Doug Wilson’s “Authority and Apostolic Succession”

Mar 12th, 2010 | By | Category: Blog Posts

Recently I was asked for my evaluation of Doug Wilson’s article titled “Authority and Apostolic Succession.” For the sake of any others who may be interested in a Catholic evaluation of Doug’s article, I am posting my evaluation here.


Doug Wilson

In 2006 Doug Wilson wrote an article titled “Authority and Apostolic Succession” in which he defends what he refers to as a  Protestant conception of Apostolic succession, over against that of the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox. My statements below are critical of Doug’s article, but I should point out that they are not intended to be critical of Doug as a person; I consider him a brother in Christ, and my criticisms of his article should be interpreted in that light. I’m intending to explain where I think his reasoning in this article is mistaken, and I hope my explanation is helpful to him, and to others, so that we might come closer to agreement concerning the truth.

The first four paragraphs of his article are mostly rhetorical “debris clearing,” so my analysis begins with his fifth paragraph. There, in regard to the question of finding the visible Church, Doug claims that there are two ways of answering the question, “Where are we to find the visible church?” One way is through succession, and the other is by restoration. Doug claims that the classical Protestant way is not that of restoration (think Campbellites or Mormons) but that of succession, writing, “This helps explain how classical Protestants can identify with the Church as she existed prior to the Reformation.”

The problem for Doug’s position is one that I explained in my article titled “Ecclesial Deism.” If ‘classical Protestantism’ were not succession, but a form of restoration, it would essentially be no different. That is because, as I pointed out in “Ecclesial Deism,” so many things considered essential to the Catholic faith for at least a thousand years prior to the 16th century, were jettisoned by Protestants.  Only what agreed with their interpretation of Scripture was retained.1 That’s restorationism, even if one pins a ‘succession’ label on it. That’s not to deny that Protestantism carries with it implicitly and explicitly traditions and ideas that developed within the Catholic Church. But Protestantism retains those things in spite of itself, because of its authority structure viz-a-viz sola scriptura.2

Even if Doug accepts the authority of the fifth and sixth ecumenical councils (having scratched out the fifth ecumenical council’s teaching that Mary remained a perpetual virgin), he rejects the authority of the seventh through seventeenth ecumenical councils. So his claim to identify “classical Protestantism” with “the ancient and medieval church” seems quite empty, because his claim is fully compatible with the truth of its contrary. If his denomination decided to deny identification with the medieval church, it wouldn’t need to change a thing. No Protestant doctrine stands or falls on any medieval council or decision. It is as if the Church ceased to exist for a thousand years. And for this reason it presupposes ecclesial deism.

Next, Doug claims that there are gaps in the record of apostolic succession. The example he uses is that of St. Clement of Rome. Doug appeals to the American Jesuit Francis Sullivan to support his claim that we don’t know whether St. Clement was a bishop. But such a claim can only arise from a hermeneutic of suspicion. St. Irenaeus, himself a second century bishop of Lyon in what is now France, wrote the following:

The blessed apostles, then, having founded and built up the Church, committed into the hands of Linus the office of the episcopate. Of this Linus, Paul makes mention in the Epistles to Timothy. To him succeeded Anacletus; and after him, in the third place from the apostles, Clement was allotted the bishopric. This man, as he had seen the blessed apostles, and had been conversant with them, might be said to have the preaching of the apostles still echoing [in his ears], and their traditions before his eyes. Nor was he alone [in this], for there were many still remaining who had received instructions from the apostles. In the time of this Clement, no small dissension having occurred among the brethren at Corinth, the Church in Rome dispatched a most powerful letter to the Corinthians, exhorting them to peace, renewing their faith, and declaring the tradition which it had lately received from the apostles, proclaiming the one God, omnipotent, the Maker of heaven and earth, the Creator of man, who brought on the deluge, and called Abraham, who led the people from the land of Egypt, spoke with Moses, set forth the law, sent the prophets, and who has prepared fire for the devil and his angels. From this document, whosoever chooses to do so, may learn that He, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, was preached by the Churches, and may also understand the tradition of the Church, since this Epistle is of older date than these men who are now propagating falsehood, and who conjure into existence another god beyond the Creator and the Maker of all existing things. To this Clement there succeeded Evaristus. Alexander followed Evaristus; then, sixth from the apostles, Sixtus was appointed; after him, Telephorus, who was gloriously martyred; then Hyginus; after him, Pius; then after him, Anicetus. Soter having succeeded Anicetus, Eleutherius does now, in the twelfth place from the apostles, hold the inheritance of the episcopate. In this order, and by this succession, the ecclesiastical tradition from the apostles, and the preaching of the truth, have come down to us. And this is most abundant proof that there is one and the same vivifying faith, which has been preserved in the Church from the apostles until now, and handed down in truth. (Against Heresies III.3.3)

St. Eleutherius was bishop of Rome from c. 174 – 189. So St. Irenaeus, who had visited the Church in Rome, was writing this list between 174 and 189. Who then has greater proximity and historical authority? St. Irenaeus, or Francis Sullivan? That’s simply no contest. Only someone operating under the hermeneutic of suspicion would think Sullivan more of a credible source about the episcopacy of St. Clement than St. Irenaeus, who had been taught by St. Polycarp, who himself had been taught by the Apostle John.

Doug claims that there are gaps in apostolic succession, but he does not specify what these gaps are, and whether they are gaps in the succession itself or gaps in his knowledge of the succession. It would be helpful if he would point to the gap in this list of popes. But, having asserted that there are gaps of some unspecified sort, he precedes forward as though he has established the premise that there are gaps in the succession from the Apostles to the current pope, Pope Benedict XVI. Doug writes,

In fact, the demonstrable existence of such gaps favors a position that allows for them (like classical Protestantism) and argues against any position that depends on an absence of gaps.

Notice that he claims the gaps are “demonstrable”, but he never demonstrates that these gaps exist. He uses an assertion for the point in question, as if it is so obvious and well-known that he does not have to provide the evidence.

He next adds:

the foundation for my faith assumptions about church history are found in Scripture. This means that I believe certain things about the authority of the Church on the basis of what Jesus and the apostles taught, not because I can produce an exhaustive set of minutes that prove, say, that Second Nicea was an unlawful council. I know what to think of Second Nicea on the basis of the Second Commandment, which I consider to be a senior Second.

That’s another way of saying that Doug is his own ultimate interpretive authority. When any Church council teaches something contrary to his own interpretation of Scripture, his own interpretation of Scripture judges that council’s teaching; the council’s teaching does not stand as judge of his own interpretation of Scripture. Neal and I addressed that “solo scriptura” approach to Scripture in our article “Solo Scriptura, Sola Scriptura, and the Question of Interpretive Authority.”

Doug next writes:

One last thing before we begin. Questions of scriptural authority cannot be separated from questions of ecclesiastical authority. The Bible, all 66 books of it, is the Word of God, and is the final and ultimate authority over all our disputes. But we have to acknowledge the role that Church played in the formation of that canon. The Table of Contents in front of my Bible is not the Word of God directly, but is rather the work of the Holy Spirit in and through the Church.

If Doug really believed in an “identification” of his ‘church’ with the “medieval church,” as he claimed above, then he would accept the canon [of Scripture] taught by the medieval church, listed in Session 11 of the Council of Florence in 1442, the same canon spelled out later at the Council of Trent.

He adds:

And in the spirit of John the Baptist, the faithful Church says that Scripture must increase, and I must decrease.

Scripture can increase only by becoming more widely known and understood. And Scripture can become more widely known and understood, only if the Church increases. There is no reason to pit Scripture against the Church, as if one must decrease for the other to increase. They can both increase simultaneously, because they are not in competition with each other, but mutually illumine and inform the functional capacity of the other. Doug thinks that Scripture is akin to Christ, while the Church is akin to John the Baptist. But, while Scripture is the Word of God written, the Church is the Word of God mystically embodied, because the Church is the Body of Christ as St. Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 12. Christ increases in the world not only when the Word increases throughout the world, but also when His Church increases throughout the world. Neither increases without the other also increasing.

In getting to the heart of his article, Wilson refers to Hebrews 10:19-22, which reads:

Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

Doug asks whether this text is referring to baptism. The answer, of course, is yes. Then he claims that “baptism fulfills, not only circumcision, but also a number of other typological features of life under the law, including the rite of ordination.” Doug’s evidence that baptism fulfils … the rite of ordination” is that being sprinkled with blood and water was part of the ordination rite under the Old Covenant. (Exod. 29:4, 21; Lev. 8:6, 30).

Of course the Catholic Church believes and teaches that by our baptism we are given a share in the common priesthood of all believers. As the Catholic Catechism teaches:

The baptized have become “living stones” to be “built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood.” By Baptism they share in the priesthood of Christ, in his prophetic and royal mission. They are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that [they] may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called [them] out of darkness into his marvelous light.” Baptism gives a share in the common priesthood of all believers. (CCC 1269)

But Doug’s reasoning falls short in the succeeding paragraph, where he writes:

We Christians in the New Israel are a nation of priests, and as priests, we have access to the heavenly sanctuary. This privilege is conferred, stated, promised, signed and sealed in our baptisms. Apostolic succession is therefore a priestly succession, and the New Testament teaches that even Gentiles (in Christ) can walk into the Holy of Holies as priests. Not just one Jew from the line of Aaron, once a year, but multitudes of Gentiles, all the time, not to mention all the Jews who came to faith as well. This means that ordination in the Old Covenant is not primarily a type of ordinations in the New (although there are ordinations in the New). These ancient ordinations are a type of what is declared of all Christians in baptism.

First he moves from the truth that by our baptism we Christians in the New Israel are a nation of priests, to the conclusion that Apostolic succession is therefore a priestly succession. Even though he is correct that Apostolic succession is a priestly succession, from the fact that by our baptism we enjoy the baptismal priesthood it does not follow that Apostolic succession (i.e. which includes ministerial priesthood) is a priestly succession, except per accidens.3 Doug is implicitly moving from the fact of our baptismal priesthood as a fulfillment of Old Covenant ordination, to the conclusion that Apostolic succession is only by baptism and not by the sacrament of Holy Orders. But that conclusion does not follow from his premise.

He then claims that because in the New Covenant the priesthood of all believers includes Gentiles and Jews alike, and not one Jew in a line from Aaron, this means therefore that ordination in the Old Covenant “is not primarily a type of ordinations in the New.” That too is a non sequitur. To arrive at that conclusion, Doug would have to conflate the baptismal priesthood and the ministerial priesthood, as though there were no distinction between them. And such a conflation would simply beg the question, i.e. assume precisely what is in question between Protestants and Catholics [and Orthodox]. Just because all believers by their baptism are given a share in the common priesthood of all believers, it does not follow that ordination in the Old Covenant is not a type of ordination in the New Covenant. Doug is assuming that ordination in the Old Testament cannot have more than one kind of fulfillment in the New Covenant. He is assuming that since baptism brings us all into the [baptismal] priesthood, therefore New Covenant ordination cannot be a fulfillment of Old Covenant ordination. In other words, he is assuming that if by our baptism we are all brought to the level of Aaron’s priesthood, then there can be no more priestly hierarchy in the New Covenant. But the assumption is itself a non sequitur. Just because by our baptism we all share in the common priesthood of all believers, it does not follow that there is no ministerial priesthood. The ministerial priesthood of the Apostolic hierarchy is greater still than that of Aaron, in as much as the New Covenant is far greater than the Old.

Next Doug writes:

If we see apostolic succession in terms of mere governmental actions, carefully noted in the minutes, the farther we get away from the apostles, the more obscurity will surround the entire question, and the disputes will multiply. I mean, look at them. Look at us.

Here Doug makes use of an obvious straw man. Apostolic succession is not a mere “governmental action;” it is a sacramental action. In it and through it, God authorizes the successors of each bishop. Doug thinks that the farther we get from the Apostles in time, the more obscurity will surround the question of who has succession from the Apostles. But if we look at the situation, as he invites us to do, we find just the opposite. We find the most chaos and confusion precisely where men have rejected apostolic succession, and claim to be directly and immediately authorized by God. They teach their followers, without authorization from the Church, but by their own self-declared authorization. They cannot resolve their interpretive disagreements, even five hundred years after separating from the Catholic Church. And so they remain fragmented, and continue to fragment. Doug’s own denomination, which he helped start, is only twelve years old, founded when some Protestants couldn’t clear up the obscurity of whose interpretation was correct, and who had ecclesial authority. And so he started his own denomination.

By contrast, where bishops authorize their successors through the sacrament of Holy Orders, the very nature of the act makes it clear to everyone who is the rightful successor, namely, the one authorized by the Church, not the one who usurps the role on his own authority. The unity of the Church is ensured by the pattern of authorization we find already manifested on Mt. Tabor, when Jesus was transfigured. There God the Father told the Apostles: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.” (Mt 17:5) So likewise, the Apostles told the Church to listen to those whom they authorized to succeed them. And so likewise those bishops authorized their successors and told the Church to listen to them. And this pattern by which sacramental magisterial authority is handed down, continues in every generation. It is never a bottom-up source of authority, as though the people have the authority to ordain. It has always been only a top-down authority, handed down from Christ, through the Apostles, and their successors.4

Doug then says:

If in order to offer the bread of life and the wine of the new covenant to our people I have to be sure of the exact relationship between Clement and Linus, and other early pastors in Rome, the people of God will starve to death. If, before I open the Scriptures to declare what God has given to all of us, I have to make sure that the electrical current can make it all the way to me through one solitary line, then we are all in trouble.

Here he has offered two non sequiturs. The first is that if we need to know that the line of succession is unbroken, in order to offer the Eucharist, then we will not be able to offer the Eucharist. The second is that if we have to make sure that the line of authorizations goes all the way from the Apostles to the present, then we’re in trouble. Notice the hidden premise necessary in order to reach the conclusions: we cannot know that the line of succession is unbroken. Does Doug give any evidence that the line is broken, or that we cannot know that the line is unbroken? No. He assumes it, just as many people assume that we cannot know for sure that Christ rose from the dead. The Church has always known that Christ rose from the dead, and the Church has always kept the succession from the  Apostles. She has preserved the living memory of her unbroken succession from the Apostles, even in her liturgy. How do we know that the succession is unbroken? Because the Church is unbroken. In order for the succession to be lost, the Church would have to become extinct. And once extinct, it could never be re-established unless Christ returned in the flesh. No one could re-establish Holy Orders if it were ever lost. The conferring of Holy Orders is both public and bound by the laws of the Church. For that reason, no one who isn’t known to have received Holy Orders can confer them. The notion of ‘re-starting’ Holy Orders, is therefore impossible. But, all this is purely hypothetical, because Doug has provided no evidence that there was every a gap in the succession from the Apostles, or that it was ever re-started after it had been lost. Doug’s casting doubts on apostolic succession, is just skepticism. Skeptics come and skeptics go, but the Church continues onward, for two thousand years now, and will continue until Christ returns.

Doug then tries to justify rejecting the traditional doctrine of apostolic succession, by claiming that Jesus never promised that everything would be “nice and tidy.” Surely Doug recognizes that every heretic and schismatic in the history of the Church could have used this line, and it would not have justified their heresy or schism. That Jesus never promised things would be “nice and tidy” doesn’t justify schism or heresy. If Christ authorized the Apostles, and the Apostles authorized successors, and commanded them to do likewise, until Christ returns, then abandoning that ordinance established by Christ and handed down by His successors, cannot be justified by noting that Christ didn’t promise that things would be nice and tidy. Jesus said, “The one who listens to you listens to Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me; and he who rejects Me rejects the One who sent Me. (Luke 10:16) In the time of the Apostles, no one could be justified in separating from the Apostles and setting up one’s own ‘church’ on the basis that Christ never promised that things would be “nice and tidy.” And in the generation after the Apostles, no one could be justified in separating from their successors and setting up one’s own ‘church,’ on the basis that Christ never promised that things would be “nice and tidy.” And that is no less true today.

Doug then states:

Jesus did pray that His people would be one, as He and the Father are one. This has not happened yet, not anywhere. Not in Rome, not in Geneva, not in Constantinople. But Jesus prayed for it, and it will happen.

All of Jesus’ prayers are infallible, because He is God. The Church that Christ founded on Peter the Rock, has always been one. It is the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. It cannot be divided because it is the Body of Christ, and Christ cannot be divided (1 Cor 1:13). Doug thinks Christ’s Church has never been one. He thinks that because he sees the separation of those sects in schism, but he does not recognize that these schisms are schisms from the Church that is one, not schisms within a Church that is divided.

Doug then writes:

The New Testament does teach us that government of the congregation is important, and we see in multiple ways how and why it is important. But John Murray argues rightly that any congregation of baptized Christians, that is to say, any congregation of priests, has the authority to establish such government among themselves. It is necessary that they do so, and the authority conferred by baptism enables them to do so with a clean conscience.

Doug appeals to John Murray in support of his claim that any group of baptized persons has the authority to establish an [ecclesial] government among themselves. The problem is that John Murray did not have Holy Orders, and so the appeal to John Murray simply begs the question, i.e. assumes precisely what is in question, by appealing to someone not having Holy Orders, to determine whether Holy Orders are necessary to possess the authority to make such determinations. Of course, if Doug is appealing to an argument made by John Murray, that is different. But Doug doesn’t provide that argument; he only alludes to it.

No group of Christians has a right or authority to form some other ecclesial government than the one already established by Christ; that would be the ecclesial equivalent of treason. No one can lay another foundation than was already laid. The Apostles are those foundations stones (Eph 2:20, Rev 21:14), and on those stones are their successors, and their successors, and so on. As St. Paul said, “According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building upon it. But let each man be careful how he builds upon it. For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor 3:10-11) Just as no one can lay another cornerstone than the One that was laid, so no one can lay new foundation stones other than the Apostles, or other second course stones than their successors. The notion that any group of baptized Christians has the authority to establish their own ecclesial government presumes that they can lay a foundation again, as if the Apostles and successors have not already laid a foundation, and as if their present-day successors of the Apostles do not exist. In that sense, it begs the question, by assuming that there are no successors of the Apostles presently governing the Church. In addition, it presumes that the Church Christ founded is invisible, having no visible government to which all Christians should be subject.

Doug must know that most all heretics and schismatics in the history of the Church have believed that they have the authority to form their own ecclesial government, once they separate from the government of the Church. So, his similar claim should raise a red flag, and urge him to find some principled reason why they are not justified in doing so, but he is.

Next he writes:

This next thing may seem like a odd claim for a Protestant to make in a discussion with Roman Catholics, but I do not believe that this view is a disparagement of orderly government and ordination on my part as their view is a disparagement of the actual privileges conferred in baptism.

Here he asserts that the Catholic (and Orthodox) understanding of baptism is a disparagement of the privileges conferred in baptism, because the Catholic (and Orthodox) conception of baptism does not include Holy Orders within it. He hasn’t given any reason to believe that baptism confers what Holy Orders confers. He has simply asserted it. And the proper response to such an assertion is: “The fifteen hundred years of Church tradition, prior to the rise of Protestantism, testify against that assertion.” The evidence is overwhelmingly against his assertion. If baptism included Holy Orders, then there was no point in the Apostles laying their hands on the deacons in the book of Acts, and there was no point in St. Paul bestowing a gift of God on Timothy through the laying on of his hands. (2 Tim 1:6)  The Church universal, from the first century to the 16th, believed, taught, and practiced ordination by the laying on of hands by a bishop who was himself ordained in the same manner. That would have been pointless if all believers already had all ecclesial authority simply in virtue of their baptism. All of this testifies against Doug’s claim that baptism confers Holy Orders. But if baptism does not confer the authority of Holy Orders, then the baptized cannot confer Holy Orders, because no one can give what he does not have.

Doug continues:

Baptism is not just a matter concerning individual salvation, of placing a sign and a seal of Abraham’s faith on individual persons. Individuals can be baptized only because the world has been baptized. Baptism is the birthright of the new humanity, the citzenship papers of the inhabitants of the new heaven and new earth. Christ is a new Adam. The Church is a new Eve. All things have been made new.

A Catholic can agree with that, and Doug sounds quite Catholic in speaking in this way. But what he says here doesn’t imply or entail that baptism confers Holy Orders.

Next he writes:

As we congregate in churches, of course all things should be done decently and in order. But our lifeline to Christ is not a line of ordinations, except in the sense that the ordinations of the old order were rolled up into baptism and graciously given to us. God has made us kings and priests to rule on the earth. This was conferred upon us when we were baptized into the triune Name, ushered (in that formal rite) into the visible Church.

Here Doug asserts that our “lifeline” to Christ is not through a line of ordinations. He assumes that because by our baptism we have a share in the common priesthood of all believers, therefore we (baptized believers) have all the priesthood there is to have. His assertion, therefore, simply begs the question against the Catholic (and Orthodox) understanding of baptism and Holy Orders. His claim is not an argument or evidence for the Protestant position against the Catholic position; it is simply an assertion of the Protestant position, as if he is unaware of the Catholic distinction between the baptismal priesthood and the ministerial priesthood. And so by showing that through baptism we have priesthood of some sort, he mistakenly believes he has thereby shown that all the baptized each have all the priesthood there is to have.

He continues:

A position like this makes Christian catholicity, catholicity of spirit, possible. It recognizes the baptisms of all Trinitarian communions, and does not try to solve the lamentable divisions in Christendom by holding up the hands and saying, “Brethren! These divisions are disgraceful! Our proposal for eliminating them is for everyone to stop being obstinate and join us!”

Doug’s position also makes schism from the Church impossible, because everyone remains invisibly one in the ‘invisible Church,’ even though visibly divided. If a person is  excommunicated from one “communion,” he may go to the next, or start his own. Why? Because he always remains in the invisible Church. In Doug’s ecclesiology there is no visible catholic Church; there are only visible “communions” all divided from each other.  Any ecclesiology that makes schism from the Church impossible, shows itself to be false, because of the testimony of Scripture and the Fathers prohibiting precisely that. What is prohibited cannot be theoretically impossible. Therefore, any ecclesiology that makes schism from the Church impossible, shows itself to be false.

