Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Authority Question (Again)

The Question:

What is the apostolic office?

The Problem:
We look back using reason at the early church, we see books that will eventually become Scripture, the Church Fathers, councils and synods. The problem is disunity in the accounts here. How do we know Origen was a heretic, or that Tertullian was wrong on Baptism, or that Pelagius was wrong on anthropology/Original Sin.

Protestants take into account the fathers, the councils, and the books, and argue that by the very nature of Scripture (God-Breathed, Revelation, etc) it is superior to all other sources. This is an after-the-fact decision in an attempt to make up for difficulties and differences between Christian writers. Ultimate authority must be given to Scripture and it is thus assumed that Scripture is clear in its meaning. People cite inclarity between Protestant traditions as disproof, but one forgets that apostolically succeeding bishops disagree as well (Old Catholics, Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Coptics).

Catholics argue that Papal Supremacy is the apostolic office (or Petrine office as they might say). That St. Peter's authority was passed on to his successors and that they exercise his role as supreme among the apostles. This argument is ironically based off of scripture and the nature of the church (Spirit-led) and thus epistemologically it is equal to the after-the-fact system of sola scriptura, as the transfer of Petrine authority is not clearly taught (just like sola scriptura).

There are (paradoxically) three different Catholic answers:

1. Two-Source Method: Some argued that revelation is stored partly in Scripture, partly in oral traditions. In this view St. Paul could have taught the church at Ephesus the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, or Indulgences. This to me seems a little ridiculous, but technically this is not a disproof of this view, it is merely my own incredulity. There are problems here in that many Catholic doctrines like indulgences, or certain Marian doctrines are not taught in the fathers. There might be 'seeds' but there is no fully defined doctrines as such.

2. Magesterium/Development Method: This was Cardinal Newman's solution, namely that as the church thought about these issues, over time, they managed to come up with new implications of each doctrine. I.E. Immaculate Conception from Genesis 3:15. Problematic to this opinion is that the Church declares revelation to be a finished process, this seems to add to the deposit of faith, which we have been told to guard (Jude 3) and presumably not to add to. Pelikan notes that the medievals stated that to add any doctrine was temerity, and so all doctrines must be proved to have been part of the deposit of faith.

3. Vatican II Method: Dei Verbum & Pope Benedict XVI seem to see Tradition as the bounds within which we are to read the bible. The Bible is the materially sufficient deposit of faith, and Tradition helps us interpret it.

Problematic is that each of these 3 views is on equal epistemological footing as Sola Scriptura. They're all after the fact ways of sorting out the problems of historical theology


  1. for me the problem here is that even if I have infallible sola scriptura or the magisterium, what good does that do for me who is not infallible? Since you are investigating again, I would recommend _Why the Church?_ by Luigi Giussani. The title of Chapter 2 is The First Premise: How to Attain Certainty about the Fact of Christ Today...

  2. I'm sorry I've darkened your computer with more of my endless questions, especially ones I've agonized over for so long already.

    Especially now that I was/am discerning for the priesthood/Jesuits. I really should know better.

    I've found the book on Amazon, I'm going to try to read all of the free preview section and see if I can make out the argument. Thanks for the recommendation.

  3. Good questions do not darken but are at least a promise of light... the whole text is available online but you would just have to register (free) at this site: The site is in Italian but if you dig into the alpha index (indici alfabetici) and get thru a couple of pages of the Ws, it's there.

    Here's a link that may work but you'll need to be logged in first...

    Let me know how it goes! :) By the way, this book is the 3rd in the series (1- The Religious Sense, 2- At the Origin of the Christian Claim) and I expect those two could be viewed at the same site I've listed.

  4. Thanks Fred, I read the whole chapter you recommended #2 of "Why The Church?". I particularly liked "God is not a distant fact
    towards which man strives with great effort. Rather he is Someone who has joined man on his path, who has become his companion."

    I think I might need to re-read it tomorrow. His argument is interesting. It reminds me of St. Augustine and Newman how he describes the understanding of faith. Is he a personalist?

  5. If anything Giussani has that openness to human culture and experience that the ressourcement theologians had. The method of Msgr. Giussani has become the life of a people and a renewal within the Catholic Church...

  6. 以簡單的行為愉悅他人的心靈,勝過千人低頭禱告........................................