Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Confronting a Suspiciously Doubtful and Hopelessly Ambiguous Assertion by Turretinfan in Regards to the Eagerness of Catholic Apologists to Besmirch the Scriptures


 
Because of Turretinfan’s continued policy of arbitrarily censoring comments of those who attempt to interact with his articles, I reluctantly decided to post my comments that I would have liked to have posted in response to an article he wrote captioned  Trinity Review of Year of Faith here on my own blog rather than taking the chance again that he would delete them and then misrepresent what I did say.  I apologize to the reader in advance as posting an article in this manner as such tends to reduce interaction and meaningful discussion of the topic at hand.

Because of its brevity, here is Mr. Fan’s posting in its entirety so one may not accuse me of distorting his remarks:

Despite the passing of John Robbins, the Trinity Review continues occasionally to publish reviews. The latest one is a review of Rome's "Year of Faith." The review takes a position of continuity with respect to Rome - it continues to reject the gospel now, just as it has at least since Trent. The language may be more polished now, but that makes the snare more subtle. One of the best lines in the review was "Once Evangelicals go down the ecumenical path into Rome and its rituals, it is difficult to resist her deceptions, except by the Word of God." To that I would add that consequently one of the first things that many of Rome's apologists seem eager to do is to cast suspicion and doubt on the Scriptures and their clarity, as though the Scriptures were hopelessly ambiguous and in need an of external, authoritative interpreter.
            -TurretinFan

P.S. I should add that Benedict XVI's long-awaited encyclical on faith was not published, allegedly because it was not complete. If it is ever completed and published, the Vatican has already indicated that it will not be an encyclical and will not in itself carry the weight of papal authority.

For the non-Catholic reader, the Year of Faith mentioned in the article is a celebration by the Catholic Church of the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council.  As a part of that celebration, Catholics are being encouraged to read the documents of Vatican II, and to put them into practice in their lives and in their parishes. 

Now I have no desire to interact with the underlying article written by the Trinity Foundation, a Protestant “think tank” that hides its there’s-a-Jesuit-hiding-behind-every-tree anti-Catholicism beneath a veneer of mainstream Calvinism.  It would take me weeks to write something to refute their style of textual cherry-picking and it would be far easier for me to suggest that if the reader wishes to know what Vatican II actually held, read the actual documents themselves rather than take the word of a group of individuals who think  that the Catholic Church is secretly out to destroy the economy of the United States of America as part of its nefarious plan to takeover and rule the world.  
Rather, the portion of the article which I seek to interact with is Turretinfan’s addition that many Catholic apologists are eager to cast suspicion and doubt on the Scriptures and their perspicuity “as though the Scriptures [are] hopelessly ambiguous and in need of [an] external authoritative interpreter.”
Preliminarily, I would ask Turretinfan to identify the “many” Catholic apologists he perceives are “eager” to “cast suspicion and doubt on the Scriptures” and their “clarity as though the Scriptures [are] hopelessly ambiguous and in need of an external authoritative interpreter” so we all can test the validity of this unsubstantiated assertion.  Given his tendency to ignore criticism he can’t respond to, I will not hold my breath waiting for him to name names or offer any proof of to back up his assertions.

Now it is true that there are occasions when the magisterial authority of the Church is invoked to aid the faithful by clarifying its teachings, interpreting its doctrines, and providing an understanding of the Scriptures when material disputes or disagreements arise.  It is not true to say that the Church (or of any Catholic apologist I can recall) claims that the Scriptures are hopelessly (I take this to mean always or usually) ambiguous or unclear or that a member of the faithful must seek recourse to an external authoritative interpreter every time they do not understand a particular passage. 
That said, folks do often seek recourse to authoritative sources to help in understanding the Scriptures.  There is no paucity of concordances, commentaries, sermons, articles, or official church pronouncements, regardless of one’s denominational flavor, that one has recourse to as aids to understand the Holy Writ.  Obviously, Turretinfan did not spring from the womb with a complete understanding of the Scriptures and like the rest of us mere humans had to gain a certain level of understanding of Word of God through what his teachers, pastors, and others have taught, written or preached about them.  Surely one would agree that such individuals in our lives could be said to be external authoritative interpreters of a sort on the Scriptures.  And one can not deny the shameful fact that Christianity is fractured: there are Catholics, Orthodox, Protestants, and others who call themselves Christian.  How can one say that the Scriptures are always perspicuous and one is never in need of an authoritative interpreter to assist in understanding the Scriptures given our many divisions?  And as a matter of history, there are at least several ecumenical councils that both Catholics and most Protestants agree were authoritative: Nicea I, Constantinople I, Ephesus, Chalcedon? Given the Trinitarian and Christological disputes that they resolved, would not Turretinfan agree that they were necessary external authoritative interpreters of the Scriptures?  If the Scriptures were so clear and understandable, why were those councils even needed?  After all,  one merely had to go to the index found after Revelation, right? 