“Catholicity of spirit” is another term for ecclesial relativism founded on ecclesial docetism; it is the notion that we remain ‘one’ in spirit, even though in schism, as though schism does not affect our spiritual unity. But what happens in matter affects the spiritual. Doug’s claim that no Church is the Church that Christ founded, is exactly what schismatics love to believe, in order to believe that they are not in schism from the Church that Christ founded. Doug has not shown that no Church is the Church Christ founded; he has merely asserted it.

Finally he writes:

At the same time, we all have our own views, and nothing whatever can be done about that. But catholicity of spirit requires that we subordinate our views to the profound declaration made in our baptism — one Lord, one faith, one baptism. We subordinate our views, which is not the same thing as abandoning our views. And as this process continues apace, I believe the regrettable errors made by Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and people just like me do temporarily get in the way of declaring the true unity of that baptism to an unbelieving world.

Doug claims that catholicity of spirit requires that we subordinate our views to the declaration made in our baptism — one Lord, one faith, one baptism. Of course Catholics agree. But implicit in his claim is that we should all subordinate our views to his conception of what it means to share one Lord, one faith, one baptism (and one body). (Eph 4) Doug thinks that the “errors” made by Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and people just like himself (but, apparently, not including himself, since he doesn’t include himself in the list of institutions and persons in error) get in the way of declaring the true unity of our baptism. What those errors are, how we know them to be errors, who has the authority to determine what is an error and what is not, and how we know who has this authority, he does not say. He merely asserts in passing that there are errors, as if merely asserting it is sufficient. But it is not sufficient. For Protestants and Catholics to be reconciled in full visible communion, we have to take the level of dialogue to a deeper level, where we seek to understand each other’s positions charitably and fairly, patiently explain our objections, and listen sincerely to each other’s replies.

What we do not find in Doug’s article is an answer to the question: Where is the visible Church? If Doug were to claim that the visible Church is just wherever there are baptized persons, then apostates and those who have been excommunicated will nevertheless remain within the visible Church. He claims to believe in a visible Church, but his ecclesiology has no visible Church; it has visible human beings, and visible congregations and visible denominations. But no visible catholic Church.

I’m writing this in the hope that it helps bring understanding of the point of disagreement between the Catholic Church and Protestants like Doug. I’m also hoping it helps further Protestant-Catholic reconciliation.

  1. Doug himself says later in his article,

    All this said, I want to note that the foundation for my faith assumptions about church history are found in Scripture. This means that I believe certain things about the authority of the Church on the basis of what Jesus and the apostles taught, not because I can produce an exhaustive set of minutes that prove, say, that Second Nicea was an unlawful council. I know what to think of Second Nicea on the basis of the Second Commandment, which I consider to be a senior Second.

    When the working assumption is that everything we need to believe about the faith can be confirmed or disconfirmed by our own interpretation of Scripture, this is a form of restorationism, whether it calls itself succession or not, because except for its role in the formation of the canon, the Church need not have authoritatively determined anything whatsoever over the last 2000 years. []

  2. Neal and I explained this essential equivalence between sola scriptura and what Keith Mathison calls ‘solo scriptura’ in our article titled “Solo Scriptura, Sola Scriptura, and the Question of Interpretive Authority.” []
  3. For more on our baptismal priesthood, see paragraphs 1120, 1132, 1188, 1273, 1279, 1546, 1547, and 1669 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. []
  4. Even when the laity participated in nominating candidates for ordinations, the laity themselves did not ordain, since they could not give what they themselves did not have. []
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  1. Bryan,

    Thank you for taking time to respond to Doug’s article. You make a very persuasive case. The Irenaeus quote is ground shaking to me as a Protestant. The chain of succession he gives is blatant but just as surprizing to me is the reason Irenaeus gives for that chains importance:

    “And this is most abundant proof that there is one and the same vivifying faith, which has been preserved in the Church from the apostles until now, and handed down in truth.”

    Irenaeus is clearly tying the visible succession of the real men he mentions to how we know where to find the one “vivifying faith”.

    I left a note on Doug’s blog encouraging him to respond. I hope he will “flesh out” some of the assertions he makes.

    Peace,

    David Meyer

  2. Mr. Wilson reasons well in many areas, but when he starts on the Catholic Church, he brings out an army of straw men. Thank you for this article!

  3. Bryan,
    A couple questions:
    1. Are you saying the Roman Catholic Church is one and all other bodies are schism?
    2. Are you denying apostolic succession in the EO churches as well as the Lutheran Churches of Scandanavia? What makes their’s invalid?
    3. Does apostolic succession make the church valid? What about doctrine?
    4. Would Pope Clement I recognize the RCC of today? Would he believe the same things the RCC is teaching today? Would Pope Clement I be closer to Luther or Pope Leo X?
    5. You are a scholar and I would like if you really took a look at q.4 and also answer this- was it right for Luther to call Pope Leo X an antiChrist?
    6. Please try to justify to your protestant audience the actions of the RCC in selling indulgences to build St. Peter’s.
    7. Given the historic situation of how the RCC was able to build St. Peter’s, why have they not sold off it’s treasures and give to the poor?
    8. If the Apostolic Succession of the Pope’s is important to understanding this church that is one and holy, why did they frighten people out of their money to build St. Peters? WWJD?

    I’ll stop.
    Once a person or church puts themselves above Scripture, they are ant-Christ. This goes for the Protestant church’s as well.

  4. Ron,

    Thanks for your questions. Yes, the Catholic Church, headed by the bishop of Rome having the keys of the Kingdom in succession from St. Peter, is one, and all other bodies are in schism from the Church. That’s what it means to be in schism, i.e. to be separated from the Church’s principium unitatis (i.e. principle of unity) established by Christ in St. Peter’s office. See 2089 in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

    The Catholic Church recognizes that apostolic succession is preserved in the EO Churches. Lutherans, however, do not have apostolic succession, for the same reasons explained in Apostolicae Curae.

    3. Does apostolic succession make the church valid? What about doctrine?

    You would have to explain exactly what you mean by ‘valid.’ Apostolic succession is necessary for a communion of persons to be a particular Church. Without apostolic succession it can at most be only a group of like-minded persons, not a particular Church. Deviation from orthodoxy is what is called heresy. Heresy by itself does not [necessarily] nullify Holy Orders, but when the requirements for Holy Orders are no longer satisfied (as explained in Apostolicae Curae), Holy Orders are not conferred, and what was a particular Church ceases to be a Church.

    4. Would Pope Clement I recognize the RCC of today?

    Yes, though he would probably be amazed to see how large it has become, and how much it has developed since the end of the first century.

    Would he believe the same things the RCC is teaching today?

    Yes. It is the same faith, though developed and explained in greater depth after two-thousand years of responding to heretics and pondering within this deposit of faith. You could ask whether he would recognize what was decided at Nicea in 325, or at Ephesus in 431, or at Chalcedon in 451. He would recognize the common ground, and he would be fascinated by the way in which the Spirit had guided the Church into a deeper understanding of the deposit of faith, in ways that he wouldn’t have known at the time he was living.

    Would Pope Clement I be closer to Luther or Pope Leo X?

    Undoubtedly to Pope Leo X. Luther was rebelling against the bishop of Rome, like those Corinthians that St. Clement (the bishop of Rome) was rebuking.

    You are a scholar and I would like if you really took a look at q.4 and also answer this- was it right for Luther to call Pope Leo X an antiChrist?

    No. Pope Leo X was immoral in certain ways, but he was the successor of St. Peter, and did not teach anything contrary to the faith that has been handed down from the saints.

    6. Please try to justify to your protestant audience the actions of the RCC in selling indulgences to build St. Peter’s.

    There is no reason for me to try to justify what Tetzel did, when I myself don’t approve it.

    Given the historic situation of how the RCC was able to build St. Peter’s, why have they not sold off it’s treasures and give to the poor?

    Many many people gave freely and sacrificially, out of love for Christ and His Church, for the building of St. Peter’s.

    If the Apostolic Succession of the Pope’s is important to understanding this church that is one and holy, why did they frighten people out of their money to build St. Peters? WWJD?

    I suggest you read Warren Carroll’s The Cleaving of Christendom to attain a more accurate historical perspective.

    Once a person or church puts themselves above Scripture, they are ant-Christ.

    That’s why the Church’s Magisterium is the servant of the Word.

    Yet this Magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant. It teaches only what has been handed on to it. At the divine command and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it listens to this devotedly, guards it with dedication and expounds it faithfully. All that it proposes for belief as being divinely revealed is drawn from this single deposit of faith.” (CCC 86)

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  5. @Bryan Cross – A well-written article. “I thank my God” upon every occasion I have to engage with well-written theological inquiries after our Lord’s truth. I suspect the largest weakness of your position, as stated, would be that if Wilson clarified/gave examples of what exactly he meant by the “gaps” in Apostolic succession, much of what you write would be nullified. (I do recognize that other arguments you offer would still, epistemically, not be undercut; that said, your strongest claim _against Wilson_ is his lack of specificity for what gaps he has in mind. Thus, clarification on Wilson’s part would undercut a large chunk of your arguments _against Wilson._) One hopes that Wilson will reply with clarification and that the dialogue will continue.

    @Ron Jung: Interesting questions you propose but their relevance to the topic at hand is not evident (excluding nos. 2, 3, & 8.) Argumentatively speaking, if questions bear no relevance to the thesis Bryan is advocating, he certainly has no obligation to respond to them (and even if he did, his answers would be irrelevant to the truth of his thesis.) Perhaps could you clarify how your other
    questions relate to Wilson’s position, Bryan’s response, or questions of apostolic succession in general? (There might well be an obvious connection that I’m just missing – tired minds do miss such obvious things) :-p

  6. Thank you for your response. I was rushed in my writing and hope it did not seem openly hostile. And- forgive my typos.
    I see by the definition of the catechism any non-RCC body is in schism.
    I understand also that the RCC self-defines it as the one, true, holy, apostolic church.
    I also understand that the Church is Christ’s not Rome’s. I fully grant that the bishop of Rome has authority in all RC churches, but their claim to be THE church, THE one, holy, catholic, apostolic church is obnoxious, historically inaccurate (yes, I know you have your sources and I have mine), and detrimental to visible unity among Christ’s own.
    I also believe that the RC church continues to come up with doctrines that have no scriptural warrant, yet bind them on men’s consciences. Sin to eat meat? Days of obligation? Praying to one Saint for this, and another for that? Unmarried Priests?

    One other thing. I lurk on quite a few blogs and have seen you in many discussions- I have a great deal of respect for your demeanor on the internet. Many, including myself, find it very difficult, but you do a very good job at. You are still wrong, but you are wrong in a nice way. :-)

  7. My smiley face is broken up at the end of my last comment. It should look like this :-)

  8. Thanks for your gracious words Ron. I don’t know why you find my demeanor “difficult;” I would hope it would be helpful for engaging in productive dialogue aimed at reconciling Protestants and Catholics. (Addendum: I misunderstood you. Sorry!)

    If Jesus gave to one man, i.e. St. Peter, the keys of the Kingdom (not just to the part of the Kingdom in Rome or under Rome), then it is not obnoxious to understand communion with St. Peter and his episcpocal successors as marking the bounds of the visible Church (i.e. the Kingdom), outside of which a person is in schism. Jesus founded one Church, and therefore that one Church must be catholic (i.e. universal, extending both in scope and authority throughout the world). If you read no other book on this subject, read Dom John Chapman’s Studies on the Early Papacy. I don’t know your particular theological and ecclesiological views, but I wonder how you make sense of schism from the Church, except by reducing it to apostasy. What does schism from the Church look like? How do you recognize it?

    On priestly celibacy, I recommend Christian Cochini’s The Apostolic Origins of Priestly Celibacy. Professor Heid of the Pontifical Institute of Christian Archaeology recently discussed early priestly celibacy here:

    As for fasting from meat on Fridays, and days of obligation, the Church has the authority to make precepts that bind our conscience, just as she did in Acts 15 when forbidding the eating of meat of strangled animals. (Acts 15:29) As for praying to saints, I’m willing to talk about it, but addressing it here would take us far afield. Perhaps, for now, we could focus on the topic of the post. At some point here on CTC we will be addressing the subject of praying to saints. But it doesn’t seem altogether fair to throw everything but the kitchen sink at me, in your litany of objections to the Catholic faith, in response to a post on Doug’s article on authority and apostolic succession. :-) I think it would be more prudent and profitable to discuss these things one at a time. And I hope you would be willing to do that, by entering into our ongoing dialogue here at CTC.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  9. Bryan,
    I think you misunderstood, your demenor on the internet comes off just fine, it is mine that I find difficult. For some reason I can engage people of all types in person, and disagree but come away from the engagement in good standing with the other. On the internet, I’m not so sure.

    You and Benjamin are right, I have gone beyond the scope of the discussion at hand- in a way. The issues I and other Protestants have is that we see many practices (the ones I pointed out) going against Scripture or at least not addressed in Scripture so that to bind these things on men is wrong. The idol controversy in Acts is very different from holy days of obligation! All the Vatican’s reasons for what they do may have validity, but can and have been wrong (logical arguementation, wrong premise). The issue of the authority of the Pope and Apostolic Succession is the false premise to begin with. We Protestants (and the Orthodox) have our history to back us, and so it seems you do to. Take away the Pope as THE Bishop and you are left with very little. The arguements for much of what separates the historic denominations can be laid at the feet of ONE doctrine- the Pope as the head of Christ’s church. You know, like Leo X and others who bear NO resemblence to Christ.

    As for the video, I watched 41 seconds of it and turned it off. DO YOU HONESTLY BELIEVE THIS??? News to my Orthodox brothers!

    Please note this: I firmly believe you to be my brother in Christ. I am often ashamed at what passes for church, faith, practice in the Protestant world and would have much harsher opinions of TV preachers and seeker/emergent folks than the RCC.

    God Bless,
    Ron

  10. Ron,

    I misunderstood what you meant by ‘difficult’; thanks for clarifying.

    Catholics and Protestants don’t have all the same background assumptions. For example, you wrote:

    The issues I and other Protestants have is that we see many practices (the ones I pointed out) going against Scripture or at least not addressed in Scripture so that to bind these things on men is wrong.

    I wonder how you would support that claim. Scripture itself doesn’t make that claim. So, the claim is self-contradictory, and therefore self-refuting. It assumes that everything Christians need to know about the faith is contained explicitly in Scripture or follows by logical necessity from it. But that assumption is not only not in Scripture, but Scripture itself refers to the oral Apostolic tradition. (cf. 2 Thess. 2:15) At some point you have to ask yourself where you are getting your starting assumptions, and have the courage to see if they are true and properly grounded.

    The idol controversy in Acts is very different from holy days of obligation!

    How so? What exactly is the principled difference between forbidding all members of the Church from eating meat killed by strangulation, and requiring all members of the Church to worship corporately on holy days?

    All the Vatican’s reasons for what they do may have validity, but can and have been wrong (logical arguementation, wrong premise).

    This is just hand-waving until you actually specify which premises were wrong, and where the argumentation was wrong.

    The issue of the authority of the Pope and Apostolic Succession is the false premise to begin with.

    How do you know?

    We Protestants (and the Orthodox) have our history to back us, and so it seems you do to.

    All heretics and schismatics claim that they have history to back them. But that shouldn’t make us historical relativists. Rather, where we hold contradictory beliefs, we should recognize that at least one of us is wrong. if you have read Warren Carroll’s Christendom series (or Philip Hughes’ Popular History of the Catholic Church) I’d like to know where you think he goes wrong. I can remember when I first started reading Church history written from a Catholic point of view, after having only read Church history written from a Protestant point of view. It might expand and challenge your historical paradigm.

    Take away the Pope as THE Bishop and you are left with very little.

    True. That’s exactly why Christ knew the Church needed one man to be steward of the keys of the Kingdom. Without a visible head, the Church would be scattered into myriads of sects, just as Protestants are. That’s precisely what Optatus of Mileis in Africa (367) said when he wrote:

    “But you cannot deny that you know that the episcopal seat was established first in the city of Rome by Peter and that in it sat Peter, the head of all the apostles, wherefore he is called Cephas, the one chair in which unity is maintained by all. Neither do other Apostles proceed individually on their own; and anyone who would set up another chair in opposition to that single chair would, by that very fact, be a schismatic and a sinner. It was Peter, then, who first occupied that chair, the foremost of his endowed gifts …. I but ask you to recall the origins of your chair, you who wish to claim for yourselves the title of holy Church.”

    And St. Jerome said something quite similar, around the same time:

    St. Jerome, “The Church was founded upon Peter: although elsewhere the same is attributed to all the Apostles, and they all receive the keys of the kingdom of heaven, the strength of the Church depends upon them all alike, yet one among the twelve is chosen so that when a head has been appointed, there may be no occasion for schism.”

    These Church Fathers recognized that if there were no pope, the Church would have no principle of unity, and would quickly fragment into competing sects.

    You wrote:

    The arguments for much of what separates the historic denominations can be laid at the feet of ONE doctrine- the Pope as the head of Christ’s church. You know, like Leo X and others who bear NO resemblence to Christ.

    Jesus told us that the servant is not greater than his master. (John 13:16) Then again, “Remember the word that I said to you, ‘ A slave is not greater than his master ‘ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also.” (John 15:20) Notice that the common reaction to Christ will be the common reaction to His disciples. But notice what Christ is:

    Behold I am laying in Zion a stumbling stone, a rock of offense; and he who believes in Him will not be put to shame. (Rom 9:33)

    Just as Christ the Rock was the occasion of stumbling for many, so the steward who is also a Rock (i.e. Petros) to whom Christ entrusted the keys of the Kingdom, is likewise an occasion of stumbling for many. So it is no surprise that all the denominations lay the blame for their separation on the Catholic doctrine that Christ entrusted St. Peter and his successors with the authority of the keys of the Kingdom. Just as Christ is the means of our union with God, but when rejected is the occasion of our eternal separation from God, so that which is the Church’s principium unitatis is, when rejected, the occasion of the disunity of those who reject it.

    As for the video, I watched 41 seconds of it and turned it off. DO YOU HONESTLY BELIEVE THIS??? News to my Orthodox brothers!

    The truth doesn’t go away by looking away. Read Cochini’s book, and get back to me (by email if you want).

    Please note this: I firmly believe you to be my brother in Christ. I am often ashamed at what passes for church, faith, practice in the Protestant world and would have much harsher opinions of TV preachers and seeker/emergent folks than the RCC.

    I appreciate that. And I also believe you to be a brother in Christ. Somehow, we need the patience and determination to work out this disagreement that presently separates us, and be reconciled in full communion. Five hundred years of Protestant-Catholic schism is shameful and scandalous to the unbelieving world. This reconciliation can happen in our generation; but we have to pursue it diligently and with a perseverance informed by a sense of pressing urgency. The time is short. Our lives are short. This is our chance, right now, to contribute to Christ’s Church, make recompense for the sins of our forefathers who formed, provoked, and participated in this schism, and be instruments of Christ’s peace, breaking down the wall that presently divides us.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  11. Bryan,
    Thanks for your reply. I have other obligations that will force me to end here (for now). But I hope to read some of the things you suggested soon.

    Three parting words: 1) You are absolutely correct to say one of us is right and the other is wrong- that is what I was trying to say above. We both have histories to back up arguements, both cannot be right.
    2) We are both correct in that THE issue is over papal authority. It is under the Pope’s authority that doctrines and practices are made. Some of these are so far off- indulgences for instance, that many Protestants cannot in good conscience, stop protesting.
    3) Many Protestants that I know, who long to see and have communion with Rome, are upset because Rome itelf seems to make it more and more difficult. I am referring to the growing devotion to and acceptance of devotion to Mary, which includes the co-redemptrix and mediatrix discussions.

    I will get back to you on Monday.
    Ron

  12. Ron,

    Just a quick technical point. The Pope nor the Magisterium has any authority to make doctrine. The Pope and the Magisterium shed light on doctrine, can penetrate deeper in the mystery of the doctrine, define etc…

  13. @Bryan Cross:

    You quoted Ron Jung as saying:

    “The issues I and other Protestants have is that we see many practices (the ones I pointed out) going against Scripture or at least not addressed in Scripture so that to bind these things on men is wrong.”

    You raise a number of interesting questions in reply which seem worthy of some further pursuit. After all, if one can’t while away the hours thinking about God’s Truth, what else worthy can one do? :)

    You wrote “I wonder how you would support that claim. Scripture itself doesn’t make that claim. So, the claim is self-contradictory, and therefore self-refuting.”

    Unfortunately, this reader is unclear what “that claim” is which you are refuting – the claim that many Catholic practices go against Scripture, or that many Catholic practices are not addressed in Scripture, or that the binding of these practices on men’s consciences is wrong? The first and third are debatable and interesting, the second is likely trivial. I infer that you are intending to reply to what I formulate as Jung’s third claim, but your position is ambiguous (and I could be misunderstanding you – if so, my apologies in advance.) :)

    If in fact you are replying to Jung’s third claim, then I suspect a Jung-esque (new word!) reply would go something along these lines: James 4:12 states that there is one lawgiver, and other Bible verses (eg. 1 Cor. 7:23 & Acts 4:19) are clear that our consciences are not to be bound by the laws of men. (Lest I sound like an anarchist, interpret this claim such that it is consistent with Rom. 13:1 and following…)

    My question, then, is do you take it to be logically impossible for an epistemically-consistent Scriptural account of Jung’s third claim to be offered? It would seem (at my first glance,) to not be logically impossible – Something to the effect of “Scripture says our conscience is not to be bound by the laws of men, laws [XYZ] are man’s laws, therefore our conscience is not to be bound by them.” This would seem to require only an additional ethical claim; something along the lines of “It is immoral to bind one’s conscience to do XYZ when, in fact, it is not so bound in actuality” would seem to do.

    If such a logically consistent account _could_ be offered, it would thus seem that a Jung-esque position need not necessarily be “self-contradictory, and therefore self-refuting.” And if a valid argument in favor of Jung’s third claim (based on Scripture) _could_ be offered, shouldn’t we just move along to disputing the soundness of such a position rather than, as you seem to be doing, asserting the logical impossibility of Jung’s third claim being based on a valid argument?

