Sunday, August 19, 2007

Did The Apostles Pass Their Authority to Men or Writing?

Again, this was written earlier in my discernment, and I've since felt hesitant.

4) If so, did they pass it to men or to their written words? Viewing the church from a written-word-as-authority theorem (i.e., sola scriptura), and judging by the squabbling sectarianism and even outright heresy (e.g., Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses) borne of it, one must ponder that the Apostles and the Holy Spirit left at best a very difficult rule of faith. As the presence of their Holy Writings and our understanding of the early church make clear, the Apostles did do something to pass on their authority or their authoritative teachings. I think with this I have finally climbed to the peak of my current obstacle. I am not compelled by existing evidence that the Apostles intended to leave an authoritative, mystically blessed, succession of church leaders. Neither am I compelled that the Apostles intended for their writings to be adequate teachings of the rules and norms of the Faith for all times. I am not compelled that the Apostles intended for councils or the Roman See to establish rule, nor that they would be in favor of a democratic church, a congregational church, or some other yet-to-be-construed ecclesial polity.

To argue in the negative, Scripture does not decisively outline a plan of Petrine or other apostolic succession, but other Catholic evidence is noteworthy. According to the New Advent Catholic website, “In the third century the popes claim authority from the fact that they are St. Peter's successors, and no one objects to this claim, no one raises a counter-claim.” The absence of dissent throughout church history on many points that were later deemed to be marks of an apostate church during the Reformation is worth considering. And in this case I cannot help but feel swayed by the lack of criticism of several early fathers' remarks on submission to the Vatican. Again from New Advent:

“St. Irenaeus (180-200) states the theory and practice of doctrinal unity as follows:
With this Church [of Rome] because of its more powerful principality, every Church must agree, that is the faithful everywhere, in this [i. e. in communion with the Roman Church] the tradition of the Apostles has ever been preserved by those on every side. (Adv. Haereses, III)”

Were all the would-be Luthers of the early church sleeping while on watch? Would they not have been alarmed, and therefore compelled to write to their sister churches, at this claim of central Christian authority? I have seen no such testimony of criticism.

With my bias growing stronger, let me more effectively argue in the negative regarding the possibility that the Apostles intended for their written word to guide the church. With knowledge of church history, and remembering Christ’s promise to have his church as “one flock” (John 10:16), it seems difficult to posit that the “Bible contains all the extant revelations of God, which He designed to be the rule of faith and practice for his Church; so that nothing can rightfully be imposed on the consciences of men as truth or duty which is not taught directly or by necessary implication in the Holy Scriptures (Charles Hodge, The Protestant Rule of Faith).” Would it be fair to believe that this approach, which has caused such clear opposition of belief even amongst reasonable and faithful Christians (e.g. the number of Protestant Sacraments as viewed by Lutherans and Presbyterians), is a reliable norm of authority? Scripture, like any other text, requires interpretation. The Interpreter must have authority to interpret for his interpretations to be Authoritative. Otherwise, we are all under the authority of none but ourselves.

Hodge says that Protestant believers “are bound to read and interpret it for themselves; so that their faith may rest on the testimony of the Scriptures, and not on that of the Church.” But then, “for an individual Christian to dissent from the faith of the universal Church (i. e., the body of true believers), is tantamount to dissenting from the Scriptures themselves.” This strange dichotomy leaves some serious doubts on the table. Do we measure this “universal Church” by numbers (Catholicism), history (Catholicism), or the individual’s conscience (Protestantism)? Hodge, and I think historically consistent Protestants as well, would subscribe to the latter. This talk of “private judgment” stirs violently my anxiety over individualism and its evil sibling, relativism.

Regarding Conciliar rule, Papal rule, Democratic rule, or Congregational rule, one can only say that scripture is not explicit, with a democratic notion being the most foreign to it (casting lots to choose an apostle being a more literal rule). Something resembling both Conciliar and Papal rule seems most consistent with the testimony of the church fathers.

To be continued...


Amy said...

I came to your blog via the "God Fearin' Forum" blog, and I really appreciate what you have to say. I will also keep you in my prayers, since you say you're going through a time of questioning.

Regarding the question you pose, "Did The Apostles Pass Their Authority to Men or Writing?" I have to say that the idea of passing on their authority to their writings just doesn't make sense to me on a practical level. If they intended their writings to stand on their own, why is the NT so skinny? If that were the case, I would have expected them to explain in much more detail, so that fewer things could be debated or discussed.

Books written by scholars today are far thicker than the entire NT, and doctoral theses are often written based on just a few passages in the gospels. This wouldn't seem to be necessary if all we needed was the collection of writings in the NT.

Just my two cents :)

Thos said...

Amy, Thank you for giving of your time to lift me in prayers. Perhaps I have skewed the discussion by the way I asked the question initially.

The Protestant in me does not trust men, so needs Holy Writ to look to - something uncorrupted through the ages. But then the wanna-be Catholic or Orthodox in me says that if the Holy Spirit can keep apostles' writings from error, he can do the same with a magesterium. Don't know.

Regarding the NT LENGTH, I say that Nations' Constitutions are intentionally short and not code books (compare out Constitution to the U.S. Code!) for good reason, and the NT could be similar. So more to your point is the peculiar nature of the NT as the recipient of the Apostles' authority.

