Showing posts with label Apostolic Succession. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Apostolic Succession. Show all posts

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Book Review: The Broken Path

The Broken Path (2011) by Judie Brown catalogs recent behavior among American Catholic bishops. The title refers to the many instances when bishops have "strayed from the path," so to speak, and acted scandalously or contrary to the teachings of the Church. I give the book 7 out of 10 stars.

This book is not an easy one for faithful Catholics to digest. Reading it made me uncomfortable at times. One is forced to confront the idea that bishops do not always act in defense of life, moral doctrine, or other teachings of the Church. I think recognizing the value of this book demands a certain level of maturity, to be able to admit one's own failings and the failings that take place at high levels in his Church. It also takes a certain degree of catechesis to understand that such failings do not mar the unblemished doctrines of faith and morals within the Church. Sometimes the ignorant or anti-Catholics advance the idea that a failure in individual Church leaders' behaviors is a good apologetic against the Catholic idea of infallibility, but such is not the case. Even the very idea of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is not an "infallible" body. Brown quotes Pope Benedict XVI stating: "episcopal conferences have no theological basis; they do not belong to the structure of the Church as willed by Christ..." (p 64)

Brown details several programs supported by the USCCB, for instance, Catholic Charities or the Catholic Health Association, which often advance anti-Church causes like the Obama Administration's health care plan and all it entails, including funding for abortion, contraception, and sterilization. Other groups mentioned throughout this book have influences within the Church that are opposed to Church teaching. Many of these arrangements have gone without much historical protest from bishops. Groups include Planned Parenthood, the largest U.S. abortion provider; the USCCB's "Safe Environment" office which has been met with opposition for reducing parental influence in their children's sexual understanding; and the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, a group headed by supporters of abortion, same-sex "marriage," and contraception in schools; to name a few. Brown devotes a number of pages to these and other organization bringing scandal and dissent to the Church.

When some bishops work in tandem with or act passively in the face of such organizations, Catholics are sent a confusing or contradictory message. A good summary of such problems is in Brown's words is: "lack of consistency sends a mixed message to Catholics." (p 156)

One example she gives of the USCCB's confusing action occurred in 2004. Catholic Answers produced a voters guide identifying five "non-negotiables." Brown writes:
The lawyers for the bishops rejected the voting guide, claiming that it was confusing to people and that only its officially approved material should be used. This is strange, indeed, since the Catholic Answers publication agrees 100 percent with Catholic teaching that identifies five 'non-negotiable' subjects by which a politician is to be evaluated: abortion, euthanasia, human embryonic stem cell research, human cloning, and homosexual marriage. (p 100)
If one researches the background of this matter, it seems the USCCB's lawyers discouraged use of the guide because it could appear to favor a political candidate and thus jeopardize non-profit status. However, it seems there is a difference in actively discouraging something's use versus not legally claiming ownership of it. At the least, the USCCB lawyers' actions and subsequent refusal to clarify causes confusion and scandal in the Church.

One of the problems Brown cites is a culture of "Americanism." By this term, Brown refers to a sentiment prevalent in the United States that "any group, or individual, could 'correct the pope' with impunity..." (p 19) It is "an amalgamation of pluralism, modernism, atheism, Gnosticism, and Arianism." (p 32) The Arian heresy was a 4th century doctrinal scandal in the Church in which the priest Arius sought to correct doctrine taught by the Magisterium. Such attitudes depart from the chain of Apostolic succession through which Christ promised truth would be taught by the Holy Spirit. Individuals and even individual bishops who thus depart from the consistent teaching of the Church cause error, scandal, and confusion.

Brown details a variety of quotations and actions/inactions by individual American bishops in recent years, bringing what is a significant problem in the American Church to the attention of the faithful. For example, she describes the of silence from some bishops who remain idle on the sidelines while openly pro-choice politicians continue to receive Holy Communion while supporting the so-called "right" to terminate an infant in the womb. In chapter 8 of the book, Brown reviews Canon 915 on providing the Eucharist and scandals within the Church violating that Canon.

Another specific example includes a letter written by Bobby Schindler to his bishop, Robert Lynch, in 2007. Schindler was critical of the bishop's lack of voice when his sister Terri Schiavo was publicly starved to death in Florida in 2005 in an act of euthanasia. (p 157ff)

Brown's book is fraught with footnotes linking to various articles and publications. It would be daunting to cross-reference them all, and the ones I perused were sound references. There was one long story she relayed, of which I was familiar, that I found wanting for detail. (p 124ff) In 2010, Phoenix archbishop Thomas Olmsted renounced St. Joseph Hospital's Catholic status and notified an involved nun that she had incurred excommunication. A woman received an abortion at the hospital. Brown did point out that Church teaching forbids surgical abortion, but the story did involve complexities that I thought warranted further explanation. The hospital justified the abortion in the following words:
Tests revealed that [the mother] now had life-threatening pulmonary hypertension. The chart notes that she had been informed that her risk of mortality was close to 100 percent if she continued the pregnancy. The medical team contacted the Ethics Consult team for review. The consultation team talked to several physicians and nurses as well as reviewed the patient’s record. The patient and her family, her doctors and the Ethics Consult team agreed that the pregnancy could be terminated, and that it was appropriate since the goal was not to end the pregnancy but save the mother’s life. (quoted in National Catholic Reporter, Dec. 22, 2010)
Brown's focus in this story was to demonstrate the scandal of nuns involved with the hospital complicit in the abortion against the bishop's position. However, I would liked to have seen Brown provide more information on why the bishop's position was what it was. Bishop Omsted wrote of his decision:
[E]arlier this year, it was brought to my attention that an abortion had taken place at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix. When I met with officials of the hospital to learn more of the details of what had occurred, it became clear that, in the decision to abort, the equal dignity of mother and her baby were not both upheld; but that the baby was directly killed, which is a clear violation of ERD #45. It also was clear that the exceptional cases, mentioned in ERD #47, were not met, that is, that there was not a cancerous uterus or other grave malady that might justify an indirect and unintended termination of the life of the baby to treat the grave illness. In this case, the baby was healthy and there were no problems with the pregnancy; rather, the mother had a disease that needed to be treated. But instead of treating the disease, St. Joseph’s medical staff and ethics committee decided that the healthy, 11-week-old baby should be directly killed. This is contrary to the teaching of the Church (Cf. Evangelium Vitae, #62).
In other words, the goal of the procedure was to kill the baby. It was an abortion. The baby was a healthy human being. The baby was not given due consideration as a person. They were not treating the mother's cancer that resulted in the death of the baby. This perspective, though a difficult one, is why the bishop stood his ground.

