The Wizard of Straw

Sometime ago I wrote a short presentation on an objection to Sola Scriptura and the response given to it. I constructed that presentation to deliberately leave out specific questions and counter objections. And this was because it was meant for a discussion group. I left material out to create space for those questions and counter objections to come out in the course of discussion.  I posted it because I thought the central insight would prove Image result for wizard of oz scarecrowprofitable for those thinking about the formal principle of the Reformation.

Posting such things is also a way to throw them out and see how they play. I’ve been hearing whispers here and there that various Reformed folks have been asked to address it. Recently Patrick Hines has chosen to engage it. Mr. Hines is apparently a Reformed pastor of sorts.  In the interests of full disclosure, I had contacted privately because of his efforts to critique Hanagraaff. I inquired whether we might collaborate. After being met with denunciations of apostasy and calls for my immediate repentance to “believe the true Gospel” it became apparent that that was a no go.  Having looked over Mr. Hines’ other material I didn’t think there was anything there worthwhile to engage. Too many egregious mistakes and not enough pay off to make a response worthwhile. Mr. Hines is so adept at creating strawmen that he should be rightly donned a wizard of said fallacy.

But because Mr. Hines is so assured of the rightness of his position and because he makes the usual mistakes in thinking about this matter, I decided to put fingers to keyboard and compose a response. This will allow me to make my thoughts more clear and field objections that I didn’t do in the previous post. The three sections that follow are concerned with methodology, my actual argument in sum and then fielding the various straw men and other fallacies that Mr. Hines deploys. I don’t believe what I have to say will likely persuade Mr. Hines but I am writing more for others than for him, because the mistakes he makes are so pervasive. And I think I have something that cuts through the usual Catholic/Protestant apologetic trench warfare on Sola Scriptura and so advances the conversation.

I. Methodology

When doing apologetics, or really engaging any argumentative text or a person offering an argument, there are some things that one should and should not do.  I offer the following summary because I think they are transgressed by Mr. Hines in his presentation. He would most likely get a better hearing and be more likely to persuade people outside of his garrison were he to engage the recommended practices and eschew the rejected behaviors.

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The first thing you don’t do is talk to people as if they are stupid. This is tricky for a number of reasons. When you talk to someone, it takes a while to figure out where they are mentally, how they are thinking of the matter, and so on.  The person might in fact be stupid or they may seem that way leading you to their desired destination. In either case, talking to them as if they are stupid isn’t likely to dispose them to listen to you. And it may be the case that you are overly confident of the truth of your position because you haven’t spent any significant amount of time mastering the best literature their view has to offer. Often enough if one reads only one side or interact only with whatever the general public has to offer, the other side of the matter looks entirely foolish and people unfortunately act accordingly. I know this first hand. When I was a younger man, I was so convinced of the Reformed view of things that I honestly had a poor attitude in talking to people. It wasn’t until I spent some time reading the Caroline Divines and their critiques of the Puritans that my attitude took a step back, or at least I tried to do so. In sum, if you care about the people you’re talking to, show some respect. If you don’t care about them, then you should find something else to do other than teaching and apologetics.  God has no need for clanging cymbals.

Don’t assume the worst possible motives of your opponent. Even if everything you believe about their position is in fact true, you have to realize that you are dealing with people. And people make mistakes. They come to those positions for all sorts of reasons Image result for the jerkand circumstances and everyone is at a different place in their lives.  And just because people make mistakes and think their mistaken position is true, it doesn’t mean they are immoral or lying. It just means they are people, like you. So you have to be patient if you are going to teach people. Even if everything you are hearing from them is complete nonsense, you have to sit there quietly, and give them their say. It is part of treating people with some basic respect. You never know. You might actually learn something.

Coupled with this it is always best to at least try and have some humility. You are fallible and you make mistakes as well. Many of these issues are complicated. They aren’t easy to figure out. And they take time (and money) to work through the requisite texts from both sides. If you think these matters are simple, well, you could very well be wrong. And there are few things as insufferable as someone who is wrong and acts like an arrogant jerk thinking he is indubitably right. This is especially appropriate for Protestants. Personal  and collective fallibility, coupled with notions of lingering post regenerational depravity are cardinal points.   It besmirches the reputation of the Reformation when thImage result for arrogant bastardose who protest loudest against the infallibility of the church are the ones who act as if they personally posses that property. After all, if the entire church, east and west can lose “the Gospel” for century upon century as Protestants maintain, what are your chances?

Another good rule of thumb is to not appeal or use anecdotal evidence in evaluating a position. Mr. Hines thinks it’s a great accomplishment having wondrous probative value that he has two priests that disagree on the atonement. (If it is at least one of the priests I think it is, this is not surprising.) In a body of hundreds of millions of people that two clergy disagree on a significant doctrine is of little worth. Prima facia, the disagreement doesn’t tell us much of anything useful. Instead, it is best to stick with official documents and representative sources. That of course is much more difficult and time consuming, but if you are going to be honest, you have to do the work.

