I have often commented on the fact that comments sections in blogs are rarely helpful. In fact, they invite the worst of the Internet to show up to attempt to gain a very brief audience for their viewpoints. And it seems that when it comes to Rome, those who post in defense of that system believe they have no reason to actually listen to what anyone else has to say, let alone do they need to do any reading in sources other than their own. Here are two examples.
   First, Steve Camp actually decided to post over on Jimmy Akin’s blog. The replies are classic “we see nothing beyond our very narrow realm” types of ad-hominem filled invective. Read at your own risk.
   Over at the STR blog, the number of comments have doubled fairly quickly. And since I linked to the blog this morning, a number of other folks have showed up, and, as normal, led by some of my regular RC Internet stalkers like David Waltz, the “you are so mean!” ad-hominem has taken over, ending the usefulness of the thread. This is a common tactic: ignore the substance, go personal, and you will have the admiration of the majority of mushy-thinking modern readers. But those who are not so easily thrown off track can see what happened in that commentary thread. To help others, I am collecting the comments from Frank Beckwith, to which I replied, and putting them together here in the order in which they took place. I will let the readers judge: who brought up important, meaningful questions, and who ignored those issues?

“The practices of the early church, how they used these books in church services and to get authoritative teaching, demonstrate that there was an early consensus about the canon.” But while this consensus was forming the church engaged in other practices that Greg and you reject: penance, confession, indulgences, Real Presence of the Eucharist, and a rudimentary understanding of purgatory. In order to reject this, you have to say that “consensus” only counts for canonicity but not for the liturgical practices in which the Scriptures were used and from which the consensus you cite is extracted.

In addition, why should any Christian accept any Church Council? If the answer is because it is consistent with Scripture, then where in Scripture is the list of 27 NT books? It’s not there. Remember that the Scriptura of Sola Sciptura applies to the Bible as a whole and not to its separated parts, for if that were the case someone who just believed in the Book of Numbers as inspired would be obeying Sola Scriptura. But we know that can’t be right. So, until the whole is fixed, the disparate parts, though inspired, are not the Scriptura of sola Scriptura per se. After all, many Christian communities did not have the entire collection for generations, though virtually all of them had wholes or parts of what would eventually become the canon. There was no printing press and many Christians were illiterate. And yet, many of them maintained a largely orthodox theology. Why? Because the church universal protected and applied the faith delivered to them by their predecessors. It was a faith inexorably connected to the church’s spiritual practices.

But the fixing of the canon itself–the judgment that this is the correct collection of texts–is something above and beyond the text, just as my judgment that defendant X is guilty is not identical to X’s guilt. It is a different sort of truth about the defendant. So, sola Scriptura is a theory about the nature of a particular collection of books that we think of as one collection. And yet, it is not something explicitly stated in any of the books. That is, no one book pronounces an explicit and definitive judgment about the canonicity of a collection of books whose authors, for a variety of reasons, did not know about the other books.

So, Bruce is correct that there was a consensus about the canon’s contents. But there were also close calls–I Peter, e.g. A church council made a judgment that we today accept. But if all you have is a consensus argument, you have an external standard–consensus–that is adequate to recognize the content of the canon. But then you must believe that consensus is an infallible principle by which one can discover canons. But this results in two problems. 1. It means you have to take seriously the practices I mentioned above–confession, penance–that were accepted widely in the Church. 2. It means that there is an infallible church standard–consensus–by which we can determine canonicity. In that case, you’ve moved closer to Rome.

Posted by: Francis Beckwith | August 06, 2007 at 01:08 PM

Many years ago I was on WEZE radio in Boston, MA, with then recent Catholic convert Gerry Matatics (the same Matatics who is now a sedevacantist but who had been, up to that time, a staunch defender of orthodox Roman Catholicism, at least as staff apologist for Catholic Answers). Mr. Matatics and I had done two debates the preceding week at Boston College, one on justification, the other on the Apocrypha. At one point during the radio program I asked Mr. Matatics the following question.

How did the faithful Jewish person know that Isaiah and 2 Chronicles were Scripture fifty years before the coming of Christ?