Another nitpick I had in the book was with this statement: "Magisterial teaching refers to doctrinal pronouncements from the pope on matters of faith and morals." (p 5) That statement is not quite accurate and may give the impression that only the pope ever formulates dogma. From the catechism:
CCC#100 The task of interpreting the Word of God authentically has been entrusted solely to the Magisterium of the Church, that is, to the Pope and to the bishops in communion with him.
CCC#892 Divine assistance is also given to the successors of the apostles, teaching in communion with the successor of Peter, and, in a particular way, to the bishop of Rome, pastor of the whole Church, when, without arriving at an infallible definition and without pronouncing in a "definitive manner," they propose in the exercise of the ordinary Magisterium a teaching that leads to better understanding of Revelation in matters of faith and morals. To this ordinary teaching the faithful "are to adhere to it with religious assent" which, though distinct from the assent of faith, is nonetheless an extension of it.
The Pope, though he has a special role, is not on an island. There is a real unity there that includes not only the Pope but the other apostolic successors. Though that was just a small snippet of Brown's book, I know, as one who delves in the world of Catholic apologetics, someone might find themselves confused by, or an anti-Catholic might consider it opportune to utilize Brown's sentence as it is worded.

Brown has a significant amount on President Barack Obama and those who influence the Church. Obama is certainly well-known as perhaps the greatest opponent to Catholic teaching in the history of the United States executive office. The current HHS mandate is a violation of the very rights of religious persons in the U.S. I thought that section tended to carry on lengthily as Brown gave detail after detail of Obama's political appointments, health care, and other actions.

Although many of the politically-intertwined scandals in the Church involve Democrat politicians, Brown does not limit her criticism only to one party. For instance, she praises Bishop John Smith of New Jersey for writing a critical letter to a school for inviting Republican and pro-choice politician Christine Todd Whitman to speak. (p 84) The problem is not one limited to political lines. And as some good writers have pointed out, the Church is neither Republican or Democrat. The Church advances the truth of Christ.

Along with the likes of Bishop Smith, Brown is sure to include a number of uplifting stories throughout the book of brave bishops who have stood up to politicians or other Church dissenters, upholding the teaching of the Church despite the criticism they knew they would receive. So even though the main purpose of the book is to show what is the problem, Brown includes a balance of positive stories for the faithful, offering hope that our bishops often do what they are, as shepherds, called to do.

And even after the writing of this book, perhaps there are more signs of faithful shepherds in the U.S. At one point, Brown writes: "What is it about birth control that scares bishops into silence." And yet in February 2012, after the publication of The Broken Path, 100% of all 181 diocesan U.S. Catholic bishops publicly condemned the HHS mandate, which demanded even religious bodies fund birth control. Perhaps voices like Brown's have helped remind the U.S. Bishops to all stand for the teaching of the Church as many of their peers have done in the past. Her last chapter is called: "Holy Priests are the Cure" which includes sections on several heroic bishops.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Attempt to discredit papacy uses false history

In January, in an article appearing on the Huffington Post, Christian blogger Ben Stevens claimed to produce 3 "major defeaters" of the papacy. In his own words, he defines a defeater thusly:

[A] defeater is a belief which, if true, necessarily invalidates some other belief (e.g. "Jesus was not raised from the dead" is a defeater for Christianity). These "defeaters" take aim at papal history.
So remember that definition, because he believes that his "3 major defeaters" each "invalidate" the Papacy in some "major" way. He also goes into some "minor" defeaters, but in the interest of brevity, and to demonstrate the pattern of error in his self-proclaimed "major defeaters" alone, I'll go through the 3 major ones.

In virtually all the early citations used to say that Peter led the church in Rome, Paul is listed as co-leader of the church (cf. Ignatius, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Lactantius, Cyril of Jerusalem and Athanasius). ... In all three letters to his disciples, Paul prescribes that there be multiple bishops (episkopoi) in every congregation. [This] is different from what papal historians might lead us to believe.
In response to this, let me first state the obvious miscalculation here. If I were to say the official leaders of the United States were once Woodrow Wilson and Thomas Marshall, would you be able to ascertain from that statement alone if one of them was higher up the hierarchy than the other? If I were to say the United States was founded by George Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson, could you determine if I thought one of them was President? The answer to both is no. That is, unless you knew your history, or unless you place some favor on who I list first.

Rome has had a history of a number of auxiliary bishops, which refutes Steven's claim that "papal historians" try to lead the public to some false sense of a single bishop only in any given major city.

But let's look at the individual Church Fathers Stevens cites. The reason he mentions Peter and Paul is because Catholics believe the Pope to be the successor of the Apostle Peter. Thus, according to Stevens, if the Early Church recognized Peter and Paul as leaders of the Roman Church, they must have thought them to be equal in authority, and a papacy deriving from Peter must apparently be a fiction. This is where Stevens derails historically and logically.

