The Canadian Red Ensign

The Canadian Red Ensign

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Black and White


Ever since the Daily Mail released the video footage of the arrest of George Floyd taken from the body cameras of the arresting police officers, which footage reveals everything that the short video which the mainstream progressive media had made sure to shove down everyone’s throat over and over again back in May and June had concealed, the progressive commentariat has been trying desperately to save their narrative, which is that Floyd, a black man, was murdered by a white police officer, due to the colour of his skin. They have been dancing around the video, talking about everything in it from the reaction of the crowd to the arrest to procedural errors on the part of the police. Everything, that is, except what is really relevant. Namely that Floyd, who was clearly crazed and high on drugs, was resisting arrest and that his breathing troubles began long before Derek Chauvin’s knee was on him in a standard non-asphyxiating hold. When one takes into account the amount of fentanyl the medical examiner found in his system – far more than anyone has ever been known to survive – and that fentanyl causes, among other things, breathing problems, the media’s case against the police officers, evaporates into thin air. This is hardly surprising considering that their case is derived entirely from their larger narrative about how the United States and Western Civilization as a whole are irredeemably infested with a white supremacy in which all white people are complicit, whether consciously or unconsciously, when in reality, if the United States and Western Civilization have a problem with racism, it is racism directed towards whites, such as that displayed by the black supremacist, anti-white, hate groups that went on a summer long spree of violence, crime, and destruction in honour of George Floyd. 

 It is not George Floyd that I wish to talk about today, however, but popular Christian apologist James R. White, the director of Alpha and Omega Ministries. Or rather, to be more precise, it is not James R. White as a person, that I wish to talk about, but his arguments on certain issues. You are undoubtedly wondering what on earth the preceding paragraph can possibly have to do with such a subject. It is simply this – that the dancing around the real issue, on the part of the progressive media, reminds me of his approach to the doctrinal matters in question. 

Let us start with the issue I discussed in my last essay, “Calvinism, the Definition of Chalcedon, and the Mother of God.” That essay argued that while Protestantism’s rejection of Mariolatry – elevating Mary to the point where it becomes idolatrous – is sound, some Protestants take this to such an extreme, that they reject any honouring of her, including the use of the expression “Mother of God” (Greek Theotokos) and that in doing so they enter into the territory of the Christological heresy of Nestorianism, which divides the two natures within the One Person of Jesus Christ. In that context, I discussed how, while this mostly occurs among separatist Protestant sects that see themselves as opposed to the Catholic tradition as a whole and not just the errors that are distinctly late and Roman, one of the three Church traditions of the Magisterial Reformation – Anglican, Lutheran, and Reformed – has also shown tendencies in this regard, despite its formally upholding the General Councils which condemned Nestorianism, affirmed the Theotokos, and provided a clear statement of the hypostatic union, the Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon. That is the Reformed Church tradition, or at least the prevalent Calvinist strain within it.

James R. White is a Reformed Baptist, which means that he belongs to a separatist sect that is largely aligned theologically with the Reformed Church tradition. In 1998, Bethany House Publishers of Grand Rapids, Michigan published his book Mary: Another Redeemer? In his first chapter, which has the same title as the book as a whole, White indicates that he will be answering the errors of official Roman teaching about Mary, while clearing up misconceptions that many fundamentalist Protestants and many Roman laypeople have as to what those teachings actually are, focusing on the issue of assigning Mary a role alongside her Son in the redemption of the world. This would be an admirable achievement if it was what he actually accomplished in the book. Let us look, however, at his fifth chapter which is entitled “Mother of God.” 

He begins by saying that “Mother of God” is “the single most misused theological term around.” Whether the hyperbole is deliberate and intentional or not, I will not bother to speculate. I will note instead that White is clearly aware of the Christological pitfall that a rejection of this term leads to and attempts to avoid falling into it. He writes: 

The logic seems inescapable: Jesus is God, come in human flesh. Mary is Jesus’ Mother. Hence, Mary is the Mother of God. What could be simpler?

 He should have stopped there. For the logic is indeed inescapable. The syllogism cannot be rejected on the grounds that it is not valid for it is the very epitome of a valid syllogism. That leaves only the question of the truth of the premises. To deny the first premise is to be what St. John calls an “antichrist” in the New Testament. The second premise is true. Therefore the conclusion is unavoidable. To reject the conclusion one must commit the heresy of Nestorianism and divide the two natures within Jesus by making Mary into something like “the mother of Jesus’ human nature” rather than “the Mother of Jesus the Person.” To do so, whether one realizes it or not, is to deny the second premise.

It also, however, points inevitably to a denial of the first premise. Think about it in terms of another syllogism. The first premise is that Mary is Jesus’ Mother, the second premise is that Mary is not the Mother of God. What is the conclusion toward which such a syllogism would point?

Ironically, Nestorius had fallen into error through his zeal to avoid the heresy of Arianism, which denied the diety of Jesus Christ. The internal reasoning of his own heresy, however, leads right back to this denial.

White goes on to say: 

If everyone would use the term to communicate just that – that Jesus Christ was truly and completely God – there would be no reason to include a brief chapter on the topic of “the mother of God.” Yet, obviously, that would be a bit simplistic. Most of the time when the phrase is used, the persons using it are not in any way commenting on the fact that Jesus Christ was God and Man on the earth. They are not speaking about Christ at all, but about Mary, and they are using the title to give her a position of honour and power. 

Let us assume for a moment that everything White has said here is correct. If some are misusing the title, does this invalidate the title itself and constitute a reason for not using it? 

Of course it would not. The problem is with the usage, not the title itself, which is cause to correct the usage rather than abandon the title. 

Furthermore, is using that title “to give her a position of honour and power” actually misusing it?

White’s wording here creates a difficulty. A “position of honour and power” is much more than merely a “position of honour.” The linking of “power” to “honour” creates a phrase into which virtually everything that Protestants have ever objected to in Romanistic Marian doctrine can be read. If, however, we leave the power out of it and speak of the title as merely giving her – in the sense of ascribing to her –a “position of honour”, then this is something to which the orthodox Reformers had no objection and furthermore, something which the early Church was obviously doing when it began using this title. Note that in the Christological controversy that ensued, the question of whether Mary ought to be honoured was not an issue in contention. Nestorius wanted her honoured with the title Christotokos (Mother of Christ) rather than Theotokos (Mother of God) but both sides agreed that she should be honoured with a title. This point appears to be completely lost on White. He argues repeatedly in this chapter that the only appropriate use of the expression Theotokos – see my previous essay for the reasons why attempting to get around the “Mother of God” translation by rendering it “God-bearer” are disingenuous – is to settle Christological doctrine rather than to honour Mary.

White’s clearest statement of his position is as follows:

 “Mother of God” is a phrase that has proper theological meaning only in reference to Christ. Hence, any use of the term that is not simply saying, “Jesus is fully God, one divine Person with two natures,” is using the term anachronistically, and cannot claim the authority of the early church for such a usage.

The above is taken from the final paragraph of a subsection entitled “The Origin of the Term” which provides a streamlined history of the origins of Theotokos in the fourth and fifth centuries, which contains an accurate, concise, account of the Christological controversy that culminated in the Council of Chalcedon, but which manages to ignore or even deny the obvious, that Theotokos was a title of honour for Mary from the moment it was first used, its liturgical use predates any theological controversy in which it was involved, and that disagreement over the liturgical usage led to the debate over what title of honour should properly be used for her, in which context the Christological controversy arose, fortuitously so for it ultimately lead the Church to clarify the orthodox doctrine of the hypostatic union and provide us with the Definition of Chalcedon.

White writes that “Around the beginning of the fourth century, Alexander, Bishop of Alexandria, first used this term when speaking of Mary.” This occurred around 320-325 AD, and is the first undisputed use of the term in writing, but most ecclesiastical historians would tell you that Theotokos was around longer than this. Hippolytus of Rome, who died around 235 AD, almost a full century earlier is attested to have used it, and Origen is believed to have used it in a commentary on Deuteronomy written around the same time as Hippolytus’ death. It is certainly used in the ancient hymn Sub Tuum Praesidium, which likely dates to the third century. The earliest copy extant contains the Greek text. The English translation of the hymn as a whole is indicative of the fact that the use of the term as a title of honour is not something that came later, after the Christological debate: 

Under thy protection,
We take refuge, O Mother of God.
Despise not our petitions, 
In our time of trial, 
But from dangers free us,
Only pure, only Blessed one. 

 The above translates the Greek text. A translation of the Latin would be slightly different, ending with “O Glorious and Blessed Virgin” but the overall effect is the same. We know that this hymn is no later than the fourth century because it is in use in the Churches which were accused of Monophysitism, the opposite heresy of Nestorianism, because they refused to accept the Council of Chalcedon. Indeed, the oldest copy of the Greek text is in a papyrus manuscript in the possession of one such Church, the Coptic, and this has been credibly dated to the third century. 

Whether third or fourth century, however, it makes nonsense out of White’s claim that “Evidently, at that time, even in its earliest uses, the term was meant to say something about Jesus, not Mary.” Of course this claim is intrinsically nonsensical because it presents a false dilemma. Theotokos says something about Jesus, that He is fully God and fully Man, two natures united in One Person, but it also says something about Mary, namely that she is the Mother of this Person, and it cannot say the one without saying the other. Indeed, it says what it says about Jesus by saying what it says about Mary.

This is what needs to be kept in mind when reading “The Misuse of the Term Today” which is the next section of White’s chapter. White asserts that:

Outside of seminary classes and theological debates about the Trinity, I have never heard the term “Mother of God” used in a historically proper and theologically accurate way. That is, every time I have heard the title used outside those contexts it was being used to say something about Mary rather than something about Christ. 

 Again, to use the title to say something about Mary is not to misuse the title, because the title says what it says about Christ by saying something about Mary, and what it says about Christ cannot be separated from what it says about Mary. Of course, if someone were to use the title to say something erroneous about Mary that would be to misuse the title. In the paragraph which follows immediately after the one just quoted White talks about how Mary being the Mother of God does not mean that “she gave rise to the being of God”, which is, of course, correct, and if someone were to use the term to suggest otherwise they would indeed be misusing it, but that is certainly not the way the Roman Communion uses the term, nor is it the way the Eastern Orthodox Communion uses the term, and, indeed, I cannot think of any Church or sect on the planet that actually teaches that Mary is the source of the being of God. Perhaps Mr. White is implying that the use of the term Mother of God to honour Mary could lead the theologically unlettered into drawing this erroneous conclusion, but one could likewise say that the use of the term Son of God to refer to Jesus could lead the theologically unlettered into drawing the erroneous conclusion that Jesus is not God. Indeed, I can think of far more people who have rejected the deity of Jesus Christ because they have been unable to grasp how Jesus can be both God and the Son of God at the same time than who have been led to think that Mary is somehow prior to and the source of the very Being of the Trinity because of the use of the title Mother of God.

