TF takes pains to try to respond to my criticism, and fails. 

He says I am confused about his argument. Let us see. His post was titled “What did the Early Church think of Prayer for the Dead?” [emphasis mine]. He cites Lactantius talking about 1) pagan rituals, 2) worshipping images of dead men, 3) reverencing merely the remains of those dead men who are now “earth,” as Lactantius puts it, and 4) making prayers to dead men. Who is confused? Me, for pointing out that “for” in TF’s title does not equal “to” in Lactantius? Okay. Got it.

TF chides “we use Jerome in two ways (1) for his teachings to the extent that they are persuasive, having been founded upon Scripture and (2) for historical reference” and insinuates that I am confused (one of TF’s favorite allegations, I am coming to see) about why he cites whom he cites. No, I am not, and I thank TF for the frank admission that he “uses” the Fathers anachronistically to support his regula fide, unknown though it was for the first millenium and a half of the Church, as it suits. I am furthermore not confused about the selectivity of his citations. I didn’t realize I was at all ambiguous in my criticism, such that I needed to “man up” and come right out and say what I came right out and said, and reiterated with elaboration courtesy of the improperly selective TF himself. He, like other Reformed before him, has attempted to selectively cite Fathers in such a way as to make them appear to support his unbiblical, self-contradictory, and novel sola scriptura, only to have had the nakedness of the emperor pointed out to them time and again with contextual and relativizing citations of those same and other Fathers, but that does not dissuade him from continuing to do so, nor from critizing others for that which he himself does, in this case, namely, display confusion (about his own argument, apparently, unless somehow “to” and “for” are synonomous prepositions in TF’s world; ah, but that would indicate confusion of another kind). But, in point of fact, TF linked to a post of his own where he at least in theory admits of a distinction between prayers “to,” prayers “through,” and prayers “for” the dead. So why, then, would he title his post “What did the Early Church think of Prayer for the Dead?” and go on to cite an irrelevant bit from Lactantius which had nothing to do with prayers for the dead? And then call me confused? Why, TF? Why did you do that?

“The question is whether this was an apostolic teaching or a later innovation. The historical testimony of Lactantius helps to demonstrate that it was a later innovation,” says TF. Note the improper conflation of prayers to, through, and for into a singular “it” which is supposedly a “later innovation.” Lactantius was addressing pagans who had been engaged in their pagan practices and rites of worshipping images of dead men and praying to dead men long before the Early Church, so one wonders why TF thinks this passage from Lactantius was relevant and supports the assertion he makes, that Lactantius’ criticism of pagans somehow demonstrates the later innovation of Christian veneration of saints and prayers for the faithful departed. Perhaps TF took Pastor King’s word for it that Lactantius was talking to Constantine about Christian practices which had crept in? But Lactantius was not doing that, as a cursory examination of book 1 of Lactantius’ Institutes or a glance at chapter 1 of book II — from which TF/King’s citation comes — would have informed him. This, again, makes one wonder about TF’s competence to treat of the matter.

TF presses on: “The combination of hubris and ignorance in this comment are startling. As even the so-called Catholic Encyclopedia points out, Lactantius’ Divine Institutes ‘was the first attempt at a systematic exposition of Christian theology in Latin.’ (Catholic Encyclopedia, 1913, p. 736) Lactantius was, in essence, the pioneer in systematic theology among the Latin-speakers.”

My hubris and ignorance notwithstanding, an initial attempt at systematizing Christian theology in Latin does not necessarily entail a good or orthodox systematization of Christian theology in Latin. You would apparently have us believe first is best. Surely you don’t mean that, so this criticism, besides being ad hominem, is irrelevant.