ST. IGNATIUS OF ANTIOCH (ca 110 A.D.) - There's not a significant amount of mention of Peter and Paul in Ignatius' works. He does have a more submissive tone in his letter to the Romans than he does to other cities. He writes in that letter that the Church at Rome is "presiding over the brotherhood of love." Elsewhere in his letter, he writes:

I do not, as Peter and Paul, issue commandments unto you. They were apostles; I am but a condemned man.
Please note, Ignatius doesn't tell us anything about a hierarchical order or otherwise when referencing Peter and Paul. Stevens eisegetes equality into Ignatius' words even though no such qualifier exists. Ignatius merely says they were Apostles teaching in Rome, which is, of course, true, and which any good Catholic history book will describe. One thing you will notice in Ignatius' and others' early references to Peter and Paul in Rome is the order of Peter first. In studying other ECFs giving more detail, we can see this was so due to Peter's superior hierarchical rank. At any rate, Ignatius can hardly be considered a deal-breaker to support Stevens' claim.

ST. IRENAEUS (ca. 170 A.D.) - Irenaeus, like Ignatius, mentions Peter and Paul (in that order) in his texts without specifically naming a leader nor identify any equality in authority, even though Stevens reads the latter into his work. Irenaeus writes quite loftily of the office of Rome itself, consistent with Catholic theology:

...that very great and very ancient and universally known Church, which was founded and established at Rome, by the two most glorious Apostles, Peter and Paul: we point I say, to the tradition which this Church has from the Apostles, and to her faith proclaimed to men which comes down to our time through the succession of her bishops, and so we put to shame . . . all who assemble in unauthorized meetings. For with this Church, because of its superior authority, every Church must agree — that is the faithful everywhere — in communion with which Church the tradition of the Apostles has been always preserved by those who are everywhere. ... The blessed apostles, then, having founded and built up the Church, committed into the hands of Linus the office of the episcopate. Of this Linus, Paul makes mention in the Epistles to Timothy. To him succeeded Anacletus; and after him, in the third place from the apostles, Clement was allotted the bishopric. (Against Heresies, 3.3.2-3)
Notice a couple things in Irenaeus' writing. He lists Peter first in the Church he says has "superior authority" in relation to "every Church." And he establishes a singular "episcopate" flowing from this foundation. Even if one were to grant Stevens (hypothetically of course, since to do so would be incorrect) that Peter and Paul were equally authoritative cofounders of Rome, Irenaeus describes a singular bishop's office flowing from that foundation. The idea of a Papacy, therefore, would not be so much discredited as supported!

TERTULLIAN (ca 210 A.D.) - Tertullian mentions Peter and Paul a few times. For instance, he refers to both of them suffering martyrdom in Rome (Prescription Against Heretics, 36). And he mentions again their bloody sacrifice in Rome (Against Marcion, 4.5). In another place, he mentions Peter alone as having ordained Clement (Prescription Against Heretics, 32).

For this is the manner in which the apostolic churches transmit their registers: as the church of Smyrna, which records that Polycarp was placed therein by John; as also the church of Rome, which makes Clement to have been ordained in like manner by Peter. In exactly the same way the other churches likewise exhibit (their several worthies), whom, as having been appointed to their episcopal places by apostles, they regard as transmitters of the apostolic seed.
If we refer back to Irenaeus, we see that Clement became the bishop of that superior episcopate. Though Tertullian does not specifically elevate Peter here, he does consistently mention him first when paired with Paul, and he verifies the Catholic concept of apostolic succession and a singular Roman office.

In another work (On Modesty, 21), Tertullian criticizes the Roman bishop, Pope Callistus, over the qualities of Peter passed on to successors. He admits the Pope sits "in the person of Peter," though he denies the power of the keys belonging to Peter alone. He writes:

If, because the Lord has said to Peter, Upon this rock will I build My Church, to you have I given the keys of the heavenly kingdom; or, Whatsoever you shall have bound or loosed in earth, shall be bound or loosed in the heavens, you therefore presume that the power of binding and loosing has derived to you, that is, to every Church akin to Peter, what sort of man are you, subverting and wholly changing the manifest intention of the Lord.
The skeptic of the papacy will note only Tertullian's opposition to the Pope in this text. Yet notice at least two other things from this work. Tertullian freely admits that the episcopate traces back to Peter. No mention of Paul is made here, repudiating Stevens' claim that Tertullian placed Peter and Paul as authoritative equals in Rome. Secondly, notice that in Tertullian's counter to the idea of Peter passing his "keys" onto his successors, Tertullian is revealing the argument presented by the other side. For more on this issue, see Mark Bonocore's The Title Pontifex Maximus.

LACTANTIUS (ca. 305 A.D.) - I was able to find a single mention of Peter and Paul in Lactantius' writings. It reads:

But He also opened to them all things which were about to happen, which Peter and Paul preached at Rome. (Lactantius, Divine Institutes, 4.21, ca 305 A.D.)
There is nothing, as Stevens' claims, in this example about diluted authority between the two men, although, once again, Peter is mentioned first, lending closer to the Catholic assertion.

ST. CYRIL OF JERUSALEM (ca. 360 A.D.) - This is probably Stevens' worst example of someone who supposedly claimed Peter and Paul had equal authority in Rome. I'll let Cyril's words speak for themselves.
And when they all became silent (for the matter was too high for man to learn), Peter, the foremost of the Apostles and chief herald of the Church, neither aided by cunning invention, nor persuaded by human reasoning, but enlightened in his mind from the Father, says to Him, You are the Christ, not only so, but the Son of the living God. (Catechetical Lectures, 11.3)

As the delusion was extending, Peter and Paul, a noble pair, chief rulers of the Church, arrived and set the error right. ... For Peter was there, who carries the keys of heaven: and nothing wonderful, for Paul was there , who was caught up to the third heaven, and into Paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful far a man to utter. (Catechetical Lectures, 6.15)

In the power of the same Holy Spirit Peter also, the chief of the Apostles and the bearer of the keys of the kingdom of heaven, healed ├ćneas the paralytic in the Name of Christ at Lydda, which is now Diospolis, and at Joppa raised from the dead Tabitha rich in good works. (Catechetical Lectures, 17.27)
Needless to say, Cyril of Jerusalem is a terrible example for Stevens to use to dilute Peter's authority.

