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Looks Can Be Deceiving
(Especially When You WANT To Be Deceived)
A Study in the Tactics of Roman Catholic Apologists

 


by James White

You never know who is going to end up reading anything you say in an e-mail.  Just this afternoon I responded to an e-mail sent to me by Irishchico@aol.com, a Mr. Betts.  A few hours later, a lengthy missive appears in my e-mail box from Robert Sungenis.  As I am reading over it, another comes from Dr. Art Sippo, and later another from Mr. Betts.  

In the process of responding to Mr. Sungenis' comments, I realized that I was again looking at a classic example of the kind of "apologetics" offered by the current group of Roman Catholic apologists.   To be perfectly honest, it is long on looks, but tremendously short on substance.   For those who wish to be impressed, it is impressive.  But for the person who has the opportunity (and the tools) to check out what these men claim for Rome, their efforts are sadly wanting.

I begin with the message Mr. Sungenis sent to me.   I present it first so that you can see how impressive it looks, and so you can judge for yourself its tone and intention.  Then I will provide the message of Dr. Art Sippo (a long time nemesis and one of the worst examples, behavior wise, of Roman Catholic apologists) and Mr. Betts.  Then I will provide a link to my response.

Please note: a further addition has been made to the end of this correspondence as of June 4, 1999.


Gentelmen,

At the end of Mr. White's letter Irishchico, he directed Irishchico to read the following quote from Gregory of Nyssa in an attempt to convince Mr. White that Gregory believed in sola scriptura. Here is the extract of Gregory that Mr. White cites

Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335-95) "...we make the Holy Scriptures the rule and the measure of every tenet; we necessarily fix our eyes upon that, and approve that alone which may be made to harmonize with the intention of those writings." On the Soul And the Resurrection

 This is typical of the sleight-of-hand Mr. White and his colleagues have long engaged. Notice that Mr. White does not give the exact place where one can find this quote in "On the Soul and the Resurrection." For those who are interested, it can be found in NPNF II, Vol. 5, page 439. Once you read the context, you'll know why Mr. White does not give the exact reference - because the context doesn't support what Mr. White is trying to say.

If you don't have NPNF, here is what Gregory says before and after the quote Mr. White extracted

"You are quite justified, she replied, in raising this question, and it has ere this been discussed by many elsewhere; namely, what we are to think of the principle of desire and the principle of anger within us.....The generality of men still fluctuate in their opinions about this, which are as erroneous as they are numerous. As for ourselves, if the Gentile philosophy, which deals methodically with all these points, were really adequate for a demonstration, it would certainly be superfluous to add a discussion on the soul, as far in the direction of supposed consequences as the thinker pleased, we are not entitled to such license, I mean that of affirming what we please; we make the Holy Scriptures the rule and the measure of every tenet; we necessarily fix our eyes upon that, and approve that alone which may be made to harmonize with the intention of those writings. We must therefore neglect the Platonic chariot and the pair of horses of dissimilar forces yoked to it, and their driver, whereby the philosopher allegorizes these facts about the soul; we must neglect also all that is said by the philosopher who succeeded him and who followed out probabilities by rules of art....."

I have italicized the quote which Mr. White extracted from Gregory so that you can contrast it with the context. Here's the $64,000 Is Gregory pitting Scripture against Church authority or the Tradition of the Church? Do you find one word about such entities in here? The answer is NO. Gregory is pitting Scripture against speculative philosophy, which every Father did. When Gregory is arguing against Gentile philosophers and the like, he mainly quotes Scripture, for the pagans will listen to little else, especially in esoteric topics such as the soul.

Now, contrast Mr. White's attempt to make Gregory a sola scriptura man, with the occasion in which Gregory actually does talk about the Church and Tradition. For example Here's another quote from Gregory

"And yet if those had been the more appropriate names, the Truth Himself would not have been at a loss to discover them, nor those men either, on whom successively devolved the preaching of the mystery, whether they were from the first eye-witnesses and ministers of the Word, or, as successors to these, filled the whole world with the Evangelical doctrines, and again at various periods after this defined in a common assembly the ambiguities raised about the doctrine; whose traditions are constantly preserved in writing in the churches" (Against Eunomius, I13, NPNF II, V50).

