Friday, August 16, 2013

Authority of the Church Outside the Bible?

James Swan
A few months ago I was involved in a discussion at Green Baggins (GB) and one of the persons watching there happened to be James Swan.  He commented a couple times there, but unbeknown to me, he also posted to his blog, Beggars All.  I don't frequent his blog much anymore, but happened to be looking there and found an article he entitled "Sola Windsora" wherein his chief question/challenge to me is whether or not I could demonstrate the authority of the Catholic Church without using Scripture.  Here are his words:
My question to you is probably too simple compared to all the other interactions you're having at Green Baggins. I'd like to know, other than using the Bible, how do you establish that this other authority is also infallible? Or is it simply the case that you believe the Scriptures, correctly interpreted, establish the other authority?  Above you appealed to Matthew 16 and 18 ("..in relatively few circumstances, perpetual infallibility. This comes from Jesus Christ as recorded in Scripture in Matthew 16 and 18"). In other words, when all is said done, is your primary way of establishing this other authority simply an appeal to Scripture alone?
The challenge seems a bit silly to me (and I did answer this on the GB blog).  Why would I want to or even need to provide such evidence when it is already found in Scripture?   For an adherent of sola scriptura to ask me to provide him with a non-scriptural reference also seems quite ludicrous.  If he's true to his credo, why would he accept anything outside the testimony of Scripture regarding infallible authority?

To directly answer Swan's question/challenge I will say "it is simply the case that (I) believe the Scripture, correctly interpreted, establish(es) the other authority."  Does this make my "primary way of establishing this other authority simply an appeal to Scripture alone?"  Clever, well, sort of.  The fact that I only need to appeal to Scripture does not make me an adherent to Scripture alone, though I appreciate the attempt at word-play.

Speaking of word-play, I have to wonder why he entitles his article "Sola Windsora" - when clearly he's asking me to provide an authoritative source - but I have never stated *I* am that source!  I am pleased to provide references and sources for why I believe what I believe and I've never stood upon my own authority.  Maybe I should be flattered?  Regardless, the label is a bit misdirected.

I believe Swan is truly stuck here.  He either cannot or just does not respond to my challenge regarding Matthew 16:18-19 and Matthew 18:18.  That challenge is "Can error be bound or loosed in Heaven?"   Both of these passages have our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ telling a man and a group of men, respectively, that whatsoever they shall bind or loose on Earth is also bound or loosed in Heaven.  So, unless Swan (or anyone else) believes error could be bound or loosed in Heaven, then we have an explicit example of Scripture, quoting Jesus Christ, giving infallible authority to a man first and then to a group of men.

A comment Swan makes, which I'm beginning to believe is "All the interactions at Green Baggins become really... a waste of time."    Well, based upon the fact that none of them dealt specifically with my response article and coupled with the fact that in the several times I've gone back to see if there is anything of substance going on there what one mostly sees is a lot of what appears to be "in-fighting" amongst themselves and branches of their fellowship, I have to agree with Swan on that one.

As Swan is concluding he points to an article by another blogger, who goes by the name of "TurretinFan" (TF) that he too wrote an article referencing me and my participation on Green Baggins!  It sure would be nice if when someone is addressing me directly in an article, that they at least let me know said article(s) exist!  Well, since I'm at this, let me respond to TF too: 
Over at GreenBaggins, Scott tried to make an argument for an infallible rule of faith other than the Bible.  He wrote: "The fact is that Matthew 16:18-19 and Matthew 18:18 teach that man and/or those men can bind or loose, not just sin, but whatsoever they choose."  Let's consider this argument piece by piece:
"that man and/or those men"Peter and the other apostles are gone.  Francis, like his predecessor Benedict XVI, is not an apostle of Jesus Christ, he did not personally receive revelation from Jesus as they did, It is a leap to say that the apostles could do X, therefore someone who is not an apostle can do X.
What TF has done here is admit men were given infallible authority!  He just doesn't allow for that authority to be handed down to the successors of the Apostles.
"bind and loose"Of course, "bind and loose" doesn't sound anything like "define dogma."  It sounds more like freeing people from their sins or leaving people in condemnation for their sins. 
Addressed in a moment...  it is not merely sin here - but "whatsoever" they chose to bind or loose.  The point remains, if it is bound in Heaven, then it must be infallible - unless TF is willing to say error can be bound or loosed in Heaven.
"not just sin"That sounds like Scott is saying, "sin and more."  But Rome's teaching of infallibility is that Rome is infallible only in her doctrinal and moral definitions, not in her exercise of discipline.  So, if it is "sin and more" and implies infallibility, then Scott has proved a point that is stronger than what Rome can adopt.  After all, a Roman bishop exonerated Pelagius (and then later condemned), a Roman bishop condemned Athanasius (and then later exonerated), and let's not even get into the trial of Galileo. 
The charism of infallibility does not mean that every act, even judgment, made by a pope is infallible.  What is really being said here though is that while the Church is not limited to only doctrines and morals, she does not make infallible pronouncements regarding disciplines.  If a given pope or ecumenical council were ever to bind us to a specific discipline - it would be so bound. 
"whatsoever they choose"
In Roman Catholic theology, the definition of dogma is (officially) not arbitrary.  For example, CCC 86 states:
  • “Yet this Magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant. It teaches only what has been handed on to it. At the divine command and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it listens to this devotedly, guards it with dedication, and expounds it faithfully. All that it proposes for belief as being divinely revealed is drawn from this single deposit of faith.” 
Of course, I acknowledge that in practice the power is arbitrarily exercised (contrary to CCC 86), but this is just an internal inconsistency.
Likewise, to be precise the text does not mention choice, it just states that what is bound on earth will be bound in heaven and what is loosed on earth will be loosed in heaven.
- TurretinFan
The point is not one of arbitrariness - yes, the word "whatsoever" is used - but that simply means that anything which they have bound on Earth is also bound in Heaven.  It seems TF's problem here is not with the Catholic Church, but with Scripture.

Addendum:
I just went back and skimmed through the GB responses - and while I was not made aware of the two articles posted, which I have responded to above, most, if not all, of what was in those articles was also in the comments at GB.

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