Sunday, February 8, 2009

"Is Rome the True Church?" p. 2

 So we have seen in our first part of this review that the first biblical passage that Geisler and Betancourt chose in order to rebut Catholicism, namely 3 John 9 was atrociously handled and failed to make their point. Now let us continue with their case against Roman Catholicism.

Let me cite in full their second point (2 of 7) that they cite to refute Catholicism,

"Second, if false traditions could spring up even during the time of the apostles, it is easy to see how quickly they could spread once there was no apostle to squelch them... And written transmission, such as it exists in Scripture and other writings based on it, is the only reliable source we have of apostolic teaching. Indeed even Cyprian, (d. AD 258), who later failed to heed his own wisdom, said, "Hence, it is in vain that some who are overcome by reason oppose to us custom, as if custom were greater than truth" (Epistles, 72.13). He added, "Custom without truth is the antiquity of error" (73.80)" (p.10).

Now let us exam this confused statement point by point. First, as I have shown in response to the ridiculous handling of 3 John 9, Geisler has far from proven his point that John was attacking false tradition and false ecclesial offices. The general idea that is often repeated by Protestant apologists that the One True Church of Christ fell into darkness and heresy early on is the clarion call throughout the centuries of heretics and schismatics against the historic Catholic Church. It was the argument that Mani used against Augustine, it is the argument that Harnack used against conservative Catholic scholars, it is the argument that Jehovah's Witnesses use against Catholics today. This is simply the pinnacle of desperation. The Catholic Church is the only Christian wing that does not employ this argument, all others must fall into this cat and mouse game, we (being the historic Church) fell into darkness, they, (Marcion, Novatian, Montanus, Mani, Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Wesley, Charles T Russel, Joseph Smith, Chuck Smith) have now re-discovered the ancient first century pristine church. 

 Next Geisler cites Cyprian in another often used sham by Protestants in using Catholic Bishops to bolster specific Protestant doctrines. This is an old trick and we are used to it and can easily expose it by now. Protestant apologist William Webster is notorious for this as Steve Ray has exposed time and time again in his writings such as Upon This Rock: St. Peter and the Primacy of Rome in Scripture and the Early Church, published by Ignatius 1999. So I am surprised that Geisler would still fall in this trap. The Patristic Fathers are unanimous in their understanding of the relationship between Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. They are equally authoritative for faith and morals for the Christian, one not being a Lord over the other. The modern novelty that Scripture alone is our sole guide for faith and morals is unheard of in the ancient Church among the orthodox writers. Only the early heretics and schismatics would bite and cling to Scripture alone, usually twisting it like a wax nose. That is exactly why the Fathers held Tradition so strongly, it was a guide, a rule, to measure claims against the orthodox position. Is it even necessary to cite the Fathers on this? For the sake of clarity here is but a small sample that makes this clear,

 Papias the ancient Bishop of Hierapolis makes clear he even gives greater weight to oral Tradition than writings since the margin of error of misunderstanding is much lower since you are hearing doctrines from their very mouths, "...I do not delight in those who talk a great deal, but in those who teach the those who relate the commandments given by the Lord to the faith, and which are derived from Truth itself... it did not seem to me that I could get so much profit from the contents from books as from a living and abiding voice" (apud Eusebius Church History. 3, 39, 3-4, Cf. Clement of Rome Dial. 80, 30). Irenaeus can say that the oral  Tradition that is handed down in the Catholic Church secures its authenticity, Contra Heresies. 3, 3, 1-2. He goes on to say that throughout the then known world in all the dialects and tribes it is the authority of the oral Tradition in the Catholic Church that validates its place as the one and only Church of Christ, ibid. 1, 10, 2, cf. 5, 20, 1. This following quote also found in Irenaeus Contra Heresies is one of my favorite to refute the fantasy called sola scriptura,

 "What if the Apostles had not in fact left writings to us? Would it not be necessary to follow the order of Tradition, which was handed down to those to whom they entrusted their churches" 3, 4, 1, cf. 4, 33, 8. Such a statement would have never been uttered by a sola scriptura man of any stripe in the ancient Church. 