Therefore, while everything White says in the paragraph just mentioned, prior to the last sentence in it, is true in itself, it constitutes a straw man fallacy. The last sentence of the paragraph contains a different fallacy, a non sequitur. How on earth does it follow that because “she herself did not give rise to the divinity of her Son” therefore “For this reason, there can be nothing about the term theotokos that in any way exalts Mary, but only Christ”? 

Mr. White is clearly at odds with St. Luke, for while the Evangelist certainly never maintained that Mary was the source of her Son’s divinity, he definitely treated her having been chosen to bear the Incarnate Son of God as exalting her. Or at the very least he recorded the sentiments of others, including an angel from God, who saw it that way. 

Remember the salutation that St. Luke records Gabriel as giving to Mary upon first being sent to her:

Hail, thou that are highly favoured, the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou among women. (1:28)

Since she has been chosen by God for a purpose that Gabriel will go on to declare, she is the lavish recipient of His grace – this is what κεχαριτωμένη, rendered “thou that are highly favoured” by the Authorized Bible and “full of grace” in renditions more influenced by the Latin indicates – and this in itself exalts her into a place of honour where she is “blessed” among women. Mary’s cousin, St. Elizabeth, is of the same opinion as the angel, and note that St. Luke records that she was filled with the Holy Ghost before saying:

Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord. (vv. 42-45)

She repeats the angel’s declaration that Mary is blessed “among women” – Mary herself in the Magnificat is about the declare that “from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed” – and that this is an expression which exalts and honours the recipient of blessing as well as the One Who does the blessing is the clear implication of her humble question “And whence is this to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Remember, this is coming from a woman who herself has just been blessed in her old age with the miraculous conception of a son, John the Baptist. Note that it is also as close as one could wish for an actual Scriptural usage of “Mother of God.”

Evidently, the angel Gabriel, St. Elizabeth, and St. Luke all saw Mary’s having been chosen to bear the Son of God as something that exalted and honoured her. The early Church Fathers were in agreement with the aforementioned witnesses about this. Nor did they see it merely in terms of honour passively received. St. Irenaeus wrote at great length in the third book of his anti-Gnostic magnus opus, Adverus Haereses, in defence of the necessity and importance of the Virgin Birth, against both the Gnostic heresies and post-Second Temple rabbinic Judaism, and he concludes the twenty-second chapter by depicting Mary as the New Eve, whose active, obedient, faith – “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, Be it unto me according to thy word” – by contrast with the disobedience, prompted by the doubt sowed by the serpent in the original Eve – loosed “the knot of Eve’s disobedience” so that “what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the virgin Mary set free through faith.”

To assert the contrary of all of this – to say that Mary’s being the Mother of God, in the sense of being the Mother of Jesus Christ, the Person Who is God, brings no honour to herself because she is not the source of His divinity – is to border on saying that her role in bringing Jesus into the world was entirely passive and mechanical in a way similar to how those who hold the “mechanical dictation” view of the inspiration of Scriptures are said to regard the human writers of the books of the Bible. As the late J. I. Packer described it in Fundamentalism and the Word of God (1958), the mechanical dictation view is one in which: 

The mental activity of the writers was simply suspended, apart from what was necessary for the mechanical transcription of the words, supernaturally introduced into their consciousness.

Of course, nobody comes to mind who actually self-identifies with this view. Liberals, who reject the verbal plenary inspiration of Scriptures, accuse conservatives of it, and conservatives, who believe the verbal plenary inspiration of Scriptures, accuse other conservatives of it, largely in the same way their political counterparts periodically throw those to their right under the bus by saying “these are the guys you are talking about, we aren’t like that” to appease the left, except that in the case of political conservatives it is real people they are treating this way, whereas mechanical dictationists are mostly non-existent. The closest anyone ever came to affirming mechanical dictation that I am aware of was John R. Rice in Our God Breathed Book The Bible (1969) and it is distorting his argument to say that he actually affirmed the doctrine. What he actually argued is that mechanical dictation is merely a liberal caricature of verbal plenary inspiration and that while it was not mechanical there is not much significant difference between saying God breathed out (inspiration) all (plenary) the words (verbal) of the Bible and that He dictated them. The problem in mechanical dictation, in other words, is with the mechanical, not with the dictation.

Lest you think that I have gotten sidetracked, I bring all of the above up for two reasons. First, to apply what I said about the chimerical mechanical dictationists in the analogy back to what I was saying about the conclusion to which White’s arguments seem to be leading, I doubt very much that White would be comfortable with affirming a “mechanical” view of Mary’s giving birth to the Son of God. If that is where the rejection of all uses of Theotokos and its English equivalent which honour and exalt Mary “in any way” – remember, those are White’s unfortunate words – leads, and it is, then, considering how everyone rejects “mechanical” when it comes to the authors of Scripture, perhaps the answer to those who exalt and honour Mary too much, to an extreme that borders on idolatry, is not to reject all exaltation and honour of her whatsoever.

My second reason, is to create a segue into a discussion of aspects of White’s book The King James Only Controversy: Can You Trust the Modern Translations? This book was first published in 1995, three years before the one discussed above and by the same publisher. It was written in response to the surge of popularity that King James Onlyism had experienced in fundamentalist circles following the publication of Gail A. Riplinger’s New Age Bible Versions in 1993. Given that it was written in such a context, it is understandable that the bulk of the book is directed towards the sort of arguments that Riplinger makes and those made by the late Peter S. Ruckman, but this could also be seen as the book’s greatest weakness, namely that it focuses on the easiest targets on the other side. Weight can be added to this charge of focusing on the easiest targets on the other side by the fact that White simply removes the nineteenth century High Anglican defenders of the Byzantine text from the category of King James Onlyism altogether:

 In my opinion many of the great scholars of the past who have defended the Byzantine textual tradition cannot honestly be included in the “KJV Only” camp (though they are often cited as if they were). Men like Dean Burgon, F. H. A. Scrivener, H. C. Hoskier –all of whom were true scholars of the first rank—were not KJV Only advocates.

 Technically, of course, this is true. These men were proponents of the Byzantine text type, rather than the specific printed version of this text type, the Textus Receptus, from which the Authorized Bible was translated, they were all well aware that even the phrase Textus Receptus covers several different editions by Erasmus, Stephanus, and the Elzevirs which include variations among themselves, and certainly did not hold that the Authorized Bible was beyond the capacity for improvement by revision. That having been said, their arguments against the Critical School of textual scholarship and against the first attempts to produce a revised English translation based upon those theories – Burgon’s arguments in particular, as first published in Quarterly Review, sank the Revised Version of 1881 as far as any hopes of its becoming the new standard translation – are much more difficult to answer than those of Riplinger, whose book essentially argues that all post-1611 translations are part of a conspiracy to usher in a New Age global religion to pave the way for the Antichrist, or those of Ruckman who wrote about “correcting the Greek’ with the English and basically specialized in heaping vitriolic abuse upon those with whom he disagreed.

The question of English translations of the Bible has multiple facets. There is the issue of the quality of translation qua translation, of course, which includes considerations such as what is the best approach to translating (formal or dynamic equivalency), the qualifications of the translators, (1) and, ultimately, the evaluation of the finished product in itself. White’s handling of the formal v dynamic equivalency matter - that all translations, in practice, employ a mixture of formal and dynamic equivalency, some leaning more to the one, others to the other, and that a balance between the two is desirable – I have no major disagreements with. The bulk of the heat in the controversy over Bible versions, however, has to do with the textual question.

The textual question is, of course, prior to the translation question. Before you can translate the Bible, you need to have settled what it is that you are translating. This has two sides to it, the canon question and the textual question. The former, which could play a major role in this controversy but oddly enough usually doesn’t, is the question of which books make up the Bible. (2) The second is the question of which words make up the books which make up the Bible. This is an issue because, obviously, until the invention of movable type in the fifteenth century, copies of the Bible had to be produced by hand. Handwritten copies are called manuscripts, and there are discrepancies between the manuscripts. Anyone looking to publish a printed edition of the Greek New Testament or to translate the New Testament into another language, needs some way of deciding between discrepancies among the manuscripts where they occur. This is the textual question. 

The bulk of manuscript discrepancies are non-controversial, being of the type where the mistake is obvious. Of the discrepancies which are not of this type, they occur frequently enough in patterns so that text-types among the 5000 plus – not all complete – manuscripts of the New Testament have been identified by scholars. There is the Alexandrian, the Byzantine and the Western, and the more disputed Caesarean. (3) The oldest manuscripts tend to display the Alexandrian text-type, the majority of manuscripts tend to display the Byzantine text-type. The Critical School of textual scholarship has favoured the Alexandrian over other text-types and while this School has evolved from a more simplistic equation of oldest with best to various theories of eclecticism which involve weighing readings on a reading by reading basis, placing a great deal of stress upon internal arguments to the point where the Critical School is now vulnerable to the charge of being as subjective as the higher criticism always was, critical editions of the New Testament, such as the United Bible Societies and the Nestle-Aland still tend to favour the Alexandrian text-type. The opposing school of textual scholarship, which goes back to John William Burgon, Dean of Chichester Cathedral, and F. H. A. Scrivener, Prebendary of Exeter, in the nineteenth century takes the position that the Byzantine is the superior text-type. 

White addresses the textual question in basically two ways in his book. First, he gives a broad overview of the textual question in the third chapter of his book. This is the same chapter in which he addresses the translation question, but the textual question occupies the bulk of the chapter. Second, when he goes through specific verses where the King James Onlyists say that the modern versions are corrupt, he considers textual as well as translation issues. Obviously, the position he takes in his general approach to the textual question informs his specific application of it. I will only concern myself with the former here. 

White writes that:

Most scholars today (in opposition to KJV Only advocates) would see the Alexandrian text-type as representing an earlier, and hence more accurate, form of text than the Byzantine text-type. Most believe the Byzantine represents a later period in which readings from other text-types were put together (“conflated”) into the reading in the Byzantine text. This is not to say the Byzantine does not contain some distinctive readings that are quite ancient, but that the readings that are unique to that text-type are generally secondary or later readings

 It is true that most scholars would see the Alexandrian text-type as more accurate than the Byzantine, although the reasoning used for this opinion had ceased to be representative of the Critical School long before 1995. That the Byzantine text-type is characterized by conflation has indeed been a position taken by the Critical School since the nineteenth century. Hort famously argued against the “Syrian text”, as he called it, on that basis. Dean Burgon, in the third of his Quarterly Review articles, later published together as the book The Revision Revised, went through each of the examples of conflation that Hort had offered and rebutted each one of them, as well as the conflation theory in general. The third sentence in the above quotation is a poorly re-worded version of an allegation first made in Hort’s Introduction to the New Testament in the Original Greek – poorly re-worded because the difference between “distinctive” and “unique to” is hardly clear, the former presumably meaning “specific”, and “unique to” meaning what Hort meant by “distinctive.” What it means is that readings which occur in the Byzantine text-type can be found in manuscripts older than the fourth century, but that such early evidence is lacking for readings in which the Byzantine text-type disagrees with all of the other text-types. This view of Hort’s was abandoned by the Critical School in the twentieth century, long before White wrote this book, when the discovery and collation of several papyri collections made it completely untenable. Ironically, a book which, based upon this papyrus evidence, effectively demolished Hort’s claim once and for all, Harry Sturz’ The Byzantine Text-Type and New Testament Textual Criticism, published in 1984, but which had been available to Sturz’ BIOLA students long before that, is included in White’s bibliography.