Something you should do is focus on the argument and only the argument. Even if the person is being a complete jerk, make every effort to put that aside and just focus on the argument. The argument should do all the work. If the argument is good, then you don’t need rhetoric. Granted, style is nice, but in most cases it is best to just focus on the argument itself. What is the argument? What are the premises? How are they connected? In the realm of reason, this is all that matters.

And always, always do your best to conceive and think through objections to your opponent’s position as if you yourself really believed it. How would you defend it? Sometimes it just so happens that you stop controlling the ideas and the ideas begin to control you. If you practice at thinking through positions from the inside and you become good at it, you’ll either come up with some very good internal critiques, which are far more damaging to the position than external criticisms or you might just end up believing something you don’t want to. The latter case is very important, because it tests our honesty and pushes us to intellectual rigor and virtue.

Lastly, try to construct the best possible version of your opponent’s position. If you do so, they will likely recognize it and may even applaud you for formulating it more clearly than they have. This draws in your opponent to understanding the issue together and diminishes tension. It can greatly help persuade someone over to your side. Maybe take some time to see how the best representatives of the position articulate it. If you haven’t done that, well, then you’re probably doing it wrong. Besides, if you can refute the best version of your opponent’s argument, you don’t have to contend with weaker versions of it. So it is in your interests to work at re-constructing the strongest possible version of the argument. Again, you might learn something.

II. My Argument

Informally, my argument goes like this.  Defenders of Sola Scriptura contend that that position doesn’t imply that the conscience of the individual having greater authority than the whole church. That is, it is not the case, they contend, that Sola Scriptura implies or entails that everyone is their own pope. This is so, they say, because they admit of subordinate or secondary authorities. But on the contrary, on Sola Scriptura by virtue of its essential constituent, the Doctrine of the Right of Private Judgment, none of the secondary authorities are superior to and can bind the conscience of the individual. They are authoritative if and only if that person assents to them, and not, if they don’t. Hence ecclesial authorities, regardless of the number are subordinated to the conscience of the individual. This is just to say that the conscience of the individual is normatively superior to the normative judgements of the church. Hence, there is no substantial difference between Sola Scriptura and Solo Scriptura.

Formally, here is a run at the argument which looks like this.

SS = Sola Scriptura

DRPJ = Doctrine of the Right of Private Judgment. I previously glossed that thesis in the following way.

DRPJ: Any Christian individual is ultimately obligated to adhere to belief X, if and only if they judge (determine, assess, etc.) that belief X is scriptural.

  1. If SS entails the DRPJ, then SS entails that the individual’s conscience is the ultimately normative ecclesial authority.
  2. If the individual’s conscience is the ultimately normative ecclesial authority, then the conscience of the individual is normatively superior to the normative judgments of the church.
  3. SS entails the DRPJ(Premise)

Conclusion: Therefore SS implies that the conscience of the individual is normatively superior to the normative judgements of the church. (1-3, HS)

Now if the judgments produced by an individual is normatively superior than those produced by the church, relative to that individual, then there is no substantial difference between Sola and Solo Scriptura. This is because any subordinate authorities on Sola Scriptura are in the end, subordinated to the normative judgment of the individual. That means, that the authority of the church stops at the doorstep of the individual and is only applicable to that individual if the individual agrees to be so bound and not if they don’t.

This is the argument that I generally expressed in the previous post, Are You Flying Solo?  I think the argument is valid and sound. I think it should be clear that Mr. Hines doesn’t actually engage that argument as expressed in the original presentation. This is because the argument turns on the normativity of judgments in a specific sphere, the ecclesiastical and not the conditions on knowledge, a distinction he doesn’t seem as yet to to grasp. In general, I think Mr. Hine’s doesn’t know what the Protestant Doctrine of the Right of Private Judgement is. He seems to take it to mean just the epistemological fact that we all need to form judgments as to what texts mean. But that is not the concept that the doctrine expresses. I made this clear in the previous post by saying,

“Please note that the DRPJ is a distinctly Protestant thesis. Whatever members of other traditions do when they form judgments, it doesn’t constitute a case of Private Judgment properly speaking.”

In what follows below I engage what I take to be relevant remarks Mr. Hines makes in his video.

III. A City of Straw

At the outset, Hines charges my take on Sola Scriptura and the objection to it that I set out to address as a caricature. But he seems to miss a few things. First, it is often customary to state an objection in a rough and popular form. I signaled this when I wrote that the objection was “popularly” expressed in such and so way.  Perhaps the populaImage result for wizard of oz man behind the curtainr form is a caricature, but sometimes popularly expressed objections have some truth to them which can be reformulated and refined, which is what in large measure I aimed to do.  So I am not hanging my hat on the objection as popularly expressed per se. What I am doing at that point in the post is setting the stage for the thing that I want to discuss, namely the idea that there is a substantial conceptual difference between Sola and Solo Scriptura. The popular objection is just a way to get there.