He continues: “What’s worse, though, is that Mr. Burgess then goes on to provide a quotation from Lactantius that is completely untroubling. In fact, it sounds rather like Paul the apostle who quotes from a pagan poet to make a Christian point. Undoubtedly there were problems in Lactantius’ theology, but who is free from error?” The prophets, the Jewish prophets, TF, that’s who were free from error. That’s who Lactantius dismissed in the quote I provided in favor of the pagan philosophers. Shall I quote it again? I think I shall: “But let us leave the testimony of prophets, lest a proof derived from those who are universally disbelieved should appear insufficient. Let us come to authors, and for the demonstration of the truth let us cite as witnesses those very persons whom they are accustomed to make use of against us—I mean poets and philosophers. From these we cannot fail in proving the unity of God; not that they had ascertained the truth, but that the force of the truth itself is so great, that no one can be so blind as not to see the divine brightness presenting itself to his eyes. The poets, therefore, however much they adorned the gods in their poems, and amplified their exploits with the highest praises, yet very frequently confess that all things are held together and governed by one spirit or mind. Orpheus, who is the most ancient of the poets, and coeval with the gods themselves—since it is reported that he sailed among the Argonauts together with the sons of Tyndarus and Hercules,— speaks of the true and great God as the first-born, because nothing was produced before Him, but all things sprung from Him.” This is not the tack that St. Paul took on the Areopagus, contrary to TF’s assertion. The prophets were “universally disbelieved”? What? This does not make sense, much less is it orthodox. It is a rhetorical flourish, nothing more. And it was designed to appeal to a certain, classical Latin audience. Not a profoundly Christian one. Or does TF also wish to extol the deep theological insight and orthodoxy of Constantine now? I daresay he does not. See also Schaff’s comments: “Lactantius, moved, perhaps, by Hosius or Eusebius, undertakes the instruction of the Emperor, while seeming only to copy the example of Justin writing to Antoninus Pius. The Institutes, it is true, had been begun at an earlier date; but he economizes, for a new purpose, the material, in which, perhaps, he had only purposed to follow up the work of his teacher, in language better fitted to the polite, for refuting heathenism. I cannot doubt that he aimed, in pure Latinity, to win the Emperor and his court to a deeper and purer conviction of divine truth: to more than a feeble and possibly superstitious idea that it was useless to contend with it, and that the gods of the empire were impotent to protect themselves against Christian progress and its masterly exposures of their shame and nothingness.  

In language which has given him the title of the Christian Cicero, Lactantius employs Cicero himself as a defender of the truth; correcting him, indeed, and overruling his mistakes, rebuking his pusillanimity, and justly censuring him, (1) in philosophy, for declaring it no rule of action, however ennobling its precepts; and (2) in religion, for not venturing to profess conclusions to which his reasonings necessarily tend. All this is admirably adapted to carry on the work of Christian Fathers and Apologists under the change of times. He and Arnobius furnish but a supplement to the real teachers of the Church, and are not to be always depended on in statements of doctrine. They write like earnest converts, but not like theologians; yet, although their loose expressions are often inconsistent one with another, it is manifest that their design is to support orthodoxy as it had been defined by abler expounders. I think the large respect which Lactantius pays to the testimony of the Sibyls was addressed to the class with which he had to deal. Constantine was greatly influenced by such testimonies, if we may judge from his own liberal quotations…”

Yes, yes, I must have gotten it from the Catholic Encyclopedia, TF. Must have, for you couldn’t possibly be wrong!! You simply must have “fully addressed and adequately rebutted” me! Armchair psychoanalysis can be fun, I see what you mean. Maybe I’ll try some more in a while. In point of fact, though, my limited point about Lactantius’ shortcomings as a theologian and in his knowledge of Scripture came from Schaff and the Encyclopedia Brittanica.

TF, again with the Freud impression: “UPDATE: I see that Mr. Burgess has not only left his comment on my original post but provided his comment on his own web page as well – so important he thinks his correction to be.” Do you think your remarks are equally or more important, having posted them at your own site as a new post rather than a reply in a combox? Do you routinely publish all of my criticisms such that it would have been ridiculously superfluous to have also posted my comment here, too? Really, TF. Your slip is showing. (That’s a pun on the above Freud reference, get it?)

Yes, while we appreciate one another’s attempts, whatever their motivations, I should think that your “refutation” leaves everything to be desired as yet, TF. I shouldn’t wonder if you do get back to it as quickly as you did your most recent attempt. Then again, I shouldn’t wonder if you don’t.

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