ST. ATHANASIUS (ca 350 A.D.) - Athanasius makes statements similar to other ECFs regarding the historicity that Peter and Paul both were martyred in Rome:

And Peter, who had hid himself for fear of the Jews, and the Apostle Paul who was let down in a basket, and fled, when they were told, 'You must bear witness at Rome ,' deferred not the journey; yea, rather, they departed rejoicing ; the one as hastening to meet his friends, received his death with exultation; and the other shrunk not from the time when it came, but gloried in it, saying, 'For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. (Athanasius, Apologia de Fuga, 18)
In this example, as invariably consistent as other ECFs mentioning the two Apostles in tandem, Peter is listed first.

In the incident versus the Arians in the fourth century, Athanasius was a central figure in quelling the heresy that denied the eternal consubstantiality of the Son Jesus with the Father God. In more than one work, Athanasius quotes from the Pope:
"For what we have received from the blessed Apostle Peter, that I signify to you; and I should not have written this, as deeming that these things were manifest unto all men, had not these proceedings so disturbed us." ... Thus wrote the Council of Rome by Julius, Bishop of Rome. (Athanasius, Defense Against the Arians, quoting from Pope Julius' Letter, I.35.b, ca. 360 A.D.)
You see above, Athanasius quotes what the Pope had written about how what he "signified" came "from the blessed Apostle Peter." There is no objection from Athanasius along with this citation. Rather, Athanasius is using the letter as evidence for his position in his battle against the Arians. This supports the notion that Peter was the head of Rome through which the authority of the episcopate was passed.

Athanasius, quoting another Pope, shows again that the episcopate flowed through Peter:

The eunuch accordingly went to Rome, and first proposed to Liberius to subscribe against Athanasius ... But the Bishop endeavoured to convince him, reasoning with him thus: "How is it possible for me to do this against Athanasius? How can we condemn a man, whom not one Council only, but a second assembled from all parts of the world, has fairly acquitted, and whom the Church of the Romans dismissed in peace? Who will approve of our conduct, if we reject in his absence one, whose presence among us we gladly welcomed, and admitted him to our communion? This is no Ecclesiastical Canon; nor have we had transmitted to us any such tradition from the Fathers, who in their turn received from the great and blessed Apostle Peter." (Athanasius, quoting Pope Liberius, History of the Arians, V.36)1
Again, Athanasius quotes a Pope claiming succession back to Peter with no objection or comment on the matter. One might claim that these previous two quotes are arguments from silence, which to a certain extent may be true, although he does quote the Petrine sentiment explicitly. However, Stevens' claim that Athanasius equalized Peter and Paul's authority in Rome appears entirely devoid even of such semi-silent evidence.

But that's not all from Athanasius. In his commentary on the Psalms, Athanasius writes: "For Peter also is the leader in the praxis/practice for Christ..." For my part, I was able to find the Greek of this excerpt (at line 00874 in this PDF). I had a university Greek professor provide my translation above. Other translations, such as at, have listed the interpretation of his words as "The Chief, Peter."

This, too, damages Stevens' claim to deny the unique leadership position Peter held amidst the Apostles.

Remember, Stevens claimed that the above ECFs made claims about the equality of Peter and Paul's authority in Rome, and yet not a single one supports his assertion. This is supposed to be one of his deal-breakers, one of his "major defeaters" against the Catholic idea of a papacy. Granted, Stevens did not provide any citations from these ECFs to support his claim, so if there is something he was able to locate that I was not, I am open to reviewing those quotations. In the meantime, not only do all these ECFs consistently list Peter first when mentioned with Paul, but on many occasions, they explicitly speak to Peter's headship.

Even though Stevens listed several ECFs, he also said "virtually all the early citations" regarding Peter's authority list Paul as a "co-leader," which Stevens uses to deny Peter as head. The range of ECFs he named spans from approximately 110 A.D. – 350 A.D. Here's a sampling from that range of what Stevens calls "virtually all" the ECFs who did not consider Peter the leader:

ST. CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA (ca 195 A.D.) - St. Clement explicitly contradicts Stevens' claim:

On hearing these words, the blessed Peter, the chosen, the pre-eminent, the first among the disciples, for whom alone with Himself the Savior paid the tribute, quickly grasped and understood their meaning. And what does he say? "Behold, we have left all and have followed you!" (Clement of Alexandria, Homily on Mark 10:17-31 "Who is the rich man that is saved?")

ORIGEN (ca 230 A.D.) - Origen, and subsequently Cyprian below, echo the same sentiment that Peter is the foundation of the Church:
"Peter, upon whom is built the Church of Christ, against which the gates of hell shall not prevail, left only one epistle of acknowledged genuinity. Let us concede also a second, which however is doubtful." (Origen, Commentaries on John 5,3)

"Look upon the great foundation of the Church, that most solid of rocks, upon whom Christ built the Church! And what does the Lord say to him? 'O you of little faith,' He says, 'why did you doubt!'" (Origen, Homilies on Exodus 5,4)
ST. CYPRIAN (ca 250 A.D.) - On the nature of unity in the Church, Cyprian writes:

If any one consider and examine these things, there is no need for lengthened discussion and arguments. There is easy proof for faith in a short summary of the truth. The Lord speaks to Peter, saying, I say unto you, that you are Peter; and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Matt. 16:18) And I will give unto you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall be bound also in heaven, and whatsoever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. And again to the same He says, after His resurrection, Feed my sheep. And although to all the apostles, after His resurrection, He gives an equal power, and says, As the Father has sent me, even so send I you: Receive the Holy Ghost: Whose soever sins you remit, they shall be remitted unto him; and whose soever sins you retain, they shall be retained; John 20:21 yet, that He might set forth unity, He arranged by His authority the origin of that unity, as beginning from one. Assuredly the rest of the apostles were also the same as was Peter, endowed with a like partnership both of honour and power; but the beginning proceeds from unity. Which one Church, also, the Holy Spirit in the Song of Songs designated in the person of our Lord, and says, My dove, my spotless one, is but one. She is the only one of her mother, elect of her that bare her. Song of Songs 6:9 Does he who does not hold this unity of the Church think that he holds the faith? (Cyprian, Treatise 1.4)
Above, Cyprian admits to a "like" power among all the Apostles, but he raises Peter up as the source of unity. The excerpt ends with him saying that one who does not hold to the "unity" beginning with Peter in Matt. 16:18, cannot be said to hold to the faith.

