4 Errors about the Burden of Proof for God

Duccio, Pilate's First Interrogation of Christ (1311)
Duccio, Pilate’s First Interrogation of Christ (1311)

As longtime readers know, I used to be a lawyer before entering seminary to prepare for the Catholic priesthood. It’s perhaps unsurprising, then, that I’m fascinated by questions about the “burden of proof” in religious questions. For example, does the burden of proof fall on the believer or the atheist? What sort of evidence is permissible to meet this burden of proof? Do “extraordinary” claims require extraordinary evidence? Should they meet an extraordinary burden of proof, above the burden required for other sorts of claims? Here are four ways that those questions are answered incorrectly:

  • Error #1: The burden of proof falls with theists, and not with atheists.

Frequently, atheists will claim that “atheism isn’t a belief,” and therefore doesn’t require evidence, and that the burden of proof falls solely with the believer. This is false. As Luke Muehlhauser at Common Sense Atheism explains, “I think the burden of proof falls on whoever makes a positive claim.” It’s true, this means that believers should be able to provide support for this, but it also means that if you disbelieve in God, you should also be able to support this belief:

If you claim that Yahweh exists, it’s not my duty to disprove Yahweh. [….] But most intellectually-inclined atheists I know do not merely “lack” a belief in God – as, say, my dog lacks a belief in God. Atheists like to avoid the burden of proof during debates, so they say they merely “lack” a belief in God. But this is not what their writings usually suggest. No, most intellectual atheists positively believe that God does not exist. In fact, most of them will say – at least to other atheists – that it’s “obvious” there is no God, or that they “know” – as well as we can “know” anything – that God does not exist.

Thus, if the atheist wants to defend what he really believes, then he, too, has a burden of proof. He should give reasons for why he thinks that God almost certainly doesn’t exist.

This is the critical distinction. To go from “I’m not convinced from the evidence that Christianity/theism is true” to “therefore, Christianity/theism is false” is a logical leap not supported by the evidence. Alvin Plantinga has a helpful illustration:

[L]ack of evidence, if indeed evidence is lacking, is no grounds for atheism. No one thinks there is good evidence for the proposition that there are an even number of stars; but also, no one thinks the right conclusion to draw is that there are an uneven number of stars. The right conclusion would instead be agnosticism.

I don’t believe that there are an even number of stars. But I also don’t doubt that there are an even number of stars. Lack of evidence for X isn’t evidence of its opposite, and in this case, the weight of the evidence is perfectly 50-50.

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t ways in which lack of evidence can be probative: if I claim that it’s been raining all afternoon, the lack of water on the ground would be evidence against my claim. So there’s no reason atheists couldn’t argue that, if God existed, we’d see X and Y, but don’t see those things, and therefore He doesn’t exist. That would be a logical proof, but would take actual intellectual legwork. The alternative of pretending to be agnostic (a phenomenon Muehlhauser rightly treats as widespread) is much easier. It just happens to be intellectually dishonest.

  • Error #2: Christian Beliefs are either scientifically-evaluable or non-provable / non-falsifiable.

Given that the party making a positive claim (either that there is a God, or that there isn’t) has the burden of proof, what counts as proof? Oftentimes, there’s a false dichotomy that truth-claims (like religious claims) are analyzable in the way that scientific questions are, or else they’re nonsense. Here’s Muehlhauser apparently falling into that trap:

Christians have done a good job of making it impossible to disprove their God. Yahweh used to be hiding just above the clouds, from where he would throw rocks at the Amorites and do other fun stuff. Now he’s some kind of invisible, transcendent being we couldn’t possibly disprove. But we don’t have to. It’s the duty of Christians to show us some reason to think Yahweh exists. Christians have the burden of proof, because they are making a positive claim. The atheist merely says, “I see no reason to accept your claim, just like I see no reason to accept the claims of Scientology.”

If this is any indication, Muehlhauser’s understanding of Christianity and history is a big part of the problem. He assumes that we used to think that God was “hiding just above the clouds,” because he takes Joshua 10:10-11 embarrassingly literally to mean that God was on a cloud throwing rocks. Further, he claims that Christians did “a good job of making it impossible to disprove their God,” as if the transcendence of God was something we invented as an evasion from these brilliant atheist rebuttals (where does God sit on cloudless days? Shucks!).

In reality, Christian theology has been clear about God’s transcendence for the entirety of Christian history. God’s transcendence can also be shown to be metaphysically necessary from the work of pre-Christian philosophers like Aristotle. Further, you can trace God’s transcendence all the way back to Genesis 1:1, which says, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,” not “in the beginning, God sat on a cloud in the heavens and created the earth.” It’s true that, out of necessity, the Bible frequently uses anthropomorphic language to describe God and His actions, but what other language could we use? It’s also clear, from the very start, that much of this language is understood by author and reasonably-smart readers alike to be metaphorical and analogical. When God says in Exodus 19:4, “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself,” no reasonable person takes that to mean that Landroval swooped in and brought the Jews out of Egypt. After all, the prior 18 chapters just finished explaining how the Israelites escaped Egypt.

If you read the Bible by assuming that it is written by and for idiots, don’t be surprised if your Biblical exegesis is idiotic. This might seem like a side point (and admittedly is, somewhat), but Muehlhauser goes on from here to conclude that belief in the Christian God is like believing in a being like Odin, a categorical error only made possible by treating God like an artifact of this universe rather than the universe’s Creator.

So that’s part of the problem. The more important point here is Muehlhauser’s implicit admission that he doesn’t even know how to evaluate the Christian claim of a transcendent God. He needs to imagine that God is a silly rock-throwing cloud monster, because that’s the kind of being he understands how to analyze. Elsewhere, he writes that:

Skepticism and critical thinking teach us important lessons: Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Correlation does not imply causation. Don’t take authority too seriously. Claims should be specific and falsifiable.

Underlying this appears to be an attempt to analyze God the way that one would approach the question of whether or not quasars exists. Even the categories of “falsification” assume a particular approach to rational inquiry, an approach well-suited for the natural sciences, but often ill-suited outside of the realm for which it was invented. Take the principle of non-contradiction, for example: it’s a non-falsifiable, untestable logical axiom, but is true nevertheless. This is true of literally all logical axioms. (By the way, without these logical axioms, science is impossible, so this idea that all truth must be falsifiable can be shown to be false). The Wiley Blackwell Handbook of Humanism, while in no way favorable towards religion, acknowledges the incompleteness of this worldview:

12 times 12 is 144 is something you can establish from the comfort of your armchair by reason alone. You can do this with other conceptual truths. It’s possible, for example, to figure out whether my great-grandmother’s uncle’s grandson must be my second cousin once removed by just unpacking these concepts and examining the logical relations that hold between them. Again this can be done from the comfort of an armchair. No empirical investigation is required. Or suppose an explorer claims to have discovered a four-sided triangle in some remote rainforest. Do we need to mount an expensive expedition to check whether this claim is true? No, again we can establish its falsity by conceptual, armchair methods.

So, even while acknowledging that science, as characterized here, is an extraordinarily powerful tool, let’s also acknowledge that other non-scientific but nevertheless rational methods also have their place when it comes to arriving at reasonable belief – including armchair methods. Science is merely one way – albeit a very important way – of arriving at reasonable beliefs.

Given this, consider the kinds of claims that Christians make about God. Unlike, for examples, we’re not claiming that God is a creature that originated from this universe, came into power, and reshaped the universe. We’re saying that God is an uncreated Being (indeed, Being itself) and is the origin of all created reality. By definition, such a God isn’t going to be confined to the law of nature… laws He created. We’re making metaphysical claims, and Muehlhauser, like many atheists, is trying to evaluate them like physical claims. It’s true that we also believe that this God became man (without ceasing to be God), but this is a historical claim, and history doesn’t permit of scientific laboratory testing particularly well, either.

I’m not here attempting to prove either God’s existence or the truth of the Incarnation, only to say that those propositions aren’t claims that the natural sciences is equipped to handle, just as it’s not equipped to handle claims like “John Quincy Adams was a member of the Anti-Masonic Party” or “When an equal amount is taken from equals, an equal amount results” or “beauty is a transcendental.”

  • Error #3: Extraordinary claims logically require extraordinary evidence.

Carl Sagan was fond of quoting Marcello Truzzi’s saying (alluded to above, by Muehlhauser) that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” If this is meant as a description of the way we normally approach truth-claims, it’s true enough. We tend to hold things we find credible to a much lower burden of proof than things we find incredible. But trying to turn it into a logical rule is a disaster.

For starters, it renders incoherent results. Imagine a murder trial in which three people were in the room with the victim when he was shot, and forensics proves that there were two shooters. All three are brought up on trial. Using Truzzi’s standard, does this mean that the elevated burden of proof is on each of the three defendants (since there’s only a one in three chance that he’s guilty, making innocence more extraordinary in this case) or on the prosecution (because murder is an extraordinary sort of event)?

Worse, almost everything turns on what you consider “extraordinary,” a term that only appears objective (for example, a person who believed that all weather events were caused by the actions of the gods wouldn’t view such divine intervention as “extraordinary). In practice, this is an example of confirmation bias, which refers to ” a person’s tendency to favor information that confirms their assumptions, preconceptions or hypotheses whether these are actually and independently true or not. ” If something agrees with an atheist’s assumptions, it’s ‘ordinary,’ and held to one standard. If it disagrees, it’s ‘extraordinary,’ and held to a much higher standard.  All of us are prone to confirmation bias, but the “extraordinary claims / extraordinary evidence” mantra only serves to entrench it.

  • Error #4: Religious claims should be held to a higher burden of proof than other claims.

The final error i want to address is a permutation of the third one: it’s the idea that, as “extraordinary claims,” religious claims should be held to a a higher standard of proof than ordinary claims.

The normal standard for believing in something is what’s called a “50+1” standard. If you think of assent as balance between “belief” and “disbelief,” any tilting of the scales, however slight, points to the proper outcome. And this is how we normally use “belief,” to the point that it appears illogical and incoherent to do otherwise. G.E. Moore’s famous paradox is that statements like “It is raining and I don’t believe that it is raining” don’t mean anything. You’re affirming two contradictory statements. So, too, to say that “God probably exists, but I don’t believe He does” doesn’t appear to mean anything. And if the likelihood of God’s existence is above 50% (however slightly), then He probably exists.

Although apparently incoherent, this error actually points to an important feature of religious belief. Faith isn’t just an intellectual assent to the historical and metaphysical data. It’s also an act of trust, requiring an act of the will. No matter how clear the historical evidence of Jesus’ Resurrection, you can always choose to ignore or deny it. Pope St. Gregory the Great points out that this was even true of the Apostles who encountered the Resurrected Christ, which is why Jesus can still refer to Thomas’ faithful response as “belief” (John 20:29): “Thomas saw a human being, whom he acknowledged to be God, and said: My Lord and my God. Seeing, he believed; looking at one who was true man, he cried out that this was God, the God he could not see.”

This is an important dimension, because it’s easy to pretend that this is all exclusively on the level of the intellect, that belief and disbelief are motivated solely by the weight of the evidence (and that therefore, all wrong opinions in matters of faith are a matter of ignorance or simple mistake). When a person announces that they will choose not to believe in God even if the weight of evidence tips in His favor, they’re announcing something else is at hand.

  • Conclusions

So there you have it: (1) the burden of proof falls to the party making a claim (whether that claim is that God does or does not exist); (2) this burden should be met in a manner appropriate to the type of claims (so don’t expect scientific claims to be proven in the same way that historical ones are, for example); (3) requiring special evidence for claims you deem “extraordinary” opens the door for confirmation bias [and so you should be extremely cautious about doing so]; and (4) there’s no rational, disinterested reason to hold religious claims to a higher burden of proof than any other kinds of claims.

97 Comments

  1. Another thing I have seen atheists say is that the God of the Scriptures is unjust. They say that there is so much sufferings and evils, that a good God cannot allow it.

    I always respond that they judge God by anthropocentric standards, making what is good for man the measure for God. Usually stumps them, as they are always used to being from the vantage point of “reason” instead of special pleading.

    1. Craig Truglia says:
      December 7, 2015 at 12:12 am
      Another thing I have seen atheists say is that the God of the Scriptures is unjust. They say that there is so much sufferings and evils, that a good God cannot allow it.

      When I was an atheist, that was also one of my proofs against the existence of a good God.

      I always respond that they judge God by anthropocentric standards, making what is good for man the measure for God. Usually stumps them, as they are always used to being from the vantage point of “reason” instead of special pleading.

      Is that what you intended to say? Sounds like an error.

      As for me, after I was given the grace of faith, I understood that all things which God permits are for the good of those who love God. Even the suffering:

      Romans 8:17 And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.

      1. Perhaps you are misreading it? If you make man the measure of God’s morality, then obviously we don’t live in the best of all possible worlds for men. But, if men are not the measure, then human evils are irrelevant.

    2. The god of scriptures IS unjust. As an Atheist, I do not believe that god/s exist. I can only believe that the bible is fiction. I can only evaluate the character as unjust as said character commits heinous crimes against humans that said being specifically is said to love.

      If an Atheist does not believe that god/s exist, how else would an Atheist judge the character god in the bible? Atheists are NOT measuring what you believe is god, but the character in the fiction called the bible. If you stump Atheists with that lame assertion, you need to talk to Atheists that are more articulate. It’s not special pleading if you have not established that your god actually exists.

  2. You said,

    “Error #1: The burden of proof falls with theists, and not with atheists.”

    This is true. When I was an atheist, I relied almost completely on this argument. It was only after I came to faith, that I realized what a shallow argument this truly is.

  3. Joe,

    Have you ever had a Protestant claim that the burden of proof is on the Catholic Church to prove her claim of infallibility? If so, as a former lawyer, how would you respond to that?

    My answer has always been that the claims of Catholicism were accepted long before the first Protestant objections came about, therefore, it is the Protestant who has the burden to prove the validity of his objections. But, what is your opinion?

    1. Sounds like tautology, especially when the Catholic Church used to not make that claim, and in fact said that the opposite was true! 😛

      Of course, if we ignore what men like Augustine actually said, then we can go on believing that 😉

      1. Craig Truglia says:
        December 7, 2015 at 12:18 pm
        Sounds like tautology,

        What sounds like tautology?

        especially when the Catholic Church used to not make that claim, and in fact said that the opposite was true! 😛

        When did the Catholic Church teach that her Doctrines were not “infallible”? Please provide an official document.

