Authority

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Moses' seat

Matthew 23:2-3

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, "The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice.

Caiaphas

John 11:49-52 (also mentioned in John 18:14)

But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, "You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish."  He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.

An unrighteous man, but the office/chair he was in was still valid, and he could still speak truth from the chair.

Consensus Patrum

Augustine (Letter 82):I am also longing to read that book of yours which you named De optimo genere interpretandi, and to know from it how to adjust the balance between the product of the translator's acquaintance with the original language, and the conjectures of those who are able commentators on the Scripture, who, notwithstanding their common loyalty to the one true faith, must often bring forward various opinions on account of the obscurity of many passages; although this difference of interpretation by no means involves departure from the unity of the faith; just as one commentator may himself give, in harmony with the faith which he holds, two different interpretations of the same passage, because the obscurity of the passage makes both equally admissible.


Letters between Jerome and Augustine

Augustine (Letter 40): As to the reply which you were pleased to give me concerning Origen, I did not need to be told that we should, not only in ecclesiastical writers, but in all others, approve and commend what we find right and true, but reject and condemn what we find false and mischievous. What I craved from your wisdom and learning (and I still crave it), was that you should acquaint us definitely with the points in which that remarkable man is proved to have departed from the belief of the truth. Moreover, in that book in which you have mentioned all the ecclesiastical writers whom you could remember, and their works, it would, I think, be a more convenient arrangement if, after naming those whom you know to be heretics (since you have chosen not to pass them without notice), you would add in what respect their doctrine is to be avoided. Some of these heretics also you have omitted, and I would fain know on what grounds. If, however, perchance it has been from a desire not to enlarge that volume unduly that you refrained from adding to a notice of heretics, the statement of the things in which the Catholic Church has authoritatively condemned them, I beg you not to grudge bestowing on this subject, to which with humility and brotherly love I direct your attention, a portion of that literary labor by which already, by the grace of the Lord our God, you have in no small measure stimulated and assisted the saints in the study of the Latin tongue, and publish in one small book (if your other occupations permit you) a digest of the perverse dogmas of all the heretics who up to this time have, through arrogance, or ignorance, or self-will, attempted to subvert the simplicity of the Christian faith; a work most necessary for the information of those who are prevented, either by lack of leisure or by their not knowing the Greek language, from reading and understanding so many things.
Jerome (Letter 68): Far be it from me to presume to attack anything which your Grace has written. For it is enough for me to prove my own views without controverting what others hold. But it is well known to one of your wisdom, that everyone is satisfied with his own opinion, and that it is puerile self-sufficiency to seek, as young men have of old been wont to do, to gain glory to one's own name by assailing men who have become renowned. I am not so foolish as to think myself insulted by the fact that you give an explanation different from mine; since you, on the other hand, are not wronged by my views being contrary to those which you maintain. But that is the kind of reproof by which friends may truly benefit each other, when each, not seeing his own bag of faults, observes, as Persius has it, the wallet borne by the other. Let me say further, love one who loves you, and do not because you are young challenge a veteran in the field of Scripture. I have had my time, and have run my course to the utmost of my strength. It is but fair that I should rest, while you in your turn run and accomplish great distances; at the same time (with your leave, and without intending any disrespect), lest it should seem that to quote from the poets is a thing which you alone can do, let me remind you of the encounter between Dares and Entellus, and of the proverb, "The tired ox treads with a firmer step." With sorrow I have dictated these words. Would that I could receive your embrace, and that by converse we might aid each other in learning!
Augustine (Letter 73): Far be it from me to take offense if you are willing and able to prove, by incontrovertible argument, that you have apprehended more correctly than I have the meaning of that passage in Paul's Epistle [to the Galatians], or of any other text in Holy Scripture: nay, more, far be it from me to count it aught else than gain to myself, and cause of thankfulness to you, if in anything I am either informed by your teaching or set right by your correction...

