Church Authority, Argument 4: Sola Scriptura vs. Prima Scriptura and Icons

by

In this post, I (1) distinguish Prima Scriptura and Sola Scriptura as distinct doctrines about Scripture and tradition; (2) argue that, given Orthodoxy’s theological approach, it is consistent to claim both “Scripture is the sole source of doctrine” and “it is Orthodox doctrine that icons are a necessary part of the Church”; (3) answer objections to the Orthodox teaching that icons are necessary; and (4) argue that in order to show that the Fathers believed Sola Scriptura, a Protestant would have to argue that the Fathers taught the doctrine of private judgment (which they do not).

(1) Prima Scriptura and Sola Scriptura

I was recently asked by Catz to answer this rather interesting question:

Can you tell me where icons are upheld in Scripture to the same degree as the 7th council does? Even going so far as declaring anathema those who do not venerate icons? Where in Scripture is the veneration of icons (in the Eastern Orthodox sense) required?

This question might seem irrelevant. After all, Orthodoxy has oral tradition; why can’t oral tradition be where we get icons (and their necessity) from? Well, the Orthodox understanding of doctrine requires that the content of all Christian doctrine be contained in Scripture. Nothing in oral tradition is not also in Scripture; as Fr. John Behr says, echoing and summarizing Saint Irenaeus, “Tradition is Scripture, rightly interpreted.” This is a view called “Prima Scriptura”. The Protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura would state that Scripture is the ultimate authoritative rule of Christian teaching; and this Prima Scriptura agrees with. Sola Scriptura also says that some particularly important Christian doctrines are clear (perspicuous) in Scripture; and Prima Scriptura agrees. Of course Sola Scriptura says that the Bible is the only infallible rule of faith and practice that provides the source of Christian doctrine; and (this may come as a shock to some) Prima Scriptura, the Orthodox position, agrees.  Both Sola and Prima Scriptura hold to the sole supremacy (final authority as a rule), perspicuity (clarity, in some sections), and material sufficiency (inclusion of all the content of Christian doctrine) of Scripture.

The difference is this: Prima Scriptura denies that all interpretations of Scripture are equally authoritative. There are some interpretations, in fact, that are inherently more authoritative than others. In Orthodoxy, this means that the consensus of the Church’s teachers across time and space about how to interpret some doctrine is inherently authoritative (and in fact infallible).[1]  Thus we are conscience-bound to agree with the Church’s interpretive decisions. On the other hand, Sola Scriptura includes the doctrine of private judgment. This means that the position of Sola Scriptura denies that a believer’s conscience can be bound by the inherent authority of the interpretive/doctrinal decisions of other Christians.  No interpretation of any Church Fathers, Popes, etc. can be conscience-binding.[2]

(2) The Compatibility of Prima Scriptura and the Necessity of Icons

So because they think all doctrine is contained in Scripture, the Orthodox must believe that icons are mandated by the teaching of Scripture.  But how can this be?  Surely the New Testament does not explicitly teach that icons are necessary; nor are icons emphasized as an aspect of worship.  In Sola Scriptura, a doctrine must be clearly and distinctly taught in order for belief in it to be mandated, or for it to be included in a creed or confession.  But this is not necessarily so for us. We are fine with complicated exegesis that goes beyond the historical grammatical method to bring out what is implicit in the text, or that theologically synthesizes the parts of Scripture that are not explicitly connected.

The Church’s basis for accepting the necessity of icons is not grounded, then, in some explicit statement in Scripture.  It is grounded in the content of the concepts taught in Scripture, but this does not mean that we can use the historical sense of the text of Scripture, and make a an inference that is persuasive to everyone about the necessity of icons. Here is an explanation for how the Church makes its decision to recognize and then authoritatively teach that the New Testament mandates the experience of icons:

1. The Church looks at the permissibility of icons in the OT, the Christologically-informed continuity between OT and NT, the image-person relationship in Scripture, the permissibility of veneration, the deification of flesh and all matter in Christ’s economy, and possible cases of NT iconography. This shows that icons of Christ and the saints are permissible, even preferable.

2. The Church also considers the necessity of preaching the Gospel—preaching and manifesting the Lordship of Christ. One aspect of this is the verbal articulation of the revealed Word of God. But Christianity is not just the revelation of the Word of God; it is also a revelation of the Image of God. Just as there is a need for preaching the Word, there is a need to show the Image of God. Apart from icons of Christ and his saints, this cannot be done. This shows that icons of Christ and the saints are necessary.

3. The Church’s interpretive decision also considers the necessity of liturgical worship in the NT, and the necessity of icons in the liturgy of the OT, and the Christologically-informed continuity between OT and NT liturgy. The Church teaches that this continuity entails the necessity of icons in the NT. This shows that icons of Christ and his saints are necessary.

(3) Objections to the Teaching that Icons are Necessary

It may be objected that these are not persuasive arguments. Why think that the image of God can’t be manifested apart from icons? Why think that the continuity between OT and NT liturgy requires a preservation of the necessity of icons *specifically*–why not think it requires preserving some other aspect of OT worship instead, or that it is an area of OT worship that doesn’t get carried over (like animal sacrifice)? Granted the historical-grammatical method and the other principles of Protestant exegesis do not lead us to accept the Church’s conclusions. But that’s not the issue. The question is one of internal consistency in the Orthodox view of doctrine. Can we consistently maintain that Scripture is materially sufficient, and still believe that the 7th Council is infallible divine doctrine? At first it seems the answer is no: Scripture does not explicitly mandate iconography.  Given a Protestant exegetical method, we might not be able to say the NT explicitly mandates iconography. But given an Orthodox exegetical method, we can say this. There is biblical support, in the relevant sense, for the necessity of iconography in the NT. The fact that the normativity of the Church’s inference cannot be tracked by historical-grammatical concerns and the explicit teachings of the New Testament does not show that the New Testament does not teach the necessity of icons, unless the historical-grammatical method is the sole valid way of interpreting Scripture, and the Church’s judgments are not normative.  The initial objection was that Orthodoxy was not internally consistent. But the above 3 points show that it is internally consistent; the implausibility of the Church’s interpretation of the New Testament in the eyes of Protestants does not mean the New Testament does not teach such things. So the objection does not go through against the idea that the Orthodox can teach that icons are mandated by the New Testament.

In response, the objector may point out that this is not a good argument for Orthodoxy, or for accepting the Orthodox view of authority. But it is not intended to be an argument for Orthodoxy. It is just an undercutting defeater for the argument against Orthodoxy’s view of authority and its view of icons, based on an alleged internal inconsistency. Orthodoxy should be accepted on other grounds, not its ability to provide a certain kind of exegetical argument, persuasive to Protestants, that icons are needed. If we have reasons to accept Orthodoxy, this will constitute a reason to accept our exegetical method, and thus a reason to accept the necessity of icons (and the compatibility of the necessity of icons with the material sufficiency of Scripture).

Finally, it might be pointed out that there is something implausible about the way the Orthodox are using Scripture here. Is it really legitimate to exegete out something so peculiar and non-explicit from the text? But this does not seem all that different from the way the NT writers use the OT. Most messianic prophecies don’t seem to be explicit in the OT text either. But this is not problematic so long as we are not bound by a strict historical-grammatical method.

So it seems that, upon careful consideration, Orthodoxy can consistently maintain both Prima Scriptura and the necessity of iconography.