        Of course, if we ignore what men like Augustine actually said, then we can go on believing that 😉

        I believe you’re referring to the distinction between ecumenical and non-ecumenical councils. A topic we discussed before and as I explained then, a distinction which St. Augustine understood perfectly well and which does not negate the Doctrine of the infallibility of the Church.

        1. Maybe according to you Augustine was not talking about ecumenical councils being liable to error, but he clearly included them in his list of things that can err. To say otherwise is a bald face lie and does injustice to what he clearly said in his second book against the donatists.

          it is telling that you want the burden of proof to be on those who say the catholic church is not infallible, and yet you are not accurately presenting what Augustine said. I don’t think your beliefs can stand scrutiny at least it is how it appears.

          1. Craig truglia says:
            December 7, 2015 at 6:59 pm
            Maybe according to you

            According to the Catholic Church. St. Augustine would hardly have been canonized a Saint if he contradicted the Doctrines of the Church.

            Augustine was not talking about ecumenical councils being liable to error, but he clearly included them in his list of things that can err.

            According to you. But you’re a Protestant. I don’t follow your teachings. I follow the Catholic Church.

            To say otherwise is a bald face lie and does injustice to what he clearly said in his second book against the donatists.

            I already gave you the Catholic understanding of St. Augustine’s teaching. The fact that you want to pass on your errors as Catholic doctrine is your own problem. Not ours.

            it is telling that you want the burden of proof to be on those who say the catholic church is not infallible,

            Because the Catholic Church has been infallible since the day that Jesus established her upon this earth.

            and yet you are not accurately presenting what Augustine said.

            St. Augustine believed and taught that the Catholic Church is infallible. It is you who don’t understand St. Augustine’s teachings because you imbue them with your Protestant errors.

            I don’t think your beliefs can stand scrutiny at least it is how it appears.

            Without intending to be rude, I must say, who cares what you think? Have you ever heard me to ask you what I should believe on any matter? No! Nor will I, ever. I believe and submit to the Teachings of Jesus Christ through the Catholic Church.

            What I will do is tell you what the Catholic Church Teaches in order that you may be edified and consider leaving your errors behind.

            “14. It follows after commendation of the Trinity, The Holy Church. God is pointed out, and His temple. For the temple of God is holy, says the Apostle, which (temple) are you. This same is the holy Church, the one Church, the true Church, the catholic Church, fighting against all heresies: fight, it can: be fought down, it cannot. As for heresies, they went all out of it, like as unprofitable branches pruned from the vine: but itself abides in its root, in its Vine, in its charity. The gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
            Sermon to Catechumens, on the Creed, 6,14, 395 A.D.

          2. I notice that you have decided not to answer the specific questions which De Maria asked on December 7, 2015 at 3.06pm. I wonder why that was? One possibility is that you could not answer them. If that was not the case, perhaps you might now like to answer them, one by one. It is a common debating technique to move onto some other issue when people are unable to respond to the points made on the other side.

  4. I see a lot of blustering, but hey let me agree with everyone. Of course Augustine can err. So can Pope Marcellinus who sacrificed to pagan idols during persecution. So can I. So can every man other than God.

    Unlike what De Maria would have you believe, Augustine wrote in a widely disseminated Catholic apologetic work that “all the letters of bishops which have been written, or are being written, since the closing of the canon, are liable to be refuted if there be anything contained in them which strays from the truth either by the discourse of some one who happens to be wiser in the matter than themselves, or by the weightier authority…to the authority of plenary Councils which are formed for the whole Christian world; and that even of the plenary Councils, the earlier are often corrected by those which follow them.”

    If the immediate context did not make it clear enough pertaining to what exactly “plenary councils…for the whole Christian world” are (obviously ecumenical councils) the Catholic Encyclopedia concurs:

    “The ecumenical councils or synods of the Universal Church are called plenary council[s] by St. Augustine (C. illa, xi, Dist. 12), as they form a compete representation of the entire Church.”

    So, De Maria would like to say the burden of proof should be on those that say the Catholic Church is not infallible, because the whole world should accept infallibility as a default. Strangely enough, this is something that would put him at odds with men such as Augustine.

    You can be the best lawyer in the world, but the truth always wins in the end. Joe cannot concoct an argument for De Maria that can make something the default which would be something that requires demonstration and was not a given in the early Church.

    God bless,
    Craig

    1. From the Catholic Encyclopedia on:

      “The criterion of inspiration (less correctly known as the criterion of canonicity)”

      Even those Catholic theologians who defend Apostolicity as a test for the inspiration of the New Testament (see above) admit that it is not exclusive of another criterion, viz., Catholic tradition as manifested in the universal reception of compositions as Divinely inspired, or the ordinary teaching of the Church, or the infallible pronouncements of ecumenical councils. This external guarantee is the sufficient, universal, and ordinary proof of inspiration. The unique quality of the Sacred Books is a revealed dogma. Moreover, by its very nature inspiration eludes human observation and is not self-evident, being essentially superphysical and supernatural. Its sole absolute criterion, therefore, is the Holy inspiring Spirit, witnessing decisively to Itself, not in the subjective experience of individual souls, as Calvin maintained, neither in the doctrinal and spiritual tenor of Holy Writ itself, according to Luther, but through the constituted organ and custodian of Its revelations, the Church. All other evidences fall short of the certainty and finality necessary to compel the absolute assent of faith. (See Franzelin, “De Divinâ Traditione et Scripturâ”; Wiseman, “Lectures on Christian Doctrine”, Lecture ii; also INSPIRATION.)

    2. Craig,

      Pope Marcellinus’ offering of incense to pagan gods is not an argument against papal infallibility. Popes are not impeccable. They are not immune to sin. Infallibility is not impeccability.

      Of course you now agree that St. Augustine can err, but you did say, “Sounds like tautology, especially when the Catholic Church used to not make that claim, and in fact said that the opposite was true!” You confused Augustine with the Catholic Church.

      Technically, you can also say that there was a time when the Catholic Church did not teach the doctrine of the Trinity just as it didn’t claim papal infallibility before. That was the era before the great Christological controversies began ripping the Church apart in the fourth century. But of course you would be technically wrong. The Church had always believed in the Trinity doctrine, although it had not defined it in the most accurate terms available.

      Ditto with papal infallibilty. Before the Protestant heresies shredded the Church in the 16th century, the Church had not articulated it in the clearest language available. That however does not mean it didn’t believe it since the beginning.

      Seriously, I doubt that you believe in the Trinity because of sola scriptura. Most likely, you believe it, not because the Bible is infallible, but because the Catholic Church is infallible.

      “For first of all I hear that when you come together in the church, there are schisms among you; and in part I believe it. For there must be also heresies: that they also, who are approved, may be made manifest among you.” (1 Corinthians 11:19). It takes a major heresy to cause what is APPROVED to be made clearer.

      1. The Catholic Church does not teach that the Pope can never err. Rather, it teaches that the Pope can never teach false doctrine when sitting on the seat of Peter. I presume the Pope did not do this when sacrificing to idols back in the 4th century.

        So, I think you glossed over a very obvious point I was making. Of course men err. And I think you are ignoring the obvious point Augustine was making–Ecumenical Councils can err and must be corrected by subsequent councils. The reason I even bring this up is because De Maria wanted Joe to contrive “reasoning” that the default position of all mankind is that the Catholic Church is inerrant. So, I find this awfully odd being that one would first have to prove that this is even the original teaching of the Catholic Church, which it clearly wasn’t.

        So, your argument about the Trinity or whatever else really is not applicable (though personally I accepted the Trinity from the Scripture before I even knew there was a doctrine). Augustine was writing during an era where the Catholic Church had councils to settle doctrine and the Bishop of Rome had some level of prominence as it pertained to settling disputes. So, for him to write that only the Scripture specifically can be without error, and any of the writings of Bishops and their Councils can err, pretty much eviscerates any claim to the inerrancy of the teaching authority of Catholicism.

        To claim that Augustine was wrong in this or misspoke, when he was writing this is a widely disseminated apologetic work and similar ideas are found elsewhere in his works to me doesn’t hold water. Of course, a guy like De Maria will say, “Well, I don’t care if YOU think it holds wter or not.” Well, whatever. If someone doesn’t care that there are not any historical facts that justify the basis for their belief system, then fine, I cannot convince them. We are all placing our faith in something. We just want to be sure that we don’t place our faith in something that is self-contradictory.

        God bless,
        Craig

        1. “The reason I even bring this up is because De Maria wanted Joe to contrive ‘reasoning’ that the default position of all mankind is that the Catholic Church is inerrant.”

          Where? I see De Maria mentioning his own opinion/response/argument, but then asking only for Joe’s opinion.

        2. Craig,

          It’s interesting how you came to accept the Trinity “from the Scripture” because it is not really obvious from the scriptures. Many have read the Bible, and could not see it there. If they have, the great controversies surrounding the doctrine would’ve not appeared in the early centuries.

          If Scripture itself is without error then the Catholic Church itself is without error because the Bible came into existence through the Catholic Church. It would be absurd to claim that Catholic teaching authority has been eviscerated while tacitly accepting the authority of Catholic inspiration on the Bible. St. Augustine understood this well, that is why he and his fellow bishops sought the Bishop of Rome to settle the heresy of Pelagius.

          If you think yourself fallible and subject to human errors, then is it not possible that in reading St. Augustine’s remarks on ecumenical councils, that you may have erred in understanding him?

          As Supreme Ruler of the Church, the Pope can overrule any council as he wishes. And if the Pope does so, will it necessarily follow that the teaching authority of the Church has been demolished?

          Here we must carefully distinguish between indefectibility, inerrancy, and infallibility and how they are applied in Catholic doctrine. Most especially infallibility. The best source is still Vatican I on papal infaillibility. We refer to papal infallibility because the entire Church with its councils is built on Peter.

          St Augustine is a great saint, but the Church was not built upon him. The Church highly respects his teachings, but he is not the Supreme Teacher of the Church. The Pope is.

    3. Craig Truglia says:
      December 8, 2015 at 3:16 am
      I see a lot of blustering, but hey let me agree with everyone. Of course Augustine can err. So can Pope Marcellinus who sacrificed to pagan idols during persecution. So can I. So can every man other than God.

      But not the Pope teaching faith and morals from the See of Peter and not the Catholic Church teaching in ecumenical Council in union with the Pope.

      Unlike what De Maria would have you believe, Augustine wrote in a widely disseminated Catholic apologetic work that “all the letters of bishops which have been written, or are being written, since the closing of the canon, are liable to be refuted if there be anything contained in them which strays from the truth either by the discourse of some one who happens to be wiser in the matter than themselves, or by the weightier authority…to the authority of plenary Councils which are formed for the whole Christian world; and that even of the plenary Councils, the earlier are often corrected by those which follow them.”

      And you don’t understand what has been written because you read it as a Protestant. St. Augustine does not say that any Plenary Council erred. In context of Catholic Doctrine, St. Augustine is talking about DEVELOPMENT OF DOCTRINE. Wherein, things that were not previously known are brought to light by the Holy Spirit.

      But since you are precisely like the heretics whom he is addressing, you read the letter in light of your errors and come to false conclusions.

      If the immediate context did not make it clear enough pertaining to what exactly “plenary councils…for the whole Christian world” are (obviously ecumenical councils) the Catholic Encyclopedia concurs:

      “The ecumenical councils or synods of the Universal Church are called plenary council[s] by St. Augustine (C. illa, xi, Dist. 12), as they form a compete representation of the entire Church.”

      Yeah. And in the immediate context, where does he say that any Plenary Council has erred? He doesn’t. He says and I quote, “the earlier are often corrected by those which follow them, when, by some actual experiment, things are brought to light which were before concealed, and that is known which previously lay hid, and this without any whirlwind of sacrilegious pride, without any puffing of the neck through arrogance, without any strife of envious hatred, simply with holy humility, catholic peace, and Christian charity

      So, De Maria would like to say the burden of proof should be on those that say the Catholic Church is not infallible, because the whole world should accept infallibility as a default. Strangely enough, this is something that would put him at odds with men such as Augustine.

      No. It only puts Catholics at odds with heretics, like yourself.

      You can be the best lawyer in the world, but the truth always wins in the end.

      Exactly!

      Joe cannot concoct an argument for De Maria that can make something the default which would be something that requires demonstration and was not a given in the early Church.

      Joe doesn’t have to concoct anything. It is Catholic Teaching. And the Catholic Church is given the guarantee of the Holy Spirit that She is the Pillar and Foundation of the Truth.

  5. I finally got around to collecting quotes from the letters of St. Augustine concerning the Apostolic See. They are not altogether demonstrative, but certainly indicate a pre-eminent role in matters of dispute, both in doctrine and in Church governance. I intend to pull together quotes from Pope Innocent’s letters in response (letters 181-183 in Augustine’s letter collection), where he is abundantly clear about his office and its prerogatives.

    Here’s the link:
    https://vogliodio.wordpress.com/2015/12/09/augustine-to-pope-innocent/

      1. The word that is translated “Pope” is always “Papa” in the Latin text. Looking in my dictionary, “pope” is the only possible translation given for “papa”, so I would say it is a sound translation.

      2. Of course the bishop of Rome is not the only to have been so referred, the patriarchs of Alexandria having borne the same title even down to our own day.

          1. So the Greek “pappas” was a word that meant father. It was shortened to “papas” when applies to bishops and patriarchs, but it seems that by the time it reached Latin, it was used exclusively (and I could be wrong) of the bishop of Rome and the “pope” of Alexandria. I imagine the Coptic came over from the Greek.

            You’re certainly right that it sounds like a diminutive for father. I think that’s how most Italians think of it when they say “Papa Francesco” in reference to our current Holy Father. The English word “Pope” (first appearing in the 10th century) certainly doesn’t carry the same affectionate sound.

          2. It probably comes from the fact that our Priests are God’s representatives on earth. Thus, we have called them Father from time immemorial:

            2 Corinthians 5:20 Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.

            Judges 17:10 And Micah said unto him, Dwell with me, and be unto me a father and a priest, and I will give thee ten shekels of silver by the year, and a suit of apparel, and thy victuals. So the Levite went in.

  6. Craig Truglia says:
    December 9, 2015 at 11:50 am
    The Catholic Church does not teach that the Pope can never err.

    Who said that She did?

    Rather, it teaches that the Pope can never teach false doctrine when sitting on the seat of Peter.

    Correct.

