Dialogue on Whether the History of the Papacy Contradicts Catholic Ecclesiology

Dave Armstrong vs. Tim Enloe

Presbyterian Tim Enloe's words will be in blue. This exchange was sparked by comments made by Tim in and around the following thread on Greg Krehbiel's discussion board (9-26-03 and thereafter):


. . . . a mere concept of "obedience" is not problematic and does exist in Protestant churches. . . . Historically speaking, she's dead wrong to believe that the concept of "obedience" to the Pope as her take on Catholicism has it was the norm throughout history, and that erroneous historical belief was what I was talking about.


What I was referring to, by the way, was the corruption of the concept of "obedience" in Christendom that occurred largely as a result of the attempted "universalization" of the Cluniac reforms by the Gregorians in the 11th-12th centuries. Cluniac monasteries, as you know, were directly in submission to the Pope and they spread like wildfire throughout the 11th century, becoming very influential in the culture-at-large. Of course, coming out of the despicable depravity of the 10th century it certainly can be seen to make sense why reforms would almost naturally gravitate toward the opposite extreme--thus, lay investiture is answered by spiritual investiture, clerical immorality by rigid clerical celibacy, and massive decentralization of power by a trend toward massive centralization.

What interests me in light of this thread being about "obedience" is how the Gregorian reformers made "obedience" one of the key stones in their program of restoration. In an age of rampant "disobedience", of course the answer is going to be perceived as radical "obedience". Not just any old "obedience", of course, but "obedience" to "the Apostolic See", which by this time, thanks to a number of threads that began to be woven together in the Carolingian age (Charlemagne's example of what "headship" looked like; the Donation of Constantine, the False Decretals,) and applied with lasting precedent by Pope Nicholas I, was coming to be widely seen as the "epitome" of the Christian faith. Proposed early examples (your list, QB) notwithstanding, I just don't believe that the sources bear out the original establishment of a papal principatus over the whole Church, but that such was chiefly an 11th century innovation based mainly on over-reaction to the darkness of the immediate past and a rather naive view of what the primitive Church looked like (why, of course, it looked like Cluny! Duh!).

In this matrix, it is highly significant to find Pope Gregory VII consistently making hash of various patristic texts about the role of the papacy relative to the rest of the Church and society--even to the point of correctly citing Gregory the Great's Moralia and then giving Gregory's key term obedientia a Rome-centered spin that was totally foreign to the earlier Gregory's actual words (cp. Gregory the Great's Moralia 25.28 with Gregory VII's Letter 10 in the Epistola Vagantes--this is only one of many such instances that could be adduced). Add to this the rediscovery of Roman law in the next century and the subsequent massive program of systematization, exposition, and application of it to a renewed societas Christiana committed to the principle of "imitation of the [Roman] Empire", and it's really no wonder that the Papacy developed into the ludicrous caricature of "Apostolic authority" that it was when Luther came on the scene. "Obedience" (to Rome) had in that day gone even farther than Gregory VII would have imagined it could and become a self-interpreting, self-legitimizing principle completely out of touch with the difficult realities that the Church actually faced.

I gather, QB, that you want to argue the follies of the Papal Monarchy (from Gregory VII to Leo X) are somehow not a part of the "real" meaning of "primacy", and while our respective sides could surely debate that--perhaps with profit for both--we have to live with what actually happened, the results of which we are all still feeling today. Which brings me full circle. I only commented on this thread to begin with because Diane took a gratuitous swipe at "rebels" in the context of deploying a typical conservative Catholic view of "obedience". I don't think the realities those terms are meant to describe in the conservative Catholic worldview are anywhere near as clear-cut as the conservative Catholic thinks they are. In other words, I'd pin a significant piece of "rebellion" in the Church on Pope Gregory VII (and let's not even start on Leo X!) before I'd pin it on Luther.


But what is "unity" and to whom is its connection with "single visible head" so obvious? I agree that the Papal system is an excellent way to bring about a high degree of bureaucratic cohesion--and that is what RC "unity" amounts to from Gregory VII to today--but it was the Roman Empire in Late Antiquity that said that that is what "unity" is, not some kind of transparent interpretation of Matthew 16, John 22, and Luke 21.

"Those who don't stay with the Pope have failed to maintain unity" is just a breathtakingly question-begging standard--especially when one studies in-depth the authority debates in the Western tradition throughout the central and high Middle Ages. I mean "breathtaking" virtually literally, too--I sit here and read these "isn't it just obvious" jabs at others (on this thread, from you and Diane; on other threads, from other Catholics) and feel almost paralyzed wondering where in the world to even start discussing the incredible fallacies of such thinking. I like to discuss it historically because I'm a student of history and Catholicism is supposedly so wonderfully historical. So in that light it's interesting that underneath the scads of texts brought forth to buttress the Roman Catholic argument is just a big wad of pragmatism and appeals to allegedly "self-evident" and "objective" principles.

. . . A thousand years later we're still listening to schism-mongering High Papalists gratuitously pretend that it's all just so stinking obvious to anyone who thinks seriously about it for a few minutes.

Shall I laugh or shall I cry?


. . . Whatever the case, situations are becoming serious enough where I don't think any of us can afford to sit around much longer endlessly fussing about who's got or not got the Doctrinal Propositional Schemes all worked out . . .


The Bible itself is largely a big narrative (story), and so is Church history. I'm saying basically that Catholics like yourself tell a very bad story about the Christian Faith and the Church history that embodies it. It's a story that keeps a lot of people enthralled, but it's just plain bad. I see this increasingly demonstrated in the utter lack of meaningful responses from Catholics like you to serious challenges to the chapter headings and reconstructions of events in your story.