Hines argues that SS is true because Jesus points people to Scripture and Jesus acts such that he expects that they are capable of understanding it and are so culpable. Well, apart from resting his argument on the principle that “ought implies can”, which Calvinists at least tend to reject, this really does no work relative to my argument. Here is why.  My argument here and in the original post was not concerning epistemology. The argument doesn’t turn on a thesis about who can know or how can one know what scripture teaches. Rather it is a thesis about the degree of normativity of the judgments produced by individuals and the degree of normativity of the judgments produced by the church. So Mr. Hines is jousting with a position I just didn’t advance. I never claimed that Protestants can’t read the Bible and meet the conditions on knowledge relative to what it teaches. In short, I don’t think one has to be infallible to know. This is why his implicit tu quo que misses the mark (namely that I have to interpret texts as well).

More directly, the fact that Jesus takes his audience to be capable of meeting the conditions on knowledge or some kind of justified belief as to what scripture means, does not imply that Jesus thinks that their interpretation and his are on equal normative footing. They obviously aren’t. So Hines is confusing epistemological questionsImage result for straw man with normative questions.  This distinction was pointed out at the beginning of what I originally wrote so Hines should have been aware of it and been able to discern what I meant.  After all, what I wrote was sufficiently perspicuous.  I certainly wrote in such a way that I expected my readers to be able to comprehend what I wrote after all.

One way to get your head around the difference between the epistemological and the normative is the following analogy. So think of the difference between say a law professor and the Supreme Court. So imagine an important case is soon to be judged by SCOTUS. A particular law professor examines the arguments and produces a paper arguing that SCOTUS should come to a particular conclusion in the case. We can just stipulate that he in fact knew what the correct judgment of the case should be. It just so happens that SCOTUS hears the case and comes to the exact same conclusion that the law professor said they should and for exactly the same reasons. Image result for Supreme court of US

Now what is the difference between the two judgments relative to their obligating or normative force? Does the conclusion of the law professor have the force of law? No it doesn’t. It is legally correct as adjudicated by SCOTUS and conceptually identical to the SCOTUS decision, but only the judgment of the court is legally obligatory or legally normative. The law professor’s view is true legally speaking, he has justificatory reasons for it, it is consistent with preceding law, etc. Since the law professor in fact knew what the correct assessment was, he met all the conditions on knowledge, granting for the sake of argument anyone’s specific epistemological theory as to what constitutes knowledge.  And yet his merely knowing the truth didn’t render his judgment legally normative. So meeting the conditions on knowledge in this case isn’t sufficient to render the law professor’s judgment legally normative.

Likewise, even if Protestants knew what the right interpretation of the text was, it wouldn’t follow that their judgment enjoyed the same degree of normativity as the church’s. And this in part is what my objection to Sola Scriptura turned on. It is quite true that there are Orthodox (and Catholic) writers on other blogs who make the mistake of glossing Sola Scriptura as problematic in terms of meeting the conditions on knowledge, that is, as an epistemological problem, but it is not what I did.

So when Mr. Hines accuses me of committing the fallacy of false dilemma he is simply wrong. Here is why. My argument wasn’t that there are only two logically possible options. Rather I engaged a specific response to an objection to Sola Scriptura and I demonstrated why that response fails to show any conceptual difference between Sola and Solo Scriptura. Those are the two options presented by Protestant writers that I was responding to. Moreover, I showed that there isn’t a substantial conceptual difference between them and why the two positions are essentially the same. And he offers no proof that I committed the above named fallacy. In short, he has yet to actually engage the argument I set forth.

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Next, Mr Hines glosses Sola Scriptura as the thesis that if we were to count up all of the inspired texts, we’d have only the Bible. Well, it seems Mr. Hines doesn’t know and understand the doctrine of Sola Scriptura. Here are some reasons for thinking so. First, Sola and Solo both agree on a single inspired infallible source of doctrine. If that is all that constitutes Sola Scriptura, then the two concepts are identical. Second, the thesis of Sola Scriptura includes a specific canon of what constitutes the Bible materially speaking. Third, it includes the thesis that the formal canon is fallible and hence revisable even if the material cannon is infallible. Fourth, it includes the thesis of the Doctrine of the Right of Private Judgment. Fifth, it includes the thesis that scripture is sufficiently perspicuous and a few other theses. Therefore, it is entirely possible, both logically and historically speaking to admit that the Bible, even the Protestant canon of it, is the only inspired document in existence and further than it is the only infallible source of doctrine without admitting Sola Scriptura. And of course, To give a historical example, not a few high church Anglicans wrote against the Puritans to the effect that while Scripture was the only infallible rule of faith and practice, the church was the only infallible interpreter of it.  This sometimes gets labeled as Prima Scriptura. Confessional Protestants certainly don’t accept that thesis and yet that thesis entails that the only inspired text is Scripture. So Sola Scriptura, while not less, is far more than what Mr. Hines says it is.

From here it should be clear that Sola Scriptura is more than the thesis than there is only one inspired source for doctrine. It entails the theses that no interpretations of scripture are infallible and that no one can be absolutely bound by an ecclesial authority relative to what an individual thinks scripture teaches. It is the latter thesis that my argument is directed towards.

