The Accidental Catholic

Jul 5th, 2011 | By | Category: Blog Posts

Fred Noltie

This is a guest post by Fred Noltie. Fred was in the Presbyterian Church in America for twenty years, attending both Covenant College and Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. On the Easter Vigil of 2005 he and his family were received into full communion with the Catholic Church at St. Lawrence parish in Monett, Missouri, where they are presently members. He writes at the blog titled “Aquinas, Etc.


A gentleman going by the name “MarkS” posted a comment on Bryan’s article about St Vincent of Lérins’ Commonitory. He wrote (in part):

As I have tried to sort out different theological issues over the years, I find multiple, often contradictory, opinions about the truths of the faith coming from people who are highly trained in theology and the Bible. Often, these people also appear to demonstrate a love for Christ and the fruit of the Spirit. But, the HS obviously does not lead people to contradictory positions. So if God’s means for providing the perspicuous truth are the Scriptures, the Spirit, and tradition, then it appears that the only ways a person cannot know the truth are that he is not adequately educated or he lacks the Spirit. (I deliberately left out the church as a means of conveying the truth because if the church is marked teaching the truth then one must first know the truth in order to identify the church). But, I see no reason to believe that either of these are true about men, for example, like Keith Mathison and Francis Pieper. This makes their disagreement over an issue like baptism all the more frustrating to me.

Mark’s remarks here struck a chord with me, because it was this exact issue that forced me out of Protestantism. When the enormity of this problem finally hit home it was epiphanic in its force for me. I knew almost instantly that I could no longer remain a Protestant (at the time, I also said that there was no way that I would ever become a Catholic). I started writing a reply to Mark on the day his comment appeared, but I decided against posting it because I feared my reply would be off-topic for the Commonitory article’s comment box. This turns out to have been fortuitous, because I have the privilege of saying something in reply to Mark today.

Although I was baptized in the Lutheran church, Sunday worship was a rarity for us until my early teens when my mother experienced something of a spiritual awakening (she considered it her conversion) that bore fruit in her becoming a faithful member of a Free Methodist congregation. She started taking my brother and me with her to worship every week (although I think that “dragging us” probably more honestly characterizes my interest at the time). Her prayers for me were eventually answered a few years later when I embraced the Christian faith myself. In the interval a cross-country move meant that we needed a new church home, and the encouragement of a friend of mine led us to the PCA, whose doctrine I gladly received as reflecting scriptural truth.

In the course of time I evinced an interest in considering the pastorate, and my pastor encouraged me to think about attending Covenant College. I accepted his counsel, and though my enthusiasm for the ministry waned, I graduated with a degree in Biblical Studies. My great interests when I left Covenant were in biblical languages, covenant theology, and presuppositional apologetics. Subsequently I attended Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia for a year before getting married — something that proved to be the end of my educational career. Although friends would from time to time encourage me to finish my schooling, the best course of action seemed to lay elsewhere for me: I didn’t know for sure whether I ought to be a college professor, but I knew for a fact that I already had a calling to be a faithful husband and father. So I contented myself with serving as an adult Sunday School teacher on a regular basis and reading. And reading. And reading some more.

I won’t presume to say whether I deserved it or not, but I acquired a reputation with those who knew me as a well-informed layman. I earnestly tried to integrate what I read with what I believed the Bible to teach. I wasn’t content merely to know what I believed; I wanted to understand it as well as I could, and I wanted to be able to explain the truth to others as well.

There came a time when being a presuppositionalist inspired a goal: to discover unbiblical presuppositions that I held, and to root them out. This wasn’t something that I tried to do in one day, or in a week or even a month. The exigencies of work and family, to say nothing of my own weaknesses in the art — if that is the right word — of introspection, made this a long-term project to be pursued when I could. I couldn’t have imagined it at the time, but this earnest desire to think biblically — to think Christianly — would prove before very long to be the first step on my road to the Catholic Church.

The second step was my departure from the PCA in association with a cross-country move, which led us to a Reformed Episcopal Church parish. In retrospect I think that this was an important step for us, because it constituted a move away from my Presbyterian comfort zone. I had no intention at all of forsaking Reformed theology, but I was introduced to a wider world, so to speak, than the fairly insular Presbyterian communities I had always known and loved. I was introduced to conservative Anglican theological perspectives and began reading the Church Fathers. I was particularly struck by St. Ignatius’ remarks on the centrality of the bishop to the life and structure of the Church (something that has been discussed at Called To Communion here), and remember being both surprised by this fact and struck by how different his view was from what I had always believed.

The most critical event, though, occurred in early 2004. A friend mentioned that a gentleman named Thomas Howard would be speaking nearby. I knew nothing about him, so I looked him up on the internet. I found an interview of him conducted by Frank Schaeffer (Eastern Orthodox by that time). I no longer have access to the interview and have been unable to find it again online, but it inspired the following thoughts in an email to friends (redacted somewhat for the sake of brevity, and to preserve the privacy of one friend whose name is mentioned):

What — or who — is the final authority for the Church? For the Christian? I suppose I’ve made it pretty clear here many times what my view is: The Bible is the final authority, because it is God’s Word.

If we are going to say — if I am going to say — that the Bible is the final authority, what does the Bible say? How do we know what the Bible says? Who is going to tell me what the Bible says? My answer, and/or the Protestant answer, and the Roman Catholic answer, are different.

The Protestant basically decides for himself what the Bible says. Now that is very coarsely put: he may accept what he is taught by others, and he doesn’t just make it up out of whole cloth (well, normally he doesn’t), and he may (as my college Doctrine textbook said we ought to do) treat the opinions represented by 2,000 years of church history and theology with utmost respect in arriving at his conclusions, and he may use all the right hermeneutical tools to try to understand what the Bible says, and all good Protestants will say that they submit or try to submit to the instruction of the Holy Spirit while reading the Bible, and blah blah blah….

And yet the Protestant still makes up his mind for himself. It’s not hard to see, and it has been said many times before and by better minds than mine, that this is the root cause of the umpteen thousand different Protestant denominations in the world. And if I remember correctly Rome predicted this sort of thing as the inevitable consequence of individual believers being declared free to decide for themselves what the Bible says — what the truth is.

It’s not hard to see the validity in criticisms of Protestantism, which has become so disgracefully splintered thanks to elevation of the individual as the one who decides what The Truth is.

And as for me? Well, I suppose I’d wind up getting slapped with the criticisms leveled against the Protestants.

I don’t think even the Westminster Confession — surely a high-water mark for Protestant theology — entirely escapes the force of the problem. It says: “The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined; and in whose sentence we are to rest; can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.” (WCF, I:10).

Okay, that sounds good. But how do we know what He says?

Elsewhere in the same chapter they say: “Nevertheless we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word” (I:6).

Okay, sounds good. So how do we explain the fact that godly men differ about things?

Jimmy-Joe and I differ about at least one of the sacraments — surely not a thing we may describe as adiaphora. So has one of us not benefited from “the inward illumination of the Spirit of God?” Which one of us? Or, if someone decides that both he and I (or either one of us) are obviously not blessed with the Holy Spirit’s illuminating power at all, fine: that merely forces us to ask the same about men like, say, Luther and Calvin, or Owen and Wesley, or Spurgeon and Hodge.

How can men of unquestionable godliness arrive at different conclusions about what the Bible says on fundamental issues like the sacraments, if what the Westminster Confession says about illumination by the Spirit is true? Is the answer that the Spirit doesn’t illumine everyone in the same way and to the same degree?

But if that is the case, then it seems to pretty much demolish what the Confession says, and we’re back to asking the same ol’ question, put slightly differently this time: On question X, who has been more illumined by the Holy Spirit, so that we know who is right? [emphasis added]

So I was asking the same question in 2004 that Mark asked recently. And it hit me soon after writing that email that the problem is insoluble. On the Protestant’s terms, and given that Protestants disagree with each other about things that even they say are not matters of indifference, there is no way that I know of to preserve any certainty whatsoever about the Bible’s teaching.

Why? Consider the two (or possibly three) appeals made by Protestants to justify their statements as to what the Bible teaches.

  1. The appeal to exegesis: This is by far the most common resort among at least non-charismatic Protestants. But it goes almost without saying that exegesis doesn’t settle all the questions. There are brilliant scholars on practically every side of practically every disputed question. Is Calvin or Luther right about the Eucharist? Is Spurgeon wrong about Baptism? It would be one thing if we could reasonably say that Protestant differences do not extend to questions of essential or important doctrines. But we surely can’t say that. It seems both unjust and ad hoc to say that the reason “the other guys” get it wrong is because they are lousy scholars. Cannot “the other guys” say the same thing? Of course they can. And they do. Consequently it seems the inescapable conclusion must be that mere exegesis simply cannot bear the weight that is placed upon it by Protestants. Exegesis cannot answer all questions concerning important or even essential doctrines.It seems worthwhile to point out a related problem. The appeal to exegesis eventually has the practical effect of creating a government of the academics, so that the Church depends upon scholars for her knowledge of revealed truth. But it seems that there is neither historical nor scriptural warrant for such a thing. This is not to say that there is no place for exegesis, of course, but rather that it seems unwarranted for the scholar to be the arbiter of revealed truth.
  2. The appeal to the Holy Spirit: It is not unusual for Protestants to say that the Holy Spirit guides their interpretation of the Bible, at least in regard to essentials or important things. But this appeal runs up against the same problem as the appeal to exegesis: Baptists and Presbyterians and Lutherans may all make the same appeal. But God does not lie, and He is not the author of confusion. Consequently it cannot be the case that He has illumined the credobaptists and the paedobaptists, or the Lutheran view of the Eucharist and the Presbyterian view. One way to resolve that conflict is to deny that the Spirit has guided “the other guys” (and as we shall see this has been done), but “the other guys” can of course make the same claim about us. Stalemate. Hence as with the appeal to exegesis it seems clear that the appeal to the illumination of the Holy Spirit cannot answer all questions concerning important or even essential doctrines.
  3. The appeal to tradition: Some Protestants will occasionally appeal to the authority of some tradition or other as corroboration for their views. Among the Reformed this often takes the form of appeals to the Westminster standards. But in the long run this bare appeal does not resolve the problems related to how we know what the Bible teaches. In the first place, the centrality of the doctrine of sola scriptura means that Protestants who disagree with some tradition feel no obligation to accept it: they simply say, “that is a human tradition that contradicts the Bible.” Secondly, there are a variety of theological traditions among Protestants, of course. So how do we know that we should accept the Reformed or the Lutheran or the Baptist one? Appeals to exegesis or to the guidance of the Spirit run up against the problems we’ve pointed out above. So it seems on the Protestant’s terms that there is no principled way to identify the authentic tradition.

For these reasons, then, it seems that Protestantism cannot offer certainty about the Faith. The very best that could be hoped for is some sort of consensual agreement among them that this and not that are taught in the Bible. But of course the question then arises: which consensus? The Baptist one, or the Presbyterian-Lutheran-Anglican one? The Federal Vision one, or the PCA General Assembly one? And on what principled basis shall we choose?

Well…I think it is clear that no principled basis is possible on Protestantism’s terms, and that is why I broke with it seven years ago.

One alternative could be sought in the primacy of the individual conscience. But not even Luther, who rather famously made such a claim (“Here I stand”), could remain consistent with it in the long run:

Luther believed that if Scripture were studied with the aid of all linguistic and critical tools, its sense would become absolutely plain, and no honest and competent inquirer would fail to miss the meaning, because the Holy Spirit would guide him to the true sense. If there were actually divergent interpretations, one would have to be wrong, and the Spirit lacking in the case of him who erred (Bainton, The Reformation of the Sixteenth Century, p. 215).

So who is lacking the Spirit? And to say that about one’s theological adversaries is tantamount to saying that they’re probably not even Christian, because who but a non-believer would be lacking the Spirit’s guidance? It seems that this kind of thinking is why we sometimes see suggestions that “the other guy” is wrong either because he is ignorant or stupid (and consequently his exegesis is wrong), or that he is wicked (because his disagreement shows that he lacks the Spirit’s guidance and therefore can’t be a Christian).

And again:

Luther came to feel that the Holy Spirit was responsible not only for the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed but even for the Augsburg Confession. If the dissenter appealed to his conscience the reply was that conscience as such has no claims but only a right conscience. … Only the correct conscience therefore is to be respected (ibid.; emphasis in original).

Indeed. But who has the ‘correct conscience’?

Bainton’s observations are consistent with the remarks of historian H. Daniel-Rops:

For three centuries Protestantism has been unable to escape the dilemma: either the freedom of the Spirit which leads to anarchy, or else the acceptance of an orthodoxy which in substance is contrary to the spirit of the Reformation. (Our Brothers in Christ, p. 188)

The appeal to the primacy of the individual’s conscience certainly has Reformation precedence, but it is flatly inconsistent with the attempt to arrive at an objective Rule of Faith.

All of this being the case, I submit that it is unreasonable to say that certainty about the content of revealed truth is possible on these terms, because they inevitably reduce down to subjectivism. And when I realized this, I knew that my days as a Protestant were over. And though I had no intention on that day of becoming Catholic, it was only a matter of time before I knew that I would have to at least consider the Catholic Church’s claims concerning herself. The rest is history.

So what do the steps I mentioned at the beginning of this article have to do with this conclusion? Well, they constituted the framework within which I eventually arrived at it. At no time did I seek to question the Reformed Faith, nor was I dissatisfied with it. I was simply seeking the truth, and the Truth turned out to be rather different than I expected.

I remember thinking at the time something very similar to what Bryan wrote in comment #1206 here (Warning: that link is to the giant “Solo Scriptura” thread; I will quote the relevant snippet momentarily!). I had set for myself the goal of rooting out unbiblical presuppositions from my thinking, and it occurred to me then that with its emphasis upon the primacy of the individual conscience, it seemed that Protestantism in one sense amounted to a baptism of Renaissance Humanism: man makes himself the judge of Scripture, and its truth is reduced to what he can understand in it for himself. Years later Bryan would say, in the comment I just linked:

Protestantism is the daughter of Renaissance Humanism and the midwife of Enlightenment philosophy. In that time especially, men began to place their own reason above the divine authority of the Church.

Well, my goal was to think biblically, but I certainly didn’t expect to discover this as an unbiblical presupposition that I needed to remove! And what about St. Ignatius? Well, I came to wonder just how probable it could be that he — a likely student of St John himself — could have gotten ecclesiology wrong?

It seems that my path out of Protestantism can be reduced down to a single question. If I believe ‘X’ about doctrine ‘A’ (which cannot be a matter of indifference) and the Church (however you define it — I don’t think it matters at this point) teaches ‘Y’ about it such that X and Y are mutually exclusive, who is right? This one question demanded that I address the presuppositional question (“Do I really have standing to judge for myself what Scripture’s truth is?”), the historical question (“Is it really credible to think that the Church ‘‘blew it’ by the start of the second century?”), and obviously the authority questions I discussed in the email with my friends.

If I say that I am right, I have to ask how it is possible that the Church could be wrong. If the Church could be wrong, then we are left with ecclesial deism: I am forced to conclude that God does not preserve the Church (however it is defined) from error. But if that is the case there is likewise no reason to suppose that I have been preserved from error. Consequently there is no principled reason to suppose that I am right rather than the Church. But if this is the case, then there seems to be no way that I can know what God has revealed, and Protestantism’s claims about how we know revealed truth do not work. Consequently they are false.

So I think that this is a fair question to put to the Reformers. If the Catholic Church can be wrong in what she teaches, why should we accept what Luther and Calvin said instead?

109 comments
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  1. Fred,

    Thanks for the article. I am in the camp (as Andrew M. so aptly put it on a different thread) of the “theologically uncommitted”. Your story strikes a cord with me, as these are the issues that have led me to seriously reconsider my allegiance to Reformed PCA doctrine and to question some of my underlying Potestant presuppositions.

    In a separate thread John and I were hashing through the issues of identifying schism and heresy using Reformed ecclesiology and IP (John, if your following, forgive me for jumping threads). John commented that the councils at Chalcedon and Nicea yielded both orthodox and heretical interpretations of “two natures” and consubstantiality. I asked how we can tell the difference. John responded:

    “About your question, it depends on what you’re asking. As a disciplinary matter, it falls to the churches which receive the creeds and enforce them as terms of communion to determine which interpretations of the creedal language to accept and which to reject. On the other hand, if you mean who can tell whether a given interpretation is true to the apostolic faith, in principle any believer can, since the tradition from the apostles is public (the can of worms from the other thread).”

    It is the last sentence of this response that points to what you describe as the subjectivism inherent in Protestantism. If any believer can interpret Scripture and Tradition and arrive at an orthodox position, then how exactly is this done, and how is heresy identified with any degree of certainty and authority? (John, please chime in if your there!)

    All that being said, I have some real problems with the RCC. Some are at the visceral level, likely akin to the discomforts of a foreign land. However, some seem to strike at the heart of the RCC claims. For example, did you have any problems with the RCC claims to infallibility, and the way in which “development of doctrine” seems to be used at times as a catch all to explain away changes in doctrine over the centuries? One frequently cited example is the change in the way those outside the RCC are viewed post-Vatican II compared to earlier centuries. I know Bryan has discussed this on other threads, but I wonder about your thoughts/faith journey on this issue in particular.

    Burton

  2. Thanks for this guest post! I snagged the Frank Schaeffer interview of Thomas Howard a while ago and put it in google docs.

    A Conversation with Thomas Howard and Frank Schaeffer.”

  3. @Chad (#2), you win an Internet. Thank you very much for that link! :-)

    @Burton (#1), you ask good questions. I am at work now and unable to do much writing. I will attempt to do so this evening. Sorry for the delay.

    Fred

  4. […] The Accidental Catholic, A Conversion Story – Fred Noltie, Called to Communion […]

  5. Hi Burton,

    Good to “see” you again. Could you (or Fred Noltie) flesh out a bit more what you mean by subjectivism? Because knowledge is of an object by a subject, knowing has an ineliminable subjective aspect. There’s nothing vicious in that, nor in the fact that our judgments are, for the most part, corrigible.

    In Christ,
    John

  6. Burton, you wrote (#1):

    did you have any problems with the RCC claims to infallibility[?]

    The difficulties that I had were presumably typical ones: namely, was there Scriptural and historical warrant for it?

    Oddly enough, maybe, the question of Scriptural warrant was already largely settled for me by the time I began investigating the Catholic Church’s claims. I had by then begun to realize that the concluding question of my post really only has one reasonable answer: if the Church (again, not necessarily the Catholic Church at that point in my thinking) and I differ about something that cannot reasonably be described as adiophora, I am the one who must be mistaken. If the Church as a body cannot reliably discern the truth (by whatever means), it would have been flatly crazy for me to suppose that I could, given that the gates of hell will never prevail against the Church. Christ never made such promises to me as an individual. :-)

    In addition to this, there are what I recognized at the time at least two other passages that seemed to provide strong warrant for believing the Church to possess infallibility after some fashion:

    And whatsoever you shall bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever you shall loose on earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven. (Mt. 16:19)

    Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them: and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained. (John 20:23)

    Those passages basically constitute a promise from Christ Himself that in some way and in at least some circumstances, the Church’s actions on earth are “guaranteed” by God: He will honor those actions as though they were His own. If that is the case, then Christ must in some way protect the Church from acting in ways that would be subject to that promise but that He cannot guarantee. After all, God is not the author of evil. This was a strong indicator to me that it is reasonable to suppose that God must protect the Church in at least some circumstances. So the question of Scriptural warrant was not a difficult one for me.