He was completely stunned by the question. For those Roman Catholics who argue that the authority of the Church is necessary for the establishment of the canon of Scripture, rather than seeing Scripture as an artifact of revelation (a point I made in _Scripture Alone_, pp. 102-109), the question poses what I think is a truly unsolvable puzzle. Over the years since I first asked the question on the fly of Mr. Matatics, I have received the following kinds of replies:

1) Some have said no one could, in fact, know, until the Papacy was established. However, this flies in the face of the fact that the Lord Jesus held men accountable to what was found in the Scriptures during His ministry, which He could not have done had this been true.

2) Some have said they could only known by reference to the Urim and the Thummim, i.e., by asking the High Priest to inquire of the Lord on their behalf. Yes, seriously, I have had some suggest this. Obviously, it suffers from many problems, but the response to the first reply would apply equally well here.

3) Some have said they would have to follow the “Jewish magisterium.” That sounds great, until you realize that the Jews never accepted the very books that Trent dogmatically canonized in 1546, creating the conundrum of magisterial contradiction.

The fact is, the question points out that the demand to have an infallible authority define the canon is anachronistic at best, and, in the case of Rome’s claims, unworkable in light of the fact that the first *dogmatic* and hence *infallible* definition is that of Trent, leaving us with the untenable idea that no one could truly use Scripture until after the time of the Reformation. I leave aside here all the most interesting facts concerning how even Popes rejected the final conclusions of Trent (Pope Gregory the Great rejecting Maccabees, for example). Those who have studied these issues in depth, from both sides, well know the facts of the matter.

There is one last thing I would like to note. I would like to ask anyone who claims that the Roman Catholic Church, as it exists today, has existed for nearly 2000 years, to explain something to me. When the Council of Nicea convened, around 318 (by one count) bishops attended. Could a Roman Catholic representative point me to a single bishop at Nicea who believed what you believe de fide? That is, was there a single bishop in attendance who believed, for example, in transubstantiation? Purgatory, as defined by Rome today? Indulgences? The thesaurus meritorum? Immaculate Conception? Bodily Assumption? Papal Infallibility? If these things have been defined de fide, are we to believe that the gospel has “changed” since that time, if, in fact, these things were not defined as part of the gospel at that time? Are we not left with the specter of the comments of Gerry Matatics in my debate with him on Long Island in 1996 wherein he boldly stated, before the entire audience, that we have the very same warrant to believe in the bodily assumption of Mary into heaven that we have to believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the grave? Hard to believe? Here is the video of him saying it:


I will be reviewing a number of the comments made on STR Sunday evening this week on The Dividing Line. I did indeed feel it was a very educational exchange.

James White

Posted by: James White | August 06, 2007 at 05:11 PM

I am quite certain that Peter and Paul did not offer a philosophical account of the doctrine of the Trinity that is identical to the substance-person distinctions that one finds during the Nicean debates and later at Chalcedon. This post-4th century account is in fact the one held by contemporary orthodox Christians, Protestants and Catholics alike. So, by analogy, if a doctrine must be held in its fullest and most philosophically sophisticated form in order to be Christian (which I believe Mr. White is arguing), then Nicea itself is as dubious as transubstantiation or purgatory. Of course, the question is whether the Christian church at the time of Nicea engaged in practices and held beliefs that were earlier, less sophisticated, understandings of these doctrines. The answer is clearly “yes,” as J.N.D Kelly shows in his book Early Christian Doctrine. Consider, for example, Canon 13 from the Council of Nicea that discusses the administering of communion to certain excommunicated Christians near death. Called viaticum (which is Latin for “provisions for the journey”), today it would be called a type of indulgence, since its purpose is to impart God’s free grace to the excommunicated recipient for the sake of his eternal soul. The Canon calls it “last and most indispensable” and part of “ancient canonical law,” which means that it goes much further back than Nicea in 325 A.D.

In response to Tim: the theoretical framework you offer is interesting, but it only works, if it works at all, if you are trying to figure out a way to keep the canon while jettisoning the practices in which the canon was read and was an integral part of Christian worship. Why would you want to do that unless you were already committed to that demarcation? What I am suggesting is you entertain the possibility that this demarcation is a post-Reformation, anti-sacramental, free church construction that the church of the early centuries would have thought bizarre. Let me explain.