In other words, White was writing with an understanding of his own side of the argument which was hopelessly out-of-date. 

Interestingly, where White departs from the out-of-date version of the Critical School’s theory is when it comes to answering the question of why the majority of manuscripts display the Byzantine text. The answer that Hort gave, and this was pretty much the last element of Hort’s theory that the Critical School held on to in its transition to reasoned eclecticism in the same period in which post-modernism, not coincidentally, had taken hold of academe as a whole, was the theory of a fourth century official ecclesiastical recension. Basically, according to Hort, the Church authorities in the third or fourth century, took a look at the competing text-types, said enough-is-enough, put together an official text type, published it, and suppressed all the others. The only evidence Hort could point to for this was the majority status of the Byzantine text in the manuscripts from the late fourth century on. There is no record of such an event having occurred in Eusebius of Caesarea, Socrates Scholasticus, or any other ecclesiastical historian, early or late. (4) White, by contrast, argues that since Greek was superseded by Latin in most Christian countries after a few centuries, and that Greek continued to be spoken and written only in the territory under the control of Constantinople, this is the reason why the late Greek manuscripts display the Byzantine text. Indeed, when White concludes the chapter by discussing the doctrine of preservation and arguing that the King James Onlyists fail to demonstrate that God’s preservation of His Word had to have occurred in the way they said it did, and offering an alternative explanation of preservation, he argues that because the text of the New Testament had spread so quickly across the Roman Empire, the text was preserved against “the wholesale change of doctrine or theology by one particular man or group who had full control over the text at any one point in its history.” 

In reality, however, these arguments by White weigh against his own position and the theory that the Alexandrian text-type is older and superior. The rapid spread of the text of the New Testament throughout the Roman Empire is indeed an argument against the idea that any ecclesiastical power would have been able to alter the text and then impose its revised version upon the Church as a whole. This eliminates Hort’s theory of a “Lucianic recension” as explaining the predominance of the Byzantine text-type in later manuscripts. It is also an argument, however, against accepting a regional text-type as authoritative over a Catholic text-type. I will explain the significance of the word Catholic momentarily. First, I would note that of the Alexandrian and Byzantine text-types, the Alexandrian is the most obviously a regional text-type. It is contained in older manuscripts than other text-types, but since those manuscripts all come from the same ecclesiastical province in Egypt, this does not prove that their text-type is older than other text-types. Their evidence is early, but regional rather than representative. By contrast, while the Byzantine text-type does indeed derive its name from association with Byzantium, the Eastern Empire which retained the Greek language, the evidence which attests to it is from all over the Christian world – including Alexandria. 

Perhaps it would be helpful here to list Dean Burgon’s seven “Tests of Truth.” These are taken from his The Traditional Text of the Holy Gospels, the first part of his unfinished magnus opus, which was edited and published by his colleague Edward Miller, Rector of Bucknell, after his death. They are: 

1. Antiquity, or Primitiveness;
2. Consent of Witnesses, or Number; 
3. Variety of Evidence, or Catholicity;
4. Respectability of Witnesses, or Weight;
5. Continuity, or Unbroken Tradition;
6. Evidence of the Entire Passage, or Context; 
7. Internal Considerations, or Reasonableness. 

 Burgon maintained that the Byzantine text type, which he preferred to call the Traditional Text type, had the support of each of these Tests. Those within the Critical School who did not just ignore him, attempted to argue that all of these varieties of evidence simply reduce to the single matter of number. This is nonsense and even a casual reading of the arguments of Zane C. Hodges, Jakob van Bruggen, Wilbur Norman Pickering, and Maurice A. Robinson will attest to the fact that and even those subsequent advocates of the superiority of the Byzantine text who identified their position as Majority Text had more in their arsenal than just number. (5) 

Indeed, if any one of Burgon’s Tests stands out as summarizing the whole, it is the third and not the second – Catholicity. That this and not mere number is the real issue has been lost on most twentieth century advocates of the Byzantine text, largely because they are overwhelmingly members of those Protestant sects that fail to distinguish between what is Catholic and what is Roman and use the former almost as a curse word. Burgon’s tests obviously suggest, to anyone familiar with it, St. Vincent of Lérins’ definition of Catholicity. In his Commonitory, St. Vincent of Lérins, writing in the fifth century under the penname Peregrinus, wrote his famous canon: “Moreover, in the Catholic Church itself, all possible care must be taken, that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all.” Catholic does not, as both the fiercest champions and enemies of the papacy sometimes give every impression of thinking, mean “under the authority of the Patriarch of Rome.” It has reference to the Church, the organic and organized spiritual society, founded by Christ through His Apostles, considered as a whole, in all places and times. There are particular Churches, both in the sense of specific parishes, or in the sense of all the parishes in a region under a particular bishop, and there is the Catholic Church, which is composed of all the particular Churches. (6) That is truly Catholic which, within the Catholic Church so defined, is generally characteristic of the whole, since the Apostolic founding, in all regions and times, as opposed to what can only be identified with a specific Church, or of the whole Church but only for a specific time. 

That the importance of Catholicity as described above was inseparable from the authority of Scripture in the thinking of Dean Burgon can be demonstrated by a quotation from the introduction to his Inspiration and Interpretation, which is a collection of sermons that he gave at Oxford University in 1860 and 1861 in response to Essays and Reviews, a book that had appeared early in 1860 expressing various viewpoints taken from the rationalistic reinterpretation of theology and the Bible that was dubbed Modernism but which is usually just called liberalism today. In his introduction to the printed version of these sermons, Burgon wrote:

At the root of the whole mischief of these last days lies disbelief in the Bible as the Word of GOD. This is the fundamental error. Dangerous enough is it to the moral and intellectual nature of Man, when the authority of the Church is doubted: or rather, this is the first downward step. Not to believe that CHRIST bequeathed to His Church a Divine form of polity: not to believe that He set officers over His Kingdom, of which He is Himself the sole invisible head: not to believe that He invested His Apostles with authority to delegate to others the Commission He had Himself conveyed to them; and that, by virtue of such transmitted powers, the Church has authority in the Ministration of GOD’S Word and Sacraments: not to believe that He vouchsafed to His Church extraordinary guidance at the first, and that He vouchsafes to His Church effectual guidance still: - an utter want of faith in the Church and her Ordinances, is the first step, I repeat, in a soul’s downward progress. 

Next comes an impatience of Creeds. It has been falsely asserted by an Essayist and Reviewer that “Constantine inaugurated the principle of doctrinal limitation;” by which is meant that definitions of Faith date from the Council of Nicaea, AD 325: the truth being that the famous Ecumenical Council which was then held did but rule the consubstantiality of the SON with the FATHER: whereas elaborate Creeds exist of a far earlier date; as all are aware. Creeds indeed are coeval with Christianity itself. What need to add that when the decree of the first Ecumenical Council concerning the true faith in the adorable Trinity has been set at nought, all other decisions of the Church are disregarded also? 

That marvellous concrete fact, the Bible, - has next to be encountered. 

Rejection of the authority God has placed in His Church – which is not the same thing as rejecting the Patriarch of Rome’s claim to authority over the entirety of the Church – leads to an impatience with Creeds, which ultimately leads to an attack on the Bible itself. In the book just quoted, Burgon concerns himself with answering that attack in the form of the so-called “higher criticism”. Twenty-years later, in The Revision Revised, and for the remainder of his life, he would tackle the lower criticism, coming from the very same starting point. For to Burgon, an approach to the transmission of the text that was based entirely upon rationalistic presuppositions was no different than such an approach to the historical-grammatical origin of the Scriptures. 

The downward spiral Burgon described is, of course, well-illustrated in the history of the English Church. Edward Meyrick Goulburn in his marvelous two-volume biography of the Dean, describes his involvement in the fight for maintaining institutional orthodoxy at Oxford University against those who wished to secularize academe and put to mundane use endowments intended by those who had bestowed them for theological education. In the battle Goulburn describes, the orthodox side was considerably weakened by the fact that Convocation – the general synod of the Church of England – had been prorogued for a century since Parliament had usurped most of the royal prerogatives, imposed its democratic will upon the Church, and prevented the censure of Benjamin Hoadly, Bishop of Bangor, for his opposition to the sound Church principles best defended by second-generation non-juror William Law in his Three Letters (1717). The rejection of sound Tory royalist political principles, led to the sacrificing of sound orthodox Church principles, which weakened orthodoxy in the Church to the point that it could not mount an effective defence upon what had up to that point been the academic bastion of Anglican orthodoxy, Oxford University, and in the immediate aftermath Burgon had to fight these battles with rationalistic higher and lower criticism, for the very Bible itself. 

If the implications of the above for the Bible versions issue are not already clear, I will spell them out. The idea that the best witnesses to the text of the New Testament are a small minority of manuscripts from the second and third centuries, almost entirely from a single province of the Church, and that province being neither in the region to which almost all of the autographs were originally sent – that is Asia Minor, the Byzantine region – nor the centre of communication with the rest of the Church in the centuries in question – quite the opposite, it was one of the extremities – is impossible to square with any acceptance of Catholicity. The Byzantine text is the text that has been in constant use by the Greek Church since at least the fourth century – and any claim that it was not in use by the Greek Church earlier is an argument from silence which must overcome the improbability that in the gap between the time in which the Greek Church received most of the autographs and the period in which the Byzantine text demonstrably prevailed, the more accurate text departed for Egypt.

As Christianity spread, and Greek ceased to be the lingua franca of the Old World, understandably Churches in non-Greek speaking regions wanted versions of the Scriptures in their own language. Here, we see a common pattern emerging. Interestingly enough, White, who draws the obvious parallels between King James Onlyism and the attitude of various participants in the controversies surrounding the Latin Vulgate, both when St. Jerome translated it and when Erasmus went back to the Greek and produced a new Latin translation in the sixteenth century, overlooks this larger pattern. Which is that each Church made a number of attempts at translating the Bible, before finally producing a translation which became authoritative within that Church for centuries. St. Jerome’s Latin Vulgate, which replaced a number of earlier Latin translations, became the Bible for the Latin Church. The Peshitta has been the standard Bible for Syriac Churches – including, for the sake of this discussion, sects which have been accused of both Nestorianism and Monophysitism – since the fifth century. These are hardly the only examples, but they will suffice to illustrate the point of all this, which is that what we see occurring in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries is simply this – William Tyndale, following up on Wycliffe’s translation of the Latin Vulgate two centuries prior, produced an English translation of the Hebrew Old Testament and Greek New Testament, which underwent a number of revisions, both official (Great Bible, Bishop’s Bible) and otherwise (Geneva Bible), until finally a version was produced which was accepted as the authoritative English Bible, both by the Anglican Church and the separatist sects, for centuries. What is often dismissively called the King James Version, but more accurately called the Authorized Bible, is, in fact properly understood as the English Vulgate. 