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Next Mr. Hines makes an appeal to the notion of ordinary means, namely that by the use of the appropriate tools and a decent command of reason, a person can discern the teachings that are necessary for salvation in the scriptures. But as should be clear by now, the perspicuity of scripture is irrelevant to the issue on the table. This is because perspicuity doesn’t speak to the issue of the normativity of judgments as I raised it. Think of the case of the law professor and the Supreme Court above. Sometimes cases come before the Supreme Court that are quite clear and you get a 9-0 vote. It’s a slam dunk.  And yet, the perspicuity of the Constitution as epistemically grasped by the two parties doesn’t make everyone’s judgment equally normative legally speaking. The same is true ecclesially because even if the Reformed doctrine of the perspicuity of scripture were true, this would not imply that an individual’s interpretation was equally normative with that of the church, even assuming it was correct. So perspicuity is irrelevant to the issue on the table. Besides, to paraphrase Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, the Bible is like a mirror, you can’t have an ape looking in and an apostle looking out. The mind of the reader will and does vary in terms of perspicuity, not to mention rival philosophical assumptions and culture that structure and frame the reading of the text for any given reader. So make the text as perspicuous as you like, it just won’t do the work that Mr. Hines wants it to do.

Image result for you can’t have an ape looking in and an apostle looking out.

Next up Mr. Hines refers to the indisputable fact that all peoples are answerable to God as a basis for Sola Scriptura, and presumably for the Doctrine of the Right Private Judgment.  But from the fact that each person is answerable to God, how does it follow that the conscience of the individual is of greater normative power or authority than the Church? Is it the case that church leaders qua church leaders are not answerable to God but individuals are? No, quite the opposite since teachers for instance bear a stricter judgment.  Of course, just because we are answerable to God, does not mean we are not also answerable to those who bear divine authority, any more than the fact that we are legally answerable to the federal government implies the average police officer has no legal authority over us or his authority depends on our agreement. Besides, this just begs the question by assuming that the church lacks the authority to bind the conscience.  Only if the church lacked that authority and the individual conscience bears a greater authority than the church could the reasoning go through. How does the fact that I am ultimately answerable to God imply that my interpretative authority is greater than the church or that the church must be fallible? It doesn’t.

I should also take a moment to say something about conscience directly.  Sometimes conscience is held up as being inviolable, rather sacrosanct and pure.  Historically, even for Protestants I don’t think is true. Protestants have been just fine with imposing their beliefs on others in violation of the consciences of others even at the point of a sword, and such actions have been based on Protestant principles from the Reformers on down.  Secondly, on the Reformed doctrine of Total Depravity there is no pure conscience to be had to which one can make an appeal and this is so even after regeneration.

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Even for the elect post regeneration, their conscience is not absolutely free of the deforming power of sin. Consciences can be malformed, even in the regenerate or uninformed for that matter. Just because you read scripture and feel very passionately doesn’t imply much of anything about the veracity of your beliefs or the state of your conscience.  Your conscience isn’t some absolute or morally pure unmediated point of contact between you and God.

Next Mr. Hines tries to engage what he takes to be a popular strawman, namely that Sola Scriptura implies the one reject everything from the church and start from scratch. He means, as is typical, to attempt to construct a tertium quid between that lemma and what he takes to be authoritarianism as the other lemma. So the idea he aims to express is a carving out of space for learning from the church, accepting what is profitable and true and rejecting what is not, all according to scripture. The first problem here is that I made no such argument that Sola Scriptura entails or implies that one reject everything from the church. My argument was about the degree of normative judgments had by the individual and the church relative to that individual.  So Mr. Hines attempts to engage a position I never advanced…again.

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But because what he does say is fairly typical of the Reformed it is instructive to take a moment  to think about it. It is true that the Reformers attempted to seek something of a via media between taking the church to have ultimate normative authority and a kind of absolute quietism. The idea is that they acknowledge church authority and its ability to teach but take it to be fallible and hence revisable. So they try to carve out space to keep it from being a zero sum game. But this is for the Reformers and for Mr. Hines as well a case of legerdemain.  It changes the subject. Remember, the issue is the degree of normativity (authority) that ecclesial judgements enjoy and not whether ecclesial sources can be sources of information. That is, the question is whether ecclesial judgments are authoritative and not if they are informative.  To say that one still uses ecclesial judgments and teachers as sources of information leaves the question of the normativity of those judgements untouched. And that of course brings us back to the doctrine of the Right of Private Judgement again. Does the teaching of the church fall below the authority of the conscience of the individual or is it superior to it? If the latter, why think so? So in the end, the position Mr. Hines attempt to carve out leaves the question on the table untouched.

