answering the challenge

Andy at All2Common, took some exception to this rather cheeky cartoon [not that he hadn’t posted one first, of course 😉 ]

Nevertheless, in the comments that ensued, Andy has begun to attempt to answer some of the challenges laid down against the High Church position. His response deserves a detailed post for in his writing he demonstrates a number of things.

  1. That the High Church position makes claims about the Fathers that they can’t defend
  2. That the High Church position distorts scripture in order to support their position
  3. That the High Church position misrepresents the Evangelical position

Those are, I realise, strong claims. Let me attempt to defend them. I invite your comments but do ask that we maintain the civility here (and I think that includes not referring to people as “seperatist prots”, if that’s ok.

Here’s what Andy says:

David, thanks for the reply. I re-read through, and noticed it was “Wyclif” who was incorrect about the sacrificial priesthood. Please forgive me.

You first said:

Seems to me that the great appeal to “tradition” is a little weak – whatever doctrine is asserted one can always find both support and opposition amongst the Fathers – there is very little unanimity on anything.

Followed by:

I do believe in the Vincentian Canonâ¦
Here’s the problem for the Roman and Anglo-Catholics – they want to insist that things that haven’t been believed everywhere, always and by all are Catholic. So; invocation of “Saints”, purgatory, Christ’s presence in the Eucharist and so on.

I realize that when some of the Fathers say some things are so, that there are others who disagree. The question then becomes, when the disagreer wrote and in what context the disagreement was stated and who the disagreer was. In the instance of the things you wrote about, it was almost always one or two against the perceived majority in a localized geography, rather than across Christendom.

Ok, I say let’s test that claim. Can Andy (or others) provide a clear example of where a 2nd Century Father supports the doctrine of the invocation of the Saints or of purgatory? I’ve yet to find one but there might be one out there. If this was a doctrine believed at all times and in all places by all then it shouldn’t be so hard to prove.

For instance, most (if not all) of the pre-Nicene Fathers you read all affirm Christ’s presence in the Eucharist, and most after do also. It wasn’t (really) until the Waldensians, Lollards, and Anabaptists that the doctrine became substantially (pun intended) challenged. Even Calvin and Luther held (unique, yet heretical) interpretations of it. Zwinglism really made the first real foothold within mainstream Protestantism.

Well, which Church Fathers? And what sort of presence? No-one denies the presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the question is what form of presence is clearly argued for. Again, a clear citation of a pre-Nicene Father defending the contemporary High Church position on the Eucharist is needed to defend this claim.

As for the invocation of the Saints, it is found within Scripture, as well as in the Fathers:

“â¦the angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the boys⦔ (Gen. 48:16) Here we see the Patriarch Jacob asking the angel in heaven to obtain a blessing for his grandchildren. And surely we cannot suppose that he would be so ignorant as to pray to one that could not hear him.

Interestingly, you snipped the first half of the speech. Let’s look at it in full.

Genesis 48:15 And he blessed Joseph and said, “The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life long to this day, 16 the angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the boys; and in them let my name be carried on, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.”

The phrases “The God before whom…”, “the God who has been…”, “the angel who…” are all in apposition – that is to say that they are different ways of talking about the same subject. Thus the “angel” spoken of in v16 is, according to the grammatical structure, also “the God” of v15. The Hebrew here for “angel” is “malak” which is a title of office, not nature, simply meaning “messenger” or “sent one” and most easily identified as the same “Angel of the LORD” (malak Yhwh) who appeared to the Patriarchs. This slightly enigmatic figure is often taken to be a Christophany (so, for example, Justin Martyr Dialogue 59, a view also held by Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Theophilus, the Apostolic Constitutions, Tertullian, Cyprian, Cyril, Hilary, Chrystostom – for a full list see Liddon, The Divinity of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, 1897). As such, the invocation of Jacob is to Yhwh himself. Plus, the position that you put forward is actually at odds with the Ante-Nicene understanding of the passage.

And when St. Paul says that “we are made a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men,” (1 Cor. 4:9) what does he mean, unless that as our actions are seen by men even so they are visible to the angels in heaven?

Well, exactly that – that our actions are on view. elsewhere in the same letter he tells us that we will judge the angels (6:3). Nowhere in Paul’ s writing is this ever moved into an argument that we should therefore invoke them.

The examples I quoted refer to the angels, but our Lord declares that the saints in heaven shall be like the angelic spirits, by possessing the same knowledge and enjoying the same happiness. (Matt. 22:30)

Um, no, He doesn’t say that we shall “possess the same knowledge and enjoy the same happiness”, what He actually says (in response to the Sadducees’ challenge re the Resurrection) is

Matthew 22:30 For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.

