20 thoughts on “WWJT?

  1. Your last paragraph sums up your real point, but for me it brings up a point that probably cannot be verified. Not everything that a Catholic (even the pope) does is infallible, thats obvious. What are the conditions for infallibility? Can those conditions be applied to the particular circumstances, e.g. the inquisitions? What about the whole Papalism versus Conciliarism debate? Of course we have a both/and answer today. If something is a truth then it would be accepted. So was there significant dissent from popes or bishops at any time during the inquisitions? The answer is yes there was. This calls into question your assertion that the inquisition had infallible authority. WWJT, no one of course. When it comes to the inquisitions the historian has to ask why? Why did people beleive that that it was just to use violence. I would also question accusations of relativism when it comes to modern historians analyzing past events. I have heard Madden speak and read at least one of his books (on both occasions it was on the Crusades rather than the inquisitions). What he is speaking of is the historian’s fallacy. What Madden and others warn against is trying to know what was in the mind of the people involved in the inquisitions. A bit postmodern, true, but not exactly the same thing as relativism, Madden, Kamen and others have never suggested that what the torturers did was right.

  2. Yes, there was dissent–and it was punished. Brutally. The assertion of ecclesial infallibility was not invented in 1870 at Vatican I, but was reiterated throughout history (e.g., Pope Gregory VII). Burnings at the stake were endorsed by popes and councils (e.g., Constance), and those who said the burning of heretics was contrary to the will of God were condemned (e.g., Leo X, Exsurge Domine). Some might say this was a matter of personal corruption, not of faith and morals–but it was most certainly a matter of faith and morals–it was the constant assertion of the Catholic Church that this was in accord with faith and that it was a moral act. To say we can’t judge people then by today’s standards overlooks the fact that we have to judge all actions of the church through the ages by Christ’s standards–First Century A.D. standards. Simple question–did or did not the Church deviate from Christ’s teaching? If so, how can it claim infallibility?

  3. It most certainly does, and has throughout history.

    In the statement to which I linked: Gregory VII, Dictatus Papae: “the Roman church has never erred; nor will it err to all eternity.” That’s repeated by many popes and theologians over the centuries.

    Catholic Encyclopedia: Proof of the Church’s Infallibility.

  4. Well anyone (Catholic, Adventist, Baptist or other) who is guided by the Spirit (in a particular action) is by definition infallible.

  5. I disagree. Our response to and our understanding of the Spirit’s guidance is always filtered by our fallen condition. All our righteous deeds are as filthy rags (Isa. 64:6). All–ALL–have sinned (aorist tense, in Greek) and (ALL) fall short (present tense) of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). No Protestant would ever claim such infallibility. Ecclesia Reformata, Semper Reformanda.

  6. Every author of Sacred Scripture was a sinner, yet you claim infallibility for the Scriptures, do you not? So, you must admit that it is possible for the Holy Spirit to give us inerrant truth by means of a fallen, human vessel.

  7. OK, and the humans who put the Inspired Word of God in writing were flawed, but if one carries that argument to its logical conclusion then the Scriptures themselves are useless. Now that may be extreem but I would fear that it is the conclusion to your argument. I fear that your argument places too much emphasis on personal experience, individualism in its worst sense. If the Spirit works through me, I as an imperfect vessel cannot share my experience with another without the message being sullied. As human beings there must be some spark of goodness left in us. I fear that such thinking leads us down a path that considers human beings as totally fallen. Well I can sense myself rambling again … feel free to edit! πŸ™‚

  8. Liam, you make two points, which I’ll address in reverse order (and will address Carson’s point in the second):

    1) You’ve caught on to a major difference between Protestant and Catholic anthropology. Are we “totally depraved” (which means, every area of our being is affected by sin) or is there some “divine spark” that God connects with? Does God love us for our own sake, despite our sinfulness (thus grace as “unmerited favor”) or does he love us for what he sees in us? Are our efforts meritorious (either before or after grace, as the medieval theologians debated), or is our salvation always and only grounded in the substitutionary atonement of Jesus?

    2) This doesn’t make the Scriptures useless, rather, it underscores their uniqueness as inspired, and thus as the sole norm by which all human teachings, regardless from whom they come, must be judged. They are the only infallible guide. The Catholic church’s claim to infallibility was the shield it used against the efforts of folks throughout history to judge her actions and teachings according to Scripture. The Patristic understanding of Sola Scriptura was revived by the Protestant Reformers precisely in response to this claim, pointing out that the Scriptures are above the church, and subjecting every deed or word of the latter to the light of the former.

  9. You’re giving the Church a magisterial positivism that it doesn’t claim for itself. Papal infallibility is a negative charism limited to specific instances, not a positive charism that extends to every Magisterial statement. In the latter instances, what is required of the faithful isn’t what theologians call “divine faith,” but rather, obedience. … Can authentic authority command immoral acts and remain an authentic authority? Yes! Should it? No! One example is David’s commandment to have Uri’ah the Hittite slaughtered by the enemy. Was David any less the Lord’s anointed after that event? Nope. Magisterial authority in the Catholic Church is not intrinsically tied to truth, as you would have it.

  10. (I edited the time stamp on this post to place it here in the comment queue.)

