Short Video on the Identification of the Apostolic Faith

Jun 22nd, 2010 | By | Category: Blog Posts

This is a short video I made to demonstrate the inherent circularity in Protestant ecclesiology. The only way to avoid this circularity is to believe in prelatical apostolic succession. Our next lead article will be on that very topic.

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  1. Good video Tim.

    I believe that Mathison would point to an undefined ‘branch theory’ of the church. But which branch teaches the apostolic faith?

  2. Two questions for Catholics to consider in light of the alleged circularity of Protestant ecclesiology:

    First, was there anything like a Catholic magisterium in the Old Covenant, that is, in the life of ancient Israel? If not, why then is it necessary for there to be one in the new covenant Church?

    Second, does the magisterium truly liberate one from the circle (or spiral) of interpretation? It’s interesting to me that the late Avery Cardinal Dulles, after arguing for the necessity of a magisterium in providing the church with a clear, authoritative word, concludes his chapter with the following statement, “The meaning of magisterial decisions, in turn, has to be studied with reference to the way they are understood and interpreted by pastors, theologians, and the faithful.”1 Dulles evidently realized the there is a certain amount of naiveté in the notion that bishops of the Catholic Church agree on how to interpret the magisterium. And if Dulles is right, that we must look to “pastors, theologians, and the faithful” for a reliable interpretation of Scripture, are Protestants really that off the mark?

    Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J. Magisterium: Teacher and Guardian of the Faith. (Naples, FL: Sapientia Press, 2007), 10.

  3. Chris,

    The circularity in the Protestant position is due to the lack of an objective principle of identification of the Church. The Catholic answer to that question is not simply to point to the existence of a magisterium (it is to point to apostolic succession). The Protestants could also set up their own magisterium (Calvin certainly did) but that would not make their community objectively identifiable as “The Church” since submission to that magisterium would require either A) forced submission if you had the misfortune of being born in a Calvinist city or B) a decision to submit to that magisterium based on your private interpretation of Scripture. The problem of circularity is not remedied by the existence of a magisterium; rather it is by prelatical apostolic succession which we will discuss in our next lead article.

    The questions about whether the OC had a magisterium is irrelevant. But the answer is yes, there was something *like* the magisterium in the OC (see Matthew 23:1-3). Drs. R.F. White and Liccione had an interesting discussion on this topic that you might be interested in here esp. beginning at comment #735.

    Re: the quote from Dulles, it sounds right to me. The objectivity of apostolic succession is what makes the Catholic eccleisological position not subject to the problem of circularity argued for (although inadequately) in the video. I am not claiming that Catholics all over the world uniformly interpret the magisterium’s voice. I am arguing that Protestants have nothing but one’s own subjective interpretation of Scripture by which to identify the true Church. Catholics have apostolic succession and are thereby not subject to the same criticism.

  4. Thanks Tim. The heart of our difference seems to be our understanding of where we find apostolic authority today: in the (Catholic) Church or in Scripture. Catholic theology contends that by means of succession it is in the former, Protestants the latter. Granted there is a circularity in the Protestant position, but isn’t that true for all *ultimate* truth claims? So the naturalist argues for the supremacy of nature on the basis of nature, muslims argue for the Koran based on the Koran, Catholics for the Church’s authority on the basis of the Church, and Protestants for Scripture from Scripture.

  5. Hello Chris,

    Welcome to Called to Communion. In regard to your second question (in comment #2), here’s a paragraph from our article titled Solo Scriptura, Sola Scriptura, and the Question of Interpretive Authority:

    The problem with this dilemma is that it ignores the qualitative ontological distinction between persons and books, and so it falsely assumes that if a book needs an authoritative interpreter in order to function as an ecclesial authority, so must a living person. A book contains a monologue with respect to the reader. An author can often anticipate the thoughts and questions that might arise in the mind of the reader. But a book cannot hear the reader’s questions here and now, and answer them. A living person, however, can do so. A living person can engage in genuine dialogue with the reader, whereas a book cannot. Fr. Kimel talks about that here when he quotes Chesterton as saying that though we can put a living person in the dock, we cannot put a book in the dock. In this respect, a person can do what a book cannot; a person can correct global misunderstandings and answer comprehensive interpretive questions. A book by its very nature has a limited intrinsic potency for interpretive self-clarification; a person, on the other hand, by his very nature has, in principle, an unlimited intrinsic potency with respect to interpretive self-clarification. This unlimited potency with respect to interpretive self-clarification ensures that the hermeneutical spiral may reach its end. A book cannot speak more about itself than it does at the moment at which it is completed. A person, by contrast, remains perpetually capable of clarifying further any of his previous speech-acts.

    Thus, because of the ontological difference between person and book, the Catholic with a living Magisterium is not in the same epistemic situation as the Protestant who remains his own ultimate interpretive authority with respect to Scripture, as Neal and I explained in the Solo Scriptura article.

    In your latest comment you wrote:

    The heart of our difference seems to be our understanding of where we find apostolic authority today: in the (Catholic) Church or in Scripture. Catholic theology contends that by means of succession it is in the former, Protestants the latter.

    Since Protestants and Catholics both agree that Scripture is the inspired word of God, and that it has divine authority, that’s not the point of disagreement. The point of disagreement is that in the Catholic Church not only the Apostles but also the successors of the Apostles bear divine teaching and interpretive authority; Protestants, however, deny this. Protestants believe that divine teaching and interpretive authority ended with the death of the last Apostle. So the point of disagreement is whether Christ established a perpetual living magisterial authority in His Church, or whether at the death of the Apostle John around A.D. 100, each Christian became his own ultimate interpretive authority.

    Granted there is a circularity in the Protestant position, but isn’t that true for all *ultimate* truth claims? So the naturalist argues for the supremacy of nature on the basis of nature, muslims argue for the Koran based on the Koran, Catholics for the Church’s authority on the basis of the Church, and Protestants for Scripture from Scripture.

    If all ultimate truth claims were circular, then there would be no rational way to adjudicate between competing truth claims. We would be left with fideism, which I have discussed in more detail in my post titled “Wilson vs. Hitchens: A Catholic Perspective.” Fideism presupposes skepticism and hence relativism, and in that way fideism is a rejection of truth, and so it destroys the possibility of faith. Here’s what the Catholic encyclopedia says about fideism:

    Fideism owes its origin to distrust in human reason, and the logical sequence of such an attitude is scepticism. It is to escape from this conclusion that some philosophers, accepting as a principle the impotency of reason, have emphasized the need of belief on the part of human nature, either asserting the primacy of belief over reason or else affirming a radical separation between reason and belief, that is, between science and philosophy on the one hand and religion on the other. Such is the position taken by Kant, when he distinguishes between pure reason, confined to subjectivity, and practical reason, which alone is able to put us by an act of faith in relation with objective reality. It is also a fideistic attitude which is the occasion of agnosticism, of positivism, of pragmatism and other modern forms of anti-intellectualism. As against these views, it must be noted that authority, even the authority of God, cannot be the supreme criterion of certitude, and an act of faith cannot be the primary form of human knowledge. This authority, indeed, in order to be a motive of assent, must be previously acknowledged as being certainly valid; before we believe in a proposition as revealed by God, we must first know with certitude that God exists, that He reveals such and such a proposition, and that His teaching is worthy of assent, all of which questions can and must be ultimately decided only by an act of intellectual assent based on objective evidence. Thus, fideism not only denies intellectual knowledge, but logically ruins faith itself.

    So, this idea that all ultimate truth claims are circular is first and fundamentally a philosophical mistake (i.e. skepticism) about the first principles we all share as human beings. This skepticism underlies the rampant pluralism of our time. And because grace builds on nature, a mistake at the level of philosophy leads to error at the level of sacred theology. This is why presuppositionalism as a theological position is an error, because it builds on a philosophical error.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  6. Thanks Bryan. Perhaps fideism isn’t the best description. Maybe it’s closer to what some have called a critical realist epistomology-akin to what Augustine meant when he said that he believes in order that he might understand. At somep point we must decide which form of authority we will submit to, and whatever that is naturally whatever we regard as the supreme authority. If I may, I’d be curious to hear you explain why you submit to the Catholic Church as the ultimate authority on earth (I’m thinking in terms of totus Christus, the presence of Christ in the world…)?

    As for the second point, I wonder if we’re really saying the same thing. My initial statement was…
    “The heart of our difference seems to be our understanding of where we find apostolic authority today: in the (Catholic) Church or in Scripture. Catholic theology contends that by means of succession it is in the former, Protestants the latter.” I purposefully didn’t say where we find apostolic “revelation” because, as you point out, Catholics maintain the Scriptures as God’s word as do Protestants. However, in terms of authority, wouldn’t you look beyond the text itself to the institution of the church (through which Scripture came)? Thus, Catholics see Christ’s authority (supremely) manifested in the One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church and Protestants see it in the text.

    I’m interested to respond to your first point about the ontological nature of Christian revelation, but I’ll have to first facilitate the kids’ bath time before thinking through that one. Thanks Bryan. -Chris

  7. Chris,

    When St. Augustine says that he believes in order to understand, he is talking about the faith, i.e. what is supernatural. He is not talking about nature and what can be known by the natural power of reason. One of his earliest works is titled Against the Academics (A.D. 386) in which he argues against skepticism at the level of reason. That is, in this work he argues against philosophical skepticism (which is distinct from religious skepticism). Philosophical skepticism is the notion that we cannot know anything at all (even if we can have probable opinions); it is a broad skepticism about the power of human reason to know anything. But religious skepticism is the notion that we cannot know anything about God or the supernatural. But St. Augustine understood that philosophical skepticism undermines the possibility of faith. So, he wasn’t a fideist. He didn’t treat natural knowledge as something that first required a leap of faith in order to know first principles of reason. Likewise, he didn’t treat the Christian faith as something that one would arbitrarily choose over other religions. In other words, the fact that accepting the Christian faith is necessary in order to understand [and/or better understand] its deeper truths, does not mean that there are no motives of credibility for becoming a Christian, or that becoming a Christian is no more reasonable than becoming a member of any other religion or no religion. For St. Augustine and the Fathers, comparing the evidence that is available to human reason will show that Christianity is the true religion, even from the outside (i.e. even without yet being a Christian). In that sense, Christian faith is most reasonable. All that is fully compatible with fides quaerens intellectum, and with faith being a divine gift. That fact that faith is a divine gift does not make the act of faith irrational. Faith is most reasonable, and yet reason, without the help of divine grace, is unable to come to believe. All who come to faith, have done so not by reason alone, but by the help of divine grace.

    You wrote:

    At some point we must decide which form of authority we will submit to, and whatever that is naturally whatever we regard as the supreme authority.

    I agree that we have to decide about authority, but I wouldn’t say “which form of authority we will submit to,” as though the question is between different forms of divine authority. If these different ‘forms’ are disagreeing with each other, they can’t all be divine authorities, because God cannot contradict Himself. So, I would simply say that we have to locate divine authority. In other words, we have to answer the question: Where is, and who has, divine authority? That’s the question.

    As I mentioned in my previous comment, the ontological difference between persons and books means that we don’t have to choose between a divinely authoritative book and divinely authorized persons. They can both be present at the same time, in a complementary way, because they each bear divine authority in a different way. If they both bore divine authority in exactly the same way, then one would have to be subordinate to the other (as the Apostles had divine authority, and yet were subordinate to Christ Himself), or one would just be a copy of the other. But because they each bear divine authority in a different way or mode, they do not compete against each other, or require us to choose between them. The Scripture has divine authority in virtue of the divine inspiration of the words it contains. The Apostles and their successors have divine authority in virtue of their being divinely chosen, equipped and commissioned to exposit and teach the deposit of faith and to govern the Church.

    If I may, I’d be curious to hear you explain why you submit to the Catholic Church as the ultimate authority on earth (I’m thinking in terms of totus Christus, the presence of Christ in the world…)?

    Because I believe it is the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church that Christ founded. It is the Church with which St. Augustine was in full communion when he wrote these words:

    The same is the holy Church, the one Church, the true Church, the catholic Church, fighting against all heresies: fight, it can; be fought down, it cannot. As for heresies, they all went out of it, like unprofitable branches pruned from the vine: but itself abides in its root, in its Vine, in its charity. (Sermon to Catechumens on the Creed 1.6)

    Lastly, you wrote:

    However, in terms of authority, wouldn’t you look beyond the text itself to the institution of the church (through which Scripture came)? Thus, Catholics see Christ’s authority (supremely) manifested in the One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church and Protestants see it in the text.

    For a Catholic, there is no possible competition between Scripture and the Church, as though we have to choose between them. (We believe that Christ would never put us in a position of having to choose between them, just as we would never have to choose between obeying Jesus and obeying the Holy Spirit.) Scripture, Tradition and Magisterium are not three competing authorities, but functionally interdependent and co-operative constituents of the divine authority by which Christ guides His New Covenant people. To access and be guided by Scripture, we approach it in and with the guidance of the Apostolic Tradition and Magisterium of holy Mother Church. Otherwise, all we have from Scripture is mere opinion, i.e. our own fallible and unauthorized [measly] interpretations. Scripture can function as a divine and governing authority in the Church catholic only as interpreted and exposited by persons having the divine authority to do so. So, I don’t think it is fair to say something like: the Protestant locates divine authority in the Scriptures, while the Catholic locates divine authority in the Church. More accurate, I think, is to say that the Protestant locates divine authority in Scripture, and the Catholic locates divine authority in the three-fold conjunction of Scripture-Tradition-Magisterium. This can be seen in the Catechism, where we read:

    “The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone. Its authority in this matter is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ.” This means that the task of interpretation has been entrusted to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome. “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 85-86)

    The deposit of faith cannot be unveiled to us while divorced from those persons to whom it was divinely entrusted and to whom was given the divine authority to bring forth its divine contents to God’s people. What is divinely revealed cannot be naturally known, for it is above us. For this reason, the divine content of the deposit of faith and the divinely authorized steward of that deposit always remain bound together, such that neither can operate or be intelligible apart from the other. That’s a different account, I think, from the notion that Catholics just think that divine authority lies in the Church. Yes, for Catholics divine authority lies in the Church — but, that way of describing it can be misleading because it implies that in the Catholic Church, Scripture is a lesser authority or subordinate to the Magisterium, when in actuality for Catholics Scripture is not subordinate to the Magisterium, but truly and authentically opened to us only in conjunction with those persons having the divine authority to explicate for us its sacred contents, as Philip did for the Ethiopian eunuch.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  8. A quick word about my posture toward the Catholic tradition. There is a great deal that we Protestants must learn from Catholics, and we shouldn’t be afraid to say so. I wrote a book about this very thing (and continue to get heat from some Protestants about it), and I have a ms. in process with Frank Beckwith et al. along this line. I say that to say, you’re talking to someone who appreciates much of what Catholicism is and does. However, your statement about the ontological difference between person and book is, in my humble opinion, an example of where Catholicism makes some wrong turns. If I may parse out two observations that give me pause.

    “(1.) A book by its very nature has a limited intrinsic potency for interpretive self-clarification; a person, on the other hand, by his very nature has, in principle, an unlimited intrinsic potency with respect to interpretive self-clarification. (2.) This unlimited potency with respect to interpretive self-clarification ensures that the hermeneutical spiral may reach its end.”

    (1.) It seems to me that this notion of giving preference to a person over a written text is altogether foreign to the history of Israel, the Jewish world and the Hebrew Scriptures. It is the “word of the Lord,” precisely because it speaks for God, who is personal. Yahweh’s word was an extension of the divine personality, invested with divine authority, to be heeded (Ps. 103:20; Dt. 12:32); standing for ever (Is. 40:8), and once uttered it cannot return unfulfilled (Is. 55:11). It is used as a synonym for the law (tora) of God in Ps. 119, where alone its reference is to a written rather than a spoken message, a word that is sufficient to equip God’s people for every good work (2 Tim 3:16).

    (2.) This second statement of yours strikes me as an over realized eschatology that fails to appreciate that until the Lord Jesus returns we will (all of us) continue to see through a glass dimly (1 Cor 13). Indeed, this is where Cardinal Dulles’s statement is so instructive. The reality is that bishops do disagree on how to interpret certain magisterial statements e.g., inerrancy, the nature of grace vis-à-vis Condign versus Congruous, do transgressions of the precepts constitute a mortal sin? To suggest that there is “unlimited potency with respect to interpretive self-clarification [which] ensures that the hermeneutical spiral may reach its end” may seem to work on paper, but it’s not reality, as corroborated by the good Cardinal’s statement. Once again, here is what Dulles said, “The meaning of magisterial decisions, in turn, has to be studied with reference to the way they are understood and interpreted by pastors, theologians, and the faithful.”

    By the way, I have been learning a great deal from you and your colleagues on this site. Kudos on the work you’re doing and thanks for giving me the privilege of this dialogue. Sincerely, Chris

  9. Chris,

    Thank you for the irenic dialogue – this stuff is hard to find! I’ll let Bryan respond to (2) but on (1), Bryan already said, “For a Catholic, there is no possible competition between Scripture and the Church, as though we have to choose between them.” But you’re still using language that presupposes that the Catholics are wrong and that there *is* necessarily a competition between the Church and Scripture. i.e. “this notion of giving preference to a person over a written text is altogether foreign to the history of Israel.” If that’s foreign to Israel, that’s ok by us. It’s foreign to us too. We don’t believe it.

    If you’re going to interact with the Catholic faith, I think you should approach it using the same language. e.g. “Scripture and Church are not equal authorities because….” or even “your position really amounts to Scripture being subordinate to the Church because…” instead of “Scripture is not subordinate to the Church because…” In the last example, you are projecting your own understanding of what’s happening onto the belief of the Church and defeating that mirage instead of showing why the Church’s actually stated beliefs are wrong.

    Now as to the foreignness of said belief, since you’re bringing the example up I assume you think that the Israelite categories of authority are important. While subordination of Scripture to human authority might have been foreign to Israel, divine authority invested in humans along side of or to interpret Scripture was not foreign to them. Neither was the concept of prelatical succession of said authority. This authority persisted even into the NT (Matt 23:1-3). If we’re going to say that we’ll use the OT as a model for religious authority – fine by us. In the OT, every religious authority was commissioned directly by God or was in prelatical succession from someone else who had. e.g. Moses, Joshua, Aaron, Eleazar, the Judges, the Kings, the Prophets, etc. These religious leaders never acquired authority by merely preaching Torah correctly. We’ll be arguing for this more thoroughly in an upcoming article on apostolic succession.

  10. Very helpful. I didn’t see Bryan’s response till after I submited mine, so the point about not driving a wedge between Scripture and magisterium, which you both explained, is instructive. How would you describe the supreme authority of the Catholic Church then? After reading Bryan’s summary with the catechism quote, I’m thinking of language like “The Deposit of Faith with its three-fold conjunction of Scripture-Tradition-Magisterium.” I’m sure you have a more succinct way to say it.

    In this vein, I remember reading once (I forget the source) about a distinction between the “remote” form of authority (Scripture and tradition) and the “proximate” source which is the magisterium. Is this a common distinction?

    I guess the reason why I think of the Catholic Church as assigning more authority to the magisterium than the text, is the notion that the Church has established the canon of Scripture and in that sense possesses an authority that is somehow superior to Scripture. Does that concept relate to the way Catholics understand authority? Based on your explanation, I suspect that it doesn’t. Rather, it is as you have explained, believed to be “God’s Word, consisting of Scripture, Tradition, and Magisterium” that constitutes the authority.

  11. Chris, (re: #8)

    Thanks for your reply. That there is an ontological difference between a person and a book cannot be a wrong turn, if it is true. Just as Peter Singer falls into serious ethical errors (e.g. his charge of ‘speciesism’) when he fails to recognize the ontological distinction between humans and non-human animals, so Christians can fall into serious ecclesial errors if we fail to recognize the ontological distinction between persons and books. So, let me address your two objections. First you say:

    It seems to me that this notion of giving preference to a person over a written text is altogether foreign to the history of Israel, the Jewish world and the Hebrew Scriptures. It is the “word of the Lord,” precisely because it speaks for God, who is personal. Yahweh’s word was an extension of the divine personality, invested with divine authority, to be heeded (Ps. 103:20; Dt. 12:32); standing for ever (Is. 40:8), and once uttered it cannot return unfulfilled (Is. 55:11). It is used as a synonym for the law (tora) of God in Ps. 119, where alone its reference is to a written rather than a spoken message, a word that is sufficient to equip God’s people for every good work (2 Tim 3:16).

    I never claimed that Catholics give “preference” to a person over a written text. I hope that my previous comment explained how we see the deposit of faith and the Magisterium as related by a kind of mutual and obligate symbiosis. Each has its life only in and with the other. I agree with pretty much everything you say in this paragraph. The disagreement, I think, lies in what you don’t say. I mean, the question is whether Scripture functions authentically as a divine authority for God’s people without a divinely authorized interpreter. In other words, is me-and-my-Bible Christianity what Christ intended, and does it sustain the Church in unity of the faith? The question is too easy. Early Protestants believed that the perspicuity of Scripture was such that the initial Protestant divisions would be overcome shortly. But a little over a hundred years later, that vision seemed entirely unfeasible. Anthony Lane writes that for the Reformers:

    Scripture was ‘sui ipsius interpres’ and the simple principle of interpreting individual passages by the whole was to lead to unanimity in understanding. This came close to creating anew the infallible church…It was this belief in the clarity of Scripture that made the early disputes between Protestants so fierce. This theory seemed plausible while the majority of Protestants held to Luthern or Calvinist orthodoxy but the seventeenth century saw the beginning of the erosion of these monopolies. But even in 1530 Casper Schwenckfeld could cynically note that ‘the Papists damn the Lutherans; the Lutherans damn the Zwinglians; the Zwinglians damn the Anabaptists and the Anabaptists damn all others.’ By the end of the seventeenth century many others saw that it was not possible on the basis of Scripture alone to build up a detailed orthodoxy commanding general assent. (A.N.S. Lane, “Scripture, Tradition and Church: An Historical Survey”, Vox Evangelica, Volume IX – 1975, pp. 44, 45)

    In other words, at this present point in history, almost five hundred years down the road from the start of the Protestant experiment, it seems safe to say that the historical evidence shows that Scripture is not sufficiently perspicuous to maintain unity of the faith, without a divinely authorized teaching and interpretive authority. Apart from the magisterium, Scripture cannot fulfill its authoritative function within the Church, because apart from a magisterium, there can be no unified Church preserved for Scripture to govern and guide. Without a magisterium, the situation necessarily reduces (in principle) and collapses (in time) into solo scriptura. So for these reasons, Scripture functions authentically as the divine word only as divinely interpreted by a living and divinely authorized magisterium. The content of the Sacred Scriptures can be understood only by the same Spirit who inspired them, and thus only with the guidance of those persons to whom Christ gave that gift of the Spirit by which it became true to say, “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)

    Even under the Old Covenant, the Scripture did not stand free-floating, apart from divinely authorized teachers. It was not the case that each family had their own personal scroll containing the Torah. Rather, the community of the faithful came together in the assembly, and listened to the words being read (as we do in the liturgy today) and heard them explained by authorized teachers (as we do in the liturgy today). So this relationship between Scripture and divinely authorized interpreter is not a Catholic invention; it extends all the way back to Moses.

    As for your second point, I had written:

    This unlimited potency with respect to interpretive self-clarification [of persons] ensures that the hermeneutical spiral may reach its end.”

    And you responded:

    This second statement of yours strikes me as an over realized eschatology that fails to appreciate that until the Lord Jesus returns we will (all of us) continue to see through a glass dimly (1 Cor 13).

    I hear this “over-realized eschatology” claim quite often. The problem with this frequent appeal to “over-realized eschatology” is that the principled basis for the standard for what is “properly-realized eschatology” is usually not provided. So in practice the claim amounts to “anything that goes beyond what I myself get out of Scripture.” For that reason, the standard by which to judge what is “over-realized eschatology” and what is “under-realized eschatology” is in that way subjective and relative, and so is no standard at all. My statement that persons have an unlimited potency with respect to interpretive self-clarification has nothing to do with eschatology. My statement follows from the very nature of persons as rational beings. For example, if you ask me to clarify something I have said, and then you still need further clarification, you can ask for it, and, because I can hear you and understand you and have memory and communicative ability, I can provide it. And if you need still more clarification you can ask me for it, and I can provide it. So long as I remain alive and conscious and capable of communication, I can provide interpretive self-clarification. That’s what I mean when I say that persons have unlimited potency with respect to interpretive self-clarification. We can get to the point where you say, “Are you saying x?” And I can reply, “Yes”. And that point, with respect to that question, the hermeneutical spiral comes to an end.