    Well, such are my thoughts at the moment. Please feel free to comment & correct as you see appropriate. I’ve already been edified by the exchange thus far and, Lord willing, I hope my comments may be of some edification to you as well. =)

    Sincerely,
    Benjamin =)

  14. Benjamin,

    Welcome to CTC. When I wrote, “I wonder how you would support that claim. Scripture itself doesn’t make that claim. So, the claim is self-contradictory, and therefore self-refuting.” I had in mind Ron’s claim that if a practice is not addressed in Scripture, then for the Church to make it binding on men is wrong. (See, for example, Fr. Harrison’s argument concerning the logical problem with sola scriptura.) If Ron thinks that some Catholic practices are contrary to Scripture, then I would like to know which practices he has in mind, and which passages of Scripture he thinks are incompatible with those practices.

    If in fact you are replying to Jung’s third claim, then I suspect a Jung-esque (new word!) reply would go something along these lines: James 4:12 states that there is one lawgiver, and other Bible verses (eg. 1 Cor. 7:23 & Acts 4:19) are clear that our consciences are not to be bound by the laws of men. (Lest I sound like an anarchist, interpret this claim such that it is consistent with Rom. 13:1 and following…)

    Keep in mind the distinction between the moral law, divine law, human law and ecclesial law. God alone gives the moral law. We can instruct others in the moral law, but we cannot judge others for violating it; that judgment belongs to God on the last Day. The moral law is known to all men, and is also called the natural law, because we know it by the rational capacity we have by our nature as human beings made in the image of God. The divine law is the moral law supernaturally revealed; this is the Decalogue. This too only God makes, and only God judges. This moral law is the law James is talking about in James 4:12.

    Human law is the civil law enacted by those with the political authority to make such laws. James 4:12 is not claiming that all civil law must be reducible to the moral law (although civil law all must be in accord with the moral law). For example, the law that (Americans) should drive on the right side of the road, was not a law made by God, but by man. That’s a human law, made by the natural human society (i.e. the state) for the ordering of that society toward its good.

    Finally, there is also ecclesial law. The Magisterium of the Church Christ founded has the authority to make [ecclesial] laws for the ordering and welfare of the Church’s members as individuals and for the common good of the Church. These laws are called canon law. Why does the Church need canon law? The Introduction to the Church’s Code of Canon Law includes the following explanation:

    As a matter of fact, the Code of Canon Law is extremely necessary for the Church. Since the Church is organized as a social and visible structure, it must also have norms: in order that its hierarchical and organic structure be visible; in order that the exercise of the functions divinely entrusted to it, especially that of sacred power and of the administration of the sacraments, may be adequately organized; in order that the mutual relations of the faithful may be regulated according to justice based upon charity, with the rights of individuals guaranteed and well-defined; in order, finally, that common initiatives undertaken to live a Christian life ever more perfectly may be sustained, strengthened and fostered by canonical norms.

    Just as the state, which is a natural society, needs civil law, so the Church, which is a supernatural society, needs canon law. The Church is not another state, because it is not a natural society, but a divine society. So it does not compete with the state, because the two are not on the same level. Grace builds on nature, and so just as a natural society needs laws for its proper ordering and regulation, so likewise the Church needs laws for its proper ordering and regulation. Among those laws the Church has deemed important for the spiritual well-being of her members are the laws concerning attending mass on holy days of obligation, abstaining from meat on Fridays, and clerical celibacy (in the Latin Church).

    Regarding 1 Cor. 7:23, there St. Paul is talking about not becoming a slave (literally). Since we have been redeemed by Christ, he says, we should be Christ’s slave, and not therefore make ourselves slaves to men. St. Paul is not talking about being subject to leaders of the Church. He is talking about the practice of slavery. The fact that slaves should seek to obtain their freedom (if possible), and not enter into slavery, does not mean that members of Christ’s Church are not bound to follow the teaching of the Church, and obey and submit to the leaders of the Church (cf. Hebrews 13:17). The Church is a divine society, and the Magisterium of the Church represents Christ. To subject oneself to the Magisterium of Christ’s Church is to subject oneself to Christ, as He said, “The one who listens to you listens to Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me; and he who rejects Me rejects the One who sent Me.” (Luke 10:16)

    Likewise, in Acts 4:19, when the Apostles said, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge.” and then again in Acts 5:29, “We must obey God rather than men.” they are not saying that the Church cannot bind our conscience. The Old Covenant had been fulfilled with the death and resurrection of Christ. The New Covenant had been established. Peter and the Apostles had been authorized and commissioned by God (i.e. Jesus), under the New Covenant. The Apostles were therefore under no obligation to obey the Jewish leaders, because the Jewish leaders no longer had religious authority, having been superceded by the New Covenant authority, which is the Magisterium of the Church. The Church can bind our conscience, precisely because of her divine authority.

    My question, then, is do you take it to be logically impossible for an epistemically-consistent Scriptural account of Jung’s third claim to be offered? It would seem (at my first glance,) to not be logically impossible – Something to the effect of “Scripture says our conscience is not to be bound by the laws of men, laws [XYZ] are man’s laws, therefore our conscience is not to be bound by them.” This would seem to require only an additional ethical claim; something along the lines of “It is immoral to bind one’s conscience to do XYZ when, in fact, it is not so bound in actuality” would seem to do.

    In our “Solo Scriptura” article, Neal and I wrote the following:

    Here we should say something about what it means to bind the conscience. It is of the very nature of law to bind the conscience. Law does not coerce the will, but law binds the conscience precisely insofar as reason grasps it as the standard or rule to which our beliefs, words and actions ought to conform. God’s law, written on our hearts in the form of the natural law, informs the conscience of every man. Once one knows the law, then one knows acting against the law to be unlawful. Likewise, once one knows the Church’s magisterial authority, and her divinely revealed laws and dogmas concerning faith and morals, then one’s conscience is bound to believe and obey them.

    And then a few paragraphs later:

    [I]t is true that civil government leaders have genuine civil authority, which they have received from God. And it is true that they are not infallible. But it is not true that they cannot bind the conscience. Civil laws bind the conscience in that we are obligated to obey them, so long as they do not conflict with a higher law, whether that be the natural law, or the law of God as revealed through the Church.

    Just as civil law can bind the conscience, so the Church’s canon law can bind the conscience. So the fact that by the moral law per se one is not bound to drive on the right side of the road, does not mean that the US civil law cannot bind our conscience such that if we drive (in the US), we are obligated to drive on the right side of the road. Likewise, the fact that by the moral law per se we are not prohibited from eating meat on Fridays does not mean that the Church’s canon law cannot bind our conscience if we know that [canon] law, and know the divine authority by which that [canon] law was made, and are members of the Church and thus subjects of that [canon] law.

    If such a logically consistent account _could_ be offered, it would thus seem that a Jung-esque position need not necessarily be “self-contradictory, and therefore self-refuting.” And if a valid argument in favor of Jung’s third claim (based on Scripture) _could_ be offered, shouldn’t we just move along to disputing the soundness of such a position rather than, as you seem to be doing, asserting the logical impossibility of Jung’s third claim being based on a valid argument?

    The reason why Ron’s third claim is problematic is that it states that only what is found in Scripture is binding, but that statement itself [i.e. that only what is found in Scripture is binding] is treated as binding on the Church leaders, even though that statement (or its semantic equivalent) is not found in Scripture. In addition, as I pointed out, it presumes that the Church has no authority to make laws for her self-governance. But Scripture nowhere says that the Church has no such authority. So Ron’s third claim carries with it assumptions that are incompatible with the Catholic faith, and not found in Scripture. And it seems to me that for Catholics and Protestants to be reconciled, we at least have to be willing to reexamine these kind of a priori assumptions.

    Thanks much for your comments and interaction.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  15. Ron, (re: #11),

    I hear what you are saying. In my opinion, resolving our disagreements requires a different kind of approach than the one typically experienced on the internet. Typically it immediately turns into a thick hail of objections and accusations and rhetorical questions, hurled as fast as possible at the other person, like some kind of debate contest. In my opinion, that’s not just worthless; it is destructive and counterproductive. It makes people think that ecumenical dialogue is pointless.

    You’ve mentioned in this thread a number of Catholic practices and doctrines with which you take issue. The best way to work through these, in my opinion, is one at a time, in separate posts devoted to each one of them. That’s because the questions are not simple and easy; they are complex, and there is much more beneath and behind them than initially meets the eye. What might seem like a prima facie incompatibility between Scripture and some Catholic doctrine or practice, turns out to be more much complex when we start digging and uncovering the presuppositions, history, and philosophy underlying the disagreement.

    That slow, careful process, is something we are trying to do here on CTC in our articles series. To enter into that process with us, is to take on a very different ‘mode’, if you will. It is to become as slow and patient as Treebeard the Ent, to walk a long road together sharing a deep commitment to reconciliation based on finding and agreeing on the truth. Just as the love between man and woman reaches its fullest expression in the mutual self-giving of a life-long commitment, so the charity that motivates genuine ecumenical engagement is in it for the long-haul, and all sides recognize that commitment in each other, that deep love for the truth and for unity in the truth. And that makes it a mutual and patiently long-suffering activity, one in which we are really carefully considering together the points that separate us. That deep long-haul commitment changes the whole ecumenical approach, from the typical drive-by, here’s everything-but-the -kitchen sink, take that!, sort of engagement, to the ‘were meeting at my house every week over the next three years to share a smoke and work our way through the ecumenical councils and figure out where and why we disagree’ sort of approach. See the difference?

    All that to say that concerning the points of disagreement you have raised, let’s take them in turn, and in an ordered way. We’re intending to do that here at CTC, and we invite you to join us in it, with the sort of patience that is needed for dialogue of this sort to be fruitful and pleasing to our Lord.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  16. @Bryan Cross

    Thanks very kindly for the clarification, as well as the distinction between the four differing types of laws. At this point I have further questions and would enjoy more discussion, but I fear such a conversation might go beyond the boundaries of the topic at hand (that is, whether or not Wilson’s rejection of apostolic succession is a strong one.) As I noted before, Wilson’s failure to go into sufficient detail about what the “gaps in succession” are leaves me unable to take his position, as given, seriously. Not, of course, that he’s intrinsically wrong or that if clarification were given from him I might not change my mind – rather that his argument, as presented, is insufficient. On that, I take it, we are in agreement. :)

    Your introduction of the four types of laws raises questions in my mind, however, about spheres of authority. Briefly, when the Pope declares that XYZ must be believed, I take this to be an ecclesial law. The tone of such ecclesial laws, however, does not merely seem to be “XYZ must be believed to be a Catholic,” but the stronger claim that “XYZ must be believed in order to be a Christian.” This I find confusing since I take the latter claim to be outside the Pope’s sphere of authority. Of course, clarification might help, but I fear in raising such an issue that I shall wander far from what you intended to discuss in your post – that is, Wilson’s argument. Is there perhaps another thread or more appropriate way to pursue this question further? Your advice as to how best to proceed would be sincerely appreciated!

    To return to Wilson, then, although he does not clarify where the gap in succession is, a plausible candidate would be the Western Schism (aka the Catholic schism) between 1378-1417. The Catholic Encyclopedia source you provide (listing the Popes) indicates that Urban VI was followed by Boniface IX, etc. However, those same church leaders also appointed Clement VII (followed by Benedict XIII, etc.) Both the Avignon popes (ie, Clement et al) and the Roman popes (ie, Urban et al) excommunicated each other, and both appointed their own bishops. (Popes from Pisa also played a role, but including them complicates matters without providing any additional benefit…)

    Thus far, history. Now to the far more interesting philosophical questions! :) Who was Pope in, say, 1340 – Clement or Urban? How (epistemically speaking) do we know the answer, is this a retrospective answer or an answer available to those in 1340, and is the source of that answer fallible or infallible? (Let’s say, worst case, that either who was Pope is unknown or is known only fallibly – would that even have an effect on apostolic succession?) I write the later parenthetical statement because I don’t intend this to be a “Gotcha!” argument at all where, if successful, I “win.” Rather, I’m wondering how damaging Wilson’s argument would be if _Papal succession_ were unknown for 40 years – need that necessarily affect _apostolic succession_?

    I’ll thank you, in advance, for any thoughts, clarifications, or corrections you (or others) might care to offer. I hope you are enjoying a blessed Lord’s day and I do sincerely look forward to further discussions with both a fellow philosopher and a brother in Christ – really, what more could one ask for? =)

    Yours Sincerely,
    Benjamin

  17. Now see this excerpt from Jim Jordan in the Sociology of the Church
    “It is a fact that the church of Jesus Christ is unified. Jesus
    prayed the Father in John 17 that we might be one, and the Father
    does not deny the petitions of the Son. Therefore, we are one. We eat
    of one Christ. We hearken to one Word. There is one Lord, one
    faith, one baptism, etc. Anyone who denies this is insane, not ad-
    justed to reality. Thus, we cannot unite the church, and church unity
    is not a problem, any more than we can make America a theocracy.
    What we need is for people to stop pretending that the church is not
    united, because such a pretense is a denial of the truth. When men
    recognize the truth, and stop being fooled by vain appearances, then
    the judgment upon the church will be turned to blessing”

    and compare it with Doug Wilson’s statement from the article posted here: “Jesus did pray that His people would be one, as He and the Father are one. This has not happened yet, not anywhere. Not in Rome, not in Geneva, not in Constantinople. But Jesus prayed for it, and it will happen” . Is that not a gross contradiction, similar with many other disagreements between the reformers themselves, like those about the views on such important matters as Sacraments?

  18. Dear Andy,

    Yes, Wilson and Jordan are contradicting one another here, so it appears. At the same time, maybe Jordan could respond by saying that while he and Wilson disagree on this theological point, this isn’t a point that divides them or generates disunity as between them. I imagine he would say something similar about the other disagreements you mention, within limits.

    Best,

    Neal

  19. Bryan (and others),
    Thank you for your interaction. I am getting to the part of the day I have some opportunity to respond. However, I will do what you suggest- take the long walk. I will begin to read your articles and respond to them in turn.

    FWIW, I agree with Jordan, in that because we are in union with Christ, the Church is one. Unity is in Christ and he is not divided. But, I agree with Wilson that it is not lived out now.

    As I begin, if I were to refer to reliable sources for RCC doctrine and practice, could you point the way? Is New Advent ok?

  20. Benjamin,

    Thanks for your patience. I’ve had some other responsibilities that I needed to attend to.

    You wrote:

    Briefly, when the Pope declares that XYZ must be believed, I take this to be an ecclesial law. The tone of such ecclesial laws, however, does not merely seem to be “XYZ must be believed to be a Catholic,” but the stronger claim that “XYZ must be believed in order to be a Christian.” This I find confusing since I take the latter claim to be outside the Pope’s sphere of authority.

    Consider some statements by the Church Fathers. Lactantius (240-320) wrote:

    [I]t is the Catholic Church alone which retains true worship. This is the fountain of truth, this is the abode of the faith, this is the temple of God; into which if any one shall not enter, or from which if any shall go out, he is estranged from the hope of life and eternal salvation. No one ought to flatter himself with persevering strife. For the contest is respecting life and salvation, which, unless it is carefully and diligently kept in view, will be lost and extinguished. But, however, because all the separate assemblies of heretics call themselves Christians in preference to others, and think that theirs is the Catholic Church, it must be known that the true Catholic Church is that in which there is confession and repentance, which treats in a wholesome manner the sins and wounds to which the weakness of the flesh is liable. (The Divine Institutes, IV.30,) [my emphasis]

    St. Augustine writes:

    We believe also in the Holy Church, [intending thereby] assuredly the Catholic. For both heretics and schismatics style their congregations churches. (On Faith and the Creed, 10)

    One cannot have [salvation] except in the Catholic Church. Outside of the Catholic Church one can have everything except salvation. One can have honor, one can have the sacraments, one can sing the alleluia, one can answer Amen, one can have the Gospel, one can have faith in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and preach, but never can one find salvation except in the Catholic Church. (Sermon to the People of the Church of Caesarea, 6)

    St. Cyril of Jerusalem writes:

    And if ever you are sojourning in cities, inquire not simply where the Lord’s House is (for the other sects of the profane also attempt to call their own dens houses of the Lord), nor merely where the Church is, but where is the Catholic Church. For this is the peculiar name of this Holy Church, the mother of us all. (Catechesis 17:14)

    As I studied the Church Fathers, it became clear to me that any heretic could call himself a Christian, as the quotation from Lactantius shows. What mattered most, therefore, was not calling oneself a Christian, but being a Catholic, i.e. in the Church or in the process of being received by the Church.

    Among Catholics, the term ‘Christian’ was used to refer to baptized Catholics, and to Catechumens (i.e. unbaptized persons seeking entry into the Church). St. Augustine says, “Ask a man: are you a Christian? If he be a pagan or a Jew, he will reply: I am not a Christian. But if he say: I am a Christian, ask him again: are you a catechumen, or one of the faithful?” (Tract. in Joannem, xliv, 2) So, if one speaks of being “a Christian” in the way that the heretics call themselves being a Christian, then nothing “must be believed in order to be a Christian,” because the individual himself can use the term in any way he wishes. (E.g. a ‘Christian’ is anyone who has “prayed a sinner’s prayer”, or ‘asked Jesus into his heart’, or ‘trusted Christ’ or ‘tries to follow the teachings of Christ,’ or whatever he wants it to be). In that sense of the word ‘Christian,’ there are no requirements for calling oneself a Christian, apart from the limitations due to the ordinary use of the term, such that it would be a contradiction to say that one is a Christian, and say that one hates Christ.

    But, there is another sense of the word ‘Christian.’ Christ entrusted the Apostles with the gospel, and authorized them to speak as His representatives to the world, with the authority to define what is orthodox and what is heterodox. He authorized them to set the conditions for what it means to follow Christ, and in that sense, to determine authoritatively what must be believed in order truly to be a follower of Christ, and (in that sense) a ‘Christian.’ The successors of the Apostles retain that authority. And Peter in particular, as the one to whom Christ gave the keys, has a special role here. So when the successor of Peter (or the bishops in union with the Pope, including the Pope) define something as necessary to be believed by all the faithful, they do so with the authority of the apostles. The sphere of that authority extends over the whole earth, because Christ’s authority extends over the whole authority. All those who seek to follow Christ should submit to the successors of the Apostles, and to what those successors teach concerning Christ and what to believe about Christ. In any diocese, the local Catholic bishop is the rightful authority to which all those who seek to follow Christ should be subject. But no one who is not a Catholic is subject to canon law, because canon law governs the supernatural society that is the Church. Those who are not members of that society are not under the authority of canon law, because they have not yet come under the authority of the Church. This is why Protestants are not under canon law. So, in sum, the doctrinal definitions determined by the Church are authoritative for all those who seek to follow Christ, but only Catholics are subject to canon law.

    Now to the far more interesting philosophical questions! :) Who was Pope in, say, 1340 – Clement or Urban? How (epistemically speaking) do we know the answer, is this a retrospective answer or an answer available to those in 1340, and is the source of that answer fallible or infallible? (Let’s say, worst case, that either who was Pope is unknown or is known only fallibly – would that even have an effect on apostolic succession?) I write the later parenthetical statement because I don’t intend this to be a “Gotcha!” argument at all where, if successful, I “win.” Rather, I’m wondering how damaging Wilson’s argument would be if _Papal succession_ were unknown for 40 years – need that necessarily affect _apostolic succession_?

    I think you meant to write another date, other than 1340. I’m thinking you meant perhaps 1380. If you look through that list of popes, you will see a number of anti-popes in the margins. An anti-pope is not the real pope, but he claims to be the real pope. There can never be two popes at the same time. If one person is pope, and a conclave tries to elect another pope, the election is null. And that is why the election of Robert of Geneva (who took the name Clement VII) was null and he was an anti-pope, because Urban VI was the duly elected pope. (See the Catholic Encyclopedia article Western Schism.) The source of that answer is the Church which, in the ordinary universal magisterium, is infallible. But let’s say, for the sake of argument, that it was generally unknown for a while, who was the rightful pope; would that be some kind of defeater for the Catholic doctrine of apostolic succession? No, not at all. So long as the Church knew that each ordained bishop was being ordained by validly ordained bishops, there is no break in the succession. So if the Western Schism is the sort of thing Doug has in mind, that doesn’t affect the doctrine of apostolic succession, because it in no way even suggests that apostolic succession was lost. Apostolic succession was never in question, throughout the Western Schism. What was in question was who was the rightful pope; not who had succession from the Apostles. All the persons in question were bishops, and therefore had apostolic succession. I hope that helps answer your question.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  21. Ron,

    Yes, New Advent is a reliable source for learning about Catholic history and doctrine. I also recommend the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  22. Bryan,
    I agree with the quotes of the Fathers. The “catholic” church is NOT the same as the “Roman” church. The Eastern Orthodox church is and has been “catholic”, but not Roman. It would be news to Cyril of Jerusalem that he had a Pope. I think the Creeds (Nicene and Apostle’s) are speaking of the universal (catholic) not Rome. You see a Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness might call themselves Christian, but they deny the Apostle’s TEACHING contained in scripture and traditions that do not contradict it. IMO.

  23. @Bryan Cross

    Thanks for the reply – I’m actually headed out to deliver a paper at a philosophy conference, so I’ll use the trip to ponder the topic and your reply at greater length. :) I’m also in the middle of rereading “Dialogues Concerning Heresies” (by Thomas More, a favorite author and an excellent counter-Reformation source ) & reading Jean Daillé’s “A Treatise on the right use of the Fathers in the Decision of Controversies” for the first time. Particularly if you’ve not read the latter I’d highly recommend it (it is as theologically challenging to a Catholic, I suspect, as More’s dialogue is to a Protestant.) :) Daillé’s project involves attacking the reliability and highlighting the practical difficulties in using the church fathers as a theological base. Plus, it’s on Google Books, so it can be acquired for free. Regardless, I’ll read + present + think and look forward to continuing the pursuit of God’s truth with you upon my return next week. =)

    Sincerely,
    Benjamin :)

  24. Hey Ron,

    It’s all in the Ecclesial Deism article (and corresponding podcast).

    There’s a lot here, bro.

    Peace,
    wilkins

  25. Ron,

    The “catholic” church is NOT the same as the “Roman” church.

