Son of a tu quoque

Feb 11th, 2011 | By | Category: Blog Posts

Okay, the penny finally dropped. I kept coming across the observation that the Catholic Church has not an infallible list of infallible doctrines. [1] At first, this observation concerning the lack of an infallibly taught, exhaustive list of infallibles (which list is just one among the infinite number of non-existent infallible things) seemed to me to have little point other than to prod and poke in the spirit of sophomoric fun. But now I think that this repeated observation is not only a taunt, it is a son of the tu quoque.

An Infallible List of Infallible Books

Catholics claim that Protestants are at a disadvantage when it comes to believing the truth revealed in Sacred Scripture, because Protestants, unlike Catholics, do not have indubitable grounds for identifying which writings are Sacred Scripture. Given the historical case for Jesus of Nazareth as a man truly sent by God (miraculous attestation, etc.), more specifically, given the historical reliability of the New Testament, we can make a good case, based on Jesus’ testimony, that certain writings are, in some special sense, the word of God. But not every writing, neither in the Jewish, nor Catholic, nor Protestant Bible, is directly grounded in Jesus’ divine authority as attested solely by history. If the Church has not been given a share in her Lord’s authority, then everyone’s Bible is potentially a mixed bag: the written word of God jumbled up with other stuff.

The Catholic Church, however, believes that she has been gifted with a participation in the divine authority of her Head. Thus, the Church can and has definitively adjudicated the matter of which writings are, and which are not, Sacred Scripture. The exercise of this divine gift of authority supplies people with grounds for faith, over and above opinion, in our subjective response to the word of God. We can believe what Sacred Scripture says, because by way of believing the Church we know what Sacred Scripture is. And in the same way we know, over and above the fallible results of our own best exegesis, what Sacred Scripture means.

… but No Infallible List of Infallible Lists

But here’s the rub: Even as there are,  and have long been, disputes among Christians (and between Jews and Christians) over the Canon, there are, among Catholics, disputes about magisterial teachings as regards whether they are irreformable. This observation is then used as an epistemological parity argument: Not only must Catholics use private judgment to identify the Church, we must use private judgment to discern cases in which the Church has taught infallibly, and cases in which she has not taught infallibly; and, of course, our private judgment is very fallible.

It is true that Catholics do not have an infallible, exhaustive list of infallible teachings. What we have are instances of self-proclaimed infallible (irreformable) teachings, other instances of irreformable teaching identified by common consent and inference, more or less clear from case to case, and instances of irreformable teaching  that has been infallibly identified by self-proclaimed irreformable teaching.

The problem for the son of a tu quoque argument, however, is that it only works to establish epistemic parity between Catholics and Protestants if Catholics cannot identify any instance in which the Magisterium has taught infallibly. It does not work if Catholics cannot identify every instance of such teaching. And of course, to avoid an infinite regress, the buck must ever stop at private judgment in the order of communication. But this does not reduce the Catholic believer to the same epistemic condition as the Protestant. Bryan and Neal explain the difference between two types of interpretive finality in their article, Solo Scriptura, Sola Scriptura, and the Question of Interpretive Authority:

In a communication, the individual receiving that communication is, by definition, the terminus of the movement whereby knowledge is transmitted. He is, in that sense, the final interpreter. But he is not thereby the final interpretive authority in the sense of a terminus in an order or hierarchy. He may be the terminus of the motion of the communication, while remaining subordinate in the order of interpretive authority.

To understand anyone, be he pope, prince, or pauper, you have to be able to “read” the communication by some means, in whatever form it is given. That is the least extent to which natural knowledge and private judgment are involved in communication, and presupposed by every act of explicit faith, in response to the communication of the Gospel. But this only brings us back to papa tu quoque, upon whom the son is completely dependent.

Reformation Ad Infinitum?

The key to recognizing an instance of irreformable teaching is actually not shrouded in interpretive mystery. The key is simply to recognize the visible Catholic Church, just as the key to recognizing the decision of a court of law is to recognize the court. Of course, some decisions can be overturned by appeal to a higher court. Catholics are not the only Christians familiar with such a process, but the Catholic Church is distinguished from other Christian bodies by virtue of a visible supreme court (the Magisterium) whose decisions (i.e., doctrinal definitions) cannot be appealed. The decisions of the lower courts (e.g., local councils) are authoritative in their own right by a sort of participation in the total authority of the Church. Not all of these decisions have been clearly recognized as expressing the mind of the (whole) Church, and some such decisions have been overturned by a higher interpretive authority. But this process is not open-ended, as it is and ever must be in Protestantism.

Are there gray areas? Yes. Do Catholics disagree among themselves on some matters of doctrine, including the interpretation of Sacred Scripture, the Church Fathers, and Magisterial documents? Of course. [2] I am all for Romanism, and I have some romantic notions about Rome, but neither my Romanism nor romanticism is predicated upon the idea that everything is crystal clear across the Tiber. What does lie beyond that river, among many wonderful things, and what is to be found no where else on earth, is a living, visible, interpretive authority, able to bind and loose, to say “yes” or “no,” for all Christians, for all time.


[1] This isn’t exactly the correct way to state the case. As Avery Dulles pointed out in Magisterium (Sapientia, 2007, p. 66): “Strictly speaking, infallibility is a property of the Magisterium in its activity of teaching, not a property of magisterial statements.” As it turns out, this inexactitude of phrase is difficult to avoid. Properly speaking, an infallibly taught doctrine is “irreformable”–it cannot be overturned.

[2] Blessed John Henry Newman had some instructive things to say about private judgment in the Catholic Church, compared to the same in Protestantism. Some of his more pointed observations are found here.

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  1. The key to recognizing an instance of irreformable teaching is to recognize the visible Catholic Church…

    Yes, Andrew. The pivotal question is “Which visible church is the Church?” That’s a question Protestants almost always reject. On the Protestant hermeneutical paradigm, “the Church” is whichever body of believers is “faithful to the Gospel.” But then the question becomes “Whose interpretation of something called ‘the Gospel’ is normative?” One doesn’t identify what’s de fide, and thus irreformable, by locating “the Church” and identifying what’s been taught with her full authority. Instead, one takes a certain set of sources as normative, then interprets them, then identifies “the Church” as the set of people who accept what is considered “essential” on that interpretation. It was when I realized that as a college student that I ceased taking Protestantism seriously as an intellectual option.


  2. Hey Mike. Interestingly, that question, “Which visible Church is the Church that Christ founded?” while rejected by Protestants, is usually the precise point at which the tu quoque objection crops up.

    A little while ago, in connection with this post, I was thinking about faith and private judgment along some pretty simple, but for me helpful, lines. I’ll share by way of an example:

    Does St. Paul teach that whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord? Well, I am going to have to use some private judgment to arrive at the answer, but just enough to locate and read 1 Corinthians 11:27. Next consider: Does St. Paul teach that the consecrated species are really, truly and substantially both bread and body, or one or the other?

    Now watch private judgment run forever amok–among Protestants. Of course, the Catholic has to exercise enough private judgment to locate and read the Council of Trent, Session 13, Canon 2, but no more than does the Protestant in reading 1 Corinthians 11.

    Of course, it is impossible to prove that the Catholic Church is the Church that Christ founded, preserved whole and intact for all time (inclusive of the 16th century). It is also impossible to prove that this Church, gathered in ecumenical council, is so divinely assisted in her definitions of doctrine that she cannot teach error. So, in a sense, it is impossible to prove that Trent 13, Canon 2 is true. But it is also impossible to prove that 1 Corinthians 11:27 is the word of God, and therefore true.

    My point is this: Granted that 1 Corinthians 11:27 is the word of God, then we can know by faith that what is written there is true. But we cannot, simply by reading Scripture, know by faith whether or not the consecrated species are really, truly and substantially both bread and body or one or the other. We know that these are the only logical options, but that is all we know. The rest is speculative exegetical opinion, and endless debate, unless you are Catholic.

  3. Andrew,

    As you know, no matter of faith admits of “proof” in the sense of a logical demonstration that, once understood, compels assent to its conclusion. The issue here is which hermeneutical paradigm is the more reasonable. Thus, given the assumption that divine revelation is public, definitive, and able to be received by anybody who hears it, our argument is that the Catholic HP is the more reasonable. It explains both why a certain set of writings should be received as divinely inspired and how disputes about the meaning of Scripture and Tradition are to be resolved by a visible authority that proposes the resolution for the assent of faith as distinct from opinion. The Protestant HP does neither.

    I’ve reached an impasse with a couple of Reformed scholars on this point because they reject my distinction between faith and opinion. That tells me that the issue, as I have described it, is at bottom philosophical. I don’t think that can be emphasized enough.


  4. Mike,

    I didn’t always appreciate the distinctions between kinds of assent: knowledge, faith, opinion. I held that every instance of assent was passive, induced solely by evidence (either rational or empirical). The task of apologetics was to bring enough evidence to bear upon the minds of non-believers so that they would be compelled to assent. Its a long story, but reading the Gospel of John convinced me that this is false, and reading St. Thomas, among others, helped me to more clearly perceive why the assent of faith involves an act of the will.

    Along the way, I came to understand that some, not all, in the Reformed tradition consider faith to be entirely passive, that God bestows this gift in such a way that the will remains unmoved. The Calvinist philosopher Gordon Clark was a prime exponent of the view that there are not different kinds of assent, thus conflating faith, knowledge and opinion, though I don’t think that he subscribed to the notion that assent is entirely passive. Clark’s epistemology reminds me of Spinoza: stipulate a set of axioms and everything goes on from there like clockwork.

  5. Thanks for that lesson in Reformed intellectual history, Andrew. It confirms something I’ve long suspected: once ecclesial infallibility is jettisoned as well as personal infallibility, the only way to depict the assent of faith both as reasonable and as something more than opinion is to propound a version of “evidentialism.”

    Thus, e.g., the Reformed guys I’ve debated online all insist that their definition of the Scriptural canon, and their interpretation thereof, are the only rationally plausible ones. If they were right, then dissenters could only be illiterate or willfully blind, including most of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church. And given how I’ve often been treated, that’s what I think they believe.


  6. Mike,

    Evidentialism was my original position (which, unlike many evidentialists, I took to be an evangelistic, as well as a pre-evangelistic, strategy). Rationalistic presuppositionalism was Clark’s line. But we both conflated faith and opinion, and yes, it is necessary on such views, since one usually has an idea that faith is supposed to be pretty strong, to conclude that the strength of one’s faith is due to the fact that one’s position (whether built of rationalistic or evidentialist blocks) is intellectually unassailable.

    But if faith involves an act of the will, then its “unassailability” (certainty) is not ultimately grounded upon reason, but upon love for God (at least this is the case for living faith).


  7. Andrew:

    I’d introduce a distinction here. Although it’s true that faith requires an act of the will, that’s not all there is to it. It involves the assent of the intellect too; in fact, Vatican I defined faith as the assent of the intellect. But the assent must be voluntary, not coerced by “the evidence” or anything else. The ability to make the assent is a gift we are free to accept or reject.

    That much may seem obvious, but there are three important classes of people who would deny it. One is the “fideists,” who argue that faith is a leap unwarranted by evidence, but justified by something called “reasons of the heart,” which strikes me as a euphemism for wishful thinking–at least as they understand that concept. Another is most analytic philosophers, who argue that belief in general cannot be voluntary, and therefore the assent of faith cannot be either. The third is the Reformed guys who accuse me of fideism because I reject evidentialism. They can’t seem to conceive of a middle way.


  8. Mike,

    I think that we agree about faith and reason. As usual, I turn to St. Thomas, and just let him put it all (reasons, love, believing) together for me:

    As stated above (Article 9), the act of faith can be meritorious, in so far as it is subject to the will, not only as to the use, but also as to the assent. Now human reason in support of what we believe, may stand in a twofold relation to the will of the believer. First, as preceding the act of the will; as, for instance, when a man either has not the will, or not a prompt will, to believe, unless he be moved by human reasons: and in this way human reason diminishes the merit of faith. On this sense it has been said above (I-II, 24, 3, ad 1; 77, 6, ad 2) that, in moral virtues, a passion which precedes choice makes the virtuous act less praiseworthy. For just as a man ought to perform acts of moral virtue, on account of the judgment of his reason, and not on account of a passion, so ought he to believe matters of faith, not on account of human reason, but on account of the Divine authority. Secondly, human reasons may be consequent to the will of the believer. For when a man’s will is ready to believe, he loves the truth he believes, he thinks out and takes to heart whatever reasons he can find in support thereof; and in this way human reason does not exclude the merit of faith but is a sign of greater merit. Thus again, in moral virtues a consequent passion is the sign of a more prompt will, as stated above (I-II, 24, 3, ad 1). We have an indication of this in the words of the Samaritans to the woman, who is a type of human reason: “We now believe, not for thy saying” (John 4:42).

    (ST, II-II, 2, 10.)


  9. . . . so ought he to believe matters of faith, not on account of human reason, but on account of the Divine authority

    Herein lies one of the most subtle points of a truly Catholic epistemology; namely that the recognition of “Divine authority” involves an appeal to “reasons” which are nonetheless non-rationalistic. There are good reasons (motives) to “believe” that the Church speaks with Divine authority, but these reasons fall short of undeniable proof – they leave space for a meritorious act of the will which just is “faith” in its epistemic dimension.