(4) The Fathers on Prima Scriptura

Given the distinctions in section (1) above, it seems like the usual Protestant arguments that some of the Fathers believed in Sola Scriptura need to be supplemented.  It does not demonstrate anything that supports Protestantism (as opposed to Orthodoxy) to show that the Fathers thought Scripture to have sole supremacy, perspicuity, and material sufficiency.  What must be demonstrated is that the Fathers taught the doctrine of private judgment.  If the Fathers thought that some interpretations of Christian doctrine were more inherently normative than others, then this would preclude the possibility that they taught Sola Scriptura.  Many of the Fathers cited in these discussions say very high things about the Bible.  But these affirmations amount to only *necessary* conditions for them to actually teach Sola Scriptura.  To show that the sufficient conditions obtain, it must be argued that the Fathers taught the right of private judgment.  You catch the same Fathers saying things that deny Sola Scriptura such as

1. That Scripture must be understood through the rule of faith (implying that the Rule of Faith has intrinsic authority and is necessary to understand the Bible properly);

2. That the Rule of Faith (or other oral tradition) is unrevisable because it is transmitted from the Apostles, and/or the Creed is unrevisable (and because only the teachings of God are beyond the possibility of being revised and overturned by human judgment, the Creed is therefore infallible);

3. That the Ecumenical Councils are unrevisible, or infallible, or that to deny them is to deny the teachings of God;

4. That the Church teaches us the formal canon of the Old and New Testaments (implying that the divinely-authoritative Christian doctrine about what the Old and New Testaments are can be found in the Church’s decision that recognized the canon as divine teaching, and publicly compiled it to be received and believed);

5. That we are conscience-bound to believe what has been believed everywhere, at all times, by all Christians, and that to deny this is heretical (implying a divinely-authoritative quality to the consensus of the Fathers);

6. That some hierarchs’ judgments are more normative than the judgments of laity (implying they have intrinsic authority);

These ideas all imply (or just state) the infallible, intrinsic, binding authority of the Church’s doctrine, by denying private judgment.  Given the abundance of texts that deny private judgment in the Fathers (which can be produced if anyone would like examples), it seems much more plausible to think they taught Prima Scriptura, rather than Sola Scriptura.  It seems to be a positive affirmation, taught by the Fathers, that the Church is infallible when it actually interprets the Bible.  Thus, the Fathers do not seem to provide support for the Protestant understanding of Scripture as a strand within ancient Christian tradition.

Footnotes:

[1] For the distinction between inherent and relative authority, see here, in section (2) on the inherent authority of our parents.

[2] It might seem that the Orthodox view would deny that there is infallible oral tradition; after all, as stated above, everything is contained in Scripture already, so what else could oral tradition add to the mix?  But this assumes tradition supplements the content of Scripture with additional content–that in order for oral tradition to supplement Scripture, it must do so by adding some concept or proposition not already taught in Scripture.  Instead, oral tradition supplements Scripture by giving an authoritative reformulation (interpretation) of the ideas already taught in Scripture.  This authoritative interpretation is contained in the Rule of Faith and other teachings, which are handed down from the Apostles orally.  The Rule of Faith, of course, is a summary of basic Christian teaching about God, Christ, and the Spirit.  It doesn’t teach anything that is not in the Bible.  It is very biblical, in fact, in all that it says.  But it also states biblical doctrine in a different way than how the Bible states it.  The content is the same, the form is different.  That’s how all interpretations are–they are re-articulations (different ways of expressing) ofthe content (ideas and concepts) a text says.

Advertisements

41 Responses to “Church Authority, Argument 4: Sola Scriptura vs. Prima Scriptura and Icons”

  1. A. C. Gleason Says:

    First a relevant question then an irrelevant one.

    At what points does Anglicanism diverge from what you’ve stated in this article?

    And the night we had a discussion with Perry he spoke of some huge series of Anglican writings he went through that converted him (not to orthodoxy of course). I was wondering if you knew what that was called, it greatly interested me.

  2. MG Says:

    Aaron–

    Anglo Catholics also teach Prima Scriptura. Newman would be an example of this. See his rather excellent “Lectures on the Prophetical Office of the Church” for his treatment of the theory of private judgment. Make sure you are reading the pre-Catholic Newman on this subject, though. After his conversion, he had to deny that the consensus of the Fathers was where the actual teachings of the Church were located, because Rome’s (*specific*) papal theory is not the teaching of the consensus of the Fathers, and because the Papal theory must deny the consensus of the Fathers is authoritative because the Pope is the only true inherently infallible voice of the Church. See here:

    http://www.newmanreader.org/works/viamedia/volume1/index.html

    The books are called “the library of Anglo-Catholic theology”.

  3. Jordan P. Says:

    This was a really great blog, very succinct and matter of fact!

  4. MG Says:

    Thanks Jordan.

  5. A. C. Gleason Says:

    Thank you so much Michael. After Perry mentioned those books I knew that I had to read them. I concur with Jordan, this was a very good blog post.

  6. Jordan P. Says:

    I may have emailed you about this already (and this may not be worthy of a blog post) but since you’re taking questions . . . Could you explain (or point me to a source that explains) the Orthodox doctrine of the atonement? I often encounter EO Christians giving their views against substitutionary atonement and against any sort of penal/debt-oriented view of the atonement. I far less often hear EO Christians detailing exactly what it is they DO believe regarding the atonement, and the internet has not been of much help. so alas i’m at the doorstep of the well (of questions). thanks =)

  7. catz206 Says:

    MG-
    I have a response to your Cyril of Jerusalem comments up (and I will look at your blog post eventually too).

    All hell is breaking loose over here in Philadelphia and my attention is needed elsewhere. I’m afraid posting will be irregular for a while. Thank you for your patience!

  8. DisposableSoul Says:

    Isn’t private judgment simply the individual capacity allowing one to make their own opinions around a specific idea? In essence, how does my ability to decide for myself lead to all doctrines being equal?

  9. MG Says:

    Jordan–

    The Orthodox understanding of atonement can be called recapitulation. Recapitulation involves Christ’s summing up of humanity and divinity in his divine Person. The Incarnation (by uniting what is common to humanity and divinity) effects the unity of all things in heaven and on earth in Christ. This begins when the incarnate One introduces the power of incorruption and immortality into human nature, and makes the soul immortal (it was capable of postmortem annihilaiton before the incarnation). This power gets infused into every stage of human life as Christ relives the history of humanity and Israel in himself, summing up what is common to all. He lives all the natural stages of human experience, sanctifying them. This begins with “birth”, followed by “life”.

    Then comes death. Death was introduced as a “wage paid by sin”; in other words, there is a disordering of human nature that comes as a natural consequence from the personal misuse of human nature. This introduces a tendency towards loss of life, and consequently (a) moral weakness/sinfulness, (b) the disunity of body and soul, and (c) postmortem annihilation (as the soul continues to lose life after death). Christ has to recapitulate the “disunity of body and soul” stage of human life in himself in order to make immortality intrinsic to death. When he does so, He makes it so that death is no longer the opposite of life. Now, instead of leading to annihilation or permanent disembodiment, death leads to immortality and resurrection. It also becomes possible to endure death with a passionless experience of the divine glory, which was not possible for humanity before Christ’s death. Christ’s rising from the dead introduces the fourth stage of human life, resurrection. He predestines human nature (and what is connected to it–the cosmos) to resurrection unto life eternal in Christ. It is from his flesh that God’s glory, immortality, and justice etc. shine forth, deifying (from within) all of nature with grace (God’s uncreated life).

    So Christ’s death is a victory over sin and death and the devil, where he takes the keys of death and hades from the devil (Rev 1:17-18). He becomes Lord of the living and the dead (Rom 14:9) through death and resurrection, because now the devil cannot use death as a weapon against God to put body and soul into a dialectic of opposition (death) unto annihilation (the loss of God’s sustaining grace via the corruption of the soul) or permanent opposition (Heb 2:14-15). As such, the cross spoils the principalities and powers (Col 2:15) and binds the strongman (12:29) to steal his goods (the creation he tried to take captive). Our nature is ransomed from death (Hos 13:14) and freed from the power of sin (Rom 6:9-10). Now, all men die because Christ died (2 Cor 5:14-15), instead of because Adam died. Christians must personally recapitulate what Christ has effectively accomplished for human nature. We must now personally die to sin (Romans 6) by being co-crucified with Christ (Rom 6:6, Gal 2:19-21). This experience of crucifixion is effected in baptism which is part of what makes effective our daily death with him (asceticism, prayer, fasting, charity, etc.).

    Christ’s death is also a sacrifice, which effects cleansing and healing, including the removal of corruption (=sin/sins). It takes away the wrath of God (the natural consequences of sin) by removing this corruption and infusing us with life (Rom 3:24-25, 5:1, 5:9-10). It cleanses us of corruption and constitutes us righteous/just/put-to-rights in Christ (2 Cor 5:21). It also effects forgiveness because in Christ’s death, God lovingly embraces humanity, refusing to allow his creatures to be overcome by death. God does not let our sins stand between him and us, but reconciles the world/cosmos to himself (2 Cor 5:19, Col 2:13-14). This is what forgiveness consists in–not just removal of debt (which God was able to do pre-crucifixion, because He is a loving God, and needs nothing, including repayment). God forgives us by not letting sin stand permanently between us and him, and embracing human nature, making alive (Luke 15:24) the good thing that his creatures misused. Now, the restoration of personal relationship with God and a creature (forgiveness as comonly understood, the removal of debt, no longer holding sins against someone) is permanent and leads to immortality, because God has already effectively forgiven humanity in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, by doing all that is necessary to restore communion between God and man.