    The other possible problem had to do with this question: is there evidence that would show the Catholic Church erred in circumstances where it seemed that it ought to be protected from error? Obviously I became satisfied that there is none. I think that a couple points are worth noting about this. First, in order to qualify as an occasion of actual error, the circumstances must be limited to those situations in which the Catholic Church actually claims to be protected from error by God. I think this is important, because during my investigations I came across at least one argument that self-consciously ignored this condition. Of course, if the Church errs in cases where it does not claim to be protected from error, this does not falsify its claims. The other thing that struck me as noteworthy was the remarkably small list of cases where the Church’s critics allege that it erred, something that even Jaroslav Pelikan apparently conceded:

    Those who argued against the Latin case were not entirely bereft of documentation for their counterclaim that Rome had not been absolutely right every single time, but the weight of the evidence for the astonishingly high average accumulated by the see of Peter sometimes proved to be all but overwhelming (Pelikan, The Spirit of Eastern Christendom, 150).

    As I said, though, I became satisfied that the Church’s defenders had made satisfactory arguments in defense of these cases.

    [Did you have any problems with] the way in which “development of doctrine” seems to be used at times as a catch all to explain away changes in doctrine over the centuries? One frequently cited example is the change in the way those outside the RCC are viewed post-Vatican II compared to earlier centuries.

    Presumably your concern is not with the idea of doctrinal development itself, but rather with cases where it seems to result in a contradiction of some sort? I did have some fairly serious difficulty with certain expressions in the Catechism that struck me as being universalistic in spirit and which consequently seemed contrary to what I thought the Church had always taught. I must give credit to Mike Liccione for helping me. His various essays, available here, here, and probably also here, helped me to understand things much better, so that these difficulties were basically resolved for me. It would better for you to read what he has to say than for me to present a potentially poor summary, so forgive me for not reinventing that wheel here.

    I hope that this helps!

    Fred

  7. […] out-of-this-world privilege of writing a guest post at the excellent Called to Communion website. Here it is. May God bless my feeble efforts for His glory and the good of His […]

  8. Hi John,

    You asked (in #5):

    Could you (or Fred Noltie) flesh out a bit more what you mean by subjectivism?

    I am not a philosopher, so I’m not able to do any justice to the philosophical niceties associated with technical distinctions about the meaning of subjective and objective. My point in the post where I used the term is that it is impossible on the terms described to rise above the level of personal opinion, and that this is demonstrated by the fact that Protestants do not agree about doctrinal issues that cannot reasonably be understood to be matters of indifference (nor even about what doctrinal issues rise above the level of matters of indifference, for that matter).

    Does that make things any clearer?

    Fred

  9. Hi Fred,

    Thanks for your answer. Would you mind defining “personal opinion”? No need to worry about philosophical niceties; I’m just curious about what you mean. I’ve discussed this topic in the past with Mike Liccione and others, and my impression is that opinion has at least a couple senses. One is connected to ecclesiology, specifically the ability to bind consciences; the other is connected to epistemology.

    Best,
    John

  10. Hi John,

    What I intend by my use of “personal opinion” is to distinguish what Protestants actually “get” by use of the means that they say they have for determining what truth is revealed in the Bible, from what they think that they get.

    They think that they get the truth that is revealed there. But because they do not have a reliable means for doing that (as I hope that I showed in the post), they cannot reliably identify revealed truth. Their chosen means cannot achieve that end, and as a result it is impossible to distinguish cases where their chosen means have worked from those where they haven’t. It is unreasonable to describe these unreliable results as reflecting revealed truth, and so it seems better to describe them as personal opinion.

  11. Fred,

    Thanks for the pointing me to Mike Liccione’s articles. I read the first two. They were helpful in providing an explanation for the RCC’s post Vatican II stance on EENS. In a nutshell, I read Mike as saying that the essential truth of EENS has not been contradicted because the pronouncements of US and CD and the reasonings of Aquinas did not account for realities that we now understand, namely those who are invincibly ignorant because they have never had the fullness of the truth presented to them, and that the more restrictive sense that is explicit in EENS pronouncements is still in full force for those who knowingly and willfully reject the Church. I can, however, see how Protestant critics can read these various documents (US, CD, Vat. II) and not be entirely convinced by Mike’s explanation. Also, Mike’s three part hermeneutic presents problems for me. I am not sure why I, as a Protestant, should accept the authority or the “charism of the magisterium” or adopt a “hermeneutic of trust” towards the church whose very claims I am attempting to investigate. I do, by the way, fully agree with the concept of development of doctrine.

    I also recognize that my (or any critic’s) agreement or disagreement with Mike’s explanation has no bearing on its truthfulness, especially when the critic (yours truly) has no formal training in these matters! As someone who is sincerely trying to discern the Truth follow it, I am very open to a reasonable explanation of this apparent contradiction, and I appreciate the recognition of many contributors at CTC that this issue represents a sincere hurdle for Protestants like myself.

    Burton

  12. Hello Burton,

    I am not sure why I, as a Protestant, should accept the authority or the “charism of the magisterium” or adopt a “hermeneutic of trust” towards the church whose very claims I am attempting to investigate.

    I guess it depends upon what you mean by accepting that authority. I think that is reasonable to try, as much as you can, to judge the Church’s claims on its own terms rather than on Protestant ones: do they hold up when considered in their own light or not? If they do, then I think you have good reason to seriously think about becoming Catholic.

    I don’t think anyone would expect you to literally accept that authority before you have judged that it is reasonable to do so. That would be genuinely question-begging! But it would also beg the question if you were to judge the Church’s claims on Protestant terms while seeking to know whether Catholic claims are internally coherent or self-consistent. The Church said at Vatican I:

    there can never be any real disagreement between faith and reason, since it is the same God who reveals the mysteries and infuses faith, and who has endowed the human mind with the light of reason.

    Between the two faith is primary, but it is never contrary to reason.

    The other thing that I think might be worth mentioning in this regard is Pontificator’s Ninth Law:

    If a Catholic cannot name at least one article of faith that he believes solely on the basis of the authoritative teaching of the Magisterium, he’s either a saint or a Protestant.

    Okay, you’re not Catholic. But if the day comes when you wonder whether you might need to become one, you might be suffering from uncertainty arising from the fact that there will be things that you don’t understand. That is when the Ninth Law comes into play. The Christian Faith is a revealed religion because there are some things that we need to know that we could never figure out on our own. God does not expect us to understand everything He has revealed; He expects us to believe it on His authority. We may certainly pray that we might understand more (and this is faith seeking understanding), but we shouldn’t let difficulty in understanding some things stand in the way of believing what God has revealed. If we do that, the effect is to act as a Protestant (hence the Ninth Law). Because the Protestant considers the Bible to teach only what he understands it to teach, he rejects things in it that don’t make sense to him and concludes that the Bible couldn’t possibly teach them. So if you someday conclude that the Church’s claims about itself are true, and that it really does have the authority that it claims, it is reasonable at that point to try to understand what you can and to accept what you don’t understand on the basis of faith.

    I hope that this is helpful to you. May God bless you on your way.

    Fred

  13. Burton,

    Maybe I’m just a romantic, but I tend to think about the Anselmian maxim “faith seeking understanding”. Anyone who is considering Catholicism, I argue, should first answer the most basic question, and to your credit, it appears that you are working towards an answer. The question is, “Is the Catholic Church the Church that Jesus Christ established”? If it is, the nature of the journey to understanding various doctrinal positions takes on an entirely different color. The “hermeneutic of trust” is simply another name for “faith seeking understanding”. The reverse movement is the lonely road to pride. The proper movement is not some type of vicious circularity, but rather our genuine pursuit of God who is Truth. We should never divorce the two for when we do we end up in a desert of self-despair, doubt or fear–or even worse: the illusion of self-sufficiency. Sometimes we need to be in the desert, but our only hope to escape the labyrinth of our own mind is to reach out and touch the hem of his garment, to pursue our Creator, to trust the Lord and lean not on our own understanding.

    It is what Peter did when Christ told his listeners that day to “eat his flesh and drink his blood”. “Faith seeking understanding”, “hermeneutic of trust”, call it what you may, but Peter’s reply was indicative that he knew who Christ was–“where can I go, you have the words of life”. So, too, when you can answer that fundamental question about who the Church is, you will trust her like a good son.

    And isn’t it really what it’s all about? To say, “I, with Peter, believe in Christ.”

    Peace to you on your journey,

    Brent

  14. Fred and Brent,

    Thank you both for your responses. As I have prayed and thought and read, I have come to the conclusion that there is really only one question to be answered: to which authority will I submit my mind, my heart, my will? I have been troubled by the Protestant answer to this question for the very reason that it doesn’t require me to submit to anything with which I disagree. If I do become Catholic, I sincerely hope that I would do so while in a state of disagreement with at least some of the Church’s doctrine and practice.

    So, as I mentioned, the issue for me becomes the scriptural, historical, logical, and epistemological plausibility of the Catholic claim to be the Church instituted by Christ.

    It is also a helpful reminder that an ironclad argument is an unattainable goal, especially for someone who is prone to read and think more than pray!

    John,
    To answer your question about what I mean by subjectivity or personal opinion:

    1. If I am, in principle, able as an individual to correctly ascertain the orthodox sense of the Apostolic Deposit (Scripture and the Creeds), then at a practical level I will “submit” myself only to the church that aligns itself with the orthodoxy I have already defined for myself.

    2. If I am able as an individual to define the orthodox sense of the AD, I will choose the canon of Scripture which I believe to best fit the historical data, and, in principle, I will not err in that choice. I personally do not trust my ability to make that choice with the necessary degree of certainty, and I am not willing to take Martin Luther’s or St. Jerome’s or St. Augustine’s word for it.

    3. As my wife and I make decisions about the size of our family, we need council regarding the use of contraception. The most we get is the suggestion to pray about it, seek God’s will together. Is this a matter of indifference to the point that each couple can decide for themselves? How would we know? Is there no authority that can speak into this decision?

    I know some of the issues raised in these examples have been dealt with exhaustively on other threads, but this is the best way for me to define what seems to me to be the inherently subjective or perhaps “soft relativism” inherent in Protestantism.

    Thanks again for your helpful responses.

    Burton

  15. Burton in #11,
    You said: “I am not sure why I, as a Protestant, should accept the authority or the “charism of the magisterium” or adopt a “hermeneutic of trust” towards the church whose very claims I am attempting to investigate.”

    Don’t. By all means put the Church through the wringer while you investigate her for inconsistencies. She can handle it. But once you discover the miracle that is the 2000 year old spotless bride of Christ, please don’t continue to put her through the ringer with every little thing she says. ;-) (Needing everything to be infallibly stated etc.) I think that is perhaps what Mike L. was driving at.

    I did the layman’s study of her, read a half dozen books on each side of the sola S. debate, and then started out to find the inevitable historical stains of the Church contradicting herself. I mean after 2000 years of men you think that would be easy, right? I ended up on my knees on the other side of the Tiber, begging for forgiveness (been here since Dec. 19). The story of the miraculous preservation from error in the chair of Peter is historically bizarre. It sticks out from normal human history like a sore thumb. Hair-on-back-of-neck sticking up stuff. I personally found it to be insanely miraculous at points. And 2000 years is far to long for any conspiracy of that magnitude, and if it was a conspiracy of the Enemy, then the gates of Hell have prevailed and we are all lost anyway (impossible of course). But if you read that story without bias, I am confident you will become Catholic.
    As for the EENS/Vatican 2 issue, my 2 cents: Just because invincible ignorance is a possibility does not mean it is likely. Vatican 2 (the actual document) in my laymans understanding just stated that God can do what he wants. That is not a new doctrine at all. He is not limited to ordinary means.

    But man is not made for the sabbath, and likewise man is not made for the sacraments. If anyone is saved, it is through the sacraments of the Catholic Church, yes. But it is God that does the saving. My unasked for advice, don’t get too hung up on it. The main point is God can do what He wants, which the Church has always known since the unbaptized Dismas died on the cross next to our Lord.

    Another thing that personally helped me while I was in the no-mans-land between Reformed and Catholic(?) was praying my first Hail Mary in a moment of need. Suffice it to say I never again questioned that previously “strange” area of Catholicism known as the communion of saints.

    I will pray for you Burton, please pray for me.

    -David Meyer

  16. Sorry I had to pipe in again.
    Burton said:
    “As my wife and I make decisions about the size of our family, we need council regarding the use of contraception. The most we get is the suggestion to pray about it, seek God’s will together. Is this a matter of indifference to the point that each couple can decide for themselves?”

    Contraception is a grave moral evil. I felt that way even as a Reformed Protestant, but of course could not force “my opinion” on other couples who I saw desecrating their marriages by it. The fact that most conservative Protestants are ok with even murderous forms of contraception like the pill, which is an abortifacient, is proof that the rudderless Protestant pirate ships are captained by each individual, and not the God of their scripture. This issue was yet another proof for me on my way to Rome of the miraculous nature of the Church. To their shame, even Eastern Orthodoxy caved on contraception.

    Peter is the lone hold out yet again!

    God help and bless our Pope who stands against that evil tide!

    -David M.

  17. Fred,
    Thank you for the blog post. I think your story and arguments are helping me sort out the questions I have. I have almost reached the same conclusion that you have, namely:

    On the Protestant’s terms, and given that Protestants disagree with each other about things that even they say are not matters of indifference, there is no way that I know of to preserve any certainty whatsoever about the Bible’s teaching.

    What’s holding me back? I guess I’m just trying to be careful and not too quick to trust my own judgment : ).

    Burton: I am also in the “theologically uncommitted” camp. I have benefitted greatly from John’s interaction with you, Michael, and others on this site. Above, you quoted John as saying,

    “About your question, it depends on what you’re asking. As a disciplinary matter, it falls to the churches which receive the creeds and enforce them as terms of communion to determine which interpretations of the creedal language to accept and which to reject. On the other hand, if you mean who can tell whether a given interpretation is true to the apostolic faith, in principle any believer can, since the tradition from the apostles is public (the can of worms from the other thread).”

    I share many of the same questions you have when faced with comments like that. Which churches have made the correct decisions about what to accept and reject from the councils and creeds? How would I identify them accurately? I know I can find men of far superior education, intelligence, and holiness in comparison to me to answer these questions, but their answers will contradict one another. I can form an opinion about who’s right, but then how am I to know that my opinion is orthodox? Doesn’t God want it to be clear what is and isn’t orthodox?

    This leads me to a specific question for you, Burton, in response to something you said above to Fred,

    Mike’s three part hermeneutic presents problems for me. I am not sure why I, as a Protestant, should accept the authority or the “charism of the magisterium” or adopt a “hermeneutic of trust” towards the church whose very claims I am attempting to investigate.

    From what I think I have learned from Michael, I would say that one reason to accept this authority is that, if true, it gets us beyond the level of opinion about the content of apostolic faith. Protestantism, in contrast, can never get us beyond the level of opinion. But, since Christianity is about accepting divinely revealed truth by faith (of course this acceptance is not a fideistic acceptance), we have to have a vehicle that gets us beyond the level of opinion. If so, Protestantism is not a viable option, regardless of whether Catholicism is true or not. Do you agree? If not, I would really like to know your reasons because I have found your engagement with others on these issues to be rather helpful.
    Thanks,
    Mark

  18. Hello Mark,

    Thank you for your kind comments, and thank you for providing me a starting point for the post. :-) May God bless you as you seek to be faithful to Him.

    Fred

  19. Fred and I attended the same PCA Church briefly in 2002 here in Minnesota. I was newly Reformed, and he soon moved so we never had a chance to connect. But we shared some of the same friends and elders. I was there for 8 years and it is a really great tight knit community of godly people.

    I find it so strange (yet reasuring) that so many Reformed people from my past end up Catholic (and 2 have become E. Orthodox). And they all do it for the same primary reason, which is the reason of Fred and MarkS in this post.
    8 years in a Reformed Church and you see a lot of people come and go to and from different churches and traditions, believe me. That is what planted the seed of conversion for me. I could not stand the claimed authority on the one hand, and the absolute anarchy of subjectivism on the other. When I was confused about paedocommunion, whether it is right or wrong, the consistent answer I got (and get) is that I should go where I feel is right. Huh? That’s not authority! When the Federal Vision controversy broke out I saw the complete inability of intelligent and godly people to come to consensus as to what was true. When they did form their battle lines, I could not tell which side to join. I loved men on both sides (Horton/Wilson)! I wanted them to provide something more than opinion to sway me, but alas, they broke my heart. I saw my friends in the Federal Vision camp leave the “authority” of our session to form their own Church. When I saw this happen before my very eyes, I could never again take the authority of Reformed churches seriously.

    The emperor had no clothes.

    Oh, they had authority… once you chose to be under it. But it was very clear that it was up to you if you wanted to be under it. I don’t trust myself enough to play that game.

    Fred, great post, and God bless you. Next time your in the Twin Cities, let’s get together.

    David M.

  20. Can I please hear a Catholic admit that there is still epistemological uncertainty within Catholicism? Please?

    The way RC has been presented one would assume that all of the modern hermeneutical and epistemological issues are resolved by the Roman bishop.

    David, you said:

    “When I was confused about paedocommunion, whether it is right or wrong, the consistent answer I got (and get) is that I should go where I feel is right. Huh? That’s not authority! When the Federal Vision controversy broke out I saw the complete inability of intelligent and godly people to come to consensus as to what was true. When they did form their battle lines, I could not tell which side to join. I loved men on both sides (Horton/Wilson)! I wanted them to provide something more than opinion to sway me, but alas, they broke my heart. I saw my friends in the Federal Vision camp leave the “authority” of our session to form their own Church.”

    This is the nature of theological conversation. Brilliant men disagree and answers are difficult. Nestorius was brilliant, many Arians made incredibly sophisticated arguments. Even after Nicea Arianism GREW! But they were not considered orthodox. The question I ask you is, did they argued they way that you have? Was an appeal to the Roman bishop utilized or even sufficient for those debates?

    The reason I point this out is not even to address the issue full scale–namely, whether or not the Church provides a better epistemological framework than Sola Scriptura–but to ask that the caricatures being painted are overly-simplistic. Rome does not and has not provided such epistemological easiness as assumed in David’s response–even on RC grounds.

  21. RefProt –

    Not sure if this comment will help the discussion, but I think the main issue is that Catholics and Protestants are in a totally different epistemological situation altogether.

    Before we talk about which Church is correct, let’s back up a second and ask which Churches should we even evaluate as being correct. Although I’m a cradle Catholic I did some theological exploring in college and thought it was always strange that protestants wouldn’t claim that their Church was authoritative. If Jesus did, in fact, start a Church that was to be authoritative wouldn’t that authoritative Church actually claim to be authoritative?

    If no Church is authoritative, then Solo Scriptura seems to me the only reasonable position a Christian can hold. If the Church is authoritative, then why don’t more Churches claim to have authority this authority? This seems to have been the issue that David had with the PCA.

    But to answer your question, I admit to not having epistemological certainty that Catholicism is the “one true Church.” I just think it is, by far, the most likely to be that Church. In my opinion, (and I stress that it is only an opinion) I don’t think God wants us to have epistemelogical certainty. I think he always wants us to have that little bit of uncertainty so that we can trust him.

    Imagine a little kid teetering on the edge of the diving board for the first time. He sees a man standing clear on the other side of the pool calling out “I’ll catch you if you jump.” Then, he sees another man swimming right underneath the diving board saying, “I’ll catch you if you jump.” He can’t truly be certain about either man’s claim, but he can be much more certain that the guy under the diving board will deliver on his promise with greater certainty than the man on the other side of the pool. The kid can’t be certain that either man will catch him, but he can put his trust in one of them.

    I hope the analogy is clear.

