Faith and Reason in the Context of Conversion

Jul 26th, 2010 | By | Category: Blog Posts

The following is a guest post written by Devin Rose.  Devin is a 32-year-old software engineer and lay apologist who blogs at St. Joseph’s Vanguard. He and his wife, Katie, live in Austin with their four children.

After years as a devout atheist, I converted to Evangelical Protestantism in February of 2000 and was baptized at a Southern Baptist church. One year later I became Catholic. I would like to use my own (double) conversion to examine the role that faith and reason played in discovering the Catholic Church.

Conversion

I initially turned to Christ from atheism out of sheer desperation: I was clinically depressed, suffering from an anxiety disorder with panic attacks and agoraphobia. My atheism offered nothing but black despair. Christianity seemed to offer more, so I “gave it a try.” Since I had been brought up to believe in a kind of scientism, which holds that the natural sciences are the lone authoritative source for forming one’s worldview, the idea of believing in God, much less a God who became man, seemed irrational. Nonetheless, I realized that I had nothing to lose, since all my own efforts to solve my problems had failed. I reasoned that if God was real, He would help me. If He did not exist, then trying to believe in Him would do nothing, and I would be no worse off than I already was.

I suppressed the many atheistic beliefs which I “knew” were true, and tried to believe in God. I began praying a simple prayer each day: “God, you know I have never believed in you, but I am in trouble and need help. If you are real, then please help me.” I also started reading an old King James version of the Bible that my cousins had given me when I was ten years old. Amazingly, over the next few months, my disordered anxieties improved somewhat, and I began to feel something (that must have been the grace of God) drawing me to read more, pray more, and to try to believe more.

Happily, I had several good friends who were Evangelical Protestant Christians, and around this time they took me under their wing. I had a ton of questions, especially about how Christians could reconcile the theory of evolution with their beliefs, and my friends had answers. I started going to their Baptist church and learning more about the Christian Faith. After a few more months, I was baptized and quickly became an Evangelical of Evangelicals. Just as I had been a fervent atheist, I now became a fervent Protestant. I accepted the (NIV) Bible I was given by my new-found brothers in Christ and off I went! Bible studies, accountability groups, frequent church attendance (with requisite note-taking in the margins of my Bible during the sermon), praise and worship, serving the poor and needy–I was living a new life in Christ, and it felt great.

I didn’t realize at the time that I was absorbing a specifically Evangelical Protestant understanding of the Christian Faith–not purely Reformed or Anglican or Lutheran or Methodist or Anabaptist, but some parts of all of them mixed together. However, after six months of being a Christian, I started noticing the fact that there were lots of other churches and realized that there were significant differences in the beliefs of Christian denominations. Previously, as an atheist, I knew at some level that these differences must exist, but all types of Christians were so far from where I was at the time that their internal differences seemed unimportant. Now that I was a Christian, those differences began to matter.

I was taught that Jesus Christ was God and that the sixty-six book Bible was God’s inerrant Word, and I believed it with all my heart. Unwittingly, I had also accepted en masse all of the other standard Protestant doctrines. Yet even with the same Bible and these fundamental doctrines like sola Scriptura and sola Fide as common ground, we Protestants managed to find substantial disagreement on a host of important issues, so much so that split after split after split had divided Protestantism into thousands of splinters. Something struck me as very wrong about that, especially given Christ’s clear statements in John 17 that we all be perfectly one, as He and the Father are one.

Around this same time, I learned that Catholics had seventy-three books in their Bibles. I assumed that they must have added books to the Bible, since I had already accepted the claim that Catholics “contradicted Scripture” in many ways, adding extra man-made traditions onto God’s Word. But, I soon began asking how, exactly, I knew that the Bible was composed of the particular sixty-six books that I was given. I asked the canon question and at first was blithely confident that I would find the answer from my Protestant friends. But their answers weren’t convincing–in fact, most of them hadn’t even considered the question. So I turned to the internet to find what I knew must be solid Protestant arguments for the canon. Much to my chagrin, the answers I found there were weak as well, and I began to grow uneasy.

The “answers” that Protestant apologists gave to the canon question often focused on pointing out the historical testimony that was in favor of the Protestant canon as reasons for believing it to be true. But though there is some historical testimony in favor of the Protestant canon, there is at least as much testimony for the Catholic one. (Not to mention the fact that the Eastern Orthodox Churches also accept the deuterocanonical books.) If the canon had been universally agreed upon in the Church by the early second century, perhaps it could give one certainty that that particular canon was obviously the true one, but that simply didn’t happen. Instead, for over three centuries different canonical lists were proposed and discussed in the long and winding road of the Church’s discernment of the canon. The ambiguous historical testimony regarding the formation of the canon cannot provide conscience-binding certainty for any of the different canons accepted today by the major Christian groups. I realized that my belief in the Protestant canon could not be maintained without making an ad hoc claim that God protected the Church from erring as she determined which books belong to the canon, but did not protect from error anything else the Church did.

But I had already put my faith in God, accepting that He had communicated infallibly to us through these sixty-six books, so what was I to do? One possibility was to simply claim that “I believed” that the Protestant canon was the true one and use that as my starting theological assumption. Some of my Evangelical friends opted for this route. I would thus avoid the ad hoc logical fallacy. But this attempt to salvage the position just traded out one offense against reason for a worse one: the error of presuppositionalism.1 Presuppositionalism is the idea that every worldview or position is based on theological assumptions and that the only way to find the truth is by choosing the right presuppositions. It is a form of philosophical skepticism which doubts the ability of the human intellect to ascertain truth. If I accepted presuppositionalism, I knew that I would then have no argument to make against a Catholic who claimed his starting point was the seventy-three book Bible or the infallible Church, or against the Mormon who claimed the Book of Mormon as his theological assumption.

So far, I didn’t see a way of reasonably believing in the Protestant canon and in the inerrancy of its books, but what if I simply gave up the belief in inerrancy? I would then entirely avoid the fallacies of the first position and side-step Catholic arguments for the canon on the basis of infallibility. Perhaps it is reasonable to believe that, instead of inerrant Scriptures, God gave Christians a loose set of writings to act as a guide and touchstone, which were to be discussed and prayed about in community, and though this could not give certainty that any given doctrine is true, it could, with the Spirit’s help, get us “close enough” to the truth so that we could live lives pleasing to God?

This position does not have an ad hoc fallacy or a presuppositionalist stance, since it lacks the belief that God can and did work infallibly through fallible human beings. Nonetheless, it has problems. For one thing, it isn’t reasonable that God would leave us in such a state of darkness with regard to His revelation. If He protected nothing from error, then the deposit of faith that Christ gave to the Apostles could have been corrupted almost immediately. In fact, this is the position held by the Jesus Seminar and scholars like Bart Ehrmann, who have created their own theories of what “Jesus really taught” to fit the subset of historical writings they deem authoritative. If one denies God’s protection of the truth from error, the possibility of handed-down divine revelation is completely lost. Instead of being able to look to the living Church as the authority to be trusted, one must choose which members of the academy to follow, and hope that the chosen scholars are trustworthy.

I found myself at a cross-roads: I could either jettison my nascent faith or find a more reasonable ground for my faith. Only two options seemed left to me: either God protected one Christian denomination’s teachings from error, or He did not. I was not yet ready to abandon my new faith by giving up on the possibility that God made sure we could know the truth, even two thousand years after Christ, so I decided to explore the option that God did indeed protect some Church from error.

The two “denominations” that had the hubris to even claim such protection were the Mormons and the Catholics.2 And the Mormons never seemed credible to me, whether as an atheist or an Evangelical Protestant, so my attention turned to the institution which I had already learned to dread and mistrust: the Catholic Church.

I read the writings of the Church Fathers and grew even more uneasy. Whether their teachings squared with those of the Catholic Church I did not yet know enough to confirm, but one thing I did know was that their beliefs differed significantly from my Baptist faith. For instance, the Fathers’ unanimous belief in baptismal regeneration was undeniable and disturbing because it meant that either that doctrine was true (and my symbolic-only baptismal doctrine was false) or that the Church fell into serious error in her teachings almost immediately.3 As I investigated more doctrines which divide Catholics and Protestants, I found that the Fathers’ writings strongly favored the Catholic positions. For every one quote that could possibly be construed as supporting uniquely-Protestant teachings, twenty more existed that were utterly incompatible with Protestantism.

After a significant period of study and prayer, I became Catholic. Why? Because I already had placed my faith in Christ and had faith that He could and did work infallibly through fallible human beings (in the sixty-six books of the Bible I accepted at the time). “So what’s to stop Him from working infallibly through fallible human beings in other matters of the Faith? Or perhaps even in all matters of faith?” I couldn’t see anything unreasonable about that, and accepting the Catholic Church’s claim of infallibility resolved the ad hoc rationale I had accepted as a Protestant that He worked infallibly in sixty-six specific instances but in no others. (Well, to be more accurate, that He had done so sixty-seven times: in the sixty-six inspired books plus the decision about which books those were).

Reflecting back on my double conversion, I now realize that I came to faith in Jesus Christ outside of full communion with the Catholic Church, which was only possible because God is so gracious that even schisms cannot thwart His desire for all men to come to know Him in truth. Only after prayer and study did I come to realize that there were flaws in the reasoning supporting my Protestant beliefs. I knew that God would not require me to believe something that contradicted reason. From reading John 17, I also knew that God wanted us to be in unity. But the principle of sola Scriptura was incapable of achieving this unity for Protestantism, so something was wrong: either sola Scriptura was false, or God had given us a deficient means to reach unity in the fullness of the truth.

Even before I knew Him, God gave me reason to see that my life without Him was empty and purposeless. He brought me to a place of despair so that I would be humbled enough to recognize my need for Him. After becoming a Christian, He again showed me through various reasons that the Catholic Church was all that she claimed to be. None of this, of course, was done without tremendous outpourings of grace. God gave us a great gift in His Church by making it both beautifully faithful as well as eminently reasonable. If either piece were missing, it would be immeasurably more difficult to discover her. But God in His wisdom has shown us that just as grace builds upon nature, so faith builds upon reason and does not eradicate it or make it unnecessary. Pope Benedict recently devoted a Wednesday audience to St. Thomas Aquinas and explained that “the trust St. Thomas placed in both ways to knowledge—faith and reason—can be traced to his conviction that both come from the single wellspring of all truth, the divine Logos, which is at work in the area of both creation and redemption”4 The truth in its fullness can be found in the Church and the good news is that it can be known by the most brilliant philosopher and the most simple manual laborer alike. Let us continue to pray for and work toward unity in the truth.

- by Devin Rose.  Devin blogs at St. Joseph’s Vanguard.

  1. To gain a better understanding of the error of presuppositionalism, see Bryan Cross’ helpful blog post or this Called to Communion article (as well as the comments). []
  2. My understanding of the Orthodox was that they claimed to be the true Church but only claimed infallibility of the first seven ecumenical councils. At the time of my conversion, I only examined the Orthodox claims in a cursory way, but having done more in-depth study over the past ten years, I remain convinced that the Catholic Church is the Church Christ founded. []
  3. Interestingly, Protestant apologist William Webster also concedes that the Church went off the rails on baptism early on, in his book, The Church of Rome at the Bar of History []
  4. Papal Audience on 6/16/2010. []
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102 comments
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  1. Thank you for sharing your story. I am a recent convert, and I love reading conversion stories. God bless you and your family!

  2. […] am honored to announce a guest blog post on my conversion that has just been published on Called To […]

  3. Good points.

  4. Fascinating story Devin. I was amazed that in your initial conversion from atheism, you did the “Pascal’s wager” type of reasoning. I have never known anyone to have done that in such a stark way (from atheism). I was surprised at the 1 year turn around on rejecting Protestantism also. It took me 20! Godspeed in all your efforts at evangelization.

  5. I’ve shared this post on my Facebook page.

  6. Thanks guys,

    David, I didn’t realize at the time that I was doing (some form of) the Pascal’s Wager, but you are right. That said, I was in a bad way during that time in my life, so I was doing the wager hoping that God would be real rather than, say, trying to prove that he wasn’t. :)

    Regarding the brevity of my time in Protestantism: I think that I had it easier than you (and all the Called to Communion guys) because I had not grown up Protestant or even Christian, so I did not have years of accrued biases to overcome. Some of my Protestant friends tell me that they cannot become Catholic because they “just know that the Catholic Church is false.” It is really deeply ingrained in many Protestants, as you no doubt understand.

    Finally, I was an Evangelical and barely even considered Reformed, Anglican, or any other kind of Protestantism. Based on the arguments that I considered, if one form of Protestantism was false, then they all were because their underlying principles were all the same. I realize now that, say, Reformed Protestantism is intellectually more rigorous and defensible than Evangelical Protestantism, but as the CtC guys demonstrated in the sola/solo article, it still doesn’t have answers to the toughest questions or rebuttals to the Catholic arguments.

    Small digression: as an Evangelical, if I had been presented with the sola/solo article I would have responded with a “and your point is?” because I would have agreed with it completely! Of course sola reduces to solo. So what? This issue seems to be a big deal to Reformed folks but to all the Evangelicals that I knew, it was not a big deal at all but something accepted as obvious (and un-problematic).

  7. Thank you for sharing your story. I enjoyed your podcasts as well.

    Of course sola reduces to solo. So what? This issue seems to be a big deal to Reformed folks but to all the Evangelicals that I knew, it was not a big deal at all but something accepted as obvious (and un-problematic).

    Where would one go from here if this is this response an Evangelical gives? What is the next step in the discussion? Show the person the implications of solo/sola scriptura?

  8. Hi Brian,

    Hmm, good question. I would not embark on the sola/solo argument with an Evangelical unless he specifically indicated a strong belief in sola Scriptura over solo Scriptura (as Keith Mathison and other Reformed Protestants do). The place you would quickly get to would be a tu quoque regarding the role of private judgment that takes some skill to explain (on your part) and to understand (on your interlocutor’s part).

    Instead, since many of my Evangelical friends concede the ad hoc fallacy and say “so what?” I think it is worthwhile to explain why faith must be supported by solid reasoning and the problems of accepting an ad hoc at the most fundamental level of one’s theology. This results in a good conversation and can be fruitful, though the idea of faith not needing reason is deeply ingrained in many people’s minds and so takes time and patience to demonstrate.

    When Evangelicals retreat to the presuppositionalist position, I usually point out that Mormons can take the same position, which is unsettling to them. I don’t want to unsettle them to be rude but to stimulate them to think hard about what they believe.

    I’d be interested in anyone else’s ideas about how to tackle the sola/solo argument with Evangelicals.

  9. Hi all,

    in response to Devin’s query above, here’s something I was just thinking about myself: the start of a Socratic dialogue, with either an evangelical or “reformed” –
    “How do you know what religion you’re in, anyway?”
    “Huh?”
    “How do you know you’re in the religion that Jesus founded, and not one of those offshoot cults that twists things to their own ends and gets it all wrong?”
    [something about the Bible]
    “So do a lot of people think they have the right interpretation of the Bible – the Mormons actually think the *Jehovah’s Witnesses* are a loony offshoot cult…”
    “But they’re just demonstrably wrong, as can be shown by scripture itself…”
    “So whoever does their homework the best and is the most theologically/Biblically astute is guaranteed to get it right?”
    (you get the basic idea)

  10. Great post Devin. The force and the clarity of the Fathers is undeniable.
    —————–

    RE Aguirre
    Regulafide. Blogspot.com
    Paradoseis Journal Blog

  11. “It isn’t reasonable that God would leave us in such a state of darkness with regard to His revelation.”

    I don’t find this as obviously true as you do. When I look at the bible, I see story after story about God choosing specific people as the means by which he will fix the entire world, and every time these people turn out to themselves be part of the problem. Abraham screws things up with Sarah and Hagar. Moses screws things up. Aaron makes the golden calf. God bring Israel out of Egypt and they spend 40 years scared of the promised land and wanting to return. God brings up Saul who screws things up. David is a horny bugger. The prophets denounce Israel for disobeying God.

    The entire old testament is a story of how God does not protect his chosen people from error. They constantly err, and instead of stopping them he judges and forgives them, and remains faithful to his promises. He somehow mysteriously uses their error-prone ways to work through history to set the world to rights.

    In Jesus’s time it is no different. How did 1st-century jews know with ‘conscience-binding certainty’ that their canon of scriptures was correct? Was there an infallible magisterium in Israel? Why did God allow the jews to constantly misunderstand their own scriptures? The 1st century was full of different groups all claiming to have the true interpretation- were the Pharisees right? The Sadduccees? Why would God not protect them from error?

    The church is no different. God has called us to be a priestly people, a foretaste to the world of the Kingdom of Heaven. But we constantly screw it up. The church itself is among the principalites and powers that rule this world, and must itself be judged by God. This is excatly in line with the entire bible, and is the central insight of the Reformation.

    When you demand absolute, objective certainty, you are demanding a fiction. You are demanding that God work outside of history. The church is then appropriating to itself a power of judgement reserved only for God. We the church must submit ourselves entirely to judgement and repentence, not just our actions but our doctrines and our ideas and our interpretations.

    This does not mean relativism. When God refrained from protecting Israel from error, that does not mean there is no truth. It means that there is no 100% objective certainty of truth. Which interpretation is correct? What doctrines are true? I do not know with ‘conscience-binding certainty.’ But I have faith that through prayer the Spirit comes to us, that when parts of the church fall dead to the powers of evil God will blow fresh winds of life into its body, that if we pray and study the scriptures and try to live by the strength of the weakness of God, then we will be a witness to the world of the power of God.

  12. I realized that my belief in the Protestant canon could not be maintained without making an ad hoc claim that God protected the Church from erring as she determined which books belong to the canon, but did not protect from error anything else the Church did.

    Devin,

    I’ve spent quite a bit of time here trying to demonstrate that an infallible Church is not necessary for the proper interpretation of the Scriptures given the task that Christ laid out for His Church in Scriptures. But I did not want to focus on that right now. What I did want to ask you about is your statement above that Protestants making an “ad hoc claim.” The problem with this statement is that, contrary to what you write above, we are not basing our argument on a comparison of things that “the Church did” (or is authorized to do). We are basing our judgment here on what God has spoken vs what He has not spoken. We are saying that Scriptures are infallible because God inspired them, but the pronouncements of the Church are not inspired. Thus the principled distinction is between what is inspired by God and what is not inspired by God. At a minimum I hope that you will understand that this is the way you ought to state the Protestant argument rather than what you write above.

    Now it may be the case that God has worked through the Church to produce infallible pronouncements through the Church. I’m not arguing against this possibility at this point. This is the task of the Catholic apologist to make. What I am doing is pointing out that the Protestant distinction between that which is infallible (the Word of God) and that which is not infallible (certain traditions of the Church as qualified by the RCC) is not grounded in what the Church does or does not do, but rather on what God has inspired versus what He has not inspired.

    What I would hope that the Catholic apologist would note is that yes, the tradition of the Church is not inspired in any way and thus there is a good and proper distinction to be made between what God has inspired and what He has not inspired. Once that is understood he can then set about the task of trying to demonstrate that there is some sort of necessity for supposing the infallibility of the Church, at least as she speaks to certain matters in certain contexts under certain conditions. But this is a difficult task as I hope that the Catholic apologist would attest to. But at the least the Catholic apologist cannot claim infallibility for de fide pronouncements of the Church by just noting that they are inspired by God Himself. He has to come up with a different set of arguments. As soon as he does come up with this different set of arguments he is admitting that 1) the way one demonstrates that the Scriptures are infallible and 2) the way one demonstrates that the de fide pronouncements of the Church are infallible are fundamentally different. All the Protestants are doing in their apologetic concerning Scripture and tradition is noting the difference between 1 and 2. But again at a minimum, I would encourage you to correctly represent the basis of the distinction in Protestant thought.

  13. […] Faith and Reason in the Context of Conversion – the story of an Evangelical’s conversion to the Catholic Church […]

  14. Sorry Phil, I am surprised nobody replied to your comment yet so I guess I shall make the effort.

    “It isn’t reasonable that God would leave us in such a state of darkness with regard to His revelation.”

    I don’t find this as obviously true as you do. When I look at the bible, I see story after story about God choosing specific people as the means by which he will fix the entire world, and every time these people turn out to themselves be part of the problem. Abraham screws things up with Sarah and Hagar. Moses screws things up. Aaron makes the golden calf. God bring Israel out of Egypt and they spend 40 years scared of the promised land and wanting to return. God brings up Saul who screws things up. David is a horny bugger. The prophets denounce Israel for disobeying God.

    You are confusing revelation with obedience here. Moses did give us the 10 commandments and there is not question they are true revelation from God. But he didn’t follow the 10 commandments. That is not a requirement for Moses to be legit. It isn’t a requirement for the popes to be legit either.

    BTW, David is described in scripture as a man after God’s own heart. He is described by you as a “horny bugger”. Something seems wrong there.

    In Jesus’s time it is no different. How did 1st-century jews know with ‘conscience-binding certainty’ that their canon of scriptures was correct? Was there an infallible magisterium in Israel? Why did God allow the jews to constantly misunderstand their own scriptures? The 1st century was full of different groups all claiming to have the true interpretation- were the Pharisees right? The Sadduccees? Why would God not protect them from error?

    God worked in the Old Testament through the nation of Israel. So the political and ethnic union of the Jews were the primary source of religious unity. That is why the kings were so important. Still Israel would stray and God would bring prophets to bring them back in line. Prophets functioned as their infallible magisterium. In the 1st century there was a pagan king and there had not been a prophet in a while. So there were factions.

    The church is no different. God has called us to be a priestly people, a foretaste to the world of the Kingdom of Heaven. But we constantly screw it up. The church itself is among the principalities and powers that rule this world, and must itself be judged by God. This is exactly in line with the entire bible, and is the central insight of the Reformation.

    So Jesus was confused when he said the gates of hell would not prevail against the church? Or when he said in Mat 18:17, “if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector”. Jesus seems to be missing the ” central insight of the Reformation”.

    But the parallel with the OT falls down too. The new covenant is greater because it has to be greater. It is not longer focused on one nation and one people but on all nations and all peoples. So unity is a much bigger problem. The discernment of God’s word for different cultures is going to be a much bigger problem. The grace God gave Israel in the OT is not going to cut it. But God gave us something better. He gave us a church that can give us unity and truth. If he didn’t, we have to call God a complete failure. If the catholic church didn’t preserve the gospel then it is gone. If the first 1500 years of Christendom were a story of constantly screwing up the gospel then nobody is going to retrieve it after that. If men like St Francis and St Thomas Aquinas failed to restore it then what chance do we have?

    When you demand absolute, objective certainty, you are demanding a fiction. You are demanding that God work outside of history. The church is then appropriating to itself a power of judgment reserved only for God. We the church must submit ourselves entirely to judgment and repentance, not just our actions but our doctrines and our ideas and our interpretations.

    We don’t believe the church judges instead of God. We believe God judges through the church. They are not in conflict. How can we submit ourselves to God’s judgment if His judgment is not visible? If it is purely subjective? I am confused how that places God outside history.

    This does not mean relativism. When God refrained from protecting Israel from error, that does not mean there is no truth. It means that there is no 100% objective certainty of truth. Which interpretation is correct? What doctrines are true? I do not know with ‘conscience-binding certainty.’ But I have faith that through prayer the Spirit comes to us, that when parts of the church fall dead to the powers of evil God will blow fresh winds of life into its body, that if we pray and study the scriptures and try to live by the strength of the weakness of God, then we will be a witness to the world of the power of God.