For that matter, as a part of his Orthodox Presbyterian tradition, Mr. Fan accepts the Westminster Confession of Faith and Larger and Shorter Catechisms as authoritative (although it would be interesting to find out if he dissents from the 1903 modification of Chapter 25.6 which removed the reference to the pope as the Antichrist).  If the Scriptures are so clear and unambiguous, wouldn’t these documents be superfluous drivel and unnecessary as well?  Does Turretinfan think that one can believe in the Bible alone without accepting the Westminster Confession of Faith and still be an Orthodox Presbyterian?
And even if the Scriptures are always clear and unambiguous, our sinful limited human nature gets in the way and prevents us from always understanding them.  Yes, when the need to do so arises, the Catholic Church does exercise its magisterial authority to resolve disputes over the interpretation of Scripture but I would argue that this is in accordance with the Scriptural model I outlined in an article I wrote called Magisteria!.  The Israelites had the Law and the Prophets but still had to have to judges to help them interpret the Word of God. 

Regardless, the simple fact is that the Catholic Church does not teach that the Scriptures are “hopelessly ambiguous” or that one always needs an external authoritative interpreter to help understand them.  Turretinfan, as his usual practice, asserts a straw-man argument against the Catholic Church in order to magnify the surprisingly few differences between Catholics and other Christians.  Given the level of spinmeistering found on his blog about the Catholic Church, one might begin to wonder if behind his secret identity, Turretinfan is actually a Washington, D.C. politician...

It is ironic that Turretinfan claims that many Catholic apologists regularly demean the verity of the Bible by casting doubt and suspicion on its clarity and at the same time link to an article condemning the Catholic  “Year of Faith” which encourages Catholics to read the documents of Vatican II including  The Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum) which exhorts all Catholics to read the Bible.  As a dogmatic constitution, this document on the Holy Scriptures is promulgated at the highest level of magisterial teaching and is thoroughly binding on all members of the Catholic Church.  Now if Turretinfan has accurately portrayed the teachings of the Church and its apologists, one should suspect that we would find somewhere in the text an admonition by the Church claiming that the Scriptures are to be regarded with suspicion and doubt and to be treated as hopelessly ambiguous and unclear.   As one can see, it does not:


21. The Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures just as she venerates the body of the Lord, since, especially in the sacred liturgy, she unceasingly receives and offers to the faithful the bread of life from the table both of God's word and of Christ's body. She has always maintained them, and continues to do so, together with sacred tradition, as the supreme rule of faith, since, as inspired by God and committed once and for all to writing, they impart the word of God Himself without change, and make the voice of the Holy Spirit resound in the words of the prophets and Apostles. Therefore, like the Christian religion itself, all the preaching of the Church must be nourished and regulated by Sacred Scripture. For in the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven meets His children with great love and speaks with them; and the force and power in the word of God is so great that it stands as the support and energy of the Church, the strength of faith for her sons, the food of the soul, the pure and everlasting source of spiritual life. Consequently these words are perfectly applicable to Sacred Scripture: "For the word of God is living and active" (Heb. 4:12) and "it has power to build you up and give you your heritage among all those who are sanctified" (Acts 20:32; see 1 Thess. 2:13).


22. Easy access to Sacred Scripture should be provided for all the Christian faithful. That is why the Church from the very beginning accepted as her own that very ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament which is called the septuagint; and she has always given a place of honor to other Eastern translations and Latin ones especially the Latin translation known as the vulgate. But since the word of God should be accessible at all times, the Church by her authority and with maternal concern sees to it that suitable and correct translations are made into different languages, especially from the original texts of the sacred books. And should the opportunity arise and the Church authorities approve, if these translations are produced in cooperation with the separated brethren as well, all Christians will be able to use them.

