think this ball was in play as earlier as the Cluniacs.

    You are quite correct about “the State” being a dirty word. Prots are as troubled by this as anyone else. It is a hangup we’ve got to get over, however, if we wish to have a public sector.

    Much love,

  8. Dear Pastor Wedgeworth,

    I am delighted and honored that you have chosen to focus on my post and to quote it so extensively! I am also flattered that you credit me with holding the “classic” Roman Catholic position. I heartily agree that we should be honest and forthright about our positions, as they are the necessary conclusions that must be drawn from our various understanadings of sacred scripture, theology, philosophy and history. This is a discussion that is profoundly dear to my heart and, I believe, critical for our present age. I am convicted that every effort must be made to truly and respectfully understand what is being said on these matters from all sides, without distortion or obfuscation.

    I am also sure that I will learn a great deal as we continue.

    At this time I am occupied with a number of tasks, but I will try to write more as soon as possible.

    I will only take a moment to point out the decisive and fundamental difference between Islam and the Catholic position:

    the political nature of Islam derives from the fact that it contains a civil code of laws held to be divinely revealed.

    This of course is completely foreign to the Catholic understanding which holds forth absolutely no such code of civil laws or, similarly, claim to divine assurance about what is the best regime (an issue best left to prudence). As I pointed out previously, the teaching of the Church is that the Spiritual power only “subordinates” the civil power if it contravenes a fundamental aspect of faith or Christian morals. Again from Unam Sanctum, “if the terrestial power err, it will be judged by the spiritual power;” (Admittedly, this gives rise to some gray areas and the potential for overstepping boundaries by men in a fallen state, such as we are. However, the effect of the possible “corrections” for these dangers is something I believe is central to our discussion, and upon which I would like to dwell at length).

    Actually, in my view, the closest analogue in Chrisitanity to the Muslim position are those sects that have adopted parts of the Jewish Old Testament code and enforce it by the civil power.

    Finally, Islam is 85% Sunni, which has absolutely no religious hierarchy- that is, no “Ayatollahs” at all, but is rather guided only by their “Book” and the teachings of scholars and theologians. The secular civil power is responsible for implementing the revealed civil code.

    As soon as possible, I would like to address other, more fundamental, issues raised by Mr. Wedgeworth. In general, there is very little in the essential assertions he has made with which I would disagree. The differences come forth in the inferences drawn, again undergirded by differences in philosophy, theology and history. It is my hope that we can penetrate to, and expressly clarify, these underlying assumptions.

    Along those lines:

    can we agree that there is a difference between the question of the “baseline” or “default,” position of Chrisitans with regard to government (e.g. Romans 13) and that discussion addressing the “best possible” or “ideal” arrangement of the spritiual and temporal powers, which arose with the unprecedented fact of a more or less predominantly Christian people?


  9. Dear All,

    Perhaps this discussion will go off on a magnificent tangent of some sort, which is fine, since I am just a guest here. However, if I may, since it was my quote that led to this discussion, I would like to focus it by making a few fundamental propositions that I would invite people to address.

    Since it appears for now that no one wishes to uphold Mr. Hart’s take on the Reformers, these points will basically unpack my view of the problems with the Reformer’s understanding of the relationship between Spiritual Kingdom and the Church (as interpreted by SW and PE). Moreover, since my points will be mostly practical, we may avoid being drawn the (admittedly critical) interpretations of certain scripture verses or disputes about the historicity of the early papacy, of which we have all probably formed an opinion by this time.

    Of course these will be something of generalizations but here they are:

    1) The Roman Catholic view is based on a Hierarchy of Being and a conception of the created world as consisting in “substances” (form and matter) while the Reformer’s view is based on a metaphysical and natural understanding that is silent upon or inimical to this view. I have yet to see any serious discussion of the issue substance and essence, let alone an affirmation of the same, by any Reformer. On the other hand, the Catholic view of reality, including the view of man (and therefore of politics) has always been explicitly informed by this conception of the Universe, as testified to by voluminous and systematic treatment of this question by the Doctors of the Church. As such, and based on an amount of historical evidence (such as Luther’s imbibing of nominalist philosophy in his education) I assert that the Reformer’s view of “natural law” is an early prototype, more or less consciously held, of that ersatz “natural law” which would be adopted by Locke and ultimately crystallized into an abstract system of disguised Kantian “rights,” which besets us today. It both facilitated and was the result of the mechanistic or skeptical view of nature which, hardly coincidentally in my view, was part of the same historical “development.”

    2) The rejection of the notion of a historically identifiable, divinely guaranteed Church with an “address,” for whatever reason (they are varied, to be sure) had the result of identifying the Temporal and Spiritual powers, usually in a single individual: the king (prince or ruling magistrate). E.g. Henry the VIII becomes head of the Church of England, completely “responsible” for all that transpires in his realm, including starving people, uneducated people, etc: behold the birth of the modern Welfare State.

    3) Because the notion of Divine Kingship was not one that people could swallow for long (after all, just as there are no identifiable spiritual authorities, how can such a “singular” temporal ruling authority govern “the people”?) by rejecting the authority of the pope, the King had effectively sawed off the branch upon which he himself was sitting and thus Parliament and various “representative bodies” were thrust into the ascendance. Behold the birth of modern democratization, part and parcel of the revolution from a hierarchical view of reality to a mechanistic view, as it applies, fog-like, to individuals, natures, and regimes.

    4) The rejection of the Hierarchy of Being, proceeding apace with regard to Nature, Church Authority, Governmental Authority, would eventually work its way out in every crevice of modern human life, including family life, as we see. As perhaps the effect least understood by moderns, yet surely one of the most profound expressions of this insatiable leveling process, is the discarding of the sacramental life of the church. The denial of any true saving efficacy to any sacraments follows directly from the “need” to dispense with Church hierarchy and authority. It also follows from the rejection of the view that nature is composed of “substances” (matter and form) which are the actualizations of potentialities in the Word or the Mind of God, of which God may make the instruments of His grace. As a result, we have the (somewhat understandable, in this light) rejection of Sacramental realism which comes with the loss of the philosophical realism of the natural world (that is, nature is composed of substances).

    5) The effect, and perhaps the cause, of the destruction of the Hierarchy of Being and the concomitant rejection of Authority (first Spiritual, then Temporal) is the enthronement of the human ego. That is: Pride.


  10. 1) The Roman Catholic view is based on a Hierarchy of Being and a conception of the created world as consisting in “substances” (form and matter)

    My understanding is that all of this is from a fifth- or sixth-century neoplatonist named Pseudo-Dionysius, through Thomas Aquinas, who thought that Pseudo-D was the Real-D (from Acts 17).

    And so I wouldn’t be too eager to base my understanding of reality on that.

  11. Hi Andrew,

    I did not mean to imply that the “whole of the Reformation” was caused by Luther’s apparent nominalist backgorund. Obviously there were many factors and currents at work. There was a neo-Platonic revival as well, which eschewed the notion of substance as well, favoring a mathematical conception of reality, as well as various empirical schools. I only proposed it as “historical evidence” that the Reformers were imbibing the non-realist or anti-realist currents of the time. On a deeper level, what we are talking about here is almost a change in consciousness, by which everyone was effected to some degree. The challenge today is to become aware of, and shatter, the false reasoning that is behind the mechanistic view of the universe.
    This starts with a recovery of what Etienne Gilson calls the “Metaphysics of Exodus,” which is to say that God is primarliy, if analogically, Being Itself (“I AM WHO AM”).


    To respond to your points expressly:

    a) I agree that “the kingdom of God is within” and that “the true mother church is the Jerusalem that is above.” Where we differ I think is that I believe that these truths speak of the eternal destiny of Christians. For now, we see through a glass darkly. The kingdom is within, but we are still in this world nonetheless. The church is the New Jerusalem, and will eventually be presented as the pure Bride of Christ, but is now still laboring in this fallen world. The final wedding has not occured yet.

    b) I heartily agree that “God’s local habitation is within each and every believer (John 7:38, Acts 17:24-28).” and “He is not restricted to institutional boundaries, nor merely the clergy.” Do you think that Catholics believe that only clergy have Christ “within”? The sacramental life of the Church certainly has no such meaning. But it is God’s will, we Roman Catholics believe, for us to ordinarily participate through the sacraments in the life of Christ. God’s ways are not our ways. Who would have thought he would become a man and die on a cross to save us? He likes human contact, he likes incarnational means of conveying His grace. But this is off topic I think.

    c) I am not sure exactly what you are saying here. On the one hand you seem to say that the government, even beyond the divine sanction of Roman 13, designates rulers:

    “In many points of Church history, notably 4th cent. Byzantium and 16th cent. England, the monarch/emperor was considered a special diaconal office within the church.”

    But then you go on to say:

    “We do not see the apostles attempting to subordinate their magistrates to themselves, but rather the reverse”

    …which I take would mean the magistrates subordinating the apostles to themselves. Now if you acknowledge that the civil power tends to subordinate the spiritual (the apostles), then why would it be a good thing to aggrandize the civil power through giving it a religious “office.” Do you not see it as a bad thing that the temporal power rules the spiritual?

    But here we fall back to what I think may be the crux of the matter: you seem to rely on the aspiration that the “Magistrate” will of his own accord become a Christian.

    You do state very reasonably that :

    “there is a difference in jurisdiction between the two powers, with each possessing their appropriate and distinct claims.”

    This is exactly what the Two Swords approach does. But if you eliminate one sword (the Spiritual authority) then it will be squashed, along with the Christian character of your country, as we have seen.

    Which brings us to your point d).

    Although the church had, fleetingly, “Papal States” the Catholic tradition does not envision the Church as having direct temporal power of any kind. The power and authority of the Catholic Church is spiritual, and it could consequently only “judge” the temporal ruler of a Christian people. As in, Christendom, for example.


  12. Dear John,

    You have to go back to Aristotle for the understanding of substance, though St. Thomas transformed his thought, based upon insights from Holy Scripture.

    It is very difficult for us mechanistic moderns to understand and truly grasp, who see atoms and molecules rather than created natures, each giving glory to God, when we look upon the world.

    However, it is highly worth the effort.


  13. Mary,

    You wrote:

    The rejection of the notion of a historically identifiable, divinely guaranteed Church with an “address,” for whatever reason (they are varied, to be sure) had the result of identifying the Temporal and Spiritual powers, usually in a single individual: the king (prince or ruling magistrate). E.g. Henry the VIII becomes head of the Church of England, completely “responsible” for all that transpires in his realm, including starving people, uneducated people, etc: behold the birth of the modern Welfare State.

    I won’t push this too far, since it’s possible I’m wrong – however, having just finished my Master’s thesis on the historical outworking of the Anglo-Saxon vision of sacral kingship in the 12th century, I would strongly suspect that Henry VIII’s view as you describe it here was due more to traditional English ways of thinking than to some novel “rejection of a church with an address.” To make my suspicion solid, we’d have to examine English kingship between the 12th and early 16th centuries, and I admit I haven’t done that. But I still think my suspicion is probably not far from the truth.

    Besides, when you claim that the Reformation rejects “a church with an address,” you’re really just begging the question in favor of the RC doctrine of “the Church.” The Reformation’s visible church has an address. It is, after all, visible.

  14. Bugay,

    Dionysius wasn’t really a neoplatonist. He was a Christian. Yes, he (probably) isn’t the Dionysius from Acts, but he is saying the same sort of thing as St. Gregory the Theologian, St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Maximos the Confessor, and others. He shouldn’t be canonical, or nearly canonical. But he is a relatively faithful father.

  15. “My understanding is that all of this is from a fifth- or sixth-century neoplatonist named Pseudo-Dionysius, through Thomas Aquinas, who thought that Pseudo-D was the Real-D (from Acts 17).”
    Indeed, there is a strange mixing of terms going on here. Gilson’s name has been dropped, but Gilson despised Platonism in all its forms, and I am not so sure he would be so keen on the whole concept of the “hierarchy of being” as it would have been understood by the Neoplatonists, though Aquinas was heavily influenced by Pseudo-Dionysius as has been mentioned. Really, Pseudo-Dionysius’s system was a pagan one inherited from Proclus, with angels filling in for the gods, and Jesus sort of inserted in wherever convenient as something of an afterthought (Maximus Confessor would later have to supply a Christological corrective to Dionysius’ thought). Really, Dionysius’ influence in the West waned after the Reformation when humanists figured out that he wasn’t who he said he was. Western Catholic theology has been in tailspin ever since, and the concepts of hierarchies of being, angelology, etc., have taken a back seat to “manualism” and, more recently, theological anarchy (not to mention that von Balthasar crap).

    The real problem with Ms. Campion’s analysis is that Catholicism doesn’t philosophically do what she wants it to do. I am a Roman Catholic, as many of the readers here know, and the furthest thing from a Protestant in many ways. But the whole “Protestantism = secularization” and “the Papal States weren’t that important” lines are tendentious reasons to oppose Protestantism. They are popular in the Church now, but still tendentious. Really, what those accusers would say went on in Protestantism went on in Catholicism by other means and in another form. Just as reformed Christianity was a radical break with the medieval past, so too was the emergence of Tridentine Catholicism and baroque absolute monarchies. Seeing the “esse” of the Church primarily in Rome may have been a concept that was evolving over a thousand years, but it by no means took hold in all places at the same time and with equal force. People’s idea of the Church even until very recently would have been much more localist or even “shamanistic” than our own.

    In other words, it is not “Protestantism” that is “anti-incarnational”, “anti-sacramental”, or even “anti-hierarchical” per se, but modernity, and it is just as much a product of Catholicism as it is of Protestantism. (I had a friend who somewhat tongue in cheek said that he refused to teach a class on Western spirituality since he could not really tell the difference between St. Teresa of Avila and Martin Luther: devotio moderna all the way.) Looking around the Catholic Church today, I can only agree that the seed of “anti-incarnationalism” in Roman Catholicism was planted a very long time ago.

  16. Dear Mr, Enloe,

    I was really just making a practical point about the centralizing of society under King Henry VIII and did not mean to imply a conscious intention on his part. He was really “stuck” with doing these things in the wake of the destruction of the monestaries, hospitals and appropriation of Church lands.

