Making My Way to the Church Christ Founded

Feb 13th, 2012 | By | Category: Featured Articles

Readers of Called To Communion will recognize the name Fred Noltie, since in July of last year he wrote a guest post for us titled “The Accidental Catholic.” Recently we invited Fred to join the CTC team, and we’re delighted that he has agreed. 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, his wife Sabryna, and their son were together received into full communion with the Catholic Church at St. Lawrence parish in Monett, Missouri, where they are presently members. In this article Fred tells the story how he and his family became Catholic. Fred, welcome to CTC! -Eds.

In The Accidental Catholic I described how I realized that Protestantism’s proposed means for discerning revealed truth in the Bible do not afford us any basis for certainty about what that truth actually is. This fact, which struck me like a bolt out of the blue, forced me to realize that I could not remain a Protestant. But on the day that I decided that I was no longer Protestant I was equally certain that I would never become Catholic. I was just not interested in that at all, because – after all – it was the Catholic Church, and I just “knew” it was wrong! Why did I change my mind?


The Nolties

The short answer to that question is that there aren’t very many alternatives. In setting aside Protestantism I also rejected any sort of individualistic approach to Christianity—and for the same reasons. If Billy Bean decides he is going to make his way in the world as a sort of Lone Ranger Christian, and if I do the same, how are we to know which of us is right about what the Bible teaches when we disagree? We can’t know that, for the reasons I described in The Accidental Catholic. So if I set aside Protestantism as unworkable, I likewise had to set aside any sort of idiosyncratic or individualist Christianity; consequently I had no choice but to consider historic Christianity. It took a little while, but I slowly began to realize that I would have to consider the claims of the Catholic Church.

The first step I necessarily had to make in that direction was to grasp fully the consequences of the question that I mentioned near the end of The Accidental Catholic: If I believe X about a certain doctrine, but the Church (not necessarily the Catholic Church yet, in my thinking at the time) says Y about it, who is right? I don’t recall if I was ever faced with that question as a Protestant, but I think it’s an important one. Is it not just obviously absurd to suppose that I could be right, and that Christ’s Church could be wrong — to suppose that the Holy Spirit would guide me to the truth in some important doctrinal matter, but not the Church? It was easy to see that to ask the question was practically the same as to answer it: if the Church and I disagree about some dogma or other genuinely important doctrine, it’s obvious that I must be the one who is mistaken, and consequently I need to change my views to match the Church’s. If the Church could be wrong — if the Holy Spirit does not protect the Church from error somehow — then there is certainly no reason to believe that I am right either. Because if the Holy Spirit does not protect the Church from error, why on earth would He protect me from error? And as I wrote in The Accidental Catholic, it’s not enough for me to say that my exegesis (or that of some modern scholar whose brilliance I happen to appreciate) just obviously is correct while the Church’s is not. Given that brilliant and godly men stand on every side of practically every theological question, the appeal to mere scholarship proves nothing.

So far so good. But that doesn’t help so much with identifying where the Church is. It confirmed my decision to abandon Protestantism, since no Protestant denomination (none of which I was aware, anyway) claims that its doctrine is certain to be true; they all acknowledge that they can and do err. As I was slowly coming to realize, though, a necessary attribute of the Church must be that it cannot err – some how, some way, in some manner, the Church cannot err with regard to at least some things, and those things must include doctrine. Because if that’s not the case, then the answer to my question becomes absurd. It becomes possible for me to be right about some dogma or important doctrine and for the Church to be wrong about it. It becomes possible for the Holy Spirit to have allowed the Church to fall into doctrinal error, but to have protected me instead! And once again, that was and is absurd even to imagine. It seemed, then, that it was definitely reasonable to suppose that the Church must possess infallibility in some fashion or other, even if only because the alternatives are simply untenable.

I soon realized that there was also Scriptural warrant for believing the Church to be infallible. Two passages came to mind: Matthew 16:19 (and similarly in 18:18):

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.

And John 20:23:

Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them: and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.

As I contemplated anew the significance of these passages, it became clear to me that implicit in them is some form of a guarantee. Why? Because these promises are unconditional: whatsoever you bind…whatsoever you loose; whose sins you shall forgive…whose sins you shall retain. These are not promises to honor what Peter and the Apostles do only when they bind or loose rightly. These are promises that whenever or whatever they bind or loose, it will be honored in heaven. There must, then, be some sense in which God protects them in the exercise of their authority, so that they do not exercise it in such a way as to make it impossible for Him to fulfill His promise. So I concluded that there must be some sense in which the Church must enjoy an infallible exercise of authority. Obviously more would have to be said in order to connect a promise made to the Apostles with the Church of today, but the point for me at the time was that at least the argument for infallibility could credibly be made from Scripture.

So here I had two grounds for thinking that some form of infallibility could very reasonably be understood as an attribute of Christ’s Church: first, the alternative seemed clearly to be doctrinal chaos, which I now knew to be intolerable; secondly, there were at least some passages of Scripture that support a claim of infallibility for the Church. And so, over the course of a few months, I was forced to concede that I probably ought to investigate the Catholic Church just because it claimed infallibility of some sort, which was precisely what it seemed the Church that Christ founded ought to have.

And so my investigation of the Church began. In the Lord’s providence I was unemployed at the time, and this gave me the opportunity to spend a lot more time studying than I could otherwise have done. I read thousands of pages of books and countless web pages about the Catholic Church. And as I read, two things gradually came into focus for me. The Church’s claims were coherent and consistent. She did not contradict herself. On the other hand, She also had reasonable answers to the charges and criticisms made by those those who opposed Her.

It was serendipitous for me that a former pastor gave me an unabridged copy of Salmon’s Infallibility of the Church at about this same time, since infallibility was such an important subject in moving me to investigate the Church in the first place. Unfortunately it wasn’t hard to see that Salmon’s argument rested almost entirely upon a straw man. Ignoring what the Church actually teaches about infallibility, he formulated an entirely different version of it (on grounds that his version was stronger than the actual Catholic doctrine) and then refuted that. His straw man thus included the following:

  • Agents of the Magisterium (and not just the Pope or ecumenical councils) should be infallible under certain circumstances (p. 249-250)
  • Any official utterances of the Pope should be infallible (pp. 250, 435)
  • Infallibility should (under certain circumstances) apply to private communications of the Pope (p. 438)
  • Church discipline should be infallible (p. 250)

None of this has anything to do with what the Church actually teaches. On the other hand, it certainly made it easier for Salmon to throw dirt on the Church, because by saying that infallibility should include the points mentioned above, it becomes child’s play to find instances of error. And those errors would then refute the Church’s claimed infallibility. But in reality, what the Church teaches about infallibility simply doesn’t match what Salmon says.

In the end, Salmon’s book had exactly the opposite of its intended effect on me. Its best arguments were sufficiently answered by Catholics. Its straw-man treatment of infallibility was essentially worthless. Its invective and outright falsehoods against the Church and Catholics completely undermined any claim to scholarly detachment he might otherwise have merited. The Church’s teaching concerning its infallibility emerged unscathed.1

After a period of initial study, when it became obvious that there were no glaring red flags popping up in my reading, it became reasonable to think about attending RCIA — not because we had already decided that we wanted to become Catholic but as an additional way to learn more about the Church. So with some trepidation we made our way to a nearby parish. Well, one of the first things we discovered was the truth that refuted an old canard about the Church. Protestants often like to say that the Catholic Church hates or fears the Bible, but in one of our first RCIA2 classes the priest said that if Catholics are unable to answer Protestant criticisms, it is because Catholics do not read the Scriptures! Here was a priest who, right off the bat, encouraged parishioners to read the Bible! And so it went. As months went by and our study (now both private and in RCIA) progressed, our objections to the Church were being answered at every turn. Protestant errors and misconceptions about Her crumbled; the truth became clearer and clearer to us.

Eventually it became pretty obvious that we really should join the Church, but I at least struggled with a few things — primarily the Marian dogmas. After all, there was nothing explicit in the Bible concerning them (at least, not the way that I had been trained to read the Scriptures in college), so I was really forced to take the Church’s word for them. I could see that they didn’t contradict the Bible, and they certainly passed the argument of fitness, but was that enough?

I didn’t put it this way at the time, but I think an excellent summary of how I became settled in my mind with respect to these dogmas may be found in one of the Pontificator’s Laws: “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.”3 The point is that we’re talking about articles of faith here, and not mere theological niceties. Remember The Question above: if I say X about Mary, and the Church says Y, who is right? Well, who am I to sit in judgment? I had no reason left to doubt that the Catholic Church is indeed the Church that Christ founded, so I really had no reason left for doubting the truth of these dogmas. Certainly I had no grounds whatsoever for doubting them on the basis of the Protestant paradigm. If the Catholic Church is the Church that Christ founded — as I had already come to believe — then there was no good reason to hold back just because I didn’t understand some doctrine or other. The truth of a dogma isn’t measured by my comprehension. God expects me to receive as true what He has revealed; He does not expect me to understand things that are above my pay grade, so to speak.

It’s probably worth pointing out what the reader may have noticed already: I haven’t spoken solely about my investigation of the Church, but also about our investigation. Fairly early on in the process I made my concerns about Protestantism known to my then-equally-Reformed wife. She would undoubtedly have more to say about this if she were writing this article, but when I explained my thinking about it to her she recognized that indeed there were serious problems with the way that Protestantism proposes that we find revealed truth. Before very long she was investigating things on her own, and so it happened that we began seeking the truth about the Catholic Church together, and we entered the Church together at Easter, 2005.

  1. A more complete reply to Salmon may be found here. []
  2. “Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults,” which is the course of education and procedures by which inquirers are instructed in the basics of the Catholic Faith []
  3. The full list of the Pontificator’s Laws may be found here. []
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132 comments
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  1. Fred,

    Thanks for the great article! I enjoyed how you said this line…”The truth of a dogma isn’t measured by my comprehension. God expects me to receive as true what He has revealed; He does not expect me to understand things that are above my pay grade, so to speak.”

    I am sure there are many who would interpret this line of thinking as having blind faith, but I see it as having just plain faith and trust in the Church that Christ founded. Since I became Catholic, my heart has absolutely become more engaged and that does not mean checking my brain at the door of the Church. But, I have the freedom in my spiritual life to seek charity and not feel like I have to be “up” on all the interpretations and new ideas out there.

    Blessings!

  2. Fred, welcome to CTC and more importantly, to the Catholic Church. Happy to have you as a contributor.

  3. Thanks Tim!

  4. Hello Cindy,

    Thanks very much for reading, and for your kind words. Yes, we do not exercise a blind faith; rather, we believe what the Church teaches because it was founded by Christ and is vested with His authority. “He that hears you hears Me” (Luke 10:16).

    Peace,

    Fred

  5. Oh, and welcome to the Church, Cindy!

  6. Y’all couldn’t have picked a nicer or more thoughtful defender of the Faith. Glad to see you here, Fred!

  7. Hello Mike,

    Thanks very much! I’m very happy to be here!

    Fred

  8. Yesterday, I was looking through an art history book with my young daughter and we were noticing how funny the statue of Pepi II, an Old Kingdom Egyptian Pharoah, looked sitting on his mother’s lap in full regalia, being depicted as not a child, but as a full grown man. Maybe this was because the artist lacked the skill to depict a child, or it is meant to symbolize that his mother is his regent, since he came to power as a child, or the statue is meant to serve as symbols of the goddess Isis and her son Horus; or both. Anyways,while we laughed at the funny art work, I being stumbled by Mariology,saw the similarities in some of the Church’s depictions of Christ on His mother’s lap. Admittedly, I was/am stumbled by The Mother of God Cult that exists in history. But, I’m stuck, because the art work doesn’t precede the doctrine of Mary as Co-Redemptrix. I can either think, “Man, those Catholics have a fully developed doctrine for every thing in Holy Scripture. Don’t they know that they are imposing a pagan idea into Christianity?” or ” Geez, this is all very weird, but what the heck do I do with the fact that Jesus did tell John at the foot of the cross, “Behold thy mother”, the same woman who was prophecied in Gen 3:15, the same women who told the servants at the wedding feast of Cana, ‘Whatever He says, do it’. Do I adopt only what I happen to find palatable to my modern, reductionist mind, or am I forced to take it all, based on authority?” Seriously, did Mr. Marshall really say in one of his closings, “Honor Thy Father and Thy Mother” referring to Mary? I’ve been singing The Beatles, “Let It Be” quite often lately. So continues, my dilema and my goad kicking…

  9. Mr. Nolte,

    You said: ” If I believe X about a certain doctrine, but the Church (not necessarily the Catholic Church yet, in my thinking at the time) says Y about it, who is right? I don’t recall if I was ever faced with that question as a Protestant, but I think it’s an important one. Is it not just obviously absurd to suppose that I could be right, and that Christ’s Church could be wrong — to suppose that the Holy Spirit would guide me to the truth in some important doctrinal matter, but not the Church? It was easy to see that to ask the question was practically the same as to answer it: if the Church and I disagree about some dogma or other genuinely important doctrine, it’s obvious that I must be the one who is mistaken, and consequently I need to change my views to match the Church’s. If the Church could be wrong — if the Holy Spirit does not protect the Church from error somehow — then there is certainly no reason to believe that I am right either. Because if the Holy Spirit does not protect the Church from error, why on earth would He protect me from error?’

    Thank you for the article. This is exactly where I am cornered.

  10. Alicia (#’s 8 & 9),

    You beat me to it, because I was going to reply to your #8 by referring to that exact part of my article (which you quoted in #9). I think this is an important thing for you to consider.

    Perhaps it would be helpful for you to take a look at my post The Accidental Catholic. In particular I think the further thoughts I offer in this paragraph near the end might be useful to you as you think about where you say you are cornered:

    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.

    May God bless you as you seek to be faithful to Him.

    Fred

  11. Fred,

    I look forward to reading more of your contributions on here. I’ve also subscribed to your blog. A mutual friend of ours personally recommended your writings. I am a Catholic revert and it’s a choice that I am more at peace with by the day. When I made the choice to return to the faith, I had to believe that it was the church Christ personally founded. I was so zealous that I announced this decision as widely as possible and it didn’t come without backlash. I honored to meet with some Protestants who spouted nothing but garbage about how Constantine founded the church or that there’s no visible church that Christ intended – just an invisible one. Honestly, I wasn’t ready to handle each objection with love, specificity and clarity.

    Called to Communion, in a sense, is a lot like studying game film. The readers are the players and the editors are like our defensive coordinators, linemen coaches, linebacker coaches, DB coaches, etc. (Bryan Cross can be Bill Belichick.) It’s helped me see Protestant arguments from different commenters and stated in different ways. Eventually, you become a Ray Lewis and can read the play before the snap. But this analogy isn’t perfect because CtC is not an adversarial site. I’m amazed at the brilliance of the contributors but their charity is something to be exemplified, above all. I trust that forum is one of many places that will bring about the union of Catholics and Protestants.

  12. Hello Andre,

    Thanks for your kind words. Welcome back to the Church! God is good. The game film analogy is hilarious.

    Fred

  13. Fred,

    Welcome to CTC! Thanks so much for your contributions. This blog was crucially helpful in my return to the Catholic Church in 2010. I am deeply grateful to all of the CTC authors and to so many who write in the comment boxes! What a service to Christ all of you are rendering here (and those works alone can’t save us, but they *do* please Him, when they are done in love for Him)!

  14. Thank you very much, Christopher :-)

    Fred

  15. Welcome home Fred and Cindy!

    Is it not just obviously absurd to suppose that I could be right, and that Christ’s Church could be wrong — to suppose that the Holy Spirit would guide me to the truth in some important doctrinal matter, but not the Church? It was easy to see that to ask the question was practically the same as to answer it: if the Church and I disagree about some dogma or other genuinely important doctrine, it’s obvious that I must be the one who is mistaken, and consequently I need to change my views to match the Church’s. If the Church could be wrong — if the Holy Spirit does not protect the Church from error somehow — then there is certainly no reason to believe that I am right either. Because if the Holy Spirit does not protect the Church from error, why on earth would He protect me from error?

    Mr. Noltie, this is a great argument. Indeed, to ask the question is to answer the question. What you have said here was in my mind when I read this on web:

    Top 5 Heresies I Would’ve Believed Without the Authority of the Church

    By Jennifer Fulwiler

    … Based on what I’d absorbed from mainstream American Christianity, I thought that if I simply read the Bible that I would then have the answers I needed. I skimmed the Old Testament, and carefully read every word of the New Testament. I was sincerely trying to deduce the correct meaning from these Scriptures, and even said a bumbling prayer (one of the first I’d ever said) asking God to guide my understanding. Yet I would later find that the conclusions I came to based on my personal read of the Bible were a departure from the traditional Christian view; in fact, they were heresies. Here are a few that seemed to make perfect sense to me …

    http://www.ncregister.com/blog/top-5-heresies-i-wouldve-believed-without-the-authority-of-the-church/

  16. Fred,
    What makes you think that Matthew 16:19 (and similarly in 18:18) and John 20:23 has anything to do with infallibility? I don’t see anything in these passages that Jesus promised infallibility.

    Thanks

  17. Hello James,

    I discussed that in the article, in the first paragraph below the quotation of John 20:23. Perhaps I was unclear though. If so, please let me know what I need to clarify and I will attempt to do so.

    Peace,

    Fred

  18. James,

    The logic is not direct but if you take an example it becomes clearer. The apostles, in Act 15, used their authority to declare that circumcision was not binding. That is they loosened that requirement on earth. By Jesus’ word we know that loosing also applied in heaven. So we know heaven is OK with Christians not being circumcised and not circumcising their sons. How can that decision then be a doctrinal error? It can’t. Otherwise heaven would be OK with doctrinal error.

  19. Fred,
    I’d like to chime in on your response to James. You claim the RCC has to be infallible in matters of faith and morals. Have you read about Joan of Arc where the RCC condemned her as a heretic and later reversed itself years later to make her a saint? If the RCC was protected from error in matters of faith and morals, then this would not have happened.

  20. Hello Henry,

    The Catholic Church does not claim—nor has she ever claimed, as far as I know—that the gift of infallibility extends as far as you propose, so your conclusion does not follow. Your proposal is one that Salmon made in his book, and I briefly discuss in the article why I did not find his argument persuasive.

    Peace,

    Fred

  21. Fred,
    Did you not claim that the RCC has been protected from error when you write “So I concluded that there must be some sense in which the Church must enjoy an infallible exercise of authority.” Was not the condemnation of Joan of Arc and exercise of authority?

    For a more modern example from the catechism, do you believe that Muslims and Roman Catholics worship the same God?

    Blessings

  22. Hello Henry (#21),

    Did you not claim that the RCC has been protected from error when you write “So I concluded that there must be some sense in which the Church must enjoy an infallible exercise of authority.”

    The context from which you took that one sentence answers your first question. I was not talking about the Catholic Church at that point in the article, nor at that stage in my journey. I was discussing my conclusions concerning Christ’s Church (wherever it might be), and I had concluded (both on grounds of reason and from the Scripture I quoted) that some form of divine protection must exist for the Christ’s Church in its exercise of its authority. Because I reached this conclusion, I later deemed it reasonable to investigate the claims of the Catholic Church. When I did so, I learned that the particular form of protection claimed by the Church extends to its authority as a teacher of faith and morals.

    Was not the condemnation of Joan of Arc and exercise of authority?

    If you are asking this because you are continuing to pursue your argument from #19, then the answer remains the same as I said before in #20. The Catholic Church does not claim that its infallibility extends to matters of discipline. If that is not your reason for asking this question, please explain, because I do not see its relevance. Sorry.

    Your third question is not relevant to my article. I would like to stay on topic as much as possible, please. Thanks.

    Peace,

    Fred

  23. Fred,
    Joan was condemned as a heretic. She is a good test case for the claim that the RCC cannot err in matters of faith and morals. The condemnation of Joan of Arc was a theological matter and not just mere discipline. It is impossible to separate discipline and theology in the church. It was years later that the church reversed itself and now calls her a saint. The fact that the church reversed itself demonstrates it did err.

  24. Henry, re:23

    The “RCC” as you’re using the term (which would comprise the Magisterium) did not condemn Joan of Arc.
    She was tried at Rouen by a tribunal presided over by the infamous Peter Cauchon, Bishop of Beauvais, who hoped that the English would help him to become archbishop. This was the evil act of a very small group of men who had no authority beyond their own limited, local power.

    When the RCC did act, it was to canonize her as a Saint. So your charge against “RCC” is based on a false premise and therefore invalid.

    Frank

  25. Henry (#23),

    This is entirely off-topic, because the post is autobiographical and does not pretend to offer an argument in favor of the Catholic Church’s definition of its charism of infallibility, nor an explanation of it.

    You’re welcome to interact in this combox with what I’ve written in the article. Please set aside the off-topic material.

    Thanks again.

    Your assertion that discipline and theology are inseparable is not true. Orthodoxy does not imply orthopraxy (and vice versa).

    Fred

  26. Fred,
    I nodded my head throughout your article. I believe I am the mutual friend Andre was referring to who recommended your writing. I was at the Cathedral of St. Paul for Andre and his wife’s Rite of Election yesterday. Congradulations to them for their courage to do the right thing.
    I think I speak for Andre, and I know I speak for me when I say it is an incredible blessing for us to have godly, theologically trained men like you from our Reformed tradition to blaze the trail home. And I find it ironic that we have atended the same PCA and had some of the same friends and mentors, and both have ended up Catholic for similar reasons.

    I am convinced that particularly in the Reformed world, there are necessarily a few different classes of men. There are the “supers” who are highly trained and nationally influential who are the default Reformed ‘magisterium’ if you will. Then there are those who are no less trained, but are influential on a local level, and are the teaching and ruling elders in general. Then there are the laymen, who are in various lesser states of training and knowledge and who are extremely self conscious of their reliance on the minds of the men above them to lead the way doctrinally. And they expect good, strong leadership for their loyalty.
    When I was Reformed, I was in the last category. It was a very frustrating place to be. When the Reformed ‘magisterium’ has multiple voices, who do I obey? Who is correctly interpreting the Book, and how do I know they are? I remember desperately wanting to just bow the knee to one voice and feeling true despair at times that I would leave my children in such epistemic individualism.
    Thank God I found this website. From what I have read here, I consider you contributors to this site to be members of the Reformed magisterium who have voluntarily laid down your crowns and led the way to the true magisterium. You could have been teaching and ruling elders but istead have given up much to follow Christ.
    To all the contributors here, I will never stop saying “thank you”!

  27. To add to David #26, I had trouble identifying the default Reformed Magisterium. Was it Michael Horton, NT Wright, Peter Leithart, David Van Drunen, John Piper or Norman Shepherd? Let’s just say they won’t be golf buddies anytime soon. One of the seeds sown for me returning to Rome was a Tabletalk issue in 2010 with many Reformed heavyweights taking shots at NT Wright’s teachings. I had to check out NT Wright for myself and determined that he was not the boogeyman the Reformed world made him out to be. I was gradually being pulled to a covenantal idea of church structure and that ecclesiology is a lot closer to soteriology that a reformed person would care to admit. I was still in super denial when it came to reading Called to Communion and David Meyer’s blog. Eventually, I concluded that there is only one church (so NT Wright was wrong, too) and that unity is not just important but essential if Christ is to be trusted (John 17).

    I left a similar comment for Jason Stewart’s post. When you think about Peter Leithart’s “heresy” trial, by what standard was he really judged? Word of God, Confessions of Faith? Ultimately, he was judged on an interpretation. Who in the Protestant world can speak for Protestantism? What’s heresy in one Protestant denomination may be perfectly acceptable in another.

  28. Earlier I wrote:

    Was it Michael Horton, NT Wright, Peter Leithart, David Van Drunen, John Piper or Norman Shepherd? Let’s just say they won’t be golf buddies anytime soon.

    I apologize if I created an impression that there is mutual hatred among all of them, which is clearly not the case. Horton and Van Drunen probably agree on 99 percent of the issues. Wright and Leithart agree with each other 85 percent. Leithart and Shepherd would probably have similar views. But where there are opposing schools of thought are here: Wright vs. Piper; Van Drunen vs. Shepherd.

  29. David & Andre,

    I agree about the existence of one or more default Reformed magisteriums. It seems that they fall into a couple general camps: the academic and the pastoral. But it would be difficult to draw strict lines about such things, both because the camps frequently overlap and (most importantly) because the final say remains with the individual, who chooses his own magisterium (which will be one with which he agrees). And I think that this inevitably places one face to face with what I consider to be a serious scandal of Protestantism. As Andre says, “What’s heresy in one Protestant denomination may be perfectly acceptable in another.” If a man disagrees with what is taught in his present congregation or denomination, he is completely free to move along to a new one where they agree with him, and where he won’t be considered to be in error at all. Those who remain in his former ecclesial community may (and probably will) cast aspersions on him, but there is no principled reason for them to do so: he has done nothing more than exercise the rights of conscience, which are considered sacrosanct in Protestantism. And as soon as a Protestant congregation or denomination proposes to limit that freedom of conscience, Protestantism itself is fatally undermined. This goes back to something that Daniel-Rops observed:

    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.

    It is the subjectivity surrounding all this that compelled my departure from Protestantism.