    I presume the Pope did not do this when sacrificing to idols back in the 4th century.

    Again, correct.

    So, I think you glossed over a very obvious point I was making.

    No one has glossed over anything. You are denying the infallibility of the Catholic Church. You have also, in the past, denied the infallibility of the Pope from the Chair of Peter.

    Of course men err. And I think you are ignoring the obvious point Augustine was making–Ecumenical Councils can err and must be corrected by subsequent councils.

    You have misunderstood the point. St. Augustine did not use the word, “error”. He said that they are corrected because things come to light. In light of Catholic Doctrine, that is a reference to the DEVELOPMENT OF DOCTRINE.

    But you read it in light of your erroneous doctrines, so you immediately conclude that St. Augustine is claiming that the Church can commit errors in Doctrine.

    The reason I even bring this up is because De Maria wanted Joe to contrive “reasoning” that the default position of all mankind is that the Catholic Church is inerrant. So, I find this awfully odd being that one would first have to prove that this is even the original teaching of the Catholic Church, which it clearly wasn’t.

    It clearly is. You have read one church father and imbued his teaching with your errors and you conclude that you know something about Catholic Teaching. But you know nothing but the errors that rattle around in your head:

    Ignatius of Antioch: “… to the Church also which holds the presidency, in the location of the country of the Romans, worthy of God, worthy of honor, worthy of blessing, worthy of praise, worthy of success, worthy of sanctification, and, because you hold the presidency in love, named after Christ and after the Father” (Letter to the Romans 1:1 [A.D. 110]).

    Cyprian of Carthage: “Would the heretics dare to come to the very seat of Peter whence apostolic faith is derived and whither no errors can come?…If someone does not hold fast to this unity of Peter, can he imagine that he still holds the faith? If he [should] desert the chair of Peter upon whom the Church was built, can he still be confident that he is in the Church?” (The Unity of the Catholic Church 4, 251 AD). Irenaeus writes: “Where the charismata of the Lord are given, there must we seek the truth, with those to whom belongs the ecclesiastical succession from the Apostles, and the unadulterated and incorruptible word. It is they who …are the guardians of our faith…and securely expound the Scriptures to us” (Against Heresies 4:26:5, 180-199 AD).

    So, your argument about the Trinity or whatever else really is not applicable (though personally I accepted the Trinity from the Scripture before I even knew there was a doctrine).

    I doubt that. Its too much of a coincidence that you would call it the “Trinity”. The very fact that the you use the word coined by the Catholic Church means that you used Catholic Doctrine to understand that which was found in Scripture.

    Augustine was writing during an era where the Catholic Church had councils to settle doctrine and the Bishop of Rome had some level of prominence as it pertained to settling disputes. So, for him to write that only the Scripture specifically can be without error, and any of the writings of Bishops and their Councils can err, pretty much eviscerates any claim to the inerrancy of the teaching authority of Catholicism.

    All that you have done is prove that you don’t understand what St. Augustine has written. You don’t even attempt to write in context of St. Augustine’s further writings. You merely stuff his writings with your presuppositions and then claim that you know something about the:

    1. Bishop
    2. Priest
    3. of the Catholic Church
    4. Who, as a Priest, had to vow obedience to the Pope and Bishops.
    5. As a Catholic, had to vow to believe all that the Catholic Church Teaches.
    6. He it is, who called the Catholic Church, the “City of God”.

    For in the Catholic Church, not to speak of the purest wisdom, to the knowledge of which a few spiritual men attain in this life, so as to know it, in the scantiest measure, deed, because they are but men, . . . – not to speak of this wisdom, which you do not believe to be in the Catholic Church, there are many other things which most justly keep me in her bosom. The consent of peoples and nations keeps me in the Church; so does her authority, inaugurated by miracles, nourished by hope, enlarged by love, established by age. The succession of priests keeps me, beginning from the very seat of the Apostle Peter, to whom the Lord, after His resurrection, gave it in charge to feed His sheep, down to the present episcopate. And so, lastly, does the name itself of Catholic, which, not without reason, amid so many heresies, the Church has thus retained; so that, though all heretics wish to be called Catholics, yet when a stranger asks where the Catholic Church meets, no heretic will venture to point to his own chapel or house. (Against the Epistle of Manichaeus 4:5; NPNF 1, Vol. IV, 130)

    For my part, I should not believe the gospel except moved by the authority of the Catholic Church. (Against the Epistle of Manichaeus 5, 6; NPNF 1, Vol. IV, 131)

    To claim that Augustine was wrong in this or misspoke, when he was writing this is a widely disseminated apologetic work and similar ideas are found elsewhere in his works to me doesn’t hold water.

    Similar things to what he actually wrote. But not similar things to what you have misinterpreted in his works.

    Of course, a guy like De Maria will say, “Well, I don’t care if YOU think it holds wter or not.” Well, whatever. If someone doesn’t care that there are not any historical facts that justify the basis for their belief system, then fine, I cannot convince them. We are all placing our faith in something. We just want to be sure that we don’t place our faith in something that is self-contradictory.

    Then you need to turn to the Catholic Church immediately. Because you and your Protestant theology contradict yourselves at every turn.

    1. De Maria wrote concerning Augustine’s opinion that nothing other than Scripture is inerrant:

      “I believe you’re referring to the distinction between ecumenical and non-ecumenical councils.”

      But later wrote:

      “St. Augustine did not use the word, “error”. He said that they are corrected because things come to light. In light of Catholic Doctrine, that is a reference to the DEVELOPMENT OF DOCTRINE.”

      So I don’t waste the time responding to two completely unique interpretations of what Augustine supposedly said, which one is your actual position that you would like me to respond to?

      As for me, I will repeat the obvious interpretation. Augustine writes, “But who can fail to be aware that the sacred canon of Scripture, both of the Old and New Testament, is confined within its own limits, and that it stands so absolutely in a superior position to all later letters of the bishops, that about it we can hold no manner of doubt or disputation whether what is confessedly contained in it is right and true…”

      So when Augustine gives a list of bishops, their letters, synods, and councils, he is obviously creating a dichotomy. Scripture (i.e. where the is “no manner of doubt and disputation”) and everything else, where there is manner of doubt and disputation.

      And let’s pause a moment and count the grand total of recognized ecumenical councils by Augustine’s time: 2 (Nicea and 1st COnstantinople). Is anyone here prepared to defend that something in these councils needed to be “corrected” as Augustine clearly wrote?

      Hence, your interpretation is found wanting, De Maria.

      Augustine wrote in Letter 82:

      “I have learned to yield this respect and honor only to the canonical books of Scripture: of these alone do I most firmly believe that the authors were completely free from error.”

      Augustine has been consistent with his dichotomy of Scripture versus everything else. As for you, De Maria, I am not even sure how you even really understand what Augustine wrote being that you gave two different interpretations, neither having anything to do with what he actually wrote.

      I pray you address this issue a little more carefully. I will do the same.

      GOd bless,
      Craig

      1. Augustine, in the quote above says:

        “all the letters of bishops which have been written, or are being written, SINCE THE CLOSING OF THE CANON, are liable to be refuted if there be anything contained in them which strays from the truth….”

        This proves that Augustine accepts the infallibility of even ‘regional synods’, such as was the Council of Carthage wherein the canon of scripture was finally closed”. This is not to say that every syllable of a particular canon of a synod might not be changed in the future, but it certainly means that Augustine thought that the Council of Carthage definitively, and infallibly, ‘CLOSED’ the canon of the scriptures at this Council for all times.

        So, Augustine certainly gives the Scriptures an exalted position of authority as he writes in the quote. However, he also proves the authority and infallibility of Church Councils at the same time. Without such infallible authority it would be impossible to CLOSE the canon of scripture. And, we might note that it is not the Catholic Church who tried to change, or reopen the canon for debate, but rather the founder of Protestantism, Martin Luther, in his various adaptations of the millennium old ‘canon’.

        To sum up, there could be NO CLOSING OF THE CANON OF SCRIPTURE WITHOUT THE CATHOLIC CHURCH HIERARCHY, AND IT’S ABILITY TO MAKE INERRANT CANONICAL DECISIONS.

        Augustine knew that, and celebrated it in the above quote. And particularly that the Church had accepted the ‘Book of Revelations’ as definitively canonical for all future ages, even though it had been debated over in the Church for centuries.

        1. Except that was not what he was commenting on, by “closing of the canon” he meant the writing of Scripture. The word “Canon” was widely used for 200 years before any councils weighed on the matter and to assert that Augustine meant something new by the term than his predecessors didn’t is to me special pleading not warranted by the evidence, nor clearly what Augustine is saying.

          Al, your argument amounts to, “Augustine is saying that since the Council of Carthage, the Canon has no equals.” Sorry, that doesn’t fly!

          1. Craig Truglia says:
            December 10, 2015 at 2:47 am
            Except that was not what he was commenting on, by “closing of the canon” he meant the writing of Scripture.

            You’ll need to provide the proof of that statement. It is you who is special pleading.

            The word “Canon” was widely used for 200 years before any councils weighed on the matter and to assert that Augustine meant something new by the term than his predecessors didn’t is to me special pleading not warranted by the evidence, nor clearly what Augustine is saying.

            Are you saying that the word “canon”, in St. Augustine’s time, meant exclusively the “canon of Scripture”?

            Council of Carthage (A.D. 419)

            The Canons

            Aurelius the Bishop said: You, most blessed brethren, remember that after the day fixed for the synod we discussed many things while we were waiting for our brethren who now have been sent as delegates and have arrived at the present synod, which must be placed in the acts….. The whole Council said: Let them be brought forward.

            Daniel the Notary read: The profession of faith or statutes of the Nicene Synod are as follows.

            And while he was speaking, Faustinus, a bishop of the people of Potentia, of the Italian province of Picenum, a legate of the Roman Church said: There have been entrusted to us by the Apostolic See certain things in writings, and certain other things as in ordinances to be treated of with your blessedness as we have called to memory in the acts above, that is to say, concerning the canons made at Nice, that their decrees and customs be observed; for some things are observed out of decree and canon, but some from custom…..

            That one sentence belies your contention.

            Al, your argument amounts to, “Augustine is saying that since the Council of Carthage, the Canon has no equals.” Sorry, that doesn’t fly!

            With you. But it sounds quite in line with Catholic Doctrine and in context of the teachings of St. Augustine.

            St. Augustine is saying that the Council of Carthage closed the Canon. That is what it means, “since the closing of the canon”.

            Al is right. St. Augustine is recognizing the infallible authority of the Council of Carthage to decide the canon of Scripture.

          2. Craig,

            It is very easy to understand what Augustine means when he states “since the closing of the canon”. ‘Closing’ of the canon, is synonymous with ‘fixation’ of the canon. It’s a final decision of exactly which sacred books would be included into the New Testament after centuries of episcopal debate.

            From the Catholic Encyclopedia:

            ‘Fixation in the African and Gallican Churches

            It was some little time before the African Church perfectly adjusted its New Testament to the Damasan Canon. Optatus of Mileve (370-85) does not used Hebrews. St. Augustine, while himself receiving the integral Canon, acknowledged that many contested this Epistle. But in the Synod of Hippo (393) the great Doctor’s view prevailed, and the correct Canon was adopted. However, it is evident that it found many opponents in Africa, since three councils there at brief intervals–Hippo, Carthage, in 393; Third of Carthage in 397; Carthage in 419–found it necessary to formulate catalogues. The introduction of Hebrews was an especial crux, and a reflection of this is found in the first Carthage list, where the much vexed Epistle, though styled of St. Paul, is still numbered separately from the time-consecrated group of thirteen. The catalogues of Hippo and Carthage are identical with the Catholic Canon of the present. In Gaul some doubts lingered for a time, as we find Pope Innocent I, in 405, sending a list of the Sacred Books to one of its bishops, Exsuperius of Toulouse.

            So at the close of the first decade of the fifth century the entire Western Church was in possession of the full Canon of the New Testament. In the East, where, with the exception of the Edessene Syrian Church, approximate completeness had long obtained without the aid of formal enactments, opinions were still somewhat divided on the Apocalypse. But for the Catholic Church as a whole the content of the New Testament was definitely fixed, and the discussion closed.

          3. De Maria,

            First, Augustine wrote his first letter against the Donatists 20 years before what you just quoted.

            Second, in what you quote there is the word “canons” in the plural. The term “canon” meaning “Scripture” was a commonly used term for 200 years before, even without a council “settling” the matter. So, again you are blustering but it only sounds good because no one can interrupt you in the middle of you typing sand say, “Hey, you’re getting carried away there.” This is why I have in the past recommended actual conversation with you, or a debate or something, because your blustering would be exposed as just that. It couldn’t hold up in real world conversation.
            ___

            Al,

            The context does not allow for your reading. It is obvious that Augustine is not referring to Scripture now being inerrant and everything else not being after the year 400AD. The early use of the term “Canon” in Tertullian and other writers referring to the Scripture is highly suggestive to this.

            But, let’s entertain your interpretation. Augustine meant to say only the Scripture, and nothing else, is inerrant after the year 400AD. Okay, do you concur with Augustine about that?

            Of course not. Because it would be a completely arbirtrary, random standard. How could councils BEFORE 400AD be inerrant and all of the sudden lose that standard after 400AD?

            Maybe you believe that, but I have never heard anyone defend that notion.

          4. Craig, I think you might be over-reading Augustine in this quote. He obviously respects the authoritative, and inerrant decisions, of Councils because this is how essential decisions are ‘drawn to a conclusion’ in the Church. For instance, the actual effect of the decision to include the Book of Revelations into the canon of sacred scripture at the Council of Carthage had effects and implications extending to the present day, and even for the many Protestant sects in the world today. Without the inerrant authority of this Council, the Book of Revelations would have been kept in the classification that the ‘Didache’, ‘The Shepherd’, and the’ Letter of Clement 1′, amongst others, currently are placed.

            Augustine rejoices in the ‘closing of the canon’, and tries to stress it’s importance regarding the subject, and authority, of Sacred Scripture. However, this does not mean that the authority of Councils end with the ‘fixing’ of the canon of sacred scripture. The councils exert their authority in countless other areas besides scripture, and the same authority applies. But, in making future decisions after the Council of Carthage, at least the bishops of the Church had a defined list of canonically recognized books to interpret, whereas, before the ‘closing of the canon’ these early Fathers were not certain exactly what was scripture, and what was not.