    Books do not have unlimited potency with respect to interpretive self-clarification. And because books don’t have that, they cannot function as interpretive adjudicator when there are competing interpretations facing the Church: each side can appeal to the book to support its own position, and without a magisterium, the disagreement can be a perpetual deadlock or impasse. But a living magisterium can not only adjudicate an interpretive dispute, it can also provide clarification regarding previous statements or judgments it has made. That is why having a living magisterium does not leave us in the same epistemic quandary that we would be in if we had only a book and no interpretive authority.

    This is what has made it possible within the history of the Catholic Church for theological disputes to be resolved. The reason the Church is not still wrestling with Arianism and Nestorianism and Monophysitism, etc. is precisely because she could speak definitively and authoritatively in condemning them. But the Bible alone could not do that. Because the Bible does not explicitly address those questions, persons on both sides could and did appeal to the Bible to defend their interpretation. And so a living personal divinely authorized voice was necessary in order to provide the authoritative interpretive decision in those cases.

    As for St. Paul’s statement about seeing through a glass dimly, we (Catholics) understand that to be referring to the Beatific Vision. Faith is the evidence of things unseen. The object of faith is presently unseen, but we have some awareness of it, by way of the gift of faith. So we are neither ignorant of the object of faith, nor do we see the object of faith. But then, in the paraousia, we will see Him face to face, we will see even as we are seen. We do not take this verse to be teaching that until Christ returns we cannot have certainty regarding doctrinal or interpretive questions. In other words, the verse is not denying that we can know with certainty what are the dogmas of the faith and which positions are heretical; rather, it is talking about our present inability to see the object of the faith, and that object is God Himself.

    You wrote:

    Indeed, this is where Cardinal Dulles’s statement is so instructive. The reality is that bishops do disagree on how to interpret certain magisterial statements e.g., inerrancy, the nature of grace vis-à-vis Condign versus Congruous, do transgressions of the precepts constitute a mortal sin? To suggest that there is “unlimited potency with respect to interpretive self-clarification [which] ensures that the hermeneutical spiral may reach its end” may seem to work on paper, but it’s not reality, as corroborated by the good Cardinal’s statement. Once again, here is what Dulles said, “The meaning of magisterial decisions, in turn, has to be studied with reference to the way they are understood and interpreted by pastors, theologians, and the faithful.”

    At any time in the Church’s history, there are always open questions within the Church, i.e. questions about the Church’s position that at that time have yet to be answered. But, over time, because the Church has a living magisterium, questions about faith and morals can be (and are) answered by the magisterium in a definitive way. And once a question is answered definitively, then it no longer remains an open question. New questions then arise, but that’s fine. That’s just the nature of the Church, which is a living and growing organism. But, if there were no magisterium, these questions could never be answered definitively, and so they would always remain open questions, and hence there could be no development or growth in theology, because in order to grow theologically, we have to settle and establish certain things, so that we can build upon them.

    In addition, the magisterium has an intrinsic unity, in virtue of the papal office. It is not merely a collection of disagreeing bishops. That would leave us in an epistemic quandary. There is a hierarchy. And because the magisterium is personal (and not merely a book) it has this unlimited potency with respect to interpretive self-clarification, even though this is typically a slow process. The Church moves slowly in its interpretive self-clarification, much like Treebeard and his fellow ents. :-)

    So I agree with what Dulles wrote, but I think it can be misunderstood. He doesn’t mean that magisterial statements are a wax nose that can be turned any which way by the magisterium of any new era. Authentic development never reverses what has already been laid down; it always and only clarifies and deepens our present understanding. And the faithful carry with them this sense of what has been established regarding the faith. Also, he doesn’t mean that there is no hierarchy within the magisterium by which the interpretive self-clarification can be provided. When the Pope issues an authoritative statement clarifying a previous Church document, that statement becomes for other Catholic bishops and priests the interpretive norm for that document. We’re not left with a sea of competing Catholic interpretive authorities; that would be epistemic chaos. But I think he is saying something quite similar to what St. Augustine said about believing in order to understand. In order more fully to understand a magisterial decision, we have to experience it from the inside, as it informs the understanding and practice of the Catholic faith at the level of the whole Church, including the academy, the local diocese and even the local parish. But that doesn’t mean that the content of a magisterial decision cannot be sufficiently understood immediately, or cannot be clarified further or directly by the Magisterium. On the one hand there is always room for continual clarification and development; on the other hand there is always more that is being clarified and defined. This is the nature of the organic growth of the Church in her self-understanding of the deposit of faith.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  12. Chris (re: #10)

    You wrote:

    I guess the reason why I think of the Catholic Church as assigning more authority to the magisterium than the text, is the notion that the Church has established the canon of Scripture and in that sense possesses an authority that is somehow superior to Scripture.

    The two are not mutually exclusive, because the authority is of a different sort. A parent has an authority over his or her child, because God has given stewardship of the child to the parent. Stewardship gives a kind of authority in relation to that over which one is a steward. Apply this to the example of Joseph and Mary in relation to the infant Jesus. Clearly they had stewardship over Him, and yet, at the same time, but without contradiction, He also had authority over them as their Creator and the One before whom they will stand and give an account on that Day. This is an example of persons genuinely and truly having stewardship over Someone having more authority than themselves. Similarly, the Apostles were given the authority of stewardship over the deposit of faith and the mysteries of the faith, the very Body and Blood of our Lord. What a great treasure was entrusted to them: the very words of God and the very life of God. We adore Christ in the Eucharist, but we do not adore the bishops and priests. And yet the bishops and priests, as successors of the Apostles are stewards of the sacred mysteries, and in that respect have a certain authority over them, i.e. the authority of stewardship. Likewise, the deposit of faith entrusted to mere mortals is of incomparable value and authority, and yet, without contradiction, the men to whom it was entrusted have a genuine stewardship over it. They are under it, in one respect, and over it, in another respect, just as Mary was over the Infant Christ in one respect, and yet under Him, in another respect. They are under it, because it is divine and they are mere mortal creatures. But in a certain sense they are truly over it, because Christ gratuitously made them to be stewards of it. It would be wrong to think that the authority of stewardship is an absolute authority. Such a notion would entail either that Joseph and Mary had no authority over the infant Jesus, or that when the infant Jesus came to be under the authority of Joseph and Mary, He ceased to be divine. So likewise, it is incorrect to think that the Church’s divinely established stewardship over the gospel and the mysteries of the faith makes the Church an absolute authority above the words of God and the very life of God. Rather, the Church has the authority of stewardship over the deposit and mysteries of faith, but at the same time she remains their servant: “Yet this Magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant.”

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  13. Thanks Bryan. Please pardon my brevity. I have a meeting in a few minutes. Your response #10 is brilliant. Totally clarifies the point.

    Response #8, just before it, also helps. I see your point about *persons* having the ability to respond to questions and elucidate their ideas in ways that texts don’t. That much is clear. However, I still don’t fully see where the Old Testament is concerned with this distinction, that is, where it has a revealed interest in this issue of getting a dogmatic interpretation of the text for the community of faith. Sure there were individuals specially trained to teach the word of the Lord, but as far as I can see, they didn’t do it in any sort of magisterium. It is at this point that your explanation appears to be slightly unfair toward Protestants. Not all of us understand biblical interpretation as “me and my Bible.” Some of us are interested in interpretive communities that have consensus and accountability. In other words, it’s not necessarily an either/or: full blown magisterium or entirely subjective, private interpretation. Sometimes I wonder if part of the sharp difference between our positions is the concern that we bring to conversation. Catholics are concerned with doctrinal unity, and are happy to let a magisterium determine the content of that unity. Protestants are primarily concerned with allowing the text to speak for itself and are concerned (at at times neurotic) about not allowing humans to pigeon hole the text’s meaning. I realize of course from a Catholic point of view, it’s not “mere humans” who are doing this work, and your next post on apostolic succession will make this case; but for those of us who are less than persuaded by the succession concept, this is how it may appear.

    Once again, you guys are enormously helpful. I wonder if there is a way for me to bounce a couple of other questions off of you and Tim, perhaps through email or some other vehicle. Thanks again Bryan! CC

  14. It should come as no surprise that some things that Christians do are foreign to Israel. We are, after all, participants in the “New” Covenant. If everything in the Church looked the same as it did in Israel, what would be the point? As the author to the Hebrews points out, our covenant is founded on better promises. One of those better promises is that we have a living, active voice to guide us rather than a book to just read and argue over. In the Old Covenant, God gave a written law and then the community established itself around that written law, doing its best to understand and interpret that law so that it could be applied to the specific phenomena in their lives. This comes to a head in the rabbinic tradition after the destruction of the temple. But in the New Covenant, God establishes the people first by pouring out His Spirit on real people and “giving gifts to men” as Paul says. The “written” part of the New Covenant is almost an afterthought (not to diminish the inspiration and holiness of the New Testament). It comes about as the product of the Spirit-filled work that was already taking place through the teaching of the apostles.

    The Protestant notion of sola scriptura, on the other hand, puts us in no better position vis-a-vis God’s revelation than the Jews of the Old Covenant. We’re chained again to the letter of the law; the New Testament isn’t essentially different from the tablets of stone. But as Paul says in 2 Cor 3:3, it is the people of God that are the letter, not with ink or on tablets of stone, but with the Spirit of God on human hearts.

  15. [...] Bryan Cross has some very useful things to say about this in his comment here. [...]

  16. Chris,

    If I may add a lengthy quote from then Cardinal Ratzinger’s work: Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith pp. 31-36,

    “What does this advantage, which was given in advance, look like–this answer that alone can get our thinking under way and that shows it the way? This authority is a word, we can say to start with. Given the subject we are dealing with, that is quite logical: the Word comes from understanding and is intended to lead to understanding. The advantage given to the seeking human spirit is the Word, which is quite reasonable. In the procedure of science, the idea comes before the word. It is translated into the word. But here, where our own thinking fails, down to us from the eternal reason is thrown the Word, in which is hidden a splinter of its splendor-as much as we can bear, as much as we need, as much as human speech can encompass. To perceive the meaning in this Word, to understand this Word-that is the ultimate basis of theology, something that can never be entirely absent from the path of faith, not even from that of the most humble believer.

    The advantage, what is given in advance, is the Word thus, it is Scripture, we might say, and we might at once ask: Beside this essential authority of theology, can there be any other? The answer would seem to have to be No: this is the critical point in the dispute between Reformed and Catholic theology. Nowadays, even the greater part of evangelical theologians recognize, in varying forms, that sola Scriptura, that is, the restriction of the Word to the book, cannot be maintained. On the basis of its inner structure, the Word always comprises a surplus beyond what could go into the book. This relativizing of the scriptural principle, from which Catholic theology also has something to learn and on account of which both sides can make a new approach to each other, is in part the result of ecumenical dialogue but, to a greater degree, has been determined by the progress of historico-critical interpretation of the Bible, which has in any case learned thereby to recognize its own limits. Two things have above all become clear about the nature of the biblical word in the process of critical exegesis. First of all, that the word of the Bible, at the moment it was set down in writing, already had behind it a more or less long process of shaping by oral tradition and that it was not frozen at the moment it was written down, but entered into new processes of interpretation–”relectures”–that further develop its hidden potential. Thus, the extent of the Word’s meaning cannot be reduced to the thoughts of a single author in a specific historical moment; it is not the property of a single author at all; rather, it -lives in a history that is ever moving onward and, thus, has dimensions and depths of meaning in past and future that ultimately pass into the realm of the unforeseen. It is only at this point that we can begin to understand the nature of inspiration; we can see where God mysteriously enters into what is human and purely human authorship is transcended. Yet that also means that Scripture is not a meteorite fallen from the sky, so that it would, with the strict otherness of a stone that comes from the sky and not from the earth, stand in contrast to all human words. Certainly, Scripture carries God’s thoughts within it: that makes it unique and constitutes it an “authority”. Yet it is transmitted by a human history. It carries within it the life and thought of a historical society that we call the “People of God”, because they are brought together, and held together, by the coming of the divine Word. There is a reciprocal relationship: This society is the essential condition for the origin and the growth of the biblical Word; and, conversely, this Word gives the society its identity and its continuity Thus, the analysis of the structure of the biblical Word has brought to light an interwoven relationship between Church and Bible, between the People of God and the Word of God, which we had actually always known, somehow, in a theoretical way but had never before had so vividly set before us.

    The second element that relativizes the scriptural principle follows from what we have just said. Luther was persuaded of the “perspicuitas” of Scripture-of its being unequivocal, a quality that rendered superfluous any official institution for determining its interpretation. The idea of an unequivocal meaning is constitutive for the scriptural principle. For if the Bible is not, as a book, unequivocal in itself, then in itself alone, as a book, it cannot be what was given in advance, which guides us. It would then still be leaving us again to our own devices. Then, we should still be left alone again with our thinking, which is helpless in the face of what is essential in existence. Yet this fundamental postulate of Scripture’s unambiguousness has had to be dropped, on account of both the structure of the Word and the concrete experiences of scriptural interpretation. It is untenable on the basis of the objective structure of the Word, on account of its own dynamic, which points beyond what is written. It is above all the most profound meaning of the Word that is grasped only when we move beyond what is merely written. Yet the postulate is also untenable from its subjective side, that is to say, on the basis of the essential laws of the rationality of history. The history of exegesis is a history of contradictions; the daring constructions of many modern exegetes, right up to the materialistic interpretation of the Bible, show that the Word, if left alone as a book, is a helpless prey to manipulation through preexisting desires and opinions. Scripture, the Word we have been given, with which theology concerns itself, does not, on the basis of its own nature, exist as a book alone. Its human author, the People of God, is alive and through all the ages has its own consistent identity. The home it has made for itself and that supports it is its own interpretation, which is inseparable from itself. Without this surviving and living agent, the Church, Scripture would not be contemporary with us; it could then no longer combine, as is its true nature, synchronic and diachronic existence, history and the present day, but would fall back into a past that cannot be recalled; it would become literature that one interpreted in the way one can interpret literature. And with that, theology itself would decline into literary history and the history of past times, on one hand, and into the philosophy of religion and religious studies in general, on the other. It is perhaps helpful to express this interrelationship in a more concrete way for the New Testament. Along the whole path of faith, from Abraham up to the completion of the biblical canon, a confession of faith was built up that was given its real center and shape by Christ himself. The original of existence of the Christian profession of faith, however, was the sacramental life of the Church. It is by this criterion that the canon was shaped, and that is why the Creed is the primary authority for the interpretation of the Bible. Yet the Creed is not a piece of literature : for a long time, people quite consciously avoided writing down the rule of faith that produced the Creed, just because it is the concrete life of the believing community. Thus, the authority of the Church that speaks out, the authority of the apostolic succession, is written into Scripture through the Creed and is indivisible from it. The teaching office of the apostles’ successors does not represent a second authority alongside Scripture but is inwardly a part of it. This viva vox is not there to restrict the authority of Scripture or to limit it or even replace it by the existence of another-on the contrary, it is its task to ensure that Scripture is not disposable, cannot be manipulated, to preserve its proper perspicuitas, its clear meaning from the conflict of hypotheses. Thus, there is a secret relationship of reciprocity. Scripture sets limits and a standard for the viva vox; the living voice guarantees that it cannot be manipulated.

    I can certainly understand the anxiety of Protestant theologians, and nowadays of many Catholic theologians, especially of exegetes, that the principle of a teaching office might impinge upon the freedom and the authority of the Bible and, thus, upon those of theology as a whole. There is a passage from the famous exchange of letters between Harnack and Peterson in 1928 that comes to mind. Peterson, the younger of the two, who was a seeker after truth, had pointed out in a letter to Harnack that he himself, in a scholarly article entitled “The Old Testament in the Pauline Letters and the Pauline Congregations”, had for practical purposes expressed the Catholic teaching about Scripture, tradition, and the teaching office. To be precise, Harnack had explained that in the New Testament the “authority of the apostolic teaching is found side by side with … the authority of ‘Scripture’, organizing it and setting limits to it”, and that thus “biblicism received a healthy correction”. In response to Peterson’s pointing this out, Harnack replied to his younger colleague, with his usual nonchalance: “That the so-called ‘formal principle’ of early Protestantism is impossible from a critical point of view and that the Catholic principle is in contrast formally better is a truism; but materially the Catholic principle of tradition wreaks far more havoc in history.”

  17. Thanks David. Sure, Protestants completely agree that there are significant points of discontinuity with Israel and the Old Covenant. Absolutely. But since the old covenant eventually came to be centered upon the written text (granted there were prophets who spoke under divine inspiration, as there would be in the New, but eventually the record of divine revelation was limited to Scripture), the burden of proof is on those who locate authority somewhere other than the sacred scriptures, to demonstrate that a magisterium is what Paul had in mind when he described the pouring out of the Holy Spirit and writing the law upon men’s hearts (as you state). You realize of course that these are precisely the verses that Protestants use in arguing against a magisterium on behalf of a priesthood of believers idea.

    You write, “The Protestant notion of sola scriptura, on the other hand, puts us in no better position vis-a-vis God’s revelation than the Jews of the Old Covenant.” Let’s consider one particular Jew of the Old Covenant named Jesus. As far as I can tell, our Lord was quite content to use the words of the Jewish Scriptures in his ministry, quoting them in the desert, through his life, and from the cross itself. Jesus, the very Word of God, doesn’t rely upon his office but used the words of Scripture (not relying upon any sort of magisterium. If anything, he opposed institutionalized interpretations). Could it be that our Lord was giving us an example? Once again, I’m not arguing for a “me and my Bible” method (and certainly don’t want to portray the Lord Jesus in that light). On the other hand, I just don’t see any precedent for a magisterium.

    Finally, I can’t resist pointing out your statement “The “written” part of the New Covenant is almost an afterthought.” Harkening back to our earlier discussion about what constitutes the supreme form of Catholic authority, surely comments like this don’t help the Protestant misunderstanding that Catholicism places its magisterium above the biblical text.

    Thanks David, Chris

  18. Bryan:

    I want to second Chris Castaldo’s praise for your #11 and #12.

    One constantly hears the charge that even definitive magisterial statements doom to us an endless “hermeneutical spiral” that leaves the Catholic in no better a position than the Protestant. That is essentially a version of the tu quoque charge we’ve taken pains to rebut. What’s good about your responses here is that they explain why the charge is false. The process of interpreting the sources through the Magisterium, and the Magisterium through theologians and the faithful, is indeed open-ended. But because some of the stages are magisterially definitive, and can be magisterially clarified over time, the results of the process are cumulative. Some things just are clarified by being settled.

    Best,
    Mike

  19. Thanks Tom for the Pope Benedict quote. What an amazing biblical theologian this pontiff is. There is much here that we evangelicals agree with. For instance, here is an excerpt to which, in a certian sense at least, we would say ‘amen!’

    “Without this surviving and living agent, the Church, Scripture would not be contemporary with us; it could then no longer combine, as is its true nature, synchronic and diachronic existence, history and the present day, but would fall back into a past that cannot be recalled; it would become literature that one interpreted in the way one can interpret literature… This viva vox is not there to restrict the authority of Scripture or to limit it or even replace it by the existence of another-on the contrary, it is its task to ensure that Scripture is not disposable, cannot be manipulated, to preserve its proper perspicuitas, its clear meaning from the conflict of hypotheses.”

    The reason why I feel comfortable with a qualified “amen” is that I too understand the church (the community of men and women whose lives bear witness to being in Christ) to be the appointed body, the viva vox, that proclaims the truth of divine revelation. Through Spirit empowered proclamation, the ancient documents of Scripture are explained and applied with contemporary relevance and power.

    Thanks brother, Chris

  20. Don’t mean to take to conversation on a tangent,

    Just wanted to ask Chris Christaldo something in respond this:

    I still don’t fully see where the Old Testament is concerned with this distinction, that is, where it has a revealed interest in this issue of getting a dogmatic interpretation of the text for the community of faith.

    What do you make of Exodus 18:13-26 ?

  21. To Mike’s point, Protestants probably have “settled” a lot more than they get credit for. Sure we don’t call it a magisterium and punctuate certain tenets with the words “de fide,” but I’ll tell you that there are pretty clear doctrinal parameters within which I operate and if step over these lines, there will be real consequences (as there should be). In this case the *concept* of de fide is alive and well. CC

  22. Chris,

    Yes, the Holy Father is a theologian’s theologian. Hahn’s book on Benedict demonstrates the ability of Benedict as a Biblical Theologian.

    Of course, when you say, rightly, that you are not advocating a “me and my Bible” approach and state your appreciation for the importance of the Church as the appointed body of believers that proclaims the truths of divine revelation, it does legitimately lead to the question, “which Church is that appointed body given by Christ to speak for Him, act for Him, rule for Him, bind for Him, in other words, which Church, of all the churches that could possibly lay claim to this, could it be?” How does one, how would one be able to discover this appointed body given by Christ?

  23. Chris (re: #13)

    You wrote:

    However, I still don’t fully see where the Old Testament is concerned with this distinction, that is, where it has a revealed interest in this issue of getting a dogmatic interpretation of the text for the community of faith. Sure there were individuals specially trained to teach the word of the Lord, but as far as I can see, they didn’t do it in any sort of magisterium.

    The task of teaching the people from the law belonged especially to the priesthood of Aaron and his sons through every generation. After Moses wrote the law, he “gave it to the priests the sons of Levi, who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord.” (Deut 31:9) The Levitical priests had stewardship or “charge” over the law (cf. Deut 17:18). And when Moses gave his final blessing over each of the tribes of Israel, when he came to the tribe of Levi he prophesied: “They shall teach Jacob your ordinances, and Israel your law.” (Deut 33:10) The Levitical priests were not only stewards of the scrolls; they were stewards of the proper understanding and explanation of what was written upon them. God told Aaron that throughout the generations of his sons, they were to “teach the sons of Israel all the statutes which the LORD has spoken to them by Moses.” (Lev 10:11) When there were questions about the interpretation of the law, the people were to go up to the place the Lord would choose, where the [Levitical] priest “ministers before the Lord,” and they were to consult the Levitical priests (Deut 17:9), and the priests would declare their decision. And in these cases the people were to do according to all the direction of the priests. “The man who acts presumptuously, by not obeying the priest who stands to minister there before the LORD your God, or the judge, that man shall die.” (Deut 17:12) Moses exhorted the people to “diligently observe and do according to all that the Levitical priests teach you; as I have commanded them, so you shall be careful to do.” (Deut 24:8) The Levites were to “declare to all the men of Israel” the curses of the law (Deut 27:14).

    The author of 2 Chronicles connects having the law, with having a “teaching priest,” precisely because the exposition of the law belonged to the Levitical priests. The author writes, “For a long time Israel was without the true God, and without a teaching priest, and without law.” (2 Chron 15:3) It wasn’t as though the scrolls were missing. But, without a teaching priest, it was as if there were no law. And when Jehoshaphat set out to restore the people to the Lord, he did not simply make copies of the scrolls and have them each read them. Instead, he sent authorized teachers (including a group of Levitical priests) to the cities of Judah, to teach the people from the “book of the law.” (2 Chron 17:9) Likewise, it was no accident that Ezra the priest and “the Levites … helped the people to understand the law … And they [Ezra and the Levites] read from the book, from the law of God with interpretation, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.” (Neh 8:7-8)

    But the priests had their teaching authority not fundamentally because of any academic training they had received, but fundamentally because of their succession from Aaron, whom God had divinely chosen to be the high priest, and to whom and to his descendants God had given the task of teaching and interpreting the law for the people. In this respect the Levitical priesthood was like the magisterium of the Church, because the teaching and interpretive authority of the Levitical priests was not in virtue of their intelligence or academic training, but in virtue of their divine calling as descendants of Aaron. Same with the Apostles and their successors. Divine teaching authority in the Church is not reducible to academic authority. God chose the weak and foolish, fishermen and tax collectors, to be the foundation stones of the Church (Eph 2:20, Rev 21:14).

    Foreseeing the Church, by the Spirit, the prophet Isaiah wrote:

    Now it will come about that in the last days the mountain of the house of the LORD will be established as the chief of the mountains, and will be raised above the hills. And all the nations will stream to it. And many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob, that He may teach us concerning His ways, and that we may walk in His paths.” For the law will go forth from Zion, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. (Isaiah 2:2-3)

    Notice that he does not say that people will turn to their Bibles to be taught, or that their teaching authority will be a book. The “house of the Lord” is the Church. It is the “chief of the mountains.” According to the prophet, it is to the Church that the peoples will stream so that God may teach them concerning His ways. The law goes forth from Zion (i.e. the Church). The word of the LORD goes forth from Jerusalem (i.e. the Church). Even if you didn’t see the necessary relationship of book to interpreter anywhere else in the Old Testament, here we see the Old Testament telling us that in the New Covenant era, the way people will learn what is the “law” and the “word of the LORD” is in, from, and through the Church. Yes, it will be from Scripture, but Scripture-within-the-bosom-of-the-Church.

