Back from the grave

During the past two years or so I’ve made some online acquaintances, especially at Mark Shea’s blog (CAEI). One of my most memorable interlocutors goes by the handle “Tom R.” Tom and I have locked horns more than once, and it doesn’t help matters that both of us have an affinity for wit bordering on sarcasm. Recently Mark posted about the absurdity of unearthing proto-Reformed theology in the early Church. Tom R was not amused.

I read the linked article “Ancient Baptists and Other Myths” some months ago, when it first appeared. Apart from the fallacy of the excluded middle (“Because they were not 20th-century Baptists, this proves they were Cathodox”), it faces the problem that two can play the “appeal to anachronism” game.

He added a little later:

By the way, where’s Eliott gone? I’m still waiting to find out how he made his final shortlist choice between Rome and Constantinople without resorting to private judgment (or casting lots). [Remember, Tom and I both think we’re funny. — EBB]

Then he complained that it’s illegitimate to base papal or episcopal infallibility on the teaching of Christ in Matthew 23 to obey the Pharisses because they sit in Moses’ seat:

Regarding Moses’ seat: So you still submit to the infallible teching authority of the Jewish High Priest? If not — what happened that caused them to forfeit this God-ordained authority?

To which Mark himself replied:

Who said the Jewish High Priest was infallible? The Old Covenant was flawed and provisional, remember? … Christ established the New Covenant. There aren’t any more covenant changes after that.

“Who said the High Priest was infallible?” Tom asked. His answer:

Every Catholic polemicist who uses the argument “Christ told us to obey the priests because they sit in Moses’ seat, even though He also told us not to copy their wicked deeds”. Either it’s analogous or it isn’t.

To which Mark then answered:

Authoritative doesn’t mean infallible. The argument is not “The Jewish high priest was infallible and now Peter is”. The argument is that an authoritative office in the Old Covenant foreshadows an office of even greater authority (because of the Greater Covenant of Christ) in Peter.

Alas, Tom, true to form, would have none of it:

I am still skeptical: most Catholic argumentation takes the view that it’s impossible to imagine God setting up a church without guaranteeing its leaders ongoing infallibility over time. Why would God be so cruel as to leave His people directionless? But then it postulates that in the OT, God did exactly that with the “church” of Israel. An infallible Magisterium expounding unwritten Tradition has been absolutely indispensible ever since 33 AD, but was non-existent before that time. Protestants, on the other hand, at least the non-Dispensationalist ones, tend to more emphasise the unity of the old and the new convenants, and that the greater perfection of the new pertains to Christ rather than to His followers, who remain as fallible (morally and doctrinally) a bunch as ever.

And then as one final jab on a dying thread, Tom added this:

And for a real anachronism, re-read the New Testament epistles and try, with an open mind, to picture St Paul telling his converts, off the record, “But everything I have taught you is worthless if you do not devoutly venerate Mary the Mother of our Lord”.

Now, I have been little more than a ghost at CAEI since I stopped blogsitting for Mark in August and September. But this thread caught my eye and I couldn’t help but churn out a short reply to Tom. So…

Tom, you asked where I’ve been. I’m still in Taichung, quite busy, and surprisingly happy offline. See?

As for my “short list,” I think you are confusing the epistemic validity of “private” judgment with the Cath-Orth rejection of the unilateral Prot prerogative for it above any ecclesial standard. Tell me one person or ordained body you would actually defer your interpretation of Scripture if push came to shove? You deny God has established a visible, hierarchy for the Church by which he speaks to all the faithful. I don’t. Both of us, of course, must answer “privately” to God on the final day. At any rate, my “short list” doesn’t matter since your God has seen to it from all eternity that I shall warm His feet in the Hell he made for me and did not die to redeem me from. (Pawdon me, my thungue is thtuck, but only very thlightly, in my cheek.)

You make a good point that one of the key differences between the Old Covenant and the New is the supremacy of Christ. Indeed, the difference between the OT church and the Church today is that IN CHRIST (who, btw, solidified Peter as the Rock) many of the OT longings and bumblings are redeemed. But you go to far by implying this doesn’t, or can’t, devolve onto the stewards Christ places over His people. One GREATER than Moses and David has come, remember. It just so happens He’s placed His apostles in a hierarchical, albeit at times unruly, Petrine college over the Church between now and His return. Appropriately, this college is, like its Lord, greater than the Pharisees in Moses’ seat over the Jews. Mark’s essentially right and your wriggling skepticism is unconvincing. Don’t forget: Matthew 23 comes BEFORE Mth 28. The pattern of deferring to the authority of the Pharisees is but foreshadowing for the Jews, and then the Gentiles, to better underdstand the commission Christ gave to the Apostles headed by Peter.

In any case, you state your case too strongly that God let the Israelites wander BLINDLY. Pardon me, but were Moses and the Prophets mincemeat? It is as G.A. Lindbeck said in _Teaching Authority and the Infallibility Debate_ (as cited in S. Jaki, _The Keys of the Kingdom_, 1986, p. 203), “Catholics — like the prohets and unlike the Reformers — do not envision the possibility, if expelled by the authorities, of establishing alternate ecclesiasitical orders or new churches.” As Jaki notes, however,

“Lindbeck asserts in the same breath that, unlike Catholics, the Reformers ‘shared the prophets’ refusal to set any limits to the possible errors of the leadership of the people of God.’ No effort was made by Lindbeck to show how the prophets themselves could be exempt from the possibility of erring if the latter had no limits. The problem cries for the Catholic solution of papal infallibility when one considers the case of a Moses, a David, and a Caiaphas, who at the same time and in the same person were both very fallible religious leaders and truly infallible prophets.”

OT Israel in need of greater guidance, of course; hence Christ came and sent His Apostles. OT Israel as a complete counterexample to the pattern of God ordaining visible leaders over His people? Come on, Tom, you’re trying too hard.

Finally, I challenge you to re-read any of the Bible imagining Paul or any one else telling us we NEEDN’T honor the mother of God, the mother of the Messiah, the vessel of the Word of God. Is it sheer whimsy that Luke places Mary in peculiar prominence among the disciples just before Pentecost breaks? Sheerly trivial that John places her in prominence at the Cross with the beloved disicple to whom Christ gave him (us)? You, like all fundamentalists, no matter how well read or articulate, once again rely on the SILENCE of Scripture to sully Mary or any other of your targeted non-solo-scriptural beliefs because you have cut yourself off from the voice of Tradition and theo-logic.

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About The Codgitator (a cadgertator)

Catholic convert. Quasi-Zorbatic. Freelance interpreter, translator, and web marketer. Former ESL teacher in Taiwan (2003-2012) and former public high school teacher (2012-2014). Married father of three. Multilingual, would-be scholar, and fairly consistent fitness monkey. My research interests include: the interface of religion and science, the history and philosophy of science and technology, ancient and medieval philosophy, and cognitive neuroscience. Please pray for me.
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