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  • Writer's pictureThe Other Paul

Some Responses to Horus Godson

A Romanist YouTuber called Horus Godson has recently begun making content, focusing on short clip responses to "Protestants" and Easterners, on top of some good memes. I have been the subject of some of these clips; two of them positive/memey, three of them critical. So I thought now is a good time to drop a series of brief responses to his critical clips aimed at me. This is all done in good faith; Horus is a good bloke to me.

Clip I - On Sola Scriptura & the Biblical Canon

The first short video takes a couple of clips from my video Did the Early Church Have the Bible?, wherein I address a common argument (represented by a clip from Timothy Gordon) against the principle of Sola Scriptura, that the lack of a fixed, universally acknowledged canon of Scripture in the early Church renders it impossible to hold Sola Scriptura in that early period.

He begins with critiquing my point that the recognition of Israel's Scriptures predates Christ's ministry, to which he responds in a text box that "No, the Jews didn't have a fixed canon until about the 2nd Century A.D. as Baptist Scholar Lee Martin McDonald notes", after which he reads a few lines from what appears to be his The Biblical Canon: Its Origin, Transmission, and Authority, though Horus never cites the book by name. There's not much to interact with in these first quotations, as Horus merely cites McDonald's words without presenting the evidence he relies on and why it proves McDonald's claims. At most he reads McDonald's citation of Luke 24:44 - wherein Christ enumerates the "Law, the Prophets, and the Writings" - which supposedly shows fluidity in the tripartite division. However, this and point of his second citation from McDonald is not actually relevant at all; that books may have moved between categories within the canon is wholly irrelevant to questions of inclusion and exclusion from the canon. Only Horus' first McDonald quote is relevant to this point, but again, it is merely his claim, and as I've stated many times in my work, I don't care about what scholars say, I care about what they prove.

We can go even further. While my clipped statement may imply an assertion of a completely closed Judean canon (which I once held to, though not any more), it does not necessitate this. I simply speak of a "recognition" of the Scriptures prior to the time of Christ, i.e. that there is such a category of texts with substantially agreed upon content, even if there are edge cases. This in fact demonstrates the key problem of the categorical "open" vs "closed" terminology on canon debates, especially from Roman apologists. In their mind, if one canon list held to Protestant canon, while another held to a Protestant canon plus the letter of Jeremiah, they are different canons categorically. Even intuitively speaking this is absurd, and shows the deficiency in this absolutist language, since there is demonstrably a substantially agreed upon core (and not just the core, but the vast majority of books are agreed upon among all Christian traditions). My discussion with River Devereux on this issue of homologoumena (agreed upon) and antilegomena (disputed) books of the canon is particularly relevant for this point, and shows that Reformation thought (particularly among the Lutherans) has long accepted categories of more vs less certain books within the canon, allowing for diversity among the faithful.

A substantial agreement amidst edge cases is likewise the case with pre-Christian Judea, and thus my point still stands that a category of texts recognised as divine existed before Christ's advent, without any aid of a divine magisterium or sacred tradition, even if a handful of books (if even that) were still debated.

The second half of Horus' response is directed at my comment that the lack of a universally agreed upon exact list of the Scriptures within the early Church is irrelevant to whether Sola Scriptura was operative. My point, in sum, was that this wholly ignores the demonstrable fact that the fathers themselves believed in a fixed or semi-fixed canon, as demonstrated by their canon lists or explicit citation of texts they call Scripture, thus necessitating the belief in such a category and collection on their part. Thus, according to their own beliefs, individual fathers were perfectly able to practice Sola Scriptura, since they did not assume that an allegedly divine council or ethereal "consensus" was necessary to discern historically what was received as divine Scripture. I likewise emphasise today that this would be possible even on the level of local or general councils, since these fathers all shared the same substantial canonical agreement as mentioned earlier. And if there was a need to debate the canonicity of a certain book, then a debate can be had, since Reformation epistemology does not preclude such.