    The issue of the “address” of the Church is decisive and really shows the gulf between the RC and Protestant views. The key is that in the RC view, this Church has a divinely instituted decision making authority, equal to the authority of scripture, which resides in an office occupied by a particular man who traces the apostolic descent of his authority back to a divine commmision from Jesus Himself (e.g. “Feed my sheep” John 17). Two crucial caveats: 1) the pope could never contradict scripture, since his authority is not greater than Sacred Scripture and 2) the pope does not have any divine “revelation” but only preservation from error under certain conditions (“I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and thou, being once converted, confirm thy bretheren” (Luke 22:31).

    To my knowledge, Protestant church makes similar claims, which concededly are monstrous if not true.

    I assume we will get more into this with apostolic succession.

    At any rate, I must sign off for now.


  17. Mary:

    Just to clarify, I didn’t intend to say that you said the Reformation was caused by Luther’s nominalism. My point was that I don’t think we can fairly say “the Reformation” was of one mind about the philosophical issues you are raising.

    More specifically, the book I mentioned would call into question your statement that “the Reformers were imbibing the non-realist or anti-realist currents of the time.” Calvin was a realist, not a nominalist, and I’m fairly sure the Calvinist tradition followed him in that regard.

  18. There is much that could be said about the intellectual climate of Christendom at the time of the Reformation, but I am not sure that’s what Pastor Wedgeworth has in mind for the discussion.

    The question SW has proposed for us here (item 1) I think, concerns the nature of the church. I brought up this background primarily to illustrate the greater context within which the leveling process occurred, to a greater or lesser degree, in the institutional arrangements of the Protestant churches. This I see, ultimatley, as problematic for the subsequent “political settlement.” But I will await further direction from others on this.


  19. The more interesting element of the question is the role of authority and truth in the Catholic Church. As a caveat, I will say that everything I cite here is a reflection of trends that took centuries to develop, and that unevenly. But really, the transition in Catholic consciousness in the last two centuries has been away from the idea of the Church as protector of a depositum fidei, a faith once delivered, to that of a legal mechanism (call it the “magisterium”) that produces truth effortlessly by legal fiat. Modern day Catholic apologists seem to uphold the latter view since it fits better with their epistemological malaise. Since many grand narratives of truth seem to be unraveling, many of which underlie traditional understandings of Scripture and tradition, the only thing that one has to defend is the mechanism by which authority is exercised in the Church. Peter Escalante will no doubt recognize this as Jonathan Prejean ‘s and Bryan Cross’ position in his previous cyber-scuffles. The truth is the truth since Rome says it’s the truth. The only problem is how do we get from St. Augustine’s “Roma locuta est” to St. Ignatius’s “black is white if the Pope says so” and Newman’s “to be perfect is to have changed often”. Such is the agony of contemporary Catholic thought.

    The problem with such “magisterial positivism” (to use a term devised by a traditional Catholic priest) is that it cannot hold any doctrinal or philosophical water. You spend the vast majority of your time defending how you believe rather than what you believe, and often what you believe is devoid of the depth and poetry of the ancient truth. In the Catholicism of Augustine, Aquinas, and Bossuet, things were believed and loved because they were old and venerable. They had no inkling that what they believed would have been radically different from the Faith of the Apostles. Admittedly, it was the Renaissance and the humanist revolution that interrupted this blissful ignorance, and it wasn’t until Newman (no coincidence that he is about to be beatified in spite of the underwhelming evidence of the miracles) that anyone devised a system that recognized the new reality. But often what you get when you have a doctrinal system based on change is more change. Just like the Hegelian / Marxist dialectic, what you achieve is not some ideological paradise, but rather permanent revolution, or some sort of gulag of philosophical dreck.

    The way I stay Catholic of course is the way the dissident Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre did. On his tombstone are imprinted the words, “tradidi vobis quod et accepi”. I have passed down what I have received. Those who base their Faith in scholarship stay in scholarship. Those who base it on institutional authority stay in institutional authority. None of this touches real life. For that, you need an actual living tradition of both saints and sinners, and to remember that “una”, “sancta”, “catholica” and “apostolica” are all in the creed, but no one mark takes precedence over the others.

  20. Mr. Vasquez,

    I would like to discuss some of the points you made above concerning the philosophical and historical roots of secularization and modernity. Specifically, your assertion that “Catholicism doesn’t philosophically do what she wants it to do.”

    But again, unless prompted further, I’m not sure that’s what SW wants to discuss here.

    You could always do a post on your own blog and we could pick it up there?


  21. Mr. Vasquez,

    Thank you for your thoughts on the Catholic Church. I guess if Mr. Wedgeworth posted your comment that it would be on topic to respond. In fact, I don’t have alot to say about what you wrote becuase I simply do not see the same problems you do in the Church concerning the papacy or continuity in church teaching (admittedly, perhaps becuase I lack some subtlety in my understanding or knowledge). If you gave more concrete examples it might help me to see the malaise or cirises to which you refer. For example, I do not believe Catholic dogma merely because the papacy pronounces it (viewed “mechanically” or otherwise). Rather, it is because I believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that he founded a Church upon Peter, the Prince of the Apostles, whose successors are still with us today.

    I think we agree that modernism has made some inroads into the Catholic Church. The difference seems to me to be that you see it as a fait accompli, which we all must lament with ironic resignation. Whereas, I see modernism, along with Belloc, it simply the latest heresy besetting a church which ultimatley cannot fail because guaranteed by God.

    For example, say above that Catholics have dispensed with their tradition and “sealed” themselves as good soldiers for modern liberalism at Vatican II. However, the facts do not bear this out. Although there is some language in that council’s documents endorsing certain “Rights of Man” concepts, the church does not now, nor has it ever, claimed divine assurance about what constitutes the best regime (a again, a matter left to prudence). Moreover, despite the attempts of liberal Catholics to turn that council into something it is decidedly not, it does indeed affirm the full authority of the papacy and church hierarchy.

    As a matter of historical interest, the delusionsal resort which same make to a “Spirit of Vatican II” (what else can you do when you have no actual documents supporting your position?) can be traced with remarkable consistency to an event a few years after the council which caused the rebellion of a generation contianing many liberal theologians, laymen and priests (that is, all people without doctrinal authority). That event was the pope’s affirmation of the illicit nature of birth control.

    But to get back to politics:

    Perhaps it is within the intended scope of this post to say something about what SW calls the “hang up” of “the State” being seen as a “dirty word.”

    We are in complete agreement on this. But it seems that this is precisely the effect of interpreting the biblical teaching that the Kingdom of God is “not of this world” to mean that Christians are not to be enmeshed the political life. So on the one hand, politics as a “dirty word” is lamented, on the other hand, this view is apparently held as the ideal based on the quotes chosen by SW above (that is, the quote from Justin Martyr, St. Augustine, and the Letter to Diognetus) wherein Christians are portrayed as transnational, without roots, and serenely focused on the afterlife. I do not see these quotes as presenting a full picture of early Christian teaching (to the extent that there even was one on the subject, for the reason that the prospect of a Christian regime had not yet presented itself) and certainly not consistent with the mature RC, scholastic tradition, which takes its cue from Aristotle’s conception of man as a political animal.

    Again, although our eternal destinies are paramount, while we are sojourners in this world we sojourn nonetheless in a particular time, place and under a particular regime. Helpful in this regard is the view of the brilliant American 19th century Catholic political philosopher, Orestes Brownson who distinguished between “written and unwritten” constitutions. Even those destined for eternal glory partake of both of these realities. Brownson wrote in his book The American Republic:

    “The Constitution is twofold: the constitution of the state or nation, and the constitution of the government. The constitution of the government is, or is held to be, the work of the nation itself; the constitution of the state or the people of the state, is, in its origin at least, providential, given by God himself, operating through historical events or natural causes. The one originates in law, the other in historical fact. The nation must exist, and exist as a political community, before it can give itself a constitution; and no state, any more than an individual, can exist without a constitution of some sort.”


  22. Arturo, I say this tongue-in-cheek, but “almost thou persuadest me to be Catholic.” You’re such a breath of fresh air as over against the “mechanistic” Catholicism of Prejean and Cross, et.al.

    On the other hand, it would be a different, but very interesting discussion, to probe how you view the Renaissance exposing the old Catholicism to a “new reality.” One can understand why Newman became necessary precisely because once Valla exposed the fraudulence of the Donation, most non-theologically question-begging historical scholarship after that point tended to demolish various important Catholic claims.

  23. Dear All,

    If I may: this talk of “modern Catholic apologists” citing “magisterial mechanisms” for “producing” truth is making me think we are living in alternative universes.

    I am not familiar with the gentlemen of whom you speak, but if they have the same catechism I do (which is current, by the way) they would relate that the truths of the Faith for Catholics come from three equally authoritative sources: 1) Sacred Scripture 2) Sacred Tradition and 3) Infallible pronouncements of the Church hierarchy. All of these are accepted by Faith (it is Revelation, after all, not logic or experience). This seems to be a far cry from the picture that Mr. Vasquez draws wherein he describes a:

    “transition in Catholic consciousness in the last two centuries…away from the idea of the Church as protector of a depositum fidei, a faith once delivered, to that of a legal mechanism (call it the “magisterium”) that produces truth effortlessly by legal fiat.”

    This is quite surprising to me, as I observe, in the real world, a general disregard for the authority of the papacy as “cafeteria Catholics” pick and choose from Catholic teaching according to their own private “mechanisms” for discerning truth. Far from seeing the pope as “producing” truth, the danger is seeing the Holy father’s views as “one man’s opinion.” (Which is what we’d expect with modernity, where truth has become subjective)

    In fact, the Church hierarchy does not “produce” any truth. As I mentioned above, the Church is only preserved from error on doctrine. Moreover, the occasions for pronouncing authoritatively almost always occur in the case of a dispute needing a resolution. It is much more like a common law rather than statutory law. The Church doesn’t legislate but rather guides even as it is preserved from error.

    I am hoping that, in a spirit of Charity, we will strive (as I sincerely intend) to try to fairly represent each other’s views without distortion in order to score “points.” Rather let us have a respectful regard for the joy of discovering Truth wherever we may find it.

    Onward to politics?


  24. In an effort to get things back on topic, and to make it so this isn’t “pile on Mary”:

    I think that we Protestants should admit that for all the problems of the Catholic system, and for all the problems of the Papacy; the internationalism of the Catholic Church has been proved by history to be far superior to the nationalism of Orthodoxy and Protestantism.

    The crucible which has proved this America, and the evidence, the denominationalism in both the Orthodox and Protestant church, as opposed to the unity of the Catholics. While there are many divisions within the Catholic Church, and while Catholics who emigrate to America tend to form ethnic communities (as do everyone else) they are just Catholics. Though there may be animosity between Italian and Irish and Polish Catholics in America, all are part of the same church.

    America has proved that the Catholic Church, though filled with many and dangerous flaws, and many internal divisions, is one.

    But America has disclosed the disunity inherent in the Orthodox and Protestant nationalisms. Though the Protestants in England are united, though the Protestants in Sweden are united, though the Protestants in the Netherlands are united; the Protestants are not united–as can be clearly seen in America, for from each of those several nations, a denomination. Though the Orthodox in Greece are united, though the Orthodox in Russia are united, though the Orthodox in Serbia are united; the Orthodox are not united–as can be clearly seen in America for from each of those several nations, a hierarchy.

    The Church, by its very nature, is and must be Ecumenical. It makes no more sense to speak of the English church than to speak of the English UN. Though one is a subject of the king, he owes a prior loyalty to His King. And indeed the king himself owes fealty to a truly international, or rather supranational, organization.

    To mistake this, and make the Emperor head of the Church was excusable in the ancient world, for the whole world spoke Latin, and the Emperor was ecumenical. (Or at least so they believed.) To mistake this, and make the Prince the head of the Church was excusable in the early modern period because the national conscience was just emerging, and the several nations thought of themselves as new Romes. Thus it was only natural for them to follow Rome and make the Prince the head of the Church. But there was this critical difference which they did not understand. There cannot be two Roman Empires, for Rome is ecumenical. But there is England and France and Spain, all claiming themselves to be new Romes, and recognizing each other as new Romes. Several new parochial, Romes, no longer Ecumenical.

    And this critical difference is one which is apparent to the modern eye–in fact so apparent that it is perhaps again obscure, for we cannot even conceive of an ecumenical nation. The closest there has been is the British Empire, which indeed was virtually ecumenical, and thus the Anglican Church, despite recent schisms, displays some of the unity Rome has. (Though without even the potential to discipline wayward church, which Rome has at least in potency if not in act.)

  25. Matthew Petersen — you make a lot of assumptions here, and you fail to define a lot of terms. What do you mean by “one”? What do you mean by “united”? You fail to define the word “Church”. What do you mean by saying that the American Catholic Church “though filled with many and dangerous flaws, and many internal divisions, is one”? How is it “one”? How, in reality, can there be anything but “one church”? [Whatever the “divisions” you may perceive, whether national or denominational?]

    How are you [assuming you are saved] and Albert Mohler, for example, not members of the same body of Christ?

  26. Matt, where do you get the idea that the emerging nation states thought of themselves as “new Romes”? It seems to me that what was actually happening in the Late Middle Ages, through the Renaissance, and into the Reformation period, was the splintering of the very idea of “Universal Empire” in the face of rising localism.

    Actually, the group that continued to cling – and that almost fanatically – to the idea of “Universal Empire” were the Roman Catholics, and for all your inveighing against making “the Prince” the head of the Church, Late Medieval / Renaissance / Reformation era papacy was, in fact, its very own “Prince,” complete with all the inward political assumptions and outward political apparatus. The whole “two swords” controversy was precisely about whether the pope could or should hold both spiritual and temporal power – and the papacy consistently came down (usually very radically) on the “Yes” side of that question.

  27. Matthew and John,

    Great topic, great questions!

    Mr. Bugay, without wanting to distract from any thoughts Mr. Peterson might like to offer on the questions you raise, I would observe that you have intuitively hit on the main inquiry that Pastor Wedgeworth has proposed for us.

    How do we determine unity? I submit that this question underlain by another, prior question: how do we determine continuity?

    For being historically contingent creatures (with an eternal destiny), any unity among humans is sustained over time. Thus our perception of any institution, including the Church considered in its visible aspect, will entail our understanding of that institution’s foundation or essence, which largely means its history. As I have heard it said, we see the “was-ness” in the “is.”

    I submit that the sine qua non of the unity within Catholicism in name, doctrine, Tradition and, most critically, Sacred Scripture, derives from the continuity of apostolic succession.

    How do we know which sheep are of a flock? Look and see who is their shepherd.