    Why does it not mean relativism? Suppose you say by faith through prayer that gay marriage is wrong. Then you meet a same-sex attracted person struggling with the issue. You can tell them you don’t know with conscience-binding certainty but you are pretty sure based on your subjective interpretation that gay marriage is wrong. How does he know your position isn’t a product of anti-gay bigotry? Many pastors will tell him it is. How can you assure him that subconsciously you have not been biased by your upbringing or your sexual hangups or whatever? If you cannot give him this assurance you are at relativism.

  15. Andrew (#11):

    We are saying that Scriptures are infallible because God inspired them, but the pronouncements of the Church are not inspired.

    The claim that the Bible is inspired was, itself, a pronouncement of the early Church, based on her tradition of reading aloud in the liturgy certain writings as having divine authority, and excluding others as lacking such authority. If that tradition and pronouncement are not protected from error by the Holy Spirit, then there is no reason to believe that your (and my) belief in the inspiration of Scripture is protected from error by the Holy Spirit.

    What I would hope that the Catholic apologist would note is that yes, the tradition of the Church is not inspired in any way and thus there is a good and proper distinction to be made between what God has inspired and what He has not inspired. Once that is understood he can then set about the task of trying to demonstrate that there is some sort of necessity for supposing the infallibility of the Church, at least as she speaks to certain matters in certain contexts under certain conditions.

    As I have argued before, that way of looking at the issue is fundamentally misconceived, and in two respects. First, you’re proceeding as though the inspiration of Scripture were simply a given without considering the claims of the Church for herself—and I mean “the” Church, not your particular Presbyterian denomination or any other denomination. Yet for the reasons I gave above, the belief that the Bible is divinely inspired has no authority apart from that which “the” Church claims for herself. It is a mere opinion. Accordingly, without the authority of the Church, it is mere question-begging to assume that Scripture is more authoritative than Tradition or the definitive teaching of the Church.

    Second, “the Catholic apologist” is not obliged to “demonstrate” some sort of “necessity” for the Magisterium’s claims for itself. To demonstrate the necessity of a given proposition is to prove it, i.e. to show that it follows deductively from uncontroversial premises. But that is not possible to do for any article of faith; for if it were possible, then the articles of faith would be theorems of reason, not of faith. Therefore, it’s not possible to prove either the inspiration of Scripture or the teaching authority of the Church. So “the Catholic apologist” is obliged only to show that the Magisterium’s claims for itself are reasonable, not proven. And that’s what I, along with the owners of this blog, have sought to do.

  16. Andrew M. said:

    “What I am doing is pointing out that the Protestant distinction between that which is infallible (the Word of God) and that which is not infallible (certain traditions of the Church as qualified by the RCC) is not grounded in what the Church does or does not do, but rather on what God has inspired versus what He has not inspired.

    Am I off my rocker or is the above statement begging the question? To paraphrase you are saying the Protestant finds the Word of God by looking for the Word of God?

    Now I realize the distinction between inspired and infallible, but where did you get the table of contents for the inspired texts? This is the “bootstrap” theory of Divine revelation.

    Peace,

    David Meyer

  17. I suppose it could be considered question-begging either way, leading to a stalemate. Here’s one way to defuse it: Grant the Protestant the principled, sui generis distinction between inspired scripture and infallible magisterium that he wants, and see what you get. If the two are independent things, it follows that the former might exist but not the latter. Immediately, what you get is: an inspired scripture without a validly apostolic, infallible magisterium makes for the “every man for himself” situation that we do in fact find throughout Protestantism. (And signing on to a “sola scriptura” confession like WCF, instead of “solo scriptura,” doesn’t help because you still need an authoritative reason for signing on to that. So the sola/solo distinction just pushes the problem back a step, and ultimately collapses back into “every man for himself.”)

  18. Michael writes:

    Second, “the Catholic apologist” is not obliged to “demonstrate” some sort of “necessity” for the Magisterium’s claims for itself. To demonstrate the necessity of a given proposition is to prove it, i.e. to show that it follows deductively from uncontroversial premises. But that is not possible to do for any article of faith; for if it were possible, then the articles of faith would be theorems of reason, not of faith. Therefore, it’s not possible to prove either the inspiration of Scripture or the teaching authority of the Church. So “the Catholic apologist” is obliged only to show that the Magisterium’s claims for itself are reasonable, not proven. And that’s what I, along with the owners of this blog, have sought to do.

    Bingo.

    The problem, as I see it, is that the Reformed apologist is given to a particular understanding of reason, one that is distinctly modern. It calls for an indubitable starting point (a la Descartes), a voluntarist view of authority (a la Ockham), and a mechanistic view of nature (a la Paley). But this results in a series of false dilemmas: certainty or skepticism, absolute power or chaos, godless materialism or divine intervention.

  19. Micah:

    It’s not “question-begging either way,” unless one assumes that any affirmation short of formal demonstration is question-begging—an assumption that is itself question-begging. What is question-begging is the assumption that the inspiration of Scripture can be authoritatively asserted without ecclesial infallibility.

    Now of course one cannot formally demonstrate, i.e. prove, the Catholic understanding of how Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium are interrelated (see Dei Verbum §10). But one can show that it is more reasonable than sola scriptura, which is self-refuting.

    Best,
    Mike

  20. @Phil (#10):

    Hey brother! Even as a Protestant, I find myself uncomfortable with the assertion that there just is no conscience-binding certainty on any theological questions. I mean…do we really believe that? When I read the Church fathers, such an idea would seem to be wholly foreign to them (which is why they get so all-fired up about the various church heresies – they’re saying, in essence, thanks to Council XYZ, your conscience is now bound to believe ABC. If you don’t, you’re not a Christian.) Further, when I read Calvin, I definitely don’t get “Well, I can’t bind your conscience to believe thus and so, but I think the correct theology is…”-type vibes from him. Quite the opposite, in fact (perhaps Dr. Anders could offer his expert opinion, though, if he sees this comment).

    Granted, maybe the church fathers’ approach was wrong. Heck, maybe Calvin’s approach was wrong too. But the lack of conscience-binding certainty seems to entail two undesirable conclusions. #1, as @Randy (#12) pointed out, it’s not intuitive to this Protestant how relativism will be avoided. Or even if you’re using relativism in a more precise sense, and it can be avoided, it’s not clear how liberal theology will be staved off (presuming, of course, one wants to accomplish such a task).
    #2, it seems to entail that the disagreements between Baptists, Lutherans, Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Calvinists are intractable – nobody’s conscience can be bound to believe any particular answer about Communion, Baptism, worship practices, etc. If the differences are indeed intractable, then doesn’t this position entail that Christ wants/wishes/desires there to be no fundamental unity on these important questions? If so, why was the OT church essentially unified in the first place (or wasn’t it?), and why did the apostles spend so much time pleading for us to be unified in the faith? :-/

    Awhile back one of the “show up, yell, and disappear” Protestant commentators here at CtC accused the RC church of being “post-modern”. The idea that 1) There just is no conscience-binding theological answers to be had and 2) That’s cool with us, respectfully, suggests to me that Protestantism is far more in tune with post-modernism than the RC church will ever be. Thoughts/responses are welcome – if it is True that there is no conscience-binding certainty whatsoever to be had, then I’ll believe it…but is this really the best answer we Protestants have?

    Sincerely,
    Benjamin

  21. Benjamin:

    I think Phil is just carrying the inner logic of Protestantism to its natural conclusion. As I often say, the difference between a conservative Protestant and a liberal Protestant is that the latter recognizes, and the former does not yet recognize, that the Protestant principle ends up reducing divine revelation to a matter of opinion.

    Best,
    Mike

  22. Wow, thanks for the great discussion. Other commenters have made great arguments, so I will add my own to theirs trying not to repeat what has been covered already.

    Phil,

    I agree that we constantly screw things up, that God works through us in spite of that, and that we always are in need of ongoing conversion and (internal) reform. I would point out that this idea was found in the Church long before the Reformation and so cannot be claimed as uniquely Protestant. As Randy alluded to in his response to you, there is a difference between “revelation and obedience.” Jesus says “do not lust,” and we believe that that is true, yet sometimes we might fall to temptation and lust. Jesus’ words are not made false by our failure to follow them nor is our certainty in their truth lessened by our failure (perhaps it is even increased–God asks us to do something hard rather than easy!).

    The 1st century was full of different groups all claiming to have the true interpretation- were the Pharisees right? The Sadduccees? Why would God not protect them from error?

    Good question. As was pointed out earlier, the New Covenant supersedes the Old and surpasses it in every way. so we cannot say, as you do, that “the Church is no different” than the Old Covenant’s People of God (the Israelites). We might ask why didn’t God send Christ immediately after the Fall to redeem humanity? I don’t know, but we do know that He came in the fullness of time, at the right time according to God, which must have been best.

    At the same time, I believe that the Scriptures are inspired by God and inerrant, and that includes the Old Testament, so He did work infallibly through fallible human beings, even in the Old Testament. Did He protect the teachers from error? I don’t think so, but in Matthew 23 He did admonish the people to listen to all that the scribes and Pharisees taught them, but just not to do what they did (since they didn’t practice what they preached).

    When God refrained from protecting Israel from error, that does not mean there is no truth. It means that there is no 100% objective certainty of truth. Which interpretation is correct? What doctrines are true? I do not know with ‘conscience-binding certainty.’

    Well, assuming that your position is true, I think the problem is that we cannot know what is true. What church should we go to? How about the Mormon church? What do we believe about abortion, contraception, same-sex “marriage”, justification, the sacraments, authority in the Church, the canon, and so on? Christians take radically different positions on all of these issues, some of which are life-and-death serious. Randy pointed out with the example of same-sex “marriage” that your position results in an inability for you to know whether your belief on it is true against someone who has the opposite belief.

    God bless!

  23. Andrew,

    I’ve spent quite a bit of time here trying to demonstrate that an infallible Church is not necessary for the proper interpretation of the Scriptures given the task that Christ laid out for His Church in Scriptures.

    For my part, I thank you for your contributions to the site: I have read most of your comments over the past year or so and appreciate how you have continued to try to argue for the Protestant positions and not just given up.

    The problem with this [my claim of Protestantism’s ad hoc error] statement is that, contrary to what you write above, we are not basing our argument on a comparison of things that “the Church did” (or is authorized to do). We are basing our judgment here on what God has spoken vs what He has not spoken.

    And the question that this raises is _how we know_ which books “God has spoken” through.

    We are saying that Scriptures are infallible because God inspired them, but the pronouncements of the Church are not inspired. Thus the principled distinction is between what is inspired by God and what is not inspired by God. At a minimum I hope that you will understand that this is the way you ought to state the Protestant argument rather than what you write above.

    We agree that whichever books God has inspired are infallible. But which books did He inspire? You would say sixty-six. I would say seventy-three. The Orthodox would say seventy-five (or a few more or less depending on which Orthodox Church you are asking). More on this later.

    I agree that the Church’s discernment of the canon was not inspired in the way that the books of the Bible (whichever those are) were inspired. The inspiration of the Scriptures, their being “God-breathed”, is, in my understanding, a unique way that God gave divine revelation to man, which is why the Catholic Church prizes the Scriptures so highly–they are indispensable. I don’t think that the Catholic Church teaches that her decrees are “inspired” in the same sense, though she does claim that they are protected by God from error.

    As for restating my argument, I don’t yet see why I should do that given that I was talking about the canon of Scripture and not the contents of the books of Scripture (whichever those are) themselves.

    What I am doing is pointing out that the Protestant distinction between that which is infallible (the Word of God) and that which is not infallible (certain traditions of the Church as qualified by the RCC) is not grounded in what the Church does or does not do, but rather on what God has inspired versus what He has not inspired.

    We might have to get into the semantics of “infallible” and “inerrant” and “inspired” here. The CtC guys know these distinctions better than I do, but I will take a swing. Infallible refers to a process or an agent. Inerrant refers to a “thing” (e.g. the Bible).

    God inspired the authors of sacred Scriptures and did so infallibly such that the resulting letters they wrote are inerrant. Agreed?

    God did not “inspire” the Church’s discernment of the canon but He did infallibly guide the discernment such that the resulting decision that the Church that seventy-three particular books make up the Bible is inerrant. I suspect that you disagree here.

    So God can protect a process or agent (like the Church) from error in multiple “ways”: through inspiration of the sacred authors in specific writings they made and through guidance of the Church in her decrees on faith and morals (the college of bishops in union with the bishop of Rome). Finally, the Pope has a special charism of infallibility, where God protects his ex cathedra decrees from error. What is the reason that you don’t think God can protect men from error using multiple means?

    What I would hope that the Catholic apologist would note is that yes, the tradition of the Church is not inspired in any way and thus there is a good and proper distinction to be made between what God has inspired and what He has not inspired.

    I agree that a distinction should be made between what God has inspired and not inspired, but your understanding of the Tradition of the Church seems inaccurate. It encompasses more than you imagine. From Pope Benedict’s audience April 26, 2006:

    The Church’s apostolic Tradition consists in this transmission of the goods of salvation, which makes of the Christian community the permanent actualization, with the force of the Spirit, of the original communion. It is called thus because it was born from the testimony of the apostles and of the community of the disciples in the early years, was given under the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the writings of the New Testament, and in the sacramental life, in the life of faith, and the Church makes constant reference to it — to this Tradition that is the always present reality of the gift of Jesus — as its foundation and norm through the uninterrupted succession of the apostolic ministry.

    So to say that the Church’s Tradition is “not inspired” doesn’t exactly make sense because in the broad sense, sacred Tradition encompasses the inspired writings of the New Testament. It is something alive, a living river connecting us to Christ by the power of the Spirit, and not a “box of dead things” that we can pull out and examine every so often.

    1) the way one demonstrates that the Scriptures are infallible and 2) the way one demonstrates that the de fide pronouncements of the Church are infallible are fundamentally different. All the Protestants are doing in their apologetic concerning Scripture and tradition is noting the difference between 1 and 2. But again at a minimum, I would encourage you to correctly represent the basis of the distinction in Protestant thought.

    I disagree. The canon of Scripture was a doctrine discerned by the Church much like the great Christological doctrines, the Marian doctrines, the doctrines about the sacraments, and so on. So I recognize that you want to separate (as different in principle) the discernment of the canon from other discernments of the Church, but I don’t think that is a valid distinction to make.

    Sincerely in Christ,
    Devin

  24. Mike,

    You evidently read through my post and but missed the only point I was making while addressing points that I very carefully explained to Devin that I was not making.

    So again, I was pointing out to Devin that he had misstated the Protestant position with his “ad hoc” comment. He argues that we have arbitrarily determined that one action of the Church in infallible while others are not. I pointed out to him that he was not correctly understanding the BASIS of the distinction. He wrote about our understanding of the canon as infallible as if we are analyzing categories of what the Church does, but this is not correct. And again, I was not trying to make the case at this point that the Church could not speak infallibly, only that Devin (and so many other Catholics trying to understand the Reformed position) had erred in his understanding of the basis of the distinction in Protestant thought.

  25. We agree that whichever books God has inspired are infallible. But which books did He inspire? You would say sixty-six. I would say seventy-three. ..

    Devin – We both agree that the Protocanonicals were inspired. But as the Catholic Encyclopedia notes, there was few all throughout the Medieval Age that gave unqualified approval to the Deuterocanonicals. The matter was not settled until Trent in the RCC. There was clear consensus for the Protos but not the Deuteros throughout the history of the Church until Trent. Now you may want to make the case that Trent was correct, but given the lack of universal approval for these books for the first sixteen centuries of the Church this is a tough case for the Catholics to make. The Deuteros do not have the historical acceptance that the Protos did. So we clearly see an infallible God working through the Church and producing a list of sixty-six books which were finalized in the fourth century (and note that the result would have been the same whether or not the Church was infallible – the infallible collection of sixty-six books was not contingent on the Church having a special gift of infallibility).

    The matter of the EO canon would seem to bring in further complications since both RCC and EO claimed to be speaking infallibility and both claimed bishops of proper sacramental authority but both come up with a different list of Deuteros.

    I don’t think that the Catholic Church teaches that her decrees are “inspired” in the same sense, though she does claim that they are protected by God from error.

    Understood.

    As for restating my argument, I don’t yet see why I should do that given that I was talking about the canon of Scripture and not the contents of the books of Scripture (whichever those are) themselves.

    The only thing in my last post that I was encouraging you to rethink was thebasis upon which the Protestants make the distinction between the act of God in inspiration (in which of course the Church was used as a tool) and the pronouncements of the Church. We don’t look at the matter as the Catholics do from the standpoint of things that the Church did or does.

    So God can protect a process or agent (like the Church) from error

    Yes, I agree, God could do this , so the question then is whether there is any historical or theological or other reason to suppose that such a gift to the Church is necessary. The other reasons on this loop seems to be philosophical onse given I suppose the philosophical training and proclivities of some on the loop. It’s a curious way to go about the proof, but I’m always interested in matters philosophical so I have no reasons to reject such a proof because it is philosophical in nature.

    So to say that the Church’s Tradition is “not inspired” doesn’t exactly make sense because in the broad sense, sacred Tradition encompasses the inspired writings of the New Testament.

    At this point I was just noting that the Protestants properly draw a distinction between that which is inspired and that which is not inspired and this becomes that basis for different sorts of proofs concerning pronouncements of God Almighty versus those of the Church speaking in an official capacity. My sole point in the last post was that making distinctions between what God has inspired and what He has not inspired is not ad hoc. We are of course looking at the matter from a different perspective than the Catholic does, but that does not make the distinctions we draw to be random or capricious.

  26. Further along the lines that Devin just brought up, I was actually just reading today from Pope Benedict XVI’s Jesus of Nazareth: from the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration, in the Foreword where the author discusses the historically-oriented component to his reading of Scripture and how it fits together complementarily with the hermeneutic that reads it as essentially an Inspired text. The way those fit together, apropos the present discussion, beautifully mirrors the way in which Inspired scripture comes essentially from the communal hand of the “People of God” – in the OT, Israel; in the NT, the Church – the origin of the Scriptures themselves and the authority by which they are canonized go together like hand in glove. When that is understood, it’s a theory-that-accounts-for-the-data that is clearly far superior to seeing Scriptural inspiration and Church authoritativeness as essentially distinct. That theory would make the most sense if what one was trying to make sense of was the Bible being written by the hand of God and having fallen into someone’s lap a few centuries ago. Or, the whole thing being discovered on some buried gold plates that were specially translated using some other gold plates but sorry I can’t show them to you ’cause all you need is me I’m your prophet I got your restored gospel right here America is the new Israel hallelujah. (That parallel keeps coming up in my mind because it really is quite apt.)

    Anyway, I hope I will be allowed to quote several paragraphs from the aforementioned work, because they say it better than any clumsy paraphrase I could attempt…

    When a word transcends the moment in which it is spoken, it carries within itself a “deeper value.” This “deeper value” pertains most of all to words that have matured in the course of faith-history. For in this case the author is not simply speaking for himself on his own authority. He is speaking from the perspective of a common history that sustains him and that already implicitly contains the possibilities of its future, of the further stages of its journey. The process of continually rereading and drawing out new meanings from words would not have been possible unless the words themselves were already open to it from within.

    At this point we get a glimmer, even on the historical level, of what inspiration means: The author does not speak as a private, self-contained subject. He speaks in a living community, that is to say, in a living historical movement not created by him, nor even by the collective, but which is led forward by a greater power that is at work. There are dimensions of the word that the old doctrine of the fourfold sense of Scripture pinpointed with remarkable accuracy. The four senses of Scripture are not individual meanings arrayed side by side, but dimensions of the one word that reaches beyond the moment.

    This already suggests the second aspect I wanted to speak about. Neither the individual books of Holy Scripture nor the Scripture as a whole are simply a piece of literature. The Scripture emerged from within teh heart of a living subject – the pilgrim People of God – and lives within this same subject. One could say that the books of Scripture involve three interacting subjects. First of all, there is the individual author or group of authors to whom we owe a particular scriptural text. But these authors are not autonomous writers in the modern sense; they form part of a collective subject, the “People of God,” from within whose heart and to whom they speak. Hence, this subject is actually the deeper “author” of the Scriptures. And yet likewise, this people does not exist alone; rather, it knows that it is led, and spoken to, by God himself who – through men and their humanity – is at the deepest level the one speaking.

    The connection with the subject we call “People of God” is vital for Scripture. On one hand, this book – Scripture – is the measure that comes from God, the power directing the people. On the other hand, though, Scripture lives precisely within this people, even as this people transcends itself in Scripture. Through their self-transcendence (a fruit, at the deepest level, of the incarnate Word) they become the people of God. The People of God – the Church is the living subject of Scripture; it is in the Church that the words of the Bible are always in the present. This also means, of course, that the People has to receive its very self from God, ultimately from the incarnate Christ; it has to let itself be ordered, guided, and led by him.

  27. Andrew McCallum,

    You made this distinction:

    At this point I was just noting that the Protestants properly draw a distinction between that which is inspired and that which is not inspired and this becomes that basis for different sorts of proofs concerning pronouncements of God Almighty versus those of the Church speaking in an official capacity.

    As a Protestant, you differentiate between the “pronouncements of God Almighty versus those of the Church speaking in an official capacity.” Yet, in regards to the Church’s official capacity, that is, what we Catholics call her Apostolic capacity, our Lord says makes this distinction:

    He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me. Luke 10:16 NIV

    Just out of curiosity, how do you reconcile this?

  28. *our Lord makes this distinction

    In the peace of God’s annointed,
    Sh’muel

  29. Devin and all,

    I don’t have much to contribute to this discussion, in the way of argumentation, at the moment, but I just want to observe that Devin’s piece is a great example of how God works in such different ways with different people, and especially in our evangelization, it is so helpful to remember this fact.

    As a Reformed Baptist, I would attempt to witness to people on the street, to friends and family in everyday life, and to people on the internet. Often, my thinking was that if I am able to have an extended conversation with this person, I will present the (Reformed) Gospel, and if this person rejects it, I may attempt to reason with him/her for a period of time, and then, simply leave him/her in the hands of God, with perhaps a final plea and a genuinely concerned warning about the urgency of trusting in Christ. Much of this approach was not wrong, I still believe, but the problem is that my thinking, as a Reformed Christian, would be that if the person seemed initially resistant to the (Reformed) Gospel, then he/she *must necessarily have been* in rebellion against God and hostile to Him.

    Actually, I thought that *any* non-Christian was in a state of full rebellion against God, due to my (mis)interpretations of certain passages in Paul’s epistles. The actual state of affairs, with a given person, however, may be quite different. We just don’t ultimately know. A Muslim may be genuinely trying to understand the teaching of the Trinity, as presented by an orthodox Christian, and if the Muslim rightly understood it, he/she *might* accept it– but there is so much misunderstanding, mischaracterisation, and other cultural baggage, for Muslims, with the doctrine of the Trinity, that it is hard to know if that particular Muslim is truly “hostile to God” in rejecting the Trinitarian doctrine.

    This is *not* to say that we just conclude that all is well, spiritually, and we cease to witness to the person. Coming to understand Catholic teaching on evangelization and other religions, however, has helped me, personally, to see that my previous view on all non-Christians as being in rebellion against, and hostile to, God was not actually faithful to the whole teaching of Scripture and was actually harming my evangelistic approach to non-Christians of many stripes.

  30. Andrew (#21):

    You suggest that I very carefully missed the point of your initial response to Devin. Thus:

    I was not trying to make the case at this point that the Church could not speak infallibly, only that Devin (and so many other Catholics trying to understand the Reformed position) had erred in his understanding of the basis of the distinction in Protestant thought.