  10. I too agree that the most foundational issue here is philosophical, not theological. In fact, the issue is [mostly] illuminated by Scholastic manuals on formal logic. Specifically, we can divide every proposition that we assent to (or could assent to) into two broad categories, both considered according to what it is that drives us to asset to the proposition. Here’s a quick outline of the proposition (which is the only thing that is, strictly speaking, ‘true’ or ‘false’):

    1. Extrinsic
    (A) External (authority)
    (i) natural
    (ii) supernatural

    (B) Internal (prejudice)

    2. Intrinsic
    (A) Immediate
    (1) Factually self-evident (e.g. ‘my finger hurts’; ‘the weather is nice today’)
    (2) Self-evident (per se nota)
    (i) self-evident in themselves, but not to us (in se) (e.g. ‘God exists’)
    (ii) self-evident in themselves and to us (quod nos) (e.g. ‘the whole is greater than the part’)
    (a) self-evident to all (quod omnes; e.g. ‘being is not non-being’)
    (b) self-evident to the learned (quod sapientis; e.g. ‘knowledge is immaterial’)
    (B) Mediate (syllogistic, or discursive reasoning)

    This stuff was ‘kid’s stuff’ to the Scholastics. They studied it first before anything else (as logic is the first in the philosophical sciences, and formal logic is first [in the order of learning] in logic).

    Interestingly, the only way to obtain certainty for any proposition is to claim that (a) one assents to it based on external, supernatural authority; (b) it is self-evident; or (c) it is a mediate one that is derived from first principles that, themselves, can’t be denied. I’ve never even heard a Protestant claim that (c) is the case; though I have heard them claim that (a) or (b) are the reasons for their assent to peculiarly Protestant claims (bosom burning and ‘perspicuity of scripture’, respectively).

    The trouble with (b), however, is that if a proposition really is self-evident, then all would see it if they had the proper learning (quod sapientis). But, obviously, that hasn’t and doesn’t happen.

    So we’re back to bosom burning: the logical and consistent way in which any Protestant can claim to be certain of X (e.g. the canon, justification, etc.) is to claim a burning in the bosom. But many Protestants want to claim certainty without claiming a bosom burning. And the reason they [mistakenly] want to hold these two together is, I think, because many don’t understand the nature of the origins of our assent to propositions, which is a philosophical issue.

    I my case, it was sound philosophy that made becoming Catholic even an option. St. Thomas ushered me from my church to the Church via the sturdy bridge of sound philosophy.

  11. Ryan:

    the proposition (which is the only thing that is, strictly speaking, ‘true’ or ‘false’)

    I take it, then, that you disagree with Aquinas? And that Jesus Christ was only speaking metaphorically when he said that he is “the truth” as well as the way and the life?


  12. Ray, (re: #9)

    When St. Thomas says, ” . . . so ought he to believe matters of faith, not on account of human reason, but on account of the Divine authority,” he isn’t talking about the motives of credibility, but about the truths of divine revelation. For example, a miracle should be believed to be a miracle, not first on the basis of anything non-rational, but for reasons accessible to reason. And likewise, fulfilled prophecies should be believed to be supernatural, for reasons accessible to reason. The inability to establish or prove these with analytic (e.g. “1+1=2”) certainty does not mean that they cannot be known to be miracles except by non-rational reasons. Hume’s argument against miracles is contrary to reason, and we shouldn’t grant that reason alone cannot rationally come to determine correctly that a supernatural event occurred. The motives of credibility do constitute a proof of the divine authority of the Church, but not all proofs produce analytic certainty. One of the errors condemned in Lamentabili Sane is “The Divinity of Jesus Christ is not proved from the Gospels.” Another error listed there is “The assent of faith ultimately rests on a mass of probabilities.” Another error listed there is, “The Resurrection of the Saviour is not properly a fact of the historical order. It is a fact of merely the supernatural order (neither demonstrated nor demonstrable) ….” My point is that reason alone can grasp the motives of credibility, and their implications, including that Christ was from God, and that the Church is from God. The motives of credibility do not leave us with a mere probability. This does not exclude space for the act of the will, in the act of faith (which act requires the gift of grace), because the act of faith is not an assent to the truths [known through the motives of credibility] that Christ is from God and that the Church is from God. Rather, the act of faith is in the divine revelation from Christ through the Church. Human reason cannot see for itself the truth of that divine revelation. Hence the act of faith, in the old Baltimore Catechism, reads:

    O my God, I firmly believe that Thou art one God in three Divine Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; I believe that Thy Divine Son became man, and died for our sins, and that He will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe these and all the truths which the Holy Catholic Church teaches, because Thou hast revealed them, who canst neither deceive nor be deceived. (my emphasis)

    It is not irrational to believe that what God reveals through His Church is true. It is irrational not to believe it, because He who is Truth cannot lie. But it requires trust (and divine grace), because human reason cannot see these divinely revealed truths for itself, just as Abraham could not see for himself the reason God ordered him to sacrifice Isaac. See also my post titled “St. Thomas Aquinas on the Relation of Faith to the Church.”

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  13. Mike,

    No, I don’t disagree with Aquinas and I don’t think Jesus was speaking only metaphorically in John 14:6.

    When I said “the proposition (which is the only thing that is, strictly speaking, ‘true’ or ‘false’)” I was speaking in the context of the three operations of the intellect: simple apprehension, judgment, and reasoning. Each of those operations is accompanied by a product and the sign of that product. In the case of the second operation (judgment), the product is the judicative proposition and the sign of that product is the enunciative proposition or sentence. Thus, in the context of the three operations of the intellect, it is only the proposition that is, strictly speaking, true or false. This all accords with both Aquinas (e.g. Commentary on Posterior Ana., Lecture 5; Commentary on On Interp., Lecture 7; Comm. on Metaphysics VI, Lect. 4; ST 1.16.2) and Aristotle (e.g. texts of all foregoing commentaries).

    Re. Jesus’ statement in John 14:6.
    If you read Aquinas’s commentary on this passage, you’ll see that none of the foregoing conflicts with what he takes Jesus to be saying. Essentially, Aquinas takes Jesus’ statement as indicating that Jesus is the *ground* of truth, which truth our intellects apprehend. That’s why, in another place, Aquinas calls the human intellect a “measured measure.” (Disputed Questions on Truth, Articles 1-4.)

    Aquinas’s commentary on John is available for free here:

  14. Hey guys,

    I am enjoying this discussion. Talking with philosophers is always instructive, especially when each starts to clarify each others’ terms–as is inevitable.

    First of all, I think that the “strictly speaking” in Ryan’s comment might allay Mike’s concern. Jesus was not claiming to be a proposition (although Gordon Clark might disagree). I guess the accuracy of Ryan’s statement (which I took to be non-controversial) depends upon what it is to speak strictly about truth and falsehood.

    I agree with Ray (“good reasons … these reasons fall short of undeniable proof”) and that the “proofs” offered by history are “non-rationalistic” as in not a priori. As you could probably tell from my discussion with Mike, especially the bit about rationalism (involving “proofs” of a Spinoza-like quality), the rationalist, or a priori, sense of “proof” is the sense in which proofs are not possible for certain religious claims, e.g., the divinity of Christ or the divine authority of the Catholic Church. For us, the motives of credibility are bound up with historical inquiry, which by the nature of the case does not lead to logical certainty.

    Concerning historical “proofs,” (the sort that evidentialist apologetics seeks to deliver, e.g., that Jesus actually performed the miracles recorded of him, founded a Church, etc., which are the sort of things that mainstream scholarship, alas, not only secular, often denies) John Henry Newman, arguing for the [substantial] continuity of the Catholic Church with the Church that Christ founded, wrote that:

    Of course I do not deny the abstract possibility of extreme changes. The substitution is certainly, in idea, supposable of a counterfeit Christianity,—superseding the original, by means of the adroit innovations of seasons, places, and persons, till, according to the familiar illustration, the “blade” and the “handle” are alternately renewed, and identity is lost without the loss of continuity. It is possible; but it must not be assumed. The onus probandi is with those who assert what it is unnatural to expect; to be just able to doubt is no warrant for disbelieving….

    History is not a creed or a catechism, it gives lessons rather than rules; still no one can mistake its general teaching in this matter, whether he accept it or stumble at it. Bold outlines and broad masses of colour rise out of the records of the past. They may be dim, they may be incomplete; but they are definite.

    (An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, “Introduction,” 3, 5.)

    As St. Thomas explains (e.g., concerning the original St. Thomas’s profession of faith: “My Lord and my God!”), one cannot both know and believe the same thing at the same time and in the same sense. Hence, Thomas *knew* (in a way that we cannot, apart from a Damascus road experience) that Christ had risen from the dead because he saw him risen, while he *believed* and confessed (because of what he saw) that Jesus is Lord and God. What he saw did not compel him to believe, thus his faith still involved an act of the will, moved by grace.

    So, in principle, the motives of credibility can be completely certain, as in evident to the senses, or evident to the learned (e.g., the existence of God). But more often, for most people, they are not. The reason that I brought this up originally (though I left that reason implicit) is that when we “look deep into the well of history” and perceive that the Catholic Church of today is the Church that Christ founded, and when we share this discovery with others, it is often replied, by those others, that it is not at all certain that we have interpreted history correctly–the conclusion of our investigation is not proved. I sometimes get the sense that only an “analytically certain” proof would satisfy the objector, and when no proof, in that sense, is forthcoming, the objector reckons himself absolved of the duty to believe, either because he reckons that every instance of assent is a purely intellectual movement (and upon inspection he finds that he simply has not been moved to assent), or because he mistakes the nature of historical inquiry.

    One indication that history is not exactly perspicuous (in this regard) is that manifold interpretations of history are on the table, placed there by intelligent, learned and well-intentioned people. The “proof” offered by history for the Catholic position must be of a peculiar sort, given that not everyone who interprets the texts becomes Catholic.

    This brings me to another side of the matter. The apologist (Catholic or otherwise) is often tempted to over-play his hand, by hanging too great a certainty upon the arguments adduced for (or against) faith, rather than just admitting the limitations of those arguments. And that sort of thing, of course, has the opposite of the intended effect. The space for faith is sometimes larger than it is made out, but the gap between knowledge and believing can still be traversed, by an act of the will, moved by grace, so that we are not stuck in the perpetual twilight of opinion.

  15. By the way, Newman’s Essay on Development has always seemed to me a prime example of an argument yielding a “peculiar proof” from history for the identification of the Catholic Church with the Church that Christ founded.

  16. Ryan (#13):

    I’m well aware of Aquinas’ exposition of John 14:6. And I believe you’ve summed it up correctly. That’s one reason why I also believe that, according to Aquinas, Jesus did not mean that he is literally “the” Truth, but rather that he is “the” Truthmaker, in virtue of being God, who is the source of all beings about which truths are propositions. Now to call a truthmaker ‘truth’ is true only by analogy, not literally. So if Aquinas is right, it would be wrong to hold that ‘God is truth’ is literally true as distinct from only analogically true.

    Yet I also think there’s a tension in Aquinas’ position about truth generally. His favorite definition of truth is that it’s the “adequation” of the mind to reality. That kind of relation is expressible as a (judicative) proposition, but only when the necessary linguistic resources are available–which they aren’t always, otherwise one could never say in poetry, song, or other art forms something that could not be said in prose. So if Aquinas’ favorite definition of truth is itself adequate, then truth is not primarily a relation between propositions and states of affairs, as he sometimes implies, but between the mind and reality. And most of the latter is non-linguistic.


  17. Andrew (#14):

    On the matters you’ve addressed, we are at one. But I think I should address some of what Bryan says in #12, so as to help forestall misimpressions about our position. I’ll do that next.


  18. Bryan (#12):

    You’ve done an important service in pointing out that, in certain authoritative Church documents, the concept of proof being used is not quite the same as that of as a formally valid demonstration whose premises are certain, so that the intellect is compelled to assent to its conclusion. Room must be left for faith, which is at bottom trust. I don’t have the pertinent Latin texts available to me at the moment, but I think it’s safe to say that whatever word being translated as ‘proof’ in some of those documents means something more like “provision of reason enough.”

    If that’s so, then I’d affirm that there’s “reason enough” to trust the authority of the Church, so that there is in that sense “proof” that what she teaches with her full authority is true. But I also think it’s unhelpful nowadays to use the word ‘proof’ for that. Leaving aside muddled, popular notions of proof, trained philosophers generally understand ‘proof’ to denote a valid argument, be it deductive or inductive, whose premises are generally known to be true. I don’t think that the sort of proof available for trusting the Magisterium qualifies as that sort, because you can always find people with at least a plausible argument against at least one of the premises. Often the premises being questioned are historical, but sometimes they are interpretations of this-or-that Catholic doctrine. One can, to be sure, cite what is objectively reason enough to secure such premises, but it is not irrational, or at least not obviously so, to fail to recognize them as such. It is merely mistaken.

    More generally, to say that it’s “irrational” to disbelieve the Faith is not an evaluation of the reasoning capacities of unbelievers. On my interpretation, it’s shorthand for saying that, if there is reason enough to believe that the Faith is true, then the only reasonable thing to do is believe it. But it’s not irrational to question the antecedent.