    Though I am Reformed, I think in fairness it should be pointed out that Jerome, an early church father and translator of the Vulgate, would have held a different opinion. In his epistle to Pope Damascus, he said:

    My words are spoken to the successor of the fisherman, to the disciple of the cross. As I follow no leader save Christ, so I communicate with none but your blessedness, that is with the chair of Peter. For this, I know, is the rock on which the church is built! This is the house where alone the paschal lamb can be rightly eaten. This is the ark of Noah, and he who is not found in it shall perish when the flood prevails.

    (If you’re looking for the wider context, a link to an online version may be found here: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf206.v.XV.html)

    This is some pretty exclusive language about the necessity of communing with the Bishop of Rome to be in the true Church. The fact that this kind of language regarding the Bishop of Rome doesn’t really appear in the earliest church fathers, though, is part of my reason why I’m not Roman Catholic.

    Bryan,

    Great post on apostolic succession. Seeing ecclesial authority as transmitted from God to Christ, and from Christ to the apostles, makes a lot of sense. I do have a question though: what Biblical evidence is there that those whom the apostles laid hands on have more or less the same authority and are in a special succession from them? When Matthias was being appointed to succeed Judas in Acts 1, an instance I recall seeing you use in a previous comment on another blog post here to show apostolic succession in action, one of the requirements for a successor was that he had been with the disciples from the time of John the Baptist’s ministry until then, and had been a witness with the apostles of the ministry of Christ. Doesn’t this imply that the apostolic office is unique, and thus does not really have successors?

    Pax Christi,

    Spencer

  26. Spencer,

    For the distinction between the uniqueness of the Apostles’ eyewitness authority, and apostolic authority that could be handed down, see my earlier comment here.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  27. Spencer,
    I mentioned nothing of Jerome, who spent a lot of time in Rome and was close to the Bishop of Rome, Damascus. Jerome noted that the fall of the Western Roman Empire would lead to theological chaos as well as political chaos and I think from this chaos the Power of the Bishop of Rome grew into the Pope traditions.

    Someone please tell me, when Cyril of Jerusalem’s See was in dispute, how was that handled? Did a “pope” put things right? As I said, I think it would be news to Cyril that he had a Pope.

    Hopefully I will get to Ecclesiastical Diesm today.
    Again, I do enjoy your site.

    Ron

  28. Spencer,

    “The fact that this kind of language regarding the Bishop of Rome doesn’t really appear in the earliest church fathers, though, is part of my reason why I’m not Roman Catholic.”

    As a fellow Reformed Christian who is becoming Catholic this Easter, I would like to make a few comments on this statement. I know that you have ongoing discussions and don’t expect you to devote any more time to engage with me, but I would be interested in knowing your thoughts if you do have an extra moment.

    First, it should be clear enough that we simply have a near infinitely greater amount of literature to work with from the fourth century onward than we do from the “earliest church fathers.” For that reason, I think it is dangerous to draw a temporal line that, based on the availability of data, is mostly arbitrary and can therefore section off as much or little data as you want it to. Yet, even in the smaller amount of data that we have from before Jerome’s time, which seems to be where you are drawing the line, there are indications that Rome has a certain primacy. Take Clement of Rome’s letter to the Corinthians as one good example. Another good example, in my opinion, is the famous passage in Matthew where Jesus entrusts the keys of the kingdom to Peter. If we for a moment remove from ourselves the mantle of exegete and ask ourselves instead whether the Catholic interpretation of that passage or X non-Catholic interpretation is more likely to produce things like Clement of Rome’s letter to the Corinthians, Irenaeus and Eusebius’ lists of the Roman bishops (why not give the lists of the bishops at Constantinople or Antioch?), and, finally, the quote we’ve just seen from Jerome, I think we have to conclude that the non-Catholic position (especially whatever Protestants have to say about it) gives no real reason for these earliest testimonies to Roman primacy.

    My next question would be to ask what exactly it would take in the New Testament or the “earliest church fathers” to prove to you that Jerome’s statement is not some gargantuan leap that substantially differentiates itself from the opinions that must have been held before him. It is, I think, dangerous to go to an ancient text expecting it to give is in every place explicit answers to the particular questions that we feel need to be answered. This is why, for example, different Protestant sects disagree on nearly every doctrine imaginable; their ascriptural and ahistorical commitment to sola scriptura requires them to limit their data set to only a few text, and then they go to those texts asking questions that those texts were not “necessarily” written to answer, at least as explicitly as we would like. We comb narratives and letters about not sleeping with one’s mother for a systematization of baptism, election, worship, etc. So again, given the evidence that we do have in the unfortunately scant amount of texts left to us from the first three centuries, and given what I said above about probability related to passages like Matthew 16 and other indicators of Peter’s primacy, what would you have to see in the “earliest church fathers” to be convinced?

    I could also say, for example, that we don’t find anything clear about the Father and Son being consubstantial, or about the divinity of the Holy Spirit until roughly the time of Jerome, and that’s why I’m an Arian. Since you have so strongly divided the early sources from the “later” (and not even THAT much later, relatively speaking), and don’t think that the earlier sources, for what they are (i.e. NOT treatises on Church Government), do not provide ample witness to the tradition represented more clearly by Jerome in the 4th century, what else could you say other than that you’ve personally arrived at the decision, based on your own reading of scripture, that the councils of the 4th century were right on this one point? Here again you and I, should I actually take the Arian position, would simply be reduced to a shouting match, because I would say that scripture and the “earliest fathers” (before the corruption of Hellenization and Imperialism encroached on the purity of the Church) support me, and you would disagree, and we’d be stuck at an impasse, with no one to arbitrate between us.

    I guess my question, then, is about “historical hermeneutics” and the expectations that we bring to history and its texts.

  29. Philologus,
    I think it is without doubt that the Bishop of Rome had primacy, as he was considered “first among equals”, until later. The “filioque” issue was a great cause of “schism” between East and West, because the Bishop of Rome was acting like a Protestant. The Council got it right, but the filioque is more Biblical, so…

  30. Ron,

    First, you are now making sweeping historical assertions about Jerome’s life and context. What exactly did Jerome say about the decline of the empire, where did he say it, and what relevance does it have to the discussion?

    Second, you move from your interpretation of what Jerome said to your own speculations about history and causality. First, it shouldn’t matter to anyone what you think about the relationship between the decline of the Western empire and the consolidation of ecclesiastical power in Rome. Second, this tendentious historical speculation has already appeared on C2C, and we’ve already pointed out that it doesn’t work because Rome hadn’t been the capital of the Western empire for almost 200 years by the time emperor Romulus abdicated in 486. The capital of the Western empire had been moved to Milan by Diocletian in 296, the imperial residence of the Western emperor was moved to Ravenna in 402, and after Constantine (just a few decades after the capital had been moved to Milan) the center of all imperial power was in the East anyway, in Constantinople. If the Catholic Church had wanted to fabricate some story about lineage and succession that matched the dominance of an important city, or if such false ecclesiology had simply developed organically alongside growing imperial power, we would not be speaking about the Roman Catholic Church, but the Constantinopolitan Catholic Church. In other words, the Roman bishops, beginning in the 3rd century, did not have the kind imperial undergirding that you are trying to establish in order to justify your remaining in schism.

    Third, the Bishop of Rome could not have been acting like a Protestant when he proposed the addition of the filioque because the filioque is not a “correction” of the conciliar formula. It is a clarification, a way of stating the doctrine more precisely. No Catholic would say that it is wrong to say the creed as it was originally penned. To see that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father is not wrong. It’s just not all that can be said. This is how doctrinal development takes place, and this is why Eastern Catholics, in communion with Rome, are not prohibited from maintaining their version of the Creed.

    Sloppy strawmen arguments like these could be avoided by a very cursory investigation into the realities of history. What I have noticed from my own experience as a Protestant and now looking in from the outside as I prepare to become Catholic is that an ecclesiology which has no authoritative source of dogma and requires all of its people to be theologians and historians ends up producing bad historians and bad theologians. I don’t mean this to insult you, only to say that the arguments you’ve produced here are the unfortunate byproduct of an onerous system that simply cannot function in the real world where everyone doesn’t have time to get a PhD in Classics, historical theology, and systematic theology. I happen to have a degree in Classics and am pursuing an advanced degree in early Christianity, why is why I happen to have been exposed to some of the intricacies of ancient history and the development of Christianity, but not everyone has the interest or the time (with all of life’s many demands) to figure these things out beyond the very American, sound-byte microwave level. This is why Catholic ecclesiology makes sense. I now have parents to teach me, to hand down to be the faith once delivered to the saints, and I now take joy in studying rather than studying to set my conscience at ease, all the while despairing of ever being able to assimilate and understand all the data, especially in subject areas that my mind is less able to grasp (like systematics).

  31. Philologus,
    Seriously? What I said about Jerome is new information? The relevance is that Cyril of Jerusalem was being discussed. I made a comment about Cyril not having a Pope in Rome. A quote from Jerome was brought into the discussion by Spenser. The fact that Jerome knew the Bishop of Rome, and was under his authority, for at least a time, makes his quote relevent to JEROME, which I would not dispute.

    “First, it shouldn’t matter to anyone what you think about the relationship between the decline of the Western empire and the consolidation of ecclesiastical power in Rome.”

    Sorry- who are you?

    “Second, this tendentious historical speculation has already appeared on C2C, and we’ve already pointed out that it doesn’t work because Rome hadn’t been the capital of the Western empire for almost 200 years by the time emperor Romulus abdicated in 486. The capital of the Western empire had been moved to Milan by Diocletian in 296, the imperial residence of the Western emperor was moved to Ravenna in 402, and after Constantine (just a few decades after the capital had been moved to Milan) the center of all imperial power was in the East anyway, in Constantinople”

    And your point is? This is quite naive- there were huge and growing division between East and West and the Ecclesiastical structures in the West held things together. The Bishop of Rome grew in power AND in claims. Come on now people, this is not some wild speculation. WHO are you again?

    “Sloppy strawmen arguments like these could be avoided by a very cursory investigation into the realities of history. What I have noticed from my own experience as a Protestant and now looking in from the outside as I prepare to become Catholic is that an ecclesiology which has no authoritative source of dogma and requires all of its people to be theologians and historians ends up producing bad historians and bad theologians. I don’t mean this to insult you”

    Thanks for not insulting me.

    ” If the Catholic Church had wanted to fabricate some story about lineage and succession that matched the dominance of an important city, or if such false ecclesiology had simply developed organically alongside growing imperial power, we would not be speaking about the Roman Catholic Church, but the Constantinopolitan Catholic Church. In other words, the Roman bishops, beginning in the 3rd century, did not have the kind imperial undergirding that you are trying to establish in order to justify your remaining in schism.”

    First, I NEVER disputed lineage or succession, Wilson did, but not me. Second your point supports my own, BECAUSE there was no imperial undergirding in the West, the Bishop of Rome, who had ecclesial undergirding throughout the West, became much more important and powerful in the West.

    “Third, the Bishop of Rome could not have been acting like a Protestant when he proposed the addition of the filioque because the filioque is not a “correction” of the conciliar formula. It is a clarification, a way of stating the doctrine more precisely. No Catholic would say that it is wrong to say the creed as it was originally penned. To see that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father is not wrong. It’s just not all that can be said. This is how doctrinal development takes place…”

    OK my statement was a bit tongue in cheek, but I am in full agreement with your statement. The Pope did add to a Creed the Council agreed to. He thought he had the authority to do so and all the other Patriarchs did not believe he had such authority. It must have been interesting for them to find out they had a Pope.

    Of course, as a Protestant, I am ok with the addition, because as I said, it is more Biblical.

  32. For what it is worth, I have an advanced degree in Theology and I teach Bible and Classics.

  33. Gentlemen,

    Just a friendly reminder to adhere to the posting guidelines. Let us focus on charitble dialog.

  34. Ron,

    I want to reply to a few things you wrote in comment #22. There you wrote:

    The “catholic” church is NOT the same as the “Roman” church.

    A “particular Church” (that’s a technical term) is not the same as the “universal Church.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church says:

    The phrase “particular Church,” which is first of all the diocese (or eparchy), refers to a community of the Christian faithful in communion of faith and sacraments with their bishop ordained in apostolic succession. These particular Churches “are constituted after the model of the universal Church; it is in these and formed out of them that the one and unique Catholic Church exists.”(CCC 833)

    There are many particular Churches. We can see this already in Scripture. For example, there is the particular Church at Antioch (Acts 13:1), the particular Church at Corinth (1 Cor 1:2), and the seven particular Churches discussed in the first three chapters of the book of Revelation. But there is only one universal or catholic Church, the one Christ refers to in Matthew 16 when He says, “Upon this rock I will build My Church.”

    The particular Church at Rome is not itself the Catholic Church. If we are speaking of the particular Church at Rome, we say, “the Church at Rome.” But if we are speaking of the universal Church, we refer to the “Catholic Church.”

    So far so good. But I’ve encountered a number of Protestants whose reasoning goes like this: Since the Church at Rome is not the universal Church, and since no particular Church can be the universal Church, therefore the universal Church is the set of all particular Christians, congregations and denominations, whoever believes in Christ. In other words, since the Church at Rome cannot be the universal Church, therefore the universal Church is an invisible unity, though having visible members who are visibly divided. (See my “Why Protestantism has no ‘visible catholic Church’“.)

    That line of reasoning is a non sequitur, because it does not see a third possibility, which is stated in the very next paragraph of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

    Particular Churches are fully catholic through their communion with one of them, the Church of Rome “which presides in charity.” “For with this church, by reason of its pre-eminence, the whole Church, that is the faithful everywhere, must necessarily be in accord.” Indeed, “from the incarnate Word’s descent to us, all Christian churches everywhere have held and hold the great Church that is here [at Rome] to be their only basis and foundation since, according to the Savior’s promise, the gates of hell have never prevailed against her. (CCC 834)

    The Catholic Church is not just any set of persons who happen to call themselves Christian, or any set of communions (that would include all those in schism from the Church), or all those who call their doctrine “apostolic” (all heretical sects do that), on the authority of their own interpretation of Scripture, according to their own determination of whichever books belong to Scripture. To be in full communion with the Catholic Church, one must be in full communion with the successor of the Apostle to whom Christ gave the keys of the Kingdom (Mt 16), the rock upon which Christ built His Church, and by which the gates of hell will not prevail against it. In that respect, the particular Church at Rome serves as the basis for determining who is in full communion with the Catholic Church, and who is in schism from the Catholic Church.

    You wrote:

    The Eastern Orthodox church is and has been “catholic”, but not Roman.

    The eastern Orthodox Churches are fourteen (or fifteen) autocephalous particular Churches that are in communion with each other. (See here.) Obviously none of those particular Churches is the Church at Rome. But, more importantly, none of them is in full communion with the successor of St. Peter at Rome. That is why, from the Catholic point of view, each of them is in schism from the Catholic Church. And for that reason, they are not “catholic;” they are each particular, not catholic. Moreover, no mere aggregate of particular Churches makes the Catholic Church. Otherwise, two aggregates of particular Churches, would entail that there are two Catholic Churches. But Christ founded only one Catholic Church, so there cannot possibly be two Catholic Churches. Nor can the Catholic Church that Christ founded merely be the aggregate of particular Churches claiming to hold and teach the Apostolic doctrine, since again, two aggregates of particular Churches, each claiming to hold and teach the Apostolic doctrine, and yet divided from each other, would entail that there are two Catholic Churches. And that is impossible, because Christ founded only one Catholic Church.

    Apostolicity cannot be reduced to form alone; the attempt to do so results (in the limit) in as many sects as there are interpretations of Scripture. Each person (congregation, denomination) thinks his own interpretation is the Apostle’s doctrine. For this reason, such a notion of apostolicity destroys unity as an essential mark of the visible universal Church. And this is what we see in Protestantism, which over the course of five hundred years has fragmented into a very large number of denominations/sects. The form (i.e. the Apostles’ doctrine) is preserved within and located by the matter (i.e. the sacramental succession of authorizations from the Apostles). That’s the sacramental nature of the Church, that the spiritual is mediated through the material. For that very same reason, what locates the Catholic Church is not form alone, but form-as-known-through-matter.

    But, because apostolicity cannot be reduced to form alone, and because there are multiple lines of succession from the Apostles, no mere aggregate of particular Churches (each having a valid line of succession) claiming to teach the original doctrine of the Apostles ipso facto makes the Catholic Church, for the reason explained just above. The essential unity of the visible catholic Church entails the in principle impossibility of there being two visible catholic Churches. And that requires that apostolicity not hang on bishop-to-bishop table pounding (“we have the apostles’ doctrine”, “no we have the apostle’s doctrine”, etc.), but on a divinely established buck-stopping visible ecclesial authority by which true apostolicity can be known. Locating apostolic form through matter does not only require bishops, because when bishops disagree, this would only push back the problem to form vs. form, as the case is in Protestantism. Locating apostolic form through matter requires locating also which bishops to follow, through matter, not through form alone. Thus the sacramentality of the Church requires a pope. That’s why no mere aggregate of particular Churches, even with valid succession from the Apostles, and even in communion with each other, can be the Catholic Church. Essential unity is a necessary condition for catholicity. And that is one reason why the autocephalous Orthodox Churches are neither the Catholic Church, nor members of the Catholic Church, even though, as the Catechism says,

    The Church knows that she is joined in many ways to the baptized who are honored by the name of Christian, but do not profess the Catholic faith in its entirety or have not preserved unity or communion under the successor of Peter.” Those “who believe in Christ and have been properly baptized are put in a certain, although imperfect, communion with the Catholic Church.” With the Orthodox Churches, this communion is so profound “that it lacks little to attain the fullness that would permit a common celebration of the Lord’s Eucharist.” (CCC 838)

    You also made a statement about St. Cyril. You wrote:

    It would be news to Cyril of Jerusalem that he had a Pope.

    I wonder how you know that. Today is St. Cyril’s feast day. Concerning St. Peter, St. Cyril said the following in his Catechetical Lectures:

    “The Lord is loving toward men, swift to pardon but slow to punish. Let no man despair of his own salvation. Peter, the first and foremost of the apostles, denied the Lord three times before a little servant girl, but he repented and wept bitterly. Now weeping shows the repentance of the heart: and therefore he not only received forgiveness for his denial, but also held his Apostolic dignity unforfeited.” (Catechetical Lectures 2:19 [A.D. 350]).

    “[Simon Magus] so deceived the city of Rome that Claudius erected a statue of him. . . . While the error was extending itself, Peter and Paul arrived, a noble pair and the rulers of the Church, and they set the error aright. . . . [T]hey launched the weapon of their like-mindedness in prayer against the Magus, and struck him down to earth. It was marvelous enough, and yet no marvel at all, for Peter was there—he that carries about the keys of heaven [Matt. 16:19]” (ibid., 6:14).

    “In the power of the same Holy Spirit, Peter, both the chief of the apostles and the keeper of the keys of the kingdom of heaven, in the name of Christ healed Aeneas the paralytic at Lydda, which is now called Diospolis [Acts 9:32–34]” (ibid., 17:27).

    If St. Cyril of Jerusalem (d. 386) had no idea that he had a Pope, then it would be strange that his successor, John III (d. 524) signed the formula of Hormisdas in 518, which opened as follows:

    The first condition of salvation is to keep the norm of the true faith and in no way to deviate from the established doctrine of the Fathers. For it is impossible that the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, who said, “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church,” [Matthew 16:18], should not be verified. And their truth has been proved by the course of history, for in the Apostolic See the Catholic religion has always been kept unsullied.

    Lastly, you wrote:

    I think the Creeds (Nicene and Apostle’s) are speaking of the universal (catholic) not Rome. You see a Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness might call themselves Christian, but they deny the Apostle’s TEACHING contained in scripture and traditions that do not contradict it.

    The Creeds are speaking of the universal Church. But that Church is not invisible. It is visible, and it is one. (See our article “Christ Founded a Visible Church“.) It is the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, having the successor of St. Peter as its visible head. The visible unity of the visible catholic Church is grounded in its having a principium unitatis. Otherwise, it is not a visible Church, but only an invisible Church having some visible members.

    Before we can begin to determine who does, and who doesn’t, contradict the Apostles’ teaching, we have to step back and determine how we know what is the Apostles’ teaching, and who has the authority to answer that question, and who has the authority to give Scripture’s authentic interpretation. Otherwise, our claim that certain persons contradict the Apostles’ teaching might turn out to be, in fact, that those persons simply contradict our own interpretation of Scripture (and that of those who interpret Scripture like we do). Of course I agree with you that the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses are wrong, but nevertheless, Tertullian shows us that when dealing with heretics, certain preliminary questions must be determined:

    “Our appeal [in debating with the heretics], therefore, must not be made to the Scriptures; nor must controversy be admitted on points in which victory will either be impossible, or uncertain, or not certain enough. For a resort to the Scriptures would but result in placing both parties on equal footing, whereas the natural order of procedure requires one question to be asked first, which is the only one now that should be discussed: “With whom lies that very faith to which the Scriptures belong? From what and through whom, and when, and to whom, has been handed down that rule by which men become Christians? For wherever it shall be manifest that the true Christian rule and faith shall be, there will likewise be the true Scriptures and expositions thereof, and all the Christian traditions” (Tertullian, On Prescription against the Heretics, 19)

    “Since this is the case, in order that the truth may be adjudged to belong to us, ‘as many as walk according to the rule,’ which the church has handed down from the apostles, the apostles from Christ, and Christ from God, the reason of our position is clear, when it determines that heretics ought not to be allowed to challenge an appeal to the Scriptures, since we, without the scriptures, prove that they have nothing to do with the Scriptures. For as they are heretics, they cannot be true Christians, because it is not from Christ that they get that which they pursue of their own mere choice, and from the pursuit incur and admit the name of heretics. Thus not being Christians, they have acquired no right to the Christian Scriptures; and it may be very fairly said to them, ‘Who are you?'” (Ibid., 37)

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  35. Ron Jung,

    I’m anonymous and for the time being I wish to remain so because I’m still trying to figure out how to break it to my family that I’m becoming Catholic. I want to go about it the right way, because some of them will likely assume that I’m apostate and have no true faith in Christ.

    There’s no need to take offense at the question I posed. All I meant was that your personal opinion, which (at least in the combox) comes across as mere speculation based on sound-byte history, should be of no consequence to anyone who is considering these matters seriously. What matters is what actually happened, not what your or my opinion about the consolidation of papal authority is.