Let me further say, that it is with the utmost affectionate yearning that I read or recollect the words at the end of your letter, "Would that I could receive your embrace, and that by converse we might aid each other in learning." For my part, I say,--Would that we were even dwelling in parts of the earth less widely separated; so that if we could not meet for converse, we might at least have a more frequent exchange of letters. For as it is, so great is the distance by which we are prevented from any kind of access to each other through the eye and ear, that I remember writing to your Holiness regarding these words in the Epistle to the Galatians when I was young; and behold I am now advanced in age, and have not yet received a reply, and a copy of my letter has reached you by some strange accident earlier than the letter itself, about the transmission of which I took no small pains. For the man to whom I entrusted it neither delivered it to you nor returned it to me. So great in my esteem is the value of those of your writings which we have been able to procure, that I should prefer to all other studies the privilege, if it were attainable by me, of sitting by your side and learning from you. Since I cannot do this myself, I propose to send to you one of my sons in the Lord, that he may for my benefit be instructed by you, in the event of my receiving from you a favorable reply in regard to the matter. For I have not now, and I can never hope to have, such knowledge of the Divine Scriptures as I see you possess.
Jerome (Letter 75): You ask, in the second place, my reason for saying, in my commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians, that Paul could not have rebuked Peter for that which he himself had done, [Galatians 2:14] and could not have censured in another the dissimulation of which he was himself confessedly guilty; and you affirm that that rebuke of the apostle was not a maneuver of pious policy, but real; and you say that I ought not to teach falsehood, but that all things in Scripture are to be received literally as they stand.

To this I answer, in the first place, that your wisdom ought to have suggested the remembrance of the short preface to my commentaries, saying of my own person, "What then? Am I so foolish and bold as to promise that which he could not accomplish? By no means; but I have rather, as it seems to me, with more reserve and hesitation, because feeling the deficiency of my strength, followed the commentaries of Origen in this matter. For that illustrious man wrote five volumes on the Epistle of Paul to the Galatians, and has occupied the tenth volume of his Stromata with a short treatise upon his explanation of the epistle. He also composed several treatises and fragmentary pieces upon it, which, if they even had stood alone, would have sufficed. I pass over my revered instructor Didymus (blind, it is true, but quick-sighted in the discernment of spiritual things), and the bishop of Laodicea, [Apollinarius] who has recently left the Church, and the early heretic Alexander, as well as Eusebius of Emesa and Theodorus of Heraclea, who have also left some brief disquisitions upon this subject. From these works if I were to extract even a few passages, a work which could not be altogether despised would be produced. Let me therefore frankly say that I have read all these; and storing up in my mind very many things which they contain, I have dictated to my amanuensis sometimes what was borrowed from other writers, sometimes what was my own, without distinctly remembering the method, or the words, or the opinions which belonged to each. I look now to the Lord in His mercy to grant that my want of skill and experience may not cause the things which others have well spoken to be lost, or to fail of finding among foreign readers the acceptance with which they have met in the language in which they were first written. If, therefore, anything in my explanation has seemed to you to demand correction, it would have been seemly for one of your learning to inquire first whether what I had written was found in the Greek writers to whom I have referred; and if they had not advanced the opinion which you censured, you could then with propriety condemn me for what I gave as my own view, especially seeing that I have in the preface openly acknowledged that I had followed the commentaries of Origen, and had dictated sometimes the view of others, sometimes my own, and have written at the end of the Chapter with which you find fault: "If anyone be dissatisfied with the interpretation here given, by which it is shown that neither did Peter sin, nor did Paul rebuke presumptuously a greater than himself, he is bound to show how Paul could consistently blame in another what he himself did." By which I have made it manifest that I did not adopt finally and irrevocably that which I had read in these Greek authors, but had propounded what I had read, leaving to the reader's own judgment whether it should be rejected or approved...

If this is your opinion, or rather since it is your opinion, that all from among the Jews who believe are debtors to do the whole law, you ought, as being a bishop of great fame in the whole world, to publish your doctrine, and labor to persuade all other bishops to agree with you. As for me in my humble cell, along with the monks my fellow-sinners, I do not presume to dogmatize in regard to things of great moment; I only confess frankly that I read the writings of the Fathers, and, complying with universal usage, put down in my commentaries a variety of explanations, that each may adopt from the number given the one which pleases him. This method, I think, you have found in your reading, and have approved in connection with both secular literature and the Divine Scriptures...