The most you can assert from that statement is that we shall be like the angels in the New Creation in that we shall not marry nor be given in marriage. But the point here is not to equate us to angels but to demonstrate that the Sadducees are wrong. Intriguingly, Luke tells us elsewhere that,

Acts 23:8 …the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor angel, nor spirit, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all.

So, when Jesus tells the Sadducees that they will “be like the angels” it’s a piece of sarcasm. The Sadducees will be like those things that they do not believe in. This is all to demonstrate that they,

Matthew 22:29 …are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God”.

We are informed in the Bible that the prayers of certain people have more efficacy than those of others: “The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects. Elijah was a man of like nature with ourselves and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth its fruit.” (James 5:16-18)

Frankly, I find this use of the James 5 text particularly troubling. The point that James is making is emphatically not that Elijah has a more efficacious prayer than the rest of us mere mortals but that, according to his own words,

“Elijah was a man of like nature with ourselves”

It’s not that some have more efficacious prayers, but that all righteous men (and, of course) women’s prayers have great power in their effects. James does not set up Elijah as having more effective prayers than us, on the contrary, he is at pains to point out that our prayers may be just like Eliljah’s. Now, if his purpose had been as you suggest and if he had believed what you infer he believed, then why does he say,

13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray.” ?

surely, he would have been far better saying,

13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him invoke Elijah’s prayer.” ?

but he doesn’t.

Following this line of thought, then, since Mary is Theotokos, then it follows from Scripture that her prayers would have the greatest power and efficacy.

Even if the line of thought were correct, which it is not, there is nothing scripture tells us about Mary’s status as the bearer of God that would make her prayers any more efficacious. Again, the burden is on the High Church position to demonstrate otherwise. In the meantime I’ll be directing prayers in the name of Jesus Christ who has entered the very throne room of God and is more than capable of interceding on my behalf. Why accept an inferior substitute?

I could go on, but I suppose you reject my interpretation of these passages based on Calvin’s exegesis or maybe Luther’s (or Zwingli’s), so the question then boils down to this: Was Luther (or Calvin, or Zwingli, etc.) right or were the majority of the Church Fathers right, in regards to the correct interpretation of what the early Church received from Christ and the Apostles? What does the Bible really teach?

Well, with the greatest respect I’ve not referred to the Reformers once (although a fair number of Ante-Nicene Fathers got a look in). Most of all I just opened up the Bible and read the passages that you used and saw that they simply didn’t support your position.

As far as purgatory is concerned, the East understand there to be a time of cleansing or purging, but unlike the “Romish” extremes which the Articles reject. But will we be finally sanctified before we enter the Beatific Vision? Absolutely. And this is what the doctrine of Purgatory is. It is not within our time boundaries, so it is incorrect to speak as the medieval Romans did and count the years one is there.

It’s incorrect to speak about it because it’s nowhere to be found in scripture. Rather, the scriptures tells us that Christ’s work is perfectly sufficient to present us a blameless before God the Father.

And as far as Jewele’s Apology goes, he was correct that the Reformers saw themselves coming from a different tradition than that of Rome. Nobody is disagreeing about that! The difference is that what Rome teaches is in line with what the Catholic (universal) Church teaches, and the Reformers not so much. They thought they were recovering the original truths and exposing error. Certainly they did expose error, which the Council of Trent repaired. But to what part of the early Church’s history can we find “sola scriptura” (considering it wasn’t composed yet), or “sola fide” (which St. James, St. Augustine, et al refute) or the priesthood of the believer (at the expense of the sacerdotal priesthood)?

Well, I’ve done less work on sola fide so I won’t make claims that I don’t yet have the reading to support. As for sola scriptura, here’s a number of citations to begin with…

As so Sola Fide, Clement of Rome (2nd Century) is famous for saying,
“All these, therefore, were highly honoured, and made great, not for their own sake, or for their own works, or for the righteousness which they wrought, but through the operation of His will. And we, too, being called by His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified by ourselves, nor by our own wisdom, or understanding, or godliness, or works which we have wrought in holiness of heart; but by that faith through which, from the beginning, Almighty God has justified all men. Amen” (Chap. XXXII, ANF)

Make of that what you will. I don’t know if all the ANF’s believed this, in fact I doubt that they did – but then that’s not a problem, our rule is not the Fathers but the Scriptures.

Ah, but you are an Anglicanâ¦so you must disagree with Luther and Calvin at least in regards to the threefold Apostolic Ministry. But then again, you want lay presidencyâ¦.

Well, yes, I do disagree with both Luther and Calvin on a number of matters for I think that they may have misunderstood scripture on a number of issues. Lay presidency is another debate – but the key issue, again, is what scripture says.