Next up, Mr. Hines appeals to 2 Timothy 3:16 and notes that Paul there speak to Timothy about Scripture being used for correction. Then Mr. Hines asks, how does or can scripture correct the Orthodox religion? First, we need to ask, is it Paul’s intention to instruct Timothy utilize scripture to evaluate theological systems in some model neutral way? I don’t think it is. Second, Mr. Hines’ question assumes some kind of falsificationism, as if, if Image result for Saint Timothy Orthodox iconographya system isn’t capable of being falsified by scripture then it is a priori ruled out of court. Such a view depends on the assumption that the church’s judgments can’t be infallible, which is of course begging the question. If they can, by divine power of course, be infallible, then the fact that they can’t be falsified and are not open to correction or revision isn’t a reason for thinking that they are false or a priori incompatible with scripture. Moreover, they don’t have to be inspired to be infallible either because inspiration is part and parcel of the giving of new revelation, whereas infallibility is a modal thesis. It is entirely possible conceptually speaking to be infallible and not be inspired.

As to the text itself, some things need to kept in mind. Paul is first talking to Timothy, someone Paul designates as an apostle (1 Thess 1:1, cf w/ 1 Thess 2:6) Granted Timothy along with Silvanus were not apostles made by God but by men, namely Paul. Paul is directly commissioned by Christ, along with the Twelve, whereas Silvanus and Timothy are commissioned by men. Timothy then is a second order apostle and I would argue this constitutes the office of bishop or overseer.  Putting that argument aside over episcopacy, all Paul tells us here is that Scripture is to be used for correction, most directly for people under his pastoral authority. The passage doesn’t endorse or express the idea that scripture is to be used by everyone for this purpose having equal or superior authority over the church per se or as a limiting authority in the hands of the individual against the whole church. This is in part why Paul uses the phrase “man of God”, a phrase that is always used in scripture denoting someone having divine authority, be they king, priest or prophet. It doesn’t refer to just anyone. This is appropriate as Timothy is Paul’s intended recipient as an “apostle.” Scripture is the tool for the job he has been commissioned to carry out.  It is possible that the phrase could be taken in a secondary or derivative sense so that Scripture is to be utilized for those ends by laity, but even that would not express Sola Scriptura, precisely because it leaves out the Doctrine of the Right of Private Judgement. That scripture is to be so used doesn’t imply that everyone’s judgement as to what scripture means is on par or superior to that of the church. And this is why this text does not express the Protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura.

Added to this is of course the fact that theological systems, Calvinism included, simply don’t work in conjunction with scripture or are derived from it in the way that Mr. Hines thinks. Take 2 Pet 2:1. On its face it seems to deny the Reformed doctrine of Limited Atonement because those who deny  Christ are “bought” by him. This language is an apparent reference to the atonement of Christ.  This is admittedly a difficult passage for Calvinists to address. If you don’t believe me, start looking in Reformed commentaries Image result for van til and the use of evidenceon the passage. Now I don’t think the passage is consistent with the Reformed doctrine of Limited Atonement, but that is not the point. What Reformed authors do not do is simply throw up their hands and say, “Well, I guess Limited Atonement is false.” Rather what they do is they seek to interpret the passage within the framework established by how they understand other passages.  This is just to say that they interpret the facts according to their paradigm.  There is no theologically neutral approach and access to the text so that theology is built up incrementally from discrete textual facts.  So to even propose the question as Mr. Hines does depends on a mistaken view of the matter.

Returning to Mr. Hine’s remarks he asserts that there is no way around believing one’s own interpretation. He seems to take this to be expressing the Doctrine of the Right of Private Judgement. But as I think I have already made clear there is a difference between the epistemic fact that I have to engage in interpreting a text to be in a position to know what it says and means, and one’s interpretation having a normative value greater than the church. The latter is a distinctly Protestant thesis and when I am interpreting the scriptures in my readings, I am not doing that. So here again, Mr. Hines has not grasped the meaning of his own doctrine. The difference is between what it takes to know the meaning of the text and the degree of obligation a given reading may possess or carry.

Mr. Hines says that I should address Reformation theology through Protestant Confessions and he is right to say so. But no Protestant Confession that I know of is explicit with respect to the Doctrine of the Right of Private Judgment. It is an implicit part of what those confessions state regarding Sola Scriptura. That is one reason why I utilized representImage result for scarecrowative theologians who bring out that implicit or nascent conceptual content of Sola Scriptura. If Mr. Hines thinks that the doctrine of the Right of Private Judgment is not an implicit constituent of Sola Scriptura or it isn’t correctly stated by the figures I cited, then he needs to bring forward an argument and some evidence to demonstrate as much. Otherwise his remarks are simply dismissive and not engage the material I presented.

More to the point though, if he finds that the three figures I cited to express the doctrine of Sola Scriptura incorrectly, then he should say so and point out why. But he seems to agree with everything they say. And so the sources I give are in fact representative. And of course while he complains that the Reformed aren’t obligated to adhere to everything or anything a given figure says, which is true, this is irrelevant. It is so because I didn’t appeal to them on just any topic or haphazardly. Second, they express what I said they expressed and the concept as I roughly glossed it in the original post. And they express the concepts as part of Sola Scriptura, just as I said they did.  So he doesn’t show that my use of Reformed sources is in fact unrepresentative, which is why his remarks are irrelevant.