            Scripture certainly has authority, but scriptures also need to be interpreted. The Church both selected the correct books to be included in the ‘canon’, and then it also interprets those same books in detail so that the faithful have the proper understanding.

            I think you should read again the short selection I posted above about canonicity, inspiration, and scripture. It clarifies some of the issues we are currently discussing:

            “The criterion of inspiration (less correctly known as the criterion of canonicity)”

            Even those Catholic theologians who defend Apostolicity as a test for the inspiration of the New Testament (see above) admit that it is not exclusive of another criterion, viz., Catholic tradition as manifested in the universal reception of compositions as Divinely inspired, or the ordinary teaching of the Church, or the infallible pronouncements of ecumenical councils. This external guarantee is the sufficient, universal, and ordinary proof of inspiration. The unique quality of the Sacred Books is a revealed dogma. Moreover, by its very nature inspiration eludes human observation and is not self-evident, being essentially superphysical and supernatural. Its sole absolute criterion, therefore, is the Holy inspiring Spirit, witnessing decisively to Itself, not in the subjective experience of individual souls, as Calvin maintained, neither in the doctrinal and spiritual tenor of Holy Writ itself, according to Luther, but through the constituted organ and custodian of Its revelations, the Church. All other evidences fall short of the certainty and finality necessary to compel the absolute assent of faith. (See Franzelin, “De Divinâ Traditione et Scripturâ”; Wiseman, “Lectures on Christian Doctrine”, Lecture ii; also INSPIRATION.) –Catholic Encyclopedia

          5. Craig Truglia says:
            December 10, 2015 at 12:31 pm
            De Maria,

            First, Augustine wrote his first letter against the Donatists 20 years before what you just quoted.

            3. “When, on the calends of September, very many bishops from the provinces of Africa, Numidia, and Mauritania, with their presbyters and deacons, had met together at Carthage,….

            Chapter 2, Third paragraph.

            Chapter 3, fourth paragraph

            4. Now let the proud and swelling necks of the heretics raise themselves, …. but that all the letters of bishops which have been written, or are being written, since the closing of the canon,….

            Hm? The letter which you claim was written 20 years after contains details of something which you claim occurred 20 years later.

            Second, in what you quote there is the word “canons” in the plural. The term “canon” meaning “Scripture” was a commonly used term for 200 years before, even without a council “settling” the matter.

            It is also there in the singular.

            concerning the canons made at Nice, that their decrees and customs be observed; for some things are observed out of decree and canon, but some from custom…..

            So, again you are blustering …

            Do you even know what that means?

          6. De Maria,

            Augustine had the North African Bishops meet once a year if my memory serves me right, so that is probably what you are referring to. At some point, the Bishops at least wanted to stop doing this, as travel even within North Africa wasn’t the greatest back then.

            New Advent lists the date of composition as 400AD: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/14081.htm

            I appreciate your defending of Al, but his point actually contradicts yours (his point is that after the settling of Canon, i.e. deciding which books constitute Scripture, only after then is the Scripture stand in a superior position of inerrancy versus all other things.) So I am not sure what makes sense to you.

          7. Craig Truglia says:
            December 10, 2015 at 11:54 pm
            De Maria,

            Augustine had the North African Bishops meet once a year if my memory serves me right, ….

            The evidence is in the letter. It is obvious that St. Augustine is talking about that meeting. And the closing of that canon concerning the Scriptures.

            ….So I am not sure what makes sense to you.

            But I am sure I know what makes sense to you. Only that which you can imagine in the confines of your mind. As I told you before, you read St. Augustine in context of what you believe. Rather than taking into account what St. Augustine believed and professed.

            You ask, “where does it say anything about the infallibility of ecumenical councils”? Because you, like all Protestants, make doctrine out of what is not said rather than what is. Since he doesn’t, in this letter, explicitly say, “infaillible”, you assume he doesn’t believe it. Although, in another letter, he explicitly stated that he would not believe Scripture, if it wasn’t for the Church. But since that doesn’t meet your Protestant criteria, you turn a blind eye to it.

            St. Augustine is a Saint and Doctor of the Catholic Church and professed and believed all Catholic Doctrines. Until you recognize those facts, you won’t understand anything that he said.

            And I mean that in the nicest way.

            Sincerely,

            De Maria

          8. Just a clarification (since much of the discussion is unfortunately unclear), the word “canon” is being used in two different senses in the various texts cited. In one sense, it refers to the list of books in Scripture to be held as authoritative. In another sense, it refers to a decree or directive or law of some sort, typically that put out by a council or synod of some sort. Thus the law that governs the Catholic Church is called “canon law”.

            So when Augustine speaks of observance “out of decree and canon” in one of the many quotes below, the context indicates he referring to canon in the secondary sense.

            De Maria, although you make true points, I do not find them generally helpful, as I think Craig is honestly inquiring about the truth of these matters. Remember Job’s friends who often spoke the truth, but in such a way that they fell short of charity and then lapsed into error.

          9. So did I, Maximillian. He’s been on this forum, a long time. Eventually, he gets around to asking everyone to come to his blog. After a while, I came to suspect that he is really here to proselytize.

      2. Craig Truglia says:
        December 10, 2015 at 12:18 am

        I pray you address this issue a little more carefully. I will do the same.

        Let’s see if you are sincere about this.

        It seems to me that you turned a deaf ear to my request that you should read St. Augustine’s letters in context of his life and his other teachings. But, it is obvious that you set those aside.

        Yet, you claim that I should address this issue more carefully. Maybe now, you will read my response and see that I am the one that is reading carefully and you are the one reading into St. Augustine’s teachings, your presuppositions.

        Your response is a bit convoluted, but I’m pretty sure it boils down to this:

        Augustine wrote in Letter 82:

        “I have learned to yield this respect and honor only to the canonical books of Scripture: of these alone do I most firmly believe that the authors were completely free from error.”

        Correct me if I’m wrong, but you’re saying that St. Augustine puts complete faith in the canonical Scriptures and believes that the teachings of the Catholic Church are fallible? Am I understanding you correctly?

        Assuming that I am, what did St. Augustine mean, then, when he said:
        For my part, I should not believe the gospel except as moved by the authority of the Catholic Church. (Against the letter of mani)

        To me that says that St. Augustine puts more faith in the Catholic Church (which according to you, he considers fallible) than he does in the Scriptures (which according to you, he considers to be the only thing that is completely without error).

        But, since this doesn’t agree with your worldview, as the other quotes I produced did not either, therefore, you will probably set this aside, as well. Unless you sincerely meant what you said in your prayer.

        De Maria wrote concerning Augustine’s opinion that nothing other than Scripture is inerrant:

        “I believe you’re referring to the distinction between ecumenical and non-ecumenical councils.”

        But later wrote:

        “St. Augustine did not use the word, “error”. He said that they are corrected because things come to light. In light of Catholic Doctrine, that is a reference to the DEVELOPMENT OF DOCTRINE.”

        Correct.

        So I don’t waste the time responding to two completely unique interpretations of what Augustine supposedly said, which one is your actual position that you would like me to respond to?

        Completely unique? I don’t know to what you refer. I said the same thing in both. But maybe, you will listen to your own prayer and begin to read more carefully.

        As for me, I will repeat the obvious interpretation.

        You repeated the interpretation to which you arrive based upon a reading which removes the writing from the context of St. Augustine’s life and beliefs. You repeated your false interpretation. That is all.

        Augustine writes, “But who can fail to be aware that the sacred canon of Scripture, both of the Old and New Testament, is confined within its own limits, and that it stands so absolutely in a superior position to all later letters of the bishops, that about it we can hold no manner of doubt or disputation whether what is confessedly contained in it is right and true…”

        That is the Catholic Doctrine. It is called the inerrancy of Scripture.

        So when Augustine gives a list of bishops, their letters, synods, and councils, he is obviously creating a dichotomy. Scripture (i.e. where the is “no manner of doubt and disputation”) and everything else, where there is manner of doubt and disputation.

        You are receiving it as a dichotomy, because that is what exists in your mind. But St. Augustine is not a Doctor of the Catholic Church, for nothing. St. Augustine is well aware, of the Catholic Teaching, that we are not to interpret Scripture apart from the Sacred Tradition (and infallible Traditions) of the Catholic Church. He says this in many places, in this letter and in others. But you, again, ignore those because they don’t agree with your beliefs.

        And let’s pause a moment and count the grand total of recognized ecumenical councils by Augustine’s time: 2 (Nicea and 1st COnstantinople). Is anyone here prepared to defend that something in these councils needed to be “corrected” as Augustine clearly wrote?

        You’re the one who claims that he said that there were errors in those Councils. Therefore, it is you who needs to defend your proposition. What errors do you claim that St. Augustine found in those Councils?

        Hence, your interpretation is found wanting, De Maria.

        Nope. Mine is in accordance with the context of St. Augustine’s life and beliefs. Yours is in accordance with your Protestant beliefs.

        Augustine has been consistent with his dichotomy of Scripture versus everything else.

        That’s how you and all Protestants read St. Augustine. You cherry pick certain things that he said and imbue your Protestant doctrines into them. But St. Augustine was not a proto-Protestant.

        As for you, De Maria, I am not even sure how you even really understand what Augustine wrote being that you gave two different interpretations, neither having anything to do with what he actually wrote.

        I’m not even sure that you understand English, if you interpret my explanations as two different interpretations.

        1. Yawn, you say two different things, maintain they are the same, but they clearly don’t say the same thing. Why argue with such illogic if even something that simple cannot be explained?

          1. Craig Truglia says:
            December 10, 2015 at 2:49 am
            Yawn, you say two different things, maintain they are the same, but they clearly don’t say the same thing. Why argue with such illogic if even something that simple cannot be explained?

            You quote two statements of mine in two separate messages.

            a. The first obviously speculates about a conversation in distant memory.
            b. The second obviously addresses your current statements.
            c. And you color them as contradictions.

            That confirms quite a bit of what I’ve said about you in the past.

            1. You don’t read the entire messages addressed to you. You simply pick out sentences out of context and argue in a manner designed to portray yourself as winning a debate.

            2. You don’t care about the truth.

            3. You weren’t sincere in your professed prayer.

            Sincerely,

            De Maria

          2. De Maria,

            “a. The first obviously speculates about a conversation in distant memory.
            b. The second obviously addresses your current statements.
            c. And you color them as contradictions.”

            Wait, so if it is from distant memory, did you remember wrong or does it somehow “agree” with what you say now? And how would it? It obviously cannot and I would love to see you attempt it, which you won’t probably, because you are just digging your hole deeper and deeper.

          3. Craig Truglia says:
            December 10, 2015 at 12:33 pm
            De Maria,

            Wait, so if it is from distant memory, did you remember wrong or does it somehow “agree” with what you say now?

            The fact that you continue to ask this question means that you are totally clueless as to Catholic Doctrine. And that you didn’t pay attention in the first discussion.

            The two don’t contradict. I remember correctly and that is part of the discussion we had earlier.

            And how would it? It obviously cannot and I would love to see you attempt it, which you won’t probably, because you are just digging your hole deeper and deeper.

            ROFL! It must be the Protestant either/or mentality. Apparently, you don’t have a clue what the discussion was or is about. You just argue for the sake of argument.

            Very simply, Craig. As I told you before, St. Augustine understands the Doctrine that Ecumenical (i.e. Plenary) councils were infallible. And that non-ecumenical councils are not. As is clear by his statement that:

            and further, that the Councils themselves, which are held in the several districts and provinces, must yield, beyond all possibility of doubt, to the authority of plenary Councils

            That he understands the Development of Doctrine is clear from his statement that:
            and that even of the plenary Councils, the earlier are often corrected by those which follow them, when, by some actual experiment, things are brought to light which were before concealed, and that is known which previously lay hid,

            Which, is, of course, completely in line with the Scripture:
            John 14:26 But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.

          4. De Maria,

            “The two don’t contradict. I remember correctly and that is part of the discussion we had earlier…St. Augustine understands the Doctrine that Ecumenical (i.e. Plenary) councils were infallible. And that non-ecumenical councils are not. As is clear by his statement that:

            and further, that the Councils themselves, which are held in the several districts and provinces, must yield, beyond all possibility of doubt, to the authority of plenary Councils”

            Where in that statement does it say that Ecumenical councils are infallible?

            “That he understands the Development of Doctrine is clear from his statement that:
            and that even of the plenary Councils, the earlier are often corrected by those which follow them, when, by some actual experiment, things are brought to light which were before concealed, and that is known which previously lay hid,”

            Where does it say that doctrine is developed? I honestly appreciate that you connected your two differing statements here, but you are reading in obvious presuppositions. There is nothing here about Ecumenical councils being inerrant or doctrine being developed.

            In fact, the fact that Augustine said that Plenary Councils correct other Plenary Councils, when there were in fact only two at that time, shows that Augustine had in mind more than the two that are considered “official” today. Perhaps he had in mind the Arian councils, so it makes sense that Plenary councils “OFTEN CORRECT” one another, not develop advances of doctrine or anything of the sort.

            God bless,
            Craig

          5. Craig Truglia says:
            December 10, 2015 at 11:44 pm
            Where in that statement does it say that Ecumenical councils are infallible?

            Where does it say that they aren’t?

            Where does it say that doctrine is developed?

            Where does it say that the Doctrine is not developed?

            I honestly appreciate that you connected your two differing statements here, but you are reading in obvious presuppositions.

            Correct. The Sacred Doctrines of Jesus Christ which are passed down by the Church in Sacred Tradition and Scripture. As St. Augustine says:

            “But in regard to those observances which we carefully attend and which the whole world keeps, and which derive not from Scripture but from Tradition, we are given to understand that they are recommended and ordained to be kept, either by the apostles themselves or by plenary [ecumenical] councils, the authority of which is quite vital in the Church” (Letter to Januarius [A.D. 400]).

            There is nothing here about Ecumenical councils being inerrant or doctrine being developed.

            In fact, the fact that Augustine said that Plenary Councils correct other Plenary Councils, when there were in fact only two at that time, shows that Augustine had in mind more than the two that are considered “official” today. Perhaps he had in mind the Arian councils, so it makes sense that Plenary councils “OFTEN CORRECT” one another, not develop advances of doctrine or anything of the sort.

            Go ahead and preach that to your congregation. We, however, follow the Teaching of the infallible Catholic Church. Your errors carry no weight here.

            Ephesians 3:10King James Version (KJV)
            10 To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God,

            God bless,
            Craig

            And you, as well.