  19. Bryan,

    The inability to establish or prove these with analytic (e.g. “1+1=2″) certainty does not mean that they cannot be known to be miracles except by non-rational reasons. . . The motives of credibility do constitute a proof of the divine authority of the Church, but not all proofs produce analytic certainty

    That is why I was careful to state that the moties of credibility are “non-rationalistic” as opposed to unreasonable; and again “fall short of an undeniable proof” as opposed to a reasonable proof. Of course, I agree that the truths/mysteries of faith are precisely mysteries because they are beyond reason though not contrary to it. So I obviously agree with the following:

    It is not irrational to believe that what God reveals through His Church is true. It is irrational not to believe it, because He who is Truth cannot lie. But it requires trust (and divine grace), because human reason cannot see these divinely revealed truths for itself . . .

    But hardly anybody denies that IF the Church is the instrument through which God reveals, it would therefore follow that whatever she teaches as irreformable must be true, no matter how far such teachings exceed the capacity of the human intellect to comprehend. The real point of disagreement between Catholic and non-Catholic Christianity is over the claim that the Church – just is – the instrument of God’s revelation on earth (i.e. that she is a “Divine authority”). Just as the real point of disagreement between the Christian and non-Christian world is essentially concerning the claim that Christ is Divine (Divine authority). Thus, ISTM that the real nexus of debate revolves around the level or degree of certainty which attaches to the “motives of credibility”. Faith in revealed mysteries rests upon a claim to Divine Authority (Christ/Church), and the claim to Divine authority rests upon “motives of credibility” which support that claim; hence it is the certitude attached to these motives which must be addressed up front in order to gain access to the rest of the Catholic epistemic ladder (which follows by necessity once such motives establish the Divine authority in question). I take all of the magesterial quotes you provided as affirming that such “motives” are reasonable (and therefore the choice not to believe has a moral dimension). I do not, however, see those statements as affirming that such motives amount to logically demonstrable proofs since they are neither metaphysical, nor mathematecial proofs, but are rather, historical. I have read your post concerning St. Thomas/Faith/Church several times; yet it still seems to me that St. Thomas’ entire position is only as strong as the “motives credibility” which support the Chruch’s claim to speak with Divine authority.

    For all the reasons that Andrew just reviewed concerning the nature of “historical” proofs, I continue to think that the “motives of credibility” themselves – and not just the dogmas of faith – require a grace enabled “act of the will” to “believe” the very reasonable claims such motives support. The fact that Jews who read the same prophetic precursors to Christ refuse to recognize their fulfillment in Jesus of Nazareth, and the fact that biblical scholars sometimes deny the Divinity of Christ, despite the fact that the motives for these claims are quite credible seems to confirm that the motives are not SO obvious to our weakened intellect that they easily and automatically garner assent. ISTM that one must still make a (grace enabled) act of the will to assent to what is quite reasonably available by means of the motives of credbility, over against a stubborn resistance based on a demand for some kind of absolute epsitemic certainty which God has not chosen to attatch to such motives. I am happy to be corrected on this point, but I have difficulty getting around the need for some kind of “assent” to the motives of credibility themselves. Is not the “perpescuity” of these motives the exact point of departure between we Catholics and our Reformed brothers and sisters?

    Pax et Bonum,


  20. Mike,

    Thanks for the clarification. I agree about the strength of the arguments for the preambles of faith, i.e., “provision of reason enough” [to believe]. Also, I really appreciate the material in #16.

    One area of ambiguity, for me, is the nature of historical knowledge. Can such knowledge ever qualify as scientia, which is the sort of knowledge that comes to my mind whenever I think about those revealed propositions that some people can actually know, rather than believe? On an intuitive level, it seems that “Jesus of Nazareth is an historical person” is something that we can (in some sense) know, likewise for “Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate” and “Jesus rose from the dead.” So is it proper to say, that though most of us assent to these propositions by faith (not having been sufficiently instructed in the historical arguments), others do not strictly speaking believe these things, since they know them to be true by the light of reason alone?

  21. Andrew:

    You’ve raised important issues. I can’t address them all in depth here, but I do have a few comments.

    Can [historical] knowledge ever qualify as scientia, which is the sort of knowledge that comes to my mind whenever I think about those revealed propositions that some people can actually know, rather than believe?

    My first reaction on reading that was to recall something that Chesterton and Fr. Benedict Groeschel have said: the only article of faith that can be proven is original sin. All you have to do is observe humanity long enough!

    More seriously, I’m inclined to say that historical knowledge in general, as an object of reason alone, does not qualify as scientia, at least not as the scholastics understood the latter term. It seems to me that, to qualify as an item of scientia, a truth would have to be deductively proven, or at least provable, in the strict sense of ‘proof’ I alluded to above. But save in the case of living eyewitnesses to the actual events, who thereby gained knowledge by firsthand observation, we learn most of our historical facts partly by trusting authorities, such as old texts and the scholars who study them, and partly by a consilience of other evidence gathered from what we know in the present. That combination rarely if ever rises to the level of a demonstration that compels assent to its conclusion. Yet in many cases, it does supply “reason enough” to accept claims of the form ‘P is a historical fact’. So there can be “proof” of historical facts in the looser sense of ‘proof’ that I’ve also specified above. I would hold that the rough outlines of Jesus’ public ministry, and his passion, are provable in that sort of way. And we can call our awareness of historical facts a kind of knowledge if we define ‘fact’, as I do, as ‘that which is expressible by a proposition it would be unreasonable to deny’.

    But what about articles of faith which, while indeed having a historical component, are not of the sort of which we can generally have such historical knowledge–for example, the Resurrection and the Virginal Conception of Jesus? Save again in the case of the eyewitnesses, we cannot in any clear sense “know” that those things occurred, because we didn’t observe them, they are absolutely or almost unique, and could not have occurred in the ordinary course of nature. In such cases, I’d say that there is only as much reason to believe they occurred as there is to accept the supernatural generally. There is indeed “reason enough” for that kind of belief, but it’s not knowledge of the strictly historical kind. It takes faith, not just reason, even though the faith can and ought to be reasonable.


  22. In such cases, I’d say that there is only as much reason to believe they occurred as there is to accept the supernatural generally.

    Mike, I think your analysis of the demonstrability (or lack thereof) of historical propositions is accurate. Yet, I thought it helpful to flesh out a few points about this quote to avoid any misconceptions that a reader might pull out of it.

    Point 1: There are less-than-demonstrable reasons to accept many historical claims germane to the faith (‘reason enough’, as you say). Nevertheless, many historical claims are ‘provable’ in the sense that there are arguments that yield positive probability.

    Point 2: But, with respect to the ‘supernatural generally’, there are demonstrable arguments (i.e. yielding 100% certainty, or absurdity if denied)
    (a) that the supernatural exists, and
    (b) what some It’s properties are.

    The first book of Aquinas’s Summa Contra Gentiles is devoted largely to (a) and (b).

  23. Mike, (re: #18)

    Perhaps we disagree here, at least semantically. For example, I believe that the Five Ways are proofs of God’s existence. But if the possibility of finding people “with at least a plausible argument against one of the premises” was a sufficient reason to reduce the proofs to non-proofs, then the Five Ways wouldn’t be proofs. The word ‘plausible’ is, in my opinion, the loaded term here, because it glosses over the condition of the epistemic agent — plausible to whom, under what condition of training or malformation, under what condition of intellectual virtue, etc.? If people like Peter Unger in the late 70s (when he wrote the three articles “I do not exist,” “Why there are no people” and “Why there are no ordinary things”) are included in the determination of what counts as ‘plausible’ and ‘implausible,’ then, perhaps there would be no proofs at all. (Or replace Unger with the Pyrrhonian skeptics of your choice.) But, I think it is right not to concede such ground to skepticism, nor load the perspectives of skeptics into what counts as a proof. In my opinion, a proof is such not because it persuades everyone, or is obviously sound to everyone, but because it is sound, even if some or many disagree with its conclusion or find its premises implausible. In a similar manner, St. Thomas, following Boethius, makes a distinction between what is self-evident to everyone, and what is self-evident in itself, though not to everyone but only to the learned. (ST I q.2 a.1) I think we are still living in the aftermath of the Cartesian demand for mathematical certainty. And, like Aristotle, I think that is a mistake. Aristotle says, as you know, that each science has its own exactitude, the exactitude possible given the object and methods of that science. And for Aristotle it would be a mistake to attempt to extract a higher level of exactitude from a science than what it can provide, or to discount it as no science at all unless it can provide the level of exactitude found, say, in mathematics. Even Jesus presented “many proofs” [πολλοῖς τεκμηρίοις] to His disciples after His resurrection (Acts 1:3), but nevertheless “some doubted” (Mt 28:17). The doubt of some, did not reduce Christ’s proofs to non-proofs; it just means that even genuine proofs can be doubted.

    I don’t wish to quibble over semantics, but sometimes semantics is not mere semantics. :-)

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  24. Ryan (#22):

    Point 1: There are less-than-demonstrable reasons to accept many historical claims germane to the faith (‘reason enough’, as you say). Nevertheless, many historical claims are ‘provable’ in the sense that there are arguments that yield positive probability.

    I think we agree. As I’m using the phrase in this context, ‘reason enough’ usually just means ‘positive probability’. All I’d add is that the positive probability needs to be significantly closer to 1 than to 0 in order to constitute “reason enough.”

    …with respect to the ‘supernatural generally’, there are demonstrable arguments (i.e. yielding 100% certainty, or absurdity if denied) (a) that the supernatural exists, and (b) what some It’s properties are. The first book of Aquinas’s Summa Contra Gentiles is devoted largely to (a) and (b).

    I think we’re using the term ‘supernatural’ in different senses. Given your citation of SCG I, you seem to mean by ‘the supernatural’ that which is the subject of natural theology, as distinct from natural science and the philosophy of nature. But that’s not what I mean, nor is it what’s typically meant by Catholic theologians. By ‘ the supernatural’ I meant the realm of God’s activities within creation that, while interwoven with and elevating nature, belong strictly to the order of grace, not of creation, and in that sense are “above” nature. The “Christ-event” is supernatural in that sense, including things like the Virginal Conception and the Resurrection.

    That said, I do not agree with Aquinas that every truth of natural theology is demonstrable in the sense employed in scientia. I do believe that his characterizations of God’s “existence” and “nature” are demonstrably better than characterizations incompatible with them. But that means I regard his arguments as “proofs” in the looser, not the strict, sense of ‘proof’.


  25. By far the best thing on this topic, though not easy reading, is Newman’s Grammar of Assent. There Newman talks about the different meanings of ‘proof,’ and points out that for human matters – not just religious questions, but most ordinary things, what he calls a ‘convergence of probabilities’ is what we actually rely on. He takes a lot of this from Butler’s Analogy.

    I don’t, for example, take the existence of New York as proven in the same sense that I take the sum of the inner angles of a triangle as proven to be 180 degrees. I take it as proven – as something that I know and know that I know – based on the convergent probabilities – the alternative being an enormously improbable conspiracy.


  26. Bryan (#23):

    We largely agree, which is not surprising, but I think there’s one point on which we do disagree about something more than semantics. You write:

    In my opinion, a proof is such not because it persuades everyone, or is obviously sound to everyone, but because it is sound, even if some or many disagree with its conclusion or find its premises implausible.

    That’s true when inability to see a “proof” for what it is is due to sheer lack of learning, which is the point of the distinction you cite from ST I q.2 a.1. I am reminded of a (true) story about Rudolf Carnap in the classroom. He once wrote a logical theorem on the blackboard and casually remarked “Of course it’s obvious,” while moving on to the next point. A brave student piped up: “But Herr Professor, it isn’t obvious.” Carnap raised his eyebrows, said nothing, and proceeded to spend 20 minutes writing the symbolically intricate proof on the blackboard. When finished, he turned around and proclaimed “It is obvious!” And indeed it was: to the few who could understand it. But in the case of natural theology, I don’t think we can really achieve that kind of objective rigor and clarity, and I don’t think anybody, including Aquinas, expected us to.

    This is why I’d qualify what you call your “opinion” above. An argument is of course sound when it’s logically valid and its premises are true. But the most common purpose of arguments is to persuade, and soundness often isn’t enough for that purpose, even among the intelligent and well-disposed; for a given argument might happen to be sound, but hardly anybody might be in a position to verify the premises. Accordingly, a sound argument that’s meant to persuade (as distinct from, say, explain or illustrate) is also a good argument only when there’s a publicly accessible method for verifying the premises that a reasonably intelligent person can actually follow and use. And yet, the further one travels from the formal and natural sciences on the spectrum of disciplines, the less agreement there is on what constitutes the reliable use of such a method.

    Given as much, my opinion is that Aquinas’ “Five Ways” for proving God’s existence (for example) are summary enthymemes that may well be sound when duly unpacked, but are not good according to the definition of ‘good’ I use. I’ve rarely seen them persuade anybody who wasn’t already persuaded, and I spent 15 years as a student and professor of philosophy. They certainly did not persuade me; I was already persuaded for other, less technical reasons. In my book, the chief value of the Five Ways is apologetic: they sketch out the contours of some philosophically respectable arguments for God’s existence. But all this is just a matter of opinion. Nothing de fide is at stake.

    Now on matters de fide, such as the Resurrection, I don’t think we disagree. The “proofs” that the risen Jesus presented to the disciples were not merely or even primarily arguments based on Scripture, though they necessarily included that; they were primarily actions he performed before their very eyes, which confirmed his exegesis. But I’ve already indicated in my latest comment to Andrew that the points I’ve been making about proof in the “looser” sense does not apply to eyewitnesses. What Jesus offered really was “proof” without qualification. In view of that, the disciples’ initial doubt may have understandable given how “incredible” the Resurrection was, but there was no excuse for maintaining doubt, and we have no reason to believe that the inner circle did so. We of curse are not in so fortunate an epistemic position; but as Jesus implied, we are for that reason all the more blessed for accepting the gift of faith.