    Well, I think I understood quite well what you were doing. Our latest problem in communication here, it seems to me, is that you don’t understand how my reply was germane to what you were doing. So I’ll try this again.

    Addressing Devin, you wrote:

    What I did want to ask you about is your statement above that Protestants making an “ad hoc claim.” The problem with this statement is that, contrary to what you write above, we are not basing our argument on a comparison of things that “the Church did” (or is authorized to do). We are basing our judgment here on what God has spoken vs what He has not spoken. We are saying that Scriptures are infallible because God inspired them, but the pronouncements of the Church are not inspired. Thus the principled distinction is between what is inspired by God and what is not inspired by God.

    I’ve bolded that one sentence above because it’s the sentence I started my previous reply to you by quoting. Now I’ve put it in its context for all to see.

    My reply to that was, and is, that one cannot assert the divine inspiration of Scripture as anything more than an opinion if one leaves out reference to “what the Church did (or is authorized to do).” This, in fact, is the fundamental difficulty with attempts to justify sola scriptura. I am well aware that Protestants distinguish between inspired Scripture and non-inspired ecclesial pronouncements. But so do Catholics. To that extent, you haven’t professed anything that Catholics don’t already believe. So that is not the point of contention. The point of contention is the question whether one needs to appeal to the ecclesial authority in the first place as a reason for saying that Scripture is inspired. Without such an appeal, belief in in the divine inspiration of Scripture is an opinion with no authority, and therefore cannot be used to justify sola scriptura or, indeed, any canon or interpretation. So your reply to Devin is quite inapt.

    In the comment of yours we’re discussing, you also claimed:

    What I would hope that the Catholic apologist would note is that yes, the tradition of the Church is not inspired in any way and thus there is a good and proper distinction to be made between what God has inspired and what He has not inspired. Once that is understood he can then set about the task of trying to demonstrate that there is some sort of necessity for supposing the infallibility of the Church, at least as she speaks to certain matters in certain contexts under certain conditions.

    I believe my reply to that, in #13, was quite germane. You have offered no reason for saying it isn’t.

  31. Hi Andrew,

    Thanks for your response.

    We both agree that the Protocanonicals were inspired. But as the Catholic Encyclopedia notes, there was few all throughout the Medieval Age that gave unqualified approval to the Deuterocanonicals. The matter was not settled until Trent in the RCC. There was clear consensus for the Protos but not the Deuteros throughout the history of the Church until Trent

    Hmm, while it is true that I agree that the sixty-six books you accept as inspired are indeed inspired, I would argue that there were books among these sixty-six that did not have a clear consensus for many centuries, even up to the Reformation. Why else could Martin Luther–in the 16th century–dismiss four of the NT books (that you include in the “Protos”): James, Jude, Hebrews, and Revelation and say “Up to this point we have had to do with the true and certain chief books of the New Testament. The four which follow have from ancient times had a different reputation”? If he were consistent, he also would have rejected 2 Peter and 2 and 3 John, as these also got a late adoption.

    Further, as Tom Brown demonstrated in his article on the canon, the book most doubted was Esther. It was left out of many canonical lists and I recall was the only book for which no fragments were found in the Dead Sea Scrolls (all the deuterocanonicals were found I believe, including ones in Hebrew that were previously only thought to have been in Greek). So I wouldn’t count Esther in the “Protos” either.

    So we clearly see an infallible God working through the Church and producing a list of sixty-six books which were finalized in the fourth century (and note that the result would have been the same whether or not the Church was infallible – the infallible collection of sixty-six books was not contingent on the Church having a special gift of infallibility).

    I don’t think the historical evidence bears out that first statement: certainly the Church in the 4th century didn’t settle on the sixty-six book canon. In any case, my Evangelical friends would probably gasp at the concession that the books were “finalized in the fourth century.” In their view, all manner of corruption had entered the Church’s teachings by the fourth century, so any talk of “an infallible God working through the Church” to finalize the canon in the fourth century would be quite disturbing to them. I would bet the you also think that the Church had fallen into serious error in her teachings by the fourth century?

    We can wrangle about when the canon was finalized and which books it included and which differing canonical lists had which books, but I don’t think it will yield a definitive answer as to which books, exactly, God inspired and which He did not. If Luther could reject four NT books in the 16th century based on their lack of historical consensus, arguing that the canon was “clear” and “finalized to sixty-six books” doesn’t seem credible. That’s why in the article I wrote:

    The ambiguous historical testimony regarding the formation of the canon cannot provide conscience-binding certainty for any of the different canons accepted today by the major Christian groups.

    Do you disagree with my statement?

    I was just noting that the Protestants properly draw a distinction between that which is inspired and that which is not inspired and this becomes that basis for different sorts of proofs concerning pronouncements of God Almighty versus those of the Church speaking in an official capacity. My sole point in the last post was that making distinctions between what God has inspired and what He has not inspired is not ad hoc. We are of course looking at the matter from a different perspective than the Catholic does, but that does not make the distinctions we draw to be random or capricious.

    I think I understand what you are saying here. Let’s grant for the sake of argument that there are “different sorts of proofs” for knowing 1) which books God inspired vs. 2) whether some other doctrine is true. What is the sort of proof that you would offer for knowing which books God inspired?

    Thought experiment: I could imagine that, for example, a book that God inspired would literally jump off the page when a true Christian read it, or if not literally then perhaps it could be that God would clearly, unambiguously, and consistently give them an unmistakable feeling or internal knowledge that the book being read is God-breathed (inspired). This internal testimony would be known by all true Christians across the world because God would make it unambiguous for all. Christians would constantly talk about this internal illumination, and it would even become the litmus test for whether someone was a Christian or not. You could do a blind study where you placed a random passage from an inspired book (preferably an obscure one from the OT) in front of a person, had them read it, then tell you whether or not it was inspired. Repeat with inspired and non-inspired books until sufficient probability that they weren’t just guessing right was reached.

    If this were the reality, then I would grant you that this is a different sort of proof for us knowing which books are inspired than the kind of proofs (arguments) we accept for knowing whether the Church’s pronouncements are true.

    Obviously I am not seriously proposing my thought experiment as reality (though it seems to closely resemble Calvin’s main argument), but I am seriously proposing it as the sort of proof that you would need to show in order to demonstrate how we can know your canon is the true one. I doubt that you will offer my hypothetical proposal as the sort of proof, so I am interested in what kind of proof you will offer. If it is the historical evidence you think is in favor of the Protestant canon (some of which you have given previously), I think you are on shaky ground for having conscience-binding certainty in your canon because all of the evidence doesn’t support unequivocally any of the canons.

    We all agree that God inspired some set of books X. But somehow, you have to know what X is.

    In Christ,
    Devin

    P.S. I hope you will consider continuing to respond to the other commenters, too. I think the parallel discussions are enlightening.

  32. Devin,

    Great post – thanks.

    Phil, what Randy and Michael said.

    Also, Phil, I wanted to ask you about this statement you made:

    But I have faith that through prayer the Spirit comes to us, that when parts of the church fall dead to the powers of evil God will blow fresh winds of life into its body that if we pray and study the scriptures and try to live by the strength of the weakness of God, then we will be a witness to the world of the power of God.

    What does it look like for ‘the Spirit to come’? How does one go about identifying actual ‘parts of the church’ (in other words, how do you define “church”) and what criteria do you use to test whether actual parts are dead? What exactly does it mean to “live by the strength of the weakness of God”? Having made so clear a case for error and ambiguity and uncertainty in doctrine, ideas, everything, what can any of this possibly mean? What, in fact, can “God” mean in such a context?

    In the same way that “Scripture” posited outside the context of the living sacramental Church Necessarily reduces to mere opinion (as Michael has said), “God” reduces to psychology or sociology, it seems to me; or else he’s Big Other, impossibly big and so entirely unknown by us creatures. In short, the “mystery” you’re advocating is strong on faith, but is it Christian? Does the ‘sous rature’ faith really square with historical Christianity?

    I’ve probably misunderstood… can you help?

  33. Devin said this:Hmm, while it is true that I agree that the sixty-six books you accept as inspired are indeed inspired, I would argue that there were books among these sixty-six that did not have a clear consensus for many centuries, even up to the Reformation. Why else could Martin Luther

    Devin – Sorry to take so long to get back with you.

    Martin Luther was nor representative of the major Reformed theologians in this regards. I don’t think that we can use him as representative of the Reformed position on the Scriptures. Many theologians, Catholic and Protestant, have odd idiosyncrasies, and this was definitely one of Luther’s. Concerning the book of Esther, Catholic and Protestant are not at odds, so the resolution to the difficulties over the authorship and authenticity of Esther have been resolved to both of our satisfaction, no?

    certainly the Church in the 4th century didn’t settle on the sixty-six book canon.

    Yes, agreed that the Dueteros/Aposcrypha were still up for grabs and the matter was not settled until Trent. But my contention was that the books outside of both EO and Catholic versions of the Dueteros were settled, agreed? I won’t go into the history of the acceptance of the Prayer of Mannaseh, Psalm 151, etc in the East, but in the West the Church of the 4th century which gave us the original texts of Scripture did determine that the sixty-six were canonical, but the Deuteros remained a matter of much controversy up until Trent. Even after Florence (an ecumenical council!) there were theologians who took Jerome’s position on the matter.

    my Evangelical friends would probably gasp at the concession that the books were “finalized in the fourth century.” In their view, all manner of corruption had entered the Church’s teachings by the fourth century,….

    I just cannot speak for your Evangelical friends. I would not agree with their assessment, or at least I would want them to give me a good deal of qualifications as to what they had in mind.

    The ambiguous historical testimony regarding the formation of the canon cannot provide conscience-binding certainty for any of the different canons accepted today by the major Christian groups. Do you disagree with my statement?

    But do you think that Trent can bring consensus to the matter? As a faithful Catholic, you are going to accept the consensus at Trent, but I would think that the fact the Church could not bring consensus to the matter before Trent should give us pause to consider what it was at Trent that definitively ended the debate. The reason why you as a Catholic believe that Trent could speak dogmatically is that you believe that Trent was in fundamental agreement with the historic Christian Church of the early centuries of Christianity. But one fundamental disagreement between you and me is that we don’t agree just on this matter. So logically before we can utilize a specific pronouncement from Trent we have to agree that Trent’s pronouncements were in agreement with the Early Church. And I hope that you would agree that this is a big challenge since not only do you disagree with Protestants here, but also with the Eastern Orthodox, an ancient communion with whom you are in communion. The disagreements with the EO here centers on whether Trent ought to be considered as a ecumenical council. And if you cannot convince the EO of this you will never convince the Protestants.

    What is the sort of proof that you would offer for knowing which books God inspired?

    As I speak with Catholics I don’t suppose that they will place much credence in the idea that we can prove the Bible by internal evidence. Calvin was correct that the Scriptures do speak to the believer in a way that non-inspired books don’t (I think you would agree with me that what Paul wrote under the guidance of the Spirit will have more impact on the believer than a book written by let’s say Athanasius), but this is not a proof that only the Proto-canonicals were canonical. The short answer to your question is that God worked through the Church to bring this testimony to us. The obvious question that is raised after answering this is whether it was the Church who was infallible, or whether it was God who was infallible producing His work through a fallible Church. Ultimately we believe that God used the Church to receive the canon just as He used the Church to write the books. When the individual writers of Matthew, Acts, etc wrote these books they wrote that which is infallible because God who was infallible inspired them. Here the locus of infallibility is with God, not the individual writer. So likewise with the collection of these books, we are saying that the locus of infallibility lies with God, not the Church that received the canon. As mentioned before, if God who is infallible worked through the collecting of the canon then the canon will be infallible whether or not the Church is infallible. Thus, it is not necessary to posit an infallible Church in order to have an infallible canon.

    So in the early centuries of the Church we have the sixty-six books that were not challenged. However the additional books in the Deuterocanonicals/Apocrypha continued to be debated until the 16th century. Did Trent act correctly in pronouncing the Deuteros as canonical? That’s a question that to a large degree rests on whether we ought to consider Trent to be ecumenical and if it was, whether Trent’s rationale for pronouncing the Deuteros to be canonical was correct.

  34. Mike said: Well, I think I understood quite well what you were doing

    Well Mike, sorry to continue on with the theme of “you did not understand me” that we both accuse each other of, but no I don’t think you were getting at my point to Devin. I was pointing out that the distinctions we made concerning the Scriptures are not based on what the Church does or does not do. It is based on something else. I listed this something else, but qualified this by stating that I did not want to discuss this something else. You put my something else in bold and then replied to it. But I was first just trying to make the point that our distinctions are not based on what the Church did or did not do at certain points in history and our distinctions are not capricious.

    The reason for me trying to first speak to Devin’s contention that we are being ad hoc in our determination of the pronouncements of Scriptures versus those of f the Church is that IF we really are making random determinations, or determinations with no good rationale on the work of the Church, then the debate ends right here and there is no reason to proceed any further. So I just at this point wanted Devin to see that there was a principled distinction here, even though he might disagree with me in the next natural step of the discourse.

  35. As a Protestant, you differentiate between the “pronouncements of God Almighty versus those of the Church speaking in an official capacity.” Yet, in regards to the Church’s official capacity, that is, what we Catholics call her Apostolic capacity, our Lord says makes this distinction:

    He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me. Luke 10:16 NIV

    Just out of curiosity, how do you reconcile this?

    Sh’muel – You are assuming that the Catholic Church from Apostolic times to when Jesus returns is that entity whom Christ has sent, and when the Catholic Church speaks on dogmatic matters, if we disregard her we are disregarding Christ. Is this a fair restatement? My reply is that we Protestants have not been convinced that the Catholic Church is the very same Church that Christ established, just like the OT Church of the Sanhedrin was not exactly the OT Church of Abraham’s era.

    But of course, if the Catholic Church is still the same Church in the eyes of God that she was during Apostolic times then we would be rejecting Christ’s words by rejecting those of the RCC. From our standpoint, the question of how we determine the Church that Christ established in not just a matter of the formality of succession just as it was not in the OT.

  36. Andrew,

    I hesitate to re-engage this recurring issue yet again, but I just cannot help myself.

    You said:

    When the individual writers of Matthew, Acts, etc wrote these books they wrote that which is infallible because God who was infallible inspired them. Here the locus of infallibility is with God, not the individual writer.

    Of course, God is infallible, that is part of what it means to be God. But, how do you KNOW that God inspired the NT authors? How do you know that God in some way supervened upon the inherent fallibility of human authors such as Matthew, Luke, John, etc. when composing the particular letters or narratives that we recognize as part of the canon? You are asserting that it is so. How do you KNOW it? The question is epistemic NOT ontological. You continue to evade the epistemic force of the problem. The Catholic also asserts that he KNOWS that the books of the canon are inspired; but he has a cogent reason for making such an assertion. What is your argument for the assertion you make? THAT is the recurring question which your comments always seem to side-step.

    Again you say:

    So likewise with the collection of these books, we are saying that the locus of infallibility lies with God, not the Church that received the canon. As mentioned before, if God who is infallible worked through the collecting of the canon then the canon will be infallible whether or not the Church is infallible. Thus, it is not necessary to posit an infallible Church in order to have an infallible canon.

    Let me break this argument down:

    P1 God is infallible
    P2 [If] God worked through the collection of the canon
    P3 In collecting the canon God used the instrument of the fallible Church (just like He used the instrument of fallible authors to write the canonical books )
    Conclusion: “the canon will be infallible whether or not the Church is infallible”

    THE PROBLEM is the [if] in P2! IF God worked through the collection of the canon, then the conclusion follows. BUT HOW DO YOU KNOW that IF? Exactly as you argued with regard to the writing of canonical books, you likewise proceed with regard to their collection into a codex. You simply assert that God (Who is infallible) “worked through the collection of the canon”. You give no argument for this. You simply assert it as a fact. I honestly would like to understand how you resolve this epistemic problem. As in previous threads, unless you rsepond to this central delimma, Devin, Mike, myself and many others are going to have a hard time taking your position seriously. You know that the Catholics on this site posit an infallible Church (an ecclesia invested with Christ’s own authority) as the the means by which we “KNOW” both that the content of the individual canonical books are inspired as well as that the collection (codex) of books we call canonical are, in fact, the books which God inspired. You disagree with our position. We all know that. Rather than some sort of “tu quoque” objection which turns the discussion upon the perceived weakness in our own position; what we are waiting for a cogent explanation of your own resolution to the epsitemic problem that keeps being posed to you. GIVEN that the Church possesses no gift of infallibility (your given), please explain HOW YOU KNOW either:

    a.) The individual books of the bible are inspired (God supervened upon the inherent falliblity of the authors)

    or

    b.) The collection of books in the canonical codex has been infallibly gathered (God supervened upon the inherent fallibility of the Church during the collection process)

    Until you can give a persuasive explanation as to how you resolve the epistemic (“How do you know”) problem highlighted by these questions, then I hope you will not blame us for continuing to view your assertion that an infallible God supervened upon a fallible Church during the canon collection process as anything other than an ad hoc assertion. An ad hoc assertion which appears to be posited for no other reason than to secure an infallible canon without submission to an infallible Church. I look forward to gaining an understanding of how that assertion is argued for.

    Pax et Bonum,

    -Ray

  37. Andrew, you said:

    From our standpoint, the question of how we determine the Church that Christ established in not just a matter of the formality of succession just as it was not in the OT.

    But “formality of succession” DID matter then:

    Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.

    And it still matters today.

  38. Andrew (#32):

    The reason for me trying to first speak to Devin’s contention that we are being ad hoc in our determination of the pronouncements of Scriptures versus those of f the Church is that IF we really are making random determinations, or determinations with no good rationale on the work of the Church, then the debate ends right here and there is no reason to proceed any further. So I just at this point wanted Devin to see that there was a principled distinction here, even though he might disagree with me in the next natural step of the discourse.

    I agree that your “determinations” are not “random.” Many people have made them for over four centuries. But I’m not sure what you mean by the phrase “no good rationale on the work of the Church.”

    Although we agree that the Bible is divinely inspired and that the pronouncements of the Church are not, we don’t agree on how to determine exactly which writings belong in the Bible, or even on why we should agree that some set of writings is divinely inspired. And so, as I have repeatedly argued, without appeal to the authority of something called “the Church,” the distinction you make between which books are inspired and which are not is only an opinion with no authority. And if it’s an opinion with no authority, then premising it as though it were a given without the “work of the Church” is purely ad hoc. Which is the gravemen of Devin’s point.

    Having perused some of your other comments, I gather that you think the “rationale” for the Protestant canon is essentially academic. Thus, a fair study the history of the topic will yield the scholarly conclusion that the case for the Protestant canon is stronger than the case for the Catholic. But that sort of approach only evades the issue that Devin and I have raised.

    If one leaves the issue at the scholarly level, one can only arrive at opinions. In light of the historical evidence available at any given time, some opinions are more defensible than others. But I’m not in the least interested in the question which opinions are more defensible in such a way. For in the very nature of the case, no such opinion can command the assent of faith; and when we’re seeking to identify divine revelation, as distinct from opinions, only propositions commanding the assent of faith will do. Yet opinions remain opinions, subject to revision or even reversal in light of further evidence and better arguments. Therefore, so longs as one remains at the level of opinion, the belief that just these writings and no others are divinely inspired leaves one unable to distinguish between the opinions of scholars and the actual content of divine revelation. From the standpoint of faith, such a position is worthless. Scholarly investigation is helpful, and in some cases necessary, for illuminating the content of faith and showing those without faith that faith is reasonable. But of itself, it can establish nothing that is of faith, and assent to its conclusions is not the assent of the divine gift of faith. Accordingly, affirming any article of faith, such as the divine inspiration of Scripture, without appeal to an authority that transcends reason alone is no faith at all.

    This is why you haven’t successfully engaged Devin’s point. As Ray Stamper explains, you simply haven’t addressed the fundamental question, i.e. what sort of authority is needed to enable us to identify divine revelation as such, rather than mere opinions about various sources alleged to transmit divine revelation. You know which authority we acknowledge as Catholics for that purpose. We’re asking you what your authority is. You haven’t told us. And as long as you maintain your present position, you won’t be able to tell us.

  39. Hi Andrew,

    Thanks for your reply.

    Concerning the book of Esther, Catholic and Protestant are not at odds, so the resolution to the difficulties over the authorship and authenticity of Esther have been resolved to both of our satisfaction, no?

    It’s true that both of us accept Esther as canonical, but that book is evidence against the assertion you made that the sixty-six books we both accept were the Protocanonicals accepted by all in the fourth century. Even St. Athanasius’ canonical list in 367 AD omitted Esther (while including Baruch), and his was the first to get the New Testament of twenty-seven books completely right. Having to wait until the mid- to late-4th century to get the right New Testament hardly instills confidence that the inspired books have such a clearly distinguished character from non-inspired ones that separating them is as easy as discerning “black from white.”

    And why is it not arbitrary to say “well the Church finally settled on the canon in the 4th century” (versus the 1st or 2nd or 3rd or 5th), so we can trust that decision? And since I dispute that “that decision” was choosing the sixty-six book canon (I would say it chose the seventy-three book one and point to the various councils in Rome, North Africa, and the lists promulgated from those councils to the churches), we really don’t have agreement on which canon was even chosen at that time.

    but the Deuteros remained a matter of much controversy up until Trent. Even after Florence (an ecumenical council!) there were theologians who took Jerome’s position on the matter.

    I would point out that the Council of Florence also listed the seventy-three book canon. Further, while it is true that there can be discussion and even disagreement on doctrines (within some limits) until the doctrine is settled dogmatically, that doesn’t mean that the Church didn’t teaching anything about the doctrine until the dogmatic pronouncement. For example, the Trinity wasn’t dogmatically settled until the 4th century (and onward, if you count the later Christological heresies like Monophysitism, Monothelitism). But the Church had been teaching the Trinity since the beginning. Same with transubstantiation, baptismal regeneration, and so on.

    But do you think that Trent can bring consensus to the matter? As a faithful Catholic, you are going to accept the consensus at Trent, but I would think that the fact the Church could not bring consensus to the matter before Trent should give us pause to consider what it was at Trent that definitively ended the debate.

    Trent can bring certainty to the matter, not because it brings consensus per se, but because it was an Ecumenical Council whose canons were ratified by the Pope, and so it falls under the protection from error that God has promised to the Church. By itself, apart from this divine protection, it could be seen as just another meeting of old church men who held a vote that got an unimpressive plurality that another old man in Rome put his stamp on.

    The reason why you as a Catholic believe that Trent could speak dogmatically is that you believe that Trent was in fundamental agreement with the historic Christian Church of the early centuries of Christianity. But one fundamental disagreement between you and me is that we don’t agree just on this matter.

    Well, I would say that the Church in the first four centuries was discerning the canon and that it hadn’t settled on the set of books definitively. Some were settled on earlier; others took much longer. It was ambiguous, which is why I said that the Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants can all point to the evidence from that time period that favors their canon and claim that theirs is the most reasonable. You have already conceded that it was not until the 4th century that the Church settled the canon with any finality. So that must mean that prior to that it was in flux, and that is what we see when we read the differing canonical lists by different Fathers, the Muratorian fragment, the oldest codices (the Codex Vaticanus and the Codex Sinaiticus), and so on. Therefore, while I do think that Trent’s canon is supportable by the early Church’s canonical lists, I don’t think it is definitive on that basis alone. Protestants (like you) could make a case for the Protestant canon being more in line with the differing canonical lists.