The answer to the text question, therefore, that would seem to be most in accord with the Catholic tradition, is that within the particular Church that retained the original language of the Church, the Byzantine text has been the authoritative and canonical text for at least sixteen centuries, most likely longer, and that other particular Churches produce and settle upon authoritative and canonical versions in their own languages – Vulgates. The question of an authoritative text simply cannot be divorced from the historical and traditional usage of the Church. 

Does everything that I have just pointed out constitute a case for or against the retention of this authoritative status for the Authorized Bible in English? 

How one answers that question logically ought to indicate how one views Protestantism. Once again, there are Protestants who see Protestantism as opposition to Catholicism rather than errors that are distinctly Roman. Then there are Protestants who affirm Catholicism and see their Protestantism as opposition to errors that are merely Roman. The separatist sects by nature tend to fall into the first category. The Anglican and Lutheran traditions fall in the second category. The Reformed tradition is a sort of middle ground. In its confessions it is officially in the second category with the Anglicans and Lutherans, but on several issues, the Reformed tend to align with the separatist sects in opposition to something that is Catholic rather than Roman. Logically, the Anglicans, Lutherans, and sometimes Reformed, ought to be the one’s supporting the retention of the Authorized Bible, and the separatist sects, its vehement opponents. Ironically, of course, those who advocate for retaining the Authorized Bible in the status it held from the seventeenth until the early twentieth century, are largely to be found in the separatist sects. 

If it is not obvious already, I take the Anglican position of a Protestantism that affirms what is Catholic but rejects errors that are distinctly Roman. I also support the retention of the Authorized Bible, albeit not in a way that would likely appeal to Riplinger and Ruckman, and would maintain that while theoretically it is possible to produce an improved English translation, in practice, to replace the Authorized Bible would require another English Bible that could truly be to the English-speaking world and the English-speaking Church, what the Authorized Bible has been, the English Vulgate. None of the newer translations come even remotely close to qualifying. 

Both of the viewpoints of James R. White that have been discussed above are most consistent with the other form of Protestantism. This is obviously the case with regards to his position on Mary as the Mother of God. If it is less obvious with regards to his position on Bible translations this is only because of the ironic quirk that from the middle of the twentieth century on, most opponents of modern translations have wed their advocacy of the Authorized Bible to a vehement anti-Catholicism. His book about King James Onlyism reads like an expression of one side in a debate which, although theoretically ought to be of importance to all English speaking Protestants, is in reality largely an in-house debate between a particular, rather narrow, sub-category of Protestant. (7) His position in the debate is the more logically consistent with that kind of Protestantism’s rejection of Catholicism. Or rather, his rejection of authoritative status for the English Vulgate and acceptance of the arguments of the school of textual scholars that would identify the text of second and third century Egyptian manuscripts as being most accurate despite not having been in use in the Church for most of its history, is most consistent with the type of Protestantism that rejects Catholicism rather than Romanism, and accordingly divorces the authority of text and canon, from actual historical and traditional usage within the Catholic Church and the particular Churches within it.

The real issue at the heart of all of this is whether one has to reject what is truly Catholic in order to be Protestant.

I say that the answer is no. 

(1) Anyone who seriously tried to argue that twentieth century translators were more qualified than Bishop Lancelot Andrewes and the others who worked on the Authorized Version would have to base his case entirely upon advancements in the body of knowledge of Greek, etc., since 1611. This does not work as well for the translation issue as it does for the textual issue. Indeed, whatever could be made of such a case would be completely overwhelmed by the obvious fact that the kind of education the translators of 1611 received – Latin and Greek as the starting point in primary education and not electives to be taken after high school – has been in steady decline in precisely the century that produced most of the new translations. One does not need the arguments of G. A. Riplinger and Peter Ruckman to argue against any claim to modern version superiority on these grounds, those of Victor Davis Hanson (Who Killed Homer, 1998), E. Christian Kopff, (The Devil Knows Latin, 1999), and Bruce S. Thornton (The Bonfire of the Humanities, 2001) will do nicely. 

(2) There is a canon question, because the Greek Septuagint and translations of the same, which was, with certain notable exceptions, accepted as the Christian Old Testament from the first century until the Reformation, contains more books – or in the case of Esther and Daniel, longer books, than the Masoretic. The decision to go by the Jewish canon rather than the Septuagint is the weakest element in the Protestant Reformation’s affirmation of Scriptural authority. The charge that the Roman Communion only added the “Apocrypha” to the canon in the Council of Trent is difficult to sustain when we consider the ecclesiastical bodies that broke with Rome prior to the Reformation. The Septuagint is the canonical Old Testament of the Eastern Orthodox Communion, which anathametized Rome in 1054 AD. Some of the Levantine Churches that rejected the Council of Chalcedon include books that the Eastern Orthodox do not regard as canonical. The best argument for limiting the Old Testament canon to the Masoretic books was made by Bishop John Cosin in his A Scholastical History of the Canon of the Holy Scripture, first published in 1657. Cosin goes through the Patristic writings, century by century, arguing that definite lists of the canonical Old Testament books cannot be shown to indisputably include the non-Masoretic Septuagintal books. The early Protestant position, still affirmed in the Articles of Religion, was to include the Septuagintal books in printed copies of the Bible and in liturgical readings, but to establish doctrine only by the undisputed books (Dr. Luther took the same position with regards to the New Testament antilegomena). This was reflected in the inclusion of these books in a middle section between the Testaments in Luther’s German Bible and the first editions of the Authorized Version. It is a sounder approach than the later Protestant position of absolutely removing them from the Bible altogether.

(3) F. J. A. Hort, not the founder of the Critical School, as many King James Onlyists erroneously seem to think – it was established in Germany a generation prior to him – but undoubtedly its predominant theorist in the 1880s, argued that there was a “Neutral” text-type represented especially by Codex B (Vaticanus) but this was quickly abandoned by the Critical School and said Codex has been recognized as Alexandrian since.

(4) Hort attributed his hypothetical recension to Lucian of Antioch, (d. 312 AD), entirely on the basis of references in St. Jerome which, at the most, suggest that he had put out an edition of the Septuagint. 

(5) White’s book does not address the arguments of these men, nor is it intended to. They come up – except van Bruggen who does not even appear in the bibliography - only in the first two footnotes of the first chapter, for the purpose of stating that they exist and that while White does not agree with their position, theirs is a respectable view and not the one that he is attacking in his book. 

 (6) The Westminster Confession of Faith in its twenty-fifth chapter gets this both wrong and right. It starts out by asserting that “The catholic or universal Church, which is invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ the Head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fulness of Him that filth all in all.” What it is talking about here, however, is not the Catholic Church as that expression had been used in historic theology since at least the second century, most likely the first, nor even the Church sans Catholic as the term is used in Scriptures, but what the New Testament sometimes calls “the elect” or, what Jesus in a well-known parable, calls the “wheat”, as distinct from the tares. The constant metaphor in Pauline literature for the Church is “the body” and this metaphor does not work for something which is “invisible” like the total number of the elect. The Westminster divines were quite in error to apply the Scriptural language depicting the Church to the invisible number of the elect. Obviously, it would be going too far in the other direction to separate the two concepts entirely, but they should not be identified. The Church in the New Testament is a visible, organized, society, sometimes particular, like the Church in Rome or the Church in Galatia, sometimes Catholic even though that term is not used. The Church in the Catholic or General sense, is all the particular Churches considered together. Sections 2-6 of the chapter talk about the Churches particular, and the Church Catholic, in this orthodox sense, but it would have been better to reword the first section and put it into a separate chapter about the elect. Of course, that the regicidal antecedents of the Jacobins and Bolsheviks, would have gotten such a basic element of theology wrong, ought to come as no surprise. 

(7) This was also the observation of the late Lutheran (Missouri Synod) textual scholar Theodore P. Letis in the caustic review of White’s book that he included in his The Ecclesiastical Text: Text Criticism, Biblical Authority, and the Popular Mind, originally published by Letis’ Institute for Renaissance and Reformation Biblical Studies in 1997, republished by Just and Sinner in 2018. Letis began by saying “James White and Gail Riplinger are both cut from the same bolt of cloth.” Letis’ book is, in my opinion, the single most important contribution to the articulation of the case for the Catholic text since Burgon. The essays at the beginning of the book make the case that what we consider to be the mainstream “conservative evangelical” or even “fundamentalist” view of Scripture today, is a departure from confessional Protestantism that can be traced to B. B. Warfield. Faced with the same sort of higher critical assault on Scripture that Burgon addressed in Inspiration and Interpretation, Letis maintains, Warfield responded by embracing the Critical School of textual scholarship in the hopes of warding off the higher criticism with the lower criticism. Therefore, he shifted the locus of authority from the apographa – the Greek text as continuously in use in the Greek Church – to the autographa – the original manuscripts which no longer exist, and while he exalted the level of authority attached to the latter from the traditional infallibility to the newly coined inerrancy, this only applied to manuscripts which don’t exist, and which therefore are untouchable by the higher critics. Letis argues that this ploy failed, and led directly to the takeover of Warfield’s own seminary, Princeton, by the higher criticism. Lower criticism, he argues, is the door to higher criticism, or, as he puts it in a number of places, “the quest for the historical text” leads to “the quest for the historical Jesus.” The Protestant scholastics and dogmaticians – Anglican, Lutheran, and Reformed – who had formulated these Churches response to the Council of Trent, Letis maintains, made all vernacular translations subject to the original Greek, but by the infallible original Greek, meant the Greek text available to the Church, not non-extent originals. What is most interesting about Letis’ arguments is that he addresses the very same weakness in the standard conservative evangelical/fundamentalist response to Modernism that Peter Ruckman made a career out of attacking, without resorting to what is in effect the mirror image of this weakness. What the classical Protestants properly attributed to the canonical Greek text, the Greek text in ecclesiastical use in the extant autographs, the Warfieldians attributed to documents that are not available, and Ruckman attributed to the English translation, and Warfieldian and Ruckmanite alike intensified the language with which this attributed authority was expressed. .

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Calvinism, the Definition of Chalcedon, and the Mother of God


One of the most common accusations hurled against the Roman Communion by Protestants is that of Mariolatry. This term, which is formed by combining the name of Our Lord’s Mother and the word idolatry, refers to the act of awarding Mary the type of honour that belongs only to God Himself and therefore making an idol out of her. To hear some Protestants talk about this, one would think that this was a more important issue in the Reformation than the authority of Scriptures, the gracious nature of salvation, and the Pauline doctrine of justification.