“Work out your salvation with fear and trembling” writes St. Paul. This synergistic understanding that embraces free will along with predestination, was always the position of the Church. The Pelagian monergism was declared heretical just as the Calvinist monergism was. If you can find any Father that teaches monergism before Luther came along, then we can discuss whether or not the main Reformational doctrinal claims are valid.

Well, OK. Augustine: A Treatise on the Predestination of the Saints
and, particularly, chapter 13 where he speaks of monergistic regeneration.

“We see that many come to the Son because we see that many believe on Christ, but when and how they have heard this from the Father, and have learned, we see not. It is true that that grace is exceedingly secret, but who doubts that it is grace? This grace, therefore, which is hiddenly bestowed in human hearts by the Divine gift, is rejected by no hard heart, because it is given for the sake of first taking away the hardness of the heart. When, therefore, the Father is heard within, and teaches, so that a man comes to the Son, He takes away the heart of stone and gives a heart of flesh, as in the declaration of the prophet He has promised. Because He thus makes them children and vessels of mercy which He has prepared for glory.”

If you say you believe in Holy Tradition, but also believe you can pick and choose what you privately think is true, then you either don’t understand the Canon or you don’t really believe it.

No Protestant that I know thinks that they can “pick and choose”. On the contrary, we study the scriptures, with the help of those men and women who have gone before, in order to better mine it’s depths and see the truth. This is not outside the bounds of even the simplest farmboy, for all Christians “have the mind of Christ” (1Cor. 2).

Finally, as for your claim that the Reformers within the CofE are the founders of Anglicanism, this is patently untrue. You say:

Any objective reading of the Reformers’ writing makes it abundantly clear that they were, well, Reformed in the truest sense of the word and considered this to be a re-establishment of Apostolic Christianity.

But it wasn’t a re-establishment at all, and there is no historical evidence to support this. And also we must wonder to which Reformer’s doctrines did the early Church supposedly hold? None of them agreed on much besides that Rome was bad and that Luther was close on his idea of justification by faith alone (even then Calvin had a different understanding about it in terms of union with Christ, rather than forensic justification). And we must fruther ask in which year and event did the Church supposedly start to leave the “true” faith and why? It doesn’t suffice to simply assert that such a departure occurred without stating a where, when, and why.

There are 2 claims there. The first is that the Anglican Reformers are not the founders of Anglicanism. I’m a little unsure how to answer this claim. I have the 39 Articles and the 1662 BCP in front of me – they’re both unashamedly Cranmer’s work or direectly derived therefrom. That Cranmer was as Reformed as Calvin is, surely, beyond dispute!

The 2nd claim is that what is in those Articles and that Prayerbook is not Apostolic. I’m not sure how to address this either since it actually seems an absurd claim. Which particular Article or doctrine found in the BCP is not Apostolic?

As for how and when the Church left the “true faith”? The answer is, surely, “gradually”. There have been and will be false teachers in each and every age. The sad truth is that they were there even when scripture was written and they almost saturated the Church by the time of the Reformation.

I recommend reading English Reformations, by Christopher Haigh, as well as The Stripping of the Altars, by Eamon Duffy. These both show, from a broad range of sources, that the English Church (both before the split from Rome and after) was throroughly Catholic and rejected the teachings of the Reformers until a few at the top embraced it and made changes by laws. This then quickly brought to power many Puritans which eventually got the Thirty-Nine Articles. The first especially shows that there were many Reformations that occurred, not just one single “reform”. The second especially shows that the reforms made were in fact deforms.

It is one thing to claim that the Church in England in general held to a certain position (that espoused by Rome, as it happens) and that vast segments opposed the Reformation. No-one seriously doubts such a claim – there was a reason that an Act of Uniformity was needed. It is another thing to demonstrate that the position held by that majority was “Catholic” in that it was Apostolic. That remains unproven. Even if that majority believed the same as Rome that does not make them correct. They are only correct as much as Rome is.

David, as one who used to be an ardent Calvinist (Presbyterian), I completely understand where you are coming from. I used to argue that the Fathers were a mixed-bag and that there was no solid Tradition among them. I too thought that Calvin was the closest at correctly interpreting the Scriptures to what Christ and the Apostles meant and what the early Church was like. But then I started to see a pattern emerge even among the patristic objectors. Objections are there, nobody disputes, but they are always solitary or in the minority, both in numbers and in geographic locality (take St. Augustine’s extreme views of sex, as just one example).

Well, I look forward to some actual engagement with what I’ve written and (perhaps) some better argumentation from scripture. At the moment I (and many others) are somewhat unconvinced.

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