    Fr. Bryan

  22. RefProt,
    Happy Friday sir. So what kind of “RefProt” are you? (just curiosity, not trying to pry)

    I may reply more later, but I wanted to point out a particular falsity:
    “Rome does not and has not provided such epistemological easiness as assumed in David’s response–even on RC grounds.”

    First let me answer your other question by stating, yes “there is still epistemological uncertainty within Catholicism”. There is in everything. I will defer to Mike L, Ray S, or Bryan on this. For me as a layman though, it is orders of magnitude different as a Catholic. My Paedocom example still stands.

    Is it a big issue? ??? (It was a huge issue to me)
    Is Paedocom OK to do or not? ???

    Two simple questions that NO Reformed commentator could/can objectively answer, nor did they even attempt to discipline me on that issue. So I was left to figure it out on my own.

    A Catholic knows the answers immediately.

    NO to the first question.
    Yes to the second.

    Ahhh. Sweet answers! Sweet Dogma please tell a layman like me what to believe!

    Is there still some epistemological glasses I have on, oh yeah. And there is more to the story of determining if “Rome” is that Church. But the Church should be able to define doctrine, if it can’t, I feel really confident it is not the Church. No Reformed church can define doctrine. If they cannot even tell me an obvious evil like contraception is gravely evil, but instead leave it up to me if I want to commit grievous sin, what will they tell me with any confidence? They would let me wiggle out and go elsewhere if I disagree anyway. That cannot be the true Church. The true Church 1. knows what is important, and 2. will excommunicate you if it is.

    Peace to you,

    David Meyer

  23. “This is the nature of theological conversation. Brilliant men disagree and answers are difficult.”

    So what is the end game of this “conversation” on paedocom or contraception in the Reformed camp? If Paedocom (or contraception) is a big issue, how will that be promulgated to the untrained Reformed breeder mouse in the pew like me? Tell me how that looks in the real world. Please be specific.

    “Brilliant men disagree and answers are difficult.”
    No, you are quite mistaken. Answers are as easy as “Yes.” or “No.” Answers are difficult for you or me, yes, but they are not difficult for Christ. And when I “tell it to the Church” like Jesus says I should, and the Church shrugs its shoulders and tells me to decide, that is a clue to me that Jesus is not in that Church.
    If I ask my session if contraception is a grave sin or not, the answer is either “Yes.” or “No.” If they choose to discuss it in presbyery and it becomes an issue, you know full well what would happen. Split. One side of the issue either splits the denom. or they absorb into another denom.

    So again I ask, how would it look in the real world to see a resolution on these issues in the Reformed camp?

    Compare your answer with the Catholic Church’s answer:
    (From the VADEMECUM FOR THE USE OF CONFESSORS 2:4)

    The Church has always taught the intrinsic evil of contraception, that is, of every marital act intentionally rendered unfruitful. This teaching is to be held as definitive and irreformable. Contraception is gravely opposed to marital chastity; it is contrary to the good of the transmission of life (the procreative aspect of matrimony), and to the reciprocal self-giving of the spouses (the unitive aspect of matrimony); it harms true love and denies the sovereign role of God in the transmission of human life.

    That is the kind of answer the Church should be expected to give to a young couple.

    Peace,

    David Meyer

  24. Hi,

    Thanks for this post. I’ve just come across this site and am fascinated. Very much a protestant (and considered relatively high church among my peers), but open to persuasion.

    How would you respond to the objection that you’ve just moved the question on a stage? What I mean is, that while you might have solved the question “How can I know (authoritatively) what the Bible says?” by an appeal to the authority of the Church, haven’t you simply moved the authority question to “How can I (authoritatively) know which is the true Church?”? Given that more than one Church makes the claims for herself that Rome makes (most prominently the East), doesn’t it come down to you weighing the evidence for those claims and making your mind up which one you think is the true one? Isn’t that, sort of, what you are asking us to do here? And is that really so different to weighing the evidence for one exegetical stance against that of the others and coming to a judgement the way Protestants do?

    I’m not simply trying to engage in polemics here, it’s obvious from what you write that you at least gave some thought Eastwards. I’m not so much asking for why you picked Rome over Constantinople (though that would certainly be an interesting conversation) so much as whether methodologically what you did is much different to what I do when I make my ecclesial decisions? To put it another way (though I fear I am already being verbose) what makes you so sure you picked the right Church to submit to and what does your answer tell you about your methodology?

    Many thanks for the work you’re doing. It’s so self evidently an attempt to serve people like me, and I appreciate that.

    Ed

  25. David said:

    “I saw my friends in the Federal Vision camp leave the “authority” of our session to form their own Church. When I saw this happen before my very eyes, I could never again take the authority of Reformed churches seriously.”

    1) Uh, how do you propose they should have stopped them?
    2) People leave the Catholic Church all the time, in fact, lots of them according to the latest studies so why doesn’t that count against Catholicism? You’re being inconsistent.
    3) Authority has nothing to do with people leaving a church/denomination since even the Catholic Church which claims authority is losing members like a sieve. Your argument is emotionally based, not logically based.

    “Oh, they had authority… once you chose to be under it. But it was very clear that it was up to you if you wanted to be under it. I don’t trust myself enough to play that game.”

    And that is different from Catholicism how?

  26. Mark,

    In answer to your question, I would say that Protestantism is fast becoming an inviable option for me. There are truly two separate questions, and unfortunately I think many people tangle the two in their minds and hearts.

    1. Is the Protestant paradigm “workable” or “viable” in providing an authority that has some real claim on me, especially when I am wrong, either doctrinally or morally. I think this is where Fred is going with his comments about the inability of Protestantism to rise above the level of individual opinion. The frequent Protestant response is, “yeah, but you’re no better” (tu quoque? look what I’ve learned just by hanging out at CTC!). Unfortunately, this never serves to answer the question.

    2. If the Protestant paradigm cannot define orthodoxy reliably for joe-six-pack Christians like me, then who can? More specifically, is the RCC’s claim Biblically, logically, historically, epistemologically likely? For now, all I can say is more likely than the Protestant.

    I don’t think the tu quoque (Ed, Steve G) is irrelevant, it simply avoids an important question.

    Ed and Steve G,
    I don’t think anyone would argue that we don’t use our own reason and judgement to decide the authority to which we will submit (I think Mike Liccione deals with this on some thread, but I could be mistaken) but I do see a tremendous difference in the nature of and practical implication of authority in the Protestant versus Catholic sense.

    Burton

  27. Ed,

    And is that really so different to weighing the evidence for one exegetical stance against that of the others and coming to a judgement the way Protestants do?

    Let’s take two steps backwards. How does one come to trust that who Christ says he is, is in fact who he says he is? There is evidence and there is faith. Grace as well. Right? Jesus said he was sent by the Father and he said that he was sending the Apostles very much in the same way. So, we might ask, how do we determine if the Catholic Church is that Church that Jesus sent/established? Remember, both Christ and His Church are personal, not just mere propositions.

    There is evidence, grace, and faith. If by accepting Christ, we come to know the Father, and Christ said that by accepting His Church one accepts Him; it is not fair to divorce this particular pursuit from the life of faith and love. When one asks the question, “Could this be His Church,” what immediately follows is not an inquisition (it may be) but rather should be a pursuit of God–of Truth itself. The Church is not the pursuit of the right or best computer chip manufacturer, but of whether or not she is, in fact, the Bride of Christ. On my journey, once I understood Her claim, much like Christ, she had to either be “it” or a mad church leading men and women to hell.

    However, assuming now that we are believers in Christ and members of His Church (or some church), the project looks completely different. Determining what a true sacrament is, how and when one is to be baptized, what the Eucharist is, and all of the other doctrines of Christianity is different inquiry.

    What I think you are acknowledging, and rightly so, is that all belief requires personal assent. I must believe, there is no replacement for that, and so in some sense we all must know personally that which we believe. However, once in the Church, the movement is no longer singular. I comprehend God’s love “with all the saints”, and so I must acknowledge who Christ is and who His Church is–the ground and pillar of truth.

    The claim you make, and one that I hear often, has the unintended consequence of proving that all believers, of any kind of belief–Christian or otherwise–are in the same epistemic boat. However, what it fails to consider is the nature of our sources of information–the difference between Christ say and Krishna. Yes, we all must make a personal commitment to believe anything, but that does not mean that we all have equally valid or authoritative beliefs. And that is precisely to the distinction Mike has made on other threads regarding the Catholic interpretative paradigm that allows you and I–lay, semi-educated (speaking for myself), prone to error Christians–to get to dogmatic truth not just mere opinion. Truth that can set us free from self reliance, doubt and fear.

    In Christ,

    Brent

  28. Hello Ed,

    Thanks for your comments. Unfortunately I will be unable to attempt to answer your questions until sometime tomorrow. Sorry for the delay. :-(

    Fred

  29. David,

    You wrote:

    “No, you are quite mistaken. Answers are as easy as “Yes.” or “No.” Answers are difficult for you or me, yes, but they are not difficult for Christ. And when I “tell it to the Church” like Jesus says I should, and the Church shrugs its shoulders and tells me to decide, that is a clue to me that Jesus is not in that Church.
    If I ask my session if contraception is a grave sin or not, the answer is either “Yes.” or “No.” If they choose to discuss it in presbtyery and it becomes an issue, you know full well what would happen. Split. One side of the issue either splits the denom. or they absorb into another denom.”

    To clarify the point I was trying to make, think of the Council of Nicea. Was it really as simple as a yes or no on Christ “being when there was not”? Well you could say on one level yes, but that is not the way the debate unfolded. It was a long arduous process where many bishops even disregarded the decision of Nicea (or badly interpretted it, leading to Constantinople). Now you and I both agree that these bishops were wrong. The point I am driving at is that even if I grant your position, it is not as simple as it seems. Thus my point is that the epistemological weight is not relieved by Rome, just placed on different shoulders.

    But I will take your example with paedo-communion. It is out of bounds with the Reformed Confessions and biblically and historically suspect. The primary problem is not that people disagree, but the ground upon which they disagree. This is why the General Assemblies of Reformed churches have regarded Paedo-communion as unacceptable on biblical and confessional bounds.

    As a RC you may not need to have this conversation because it is decided. For example, you have similar conversations with universalist interpretations of Vatican II. Are they consistent with the heart of Vatican II? Maybe, maybe not, but they exist nonetheless. How do you decide the validity of either side? By appealing to the proper reading of a text.

    You have simply traded in some sets of questions for others that ultimately rely on your own ability to exegete a text or tradition. This does not necessarily defeat the Roman claim because you can argue that you have historical and biblical precedent for the right to rely on Rome. But your argument is against the epistemic foundations of Protestantism and I find this analysis to be grossly over-simplified.

  30. Fr. Bryan,

    I think you actually do answer my question and I appreciate your willingness to admit that you do not have epistemic certainty. This doesn’t invalidate your claims (and certainly the issue of sola and solo scriptura factor in) but I think that it at least shows that neither Protestant nor Catholic claims infallible knowledge in themselves.

  31. Ed,

    You might find your answers here . . .

    http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2010/05/the-tu-quoque/

    http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2011/02/son-of-a-tu-quoque/

  32. Ed,

    As it turns out David P has probably answered your question more succinctly than I would have been able to do, in #31 above.

    However, there are a couple other things that might be worth saying which are somewhat related.

    You asked:

    How would you respond to the objection that you’ve just moved the question on a stage?

    My basic response is that I wasn’t attempting to move anything. :-) The purpose of the post is to briefly describe how I came to realize that Protestantism’s means for identifying revealed truth in the Bible do not work. By that I mean that it is impossible by means of them to distinguish revealed truth from human opinion. The question whether the Catholic’s means for doing this is in some way subject to the exact same criticism is one that I did not intend to address.

    There are two aspects to my answer to you. First: as I and others have said, it’s not possible to provide an airtight syllogism in defense of Christianity at all, just because it is a revealed religion. There are things that we can never “get” by reason, and so “proof” in the form of some rational demonstration will always escape us in some sense. For the Catholic this fact is the reason for the necessity of the divinely-infused virtue of faith, by which we assent and submit to the truth God has revealed on the basis of His authority.

    Second: although I do not think that the Catholic is in the exact same position, I would concede that we would be in the same situation if we made the same sort of appeal. My saying that Mt. 16 provides scriptural evidence for the papacy could be met by a scholar who says otherwise, for example. But an important difference is that these are not the sole means available to the Catholic for learning what truths God has revealed. Because the Church has authority from God to proclaim the truth with authority, we are not left to ourselves to figure out what that truth is.

    It might be objected that this simply moves the locus of the problem from interpreting Scripture to interpreting what the Magisterium says, but the two situations are not analogous. They are not analogous because the Magisterium is people who are able to explain what they mean. Here is a comment from Bryan Cross which contains a relevant snippet from the Solo Scriptura post. As he says there, “because of the ontological difference between person and book, the Catholic with a living Magisterium is not in the same epistemic situation as the Protestant who remains his own ultimate interpretive authority with respect to Scripture.”

    I hope this helps.

    Fred

  33. David M.,

    At #15 you wrote:

    “The story of the miraculous preservation from error in the chair of Peter is historically bizarre. It sticks out from normal human history like a sore thumb. Hair-on-back-of-neck sticking up stuff. I personally found it to be insanely miraculous at points.”

    Do you have any resources you could point me to? This subject, as you may have gathered, is a real sticking point for me and comes up frequently when I discuss my journey with fellow Protestants. As one close friend recently told me, all it takes is one instance of contradiction (between instances when Rome claims infallibility) and the whole RCC house of cards comes down.

    thanks,

    Burton

  34. Burton,

    You wrote:

    As one close friend recently told me, all it takes is one instance of contradiction (between instances when Rome claims infallibility) and the whole RCC house of cards comes down.

    That is a rather prejudicial way to state the case! The same could be said for any putative infallible source; e.g., “all it takes is one instance of contradiction (between instances which someone claims are part of the Bible) and the whole Bible-is-divine-revelation house of cards comes down.”

    In fact, what we find in the teaching of the Catholic Church, as regards supposed instances of contradiction, is analogous to what we find in Sacred Scripture, regarding the same. Critics cry “contradiction!” while believers see logically compatible variation, development, contextual differences, differences in idiom, cultural norms, etc.

    Others can give more specific accounts of the consistency of the Catholic Church, as they see this manifested in time. I will simply say that the lived experience of the believing Catholic is similar to that of any Bible believer, insofar as he is aware that there are numerous academic (and other) critics who argue that his faith is undermined by the facts of history, as interpreted critically.

    My point is this: If you hold to biblical inerrancy, then you will probably not be impressed when someone seeks to dissuade you from that position via the “it only takes one contradiction” kind of remark, which in and of itself is a rather transparent scare tactic. The real thing is to discuss concrete instances of supposed contradictions among Bible passages, and (for the Catholic) among infallibly taught doctrines.

  35. Andrew: I have been following this thread (and reading CTC) for a while but this is my first post. Like Burton, I’m questioning my PCA convictions, and specifically agree with his comments to John in #14. Burton’s question/comment in #33 is entirely fair — if there is a legitimate instance of contradiction in purportedly infallible Catholic teaching, then there is good reason for the inquiring protestant to reject the Church’s claims. I fully agree with your point in #34 that the supposed “contradictions” in Scripture can all be dealt with, but it is entirely legitimate to ask if the same is true of the teachings of the Magisterium. I also appreciate your point that a focus of inquiry ought to be on contradictions between Scripture and the Magisterium (so far, I have not found any) but if the Magisterium is to be believed one must also expect no internal contradictions.

    So, my question is the same as Burton’s: what resources can I consult for support of the Catholic claim of preservation of error in the chair of Peter?

  36. RefProt (re: 29),

    you have simply traded in some sets of questions for others that ultimately rely on your own ability to exegete a text or tradition. This does not necessarily defeat the Roman claim because you can argue that you have historical and biblical precedent for the right to rely on Rome. But your argument is against the epistemic foundations of Protestantism and I find this analysis to be grossly over-simplified.

    I was thinking about your overall argument and I think, if true, it applies just as well against belief in the inspiration of the Bible as it does against Catholicism. Do you agree? If you will indulge me, I will illustrate with a story:

    Suppose a reformed Christian, let’s call him Bob, begins to question his belief in the inspiration of the New Testament. He tells his friends that while he knows there are biblical and historical reasons to believe the NT is inspired, he thinks these reasons do not amount to proof that it is true, so he is thinking that inspiration is just an opinion. His friends point out to him that if the Bible is not inspired, then we have no absolutely trustworthy record of perspicuous truth about Jesus Christ and therefore cannot know with certainty any of the truths of the faith. Bob tells them that since inspiration is only an opinion, there is no epistemic advantage for Christians who believe it is true versus those who do not. His friends tell Bob that since He believes Jesus Christ came to bring the truth to the world, his denial of inspiration makes what Christ did of little consequence because he can never get beyond the level of opinion on what the faith teaches. Bob tells them that this is just the way life is. He says that we investigate evidence and form opinions. The desire to get beyond opinion is simply impossible and naive. Bob says that Christians should pray, read the bible, study history and trust that the true sheep will hear the voice 0f Christ. The friends argue that prayer and study are helpful, but without an inspired Bible, there is no ultimate standard for assessing the truth claims that people profess, including the idea that the true sheep will hear the voice of Christ. The friends tell Bob that his view makes Christianity, at best, just an abstract theory that is of no value in the real world because not only might Christianity be untrue, but we cannot even know what Christianity is. Bob gets frustrated and asks, “Can I please hear a believer in Biblical inspiration admit that there is still epistemic uncertainty in their position?” The friends acknowledge this is so, but contend that people of Christian faith believe God is good and loving and wants all of his people, from the simplest lay person to the highest scholar to know what truths they are to believe even if they will not all have equal understanding of these truths. God would not leave us without a trustworthy record of this truth. Therefore, there is more certainty about God’s truth for Christians who accept Biblical Inspiration than for those who do not.

    Ref Prot, if you do agree that your position works just as well against Inspiration, maybe you think this is not a problem. But I think it is an enormous problem. We are dealing with matters of divine revelation that while unreasonable, must ultimately be believed by faith. I’m not talking about a fideistic leap, but the sort of submissive faith that says, “Lord, you said it, therefore I believe it.” But, if we never get beyond the level of opinion about what the Lord says, I don’t see how we ever reach the level of faith. The Protestant world essentially says, “here are our well-informed, fallible, and mutually exclusive opinions that centuries of highly educated and devoted Christians have not been able to settle, so Christian you should pray, study, follow what you think is best, but don’t ever say that you have reached infallible truth on any matter.” But faith is not our best opinion about something. It is assurance and confidence in what we hope for that is yet unseen (Heb 11).

    Best,
    Mark

  37. AC,

    Perhaps my previous comment was not clear. I was not alluding to perceived contradictions between Scripture and the teachings of the Catholic Church. I was attempting to draw an analogy between the way that the possibility of internal contradictions in Sacred Scripture is sometimes raised by higher critics, and the way that the possibility of internal contradictions in Catholic teaching is sometimes raised by non-Catholics. I agree that it is legitimate to explore any and every specific claim of a contradiction. What I am calling into question is the pablum of raising the spectre of contradiction in a general way, which seems to be a kind of argument from ignorance. The proper critical response to the claims of the Catholic Church is not to say, “well, it only takes one contradiction,” but to produce an actual contradiction in Church teaching.

    The infallibility of the Catholic Church follows from her identity as the Church that Christ founded. The infallibility of the Church that Christ founded follows from her relation to Him, in the Holy Spirit, and the nature of her mission in the world, as guided by the Spirit, per the commands and promises of Christ, which includes teaching true (not false) doctrine. There are any number of ways to dispute the claim that the Catholic Church is infallible. One way would be to argue that she is not the Church that Christ founded; another would be to argue that the Church that Christ founded (whichever Church that is) can teach error. And another way would be to produce an actual contradiction in Church teaching.