Here's another "The doctrine of the true faith is clear in the first tradition we receive, in accordance with the Lord's wish, in the bath of the new birth" (Epistles, 24; PG 461088D).

Here's more. In Mr. White's book Sola Scriptura The Protestant Position on the Bible, which he recommended that John Betts read, Mr. White says the following about a quote from Basil, which, unbeknownst to Mr. White, actually comes from Gregory of Nyssa

"What is more, other statements from this same Father fly in the face of the Roman claims. For example, when addressing truly important doctrinal truths, such as the very nature of God, Basil did not appeal to some nebulous tradition. How could he, especially when he encountered others who claimed that their traditional beliefs should be held as sacred? Note the words to Eustathius the physician

Their complaint is that their custom does not accept this, and that Scripture does not agree. What is my reply? I do not consider it fair that the custom which obtains among them should be regarded as a law and rule of orthodoxy. If custom is to be taken in proof of what is right, then it is certainly competent for me to put forward on my side the custom which obtains here. If they reject this, we are clearly not bound to follow them. Therefore let God-inspired Scripture decide between us; and on whichever side be found doctrines in harmony with the word of God, in favor of that side will be cast the vote of truth.

"A sentiment hardly in line with Trent!" (James White, Sola Scriptura! pp. 37-38).

First, I should reiterate that patristic scholars recognize the above quote as originating in the writings of Gregory of Nyssa, not Basil. Nevertheless, I will deal with the citation as it appears in Basil in NPNF. Our assumption is that Mr. White chose this citation from Basil to prove that Basil believed in the doctrine of sola scriptura, and indeed, a first reading of it might give such an impression to the uniformed reader. But let's look very closely at what Basil is saying. First, Basil states that his opponent's tradition is not to be regarded as the "rule of orthodoxy." Then he says, "If custom is to be taken in proof of what is right, then it is certainly competent for me to put forward on my side the custom which obtains here" showing that it is his tradition [Basil's tradition] which is the correct tradition. Thus, on the basis of tradition versus tradition, Basil declares himself the winner. If anything, he is establishing and defending the tradition of the Church, not demoting it. He reinforces his reliance on tradition by saying, "If they reject this [the Church's tradition], we are clearly not bound to follow them.

Having said this, Basil now proceeds to Scripture and suggests that Scripture serve as the judge between them. Considering what Basil said above about his reliance on tradition, are we to assume that Basil is suddenly rejecting his belief in Tradition in favor of Scripture? Not at all. Basil is doing the same thing many of the other Fathers were forced to do if the opponent did not accept Church tradition or authority then the Father had no recourse but to argue the case from Scripture. Even then, disputes remained unsettled because their opponents would insist on their own interpretation of Scripture, as even Irenaeus complains in Against Heresies. [311 - "When, however, they are confuted from the Scriptures, they turn round and accuse these same Scriptures, as if they were not correct, nor of authority, and assert that they are ambiguous, and that the truth cannot be extracted from them by those who are ignorant of tradition."]

Hence Basil is doing the same thing any apologist would do if the opponent does not accept one arm of his institution, he will use the arm the opponent does accept — in this case, Scripture. We do the same thing in this book. For the most part we argue from Scripture, because that is all our opponents will accept as authoritative.

We must also add that in Basil's argument from Scripture with his opponents, he spends most of his time reasoning out conclusions from the rudimentary but incomplete information that Scripture contains. For example, in the letter to Eustathius that the Mr White cited, Basil is trying to convince his opponents of the divinity and personality of the Holy Spirit. For anyone familiar with Scripture, this is no small task, since Scripture's references to these two characteristics of the Holy Spirit are sparse at best. Hence we find Basil drawing conclusions from Scripture which, from the particular passage he cites, neither speak directly about the Holy Spirit nor contain the conclusion he reaches. Consequently, we find Basil relying mostly on his reasoning from Scripture rather than explicit statements in Scripture about the nature of the Holy Spirit. He writes "Wherefrom I judge it right to hold that the Spirit, thus conjoined with Father and Son in so many sublime and divine senses, is never separated" (Letters, 1895); "...there is no reasonable ground for refusing to allow the same association in the case of that word alone..." (ibid); "...about things which are beyond our knowledge we reason on probable evidence...fire does not freeze; ice does not warm; differences of natures implies difference of the operations proceeding from them" (1896); "...nevertheless any one, arguing from what is known to us, would find it more reasonable to conclude that the power of the Spirit operates even in those beings..." (1897); "It follows that, even if the name of Godhead does signify nature, the community of essence proves that this title is very properly applied to the Holy Spirit" (ibid); "...since we find no variation in the nature, we reasonably define the Holy Trinity to be of one Godhead" (1898).