    I highly recommend the following for an Orthodox understanding of atonement:
    Irenaeus’ Against Heresies (look for the relevant Scripture references)
    Athanasius’ On the Incarnation (has several excellent sections, see here for my reflections: http://wellofquestions.wordpress.com/2009/01/21/natural-consequences-5-athanasius-on-the-law-of-death/ )
    Chrysostom’s Homilies (look for the relevant Scripture references)
    Maximus’ Ad Thalassium (see here 42 http://wellofquestions.wordpress.com/2009/04/10/st-maximus-on-the-corruption-of-christs-humanity/ )

    In terms of modern sources:
    Protestant writers that are to one degree or another supportive of this view in their exegesis include:
    Joel Green (Recovering the Scandal of the Cross, and his contribution to The Atonement Debate)
    Steven Travis (Christ and the Judgment of God)
    Michael Gorman (Inhabiting the Cruciform God)

    Perry has some good posts here:
    http://energeticprocession.wordpress.com/2006/12/10/the-cross-is-the-incarnation/
    and here:
    http://energeticprocession.wordpress.com/2009/02/18/cur-deus-homo/

    The liturgical expression in many ways says far more about this (and in a far more edifying way) than any carefully-worded explanation though, and if you haven’t been to a Good Friday or Pascha service, I’d highly recommend it–or really any time during Lent. But, if you want a more precise explanation of why recapitulation was necessary, that will be coming up in a post sometime soon. You can get a preview here:

    http://wellofquestions.wordpress.com/2009/04/21/could-god-save-us-from-annihilation-without-the-incarnation/

  10. MG Says:

    Catz–

    I will look into it. And I will also post responses to your and David’s arguments about these issues elsewhere on your blog. But please take your time, there is no rush to respond immediately.

  11. MG Says:

    DisposableSoul–

    You wrote:

    “Isn’t private judgment simply the individual capacity allowing one to make their own opinions around a specific idea?”

    As it is being defined here, private judgment is a specific thesis about the normativity (or lack thereof) of the interpretive decisions of some Christians. Though we could use the label “private judgment” to describe what you said, the concept “It is false that a believer’s conscience can be bound by the inherent authority of the interpretive/doctrinal decisions of other Christians” is clearly a distinct concept from “the capacity to make opinions and ideas”.

    So I’d prefer to call the ability to make accurate intellectual decisions, form opinions, and form ideas, “intellectual power”. Clearly everyone has to use their intellect to assess whether or not they should believe in a doctrine. Catholics and Orthodox have to use this power like Protestants. Correctly employing this power we might call “being accurate”. But this is distinct from “being authoritative”. Authority is a normative power–the ability to bind human consciences to believe and do certain things. If someone is authoritative, then there is a kind of inherent normative significance to his or her decisions. The fact that a person says x is true provides (in and of itself) some reason to believe x; the fact that a person commands action y provides (in and of itself) some reason to do y. This is different from a person who says “x is true” and gives arguments for it and tries to persuade you to accept x on the basis of evidence; this person is not using authority, but is making an appeal to your intellect (perhaps, if they are a Protestant theologian, they are trying to persuade your private judgment to agree with their private judgment). If a person says “believe that x is true because I say so”, where “because I say so” is at least a partial reason to accept x, then we would say the person is claiming to be authoritative. They are issuing a command to believe. Similarly if some person were trying to get you to act in some way y that appeals solely to considerations you find persuasive independent of the significance of their own judgment (such as “do this because you will have pleasure” “do this because it seems most plausible to you to think this is God’s will” “do this because it is reasonable”) then this is not an exercise of authority. It is persuading someone to act a specific way. But if they said, “do this because I say so” they would be claiming authority.

    Now, not all authority is equal. Some authorities’ decisions provide stronger reasons to accept their judgments or commands than others. If your parents commanded you to take out the trash, their command would often be an overriding reason to take out the trash. You wouldn’t say “I will take out the trash because you gave me a really compelling argument for why I needed to” or something like that. You would say “I will take out the trash because you told me to.” But if a parent of yours commanded you to commit an act of morally abhorrent violence, their command would not be an overriding reason to commit said act. So authority has degrees. Some (most, actually) authorities are fallible. An infallible authority is an authority that, under some conditions, is capable of making decisions that have an unqualified normativity, which involves the inability to be wrong in making the decision. These decisions make it necessary without exception to believe or do as the authority says. If God commands us to do or believe something, we must do or believe it, because God is infallible. So authority comes in degrees; God has the highest degree of authority.

    And the range of activities over which authorities’ decisions hold weight is different for different authorities. Our parents may be able to command us to take out the trash, and the fact of their issuing this command is *in and of itself* a somewhat strong reason to comply (perhaps it could be overridden by life-or-death concerns–“but there’s a murderer on the loose in our neighborhood!”). But do our parents have the authority to tell us “you must believe that George Washington never existed because I said so”? No; their authority does not range to intellectual matters such as these. So different authorities have different spheres of authority.

    The difference between Protestants and non-Protestants, then, is this. Those of a more Catholic Christianity (traditional–not Roman) think we are supposed to use our intellect to discern both (a) the meaning of the authoritative words of the biblical text and (b) when and where there is an exercise of interpretive authority in the Church’s decisions about what to teach about Scripture. When the actual exercise of ecclesiastical authority is rightly perceived (sometimes we think the Church teaches something, and really she teaches something else) it is a reason to accept whatever decisions the Church makes. These decisions have more normative significance than our own attempts to understand the biblical text. Protestants think we are supposed to not consider the Church’s interpretive decisions as having (in and of themselves) conscience-binding normativity. The doctrinal formulations of the Church are doctrines of men, and have no ultimate binding, normative significance for us. Notice what I am not saying. I am not saying a Protestant would say “everything any church teaches is false” (it would be absurd if they said that). So a Protestant may think, even, that all the doctrines his or her church teaches are true. They may even be incredibly well-argued doctrines, with excellent exegetical reasons supporting them. But this is different from saying these doctrinal formulations are binding on our conscience because of the Church’s authority. There is a different between saying that any given church is doctrinally accurate (“the fact that the church argues persuasively and I therefore tend to agree with its doctrines is why I accept its teachings”) and saying that a church is doctrinally authoritative (“the fact that the church teaches x is a reason to accept x”). I may use my intellectual powers to recognize whether the church teaches x (by trying to understand if a council is ecumenical, for instance), but this is not private judgment, because when I recognize the church’s actual decisions, I am conscience bound to accept them, because “these are the teachings of the church”. If I am a Protestant, and I recognize the church’s actual teachings, I am not conscience-bound to accept them just based on the fact that “these are the teachings of the church”

    Does that make any sense? I know that was kind of long, but did that distinction between accuracy and authority seem clear to you?

    You wrote:

    “In essence, how does my ability to decide for myself lead to all doctrines being equal?”

    There are senses in which doctrinal formulations can be unequal if Protestantism is true. They can be unequal in terms of degree of support from exegetical argument, or degree of consistency, and other such things. Furthermore, some doctrines are objectively true, and others objectively false; true ones are better to believe than false ones. So in those senses not all doctrines are equal, even if Protestantism is true.

    But in terms of whether or not we are conscience bound to accept any given doctrine, all doctrines are equally lacking in authority. The church does not teach authoritatively, and as such, we are not bound to accept its teachings *based on the fact that it teaches them*. All the teachings of the church are equally teachings of men, even if they may be unequal in terms of the amount of exegetical support they get from divine teaching (Scripture), or unequal in terms of accurately or incorrectly representing the truth about divine teaching.

    Hopefully this has been slightly helpful, not just hopelessly confusing. If I can clear anything up, please don’t hesitate to ask.

  12. DisposableSoul Says:

    MG-

    Could you dumb this down a bit for me? I’m not a theology or philosophy student. Thanks.

    -DS

  13. MG Says:

    DisposableSoul–

    You wrote:

    “Could you dumb this down a bit for me? I’m not a theology or philosophy student. Thanks.”