    Of course, Jesus is the Eternal Shepherd or better, the King.

    But He is risen, and has given the keys to the Kingdom (Matt 16:19) to a mere man and his successors with the injunction (almost a plea, repeated 3 times) to “feed my sheep” (John 21:15-17).

    Now while I am certain that many or all of my colleagues here will dispute this RC view of whether Jesus founded a visible church with a merely human vicar, we may be able to agree that this is reason for the unity of the Catholic Church that Mr. Peterson has forthrightly observed.

    It should be noted that, although the Orthodox Church does, in the Catholic view, have apostolic succession, they have denied the office of the papacy, which I submit has given rise to the peculiar qualities that Mr. Peterson referred to in his post.


  28. Mary,

    The question is, of course, whether outward political unity is what Jesus meant by “unity” in, say, John 17. He did also say in Luke 22 that in the kingdom of heaven, things would not be as they are among earthly kings in terms of lordship and having “great names” and the like. Ironically, Luke 22:31, the prayer for Simon’s faith to be preserved, is a major historical prooftext for the papacy. Looks to me like the wrong verse got highlighted.

  29. Hello all,

    It looks as those my new life will be at least a little bit more “busy” than the old, which is something to be expected and to give an occasion for thanksgiving, but it will reduce some of my participation here. I’ve been reading and monitoring the comments, in part, of course, and I think that most of the conversation is fun, even if off-topic. Arturo, for example, rarely synchronizes with my order of topics, but I find his contributions valuable, and I think he provides certain unique insights that should be read whenever they surface. 🙂

    I will attempt to keep my own comments to the original point, however, since there is only so much time and space. A few specifics that I couldn’t pass up though:

    1) The connection between RC practice and Muslim practice is not an unjust one, in my opinion, and I believe that a careful reading of Islamic thought would reveal that even for the Sunni, all is “secular” and thus all is “sacred” at the same time. They might not have the specific priestly class, but they do share the view of church (mosque) as political institution. “Islam” itself can refer to the region, but it has its religious legal code, and even in the more traditional groups, a commitment to historical and cultural norms, and thus it still produced the problems of ecclesiocracy. Remi Brague has a good treatment on this problem in regards to Islam: While not completely opposed to pre-Islamic culture, all subsequent non-Islamic culture must be deemed inferior, for it now has a particular cultic value.

    Where I see Islam and Rome coming together is in Rome’s magisterium and priestly class. What is true of the whole of Islam is true of only the “top” of Rome, but when you consider that according to Rome, the “bottom” is only a member insofar as it is connected to and in submission to the “top,” the political dilemmas are much the same. Historically, “canon law” has served as a sort of holy law code, and bishops and popes have attempted to make and unmake emperors and kings, thus making or unmaking the very civic law structures themselves.

    Anabaptist groups do approximate this as well, though they lack the wide-reaching enforcement that the papacy/magistrates provide, and thus their theoretical positions can have only limited enactment. Of course, the Reformers always saw the RCs and the Anabaptists as two sides of the same coin.

    A lot of what we see in modern Protestant “high church” movements edges towards the same problems, though usually it lacks the clear definitions of what it is or is not actually saying.

    The solution to all of the above is to have a legitimate visible/invisible distinction wherein externals are policed for the sake of order, not personal sanctity or justification. This is not to say that they should not be informed by the internal truths, but it is to say that there should never be a moral or ontological identification of the one with the other.

    2) I’ve interacted with Luther’s views in some detail on this blog: https://wedgewords.wordpress.com/2010/03/01/two-kingdoms-index/

    His distinctions are neither Platonic nor Modern, though they may share certain features of both. I am not upset by this sort of phenomenon any more, since it happens to everyone, and at the end of the day, we need to be mature enough to say that neither Plato nor Modern Philosophy’s contributions are 100% bad. Luther is mostly attempting to exegete St. Paul (and then St. Augustine) and bring all of the thoughts into harmony with the dominate commitment to sola fide, which he believes is the fundamental “center” of the Bible’s soteriology.

    Along the same lines, I am very skeptical of promoting or rejecting a position because of its similarity to modern political problems. Unless there is an actual causal connection, then we have little to say. Too, political issues like “the welfare state” are loaded and influenced by each our own biases and historical perspectives. Though not endorsing it, I would say that there have probably been more welfare states than non-welfare states throughout history, and thus Henry VIII should hardly be pointed to as a catalyst. I would imagine that the intellectual and cultural climate produced in the immediate years following the English Reformation was much less inclined to a welfare state than many Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox countries.

  30. Now I have to take these out of order, for I believe I know what the rub of the matter is:

    c) It is impossible for the temporal kingdom to subordinate the spiritual kingdom because the two are not competing on the same plane of being. This is the big big distinction, and this is where the Protestant position is nearly always misunderstood.

    The spiritual kingdom is not a worldly institution, and this means it is not a normal external entity with walls, executives, bills, mailboxes, etc. It does not have a back for the king to whip. It is truly “spirit.” It is actually invisible.

    It is also not the case that the spiritual kingdom is spatially “here” while the temporal kingdom is “there.” The spiritual kingdom can inhabit the same space as the temporal kingdom without any violence or competition. The two are different ontological qualities.

    The only way that the temporal power could attempt to “rule the spiritual” is if it made idolatrous claims to be divine, to be able to dictate holy writ, to command certain doxological requirements, in which case all Christians would be justified in rejecting such claims and not complying.

    When Jesus says that His Church is invincible, He really means it. It is, in fact, not possible to defeat His Church. You can at least imagine a reality (though I do not believe it is consistent with God’s revealed Will in regards to mission and evangelism) wherein all true living Christians were physically killed. You cannot imagine a reality where all true Christians (living or dead) are spiritually killed.

    Jesus’ Church is one, no matter how many denominations are in use. The sectarian solution is to say that other groups are simply not the Church. That’s tidy enough, but no one believes it. The catholic solution is to say that wherever the Holy Spirit is (and He goes where He pleases) there is the Body of Christ on earth, and wherever the Body of Christ is, there is the Church.

    a) And so the RC distinction of two worlds is that of natural and consistent advancement from the one to the other, with the magisterium possessing the fuller maturity due to its charism. The Protestant view is more split, with the “maturity” being already fully possessed in the Spirit (and in each of our spirits). The Body is still in the old world and expects to be there until the End.

    This is the old articulation that many have heard before, and it is at times negativelly referred to as a Dualism.

    Now, the solution to negative Dualism (and what keeps it from being the modern “separation” position) is precisely the heart. It translates between body and spirit, putting into practice what it believes, but also appealing to wisdom for those things which are not immediately applicable. The Christian man lives in two kingdoms simultaneously, but he only has one heart.

    Can our view of the ultimate value and equality of mankind influence us to eliminate slavery over time? Yes, and almost all of Western Europe did exactly that over the course of the Middle Ages. Can this same view influence us to provide for total and absolute equality, including the lack of gender (neither male nor female in Christ) and cessation of marriage (not given in marriage, but like the angels)? No, and the only attempts at achieving this have been eventually shown up as deadly Utopias.

    Wisdom and prudence govern these decisions, and since they are body issues, doing or not doing cannot result in achieving or failing to achieve the Kingdom of God. It always ever remains a question of earthly cultivation. Political questions, while being good, meet, and right, are always and ever political questions.

    b) Roman Catholics do, in spite of their occasional protests, believe that one is only a part of the Church, and up until the middle of the 20th Cent they did believe that one is only saved, in so far as he is in submission to the clergy and ultimately to the Bishop of Rome. Christ’s teachings about “the Church” firstly apply to the successors of Peter and to the rest of the people of God through their participation in that successor.

    Thus they have two kingdoms on the same plane. Their “spiritual kingdom” is the visible church, much like Dr. Hart’s “spiritual kingdom” is the visible church. Rome believes that this spiritual kingdom should itself govern the temporal kingdom, by which they mean civil government, even if mediately, while Dr. Hart believes the two kingdoms should mind their own businesses.

    Both share the same assumption about a “spiritual kingdom” that is actually physical, visible, and worldly. Both share a “church” that is firstly identified and defined by its clergy, that is by its externals.

  31. And all,

    I hope to do another post on the specific question of Apostolic Succession early next week. That will be my way of moving the ball from this topic to the next and thus organizing our comments as best I can.

  32. Dear Steven,

    What can I say? You are obviously a scholar and a gentleman, and a seeker of truth.

    I hope you won’t mind if I keep Mary, of whom I have grown quite affectionate (she is naturally the distant niece of Edmund, for whom I have the greatest affection).

    On the other hand, I think my wife is getting a bit jealous of Mary and mine’s time together…


  33. John,

    I know there are serious problems with Rome, and that they are not united simpliciter. But of the three divisions in the Church, Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox; it is only the Catholics who are not given to denominationalism. I suppose you could say that denominations are not really a problem, but I tend to think they strike at the heart of the Church. Though there is an invisible unity between Mt. Zizioulas and Pope Benedict and Pr. Wilson, there is no visible union. The visible Church is splintered. And She ought not be. I’m not assuming that ultimately that union ought to be episcopal, or even exactly governmental, only that the Church is Catholic, whereas the State isn’t.


    It had been growing up for a while. I was thinking specifically about the development of the vernaculars as Imperial languages with their own grammar. Prior to the Spanish expansion into the New World the nations thought of themselves as just that–nations. None of them (with the possible exception of the Holy Roman Empire) were actually Imperial. (Russia and Byzantium excepted.)

    But as the Spanish began to expand into the New World they thought of themselves as new Romans, founding a new Empire, this time a Spanish Empire. One sign of this was that they wrote a Spanish grammar–for prior to then it was not even believed that languages other than the Imperial Latin and Greek could have grammars. But when Spain wrote a grammar, England and France and Portugal could see that their language too could take a grammar, and thus was Imperial–for though Latin may have a special status as an Imperial language that English does not, Spanish surely has nothing on English–if it did, the English should not have even fought the Armada, let alone defeated it.

    But that’s not quite on my point. Exactly when the several nations began to think of themselves new Romes, this landslide shift occurred:

    Whereas the old empire was one and ecumenical, the new were several and parochial.

    But though that shift was monumental, it’s greatest effect was ecclesiastical. After that shift the Catholics said “though the nations are several, the Church is one and Ecumenical, as Rome was, or claimed to be.” The Protestants said “As Imperial Rome was head of the Church, so Imperial England ought to be. And even explicitly not Imperial Saxony ought to be.”

    And precisely in this respect, the Catholics are correct and not the Protestants.

    Now it may be that the Catholics tied their communion too strongly to the old Imperial order, either in claiming that the old Bishops are superior to the priests, or the old Imperial Capital should govern. It may that they too much fashioned the Church after the Imperial system. Indeed, I would be inclined to agree with Ivan Karamazov (whom I quoted above) to the effect that Catholic Church made the Church into the State, whereas indeed the Church has the superior power. (Fr. Zossima also seemed to agree with Ivan so I’m not just following an atheist.)

    But that’s aside the point. In precisely this way, the Catholics have us beat: We said (and some still say) that the several nations have inherited the power over the One Church. They said that the Oneness and Ecumenicity which Imperial Rome claimed properly belongs to the Church. As Rome recognizes, however faultily, the Church is a supranational institution, and “The English Church” makes no more sense (and actually considerably less sense) that “The English UN”.

  34. Tim,

    Sorry for the double post: My point was that, as you said, “what was…happening in the Late Middle Ages, through the Renaissance, and into the Reformation period, was the splintering of the very idea of “Universal Empire” in the face of rising localism.”

    But that though the political power can and should be local, and indeed by its very nature is not universal; the Church is universal, and though it exists in a location, its interests completely transcend that location. The Church is ecumenical, not parochial (though of course there are parishes).

    Rome may have made a mistake in giving the Church political power, or it may not have. I think it did (after a sort–it’s more like she assumed it in the early medieval vacuum; but she did not assume something naturally hers). But that’s aside my point. My point isn’t about the temporal or spiritual power of the church or prince, but about the fact that while the nations are several and parochial; the Church, though she has parishes, is one and Ecumenical.

  35. Matt,

    You said:

    My point isn’t about the temporal or spiritual power of the church or prince, but about the fact that while the nations are several and parochial; the Church, though she has parishes, is one and Ecumenical.

    Yeah, and that supports RC ecclesiology how?????

    If this is just another iteration of “We’re the only Church with an address,” I’m sorry, but I’m not buying.

  36. Dear All,

    What is exciting to me about this discussion is the potential for me to learn something new about “the good” or the “good life.” That is, as the noble Socrates showed us, to try to replace mere opinion with actual knowledge through a rational examination of ideas or conceptions.

    I find this to be most fruitful (the reason I like SW’s fine blog) when in a discussion with others who seem to see things differently, as I think we have here to varying degrees. I am certainly not interested in “debate” or “apologetics” (yawn) which is best entrusted to others more apt than I.

    In this spirit, and after contemplating in a general way what has been said recently, I would seek to introduce an amount of precision into our discussion by offering a proposition/question that cuts to the core of what I see as a misunderstanding here between the Catholic and Protestant (as formulated by SW and PE) views. It is like we are ships passing in the night without any real connection or recognition, though we say that we see and recognize one another.

    I ask:

    In your view, what is the difference, if any, between A) political power and B) authority per se?

    Put somewhat differently:

    From whence derives the “political” character of political power?

    It seems to be a general assumption among our participants thus far that the Catholic Church wields “political power” (the words of Mr. Peterson).
    I propose that A and B above are not the same, although they are related. I assert, with the greatest emphasis, that the RC Church is a greater authority than the political power, and therefore may “judge” (again, Unam Sanctum) the political power, but it is not- nor does it claim to be- a “political” institution. Finally, the superior authority (not “political power”) of the Church hierarchy over the temporal authority (the actual “political power”) derives from the fact that, although both authorities are concerned with man’s needs, the Church is concerned with his eternal destiny, which is a higher consideration than man’s temporal good and thus takes precedence. It is a “hierarchy of ends” which reflects the Hierarchy of Being.

    So I propose this absolutely crucial distinction between “political power,” on the one hand, and the authority possessed by the papacy (founded upon a claim of divine institution). Moreover, I believe this distinction shows the inappropriateness of considering the RC Church an institution which, of its essence, wields “political power.”