    Peace,

    Fred

  30. Fred Noltie writes: I agree about the existence of one or more default Reformed magisteriums. It seems that they fall into a couple general camps: the academic and the pastoral. But it would be difficult to draw strict lines about such things, both because the camps frequently overlap and (most importantly) because the final say remains with the individual, who chooses his own magisterium (which will be one with which he agrees).

    If the final say remains with the individual, then, it seems to me, that the individual is the magisterium, since the individual has primacy when it comes to determining what doctrines he or she will, or will not, accept as being orthodox. Scholars and Pastors may help shape what an individual believes to be true, but the final say always rests with the magisterium that holds primacy.

    Those who remain in his former ecclesial community may (and probably will) cast aspersions on him, but there is no principled reason for them to do so: he has done nothing more than exercise the rights of conscience, which are considered sacrosanct in Protestantism.

    I know that some Protestant denominations openly affirm the principle of the primacy of the individual conscience. For example:

    Staffordshire Unitarians

    Principles and Values

    Individuals of this community uphold the following principles

    1. The primacy of the individual conscience in the search for personal and spiritual growth;
    2. The inherent worth of all people;
    3. Fairness and equality of opportunity;
    4. Valuing community as a way of being; and
    5. Reverence for the interdependent web of existence.

    Ref: https://sites.google.com/a/staffordshire-unitarians.net/staffordshire-unitarians/values-and-principles

    Mr. Noltie, I would love to see an article from one of the CTC writers about the sacrosanct nature of the liberty of conscience, particularly as the Reformed Christians uphold that belief. In that article, I would very much desire to see an analysis of where the Reformed Confessions actually uphold this belief, and why those who hold to these Reformed Confessions must necessarily assent to a belief in the principle of the primacy of the individual conscience.

    If there was a CTC article dedicated to this topic, it could be referenced when a member of a Reformed sect denies in a combox comment that the Reformed Confessions implicitly teach the primacy of the individual conscience.

  31. Hello Mateo,

    You wrote (#30):

    If the final say remains with the individual, then, it seems to me, that the individual is the magisterium, since the individual has primacy when it comes to determining what doctrines he or she will, or will not, accept as being orthodox.

    I don’t disagree. My intent was to say that there is something of a grey area, in that many or most Protestants trust their pastors (or, alternatively, some scholars or other) to guide them in their understanding of their faith. They retain a veto, but in my experience it is not often exercised. So formally speaking you’re correct. Materially speaking, the ordinary case finds the average Protestant layman resting for the most part in the judgment of his chosen shepherd(s).

    Fred

  32. Mr. Noltie, thank you for your reply to me in your post # 31.

    I can certainly understand that “the ordinary case finds the average Protestant layman resting for the most part in the judgment of his chosen shepherd(s).” As a child growing up as a Catholic, I also trusted the judgement of our shepherds. If the priest told us children something, we didn’t question him!

    What we were never taught as Catholic children, was that adult laity had veto power over what the Catholic Church officially taught. There was no conceivable circumstance where the laity could change the de fide dogmas of the Catholic Church. For sure, I never conceived of the Catholic Church as being a democracy where, when I grew up, I could eventually have say in what she was going to officially teach as dogma. There simply was no grey area about where primacy was located (it wasn’t with the laity), so I can’t really grasp where the average adult Protestant layman sees the grey, not having been brought up as a Protestant.

    Most of the Protestants that I know would have no qualms at all about going church shopping if they came to believe that their Protestant church was teaching something that wasn’t “scriptural”. The big exception to that rule are the Mormons that I know, since they generally believe that what is scriptural is what the Prophet of Salt Lake City tells them is scriptural. The Mormons missionaries that I have talked to recently are hot on the topic of authority. Usually, they can give a pretty good argument from the Old Testament about how God has always sent prophets that spoke with authority.

    They retain a veto, but in my experience it is not often exercised. So formally speaking you’re correct.

    The formal foundation of the individual’s veto power is what I am interested in learning about. Wouldn’t that foundation be something that is laid out in the Reformed Confessions? Where else would one look for that foundational belief? Would it be more of a tradition that is passed down within the community? Certainly, there is no scriptural basis that can be made for the individual layman having veto power of what the church teaches!

    Jason Stewart, in his CTC article, An OPC Pastor Enters the Church writes this:

    … as a Presbyterian I recognized there were leaders in the Church to whom obedience was due (Heb. 13:17) — being a pastor, I was one of them — but obedience to such leaders was dependent on whether or not they themselves were obeying the voice of the Apostles in the writings of the New Testament. Like the noble Bereans, each believer was to evaluate their leaders and their teachings by the Bible. To use the words of the Westminster Confession of Faith, ”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.”

    It is quotes like these from Jason Stewart that give me the impression that the Reformed Confessions of Faith formally teach the doctrine of the primacy of the individual conscience. It seems to me that there is also a tradition among Presbyterians that the individual has an obligation to study the scriptures to discern whether or not his Pastors are being “scriptural. But I have never been a Calvinist, so I am only forming my ideas on what I read from those who have been Calvinists.

  33. Hi Mateo,

    What Jason quotes from the WCF is part of the picture for that primacy of conscience of which we are speaking—at least for the Reformed. The obvious question that must be asked is, “What does the Holy Spirit say in Scripture, and who decides what it is?” The WCF denies that any ecclesial body of any sort can be relied upon unconditionally for that:

    All synods or councils, since the apostles’ times, whether general or particular, may err; and many have erred. [XXXI.iv]

    If they may err, it is obvious that their judgments are not ipso facto reliable, and therefore must be judged by something else…which brings us back to Jason’s quotation from I.x.

    Another relevant passage from the WCF is this:

    God alone is Lord of the conscience, and has left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men, which are, in any thing, contrary to His Word; or beside it, if matters of faith, or worship. So that, to believe such doctrines, or to obey such commands, out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience: and the requiring of an implicit faith, and an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience, and reason also. [XX.ii]

    And this:

    All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all: yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them. [I.vii]

    If a man believes that councils may err, and if he believes that they must be judged by appeal to Scripture, and if he believes that he is not conscience-bound to things which councils may teach if they have erred in them, and if he believes that he doesn’t have to be educated in order to discern necessary truths in the Bible…it’s pretty easy to see that he’s not exactly going out on a limb if he supposes that he can decide for himself whether some doctrinal statement or other is true or false. What else is he likely to do, since he can’t trust councils but he can (so he is told) learn everything from the Bible that he needs to learn, without even an education?

    I do not say that this qualifies as a logical demonstration; obviously it isn’t, at least not as I’ve presented it. But I think the force of it is pretty hard to deny.

    I think that Luther’s “here I stand” example also plays a part for the average Protestant, because it is frequently held up as a model for them.

    Fred

  34. Thank you again, Mr. Noltie.

    I do not say that this qualifies as a logical demonstration; obviously it isn’t, at least not as I’ve presented it. But I think the force of it is pretty hard to deny.

    I don’t see why what you written said isn’t a logical demonstration, but for now, let me just call what you have written in your last post a reasonable interpretation of the WCF (reasonable to me anyway). Which just brings us back to the question of interpretive authority. Who is that can say with certainty that your interpretation of the WCF is NOT correct?

    All synods or councils, since the apostles’ times, whether general or particular, may err; and many have erred.

    This would mean that the first seven Ecumenical Councils accepted by both the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Churches may, in fact, have taught erroneous doctrine. If these seven Ecumenical Councils are suspect because they may have promulgated error, then certainly it must be the case that no one can know for sure that your interpretation of the WCF is in error. Perhaps the WCF is itself loaded with error – who could ever know with certainty that it isn’t?

  35. Fred in #33:
    “he’s not exactly going out on a limb if he supposes that he can decide for himself whether some doctrinal statement or other is true or false. What else is he likely to do, since he can’t trust councils but he can (so he is told) learn everything from the Bible that he needs to learn, without even an education?”

    This is the tension that I could not shake in the PCA. On the one hand, the requirement of me and desire by me to obey the Church, on the other hand, when serious doctrinal confusions happened in my soul, the Church (in the end) telling me to figure it out for myself. Huh? Isnt that why there are elders who have studied the Bible and can tell me what to believe? These two pulls are mutually exclusive, and that tension just never let up for me, but intensified. If I tell my 4 year old to cook dinner, they will loose respect for my judgement. When elders tell laymen to do the job of the Church, those laymen know something is seriously wrong.

  36. Mateo (#33),

    Who is that can say with certainty that your interpretation of the WCF is NOT correct?

    The courts of a Reformed denomination would provide the authoritative interpretation of the WCF for purposes of that denomination. Of course, no other Reformed community would be bound by that, and since (as the WCF itself says) any such court may err there is no reason to grant such interpretations more strength than this: “We may be mistaken about this, but this is how things are going to work in our denomination.”

    This would mean that the first seven Ecumenical Councils accepted by both the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Churches may, in fact, have taught erroneous doctrine.

    I think it’s important to keep in mind the WCF’s actual wording: may err. I’ve never heard of a Presbyterian who thinks the Nicene Creed contains errors, for example. So I think the idea is that in the WCF’s view councils are not specially protected from error. This does not imply that any given council’s decrees necessarily contain error. Their rule for deciding that is, of course, to judge the council by Scripture. But if a council is not protected from error, then of course there is no principled reason for supposing that any judgment about a council is protected from error either. Certainty about the truth is the victim here, as I showed in The Accidental Catholic, and when I realized this I was compelled to abandon Protestantism.

    Fred

  37. David writes (#35):

    This is the tension that I could not shake in the PCA. On the one hand, the requirement of me and desire by me to obey the Church, on the other hand, when serious doctrinal confusions happened in my soul, the Church (in the end) telling me to figure it out for myself. Huh? Isnt that why there are elders who have studied the Bible and can tell me what to believe?

    Yes, that is the dilemma Daniel-Rops is talking about in the quotation I provided in #29.

    Fred

  38. I think it’s important to keep in mind the WCF’s actual wording: may err. I’ve never heard of a Presbyterian who thinks the Nicene Creed contains errors, for example. So I think the idea is that in the WCF’s view councils are not specially protected from error. This does not imply that any given council’s decrees necessarily contain error.

    Right, the Nicene Creed may contain error, but it is highly unlikely that it does.

    The words of the Niceno–Constantinopolitan Creed begin with the words, “We believe in …”. One way to interpret those words is to say that they should be read as, “We think it highly probable, but we are not absolutely sure that …”. But this interpretation, from a Catholic point of view, is an interpretation that substantially changes the meaning of the Creed.

    I wrote the above, because I was mulling over this doctrine from the WCF that you posted earlier:

    All synods or councils, since the apostles’ times, whether general or particular, may err; and many have erred. [XXXI.iv]

    Last night, it struck me that this is a very strange thing to assert. This doctrine is saying that after the last apostle died that there is no source of teaching for Christians that has a guarantee from God to be free from error. Which immediately raises the canon problem, since the apostles never declared the canon. But suppose that we brush the canon problem aside for the moment, and concede that what is written in the Protestant Bible is inerrant. It still remains a fact that there is nothing in the Protestant bible that asserts what WCF XXXI.iv is asserting. So if WCF XXXI.iv is not taught in the Protestant bible, where does this doctrine come from? It comes from men who lived over a thousand years after the last Apostle died! But, according to WCF XXXI.iv, these are the very men that can never teach doctrine that has a guarantee from God to be inerrant. Therefore, it seems to me that WCF XXXI.iv should be read as:

    “We protesters think that all synods or councils, since the apostles’ times, whether general or particular, may err; and many have erred … but then again, we can’t really be certain that this is true, because we, the men that are making up this doctrine, are writing down this doctrine a thousand-five-hundred years after the last apostle died. Therefore, to be consistent with what we are saying, there is no guarantee from God that anything that we are teaching as doctrine is free from error.”

    But if a council is not protected from error, then of course there is no principled reason for supposing that any judgment about a council is protected from error either.

    Exactly so. There is also no principled reason to think that that a Protestant doctrine that asserts that all Ecumenical Councils may contain error, is itself a doctrine that cannot be completely wrong in what it is asserting.

  39. Everyone,

    This is the tension that I could not shake in the PCA. On the one hand, the requirement of me and desire by me to obey the Church, on the other hand, when serious doctrinal confusions happened in my soul, the Church (in the end) telling me to figure it out for myself. Huh? Isnt that why there are elders who have studied the Bible and can tell me what to believe? These two pulls are mutually exclusive, and that tension just never let up for me, but intensified. If I tell my 4 year old to cook dinner, they will loose respect for my judgement. When elders tell laymen to do the job of the Church, those laymen know something is seriously wrong.

    David Meyer writes above of the theological and practical tension that he faced in the PCA. I faced this tension too, as a member of two different Protestant bodies (at different points, respectively), that were not part of the PCA, but might as well have been, for how exegetical differences were resolved there.

    The congregation was told to submit to the elders, but in truth, *we,* as individual members of the congregation, interpreting Scripture for ourselves, were still the ultimate *authority* for ourselves– as evidenced by the fact that if anyone read Scripture and came to the honest conclusion that the elders were sufficiently wrong on an important matter, he (or she) could be counseled, in good conscience, to leave, go to a different church and “submit” to the elders there!

    To be fair, the leadership *did* help us to determine, from their interpretations of Scripture, which matters were “essential” and “non-essential”– but if we came to believe that the elders were sufficiently incorrect on some “secondary,” but still important, Biblical matter (such as baptism, in the thinking of these churches), we could still leave and go elsewhere… with blessings from the elders! This is “submitting” to leadership within a Protestant ecclesial framework, at least from what I experienced.

    The above scenario is a strange combination of personal autonomy (in the form of personal interpretation of Scripture, finally unanswerable to anyone or anything else other than the personal conscience) and heavy, heavy responsibility… and the simple fact is, most of the laypeople in a church, who have to work regular jobs, raise their children, and attend to various other responsibilities in their lives, do not have the time nor the skills to “be their own elders”– yet that is finally what they are asked to do in the PCA and other Protestant denominations, no matter how much the official language speaks of submitting to their elders!

    This reality came home to me when I made the mental decision, while still a member of a Protestant body, to simply “step outside” of the basic, five-point-Calvinist theology that was taught there. For years, based on my own interpretations of the Bible, I had held to that theology. However, there *were* very strongly worded Biblical passages which appeared to refute it… what if I was wrong?

    When I decided to seriously look at the whole of the Bible, and very seriously consider other, competing, non-Calvinist theologies, in light of the Bible, that was the beginning of the end– for my Calvinism and (though I didn’t know it at the time) for my basic Protestantism. The enterprise of building one’s theology from one’s personal interpretation of the Bible can lead one in a thousand different directions– many of them heretical.

    As serious, Bible-loving, five-point-Calvinists, we didn’t want to admit this uncomfortable reality. Actually, at a certain level, we truly thought that our theology was the “clear teaching of the Bible,” and that if others (such as Arminians) would only utilize “proper exegetical and hermeneutical principles” (i.e. *our* principles), then, by God’s grace, they would see that five-point-Calvinism is the “clear teaching of the Bible.”

    However, in retrospect, I, at least, was quite prideful in my theological understanding and did not seriously consider that *other* competing theologies might be right. When I began to actually do that, I saw just how many schools of theological thought are out there, in the Protestant world (not to mention other, non-Trinitarian theologies, such as Oneness Pentecostalism, which also claims to be the *real* Biblical Christianity!). It slowly began to dawn on me that, perhaps, this is not how God means for us to discern truth– via our own, personal exegetical skills, with the help of commentaries and such– in other words, Sola Scriptura.

    *This* possibility (the possible wrongness of Sola Scriptura as a means to discern truth) was shown to me, in an especially striking way, when a friend, a Jewish convert to “Reformed Baptist” Christianity, revealed to me that he had been studying with a Oneness Pentecostal pastor and was seriously considering that non-Trinitarianism might be Biblical!

    I was stunned! My friend, whom I believed, for all the world, to be a serious follower of Christ, questioning whether the Trinity is Biblical! I knew that I could go through various various Biblical passages with my friend, reasoning with him that, indeed, the historic, orthodox doctrine of the Trinity *is* taught in the Bible. I also knew that he could point to passages which appeared to refute that historic, Nicean Creed formulation of the Trinity, accepted by Protestants, Catholics, and the Orthodox.

    How to deal with *this* impasse? I was a bit shaken– and though I wouldn’t really admit it to myself, at the time, as a convinced Protestant, I knew that part of the reason I accepted the Trinity as “Biblical” is that the ancient creeds *set it out as such*. I did believe that the Bible teaches the Trinity– but I was seeing that it was not taught in an undeniably clear way, there, that sincerely studious, “exegetical” Christians could not end up being led into heresy.. through the practice of Sola Scriptura!

    In all of the above comment, I have basically described “signposts,” markers along the way, in my journey as a Protestant, which brought me to the conclusion that Protestantism could not be what God intended for His church. He would not leave us to such chaos– and He did not. He left us an authoritative, teaching Church– the Catholic Church. I know, from my own painful experience, that it is very humbling– even a bit disorienting– for a Protestant to reach this conclusion. However, it is the truth.

  40. All,

    I used to have this discussion with a Protestant friend (while I was deep in Reforamtion theology) who contended that every Christian must become a scholar in both Biblical Hebrew and Greek in order to properly exegete scripture and avoid being ‘mistatught’. But this just leads to the problem that Christopher (and many others) have described. It elevates and complicates the discussion about the true composition of the deposit of faith, not to mention begs the question of Sola Scripture (and some other Solas), and does not break the impasse of ecclesial authority since there isn’t one. How truly beneficial it is that the leadership of the Church can devote themselves to prayer and the word on our behalf while the rest of us can wait tables on their behalf as the book of Acts says.

  41. I’m coming a year late to the party here, so apologies for the late comment on this very interesting posting. I am not a Catholic, and I am not at all a scholar. Just a guy who is very interested in following Christ and in doing everything I can to make sure that I am adhering to sound doctrine and hence to develop a better understanding of the arguments for Catholicism so that I can feel more confident that I am not failing to accept them through negligence.

    I think we all, particularly in areas of religion or politics, have the frustrating experience of reading essays from an opposing perspective and wishing you could interact with the author to try to figure out what the heck one of you or the other is missing. I don’t say this as an indictment of the author, because I know that it’s always hard to write something that will seem persuasive to an outsider. But I think the part of the essay that was most frustrating for me was the discussion of Salmon, because his book has extensive arguments about the certainty question, and when I saw the reference to it I was really looking forward to seeing how you would respond to those arguments on the merits. Perhaps such a response would have been impractical in a short essay, but the curt dismissal nonetheless left me with some degree of frustration. I’ve read the Butler response you link carefully, and when I did I thought that nobody but a hardened partisan could find the Butler book the more persuasive of the two. And the author of this post’s brief discussion of false premises go to arguments wholly separate from Salmon’s arguments regarding the propriety of asking for certainty and the propriety of arguments for an infallible or certain guide to religious truth. Those, as you know, were predicate arguments directed to the general question of certainty that came before page 249, where the author’s citations start, and do not depend on any of those premises (about which a lot more could be said, incidentally). I wish there were a way I could interact with someone from the Catholic side about particular arguments in Salmon’s book in particular, and Butler’s responses to those particular arguments, and try to get a better understanding of what I am missing. But I understand that sort of labor-intensive discussion is impractical in individual instances.

    Anyway, I don’t know what the point really is of any of this beyond offering a candid reaction from an informed layperson outside your fold. It’s more of a general frustration than anything specific to this particular posting. I know of lots of friends and writers who are Catholic and very intelligent. Which makes it very frustrating when I honestly and sincerely try and cannot see as meritorious the key arguments made by these smart and sincere people. I’m sure the feeling is largely the same from the other direction.

    Best regards,

    CThomas

  42. Hello CThomas,

    Thank for your comment and for taking time to read my article. I’m thankful, too, that you recognize it is impossible to be all things to all men in the space of a short article. I am sorry I fell short in some ways for you. With respect to Salmon’s arguments concerning certainty my recollection is that that they proved too much. If they held against the Church, they also held against Protestantism. I’m afraid I can’t offer more than that at this time; like you I am a layman, neither an academic nor a cleric.

    In reviewing my notes from reading the book, a few things stand out.

    Salmon insists that his hearers (fellow Protestants) “should have learned the strongest case that can be made” by Catholics; and that his hearers “must be careful, also, to distinguish the authorized teaching of the Roman Catholic Church from the unguarded statements of particular divines, and not to charge the system as a whole with any consequences which Roman Catholics themselves repudiate”; and that they ought to “beware of bad arguments, the fallacy of which, sooner or later, is sure to be exposed”; and that his “object is not victory, but truth; for the subject is one of such importance, that a victory gained at the expense of truth would be one in which we ourselves would be the chief sufferers” (see pp. 13-14 for the quotes here).

    This is all well and good, but my notes unfortunately make it distressingly clear that he means something else by this scholarly detachment which he rightly lauds. As I wrote in the article, he insists upon arguing against a formulation of papal infallibility that the Church does not hold. This is neither scholarly nor detached, it seems to me. I will give him the benefit of the doubt and suppose that perhaps his feelings ran away with him, but there are enough “whoppers” in the book that I can hardly take him more seriously than Boettner:

    • he says that papal infallibility has a “benumbing effect” on Catholics’ intellects, and that it “stunt[s] men’s intelligence” (pp. 106-108).
    • he claims that Catholics worship Mary despite our constant denials (p. 11).
    • he claims the Church “feels the Scriptures are against her” (p. 11-12), yet this is the same Church which produced the Douay Bible before the KJV and which has a long history of Bible translation.
    • he refers to conversion to The Catholic Church as “perversion” (one of several examples: p. 13).
    • he describes the Catholic believer’s faith as “credulity” (p. 15) but on p. 441 says (as if it is a matter of no significance) that most Christians just follow their leaders when it comes to difficult doctrine. So the Catholic is to be scorned for doing so (he is credulous) but it is okay for others.
    • he criticizes problems in the Church’s history repeatedly, denying that in His providence God might use human sin for the sake of the advance of His Kingdom, but he ignores the rather appalling facts about the birth of his own Anglican Communion. But he cannot have it both ways. If he can say that God used the lecherous Henry VIII for the sake of advancing Protestantism, he cannot at the same time criticize alleged analogous events in Catholic history.

    More could be said. Suffice it for now that in the face of such partisanship coming from one who wants us to believe he is offering an unbiased argument, and from an academic who has made quite a few glaring errors of fact, I was not inclined to grant him the benefit of the doubt on any count. I was not Catholic at the time I read the book, and I did my best to give him a fair reading, but these and other problems made it difficult for me to take him seriously. I know you feel otherwise.

    You wrote:

    I know of lots of friends and writers who are Catholic and very intelligent. Which makes it very frustrating when I honestly and sincerely try and cannot see as meritorious the key arguments made by these smart and sincere people. I’m sure the feeling is largely the same from the other direction.

    I appreciate very much the spirit in which you write. What is important in dialogue is that we see each other as honest, sincere seekers after truth and approach each other in a spirit of charity as we seek it.

    There are probably other, better articles here at Called to Communion than this autobiographical one for discussing the subject of certainty. Perhaps this one by David Anders?

    Peace,

    Fred

  43. Thank you very much for taking the time to write that kind and charitable response, particularly given what I fear was a slightly obnoxious comment from me (although I didn’t intend it that way). It’s funny — even though I’m brand new to this web page, I did happen by chance to read the David Anders piece you link. After I read it, I searched for the word “Salmon” in the search box which is what led me to your article. I do realize that it was essentially autobiographical and hence unfair of me to expect much in the way of detailed argument. I will say just as one quick point on Salmon, that I have never seen a (to me) persuasive response to Salmon’s very first argument in his book, which to me by itself is completely dispositive of the certainty question. This is Salmon’s very simple point that even if a guide truly is infallible, that guide cannot provide certainty to a greater degree than your individual, fallible grounds for accepting that infallibility. You and every other Catholic convert has accepted that the modern Catholic Church is authoritative for Christians, infallible in certain matters, etc., but you cannot be any more certain about any infallible pronouncement of that Church than the degree of certainty you have that the Church is, in fact, authoritative and infallible (in the matter in question). Therefore, unless you yourself are infallible as an individual (which none of us believes of himself), it is strictly impossible for even a genuinely infallible guide to give you total certainty about any conclusion whatsoever. Because you are fallible in your own reasoning powers, your conclusion that the Catholic Church is authoritative and infallible on certain matters cannot itself be certain, so any conclusion based on that authority or infallibility is itself inherently no more certain than this predicate fallible belief itself. I would love to know the answer to that argument. I was not able to discern one in Butler’s response to Salmon on this point, and in fairness to Mr. Anders, his article really was not directed to this sort of thing.

    Anyway, I’m off on another rant. I’ll leave you alone, but I sincerely do appreciate your thoughtful response and your very apt comments about charity in dialogue which (despite my comments here) I do share with you entirely. And I intend to read some other articles on this site in that spirit.