    I gave you real history and you shrug me off by asking what my point is. You assert that the bishop of Rome grew in power and in claims. This is beside the point. Earlier in my response to Spencer I pointed out that 1) we don’t really have enough data from before the 4th century to make any truly definite claims about what or would not be bolstered rhetoric and 2) Roman Catholic ecclesiology makes more sense out of the evidence we do find in the New Testament than Protestant ecclesiology does. In my response to you I pointed out that you have fallaciously asserted that the rise of papal power is tied causally to the deterioration of imperial authority in the west. You still have not done anything to back that claim up. You simply made some vague reference to Jerome and cried that it’s “common knowledge” when I asked you to provide a citation and flesh your point out. Your explanation of papal authority is sociological, and it doesn’t make sense based on the evidence from earlier ecclesiastical sources and from the contemporary secular history. For example, it does not account for why the consolidation of authority would happen in Rome. As I stated above, based on your model, the consolidation could just have easily happened in Constantinople, or Milan for that matter. But that didn’t happen because Rome is the see of Peter, and Catholic ecclesiology is founded primarily on theology (i.e. divine revelation), not sociology.

    Since you keep saying things like “I wonder what it was like when such and such found out that he had a pope,” yet on the other hand you have also said several times that you know papal primacy existed in the early Church. In your opinion, when do you think papal primacy disappeared? And when it existed, what do you think it meant? Earlier you said “first among equals.” What does that mean?

  36. Bryan,
    Thank you for the response. I’ll get to you in a day or two. I’ve been a tad busy.

    Philologus,
    Who are you to tell me not to take offense? You have offended, but I’ll get over it.

    I assume much of what I have said to be common knowledge or at least not out of the main stream of thought. I am new here and it seems most of you all are knowledgeable and or check up on things. I will cite all my sources from now on using ONLY Catholic sources. Jerome was the Pope’s secretary for a while and had correspondence with him. I believe my references are in his letters and commentary on Daniel, but let me take a look.

    I think my “sociology” of Papal Power in the West can be backed up by several sources. Let me check Justo Gonzales and a couple others. Are the personal opinions of Justo Gonzales ok? Are the personal opinions of the Fathers ok? The didn’t all agree. Which historians are ok for you?

    As for sound bytes, do you think by cutting and pasting quotes will make it less sound byte-ish?

    The Seven Ecumenical Councils were called by the Emperor and theological decisions were made there. How did it get from Ecumenical to Papal Infallibility? How did he go from Vicar of Peter to Vicar of Christ? I have no problem with the Bishop of Rome being the RCC’s Bishop, but his claims go far beyond what is and was proper (IMO). When I am again near my library, I’ll get some citations for you.

    RE: Cyril and Pope. What I mean by my comments is this: there was a dispute about Cyril’s Bishopric and in order to resolve this dispute, it was decided at a Council without the Pope being present. Cyril did not have to go to Rome and get his permission. There is a Catholic source (I have it), I think it is called The History and Theology of the Seven Ecumenical Councils. Paulist Press, I believe. I’ll check on the references for you soon.

    I’ll be back in a day or so. Get the pyre ready!

  37. Philologus/Ron,

    Sorry to but in, but as a protestant with no formal instruction in matters of the faith I wish to reinforce something Philologus said and encourage Ron to take it to heart. this is Philologus in #30:

    not everyone has the interest or the time (with all of life’s many demands) to figure these things out beyond the very American, sound-byte microwave level. This is why Catholic ecclesiology makes sense. I now have parents to teach me, to hand down to be the faith once delivered to the saints, and I now take joy in studying rather than studying to set my conscience at ease, all the while despairing of ever being able to assimilate and understand all the data, especially in subject areas that my mind is less able to grasp (like systematics).

    AMEN! Catholic ecclisiology does make more sense for that reason. Would Jesus leave us a church where we are left to figure things out on our own? As a protestant that is what it feels like to me. My training is in electronics. Think on that for a bit. Electronics has absolutely nothing (other than God made it) to do with the christian faith. I am forced then to find people who have studied and know what they believe. This is how I became Reformed, because R.C. Sproul and Doug Wilson are very smart, godly men who honestly are seeking the truth of the scripture. I am the one who asked Bryan to respond to Doug Wilson’s article for this very reason. Bryan Cross is obviously very learned, smart, and cares about the truth, and I wanted to see which one (Bryan Cross or Wilson) can make a better case here. But I identify with Philologus when he said he used to:

    …despairing of ever being able to assimilate and understand all the data, especially in subject areas that my mind is less able to grasp (like systematics)

    Is this the true christian faith? Never being sure if I understand even the basics? For example: My 2 favorite genius teachers, R.C. Sproul and Doug Wilson, are at this moment on opposite sides of a debate about the “Federal Vision” theology that involves a little doctrine called JUSTIFICATION. Some very inteligent, learned, Reformed thinkers are saying Federal Vision is heretical. Other very intelligent, learned Reformed thinkers are praising it as a breath of fresh air. How can I be expected to know more than these learned men? Where do I go in all this? Ron can you tell me? Please don’t tell me the Bible answers my dilema here when I honestly and in good conscience can’t see biblically how either side is wrong. I AM NOT A BIBLE SCHOLAR I am an electronics technician, remember? Please also don’t try to convince me yourself, as this just begs the question “why is your interpretation correct.”

    Now with Doug wilson’s article, and Bryans response, I have the same problem. They both sound correct. But what I am finding in reading about Catholic ecclesiology, is that it is at least internally consistent. By that I mean there is a way out of my dilema of conflicting interpretations. I no longer would have to “despair of ever being able to assimilate and understand all the data”. I could undertand as much as I am able and REST in that knowledge, having faith that it is knowledge that comes from the Holy Spirit and not from my own (or Wilson’s) best effort at hermenutics.

    I can see first hand why Christ would need to protect His church from error by a living office. Because the alternative is anarchy. Literal ecclesial anarchy. Protestantism is comparable to having 12 people all claiming to be the President of the United States, each not nessesarily claiming the other ones are wrong. And “little guys” like me are the ones that suffer in protestant churches because we do not have training enough in theology and history to make a satisfying decision of which branch to follow. We usually try to “bloom where we are planted”, which is great, but not at all satisfying. Because in the back of our mind, we know for a fact that Christ wants His flock unified (His high priestly prayer). Unity CAN NEVER happen among protestants. I say this very sadly as a protestant who feels the weight and pain of it. It can never happen because honest, intelligent protestants will always disagree on important matters of the faith (like Federal Vision). The protestant ecclesiology is a proveable, historical failure. Look around. There is ZERO unity. Catholics can not be acused of this in the same crucial way. The Catholic ecclesial model is a tree from which branches may die and be pruned, where we have a clear-cut forest with hundreds of saplings, many of which are dead.

    Ron, did you read Doug’s article? Can that kind of unity (united in baptisms) ever satisfy Christ’s prayer for our unity?

    -Peace

    David Meyer

    p.s.- I contacted Doug Wilson and he sounded like he would respond, but that was a week ago.
    Pastor Wilson, if you read this, I am still looking for the truth on this authority issue and would love to hear your response to Bryan.

  38. […] via Doug Wilson’s “Authority and Apostolic Succession” | Called to Communion. […]

  39. David,

    Now with Doug wilson’s article, and Bryans response, I have the same problem. They both sound correct. But what I am finding in reading about Catholic ecclesiology, is that it is at least internally consistent. By that I mean there is a way out of my dilema of conflicting interpretations. I no longer would have to “despair of ever being able to assimilate and understand all the data”. I could undertand as much as I am able and REST in that knowledge, having faith that it is knowledge that comes from the Holy Spirit and not from my own (or Wilson’s) best effort at hermenutics.

    Just wanted to say that you nailed it here for me. I’m looking forward to Doug’s response, too, as I’m about 2 weeks away from joining the Catholic Church. The central issue for me in my journey has been the very question of holy orders – who is sent?

    Just a thought, though – one response I’m used to seeing from both Orthodox and High Church Protestants on this sort of thing can come in the form of “reductio ad absurdum.” I’ve seen many folks accuse converts to Catholicism of trying to “prove it into hell.” One Orthodox Priest I heard derided the whole notion of “certainty about the scriptural canon” as foolishness.

    Not putting that out there to judge one way or the other, just an observation that has helped me balance my investigation. Logic does need to be fleshed out with wisdom.

    Again, you have pretty much mirrored my journey with your comments in #37. Thanks.

  40. David,
    I agree that the ecclesiology of the church is easier and makes a lot of sense. I envy it in many ways. Let me put out a few things here:
    1). The teachings of Jesus express the belief that the Holy Spirit leads us to truth. Scripture, history and experience demonstrate that the Holy Spirit is given to all who Christ calls, whether they are RCC, EO, Protestant, etc.
    3) I am pretty sure the succession of popes has been kept, but so has the succession of our faith. No one has faith unless the gospel has been preached to them in some way. If we could, we could all see our faith has come to us in an unbroken line from Pentecost itself, as surely as our genetics have come from Adam and Eve.
    2) Doctrinal certitude is not a substitute for faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. All Christian Denominations hold to these three things: The Old and New Testaments, Apostle’s and Nicene Creed, and at least two sacraments/ordinances (Baptism and Eucharist). “I am a companion of all who fear you, of those who keep your precepts.” Psalm 119:63. Is this not good enough? Is it really that hard to see what is heretical? The FV is about Confessionalism, not heresy. There is more theological diversity in the RCC than in some of the confessional churches.
    3) What do you mean by unity? What if we all did in fact get together under one authority and the authority began to do unscriptural things? What if some in the united church pointed these things out and got excommunicated from the united church? Where would you go? Is the “unity” more important than the truth? Should I seek “other mediators” than Christ? Should I say certain prayers and do certain pilgrimages to get some time out of purgatory? Should I kiss statues and worship consecrated wafers? Should I pray to Saint Anthony if I lost something and to Christopher if I am traveling? I’m in a March madness pool, who do I pray to? Do I do these things for the sake of unity? Do I stay in because the authority says he is the authority?
    4) The ability to keep a united Roman church came with a lot of effort to keep it’s people from reading scripture and worshiping in the language of the people. Vatican II has given me a lot of hope for the RCC. When I was in Young Life many years ago, we would give Bibles to the kids, but many of the Catholic kids would return them because their parents and/or priest would tell them to. We went out and bought a bunch of New American Bibles that had a message from the Pope to read the Bible, yet we still had kids whose priests took them away. This was in the late 1980’s.
    5) I really have to get to work, so I will leave it here… Is unity about faith in Christ and being united to Him? Or is it being united to a man in Rome?

    I will comment again when I have time.

  41. David Meyer,

    Thank you for taking my point with such charity. It seems that we truly know this struggle, and it encourages me to know that my feelings are not due simply to my own eccentricity. I would be willing to suggest (not triumphantly or rudely) that those who do not feel this despair are still blinded by an arrogance to the dire complexities of the intellectual position that Protestants are actually in, thinking somehow that the issues are simply clear-cut for anyone with the brains to see it, or anyone who actually has the Holy Spirit, and this is how the problem often breaks down. Many times have I seen the accusation made that those of us who are drawn to Rome are simply stupid or lacking the Spirit.

    In my opinion, Protestants who are unconsciously in the situation we have described end up either like modern evangelicals who reject “doctrine” and “creeds” altogether, disallusioned by all of the in-fighting since the Reformation, and they turn instead either to something they feel we can all rally around, either political projects or “Jesus,” i.e. a faith based on irrational religious experience. On the other hand, many in the Reformed camp end up placing an “implicit faith” in their teachers/confessions of choice, all the while blaming Catholics for placing implicit faith in the college of bishops and the pope. These are obviously generalizations, but I do think that most simply don’t understand how difficult the problems are when we put ourselves in a position in which it’s up to us to figure everything out.

  42. Philologus,
    I think that there are lots of people who simply have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and although they would love to see a more “united” Church, do not dispair, but have been filled with love, joy, peace, etc. through the activity of the Holy Spirits in their lives and faithful preaching and administering of the sacraments by their pastors.

    I, for one, do not think you are stupid, nor do I believe you lack the Spirit in your life- I don’t even know you. If the RCC is where you need to go, go. Why is this such an excruciating experience?

  43. Ivan, we’ll have a lead article posted on Holy Orders within a week or two. Hopefully it will be helpful.

  44. Hey Ron,

    your #40 is profoundly frustrating and a little destructive, right? Your number 3 especially is a finger in the eye and predicated on the most basic misunderstandings: Where, for example, has anyone suggested that you return and then remain in communion with the Church simply because the Church claims to have authority from and in Christ? I mean, isn’t your characterization here a little, well, silly? Isn’t it rude—isn’t it even dishonest—to make these kind of radical reductions? Intercession is not a joke, Ron; the “consecrated wafer” is the true Body of our Lord despite your mocking it; nowhere does the Church teach the other-than-Christ-mediation you’re objecting to—or could you do us the favor of showing us where it does? Catholics, as you know, are not merely united to a man in Rome. That may characterize your own feeling, but that’s not what the Church teaches; I suspect it would bemuch more valuable (to you and to people reading here) to seek, genuinely, prayerfully, (humbly?) to understand what the Church teaches about a given issue, interact with its support, dialogue with its members. What you’re doing in #40 is the opposite.

    You’re devastating against these straw men you’re propping up, and you’ve got a special genius for ridiculing what’s sacred—I’ll grant—but this website isn’t really designed for that.

    I’d invite you to show how [Holy Spirit leading every denomination into truth] is compatible with [widespread and quite substantial disagreement] (and please feel free to refute the argument in the article entitled Christ Founded a Visible Church); I’d also encourage you to demonstrate how [the truth content of “faith”] is more than [whatever agrees with my interpretation of Scripture]; if you can’t do that, then please provide a rationale for why anyone should take your word for it (where ‘it’ means ‘any pronouncement you make about faith and morals’). I’d like to know why I should submit to you, in other words, and I believe you owe such an explanation.

    I’d also be interested to know what you mean by “hold”, specifically, in your number 2 above; also, with respect to the Old and New Testaments that you say must be “held”, I’d like to invite you to refute the arguments given in the articles entitled Solo Scriptura, Sola Scriptura, Hermeneutics and the Authority of Scripture, and Calvin on Self-Authentication.

    I wonder how you know, exactly, that only 2 sacraments are ‘required’? And does each individual get to pick whether it’s a ‘Sacrament’ or an ‘ordinance’?

    Sincerely,
    wilkins

  45. Ron Jung,

    Yes, there are certainly many who are filled with love, joy, peace, etc. In a lot of these cases, I think it’s a matter of the old saying that ignorance is bliss. I mean “ignorance” in the most basic sense of the word, i.e. simply not knowing. Many Christians today have grown up in a certain flavor of Christianity and it’s often all they know. They’ve received a way of reading the bible and a way of looking at “church” from their parents or whatever ecclesial community they stumbled into when they became Christians on their own. The issues of the Reformation are not even on the radar for the vast majority of evangelicals, and many of them simply know that Catholics worship Mary, believe in magic and superstition, and have an “infallible pope.” If your experience is completely different than what I’ve had since I became a Christian in my teens, then that’s simply a testimony to the fact that our experiences with these issues are as varied as the various Protestant theologies that produce them. Some people don’t care. Some people, like you, are charitable towards those who change their convictions, others are not at all. Just as an example, a family member of mine immediately blurted out something ridiculous about witchcraft and sorcery when I merely broached the subject of my interest in Catholicism. Some of us are facing a difficult road as our convictions develop, and Jesus’ statements about dividing families and friends are for many of us a painful reality. I won’t say anymore since we’re starting to veer from the topic of apostolic succession. If you want to talk more, I’d be happy to e-mail you.

    By the way, I want to apologize for the condescending tone of my part of my original post to you. This was my first attempt at an extended dialogue on this site and I blew it. Please forgive me. I want to continue to contribute to these discussions but only in a way that is helpful to all and stimulates thought-provoking, charitable discussion and reflection.

  46. Wilkins (and all),
    I stand by my statements, but wish to apologize for the wafer comment. It was in bad taste and insulting. I am sorry. Bryan or moderator, if you wish to pull that comment down, it would be good by me.

    Yes- It was in bad taste, but I do know (much of) the teachings of the RCC. I do know that the consecrated host has been transubstatiated into the true body of Christ. It would seem that to worship the host is to give ones worship to Jesus. I get that. But, I do know that Christ taught us to eat it. Take eat… for the forgiveness of sins. We have the Norbertines here and I know that there are several churches that have available the perpetual adoration. Take and _______. You fill in the blank. Why (and btw, I have much more against evangelical church’s treatment of the sacraments) do something other than what is commanded by Christ?

    Saints are in communion with us as we are in Christ. You are not technically praying to them, but asking for their intercession, as it is clearly taught and practiced in the New Testament. Do the folks in your parish understand the difference? Do they practice asking for intercession or do you have folks praying to saints in the manner I mentioned. Do you have folks in your neighborhood who bury St. Joseph in their yard to get their house to sell- I do. This is no joke- it is a sham!

    I have an older neighbor who prays her prayer book with the list of how many days off she’ll get for praying them. Just like Jesus taught.

    http://www.catholicdoors.com/prayers/marian.htm How about these? They certainly seem more than intercession.

    I don’t ask you to submit to me, but I implore you to submit to Christ. I do in fact preach and teach, and would ask you to test the spirits, and to that which is good, hold fast. That which is not of Christ, or is of me, reject. I would ask that you pray for me to speak God’s Word, and I would pray for you to receive it. I would trust you to have your Bible out and ask questions of what is taught.

    Again, I am sorry for the wafer remark.

  47. David Meyer wrote:

    Is this the true christian faith? Never being sure if I understand even the basics? For example: My 2 favorite genius teachers, R.C. Sproul and Doug Wilson, are at this moment on opposite sides of a debate about the “Federal Vision” theology that involves a little doctrine called JUSTIFICATION. Some very inteligent, learned, Reformed thinkers are saying Federal Vision is heretical. Other very intelligent, learned Reformed thinkers are praising it as a breath of fresh air. How can I be expected to know more than these learned men? Where do I go in all this? Ron can you tell me? Please don’t tell me the Bible answers my dilema here when I honestly and in good conscience can’t see biblically how either side is wrong. I AM NOT A BIBLE SCHOLAR I am an electronics technician, remember? Please also don’t try to convince me yourself, as this just begs the question “why is your interpretation correct.”

    David, there is another (related) question to be asking, that being, what gives one man the right, the standing, the authority to call another man a heretic. I came out of ground zero for the Federal Vision. I was a member of Auburn Avenue PCA where pastors Wilkins, Wilson, Barach et al worked through much of the Federal Vision position(s) publicly, and I was there when my former pastor Joey Pipa branded my current pastor (at the time) Wilkin’s teaching as heresy. Two good, well trained reformed men, both of whom had been pastor to me and my family, on opposite sides of what is “Truth”.

    The madness that ensued brought to my mind the very real question: Who’s to say what is heresy and what is orthodoxy?

    Long story short, I am now Catholic.

    Blessings and peace.

    KB

  48. Ron (re: #40)

    I’ve written some replies below to each of your six points/questions. (I changed the numbering, as you might notice, because they were originally misnumbered.) You wrote:

    1). The teachings of Jesus express the belief that the Holy Spirit leads us to truth. Scripture, history and experience demonstrate that the Holy Spirit is given to all who Christ calls, whether they are RCC, EO, Protestant, etc.

    In Scripture, it doesn’t say “us.” Otherwise, all heretics and schismatics could say that the Holy Spirit is leading them. The promise Jesus gave was immediately to His Apostles. The promise extends to the successors of the Apostles, and thereby to all those persons who remain in full communion with the successors of the Apostles, as they remain in communion with the one to whom Christ gave the keys of the Kingdom, i.e. the successor of St. Peter. Heretics and schismatics have no claim to Christ’s promise about being led by the Spirit. Christ has ordained that the Spirit leads through the Church, not through bosom-burning within each individual as he reads Scripture.

    The Holy Spirit does not contradict Himself. So, wherever the beliefs of Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestant, disagree, at least one of those groups is not being led by the Holy Spirit. All Protestants claim to be led by the Holy Spirit. But they all disagree with each other so much, on so many points of doctrine and practice, that they have fragmented into thousands of distinct denominations/sects, and continue to do so. There are 44 Reformed denominations in the US. They’ve had hundreds of years to get all the exegesis done to resolve all the conflicts, and yet they are 44, not one. Doug Wilson’s denomination formed just 12 years ago.

    But since the Holy Spirit cannot contradict Himself, telling one person to believe x, and telling someone else to believe ~x, therefore it follows that the Holy Spirit has not led all these Protestant denominations. At most He has led only one of them perfectly, and the others have not followed Him. The divisions and fragmentations among Protestantism therefore are a testimony to the non-leading of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is a Spirit of peace and unity.

    2) I am pretty sure the succession of popes has been kept, but so has the succession of our faith. No one has faith unless the gospel has been preached to them in some way. If we could, we could all see our faith has come to us in an unbroken line from Pentecost itself, as surely as our genetics have come from Adam and Eve.

    Many of doctrines rejected by the early Protestants, belonged to the faith. That included baptismal regeneration, the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, Apostolic succession, confirmation/chrismation, penance, absolution, the Church, the ministerial priesthood, and other things. (See my Ecclesial Deism article.) Insofar as those things are part of the gospel, and were thrown out, the gospel was thrown out. And the Protestants added other things that had never been part of the gospel, such as justification as forensic imputation, on the basis of faith-uninformed-by-agape.

    3) Doctrinal certitude is not a substitute for faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. All Christian Denominations hold to these three things: The Old and New Testaments, Apostle’s and Nicene Creed, and at least two sacraments/ordinances (Baptism and Eucharist). “I am a companion of all who fear you, of those who keep your precepts.” Psalm 119:63. Is this not good enough?

    The same authority that established the Creeds, and the Canon, is the same authority that Protestants reject when they reject ecumenical councils 5-21. See my post titled, “Aquinas on the Relation of Faith to the Church.” To deny that authority in one doctrine, is to deny that authority in them all, because it is to deny that authority itself. Any heretic could deny one article of the faith and say “Isn’t it good enough for me to agree with you on all the other articles of the faith?” And the answer is, No. To believe Christ through His Church is to believe and profess all that the Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God.