    Next you wrote:

    It is at this point that your explanation appears to be slightly unfair toward Protestants. Not all of us understand biblical interpretation as “me and my Bible.” Some of us are interested in interpretive communities that have consensus and accountability. In other words, it’s not necessarily an either/or: full blown magisterium or entirely subjective, private interpretation.

    I respectfully disagree with you on this point, because, as Neal and I have argued elsewhere, with respect to the locus of interpretive authority, there is no principled difference between the me-and-my-Bible approach, and collecting together a group of persons holding like-minded interpretations and appointing one or some of them to have ‘authority.’ If I pick people to be my ‘authority’ on the basis of their agreement with my interpretation of Scripture, then they have no actual authority, because as soon as they sufficiently disagree with my interpretation of Scripture, the basis for their ‘authority’ is thus removed. And the general principle with respect to authority is: “If I submit (only when I agree), the one to whom I submit, is me.” And in this middle position, the ‘authority’ is still ultimately based on agreement with one’s own interpretation of Scripture. So the middle position you propose, is, in my opinion, not actually a genuine middle position between apostolic succession on the one hand, and solo scriptura on the other hand; this middle position is only a collective (as opposed to individual) exercise of solo scriptura.

    Sometimes I wonder if part of the sharp difference between our positions is the concern that we bring to conversation. Catholics are concerned with doctrinal unity, and are happy to let a magisterium determine the content of that unity. Protestants are primarily concerned with allowing the text to speak for itself and are concerned (at at times neurotic) about not allowing humans to pigeon hole the text’s meaning. I realize of course from a Catholic point of view, it’s not “mere humans” who are doing this work, and your next post on apostolic succession will make this case; but for those of us who are less than persuaded by the succession concept, this is how it may appear.

    I agree that this is how the Catholic position appears from the Protestant point of view. Truly it requires more faith to be a Catholic than to be a Protestant, precisely for this reason. The Protestant need only believe that Scripture is divinely inspired. The Catholic must believe not only that Scripture is divinely inspired, but also that the Church is divinely guided in interpreting and explicating the deposit of faith. And so the rationalist solution tries to cut out the need for a divinely appointed interpretive authority, by positing that we just allow “the text to speak for itself.” Such a proposal means that in a certain sense, I don’t have to trust any human in order to exercise faith. All questions of faith can be verified or falsified to my own satisfaction, by examining the Scriptures for myself. But, from a Catholic point of view, not trusting the Church in her divinely appointed role as steward and interpreter of Scripture, is a deficiency of faith (not necessarily a culpable deficiency, but a deficiency nonetheless). St. Thomas explains how faith necessarily is exercised through the Church — see “St. Thomas Aquinas on the Relation of Faith to the Church.” We are not called to trust Christ by trusting our own interpretation of Scripture, but to trust Christ by trusting the Church He founded and in which His Spirit lives and operates.

    The greater one’s understanding of the Tradition, the more one is able to interpret Scripture rightly. Without that tradition, one will fall into all sorts of very serious interpretive errors. For this reason, the notion of “allowing the text speak for itself” is a false abstraction, because it fails to recognize that the fuller and essential context of the text is the community to whom this text was entrusted. See the last paragraph in my “The Tradition and the Lexicon,” where I quoted Pope Benedict XVI, who wrote:

    “In the Church, Sacred Scripture, the understanding of which increases under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and the ministry of its authentic interpretation that was conferred upon the Apostles, are indissoluably bound. Whenever Sacred Scripture is separated from the living voice of the Church, it falls prey to disputes among experts. Of course what they have to tell us is important and invaluable; …. Yet science alone cannot provide us with a definitive and binding interpretation; it is unable to offer us, in its interpretation, that certainty with which we can live and for which we can even die. A greater mandate is necessary for this, which cannot derive from human abilities alone. The voice of the living Church is essential for this, of the Church entrusted until the end of time to Peter and to the College of the Apostles.”

    I’d be very glad to correspond with you by email. Just use the ‘Contact’ tab above.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  24. Chris Castaldo;

    First, was there anything like a Catholic magisterium in the Old Covenant, that is, in the life of ancient Israel? If not, why then is it necessary for there to be one in the new covenant Church?

    In the Old Covenant one did in fact have a magisterium; a teaching authority. It was called the Sanhedrin. Christ even pointed out the importance of keeping their commandments, even if they were hypocrites who didn’t live up to it themselves: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice.” (Matt 23,2-3. RSV)

    They had authority, and this authority never left Israel. The Church = Israel.[1]

    Second, does the magisterium truly liberate one from the circle (or spiral) of interpretation?

    Yes it does. The circularity of protestant ecclesiology refers to the fact that they claim to be holding to ‘Sola Scripura,’ because the Scriptures (supposedly[2]) claim that they are the only revealed truth. This is circular. There is nothing circular about the Church. She gets her authority from the Lord and gives authority – that is, makes authoritative[3] – the Scriptures. A straight line.

    —————–
    [1] Some people call this ‘replacement theology.’ That’s silly. No one has been ‘replaced.’ The first Christians were Jews. But now Israel isn’t just for Jews, it’s also open for Gentiles. To call this ‘replacement theology’ is a bit like saying that an adopted child isn’t really part of the family s/he’s adopted into, but part of a ‘new’ family, with the ‘old’ family still in existence.

    [2] The Scriptures doesn’t in fact do this. The clearest example is 1Tim 3:15.

    [3] One point I often make is that the Bible doesn’t have authority. It cannot have. Ever. A piece of writing cannot have authority. It can, however, be authoritative, which is a different. It’s like the relationship between a state and its constitution. The latter is authoritative; the former has authority.

  25. Chris (#21):

    To Mike’s point, Protestants probably have “settled” a lot more than they get credit for. Sure we don’t call it a magisterium and punctuate certain tenets with the words “de fide,” but I’ll tell you that there are pretty clear doctrinal parameters within which I operate and if step over these lines, there will be real consequences (as there should be). In this case the *concept* of de fide is alive and well.

    To such a point, Tom Riello’s question in #22 is an apt response. I’ll put it in my own way: What is the ecclesial authority, recognized as such an authority by “Protestants,” which has “settled” any doctrinal questions?

    The answer is that there are as many such authorities as there are Protestant denominations. If a member of such a denomination decides that the authorities thereof are wrong about a point of doctrine he considers important, all he’s usually got to do is drive a few blocks and join a church of another denomination that he believes commits no such error. And that, in turn, is why Bryan’s argument in #23, addressed to you, is also apt:

    I respectfully disagree with you on this point, because, as Neal and I have argued elsewhere, with respect to the locus of interpretive authority, there is no principled difference between the me-and-my-Bible approach, and collecting together a group of persons holding like-minded interpretations and appointing one or some of them to have ‘authority.’ If I pick people to be my ‘authority’ on the basis of their agreement with my interpretation of Scripture, then they have no actual authority, because as soon as they sufficiently disagree with my interpretation of Scripture, the basis for their ‘authority’ is thus removed. And the general principle with respect to authority is: “If I submit (only when I agree), the one to whom I submit, is me.” And in this middle position, the ‘authority’ is still ultimately based on agreement with one’s own interpretation of Scripture. So the middle position you propose, is, in my opinion, not actually a genuine middle position between apostolic succession on the one hand, and solo scriptura on the other hand; this middle position is only a collective (as opposed to individual) exercise of solo scriptura.

    Best,
    Mike

  26. Kjetil,

    Your footnote #1 is about the best, concise response to the charge “replacement theology” I’ve ever come across. I definitely have to use this in the future (with full credits to you, of course!).

  27. Kjetil,

    Some people call this ‘replacement theology.’ That’s silly. No one has been ‘replaced.’

    Right. The Church is the continuation of the authentic sacramental authority that God had granted to the pre-crucifixion Jewish Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin wasn’t “replaced” in the strict sense. The Father carried what Christ said he would in his parable of the vineyard and husbandmen. Many of the Fathers draw the point of “schism” of the Jewish Sanhedrin at the point of Christ’s death on the Cross (the Church being born from Christ’s side). When they crucified their Incarnate God, they effectively made manifest their officially rebellion to the vineyard owner. Thus, they chose schism rather than continuity, they chose to “give up” their authority to those whom the Father, through the Son, by the Holy Spirit ordained as Apostles.

  28. Joe;

    Yes, they forfeited – or rather; gave up – their authority when they crucified the Lord. It’s a basic covenant structure; the covenant can be broken – and then the covenant curses come into play.

    But I also wanted to elaborate on one o my points, in footnote #3. I wrote: “The latter [Scripture] is authoritative; the former [the Magisterium] has authority.”

    I would like to build upon my state-and-constitution-image. For the authority of a state to make laws doesn’t mean that once thay have made a law, no other laws can be made binding. That would really be silly. Of course no laws can contradict the constitution – and the Lord keeps the M;agisterium from doing that in the case of Scripture. But that doesn’t mean that other laws and regulations aren’t binding.

    We wouldn’t say that the US Constitution prohibits the making of new laws. If that’s the case, why say that Scripture prohibits this? (Especially when that is nowhere to be found in Scripture.)

  29. New guy here – Reformed for many years, but certainly wrestling with RC these last few.

    Kjetil,

    I like your analogy, but it is worth noting that new laws are made all the time that are in fact un-constitutional. Is this possible for the Church as well? If we continue to use the chair of Moses and the Old Covenant model as our guide, then I would say absolutely. Matthew 15 / Mark 7 certainly show Jesus contrasting God’s command with the traditions of men who had authority.

    On the one hand we gave Matt. 23 just a few chapters later telling the audience to “practice and observe whatever they tell you”, but in Mark 7 we have Jesus declaring all foods clean in contrast to the Law and/or traditions of the Pharisees. What do we do about that?

    I guess my point in all of this – and I’m sure you’re all very familiar with this as most of you come from Reformed backgrounds – is that the Protestant contention with RC is just that. Somewhere along the line, things got off track and God’s commandments were exchanged for the traditions of man once again and this needed some “reforming” to get back on track. I don’t want to get into specific doctrines as that has been hashed over many times and wouldn’t really serve any purpose as far as this discussion is concerned. Right now, I’m just going for the “big picture” view of things – yes, we understand the concept of how things worked in OT Israel and yes, we understand that men had their way and screwed it up.

    Tempted as you may be, there’s no need to point out the inconsistencies in Protestantism to me…I wouldn’t be here if I thought they didn’t exist:)

  30. Thanks Bryan,

    Your explanations are wonderfully clear and helpful.

    Protestants are very comfortable affirming the need and importance of an OT priesthood (the “teaching priest”) in his job of teaching God’s word. Granted, there are many Protestants today who have sold their doctrinal birthright for a measly bowl of privatized porridge overflowing with pragmatism and individualism. This is a travesty which we deserve to be called out on and repent of. However, some of us in the Protestant corner of the church put a high premium upon teaching and preaching.

    Your point about the precedent of succession from Aaron is interesting. My reluctance of applying that to the church in terms of a magisterium, though, is two-fold. First, while they were official teachers, they still don’t claim to have the infallible authority of the Catholic magisterium. Second, the way in which Jesus’ office of priest applies (along with prophet and king) extends to the entire church, not simply to the bishops (Heb 7, cf. 1 Pet 2:5, 9). The distinction between a common and hierarchical priesthood is something that I just don’t see in the New Testament. In other words, apart from Jesus, no individual member of a Christian community is described as a priest in the NT. Only in post-biblical times did some of the terms used to denote Christian leaders come to signify an office like that of the OT priesthood; these included the Greek presbyteros, properly ‘elder’, but also translated ‘priest’. However, the Christian community, that is, the Church, as a whole is described as ‘a royal priesthood’ (1 Pet. 2:9, cf. v. 5), that is, a holy people devoted to the service of God and his kingdom. This language recalls that of Exodus 19:6; other OT texts, such as Genesis 12:1–3; Isaiah 2:2–4; and Psalm 96, represent Israel as playing a mediatorial, and thus in a wider sense priestly, role. Exodus 19:6 has also probably influenced Revelation 1:6, ‘[Christ] has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father’, and 5:10 and 20:6, which also refer to the royal and priestly dignity of the Christian community. Therefore, in the corporate solidarity of Jesus’ priesthood, the role priest is democratized to the entire church. Some individuals with the gift and calling to teach will exercise it in a more formal sense, but all of God’s people have the privilege and responsibility to teach God’s word (the pastoral significance of this is profound when you consider the need, for instance, of Moms and Dads to disciple their children and to feed one another).

    You write: “If I pick people to be my ‘authority’ on the basis of their agreement with my interpretation of Scripture, then they have no actual authority, because as soon as they sufficiently disagree with my interpretation of Scripture, the basis for their ‘authority’ is thus removed.”

    I think this statement gets close to the heart of our difference. The Catholic position looks to find authority in a human magisterium. Along this line Kjetil draws a distinction between this “authority” and the “authoritative” texts of Scripture, the former pertaining to people and the latter to documents. However, in my humble opinion, this misunderstands the nature of the biblical text. Because of the correlation of Jesus the living Word and Jesus the written word (John 1; 1 Jn. 1), Scripture is far more than an authoritative document like the US Constitution. It is the Word *of God*. Precisely because it is God-breathed, it has a personal character unlike any other form of writing, which is why Jesus castigated the religious leaders of his day for positing themselves as an authority alongside of it. So, in Matthew 23:13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in…. I’m not suggesting that the Catholic magisterium correlates to the Jewish leaders of Jesus day; yet it’s always a danger, indeed, even for Protestant clergy, for us to posit ourselves as a form of divine authority instead pointing people to God’s word.

    The fact that there are different congregations and that people move from one to another doesn’t trouble me, so long as they are being faithful to the word of God and their conscience; what troubles me is when people do it for the wrong reasons (i.e., consumerism) and fail to carry it out in a way that reflects the honest, humble, loving virtue of Christ. In other words, if for instance I begin to emphasize an idea in my preaching ministry, some distinctive like charismatic renewal or if my Calvinism comes across too strongly for someone, I wouldn’t be particularly troubled if a man came to me expressing his interest of going to another church for that reason. I would just want the privilege of talking with him about it and shepherding him through the transition. All Protestants at some level resonate with Luther’s statement at worms, “My conscience is captive to the word of God, and it is neither safe nor wise to act in violation of one’s conscience.”

    You also write: “But, from a Catholic point of view, not trusting the Church in her divinely appointed role as steward and interpreter of Scripture, is a deficiency of faith (not necessarily a culpable deficiency, but a deficiency nonetheless).”

    Here is a little candid disclosure… I would really like to have a Catholic magisterium. It takes a lot of work to be a Protestant, figuring out what you believe. I’d love to have a teaching office that pronounces infallibly upon matters of faith and practice. However, frankly, and with the utmost respect, I’m just not convinced. I don’t pretend to be a scholar of church history, but having read a little in this area, book for instance like Eamon Duffy’s Saints and Sinners, I see too many parts of the story that undermine its reliability. Whether it is heretical pope’s like Honorius I being condemned by the 6th General Council for teaching the monothelite heresy (and confirmed by Pope Leo III), the shenanigans of G.P. Cardinal Caraffa surrounding Reginald Pole’s election and the Council of Trent, or the debates between the traditionalists and progressives during Vatican II (although I do love Pope John XXIII, I must admit), I struggle with embracing the magisterium as the divinely appointed steward of Scripture. Some of you will want to quickly retort, but that’s the beauty of this mystery, through the weakness of people God exercise supernatural power. I appreciate that, but as of yet, I just don’t see it. But who knows, maybe I simply need to learn more, and if anyone can teach me, the sharp theologians of Called to Communion are poised to do so.

    Please forgive me if I don’t get to respond to further comments on this string. I’m heading out for a two week ministry trip to Italy where I’ll be preaching, teaching and doing evangelism on some university campuses (people are staying in my house, so no funny business). The highlight of course will be visiting Rome, where all of us, even evangelical pastors, find something to love about the Catholic Church. Yours, Chris

  31. I’ll answer Nathan and Chris in one post.

    Nathan;

    I like your analogy, but it is worth noting that new laws are made all the time that are in fact un-constitutional.

    Yes, any image (or most) will at one point or another break down.

    Is this possible for the Church as well?

    I believe that God keeps the Magisterium from doing that. If I didn’t, I wold also have to ask the same question about the Scriptures. How — apart from the doctrine of the infallibility of the Magisterium — do we know that for example Matthew and John are sound and true?

    If we continue to use the chair of Moses and the Old Covenant model as our guide, then I would say absolutely. Matthew 15 / Mark 7 certainly show Jesus contrasting God’s command with the traditions of men who had authority.

    He didn’t. Nowhere in the Bible will you find that Jesus repudiated their doctrine. He did in fact, as I have already shown, tell people to hold fast to these doctrines, even if the ones with authority were hypocrites who didn’t live up to it themselves: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice.” (Matt 23,2-3. RSV)

    On the one hand we gave Matt. 23 just a few chapters later telling the audience to “practice and observe whatever they tell you”, but in Mark 7 we have Jesus declaring all foods clean in contrast to the Law and/or traditions of the Pharisees. What do we do about that?

    Where in the Mishna or Talmud do yo find these laws? Does it say that these were laws, or that they were things that they practiced?

    Chris;

    Along this line Kjetil draws a distinction between this “authority” and the “authoritative” texts of Scripture, the former pertaining to people and the latter to documents. However, in my humble opinion, this misunderstands the nature of the biblical text. Because of the correlation of Jesus the living Word and Jesus the written word (John 1; 1 Jn. 1), Scripture is far more than an authoritative document like the US Constitution. It is the Word *of God*. Precisely because it is God-breathed, it has a personal character unlike any other form of writing, which is why Jesus castigated the religious leaders of his day for positing themselves as an authority alongside of it.

    First; where does it say that the Logos has anything to do with the Bible (directly)?

    Second; you seem to misunderstand the very nature of text as such. A piece of writing cannot have authority. Ever. It is a category mistake. The Bible is authoritative, but it doesn’t have authority. Can you please explain why this simple distinction doesn’t apply to the Bible? Are you not here mistaking Christ for the Bible?

    Third; it’s quite true that the Bible is different from “an authoritative document like the US Constitution.” But the reason it’s different is not because it is something ‘magical’ about it’s textuality (if that’s even a word), but because of its source: the former has a secular, fallible source; the former has a divine source: God, who gave us the Scriptures through His Church. In acts 2,42 we read that the first Christians, amongst other things, “devoted themselves to the doctrine of the Apostles.” It didn’t say that they kept ‘the doctrine of the God.’ Of course the ultimate source is God — but the Apostles had authority to speak on His behalf.

    Fourth; 2Tim 3:16 cannot be used as ‘evidence’ that the New Testament is ‘God-breathed.’ It could only apply to the Old Testament. This much is shown in 2Tim 3:15 (RSV): “…and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” He couldn’t have been ‘acquainted with the’ New Testament from childhood. And furthermore, it must be said that Timothy was a diaspora jew, which mean that the writings he had been acquainted with from childhood probably was some form of the Septuagint, and probably included the Deuterocanon (which is often erroneously called the ‘Apocrypha’). In fact; they probably didn’t have a canon at all — we know of no Jewish Canon before the rabbinical movements after Christ. (They were probably content with having their magisterium.)

  32. Chris, (re: #30)

    The problem vis-à-vis solo scriptura is not whether someone puts a high premium upon teaching and preaching. If I pick my “teachers and preachers” based on their agreement with my interpretation of Scripture, then I’m no less engaged in solo scriptura than is the guy who stays home and reads his personal Bible on Sunday mornings (or attends ‘Virtual Church’ via the internet).

    I didn’t clam that the Levitical priests were infallible interpreters. My point was that under the Old Covenant, Scripture did not free-float as an authority, but functioned authoritatively only as-interpreted-by-the-Levitical-priests. Likewise, under the New Covenant, Scripture functions as an ecclesial authority as-interpreted-by-the-successors-of-the-Apostles, not as free-floating, nor as interpreted-by-those-who-agree-with-my-interpretation.

    As for whether there is a distinction under the New Covenant between the baptismal priesthood, which is universal, and the ministerial priesthood, which depends upon receiving Holy Orders, nothing in Hebrews 7 teaches that there is no such distinction. And 1 Peter 2:5,9 is about the baptismal priesthood. The Catechism explains this distinction:

    Christ, high priest and unique mediator, has made of the Church “a kingdom, priests for his God and Father.” The whole community of believers is, as such, priestly. The faithful exercise their baptismal priesthood through their participation, each according to his own vocation, in Christ’s mission as priest, prophet, and king. Through the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation the faithful are “consecrated to be . . . a holy priesthood.”

    The ministerial or hierarchical priesthood of bishops and priests, and the common priesthood of all the faithful participate, “each in its own proper way, in the one priesthood of Christ.” While being “ordered one to another,” they differ essentially. In what sense? While the common priesthood of the faithful is exercised by the unfolding of baptismal grace –a life of faith, hope, and charity, a life according to the Spirit–, the ministerial priesthood is at the service of the common priesthood. It is directed at the unfolding of the baptismal grace of all Christians. The ministerial priesthood is a means by which Christ unceasingly builds up and leads his Church. For this reason it is transmitted by its own sacrament, the sacrament of Holy Orders. (CCC 1546-1547)

    And if you deny this distinction [between the baptismal priesthood and the ministerial priesthood], then presumably you don’t mind if any believer consecrates bread and grape juice in his kitchen, or in his car, or at the office. If any Christian can consecrate the bread and grape juice, then pastors aren’t needed to do this. In that case there isn’t any essential difference between ‘church’ and ‘parachurch.’ Likewise, if you deny the distinction between baptismal priesthood and ministerial priesthood, then since Jesus said, “If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained” (John 20:23), not only could you forgive the sins of the whole world if you so chose, but so could any other believer. In addition, if Joe forgives all of Bob’s sins, and Tom retains all of Bob’s sins, would Bob be forgiven or unforgiven? (This is a dilemma only for those who deny the distinction, and who don’t have an essentially unified magisterium.) Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m guessing that you’ve never retained anyone’s sins. Neither have I, because I know I don’t have the authority to do so. But the Apostles and their successors do have this authority. It did not disappear with the death of the Apostle John at the end of the first century, nor did anyone in the early Church think such authority had been lost when he died. Here’s a quotation from St. John Chrysostom, (A.D. 347-407) bishop of Constantinople, concerning the ministerial priesthood:

    For if any one will consider how great a thing it is for one, being a man, and compassed with flesh and blood, to be enabled to draw near to that blessed and pure nature, he will then clearly see what great honor the grace of the Spirit has vouchsafed to priests; since by their agency these rites are celebrated, and others nowise inferior to these both in respect of our dignity and our salvation. For they who inhabit the earth and make their abode there are entrusted with the administration of things which are in Heaven, and have received an authority which God has not given to angels or archangels. For it has not been said to them, Whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven, and whatsoever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven. (Matthew 18:18) They who rule on earth have indeed authority to bind, but only the body: whereas this binding lays hold of the soul and penetrates the heavens; and what priests do here below God ratifies above, and the Master confirms the sentence of his servants. For indeed what is it but all manner of heavenly authority which He has given them when He says, Whose sins ye remit they are remitted, and whose sins ye retain they are retained? (John 20:23) What authority could be greater than this? The Father has committed all judgment to the Son? (John 5:22) But I see it all put into the hands of these men by the Son. For they have been conducted to this dignity as if they were already translated to Heaven, and had transcended human nature, and were released from the passions to which we are liable. Moreover, if a king should bestow this honor upon any of his subjects, authorizing him to cast into prison whom he pleased and to release them again, he becomes an object of envy and respect to all men; but he who has received from God an authority as much greater as heaven is more precious than earth, and souls more precious than bodies, seems to some to have received so small an honor that they are actually able to imagine that one of those who have been entrusted with these things will despise the gift. Away with such madness! For transparent madness it is to despise so great a dignity, without which it is not possible to obtain either our own salvation, or the good things which have been promised to us. For if no one can enter into the kingdom of Heaven except he be regenerate through water and the Spirit, and he who does not eat the flesh of the Lord and drink His blood is excluded from eternal life, and if all these things are accomplished only by means of those holy hands, I mean the hands of the priest, how will any one, without these, be able to escape the fire of hell, or to win those crowns which are reserved for the victorious?