    So logically before we can utilize a specific pronouncement from Trent we have to agree that Trent’s pronouncements were in agreement with the Early Church. And I hope that you would agree that this is a big challenge since not only do you disagree with Protestants here, but also with the Eastern Orthodox, an ancient communion with whom you are in communion. The disagreements with the EO here centers on whether Trent ought to be considered as a ecumenical council. And if you cannot convince the EO of this you will never convince the Protestants.

    I don’t expect you to accept Trent, but I also don’t expect you to accept Nicaea. Why should you? You do not believe that God has protected the Church from error in her teachings, except in the authoring and selecting of the sixty-six books of the Protestant Bible. So Nicaea could have erred and every council after it as well. Trent merely made dogmatic what the Church had taught for a millennium against the challenges by the Protestant Reformers to numerous dogmas and doctrines (sacraments, their number and meaning, books of the Bible, justification, indulgences, purgatory, and so on).

    As I speak with Catholics I don’t suppose that they will place much credence in the idea that we can prove the Bible by internal evidence. Calvin was correct that the Scriptures do speak to the believer in a way that non-inspired books don’t (I think you would agree with me that what Paul wrote under the guidance of the Spirit will have more impact on the believer than a book written by let’s say Athanasius)

    I’ve never gotten an internal corroboration of inspiration when, over the past ten years as a Christian, I regularly read the Old Testament books. Same with many books of the New Testament (how ’bout those 15 verses in St. John’s third letter?), though I would agree that they are inspired and that especially the words of Jesus transcend time and place and speak to us powerfully in ways other books don’t. Do you get a good feeling when reading, say, Ecclesiastes?

    As mentioned before, if God who is infallible worked through the collecting of the canon then the canon will be infallible whether or not the Church is infallible. Thus, it is not necessary to posit an infallible Church in order to have an infallible canon.

    But the agent who discerned the canon was the Church. That’s the rub. Just like it was the Church who discerned the doctrines of the Trinity against the challenges made by the Arians, Macedonius, etc. To argue that the Church was not the agent through which God worked ignores all the historical evidence. God works infallibly through _someone_ or _someones_. If Jesus Christ made Himself visible to everyone in the world and said “here is the table of contents of the Bible” with X number of books, then I would agree with you that we don’t need the Church to settle the canon because Jesus explicitly did it Himself. But otherwise we look to the ordinary way in which God has worked since the beginning of the New Covenant and that is through the decisions of His Church. We cannot bypass her.

    God bless!

  40. Of course, God is infallible, that is part of what it means to be God. But, how do you KNOW that God inspired the NT authors? How do you know that God in some way supervened upon the inherent fallibility of human authors such as Matthew, Luke, John, etc. when composing the particular letters or narratives that we recognize as part of the canon? You are asserting that it is so. How do you KNOW it? The question is epistemic NOT ontological. You continue to evade the epistemic force of the problem. The Catholic also asserts that he KNOWS that the books of the canon are inspired; but he has a cogent reason for making such an assertion. What is your argument for the assertion you make? THAT is the recurring question which your comments always seem to side-step.

    Ray,

    Firstly, in the past here and elsewhere I have talked through the epistemological arguments that Catholics raise in exhaustive detail (perhaps you were not privy to these discussions?). And I could go through it all again, but I would rather not. My point to Devin originally was not to rehash what I’ve been through with various folks on CTC before, but to point out that there was there was an assumption that he was bringing to the discussion that from my perspective was not accurate. That is that Protestants are engaging in an ad hoc fallacy by picking one action of the Church over against others and saying that one ought to be understood as infallible while others should not. And so I stated that as Protestants, since we were not approaching the matter as modern Catholics would, were not looking at the matter as if it were one action of the Church vs another. I don’t mean at all to suggest that it was just Devin who was doing this, it is a belief that is brought to the table by various conservative Catholics of a certain philosophical bent.

    Secondly, concerning ontology, I stated the infallibility of God’s working through a given process not because I think you will take issue with the fact the God is infallible (surely you must know I understand this, right?) , but because I want you to explain why this is insufficient to our truly knowing any given fact(s) concerning the principles laid out in Scriptures. Now of course we Protestants, just as you Catholics, believe that the words of Scripture must be mediated via the Church. But Catholics add on the stipulation that the pronouncements of the Church (qualified as the RCC does to include only certain pronouncements made under certain conditions in certain contexts) must be infallible. It’s not enough that the Church mediates the Word of God; the Church must infallibly mediate the Word of God or it is not the Church, right? Neither one of us is saying that the Church is not absolutely necessary for us to know what is or what is not part of the historic Christian faith (and thus given the current discussion what is and what is not within the canon). But the difference is over whether this mediation itself is infallible.. You hold that it must be infallible and of course we come to you with the very same question you ask us – how do you know that this mediation is infallible? You have backed up the question you asked us one step and now have to answer the same question.

    I think it would be very helpful to your conversations with Protestants if you would limit the accusations of tu quoque against us. If it turns out that you are trying to resolve the problem of epistemic uncertainty by appealing to an argument that does not get you any further than what the Protestants are proposing, then you are not going to advance your cause by an appeal to this logical fallacy. If someone from outside both of our respective communions can critique us both using the same logical tools then we are on the same boat, logically speaking. It is incumbent on you to show why it is that the argument that appeals to an infallible Church interpreting the infallible Scriptures is any farther ahead than the argument that appeals to a fallible Church interpreting the infallible Scriptures.

  41. Although we agree that the Bible is divinely inspired and that the pronouncements of the Church are not, we don’t agree on how to determine exactly which writings belong in the Bible, or even on why we should agree that some set of writings is divinely inspired. And so, as I have repeatedly argued, without appeal to the authority of something called “the Church,” the distinction you make between which books are inspired and which are not is only an opinion with no authority.

    OK Mike, I have to stop you right there. You know that we Reformed DO appeal to the authority of the Church. The difference between you and us is that we don’t see any case to be made either theologically or historically or philosophically that the appeal must be to an infallible Church. Even you have conceded that there is no necessary reason why God could not have used a fallible Church to mediate His infallible pronouncements in the Scriptures. We both agree that the Word of God must be infallible, and I think that you and I agree that, theologically and philosophically speaking, God did not have to use an infallible Church to further His infallible will. Then given the fact that there is no historical evidence from the era immediately following the Apostolic era that the theologians of this time believed that their collective assessments were infallible, why should we believe that ecclesiastical infallible is necessary to a correct understanding of the historic Christian faith?

    And if it’s an opinion with no authority, then premising it as though it were a given without the “work of the Church” is purely ad hoc. Which is the gravemen of Devin’s point.

    You are using the term “opinion” with no definition. And of course, we don’t deny the work of the Church at all. We just do not see that there is any historical evidence, or philosophical/theological necessity, to ascribe infallibility to the work of the Church.

    Having perused some of your other comments, I gather that you think the “rationale” for the Protestant canon is essentially academic.

    Mike, I’m sure you know that my answer here is that no, it’s not just an academic point. The formation of the canon is the work of God working through the Church. Now you want to say that the Church was infallible by reason of the charism of infallibility given to the Church. But then you have also conceded to me that God did not have to work this way and that God could have worked through a fallible Church to produce an infallible canon. Didn’t you say that? If yes, then why do you want to posit an infallible Church, at least in this context (other than the obvious fact that this is RCC dogma)? And as we have discussed in the past, I would fully agree that God could have worked through an infallible Church. But do you have a reason from the works of the Apostles or those immediately following the writings of the Apostles that would demonstrate that an infallible Church was necessary for us to know what is and what is not part of the canon? Again note that we are not questioning the absolute necessity for the mediation of the Church in these matters.

  42. Andrew,

    Sorry about the delay in responding to you.
    You said,

    You are assuming that the Catholic Church from Apostolic times to when Jesus returns is that entity whom Christ has sent, and when the Catholic Church speaks on dogmatic matters, if we disregard her we are disregarding Christ. Is this a fair restatement?

    Mostly, this is a fair restatement. However, I am not “assuming”… that is, I am not supposing this to be the case without proof—as is the correct definition of what it means to assume. But that’s just picky semantics, and I suppose you didn’t mean to use the word “assuming” to describe my ontological position as a Catholic.

    You said,

    My reply is that we Protestants have not been convinced that the Catholic Church is the very same Church that Christ established, just like the OT Church of the Sanhedrin was not exactly the OT Church of Abraham’s era.

    On what basis do you make this claim, and what exactly are you trying to prove here?

    Then you said,

    From our standpoint, the question of how we determine the Church that Christ established is not just a matter of the formality of succession just as it was not in the OT.

    On what basis do you make this claim? According to the OT scriptures, I can only see the opposite of this. What about the Aaronic priesthood (Exodus 28:41, Exodus 28:43)? Or the Abrahamic and David covenants which deal directly with succession (Genesis 17:9, 2 Samuel 7:12-16)? Or what about our Master’s words in Matthew 23:2-3? And I quote,

    “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.

    The Pharisees only had the right to sit in the seat of Moses by virtue of them being successors of Moses as the arbitrators of the Mosaic Law. Because they sat in the seat of Moses, our Lord said that everyone “must obey them and do everything they tell you”. So, Messiah affirms that truth comes from “a matter of the formality of succession”. Since Christ is the new Moses (Deut. 18:15), and since Christ affirms the physical expression of successive authority of truth (see above), and since He founded that physical expression in St. Peter (Matthew 16:18), AND since that physical expression finds its succession in Rome, it follows that “the Catholic Church from Apostolic times to when Jesus returns is that entity whom Christ has sent, and when the Catholic Church speaks on dogmatic matters, if we disregard her we are disregarding Christ.”

    Of course, I don’t expect you to affirm that last bit (about the seat of the new Moses finding itself in Rome). However, with that being said, can you still deny the authority of succession and claim that it is foreign to scripture when scripture says otherwise?

    In the peace of God’s anointed,
    Sh’muel

  43. Andrew

    Firstly, in the past here and elsewhere I have talked through the epistemological arguments that Catholics raise in exhaustive detail (perhaps you were not privy to these discussions?).

    I have read each comment you have made in two extensive threads which ran in much the same direction as this one. I even dialogued personally with you on several occasions. I have never read an explanation as to how you resolve the epistemic problem related to the collection of the canon, much less an “exhaustive” one. Of course there may be other threads in which you exhaustively explained your epistemic position of which I am unaware. In the two threads wherein I followed your arguments, my distinct recollection is that is was precisely at the point of epistemology that you either veered the subject away from the epistemic crux, or else reverted to the Protestant “tu quoque” accusation against the Catholic position. In fact, that is why I said that I “hesitate” to re-engage this issue with you because my past experience is that you simply evade the epistemic challenge when it is brought home to you. No need to “re-hash” it all again; simply direct me to the threads where you think you have offered this “exhaustive” explanation and I will happily read and consider your position privately.

    That is that Protestants are engaging in an ad hoc fallacy by picking one action of the Church over against others and saying that one ought to be understood as infallible while others should not. And so I stated that as Protestants, since we were not approaching the matter as modern Catholics would, were not looking at the matter as if it were one action of the Church vs another

    Then HOW are you looking at it? That is the question concerning which I and others are simply begging you to provide clarity. You say that:


    Neither one of us is saying that the Church is not absolutely necessary for us to know what is or what is not part of the historic Christian faith (and thus given the current discussion what is and what is not within the canon)”

    .

    So the “Church” is “absolutely necessary for us to know . . . . what is and what is not within the canon”, but you are not looking “at the matter as if it were one action of the Church vs another”. This appears to me as utterly incoherent. You have said that you avoid the “ad hoc” because you are NOT saying that the Church was “infallible” when being used as an instrument of God by which to collect and recognize the codex of writings you call the canon. In short, you maintain that you are not “picking and choosing” among the Church’s acts (calling some infallible and others fallible). For you, the Church possesses no gift of infallibility under any conditions. She simply was the historical instrument through which the canon emerged. But you insist, nonetheless, that the writings which comprise the canon (as you understand canon) were collected infallibly due to God’s infallibly activity. BUT you admit that the Church is absolutely necessary as an instrument – yes? If God, Who is infallible, worked through an instrument to accomplish an infallible activity (canon collection and recognition), then does it not follow that AT LEAST during that particular activity, the instrument being used by God was granted a share in His infallibility – that is – God protected the Church from error during the historically contingent and volatile conditions during which the canon was collected and ultimately recognized? If you are unwilling to admit that the instrument used (the Church) was protected from error by God (definition of infallibility), THEN HOW DO YOU KNOW that the canon you hold in your hand is an infallibly collected set of inspired writings? You can only say “God is infallible” and the “canon in my hands is infallible”. There is a gigantic epistemic hole glaring at you between these two assertions. HOW DO YOU know that God’s infallibility produced a physical, historically developed codex comprised of 66 inspired writings? The only way to fill that giant epistemic hole is to simply recognize that AT LEAST during the activities which pertained to the physical, historical collection and recognition of the canon, the instrument (the Church) which God used to carry out this physical, historical collection and recognition process was granted a share in God’s infallibility – that is – the Church was protected from error.

    But if you go ahead and admit that the Church share AT LEAST during this activity in God’s infallibility in order to close the epistemic gap within your position, then you are, in fact, admitting that God granted a share in His infallibility to the Church during one activity (or set of activities), yet withheld such a gift during other of the Church’s activities (unless you have become Catholic :>). That, I maintain, is “ad hoc”!

    I asked you in my previous post to please explain how you resolve the apparent epistemic problem within your position without resorting to the Protestant “tu quoque” objection. Instead you did just that. Rather than give a constructive – positive – explanation as to how you resolve the epistemic crux, you simply replied that:

    If it turns out that you are trying to resolve the problem of epistemic uncertainty by appealing to an argument that does not get you any further than what the Protestants are proposing, then you are not going to advance your cause by an appeal to this logical fallacy

    That is the “tu quoque”. As I said before, we all know that you think we Catholics have no good solution to the epistemic problem inherent in the “canon problem”. Fine, help us out. Inform us as to how your solution accomplishes what ours cannot. I have posed the epistemic problem to you once already and your response has been:

    1.) I have “exhaustively” explained my position elsewhere and
    2.) “Tu Quoque” – you Catholics can’t solve the epistemic problem either

    I note that neither of these is a response to the question posed – they seem to be, well . . evasions.

    So I will ask my questions again in a more pointed way. Here again are the two assertions you have made:

    a.) The individual books of the bible are inspired (God supervened upon the inherent fallibility of the authors)

    and

    b.) The collection of books in the canonical codex has been infallibly gathered (God supervened upon the inherent fallibility of the Church during the collection process)

    Are you willing to admit that you can offer not higher recommendation for these two assertions other than that they happen to be the personal opinions of Andrew McCallum? If not, please explain how your position succeeds in transcending the level of personal opinion.

    Pax et Bonum,

    -Ray Stamper

  44. Andrew (#39):

    We’ve been over this ground many times before. What I’ve tried to get you to see, and will continue trying to get you to see, is that you are misconceiving the issue–and therefore misconceiving what is necessary to address the issue. This quixotic project of mine continues to interest me because I’m scheduled to teach Epistemology 101 this fall, and your case spurs me to hone my pedagogical skills.

    Nobody denies that it is logically possible for God to have given us an inerrant canon through a fallible church. But that poses no difficulty for the Catholic position. Why? Because the fact that some proposition P is logically possible is not, of itself, a good reason to believe that P is actually the case. It is logically possible that Pluto is made of green cheese, but there is no good reason to believe it is, and there is good reason to believe it isn’t. Hence, the burden is not on us to show that the logical possibility on which you keep insisting is not actually the case. Instead, the burden is on you to show that, on the hypothesis of a fallible church, it is nonetheless reasonable to believe that the Protestant canon, whose content is allegedly discerned by and through this fallible church, is divinely inspired and thus inerrant.

    That is by no means as easy as you seem to think. For, given the hypothesis of a fallible church, the question needing to be asked is this: How do we know (a) what the correct biblical canon is, and (b) that, whatever the correct canon is, it is inerrant? This is the epistemic crux that Ray rightly says you keep evading. Of course the above question is not a question for Catholics. We believe that the Church is protected from error by the Holy Spirit when teaching with her full authority; and the teaching that the Tridentine canon is divinely inspired is one that we accept as irreformable, because it was infallibly set forth with the full authority of the Church. But since you deny that your church or any church is ever infallible, you cannot appeal to the authority of the something called “the Church” as a good reason to believe that the canon she certifies as such is inerrant. You can’t even tell us which visible body counts as “the” Church whose allegedly fallible authority you nonetheless want to cite. So the reasonable thing for you to do here would be to cease citing whatever-it-is you call “the Church” as a reason to believe that the Protestant canon is inerrant. For if whatever-it-is you call “the Church” could always be wrong, then that is itself a reason to believe that she could be wrong both in how she identifies the canon and in her belief that the writings so compiled are inerrant. Even if you could actually identify some visible body as “the” Church, its self-claimed authority is fallible, and thus is not, of itself, a good reason to believe that what she says is inerrant is, in fact, inerrant.

    So, how do you make your case? In my previous comment, I said that your case for the Protestant canon is “essentially academic.” What I meant was that you propose a historical review that seeks to identify some sort of consensus among Christian scholars about which writings belong in the canon. Once such a consensus is identified, then that is our reason to believe that the canon consist of such-and-such writings and no others. And since they believed that whatever-the-canon-is is, itself, inerrant, that is our reason to believe it’s inerrant. Or so you seemed to be saying. But now you say:

    Mike, I’m sure you know that my answer here is that no, it’s not just an academic point. The formation of the canon is the work of God working through the Church.

    OK, so the case is not “just” academic; it also involves identifying “the work of God through the Church.” But actually, your case remains academic. Why?

    Because the questions remain: which church is “the Church,” and by what criteria do we identify the work of canon formation as “the work of God” as distinct from human academic work? You have no answer to the first question, which is ontic, and you have offered no criteria for applying the distinction called for by the second question, which is epistemic. The two questions are closely related; for without identifying some church as “the Church” that does the pertinent “work of God,” one has no principled, as opposed to ad hoc, way of making the distinction called for by the second question. To be sure, I do seem to recall your citing “internal evidence” to Devin. But you’ve never explained either why we should regard such subjective factors as evidence at all, or if they can be shown to be some sort of evidence, why the subjective experience of some fallible human beings should be taken as in any way authoritative for others. What’s left of your case is essentially academic, in the way I’ve described above.

    Now as I also said in my previous comment, mounting a case on that level yields only “an opinion with no authority.” What you give us thereby is only your opinion and that of your particular branch of Protestantism, which does not claim infallibility. Your response to that was that I have not defined what I mean by ‘opinion’. So now I’ll tell you.

    Opinions are beliefs one holds to be true, but which it would be reasonable for one to be willing to give up under certain conditions, such as logical refutation or an accumulation of empirical evidence. Opinions are to be distinguished from facts on the one hand and articles of faith on the other. A fact is a state of affairs expressed by a proposition it would be unreasonable to remain in doubt about: e.g., that 2+2=4, that China is a populous country, and that Pluto is not made of green cheese. An article of faith is a truth expressing revelation by a God who can no more deceive than be deceived, and that is believed on such authority. If some P truly is an article of faith, then it would be unreasonable to remain in doubt about P, even if at one time one was reasonably in doubt about it.

    Given as much, the question at hand for us is this: when we identify some proposition P as an article of faith–such as that a certain set of writings is divinely inspired, or that it is inerrant–how are we to distinguish belief that P from mere opinion? Since it is a conceptual truth that articles of faith cannot be proven by natural reason, one can only accept P on divine authority. Accordingly, answering the question how we are to distinguish belief that P is an article of faith from the mere opinion that P is true hinges on the question how to identify some visible authority as having divine authority. Only such authority is credible enough to enable us to distinguish P as a true article of faith from P as a mere opinion.

    Now as I argued above, a fallible church that you can’t even identify with a visible body cannot count as such an authority. I’ve also shown that your case for both the content and the inerrancy of the canon is essentially academic. But academic authority is not, by itself, divine authority. Hence your case for both the content and the inerrancy of the canon yields only a human opinion lacking the needed sort of authority.

    Best,
    Mike

  45. Mike:

    Nobody denies that it is logically possible for God to have given us an inerrant canon through a fallible church.

    What do you think of Dr. Peter Kreeft’s argument that “if Scripture is infallible…then the Church must be infallible too, for a fallible cause cannot produce an infallible effect, and the Church produced the Bible?”

  46. Well Jason, that one counterexample shows that my statement was incorrect! Thanks for the correction. That said, I don’t buy Kreeft’s argument because it depends on several assumptions that are by no means self-evident.

    First, can we really say that “the Church” produced the Old Testament? Only if we define ‘the Church’ to include all God’s people before the time of Jesus. A case can be and has been made for that, but I don’t think it’s a point of doctrine; it’s a theological opinion held by some fathers and doctors of the Church. One might object that the Church canonized what Catholics now call the Old Testament along with the New, and in that sense produced the Old. But it isn’t clear that that gives us the requisite sense of ‘produced’.

    Second, it’s not self-evident that a infallible cause can only produce an infallible effect. In fact, it isn’t even true. The Church is infallible only under certain conditions; under others, she is fallible. So a cause that’s infallible under some conditions can and does produce fallible effects under others. Of course, Kreeft probably assumes that the Church’s contribution to and canonization of the Bible meets the Church’s stated criteria for infallibility. And as a Catholic, he would be right. But in a debate with people who don’t believe that, one cannot simply assume it.

    Third, and given as much, Kreeft doesn’t rule out the possibility that God simply overrode the Church’s inherent fallibility in just the one case of her contributing to and canonizing the Scriptures, but not in any other instances. That’s a rather ad hoc hypothesis, and there’s no good reason to believe it. But it’s pretty much the one Andrew upholds, and one can’t rule it out as logically impossible. Not even the Church teaches that her infallibility, when it obtains, derives from her members, including those who wrote and canonized the Bible. Infallibility is a divine gift. There’s nothing logically impossible in the supposition that it is bestowed only in this one case.

    Best,
    Mike

  47. Michael / Jason S.

    I don’t know the whole context of Kreeft’s argument so I don’ t want to say I agree or disagree with it just yet but it seems to me that there might be some issue with the term “infallible” going on here. We’ve hashed this out before but it always seems to come back because we want to use ‘infallible’ to cut corners when really that’s not the fitting word.

    It doesn’t seem right to me to call any effect infallible (insofar as it is an effect) because infallibility implies causal power. i.e. to say something is infallible is to say it is a cause. Some causes are also effects in different respects of course, but insofar as a thing is an effect, we shouldn’t call it infallible, but rather right or wrong. In the case of the canon, we simply call it inerrant.

    If we take the word infallible out and replace it with inerrant, then I think Dr. Kreeft’s argument fails (at least as it’s stated here.) We all agree that fallible causes can create inerrant effects. Could the Church, were she fallible, create an inerrant canon? Absolutely. We shouldn’t call the canon infallible, it seems to me, because that doesn’t fit the sort of thing that it is. Only agents are infallible.

    But a fallible agent cannot command the assent of faith, as to an infallible truth, for reasons Dr. L and others have given ad nauseum and which fact seems to be the point most of our interlocutors have not yet grasped.

  48. Tim:

    Your remarks about the grammar of ‘infallible’ are sound. That’s why I referred to the biblical canon as “inerrant” rather than infallible. Kreeft was, I suspect, just cutting corners. But he’s got a lot of company–Cardinal Dulles among them. They use ‘infallible’ not just for agents, but for the relevant products of such agents. But I agree that such shorthand should be avoided in discussions where technical precision is important. That’s why I, along with the scholastically inclined, refer to doctrines infallibly taught by the Church as “irreformable” rather than infallible.