    Sorry; hopefully the abridged version below helps. If you need anything else explained, please ask.

    You wrote:

    “Isn’t private judgment simply the individual capacity allowing one to make their own opinions around a specific idea?”

    Using private judgment is not the same as having the power to form opinions and ideas. This power to form opinions and ideas can be called the intellect. If you have the right to use private judgment, then that means that you aren’t obligated to agree with church leaders’ interpretations of the Bible. Just because a church leader (or many church leaders) says “this doctrine is true” doesn’t mean you are obligated to believe the doctrine actually is true. If you can be persuaded it is true from Scripture, then you should accept it; but you shouldn’t accept some leader’s interpretation just because that person says “hey, you must believe this interpretation because I say so”. That seems to be the Protestant view—you are only bound to accept whatever doctrine your private judgment is persuaded of. On the Orthodox view of Church authority, when the Church makes an interpretation, then we are obligated to agree with its interpretations of the Bible. But notice: this does not deny that we have to be able to recognize when the church is making an interpretation. So we use our intelligence to recognize the Church’s decisions. But once we find out what the Church’s decisions are, we don’t have private judgment to reject what the Church decided.

    So using intelligence to recognize the Church’s teaching is not the same as using private judgment—not as I defined it at least. Its not as though when I do figure out what the Church teaches, I get to reject it because my conscience isn’t bound to agree; that’s what I could do if I had the right to private judgment. If a Protestant is in a church, and he uses his intelligence and recognizes that his church has made a decision to teach some doctrine (call it “x”), then he is not conscience-bound to accept that doctrine x is true. If people can convince him to accept the doctrine x by giving good arguments, then sure, he should believe it; but its not like someone has to accept doctrine x just because his church says x is true.

    So if Protestantism is right, and private judgment is true, then even when we use our intelligence and recognize what the church teaches, our conscience is not bound accept its teachings. If our private judgment isn’t persuaded, we do not have to agree. But if the Orthodox (or Roman Catholics, or Anglo-Catholics) are right, then things are more complicated. There is the process of using our intelligence and figuring out when and where an authority is saying something about doctrine; then your conscience is bound to believe it; and then comes the process of accepting what the authority said.

    You wrote:

    “In essence, how does my ability to decide for myself lead to all doctrines being equal?”

    Well, everyone agrees you need to decide what to believe (you have intelligence, and should use it). Also, not all doctrines have equally good arguments for them from Scripture. The question is whether or not there are some authorities that we are obligated to follow when they interpret and teach doctrines. If Protestantism is right, then there are no authorities we are obligated to follow when they interpret biblical doctrines. In one sense not every doctrine is equal, because some arguments for some doctrines may be better than others; and some people’s doctrines are true while others are false. But in terms of authority, all interpretations of Scripture by church leaders are equally lacking authority. So on the Protestant view, no one is obligated to obey a church when it teaches doctrine x just because the church says doctrine x is true.

    Does that make sense?

    Also, if you would like a brief summary of the arguments for the Orthodox view of Church authority, please ask.

  14. DisposableSoul Says:

    MG-

    Thank you for simplifying all of that for me. Greatly appreciate it. I still have many questions though:

    You gave me just the Protestant views in my last question. What do the Eastern Orthodox folk think about this?

    If the church is incorrect, surely one would follow scripture and not the church. I just did a quick skim on wikipedia (I know, shame on me) and saw the veneration of icons being a fundamental difference between Eastern Orthodoxy and Protestantism. What do you think about this? Is that a different interpretation of scripture, or is a church simply mistaken?

    Thanks!

    -DS

  15. MG Says:

    Disposable Soul,

    You’re welcome. It has been a pleasure talking to you. Please keep commenting if you’re still interested in discussing.

    You wrote:

    The Orthodox deny private judgment. We think that the interpretive decisions of some Church leaders are authoritative; we are conscience-bound to accept them. Also, the Holy oral Tradition of the Church includes some interpretations of biblical doctrine that have authority behind them. The rule of faith is an example of an oral tradition of biblical interpretation that has authority behind it.

    In fact, we think that the Church is infallible. This doesn’t mean that the decisions of any single leader are necessarily infallible (like the Roman Catholic view of the Pope). Rather, the Church as a whole is infallible. But what is true of the whole is not necessarily true of the parts (think of a square-shaped puzzle with triangular pieces). So the fact that some bishops and priests are in error does not mean the Church as a whole is in error. The infallibility of the Church does mean that when the Church as a whole makes a decision about how to interpret Scripture, then the Church’s members are bound to accept this decision. The consensus of the Church is one way God speaks to us authoritatively. We recognize the whole Church’s decisions by looking at what has been taught everywhere, at all times, by the vast majority of Christian leaders. These authoritative decisions aren’t some new revelation from the Church, though. After all, the Church is just interpreting what is already in Scripture—not adding new doctrines.

    The idea of an infallible Church is based on the Incarnation. Because Jesus is a divine person, his human nature is filled with divine power. When he speaks as a man, his words are divinely authoritative—they are full of God’s infallibility. The Church is Christ’s body (which is not just a metaphor–it is literally the physical part of Christ’s human nature; see for example 1 Cor. 12:12, where the Church is identified with Christ). So because Christ’s body is infallible, and the Church is Christ’s body, therefore the Church is infallible.

    There are many other good arguments for the infallibility of the Church too.

    You wrote:

    “If the church is incorrect, surely one would follow scripture and not the church.

    Well, that’s kinda the whole question isn’t it? Is the Church able to be mistaken? How would we know the Orthodox Church got something wrong? If you say “well, my interpretation of the bible has good arguments for it, and it is a different interpretation than the one given by the Orthodox Church” then this seems to assume what you’re trying to prove—namely that you have figured out the correct interpretation of the Bible. It seems legitimate to ask: why think that your well-argued interpretation of Scripture is correct? After all, if the Church is infallible, then even if we have good reasons to accept a different interpretation of a Bible passage, these reasons are trumped by Christ’s interpretive authority being exercised in the Church.

    “I just did a quick skim on wikipedia (I know, shame on me) and saw the veneration of icons being a fundamental difference between Eastern Orthodoxy and Protestantism. What do you think about this? Is that a different interpretation of scripture, or is a church simply mistaken?”

    Sorry, but I’m not totally clear on what you’re asking. Are you trying to ask if I think that Scripture teaches one way or the other? Are you trying to ask if I think icons are optional for Christians?

  16. DisposableSoul Says:

    MG-

    My apologies, sometimes I write things faster than my mind allows. It would help me greatly if you could explain where the veneration of icons found in scripture, I would be most grateful. I’m having some difficulty in finding that select group of verses.

    You wrote-

    “Are you trying to ask if I think icons are optional for Christians?”

    I wasn’t initially, but now that you mention it, I am interested in your opinion that matter. Anything you have to offer would be helpful.

    Thank you once again, good sir.

    -Disposable Soul

  17. Does The Church Have Authority? | The A-Team Blog Says:

    […] Orthodox blog, The Well of Questions, blogger MG has been arguing for some time (most recently, here) that Protestants do not in fact believe that the church has any authority. Rather, we merely […]

  18. David Says:

    Mike,

    I wrote a post regarding the issue of accuracy vs. authority, if you’d like to check out.

    http://afcmin.org/ateam/1613/does-the-church-have-authority

  19. MG Says:

    Disposable Soul–

    An example of the veneration of icons is Psalm 99. In this Psalm, instructions are given to “Extol the Lord our God; worship at his footstool”. The word “footstool” seems to be talking about the Ark of the covenant, given the context (99:1 speaks of God enthroned upon the cherubim) and usage of the phrase “footstool” elsewhere (see 1 Chronicles 28:2 “I had planned to build a house of rest for the ark of the covenant of the Lord, for the footstool of our God”). The word for “worship” is the same as the word in Exodus 20:5; it is talking about bowing down in front of things. So here we have instructions mandating that Israelites bow down before the Ark of the Covenant. Naturally an Orthodox Christian will want to transfer this Psalm into its Christ-revealing, New Testament meaning. The ark was a type of the cross of Christ, the tomb of Christ, and the Virgin Mary; so this Psalm is talking about bowing down to the cross and tomb of Christ, and the Virgin Mary, and worshiping the Christ who is within these.

