Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Judica me, Domine

I don't usually make posts commenting directly upon the blog posts of others, but here is one instance which I believe is most necessary. On March 16, 2010, Reformed apologist James White had this to say on his blog:
To all concerned about sola scriptura, patristics, Roman Catholicism, and related subjects. TurretinFan has posted a must-read article here.
After examining the above linked article by Reformed apologist Turretin Fan, I was astonished to see that there was nothing in the way of proof for sola scriptura, anything Protestant about patristicts, nor especially anything coming anywhere close to refuting (or embrrassing) Catholicism.

I have decided to comment upon some of the major points made by Turretin Fan on his blog:
Athanasius wrote a letter to Marcellinus regarding the Psalms (full text). Athanasius wouldn't have fit into post-Vatican II Roman Catholicism very well for a lot of reasons, but one reason is his comment in this letter: "the knowledge of God is not with [the heathen and the heretics] at all, but only in the Church." Vatican II stated: "In the first place amongst these there are the Mohamedans, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind." (Lumen Gentium, 2:16).
This first quote is a bit out of place, for it is an oversimplification of St Athanasius' point. The point of his claim was certainly not that 'those outside the church know nothing true whatsoever about God', else his reference to "heretics" and (later) "schismatics" would be nonsense. Rather, he is commenting upon Psalm 76, which is more about how God only leads His Church and is not on the side of the wicked (e.g. heretics). The above quote of Lumen Gentium is frequently misunderstood, for (in context) it is clearly affirmed these non-Catholic groups only hold bits and pieces of the Truth, similar to how Christian God is also the Jewish God, despite the fact the Jews have a distorted view of God (e.g. denial of the Trinity).

Bigger than that, however, the letter is a testimony to Athanasius' very non-Romanist views of Scripture.
I was never quite sure what Turretin Fan meant by "non-Romanist view of Scripture," but if TF is speaking of St Athanasius' praise and extolling of the Psalms, TF couldn't be more wrong about Catholicism. The Catholic Church makes repeated use of the Psalms in all sorts of prayers and teachings, ranging from personal prayers to the Liturgy to the Divine Office (which is basically praying the Psalms throughout the day and even cycles through the Psalter throughout the year!). Also, one need not look any further than the Catechism, starting at paragraph 2585, we see teachings such as the following: "the Psalms remain essential to the prayer of the Church"; "The Psalter is the book in which The Word of God becomes man's prayer"; "the psalms continue to teach us how to pray"; "Whether hymns or prayers of lamentation or thanksgiving, whether individual or communal, whether royal chants, songs of pilgrimage or wisdom meditations, the Psalms are a mirror of God's marvelous deeds ... [The Psalms] can be prayed in truth by men of all times and conditions."

As one will see as they read TF's words, he appears to be painting the Catholic Church as taking the polar opposite view of the Psalms as what I just quoted from the Catechism.
There is a popular myth spread by Rome's apologists today that folks of ancient times were too poor to have their own copies of Scripture and too illiterate to read it, even if they could own a copy. These sorts of comments from the ancients help us to see that the picture of ancient literacy and possession of Scripture was not quite as bleak as Rome's apologists like to suggest. 
This is hardly proof of widespread individual copies of the scriptures and widespread literacy. The text merely speaks of a single "studious old man" who owned a copy of the Psalms, and when one reads the actual letter they will see that this old man was not some commoner but a long time student of scripture and very wise. Catholics never painted a picture such that this never took place, and it remains a fact that throughout history most Christians never owned their own copy of Scripture and a large percentage couldn't read. 
Notice how individual this metaphor is. Each individual person can go into the garden and get from it whatever help he thinks he needs.  ...  Notice how he says not simply that the Psalter is like a picture, but almost as though it is a mirror: it is a picture of you the reader. In it, you the reader learn about yourself.
TF speaks as if this is somehow "non-Roman," which is not only false, one can see the Catechism virtually echoing all that TF and St Athanasius have said in praise of the Psalms and how they are meant to nourish men on the individual level for whatever need they might have. And if one reads carefully and in context, these praises about the Psalms are focused on virtuous living and such, especially on the personal level, and not about proving every given Christian doctrine, and thus not relevant to Sola Scriptura at all (at least not in any contra-Catholic sense). 
TF spends an unfortunate amount of time in his article giving off the impression Catholics look down upon the Psalms or in some way forbid their use and application on the individual level. This is sheer nonsense.