    Best regards,

    CThomas

  44. Dear CThomas,

    I was following your exchange with Fred and saw your latest comment. If Fred is not able to respond, I am happy to take a look at the section of Salmon you reference and get back to you later this week. As you stated his argument, there is no challenge here for the Catholic which does not also strike at the vitals of Protestantism, too. I can explain later, but I want to make sure that I read Salmon first. I am sure you are fine with a delayed response, given how understanding you have shown yourself to be so far.

    pax,
    Barrett

  45. Thank you Barrett. That’s generous of you. If you do end up having time, the relevant part of the book is the lecture entitled “The Argument in a Circle,” which appears at pages 47-61 of the edition that appears in full text on Google Books. I’ll try to check back periodically in case you end up having time to write something on the argument.

    Thanks again and best regards,

    CThomas

  46. CThomas,

    It seems your main hang up (Salmon’s first argument) is what CTC has termed the “Tu Quoque” objection, which is the subject of several articles here. Sorry I can’t provide a link to them (don’t know how to do that yet on an iPad), but you should be able to find them easily yourself.

    I agree with Fred and Barrett; this line of argument attacks the infallibility of Scripture as much as that of the Church, and ultimately leads to agnosticism, not Protestantism.

    – dp

  47. Dear CThomas,

    My apologies for taking longer to get back to you. I had to write in a hurry, so please forgive rough edges.

    I’ve taken the time to read Salmon’s third chapter, “The Argument in a Circle”. His basic argument is that the Catholic can have no more “certainty” in the infallibility of the Church than he has in his own fallibility (his “private judgment”), which means that he will forever be less than certain of his own submission. Thus he is in no better place than the Protestant. On this, I will second commentator dp’s recommendation of the Tu quoque article, including section III, questions 4 and 7.

    Salmon’s correlative argument is that the argument for arriving at an infallible Church by appeal to the inerrant Scriptures is circular. This everyone would admit, and the Catholic argument does not depend on this. In what follows, I will lay out what I see the issues are in Salmon’s general critique and where he does not yet understand the Catholic Church’s claims or her understanding of faith.

    Under the term “private judgment”, Salmon conflates three separate things: the rational act of an individual, the “fallible” certainty of one’s knowledge, and judging by natural reason among the parts of divine revelation (rationalism). The first is what Catholics ask Anglicans (or anyone) to do when considering the claims of the Catholic Church for her divine authority. One cannot but do this. See Q1 of part III of the Tu quoque article above.

    The second sense of “private judgment” is vague and refers to a mental or psychological state of certitude. The vagueness is compounded when Salmon further equivocates on the term “infallible”. At some points he seems to mean by “infallible” that whatever is infallible would yield a maximally high level of certitude in the knower. But if that were true, then God–whom I hope you will agree is infallible–would cause maximal certitude in the minds of all men as to his existence, his truthfulness, his love, justice, etc. Yet this is not the case and it cannot be the case on Salmon’s logic. Salmon could never believe in God’s infallibility on his own logic, for he would only in the end be appealing to his “private judgment” in this second sense. Salmon almost exclusively treats “infallibility” in this certitude-granting sense. In the typical Catholic meaning, an authority is infallible if it teaches without error, without reference to whether that authority grants a psychological state in the mind of those whom it teaches. Right there he has a difficulty, in that he thinks Catholics are talking about the certitude of the knower rather than the limits on knowledge put on reason by the objects known (e.g., the aspect of reality within the grasp of human reason vs. that which is known to God [“mysteries”]). Someone can have knowledge of the former but only opinion of the latter, apart from God revealing. The concept of certainty is unhelpful because the primary benefit of an infallible magisterium is the fact that the human mind is not able to know the mysteries that God reveals on its own power, and thus needs them taught without and defended against deviation or domestication. The Catholic argument is not to press skepticism tout court but to argue that faith concerns a formal object to which human reason is not naturally proportioned (e.g., God and his creation under the aspect of that which is required for salvation but above arriving at just by human reason) and thus private judgment cannot arrive at–let alone guarantee–knowledge of such mysteries.

    The third sense of “private judgment” is to make one’s finite mind the measure of accepting anything. This I will contrast with being able to accept something unseen by faith in the First Truth who reveals it (as in the case of divine revelation). This sense of “private judgment” makes God’s authority less than the limits of one’s own human reason, even after one has the warrant to accept that God is speaking. Ultimately it reveals that one’s faith is actually human opinion all the way down and founded on the individual’s will, for reasons St. Thomas Aquinas explains in Summa theologiae IIaIIae q. 5 a. 3. Catholics do not deny private judgment in finding the Church in the first sense and even the third, for Catholics are not fideists who insist that the authority of a divine messenger must simply be accepted without any reasons given. Once God’s messenger is identified, however, then private judgment in this third sense must cease. And Catholics do not say that the individual act of faith is not an intellectual act of an individual, though it is by grace. When Catholics decry private judgment is when it is used to pick and choose what the divine messenger relays, as though one will accept what is above reason’s grasp only if reason can grasp it. The absence of these distinctions leads him into alleys very quickly.

    The absurdity of Salmon’s position on private judgment may be shown by the following example. Take someone recently converted by St. Thomas or any other apostle at the beginning of the Church. The New Testament had not yet been completed, let alone assembled, and all were bound to the word of the apostles. The apostles went preaching as messengers from God, and to show their authority they were granted power to perform signs. Someone believes and is baptized. Now on Salmon’s account, that person cannot have faith in divine revelation because that person’s identification of the divinely-authorized messengers depends on his fallible judgment. Yet the first century convert has discovered something actually there: a divine messenger, through whom the convert comes to divine knowledge which the convert could not have by his own reason. So the convert discovers the teaching authority Jesus sent into the world, but it is not for the convert to then “pick and choose” what he will believe about that message.

    It is in this last sense of “private judgment” that Salmon enjoins on his hearers to use their reason to gauge the truth of the various Catholic doctrines (e.g., Purgatory), in addition to whether the Catholic Magisterium infallibly proclaims divine revelation. But this would be absurd advice if it were given to a recent convert listening to the apostles. If a convert were to accept some divine teachings from an apostle but not others, all according to the convert’s private judgment, it would only show that the convert does not have faith.

    It is for this reason that I suspect Salmon does not understand the concept of faith as taught by the Catholic Church. Faith is the virtue by which we believe things that are above reason and depend directly on God’s knowledge of himself and the world. The doctrine of the Most Blessed Trinity depends not only any human knowledge arrived at by the powers of human reason. It depends utterly and completely on God’s knowledge of himself communicated in human language, revealing a mystery which we cannot even comprehend by our finite intellects. Yet Salmon goes on writing as though one could get all the contents of divine revelation if one just thought long enough. There is no sense in his writing that faith believes in unseen mysteries on God’s authority alone. Instead he offers inapt analogies about blind men asking blind men to lead them. The problem is that the Catholic does not say reason is blind. To the contrary! The Catholic merely points out that, even without factoring in the effects of the fall, reason can only see so far. And if God were to say that something is over the horizon, it would be a devil who would insist on sailing out to see it before believing.

    For another reason Salmon is in a bad spot. His identification of divine revelation depends on accepting an already-compiled canon of Scripture to be the exhaustive deposit of faith. In his treatise, he treats the divine origin of the Bible as obvious to all (p. 59: “the conviction we all feel that the Bible comes from God”). See pp. 53-54 where he implies that the individual may discern by private judgment which books are the Word of God. What would he say to a Protestant theologian who doubts the inspiration of the pastoral epistles? Or to a skeptic who simply doubts that these books are divine revelation infallibly communicated by authorized divine messengers (i.e., the apostles)? One may have reasons for one’s own opinion on the matter (e.g., that the Gospels are otherwise historically reliable documents), but nothing will be settled between the contending parties. After all, if the identification of divine authority depends on a fallible judgment, then Salmon cannot believe that the Bible comes from God except by fallible premises. But later (p. 57) he argues that if one can doubt any premise in a line of argument, then any authority grasped at the end of that argument is of doubtful quality. This applies equally to God himself. After all, to modify Salmon at one word, “when men profess faith in [the Triune God]‘s infallibility, they are, in real truth, professing faith in their own” (47). What Salmon’s project means is that in Christianity one does not submit to God through the Church. One cannot even submit to God, for one is only in the end submitting to oneself.

    What the Catholic Church actually teaches is different. The Church does not say to someone, “Believe the Church for the Bible commands it,” and then says, “Believe the Bible for the divine Church commands it.” That would be circular, but Salmon is wrong to claim that the Church urges this. Rather, the Church proclaims the Gospel of Jesus with all its sacred teachings. This proclamation has accompanying reasons for accepting the authority of those who proclaim (the apostles, the Church) as authorities from God. These are miraculous signs, the fulfillment of prophecy regarding the Messiah, the sanctity of the saints, the unity of the Church, etc. Once the divine authority is discovered, then the message from the divine messenger deserves the assent of faith with no doubting (e.g., no exercise of private judgment as though revelation were a connatural object to the human intellect). One must use reason to discover a divine authority, but once one finds a divine authority one does not use reason to judge realities which are beyond the natural scope of reason. And thus Catholics may not exercise private judgment as regards the Gospel without losing their faith. But the realization that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead, that he was from God, that he constituted a visible society to follow after him to proclaim his teaching through authorized men, that the Church is a divinely authorized teaching authority–these are discovered by investigation. Insofar as the Bible is used to arrive at these and discover that the Catholic Church is that society, the Bible is not used as a the fully inspired Word of God but as historical records to what Jesus did and said. But the way is open in principle, especially to unbelievers to come to faith without Salmon’s argument obtaining.

    Now Salmon, beginning on p. 57, wants to argue against this mode of evangelizing by saying that each step is “contestable”. I am not sure what he hopes to do with this, which seems to be just outright skepticism. Arriving at the books of the New Testament or identifying any divine authority involves “contestable” steps. “Contestable” does not mean irrational, and the fact that someone could “contest” a premise does not mean that the person has good reason to do so. If this is an argument against the Catholic position, then it is one against the Protestant position, too, unless one holds to a rationalistic Protestantism which offers no revelation but only what could be accepted by the natural powers of reason anyway. Arguments like Salmon’s were why Newman would say that the logic used against Catholicism also destroys Protestantism.

    If I failed to arrange my reply clearly, I can only say that I ran out of time to make it shorter and more concise. Also, if I am unable to reply promptly to your questions, please know that I am not avoiding you but am terribly busy. Hopefully others can correct my errors and keep engaging with you.

    pax,
    Barrett

  48. CThomas,

    In clarifying the Catholic position over against Salmon’s presentation, Barrett wrote:

    One must use reason to discover a divine authority, but once one finds a divine authority one does not use reason to judge realities which are beyond the natural scope of reason.

    That point forms the very center of the argument which I made last year in a CtC article comparing the Protestant and Catholic authority paradigms. You may find that it dovetails with Barrett’s reply here.

    Pax Christi,

    Ray

  49. Barrett, thank you very much for taking the time to read Salmon’s lecture. That’s very generous of you. Thanks also to Ray (and to dp). I have now read (1) Bryan Cross’s 5/24/10 article on “the Tu Quoque,” (2) Ray’s article touching on some of these points, and (3) Barrett’s direct response to Salmon. I have not read the voluminous commentary underneath the first two of those articles. The good news is that, for what it’s worth, I’m not sure we’re all that far apart on these questions. I wholly agree that there is no valid tu quoque with respect to the nature of the authority exercised by the Catholic Church. It is of a fundamentally different nature than that claimed by the Protestant Churches. This seems to be the main point of all three arguments (thus, e.g., Cross’s conclusion that “[t]he difference lies fundamentally in the nature of that which is discovered”). Having become a Catholic, the individual Catholic believes that the magisterium of his Church possesses attributes of authority that is not claimed by the Protestant Churches. There is a basic difference here, and nobody can validly conflate the two simply by virtue of the fact that individuals come into the Catholic Church by using their private judgment as to the validity of the Catholic claims.

    If I understand right — and I’m not 100% sure that I do, because I found some of the discussions on this point difficult to follow, which may well simply reflect my own intellectual limitations — I believe we also agree on the epistemic point that there IS, in fact, a valid tu quoque on the question of believers’ psychological certainty. That is, it is correct to say that someone becomes a Catholic by accepting certain arguments using his own fallible judgment. It follows that any subsequent belief based on that decision (e.g., any pronouncement by the Catholic magisterium) can be no more certain than is the initial fallible decision that Catholicism is correct. I take this from Cross’s response to Q4, which I believe concedes this point, and from your (Barrett’s) discussion of psychological certainty of believers. This, to my understanding, is the entirety of Salmon’s argument on this point and in any event it is the one I’m interested in.

    Now this may seem like a small point — it is not a refutation of Catholicism, and it is consistent with someone having a high degree of confidence that Catholicism is true. But it strikes me as important with respect to some claims of some Catholics. For instance, in the article above, Fred states that he was influenced to become a Catholic by his conclusion that Protestantism “do[es] not afford us any basis for CERTAINTY about what that truth actually is.” (emphasis in original). Similarly, the David Anders article linked by Fred in a previous comment argues in favor of “desir[ing] certainty in our act of faith,” and suggests that Catholicism is superior to Protestantism in this regard. I think — and I welcome correction if I’ve misrepresented anybody — that we all agree that whether or not the Catholic Church has the authority and (in some instances) infallibility that she claims, it is nonetheless true that individual Catholics, just like individual Protestants, do not possess absolute epistemic certainty (i.e., freedom from the doubt attendant to private fallible judgment). The Catholic’s degree of confidence in any Catholic dogma cannot be any greater than his fallible conclusion that the Catholic Church’s authority claims are correct.

    So thank you again, very much for your help with this. I always like coming to the conclusion, where possible, that we may actually agree more than I initially thought. If anyone has the time and feels like answering, either to confirm that I am understanding correctly or (perhaps more likely) to say that I misunderstood, I would be happy to review any counter-arguments. Best regards.

    CThomas

  50. CThomas (re: #49)

    That is, it is correct to say that someone becomes a Catholic by accepting certain arguments using his own fallible judgment. It follows that any subsequent belief based on that decision (e.g., any pronouncement by the Catholic magisterium) can be no more certain than is the initial fallible decision that Catholicism is correct. I take this from Cross’s response to Q4, which I believe concedes this point, and from your (Barrett’s) discussion of psychological certainty of believers. This, to my understanding, is the entirety of Salmon’s argument on this point and in any event it is the one I’m interested in.

    Nothing in my response to Q4 in “The Tu Quoque” article entails that conclusion. See comment #77 in the “Wilson vs. Hitchens” thread. The motives of credibility indicate the location and identity of the Church Christ founded, and they are accessible to human reason. But the act of faith is not a merely natural act. Its principle is the movement of the Holy Spirit upon the heart, because this movement is ordered to what exceeds the ability of man to see and assent to through natural human reason. By reason we can see the Church only in her human dimension, in her historic and sacramental connection to Christ through the Apostles and the line of bishops. By the supernatural gift of faith, however, we see her participation in Christ’s divinity and imbued by the Holy Spirit, as only by the Father’s revelation was St. Peter able to see Christ’s divinity. Otherwise we would be rationalists, unable to assent to anything beyond the reach of human reason’s natural power to ascertain. This is why in 1679 the Church condemned the following error: “The will cannot effect that assent to faith in itself be stronger than the weight of reasons impelling toward assent.” (Denz. 1169). That is an error precisely because the act of faith is supernatural, not merely natural. Nor does the act of faith come as the conclusion of a deductive argument.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  51. Bryan — thank you very much. I really do appreciate all the kind responses and efforts to discuss this with me. But your response does leave me puzzled. If the response is that the Catholic enjoys absolute certainty by virtue of a supernatural gift to the individual believer from the Holy Spirt, then I do not understand how you are able to offer a principled answer to the Protestant who believes that the Holy Spirit has supernaturally led him to a different conclusion. As Salmon says: (at 82) “When a [Catholic] claims to have been taught by a supernatural gift of faith to trust his Church, and when a Protestant claims, equally under the guidance of God’s Spirit, to have learned that she is unworthy of confidence, and when neither can prove, by miracles or any other decisive test, the superiority of the spiritual guidance which he professes to have himself received, what remains but to own that no certainty can be got from trusting to such supposed supernatural guidance, unless this illumination at the same time so enlighten the understanding as to enable it to give reasons for its faith which other men can perceive to be satisfactory?” I have been under the impression that Catholics as a general matter are very adamant about denying the sufficiency of a perceived individual supernatural ability to discern truth.

    Best regards,

    CThomas

  52. CThomas,

    You wrote:

    The Catholic’s degree of confidence in any Catholic dogma cannot be any greater than his fallible conclusion that the Catholic Church’s authority claims are correct.

    A few notes about this statement, by way of clarification.

    By way of reason alone, prescinding from supernatural faith

    1.) The possibility of achieving perfect subjective certainty is not blocked, ipso facto, by the fact that human beings are fallible. First principles and careful metaphysical demonstrations, for instance, can be certain – full stop; despite being arrived at by fallible agents. Their denial would entail a situation of universal unintelligibility. 100% subjective certainty is not precluded by human fallibility, even within the ambit of merely natural science. Moreover, mathematical and metaphysical demonstrations can be embraced with 100% subjective certainty by some persons, while others remain uncertain about those very demonstrations, for having not yet understood (or attempted to understand) the principles, premises, logic, conclusions, etc

    2.) There are different forms of subjective certainty such as metaphysical or mathematical (mentioned above), as well as moral certainty. Some authors list still other forms of certainty which persons may experience. Moral certainty obtains when a convergence of evidence regarding some truth claim is so strong that one would be morally culpable for not acting in accord with the truth as known via those evidences – even though a formal, absolute, demonstration of said truth claim is lacking. Catholics do claim (pace Vatican I) that one may achieve subjective moral certainty with respect to the truth of Catholicism, based on the convergent array of evidences (motives of credibility) which support a reasoned embrace of the Catholic faith. In other words, given a sufficiently clear and coherent communication of the evidence, one can come to a moral certainty concerning the truth of Catholicism, such that denial of the Catholic claims would be morally culpable.

    There is an analogy to this position within Protestantism. Generally speaking, protestant Christians tend to hold something similar with respect to the claims of Jesus of Nazareth to be the Messiah. The motives of credibility with respect to Christ, do not amount to metaphysical or mathematical demonstration, but are nonetheless sufficiently strong or convergent, such that one who has surveyed and understood the totality of the evidence would be morally culpable for rejecting the claims of Christ. Hence, subjective moral certainty may obtain in some persons, while lacking in others, with respect to one and the same truth claim. Since this is true with metaphysical and mathematical demonstrations as mentioned above, a fortiori, it is true with respect to moral certainty.

    In both 1 & 2 above, the evidence is public and open to all, yet that evidence may engender varying degrees of subjective certitude within different subjects, depending upon their access to, and understanding of, the relevant evidence. The key points are that a.) human fallibility does not necessarily preclude the enjoyment of perfect certainty with respect to some truth claims, nor moral certainty with respect to different sorts of truth claims; and b.) because some persons may enjoy perfect certitude with respect to a truth claim, while others lack it respecting the same claim; subjective certitude cannot serve as a criterion of truth – that’s the most important point I wish to emphasize.

    With respect to supernatural faith

    3.) Through the supernatural gift of faith, God can elevate one’s subjective moral certainty in the truth of Catholicism gained through reason, to a perfect subjective and interior certainty. But that involves the gift of faith, is known only by God and the persons who experience it, and resolves nothing in the arena of public knowledge, since there would be no way of adjudicating the truth of a matter in the public square when faced with two claims to perfect certitude respecting incompatible truth claims. Nevertheless, though unhelpful epistemologically, it remains possible on the ontological level, for a fallible person, through a supernatural gift, to enjoy perfect interior certainty with respect to divine revelation, despite his intrinsic human fallibility.

    4.) If Christianity entails making an assent of faith in truths revealed by God, and if such truths must be revealed precisely because they are unreachable via discursive reason; then the only way one might assent to some truth as an instance of divine revelation, is if that truth is delivered with or on divine authority. If someone were to say: “Here is a truth which human reason cannot attain by its own discursive efforts – you should believe it!”; the natural question should be this: “Since you [the one proposing the revealed truth] are human, yet maintain that the truth presented cannot be derived by any human effort, how did you come by it?”. The answer must ultimately be that such truth was communicated by the only One who could possibly be in a position to disclose it; namely God. To point back to another human or group of humans would be to point to persons who are intrinsically incapable of producing revealed truth(s) on their own.

    The point is that the very notion, idea, and nature of divine revelation entails that revealed truths be received by persons on divine authority. I think many folks suffer from a failure to keep the wider cosmological context of revealed vs, natural religion at hand when discussing doctrine, orthodoxy, etc. The primary philosophical trouble with Protestantism, over against Catholicism, is that it provides no credible account as to how the doctrines which it offers to the world can qualify as truths of revelation per se, in light of the fact that all of those presenting said truths, explicitly deny any present-day communicative modality by which revealed truths could be distinguished from theological postulates – by which the voice of God could be distinguished from the voice of man. Hence, whatever limitations human fallibility places upon our search for the voice of God; in so far as one claims to have discovered, and also to champion, a revealed religion; the epistemic framework of Protestantism simply won’t suffice. If one is content to put forward religious doctrines as something plausible or even probable – but less than revealed per se; then the critiques and comparisons that I and others have made matters little. But that is a jagged pill.

    Pax Christi,

    Ray

  53. CThomas, (re: #51)

    First, I didn’t say that the Catholic “enjoys absolute certainty.” The Catholic having the supernatural virtue of faith enjoys the “certainty of faith.” See, for example, St. Thomas’s explanation in Summa Theologica II-II Q.4 a.8.

    Second, even if there were no answer to your “how you are able to offer a principled answer” question, what I have written in comment #50 already answers the Salmon objection you raised in comment #43, namely:

    This is Salmon’s very simple point that even if a guide truly is infallible, that guide cannot provide certainty to a greater degree than your individual, fallible grounds for accepting that infallibility.

    Regarding your most recent question, the Catholic claim is not that God is unable to give divine faith (and the “certainty of faith”) directly to a person in an unmediated way, apart from the instrumentality of the Church. We affirm that God is omnipotent. Nor do we claim that there is some a priori argument demonstrating that unmediated private revelation given directly to an individual must of necessity or de jure be known with lesser certainty than is divine revelation as known through the Magisterium of the Church.

    Here instead we bring various pieces of evidence, among which are the following three: empirical observation, an argument from fittingness, and an argument from Tradition, in order to show that in fact the economy of redemption according to which the truth of Christ’s gospel is either delivered directly by the Holy Spirit apart from any instrumentality of the Church, and either apart from Scripture or on the occasion of each individual’s study of Scripture, such that through this economy all such persons come to hold the very same faith, independently of each other, is not the one Christ established. There so much evidence to corroborate this claim one hardly knows where to begin. Perhaps start by looking at the “Christ Founded A Visible Church” thread, and the commenter there who recently claimed sincerely to be hearing from the Holy Spirit in his interpretation of Scripture, while at the same time denying the Trinity. And other Protestant commenters on CTC have made the same claim (to being led by the Spirit) and come to contrary claims both to him and to each other. And Mormons make the same claim, as I pointed out in comment #29 of the “Wilson vs. Hitchens post. I addressed it also in a post titled “Play church” in response to Presbyterian pastor Rick Phillips, who made a similar claim regarding being led by the Holy Spirit. The point is that one does not even need to leave this website in order to find sufficient evidence that this just isn’t the way the Holy Spirit has chosen to lead us all into the unity of the truth. This theory of redemptive economy fails the empirical test. If Christ wants all men to be saved, and come to a knowledge of the truth, and is willing to endure the cross and shed His blood in order to bring His saving gospel to the whole world, how much more would He surely establish a means by which His sheep could know clearly what is His gospel, and not leave them to a bosom-burning method of discernment that, by the very fact of such widespread disagreement among those who utilize this method, shows an error rate of at least 90%?

    There is also an argument from fittingness, according to which because man is a social animal, it is fitting that man be saved through and in a society, and that as parents are given the great gift, opportunity, and responsibility to raise and form children in truth and virtue, so men and women in the Church are given the great gift, opportunity, and responsibility to be instruments to our fellow men and women of God’s redemption through Christ. This is fitting in that it glorifies Christ to give us a share in His redemptive work, and it ennobles man, as Christ ennobled man in the incarnation. Much more could be said here regarding the arguments from fittingness, but I’ll stop there.

    And then there’s the argument from Tradition. Where do we see this thesis of an unmediated direct pipeline to God? In the heretics, specifically the Montantists, (and Pepuzians), Euchites, and later in the Free Spirit heretics, etc. Those disciples of the Apostles closest to the Apostles, such as St. Clement of Rome and St. Ignatius of Antioch, show clearly that they believed the Apostles had instituted a hierarchical Church, such that to listen to the bishop was to listen to God. If you haven’t already read through St. Ignatius’s letters, then see for yourself whether he taught that the truth of Christ is known in a direct, non-ecclesially-mediated way by the Holy Spirit speaking immediately to the heart of each individual, or whether he taught that the Spirit operates through the hierarchy of the bishop, priests, and deacons.