    Is it really that hard to see what is heretical? The FV is about Confessionalism, not heresy.

    You use the word ‘heresy’, but what exactly do you mean by that term? If you mean denying an essential doctrine, then essential according to whom?

    There is more theological diversity in the RCC than in some of the confessional churches.

    Unfortunately there are many dissenters. But notice that they are dissenters. They are dissenting from the one faith of the Church. The Church herself remains united, even when dissenters, by their dissent, separate themselves from her. It belongs to the judgment of the Church sometimes to allow the tares to remain with the wheat. We have no option of starting another Church; we have only the one Christ founded. If we were to start our own, it would be merely a human institution, not the divine institution which is the Body of Christ. We take the Church as she is, and work to build up her members in the faith. We cannot justify being in schism from the Church, or in heresy, by pointing to dissenters. Dissenters can (unfortunately) be a cause for scandal, but they are never an excuse for schism. Two wrongs don’t make a right. So pointing to Catholic dissenters is no justification for being in schism from the Church that Christ founded.

    4) What do you mean by unity? What if we all did in fact get together under one authority and the authority began to do unscriptural things?

    This is a loaded question, because it presupposes that the Holy Spirit is not guiding the Church into all truth. It seems that you use the “Spirit guides us” to support your own interpretation (or denomination or set of denominations) but then use the possibility of the Spirit not guiding, as a reason not to be Catholic. That’s an ad hoc appeal to the Spirit. ‘He’s guiding us, but what will you do when He doesn’t guide you?’ You’re using a bosom-burning (non-sacramental) conception of how the Spirit guides the Church.

    In addition, you are using the term ‘unscriptural.’ But when I unpack this term as Protestants use it, I generally find that it means “contrary to my interpretation of Scripture.” When the Church teaches something contrary to one’s own interpretation of Scripture, then one should adjust one’s interpretation of Scripture, to conform to that of the Church. See the article Neal and I wrote, titled, “Solo Scriptura, Sola Scriptura, and the Question of Interpretive Authority.”

    What if some in the united church pointed these things out and got excommunicated from the united church? Where would you go?

    They should repent of putting their own interpretation of Scripture above that of the rightful ecclesial authorities, and seek to be readmitted into the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church that Christ founded.

    Is the “unity” more important than the truth?

    Notice, again, that this is a loaded question, because it presupposes that we must choose between unity and truth. But, in actuality, Christ has ensured that we will never be placed in that situation. So long as we stay in the Church He founded, we retain both the truth He entrusted to His Church, and the unity He established in His Church.

    Should I seek “other mediators” than Christ?

    Not in the same sense of the word ‘mediator’. You should ask other people to pray for you, but that isn’t asking other people to replace Christ’s unique mediatorial role. Surely you understand this.

    Should I say certain prayers and do certain pilgrimages to get some time out of purgatory?

    You are doing the ‘throw-everything-but-the-kitchen-sink-at-us’ thing again, as you did in your first comment at the beginning of this thread. Are these sincere questions, or merely rhetorical questions intended to scandalize (i.e. cause to stumble) those seeking to find Christ’s Church? Regarding purgatory, you should do whatever the Church recommends, to avoid spending any time in purgatory.

    Should I kiss statues and worship consecrated wafers?

    We should show reverence for sacred symbols, for the sake of that which they represent. And we should worship Christ in the Eucharist. As St. Augustine says: “It was in His flesh that Christ walked among us and it is His flesh that He has given us to eat for our salvation; but no one eats of this flesh without having first adored it . . . and not only do we not sin in thus adoring it, but we would be sinning if we did not do so.” (On Psalm 98.9) The Church has always affirmed the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. And Fr. Kimel’s ‘eleventh law‘ is exactly right. If you claim to affirm the Real Presence, then your refusal to worship Christ in the Eucharist belies your claim. But if you deny the Real Presence, then you have placed yourself at odds with what the Church Fathers all affirmed about Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist.

    Should I pray to Saint Anthony if I lost something and to Christopher if I am traveling?

    Yes, if you would like their intercession.

    I’m in a March madness pool, who do I pray to? Do I do these things for the sake of unity? Do I stay in because the authority says he is the authority?

    I’m going to ignore your March madness question, because I think it is only a rhetorical question, not a sincere question. Within Catholicism there are many pious practices that no one is obligated to do, such as asking for the intercession of a particular saint for a particular need, or carrying handkerchiefs and aprons that have touched a saint to the sick (cf. Acts 10:12). You could come into the Church and believe and do only what is minimally necessary to be a Catholic. (But you would only be depriving yourself of the treasures of the full tradition of the two-thousand year old Church.) You wouldn’t be obligated to do such things for the sake of unity. But you would be obligated to believe in the communion of saints, and the legitimacy of sacramentals, and the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Why should you believe them? Not just for the sake of unity, but for the sake of unity in the truth, in holy Mother Church.

    5) The ability to keep a united Roman church came with a lot of effort to keep it’s people from reading scripture and worshiping in the language of the people. Vatican II has given me a lot of hope for the RCC. When I was in Young Life many years ago, we would give Bibles to the kids, but many of the Catholic kids would return them because their parents and/or priest would tell them to. We went out and bought a bunch of New American Bibles that had a message from the Pope to read the Bible, yet we still had kids whose priests took them away. This was in the late 1980’s.

    The Bible is a holy book, but it is also a dangerous book, because if you don’t interpret it correctly, you can be led into heresy. I could point to some groups where you would agree that their misinterpretation of Scripture has led to their spiritual destruction. That’s why Scripture, which every Catholic should know and love, should always be read and understood in light of the guidance of the teaching authority of the Church. The fact of Protestant fragmentation into thousands of sects testifies to what happens when Scripture is read apart from the guidance of the teaching authority of the Church. Each person makes himself into his own Magisterium, and becomes like sheep without a shepherd, until he finds a ‘shepherd’ in the image of his own interpretation of Scripture, who teaches in accord with his own interpretation of Scripture. This made-to-order conception of Church has led to the proliferation of Protestant sects, each supported by the level of demand entailed by the number of persons wanting that form of doctrine/practice that most suits their interpretation and tastes.

    6) I really have to get to work, so I will leave it here… Is unity about faith in Christ and being united to Him? Or is it being united to a man in Rome?

    These two are, once again, loaded questions, because they presuppose a false assumption, namely, that unity is either about faith in Christ or being united to a man in Rome. That’s a false dilemma. Full unity in Christ, is precisely through full communion with the successor of the one to whom Christ entrusted the keys of the Kingdom. Every heretic can claim to have “faith in Christ.” And thus every heretic can plead and beg for the Catholic Church to lower the bar for unity, to “faith in Christ”, so that they can retain their heresy and yet feel one with the Church. But faith in Christ requires submission to Christ. It requires a humbling, letting go of our pride, our own exalted opinion of our own interpretation of Scripture. Faith in Christ requires submitting to the divine authority of the Church, and trusting Christ by trusting the Church. This is why we cannot love Christ and stand in schism from His Church. “He cannot have God for His Father who does not have the Church for his mother.” When in Luke 10:16 Jesus said, “The one who listens to you listens to Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me; and he who rejects Me rejects the One who sent Me,” He was saying that those who listen to the Church are listening to Christ, but those who reject the Church are rejecting Christ. If we love Christ, we will love His Church. If we trust Christ, we will trust His Church. If we want to be united to Christ, then we must be united to His Church.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  49. Bryan,
    Is it your belief the HS has always guided the RCC in such a way as to keep them from error? Is there nothing they have taught or done throughout history where they could say they were wrong? Ever?

    Are you saying the HS has not been given to me? Are you saying that because we disagree one of us is right the other is wrong (me) and therefore the HS guides you and your church , but not me and not mine? I know you gave a nice explaination about how ONLY the RCC has the promises of Christ, but the implication is, well very sad. How about the EO? Do they have the promises of Christ?

    So in the communion of saints, there really is designated saints who interceed for certain things? How come we don’t do this in the church militant? If I loose something, I don’t ask one particular friend to pray for me and if I go on vacation, have someone else pray for that. Let me grant you the doctrine for a moment. Let’s say we are suppose to ask the saints who have gone on before us to pray for us. Is the way this is actually practiced and promoted in the RCC correct or is there a bit of superstition? How about Joseph buried?

    What about the prayers for release from purgatory. Let me grant to you the doctrine of Purgatory. How does the Church/Pope know how long someone is going to be there? How does he know what store of merit is available to give out? If it is truly in his power to release people from the pains of purgatory, why doesn’t he release them through a clear path: do x,y,and z and you are in heaven; do only x and y and you only spend 500 days or years in? Why let my dear neighbor fear? I would love to tell her to trust in the finished work of Christ for the remission of all her sins and live her days out, not in fear, but in anticipation of being with the Lord… but if I only had the Holy Spirit to guide me.
    Maybe when her priest, who has four parishes has the time, he might stop by for a visit… Oh wait, that will never happen. But the GOD FORSAKEN PROTESTANT MINISTER WILL!

    “Christ requires submitting to the divine authority of the Church, and trusting Christ by trusting the Church. This is why we cannot love Christ and stand in schism from His Church. “He cannot have God for His Father who does not have the Church for his mother.” When in Luke 10:16 Jesus said, “The one who listens to you listens to Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me; and he who rejects Me rejects the One who sent Me,” He was saying that those who listen to the Church are listening to the Christ, but those who rejects the Church is rejecting Christ. If we love Christ, we will love His Church. If we trust Christ, we will trust His Church. If we want to be united to Christ, then we must be united to His Church.”

    I’ll say AMEN to this. I thank God for His Church. I believe you to be right on the money (without the schism part, because you are referring to us deluded folk).

  50. Thanks Ron, for the apology and the sincerity—deeply appreciated and encouraging.

    After 30+ years of Protestant life, I came into full communion with the Church in 2008. I’ve probably read 40 or so books now by authors like Joseph Ratzinger, Christoph Schonborn, Louis Bouyer, Henri de Lubac, Yves Congar, Romano Guardini, Carlo Martini, Heinrich Denifle, Stephen Ray, Scott Hahn, and Christopher Dawson; I read the articles here and listen to the podcasts; I’m a Nova et Vetera subscriber. I leave a big mark on the analytics of the Biblia Clerus website (all of which qualifies me for exactly nothing, especially since I’m still trying to get my fat head around most of it). But here’s the key:

    Precisely none of that has recommended that I worship Mary or bury a plastic statue of St Joseph in the yard to sell my home (or any of the other terrible things “Rome” teaches). In fact, the first time I ever learned of that St Joseph practice was when my Protestant friend told me about it, saying he tried it and it worked!, which, honestly, should break all our hearts—Catholic and Protestant—if you think about it). I would also note that even people who self-identify as “Catholic” are human, they err, and it’s completely useless to point out error that self-identifies as “Catholic” and conclude, therefore, that the “Catholic church” teaches error. We could very easily spread it around, a methodology like that, and disqualify everything.

    So, why haven’t I yet encountered any of what you’ve referred to as “the teachings of the RCC”? Because you’re mistaken about what the Church is saying. Bryan keeps laying it out every time he responds to you, and every time he responds to you I learn from him too. You’re going to have to let go of the “I-know-what-Catholicism-really-is” thing and open yourself up to the possibility that you don’t.

    We’re all learning.

    Sincerely,
    wilkins

  51. Wilkins,
    I doubt if it is RCC teaching, but it is practiced in a big way. Go to your local Catholic store and ask about St. Joseph statues. Ask what to do with them. Ask the sisters that run the store and they will tell you. My head is not always in books. In my 20+ years of ministry, the flow has been RCCers going Evangelical. Among well-educated Caucasians, there has been some movement toward Rome of late. A good friend of mine is one who swam the Tiber in the mid-nineties, mostly because of the shenanigans of the Evangelical world. On paper and in the head the RCC seems wonderful, but most “protesting” has come first from practice and then doctrine.

    I know I am on a Catholic forum, but I could be protesting Evangelical practice too.

  52. Ron –

    Is the statue of St. Joseph thing really keeping you out of the Church? :-) I’m kidding. Before I became Catholic, I took it for granted that the superstitions of the Church were simply in line with her teaching. Then as I started studying Catholicism, I said “ok fine the Church might not officially teach that.. but it’s all over the place.” Now having been Catholic for almost four years, I find that there’s really much less of that stuff than it seems. Honestly – you’d be surprised.

  53. Dear Ron,

    I tend to agree with Tim. One of the last things that bothered me (and one of the things that still continues to bother me) is the candle-lighting-Joseph-burying-hey-I-just-saw-Mary’s-face-in-another-tortillia “superstition” of some Catholics. Then again, when I go to Church, or Adoration, or daily Mass, or stop by the Blessed Sacrament chapel to pray, or when I look into the prayer request/praise books in these chapels, I don’t see anything like this. It exists, somewhere, no doubt. It doesn’t seem to impinge upon the devotional and “real-life” life of most Catholics, though, at least not in my experience, at least not around me. But still I totally get what you’re saying and why it bothers you.

    One of the things that paints an easy target on the chest of the Catholic Church is that there is such a thing as the Catholic Church. So when you see Catholic Christians doing superstitious or potentially idolatrous or just “pretty damn weird” stuff nowadays, it’s easy to say that that is the sort of thing Catholics do. Or again, when you look back in the past and see bad stuff — inquisitions, burnings-at-the-stake, or really any other bad thing the Church has ever done — it’s just irresistably tempting to say, “Welp, that’s what the Catholic Church did;” and when you look back into the past and see all the cool stuff — Nicaea, for instance, or saving Western culture and inspiring Western Science, for instance — it’s tempting in just the same way to say, “Welp, that’s the stuff the real Christian Church did, and look, I’m a part of that Church.” One of the cool things about Protestantism is that it lets you do this. Protestants get to dissociate themselves from all the bad things (past and contemporaneous) and lay claim to all the good stuff. Since there isn’t any “Protestant Church,” per se, there’s no Churchish chest on which a target might be painted.

    Ladies who see Mary in tortillias can be excluded from the denomination with which you affiliate. People who read “The Prayer of Jabez” either don’t darken the doors of your local church, or, if they do, they’re handed the most recent copy of Tabletalk, or handed a copy of the WSC to look over; and over time, they either just leave your church or they start acting and talking like the other folks in your church act or talk. “Fellowship.” And that takes care of that. No need to come to the Table with Mary-Tortillia or Prayer-of-Jabez people. And there is always the possibility of plausibile deniability: *these* people aren’t part of *my* church, even if they might by some charitable stretch of imagination be Christians. The Inquisition? The Catholics did that. Chalcedon? That was us.

    Maybe this doesn’t connect with your experience or outlook at all. It is certainly my own experience and certainly was my own outlook, and it was also the outlook of people I decided to rub shoulders with when I was Reformed. But what I find, now, as a Catholic, is that there is a great value in “humbling myself” and accepting responsibility, as a Christian, for all the bad things Catholic Christians have done, and are doing, as well as rejoicing in all the very good things the Church has and does do. And I like very much, now, the fact that I get to sit at the same Table with all those common, vulgar folk, that I previously wanted to exclude from the church I’d built bottom up, after my own image.

    That’s family, for you. That’s “Here Comes Everyone,” for you.

    That some Catholics do silly things is beyond any reasonable question. Of course they do, God love ’em. But we can’t — nor do we want to — exclude such persons from the family. (As though we had the right or the power or the prerogative to do it.) But however that may be, pointing to the existence of such persons as a reason to not be a Catholic Christian is pretty much like pointing to all the old ladies who just love Benny Hinn as a reason to reject Reformed Protestantism.

    Best,

    Neal

    (PS: I know you’ve voiced some other reasons behind your protest. These are a lot more serious and I’m happy to talk about them with you. But jeepers, lots of other Catholics are already talking to you about them, and there’s no reason to add another voice to that mix just now.)

  54. Neal,

    You beat me to the punch: the Catholic Church is “Here comes everybody”. We have to answer for Uncle Murray, every family has ’em, you know, the Uncle who shows up at the family reunion wearing blue glasses, blue shirt, blue shorts, blue socks, blue keds, who fought in the war, and you are just dreading his arrival as you have your new found love in arm! That is the Catholic Church. It is a mixed bag. Oh so diverse, oh so human, and there is what I love, it is so human, and because of that she is so divine, as was said of old, “The glory of God is man fully alive!”

    It is a bear of having to bear the burden of history as the Church does. You hit it right in pointing out how easily we dismiss her when we think she got it wrong.

  55. Ron, (re: #49)

    Thanks for your comments. I understand that this is not an easy discussion, because so much is at stake. I appreciate your patience, even where you disagree.

    Is it your belief the HS has always guided the RCC in such a way as to keep them from error? Is there nothing they have taught or done throughout history where they could say they were wrong? Ever?

    The teaching of the Catholic Church concerning her infallibility, can be found in Lumen Gentium 25. This does not mean that everything that leaders of the Church have ever done is correct, or most prudent (sometimes their choices were imprudent) or moral (sometimes they acted immorally). But the Church believes and teaches that she is divinely protected from error, by the Holy Spirit, when proposing a teaching of faith or morals as one to be believed by all the faithful. So, yes, in what the Church has taught definitively in matters of faith and morals, the Holy Spirit has always kept the Church from error. That’s precisely how we can know what is orthodox and what is heresy. If all the Church’s doctrines were only probably correct, we would never know with certainty what is orthodoxy and what is heresy. Everything would still be up in the air, up for debate. Nothing would have been definitively settled once and for all, not even the canon, not even Arianism, Nestorianism, etc.

    Are you saying the HS has not been given to me?

    No, I didn’t say that. If you are baptized, then the Holy Spirit has been given to you. But it was the members of the Montanist heresy who believed that by having the Spirit (whom they had received in their baptism) they did not need to subordinate themselves to the successors of the Apostles. However, Christ would not have established a hierarchy (of bishops, presbyters, and deacons) if the indwelling of the Spirit within the individual was sufficient to guide all Christians. There would not be a visible Church. Each person would have his own pipeline straight to God, and no need for the Church or a pastor or a bishop. But Christ has established the Church such that we are to obey and submit to our leaders. (Heb 13:17) This shows that the indwelling of the Spirit within the individual is not the only or supreme way Christ intended His followers to be guided. The Spirit guides us through the Church, not through an internal bosom-burning that makes void our need for divinely established shepherds.

    Are you saying that because we disagree one of us is right the other is wrong (me) and therefore the HS guides you and your church , but not me and not mine?

    I didn’t offer you that syllogism. What follows from our disagreement [i.e. your disagreement with me, and my disagreement with you], and from the Spirit being unable to contradict Himself, is that it cannot be true that both of us are being led by the Spirit, on the points about which we disagree. My belief that the Spirit guides the Catholic Church (and guides me insofar as I follow the Church), is based on my belief that the Catholic Church is the Church Christ founded, and on Christ’s promise (as explained by the Catholic Church) that His Spirit would guide His Church into all the truth (John 16:13), and be with her even until the end of the age (Mt 28:20)

    I know you gave a nice explaination about how ONLY the RCC has the promises of Christ, but the implication is, well very sad. How about the EO? Do they have the promises of Christ?

    Schism is sad. But our response to schism should be the tireless pursuit of reconciliation and reunion. I explained in #34 why the Orthodox Churches cannot be the Catholic Church that Christ founded, and how they are in schism from the Church that Christ founded. No person or group that is in schism from the Church is promised what Christ promised His Church. Again, insofar as the Orthodox Churches disagree with the Catholic Church, it cannot be true that all the parties in question are being led by the Holy Spirit. So, you can’t have it both ways. That is, you can’t believe that the Spirit has led the Orthodox Churches to deny what the Catholic Church affirms, and believe that the Spirit is leading both the Catholic Church and Orthodox Churches, without making the Spirit to be something other than the Spirit of Truth. (John 14:17; 15:26, 16:13) Truth cannot contradict truth, and therefore the Spirit of Truth cannot contradict Himself. So the nice Evangelical notion that all persons who have asked Jesus into their heart are all being led by the Spirit, simply cannot be true. It is based on the lack of awareness that there is such a thing as heresy and schism from the Church. We don’t get to stipulate the members of the Church, by our own authority. There would be as many ‘boundaries’ of the Church as there are persons having an opinion on the subject. In other words, there would be no objective extension of the Church.

    So in the communion of saints, there really is designated saints who interceed for certain things?

    It is pious custom and small ‘t’ tradition, not doctrine or dogma.

    How come we don’t do this in the church militant? If I loose something, I don’t ask one particular friend to pray for me and if I go on vacation, have someone else pray for that.

    In the Church militant, we do ask different (embodied) people for different kinds of help. This is why you don’t go to your mechanic for heart surgery, or ask your baker to fix your roof. In the Church triumphant, the saints can only pray for us, but that same kind of diversification of gifts continues. God is more perfectly glorified when His glory is diversely manifested through the various distribution of gifts among His saints, just as the order of creation with its hierarchy of perfections more perfectly reveals the glory of the Creator.

    Let me grant you the doctrine for a moment. Let’s say we are suppose to ask the saints who have gone on before us to pray for us. Is the way this is actually practiced and promoted in the RCC correct or is there a bit of superstition? How about Joseph buried?

    Undoubtedly there is superstition among some. I myself have never encountered it, either among the laity or the clergy. (I’ve seen St. Joseph ‘kits’ at a Catholic book store, but I’ve also seen a bunch of other kitsch there too.) It is not a bad idea to say a pray to St. Joseph that your house may be sold, but there is no basis for believing that burying his statue increases the efficacy of his intercession. So, yes, that is superstitious.

    What about the prayers for release from purgatory. Let me grant to you the doctrine of Purgatory. How does the Church/Pope know how long someone is going to be there? How does he know what store of merit is available to give out?

    The Church doesn’t know how long a person will be in purgatory. Nor does the Church claim to know the magnitude of the “store of merit” available to give out, only that there is a treasure of the saints, available to us, and too infrequently availed by individual Catholics.

    If it is truly in his power to release people from the pains of purgatory, why doesn’t he release them through a clear path: do x,y,and z and you are in heaven; do only x and y and you only spend 500 days or years in? Why let my dear neighbor fear?