23. The bride of the incarnate Word, the Church taught by the Holy Spirit, is concerned to move ahead toward a deeper understanding of the Sacred Scriptures so that she may increasingly feed her sons with the divine words. Therefore, she also encourages the study of the holy Fathers of both East and West and of sacred liturgies. Catholic exegetes then and other students of sacred theology, working diligently together and using appropriate means, should devote their energies, under the watchful care of the sacred teaching office of the Church, to an exploration and exposition of the divine writings. This should be so done that as many ministers of the divine word as possible will be able effectively to provide the nourishment of the Scriptures for the people of God, to enlighten their minds, strengthen their wills, and set men's hearts on fire with the love of God. The sacred synod encourages the sons of the Church and Biblical scholars to continue energetically, following the mind of the Church, with the work they have so well begun, with a constant renewal of vigor. 


24. Sacred theology rests on the written word of God, together with sacred tradition, as its primary and perpetual foundation. By scrutinizing in the light of faith all truth stored up in the mystery of Christ, theology is most powerfully strengthened and constantly rejuvenated by that word. For the Sacred Scriptures contain the word of God and since they are inspired, really are the word of God; and so the study of the sacred page is, as it were, the soul of sacred theology. By the same word of Scripture the ministry of the word also, that is, pastoral preaching, catechetics and all Christian instruction, in which the liturgical homily must hold the foremost place, is nourished in a healthy way and flourishes in a holy way.

25. Therefore, all the clergy must hold fast to the Sacred Scriptures through diligent sacred reading and careful study, especially the priests of Christ and others, such as deacons and catechists who are legitimately active in the ministry of the word. This is to be done so that none of them will become "an empty preacher of the word of God outwardly, who is not a listener to it inwardly" since they must share the abundant wealth of the divine word with the faithful committed to them, especially in the sacred liturgy. The sacred synod also earnestly and especially urges all the Christian faithful (especially the religious) to learn by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures the "excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 3:8). "For ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ." Therefore, they should gladly put themselves in touch with the sacred text itself, whether it be through the liturgy, rich in the divine word, or through devotional reading, or through instructions suitable for the purpose and other aids which, in our time, with approval and active support of the shepherds of the Church, are commendably spread everywhere. And let them remember that prayer should accompany the reading of Sacred Scripture, so that God and man may talk together; for "we speak to Him when we pray; we hear Him when we read the divine saying."



. . .
 


26. In this way, therefore, through the reading and study of the sacred books "the word of God may spread rapidly and be glorified" (2 Thess. 3:1) and the treasure of revelation, entrusted to the Church, may more and more fill the hearts of men. Just as the life of the Church is strengthened through more frequent celebration of the Eucharistic mystery, similar we may hope for a new stimulus for the life of the Spirit from a growing reverence for the word of God, which "lasts forever" (Is. 40:8; see 1 Peter 1:23-25).

(Footnotes omitted)


The above passages from Dei Verbum illustrate what the Church teaches about the place of the Sacred Scriptures in the Church and its call for all Catholics to read, study and pray them.  If the apologists of Rome are supposed to claim that the Scriptures are to be doubted and regarded with suspicion, then why would the Church say this:



For the Sacred Scriptures contain the word of God and since they are inspired, really are the word of God; and so the study of the sacred page is, as it were, the soul of sacred theology. (DV #24). 

If the Scriptures are to be shown as so hopelessly ambiguous that they can never be read without recourse to an external authority to interpret them, then why does the Church urge the faithful to study, read, and pray them:



The sacred synod also earnestly and especially urges all the Christian faithful (especially the religious) to learn by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures the "excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 3:8). "For ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ." Therefore, they should gladly put themselves in touch with the sacred text itself, whether it be through the liturgy, rich in the divine word, or through devotional reading, or through instructions suitable for the purpose and other aids which, in our time, with approval and active support of the shepherds of the Church, are commendably spread everywhere. And let them remember that prayer should accompany the reading of Sacred Scripture, so that God and man may talk together; for "we speak to Him when we pray; we hear Him when we read the divine saying." (DV #25) 
For that matter why would the Church even promulgate a 26 chapter dogmatic constitution like Dei Verbum telling Catholics to read their Bibles if its apologists are on orders to discourage them from doing so?  Talk about mixed messages! 
 