Cyprian repeats this teaching in an Epistle:

For first of all the Lord gave that power to Peter, upon whom He built the Church, and whence He appointed and showed the source of unity— the power, namely, that whatsoever he loosed on earth should be loosed in heaven. (Cyprian, Epistle 72.7, ca 250 A.D.)
In another work, Cyprian confirms that succession in Rome proceeded through Peter.

And [Cornelius] was made bishop by very many of our colleagues who were then present in the city of Rome ... Cornelius was made bishop ... when the place of Fabian, that is, when the place of Peter and the degree of the sacerdotal throne was vacant; which being occupied by the will of God, and established by the consent of all of us, whosoever now wishes to become a bishop, must needs be made from without; and he cannot have the ordination of the Church who does not hold the unity of the Church. (Cyprian, Epistle 51.8)
COUNCIL OF SARDICA (344 A.D.) - The council at Sardica debunks Stevens' claim both against the idea of Roman primacy and also that Peter was not the leader from whom succession flowed in Rome:

But if judgment have gone against a bishop in any cause, and he think that he has a good case, in order that the question may be reopened, let us, if it be your pleasure, honour the memory of St. Peter the Apostle, and let those who tried the case write to Julius, the bishop of Rome, and if he shall judge that the case should be retried, let that be done, and let him appoint judges; but if he shall find that the case is of such a sort that the former decision need not be disturbed, what he has decreed shall be confirmed. Is this the pleasure of all? The synod answered, It is our pleasure. (Council of Sardica, canon 3)
There are many other early Church writings that confirm Peter's position as leader of the Apostles and the original occupant of the chair in Rome, not Paul even though he was a revered Apostle himself.

From this sampling, I hope it is clear that Stevens' "major defeater #1" has been, itself, defeated.

Even though the founding of the papacy (if historical) would be the second most important event in all of history (after the Christ event itself), it has no place in the apostolic preaching (in Acts) or even in the writings of the apostolic fathers. The good news, if the papal narrative holds true, would have to be that Christ has come and that, in Peter, Christ remains. But there is not a trace or hint of this Petrine emphasis in the apostolic preaching. Nowhere do we hear it preached that "a human representative of Christ on earth will graciously continue on as Christ directs him." How could such a monumental component of the story be left out if in fact it was truly a part of the story?
The above is similar to the average atheist's challenge against God. Do a Google search sometime for phrases like: "If God is real why doesn't he show himself??" The challenger comes up with a criteria after the fact that they supposedly require before they submit to a belief. The problem is, the challenger ignores the extant evidence while coming up with some criteria for which he claims there is no evidence, and then parades that criteria as the ultimate rule.

That being said, Stevens' demands are actually met in the course of history. He simply does not acknowledge it, or perhaps has some degree of blindness, as we saw in the response to his "major defeater #1."

He says a Papacy has no place in the book of Acts. Before I provide evidence of Peter's primacy from the book of Acts, let me point out something of which Stevens indicates no knowledge or perhaps for which he has no respect. That is the doctrine of development. The books of the very Bible Stevens cites as his historical evidence had not been identified with clarity for a few hundred years following their penning. The most consistent canon began around 382 at the synod at Rome. Stevens does not seem to submit the canon of Scripture through the same gauntlet as he does the papacy, demanding evidence of the latter from the book of Acts, but not the former. Surely, Stevens considers the identification of the books of Scripture to be vitally important if they are to be a measure of other doctrines. Yet we have no such list from an Apostle. I could easily play the role of devil's advocate against his belief and demand he show me the canon of Scripture by using only the book of Acts. I could say as he did of the Papacy, "Surely such an 'important event in all of history' would be articulated by Jesus and the Apostles!" Of course, my demand would be just as specious as his demand to produce the fully developed doctrine of the papacy from the book of Acts.

Scripture itself identifies the Apostles and prophets as a foundation (Eph. 2:19-20), not as the end all, exhaustive communicators of all that will be understood by the Church in one shot. This is historically evident in the Church's behavior in discerning not only the canon of Scripture, but in understanding other widely held Christian doctrines such as the Trinity (formulated at Nicea in 325 A.D.) or the hypostatic union of the Incarnation (formulated at Chalcedon in 451 A.D.). Yet for the papacy, Stevens demands his own full blown 21st century definition from the 1st century book of Acts. But I digress.

In the book of Acts, it is Peter who assembles the Church leaders to choose a successor for Judas (Acts 1:15). It is Peter who first speaks after the Holy Spirit descends upon the Church at Pentecost (Acts 2:14). It is Peter who performs the first Apostolic miracle (Acts 3:6-7). Peter is the first to speak at the council of Jerusalem, resolving the first doctrinal conflict in the Church (Acts 15:7ff). The historical record shows James to have been the first bishop of Jerusalem (e.g. St. John Chrysostom, commentary on John 21:19, ca. 390 A.D.)––all the more significant that Peter stood and made the first pronouncement in his fellow Apostle's jurisdiction.