Next we come to Mr. Hine’s usage of Cyril of Jerusalem which he believes expresses the doctrine of Sola Scriptura. The text in question is from his Catechetical Lectures, 4:17, which reads as follows.Image result for "Cyril of Jerusalem" icon

“Have thou ever in thy mind this seal, which for the present has been lightly touched in my discourse, by way of summary, but shall be stated, should the Lord permit, to the best of my power with the proof from the Scriptures.  For concerning the divine and holy mysteries of the Faith, not even a casual statement must be delivered without the Holy Scriptures; nor must we be drawn aside by mere plausibility and artifices of speech.  Even to me, who tell thee these things, give not absolute credence, unless thou receive the proof of the things which I announce from the Divine Scriptures.  For this salvation which we believe depends not on ingenious reasoning, but on demonstration of the Holy Scriptures.

Now this passage is a standard proof text that Protestants use to support the thesis that Sola Scriptura was the faith of the early church, prior to some later supposed scholastic confusion or near apostasy. Needless to say, I don’t find this to express the concept of Sola Scriptura and let me say why. First, Cyril doesn’t express the Protestant doctrine of the Right of Private Judgement. That is, he doesn’t say, if you and the church disagree over an interpretation of a given text, then you are only ultimately obligated to assent to what you agree with. Without that concept, Cyril can’t be expressing the doctrine of Sola Scriptura because the doctrine of the Right of Private Judgement is a necessary constituent of Sola Scriptura. So whatever Cyril is expressing, it isn’t Sola Scriptura. The above alone is sufficient to refute the claim that he is expressing Sola Scriptura.

If Sola Scriptura is, as Mr. Hines says, the thesis that all and only “the Bible” is inspired and by the term “Bible” he means to denote the Protestant canon of it, then Cyril simply doesn’t believe in Sola Scriptura. Cyril does not adhere to a Protestant canon of the OT. For example, he includes such works as Baruch as inspired (not to mention having a shorter NT canon as well). (4.35)

Next Cyril’s work is for catechumens. It is not some exhaustive text of everything the church says, does or believes.  Various early church figures and fathers distinguish between what the church openly proclaims, its kerygma, and what is to be kept secret.  What Cyril has in mind here in section 4:17 are what he deems the articles of the Faith, or its chief points. (See also 5.12) This is why he states both in 4:17 and elsewhere that what is taught is not the result of apparently, philosophical reasoning. So the implicit contrast seems to be that the core doctrines of the Faith are exemplified and found sufficiently well attested in the Scriptures rather than being the product of argumentation.  Christianity delivers divinely revealed truths and not philosophical speculation. That of course is quite compatible with a non-Sola position.

By contrast of course, Cyril advances positions and practices not to be found in scripture, at least not explicitly so, such as making the sign of the Cross (13:22, 26) and saintly invocation (23:9-10). In fact, Lecture 23 is hardly compatible with Mr. Hines’ reading of Lecture 4:17 for many of the things mentioned there are not expressly in Scripture as explicit directives or derivable information, at least on Protestant grounds they aren’t. And yet Cyril seems to think they are warranted by the Apostles.  So on the one hand we have statements from Cyril expressing that the church’s doctrines have to be located in and derived from scripture and then we have practices and at least implicit doctrinal content that is not located in and derived from scripture, at least not explicitly so.  So what are we to say is going on here?

Take the following section from Basil’s work against the Penumatamochoi. It reads similarly to the last lectures of Cyril regarding the divine mysteries.

“Of the beliefs and practices whether generally accepted or publicly enjoined which are preserved in the Church some we possess derived from written teaching; others we have received delivered to us “in a mystery” by the tradition of the apostles; and both of these in relation to true religion have the same force.  And these no one will gainsay;—no one, at all events, who is even moderately versed in the institutions of the Church.  For were we to attempt to reject such customs as have no written authority, on the ground that the importance they possess is small, we should unintentionally injure the Gospel in its very vitals; or, rather, should make our public definition a mere phrase and nothing more.  For instance, to take the first and most general example, who is thence who has taught us in writing to sign with the sign of the cross those who have trusted in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ?  What writing has taught us to turn to the East at the prayer?  Which of the saints has left us in writing the words of the invocation at the displaying of the bread of the Eucharist and the cup of blessing?  For we are not, as is well known, content with what the apostle or the Gospel has recorded, but both in preface and conclusion we add other words as being of great importance to the validity of the ministry, and these we derive from unwritten teaching. 