    It is not in the Pope’s power to “release people from the pains of purgatory.” Prayers and intercessions can be made on their behalf, even plenary indulgences. But God alone determines when a person is ready to enter into the Beatific Vision.

    I would love to tell her to trust in the finished work of Christ for the remission of all her sins and live her days out, not in fear, but in anticipation of being with the Lord… but if I only had the Holy Spirit to guide me.

    If you tell her to trust in the finished work of Christ for the remission of all her sins, make sure you tell her to stop praying the Lord’s Prayer, in which we not only ask for our daily bread, but also ask daily for the forgiveness of our trespasses. Asking God daily to forgive her sins, would show a lack of faith in what He has already done. (Or you can take permanent marker to her Bible, and blot out that line from the Lord’s Prayer and write above it, “and thank You for having already forgiven me for all my sins”.)

    Maybe when her priest, who has four parishes has the time, he might stop by for a visit… Oh wait, that will never happen. But the GOD FORSAKEN PROTESTANT MINISTER WILL!

    Imagine being a Catholic deacon, and helping that priest, and visiting that woman and helping her grow in her Catholic faith. You are the solution to the problems you see in the Catholic Church, not by removing people from her, but by joining her and giving up your life in loving service to her, to build up the walls that are broken, and care for those who are weak and ignorant and needy within her. When will Protestants realize, after five hundred years of talk of reformation: you can’t reform the Church from without, only from within. You can’t reform the Church you want reformed, while in schism from her. Come back in and die for her, with us. We may not see the fruit in our generation, but our children and grandchildren will. Otherwise, the schism will simply continue on, until Protestantism withers and fragments into the oblivion of history.

    I’ll say AMEN to this. I thank God for His Church.

    If you were presently in schism from the Church, how would you know? What would be different? Until you can answer that question, you’re not being serious about the question of schism.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  56. Ditto, Tim, Neal.

    Ron, I’d just add that protest isn’t necessarily the problem—I mean, I’m not piqued that you’d be critical of the Catholic Church, as if you’d never say a critical word of a Protestant group. In principle, it’s good to speak up for the truth. Ironically, that’s also partly the problem with your protest of the Catholic Church: Protestant authority depends on a correspondence with my interpretation of the Bible, which means, in principle, every Protestant is his own pope. The implications of that are devastating and very carefully outlined, very patiently and clearly explored, in the Sola Scriptura article.

  57. All,

    As I mentally, emotionally, and practically prepare myself for my return to the Church (I’m still working things through, including what seems to be an “iffy” living situation with an ex-Catholic, anti-Catholic, Reformed roommate), I want to add my voice to those thanking God that the Catholic Church is, indeed, “Here Comes Everyone.”

    One of the reasons that I am grateful for this fact is that I may well be, MYSELF, one of the people whom others feel anxious about encountering at the party/family reunion/insert other social event here (!)– and the Catholic Church has a *place* for people like me, both theologically and in practical life, that I have struggled, and largely failed, to find in Protestantism.

    For those who have not communicated with me significantly here, I’ll explain. I have Cerebral Palsy and use a wheelchair. I cannot drive a car. I am much more isolated from daily “public life” than I would like to be. I come from a profoundly damaging family background (I won’t go into specifics) that still haunts me, in certain ways, to this day. Despite having a degree in English and being commended by many people for various talents, I have been unemployed, against my wishes, for significant periods of time (and currently am still unemployed). To put it plainly, I am NOT a person of great achievements in the eyes of the world, or even, of many Christians. I am not one to whom most people gravitate in social situations (although most people who know me well claim that my presence enriches their lives– all glory goes to God alone, for whatever way in which that claim is true!). My very physical being is a reminder of the Fall. My day-to-day life includes a fair degree of suffering, physical and otherwise (and deep spiritual joy too!). Again, there is a place for me in the Catholic Church that I have not encountered, for the most part, in Protestant churches.

    Now, I have heard some Catholics say that Protestantism either has no place, or no serious place, for suffering in its theology. These sorts of assertions are unfair. Broadly speaking, they are caricatures. From my own time as a Reformed Christian, I know that *Reformed* theology, in particular, has a solid understanding of suffering and can, indeed, be a profound comfort in the midst of suffering. However, I also know that in Catholicism, there is a more nuanced theology of suffering (including redemptive human suffering offered up for others) that even Reformed Protestantism (due to certain doctrinal considerations) inherently cannot allow.

    I am NOT saying that I wish to return to the Catholic Church because the Catholic understanding of suffering simply appeals to me more than what I have found as a Protestant, or because said understanding of suffering resonates with me more, due to my particular life circumstances. I have read, thought, and prayed (not always in that order) through so many different “Protestant” and “Catholic” issues, to the point of near-distraction. I have come to the conclusion that while God wants believers to be Bereans (those who are able to read, that is– we’re not all formally educated, or even literate, Western Christians), He didn’t intend for us to try to “figure out” the doctrines and teachings of the Bible without an *authoritative* Church to guide us.

    Therefore, my decison to return to the Church is not simply an emotional/psychological attraction to a certain theology of suffering, because I happen to have experienced a good degree of suffering in my own life. My decision is an intellectually informed one (not perfectly, perhaps, but one can only read so much for so long, and one must ultimately make a decision). My “theological temperament” actually tends to be suspicious of major decisions in which emotion plays a more-than-minor role.

    Ultimately though, when it comes to the subject of suffering, I have lived life as, variously, a extremely nominal generic “Christian” church child, an agnostic, a Catholic convert (not well-formed), a nihilist, an Arminian, and then Reformed, Protestant. I know many different “views” of suffering, both theologically and experientially! The Catholic Church (and her theology) has a profound place for those whom many, many people (Christian or not) consider to be “failures in life.”

    I am returning to the Church, finally, because I believe that she actually is the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church whom Christ founded. It is a lesser, though real, comfort, as I prepare myself to do so, that the Church is Home to even those (such as I) who have failed, in many ways, at what most people call “life” (and have deeply experienced the suffering that goes with such failure). I thank God *so very much* that there is room in the Church for all people, including the “difficult” ones!

  58. Wow, Christopher. Thanks for writing that. I have nothing useful to add to it, but I wanted at least to acknowledge receipt. Congratulations.

    Neal

  59. All,
    Probably my one and only post until Tuesday- have a blessed Lord’s Day!

    Christopher brings up an unfortunate situation in much Protestantism, especially the evangelical wings, and that is suffering. There is an avoidance of the reality of suffering in the preaching of many churches, not because there isn’t a lot to say about suffering, but because it is thought the message won’t be attractive to people! The other factor is many pastors of the young, hip, type have never experienced suffering and it just isn’t on their radar screen.

    One young lady I am acquainted with lamented to me that after her boyfriend committed suicide, the church and campus fellowship were impatient with her. The attitude was like she had to “get over it” in a matter of weeks. Over a short time she felt abandoned.

    The RCC has an advantage over most Protestants by the mere fact they use a crucifix rather than the empty cross. I think most Protestants think of the laughing Jesus picture when asked about him, while Catholics would tend to think of him on the cross. Christopher, FWIW, Luther has a lot to say about suffering and the hiddenness of God.

    Bryan and others,
    All churches should be a “here comes everybody” but if a member of the church is superstitious, shouldn’t they be corrected? Here is an experiment: find out who are the kinds of people buying the medallions and statues, using them in a superstitious way (even kits and instructions!). I will guess they are not the folks in your well-educated, middle class parish, but among the poor. What effort is there to correct this? Is this a justice issue?

    “In the Church militant, we do ask different (embodied) people for different kinds of help. This is why you don’t go to your mechanic for heart surgery, or ask your baker to fix your roof. In the Church triumphant, the saints can only pray for us, but that same kind of diversification of gifts continues. God is more perfectly glorified when His glory is diversely manifested through the various distribution of gifts among His saints, just as the order of creation with its hierarchy of perfections more perfectly reveals the glory of the Creator.”

    Of course I’d go to the mechanic to fix my car, etc. What I am asking for is prayer though. Do you ask your mechanic to pray for your lost items and your heart surgeon to pray for safe travel? Again, let me grant the saint intersession- is the way it is done good practice or superstitiously practiced?

    I bring up these two seemingly trivial points (I’ll wait until next week to bring up more serious things such as purgatory and indulgences) to ask how these thing are continued practices (for as long as I can remember) when you have the Pope and true apostolic succession? Oh yeah, and the HS guiding your church into truth? Perhaps it is the Tautology (I shall begin calling it thus with a capital T)again- We are right because we are THE Church and these practices continue, therefore, they must be right. And if you, Bryan, seek to Reform such practices would you be excommunicated?

    I gotta go…until next week!

  60. Christopher,

    If I can add to what Neal said, thanks very much for your comment. God does not measure success and failure the way man typically does. When Jesus says that the last shall be first, He isn’t just trying to be different. He looks at the heart, and measures success by agape. And the greatest opportunity for agape is in suffering, hence the sanctity of the martyrs, whether red martyrdom (i.e. blood) or white martyrdom (bloodless suffering). “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) This is what the martyr does for Christ, out of love for Christ; in such self-giving the martyr finds the greatest joy, as Christ found through the cross. (Heb 12:2) True success is giving your life over in self-sacrifice to Christ, out of love for Him. That’s the success that counts eternally. And in the Day in which all things are brought to light, you may turn out to have been more successful than all of us.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  61. Christopher, you sound like a saint to me. Your words nearly brought a tear to my eye. Bless you, brother! And as far as superstition is concerned, the great scholar and Catholic convert, Mortimer Adler, had these shockingly insightful words to offer:

    “I suggest that the men and women who have given up religion because of the impact on their minds of modern science and philosophy were never truly religious in the first place, but only superstitious. The prevalence and predominance of science in our culture has cured a great many of the superstitious beliefs that constituted their false religiosity. The increase of secularism and irreligion in our society does not reflect a decrease in the number of persons who are truly religious, but a decrease in the number of those who are falsely religious; that is, merely superstitious. There is no question but that science is the cure for superstition, and, if given half the chance with education, it will reduce the amount that exists. The truths of religion must be compatible with the truths of science and the truths of philosophy. As scientific knowledge advances, and as philosophical analysis improves, religion is progressively purified of the superstitions that accidentally attach themselves to it as parasites. That being so, it is easier in fact to be more truly religious today than ever before, precisely because of the advances that have been made in science and philosophy. That is to say, it is easier for those who will make the effort to think clearly in and about religion, not for those whose addiction to religion is nothing more than a slavish adherence to inherited superstition. Throughout the whole of the past, only a small number of men were ever truly religious. The vast majority who gave their epochs and their societies the appearance of being religious were primarily and essentially superstitious.”

    thanks

  62. Ron Jung,

    [blockquote]What I am asking for is prayer though. Do you ask your mechanic to pray for your lost items and your heart surgeon to pray for safe travel? Again, let me grant the saint intersession- is the way it is done good practice or superstitiously practiced?[/blockquote]

    As others have already intimated, if you choose to construe Catholic doctrine or practice however you want it instead of the way it actually is, then it comes across more as trying to make Catholicism sound ridiculous than looking for the truth. Also, as Bryan already mentioned, you run the risk of bearing false witness and putting stumbling blocks in the way of those who are seeking Christ’s Church.

    If, then, you are going to object to the practice of praying to the saints/asking the saints for intercession, it is imperative that you view it correctly and represent it in debate fairly. The example you have been using about “praying to your mechanic for lost items and your heart surgeon for safe travel” is absurd because you are not construing the practice the way Catholics actually practice it, which is 1) to petition the intercession of holy men and women whose holiness is established, 2) for help/intercession in an area that has personal significance to that saint. We become imitators of those who have gone before, as Paul told us to follow him as he follows Christ. Since James says the prayer of the righteous avails much, we petition the saints, who are perfected, more fully united to God, and better understand his will, to pray for us. We ask St. Joseph the Patriarch to pray for our families because he was a father and a husband. I ask St. Thomas Aquinas to pray for me because he was a student and teacher. I ask St. Francis de Sales to pray for me because he was known for being humble and I want to cultivate humility. This is the same way I would approach asking my brothers and sisters in Christ here on earth to pray for me. I generally ask the people who know or share in similar struggles/temptations/experiences in life to pray for me in this areas.

    Others here could obviously explain this in more detail and with greater theological acumen, but I hope these thoughts of mine, from a fledgling Catholic “on the ground” as it were, will help you see what you’re missing in your criticisms of Catholic devotional practice.

  63. Sorry, I used [] instead of with my blockquotes, and the end of the second to last paragraph should say “in these areas.”

    Just to make the relationship between that longer paragraph and your post clear, Ron, I meant that your example of a mechanic and lost belongings, surgeon and travel entirely misses that aspect of imitating the saints and sharing each other’s burdens. By your example, one would think that this is all established arbitrarily.

  64. Ron,

    Regarding suffering, when Christ’s suffering is treated as something in which we cannot participate, where anything other than monergism is defined as Pelagianism, and we are told simply to “trust in the finished work of Christ,” then our present sufferings are redemptively meaningless, as I explained here. Contrast that with the Catholic understanding of suffering, which I explained in my post titled, “A Catholic Reflection on the Meaning of Suffering.”

    You wrote:

    All churches should be a “here comes everybody” but if a member of the church is superstitious, shouldn’t they be corrected?

    They should. But so should those in schism. As I said above, we have no option of starting another Church; we have only the one Christ founded. Pointing to superstitious Catholics is no justification for being in schism from the Church that Christ founded. Schism is a far greater evil than burying a plastic St. Joseph statue with the belief that doing so may gain St. Joseph’s intercession. The person who buries a statue of St. Joseph may be only uninformed; his act of doing so might even be an act of faith, insofar as it expresses faith in St. Joseph’s intercession, on account of his being the step father of the Son of God.

    You seem to be suggesting that the Catholic Church cannot be the Church Christ founded, if some Catholics are sinful or uninformed. Well, it is a good thing you don’t apply the same standard to Protestants, or it would follow that the Church Christ founded no longer exists. Catechesis and discipline of sinners are not marks of the Church. That’s part of the reason why ignorance of the faith by some Catholics, and sins by Catholics, do not entail anything about who or what the Catholic Church is.

    Of course I’d go to the mechanic to fix my car, etc. What I am asking for is prayer though. Do you ask your mechanic to pray for your lost items and your heart surgeon to pray for safe travel? Again, let me grant the saint intersession- is the way it is done good practice or superstitiously practiced?

    As I explained, prayer is not generic. Our petitionary prayers are about various things. Similarly, the saints don’t all become generically the same upon death. They retain their distinct gifts, interests, and loves. (Grace does not destroy nature, but perfects it.) So, it is fitting (pious practice) that when asking for intercession about something that especially pertained to the life and love of some saint, we ask that saint for his/her intercession, just as we ask mechanics to fix cars, surgeons to fix our hearts, roofers to fix our roof, and bakers to bake our bread.

    I bring up these two seemingly trivial points (I’ll wait until next week to bring up more serious things such as purgatory and indulgences) to ask how these thing are continued practices (for as long as I can remember) when you have the Pope and true apostolic succession?

    Somehow, you think that if the Catholic Church is the true Church that Christ founded, there will be found no superstitions among the 1.1 billion Catholics around the world. Where are you getting this assumption? The Church has condemned superstition. See the Catechism 2110. But just as there will be tares mixed in with the wheat, until Christ returns, so likewise there will be sins and ignorance among various Catholics, until Christ returns. None of that justifies being in schism from Christ’s Church, or being an example to others, that schism from the Church is somehow ok.

    Perhaps it is the Tautology (I shall begin calling it thus with a capital T)again- We are right because we are THE Church and these practices continue, therefore, they must be right.

    I never used that tautology. If you wish to be charitable and fair, perhaps you could criticize only what I say, not straw men of your own making.

    And if you, Bryan, seek to Reform such practices would you be excommunicated?

    Catholics who, under the guidance and authority of their bishops, seek to help other Catholics rightly understand and practice the Catholic faith, are commended not excommunicated. More important for you, Ron, is focusing on schism. You are so concerned about Catholics who bury St. Joseph statues, but you have avoided my question (at the end of #55) about schism. There are weightier matters of the faith (Mt 23:23) that should not be neglected, and schism is one of them.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  65. Christopher,

    Thank you for your post!

  66. Neal,

    Ladies who see Mary in tortillias can be excluded from the denomination with which you affiliate. People who read “The Prayer of Jabez” either don’t darken the doors of your local church, or, if they do, they’re handed the most recent copy of Tabletalk, or handed a copy of the WSC to look over; and over time, they either just leave your church or they start acting and talking like the other folks in your church act or talk. “Fellowship.” And that takes care of that. No need to come to the Table with Mary-Tortillia or Prayer-of-Jabez people. And there is always the possibility of plausibile deniability: *these* people aren’t part of *my* church, even if they might by some charitable stretch of imagination be Christians. The Inquisition? The Catholics did that. Chalcedon? That was us.

    What a GREAT point.

    I was just thinking about this the other day. I remember when I became Reformed I breathed this massive sigh of relief that I was no longer formally associated with evangelicals (you know, the Left Behind, Purpose-Driven types). I still feel that way, only I’m not as proud of it anymore.

    For you guys, though, the whole thing must be so different. You don’t have the “control” over your church that we Reformed guys do, with out ability to shape the culture to some degree. But belonging to a really old, worldwide church? Yikes, that must be sublime, and maddening.

  67. Christopher.

    I want to also thank you for your comment.

  68. Here is an experiment: find out who are the kinds of people buying the medallions and statues, using them in a superstitious way (even kits and instructions!). I will guess they are not the folks in your well-educated, middle class parish, but among the poor. What effort is there to correct this? Is this a justice issue?

    There may be some poorly educated people. But not everybody is going to read the Summa Theologica. But you need to realize how many very impressive saints used medallions and statues. This is not something exclusive to simpletons. The strongest Christians in history used statues as aids in worship and prayer. The strongest Christians in my parish do too. I don’t know any that I would describe as superstitious. I used to think they were the majority. I was just judging what I didn’t understand. Now I have come to admire them and am slowly learning to become one of them. It takes discipline but it is very rewarding. The body of Christ in heaven can help us just as effectively as the body of Christ on earth does. We just need to really believe they are alive.

  69. To all who replied to my comment,

    Thank you all, truly, for the encouragement. I am happy anytime that I am used by God to bless other people in any way.

    Ron, I have actually encountered a fairly strong, sound theology of suffering in the Reformed communities where I have been a member. I don’t know that I can really complain about *incorrect* theology, on that subject, in the Reformed Christianity that I’ve experienced. However, compared to Catholicism, I do think that Reformed theology has a less *developed* theology of suffering (but then, the Reformed would say– or at least, many of them would say– that some of these Catholic “developments” are unbiblical. Obviously, I disagree.).

    Bryan, thank you, deeply, for your encouraging comment. I know that God measures worth and success differently than do fallen humans. I also know that, in some ways, because of my lack of career success, I have, all too often, given in to sinful despair. At the age of 36, with a head full of theological knowledge (and hopefully, a life that is actually being changed *by* that knowledge), a heart that desires to love and serve God and others, but also a body that causes me certain problems in the employment world *and* a spotty resume, I often lose hope that I will ever find a paying job and be a “productive member of society.” Even at my age, sadly, I don’t have much, on paper, to show most employers that would cause them to think of me as an asset (or so it seems to me). When I return to the Church, I want to actively seek out a spiritual director to help me in better fighting against daily temptations to discouragement and despair. I ask for your prayers and for the prayers of anyone else who wishes to intercede for me in this way. Thank you all again for your encouragement.

    Herbert, I’m a “small-s saint” (as we all are in Christ and as part of His Church– though I do still need to formally return to the Church), but I have a very, very, very long way to go before I can be even *close* to canonization! :-) God bless you, brother!

  70. I almost forgot to mention– in a few hours, I may be losing internet access for a week or more (long story), so if anyone replies to me, I will reply as soon as I am able! I thank God for everyone at CTC!

  71. Dear Jason,

    Thanks for the comment; good to hear from you!

    Yeah, sublime and maddening is about the right way to put it. But I do find that it humbles me and constitutes a check on my tendencies to pride and elitism, as you were mentioning. Way back in the day, before I’d gone into the PCA, I would tell people “I’m a *Reformed* Baptist…” “I go to a Baptist church, but I’m *not* like x or y or z and I *don’t* think a or b or…” Then it just got worse over time, for me, after giving up on the Baptist thing and coming into the PCA. Anyway: no more plausible deniability for me!

    Best,

    Neal

    PS: I like the look of Creed, Code and Cult. You’re right: So nice not being greeted by Hitler anymore!

  72. Called to Communion, absolutely. But in what:

    The volumes of the Church’s history of yesterday and today, shows that there is no peace, there is no unity, and there is no shame giving over to repentance for our sins, but only prideful contention among rivals, who prostitute themselves in the ways of the world’s thinking. Instead of the Church’s complete wholeness, knitted in God’s Love and Grace being manifested to the lost world, the rod of violence, past and present, remains lifted up as a standard of our hypocrisy within all the various church fractions, bearing evidence to all the world of our sinfulness.

    Following the Great Schism of 1054, which brought about the initial division of the Christian Church, we found ourselves as contentious rivals, finding fault with all who oppose us. Now the people of the pews are told that we are the only true doctrinal church of God, and to remember our proud traditional roots in the Roman Catholic Church, or our proud roots in Orthodoxy. But, the factions and confusion of men did not stop with the separation of the church into two contemptuous bodies, but continued during the latter days of the dark ages of religious repression in Europe, being fostered, mainly by the ruthlessness of the Roman Catholic Church’s desire for control. During this time, we begin to see the blossoming of the printed Word of God for the people to read in there own language. Now, with literacy on the increase and with some knowledge of Scripture, we became thankful for our proud doctrinal roots born out of the reformation, beginning with the protesting Lutherans; followed with our proud roots in protestant Anglicanism; or our proud roots as Calvinistic Baptist and Presbyterian, or our roots in Armenian Methodism, or whatever remains of the splintered roots of harlotry that are too numerable to mention. Without the Spirit of the Word of God, violence begets violence, and violent sinful men are all right in their own eyes.