    Given this empirical evidence, and given that Christ intended to establish a Church whose members hold in common the “one faith” He revealed, in a unity that the whole world is supposed to see (cf. John 17), the notion that we are to appeal to private bosom-burning as the means of assuredly knowing Christ’s revelation makes public dogma impossible. It would be possible only if we all, upon gazing at the Scriptures (assuming that apart from the Church’s activity in the determination of the canon we each, upon reading all the possible candidates for inclusion in the canon, came independently to the very same conclusion regarding which books belong to the canon), came independently to the very same conclusion regarding what we all must believe regarding the meaning of the books of Scripture. But since it is clear that we do not live in the ‘possible world’ in which that economy of redemption has been divinely established, and since the evidence points instead to a divine economy in which Christ’s revelation, both in the determination of the canon and in the determination of the meaning of the books belonging to that canon, comes to us through the Church He established, therefore we should look for the Church He founded, and seek to enter her in order to know what is the gospel He established in her and sacrificed Himself to bring us.

    I don’t presume that this is the “principled answer to the Protestant who believes that the Holy Spirit has supernaturally led him to a different conclusion” for which you were looking. But it is how I would answer those who appeal to the inward guidance of the Holy Spirit and place this inward guidance above the teaching authority of the Church, thus making the Church’s teaching authority superfluous. In the Catholic paradigm, we do not have to choose between the inward guidance of the Spirit and the guidance provided by the Magisterium of the Church, because He is the same Spirit in both places, He is the Spirit of Truth and not of contradiction, and Christ has established a redemptive economy according to which the Holy Spirit operates in and through the Church He established, and through the shepherds He authorized to lead His sheep until He returns.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  54. Bryan, thank you. I understand what you’re saying and agree with parts of it, including the first sentence of your last paragraph. This exchange has been very helpful to me in helping me get a better handle on the “state of play” in terms of Catholic vs. Protestant positions on this issue. Obviously there has been a good deal of back and forth on this for a long time on this web page and elsewhere, so I appreciate your willingness to help me as I step into the middle of the conversation here and cover well-tread ground. Glad also to see (on the biography page) that you’re a University of Michigan guy. So we’ve got that — and undoubtedly more — in common.

    Ray, I appreciate your clarifying points, many of which I agree with. Thanks again for all your help. As it happens, I also lived in Cincinnati for many years, so I believe we have that background in common. Hope you get over to Skyline Chili now and then.

    Best regards,

    CThomas

  55. Hi Kim, Paul and Fred and all others,

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

    I’ve redirected the question here since this is topical.

    David

  56. Hi David,

    You asked (#55):

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

    The Church can create laws which are binding upon its members, not upon others, and likewise assign penalties for violations. These penalties are intended to bring about the restoration of the offending member to full communion and fellowship with the Church.

    Peace,

    Fred

  57. Hi Fred,

    The most authoritative source says anathema means one is outside the society of the faithful. The fact that it doesn’t apply to non-members doesn’t soften the blow. It’s bad enough for the consciences of current Catholics.

    Ok, by your admiting the RCC can create laws (and I would add formulate dogma too) that are binding and carry penalties, key conclusions can be unpacked from this:

    Because of its belief in a blank check power of the Keys, the RCC is creating laws that if not obeyed will carry a censure and effect according to the RCC verdict. The censure could range from a declaration such as “cannot be safely taught” (and so would be akin to a “strongly worded letter” we see commonly issued by today’s political institutions), to full blown “heresy”.

    http://sedevacantist.com/theolnotes.htm
    (Disclaimer: I don’t endorse sedevacantism but the link takes one to the table of theological censures).

    My issue with RCC is the anathema attachments. I’m fine with the RCC drafting laws, but don’t make them binding on the conscience by saying if one doesn’t do them they are anathema/outside the Church and salvation. Similarly I’m fine with the RCC formulating what it believes to be the Truth and saying the contrary cannot be safely taught, but don’t dare declare those who do not assent to be outside the Church and salvation. This is only for Christ to decide, who as we read at the end of Mathew and beginning of Revelation has all power on heaven and earth and has a second pair of keys in case the Pope gets carried away with the first.

    Now, I understand the RCC position is that it merely declares what is objectively true. Such as “Christ has 2 wills and 2 natures and they are (insert favorite Greek word here) connected. Tom does not subscribe to our formulation of the 2 wills and 2 natures, therefore he is a heretic. All true according to an objective RCC verdict, but the problem comes when it teaches that Tom will burn in hell unless he comes around”.

    My position is that the RCC can only teach what is true in faith and morals and it can even tell someone they are wrong or to leave its community, but it has no business stating anyone is ‘outside the society of the faithful’ or outside the Church and salvation.
    Unfortunately that is exactly what the RCC did though when it attached anathemas to laws and formulas.

    One clear example is the annual Papal Bull “In Coena Domini”. This threatening thing was issued every year from around 1550 to 1850 and had many rules that if not followed incurred “anathema” and automatic ex-communication. One of which was to excommunicate and anathematize anyone who read or even kept books by Calvin or Luther without the express permission of the “Apostolic See”.

    Was stuff like this hidden from you before you went over to Rome?

    David

  58. David (#57)

    Was stuff like this hidden from you before you went over to Rome?

    I am butting into your conversation with Fred, but just want to say that I think your comment does not come up to what ought to be the standards of dialogue. You have made a number of statements – most of them one way or another distortions of what the Catholic faith teaches (e.g. your characterisation of the power of the keys as a “blank check”), declared that the Church “has no business stating anyone is ‘outside the society of the faithful’ or outside the Church and salvation” – and then ask us, in effect, “have you stopped beating your wife yet?”

    I have watched your interactions with Fred and don’t intend really to get involved with them – I lack the time – but would urge you to try to see that declarations do not constitute arguments. For example, if you believe, as you say, that the Church has no business stating anyone is outside the faithful or outside the Church and salvation, you would do better to bring your arguments. The way things are, although your tone is admirably gentle, what you are doing is not any the less preaching than if you were shouting.

    jj

  59. Hi David,

    You said (#57):

    The most authoritative source says anathema means one is outside the society of the faithful.

    Sorry, but if you have answered this question already I missed it. What is this ”most authoritative source,” and where does it say this?

    The fact that it doesn’t apply to non-members doesn’t soften the blow. It’s bad enough for the consciences of current Catholics.

    To say it is ”bad enough” for us is to assume that having one’s conscience bound to believe what God has revealed, or to do what God commands, is a bad thing. We disagree. :-) Dogma is nothing less than a formulation of divinely revealed truth, and consequently it must be believed. Period. Any other response to what God has revealed would be an act of faithlessness, right?

    Ok, by your admiting the RCC can create laws (and I would add formulate dogma too) that are binding and carry penalties, key conclusions can be unpacked from this:

    Because of its belief in a blank check power of the Keys, the RCC is creating laws that if not obeyed will carry a censure and effect according to the RCC verdict. The censure could range from a declaration such as “cannot be safely taught” (and so would be akin to a “strongly worded letter” we see commonly issued by today’s political institutions), to full blown “heresy”.

    The first conclusion you unpack does not reflect what the Church teaches. The Church does not have a “blank check” in any way. The Church is subject to divine revelation as its servant (to use the word that the Catechism uses) and has no authority whatsoever to “add” to revelation (it doesn’t).

    http://sedevacantist.com/theolnotes.htm
    (Disclaimer: I don’t endorse sedevacantism but the link takes one to the table of theological censures).

    That table is from 1951, and I am pretty certain it has been superseded by the new revision of canon law promulgated by Pope St. John Paul II. The point is that canon law can and does change. It is not dogma.

    My issue with RCC is the anathema attachments. I’m fine with the RCC drafting laws, but don’t make them binding on the conscience by saying if one doesn’t do them they are anathema/outside the Church and salvation. Similarly I’m fine with the RCC formulating what it believes to be the Truth and saying the contrary cannot be safely taught, but don’t dare declare those who do not assent to be outside the Church and salvation. This is only for Christ to decide, who as we read at the end of Mathew and beginning of Revelation has all power on heaven and earth and has a second pair of keys in case the Pope gets carried away with the first.

    Now this gets to the core of the issue between us, David (or so it seems to me). You believe that the Church has no authority to bind one’s conscience. This is the Protestant viewpoint. It is not the Catholic view at all. Why? Because the Church proclaims revealed truth, and therefore it is absolutely certain to be true because God does not lie.

    Now, I understand the RCC position is that it merely declares what is objectively true. Such as “Christ has 2 wills and 2 natures and they are (insert favorite Greek word here) connected. Tom does not subscribe to our formulation of the 2 wills and 2 natures, therefore he is a heretic. All true according to an objective RCC verdict, but the problem comes when it teaches that Tom will burn in hell unless he comes around”.

    The issue is far from so simple as that. In the first place the Church never declares that anyone is going to hell because no man knows another’s heart. In the second place the Church does not have any way of knowing whether so-and-so has already repented if (for example) he dies suddenly in the night. More could easily be said but this should be sufficient.

    My position is that the RCC can only teach what is true in faith and morals and it can even tell someone they are wrong or to leave its community, but it has no business stating anyone is ‘outside the society of the faithful’ or outside the Church and salvation.
    Unfortunately that is exactly what the RCC did though when it attached anathemas to laws and formulas.

    That is your position, and I respect that, but the fact that you hold it does not make it true. If the Church is what she says she is, then she has all the authority of Christ to declare dogmas and address issues of morality. So that is the fundamental question.

    One clear example is the annual Papal Bull “In Coena Domini”. This threatening thing was issued every year from around 1550 to 1850 and had many rules that if not followed incurred “anathema” and automatic ex-communication. One of which was to excommunicate and anathematize anyone who read or even kept books by Calvin or Luther without the express permission of the “Apostolic See”.

    As I said, canons are subject to change (though the truths expressed by them may not be).

    Was stuff like this hidden from you before you went over to Rome?

    Heh. No one hid anything from me. But then again one is not obliged to examine every conceivable scrap of evidence before reaching a conclusion, either. My path to the Church is summed up in the article here. If the Church really is the one Christ founded, then I have a duty to be in it. I became convinced that I must be in it.

    Peace,

    Fred

  60. David, I’m a Protestant, chiming in here only because I posted some messages earlier in the discussion some time ago and so was notified by e-mail about the new postings and was curious to read them. For what it’s worth, I’m not sure I follow your critique here. Isn’t the anathema plainly a biblical concept, recognized by the apostle Paul? I have no problem with the Catholic Church issuing anathemas. Whether you’re Protestant or Catholic, I think you should recognize that the Church should plainly anathematize not only certain views but even certain people — there is no analogue here to the Article I ban on bills of attainder. Now I obviously have serious substantive problems with the content of many of those anathemas, but I’m not sure I follow the objection on principle here (and I respectfully think that Fred exaggerates the difference between Protestantism and Catholicism on this point). But what do I know?

    Regards,

    CThomas

  61. Hi Fred,

    My source for the definitions of anathema are from the 1914 Catholic Encyclopedia. In order to refute or replace this, I would ask you to find something older, not just rely on a modern Catechism definition, since my whole point is that the RCC has changed the definition to appear more appealing.

    As far as the blank check remark, the context shows the power of the keys to be unlimited. Does the Pope not have the ability to impose any new regulations he sees fit and attach any penalty he believes best?

    And reg. the table: yes I understand that was an outdated theological chart, but my point was not that canon law cannot change, but that the Pope gets to decide what censures and penalties be applied to rule breakers.

    Yes, perhaps a fundamental difference is my rejection that the Church has unlimited authority to bind the conscience. By unlimited/blank check I mean things that go beyond Scripture. I would rather say the Pope can impose laws out of charity like in Acts 15, (as Calvin and Luther believed), but there was a reason for that…it caused weaker brothers to stumble. Also, and significantly, there was no anathema attached!

    Also I get that the RCC never declares one goes to hell for sure, but it very much strongly suggests that. For me it’s a distinction without a difference because at the end of the day the RCC rules, that if broken, incur pain of anathema/ex-communication/grave matter violation all make folks nervous, as if a great judge is hanging a sword over head unless one gets to a priest to confess. This is binding the conscience and I believe goes beyond what Christ intended for the power of the Keys.

    As I said, canons are subject to change (though the truths expressed by them may not be).

    Really, is that all you come back with? Does this Bull not make you cringe a bit? I mean it damns (or to use our distinction without difference, strongly suggests they are damned) folks that read the “other side”.

    And J. Jensen, I assume you are a Catholic. First, you grossly prejudice my writing. If you had it your way, no true discussion would ensue and Protestants would have to walk on egg shells to present their case. Second, nothing is ever completely neutral, least of all your magisterium’s teaching on Scripture First churches.

    David

  62. David,

    You wrote (#61 ):

    My source for the definitions of anathema are from the 1914 Catholic Encyclopedia. In order to refute or replace this, I would ask you to find something older, not just rely on a modern Catechism definition, since my whole point is that the RCC has changed the definition to appear more appealing.

    The Catholic Encyclopedia, however good it is (and it is pretty darn good, though dated), does not qualify as a canonical standard for judicial definitions. In that sense it is not authoritative for this subject. Only the law itself is. Besides (and once again) one of the rules here is that you get to say what you believe and we get to say what we believe. This is a question of simple charity and avoids straw men. Akin’s article is an accurate history of the meaning and use of the word anathema in Catholicism. And brother, unless you were Roman Catholic at some time in your life, it does not apply to you. :-)

    As far as the blank check remark, the context shows the power of the keys to be unlimited. Does the Pope not have the ability to impose any new regulations he sees fit and attach any penalty he believes best?

    Regulations is an unclear word in this context. He cannot declare void anything that the Church teaches with respect to faith and morals, nor declare anything contradictory to the same. As a visible Body the Church requires organization, and that is the purpose of canon law. The Pope has a more free hand here, maybe (I don’t know) but still could not use canon law as a way of undermining what the Church teaches with respect to faith and morals.

    And reg. the table: yes I understand that was an outdated theological chart, but my point was not that canon law cannot change, but that the Pope gets to decide what censures and penalties be applied to rule breakers.

    As a visible Body someone must hold and exercise that authority. This is compatible with the keys given to St. Peter in Mt. 16.

    Yes, perhaps a fundamental difference is my rejection that the Church has unlimited authority to bind the conscience. By unlimited/blank check I mean things that go beyond Scripture.

    Say “go beyond the bounds of divine revelation” and we are practically on the same page, because the Pope has no authority to bind one’s conscience to anything which contradicts what God has revealed in Scripture and Tradition. There is no blank check.

    I would rather say the Pope can impose laws out of charity like in Acts 15, (as Calvin and Luther believed), but there was a reason for that…it caused weaker brothers to stumble. Also, and significantly, there was no anathema attached!

    So what you’re saying is that Vatican II (which issued no anathemas that I recall) followed the model of the Jerusalem Council? :-)

    But seriously folks. David, why should the Catholic Church be bound by what you happen to think? Why not my neighbor? Or me? Or better still, why not the other way around completely (that Christians are bound by what the Church says)? Why do the opinions of Calvin and Luther trump the Church?

    Also I get that the RCC never declares one goes to hell for sure, but it very much strongly suggests that.

    No, it doesn’t. The closest I can think of to a statement like that is that the Church does know any other way of forgiveness of sins except through the application of Christ’s redemptive work in the water of Baptism. Even then, she says that God is not bound by the sacraments. The Church says that people who die in mortal sin go to hell, but because so much of what makes a sin mortal depends upon the condition of a man’s heart and mind (did he know his sin was grave? Did he sin deliberately and with full knowledge that what he was doing was gravely sinful? Did he repent before death?) that it is flatly impossible to make such declarations.

    This is another one of those cases where you need to let us tell you what we believe. :-)

    This is binding the conscience and I believe goes beyond what Christ intended for the power of the Keys.

    Again, why should your view trump mine, my neighbor’s, or the Church’s?

    As I said, canons are subject to change (though the truths expressed by them may not be).

    Really, is that all you come back with? Does this Bull not make you cringe a bit? I mean it damns (or to use our distinction without difference, strongly suggests they are damned) folks that read the “other side”.

    Let us engage in a brief thought experiment, where I change a few words of what you just said.

    Is that all you can come back with? That God would give you the truth about this but allow His Church to fall into error? Does this Bull not make you cringe a bit? I mean it completely reduces the content of divine revelation to a matter of one person’s opinion against another’s: pure subjectivism.

    :-)

    You see that you have not made an argument; you have expressed your opinion. But everyone has those. We want to know what God has revealed, and if God does not protect the church (however you want to define that word) from screwing it up, there is no reason at all to believe that He has kept anyone from screwing it up. Revelation is effectively locked in a box we can never open, if you are correct.

    And J. Jensen, I assume you are a Catholic. First, you grossly prejudice my writing. If you had it your way, no true discussion would ensue and Protestants would have to walk on egg shells to present their case. Second, nothing is ever completely neutral, least of all your magisterium’s teaching on Scripture First churches.

    Actually, JJ is one of the most charitable, modest, amiable people here. He has been commenting for years, and I only learned this month of his skills in the biblical languages. You would be far more likely to have to walk on eggshells around me than JJ. :-)

    Fred

  63. David (#61)

    And J. Jensen, I assume you are a Catholic. First, you grossly prejudice my writing. If you had it your way, no true discussion would ensue and Protestants would have to walk on egg shells to present their case. Second, nothing is ever completely neutral, least of all your magisterium’s teaching on Scripture First churches.

    I don’t see that, David – I mean, I don’t see how I prejudice your writing. I was, it is true, irritated by your last post, which made a number of very broad assertions (e.g. the ‘blank cheque’ idea), and ended with the question:

    Was stuff like this hidden from you before you went over to Rome?

    I do not think it is at all asking you to walk on eggshells to refrain from this sort of thing. To ask a question like that is only reasonable if you imagine something like the big, bad Church chuckling in the corner, hiding things from potential converts, waiting, the spider in the centre of the web, for the unsuspecting fly to buzz in and be trapped.

    I don’t suppose you do, in fact, believe in such a fable. If you do not, please try and remember that we Catholics also have feelings; that we love – yes, love! – the Church, as our mother; that those of us who, like Fred and like me, are converts would like to believe that both we and Protestants can believe in one another’s good intentions.

    And I do not think a question like ‘were these things hidden from you’ can possibly be understood as presuming good intentions on the part of the Church.

    Let me say briefly about the ‘blank cheque’ – remembering that this post is not, in fact, about what the Church can and cannot do, but about Fred’s own journey (if you are interested, you can read about mine here) – nevertheless, I will say that you have misunderstood if you truly believe that

    Yes, perhaps a fundamental difference is my rejection that the Church has unlimited authority to bind the conscience. By unlimited/blank check I mean things that go beyond Scripture

    The Church has not got unlimited authority to bind the conscience. The Church can bind the conscience only insofar as God has revealed what we must believe and do. The Church cannot make a law requiring me to do anything sinful. The Church cannot make a dogma that I am to believe something that contradicts Scripture.

    Note that ‘beyond Scripture’ is ambiguous. If you mean the Church cannot require me to believe something unless it is explicitly stated in Scripture – such as the Trinity – then you would need to explain why you think the Church cannot require that. I know from other comments of yours that you do in fact think the Church cannot require that – cannot, in fact, declare an anathema against me for not believing the Trinity. You have stated repeatedly that the Church cannot do that. I do not know why you think that the Church cannot do that. Anathematising heresy is itself Scriptural. St Paul does it.

    As I said, this post is about Fred’s own journey. No doubt there is a better post in CtC for that discussion. In reality, what I think your problem is is simply that you do not believe that Christ intended to continue the authority of the Apostles in an earthly organisation. For that is what the Church is. I well recall during my own conversion (from being Reformed to becoming a Catholic) saying to my wife that I did not know what the outcome of all this would be, but that I was sure of one thing: I would either end up a Catholic, or else I would never believe in church authority again. I might be some sort of Quaker, depending on the inner light. Either the Catholic Church was, in fact, Christ’s continued presence in the world – with apostolic authority to teach, to bind, to loose – or there was none.

    jj

  64. David – PS – please note, regarding what appears to be a bit of a bête noire for you, that, far from it being the case that the Church’s anathemas being statements by the Church that the anathematised person is necessary going to Hell, the Church, which has canonisation ceremonies – declaring that it is certain that this or that person is in Heaven – it has never had a ceremony declaring that it is certain that this or that person is in Hell. Regarding any particular person (Judas, for example – or pick your own most hated baddie), the Church says we cannot know that particular person is in Hell.

    My mother and father both died apparent unbelievers. Neither was baptised – my father was, in fact, Jewish (had it been my mother who was Jewish, I think I would be considered a Jew). Baptism is normally essential to salvation. Nonetheless, I pray – and am justified in praying – for their souls. Now if they are certainly in Hell, I should not and must not pray for their souls. They have, in that case, definitively rejected God, for all eternity. My praying for their souls implies they may be in Purgatory – which is to say, that they may be bound for glory, whether or not they have purgations to undergo.

    This is the Church’s view of Hell. The Church – like God – desires the loss of none, but that all may be saved. Anathemas are intended precisely to achieve that end. Every action of the Church is aimed at that one and only purpose.

    jj

  65. David,
    To fill in some gaps which I haven’t seen addressed:
    Being excommunicated doesn’t cut one off from God, but from the sacraments, Christian fellowship, etc. A just excommunication serves to “wake up” someone who is imperiling their soul and may not know it or may not care. It is a road sign saying “Turn back now!” And while it doesn’t deprive someone of their union with God if they’re in a state of grace, only sin can do that, it does remove from them the spiritual aids, again, with the idea of bringing them back.

    Imagine this, Christ is the Father, and the Church is the Mother. And this is because she shares in the father’s role of governing the family. If the father is away for an extended amount of time, the mother does have the authority to make rules and change them, to apply punishments, etc, and these judgments would, hopefully, be supported by the father.

    The Church is our mother, and she may make and change rules in order to protect us, her children, from spiritual harm. She has this authority delegated to her. What child would insist that his mother can’t be representing his father because his mother changes the bedtime? Likewise, an excommunication is like being grounded, sent to your room, or kicked out of the house.

    Thinking of the Church as a family, the Family of God, rather than a courtroom may help understand Catholicism “from the inside”.

    The authority of the Church is at the service of protecting revelation and ensuring that our deepening understanding of it doesn’t go astray. Who still teaches the indivisibility of marriage, and enforces it? Who still teaches the intrinsic immorality of abortion, or even more specifically, of contraception?

  66. To clarify a potential misunderstanding, John is not saying that no one goes to hell. He means that we can pray for the deceased, trusting God will, since He is out of time, see our prayers for our beloved dead and grant them the grace of a perfect act of contrition (being sorry for one’s sins solely out of Love alone), not that he would somehow “undo” a person’s judgement.

    This is the standard advice given to survivors of suicides. As one former pastor told the bereaved father of a suicide, “Your obligation for the rest of your life is to pray for your son.” A friend at that same parish told me that, upon hearing the news, he was consoled that the suicide was from hanging, and not from a bullet – that way, there was time for repentance.

  67. @ David,
    As another convert, I can identify with John’s irritation at being asked if “we had been told about …” As he said, it portrays the Church as a spider, like Shelob, waiting to prey on unwary Protestants. I would submit what Chesterton says on this point in Conversion and Catholicism

    … is responsible for all that remains of the legend that Rome is a mere trap. But that legend misses the whole point of the psychology. It is not the Pope who has set the trap or the priests who have baited it. The whole point of the position is that the trap is simply the truth. The whole point is that the man himself has made his way towards the trap of truth, and not the trap that has run after the man.

  68. Goodmorning Fred, J Jensen and Fra Charles,

    I met with a local priest yesterday whom I took RCIA classes with a while back and he kindly set time aside to discuss my misgivings with the anathema problem. That’s right, all those who attempt to censure me, I am taking this journey seriously. :-) I wish Catholics were more like him, because at least I don’t feel like I have to suppress what I see are problems with the RCC for fear of being “uncharitable”.

    One of my favorite movies is “Luther”. I really wish all Catholics would take 2 hours of their life to watch this film to understand why Scripture First Christians cannot suppress their true feelings and why they have suspicions about Rome. Interestingly the movie came out at the same time as the “Passion of the Christ” which I think was a very good, moving and inspiring film too. But I think God does things like this to show how broad His Spirit is. Please see 1 Corinthians 12:12-14.

    I felt I had to explain myself a bit since the whole “irritation” at me pointing out what I think are legitimate and embarrasing unresolved issues for Catholics: Papal Bull Coena Domini’s anathemas on folks that read Calvin and Luther for example. I also would like to try to show how I am sincerely seeking the Lord’s will. I will admit I find J Jensen and Friar Charles’ characature of a spider interesting and important. I hadn’t thought about the RCC exactly like this, however I believe this is something any sincere Christian must consider, namely whether or not people get “seduced” into Rome.

    I have too many good God-fearing fruitbearing non-RCC friends and family warn me against Rome, to not at least consider this. And I think this is fair, especially when many Catholics I’ve observed appear to not read their Bibles, attend weekly Mass and live God-fearing lives. I’m sorry but this not just my view, and quite frankly it makes it hard to swallow the idea that Rome has the most grace.

    So I appreciate your Chesterton quote, Friar Charles, because I think that is a big part of the “Catholic Question.” Part of me does suspect guys like Cardinal Henry Newman just got too emotionally invested in all their research that they crossed the rubicon and couldn’t turn back. To do so would be to admit all that time invested was misguided. Perhaps they’re just vexed and worn out and so understandably turn to the most powerful institution that claims it has all the answers. Surely enough there were some of Newman’s Anglican friends at his level that did not make the switch, and I find that interesting, because they had access to the same data but arrived at a different conclusion. Perhaps some of it is temperament: they didn’t need to seek perfection on this earth nor a system that offers all the answers. This frustration with the messiness could be why most Protestants, who are idealists, join Rome.