In light of this method of Basil, we note also that where the Fathers offered reasonable conclusions to be drawn from Scripture concerning the nature of the Holy Spirit, it was the Catholic Councils, affirmed by the respective Popes, that took from Tradition and the reasoned conclusions of the Fathers the information they needed to formulate dogmatic proclamations concerning the divinity and personality of the Holy Spirit.

Now, let's treat the passage as it originates in Gregory of Nyssa's writing. Gregory's context is very similar to Basil's. He is in a battle with the Pneumatomachi, who, based on their own tradition, accuse Gregory of "preaching three Gods" or "they allege that while we confess three Persons we say that there is one goodness..." (NPNF, Vol. 5, p. 326). Gregory then states "But the ground of their complaint is that their custom does not admit this, and Scripture does not support it." Gregory then gives the same reply that Basil gives. Since the Pneumatomachi will not listen to the Tradition or authority of the Church, Gregory goes to Scripture to defend his case. As for Gregory's dedication to the Church and her Tradition he writes, "For it is enough for proof of our statement, that the tradition has come down to us from our Fathers, handed on, like some inheritance, by succession from the Apostles and the saints who came after them (Against Eunomius 46).

And what does Gregory think of his Church?

"While the Church teaches that we must not divide our faith amongst a plurality of beings, but must recognize no difference of being in three Subjects or Persons, whereas our opponents posit a variety and unlikeness amongst them as Beings...." (Against Eunomius, Book I, 19).

In fact, you will NEVER find a statement in Gregory which pits the authority of the Church against the authority of Scripture. In fact, you will NEVER find any Father who does it. The challenge for Mr. White is to find us such passages. Let's cease with the passages that are constantly brought forth for proof of sola scriptura which, when examined, merely extol the quality of Scripture over against man and his ideas. Let's see if Mr. White can find just one recognized Father who says that Scripture is the authority over the Church, that we are to subsume every belief under Scripture, no matter what the Church teaches; or that Scripture is the authority over Tradition, that what was passed down as apostolic tradition is not an authority as great as Scripture and should not necessarily be used to interpret Scripture. Just one will do Mr. White. Until then, I suggest you remove Gregory of Nyssa from you salutation.

Robert Sungenis


From ArtSippo@aol.com

Message-Id <db514a61.2447e10f@aol.com>

Date Thu, 15 Apr 1999 204047 EDT

Subject Re White responds

Dear Bob

A brilliant job!

As usual, an honest reading of the Fathers with an eye to understanding them in context makes a mockery of the fraudulent claims of Pseudo and his minions. Since they cannot win by telling the truth, they deliberately lie to try and fool us. But they cannot fool God. Their allegiance to lies and slander shows us who their true lord is and makes our course of action clear. We need to continue to pray for their deliverance from demonic oppression.

Art


From Irishchico@aol.com

Message-Id <eb2855cb.2448000c@aol.com>

Date Thu, 15 Apr 1999 225300 EDT

Subject Re White responds

<<

A brilliant job!

 

As usual, an honest reading of the Fathers with an eye to understanding them in context makes a mockery of the fraudulent claims of Pseudo and his minions. Since they cannot win by telling the truth, they deliberately lie to try and fool us. But they cannot fool God. Their allegiance to lies and slander shows us who their true lord is and makes our course of action clear. We need to continue to pray for their deliverance from demonic oppression.

>>

Ah c'mon, Art. Why are you going soft on him? Tell us how you really feel!

<VBG>

That was a brilliant job, Bob. Many thanks ;o)

God bless,

John


Now, that looks pretty impressive!  But, did Mr. Sungenis do his homework?  Let's find out: click here for the response.


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