    I invite any rational examination or denial of my distinction between A and B, which I am sure would lead to a magnificent discussion. My plea is that those who hold the RC Church to be a “political power” would not simply ignore my question/proposition and continue as before. At that point we will be back to our ships passing in the night, oblivious and unknowing. I also would emphasize the theoretical nature of this discussion. If one would like to maintain that the distinction I make is fine theoretically, but that in practice the RC Church will always end up wielding political power- that is a perfectly valid objection for the efficacy or even validity of the Church. But the discussion at the moment, as I understand it, is to understand, without distortion or prejudice, what the RC and Protestant views in fact are. So in this regard, I would welcome anyone’s showing the rational incoherence of the RC position, or demonstrating my own ignorance of my faith by calling my attention to contrary authoritative self-definitions of the Church or biblical repudiations of my assertions. However, what will not do is to say that “such-and-such pope in 1438” exercised political power and therefore the RC Church is a political institution.

    All that being said, I would like to briefly mention two underlying reasons for the “ships passing in the night” phenomenon which I have observed:

    1) Natural Law.

    In the RC view, political authority arises as a result of considerations of justice or “legitimacy.” This is why, for Aristotle, politics is a part of ethics. Political legitimacy is not based on an express divine dispensation to the regime (and certainly not to the Church) but rather arises out of a “claim to rule” founded on considerations of justice (e.g. “the many,” “the virtuous few,” or the best man). The Church’s authority over the political realm is based on her ability to pronounce upon questions of natural law. Thus, the Church has authority (not the “political power”) to proclaim a law invalid if it contradicts natural law (e.g. one granting a “right” to abortion). The law is not invalid because the Church declares it to be so, but rather the Church declares it to be invalid because it contradicts natural law, which is a participation in the Eternal Law of God.

    The crux here is that, if you do not believe that the Church is infallible in this regard, then it is just mere men proclaiming on political matters, and in this way it is understandable that one would see the church as arrogating “political power” to itself. But this really begs the question. Because if the men pronouncing on what the natural law says really do have a divine assurance, then it is simply a matter of God using his servants in order to tell us what His natural law says.

    So I think there are two reasons that Protestants may misunderstand the RC Church’s position. First, because Protestants assume a priori that the Church was not divinely instituted. Secondly, it is my opinion that it is because Protestants tend not to come from a strong natural law understanding, the crux of which is the idea of substance and essence.

    Political legitimacy is “prior” to the Church in that it is rooted in God’s creation through the natural law. The hierarchy of the RC Church, as it sojourns through history, is a higher authority but does not “create” political power out of itself, which it would look like it was doing if one did not have an awareness of natural law.

    2) The Sacramental life of the Church.

    This is the other area that I think creates misunderstandings with Protestants as far as the nature of authority within the RC Church. Pastor Wedgeworth says above that it has been believed by Catholics that they are not saved unless in “submission to the clergy” and, a number of posts ago, that only Catholic clergy were seen as having the Kingdom “within.” Both of these comments seem to reflect a view that in Catholicism (at least until sensible ones succumbed to modernity just like everyone else) it is believed that the personal capacity of the clergy that underlies the efficacy of the sacramental life of the Church. I heartily and with the utmost goodwill, beg anyone to show me any authoritative Church teaching that, for example, in the sacrament of confession, the priest absolves the penitent of his sins from his own personal power. This is and always has been as absurd as saying that when Peter healed the lame man in Acts 3, it was Peter out of his own personal power that did the healing. Obviously, God did the healing and Peter was merely the instrument. Similarly, Jesus is the only One granting any grace in any Sacrament of the RC Church.
    It is perfectly acceptable to argue that, contrary to the Catholic view, Jesus did not institute an efficacious Sacramental life for his Church but surely we can move beyond such distortions (even if unintended).

    The implication for our present topic is that “power” is seen as deriving directly from the personal capacity of the members of the Church hierarchy. Just as the “clergy” are seen to wield power over members of the RC Church, the pope is seen to wield “political power” over citizens of various regimes.

    Again, these characterizations are understandable given the starting assumption that 1) Jesus did not found a historical Church with a vicar, apostolic succession, and a divine assurance and 2) Jesus did not institute a Sacramental life of grace for the Church in which he has always been active and continues to be active to this day.

    But just as it is only fair, as Leo Strauss taught, to strive to understand a thinker of a given historical era as that writer would have understood himself, it is only fair to understand Catholicism as a believer would understand his Church.


  37. Well, I apologize for always going off topic. It drives my wife crazy if that’s any comfort. Of course, I agree with much of what Michael says, if only superficially (after all, we are the two papists in the conversation). However, if I thought about inserting anything in the conversation, it was that the Catholic ethos in the last fifty to two hundred years (depending on where you live) has changed drastically when approaching the problem of the polis. I think the ethos prior to Vatican II (at least on the books) is that the State had an obligation to be confessional, it had an obligation to spread and protect the Catholic Faith. This did not stop good Catholic emperors from sacking Rome and taking the Pope hostage. But truly, Catholic political consciousness in the last hundred years or so has been thoroughly secularized, in part because of anticlerical hostility, and in part due to the gradual weakening of religious culture over traditionally Catholic societies. Catholicism historically did have some concept of the sacredness of power, going all the way back to Constantine and Charlemagne reading the Gospel of Christmas on a cold day in Rome, traditionally the office of a deacon.

    I suppose the other aspect of the “Church having an address” is to at least offer a folkloric phenomenological perspective on this question. I always like to tell the story of when my mother came from Mexico as a child, how she didn’t know what a Protestant church was. So whenever she passed any church (i.e. a building with a cross), she would sign herself as she would in front of any Catholic church in Mexico. For her, as with most Catholics in history, their idea of what the Church was had more to do with that building down the street than some guy sitting in Rome (they probably didn’t even know his name). Their experience of the Church was their feast days of their local saints, their local clergy, their home altars, their personal rituals of passage, healing, and conjuring. So when I find people trying to distill the concept of Catholicism to those on the outside, I find especially in our post-Vatican II situation that there is a certain “thickness” missing, not to mention the omission of what would have been more foundational to Catholic life. Compared to those things, the sacraments were once in a lifetime obligations that the clergy often charged for (like they still do in many parts of Mexico today).

    Protestants often thought that way too, but since you don’t like tradition anyway, you don’t particularly care. That’s alright. It takes all kinds to make a world.

  38. Dear Mr. Vasquez,

    Thanks for writing. I appreciate your comments. It sounds like I may have your sympathy (if not exactly your support!) although it doesn’t sound like you share my enthusiasm for the “thinness” of philosophy. However, remember that God is just as much Truth and Goodness as He is Beauty. Furthermore, I don’t believe there is a single Catholic Culture, but there is indeed only one true Faith. It is the content of the Faith that transforms and elevates various cultures, though I do believe that there is a special relationship between Christianity and Western culture. In that regard, I think you are absolutely right that the West is in need of recapturing and rekindling its traditions of piety and devotion. I believe this is quite possible and there are signs of it happening today, even though the forces arrayed against it are formidable and involve nothing less than spiritual warfare. It is interesting that one of the biggest complaints against Catholics in America in the last century (and not without justification in my view) is that they were too often merely “cultural Catholics” without any true understanding of their faith, which was bogged down in a kind of folkloric myopia. Happily, those days are past and the battle to preserve orthodoxy is now being fought where all can see.

    Dear All,

    Without trying to throw too much out there and causing distraction, I would like briefly to say something about a point that Pastor Wedgeworth raised, which can be removed as perceived point of difference.

    He stated that:

    “When Jesus says that His Church is invincible, He really means it. It is, in fact, not possible to defeat His Church. You can at least imagine a reality (though I do not believe it is consistent with God’s revealed Will in regards to mission and evangelism) wherein all true living Christians were physically killed. You cannot imagine a reality where all true Christians (living or dead) are spiritually killed.”

    Of course we are in complete agreement here. Any perceived difference in this regard between our positions I think arises from our not addressing a previous question I proposed for clarification. Specifically I asked:

    ‘can we agree that there is a difference between the question of the “baseline” or “default,” position of Christians with regard to government (e.g. Romans 13) and that discussion addressing the “best possible” or “ideal” arrangement of the spiritual and temporal powers, which arose with the unprecedented fact of a more or less predominantly Christian people?’

    So again, I maintain that we need not confine ourselves to a consideration of the Two Kingdoms doctrine as applied to Christians in the early Roman Empire or some other hostile or indifferent regime. Let us also consider the possibility that there may be a more ideal arrangement towards we could strive, circumstances permitting: that is, Christendom. So when I say that the superior spiritual authority of the RC Church hierarchy is an anchor against the political power going awry, the context is one wherein there is a predominantly Christian people, which justifies the preexisting relationship between the Church and political regime. This means that the Church would have an acknowledgement of its spiritual authority from the people or leaders of the temporal realm, which would give the Church the ability to exert its authority (e.g. though excommunication). Obviously I did not intend to say that the Church see itself as the source of the immortality of the souls of individual Christians, which is absurd.

    Also, I think this statement by SW is also interesting, though it may take us too far afield to address. He states that:

    “The Protestant view is more split, with the “maturity” being already fully possessed in the Spirit (and in each of our spirits). The Body is still in the old world and expects to be there until the End.”

    I wonder how this squares with the Protestant doctrine of Imputation? I would think, on the contrary, that it is the Catholic view of Infusion, where, through God’s free gift of His grace, even in this life, we participate in the righteousness of God, that means that citizens of the Spiritual Kingdom posses the “maturity” (i.e. perfection?) of the Spirit in this world.

    That is, again, unless the Protestant doctrine means that we “dwell” in two worlds at once. And here again, I think we come back to our philosophical assumptions. In the Catholic view, a man is combination of immortal soul/spirit and body. A spirit alone is no man, nor is a “body” with a merely mortal soul (as in an animal). An immortal human soul/spirit is one that, of its essence (that is, in order to fully be itself) must express itself in a body. This body/soul relationship means that “we” can’t “dwell” in two Kingdoms at once, though we may be “citizens” of both Kingdoms. This is why there is a bodily resurrection. This is why the Great Marriage does not take place until the end of time.

    Of course, this body/soul understanding is in opposition to a view where the spirit is in the body like a ghost that is trapped, which is the Platonic and also the modern view before they stopped acknowledging Spirit altogether. It also gets back to the question of substance & essence.


  39. Dear Mr. Escalante,

    As you prompted me to “go further” when I had said I would do as much some time ago, I feel justified in at least humbly recalling you to your promises to write more, and also in pleading with you not to deprive us of your insights into our topic (which I am sure are considerable).


  40. Dear Everyone,

    (Now this is off topic- feel free not to post this comment . I will not be offended)

    Although I m told by law enforcement (I am a prosecuting attorney) that one should not use their real name for a screen name or give personal nformation on-line, I thought for the sake of good will I would throw caution to the wind and do as Pastor Wedgeworth asked and introduce myself.

    I live in upstate SC (although I am from WV) and my academic background at the undergraduate level is in Psychology, Geology and Philosophy. I got a Master of Politics degree from the University of Dallas in 2001 and earned my JD in 2005. I got married in 2007 and have two small children.

    I know some folks from a CREC with whom I get together regulalry to discuss theology and such, a couple of whom I consider to be good friends and all of whom I highly regard.

    Michael Hickman

  41. Dear All,

    Maybe we are at the end of the road here, which is fine, but as I meditate on the conceptual vocabulary or conceptual universe in which our discussion has taken place, I thought I would throw out a little observation which has been growing on me. In a way, it is a methodological issue.

    We speak of the current “political settlement” as a simple given and then pass effortlessly on to a dialogue about true Christian understanding about the Spiritual and Temporal Kingdoms; as if once we were all agreed on the latter, it would be and end of the intellectual task at hand.

    The thing is that both the Spiritual and Temporal Kingdoms involve human beings and we, who are the human beings doing the discussing, all start from an understanding, more or less consciously articulated, of what a human being is.

    It is problematic intellectually, and naïve prudentially, to think that the fundamental matter of what a human being is, is not highly influential and sometimes decisive for the answers which we and others have given to these questions we are posing.

    Furthermore, since one half of our equation (admittedly the relatively unimportant half), that is, the Temporal Kingdom, involves human beings understood as political agents (and both halves of the equation involve the issue of authority), I don’t see how we can do without an articulation of what the political nature of man is (including the possibility that he is apolitical).

    As a consequence, I don’t see how we can avoid dragging out Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau and others as necessary formers of (or at least as the essential commentators upon) political reality. For surely, as man makes political decisions more or less intelligently based upon a given understanding, their ideas have shaped and perhaps been decisive for “political settlement” of today.

    To put it simply, in my opinion, we have not reached the modern “political settlement” through a series of developments in the understanding of Two Kingdoms doctrine and only partially due to developments in theology. Nor can it be dealt with as such. It is an interaction between an irreducible number of factors, the least of which, however, is not the answer given to the question: what is man? For although we will surely not attain Christendom without both orthodox theology and God’s Providence (perhaps miraculous intervention) I can say with near certainty that if it does come, it will not be accompanied by a regime where a Hobbesean (Lockean, Marxian, etc.) conception of man prevails.


  42. Michael,

    I wondered early on whether “Mary Campion” wasn’t a pseudonym- it sounded a little too perfectly English recusant. Since you are neither a religious nor an Austrian, I’ll just call you Michael rather than “Michael Mary”, if that’s alright.

    I do apologize for the delay of my reply. I had pressing family considerations, and then, about a week ago, my trusty old computer announced its need for retirement, and my new one is not yet arrived.

    Let me deal here for now with just the most basic of the several points you raise. Your primary point seems to be the utility of “apostolic succession” in an ideal civic order, or, more precisely, the great utility (and perhaps necessity) of a clergy *in* “apostolic succession” for an ideal civic order; and you think Protestantism defective in this regard.

    Just as you are concerned that some here do not fully understand or fairly represent the RCC position, I have some concerns that you might not fully understand or fairly represent the evangelical position; so we will have to review principles along the way.

    You have already said a number of things which approach a sort of harmony with the evangelical position, or at least, attempt to address evangelical concerns: above all, you grant that there is such a thing as the People of God, and you do not think that their character, as such, is derived from dependency upon a “more Christian” core of ordained clergy. In other words, you accept the statements of Vatican II. Now, I would argue that Vatican II is in certain key respects actually unreconcilable with earlier papalist teaching, but that would be a different conversation; though it is important for me to make this note here, because in many respects the constitutional structure of the papalist federation derives from the earlier ideas which are in fact irreconcilable with Vatican II. Still, for now, I’ll just proceed assuming that you accept Vatican II’s statements.