    Being a member in the Body of Jesus Christ, it saddens me to say, I am not only a protest0r of the Roman and Eastern Orthodox Churches, but also the Protestants as well. All of the isolationist doctrines, are exclusive coverings, but not of the Spirit of God, and keep us from a true Communion of the Universal Church, empowered within the will of Jesus Christ and His Father. The historic violence with confusion in the doctrines and schisms of the two Primary Parties, has caused a void in the covering fabric of the schismatic daughters, and holiness to the Lord can not be but lacking in all. Like the schismatic mothers, like the daughters.

    It is evident from the living WORD and Royal Seed of God, that there is only the One and the same Righteous Root of God, where by in holy faith, we all spring forth in the one unleavened Body of Jesus Christ, as branches to bear fruit worthy of the holiness of God Almighty. (See Romans 11 verse 17:19). The written Word of God bears record of the Truth and Grace in Jesus Christ, for He alone is the only begotten Son of the Father. (See John 1 verse 14). He alone is worthy, for He alone loves the Father perfectly, with absolute trust, even to the giving of His life over to death, becoming a paid ransom for the many bound over in their own sin and death. Therefore, in the Body of Jesus Christ, there are no rivals existing in that One Holy Root, but only the One Body composed of repentant sinners, nourished through the Life sustaining and cleansing Blood of Jesus Christ, where by, we are enabled to become branching living members one of another in Christ. Obviously, within the same page of thought, neither are there the many betrothed brides of Jesus Christ, but only the one unblemished Bride, consisting of the many sanctified members, of which our Lord and groom Christ Jesus is coming to claim as His own, having purchased her through His own cleansing Blood of redemption. (See Ephesians 5 verse 25:27). For In Him we have redemption through His Blood for the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace, that He lavished on us, with all wisdom and understanding. (Ephesians 1 verse 7-14).

    But, where is our God given wisdom, and where is our understanding. Without the unmitigated flow of blood, a body is dead, for the life of the body is in the blood. Cut off the flow of blood to one of its members, such as a finger, then it will turn gangrenous causing it to rot and fall away. Even the whole body is made sick because of the corruption. Return the flow of the full dynamics of the blood, and healing can take place. So it is with the Body of Jesus Christ on this earth, for it is dependent upon the constant flow of the cleansing and nourishing Blood of its Savior and Benefactor. Our salvation is dependent upon the very Word of our God, and His manifold provisions of Grace in Christ Jesus. Through His Grace, He has given to us His gift of faith and repentance, where by from that same free Grace, we are to be perfected in the bonds of the Love of God. Do not be without an understanding heart! God’s manifold Wisdom, understanding and Grace is abounding even more at the Communion Table, through the New Living Covenant Word’s of His Son, Jesus Christ! “This is My Blood of the New Covenant, that is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sin.” But unfortunately, the unbelief and blasé heart attitude toward these pardoning Words, has left the schismatic church, for the most part, impotent in her sins.

    A called watchman on the breached walls of Christendom

  73. All,

    Here is something I’ve been thinking about, since I weighed in above and as I’ve followed the ensuing discussion. I’ve noticed that the Catholic Church has come under fire for not weeding out or eliminating practices that are perceived to be idolatrous, or bad, or spiritually harmful. I’ve also noticed that these complaints or accusations are lodged by persons who (appear to?) think that the (their?) Christian Church is free of such things.

    In connection with this, I’ve been thinking about how Reformed Protestants understand the “visible Church.” I admit it’s never been clear to me how the visible Church should be understood from this perspective. (I also admit this is just a fact about me.) I certainly don’t think that most informed-Reformed-Protestants would identify the “visible Church” with their own local church, or with their own denomination, or even with NAPARC. But I also think that Reformed Protestants would have misgivings if they were asked to identify the “visible Church” with every baptized individual. James White and his ilk aside, maybe another necessary condition on being a member of the visible Church is that you believe, at least implicitly, a specific theological account of justification. Maybe there are other things you’re supposed to do to count as a member of the visible Church. I don’t know.

    What I’m interested in is how, exactly, it is, that Protestants of specific denominations are supposed to be able to distance themselves from “superstitious,” “weird,” or mal-informed Protestants of other denominations, when (a) such persons (at least seemingly?) may be members of the visible (Protestant?) church, and (b) we are prepared to admit the existence of a “visible Church” that is supposed to include them.

    I guess I’m asking this: why is it that the existence of weird Protestants gives us no reason to refrain from affiliating with a given Protestant denomination or local church that has no comparably weird people in it? I can see why it would if we thought that (a) this local church or the denomination it is a member of didn’t have any weird people in it, and (b) this local church or the denomination it’s a member of constituted the entire (visible) Christian Church. But I don’t think any Reformed Christian would be happy saying that about his or her church or denomination. And if he or she were willing to extend the boundaries of the Christian Church, at least so as to cover other evangelicals, it seems unavoidable that superstitious and vulgar and common people would end up being members of the “visible Church.”

    So why then should any Protestant feel relieved that he or she is in a different “denomination” than those weirdos? Aren’t they, too, a part of the real-live-visible-Christian-Church? Unless we give up on the notion of a visible Church, it’s not clear why or how any Protestant could licitly dissociate him or herself from the vulgar. Not to me, anyway.

    It’s not rhetorical when I say I might be wrong about this. These remarks of mine might just be a function of my ignorance. What I want is for someone to explain to me how a Reformed Protestant can identify him or herself with the visible church, and can also explain why there is no “weird” behavior in his/her church of the sort we find in the “Catholic Church.”

    Neal

  74. All,
    I hope you all had a good weekend and a blessed Lord’s Day. The more I am on here, the more I need to read! Problem is, I don’t have the time I wish. I will take the long slog though.

    RE: Superstitions
    My point in bringing this up is NOT to say:
    1. “Because you have superstitious people, you cannot be the True Church”.
    2. “Asking Saints for intersession is wrong” – remember I was granting it to be OK.
    3. “All Catholics practice superstitions”; or even
    4. “The Catholic teaching is reflected in the superstitious practices”

    I am serious that you all ought to investigate the practices. I grew up and ministered in poor uneducated areas. The superstitious practices are encouraged among them, especially in many Latino communities. In my current city (Green Bay), I can go in and among parishioners at Nativity (http://nativityparish.com/) and not see anything of what I described. But this parish is young, educated, financially well to do and well staffed. Where I live (North West part of GB) it is much, much more poor, blue collar, racially mixed. The local parish, St. Patrick’s is mostly older, less-educated, lower income, and has a priest who has THREE other parishes (http://www.quad-parish.org/). What kind of parish do you all belong to, that only sees hints superstitious practices from bookstore kits? My guess is that it is more like Nativity?

    The reason of bringing practice up is twofold:
    1) Having the successor to Peter as your Bishop and Apostolic succession among the clergy, doesn’t ensure truth in practice; and neither does a Protestant Confession, nor a “Statement of Faith”. For my part, even though I now know (so I am told) that the Holy Spirit doesn’t guide me or my church, nor are Christ’s promises given to us, I do search the Bible to determine what is good and right. And though there are a bunch of Christians out there praying the Jebez prayer and singing horrible songs and wearing superstitious WWJD bracelets, I do what I can to shepherd the flock the Lord has given to me. I think, Bryan, that was your experience in a Reformed congregation. It would not be a work of love to profit from superstition, to encourage superstition, or to ignore it… s’all I’m say’n.
    2) Lex orandi, lex credendi… How can you be sure superstitious practices won’t eventually become official practices with accompanying doctrine? Would the Church of the Apostles even think that someday the Church would celebrate the Assumption of Mary? That it would be a sin if you didn’t?

    Bryan, RE: The Finished Work of Christ
    Of course she should pray the Lord’s Prayer, because we all sin in thought and word and deed, daily. But, she doesn’t need to worry about suffering in purgatory. Did Christ almost pay our debt? Some debt, but not all? “Today…er, maybe in 500 years or so you will be with me in Paradise” and the thief on the cross felt a great comfort. The finished work of Christ means you can’t and don’t need to add to his atoning sacrifice for our sins- including our good works. I think you know that!

  75. I just noticed my post would seem to put the Assumption of Mary on par with superstition- not my intent. Rather a case in the development of doctrine.

  76. Ron Jung,

    We haven’t claimed that apostolic succession ensures “truth in practice.” As Jesus told us, there will always be tares among the wheat. And all of us are to some degree tares that need to be further refined. Apostolic succession protects the deposit of faith and allows those who have conceived a desire to be holy and follow God’s truth to find it definitively. It is a principle of unity and keeps Christianity from being a reinvention of the wheel in each generation. Practically it avoids situations like the one I described many posts ago, and which you hinted at above, namely that the ability to “find” truth (as opposed to knowing where to find it and simply going there) becomes a matter of how much time one has apart from life’s other callings.

    As to the questions you raise in (2), we can be sure that falsehood will not eventually become truth because we have faith, faith in the supernatural protection of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church by the Holy Spirit.

  77. Ron,

    You wrote:

    Lex orandi, lex credendi… How can you be sure superstitious practices won’t eventually become official practices with accompanying doctrine?

    This is a Protestant worry, because for Protestants, the Church that Christ founded is invisible, i.e. the set of all the elect. And therefore for Protestants all the promises concerning the Church pertain to something which cannot be seen this side of heaven. And so any visible institution, including the Catholic Church, is regarded with a deep suspicion, rooted in the [rightful] awareness of the fallen and fallible state of man. For Protestants, the Catholic Church is just another man-made organization, no less fallible than any other man-made institution.

    But Catholics believe that Christ founded a visible Church, with hierarchy and sacraments and laws and the possibility of excommunication. This is a divine institution, because it was founded by God and is sustained and animated by His divine Life. Catholics believe that this visible Church that Christ founded, is the Catholic Church, governed by the visible successor of St. Peter, to whom Christ gave the keys of the Kingdom. Because the Church is visible, the promises pertaining to the Church have (for Catholics) an entirely different import. The gates of hell will never prevail against the Catholic Church. The Holy Spirit will guide the Catholic Church into all truth. Christ by His Spirit will be with the Catholic Church to the end of the age. The Catholic Church is the pillar and ground of truth. Until Christ returns, those who listen to the Catholic Church listen to Christ; those who refuse to listen to the Catholic Church, are refusing to listen to Christ. Those whom the Catholic Church excommunicates, are excommunicated from the Church that Christ founded. Those whose sins the Catholic Church forgives, their sins are forgiven; those whose sins the Catholic Church retains, their sins are retained. The Catholic Church is the Body of Christ of which St. Paul speaks in 1 Cor 12. Once we grasp what the Church is, and the promises pertaining to her, then we are no longer faced with the worry of ecclesial deism.

    The gnostic (non-sacramental, non-material) conception of the Church robs it of all relevance to the life of the Christian, and blinds Christians to the universal Church that is right in front of their eyes, and to the riches of grace and wisdom and truth Christ has deposited in her indefectibly. All we’re left with is our feeble and fallible interpretation of the Bible, whose canonical contents are again ultimately determined by our own feeble and fallible efforts. By this gnosticism which [conceptually] de-sacramentalizes and thus de-materializes the Church into something invisible, schism from the Church is eliminated. Thus when you ask such persons what it would mean to be in schism from the Church, they look at you with a hollow, blank expression, as if you are speaking a different language. It is a different language, because gnosticism is a different religion. Satan’s great deception is not just making schisms, but leading Christians into a gnosticism in which they have no way of even making sense of the concept of schism from the Church.

    Now, of course, some Protestants deny that they deny a visible Church. Just today, for example, R. Scott Clark affirmed strong language about the visible Church. But, when you start doing a little digging, you find that it is just language. In other words, these persons talk about there being a visible [catholic] Church, but in actuality what they are affirming is only an invisible catholic Church, having visible local congregations and denominations and individuals, as its members. I have explained why that is, in my post titled, “Why Protestantism has no “visible catholic Church”.”

    But people like Clark are in a very tiny minority of Protestantism. The vast majority of Protestantism has seen through the charade of having a visible catholic Church, and simply embraces invisible [catholic] Church ecclesiology (which over time reduces to invisible local Church ecclesiology, which is equivalent to no ecclesiology, which is equivalent to a return to paganism). For example, just a few days ago Scot McKnight (in your neck of the woods) posted “On Picking a Church,” in which he asks:

    Let’s say you move into a new community, one in which you know no one other than a person or two with whom you will be working your day job, and you are left to your own devices to pick a church. … What criteria would I use? What ranking would I give the criteria? What would be first? Or is there such a “first”? Would it come down to one or to a constellation?

    Scot then proceeds to give his list of the top ten criteria he would use in “picking” a church. That list includes things like how often they celebrate communion, how many 20somethings and 30somethings are present, whether the church is growing, etc. But there is one overwhelmingly important criterion that is conspicuously absent from his list: Is this the Church that Christ founded? And as I pointed out in August of 2007, in my post titled “Ecclesial Consumerism vs. Ecclesial Unity,” that’s the identifying feature of ecclesial consumerism, which itself is built upon gnostic ecclesiology. In that Ecclesial Consumerism post I wrote:

    So how can a person determine if he is an ecclesial consumerist? How can a person determine of he is one of those described in 2 Timothy 4:6?

    One is an ecclesial consumerist if one’s decision regarding which ‘church’ to attend is based on anything other than this question: Which institution is the one founded by the incarnate Christ?

    I pointed out that criterion in the comments of Scot’s post, but no one there even blinked an eye. It is completely outside of their conceptual horizon. I might as well be from another planet.

    Regarding the “finished work of Christ”, you wrote:

    Of course she should pray the Lord’s Prayer, because we all sin in thought and word and deed, daily.

    Here’s the dilemma for you. If Christ has already paid the penalty for all her sins, past, present and future, then there is no reason for her to keep asking forgiveness for her daily sins. Doing so, in that case, would be an act of unbelief. But if she should keep asking forgiveness for her daily sins, because they are not all already paid for, then while she might not need worry about purgatory (out of which everyone who enters eventually is received into heaven), she still need worry about something far worse than purgatory, namely, eternal hell. See my “Louis Berkhof, Justification and the Lord’s Prayer.”

    Next you ask:

    Did Christ almost pay our debt? Some debt, but not all?

    The Catholic understanding of atonement is quite different from the Protestant conception. I have explained that in my Aquinas and Trent: Part 6, especially in the first five comments.

    Next you wrote:

    “Today…er, maybe in 500 years or so you will be with me in Paradise” and the thief on the cross felt a great comfort.

    It would be a mistake to infer from the thief going to Paradise that day, that there is no purgatory. That’s because the conclusion would not follow from the premise. In Catholic theology it is possible that in one great act of charity, a person can make satisfaction for temporal punishment.

    Finally you wrote:

    The finished work of Christ means you can’t and don’t need to add to his atoning sacrifice for our sins- including our good works. I think you know that!

    I know that this is what you mean by the “the finished work of Christ”. But Protestant conceptions of Christ’s work are that of replacement, while the Catholic conception of Christ’s work is that of participation. The Christian life is precisely one of taking up our cross, in union with His suffering on the cross, joining ours to His. And this is why suffering, as a Catholic, can be meaningful, because our suffering can count for something, as we join it to that of Christ.

    As for the question of purgatory, I might answer that in a separate post, instead of adding to this lengthy comment.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  78. Bryan,
    This is what I meant by your demeanor in one of my first posts: you are very patient and thoughtful in your responses. I appreciate that. I’m sure it is not easy coming from someone like me.

    A couple things I have learned:
    1) You are right about our different assumptions, we do have very different assumptions and starting points. I still see your starting point as ending up as tautology. As long as the Pope and Apostolic Succession defines your Church as the one true Church, alone guided by the HS, whatever is, is right, and any attempt by one in schism to point out a “wrong” is himself wrong, a priori.
    2) As Protestants, we separate justification and sanctification (I am reading up on your Aquinas posts) and you (RCC) don’t (at least not in the way we do). This makes it difficult to discuss things. It also gives us both straw men to put up (your “finished work” straw man, for instance).
    3) I need to read more.

    Bryan and all,
    I think I will end my posts on this thread here. Let me, in my limited time read more. I have always wanted to read more Aquinas and this will give me a good excuse. I would like to examine Justification and the surrounding controversies- Indulgences, Purgatory and co-operation. You (Bryan) have given out quite a few posts for me to look at. I’ll start from there.

    Lastly,
    Your accusations of gnosticism in Protestant churches is not condemning enough, but that is another topic altogether!

    You will hear from me on Friday (if you will still have me).

    Ron

  79. Ron,

    Be assured that we will still have you. Discussion that openly seeks the truth together is what we desire on this site.

  80. I’m curious if Mr. Wilson has responded to this? Will CTC readers have a way to know (other than following his blog – I don’t have time for that) if he does? Thanks!

  81. Sarah,

    I asked Pastor Wilson to respond and he left me with the impression he was going to. He also asked if I had read Keith Mathison’s book on sola Scriptura and he highly recommended it. I said I had and was going to re-read it, but that the article on this site refuting that very book was one of the things that started my questioning of sola Scriptura. He then reaffirmed his confidence in that book. I am almost done reading it and it is just reinforcing what I have been hoping is not true.

    Doug Wilson and R.C. Sproul Jr. are my Reformed heroes and I really wish they would engage these arguments on Called to Communion. At this point I am in a sort of “emperor has no clothes” attitude about Reformed church authority, and I see no other option but to go Catholic. Unfortunately R.C. Jr. recommends the same book by Mathison so I am left with the fact that my preferred teachers are pointing to a book that has been completely refuted on this site in this article.

    I have been checking his blog and he has not responded. My guess (and this is just MY opinion) is that Pastor Wilson feels it is not worth his time, and that even if he put a bunch of effort into responding it might just draw more Reformed people into the quicksand of this site. The more I look into this authority question, the more I notice Catholic converts that were from Reformed denominations.

    -David Meyer

  82. Sarah,

    I haven’t seen any reply from Doug. If I do, I’ll be sure to put a link to it here. (David, if you come across a reply from Doug, please let us know. Thanks!)

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  83. Thanks, David and Bryan. I’ll keep watching here.

  84. Bryan,

    You wrote that you consider Doug a brother in Christ. I agree with you. I told a Protestant friend of mine that I was converting to Catholicism but that I still considered him a brother in Christ. He maintained that there’s no way we’re brothers in Christ based on the quotes from these Popes:

    Pope Benedict XV (A.D. 1914 – 1922): “Such is the nature of the Catholic faith that it does not admit of more or less, but must be held as a whole, or as a whole rejected: This is the Catholic faith, which unless a man believe faithfully and firmly, he cannot be saved.” (Encyclical, Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum )

    Pope Pius XI (A.D. 1922 – 1939): “The Catholic Church alone is keeping the true worship. This is the font of truth, this is the house of faith, this is the temple of God; if any man enter not here, or if any man go forth from it, he is a stranger to the hope of life and salvation….Furthermore, in this one Church of Christ, no man can be or remain who does not accept, recognize and obey the authority and supremacy of Peter and his legitimate successors.” (Encyclical, Mortalium Animos )

    In what way are Protestants our brothers in Christ?

  85. Hello Andre (re: #84),

    Welcome to Called To Communion. One of the difficulties in reconciling Protestants and the Catholic Church is that some Protestants misunderstand the meaning of Catholic documents, construing them in a way that places more distance and opposition between Protestants and the Catholic Church than the Church herself believes there to be. So Protestants attempting to understand the Catholic faith should seek out well-informed Catholics to make sure they are interpreting the documents accurately. Courtesy requires that members of a tradition get to define what their documents mean, rather than having meanings imposed on them by those outside the tradition. And so too here, a Protestant should defer to Catholics regarding the meaning of Catholic documents, rather than insist that the documents mean what he [i.e. the Protestant] thinks they mean.

    The statements from Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum and Mortalium Animos about the relation of salvation to the Catholic faith are referring to persons who are not in invincible ignorance about the truth of the Catholic faith. That’s the qualified context that your Protestant friend is not recognizing. Notice how the Catetchism puts it:

    Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it.” (CCC, 846)

    The statement refers to those who know that the Catholic Church was founded by God through Christ as the ark of the New Covenant, and yet refuse to enter this ark, like those who know that Christ instituted baptism and commanded all men to be baptized, but refuse to be baptized.

    At the same time, the Church teaches that:

    Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience. Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life. (Lumen Gentium, 16)

    In other words, invincible ignorance of the Catholic Church does not damn a person. Such a person can be saved, but he cannot be saved without the infusion of sanctifying grace and agape, and these come only from Christ and His Church, even when the person is not formally joined to the Church. So, the Protestant who, because of invincible ignorance does not know about the truth of the Catholic Church, but sincerely seeks God, is baptized, believes whatever he knows to be true about God, and (moved by actual grace) strives to do God’s will, can be already in a state of grace, and, if he dies in a state of grace, is saved. And his salvation is by the infusion of sanctifying grace, and that agape comes from Christ, through His Church. Such a person would, if he knew that the Catholic Church is the Church Christ founded, seek to be received into the Catholic Church.

    But the Church is not saying that invincible ignorance guarantees salvation. In fact, it is far more difficult to be saved without the divinely established means of grace (i.e. the sacraments) than with them. The person who is not in full communion with the Catholic Church is in a situation wherein it is much more difficult for him to be saved, than if he had access not only to the sacrament of baptism, but also the sacraments of reconciliation and the Eucharist, an orthodox explanation of God as revealed in Scripture and interpreted by the Church in the light of the Apostolic Tradition, instruction in prayer, and the aid of the community of the Body. See comment #38 in the “Doug Wilson Weighs In on the Eternal Fate of Faithful Catholics” thread.

    Persons who are not in full communion with the Church can nevertheless receive spiritual benefits from the Church, and in this way have an invisible (though imperfect) union with the Church. This is what we refer to as imperfect communion. And that’s the condition of Protestants. They are not in full communion with the Church, but through baptism they received grace and the Holy Spirit. The Church is visible, so a person is not a member of the Church until he is visibly joined to the Church. But that does not prevent him from receiving spiritual benefits from the Church prior to being visibly joined to the Church. And receiving such benefits is what happens when a Protestant as such is baptized. But there are not two Churches: one visible, and one invisible. There is one Church, with two dimensions or aspects, and the way to the invisible dimension is through the visible dimension. I have written more about this in an article titled “Baptism, Schism, Full Communion and Salvation.” If that doesn’t answer your question, then please write me back.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

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