Bill Rutland's Crosswalk Forum reply on Unanimous Consent
This is a rebuttal  to a Protestant bother on the Crosswalk discussion forum.  Out of respect for Crosswalk's wishes that I not useing posts from their forum on my web site.   I will paraphrase the arguments.  Crosswalk has kindly given me permission to summarize the arguments put forth within the text of my rebuttal. The full discussion can be accessed at the Crosswalk Discussion Forum.


Argument: The historical basis for unanimous consent goes back to St. Vincent of Lerins in the fifth century.  In his view the term "unanimous consent" means those doctrines that were held, "everywhere, always and by all."  Therefore there is no room for doctrinal development as modern Catholic apologist's like to assert.

Rebuttal: Actually  the concept of unanimous consent goes back to the second century, St. Irenaeus (AD c. 130-c. 200)   states:

Since, however, it would be very tedious, in such a volume as this, to reckon up the successions of all the Churches, we do put to confusion all those who, in whatever manner, whether by an evil self-pleasing, by vainglory, or by blindness and perverse opinion, assemble in unauthorized meetings; [we do this, I say,] by indicating that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; as also [by pointing out] the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops. For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on account of its preeminent authority -- that is, the faithful everywhere -- inasmuch as the Apostolic Tradition has been preserved continuously by those who are everywhere.(Against Heresies, III, 3, 2) (emphases mine).

Now let's take a look at the quote from St. Vincent of Lerins that was referenced:

"In the Catholic Church itself, all possible care must be taken, that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all. For that is truly and in the strictest sense "Catholic," which, as the name itself and the reason of the thing declare, comprehends all universally. This rule we shall observe if we follow universality, antiquity, consent. We shall follow universality if we confess that one faith to be true, which the whole Church throughout the world confesses; antiquity, if we in no wise depart from those interpretations which it is manifest were notoriously held by our holy ancestors and fathers; consent, in like manner, if in antiquity itself we adhere to the consentient definitions and determinations of all, or at the least of almost all priests and doctors" (Commonitory 2).  (emphases mine).

Yes, the St. does describe "consent as being teaching that had been believed everywhere, always and by all."  But what the argument overlooks is that St. Vincent of Lerins qualifies his definition by saying,  "almost all priests and doctors."   Unanimous consent, therefore dose not mean that every Father and Doctor of the Church agreed at all times with the Church. Nor does it mean that silence on a doctrine means ignorance of the doctrine or a rejection of it, as is sometimes asserted by Protestant apologists.  Nor does it deny the existence of doctrinal development.

Argument: This Vincentian dictum is the standard when we speak of unanimous consent.  Even Cardinal Newman affirmed this as being "true" when he wrote of development of doctrine, though he asserted that it was "in the abstract" and was not usable because 1) the testimony was of all the Fathers not available and 2) the testimony that we do have does not produce "any satisfactory results."  So, to speak of unanimous consent we of necessity are speaking of the Vinentian conception.  Any other view is a modern invention.


Rebuttal:  I agree!  As we have just seen the "Vincentian dictum" in no way contradicts the modern understanding of unanimous consent.  Please allow me to give you the definition:

When the Fathers of the Church are morally unanimous in their teaching that a certain doctrine is a part of revelation, or is received by the universal Church, or that the opposite of a doctrine is heretical, then their united testimony is a certain criterion of divine tradition. As the Fathers are not personally infallible, the counter-testimony of one or two would not be destructive of the value of the collective testimony; so a moral unanimity only is required" (Maryknoll Catholic Dictionary; Wilkes-Barre, Penn.: Dimension Books, 1965), pg. 153.

As for Cardinal Newman, he was a Protestant when he wrote his work on development of doctrine, and it was in the process of doing this that he became convinced of the truth of the Catholic faith and converted to the Catholic Church.

Argument: As to the issue of Papal primacy we must ask if the relevant Councils had in view a development of the doctrine or unanimous consent and if unanimous consent is claimed can it be historically justified?


Rebuttal:  Here you are in error because you are inserting a false either/or distinction between doctrinal development and unanimous consent.