If our predecessors, those that gave us the riches of Christian theology in its earliest centuries, thought that the Christian life was enriched, strengthened, and our love for Jesus deepened, by practices like penance, confession, and contemplative prayer, and if these predecessors read the Scriptures in the midst of and as an integral aspect of these practices, why would you not entertain them with the same deference you respect their judgment of Scripture? Yes, they could have been wrong. But first you should do yourself a favor and see how they saw Scripture and how they intertwined its contents with the life of the Church, a liturgical church that is quite a distance from overhead projectors and worship bands with which most of us are familiar.

I do want to thank Greg and Melinda for having me on as a guest. I will confess that my performance was less than stellar, largely because I was prepared for one sort of interview and received another. That is not Greg’s or Melinda’s fault. They both are good souls with pure motives, and I love them very much. It is my fault. For I had traveled quite a distance in the past several years, from Protestantism to Catholicism, not realizing that some of my friends were not on the same journey. So, for me, what seemed like a small trek in late April was the conclusion of a spiritual jog that had begun, inadvertently, many years prior. Thus, I saw my friends as only an arms length away, when in fact the distance was greater. And yet, we are so close; so close in fact that we can bridge the distance by our mutual affection and love for Christ, something that theological disputation may not ever be able to bridge this side of heaven.

God bless Stand To Reason.


Posted by: Francis Beckwith | August 06, 2007 at 08:27 PM

Is the use of the term “viaticum” in the 13th canon of the Council of Nicea evidence of an early belief in indulgences?

Dr. Beckwith, in his STR interview, alleged that the practice of indulgences has roots going back to the Council of Nicea, and before. He has repeated this claim in a post on the STR blog. But does such a claim withstand scrutiny? Let’s examine it.

First, the practice of indulgences is recognized by all to be secondary to, and derivative from, the concept of the thesaurus meritorum, the treasury of merit. This concept has been traced in its development primarily to the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, giving rise then to the practice of the selling of indulgences and the funding of the building of St. Peter’s in Rome. As the Catholic Encyclopedia notes, “The development of this doctrine in explicit form was the work of the great Schoolmen, notably Alexander of Hales (Summa, IV, Q. xxiii, m. 3, n. 6), Albertus Magnus (In IV Sent., dist. xx, art. 16), and St. Thomas (In IV Sent., dist. xx, q. i, art. 3, sol. 1).” (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07783a.htm). Add to this reality the fact that the very concept of purgatory itself was a late development, with only portions of the later doctrine being found as late as Gregory the Great (who gave the greatest impetus to its development, but still did not hold to the de fide doctrine of the fifteenth century). If the foundational elements had not as yet taken recognizable form at these late dates, upon what basis, then, can one meaningfully read into an early fourth century document such concepts? This would involve the grossest forms of historical anachronism. As Dr. Beckwith stated himself on STR, “I am not a historian.” So I wonder, what historians does he cite who make a serious argument for Canon 13 referring to indulgences as defined by Rome?

It might be good to read the 13th canon:

Concerning the departing, the ancient canonical law is still to be maintained, to wit, that, if any man be at the point of death, he must not be deprived of the last and most indispensable Viaticum. But, if any one should be restored to health again who has received the communion when his life was despaired of, let him remain among those who communicate in prayers only. But in general, and in the case of any dying person whatsoever asking to receive the Eucharist, let the Bishop, after examination made, give it him.

A quick glance at various Roman Catholic sources reveals that it is a great leap to go from the simple meaning of “viaticum” as it was used in the fourth century to the much later concept of indulgences. At this point in history this referred to the giving of the Eucharist to those who were on death’s door step. Of course, I hasten to point out that at this time there was no reservation of consecrated hosts. One will search in vain for any tabernacles, monstrances, etc., in this time period. They simply do not exist, and that fact is confirmed by Roman Catholic sources. The church did not maintain them or treat them with any special care after the eucharistic service itself. There is a fairly obvious reason for this. “Real Presence” and “transubstantiation” are two different things logically, theologically, and historically, despite how often they are conflated anachronistically by modern Roman Catholics. In any case, the canon simpyl has to do with the practice of bringing the eucharist to those who are dying. To read into this some kind of reference to indulgences is to provide yet another tremendous example of anachronistic reading of early church sources.