    I don’t think icons are optional for Christians. I can’t necessarily prove this using Scriptural arguments you would accept. But because I think there are overriding reasons to think Eastern Orthodoxy is true, and the Orthodox Church has authority to bind my conscience to believe and do certain things, I am conscience-bound to accept its authority in this matter. I don’t think non-Orthodox Christians are all hell-bound if they reject icons. But they are missing out on something that is of great benefit to the user. Iconography is a powerful expression of the Gospel, part of which is the Lordship of Christ over matter in his Incarnation, death, and Resurrection. Icons are a powerful way in which God accomplishes our sanctification. Speaking from personal experience, I know that standing in front of icons I can see God’s presence better and become focused in my prayers better than I otherwise would. Having icons present in one’s house is also a powerful reminder of God’s love, and they can be helpful for keeping us from falling into sin when we see the face of Christ and the faces of his Saints. This has been the common experience of the Church through the ages.

  20. DisposableSoul Says:

    MG-

    Thank you for getting back to me, sir.

    Iconography is indeed a powerful expression of the Gospel, to be sure. I, however, never saw icons as anything worthy of veneration; to be respected, surely. Could it be that ‘footstool’ is indeed just a footstool? You use the language “seems to be” in your description of what the verse may mean, and that to me doesn’t exactly display complete metaphysical certitude. Certainly the Sons of Israel revered the ark, but they worshiped the creator of the universe, not the gold and acacia that made the ark. To esteem wood and metal to the point of veneration seems, in my mind, to be in exact opposite of what scripture teaches.

    You said—

    “”But because I think there are overriding reasons to think Eastern Orthodoxy is true, and the Orthodox Church has authority to bind my conscience to believe and do certain things, I am conscience-bound to accept its authority in this matter.”

    If the Eastern Orthodox Church has such an authority over one’s life as to indicate the complete removal of scriptural authority in one’s life, then I am fearful of religion.

    Maybe I’m just not fathoming the idea. Do you have any doubts/ thoughts on the matter?

    Now on to Point 2:

    Haha I am glad you don’t think non-Orthodox Christians are hell-bound. That saves me from crying in the corner all day. I’m glad the 7th council agrees with you.

    I don’t doubt the beauty of icons. My father was raised Roman Catholic and became a born-again evangelical in his late teens, and he still has a deep reverence for his heritage, which seems to be an overriding reason people venerate icons. Maybe it is just me, but I don’t see the point in venerating a statue of my God when I can simply venerate and worship my God. I too can speak from personal experience and say that while I found the icons to be beautiful, I marveled more at the earthly creation of them; made by human hands. I found them to be beautiful, but more distracting because I focused more on the art.

    For certain we are missing out on the beauty of these reminders, these representatives of time past. But, I believe they are an optional reminder of a God who uses grace and mercy as options, not stone and metal and wood. But, then again, I am a born-again Christian with agnostic tendencies, so I apologize if those tendencies came on stronger than they need be.

    -Thank you for responding, sir.

    -Disposable Soul

  21. catz206 Says:

    Hey MG,

    Read your post and have many questions but I’ll just camp on one or two issues.

    1)In your last response to Disposable Soul you said that you could not provide any convincing Scripture in support of the necessity of venerating icons but accepted Eastern Orthodoxy as true and so by extension accept the veneration of icons. This touches on what I originally asked you.

    If the Primacy of Scripture view affirms the clarity of Scripture, doesn’t this pose a problem if one has to just accept this key doctrine on the basis of the EO “binding your consciece”?

    2) I’m glad you don’t think everyone else is going to hell ; ) but doesn’t the seventh EC declare those who do not venerate icons anathema? I believe the term in the NT indicates separation from God or damnation. Am I reading this wrong?

    P.S. Kissed first icons in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church! Brought one home too. I’ll have to show you some time if you can receive pics w your phone.

  22. MG Says:

    Disposable Soul—

    You wrote:

    “Iconography… teaches.”

    Well, using a Protestant exegetical method we should take this as an instruction to bow before the Ark. The argument I gave makes it probable that this is what it is talking about. Absolute certainty is not the issue, though. Its which interpretation is most probable. That’s what I meant by “seems to be”.

    No one in this dispute thinks we are supposed to worship the gold and acacia of the ark. Veneration is different from worship, for worship regards a person as uncreated and divine by nature. If I venerate someone or something, I do so because of inherent good qualities the thing has. But these qualities are derived from God’s grace. That’s why any kind of honor shown to an image is transferred to the prototype of that image. When I venerate an icon of Christ, the person of Christ, who is the prototype of the image, gets the honor I gave to the image. Though Christ is distinct from an image of Himself, there is no opposition or separation between Christ and the image; for his power and glory dwell within matter. Thus venerating the icon does not mean showing honor to matter *as opposed to God*, but showing honor to matter as a God-bearing vessel, and consequently worshipping God whose power and presence is within matter.

    You wrote:

    “If the Eastern Orthodox Church has such an authority over one’s life as to indicate the complete removal of scriptural authority in one’s life, then I am fearful of religion.

    Maybe I’m just not fathoming the idea. Do you have any doubts/ thoughts on the matter?”

    The Church’s authority does not deprive the Scriptures of their authority. Rather, it acknowledges that the Scriptures are an authoritative rule. But rules do not self-interpret or self-apply. They have to be interpreted and applied (think of the legislative and judicial branches). In order to interpret and apply an authoritative rule, there must be a judge—a person or institution. This person or institution must have judgments that are more authoritative than those of other people. Notice that when a judge interprets a rule, he or she does not take away from the authority of the rule. He or she is rather *acknowledging* the fact that the rule is authoritative—that it must be conformed to—and submitting to it by trying to faithfully apply and articulate it. That is the kind of role the Church plays.

    Think of biblical passages that talk about Church authority. Matthew 16:18-19 and 18:15-20 talk about the Apostles’ authority to bind and loose. First, this is talking about the power to forgive sins, which is given to the Apostles by Christ (John 20:21-23). Second, in the Jewish context, it refers to interpretive authority. This is an authority that Christ recognizes in the Scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 23:1-3) but which will be transferred to the Church’s first leaders (the Apostles). This authority they will receive (21:40-45) when they are commissioned to the new covenant ministry by Christ (Matthew 28:16-20) with the power to teach.

    Think of how Paul describes the attitude a congregation should take toward its leaders (1 Thess. 5:12-14, Heb. 13:7, 17, 24). Or consider the fact that he commands Titus to “exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no one look down on you.” (Titus 2:15) All of these passages seem to be pointing toward the same thing: we should submit to the judgment of our leaders and defer to them. This seems to be what the Bible teaches; our own private perception of Scriptural authority seems to lead toward the acknowledgment that private judgment is not the final word in matters of Christian discipline and teaching.

    You wrote:

    “I don’t doubt …they need be.”

    Well, if you think matter is or can be defied (filled with Christ’s divine power and glory) then surely it should be honored when it is being used for holy purposes, right? Do you think Christ’s body is deified in his Incarnation?

    It might take practice trying to see the spiritual meaning that is inherent in an icon; I know it was hard for me at first. But if Christ was standing physically in front of me, I know it would be proper to worship at his feet, because He Himself is in his body. If icons can make Christ personally present to us (by the indwelling of his power) then surely we should worship Christ by venerating the icon, right? It seems hard to me to be a Christian; we need all the help we can get. And if God is making himself accessible to us in his world in such an important way, I want that access.

    By the way, what do you mean by “agnostic tendencies”? If this is something you’d rather talk about over email, I can give you my address.

    Thanks again.

  23. MG Says:

    You wrote:

    “1)In your last response to Disposable Soul you said that you could not provide any convincing Scripture in support of the necessity of venerating icons but accepted Eastern Orthodoxy as true and so by extension accept the veneration of icons. This touches on what I originally asked you.

    If the Primacy of Scripture view affirms the clarity of Scripture, doesn’t this pose a problem if one has to just accept this key doctrine on the basis of the EO “binding your consciece”?”

    First, clarity of Scripture on some specific issues (the deity of Christ, the Trinity, the efficacy of his cross and resurrection for our salvation, salvation by grace through faith, the resurrection of the dead, etc.) does not transfer to all issues. I don’t have to think the issue of iconography is equally clear to think that the Scriptures are clear about a great many things.

