Thursday, February 17, 2011

Cross-Examination of Daniel: Q7

Q7: Because I am running out of allotted questions, let’s switch gears.

You make what I would call the essential case historically for separation – using the councils all the way up to Trent to show what the doctrine can yield. As I see it, it is right, for example, for Nicea to create a creed and therefore separate the faith from the falsehoods which have sprung up around it. That’s the activity of the church: express the affirmative Gospel, and use that to exclude what is not true. It is the affirmative use of truth for unity.

There is something different about Trent, though, contra Nicea or other truly-ecumenical councils. What’s the key difference between Trent and (for example) Nicea?

Again, I offer you an open word limit to answer the question.

A7: This question is ambiguous. Certainly there are a lot of major differences between Nicea and Trent; it is almost like comparing apples and oranges, or maybe mangoes.

This question can be interpreted as enquiring into the key difference between Trent and Nicea in each council’s activity of demarcating truth from error, which is a historical question. Alternatively, we can interpret the question as to the key difference between Trent and Nicea in the implications the rulings of each council has on the Church’s method for determining truth from error, which is a hermeneutical question. Or maybe it is the key difference in the implications each has for how one determines the content of the Gospel. Perhaps what the question is driving at is what is the key difference each has on how a biblical Christian practice the doctrine of separation?

Seeing that our debate thesis is on the doctrine of separation, I will interpret the question as to the key difference in how the pronouncements of each council impact how a Christian practices the doctrine of separation. If Frank has something else in mind, he should be clearer in his questions.

The proceedings of Nicea in 325AD, especially when its doctrine is codified into the Nicene Creed (later modified at the Council of Constantinople in 381AD), proclaims the one holy catholic apostolic faith which is necessary for salvation. The council met in an attempt to resolve the Arian controversy as Arius denied the Son’s eternity and consubstantiality with the Father. While unsuccessful at halting the Arian plague, the witness at Nicea provided the creedal backbone of the faith during Athanasius’ time when it faced onslaught by the Arians and the Semi-Arians. The Council of Constantinople of 381AD finally put Arianism and her children down as a viable threat to the Church.

The initial Nicene Creed ended the creed with an anathema aimed against the Arians, which was removed at Constantinople probably because creeds aren’t meant to contain anathemas. The original anathema reads as follows:

[But those who say: 'There was a time when he was not;' and 'He was not before he was made;' and 'He was made out of nothing,' or 'He is of another substance' or 'essence,' or 'The Son of God is created,' or 'changeable,' or 'alterable'—they are condemned by the holy catholic and apostolic Church.]

In light of the decree of the Council of Nicea, the implication it has on the doctrine of separation is that we are to separate and heed the anathema the Church has hurled against the [Arian] heretics. The Council ruled that the Christian message is to be found in the Nicene Creed over and against the teachings of Arius and others like him. A biblical Christian in light of Nicea therefore merely has to follow the Church as she fought and condemned those who would destroy the faith, and separate from those the Church has already condemned to hellfire.

Trent was the official answer of the Roman Catholic Counter-Reformation to the Protestant Reformation. At Trent, a handful of Roman Catholic clergy came together and pronounced the proceedings of that council to be authoritative on the Church. Seeing themselves as the successors of Peter and Paul, all the Apostles and all the Church Fathers (as Roman Catholicism has continued to perceive herself today), they made their decrees binding de jure on all who would call themselves Christians. In the sixth session of the Council of Trent, Trent pronounced these words against the Protestants and their message:

If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema (On Justification, Canon IX)

If any one saith, that men are justified, either by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ, or by the sole remission of sins, to the exclusion of the grace and the charity which is poured forth in their hearts by the Holy Ghost, and is inherent in them; or even that the grace, whereby we are justified, is only the favour of God; let him be anathema. (On Justification, Canon XI)

If any one saith, that justifying faith is nothing else but confidence in the divine mercy which remits sins for Christ's sake; or, that this confidence alone is that whereby we are justified; let him be anathema (On Justification, Canon XII)

In light of these pronouncements at the Council of Trent, the biblical Christian could not in good conscience agree with the denunciation of the Gospel by the Roman Church. Since the Christian’s fidelity is first and foremost to Christ and the true Gospel message, he cannot agree with Trent’s attack on the Gospel in anathemizing those who believe in the Gospel.

Practicing the doctrine of separation therefore becomes more difficult. The Christian has to discern the error of Rome, reject the Roman Church and her councils, and turn to churches which continue to confess the true Gospel. The anathema against the Gospel hurled by the Roman Church means that there is no way the gap can begin to be bridged short of Rome repudiating the many articles pronounced at Trent.

The key difference between Nicea and Trent therefore on how a biblical Christian practices the doctrine of separation is this: In the former, the institutional visible Church follows Christ and we follow the Church in her actions of separation from heretics. In the latter, a significant portion of the institutional visible Church turned against the faith and therefore we follow the congregations that remained faithful by separating from that false church. In short, at Nicea we follow the Church as she is faithful, while at Trent we follow Christ and the true Church when large portions of the visible Church apostatize.

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