Lest, however, I should seem to rest my answer to your reasoning wholly on the number of witnesses who are on my side, and to use the names of illustrious men as a means of escaping from the truth, not daring to meet you in argument, I shall briefly bring forward some examples from the Scriptures....

A few words now as to your remark that I ought not to have given a translation, after this had been already done by the ancients; and the novel syllogism which you use: "The passages of which the Seventy have given an interpretation were either obscure or plain. If they were obscure, it is believed that you are as likely to have been mistaken as the others; if they were plain, it is not believed that the Seventy could have been mistaken."

All the commentators who have been our predecessors in the Lord in the work of expounding the Scriptures, have expounded either what was obscure or what was plain. If some passages were obscure, how could you, after them, presume to discuss that which they were not able to explain? If the passages were plain, it was a waste of time for you to have undertaken to treat of that which could not possibly have escaped them. This syllogism applies with peculiar force to the book of Psalms, in the interpretation of which Greek commentators have written many volumes: viz. 1st, Origen: 2d, Eusebius of Cæsarea; 3d, Theodorus of Heraclea; 4th, Asterius of Scythopolis; 5th, Apollinaris of Laodicea; and, 6th, Didymus of Alexandria. There are said to be minor works on selections from the Psalms, but I speak at present of the whole book. Moreover, among Latin writers the bishops Hilary of Poitiers, and Eusebius of Verceil, have translated Origen and Eusebius of Cæsarea, the former of whom has in some things been followed by our own Ambrose. Now, I put it to your wisdom to answer why you, after all the labors of so many and so competent interpreters, differ from them in your exposition of some passages? If the Psalms are obscure, it must be believed that you are as likely to be mistaken as others; if they are plain, it is incredible that these others could have fallen into mistake. In either case, your exposition has been, by your own showing, an unnecessary labor; and on the same principle, no one would ever venture to speak on any subject after others have pronounced their opinion, and no one would be at liberty to write anything regarding that which another has once handled, however important the matter might be...

As to the principles which ought to be followed in the interpretation of the Sacred Scriptures, they are stated in the book which I have written, and in all the introductions to the divine books which I have in my edition prefixed to each; and to these I think it sufficient to refer the prudent reader.
Augustine (Letter 82): For I confess to your Charity that I have learned to yield this respect and honor only to the canonical books of Scripture: of these alone do I most firmly believe that the authors were completely free from error. And if in these writings I am perplexed by anything which appears to me opposed to truth, I do not hesitate to suppose that either the Ms. is faulty, or the translator has not caught the meaning of what was said, or I myself have failed to understand it. As to all other writings, in reading them, however great the superiority of the authors to myself in sanctity and learning, I do not accept their teaching as true on the mere ground of the opinion being held by them; but only because they have succeeded in convincing my judgment of its truth either by means of these canonical writings themselves, or by arguments addressed to my reason. I believe, my brother, that this is your own opinion as well as mine. I do not need to say that I do not suppose you to wish your books to be read like those of prophets or of apostles, concerning which it would be wrong to doubt that they are free from error. Far be such arrogance from that humble piety and just estimate of yourself which I know you to have, and without which assuredly you would not have said, "Would that I could receive your embrace, and that by converse we might aid each other in learning!" [...]

The Manichæans maintain that the greater part of the Divine Scripture, by which their wicked error is in the most explicit terms confuted, is not worthy of credit, because they cannot pervert its language so as to support their opinions; yet they lay the blame of the alleged mistake not upon the apostles who originally wrote the words, but upon some unknown corrupters of the manuscripts. Forasmuch, however, as they have never succeeded in proving this by more numerous and by earlier manuscripts, or by appealing to the original language from which the Latin translations have been drawn, they retire from the arena of debate, vanquished and confounded by truth which is well known to all...