    You conclude:

    …a fallible agent cannot command the assent of faith, as to an infallible truth, for reasons Dr. L and others have given ad nauseum and which fact seems to be the point most of our interlocutors have not yet grasped.

    Actually, it’s ad nauseam. But don’t worry: my pedantic stomach suffers no nausea from that typo. ;)

    Once again, you are quite correct. I’m tempted to apologize for repeating the point ad nauseam, but I won’t, because don’t think the repetition is uncalled for. The untiring efforts that I and others make to drive the point home forces us and our audience to develop better understanding of such epistemic concepts as faith, opinion, fact, reasons to believe, belief on authority vs. belief on evidence, etc. If we don’t get such basic concepts straight, we’re going to end up off the rails before we reach the station.

    Best,
    Mike

  49. Dr. L > I totally agree – it shouldn’t have been necessary to repeat that point so often (it’s not that hard to grasp really) but it has proved necessary, with some folks, in the face of their persistent refusal to engage anything that threatens their beliefs. Such intellectual obstinacy is its own punishment. As the reward for being easily angered is that you suffer from… being easily angered, so the reward for refusing to reason correctly is that you… don’t reason correctly.

    Also – thanks for the correction. It wasn’t a typo; I misspelled it. Doh!

  50. Mike,

    I’m tempted to apologize for repeating the point ad nauseam, but I won’t, because don’t think the repetition is uncalled for. The untiring efforts that I and others make to drive the point home forces us and our audience to develop better understanding of such epistemic concepts as faith, opinion, fact, reasons to believe, belief on authority vs. belief on evidence, etc. If we don’t get such basic concepts straight, we’re going to end up off the rails before we reach the station.

    Right on Mike! How many times has the epistemic debate finally led to a post by you or me or some other CTC author to the effect that our protestant friends hold a position which logically makes the “assent of faith” impossible. Yet, every time one of us points this out, a silence in the thread ensues. I mean, I can hardly recall an instance where someone has responded to the suggestion that Protestantism contains no principle by which to command the “assent of faith” by asking the next logical question: “what do you Catholics mean by an “assent of faith” anyway?” I am inclined to think that the entire realm of faith/reason considerations (natural revelation, divine revelation, natural reason, divine authority, motives of credibility, the assent of faith, etc.) may be one of those weak spots in protestant theology such that many of our protestant friends have no idea how an “assent of faith” considered either in relation to the object at which it is directed, or in terms of the authority which serves as the basis for such assent; could possibly make any difference to the epistemic challenges raised by the “authority” argument or the “tu quoque” rebuttal, or the canon question, etc.

    Pax et Bonum,

    Ray

  51. Ray,

    Right on. This is why I’m a firm believer in having people study philosophy before they study theology. I mean people who want to conduct academic debates about theology: e.g., people like the regular participants on this blog. Without a proper study of philosophy, most people don’t have a strong enough handle on the concepts one needs to master so as to conduct theological debates carefully and fruitfully. Some of those concepts are metaphysical. But even more necessary are the epistemological ones, especially those in logic and critical thinking. Most online debates, whatever the topic, are a waste of time largely because the participants are epistemological tyros, and also lack the humility needed to understand that they need to advance beyond that status.

    Best,
    Mike

  52. Ray wrote:

    I am inclined to think that the entire realm of faith/reason considerations (natural revelation, divine revelation, natural reason, divine authority, motives of credibility, the assent of faith, etc.) may be one of those weak spots in protestant theology…

    In my experience as a lifelong (and current) Protestant with undergrad degrees in philosophy and theology, I think your statement is exactly right. At one point in my college years (while pursuing those degrees at a conservative Protestant college) I was wondering through the philosophy of religion section in the library desperately looking for some book that convince me that one could be a thinking person and a Christian. And I was a philosophy and theology major and a Christian school!

    While browsing the shelves, I happened on a book that explained St. Thomas’s views on the relationship between faith and reason. It saved my faith. In the years since I graduated, I’ve had to educate myself about the matters in your quote. It was through my gradually becoming an Aristotelian-Thomist (a category I didn’t even know existed in college) that I began to read a lot of Catholic thinkers. To my surprise, I found that most of the current writers from an Aristotelian perspective tended to be Catholics. I found that much of the true philosophy has been at once (1) incorporated into RC and (2) deliberately rejected by the reformers. It was by getting “onto the right [philosophical] rails” (Mike #47), that I even started to give Catholicism a hearing. In the last several years, while reading scholastic philosophy, I’ve often said, “Why was I never taught this!”

    Likewise, I don’t know how many times in the last six or eight months I’ve said to a friend or relative, “So, I’ve always thought Catholics teach F about x. Well, it turns out I was totally mistaken!” By having the soil of my mind and heart prepared by true philosophy (and the Spirit), I have come to see Catholicism as a rich, fruitful place (and possible future home) whereas before I saw it merely as a den inconsistency and confusion.

  53. Ryan,

    That is an amazing story! You really cannot imagine how much of your experience resonates with me. If you do not mind, I will do a little story “swapping” with you. I had a very similar experience many years ago at a time when I had adopted a hyper-skeptical philosophic stance by way of immersion in Continental European author such as Descartes, Hume, Kant, Hegel and others: an stance that had almost become an impregnable agnosticism – but still, I could not shake the desire to seek some means by which answers to ultimate questions of human meaning and purpose might be reached after all. Like yourself, I finally came across St. Thomas and his exposition of both the profound competency and inherent limitations of human reason (an understanding that is part and parcel of the Aristotelian-Thomistic theory of knowledge). More interesting still was Thomas’s explanation as to how a balanced understanding of reason’s natural abilities specifically highlighted the need for “divine revelation” – and that for two reasons. First, because most people lack the time, ability or education to utilize rational faculties to their highest human potential; and secondly, because the deepest answers to human questions of meaning and purpose require access to realities which simply lay beyond the reach of human reason- even reason that is exercised perfectly and extended to the utter limits of metaphysical inquiry. His take on rational power made complete sense to me; but what of this idea of “revelation”? I naturally began devouring everything Thomas said with regard to “revelation”: what is it, how it is known; how it offers an alternative to both skepticism and rationalism, etc. For the first time in my life I saw the possibility that “revealed” religion might have something crucially important to say with regard to perennial questions of meaning and purpose which are the common concern of humanity. Thus, began my first serious approach to Christianity. I distinctly remember having nearly the same reaction as yourself: “Why was I never taught this!”

    I am finishing up an article detailing exactly these faith/reason issues which, if considered appropriate by the CTC editors, may makes its way to the site in the near future. When putting it together, I had hoped to refer to both protestant and catholic authors with regard to a clear exposition of concepts such as “divine revelation”, “natural revelation”, “supernatural revelation”, “motives of credibility”, “proper vs. improper knowledge”, “divine authority”, “”assent of faith”, etc. My idea was that if I could draw an understanding of these terms from both protestant and catholic authorities, I might avoid a situation where protestant readers might think that I was introducing some novel, strictly catholic, set of philosophical/theological notions. That would be a regrettable situation because the terms and concepts involved in understanding the faith/reason relationship are universal – that is common intellectual property – precisely because they concern concepts that fall entirely outside the scope of protestant/catholic distinctives. They are “macro” epistemic concepts, if I may use such a phrase. The problem is, I really am having a hard time finding protestant authors who have treated the subject in a comprehensive fashion. I fear that I may have to rely largely on catholic source and trust that the reader will recognize the general philosophic nature of the terms rather than writing them off as “catholic stuff”.

    Pax et Bonum,

    Ray

  54. Like Ryan (and Ray), I, too, feel that the Catholic Church saved my faith. I’m going to do a post soon giving my “testimony” (a “before/after” story, just like you’re supposed to have! ) where I plan to talk about this more. To put it most simply, believing on the basis of makes for a very tight circle, and if it should snap, one is left with no foundation, and unbelief then ipso facto becomes a live option. I think this is just what happens to many, many people who are apparently committed Christians who then become atheist (a scandal to “The Perseverance of the Saints” [sic]) I struggled with that for a while before I realized that the Catholic Church had the answer as to how faith gets “plugged” into one’s life in the here and now, and not just based on what you get after you die, and on believing certain propositions about what you get after you die. It all forms such a beautifully unified whole that I’m now quite passionate about sharing the fullness of truth that I’ve found, through my blog. (The thing is, what makes me passionate about it – comparing how Protestant conceptions, being essentially reactionary in their nature, are such a pale imitation of the unblemished truth – that I’m afraid I might come across as a bit gloating, triumphalist, and sneering, which of course just provokes defensiveness. I hope to learn from the more measured modes of expression exemplified by such as this site’s contributors.)

  55. Oops, in the comment above, I used square brackets to disambiguate sentences with different nested structures, which the html reader apparently took to be code and thus pruned out. Let’s try this: “believing on the basis of makes for a very tight circle…” in the third sentence above should read: “believing {that one is saved} on the basis of {believing that one is saved} makes for a very tight circle…”

  56. Gentlemen:

    I’m enjoying these stories. I’ve posted my own contribution to that at my own blog.

    Best,
    Mike

  57. Ray:

    More interesting still was Thomas’s explanation as to how a balanced understanding of reason’s natural abilities specifically highlighted the need for “divine revelation” – and that for two reasons. First, because most people lack the time, ability or education to utilize rational faculties to their highest human potential; and secondly, because the deepest answers to human questions of meaning and purpose require access to realities which simply lay beyond the reach of human reason- even reason that is exercised perfectly and extended to the utter limits of metaphysical inquiry.

    My parents are in town and I was just making this (first) point to them last night. We were talking philosophy, and they asked, “Well what about those people who don’t have the time or ability to sit around and study these questions? Are they somehow less Christian or are they somehow missing something essential to the Christian life?” In response, I said that in a certain sense they were missing something essential, but in another sense philosophy wasn’t essential the Christian life. It isn’t “essential” in the sense that it isn’t primary. The primary thing is charity. It is essential in the sense that one can’t not have philosophical foundations to their beliefs, though (of course) one can fail to realize they do have philosophical foundations.

    Over the years, I’ve often asked (or been asked), “What does one have to believe to be a Christian?” In Protestant circles, that question almost always devolves into ‘Just believe Jesus is Lord.’ And of course that’s true; it’s necessary but not sufficient. What if I believe ‘Jesus is Lord’ but, like Arius, I believe he wasn’t eternally begotten? The examples could be multiplied. The point is that there just is no way to answer that question in a satisfactory way for Protestants. It seems clear to most that a certain set of beliefs are required in order to be a Christian, but it’s nearly impossible to agree on what that set is. And this is so even among the highly educated who have the resources, time, and inclination to debate this stuff.

    For much of my adult life, I’ve followed what some here at CTC have described as an ‘academic magisterium’. I have long thought (though only recently realized I’ve been thinking this way) that (1) “I’m smart enough and well-trained enough to answer a lot of philosophical and exegetical questions on my own. But to the extent some of those questions are out of my league, (2) I’m smart enough to know who’s smarter than me, and I’ll go with their studied opinions if they give good reasons for them.”

    But, as you say, it doesn’t seem like God would establish a system in which the faithful have to rely on their own smarts (either in themselves or in recognizing their betters) in order to come to the truth on critical philosophical and theological points. For example, I once taught an intro to the NT at my church, and was surprised when two different people in the class (at different points in the class) rejected two points I took to be ‘non-negotiable’. One student brought a copy of the Jesus Seminar’s colorful ‘reproduction’ of the Gospels in which they color coded the degrees of historical reliability they assigned to the texts. She thought that book represented the current state of real scholarship and was happy to have such a ‘helpful reference book’. She had just pulled it off the shelf on a whim at Barnes and Noble and had no idea what she holding. Another student said, “I realized long ago that because of evil, God can’t be both all-good or all-powerful. So I choose to believe he is all-good. It’s okay with me that God isn’t all-powerful.” And these two students were part of that very tiny subset of Christians who are motivated enough to attend a Sunday afternoon class to learn about their faith. What of the millions of others who don’t have the time or inclination to do so?

    It seems more and more unreasonable to me to believe that God would establish a system that was so contingent on the academic magisterium.

    I am finishing up an article detailing exactly these faith/reason issues which, if considered appropriate by the CTC editors, may makes its way to the site in the near future.

    I look forward to reading it. (Is the content of your article what mentioned you were thinking about over in the comments on Bryan’s Tu Quoque article in comment #79?)

    My idea was that if I could draw an understanding of these terms from both protestant and catholic authorities, I might avoid a situation where protestant readers might think that I was introducing some novel, strictly catholic, set of philosophical/theological notions. That would be a regrettable situation because the terms and concepts involved in understanding the faith/reason relationship are universal – that is common intellectual property – precisely because they concern concepts that fall entirely outside the scope of protestant/catholic distinctives. They are “macro” epistemic concepts, if I may use such a phrase. The problem is, I really am having a hard time finding protestant authors who have treated the subject in a comprehensive fashion.

    I hear you. In my experience, most Protestant scholars take Luther’s view of ‘faith’: faith is trust based on reasons. Faith isn’t, pace RC, something ‘in’ you. And, whatever it is, ‘faith’ is not a way of ‘knowing’ anything. Taking Luther’s view on faith (instead of Thomas’s) has ripple effects into all the other areas you’re researching. The effect is essentially to obliterate the distinctions. The relationship between faith and reason, on that view, is easy: faith, properly speaking, is a psychological mental state in which one trusts that a certain proposition is true or trusts God himself.

    But on that view, there can’t be any conflict between faith and reason because faith isn’t an epistemic category. Likewise, for St. Thomas, faith and reason can’t conflict. But that’s because, for him, God authors both what we know by faith (or revelation) and what we know by reason. So when confronted with the ‘problem’ of the relationship between faith and reason, St. Thomas stands his ground and confidentially asserts the harmony between the two. But with Luther (and many Protestants who followed him on this point) was confronted with the ‘problem’ he cured it by killing one of two patients: if reason is an epistemic category and faith isn’t, then surely they can’t conflict. (This simplifies his views a bit, but it is essentially correct.)

  58. Ryan:

    It seems more and more unreasonable to me to believe that God would establish a system that was so contingent on the academic magisterium.

    It once seemed reasonable to me. Until, that is, I spent years getting degrees in philosophy and religion at Ivy League universities. It didn’t take me that long to realize that identifying something called “divine revelation” could not possibly depend on conforming oneself to the opinions of scholars–not even the well-founded opinions. That’s when Catholicism began to appeal to me again.

    Now if a right relationship with God and his revelation does not depend on such conformity, then what are we doing here? A lot of scholarly opinion and academic argument appear on this blog.

    Well, what we’re doing here is discerning the need for a visible, ecclesial body whose authority, when exercised under certain conditions, is that of God himself and thus infallible. All other theological issues hinge on that one; for if there is no such authority as the Catholic Church claims, then all God-talk devolves into opinion, and we can never be sure we’ve extracted the content of divine revelation from the morass of conflicting opinions. Such, at any rate, is my constant refrain.

    Best,
    Mike

  59. Ryan,

    One student brought a copy of the Jesus Seminar’s colorful ‘reproduction’ of the Gospels in which they color coded the degrees of historical reliability they assigned to the texts. She thought that book represented the current state of real scholarship and was happy to have such a ‘helpful reference book’. She had just pulled it off the shelf on a whim at Barnes and Noble and had no idea what she holding. Another student said, “I realized long ago that because of evil, God can’t be both all-good or all-powerful. So I choose to believe he is all-good. It’s okay with me that God isn’t all-powerful.”

    Ok I just got done putting my eyes back in my head! They involuntarily popped out when I read this part of your post.

    The primary thing is charity

    Right – and I don’t mean to push the catholic point on you overmuch as I am sure its one of those areas you have been considering, but if the essential thing is “infused” charity rather than “imputed” juridical righteousness; what is “essential” to Christianity takes on a radically different aspect. Though this is admittedly a gross over-simplification, an infused charity would constitute an ontological reality inhering in the soul (God’s own indwelling life – partakers of the Divine nature, etc); whereas an “imputed” righteousness is essentially something you believe no something you possess – it is epistemic. An ontological – sacramental – understanding of our core relationship with God is potentially available to every sort of human being – even the mentally handicapped. If salvation fundamentally requires “belief”, understood as intellectual assent to propositions, well – that seems like a problem to me for all the reasons you point out. On the catholic understanding, the fundamental reality of one’s relationship with God might loosely be described as ontological. Hence, some of the greatest saints are hardly academicians. One can hold a simplistic, unreflective theology and yet attain the heights of connatural, mystical union with God, because that which sanctifies and unites the believer to God is an actual living participation in Christ’s sonship; not mere adherence to “faith propositions” (though that is part of it normally). The point is that when it comes to saintliness, “being” often proceeds “knowing” (to borrow a phrase from Jean Paul Sartre).

    Of course, you and I both know that there are a plethora of nuanced objections to the way I have just set up that comparison; but I think it at least highlights the general trend of the two approaches. Certainly, there has to be some means by which to know the “de fide” content of divine revelation or else how would someone like myself even be able to defend the little exposition on “infused” charity I just gave. Hence, the importance of all these theological/philosophical epistemic arguments we have been making. Hence, (from a catholic POV) the very purpose of the existence, within the world, of a living ecclesia invested with Christ’s teaching authority. The point, however, is that the propositional content of the faith is crucial, but it is crucial with respect to its “end” – which is to safely direct persons to the living reality of God Himself: not merely to insist upon propositions about God. Fortunately, God – being God – can take up residence in the soul even though one’s propositional understanding is quite confused and inchoate.

    it doesn’t seem like God would establish a system in which the faithful have to rely on their own smarts (either in themselves or in recognizing their betters) in order to come to the truth on critical philosophical and theological points

    Right, and as our last few exchanges have highlighted, I think your point can actually be extended beyond the faithful to the larger human family. Consider the general philosophic project itself as traditionally understood. To the degree that a person stills understands philosophy as the “love of wisdom” and not merely as some truncated academic subservience to the experimental sciences (a description which I think I could defend as fairly representing much that goes on in Anglo-American analytical philosophy); the same sort of question could be raised. Assuming there is some form of essential philosophical wisdom – some perch or vision to be achieved which will distinguish the “wise man” from the fool – what sort of world is this that only an infinitesimally small percentage of the human race (given the leisure and capacities necessary for such reflection) have even a remote chance of discovering the “truth” about reality – whatever that turns out to be? I mean this is a useful philosophic question which turns itself on philosophy proper, and questions the philosophers own unreflective pretensions toward elitism. This is why I have come to love St. Thomas, because he always retains a balanced “macro” perspective. Always considering his efforts in their widest context, he can see that in a certain (ultimate) sense, the pursuit of philosophical disciplines are best justified by the service they render to theology – hence the dictum: “philosophy, hand maiden of theology”. Consider that both the “Summa Theologiae” and the “Summa Contra Gentiles” were written for the purpose of preaching and evangelization throughout Europe – THAT is what St. Thomas ultimately cared about, even if he displayed the qualities of one of the world’s most eminent philosophers in so doing.

    But with Luther (and many Protestants who followed him on this point) was confronted with the ‘problem’ he cured it by killing one of two patients: if reason is an epistemic category and faith isn’t, then surely they can’t conflict

    Well said. I suppose I am still baffled by the fact that a term such as “faith”, which seems so essential to so many aspects of protestant theology, remains (from what I can tell) one of the most ambiguous concepts within Protestantism generally. I would expect more protestant scholars to apply critical analysis to the term and its specific relation to the knowing subject.

    Is the content of your article what mentioned you were thinking about over in the comments on Bryan’s Tu Quoque article in comment #79?

    Yep. In a nutshell, I am recapping the “authority” argument and the “tu quoque” response and juxtaposing them in their most forceful argumentative aspect so as to highlight the core epistemic problems they present. I then contend that the ultimate solution to the epistemic puzzles they present lay with a proper understanding of all the faith/reason considerations we have been discussing. I next take the discussion outside the box of systematic theology to discuss such considerations at length, finally returning to the “authority” argument and the “tu quoque” in order to re-evaluate the original epistemic puzzles as illumined by a clearer understanding of the faith/reason relationship.

    Pax et Bonum,

    Ray

  60. While doing some research today, I came across a very helpful statement from Fred Freddoso (Philosophy, at Notre Dame) of what I take to be Aquinas’s view and the RCC’s view of “faith.” Freddoso distinguishes ‘faith in general’ and ‘Christian faith’:

    Faith in general is an intellectual act (or habit) by which one
    (i) gives intellectual assent,
    a.prompted by the will out of trust,
    b.for the sake of some good,
    (ii) to propositions that
    a.are not themselves evident or intellectually compelling to one, but that
    b. one sees as being communicated as truths by someone who is in a position to know.

    If we reflect on the personal relations between children and parents, students and teachers, patients and doctors, colleagues in the workplace and the laboratory, friends, etc., we will begin to understand just how pervasive a role faith in this general sense plays in our ordinary lives. (See Augustine, Confessions 6, chap. 5.)

    Then he moves on to outline specifically Christian faith:

    Christian faith is an intellectual act (or habit) by which one
    (i) gives intellectual assent
    a. prompted by the will, as aided by grace, out of trust in God,
    b. for the sake of acquiring everlasting human fulfillment,
    (ii) to propositions (i.e. the deposit of faith) that
    a. are not themselves evident or intellectually compelling to one, but that
    b. one sees as being revealed as truths by a God who can neither deceive nor be deceived.

    Freddoso’s outlines are basically taken straight from two of Aquinas’s works: Summa contra gentiles, Book 1, chapter 1-3; and his Disputed Questions on Truth, Q. 14, aa. 1-2.

    Here’s the link for Freddosos’ helpful primer on the former:
    http://www.nd.edu/~afreddos/papers/revelat.htm

    Here’s Freddoso’s translations of the latter:
    [Question 14, Article 1: What is it to believe?]
    http://www.nd.edu/~afreddos/translat/aquinas3.htm

    [Question 14, Article 2: What is faith?]
    http://www.nd.edu/~afreddos/translat/aquinas5.htm

  61. Ryan,

    Great links.

    – Thanks

  62. […] for a bit, but returning to my article at Called to Communion, the guys over there have been making some great comments that explain faith, opinion, reason, assent, and so on: While doing some research today, I came […]

  63. Hi guys,

    I found Ryan’s quotation of Freddoso on “what is faith?” helpful, but I had a question: where does the sacrament of baptism fit into it, since baptism is the means by which God gives us the virtue of faith?

  64. Devin:

    You seem to have already answered your question yourself: “baptism is the means by which God gives us the virtue of faith.” The only thing I’d add is that the sacrament of baptism is the ordinary means.

    Best,
    Mike

  65. Devin,

    I am not sure I would characterize baptism as coextensive with the virtue of faith. I am thinking in terms of the notions of “previenent grace” etc. Also, the CCC discusses the “baptism of desire” as well as the possibility that God provides means (unknown to us) by which persons living in invincible ignorane of the gospel might indeed be saved. Baptism is normative not necessarily exclusive.

    Pax et Bonum,

    Ray

  66. Devin,

    Oh never mind – what Mike said while I was writing! :>)

    Ray

  67. Mike,

    PS – I am beginning to seriously consider the claims of mental telepathy!