    Second, clarity is to some degree perspectival. Aside from a very small number of truths (albeit significant ones) that are overwhelmingly clear to virtually everyone, there is a lot of biological and social conditioning that affects our accuracy. The presuppositions we bring to a text will often affect our ability to accurately infer things from it. The fact that it is not clear to Protestants does not, therefore, weigh against the clarity of Scriptural teaching on this subject per se. Not any more than the fact that the deity of Christ was not clear to the Arians, who presupposed that a cause was always ontologically diminished from its effect, presupposing a kind of Platonist metaphysics. Clarity is, to a large degree, in the eye of the beholder.

    This brings me to my third point. The clarity of Scripture does not equate to “an historical grammatical method is all we need to extract truth from the Bible”. Sure, using an historical grammatical method, we can’t prove that icons are necessary in the NT Church. There are no passages in the New Testament that explicitly teach such a thing, so it can’t just be derived from an historically-contextualized assessment of the grammar. That’s what I meant when I made that comment to Disposable Soul. What I actually said was this: “I don’t think icons are optional for Christians. I can’t necessarily prove this using Scriptural arguments you would accept. But because I think there are overriding reasons to think Eastern Orthodoxy is true, and the Orthodox Church has authority to bind my conscience to believe and do certain things, I am conscience-bound to accept its authority in this matter.” I was denying that he has the same presuppositions I do. I was denying that the presupposition of an historical-grammatical method would yield arguments he would find persuasive for the conclusion “icons are necessary to be venerated in Churches”. However, “I can’t necessarily prove this using Scriptural arguments you would accept” does not equate to “it isn’t in any way clear that this is true/there’s no overriding evidence that this is true”. On the contrary, I think even those ruled by private judgment should agree based on the evidence I cited above. I don’t think they will, because people that exercise private judgment also tend to assume the historical grammatical method is the sole valid way (or at least the most valid way) to extract truth from the Scriptures. If they interpreted the Scriptures through a Christological, liturgical, sacramental, ecclesial lens (the *correct* lens), then their private judgment would be persuaded. But that’s not a problem with the clarity of Scripture on this subject; it is a problem with the particular people exercising private judgment.

    You wrote:

    “2) I’m glad you don’t think everyone else is going to hell ; ) but doesn’t the seventh EC declare those who do not venerate icons anathema? I believe the term in the NT indicates separation from God or damnation. Am I reading this wrong?”

    We don’t understand these anathemas as unqualified condemnations of every particular person that rejects the teaching in question. They are condemnations of those who willfully hold to this position in full knowledge that the Orthodox Church is authoritative and that they are violating the Church’s teaching. Any given Protestant may or may not be in this position (in fact, they probably are not in this position). Responsibility is always qualified by inculpable ignorance.

  24. Jordan P. Says:

    MG,

    I have a quick question, one already articulated by david in his post http://afcmin.org/ateam/1613/does-the-church-have-authority

    he said, “If it is argued that the individual still has greater authority than the church because he or she can choose which church to follow and submit to in the first place, I would simply point out that the same is true for those who choose to follow either Rome or Constantinople.”

    and i would reiterate, did you not choose to submit yourself to the authority of the orthodox church? did you not, in your private judgment, find their arguments to be persuasive enough to believe? or did you come to faith in the eastern church by some means other than theo-philosophical reasoning?

    another question that i have that i think follows from the first is if, as you say, Scripture has “to be interpreted and applied (think of the legislative and judicial branches). In order to interpret and apply an authoritative rule, there must be a judge—a person or institution.” who then interprets the teachings of the church? if the scripture teaches it, the church must, by virtue of the reasons you’ve already given, interpret that teaching and re-teach it, if you will. But then we’re left with another teaching. how can the churches teaching be interpreted? do see what i’m getting at? it seems like a cycle.

    Rereading what i’ve just written i could see how it could be taken as aggressive, but please let me assure you i ask these questions with benign curiosity. Also i hope all these questions from myself and others won’t cause you to spread your energies too thin =)

  25. Jordan P. Says:

    p.s.

    one example of my question would be, if the fathers can interpret scripture authoritatively, who can interpret the fathers authoritatively? and so on.

    thanks

    JP

  26. David Nilsen Says:

    I sort of feel bad asking, since there are already a lot of different threads going on here at once, but…

    You said: “Veneration is different from worship, for worship regards a person as uncreated and divine by nature.”

    Is that really a useful definition of “worship” in the context of potential idolatry? Does someone who loves money a little too much, to the point of making it an idol in their life, really regard money as “uncreated and divine”? I mean, the Bible seems to teach pretty clearly that you don’t have to bow to a statue of Baal to be engaged in acts of idolatrous worship. I feel like you’re simply stacking the deck in your favor. You might as well define worship as “that which regards the object as the eternal Triune creator of the universe revealed in the Bible.” Then all idol worship could simply be viewed as veneration.

    You wrote: “there is no opposition or separation between Christ and the image; for his power and glory dwell within matter. Thus venerating the icon does not mean showing honor to matter *as opposed to God*, but showing honor to matter as a God-bearing vessel, and consequently worshipping God whose power and presence is within matter.”

    Would this apply to *all* matter? Could you venerate anything in nature and make the same claim? If not, why not?

    Thanks!

  27. Krause Says:

    Nilsen,
    Idolatry is about putting something else in the place of God. When venerating an icon, the Orthodox believer does not confuse think that the wood and paint are God. Nor does the Orthodox put the wood and paint up in God’s place in his heart and serve the icon iteself, rather than God. Rather, the Orthodox venerates and adores the image (as has been said) because of who it is an image of, and because of the mystical connection between image and prototype.

    How exactly could all idolatry be viewed simply as veneration? Idolatry involves putting false gods in the place of God. Worshipping statues of Baal has nothing to do with worshipping the Trinity, and could not.

    We would only venerate all matter if we thought that God’s glory was present in all things equally. We don’t. It isn’t. Or do you think that the Glory of the Lord was present in my computer to the exact same degree as it was present in the body of Christ?

    David: What would you do when faced with the body of the Risen Christ? Would you fall down before His physical body and kiss his feet? Would you worship Him? Would you refuse to on the grounds that God and the matter of Jesus’ body are separate and the body is not Divine and therefore not worthy of worship? Would this be idolatry?

    I would fall down before the body of the Risen Christ and worship at His feet. I would not do the same to my desk, a rock, or a tree.

  28. David Nilsen Says:

    Krause,

    That’s sort of the point, right? Of course I would worship Christ, but why shouldn’t I also worship an image of Christ on your view? It sounds as though the difference between Christ’s body and an image of Christ’s body is only one of degree (God indwelling one less, one more), so shouldn’t I just worship the icon less? Or if worship is an all-or-nothing deal, what about veneration? I assume it is also a matter of degrees, that you would venerate an actual living saint more than an image of a saint. So then wouldn’t you simply have to venerate rocks and trees less than icons, or do you not believe that God’s glory indwells those things at all?

    I would also expand on the definition of idolatry to the inclusion of anything in worship that has not been prescribed directly by God. Nadab and Abihu may very well have thought that they were doing something good and helpful to worship, but God is not pleased with human invention.

    Also, what is the nature of the “mystical connection” between image and prototype? Why think that there is such a connection at all? Is there Biblical support for this?

  29. catz206 Says:

    MG-
    I admire your blogging powers with so many questions going on at once! Let me know if you want to just pick this up some other time.

    I pointed out that you told disposable soul that there was an absence of Scripture you could convince him with in regards to the necessity of veneration of icons but that this seemed to be a problem for what you said in your post about the Primacy of Scripture view requiring Scriptural support. You responded that clarity of Scripture only applied to specific issues like the deity of Christ, Trinity…ect. I agree with you on that but this seems different from what you said at the beginning of your post.

    At the beginning of your post you quote my question about (this very topic) whether icons are upheld to the same degree as in the seventh ecumenical council. Your response is:

    “This question might seem irrelevant. After all, Orthodoxy has oral tradition; why can’t oral tradition be where we get icons (and their necessity) from? Well, the Orthodox understanding of doctrine requires that the content of all Christian doctrine be contained in Scripture.” You then go on to talk about how you also believe in the perspicuity of Scripture.

    Two questions from here 1) What do you mean by “contained in Scripture”? Does this mean that passages can be interpreted allegorically or that their real meanings have to be uncovered and made clear by the church where otherwise the idea is not apparent? I guess my question here is: how far does this interpretive power stretch before the interpreter’s judgments can not really be checked by anyone outside of the interpreter?