    Anyway, I don’t want to get too off topic, but I wanted to address this since I believe strongly in defending the rights of all contributers to this dialogue to be able to feel they can freely express their thoughts without walking on egg shells. I understand the need for charity and staying on topic, and I will do my best here, but please allow for authentic dialogue. We aren’t robots and there’s often important intangible concepts that can only be conveyed through sharing perspectives that may at times, “irritate” our ears. But let’s give each other the benefit of doubt when this happens.

    Ok, thanks for reading this. It’s a beautiful day outside and the only church within walking distance is a Catholic parish, so I’m going to go for a walk, think about all this and then attend a Mass. :)

    I look forward to addressing the other many good points you all made soon, Fred, and others…I have not forgotten. Thanks for your patience and hopefully understanding.
    God Bless and happy Sunday!
    David

  69. Hello David (#68):

    That’s right, all those who attempt to censure me, I am taking this journey seriously. :-) I wish Catholics were more like him, because at least I don’t feel like I have to suppress what I see are problems with the RCC for fear of being “uncharitable”.

    Since censure has a somewhat technically negative sense to it, let me please assure you that it is not our intention to do any such thing to you. There are rules of engagement here that we try to apply equally to Catholics and Protestants. Obviously impressions are subjective for each of us, but we really do reject Catholic comments as well as Protestant ones, and sometimes we probably need our own comments to be slapped down. :-) We aren’t perfect. We try to do the right thing for all.

    One of my favorite movies is “Luther”. I really wish all Catholics would take 2 hours of their life to watch this film to understand why Scripture First Christians cannot suppress their true feelings and why they have suspicions about Rome.

    I have seen the movie, if you are talking about the one that came out in the early 2000s. It does not help me to understand his suspicions exactly. It portrays the fact that there were abuses which needed to be addressed, and they were. Luther and Calvin did not need to invent new theological paradigms in order to have the abuses resolved. More important is the rather staggering disproportion between Protestant suspicions and the actual facts about the Church. It was truly amazing to me to have one myth shattered after another while researching Catholicism.

    I think the far more common thing is more in the direction of something you have already said a few times: Protestants object to the idea that the Church has the authority and charisms to proclaim God’s revelation to men infallibly, and to the obvious conclusion that this proclamation (because it is the proclamation of divine truth) is binding upon men.

    I felt I had to explain myself a bit since the whole “irritation” at me pointing out what I think are legitimate and embarrasing unresolved issues for Catholics: Papal Bull Coena Domini’s anathemas on folks that read Calvin and Luther for example.

    I don’t find that embarrassing at all. Calvin and Luther were very successful at luring people away from the Church, in no small measure because most people were theologically untutored. If it is the Church’s responsibility to protect the sheep from error (and it is), do you not think it reasonable to warn people against it? The same thing applies in the case of the Bible having been “banned” (though only Protestant translations were forbidden).

    As for the irritation pointed in your direction…well, you cannot be unaware that we face the same false criticisms phrased the same way on almost every day, and it is wearying to have to address them repeatedly. It seems clear from your apology for describing our respect for Mary in the usual pejorative terms was accidental and that your apology was genuine, which I appreciate.

    I also would like to try to show how I am sincerely seeking the Lord’s will. I will admit I find J Jensen and Friar Charles’ characature of a spider interesting and important. I hadn’t thought about the RCC exactly like this, however I believe this is something any sincere Christian must consider, namely whether or not people get “seduced” into Rome.

    I believe you are sincere. The charitable thing to do is to grant us (and the Church) the same presumption of sincerity. Using the word “seduced” to describe our conversions is, I hope you will agree, not exactly charitable :-)

    I have too many good God-fearing fruitbearing non-RCC friends and family warn me against Rome, to not at least consider this. And I think this is fair, especially when many Catholics I’ve observed appear to not read their Bibles, attend weekly Mass and live God-fearing lives. I’m sorry but this not just my view, and quite frankly it makes it hard to swallow the idea that Rome has the most grace.

    I propose to you that if you ask us whether some rumor you hear about us is true—rather than declaring it to be—is the way to receive a less irritated response. :-) In other words, let us tell you what the Church teaches, rather than someone with an anti-Catholic agenda.

    It is also a mistake to judge the Church based upon the apparent coldness of some Catholics. You would not want us to draw conclusions about all of Protestantism by looking at the Bakkers, or Oral Roberts, or Robert Tilton, or Jimmy Swaggart, or the snake handlers, or Greg Boyd. :-)

    Part of me does suspect guys like Cardinal Henry Newman just got too emotionally invested in all their research that they crossed the rubicon and couldn’t turn back.

    If the accusation of emotionalism applies to anyone’s conversion (and it may) it is surely not Cardinal Newman’s. He was one of the greater scholars of his day. He wrote An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine (some 300 or 400 pages, IIRC) as his last-ditch effort to decide whether or not he needed to become Catholic. If you read the book, you will see that it is not an exercise in emotionalism. :-) (Nor are any of Newman’s books)

    Surely enough there were some of Newman’s Anglican friends at his level that did not make the switch, and I find that interesting, because they had access to the same data but arrived at a different conclusion.

    Newman wrote another book, An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent (some 400-500 pages), in which he deals with circumstances like this and why they happen. I just finished reading it, and it is very good.

    Perhaps some of it is temperament: they didn’t need to seek perfection on this earth nor a system that offers all the answers. This frustration with the messiness could be why most Protestants, who are idealists, join Rome.

    Now this is a return to the sort of approach that gets you irritated responses, David. :-) People become Catholic for a variety of reasons, just as they do when becoming Protestants, and it is uncharitable to attribute it to temperament or a need for perfection (which, I assure you, one’s illusions about would be promptly demolished if he had them!). We here at CtC became Catholic because we became convinced that it is the Church which Christ founded and that we had an obligation as Christians to be a part of it. We had reasons for why we did so, not temperamental quirks. :-)

    Anyway, I don’t want to get too off topic, but I wanted to address this since I believe strongly in defending the rights of all contributers to this dialogue to be able to feel they can freely express their thoughts without walking on egg shells. I understand the need for charity and staying on topic, and I will do my best here, but please allow for authentic dialogue.

    The entire purpose of the website is authentic dialogue. But authentic dialogue is ill-served by rhetoric which irritates one side or the other, would you not agree?

    Ok, thanks for reading this. It’s a beautiful day outside and the only church within walking distance is a Catholic parish, so I’m going to go for a walk, think about all this and then attend a Mass. :)

    I am pleased to hear it. :-)

    Peace,

    Fred

  70. Fra Charles (#66)

    To clarify a potential misunderstanding, John is not saying that no one goes to hell. He means that we can pray for the deceased, trusting God will, since He is out of time, see our prayers for our beloved dead and grant them the grace of a perfect act of contrition (being sorry for one’s sins solely out of Love alone), not that he would somehow “undo” a person’s judgement.

    This is the standard advice given to survivors of suicides. As one former pastor told the bereaved father of a suicide, “Your obligation for the rest of your life is to pray for your son.” A friend at that same parish told me that, upon hearing the news, he was consoled that the suicide was from hanging, and not from a bullet – that way, there was time for repentance.

    Thanks, Brother! Yes, I was not at all suggesting universalism – that all will be saved. What I was saying was only that the Church is not in the business of condemning people to Hell – and that about this or that specific person, we do not know that he is in Hell. We are not encouraged to take a “God is so nice He wouldn’t let anyone go to Hell” attitude! But the Church is the Sacrament of salvation, not of damnation.

    jj

  71. David (#68)

    …I believe this is something any sincere Christian must consider, namely whether or not people get “seduced” into Rome.

    It seems to me that the question a sincere Christian needs to consider is not whether people get “seduced” into Rome, but whether Rome is what it says it is. If it is not, then, indeed, people might get seduced into Rome – because, if it is not what it says it is, it is the very anti-Christ (considering its claim to be the mouthpiece of God in the world); if it is what it says, then people ought to be clamouring to get in.

    It ‘s the question of truth that must be decided, not the question of intent.

    I confess I had to laugh at this:

    art of me does suspect guys like Cardinal Henry Newman just got too emotionally invested in all their research that they crossed the rubicon and couldn’t turn back. To do so would be to admit all that time invested was misguided. Perhaps they’re just vexed and worn out and so understandably turn to the most powerful institution that claims it has all the answers./blockquote>
    It was something like a claim by Francis Schaeffer about Newman’s conversion that led me, a new Christian in 1970, to forget about the Catholic Church as an option. It was finally reading Newman’s Apologia Pro Vita Sua and his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine that told me Schaeffer had been deeply mistaken. Newman spent six years trying to fight his way against the Church’s claims; he wrote the second work there – a major effort – to try to see if there were a loophole in his increasing belief that the Church was what it said. He did, indeed, enter the Church out of exhaustion – exhaustion of his attempt to disprove it.

    As for this:

    Surely enough there were some of Newman’s Anglican friends at his level that did not make the switch, and I find that interesting, because they had access to the same data but arrived at a different conclusion.

    It is not surprising that many did not become Catholics (though many did – including all but one of the sons of William Wilberforce) – no more surprising than that many, hearing the claims of Christ, the (to us) persuasive arguments for His divine mission, nevertheless do not accept them. The claims of the Church, like the claims of Christ, have not the compelling nature of mathematical proof. They are personal claims. A man must ultimately decide whether he will trust a person or not.

    jj

  72. @ David
    Thank you for your kind words, I apologize for any unkindness my words may have betrayed. As Fred mentioned above, having the same objections brought up consistently sometimes make it difficult to discern whether someone is searching for the truth, or searching for a stick to hit the Church with (I will openly confess I once was looking for this stick, but then the stick hit me!) I want to offer some observations which may be constructive.

    Tone: There has been a very different tone taken by both the Church and world in the modern ages. Take it as the “honey” method over the “vinegar”. So one may read the words of yesteryear, and when then reading modern authors, it seems like things are sugarcoated or subdued. Also, you are not alone in discerning a definite de-emphasis on the differences between Catholics and Protesants in the recent decades. I remember searching with frustration for what the Church actually taught about Protestantism. I would describe the answer I have come to understand is that:
    -the Church cannot judge the heart,
    -those who have not known and rejected the Catholic Faith are not held responsible for their ignorance (but are held responsible for their sins),
    -that it is only in the Catholic Church we find all that Our Lord desires for us to have (the Sacraments, the Teachings of the Church, etc)
    -and, for someone to know or suspect that the Catholic Church is the Church Christ founded and desires all men to belong to, but refuse to pursue that, that person is putting them in a very precarious situation.

    I myself remember coming to point where I felt myself asking “This is a Hard Teaching”, but I also felt the question, “Will you also go away?”

    And, in general, I can understand your suspicions. It is often states that either the Catholic Church is what she claims to be, or she is the most satanic organization which ever existed. I would recommend, as you research, ask the question, “If this is true, would it make sense?” If the Catholic Church was truly God’s instrument for bringing the Good News to the world, would it make sense for her to “screen” out materials that could damage the faith of her subjects. Would it make sense for her to receive the ability to make binding disciplinary decisions? Would it make sense for a mother to be able to ground her children for doing bad things? Would it make sense for a mother to ensure bad internet sites are screened? Likewise, I think it makes sense for Holy Mother Church to attach censures to reading authors which have gravely damaged the faith of millions.

    I think this makes a lot of difference, not to accept the authority without reason, but asking whether the authority is reasonable and whether it makes sense with itself. Then you may investigate whether it corresponds to Scripture, tradition, and reality. If you try to discern whether the authority of the Church fits into Protestantism (in which the rejection of an authoritative church is paramount), then of course it won’t fit. Same with Mary, the Sacraments, the disciplines of the Church, etc.

    Again the three step process is
    1- What does the Church actually teach?
    2- Does that make sense within itself, or does it contradict itself (i.e. does the Church teach that she is authoritative, but not act like it; or does she claim not claim authority but not act authoritatively, or yet still, does she both claim authority from God to teach, govern, and sanctify and act on that) ?
    3. Does this correspond with the data of revelation and reality? When looking at scripture, don’t ask whether A or B is explicitly taught by scripture, but if A or B is consistent with Scripture. For example, there is very little explicit scriptural support for the Assumption, but is such a thing contradictory to scripture? Or is it consistent with the teachings of scripture?

    We would generally claim that Protestantism, in general, can only be described as the disavowal of the claim of the Catholic Church. Then (@2) we would say that Protestantism is contradictory within itself (again, looking at the broad perspective), but Protestants will generally appeal to “essentials vs. non-essentials” and that question has been duked out in a discussion/brawl which stretched across several discussions (mostly with Pat and Miro). Finally, we also claim that (3) the thesises of Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide (taken according the meaning drawn out by Bryan here) are contrary to Scripture, Tradition, and reason.

    I would recommend reading the whole work of Chesterton’s that you can find at the link above. The quote is specifically where he talks about the stage of conversion when the person starts trying to flee the Church, but in a real sense does feel trapped, but no in a bad way. Perhaps it can be likened to C. S. Lewis’ writing in “Miracles” about realizing God is more than an abstraction:

    Look out!” we cry, “it’s alive.” And therefore this is the very point at which so many draw back–I would have done so myself if I could–and proceed no further with Christianity. An “impersonal God”–well and good. A subjective God of beauty, truth and goodness, inside our own heads–better still. A formless life-force surging through us, a vast power which we can tap–best of all. But God Himself, alive, pulling at the other end of the cord, perhaps approaching at an infinite speed, the hunter, king, husband–that is quite another matter. There comes a moment when the children who have been playing at burglars hush suddenly: was that a real footstep in the hall? There comes a moment when people who have been dabbling in religion (“Man’s search for God”!) suddenly draw back. Supposing we really found Him? We never meant it to come to that! Worse still, supposing He had found us

    To rephrase it:

    Look out!” we cry, “it’s alive.” And therefore this is the very point at which so many draw back–I would have done so myself if I could–and proceed no further with the Catholic Church. An important but not authoritative church–well and good. A subjective church conforming to our own interpretation of Scripture–better still. A formless community of all believers, uniting us, a vast community without distinction, definition, or demands–best of all. But the Body of Christ Itself, alive, pulling at the other end of the cord, perhaps approaching at an infinite speed, the Mother, Teacher, Steward–that is quite another matter. There comes a moment when the children who have been playing at burglars hush suddenly: was that a real footstep in the hall? There comes a moment when people who have been dabbling in studying the church(“Man’s search for God”!) suddenly draw back. Supposing we really found It? We never meant it to come to that! Worse still, supposing It had found us

    Got to go to prayer!

    I will end with saying I used to think the Church was a wall separating us from Christ, then I looked up, and saw it was the road to him.

  73. Dear Fred, JJensen and Fra. Charles,

    I believe all three of you, like many Catholic converts, present a false dichotomy: either Rome is what she says or she is the great anti-christ and in apostasy.

    I see a third option: Rome just has accretions that misdirect our energies and devotion away from Jesus Christ, yet is still not in apostasy because the gates of hades cannot ever prevail? Perhaps Jesus sees it this way and has nurtured a minimalist alternative with the various good denominations where the Spirit lives too.

    I think St. Paul, St. John and Jesus would have a problem with those who are wreaking havoc on a congregation and pridefully causing discord, not believers who peacefully leave a “dead” or lukewarm congregation (like Laodicia in Revelation 3) and worship at a congregation full of life following God’s Word.

    Paul, Clement and Ignatius seem to warn against those who follow the first kind, not the second.
    I’d like to address this before replying to the other points.
    Peace,
    David

  74. David (#73)

    I believe all three of you, like many Catholic converts, present a false dichotomy: either Rome is what she says or she is the great anti-christ and in apostasy.

    I see a third option: Rome just has accretions that misdirect our energies and devotion away from Jesus Christ, yet is still not in apostasy because the gates of hades cannot ever prevail? Perhaps Jesus sees it this way and has nurtured a minimalist alternative with the various good denominations where the Spirit lives too.

    I wonder, David, if you have understood what the Church claims. The claims of the Church, if false, are abominable – extra ecclesiam nulla salus – this is the claim. And although it is nuanced in various ways – so that it is possible to be saved without being formal members of the Church – the Church claims that if you are saved, you are, willy-nilly, a member of the Church or you cannot be saved.

    The reaction of my Protestant friends, when I was going to become a Catholic, made absolute sense. Become a Lutheran. Become, even, Orthodox. Anything but Catholic!!

    They were right. If the Church is wrong, it is not simply one denomination amongst many which has added accretions which take us away from Jesus Christ. If it is wrong on this central claim, then the Reformers were absolutely right in declaring it the anti-Christ.

    You are right to address this point. I don’t know enough about CtC to know which post this would best fit under. Perhaps Fred thinks it right to keep it here. I have no problem with that, but this is his post.

    But this is the issue: is the Catholic Church the unique substance (what Lumen Gentium means when it says that the Church subsistit in the Catholic Church) of the Body of Christ. It – the Catholic Church, not some conceptual unity of all Christians, but the actual Church in union with its bishops who are in union with the Pope of Rome – that Catholic Church and no other – is the mystical Body of Christ in the world. All other forms of Christianity participate in that Body only imperfectly and only by their participation in the Roman Catholic Church. There is no other.

    Is that claim not anti-Christian if it is false?

    jj

  75. Pax + Christi

    Thanks for your response.

    I fail to see how it could be a false dichotomy. The Catholic Church claims to teach in the name of Christ, and claims a real authority. Catholic adore (not dulia, not hyper-dulia, but real and true latria) the Blessed Sacrament. They give to that seemingly insignificant the “honor due to God alone”. So either (1) this is true, which presupposes the truth of the sacrament of Holy Orders, and which gives John 6 a very important place in the full Gospel, or (2) this is false, in which case St. Augustine, St. Francis, Bl. Mother Teresa, and St. John Paul II (and all the Catholics on this site) all spent their life, at least weekly, committing a formal act of idolatry.

    Also, the Catholic Church claims that priests and bishops can forgive sins. It claims that the sacrament of Penance is THE ordinary way for grave, post-baptismal sins to be forgiven. Again, either it is right, which would imply that all others are wrong, and gravely wrong, or if the Church is wrong, it is arrogating to itself the authority of God.

    Here are just two examples. There are many more. I can say from my own walk, I have grown in my appreciation of the profound differences between the Catholic Church and my Protestant past the more I learned about the faith.

    It is one thing to move from a less lively area to a more lively one, it is another to break away in order to “do it better this time”. I think there are strong analogies which can be drawn between the Reformation and the breaking away of Israel from Judea.

    However, this is also a point I sympathize with you strongly on. I would be more accurately called a “revert” since my family did attend a Catholic Church for a few years, and I did receive my First Communion there; however, the intellectual formation was so weak I find it difficult to actually consider myself a “revert”. Between that Catholic parish, which was (and, alas, is) very unedifying, and my conversion, I attended a friend’s Wesleyan Church, and I do believe that was God leading me to where I am today.

    You may find Peter Kreeft’s talk “Ecumenical Jihad” interesting.

    To end, I would point out that the question is not which boat seems to be doing better, but which boat Jesus is in, even if it seems like he is asleep.

  76. Hi CThomas,

    David, I’m a Protestant, chiming in here only because I posted some messages earlier in the discussion some time ago and so was notified by e-mail about the new postings and was curious to read them. For what it’s worth, I’m not sure I follow your critique here. Isn’t the anathema plainly a biblical concept, recognized by the apostle Paul? I have no problem with the Catholic Church issuing anathemas. Whether you’re Protestant or Catholic, I think you should recognize that the Church should plainly anathematize not only certain views but even certain people — there is no analogue here to the Article I ban on bills of attainder. Now I obviously have serious substantive problems with the content of many of those anathemas, but I’m not sure I follow the objection on principle here (and I respectfully think that Fred exaggerates the difference between Protestantism and Catholicism on this point)

    All good points my good sir. I cede the point and admit perhaps I didn’t think through the full implications of saying I do not agree with the Church placing anathemas on people. I had in mind the way (seemingly blank check method- yes I will use this term because it seems an apt description of what I see going on) the RCC uses to place anathemas, like reading Luther or Calvin for instance, but yes you are right, the concept is Biblical. It’s for serious things like living in open adultery (1 Cor 5), not reading Luther and Calvin. For 200 years after Luther, every Catholic would be automatically excommunicated and under anathema if they read his stuff. How dare Rome abuse the keys like this to bind nervous consciences.

    Though I will point out Galations 1:8 does say if anyone comes and preaches to you a different Gospel, that person is to be accursed. But here I would say Protestants don’t preach a different Gospel, just a more streamlined pure presentation. They aren’t like LDS or Islam. Any reasonable person can tell the difference, especially prayerful followers of Jesus Christ.

    I would put such like anathemas under the RCC “accretions” (abuses/illegitimate developments) section.

    David

  77. Hi JJensen and Fra Charles,

    First: JJensen:

    The reaction of my Protestant friends, when I was going to become a Catholic, made absolute sense. Become a Lutheran. Become, even, Orthodox. Anything but Catholic!!

    They were right. If the Church is wrong, it is not simply one denomination amongst many which has added accretions which take us away from Jesus Christ. If it is wrong on this central claim, then the Reformers were absolutely right in declaring it the anti-Christ.

    You are right to address this point.

    Well, I can’t speak to your family and friends, but mine warn me against Rome for different reasons: most are former Catholics themselves that tell me the RCC didn’t feed them and was pretty much formalities. Nothing about RCC being anti-christ. I graduated from a Catholic High School – I never got the impression I was surrounded by adherents of an anti-christ system. So it’s a false dichotomy.

    I did however get the impression that most weren’t “on fire for the Lord” though, compared with Protestant friends. So unless all these former Catholics are crazy, something important clearly seems to be missing in the RCC.

    I do understand what the RCC teaches about EENS. I think Rome still doesn’t quite understand that the Spirit is fully alive in faithful Protestant churches, but I wouldn’t say this amounts to apostasy. Just look at how Rome deepened its understanding of how grace operates outside its communion in VII. RCC will get there eventually.

    I’m reminded the Feenyite RCC strain has always been there since the beginning: Luke 9:54.

    So the RCC goes overboard sometimes (like those Apostles would have until checked by Christ), but it’s not in apostasy. It’s just apparently lukewarm and a bit empty without good former Protestants like you who are entering the RCC giving it a blood transfusion. I tend to see the RCC, like JPII, in need of another lung. Left separated from Protestantism’s zeal for the Word and Orthodoxy’s unique mystical contributions, the RCC gets along somewhat crippled. This is why I think many cradle Catholics are so lukewarm.

    But this is the issue: is the Catholic Church the unique substance (what Lumen Gentium means when it says that the Church subsistit in the Catholic Church) of the Body of Christ. It – the Catholic Church, not some conceptual unity of all Christians, but the actual Church in union with its bishops who are in union with the Pope of Rome – that Catholic Church and no other – is the mystical Body of Christ in the world. All other forms of Christianity participate in that Body only imperfectly and only by their participation in the Roman Catholic Church. There is no other.

    Is that claim not anti-Christian if it is false?

    Well, I think if one was to believe that the Church is the institution “with its bishops who are in union with the Pope”, then that would be too restrictive and essentially Feenyite. I do believe the RCC used teach like this though, but no, I still don’t think that amounted to apostasy…just error in being overly strict. Vat I does not grant infallibility to Rome when it says blanket statements like “Jews will go to hell unless they are joined to Rome” like it did with Florence in 1442. It overstepped its bounds like I believe it did when it said Catholics in the 16th-18th centuries were anathema if they read Calvin. Presumptuous, yes. Anti-christ, no.

    Hi Fra Charles,

    I think you’ll notice many of the above may apply to your post since it also deals with “false dichotomy”. But specifically to your point that Catholics adore “worship” the Host: I don’t think this is apostasy because Catholics believe it is Jesus. It’s not like they are putting a golden calf on the alter. They just go a little beyond Jesus’ Word. Heck, they might be right, in which case I don’t think Jesus would be too upset at Protestants who “do this in rememberence” of Him with reverence and awe.

    It’s just not that big of an issue that I think Calvin and Catholics make it out to be, damning each other over this. The Lord and His angels might very well be rolling their eyes at fussy men like this.

    Also yes, I find the Juda/Israel parallels interesting too. I believe the Word of God tells us that God Himself initiated the split. So he does seem to do things like this for the greater good. Such an action could have been what He did with the Orthodox and Protestants, if He judged Rome would not reform from the inside.

    Fred, I want to respond to your posts as well but will do so separately lest this post be too long.

    God Bless us and guide us,
    David

  78. David (#76)

    But here I would say Protestants don’t preach a different Gospel, just a more streamlined pure presentation.

    This is begging the question. The question of the truth of Catholicism is precisely whether Protestantism preaches a different Gospel. The Catholic position is that it does. Your saying that it doesn’t doesn’t make it so.

    jj

  79. David (#77)

    Well, I can’t speak to your family and friends, but mine warn me against Rome for different reasons: most are former Catholics themselves that tell me the RCC didn’t feed them and was pretty much formalities. Nothing about RCC being anti-christ. I graduated from a Catholic High School – I never got the impression I was surrounded by adherents of an anti-christ system. So it’s a false dichotomy.