Argument:  Do the relevant Councils of Trent and Vatican I claim that the Papacy underwent development or are the result of unanimous consent?  Please allow me to quote just a small portion:

From Chapter 1 of Vatican 1: " At open variance with this clear doctrine of Holy Scripture as it has been ever understood by the Catholic Church are the perverse opinions of those who, while they distort the form of government established by Christ the Lord in his Church, deny that Peter in his single person, preferably to all the other Apostles, whether taken separately or together, was endowed by Christ with a true and proper primacy of jurisdiction; or of those who assert that the same primacy was not bestowed immediately and directly upon blessed Peter himself, but upon the Church, and through the Church on Peter as her minister."
Now the phrase "as it has ever been understood" is a clear appeal to the Vincentian concept of unanimous consent. They are saying that there has never been another interpretation of Scripture that does not affirm Petrine primacy, or one that does not see Peter as receiving his authority (the keys) in Matt 16:18.  

Rebuttal:  I agree that the Vatican 1 Council appeals to the "Vincentian concept of unanimous consent."  But your following statement that "There has never been another interpretation of Scripture that does not affirm Petrine primacy, or one that does not see Peter as receiving his authority (the keys) in Matt 16:18." is clearly invalid.  You have taken your mistaken view of what St. Vincent of Lerins has said and applied it to the Council's statements. Let me reiterate, Vincent clearly speaks of, "those interpretations which it is manifest were notoriously held by our holy ancestors and fathers; consent, in like manner, if in antiquity itself we adhere to the consentient definitions and determinations of all, or at the least of almost all priests and doctors."  Just because some Church Fathers have applied texts like Matthew 16:18 in different ways in no way damages the primary meaning of the text.  NO Church Father or Doctor or Council has EVER contradicted the classic understanding of this text!

Argument:  Further in Vatican 1 it is stated that the doctrine of Papal infallibility is, "the tradition received from the beginning of the Christian faith...".  The Council makes it clear that Papal infallibility has been passed on from the beginning of the Church and the Church has never known a time that it was not affirmed.  Vatican 1 gives no room for the concept that Papal infallibility developed over time.  If we take Vatican 1's statements, it was passed down from the beginning.  Here is what Leo 13 said, by way of confirmation of the Vatican 1 documents: "Wherefore, in the decree of the Vatican Council as to the nature and authority of the primacy of the Roman Pontiff, no newly conceived opinion is set forth, but the venerable and constant belief of every age..." Clearly Leo did not see the definition of Vatican 1 as being the result of development, but one of unanimous consent.



Rebuttal:  Here your portrayal of Vatican 1 is inaccurate.  Let's look at what the Council says on the subject of Papal Infallibility:

 To satisfy this pastoral office, our predecessors strove unwearyingly that the saving teaching of Christ should be spread among all the peoples of the world; and with equal care they made sure that it should be kept pure and uncontaminated wherever it was received.

It was for this reason that the bishops of the whole world, sometimes individually, sometimes gathered in synods, according to the long established custom of the churches and the pattern of ancient usage referred to this apostolic see those dangers especially which arose in matters concerning the faith. This was to ensure that any damage suffered by the faith should be repaired in that place above all where the faith can know no failing.

The Roman pontiffs, too, as the circumstances of the time or the state of affairs suggested,
·    sometimes by
·    summoning ecumenical councils or
·    consulting the opinion of the churches scattered throughout the world, sometimes by
·    special synods, sometimes by
·    taking advantage of other useful means afforded by divine providence,
·    defined as doctrines to be held those things which, by God's help, they knew to be in keeping with
·    sacred scripture and
·    the apostolic traditions.
For the holy Spirit was promised to the successors of Peter
·    not so that they might, by his revelation, make known some new doctrine,
·    but that, by his assistance, they might religiously guard and faithfully expound the revelation or deposit of faith transmitted by the apostles.
Indeed, their apostolic teaching was
·    embraced by all the venerable fathers and
·    reverenced and followed by all the holy orthodox doctors,
for they knew very well that this see of St. Peter always remains unblemished by any error, in accordance with the divine promise of our Lord and Savior to the prince of his disciples: I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren .
This gift of truth and never-failing faith was therefore divinely conferred on Peter and his successors in this see so that they might discharge their exalted office for the salvation of all, and so that the whole flock of Christ might be kept away by them from the poisonous food of error and be nourished with the sustenance of heavenly doctrine. Thus the tendency to schism is removed and the whole church is preserved in unity, and, resting on its foundation, can stand firm against the gates of hell.
But since in this very age when the salutary effectiveness of the apostolic office is most especially needed, not a few are to be found who disparage its authority, we judge it absolutely necessary to affirm solemnly the prerogative which the only-begotten Son of God was pleased to attach to the supreme pastoral office.
Therefore,
·    faithfully adhering to the tradition received from the beginning of the Christian faith,
·    to the glory of God our savior,
·    for the exaltation of the catholic religion and
·    for the salvation of the Christian people,
·    with the approval of the sacred council,