    We cannot right away, of course, sketch out the full comparison of differing doctrines of the church which this conversation actually requires; we will be forced to proceed step by step, and to speak in brief. Given the qualifications which follow from that, I’ll lay out the evangelical teaching, assuming the principles we have in common, and being careful to expound those which we don’t. Then I will give an initial critique of your own position.

    On visibility. This is a crucial point for our conversation. Protestants believe that the visible church is the company of all the professing on earth. These people gather, by spiritual impulse and divine exhortation, wherever they are; and this is the visibility of their unity. Their unity however is essentially spiritual; and that means, spiritual, with all the properties that word normally implies. Thus the temporal gathering is to the spiritual communion as body is to soul. This company of professing persons makes a society which exists in but transcends local communities of common human life. We would agree on this point. This society will have certain characteristics which mark its particular instances in common: Word, rite, and the ideal of charity. These are visible marks. We would agree on this point too, more or less.

    Where we would disagree is in the idea that the society of professing people has or needs, as such, a single visible political form along with the other marks. RC think it does; and it is this grand petitio principii which is involved when RC say “Christ founded a Church”. We think church means people of God, not any political ordo of that society, either as such, or for particular purposes. For us, the people of God are as it were the race of Christ, or to use a different metaphor, the speakers of Christ-language; but not the State of Christ. Now, just as neither language nor race necessarily imply political union and State organization (eg, Germans and Austrians), neither does being Christian imply a single politically organized form.

    You might reply that neither language nor race suffice to direct people in community toward common higher ends. And you would be right. So, do Protestants leave Christians directionless? Not at all. First, we teach that all true Christians are immediately related to God by faith in Jesus, and thereby brought into communion with God and with all other believers, and indeed with all creation too. But this communion is not an anarchy; it is the Kingdom of Jesus, in which He rules directly in the hearts of believers, by spirit and love, drawing them into holiness and guiding them in it. In this respect, He has and needs no vicars. This is, by the way, Thomas’ view of faith as well, not just that of the Reformers. We have the greatest confidence in the reality and power of this Kingdom.

    But insofar as men are temporal and also sinful (which should not be equated, of course), in their earthly walk they require temporal support of the cordial, spiritual guidance and communion they have as members of Christ. And thus they counsel one another, admire and emulate one another, and so on. The question is, however, whether they can know well enough what their common life and common wisdom and common way is, such that the offices and ministries of this society can be said to be representative. We reply in the affirmative; RC reply in the negative, necessarily, since they hold to a sovereign magisterium (ex sese, non autem ex consensu ecclesiae). For us, the Spirit is the true teacher of the whole body, and He is not uniquely mediated or channelled to the body through any ministerial office, but is rather directly given to the whole and to all.

    On polity. It follows that the principle of unity in Christendom is spiritual, and the principle of differentiation within unity is temporal. The Word is the bridge, and there is no other. For the temporal ends of man, there is the political order, which varies by region and circumstance. For the spiritual, there is the Word and the Spirit, and the wisdom of elders. Because we hold to the Biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone, we say that the political order cannot have justification in view; it has temporal peace and order in view. This is the principle of civic freedom, which many can enjoy without even being Christian let alone Protestant. But the magistracy can understand that its province is *not* that of ensuring faith or holiness only if it proceeds from Protestant principles; for only on those principles does that arrangement make any sense. For this reason (among others) Protestants have traditionally held for a constitutional recognition of the Gospel.

    The RC have also traditionally held for a constitutional recognition of religion (until Maritain et alia); but the terms are very different. For them, it means recognition of the “Church” defined as the central political-doctrinal office of Peter the circle of whose radii is the collegium of bishops. As I’ve said, for Protestants knowledge of Christ isn’t mediated in this way. It is immediate by Spirit, and mediated by kerygma. Kings heared kerygma, and conformed, and their people conformed with them (and even the ancients knew enough of a distinction between people and subjects to say that some could be in the latter category but not in the former, with differing obligations therefore). Thus, the kings met Christ directly in the kerygma, just as early householders had in the kerygma. So the commonwealth, through its representative heads at many levels of scale, submitted to Christ directly, not mediately through a vicar. As is well known, the original use of vicarius Christi was in a very relative sense, and was a title of the Emperor; it was later arrogated to the seat of the Roman patriarchate, where it came to be used in an absolute sense (the ethos of which is expressed in Unam Sanctam; which was, by the way, indeed very likely influenced by Shiite imamology, as Steven mentioned- the case for this was made by the RC historian Gagner).

    I understand the attractiveness of your idea that the divine has an “address”. But I would say its address is everywhere, and particularly and uniquely in the heart of the believer. But there is absolutely no reason whatever to claim that a political ordo is somehow united to God in a way analogous to the union of Christ’s manhood with Divinity. That is simply a weird and unwarranted assertion. One finds that modern RC writers, when attempting to make a case for their notion of the Church, having been deprived by historical science of their older arguments, now often make appeals to unexamined and unproved ideas, sometimes even to mere images. Thus, Etienne Gilson, in his “Where is Christendom?” while making most of the distinctions a Protestant would make, then goes on to speak of the hierarchy of the Roman church as a “temporal prolongation” of the ordo of the mystical body. A striking image, but one which cannot survive even initial examination. Similarly, Remi Brague, whose work I am profoundly grateful for and who is one of the greatest scholars in Christendom (and who is, to my mind, basically a Protestant writer), still, in his “Eccentric Culture” gives a poetic declamation very much like yours about a “habitation and a name”, in regard to the line of bishops supposedly constituting some special personalized visibility of the Church as though Christians would be blind to their own existence as such without these reverend gentlemen to remind them of it. Worse, he speaks of the line of bishops as “personal succession” of ethical face, as if we are talking about holy desert abbots or Shaolin masters and disciples or what have you, when in fact it is pure political-official succession. RC bishops do not succeed their predecessors by way of likeness in charism or close personal apprenticeship; they may not even have met them. They are bureaucratically appointed to the office by HQ.

    We are not so doubtful of Christian experience or Christian integrity as to think a single and de jure divino meta-political office is necessary for Christian life . Further, when one examines the actual record of the Roman collegium, one suddenly finds that its actual use is almost nil and maybe even hypothetical (“will never err”), that the “human margin” is drawn so wide and the “divine gift” part so small and hard to see that one has surrendered all the reasons the thing was originally supposed to be attractive.

    For us, the whole body of believers is in direct “apostolic succession” regarding the essential deposit of faith, and regarding the mission of ongoing kerygmatic proclamation; and what was peculiar to the Apostles circumstantially, was accomplished by them, and needs no successors- precisely because they fulfilled their calling so well. For us the ministerial offices are more closely related to all other temporal offices than they are to the direct spiritual kingship of Christ; thus to speak of the collegium of preachers as the “spirituality” of the commonwealth is only by a figure of speech.

    In sum: underlying every office and status of the commonwealth (presuming a Christendom), is the people of God, the universal priesthood, just as the same personal man underlies the orans at morning and the laborans at noon. What he knows by faith is not alienated from him, requiring some perpetual recovery of it from a clergy in full possession of it. What is true of the single is true of the collective; thus the people are in no dependency upon the clergy. The clergy are rather representative of them, just as the magistracy is. It is true that the pastors of the people apparently preceded the magistracy, but this is in part simply by way of order in time; and further, upon close examination, one can see that the householders of the early days were the “magistrates” of the nascent church, and the first examples of the pattern to which the publicly official magistrates would later conform.

    This has been very long since I have had to catch up with much here, and still I haven’t been able to do all the lexical work I’d need to in order for us to be clear about common terms and the different meanings we give to them, so as to avoid confusion and equivocation. There is much further to go in the conversation on the central topic; and also, I will say more about the role metaphysics seems to play for you, and why that role you cast it in is problematic; and also, your “crisis” thinking about modernity, since these principles inform your argument. But hopefully this is clear enough to be understood, and for the differences in our belief to helpfully illuminated for all of us.


  43. As Peter has helped clarify, all remarks about clerical control and power have to do with political mediation and individual abilities. They are not personal criticisms or slights, nor do they have to do with assumptions that the clergy think they are “naturally” better. Indeed, the whole sacramental notion is that the clergy weren’t naturally better, but became hierarchically superior after ordination.

    Also, we really do believe in the “two worlds at the same time” view of the Church. It is “fully” in the world to come through the Holy Spirit, yet it is “fully” in this world (nature/the natural) in its body.

  44. Vatican II said that the hierarchical structure of the church was “established” by Christ:

    8. Christ, the one Mediator, established and continually sustains here on earth His holy Church, the community of faith, hope and charity, as an entity with visible delineation through which He communicated truth and grace to all. But, the society structured with hierarchical organs and the Mystical Body of Christ, are not to be considered as two realities, nor are the visible assembly and the spiritual community, nor the earthly Church and the Church enriched with heavenly things; rather they form one complex reality which coalesces from a divine and a human element.


    But 1 Clement had an infatuation with the hierarchy of the Roman military:

    “Let us serve as soldiers, brothers, with all seriousness under his [Christ’s] faultless orders. Let us consider how the soldiers who serve under our [Roman military] commanders–how precisely, how readily, how obediently they execute orders. Not all are prefects or tribunes or centurions or captains of fifty and so forth, but each in his own rank executes the orders given by the emperor and the commanders.” (37:1-3)

  45. Mr. Escalante,

    It is good to hear from you. Sorry about your old computer. I was actually surprised no one called me out on “Mary Campion” earlier but I guess that just testifies to the good manners of the folks in this discussion. I thought about “Publius” but figured that would have been a little over the top.

    I appreciate your lucid articulation of the “evangelical” position. It was worth the wait. Is this different than the Calvinist or Lutheran position? (As Roman Catholic, I’m not up on some of the subtleties here) If you don’t mind me asking, to what denomination do you belong?

    I did have a number of thoughts and questions about what you wrote but it sounds like you are very busy these days, or perhaps would like to say more yourself, as you seem to have suggested? Or maybe no one is interested in a dialogue between the RC and Protestant views of Two Kingdoms doctrine. It seems like the real sparks start flying when Protestants differ about such things among themselves.

    So for now I’ll just keep meditating on what has been said. Thanks for the Remi Brague recommendation. I actually recently bought Eccentric Culture, which does look great. However, first I want to read a couple of essays on Calvin and Luther in that Straussian History of Political Philosophy compendium (Ed. by Cropsey). By the way, you can’t expect too much out of Jacques Maritain’s political thought. After all, he was above all a philosopher (not everyone can do it all, like Aristotle, Plato or St. Thomas). I’d stick with Catholics like Pierre Manent whom you indicated you like. I actually picked up his “The City of Man” last night and, apropos of what I’ve tried bring out earlier in this discussion, I found this startling passage:

    “What is commonly called modern philosophy takes shape in the seventeenth century in an attack on the philosophy of Aristotle and, more precisely, his doctrine of ‘substance’ concerning nature in general or human nature in particular. Whether a substance, ‘substantial form,’ placed in a hierarchy of substances or forms; or a nature, at once animal and rational, within a hierarchy of natures; or the human soul as the ‘form’ of the human body, it is the teaching of Aristotle, which was essentially adopted by Catholic doctrine, that Descartes, Hobbes, Spinoza, and Locke will implacably destroy. That man is a substance and one substance, that is the Carthago delenda of the new philosophy.

    “This destruction can be studied in the work of Descartes and the great Cartesians, Spinoza and Malebranche, and also in the English line that goes from Hobbes to Locke to Hume. This latter route is the more appropriate for us, since it is in England that the destruction of substance is linked most clearly and most closely to the construction of the new body politic, the new world of human liberty.”

    Of course modernism isn’t bad because it’s modern, but because it is erroneous. And so I certainly don’t hold it against Protestantism that it is bound up with modernism simply. But since it can be said not unfairly that the modern political revolution was to replace “the good” with the idea of “contract” as the measure of all things, I get a little suspicious when I read, for example, about your boy Althusius, who was the first thorough social contact theorist already in 1603. Again, “modernism” per se is not the problem- it’s actually a word without real philosophical content- the problem is the skepticism about, or indetermination of, human nature. This is why today, out in California, for the life of them, they can’t see what a marriage is. So when I can’t get Protestants to talk about what man is, I get uneasy.

    But back to Two Kingdoms, if you do want to go deeper, I’d like to talk about some core issues I see with the idea of a purely invisible church, Faith Alone and Scripture Alone.
    But perhaps that will be more appropriate for the next post. I’ll wait and see what others want to do.

    Pastor Wedgeworth,

    Food for thought: if we are, as you say,

    “’fully’ in the world to come through the Holy Spirit, yet…‘fully’ in this world,”

    what do we gain when we enter heaven? It seems that unless this life is on balance a burden, then we would be worse off when we went to heaven. I mean, if we are already “fully” in possession of the Spiritual Kingdom by being in it “fully,” hasn’t the only change been to lose the good of this life?


  46. John,

    Thank you for letting the RC Church speak for herself.

    Great Quote.

    Where do you go to Church, if you don’t mind me asking?


  47. Michael — I’m PCA, and probably not a fan of the hierarchical structure. And so I’m inclined to think that Clement’s introducing this into the New Testament structure of leadership was not a good thing either.

  48. Steven,

    If I may, I think you are equivocating on “world”. Is or is the Church not of this world? If we give the world it’s ancient sense “age” (as in “world without end”) the Church is not of this world. but the Church definitely is of this world, in the modern sense. She is, as it were, an intrusion of the age to come into this age. In this she parallels Christ. Is He, or is He not, (when on earth) of this world or not? Yes, and no. He is of the world, but not of this age. He is the age to come present in this age. Similarly, His Body, the Church, is the age to come present in this age.

    As such, the Church should be united in this age, and in this world, for she is, by nature One. And that unity should be visible.

    This is, however, different from a question of the priesthood. The governance is of this age, and is, like the Levitical priesthood, destined to perish with use. The true unity must be Sacramental–baptismal and Eucharistic–and these indeed are the loci of unity given by the Apostle (and if I read deLubac correctly, by the early Church). And this sacramental unity should be visible–one Eucharist in each place, and a society which exists beyond each place.