These are just a few examples from Acts regarding Peter's leadership. Other New Testament examples are quite common in Catholic apologetics. I won't give a lengthy treatment here since such examples are easy to find. Suffice it to say, Jesus changed Peter's name to "Rock," (Matt. 16:18) a term normally reserved in Scripture for God. The significance of that has been downplayed in occasions in history, particularly among those who attempt to discredit the papacy. But the symmetry of the passage demands Peter's himself to be called "Rock" by Christ. Peter starts with "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." (Matt. 16:17) Notice he identifies Jesus' persona, followed by His identity in relation to his father. Jesus replies, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church." (Matt. 16:18-19) Notice how Jesus returns the symmetry by identifying Peter's persona (as Rock) and his identity in relation to his father "Jona." An abundance of well-known Protestant scholars admit to the necessity of this interpretation. Sometimes, you will find a historical Christian identifying Peter's confession of faith as the Rock. The Church has no problem with that understanding as can be seen in CCC#424. However, the Church does not posit a false dichotomy by saying if the Rock is Peter's confession, it therefore cannot be Peter himself. No, rather the Church, historically and today, acknowledges also Peter himself as the Rock (CCC#552) consistent with the structure of the Matthean text.

Another strong verse demonstrating Peter's primacy amongst the Apostles is in Luke. Notice the tense of the Greek terms in parentheses below:

"Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you (plural), that he might sift you (plural) like wheat, but I have prayed for you (singular) that your (singular) faith may not fail; and when you (singular) have turned again, strengthen your (singular) brethren." (Luke 22:31-32)
You have at least two elements of the idea of the papacy here. Peter is certainly charged with oversight of the other disciples, to be strength for them. As well, Jesus makes a personal prayer here for Peter's faith, the seed of the doctrine of Papal Infallibility (which is a charism, given by the Holy Spirit, protecting the Pope from teaching error on the faith when several teaching conditions are met).

There is a plethora of other evidence from Scripture speaking to Peter's primacy, including that from Matthew to Revelation, Peter is mentioned some 155 times versus a combined total of 130 for the other Apostles. Not only that, but the idea of Roman primacy was well-recognized in the first few centuries as articulated above, and even more forcefully in the 4th century and beyond. Even a 2008 joint statement by Catholics and Orthodox acknowledges the Petrine origin of the Roman see, and it's identity as the "prima sedes." The historical record belies Stevens' claim to belittle Peter's leadership in Rome and Roman primacy.

For more Scriptural info, see such pages as my debate on the Papacy from 2008,, tracts on the papacy,'s articles on the papacy, Dave Armstrong's Biblical apologetics for the papacy, and many other sites detailing what is a plethora of Petrine primacy in the Scriptures.

I must consider Stevens' "major defeater #2" the second of two failed attempts to discredit the papacy.

The medieval schism and Council of Constance not only severed what link there might have been to Petrine succession but, in fact, ground the true authority of all churches in Jesus Christ alone. In the papacy's darkest hour, the line of leaders which (is supposed to have) descended from Peter himself was broken, and the leaders of the church announced in their resolution to the schism that "everyone is subject to this ruling, even the pope. We draw our authority from Jesus Christ Himself." This is, in its essence, a Protestant understanding of authority, and it undercuts the whole Petrine office.
I must first point out Stevens' admission in the first sentence referring to "what link there might have been to Petrine succession" when his first "major defeater" denies that one existed through Peter alone, calling instead for the equation of authority in Rome between Peter and Paul. Whether this is subconscious evidence from Stevens that his first "major defeater" is not all that major, I cannot say.

At any rate, Stevens strangely places the utmost authority in the Council of Constance and, perhaps inadvertently, places his authority in the Council that penned the quotation in question while simultaneously claiming to place his authority only in Jesus Christ. Catholic thought believes the papacy draws its authority from none other than Christ, yet Stevens behaves as if he is unaware that such is Catholic teaching. Still, this point only speaks to Stevens' personal inconsistencies in analysis.

Stevens leaves out an important element in the Council of Constance –– the council submitted to Pope Gregory XII's demand that he formally convoke the council himself, thus placing it in some sense under his authority, certifying it in logical advancement. The council submitted. Once he convoked the council himself, Gregory then voluntarily abdicated so as to end the confusion of who was the authentic Pope by letting the council pick his successor. The historical record does not admit to the confusion claimed by Stevens that succession was broken. For the Church then recognized Martin V in 1417, preserving the succession of Popes that Stevens claims was broken. Those from the very council in which Stevens placed so much authority to make his point acknowledged the existence of Martin V as true Pope!

For more details and source material on this historical episode, see my earlier blog post Were there 3 popes at the same time?

And thus, Stevens' "major defeater #3" can neither be considered a defeater of the papacy.

1Sometimes, you will see among anti-Catholics the claim against the dogma of Papal Infallibility on the grounds that Pope Liberius caved in to the Arian Heresy and supposedly formally taught Arianism. However, if we read through paragraphs 36-41 of part V of his History of the Arians, we see even Athanasius defending the Pope at that time. Paragraph 41 culminates with: "But Liberius after he had been in banishment two years gave way, and from fear of threatened death subscribed." Not only was Liberius under known duress and threat of death at the time, he could not reasonably be considered to have met all the criteria for the protection of Papal Infallibility to have occurred and did not teach heresy for the faithful to hold as a function of his Petrine see. This is especially evidenced by the likes of a bishop like Athanasius detailing the external threats begetting Liberius' submission.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

What is Sacred Tradition?

Scripture speaks both negatively and positively about the idea of "tradition." For example, negatively––
And he said to them, "You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God, in order to keep your tradition (paradosis)! (Mark 7:9)

See to it that no one makes a prey of you by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition (paradosis), according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ. (Col. 2:8)
––and positively:
I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions (paradosis) even as I have delivered them to you. (1 Cor. 11:2)

So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions (paradosis) which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter. (2 Thes. 2:15)
In Catholic theology, there is a distinction between traditions on matters of faith and traditions on matters of practice or custom. If a tradition is considered a matter of faith or morals, handed down from the single "deposit of faith" left by Christ and the Apostles, it is considered a divinely revealed truth, and thus cannot be recognized as a non-truth at some later point. Other traditions do not fall under this umbrella of faith or morals. For example, it can be considered "tradition" that the priest wears certain colored vestments at certain times of the year. This is not a matter of faith that one must "believe," but it is a customary practice the Church exercises. The language of the mass is another example of a "tradition" that can be altered. Recently, the translation of the American vernacular mass changed to more closely reflect the ancient Latin wording. Catechism #1202 refers to the "diverse liturgical traditions" in the Church.