    Pax et Bonum,

    Ray

  68. Devin,

    To piggy-back Mike and Ray, Freddoso’s definition includes the [primary] efficient cause of ‘Christian faith’ when he says in (i)(a): “prompted by the will, as aided by grace, out of trust in God…”

    So, as Mike and Ray point out, that grace can be conveyed in the ordinary manner (via baptism) or in an extraordinary manner (via: baptism-by-desire or some unknown manner). In etiher case, the cause, properly speaking, of faith is grace. The baptismal water itself doesn’t cause faith; rather (if I understand correctly), the baptismal water is the instrumental cause or transmitting cause of God’s grace.

  69. Mike L., your #57 was very enjoyable. Those kind of stories make laymen like me quite happy.

    On my road to Rome, when I saw the fork in the road where I could have gone to Constantinople, I used this “simplicity” argument. Once I gave up on sola Scriptura as being able to provide me with certain truth and realized how simply and basically flawed Protestant ecclesiology was, I figured the Catholic/Orthodox question was simple too. It is simple.
    I wrote about this here.
    The simplicity of argument that points to Catholicism being true is this: infallibility. Nobody else claims it like the Catholic church does. So if no other churches even claim it, no other churches have it. Simple. Protestants want infallible doctrine filtered through fallible interpretations. Nope, that won’t work. Many Orthodox I have spoken with don’t seem to think infallibility is needed. Well, my simple mind is forced to look to others to tell me the great mysteries of life, and when they say “you OUGHT to believe me” they had better be infallible! Otherwise it is just some guys opinion about revelation. And we all know the what opinions are like…

    Peace,

    David M.

  70. Devin,

    A little more – after thinking deeper about it – with regard to your question. I assume you are referring to something like the following from Freddoso:

    Christian faith is an intellectual act (or habit) by which one
    (i) gives intellectual assent
    a. prompted by the will, as aided by grace, out of trust in God,
    b. for the sake of acquiring everlasting human fulfillment,
    (ii) to propositions (i.e. the deposit of faith) that
    a. are not themselves evident or intellectually compelling to one, but that
    b. one sees as being revealed as truths by a God who can neither deceive nor be deceived.

    If I understand your concern, it is something like this: “if baptism is the source of the virtue of faith, then how can comeone give an assent of the will (an assent of faith) to receive baptism (the normative means of entry into the Christian life – via a new indewlling of grace – God’s life in the soul) if such assent – aided by grace – must pre-exist baptism in order to ask for the same?” Is that loosley what you had in mind?

    Let’s set aside the issue of the normativity as opposed to the exclusivity of baptism as the means by which one enters into familial relationship with God. I am actually asking myself if your premise is correct as I do a quick inventory of my theological knowledge. It is a sacrament of initiation – THE sacramet of initiation – which brings about a familial, ontological relationship with God (a participation in Christ’s divine sonship). But I am not sure that “christian faith” has its absolute roots necessarily in baptism. Although it is easy to think it might, when considering something like infant baptism, the case of adults seems to convey a more complex understanding. Here are some thoughts which make me think this is so:

    1.) Consider the epsiode in acts where St Peter preaches and those gathered ask “what must we do to be saved”. Peter has just finished conveying a long steam of historical facts, inculding the recent events concerning Jesus in Jerusalem AND, he has attached an interpretation to these events which concern truths that could only be known as true based on the authority of God Himself – that is they are articles of the deposit of faith. The crowd resonds as follows:

    they had compunction in their heart and said to Peter and to the rest of the apostles: What shall we do, men and brethren? 38 But Peter said to them: Do penance: and be baptized every one of you

    It seems that something supernatural is going on here with regard to the hearts of the hearers which leads them to ask “What shall we do, men and brethren” prior to the fact of baptism. I realize, of course, that the word “cumpunction” does not necessarily imply a grace induced assent of faith. But in fact, the Council of Trent has affirmed, I think something very close to the way I have just described this narrative. An affirmation that seems to explicitly state that “christian faith” is actually gifted to human beings prior to baptism. Session 6 reads:

    CHAPTER V.
    On the necessity, in adults, of preparation for Justification, and whence it proceeds.

    The Synod furthermore declares, that in adults, the beginning of the said Justification is to be derived from the prevenient [Page 33] grace of God, through Jesus Christ, that is to say, from His vocation, whereby, without any merits existing on their parts, they are called; that so they, who by sins were alienated from God, may be disposed through His quickening and assisting grace, to convert themselves to their own justification, by freely assenting to and co-operating with that said grace: in such sort that, while God touches the heart of man by the illumination of the Holy Ghost, neither is man himself utterly without doing anything while he receives that inspiration, forasmuch as he is also able to reject it; yet is he not able, by his own free will, without the grace of God, to move himself unto justice in His sight. Whence, when it is said in the sacred writings: Turn ye to me, and I will turn to you, we are admonished of our liberty; and when we answer; Convert us, O Lord, to thee, and we shall be converted, we confess that we are prevented by the grace of God.

    CHAPTER VI.
    The manner of Preparation.

    Now they (adults) are disposed unto the said justice, when, excited and assisted by divine grace, conceiving faith by hearing, they are freely moved towards God, believing those things to be true which God has revealed and promised,-and this especially, that God justifies the impious by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus; and when, understanding themselves to be sinners, they, by turning themselves, from the fear of divine justice whereby they are profitably agitated, to consider the mercy of God, are raised unto hope, confiding that God will be propitious to them for Christ’s sake; and they begin to love Him as the fountain of all justice; and are therefore moved against sins by a certain hatred and detestation, to wit, by that penitence which must be performed before baptism: lastly, when they purpose to receive baptism, [Page 34] to begin a new life, and to keep the commandments of God. Concerning this disposition it is written; He that cometh to God, must believe that he is, and is a rewarder to them that seek him; and, Be of good faith, son, thy sins are forgiven thee; and, The fear of the Lord driveth out sin; and, Do penance, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of your sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost; and, Going, therefore, teach ye all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; finally, Prepare your hearts unto the Lord.

    CHAPTER VII.
    What the justification of the impious is, and what are the causes thereof.

    This disposition, or preparation, is followed by Justification itself, which is not remission of sins merely, but also the sanctification and renewal of the inward man, through the voluntary reception of the grace, and of the gifts, whereby man of unjust becomes just, and of an enemy a friend, that so he may be an heir according to hope of life everlasting. . . . . .

    2.) The council of Trent elsewhere (I do not have the quote handy) explicitly states that “faith” is a supernatural gift which can remain in the soul even for a person who no longer possesses agape – i.e is no longer in a state of grace. Thus, it would seem that the gift of “faith” is not intrinsically tied to the sort of agape, or indwelling grace, which is received at baptism since such a gift can remain when such grace is subsequently absent. Here is St. Thomas’s explanation as to how this can be so:

    Article 2. Whether lifeless faith is a gift of God?

    Objection 1. It would seem that lifeless faith is not a gift of God. For it is written (Deuteronomy 32:4) that “the works of God are perfect.” Now lifeless faith is something imperfect. Therefore it is not the work of God.

    On the contrary, A gloss on 1 Corinthians 13:2 says that “the faith which lacks charity is a gift of God.” Now this is lifeless faith. Therefore lifeless faith is a gift of God.

    I answer that, Lifelessness is a privation. Now it must be noted that privation is sometimes essential to the species, whereas sometimes it is not, but supervenes in a thing already possessed of its proper species: thus privation of the due equilibrium of the humors is essential to the species of sickness, while darkness is not essential to a diaphanous body, but supervenes in it. Since, therefore, when we assign the cause of a thing, we intend to assign the cause of that thing as existing in its proper species, it follows that what is not the cause of privation, cannot be assigned as the cause of the thing to which that privation belongs as being essential to its species. For we cannot assign as the cause of a sickness, something which is not the cause of a disturbance in the humors: though we can assign as cause of a diaphanous body, something which is not the cause of the darkness, which is not essential to the diaphanous body.

    Now the lifelessness of faith is not essential to the species of faith, since faith is said to be lifeless through lack of an extrinsic form, as stated above (Question 4, Article 4). Consequently the cause of lifeless faith is that which is the cause of faith strictly so called: and this is God, as stated above (Article 1). It follows, therefore, that lifeless faith is a gift of God.

    Reply to Objection 1. Lifeless faith, though it is not simply perfect with the perfection of a virtue, is, nevertheless, perfect with a perfection that suffices for the essential notion of faith.

    Hope that helps

    Pax et Bonum,

    Ray

  71. Devin: (#68):

    Mike L., your #57 was very enjoyable. Those kind of stories make laymen like me quite happy.

    Well, it didn’t make this layman very happy at the time. Given my experiences with Catholic priests, I didn’t want Catholicism to be true. I just couldn’t see any alternative form of religion that could be defended as well. Of course, once I returned to the Catholic Church, I wanted to be a priest myself. But they thought I was nuts. So being Catholic didn’t get any easier or more pleasant. In fact, in a way it got harder. I now wanted to devote my life to God and the things of God, and was duly informed I wasn’t called to do that in the way I found most obvious and appealing. But even so, I just could no longer help believing that Catholicism true.

    I figured the Catholic/Orthodox question was simple too. It is simple. I wrote about this here.

    I read that post you link to. It’s good as a description of your thought process, but you should have anticipated the detailed Orthodox objections. Whenever I’ve endeavored to explain why I chose Catholicism over Orthodoxy, I get even more lengthy objections. Collectively, they amount to saying that my reasons for being Catholic neither prove Catholicism to be true nor Orthodoxy to be false. I knew that already. But the type of argument we use is what philosophers call inference to the best explanation. That kind of argument, when justified, is persuasive but not compelling. But it’s often the best kind of argument available for taking one religious option over another.

    As to the rest of your comment, I agree totally.

    Best,
    Mike

  72. Mike L.,
    You called me Devin in your last comment. I just don’t want you to think the post you read on my blog was Devin’s, I bet he has much better though out reasons for choosing Catholicism over Orthodoxy than me and would have anticipated the objections much better. One of my reasons was Catholicism has produced beter art. Oh boy did that not go over well in the comments. But to me it is an “intuitive” sort of reason to choose between the two communions. A good reason? No. But there it is. Sometimes decisions are messy when we really break down all the reasons we do what we do.

    -David Meyer

  73. Here’s a question maybe someone here can answer.

    I am trying to understand the relationship between faith and baptism in the Catholic system.

    In other systems the relationship seems to be (a) faith is a prerequisite to baptism or (b) baptism is a requirement of living faith, or (c) baptism is an outward sign of faith.

    I have found in the Catholic Catechism three things about the relationship:

    1. The sacraments “presuppose” faith.
    2. A profession of faith precedes baptism.
    3. The virtue of faith, hope, and love are received at baptism.

    My understanding of the Catholic system is that in adult baptism, the candidate is required to profess some kind of faith before the baptism. My question is: what is the difference between the professed faith and the virtue that is received?

  74. Jonathan:

    What is the difference between the professed faith and the virtue that is received

    I don’t know why you posted your question on this particular thread, so I hope the hosts won’t see my answering comment as a threadjack.

    The “difference” is a matter of degree. Prior to baptism, the virtue of faith in sincere catechumens has been divinely infused to some degree and accepted by their free cooperation. That’s what leads them to baptism. The virtue of faith is heightened and confirmed in the sacraments of initiation: baptism, confirmation, and Eucharist. Yet baptism is the only sacrament reception of which is necessary for salvation. That’s because salvation is by grace, and grace comes from Christ through the Church, his Body–and therefore through that sacrament in which one is incorporated into his Body, namely baptism.

    Now of course, in our time the question always and at once arises: what about people who, through no fault of their own, do not understand the necessity of baptism? The Catholic Church’s answer is that, to the extent their ignorance is involuntary, God will not hold it against them, but continues drawing them by grace toward the truth. They are free to resist that movement, like everybody else. But in general, they’d be in a better position to love the truth if they knew the full truth taught by the Church, and chose accordingly to be baptized.

    Best,
    Mike

  75. David:

    I apologize for calling you Devin. I now see I made that mistake because a comment of Devin’s was actually on my screen when I began writing my reply to you in Wordpad.

    Best,
    Mike

  76. Michael and Ray,

    Thank you for your helpful explanations of faith and its relationship to baptism. I had asked Jonathan to comment with his question on this post, since it and the previous comments included a discussion faith.

    Devin

    P.S. I don’t mind being confused with David Meyer.

  77. Jonathan,

    I would like to expand upon Mike’s point that the difference between the “assent” of faith and the “virtue” of faith is one of degree – which it is. Faith can exist without being virtuous. That is, its essence as faith is not destroyed by a privation of charity. The essence of faith is assent to all that God has spoken exactly because it is God who has spoken – “Who can neither deceive nor be deceived”. Now such an assent needs always be asissted by an act of God’s grace, and as such, it is a gift. However, like many gifts we receive from God, it remains a gift whether or not it is animated by charity – think of charsims of the Holy Spirit such as healing or the working of miracles, which though truly gifts derived from God’s grace (perhaps even irrevocable); when used without love become like “clanging symbols” to St Paul’s terminology. Likewise, a man may truly be gifted with “faith” and believe all of the teachings of the Catholic faith exactly because he sees it is God who has ultimately revealed them; yet, he may entirely resist God’s grace in the daily course of life and so fail to “trust” or PUT his faith in God, in the sense of giving himself into God’s care. Love, charity, agape, are different ways of describing the act of self-giving. Thus, what is lacking in such a man is a faith animated by charity – not faith per se. He has a lifeless faith rather than a living faith – but faith nonetheless. As St. James would say, his faith is dead – though not non-existent; much like the human soul without God’s indwelling grace remains truly a human soul – even though both Christ and the apostles refer to such a soul as “dead” and in need of rebirth.

    Now faith’s proper aspect is to be animated by charity – to be living. The assent of faith to truths proposed by God exactly because God is the one making propositions, should naturally lead a person to seek to appropriate the lived implications of the truths proposed: the very first of which is to seek reconcilliation with God. The episode concerning St. Peter’s preaching to the crowd in the first chapters of Acts immediately after the descent of the Holy Spirit, narrates just this response. When the people, feeing compunction at his words, ask “what shall we do?”, St Peter responds, “do penance and be baptised”. Baptism, in the catholic understanding, infuses the life of God Himself within the soul. God, Who is love, takes up residence so that the soul is filled with supernatural charity – or agape. This charity, in turn, fulfills and elevates the gift of faith by which an intellectual assent of the mind and will to truths proposed by God was achieved (and which first led the soul to seek baptism), by translating such intellectual assent into a filail, trusting, self-giving of the entire person (mind, will, body, hopes, dreams, possessions – everything) into the hands of God. It is the gift of Divine indwelling love – agape – received at baptism, which elevates faith from a gift into the form of a virtue.

    It is in this respect that catholics say the virtue of faith is received at baptism. It is with respect to the virtue of faith that St. Paul repeatedly uses the phrase “obedience of faith” in the book of Romans. It is in respect to the virtue of faith (faith animated by love) that St. Paul says that Abraham was saved through faith. Abraham not only believed God with an intellectual assent (though he did this too); rather he believed God in the virtuous sense of entrusting his entire life to God’s care as the history of Abraham’s encounters with God shows. It is in respect to the virtue of faith (faith working through love) that a catholic can carefully and specifically affirm that we are saved by “faith” alone. We often hear it said that a person who fails to trust God in their day to day affairs “lacks faith”. For purposes of theological clarity, we should say that their “faith is lacking”; there is a privation of what “ought” to be – their faith is lacking the charity which should animate the self-giving trust that concerns the virtue of faith. Such lack does not entail that the gift of faith, in so far as a grace assisted assent of the intellect and will to propositional truths is concrned, has been eradicated. In this way, one can see that “faith” admits of degrees (as Mike has said) since it may be considered as a gift, or it may be considered as a gift utilized in a virtuous way: it may be considered as stagnant or active; as noun or verb. These differences of degree correspond rather significantly to naunced controversies between catholics and protestants in the area of soteriology – especially justification.

    Pax et Bonum,

    Ray

  78. Devin,

    I’m responding after one week of being gone here so it may be too late but I wanted to respond to at least you since this was your post. I’ve been fighting the flu (West Nile I think) all week and yesterday was my first semi-normal day since last Sunday.

    You mentioned Athanasius’ non-mention of Esther. Athanasius speaks to the canon not in a prescriptive, but rather a descriptive manner. He is useful to us in describing what the practice of the congregations of his time was in terms of their use of Scripture. Certainly there was not anyone better than Athanasius to do this and he was certainly correct in leaving out the corpus of Apocrypha (his term) as that which was commonly part of the accepted Scriptures of his time. But the point I was making is that the Protocanonicals were not disputed during the Middle Ages. The Deuteros were, but the Protos were not. I’m not saying that was not any dispute anywhere is Christendom by any theologian, but just that the Protos were generally settled and you do not find the kinds of disputes with the Protos that you do of the Deuteros. I can’t say that I’ve done an exhaustive search, but I don’t think you fill find any dispute over the Protos after the 4th century. But the Deuteros were contested up until Trent by even prominent theologians. The long arm of Jerome extended its reach up until it was cut off by Trent.

    I would point out that the Council of Florence also listed the seventy-three book canon

    Yes, and isn’t it interesting that even after Florence that Cardinal Cajetan takes Jerome’s position on the canon despite Florence’s pronouncements? Cajetan was no dummy – he knew what he could and could not disagree with before going outside of the bounds of Catholic orthodoxy. But for whatever reason that Florence did not end the debate, it certainly did not. And hence the CE comments that Trent was necessary to bring the debate to an end. And Trent definitely ended the debate – no Catholic theologian took Jerome’s position after Trent. So then the questions raised here are 1) whether Trent ruled correctly or not and 2) whether she was an ecumenical council in any historic sense of the term (a particular relevant question since Trent did everything she could to kill Conciliarism and prop up a papalism unknown to the Early Church).

    … the Church had been teaching the Trinity since the beginning. Same with transubstantiation, baptismal regeneration, and so on.

    It sounds like you are making the argument that because the Church ruled correctly on some issues in the past (i.e. the Trinity) that she must have always ruled on all issues correctly (speaking here of those issues relegated to de fide and other matters stated with similar certainly). If not then what of the matter that the Church ruled correctly at Nicea? The Reformed position is to take the matters such as the transubstantiation, etc and submit then to the same level of scrutiny that we would for areas like the Trinity. I understand that you could just assume the RCC to be correct on all de fide matters. Catholics typically do this and I’m not necessarily faulting them for this. But I hope you see that someone outside the RCC is going to ask the same questions about let’s say the necessity of seven distinct sacraments as they would about the Trinity. We can find reference after reference in the Early Church to the necessity of the Trinity but not about the fact that there must be seven sacraments. So what do we do when we see that there is no proof for seven distinct sacraments in the Scriptures, or the writings of the ECF’s, or for that matter in any theologian much before the Scholastics? This is not an easy question to answer, but one thing that it seems to me that we should not do is assume that the Scholastic doctrine of the sacraments is true because the RCC has proclaimed it with a certain level of certainty. The Reformed are raising the possibility that the RCC could be wrong on a given issue, even when the pronouncement in question is given a certain grade (i.e. de fide) by the RCC.

    Trent can bring certainty to the matter, not because it brings consensus per se, but because it was an Ecumenical Council whose canons were ratified by the Pope, and so it falls under the protection from error that God has promised to the Church.

    Firstly you are saying that Christ promised the Church a “protection from error” but I see no such guarantee. There is a promise both in OT and NT that God would infallibly lead His people and that He would never leave them. But the fact that the people of God (OT and NT) was lead infallibly by God does not mean that His people were guaranteed to follow infallibly. I’ve often stated here that one of the real challenges for RCC apologists when utilizing the text of Scriptures (and subsequently the writings of those theologians immediately following the Apostolic age) is to demonstrate that God promised that His Church would (in some sense at least) follow God infallibly. Secondly, you are making a necessary logical connection between God’s promise to the Church and “canons ratified by the Pope.” I understand that you as a Catholic believe this but it’s not an obvious connection, is it?

    I don’t expect you to accept Trent, but I also don’t expect you to accept Nicaea. Why should you? You do not believe that God has protected the Church from error in her teachings, except in the authoring and selecting of the sixty-six books of the Protestant Bible.

    You are assuming that the Church “selected” the books of Scripture. I would be very interested for you to show me somewhere is the ECF’s where they saw themselves as selectors of the books of the canon rather than receivers of these texts. Concerning Nicea, Christian theologians from both Protestant and Catholic traditions have worked over again and again what the Nicea Fathers wrote and find no reason to differ with the original statements . So why would the Protestants disagree now? But now compare that with my previous example of seven distinct sacraments. Unlike with the Trinity, there is no biblical evidence, no evidence from the ECF’s, and nothing substantial until the Scholastics, and what the Scholatics used as “proofs” are highly questionable and had nothing to do with Scripture. So why would the Protestants concur with the Catholic position? For the Catholics the Catholic position is true because it is Catholic whether or not we can draw the RCC conclusion from an analysis of Scriptures and early Christian tradition.

    Finally I would add that noting that the Church is protected from error only pushes us back from the question of how to interpret the infallible Scriptures to how to interpret the infallible Church. The natures of Christ is a good example of the problem here. The Church pronounced certainly things concerning Christ at Chalcedon but as I’m sure you know from discussions with the EO’s, the debate is now how to interpret Chalcedon. The EO’s think that we both to one degree or another have misinterpreted Chalcedon. The words of the Church as a locus of infallibility suffers from the same problems as the words of Scripture as a locus of infallibility – what good are infallible pronouncements of the Church if we cannot agree how to interpret the infallible pronouncements of the Church? And I’m sure that I don’t need to point out that to appeal to the mediatory work of Church to interpret the words of the Church doesn’t help either.

    Enough for now.

    Cheers….

  79. Thanks, Ray and Michael.

    The explanation you both gave, that faith is strengthened at baptism, makes more sense (to my own experience) than the idea that the candidate to baptism does not have faith.

    Ray, regarding how agape is received at baptism, now I have the same question. If agape can be characterized by a dedication of oneself to God, then it seems possible, in fact, expected, for an adult to have agape (at least in some degree) before baptism. It would be very odd to hear of someone who requested baptism without at least a desire to dedicate oneself to God.

    So, would you agree that the agape received at baptism is, like in the case of faith, a strengthening of a virtue that may already exist?

  80. Jonathan:

    So, would you agree that the agape received at baptism is, like in the case of faith, a strengthening of a virtue that may already exist?

    I want to head something off at the pass here. The answer to your question is “yes” in the case of every gift of grace, of which the three supernatural virtues of faith, hope, and love are the standard manifestations, with the greatest being love. But people who know all that often go on to ask still another question. If the sacraments merely confirm manifestations of grace that are already there without them–and if other visible things, people, or events can also do the same–then in what sense can baptism be necessary for salvation, and why are the sacraments in general “necessary” in the manner the Catholic Church says (cf CCC §1129)?

    The answer is that we are saved only by incorporation into Christ, which means being somehow in communion with his Body, the Church. As “efficacious signs,” the sacraments of the Church are the “ordinary means” through which the grace by which we are saved is transmitted to us. Accordingly, all grace that is manifest beyond the confines of the visible Church comes to people through the Church, even if they don’t know or don’t care about the Church. And since the celebration of the sacraments is essential to the Church, it is essential even for the grace manifest beyond the visible confines of the Church.

    Best,
    Mike

  81. Hi Michael,

    Thanks for the answer.

    I wasn’t planning to go down the road you suggested. But that is a good point, since I was a Quaker for a while.

    In my Church of Christ upbringing, baptism and the Lord’s supper were required out of the obedience that follows from living faith. Baptism was specifically required because you had to be baptized to have your sins forgiven. You also had to lead a subsequent life of righteousness. Repentance was required as necessary.