    These verily are they who are entrusted with the pangs of spiritual travail and the birth which comes through baptism: by their means we put on Christ, and are buried with the Son of God, and become members of that blessed Head. Wherefore they might not only be more justly feared by us than rulers and kings, but also be more honored than parents; since these begot us of blood and the will of the flesh, but the others are the authors of our birth from God, even that blessed regeneration which is the true freedom and the sonship according to grace. The Jewish priests had authority to release the body from leprosy, or, rather, not to release it but only to examine those who were already released, and you know how much the office of priest was contended for at that time. But our priests have received authority to deal, not with bodily leprosy, but spiritual uncleanness— not to pronounce it removed after examination, but actually and absolutely to take it away. Wherefore they who despise these priests would be far more accursed than Dathan and his company, and deserve more severe punishment. For the latter, although they laid claim to the dignity which did not belong to them, nevertheless had an excellent opinion concerning it, and this they evinced by the great eagerness with which they pursued it; but these men, when the office has been better regulated, and has received so great a development, have displayed an audacity which exceeds that of the others, although manifested in a contrary way. For there is not an equal amount of contempt involved in aiming at an honor which does not pertain to one, and in despising such great advantages, but the latter exceeds the former as much as scorn differs from admiration. What soul then is so sordid as to despise such great advantages? None whatever, I should say, unless it were one subject to some demoniacal impulse. For I return once more to the point from which I started: not in the way of chastising only, but also in the way of benefiting, God has bestowed a power on priests greater than that of our natural parents. The two indeed differ as much as the present and the future life. For our natural parents generate us unto this life only, but the others unto that which is to come. And the former would not be able to avert death from their offspring, or to repel the assaults of disease; but these others have often saved a sick soul, or one which was on the point of perishing, procuring for some a milder chastisement, and preventing others from falling altogether, not only by instruction and admonition, but also by the assistance wrought through prayers. For not only at the time of regeneration, but afterwards also, they have authority to forgive sins. Is any sick among you? it is said, let him call for the elders of the Church and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up: and if he have committed sins they shall be forgiven him. (James 5:14-15) Again: our natural parents, should their children come into conflict with any men of high rank and great power in the world, are unable to profit them: but priests have reconciled, not rulers and kings, but God Himself when His wrath has often been provoked against them.

    Well! After this will any one venture to condemn me for arrogance? For my part, after what has been said, I imagine such religious fear will possess the souls of the hearers that they will no longer condemn those who avoid the office for arrogance and temerity, but rather those who voluntarily come forward and are eager to obtain this dignity for themselves. For if they who have been entrusted with the command of cities, should they chance to be wanting in discretion and vigilance, have sometimes destroyed the cities and ruined themselves in addition, how much power think you both in himself and from above must he need, to avoid sinning, whose business it is to beautify the Bride of Christ? (On the Priesthood, Bk III)

    What St. Chrysostom says here was not anything surprising to his contemporaries. He was not saying anything new or innovative or different. He was not saying something that only a few bishops believed. He was saying what the whole, universal Church of his time believed. This was how the whole Church conceived of the ministerial priesthood. But, if you reject the distinction between the ministerial priesthood and the baptismal priesthood, then you have to conclude that the whole, universal Church fell into serious error, in its very infancy, without even a protest from anyone. And that presupposes the very same ecclesial deism we see in Mormonism.

    You present the evidence for the baptismal priesthood, and then say, “Therefore, in the corporate solidarity of Jesus’ priesthood, the role of priest is democratized to the entire church.” The role of priest is universalized under the New Covenant, insofar as each of us through our union with Christ in baptism becomes an intercessor for others, and, as members of his Mystical Body, the hands and feet of Christ to the world. But that does not mean that there is no place or role for the ministerial priesthood in the Church. In other words, the truth of the baptismal priesthood does not nullify the role or importance of the ministerial priesthood. I discussed that in more detail in my post titled, “Doug Wilson’s “Authority and Apostolic Succession”.” I agree that parents have a responsibility to teach the faith to their children, but that does not mean that each person has the right or equal authority to teach Scripture to the Church; that would be chaos. Only those who are authorized by the Church may teach in the Church. This is St. Francis de Sales’ argument against Protestantism, in his book titled The Catholic Controversy.

    You wrote:

    Because of the correlation of Jesus the living Word and Jesus the written word (John 1; 1 Jn. 1), Scripture is far more than an authoritative document like the US Constitution. It is the Word *of God*.

    This is a common mistake, and I addressed it in more detail in comment #104 of the ‘Calvin on Self-Authentication’ thread last year. If the written word were actually Jesus, then the written word would be God, and you would need to adore it as God. But God did not need to create the world. He freely created the world. (This is in opposition to those Greek philosophies in which it was necessary for God to create the world.) All the words that are written in Scripture, were spoken by God in creating and redeeming man. But since God did not need to create and redeem man, therefore all the words that are written in Scripture did not need to be spoken by God to man, because He did not need to create the world. The written word is contingent. But the Logos (i.e. the Second Person of the Trinity) was not created. This is where the Arians were wrong. The Logos is eternally begotten, not made, not created. And therefore the Logos is not contingent. So, because the written word is contingent, and because the Logos is not contingent, therefore the written word is not the Logos.

    To be fair, you didn’t say that the written word is the Logos; you said there is a “correlation” between the Logos and the written word. And I agree with that. But, you move from this correlation between the Logos and the divine inspiration of the Scriptures to the conclusion that the written word has a “personal character” unlike any other form of writing. Then you claim that because the Scriptures have this unique “personal character,” therefore Jesus castigates the religious leaders of His day for positing themselves an authority along side it. That’s all just a bit too fast. Yes, the scribes and Pharisees were hypocrites, neglected the weightier matters of the law, and placed their human traditions above God’s commandments. But the evil of those actions does not follow from or depend upon a unique “personal character” of Scripture. And the evil of those things is no less evil, given that there was a kind of magisterium in the seat of Moses. (Matt 23:1ff) In other words, the evil of those things is not dependent on the existence of a magisterial office, such that only if there was no magisterial office could those things be evil. So, that’s why it seems to me that your reasoning is a little too fast here. Catholics fully affirm the divine inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture. And we also affirm the divinely established interpretive authority in the form of the magisterium. And we also affirm the evil of hypocrisy, neglecting the weightier matters of the law, and placing human traditions above the command of God. And all three affirmations are fully compatible. There is no incompatibility in affirming a divinely established magisterium, the divine inspiration of Scripture, and the evil of what the scribes and Pharisees were doing. Their actions were even more evil precisely because they sat in the “seat of Moses,” and therefore had a greater responsibility before God. (cf. James 3:1)

    Then you wrote:

    I’m not suggesting that the Catholic magisterium correlates to the Jewish leaders of Jesus day; yet it’s always a danger, indeed, even for Protestant clergy, for us to posit ourselves as a form of divine authority instead pointing people to God’s word.

    Of course a priest or bishop could possibly think that he has more authority than Scripture. But if you don’t have any particular case in mind, then I’m not sure why you brought it up, except perhaps for innuendo. For Catholics, as I explained earlier, we don’t have to choose between Scripture having divine authority, and the Magisterium having divine interpretive and teaching authority. The two authorities are complementary, and neither functions properly apart from the other. If a person were to arrogate to himself the authority of a shepherd in the Church, that would be a grave sin. Jesus refers to such persons in John 10; these are the ones who do not enter by the door of the Church, but climb up some other way. Jesus refers to them as thieves and robbers. They are not the true shepherds of Christ’s flock. Woe faces them on Judgment Day, because without Christ’s authorization they have dared to present themselves as shepherds, and steal sheep from His flock. This is why apostolic succession is essential. Otherwise there would be no difference in authority between the true shepherd and the interloper. But the Apostles did not arrogate authority to themselves; they were given this divine authority from Christ. Likewise, their successors did not arrogate this authority to themselves; they were given it by Christ acting through the divinely authorized Apostles. And so on.

    The fact that there are different congregations and that people move from one to another doesn’t trouble me, so long as they are being faithful to the word of God and their conscience; what troubles me is when people do it for the wrong reasons (i.e., consumerism) and fail to carry it out in a way that reflects the honest, humble, loving virtue of Christ.

    I think the reason this doesn’t trouble you is that you don’t believe in a visible catholic Church, and therefore don’t recognize ‘schism from the Church’ as an intrinsic error. So your claim here depends on whether Christ founded a visible Church. See our article titled, “Christ Founded a Visible Church.” See also my post titled, “Why Protestantism has no ‘visible catholic Church’.”

    When you say that you just want people to be “faithful to the word of God,” what this really means is that you want them to be faithful to your interpretation of Scripture. And that is why there is an implicit presumption of magisterial authority in the very claim you are making. As for your statement about conscience, of course I agree that a person must never violate his conscience. But, a person with a poorly formed conscience can do much evil without violating his conscience. And therefore it is incumbent upon us all to seek to inform our conscience, so that it may be a more reliable guide. As the Catechism teaches:

    Conscience must be informed and moral judgment enlightened. A well-formed conscience is upright and truthful. It formulates its judgments according to reason, in conformity with the true good willed by the wisdom of the Creator. The education of conscience is indispensable for human beings who are subjected to negative influences and tempted by sin to prefer their own judgment and to reject authoritative teachings. (CCC 1783)

    You wrote:

    All Protestants at some level resonate with Luther’s statement at worms, “My conscience is captive to the word of God, and it is neither safe nor wise to act in violation of one’s conscience.”

    Precisely. This is the fundamental principle of Protestantism, the principle of the individual as his own ultimate interpretive authority. This is the very essence of solo scriptura, which Neal and I wrote about in our Solo Scriptura article.

    As for Pope Honorius, it would be poor reasoning to use an anti-Catholic assumption, to construct an argument against the Catholic Church. Yes, Pope Honorius I was condemned by the Sixth Council, but, in Catholic doctrine, the conclusions of an ecumenical council are binding and infallible only when they are ratified by the Pope, in the form in which he confirms them. And the Sixth Council (like every council) sent its decree to Pope Agatho for ratification, but Pope Agatho had died by that time, and Pope Leo II had succeeded him. Pope Leo II did ratify the decree of the Sixth Council, but only after making some changes to the charge against Pope Honorius I, to show that Pope Honorius I had not endorsed Sergius’ monothelitism, but had imprudently refrained from condemning it, and in this way permitted the growth of monothelitism. So it is not true that the supreme authority of the universal Church ever condemned Honorius I for heresy, even though you are correct that the council made that accusation against him.

    As for the actions of Caraffa concerning Pole’s election and the Council of Trent, and the debates between the traditionalists and progressives during Vatican II, you’ll have to explain why you think those are incompatible with the Church’s doctrine concerning infallibility. In my studies of these events I have not encountered anything incompatible with the Church’s doctrine of infallibility.

    May God give you protection and grace as you travel to Italy and Rome. Pray that we may all be reunited in the visible unity that Christ prayed in John 17 that His disciples would show to the world, as one flock with one shepherd (John 10:16).

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

    Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul.

  33. Thanks Bryan! I’m grateful for your thoughtfulness. I look forward to connecting when I return, dv.

  34. I’m on the side of Catholics here and am pretty sure I’m going to join the Catholic church in the near future but just for kicks and giggles I’m going to pick on the Catholic position and pull a tu quoque here. If I am wrong in any of these points then please feel free to demonstrate where I have erred. It seems Catholics have the same problem Protestants have in this area, though the Catholic argument is more elaborate and more reliable than the Protestant position, it still seems to be a circular argument.

    Protestant: What is the Apostolic Faith?
    Catholic: Whatever teaches Christ?
    Protestant: How do you know who teaches Christ?
    Catholic: The Scriptures.
    Protestant: Which Scriptures?
    Catholic: The Scriptures the church has decided are canonical.
    Protestant: Which church?
    Catholic: The one with Apostolic succession.
    Protestant: Which one with Apostolic succession, the Catholics, Anglicans or Orthodox?
    Catholic: The one that is in communion with the Bishop of Rome.
    Protestant: How do you know this is the right church among those with Apostolic succession?
    Catholic: This is how the early Church Fathers believed you could determine which church is the true church.
    Protestant: How do you know you are interpreting the Church Fathers correctly? The Orthodox would not agree with this interpretation of the Fathers.
    Catholic: The magisterium of the church interprets the Church Fathers for us.
    Protestant: How do you know you have the right magisterium?
    Catholic: Scripture and church tradition indicate so.
    Protestant: Whose interpretation of Scripture and tradition, the Catholics or Orthodox?
    Catholic: The church that has most faithfully been a pillar and foundation of truth.
    Protestant: How does one determine which church has most faithfully been a pillar and foundation of truth?

    I could drag this out further but I think the point is made. At this point it is pretty clear to see that any answer other than “Catholic: I simply must trust God that the Catholic church is the right church among those that have Apostolic succession” will result in an endless cycle. Attn Catholic brothers: please feel free to demonstrate where I’m missing the boat.

  35. Micheal Lofton,

    First, I like how you are thinking. I spent a lot of money and almost a year of my life trying to figure out the difference–ultimately I did and so now I’m Catholic. One question as it relates to this particular version of the tu quoque:

    What is the difference between knowing a “thing in reality” and knowing a proposition (how does the concept relate to the thing in reality)?

    On the one hand, you have churches saying that you cannot “find” The Church–because she is invisible–demarcated only by those who believe the “true gospel”. Thus, for this group, there is no “church” to discover like one would discover a snowy peak or a great body of water but only the “right message” to believe. On the other hand, you have churches–only a few albeit–who claim to be the visible Church Christ established. You have, undoubtedly, ruled out the Mormons and a few others. Thus, it appears, at first glance, that you have the Orthodox and the Catholic church in mind? You bring up a good point regarding Petrine primacy as the principal of unity. Let me ask you, while that unity functions as a conceptually true statement, how does it function in reality (concept relate to the thing it is relating)? In other words, is it true–not merely because it appears to be logical but that it appears in reality to be something you should apprehend?

    This is where things go a little off the rails:

    (1) Catholic: The magisterium of the church interprets the Church Fathers for us.
    (2) Protestant: How do you know you have the right magisterium?
    (3) Protestant: Whose interpretation of Scripture and tradition, the Catholics or Orthodox?
    (4) Catholic: The church that has most faithfully been a pillar and foundation of truth.
    (5) Protestant: How does one determine which church has most faithfully been a pillar and foundation of truth?

    1 is not true. The Catholic Church does not interpret the Church Fathers. She interprets the deposit of faith which was given to her by Christ.

    2 is an awkward question. What other Magisteriums are you thinking about?

    3 mixes up first order and second order questions. I identify the Church Christ founded first, then I learn right doctrine (interpretation of Sacred Scripture and Tradition–the deposit of faith)

    4 begs the question. No Catholic should say that. They should say, “The Church that is the Church Jesus founded”

    5 “Most faithfully” puts “The Church” in the realm of theory. As if, someone can be “most likely” my wife or “most likely” be my kids” or “most likely” be the Son of God. She is either The Church Jesus founded or she is not. It is true, that you and I have to make a decision to personally commit to a position–but that is just what we do as human beings. The subjective quality of assent should not be confused with the more or less objectivity of facts.

    Peace to you on your journey,

    Brent

  36. Hey Michael,

    I agree that we must “simply trust God that the Catholic church is the right church….” But I do think that there are problems with the idea that, apart from faith, we are left with merely circular arguments for Catholicism. Some Catholics do offer (and have made here) a kind of transcendental argument for the Catholic Church. However, this argument should not be mistaken for an inappropriately circular argument. Let me try to first explain what the appeal to Apostolic Succession is supposed to achieve in our lead article on “Sola Scriptura, Solo Scriptura, and the Question of Interpretive Authority” (which provides the context for Tim’s video), and then apply this sort of argument to the matter of discerning which communion, among those preserving the sacramental Apostolic Succession of bishops, one is to follow.

    With reference to the question of interpretive authority (i.e., teaching authority in the Church), we have appealed to Apostolic Succession, not as a means of avoiding private judgment completely, but as providing a “content independent” point of reference for interpretive authority in the Church (not only a particular church, but the universal Church), such that interpretive authority in the Church, and the identification of those who have this interpretive authority, does not depend upon agreement with the individual’s interpretation of Scripture.

    For Catholics, Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox (along with those Anglican and Lutheran parties who put some stock in their communion’s tactile succession), the preservation and acceptance of Apostolic Succession provides a means of identifying who has interpretive authority in the Church, quite apart from comparing the teaching of the college of bishops with the content of Sacred Scripture. This does not prove that Apostolic Succession is true, but the argument is not designed to prove this. It is only designed to show that if Apostolic Succession is true, then there is a way to know who has ultimate interpretive authority in the Church, and that one need not hold the putative authority to the standard of one’s own interpretation of Scripture (thus implicitly arrogating ultimate interpretive authority to oneself) in order to know that it in fact has this authority.

    The problem you raise in the hypothetical dialogue has to do with a situation, which in fact obtains, and has obtained very often in the history of the Church, where a bishop or group of bishops, validly ordained, is not teaching (nor otherwise exercising ministry) in communion with the college of bishops rightly united in the universal Church. The implicit question is: How does one distinguish between a schism (with validly ordained bishops) and the universal Church herself (with validly ordained bishops)? The answer to that question will involve one in the same sort of inquiry (inclusive of private judgment) as the question of the sacramental Apostolic Succession itself (as to whether there is such a thing). And this inquiry, before one by the gracious gift of God makes an act of faith, is going to greatly depend upon one’s private judgment, i.e., dependence upon one’s own limited and fallible reasoning in the all too finite amount of time (more or less from case to case) in which we have to decide upon matters of ultimate importance.

    The arguments for Apostolic Succession (as opposed to valid ministry based on private interpretation) and the identification of the college of bishops rightly united in the universal Church (as opposed to validly ordained bishops and communities with bishops who are not rightly united to the one Church), are ones that have been made many times by many people, and will be continually made and refined in the fires of ongoing debate and disagreement. For now, let me just say how I see the matter, in response to your references to circularity:

    (1) Catholics do not in fact have the same problem that Protestants have (i.e., each individual retaining ultimate interpretive authority in the Church) precisely because we accept Apostolic Succession as indicating who has interpretive authority in the Church, quite apart from whether we agree with that authority’s interpretation of Scripture . (2) We do not have the same problem as those who accept Apostolic Succession, but are not sure which group of bishops is the college of bishops rightly united in the universal Church (as opposed to more or less disordered particular churches and sects), precisely because we accept the Papal primacy, and are thus assured, without having to compare (so as to judge) their specific doctrines with the doctrines of the other groups. We accept that the bishops in full communion with the Bishop of Rome constitute the college of bishops having sacramental Apostolic Succession and rightly united in the universal Church, and therefore we receive their teaching.

    Of course, one who accepts neither Apostolic Succession nor Papal primacy as being matters of fact, or else only accepts the first, will normally require some sort of argument in order to be convinced. On the other hand, those who are convinced, having faith, will have their own unique principles that inform and (they believe) greatly improve their understanding in a lot matters relevant to ecumenical and evangelical dialogue; e.g., biblical interpretation, theological inquiry, Church history. In these matters, the Catholic will be guided by his Catholic faith, and this can have the effect of making his reasoning appear circular to those who do not share his faith.

    It is important to appeal to common ground, to the convictions that we have in common with other Christians and non-Christians. But it is also important to use all of one’s resources in making and developing one’s case, and those resources, for the Catholic, include the teachings of the Catholic Church. This can lead to a variety of transcendental arguments for Catholicism; i.e., the Catholic faith can be presented as making the most sense of the most data, as the best solution to certain persistent problems. That is not the same thing as a circular argument, but it is admittedly different from simply appealing to common ground, and constructing arguments from the ground up, so to speak.

    But conviction based on argument, whether evidential or transcendental arguments (or both), though it can lead to faith, is not the same thing as the habit of faith, or an act of faith. Catholic faith, believing the Church, is not a point along the rim of an argumentative circle. It is the point of departure from the primacy of private judgment, with the result that, where before I opined, now I believe. (There is a reason that Newman’s self-described “history of my religious opinions” ends in 1845.)

    Anyway, its high time that I concluded this comment. Have a very merry second day of Christmas.

  37. I just saw this, from Brent:

    “Most faithfully” puts “The Church” in the realm of theory. As if, someone can be “most likely” my wife or “most likely” be my kids” or “most likely” be the Son of God. She is either The Church Jesus founded or she is not. It is true, that you and I have to make a decision to personally commit to a position–but that is just what we do as human beings. The subjective quality of assent should not be confused with the more or less objectivity of facts.

    Yep. Word.

  38. Thanks Michael. Merry Christmas to you and yours! I think that your dialogue illustrates that an explanation of one’s ultimate beliefs always involves a degree of circularity. The Protestant relies on Scripture to define his belief in Scripture as the supreme source of authority; the Catholic relies upon the Church institution to define authority by that institution; the Muslim relies on the Koran for his Koranic religion; and the secular humanist clings to his own reason. This is not to espouse fideism—that faith is independent of reason. The foundation of our beliefs should be regularly scrutinized. Intellectual honesty requires it, as does the deepening of our faith. Nevertheless, the circular pattern of ultimate truth claims is an unavoidable function of the fact that every view stands upon some sort of epistemic ground. In other words, there is no such thing as a view from nowhere. However, our commitment to this ground shouldn’t inhibit further investigation. As imperfect interpreters, we must carefully assess and measure evidence to determine which rendering of the data is most tenable. Short of core tenets of faith, such as what we have in the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds—primary doctrines which God’s people have agreed upon from time immemorial—honesty and humility requires that we remain open to doctrinal reform

    A helpful explanation of how the Catholic tradition approaches this sort of reform is articulated by the late Avery Cardinal Dulles. He writes in his book titled Magisterium: “The meaning of magisterial decisions, in turn, has to be studied with reference to the way they are understood and interpreted by pastors, theologians, and the faithful. The study of the Magisterium, therefore, would be incomplete (emphasis added) without some attention to the process of reception.”[1] In other words, when it’s all said and done, the Catholic approach to interpreting truth—relying on “the insights of pastors, theologians, and the faithful”—is strikingly similar to the democratic approach of Protestants. This is because there is really no way to get around the plurality of interpretations. Because our minds are dimmed by sin during this inaugurated period of the kingdom, seeing truth through a clouded glass, we will inevitably have disagreement among good, godly interpreters. The question is how to best respond to this reality. The Catholic claim to having a synoptic view and univocal voice in the magisterium is, in my humble opinion, more illusion than reality.

    Particular examples of where magisterial conclusions are open for interpretation include: whether the ground of justification is monergistic or synergistic (this is why, for instance, some Catholics applaud the Join Declaration on Justification and other decry it), is Scripture “inerrant” (the famous debate on how to properly interpret Dei Verbum 11… whether it merely concerns salvation [think Fuller Seminary] or all truth), which papal pronouncements were infallible prior to 1870 (when the doctrine of infallibility was made official by Pope Pius IX) and what exactly constitutes a “secondary object of infallibility”–an inference or deduction that follows from an existing infallible dogma, e.g., are women ipso facto excluded from ordination since Jesus assembled twelve male apostles?

    The bottom line: All Christians face the same basic hermeneutical challenge. As Dulles states, the interpretive task requires the entire Christian community, not simply a magisterial office. If one asserts that magisterial conclusions make for the only properly authoritative form of doctrine, you will inevitably have a church that ignores those conclusions. The recent survey by sociologists at Catholic University, led by William D’Antonio, bears this out in the report that 88 percent of Catholics in America believe that “how a person lives is more important than whether he or she is Catholic.” I can’t help but wonder whether these Catholics would think differently about the importance of Christian doctrine if they had been provided encouragement and training to study the Bible for themselves.

    [1] Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J., Magisterium: Teacher and Guardian of the Faith (Naples: Sapientia, 2007), 10.

  39. Michael- I think it’s important to note that as a first-century Jewish follower of Christ you’d make a pretty circular case for Christ’s Messiahship as all of your responses to skeptical friends would pretty much boil down to: “Because He said so.” In the place of the answer they’re looking for, you’d be appealing to the very point in question! And in a sense the catholic finds himself in a similar situation. This is why the proper identification of THE Magisterium is so important. So it seems the scenario you described assumed the existence of other Magisteria… What Magisteria do you have in mind?

    Just thought I’d chime in!