I keep thinking - if I'm Paul, writing to churches with Authority and worrying (crying even, he says!) that they will stay pure and faithful, what's going through my head about their fate after my death? If Paul (and the others) thought for a minute his writings would be their sole rule of faith, why didn't he write with more particularity? Why didn't he write in a way that indicates he had THAT task in mind (instead of correcting particular churches and praising certain individuals whose history is long since lost to antiquity)?

This is all comelling in favor of Catholics/Orthodox - I more struggle with the consequences of this logic, that I'd have to accept Statues, Marianism, and other things that give me doubt.

Joseph said...

Thos, I'm Catholic, so you already know my answer. Oh well. I refrain from answering your questions because you already know what I am going to say. I also refrain because I know that what I say will potentially be lost in some sort of intellectual debate.

I will not quote Sacred Scripture nor will I quote from the Early Fathers. I will paraphrase and speak in the sense of, however.

Whether you agree or not is really none of my business. Nor will I try to convince you of anything. But, I am powerless and have fallen to the temptation to puff myself up and answer your question:

Reading St. Paul's letters in context will show that he clearly describes a three-dimensional authority. I'm not going to quote Scripture. You will find very specific and precise references to this, especially in one particular epistle in which he is telling a certain flock how to stay on the path of the Apostles' teaching; this to discern from the teachings of false prophets and the coming Antichrist.

The only sure guarantee that they will not perilously fall prey to the teachings of false prophets and the Antichrist is if they look to this three-dimensional Apostolic authority. One, the writings of the Apostles; Two, the oral teachings (Traditions) of the Apostles; Three, the Authority of the Apostles.

Genuine authority is in the Sacred Scripture. The Church does not deny that nor does She strip authority from them. However, on their own, they do not provide safety from the message of false prophets or the Antichrist. The devil himself tempted Christ by carefully quoting from Sacred Scripture. Is it impossible that the Antichrist will be a Scripture scholar and deceive many who are not perfect like Christ? This is St. Paul's message.

That is why he stresses the importance of the Apostolic epistles (since the Gospels had not yet been written, yet the epistles that already had were accepted widely and read during the liturgies of the respective Churches as the Apostles had intended) along with the oral teachings of the Apostles, and the Apostolic Authority to interpret and deliver both.

I can't see how this can be missed in Sacred Scripture, though I won't pretend that it isn't possible. I am also reading the Scriptures through Catholic eyes. I don't speak for everyone. And remember, Sacred Scripture to me isn't the be all, end all. It is an authoritative part of the Church, but it isn't complete without Apostolic Tradition and Teaching Authority.

In my opinion, evidence that Authority was passed on by the Apostles to their disciples can be shown throughout the Scriptures (though, like I said, it is not necessary for me to prove it). But, allow me to illustrate a simpler approach to avoid getting into a Scripture war, which I try to avoid to the best of my ability. St. Luke and St. Mark were not of the original Twelve. They were disciples of St. Paul and St. Peter. So, how do their Gospels hold authority in the canon if the Apostolic office died with the martyrdom (and eventual death of St. John) of the Twelve? Why would St. Paul be writing epistles to St. Timothy (bishop of Ephesus, disciple of St. Paul and St. John, and contemporary of St. Irenaeus) and St. Titus (chief bishop of Crete) on how to properly run their bishoprics and what to look for in the spiritual and temporal character and qualities of those who would become priests or women religious? If there was no Apostolic Authority that was handed down by St. Paul, why then would he be concerned with the authority of bishops he ordained? These letters are in the canon, both Protestant and Catholic.

Forgive me, I brought out the Sacred Scripture. Let it be known to all that what I have stated above is not an attempt to convince anyone. I have avoided going into detail because, frankly, I don't think there is a need for it. I believe what I believe, and that is all. If it is a purely intellectual approach one wants to take in understanding anything about the Catholic Church, then they can read the many tomes of Church writing on these topics.

These are my personal musings and all are free to ignore or refute them. Shame on me for my weakness.

Joseph said...


I forgot to summarize. Your question:

Did the Apostles pass [on] their Authority to men or [in] writing?

Answer in summary:

Both. Though their writings are powerless against misinterpretation without the interpretation by the men with whom they passed on their Authority.

Joseph said...

One more thing, you mention "democratic rule" quite a bit in your post. I left a doozie of a quote (in my immodest opinion) from G.K. Chesterton's "Orthodoxy" on God Fearin' Fiddler's blog for you to read, in case you haven't already.

It ties in perfectly to your post and to the earlier discussion we were having on the Assumption.

Though I do not like quoting Sacred Scripture or Early Fathers any longer, I don't mind quoting authors.

Thos said...


Appreciate the time you spend in your responses, thanks!

From your Chesterton quote in a reply I missed on the God Fearin' Forum blog, "Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead." Fascinating point.

My assertion (that I make often and boldly in my Presbyterian church) that the PCA is democratic often draws fire from my peers. I firmly believe it though. And I believe that the democratic process does not preserve us from error in any way, and may expose us to continued or worsening error at times. In that sense, while very much admiring Chesterton's line, people across time can be just as wrong as people across the pews at one time. Either way YOU have to (and do, I believe) rely on the Holy Spirit working within your notion of Visible Church to preserve the dead voters (and the live ones) from steering the Church astray. I have no counterpoint at this time (hat tip).

Cow Bike Rider said...

"If there was no Apostolic Authority that was handed down by St. Paul, why then would he be concerned with the authority of bishops he ordained?"

Thanks Joseph for the comment. A point I hadn't considered before.

(Sorry for the late addition. I've been lurking about)