Horus thus responds to my "so what?" that the lack of a universally agreed canon (again, a bad framing) "shows how the Early Church held to the idea of inspired Oral Tradition, as Baptist Lee Martin again points out:". He then reads another section of McDonald that notes how Christians and 'Jews' shared a belief in the "will of God [being] preserved in written documents," and that - for Christians - the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus "had also been foretold as a revelation from God in the normative literature of Judaism—the Hebrew Scriptures (whatever they consisted of at the time)," thus showing McDonald in agreement with my fundamental point that the Hebrew Scriptures were a recognised category/collection in the time of Christ and prior, even if there was debate on certain books.

Worse still, however, is Horus' great misuse of McDonald's quote and equivocal use of "inspired Oral Tradition." The McDonald quote speaks specifically of the oral transmission of the life of Christ preceding Scripture, the first few decades of the Church. First, nobody disputes this to be the case, including the most Baptist of Baptists. Second, McDonald specifically notes these traditions were "focused on the life of Jesus." Nothing from McDonald speaks of the post-Apostolic Church holding to an "infallible" oral tradition with doctrinal content not found in Scripture and/or which is necessary for the interpretation thereof. His point was very specific and uncontroversial.

Even further, there is the vagueness of an "inspired Oral Tradition." Once again, I refer people to Martin Chemnitz' 8 distinct definitions of "tradition" from volume 1 of his Examination of the Council of Trent. Taken in the sense of the simple content of the faith spoken orally, a "Protestant" can easily grant the reality of "inspired Oral Tradition." When a pastor rightly exposits the word of God at the pulpit or to catechumens, he is speaking infallible, inspired truth. What Horus really means is a "tradition" of the kind described above; a necessary appendage to Scripture for completion of content or soundness of interpretation.

Finally, Horus cites McDonald's account of Serapion of Antioch's rejection of the Gospel of Peter. Horus takes this as Serapion being "able to discern things not simply with Scripture, but with what he was taught through Tradition." But when Horus reads the McDonald quote, once again, we do not hear what Horus claims is said. McDonald speaks of Serapion rejecting the Gospel of Peter because of its orthodoxy, and not because of a pre-conceived notion of a fixed four-fold Gospel. How does Horus' interpretation of McDonald follow from this? It doesn't. McDonald doesn't specify what sources Serapion appealed to as criteria for orthodoxy by which to judge the Gospel of Peter. Likewise when reading Serapion's statement itself (preserved in Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History, book 6 chapter 12), Serapion never specifies his measure of orthodoxy to be oral teaching apart from the Scriptures. It's entirely possible - and by his time, almost certain - that he assumed a set of orthodox Scriptures and from them weighed the teachings of the Gospel of Peter. However, Serapion does mention that this alleged Gospel was not "handed down to us." Again, not a problem for the Reformation or Sola Scriptura; we completely grant that the Scriptures were "handed down" to us and that this is a measure of canonicity. We do not reject "tradition" simpliciter, but a particular Roman conception thereof.

In sum, Horus' clip fails to appreciate some critical distinctions in this issue, and my arguments thus stand. Now onto clip 2.

Clip II - Sam Shamoun on Dulia

The second short video takes a couple of clips from my interview with Seth Kasten on his book Against the Invocation of the Saints. The first clip covers shows Seth's initial response to a question Horus himself gave in the live Q&A concerning the use of προσκυνέω in Revelation 3:9 and how it shows the word does not always denote worship unto God. Seth first replies "How is that not worship to God in that spot?" I don't agree with this take, though this just seemed like a preliminary comment by Seth as he hadn't looked at the passage yet, so I will not address the first Shamoun clip raised on this point. The second clip is of me giving one of my answers (this is important), which is that this may not be a religious sense of bowing, but of pleading for mercy. I had not studied the passage on this question so I was just throwing out possibilities.

Now, it is important to know that this was one of my answers; Horus left out my other explanation granting a biblical sense of valid "worship" to other creatures, something which I have discussed at length in my content. Thus, the entire response clip with Shamoun is simply dead on arrival, as he says almost nothing I disagree with (especially when he says we are to show honour to other members of the body of Christ; there is not dispute here). So I will now immediately move onto the clip 3.