Mariolatry must not be confused with Mariology. The latter term is the branch of theology into which doctrines pertaining to the Virgin Mary fall. It is not a pejorative term, whereas Mariolatry is. Technically, the one term has to do with practice and the other with doctrine. Mariolatry is an error of practice, whereas all doctrine about Mary, whether it is true doctrine or false doctrine, belongs to the theological category of Mariology.

This distinction tends to get blurred by the more zealous of the Protestant opponents of Mariolatry. Several doctrines of the Roman Communion – the Immaculate Conception, perpetual virginity, and bodily assumption, for example – are treated as examples of Mariolatry. In fact, however, the most that a careful theologian who considers such doctrines to be in error ought to say about these is that they are Mariological errors held as official dogma by a Communion which in the same theologian’s judgement also practices Mariolatry. This does not preclude, of course, a discussion of the relationship between Mariological error and Mariolatry, and indeed, it would be absurd to regard both as existing in the same Communion without there being any relationship between the two.

In the matter of the titles bestowed upon Mary, doctrine and practice are blended to the point where no absolute distinction is possible. Each of these asserts something about Mary, which is doctrinal, and honours her in liturgical practice. When Protestants object to these, therefore, it is both on the grounds that the title in question ascribes too much honour and therefore crosses the line into Mariolatry and on the grounds that it asserts something that is doctrinally in error. There are many Protestants that would include even the oldest of such titles in making these accusations. In doing so, however, they display an extreme sloppiness in their own theology.

There is a huge divide between Protestants with regards to this title. It is important to note at this point a related division among Protestants. Some Protestants affirm that which is Catholic – the beliefs and practices of the Creeds, Fathers, and Councils of the early Church, especially the first five centuries – and reject only what they would identify as errors specific to the Roman Communion – doctrines such as transubstantiation and practices such as clerical celibacy which date from a much later period in Church history and in connection with the Patriarch of Rome’s claims to supremacy over the entire Church. Other Protestants do not make this distinction and identify that which they reject and are in “protest” against as Catholic. This division largely coincides with the distinction between the Churches of the Magisterial Reformation – Anglican, Lutheran and Reformed - and the separatist sects. The Churches of the Magisterial Reformation are those which follow the early continental and English Reformers in affirming that which is Catholic, while rejecting Roman errors, while the separatist sects are those which declare their opposition to the Catholic tradition. 

The Protestants who would treat the oldest title awarded to Mary – Θεοτόκος (Theotokos), which would most literally translate as “God-bearer” but is generally rendered in English as “Mother of God” – as an example of Romish Mariolatry, to a large degree overlap with the second group of Protestants in the previous paragraph – the separatist sectarians who protest the Catholic tradition and not merely Roman error. Here, however, one of the three branches of the Magisterial Reformation breaks ranks. John Calvin, in at least one place rejected this title as appropriate to Mary, and, while a case can be made that he was not consistent on the matter, (1) the Reformed tradition has tended to align with the separatist sectarians on this. Interestingly, the first Reformed theologian Ulrich Zwingli affirmed the title, as did Heinrich Bullinger. This is a rare example of a case where Zwingli was in accord with Luther and the English Reformers and Calvin moved the Reformed tradition further away from them rather than closer to them.

The Lutherans have long accused the Calvinists of having revived the heresy of Nestorianism. The Calvinists, of course, deny the accusation. I demonstrated a few years ago how the arguments of the late R. C. Sproul against the lyrics to a well-known hymn of Charles Wesley reduce to Nestorianism, which, coming from such an eminent theologian within that tradition would seem to indicate a major blind spot here. The focus of the Lutheran accusation was on the Calvinist understanding of the Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. I will defer an explanation of why until later in this essay. The Calvinist response was to accuse the Lutherans of Monophysitism, which is the heresy that errs in the opposite direction of Nestorianism.

It is the Lutheran charge against Calvinism that has substance to it, especially when we take into consideration Calvin’s objections to Mary being called the Mother of God. For this is precisely the controversy that brought the anathema of the Council of Ephesus of 431 AD down upon Nestorius’ head. For in orthodox theology, the rejection of the title Theotokos for Mary is not merely a Mariological error, but a Christological heresy.

Nestorius, who was born in Germanicia in the Roman Province of Syria, and trained as a priest in Antioch under Theodore the Interpreter, was consecrated Patriarch of Constantinople on April 10th, 428 AD. He was only a little over forty years old at the time, but his term of office in this See would prove very short, lasting three years. For the controversy that bears his name broke out almost immediately. His principal opponent and accuser was Cyril, Patriarch of Alexandria. Note that Constantinople and Alexandria were two of the five highest episcopal Sees of the early Church – the other three were Rome, Jerusalem, and Antioch.

The controversy began over Nestorius’ refusal to use the title Theotokos for Mary. He was not the only one to reject the title, nor was he the most vehement opponent of it – he, in fact, proposed a sort of compromise which was rejected by both sides. His intentions were good – he wished to protect the deity of Jesus Christ, which had come under attack by the Arian heresy of the previous century. All heresy, however, begins as a misguided excessive zeal for one truth that leads one to reject another. Nestorius believed that to call Mary the Mother of God was to imply that the divinity of Jesus was a lesser sort of divinity that had a beginning in time, which was what Arius had taught. Cyril, however, saw that Nestorius’ arguments undermined the unity of Christ’s Person.

In the first two Ecumenical Councils of the fourth century, The First Council of Nicaea (325 AD) and the First Council of Constantinople (381 AD), which had been convened to address the Arian and Sabellian heresies, as well as deal with several non-doctrinal issues, the doctrine of the Trinity had been at stake – that God is One in His Eternal Being, but Three in Person, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Now in the fifth century, the issue was the Person of Jesus Christ – that He was One in Person, but Two in Nature, both fully God and fully human. This is the truth known as the hypostatic union, from the Greek word ὑπόστασις (hypostasis) which figured in the controversy and by this point in time had come to mean what we mean by “Person” when we say in English that Jesus Christ is One in Person. (2)

If it is not yet clear why Cyril saw Nestorius’ objection to this term as a violation of the hypostatic union, note that it is because Nestorius’ doctrine would make Mary the Mother, not of Jesus Christ the Person, but of one of His natures. Whatever can be truthfully postulated about Jesus Christ in one of His two natures, can be postulated about Jesus Christ in His whole Person. Jesus Christ, in His divine nature, is fully God, therefore Jesus Christ, the One Person, is fully God. Jesus Christ, in His human nature, is the Son of Mary, therefore Jesus Christ, the One Person, is the Son of Mary. Consequently, Mary is the Mother of God, not in the absurd sense of being the source of His divine nature, which nobody has ever asserted, but in the sense that Mary is the Mother of the Person, Jesus Christ, Who is God.

Cyril of Alexandria issued Twelve Anathemas against Nestorius. Nestorius in turn condemned Cyril as a heretic. Cyril was backed by Celestine I, Patriarch of Rome, who, although his See did not yet claim supremacy over the entire Church, was recognized as primus inter pares among the five Patriarchs. Nestorius had, at first, the support of Emperor Theodosius II, as well as the Syrian Church headed by John I of Antioch and the Persian Church. At Nestorius’ request Emperor Theodosius called an Ecumenical Council to convene at Ephesus on Whitsunday in 431 AD. The Council, however, took Cyril’s position, anathematized Nestorius and his teachings, deposed Nestorius, and affirmed Mary as Theotokos. The Syrian delegates who arrived late, objected to this having been done before their arrival, declared the proceedings invalid and held a counter-Council which condemned Cyril, but ultimately Emperor Theodosius withdrew his support of Nestorius and confirmed the Council of Ephesus, John of Antioch accepted the judgement, and Nestorius himself retired to a monastery. Only the Persian Church continued to reject the Council of Ephesus and broke away from the rest of the Church in schism.

Twenty years after the Council of Ephesus, and the year after Nestorius died, the fourth Ecumenical Council convened at Chalcedon. It was this Council which produced the clearest positive affirmation of the orthodox doctrine of the hypostatic union in its famous Definition:

We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach people to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable soul and body; consubstantial with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the Manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ; as the prophets from the beginning have declared concerning Him, and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us. 

 Note the affirmation of Theotokos in the Definition. This reaffirmed the condemnation of Nestorianism, although the purpose of the Council of Chalcedon was to address the opposite heresy which had sprung up in the meantime. Eutyches, a priest from Constantinople who had supported Cyril in condemning Nestorius at Ephesus, took his opposition to Nestorianism to the extreme of asserting that Jesus’ full deity and humanity were blended into a single nature. He claimed Cyril’s support for this doctrine, although he only did so after Cyril’s death in 444 AD, and passages in Cyril’s writings which would seem to assert it can possibly be explained by a difference in the usage of terminology. At any rate, the Council of Chalcedon condemned the Eutychian doctrine as the heresy of Monophysitism which deviates from the orthodox doctrine of the hypostatic union in the opposite direction to that of Nestorianism. The latter divides the Person, the former confuses the substance, to use the terminology of the Athanasian Creed. Just as the Persian Church had rejected the Council of Ephesus and broke communion with the rest of the Church, so a number of Middle Eastern Churches – the Coptic, Armenian, Syrian, Ethiopian, Indian and Eritrean (3) – broke from the rest of the Church in rejection of the Council of Chalcedon. While the rest of the Church accused them of Monophysitism, they themselves insisted that they were rejecting the Council of Chalcedon, not supporting Eutyches.

Calvinists – well, the Reformed Church at any rate, perhaps not the Calvinists in the separatist sects – officially affirm the first four General Councils as being valid and orthodox, like the Lutherans and Anglicans. Indeed, the first Christian organization to pop to mind which names itself after Chalcedon is the Chalcedon Foundation, a very Calvinist organization, in the tradition of Cornelius Van Til, founded by the late Rousas J. Rushdoony, with which a number of prominent, very Calvinist theologians have been affiliated over the years. Yet there is a strong tendency among Calvinists to follow Calvin in denying to Mary the very title which Nestorius denied her and which the Council of Ephesus – and the Definition of Chalcedon – affirmed. Some try to get around this by saying that the Greek term Theotokos affirmed by the Council of Ephesus is inaccurately translated by “Mother of God” and the equivalent translations in other languages but this is disingenuous. Theotokos can be translated “God-bearer”, but so can “Theophorus.” Using the same English translation conceals a difference in meaning in the Greek. The word combined with Theos (God) in Theophorus is the same word that combines with Christ to make the name Christopher, which comes from St. Christopher who, according to the story connected to his name, bore Christ in the sense of carrying Him over a river. (4) The word combined with Theos in Theotokos refers to bearing in the sense of child-birth. Indeed, Liddell and Scott give as their first definition of this word “childbirth, parturition, of women”, with the subdefinition “the time of parturition” and as their second definition “offspring, of men and animals.” In other words the “bearer” in the “God-bearer” translation of Theotokos can only be “bearer” in the sense of “mother.”