  49. Matt,

    You’ve been paraphrasing Rosenstock (without mentioning him) a lot lately- this remark about world as age is straight from him, and the earlier points about grammars corresponding to empire, likewise. I am a longtime close reader of ERH, and esteem his work; but trust me, you can’t just appeal to his particular and often idiosyncratic accounts as if they were granted common knowledge. In any case, ERH’s points are very contextual: for instance, his remarks about world are not really general, but have more to do with the history of the word as it got used in English geopolitical thinking. Thus, it has very little light to shed on the use of “world” in discourse about the two kingdoms.


  50. Michael,

    First, I should mention that many of the participants in the conversation here, above all Pastor Wedgeworth and myself, have been involved in a partly public and partly private conversation of a few years’ length and in several venues, which has developed from a common inquiry, into something of a small and informal school of thought. So if you’re interested in knowing more, it might be worth while, for convenience’s sake, to point you to some of the archives with a little map in hand. But I am happy to answer any questions, so long as you don’t mind my replies being brief.

    Papacy and Reform: We are interested, always interested, in comparing the evangelical and the papalist positions. We presume a broad consensus of evangelical tradition, and thus primarily criticize evangelical schools of thought (eg, that of Dr Hart) insofar as they fall away from that consensus, into error and partiality, and into a sectarian frame of mind. But the argument with papalism is, for us, in some ways *the* argument.

    “Evangelical” : I use “evangelical” to mean what it originally meant: the purer catholics, the reformed Western catholics. Thus the term ecumenically comprehends the Lutheran and the Reformed churches (inclusive of the original, mainstream Church of England from ER I on). It can even be extended to comprehend theologians and others in the unreformed churches, whose thought and teaching more or less harmonizes with ours.

    Natural philosophy: earlier, I said that I have some concerns that you might be misunderstanding the Protestant position. On one point, I am sure that you are. Protestantism had nothing to do with the decline of traditional natural philosophy; in fact, it sponsored it. The divines were overwhelmingly Aristotelian, and indeed often Thomist. It is true, in a way, that some 17th century thinkers turned on Aristotle; or rather, they turned against an ossified manual scholasticism. But unless you want to identify degenerate manualism with traditional philosophy, then it doesn’t follow that the early moderns were consciously rejecting traditional philosophy. Similar points might be made about religion. You don’t seem to like Maritain, but your history of philosophy narrative sounds almost exactly like him, and I’d encourage you to reconsider that. Given your UD background, I am not surprised that Strauss looms large for you; I myself have much less confidence in him as a reader of the early moderns, though I think he had more of a point about the totalizing and clericalizing tendency of certain aspects of Thomas’ thought than many modern Thomists want to admit.

    But back to the point: Protestantism was in fact very conservative in philosophy, and simply renewed the philosophia perennis with the tools of humanist philology on the one hand (thus, realizing that Aristotle did indeed have a theology, and that pace Thomas, Ibn Rushd correctly divined its shape; and that thus more adjustments had to be made in the reception of Aristotle than Thomas thought), and on the other, Biblical data. Protestant anthropology was quite scholastic in nature, and never departed from the old categories of essence and substance. Of course, Protestant anthropology differed from Papalist anthropology; our doctors had a much higher view of prelapsarian man, and a more integral view of the consequences of the fall from that height. But it was formulated scholastically, and it was not only formally scholastic in presentation, it was materially continuous in concept. I can point you to many, many original and secondary works, if you’d like.

    On RC politics: I certainly don’t like Maritain’s politics, but I don’t see how exactly you can dismiss him as representative of modern Roman thinking. He was an enormous influence on Paul VI, and his thought is basically behind Dignitatis Humanae, and all the Popes since Paul VI have also echoed Maritain. Further, his doctrine of the State as incapable of judging religion has venerable RC antecedents: JM on this point is just Bellarmine, modified for modern circumstances, though perhaps modified to the point of inconsistency; but both vitiate the civic order and indirectly nature itself, to shore up the pretensions of a clerocracy, and do it with the same move. If I were to be inclined to genealogizing, I could pin the blame for “secularization” on the Papalists, from Boniface VIII to Bellarmine. And much as I like Manent, I am surprised that you would recommend him the way you do; for one thing, he is a critical writer almost entirely, and gives little or no positive political doctrine; further, he grasps as clearly as a Protestant would, the problem of a Papacy which claims meta-temporal power as political custodian of man’s higher end.

    Finally, as I mentioned earlier, for this to go further we’d have to have a conversation about your genealogizing narrative of the “fall” from metaphysics in early modernity. Ironically, as Brague himself points out in the book I recommended to you, that way of thinking is quintessentially modernist, and finally unhelpful.


  51. I really do mean “two worlds at the same time.”

    The Church’s essence is spiritual and invisible, and it is that part which is “the new age” breaking through. This will never be essentially temporal or visible until the final coming of our Lord.

    However, there is a “body” around the essence of the Church, to be sure, and it has the unique job of “translating” between the two worlds from time to time. The body qua body, however, is still “the old age” or the temporal kingdom, as my other essays and posts have shown. And that’s what’s crucial to keep in mind.

    Just as Paul is a man torn, doing what he doesn’t want to do and wanting what he doesn’t do, the Church is simul iustus et peccator. The part of her that “wants” and “knows” what is spiritual is the “invisible,” and the part that plays the old Adam is the visible. This doesn’t mean, as sometimes Luther can himself appear to be saying, that the Old Adam is always necessarily bad. The visible church is quite good and necessary. However, it is always old age, temporal, and external, and thus it is always limited by those factors.

    The proclamation of the Word, both in preaching and sacrament, as well as prayer and liturgy, both public and private, is a key “bridge” between the two worlds. This is where every individual will notice the two worlds in most direct relation to each other, as well. The callings of charity will even be places where the spiritual will aid and direct the temporal, with reason always deciding the limits.

    The Church as institution, however, is not “the age to come,” and all attempts to identify the age to come’s breaking into the old age as the visible church relating to the rest of the world take us to undesirable places and most often contradict the gospel itself.

    Look for a post devoted to the specific question of apostolic succession at the beginning of next week.

  52. Peter,

    Have you elaborated on this elsewhere?:

    “If I were to be inclined to genealogizing, I could pin the blame for “secularization” on the Papalists, from Boniface VIII to Bellarmine. And much as I like Manent, I am surprised that you would recommend him the way you do; for one thing, he is a critical writer almost entirely, and gives little or no positive political doctrine; further, he grasps as clearly as a Protestant would, the problem of a Papacy which claims meta-temporal power as political custodian of man’s higher end.

    Finally, as I mentioned earlier, for this to go further we’d have to have a conversation about your genealogizing narrative of the “fall” from metaphysics in early modernity. Ironically, as Brague himself points out in the book I recommended to you, that way of thinking is quintessentially modernist, and finally unhelpful.”

    It would be interesting to hear your version of how we got to where we are today from the basically good kind of secularity we had coming from the Protestants.

  53. Peter,

    I think I shall have to read him more then. But I’m relatively sure I wasn’t paraphrasing him. Perhaps I get some of him through Dr. Leithart, but I am unfamiliar with his discussions I referenced.

    The book I had in mind behind my statement about grammar was Ad infinitum : a biography of Latin.

    And my comment on age doesn’t seem to be linguistically controversial. I suppose the source is Lewis’ Studies in Words. The OED gives the first definition of “world” as “Human existence; a period of this.” And seems to classify the theological uses under this definition–and it definitely classes “world without end” under this heading.

    And as a translation of “saeculum”, “world” does not mean universe (OED II), but age. “World without end” is a translation of “in saeculum saeculorum” (and indeed the OED records earlier “Thorough worlde of worldes” and “in to the world of world.”)

    The problem is that world, in its usual modern sense is not saeculum, but mundus. And it seemed Steven had confused the two uses of “world”.

    My point was: ecclesia huius mundi est, sed non huius saeculae. “The world is of this world, but not of this world.”

    Here’s a translation of my first paragraph into Latin:

    estne ecclesia huius saeculae mundive? ecclesia non saeculae, sed vere mundi est. sicut Christus mundi factus est, et fuit saecula venturua in saeculo hoc, ecclesia saeculum venturum in hoc saeculo, atque mundi est.

    I’m not sure what’s controversial about that–though maybe I just don’t know–but at the very least, we cannot argue simply that the Church is not of this world, for the position that she is mundi but not saeculae is coherent and held, and Steven conflated those two definitions.

  54. Hmm…I do know what declension “saeculum” is.

    Also, I realized I may not have been clear where I thought Steven was equivocating. It was in this passage:

    The spiritual kingdom is not a worldly institution, and this means it is not a normal external entity with walls, executives, bills, mailboxes, etc. It does not have a back for the king to whip. It is truly “spirit.” It is actually invisible.

    Christ is not a worldly (saeculum) person, but if he were to come, he would be quite visible, because in the Incarnation he has become worldly (mundus). And I Corinthians says clearly that Christ, even that Christ’s body, is Spirit. So though the Church is not worldly, it does not follow that it does not have walls etc. nor that it is actually invisible.

  55. I’d like to see that map Peter mentioned a few comments back. This and the previous discussion with Dr. Hart have been the most interesting blog discussions I’ve ever read (and I regularly read at least two other blogs :-)), and I would like to hear more background. Do I subscribe to the archives via email or are you going to post the map here?

  56. Dear Mr. Escalante,

    Andrew has asked the question that was on my mind. I really hope you will answer, for because our views do diverge so widely here, I am particularly interested in understanding where you are coming from. In the meantime, I hope you will not mind if I pursue a few points you made in your last post.

    I do understand that drawing parallels between Protestantism and modernism will be a sensitive topic for some folks, as there seems to be an enterprise to reclaim a more traditional view of philosophy and politics in the face of manifest inadequacies in the contemporary Protestant understanding. Personally, I think this is a highly laudable endeavor and very true, but only to an extent.

    Now I have been scrupulous in avoiding any cause and effect language when it comes to Protestantism and modernism. In fact I do not think that the former “caused” the latter. The proximate historical cause of modernism was probably the fact that the secular powers that had rebuked the Catholic Church were in fact victorious over the secular powers that remained loyal to the Church. As I understand it, the result of the upheavals that took place was a massive increase in the temporal power across the board in both Protestant and Catholic countries.

    Nor have I suggested that any Reformer consciously sought to innovate in the area of philosophy. I do think it overstates the case to say that the Reformers “sponsored” “traditional philosophy.” Even granting Luther’s penchant for hyperbole and doubletalk, I don’t see how we can totally dismiss his endorsement of Ockham and statements like “virtually the whole Ethics of Aristotle’s is the worst enemy of Grace,” and “the whole Aristotle is to theology as darkness is to light.” Similarly, concerning human nature, statements in Calvin are found that speak of the “great darkness of philosophers who have looked for a building in the ruin, and fit arrangement in disorder.”

    I admit I am slightly agog that you can claim:

    “It is true, in a way, that some 17th century thinkers turned on Aristotle; or rather, they turned against an ossified manual scholasticism. But unless you want to identify degenerate manualism with traditional philosophy, then it doesn’t follow that the early moderns were consciously rejecting traditional philosophy.”

    Just to clarify, are you saying that Descartes, Hobbes, Hume and others were not attacking Aristotle’s doctrine of Substance, as asserted by Manent in the quote I cited? (By the way, I am aware that Manent has not offered a positive political program in his writings. Rather, it’s his critique in works like “The Intellectual History of Liberalism” (or “genealogizing” as you seem to like calling it) that I find insightful)

    Be that as it may, my point is merely that the problems posed by Protestantism and those of modernity are rationally coherent. The first among these is the problem of authority. It does not take much genealogizing to see that the issue of authority presented by a religious view where each individual is the final word on the meaning of Sacred Scripture is distinctly parallel to the problem of authority in the polis where each individual comes free and equal from a hypothetical State of Nature. Now I am fully aware that neither Luther nor Calvin advocated popular sovereignty, but that is not the point. The point is that that problem is contained in what Ernst Cassirer called Protestantism’s “Ideal Significance.” One can see that the moral problem posed where an egalitarian, numerical “democratic process” determines the legality of various acts is part of a coherent whole with the prospect of an egalitarian view of doctrine where each of us is the final religious authority. The other view, actually advocated by Luther and Calvin, is equally precarious: allowing the secular authority to decide religious matters, which is a true theocracy.

    Of course, this begs the question of whether Scripture is truly self-interpreting or whether, like the man from Ethiopia, when asked if we understand what we read in Scripture, we perforce answer “how can I, unless some man show me?” (Acts 8:31) and sit with an apostle or his successor. Put somewhat differently, the question is whether it is each man with his bible, or rather “the church of the living God” which is the “pillar and ground of the truth.” (1 Tim 3:15)

    In a similar way I would say there are doctrines in Protestant theology that rationally necessitate a diminished view of natural law. For example, you speak of the Reformers’:

    “higher view of prelapsarian man, and a more integral view of the consequences of the fall from that height.”

    However, it is precisely the resulting identification of Divine and Natural Law which this teaching carries with it that makes post-Fall natural law much more difficult to discern in the Reformer’s view. (I recall you to the quote from Calvin I cited above) You yourself say accurately that the consequences of the Fall are more “integral” in this view. In the Catholic teaching, the Grace that continually drew man to God is lost, but nature remains more intact and, most crucially, more knowable.

    So as I hope these examples illustrate, I do not see the Reformers as particularly hostile to “traditional philosophy” or as closet moderns trying to subvert the integrity of Christendom. The reality is much more complex, and decidedly more subtle than I can do justice. For this reason, I beg leave to quote a Catholic political philosopher whom I highly esteem, Charles N. McCoy, from his book “The Structure of Political Thought”:

    “The immediate effect of the revolutionary Protestant principle was, as we have said, that the secular rulers- Catholic and Protestant alike- took over the task of defining religious truth. But this outcome was to give way to a profounder expression of the new freedom. As Machiavellianism was to give way to the second phase of modern political theory whose vision of an enlargement of freedom and rational direction of human life would be based on the correspondence of the autonomy of intellect with the pure autonomy of nature (the intellect ‘perceiving in nature only that which it produces after its own design’), so Protestantism was to fall in with the new freedom as, by the inevitable tendency of its inner principle, its theology came to consider the right to freedom of conscience to be itself the decisive religious attitude.”