  27. Gentlemen,

    In light of Byran’s recent comments to myself and Mike I would like to draw attention to what I think is of central importance regarding this issue of “proof” as it relates to Christian and Catholic “motives of credibility”. In response to several magisterial statements which Bryan presented regarding the strength of the evidence/arguments attached to the motives of credibility, I wrote the following:

    I take all of the magesterial quotes you provided as affirming that such “motives” are reasonable (and therefore the choice not to believe has a moral dimension). I do not, however, see those statements as affirming that such motives amount to logically demonstrable proofs since they are neither metaphysical, nor mathematecial proofs, but are rather, historical.

    It is this moral dimension I want to highlight. In Bryan’s recent comment to Mike he distinguished the usage of the word “plausible” in relation to the the “Five Ways”. His comments, I think, also apply more broadly to the general subject matter under discussion in this thread. Here are Bryan’s remarks:

    The word ‘plausible’ is, in my opinion, the loaded term here, because it glosses over the condition of the epistemic agent — plausible to whom, under what condition of training or malformation, under what condition of intellectual virtue, etc.?

    Fundamentally, ISTM that the Catholic position (based on magisterial statements such as those provided by Bryan) is that the “proof” / “evidence” / “arguments” / “reasonableness” which attend to the “motives of credibility” (whether we are speaking about the Divinity of Jesus or the Divine authority of the Church) are “reasonable enough” to entail that the “assent of faith”, or refusal thereof, does not occur within a morally neutral framework. This is the point I made in passing, which I think Bryan’s comment brings more clearly to the fore. The question is not how certain/probable are the historical motives of credibility from a “plausibility” standpoint. How could anyone really answer that question, seeing how it is an essentially subjective assessment. I see no “plausible” means by which one might assign grades of certitude or persuasion to the various “motives” (miracles, fulfilled prophecy, etc) on a principled basis, since the “plausibility” of any given historical proof will be a function of the evaluator’s moral/intellectual state. I think what must be maintained is simply that the “motives of credibility” are such that one is not morally innocent when one withholds the “assent of faith” after having rightly understood the motives of credibility and the claims which they are said to support. By way of illustration, here are a couple of philosophical musings which I hope bring out the relation between moral culpability and the demand for something like absolute epistemic certainty:

    Humean musing:
    Imagine that David Hume throws a rock through the front window of First Financial Bank. He is promptly arrested and stands trial for his action. He rejects legal council preferring to make a philsophical self-defense before the disctrict court. Hume expertly explains that the event of the thrown rock followed by the event of a broken window in no way justifies the constubal or the court in making the unwarranted causal link which demands that the window broke be-cause of the rock. In fact, even though the judge may have experienced the breaking of glass in close relation to the throwing of rocks on many occassions, whose to say that tommorow one might – for the first time – experience a window which instead shatters rocks upon contact. In short, Hume provides an argument concluding to the notion that common sense causality is a creation of the intellect and not something which can be predicated about reality per se. Hence, Hume argues, he cannot be punished for that which he cannot be proven (with epistemic certitude) to have “caused”. But of course, Hume’s philosophical skepticism will doubtless leave the judge unimpressed. Hume will be found guilty and be forced to endure the consequences of his causal actions. An argument which runs counter to universal experience – though perhaps theoretically persuasive – does not exempt its proponent from culpability.

    Kantian musing:
    Kant kills a man. Kant stands trial for the murder. He rejects legal council and defends himself offering a rigorous explanation concerning the unavoidable disjuntion between the mental world and the external world. He argues that there is no way to verify – with epistemic certitude – that those who are accusing Kant of murder are not, in fact, simply projecting a subjective, mental, qualitative template upon an otherwise unkowable quantitative, extended, external reality. In short, the accusation that Kant killed a man may be nothing other than a fantasy, dream or “mind picture”: who can prove otherwise – with absolute epistemic certainty? Yet, the court will most certainly deliver the guilty verdict, and I can imagine the judge – with a wry smile – comforting Mr. Kant with the heartening thought that – after all – whose to say that the next 60 years in prison will really be nothing more than Mr. Kant’s own mental projection upon an otherwise unknowable external reality. Again, a theoretically plausible skeptical argument based on a penchant for something like asbsolute epistemic certainty will not exempt its proponent from moral culpability.

    There is something like a sin against common sense going on in both of these accounts

    Bertrand Russell:
    Both of the above remind me of Bertrand Russell who, upon his death bed, is said to have stated the following after being asked what he would do on “the other side” if he were to discover that God exists: [paraphrased] “I should ask Him – Sir – why did you not provide us with more evidence of Your existence?” The (moral) trouble here is that Mr. Russell (and the Positivists generally)instsited upon dictating exactly what kind of evidence or what degree of certainity must attach to revelatory claims in order that they command assent. It is precisely that dictation which removes Mr. Russell’s demand from the realm of moral neutrality.

    Jesus said that if one would not believe His words, believe because of the works He peformed.

    Lazarus informs Dives that his friends will not believe “even if one return from the dead”.

    Jesus speaks in parables lest some hear and understand.

    Jesus appears to many after the resurrection but presumably NOT to Caiaphas and the temple priests. If He had so appeared to them as He did to Thomas saying “behold the wounds in My hands and feet” it is reasonable to expect that much of the Jewish/Christian turmoil of the first few Christian decades would have been averted. Yet Jesus (so far as I can tell) chose not to reveal Himself to the Jewish heirarchy – why?

    There seems to be some mystery at work here. Nonetheless, it seems to me that we are obliged to hold the position that the “motives of credibility” which attend to the Divinity of Christ and the Divine authority of the Church are such that one is not morally safe in refusing assent once exposed to said motives.

    Pax et Bonum,


  28. Ray:

    You conclude:

    …it seems to me that we are obliged to hold the position that the “motives of credibility” which attend to the Divinity of Christ and the Divine authority of the Church are such that one is not morally safe in refusing assent once exposed to said motives.

    I read your arguments for that, and I appreciate them. I’m inclined to agree that, IF one is FULLY exposed to the “motives of credibility” for the Faith, then it’s quite likely that a moral defect would account for failure to accept the gift of faith in view of such a grace. But I doubt there’s any apologetical value in pressing that point. It made me think of the Reformed guys who have accused me of willful blindness because I don’t accept their hermeneutical paradigm and thus “see” what they see. So I think we’re treading on dangerous ground here. Too many can play this game; indeed, I’ve been taken to task just for arguing that the arguments for atheism are at bottom (problematic) moral arguments.

    The logical sticking point is the “IF” and the “FULLY”. I know of very few people of whom it could be said that they have been fully exposed to the motives of credibility. I myself have not; for I like to say that I’m religious but not spiritual. I’ve never had a mystical experience. I’ve never seen a miracle of healing, or any miracle that’s visible. I’ve never conducted a rigorous Bayesian inquiry into the probability value of the historical evidence for the Resurrection. And to the extent I love God, it’s not because of what I experience in prayer, in myself, or in my personal relationships within the Church, but because my intellect, in light of my assent of faith, tells me why I ought to. I’ve come to believe that the strength of the virtue of faith varies directly with the darkness in which its assent is made. But only up to a point. Faith must be in some sense reasonable, but sometimes its reasonability consists in seeing how poorly the alternatives fare by comparison. That, at least, has been my experience.


  29. Mike,

    Right, I would never press the “moral” point as an apologetic device for the reasons you state. And certainly, like any moral object, culpability requires knowledge and consent. That said, when I ask myself why the Magisterium was concerned to make some rather forcefull statements regarding the MOC as found in documents like Lamentabili Sane; it seems that part of the answer must be that the Church wants to avoid the notion that the claims of Christ or the Church are the kinds of things which one can take or leave with moral impunity. The long and short of the matter seems to be that Catholics must do everything they can to explain, present, defend the MOC in the best possible way.

    Pax Christi,


  30. Ray Stamper: Fundamentally, ISTM that the Catholic position (based on magisterial statements such as those provided by Bryan) is that the “proof” / “evidence” / “arguments” / “reasonableness” which attend to the “motives of credibility” (whether we are speaking about the Divinity of Jesus or the Divine authority of the Church) are “reasonable enough” to entail that the “assent of faith”, or refusal thereof, does not occur within a morally neutral framework.

    The culpability that one has for disbelief in the doctrines of Christ’s Church is, of course, not determined “within a morally neutral framework.” The culpability that one has for disbelief in the doctrines of Christ’s Church is determined by God, and that culpability is determined within the framework of grace. Did God give to me the antecedent grace that illuminated my mind and called me to faith, and did I cooperate with the consequent grace that allowed the illumination of antecedent grace to take root? Only God knows the answer to that question. If I am damned, it will be because I refused to cooperate with grace, committed mortal sin, and refused unto the end to repent of that sin. The sins of incredulity, heresy, apostasy and schism are all sins that have the potential for being mortal sins.

    CCC 2089 Incredulity is the neglect of revealed truth or the willful refusal to assent to it. “Heresy is the obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed with divine and catholic faith, or it is likewise an obstinate doubt concerning the same; apostasy is the total repudiation of the Christian faith; schism is the refusal of submission to the Roman Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him.”

    The son of the tu toque argument is an argument about what, exactly, a Christian must believe with “divine and catholic faith”. By definition, a Protestant is someone that protests against the idea that Christian must submit to the teaching authority of the Catholic Church. The sola scriptura confessing Protestant claims that the ONLY inerrant authority to which he has access is his Protestant bible, and the ultimate temporal authority that decides what constitutes the irreformable doctrine taught by his Protestant bible is himself. It is this “primacy of conscience” doctrine that is at the very foundation of Protestantism that is source of all Protestant heresy.

    The son of the tu toque argument is an argument that because the Catholic does not have an infallible list of every infallible doctrine of Christ’s Church, the Catholic is in the same epistemic state of the Protestant – that is: “Not only must Catholics use private judgment to identify the Church, we must use private judgment to discern cases in which the Church has taught infallibly, and cases in which she has not taught infallibly; and, of course, our private judgment is very fallible. …”. But this argument is fallacious, because I don’t have the temporal authority to sit in judgment of teaching of Christ’s Church. The scriptures themselves contain the commandment of Christ that I must listen to the church that Christ founded, and if I refuse to listen to Christ’s church, I am to be excommunicated. The nebulous Protestant “primacy of conscience” doctrine is merely an unscriptural invention by rebellious men to justify the sin of schism from the visible Church that Christ founded. I don’t privately interpret the teachings of the magisterium, I listen to those teachings, and I let the magisterium interpret the magisterium if I am confused about what the magisterium teaches.

  31. General Question Gents:

    This is perhaps slightly off-topic, but has anyone read Fr. Donald Keefe’s “Covenental Theology: The Eucharistic Order of History”? I am deep into it, and I have to say that a whole lot of it strikes me as quite profound – especially as he touches on theological methodology as essentially historical rather than cosmological. The cosmological/ontological apparatus of both Augustinianism (drawing generously from Platonism/neo-Platonism) and Thomism (drawing generously from Aritostelianism) being rather tools (admittedly good and useful ones) subserviant to the historically (ecclesial/dogmatically) controlled theological enterprise. In short, the “onto” in the broader “onto-theological” project must be the servant of the (Historical/concrete) “theo”-logical. In many ways this simply amounts to a reminder of the old addage that “philosophy is the handmaid of theology” or the general quip that Augustine and Thomas “baptized” Plato and Aristotle respectively. Still, such “baptism” should entail that these venerable cosmological philosophic paradigms become converts obedient to the “revealed” faith rather than vice versa. Keefe makes a convincing argument that a great deal of Western theologizing has gotten things backwards by putting the “onto” before the “theo” or else badly confusing the two. I would be grateful for any insights from those who may have already surveyed the work.

    Pax et Bonum,


  32. BTW,

    Should the moderators at CTC conclude that responses to Keefe’s work are too far afield of the “Tu Quoque” discussion I certainly understand. If not great. But just in case, here is my email address should anyone care to respond outside of CTC.

    Pax Christi,


  33. Mateo,

    “But this argument is fallacious, because I don’t have the temporal authority to sit in judgment of teaching of Christ’s Church. The scriptures themselves contain the commandment of Christ that I must listen to the church that Christ founded, and if I refuse to listen to Christ’s church, I am to be excommunicated.”

    Of course, as a fellow Catholic, I have no objection to anything you have just said. But as you well know, the Protestant objects to the claim that the RCC just is “Christ’s Church” or “the Church that Christ founded” – the very Church which Scripture portrays as capable of executing a meaningful “excommunication”. Many would conceed that IF it can be shown that the Catholic Church participates in Christ’s own authority THEN, the remainder of Catholic dogmatic claims necessarily follow. However, our Protestant brothers and sisters would put their finger preceisely on that IF as the primary epistemic “weak spot” in the Catholic position. Hence, the “deeper layer” in the “tu quoque” argument – as I have engaged it multiple times – is the accusation that the Catholic must – at some point – utilize something like “private judgement” to determine that today’s RCC just is the (visible) Church that Christ founded, possesing the ability to speak/act authoritatively in His name.