The Story of the Invincible Peter And How the World Only Makes Sense When One Agrees With Him,

As recorded by A Really And Truly Loyally and Honestly and Totally Thoroughly Orthodox and Fullness of the Faith-Possessing Conservative, Non-Liberal, Literal Interpretation-Understanding Catholic (Who Just Can't Understand Why Everyone Isn't As Dazzled By This Book as S/he Is

Chapter 1: How Peter Got Told He Is the Rock By Jesus Christ, Who Was Totally Concerned With the Literal Meanings of Words That It's Just Obvious To Anyone Who Seriously Reads His Words What Is Really True

Chapter 2: How Peter Told Everyone in the Early Church What To Do, and Everyone Except Heretics and Rebels Said "Yessir, Mr. Corphyraeus!" (Editor's note: See the Appendix for Objective Proof of the Contents of this chapter)

Chapter 3: How Peter Received Temporal Dominion From Constantine, and A Divine Mandate to Make the Whole Ecclesiastical World Always Look Like the Late Roman Empire (See Editor's note to Chapter 6)

Chapter 4: How Peter Bravely and Single-Handedly Fought Off the Slavering Lombards and the Rebel Caesaropapists

Chapter 5: How Peter Proved His Total Dominion of the Whole World By Crowning Charlemagne

Chapter 6: How Peter's Agents Forged Some Really Cool Documents About His Authority So That Their Own Positions Would Be Safeguarded From Evil Feudal Lords, But Which Peter Subsequently Used to Great Effect In Establishing Himself As the Universal Head of All of Christian Society (Editor's Note: This is a very difficult chapter to sort out, as it massively conflicts with viewing "Peter's Office" as a Platonic Form not impacted much by the actual events of the world, but we don't worry too much about stuff like this because only heretics and rebels and liberals deny what is so obvious)

Chapter 7: How Peter Became a Fornicating, Murdering Pawn of Italian Politics And Dragged His Own Name and Christ's Through the Mud for Over a Century (Editor's Note: We don't like chapters like this so we'll note that it has nothing whatsoever to do with the doctrine enunciated 900 years later, and certainly doesn't help contextualize what happened in Chapters 8 and 9--context being a bad thing when the Platonic Form of "Church Government" set up by Jesus Christ Himself is at stake)

Chapter 8: How Peter Helped the Ottonian Emperors Free Him From Their Political Control and Later Had One of His Agents Excommunicate An Entire Flourishing Christian Culture For Rebelliously Presuming to Think Differently About "Petrine Primacy" (Editor's Note: This is also a very tough chapter to understand, so we recommend that the reader re-read Matthew 16 and the Appendix of this book first)

Chapter 9: Peter Tries to Make the Whole World Look Like the Cluniac Monastery, Thereby Firmly Establishing (At Last!) A Total Petrine Lordship Over Both Temporal and Spiritual Spheres (Editor's Note: We don't like this chapter much, either. It's too darned messy and clearly shows how Peter royally mucked up a bunch of stuff about his own role that had been handed down to him by the Fathers. We wish stuff like this wasn't part of the story, but give us enough time and we'll figure out a way to prove it doesn't really have anything at all to do with the Petrine Commission given by Christ Himself in Matthew 16)

Chapter 10: How Peter, Not Content With Being Separated From the Eastern Church, Subsequently Ran the Whole Western Church Into the Ground and Had to Be Rescued By a General Council (Editor's Note: We also don't like this chapter because it goes against the literal interpretation of Matthew 16 and our ream of favorite patristic texts about Peter, so we downplay this one, too, and call everyone who thinks differently about it "heretics", "rebels", or "liberals")

Chapter 11: How Peter Ignored His Own Wickedness and Tyrannical Behavior in Order to Save the Christian Religion From a Wacky German Monk Who Just Wanted to Rebel Against Christ And Let Every Plowboy Interpret the Scriptures Any Old Way He Pleased. (Editor's Note: We really like this chapter, for it shows Peter at the height of his power, doing what he does best--vanquishing heretics and maintaining the unity of the Church by slicing out of the Church everyone who presumes to disagrees with him on the basis of Holy Scripture and previous Church tradition. Good riddance to the rebels, liberals, and wacko kooks!)

Chapter 12: How Peter Declared Himself Infallible Ex Sese, and Caused All True Catholics To Believe that This Had Always Been the Doctrine Held by the Whole Church, Excepting Liberals, Rebels, Heretics, and Other Wacko-Kooks, and How Lots of His Followers Today Continue to Paint Stick-Figure Pictures About Church History And Gleefully Proclaim Them To Be Michelangelian Masterpieces

Chapter 13: How Peter Will Continue to Claim that Real Christian Truth and Unity Are Found Only in Explicit Unity with Him, Thus Continuing to Maintain Existing Christian Divisions While Heroically Saving the Whole Christian Religion From All Hint of Heresy Until Jesus Returns

Appendix: Extremely Selectively Cited (Editor's Note: But understand that here, selectivity is appropriate because this book is about the Objective Truth) Primary Source Documents Supporting the Notion That Peter Has Always Been the Universal Head of the Church and His Claims Only Resisted by Heretics, Rebels, Liberals, and other Wacko Kooks Who Just Don't Take Jesus At His Literal Words

Wow, what a great yarn! Too bad it's so compelling that I found it on the bargain table at a garage sale.


. . . I find the Roman Catholic argument as it is presented by Diane and many, many like her to be so utterly distasteful and out of touch with the real world . . .


. . . I know I don't have "the fullness" of Christian Truth, but contra the claims of RCism that just doesn't bother me. Christ never promised I could or would have such, so what's all the hubbub about? I'm satisfied with progressive sanctification and the earnest expectation of the eschaton.


I'm saying that no obedience to any authority under God is or can be absolute . . . My historical point was basically that the concept of "obedience" in the West has undergone substantial revision over the last 1,000 years especially. It simply is not accurate for conservative Catholics to act as if "obedience" always meant what they think it means today relative to the papacy, . . .


. . . to me it seems that you just aren't up to discussing the historical matters that militate against your view or else you've found some supra-historical way to just dismiss those historical matters.

Maybe I just don't belong on this board. Because I love the Historical Church and the cause of Christian truth I have studied and am still studying tons of serious, sober-minded historical material about issues of great importance to Christendom past and present, and mostly all I have gotten and continue to get from most of this board's members of "the" Historical Church is a fat lot of nothing. One writes a ludicrous parody of my views that you laud as being really worth reading. A second tells me I just don't grasp the Objective Revelation, which is, like, duh!, Papalism. A third substitutes blind ecclesiastical patriotism and sloganeering for serious historical argument. A fourth refuses to engage anything I say if it is in any way, shape, or form even remotely connected to things they consider to be "liberal". And so on.

There have been a few exceptions, of course, but the norm from the Catholic side seems to me to have been "If you don't just see how obvious Catholicism is, we don't have much to talk about."