    This “decisive” religious attitude is today so much a part of the air we breathe that it is almost impossible to recognize. It has, unfortunately in my view, invaded the Catholic Church to some degree. The attempt to reconcile the “new freedom,” expressed primarily in a “Rights of Man” doctrine, with traditional natural law understanding has been a mistake in my opinion, which is my criticism of Maritain and some others. Though I have not read much of him, I’m sure I would probably agree with much of his metaphysics and his history of philosophy. Do you agree with every aspect of the thought of scholars you admire? Finally, it is goood to remember that there is no “official” Catholic political philosophy at all, though the doctors of the Church must be given their proper weight.


  57. Matt,

    You’ve got to add the fact of the ascension and pre-second advent pneumatology into the picture. The Church is not in its “resurrection body” in any way other than through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is inhabiting our “old world body.”

    This will change at the parousia, and then your argument will be more directly applicable.

  58. Mr. Escalante,

    Also I would like to take you up on your offer above to point me to sources where major Reformers “formulated scholastically” the content of their view of nature, especially as it relates to nature’s intelligibility to man (which of course is the entire basis of natural law).

    Actually, you had already had said you would do so for Mary in the previous discussion where you said you’d “compile a short bibliography of helpful starters on the Reformers’ view of natural philosophy, and either post it here, or send it to SW to forward to your email, within the next couple of days.”

    But that was a heated discussion and I know you had family and computer exigencies to come up.

    Please don’t take my request as a “challenge” of some sort either. I am really just trying to get all of the facts here.



  59. Michael, I’m just curious why we should judge Protestantism by Cassirer’s “Ideal Significance” criterion. Thanks.

  60. Steven,

    Yes. That is true, and I have been thinking about that the last couple of days. But we would still say that Christ’s pre-Resurrection body was lifegiving–for it was his pre-resurrection blood which speaks better than the blood of angels, and which cleanses the heavenly holy of holies.

    So likewise, we have to find a way of maintaining that the assembly–the physical assembly–is indeed Spiritual, and yet not Spiritual as it shall be.

    But again, this is not, as Catholics seemed to say, that the hierarchy is eternal. The priesthood (or whatever we should call it) is secular, the assembly is eternal. Ordination does something baptism does not, but that is not because ordination exceeds baptism, but because ordination belongs to this age, whereas baptism does not.

  61. It’s just curious to me how Catholics always press for Protestantism to be judged by some standard that represents its farthest declension from the Reformers, but simultaneously demand that Catholicism be judged only by some standard that represents its highest aspirations. “Oh no, the pope is not a tyrant who seeks his own will and prerogatives in the name of God – he’s just the humble, contrite servant of the servants of God.” But we get judged by the standard of a system in which, to paraphrase Schaff, every quack who can nail up a shingle and claim to be a “Bible teacher” is just as legitimate as anyone else. It’s very curious.

  62. Dear Tim and John,

    Excellent question. I’d say we should definitely not judge Protestantism by its “ideal significance” as far as its implications for politics. After all, the question with Religion is what is true, not what is politically beneficial.

    However, although religion is above all a matter of faith, God has, in a manner, revealed himself in His creation (i.e. nature). I think we may be able to see something of His Truth by the harmony of truth in various areas of inquiry such as theology, philosophy, and political philosophy.


  63. Tim,

    The problem, I think, is that people have a faulty view of what Protestantism is. I could be presenting a minority view, but McGrath’s book has convinced me that the only thing “Protestant” signifies is belief in sola scriptura. One can’t say that “x” is *the* Protestant view or practice unless it can be directly deduced from sola scriptura.

    But that’s not how it’s often represented. It’s often presented as if it were basically a shadow RC trans-historical institution, a parody of the true Roman church (or EO church, as the case may be). So, one can almost pick representatives at random from later Protestant traditions and say that they’re representatives of Protestantism as a whole…

  64. Well, then, Michael – you’ve dispensed with your own argument above:

    Be that as it may, my point is merely that the problems posed by Protestantism and those of modernity are rationally coherent. The first among these is the problem of authority. It does not take much genealogizing to see that the issue of authority presented by a religious view where each individual is the final word on the meaning of Sacred Scripture is distinctly parallel to the problem of authority in the polis where each individual comes free and equal from a hypothetical State of Nature. Now I am fully aware that neither Luther nor Calvin advocated popular sovereignty, but that is not the point. The point is that that problem is contained in what Ernst Cassirer called Protestantism’s “Ideal Significance.” One can see that the moral problem posed where an egalitarian, numerical “democratic process” determines the legality of various acts is part of a coherent whole with the prospect of an egalitarian view of doctrine where each of us is the final religious authority. The other view, actually advocated by Luther and Calvin, is equally precarious: allowing the secular authority to decide religious matters, which is a true theocracy.

    Also, I am not sure you’re properly representing Luther and Calvin on the point of who decides religious matters. Or at least, the way you stated that is ambiguous, particularly the key term “religious matters.” Are you saying that Luther and Calvin held that the magistrate could, perhaps even should, define the Church’s doctrines for her?

  65. Andrew: but even the meaning of “sola Scriptura” is not unified. Plenty of people who call themselves advocates of the Reformation today believe that “sola Scriptura” means that Scripture is the only reliable source of authority for all things. This, paralleled with a screwed-up concept of the Reformation doctrine of “the priesthood of all believers” naturally leads to the radically democratic (populist) idea that each individual person decides what the Scriptures mean for himself.

    This definition is what the Catholics harp on the most in their criticisms of what they call “Protestantism.” It is a just critique when it comes to the rank and file of Modern Evangelicalism, but it is a rationally incoherent definition and not at all what the Reformers meant.

  66. Tim,

    How are you? By the way, how do you get italics on you computer when you quote someone? I can’t seem to do it.

    First, I’m not sure where my inconsistency is. Can you explain further?

    As far as you sencond question, I am referring to Luther and Calvin’s belief, as I understand it, that the Prince or Magistrate can interpret scripture for himself, enforce it, and, in extreme cases, even intervene in the church to enforce the church’s conformity with scripture- as he sees it.

    But maybe someone with more expertise on Luther and Calvin’s political theory can elucidate more here and tell me if I am wrong?


  67. Michael,

    For italics use the following html code: put {i}and {/i} around what you want to be italic, like {i}this{/i} (but use pointy braces (above “,” and “.” rather than curvy ones).

    For long quotations, do the same, but with {blockquote}{/blockquote}. To format long quotations correctly, do not use hard returns before or after the quote. The blockquote html inserts it automatically.

  68. Michael, in your earlier post, from which I took the long italicized extract, you tied what you see as the deleterious religious effects of Protestantism to what you see as the deleterious political effects of Modernity: “It does not take much genealogizing to see that the issue of authority presented by a religious view where each individual is the final word on the meaning of Sacred Scripture is distinctly parallel to the problem of authority in the polis where each individual comes free and equal from a hypothetical State of Nature.

    You then said, “Now I am fully aware that neither Luther nor Calvin advocated popular sovereignty, but that is not the point. The point is that that problem is contained in what Ernst Cassirer called Protestantism’s “Ideal Significance.”” You then continued to tie the religious and the political together as a coherent whole. But in the later post, responding to me, you said: “I’d say we should definitely not judge Protestantism by its ‘ideal significance’ as far as its implications for politics. After all, the question with Religion is what is true, not what is politically beneficial.” (emphasis mine)

    Thus, while recognizing that Luther and Calvin would not have approved of the modern democratization of Protestantism, you insisted in the first quote that Protestantism’s view of religious authority is “distinctly parallel” to the problems you see in Modern democratic political arrangements, but in the second quote you said we should “not judge Protestantism by its ‘ideal significance’ as far as its implications for politics” go.

    Perhaps I’m misreading you, but it looks like you’ve contradicted yourself.

  69. Michael, use pointy brackets, above “,” and “.” and that would be italics.

    Blockquote looks like this:

    When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

    We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

  70. Thanks Tim,

    Ok, I think I see where we are not connecting here. I meant that we should not judge Protestantism as a religion (as in whether one should one “be” a Protestant or not) based on its political significance (i.e. “as far as its implications for politics”). Rather, what religion a person adheres to should be based on the belief in its truth for the ultimate questions.

    My point with regard to Luther and Calvin above is that their response is one highly precarious way of dealing with the problem of their own doctrine of scriptural egalitarianism as it presents itself in the real world. My view is that this “solution” is fundamentally incoherent. That is, unless one assumes of the perspicuity of scripture. After all, why is Luther’s interpretation of scripture (or that of the Prince) more authoritative than mine or yours?


  71. Michael,

    As Peter has said, there are a lot of “first principles” behind this conversation. I’m not sure that you understand the Reformers’ view of the “perspicuity” of Scripture, which is neither uniform nor static.

    While it is true that in the initial, heady rush of the Reformation, both Reformers sometimes acted as if any untrained plowboy could interpret the Scriptures for himself without any help, this was largely a rhetorical attack on the convoluted (and ultimately self-defeating) reasoning of the papalists that only the ecclesiocratic hierarchy who loyally adhered to the pope could properly interpret divine truth. The Reformers quickly learned to temper this rhetoric, however, in the light of such events as the Peasants’ Revolt and the Servetus affair.

    I don’t know you, so I won’t make assumptions about you. However, what you’ve said so far seems to be pretty typical Roman Catholic apologetics fare, whether you mean it to be or not. What makes Luther’s or Calvin’s interpretation any better or more authoritative than mine or yours, you ask. Well, if you really study the writings of the Reformers, you will see that they were very, very careful to try to root their interpretations in the fathers and the best of the Medieval tradition that had preceded them. It was in no case a mere “This is Dr. Luther’s ungrounded, personal opinion, and you should just accept it because Dr. Luther said it.”

    Or, a Calvin puts it in the prefatory letter to King Francis in the Institutes of the Christian Religion, the best of the Christian tradition can be demonstrated to be on the side of the Reformers, not the papalists. The early debates with the papalists, who got thoroughly trounced because they were not grounded in the sources but only in “traditions” that had taken the place of the sources, well proved this to the early Protestant minds. Five hundred years later, in many ways we Protestants are still waiting for you Catholics to catch up with decent historical and source-critical science, rather than maintaining old, outmoded and sometimes even disproved “traditions” simply on the pope’s say-so.

    By the way, I am not trying to be mean in any of this. If you could see my face or talk with me personally, you would see that none of this is written in anger or other disproportionate passion. It’s just “how things are” to this moderately well-educated Protestant mind.

  72. Tim,

    But as Pr. Wilson points out adding the fathers doesn’t really solve anything. If the Bible can’t give a consensus, the Bible and the Fathers can? What we need, and what at least at first glance Protestants don’t have, is an authorative voice that speaks now. I believe you have shown that for Protestants this voice was the Church council, not the Pope; but in that sense it isn’t true thatsola scriptura without an active conciliar voice would be highly problematic?

  73. Tim,

    You mentioned: “This, paralleled with a screwed-up concept of the Reformation doctrine of “the priesthood of all believers” naturally leads to the radically democratic (populist) idea that each individual person decides what the Scriptures mean for himself.”

    I’m not sure, historically speaking, that the Reformers were that far off from such a concept. I realized this is a highly charged issue, but I’ve had to go through a learning process about the views of the Reformers, and I think there is a lot of confusion about what they intended to teach. Having read Mathison’s book on sola scriptura, I came off with a very “high-church” view of the Reformers in hermeneutics, but have since been a bit disillusioned about such a view. The main article that revolutionized my thinking about this was ANS Lane’s article where he deals with many of Mathison’s sources (not addressing Mathison directly, however):


    As he puts it in that essay:

    Some have argued that the Reformation was basically a return from the supplementary to the coincidence view of tradition.56 This is partly true inasmuch as the Reformation was a protest against that teaching of the church which the Reformers saw as based on supplementary tradition.57 But this does not go to the root of the matter. The Reformers also rejected the Catholic interpretation of Scripture. The essence of the coincidence view is the assumption not just that Scripture and tradition have the same content but also that this content is found in the teaching of the church. The error in attributing the coincidence view to the Reformers lies in the neglect of their ecclesiology.58 They did allow for an interpretative tradition not adding to Scripture but did not see either this tradition or ecclesiastical teaching as infallible. It was possible to appeal to Scripture alike from (interpretative) tradition and ecclesiastical teaching. There are two
    important differences between this view and the classical coincidence view of Irenaeus and Tertullian. These patristic writers were concerned to show the identity of ecclesiastical with apostolic teaching while the Reformers sought to do the opposite. Furthermore they accepted
    the inherited faith because it was apostolic tradition whereas the Reformers accepted the (traditional) creeds only because they believed them to be scriptural.59 This is a significant difference. While the Reformers did not despise tradition they only accepted it if it was
    scriptural, Scripture remaining the final arbiter. Unlike the coincidence view the sola scriptura did not involve the unqualified acceptance of any tradition or of the teaching of any church and Scripture remained, formally as well as materially, the ultimate criterion and norms.60


    Now, when I quote this, I don’t necessarily agree with Lane’s view of the ECFs. In some cases I think some of them held to a functional sola scriptura view (for example, Cyprian at times held this it seems; I’m also of the mind that some of the Conciliarist views basically reduce to sola scriptura). But I do think there was a definite “democratizing” impulse in the Reformation, and, for what it’s worth, I think that was a good thing.

    Of course, this is not everything that could be said, but I think it’s useful and important to make the right qualifications.

  74. Oh, sure, there was a “democratizing” impulse in the Reformation – I don’t deny that. In fact, I’d say that was mostly due to the “localizing” and “individualizing” impulses of the Renaissance, which recovered the idea of the great importance of this world and of individual people in this world as over against the late Medieval distortion of hyper-spiritualization (i.e., what Luther called “monkishness”).

    I don’t have a problem saying that the Reformation was a mixed bag, and it occurred in a very mixed-up time period, which helps to explain why it split off in multiple directions ecclesiologically, culturally, and politically. This is horrifying to the papalist, who actually fervently believes Jupiter’s grand “sine fine” speech in the Aeneid about the necessitarian permanence of the Roman Empire, but the real world doesn’t have any obligation to live up to what idealists think would be just way cool. (Matt, your “authoritative voice that speaks now“.)

    The Late Medieval world saw intense, centuries-long debates about a confusing welter of learned opinions about ecclesiology and politics. You can see a substantial “democratizing” impulse as early as Marsilius of Padua, in the 13th century, an oligarchical concept of the papacy in the 15th century conciliarist Pierre D’Ailly, a Greek-tyrant concept of the papacy in the late 14th-mid-16th century popes themselves, and a “republican” vision of the Church in Calvin, who was drawing from many earlier Medieval sources.