But while we are in the canons of the Council of Nicea (a council that had to fight for acceptance in the decades that came after, which even saw the bishop of Rome abandoning its defense), I think there is another canon that should be examined, for I wonder if Dr. Beckwith puts as much weight in what it says?

Canon 6

Let the ancient customs in Egypt, Libya and Pentapolis prevail, that the Bishop of Alexandria have jurisdiction in all these, since the like is customary for the Bishop of Rome also. Likewise in Antioch and the other provinces, let the Churches retain their privileges. And this is to be universally understood, that if any one be made bishop without the consent of the Metropolitan, the great Synod has declared that such a man ought not to be a bishop. If, however, two or three bishops shall from natural love of contradiction, oppose the common suffrage of the rest, it being reasonable and in accordance with the ecclesiastical law, then let the choice of the majority prevail.

If, in fact, it was the “ancient custom” for the Bishop of Rome to be viewed as the supreme head of the faithful, I have to wonder why Nicea said it was the ancient custom for the Bishop of Alexandria to have the headship over his own jurisdiction, just as Rome had jurisdiction in Italy?

In any case, I would like to close by noting that Dr. Beckwith did not answer my question. I asked: who at Nicea believed as he believes today? What bishop held to the doctrines that Rome has defined de fide today? The answer is painfully clear: no one did. Not a single one of those bishops believed de fide what Dr. Beckwith believes today, and what he must, if he is consistent, define as the very definitions of the gospel. I fully understand why Dr. Beckwith would hesitate to “go all in” when it comes to Rome’s authority claims. But the fact of the matter is, there is no logical, consistent stopping point. That is why Matatics said what he said in the clip I referred to before.

Finally, given that the purgatory issue was central in the STR interview, may I once again invite folks to consider this formal debate section on the topic of purgatory with a credentialed Roman Catholic priest and scholar?


Likewise, in reference to Rome’s misuse and abuse of church history:


James White

Posted by: James White | August 06, 2007 at 09:40 PM

Mr. White’s question assumes that whatever is believed today in its current form must have been held in that identical form generations ago. But given that assumption–which I thought I had adequately unpacked in my reductio above–nothing of the rich metaphysical grounding of Trinitarianism, Christ’s two natures, or even the nuanced understandings of Sola Scriptura or total depravity held by Reformed brethren survives that standard. Does anyone seriously believe that without the resources of substance philosophy that the doctrine of the Trinity or the Incarnation could be adequately and elegantly presented and defended as they were at Nicea and Chalcedon? For example, if one reads Scripture alone, one can certainly come up with Jesus being God, but it would be quite a trick to move from that to substances, persons, properties, and essences, the necessary elements that today we simply take for granted, without the resources of Greek philosophy. These concepts–Trinity and incarnation–are an inheritance from which we spend spiritual capital and think we earned it. But as these concepts were being developed in their fullest forms, the Church was busy helping its members to become more holy and devout through the practices of confession and penance. These were not merely theoretical issues, but questions that involved the eternal fate of Christians that had betrayed their faith while their fellows were martyred. This posed an interesting problem for the Church that had no easy scriptural solution. How do we welcome back traitors while honoring the sacrifice of our more noble brethren. It was in this context that the sacraments confession and penance–with a robust view of God’s grace coupled with our responsibility as Christians to the life of the church and its perserverance–were developed. They have their roots in Scripture but they arise from history. Christianity, after all, is an historical faith, and not merely an ahistorical theological system.

If Mr. White is correct, we should all become restorationist.

Posted by: Francis Beckwith | August 06, 2007 at 10:30 PM

I am left wondering, just a bit, how pointing out that entire monuments of dogmatic theology–such as Papal Infallibility, the Immaculate Conception (a concept taught against over the centuries by no less than *seven* bishops of Rome), the Bodily Assumption (first found in the Transitus literature which, ironically, was condemned by Pope Gelasius, and that half a millennium after Christ), and the entire complex of beliefs that developed in the middle ages into what is today the doctrines of purgatory, the thesaurus meritorum, and indulgences–were simply unknown to the church in the days of Nicea is the same as asking for belief in the “identical form.” This assumes, without providing any basis for doing so, that an at least *recognizable* form of these dogmas (I do hope everyone notes the term dogma, a de fide definition that cannot be rejected by the faithful follower of the Roman See) existed in the hearts and minds of the bishops of Nicea. Is this what you are alleging, Dr. Beckwith? If so, could you please be so kind as to document these things? It is possible that in the 90 to 120 days of “marathon reading” you did earlier this year you discovered what I have failed to find in 18 years of study, so I would be most edified to find this material. But since you have admitted, repeatedly, that you had not even read the canons and decrees of the Council of Trent until earlier this year, I have a strong feeling that such works as Salmon, Whittaker, Goode, and numerous other such works, have likewise escaped your notice.