    As to resources: The Church’s teaching is a matter of public record. You can do an online search and find Papal bulls and encyclicals, as well as the decrees of the Councils. Each Council and Pope knows what this record is. Why would they contradict it? To do so would be to undermine the very authority by which they presume to teach. What we find in the Church’s dogmatic teaching is, again, analogous to what we find in Sacred Scripture: consistency in essence, along with variation compatible with that essence, development of ideas, various modes of expression, etc. I have collected some of these documents on a website, in the links section.

    There are no contradictions in Church teaching, hidden like a bug in a bowl of soup (“it only takes one bug”!). There are some very public claims that the Church has contradicted herself (two of the most common claims concern salvation outside the Church and religious freedom). One is either satisfied by those claims, and therefore does not believe the Catholic Church, or else one finds that these are not actual contradictions, much like the “contradictions” found in Sacred Scripture by the higher critics turn out not to be contradictions, and so we continue to believe the Bible, to feed upon its teaching, without fear of swallowing something nasty.

  38. MarkS: … if we never get beyond the level of opinion about what the Lord says, I don’t see how we ever reach the level of faith. The Protestant world essentially says, “here are our well-informed, fallible, and mutually exclusive opinions that centuries of highly educated and devoted Christians have not been able to settle, so Christian you should pray, study, follow what you think is best, but don’t ever say that you have reached infallible truth on any matter.

    That is a good point, but I would like to go back to your illustration about Reformed Bob doubting the inspiration of the NT. Why, exactly, should Reformed Bob believe that the books of the NT are inspired? Luther wanted to discard James and Revelation because Luther didn’t believe these books were inspired. There is nothing written in the NT that explicitly claims that all the NT books that are in Reformed Bob’s Protestant bible are inspired. Paul mentions in his letter to Timothy (2 Tim 3:16) that all scripture is God-breathed (inspired) but Paul is referring here to OT scriptures (and Paul does not explicitly state what books comprise the canon of inspired OT scripture, which compounds Reformed Bob’s problem). Paul cannot be telling Timothy that he believes that book of Revelation is inspired, since that book had not yet been written!. So what reason can a sola scriptura confessing Protestant give for believing that Luther shouldn’t have excluded James and the Book of Revelation, and why should Reformed Bob believe that the canon of the OT is correct in his modern Protestant bible, when the original Geneva Bible included books in the OT that are missing in his modern Protestant bible?

    The Catholic Church has officially taught that the NT books found in Reformed Bob’s Protestant bible are inspired, but why should Reformed Bob believe that is true, if he doesn’t believe that the Ecumenical Council of Trent is valid? How does Reformed Bob know that Luther wasn’t railroaded by his contemporaries into including a couple of non-inspired books in the NT of the bible that Luther eventually published? And how was it that Luther got the OT canon correct, but the Catholics, the Orthodox and the Oriental Orthodox all got it the OT canon wrong?

  39. Mateo (re: 38);
    I think your point about the canon is a fair one. I’ve watched it be discussed back forth on this and other blog/web sites. In many of those discussions, I’ve noticed Prot’s are willing to use presuppositions to support their belief in the canon. Typically, these arguments run something like this: We know God wants us to have the NT in written form, therefore in history we should expect to see the emergence of the NT canon. However, we have to ask why or how we know beyond opinion that God wants us to have his word in written form.

    I think the Sproul position (fallible collection of infallible books) is likely the accurate Prot position, but I guess I pushed the question back with my “reformed Bob” story to ask how we know the books are infallible to begin with.

    Let me ask you (or anyone else willing to entertain this) a question about another approach to the subject of opinions versus definitive statements of the faith. I imagine if I was one who converted in response to Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 or if I were a Thessalonican convert helping Paul build the local church, that I could ask them things like, should my infant children be baptized, and if so, what do they receive in baptism? Or, is it possible through sinning seriously enough to forfeit the salvation I have gained? Or, are we receiving Jesus’ actual body and blood in communion or is it just a symbolic metaphor? By virtue of their authority as apostles, they could answer these questions and my proper response of faith would be to submit, even if I found their answers puzzling. Their answers would be trustworthy and definitive. The Catholic position, as I understand it, is that this definitiveness continues today through the authority of the successors of the apostles. But, the Protestant position, I think, amounts to believing that the earliest Christians who walked with the apostles had an epistemic advantage that we do not have today. Yes, we have the Bible. But, we cannot expect to reach more than fallible opinions that will contradict the fallible opinions of other serious believers about the questions I laid out and more.

    Has anyone else considered this distinction between what 1st century Christians could have gained from asking questions of the apostles versus what we are able to know today?

    thanks,
    Mark

  40. MarkS #39,

    I think you have marked, what was for me, an important issue in my journey to the Church. It is extra-biblical (therefore against the doctrine of sola scriptura) to claim that there is such an epistemic divide between those who were contemporaries of the Apostles and those who are not. By this I am not implying that one would not be privileged qua the Apostles if he were in fact a contemporary of the Apostles, that is a truism and what is implied by anyone’s careful concern and study of the Fathers. However, I reject the notion that qua the truth of the faith we are disadvantaged because we are not contemporaries of the Apostles or that we get some kind of impotent, “junior” church as compared to the Apostolic one. Did Christ say, you (this generation) will know the truth and the truth wil set you free, but the generations to come will roam about in ignorance of mere opinion? That the Spirit of Truth will make a mere cameo on the earth?

    No he did not.

    Instead, he told his disciples that I am sending you like I was sent and that if anyone rejects you they reject me. The apostles, although dense/slow at times, apparently could gather that our Lord was teaching them his model and the gift given to them, like all gifts, was meant to passed on. The gospels record not one instance of our Lord commanding anyone to write anything down. In turn, the transmission of Scripture was not the primary mode of the ongoing authority of Christ through His Church, but rather the succession of Apostles by the laying on of hands on their successors the bishops. That is why just two generations after St. John–and in the same lifetime–St. Ignatius claims that Christ’s Church (and therefore the fullness of the Truth and the Eucharist) is synonymous with presence not of the Sacred Text nor the Apostle but of the Bishop–the successor of the Apostle.

    Of course I am saying what has been said a thousand different ways already on this site, but it is always worth rewriting for it brings me great joy. Good to be Home.

    Peace to you all,

    Brent

  41. Andrew (#37), thank you for that clarification. I certainly agree that it is not enough for the critic to speak of “contradictions” generically without making a concrete case. I have also come to suspect that your ultimate conclusion is right as well, though I want to do my “due diligence.” I look forward to doing some reading at the site you linked.

  42. Andrew (#34 & #37),

    I agree that the “all it takes is one contradiction” comment is a pot-shot if not backed up by concrete examples. As you may notice, I said in my previous post that this is a comment I often hear from Protestant friends, and I think it is often said out of defensive reaction. That being said, for those of us tiptoeing around the shallows of the RCC, it is a sincere concern and very relevant to the issues that matter most. I would also agree with AlmostCatholic that my desire is to investigate those specific instances of purported contradiction as carefully as I would try to defend the purported contradictions present in Scripture.

    “Bug in the bowl”- ha! I love the analogy – wish I’d thought of it first.

    Burton

  43. Hello MarkS,

    You wrote (#39):

    I’ve noticed Prot’s are willing to use presuppositions to support their belief in the canon.

    I have seen this in seminary-level textbooks. It was dressed up as a declaration that the canon is “self-attesting.” But “it’s the Word of God because it is the Word of God” is not an argument that would satisfy those who make it if it were coming from, say, the Mormons.

    I think the Sproul position (fallible collection of infallible books) is likely the accurate Prot position

    Imagine Dr. Sproul’s answer if someone were to say that there are errors in the Bible, but not affecting any doctrines. He would undoubtedly say (and quite rightly) that this would undermine the reliability of the Bible as revelation, and the reasons would be fairly similar to those I’ve advanced as undermining Protestant approaches to getting the truth from the Bible: it becomes impossible to distinguish truth from opinion or error. In my opinion the same criticism utterly demolishes Sproul’s “fallible collection” hypothesis: there is no principled reason to suppose that the possibility of non-canonical books in the Bible doesn’t undermine its reliablity in the exact same way that allowing for error in non-doctrinal passages does.

    I can imagine why he makes this claim. He wants to avoid any situation in which anything or anyone except the Bible (and particularly anything like the Catholic Church) is able infallibly to declare what the canon is. He rejects presuppositionalism, and so he is (rightly) unwilling to go the self-attestation route. And the Bible doesn’t define the canon. Consequently he has no choice but to resort to the fallible collection hypothesis, but as far as I can tell this just plain doesn’t work.

    We need a Church which is able exercise infallibility in some circumstances in order to have reasonable confidence in the Bible. I do not see any way around it.

  44. MarkS: I think your point about the canon is a fair one. I’ve watched it be discussed back forth on this and other blog/web sites. In many of those discussions, I’ve noticed Prot’s are willing to use presuppositions to support their belief in the canon. Typically, these arguments run something like this: We know God wants us to have the NT in written form, therefore in history we should expect to see the emergence of the NT canon. However, we have to ask why or how we know beyond opinion that God wants us to have his word in written form.

    I think the Sproul position (fallible collection of infallible books) is likely the accurate Prot position, but I guess I pushed the question back with my “reformed Bob” story to ask how we know the books are infallible to begin with.

    You are asking two very good questions here: “how we know beyond opinion that God wants us to have his word in written form” and “how we know the books are infallible to begin with.”
    First, I would note that a bible cannot be infallible, because infallibility is a charismatic gift of the Holy Spirit that a human being can exercise in a synergistic relationship with the Holy Spirit. Consider the charismatic gift of prophecy. We wouldn’t call the bible a prophet, but we can say that the bible contains a record of prophesy that true prophets of God have spoken to men.

    The charismatic gift of infallibility is exercised by bishops under certain circumstances, and when the bishops of Christ’s church teach while exercising the charism of infallibility, what is taught by the bishops is inerrant. The authors of the OT and the NT were exercising a charismatic gift of the Holy Spirit that is no longer given to men. They were exercising the charismatic gift of inspiration, and what they wrote is God-breathed (literally inspired). Since God is the author of scriptures, the scriptures are inerrant because God cannot lie. So scriptures are both inspired and inerrant, while the teachings of bishops (excluding the bishops that were Apostles) are never inspired. Inerrant, yes, when teaching with the charismatic gift of infallibility, but not inspired in the way that Scriptures are God-breathed.

    Now let us imagine a book that contains all the inerrant teachings of the bishops that were taught after the NT was written. Let us call that the Book of Inerrant Teaching, a book that contains something other that what is written down in the Bible. In this book, we find answers to questions such as: What books belong in the bible? How do we know that the books in the NT are inspired? Should we baptize infants? How should we interpret the Bread of Life discourse in John chapter 6 – Is the Eucharist the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ, or merely bread and wine? Much of what is in the Book of Inerrant Teachings are the bishop’s inerrant interpretations of the Bible.

    The Book of Inerrant Teaching might have different contents depending upon whether it was published by the Orthodox or the Catholics, but the Orthodox and the Catholics agree in principle, that validly ordained bishops can exercise the charism of infallibility under certain circumstances, and that all Christians are conscience bound to believe the inerrant teachings of bishops upon pain of excommunication. For example, in both the Catholic Book of Inerrant Teaching and the Eastern Orthodox Book of Inerrant Teaching one would find the dogmas that were solemnly defined at the first seven Ecumenical Councils. But what would be in a Protestant Book of Inerrant Teaching that was published by one of the thousands of sola scriptura confessing Protestant sects? The answer is nothing. That is because the Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura negates the possibility that anything can be put in that book. At best, the sola scriptura confessing Protestant might begin filling in his Book of Inerrant Teaching by cut and pasting some direct quotes from scriptures, but where would that end? Since the sola scriptura confessing Protestant believes that all scriptures are inerrant, the entire scriptures would have be transferred into the Protestant Book of Inerrant Teaching, and all that one would end up with is another Protestant Bible, and a blank book of Inerrant Teaching.

    The Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura is not essentially an affirmation that the scriptures are inspired and inerrant. The Oriental Orthodox, the Eastern Orthodox and the Catholics all believe that doctrine. Sola scriptura is, instead, Luther’s way of declaring that no bishop can exercise the charism of infallibility. But if Luther is not exercising the charism of infallibility when he declared that no man can exercise the charism of infallibility (which would be an absurdity) , then the doctrine of sola scriptura is necessarily merely the opinion of a man that can never be known to be true. And why should anyone build their faith upon an opinion that can never be known to be true? There is nothing in the Protestant bible that teaches that bishops can’t exercise the charism of infallibility, or that the Protestant Bible is the only known source of inerrant teaching for the Christian. The Oriental Orthodox, the Eastern Orthodox and the Catholics all agree that Luther taught rank heresy when he began teaching the sola scriptura novelty, since sola scriptura doctrine is, in its essence, an attack on the teaching authority of validly ordained bishops.

    MarkS: The Catholic position, as I understand it, is that this definitiveness continues today through the authority of the successors of the apostles.

    You are correct.

    MarkS: But, the Protestant position, I think, amounts to believing that the earliest Christians who walked with the apostles had an epistemic advantage that we do not have today. Yes, we have the Bible. But, we cannot expect to reach more than fallible opinions that will contradict the fallible opinions of other serious believers about the questions I laid out and more.

    The sola scriptura confessing Protestant has that problem, but not all Protestants believe in sola scriptura. Jehovah Witnesses and Mormons do not. The Mormons believe that when the Prophet of Salt Lake City speaks, Christians are conscience bound to believe his teaching. The Jehovah Witnesses are conscience bound to accept the teachings emanating from the Brooklyn HQ. For the sola scriptura confessing Protestant, the only thing that he is conscience bound to believe is what his own conscience tells him he should believe. Which is why we see thousands upon thousands of Protestant sects that teach contradictory and irreconcilable doctrine.

    MarkS: Has anyone else considered this distinction between what 1st century Christians could have gained from asking questions of the apostles versus what we are able to know today?

    The Apostolic Fathers are men that personally knew an Apostle. The first century Christians that listened to the Apostolic Fathers (e.g. St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Polycarp) would have thought that listening to the Apostolic Fathers was a sure way of receiving the doctrine taught by the Apostles. And the generation that listened to the bishops that were appointed by the bishops that were appointed by the bishops that were appointed by the Apostles, would have thought that they were receiving the doctrines passed on by the Apostles … and so on to today. There is a reason why we confess a belief in the four marks of the true church, that is the true church is One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic. The true church maintains Apostolic Succession, and because the Holy Spirit that gives the charism of infallibility to the bishops of Christ’s church, the true church is preserved from teaching error. If a first century Christian was a scribe writing down Paul’s letters to Timothy , he would have had the privileged of seeing an Apostle exercise the charism of inspiration. But I don’t think that would give him an ability to know the truth that is greater than that of a Christian that accepts two-thousand years of inerrant teaching.

    p.s. – Brent’s answer to your question is spot on, and I agree with all of it. Like Brent, I “reject the notion that qua the truth of the faith we are disadvantaged because we are not contemporaries of the Apostles or that we get some kind of impotent, “junior” church as compared to the Apostolic one.”

  45. AC & Burton,

    Right on! If we focus on the concrete objections and answers, we will all be a lot better off. I am sure some folks who raise the question of the generic contradiction (just off-stage, waiting to explode the faith) do not have bad intentions. A two thousand year old Church, battered and bruised, though not prevailed upon, enduring the storms of history, is a strange thing. It is not unheard of for people to react to strange things in strange ways. All we can do is say, hey, please get to know her, this ancient and ever renewed institution, this disheveled loveliness that is the barque of Peter, the ark of salvation.

    I wish that I knew of some good book that gives an overview of the Catholic Church, focusing on her teaching through time, with an eye to those things that some folks perceive as internal contradictions. There are of course histories of Christian doctrine and such like, which are helpful in their own way. But maybe the best thing to do after all is to wade through some of the most important Magisterial documents themselves. Few of these texts are particularly moving, considered as literary compositions (unlike, say, much of Sacred Scripture, many of the writings of the Fathers, and the traditional liturgies of the Church), but they are up-building, considered as monuments of Tradition. It is good to read of the Christian faith as it is dogmatically taught by the Magisterium of the Catholic Church.

  46. Brent (#40)

    As I have walked this path of inquiry, I have been amazed at how many passages of Scripture that I had previously paid very little mind (Christ giving the keys to Peter, empowering the apostles to forgive sins, etc) have jumped out at me in a very powerful way. You reference some of these in your post. Are you aware of any good resources that collect all these “empowering” passages in one place? Perhaps it’s even in this site somewhere and I have not found it. Many thanks.

  47. Fred,

    Thank you for sharing your story. Much of it could be mine, although in my case the ending is not yet written.

  48. A.C.,

    Thanks for your kind words. May God bless you as you seek to be faithful to him.

    Fred

  49. A.C.
    Marcus Grodi’s Verses I Never Saw may be exactly what you’re looking for.

  50. @Almost:

    Are you aware of any good resources that collect all these “empowering” passages in one place? Perhaps it’s even in this site somewhere and I have not found it. Many thanks.

    A.C., I had the same experience, once I began to think there might be some reason to think the Catholic Church to be truly what it said, the Bible – the whole Bible, not just this or that verse – began to read totally differently. I have now been a Catholic for over 16 years, and the process hasn’t stopped. I read the Bible now more than ever, and with more profit.

    I don’t think there is a list – but for Petrine primacy – as a prophecy, I mean – there are the Big Three:

    Matthew 16:13-19
    Luke 22:31-32
    John 21:15-19

    If you don’t read Greek, read them in a translation that preserves the distinction between 2nd person singular and plural – thou and you – which modern English doesn’t. The King James, or something, I mean. Note how Our Lord changes in both the Matthew and Luke passages from ‘you-plural’ to ‘thou-singular’ when talking to Peter. For the Luke passage, by the way, compare Isaiah 22:20-24.

    jj

  51. Almost Catholic,

    I found this, this morning. I hope it helps.

    I have been blown away, since coming into the Church, how much the Bible is a Catholic book.

    Peace to you on your journey,

    Brent

    (btw, I recommend today’s readings;it shook me up to my core when I was in your shoes 4 years ago)

  52. RefProt (#29):

    “To clarify the point I was trying to make, think of the Council of Nicea. Was it really as simple as a yes or no on Christ “being when there was not”? Well you could say on one level yes, but that is not the way the debate unfolded. It was a long arduous process where many bishops even disregarded the decision of Nicea…”

    I think I smell what you are cooking. What I think you are missing here is Nicea is the Holy Spirit working. From my perspective, I don’t care if it was messy for the bishops at Nicea. The point is it is decided. And it is a “yes” or “no” decision. The Reformed would like to insert themselves into these theological debates as if they were invited to Nicea. But they have consistently neglected to show me any credentials to do so when asked. They literally do not even respond other than to recommend I become Anglican.

    Thus my point is that the epistemological weight is not relieved by Rome, just placed on different shoulders.

    Like I said, that weight is orders of magnitude different. The only “questions” for Catholics are the ones currently being “discussed” by the magisterium. (Molinism vs. Thomism) Even if I grant (for the sake of argument) that there is controversy about “universalist interpretations of Vatican II” and there is confusion as to what to believe among the laity, that can easily be seen as something on the “currently under discussion” list. (It is a short list.) I think of it as akin to being alive during Trent. There might have been some Catholics who didnt know what Trent would decide on justification. BUT they knew it was being decided and could be clarified after the decision.