    One can make at least two points in rebuttal. The first argument is one that you and I and Mike and others often make (the details and progression of which I will, therefore, not repeat here); which concludes to the assertion that UNLESS the living trans-historical Magesterium of the Catholic Church unified in the person of the living successor of Peter possesses the Divine authority which it claims; then “revealed” truth or “Divine revelation” melts into mere human opinion – a situation which would seem to make an option for Christianity of any stripe simply ad hoc. Some honest Protestants who stick with the argument thus far concede as much, and therefore affirm (often with a certain melancholy) that we (Catholics and Protestants) are all in the same epistemic boat doing the best we can to determine what God wants us to know, but without any real hope of ever being certain that we have gotten it right – whether on “non-essential” OR “essential” matters. That amounts to a doctrinal skepticism which I, for one, have zero attraction for. Yet, this is not all there is to say; because the Catholic argues further that he has “good reasons” to believe that the claims of the Catholic Church are true (thereby ushering him into the light of doctrinal certainity with all the hope and security regarding questions of human meaning that such light provides). Hence . . .

    The second argument is that God has provided “motives of credibility” (MOC) open to one and all regarding the reality of the Catholic Church as “the Church Christ founded and authorized” and so forth. Thus, it is ultimately the “perpiscuity” of these MOC (and I would ad in conjunction with the epistemic/doctrinal consequences of the Church’s theoretical lack of authority) which ultimately (in my mind) speak to the superiority and truth of the Catholic claims.

    Pax et Bonum,


  34. Mateo,


    I also apply precisley those two arguments to the wider apologetic project surrounding the interface of Catholicism with modernity, only I add one explicit step which Christians usually take for granted unreflectively.

    1.) (implicit Christian assumption) Without “Divine Revelation” – something like God breaking in to answer fundamental human questions – mankind at large has access only to probablistic human opinions and is bereft of reliable answers to his deepest concerns, leaving him in a state of depressed agnosticism if not functional nihilism.

    2.) The Roman Catholic Church has a living (human as opposed to text-based) trans-historical structural constitution which enables her to yield definitive statements purported as Divinely revealed truths, on an ongoing, interactive and clarificatory basis (I conceed the possibility that some other contemporary person/group might possess a structure theoretically capable of difinitive clarificatory truth claims – although I can currently think of none).

    3.) Only the Roman Catholic Church in direct continuity with, and as the fulfillment of, the historic Hebrew revelatory claim (whose roots stretch back to the cradle of civilization) has the historical street cred (MOC) to support her claim to be the locus and current historical embodiment of a Divine revelatory effort.

    Hence, Christ, Catholicism and the Eucharist as the nexus and meaning of human history and destiny; or else practical agnosticism (which usually amounts to practical atheism)

    Pax Christi,


  35. Ray:

    A few points. Re your #31, I have not read the entire book of Keefe’s that you cite, but I have read articles of his whose themes got incorporated in that book. So please take what I say under advisement.

    My response to Keefe is essentially the same as the one I make to Orthodox theologians who argue similarly that the Western problem is putting the “onto” before the “theo,” i.e. philosophy before theology proper. The Western A-team–Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas–did that, and its heirs still do it, because they’re more concerned than the other sort of theologian to appreciate truths discoverable by natural reason fully on their own terms, both for their own sake and so as to better integrate them into revealed theology. Of course the obverse approach is just as valid: to explore the riches of revealed theology on their own terms, and then, if one cares to, bring to bear on natural knowledge the insights thereby achieved. But the A-team does that as well, later on down the methodological road. The mistake the “theo”s make in their argument against the “onto”s is to assume that, because the supernatural truths of revealed theology are higher than those of natural reason and necessary to know for salvation–which is true–they ought always to be the methodological point of departure. But that doesn’t follow. One’s methodological starting point is largely determined by one’s chief aim. If one’s chief aim in doing theology is to expound the fullness of truth according to the order in which people typically learn things, so as to better introduce them to revealed truth, then one’s method needs to follow the epistemological dictum: “What’s first in the order of being is last in the order of knowledge, and vice-versa.” That is what the “onto”s do. But if one’s aim is mainly to contemplate revealed truth for its own sake, and only incidentally to enrich natural knowledge with the results, then the method of the “theo”s is better. Whether the bottom-up or the top-down approach is better will depend on one’s aim, audience, and temperament, not on any objective standard in Truth as a whole.

    Re your #33, there’s no daylight between our respective conclusions, but I’d argue a bit differently.

    The main argument for the Catholic HP over against the Protestant HP is that the former, unlike the latter, affords a principled way as opposed to ad hoc ways to distinguish the doctrinal content of divine revelation from human opinions about how to identify and interpret divine revelation’s sources of transmission. The main Protestant objection to that argument is the daddy tu quoque: the argument works only if one already has reason enough to believe the Catholic Magisterium’s claims for itself, yet such reason can only be a matter of private judgment or opinion, which leaves the Catholic in a state of epistemic parity with the Protestant. To reply, as you do, that the Catholic has “perspicuous” MOC for his position, does not answer that objection. The Protestant could fairly reply that what counts as “perspicuous” MOC for the Catholic Magisterium’s claims is, once again, only a matter of opinion, thus leaving the epistemic parity intact. And we both know Protestants who play their own perspicuity game, thus reinforcing the point.

    What we need to do instead is point up the difference between the two HPs about the nature of the formal, proximate object of the assent of faith, not about the Faith’s MOC. Both Catholic and Protestant believe, rightly, that their ultimate, material object of their assent is Christ, who is Truth itself, and is thus the basic authority on which we rely for identifying what God wants us to believe by faith. But they disagree about how the identification is to occur. I.e., they have somewhat different answers to the question: What ensemble of secondary authorities is such that trusting them enables us yields the proper, formal, proximate object of faith that enables us to identify the authority of Christ reliably as our ultimate, material object of faith?

    According to all conservative Protestants, the primary constituent of that secondary ensemble is the Bible. Some also include the authority of something called “the Church”; and most include what amounts to tradition, whether they actually admit it or not (such as the tradition that the Protestant canon includes all and only the “inspired” books). Given such variety, the only thing they all have in common is an affirmation of Scriptural inerrancy and a denial that anybody can either identify or interpret the biblical canon infallibly. On that HP, the way we identify the doctrinal content of divine revelation is to study Scripture primarily and other sources as supplements so as to draw logically valid conclusions from them. If and when that fails to resolve disagreement, we just need to throw up our hands and keep trying as best we can. The Catholic response, of course, is that without acknowledging ecclesial infallibility, which requires a concomitant recognition of some church as “the” Church Christ founded, there is no resolution to such dissensus even in principle, both about what the biblical canon should include and about how to interpret it even if we did agree on what it should include. And if there is no such resolution even in principle, then we can’t locate a formal, proximate object of faith by anything other than opinion, which is not the same thing as faith.

    But here’s the kicker. The Protestant tu quoque rejoinder to that response only succeeds if one already assumes that the Catholic Magisterium’s claims for itself could only be justified according to the way the Protestant HP identifies the doctrinal content of divine revelation quite generally: by studying the pertinent “sources” and drawing logically valid conclusions from them. But if that assumption applied to every doctrine that’s de fide, then the Catholic Magisterium would be unnecessary as a secondary authority, and therefore not what it claims to be. So the Protestant rejoinder is radically question-begging.

    In order to avoid reducing the Christian religion to a matter of opinion, thus making it impossible to distinguish divine revelation from human opinion, we have to get beyond the all the mutual question-begging. The way to do that is to show why it simply cannot be the case that every doctrine which is de fide can be derived by the method the Protestant HP calls for. For on any HP, the question what counts as Scripture, the question whether Scripture is inerrant, and the question whether sola scriptura (on some version of it) is true, can only be answered by extra-Scriptural means. Yet if all extra-Scriptural means are fallible, then the Protestant method of logically deriving de fide truth only from what are taken as “normative” sources can only yield opinions. Even the affirmations that Scripture is inerrant, primary, and sufficient (either formally or materially) would only be opinions. So the only way to avoid reducing the Christian religion to a matter of opinion would be to identify some extra-Scriptural source(s) as divinely protected from error, i.e. as infallible. But that’s just what the Protestant HP refuses to do. So only the Catholic and Orthodox HPs are left standing.


  36. Mike

    As always, thanks so much for your insights on Keefe and other matters. You wrote:

    “So the only way to avoid reducing the Christian religion to a matter of opinion would be to identify some extra-Scriptural source(s) as divinely protected from error, i.e. as infallible. But that’s just what the Protestant HP refuses to do. So only the Catholic and Orthodox HPs are left standing.”

    Of coure our positions are essentially the same (no doubt because your own insights helped a great deal in clarifying my own thinking >). I would make a comment, however, on the section I set in bold above. ISTM, there is a kind of “which comes first the chicken or the egg” thing going on there. In other words, I can see the objector saying: “yeah – but what do you mean by identify and how will that identification be accomplished through anything other than a “subjective” fallibilist decison? Perhaps its simply a matter of emphasis. I very much get the force of the philosphical/epistemic point that if we do NOT make that identification, then we lose our grasp on Divine Revelation and are left with only opinion. I entirely agree with you that pressing home the “doctrinal relativism” consequence of rejecting the Catholic (or possibly Orthodox) HP is key, since we can count on a whole host of our Protestant friends to be averse to that situation. That aversion very often disposes folks to consider the Catholic claims; although some may simply opt to bite the inevitable sbjectivist bullet because they are just irrevocably predisposed (by prior history/prejudice/etc) to reject a serious consideration of the Catholic Church. For the rest (and I know it was this way for me), I think the MOC play a crucial role at this juncture in that they provide the positive historic/objective reasons for embracing the Catholic HP which thankfully avoids a quite negative philosophic/doctrinal consequence.

    In other words, practically speaking, the two go hand in hand. Its hard to imagine someone making an “assent of faith” in the proper secondary object of faith (i.e. the Catholic Magisterium) based strictly on a philosophical analysis of epistemic consequences alone. Rather, in my view, natural human seeking for relaible answers to deep human questions naturally sets up the existential conditions in which a person grasps, and is moved by, the quite personal implications of your HP argument; namely, that the Protestant HP can never – in principle – answer those questions with anything other than opinion. The MOC – as positive reasons for embracing the Catholic faith – working concommitant with that sense of existential angst derived from a clear grasp of the consequences of the Protestant HP – tag team to create the basic conditions of intellect and will which Divine grace elevates in the act of an “assent of faith”.

    Pax et Bonum,


  37. Ray, (re: #19)

    I agree that the point of disagreement between the Christian and the non-Christian world concerns whether Christ is from God, and that the point of disagreement between the Catholic and the non-Catholic Christians is whether the Catholic Church is the Church Christ founded, referred to in Matthew 16 and 18. I did not claim that the motives of credibility “amount to logically demonstrable proofs” (I’m not exactly sure what you mean by that term, but I think I have a good idea). You seem to be asking why then, do so many people not believe, unless grasping the motives of credibility requires some grace that is not universally given?

    Some people, in fact probably most people, have never had the motives of credibility fully presented to them. We are living in the scorched-earth aftermath of theological liberalism and modernism, and in religion these create a kind of atmosphere in which the very notion of “motives of credibility” disappears. In that aftermath, one comes to religion (and hopefully to ‘our religion’) because he has some kind of hunger in his soul, or some kind of spiritual experience, not because the Catholic Church is the Church that Jesus Christ founded two thousand years ago; hence the popularity of ecclesial consumerism, the notion that church is about ‘getting something out of it,’ and not about giving to God His rightful due (see “Angels trapped in stinkin’ flesh.”) Modernism pushes religion entirely out of the realm of reason, and the result is a de facto fideism in religious belief and practice.

    Other people culpably neglect the investigation of the motives of credibility, in violation of the First Commandment, according to which we are to make every effort to seek out and embrace the religion God has revealed. Vices can hinder the acquisition of natural knowledge, much as lust hinders learning metaphysics. And personal laziness and the distractions of this life can also hinder the investigation of the motives of credibility. Such persons perhaps already know something of the motives of credibility, but suppress the truth in unrighteousness. Just as people suppress the truths written on their heart (i.e. the natural law) and the truths about God (Romans 1:20), so also it is possible to suppress the truth regarding the motives of credibility. Man suppresses the truth about the natural law and God, because in his pride he wants to be autonomous. Likewise, man can suppress the truth about the motives of credibility because in his pride he does not want to find out the truth about God.

    This suppression is not only individual; it can also be social, and hence cultural. The sins of some, in this way cause the stumbling of others. We now live in a broader culture very much influenced by Hume and the Enlightenment and scientism. In this culture we tend to acquire a disposition to doubt a priori the possibility of the supernatural, especially genuine miracles and fulfilled prophecies. Some form of Hume’s argument against miracles has become almost second nature to many people, not only atheists but also even theists, who tacitly adopt a kind of implicit deism. That makes them disinclined to receive the motives of credibility and to consider them open-mindedly. Some forms of higher criticism are just methodological forms of deism (or atheism), and the influence of higher criticism has been to hide or obscure the motives of credibility from so many people.

    But, the motives of credibility, like the natural law and the truth about God’s invisible attributes (eternal power and divine nature), are not (like the supernatural mysteries) something intrinsically beyond the grasp of the natural light of reason. When Nicodemus came to Jesus in the night, he first told him a syllogism.

    Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” (John 3:2)

    That’s a good syllogism. The things Jesus was doing required supernatural power, power that exceeded the capacity of human nature. That is something that Nicodemus could know by reason alone, i.e. that those miracles he witnessed required supernatural power. But, the willingness to believe the divine revelation from Jesus, such willingness would require the aid of divine grace. The Pharisees apparently did know (at some level) that Jesus was from God, but many Pharisees turned against Him. Establishing the divine authority of a prophet does not protect that prophet from being stoned by those to whom his divine authority has been established. Grasping the motives of credibility is one thing, faith is another. (Hence Abraham’s reply to the rich man in hell.) Faith is not entailed by knowing the motives of credibility. But the motives of credibility make faith rational, and make unbelief contrary to reason. Without the movement of actual grace, then, even if the natural power of reason was intact, though there could be rational inference from the motives of credibility to assent to the divine authority (and thus supreme credibility) of Christ and His Church, there could be no assent to the divine revelation given by Christ and the Church; the act of faith as assent to divine revelation would be impossible. Nevertheless, even when actual grace is given, it can be freely resisted, such that one is acting both against reason and against grace. Pharaoh was being irrational in not listening to Moses after all those plagues. The First Vatican Council teaches that the “external indications of His revelation, that is to say divine acts, and first and foremost miracles and prophecies, which clearly demonstrating as they do the omnipotence and infinite knowledge of God, are the most certain signs of revelation and are suited to the understanding of all.” They are suited to the understanding of all, because everyone can understand that no one but God can do them. The willingness to believe what they signify requires the aid of grace, and God does not withhold this grace, but men can resist it in unrighteousness, and God in answer to our prayers grants greater graces to those for whom we pray. And in certain ways, the apologist can help clear away obstacles to perceiving the motives of credibility.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  38. Ray (#36):

    I appreciate your point that the MOC, as the Church has traditionally understood them, are apologetically important supplements to the purely philosophical argument I always press. I myself have made use of MOC by means of studying lives of the saints that are attested to by real history, not just legend–such as Padre Pio–and by avidly following research into near-death experiences, Eucharistic miracles such as Lanciano, and the Shroud of Turin. For some people, such or other MOC are indispensable. For me, though, the philosophical argument has always been enough by itself. I’m not sure why that is, since it doesn’t seem to be that way for most Catholics, including most highly educated Catholics. Perhaps it’s just temperament.

    That’s why I’m interested in pursuing your reply to my previous comment conclusion, which mainly is:

    ISTM, there is a kind of “which comes first the chicken or the egg” thing going on there. In other words, I can see the objector saying: “yeah – but what do you mean by identify and how will that identification be accomplished through anything other than a “subjective” fallibilist decison?

    To answer the first part of the hypothetical objector’s question, consider the only two extra-Scriptural “sources” that have ever been thought infallible: Tradition, and the Church as a whole. (It’s better to call Tradition, as described by Dei Verbum, “inerrant.”) To one who claims to “identify” inerrant Tradition, the reasonable question to pose is “Whose tradition, and why should we believe it’s inerrant?” To qualify, the tradition cannot be the tradition of just “a” church; for any group of people claiming to be Christian can form “a” church. No, the relevant “Church as a whole” has to be “the” Church Christ founded, whatever that is. Now heretics and schismatics of every stripe claim to belong to “the” Church, and even to speak for her, which is plausible to them and some others because they have arrogated to themselves the right to define what constitutes “the Church.” But that sort of thing is purely ad hoc. One cannot “identify” the Church in a principled way save by some objective standard adhered to since the beginning by a visible body palpably continuous with that beginning. Such a body would have to be present, living, and palpably continuous with the apostolic Church. It would also have to be constituted by a leadership structure that inherits the authority of the Apostles themselves; otherwise, the identity of the Church would remain purely a matter of opinion. Now a necessary condition for “identifying” such a body is that it openly claims to be such a body. I know of only two bodies that make such a claim: the Roman and the Eastern-Orthodox communions. So if one wants to “identify” inerrant Tradition, one must pick one of those two bodies as the supremely authoritative bearer of that Tradition, and thus identify “the Church.” And such a body must claim the divine gift of infallibility under certain conditions, else its “handing on” of the deposit of faith, its “tradition,” could not be identified as inerrant under any conditions.

    So much for the first part of the objector’s question. What about the second?

    Well, when the question is which hermeneutical paradigm is the more reasonable, no answer is going to be de fide. It will be an opinion, and thus could be wrong. But being fallible is quite compatible with being more reasonable than those who reject one’s arguments. Now in this case, the disagreement is ostensibly about what’s needed for identifying the formal, proximate object of faith. But if the Protestant HP yields the result we say it does, then there is no formal, proximate object of faith. There are only opinions, about the contents as well as the interpretation of the biblical canon. So, the only alternatives open to Protestants who want to get beyond mere opinion are evidentialism and bosom-burning. By itself, the former is not inerrant, even when its conclusions are correct; by itself, the latter is subjective and has no authority beyond the individual, even when it leads to affirming what happens to be de fide; and together they cannot have authority of a fundamentally greater sort than each does separately. Since, therefore, Protestantism can never get beyond private opinion, it leaves us unable to distinguish divine revelation from human opinion. Conservative Protestantism is just liberal Protestantism waiting to happen all over again. So, even though our belief that the Catholic HP is more reasonable is only an opinion, there is no alternative to ecclesial infallibilism if anybody wants to get beyond opinion, as the conservative Protestant himself does.


  39. Bryan,

    Thank you very much for that overview. I have gone through the painful process of shedding more than a few of the intellectual and practical obstacles to faith wich you enumerate. I am not sure we really disagree on anything substantial. If I understand your position (based on your posts above as well as your article concerning St. Thomas/Church/Faith) you are saying that the gift of supernatural faith is first and foremost “faith in” the Divine authority of God (who neither deceives nor can be deceived) AS MEDIATED through the Church (which of course simultaneously should entail acceptance of all other dogmas proposed by this Divine authority). However, the need for grace-enabled supernatural faith does NOT (if I understand you) extend to or include the MOC themselves since these can be known from reason alone without supernatural faith so long as neither ignorance (whether vincible or invincible) or else malice obstruct such knowledge. Is that correct?

    If so, I assume you would agree that grace/God’s Spirit is involved in bringing a person to a position wherein they can gives such MOC a fair consideration (whether God’s grace enabling freedom from sinful attachments or philosphical poison, or else the grace which moves a Catholic witness to expound the reasons for the faith, etc). Perhaps this would be something like a previenent grace which by clearing the way for a rational assessment of the MOC, sets the stage for the grace-enabled act of faith in God-as-mediated-by-the Church.

    Finally, I still wonder about the degree to which the MOC are rationally persuasive. As I said earlier, I take the Magisterium’s statements about the same to at least entail that there is a moral dimension to refusal of the deliverances of the MOC (barring invincible ignorance). To give you an idea of what I have in mind, I quote the following from Vatican I which bears directly on our topic:

    So that we could fulfil our duty of embracing the true faith and of persevering unwaveringly in it, God, through his only begotten Son, founded the church, and he endowed his institution with clear notes to the end that she might be recognised by all as the guardian and teacher of the revealed word. To the catholic church alone belong all those things, so many and so marvellous, which have been divinely ordained to make for the manifest credibility of the christian faith. What is more, the church herself by reason of her astonishing propagation, her outstanding holiness and her inexhaustible fertility in every kind of goodness, by her catholic unity and her unconquerable stability, is a kind of great and perpetual motive of credibility and an incontrovertible evidence of her own divine mission. So it comes about that,
    like a standard lifted up for the nations, she both invites to herself those who have not yet believed, and likewise assures her sons and daughters that the faith they profess rests on the firmest of foundations.

    Now I, for one, am moved by the MOC just highlighted (along with others like apostolic succession, the witness of the Fathers, fulfillment of world-wide Kingdom prophecies, etc.) to acknowledge that the Catholic Church mediates God’s authority on earth. Nevertheless, I have to say that many persons of seemingly good will acknowledge the “astonishing propogation” of Christianity without thereby seeing a case for the Church; and especially do I find folks who have trouble seeing “her outstanding holiness and her inexhaustible fertility in every kind of goodness” as compeling (especially in light of recent events); and of course we are often challenged on the claim of unity (based on dissent within the Church). Now I think there are quite reasonable responses to these failures of persuasion, but it seems to indicate that at least not all of the MOC are equally “reasonable to reason”. My notion that grace (though I grant based on your clarification perhaps not “faith” proper) is in play even at the stage of considering the MOC’s derives from the Vatican I text that immediately follows that which I just quoted:

    To this witness is added the effective help of power from on high. For, the kind Lord stirs up those who go astray and helps them by his grace so that they may come to the knowledge of the truth.

    As always, I appreciate any insights or clarification you care to offer.

    Pax et Bonum,


  40. Ray Stamper: … as you well know, the Protestant objects to the claim that the RCC just is “Christ’s Church” or “the Church that Christ founded” – the very Church which Scripture portrays as capable of executing a meaningful “excommunication”. Many would concede that IF it can be shown that the Catholic Church participates in Christ’s own authority THEN, the remainder of Catholic dogmatic claims necessarily follow.

    Obviously Protestants object to the doctrine that the Catholic Church is the church founded by Christ – the church which all followers of Christ must listen to or be excommunicated. This Catholic doctrine is the article of the faith against which all Protestants protest! Now personally, I believe that the Catholic Church is the church that Christ founded – that she is “the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church”. And I believe that is an article of the true faith that can only believed by “divine and catholic faith”. I believe that no amount of natural human reasoning will ever be sufficient to prove that the Catholic Church is what she claims she is. I affirm what Bryan said in his post # 37:

    Faith is not entailed by knowing the motives of credibility. But the motives of credibility make faith rational, and unbelief contrary to reason.

    I will concede to any Protestants that it takes a gift of grace from God to believe with divine and catholic faith that the Catholic Church is the church founded by Christ. But I don’t concede to anyone that claims to believe that what is written in their Protestant bible is the inerrant word of God, that it is rational to believe that any Protestant “church” could be the church that Christ founded – the church against which Christ promised that the powers of death will never prevail. I won‘t concede this because it is a verifiable historical fact that every single Protestant “church” is a Johnny-come-lately institution founded either by some woman or some man. Thus, it is impossible that Protestants are listening to the church that Christ founded, since, if they listen to any church at all, they are listening to a church founded by an Aimee Semple Mcpherson, a Mary Baker Eddy, a Charles Taze Russell, a Garner Ted Armstrong, a John Calvin, etc., etc., etc. To be a sola scriptura confessing Protestant requires an impossible leap of faith that is contrary to reason, because it requires believing both that scripture is authoritative when it teaches that Christians must listen to the church founded by Christ, while at the same time pretending to believe that it is “scriptural” to listen to a personal church founded by some mere woman or some mere man.

    Ray Stamper: However, our Protestant brothers and sisters would put their finger precisely on that IF as the primary epistemic “weak spot” in the Catholic position. Hence, the “deeper layer” in the “tu quoque” argument – as I have engaged it multiple times – is the accusation that the Catholic must – at some point – utilize something like “private judgment” to determine that today’s RCC just is the (visible) Church that Christ founded, possessing the ability to speak/act authoritatively in His name.

    If a Protestant ever tried to tell me that what I believe about the Catholic Church is in any way dependent upon my private judgment, I would object right away to that unwarranted assertion. I would say that I know that my belief in the Catholic Church is an infused virtue that was brought about by the supernatural gift of sanctifying grace.

    What sola scriptura confessing Protestant would ever concede that their saving faith came about by their private judgment of the contents of divine revelation? Do not most Protestants believe that their saving faith is a gift from God, and that they are not the author of their saving faith? What’s good for the goose is good for the gander!

  41. Is perhaps the obvious being overlooked?

    A Catholic shouldn’t expect to find a Infallible List of Infallible Lists precisely because it is impossible to have an infallible list. Infallibility is not a property of an object but rather it is a property of the action of a person. When one speaks of infallibility, one is describing a specific attribute of an action — the degree of fallibility — one is not describing the content of error contained in the product of the action — which would be errancy. A text, being an inanimate object, cannot be described as having a degree of fallibility precisely because, being inanimate, it cannot lead a person one way or another or in fact anyway at all. However, a text can be described as having a degree of error because that is a description of what the text is not of what it does.

    A person reading the Bible (or any text) is not reading an infallible text because in reading the text, they are not being lead one way or another by the text but rather, instead, they are being lead one way or another by their private judgment as to what they, through their rationality, understand the text to mean. The question is not “is the bible infallible?” but really “to what degree is your interpretation of the text fallible?”. (This is why Dei Verbum stresses that one must not interpret scripture according to private judgment and exercise of personal rationality but rather that “scripture must be interpreted within the same spirit by whom it was written”.)

    Now Protestantism has collapsed fallibility and errancy into each other because in the Protestant philosophical world view actions don’t have eschatological meaning and objects don’t have ontological meaning — meaning is found only in what God nomanalistically assigns to those things and salvation is found largely by accepting (passively) the meaning that God has assigned rather than in acting synergistically (the Catholic saved by grace through faith which worketh in love paradigm). It is why synergism, “faith and works”, and sacramental efficacy are rejected and the reading of scripture, its preaching, and their sunday liturgical service have become, especially for Reformed individuals, exercises in rationality and acquiring and acquiescing to what is assumed to be the content of of scripture. For the Catholic, knowledge and submission do not save but rather one finds salvation in living a synergistic life — one does not simply accept the beatitudes but one needs to live them, one does not simply accept Jesus as Lord but one communions with Him.