·    we teach and define as a divinely revealed dogma that
·    when the Roman pontiff speaks EX CATHEDRA,
·    that is, when,
in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians,
in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority,
he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole church,
·    he possesses,
·    by the divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter,
·    that infallibility which the divine Redeemer willed his church to enjoy in defining doctrine concerning faith or morals.
·    Therefore, such definitions of the Roman pontiff are of themselves, and not by the consent of the church, irreformable.

So then, should anyone, which God forbid, have the temerity to reject this definition of ours: let him be anathema. (First Vatican Council, Chapter 4. On the infallible teaching authority of the Roman pontiff, 3-9).


Your statement that "Vatican 1 gives no room for the concept that Papal infallibility developed over time." is clearly a misreading of what the Council says.  In their proof for the doctrine the Council Fathers mention:
1. Scripture
2. Fathers
3. Doctors
4. Councils
5.  Papal Actions
The combined testimony of the above establish the doctrine of Papal infallibility.  Clearly Vatican 1 is in no way prohibiting developing understanding of the doctrine, in fact that are implying it.  A council's primary job in matters of doctrine is to clarify understanding.  To do this (as is demonstrated above), they take to totality of what the Church has said on the subject and then present it in a unified and understandable form.

The fact is that no Father or Doctor of the Church ever denied Papal infallibility and those who spoke of it affirmed it.  A sampling will do (all emphases mine) :

Pope Clement I

Owing to the sudden and repeated calamities and misfortunes which have befallen us, we must acknowledge that we have been somewhat tardy in turning our attention to the matters in dispute among you, beloved, and especially that abominable and unholy sedition, alien and foreign to the elect of God, which a few rash and self-willed persons have inflamed." "Accept our counsel and you will have nothing to regret. . . . If anyone disobey the things which have been said by him [God] through us [i.e., that you must reinstate your leaders], let them know that they will involve themselves in transgression and in no small danger." "You will afford us joy and gladness if being obedient to the things which we have written through the Holy Spirit, you will root out the wicked passion of jealousy" (Letter to the Corinthians 1:1, 58:2-59:1, 63:2 [A.D. 80]).


Ignatius of Antioch

"Ignatius . . . to the church also which holds the presidency, in the location of the country of the Romans, worthy of God, worthy of honor, worthy of blessing, worthy of praise, worthy of success, worthy of sanctification, and, because you hold the presidency in love, named after Christ and named after the Father" (Letter to the Romans 1:1 [A.D. 110]).


Dionysius of Corinth

"For from the beginning it has been your custom to do good to all the brethren in various ways and to send contributions to all the churches in every city . . . This custom your blessed Bishop Soter has not only preserved, but is augmenting, by furnishing an abundance of supplies to the saints and by urging with consoling words, as a loving father his children, the brethren who are journeying" (Letter to Pope Soter in Eusebius Church History 4:23:9 [A.D. 170]).

The Martyrs of Lyons

"And when a dissension arose about these said people [the Montanists], the brethren in Gaul once more . . . [sent letters] to the brethren in Asia and Phrygia and, moreover to Eleutherus, who was then [A.D. 175] bishop of the Romans, negotiating for the peace of the churches" (Eusebius, Church History 5:3:4 [A.D. 312])

Irenaeus of Lyons

"But since it would be too long to enumerate in such a volume as this the succession of all the churches, we shall confound all those who, in whatever manner, whether through self-satisfaction or vainglory, or through blindness and wicked opinion, assemble other than where it is proper, by pointing out here the successions of the bishops of the greatest and most ancient church known to all, founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul, that church which has the tradition and the faith which comes down to us after having been announced to men by the apostles. With that church, because of its superior origin, all the churches must agree, that is, all the faithful in the whole world, and it is in her that the faithful everywhere have maintained the apostolic tradition" (Against Heresies 3:3:2 [A.D. 189]).