    [paedocom] is out of bounds with the Reformed Confessions and biblically and historically suspect. The primary problem is not that people disagree, but the ground upon which they disagree.

    As long as exceptions can be made to the confession (which they absolutely can for Paedocom) then the confession is meaningless. Saying it is “biblically and historically suspect” is quite unconvincing to someone who has read books convincing him from the Bible and history of it’s biblicity and historicity. The point is not who can jam his finger into his bible harder with more of a stern look on his forehead, the point is who decides what the truth is. The Reformed admit fallibility thus cannot claim anything more than I can claim. Scary.

    You have simply traded in some sets of questions for others that ultimately rely on your own ability to exegete a text or tradition.

    I know it seems that way at first, but your comparison fails. Think of the difference between the monologue of a book and the diologue of conversation. Big differnece. Yet you would have me believe the epistemological situation is nearly equal. The epistemology question extends as far as the credibility of the speaker in the latter, but is never-ending in the former. Nicea was a conversation that answered the question in a way the Arians both understood AND could not accept. They could no longer twist scripture to fit their heresy. That is authority. Where is that authority today? The PCA general assembly? Can one seriously claim any comparison at all between the two?

    Even though the Catholic magisterium does “write things down” it is really more of a contemporary voice than a text, because the text can be clarified. An example of this clarification was given in my #23 with the VADEMECUM FOR THE USE OF CONFESSORS 2:4. Perhaps (I assume) that clarified some questions which some Catholics still had about contraception. Catholics are the only major religious body in which there is no debate on that issue. It is settled. Yet it is the last possible doctrine that could ever be settled (as a body) for Protestants who hold to sola Scriptura. That is the difference between a text and a conversation.
    Considering the difference I give between the test and the dialogue, do you still say I am grossly oversimplifying the epistemic situation?

    Kyrie Eleison,
    David Meyer

  53. Burton #33,
    “Do you have any resources you could point me to?”
    I read a lot from the suggested reading list at the top of this site.

    The Early Papacy To the Synod of Chalcedon in 451, by Adrian Fortescue
    Early Christian Fathers, by Richardson
    Christendom series, by Warren Carroll (highly recommended Catholic persp. for this topic)
    An Essay on the Development of Doctrine, by John Henry Newman
    The Catholic Church and Conversion, by G.K. Chesterton

    Specifically, what tipped the scales for me was a debate I saw between James White and Bob Sungenis on papal infalibility.

    James White is no lover of Catholicism. So to see the “best” aguments he could muster after years of debating Catholics, and how incredibly weak they were… that was the “falling on my knees” moment. If that is the best he could do from 2000 years of supposedly contradictory Popes, the Catholic magisterium is a miracle. I reccommend reading the best Protestant sources you can. (But keep in mind that they will often change the terms of the debate midstream by implying a need for papal impecibility and holiness, or claiming some personal statement of a pope was a definition) If you keep that in mind and focus on actual definitions of faith and morals, the only thing that the Church claims to be able to define, you will be amazed.

    David M.

  54. Hey David and MarkS,

    I appreciate the interaction. I think your qualifications help but only to a point.

    For example, MarkS you say:

    “But if Luther is not exercising the charism of infallibility when he declared that no man can exercise the charism of infallibility (which would be an absurdity) , then the doctrine of sola scriptura is necessarily merely the opinion of a man that can never be known to be true. And why should anyone build their faith upon an opinion that can never be known to be true? There is nothing in the Protestant bible that teaches that bishops can’t exercise the charism of infallibility, or that the Protestant Bible is the only known source of inerrant teaching for the Christian.”

    First, Luther was not claiming infallibility. Luther’s appeal would have been to look at Scripture, not his own opinion. Luther did have a personal opinion on Sola Scriptura but it is not rooted in his own opinion but in exeg–namely Scripture. And this was his problem with arguing about the charism of infallibility–upon what authority does the bishop have to exercise it? Luther (and myself) do not see Scripture speaking anything about the nature of bishops infallibility.

    You move on to conclude, “And why should anyone build their faith upon an opinion that can never be known to be true?” This is an oversimplification. The epistemic question is whether someone’s opinion can be correct (and upon what ground); not whether they have one. The RCC has an opinion, the question is if its opinions are legitimate (i.e. biblical, historically, and systematically legitimate).

    This then moves to David’s statement:

    “I know it seems that way at first, but your comparison fails. Think of the difference between the monologue of a book and the diologue of conversation. Big differnece. Yet you would have me believe the epistemological situation is nearly equal. The epistemology question extends as far as the credibility of the speaker in the latter, but is never-ending in the former. Nicea was a conversation that answered the question in a way the Arians both understood AND could not accept. They could no longer twist scripture to fit their heresy.”

    Starting at the end first, your two last sentences are historically inaccurate. The Arians DID accept Nicea. They agreed with homoiousious. This is why Constantinople clarified the issue. But even then many bishops disagreed with the decision of the Council. Does this invalidate Rome? No. But it shows that church tradition and Scripture can BOTH be misunderstood and misappropriated.

    Finally, you want to argue that Scripture is a written monologue while the tradition of the Church is a vibrant dialogue. First, I would like to HEAR the teaching of the Church that is infallible and not written in a text to be interpreted. If you could provide me with a link or reference for that I would like to listen.

    But even if you could produce such a statement I wonder why you assume that the exegetical process is so drastically different in a written text and in a spoken conversation. What is your ground for this assertion?

    Finally, applying this hermeneutic back to Nicea, how were they supposed to operate if Scripture was so murky? No council had ever decided for them (Or think of Constantinople where Nicea was actually insufficient!). The Roman bishop didn’t offer an infallible answer. The council deliberating on the true doctrine of which the Church stands or falls did not have this dialogue you are discussing in making their decision. Upon what basis then did the bishops at Nicea reach a decision?

    And one final note, about the question of inerrancy, I agree that it is not epistemical certain. But this is exactly my point. This is not the way knowledge works and placing ones faith in the Catholic church is not an infallible decision. It may be correct, but it is not anymore epistemically certain than the Protestant position.

  55. ” This is not the way knowledge works and placing ones faith in the Catholic church is not an infallible decision. It may be correct, but it is not anymore epistemically certain than the Protestant position.”

    Refprot –

    I think what some have tried to point out (I attempted to point it out above) is that certainty isn’t really the issue here. We can’t compare “Catholic Certainty” to “Protestant Certainty” because the paradigm from which each views the question is quite different. If you need to understand more on this point, I’d recommend the famous “Tu Quoque” article here at CtC.

    I believe it was pointed out by Bryan Cross in a different thread that if a man was to sit down with his Bible and through only his own reading of the text (no consultation of any Church) was able to generate Catholic doctrine in its entirety, this man would not really be Catholic. He would actually still be functionally protestant because the very way in which he arrived at the conclusion was in a protestant way. (I hope I didn’t totally butcher what Bryan Cross meant when he said that. I was unable to find the actual quote.)

    Do you agree that the situation that Catholics and Protestants find themselves in regarding certainty is different? Do you see that “certainty” might mean something completely different to you than it does to David M, Brent, Bryan Cross or myself?

  56. Fr Bryan,

    I wholeheartedly agree. But the way the David began arguing against the Protestant position was to say that it does not give any certainty. My argument is that this is not fair because neither does the Catholic position. The validity of the claims at stake must be examined.

    I’m not necessarily trying to press (at this point) a Protestant criteria on any RC’s. I’m just saying that the nature of epistemology is such that certainty (specifically related to the exegesis of a text or tradition) is not attainable. We do have different criteria, but we are both interpreting data. The fundamental claim I’ve seen made is that the problem with the Prot position is that it is subjective. My point is that it is based on the exegesis of a text, just like the RC position. The RC position has more authoritative texts than Prots but both are interpreting texts. You cannot argue that because someone misinterprets a text that this shows texts cannot be interpreted by individuals. You can misinterpret a Scripture just like you can tradition.

    I will look up the Tu Quoque article though, thanks for pointing it out. Perhaps it will be able to answer some of the questions I have.

  57. Father (#55),

    You wrote:

    I believe it was pointed out by Bryan Cross in a different thread that if a man was to sit down with his Bible and through only his own reading of the text (no consultation of any Church) was able to generate Catholic doctrine in its entirety, this man would not really be Catholic. He would actually still be functionally protestant because the very way in which he arrived at the conclusion was in a protestant way.

    That is the sum of one of my quotes from #12:

    If a Catholic cannot name at least one article of faith that he believes solely on the basis of the authoritative teaching of the Magisterium, he’s either a saint or a Protestant.

    (I’m not saying that my quotation was your source, but rather offering a second voice that says the same thing.)

    Fred

  58. RefProt (#56),

    The fundamental claim I’ve seen made is that the problem with the Prot position is that it is subjective.

    It isn’t merely that it is subjective, but that conservative Protestants say that it is not subjective. Exegesis, or the Spirit, or (more rarely) tradition are proposed as providing objectively certain access to the truth that the Bible contains. This is why the realization that it the Protestant claim is false has such terrible force for many of us.

    Conservative Protestants don’t typically go around adding “but this is just my opinion” to their declarations about what the Bible says concerning justification, for example. No, they say instead things like “Trent anathematized the gospel.” They do this because they believe that they can distinguish revealed truth in the Bible with certainty. The problem is that this belief is manifestly false, as I tried to show. So the claim is not merely that the Protestant view is subjective; it is that it is proposed as providing objective certainty but does not do so.

    Fred

  59. Fr. Brian, (re: #55)

    You may be referring to something I wrote in July of 2008 but have referred to here at CTC a few times:

    But if a person becomes a Catholic only because he sees that the Catholic Church shares his own interpretation of Scripture, he is not truly a Catholic at heart; he’s still a Protestant at heart. One does not rightly become a Catholic on the grounds that one happens to believe (at present) all that the Church teaches; one rightly becomes a Catholic by believing (as an act of faith) all that the Church teaches (even if not fully understanding), on the ground of the sacramental authority of the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. When we are received into the Catholic Church, we say before the bishop, “I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God.” We aren’t saying that we just happen to believe Catholic doctrines, i.e. we are not merely reporting our present mental state vis-à-vis Catholic doctrine. We are making a confession of faith, an act of the will whereby we are submitting to the sacramental authority of the Church regarding what it is that she “believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God” on the ground of her sacramental magisterial authority in succession from the Apostles whom Christ Himself appointed and sent.

    That is why those persons who decide to wait until they agree with all Catholic doctrines before becoming Catholic are thinking like a Protestant. They’re not understanding the act of faith that one makes in becoming Catholic. They are still in the mindset of ’submitting’ to church authority on matters of doctrine only when they agree (or mostly agree), or picking a “church” based on whether it teaches what they already believe. They are not recognizing the sacramental authority of the Catholic Church and the difference that sort of authority makes. They are treating the Catholic Church as if it were another denomination, a Protestant “ecclesial community”, without Holy Orders from the Apostles. That approach is a form of rationalism, not fides quaerens intellectum (faith seeking understanding). “Faith seeking understanding” is possible only where submission is required, but strictly speaking, submission is not required wherever the identity and nature of the Church is determined and defined by one’s own interpretation of Scripture.

    Here is a relevant excerpt from Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Satis Cognitum:

    For such is the nature of faith that nothing can be more absurd than to accept some things and reject others. Faith, as the Church teaches, is “that supernatural virtue by which, through the help of God and through the assistance of His grace, we believe what he has revealed to be true, not on account of the intrinsic truth perceived by the natural light of reason, but because of the authority of God Himself, the Revealer, who can neither deceive nor be deceived” (Conc. Vat., Sess. iii., cap. 3). If then it be certain that anything is revealed by God, and this is not believed, then nothing whatever is believed by divine Faith: for what the Apostle St. James judges to be the effect of a moral deliquency, the same is to be said of an erroneous opinion in the matter of faith. “Whosoever shall offend in one point, is become guilty of all” (Ep. James ii., 10). Nay, it applies with greater force to an erroneous opinion. For it can be said with less truth that every law is violated by one who commits a single sin, since it may be that he only virtually despises the majesty of God the Legislator. But he who dissents even in one point from divinely revealed truth absolutely rejects all faith, since he thereby refuses to honour God as the supreme truth and the formal motive of faith. “In many things they [i.e. the heretics] are with me, in a few things not with me; but in those few things in which they are not with me the many things in which they are will not profit them” (S. Augustinus in Psal. liv., n. 19). And this indeed most deservedly; for they, who take from Christian doctrine what they please, lean on their own judgments, not on faith; and not “bringing into captivity every understanding unto the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. x., 5), they more truly obey themselves than God. “You, who believe what you like, believe yourselves rather than the gospel” (S. Augustinus, lib. xvii., Contra Faustum Manichaeum, cap. 3). (Satis Cognitum, 9)

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  60. RefProt,

    Please forgive my lack of technical language which I’m sure exists to describe what to me seems like an obvious inherent difference between the authority to which a Protestant submits versus a Catholic. The key phrase in my mind is “living Magisterium”. Imagine if I left my children at home together for one month (at times I have been sorely tempted!). I leave carefully written instruction regarding my expectations for the household when I am gone. Consider the situation my children are in during my absence versus when my living authoritative presence is right there with them. I think you get the sense of where I am going with this. Does this distill the situation, or am I missing something?

    Burton

  61. RefProt,

    But it shows that church tradition and Scripture can BOTH be misunderstood and misappropriated.

    That’s true. So can anything or anyone. I’m not sure what it proves other than to state the obvious that humans are bound to err, and that unless there is a gift given by the Holy Spirit not to err, we will err. I find that to be an effect of the argument I’m comfortable with. So, we can say on the one hand (sans the gift of the Spirit) we are most probably going to get an admixture of truth and falsity, and on the other hand we will get just truth.

    But even if you could produce such a statement I wonder why you assume that the exegetical process is so drastically different in a written text and in a spoken conversation. What is your ground for this assertion?

    Mr. Cross has a great comment here regarding the ontological difference between the a charismatic/living Magisterium and a text. Please understand, though, that I am not defending or trying to assert the conversation/text distinction. In this case, I’m making the distinction between a person and a text.

    placing ones faith in the Catholic church is not an infallible decision.

    We believe in the Church because we believe Christ founded it. Our faith is in Christ. Your contention holds true to belief in Christ, Krishna, or Buddha. However, there is a difference between fallible, human trust in an infallible teaching office versus a fallible one–between fallible trust in the Incarnation versus David Koresh. Am I correct?

    16th century empiricism paved the way for the popularity of the idea that throwing off authority in favor of good science was the way nouveau. Why should I trust the Church when I can read Scripture for myself? And so, to Luther’s dismay, the peasants came up with all manner of heresy–and in time, learned men even the more. The great irony is that the solo-exegetical approach to the empirical “data” of Christianity–Scripture–has produced in live empirical studies (the last 500 years) the least possible certainty regarding what is Christianity. Thousands upon thousands of churches founded on, to their minds, equally compelling hypothesis regarding what the Bible teaches. This makes the atheist’s job even easier.

    You can say that I have to interpret what the Church teaches, but that is besides the point. I could say you still have to interpret the intelligible proposition that your exegetical work produces; or your friend’s. We can both agree that propositions, no matter the source, are subject to the subject in some sense. However, where I think we disagree or at least misunderstand each other, is the nature of the agents doing the interpretation and how that drastically changes what in fact you and I hold to be true.

    Can we agree that an infallible agent produces more reliable beliefs than a fallible agent? That, in some sense, we could be more certain regarding the claims of the infallible agent than the fallible agent–maybe as certain as humanly possible? (Since increasing certainty implies a decreasing scale of doubt, wouldn’t the fact that my teacher is infallible or even merely an expert increase my level of certainty in a given claim?) For example, let’s say Dr. X knows you have problem “y” is certain, but that is entirely different than how certain you are that you have “y”. However, I can be more certain that you have “y” because Dr. X says so than if say, Elvis my neighbor says so. How much more can I be certain if an agent is infallible? Given the nature of sacred theology, wouldn’t it seem appropriate to have such a guide given the fact that we are not dealing with rationally unassailable evidence? The history of scabies, for example, isn’t 38,000 different diagnoses. Even more, the qualitative difference between our certainty in the claims of the infallible agent versus the infallible one might more practically be characterized, in sacred theology, by the difference between opinion and authority. In other words, there is a difference between how certain a belief is true and how certain a knower is about that belief being true. I can grant that you and I are in the same boat in the later, but I’m in Peter’s barque in the former.

    The best,

    Brent

  62. From what I’ve seen this issues have been rehashed here numerous times. So I’m not in anyway trying to shirk questions, but it would be best for me to postpone commenting until I can get more reading done to more adequately understand the RC position on these topics.

    Thanks for the interaction and I’ll look to respond to Burton and Brent as time allows.

  63. mateo: But if Luther is not exercising the charism of infallibility when he declared that no man can exercise the charism of infallibility (which would be an absurdity) , then the doctrine of sola scriptura is necessarily merely the opinion of a man that can never be known to be true. And why should anyone build their faith upon an opinion that can never be known to be true? There is nothing in the Protestant bible that teaches that bishops can’t exercise the charism of infallibility, or that the Protestant Bible is the only known source of inerrant teaching for the Christian.

    RefProt: First, Luther was not claiming infallibility.

    If Luther did explicitly claim that he was infallible, the absurdity of his position would be fully exposed: “I, Martin Luther, exercising the charismatic gift of infallibility, do hereby solemnly declare that it is a dogma that no living man can exercise the charismatic gift of infallibility when defining a dogma.”

    RefProt: Luther’s appeal would have been to look at Scripture, not his own opinion.

    Not so. Luther merely asserted his opinion – his opinion that the sola scriptura novelty is true, without ever looking to Scripture to see where this doctrine is taught. Luther can’t have looked at scripture, because there is nothing in scripture where a claim is made that the Protestant bible is the only source of inerrant teaching to which a Christian has access.

    Bryan Cross gave a link to Fr. Harrison’s conversion story in a different thread – Why I Didn’t Convert to Eastern Orthodoxy. In that article Fr. Harrison writes this:

    I am probably a rather unusual convert to Catholicism, in that my spiritual journey to Rome involved both the other major world divisions of Christianity—Protestantism and Eastern Orthodoxy. As an undergraduate university student, guided by the rational λογος (logos) of classical philosophy … I came to see the essential logical incoherence in Reformation Christianity: Its fundamental sola scriptura principle itself nowhere appears in Scripture and so is self-referentially contradictory.

    I agree with Fr. Harrison, Reformation Christianity is logically incoherent because it is built upon an incoherent principle – the the self refuting absurdity of sola scriptura.

    RefProt: Luther (and myself) do not see Scripture speaking anything about the nature of bishops infallibility.

    The bible is not a systematic theology textbook with an appendix of formally defined dogmas. Unless you take a blind leap of faith and base your beliefs on the self-refuting principle of sola scriptura, it should not bother you if the bible contains no explicitly defined dogma about the charismatic gift of infallibility, and the circumstances under which bishops exercise that charism. You are putting demands upon scripture that you should not, and then complaining that the scriptures don’t meet what you demand of it!

    mateo: ….why should anyone build their faith upon an opinion that can never be known to be true?

    RefProt: This is an oversimplification. The epistemic question is whether someone’s opinion can be correct (and upon what ground); not whether they have one.

    My contention is about Luther’s opinion that the doctrine of sola scriptura is true. Luther has an opinion that can never be known to be true, since sola scriptura has no scriptural basis. So you tell me, if scripture nowhere teaches sola scriptura, upon what grounds does anyone have for believing it? I contend that there are more than sufficient grounds for not believing it, namely, the logical incoherence of the doctrine itself!