  40. Chris,

    I agree with much of your comment; e.g., that fideism is to be rejected, that the entire Church is involved in the process of the development of doctrine (which I understand to denote the Church’s growth in her understanding of divine revelation), that Magisterial documents (like all texts) have to be interpreted. However, there are a few points at which the happy harmony wobbles a bit:

    Short of core tenets of faith, such as what we have in the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds—primary doctrines which God’s people have agreed upon from time immemorial—honesty and humility requires that we remain open to doctrinal reform

    Actually, I agree with this, in that the core tenants of the faith are not susceptible of reform, and that God’s people, i.e., the faithful members of the Church that Christ founded, have, from time immemorial, agreed upon the core tenants of the faith as soon as those tenants have been explicitly formulated, authoritatively defined, and publicly promulgated (by ordinary or extraordinary means) as irreformable. Otherwise, theological opinions can be reformed. I wonder, however, if you are as comfortable with my gloss of your original statement as I am with your original statement!

    In other words, when it’s all said and done, the Catholic approach to interpreting truth—relying on “the insights of pastors, theologians, and the faithful”—is strikingly similar to the democratic approach of Protestants.

    There are of course similarities in the ways that various Christian communities go about interpreting Sacred Scripture. However, Catholics do not rely on “the insights of pastors, theologians, and the faithful” as a source or means of potential reform of dogma, nor are those who contradict Catholic dogma, on any single point, included in the democracy of the faithful. My point is that the plurality of interpretations of Catholic teaching is still exclusive of those interpretations which contradict that teaching. This leads to the next point:

    …we will inevitably have disagreement among good, godly interpreters.The question is how to best respond to this reality. The Catholic claim to having a synoptic view and univocal voice in the magisterium is, in my humble opinion, more illusion than reality.

    I am not sure what you mean by “synoptic view,” but the office of the papacy provides univocity to the college of bishops. Every member of that college accepts this, and signifies the acceptance by a profession of Catholic faith and obedience. The papal office is not, of course, exclusive of the teaching authority of the bishops, but it does bring that teaching into focus, so to speak. The Catholic response to disagreement among godly interpreters varies from case to case, but in every case the teaching authority of Church, especially her latent authority, provides for disagreement without disunity, and in extreme cases, where disagreement among theologians threatens the unity and/or purity of the faith, the teaching authority of the Church is exercised, such that it is made known what the faithful are to believe, or at least what they are to reject as an opinion contrary to the faith. The Protestant response to the reality of doctrinal disagreement is well-attested by Protestant history, though I guess that you guys must get tired of having it pointed out.

    If one asserts that magisterial conclusions make for the only properly authoritative form of doctrine, you will inevitably have a church that ignores those conclusions. The recent survey by sociologists at Catholic University, led by William D’Antonio, bears this out in the report that 88 percent of Catholics in America believe that “how a person lives is more important than whether he or she is Catholic.” I can’t help but wonder whether these Catholics would think differently about the importance of Christian doctrine if they had been provided encouragement and training to study the Bible for themselves.

    The assertion you make in the first sentence is not supported by the statistics that you cite. Try this out: In that sentence, substitute “biblical teaching” for “magisterial conclusions.” Does it follow that you will inevitably have a church that ignores biblical teaching? No. In addition, though I agree that Catholics should be encouraged to study the Bible, wouldn’t the more immediately relevant remedy be to study the magisterial conclusions? That would alleviate the problem, e.g., of the prevailing notion that being a Catholic does not matter so much (relatively speaking).

  41. Chris,

    You wrote:

    Short of core tenets of faith, such as what we have in the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds—primary doctrines which God’s people have agreed upon from time immemorial—honesty and humility requires that we remain open to doctrinal reform

    .

    This seems ad hoc. Who says that the doctrines promulgated in the Nicene Creed are “primary”? Who are “God’s people” according to your definition, and from whence or whom do you obtain this definition? How long does this group (God’s people) have to agree upon a doctrine before it becomes exempt from the honest and humble need to remain open to doctrinal reform? Until one knows what places some persons (now or in the past) within the orbit of “God’s people”, and what places some folks without that orbit, there is no use talking about what has been “agreed upon” from “time immemorial” by this ill-defined group. Yet, one cannot define this group according to “core tenets”, if the tenets themselves are known to be “core” only because the group has agreed upon them for some length of time – as that would be clearly circular. In fact, you need some non-doctrinal criteria by which to identify “God’s people” before some stipulated length of agreement by “God’s people” can be used as a criteria for determining “core” tenets of faith.

    But if there are such non-doctrinal criteria for determining “who counts” for establishing some doctrine as “core” and, therefore, no longer open to reform (as Catholics claim); then there is no reason to think that this “who counts” may not also establish many other doctrines as “core” (de fide), which are also irreformable. As you say, there is no view from nowhere: a truth which applies just as well to the determination of which teachings do, and do not, constitute so-called “core tenets of faith”. Your apparent grounds for denoting the doctrines of the Nicene Creed as the sort of teachings to which the necessity of honest, humble openness to “doctrinal reform” need not apply, smuggle in implicit assumptions which undermine that claim.

    You wrote:

    The Catholic claim to having a synoptic view and univocal voice in the magisterium is, in my humble opinion, more illusion than reality. . . Particular examples of where magisterial conclusions are open for interpretation include: whether the ground of justification is monergistic or synergistic (this is why, for instance, some Catholics applaud the Join Declaration on Justification and other decry it), is Scripture “inerrant” (the famous debate on how to properly interpret Dei Verbum 11… whether it merely concerns salvation [think Fuller Seminary] or all truth), which papal pronouncements were infallible prior to 1870 (when the doctrine of infallibility was made official by Pope Pius IX) and what exactly constitutes a “secondary object of infallibility”–an inference or deduction that follows from an existing infallible dogma, e.g., are women ipso facto excluded from ordination since Jesus assembled twelve male apostles?

    The Magisterium does not claim to have a “synoptic vision”. As Cardinal Dulles explains, prior to the formulation and promulgation of binding decrees, the Catholic Magisterium relies upon the voices of pastors, theologians, and the faithful. Indeed, interpretation is a communal effort within this parameter. Yet, such communal effort does not fizzle into a cult of perpetual “doctrinal openness”, as if there were no way to come to a definitive understanding of what Christ intends His Church to hold regarding some point of faith or morals. The Church can, thanks be to Christ, speak with a univocal voice – the voice of Christ her head. That is the much larger point which Cardinal Dulles brings home in the text you cite. Failure to note that very point involves a serious mis-representation of “Magisterium: Teacher and Guardian of the Faith”.

    Indeed, what one discovers from Dulles’ work is that the key difference between Catholic Christianity and all other forms of Christianity is precisely that the sort of unresolved doctrinal questions which you list, most certainly can, in principle, be resolved by that Magisterial body united as one by the Petrine office. Furthermore, so long as the configuration of “the successors of the apostles in communion with the successor of Peter” continues in the world; all further unresolved questions concerning divine revelation, or even the proper interpretation, or authoritative status, of previous Magisterial pronouncements, can, in principle, be resolved.

    That is the great advantage of a living, historically ongoing and contiguous Magisterium with an identifiable center of unity. That is the doctrinal advantage of living as a Christian “in communion” with Rome both now and in the past. Where the Catholic Magisterium has definitively spoken, doctrine is no longer up for grabs, or “open to reform”. That is a good thing which entails neither dishonesty nor pride. Where the Church has not spoken definitively, one can charitably hold the posture you recommend until such time as a definitive pronouncement is forthcoming. Being in “communion with Rome” entails a posture of assent to the teaching of the Church, if and when such teaching is forthcoming. It is a stance which avoids the errors of both rash doctrinal absolutism as well as doctrinal relativism. Absent such a living, identifiable, authority; recognized as having the authority to differentiate what is core (irreformable) from what is not; it seems to me that ALL doctrine is open to reform or change – even creedal notes. It is difficult to see how doctrinal relativism can be avoided in a principled way on any other available paradigm.

    Pax Christi,

    Ray

  42. Thanks Andrew. I appreciate your thoughtful response, but I’m just not convinced. I know too many Catholics, clergy and laity alike, whose beliefs are decidedly at variance with the magisterium.

    Christmas joy to you and yours! Chris

  43. And a Merry Christmas to you, Chris!

    I do want to ask just how many dissident clergy and laity is “too many,” and whether the faithless should weigh decisively against both the Magisterium, which after all does not have the power to compel consent, and the Catholic Church as a whole, which has counted, and still counts, untold millions (along with a very few “told”) of faithful and holy members among her multitudes? So there, I asked it.

    Maybe I have been lucky in my Catholic associations–in missions, parishes, and diocesan gatherings, both small and large, I constantly meet committed and often endearing Catholics. I have been exposed to some “soft liberalism” and other forms of dissent, and been privy to one or two blatant calls for disobedience, but I guess you could say that I know too many Catholics, clergy and laity alike, whose beliefs are decidedly in conformity with the Magesterium…. Thus, anecdotes!

  44. Thanks, Ray. There are more options besides a full blown Catholic Magisterium on one side and democratized relativism on the other. The early Creeds are a treasure shared by all branches of Christianity: Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant alike. They are a helpful summary of basic Christian teaching, the essentials or as Lewis put it “mere Christianity.” The basis for this belief are their consistency with Scripture and consensus in the church over time. Neither of these convictions requires an infallible magisterium, as our Orthodox brothers and sisters will gladly remind us. Just because we (Protestants or Orthodox) assign authority to tradition, doesn’t mean that we submit to the magisterial tradition of Rome.

  45. Chris,

    I did a lot of research and a huge amount of reading when I was sure the evangelicalism was insufficient and I wanted to know where I needed to go in service to the Truth. As an evangelical I was not using creedal statements ala the Anglicans, Lutherans and Presbyterian/Reformed types. When I finally got to the early creeds, the Church was described as one, holy, catholic (universal), and apostolic in nature.

    That lack of a creed or creeds certainly left evangelicalism out, but when I read Calvin he wanted a powerful Church, and not a congregation subject to the whims of its more powerful members which would be subject to a split in the event that evenly matched powerful individuals had different ideas. Then I realized that Calvin’s ideas were not binding on Lutherans and Luther’s ideas were not binding on the Calvinists. It appeared that one did not need to arrive at the congregational level to find religious organizations subject to the whims of their most powerful individuals, leading to splits because of differing ideas.

    Your response is correct in one regard, there are a lot of churches which do not recognize the need for an infallible magisterium. They have agreed to something else which appears chaotic to me. They disagree with one another because no one is really in charge, and pointing to creedal statements as a kind of justification doesn’t have any weight or pull. Early Protestantism was full of people writing creedal statements that were in fact powerless because the people writing them had no authority.

    Among the myriad of scriptural things that attracted me to Rome was the fact that someone could actually make a binding decision without splitting the Church. The Church, which was the fulfillment of both Israel and the Temple, found our Lord as King and High Priest. As High Priest, He appointed the apostles. As King He chose Peter as His chamberlain (keeper of the keys). The priestly function and the administrative function both continue as the New Covenant works its way through time.

    There is an alternative. When I was in the Assemblies, we were going through a split. Jimmy Swaggart was the leader of the “Baptists who speak in tongues” part of the AG. They did finally split and took the name Christian Life Center albeit without Swaggart. It is not the last split but is a symbol of what occurs when no one has real authority to make a binding decision.

    Cordially,

    dt

  46. Among the myriad of scriptural things that attracted me to Rome was the fact that someone could actually make a binding decision without splitting the Church.

    Donald,

    But the Reformation occurred because the Roman Catholic Church made creedal statements that DID split the Church, right? And the Church would have splintered into more divisions than what occurred at the Reformation except for the fact that the Inquisition and various civil governments were powerful enough in most countries to suppress the splintering groups.

    And today, how much splintering exists in the RCC without calling it splintering? That is, how much division exists in the wide RCC continuum from very liberal to ultra-conservative without calling such dissensions a “split?” As I look worldwide at Protestant and Catholic communions I cannot see that there is any substantial difference in the amount internal factions or divisions.

    Please note that I’m not trying to cast aspersions on the RCC here, only to temper some of the Catholic triumphalism as I see it. My perspective is that Catholicism and Protestantism have the same problems to deal with wrt to a lack of unity.

  47. Andrew,

    You wrote:

    But the Reformation occurred because the Roman Catholic Church made creedal statements that DID split the Church, right?

    Wrong, for a few reasons. First, the Church cannot be split. She is one, as we confess in the Nicene Creed. Second, the doctrinal definitions of Trent, like the definitions of Nicea, were definitions by the Church. Those who disagreed were cut off from the Church, and this by their own hand, as it were, since they could have submitted to the judgment of the Church instead of following their own understanding(s). Third, the Church made these “creedal statements” in response to novel interpretations of Scripture that had been threatening the doctrinal purity and the unity of the Church for several decades. The Church’s actions in this case exemplify what I said in comment #40, above, in response to Chris Castaldo:

    The Catholic response to disagreement among godly interpreters varies from case to case, but in every case the teaching authority of Church, especially her latent authority, provides for disagreement without disunity, and in extreme cases, where disagreement among theologians threatens the unity and/or purity of the faith, the teaching authority of the Church is exercised, such that it is made known what the faithful are to believe, or at least what they are to reject as an opinion contrary to the faith.

    You then wrote:

    And the Church would have splintered into more divisions than what occurred at the Reformation except for the fact that the Inquisition and various civil governments were powerful enough in most countries to suppress the splintering groups.

    This is largely incorrect. England, the princedoms of Germany, the Calvinist city-states, and the House of Oldenburg, among others, testify to the strong hand of civil government in promoting various schisms. The Inquisition, in its coercive aspect, was less effective than the Counter-Reformation missionaries such as Francis de Sales and numerous other servants of the Church who risked and even gave their lives in the cause of reuniting Protestants with the Catholic Church.

    And today, how much splintering exists in the RCC without calling it splintering? That is, how much division exists in the wide RCC continuum from very liberal to ultra-conservative without calling such dissensions a “split?” As I look worldwide at Protestant and Catholic communions I cannot see that there is any substantial difference in the amount internal factions or divisions….

    …My perspective is that Catholicism and Protestantism have the same problems to deal with wrt to a lack of unity.

    In this case, you are not very observant. For starters, there is only one Catholic communion. There are thousands of independent Protestant communions. So, whatever “splintering” or division there is in the Catholic Church, there is a substantial difference between this and the Protestant situation, as evidenced by the fact that there are not thousands of independent Catholic churches.

  48. @Chris:

    Neither of these convictions requires an infallible magisterium…

    I’m a little puzzled. If there is no infallible Magisterium, how do you know that the early creeds are consistent with Scripture? Certainly the Arians didn’t agree that Nicaea was consistent with Scripture – and nor do modern Arians, like the Jehovah’s Witnesses. And, surely, there is no consensus if not everyone agrees?

    Or maybe I am missing something?

    jj

  49. Did you mention something about the need for Catholic triumphalism to be tempered, Andrew?

  50. @ Chris & Andrew Mc.

    The Church is not perfect and will never be until the second coming of Christ. Until then there will always be those who will not believe whether they are liberal or conservative in their thinking. The Church continues on through time flying straight as an arrow seeking the bullseye of the glory of God. Not everyone who heard Jesus believed in Him, nor will everyone believe in His Church either. There have been those who would change her teachings from the very start. It is a hard thing to accept her teachings in humility, especially when they do not always agree with our own thoughts on the subject. To accept the Church of Christ and her teachings is an act of faith in Christ who established her in the beginning. An act of faith in the Holy Spirit who will never lead her in the wrong direction. As Jesus said, “You believe in God, believe also in me” and “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” We must hear the Church and humble ourselves to her teaching, if not for Jesus’ sake, then for our sake.

    NHU

  51. Chris,

    You wrote:

    The basis for this belief are their consistency with Scripture and consensus in the church over time. Neither of these convictions requires an infallible magisterium, as our Orthodox brothers and sisters will gladly remind us.

    That is an assertion unsupported by argument. Consistency with Scripture according to whom? Consensus as defined by whom? Church as defined by whom? Time length of concensus as defined by whom? In fact, there are not more options than the Roman Catholic Magisterium if one intends to maintain that the content of de fide (“orthodox”) doctrine can be distinguished from human opinion in a principled, non ad hoc, way in the 21st century. The fact that some Orthodox Christians assert that a principled present day knowledge of the de fide content of divine revelation does not require the Magisterium centered in the Petrine ministry, hardly makes that claim so.

    That claim requires argumentation. Argumentation which does not succeed for some of the reasons I gave in my prior post, relating to the problem of identification of the “people of God”, or “the Church” as that identifiable secondary agancy through which God promulgates de fide teaching. BTW, do you affirm as “core” the teachings of all 7 EC’s, as most EO do? If not, this evidences how adherence to, say, the first 3 or 4 or 5 EC’s, but NOT the last 2 or 3 EC’s, already entails a manifestly ad hoc methodology.

    Noting, as Lewis did, the fact that some set of doctines are currently shared by Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Anglicans and some Protestant communities, is a far cry from establishing that there are principled grounds for holding that these doctrines are, in fact, revealed by God. Lewis would no doubt admit as much. He described his “mere Christianity” as a hallway in a house, with many doors leading into sectarian rooms (where the homefires burn). But what principled basis could Lewis give for thinking that the hallway or the rooms were in fact all part of Christ’s house in the first place?

    Though I respect Lewis a great deal, that question remains the central problem with his analogy; and ultimately is the epistemological problem latent in any long term attempt to cling to something called “mere Christianity” without a principled reason for thinking that the “mere” really equates to the teaching of Christ. If the fundations are ad hoc, you can be sure that our relativistic culture will inevitably expose them, with the acid test of skepticism, as just one more set of opinions among many.

    Pax Christi,

    Ray

  52. Chris, (re: #38)

    You wrote:

    I think that your dialogue illustrates that an explanation of one’s ultimate beliefs always involves a degree of circularity.

    The imaginary dialogue that Michael put forward in #34 is not the line of reasoning a well-informed Catholic would take. Such a form of reasoning would be fideistic, which is contrary to the Catholic faith, as I explained in comment #5 above. In fact, in the imaginary dialogue, the Catholic’s first statement would not be “Whatever teaches Christ” but “Whatever the Church Christ founded teaches.” We don’t presuppose ecclesial deism.

    You wrote:

    The foundation of our beliefs should be regularly scrutinized. Intellectual honesty requires it, as does the deepening of our faith. Nevertheless, the circular pattern of ultimate truth claims is an unavoidable function of the fact that every view stands upon some sort of epistemic ground. In other words, there is no such thing as a view from nowhere.

    I agree that there is no such thing as a “view from nowhere,” but leaping arbitrarily and irrationally to some epistemic ‘ground’ or other is not the only alternative to a “view from nowhere,” as I explained in the “Wilson vs. Hitchens” (the second link in comment #5 above) article, and in the comments following that article.

    You wrote:

    Short of core tenets of faith, such as what we have in the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds—primary doctrines which God’s people have agreed upon from time immemorial—honesty and humility requires that we remain open to doctrinal reform.

    The problem with such a statement is that it is ad hoc; you don’t have any principled criteria by which to distinguish what you call “core tenets” or “primary doctrines” from Catholic dogmas such as the Immaculate Conception, or Dyothelitism, or the rightness of veneration of the Saints, or Holy Orders, etc.

    You wrote:

    A helpful explanation of how the Catholic tradition approaches this sort of reform is articulated by the late Avery Cardinal Dulles. He writes in his book titled Magisterium: “The meaning of magisterial decisions, in turn, has to be studied with reference to the way they are understood and interpreted by pastors, theologians, and the faithful. The study of the Magisterium, therefore, would be incomplete (emphasis added) without some attention to the process of reception.”[1] In other words, when it’s all said and done, the Catholic approach to interpreting truth—relying on “the insights of pastors, theologians, and the faithful”—is strikingly similar to the democratic approach of Protestants.

    That’s too hasty. When Cardinal Dulles refers here (in this paragraph on page 10 of his book) to the ‘meaning of magisterial decisions’ he is explicitly referring to the topic he covers in chapter 8 of that book. In that chapter he states that “Once a teaching has been accepted by the supreme Magisterium, the faithful are under obligation to accept it.” (p. 105) On that same page he quotes from Mysterium Ecclesiae:

    However much the Sacred Magisterium avails itself of the contemplation, life, and study of the faithful, its office is not reduced merely to ratifying the assent already expressed by the latter; indeed, in the interpretation and explanation of the written or transmitted word of God, the Magisteirum can anticipate and demand their assent.” (Mysterium Ecclesiae, 2)

    Cardinal Dulles goes on in that chapter to distinguish between the reception by the faithful of “non-infallible teaching” and “definitive teaching.” He notes that although non-reception by the faithful of non-infallible teaching could be a sign of error on the part of the teaching, it could alternatively be the case that “the faithful are not sufficiently attuned to the Holy Spirit.” And he also observes that the way the faithful receive definitive teaching can affect future definitive teaching, by revealing what further aspects need to be developed.

    But this is why the similarity to which you refer is only superficial. Protestantism has no distinction between definitive teaching and non-infallible teaching, and no magisterium by which to resolve interpretive questions. The way you paint the picture using the statement from Cardinal Dulles suggests that Catholics are ultimately in the same hermeneutical boat as Protestants, because ultimately the meaning of anything comes down to a democracy of the faithful. But that’s not at all what Cardinal Dulles is saying, nor is it true.

    First, in Catholicism, who gets to count as one of the faithful is determined by their union with the Magisterium. (See Mystici Corporis Christi, 22) For Protestantism, by contrast, who gets to count as ‘the faithful’ is whoever sufficiently agrees with one’s own interpretation of Scripture regarding what are the essentials.

    Second, the Catholic faithful are required to believe and profess all that the Magisterium believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God. Protestants can believe whatever they want about God, the Bible, etc., the canon, because they are under no magisterial authority, and there is no magisterial authority to draw the boundary lines for the “Protestant essentials,” or to determine who even gets to count as Protestant.

    Third, the Magisterium maintains interpretive authority even over her own documents; this interpretive authority binds the consciences of the faithful. The Magisterium has not definitively answered every possible theological question, and for that reason there remain open questions. But that does not mean that no theological questions have been definitively determined. Elsewhere you seem to be protesting the Catholic doctrine of infallibility, but if in practice the Church could not definitively determine any doctrine, then there would be no reason to protest such a doctrine, since no dogma could be definitively established. You can’t have it both ways.

    The faithful cannot bind the conscience of the Magisterium, except by accident, insasmuch as an undefined doctrine is universally believed among the faithful (including the Magisterium), and therefore shows itself to be part of Apostolic Tradition. In such a case what binds is the authority of the Tradition, not any authority of the faithful. In Protestantism, by contrast, there is no magisterium to provide the authoritative interpretation of Scripture or any Church documents. There is no “Protestant Catechism.” There is no objective definition of who is and isn’t a Protestant, what are and are not the essentials. You couldn’t even list out all the Christian essentials if I were to ask you to do so (which I’m not asking, since I don’t want to put you on the spot). So in all these ways, the ‘democracy of the faithful’ in Protestantism is unlike the case in the Catholic Church, and it is unfair to the late Cardinal Dulles to misconstrue his statement in such a way as to conflate them.

    On the sensus fidelium, Lumen Gentium includes the following:

    12. The holy people of God shares also in Christ’s prophetic office; it spreads abroad a living witness to Him, especially by means of a life of faith and charity and by offering to God a sacrifice of praise, the tribute of lips which give praise to His name.(110) The entire body of the faithful, anointed as they are by the Holy One,(111) cannot err in matters of belief. They manifest this special property by means of the whole peoples’ supernatural discernment in matters of faith when “from the Bishops down to the last of the lay faithful” (8*) they show universal agreement in matters of faith and morals. That discernment in matters of faith is aroused and sustained by the Spirit of truth. It is exercised under the guidance of the sacred teaching authority, in faithful and respectful obedience to which the people of God accepts that which is not just the word of men but truly the word of God.(112) Through it, the people of God adheres unwaveringly to the faith given once and for all to the saints,(113) penetrates it more deeply with right thinking, and applies it more fully in its life.

    You wrote:

    This is because there is really no way to get around the plurality of interpretations.

    If you truly believed that, you would have no reason to hold your unique interpretation of Scripture in separation from the Church in which you were raised, rather than in full communion with her. You know very well, however, that a definitive statement from the Magisterium can anathematize what she determines to be heretical interpretations of Scripture. And that’s precisely why you are separated from her.

    You wrote:

    Because our minds are dimmed by sin during this inaugurated period of the kingdom, seeing truth through a clouded glass, we will inevitably have disagreement among good, godly interpreters.