Remember that this was not the only – or even the primary - basis of the charge of Nestorianism that the Lutherans had levelled against the Calvinists as far back as the sixteenth century. Indeed, they might not have been aware of Calvin’s words on the subject as they come from one of his private letters and not from the Institutes or his other written-for-publication works. Where Jakob Andrea, Martin Chemnitz and the other Lutheran scholastic theologians saw Nestorianism in Calvinism was in its view of the Eucharist.

 Dr. Luther had – rightly – rejected the Roman doctrine of transubstantiation in which the bread and wine start out as bread and wine, but at moment of consecration the substance of bread and wine is replaced by that of the Body and Blood of Christ, leaving only the appearance of bread and wine. The Church Fathers had not spoken of transubstantiation, only of the Real Presence of Christ in the Sacrament, and transubstantiation amounted instead to the “Real Absence” of the bread and wine. Luther maintained that when Christ said “this is My Body” and “this is My Blood”, these words were to be taken literally on faith, but that this did not mean that the bread and wine disappeared and were replaced by the Body and Blood. The faithful, receiving the Sacrament in faith, receive both the bread and wine which remain, and the Body and Blood which are joined to them. Some call this consubstantiation although Lutherans do not always accept this term for their teaching.

Other Protestants have taken different views. There is the memorialist view, which has only ever been officially held by separatist sects, although it has been attributed to the first Reformed theologian Ulrich Zwingli, in which the bread and wine are mere symbols, and there is no Real Presence except in the sense intended by verses like “where two or three are gathered together in My name there am I” and “behold I am with you always even unto the end of the age.” The Calvinist doctrine rejects memorialism – although many Calvinists appear to be unaware of this fact – and teaches that there is a Real Presence in the Eucharist, and that the Sacramental ritual is instrumental to the believer receiving it, but that it is entirely a spiritual presence. 

The Lutheran charge that the Calvinist view amounts to Nestorianism follows this logic – if there is a Real Presence of Christ in the Sacrament and it is only a spiritual Presence then only one of His natures is present which divides the Person of Christ.

Whether one accepts the conclusion or not, the logic is far more solid than that of the reverse charge levelled against the Lutherans by the Calvinists, and taken together with the Calvinist rejection of the very Marian title which featured into the original Nestorian controversy, and R. C. Sproul’s clearly Nestorian objection to Wesley’s “And Can It Be?” there are significant grounds for thinking that the Calvinist tradition, at the very least, has long flirted with the Nestorian heresy.

 I will note, obiter dictum, that the Anglican view of the Real Presence stated in the Anglican Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, while obviously closer to the Calvinist than any of the other Protestant positions in its use of the words “heavenly” and “spiritual”, is more carefully worded, applying these words specifically to the “manner” in which “the body of Christ is given, taken and eaten in the Supper” rather than to the Presence directly. Frankly, I doubt that Calvin intended to go further than this, but he and the tradition which has followed him have unfortunately connected it with arguments about how Christ’s Body cannot be present on earth because it is at the right hand of the Father in Heaven, which lends much ammunition to the charge of Nestorianism against this view, and which the officially stated Anglican position wisely avoids. As worded, Article XXVIII, by saying that “The body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten in the Supper, only after an heavenly and spiritual manner” does not suggest “only part of Jesus is present” but merely that He is present in a spiritual and heavenly way.

The persistent Calvinist objection to the Marian title of Theotokos, at least in translation, is, of course, connected to their strong stance against Mariolatry. It is laudable, of course, to oppose any ascription of the honour due only to God to a created being, but it is also possible to take this too far. Remember, Nestorius’ opposition to Arius was laudable, as was Eutyches opposition to Nestorius, but both turned to heresy when this blinded them to other truths. In this case, the Calvinist determination not to elevate Mary so far as to give her honour that is inappropriate for a created being has led to their denying her any special honour at all, and in the process coming close to embracing an ancient Christological heresy. There are verses in the Bible they can pull out of context to seemingly support them in this – Matthew 25:46-50 and its parallels in the other Synoptics and the fourth verse of the second chapter of John – are the obvious examples, but their practice conflicts completely with the twelfth chapter of Revelation, at least going by the interpretation which most immediately suggests itself, and the whole tone of the words addressed to Mary by Gabriel and Elizabeth in the first chapter of Luke (whatever one might think of the Sancte Maria, the Ave Maria merely joins Gabriel’s initial greeting to the first sentence in Elizabeth’s salutation), or, for that matter, the second part of the third verse in the Magnificat from the same chapter. (5) 

There is nothing wrong with Protestantism in the best sense of the word, but in this case the Calvinists, like the Player Queen in Shakespeare’s Hamlet as described by Queen Gertrude, doth protest too much, methinks.

 (1) Calvin’s Commentary on the Annunciation passage in St. Luke’s Gospel, for example, would seem to implicitly affirm Mary as Theotokos. 

 (2) This is the technical theological meaning ascribed to the term during the Christological debates of the fifth century. With most technical terms of Trinitarian and Christological theory, the centuries prior to the ones in which the Church issues conciliar statements anathematizing heresies and defining orthodoxy, saw much discussion and debate over what the precise word to best express the meaning of this or that was, and several of these changed meaning. This is something that needs to be kept in mind when comparing the official statements of the Ecumenical Councils to the writings of the Ante-Nicene Fathers. 

 (3) These are known collectively as the Oriential Orthodox Churches, a term which can be confusing as it is almost identical to the Eastern Orthodox Churches, which are Chalcedonian and are the Churches of the Greek tradition which followed the Patriarch of Constantinople in breaking from the Churches of the Latin tradition which followed the Patriarch of Rome in 1054 AD.

 (4) For anyone interested in these things, the word meaning bring, bear, or carry here, is identical in Greek and Latin, φέρω and fero. 

(5) Without implying that he agrees with everything I have written in this essay, for a sounder Protestant approach to Mariology I refer you to Mary for Evangelicals: Toward an Understanding of the Mother of Our Lord by Anglican priest Tim Perry published by Inter-Varsity in 2006. Rev. Dr. Perry was a professor at what is now Providence University College when I studied there in the 1990s, although I did not take any classes from him, he having joined the faculty towards the end of my time there.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

The Book of Revelation and the Present Situation


If someone were to take a poll of orthodox theological historians about which book of the Holy Bible, Old and New Testament, we ought to approach with the greatest amount of humility and the least amount of dogmaticism with regards to its interpretation, I suspect that the Book of Revelation would win hands down. It might even be a unanimous vote. 

The Apocalypse – Greek for “revelation” – of St. John is considered by most Biblical scholars to have been the last book of the New Testament to have been written. It was certainly the last book to be received into the canon by the Church. Its author identifies himself as “John” and traditionally he is believed to have been the St. John who was one of Christ’s Twelve Apostles and also to have been the author of the fourth Gospel and the three Johannine epistles. I have no quarrel with the traditional view and find the so-called “higher critical” arguments against the traditional ascription of authorship for these, or any other of the canonical Scriptures for that matter, to be utterly unconvincing. In the ninth verse of the first chapter he mentions that he was in exile for his faith on the isle of Patmos. The persecution that put him there is usually believed to have been that which occurred in the reign of the Emperor Domitian in the last decade of the first century, although some have argued that it was that which occurred in the reign of Nero. If the latter are correct, this would place the composition of the book around the same time as that of the book of Acts.

The book begins with St. John having a vision in which Jesus Christ appears to him in His heavenly glory and gives him seven messages to be sent to the Churches in Asia – Asia Minor, that is, which is now Turkey – to whom St. John also addresses the book as a whole. These occupy the second and third chapters, after which he has a vision in which a door opens in heaven and an angelic voice summons him up to the throne of God. There he has an extended vision of events filled with vivid imagery taken from the various prophetic books of the Old Testament. These begin with Jesus Christ, depicted as both the “Lion of the tribe of Judah” and the “Lamb that was slain”, taking the scroll that is in the hand of God, being the Only One worthy of doing so, and opening the seven seals one at a time. After this seven angels blow their trumpets. The final trumpet introduces the next seven angels who have the seven bowls of the wrath of God, but before they are poured out upon the earth there is an interlude in which a drama plays out involving a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and crowned with twelve stars, the Son to Whom she gives birth, the seven-headed, ten-horned, red dragon who is “the devil and Satan” and who seeks to devour the Child and wages war against St. Michael and the angels in heaven before being cast out, a beast which rises out of the sea having the same number of heads and horns as the devil and who receives great power and authority from the devil, and a second beast who arises out of the earth with horns like a lamb but who speaks like a dragon, and who makes a great idol of the first beast, makes the whole world worship it, and forces them to bear the mark of the beast. The bowls of wrath are then poured out upon the world, the harlot “Babylon” who rides the beast is destroyed, the armies of the world gather to fight at Armageddon, at which Jesus Christ, leading the armies of heaven, returns to the earth, casts the beast and the false prophet (the second beast) into the Lake of Fire and binds the devil for a thousand years. After the thousand years the devil is released, wages one last war against God and His saints, is judged and cast into the Lake of Fire, after which the Final Judgement of the dead takes place before Christ’s Great White Throne and the lost are cast into the Lake of Fire. This all culminates in a vision of the new heavens, the new earth, and the New Jerusalem, the heavenly city which descends to the earth to be the eternal home of the redeemed.

Apart from the thousand years of the twentieth chapter, which is the subject of debate between the amillennialists (that it is figurative of the period between Christ’s two comings), the premillennialists (that it depicts a future Golden Age to be inaugurated by the Second Coming) and the postmillennialists (that it depicts a future Golden Age which will culminate in the Second Coming), the final chapters of Revelation largely pertain to the elements of eschatology about the substance of which, albeit not necessarily the details, there has been a general consensus among orthodox and traditional Christians – the Second Coming itself, and the Quattuor Novissima (Four Last Things – Death, Judgment, Heaven, Hell).

 It is the part between the letters to the Churches in the second and third chapters and the Second Coming in the nineteenth that causes most of the trouble. Do the colourful images in these chapters depict people and events from the first century when the book was being written as the Preterists say? (1) Are they a picture of the whole of human history between the First and Second Comings as the Historicists say? Or do they refer to events and persons yet to come in the period immediately prior to the Second Coming as the Futurists say? Is it, perhaps, a combination of all three options? (2)

The reason that I suspect the Book of Revelation would win our hypothetical poll is that throughout the Church’s history there has been no lack of individuals who have both held to the Futurist interpretation of the book and read the people and events of their own time into it, saying that those people and events are the final fulfilment of those prophecies. This has frequently been accompanied by date-setting for the Second Coming – despite the clear warnings against this in the Olivet Discourse – even if it is of the evasive sort that tries to get around said warnings by saying “Jesus said we don’t know the day or the hour, but He said nothing about the week, month, year, decade etc.” This has given the Futurist interpretation a bad name among many theologians, although the majority of Futurists have not been this irresponsible.

Having said all that, I do not wish to make the case for any particular interpretation of Revelation here, but to make the point that the eerie correlation between what is going on at present and the thirteenth chapter of Revelation ought to be sounding warning bells regardless of how we interpret Revelation.