And does not anyone else see the disconnect between Turretinfan asserting (without any evidence whatsoever) that “many” Catholic apologists teach that the Holy Word of God is too ambiguous to be understood without a magisterium looking over one’s shoulder and his linking to a document condemning the Catholic Church for celebrating the Second Vatican Council which promulgated as one of its cornerstone documents a dogmatic constitution exhorting all Catholics to read, study and pray their bibles?
What's next?  Pigs start flying or Turretinfan unqualifiedly endorsing the writings of liberal lay Catholic dissenters who call for the abolition of Orders in the Catholic Church because the Letter to the Hebrews is not divinely inspired Scripture, that Jesus did not die on the cross for our sins, that His Passion was neither sacrificial nor redemptive, or that Jesus was not called to priestly ministry?  Oh wait-he did do that already.  Never mind…

God Bless!
 

2 comments:

Matthew Bellisario said...

Hi Paul, I see you are still at it! Its been about a year since I have been over to Fan's blog or the Beggars blog, and when I stopped by the other day it was like groundhog day! Nothing had changed one bit! It was the same lame posts, with the same lame ad hominem attacks, with the same silly arguments. My conclusion, there is nothing short of a miracle that is going to change any of these guys. They are so self absorbed that they cannot tell reality from their own fanciful imaginations. I hope you are well. I have taken a bit of a break from blogging since Christmas and have returned to post up some new articles. Take care and may God bless and keep you!

louis said...

“It is not true to say that the Church (or any Catholic apologist I can recall) claims that the Scriptures are hopelessly (I take this to mean always or usually) ambiguous or unclear”

TFan said that Rome’s apologists act “as though” the Scriptures were hopelessly ambiguous. He didn’t say they claim the Scriptures are hopelessly ambiguous. Of course the apologists wouldn’t say that the Scriptures are hopelessly ambiguous, but their arguments proceed as if that were the case.

I also wouldn’t take the reference to “hopelessly” to mean always or usually, but rather to mean that when it comes to the Scriptures that are in dispute, Rome’s apologists essentially claim that we cannot interpret Scripture using what we see as normal interpretive processes. Of course a disputed Scripture is one that is used to support Rome’s distinctive doctrines. Apparently we can use normal interpretive tools to discern Scripture’s meaning in other places. And we can use normal interpretive tools to understand the pope’s encyclicals and so forth. But when it comes to purgatory or the Marian dogmas, all of a sudden the normal tools don’t work, and we need an external authority to tell us what the Scriptures really say.

“I would ask Turretinfan to identify the ‘many’ Catholic apologists he perceives are ‘eager’ to ‘cast suspicion and doubt on the Scriptures’ and their ‘clarity’….”

The ‘Called to Communion’ crowd does it all the time. It is their constant refrain. It’s not worth the time to dig up the myriad examples, as this is the common experience of everyone who has dealt with them. Officially, as you know, the Council of Trent says that no one may interpret Scripture contrary to the sense given it by the RCC, and that it belongs to the RCC to judge and interpret Scripture.

“That said, folks do often seek recourse to authoritative sources to help in understanding the Scriptures…. How can one say that the Scriptures are always perspicuous and one is never in need of an authoritative interpreter to assist in understanding the Scriptures”

We don’t say that Scripture is so perspicuous that one doesn’t need help in understanding it. The WCF says that “all things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all.” Thus God gave teachers to the church. And thus the councils, the Confessions, etc.

“Surely one would agree that such individuals in our lives could be said to be external authoritative interpreters of a sort on the Scriptures.”

The difference is our view of authority. We don’t abandon the normal means God gave us for understanding His word. We believe the ecumenical councils you mentioned got it right, and so that forms part of our Confession. And we believe Scripture must be interpreted in the context of the church and its teaching authority through the ages. But we also assert that councils, and all men, may err, and that our only infallible authority is God’s word given to us in Scripture.

“sinful limited human nature gets in the way and prevents us from always understanding them (the Scriptures”

Yes, and the pope and his cardinals are sinners also, and thus prone to err like the rest of us.

“The Israelites had the Law and the Prophets but still had to have to judges to help them interpret the Word of God. “

Yes, as we have teachers and ministers today. But the judges in Israel were not infallible.

“If the Scriptures are to be shown as so hopelessly ambiguous…. then why does the Church urge the faithful to study, read, and pray them….”

i. They are not ambiguous to the church, just to any individual who would presume to interpret them differently.

ii. The RCC’s attitude toward Scripture is much more complicated than what you present here. Unfortunately I’ve spent way too much time on this blog already. 