    But in your mind, your own mind is not so dimmed by sin that it cannot see at least that the Catholic Magisterium is wrong, so wrong that you must separate from it. Skepticism always makes an ad hoc exception for its own promulgation and defense. If you really believed that our minds are dimmed by sin, then instead of departing from the Catholic Church, you would trust her teaching over your own interpretation of Scripture. Isn’t the answer to the noetic effect of sin precisely the magisterium Christ has provided for His Church? Or, if not, then doesn’t the direct claim to be immediately guided by the Holy Spirit make moot the constant drumbeat of the noetic effect of sin? The noetic effect of sin seems to be rolled out whenever you want it, and then rolled away whenever you don’t want it. But that very practice is itself disallowed by the notion of a noetic effect of sin, or would be better explained as an effect of the noetic effect of sin.

    You wrote:

    The Catholic claim to having a synoptic view and univocal voice in the magisterium is, in my humble opinion, more illusion than reality.

    It is not an illusion. Here is the Catechism of the Catholic Church. By contrast, there is no “Protestant Catechism.” You are inferring from (a) the fact of disagreement regarding undetermined questions and (b) the fact of ignorance among some Catholics regarding determined questions, to the conclusion that the Catholic Magisterium has no univocal voice. And that conclusion simply does not follow from those two facts. I can easily provide multiple examples of the univocal voice of the Magisterium, and you are aware of them, or you would not be separate from the Catholic Church.

    You wrote:

    The bottom line: All Christians face the same basic hermeneutical challenge.

    No, that’s simply not true. There is a real, principled difference between the hermeneutical situation of the Christian who recognizes a divinely established Magisterium, and that of the Christian who does not recognize a divinely established Magisterium. Neal and I addressed this objection back in 2009, in section V.A. “The Tu Quoque: The Catholic Position Does Not Avoid Solo Scriptura”, in our article “Solo Scriptura, Sola Scriptura, and the Question of Interpretive Authority.”

    You wrote:

    As Dulles states, the interpretive task requires the entire Christian community, not simply a magisterial office.

    Again, that’s true, but it does not reduce the Catholic hermeneutical position to the Protestant hermeneutical position, for the reasons I provided just above.

    You wrote:

    If one asserts that magisterial conclusions make for the only properly authoritative form of doctrine, you will inevitably have a church that ignores those conclusions. The recent survey by sociologists at Catholic University, led by William D’Antonio, bears this out in the report that 88 percent of Catholics in America believe that “how a person lives is more important than whether he or she is Catholic.” I can’t help but wonder whether these Catholics would think differently about the importance of Christian doctrine if they had been provided encouragement and training to study the Bible for themselves.

    If I remember correctly, you are a member of College Church, which has been around for about 150 years. But the Catholic Church has been around for almost two thousand years. If your claim about “magisterial conclusions” were true, the Catholic Church would have disappeared a long time ago. Her persistence is one of the signs of her divine origin and sustenance. It is very easy to make claims about the future demise of the Catholic Church. Her critics have been doing that since the third century, or maybe earlier. But, she’s still here, two thousand years later. (Chesterton has much to say about this.)

    And you make a lot of hay from the fact of uncatechized or poorly catechized Catholics, as if that is somehow evidence that the Catholic Church isn’t the Church Christ founded. I’ve seen you do this multiple times. But there have been poorly catechized Catholics in the Church since the first century. (Remember Eutychus in Acts 20, sleeping during catechism class?) Isn’t the verse about the tares in the Protestant Bible? The solution to the problem of poorly catechized Catholics is not to complain about it. And the solution most definitely isn’t to leave the Church and join a sect founded by mere men.

    The solution is to buckle down and start helping to catechize Catholics. But you can’t catechize uncatechized Catholics while separated from the Church or while denying some of the articles of faith. That’s something all of us here at CTC realized at some point in our process of becoming Catholic. Yes we saw the problems of uncatechized or poorly catechized Catholics. Who could miss it? But at some point in our own process of coming into full communion we each realized that if we were going to do anything about that, we had to be in the Church, serving and sacrificing and being an example of faithfulness to the Church and to her doctrine. We had to get the log out of our own eye.

    Poorly catechized Catholics do not need heretical interpretations of the Bible. They don’t need to be led into schism from the Church. But in Protestantism there is no principled or authoritative basis for the distinction between orthodoxy and heresy. And there is not even any such thing as schism from the Church; it has been defined away by gnosticizing [i.e. de-materializing] the Church (see here). So Protestantism is intrinsically incapable of providing what poorly catechized Catholics need. They need orthodox doctrine, along with all the sacraments Christ established, under the shepherds Christ Himself established and authorized. And therefore the only place in which these poorly catechized Catholics can get what they truly need, is in the Catholic Church, and that’s the only place we could be if we were ever going to provide it to them. We couldn’t be Protestors outside her gates, and we couldn’t be cafeteria Catholics picking and choosing from among her doctrines. We had to be in full communion, believing and professing all that the Holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

    Feast of St. Stephen, Protomartyr

  53. Brent and Herbert,

    Hello, thank you for responding to my comment. What I meant by which magisterium was probably not the best way to put it. I probably should have said, “which teaching teaching authority among the various ecclesiastical communions”. My point was how do you know the Catholic magisterium is right and the teaching authorities of the Anglican and Orthodox communions are wrong.

    Brent and Andrew, By saying “most faithfully” I did not mean to imply that a particular ecclesiastical community can sort of be the church of Christ. I agree that a church organization is either the church of Christ or it is not. My point was simply to say that some groups that claim to be the church of Christ are clearly more faithful to the teachings of Christ than others. I think we would all agree that the Catholics and Orthodox are more faithful to the apostolic deposit than say the anabaptists. That is not to say that all of those groups are sort of the church. That is just to say that some ecclesiastical communities are more faithful to the teachings of Christ than others, though only one group that claims to be the church can be the church Christ established, which is his mystical body. BTW, yes I do know that the term “ecclesiastical communion” is not used to refer to the Catholic church.

  54. Bryan,

    I apologize that my reasoning in #34 “is not the line of reasoning a well-informed Catholic would take”. Perhaps you could enlighten me as to what a well informed response to the questions in #34 would be. Perhaps you could tell me how do we know which group is the church of Christ out of those who have Apostolic Succession such as the Catholics, Anglicans and Orthodox? How do we know which teaching authority among those groups has the Apostolic deposit of faith? I think you would have to admit there comes a point where faith must come into the picture. Unless you are seriously going to suggest that one can reason their way into the Catholic church and have 100% assurance that it is the church of Christ apart from faith. I trust this is not what you are suggesting. However, if you are not suggesting this why do you accuse my position of being “fideistic”? BTW, I do not see how my arguments were “fideistic” since I affirm that reason is not opposed to faith. I am simply trying to show that we must believe in order to understand and that it is impossible to reason one’s way to the Catholic faith apart from…faith.

  55. Thanks Bryan. You must have been traveling today or working on your dissertation. Your response didn’t come minutes after I hit ‘send’ like usual : )

    I read Keith Mathison’s response to your initial post. Now of course I’m a Protestant and therefore favorably disposed to agree with his argument. But having read it through a couple of time, I think that Keith’s explanation is most persuasive. I found his case to be clear and more defendable from Scripture. In light of the rather pronounced triumphalism of many of the contributors associated with Called to Communion, I’m not motivated to invest the time to rehash the same arguments; I’ll simply refer to Mathison’s approach as my own, if anyone is genuinely interested in how Evangelical Protestants articulate an understanding of Christian authority.

    http://turretinfan.blogspot.com/2011/02/solo-scriptura-sola-scriptura-and.html

    Thanks again, Bryan.

    Gratefully,
    Chris

  56. Chris, (re: #55)

    I’m not exactly sure what you are referring to by triumphalism. The CTC contributors believe that the Catholic Church is the Church Christ founded, and that the Apostolic truth has been preserved in her. But, presumably, you believe that some form of Protestantism (i.e. the one you hold) is the true heir of Christ’s teaching, and that the Catholic Church is wrong (and that the Orthodox are wrong, and that the Anglicans are wrong, and that every other Protestant who disagrees with you is wrong insofar as they disagree with you; if you thought they were right and you were wrong, you wouldn’t hold your present position). So I don’t see why those who believe that the Catholic Church is right are ipso facto triumphalistic in comparison to those such as yourself who believe that your own position is correct, and that Catholics and the Catholic Church are wrong. Is it triumphalism when Protestants think that they are right, and aren’t afraid to argue for the beliefs they believe to be right? If not, why not? But if so, then unless you actually think you are wrong, then pot and kettle and all that. I expect my interlocutors, at least those who have taken the time to study and investigate, to believe that they are right. If they can’t even convince themselves of the truth of their position, then how could they with full disclosure make a convincing case to others for their position? I don’t believe that intellectually I have a right to dismiss my interlocutors or hand-wave away their arguments against my position, merely because they believe they are right and I am wrong. I must nevertheless consider and address their argumentation, even when they think that they are right and I am wrong. Otherwise I am essentially doing this: “Whenever people disagree with me, I can simply dismiss what they say.” And you can see how doing this would in effect be equivalent to claiming that I am infallible. It would be odd if on principle you explicitly opposed the infallibility of the Catholic Church as you do in #44, and then made use of a tactic that in effect treated yourself as infallible. So surely you must mean something more by ‘triumphalism’ than believing that one’s position is correct, and being willing to argue for that position.

    As for Keith’s response, it was first discussed in some detail in the combox here, and then Michael Liccione responded to it here, and then Neal Judisch responded to it here. There is more to be said, to be sure, because Keith makes many claims in his response, and many of them are not directly related to our original “Solo Scriptura, Sola Scriptura, and the Question of Interpretive Authority” article. But these two replies (by Michael and Neal) demonstrated that the argument of our article remains unrefuted. If you think that Michael and Neal failed in some way to show how Mathison’s response leaves our argument unrefuted, please let me know. I mean that. I haven’t replied to Keith’s reply, because I thought Michael and Neal did such a good job. So, if you think Michael and Neal failed, I’d very much like to know.

    Michael Lofton, no need to apologize. We locate the Church today by finding the Church in the first century, and tracing it forward. I described that briefly in comment #226 of the Kallistos Ware thread. Yes, you can have “100% assurance that it is the church of Christ” apart from faith. In the first centuries the pagans all knew that the Catholic Church was the Church of Christ, and they didn’t have faith. We identify the Catholic Church as the Church Christ founded, and come to know her divine authority (and Christ’s divine authority) through the motives of credibility, which are accessible to reason. I discussed the “motives of credibility” in various places in the Wilson vs. Hitchens post, including comment #77, and the links in that comment.

    You wrote:

    I am simply trying to show that we must believe in order to understand and that it is impossible to reason one’s way to the Catholic faith apart from…faith.

    Without further qualification, that’s fideism. We don’t start with faith. We start with reason. Grace builds on nature, not the other way around. Yes we need to believe in order to understand if we are talking about that which is known by grace. But the motives of credibility are known not by grace, but by reason. Otherwise, the starting point would be an arbitrary leap. The Wilson vs. Hitchens post explains and addresses fideism. And the others here at CTC will explain it in more detail if you have further questions and I’m unavailable.

    In the peace of peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  57. Bryan,

    Thanks for the response.

    You said “Yes, you can have ’100% assurance that it is the church of Christ’ apart from faith. In the first centuries the pagans all knew that the Catholic Church was the Church of Christ, and they didn’t have faith. ” If this is true why did the successors of the Apostles such as Ireneaus have to combat Gnosticism and demonstrate by appeals to apostolic succession that the Gnostics were not the church Christ established? If it was such a clear cut issue then it would seem it was superfluous for Ireneaus to spend a whole lot of time writing his five books against the Gnostics. He could have just said “come on guys, you all know you aren’t the church Christ established and even all the pagans know this”.

    You wrote “Yes we need to believe in order to understand if we are talking about that which is known by grace.” I thought one only came to believe in Christ and his church by grace (Matthew 16:17). Surely we cannot come to believe Jesus is the Christ by reason apart from faith. If this is true then why did Jesus tell Peter that it was not flesh and blood but God the Father who revealed the identity of Jesus to him if it was just something that one could come to by reason alone? Additionally, if coming to know which church is the church Christ established is as easy finding the church that is in communion with the Bishop of Rome, then why is this such a problem for the Orthodox and wouldn’t this mean that the most educated people would all unanimously agree that the Catholic church is the true church of Christ? Again, just to remind you, I intend on joining the Catholic church in April so I’m on the Catholic side here, but I’m not sure how one can determine all of these things apart from faith seeing that issues which concern Christ and his church are not subjects of nature but are subjects of grace, therefore, grace and faith are necessary in order to come to believe in them. Where have I erred here? I truly desire to know because if coming to believe the Catholic church is a simple as reasoning through a few historical facts then I would like to show those historical facts to my Orthodox friends so that they can become Catholics.

    Thanks for your help.

    Mike

  58. Michael,

    If you were looking for the business that your great-great-great grand-father (G4′sB) founded, how would you look for it? We can agree that in one sense, there might be competing companies and that one is “more likely” your G4′sB. Probability is the way we talk about personal decisions. It is a commitment to the unlikelihood of the unlikelihood. It is how we roll.

    Let’s pretend for a moment that you found it (your G4′sB). Then you found another business claiming to be that business. They explain why they sound more like your G4′sB and their claim seems reasonable to you. Why would you reject the new claim? If what you originally found was the actual G4B, then you would merely reject the new claim because it is not the G4B in reality. Theory is fine, but you want your G4′sB. There would certainly be facts that you would need to compare, right?

    [Theory B: Let’s say that someone is claiming that your grandfather never started a business. Instead, (as the claim goes) he created a concept and that those who most closely appropriate the concept in their concept are the most true to your grandfather. That is Protestantism. If that is what you think Jesus did, then you find the Protestant denomination that comes closest to what you think Jesus’s original concept was.}

    As I said, there are people who are claiming to be your G4B’s. How will you decide? Blind faith? If making a personal commitment to the unlikelihood of an unlikelihood is blind faith, then yes. But that is not blind faith, that is how we use our noggin. The statistical significance of an unlikelihood is the “motives of credibility”. In other words, I could commit to the fact that there is only a 20% chance I will not die if I race cars in the street. Cool? So, I get in my car, race and die. NOGGIN FAIL.

    I could also become convinced from the historical and theological record that Christ founded a Church. I look in reality for such a thing. I soon realize that the church I am going to does not even pretend to be such a thing. Scary. So, I start on a journey, looking. In that journey, I realize that there are A LOT of people competing for the rights to “Theory B” but no principled method that is not grounded in my opinion for differentiating. Don’t get me wrong, I can see that some claims are more or less credible, but the mere panoply of opinions and possible theological combinations does not seem to warrant me trusting any of them. I notice only a few competing for the rights to the claim of being the Church Jesus founded. I notice the Creed says, “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic”. I look everywhere and find Catholic Churches. They are everywhere. I notice Western civilization, medicine, education et. al. has been developed by this Church. I notice a papacy. I look at the evidence. I read Augustine, think about unity, pray my you-know-what off.

    At this point, I think I see that you are pushing up against a real tension. One that every convert, I think, wrestles with. How, if it is so obvious, can so many not believe in the Church? In other words, we seem to be saying that the evidence clearly points to “X”, but a heck of a lot of smarter people than me (I would say that) do not assent to “X” even though they are made aware of the evidence. Tough one.

    The answer is that conversion is grace. Grace builds on nature, but it does not destroy it nor will it overpower our will. That C.S. Lewis apprehended the necessity of purgatory but still remained Anglican despite his good friend Tolkein’s less than charitable feelings toward Anglicanism is beyond me. The fact that I have family members that will not repent of their sins all the while being racked by the effects of those sins is beyond me as well. Only God knows the grace we have been exposed to. We, also, seem to know in some way. The fact that I studied Pope St. Clement of Rome in my undergrad, read everything he wrote, came to the conclusion that he clearly taught that there was no grace outside of the sacraments, and remained an evangelical without any sacraments is beyond me. That I had St. Paul give him a lesson or two is beyond me. Sometimes our commitments to false unlikelihoods overpower our ability to truly appreciate new evidence. Maybe we could call this the inverse Matthison claim. It is not so much that Catholicism leads to blindness (as Keith claims), but rather anti-Catholicism (anti-anything) leads to blindness. What we refuse to believe or are committed to not believing is many times the most most difficult to apprehend. I don’t look for what I don’t think can be found. This is quite different than saying that because I believe “x”, I cannot see “y”. That is more difficult to prove and I don’t think Matthison does it (see Mike and Neal). However, I think it makes good sense to say that if you don’t believe Christ founded a Church you can find–like say the city of St. Louis, you are likely to never visit theological Missouri.

    The tu quoque is always hiding in the bush:

    Is not the evidence that points to “X” the same as the Protestant claim to doctrine “A, B or C”? Which brings me right back to my original question:

    “What is the difference between finding a person versus knowing a proposition?”

    I think the question regarding Christ’s Church is the same as Christ. Once you know “who” Christ is, you trust what he says–not the other way around. Same goes for the Church, and that is the difference.

    Peace to you on your journey,

    Brent

  59. Michael- It’s good to hear of your faithfulness and the call you are experiencing to the Catholic Church. Thanks, also, for responding to my brief comment above. Your clarification helped me understand your question. Anything I would say in response would be little more than a poor attempt to say what someone else has expressed far more effectively! So allow me to recommend this article. It’s the 2nd installment in a series. You’d probably enjoy reading the whole thing. But I believe this 2nd piece speaks directly to your thoughtful consideration of this topic. Peace to you!!! Herbert

  60. In #47 Andrew Preslar says: First, the Church cannot be split. She is one, as we confess in the Nicene Creed. Second, the doctrinal definitions of Trent, like the definitions of Nicea, were definitions by the Church. Those who disagreed were cut off from the Church, and this by their own hand, as it were, since they could have submitted to the judgment of the Church instead of following their own understanding(s). Third, the Church made these “creedal statements” in response to novel interpretations of Scripture that had been threatening the doctrinal purity and the unity of the Church for several decades.

    Andrew P – Your statement here boils down to saying that 1) the RCC is right and all other communions are wrong and 2) the RCC creedal statements are correct and others are “novel” interpretations of Scripture. Now how does this statement of what you believe here even begin to answer my point in #46? If I take your tact then my answer would be that the RCC was corrupt and her creedal statements violated the Scripture and should be rejected. But does that kind of answer help anything at all?

    England, the princedoms of Germany, the Calvinist city-states, and the House of Oldenburg, among others, testify to the strong hand of civil government in promoting various schisms. The Inquisition, in its coercive aspect, was less effective than the Counter-Reformation missionaries such as Francis de Sales and numerous other servants of the Church who risked and even gave their lives in the cause of reuniting Protestants with the Catholic Church.

    Both Protestantism and Catholicism had its apologists and its enforcers. In localities such as Switzerland the civil authorities allowed the Reformation to proceed and sometimes promoted the Reformation. In other localities such as France the power of the sword was wielded with such efficiency to wipe out any hope of Reformation. Both Protestant and Catholic had apologists who used Scripture, tradition, and reason to persuade, but it is exceedingly difficult to measure how effective they were. But there is no question that the Inquisition was 100% effective where they had the power to operate and the cooperation of the civil authorities. My only point was that there was plenty more fragmentation that would have happened if the power of the sword could have been utilized by the RCC in more geographies. I don’t know why you would want to take issue with this point.

    In this case, you are not very observant. For starters, there is only one Catholic communion. There are thousands of independent Protestant communions. So, whatever “splintering” or division there is in the Catholic Church, there is a substantial difference between this and the Protestant situation, as evidenced by the fact that there are not thousands of independent Catholic churches.

    Here you are addressing what I say, although I don’t know why you think I’m not being observant. I’m noting the division within Catholicism but yes, affirming that there is no formal division. But why do you think that this is a better condition than what exists in Protestantism? In Catholicism all the congregations call themselves “Catholic” no matter where they exist on the liberal to conservative continuum. In Protestantism they split into different communions. From the perspective of conservative Protestantism, it does not mean much to call oneself “Catholic” because there is very little separation in formal terms in the RCC between those who affirm and those who reject basic Christian theology and practice. All of us Protestants know lots of Catholics, but we know very few of the conservative type apart from those we meet in these kinds of forums. But your comment really interests me – why do you think that Catholicism is in a better position because there is no formal separation between the various factions within the Catholic world? If there is little difference between Protestantism and Catholicism in the level of internal division in terms of belief and practice, what advantage is there to measuring unity in purely formal terms? For us conservative Protestants this is problem for Catholicism to deal with rather than an asset to be heralded.

    So back to Chris’ point – In the RCC creeds are formulated but unlike in Protestantism there is no division. But we have to dig into just what this means. As I see it, it is just a statement that there are no formal divisions created within the RCC. There are I think no fewer divisions in terms of actual belief within Catholicism as there are within Protestantism. But in Catholicism the dividing sides both call themselves “Catholic.” If the goal here is Christian unity then I don’t think the Roman Catholic goal measures up to the biblical one. There is lots of discussion about unity in the Scriptures, but very little in terms of formal organizational unity and lots in terms of unity of heart and mind.

  61. Mike #57,

    If this is true why did the successors of the Apostles such as Ireneaus have to combat Gnosticism and demonstrate by appeals to apostolic succession that the Gnostics were not the church Christ established? If it was such a clear cut issue then it would seem it was superfluous for Ireneaus to spend a whole lot of time writing his five books against the Gnostics. He could have just said “come on guys, you all know you aren’t the church Christ established and even all the pagans know this”.

    The apostles too had to combat heretics and others who attempted to subvert their authority. But, that doesn’t mean that this somehow demonstrates that it was unclear to those 1st century Christians who was given the authority to teach and govern by Christ Himself.

  62. Andrew M,

    Did all of the Apostles, at one given point in time, agree completely on every point of doctrine? It would be almost impossible to make that claim, easy to disprove it. From your theory of unity, the Apostles (the first Church) did not have unity. All they had, on your view, was “formal unity”. However, I will argue that the Apostles did have unity because they stayed connected to their visible Head and this formal unity is essential. The one who betrayed Christ, broke that unity–even while St. Peter denied Christ (betrayed him) but stayed united to Him. There are betrayers in both camps (those who stay formally united and those who do not). One is Judas, the other Peter.

    The fact that human frailty is so much a part of the human condition, and that such frailty manifests in dissent and defiance is sad. However, it is to be admired–I think–that one will stay “in the family” (formal) so to speak even when dissenting (see St. Peter). For those that stay, a time of repentance is offered–which can if necessary culminate in formal excommunication (but mostly material self-excommunicate-schism, heresy, apostasy, etc.) if grace is resisted. The fact that almost any dissenting Catholic knows they are dissenting and can find the authoritative teaching they are dissenting from, but said Protestants think they are representing orthodoxy and know they are not dissenting” (think Federal Vision) is the difference (of course there are those Catholics who feel the same way, but they were Protestant years ago). You may think they are dissenting, but who set “you” or “I” up as the plumb-line by which dissent would be measured?

  63. Andrew,

    I was responding to your comment #46, in which you began with a leading question followed by the suggestion that the Catholic Church is currently enjoying a false or misleading “unity” that papers over de facto splits. And this to the end of tempering *Catholic* triumphalism!

    In response, I answered your question, provided balance to your historical notes, and pointed out the substantial difference between Catholicism and Protestantism re unity.

    In your last comment, you grant that the Catholic Church enjoys formal unity. And she does, thank God. Without formal unity, a being disintegrates. From the Catholic Church’s formal unity, it does not follow that we are unable to tell who is a faithful member of the Church, and who, though visibly in the Church, is not faithful to her. In fact, absent this formal unity, which is manifest to all, there is no definite universal Church relative to which those who are approved, in the sense of being faithful to the Church, can be distinguished from those who are unfaithful (in doctrine or morals) to the Church.

    Finally, I do not think that you are giving due consideration to the sacramental nature of the Catholic Church. I have been to a few more liberal parishes, and there received the astonishing and immeasurably precious gifts of Absolution and the Body and Blood of Christ. These gifts come from Christ himself, through his Church. Personal failings in belief and practice among the clergy and laity do not negate the ministry of Our Lord Jesus Christ in his Catholic Church, because that Church is not, originally or currently, the work of any mere man. It is the mystical Body of Christ, and our faith is in him, trusting that his faithfulness is more than sufficient to make up for personal failings among the members of his mystical Body.

  64. Thanks Herbert. I’ll check out the article asap.

    In Christ,

    Mike

  65. Hello Brian O,

    Thank you for taking the time out to help me with this issue.

    You wrote “The apostles too had to combat heretics and others who attempted to subvert their authority. But, that doesn’t mean that this somehow demonstrates that it was unclear to those 1st century Christians who was given the authority to teach and govern by Christ Himself.”