    2) Is veneration of icons a necessary and important part (in a strongly emphasized way) of the faith? If so, then doesn’t it seem as though this ought to be included under the “clear” parts of Scripture?

  30. catz206 Says:

    “I was denying that he has the same presuppositions I do. I was denying that the presupposition of an historical-grammatical method would yield arguments he would find persuasive for the conclusion “icons are necessary to be venerated in Churches”…I think even those ruled by private judgment should agree based on the evidence I cited above. I don’t think they will, because people that exercise private judgment also tend to assume the historical grammatical method is the sole valid way (or at least the most valid way) to extract truth from the Scriptures.”

    What method would you propose? Simply the interpretation of the church? Is it only considered clear if you already think what the church interprets is the correct interpretation? So, Scripture is not sufficiently clear on the necessity of veneration of icons. It is one of those highly important doctrines for faith and practice that do not need Scripture to be sufficiently clear?

    “If they interpreted the Scriptures through a Christological, liturgical, sacramental, ecclesial lens (the *correct* lens), then their private judgment would be persuaded. But that’s not a problem with the clarity of Scripture on this subject; it is a problem with the particular people exercising private judgment.”

    Clarity of Scripture? Is Scripture sufficiently clear like in the Sola Scriptura you contrasted earlier or is Scripture’s clarity dependent on the *correct* lens? If that is the case then is Prima Scriptura really like Sola Scriptura on this point?

  31. catz206 Says:

    ***If that is the case then is Prima Scriptura really like Sola Scriptura on this point?***

    Meaning: does it hold Scripture is sufficiently clear as well

  32. Krause Says:

    Nilsen,
    The idea is that in physically bowing down before Christ’s body, you are not worshiping Christ’s skin, bones, and sinews, but the Person who possesses them. Similarly with icons, we are not worshiping the paint and wood, but we are worshiping the Person of Christ through the paint and wood. The veneration we give to the physical icon is a way of Worshiping the actual Christ.

    The difference between God’s presence in Christ and His presence in trees and rocks is a matter of degree and kind. Christ is God. Rocks and trees are not enhypostatized by Divine Persons. God’s power is present in the rocks and trees in a sense, but rocks and trees are not images of a Divine Person. Therefore, the relationship between image and prototype that justifies the veneration of icons is not there. Plus, God’s power and glory are not present in the same way in rocks and trees as they are in relics and specifically holy objects. Thus, we don’t venerate rocks and trees.

    As for your next point…obviously there’s a sense in which you beg the question because I think that God speaks through the Church and that the Church has clearly prescribed the use of icons in worship. Thus, I think God has clearly prescribed the use of icons in worship. Furthermore, I find it hard to believe that a protestant would deny any element of human invention to worship. Who designed the order and content of your Church service? God? Did you pull it directly out of the Bible (not likely, cause then your service would probably look a lot like ours…and it’d have images in it.)? This line of argument doesn’t seem to really help your case at all. It begs a lot of questions and the tu quo que is all too obvious.

    Finally, I think your last question is all too telling of the Christological problems of the Reformed position on Icons. I can think of one very prime example of a mystical connection between image and prototype in the Bible: “He is the image of the invisible God…” “Christ, who is the image of God…” “Who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His Person…” If one denies that there is any mystical connection between image and prototype then one cannot agree with what the Scriptures teach about Christ. Either Christ must be an image, and thus not have a mystical connection with God the Father, or Christ has such a mystical connection, but is not an image of the Father.

    Whose image are we made in? Who is that image? Does this image constitute some type of mystical connection? (In Christ?)

    There is a great biblical example of the principle that whatever is done to the image transfers to the prototype: “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick or in prison, and come to You?’ Then the King will answer them, ‘Assuredly I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.'” It is important to remember that within the Orthodox theology of the icon, the most important and valuable icon is always a living human icon. This is partly why an offense against any human being is an offense against God and blessing a human being is to bless God; because humans are made in God’s image. Furthermore, part of the didactic purpose of icons, is to teach us how we ought to cherish images of God, so that we can likewise cherish the living images of God around us.

    All that to say that I think the mystical connection between image and prototype is grounded in Christology and is very visible in the Scriptures.

  33. MG Says:

    Please take a look at my most recent post here:

    http://wellofquestions.wordpress.com/2009/09/24/church-authority-argument-5-private-judgment-and-authority/

    Some of the concerns and objections brought up in this comment box have been addressed.

  34. David Nilsen Says:

    Krause,

    “The difference between God’s presence in Christ and His presence in trees and rocks is a matter of degree and kind. Christ is God. Rocks and trees are not enhypostatized by Divine Persons.”

    Right, but an icon is not enhypostatized by a Divine Person either, right? So shouldn’t there also be a difference in kind between bowing before the risen Christ and bowing before an image of the risen Christ? In which case (a) it doesn’t seem as though using Christ as an example can justify the venration of icons because Christ is a unique case, and (b) again there seems to be only a difference of degree (and not kind) between an image of Christ in paint and wood and just plain old pieces of wood (or rocks or trees).

    As to your comments about Protestant worship, the Reformed have always held to the regulative principle of worship, which basically states that we can only do in worship that which is commanded in Scripture (as opposed to a Lutheran or modern evangelical approach, which is to say that we may do whatever is not explicitly forbidden in Scripture). You said: “Furthermore, I find it hard to believe that a protestant would deny any element of human invention to worship.” I thought you used to be Reformed? You should know that the Reformed (historically, at least) have never thought anything like this. So yes, in one sense I would say that a Reformed worship service is from God and not men. Did God write our liturgy? Yes, because our liturgy is taken almost exclusively from Scripture (with the obvious exception of prayers, of course, but those are commanded in Scripture and belong to the office of elder).

  35. Krause Says:

    Nilsen,

    An Icon is an image of the Logos. Rocks and trees are not. There is a difference in kind in bowing before Christ and an image of Christ: the difference between image and prototype. As was stated, there is a relationship of participation between image and prototype such that the honor given to an image transfers to the prototype. It’s the image of Christ we are venerating, not simply the wood, gold, and paint.

    Your liturgy may be mostly taken out of the Scriptures, but it’s arrangement, the order of your service, and the majority of your hymns are not taken directly out of the Scriptures, nor directly mandated by Scripture. Women taking the Eucharist is not found anywhere in Scripture. I assume you still administer the Eucharist to women.

    Honestly, does God tell you directly to when to sing hymns, when to have the homily, and when to take the Eucharist in the order of the service???

    An even bigger example of human invention I would point out is the Filioque when you say it in the Creed. It’s certainly nowhere directly taught in Scripture. So unless you think that God speaks directly through the Pope, I don’t know why you say that in your service either.

    Finally, does your silence on the last part of my post indicate that you admit that Scripture does articulate a mystical connection between image and prototype?

  36. David Nilsen Says:

    “As was stated, there is a relationship of participation between image and prototype such that the honor given to an image transfers to the prototype. It’s the image of Christ we are venerating, not simply the wood, gold, and paint.”

    Well I’m still not understanding this particular point, nor did I find the Scriptural arguments convincing (so to answer your last question: no). Can *any* image that is supposed to represent Christ be venerated, or does it have to be an image of a physical man? If the latter, does it not matter that the image look even remotely like the actual risen Christ? Is the intent of the artist who paints the image the only thing that’s important? How does the artist’s intent mystically transfer to the image (or does it)? Also, you didn’t address my point that, even by your logic thus far, it would seem that Christ is a unique case (because his physical image is enhypostatized by a Divine Person) and so using “He is the image of the invisible God” as a defense for icons seems a bit suspect to me.

    As for the RPW, the order and logic of our liturgy is from God in the sense that it is drawn implicitly from Scripture (and on the point of hymns, the Reformed churches originally sang *only* Scripture [specifically Psalms, of course]. It is only somewhat recently that non-inspired lyrics have been introduced in worship. And in fact, my professor cites the Eastern Orthodox church as an example of the fact that the early church probably did not use instruments or sing uninspired songs in worship, and that both were innovations introduced by Rome).

    But let me ask you, in what way is the order of your worship (down the details of when you sing a song, say a homily, etc) of divine origin? Do you actually believe that God inspired a liturgy of some sort? Is it included in Scripture?