To illustrate my point, allow me to note that there are people out there who deny the existence of evil spirits. Such people may be rationalist, materialist, unbelievers, or they may be the kind of “Christian” who likes to cherry-pick everything that is positive from the Christian worldview and omit the negative. Either way, how would such people regard a Satanic temple or any other religion dedicated to the worship of evil spirits?

The answer is that they are not likely to regard such cults significantly differently from those of us who affirm the existence of evil spirits. To join such a cult is to make the conscious choice to side with evil. This ought to be a problem even for people who deny the existence of spiritual entities personifying that evil. 

Half a year ago, almost the whole of the world was shut down in order to “flatten the curve” of the spread of COVID-19, an experimental new strategy that in many ways resembled past Communist revolutions albeit on a global scale. Everyone was placed under a sort of house arrest, with day passes allowed for business arbitrarily deemed to be “essential.” The basic freedoms that we have long regarded as fundamental to our civil order in the Commonwealth Realms and most other Western countries such as the American republic were clearly classified by the “powers that be” who dictated this whole “lockdown” as “non-essential.” A glance at what was considered to be “essential” and “non-essential” tells us what we need to know about the spirit moving those powers. Businesses that produced and sold the goods necessary for maintaining our physical lives were declared to be essential, but libraries, art museums, symphony orchestras and everything that elevated those lives from that mere physical level were regarded as non-essential. Abortuaries, marijuana shops, and plenty of other businesses that promote vice and self-destructive behaviour were labelled essential, but Churches where the Word of life is proclaimed and the Sacrament of life distributed were at the top of the non-essential list. Family gatherings, real life social interaction, community, and basically everything traditionally regarded as good, were treated as crimes and outlawed. When the restrictions began to be eased, Churches were left closed longer than almost anything else. Clearly, the spirit moving the powers behind the lockdown is that which the Book of Revelation describes as a red dragon with seven heads and ten horns.

We are now several phases into the re-opening in most places. There has now arisen, however, a demand for a new restriction. Our governments are being pressured to make it mandatory for people to wear masks over their lower faces in public places. Many of the businesses that remained open during the lockdown required their employees to wear masks, especially if they were involved in directly serving customers. Now some of these same businesses, even in the absence of public orders, are requiring their customers to wear masks. Last week, for example, Walmart made mask-wearing mandatory at all of their Canadian locations. The World Health Organization, which pooh-poohed the efficacy of masks at the beginning of the pandemic, has thrown its weight behind mask-wearing, and the public health officials such as Dr. Theresa Tam in Canada and Dr. Anthony Fauci in the United States who seem incapable of thinking independently of the WHO, have likewise done an about-face on the matter. Celebrities have been enlisted as part of a massive media campaign to shame people into wearing masks. If those who would make masks mandatory get their way, nobody will be able to buy or sell unless he wears a mask. The similarity between this and Revelation thirteen, noting especially verses sixteen to seventeen, is remarkable, even if the present situation involves a mask and that in the book involves a mark. Regardless of whether one reads Revelation thirteen as being about the first century Roman Empire (Preterist) or about the empire of the Antichrist who will rule just prior to the Second Coming (Futurist) this is cause for alarm. For even if the beast of Revelation is a figure of the past whose time has long come and gone, he is hardly an example worthy of emulation. In Revelation he and all who take his mark end up in the lake of fire.

One does not have to believe that we are seeing the final fulfilment of Revelation thirteen according to the Futurist interpretation, or even hold to the Futurist interpretation, to have a deep, spiritual, theological, and ethical problem with the totalitarian spirit of the present day and with mandatory masking. Revelation thirteen is grounds for opposing such things regardless of one’s interpretation of Revelation.

(1) Full Preterists would apply this to the entirety of Revelation including the last four chapters. Full Preterism is the claim that all Scriptural prophecy was fulfilled in the destruction of the Second Temple in AD 70. Full Preterism is not an interpretation available to the orthodox for it denies that Christ “will come again to judge the quick and the dead”, which, being affirmed by all of the Creeds, has clearly been regarded by the Church as belonging to the esse of the faith rather than to the adiophora since the earliest centuries. 

(2) Another interpretive option is the Spiritual/Allegorical interpretation in which the events of Revelation are regarded as depicting the spiritual conflict in each believer’s life – think John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Via Media Inter Vias Medias

 The Anglican form of the Christian faith has often been described as a via media or “middle road.”   This is usually taken to be a compliment, a positive evaluation, one which evokes Aristotle’s idea of virtue as the path that lies between two extremes of vice.   In the case of the Anglican faith, its middle way is customarily said to fall between Catholicism and Protestantism.   


The roots of this way of explaining the Anglican faith can be found in the English Reformation.   In its fullest sense, the English Reformation is a period of history that can be said to have begun prior to Luther when the Christian version of Renaissance humanism spread to England and gave rise to scholastic criticism of ecclesiastical abuses and stretched all the way to the Restoration in which Charles II was brought back to his throne and the episcopal order was brought back to the Church of England.    The traditional and historical formularies of the Church of England and the wider Anglican Communion – the Coverdale Psalter, Cranmer’s English liturgy in the Book of Common Prayer, the Articles of Religion, the Authorized Version of the Holy Bible, etc. – all came out of the long English Reformation. 


There are two important events which intersect this period.   The first is the reign of Mary (1553-1558) which saw the Church of England temporarily brought back under papal rule.   The second is the Council of Trent (1545-1563) in which the papacy and its adherents responded to the continental Reformation.   Note that the years of the first event are contained entirely within those of the second.   Both events had a tremendous impact on the course of the English Reformation.   Apart from them it is unlikely that the trajectory of the English Reformation would ever have been thought of in terms of a middle way and instead the English Reformation would have been simply regarded as being the slowest moving, most cautious and conservative, part of the same Protestant Reformation that was occurring in continental Europe.


In the Council of Trent, however, Rome had launched the Counter Reformation, in which she reformed herself with regards to many of the most grievous examples of complaints against her that were of the nature of moral corruption, but doubled down on the doctrines to which the Reformers had objected, working out a comprehensive theological defence of such doctrines (1) and beginning an aggressive campaign aimed at bringing the Protestants back under the papal yoke.  Meanwhile the persecutions of the reign of Mary had radicalized a certain kind of English Protestant, both by hardening him against the oppression of Rome and by driving him into exile in Geneva where he came under the influence of republican Calvinists.   Thus the Puritan was born.  When the Church of England reintroduced the earlier reforms in the reign of Elizabeth I, it was therefore assaulted on two sides, from the new Roman Catholic apologists armed with Tridentine ammunition and from the Puritans.   This forced her to clarify her own position, which naturally took the form of a via media between these two extremes.   Officially, this position was defined by the Elizabethan Settlement, but the post-Mary, post-Trent period also saw the most skilled apologists that the Church of England has ever known work out the theological case for her stance.   The foremost example of these was Richard Hooker whose extensive articulation and defence of the basic principles of the Church was written against Puritanism’s extreme claims.   Following shortly after Hooker, Bishop Lancelot Andrewes defended the same against Tridentine theology and its Jesuit apologists such as Cardinal Bellarmine, in the reign of James I.


While there is much to commend the via media method of explaining the Anglican faith it has one major drawback.   The expression itself, taken in its most literal sense, suggests that Anglicanism is neither Catholic nor Protestant.   The middle space between any two locations lies neither in the one nor the other.   Yet this is close to being the opposite of what many – probably most - people who use the expression via media mean by it.    What they would mean by the via media is that the Anglican faith reject the either/or dichotomy between Catholicism and Protestantism that came out of the continental Protestant Reformation and choses instead to be both Catholic and Protestant.   While the image of middle territory is sometimes used in a both/and sense, in ordinary usage this does not escape the sense of neither/nor, for it means being partially on the one side, partially on the other, like the overlapping region in a Venn Diagram.  This is hardly a satisfying image for those traditional Anglicans who would insist that our faith and Church are both fully Catholic and fully Protestant.  (2)


I would suggest, therefore, that it would be helpful when referring to traditional, orthodox, Anglicanism as the via media between Catholicism and Protestantism that we add the explanation that we are using this expression in a special sense that means fully both/and rather than partially both/and or neither/nor.    Furthermore I would suggest that we also add that our faith’s full Catholicism and full Protestantism are viae mediae themselves.   Which finally brings us to what the title of this essay asserts – that as a via media between Catholicism and Protestantism, Anglicanism is a via media between two other viae mediae.


To explain what I mean by this, I would first note that the Right Reverend Peter Robinson, the presiding bishop of a continuing Anglican communion, the United Episcopal Church of North America, has often said that if Anglicanism is a via media, it is a via media between Wittenberg and Geneva, that is to say, between Lutheranism and Calvinism.   In his article from eight years ago, entitled The Reformed Face of Anglicanism, he discussed how Archbishop Thomas Cranmer’s own theological journey left its mark on the Church of England.   When Cranmer initially embraced the doctrines of the continental Protestant Reformation it was in the form of Lutheranism, but, according to Robinson, he later moved in the direction of a moderate Calvinism.    The Anglican liturgy, he says, reflects Cranmer’s early Lutheranism, but the Articles of Religion reflect his later, moderate Calvinism.   


At that point, Bishop Robinson’s concept of Anglicanism as a via media between Lutheranism and Calvinism seemed to amount to being Lutheran in practice and mild Calvinist in doctrine.   That the Church of England, as it emerged from the English Reformation, was officially, albeit moderately, Calvinist in theology is the point of his essay.   His arguments that Anglican theology was moderately Calvinist as opposed to Lutheran, at least insofar as the official Articles are concerned, are not particularly convincing in that the points he mentions are mostly ones on which Calvinism and Lutheranism are agreed (“centrality of Scripture”, “monergistic position on Justification”), and on the one mentioned point where there is a disagreement between Lutheranism and Calvinism,  “predestination and election”,  the official Articles are clearly closer to Lutheranism than Calvinism.   The essential difference between Lutheranism (3) and Calvinism on this doctrine is that Lutheranism rejects reprobation, and there is no mention of reprobation anywhere in the Seventeenth Article.   Interestingly, Bishop Robinson, by mentioning that the Lambeth Articles, which contained the concept of double predestination but were not made official, having been rejected by the Queen, provides indirect testimony that the official theology of Anglicanism is closer to Lutheranism than Calvinism on this issue.  


His essay of three years later entitled “The Middle Way” is much better in this regards.   Here, he stresses the relationship between the Articles of Religion and the Confession of Augsburg, making the Articles therefore basically Lutheran in theology but which “can and do strike off on their own occasionally, such as in Articles 28 and 29 concerning the Eucharist, which are clearly Reformed.”   This is a much more accurate account of the theology of the Articles.   Interestingly, John Calvin’s own theology was – and, I would argue, consciously so on Calvin’s part – itself a via media between Lutheranism and Zwinglianism.  (4)  This is worth noting here particularly because many would consider the most obvious example of this to be the very subject on which Bishop Robinson identifies the doctrine of the Articles as being Reformed.  (5)


If Bishop Robinson is right, and I think he is, that the Anglican Church’s Protestantism is a via media between Wittenberg and Geneva, then as a special sort of  fully both/and via media between Catholicism and Protestantism it is a via media inter vias medias, because Anglicanism’s Catholicism is obviously itself a via media between Rome and Constantinople.