    Here we can see the difference between Reformed Protestant and Catholic when it comes to the reading of scripture. Because the Protestant assumes that scripture is inerrant and infallible the reading of the text is simply about study, a study of which one masters through education and study of rationality and logic so that they might more clearly see “that which is obviously in the text” (perspicuity of scripture). For the Catholic, because scripture cannot be infallible, the reading of scripture is not about study and the acquiring and acquiescing to the obvious through personal interpretation but rather it is about entering into a relationship with the Holy Spirit by whom the scripture is read and interpreted with and thus provides for the degree in fallibility for the interpretation.

    Put this another way, a Reformed Protestant is very concerned with questions about how “biblical” something is, which really is to say how does something match one’s private judgment of the meaning of scripture. This often gets contrasted with the “Catholic position” of questions of authority — how does something match an authority’s judgment of scripture. I use quotes here because I find that reducing the Catholic concerns to questions of authority to be a misunderstanding of the Catholic position by Protestants as well as a problem within the Catholic apologetical approach. The Catholic concern isn’t really about authority but it is rather about relationship. The hang-up between Reformed and Catholic isn’t about authority (Reformed understanding of authority and submission to one’s elders is theologically much more rigerous and constrictive than the authority weilded by any Pope) but it is about communion / synergism.

    A Catholic’s true concern is not over authority but rather “am I in communion with God?” which of course necessitates being in communion with the Christians who have come before us, the Christians who are now, and the Christians who are not yet born — which of course is the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church (here is where the questions of authority comes in). For a Reformed Protestant, there is no place at all for communion, because communion is a synergistic relationship with God and that is wholly rejected. This is also why Protestants who become concerned about being in relationship with God are the ones that will gravitate towards the Catholic Church because the more they question along those lines the more they will find Reformed theology to provide scriptural exegesis that is to be (passively) acquiesced to but not a living relationship with God that is truly transformative upon ones life.

    But lets return full circle. A Catholic cannot be looking for a infallible list of infallible lists because infallibility relates to the degree of fallibility in an action of a person. Further ,when a Catholic talks about infallibility, they are not meaning philosophical infallibility but rather theological infallibility which includes the understanding that the action that is undertaken is a synergistic action — it is the person of the Holy Spirit and the human individual acting as one action from a position of authority with the intent to lead / instruct people towards a desired outcome — the degree of fallibility of the action is dependent upon, not the degree of truth content (for fallibility is a negative not a positive and says nothing about how true something is but rather about how likely something is to be mistaken) but upon the degree of synergism.

    For a Catholic an action is infallible when it originates from the Holy Spirit and is brought about in a wholly synergistic manner as a singular act of both Spirit and man. And that is the real rub for the Reformed Protestant, not that the Catholic claims that the bishops and Popes can act in an infallible manner because they are authorities, but rather that the Holy Spirit is with them and speaks through and with them in a synergistic manner. Thus a Catholic should never be looking for infallible lists because they don’t exist. What exists though are individuals who exercise their authority in a synergistic manner with the Holy Spirit. And that, Catholics can point readily and easily towards.

    Reformed Protestantism is strictly monergistic, thus always falls into private judgment when it comes to accepting what is true and what is false (or partially false). It is the individual who decides what is true and what is not and who to follow and who to not, even if that is couched in terms of “passively accepting” one still ultimately makes a private judgment for or against. For a Catholic, the faith is not something that is private but it is something that is cooperate and synergistic. It is “my Catholic Faith” not in terms that it is mine and I possess it but rather in terms that I am part of it and am possessed by it. Catholics don’t make private judgment to accept the Catholic Faith (we will make private judgment in our explanations of it — that is why we have Thomists, Scottists, Augustinians, etc.) but rather we make cooperate and synergistic judgments. The Credo is not the “I” of the individual, but the “I” of the Church. The Church believes and my individuality is incorporated into that. For a Protestant, the visable church is a gathering of individuals who through private judgment have chosen to believe the same thing. For a Catholic, the Church (visable and invisable) is a collective that believes synergistically and which an individual is incorporated into through their acceptance of and participation in the life of the Church. For the Catholic it is not about privately judging what is true and what is false but rather individually accepting that which is given and handed on to the individual. In Acts 2, the Jews don’t ask Peter “What must I affirm to be true?” but rather “How do I go about accepting the gift of salvation that you are trying to give us?”.

    TL:DR The a tu quoque of private judgment is a misunderstanding because Catholics and Protestants don’t understand infallibility the same. Protestants are concerned about an individuals affirmation of specific (Reformed) “facts” thus everything is about privately judging “lists” to be fallible or infallible (incorrectly applying fallibility to inanimate objects but this is done because, being monergists people are not actors when it comes to truth and salvation, only God is, and scripture being the word of God is the only thing that can be infallible because God, being a monergist, is not a direct day to day actor in the world but has simply decreed thing to be one way or another from before all creation, and scripture is simply the numeration of what has been decreed as it came to be within history.). The bible is treated as a giant collection of infallible statements to be affirmed and thus when they look at Catholicism they look for a giant “extra-biblical” infallible list. Catholics are concerned about the degree of synergism in an individual’s relationship with God thus everything is about communion and being united to God through the Church — living the life of the Spirit with Christ directed towards the Father. The chief concern for a Catholic when reading scripture is not “how do I judge what is the meaning of this text” but rather “how do I live the life that this text speaks of”?

    Put another way, for the Protestant, especially Reformed, the liturgical service is structured around the pastor’s oration of scripture and the individuals privately judging the private judgement of the pastor to be “biblical” or “unbiblical”. For the Catholic, the liturgical service is about a Trinitarian synergistic worship of God and the propelling forward of the collective and the individual towards communion. Scripture functions as a vehical which moves the individual towards the reception of the Eucharist, none of which is privately judged by the indivdual but rather is coperatevely participated in by the individual and personally recieved by the individual at communion.

  42. Nathan B.,

    The technicality you introduce at the beginning of your comment was addressed in the first footnote.



  43. @Andrew Preslar

    It is more of a fundamental rather than a technicality. Theological Infallibility isn’t about degree of error / truth content and thus is not something that is located by private judgement. It is located by the existance of synergism in the activity of someone putting forth an action that is intended to inform/lead/instruct/pass on the Catholic Faith.

    God bless,

  44. Nathan,

    I am not sure that I understand your last point about locating infallibility. I do think that we agree as to the technically correct usage of the word “infallibility,” and I appreciate the overall picture that you are attempting to portray by means of the proper deployment of this word, regarding the communal aspect of believing God.


  45. @Andrew Preslar,

    I am trying to make the point, and badly, that instances of infallibility, like other items of the Faith, is not something that is determined via private judgment. Vatican I’s definition of Papal Infallibility was not determined via a synthesis of the the bishops’ private judgment. It came about by the bishops’ study of the relationship that exists between Christ and His Church in the exercise of the Petrine office. Forming doctrinal statements is not about private judgment but rather listening to that which the Church declares herself to be and what she declares of her relationship with Christ. Likewise in determining what is and what is not an infallible statement, one doesn’t make a private judgment, but one rather listens to what Christ and the Church have to say about the matter. If anything the judgement is not private but cooperate for it is not the individual that determines but rather the community (in synergistic union with the Spirit).

  46. Nathan,

    Okay. That sounds similar to what I am getting at in the post, here:

    What we have are instances of self-proclaimed infallible (“irreformable”) teachings, other instances of irreformable teaching identified by common consent and inference, more or less clear from case to case, and instances of irreformable teaching that has been infallibly identified as such, e.g., ecumenical councils affirming the irreformable nature of the teachings of previous ecumenical councils.

    As to private judgment, there seem to be two sense of that phrase in general circulation: (1) The [necessary] use of human reason in interpretation of all oral and written communication, and (2) the preference of one’s own judgment to that of the Church. In the post, I am using “private judgment” in the first sense, as qualified in footnote #2 and further explained in comment #2.

  47. @Andrew Preslar

    Good discussion.

    Quick few points before I run to cook.

    1.) You are predicating a lot on Card. Dulles saying that infallibility means “irreformable” but infallible and irreformable are not synonyms but rather irreformable is an attribute of the activity being infallible. Just FYI as the Church can teach irreformably but not infallibly.

    2.) What I am getting at is that you don’t need to engage in private judgment in order to determine what is and what is not. I would add that I have gathered you are using private judgment as per your #1 but I would add that you are also using in terms of “ones personal reason”, at least as far as I have gathered. One can determine what something is and what something is not based upon relationship to the community, or in witnessing the relationship between persons. One can determine also based upon testimony from an authority. Once can determine what is true based upon cooperate judgment (which the individual might not be involved). We teach children to distinguish between things well below the age of reason. How does one learn to speak? It is not through the use of private judgment as to how to speak and how not to speak. How does one learn what it is to walk and what is it not to walk? It is not through private judgment.

    3.) It is important to not limit our epistemology to that which can be determined by reason. That is Kant’s mistake. Nor should we say that reason is involved in all determinations of what things are. After all the dogmas of the Faith are not those things that we have privately judged according to reason to be true but rather they are those things that we have accepted to be true as explained by human reason.


  48. Andrew,

    (having spent the time to read through this thread, I thought this might be relevant)

    I made a post in the “father post” of this thread, and said,

    But, what you have admitted is that at least in the apostolic times there was a charism of the Holy Spirit whereby men could speak as authoritative interpreters of Scripture. Which leads to either cessation or Catholicism; I think (to John’s point). We should also probably point out that St. Peter at that moment wasn’t inspired in the strict sense of the term because the two authors of scripture at that particular moment are Joel and Luke not Peter. Luke is inspired to write the words of Peter which are an interpretation of the inspired words of Joel.

    The reason why I bring it up is it was glossed or dismissed, and I want to investigate if there is something to the observation or if there isn’t. If St. Peter is not inspired, but is operating in a different gift in Acts 2 then what is that gift and how is it unique from inspiration? Or, did St. Peter just get it right per chance? Or, is his interpretation reformable? I think this is connected to what the Church does but wanted to move the discussion here so as to not cloud up the comboxes in the tu quoque thread.


  49. Brent,

    You’re raising a great question. One way to put is to ask, how far does the relation of the Magisterium to the entire bible correspond to the relation of the Apostles to the Old Testament? There are two key passages I’d recommend looking at. One is Newman’s Essay on the Development of Doctrine, 2.1.10. The other is St. Irenaeus’ Adv. Haer., 4.26 (the full chapter).


  50. John,

    I had read both before, but thanks for the links to make it easier for me to read them anew.

    I think I would want to distinguish the issues as such:

    (a) What is St. Peter doing in the Acts 2 (particularly since the passage he is claiming to be interpreting “this is that” of which elements appear not to be fulfilled in that setting; e.g. prophecy, dreams, and visions)? Thus, it would be reasonable for Montanus to disagree with St. Peter since the phenomena of his movement fulfilled the passage more thoroughly.

    (b) Whether or not the Church in contemplating her doctrines, in light of a continuing meditation of the tradition and Scripture, can arrive at doctrines that according to someone (you), do damage to the deposit of faith. But, if it could be reasonably shown (to you) that they do not do damage but uphold and that she is operating in the Apostolic charism (“gift of truth”-Irenaeus) that we are no better off than Montanus to disagree.

    (c) Does “doctrine of the apostles” mean all that what they taught can mean when meditated on by the “Church” in “succession” with the “gift of truth” with the Divine Paraclete as Her guide in a way that perfects that which was unclear. In other words, can the Church know more “perfectly” now than she did 1,900 years ago? Or, must we interpret “doctrine of the apostles” to mean only those propositions that left their lips and of which reasonable men can imply explicit meaning?

  51. Brent,

    Thanks for your comment. I’m stepping out the door at the moment, but I hope to write something in reply later today.


  52. Brent,

    Thanks again for bringing up these questions. I’m not sure I can fully answer them, but I’ll comment on them, following your order.

    (a) If a Montanist believes that St. Peter is wrong in Acts 2, he would seem to be like a Muslim who believes Peter misapplied Deut. 18:15 to Jesus in Acts 3:22f. In both those cases, the disagreement with mainstream Christianity is not over what Peter taught, but over whether what he taught was true. Yet between Roman Catholics and Protestants it’s agreed that what Peter taught was true. If someone challenged that, how would you respond? I’m not sure an infallible Magisterium is any advantage there, because if someone is undecided on the reliability of the apostles’ testimony, magisterial corroboration of that testimony is unlikely to sway him.