TF goes on to devote a section of his article on St Athanasius teaching "Scripture interprets Scripture," but the quotes are merely speaking of how all Scripture speaks in a united manner (in which both Catholics and Protestants agree about), but comes nowhere near advocating the Sola Scriptura notion of "scripture interprets scripture" which the Westminster Confession (1:9) defines as "when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly." The Scriptures never advocate this 'rule', and neither does St Athanasius.

TF then turns to making St Athanasius advocate Scripture's "sufficiency," especially in the Psalter:
One of the points that the old man and Athanasius make is that the Psalter provides the final component and makes the rest of Scripture sufficient to the man of God:
Prohibitions of evil-doing are plentiful in Scripture, but only the Psalter tells you how to obey these orders and abstain from sin. Repentance, for example, is enjoined repeatedly; but to repent means to leave off sinning, and it is the Psalms that show you how to set about repenting and with what words your penitence may be expressed. ... in the Psalms that we find written and described how afflictions should be borne, and what the afflicted ought to say ... The Psalms not only exhort us to be thankful, they also provide us with fitting words to say. ... and here again the Psalms supply words with which both those who flee persecution and those who suffer under it may suitably address themselves to God... also to bless the Lord and to acknowledge Him: here in the Psalms we are shown the way to do it...
In other words, the entire Bible tells us how to live, but the Psalter shows us more clearly the way to fulfill the commands found throughout Scripture. The conclusion sentence talks explicitly about the ability of the Psalter to be sufficient, namely to meet the reader's needs:
In fact, under all the circumstances of life, we shall find that these divine songs suit ourselves and meet our own souls' need at every turn.
Another place where Athanasius makes the sufficiency point is in this comment:
For I think that in the words of this book all human life is covered, with all its states and thoughts, and that nothing further can be found in man.
It's hard to be more sufficient than "nothing further can be found" - he might as well have said, "this is as good as it can possibly get." 
There is nothing unbiblical or unCatholic about this type of sufficiency, especially when the focus and context is about virtuous living. The context is very clear, the 'sufficiency' is merely in regards to how to deal with life's problems and joys, not about establishing every given Christian doctrine.
As strong as that statement of sufficiency is, the sufficiency of Scripture gets even more underscored by Athanasius' insistence on the unadorned Psalms:
There is, however, one word of warning needed. No one must allow himself to be persuaded, by any arguments what-ever, to decorate the Psalms with extraneous matter or make alterations in their order or change the words them-selves. They must be sung and chanted in entire simplicity, just as they are written, so that the holy men who gave them to us, recognizing their own words, may pray with us, yes and even more that the Spirit, Who spoke by the saints, recognizing the selfsame words that He inspired, may join us in them too. For as the saints' lives are lovelier than any others, so too their words are better than ever ours can be, and of much more avail, provided only they be uttered from a righteous heart. For with these words they themselves pleased God, and in uttering them, as the Apostle says, they subdued kingdoms, they wrought righteousness, they obtained promises, they stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, waxed mighty in war, turned to flight armies of aliens, women received their dead by resurrection. [Heb 11:33-36]
The ideas that their words are "better than ever ours can be" is a great way of showing that the Scriptures themselves, standing alone, are sufficient.
Context! St Athanasius is simply speaking on people tampering with the Psalms rather than praying them as the Church does. TF's conclusions are totally unwarranted and without any grounds in the very quotes he provides. He is not speaking of the Sola Scriptura notion of 'sufficient' here, but rather of the power of Inspired words and God working through the saints.