    The debate never got resolved back then, which is why we’re still talking about it today, on this blog.

  75. Tim,

    I’m not sure where I’m being an idealist deciding things that would be good must be true. If the Christian community is to be a global community, or even a local community, it must have a way of addressing the problems that arise, in the present. Scripture alone has been shown to be insufficient, as all sides appeal to scripture–and indeed at the time of the Reformation it was known to be insufficient, for though the Scriptures clearly entail, say, dyothelitism, some disputed this interpretation, and argued from scripture to do so. There must be an authoritative interpreter of Scripture, which can speak to this controversy that has arisen now. And since it must speak to a present problem, it must speak in the present. The authority is, of course, not final: “All synods or councils, since the apostles’ times, whether general or particular, may err” but still “For the better government, and further edification of the Church, there ought to be such assemblies as are commonly called synods or councils…It belongs to synods and councils, ministerially to determine controversies of faith, and cases of conscience…[whose] decrees and determinations, if consonant to the Word of God, are to be received with reverence and submission; not only for their agreement with the Word, but also for the power whereby they are made, as being an ordinance of God appointed thereunto in His Word.

    That’s why we recite the Nicene Creed, and call it a rule of faith.

  76. Sorry, Matt – I’m speaking in a kind of “shorthand” derived from my thesis work on Medieval conciliarism. When I speak of papalist “idealism,” I’m referring to a very long, very sad history of popes and their creatures frequently putting their own provincial interests ahead of the interests of the Church and Christendom.

    It’s an old work, but I’d recommend Mandell Creighton’s A History of the Papacy From the Great Schism to the Sack of Rome. In his treatment of the papal schism of 1378-1418 he cites many primary source accounts of this or that competing pope demanding that the others give in merely so that his own “Petrine rights” would not be violated. In the meantime, the Church languished in schism for 40 years, and it took a General Council protected by the sword of the Emperor (!) to stop all the papal foolishness. Pierre D’Ailly’s tract Epistle of the Devil to Leviathan (a 15th century “Screwtape Letter” about popes and General Councils) satirizes the popes for counting their canon law beads and tassles, like Pharisees, while the Church suffers.

    That’s only one epoch of the Church that is highly illustrative of my point. Erasmus’ Praise of Folly and Julius Excluded From Heaven make the same point about papalist self-aggrandizement at the expense of the Church 125 years later. The story of the papacy’s “authority” reads like a Greek tragedy: the thing started well, but rapidly fell through hubris and a refusal to understand its own character flaws well enough to heed the warnings come from outside its own head. It’s “ideals” were more important to it than the real world.

    You’ll have to forgive me, but just based on history I’m not impressed with the appeal to the “authoritative voice now” argument. If it’s so “authoritative,” why couldn’t it stop such terrible events as the 1054 Schism, the 1159 Schism, the 1378 Schism, and the outbreak of the Reformation? And if it’s really so “authoritative,” why do only papalists recognize it?

  77. Tim,

    Food for thought from Mr. Chesteron’s Heretics:

    “The things that have been founded on the fancy of the Superman have died with the dying civilizations which alone have given them birth. When Christ at a symbolic moment was establishing His great society, He chose for its cornerstone neither the brilliant Paul nor the mystic John, but a shuffler, a snob, a coward- in a word, a man. And upon this rock He has built His Church, and the gates of hell have not prevailed against it. All the empires and kingdoms have failed, because of this inherent and continual weakness, that they were founded by strong men and upon strong men. But this one thing, the historic Christian Church, was founded on a weak man, and for that reason it is indestructible. For no chain is stronger than its weakest link.”

  78. Michael, what a copout. It’s not “food for thought.” It’s rhetoric, with no substance behind it.

    If you want to establish “the Church,” you should argue for it, from history, from exegesis.

    As it is, this looks like an act of desperation, because you have nothing else to say.

  79. Michael, you are correct that the Church was founded upon a “weak man” rather than a “strong man,” but that weak man was Jesus Christ (Eph. 2:20), not Peter. Christ who had to restore Peter after his triple denial, remember. Peter was not just a “weak man,” but an insufficient man to serve as a foundation.

    If you reply that Peter is Christ’s “vicar,” so the cornerstone function of Ephesians is being fulfilled by Peter, it’s simple enough to say that we Protestants don’t see Christ as needing a “vicar” in the Church. A “vicar” is a “replacement,” but Christ doesn’t need to be replaced. He is ruling right now, from heaven. Besides, thanks to sober historical research, we know that the title “Vicar of Christ” was not applied by the popes to themselves until Innocent III, some 1200 years after Jesus. Prior to that point, the pope was merely “the vicar of Peter.”

    In any case, it’s theologically question-begging to identify Peter as the “rock” of Matt. 16:18 – not even the Fathers were unanimous on this point – and it’s historically falsifiable that said Peter and his successors ever did function as a reliable bedrock for the Church. The many schisms alone offer support for that, and it’s mere handwaving to claim, as a lot of Catholics do, that the survival of Rome through the ages proves divine approbation of her claims.

    So again, as the other Peter (Escalante) has observed, we have some serious first principle issues in this discussion.

  80. Tim,

    I think we’re talking past each other. I haven’t said anything arguing for Papacy at all. My quote in the previous post was Westminster on councils. And I referenced the monothelite controversy, and implicitly, the Sixth Ecumenical Council. The answer to the Catholic charge that on a Protestant reading, everyone is a Pope, is not that we include the fathers. The answer is that while we aren’t Papalist, we are Conciliarist. The Church Council speaks with authority, and is given to resolve the conflicts that have arisen in the Church–as indeed they have, at Nicea, Constantinople, Ephesus, Chalcedon, Constantinople, and Constantinople again. As Orthodox and (Magesterial) Protestants alike say, there is a final authority in the Church which speaks with authority now, and resolves questions of interpretation of Scripture, but that authority is not the Pope, but the council.

    I’m not sure how I can be clearer. I’m not at all arguing for the Papacy.

  81. Matthew — I think you need to back off of the concept that The Church Council speaks with authority, and is given to resolve the conflicts that have arisen in the Church–as indeed they have, at Nicea, Constantinople, Ephesus, Chalcedon, Constantinople, and Constantinople again.

    For example, why do you stop at Nicea II (787)? By what authority do you drop that one from the list.

    But I’ll go beyond that. What about Ephesus? Its ruling was established by Cyril’s gang of thugs, which, to cite an eyewitness, acted as if it was a war they were conducting … [and they] went about in the city girt and armed with clubs… with yells of barbarians, snorting fiercely … raging with extravagant arrogance those whom they knew to be opposed to their doings, carrying bells about the city and lighting fires …. They blocked up the streets so that everyone was obliged to flee and hide, while they acted as masters of the situation, lying about, drunk and besotted and shouting obscenities…(Samuel Hugh Moffet, “A History of Christianity in Asia, pg 174, citing Nestorius’s “accurate description of the proceedings.”)

    According to Moffet, the Council of Ephesus led to a massive split in the church, “irreversibly … not only east and west but also north and south, and cracked it into so many pieces that it was never the same again.” (Moffett 169)

    Moffett continued with further descriptions of Ephesus:

    The Church of the East [the one that was condemned as “Nestorian”] never accepted the judgment of the Council of Ephesus in 431. It remains the only one of the first four ecumenical councils rejected by Nestorians, and they may well have been right. Its legality is questionable. Its conduct was disgraceful. And its theological verdict, if not overturned, was at least radically amended by the Council of Chalcedon..(175)

    Consider further what Jaroslav Pelikan had to say about the Council of Ephesus:

    The theology of the indwelling Logos, at least as represented by Nestorius, had been condemned at Ephesus, not quite without a hearing but certainly without an understanding of its primary content; and some appeal to a higher court, or perhaps to another session of the same court, seemed to be called for. (From his “History of the Development of Doctrine,” Vol 1, pg 262)

    Cyril, in fact, amended his position two years later in a back-door meeting with John of Antioch, whereas his followers in Alexandria failed to do so, and at Chalcedon they separated from the church as the Monophysites.

    Pelikan on the Council of Chalcedon:

    …the Chalcedonian formula … could even be, and indeed was, taken as a vindication of the Nestorian position … For the theology of the hypostatic union, this was a good beginning, but no more than a beginning. The really difficult problems were either ignored or disposed of by equivocation.

    Today, you’ll find all kinds of Catholic and Orthodox writers articulating clearly that “Nestorius was not guilty of the Nestorian heresy.”

    So we have some problems with “councils” having “authority.”

  82. Boys, there’s a time for poetry.

    Mr. Bugay,

    Chesterton’s quote would only be a “cop out” if the Church based its claim of divine institution on the personal sanctity of her popes. The point of the quote is that, in God’s wisdom, this was not the case.

    Moreover, my waxing poetic was in response to Mr. Enloe’s waxing indignant about the spectacle of the sinners that are also numbered among the saints of the popes. Although I do want to avoid this type of argument, I could point out the “sad” and “tragic” spectacle of 30,000 Protestant denominations that differ radically on fundamental issues of faith, morals, sacraments, etc., whicle the Catholic Chruch has indeed, even miraculously, remained steadfast.

    Substantively, I have followed Pastor Wedgeworth’s lead in moving on to the next step in the conversation, which I think will actually address some of your concerns, although I have said I intend to focus on issues as they relate to Two Kingdoms. Do you really think this forum is the place to historically “establish ‘the Church.’” from scratch?


    Just curious: how, in your understanding of concilliarism, are the doctrinal and theological changes that came with the Reformation dealt with? Is it held that Church Councils established or approved these things? If so, how would you distinguish whether these Councils or, for example, the Council of Trent or previous Councils which contradict Protestant teachings, were authoritative?


  83. Michael — Chesterton’s quote would only be a “cop out” if the Church based its claim of divine institution on the personal sanctity of her popes.

    Not only was THAT prior response a cop-out, this one is too.

    Chesterton was not merely referring to “personal sanctity” of the popes. One would expect that Chesterton, living in the post Vatican I era, would have in mind the full [divinely instituted and divinely supported] jursdictional primacy of the popes as being the true strength behind that indefectible foundation.

    In other words, per the claim that “For no chain is stronger than its weakest link,” it is precisely upon this (supposed) divinely-instituted primacy that the indestructibility of the historic Christian Church was founded. But we can’t assume that at all, and we can’t let you slip that in on us as if it were true. It’s not true. Scripture and history both argue loudly against it.

    Although I do want to avoid this type of argument, I could point out the “sad” and “tragic” spectacle of 30,000 Protestant denominations that differ radically on fundamental issues of faith, morals, sacraments, etc., whicle the Catholic Chruch has indeed, even miraculously, remained steadfast.

    It’s good that you want to avoid “this type of argument,” because, given the parameters you have set here, you would not only lose it, but would be shown to be, if not dishonest, at least, unaware.

    Do you really think this forum is the place to historically “establish ‘the Church.’” from scratch?

    When you want us to “wax poetic” about some indefectible foundation of “the historic Christian Church,” which involves the assumption of an unbroken line of successive popes, then yes, I want you to establish that that concept has some basis in reality. (Because my total sensibility is to say that such a concept is merely that — wax.)

  84. Matt, why do you think you have to convince ME of conciliarism? I wrote my NSA thesis on the subject, and am a very firm believer in WCF 31’s statements about councils being used as contextualizers for WCF 1’s statements about Scripture.

  85. Michael,

    I am not at all “waxing indignant about the spectacle of the sinners that are also numbered among the saints of the popes.” I am well aware that the papalist doctrine is not that the popes are sinless. No one is talking about popes being required to be sinless. I am talking about their authority claims and the way they were pressed and worked out in real history. History, Michael, not polemics, is what I’m talking about.

    But perhaps I’m not helping move the discussion forward. I’ll return to “lurk” status and let Steven and Peter move it forward.

  86. Michael,

    I don’t think there were ecumenical councils after Second Nicea, and I’ll remain ambivalent about Second Nicea. So I don’t have a problem with the Reformers rejecting aspects of the Medieval Synods. Ecumenicity has to do with all regions being represented, and universal acceptance by the laity, and perhaps with the truth of the pronouncements, not with the Pope. I think one of the tragedies of the Reformation, and indeed of the East West Schism, is that there has been no council to resolve matters. Everyone has had councils saying they agree with themselves, say Dort or Westminster, or Trent, or the Synod of Jerusalem–though at least the Orthodox never claim their synod was Ecumenical, as the Protestants often do, and the Catholics always.


    I didn’t include Nicea II because Protestants don’t consider it Ecumenical. I don’t include other synods after that as the only way they are Ecumenical is if Ecumenical means Roman.

    The possible Nestorian interpretation of the Council of Chalcedon, and of Leo’s Tome was recognized by the Miaphysites (N.B. they are not Monophysites, and also reject Eutychius), and thus the controversy continued and was resolved at Constantinople, under Justinian, where all forms of Nestorianism were definitively condemned.

    But anyway, your argument is a red-herring. The position that councils speak with authority does not does not imply that the councils speak with perfect clarity.

    And anyway, your position is not a Protestant one, but an Anabaptist one. The Protestant problem is not that we are not conciliar, but that we are hyper-conciliar, about local synods, and their pronouncements which are not directly related to Christ. “He’s out of Accord with Westminster” or “He’s out of Accord with the Book of Concord” is taken as proof of heterodoxy, and often treated as tantamount to a denial of the gospel. Provincial synods are given more authority than Ecumenical Councils–thus Scott Clark told me that the Reformers knew of the Nicene sort of Christianity and rejected it, and thus the FV (which is manifestly more Nicene than the TR) is not truly Christian.

  87. Mr. Bugay,

    Alas, your argurment with Chesterton is both too recondite and too vehement for me to comprehend.

    Moreover, although you obviously put great stock in your own “total sensibility,” you will forgive me if I do not. In fact, I see the plain meaning of both scripture and history differently.

    Which brings us back to one of the “first principles.” For why should I accept your total sensibility? On your authority?

    If you say you can prove your view of the Church from history, exegesis and rational consistency, I would be happy to allow you to convince me of as much- from scratch, please.


  88. Guys,

    I think this thread is in need of “wrapping up.” Too many side-tracks have emerged in these late comments. They have been handled in other places and can be handled again if need be, but not here.

  89. Pingback: Peter Escalante on genealogizing about modernity « City of God

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