Proposition #1: A Sectarian Doctrine Cannot be a “Catholic Principle”

Acroamaticus, previously mentioned on this blog, has begun to post on his “Lutheran Catholicity” blog. The first post takes up the challenge for him to try to define “catholicity” apart from communion with the bishop of Rome. He has outlined three “principles” that for him are a sine qua non of catholicity. I don’t quibble with his identification of these principles – they are among those that I would specify as Catholic “principles” also. [Although I don’t really like talking this “principles” language, even though my favourite theologian wrote a book along these lines. I could recommend that to anyone wishing to read more on this subject.]

But I do need to quible with his definition of at least one of these “principles”, namely, the “Gospel Principle”.

Acroamaticus writes:

2. The Gospel Principal. To be catholic a statement or practise must be consonant with the Gospel, defined in the narrow sense, i.e. that we are freely justified before God for Christ’s sake when we believe that we are recieved into God’s favour and our sins forgiven on account of Christ, who by his death made satisfaction for our sins. This faith God imputes to us as righteousness (Romans chs. 3 & 4) [see Augsburg Confession, Art IV). Any statement or practise that contradicts God’s Gospel can self-evidently not be catholic.

But how can we make such a “narrow definition” of any part of the faith, let alone “the Gospel”, a part of a definition of what it means to be “catholic”? To give St Vincent of Lerins his due, at least he got the “always” and “everywhere” part right. Something cannot really claim to be “catholic” unless it can be demonstrated to be held by the whole Church rather than a “narrow” group of theologians or believers. In fact, the “narrow” sense in which Acroamaticus describes “the Gospel” is quite open to being called a “sectarian” principle, rather than a “catholic” principle.

My personal conviction is that there is no sense in which one can speak of being “catholic” apart from “the Catholic Church”. Now, we have been through all this before with Past Elder (are you still lurking there in the shadows, ol’ boy?), but let me say it again: the faith only has meaning, is only catholic, within the Communion of the Church. All these assertions that Acroamaticus makes (“To be catholic a statement or practise must be …”) – in whose book? under whose authority? As I said, I am not arguing with the fact that the Scriptures, the Gospel and the Church in her historical aspect are all central to what it means to be “catholic”. But I can assert this because the Church says so, not because I say so. By definition, I cannot, on my own, declare what it means to be “catholic”. That is something that can only be done by the community which IS “catholic”.

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8 responses to “Proposition #1: A Sectarian Doctrine Cannot be a “Catholic Principle”

  1. “All these assertions that Acroamaticus makes (”To be catholic a statement or practise must be …”) – in whose book? under whose authority?
    [my emphasis]

    Precisely, Mr. Schütz–and the answer is: under no authority but that of his own personal judgment.

    To which Past Elder would say (see here: http://cumecclesia.blogspot.com/2009/03/more-on-sola-scriptura-in-lutheranism.html) something like

    “As to which of [the bodies claiming to be the Church of Christ] is correct, that rests upon — one’s own authority and decision.”

    To which I responded:

    “So you say. But at least once one has made the decision to become, say, Catholic or Orthodox, afterwards it’s just a matter of submitting to authority, whereas in your schema every new controversy brings new decisions. In other words, Catholics and Orthodox need make only one decision, whereas Protestants, in addition to the initial decision, need to make as many decisions as there are controversies over doctrine.”

    P.E. responded to me by saying that

    “What is authority and Who has it is as much a result of private judgement as What is the clear meaning of Scripture.”

    To which I responded:

    “Well, it has to begin with a judgment; no-one can be forced to make an Act of Faith. It’s a question of what happens afterwards. What happens when controversies arise on matters necessary for salvation? Protestants follow their private judgments and dissolve into ever more sects, while the Catholic (if he wants to remain Catholic) simply consults authority; that is, the Catholic simply recalls his initial judgment, while the Protestant must make a new judgment, and another judgment for each new occasion of controversy. Given the course of the past two thousand years, that’s a lot of judgments, and all the different judgments can’t be correct. And unless Confessional Lutherans purport to have made explicit every single element and every single aspect of every single element of the Deposit of Faith you can’t tell me you’re insulated from such controversies.”

    I hope that it doesn’t seem self-indulgent to have quoted myself at such length, but it’s important to stress what an absurd, untenable principle private judgment–Protestantism’s first principle–is. For the one for whom authority is the first principle, he makes only one judgment, his initial judgment that the authority-wielding body is Christ’s Church and is to be believed, whereas the one for whom private judgment is his first principle faces a bewildering infinity of judgments–he assents to each article of Faith with a judgment of its own, and resolves each doctrinal controversy with a judgment of its own. Is that really how anyone thinks Our Lord expected each of us to keep the Faith? If Christ wanted to keep His Church unified in the Faith–which, of course, He did–then He would have endowed that Church with an infallible, enduring teaching authority. And fortunately, He did.

    • I appreciate you doing this, your Eminence. Past Elder did us a great service in being so absolutely dogged and unyeilding (if sometimes incomprehensible) in his position. I might add that you do likewise 🙂 , but that would be cheeky!

  2. Terry Maher (Past Elder)

    No I am not lurking out here. This post was called to my attention by another reader.

    Perhaps you would have found what I wrote here less incomprehensible, or more comprehensible, if you encountered the only reason I ever came here, which is, not to demonstrate the truth of “Lutheranism” and call you back to it, but to say that having been where you think you have arrived, you have arrived in no such place whatever but the most ludicrous parody and grotesque caricature of it, the church begun by Catholic renegades and heretics and outright deniers in the 1960s at Vatican II, a stinking sect not yet 50 years old. That alone, once you finally see it amid all the typical propaganda you have bought and that I saw originated and was pedalled to me too years ago, quite apart from Lutheran apologetics, will both drive you from the mitred ogres who lead their dupes around with their wretched lies in the name of the “Catholic Church” which they in fact deny, despise and destroy for the fake they serve, and will open to you the realisation that, again quite apart from any Lutheran apologetics, the Catholic Church which they have disgraced, defaced and despoiled was not and could not have been the church of Jesus Christ and the church confessed in the Creeds, that the whole thing is a preposterous procession of lies overlaid on the Gospel which, by the power of the Holy Spirit, has never been and will never be entirely overcome by it, the Rock not of men or a man but of God against which the gates of hell shall not prevail, even within the “Catholic Church”, which now even itself betrays that it is on no way the catholic church but a miserable anachronism of an imperial religion minus its former empire led now as then by an office bearing the marks of Anti-Christ.

    • Woohoo! Yeehah! Past Elder returns!

      What a hoot, Terry! We were so sad at having lost you a while back, that it is a truly a nostalgic experience reading your dogged, unyielding and (unlike His Eminence) totally incomprehensible diatribe.

      I knew you were out there – I occasionally read other blogs on which you comment. Strange how, in a given context (ie. confessional Lutheran blogs), the things you have to say make sense. It just becomes incomprehensible when you comment on this blog. I wonder why?

  3. Actually, David, I was just just thinking how lucid this was.

    PE, I almost understood you that time.

  4. the only reason I ever came here, which is, not to demonstrate the truth of “Lutheranism” and call you back to it, but to say that having been where you think you have arrived, you have arrived in no such place whatever but the most ludicrous parody and grotesque caricature of it

    YEs, well it was certainly obvious you

  5. Oops. Try that again:

    the only reason I ever came here, which is, not to demonstrate the truth of “Lutheranism” and call you back to it, but to say that having been where you think you have arrived, you have arrived in no such place whatever but the most ludicrous parody and grotesque caricature of it

    Yes, well it was certainly obvious you weren’t here for conviviality. Or even just plain conversation.