Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Another Response to Kevin Johnson on Mary

Kevin Johnson has posted another response to me on the subject of Mary, and that response doesn't refute anything I wrote. He comments:

"But, I wasn’t arguing with Jason’s read of the Fathers (though his take on things are decidedly one-sided and obviously prejudicial) and I have no interest in arguing whether or not Mary was perpetually a virgin, sinless, or assumed into heaven at the end of her earthly life....Nor am I interested in arguing whether the early Fathers believed this or that and my personal opinion of certain Marian doctrines is frankly unimportant."

If you go back to Kevin's earlier posts, you see him making comments like:

"And, anyone who studies the fathers knows well that the Marian doctrines in question did develop naturally and almost without resistance over the next thousand years after the Apostles passed from the scene–so much so that Mary made her way into the creeds and the early councils of the Church."

Are those not historical claims about the church fathers and other patristic sources? Kevin also wrote:

"We forget too that Athanasius and other greats of the Christian faith clearly involved themselves in commemorating Mary and honoring her beyond what certain fundamentalist types deem as acceptable orthopraxy. These things are conveniently left out of Mr. Engwer’s post on the matter."

Again, isn't Kevin making historical claims about the fathers, and isn't he criticizing what I said about them? (His claim about what I "left out" is false, since I repeatedly mentioned that concepts such as the perpetual virginity of Mary did eventually become popular.)

Kevin goes on, in his latest reply, to refer to how Roman Catholics could appeal to the authority of their denomination to support the Marian concepts being discussed, how we don't have a lot of material from the people who lived during the timeframe in question, etc. But I was addressing the Marian views of the early fathers. I wasn't discussing how to refute the entire Roman Catholic system or what people who left no trace in the historical record might have believed. If Kevin doesn't like the topic I chose to discuss, then he can begin his own discussion rather than posting several critical responses to my material without refuting anything I said.

Is it true that we only have writings from a small portion of the people who lived in ancient times? Yes, but those writings give us many indications about what other people believed as well. We know what arguments these people were responding to, what fellowship they had with other church leaders, what some of their enemies were saying about them, etc.

However small the portion of ancient sources we have access to, Roman Catholics have made claims about those sources. If Kevin doesn't understand the significance of people making false historical claims or the significance of a denomination falsely claiming something as an apostolic tradition always held and taught by the church, then Kevin shouldn't be involved in these sorts of discussions. He doesn't seem to understand even some of the most basic issues involved. Or maybe he does understand the issues, but has reasons for wanting to act as if he doesn't.

He writes:

"Engwer’s argument is just bad because it is largely an argument from silence."

I've cited church fathers directly or indirectly denying that Mary was sinless. That's not silence. I've cited church fathers denying that any apostolic tradition had been handed down regarding the end of Mary's life. That's not silence. I've referred to church fathers condemning the veneration of images. That isn't silence. And when I referred to fathers condemning prayers to the deceased, that wasn't an appeal to silence. When I cite the fathers commenting on a New Testament parallel to the ark of the covenant, explaining who the woman of Revelation 12 is, etc., those comments aren't silence.

But where there is silence, it isn't always irrelevant. If a group is going to claim that a doctrine is an apostolic tradition always held and taught by the church, it's significant if that doctrine is unmentioned for hundreds of years, including in contexts in which it would have been appropriate to mention the doctrine. Kevin writes that "An argument from silence goes both ways", but only one of the two groups in question here (Protestants and Catholics) claims that doctrines such as the sinlessness of Mary and the Assumption of Mary are apostolic traditions always held and taught by the church. If the doctrines are absent in the historical record for hundreds of years, accompanied by widespread contradiction of those doctrines, that fact doesn't "go both ways". It goes one way. It goes contrary to what Roman Catholicism has claimed.