Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Irony in Patristics

I haven't read a ton of patristic writing, I freely admit.  About 200+ pages starting from page 1 of the Ante-Nicene Fathers, and taking notes the whole way, so far.
But I can apply logical argumentation to common Eastern Orthodox argumentation in regard to the way they view patristic support for their position, and thus perform an internal critique of Eastern Orthodoxy.  Now, given that the Scriptures are the way they indeed are, it makes very little difference to me whether the entirety of those who identify themselves as "The Church®" over the course of history stand in opposition to what the Scripture teaches - "Let God be true and every man a liar." 

But of course, anyone who's familiar with patristic writings to a more than surface-level extent will know that the early church situation is not nearly that simple.  The questions of who was in schism from whom, who agreed with whom, who contradicted whom, who contradicted himself, who properly represented the actual position of most of the people in the church at his time, etc, are fundamental questions, and far too often our EO and RC friends simply assume that they are unimportant, assume that their church is The One True Church® and thus the default position, and any dissenter from such necessarily has all the burden of proof to defend his dissent. 
Let's take a look, for a case study, at DavidW's blog in which he likens Calvinism to Gnosticism.  I dropped by and dropped an Irenaeus quote from Jason Engwer:
"They style themselves Gnostics. They also possess images, some of them painted, and others formed from different kinds of material; while they maintain that a likeness of Christ was made by Pilate at that time when Jesus lived among them. They crown these images, and set them up along with the images of the philosophers of the world that is to say, with the images of Pythagoras, and Plato, and Aristotle, and the rest. They have also other modes of honouring these images, after the same manner of the Gentiles." (Against Heresies, 1:25:6) It seems likely that Irenaeus was part of the ante-Nicene consensus against the veneration of images. (source)
DavidW has responded, I replied, and DavidW once more.  I encourage you to read what he said, and here I relate my own rebuttal.

approach Orthodoxy on its own terms, free of such confutation.

Do you venerate images?  Bow down to them? 
What substantial differences can you name between EO practice and RC practice, besides that they use statues and you don't?

the book explores the supposedly iconoclastic references that Protestants cherry-pick from the Church Fathers

The existence of which is evidence in support of my position.  I don't think the early church writers had a consistent consensual position, remember?  I judge ALL THINGS by Scripture.

it's a case of looking at the Fathers on their own terms and in their fulness, as you are unwilling to do.

Hahaha, that makes me laugh, that you who ignore early church writers who dissent want to "look at the Fathers on their own terms".  Whatever, man.

3. How do they know Epiphanius' letter is a forgery?
The very existence of ppl who'd like to forge such a letter shows that there did exist such an iconoclastic strain of tradition.  Which, again, is my position.

The iconoclasts of the 8th century picked up their iconoclasm from the Muslims.
Even Muslims get stuff right, you know.  I sorta picked mine up from the OT Jews.

You ASSERT that Tertullian doesn't represent early opinion. Prove it.
Professor Jeffrey Macdonald, a professor of early Christian history

OK, I listened to it, thank you. 
Macdonald:  "He's not technically a Church Father" - begging the very question at hand.  Who decided that?  Why isn't whoever decided that himself in schism, himself unreliable with respect to what is authoritative and normative in church history?
"He wrote a lot" - yup.  And yet you judge him wrong on many counts.  How is that any diff than what I do with what you claim about CFs that you DO agree with?  Why do you get to disagree with an early church writer and I don't?
"He did not remain in the Orthodox Church" - so he schismed?  So he was Protestant before there were Protestants? 
"Gnostics wanted Christians to live under extra rules" - that's very interesting. You mean like necessitating works like baptism on top of faith for salvation from sin?
"most of the CFs tried to work thru Greek philosophy, that meant to Tatian's crew that they were apostatising" - doesn't sound like there's a ton of unity and agreement in the early church, now was there?  There sure seems to be a big diff in the way you EOx talk to Protestants and the way you talk to each other.  Kinda like how Yasser Arafat would say "Peace, peace" in English to the Western goober politicians, then go say "War, war" in Arabic to his own ppl (though obviously less violently).
"Tertullian is not reflecting the reality of early Christianity, he's reflecting a particular position" - What a dumb thing to say!  Of COURSE he was reflecting a particular position.  EVERY writer "reflects a particular position".  Sheesh.