            De Maria

          6. I think we end the discussion when the counter-argument becomes, “Well, where does it explicitly not say what I am saying?” Augustine says that the Scripture stands in a superior position of ALL the writings of the Bishops and then goes off to list things that need correction unlike the Scriptures. So, my interpretation is explicitly found in the text. Yours is, by your own admission, not. Perhaps not as explicitly denounced as it could have been?

            If we approached everything we read in this sense, then the meaning of everything would be hidden from us.

          7. Craig Truglia says:
            December 11, 2015 at 11:41 am
            I think we end the discussion when the counter-argument becomes, “Well, where does it explicitly not say what I am saying?”

            You can end it anytime you want. Your problem is that you read into St. Augustine’s statements, your presuppositions. But St. Augustine’s presuppositions are all, Catholic.

            Augustine says that the Scripture stands in a superior position of ALL the writings of the Bishops

            That is Catholic Teaching.

            and then goes off to list things that need correction unlike the Scriptures.

            And you read into that, the idea that he claims that the Church also teaches error. But, as has been shown, St. Augustine’s over arching assumption is that the Catholic Church is the source of the Word of God.

            For in the Catholic Church, not to speak of the purest wisdom, to the knowledge of which a few spiritual men attain in this life, so as to know it, in the scantiest measure, deed, because they are but men, . . . – not to speak of this wisdom, which you do not believe to be in the Catholic Church, there are many other things which most justly keep me in her bosom…. (Against the Epistle of Manichaeus).

            So, my interpretation is explicitly found in the text.

            Your interpretation is explicitly foudn in your own head. You have twisted the meaning of St. Augustine’s text in typical Protestant fashion.
            http://www.patheos.com/blogs/davearmstrong/2010/09/st-augustine-was-a-catholic-not-a-proto-protestant-2.html

            Yours is, by your own admission, not.

            And you have twisted my words, as well. What I did was point out that yours is not. You have read your opinions into the text.

            Perhaps not as explicitly denounced as it could have been?

            If we approached everything we read in this sense, then the meaning of everything would be hidden from us.

            It is only hidden from you because you don’t consider anything besides the things you are taught by the Protestants. When you discard those errors, you might begin to understand the Truth of Jesus Christ which are taught by the Catholic Church and her magnificent Doctor, St. Augustine of Hippo.

  7. I read through the Catholic Encyclopedia on plenary councils. I find it strange that it attributes such an understanding of the phrase to Augustine (the citation is too abbreviated to follow), but even then there is something to it. For Catholics an ecumenical council has the weight it does because the Pope lends his authority to it, not simply because it is known as ecumenical. So even at Constantinople (381), that council was convoked without the Pope and only became authoritative and binding on all Christians after he had so approved its canons, and this with some caveats. As Pope Innocent says in the letter, no dogmatic dispute is finally settled until is brought before his See. The Catholic Encyclopedia says about regional councils (i.e. plenary councils in the usual sense):
    “In former times, such councils often condemned incipient heresies and opinions contrary to sound morals, but their decisions became dogmatic only after solemn confirmation by the Apostolic See.”

    It is interesting to note that the current code of canon law allows any of the faithful to appeal to Rome in a trial: (can.1417) “By reason of the primacy of the Roman Pontiff, any member of the faithful is free to bring or introduce his or her own contentious or penal case to the Holy See for adjudication in any grade of a trial and at any stage of the litigation.” And no appeal can be made against this highest sentence (333.1). If someone is on trial for heresy, then who could judge the case but someone entrusted with the defense of doctrine (bishops), and who could give the final except someone whose office is secured against error (the pope)?

    I only add this as a further consideration. Councils (of any level) have a certain authority, but are only definitive when the Pope has stated so, inasmuch as his office is secured by God against error in judging such matters. Perhaps this will help to at least take councils out of the discussion as being so crucial an element.

    About the matter of appealing to Rome in a doctrinal dispute, I would (somewhat facetiously) point to the precedent we see in Acts. In Acts 22, Paul is on trial and points out that he is a Roman citizen before they were to scourge him. He is on trial because of his teachings, and he appeals to Rome for his trial (in the face of suggestions that he go to Jerusalem instead, 25:9-11, 25:20-21, 28:17-19) and indeed God assures him that this where he will go for the decision (23:11, 27:24). Now I know Paul appeals to Caesar, whereas we are speaking of a different “Roman authority”, but I found the parallel striking. I cannot recall any author who makes much of this parallel, but I find it curious. And isn’t it strange that we never see this trial before the highest authority! We instead see Paul himself disputing about doctrine in a rather peaceable manner…and then it segues right into Paul’s letter to that very same people! I’m only thinking out loud at this point. No demonstrative argument is intended by this paragraph.

    1. Good points, but in the reference in question from Augustine, he does not fail to specify what
      plenary council means, as he defines its as the meeting of Bishops from the whole world. However, as I replied elsewhere, that fact he says they are “often corrected,” when in fact only two Papally recognized Ecumenical councils have occurred up to that point, seems to show that Augustine had it mind more than Nicea and Constantinople, and was probably thinking of the plethora of semi-Arian councils.

      1. Which is totally besides the point, because at his has been pointed out throughout the discussion and by many, we don’t St. Augustine infallible. Nor do we follow everything that he taught.

        You apparently, do. You could do worse. If you keep following him, soon you will learn that he is a consummate Catholic and would put more faith in the Catholic Church than in his own private interpretation of Scripture.

      2. That should say:

        Which is totally besides the point, because as has been pointed out throughout the discussion and by many, we don’t consider St. Augustine infallible. Nor do we follow everything that he taught.

        You apparently, do. You could do worse. If you keep following him, soon you will learn that he is a consummate Catholic and would put more faith in the Catholic Church than in his own private interpretation of Scripture.

  8. Former atheist, now Catholic, Dr. Edward Feser gives an interesting explanation about the inherent problem of interpreting any given text:

    “The problem is that material symbols and systems of symbols — and texts are collections of such symbols — are, no matter how complex the system in question, inherently indeterminate in their meaning. There are always in principle various alternative ways to interpret them, alternatives which the symbols themselves cannot adjudicate between… It is not that a text might plausibly be given just any old interpretation. There may be any number of proposed interpretations which are ruled out. The point is that the text cannot by itself rule out all alternative interpretations… Appeal to something outside the text is necessary.”[1]

    In our case, we could be reading texts from the Bible or from St. Augustine, and we could go back and forth several times. At the end of the day, all we could ever manage to get is an impasse. The text themselves do not tell us which interpretations of the text should be ruled out.

    Now “God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints (1 Corinthians 14:33). If we are going to settle the contradictions, the only reasonable course is to appeal outside the text themselves. That is exactly what we find in Acts 15 when the young Church had to settle a doctrinal conflict brought about by the Judaizers. They arrived at a ruling outside the Torah.

    We cannot divorce St. Augustine’s words from his actions. Indeed he wrote that “Scripture alone is without error,” but in settling the heresy of the Pelagians, did appeal to Scriptures alone resolve the conflict? In the end, he and other bishops went to Pope Innocent I to seek a resolution. This is interesting. If the Bishop of Rome had no primacy over such matters, why did Augustine and the other bishops go to him? Why didn’t they just open more texts of scripture to use against the heretics? That is what we should expect to find if Augustine and his contemporaries believed in the Protestant doctrine of “sola scriptura”.

    From the time of St. Augustine up to Martin Luther is at least a thousand years, and during this long period, many Catholic theologians have read Augustine. They would have read him in Latin, the language he wrote with. They would have read what he said about ecumenical councils. Yet, how many of these pre-Luther theologians would agree with Craig’s negative conclusions on the teaching authority of the Church? My intuition says zero.

    When Pope Innocent I rendered his ruling on the Pelagian case, that should have been the end of the controversy. But as we can see, the Pelagians were not exactly happy. This is the kind of spirit we see even in sports like football or basketball. The referee is the “most beloved” guy in the game. When the game is tight and the stakes are high, the more he is “loved and respected” by all.

    ————

    [1] “Fulford on sola scriptura, Part ii”
    http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2015/07/fulford-on-sola-scriptura-part-ii.html

    1. Thanks for the excellent comment, and link, Rico. Both you and Maximilian Nightingale provide a lot of substance, depth and history to the comments here.

      1. Good to see you back commenting, De Maria. I know you have been busy with your own blog. You are quite prolific in your posts but all are enjoyable, and informational, to read. I admire your zeal and hard work teaching the faith.

        Best to you.

          1. I always wondered what you looked like!!

            Hey, you’re pretty smart for your age.

            You must go to a Catholic school ! 🙂

    2. Rico,

      The following in your comment is telling:

      “We cannot divorce St. Augustine’s words from his actions. Indeed he wrote that “Scripture alone is without error,” but in settling the heresy of the Pelagians, did appeal to Scriptures alone resolve the conflict?”

      Pelagians were not a schismatic group. The Donatists were. The Donatists made the claim to be the true Catholic Church and so Augustine made his claims about Scripture in contradistinction with the authority of extra-bibilical writings, because in his books against the Donatists he makes frequent references to the Scripture as evidence AGAINST Donatism.

      For example, in the first book Augustine writes:

      I therefore bring forward from the Gospel clear proofs, by which I propose, with God’s help, to prove how…every schismatic and heretic, the wound which caused his separation should be cured by the medicine of the Church (On Baptism, Against the Donatists, Book 1, Chapter 7).

      The quote I keep repeating is from the second book.

      In the third book he writes:

      Libosus also of Vaga says: “The Lord says in the gospel, ‘I am the Truth.’ John 14:6 He does not say, ‘I am custom.’ Therefore, when the truth is made manifest, custom must give way to truth.” Clearly, no one could doubt that custom must give way to truth where it is made manifest (Augustine, On Baptism, Against the Donatists Book III, Chapter 6).

      I am yet to read 4, 5, and 6. However, it appears that Augustine was making his points about Scripture because the Donatists ALSO laid claim to tradition. So, I agree. To divorce our understanding of Augustine from what he actually did, and who he was arguing against when he said those things, would be unwise.

      Thanks for the thoughtful comments,
      Craig

      1. It’s always good to see you posting also, Craig. I think Joe said awhile back ,'”iron sharpens iron”, and so I think we have all been sharpened by each other, and for the betterment of all. Without your discussion over the last year or so, I would have been a far more ignorant Catholic. I think you provoke everyone here to break out the ‘Fathers’, and scriptures…and study! Which is always a good thing! 🙂

  9. Craig Truglia says:
    December 11, 2015 at 11:54 pm
    Rico,

    However, it appears that Augustine was making his points about Scripture because the Donatists ALSO laid claim to tradition. So, I agree. To divorce our understanding of Augustine from what he actually did, and who he was arguing against when he said those things, would be unwise.

    Good answer. With that in mind, let’s look at the rest of your response.

    The following in your comment is telling:

    “We cannot divorce St. Augustine’s words from his actions. Indeed he wrote that “Scripture alone is without error,” but in settling the heresy of the Pelagians, did appeal to Scriptures alone resolve the conflict?”

    Pelagians were not a schismatic group. The Donatists were. The Donatists made the claim to be the true Catholic Church and so Augustine made his claims about Scripture in contradistinction with the authority of extra-bibilical writings, because in his books against the Donatists he makes frequent references to the Scripture as evidence AGAINST Donatism.

    For example, in the first book Augustine writes:

    I therefore bring forward from the Gospel clear proofs, by which I propose, with God’s help, to prove how…every schismatic and heretic, the wound which caused his separation should be cured by the medicine of the Church (On Baptism, Against the Donatists, Book 1, Chapter 7).

    The “medicine of the Church”. Interesting language. Not by the “medicine of Scripture”.

    The quote I keep repeating is from the second book.

    In the third book he writes:

    Libosus also of Vaga says: “The Lord says in the gospel, ‘I am the Truth.’ John 14:6 He does not say, ‘I am custom.’

    St. Libosus does not say, “I am Scripture”. But I am truth. And Scripture tells us that the Church is the Pillar and Foundation of the Truth (1 Tim 3:15).

    Therefore, when the truth is made manifest, custom must give way to truth.”

    All Catholics agree with that statement, since “custom” is not equivalent to “Sacred Tradition”.

    Clearly, no one could doubt that custom must give way to truth where it is made manifest

    Amen!

    (Augustine, On Baptism, Against the Donatists Book III, Chapter 6).

    Actually, that excerpt was curtailed prematurely if you want a true picture of what St. Augustine was saying.

    Clearly, no one could doubt that custom must give way to truth where it is made manifest. But we shall see presently about the manifestation of the truth.

    In other words, St. Augustine is going to show us in whom the truth is manifest. In the Catholic Church or in the Donatists.

    Meanwhile he also makes it clear that custom was on the other side.

    And, St. Augustine agrees with St. Libosus, that custom is not on the side of the Donatists.

  10. I want to start by thanking Joe for this wonderful blog that has played a key part in my conversion! I cannot say how many times I was struggling through a doctrine, and his clear and scholarly blog posts helped me through my questions.

    I have been observing for some time the debates between Craig and others, and have hesitated from giving my input until I could gather my thoughts.

    Craig has brought to us a certain challenge: Is there any patristic support for the Catholic doctrine that ecumenical councils are infallible in matters of faith and morals? (Joe, please correct me if I need correction here, I am still new to the Faith) He has thus far cited St. Augustine in a passage that shows that he believes that plenary (ecumenical) councils can be corrected. So the question remains, are there any fathers that show evidence of believing in the infallible authority of councils?

    In fact, I think I may have found one: St. Hilary of Poitiers work “On the Councils” (c. 359) http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/3301.htm. This seems to meet Craig’s requirements of being sufficiently early in church history (around the same time as the quote he found of St. Augustine), and on topic as well (though St. Hilary is talking about several councils, he mentions the ecumenical council of Nicaea). May I direct to part 91:

    “…Let us not condemn the fathers, let us not encourage heretics, lest while we drive one heresy away, we nurture another. After the Council of Nicæa our fathers interpreted the due meaning of ὁμοούσιον with scrupulous care; the books are extant, the facts are fresh in men’s minds: if anything has to be added to the interpretation, let us consult together. *Between us we can thoroughly establish the faith, so that what has been well settled need not be disturbed, and what has been misunderstood may be removed.*” (emph. mine)

    Here, he speaks of the faith as being “well settled”, and treats disturbing the decision of the council of Nicaea as wrong. He speaks of a possible need to expound, but not correct the council of Nicaea (this was the only ecumenical council so far). This can be taken as evidence that St. Hilary supports the idea of ecumenical councils’ infallibility on the faith, by evidence of the way he is using his language here. Now, earlier in the quote he makes mention of the scrupulous desire of the council fathers to define the faith, but he is only speaking of their scrupulosity *after* the council had already taken place. St. Hilary neither makes mention, nor implies either way concerning whether he believes that councils are infallible in matters of morals.