    (b) I don’t think the “sure charism of the truth” that St. Irenaeus talks about is the same charism the apostles enjoyed. Do you have Congar’s I Believe in the Holy Spirit? In II, p. 48, n. 18 he discusses what scholars have said about the gift of truth in Adv. Haer. 4.26.2. Specifically, he lists three possible interpretations: (1) “a grace of infallibility or at least of orthodoxy, received at ordination with the succession;” (2) “the spiritual gift of truth, in other words, Tradition in the objective sense;” (3) “personal spiritual gifts,” “especially the gift of unfailing faithfulness to the Tradition of the apostles.” Congar rejects the first possibility. In Tradition and Traditions he had leaned towards the second view, but he later came to prefer the third (cf. I, p. 151 and p. 157, n. 4 in the present work; also E. Osborn’s comments on Congar in Irenaeus of Lyons, p. 147, n. 26 and 27). Anyway, to see how this is relevant to the question of interpretive authority, I’d recommend having a look at John Behr’s The Mystery of Christ, where chapter 2 has a section called “Apostolic Tradition and Succession,” pp. 52-55. Then have a look at one of the works Behr cites approvingly, Denis Minns’ Irenaeus: An Introduction, pp. 134ff and 150-1 (in T&T Clark’s revised edition). I’m sorry for sending you to books, but I don’t have any gravitas as a church historian. By the way, if you don’t have access to hard copies, I think you can find most of those pages online for free. You can log in at Amazon and use the “search inside” feature to pull up a good chunk of Congar and Minns, whilst the section in Behr can be read in the preview at Google Books.

    (c) In Adv. Haer. 4.26.1, Irenaeus says:

    For every prophecy, before its fulfilment, is to men full of enigmas and ambiguities. But when the time has arrived, and the prediction has come to pass, then the prophecies have a clear and certain exposition. And for this reason, indeed, when at this present time the law is read to the Jews, it is like a fable; for they do not possess the explanation of all things pertaining to the advent of the Son of God, which took place in human nature; but when it is read by the Christians, it is a treasure, hid indeed in a field, but brought to light by the cross of Christ…

    He’s talking about how Christians approach the Old Testament, and it’s important to realize how saturated this passage is with eschatology. The OT is full of “enigmas and ambiguities” because it’s full of types and prophecies. According to Irenaeus, when it comes to understanding the OT, Christians have an advantage over Jews: but why? The reason isn’t that Christians have done a better job meditating on the Tanakh. It’s that Christians have received the new and final revelation brought by Jesus Christ. They know the real things that the OT prefigured; they see the objects that had cast the OT’s shadows.

    There’s a lot more to say on this topic, but we shouldn’t take on too much at once. For now, I’d just point out two disanalogies between the Apostles’ interpretation of the OT and the Magisterium’s interpretation of the entire bible. The first is that the apostles interpreted the OT in the light of further revelation. The other is that the OT’s ambiguity came, at least in large measure, from its eschatological status as looking forward to the things that the apostles beheld, and to which they bore testimony.


  53. John,

    I’ll use my original organization and your kind response format to reply:

    (a) Your example jumps out of “mainstream” Christianity to prove your point, but then somehow it is suppose to apply within the “mainstream” Christianity of which no one is contending your point (about the Muslim/St. Peter). However, what is disagreed on is whether or not there is a Petrine Office and if it in fact can bind and lose. Within Universal (Catholic) Christianity that is true; outside of it, it is not. What I am asking is what gift is St. Peter operating in which you did not answer. It is beside the point (or at least my question) that you and I happen to both agree that he got it right. Even more, on what grounds do we leave out the Montanists from “mainstream” Christianity? Who does that and by what authority do they do it? And why should the Montanists/Pentecostals/Baptists/Evangelicals care if their interpretation of Joel is more reasonable, or if their interpretation of the Eucharist is more reasonable, or if their view of baptism is more reasonable than the Catholic view?

    (b) Thank you for the generous citations and I’ll do my best to get to those sources. The CC reading those same documents concludes (1) CCC 2035. I’m not Congarian, et. al. I’m Roman Catholic. Congar worked very much within the ecumenical (Protestant) academic circles, and its very easy to see that maybe on this point he was trying to give away the farm to purchase friendship.

    Further, if what the Church has isn’t what the Apostles had (inspiration wasn’t the gift because most of the Apostles didn’t write a single inspired text), then why am I to believe that the gift to forgive or retain sins exists after the Apostles. Miracles?

    I’m glad you bring this up because I do believe that one is left with two versions of Christianity: cessationism or Catholicism. I wish more Protestants who are not cessationists would see this necessary consequence of sola scripture and come into the CC. They would make wonderful Catholics with some religious ed.

    (c) I couldn’t agree with you more. Then what’s the hang up? We see Mary’s sinlessness and her assumption in “enigmas and ambiguities” in the OT. Even more, the Church experienced the later in their very life! These dogmas point to only one: Jesus Christ. St. Paul in Colossians 1:24 alludes to the fact that the mystery of Christ’s sufferings continues in his Church. The OT continues to be fulfilled in the Church as the new “Israel”. What takes place in the life of the Church is still an enigma as it happens but is only understood in light of the Revelation of Jesus Christ in Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture. While the OT anticipates the New Covenant, the Church contemplates the New Covenant. Since the Tradition and Sacred Scriptures were entrusted to the Church (and His Mother and Spirit given to Her at the Cross), why for no other reason than pride, I can tell, do you refuse her teachings?

    I think it is foolhardy to put forward a view of a stale Christianity, shackled by it’s first intuition, unable to learn anew what exactly this new Kingdom means particularly as it unfolds in history under the guidance of the very Spirit of Christ.

    Peace to you on your journey,


  54. Brent,

    Thanks, I always enjoy your comments.

    (a) What I was getting at is this, Why do you accept St. Peter’s interpretation? If one doubts that Peter was right, he will not be moved simply because Peter’s successor tells him that Peter was right. Unlike the Montantist in your example, and unlike a Muslim, Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox all agree that Peter was right. They all hold that Peter received from the Lord “perfect knowledge” of those things he proclaimed. Although the church also has knowledge of those things, it does not receive its knowledge in the same way that Peter did. For, as one instrumental in God’s revelation of himself, Peter made known new doctrines. Catholics do not believe the present-day Petrine Office is authorized to do that. Indeed, Vatican I carefully guards against such a thought:

    For the Holy Spirit was promised to the successors of Peter not so that they might, by his revelation, make known some new doctrine, but that, by his assistance, they might religiously guard and faithfully expound the revelation or deposit of faith transmitted by the apostles.

    One thing to take away from the statement is that Catholics are cessationist about some charisms, but not about others. So too, incidentally, are most Protestants. That brings us to the next point–for I’m not sure Protestants and Orthodox are actually cessationist about the sure charism of truth as St. Irenaeus understood it.

    (b) There are really two questions here. One is, what did St. Irenaeus mean by charisma veritatis certum? The other is, what is the charism by which the Magisterium teaches infallibly? Congar was commenting only on the first of the two. It happens Minns, who is also Roman Catholic, agrees with Congar that the charism Irenaeus has in mind cannot be (1). Now, even if the Magisterium is infallible in interpreting apostolic tradition, it is not infallible in interpreting Irenaeus. Minns concludes, “Even while quoting Irenaeus, the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation of the Second Vatican Council speaks of tradition in a way that would have deeply perplexed him.” (p. 150) According to Minns, he would have been perplexed not because he would not have understood what Vatican II teaches, but because Vatican II’s conception of tradition is incompatible with his own. Avery Dulles, although he did not go quite that far, acknowledged in “What is Magisterium?” that Catholics have often used Irenaeus’ phrase “without close adherence to the original meaning.” Of course, that’s not necessarily a problem, because Catholicism can in theory afford to disagree with Irenaeus. The upshot of all this is only that if what Irenaeus means by the charism of truth is not what Catholicism means, then it’s worthwhile to try to understand the difference.

    (c) We agree about a lot of things, and I am very glad for that. To pinpoint where differ here, let’s focus on Mary’s Assumption. As you know, I don’t deny that it happened–indeed, I think there are quite plausible arguments for it. But I don’t see an historical tradition from the apostles in its favor, and for that reason I don’t believe its affirmation can be required as a term of communion. The public tradition from the apostles, as far as I can tell, leaves open the question of Mary’s end. I’m not alone in thinking that–St. Epiphanius came to the same conclusion. I hate to burden you with reading, but there’s an excellent written exchange between two Catholic scholars from a century ago that brings out just where we disagree. F. G. Holweck, a competent church historian and the theological censor for the Archdiocese of St. Louis, wrote an article on the Assumption advocating its definability as an authoritative clarification. You can read it here; the article has a second part that begins on p. 257 of the same volume. When it was published, the article drew fire from Alexander MacDonald, the Catholic bishop of Victoria in Canada. You can read his arguments against it here. They’re followed by a rejoinder from Holweck. Now, I think both scholars are correct in part. Holweck is basically right about the historical evidence for the doctrine. He shows very effectively why MacDonald’s appeal to the disciplina arcani doesn’t fly. At the same time, I think MacDonald is correct about the requirements for definability. He takes basically the same view as Orthodox and Protestants (and Catholics like Orestes Brownson). Accordingly, when I put Holweck and MacDonald together, I fail to see the Assumption as eligible to be defined as an article of faith, i.e. as a doctrine to which assent is positively required on pain of excommunication. And again, I’m not alone in that. Fr. Behr at St. Vlad’s seems to take a similar view. It’s true, the Orthodox might excommunicate someone for stirring up trouble through overt denial of the Assumption. But though they celebrate it in their liturgy, they have never defined the belief so as positively to require assent to it.

    In Christ,

  55. PS Westerners commonly assume Orthodoxy is just like Catholicism, minus the papacy and the filioque. That assumption runs the gamut of their popular apologetics. Protestants naively launch salvos against Eastern soteriology as if it were Tridentine, while Catholics often use the East as a foil in criticizing Protestantism. I am not saying Protestants and Orthodox agree on everything; it’s obvious they don’t. But with respect to the epistemological issues we’re discussing, it’s fair to say Protestants and Orthodox make similar critiques of modern day Catholicism. One other resource to check out, which Fr. Behr cites, is John Meyendorff’s comments on “Tradition and Dogma,” available here.

  56. John,

    For the sake of time, I don’t think it is fruitful in the comboxes to recapitulated all of the intellectual history of these particular issues (though I appreciate all of the links). However, you have raised Brownson’s name in Bryan’s thread and our conversation, and I think you seem smitten by him his Catholicism (unless you would argue he would have defected after Vatican II). I think his position, in a way, summarizes your intellectual position against the Catholic Church in a, b, and c. How a Churchmen, especially of Brownson’s color, makes one a good Protestant confounds me nonetheless.

    Brownson has four contentions against Newman’s concept of development (his point in italics and my brief comment afterward; Newman’s book was very important in my conversion to Catholicism):

    1. that Christian doctrine grows by virtue of human effort
    Not at all! They grow by the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church over time.

    2. That a revelation cannot be made through the medium of human language, which shall reach the minds of its recipients in the full and exact sense intended by its author
    Not at all, but does that mean that every revelation was made as such? The history of the Church bears contrary. (to Bryan’s point about all versus some; strong versus weak claim)

    3. That heresies arise, as to their matter, from the incompleteness, quoad se or quoad «os, of the original revelation, and the honest and necessary endeavours of individuals to complete it
    They do not arise from the incompleteness, but from the new historical situation that demands clarification or greater meditation on all that is implied. It is what makes Christianity the most compelling worldview: it’s openness to all truth and its ability to articulate truth as it opens itself to various traditions (MacIntyre, Whose Justice Which Rationality). The Apostles did not have the language of con-substantial, but that didn’t mean that the Church was abandoning the apostles to articulate the Creed. The Apostles also would not have imagined the degradation of Mary that would have taken place since the time of the Protestant revolution, so the Church affirmed her Assumption just months after it condemned modernism (Humani Generis).

    4. that opinions may be and are made by the Church articles of faith.
    It is clear from this comment that Brownson’s new zeal impaired him from seeing quite the opposite remark that he cites against Newman (Even the Bishop in Boston had called Brownson down off the high-chair more than once). It is those that persist in proscribed opinions and not the teaching of the CC that become “external and hostile” to the Church. That’s evidenced at CTC everyday!

    Maybe Brownson was just a traditionalist who was reacting against a fear that Newman was a part of the liberals (who he disdained rather passionately after his conversion) who wanted to undermine the Church. But it was Newman who was the subject of CTC’s post here against liberalism. A contemporary of Darwin, maybe it was the fact that Newman published his book just 19 years after Darwin’s Origin that was another cause for concern. Some kind of “rising tide” fear. Not sure.

  57. Brent,

    Thanks again. Would you mind if we move the conversation back to the parent thread? I ask because the line of thought in Bryan’s most recent comment appears to converge nicely with yours.

    As regards Brownson, I’ve known of his work for a couple years, ever since reading Owen Chadwick’s study of the history behind Newman’s development thesis. I haven’t brought him up because I’m smitten with him, but because his fourth point is directly relevant to the epistemological (as opposed to the ecclesiological) version of the opinion-authority argument. I could have brought up Giovanni Perrone or Charles Boyer instead, since they too held that authoritative clarification isn’t a Catholic idea. But seeing as Brownson had already put in an appearance in the discussion, it seemed best to stick with him.

    In Christ,

  58. That’s fine John. I will lay low and defer to Bryan.

    God bless you too. : )


  59. […] The last thing that I’ll mention on this subject is that Jesus repeatedly calls us sheep (Matthew 7:15; 10:6, 16; 12:11,25:32-33; Mark 14:27, etc.). He explains a bit what He means by this curious image in John 10:1-5:I mentioned at the outset that I intended to highlight only two of the problems with this argument, but that there were several. Fortunately, I don’t need to go into all of those, because Bryan Cross has already done it better than I ever could. He also gives this argument a name: the tu quoque, since this argument is a textbook logical fallacy. Andrew Preslar, also of Called to Communion, addresses a related argument. […]

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