    I’m not too sure about this, can you prove this? It seems there was confusion for example right after the time of the Apostolic Fathers since Marcion, Montanist and the gnostics all claimed to be teaching the message of Christ and hence claimed to be his true successors and his church. If it was so clear cut which church was the true church then why did they spend so much ink fighting for the Apostolic faith? If it was so clear cut the Catholics wouldn’t have had to demonstrate they were the church of Christ. Help me out here, where have I missed the boat?

  66. Hello Brent,

    Thank you for responding, I do appreciate your help.

    I must make it clear that I do not think there is any credibility to the claims of protestants that they are the church of Christ (though that is not to say anything about the state of an individual protestant’s soul). I think there are only two groups that can make a serious case they are the “One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic church” and those two groups are the Catholics and the Orthodox. I strongly lean toward the Catholics because of the Scriptural and historical case for the papacy. Yet I cannot demonstrate beyond a shadow of a doubt and by reason alone that the Catholic church is the true church 100% no question about it. And anyone who thinks they can demonstrate this is either the smartest person I am aware of or they are just talking a big game. If I am wrong about this, and I would love to be, then please show me how the Catholic church is the church of Christ beyond a shadow of a doubt, 100% by reason alone. I already want to join it so it should be easy to demonstrate this to someone like me. BTW, if you are not claiming this is possible then just ignore that challenge. But for those who think they can prove this, have at it, I got to see this. If this cannot be demonstated then how is it “fideistic” to say that grace is necessary in order to come to know that the Catholic church is the church of Christ?

  67. Michael,

    I’ll hazard a brief response, drawing on Brent’s example of a man knowing whom his wife is, versus an imposter claiming to be his wife:

    A man is happily married for forty years, remembers his wedding day and everything, and then one day another woman shows up, claims to be his real wife, and takes him to court for the right to bed and board, bringing forth various sorts of “evidence” for her claims. Now, the man himself at no time is in doubt concerning who is really his wife, and their families and friends and people close to them in the community are never in any doubt. But say that the case still goes to trial, and the trial documents are published in the papers, and that a number of people in the wider community, being perhaps gullible, or not sufficiently acquainted with the (real) couple, or for some reason sympathetic to the accuser, begin to entertain doubts about who is the real wife. And say that they start to repeat bits of the prosecution’s case, and that this case drags on for years….

    Now suppose that, after an interval of years, someone moves into the community, and is introduced to this unhappy controversy. Will it be immediately clear to him who is the man’s real wife? Maybe, but maybe not. He needs time to sort through the evidence, to get oriented to the facts of the case. He may not have the time to do this properly, and so he naturally remains in some doubt, and is in any case busy with many other things. Add to this that, during the intervening years, from the beginning of the controversy to the present time, advocates of both sides have been busy constructing arguments. Some of the arguments for the impostor are at least superficially persuasive, and some of the arguments for the real wife are not immediately intelligible, or are perhaps lacking in some other respect. And so the debate rages on, and the newcomer wonders why, since there is so much debate, the husband, and some of his partisans, adamantly maintain that there is no doubt who is his real wife….

    So I guess there can be cases in which a matter, in one sense, admits of no doubt, but is nevertheless accompanied by much confusion and wrangling arguments, and thus, in another sense, admits a doubt, at least for some folks. Something like this, it seems to me, has been the case whenever a party has arisen in opposition to the Church that Christ founded, and has itself claimed to be the Church that Christ founded, or at least maintained that the Church that Christ founded is not what she claims to be.

  68. Hello Andrew,

    It would seem this isn’t a very good analogy because in the analogy a random woman came to the man and claimed to be his wife when she was never his wife to begin with. In the case of determining between the Catholics and Orthodox who is the true church and who is schismatic, the Orthodox use to be part of the Catholic church, right??? At one point in time they use to be in union with the Catholic church so the analogy doesn’t work. A better analogy would be to say that both of the wives were at one point in time his real wives and one of them divorced him one day and came back years later and told everyone that she is his real wife and that the other wife isn’t his real wife.

    Since both the Catholics and Orthodox were at one point in time both married to Christ, which one is still His bride and which one the one who divorced Christ?

  69. Michael,

    The analogy was not specific to the Orthodox/Catholic question, but was meant to illustrate how, in general, there can be cases in which a matter is the subject of much controversy, but is in one sense not in doubt. This was in response to your comment #65.

    Regarding comment #66, where you mention the Orthodox, and the question of fideism, I think that we are in large part on the same page. Perhaps the difference between what you are saying here and what Bryan says in comment #56 can be accounted for by considering that there are different kinds of knowledge, corresponding to the different things we know, and that this is accompanied by different kinds of certitude. For example: I know that Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon with his army, and thus prompted a civil war, but this knowledge and my certainty in this case are distinct in kind from my knowledge that the law of non-contradiction is true and my certainty in this case. Hypothetically, I could be wrong about Caesar, but I could not, on any hypothesis, be wrong about the law of non-contradiction.

    The identity of the Church that Christ founded is a matter of historical knowledge, depending upon historical demonstration, which can result in a kind of certainty, but not that kind of certainty that accompanies other kinds of knowledge, e.g., mathematical or logical or metaphysical knowledge, or physical knowledge (i.e., roughly what we mean today by “science”).

    To return to the Orthodox, I think that my analogy can still apply, though it would be more limited. After all, if (1) the Orthodox Church is not the Catholic Church, and (2) the Catholic Church is the Church founded by Christ (as she claims to be, and to exclusively be), then (3) the Orthodox Church, by claiming to be the Church founded by Christ, is in an important sense in the same position as the pseudo-wife: She claims to be what she is not. So, as you indicate, one must choose between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church.

    For some people, based on what they know from history, the choice will be obvious. For others, the choice will not be obvious, and we will, to revert to and develop the analogy, have to rely on the testimony of the husband and wife in order to be certain–we will have to take a step of faith before we know for sure. That was my experience (a couple of years ago, I wrote a post about the Catholic–Orthodox dilemma), and it seems to be yours. But from this it does not follow that no one can or does know, prior to faith, with historical knowledge and with the kind of certainty that pertains to this knowledge, that the Catholic Church is the Church founded by Christ.

  70. Michael- What I’m confused about is the way that it seems that you are under the impression that there is a single “Orthodox Church” that stands as somehow comparable to the “Catholic Church.” As I understand it, there are numerous Orthodox Churches (the largest by far being the Russian Orthodox Church). If a person says “I’m Catholic” it means s/he’s in Communion with a Bishop who’s in Communion with the Bishop of Rome. If a person says “I am Orthodox,” however, s/he may be in communion with any number of non-catholic apostolic Churches. So I guess it doesn’t make sense to me to say that the 2 options are Catholicism and Orthodoxy b/c Catholicism is inherently one/unified. Whereas, Orthodoxy isn’t. Thanks again!

  71. Michael, (re: #57)

    You wrote:

    why did the successors of the Apostles such as Ireneaus have to combat Gnosticism and demonstrate by appeals to apostolic succession that the Gnostics were not the church Christ established? If it was such a clear cut issue then it would seem it was superfluous for Ireneaus to spend a whole lot of time writing his five books against the Gnostics. He could have just said “come on guys, you all know you aren’t the church Christ established and even all the pagans know this”.

    The question in dispute with the Gnostics wasn’t whether the Catholic Church was the Church Christ founded, but whether Christ (or the Apostles) had given some secret knowledge to the later founders of the Gnostic sects. In a way, it was the earliest form of ecclesial deism, proposing that Christ had abandoned His original team of Church leaders, and secretly chosen some other men to hand down His teaching.

    I thought one only came to believe in Christ and his church by grace (Matthew 16:17).

    Yes, but faith is not an irrational act. I have explained all this in the Wilson vs. Hitchens post, which I linked to in #56. I’m not going to repeat all that here.

    If this is true then why did Jesus tell Peter that it was not flesh and blood but God the Father who revealed the identity of Jesus to him if it was just something that one could come to by reason alone?

    I never said that Jesus’ identity as the Son of God could be known by reason alone, did I? Please read the Wilson vs. Hitchens post, linked in #56.

    Additionally, if coming to know which church is the church Christ established is as easy …

    No one said it is easy. Again, in #56 I pointed you to comment #77 in the Wilson vs. Hitchens thread. If you want to know the answer to this question, please read the links in comment #77.

    but I’m not sure how one can determine all of these things apart from faith seeing that issues which concern Christ and his church are not subjects of nature but are subjects of grace, therefore, grace and faith are necessary in order to come to believe in them.

    Believing in them is faith; faith cannot be necessary in order to attain faith in the first place — that would lead to a regress problem. The motives of credibility lead one to faith, but faith is also a gift of grace. Did I mention that I’ve explained this in the Wilson vs. Hitchens thread? :-) You couldn’t possibly have read that whole thread in the 40 minutes between comments #56 and #57.

    I truly desire to know …

    If so, then please don’t immediately start typing your reply; carefully read and study and ponder what I link you to.

    because if coming to believe the Catholic church is a simple as reasoning through a few historical facts then I would like to show those historical facts to my Orthodox friends so that they can become Catholics.

    I agree with what Andrew wrote in #69. Also, in the section of comment #56 addressed to you, you will find a link to a comment on the Kallistos Ware thread. There you will find additional links that will take you both to articles and books that help answer the Orthodox-Catholic question. Tolle lege.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  72. @Michael:

    I think there are only two groups that can make a serious case they are the “One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic church” and those two groups are the Catholics and the Orthodox.

    I think it is certainly the case that the only two groups that are plausibly in continuity with the Apostolic Church are these. My difficulty with the Orthodox is that “the Orthodox Church” isn’t really a singular. It should be “the Orthodox Churches” There are something like 15 or 16 ‘autocephalous’ (meaning that each has its own head) Orthodox churches, and they do not, in many cases, intercommunion. How this could be what Christ intended, or what would follow from the Church of the Apostles beats me. From what I know of the early Church – and including what you read in the New Testament – unity of Communion was essential to being in the Church.

    I remember in about 1985, when my Reformed mentor – James B. Jordan – was corresponding with me about all this, and I said that, of course, the creeds were the symbol of unity, he responded that, on the contrary, he thought the Sacraments were the symbol of unity. It seemed instantly to me to be correct.

    Sadly, when, in 1995, I told Jim of my intention of becoming a Catholic, he was very upset. I was, indeed, received into the Church at the end of 1995 and it is the most wonderful thing that has ever happened to me.

    jj

  73. Reading Newman was the thing that helped me most along the path to the Catholic Church. Not only did he give me some perspective on some of the cardinal difficulties, at least historically, that Protestants have with Catholicism (e.g., the social state of Catholic countries, veneration of Mary, ecclesiastical miracles, development of doctrine, the rival claims of the Orthodox Church), he gave me some perspective on my own inward monitions and enthusiasms, varying as they did from time to time, the one waning, the other waxing, then vice versa.

    Still, I remember the moment that I came to believe that the Catholic Church is what she claims to be, and I was not concluding an argument, or even considering an argument. I was sitting in a hotel room, during a break in a clergy conference for the Anglican Province of America (I was a seminarian at that time, nearing the end of my studies), reading Chesterton’s Conversion and the Catholic Church. I can’t recall that anything in particular, in that book, was enormously persuasive, but I remember the feeling that accompanied this reading–a feeling of utmost serenity, which gently culminated in the belief that the Catholic Church is the Church founded by Christ. I didn’t tell anyone this, but I took care to say goodbye to my good friends and mentors among the clergy–the end, and the beginning, had come at last.

    After that time, as before, I was (and continue to be) keenly aware of the many difficulties that one encounters in the approach to, or else defense of, the Catholic Church. But as Newman famously noted, a thousand difficulties do not add up to a single doubt. The difficulties can still rise up like a wave, but somehow faith just rises over the crest. Actually, I can see how this might be true for one who arrives at a moral certitude before arriving at faith, and I cannot be sure that my first moment of settled conviction was not merely the former, the result of a culmination of probabilities, brought home in a moment of conviction. But eventually I did believe, though as we have had occasion to comment in other respects, faith itself is not the object of faith. So I am content with the mystery, the mystery of faith, and the mystery that is faith.

    Thus, an autobiographical moment.

  74. Michael,

    I think Andrew and Bryan have answered you well. If you notice in this conversation and others, the concept of “certainty” crops up. Certainty, in the Cartesian-modern sense, is some type of indubitable psychological state. An indubitable psychological state is not possible (it is possible to doubt anything–not reasonable or rational albeit), thus the modern milieu of skepticism and all the weird philosophies vacillating between idealism and existentialism over the last 500 or so years. That notion of certainty still plagues Christianity.

    If by 100% certainty you mean an indubitable psychological state, then no I will not try to prove that. If you mean something else, please explain.

    St. John, beloved of the Word Incarnate who now sees God face-to-face, pray for us

  75. Hello Andrew,

    You definitely helped clear up some issues, what you are saying makes sense. Thanks for the help!

    Mike

  76. Hello Herbert,

    I do not know much about Orthodoxy but I do know enough to know there isn’t just one orthodox church. I should have been more clear and said “Orthodox communions” or something of the sort. Hope that helps clarify things.

    Mike

  77. Andrew M.

    You wrote:

    I’m noting the division within Catholicism but yes, affirming that there is no formal division. But why do you think that this is a better condition than what exists in Protestantism? In Catholicism all the congregations call themselves “Catholic” no matter where they exist on the liberal to conservative continuum.

    This is a common refrain which I believe trades upon generalization and equivocation. Formal unity matters a great deal, as I will show. The first thing to point out is that Catholic “congregations” do not exist on a liberal to conservative spectrum. Perhaps people do, but not “congregations”. Consider the following:

    Political liberalism and conservatism within the Catholic Church regarding circumstances or activities which are not intrinsically evil

    There are individuals within the Catholic Church who hold liberal, as opposed to conservative, political views (as those terms are generally understood in American political parlance). Yet, for many political issues, such as immigration, or how one feels about unions, or the role of centralized government, or universal health care, or environmental activism, or the application of capital punishment, or the justification for a current war, etc.; differing political views on such matters are entirely within the ambit of the Catholic faith, because there can be differing arguments for how the principles of Catholic social teaching (a definite body of teaching which one can find in the CCC) ought to be applied to particular political circumstances. While bishops and priests have the duty to teach those Catholic principles by which particular political circumstances and positions are to be evaluated and judged; they are not authorized to teach their personal judgments regarding some particular political circumstance as binding on the faithful. I have never come across a priest or bishop who presented their personal political judgments as binding on the faithful, have you? If a priest attempts such a thing, say during the homily, or during an RCIA session, you can bet that someone will challenge him and take the issue up with the bishop if need be. It rarely happens precisely because everyone knows that to be a Catholic is to be subject to a Magisterium which may exact discipline if one publicly presents his polictical opinions as consonant with official Catholic teaching.

    To be sure, the pope, or a bishop, or a priest may publicly declare his position on some particular circumstance – but never as binding on the faithful. A fortiori for differing political opinions held among the faithful. In short, political liberalism vs. conservatism regarding issues which are not intrinsically evil, does not in the least undermine the reality of Catholic unity. In Protestantism, on the other hand, there is no recognized body of teaching regarding the Christian principles of social justice or common life. Therefore, sometimes entire congregations, and groupings of congregations, are formed around particular political positions and alliances, such certain African American church communities – a la Jeremiah Wright, Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson. On Protestantism, there is no obstacle whatsoever to the establishment of a separate and independent church based upon a stance toward some current state of political affairs which one does not share with other Christians. Catholic “formal” unity prevents this.

    Dissent within the Catholic Church regarding human activities which the Catholic Church officially teaches to be intrinsically evil

    There really are not many applicable issues here. Have you encountered Catholics openly dissenting from Church teaching concerning intrinsically evil acts other than contraception, abortion, active homosexual lifestyles and divorce? I haven’t, and I have been a Catholic observing the local, national and world scene for 12 years now. Of course, I do not want to minimize the fact that dissent on these issues is a serious thing; I merely want to counter any vague notions of some myriad of Catholic moral teachings which are denied by Catholic. But does one find even these teachings publicly denied by the USCCB, or by bishops teaching in their diocese, or by priests in their homilies or RCIA sessions? Almost never. Why? Because everyone knows that those teachings are non-negotiable teachings of the Catholic Magisterium; and that to publicly teach otherwise within Catholic congregations, will land one in immediate trouble with the bishop, or else the Vatican. The same goes for lay persons who very publicly espouse such dissent in the public square, such as publicly pro-abortion politicians or theologians who simultaneously want to maintaining their identity as “Catholic”. Such persons are, from time to time, publicly reprimanded by the bishops, or even the pope, as in the case of Nancy Pelosi. Or when some so-called Catholic university sponsors some GLBT event; or else there is a gathering of “Catholics-for-Choice”; then there is public outcry among Catholics, and Catholic organizations like the Cardinal Newman Society who publicly point out that such activities run contrary to Magisterial teaching.

    Of course there are, and have been, bishops, priests, religious and lay persons who dissent from one or more of the moral teachings I listed. But the typical way such dissent is expressed within the Church, by either clergy or lay persons, is to simply exclude those teachings from one’s public ministry by not mentioning very little, if at all. It is undercover dissent: and, of course, it is difficult for a bishop or other Church authority to expose dissent, when dissent is carried out quietly and through negation, as it were. Sometimes dissent is made manifest by general surveys, where Catholics can anonymously affirm that they are pro-choice, or support GLBT lifestyles, etc. Such surveys sometimes show that dissent exists in many hearts and minds, and I affirm that such data ought to be taken by the clergy as an indication as to where catechesis is needed, so as to change hearts and minds, or else prompt dissenters to re-consider their identity as Catholic.

    However, if the same surveys were to ask whether or not such dissenting Catholics think their positions to be compatible with the current teaching of the Catholic Church, the answer will in all likelihood be no. Hence, I am not aware of anyone dissenting from these moral doctrines in the name of the Catholic Church. The very reason why dissent gets media attention is precisely because everyone, even non-Catholics, know that such dissent is dissent from the teaching of the Catholic Church; and therefore, newsworthy. Hence, both the reprimands for public dissent, as well as the forcing of non-public dissent “underground”, both stem from the formal unity of the Catholic Church derived from the known fact of its Magisterial teaching and disciplinary arm. There is a reason why there are zero openly practicing gay Catholic priests or bishops (of course, there may be openly gay bishops who live chaste lives by not acting on their sexual impulses, or there may be gay bishops who act on those impulses without anyone knowing it).

    Now contrast this with Protestantism. There is no official moral teaching in Protestantism, because no one can say who or what speaks for “Protestantism”. Because of this, there are not only some protestants who openly or quietly dissent from some or all of these moral teachings; there are entire congregations which openly affirm – as matters of official teaching – that contraception, or abortion, or active homosexuality, or divorce and remarriage are not intrinsically disordered. Divergences on these issues have been the occasion of church splits. The Anglican Church has ordained openly practicing, gay men. It is one thing to officially teach that a given action is intrinsically wrong while acknowledging that some folks in the pews, or among the clergy, secretly disagree; or else to be accused of failing to publicly reprimand public dissent by professing Catholics quickly and/or often enough. It is another thing, entirely, to officially teach that an act which is intrinsically evil is actually good or at least morally neutral. That is the difference that formal unity makes. The former situation leaves open the possibility that improved catechetical efforts can reduce dissent within the Church and free people from the slavery of sin, precisely because the moral teaching to which Catholics are called remains clear on account of the Magisterium. In the latter situation, no such possibility now exists in many congregations, since that which is evil, is officially taught to be otherwise. There is nothing to call the people back from. There is no dissent only because the truth has been officially obscured.

    Dissent within the Church with respect to articles of faith which do not touch upon intrinsically evil acts

    The most common items which are challenged are priestly celibacy, male-only ordination, and perhaps papal infallibility (often because this doctrine undergirds the Church’s prohibition against contraception and ordination of women priests). Here again, everything I said about public dissent and public reprimand, as well as quiet “undercover” dissent with regard to moral issues applies. Here also, when anonymous surveys are conducted, many Catholics admit to doubting the Real Presence, or the necessity of Sacramental Confession to rectify grave sin, or the reality of hell, etc. And again, that points to the need for better catechesis to change hearts and minds, or else to prompt an act of integrity whereby a person makes the honest choice to shed his Catholic identity. Yet, Catholicism, people who doubt core doctrines of the Church are generally not theological innovators or “purists”, claiming to have access to the “true” gospel. They are lukewarm Catholics. Hence, contrary to the Protestant practice, they do not seek to establish a new church, so as to stratify their idiosyncratic theological or moral positions within the official teaching documents of some new congregation. In Protestantism, that is exactly where dissent often leads, and the result is that it becomes unclear what something called “Protestantism” actually proclaims – officially – as the gospel. For doctrinal disagreement ensues even as regards “essential” doctrines (sic the “Lordship” debate). All of this, I say, shows the advantage of formal unity.

    You wrote:

    There are I think no fewer divisions in terms of actual belief within Catholicism as there are within Protestantism.

    I think this is manifestly false. As I have explained, most polictical views do not touch upon the teaching or unity of the Church. Hence, I now list what I take to be the general (if not exhaustive) spectrum of current positions which encompass dissent within the Catholic Church. I have mentioned:

    Support for contraception
    Support for abortion
    Support for active homosexual lifestyles
    Support for divorce
    Support for female ordination
    Support for priestly marriage (not necessarily even an issues of dissent, since it is a matter of discipline)
    Rejection of papal infallibility
    Denial of the Real Presence
    Denial of the necessity of sacramental confession for grave sin.
    Denial of the reality of hell

    Moreover, I have explained what advantage I think attaches to the fact that these positions are known to be contrary to the teaching of the Catholic faith (even by dissenters and non-Catholics), precisely because there is a formal unity grounded in the teaching and governmental Magisterium of the Catholic Church. Perhaps I have missed a few dissenting positions. But even so, do you really think this list (even with a few additions) remotely compares in size to the variety of doctrinal positions officially promulgated by the various church congregations and communions within Protestantism?

    Pax Christi,

    Ray

  78. Hello Bryan. I think I wasn’t very careful in some of my language because I can see that you misunderstood what I said in a few sections, but that is not your fault, it is mine for not being more clear in what I meant to say. For example, I do not believe that faith is necessary in order to have faith. What I meant was that grace is necessary in order to have faith, but I can see how what I wrote would have given you that impression. I skimmed the links you posted last night before I replied so I will go back over them more carefully and let you know if I have any more questions.

    Thank you for helping me out with this.

    Mike

  79. Hello Bryan,

    I read the Hitchens link you sent me to and also read comment #77 and I think you may have misunderstood what I am saying, it is probably my fault rather than yours though. I’m probably not very clear in what I’m trying to articulate.

    You wrote “So in short, reason only takes us so far, as Virgil only guided Dante so far. But reason gives us a sufficient certainty such that faith, though transcending the power of unaided human reason, is not contrary to reason.” I believe every word here and that is why I am confused as to why you accused my position of being “fideistic”. I believe that faith is not contrary to reason and that reason apart from faith may give us sufficent certainty of something but not absolute certaininty of something.

    You wrote “By contrast, the Catholic Church teaches that the assent of faith is “by no means a blind movement of the mind.”6 Rather, the assent of faith is guided by motives of credibility that are grasped by reason. Faith as an arbitrary, non-rational leap in the dark, is fideistic faith. And Wilson’s position is a form of fideism.” I agree with the Catholic church that the assent of faith is by no means a blind movement of the mind. I believe that faith is not a blind faith and there is a great deal of evidence to support the claims of the papcy but to come to absolute certainty of the claims of the papacy faith is required. You wrote “Through the motives of credibility we can have sufficient certainty that the Church is divinely instituted and divinely authorized.” Again, I agree and I would not dispute that. My point was just that in order to have absolute certainty divine grace is necessary. Is this still “fideism”?

  80. Michael, (re: #79)

    It depends on what you mean by the term ‘absolute certainty.’ If you mean that we cannot have any knowledge or certainty unless we have faith, then yes, that’s fideism. If you mean that without faith we cannot know what God supernaturally reveals, then no, that’s not fideism.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  81. Hello Bryan,

    I think we mean the same thing but I just have a poor way of articulating it and I can see now after reading about Wilson’s view how I could have come across as saying that we could not have any knowledge or certainty unless we have faith. That wasn’t what I meant but I can see how it would come across like that.

    Andrew and Herbert,

    I will check out those posts you sent me to. I’m sure I will learn much. Thanks.