Finally, Athanasius gets explicit - even using the word "sufficient":
For God commanded Moses to write the great song [Deut 31:19] and to teach the people, and him whom He had appointed leader He bade also to write Deuteronomy, to have it ever in his hand and to meditate unceasingly upon its words [Deut 17:18-19]; because these are sufficient in themselves both to call men's minds to virtue and to bring help to any who ponder them sincerely.
Notice that it doesn't just say "sufficient" leaving open the option of sufficient materially but not formally, but it even goes so far as to remove an doubt by saying "sufficient in themselves." 
In what context is the term "sufficient" used? Not in the Sola Scriptura sense, thus TF is making a fallacious argument. TF has committed the word-concept fallacy in which he assumes that since the term "sufficiency" (or even just the notion) is given, it must therefore be the Sola Scriptura type sufficiency. That's simply false. This type of argumentation runs throughout TF's article, and it's simply bogus.
Sometimes Rome's apologists like to use the metaphor that the Church is Christ's body to emphasize the Church's authority. Athanasius makes an even stronger claim about Scripture:
On the other hand, daemons fear the words of holy men and cannot bear them; for the Lord Himself is in the words of Scripture and Him they cannot bear, as they showed when they cried out to Christ, I pray you, torment me not before the time.
Notice that Athanasius claims that "the Lord Himself is in the words of Scripture," which is as strong a claim as one can make about them. 
A fallacious argument, as if Rome denied God's all powerful Words were spoken in Scripture. Also, TF's argument is pretty strange in that somehow means Christ's Body is less authoritative than His spoke words. That's quite simply illogical and impossible. Further, TF has ripped this quote out of it's context:
 On the other hand, daemons fear the words of holy men and cannot bear them; for the Lord Himself is in the words of Scripture and Him they cannot bear, as they showed when they cried out to Christ, I pray you, torment me not before the time. [Lk 8:28; Mt 8:29] In the same way Paul commanded the unclean spirits, [Acts 16:18] and daemons were subject to the disciples. [Lk 10:17]
Notice how the context gives examples of Apostles and Christ driving out evil spirits. They didn't do so by quoting Scripture at them, but rather in virtue of the power of God's words (which is not confined to Scripture).

TF then shifts the subject to the Old Testament canon:
The old man's canon of the Old Testament only ends up referring to the canonical works:
Each book of the Bible has, of course, its own particular message: the Pentateuch... The Triteuch... Kings and Chronicles... Esdras... the Prophets... 
This is hardly proof of "canonical works," at least not as far as Catholic-Protestant discussion goes. What is even more interesting is that St Athanasius explicitly references DeuteroCanonical books such as Susanna and Sirach - which runs directly contrary to Protestant belief! 
Furthermore, the old man ends up excluding the Apocrypha (deutero-canonical books) fairly plainly by (after discussing only the canonical works) stating:
You see, then, that all the subjects mentioned in the historical books are mentioned also in one Psalm or another; but when we come to the matters of which the Prophets speak we find that these occur in almost all.
Of course, the canon of the Old Testament is not the main point of the letter, and consequently there is no explicit discussion of the topic.
Where is St Athanasisus excluding the DeuteroCanonical books here? He explicitly calls Susannah "recorded history," so TF is clearly, badly misunderstanding St Athanasius.
Unsurprisingly, one apocryphal part of one book is mentioned: "[the Prophets on occasion both lay down laws...and also record history,] as when Daniel relates the story of Susanna ..." and the Septuagint (or similar related Greek translation) title of the Psalms are referenced "if you want to know how Moses prayed, you have the 90th ... ." There's also an allusion to Sirach 15:9 ("Praise is not seemly in the mouth of a sinner, for it was not sent him of the Lord.") as noted above. 
I included some context in the above quote, where St Athanasius explicitly puts DeuteroCanonical material in the category of "Prophets." And later in the word Sirach 15:9 is directly quoted as well against those who don't properly chant the Psalms. And what is TF's response to this? Nothing other than this is "unsurprisingly," which in reality goes against the Protestant position and refutes TF's very argument. 

