Friday, August 24, 2007


James Swan at Beggars All shared a Google Books nugget, George Stanley Faber's The Difficulties of Romanism, published in 1829. It reminded me of the importance of witnesses in the context of the Orthodox/Catholic - Protestant discussion.

Faber's premise is simple: Rome claims to have immutable doctrines, so these doctrines must have been held by the Apostles. To be believable, there must be evidence (in the form of an unbroken chain of witnesses through time in strict mutual harmony with each other) that the apostles taught these doctrines.

We believe what reliable people have told us. Early Mormons believed Joseph Smith saw the Book of Mormon through the Seeing Stones. They believed this because people they trusted as witnesses transcibed the writing while Joseph was behind a curtain. Today's Mormons accept the early Mormons' testimony. (I disbelieve the Mormon faith because of other witnesses and testimony.)

Likewise, Christianity depends on eye witnesses to Christ's life and teachings. We do not believe the Gospel of John to contain Truth because it feels good, or because the pages glimmer a special way. We believe it because the Church has borne witness to its authenticity through our history. (And, unlike in my Mormon analogy, I find no convincing contrary testimony.)

Faber said that if any gap appears in the chain of testimony, what is claimed earlier is unbelievable. I do not agree. If I can only see down the chain, say, 500 feet, should I disbelieve that it is 2,000 feet long, or that the links on the end are painted red? Maybe. But what if someone I trust is standing 500 feet down the line, and they hollar to me that it goes as far as they can see, another 500 feet? At some point we have to trust our witnesses.

Our Ancient Creeds are witnesses to me. I can't question the 2nd Century Apostles' Creed based on my individualistic interpretation of Holy Scriptures. I also cannot redefine the Creeds' terms (see my post on original intent in credal language).

There are rich scriptures on witnessing. Remember that the Prophets were witnesses, and those who claimed to be prophets but whose prophecies did not come true were to be STONED.

To note just a few passages: John 1:15, John 5:39 (I believe referring to the then-extant Prophecies of the Messiah's coming), Acts 1:8, Acts 22:20, 1 Thess 2:9-11 (where a particular church is witness to the Apostles' behavior), 2 Tim 2:1-3 (Paul taught Timothy in the presence of witnesses, instructing him to pass that teaching on to others), Heb 12:1 (I have to admit, I now read "witnesses" in the great cloud in a totally differnt light in this context - I always thought they witnessed me, and cheered me on, but now I realize they witness TO ME, through the life they live(d), the True faith - as evidence by the words "let us also").


TheGodFearinFiddler said...

We also need to take into consideration that the further back in history we go, the fewer surviving documents we have. Just because it's more difficult to prove an unbreakable chain for a certain document with 100% certainty for the first few hundred years of Christianity than it is for say the last 300 years, doesn't speak any better or worse of a said doctrines' credibility.

Our ability to produce evidence for a certain proposition may be zero in cases where the said proposition is 100% true.

Fortunately, what relatively few documents we do have from the first centuries unambiguously support Catholic doctrines and with flying colors and bells and whistles. Likewise there aren't any (this is significant so let me repeat) there arent ANY early documents supporting exclusively Protestant ideas - hence my recent parody post.

I mean they might be right who knows... it's just that all the evidence points to them being wrong.

Joseph said...

Our culture today does not allow for anything to be authentic evidence unless it is captured on video or audio media.

The authenticity of documents from only one hundred years ago are often disputed amongst modern-day historians.

Most of the earliest manuscripts have been lost or destroyed. That is why, in the opinion of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, the greatest witness is that of Tradition. Embedded in the deposit of faith within tradition are the writings of the Early Fathers.

I think I'm being redundant.

Thos said...

"Our ability to produce evidence for a certain proposition may be zero in cases where the said proposition is 100% true."

I had worked this point in, but cut it because the post was too long as is... If I had been able to word it as well as you did though I would have had it in. The book I referenced presupposes that evidence is obtainable/extant. Now, one can imagine that if God wanted this to be our rule (only believe what you have clear original testimony to believe), He certainly could have preserved everything. But then I'm presupposing that people then wrote down what people today might see fit to doubt. And besides, I see no evidence of such a rule (which makes this hypothetical rule impossible by its own terms!).