    Mike

  82. Hello Andrew,

    I reread your comment in #69 and I think it helped clarify some things. You wrote “The identity of the Church that Christ founded is a matter of historical knowledge, depending upon historical demonstration, which can result in a kind of certainty, but not that kind of certainty that accompanies other kinds of knowledge, e.g., mathematical or logical or metaphysical knowledge, or physical knowledge (i.e., roughly what we mean today by “science”).” I would agree with this. The certainty that I can about about 2 plus 2 equals 4 is not the kind of certainty of one might have of historical knowledge. Though there is definitely a level of certainty one can have of historical records. As to how this all relates to Christ’s church, I think you are right that one can have a level of certainty regarding the Catholic church and its claims. It is not like the certainty I have that I exist but I can see how one could obtain a level of certainty on this topic. The problem is that it would seem one would have to be aware of most of the historical facts concerning the historicity Catholic church. I’m sure a number of people are aware know this much about the papacy in history, but for people like me who do not know much about anything it would seem that faith is required. That is not to say one cannot by reason alone come to know with certainty that the Catholic claims are true, but it is to say that at the current moment I am not one of them. I have studied a little bit about the papacy and its historicity and so far I think that the Catholic church is the church Christ established, and I come to this conclusion by the testimony of Scripture and history. However, there was a point in time I thought Calvinism was right, and dispensationalism, and Arminianism, and charismaticism and credo0-baptism and the list goes on. Of course I am not saying those views have the same amount of credibility the Catholic church does, but my point is I have been wrong in the past and I can be wrong again. Until I know more about the papacy I cannot have the kind of certainty we both agree one can come to regarding the papacy by reason alone. Until then faith fills in the gap for me. However, what I meant in my first comment about faith being necessary to come to know the claims of the papacy are true was more along the lines of being able to know they are true with the same amount of certainty one has that 2 plus 2 equals 4. Your comment helped clarify that distinction. Thanks for the help!

  83. Hey Mike,

    Cool. As I was reading your comments, and responding, I kept thinking: man, we are pretty much in the same boat, I mean, about the challenges faced in addressing the Catholic–Orthodox question. I too am quite limited in my historical knowledge, though I tried (and try) to be responsible in reading what I could (can), and thinking things through. This being the case, it was weird that we kept seeming to disagree, or to not quite click on the relation of faith and reason. That’s why I put in the autobiographical bit in #73 and the bit at the end of #69, because it just seemed like we had much in common that I was somehow failing to acknowledge. I’m glad that we are understanding one another better regarding the faith and reason / certitude stuff as well.

    Andrew

  84. Ray,

    Re comment #77: That is exactly what I have in mind by “liberalism” and dissent in the Catholic Church, that, and the anti-authoritarian spirit (when I submit, so long as I agree…), the not uncommon attitude problem which of course is breeding ground for the dissenting opinions that you name, not to mention various acts of disobedience in matters of discipline. Thanks for bringing needed focus and perspective to the issue.

    Andrew

  85. Andrew P said: Absent this formal unity, which is manifest to all, there is no definite universal Church relative to which those who are approved, in the sense of being faithful to the Church, can be distinguished from those who are unfaithful (in doctrine or morals).

    Andrew P,

    Given what you say here, have you ever wondered why the Scriptures spend so much space defining the Church in terms of what a congregation ought to look like but there is virtually nothing defining what the relationship between these congregations ought to be? Now I’m sure you will say something along the lines that the descendants of the Apostles had the right to define such relationships, but the point I am making is that the Church existed as the Church before there was any defined relationship between the congregations. The Scriptures laid out the foundational definition of “Church” without any formal definition of such a relationship. In other words, the Church as defined in the Scriptures existed and prospered without any of the formal definitions later imposed upon her by the Bishop of Rome. If what you say above is true then it stands to reason that there must be one centrally organized hierarchical Church, as such a Church was later defined by the Church of Rome, and any competing ecclesiological notions such as those entertained by EO and Protestant communions much be in error. But why is this necessity lost of the writers of Scripture? Why can they talk about a universal Church without any such explicit reference?

    As in your previous comment you speak as if the Roman Catholic philosophy on the concept of Church is obvious. You say that “Without formal unity, a being disintegrates,” and here I assume that you mean without the kind of formal unity defined by Rome. It seems that you want to say that it is a philosophical impossibility that we can appeal to a Church that is not a hierarchical organized entity, as Rome would define such an entity. My first answer to your assumption is to again point out that the biblical writers speak of Church without any reference to such an entity. But I would also ask the same sort of question that I don’t see you really trying to answer – why cannot two organizationally distinct entities be unified with each other if there is a common understanding between the two?

    My observation is that the history of Both Protestantism and Catholicism demonstrates that 1) there can be substantial unity between bodies without there being an administrative unity between them. To exemplify this, look at the various Reformed confessions in the 16th century and ask how much agreement and how much disagreement was there between them. The degree of accord both theologically and practically was far greater in the Reformed communions than that for Catholicism, at least up until Trent. And then 2) Administrative unity does not guarantee real, that is biblical, unity. There may be no better example that n the theological and moral mess that the RCC was before Trent, something Catholic historians don’t debate. But things don’t seem to me much better for the RCC today. At least there does not seem to be any objective evidence that Catholicism is in any less disarray than Protestantism.

    On your comments about liberalism, you may be right that I’m being to hard of such congregations. My own lineage stems from the Anglican Church (I’m first generation American) and I am often very hard on the typical Anglican congregation. But I have to admit a great deal of surprise at Queen Elizabeth’s Christmas Day speech – quite astounding for the head of a now very secular state and the head of a very liberal ecclesiological entity.

  86. Ray (re: 77),

    No time right now to answer properly, but for a start I’m not speaking of political liberalism, although I’m not saying there is no relationship between theological and political liberalism.

    Secondly, at some level, Cath0licism has to be judged by her priests and laity. All of us Protestants know lots of Catholics and we don’t see much difference between the state of Catholicism and that of Protestantism. There are no shortage of studies on what Catholics believe vs what Protestants believe. There just does not seem to be much difference. As per my note to Andrew P, the formal administrative unity does not seem to have produced any different result. Instead of people taking issue with an infallible Scriptures (Protestantism) they take issue with an infallible Magisterium (Catholicism).

  87. Andrew,

    You wrote:

    As in your previous comment you speak as if the Roman Catholic philosophy on the concept of Church is obvious. You say that “Without formal unity, a being disintegrates,” and here I assume that you mean without the kind of formal unity defined by Rome.

    By “formal unity” I am referring to an entity, any entity, with respect to its being the thing that it is, and not some other thing or a mere collection of things. When an entity losses its formal unity, “it” ceases to be that thing, and becomes something else. A prime example would be a living body, which is a formal unity, versus a dead body, which is not a formal unity, as evidenced by the fact that it decomposes. A living body might grow sick, but it does not decompose, and it can be healed. A dead body, having no formal unity, cannot be healed. We both agree that the Catholic Church enjoys formal unity, and I am not assuming anything peculiar to Catholicism regarding the meaning of formal unity.

    You wrote:

    It seems that you want to say that it is a philosophical impossibility that we can appeal to a Church that is not a hierarchical organized entity, as Rome would define such an entity. My first answer to your assumption is to again point out that the biblical writers speak of Church without any reference to such an entity.

    Well it is certainly possible, though I think not accurate, to use the word “Church” to refer to something that is not a hierarchically organized entity. A set of ideas, or the set of all people who hold ideas x and y, but not idea z, is not a hierarchically organized entity, and many people use the word “Church” to refer to such a set. What I want to say is that the Church is not presented, either in Sacred Scripture or in the Church Fathers, as a set, even though it is possible, by abstraction, to pick out certain properties of the Church and members of the Church, and to describe the Church and her members with reference to those properties. But the Church herself is not an abstraction.

    The universal Church, like the local churches, is referred to in Sacred Scripture as a formal unity, specifically as a Body, with, as this entails, a hierarchically organized structure. See for example, Matthew 16:16-18; 1 Corinthians 12:28; Ephesians 1:21-23, 2:19-22. The mystical Body, the Pope, the college of bishops, its all there, in Sacred Scripture.

    Earlier you had asked, in bold letters: “Why can they talk about a universal Church without any such explicit reference?” I suppose that you are alluding to references that were formulated by the Church at some time after the first century, or in some place other than Sacred Scripture. The short answer is: For the same reason that they can talk about the Holy Trinity without any such explicit reference.

    You made a couple of further points:

    My observation is that the history of Both Protestantism and Catholicism demonstrates that 1) there can be substantial unity between bodies without there being an administrative unity between them….

    And then 2) Administrative unity does not guarantee real, that is biblical, unity.

    I agree that there can be a kind of unity between bodies without any formal unity. There can be moral and intellectual unity, for example. But there cannot be the kind of unity that pertains to a body, which is why you referenced “bodies,” plural. Regarding your second point: As we have seen, biblical unity does include that kind of unity that pertains to a body, and this includes organizational unity, with implied administrative duties (such as “binding and loosing”).

    You also made a few allusions to “messes” in the Catholic Church, around the time of Trent, and today. I think that these messes are examples of sickness in the Body. But of course one does not heal the Body by going off and forming a different body. One of the obvious advantages of the formal unity of the Body of Christ, which I believe to be the Catholic Church, is its capacity for healing, for strengthening the “feeble arms and weak knees.”

    I haven’t read the Queen’s Christmas Day speech–will have to do that.

  88. Ray (#77) said:

    Formal unity matters a great deal, as I will show.

    Indeed. As a lifelong protestant, I find the prospect of formal church unity, together with historical continuity, and objective ecclesial succession to be the compelling reasons to seriously consider the claims of the Catholic Church’s leadership.

    I am becoming convinced that Protestantism fails to provide an acceptable or valid model for the Church for all three considerations. It seems that the Lord has chosen to strive for the unity of His body by a more objective and visible de-jure means than by some putative de-facto workings of the Holy Spirit.

    The Catholic apologists in this forum (this being said with no negative connotations), have done their part in contributing to the New Catholic Evangelization. I am one protestant (or perhaps former protestant) who finds he now has a great deal to rethink. I thank them for their efforts.

    For the peace, charity, and unity of Christ’s Church,

    Michael

  89. @Andrew P., (#63)

    “Without formal unity, a being disintegrates”. Honestly, I think this is one of the really beautiful places that philosophy helps strengthen theology. The principle that you advocate is simple enough – unless there’s something (formal unity) holding the being together, the being collapses in upon itself and is destroyed. I think this is a philosophical truth (or, perhaps more specifically, something neatly revealed through natural revelation). For example, as you imply in #87, animals need something to hold them together or else they, well, die. Bookshelves need formal unity among their various parts (shelves, screws, etc) or else you cease to have a bookshelf and instead have a pile of wood & metal pieces.

    Now of course churches are kinds of beings too – and they have their own kind of formal unity. I mean, the OPC is formally unified around beliefs expressed in the Westminster Confession, the LCMS is formally unified around beliefs expressed in the Book of Concord, and Mormons are unified by beliefs expressed in the book of Mormon (for added fun, the BoC, WCoF and BoM express mutually-exclusive beliefs). :-( But in a sense, formal unity is cheap – any two people can be formally unified by and around any joint statement of beliefs (whether heretical or not).

    Anyway, what you wrote was one of those “Aha!” moments for me. The body of Christ (the church) must be formally unified because otherwise it could not be – it would cease to exist. But it does exist (and Christ has promised that it shall continue to exist). I don’t know how philosophical this forthcoming thought is, but I rather doubt that, say, the OPC will be around in any recognizable form in 200 years. And it’s not just the OPC – I don’t think any given Protestant denomination will be recognizably similar to itself 200 years from now. But the fact that the RC church is a visible single body and is recognizably similar to itself 200, 500, 1000 years in the past gives me no small amount of confidence that it will be recognizably similar to itself in the future. I take it this is one of those “motives of credibility” I’ve been hearing so much about, yes?

    Anyways, Andrew, thanks for the lightbulb moment. Much obliged.

    Sincerely,
    ~Benjamin

  90. @Benjamin Keil – I remember when, in 1993, I was reading through Newman’s great “Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine,” the endings of the three great sections in chapter 6, that I knew that I was undone. My anti-Catholicism was in ruins.

    From Section 1 – “The Church of the First Centuries”:

    if there is a form of Christianity now in the world which is accused of gross superstition, of borrowing its rites and customs from the heathen, and of ascribing to forms and ceremonies an occult virtue;—a religion which is considered to burden and enslave the mind by its requisitions, to address itself to the weak-minded and ignorant, to be supported by sophistry and imposture, and to contradict reason and exalt mere irrational faith;—a religion which impresses on the serious mind very distressing views of the guilt and consequences of sin, sets upon the minute acts of the day, one by one, their definite value for praise or blame, and thus casts a grave shadow over the future;—a religion which holds up to admiration the surrender of wealth, and disables serious persons from enjoying it if they would;—a religion, the doctrines of which, be they good or bad, are to the generality of men unknown; which is considered to bear on its very surface signs of folly and falsehood so distinct that a glance suffices to judge of it, and that careful examination is preposterous; which is felt to be so simply bad, that it may be calumniated at hazard and at pleasure, it being nothing but absurdity to stand upon the accurate distribution of its guilt among its particular acts, or painfully to determine how far this or that story concerning it is literally true, or what has to be allowed in candour, or what is improbable, or what cuts two ways, or what is not proved, or what may be plausibly defended;—a religion such, that men look at a convert to it with a feeling which no other denomination raises except Judaism, Socialism, or Mormonism, viz. with curiosity, suspicion, fear, disgust, as the case may be, as if something strange had befallen him, as if he had had an initiation into a mystery, and had come into communion with dreadful influences, as if he were now one of a confederacy which claimed him, absorbed him, stripped him of his personality, reduced him to a mere organ or instrument of a whole;—a religion which men hate as proselytizing, anti-social, revolutionary, as dividing families, separating chief friends, corrupting the maxims of government, making a mock at law, dissolving the empire, the enemy of human nature, and a “conspirator against its rights and privileges;” —a religion which they consider the champion and instrument of darkness, and a pollution calling down upon the land the anger of heaven;—a religion which they associate with intrigue and conspiracy, which they speak about in whispers, which they detect by anticipation in whatever goes wrong, and to which they impute whatever is unaccountable;—a religion, the very name of which they cast out as evil, and use simply as a bad epithet, and which from the impulse of self-preservation they would persecute if they could;—if there be such a religion now in the world, it is not unlike Christianity as that same world viewed it, when first it came forth from its Divine Author.

    Section 2 – “The Church of the Fourth Century”:

    On the whole, then, we have reason to say, that if there be a form of Christianity at this day distinguished for its careful organization, and its consequent power; if it is spread over the world; if it is conspicuous for zealous maintenance of its own creed; if it is intolerant towards what it considers error; if it is engaged in ceaseless war with all other bodies called Christian; if it, and it alone, is called “Catholic” by the world, nay, by those very bodies, and if it makes much of the title; if it names them heretics, and warns them of coming woe, and calls on them one by one, to come over to itself, overlooking every other tie; and if they, on the other hand, call it seducer, harlot, apostate, Antichrist, devil; if, however much they differ one with another, they consider it their common enemy; if they strive to unite together against it, and cannot; if they are but local; if they continually subdivide, and it remains one; if they fall one after another, and make way for new sects, and it remains the same; such a religious communion is not unlike historical Christianity, as it comes before us at the Nicene Era.

    Section 3 – “The Church of the Fifth and Sixth Centuries”:

    If then there is now a form of Christianity such, that it extends throughout the world, though with varying measures of prominence or prosperity in separate places;—that it lies under the power of sovereigns and magistrates, in various ways alien to its faith;—that flourishing nations and great empires, professing or tolerating the Christian name, lie over against it as antagonists;—that schools of philosophy and learning are supporting theories, and following out conclusions, hostile to it, and establishing an exegetical system subversive of its Scriptures;—that it has lost whole Churches by schism, and is now opposed by powerful communions once part of itself;—that it has been altogether or almost driven from some countries;—that in others its line of teachers is overlaid, its flocks oppressed, its Churches occupied, its property held by what may be called a duplicate succession;—that in others its members are degenerate and corrupt, and are surpassed in conscientiousness and in virtue, as in gifts of intellect, by the very heretics whom it condemns;—that heresies are rife and bishops negligent within its own pale;—and that amid its disorders and its fears there is but one Voice for whose decisions the peoples wait with trust, one Name and one See to which they look with hope, and that name Peter, and that see Rome;—such a religion is not unlike the Christianity of the fifth and sixth Centuries .

    These passages still give me the shivers when I read them.

    Three books were essential in my own conversion to the Church (from Reformed religion in the Dutch tradition) – Newman’s “Apologia pro Vita Sua,” his “Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine,” and Ronald Knox’s “The Belief of Catholics.” There were so many others of great importance, but these are the towering peaks of my own experience. I warmly recommend them.

    jj

  91. Andrew McCollum,

    Response to #85. The problem with asking what model the scriptures have for extralocal authority between local congregations is that the group of men who decided what the scriptures should be already had a very good idea of what that should be. By the time the canon was relatively settled (i.e. by the third or fourth century) the ecclesial structure of the RCC and EO was decided on. If you are going to accept the right of those early fathers to decide canon, then you probably are going to have to yield to their authority on other things as well….

    Response to #86. I agree with this comment pretty well at 100% The real issue I see with the RCC and EO is the personal holiness of the individuals making them up. It was so screwed up for so long that it is still pretty hard for us to get over. Bottom line I think this is where most protestants are.What undoes this argument, however is the following: First of all we are all sinful and GOD still works through us. Secondly, Bishop Eddie Long, Paula White, Benny Hinn, etc. etc. etc. we Protestants are accumulating quite the collection of ecclesiastic screw ups ourselves. Thirdly, Mother Theresa, JPII, PB16 etc. etc. etc, the Catholics are exhibiting quite the collection of saints themselves.

  92. @Jeremiah:

    The real issue I see with the RCC and EO is the personal holiness of the individuals making them up.

    I – as a Catholic convert! – have to agree with Jeremiah here. We (my family and I) became Catholics almost despite the character of – well, at least of some Catholics. It was the truth we wanted.

    The fact is, however, that this is the way Jesus described the Kingdom – bad fish and good, tares and wheat. When we were in our Reformed church, you would not have had this. It wasn’t that people living immoral lives, or – what is very common amongst Catholics – who don’t bother to go to Church regularly – were excommunicated. They were just ‘cut’ (in the Victorian sense). They went elsewhere.

    But if the Catholic Church is what it claims to be, then there is nowhere else to go. There is only one Church. Be in it – or you are in the world.

    The remarkable thing is that the Catholic distinction of faith, hope, and charity – as opposed to the common Protestant usage of the word ‘faith’ to include, really, all three – makes sense of this situation. There are – alas! – many Catholics who have faith. The believe that Jesus is God, that the Church is His Body. They lack, however, hope – either they recognise their own sinfulness, and cannot believe that the promises apply to them – or, worse, almost, they are presumptuous, they assume that God would not reject anyone – and they certainly lack charity – “if you love Me, keep My commandments.”

    It is, nonetheless, not so much the lack of holiness in the members of the Church – Jeremiah recognises those, and not only the Mother Teresas and the Little Flowers – but it is the scandal of the others that is a problem for many Protestants. And this, may God have mercy on us, can be an eternal problem for us Catholics, insofar as our own behaviour is a stumbling block for our Protestant brother or sister.

    jj

  93. Jeremiah,

    I am not taking issue with anything you wrote in #91. Also, I am aware that Andrew M. has not had the opportunity to more fully address what I wrote in #77. However, I would like to reiterate what I think the fundamental advantage of Catholic formal unity derived from the teaching Magisterium provides over against Protestantism – especially in light of the fact that both camps have plenty of folks burdened by sin and possessed of confused moral and doctrinal ideas. I also hope that Andrew M. at least responds to this main point. Here is what I wrote in #77:

    It is one thing to officially teach that a given action is intrinsically wrong while acknowledging that some folks in the pews, or among the clergy, secretly disagree; or else to be accused of failing to publicly reprimand public dissent by professing Catholics quickly and/or often enough. It is another thing, entirely, to officially teach that an act which is intrinsically evil is actually good or at least morally neutral. That is the difference that formal unity makes. The former situation leaves open the possibility that improved catechetical efforts can reduce dissent within the Church and free people from the slavery of sin, precisely because the moral teaching to which Catholics are called remains clear on account of the Magisterium. In the latter situation, no such possibility now exists in many congregations, since that which is evil, is officially taught to be otherwise. There is nothing to call the people back from. There is no dissent only because the truth has been officially obscured.

    And I would add that even if someone is currently living within a Protestant community where the official position on faith and morals is quite close to that promulgated by the Catholic Church (absent a shared view of ecclesiology, of course); without a principled basis upon which to establish that currrent moral and theological teachings are irreformable because invested with divine authority; there is no reason to think such positions might not eventually erode as they have within other sectors of Protestantism.

    Pax Christi,

    Ray

  94. John,

    Well said. One of my biggest issues to work through with coming to the Catholic church has not been Theological, it has been practical. The lack of discipline among the leadership and the nominal attitude of many Catholics is definitely a stumbling block. However, it will not ultimately keep me from joining the church.

    Mike

  95. Michael, when you do decide to come home, the doors will be wide open. Of course don’t expext to get too comfy, as theres work to be done, dusting and cleaning the house of the Lord and being ready to give a reason for the hope that is rekindled in you :) .
    I have to express my gratitude to all who post on this site as you help to clarify, and expand the frontiers, not of Truth, but the understanding of it, “creating” insight which helps to deepen an already existing faith or in cases where faith is lacking drop a seed on the farmstead of reason which the Holy Spirit will water in his own time.
    ctc is a wonderful avenue for apologetics/witnessing in love. For me, it is a guide on how to avoid triumphalism despite that pride in being a member of worlwide family of God.
    In Nigeria, mainline protetantism is on the decline and the main beneficiaries are evangelical pentecostal churches with a fundamentalist twist. In discussing with them the issue of circular argument and pre agreed starting point from which any contradictory position is wrong is the bone of contention and that position is that the truth is sure to be found in that spectrum of ideas where the catholic church is not.
    Religion is not always reasonable, i fear.
    May the Lord preserve you all in the new year.
    paul

  96. Benjamin,

    Re #89,

    I am glad that you found that comment to be helpful. I suppose that most major paradigm changes, at least where it is a change for the better, are followed by these light bulb moments. Reading Sacred Scripture, as a new Catholic, is a continuous series of such flashes. This is, for me at least, a secondary confirmation of the truth of the Catholic faith.

    happy tenth day of Christmas,

    Andrew

  97. Following up what I said in comment #52 above about the sensus fidelium, I noticed that today Pope Benedict XVI said the following:

    “Vatican Council II, confirming the specific and irreplaceable role of the Magisterium, emphasised that the People of God as a whole participate in Christ’s prophetic role. … This gift, the ‘sensus fidei’, constitutes in believers a sort of supernatural instinct which shares a vital connaturality with the very object of faith. … It is a criterion for ascertaining whether or not a certain truth belongs to the living depository of the apostolic tradition. It also has a proactive value as the Holy Spirit never ceases to speak of the Church and to guide her towards the fullness of truth. Nowadays, however, it is particularly important to specify the criteria which permit the authentic ‘sensus fidelium’ to be distinguished from its imitations. This is not in fact a form of ecclesial public opinion, and it would be unthinkable to refer to it to challenge the teachings of the Magisterium, since the ‘sensus fidei’ cannot truly develop in a believer other than to the extent to which he participates fully in the life of the Church, and it therefore necessitates responsible adhesion to her Magisterium.”

    Feast of St. Ambrose

  98. Following comments #52 and #97, here is Pope Francis on the sensus fidelium:

    “This witness,” the Bishop of Rome emphasized, “pertain to the People of God, a People of prophets, in its entirety. By the gift of the Holy Spirit, the members of the Church possess a ‘sense of faith’. This is a kind of ‘spiritual instinct’ that makes us ‘sentire cum Ecclesia’ [think with the mind of the Church] and to discern that which is in conformity with the apostolic faith and is in the spirit of the Gospel. Of course, the ‘sensus fidelium’ [sense of the faithful] cannot be confused with the sociological reality of a majority opinion. It is, therefore, important—and one of your tasks—to develop criteria that allow the authentic expressions of the ‘sensus fidelium’ to be discerned. … This attention is of greatest importance for theologians. Pope Benedict XVI often pointed out that the theologian must remain attentive to the faith lived by the humble and the small, to whom it pleased the Father to reveal that which He had hidden from the learned and the wise.”

    (source. See also here.)

    Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

    Update: In June of 2014, the International Theological Commission issued a document on this subject titled “Sensus Fidei in the Life of the Church.”

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