  64. …the way the David began arguing against the Protestant position was to say that it does not give any certainty.

    My comment was more from personal experience, but nevertheless I think it holds true. Taken on their own claims for themselves, the Catholic paradigm and the Sola S. paradigm are not equal. As far as ultimate epistemology they are, (am I in a dream within a dream right now? hmmm) but that is not what I was talking about.
    As methods of accesing God’s revelation, Sola Scriptura by it’s own definition is self refuting and leads to uncertainty because it’s endgame is to make oneself the final judge of doctrine. The Catholic paradigm (even if it is false) is not self refuting. And because it has a living magisterium which clarifies and protects the apostolic deposit, it provides me with certainty at that level. Could it all be wrong? On some epistemic level, yes. But personally that level is so rediculous I do not (personally) care. The whole world is the Twilight Zone at that level.

    I would like to HEAR the teaching of the Church that is infallible and not written in a text to be interpreted.

    I took pains to describe what I meant by conversation. Of course a conversation can take place quite well without it being oral. And I did provide an example in #23 of the end of one of those conversations which the Catholic magisterium had with its people. If so much interpreting is needed, as you say, is there confusion in the Catholic Church about contraception? No. Dissent? Oh yes! But not confusion. There may have been confusion at points in the 20th century, but that day is done. (excepting grossly inadequate attempts at finding an answer). But IF someone wants an answer, I think they can absolutely know what the Catholic Church teaches without interpretation, and if it is something that there is confusion about, they can expect it will be resolved. That cannot be said about sola Scriptura.

  65. RefProt,

    My argument is that this is not fair because neither does the Catholic position. The validity of the claims at stake must be examined.

    To quickly furhter clarify, I believe the claims at stake are totally different types of claims. Sola S. is a self-contradictory claim, therefore provides no certainty. The Catholic claim is not self contradictory, so while it could be wrong, it at least has the possibility of functioning in a way to provide the Christian with objective truth at a reasonable (non-twilight zone) epistemic level.

    Thanks for the interesting conversation!

    David M.

  66. Burton, your #60 blew my mind. I will use that example in the future., it cuts right to the point. Excellent!

  67. RefProt,

    I arrived by a roundabout way. I had read the entire Old Testament four times, including the Law, and the New Testament about 30 times. I read it all and assumed it was true without making it a science textbook. I referenced a great deal of the Old Testament repeatedly, especially the prophets, with what I was seeing in the New Testament. It tied together for me.

    However it took a while before I found that my claims/the claims of my church to hold to the clear meaning of scripture simply were not true. It actually came down to a contest of sorts: There was what Jesus said plainly, and there was what I/my denomination believed. Much too often those items were factually incompatible. Sometimes we said the exact opposite, other times we managed to interpret what Jesus said in such a way that He might as well not have said what He said.

    A quick item is John 21:23, “Whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven them.” We could read that all day long and then look at each other and say that we could go directly to God for forgiveness. Which is it? What Jesus said or what we claimed? “Who is right” is the exact question that needed to be asked. Given enough grace, I was able to ask that question. We had blinders on whatever inconvenienced our position.

    After a while my impression of much of the New Testament was like that. Jesus or Peter or Paul or James is saying one thing and we were claiming something else. I finally arrived at the place where I had to A) admit that Jesus and Peter and Paul and James are desperately in need of my/our help to get it right; or B) Jesus and Peter and Paul and James are right and I was denying His/their own words, and I am therefore wrong.

    Evangelicalism really was like my description. Noting that there are vast tracts of Protestantism with which I am largely unfamiliar and which have significant differences with Evangelicalism and each other (think Luther and Calvin and Methodism for example), the limited familiarity I did have tended to make me think that Evangelicalism had inherited this flaw from its past, from the founders of Protestantism.

    The worst (or best) part was that when I started reading about Catholicism from its own point of view, I found a Church which actually took Jesus literally when He talked about being the Bread from Heaven, or about having his disciples extend or withhold forgiveness. The Catholic Church was right in the things which were so important as to be unavoidable. I needed the Passover Meal. I needed the forgiveness of sins, not on how I would have it but on how Jesus would have it.

    The Church’s Founder preserved it, bringing it through all the different battles and issues it would and will face to the end of this age and His return. His responsibility to maintain His church.

    Peter was the chief apostle and the sign of unity. Augustine said, “Ubi Petrus, ibi ecclesia” which means where Peter is, there is the Church. Thank you St Augustine. That appeared consistent with the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles. It was consistent with the early Church fathers. It was consistent with the councils. The Lord’s chamberlain and key holder had a major function but never was mistaken for usurping his Lord.

    We all wanted to be the Church of Acts 2, and the Catholic Church was that Church and more so since God Himself is the Founder and Guarantor.

    If you do a search, you might want to determine if your church is denying the obvious or explaining things away. If so, you might want to know why.

    My own impression was that – whatever else we claimed – there was a real anti-Catholic element to our position, to the point where if Rome said something, we reflexively denied it. It might have been a position on the Eucharist or on the forgiveness of sins. It might have been on the value of conceived but not yet born human life. It might have been on the dignity of anyone made in the image and likeness of God. It might have been about a collaboration with our Lord and His grace in grasping and responding to the salvation He offers to all. It was all over the place and hard not to see once I started looking. I wasn’t blind and could not use that malady for an excuse.

    Good hunting.

    Cordially,
    dt

  68. […] family friend asked me to comment on an article entitled “The Accidental Catholic”, which was recently posted on the Called to Communion blog (run by converts to Roman Catholicism […]

  69. It is interesting to observe the heavy focus on a consistent argument for authority, and yet no corresponding emphasis on theological consistency. It does little good to claim that one’s church is vested with the authority of magesterial infallibility if its theology contains teachings which conflict with each other. For instance, as a Protestant one might assert God is omniscient (with some contemporary debate over what that means). But with Catholicism you inherit exhaustive omniscience as a standard. Yet to maintain the doctrine of human free will it is taught that God knows because he is atemporal, “beholding all times at once.” That would be fine, except the Church also teaches God created time and the universe. Ergo, God could not “behold all times at once” until he created them. And given, according to the church, that observation of creation is how he knows men’s future choices, then he could not have known men’s future choices before his act of creation.

    Further, since God is supposed to be atemporal and simple (divine simplicity), rather than omnitemporal. For “all things / all time to be “present to him at once,” he would have to create every moment of time standing in relation to himself all at once. [Some might speculate time divided by dimensionality — infinite multiverses, rather than the one “heavens and earth” of scripture.] This creation of every moment of time standing in relation to God “at once” demands something the Church denies, hardwiring of the future by God such that human free will is eliminated. It is hardwired Calvinism in disguise.

    [Remember, time works itself out as a continuum. So, arguments to save the day quickly get more nutty.: If God started with the beginning and waited to see how things would work out with a universe progressing to multiverses, and to cateclysm, he still would not have known the future until he waited for it all to work out. Only then, with a multiverse he would have to maintain every step of could he go back and claim knowledge of men’s future free choices. But what good does that do, since it has already been lived out?]

    Now, I realize much of this trouble starts with Augustine, and his mixing Scripture with Neo-platonic theology. It was maintained and expanded over time. Aristotelian reasoning was piled on. But the original Augustine nuttiness is observable in his Confessions. There, God is so unchangable (later theology read: “immutalbe,” “impassable”) that he cannot even act. To act would be to change. So, God could not create the world. He needed a being empowered to create it on his behalf. But originally there was only God, right? Right. Augustine’s ‘solution’? God created a first being who would create the universe for him. Kind of circular, right? Sounds allot like the Arian heresy of Christ as a created being, doesn’t it?

    Here’s the kicker. The church pretty much kept Augustines view of divine immutability, in spite of the obvious problems it causes (which even Augustine clearly realized). Yet scripture says GOD plans, GOD speaks, GOD acts, GOD creates in a successively. In fact, after not having been so, God becomes incarnate in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. Atemporal, all this is not, though some of it is certainly non-material, and thus not part of our spacial existence.

    Back to atemporal eternity: So, in God’s allegedly atemporal eternity, which God the Son sits at the right hand of the Father, the one yet to be incarnated, or the one incarnate who experienced birth, death on a cross, resurrection from the dead and ascencion into heaven? In atemporal eternity you cannot have change, and you can’t divide Christ into two persons. He experienced all those things as one person with two natures. Both natures were in it together.

    The magesterium relies on what has been passed down (and adopts a few new “traditions” once in a while). Tradition can be a help in thinking, but it can also trap you in unworkable scenarios.

  70. Please pardon the lack of editing (punctuation and spelling errors) in the preceding post. At one point, I refer to the Arian heresy as Christ being created. That’s a slip-up. Of course, Christ was created as it regards his humanity. Arians asserted the Son was created. It was written on the fly.

    By the way, in addition to the example of God the Son in the second to the last paragraph, we might add either the whole of the Godhead, or at least the Father. Given Paul understands Christ to be both God and man in his own right (and he does), he also states “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself…” (1 Cor. 5.17). Given the context from the surrounding verses, it would seem that “God” probably refers to the Father in these verses, as it frequently does in the New Testament. So, just as with other acts in Christ’s life that we participated in by the whole of the Godhead (his resurrection, for instance), so, it would seem, did the whole of the Godhead share in some way in his sacrificial death. The phrase, “not counting their trespasses against them” is most interesting considering Christ’s passionate cry, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” However, scripture does not clarify in what way the rest of the Godhead participated “in Christ, reconciling the world…” And there is no shame in not stating what the scriptures do not logically lead to.

    It should be noted, that for all the claims of magisterial authority in interpreting scripture, Popes were unable to work out the debate between Molinists and Augustinian/Thomists, regardless of the hubbub it caused. Popes decreed silence on the debate. There are a host of passages that Popes and Councils have not figured out and allow debate on. So, just as there is debate in Protestantism, there is debate in Catholicism. Unfortunately, some of the settled debates in Catholicism are often proved through the same sort of egregious proof-texting used by many Protestants. The only difference is in such cases is that Catholicism has Councils and Popes from ancient tradition to put their stamp of authority on it (including the proof-texting).

  71. Hello Stuart,

    You said (#69):

    It is interesting to observe the heavy focus on a consistent argument for authority, and yet no corresponding emphasis on theological consistency.

    The purpose of my post was to present a brief overview of how I came to realize that the means by which Protestants say that they obtain revealed truth from the Bible do not work because those means provide no way to distinguish that truth from mere human opinion; I was compelled by this problem to abandon Protestantism. It was no purpose of this sketch to address questions of theological consistency, because that issue was not relevant in my departure from Protestantism. I later determined that I needed to investigate the Catholic Church’s claims, and it was during the course of that investigation that I became convinced of the internal self-coherence of what the Church teaches. But since my post doesn’t extend to that part of my journey, I didn’t address it. Sorry, but blog posts must have their boundaries. :-) In any case, as I said, I became convinced of the internal self-consistency of what the Church teaches after months of research.

    You also said:

    It does little good to claim that one’s church is vested with the authority of magesterial infallibility if its theology contains teachings which conflict with each other. For instance, as a Protestant one might assert God is omniscient (with some contemporary debate over what that means). But with Catholicism you inherit exhaustive omniscience as a standard. Yet to maintain the doctrine of human free will it is taught that God knows because he is atemporal, “beholding all times at once.” That would be fine, except the Church also teaches God created time and the universe. Ergo, God could not “behold all times at once” until he created them. And given, according to the church, that observation of creation is how he knows men’s future choices, then he could not have known men’s future choices before his act of creation.

    Sorry, but this is not an accurate representation of what the Church teaches. You say that “God could not ‘behold all times at once’ until he created them,” but a necessary implication of that assertion is that God is not atemporal: because on this understanding His power to behold created things would be contingent upon their creation. But the Church affirms that God is “without beginning and without end, and without succession in a constant undivided now” (Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, p. 36). So there can be no succession in God such as your claim requires. Rather, the Church’s teaching is reasonably summarized by St Thomas Aquinas:

    In evidence of this, we must consider that a contingent thing can be considered in two ways; first, in itself, in so far as it is now in act: and in this sense it is not considered as future, but as present; neither is it considered as contingent (as having reference) to one of two terms, but as determined to one; and on account of this it can be infallibly the object of certain knowledge, for instance to the sense of sight, as when I see that Socrates is sitting down. In another way a contingent thing can be considered as it is in its cause; and in this way it is considered as future, and as a contingent thing not yet determined to one; forasmuch as a contingent cause has relation to opposite things: and in this sense a contingent thing is not subject to any certain knowledge. Hence, whoever knows a contingent effect in its cause only, has merely a conjectural knowledge of it. Now God knows all contingent things not only as they are in their causes, but also as each one of them is actually in itself. And although contingent things become actual successively, nevertheless God knows contingent things not successively, as they are in their own being, as we do but simultaneously. The reason is because His knowledge is measured by eternity, as is also His being; and eternity being simultaneously whole comprises all time, as said above (Question 10, Article 2). Hence all things that are in time are present to God from eternity, not only because He has the types of things present within Him, as some say; but because His glance is carried from eternity over all things as they are in their presentiality. Hence it is manifest that contingent things are infallibly known by God, inasmuch as they are subject to the divine sight in their presentiality; yet they are future contingent things in relation to their own causes. (Summa Theologiae I, q.14, a.13)

    You also said:

    Now, I realize much of this trouble starts with Augustine, and his mixing Scripture with Neo-platonic theology. It was maintained and expanded over time. Aristotelian reasoning was piled on. But the original Augustine nuttiness is observable in his Confessions. There, God is so unchangable (later theology read: “immutalbe,” “impassable”) that he cannot even act. To act would be to change. So, God could not create the world. He needed a being empowered to create it on his behalf. But originally there was only God, right? Right. Augustine’s ‘solution’? God created a first being who would create the universe for him. Kind of circular, right? Sounds allot like the Arian heresy of Christ as a created being, doesn’t it?

    Can you provide a reference for the claim that Augustine thought that “God created a first being who would create the universe for him”? I haven’t read all of the Saint’s writings by any stretch of the imagination, but that doesn’t sound like anything that I have read from him.

    In any case, St Thomas explains God’s immutability in this way:

    From what precedes, it is shown that God is altogether immutable.

    First, because it was shown above that there is some first being, whom we call God; and that this first being must be pure act, without the admixture of any potentiality, for the reason that, absolutely, potentiality is posterior to act. Now everything which is in any way changed, is in some way in potentiality. Hence it is evident that it is impossible for God to be in any way changeable.

    Secondly, because everything which is moved, remains as it was in part, and passes away in part; as what is moved from whiteness to blackness, remains the same as to substance; thus in everything which is moved, there is some kind of composition to be found. But it has been shown above (Question 3, Article 7) that in God there is no composition, for He is altogether simple. Hence it is manifest that God cannot be moved.

    Thirdly, because everything which is moved acquires something by its movement, and attains to what it had not attained previously. But since God is infinite, comprehending in Himself all the plenitude of perfection of all being, He cannot acquire anything new, nor extend Himself to anything whereto He was not extended previously. Hence movement in no way belongs to Him. So, some of the ancients, constrained, as it were, by the truth, decided that the first principle was immovable. (ST I, q.9, a.1)

    [When he says in the first line of that quote “From what precedes…” he is referring to earlier questions in the Summa.]

    He continues with a response to an objection which quotes Augustine: “The Creator Spirit moves Himself neither by time, nor by place.” Therefore God is in some way mutable:”

    Augustine there speaks in a similar way to Plato, who said that the first mover moves Himself; calling every operation a movement, even as the acts of understanding, and willing, and loving, are called movements. Therefore because God understands and loves Himself, in that respect they said that God moves Himself, not, however, as movement and change belong to a thing existing in potentiality, as we now speak of change and movement. (ibid., ad 1; emphasis added)

    In short: God’s immutability is a certainty understood from the way that the world is.

    You continued:

    The church pretty much kept Augustines view of divine immutability, in spite of the obvious problems it causes (which even Augustine clearly realized). Yet scripture says GOD plans, GOD speaks, GOD acts, GOD creates in a successively. In fact, after not having been so, God becomes incarnate in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. Atemporal, all this is not, though some of it is certainly non-material, and thus not part of our spacial existence.

    God’s immutability is both logically inescapable (as St Thomas has shown in the quotation above) and Scripturally certain: “I am the Lord, and I change not” (Mal. 3:6). Consequently we must conclude that Scripture cannot be taken strictly literally when it describes God as changing. It may cause problems at times with regard to human ability to comprehend, but this is because we find it practically impossible even to imagine atemporality. Our thoughts themselves are discursive, progressing from one point to the next.

    You wrote:

    The magesterium relies on what has been passed down (and adopts a few new “traditions” once in a while). Tradition can be a help in thinking, but it can also trap you in unworkable scenarios.

    The Church does not adopt new traditions, if by that you are suggesting that she has made additions to the content of Sacred Tradition. Sacred Tradition is divine revelation, and the Church has no authority to add to it or take away from it.

    Sorry, but I don’t agree that there is anything unworkable in the scenarios that you have described.

    In #70, you wrote:

    It should be noted, that for all the claims of magisterial authority in interpreting scripture, Popes were unable to work out the debate between Molinists and Augustinian/Thomists, regardless of the hubbub it caused. Popes decreed silence on the debate. There are a host of passages that Popes and Councils have not figured out and allow debate on. So, just as there is debate in Protestantism, there is debate in Catholicism. Unfortunately, some of the settled debates in Catholicism are often proved through the same sort of egregious proof-texting used by many Protestants. The only difference is in such cases is that Catholicism has Councils and Popes from ancient tradition to put their stamp of authority on it (including the proof-texting).

    I am insufficiently familar with the history of the dispute between Molinists and Thomists to be able to address the specifics there, but the purpose of the Magisterium is not to settle just any philosophical or theological disagreement. Its purpose is to proclaim and defend the Faith. If the Faith is not endangered by the outcome of any particular quarrel, there is no reason to expect that the Magisterium will act to settle it.

    There are debates among Catholics, but your wording suggests that they are of the same sort as debates among Protestants. They are not. Catholics affirm all that the Church proposes for belief as divinely revealed. But Protestant disputes arise from the fact that they cannot reliably identify divinely revealed truths by the means that they claim.

    Fred

  72. “Popes were unable to work out the debate between Molinists and Augustinian/Thomists, regardless of the hubbub it caused. Popes decreed silence on the debate.”

    -You are referring to the Congregatio de Auxiliis: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04238a.htm

    I would not characterize the outcome as you do. I would say that the Magisterium has left this question open for theological debate and for a variety of opinions. However, I dispute that the presence of theological diversity within Catholicism is analogous to theological debate within Protestantism.

    Catholics have a rational and consistent way to distinguish between those issues which can be legitimately debated, from those which are non-negotiable components of the deposit of faith. Protestants do not.

  73. Stuart,

    I would love to watch Back to the Future with you and a 6 pack! But I think perhaps you misunderstand what the Church teaches about God and time. You seem to include temporal aspects into the atemporal God.

    As you know, God being atemporal is quite a mystery. And like the Trinity, when we explain that concept it may seem to contain contradictions and paradoxes. Yet there we have it, in all it’s paradoxical glory! There is wisdom in not trying to fill in too many blanks between difficult doctrines. (which asks the question “which ones are difficult, and how many blanks?”… right? I will get to that below) And I don’t think it is fair to use those “blanks” as a cudgel on the Church either.

    “It should be noted, that for all the claims of magisterial authority in interpreting scripture, Popes were unable to work out the debate between Molinists and Augustinian/Thomists, regardless of the hubbub it caused.”