You are, of course, quite right to assert that many modern Roman Catholic concepts have ancient roots. The entire Marian complex can indeed be traced to very early sources. Early gnostic sources, that is, not to distinctly Christian ones. The perpetual virginity of Mary, for example, is first found not in truly Christian writings, but in the gnostic gospels of the second century. Have you considered, Dr. Beckwith, what it means for Rome to have the capacity, the ability, to define, de fide I remind you—this is not a belief you can dismiss or just “ponder,” at least not while asserting in other venues that “words have meaning”–that Mary remained physically “in tact” as a virgin *after* the birth of Jesus? I can fully understand how the gnostics worked that out, being docetic in their thinking, but just how, sir, can one read Isaiah 9 and read that a child will be *born* to us and then allow an authority not once identified in Scripture to overturn the obvious meaning of the text so as to believe that this birth somehow involved the supernatural removal of the baby without the natural physical effects of birth upon the mother? And have you pondered what it means that such an amazing assertion can be attached to the gospel of Jesus Christ as a necessary article of belief?

It seems that part of your developing apologetic is to assert that since important developments in creedal theology took place within a context where, for example, confession or penance was taking place (you attached these directly to such issues as how to deal with the lapsed, i.e., the issues behind the Novatian Schism, Donatist Controversy, etc.,), this means that such practices are to be seen not only as valid today, but, evidently, as more valid in the “one true church” (as Benedict has reminded us of late) than any other view. But I have to wonder at the logic of such an assertion, and its historical validity as well. I first remind you of some statements from that period that probably did not appear in Jimmy Akin’s books (but did appear in such works as Soli Deo Gloria’s work on sola scriptura, for example—did you read that in your marathon?). The great defender of Nicea, he who stood against councils and bishops for decades in defense of the deity of Christ (upon what epistemological or ecclesiastical foundation could one stand for decades against the voice of numerous councils, attended by more bishops than Nicea, along with the condemnations of numerous bishops in all of the major sees, Dr. Beckwith—if, of course, your current views are correct?), Athanasius, in Contra Gentiles 1:1 put it rather bluntly, “The holy and inspired Scriptures are sufficient of themselves for the preaching of the truth.” Do tell me, Dr. Beckwith—if the man of God can be thoroughly equipped for every good work by that which is theopneustos (2 Timothy 3:16-17), and if the inspired Scriptures are sufficient of themselves for the preaching of the truth, as Athanasius asserted, how do the Scriptures sufficiently equip you to preach the Bodily Assumption of Mary which, as a de fide doctrine of the Christian faith, defined as such by the authority of the One True Church, would of necessity be a good work for the man of God? Just a question that I wish someone had been able to ask. But I digress. Do you agree, or disagree, with Cyril of Jerusalem, who instructed his readers, “In regard to the divine and holy mysteries of the faith, not the least part may be handed on without the Holy Scriptures. Do not be led astray by winning words and clever arguments. Even to me, who tell you these things, do not give ready belief, unless you receive from the Holy Scriptures the proof of the things which I announce. The salvation in which we believe is not proved from clever reasoning, but from the Holy Scriptures” (Catechetical Lectures 4:17). And in your reading I am certain you encountered the words of Gregory of Nyssa, who wrote, “…we make the Holy Scriptures the canon and the rule of every dogma; we of necessity look upon that, and receive alone that which may be made conformable to the intention of those writings (On the Soul and Resurrection). Are these statements, sir, just as valid and important as noting the ancient practice of penance?