Greg Krehbiel, a Catholic and host of the board where this discussion took place, responded to the above comments, which were directed (at least in part) towards him:

We both see a historically messy situation, and we both see a New Testament vision of a church. I see that NT vision making demands on ecclesiology, and as those demands are measured against a messy history, it becomes clearer and clearer that they are only answered in the papacy. Some Catholics will argue that the papacy was some sort of obvious fact from the very beginning, and they will wonder how those Orthodox -- let alone that devil Luther -- could have failed to see it. (Damned rebels!) From my perspective, the clarity of the papal answer is only seen in and through this messy history -- by the manifest failure of other systems to match up to the NT vision.

You see a NT vision of the church that makes different demands on ecclesiology. From your perspective, "the church" has its objective foundation in the right interpretation of Scripture. Organizational disunity is simply a regretable fact. It does not inherently challenge NT ecclesiology. So from your perspective, doctrinal questions can always be resolved by appeal to this objective foundation of the right interpretation of Scripture. Since our knowledge of right doctrine is merely helped by the witness of the church, and does not rely upon it, organizational messiness is for you merely a regrettable fact, and not an inherent challenge to the NT vision.

So from my perspective, the faith depends on the church in such a way that there must be an ecclesiology that is capable of providing an objectively valid witness to the faith. Yes, there may be historical messiness, but it is precisely this historical messiness that illustrates the system.

From your perspective, since the faith is objectively contained in Scripture, the external manifestation of the church is not intrinsically necessary, so historical messiness is just that -- messiness. Since your system doesn't require an objective, external witness to the faith, any effort to find the order in the mess just seems like a waste of time.

From this perspective, the precise historical details aren't all that relevant. The way you look at the issue and the way I look at the issue will inevitably lead us to interpret the same historical details differently.

That's how I see the discussion.


At that point, after observing what was going on, I jumped in:

Greg is exactly right in his analysis of history; Tim is off, as usual (nothing personal, Tim . . . ).

I would "up the ante" quite a bit and argue that the office of the papacy is explicitly indicated in the Bible itself, thus making Tim's polemics about "Cluniac reforms" and so forth mildly entertaining, but in the end a huge non sequitur. And that is because it's all there in the NT, as Greg stated. Everything we need to establish the papacy in all essentials is in the Bible.

In the past, Tim has seemed quite reluctant to do some serious biblical exegesis. He has also refused to discuss development in doctrine in anything but broad, dismissive terms (to put the best slant on it). Now, I am contending (which is nothing new for me) that it's all in the Bible.

If Tim wants to wax indignant about Catholics supposedly ignoring history or dishonestly fitting it into their own mold; special pleading, etc., then I return the "favor" by placing the foundational discussion on the papacy back in the Bible, where it belongs. I've challenged the Orthodox in this way, too (many times) and they "responded" with the same non-replies. Strangely enough, I can't find any Protestant (supposedly the Bible scholars extraordinaire) who will seriously engage the massive Protestant scholarship on the meaning of the "keys of the kingdom" given to Peter. I just completed a lengthy reply to Jason Engwer on the papacy (my 7th response to him):

Second Refutation of the Reductio ad Absurdum Argument for a "Pauline Papacy"
One thing that was highly revealing was my proof that he failed to interact with this line of argument (the keys, and also Peter as the Rock) AT ALL. How did I prove this (something I already knew full well)? Well, it was simple. I named the 41 Protestant scholars and reference works that I cited in my paper that Jason reputedly was "replying" to. Then I did a word search of his "reply" and discovered that NOT A SINGLE ONE of the 41 scholars or reference works appeared in Jason's reply. This is par for the course. Protestants virtually never reply to this.

So there is enough indignation against "non-replies" to go around, I can assure Tim (whom I have commended for making some excellent points lately about Reformed tunnel vision and knee jerk tendencies). I'm almost positive Tim will not respond, either. He'll cite time constraints, no doubt, but Jason Engwer writes plenty, and he utterly refused to deal with this stuff. Certainly there is some Protestant somewhere with some time on his hands and an interest in the issue, who is willing to respond? If anyone knows of such a person, please have them write to me. I would be much obliged and eternally appreciative.

Here, then, is my argument from mostly Protestant scholarship about the "keys of the kingdom" and what they mean in terms of evidence for a strong office of the papacy. This is from one of my replies to Jason:

Dialogue on the Nature of Development of Doctrine (Particularly With Regard to the Papacy)

[I then cut-and-pasted lengthy material from the following two sections of that paper -- hyper-linked below]

IX. St. Peter as Possessor of the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven: Scholarly Commentary (Mostly Protestant)

X. Papal Infallibility Established From the Bible Alone (David Palm)


Greg then asked me:

I have one question for you. You said I'm right in my reading of history. Thanks, but I think we may have slightly different takes on that.

You argue that everything necessary for the papacy is already there in Scripture, and I agree with you. But I said that from my perspective the papacy only became obvious as history unfolded. In other words, I don't agree with people who argue that the papacy was obvious from the get-go.

Those two statements are not necessarily contradictory if you accept the concept of doctrinal development -- or, perhaps, the idea that our certainty of a doctrine develops over time.

I agree 100%. The two propositions need not conflict at all, and I don't believe that they do in fact (the distinction between logical necessity and factuality or actuality). And one proof of that is in analogies to other doctrines: the Trinity and Two Natures of Christ are "clear" in the Bible with the convenience of historical hindsight that we have, yet they weren't fully defined till 325 and 451, respectively.

Protestants claim that the canon of the Bible was so "clear" from the outset, yet no one listed all 27 NT books till St. Athanasius in 367.

Protestants claim sola fide is so clear in the Bible, yet even such a one as Norman Geisler states that no one taught imputed, forensic justification between the times of Paul and Luther (!!!).

Why should the papacy be any different? Why would anyone expect it to be if they were familiar at all with how other doctrines necessarily developed and became better understood over time?

Yes, the papacy (like the Trinity) is very clear in the Bible, once one does some serious exegesis (an exegesis which -- in this case -- Protestant laymen are most reluctant to discuss), but that doesn't mean that everyone would have perfectly understood it from the outset. As men reflected upon it, and as it was attacked, it became more clear, as all doctrines do. Cardinal Newman wrote about it:

Let us see how, on the principles which I have been laying down and defending, the
evidence lies for the Pope's supremacy.