    This is incorrect. They were not “unable”, they did work out a resolution! You yourself give the resolution in the next sentence! (my emphasis):

    “Popes decreed silence on the debate.”

    So that is a resolution. Which tells the men involved in the debate that they may not be dogmatic about their opinion, because the Church is not dogmatic on that issue. (yet?) There is a resolution, and the resolution is something akin to “ it is not worth arguing about” or “We may decide later”. That resolution is huge! In itself it is just as golden as having a decision for one side or neither side. My opinion: Quite possibly the decision means the debate will never be decided, and that is not meant to ever be decided. The debate ran its course and hit the wall of ‘mystery’, beyond which the Holy Spirit does not want the Church to go. But now I know how far I can go in discussing the issue. The decision leads to freedom!
    That exact ability of the Magisterium to decide was the reason I converted last year. Even in scripture, we see the Church being said to have that ability, and we see it using that ability. But I did not see that ability anywhere in Protestantism, nor did they claim to even have it. And their continuing divisions show they do not.

    But more to my point, notice your past tense of the word ‘caused’ in your statement above. The debate caused a hubbub. Well a similar debate continues to cause a hubbub in Protestantism, (as a former Calvinist I can attest to it) but you are right when you say that hubbub is past tense for Catholics.
    That is why I am a Catholic. Because the true Church must have the ability to decide things. When Jesus says “take it to the Church” the Church should answer definitively! The magisterium’s answer in the Molinist/Thomist debate was definitive. Which is why the ‘hubbub’ has ceased.

    “So, just as there is debate in Protestantism, there is debate in Catholicism.”

    But as I have shown, and you yourself implicitly admit above, the Magisterium can and does resolve debates. So it is not whether there is debate or not, but about what, and how important it is, and if there can ever be a resolution between opposing views in a given debate. Think about what you said: “there is debate in Protestantism”. But “Protestantism” is not an entity in the same way as “Catholicism”. When one thinks of what Catholicism believes on nearly any issue, (including Molinism/Thomism), one can either name what it believes, or assume it does not need to be defined yet/ever. Not so with “Protestantism”. The LCD of Protestant beliefs might fit onto a single type-written page, and many beliefs that are crucial to one sect are denied by others, with no authority to arbitrate. Compare that with the CCC, which is quite thick, AND any doctrines not spelled out in there can be assumed by default to not be all that important. In this way, the Catholic magisterium has defined 100% of life! No doctrine is untouched by its definition or avoidance, both of which have authority.

    Unfortunately, some of the settled debates in Catholicism are often proved through the same sort of egregious proof-texting used by many Protestants. The only difference is in such cases is that Catholicism has Councils and Popes from ancient tradition to put their stamp of authority on it (including the proof-texting).

    And that ‘difference’ makes all the difference in the world. It is the difference between real authority and opinion.

    David Meyer

  74. Fred, Dave, and Dave,

    I appreciate your responses. Sadly, I will have to respond ten days from now, as I will be traveling computer-free. However, I will quickly refer Fred to the last four chapters of Confessions. That’s the last four chapters often left out of popular abridged versions which leave off this very theological tail end following his personal story. You should be able to find them online. I also recall that in this section he admits being fairly unschooled in the Old Testament (at the time of the books writing). As you know, Augustine’s views changed over time. He adopted transubstantiation only after having been convinced of it by…oh, I forget who; some other Church father. Towards the end of his life, he was also convinced of a strong view Divine sovereignty in Predestination (as former Calvinists are probably aware). But then, he died before the Semi-P. controversy played out in Orange II, and who knows what influence he would have had.

    And, so you know where I am coming from: I am not anti-Catholic, nor a megalith. But I am intellectually honest, and will not simply give a wash to problems I see. Resolution is the solution.

    Blessings to you all.

  75. David Meyer: When one thinks of what Catholicism believes on nearly any issue, (including Molinism/Thomism), one can either name what it believes, or assume it does not need to be defined yet/ever. Not so with “Protestantism”. The LCD of Protestant beliefs might fit onto a single type-written page, and many beliefs that are crucial to one sect are denied by others, with no authority to arbitrate.

    “The LCD [Least Common Denominator?] of Protestant beliefs might fit onto a single type-written page …”

    I believe that page would be blank, and here is why. The original “Reformers” were all cafeteria Catholics. Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, etc. did not reject every doctrine of the Catholic faith, they only rejected some of those doctrines. For each doctrine that was rejected, a novel doctrine was proposed by one of the protesters. Let us name the set of novel doctrines proposed by the Reformers as the set “N”. Even at the beginning of the Reformation, the set N was not held in its fulness by anyone, since the original Reformers were divided in their doctrine from the very beginning. But since they didn’t disagree over every proposed novel doctrine either, we can define a subset of N that is the set of all doctrines in N that the original protesters held in common. Name that subset “P” – the set of novel non-Catholic doctrines that were held in common by the Reformers (the novelty of sola scriptura might be found in set P).

    Fast forward to today, and include all the novel non-Catholic doctrines taught by every one of the thousands upon thousands of Protestant sects into today’s set N. The analogous subset P of today’s set N would be very different that the subset P of five-hundred years ago. The subset P of today’s set N would be the set of novel non-Catholic doctrines that are held in common by every Protestant sect. I believe that today’s subset P would be a null set. I don’t believe there is even one novel non-Catholic doctrine that can be named that every Protestant sect confesses. This is why I have said before in the CTC comboxes that Protestantism can no longer be defined by what Protestants believe, since that implies that Protestants are a definable as set of individuals that is determined by the beliefs that Protestants, and only Protestants, confess. For example, that all Protestants reject the teaching authority of the living Magisterium of the Catholic Church is not a unique belief of Protestants, since Hindus and Muslims reject the teaching authority of the Magisterium too. What I believe cannot be done is to define even one single doctrine that Protestants alone believe, since for any non-Catholic doctrine proposed as belonging to the LCD of Protestantism, there would be a Protestant sect that disputes that doctrine.

    Stuart: It should be noted, that for all the claims of magisterial authority in interpreting scripture, Popes were unable to work out the debate between Molinists and Augustinian/Thomists, regardless of the hubbub it caused. Popes decreed silence on the debate.

    St. Francis De Sales advised the Pope not to make a dogmatic ruling on this debate. Here is my two-cents worth on this issue. I believe that neither the Molinist position, nor the so-called Thomist position is correct. I personally believe that the position of Fr. William Most is correct, and that that forms a third option that needs to be explored. If neither the Molinist position nor the Thomist position is correct, then the Catholic Church not solemnly defining either position as dogma can be seen as the Holy Spirit protecting the church from teaching error. But my opinion is simply that, my opinion, and I can be in error. In the end, the church may solemnly define dogma that ends the debate, and until that happens, I am entitled to my opinion on this matter, as are the Molinists and the Thomists.

  76. Stuart,

    You wrote (#74):

    However, I will quickly refer Fred to the last four chapters of Confessions. That’s the last four chapters often left out of popular abridged versions which leave off this very theological tail end following his personal story.

    Is this intended to answer my request (in #71) for a reference to where it is that you say Augustine wrote that “God created a first being who would create the universe for him”? My copy of the book, in this edition, includes those last three books, and I don’t remember reading anything like that in them. Can you be more specific?

    Fred

  77. […] today that a few months ago Dr. James Anderson published some comments in reply to my article The Accidental Catholic. I appreciate the fact that he took the time to do so. In this post I’d like to offer a […]

  78. […] family friend asked me to comment on an article entitled “The Accidental Catholic”, which was recently posted on the Called to Communion blog (run by converts to Roman Catholicism […]

  79. Fred, this is a good article, but doesn’t consider the full range of Protestant possibilities.

    You state:
    “If the Church could be wrong, then we are left with ecclesial deism: I am forced to conclude that God does not preserve the Church (however it is defined) from error.”

    As is the case with most Catholics, they tend to see it as “all or nothing”. But what if God does not protect His Church from error yet still ensures the gates of Hades do not prevail? This is Scriptural. God preserving the Church from all error is not. Therefore we have to be ready to live with error, but that doesn’t mean life is so bad. Catholics are quick to point out how awful things must be without an infallible Pope, but I can tell you things aren’t so bad.

    Although Protestant *congregations* themselves will not agree *per se* on the essentials, nevertheless Protestants do in actuality agree on the essentials: We are saved by believing in Christ. And yes we should be baptised and partake of communion as our Lord commanded, but what exactly goes on during these sacraments are non-essential. Don’t get caught up over the fact *some* Protestant congregations *say* they differ on essentials. In reality most don’t. And that is evidence that the Holy Spirit is guiding us for the most part. He’s not going to give us a roadmap, just like the Pope doesn’t have one. Life’s a journey. Don’t expect perfection, or even perfect logicality.

    Blessings,
    David

  80. Hello David,

    Thanks for commenting. You wrote in #79:

    Fred, this is a good article, but doesn’t consider the full range of Protestant possibilities.

    Thanks for the compliment, and I believe you. :-)

    But it is not intended to consider them, because it is really an autobiographical article, describing the thought processes I went through when I myself was leaving Protestantism. I wrote the article as a Catholic, but at the time I was arguing with myself about the ideas in the article, I was in the middle of a brief sojourn among conservative Anglicans after two decades in the PCA. I had absolutely no interest whatsoever in the Catholic Church, and on the day I realized I was no longer Protestant I reassured my mother that although I did not know what I was going to do, I had no interest at all in the Catholic Church.

    As is the case with most Catholics, they tend to see it as “all or nothing”. But what if God does not protect His Church from error yet still ensures the gates of Hades do not prevail? This is Scriptural. God preserving the Church from all error is not.

    The article isn’t a defense of Catholicism and it isn’t a Catholic critique of Protestantism; it is an internal criticism of Protestantism. It is intended to show that Protestantism’s self-declared means for discerning revealed truth in the Bible do not work. The results are disagreements over issues that cannot reasonably be said to be adiophora which shows that their methods do not actually work.

    An important characteristic of divine revelation is that it makes known truth that is either difficult or impossible for humans to discover by their own powers. It isn’t rational to suggest that divine help is unneeded in order to discern that truth in the Bible by our own powers either.

    The Church teaches that God protects her from error under certain conditions with respect to faith and morals, not from every possible species of error or under just any conditions.

    Therefore we have to be ready to live with error, but that doesn’t mean life is so bad. Catholics are quick to point out how awful things must be without an infallible Pope, but I can tell you things aren’t so bad.

    I was Presbyterian for 20+ years; I know what life is like as a Protestant. :-) The problem is not with how life is. The problem with Protestantism is that the means they claim give them access to revealed truth do not actually work. This means that Protestantism is false, and so I stopped being Protestant.

    Although Protestant congregations themselves will not agree per se on the essentials, nevertheless Protestants do in actuality agree on the essentials:

    And what are those essentials? Can you provide me a complete list? Because I never had one when I was a Presbyterian, and no Protestant I have asked since then has been willing and/or able to provide me one. Without such a list your claim to agreement on the essentials does not seem to amount to much, does it? And would all Protestants agree that the list is 100% identical with yours? If not, you have a problem, do you not?

    We are saved by believing in Christ.

    Catholics believe this. Are we saved?

    And yes we should be baptised and partake of communion as our Lord commanded, but what exactly goes on during these sacraments are non-essential.

    Really? Do all Protestants agree with you? Since God gave us specific forms for the Sacraments, you think those do not matter? How do you know that? How do you know whether it is okay to substitute grape juice for wine?

    Don’t get caught up over the fact some Protestant congregations say they differ on essentials. In reality most don’t.

    Is this not meaningless without a specific list of essentials?

    Peace,

    Fred

  81. David,

    As is the case with most Catholics, they tend to see it as “all or nothing”. But what if God does not protect His Church from error yet still ensures the gates of Hades do not prevail? This is Scriptural. God preserving the Church from all error is not. Therefore we have to be ready to live with error, but that doesn’t mean life is so bad. Catholics are quick to point out how awful things must be without an infallible Pope, but I can tell you things aren’t so bad.

    I am not sure how a person can hold this position about the Deposit of Faith unless you arbitrarily limit the possible errors to those beliefs you personally consider “nonessential.” What about doctrines such as the Divinity of Christ, inspiration/contents of Scripture, the Trinity and so on. Should we be ready to “live with error” regarding doctrines such as these as well?

  82. Fred and Brian,
    Peace in Christ,

    Brian, anything that contradicts the Word of God should not be clinged to. But yes, we are saved by believing Christ died for our sins and rose again. That’s really all you need. All the rest are man engaging in intellectual circuits.

    Fred, James tells us what perfect religion is, actually: helping widows and orphans.

    This isn’t to say theology development is prohibited, but certainly it should be checked by admitting these things are speculative. In other words when folks come up with beliefs on how God’s substance or two wills work, they should not be attaching anathemas and damning those who do not subscribe. God and the angels may be sighing every time this happens. Fussy men damning others on things we ought leave to speculation.

    Blessings,
    David

  83. Hello David,

    You wrote in #82:

    we are saved by believing Christ died for our sins and rose again. That’s really all you need. All the rest are man engaging in intellectual circuits.

    So…we do not need to believe in the Trinity?

    Peace,

    Fred

  84. I would say the Trinity is the correct understanding, but this is getting into very difficult abstract concepts. The Scriptures indicate this enough. To say one must believe this to be saved is wrong though…don’t be placing anathemas on stuff like this. Oh the lengths men with power will go to, yes even ancient bishops…

    Keep the Gospel simple and pure. Fight the urge to overcomplicate things and damn others.

    Peace,
    David

  85. Hello David,

    You wrote in #84:

    I would say the Trinity is the correct understanding, but this is getting into very difficult abstract concepts. The Scriptures indicate this enough. To say one must believe this to be saved is wrong though…don’t be placing anathemas on stuff like this. Oh the lengths men with power will go to, yes even ancient bishops…

    I am replacing this paragraph because I misread your first paragraph. Pardon me. Okay, so if one does not need to believe in the Trinity, it must be okay to be Arian? If it is okay to be Arian, then Jesus was not fully God, so how could He atone for us?

    What about the Virgin Birth? Or the inerrancy of Scripture? Or the canon of Scripture?

    Keep the Gospel simple and pure. Fight the urge to overcomplicate things and damn others.

    The Catholic Church does not damn people. An anathema does not mean that. As for complicating things…St. Peter himself says that there are difficult things in the Bible. So it won’t do for us to ignore what he says and pretend otherwise, right?

    Peace to you on this Third Tuesday of Easter!

    Fred

  86. Hi Fred,
    Peace back to you as well!

    Are you sure anathema never meant someone is accursed and damned? I’m pretty sure it was used as something even worse than the state of someone in excommunication. Super super bad state to be in.

    Virgin Birth? Well, again I’d say someone should believe this too. If they didn’t I’d ask why not, since it’s plainly in the Scriptures. But would I say someone is damned if they don’t? And again here, like with the Trinity, certainly not – that’s up to God, not fallen men with red robes and mitres.

    Inerrency of Scripture: Well, It is the Word of God, so again people should hold the Word in the highest regard. Do they need to believe every single word is perfectly translated?? No need to damn over this. Agreement of Canon? Also no need to damn over this too. Both Catholics and Scripture First Christians agree on almost all the books anyway. Nothing changes the Gospel with the ones they don’t agree on. So no big deal.

    We gotta learn to live with uncertainty instead of making up an idealized perfect answers magic 8 ball – which all too many Catholics appear to see their Church as…don’t forget the Church still won’t even tell its members there was a literal Adam and Eve. Good heavens what a simple ruling that would clear up so much confusion and cause Catholics to start loving their Bibles and taking them seriously again! Something so basic doesn’t get a Papal pronouncement, but something so secondary like Immaculate Conception becomes dogma…something’s not right here…

    Blessings,
    David

  87. Are you sure anathema never meant someone is accursed and damned? I’m pretty sure it was used as something even worse than the state of someone in excommunication. Super super bad state to be in.

    It is certainly a bad state to be in, but it does not mean damned. See here for more info. Also note that the vast majority of Protestants today are not under anathema because they were never Catholic. Canon law doesn’t apply to them.

    Virgin Birth? Well, again I’d say someone should believe this too. If they didn’t I’d ask why not, since it’s plainly in the Scriptures. But would I say someone is damned if they don’t? And again here, like with the Trinity, certainly not – that’s up to God, not fallen men with red robes and mitres.

    Again, the anathema does not mean damnation. But if one need not believe in the Trinity or the Virgin Birth, then a) he need not believe in the Christian God, and b) Jesus would be just a man, incapable of saving us by His death. What advantage, then, does the Christian have?

    Inerrency of Scripture: Well, It is the Word of God, so again people should hold the Word in the highest regard.

    How do you know it is God’s Word?

    Do they need to believe every single word is perfectly translated?? No need to damn over this.

    The Church has never required anyone to believe that every word in the Bible is correctly translated. :-)

    Agreement of Canon? Also no need to damn over this too. Both Catholics and Scripture First Christians agree on almost all the books anyway. Nothing changes the Gospel with the ones they don’t agree on. So no big deal.

    The books that Protestants reject include support for doctrines that Protestants reject, like praying for the dead and the intercession of angels and saints on our behalf. That seems fairly important. :-) Furthermore, if there is uncertainty about the canon then there is no reason to believe that any particular book in it is inspired by God. This undermines even the reliability of the Gospels and consequently even your initial minimal requirements become subject to skepticism, don’t they?

    We gotta learn to live with uncertainty instead of making up an idealized perfect answers magic 8 ball – which all too many Catholics appear to see their Church as…

    It is true that the degree of certainty that we can have about things varies considerably, and as Aristotle says (more or less) the wise man will not seek more certainty concerning a particular fact than is warranted.

    But we are talking about divine revelation. If it is divinely revealed, then it must be true, because God cannot lie. Right? So the only question remaining is how we know what God has revealed. In The Accidental Catholic I show that the means proposed and used by Protestants for doing that simply don’t work. The most they can give us is an opinion. But if God gave us no means to know with certainty what He has revealed then there was really no point in the revelation at all, was there?

    don’t forget the Church still won’t even tell its members there was a literal Adam and Eve.

    On the contrary, David. We are obliged to believe in a literal Adam and Eve. The doctrine of original sin hinges on this.

    Peace,

    Fred

  88. alrighty, how do I respond with the quote thingies, and hook myself up with those cool hyperlinks?
    help a Christian brotha out :)
    D

  89. David,

    We have a page with the fundamentals here, and a sandbox where you can test/practice here. :-)

    Fred

  90. Fred,

    I read Kimmel’s piece. He always seems to downplay harsh teachings in many of his posts. Here no exception. Bottomline is that anathemas were a form of excommunication even more solemn than regular excommunications. And they do mean someone is damned unless he repents. C’mon this is pretty much what I said. I know it sounds better to say the Church never damns anyone but it kind of does when it creates formulas and attaches anathemas to them, that if not embraced…well yeah you get the picture.

    And the Church does say Catholics must believe in a literal Adam and Eve that spoke to a serpent/devil? I didn’t know that, especially after a family member who is a priest always interpreted things allegorically and didn’t believe their reality.

    I’ll have to play around more in the sandbox to quote your other stuff, but the anathema thing is important that we get on the same page as that first anyway.

    Cheers!
    David

  91. David,

    You wrote in #90:

    I read Kimmel’s piece.

    It is entirely possible that I am crazy, but I do not recall referring to anyone named Kimmel in our conversation, nor did I mention that name in the original article. If it is something I linked to, I must ask you to have mercy on my poor memory and give me some more to go on for identifying where I used something written by Kimmel in this thread or in the article. Because I do not know what you mean. Sorry. :-(

    He always seems to downplay harsh teachings in many of his posts. Here no exception. Bottomline is that anathemas were a form of excommunication even more solemn than regular excommunications. And they do mean someone is damned unless he repents.