In this particular blog post, I will focus on Sacred Tradition, that is considered by the Church part of the word of God in divine revelation.

I think the following are useful descriptions of or uses of the term "tradition" in the sense of Sacred Tradition. My comments follow each entry.
[W]hen we refer [the Gnostics] to that tradition which originates from the apostles, [and] which is preserved by means of the succession of presbyters in the Churches, they object to tradition, saying that they themselves are wiser not merely than the presbyters, but even than the apostles, because they have discovered the unadulterated truth. ... It is within the power of all, therefore, in every Church, who may wish to see the truth, to contemplate clearly the tradition of the apostles manifested throughout the whole world; and we are in a position to reckon up those who were by the apostles instituted bishops in the Churches, and [to demonstrate] the succession of these men to our own times. (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3.2.2, 3.3.1, ca. 180 A.D.)
In the above work, St. Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons, defends the Church's capacity to maintain tradition versus the Gnostics who simply assert that they have special "wisdom" (3.2.1) from God. Rather, apostolic tradition is passed through those whom were appointed by the Apostles. Irenaeus later went on to identify lists of succession for the occupants of various bishops' offices.
Moreover, if there be any [heresies] bold enough to plant themselves in the midst of the apostolic age, so that they might seem to have been handed down by the Apostles because they were from the time of the Apostles, we can say to them: let them show the origin of their Churches, let them unroll the order of their bishops, running down in succession from the beginning, so that their first bishop shall have for author and predecessor some one of the Apostles or of the apostolic men who continued steadfast with the Apostles. (Tertullian, The Demurrer Against the Heretics, 32.1, ca. 200 A.D.)
Tertullian, a few years after Irenaeus combats the same problem, against heretics claiming to possess the truth, but who have no apostolic roots.
The Church received from the apostles the tradition of giving baptism even to infants. The apostles, to whom were committed the secrets of the divine sacraments, knew there are in everyone innate strains of [original] sin, which must be washed away through water and the Spirit" (Origen, Commentaries on Romans 5:9, ca. 248 A.D.).
Origen's comment here is an example of what is probably the most commonly held notion of "Tradition," that which is orally transmitted. Some 150-160 years removed from the death of the last Apostle, he describes that infant baptism was something taught by the apostles.

Moreover, in the Catholic Church itself, all possible care must be taken, that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all. For that is truly and in the strictest sense Catholic, which, as the name itself and the reason of the thing declare, comprehends all universally. This rule we shall observe if we follow universality, antiquity, consent. We shall follow universality if we confess that one faith to be true, which the whole Church throughout the world confesses; antiquity, if we in no wise depart from those interpretations which it is manifest were notoriously held by our holy ancestors and fathers; consent, in like manner, if in antiquity itself we adhere to the consentient definitions and determinations of all, or at the least of almost all priests and doctors. [St. Vincent of Lerins, Commonitorium, 2.6, ca. 434 A.D.)
Note how St. Vincent describes the meaning of a "universal" belief. It does not necessarily mean a hard and fast 100% perfect unity on a doctrine. He speaks rather of a corporate voice of sorts, and that voice comes from among clergy and doctors of the Church. And if we go through time and see a teaching professed consistently, exceptions notwithstanding, then the Church can have confidence that the Spirit is guiding that voice. As we will see further down, it is ultimately the Spirit that reveals, which is what makes Sacred Tradition part of divine revelation rather than the "human" traditions that bear no such character. Notice also, that St. Vincent includes "interpretations" as part of Tradition. For example, it is quite universally held in the early Church that John 3:5, which references being "born of water and spirit" is a reference to baptism.
[The Synod recognizes the Gospel] as the fountain of all, both saving truth, and moral discipline; and seeing clearly that this truth and discipline are contained in the written books, and the unwritten traditions which, received by the Apostles from the mouth of Christ himself, or from the Apostles themselves, the Holy Ghost dictating, have come down even unto us, transmitted as it were from hand to hand; (the Synod) following the examples of the orthodox Fathers, receives and venerates with an equal affection of piety, and reverence, all the books both of the Old and of the New Testament--seeing that one God is the author of both --as also the said traditions, as well those appertaining to faith as to morals, as having been dictated, either by Christ's own word of mouth, or by the Holy Ghost, and preserved in the Catholic Church by a continuous succession. (Council of Trent, Session IV, April 8, 1546)
Notice at Trent, the notion that the Spirit ("Holy Ghost") is guiding Tradition is also mentioned. And like Irenaeus or Tertullian's ancient comment's, Trent refers to the preservation of Tradition by way of "succession."
Some of them had been originally written; others came to us orally, from father to son; or in a practical way, as through the ceremonies of the Church for instance. For this reason, Traditions are either written, oral or practical. Some Traditions are called Written Traditions because the word Tradition may be taken in its widest signification, to include whatever has been delivered to us. In this sense, even the Scriptures may be called Traditions. (Msgr. George Agius, Tradition and the Church, p.3, 1928)
Msgr. Agius' comments here demonstrate that Tradition need not take only one form. Whether they be an oral transmission, a liturgical practice, or "whatever" has been delivered, such as the Church's passing on and discernment of the Scriptures, these are all traditions.
Therefore Christ the Lord in whom the full revelation of the supreme God is brought to completion (see Cor 1:20; 3:13; 4:6), commissioned the apostles to preach to all men that Gospel which is the source of all saving truth and moral teaching, and to impart to them heavenly gifts. This Gospel had been promised in former times through the prophets, and Christ Himself had fulfilled it and promulgated it with His lips. This commission was faithfully fulfilled by the apostles who, by their oral preaching, by example, and by observances handed on what they had received from the lips of Christ, from living with Him, and from what He did, or what they had learned through the prompting of the Holy Spirit. (Dei Verbum #7, 1965)
Dei Verbum, a document produced at Vatican II, echoes the diversity of methods of transmission. Sometimes on internet forums, inquisitors ask for a "list" of Sacred Tradition. This is, of course, near impossible to exhaust because the Church continues to mature in Her interpretations, understandings, and the voice of the Spirit continues to guide the Church toward "all truth" (John 16:13) revealed. Nevertheless, the Catholic lay person need not enter a state of agnosticism or confusion. The Church has produced a number of catechisms throughout the years to help the faithful. Pope John Paul II said of the current Catechism: "I declare it to be a sure norm for teaching the faith and thus a valid and legitimate instrument for ecclesial communion." Though the Spirit may move the Church to update the Catechism through the years, the faithful can have confidence in assenting and learning the Church's doctrines from its pages.
And [Holy] Tradition transmits in its entirety the Word of God which has been entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit. It transmits it to the successors of the apostles so that, enlightened by the Spirit of truth, they may faithfully preserve, expound and spread it abroad by their preaching. (CCC#81)