The final category TF focuses on is that of Penal Substitution, and how St Athanasius supposedly advocated it. For those who are unaware, I had a Penal Substitution debate against TF in which I showed it to be not only unBiblical but without significant patristic support either. 

 It is interesting to note that the old man (Athanasius adopting his words) explains that the atonement, and particularly penal substitution, is set forth in the Psalms:
For He did not die as being Himself liable to death: He suffered for us, and bore in Himself the wrath that was the penalty of our transgression, even as Isaiah says, Himself bore our weaknesses. [Mt 8:17] So in Psalm 138 we say, The Lord will make requital for me; and in the 72nd the Spirit says, He shall save the children of the poor and bring the slanderer low, for from the hand of the mighty He has set the poor man free, the needy man whom there was none to help.
It's interesting that he even brings Isaiah into the discussion. I've left the editorial bracketed citation to Matthew 8:17.
This is hardly proof of Penal Substitution, which is a specific understanding of the atonement and not automatically implied every time Christ's sufferings are mentioned. See the debate for clear evidence of this. TF has also ripped this quote out of context, which deflates this quote of any notion of P-Sub:
Having thus shown that Christ should come in human form, the Psalter goes on to show that He can suffer in the flesh He has assumed. It is as foreseeing how the Jews would plot against Him that Psalm 2 sings, Why do the heathen rage and peoples meditate vain things? The kings of the earth stood up and their rulers took counsel together against the Lord and against His Christ. And Psalm 22, speaking in the Saviour's own person, describes the manner of His death. Thou has brought me into the dust of death, for many dogs have compassed me, the assembly of the wicked have laid siege to me. They peirced my hands and my feet, they numbered all my bones, they gazed and stared at me, they parted my garments among them and cast lots for my vesture. They pierced my hands and my feet- what else can that mean except the cross?
St Athanasius states many things directly at odds with Psub (and all this right before the quote TF gives above). For example, it paints the Passion as a murder by the Jews, as a physical death only, quotes Psalm 22 as a whole applying to the tortures that the Jews would inflict, etc. These are opposed to the Protestant view of the Cross in which the real sufferings was God outpouring His Wrath on Christ and using Psalm 22:1 (ignoring the whole of the Psalm) as the main proof of this. As for quoting Matthew 8:17, TF and others should be very aware that this verse is about Jesus healing people, which is not at all about Psub!

Finally, TF makes his conclusion:

Athanasius' letter also has value for providing insight into many aspects of Athanasius' view of Scripture:
  • the practice of private possession of Scriptures,
  • individual study of the Scripture and the fruitfulness of such study,
  • the self-interpretation of Scripture,
  • the sufficiency of Scripture,
  • the magisterial role of Scripture,
  • Scripture as the rule of faith and life,
  • Christ himself being "in" Scripture, and
  • the canon of the Old Testament.
Athanasius' letter even provides some insight into Athanasius' view of the atonement. The discussion on the atonement even provides some discussion related to the doctrine of penal substitution.
As one can quite easily see in reading my above commentary and even simply the original letter itself, these claims of TF are quite outlandish and very false. The points he makes that do have elements of truth to them are things that the Catholic Church already accepts and teaches (such as the extolling of the Psalter and making it applicable on the individual level).
And not only this, but as we clearly saw, St Athanasius accepted DeuteroCanonical books (contrary to TF's argument) as well as taught some other things unfriendly to Protestants, for example:
Neither, if any man suffer with those that suffer or be gripped with desire of some better thing, would he ever say as Moses said, Show me Thyself, [Ex 33:13] or If Thou remittest their sin; then remit it; but if not, then blot me out of Thy book that Thou hast written.[Ex 32:32]
In our P-Sub debate, TF said these words of Moses in Ex 32:32 were about Psub in which Moses would take the place of the guilty. Yet this is not only not what the text is saying, even St Athanasius says it's about how to "suffer with those that suffer" which is most definitely not Psub.
Contemplating humanity's redemption and the Saviour's universal grace, sing Psalm 8
This comment while not absolute proof, it is fair to say goes against Limited Atonement and rather supports universal desire of God to save (note "humanity's redemption" and "universal grace").