As to this doctrine the question is this, whether there was not from the first a certain element at work, or in existence, divinely sanctioned, which, for certain reasons, did not at once show itself upon the surface of ecclesiastical affairs, and of which events in the fourth century are the development; and whether the evidence of its existence and operation, which does occur in the earlier centuries, be it much or little, is not just such as ought to occur upon such an hypothesis.

. . . While Apostles were on earth, there was the display neither of Bishop nor Pope; their power had no prominence, as being exercised by Apostles. In course of time, first the power of the Bishop displayed itself, and then the power of the Pope . . .

. . . St. Peter's prerogative would remain a mere letter, till the complication of ecclesiastical matters became the cause of ascertaining it. While Christians were "of one heart and soul," it would be suspended; love dispenses with laws . . .

When the Church, then, was thrown upon her own resources, first local disturbances gave exercise to Bishops,and next ecumenical disturbances gave exercise to Popes; and whether communion with the Pope was necessary for Catholicity would not and could not be debated till a suspension of that communion had actually occurred. it is not a greater difficulty that St. Ignatius does not write to the Asian Greeks about Popes, than that St. Paul does not write to the Corinthians about Bishops. And it is a less difficulty that the Papal supremacy was not formally acknowledged in the second century, than that there was no formal acknowledgment on the part of the Church of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity till the fourth. No doctrine is defined till it is violated . . .

Moreover, an international bond and a common authority could not be consolidated, were it ever so certainly provided, while persecutions lasted. If the Imperial Power checked the development of Councils, it availed also for keeping back the power of the Papacy. The Creed, the Canon, in like manner, both remained undefined. The Creed, the Canon, the Papacy, Ecumenical Councils, all began to form, as soon as the Empire relaxed its tyrannous oppression of the Church. And as it was natural that her monarchical power should display itself when the Empire became Christian, so was it natural also that further developments of that power should take place when that Empire fell. Moreover, when the power of the Holy See began to exert itself, disturbance and collision would be the necessary consequence . . . as St. Paul had to plead, nay, to strive for his apostolic authority, and enjoined St. Timothy, as Bishop of Ephesus, to let no man despise him:so Popes too have not therefore been ambitious because they did not establish their authority without a struggle. It was natural that Polycrates should oppose St. Victor; and natural too that St. Cyprian should both extol the See of St. Peter, yet resist it when he thought it went beyond its
province . . .

On the whole, supposing the power to be divinely bestowed, yet in the first instance more or less dormant, a history could not be traced out more probable, more suitable to that hypothesis, than the actual course of the controversy which took place age after age upon the Papal supremacy.

It will be said that all this is a theory. Certainly it is: it is a theory to account for facts as they lie in the history, to account for so much being told us about the Papal authority in early times, and not more; a theory to reconcile what is and what is not recorded about it; and, which is the principal point, a theory to connect the words and acts of the Ante-nicene Church with that antecedent probability of a monarchical principle in the Divine Scheme, and that actual exemplification of it in the fourth century, which forms their presumptive interpretation. All depends on the strength of that presumption. Supposing there be otherwise good reason for saying that the Papal Supremacy is part of Christianity, there is nothing in the early history of the Church to contradict it . . .

Moreover, all this must be viewed in the light of the general probability, so much insisted on above, that doctrine cannot but develop as time proceeds and need arises, and that its developments are parts of the Divine system, and that therefore it is lawful, or rather necessary, to interpret the words and deeds of the earlier Church by the determinate teaching of the later.

(Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, 1878 ed., Univ. of Notre Dame Press, 1989, pp. 148-155; Part 1, Chapter 4, Section 3)

Now, of course Tim will come up with his usual claptrap about this being a classic case of Catholics trying to force history into their own mold (precisely as the Anglican polemicist George Salmon -- whom, incidentally, I read with great interest before my conversion -- falsely accused him during his lifetime). The truth is quite otherwise.

If one reads the above carefully, they'll see that Newman's thinking is the exact opposite of the caricature that Tim often makes of him, and of the Catholic approach to Church history in general. Cardinal Newman is reasoning as follows (using mostly his words, but clarifying and explanding upon them a bit):

1. Suppose there is a good reason for saying that the Papal Supremacy is part of Christianity (there certainly is: the biblical Petrine data and much indication in the Fathers).

2. Let us construct a provisional, falsifiable theory of development of doctrine to account for facts as they lie in the history that we can objectively observe and verify.

3. Let us also assume the general probability and likelihood (indeed, dare we say, inevitability?) that doctrine develops as time proceeds and need arises, and that these developments are parts of the Divine system.

4. In order to illustrate #3, we will show several analogies to other doctrines which are held in common by Protestants and Catholics.

5. Let us pursue a theory which connects the words and acts of the Ante-nicene Church with that antecedent probability of a monarchical principle in the Divine Scheme, and that actual exemplification of it in the fourth century.

6. Assuming the premises we have established, let us see if there is anything in the history of the early Church to contradict it.

7. By checking those facts and applying this provisional analysis, we see that nothing in the early history of the Church contradicts it

8. Therefore, we accept it as a plausible explanation of the course of developmental history as God ordained it from the outset, and as indicated in kernel form in the apostolic deposit itself; particularly the New Testament.

Far from being some sort of "historical dogmatism" or a Quasi-Platonic forcing of actual history into what Catholics merely wish it to be; this is, to the contrary, a very scientific way of approaching the issue: almost Popperian, rather than Platonic. Newman tries, in effect, to falsify his own theory by applying it provisionally to history, and he sees that it succeeds; therefore, he accepts it as a reasonable, epistemologically-justified explanation till something better is offered. Thus Newman writes in section 21 of his Introduction to his classic work:
. . . the increase and expansion of the Christian Creed and Ritual, and the variations . . . are the necessary attendants on any philosophy or polity which takes possession of the intellect and heart, and has had any wide or extended dominion; that, from the nature of the human mind, time is necessary for the full comprehension and perfection of great ideas; and that the highest and most wonderful truths, though communicated to the world once for all by inspired teachers, could not be comprehended all at once by the recipients, but, . . . have required only the longer time and deeper thought for their full elucidation. This may be called the Theory of Development of Doctrine; . . .
Note how Newman views his theory very scientifically (rather than dogmatically in the sense that it is proclaimed as true and expected to be believed; facts be damned!):
It is undoubtedly an hypothesis to account for a difficulty; but such too are the
various explanations given by astronomers from Ptolemy to Newton of the apparent motions of the heavenly bodies, and it is as unphilosophical on that account to object to the one as to object to the other. Nor is it more reasonable to express surprise, that at this time of day a theory is necessary, granting for argument's sake that the theory is novel, than to have directed a similar wonder in disparagement of the theory of gravitation, or the Plutonian theory in geology.
I mention all this only in anticipation to Tim's usual reply whenever I bring up Cardinal Newman or development. I maintain that he has never properly understood either Newman's theory of development or how his thought is to be characterized. Until he does, he will never comprehend how Catholics can easily answer all of his various historical claims, made through the lens of whatever historical texts he has lately been extensively studying.