    Your failure to get the impression that you were surrounded by adherents of an anti-Christ system tells me something about you – as does the fact that your friends warned you against what they saw as a formalistic and unhelpful Catholic experience tells me something about your friends. It tells me nothing about what the Catholic Church actually is. You would not wish to claim that you have some inner radar that tells you whether the beliefs of someone are anti-Christian or not.

    I do understand what the RCC teaches about EENS. I think Rome still doesn’t quite understand that the Spirit is fully alive in faithful Protestant churches, but I wouldn’t say this amounts to apostasy. Just look at how Rome deepened its understanding of how grace operates outside its communion in VII. RCC will get there eventually.

    David, all you do in your comments is repeatedly to tell us what you think and what you feel about the Catholic Church. You have given no arguments. In particular, you have not dealt with the extremity of the claim of “EENS.” Likewise, as Fra Charles has said, you haven’t dealt with the fact that Catholics worship, if Catholicism is false, ordinary bread and wine.

    Do you want to say that the claim – uniform in the Church – that you cannot be saved except through the (Roman) Catholic Church; and that the claim that what appears, by every material test, to be simple bread and wine, are not, in fact, bread and wine at all, but the Body of Christ – that these claims are simple accretions to a purer Christian faith; that you could, in good conscience, say that I, who do worship those elements; that I, who do, in fact, believe that if you actually and knowingly reject the Catholic Church, will go to Hell – that you could consider that you and I are in the same religion?

    I admit it is frustrating conversing with you. You seem generally not to address the issues we are talking about at all. You wave them aside with:

    It’s just not that big of an issue that I think Calvin and Catholics make it out to be, damning each other over this.

    When you say:

    It’s not like they are putting a golden calf on the alt[a]r.

    David, if the Host and the contents of the Chalice are, in fact, bread and wine and are not Jesus, then, yes, it precisely is like we are putting a golden calf on the altar. Idolatry will send you to Hell. I myself, if I honestly believe It is Jesus, may be forgiven; the Catholic Church, in affirming that this Thing is not bread and wine but is the Body and Blood of the Saviour, is, as a system promoting idolatry. It is anti-Christ.

    Please try to address the issues; don’t just wave them aside.

    jj

  80. David,

    Greetings, brother! I’m writing here from having been a poorly catechized Catholic convert, and then, an “on-fire” anti-Catholic Protestant, and, for the past four years, a Catholic “revert” (in that order)! :-)

    I hope you don’t mind my briefly jumping into your conversation with JJ to ask a question and to offer an observation. I likely won’t be taking up too much of your time, given that, for better or worse, I currently have serious chronic pain issues which preclude me from participating nearly as much at CTC as I once did.

    In #77, you wrote to John:

    Well, I can’t speak to your family and friends, but mine warn me against Rome for different reasons: most are former Catholics themselves that tell me the RCC didn’t feed them and was pretty much formalities. Nothing about RCC being anti-christ. I graduated from a Catholic High School – I never got the impression I was surrounded by adherents of an anti-christ system. So it’s a false dichotomy.

    I did however get the impression that most weren’t “on fire for the Lord” though, compared with Protestant friends. So unless all these former Catholics are crazy, something important clearly seems to be missing in the RCC.

    I sense that I understand where you’re coming from here. In my almost-fifteen years away from the Catholic Church (several of them spent as a Protestant), I met many other “former Catholics” who claimed to experience primarily formalities and “dead rituals/traditions,” rather than a living, Scripture-filled faith, in the Church. At the time, I would have also said that such a description largely fit my own experience of having been a Catholic– but again, my catechesis in RCIA had been very poor.

    Initially, I came to the Church “on-fire” and very hopeful to learn about more about Christ and the Church that He founded– but I encountered priests who did not seem exactly eager to provide me with the answers to my questions! That is to say, I was given answers, but those answers actually *contradicted* what I had been reading in the Catechism! Unfortunately, at the time, I wasn’t sufficiently mature and well-formed in my relatively new faith in Christ to know that, when confronted with “dissenting” priests, Catholics are to stick with the Catechism, as it is founded on the Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition of the Church. In short, I ended up converting to Catholicism, but I did not actually understand well the *content* of the faith– and, therefore, I was not a very good Catholic! I quickly became disheartened by the experience of being pulled in different directions by different voices in the Church. Some Catholic authors seemed to dearly love the historic Catholic faith that I had been seeking, but I had trouble finding priests with that line of thinking, and that kind of passion, in my vicinity.

    I made a much better, “on-fire” Protestant after leaving the Church– but the point is, I had not really been properly formed in the Catholic faith to either passionately accept it *or* reject it in the first place. When I *thought* that I was passionately rejecting Catholicism, as a Reformed Baptist Protestant, I was, at least in part, rejecting the *caricature* of Catholicism that was being taught to me by my pastor and the other elders through their interpretations of Scripture.

    Having written all of the above, I ask for you to consider: Is it possible that many of your “former Catholic” friends were also not properly taught in the Catholic faith? Is it possible that this may be at least *part* of why they experienced the Church as a bunch of formalities (to be rejected for the “on-fire” faith they encountered in Protestantism), rather than as the Christ-ordained path into knowing Him, and having a relationship with Him, in ever-deeper ways?

    One last question, which I hope you will also kindly indulge from me, as one brother in Christ to another: As you’ve listened to your former Catholic friends about their time in the Church, have you also spent some serious time reading about the lives of (and reading from the writings of) the many, many formally canonized Catholic Saints? You will be hard-pressed to find people more on-fire for Christ than Catholic Saints! :-)

    I ask these questions, because in the painful, humbling, and finally, joyful, process of re-investigating the Catholic Church, and returning to her, I have found her to offer even more opportunities for kindling and stoking an on-fire faith in Christ than I found in the most wonderful Protestant churches where I was a member– all of which for whom I am still grateful as a Catholic revert! :-) God bless you, and thanks for reading, brother!

  81. Pax Christi

    To give you a bit more about my background. I mentioned that I went to a Catholic Church during Middle School with my family, but left it and started attending a local Wesleyan chapel with a young pastor who cared, which was incrediblely important for me, because at the Catholic Church (and the Lutheran church we attended before that) no one, especially the youth, seemed to care. It seemed to be Churchianity. Some may say, God alone can judge the heart, but I could see the total lack of commitment to the Faith among my peers, and this was the primary reason I became quite anti-Catholic.

    Anyways, I have to go, but I will say that the first step in my return was meeting Catholics who were both quite Catholic, and yet scandalously Christian.

    Again, the question is not which boat seems more vibrant, but which boat Jesus is sleeping in – and one can say the Catholic Church at this moment is like the storm when Jesus was asleep.

    As suggested above, read some lives of the saints.

  82. David, thanks for the response. I agree with your last message to me. I write now just to note that there is a bit of an illegitimate two-step that you sometimes see in Catholic responses to Protestants, and I think it’s exemplified in some of the responses you’ve been receiving here. On the one hand, they resist your reasonable efforts to moderate criticism of the Catholic Church from outside, emphasizing and playing up the grandiosity of Rome’s theological claims, saying that if Catholicism is wrong it is “the very anti-Christ,” “abominable,” etc. (The quoted words are those of Catholic posters above, not mine.)

    So the upshot of these assertions is that if you are not convinced that Catholicism is correct, your only consistent position would be to hold these views (that she is anti-Christ, etc.) Well, then one would naturally assume that in a forum partly designed to facilitate dialogue with non-Catholics, these same people would respect and welcome postings by non-Catholics expressing the views that they say are the only consistent non-Catholic views. But to the contrary, if one were to say anything like those things, they would express grave offense and say that such a comment “does not come up to what ought to be the standards of dialogue,” to quote a response to a posting of yours in this very thread that expressed much milder criticisms of Catholicism than those that these posters now say is the only consistent non-Catholic view.

    I’m not writing all this to express a view one way or the other which side of these Catholic posters’ positions is the correct one. For what it’s worth, I agree with you that from everything I’ve seen the problematic Catholic doctrines are best understood as gradual historical accretions, but on the other I also agree with the Catholic posters that the resultant differences are very significant and warrant extremely careful scrutiny. But my sole point here is that, I’m sure through no conscious effort to do it on their part, these Catholic posters have created a sort of “gotcha” situation where they would have you lose either way. If you go too far in criticizing Rome’s authority claims, then they will respond with great sadness that whatever our disagreements we need civility in discourse, mutual respect, and the like — as exhibited in the first part of your dialogue with them above. But on the other hand if you say, as you subsequently seemed to, that the differences are of mere degree and that they do not rise to the level of warranting a charge of being the anti-Christ, etc., then they condemn you for failing to comprehend the gravity of Rome’s claims, under which they are either true or anti-Christ, etc. Heads, I win. Tails, you lose.

    So it seems to me. Apologize to anyone I’ve unintentionally offended, and for my plain expression here. I’m ready to be corrected, as always, if I have erred in anything I’ve said. As I’ve previously emphasized, I have no theological expertise or training, so I may well be wrong about something but that’s the way it seems to me.

    Best regards,

    CThomas

  83. One addendum to my last post – this pervasive lack of ardor in the Catholic Church, especially in the West, is one reason why I am discerning the call to religious life (I am still in formation). It is my desire to offer myself as an instrument for Our Lord to use in bringing Catholics back to an appreciation and love for their faith.

    @ CThomas:
    Thank you for your very civil and insightful post. I will be praying over it. It does seem to be one of the strange things with modern ecumenism, where it seems we either downplay our differences or remain enemies. Figuring out how to work for Christian unity while not neglecting our differences and their implications is a difficult line to balance on – and one I don’t think I am very good at all at understanding.

    Ave Maria

  84. CThomas (#82)
    I am the one who said that if the Church isn’t what it claims, the rational response is to call it anti-Christ. I did not say this as a way of beginning the conversation, but to emphasise, to David, that I think it impossible to accept his view of the Church as just another denomination that has added some accretions to the pure Christian faith, and which, as a result, is weighed down with too much baggage.

    David has said that the Church’s anathemas worry him – as though he thought the Church sat together with non-Catholic Christians at the foot of the Saviour, trying to understand and to teach. That would be fine (on this view), but it is not on to take the position of a unique God-given authority which says “you must agree with us when we speak authoritatively” or you are fighting against God.

    It is precisely that claim that the Church makes and which should be understood. It is perfectly true that there is little to be gained by thundering against heretics. That the Church has often been unwise in doing so – Regnans in Excelsis comes to mind. But my understanding of David’s position is that he believes the Church has not the right to do that. If that is not his position, I am wrong and ask forgiveness for misunderstanding him.

    But if that is what he believes – that the Church has not the authority to bind and loose (not just in relation to the Church itself but to God – “in Heaven” as Scripture puts it) – it has seemed to me that we need to start from an understanding of what the Church itself does, in fact, believe about itself. I see no alternative to the stark dichotomy – when push comes to shove.

    jj

  85. A PS to my last – I would not have become a Catholic had I believed it was anything other than what it claims. I would not have become a Catholic had I believed it was simply that denomination whose teaching was closest to the truth – much less had I only found that I was fed there. To have entered the Church for either reason would not, in fact, have made me a Catholic. It would have made me a Protestant who had chosen that flavour of Christianity from the Christian supermarket.

    jj

  86. Some further reflection on my post above.

    As an axiom, Christian unity, when it happens, will be a work of Christ. While we may either cooperate or obstruct by our personal actions, ultimately the union of all who call on the name of Christ will be an action of grace, and not of mere human dialogue or plans.

    As a corollary of above, the best thing we can all do, starting with myself, for genuine ecumenism is open ourselves up to God’s action in us and by undergoing a profound conversion of heart. One thing that obstructs is seeking to possess the truth, which then means it becomes mine and must be defended as mine. What we must do instead is allow ourselves to “be possessed” by the truth. If this is the case, I don’t defend it as mine, but seek to serve it as a faithful steward.

    And this all requires prayer and fasting/penance. We must all learn to turn from our own sinfulness to the Lord, and then HE will bring all who call upon His Holy Name together.

    Also, I will state my conviction that the person and prerogatives of the Blessed Virgin will be key in the future of authentic ecumenism.

    And I think the Pope agrees with all this.

  87. Fra Charles (#86

    One thing that obstructs is seeking to possess the truth, which then means it becomes mine and must be defended as mine.

    Absolutely correct – and if I have come across that way, I wish to assert absolutely that that is not my intention. I remember well the promise we (my wife and I) made when we entered the Church:

    I believe and hold what the Church believes and teaches

    That assymetry is critical. The docile (teachable) heart is the one ready to receive what the Church teaches because Christ has made the Church our mother.

    jj

  88. David, Re: comment #109 on the Accidental Catholic

    I’ve been following along very closely. Sorry if you felt like I left you hanging. If there is anything specific you’d like my perspective on I’d be happy to answer as best I can. There are a few reasons I’ve been lurking, the main thing being time to focus and concentrate. I have ample time to rattle off quick messages, but life in the form of a 2 year old frequently interferes with sustained concentration. I don’t write fast and my first draft always needs severe editing. Then, I’ve been moderated on this forum enough times to learn I have to go through and rewrite about half of it again to tone down my language.

    So I’ve started several comments, but by the time I’ve gotten back to them to edit, J.J. or Fred or Friar Charles has posted something well written that covered my main points.

    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.

    What about Galatians 1:9? 1 Cor. 5 is dealing with more directly with moral behavior, Christian brothers who persist in blatant immorality. Galatians 1:8-9 is much more clearly directed at preachers and teaching doctrine. As to being a “far cry from what they are intended…. I think right at his point is the gap over which we need to bridge in order to understand each other better. I take it that your meaning is here is something along the lines of “unity in the essentials and diversity in all else?.” That the Church is correct to anathematize Arianism and Pelegianism and the various forms of Gnostism but that other teachings, particularly ones you and most Protestants end up on the wrong side of are over things that should be tolerated because in your judgment (and that of many Protestants) a) you are right, and b) these issues are not a central or important as other heresies?

    Does that reflect reasonably what you mean?

    So now allow me to explain the Catholic viewpoint of this statement. Along with what I write here, I think you will find helpful my comment #245 on the Ancient Marian Devotion Thread. The Early Christian Fathers were not reductionist, and the very concept of continually breaking problems and issues down into bite sized chunks and looking at issues in isolation is foreign to both the Fathers and the Church. The Logos is a whole and it is truth. It is indivisible; there are no inconsequential or inessential parts. Now, our understanding of Revelation can be, and is today in some areas, not fully defined. However, the lack of definition doesn’t mean the truth in that area is of less or minimal importance. The immaculate conception for example was always there, but it took time, thought and prayer before the Church discerned the full formulation of how to express that truth. Up until the time that such a clarity of expression and understanding developed, believers were at greater liberty in their conscience to understand how Mary was “Full of Grace” and “Blessed among women” and had “found favor with God”. Everyone always knew she was pure, and holy and without personal sin, and from an early, early date that she was somehow saved from original sin. However the definition of precisely what that means in terms of her conception and birth was undeveloped, at least in part because of the lack of knowledge of the biology involved. However, once the Church came to understand the Immaculate Conception the truth, always present in the Word of Revelation, was brought forth and now that it is understood, there can’t be any pretending that it is okay to deny that truth. It really isn’t much different from proving a new theory in Mathematics. Ignoring deeply philosophical issues about the nature of Mathematical truth, the ‘truth’ of a Mathematical theorem is there to be unveiled and once unveiled in a proof, no Mathematician can sanely deny it’s truth. To deliberately and knowingly deny a proven Mathematical concept, even one in an esoteric area, would be a break with the whole of Mathematics. It doesn’t matter that one could spend a career as a Mathematician and never encounter a problem that requires that particular piece of theorem. Not knowing X, or knowing about X but not having a proof of X is a fundamentally different state than denying X, once it is proven. To deny a proven X means I am doing Math on my terms not on Mathematics terms.

    Hebrews 4:12
    For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intention of the heart.

    Jesus says
    John 17:17 “Sanctify them in your truth, your Word is truth.”

    John 12:48 “He who rejects me and does not receive my sayings has a judge, the Word that I have spoken will be his judge on the last day.”

    John 14:16-17 “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of Truth whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.”

    John 14:25-26 “These things I have spoken to you, while I am still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”

    1 Tim 3:15 …You may know how to behave in the household of God, which is the Church, the Pillar and Foundation of Truth.

    Now, I don’t expect you to accept the Church’s exegesis of those passages among others. I only quote those to outline how the Catholic Church has understood the “deposit of Faith” entrusted to her and her role in safeguarding and transmitting that deposit of faith. The Truth of divine revelation is Truth. The Logos is Truth. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth. The Truth is a sharp sword that cuts so finely as to divide Spirit and soul! The truth is a unity, it can’t be chopped up and divided between essential and inessential. There isn’t anything in the Catholic Faith that allows for accepting anything false. The Church understands itself is the Pillar and Foundation of Truth, to knowingly and deliberately encourage error would be schizophrenic. On the other hand, the prudential judgment about how best to oppose error in particular places and times is another issue.

    So that gets around to my take on the most recent discussion between you David, and J.J. and Fred and Fra. Charles. The Catholic Church either stands 100% on solid doctrine, or it is dust. Either the Church has faithfully fulfilled her mission, aided by God, and has preserved the ancient Faith of the Apostles as taught them by Jesus Christ (without “accretions”) or the Catholic Church is a total fraud. And within that is the Dilemma of the Accidental Catholic Fred postulated.

  89. Hello all,

    Hi Fred @69:

    David: Surely enough there were some of Newman’s Anglican friends at his level that did not make the switch, and I find that interesting, because they had access to the same data but arrived at a different conclusion.

    Fred: Newman wrote another book, An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent (some 400-500 pages), in which he deals with circumstances like this and why they happen. I just finished reading it, and it is very good.

    I should check that book out. I have read parts of his “Doctrinal Development”. What passages do you suggest speak to this question, and do you have any takeaways you can share with us?

    JJensen @79,
    I thought I did answer the EENS “extremity” issue and how I view Eucharistic Adoration in my post 77.
    You seem to want to force the issue that Catholics must be committing idolatry if the Host truly isn’t transubstantiated. Again this is a false dichotomy. If I go outside and grab a rock and say this is Jesus, and pray to it, I don’t think that would necessarily be idolatry, especially if I sincerely interpret 1 Cor 10:4 quite broadly. Can you see how this is different than putting a statue of Zeus on the altar and worshiping Zeus? In the first case, the sincere Christian worships what he believes is Jesus Christ. In the second the former Christian apostasized by worshiping a demon.

    So even if the RCC is wrong about transubstantiation, I wouldn’t put them in the category you keep wanting me to: anti-christ system/apostasy. Rather accretions that misdirect people’s energies to the wrong things.

    Christ broke bread and said “Do this in memory of me”. We do that too. The RCC’s philosophical attempt to explain more should not carry an anathema.

    …could [you], in good conscience, say that I, who do worship those elements; that I, who do, in fact, believe that if you actually and knowingly reject the Catholic Church, will go to Hell – that you could consider that you and I are in the same religion?

    Yes. Remember, Orthodox damned the RCC and vice versa. But yeah, they are in the same religion. Fussy bishops damning each other may have appeared scary to me 10 years ago, but I know how fallible men are.

    David, if the Host and the contents of the Chalice are, in fact, bread and wine and are not Jesus, then, yes, it precisely is like we are putting a golden calf on the altar. Idolatry will send you to Hell. I myself, if I honestly believe It is Jesus, may be forgiven; the Catholic Church, in affirming that this Thing is not bread and wine but is the Body and Blood of the Savior, is, as a system promoting idolatry. It is anti-Christ.

    Again no, see above. As to the “system promoting idolatry”: also no to this too. It is a system that promotes accretions. Christ promised the gates of hades will not prevail, not a near perfect Church. Thank God He works with us dirty vessels, just as He does His Church marred with accretions, to still beam light in this dark world. Protestantism has its issues too. It’s a messy world and ecclesiology is no exception. I know its a paradigm Catholics aren’t use to, nor like, but I think it lines up with reality and original sin.

    Hi Christopher Lake @80,

    Having written all of the above, I ask for you to consider: Is it possible that many of your “former Catholic” friends were also not properly taught in the Catholic faith? Is it possible that this may be at least *part* of why they experienced the Church as a bunch of formalities (to be rejected for the “on-fire” faith they encountered in Protestantism), rather than as the Christ-ordained path into knowing Him, and having a relationship with Him, in ever-deeper ways?

    One last question, which I hope you will also kindly indulge from me, as one brother in Christ to another: As you’ve listened to your former Catholic friends about their time in the Church, have you also spent some serious time reading about the lives of (and reading from the writings of) the many, many formally canonized Catholic Saints? You will be hard-pressed to find people more on-fire for Christ than Catholic Saints! :-)

    I have considered that, actually. I asked many former Catholic friends if they simply grew up in families that didn’t take the RCC seriously. Most said they grew up in serious Catholic homes. Something really does seem to be missing. Think about it, a lot of the guys that are “on fire” Catholics are usually former Protestants like Scott Hahn.

    But, yes I suppose lacking stellar teaching on the Catholic faith, could be a reason why many cradle Catholics seem so lukewarm. That said, I don’t think knowledge and instruction are the answer: a Catholic priest on my Irish side of the fam doesn’t even believe Adam and Eve were real. In the words of Obi-wan Kenobi, “search your feelings, you know something is out of place.” :-P

    Admittedly, no I have not conducted an in-depth study into the lives of the Catholic Saints. I do have the “Golden Ledgend” in the queue though :) I don’t doubt many men and women make marvelous sacrifices in the name of Jesus. But I do remember reading about one saint (desert father) who went down to the marsh to get bitten by mosquitoes for six weeks. Many ascetics like this I cannot lift up as examples of how Jesus wants us to live.

    Christopher, if I may ask you a question: Do you think Protestantism’s leading you into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and making Him your Savior is the reason you can be an “on fire Catholic”?

    CThomas, yes I have noticed that. I’m glad someone else did too, cuz I was worried I was going crazy :-D

    JJensen @84: No, I am not saying the Church (or RCC) has no right to issue anathemas. I cleared this up in my post to CThomas earlier as he led me to seeing the Biblical basis for them. It is what the RCC thunders anathemas on I take issue with. I believe the RCC is guilty of going beyond its power to bind and loose here.
    I’m even willing to admit the RCC is “not just another denomination” but even the chosen visible Church…in fact I’m even more Catholic than an Orthodox cuz I admit the filioque and that the bishop of Rome is above the other bishops. However I believe God, anticipating man’s restrictionist tendencies, widened His grace as the Apostles died and may very well have reluctantly facilitated the various splits from Rome, like He did with Juda and Israel after seeing how corrupt, presumptuous and arrogant Rome got. RCC rarely reforms from the inside, and I believe God works all things for good for those who love him (Romans 8:28).

    I believe Christians should be more united, but just as Christ’s promise that the gates of hades will not prevail does not equate to a near perfect visible Church, so too with His prayer that “they all be one”.

    If you’ll permit me, it seems to me you became Catholic in large part because you forced yourself into a false-dichotomy. I’ve tried my best to show you another way to look at it.

    Hi Fra Charles,

    Again, the question is not which boat seems more vibrant, but which boat Jesus is sleeping in – and one can say the Catholic Church at this moment is like the storm when Jesus was asleep.

    But Jesus is awake alive and well in many good Spirit filled Protestant Churches :-D
    Countless lives transformed and many healings.

    God Bless and guide us,
    David

  90. David (#89)

    If I go outside and grab a rock and say this is Jesus, and pray to it, I don’t think that would necessarily be idolatry, especially if I sincerely interpret 1 Cor 10:4 quite broadly.

    It seems to me that this way lies complete religious indifference. Whatever you do, so long as you sincerely think it right, must be all right.

    And there is a sense in which the Catholic would agree with you. If you sincerely believe – and are unable, using normal methods, to see that you are wrong – that the rock is Jesus, then you are not guilty of formal sin. God will not judge you for the idolatry.

    But the trouble is is that the rock is not in fact Jesus. What you are doing is materially idolatry.

    And committing material sin – even if because you are unable to realise it is sin – is damaging to you. It is not just a question of whether you bear guilt before God that matters. You are damaging your soul. You are making it more likely that you will commit formal sin.

    This is because reality is a unity. During the years that my wife and I were Protestants, we practised artificial contraception. We did not understand that it was gravely sinful. When we became Catholics, we understood that it is gravely sinful, and stopped. Nevertheless, those years of serious sexual immorality damaged our relationship with one another, with God, and with ourselves.

    Thus the Church, in telling someone – even someone who is not formally guilty of sin – that he or she is sinning, and, if the sin is materially serious, telling the person so in strong ways, is acting out of love for the person and concern for his salvation.

    But Jesus is awake alive and well in many good Spirit filled Protestant Churches :-D
    Countless lives transformed and many healings.

    No one denies this. He works wonderful things amongst non-Christians as well. This does not address the question whether the Church has a duty – in love – to carry out acts such as anathematising heresy.

    jj

  91. David (re:#89),

    Thank you for the reply, brother. In response to my question about the faith formation of your former Catholic friends, you wrote:

    I have considered that, actually. I asked many former Catholic friends if they simply grew up in families that didn’t take the RCC seriously. Most said they grew up in serious Catholic homes. Something really does seem to be missing. Think about it, a lot of the guys that are “on fire” Catholics are usually former Protestants like Scott Hahn.