Now, around minute 48-49, Macdonald has a very interesting extended quotation:

"The church has a tradition that the married women did this, and the girls, I guess, they didn't wear veils.  So he makes the statement:  'Whatever favors the opposition to truth is heresy, even if it's ancient custom'.  And he says that in a number of places where he's contrasting the tradition of the church, he rejects the tradition of the church, in favor of the prophecies of the women.  And it stuck in my mind b/c Cyprian, who comes after him in Carthage, makes almost the same statements; for Cyprian, to him he's not a Montanist, but he always refers, Tertullian for him is the only church father b/c he wrote in Latin, and he refers to Tertullian as 'a master', but he makes that statement in regard to the rebaptism, b/c the church was not rebaptising people from heretical groups but was receiving them by chrismation and Cyprian says 'well, ancient custom is just ancient error', you know, so it's this ultimately, the church disagreed with Cyprian on that and have the canons and everything, but this attitude of rejection of the church tradition.  And we will say that OK, not everything that every early Christian ever did is necessarily Gospel, but the consensus of the church and the tradition of the church's practice is part of what Irenaeus is referring to, when he says 'What's to separate us from the Gnostics, who make up their errors?  Each Gnostic is just making stuff up.  That our teachings go back and are continuous back to Christ' and that's what distinguishes the church from a heretical group.  For Tertullian and later Cyprian, they both say 'no, that the church's practice is no indication of what is true,' particularly Tertullian.  And of course, he's coming at it from the idea that these Montanist teachers were in fact revelations of the Holy Spirit."

There is a lot to catch there, but notice how Macdonald says Saint Cyprian treated Tertullian, a guy who was headed to heresy according to the EOC.
Notice how Macdonald even characterises Cyprian's view that Tertullian was the only church father.
Notice how these two early witnesses seem to be treating "church tradition" just like I do - easily prone to error, and in the case of the doctrine under dispute, just a mistaken tradition that got accepted by enough people, handed down enough, and eventually crystallised into unshakable "Sacred Tradition".  And yet these two men disparage it as merely "ancient error".  So what is the EO antidote to this problem?  More appeals to more so-called Sacred Tradition?  As if that's not the very problem at hand?  Why not appeal to what God has said?  Oh no, they've got more important things!  Like preserving their Sola Ecclesia presuppositions, their pet authority. 

Questioner - "It's not like he did a flipflop." 
"That's not surprising.  Alot of his writings, when he's writing against the church he's also contradicting his own early writings, when he was in the church...Tertullian sort of took exception with the decision of the Roman church and ultimately decided, even in his pre-Montanist writings, you start seeing, not the earliest ones, but the period about 204 on, he starts adopting Montanist ideas and then 207 he leaves..."
So...Tertullian takes exception to what a bishop (the one in Rome) defined.  And yet 1800 years later, the Reformed are roundly criticised for following his example.  (Macdonald clarifies that this dissent by Tertullian took place in 197, BTW.)
And I have said in the past that a strong case can be made that church fathers contradict themselves in their own writings over the course of time.  Of course, I catch flak for that kind of statement from RCs and EOdox, but I bet Macdonald won't catch any.  Oh no, b/c he's one of the boys. 

DavidW continues:
Historians don't have polling data; we work with what we have

And then you assume that's what the early church believed.  So you DON'T have any polling data, yet you take ~50 writers who wrote variegated things on a wide variety of topics with some disagreement between them and frequent disagreement between writings from any one of them over the course of his life, and from THAT you decide what the early church believed?  No, you decide after the fact. That's always been my point.  You, the modern EOC, decide which views out of the sparse info that you have from the past you're going to follow.  Sola Ecclesia.
Pardon me, but I don't want to follow such circular self-referential reasoning, such begging of the very question at hand.  I follow what God has most surely said - the Scripture. 

Okay: I say that aliens came to earth, enslaved all people, and set up a kingdom that was only finally overthrown in the 6th century by St. Justinian the Emperor. It's okay, though, lack of documentary evidence doesn't mean it's not true
You're exactly right - that doesn't mean it's not true.  ANYthing could conceivably be true; that's the problem of induction at work (since you mentioned logic).  You have faith on the modern EOC's interp of archaeology and historical data, despite when we show you that your view of history is flawed. You are a humanist at the core.  I have faith in God's Holy Word. 

Right -- he was a heretic. He did become a Montanist, you know?

Yes, I know that, and you're begging the question to claim that joining a Montanist sect means that he was necessarily wrong or out of step with the church.  Prove that most ppl weren't in fact part of the Montanists.  Polling data. 

Irenaeus is not talking about my position because my position is the same as Irenaeus' and I sincerely doubt that Irenaeus is calling his own position Gnostic.
Wow.  That was a naked assertion of epic proportion.  How about you actually deal with what he said?

(Please leave any comments at the cross-post at Beggars All.)