 According to Clement of Alexandria the oral Tradition of the Church is directly passed on from the Apostles themselves and it is a divine safeguard for the Church, Misc. 1, 1. Origen warns his readers that many of the heretics and schismatics of his day lay claim to the title of true church. Against them he notes, the Catholics can point to their oral Tradition which proves their authenticity, Fundamental Doctrines. 1, 2. Tertullian is clear, the oral Tradition and the written Epistles of the Church are the twin points of the spear against the attacks of the heretics, De praesc. haer. 21, 3-7. Athanasius agrees, if a man does not follow the oral Tradition of the Catholic Church he has no right to call himself a Christian, ad Serapion. 1, 28. In the next sentence Athanasius calls Tradition the very foundation of the Church. The great historian Eusebius writes that in the Fathers is encapsulated the very oral Tradition of the apostles themselves, Church History. 4, 21. For Cyril of Jerusalem it is the oral Tradition of the Holy Catholic Church that stands as a witness against the contradictory positions of the heretics, Catecheses. 18, 1. 

 Let Basil of Caesarea refute Norman Geisler and the novelty of sola Scriptura,

"Of the dogmas and kerygmas preserved in the Church, some we posses from written teaching and others we receive from the Tradition of the Apostles... in respect to piety both are of the same force. No one will contradict any of these, no one at any rate, who is even moderately versed in matters ecclesiastical. Indeed, were we try to reject unwritten customs as having no great authority, we would unwittingly injure the gospels in its vitals" De Spiritu. sanctum. 27, 66, Cf. the other great Cappadocian, Gregory Nyssa which concurs, Oratio catechetica magna. 3, 4. 

Epiphanius of Salamis also destroys sola scriptura, "It is needful also to make use of Tradition, for not everything can be gotten from Sacred Scripture. The holy Apostles handed down somethings in Scripture other things in Tradition" Adversus haereses panarium. 61, 6. Cf. Chrysostom whose idea of the relationship of Scripture and Tradition is identical to that of Epiphanius, Hom. Sec. Thess. 4, 2, see also the same exact sentiment of Vincent of Lerins, Notebooks, and also Augustine, Epistulae ad Janaurius. 54, 1, 1. 

 Besides all these let us know consider the Catholic Bishop Cyprian of Carthage that Geisler chose to cite to bolster his argument (against the Catholic concept of Tradition). In contrast to the bleak picture Geisler paints of Cyprian, (one that would have the unsuspecting reader believing that Cyprian held to a sola scriptura notion and a downplaying of Tradition) Cyprian writes against some that were mistreating the Catholic conception of the Eucharist in his day,

 "I wonder indeed, whence this practice has come, that, contrary to the evangelic and apostolic Tradition, in certain places water alone, which cannot signify the Blood of Christ, is offered in the cup of the Lord" Letter to Cecil. 63, 9. Here Cyprian makes clear that the doctrinal acid test is measured against Tradition. In his Letter to Clergy and Laity of Spain. 67, 5, Cyprian makes clear that ecclesiastical matters must be decided on the basis of "divine Tradition" which is indeed observed in all the provinces. In his Letter to Stephen of Rome Cyprian argues that Novatian's usurpation of an ecclesiastical office is null and void, because going against "apostolic Tradition" he has self-elected himself not being in valid succession, 69, 3. Concerning the text that Geisler cites found in Cyprian's Letter to Quintus, Bishop of Mauretania, he fails to give any indication of understanding the background of the letter, the issue that Cyprian is combating, namely the validity of baptism outside the Church. Some argue that baptism done by heretics is valid and this they base on some perceived ancient customs. But they are wrong argues Cyprian, 

"But if he that comes from the heretics was not first baptized in the Church, but comes entirely as a profane stranger, he must be baptized in order to become a sheep; for in the Holy Church is the one water which makes sheep... One must not object however, on the grounds of custom; rather, one must overcome by reasoned argumentation" would be a better citation in context that makes Cyprian clear on what he is trying to convey. 

 In conclusion, again Geisler has failed in his second point at a refutation of the "papal authoritative system" with a gross inaccurate citation of a patristic Father to bolster his (mis)reading of history. Thus far I am sadly disappointed in Geisler's treatment of Roman Catholicism.

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