The Tradition here in question comes from the apostles and hands on what they received from Jesus' teaching and example and what they learned from the Holy Spirit. The first generation of Christians did not yet have a written New Testament, and the New Testament itself demonstrates the process of living Tradition. (CCC#83)
The above two Catechism paragraphs fortify a couple thoughts. First, that Sacred Tradition can also be considered the "word" of God. It is divine revelation because it is the "Spirit" who reveals it. Second, the assembly and transmission of the New Testament represents Tradition as well.

There was not total agreement on what books were divinely inspired. For instance, Origen referred to "doubt" that Peter even wrote a second epistle:
And Peter, on whom the Church of Christ is built, 'against which the gates of hell shall not prevail,' Matthew 16:18 has left one acknowledged epistle; perhaps also a second, but this is doubtful. (Origen, quoted by Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 6.25.8)
Eusebius himself doubted the divinely inspired nature of even more books, and claimed some of his predecessors did too:
3. Among the disputed writings, which are nevertheless recognized by many, are extant the so-called epistle of James and that of Jude, also the second epistle of Peter, and those that are called the whether they belong to the evangelist or to another person of the same name.

4. Among the rejected writings must be reckoned also the Acts of Paul, and the so-called Shepherd, and the Apocalypse of Peter, and in addition to these the extant epistle of Barnabas, and the so-called Teachings of the Apostles; and besides, as I said, the Apocalypse of John, if it seem proper, which some, as I said, reject, but which others class with the accepted books. (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.25.3-4)
So these are just a couple examples. Suffice it to say, any Christian who accepts the divinely inspired quality of James, Jude, 2nd Peter, Revelation, or any book of Scripture, rely on the Church's Sacred Tradition to have identified them. These examples also show how unanimity, as described above by St. Vincent, need not be total uniformity. We believe the Spirit will guide the Church to discern such things amidst disagreement, just as the Spirit did at the council of Jerusalem in Acts 15 (esp. v. 28).

I just want to finish up with a brief word on the concept of doctrinal development. A couple historical treatments of the idea come to mind. One is St. Vincent of Lerins' Commonitorium in the section: On Development of Christian Knowledge. The other is Bl. John Henry Newman's essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine.

As the Catechism noted, Tradition is "living." The single deposit of faith does not remain a static list of doctrinal data that cannot be more deeply understood over time. Rather, we can see the Church's deeper understanding of text within Scripture itself. For instance, in Genesis, the serpent is never identified as the devil. Yet by the time John wrote his Apocalypse, he explictly calls the ancient serpent the devil (cf. Rev. 12:9; 20:2). The episode of the flood is later understood by Peter as a prefigurement of baptism (cf. 1 Pet. 3:18-21). Paul recognizes the lives of the persons Hagar and Sarah in the Old Testament as figures of two covenants (cf. Gal. 4). Newman's essay has its own section of Scriptural examples as well. The ancient texts didn't acquire new words, but these NT authors saw them in a new light. Rather, their understanding of the ancient texts developed.

As I earlier referenced, Christ promised that the Spirit would lead the Church to "all truth" (John 16:13). One might ask, how can this be now that the last apostle has died, and all Scripture has been written. Even the Church says all doctrine is derived "from this one deposit of faith everything which it presents for belief as divinely revealed." (Dei Verbum, 10b; emphasis mine) One might think of the deposit organically. Although an acorn is once small, it becomes a great tree over time. Scripture tells us that the Apostles and prophets were a "foundation." (e.g. Eph. 2:20) The concept of a foundation is, of course, to be built upon. In the same way, a doctrine cannot be formulated unless it is built upon the single deposit. In other words, novel ideas that don't build upon the existing foundation cannot stand.

Consider also Christ's "body" as the figure of the Church. On more than one occasion, Paul called the Church Christ's "body." (Eph. 1:22-23; Col. 1:24) Throughout Ephesians, Paul has this organic idea of "growth" and references to the body of Christ. Keep that concept in mind and consider another passage regarding the young Jesus.
And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man. (Luke 2:52)
If the Church resembles the incarnate Christ, then the Church too will grow in wisdom as well as in size. The Church can be said to follow stages of life, having a youth, and maturing in wisdom over the years. I think a couple theologians support this interpretation of the Luke verse:
The word also increases in different degrees in those who receive it; and according to the measure of its increase a man appears either an infant, grown up, or a perfect man. (St. Gregory of Nyssa, comment on Luke 2:52, quoted in Catena Aura)

Tropologically, Damascene (De fide, 1 iii c. xxii.) says that Christ progresses in wisdom and grace, not in Himself, but in His members, that is, in Christians. (Cornelius Lapide, commentary on Luke 2:52)