These are only a few citations that could be cited.  I choose the very early Fathers to demonstrate that they DID have an understanding of the authority and infallibility of the Bishop of Rome (Pope). Again to claim the Pope Leo XIII , " Clearly ...did not see the definition of Vatican 1 as being the result of development, but one of unanimous consent." , is to superimpose you definition of both development and unanimous consent on his words.

Argument: It is clear that unanimous consent, and not development, is asserted for the papacy. Does such consent exist?

Rebuttal: Here is the point at which you construct a "straw man" as you move from your mistaken definition of unanimous consent to you equally mistaken critique.  

Argument: Roman Catholic patrologist Boniface Ramsey says: "Sometimes, then, the Fathers speak and write in a way that would eventually be seen as unorthodox. But this is not the only difficulty with respect to the criterion of orthodoxy. The other great one is that we look in vain in many of the Fathers for references to things that many Christians might believe in today. We do not find, for instance, some teachings on Mary or the papacy that were developed in medieval and modern times."
So Boniface asserts that there is, at best, silence from the Fathers. Thus there is, at most, no positive evidence for unanimous consent.  We must ask whether one can adduce consent from silence.   


Rebuttal:  Whereas I would have some disagreement with Ramsey’s statement as you have presented it here, it still does no harm to unanimous consent as is understood by the Catholic Church.  Many Protestant apologists will claim that the Catholic Church argues from silence on unanimous consent, this is not the case, as we shall see.

Argument: Tertullian makes mention the he believes Peter to be the "Rock" of Matthew 16:18, however he in no was sees the text the same way as does Vatican 1.  He does not see Papal infallibility in the text, instead he sees Peter as a representative of the church.  He sees the church as being built through Peter as he preaches the gospel. Scholars such as Froelich agree, saying: ‘Tertullian regarded the Peter of Matthew 16:18–19 as the representative of the entire church or at least its ‘spiritual’ members."

Rebuttal:  In reading Tertullian we must be ever aware that he ultimately rejected Rome (an important point in its self) and embraced the Montinanist heresy. Tertullian says:

In opposition to this (modesty), could I not have acted the dissembler? I hear that there has even been an edict set forth, and a peremptory one too. The Pontifex Maximus--that is, the bishop of bishops--issues an edict: "I remit, to such as have discharged (the requirements of) repentance, the sins both of adultery and of fornication." O edict, on which cannot be inscribed, "Good deed!" And where shall this liberality be posted up? On the very spot, I suppose, on the very gates of the sensual appetites, beneath the very titles of the sensual appetites. There is the place for promulgating such repentance, where the delinquency itself shall haunt. There is the place to read the pardon, where entrance shall be made under the hope thereof. But it is in the church that this (edict) is read, and in the church that it is pronounced; and (the church) is a virgin! Far, far from Christ's betrothed be such a proclamation! She, the true, the modest, the saintly, shall be free from stain even of her ears. She has none to whom to make such a promise; and if she have had, she does not make it; since even the earthly temple of God can sooner have been called by the Lord a "den of robbers," than of adulterers and fornicators. ( On Modesty, Chapter I)

Tertullian, a hyper-moralist, is upset because the Pope is remitting the sins of adultery and fornication (after due  contrition and penance I might add).  But the important thing here is not Tretullian’s rant, but the fact that he sees the Pope as misusing his authority, an authority that you have just claimed that Tertullian does not understand him to have!

Argument: On finial example is that of Cyprian.  He also sees Peter as the Rock.  But what does he mean by that? He writes:
"Our Lord whose precepts and warnings we ought to observe, determining the honor of a Bishop and the ordering of His own Church, speaks in the Gospel and says to Peter, I say unto thee, that thou art Peter, and on this rock I will build My Church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven. Thence the ordination of Bishops, and the ordering of the Church, runs down along the course of time and line of succession, so that the Church is settled upon her Bishops; and every act of the Church is
regulated by these same Prelates"
So Cyprian, contrary to Vatican 1 says that what Peter was given was not for him alone but for all the bishops, each in his own church.