  37. MG Says:

    Jordan—

    You wrote:

    “I have a quick question, one already articulated by david in his post http://afcmin.org/ateam/1613/does-the-church-have-authority
    he said, “If it is argued that the individual still has greater authority than the church because he or she can choose which church to follow and submit to in the first place, I would simply point out that the same is true for those who choose to follow either Rome or Constantinople.”

    and i would reiterate, did you not choose to submit yourself to the authority of the orthodox church? did you not, in your private judgment, find their arguments to be persuasive enough to believe? or did you come to faith in the eastern church by some means other than theo-philosophical reasoning?”

    “Finding arguments persuasive” does not mean the same thing as “a believer’s conscience cannot be bound by the interpretive/doctrinal decisions of other Christians, because these decisions lack inherent authority.” I’m not using private judgment (denying the Church has inherent authority); I’m just trying to be *accurate* (believing according to the best evidence) in recognizing inherent authority where it is.

    The argument is not that “the individual still has greater authority than the church because he or she can choose which church to follow and submit to in the first place”. The argument is that if none of a church’s decisions can be inherently binding on our conscience, then it is not authoritative, and the individual’s judgment is more normative than the Church’s. So the real question is what kinds of implications would follow from identifying something as the Church and choosing to join. If identifying something as the Church implies you should submit your judgment to all of its (actual) decisions, (even if you disagree with some of them) then that Church has authority. If identifying something as the church depends on whether or not you can identify all of its doctrines as true based on your use of private judgment, then that church does not have inherent authority. See my most recent post for more on this subject.

    You wrote:

    “another question that i have that i think follows from the first is if, as you say, Scripture has “to be interpreted and applied (think of the legislative and judicial branches). In order to interpret and apply an authoritative rule, there must be a judge—a person or institution.” who then interprets the teachings of the church? if the scripture teaches it, the church must, by virtue of the reasons you’ve already given, interpret that teaching and re-teach it, if you will. But then we’re left with another teaching. how can the churches teaching be interpreted? do see what i’m getting at? it seems like a cycle.”

    I probably should have more carefully qualified what I was saying. What I actually was going to say (but didn’t, because I felt like it would be too wordy in context) was that “In order to interpret and apply an authoritative rule *in an authoritative way*, there must be a judge—an authoritative person or institution”. My own understanding of the church’s teachings is not authoritative, but it could be accurate (just like my own interpretation of Scripture’s teachings could be accurate). This means the Church’s doctrinal formulations are conscience-binding, and the believer’s obligation is to try and understand them. This doesn’t take away the Church’s authority. This is analogous to the fact that while we have to try and understand what Scripture teaches, this doesn’t take away its authority. When we do recognize what the Scripture teaches, we can’t exercise some kind of “scriptural private judgment” and say “well, now that I know what Scripture teaches (or at least think I know what it teaches) I don’t feel like believing it”.

    “Rereading what i’ve just written i could see how it could be taken as aggressive, but please let me assure you i ask these questions with benign curiosity. Also i hope all these questions from myself and others won’t cause you to spread your energies too thin =)”

    Jordan, none of this sounds remotely aggressive. You have nothing to apologize about.

  38. Krause Says:

    Nilsen,

    As regards the Biblical arguments: You don’t think that the Bible articulates a mystical connection between image and prototype? If this is true, and image and prototype are opposed such that they cannot participate in one another, then do you think Christ has a mystical connection with God? Or do you think that Christ isn’t really the icon of the invisible God? How do you explain the other passages I brought up other than by articulating a mystical connection between image and prototype?

    You’re oversimplifying the argument for Icons. That Christ is the icon of the invisible God does not necessarily prove that one ought to venerate icons of Christ. Rather, because the Logos has truly taken on a human body, it is legitimate to make images of Him. It was illegitimate to make pictures of God because He is invisible and uncircumscribed. Thus, he could not be portrayed legitimately in a picture. The same is no longer true of God qua the Logos. The Logos is visible and circumscribed as regards his humanity. We venerate the icons because the honor given to the image transfers to the prototype. What reason do you have to deny this. Besides the fact that it just seems to be common sense, I’ve given ample Biblical support that you haven’t undermined to show that there exists the necessary connection between image and prototype in the Bible to make this principle work.

    I’m not saying that God has directly commanded us as regards every aspect of the Divine Liturgy. I think that such a statement is obviously false of any liturgy or Church service. I was pushing back on it because you used it as an argument against icons. (Although you understand that the Orthodox has plenty of reason to think that icons are commanded directly by God).

    Even if I granted a lot of other implausible aspects of your liturgy as being “directly commanded by God,” how can this be true of the Filioque, which is a philosophical doctrine that was added into the Creed on the basis of Papal supremacy and not on Biblical evidence or Tradition?

  39. David Nilsen Says:

    Maybe I’m going about this the wrong way. Let me just ask you some questions.

    1. Do you admit that there is a big difference (in kind) between the physical body of Christ as an “image” of the Logos and an icon of Christ? One is an enhypostatized Divine Person, the other is merely indwelt by God’s glory in some way. So does that lead to a difference (again, in kind) between venerating one and the other?

    2. You didn’t address my concerns about the fact that icons may not even look like the risen Christ. Does that matter at all? If not, why not? I mean, your Scriptural arguments can only get you to the conclusion that the actual physical body of Christ is an image of God (in a mystical sense), so how does that legitimately extend to just any picture that comes out of an artist’s head?

    3. Where do you get anything about images from a verse like “‘Assuredly I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.'”? I would take that to be referring more to the mystical union with Christ as our head (and we His body). Or it could be read as saying, “…it is LIKE you did it to me.” Either way, I don’t see anything justifying icons.

    4. I don’t want to sound confrontational, but maybe you could give me some other examples of “implausible aspects of [my] liturgy”? Are you familiar with my liturgy?

    In any case, unlike the Orthodox, I don’t claim that my liturgy is actually infallible. So I’m perfectly open to rejecting the filioque (and apparently Calvin thought that inserting the filioque was a bad idea and shouldn’t have been done, but he wasn’t going to take it upon himself as an individual to change the Creed). In any case, the point is that the Reformed attempt to follow the RPW (and not some willy nilly, whatever feels good principle, which you tend to lump us into unfairly), not that we have ever done so perfectly.

  40. Krause Says:

    Nilsen,
    Sorry for taking so long to respond. I’ve allowed myself to be busy and haven’t looked at the blog in a while.

    1) Sure. I’ve admitted this difference. But it is not the case that an icon of Christ is merely venerated because it is indwelt by Divine Glory. It is venerated because it is an image of the Logos.

    2) They do. That’s one reason why icons follow a strict form. The tradition of the Church, which has always made images of Christ, his mother, and the saints, keeps this from being a problem.

    3) He doesn’t say “it is just like you did it to me.” What He says is that in doing these things to other human beings, they do it to Christ. Furthermore, there is no reason textually to think that Christ is merely talking about those in the Church. For one thing, the Church had not been instituted at the time when Christ was speaking. Furthermore, Christ speaks of them “visiting those in prison.” Given that the Christian persecutions of the Romans would not start for a couple decades, I would imagine that most of these people would not be part of the Church. Finally, if this is the basis of Christ’s judgment, then it is implausible that all those whom the damned are judged for doing ill to are part of the Church. Many are damned who have never met Christians. Plus, it would be odd if Christ was saying that the damned are only condemned for wrongs done to Christians. Right?

    Thus, if we just take the passage at face value, the only common denominator between those who have this connection with Christ such that to do good or ill to them is to do it to Christ is that they are all human. The most plausible explanation I can think of to explain this is that all men share in the image of God. Because men are made in God’s image, whoever does ill to a man does ill to God because the evil done to the image transfers to the prototype. At the very least, it is a plausible interpretation.

    4) You’re quoting me out of context. I was saying it was implausible that they were directly commanded by God. One could say similar things about any Liturgy. For instance, God doesn’t directly command us to have the homily when we do. You tried to advance the argument against icons that they were not directly commanded by God and so should not be used in the Church’s worship. My point was simply that this is a ridiculous criterion for what is permissible in Christian worship because NO worship service could claim that every aspect was directly commanded by God.

  41. Does The Church Have Authority? « Reason From Scripture Says:

    […] Orthodox blog, The Well of Questions, blogger MG has been arguing for some time (most recently, here) that Protestants do not in fact believe that the church has any authority. Rather, we merely […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: