Michael Liccone has criticized by deployment of the canon of St. Vincent against the papacy. To be clear, I did not invoke the canon in terms of what every individual Christian professes. I am on board with Yohann Eck when he asked, “Do all believing Christians agree with one another? Never in a thousand years!” The VC refers I believe to the deposit of tradition made in specific churches founded by the Apostles-Rome, Antioch, Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Ephesus. This was to serve as a guide for the churches in what was genuinely of apostolic origin and what was an innovation. If something was discovered to have doctrinal content that was unique to a particular church, then it was an innovation. Consequently, this was meant as an aid to the principle teachers of the Church, specifically the bishops. Only secondarily was it meant as a guideline for “individuals.” This view is expressed in early witnesses as Tertullian and Fathers like St. Ireneaus. Saint Vincent is not innovating when he invokes the rule.
Consequently, pace Micheal, it is not very odd to invoke the canon as a guide to interpreting Scripture that presupposes the Church as a reference point because the canon, even prior to its utterance by St. Vincent, presupposed the possibility of specific churches misinterpreting Scriptures and that there were churches founded directly by apostles. What would be odd would be to invoke it against the entire church by say Protestants who would claim that the entire church erred. In my view, all that the rule requires is that there are in fact churches that the apostles founded and that in their tradition we can discover that which is truly apostolic. (Incidently to deny this premise is to beg the question against Orthodoxy and advance an implicity argument agianst Orthodoxy.) It does not presuppose some general vague notion of “the Church.” So the rule does not assume that one can identify the faith apart from the church, but exactly the opposite. It is because these sees are the church that one can identify the faith from their consensus.
It is the historical truth that these churches were founded by Apostles that grounds Vincent’s canon and hence its application. This is why it was invoked by him initially to test the Augustinian teaching. If Augustine were correct, you should be able to find it in all of the apostolic sees, which would silence objectors that what Augustine was teaching was in some significant respects novel. And this is what Vincent, and even the Catholic Church admits to this day was the case , although partially and it took Rome longer to do this than Vincent and the East. In any case, the application of the canon does not presuppose in any way the epistemic independence of the investigation from locating the church. All the person invoking the canon need reply is, do you mean to question whether these churches were founded by the Apostles? If yes, then we need to go back to the historical level to convince the objector. Does Michael wish to call into question the apostolicity of these churches? If not, then the invocation of the rule is not independent of knowing which churches were founded by the apostles. If the affirmative, then certainly Jerusalem, Antioch and Epehesus have no weaker claim to apostolicity than Rome does. If anything, the opposite is the case, if at all.
Consequently, the argument that the canon is idle shows this only on a miscontrual of the canon. The canon itself is not some ecclesiastically free floating principle but is rooted in the historicity of the particular churches. The application of the rule does not seek to identify the content of the faith apart from the Church, but rather on the basis that said sees are the church. If Michael wishes to put up in the air the status of these sees as the church, he can do so, in which case I can’t see how he will establish the apostolicity of Rome apart from an appeal to history. Perhaps there is some analog from natural theology to natural ecclesiology but that would be a strange animal indeed.
Because the content of the faith is discoverable in the church, specifically those churches founded by the apostles, as Tertullian, Ireneaus and Vincent direct, it is not an attempt to discover the content of the faith apart from the location of the church, but rather because the church is located there we can discover the content of the faith. There is therefore no presumption of the falsity of Catholicism or Orthodoxy, but rather the demonstration of the falsity of Catholicism, since its distinctives are not found in the other sees. What is at work here is the notion of tradition and Saint Ireneaus along with St. Vincent and others were wise enough to rely on tradition. The rule then actually turns on and is an invocation of tradition. The apostolic tradition isn’t limited to one particular church, but is given whole to every church.
This is part of the point of Apostolic Succession since it requires a succession of tradition. The tradition is discoverable and known in the succession of the apostles. This was the motivation of privileging those sees directly founded by the Apostles. This is why this line of reasoning was so very effective against Gnosticism as invoked by St. Ireneaus. The Gnostic claim to have teachings not found in the Scriptures could not be undone by an appeal to the scriptures since what was there was dependent on the selection of not only the contents of the canon but also on the hermeneutical principles that one employed. The novelty and non-apostolic status of the Gnostic position was made clear then by the Apostolic Succession in all the churches and not just one of them. To appeal to one apart from the rest would only prove innovation by St. Ireneaus’ reasoning, which was why he could flush out Gnosticism.
To appeal to doctrinal content that is unique to one church or even one see is to elevate innovation and reject tradition. This is why the apparatus of development is so essential to the Catholic position since it is an implicit admission that it cannot justify its position based on the rules which the tradition handed on in identifying itself. It is also I might add the paradigm case of private judgment-the tradition is only in effect what this individual says it is, and not that which is found in the deposit of all the Apostolic Churches. Consequently, it is no surprise that Michael has to re-interpret St. Vincent’s canon as being effective in identifying tradition only by one church, Rome. In other words, innovation via development has become the tradition or rather, tradition in the patristic sense simply doesn’t matter for Catholics. What matters is the private judgment of this particular bishop.
So I fully agree with Michael to investigate apart from answering the question of what is the church is an exercise in private judgment but since the canon depends on the answer to where is the church, the person invoking the canon isn’t appealing to private judgment. In fact, he isn’t reducing the question to opinion at all, but to knowledge, to wax platonic, just its opposite. For opinion is a view for which it is impossible to discover the truth, which is why everyone is entitled to their own. Knowledge on the other hand entails truth, which was why the Church kept a list of the successors of the Apostles. Whenever there was any question the bishops would exclaim, ‘Bring out the scroll!” as their ancestors in the OT did. (Neh 7:64). The point is that the churches know in whose ministry they participate and continue. If Michael thinks otherwise then he needs to show that we can’t know that said churches were established by the apostles. (This was in part the point of burying the apostles in particular churches and why various Latin’s stole their remains from the East, making them thieves twice over.)
It is on the fact of Apostolic Succession then that the identification of the deposit in the churches is built. And this was St. Vincent’s and St. Ireneaus’ point. Gnosticism was an innovation. To identify factually that Gnosticism was so was not an exercise in question begging. The same goes for Augustinianism, the filioque, and the papacy. It is a factual question, which again was why in practice even the teaching of Rome was held up to this standard. Leo had to agree with Cyril and not the other way around because Cyril was judged to have articulated the faith of the Apostles. Michael’s argument is not only based on a straw man, but is unconnected with the actual practice of the church, especially in those cases when the bishops held Rome’s feet to the fire in the case of Vigilius for example. If I am wrong and Michael’s argument isn’t a case of question begging, it is hard to see how the Gnostics could not have had a legitimate counter-argument against Ireneaus.
So it isn’t a case of private judgment in the problematic sense at all about which body is the church any more than the judgment concerning the facticity of apostolic succession is. The latter isn’t and so neither is the former. Michael I think is simply wrong that any judgment identifying the tradition amounts to a problematic kind of private judgment. Such a judgment isn’t attempting to make a creed or confession. It isn’t at that level attempting to grant the level of normativity to the judgment that one assigns to the Creed. It is the normativity that applies to judgments concerning knowledge and not the formulation of dogmatic statements. This is exactly why St. Maximus, when confronted with the capitulation of Rome to monothelitism confessed that he would still refuse to commune with Rome on the basis of a heterodox profession.
Consequently, it is not that what is not explicitly and consensually clear across sees is not normative, for many consensual points have not been clear. Nor is it a cherry picking of the fathers but just the opposite and that is the point. Nor is it what is consensually clear but what is in fact believed in each and every location of the direct apostolic deposit. Consensus is what emerges after the testimony of each see. This was the point of having ecumenical councils in which those sees were represented and in part the basis on which various sees could press their case that what some individual or group was teaching was innovation. So the claim is primarily factual, that is, it is a claim about what constitutes tradition.
The constant repeating of development of doctrine as making formally explicit what was always materially present ignores the problem that given dialectical principles, just about any proposition can be maintained as always implicitly held. That is the point of holism. Any conceptual schema can admit of contrary evidence given sufficient adjustment and analysis according to its own principles. This was exactly the same hermeneutical principle on which the Gnostics justified their innovations-we aren’t teaching anything new, but this is what was “hidden” in these sources. We are simply making explicit what was always present. The genius, if I can say this, of the Gnostic position is in the recognition that the use of dialectic cuts both ways. If philosophical analysis is necessary to give content to theological terms, then this same method can render any analysis of those theological terms consistent and “implicit” by the use of dialectic. Any “development” then alters the entire system in such a way that the entire system carries the new meaning as implicit and “always” present. Hence it confuses omnipresence with history. This is why the appeal to merely articulating what was always present rings hallow on the same principles upon which the idea of development of doctrine is built. The theory undoes itself-the serpent consumes itself-old heresies go home to Rome to die.
Lastly, on Michael’s reading practice of the Fathers like Ireneaus and Vincent and even witnesses like Tertullian is rendered odd and useless or rather even worse, stupid. If Augustinianism were part of the deposit, what St. Vincent should have recommended was writing letters to Rome to inquire the judgment of Rome. Irneneaus should have done the same, rather than painstakingly arguing point by point that what the Gnostics were offering could not be found in any of the Churches founded directly by the Apostles. Moreover, it attenuates the value of patristic material against Protestants. When Catholic apologists are quoting Ignatius of Antioch on the Eucharist or Nicea on baptism, what they are really doing is just saying, “You should believe this because Rome this is the tradition of Rome.” Rather than the argument often given that the evidence is testament to a wide, pervasive and apostolic origin of teachings and practices, the argument should be that this data is evidence of Roman tradition, for that is the only locus of the full and unsullied deposit of faith. But this is at best implausible and worse absurd. Consequently the use of the Apostolic tradition in Ephesus or Jerusalem or Antioch testifies to the falsity of papal claims and shows Rome as simply private judgment write large.