But more than just noting the presence of these kinds of statements (and there are many, many more), I likewise point you to numerous practices and beliefs not embraced by Rome today. Why are those beliefs less important, or even to be rejected? Because of the truly consistent epistemology that lies behind Rome’s claims: sola ecclesia. Rome gets to define not only the extent (canon) and meaning (interpretation) of Scripture, infallibly, but the extent and meaning of tradition as well. She gets to pick and choose between what practices and activities of the myriad one can find in early church history she will invest with some kind of special authority and which ones she will reject. She gets to define what is tradition, and what isn’t. So, when Irenaeus gives us the very earliest claim to an apostolic teaching or belief in all of patristic literature in claiming the apostles taught Jesus was more than fifty years old at His death (an idea he was promoting to oppose a particular gnostic error of his day), we all can together identify such a tradition as corrupt, and reject it. Yet, if the very first claim by a Christian writer that he has an apostolic teaching that exists outside of Scripture is to be rejected as corrupt, and that within a hundred years after the death of the last apostles, upon what logical basis are we to assume Rome kept pure a fragment of tradition, unknown to the early centuries in any form, never once preached, never once bound upon the consciences of the faithful, upon which she could define as dogma the Bodily Assumption of Mary in the middle of the twentieth century? Why? Because Rome says so, that’s why. It is as simple as that.

Dr. Beckwith, one does not honor the early church by embracing Rome’s absolute authority claims. One can honor the lives of great men of God and still examine their teachings on the basis of the touchstone of the Word of God. I can honor Athanasius and then do as he instructed me to do in testing his teachings by that which is God-breathed. In fact, I suggest that I can be far more honest in my handling of patristic materials than a faithful, consistent Roman Catholic can, for the Roman Catholic has already been instructed that on certain issues a “unanimous consent” of the Fathers exists—when in fact, that simply isn’t true. I can look honestly as the political development of the Papacy over time. Can you? Can you see Augustine representing the majority of early writers in rejecting the very foundations of modern Papal claims, not only in his view of Matthew 16, the Cathedra Petri, etc., but in his rejection of Zosimus’ claims to authority in the matter of Pelagius, and accept what it meant concerning the views he held at the time? Or do you have to find a way “around” these facts because Rome tells you otherwise? Can you accept that without forged documents such as the Donation of Constantine and the Pseudo-Isidorian Decretals that the entire foundation of Papal authority as it developed in history would be altered beyond recognition? Does it mean something to you that your new ultimate epistemological authority in matters of faith and morals hangs in mid-air, its historical claims having collapsed long ago?

I do hope that we all, everyone considering these things, will recognize that all of this comes back to the key issue: the gospel. You were asked by the second caller, Paul, how your gospel has changed. You did not really answer the question. Eleven years ago on the Bible Answer Man broadcast I discussed Roman Catholicism for three hours with Tim Staples, now staff apologist with Catholic Answers. At one point we agreed, thankfully, to this point: that if he and I were to be protesting abortion outside of a clinic somewhere, and someone were to walk up to the both of us and say, “What must I do to be saved?” that we would respond in substantively different manners. We would *not* say the same thing in response. And so I ask: if apostolic succession is important, shouldn’t it be an apostolic succession of truth rather than an apostolic succession of persons? Should it not be our first priority to preach and teach what the apostles themselves taught? I have a sad feeling that at this point you would question whether we could even do so (i.e., that you would question the sufficiency of Scripture for such a task). But it is that very issues that separates us, epistemologically, and, since we preach different gospels, on the very level of faith itself.

Posted by: James White | August 07, 2007 at 06:55 AM

One of the most important things that Greg Koukl teaches is to read people charitably. It is something that we all fail to do on occasion, and I certainly have failed to do on occasion as well.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, we have an example of this for us right here in the comments box of the STR blog. Mr. White states to me, “… [Y]ou have admitted, repeatedly, that you had not even read the canons and decrees of the Council of Trent until earlier this year.” This is not true. However, an uncharitable reading of my initial mention of this could lead one to that conclusion. Here’s what I stated in my National Catholic Register interview:

“There was an aesthetic aspect to this well: The Catholic view of justification elegantly tied together James and Paul and the teachings of Jesus that put a premium on a believer’s faithful practice of Christian charity.