    I think you’re confusing a couple of things–1) the general infallibility of the church, as attested through the ages, and 2) the special infallibility of the pope, also held, but dogmatically defined at Vatican 1. See the links I gave from Gregory VII and the Catholic Encyclopedia. In both cases, infallibility is limited to definitions of faith and morals, not personal conduct, and I have restricted it to that here–the Church’s teaching on the appropriateness of torture and execution of heretics is most certainly a definition of faith and morals, and folks were condemned (and killed) for questioning it. It was reiterated by repeated popes and councils. The kinds of things I’ve cited are what is quoted in dogmatic collections such as Denzinger, Ott, and Ferraris. Exsurge Domine is cited as dogmatic authority by Paul VI in Indulgentiarum Doctrina.

    And you say quite clearly that even in the case of non-infallible statements of the Magisterium, the faithful are obliged to obey. Scripture says, however, “We ought to obey God rather than man” (Acts 5:29) regardless of the authority claimed by that man.

    You also express my point better than I could when you say, “Magisterial authority in the Catholic Church is not intrinsically tied to truth, as you would have it.” Indeed. That’s the problem. Our conscience must be bound by the truth, not by human authority; the Bereans were commended by Paul for searching the Scriptures daily to see whether the things he said were so (Acts 17:11). We must not just “obey with docility” what priests and bishops and doctors of the church say, but must compare it “to the law and to the testimony” (Isaiah 8:20). We can only submit to that authority that is rooted in Truth–only Truth can bind the conscience. You are the one advocating a Magisterial positivism here.

  11. Bill as you well know I do not claim to speak for the Church but I do not remember the Church ever saying that it was above scripture, equal, maybe but never above. To say that the Fathers considered scripture above tradition/Church is easy to see for the first generation of Fathers but what about the later generations of Fathers. There is never an implication that the Church is superio(u)r to Scripture, equal but not above. As for the Fathers they helped form the Creed, where is the Trinity in the Scriptures, at least explicitly? It was the Fathers that gave us tradition, this tradition came from their understanding of scripture.

  12. The Church has claimed itself (or the pope, specifically) to be the sole authoritative interpreter of Scripture. That’s the thumb over knob of the baseball bat (assuming your familiarity with the way Americans decide who goes first!). And I’ve already cited for you instances of papal claims to have authority to modify divine law.

    Where’s the Trinity explicitly in Scripture? Matthew 28:18-20, for one, and in the Biblical narrative in which the Son prays to the Father in the Spirit, and the Son breathes the Spirit, which is sent by the Father. Those using the King James Version (or another version based on the Textus Receptus) also point to 1 John 5:7 (a verse omitted in the Alexandrian texts, but attested by Cyprian [Schaff, 5:423]).

    Cyprian: “again it is written of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, ‘And these three are one.'”

    1 John 5:7 (KJV): “For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.”

  13. OK, its not that I don’t believe in the Trinity, its just that I wanted to find an example of something that orthodox Christians believe in, something from the Creed that is not explicit in Scripture, something that needed some interpretation, an authority to decide and decide based on Church practice.

    But lets get back to the real question, did the Church claim that its decisions that directly and deliberately led to human suffering were infallible. I am not convinced. I think that the Spanish Inquisition is a red herring, Kamen makes it clear that it owed more to Spanish nationalism than Roman orthodoxy. How about narrowing the debate to the Roman Inquisition? BTW it may be the national pastime but I have never understood baseball πŸ™‚

  14. What does the church say about the decisions of ecumenical Councils? What was the decision of the Council of Constance regarding Jan Hus?

    I don’t see that Kamen makes that point. Chapter and verse, please. πŸ™‚

    Oh, gonna make me go digging in my library again, are you?

    Re: Baseball … well, I don’t understand some of those games you play in Eire … but you are in America now.

    *** Point of information–In case the other readers haven’t caught on, I find this kind of conversation much more fun with someone I know. πŸ™‚ ***

  15. I have to dig myself, that particular book is in storage right now but I will look. As far as I remember Kamen linked the Spanish Inquizition to the Limpieza de Sangre laws. These laws were not unlike the Nurenberg Laws, in that they defined what it meant to be Spanish and being Jewish meant not being Spanish. Noble families with Jewish blood were looked down upon and targeted if they had Jewish blood. Wasn’t Teresa of Avila suspect at some stage, was it her writings or rumor of Jewish blood that made her suspect? There is a short article on the Limpieza laws in Wikipedia.
    I, by the way, am waiting for the Rugby World Cup in Sept. Ireland and USA are in different groups but could meet at some stage, if the USA can beat a world power like Tonga πŸ™‚
    Seriously though, I think it would help if the Spanish Inquisition could be excluded as an excersise in Spanish ethnic cleansing. This would concentrate the debate on the more benign (though still very bad) Roman Inquisition.

  16. Of course the Roman Inquisition was notorious for among other things the Egardo Mortra case, not a high point in Church/Jewish relations.

  17. Never mind regarding the Kamen citation. In rereading it, I focused on a couple of chapters on methodology. The chapters to which you refer on Limpieza de Sangre come after those.

    OK, let’s shift the discussion to the Roman. I do happen to have a book on the Mortara case handy. πŸ™‚

  18. The question is did the Church and its leaders claim that it was infallible when it made decisions regarding torture. To start with something cannot be declared as infallible unless it is revealed implicitly or explicitly. Is that not the case?

  19. Again, look at the treatment of those who took exception. And the fact that we are talking about papal and conciliar decrees means this is the highest level of the Church making these decisions. And they felt it was revealed–they felt they had the same authority as Israel did in the Old Testament.

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