    From this, it appears that there *are* quotes from church fathers that can be interpreted as supporting the infallibility of councils, and thus, the Catholic position remains open to us from a patristic standpoint.

    I’m not sure what Joe’s policy on blog post requests are Craig, but I highly recommend that you ask him to write a blog post with more patristic evidence on councils. He will be able to give a much more thorough answer, since I am not a scholar. I do highly commend your methodology at play here. You show great signs of respect for the church fathers, and openness to doctrines. You remind of a movement known as Paleo-Orthodoxy — if you haven’t already done so, I highly recommend looking up the movement.

    1. Let me read up on that, but as a preliminary comment, he does not say that councils are without error. Further, I am not saying a council is not binding in a disciplinary sense. We are to submit to our Bishops, considering that the Bishop is not a heretic.

      In fact, it appears that he is saying the Council of Nicea is true, but it can be amended so as to be more clear and silence the heretics. This occurred in Chalcedon, and neither council contradicts the other.

      However, he also argues that he knew the council was true before he even heard about it by reading the Scriptures. In the same chapter:

      “I call the God of heaven and earth to witness, that when I had heard neither word, my belief was always such that I should have interpreted ὁμοιούσιον by ὁμοούσιον . That is, I believed that nothing could be similar according to nature unless it was of the same nature. Though long ago regenerate in baptism, and for some time a bishop, I never heard of the Nicene creed until I was going into exile, but the Gospels and Epistles suggested to me the meaning of ὁμοούσιον and ὁμοιούσιον .”

      So, unlike Augustine’s comment, I do not think Hilary is passing comment on whether all councils are infallible.

      God bless,
      Craig

    2. Now I have a question that will start a very different sort of discussion (though of course related). You say, “We are to submit to our Bishops, considering that the Bishop is not a heretic.”

      Now I know nothing about how a Reformed understanding of Church authority works, so you’ll have to fill me in here: On what basis do you say this? Do you have a bishop? Etc.?

      For a Catholic, the authority of bishops is understood to rely on Christ himself giving the Apostles authority “to bind and to loose”, and that this authority is conferred through the sacrament of Orders, by the laying on of hands, and through mandates from those who have authority to govern. For a Reformed thinker, I would not expect to find anything substantial with respect to the sacrament of Orders or to a succession that goes back to Christ, so why do you speak of submitting to a bishop? Are you merely speaking from the perspective of Hilary or Augustine?

      By the way, you are right to speak of an exception to obedience. “In all things but sin” is how I often hear it phrased.

      I also want to state that I think the “infallibility of councils” is a red herring. It is through being united to the successor of Peter that a council is infallible, and apart from this they do not enjoy such a prerogative. See Lumen Gentium 25 for more on this, but it always comes down to union with the Roman Pontiff. I don’t want to completely downplay councils, but just make clear what is held about their infallibility, especially before an ambiguous argument breaks out.

      1. Nightingale,

        I also want to state that I think the “infallibility of councils” is a red herring. It is through being united to the successor of Peter that a council is infallible, and apart from this they do not enjoy such a prerogative. See Lumen Gentium 25 for more on this, but it always comes down to union with the Roman Pontiff. I don’t want to completely downplay councils, but just make clear what is held about their infallibility, especially before an ambiguous argument breaks out.

        Excellent point! It is to Peter that the keys were given which bind and loose on earth and in heaven. Yeah and he is a Bishop. As is Jesus, after all.

        1 Peter 2:25 For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.

    3. Here is actually a quote from LG22, reiterating many times this key relationship between the Pope’s authority and that of a council:
      “But the college or body of bishops has no authority unless it is understood together with the Roman Pontiff, the successor of Peter as its head. The pope’s power of primacy over all, both pastors and faithful, remains whole and intact. In virtue of his office, that is as Vicar of Christ and pastor of the whole Church, the Roman Pontiff has full, supreme and universal power over the Church. And he is always free to exercise this power. The order of bishops, which succeeds to the college of apostles and gives this apostolic body continued existence, is also the subject of supreme and full power over the universal Church, provided we understand this body together with its head the Roman Pontiff and never without this head.(27*) This power can be exercised only with the consent of the Roman Pontiff. For our Lord placed Simon alone as the rock and the bearer of the keys of the Church,(156) and made him shepherd of the whole flock;(157) it is evident, however, that the power of binding and loosing, which was given to Peter,(158) was granted also to the college of apostles, joined with their head.(159)(28*) This college, insofar as it is composed of many, expresses the variety and universality of the People of God, but insofar as it is assembled under one head, it expresses the unity of the flock of Christ. In it, the bishops, faithfully recognizing the primacy and pre-eminence of their head, exercise their own authority for the good of their own faithful, and indeed of the whole Church, the Holy Spirit supporting its organic structure and harmony with moderation. The supreme power in the universal Church, which this college enjoys, is exercised in a solemn way in an ecumenical council. A council is never ecumenical unless it is confirmed or at least accepted as such by the successor of Peter; and it is prerogative of the Roman Pontiff to convoke these councils, to preside over them and to confirm them .(29*) This same collegiate power can be exercised together with the pope by the bishops living in all parts of the world, provided that the head of the college calls them to collegiate action, or at least approves of or freely accepts the united action of the scattered bishops, so that it is thereby made a collegiate act.”

      1. Nightingale,

        Everyone here is very fortunate to have your excellent commentary and resources that you provide. Those that love Church History cannot fail to appreciate these many pertinent quotes that you provide.

        Please keep it up. We can all revisit them in the future if needed for some other apologetic, or catechetical, application.

  11. Thank you all for your kind comments. I hope I am not misleading anyone… 🙂

    Back to St. Augustine: Indeed, we should not divorce his words from his actions. AND they should not be divorced from the historical setting where they took place. His words and acts are best understood in the historical context they were said and done.

    Donatism was a heresy named after Donatus Magnus who was ordained bishop in 313 AD. In October of that same year, Pope Miltiades presided over the Lateran Council that condemned the heresy. In 386 AD, St. Augustine converted to Christianity, was ordained priest in 391, and became bishop in 395 AD. Thereafter, he wrote his polemic against the Donatists. If this was a ball game, we may say that St. Augustine joined the game after the referee called a foul against the Donatists, and the Donatists retorted back, “We don’t like you… We’re not gonna play with you anymore!”

    In other words, the blessed Saint did not say “Scripture alone is without error” before the Pope had rendered a verdict on the case, he wrote that after. That means he wrote on the basis of what the Pope had already declared. He also did not write as though it was the Pope who needed correction from the Scriptures. He wrote to convince the schismatics to return and submit to the rule of the Pope. So whether we talk of the Pelagians or the Donatists, St. Augustine was not a Martin Luther believing in “sola scriptura” independent of the Pope.

    Now when he wrote that Councils can be overruled by later councils, was this a universal declaration? Did he mean to include in that statement the first Council in Jerusalem that ruled against the Judaizers? I don’t think so. He probably meant that in a narrow way. The Church can change its rulings on discipline. The excommunication of the Donatists is a disciplinary ruling. But the doctrinal ruling that declares the sacraments remain valid even if the officiating priest is morally unworthy, that ruling cannot be overturned.

    St. Augustine did not live long enough to see that even after 1,500 years, the Church would not change its position on the Donatist heresy. Perhaps if he could see us now, debating what he said, he would have rewritten his statement on councils to convey a more accurate meaning. But that’s not going to happen. That’s why we ought to be fully aware that we are not the only ones who have read his writings. And among the thousands who have, the thousands who are intellectually sharper than us, it is wrong to presume that they somehow failed to see whatever we see now. “There is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9).

    We should remember also that the Donatist position is not weak. They quoted Tertullian and St. Cyprian who were both highly respected theologians of the Church. So when the Pope blew his whistle and cried “Foul!” against the Donatists, how many of us would not gasp and say, “What the … how was that a foul?!?” Indeed, how many ball games do we need to watch before we realize that the referee sees things the spectators don’t see (and vice versa)? That’s why everyone in the game “loves” the referee…

    Unfortunately, the game cannot go on without a referee. If we think it can, well, how do we justify the tens of thousands of conflicting Christian sects out there, where every sect leader acts as a mini-Pope, and tell the unbelieving world that “God is not the author of confusion” (1 Corinthians 14:33)? And don’t think this is a small matter. Christian disunity is a testament against the existence of God:

    – God is not the author of confusion among the churches
    – there is confusion among the churches
    – therefore, there is no God.

    And we are back to atheism… the original subject of this discussion.

    1. Rico, I think you are quoting 1 Cor 14:33 out of context though I think the general spirit of what you are saying there is true. However, to create the syllogism that you did would require that 1 Cor 14:33 means God would not allow confusion whatsoever. We know this not to be true as “madness” is a covenant curse for not following the Law in Deuteronomy and He confused the languages of men at Babel.

      Anyhow, you write:

      “Now when he wrote that Councils can be overruled by later councils, was this a universal declaration? Did he mean to include in that statement the first Council in Jerusalem that ruled against the Judaizers? I don’t think so. He probably meant that in a narrow way. The Church can change its rulings on discipline. The excommunication of the Donatists is a disciplinary ruling. But the doctrinal ruling that declares the sacraments remain valid even if the officiating priest is morally unworthy, that ruling cannot be overturned.”

      I will stick to my guns on this. If you read the passage he is explicitly comparing Scripture to everything else, putting Scripture in an absolutely superior position BECAUSE it does allow for “manner of doubt or disputation whether what is confessedly contained in it is right and true” unlike EVERYTHING else. Unless the Pope is now not a Bishop, what he writes would be in Augustine’s list of stuff i.e. letters of Bishops.

      Now, that does not mean that Christians are not held captive to submit to their Bishops, or that the Roman Bishop may have primacy over other Bishops. I am not arguing about this, because the text does not comment on this. I am only saying what the text says. All of them can err, the Bible cannot.

      God bless,
      Craig

      1. “All of them can err, the Bible cannot.”

        This is to say ‘all of them’, including Augustine and the N. African bishops at the Council of Carthage, could ALSO have made a big mistake in the ‘closing of the canon’ of scripture. In this scenario, the Book of Revelations, which was considered and debated over for centuries, might not be scripture after all? Who’s to say?

        Jesus said “strike the shepherd and the sheep will be scattered”(Matt. 26:31) And this is exactly what happened throughout the history of Protestantism. The unity of the flock is highly scattered so that there is almost no unity of doctrine, or unity of sacraments and liturgy, to be found.

        However, this is not the case with Catholicism (and also with Orthodoxy to an extent). The promise of Christ that it is ‘built on rock’ and ‘the gates of hell shall not prevail against it’ still holds true. It’s world wide unity is still very manifest for all to see and marvel at. Like a ‘city built on a hill’ it’s doctrines, faith and sacraments are available for all to study and practice, even throughout the farthest reaches of the civilized world.

        1. I might add that when Jesus says “the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it”, the ‘it’ that He refers to is the living ‘Church’, NOT the Bible. The CHURCH is given this authority, and perseverance, by Christ until the end of the world. This is why the Nicaean Creed professes: “I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church”, and NOT: “I believe in one, holy, compilation of 27, New Testament books”.

        2. Again, the closing of the canon is not a reference to the council of Carthage. If this were so, it would mean that the letters of bishops before 400 ad can be inerrant and afterwards cannot be. This is not a sensible position and I don’t know why you keep pushing this.

          further I do not take the position that we have an inerrant list of inerrant books in the bible. I think we have an errant list of inerrant books. This is why the deuterocanon is to me possibly scripture and the default position of the fathers who voiced doubts about several of the books of the canon, as there were quite a few canons before Trent.

          1. Craig truglia says:
            December 12, 2015 at 9:45 pm
            Again, the closing of the canon is not a reference to the council of Carthage.

            Why? Because you say so in contradiction to the internal verification of the letter under scrutiny?

            If this were so, it would mean that the letters of bishops before 400 ad can be inerrant and afterwards cannot be.

            By what stretch of the imagination did you come up with that bit of dribble?

            This is not a sensible position and I don’t know why you keep pushing this.

            We didn’t. You did.

            further I do not take the position that we have an inerrant list of inerrant books in the bible. I think we have an errant list of inerrant books. This is why the deuterocanon is to me possibly scripture and the default position of the fathers who voiced doubts about several of the books of the canon, as there were quite a few canons before Trent.

            So, all that means is that you don’t know whether you hold inerrant Scripture in your hand when you hold your Bible. Since you don’t trust the Church to tell you which books are inerrant, you have to determine that by your own private authority. And by your own admission, you are fallible.

            Because Scripture doesn’t provide that list. And that is the only thing that you consider inerrant.

          2. “Again, the closing of the canon is not a reference to the council of Carthage”.

            There was only one ‘closing of the canon’, even though it spanned a few years, and Church history teaches that it was at the Council of Carthage that this took place, wherein Augustine was a prominent leader. When anyone refers to the ‘closing of the canon’ at any time in history, it refers to Carthage. A quick Google search will reveal this abundantly. The Council of Trent only ‘confirmed’ the canonicity of the ‘closing’.

            However, since the NT scriptures are wholly Catholic in composition, and produced, confirmed, translated and promoted for almost two millennia, all who read such a divinely produced and holy writings, are praising the wisdom, grace and Divine authority inherent in the Catholic Church.

            I infinitely prefer that Protestants adhere to, and promote, the Catholic Bible, than to invent one of their own making, such as Mohammed, Joseph Smith and a multitude of Gnostics from the past, did. In this sense, the more that Protestants love and believe in the Bible, the more ‘Catholic’ they really are. And this is a very good thing, and unifies us to a great extent.

            In this sense the ‘closing’ at Carthage was a monumental event for all of Christianity, and also for the future history of all humanity.