Catholicism does not teach `works righteousness.’ It teaches faith in action as a manifestation of God’s grace in one’s life. That’s why Abraham’s faith results in righteousness only when he attempts to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice to God.

Then I read the Council of Trent, which some Protestant friends had suggested I do. What I found was shocking. I found a document that had been nearly universally misrepresented by many Protestants, including some friends.

I do not believe, however, that the misrepresentation is the result of purposeful deception. But rather, it is the result of reading Trent with Protestant assumptions and without a charitable disposition.”

You can read the entire interview here: http://ncregister.com/site/article/2772

What I said is both consistent and inconsistent with the truth of White’s statement: “that you had not even read the canons and decrees of the Council of Trent until earlier this year.”

Now, let me ask STR readers, knowing what you know about me, how would you charitably approach my comments? Would you assume that prior to earlier this year that I had never read Trent, or would you think, “he took the suggestion of friends and reacquainted himself with a text he had not picked up in years.” If you chose the latter, you are correct.

This is why in my Ignatius Press interview–give soon after the NCR interview–I clarify matters:

“IgnatiusInsight.com: Do you have any formal training in Evangelical theology?

Dr. Beckwith: Yes. I earned my first master’s degree (M.A. in Christian Apologetics) under the direction of two Lutheran theologians, Charles Manske and John Warwick Montgomery. It was at the old Simon Greenleaf University that has since merged with Trinity International University in Deerfield, Illinois. In any event, at SGU I studied Evangelical theology, apologetics, comparative religion, and church history under Montgomery, Manske, and Michael Smythe. Among the several works that Smythe had us read for his church history course was Progress of Dogma by James Orr, the great Scottish Presbyterian scholar. This is when I first came in contact with the Council of Trent. Orr’s interpretation, as well as the interpretations of others I would read over the years, would shape my understanding of Trent when I finally got around to reading it for the first time a few years later. However, as I pointed out in my NCR interview, when I read Trent again with fresh eyes several months ago at the suggestion of several friends, I was shocked at how much I had missed the first time, largely because I did not read it then with a teachable spirit. I had read it more like a prosecutor trying to entrap a hostile witness rather than as a dispassionate judge seeking to issue a just verdict based on all the evidence.”

You can read the IP interview here: http://www.ignatiusinsight.com/features2007/fbeckwith_intervw1_jun07.asp

I believe those are the only two places in which I mentioned the Council of Trent since having returned to the Catholic Church. The first does not say what Mr. White says it says; and the second clarifies what I was saying in the first. Hence, I did not “admit repeatedly” what Mr. White claims.

Look, we all make mistakes, and I have made my share of them. So, I suspect that once Mr. White realizes his error he will make the appropriate changes on his blog and then ask STR to alter his posting here to reflect the truth about my comments. That seems like the Christian thing to do.

Now you see why reading people charitably is important. Mr. White is a Reformed Christian with a point of view that has a rich and attractive intellectual pedigree, and many of you share his convictions on a variety of matters (and I share some of them as well). But when a friend offers an uncharitable reading of another, it detracts from what we could otherwise learn from our friend. We begin to wonder, “If he can misread Beckwith on such a simple matter, one that a charitable reading will deliver a result that does not impugn his brother’s intellectual virtue but he chooses the opposite, perhaps he reads others that way as well. Perhaps his readings of Church Fathers, Popes, and Councils could be read with a more scholarly, less adversarial posture, that leads one to conclusions more congenial to his opponents’ understanding of these figures and bodies.” Perhaps. But that is another discussion for another day.

I hope the STR readers will indulge me with their graciousness and allow me to depart from participation in this combox so that I may live the life of Christ rather than just arguing about it. I’m 46 years old and I’m tired, for now.


Posted by: Francis Beckwith | August 07, 2007 at 08:25 AM

From the STR interview, time mark 42:37:

“If you read the Council of Trent…which, by the way, really shocked me. I expected to read this sort of horrible document, you know, requiring people to stick pins in their eyes, you know, and flagellate themselves, you know, and it turns out that there are things in there that are quite amazing, that the initial grace is given to us by God, in fact, there’s a condemnation in there for anyone who says that our works, apart from grace…I mean, I thought to myself, I had not been told…I had been misinformed!”