Moreover we bless the watImage result for Orthodox eucharist bright lighter of baptism and the oil of the chrism, and besides this the catechumen who is being baptized.  On what written authority do we do this?  Is not our authority silent and mystical tradition?  Nay, by what written word is the anointing of oil itself taught?  And whence comes the custom of baptizing thrice?  And as to the other customs of baptism from what Scripture do we derive the renunciation of Satan and his angels?  Does not this come from that unpublished and secret teaching which our fathers guarded in a silence out of the reach of curious meddling and inquisitive investigation?  Well had they learnt the lesson that the awful dignity of the mysteries is best preserved by silence.  What the uninitiated are not even allowed to look at was hardly likely to be publicly paraded about in written documents.  What was the meaning of the mighty Moses in not making all the parts of the tabernacle open to everyone?  The profane he stationed without the sacred barriers; the first courts he conceded to the purer; the Levites alone he judged worthy of being servants of the Deity; sacrifices and burnt offerings and the rest of the priestly functions he allotted to the priests; one chosen out of all he admitted to the shrine, and even this one not always but on only one day in the year, and of this one day a time was fixed for his entry so that he might gaze on the Holy of Holies amazed at the strangeness and novelty of the sight.  Moses was wise enough to know that contempt stretches to the trite and to the obvious, while a keen interest is naturally associated with the unusual and the unfamiliar.  In the same manner the Apostles and Fathers who laid down laws for the Church from the beginning thus guarded the awful dignity of the mysteries in secrecy and silence, for what is bruited abroad random among the common folk is no mystery at all.  This is the reason for our tradition of unwritten precepts and practices, that the knowledge of our dogmas may not become neglected and contemned by the multitude through familiarity.  “Dogma” and “Kerugma” are two distinct things; the former is observed in silence; the latter is proclaimed to all the world.  One form of this silence is the obscurity employed in Scripture, which makes the meaning of “dogmas” difficult to be understood for the very advantage of the reader:  Thus we all look to the East at our prayers, but few of us know that we are seeking our own old country, Paradise, which God planted in Eden in the East.  We pray standing, on the first day of the week, but we do not all know the reason.  On the day of the resurrection  we remind ourselves of the grace given to us by standing at prayer, not only because we rose with Christ, and are bound to “seek those things which are above,” but because the day seems to us to be in some sense an image of the age which we expect, wherefore, though it is the beginning of days, it is not called by Moses first, but one.  For he says “There was evening, and there was morning, one day,” as though the same day often recurred.  Now “one” and “eighth” are the same, in itself distinctly indicating that really “one” and “eighth” of which the Psalmist makes mention in certain titles of the Psalms, the state which follows after this present time, the day which knows no waning or eventide, and no successor, that age which endeth not or groweth old.  Of necessity, then, the church teaches her own foster children to offer their prayers on that day standing, to the end that through continual reminder of the endless life we may not neglect to make provision for our removal thither.  Moreover all Pentecost is a reminder of the resurrection expected in the age to come.  For that one and first day, if seven times multiplied by seven, completes the seven weeks of the holy Pentecost; for, beginning at the first, Pentecost ends with the same, making fifty revolutions through the like intervening days.  And so it is a likeness of eternity, beginning as it does and ending, as in a circling course, at the same point.  On this day the rules of the church have educated us to prefer the upright attitude of prayer, for by their plain reminder they, as it were, make our mind to dwell no longer in the present but in the future.  Moreover every time we fall upon our knees and rise from off them we shew by the very deed that by our sin we fell down to earth, and by the loving kindness of our Creator were called back to heaven.

  1. Time will fail me if I attempt to recount the unwritten mysteries of the Church. Of the rest I say nothing; but of the very confession of our faith in Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, what is the written source?  If it be granted that, as we are baptized, so also under the obligation to believe, we make our confession in like terms as our baptism, in accordance with the tradition of our baptism and in conformity with the principles of true religion, let our opponents grant us too the rRelated imageight to be as consistent in our ascription of glory as in our confession of faith.  If they deprecate our doxology on the ground that it lacks written authority, let them give us the written evidence for the confession of our faith and the other matters which we have enumerated.  While the unwritten traditions are so many, and their bearing on “the mystery of godliness” is so important, can they refuse to allow us a single word which has come down to us from the Fathers;—which we found, derived from untutored custom, abiding in unperverted churches;—a word for which the arguments are strong, and which contributes in no small degree to the completeness of the force of the mystery?” Basil the Great, On the Holy Spirit, 27:66ff.

For any Orthodox reader, much of the above in terms of praxis is quite familiar. But to speak to the point, Basil’s position is that while the church’s core teachings are explicitly expressed or even found in scripture, plenty of other things are not. And this seems to be the same general idea that Cyril is expressing, which is why Cyril’s remarks in 4:17 are in the middle of a summary of the core teachings of the church. It makes sense for him to instruct  catechumen’s prior to baptism about those core doctrines and that they are to be found in scripture, rather than the products of human reason, while at a later time, he instructs them in things that are not to be found in scripture, things are generally kept secret. (I’d say the secret is pretty well kept since most Presbyterians wouldn’t be familiar with the practices. ;)) And yet Cyril, like Basil appears to think these things are of apostolic deliverance. In sum, I think this reading is pretty evident if one reads through the patristic text, rather than relying on secondary quote mining works.

Now suppose for those beliefs/practices that Cyril takes to be scriptural, Mr. Hines argues that Cyril was simply wrong about these beliefs and practices either being grounded in or expressed in Scripture. As a matter of argument he is free to do so. But this at best simply moves the question. For now we are at a point of the normativity of the two judgments, Cyril’s and Mr. Hines. And so this pushes us back to the Protestant doctrine of the Right of Private Judgment. And of course Cyril does not express that doctrine. As Mr. Hines’ points out, Cyril takes himself to be fallible. And that is of course true of any bishop per se on either an Orthodox conciliar model or a Catholic papal model. So, noting that he takes himself to be fallible isn’t sufficient to show that the concept of Sola Scriptura is being expressed by him.  Besides, the fallibility of any given cleric doesn’t amount to an expression of the doctrine of the Right of Private Judgement. A given bishop may enjoy a degree of authority and not be infallible and it still not be the case that the conscience of the individual enjoys a degree of normativity greater than that of the church’s judgements or that individual bishop.