          3. Wikipedia basis info. on “the canon”:

            Latin Fathers

            The first council that accepted the present Catholic canon (the Canon of Trent) may have been the Synod of Hippo Regius in North Africa (393); the acts of this council, however, are lost. A brief summary of the acts was read at and accepted by the Councils of Carthage in 397 and 419.[37] These councils were under the authority of St. Augustine, who regarded the canon as already closed.[38] Pope Damasus I’s Council of Rome in 382, if the Decretum Gelasianum is correctly associated with it, issued a biblical canon identical to that mentioned above,[32] or if not, the list is at least a 6th-century compilation.[39] Likewise, Damasus’ commissioning of the Latin Vulgate edition of the Bible, c. 383, was instrumental in the fixation of the canon in the West.[40]

            In a letter (c. 405) to Exsuperius of Toulouse, a Gallic bishop, Pope Innocent I mentioned the sacred books that already received in the canon.[41] When these bishops and councils spoke on the matter, however, they were not defining something new, but instead “were ratifying what had already become the mind of the Church.”[42] Thus, from the 4th century, there existed unanimity in the West concerning the New Testament canon (as it is today),[43] and by the 5th century the East, with a few exceptions, had come to accept the Book of Revelation and thus had come into harmony on the matter of the New Testament canon.[44]

          4. Al, I repeated this a few times. Is your interpretation of Augustine in Book II On Baptism, Against the Donatists that he was asserting that the letters of bishops before 400 ad can be inerrant and afterwards cannot be?

            If this is NOT what you are saying, do you mind clarifying what you mean by “This proves that Augustine accepts the infallibility of even ‘regional synods’, such as was the Council of Carthage wherein the canon of scripture was finally closed.”

            The plain inference is that afterward, they can be fallible. I have taken you to task about this a few times but never responded. Al, what does Augustine meant that “all the letters of bishops which have been written, or are being written, SINCE the closing of the canon, are liable to be refuted?” Keyword is “since.” Can you clarify what you mean?

          5. Craig Truglia says:
            December 13, 2015 at 3:42 am
            Al, I repeated this a few times. Is your interpretation of Augustine in Book II On Baptism, Against the Donatists that he was asserting that the letters of bishops before 400 ad can be inerrant and afterwards cannot be?

            If this is NOT what you are saying, do you mind clarifying what you mean by “This proves that Augustine accepts the infallibility of even ‘regional synods’, such as was the Council of Carthage wherein the canon of scripture was finally closed.”

            The plain inference is that afterward, they can be fallible. I have taken you to task about this a few times but never responded. Al, what does Augustine meant that “all the letters of bishops which have been written, or are being written, SINCE the closing of the canon, are liable to be refuted?” Keyword is “since.” Can you clarify what you mean?

            He already did. Several times. I’m at a loss to what more he can possibly say to make his position clearer. Perhaps you ought to simply review the answers he gave you.

      2. Craig said:

        I will stick to my guns on this. If you read the passage he is explicitly comparing Scripture to everything else, putting Scripture in an absolutely superior position BECAUSE it does allow for “manner of doubt or disputation whether what is confessedly contained in it is right and true” unlike EVERYTHING else…..

        And you read that as though he were a Protestant speaking to Protestants. But he is a Catholic speaking to Catholics and we understand that he means the Scriptures as understood and explained by the Catholic Church. Here is what he said to the Manichaeans on the matter:

        Chapter 10.— What the Church Teaches About God. The Two Gods of the Manichæans

        16. Will you say that you grant that we are bound to love God, but not the God worshipped by those who acknowledge the authority of the Old Testament?….But if you say that you worship and approve of worshipping the God who made heaven and earth, but not the God supported by the authority of the Old Testament, you act impertinently in trying, though vainly, to attribute to us views and opinions altogether unlike the wholesome and profitable doctrine we really hold.

        Nor can your silly and profane discourses be at all compared with the expositions in which learned and pious men of the Catholic Church open up those Scriptures to the willing and worthy.

        Our understanding of the law and the prophets is quite different from what you suppose. Mistake us no longer. We do not worship a God who repents, or is envious, or needy, or cruel, or who takes pleasure in the blood of men or beasts, or is pleased with guilt and crime, or whose possession of the earth is limited to a little corner of it. These and such like are the silly notions you are in the habit of denouncing at great length. Your denunciation does not touch us. The fancies of old women or of children you attack with a vehemence that is only ridiculous. Any one whom you persuade in this way to join you shows no fault in the teaching of the Church, but only proves his own ignorance of it.

        +++That’s pretty much what I’ve been telling you. But, let’s go on.+++

        17. If, then, you have any human feeling—if you have any regard for your own welfare—you should rather examine with diligence and piety the meaning of these passages of Scripture. You should examine, unhappy beings that you are; for we condemn with no less severity and copiousness any faith which attributes to God what is unbecoming Him, and in those by whom these passages are literally understood we correct the mistake of ignorance, and look upon persistence in it as absurd.

        And in many other things which you cannot understand there is in the Catholic teaching a check on the belief of those who have got beyond mental childishness, not in years, but in knowledge and understanding— old in the progress towards wisdom.

        For we learn the folly of believing that God is bounded by any amount of space, even though infinite; and it is held unlawful to think of God, or any part of Him, as moving from one place to another. And should any one suppose that anything in God’s substance or nature can suffer change or conversion, he will be held guilty of wild profanity. There are thus among us children who think of God as having a human form, which they suppose He really has, which is a most degrading idea; and there are many of full age to whose mind the majesty of God appears in its inviolableness and unchangeableness as not only above the human body, but above their own mind itself. These ages, as we said, are distinguished not by time, but by virtue and discretion. Among you, again, there is no one who will picture God in a human form; but neither is there one who sets God apart from the contamination of human error.

        As regards those who are fed like crying babies at the breast of the Catholic Church, if they are not carried off by heretics, they are nourished according to the vigor and capacity of each, and arrive at last, one in one way and another in another, first to a perfect man, and then to the maturity and hoary hairs of wisdom, when they may get life as they desire, and life in perfect happiness.

        http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1401.htm

        Note that he is condemning the Manichaean understanding of the Old Testament. And he is telling them, as I am telling you, that unless they submit to Catholic Teaching, they are lost.

  12. Craig,

    If you’re not happy with how I quoted 1 Corinthians 14:33, then all I can say is… Wait! There’s more!

    “Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and any city or house divided against itself will not stand.” (Matthew 12:25; Luke 11:17; Mark 3:24-25)

    “I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become ONE FLOCK with one shepherd.” (John 10:16)

    “And not for them only do I pray, but for them also who through their word shall believe in me; that they all may be ONE, as thou, Father, in me, and I in thee; that they also may be ONE in us; that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou hast given me, I have given to them; that they may be ONE, as we also are ONE: I in them, and thou in me; that they may be made perfect in ONE: and the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast also loved me. Father, I will that where I am, they also whom thou hast given me may be with me; that they may see my glory which thou hast given me, because thou hast loved me before the creation of the world.” (John 17:20-24)

    “Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be NO DIVISIONS among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment.” (1 Corinthians 1:10)

    “Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ? Since there is one bread, we who are many are ONE BODY; for we all partake of the one bread.” (1 Corinthians 10:16-17).

    “There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, ONE FAITH, one baptism,… (Ephesians 4:4-5).

    “Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of UNITY. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in ONE BODY; and be thankful.” (Colossians 3:14-15)

    —–

    Whenever the Catholic Church defines itself, it always says it is “One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic” Church. “One” comes first, “Apostolic” is always mentioned last. I have always wondered why. But now I think I see…

    In the case of the Donatists, their issue is not totally baseless. They have a claim to apostolic tradition by citing Tertullian and St. Cyprian. But in the Catholic Church, corporal unity trumps doctrinal purity. When there is a perceived conflict between Unity and Apostolicity, it is unity that must prevail. Why? The Lord gives the answer in John 17:

    “that they all may be ONE, as thou, Father, in me, and I in thee; that they also may be ONE in us; that the world may believe that thou hast sent me” (v. 20-21)

    When one looks at our world today, it can’t be denied that there is an alarming growth of atheism/ agnosticism especially in the formerly Christian countries of Europe. We already live in a post-Christian world. The world does not believe the Christian message anymore. We have lost credibility. And there is no other culprit but Christian disunity.

    – God is not the author of confusion in the churches
    – there is confusion in the churches
    – therefore, there is no God.

  13. What is St. Augustine saying in Book II On Baptism, Against the Donatists?

    Is he saying that his interpretation of Scripture trumps everyone else’s? He’s a Bishop, after all, isn’t he?

    Or is he saying that Scripture trumps everything else because it is without error but requires no interpretation? But how does one keep from interpreting Scripture as soon as one reads it?

    Is he saying that the Catholic Church is fallible in its Doctrines?

    Let’s go through a few of the words in the letter, but let’s not focus on the words which Craig cherry picked to produce Protestant results.

    Chapter 1, Paragraph 2:

    2. What, then, do they venture to say, when their mouth is closed by the force of truth, with which they will not agree? “Cyprian,” say they,….Wherefore, if Peter, on doing this, is corrected by his later colleague Paul, and is yet preserved by the bond of peace and unity till he is promoted to martyrdom, how much more readily and constantly should we prefer, either to the authority of a single bishop, or to the Council of a single province, the rule that has been established by the statutes of the universal Church?

    So, he says that the rule established by the Statutes of the Universal Church are to be preferred to everything else.

    Then in Chapter 2, he quotes St. Cyprian, who said:

    But we must all await the judgment of our Lord Jesus Christ, who alone has the power both of setting us in the government of His Church, and of judging of our acts therein.'”

    He said that it is Jesus Christ who set up the Government of the Church. Protestants make hay about the previous statement where he says:

    For no one of us sets himself up as a bishop of bishops, or, by tyrannical terror, forces his colleagues to a necessity of obeying, inasmuch as every bishop, in the free use of his liberty and power, has the right of forming his own judgment, and can no more be judged by another than he can himself judge another.

    Claiming that he thus repudiates the Papacy. But, if that is so, then why does he demur to the Papacy in another letter, saying:

    “The Lord says to Peter: ‘I say to you,’ he says, ‘that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it. And to you I will give the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever things you bind on earth shall be bound also in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth, they shall be loosed also in heaven’ [Matt. 16:18–19]). … On him [Peter] he builds the Church, and to him he gives the command to feed the sheep [John 21:17], and although he assigns a like power to all the apostles, yet He founded a single chair [cathedra], and he established by his own authority a source and an intrinsic reason for that unity. Indeed, the others were also what Peter was [i.e., apostles], but a primacy is given to Peter, whereby it is made clear that there is but one Church and one chair. So too, all [the apostles] are shepherds, and the flock is shown to be one, fed by all the apostles in single-minded accord. If someone does not hold fast to this unity of Peter, can he imagine that he still holds the faith? If he [should] desert the chair of Peter upon whom the Church was built, can he still be confident that he is in the Church?”
    ~Cyprian of Carthage [A.D. 251]

    So, then, we know that this sentence is not in contradiction of the Primacy of Peter, which is the Government of the Church established by Jesus Christ as St. Cyprian clearly teaches.

    Chapter 3:

    Now we get to the Chapter that Craig has twisted all out of context of the Catholic bedrock upon which it is written.

    Where St. Augustine says, “But who can fail to be aware that the sacred canon of Scripture, both of the Old and New Testament, is confined within its own limits, and that it stands so absolutely in a superior position to all later letters of the bishops, that about it we can hold no manner of doubt or disputation whether what is confessedly contained in it is right and true;”

    He imbues upon this his Protestant presuppostion of Scripture alone. But it is a mere reiteration of the Catholic Doctrine that the Scriptures are without error.

    He also imbues in it his Protestant presupposition of “private interpretation of Scripture”. Not realizing that St. Augustine would put more faith in the Catholic Church’s interpretation of Scripture than in his own. He does not discount himself when he says that Bishops can be corrected. And he doesn’t pretend that Scripture interprets itself. As he explains in another letter:

    Chapter 3 Letter to the Manichaeans

    For my part, I should not believe the gospel except as moved by the authority of the Catholic Church.

    Chapter 10, letter to the Manichaeans
    Nor can your silly and profane discourses be at all compared with the expositions in which learned and pious men of the Catholic Church open up those Scriptures to the willing and worthy.

    Our understanding of the law and the prophets is quite different from what you suppose. Mistake us no longer. We do not worship a God who repents, or is envious, or needy, or cruel, or who takes pleasure in the blood of men or beasts, or is pleased with guilt and crime, or whose possession of the earth is limited to a little corner of it. These and such like are the silly notions you are in the habit of denouncing at great length. Your denunciation does not touch us. The fancies of old women or of children you attack with a vehemence that is only ridiculous.

    Any one whom you persuade in this way to join you shows no fault in the teaching of the Church, but only proves his own ignorance of it.
    http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1401.htm

    Mighty funny that he puts more faith in the Catholic Church than in the inerrant Scriptures.

    Chapter 4:
    Then St. Augustine says:
    Nor should we ourselves venture to assert anything of the kind, were we not supported by the unanimous authority of the whole Church, to which he himself would unquestionably have yielded, if at that time the truth of this question had been placed beyond dispute by the investigation and decree of a plenary Council.

    In other words, St. Cyprian would never have dared contradict any plenary Council. Nor would he, St. Augustine, himself. And St. Augustine says that it is obvious that St. Cyprian would unquestionably have submitted to the authority of a plenary Council.

    Nothing there about plenary Councils being fallible, either.

    Chapter 5:

    Is a memorial to St. Cyprian for shedding his blood in the cause of the Unity of the Church.

    Chapter 6:

    Apparently, the Donatists alleged that the true Catholic Church had disappeared. Because St. Augustine ridicules that idea and condemns their schism from the true Catholic Church.

    Chapter 7 – Chapter 15:

    He goes on in the same way to the end of the letter. But says something very telling in the last Chapter.

    20. Since the Catholic Church, both in the time of the blessed Cyprian and in the older time before him, contained within her bosom either some that were rebaptized or some that were unbaptized, either the one section or the other must have won their salvation only by the force of simple unity. For if those who came over from the heretics were not baptized, as Cyprian asserts, they were not rightly admitted into the Church; and yet he himself did not despair of their obtaining pardon from the mercy of God in virtue of the unity of the Church. So again, if they were already baptized, it was not right to rebaptize them. What, therefore, was there to aid the other section, save the same charity that delighted in unity, so that what was hidden from man’s weakness, in the consideration of the sacrament, might not be reckoned, by the mercy of God, as a fault in those who were lovers of peace? Why, then, while you fear those whom you have rebaptized, do ye grudge yourselves and them the entrance to salvation?