In the English Reformation, the Anglican Church in many ways reverted to the Catholicism of the early centuries of Church history that predated the Romanism against which the Reformers protested.  (6)  This meant returning to many doctrines, practices, and structures which in the Eastern Orthodox Church had persisted from the earlier Catholicism all along.  


The rejection of papal supremacy is only the most obvious example of this.   By retaining the three-fold clerical order clearly established by the Apostles in the New Testament, (7) but rejecting the claims of the Patriarch of Rome to supremacy over the entire Church, the Anglican Church returned to what the old Catholicism had asserted against prelates interfering in the jurisdiction of others in the canons of the ecumenical Councils, and which had remained the position of the Eastern Church all along, most notably reiterated in the East/West Schism of 1054 AD.   In the Anglican Communion, the Archbishop of Canterbury is, like the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople in the Eastern Church, considered primus inter pares, which is the honour the early Church had awarded to the Patriarch of Rome before he elevated himself above all other bishops, declared himself infallible, and transformed his office into the papacy.


Other examples in which Anglican reforms returned to early Church practices that had been retained in Eastern Orthodoxy all along include allowing the clergy to marry and distributing the Eucharist in both kinds to the laity.


In other areas, however, Anglicanism continued to follow the Latin interpretation of the Catholic tradition.   The most obvious example of this can be found in Cranmer’s translation of the Nicene Creed which asserts of the Holy Ghost that He “proceedeth from the Father and the Son”, thus including the filioque which played such an important role in the Great Schism.   The use of unleavened bread in the Eucharist is another example.   A further example, can be found in what we have seen of Anglicanism’s Protestantism.  If Anglican Protestantism is a via media between Lutheranism and Calvinism it is a via media between two forms of Augustinianism.   St. Augustine of Hippo had a much larger influence over the theology of the Western Church than of the Eastern Church and, indeed, the Eastern theologians frequently identify St. Augustine as the source of all that they consider to be the errors of the Western tradition.


So we see that as a special kind of via media between Catholicism and Protestantism that is fully both at the same time, Anglicanism is a via media between two other viae mediae in the more literal sense – a Catholicism that falls between that of the Western and Eastern traditions and a Protestantism that is somewhere between Lutheranism and Calvinism.


(1) (1)   This aspect of the Council of Trent had an effect on Anglicanism, Lutheranism, and Calvinism.    The reason for this should be evident.   It created the need for Anglican, Lutheran and Calvinist theologians to develop a theological response, not just to what the first generation Reformers had perceived as Rome’s doctrinal errors, but to the more elaborate Tridentine theological framework.    In Lutheranism and Calvinism, this response became what is known as Protestant scholasticism.   In the same period, Anglicanism worked out its own theological answer to Trent, examples of which can be seen in Bishop Lancelot Andrewes’ Responsio ad Apologiam Cardinalis Bellarmini (1610) and Archbishop William Laud’s A Relation of the Conference Between William Laud, Late Lord Archbishop of Canterbury and Mr. Fisher the Jesuit, By the Command of King James (1639).   Doctrinally, Andrewes’ and Laud’s responses are similar to those of the Protestant scholastics, but methodologically they are quite different.   Like the writings of earlier Anglican apologists such as Bishop Jewell and Richard Hooker, these are saturated with Patristic citations.   For Andrewes and Laud, a sufficient defence of Anglican Protestantism against the claims of Rome and Tridentine theology required demonstrating that the Church Fathers were on their side.

(2)   (2) A more fitting image is the one that Dr. Ron Dart has used to contrast the Anglican approach with that of the more schismatic versions of Protestantism.   The image is of a garden – the Catholic tradition – which has weeds in it – the errors and abuses of fifteenth-sixteenth century Rome.   You can either destroy the garden altogether because of the weeds – the approach of schismatic Protestantism – or you can weed the garden – the approach of the English Reformers.   You can hear Ron Dart explain this in his short video “Is the Anglican Way Protestant? Via Media” here, but I would also recommend reading his self-published 2017 book Erasmus: Wild Bird.   The third and fourth chapters which discuss the relationship between Erasmus and English Christianity are particularly relevant.

(3)   (3) The Lutheran tradition as a whole rejects the idea of double predestination, which includes the idea of reprobation, i.e., a predestination to damnation.   Calvinists maintain that on this point Luther himself was a Calvinist rather than a Lutheran.   They may be correct about this.   My own reading of Luther and Calvin and the traditions that bear their names, suggests that the Calvinist tradition, especially the English Calvinist tradition, deviated earlier and further from Calvin, than the Lutheran tradition ever deviated from Luther.   Calvin reads like a Lutheran rather than a Calvinist on far more issues – assurance of salvation and the extent of the atonement being two that immediately come to mind – than Luther reads like a Calvinist, but of course that can hardly be said to constitute evidence that the reverse is never the case.

(4)   (4) The Lutheran and Reformed traditions diverged due to differences of interpretation between Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli of Zurich, the first major leader of the Swiss Reformation and the first theologian of the Reformed tradition.   John Calvin, the French lawyer who was recruited by William Farel to lead the Reformation in Geneva, became the most influential leader of the Swiss Reformation and lent his name to the entire Reformed tradition.   In saying that his theology was a via media between Luther and Zwingli, I mean that with regards to several of the points of contention between Zwingli and Luther he took what was basically Zwingli’s position but modified in a way that moved it closer to the views of Luther and Melanchthon.  

(5)   (5) That Calvin’s view of the Eucharist is mediatory to Luther’s and Zwingli’s does not necessarily depend upon the identification of Zwingli’s understanding of the Eucharist with memorialism.   Memorialism is the view that denies the Real Presence in the Eucharist, and asserts that the Lord’s Supper is only a symbolic memorial of Christ’s sacrifice.   Although Zwingli is widely thought to have taught this, this has not been incontrovertibly established to be the case.   Memorialism has only ever been the official doctrine of the sects that separated from the Churches of the Magisterial Reformation.   The latter all affirm the Real Presence.   All of Protestantism concurred in rejecting the Romanist doctrine of transubstantiation – that when the celebrant pronounces the words of institution the substance of the bread and wine is replaced with that of the Body and Blood of Christ producing a “real absence” of the bread and wine in all but appearance.   In rejecting the Roman error, however, the Anglican, Lutheran, and Reformed traditions all steered clear of falling into the opposite error of memorialism, and affirmed the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.   The understanding of what the Real Presence meant differed from tradition to tradition. Lutheranism declared that while the Body and Blood did not magically replace the bread and wine, they were nevertheless literally present and were received by the participants in the same way that the bread and wine were themselves received.   The Reformed leaders rejected the Lutheran interpretation and maintained that the Real Presence is “spiritual” “mystical” or “heavenly.”   This, of course, invited the Lutheran response of saying that the distinction between this and the memorialist outright rejection of the Real Presence was mere semantics.   This was arguably accurate with regards to Zwingli, for whom the spiritual presence of Christ in the Eucharist seemed hardly distinguishable from His presence among the faithful on non-sacramental occasions, but there was no consensus among the Reformed leaders as to what these terms themselves signified.   Calvin took a slight but significant step away from Zwingli towards Luther in asserting that the Sacrament itself was the instrumental means whereby the “spiritual” Real Presence was communicated to the faithful.   Bishop Robinson is, of course, correct to say that the Thirty Nine Articles take the Reformed position – “The Body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten, in the Supper, only after an heavenly and spiritual manner. And the means whereby the Body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper is Faith.”    Note, however, that the phrase “an heavenly and spiritual manner” can be understood either as an answer to the question of “how” Christ is present in the Sacrament or an assertion that God has not given us the answer to this question and that it would be impious on our part to try and answer it.    The latter is how Archbishop Laud explained the Anglican position in his response to the Jesuit Fisher, referred to above in note one.   The Roman and Lutheran positions, different as they are, he maintained, both make the same mistake of trying to provide a detailed explanation of what God has left a mystery.   Ironically, the Puritans, who regarded themselves as followers of Calvin, accused him of trying to smuggle Romanism back into the Anglican Church by teaching the Real Presence.   The Anglican view of the Real Presence as he defended it to Fisher, however, was indistinguishable from Calvin’s own.

(6)  (6) The Church of England, like the Churches of the continental Magisterial Reformation, but unlike the separatist sects, rejected Rome’s equation of Roman with Catholic.   To illustrate the distinction between the two in terms of doctrine, the Apostles and Nicene Creeds are Catholic, the doctrines of papal supremacy and infallibility are Roman.   In the Reformation and post-Reformation Anglican Church the key to understanding what is Catholic has been the Vincentian Canon, i.e., St. Vincent of Lerin’s remark in his Commonitorium (434) that the Catholic faith is that which – obviously, within the context of the Church rather than the world – “quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus, creditum est” or “has been believed everwhere, always, and by all.”   Bishop Lancelot Andrewes’ remark “One canon reduced to writing by God Himself, two testaments, three creeds, four general councils, five centuries, and the series of Fathers in that period – the centuries, that is, before Constantine, and the two after, determine the boundary of our faith” can be taken as traditional Anglicanism’s footnote commentary on the Vincentian Canon.

(7)  (7) The Apostles themselves were the first and highest order, established by Christ Himself.  They established the other two, of the presbyters (elders) and deacons.   While the followers of Calvin introduced confusion regarding this matter by pointing to the fact that the Scriptures use the term which in subsequent eras of the Church was applied to the highest order, bishops (episcopoi in Greek, literally “overseers” or “administrators”), interchangeably with presbyters, there very epistles in which this interchangeable usage occurs rebuts the Calvinist interpretation.   Those are the epistles written to Timothy and Titus, in which St. Paul gave these individuals instructions regarding the ordination of presbyters/bishops and deacons.   This demonstrates that Timothy and Titus themselves belonged to an order above the presbyters/bishops and deacons which had the power of ordaining the lower orders.   This was the order of the Apostles themselves, to which Timothy and Titus had been elevated.   Timothy and Titus are not addressed by the title – Apostle – which was used for all previous members of this order, which is perhaps the first indication that it had been decided that while the order would continue the title would be reserved for the individuals who had been directly commissioned by Christ.   This decision is what created the need for another title, and it was quickly decided – before the first century was even over – that rather than coin another one, the alternate title for presbyters would from then on be reserved for the order that had begun as the Apostles.   Anyone who thinks that because the term was used to refer to one thing in the New Testament but to a different thing in subsequent generations, the latter usage is therefore somehow “wrong” should read I Samuel 9:9.   If the same thing can be called by one name in one period and a different one in a later, as the Scriptures there assert without passing any moral judgement on the change in usage, then it stands to reason that there can be no Scriptural objection to a single word meaning one thing in one period and another in a later.