If one reads "anti-papal" texts (such as, e.g., the ultra-liberal "Catholic" historian, Brian Tierney, with whom Tim was enthralled recently), one comes out with a non-Catholic view of Church history! Should this surprise anyone? We are what we eat. Now, of course, Tim can respond that we Catholics read our orthodox Catholic stuff and so come out Catholic. I don't deny that, but it is a bit simplistic in my own case, because what I am attempting to do presently is to bring the discussion back to the Bible (that which we both equally revere as God's revelation). What does IT teach us about a papacy (if anything)?

And in that endeavor I have enlisted not Catholic biblical commentators, but (overwhelmingly) Protestant ones. Thus, the charge of party bias is disposed of. The next move is for a Protestant to offer a better exegesis of the Petrine passages than what I have offered, through those Protestant scholars I have cited.

The best attempts I have personally encountered came from the following two gentleman (the first has since converted to Orthodoxy):

Dialogue With an Anglican on the Papacy and Roman Primacy (particularly, the Keys of the Kingdom) (Dave Armstrong vs. Jon Jacobson)

Dialogue with a Lutheran on Papal Supremacy and Succession, the Keys of the Kingdom, and the Filioque (Dave Armstrong vs. Eric Phillips)

They gave it a good shot, and were worthy opponents, but (with all due respect) I don't think they presented anything that decisively refuted the Catholic arguments at all (I'm content, as always, to let the reader judge by reading the dialogues).

So there we have it. Tim demanded a reply with a lot of "meat" and substance (claiming that Catholics never offer him that -- which itself is disputable, of course). I have given him both extensive biblical and historical arguments. I have much MORE on my website if he really wants to get into this.

He can choose to actually interact with them or to simply go on with his usual modus operandi of polemics and railing against the alleged Catholic head-in-the-sand, special pleading mentality when it comes to the facts of history and good biblical exegesis, a la George Salmon and his modern-day historical-revisionist successors such as William Webster and David T. King (both of whom are exceedingly ignorant in historical matters; particularly development of doctrine, as I have demonstrated in three critiques -- all ignored by them):

Protestant Contra-Catholic Revisionist History: Pope St. Pius X and Cardinal Newman's Alleged "Modernism" (Dave Armstrong vs. David T. King)

Refutation of William Webster's Fundamental Misunderstanding of Development of Doctrine

Refutation of Protestant Polemicist William Webster's Critique of Catholic Tradition and Newmanian Development of Doctrine


Well I don't think ecclesiology is neat. Not historically, and not now. I'm sorry, but it's bewildering to me trying to understand why you think your argument actually accomplishes something that other systems don't and can't.

I believe all true Christian doctrines (whatever they may be) are "neat" and defensible from the Bible because I believe that the Bible is materially-sufficient. You apparently don't, which is strange and odd, since as a Protestant, you believe in the formal sufficiency of Scripture.

I don't believe there is such a thing as a doctrine that is "relatively unimportant" and thus up for grabs, with all aspirants having equal validity simply by existing. As far as I can tell, Luther, Calvin, and the early Protestants agree with me in this respect, which is precisely why they fought each other as well as Rome.

They (like Catholics now and always) believed there was one Christian truth and one theology, and each thought their own was it. Today's Protestants, on the other hand, think there are several Christian truths (despite the fact that they contradict each other) or that in some areas (such as ecclesiology and sacramentology) truth (construed as one solution, without contradiction) doesn't matter.

You claim to be going back to the true Reformed heritage, yet you relativize ecclesiology and seem to think there is no one truth where it is concerned. Hence, earlier, you wrote:

I'm not the one looking for a certainty "that clears up 99.3 percent of the cases". In fact, I'm not looking for certainty about "the Church" at all. That's why the Roman Catholic argument drives me bananas--it's just one more attempt to secure for the human mind a comprehensive epistemological state in which rationalism is confused with "faith". It reminds me of a discussion here a few months back between Dave Armstrong, EHamilton and myself, in which Dave basically expressed extreme consternation that neither EH or I saw Scripture prescribing a definitive, ultra-nuanced ecclesiological scheme-to-end-all-schemes. "What do you mean you don't believe Jesus wanted us to have a Totally Certain Ecclesiology? Are you some kind of relativist?" was the thrust of Dave's argument. No wonder High Papalists have caused so many horrendous schisms throughout Church history.
There was one apostolic deposit. Ecclesiology was part of that. The fact that no brand of ecclesiology works or has worked perfectly throughout history is irrelevant to the question of which brand is true. Christians are not philosophical pragmatists or utilitarians.

The Trinity is biblical and true, yet it has always been the case that people calling themselves Christians have denied it.

The doctrine of eternal hellfire has always been biblical and true, but there have always been people calling themselves Christians who denied it (e.g., 7th-Day Adventists or universalists).

Even baptism is not practiced by Quakers and the Salvation Army.

Now, that being the case, does this prove that the Trinity, hell, and the necessity of baptism (however one interprets its significance) are disproved, because not all agreed with them? No, of course not.

Likewise, the fact that not all through history have accepted the papacy as construed by the Catholic Church is not any sort of argument against it. It does not prove that it is not the 1) biblical form of ecclesiology, or that 2) it is not the best form in practice, in terms of creating a unified structure of belief.

Of course, the question of whether Catholic theology is the best one is a separate issue, but it is certainly true that we have preserved our doctrines intact. To the extent that one likes what they see in Catholic theology, the papacy must be seen as the primary unifying factor in Catholicism. That proves nothing as to its truthfulness, but if the argument is over what system has worked the best in practice, then ours has a prime claim for "workability," wholly apart from the question of which ecclesiology is the apostolic, biblical, and patristic one.