    No, it doesn’t mean that, and the Church does not say that, David. The Church knows no one’s heart and does not presume to know whether a man may have experienced a death bed conversion or even if he thoroughly understood why he was excommunicated, nor whether he understood that he was obliged to recant his false views. Not knowing these things (among others) it would be absurd for the Church to make declarations about whether a man has wound up in hell. The purpose of the anathema has always been to encourage the sinner to repent.

    C’mon this is pretty much what I said. I know it sounds better to say the Church never damns anyone but it kind of does when it creates formulas and attaches anathemas to them, that if not embraced…well yeah you get the picture.

    I get the picture, but it is more of a caricature. :-)

    I can only point you at what the Church teaches. I can’t make you believe it. But you are positively mistaken in what you say about anathemas. If you think otherwise you will need to do more than simply assert it; you will need to show it. Please. :-)

    And the Church does say Catholics must believe in a literal Adam and Eve that spoke to a serpent/devil? I didn’t know that, especially after a family member who is a priest always interpreted things allegorically and didn’t believe their reality.

    See §37 of Pope Pius XII’s encyclical Humani Generis, here. Your relative is mistaken, I’m afraid. Sorry.

    Peace,

    Fred

  92. Fred, please forgive me, I meant Jimmy Akin, not Kimmel. That guy certainly wouldn’t be one to quote! ;)

    Hmmm, is it not the case that if someone does not assent to something that the Church requires them to under pain of anathema, then they go to hell? (Historically at least?)

    Because if so, then it certainly seems fair to me to say when the Catholic Church creates doctrinal formulas and attaches anathemas to them, then the Church basically is causing the non-assenter to be damned.

    I suppose you are saying something to the effect, “But it’s the person’s fault for not assenting.” Is that right? Even so, what’s really going on is that 1) the Church is *creating* new formulas and 2) attaching anathemas to them.

    If it was just the first part, I would be ok with it, as I mentioned earlier about the Trinity and Virgin birth questions you brought up. But it is the second part that I find so un-Christlike: attaching anathemas.

    Let me try to explain it this way: When the Church decides to attach an anathema on a formula, basically what happens is that all the bishops look at eachother and say, “Alright guys, we think this formula is important, and so we need the people to follow this one.” “How do we do that?” asks one. “By assigning a penalty to those who do not assent”, another responds. “What should the penalty be?” another asks. “Eternal damnation” the group eventually decides.

    So you see, in this way the Church and the anathema really do damn someone. If the bishops instead said there should be no penalty, then no one would be damned, just encouraged to believe the Truth.

    Does that make sense?
    Peace my brother!
    David

  93. Hello David,

    Before I go too far I think you might find this article to be interesting…

    You wrote, in #92 here:

    Hmmm, is it not the case that if someone does not assent to something that the Church requires them to under pain of anathema, then they go to hell? (Historically at least?)

    No. It effectively means that that they are excommunicated, but as I said the Church makes no declarations as to whether a given person is in or is going to end up in hell. Furthermore, the anathemas apply only to Catholics. That is why most Protestants today are not subject to the anathemas of Trent: they were never Catholic.

    With respect to your hypothetical situation: it is fundamentally flawed in presuming that dogmas are defined on a whim. This has never been the case. They are defined in response to historical situations where the content of the Faith is being dangerously challenged or questioned. There have only been something like 30 ecumenical councils in two millennia, and papal definitions of dogma are even more rare. These definitions are made so that the faithful may know clearly and certainly the content of the Faith. Anathemas become necessary as a disciplinary measure for those Catholics who knowingly and stubbornly refuse to adhere to a dogmatic definition, and that is why they are like excommunication. Their intent is to lure erring brethren back to the fullness of the Faith.

    Peace,

    Fred

  94. Hi Fred, if what you say is true it would be a breakthrough for Protestant and Catholic unity.

    Unfortunately I am having a very difficult time accepting your interpretation of anathema. I hate to think that we’re at an impasse because you seem like a really good and sincere guy – someone able to talk about the “warts and all” about RCC. (on a sidenote I think Protestants and Catholics can best be prepared to talk to each other by first not assuming they must defend their church, but instead seek the Lord’s will). You I can see do this, and I tip my hat to you.

    I checked out your link. Yeah I’ve brushed by Canisius from reading St. Francis De Sales “Defense of the Faith”. and always wondered if thought all Protestants were damned. I tried to purchase the book on your link but it’s going for 81 bucks…a bit too much for a hunch that I may find a goldmine…

    I’ve been disappointed before, thinking I’ll get that one book that shows Catholics before 19th century believed Protestants can be saved, but haven’t found it yet. Let me know if you do :)

    Some Catholics have pointed to St. Thomas Aquinas’ definitions to support their claims that Protestants fall under “invincible ignorance” but St. Thomas doesn’t unpack this nor apply it clearly to non-Catholics. I want to read a Catholic theologian prior to 1800s that lays it all out that, yeah it is possible for non-Catholics to be saved, especially Protestants and Eastern Orthodox. That would be groundbreaking.

    Unfortunately most modern Catholics seem to me to minimize “anathemas”. But in the early Church they were deadly serious and indicated the person was damned unless he repented. Many of the Orthodox still understand it as the pre-Vat II (note I’m note an anti-Novus Ordo guy either, but just saying it like it is) did: http://www.orthodox.net/articles/anathema-bp-theophan.html

    Anathema meant one is “outside the Church”. And outside the Church means no salvation. Also remember this all is tied up with the power of the Keys. So the RCC can attach deadly penalties, like anathemas to doctrines.

    The RCC even said this about those Catholics who doubt or call into question the Assumption of Mary: “Hence if anyone, which God forbid, should dare willfully to deny or to call into doubt that which we have defined, let him know that he has fallen away completely from the divine and Catholic Faith.”

    Bottom line: Modern Catholics converts like even Jimmy Akin, appear to try to whitewash the harshness of Rome’s history and even current penalties.

    I wish I could see it as you do, but I am afraid I don’t believe the facts support your case that anathemas don’t, in reality, damn people. They are a direct power of the Keys to impose an eternal damnation on Catholics that don’t submit.

    Show me any pre -19th century Catholic theologian unpack it all for me that Protestants can be saved, and I’ll come to your side ;)

    Peace,
    David

  95. David, (re: #94)

    You wrote:

    Unfortunately I am having a very difficult time accepting your interpretation of anathema.

    There’s a basic ground rule in ecumenical dialogue:

    Out of respect and charity, each person gets to define, articulate and specify what is his own position, such that no one ought knowingly to attribute to or impose upon another, a position his interlocutor denies is his own. The one holding a position has the say in determining what is his position.

    If you insist on imposing on Catholics your own interpretation of Catholic statements, documents, and teachings, then you are not prepared to enter into ecumenical dialogue here.

    Moreover, this thread is not about the meaning of the anathemas, or whether the Catholic Church has changed her teaching on salvation outside the Church. If you would like to discuss that, please do so on “Van Drunen on Catholic Inclusivity and Change.”

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  96. Hello David,

    You wrote in #94:

    Unfortunately I am having a very difficult time accepting your interpretation of anathema.

    I don’t know what to tell you. I have been reading Catholic theology, philosophy, and magisterial documents for nearly ten years now, and I have never seen any other interpretation of what the anathema means than the one presented by Akin in that article. In fact, it is pretty common for us at CtC to simply refer people to that article because it covers the bases so well. If that isn’t sufficient, I guess you will need to satisfy yourself in some other way about it. The practice of referring to folks with non-orthodox views as separated brethren (or thereabouts; maybe not that exact phrase, but certainly that idea) goes all the way back to St. Augustine, who referred to the Donatists the same way.

    But I am no Ph.D. I am an autodidact who spends a lot of time reading.

    if what you say is true it would be a breakthrough for Protestant and Catholic unity.

    Would that this were true. But regrettably there are very many people who think about this subject much less charitably than you do.

    Yeah I’ve brushed by Canisius from reading St. Francis De Sales “Defense of the Faith”. and always wondered if thought all Protestants were damned.

    I am beating a dead horse here now, I know. But “damned” is not what the anathema means. It just doesn’t. And no Protestant who was never formally a member of the Catholic Church is subject to any anathemas just because he is Protestant. The only Protestants today who might be under the anathema would be some Catholics who leave the Church, but not even all of them would meet the conditions if they did not understand their obligations nor what the Church teaches about this.

    Some Catholics have pointed to St. Thomas Aquinas’ definitions to support their claims that Protestants fall under “invincible ignorance” but St. Thomas doesn’t unpack this nor apply it clearly to non-Catholics.

    Invincible ignorance applies in principle to anyone, not just Catholics. People do not go to hell merely because they are not Catholic. It would be unjust for God to do that to a man who had never even heard of Jesus Christ. Whether any given individual meets the standard is something that only God can judge, since we do not know people’s hearts.

    God bless you as you seek to be faithful to Him,

    Fred

  97. Fred, I’m going to hop over to Bryan’s link on Salvation to continue this so I don’t veer the subject too off course.

    I got some stuff to say about Augustine and anathemas that will indicate the Church changed its teachings on this…

    Again, let me know if you (or anyone here…there’s lots of smart folks here) find a pre-1800’s Catholic explaining how even Protestants can be saved. $81 is too much to gamble that Peter Canisius may have done so…

    Peace, and see you over at “Van Drunen and Catholic Inclusivity and Change”.
    ~David

  98. David,

    You said in #97:

    $81 is too much to gamble that Peter Canisius may have done so…

    You do not have to spend that much, unless you doubt Daniel-Rops’s veracity. I do not think he is uncertain whether St. Peter Canisius said it but rather whether he was the first or not. Knowing whether one said “separated brethren” is easier to establish than whether he was the first to do so.

    Also, why pre–1800s? Is there something wrong with the 19th century that invalidates the evidence I provided?

    Fred

  99. Hi Fred,

    Here’s more evidence Jimmy Akin and modern RCC apologists are not being forthright about the magnitude of “anathemas” and that they really do mean someone is damned (unless of course they repent and embrace the particular RCC formula the anathema is attached to).

    By the 6th century it was known to be even worse than ex-communication:

    “[…] during the first centuries the anathema did not seem to differ from the sentence of excommunication, beginning with the sixth century a distinction was made between the two. A Council of Tours desires that after three warnings there be recited in chorus Psalm cviii against the usurper of the goods of the Church, that he may fall into the curse of Judas, and “that he may be not only excommunicated, but anathematized, and that he may be stricken by the sword of Heaven”.

    source: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01455e.htm

    Peace,
    David

  100. Hello David (re: #99),

    That is not “evidence” that Akin is “not being forthright about the magnitude of the anathemas” because it is fully compatible with what he says being true.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  101. Hello David,

    You wrote, in #99:

    Here’s more evidence Jimmy Akin and modern RCC apologists are not being forthright about the magnitude of “anathemas” and that they really do mean someone is damned (unless of course they repent and embrace the particular RCC formula the anathema is attached to).

    Saying that Akin and others “are not being forthright” is an ad hominem. We do not allow this here. See the posting guidelines.

    In the first place, whatever anathema means, it categorically does not apply to people outside the Catholic Church because they are not subject to Catholic canon law. This is the entire reason why Vatican II can rightly refer to Protestants generally as “separated brethren.” They cannot be held responsible for what Calvin, Luther, and others did five centuries ago. So to suppose that anyone born after the 16th century to Protestant parents is automatically anathema is incorrect.

    Secondly, as a matter of charity it is only fair that each participant in a discussion is granted the right to declare what he believes, rather than being told what he believes. Mr. Akin’s views on this subject are perfectly in keeping with what the Church teaches, and he has never been corrected (to my knowledge) by a canon lawyer with respect to his presentation of the history of the anathema in the Church. If you wish to say that the Catholic view is false, that is a separate (and, for this article, mostly off-topic) subject. It is also different from telling us what our views are.

    You then quote from the Catholic Encyclopedia:

    …A Council of Tours desires that after three warnings there be recited in chorus Psalm cviii against the usurper of the goods of the Church, that he may fall into the curse of Judas, and “that he may be not only excommunicated, but anathematized, and that he may be stricken by the sword of Heaven”.

    The council of Tours mentioned in the article on anathema is not mentioned at all in the separate article on Tours. This implies strongly that the council was a regional one at best, and that it was never officially sanctioned by the pope (which is the only way that a non-ecumenical council may become binding on the entire Church). In other words: it was an unimportant council not binding outside of the geographical boundaries of the bishops attending.

    Peace,

    Fred

  102. Fred,

    The Catholic Encyclopedia itelf defines “anathema”:

    “At an early date the Church adopted the word anathema to signify the exclusion of a sinner from the society of the faithful; but the anathema was pronounced chiefly against heretics. All the councils, from the Council of Nicæa to that of the Vatican, have worded their dogmatic canons: “If any one says . . . let him be anathema”. Nevertheless, although during the first centuries the anathema did not seem to differ from the sentence of excommunication…”

    So when Mr. Akin or any other well read Catholic apologist tries to make anathema seem like it just means “keep away from”, it appears they are sugarcoating.

    If we can’t even allow for frank discussion as this, unfortunately this site will reduce into little more than “ask your favorite Catholic apologist a question, but be sure to accept it without too much thought or we will find a way to show you broke our rules.”

    D

  103. David (#102):

    So when Mr. Akin or any other well read Catholic apologist tries to make anathema seem like it just means “keep away from”, it appears they are sugarcoating.

    The Catholic Encyclopedia is a) not a product of the Magisterium, and so b) not binding on anyone’s conscience; but c) excommunication (whatever it may be called) is a matter of discipline, not faith and morals, and besides d) once again I point out what I said before: let us say what we believe. It is not charitable to do otherwise.

    If we can’t even allow for frank discussion as this, unfortunately this site will reduce into little more than “ask your favorite Catholic apologist a question, but be sure to accept it without too much thought or we will find a way to show you broke our rules.”

    Frank discussion is fine within the bounds of the posting guidelines.

    Peace,

    Fred

  104. But Fred, my whole point is that what Catholics believe now about what anathema means is not what the Church used to believe it meant, so I’m sorry but I have to reject the “let us say what we believe or we will not post your responses.”

    I already have had at least 3 well thought out arguments I took the time to write that were never posted (granted not on your thread), so I’m not seeing this site overall cares to discuss things that are uncomfortable for Catholics.

    But you need to if you are going to have anything but sanitized one sided groveling submitals.

    Not mad at you, you’re a good one.

    Peace,
    David

  105. David,

    If Fred is willing to tolerate 2 or 3 rounds of exchange I am willing to pursue the Anathema discussion with you a bit further. Overall I agree with Fred, and Bryan above, but I think there is some room for some constructive dialogue. If you would care to point out to me the particular paragraph or two from the Catholic Encyclopedia you think contradict what Fred has said, or what Jimmy Akin summarized in his article, I’d be happy to respond.

    In starting I’d like to draw your attention to one statement in the article:

    He takes his seat in front of the altar or in some other suitable place, amid pronounces the formula of anathema which ends with these words: “Wherefore in the name of God the All-powerful, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, of the Blessed Peter, Prince of the Apostles, and of all the saints, in virtue of the power which has been given us of binding and loosing in Heaven and on earth, we deprive N– himself and all his accomplices and all his abettors of the Communion of the Body and Blood of Our Lord, we separate him from the society of all Christians, we exclude him from the bosom of our Holy Mother the Church in Heaven and on earth, we declare him excommunicated and anathematized and we judge him condemned to eternal fire with Satan and his angels and all the reprobate, so long as he will not burst the fetters of the demon, do penance and satisfy the Church; we deliver him to Satan to mortify his body, that his soul may be saved on the day of judgment.” Whereupon all the assistants respond: “Fiat, fiat, fiat.” The pontiff and the twelve priests then cast to the ground the lighted candles they have been carrying, and notice is sent in writing to the priests and neighbouring bishops of the name of the one who has been excommunicated and the cause of his excommunication, in order that they may have no communication with him. Although he is delivered to Satan and his angels, he can still, and is even bound to repent. The Pontifical gives the form for absolving him and reconciling him with the Church.

    What is clear, at least from a Catholic foundation, is that this is a medicinal sentence. It is extreme. However the hope is that ultimately he will repent (in life) or his soul will be saved (presumably because he repented at the moment of death).

    Two final thoughts. First, the Catholic Encyclopedia articles online are from the 1913 encyclopedia so written in a language that assumes an understanding of Catholic Theology using terminology and forms that were heavily modified by Vatican II. The Encyclopedia articles are generally very densely written and while not requiring a Phd. in Theology they are much easier to parse when the reader is generally comfortable with the background knowledge of Catholic history and doctrine. Second, as alway, all such sources should be read within the context of Catholic doctrine. Catholic Doctrine has always been to hope for the ultimate salvation of every soul (even though we may have very little hope) and to never define or declare that any individual is damned at final judgement.

  106. David (no need to respond to me as you are engaged with others),

    I agree with GNC, Bryan , and Fred,

    I have re-read Akin’s article and the encyclopedia several times and find them to be in agreement. Akin writes:

    Like other excommunications, anathemas didn’t do anything to a person’s soul. It didn’t make him “damned by God” or anything like that. The only man who can make a man damned by God is the man himself. The Church has no such power. An anathema was a formal way of signaling him that he had done something gravely wrong, that he had endangered his own soul, and that he needed to repent. Anathemas, like other excommunications, were thus medicinal penalties, designed to promote healing and reconciliation.

    and two quotes from the encyclopedia state:

    Although he is delivered to Satan and his angels, he can still, and is even bound to repent. The Pontifical gives the form for absolving him and reconciling him with the Church. The promulgation of the anathema with such solemnity is well calculated to strike terror to the criminal and bring him to a state of repentance, especially if the Church adds to it the ceremony of the Maranatha.

    Still the anathema maranatha is a censure from which the criminal may be absolved; although he is delivered to Satan and his angels, the Church, in virtue of the Power of the Keys, can receive him once more into the communion of the faithful. More than that, it is with this purpose in view that she takes such rigorous measures against him, in order that by the mortification of his body his soul may be saved on the last day. The Church, animated by the spirit of God, does not wish the death of the sinner, but rather that he be converted and live. This explains why the most severe and terrifying formulas of excommunication, containing all the rigours of the Maranatha have, as a rule, clauses like this: Unless he becomes repentant, or gives satisfaction, or is corrected.

    All of these agree with the Bible passages referenced in the encyclopedia:

    I Cor. 5.5 you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.

    and

    I Tim 1.20 among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.

    I could not find the contradictions .

    Thanks

  107. Hi Kim, Paul and Fred,

    Is it not the belief of the RCC that through the power of the Keys, it can create rules and assign punishments?

    Let’s start here because I think we might be talking past each other a bit.

    D

  108. David,

    This is a reasonable question but unrelated to the article. This article has to do with why I stopped being a Protestant. Questions about Catholic views were not really relevant to that debate or decision.

    I suggest you ask your question at the link below instead, because infallibility was related to why I ultimately decided to become Catholic:

    http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2012/02/making-my-way-to-the-church-christ-founded-2/

    I suggest this because I am guessing your question is ultimately going to be pointing in that direction.

    Fred

  109. Kim and Paul,

    I haven’t seen you guys over at Fred’s link above. I’ll continue this discussion over there. In the meantime, please allow me to clarify I am not against “anathema” in principle, only the way the RCC uses them for things that are a far cry (abuse/illegitimate development) from what they are intended as in 1 Cor 5.

    See you over at: http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2012/02/making-my-way-to-the-church-christ-founded-2/
    Peace,
    David

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