And if, by way of contrast, you want to learn what sort of person is citizen of heaven's kingdom, then sing Psalm 15
Here St Athanasius speaks of those who are worthy of entering Heaven, and when one reads the Psalm they see it teaching man enters based on their good words and living a holy life. 
If your foes press yet harder and become a veritable host, that scorns you as not yet anointed, be not afraid, but sing again Psalm 27 [The title of Psalm 27 in the Greek is Of David, before he was annointed. The Christian reference is to chrismation, i.e., Confirmation, which was conferred as part of the same rite with Baptism in the early Church]. 
The brackets are from the editor of the article, but it very well could be that St Athanasius is teaching the doctrine of Confirmation here. 
And when you see people baptized and ransomed from this evil world, be filled with wonder at the love of God for men, and in thanksgiving for them sing the 32nd. 
Here St Athanasius directly links baptism with the forgiveness of sins, pointing us to Psalm 32 (the very Psalm Paul pointed to for justification in Romans 4)!

if on a Friday, your words of praise are in the 93rd, for it was when the Crucifixion was accomplished that the House of God was built, for all the enemy attempted to prevent it, so it is fitting we should sing on Friday a song of victory 
These comments show the Crucifixion was about fighting sin and death and not about God pouring out His Wrath on His Son.

If, weak as you are, you yet are chosen for some position of authority among the brethren, you must not be puffed up as though you were superior to them, 
Here we clearly see reference to "position of authority among the brethren," which is not a Protestant notion of each man taking the Bible and ultimately deciding for them self what to think.

while 22 and 69 foretell the holy cross, the grievous plots He bore and how great things He suffered for our sakes. 
Again, Psalm 22 (and 69 as well!) as a whole (rather than Protestants ignoring it and focusing solely on 22:1) is referenced in regards to the sufferings of Christ, which again are physical pains and not God's Wrath being vented instead.

To praise God tunefully upon an instrument, such as well-tuned cymbals, cithara, or ten-stringed psaltery, is, as we know, an outward token that the members of the body and the thoughts of the heart are, like the instruments themselves, in proper order and control, all of them together living and moving by the Spirit's cry and breath. 
Here St Athanasius speaks of praising God with instruments, yet people like John Calvin considered instrumental worship an abomination in the Christian dispensation (as Dave Armstrong notes in a recent blog post).

The purpose of this last string of quotes is not so much that there cannot be Protestant take on some of them as much as how "Catholic" they all are and thus far from being a "non-Romanist" writing of St Athanasius, the fact is it actually is very "Catholic." At the very least, one can see TF's appeal to this writing in support of Sola Scriptura is way off base, as is painting of the Catholic position in regards to the Psalter. 

p.s. The title of this post is taken from one of the suggested Psalms (26) in that writing; it speaks about God judging the case of the innocent man and vindicating him.


Anonymous said...

Athanasius sounds very non-Protestant here: "...the saints' lives are lovelier than any others, so too their words are better than ever ours can be, and of much more avail..."

Can TF show us a Protestant who speaks in this manner? His own proof-texts refute him.

Jae said...

This is the problem when everybody else can claim authoritative interpretation outside the Apostolic tradition and this leads to subjectivism and relativism - of my authority is not higher than yours....and the end result is thousands of denominations proclaiming their own brand of truth.

By doing so, they didn't realized it that they are their own little popes and traditions put together.