    That’s my new understanding of Church of Christ theology.

  82. Andrew,

    You said:

    “– what good are infallible pronouncements of the Church if we cannot agree how to interpret the infallible pronouncements of the Church? And I’m sure that I don’t need to point out that to appeal to the mediatory work of Church to interpret the words of the Church doesn’t help either.”

    Please spell out for me what you said you “don’t need to point out.” I need it pointed out because it seems to be contradicted by your own words in the same comment:

    “…the CE comments that Trent was necessary to bring the debate to an end. And Trent definitely ended the debate – no Catholic theologian took Jerome’s position after Trent.”

    You fully agree that Trent ended any debate about the cannon amongst Catholics, but that contradicts your charge that (in essence) Catholics must be agnostic about infallible statements. It seems to me Trent did exactly what you claimed cannot be done, causing agreement on how to “interpret the infallible pronouncements of the Church.”

    Peace,

    David M.

  83. Andrew (#77):

    In addition to David Meyer’s cogent comment just above, I’d like to comment on two other points you made.

    I’ve often stated here that one of the real challenges for RCC apologists when utilizing the text of Scriptures (and subsequently the writings of those theologians immediately following the Apostolic age) is to demonstrate that God promised that His Church would (in some sense at least) follow God infallibly.

    That challenge, though new, is exceeding strange. Nobody has ever said that “the Church” follows God infallibly, if by that is meant that she never errs cognitively or morally. All the Catholic Magisterium claims is that what it teaches is protected from error when taught under certain conditions. From the fact that some of the baptized reject what the Catholic Church infallibly teaches, it does not follow that “the Church” cannot be said to teach infallibly under those conditions. All that follows is that some people who, by virtue of their baptism, are in a certain degree of communion with the Church, fail to accept the claims to authority that she makes for herself. Everybody has always known that. But to infer that “the Church” is therefore never infallible is to commit the fallacy of composition, i.e. the fallacy of inferring that whatever holds of the parts of the whole also holds of the whole itself. So “Catholic apologists” don’t have to show that all the members of the Church have “followed God infallibly.” All they need show is that the failures of her members to to do so is no evidence against the Church’s teaching infallibly under certain conditions. That’s what I’ve just done.

    You also argued:

    I would add that noting that the Church is protected from error only pushes us back from the question of how to interpret the infallible Scriptures to how to interpret the infallible Church. The natures of Christ is a good example of the problem here. The Church pronounced certainly things concerning Christ at Chalcedon but as I’m sure you know from discussions with the EO’s, the debate is now how to interpret Chalcedon. The EO’s think that we both to one degree or another have misinterpreted Chalcedon. The words of the Church as a locus of infallibility suffers from the same problems as the words of Scripture as a locus of infallibility – what good are infallible pronouncements of the Church if we cannot agree how to interpret the infallible pronouncements of the Church? And I’m sure that I don’t need to point out that to appeal to the mediatory work of Church to interpret the words of the Church doesn’t help either.

    This is very old ground. You err both historically and logically.

    Historically, the Roman and EO communions as a whole do not disagree on how to interpret Chalcedon. That council’s distinctive contribution was to define “the Hypostatic Union,” i.e. the dogma that Jesus Christ is one divine hypostasis in “two natures,” divine and human, that are neither “mixed with each other nor divided from each other.” There still are true, particular churches that reject that dogma, i.e. the “Oriental Orthodox” churches, which mostly means the Copts and Nestorians. But what they reject is precisely what both the Roman and EO communions understand Chalcedon to have asserted. There are of course EO theologians who believe that Roman Catholic theology has misunderstood the reality of the Hypostatic Union in certain ways. But that is not the same as saying that the Roman and EO communions as such disagree that the reality of Christ’s person is that of the HU as stated by Chalcedon In fact, they don’t.

    Your larger point is logical, and it too is a fallacy that Bryan and I have often explained. You ask: “what good are infallible pronouncements of the Church if we cannot agree how to interpret the infallible pronouncements of the Church?” Well, we’ve told you. The irreformable dogmas of the Church are ordinarily propounded in order to clarify and define the faith of the Church on the points in question. Thus they function as answers to questions that arose in the course of theological debate. E.g., the debate between the Arians and the Catholics was about whether Jesus Christ, as God the Son, was of the same substance as the Father or only of like substance to the Father’s. The difference, in Greek, was only “an iota’s difference,” that between ὁμοούσιον and ὁμοοιύσιον. But as St. Athanasius and other church fathers argued, the difference made all the difference in the world. That was, and is, generally understood among Nicene Christians, of whom you are one.

    This is yet another example, beyond the one David cited, that you believe that at least some dogmas clarify something. Clarification is an interpretive advance. The fact that questions remain with each advance does not show that no such advances are made. All it shows is that, no matter how many advances are made, there will always be more to make. But we won’t make them if we reject the idea of an infallible authority to answer them. For in that case we will have reduced the entire subject to one of opinion.

  84. Andrew (and gentlemen),

    I am very sorry to hear of your illness and am glad you are recovering. Thanks for your response. It might take me several days to reply, but I do plan to, so thank you for your patience. In the meantime I hope you will consider responding to Michael and David.

    God bless,
    Devin

  85. Andrew M said: … And I’m sure that I don’t need to point out that to appeal to the mediatory work of Church to interpret the words of the Church doesn’t help either.”

    David M then said: Please spell out for me what you said you “don’t need to point out.”

    David – If the Catholic appeals to the mediatory work of the Church in interpreting infallible pronouncements of Rome then he is appealing to exactly that which is under question by the Protestant in the first place. When we are asking about a given judgment of the RCC it will not be helpful for you to answer us by appealing to another judgment of the RCC.

    You fully agree that Trent ended any debate about the cannon amongst Catholics, but that contradicts your charge that (in essence) Catholics must be agnostic about infallible statements.

    My purpose when speaking to Devin was to point to a clear distinction between the Protocanonicals and the Deuterocanonicals. I used the judgment (or more precisely the lack of judgment) of the RCC herself. I did not mean to relate it to the work of the RCC in general in making infallible pronouncements. And I don’t think that the Catholic must be “agnostic” about infallible statements. My point here is to show that the Protestant theologians need to demonstrate how they interpret the infallible pronouncements of the Scripture while the Catholic theologians need to demonstrate how they interpret the “infallible” pronouncements of the RCC. Both communions have the same challenge, but in my experience the Catholics proceed as if they have solved the problem of interpreting the infallible Scriptures by positing an infallible tradition (with appropriate qualifications). Now at this point the Catholic will generally point to the fact that the Magisterium is dynamic while the Scriptures are not, but that point has not been made, so I won’t address it.

  86. Nobody has ever said that “the Church” follows God infallibly, if by that is meant that she never errs cognitively or morally. All the Catholic Magisterium claims is that what it teaches is protected from error when taught under certain conditions.

    Mike, I hope you appreciate the fact that I am very careful when speaking of the Catholic doctrine of ecclesiastical infallibility – I include the qualifications concerning under what conditions the Church speaks infallibly. If I don’t do this every time I write about this doctrine it’s pretty darn close to every time. And so given these qualifications of the RCC, I think we can say that the Catholic Church teaches that the Church follows infallibly, right? But I hope you understand where I’m coming from. When I ask Catholics about this they will point me to passages in Scripture that say the God perfectly leads His Church and He will never leave her and the like. I ask them about the Church infallibly following (again as the Catholic Church qualifies this) and they show me verses that demonstrate that God leads perfectly. And then they may say that it makes no sense to have a Church which does not follow perfectly if God leads perfectly, but they tend to leave it at that. And I will finally point them to the OT Scriptures were we have oodles of clear examples of God saying the same sorts of things He does in the OT (leading His people, never forsaking them, being their God forever, etc) as He does in the NT and yet time after time the leaders of the OT people of God lead these people into error. In the end I don’t think you can use the Scriptures to derive the RCC doctrine of ecclesiastical infallibility. And it seems to me that it is no less easy to prove this doctrine from the writings of the Christians immediately after the time of the Apostles.

    From the fact that some of the baptized reject what the Catholic Church infallibly teaches

    I’m not sure what in my comments you are responding to here.

    Historically, the Roman and EO communions as a whole do not disagree on how to interpret Chalcedon.

    I’ve been told by EO’s that I am non-Chalcedonian and just that bluntly and not just by that Perry guy who comes here from time to time. I’ve never been told that by a Roman Catholic. Now maybe you are right that the EO and Rome are in perfect agreement but I’m rather skeptical. But I don’t think I need to delve in the details of the applications of the HU, the implications of the negatives, or any of the other particulars of Chalcedon. The point that I was making and that you are basically agreeing with is that there are a number of different ways of interpreting Chalcedon. This is true whether or not you and the EO are in perfect harmony. So let’s say that (since you have no disagreements over interpretation of Chalcedon with the EO) that you do have every bit as much problem with classic Reformed statements of Chalcedonian orthodoxy as our EO friends. And let’s say that you and I begin with debating the natures of Christ from the Scriptures and we don’t get anywhere because we disagree with each other’s interpretations of Scriptures. So we pull out the Chalcedonian pronouncements, but here again we don’t get anywhere because we do not agree with each other’s interpretation of Chalcedon. We are not gaining anything by stating that Chalcedon is infallible. We are still left with how to interpret an infallible statement of faith, although a different infallible statement of faith. What I say here should not be taken to suggest that I am casting aspersions on a very important clarification of the scriptural teaching on the natures of Christ, but just that ascribing infallibility to this document doesn’t advance the Catholic cause in the debate with Protestants over Scripture and tradition.

    Your larger point is logical, and it too is a fallacy that Bryan and I have often explained. You ask: “what good are infallible pronouncements of the Church if we cannot agree how to interpret the infallible pronouncements of the Church?” Well, we’ve told you. The irreformable dogmas of the Church are ordinarily propounded in order to clarify and define the faith of the Church on the points in question. Thus they function as answers to questions that arose in the course of theological debate. E.g., the debate between the Arians and the Catholics……

    Mike, I’m not sure what in this whole paragraph about theological clarification that you think I would disagree with (except of course that I’m committing a logical fallacy). Yes, such clarifications you write about are absolutely necessary.

  87. Devin – Thanks for your kind words. The only nice thing about West Nile virus is that nobody else gets sick unless they get bitten by the same mosquito. Nobody else getting sick is a real blessing with kids in the house!

    Don’t feel like you have to respond – it’s hardly fair of me to expect you to after I vanished for a week.

    As with so many of these very long threads, you have obviously succeeded here in bringing out an important topic that resonates with both sides – thanks.

    Cheers….

  88. Andrew:

    When I ask Catholics about this they will point me to passages in Scripture that say the God perfectly leads His Church and He will never leave her and the like. I ask them about the Church infallibly following (again as the Catholic Church qualifies this) and they show me verses that demonstrate that God leads perfectly. And then they may say that it makes no sense to have a Church which does not follow perfectly if God leads perfectly, but they tend to leave it at that.

    Well, whoever those Catholics are, I don’t think I’m one of them. From the fact, if it is a fact, that the Church as a whole is indefectible, it does not follow that any particular sector of the Church will always “follow God perfectly”— not even those who teach infallibly. I’m not sure why any Catholic would think it does follow. They might have in mind the traditional doctrine that the Church is a indefectibly “perfect society.” But all that means is that the Church’s structure, sacraments, and definitive teaching will always, by divine grace, remain what God wills them to be, and will thus always function as the ordinary path to salvation. It does not mean that any individual or group within the Church Militant will always follow God perfectly. “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”

    In the end I don’t think you can use the Scriptures to derive the RCC doctrine of ecclesiastical infallibility. And it seems to me that it is no less easy to prove this doctrine from the writings of the Christians immediately after the time of the Apostles.

    That shows once again what I have often said before: you are misconceiving the issue. I explained why in comment #43. You have not addressed the arguments I made in that comment.

    All I’ll add here is that neither I nor the authors of this blog would argue that the Catholic doctrine of ecclesial infallibility can be “proven” from Scripture, if by that is meant that there is no other rationally plausible way to interpret Scripture. What I argue instead is that, absent ecclesial infallibility, all interpretations of Scripture are merely opinions—and that mere opinions do not give us effective access to divine revelation. Instead, Catholic apologists in general argue for what Vatican II said: “Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium of the Church are so linked that none can stand without the others.” I have argued that that is true simply as a matter of history. But even if that argument is incorrect, it is the Catholic doctrine. And given that it’s the Catholic doctrine, no Catholic apologist should or would say that the early sources alone prove any distinctively Catholic doctrine. All we can show, and do show, is that distinctively Catholic doctrines are a rationally justified way to read the early sources—which is a weaker claim, but the only claim we could argue for, given the Catholic doctrine I’ve cited.

    The point that I was making and that you are basically agreeing with is that there are a number of different ways of interpreting Chalcedon. This is true whether or not you and the EO are in perfect harmony…What I say here should not be taken to suggest that I am casting aspersions on a very important clarification of the scriptural teaching on the natures of Christ, but just that ascribing infallibility to this document doesn’t advance the Catholic cause in the debate with Protestants over Scripture and tradition.

    That fails to take account of the distinction between interpretations that are definitive, because adopted as the definitive teaching of the Church, and interpretations that remain opinions, because not so adopted. But that deficiency is no surprise given that, as I have long argued, your position makes it impossible to distinguish between the propositionally expressible content of divine revelation on the one hand, and mere opinions about how to interpret the sources on the other.

    The Chalcedonian doctrine of the Hypostatic Union (HU), whose clarity and usefulness you do not deny, is authoritative because it was adopted in ecumenical council by the successors of the Apostles. Varying interpretations of Chalcedon since then have circulated and been debated. The first and most contentious was monothelitism, which was condemned as a heresy by the third council of Constantinople in the seventh century. Hence, just as HU represented a successful and authoritative clarification of the early sources, so the Constantinopolitan doctrine of dyothelitism was a successful and authoritative interpretation of HU. All this, and other definitive teachings of the Church, represent interpretive advances.

    Does that put an end to all theological debate about further implications? Of course not. Does it close off debate about some opinions from the past? Absolutely. But it does that only if the dogmatic definitions of such councils are accepted as irreformable in virtue of the infallibility with which they were set forth as binding on all Christians. If there is no ecclesial infallibility, then there is no irreformability, and everything remains legitimately open to debate and opinion—including the doctrine of the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture. In such a situation, it would be true to say that we aren’t getting anywhere, for there are no interpretive advances distinguishable from mere opinions, which are always revisable in princple. But given ecclesial infallibility, we have the tools for distinguishing which opinions are out of bounds and which are not. And makes for interpretive advances beyond mere opinion.

  89. Andrew,

    Let me respond to some things you said in your comment to me earlier.

    But the point I was making is that the Protocanonicals were not disputed during the Middle Ages. The Deuteros were, but the Protos were not. I’m not saying that was not any dispute anywhere is Christendom by any theologian, but just that the Protos were generally settled and you do not find the kinds of disputes with the Protos that you do of the Deuteros.

    Let’s say that that’s true. Like you, I haven’t done a big search either. I’d make two points:

    1. So what? Many books you would count among the Protos were disputed for hundreds of years after Christ. Why draw a line at 400 AD? Why not 100 AD? Or 200 AD? How is it not arbitrary to choose the canon based on when most of the books were mostly not disputed anymore for the most part? Is that written somewhere in the Scriptures? Hopefully you see what I am getting at.

    2. Take some other issues of faith or morals: women’s ordination, contraception, embryo adoption. Theologians, priests, bishops, and lay faithful dispute these issues. Some of them are more settled than others are. If 500 years from now we look back to this time, no doubt someone who disagrees with the Church’s doctrine on women’s ordination will point to “how much it was disputed by so many bishops and priests and theologians, even XYZ Cardinal.” What does that prove?

    Michael Liccione keeps bringing the topic back to the point that in Protestantism, propositions remain forever up for grabs with the possibility of revision, correction, or even outright reversal. For an extreme example, see the Jesus Seminar. For a much sharper example, see N.T. Wright: he’s got a new perspective on justification that everyone in Christianity has heretofore missed. And why not? Protestantism cannot settle anything–not even the canon or justification–in a definitive way (“dogmatically”): things remain forever opinions. Sure, maybe opinions widely held by most Protestants or at least most of them in certain denominations, but opinions nonetheless.

    So what do we do when we see that there is no proof for seven distinct sacraments in the Scriptures, or the writings of the ECF’s, or for that matter in any theologian much before the Scholastics? This is not an easy question to answer, but one thing that it seems to me that we should not do is assume that the Scholastic doctrine of the sacraments is true because the RCC has proclaimed it with a certain level of certainty.

    Well, there’s no “proof” in the Scriptures for a lot of things I would argue. But let’s try one of them: anointing of the sick (aka last rites aka extreme unction). James 5:14-20 provides compelling biblical support for this sacrament. The Eastern Orthodox (predating “the Scholastics”) have it. So do the Oriental Orthodox (pre-pre-dating the Scholastics). Protestants reject it. Calvin gave his opinion for why: “disobedience of men” and another dispensationalist theory. Luther rejected it but I haven’t been able to find out why. Protestants follow them and reject it. (Called to Communion had a blog post about Calvin’s rejection sometime back.) So even when there is strong biblical support (I won’t use the word “proof” as I don’t think “proof-texting” is helpful), you dispute it with your own opinion about it.

    But the fact that the people of God (OT and NT) was lead infallibly by God does not mean that His people were guaranteed to follow infallibly. I’ve often stated here that one of the real challenges for RCC apologists when utilizing the text of Scriptures (and subsequently the writings of those theologians immediately following the Apostolic age) is to demonstrate that God promised that His Church would (in some sense at least) follow God infallibly.

    Well, we haven’t even agreed on what books comprise the Scriptures that we are supposed to base our theology off of. And why is it not arbitrary to say that we must limit ourselves to the theologians “immediately following the Apostolic age”? Why not the theologians up to 400 AD as you prefer for the canon? Why not the theologians up to 1870 AD?

    Secondly, you are making a necessary logical connection between God’s promise to the Church and “canons ratified by the Pope.” I understand that you as a Catholic believe this but it’s not an obvious connection, is it?

    No it is not an “obvious” connection, and it is not one that I expect you to accept (yet). I was stating the basis for my beliefs in this case. As I mentioned before, I don’t expect you to accept any council of the Church.

    You are assuming that the Church “selected” the books of Scripture. I would be very interested for you to show me somewhere is the ECF’s where they saw themselves as selectors of the books of the canon rather than receivers of these texts.

    Ah, I’m usually more careful and say “discerned.” I understand that your canon argument relies on “the Church” being a passive receiver of the canon which God gave to it. Otherwise the Church is the agent which discerned the canon (as it did the Trinitarian and Christological and Marian dogmas) and you can have no more certainty in the canon that the Church discerned than you have in the Church herself, which is not much.

    I don’t see how your claim squares at all with the Church’s history. A “passive receiver” would be something like Joseph Smith being given books on golden tablets by an angel, not thousands of different men in the Church deliberating about what is canonical and what is not for hundreds of years before “mostly” agreeing.

    In any event, “selected” is not wrong if it means “thought, prayed, and separated certain books which they discerned to be inspired from others which they discerned were not.”

    Finally I would add that noting that the Church is protected from error only pushes us back from the question of how to interpret the infallible Scriptures to how to interpret the infallible Church…The words of the Church as a locus of infallibility suffers from the same problems as the words of Scripture as a locus of infallibility – what good are infallible pronouncements of the Church if we cannot agree how to interpret the infallible pronouncements of the Church?

    The CtC guys did a good blog post on this challenge, which you engaged in a for a few comments: http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2010/04/infallibility-and-epistemology/

    I found CtC’s rebuttals to your argument compelling.

    I think that Michael Liccione gets to the heart of our difference when he said: “your position makes it impossible to distinguish between the propositionally expressible content of divine revelation on the one hand, and mere opinions about how to interpret the sources on the other.”

    God bless,
    Devin

  90. Hello Devin,

    I’m not trying to draw any particular line in time. I’m just noting that your and my disagreement over the Apocrypha is just a reflection of that same debate up until Trent. There were scholars on both sides within the RCC. It was only Trent that ended the debate. So the obvious question is then on what basis Trent made this decision and whether Trent’s judgment was correct. But the answer from the Catholic is generally not what Trent argued, but just that she did argue in the way she did. Now I understand that a Catholic would take Trent’s position to be definitive, but that hardly means that the position that she was not correct is “arbitrary.”

    Take some other issues of faith or morals: women’s ordination, contraception, embryo adoption. Theologians, priests, bishops, and lay faithful dispute these issues. Some of them are more settled than others are. If 500 years from now we look back to this time, no doubt someone who disagrees with the Church’s doctrine on women’s ordination will point to “how much it was disputed by so many bishops and priests and theologians, even XYZ Cardinal.” What does that prove?

    I cannot say how the examples above track with the example of the Protos/Deuteros. It’s not that there was a debate in the Medieval Church over, to take one of your examples, whether women ought to be ordained.

    Michael Liccione keeps bringing the topic back to the point that in Protestantism, propositions remain forever up for grabs with the possibility of revision, correction, or even outright reversal. For an extreme example, see the Jesus Seminar.

    The liberals are going to exist in Protestantism and Roman Catholicism whether or not there are any infallible judgments. Rome harbors all sorts of liberals and they believe that their interpretation of the tradition of the Church is just as valid as that of the conservatives such as you. Concerning things being up to grabs, I think it hardly accurate to equate not defining something infallibly with leaving it “up for grabs.” We do not in general need infallible certainty in order for us to consider something to be true. Now I understand that the Roman Catholic theologian believes that certain classes of theological statements must rise to the level of infallible certainty while others do not. This is just a statement of Catholic dogma, but does not necessitate that anything that falls below this level of certainty is “up for grabs.”

    And as I pointed out to Mike on this thread, the problem with interpreting the infallible statements of Scripture has just the same challenge as interpreting the “infallible” statements of the tradition of the Church that have been certified with this given level of certainty. Now Mike tried to answer my objection in #88 by appealing to “the definitive teaching of the Church.” Do you see the problem here? I am asking him about the definitive teaching of the Church and he appeals to this teaching to answer me. Please read #88 yourself and tell me if you think he has answered me.

    Really quickly on N.T. Wright, his position is a very nuanced one that is not so much trying to deny traditional Reformed position on justification, but rather claiming that the focus of the Pauline corpus is not individual but corporate with respect to justification.

    And on anointing the sick, I certainly think that we ought to anoint the sick ala James’ instruction. I won’t take the time to look up Calvin’s exegesis of the passage, but I would guess that he would have a problem with a specific application of the practice. I know that there are some who take the anointing of the sick to be equated with God’s working through medicine – perhaps this was Calvin’s position, I don’t know. But it’s rather an obscure exegetical debate I think.

    Ah, I’m usually more careful and say “discerned.” I understand that your canon argument relies on “the Church” being a passive receiver of the canon which God gave to it. Otherwise the Church is the agent which discerned the canon (as it did the Trinitarian and Christological and Marian dogmas) and you can have no more certainty in the canon that the Church discerned than you have in the Church herself, which is not much.