    Obviously, from this site and elsewhere, it is true that many former Protestants who become Catholics are “on fire” Catholic converts! :-) However, that phenomenon doesn’t begin to explain the multitudes of cradle Catholics, throughout the centuries, all the way up to the present day, whose words and deeds show them to have been very much “on fire” for Christ– to the point of their becoming canonized Saints. In the interest of consistency, any Protestant, looking into the Catholic Church, who bemoans lukewarm cradle Catholics of the last few decades (and there are many during these times who have *not* been lukewarm too!) needs to seriously examine at least some of the legions of “on fire” cradle Catholic Saints.

    You also wrote:

    But, yes I suppose lacking stellar teaching on the Catholic faith, could be a reason why many cradle Catholics seem so lukewarm. That said, I don’t think knowledge and instruction are the answer: a Catholic priest on my Irish side of the fam doesn’t even believe Adam and Eve were real. In the words of Obi-wan Kenobi, “search your feelings, you know something is out of place.” :-P

    Especially in the 1960s and ’70s, more than a few Catholic seminaries, in America and around the world, were plagued by a creeping theological liberalism– even as the Popes consistently affirmed the historic Catholic faith in their writings and homilies! That was a rough period of time for the entire Christian world, and Catholic seminaries were definitely affected by the problematic thinking of those days. Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI did quite a bit to correct those problems, though, and from what I can tell, the younger priests graduating from seminaries now tend to be enthusiastically orthodox and happy to preach the historic Catholic faith! :-)

    I’ll respond briefly to this section of your reply:

    Admittedly, no I have not conducted an in-depth study into the lives of the Catholic Saints. I do have the “Golden Ledgend” in the queue though :) I don’t doubt many men and women make marvelous sacrifices in the name of Jesus. But I do remember reading about one saint (desert father) who went down to the marsh to get bitten by mosquitoes for six weeks. Many ascetics like this I cannot lift up as examples of how Jesus wants us to live.

    I can certainly empathize with you in not wanting to imitate the practices of that one Desert Father (mosquitoes seem to love me, but I hate them)! :-) However, St. Paul *does* speak, as part of his running the Christian race, of pummeling his body to bring it into subjection, lest he himself should be disqualified. Now, we may or may not take that pummeling to be literal (personally, I don’t take it to be literal), but even still, doesn’t it seem to be more severe in tone than much of 21st-century Western evangelical practice? It sounds more like the lives of many Catholic Saints to me– which makes sense, given that St. Paul, himself, is a Catholic Saint! :-)

    Last, you wrote to me:

    Christopher, if I may ask you a question: Do you think Protestantism’s leading you into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and making Him your Savior is the reason you can be an “on fire Catholic”?

    Actually, I had a personal relationship with Christ, with Him as my Lord and Savior, before I became a Protestant. I was “on fire” for Christ when I first came to faith in Him and began to look into the Catholic Church. That passion for Christ and the historic faith continued even through my confusing RCIA experience.. but in the months afterward, sadly, I did become *so* disheartened and confused by all of the differing theological opinions I was hearing (both within the Church and from non-Catholic friends) that, foolishly, I ultimately left the Church and went into a period of skepticism and despair. When God drew me *back* to Himself, it was through evangelical, and later, Reformed, confessional, Protestantism. At that point, I wasn’t even *open* to hearing from the Catholic Church, because subjectively speaking, I had had a largely discouraging personal *experience* of being Catholic. However, in retrospect, that was not a reflection on the actual, objective, Catholic faith. It was a reflection on the failure of *some* priests to accurately teach that faith and on my youthful spiritual immaturity of the time.

    Now, fifteen years later, being much better catechized, thanks be to God (!), and having much more experience with both theologically conservative Protestantism and orthodox Catholicism, I can say, from my own life and the lives of many others (both cradle and convert!), that the Catholic Church has produced, and is producing, at least as many people who are “on fire” for Christ as can be found in conservative Protestantism.

    In the end though, as JJ and friar Charles have written, this discussion is not about a game of numbers. It is about the question of which Church did Christ Himself found (*if* He actually founded a visible Church!), with apostolic succession, up to the present day. On that subject, in 189 A.D., St. Irenaeus wrote in “Against Heresies”:

    “It is possible, then, for everyone in every church, who may wish to know the truth, to contemplate the tradition of the apostles which has been made known to us throughout the whole world. And we are in a position to enumerate those who were instituted bishops by the apostles and their successors down to our own times, men who neither knew nor taught anything like what these heretics rave about” (Against Heresies 3:3:1 [A.D. 189]).

    “But since it would be too long to enumerate in such a volume as this the successions of all the churches, we shall confound all those who, in whatever manner, whether through self-satisfaction or vainglory, or through blindness and wicked opinion, assemble other than where it is proper, by pointing out here the successions of the bishops of the greatest and most ancient church known to all, founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul—that church which has the tradition and the faith with which comes down to us after having been announced to men by the apostles. For with this Church, because of its superior origin, all churches must agree, that is, all the faithful in the whole world. And it is in her that the faithful everywhere have maintained the apostolic tradition” (ibid., 3:3:2).

    (Source: http://www.churchfathers.org/category/the-church-and-the-papacy/apostolic-succession/)

  92. Hi David,

    Fred, John Jensen, Friar Charles, Christopher, etc.. are doing a fine job, but I’d still liketo interject if you don’t mind:)

    Speaking of Catholicism, you said: “It is a system that promotes accretions. Christ promised the gates of hades will not prevail, not a near perfect Church. Thank God He works with us dirty vessels, just as He does His Church marred with accretions, to still beam light in this dark world. Protestantism has its issues too. It’s a messy world and ecclesiology is no exception. I know its a paradigm Catholics aren’t use to, nor like, but I think it lines up with reality and original sin.”

    I’m confused( but then I haven’t been following along perfectly), why you then want to “clean Catholic house”, so to speak, if Catholicsm is just “an”other visible church. I surely don’t want you to stop looking and asking questions, but you stay outside the Catholic version of messiness because you deem it a severe messiness( more messy than your own faith commuity); so severe that it stands to be corrected by someone who knows what is and isn’t an accretion, maybe?? I mean, you think that you have the right idea about how the church should operate and you know what is an accretion? If you know what is and isn’t accretions than you are arguably more Spirit filled than the Catholic Church in her entire history.

    Do you have record of a Catholic document where accretions are mentioned? I would think that if and when an accretion entered the Catholic Church it would have been squelched immediately. The Church was able to identify unorthodox doctrine, way back when so why shouldn’t she have also been able to identify scandalous and tempting accretions? You have to prove what is an accretion and you will not be able to do this.
    And in regards to idoltry, if I worshiped a rock as if it were divine, I would be guilty of idoltry. If I worshiped an image of Zeus, I’d also be guilty of idoltry because neither should be worshiped as God. I know that Zeus is akin to Deus(“God” in Latin) and I still couldn’t worship the ancient understanding of God because special revelation teaches us that we are not to make images or to believe false things concerning the True and living God.

    ” I am the Lord your God: you shall not make to yourselves any idol or graven thing, neither shall you erect pillars, nor set up a remarkable stone in your land, to adore it: for I am the Lord your God.”Lev 26:1

    ” Who changed the truth of God into a lie; and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.” Rom. 1:25

    This is what it means to worship falsely;that is.. worshiping something or someone who has no right to latria is idoltry.

    David, Catholics are used to sin inside the church too but there has to be doctrinal unity for the existence of the true Church.

    Thanks for allowing my intrusion:)
    Susan

  93. What is the value in comparing who’s church has more ‘on fire’ adherents or converts? By any reasonable measure, the heaven’s gate cult were most on fire for their faith. My point is that the fervency of belief by members is not an indicator of the truth of the belief being held.

    Even the propensity to excuse those who leave a given church as being insufficiently catechized is a knee jerk reaction to (in essence) de-humanize them. They don’t know what I do – if they did they would have chosen what I choose. People do this all the time, and for things as small as did I choose the right kind of shoes or which sports team is better than all the rest. Seeing other people make choices different then our own makes us doubt our own choices – and the easiest way for us humans to ease that doubt is to provide excuses for why the other person made a wrong choice (they weren’t catechized).

    Likewise, pointing to your church’s teaching on contraception as an indication of its true-ness is not helpful. It may point to internal consistency and be a point of persuasion for those who buy into the ‘all sex must be ordered toward procreation’, but the truthfullness of that statement lives and dies with the truthfullness of the church as a whole.

    Lets not forget that the RCC is actually OK with planning a family size. The caveat is that the only acceptable way is to forgo sex when your wife is going to enjoy it most (the most fertile part of her cycle). You want a small family? That’s your trade-off. That’s the truth.

    The immaculate conception for example was always there, but it took time, thought and prayer before the Church discerned the full formulation of how to express that truth.

    No, it wasn’t always there. The protestants and catholics and orthodox all have the same exact access to the same exact source material. Even your Thomas Aquinas, Bernard of Clairvaux and Catherine of Sienna rejected it. In either case, weather it is indeed true or not only became a matter of salvific importance in the 1800’s (thanks Pope Gregory). Its been there less than 150 years… a far cry from ‘always’. A reasonable reading of the source material does not point to IC being true.

    ” I am the Lord your God: you shall not make to yourselves any idol or graven thing, neither shall you erect pillars, nor set up a remarkable stone in your land, to adore it: for I am the Lord your God.”Lev 26:1

    ” Who changed the truth of God into a lie; and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.” Rom. 1:25

    One could easily apply these passages towards the Catholics with all their statues to various saints, and their massive amount of Marian (creature) devotion… but those things are given a pass in the Catholic paradigm because… Heads I win, tails you loose, we’re the church Christ founded and so we get to interpret these passages how we want to despite their plain reading. Let us tell you what we believe (as though our own eyes and ears lie to us)!!! You guys are the bad ones for using Christs own words ‘do this in remembrance of me’ instead of actually worshiping the wafer as his physical body. Up is down, left is right. A reasonable reading of the passages leave no room for prostration before statues or IC and its associated Marian Devotion.

    While I agree that either the RCC is true or anti-Christ is a false dichotomy, if one has to make a choice based on the evidence presented…

  94. Hello Bob (#93):

    What is the value in comparing who’s church has more ‘on fire’ adherents or converts? By any reasonable measure, the heaven’s gate cult were most on fire for their faith. My point is that the fervency of belief by members is not an indicator of the truth of the belief being held.

    Even the propensity to excuse those who leave a given church as being insufficiently catechized is a knee jerk reaction to (in essence) de-humanize them. They don’t know what I do – if they did they would have chosen what I choose. People do this all the time, and for things as small as did I choose the right kind of shoes or which sports team is better than all the rest. Seeing other people make choices different then our own makes us doubt our own choices – and the easiest way for us humans to ease that doubt is to provide excuses for why the other person made a wrong choice (they weren’t catechized).

    On this we agree. It is very easy for any convert’s former co-religionists to demonize him as ignorant or as never having been a “true believer.” This is the No True Scotsman fallacy.

    Likewise, pointing to your church’s teaching on contraception as an indication of its true-ness is not helpful. It may point to internal consistency and be a point of persuasion for those who buy into the ‘all sex must be ordered toward procreation’, but the truthfullness of that statement lives and dies with the truthfullness of the church as a whole.

    Lets not forget that the RCC is actually OK with planning a family size. The caveat is that the only acceptable way is to forgo sex when your wife is going to enjoy it most (the most fertile part of her cycle). You want a small family? That’s your trade-off. That’s the truth.

    Here we disagree. All Christians agreed about contraception and divorce until the early 20th century when the Anglicans let the camel’s nose in the tent by suddenly deciding that contraception wasn’t so bad after all. But this is incoherent. Suddenly a moral evil became a moral good. Eventually all of Protestantism followed the Anglican lead. But if the Church (however you want to define it) can err with respect to faith and morals, then it is functionally worthless for its mission: to save souls. Because if the Church can so err then there is no reason to believe that it has got anything right, and if that is true about the Church it is no less true about individuals. The net effect is the demolition of revealed truth.

    The immaculate conception for example was always there, but it took time, thought and prayer before the Church discerned the full formulation of how to express that truth.

    No, it wasn’t always there.

    Yes, it was, and the fact that Thomas or others erred with respect to it does not change the truth. They were not the Magisterium, and they were prone to error (whereas the Magisterium cannot err with respect to faith and morals). The Church’s understanding of this truth had to grow and develop, however, and dogmas are typically declared in response to some crisis or other, so the fact that the dogma of the Immaculate Conception was not promulgated until the nineteenth century invalidates it just as much as the fact that the Trinity was promulgated in 325 (rather than in the first century): which is to say, it does not invalidate it in any way whatsoever.

    ” I am the Lord your God: you shall not make to yourselves any idol or graven thing, neither shall you erect pillars, nor set up a remarkable stone in your land, to adore it: for I am the Lord your God.”Lev 26:1

    ” Who changed the truth of God into a lie; and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.” Rom. 1:25

    One could easily apply these passages towards the Catholics with all their statues to various saints, and their massive amount of Marian (creature) devotion… but those things are given a pass in the Catholic paradigm because… Heads I win, tails you loose, we’re the church Christ founded and so we get to interpret these passages how we want to despite their plain reading. Let us tell you what we believe (as though our own eyes and ears lie to us)!!! You guys are the bad ones for using Christs own words ‘do this in remembrance of me’ instead of actually worshiping the wafer as his physical body. Up is down, left is right. A reasonable reading of the passages leave no room for prostration before statues or IC and its associated Marian Devotion.

    You have presented a series of assertions, not arguments. And it is a species of fallacy (some logician will have to help me with the exact name, sorry :-) ) to assert that reasonable people would agree with you.

    While I agree that either the RCC is true or anti-Christ is a false dichotomy, if one has to make a choice based on the evidence presented…

    Sorry, but I am sick and my reading comprehension must be affected. What exact evidence did you present that would validate the claim that the Catholic Church is antiChrist?

    Peace,

    Fred

  95. Bob E, Re: #93

    As with Fred, I agree with you about comparing who is “on Fire,” although I wasn’t part of that conversation. It is subjective and open to interpretations, and further, potentially leads to the idea that we need to a) continually be “on fire”, b) seek out community in Church’s that are “on Fire” often leading to church hopping and c) a tendency to be so focused on visibly being “on fire” that we don’t recognize when when we are fooling ourselves.

    Regarding the Immaculate Conception which was my part in the discussion:

    The immaculate conception for example was always there, but it took time, thought and prayer before the Church discerned the full formulation of how to express that truth.

    No, it wasn’t always there. The protestants and catholics and orthodox all have the same exact access to the same exact source material. Even your Thomas Aquinas, Bernard of Clairvaux and Catherine of Sienna rejected it. In either case, weather it is indeed true or not only became a matter of salvific importance in the 1800′s (thanks Pope Gregory). Its been there less than 150 years… a far cry from ‘always’. A reasonable reading of the source material does not point to IC being true.

    I have a slightly different take than Fred. I don’t agree that Aquinas “rejected” the Immaculate Conception. He did understand it Mary’s sinlessness and how Salvation was applied to Mary before the cross and resurrection differently yes, based on the same revelation, but without a) better understanding of Biology and b) advancement in the theological understanding as Duns Scotus et. al.. However that is just nuance perhaps. Bob, your assertions only prove that you are a Protestant and you are looking at the Immaculate Conception doctrine from a Protestant Interpretive Paradigm. Which really entirely misses why I brought up the Immaculate Conception. I brought it up, to help demonstrate how Truth is understood in the Catholic Paradigm. I don’t claim to have proven either the Immaculate Conception or the superiority of the Catholic Paradigm. My only intent is to further the discussion initiated by David regarding Catholicism and wether the Church is unreasonable to pronounce Anathemas agains Protestant Theology. I don’t expect you or David to agree that Truth exists in Divine Revelation (Scripture and Tradition) that may not be fully developed and taught as doctrine. What I do hope is that both of you might lay aside prejudice enough to simply acknowledge that that is indeed how the Catholic Church does and has always (demonstrably from the 4th century forward) understood herself and the Deposit of Faith entrusted to her by her spouse, Jesus Christ.

    In Peace and Love, God Bless

  96. To be clear, I think St. Thomas’s mistake concerning the Immaculate Conception was one of omission: he considered sinlessness prior to conception/ensoulment to be irrational (which is sensible) and did not consider the possibility that the grace was given at the moment of conception/ensoulment.

    I also think that it is easy for us to forget that we have a better notion of conception than anyone in the Middle Ages could have done, so that criticism in hindsight is easy. :-)

    Fred

  97. Bob (re:#93),

    Thank you for your thought-provoking challenges, my brother in Christ. On the question of which religion or Church has more “on-fire” adherents, I fully agree with you that this is not the decisive point in *any* discussion of faith– including one between Catholics and Protestants. However, because David initially raised the question (claiming that, supposedly, most of the “on-fire” Catholics are converts, not cradle Catholics), I decided to address it. I was trying to provide a different view– as one who joined the Catholic Church, and then, later, became a fervent, committed Protestant, and finally, after many years, to my serious surprise, was led back to the Church again.

    Both conservative Protestantism and orthodox Catholicism produce “on-fire” followers of Christ– but as you correctly mentioned, the Heaven’s Gate cult members were also very passionate in their faith (to the point of death!). Therefore, the most pressing question, when speaking of Catholicism and the various Protestant denominations is, obviously, not one of sheer numbers, nor even of fervency of personal faith, but rather, of who (if anyone) has the most Christian truth *and* the principled means of actually *distinguishing* divine truth from theological opinion.

    Many conservative Protestant denominations (each one sincerely holding to Sola Scriptura) cannot agree among themselves about what the Bible teaches on many important matters– such as baptism, the Eucharist (Lord’s Supper), divorce and remarriage, and even whether a Christian’s salvation can be lost or not! Why is this? Is it because some conservative denominations are, despite their sincere best efforts, simply misunderstanding clear, numerous Biblical passages? Who decides which are the “clear” passages and which are not? If careful Biblical exegesis is the answer, then why do serious Biblical scholars in different Protestant faith communities (such as Presbyterians and Wesleyans) disagree so strongly on important issues, when it comes to the *conclusions* of their respective exegesis?

    In the last year that I was a Protestant, the above questions haunted me and drove me, even more than previously, to serious prayer, Biblical study, and research of Christian history. The answers that I found (often, to my surprise and displeasure!) ultimately led me back to the one Church that I *never* thought I would be a member of ever again– the Catholic Church. For years, I had been convinced that the Catholic Church didn’t even have the true Biblical Gospel– let alone the most Christian truth, period! In the end though, by God’s grace, I found myself submitting to the Church that was described in 189 A.D. by St. Irenaeus:

    “It is possible, then, for everyone in every church, who may wish to know the truth, to contemplate the tradition of the apostles which has been made known to us throughout the whole world. And we are in a position to enumerate those who were instituted bishops by the apostles and their successors down to our own times, men who neither knew nor taught anything like what these heretics rave about” (Against Heresies 3:3:1 [A.D. 189]).

    “But since it would be too long to enumerate in such a volume as this the successions of all the churches, we shall confound all those who, in whatever manner, whether through self-satisfaction or vainglory, or through blindness and wicked opinion, assemble other than where it is proper, by pointing out here the successions of the bishops of the greatest and most ancient church known to all, founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul—that church which has the tradition and the faith with which comes down to us after having been announced to men by the apostles. For with this Church, because of its superior origin, all churches must agree, that is, all the faithful in the whole world. And it is in her that the faithful everywhere have maintained the apostolic tradition” (ibid., 3:3:2).

    (Source: http://www.churchfathers.org/category/the-church-and-the-papacy/apostolic-succession/)

  98. All Christians agreed about contraception and divorce until the early 20th century when the Anglicans let the camel’s nose in the tent by suddenly deciding that contraception wasn’t so bad after all.
    </blockquote

    Not sure what divorce has to do with a (brief) discussion about contraception. I think that the rise in divorce has more to do with the rise of the socialist state as a non-husband provider for women (thank the feminists) than the ability to control fertility. Almost all early forms of contraception were abortifaciants. Modern forms don't (necessarily) work in that fashion… which would explain the Anglican's OKing it. Again, catholics take measures to not have kids. Some humans prefer to use tools to achieve that end, others prefer not having sex during fertile periods.

    Eventually all of Protestantism followed the Anglican lead.

    Apparently so did the catholics if you read up on who is using them.

    Yes, it was, and the fact that Thomas or others erred with respect to it does not change the truth. They were not the Magisterium, and they were prone to error (whereas the Magisterium cannot err with respect to faith and morals)

    Maybe they erred, maybe they didn’t. You are assuming the the magisterium cannot err. I disagree. Apparently they could until the 1800’s when they declared they couldn’t. However, now we are getting into circular reasoning territory. The truth of the matter of IC is unknowable in the normal sense. There isn’t any literature or other evidence to prove one way or another weather Mary was IC’d or not. You aren’t providing arguments, only assertions.

    This all comes down to belief – what do you believe about X. Why is this belief important? Because at the end of the day those who believe X are willing to kill those who believe Not-X. The way to absolve yourself of guilt in this matter is to declare your beliefs superior to someone else’s. Its that same dehumanizing process I mentioned before. Weather or not you believe in IC doesn’t really matter – its just a guide post for determining who is in and who is out – who can we dehumanize and who do we have to pay attention to.

    Thankfully we live in a society where disagreeing with the catholics doesn’t land you in jail, dead, or fighting a war against them. It hasn’t always been this way.

  99. Many conservative Protestant denominations (each one sincerely holding to Sola Scriptura) cannot agree among themselves about what the Bible teaches on many important matters– such as baptism, the Eucharist (Lord’s Supper), divorce and remarriage, and even whether a Christian’s salvation can be lost or not! Why is this? Is it because some conservative denominations are, despite their sincere best efforts, simply misunderstanding clear, numerous Biblical passages? Who decides which are the “clear” passages and which are not? If careful Biblical exegesis is the answer, then why do serious Biblical scholars in different Protestant faith communities (such as Presbyterians and Wesleyans) disagree so strongly on important issues, when it comes to the *conclusions* of their respective exegesis?

    People always disagree about everything. Golden calves are bad, putting snakes on poles save lives. Stone the harlot, let he who is without sin throw the first one. You find catholics and protestants on both sides of the political isle, each convinced that their team is the best one.

    I reject the Catholic church in part because it is the biggest team around, and because of the hypocracy I see within it. The mafia could be divinely protected in pronunciations of faith and morals, it doesn’t mean you sign up for them.

    Thankfully my rejection is a bit more principled than just the catholic church. I reject institutions that use coercion to get their way. Such tactics go against the sermon on the mount. One cannot be both the bride of Christ and the same organization that promotes inquisitions, imprisons scientists like Galileo for speaking the truth, or crusades. Regardless of the evilness of rampaging muslims, the Christlike response is to overcome evil with kindness, not ransacking cities. In so far as the catholic church is open to the use of force, to that degree has it abandoned Christ’s teachings. Those political tactics and behavior are the same that the powers of this world use, and should be off limits to those who claim Christ. If there is one thing the catholic church is good at, it is amassing political power.

    If you want more of an ‘argument’ in this vein, I’d recommend Tolstoy The Kingdom of God is within You.
    http://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/leo-tolstoy-the-kingdom-of-god-is-within-you

  100. John @ 87
    It is interesting that, as Catholics, we receive the Church’s Faith similar to the universal custom for Communion, kneeling and on the tongue, in a mode of receptivity. It would be interesting to think over how one can maintain that one is not possessing truth, but being possessed by the truth, when the final authority is your own interpretation of Scripture/Tradition.

    And I don’t think anyone here wants to claim to “possess” the truth in the sense of putting oneself over it, but I know from my own weakness it is easy to take what I have received, and try to plant my own flag there.

    @ David
    My point is that things may be enthusiastic now, but how long will that continue? Mainline Protestantism is dying, Bryan has been posting articles about the disintegration of Evangelicalism, and while some area’s of the Catholic Church caught the bug of modernism that has seemingly killed much of mainline Protestantism, it will survive it. The signs of recovery are appearing and growing.

    Also, I would like to ask you a question? If the Catholic Church is just weighed down with accretions, how does one determine what is an accretion and what isn’t? Are the other 5 sacraments accretions (Confirmation, Marriage, Holy Orders, Confession and Anointing)? Is Baptismal Regeneration an accretion? Is the necessity of baptism an accretion?

    This position, of the Church getting weighed down by barnacles over time was my ecclesiology a few years ago. Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists, each had been new and Spirit-filled at one point, but then became encrusted and ossified. Evangelicalism is where it was at, but as soon as the barnacles built up, it would be time to abandon ship and find a boat not weighed down by its own traditions.