To tidy up, Mr. Hines mentions a few other points such as the adequacy of language, the obligation to properly interpret the text, and of course, Sola Gratia a la Ephesians 2.

As I gestured at above, one can make language as adequate as one likes, and this still does not entail or imply that the meaning of the text makes its way into the head of the reader. This does not mean it never does or can’t. So here I am not advocating for some kind of semantic nihilism (otherwise known as Postmodernism). There are a number of reasons why semantic content might not make it to the appropriate epistemic destination. But that doesn’t imply relativism or nihilism. It follows simply on just about any form of epistemic and semantic realism. If words have a meaning and reality exists apart from how I think it does, well, I can get things wrong, and so can other people. Take for example my original post. It was relatively short. Mr. Hines could read through it in a short period of time. And yet, he simply never grasped what I meant or the argument I gave. Presumably he is, as a pastor, college educated and probably seminary trained as well, and yet, he did not grasp the meaning of the text as I wrote it. What I wrote wasn’t especially difficult as other Protestants I know relayed to me that they got the point, recognizing that Mr. Hines clearly didn’t.  So here we have a college educated individual, who has at least some professional level education in theology, who failed to grasp the main idea and argument of a three page text in his own field.

We can add scriptural material to multiply such cases. Take baptism. Does baptism regenerate or not? The Reformed think not and yet the Lutherans do, consistently, for 500 years.  Are the Lutherans particularly dim? Are the Reformed on the lower end of the Bell Curve? Is the problem intellectual? Maybe it is moral? So just repeat the above questions with mental content. That doesn’t seem right though. After all, the Lutherans and the Reformed don’t seem any more immoral than each other or anyone else for that matter.  Clearly, the adequacy of language is not the issue. After all, if you’re a presuppostionalist like Mr. Hines’ people don’t interpret the facts apart from their presuppositions, including interpreting scripture.

Next Mr. Hines turns to the fact that we have an obligation to rightly interpret the Word. Of course, I heartily agree with him here. Not much with respect to supporting his claims follows from that. It doesn’t follow that because I am obligated to use my brain and the relevant means with a relatively good measure of diligence to interpret the text properly, that my interpretation is normatively superior to that of the church. You can’t get from the former to the latter. That dog just won’t hunt.

And he refers to Ephesians 2:8-9 as expressing Sola Fide and that this is a very simple matter that even his presumably young children can grasp.  I simply take the interpretation of it that Augustine, Chrysostom and others give. I quite agree that grace is not of us, we are not its source. I also agree that it is by faith and by the Covenant of faith. I also agree that faith is a root or initial virtue which justifies, but not instrumentally, but intrinsically due to its value before God. Faith pleases God. And so subsequently, we please God by good works which are produced by divine power.

Now Mr. Hines can and does disagree with this reading, but the simpler he makes the matter of grasping the content he thinks is there, the more implausible and improbable the view is. For then it convicts countless numbers of competent readers of the language and the text of not being able to grasp the simplest concepts expressed for well over a thousand years.

Lastly, Mr. Hines’ asks me a question he really wants an answer to. How did I make a choice for Orthodoxy without using private judgement relative to scripture, church history, etc? For the attentive reader who has stayed with me this far and been attentive to my meaning, the answer should be quite obvious. I did not make a judgment using the Protestant doctrine of the Right of Private Judgement because well, I am not Protestant.  I made this clear in my previous post. I made a judgment with respect to knowledge and not an ecclesial judgement that is ultimately normative.  So think of the case of the law professor I gave previously. Like him, I read the information and formed a judgement, but my judgement did not have any normative force relative to the authority of the church, any more than his had any normative force relative to the authority of the Supreme Court. I fulfilled the conditions on knowledge and not the conditions to construct a judgement that was ultimately binding.  That is, there is a difference between what it takes to know some thesis is true or false, and what it takes to form a judgement that is ultimately binding. The church does the latter and I do the former.

On the Protestant thesis of Sola Scriptura by contrast, I form a judgement in such a way that whatever the church determines, it can only obligate or bind me to believe it, if and only if, I agree with that judgement. In this causes, I would be doing both forming an epistemic judgement and a normative ecclesial judgement. What strikes me as very curious is where this idea is expressed in scripture.

And this is why when I read scripture, church history, etc. I did not employ “private judgement” in the sense entailed by Sola Scriptura, because that is a specific thesis about the normativity of ecclesial judgements and the normativity of judgements made by individuals. It is not a thesis just about fulfilling the conditions on knowledge.  And this is why Mr. Hines’ remarks constitute nothing more than a series of straw men.

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