Authorities - Concusions


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    It is the customary fate of new truths to begin as heresies and to end as superstitions.
    T. H. Huxley (1825-1895 ), Collected Essays xii, "The Coming of Age of the Origin of Species"


    It is increasingly difficult to maintain that any Christian authority enjoys infallibility. We have seen that the Old Testament is unreliable. The New Testament contains no material that purports to have been authorised by Jesus, or that dates from his lifetime, or that was even written in the everyday language of his milieu. The earliest material is from generations later. We know that much bogus material was added, and it not always possible to distinguish it from the rest.

    There was a distinct lack of agreement between the early Churches, and between the Church Fathers, as to what should be included in the canon of scripture. We know also that valid material was suppressed. The Western Church took about 600 years to settle its canon, although arguments broke out again when Protestant scholars looked into matters again 900 years later. At about this time the Eastern Churches finally managed to settle their version of the New Testament, although it was still not accepted by all. In fact, full agreement between the Orthodox Churches has not been achieved to this day.

    Meanwhile, biblical scholars have shown up flaws in the texts and in attributions, identified editorial tampering, and have shown that valid material has been excluded. Known texts all disagree with each other, and many of the disagreements reveal the hands of people editing the text for their own ends. So do translated texts, even those acclaimed as "infallible".

    We have looked at other sources of authority in various Churches and at various times. All of the ones we have looked at have been found to be flawed. The fact is that there is no clear reliable authority in the Christian Church, or any of its many branches. Orthodoxy has developed according to the tastes of the dominant factions of the moment. Arguments employed to establish authority and orthodoxy are all circular. Sources are hailed as Authorities if they support the views currently in favour. Then these same authorities are quoted to prove the orthodoxy of those views. Orthodoxy was not so much determined by the New Testament. The books of the New Testament were chosen and edited to match the dominant line of orthodoxy. Again, orthodoxy was not confirmed by a band of elect men called the Church Fathers. Men were called Church Fathers because their views differed least from later orthodoxy. Yet again, orthodoxy was not defined by ecumenical councils. Councils were acclaimed as ecumenical because they supported later orthodoxy.

    Orthodoxy is thus self-sustaining. Sources that contradict it are simply edited out. Inconvenient gospels are omitted from the canon of the Bible, and labelled apocryphal. Inconvenient early Christian writers are labelled heretics. Inconvenient ecumenical councils are discovered not to have been infallible ecumenical councils after all, merely fraudulent shams promoted by heretics. Inconvenient bishops of Rome have their names removed retrospectively from the list of infallible popes. Despite this selectivity, coherence is still difficult to come by. The gospels contradict each other. Infallible Christian emperors contradict each other. The Church Fathers contradict each other. Ecumenical councils contradict each other. Infallible popes contradict each other, and of course each of the five possible sources (gospels, emperors, Fathers, councils and popes) also contradict each of the other four on numerous points.

    Different denominations attempt to minimise the problem in different ways: forget the emperors, ignore the popes, listen to different Fathers, believe only selected gospels, abandon them all in favour of direct personal revelation from God, and so on. To objective outsiders, the hand of God is difficult to discern anywhere in it.

    To many outsiders the whole area of authority in Christian teachings looks more than a little suspicious. Why have the earliest Christian writings all been lost? Why have later writings all been tampered with? Why did the Western Church insist for so long that laymen should not own or read bibles? One might have expected the Roman Church to have published at least a summary of all infallible statements made by the popes over the centuries. Yet no such thing exists. No one knows which statements the Church regards as infallible and which it doesn"t, because no authoritative list has ever been published. Indeed, there is not even a definitive list of previous popes, so no one can work it out.

    Why has there been no attempt to identify and collect together so-called apostolic traditions? Why is it impossible to find unexpurgated versions of what the Church Fathers wrote, or indeed even to obtain a full list of recognised Church Fathers? Why are many of the most influential authorities in early Christianity now regarded as heretics? Why can the Churches not agree about which Church Councils were ecumenical and therefore infallible, and why is it so difficult to obtain translations of exactly what these councils decreed? Original definitions of orthodoxy propounded by these divinely-inspired infallible councils ought to be best sellers amongst Christians worldwide, yet only brief extracts are ever made available to the mass of believers — precisely those extracts that match modern orthodoxy.

    If God was as keen to reveal his eternal Truth, as many Christians claim, it seems odd that he should reveal so many different and inconsistent versions to so many different people, and equally odd that his revelations are so imprecise, and so unpalatable that they have to be carefully selected for consumption by the Christian public.


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