Monday, September 09, 2002

More On The Fathers

Fellow blogger Locdog (see I linked you) has posted many comments below and on his own blog about my comments relating to the Church Fathers' view of baptism and my questions as to why Glen rejects their understanding of baptism (which he recognizes as being salvific). Now, I was tempted to not make a formal post in response to Locdog's arguments. Mostly, because my intuition suggests that Locdog just enjoys an argument and isn't that interested in clarifications or dialogue. However, his recent post in the comments box here at Integrity and at Nota Bene made me reconsider. In that comment, Locdog points out some difficulties in Hermas' view of the Trinity. (I'm setting aside for the moment his quote from Justin Martyr as he doesn't bother to take the Trinitarian quote that Sean cites into the mix.) His post gave me some insight into what Glen might have been talking about in his use of the development of the doctrine of the Trinity as an explanation for why he has no issue rejecting the Church Fathers' position on baptism. (We'll get to the flaws in the analogy in a moment.)

Now, I am neither a patristic scholar nor a church historian. So I am somewhat unequipped to address Locdog's comments about Hermas. I suppose it was good luck on his part that I chose to quote from Hermas as one of the Fathers supporting a salvific view of baptism. If Hermas was so wrong on the Trinity, why take his word on baptim, or so the argument would go.

Of course, there is a limit to how far to take that argument. As I told Locdog, in no way am I presenting each Father as infallible. Also, each Father didn't address all aspects of doctrine. They didn't always speak explicitly about things that weren't in dispute (yet). The reason for presenting the Fathers stemmed from the fact that Glen and I had differing views on interpreting John 3:5. I presented the Fathers as an example that the early Church thought similarly to the Catholic Church of today when it came to interpreting John 3:5 and whether baptism was just a symbol.

Locdog doesn't give you much background on Hermas. If you would like some, check out this link. One of the things Locdog doesn't tell you is that the book is of the apocalyptic and visionary genre. Accordingly, it is one that needs some care to interpret. You can see this in part from the very passage that Locdog quotes suggesting that Hermas equates Christ and the Holy Spirit. He selectively leaves off the start of that passage which would tell you that the the person saying "I wish to explain to you..." isn't Hermas but the "angel of repentance" which the text tells us was speaking to Hermas. Second, the work is not primarily a doctrinal work but an ethical one, especially focused on repentance and penance. Given that and the genre of the writing, most scholars are a little more forgiving when addressing Hermas. Other passages of Hermas suggest he does see the Father and the Son as two persons. Nevertheless, I will readily agree that The Shepherd contains a view of the Holy Spirit which is muddy at best. And, as Locdog, I am sure would point out, there were others of that time who struggled to understand the Holy Spirit. The question wasn't settled until the defining of the doctrine of the Trinity at the later council.

That, however, is the key point: a council was called that defined Christian doctrine on the point, namely, the Trinity. For the development of the Trinity doctrine to be an analogy for development of the doctrine of baptism, it would seem then that a council would have been in order. Especially given that many of the Fathers teaching a salvific baptism were heads of local churches, not mere theologians separated from the common Christian faithful. A council would have been appropriate to correct the wrong and establish that baptism is merely an external sign. However, I'm not aware of any such council. So the analogy appears to be inapt.

Certainly, a demonstration that Hermas may have been wrong on the doctrine of Trinity is support for your idea that the Fathers were wrong on the doctrine of the Trinity, and thus may be wrong on baptism. However, I think it is important to give Hermas his due. People interested in some posted by JACK @ 7:39 PM 


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