And the Great Western Schism does not disprove this. As C.S. Lewis said, "the rules of chess create chess problems." The fact that a problem arises in chess does not mean there are no rules of chess which can be ascertained. How does the fact that three people claimed to be pope for a while prove that the Bible teaches no such thing as a papacy? It does not.

By the same token, Bible difficulties and problems to be worked out do not disprove biblical inerrancy or infallibility or inspiration. Protestants believe in that despite all these "difficulties" that whole books are written about (e.g., Gleason Archer's Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties).

Protestants also believe that inspired Scripture was written by many great sinners (people like David and Paul and Peter). Yet they find it difficult to believe that sinful men can be infallible (a much less extraordinary gift than inspiration) in limited circumstances. This is to be marvelled at, but Protestant bias runs very deep and looks for any and every opportunity to manifest itself. Hence the constant double standards that are not consistently applied to its own systems of thought.


Greg is exactly right in his analysis of history; Tim is off, as usual (nothing personal, Tim . . . ).
I'm not sure how you can make this sort of remark since you haven't even seen the tip of the iceberg of my analysis of the relevant history.

I'm sure you can quote 10,000 different historians with as many theories (with antipathy to orthodox Catholic ecclesiology the only thing in common between all of them). You can always pile on all kinds of historical analysis. But if you don't examine your underlying presuppositions, then you miss the forest for the trees and it is all for nought.

I am asking you some very basic, fundamental questions. I wish you would answer them for a change, but chances are you won't. Frankly, I just don't see that you are interested in dialogue. Rather, your primary interest (confirmed in literally hundreds of posts for now four years since I have known you) is to simply preach endlessly the latest thing which enthralls you.

. . . you'd be much more fun if you would actually dialogue with people. I've been waiting these four years to see if you would realize that, but you keep preaching and no end is in sight. That may fit in well with a Presbyterian presuppositionalist mindset, but it is quite unbecoming on a discussion board such as this and particularly grating and irritating to a longtime Socratic such as myself. I know you don't think much of my apologetics but I would hope that you would exhibit enough intellectual confidence once in a blue moon to actually reply to direct critiques of your assertions . . .

Up until this point most of my comments on Internet forums have been generic and lacking in the substantive scholarly support that I actually do have for them--but the lack has been not because I don't have the support but because I am in the midst of a very time-consuming project of collating the sources and writing it all up formally.

That's all fine and dandy. It doesn't preclude or rule out your answering of simple questions when they are asked. Nor has it much to do (if anything) with biblical exegesis. I am challenging you to seriously interact with the Catholic biblical case for the papacy. Will you take it up or not?

Since you continue to assert there's really nothing at all to my interpretations of history, which you have not seen at all,

From what I have seen, it is based on fundamental errors, both factual and presuppositional. Those have to be dealt with, before you produce your mountain of "anti-papal" evidence that so excites you at the moment that you are almost giddy in jubilation and a bogus triumphalism.

I'll post my detailed analysis of Gregory VII's innovations regarding the Papacy as soon as it's in a form that my thesis advisors agree is suitable for public consumption.

There's not a chance that I will interact with that if you so cavalierly ignore my questions. If you want to completely ignore my critiques (even when you are supposedly "replying") then I won't even read your stuff, let alone reply to it. Why should I? It works both ways, doesn't it?

Then we'll see which one of us has the better historical case to make. I look forward to seeing how your Newman-inspired historiography fares when it's forced to get its tidy intellectual abstractions horrendously dirty in the untidy, flesh-and-blood worlds of the 9th-11th centuries.

Well, I can already see that you don't intend to interact. You've never understood Newman and now there is even less chance of that happening, because you keep getting farther and farther away, almost like a feuding married couple who always argue and never listen to each other. The misunderstandings keep increasing and no hope for reconciliation exists. That's how you are in relation to Catholic apologetics and Newman and the Catholic historical case in particular.

Until then, I'd like to think CParks [an Orthodox participant] for dealing rather nicely with your "It's all about development" gratuities,

I figured you would say that, but as I showed, there was really no difficulty in my presentation.
. . . But it is altogether typical of you -- faced with a direct challenge -- to punt the ball, refer back to your massive studies, ignore my arguments, and congratulate others for engaging in a minor way the thing that is your responsibility to defend, given all your absurd and hostile rhetoric against Catholics lately and your own claims. My readers can readily see what is going on there. People aren't as dumb as you think.

I was expecting much more.


This response just highlights the narrative nature of truth claims made by individuals and communities. You belong to a community (or perhaps a sub-community within a larger one) that tells a Whopping Good Yarn called "How and Why Everyone Else is Screwed Up". That story describes the world for you, makes it comprehensible, gives you a sense of place and purpose and meaning. Other people tell other stories for similar reasons, and the fact that their stories don't agree with yours should clue you in to the fact that truth just may not be as simple as simply telling your story and then demanding that everyone else agree with it because you preface it with "This is how Jesus Christ Himself set things up, as is proved by these 3 Gospel prooftexts and this wad of patristic citations I got from Steve Ray."

We all have our stories. Some of them, like the one entitled "High Papalism is the Objective Will of Jesus Christ Himself, So Fooey On All the Wacko-Kook-Liberals-Who-Disagree-With-My-Sect", are just plain bad. They fail to satisfy precisely because they describe a world that is much smaller--and much more boring--than the one we actually live in.


Tim argues precisely as an atheist does (title of my post)

Follow me on this; it is an argument by analogy. I'm not calling Tim an atheist or a "wascally," evil moron. I'm saying exactly what I claimed in the title: he argues precisely as they do in this instance. And that ought to give him pause. He carps on and on about how "rationalist" Catholic thought is, yet he thinks like this? I shall now show how an atheist (say an anthropologist or a psychologist in particular) -- and I've debated many of them, including philosophy professors -- argues in exactly the same way with regard to all committed Christians:

This response just highlights the narrative nature of truth claims made by Christian individuals and communities. You belong to a community (or perhaps a sub-community within a larger one) that tells a Whopping Good Yarn called "How and Why Everyone Else is Screwed Up" (especially us atheists and agnostics who don't agree with your Yarn). That story describes the world for you, makes it comprehensible, gives you a sense of place and purpose and meaning. Other people (Buddhists, Taoists, Muslims, Hindus, humanists and atheists) tell other stories for similar reasons, and the fact that their stories don't agree with yours should clue you in to the fact that truth just may not be as simple as simply telling your story and then demanding that everyone else agree with it because you preface it with "This is how Jesus Christ Himself set things up, as is proved by these three Gospel prooftexts and this wad of apologetic arguments I got from Josh McDowell, Francis Schaeffer, William Lane Craig, R.C. Sproul, and C.S. Lewis."