You call upon me to bring forward the name of even one whose opinion I have followed in this matter, and at the same time you have quoted the names of many who have held before you the opinion which you defend. You also say that if I censure you for an error in this, you beg to be allowed to remain in error in company with such great men. I have not read their writings; but although they are only six or seven in all, you have yourself impugned the authority of four of them. For as to the Laodicean author, whose name you do not give, you say that he has lately forsaken the Church; Alexander you describe as a heretic of old standing; and as to Origen and Didymus, I read in some of your more recent works, censure passed on their opinions, and that in no measured terms, nor in regard to insignificant questions, although formerly you gave Origen marvelous praise. I suppose, therefore, that you would not even yourself be contented to be in error with these men; although the language which I refer to is equivalent to an assertion that in this matter they have not erred. For who is there that would consent to be knowingly mistaken, with whatever company he might share his errors? Three of the seven therefore alone remain, Eusebius of Emesa, Theodorus of Heraclea, and John, whom you afterwards mention, who formerly presided as pontiff over the Church of Constantinople.

However, if you inquire or recall to memory the opinion of our Ambrose, and also of our Cyprian, on the point in question, you will perhaps find that I also have not been without some whose footsteps I follow in that which I have maintained. At the same time, as I have said already, it is to the canonical Scriptures alone that I am bound to yield such implicit subjection as to follow their teaching, without admitting the slightest suspicion that in them any mistake or any statement intended to mislead could find a place. Wherefore, when I look round for a third name that I may oppose three on my side to your three, I might indeed easily find one, I believe, if my reading had been extensive; but one occurs to me whose name is as good as all these others, nay, of greater authority--I mean the Apostle Paul himself. To him I betake myself; to himself I appeal from the verdict of all those commentators on his writings who advance an opinion different from mine. I interrogate him, and demand from himself to know whether he wrote what was true, or under some plea of expediency wrote what he knew to be false, when he wrote that he saw Peter not walking uprightly, according to the truth of the gospel, and withstood him to his face because by that dissimulation he was compelling the Gentiles to live after the manner of the Jews. And I hear him in reply proclaiming with a solemn oath in an earlier part of the epistle, where he began this narration, "The things that I write unto you, behold, before God, I lie not." [Galatians 1:20]

Let those who think otherwise, however great their names, excuse my differing from them. The testimony of so great an apostle using, in his own writings, an oath as a confirmation of their truth, is of more weight with me than the opinion of any man, however learned, who is discussing the writings of another. Nor am I afraid lest men should say that, in vindicating Paul from the charge of pretending to conform to the errors of Jewish prejudice, I affirm him to have actually so conformed. For as, on the one hand, he was not guilty of pretending conformity to error when, with the liberty of an apostle, such as was suitable to that period of transition, he did, by practicing those ancient holy ordinances, when it was necessary to declare their original excellence as appointed not by the wiles of Satan to deceive men, but by the wisdom of God for the purpose of typically foretelling things to come; so, on the other hand, he was not guilty of real conformity to the errors of Judaism, seeing that he not only knew, but also preached constantly and vehemently, that those were in error who thought that these ceremonies were to be imposed upon the Gentile converts, or were necessary to the justification of any who believed.
Augustine (Letter 166): Let every man, however, believe anything which commends itself to his own judgment, even though it run counter to some opinion of Cyprian, who may not have seen in the matter what should have been seen. But let no man believe anything which runs counter to the perfectly unambiguous apostolical declaration, that by the offense of one all are brought into condemnation, and that from this condemnation nothing sets men free but the grace of God through our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom alone life is given to all who are made alive. And let no man believe anything which runs counter to the firmly grounded practice of the Church, in which, if the sole reason for hastening the administration of baptism were to save the children, the dead as well as the living would be brought to be baptized.

Abe Lincoln, Dred Scott, Constitutional Authority

Lincoln's Speech, June 26, 1857

...And now as to the Dred Scott decision. That decision declares two propositions—first, that a negro cannot sue in the U.S. Courts; and secondly, that Congress cannot prohibit slavery in the Territories. It was made by a divided court—dividing differently on the different points. Judge Douglas does not discuss the merits of the decision; and, in that respect, I shall follow his example, believing I could no more improve on McLean and Curtis, than he could on Taney.