    If we begin with the fact that there is a God and that God has revealed Himself, then I think it is correct to draw the conclusion that God will reveal Himself perfectly if He is perfect. But what of the medium that He utilizes to reveal Himself? Does that medium need to be gifted with some sort of infallibility in order for the revelation to be infallible? If God works through the Church as that Church is outlined in Scriptures and this Church produces a given canon, then why would a fallible Church cause you to doubt? I’ve been around and around this topic with so many of the CTC folks and I think it interesting that while they concede that God could work through a fallible Church to produce an infallible canon, they won’t in effect concede that God could work through the minds and hearts of His Church to convince them beyond any shadow of a doubt that the canon is accurate. Somehow not conceding a chrism of ecclesiastical infallibility equals committing intellectual suicide with respect to the canon. And as an aside, it is further puzzling since, with all of the epistemological problems in moderns Evangelicalism, with the matter of the canon they have picked an issue where there is virtually no lack of surety. You will not find any Evangelical bookstore anywhere that has any Bibles that leave out any of the Protocanonicals! So why don’t the Catholics pick epistemological problems in Evangelicalism that really manifest themselves as problems?

    I don’t see how your claim squares at all with the Church’s history. A “passive receiver” would be something like Joseph Smith being given books on golden tablets by an angel, not thousands of different men in the Church deliberating about what is canonical and what is not for hundreds of years before “mostly” agreeing.

    When Athanasius speaks of the canon, he uses the term “receive” to indicate the Church’s role. The Church received the books, but did not define them. I’m not aware of a Church Father speaking of defining the books of the Bible that are in the canon, and I was just asking you if you are aware of some of other term(s) used to convey the relationship of the Church and canon in the writings of the ECF’s.

  91. Andrew:

    And as I pointed out to Mike on this thread, the problem with interpreting the infallible statements of Scripture has just the same challenge as interpreting the “infallible” statements of the tradition of the Church that have been certified with this given level of certainty. Now Mike tried to answer my objection in #88 by appealing to “the definitive teaching of the Church.” Do you see the problem here? I am asking him about the definitive teaching of the Church and he appeals to this teaching to answer me. Please read #88 yourself and tell me if you think he has answered me.

    That just seizes on a phrase I used while utterly ignoring my argument.

    You agreed that the definitions of Chalcedon, etc., are interpretive advances that clarify our understanding of divine revelation. My argument had been, and remains, that such advances count as definitive expressions of divine revelation, rather than as human opinions about how to interpret the sources, only if propounded by an infallible ecclesial authority. Apparently it needs to be stressed for the umpteenth time that, if such expressions are only opinions, then the belief that they are advances is, itself, only an opinion that might be wrong. That, indeed, is a key tenet of the Protestant hermeneutical paradigm. So your refusal to accept the epistemic significance of my distinction between definitive teaching and opinion only means that you adhere to the Protestant HP–which we knew already and merely begs the question. Put another way: what you say is a problem is only a problem given the Protestant HP, which we reject to begin with.

  92. Round and round and round he goes, where he stops, nobody knows…

  93. Hi Andrew,

    I cannot say how the examples above track with the example of the Protos/Deuteros. It’s not that there was a debate in the Medieval Church over, to take one of your examples, whether women ought to be ordained.

    This is how it tracks: there can be discussion, debate, questioning, challenging, and arguing of different ideas when a doctrine has not been settled dogmatically. And the less firmly settled a doctrine is, the more leeway there is to debate it–embryo adoption is a good example–this is a completely new area of bioethics that the Church is still discerning its way through. Can a family “adopt” a frozen embryo “left over” (so horrible) from IVF-using couples? Faithful theologians can be found on either side of the issue.

    Contraception and women’s ordination are more firmly settled, some would argue they are now de fide teachings. However, there has been much debate and discussion about them in the past 50 years. The Church has continued reaffirming her unchanging teaching about both of them: contraception is immoral and women’s ordination is not possible. So while that has been the Church’s teaching on these doctrines (just as the 73 books of the Bible was the teaching from 400 – 1500 AD), many theologians and other Catholics over the past decades have challenged these doctrines (just as some Catholics challenged certain books of the 73 books of the Bible).

    And that’s okay to do, within limits, until the doctrine is settled dogmatically. Then the case is closed on that particular issue. No more discussion. The Trinity is not up for re-invention or challenge of the dogmas concerning it (though we may still deepen in our understanding of the mystery of it). Christ’s two natures and two wills are not up for challenge. So when you bring up the fact that X theologians in the Middle Ages or during the time of the Reformation questioned the inclusion of the deuterocanonicals, it matters no more than the fact that there have been thousands upon thousands of Catholics who have questioned the Church’s teachings on contraception and women’s ordination over the past century.

    Either the Church has the authority from Christ to speak binding proclamations about the content of divine revelation or she doesn’t. Protestantism says “the Church”–whatever it might be–has no such power, even if certain Protestant Ecclesial Communities will try to exercise some disciplinary power over their members as if they did has this power. More on that later.

    Do you see the problem here? I am asking him about the definitive teaching of the Church and he appeals to this teaching to answer me. Please read #88 yourself and tell me if you think he has answered me.

    The Church can teach and write documents that express very clearly whether X or Y is true on some given area of theology/morality. Read the Catechism and then read the Bible: the Catechism is much “clearer”, more like a textbook or instruction manual (though far more interesting) because, say, you want to learn about what baptism is and what it does. Just turn to the Catechism chapter on baptism and there are the bullet points! It does A, B, and C for reasons X, Y, and Z. Those teachings are supported in the Bible but the passages are scattered across many books and chapters and oftentimes the passages that do refer to baptism aren’t very clear (e.g. John 3:5, Romans 6, etc.). The Bible’s purpose is different than the Catechism’s purpose. No one would say that you should read the Catechism for “devotional purposes” nor as “lectio divina”–that’s what the Bible is for; it’s God-breathed. So the Church is able to speak in a way that is clearer in some sense than the sacred Scriptures, rendering the Scriptures intelligible in many areas of doctrine.

    Really quickly on N.T. Wright, his position is a very nuanced one that is not so much trying to deny traditional Reformed position on justification, but rather claiming that the focus of the Pauline corpus is not individual but corporate with respect to justification.

    I follow Rev. Jason Stellman’s blog and am reading the ongoing saga of the “discipline” (booting out? excommunication? barring from fellowship?) of the Federal Visionists, who are offshoots of the N.T. Wright/New Perspectives on Paul camp. Apparently, though Wright’s views on justification are “nuanced,” they are significantly wrong enough compared with traditional Reformed theology that people who follow his ideas are being disciplined in their churches (and they’re wrong enough that Reformed Baptist pastor John Piper spends lots of time writing entire books trying to refute Wright).

    Interestingly, Wright “gets” Protestantism more than most Protestants seem to. He points out louder than anyone that Luther and Calvin weren’t infallible and so his fellow Protestants should refrain from reading the WCF to him or Calvin’s Institutes, as if they were dogma (or indeed, as if they were anything more than one man’s opinion). He has come up with a new theory of justification with the “justification” that the founding principles of Protestantism completely support his endeavor: the “truths” of the faith that have been so long held have all been theories and opinions which (fallible) men have come up with, subject to revision and even radical modification by Christians (like him) who come later, have access to more historical documents and scholarship, and in whom the Holy Spirit leads.

    Need to run–I’ll try to respond to the rest of your response later. God bless my internet friend!
    Devin

  94. Andrew,

    continuing…

    If God works through the Church as that Church is outlined in Scriptures and this Church produces a given canon, then why would a fallible Church cause you to doubt? I’ve been around and around this topic with so many of the CTC folks and I think it interesting that while they concede that God could work through a fallible Church to produce an infallible canon, they won’t in effect concede that God could work through the minds and hearts of His Church to convince them beyond any shadow of a doubt that the canon is accurate. Somehow not conceding a chrism of ecclesiastical infallibility equals committing intellectual suicide with respect to the canon.

    Well the first problem is, as we have previously in this article’s comments argued about, it isn’t clear which canon “the Church” gave us: the Protestant “Church” gave us 66 books, the Orthodox 75 books, and the Catholic Church 73. The three biggest “Churches” in Christianity give three different canons. If you further stipulate that all of those Churches are fallible, then I would say that that gives you good reason to doubt the canon!

    Somehow not conceding a chrism of ecclesiastical infallibility equals committing intellectual suicide with respect to the canon. And as an aside, it is further puzzling since, with all of the epistemological problems in moderns Evangelicalism, with the matter of the canon they have picked an issue where there is virtually no lack of surety. You will not find any Evangelical bookstore anywhere that has any Bibles that leave out any of the Protocanonicals! So why don’t the Catholics pick epistemological problems in Evangelicalism that really manifest themselves as problems?

    Protestants I know hold to a pick-and-choose ecclesiastical infallibility where the early Church was protected from error on the New Testament canon and the 16th century Protestants were protected from error on the Old Testament canon. That’s the ad hoc that I mentioned (which I recognize you take issue with). The other option is to presuppose the 66 book Bible as the starting assumption, which other Protestants do. Having an ad hoc or such a bald-faced assumption at the root of one’s basis for faith could be considered intellectual suicide.

    Mormons have no lack of “surety” about their sacred Scriptures. I doubt you could go into a Mormon bookstore and find lots of different books of Mormons with different books, but what does that prove? Someone can have a “surety” based on a blind leap of faith or on ignorance.

    When Athanasius speaks of the canon, he uses the term “receive” to indicate the Church’s role. The Church received the books, but did not define them. I’m not aware of a Church Father speaking of defining the books of the Bible that are in the canon, and I was just asking you if you are aware of some of other term(s) used to convey the relationship of the Church and canon in the writings of the ECF’s.

    I have read various passages where Church Fathers mention this or that book or set of books, but I haven’t paid close attention to their wording. Given the historical fact that various writings (both inspired and non-inspired) were in existence and being read in the churches as well as the fact that the canon took centuries to crystallize, it seems most reasonable to me to recognize that the Church actively discerned which books were which. If God protected that discernment from error, we can have certainty that the canon is correct. If He did not, then we cannot have very much certainty, especially given the fact that at least three different canons now exist among the three largest Christian groups.

    God bless,
    Devin

  95. When Athanasius speaks of the canon, he uses the term “receive” to indicate the Church’s role.

    Athanasius’ festal letter also gives an OT canon of 22 books.

  96. This is how it tracks: there can be discussion, debate, questioning, challenging, and arguing of different ideas when a doctrine has not been settled dogmatically. And the less firmly settled a doctrine is, the more leeway there is to debate it–embryo adoption is a good example–this is a completely new area of bioethics that the Church is still discerning its way through. Can a family “adopt” a frozen embryo “left over” (so horrible) from IVF-using couples? Faithful theologians can be found on either side of the issue.

    And here Devin, is where I don’t think your analogies don’t really fit. In the case of the women’s ordination, we don’t have Catholic theologians in the history of the RCC teaching that women should be ordained. Of course in the modern RCC you have all sorts of liberal theologians teaching all sorts of things just as in Protestantism, but this is not part of the history of the RCC before the modern era. But the history of the Church on the Proto/Deuteros debate is far different. Athanasius and Jerome taught explicitly that there was no possibility that the Deuteros should be part of the canon. There were of course other theologians such as Augustine who disagreed. And that debate goes on until Trent. So the question that is obviously raised is whether Trent’s reasoning was correct. What the Catholic apologist likes to tell me is basically that Trent decided the matter and thus end of story. But I think it is fair to ask as to what Trent’s reasoning was especially given her attack on the conciliar understanding of the Church which gave rise to the original ecumenical councils and creeds. Is that a reasonable question Devin?

    Either the Church has the authority from Christ to speak binding proclamations about the content of divine revelation or she doesn’t.

    Any to that I agree. But the curious spin that the Catholic theologian puts on the matter here is that binding = infallible. As I noted before, there is nothing in general that would necessitate us making this sort of equivalency. We don’t believe that authority in general must be infallible to be binding. When I ask Mike L this as in #88 he appeals to RCC dogma. This is why I suggested you read Mike’s whole reply in #88 and tell me if you think he answered me. I’m not planning to answer Mike again with the same answer to his same point he has made so many times before, but I would generally be interested in your thought here. Do you think that Mike is answering me here or is he just appealing to RCC dogma? Read particularly his last paragraph in #88 speaking on a lack of irreformability meaning that everything is legitimately open for debate. That’s a very clear statement of RCC understanding of the matter, but does one of necessity follow the other? In general do we need things to me irrreformable in our world before we say that they are not open for debate? And if no, why is this true in theology any more than any other subject which God has ordained?

    The Church can teach and write documents that express very clearly whether X or Y is true on some given area of theology/morality. Read the Catechism and then read the Bible: the Catechism is much “clearer”, more like a textbook or instruction manual (though far more interesting) because, say, you want to learn about what baptism is and what it does. Just turn to the Catechism chapter on baptism and there are the bullet points! It does A, B, and C for reasons X, Y, and Z. Those teachings are supported in the Bible but the passages are scattered across many books and chapters and oftentimes the passages that do refer to baptism aren’t very clear (e.g. John 3:5, Romans 6, etc.). The Bible’s purpose is different than the Catechism’s purpose. No one would say that you should read the Catechism for “devotional purposes” nor as “lectio divina”–that’s what the Bible is for; it’s God-breathed. So the Church is able to speak in a way that is clearer in some sense than the sacred Scriptures, rendering the Scriptures intelligible in many areas of doctrine.

    But Devin, why do you think that there is anything I would disagree with above? The point I made was that debates over “infallible” pronouncements of the Church have the same problems as debates over the infallible words of Scripture. Yes, absolutely we need creedal/confessional statements about what the Bible teaches on subjects. But if we say that we have to have infallible creedal statements (as Rome defines these) to bring to rest what the Scripture says about certain matters in Scripture then we are in the same predicament when we have to interpret the “infallible” statements of the creeds. The resolution here is to note that we do not have to have infallibility in order to have authority. If to take the example of Nicea, when the delegates returned to the congregations of Christendom and passed on the decisions of Nicea to the congregations, these churches recognized the right of the leaders of the Church to assemble so (as the Church had assembled in Acts) and knew that the leaders of these congregations had the authority to make these judgments. There is no reason to bring in ecclesiastical infallibility here.

    On N.T. Wright, he does not come up with a new theory on justification (although that’s sometimes the charge against some of his followers); he is not debating forensic justification as summarized in the various reformed confessions. He just does not feel that the matter of individual forensic justification is the particular focus of the Pauline corpus. I’m not apologizing for Wright by any means, but it’s a complicated matter since even those who are adherents to FV/NPP say theirs is not a precise system of theology but rather a movement to bring back certain emphases to Reformed theology.

    Protestants I know hold to a pick-and-choose ecclesiastical infallibility where the early Church was protected from error on the New Testament canon and the 16th century Protestants were protected from error on the Old Testament canon. That’s the ad hoc that I mentioned (which I recognize you take issue with). The other option is to presuppose the 66 book Bible as the starting assumption, which other Protestants do. Having an ad hoc or such a bald-faced assumption at the root of one’s basis for faith could be considered intellectual suicide.

    But remember Athanasius plainly stated that it was not the practice of the Church at his time to accept the Apocrypha. Now later there were particularly some North African churches who also wanted to include additional books. There was no resolution to the debate in the Medieval era. Trent later makes her statement on the matter. So the obvious questions are 1) was Trent was right or not and 2) what were Trent’s reasons were for accepting the Deuteros? Either Trent’s reasoning was good or it was not. For the Catholic the correctness of her arguments really doesn’t matter, just the fact that Trent did make the decision that she came to. It’s the end of the story for the Catholic. But at least Devin, grant that the Protestants who had already sided with Jerome on the matter were not judging capriciously. If in fact Trent’s position was incorrect then we are left with the Protocanonicals as those books which were chosen by God through the instrumentality of the Church (as that Church is defined in Scripture) to be included in His Word. And thus to get back to your original post, the differentiation of the Church’s work in receiving the canon from other things the Church does is based on the fact that God inspired one but did not inspire the others. The same God who oversaw the writing of the individual texts oversaw their collection into the canon. Thus again, we are not being random or capricious in making this delineation.

  97. Athanasius can’t have been against all of what Protestants call apocrypha since in his festal letter he includes Baruch.

  98. So the question that is obviously raised is whether Trent’s reasoning was correct. What the Catholic apologist likes to tell me is basically that Trent decided the matter and thus end of story. But I think it is fair to ask as to what Trent’s reasoning was especially given her attack on the conciliar understanding of the Church which gave rise to the original ecumenical councils and creeds. Is that a reasonable question Devin?

    I don’t think that the question is whether Trent’s reasoning was correct. The Protestants had schismed decades previously. The die was cast. They made their decision that the Church had erred on many doctrines and was not the Church that Christ had established.

    Another small point: Catholic teaching on infallibility says that the Church will not err in her decrees on faith and morals but does not say that the reasoning given for the decision is infallible or necessarily the best way of supporting the decree.

    To the second half of your statement, I would dispute that Trent “attacked” the conciliar understanding that allegedly gave us the earlier ecumenical councils. What makes a council ecumenical? Whose authority decides that? Those are more fundamental questions that precede the one you are asking, I think.

    Any to that I agree. But the curious spin that the Catholic theologian puts on the matter here is that binding = infallible. As I noted before, there is nothing in general that would necessitate us making this sort of equivalency. We don’t believe that authority in general must be infallible to be binding.

    So could you have the Church as the binding-yet-fallible, rightful authority for Christians? I would say that that is possible, though it doesn’t help us get around the question of which “Church”, exactly, is “the Church” whose is this rightful authority and also it raises the difficult problem of being bound by teachings which are false on faith and morals. That would mean Christians following the rightful, Christ-ordained Church’s teachings and yet committing sins and believing falsehoods in doing so.

    It is true that authorities in general are not infallible, but of course the Church is unique in the universe as a creation of Christ, His Mystical Body, and so on. It is greater by far than a corporation, university, nation, family, or any other group of humans, and it is supernatural as well as natural.

    In general do we need things to me irrreformable in our world before we say that they are not open for debate?

    Well it’s all about authority. Who is the authority in Protestantism that says “the debate ends here”? There isn’t one. Every passage of the Bible can be interpreted differently to come up a unique set of beliefs, and this is in practice what has happened in Protestantism. One of my friends is a particular kind of dispensationalist that hinges it core differentiating teaching off of one obscure verse in the Bible. Who is to say [in Protestantism] that they are wrong?

    Is there wide agreement within Protestantism on, say, the canon of Scripture. Yes there is, but what is the foundation for that agreement? It comes from the fact that 99.999% of Protestants just accept whatever Bible they have been given because “that’s what all their [Protestant] friends, pastors, and family uses.” They’ve accepted various authorities that came up with that particular canon from the early Church to the Protestant Reformers but they don’t realize that. So their agreement is only as strong as the shaky foundation of a bunch of men over the course of 1500 years who came up with (one of several) different canons.

    So Protestantism can today say that the canon is not open for debate, but any person with some charisma could start a new denomination and decide to toss out five more books or add some others, and who could say that he was wrong?

    I plan to respond more this weekend. God bless!

  99. If to take the example of Nicea, when the delegates returned to the congregations of Christendom and passed on the decisions of Nicea to the congregations, these churches recognized the right of the leaders of the Church to assemble so (as the Church had assembled in Acts) and knew that the leaders of these congregations had the authority to make these judgments. There is no reason to bring in ecclesiastical infallibility here.

    So who do we as Christians look to today as these rightful leaders of “the Church”? Who are these people who, today, can assemble and have authority to make binding judgments about what divine revelation is and means?

    Where are the councils being held that are the modern-day equivalents of Nicaea, Constantinople, Ephesus, Rome, and so on? Who are the people holding them, and are their decrees binding upon all Christians as Nicaea was?

    Sure, toss out infallibility for now for the sake of argument. Please tell me where to find the rightful leaders of the Church.

    But remember Athanasius plainly stated that it was not the practice of the Church at his time to accept the Apocrypha. Now later there were particularly some North African churches who also wanted to include additional books

    This is a bit inaccurate. Athanasius stated that

    But for greater exactness I add this also, writing of necessity; that there are other books besides these not indeed included in the Canon, but appointed by the Fathers to be read by those who newly join us, and who wish for instruction in the word of godliness. The Wisdom of Solomon, and the Wisdom of Sirach, and Esther, and Judith, and Tobit

    Notice 1) he includes Esther in the deuterocanonicals (“Apocrypha” by your phraseology) and 2) he includes Baruch and the Letter of Jeremiah in the “Protocanonicals”.

    However, in other writings Athanasius cited as Scripture Tobit, Sirach, and Wisdom, indicating variability in what he understood as the canon. When Athanasius is against your position, you downplay the importance of his opinion “Athanasius speaks to the canon not in a prescriptive, but rather a descriptive manner,” but when he favors it, he is to be looked to as the norm. You cannot have it both ways.

    I have demonstrated that even 4th century St. Athanasius doesn’t provide you with corroboration of your sixty-six book Bible.

    But at least Devin, grant that the Protestants who had already sided with Jerome on the matter were not judging capriciously.

    If I said it was a “capricious” decision, that wasn’t good word choice. Is there historical evidence that favors the sixty-six book canon over others? Sure there is. This or that saint favored many or most or even exactly those books during sometime in his life. But that fact cannot give certainty for the canon you have chosen.

    The same God who oversaw the writing of the individual texts oversaw their collection into the canon. Thus again, we are not being random or capricious in making this delineation.

    We agree that He oversaw the collecting of the canon, but the historical evidence indicates that He oversaw it through the agency of His Church, as He oversaw (and guided) the discernment of doctrine after doctrine. The canon’s discernment cannot be said to be inspired like the books of the canon are. I recall in an earlier Called to Communion article you commented attempting to combine both the writing of the books and their collection as if they were one and the same thing that just kind of happened. I see how this idea would be helpful to your position, but historically it doesn’t seem to align with reality.

    God bless,
    Devin

  100. […] each one, I strive to help my Protestant friends see that their position on the canon relies on an ad hoc claim. But there’s always a handful of them who cannot see this. Instead, these […]

  101. Devin,

    You wrote: “The two “denominations” that had the hubris to even claim such protection were the Mormons and the Catholics.”

    I’m a former Mormon on the way to becoming Catholic. Mormons actually have contradictory beliefs on the matter. On the one hand their entire church is built on the idea of a ‘great apostasy’, the Christ could not or would not protect the early church from error so that after the death of the original apostles Christianity quickly fell into false beliefs and priesthood authority was lost. Since you are familar with the Church Fathers, its clear that such an apostasy must have been immediate and complete since as soon as we turn to second century writings the church was already catholic in belief and practice. So Mormons argue that God needed to restore the true church and gospel through Joseph Smith in 19th century America.

    On the other hand, Mormon leaders have repeatedly taught that modern day LDS prophets will never lead the restored church astray and that it will remain on earth until the second coming. Somehow God is able now to protect his church from falling into apostasy, but was unable to do so with the church Christ originally established. And given some of the problematic teachings of early Mormon prophets, some LDS apologists have started to argue that Mormon leaders are not protected from teaching false doctrines, but somehow we can still have confidence in our current leaders. Ultimately it comes down to a pure authority argument – God will always count Mormon sacraments as valid no matter what Mormon leaders happen to be teaching or doing, and God will never count other Christian churches sacraments as valid.

    Well, from my point of view, if God can work through falliable human leaders and preserve the efficacy of His sacraments/church in spite of human failings, then it makes sense to believe that God has done so since the beginning of Christianity, and that Christ’s church on earth has indeed withstood the gates of hell.

  102. […] True enough, but the problem is that this rests on an ad hoc decision to believe that God “enabled the early church to perceive rightly” the books that He inspired while disbelieving that God enabled the early Church to perceive rightly on infant baptism, apostolic succession, the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and so on. (The realization  that this was an ad hoc decision was central to my conversion to Catholicism.) […]

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