We all have our stories. Some of them, like the one entitled "Christianity is the Objective Will of Jesus Christ Himself, So Fooey On All the Wacko-Kook-Liberals-and-Unbelievers-in-the-World-Who-Disagree-With-My-Theistic-Sect", are just plain bad. They fail to satisfy precisely because they describe a world that is much smaller--and much more boring--than the one we actually live in.

Wow, Tim. You prove my contentions about the errors in your thinking far easier than I could myself, just by doing your usual thing.

The above analogical argument demonstrates that if your contentions hold for Catholics, then the same sort of analysis holds for Christians in general, since atheists apply the same approach. That proves too much, of course. The atheist is wrong because he patronizes, condescends, and ignores many important considerations (just as you are doing), which themselves must be discussed in depth.

Thus, the discussion must get to "meat" and substance at some point. In my mind, that is clearly in the Bible itself and in exposition on the elementary components of doctrinal development (which are then later applied to the papacy). But I have seen you avoid both discussions (in a serious, ongoing sense) for almost four years now. It's almost certain you will do the same again. Prove me wrong. I dare you to do it. Show for a change that your reasoning is a lot deeper than the polemical bluster and bombast that it appears to consist of at first glance.


Do yourself a favor, Dave. Obtain N.T. Wright's book The New Testament and the People of God and pore over the first 200 pages or so of it. This will help, I think, to show you why I say that epistemology is mainly relational, not mainly intellectual.

But how does this suggestion overcome the logic of my analogical argument that you argued exactly as an atheist does in your tirade against Rome?

And just tit-for-tat since charges are being made,

As usual, you think a "reply" to a criticism is simply your pet peeves about the other, as opposed to responding to the issue at hand. One tires of this.

I find it interesting that you argue for the "objectivity" of your take on things in precisely the same manner as a certain type of Reformed apologist with whom I'm currently in hot water for expressing precisely the anti-Modernity epistemology that you are taking issue with here.

But how does this suggestion overcome the logic of my analogical argument?

(repetition seemed to work in the Psalms so I'm giving it a shot here)

You remind me very much at this moment of a particularly well-known Baptist apologist who just yesterday used his radio show to slam me and my views by proposing that my thinking is on the same basic sliding scale as that of "liberals", John Shelby Spong, and the Jesus Seminar.

It's very interesting that 1) you are being so attacked by your former comrades and that 2) it is on seemingly the same basis as some of my own critiques (though I suspect that he is coming at it from a different angle than I). He is probably objecting to what you are thinking about lately (when you talk ecumenical -- which you are infinitely better at than you are at anti-papal polemics), whereas I am critiquing how you think about and analyze Catholicism and its apologetics and other rationales.

He probably thinks this shortcoming he sees in you is on the same continuum as the dreaded Romanism that he decries (if it is who I am thinking of), whereas I see the two strains of thought as polar opposites. The Catholic Church is the great Opponent of Enlightenment rationalism, whether it is seen in Protestant liberalism, Catholic liberalism, pro-death humanism and secularism, or (weirdly enough) in Reformed Polemicists who utilize it alarmingly often while simultaneously decrying it. But we are all often blind to our own faults, aren't we?

In the process this man spent 15 minutes talking about how history and culture have affected lots of other people's theological views, but then turning right around and mocking the notion of cultural influences upon epistemology by invoking the same old tired Hellenistic Objective / Subjective dichotomy that I've usually focused upon only in Roman Catholics. This man, too, argues that truth is an immutable object grasped by infallible cognition--

Are you referring to me when you say "too"? If so, you are incorrect. But since when have you ever accurately portrayed my overall philosophical / theological outlook?

only he denies that he's arguing this way by covering it up with invocations of the classical Reformed doctrines of the "sufficiency" and "clarity" of Scripture. He likes to talk about how "sad" he is that so many people are (unlike him, of course!) falling away from the "clear truth" of Scripture, but he simply doesn't grasp the self-referential nature of his own paradigm and often expresses bewilderment at and / or outright dismissal of questions that go right to the heart of his paradigm.

If you are referring to his view of sola Scriptura, I would agree with you on that one. But I have to speculate as to the lines of his critique. I think you are profoundly right when you criticize the extreme Bible-Only a-historicism of much of evangelicalism today (I've agreed with that viewpoint for over twenty years), and equally profoundly wrong when you come after the Catholic Church.

How interesting that you agree with these Reformed critics of mine about how to find and express truth!

I don't. I think what they are critiquing as "rationalism" in you is based on false premises. I see this Enlightenment rationalism in you only when you go after Catholics. I don't see it in your critique of a-historical modes of thinking with regard to the Rule of Faith. There, I see you operating in biblical modes of thought, and I highly commend you. You've come around to what I've believed since '82 or '83.

That's part of the reason I am so severely disappointed in your recent tirades against Catholics, because you had been doing so well analyzing the foibles of your former comrades who are now hysterically burning you in effigy for all the wrong reasons. But I should know by now that Protestant bias often leads to very foolish utterances and beliefs, even in those who have much worthwhile to say in other areas.

How interesting that each of you spins your supposedly "objective" take on the world in mutually contradictory ways! How interesting that the first thing out of each of your guns is "The opponent disagrees with my take because he's spiritually deficient / uncritical-irrational, and he is unable to answer my brilliant criticisms on the objective terms that I specify in advance."

I haven't said a thing about your spirituality at all. For all I know you are a fine, upstanding Christian man. I simply made an analogy. I don't see faults in thinking as, ipso facto, moral deficiencies. But stubbornness and intellectual pride are. One may think they detect those, but it's very difficult to prove and know for sure, and only God can read your heart.

But how does this factually-mistaken rhetoric of yours overcome the logic of my analogical argument?

Personally, Dave, I think your excessively syllogism-focused approach to Christian doctrine and praxis and your facile "This looks like something atheists would say against all of Christianity" betrays the spirit of your own published webpages about the glories of Lewis, Tolkien, Chesterton, and other excellent storytellers.