He denounces all who question the correctness of that decision, as offering violent resistance to it. But who resists it? Who has, in spite of the decision, declared Dred Scott free, and resisted the authority of his master over him?

Judicial decisions have two uses—first, to absolutely determine the case decided, and secondly, to indicate to the public how other similar cases will be decided when they arise. For the latter use, they are called "precedents" and "authorities."

We believe, as much as Judge Douglas, (perhaps more) in obedience to, and respect for the judicial department of government. We think its decisions on Constitutional questions, when fully settled, should control, not only the particular cases decided, but the general policy of the country, subject to be disturbed only by amendments of the Constitution as provided in that instrument itself. More than this would be revolution. But we think the Dred Scott decision is erroneous. We know the court that made it, has often over-ruled its own decisions, and we shall do what we can to have it to over-rule this. We offer no resistance to it...

- Quoted from here and here

Summary

Lincoln’s position on slavery in the territories and the Supreme Court’s decision in Dred Scott were in direct contradiction.  Today it seems clear that Lincoln’s interpretation of the Constitution was right and the Supreme Court’s interpretation was wrong — horribly, willfully wrong.  Yet, was Lincoln not bound to regard the Supreme Court’s decision against his position as deciding the matter?  Indeed, are not all public officials, and all citizens, obliged to treat the Court’s decisions as settling constitutional questions, whether they agree with those decisions or not?

That was Stephen Douglas’s position in the famous series of seven debates that he and Lincoln had in their 1858 election contest for the US Senate.  Opposing the Supreme Court’s decision, argued Douglas, was equivalent to opposing the Constitution itself.

Lincoln vigorously denied Douglas’s position.  Supreme Court opinions decide only the individual case before the court, Lincoln argued.  They do not bind members of Congress or the President in their political actions.  It was thus proper for the other branches of government — and for the people — to resist wrong and harmful decisions of the Supreme Court and to seek to have them reversed and overturned.  That was simply part of the Constitution’s system of checks and balances. …

Lincoln would remain remarkably consistent — and increasingly insistent — on the constitutional duty of elected officials to resist unlawful decision of the Supreme Court that they considered harmful to the nation as a whole and to its people.  The alternative, in Lincoln’s mind, was resignation of free, popular government under the Constitution into the hands of the Court, no matter how wrongheaded it’s decisions.

…

As President, Lincoln would on more than one occasion defy the supposed authority of “controlling” judicial interpretations of the Constitution.  Lincoln and the Civil War Congress disregarded the Dred Scott decision entirely in enacting laws that prohibited slavery in the territories — exactly what Dred Scott had said was unconstitutional.  In addition, as we shall see, Lincoln defied a judicial decision (Ex parte Merryman) purporting to limit his military authority to hold enemy prisoners in the course of his conduct of the Civil War.  And if the Supreme Court had ever had the audacity to hold the Emancipation Proclamation unconstitutional or, worse still, to hold that the South had a constitutional right to secede — neither issue ever came before the Court — it is almost certain that Lincoln would have refused to abide by such a decision.

Did this make Abraham Lincoln a lawless president (as some have seriously argued)?  Was the South perhaps constitutionally justified in seceding, given Lincoln’s “unconstitutional” stance against the Supreme Court’s authority in matters of constitutional interpretation?  Or was Lincoln right that the Constitution itself is of superior authority to the Supreme Court?  History has vindicated Lincoln’s position in practical terms.  Ironically, however, most constitutional scholars today side with Douglas, against Lincoln.  The modern consensus favors judicial supremacy in constitutional interpretation: whatever the Supreme Court says, goes.

At the very least, it should give one pause that, on the judicial supremacist view — the view espoused by Douglas — Dred Scott was properly the law of the land; that Lincoln was wrong to resist it; that Lincoln’s election as President was indeed the election of a lawless man and an attack on the constitutional rights of the South; and that everything Lincoln did as President rested on an improper view of the Constitution and the authority of the Supreme Court.  In short, it is hard to accept modern notions of judicial supremacy without rejecting much of what Lincoln stood for, and much of what he did as President.

