Romanism at its finest


“[I]t does not follow that Irenaeus is a more reliable witness than Vatican II to how the teaching authority of the Church functioned in his time.”

-Michael Liccione’s comment  on his blog highlighting the shear gnosticism of Vatican II vs. the Orthodoxy of Irenaeus. That is one of the most amazing statements I’ve EVER read. They’ve locked themselves up in infallibility in which there is no turning back.

No critically thinking Orthodox could take this idea of tradition seriously.

31 Responses to Romanism at its finest

  1. Chris says:

    “That is, the fact that Jerome argues for the presbytery and the episcopacy being essentially the same divinely ordained office is not necessarily a “reliable witness” to the the Church’s view of the same “in his time” or prior – though it is often used as such”

    It’s worth pointing out that there is a school of thought in Orthodoxy that the presbytery and episcopacy are not different divinely inspired offices, any more than the episcopacy and patriarchate are different divinely inspired offices. That doesn’t mean the ancient church wasn’t hierarchical, it just means there has been a development in vocabulary, and conventions about roles, that while ancient are not theological.

    In other words, to put it in practical terms, if there were no bishops, in dire emergency, a priest being the last one left could appoint new priests and bishops, even though conventionally this is the prerogative of bishops. I would be tempted to go one step further, grave emergency, the church itself could appoint new priests.

  2. photios says:

    No but that wasn’t the point I was trying to make. It’s the attitude that is manifest in Catholics about their view of tradition and how to account for the reading of texts. It is a moving target.

  3. Chris says:

    Does Vatican II actually say anything about the teaching authority of Irenaeus’ time?

  4. Chris Jones says:


    No offense taken.

    The irony is only apparent, however. From a Roman Catholic point of view “Lutheranism” is indeed the moniker for the specific errors of Luther and his followers, and that is in fact the origin of the term: a pejorative applied by Roman Catholics to the followers of Luther. If Catholics use the term “Lutheranism” to mean “the specific set of errors Catholics ascribe to Luther,” I would not take offense. I would disagree as to which side is in error, but I would not take offense.

    The classic epithet from the Orthodox side is “Luthero-Calvinist,” which I do take (a small amount of) offense to, since I have no wish to be associated with the detestable heresies of the Reformed. But that is another story.

  5. Andrew says:

    Mr Jones,

    it is customary to refer to a doctrinal error as an “-ism” derived either from the nature of the error (”Monophysitism,” “Docetism,” etc.) or from the source of the error (”Phrygianism,” “Arianism,” “Apollinarianism”).


    No offense intended — seriously! — but I couldn’t let slide the irony of your statement.

  6. Chris,
    Exactly. They like to play the victim game and blame others for the shortcomings of their own theological and historical bankruptcy. Hence, they have no problem lamenting “Protestantism.” I have no intention of being “ecumenical” towards “Roman” doctrine (another shear falsity that they claim, they are no more Roman than Charlemagne). These things have been documented to them time and again, and they have no willingness to do anything but defend the indefensible “church of Rome.” As long as it is in service to good “mother Rome,” it is okay.

  7. Chris Jones says:

    Finally, as to the “offensiveness” of the post title: it is customary to refer to a doctrinal error as an “-ism” derived either from the nature of the error (“Monophysitism,” “Docetism,” etc.) or from the source of the error (“Phrygianism,” “Arianism,” “Apollinarianism”). Surely it can be no surprise that non-Catholics believe that the Roman Catholic Church is in error; otherwise we would be Catholics. “Romanism” simply identifies (by its geographical origin) the error that we believe exists. (And, BTW, Photios’s brief citation of Dr Liccione precisely identifies the heart of the error.)

    “Romanism” says no more than “we honestly believe your Church to be in error.” If you are going to take offense at that simple statement, it will be difficult for you to engage in dialogue with non-Catholics at all. If we are not allowed to call “error” what we see as error, then we are giving away our position before the dialogue begins. That is (in one of Dr Liccione’s favourite phrases) “begging the question.”

  8. Chris Jones says:

    The only thing the fuller quote brings out that might appear to take away from Photios’s point is the acknowledged fact that individual Fathers may, and often do, err on particular doctrinal points, and that they are subject to correction by the sensus patrum and by the considered and authoritative teaching of the Church. Thus the teaching of St Irenaeus may in some particular points be in error, and may legitimately be corrected by an ecumenical council. Since Vatican II is, for Roman Catholics, an ecumenical council, it is reasonable for Roman Catholics to think that Vatican II “knew better” than St Irenaeus, saint and father though he was.

    However, it is not on a doctrinal point that Dr Liccione is claiming that Vatican II knew better — it is on an historical point. Dr Liccione is not speaking of the Church’s teaching about the fundamental nature of her own teaching authority; he is speaking (in his own words) of “how the teaching authority of the Church functioned in [St Irenaeus’s] time.” That is an historical question of how the doctrine of Church authority was applied in a particular time, not a theological question of what that doctrine actually was (and is).

    St Irenaeus was one of the most brilliant minds in the Church of his day. He was himself a bishop, and fully engaged with his brother bishops (and with Rome in particular) on the issues of the day, and precisely with issues of how the teaching authority of the Church ought best to be exercised. There can be no better witness to “how the teaching authority of the Church functioned” at that time. But for Dr Liccione the witness of a man who lived in engagement with the teaching authority of the Church (and who, as a bishop, himself exercised that authority) is inferior (as an historical witness) to the pronouncements of a council held seventeen centuries later.

    Thus Dr Liccione goes beyond the notion that the contemporary Church’s extraordinary magisterium will be preserved by the Holy Spirit from doctrinal and moral error, to the idea that the extraordinary magisterium has a sort of magic historical vision, enabling it to be a better historical witness than the people (indeed, the saints) who lived that history.


  9. Chris Jones says:

    The full quote has the same effect as Photios’s more concise citation — that is, a gobsmacking example of the fact that, for the modern Roman Catholic apologist, the current teaching authority of the Roman Catholic Church trumps all, including the reliable witness of the Fathers. Photios cannot be faulted for letting a single vivid sentence stand in for for a whole paragraph, particularly when that sentence captures what is remarkable (and outrageous) in the paragraph so very well.

    I am not sure I see the difference between “having an agenda” and simply having a point to make. Even if Photios does have “an agenda” (and who does not?), his point is either well and fairly made or it is not. Photios’s brief citation makes his point well, but your fuller citation does nothing to take the point away.

  10. Why not quote the “Daming quote” more fully? (I accept you linked to it… still, the omission of a fuller context seems rather contrived and with agenda.)

    . IF Minns’ interpretation of Irenaeus is correct, it does not follow that Irenaeus is a more reliable witness than Vatican II to how the teaching authority of the Church functioned in his time. From the Catholic standpoint, all that would follow is that Irenaeus didn’t get that particular matter quite right—just as, e.g., the brilliant Church father Origen got a few important things wrong a century later, or just as Augustine’s idea that original sin is personal guilt didn’t get original sin quite right. Although there is admittedly (and rightly) a consensus patrum that the deposit of faith may never be added to or subtracted from, there is no such consensus saying that all doctrine must be either stated explicitly in or deducible from the words of Scripture. Indeed, it was only within the living memory of Irenaeus that the Church of Rome, responding to the Marcionite challenge, had put together an NT canon pretty close to what we now have. She could not have done so had she not had “rules of faith” enabling her to decide which writings in circulation did, and which did not, belong in the canon. Those rules included various practices and oral teachings as well as the writings themselves. Collectively, they constitute Tradition (the “handing down” of revealed truth) in a wider sense than Scripture. And Irenaeus never questioned Rome’s authority to utilize Tradition in putting together a scriptural canon.

    AS it stands (and I suspect this was intended), the result of your clip & paste work allows for a cursory examiner to conclude the “Romanists” are saying “We don’t need no stinkin’ fathers, we have ourselves Vatican 2!”


    “Fathers? Fathers? We don’t need no stinkin’ Fathers.”

    Helps also, in the ommission, to more fully appreciate the “sheer gnosticism of Vatican II”.

    And yes, the title of this post is offensive.

  11. Eric John (PNW) says:

    I think you mean “sheer” in the statement “shear gnosticism,” unless you are making a joke about fleecing.

    – Eric John

  12. Lucian says:

    Hi, and sorry for the shameless self-promotion, but I think this goes with the post. 🙂

  13. Joseph Schmitt says:

    Fr. Patrick,

    So far, I have been pleased by both the EOB NT translation and the appendices. The appendices are well written and informative, notably the second one. I really hope the LXX portion of the EOB will see the light of day very soon. I want to buy the NETS translation pretty bad, but it looks like I may try to hold out for the EOB.

  14. Joseph,

    Thanks for the EOB link. I am very pleased to discover this translation which seems to be well grounded in the Orthodox Tradition. I hope that it finds a good following among Orthodox circles, even if it undoubtedly draws criticism from some.

    Regarding St Jerome,

    I think it is also important to see St John Chrysostom, a contemporary of St Jerome, on the matter and he is clear that the two orders are the same except for ordination and so the names were appropriately interchangeable in the NT but then custom properly assigned the names firmly in the order that we have now. This also applies to the word deacon that can also be used of all three orders to an extent. St John is clear, though, that the order of Bishop and Presbyter were distinct from the beginning and not a later development.

    Regarding being under Rome,

    I too would prefer this, if the church in Rome and those with her in the West, had maintained the traditions (Tradition) of the Church just as the Apostles had delivered them. I was put off because these had been abandoned in theory, as well as practice, and in regard to both the Faith and practice. The Orthodox churches in practice have issues and are struggling to maintain the traditions but nevertheless, I believe that one can still take Tradition as the authoritative norm for life and this hasn’t been formally changed, at least at an Ecumenical level. In this the Oriental Orthodox are much closer to the Eastern Orthodox (ie the ancient and enduring Catholic Church) than is Rome. The theological issues may go back further in time but regarding Tradition as a whole the Oriental Orthodox are much more faithful and in line with the traditions of the Apostles.

  15. Iohannes says:

    Thanks for the encouragement, Photios.

  16. Christopher, Andrew, et al,

    I am aware that Michael Garten was dealing with this point. His treatment of it comes via book recommendations from moi, so I suppose that can count as a tradition.:)

    I don’t think Jerome can be used to support the Presbyterian and Lutheran polity in the least. It is a very common citation, but on its face, read in context, it is obvious that Jerome is not arguing against a threefold ministry of apostolic origin.

    The problem is that it is passed down in a tradition of secondary literature much like the supposed findings of higher criticism detailed by Eta Linneman. Popular and even not so popular, including historical works by Presbyterians and Lutherans throw this passage out and none to my knowledge ever actually check the reference and read the entire passage or perform any kind of serious analysis.

  17. Andrew says:


    Michael Garten references them in his post here:

    This is LC-MS Pr Weedon’s blog that Christopher Orr mentions, and that Michael has been engaging:

  18. Joseph Schmitt says:


    2 of the appendixes in the Eastern Orthodox Bible deal with Jerome’s views:

  19. I can give you the links to recent discussions of this topic, which (I think) have the citation. I believe most of the discussion has taken place in comboxes here, there and everywhere but an Orthodox response to certain confessional Lutheran claims was posted on The Well of Questions:

    This link from times past brings up many of the points that Pr. Weedon and confessional Lutheranism point to regarding the proper Order of the Church and her ministers (Paphnutius in Cassian; Jerome to Evangelus (P.L., XXII, 1194), St. Leo IV, etc.):

    Here is a scanned version of A.C. Piepkorn’s “A Lutheran View of the Validity of Lutheran Orders” that Pr. Weedon shared with me that raises many of the Lutheran debating points:

  20. Christopher,

    Just an aside, do you know the reference to Jerome on the supposed identity of the Episcopate and the Presbyterate?


  21. I have to demure on the philosophy. I wish I was smarter and could understand it all. At best I grasp after philosophy and have a passing understanding of broad concepts, but more from a historical standpoint. I agree that they are intertwined on a historical level, throwing in infallibility makes it highly unlikely they will ever truly back off on its official ‘orthodoxy’ and promulgation.

    I, too, am caught between the worlds you mentioned. I would not be surprised if I and our American corner of the Church end up a surprising footnote like coming across St. Mohammed, a convert from Islam who was martyred, or when I first learned of the Martyrs of the Boxer Rebellion or the Aleut and Eskimo Orthodox. The fact that there was a Fr. Seraphim Rose, however, gives me hope our line will survive.

  22. photios says:


    I agree I would be “Catholic” if their faith were catholic and orthodox. And I equally have a problem with a lot of “ethnic” Orthodox and the spirit that they maintain.

    The papacy and the filioque are so tightly linked that you almost can’t have one without the other both philosophically (the One-Many problem) and historically (Nicholas).


  23. Ad Orientem says:

    Poor Mike. I am guessing he would like to reword that. But yea, the more I think about papal claims vs filioque and the canons of the church the more it all just boils down to…

  24. Believe me, it would be a much easier and straightforward life if I were Roman Catholic rather than Orthodox. My wife is Catholic, my dad’s family; they have churches everywhere, schools, monasteries, universities, beautiful art, a great many writers and thinkers, influence, etc. I am simply incomprehensible to both ethnic Orthodox and the non-Orthodox as a convert. I would be Catholic, if I could.

    However, I just can’t assent to the papal claims. I’m somewhat irenic when it comes to the filioque as a theologoumena (though not in the Creed) and am open to the various more ‘modern’ pieties of the West (e.g., rosary, Adoration, etc.), but the primary proof for the papal claims is their own tradition.

    Peter is the rock, the Pope is the successor of Peter, it is necessary to be in communion with Peter, Peter cannot err, and we know this because the heirs of Peter have infallibly told us it is so.

    Whatever Eastern proof they provide is usually built on a long chain of assumptions, evidence from silence, spurious documents (e.g., Donation of Constantine), or florilegia that often mistake over-the-top Byzantine court rhetoric for confirmation of their own high opinion of themselves, which was buttressed the more by being cut off from the East and the sole Apostolic Church in all of Western Europe. When I was in Hollywood, that was called ‘believing your own bullshit’ – or ‘believing your own PR’ if one was in polite company.

  25. Chris Jones says:

    I don’t follow Dr Liccione’s blog that much anymore, but I did happen to read that thread. That remark from Dr Liccione just totally floored me. I could hardly believe that he would say such a thing.

    Loose translation: “Fathers? Fathers? We don’t need no stinkin’ Fathers.”

  26. kepha says:

    the man being caught in flagrante delicto by his wife and resorting to the best defense, offense: “Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?”

    Oh, I very much like that analogy!

  27. photios says:

    Check out some of Iohannes’s posts on Tradition at the consciousfaith blog specifically about Irenaeus, you should see the difference. He’s quietly knowingly or unknowingly, as a Protestant, articulating an Orthodox view of tradition. I’m not saying he needs to become Orthodox, but when we see this we need to endorse and encourage this.

  28. Of course, I don’t know the rest of the context of this quote, so I will demure regarding what he really meant by this comment. I was just trying to put the best construction on this isolated comment.

  29. photios says:

    Furthermore Christopher, when Councils correct errors of even Fathers or Saints, they are following the teaching of another Saint in that time period to express the faith, and recognizing which is authentic. That’s usually what the debate is over, competing views during the time. The more compelling question, in my opinion, is how and why there ended up being competing views in the first place? What lent to the confusion?

    (BTW–Just to be clear, I don’t mean that your idea was asinine, but that Liccione’s comment was totally and completely offensive to me.)

  30. photios says:

    Jerome is not a good example because you have counter-examples to his model in his day.

    I don’t believe for a second that councils almost 2000 years removed from the culture and time are in a better position to say what Tradition is than Irenaeus. In fact, I think that’s the most asinine idea I’ve ever heard. We’re talking about Irenaeus. The touchstone of patristic tradition. Where are the counter-examples to Irenaeus view of tradition?…oh, that would be the Gnostics. Ireaneus lived backed then, said and lived these things. The whole of Orthodox dogmatic theology is summed up in Ireaneus, from Maximus to Palamas.

    Your other examples won’t work either because (like Jerome) there are counter-examples to their models in their own day. So, I can’t say I know better than they know. All I can do is traverse and decipher which one is the authentic model amongst competing examples.


  31. I would agree with it insofar as what is meant is that Irenaeus alone is not “a more reliable witness… to how the teaching authority of the Church functioned in his time” than another authority. That is, the fact that Jerome argues for the presbytery and the episcopacy being essentially the same divinely ordained office is not necessarily a “reliable witness” to the the Church’s view of the same “in his time” or prior – though it is often used as such (e.g., my friend Pr. William Weedon of the LCMS).

    Of course, the way Michael put it makes it sound like his argument is something along the lines of the old joke about the man being caught in flagrante delicto by his wife and resorting to the best defense, offense: “Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?”

    Michael could also simply be pointing to the fact that a saint such as Justin Martyr could defend chilaism, though it was later condemned by the Church. Same with statements tending toward adoptionism, modalism and iconclasm in ‘early’ Fathers. In these cases and others, a later, conciliar authority speaking on behalf of the entire Church ‘corrects’ the teaching of an earlier and otherwise highly revered saint.

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