    Its very clear that St. Augustine considers membership in the Catholic Church, entrance to salvation.

    Sincerely,

    De Maria

  14. Great quotes, and summary, De Maria. And they compliment well Rico’s excellent quotes also.

    Unity of mind, soul and heart in the members of the Church is a treasure beyond compare, and I believe mirrors that unity found in eternal life, in the Kingdom of Heaven. Just think how amazing it is for Catholics to easily understand each other, even though they might be commenting from the farthest extents, and most distant countries, of the world. A while back, a commentor here was from Nigeria, and was occasionally engaging in various of these controversies here on Shameless Popery. Yet, being Catholic, he was no different in thought, or faith, from any others here from the USA, or even from the regular Catholics in my parish, here in the Bay Area, CA. I even sent him a book by Scott Hahn, called “The Lambs Supper”, because he had no access to the physical book, although he could hear recordings on his cell phone. But, I’m just stressing here, how great it is to be Catholic and to be able to understand others on the deepest spiritual level, and from almost anywhere in the world, and truly consider them as “brothers” in the holy faith. And with very little effort exerted on our part, to boot! This is the great fruit that Jesus established on Earth, and for our benefit. It’s the unity that Rico quotes in his comment above. What a treasure our faith is! What a wonder true Church unity is! And you can even taste and savor this unity (..it’s so palpable), in virtually all of the great writings of the saints extending even as far back as to the Apostles.

    May all the world come to recognize it, recognize this great blessing of Church unity, unity of thought, faith and soul! … Both now, and forever!

  15. Joe-

    One of the common objections used by atheists is that philosophical arguments are not evidence. Skeptics say, “Show me the evidence for God’s existence,” but they are unwilling to accept non-empirical evidence such as the Kalam Cosmological Argument, the Moral Argument and so forth.

    Since you have a legal background, could you post a definitive explanation of why philosophical arguments are considered evidence in the same way that a murder weapon or a bloody shirt would be accepted in a murder trial?

    Perhaps a big overview of what is and is not considered “evidence” and why…

    Thanks.

  16. Hi Joe, if I can make a suggestion, I have been a little disoriented about the fact that links to other websites open up in the same tab/window as your blog if said link is just simply clicked on. This has caused me a couple of times to venture elsewhere when I probably would have come back to your site after reading what you had linked to. So I imagine this has also happened to other readers–I don’t know how easy it would be for you to set up (at least moving forward) that links open in another tab when clicked, it would be better for everyone concerned. Also, there doesn’t seem to be a good way to generically contact you. Perhaps this is (understandably) intentional, but it results in me giving this sort of reply essentially unrelated to the thread itself; however much merit the content of my comment may have.
    I suppose I should make some sort of comment relative to this blog–first, I find it funny that many atheists are into alternative medicine and believe in some sort of system that cannot be seen under a microscope; be it chi, prana, the life-force which can flow if a spinal misalignment is de-subluxated, etc. One of my core canons in life is to be CONSISTENT in my beliefs, especially my theology…I tell Protestants that their Achilles’ heel is Fatima and Zeitoun, as especially in the latter, the evidence for its existence far exceeds many other historical figures, i.e., Washington, Columbus, Shakespere, and so on. (I have several critiques of the Catholic Church, one of which is being essentially silent on Zeitoun. Another is that they border on “over-defining”, which, while I suspect true, perhaps leaves less room for “mystery” than what the Apostolic Fathers intended…I say all this to say that when I say “critiques”, they are generally “pro-Church” critiques, as opposed to saying the Church is wrong; indeed, in the entire Cathechism, I only take severe issue with one paragraph, and even then it is a minor, albeit significant tweak which is necessary to make it true, or even more harshly “not false”, though it may just be a consequence of the limited space…ironically, not enough definition.)
    But I digress…for whatever its worth, in engaging atheists, I try to provide them with powerful apologetics resources, since going point-by-point is much like trying to convince someone to switch political parties from a bumper sticker. Now Protestants require a different approach, basically one which concludes with the words of Christ “Come and See”…if the Holy Spirit is wooing them to the point where it is “their time”, then the Divine Liturgy can do the converting.
    But with both, I return to that CONSISTENCY. It is a little easier to do with the schizmatics, since it is mostly pigeonholed in theology, with an undertone of Church history, perhaps–but when consistent, I believe that using their current rubric of belief, i.e., how they say the ideal way of coming to come to a particular belief is, especially as a corpus, then atheists, if not becoming catholic will at least become Theists…though this doesn’t mean it will be faith, not that they will admit this. Protestants…using their exact theological system of hermaneutics will also have to admit in-consistency, or at least mental assent to the “rightness” of Holy Mother Church…or more accurately the Patristic Vision. To become Catholic requires the gift of faith, while to at least acknowledge that the theological foundation should be the Early Church Fathers, requires mental assent.
    Ultimately though, and I think Christendom is largely responsible for this–what passes for faith is largely mental assent which is fairly blind. There is no contemplation of exactly how ludicrous our faith is. To be consistent, in every other form of mediation we believe that putting one’s self in the perspective of the other person’s shoes is helpful, yet we think it is somehow sacrilegious to meditate on the ludicrous-ness (but not ridiculous, as in “worthy of ridicule), Christianity, especially Catholic Christianity is. But it is this pondering which helps us to understand the need for, and accept the gift of faith…especially in the West, so-called faith is quite “brain-heavy”, to such a degree that I wonder if it doesn’t all just stay in the head. But if we don’t let faith trickle down into our hearts, where it can flow as living water out of our bellies, through the cracks in our earthen vessel caused by Christianity, you end up with something dangerously close to a “form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.”
    Yikes, didn’t intend that little “suggestion box content” to turn into a hopefully not overly mediocre homily…all the more reason to have a dedicated “Contact Me” partition!

    1. H CFOP, if I can make a suggestion, that wheel thingy opens links in a new tab, in just about any browser. I understand the Herculean effort to move your finger, what, about 1/2 inch, 1 cm, it could be, but alas, that is how we improve ourselves. Or Joe could just code the blog for CFOP lacks of finger dexterity.

      Here’s the more mostest comical part. There is a Contact link that links to http://shamelesspopery.com/contact/. But this must have been added later. Cause, u no, that middle click thingy.

      Atheism is one thing. Do you believe in god/s? – NO. That’s it. Atheists are everything else. Rep/Dem. White Black Asian and all the other non race things we label people. (We’re all Human, one race) Right/left handed. computer literate/CFOP. Scientists/clergy. Anyone can be into alternative medicine, and if it keeps them healthy, so’es the better. What IS wrong is when christians pray over a child and let them die because their ‘beliefs’ conflicted with reality in saving a child’s life. You believe in apparitions, THAT YOU HAVEN’T EVEN SEEN, that there is zero evidence for, and you assert falsely that the apparitions are more historical than the most historical figures in history. Funny, the wiki page for Zeitoun is a mere 2-3 paragraphs. Yea, so historical that there is probably more written about Washingtons big toe that Zeitoun.

      In polls, it shows that Atheists are more informed about religion that most denominations, save for Mormons. So, your apologetics resources most likely have been read and thoroughly debunked.

      And funny how you mention CONSISTENCY, as you are consistently all over the place in this paragraph. I can’t follow the train of thought here as you ramble on about Atheists, protestants, catholics, spirits, but never make a point.

      As to the rest, to an Atheist, faith is just gullibility.

  17. “does the burden of proof fall on the believer or the atheist?” The burden lies on the claimant. If I, an Atheist, said there are NO god/s (a knowledge claim), then it is upon me to establish that. And that would really make me an anti-theist, or a Gnostic Atheist. I don’t know many of those. Penn Julliet I think is a Gnostic Atheist. How he KNOWS this I don’t know, lol. This piece, by Joe, should have been titled, “My critique of Luke Muehlhauser’s Atheism and the Burden of Proof”

    “Do ‘extraordinary’ claims require extraordinary evidence?” Yes, they do.

    Error of error #1
    Atheists rightly claim that Atheism is not a belief, it is a lack of belief. This may seem juvenile to some, or most, but it has definitive differences. Especially when lawyer types get involved because they are masters of manipulating language. And especially the bait and switch. Watch for it.
    Atheism is only one thing. Do you believe in god/s? – NO. Joe brings up Luke M because Luke makes some claims about Atheists that many would not agree with. When “intellectual atheists positively believe that God does not exist”, they have MORE than just the query ‘do you believe in god/s?’ They have been told certain attributes of said god and forward their opinion that said being does not exist or could not exist. If the Atheist maintains that they do not believe that said being, with all these attributes, doesn’t exist, they are still Atheists. When an Atheist claims that god/s don’t exist, they are no longer arguing Atheism.

    When I am arguing that christianity is false, I have more to work with than the simple claim of an omnipotent being, god. I can claim that christianity is false, as an Atheist, because we are no longer arguing Atheism. We are arguing theology, or some bastardization of it.

    The stars argument is lame as stars come and go and there is no way to arrive at the correct answer, as it changes every second, AND YOU CAN’T COUNT THEM ALL. The gumball analogy is better.

    I am an Ignostic Agnostic Atheist. I don’t know if you can establish that a god could be investigated, I don’t know if a god exists, and I don’t believe your assertion that a god does exist. That last part is my way of clarifying from an Atheist perspective, what Atheism feels like.

    Error of error #2
    Again, we’re not arguing Atheism here. We are arguing Gnosticsm/Agnosticism. The real comical read here is how does Joe know what the Jews believed, or knew, 2500 years ago when that was written. You can’t get me to believe that a god exists when you use the bible as your supporting documentation. The problem is that ‘in context’ or ‘literally’ or ‘metaphor’ can change any passage in the bible to mean whatever anyone wants it to say.

    “Genesis 1:1, which says, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,” Let’s finish that passage “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” Where did the waters come from? Where they always there? Are we getting the Hebrew for ground when mentioning earth?
    Genesis 1:3 Where did the light come from. There was no sun. So did the light source magically disappear when the sun was created on day 4?

    I don’t assume the bible was written by idiots, but it definitely was written for the gullible. And to keep people subservient to a ruling class.

    “It’s also clear, from the very start, that much of this language is understood by author and reasonably-smart readers alike to be metaphorical and analogical.”But they believe it because they haven’t read it. Many non-religious came to their position because they actually read the bible. Most christians just go along with the christian thing because of peer pressure, not because they have a grand understanding of the bible.
    I don’t believe your god exists, I surely then don’t believe your god is transcendent. I’m double sure that referencing the bible will surely not convince me.
    If you’re going to claim that god exists supernaturally, you are going to have to establish that a supernatural realm exists. If there is no way to establish that said supernatural realm exists, except on your say-so, I’m still an Atheist.
    There is nothing in the real world that supports the Exodus story, so you can not establish the bible as historically accurate with the Exodus.

    Error of error #3
    “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” is a way to say you are going to have to do better than mere assertion. How do we decide which extraordinary claims have merit? Are scientology claims as valid as muslim claims? The extraordinary claim is a claim of the supernatural, yet Joe uses a real world analogy, right after he said that that is NOT how you should judge his god. And murder trials are NOT decided by such scant evidence. A claim of something outside of space/time IS extraordinary as you have not established what outside space/time actually is. Ordinary is what we can establish as being. Extraordinary is what you claim. I want extraordinary evidence for your claim.

    Error of error #4
    The likelihood of a god/s existence can be established either way with certain leading questions. The dichotomy that a god/s exist is yes/no. As an Atheist I will evaluate the questions posed and render a 0 as I don’t believe the assertion that a god/s exist.

    “So, too, to say that ‘God probably exists, but I don’t believe He does’ doesn’t appear to mean anything.” But who says this. No one I know. But there are millions of people that do say ‘there is no evidence for god but I still believe that he exists’.

    “No matter how clear the historical evidence of Jesus’ Resurrection, you can always choose to ignore or deny it.” I’m not ignoring or denying it. We just have different ideas what the word evidence means. THERE IS NO EXTRA BIBLICAL MENTION OF JESUS, LET ALONE THE RESURECTION.

    “When a person announces that they will choose not to believe in God even if the weight of evidence tips in His favor, they’re announcing something else is at hand” What we have here is a failure to communicate. You assert you have a dragon, I don’t believe you and ask for evidence. You assert it’s in your garage around back. I go around back and no garage. You say it’s invisible. You say look inside and mime opening the door. I say still don’t see the dragon. You say it’s invisible and it’s pink. I ask how you know it’s pink, you say, “this book I have from long time ago.” I don’t believe your assertion of an invisible pink dragon.

    Most Atheists do not claim there is no god, so when arguing with Atheists the burden of proof is on you.
    Do not expect to use the bible as an historical reference in your argument when you also get to say that parts are also metaphor and context is needed.
    Yes, I have a confirmation bias to the real world and until you establish that some realm outside of our space/time is, well, exists, extraordinary claims….
    So, are you arguing all religious claims are to be evaluated as being equal?

    This piece by Joe is a classic Gish Gallop, throw out so much wrong that there is little time to correct all of it. And then claim that so and so wasn’t addressed and claim victory. I would have liked to do a more detailed rebuttal to this, but double-vision has renders that moot.

  18. Excellent article. I’ve debated atheists extensively on their forums over a period of years. Yes, the “we merely lack belief” dodge is extremely common. However, it is typically sincere.

    Most atheists, including some very intelligent and articulate folks, really don’t realize that they too are making a very speculative positive assertion which can not be proven, just like theists.

    The atheist assertion is the assumption (typically unexamined) that human reason is qualified to meaningfully analyze questions about the ultimate nature of everything everywhere, the scope of most God proposals. All of atheism rests on this assumption so let’s examine it.

    What is human reason? It’s the poorly implemented intellectual abilities of a single half insane semi-suicidal species (only recently living in caves) on one little planet in one of billions of galaxies. It is of course, a species with thousands of nuclear weapons aimed down it’s own throat, that’s how rational we are.

    The scale of human beings is so incredibly small in comparison to the scale of the questions being raised by God proposals that it qualifies as an extraordinary claim to assume human reason is qualified to come to a conclusion on such infinite scale topics. That said, the atheist inability to bring a proven qualified tool to the table in no way proves God claims either.

    Atheism is a faith based ideology which competes with theist faith based ideologies. Given that no one either side is in a position to prove anything, the debate between theists and atheists really serves little purpose beyond being an entertaining exercise of ego inflation. However, at that, it excels. 🙂

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