Lincoln’s view — not Douglas’s — seems more faithful to the Constitution itself.  The Constitution is “the supreme law of the land,” not the Supreme Court’s misinterpretations of it.  The logic of the Constitution’s separation-of-powers arrangement would seem to refute the notion that any one branch has supreme authority over its interpretation.  And the framers of the Constitution explicitly denied that the Constitution established judicial supremacy.  Lincoln, on the framers’ view, was right.

But that view did not command universal acceptance in Lincoln’s day (just as it does not today).   It was hated in the South and regarded with skepticism even by many in the North.  Thus, when Lincoln was elected President in 1860, his well-known views stirred a constitutional crisis that had long been brewing.

- Excerpt from here

James MacDonald: Pope?

The below is NOT a verified story.

In the summer of 2010 [Editor: one account suggests that this meeting may have occurred in the Fall of 2009], every Senior Pastor of an HBF church was invited to come to Chicago and help James story-board his newest book, Vertical Church.  There were approximately 30 HBF pastors in attendance.

The HBF pastors were invited to James’ home for pizza and fellowship one evening. The pastors gathered outside James’ Inverness home around his pool for a Q & A time with James.  The matter of elders and leadership in the church became the topic of conversation.

One of the pastors asked James something along the lines of, “James, you have always taught us to keep a small, nimble elder board that can respond quickly to opportunities as they arise. You have recently told us that you are significantly increasing the size of your Elder board. Would you please explain to us why you have done this, especially since it is seems to be a change from what you’ve been saying all these years?”

James then proceeded to give his explanation.  He said that he had learned many things over the years about elders and leadership in the church, wishing he had learned these lessons years ago.  He went on to reveal his opinions about leadership and power in the church, and in particular, who controls the church.

He continued by saying that the elders and the senior pastor share a pie, representing authority and influence in the church. He explained that the senior pastor, by virtue of his calling, gifting, and role in the church, ought to possess, right off the bat, 50% of this pie.  The pastor controls the pulpit, is the most vocal member of the elder board, and also has the most on the line as the primary leader of the church.  He said that this leaves 50% of the pie to be divided by the remaining elders.

Here is where it became more disturbing.  James said that Harvest had grown so much that he had come to realize a small group of elders can’t handle this responsibility anymore.  James continued, saying that in order to protect Harvest from an elder who goes “sideways,” doing great damage to our body, he needed to lessen the elder’s influence.  He stated that the way he was going to lessen the influence of the Harvest Elder Board was to increase the size of the Elder board, thus giving each member of the board a smaller piece of the pie.

At that point, one pastor decided to brave a question.  Senior Pastor Rob Willey of Harvest Bible Chapel – Davenport, IA, asked a question along these lines, “But James, this is so different than what you’ve always taught us. This is a profound change. Do you realize what you are saying to us here?  Senior pastors need accountability and dividing up the power makes it more difficult for them to hold us accountable.”

James began to dress down Rob in front of all of the HBF pastors in attendance.  He retorted to Rob that he would eventually have an elder go “sideways” on him in the future, and that Rob would come back to James, admitting that James was right.

Rob and James continued to go back and forth for another minute or two.   Eventually, James was quite angry and yelled at Rob, telling him he had no idea what he was saying!  James continued by saying that he had a great relationship with his elders, but they can go “sideways” on you.  Sadly, he never took into account the greater damage that takes place when the main, lead, senior, 50%-of-the-pie-elder goes “sideways.”

Later that same year, during Harvest University, [MacDonald] met with all the senior pastors and their wives during the annual dinner.  At that time, James addressed them regarding a number of issues, but one issue stood out in particular: his vision for the new direction of Harvest and Harvest church plants.  He stated that HBF had been a movement of Pastors and Elders, but HBF was going to change.  Going forward, HBF was to become a movement of senior pastors. He further added that they needed elders, but the elders will never understand “our” role and the tremendous weight that is on pastors.  I wonder if his current elder board is even aware of their “true” role as defined by MacDonald.

- Quoted from here.