But what of a governing bishop, of jurisdictional authority? Cyprian says: "It remains, that upon this same matter each of us should bring forward what we think, judging no man, nor rejecting any one from the right of communion, if he should think differently from us. For neither does any one of us set himself up as a bishop of bishops, nor by tyrannical terror does any compel his colleague to the necessity of obedience; since every bishop, according to the allowance of his liberty and power, has his own proper right of judgment, and can no more be judged by another than he himself can judge another. But let all of us wait for the judgment of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the only one that has the power both of preferring us in the government of His Church, and of judging us in our conduct there."
Cyprian denies the modern view of the Papacy as a jurisdictional authority which is passed on through Peter alone, he farther seen no unique authority of the See of Rome.  Cyprians denies the central tenants of the modern concept of the Papcy.  It is claer that by way of silence and affirmation there is no such thing as unanimous consent. Boniface Ramsey is shown to be correct that development overtook the doctrine of the Papacy, this in contradiction of the clams of Vatican 1.


Rebuttal:  These are some favorite quotes from St. Cyprian that are used by many Protestant apologists.  If we look closely at what the saint is saying is that all bishops derive their authority from Peter’s commission.  It is best here to let St. Cyprian himself clarify his own words:


"The Lord says to Peter: 'I say to you,' he says, 'that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it. And to you I will give the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever things you bind on earth shall be bound also in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth, they shall be loosed also in heaven' [Matt. 16:18-19]). . . . On him [Peter] he builds the Church, and to him he gives the command to feed the sheep [John 21:17], and although he assigns a like power to all the apostles, yet he founded a single chair [cathedra], and he established by his own authority a source and an intrinsic reason for that unity. Indeed, the others were also what Peter was [i.e., apostles], but a primacy is given to Peter, whereby it is made clear that there is but one Church and one chair. So too, all [the apostles] are shepherds, and the flock is shown to be one, fed by all the apostles in single-minded accord. If someone does not hold fast to this unity of Peter, can he imagine that he still holds the faith? If he [should] desert the chair of Peter upon whom the Church was built, can he still be confident that he is in the Church?" (The Unity of the Catholic Church 4; 1st edition[A.D. 251]). (emphases mine).

"Cyprian to [Pope] Cornelius, his brother. Greeting. . . . we decided to send and are sending a letter to you from all throughout the province [where I am] so that all our colleagues might give their decided approval and support to you and to your communion, that is, to both the unity and the charity of the Catholic Church" (Letters 48:1, 3 [A.D. 253]).

Cornelius was made bishop by the decision of God and of his Christ, by the testimony of almost all the clergy, by the applause of the people then present, by the college of venerable priests and good men . . . when the place of Fabian, which is the place of Peter, the dignity of the sacerdotal chair, was vacant. Since it has been occupied both at the will of God and with the ratified consent of all of us, whoever now wishes to become bishop must do so outside [the Church]. For he cannot have ecclesiastical rank who does not hold to the unity of the Church" (Letters 55[52]:8).

With a false bishop appointed for themselves by heretics, they dare even to set sail and carry letters from schismatics and blasphemers to the chair of Peter and to the principal church [at Rome], in which sacerdotal unity has its source" (Letters 59:14).


From the above, it is obvious that when St. Cyprian speaks of  "a bishop of bishops" he does not have in mind the Bishop of Rome.  The argument that, "Cyprian therefore denies central aspects of the modern concept of the Papacy, jurisdictional authority passed through Peter alone, and a unique authority power to the See of Rome.", is quite simply contradicted by the very person that you go to for your proof.


The whole argument fails because it is derived from a false definition of unanimous consent.  As we have seen the Church Fathers far from being silent on the matter of the Papacy affirm it. The doctrinal history of the Church, like any history, must be taken in total.  The Catholic Church affirms and has always affirmed that doctrine develops. This is NOT to say that doctrine is created, but that the "divine deposit" left to by Jesus Christ through the hands of His Apostles is better understood over time.  We must also be very clear that the Fathers, Doctors and Councils of the Church are only WITNESSES to the divine revelation that has been "delivered once and for all to the saints."