Clip III - On the Easter Controversy & the Papacy

The third and final short video takes a section from my recent debate with Pinesap on whether the early Church affirmed the Papacy. He responds to my appeal to the resistance of numerous Bishops (including and especially Polycrates of Ephesus) to the actions of Victor of Rome in attempting to excommunicate Asia Minor. He primarily quotes Robert Bellarmine's interpretation of the event (On the Roman Pontiff, book II chapter XIX) in order to demonstrate that not only does it not speak against the Papacy, but in fact supports it. Seeing that Horus just shows Bellarmine's take on the issue, this response will more or less just be to Bellarmine, and not Horus himself.

Bellarmine first notes that despite being rebuked by Bishops like Irenaeus, Victor is nowhere said to have changed his sentence against Asia Minor, and that even if he did the Romanist could say that "the same power whereby Victor bound the Asians, he absolved them." On the first point, while there is no explicit mention of Victor reversing course, this may simply be due to how none of the primary source material from the event survives apart from quotations from Eusebius, who is obviously not exhaustively quoting those sources. Given that Quartodecimans continued to exist up until at least the 5th century, we must certainly assume that Victor did reverse his sentence, as Roman-Asian communion is later taken for granted. On the latter point, this is a possible harmonisation, so I'll move on.

Next, Bellarmine argues that the bishops who reprimanded Victor could have said his actions were invalid, that he did not have the authority to excommunicate a region, and perhaps even excommunicated him. Yet, they never denied his authority on this matter, and that "they reckoned Victor did what he could, not what he ought," citing in support Eusebius' statement that "Their letters are extant, in which they more bitterly rebuke Victor, as if consulting him that it was unprofitable to what was fitting for the Church."

The problem with this claim is glaring and two-fold. First, once again, we have very little primary source data from the event itself, just a series of partial quotations from the letters passed around at the time. The quote from Eusebius summarising the intent of these letters does not at all show that any or all of those letters did not include denying Victor's authority to do what he did; a single-sentence summary of many letters will necessarily sacrifice detail. Thus, Bellarmine has no foundation on which to say that the contemporary bishops did not deny Victor's authority to attempt what he did; we are simply left in the dark.

But more significantly, of the two response letters that are partially quoted (the other being from Irenaeus), the letter of Polycrates - the bishop of Ephesus and representative of Asia Minor - did in fact deny Rome's authority in this action in a quoted portion of his letter to Victor (preserved in Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History, book V chapter XXIV):

Therefore, my brothers, I who have lived sixty-five years in the Lord and conferred with the brethren from all parts of the world and have studied all of Holy Scripture, am not afraid of threats, for men better than I have said, “We must obey God rather than men.”

It doesn't take much imagination to wonder what would happen to a Bishop who protested Pope Francis' recent restrictions on the Latin Mass by telling him "we must obey God rather than men."

Next, Bellarmine claims Victor acted prudently, as an account by Tertullian attests to a certain Blastus who attempted to reintroduce Judaism into the faith, and one of his ways for doing so would be by reintroducing the Jewish calendar for celebrating Pascha, just as the Quartodecimans did. The issue here is that the prudence of Victor's opinion of the manner has no bearing on his authority to do what he did, and so this statement is irrelevant. Nonetheless, we can criticise Bellarmine's (and if he really held this view, Victor's) rationale by noting a false equivalence with the Quartodecimanism of those in Asia Minor, who cited prior presbyters and even an Apostle as adherents to the Jewish calendar for Pascha, thus rooting their appeal in Apostolic tradition itself.

Finally, Bellarmine concludes with the Council of Nicaea's decision against the Quartodecimans as "approv[ing] of the judgment of Victor." This, however, is a framing issue. The Council does not specifically cite "the judgment of Victor," and nor is that necessary, as the vast majority of the Church outside of Asia Minor had likewise decreed to celebrate Easter the same way. Thus, it can be as easily (perhaps even more accurately) construed as approving of the judgment of the Church at large, not just of Victor.

I thus still assert the significance of the Quartodeciman Controversy as representing a widespread denial of Rome being the necessary principle of unity (as Irenaeus' letter to Victor shows) and lack of any concept of an automatic assent to her claims. Polycrates - representative of Asia Minor - even denies Rome's authority in this regard.

This concludes my response to Horus Godson. I hope it was informative.

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