Could someone please explain to me how these words were actually meant to indicate, “Now, I had read the Council of Trent before.” Excuse me, but how can you say you expected to read “this sort of horrible document, you know, requiring people to stick pins in their eyes, you know, and flagellate themselves, you know, and it turns out that there are things in there that are quite amazing…” when what you were really saying is “I had read the document before with such prejudice that I had not really understood it, but this time I chose to read it with charity instead.” I’m sorry, but I cannot even begin to understand how you can make this kind of statement when you had already studied the document in the past.

I would further challenge the repeated assertion that reading Trent with “charity” makes all the difference in the world. If by “charity” one means “in its original context,” that’s fine, but is Beckwith alleging that he did not read Trent in its original context years before? I have cited the Council of Trent many times in my own writings. Where have I ever done so a-historically or a-contextually? Do some fundamentalists quote Trent as if it were a baseball bat without the slightest idea of its historical context? Of course, but is Beckwith identifying himself as such a narrow-minded fundamentalist? Surely not!

So Dr. Beckwith’s claims regarding his reading of Trent now raises all sorts of new questions that he has not addressed. If, in fact, he had read Trent as a serious student of theology in the past, as he seems to be claiming now, how could he say what he said on STR, quoted above? How could he be “amazed” at what any basic reading of the text would have revealed to any layman? How can anyone read Trent and not know it condemns Pelagianism? How could he not know the most basic issues addressed by the Council? (I note in passing that some of his comments to Koukl could be taken to indicate that he does not understand that the canon listing at Trent was the first dogmatic definition of the canon in Roman theology, including the Apocrypha). A person who has read Trent knows that the issue of the Reformation has never, ever been the *necessity* of grace. Everyone knows that. The dividing line at the Reformation was the *sufficiency* of grace, not the necessity of grace. That was the issue then…it remains the issue today.

James White

Posted by: James White | August 07, 2007 at 10:41 AM

One more thing before I go….

Randy has it right. It is one thing to read Trent in your mid-20s after being tutored by some fine Lutheran minds. It is quite another to read it again in your mid-40s with two decades of reading, writing, and discussion under one’s belt, not to mention the soberness that comes with age.

My expression of bewilderment on the radio is an extension of the joy I felt when I realized that my previous understanding of Trent was the result of looking at it through 16th century Lutheran lenses.

But once one reads Lehmann-Pannenberg and others on this, one get a better sense of the condemnations and their import and how they relate to us today. It is interesting that my prior reading of Trent–in the mid-80s–was prior to my philosophical training. It was my philosophical training in classical and medievel thought that helped me to better understand the deeper philosophical, and anthropological, issues at stake at Trent, something that only became apparent to me when I read Trent with “fresh eyes” months ago. Nominalism, unfortunately, had infected certain segments of Church life and had spawned a perverted application of the church’s teachings that Luther rightfully objected to. Unfortunately, that very same nominalism was part and parcel of his “solution.”

I’ve said enough already. I’m OCD’ing on this stuff and need to rest.


Posted by: Francis Beckwith | August 07, 2007 at 12:54 PM

Brief response to only one issue: I read Trent over twenty years ago myself. And it remains impossible for me to even begin to understand how anyone with a modicum of seriousness could have read a work in their twenties and then, in their forties (Beckwith and I are almost the same age), make the following statements:

“If you read the Council of Trent…which, by the way, really shocked me. I expected to read this sort of horrible document, you know, requiring people to stick pins in their eyes, you know, and flagellate themselves, you know, and it turns out that there are things in there that are quite amazing, that the initial grace is given to us by God, in fact, there’s a condemnation in there for anyone who says that our works, apart from grace…I mean, I thought to myself, I had not been told…I had been misinformed!”

I could not possibly be “shocked” by a work I had read twenty years ago. I could not “expect” a document to be something it was not, when I read it twenty years ago. I could never say “I had been told differently about this document” unless, of course, my only knowledge of it was based on what I had been told rather than upon what I had actually read myself. I could not claim I had been “misinformed” about a document I had read myself. Now, of course, everyone is saying, “Oh, see, you won’t admit your error!” When someone can explain, logically and without insult, how someone can speak as Beckwith spoke, I will gladly concede the point. Till then, it is not me who needs to be doing the explaining, is it?

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