But how does this vapid, insulting rhetoric of yours overcome the logic of my analogical argument? It will do no good to rail against logic and "syllogisms," seeing that you are using logic throughout this post and all your other ones. One cannot do otherwise if they wish to communicate much at all, especially where competing ideas are concerned.

You think Lewis (or Chesterton) would go on a crusade against logic and syllogisms? Ha! Lewis is where I obtained much of my own outlook about logical thinking and its inevitability (particularly his book -- compiled by Walter Hooper --, Christian Reflections). One would expect no less from the leader of the Oxford Socratic Club. Lewis's genius was that he didn't dichotomize his wonderful medieval imagination and his knife-sharp logical acumen. This is a major reason why he remains my very favorite writer, because I, too, am quite the Romanticist without denigrating logic and reason. There is no reason to. Apples and oranges . . .

So I'm not much concerned with what you think I "look like" because I've already learned the hard way from some within my own camp how superficial and reactionary the "looks like" argument is.

Fine. Put your head in the sand, then, and ignore critiques of your positions. Do you think I will lose any sleep over it?

Thus, the discussion must get to "meat" and substance at some point. In my mind, that is clearly in the Bible itself and in exposition on the elementary components of doctrinal development (which are then later applied to the papacy). But I have seen you avoid both discussions (in a serious, ongoing sense) for almost four years now. It's almost certain you will do the same again. Prove me wrong. I dare you to do it. Show for a change that your reasoning is a lot deeper than the polemical bluster and bombast that it appears to consist of at first glance.
I don't accept your proposed burden of proof. The onus isn't on me to prove you wrong, as if your views are some kind of self-evident standard of truth.

[laughing] Are you prepared to answer any sort of challenge whatsoever? Or is this your evasion this time? Any more of this and I will have no choice but to consider you an intellectual coward: a sort of "Internet bully" who prowls around running down everyone who disagrees with him, yet when challenged directly howls wildly and growls a lot, but ultimately scoots nervously into the cover of woods with his tail between his legs. I've seen it many times. It is nothing unusual, unfortunately.

Many people here don't accept the legitimacy of your over-riding concern for "the elementary principles of development of doctrine", and those principles don't become self-evident just because you say no one can answer your arguments within the grid you draw out before the discussion even begins. No one is epistemically bound to answer you on terms that you specify in advance.

Hey, at this point, I could care less what "grid" you choose to use. I would love to see any answer from you at all -- as opposed to yet more put-downs and sermons. But it sounds impressive and has a marvelous effect in certain previously-disposed minds when you distort the other guy's position beyond recognition, so such people (but not all, by any means) will be fooled into thinking that you have actually offered a reasoned reply. This is pure sophism. And a Socratic like me will always vigorously oppose that.

And at any rate, I utterly reject your terms. Your approach to Scriptural exegesis is thoroughly rationalistic and is therefore nicely cancelled out by any number of equal and opposite-reaction type rationalisms, particularly the Reformed one I mentioned above.

But how is this an answer to any of the arguments I made? You may object to my characterization of your thinking (and distort mine beyond all recognition), but at least I have put up some actual arguments, directly replying to yours. You claimed no Catholics were giving you anything, and insulted four distinct categories of answers on this board. But now all you do is accuse and lie about my beliefs, as you prepare to run, like the intellectual coward I increasingly suspect you of being.

And as for your historiography being "meaty", I don't call your typical response to historical objections--invoking "development of doctrine", which basically means writing all contrary data off to an allegedly inevitable teleological unfolding of "essences" through time--"meaty" at all. I call it abstraction gone to seed, and again, we shall see how your view fares when it's forced to get its hands dirty in the flesh-and-blood history that I'm going to present in great detail when the time is right.

Your sophistical and evasive non-answer is now duly-noted on my website. I think it is pathetic.

As seen above, Tim wasn't willing at all to discuss my biblical proofs for the papacy with me. Nor was he willing to discuss the foundational principles of development of doctrine, or how a Catholic applies them. Yet despite my challenge and his utter refusal to engage the discussion with me, within a few days (after I stated that I was leaving the board and doing other things), Tim wrote to someone else:

Then granting your generic premise, please explain how it is that Haec sancta and Chapter 31 of the Westminster Confession do not fall under the rubric of "development of doctrine". There is a point to this question, and it is to bring out the deeper assumptions of the Catholic understanding of "development". Those deeper assumptions, and not merely rhetoric about acorns growing up to become oak trees, that need to be gotten at or there's just no point in these conversations. It's not "development" per se that to you and others so wonderfully proves the Catholic claims; rather, it's a certain kind of development whose assumptions are being confused with "self-evident" truths that to you all proves the Catholic claims.

( http://pub141.ezboard.com/fgregsdiscussionboardgodtalk.showMessage?topicID=2626.topic&index=128 )

I've been trying to have this discussion with Tim for four years, but he always refuses -- usually mocking Newman and development of doctrine in the process, and immediately caricaturing and dismissing my own related arguments, as seen in our last exchange, immediately above, and in a subsequent remark he made on the board:

Frankly, I think anyone who exalts the doctrine of the Papacy in any fashion whatsoever above the doctrine of the Trinity has serious problems with theological and historical perspective. I've read Newman's comments on that subject. Let me just say that he should have done something more productive and more, um, catholic, the day he dreamed that piece of sectarian propaganda up. Just goes to show, as one of his biographers whom I've read has argued, how incompetent Newman really was with actual nitty-gritty historical work, as opposed to the tidy historiographical philosophizing at which he truly did excel.

So I have given up on discussing this or anything else with Tim, since he is clearly unwilling to dialogue in a good-natured, non-cynical fashion with me. The closest thing to an analysis of, and dialogue on the fundamentals of development, that I have been able to achieve, was in the following exchange with a very sharp Anglican, Edwin Tait (perhaps my favorite dialogue partner of all):

Preliminary Dialogue With an Anglican on the Nature of Legitimate Development of Doctrine
We didn't quite follow that discussion through to completion, due to time constraints, but (as far as it goes) it is an excellent introduction to the issues, for anyone who wishes to better understand the concept of development of doctrine, with both sides (to the extent that they disagree) represented adequately,

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Uploaded by Dave Armstrong on 6 October 2003, from public Internet discussions.