    What came to me was that this understanding of Christianity is false (Chesterton’s Orthodoxy was helpful to me here). What is barnacles and what is hull? At what point is it in fighting shape, not to fat, but not anemic either? As GNW Paul pointed out in #88, the Faith had always been seen as a unity, but this stripping of barnacles rips into that. I imagine someone trimming what seems like excess fabric of a knit sweater, only to have it fall apart around him. I believe this is similar to what Paul Tillich called “The Protestant Principle” (look at the last section of this article, “Spirit of Protestantism”). I would suggest checking out Bryan’s “Our Collapsing Ecclesiology”

    Finally, if you would like to read about some saints, I wouldn’t suggest jumping into the Golden Legend – it is from a different time and written in the medieval style, and may cause misunderstandings. My suggestion would be to
    1. Read Story of a Soul by St. Therese. It is available for free online, and I am working on a ebook of it…someday\
    2. Read about St. Maximilian Kolbe. Particularly because he is a Marian maximalist, that is, he strongly stresses the role the Blessed Virgin plays in the plans of God. And also because he is a super-saint (and a Franciscan)
    3. Read about Padre Pio, the modern Wonder-worker.

    All the of the above were born within the past 125 years, we have massive amounts of documentation, pictures, and testimony about them, which prevents potential “legendary” traits to take hold (however, Padre Pio’s biography reads like legend because of all the miracles). Also, they were situated in our modern times, so one may understand them with more ease than, say, the desert fathers.

    Ave Maria!

  101. Re: the Immaculate Conception
    The reason many Scholastics before Scotus rejected it was because Mary had a Savior, but if she never contracted original sin, how could she have been saved? It was Scotus who made the distinction between preservative and liberative redemption. Mary was Preserved from Original Sin at the Moment of Her conception by the foreseen merits of Christ. This is what was established as dogma in 1853.

    For an interesting (albeit academic) book on the Immaculate Conception before Scotus, here is one that goes into the Eastern Tradition and shows how it is indeed found there as well: The Immaculate Conception: Why Thomas Aquinas Denied, While John Duns Scotus, Gregory Palamas, & Mark Eugenicus Professed the Absolute Immaculate Existence of Mary (Full disclosure: this book is published by my order)

  102. Bob (re:#99),

    Thanks for your reply, brother. I’ll try to address your points, in order, as you made them and wrote about them.

    People always disagree about everything. Golden calves are bad, putting snakes on poles save lives. Stone the harlot, let he who is without sin throw the first one. You find catholics and protestants on both sides of the political isle, each convinced that their team is the best one.

    I reject the Catholic church in part because it is the biggest team around, and because of the hypocracy I see within it. The mafia could be divinely protected in pronunciations of faith and morals, it doesn’t mean you sign up for them.

    Thankfully my rejection is a bit more principled than just the catholic church. I reject institutions that use coercion to get their way. Such tactics go against the sermon on the mount. One cannot be both the bride of Christ and the same organization that promotes inquisitions, imprisons scientists like Galileo for speaking the truth, or crusades. Regardless of the evilness of rampaging muslims, the Christlike response is to overcome evil with kindness, not ransacking cities. In so far as the catholic church is open to the use of force, to that degree has it abandoned Christ’s teachings. Those political tactics and behavior are the same that the powers of this world use, and should be off limits to those who claim Christ. If there is one thing the catholic church is good at, it is amassing political power.

    If you want more of an ‘argument’ in this vein, I’d recommend Tolstoy The Kingdom of God is within You.
    http://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/leo-tolstoy-the-kingdom-of-god-is-within-you

    It is true that people do disagree about many, many things. Obviously, the teachings of the Catholic and of the various Protestant denominations differ in numerous, serious ways. However, the question at hand here is, has God actually provided a way to *authoritatively distinguish* divine truth from theological opinion? Do you believe He has done so?

    As a Protestant, I used to believe that the way God had left to us to distinguish divine truth from opinion was chiefly (but not only) through our personal, Spirit-informed reading of Scripture as Christians– specifically, through the careful use of the principle of Sola Scriptura, along with, obviously, prayer to discern the truth. (Catholics also believe in personal Bible reading but not Sola Scriptura.)

    If Sola Scriptura is God’s way to discern His truth though, then I must ask, why has the serious, 500-year-long, Reformational attempt to practice Sola Scriptura, even among Biblical scholars, led to such deep differences of *opinion* about what the Bible teaches on many serious matters? If we can’t authoritatively know truth from opinion through the Reformation’s principles, how do you believe that we can know?

    I believe we can know, partially, through what is historically documented, for anyone to read, in the writings of the early Church– namely, that the early Christians believed Christ Himself had instituted a *visible Church*, with continuing leadership succession from the early apostles, to be continued to our present day and past it. The apostolic succession can be *historically traced* from Jesus ordaining Peter and giving him the keys of the kingdom, to Peter’s successors, and the successors of his colleagues, right up to the present day in the Catholic Church.

    This succession is what St. Irenaeus wrote about in 189 A.D., and it can be historically shown to exist in the Church today. No Protestant denomination has this visible apostolic teaching authority which goes back to Peter and the apostles *and* which extends forward to our present day.

    As far as knowing divine truth, without that visible teaching authority, we are left to the practice of Sola Scriptura, and to the multitudes of different, competing opinions resulting from it, about what the Bible teaches– seriously differing opinions that we see even among conservative Protestant denominations! Has God really left us to *this* kind of situation to discern divine truth from opinion? If He has done so, then it has led to deep and lasting confusion *about* divine truth truth among sincere, believing Christians.

    You write about rejecting the Catholic Church, partially, because she is the “biggest team around” and because of the hypocrisy that you see within her. I admit to both; they clearly exist. However, neither greatness nor smallness of Church size determines the truth or falsehood of what that Church teaches. As for the hypocrisy, from Christ’s time to the Reformation to the present day, individual Christians and Church bodies have been plagued by hypocrisy– and you and I are no exceptions. We haven’t participated in an Inquisition, but I feel safe in saying that neither of us has perfectly lived up to what we would even *hope* of ourselves as Christians. Why, then, would you allow even certain past egregious sins of the Catholic Church (i.e. failures to live up to her own teachings) to necessarily keep you away from her? St. Peter himself denied Christ three times, and yet, God inspired Peter to write parts of the New Testament. (!) On religious liberty, the Second Vatican Council of the 1950s and ’60s condemned any attempt at religious coercion of others (including in the Church’s past). Are you aware that the teaching authority of the Church, right up to the Papacy, has publicly admitted to the past sins of the Church, repeatedly, and publicly asked for forgiveness for them? Pope John Paul II traveled around the world asking people who had been historically wronged by members of the Church for forgiveness. This Catholic document was issued as a result of his thoughts and actions in that direction: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/cti_documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20000307_memory-reconc-itc_en.html

    Thanks for the Tolstoy link! I love Russian authors; I’ll look into it! :-)

  103. I am not a sola(o) scriptura proponent. You are correct that many denominations have come to competing conclusions from that stand point. What I do know is that all that is necessary for salvation is contained in the word of God, and even a child-like understanding is sufficient. The thief on the cross knew nothing theological, and yet he is in paradise. Membership or identity with an earthly institution is not required.

    Are you aware that the teaching authority of the Church, right up to the Papacy, has publicly admitted to the past sins of the Church, repeatedly, and publicly asked for forgiveness for them?

    It matters not to the victims of these sins. I have always contended that what you do matters more than what you say. The pope can claim infallibility all he wants, but when his thugs are pillaging a town or destroying a civilizations written language (mayan) any claims to authority are suspect. Talk is cheap.

    Lets not forget that the only reason the RCC bothers to repent of these past sins is because it is called out on them. I am not under any illusion that the modern papacy won’t behave exactly like the papacy of the middle ages if it could get away with it.

    >If Sola Scriptura is God’s way to discern His truth though, then I must ask, why has the serious, 500-year-long, Reformational attempt to practice Sola Scriptura, even among Biblical scholars, led to such deep differences of *opinion* about what the Bible teaches on many serious matters? If we can’t authoritatively know truth from opinion through the Reformation’s principles, how do you believe that we can know?

    What constitutes a serious matter? Prior to 1800 it was not a serious matter weather or not the pope was infallible, or Mary was IC’d. Even the trinity as a formulation is not ‘serious’. What is serious is how this belief affects behavior – and everything I’ve seen (from both sides of the isle) is that people are willing to kill each other over these things. Heck, your church excommunicated its eastern 1/2 over 2 words. Catholics and protestants have been busy killing each other in Ireland for generations – apparently both sides doing it in a Christ-like manner. Act however you want – so long as you never err on faith and morals. At least the protestants aren’t hypocritical enough to claim to be inerrant while they stab you.

    None of these things reflect Christ. They aren’t about sanctification, the daily walk towards holiness. It is all pointy hat guys practicing politics, vying for control over a given territory and a certain amount of tithe money. The RCC’s actions are indistinguishable from a regular secular state, other than the insistence that we call their actions holy. They levy taxes, fight wars, make laws, and are generally socialist in their outlook. You tell me, is Austria’s Church tax something a follower of Christ should support? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Church_tax

    Did you know that the wealthiest counties in the US are all surrounding Washington DC? Why? Its the center of power. Now imagine a Washington that has been there for 2000 years. That is Rome – with all the same corruption, scandal, and opulence Washington has. Why is it like this? Because it is at the top of the monetary and power chain. Rome gets a cut of every dollar donated from working class Joe at his local cathedral. Call it a religious authority and it is no wonder that such a power hungry organization comes up with stuff like indulgences. Its the church’s version of a carbon tax – something you pay extra to the guy in charge that gives you a warm fuzzy feeling.

    If the RCC was who she says she is, then she wouldn’t do the things she does. It would be too busy dividing up its land to give to the poor and feeding the 5000 to fund wars or play the stock market with all it’s untold wealth.

  104. Bob (#103):

    What I do know is that all that is necessary for salvation is contained in the word of God, and even a child-like understanding is sufficient. The thief on the cross knew nothing theological, and yet he is in paradise. Membership or identity with an earthly institution is not required.

    This is a series of assertions without an argument, which have nothing to do with the subject of the article, as far as I can tell. If you wish to discuss sola scriptura, please read this article and this one, and comment there.

    To argue from an exceptional case (the thief on the cross) to a general rule does not make sense to me. If your general rule was correct, then Jesus would not have phrased the Great Commission as consisting of baptism and disciple-making. The same goes for your alleged “child-like understanding”.

    Discussions about whether Christ founded a visible Church are more appropriate here, but the Protestant notion of an invisible church completely demolishes any objective basis for identifying a given congregation as Christian. See my article here.

    It matters not to the victims of these sins. I have always contended that what you do matters more than what you say. The pope can claim infallibility all he wants, but when his thugs are pillaging a town or destroying a civilizations written language (mayan) any claims to authority are suspect. Talk is cheap.

    If talk is cheap we would not be judged for every idle word that we say. You are in no position whatsoever to say anything about what the dead appreciate, since you deny even the possibility of speaking to them in prayer.

    Lets not forget that the only reason the RCC bothers to repent of these past sins is because it is called out on them. I am not under any illusion that the modern papacy won't behave exactly like the papacy of the middle ages if it could get away with it.

    Please cite the magisterial document which justifies your claims about the Church’s repentance. Otherwise this is nothing but libelous. Furthermore, absent the documentation to justify them your allegations are uncharitable, which is out of place here.

    What constitutes a serious matter?

    The very fact that Protestants cannot provide a list of these upon which they all agree is one of the reasons why Protestantism is false. If you cannot agree on a question like that (and Protestants don’t) it seems a tad presumptuous to criticize Catholic dogma.

    everything I've seen (from both sides of the isle) is that people are willing to kill each other over these things.

    At least you acknowledge that both Catholics and Protestants have done shameful things in the past. That being the case it seems the charitable thing to do is to set aside the past and work toward future peaceful unification. :-)

    Peace,

    Fred

  105. Since the Virgin Mary is brought up, Fred or other Catholics:

    What do you think about her being referred to as “Mary Co-Redemptrix Mediatrix of all graces and Advocate”?

    David

  106. Correctly understood, the Coredemption underlines the unique mediatorship of Jesus Christ and emphasizes that under that name alone can we be saved. It is in no way opposed to Jesus as the unique savior of mankind and the sole mediator.

    There is a thread on this here: http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2010/11/mary-as-co-redemptrix/

    Also, I would recommend these two video’s before commenting there:
    http://airmaria.com/2007/12/05/video-coredemption-conference-dr-scott-hahn/
    http://airmaria.com/2009/12/10/video-mother-angelica-coredemptrix-mediatrix-and-advocate/

    Finally, get it from the horse’s mouth from Mark Miravalle’s own mouth:
    http://www.fifthmariandogma.com/category/apologetics/common-objections/

    Ave Maria!

  107. If you wish to discuss sola scriptura,

    I do not wish to discuss it, it was brought up by Christopher in the previous comment. Direct him to the other articles. I responded in kind to his incorrect assumptions about me, like I am doing to you.

    You are in no position whatsoever to say anything about what the dead appreciate, since you deny even the possibility of speaking to them in prayer.

    I’m pretty sure you have no idea what I believe on this matter. In either case, you also have no idea what the dead appreciate since they are not in a habit of responding to those who pray to them.

    The very fact that Protestants cannot provide a list of these upon which they all agree is one of the reasons why Protestantism is false. If you cannot agree on a question like that (and Protestants don’t) it seems a tad presumptuous to criticize Catholic dogma.

    Scientists disagree on many things. That doesn’t make science false, or the method by which they discover things. Unity of belief is not a measure of trueness either. Rather it is a measure of the control that the hierarchy has on those underneath it. Every so often a group escapes out from under the Roman thumb, be it the east or the reformers. Remember the Heavens Gate? Very unified, very wrong, and very dead. I hear North Korea and the Scientologists are also very unified.

    At least you acknowledge that both Catholics and Protestants have done shameful things in the past. That being the case it seems the charitable thing to do is to set aside the past and work toward future peaceful unification. :-)

    There are several possible solutions to the problem of unification. One is the obvious protestants stop protesting promoted at this website. Another is the less obvious Roman church give up its power. A third would be the Roman church do as it did in the past and use force to solve its problems. It is this third option that scares me, and which I believe is contrary to Christs teaching. It is also perpetually ‘on the table’ so long as option 2 remains off the table. Authorities are going to authorize.

  108. Bob (#107):

    Unity of belief is not a measure of trueness either.

    It is when the subject is divine revelation, and what its content is, and what the essentials of the Faith are. Because A and ~A cannot both be true at the same time and in the same respect. Paedobaptists say we must baptize babies. Credobaptists say the exact opposite. They cannot both be right, and a sacrament is not a matter of indifference. Therefore the means used by the two groups has not resulted in unity of belief on an essential. Therefore the means are unreliable as a tool for discerning the truth contained in divine revelation. Any person or persons resorting to unreliable means cannot reasonably hope to have reliable results. Therefore Protestantism, which makes use of unreliable means for discerning the truth contained in divine revelation, cannot reasonably expect to have reliable results. Therefore it is impossible for any Protestant, relying upon his chosen means, to arrive at anything more certain than a mere opinion about the essentials of the Faith. This is a fact that they all admit, since they admit that they can and do err but are unable to say where their errors lay.

    Consequently the Protestant does not even have sufficient grounds on his own terms for saying that Christianity is true.

    This is an inescapable consequence of denying that the Church teaches infallibly concerning faith and morals: the loss of all certainty about the content of divine revelation.

    Peace,

    Fred

  109. David #105

    Most of what I think about the issue is perfectly summed up by The first comment on the Mary as Co-Redemptrix thread by Devin Rose and Bryan Cross’ response in comment #2

  110. Bob B. #107

    Scientists disagree on many things. That doesn’t make science false, or the method by which they discover things.

    Science and scientists however agree in principle on how to resolve a disagreement. They have a verifiable, and repeatable, reliable means of determining which theory is right. Resolution can not always be accomplished in a brief period of time, and often takes a decade or multiples of decades, and some questions may not be answered even in a lifetime. But the key is there is a principled means of resolving questions that scientists agree upon, and once the evidence is in, the experiments performed, the theory proven, all scientists (in that discipline at least) agree on what is “true.” Certainly this methodology is most successful in Physics, chemistry, and Math, and pretty successful in most areas of biology (not so much in ecological biology or healthy diets) and less successful in Psychology and Climatology but the point still applies, scientists have a principled means of answering questions, ultimately many questions can be and will be answered.

    The problem with Protestantism isn’t that Protestants disagree. The Problem is that there is no means, at all, in the Protestant paradigm for every resolving any but the most basic questions and saying “This is Truth.”

  111. It is when the subject is divine revelation, and what its content is, and what the essentials of the Faith are.

    This is an assertion, not evidence. As I already pointed out (provided evidence to my position), there are many groups with unified beliefs (some more unified that the catholic faith). Such unity is not evidence of trueness on either side.

    I postulated that unity of belief is rather better evidence of the ability to control a particular group. The evidence for this position is all around us – those who believe fervently in unity of belief with a particular authority will carry out atrocities in that authorities name. This behavior brought out by belief has affected every authority, be they kingdoms, cults, religions or churches. It is our history as humans.

    Science and scientists however agree in principle on how to resolve a disagreement. They have a verifiable, and repeatable, reliable means of determining which theory is right. Resolution can not always be accomplished in a brief period of time, and often takes a decade or multiples of decades, and some questions may not be answered even in a lifetime. But the key is there is a principled means of resolving questions that scientists agree upon, and once the evidence is in, the experiments performed, the theory proven, all scientists (in that discipline at least) agree on what is “true.”

    Yes, but for scientists an appeal to authority is known as a logical fallacy… yet that seems to be the (only) method being advocated for discerning truth within the RCC. Lets not forget that this authority is like all other authorities and will decide ‘truth’ to be whatever is in the best interest of that authority. We see this with our own court systems who decide cases (almost always) in favor of the state and provide immunity for its prosecutors to lie in court, and the benefit of the doubt for those who enforce the law (we call this hypocrisy the thin blue line).

    Ecumenical councils read exactly the same way – an ever more consolidation of authority to the Roman Church. It is to be expected as it is the pattern of all authorities. Eventually the people get tired of it and are kicked out (the east) or revolt (the reformation). The mark of an authority is then to gather its believers and physically attack those that disagree and have attempted separation. The Roman Church behaves exactly the same way as all other authorities in this manner.

    Are you trying to tell me that the RCC is not tainted by the same tendencies as all other authorities? Its actions make a mockery of your words if you are.

    The pope can be judged by no one; the Roman church has never erred and never will err till the end of time; the Roman church was founded by Christ alone; the pope alone can depose and restore bishops; he alone can make new laws, set up new bishoprics and divide old ones. … He alone can call general councils and authorize canon laws; his legates .. have precedence over all bishops. … A duly ordained pope is undoubtedly made a saint by the merits of St. Peter. –Pope Gregory VII

    Apparently he never met Pope Alexander VI and the rest of his ilk. Undoubtedly a saint.

  112. Bob (#111):

    I had written, in #108:

    It is when the subject is divine revelation, and what its content is, and what the essentials of the Faith are. Because A and ~A cannot both be true at the same time and in the same respect. Paedobaptists say we must baptize babies. Credobaptists say the exact opposite. They cannot both be right, and a sacrament is not a matter of indifference. Therefore the means used by the two groups has not resulted in unity of belief on an essential. Therefore the means are unreliable as a tool for discerning the truth contained in divine revelation. Any person or persons resorting to unreliable means cannot reasonably hope to have reliable results. Therefore Protestantism, which makes use of unreliable means for discerning the truth contained in divine revelation, cannot reasonably expect to have reliable results. Therefore it is impossible for any Protestant, relying upon his chosen means, to arrive at anything more certain than a mere opinion about the essentials of the Faith. This is a fact that they all admit, since they admit that they can and do err but are unable to say where their errors lay.

    Consequently the Protestant does not even have sufficient grounds on his own terms for saying that Christianity is true.

    This is an inescapable consequence of denying that the Church teaches infallibly concerning faith and morals: the loss of all certainty about the content of divine revelation.

    [emphasis added here]

    You took the very first sentence (in boldface above) and said this about it in #111:

    This is an assertion, not evidence.

    You must not have read the rest of the paragraph, Bob. Because that sentence which you quoted is just the first sentence of a moderately long paragraph (plus two short followup concluding sentences) in which I presented an argument in defense of that assertion. I infer that you did not read the whole paragraph because if you had read it then you would know that you can’t say that my assertion lacked evidence (first of all because I provided an argument defending it, and second of all because it is of course the kind of assertion which requires an argument, not evidence, to justify it).

    Please read the entire argument. If there is something wrong with it, by all means let me know.

    Also in #111 you replied to Paul’s #110 without distinguishing between the two of us or the fact that you were quoting from different comments, which is confusing to other readers. It is perfectly fine to combine replies in one comment, but if you do so please identify the commenters and comment numbers to which you are replying, so that everyone can keep track of things. Thanks!

    Peace,

    Fred

  113. I say “Unity of belief is not a measure of trueness”.

    You say “It is when the subject is divine revelation”. The proof you give is that Protestants are not united based on the method by which they attempt to attain unity (sola scriptura is implied).

    Protestantism, which makes use of unreliable means for discerning the truth contained in divine revelation, cannot reasonably expect to have reliable results.

    Even with a fractured Protestant landscape, one cannot infer trueness from falsehood based on unity of belief. That is a false dichotomy. Issues in Protestantism do not point to truth in catholicism any more than issues in catholicisim point to truth in Orthodox or Muslim religions.

    Consequently the Protestant does not even have sufficient grounds on his own terms for saying that Christianity is true.

    This is a false conclusion, as you well know. Both Catholicism and Protestantism have converts to the truth of Christianity. Thus Protestantism is sufficient on his (her – or is that reserved for ‘mother’ church only) own terms for saying that Christianity is true. All that is required is contained in the words of the Bible – it is sufficient without either Protestantism or Catholicism.

    This is an inescapable consequence of denying that the Church teaches infallibly concerning faith and morals: the loss of all certainty about the content of divine revelation.

    The only certainty you will get is that the content is bound to agree with whatever authority is interpreting it. Free speech means free speech zones, Mary full of grace means CI and on this rock means PI. That’s what authorities do – it is their nature.

  114. Bob (#113 ):

    You wrote:

    The proof you give is that Protestants are not united based on the method by which they attempt to attain unity (sola scriptura is implied).

    I apologize if this seems pedantic, but I am not sure I understand what you are saying here, so I will restate what I said. The method(s) employed by Protestants for discerning what God has revealed in the Bible do not work reliably, and the evidence and consequence of this is their inability to agree upon doctrines and morals which cannot rationally be described as matters of indifference. I used the example of their differences over the sacrament of baptism, which cannot rationally be described as a matter of indifference.

    If that is what you meant by what you said (quoted above), or if it is implied therein, then you have understood me correctly. Attainment of unity among them is not the goal I had in mind, although it would be a reasonable consequence. My aim was much more modest: to show that the plethora of essentials upon which they disagree unequivocally demonstrates that their chosen means do not perform the task for which they are intended. That is: their chosen means do not enable them to know with certainty what God has revealed in the Bible.

    You also said:

    Even with a fractured Protestant landscape, one cannot infer trueness from falsehood based on unity of belief. That is a false dichotomy. Issues in Protestantism do not point to truth in catholicism any more than issues in catholicisim point to truth in Orthodox or Muslim religions.

    If I understand you correctly, you are saying that even if my argument is correct about Protestantism’s falseness, it implies nothing about the truth of Catholicism. Is that correct? Assuming that is correct: I agree completely.

    I originally wrote about this issue in an article called The Accidental Catholic. In that article, I point out how I realized the falseness of Protestantism based upon the argument I have re-presented in these last few comments. More to the point, I realized this while I was still Protestant, and at the time I had no interest whatsoever in the Catholic Church at all. This argument is an internal critique of Protestantism, not an external one: it is an argument formulated by a Protestant who was very happy being a Protestant (me!). It relies upon Protestant assumptions only.

    So you are correct when you say that Protestantism’s falseness says nothing about Catholicism’s truth. My realization about that did not begin to form until a few months later when I decided that it was only fair to give the Catholics a fair hearing. That story is summarized in the article where we are commenting today. :-)

    I had said: “Consequently the Protestant does not even have sufficient grounds on his own terms for saying that Christianity is true.” To this you replied:

    This is a false conclusion, as you well know.

    I know nothing of the sort. :-) To prove this assertion you would need to show what part of my argument is unsound or which premise(s?) are wrong.

    Now, you do attempt to show that I am wrong by appealing to the fact that many people become Protestants. Obviously you are correct about that, and I do not deny the fact. But it has nothing to do with the point of my argument. My response to this defense is that people become converts for lots of reasons they consider valid, and very few (if any) come to the point of facing my argument in The Accidental Catholic and deciding in spite of it to become Protestant. That isn’t to say that my argument is the best thing since sliced bread, although it persuaded me (and a couple others I could name) to leave Protestantism. It only means that people do not consider every possible argument or scintilla of evidence before they make a decision. It isn’t possible for us to do so because we are finite beings with limited time and resources on our hands. Let us be honest: I am a nobody, writing on a pretty small website with a narrowly targeted audience in mind. Most people will not encounter my argument before they decide to become Protestant.

    Would my argument persuade all of them to stay away from Protestantism? Nope. I already know that. But my argument isn’t worthless either, because it has led at least several people either to leave Protestantism or to begin research which resulted in them leaving it, and at least some of those people are no dummies (whatever you may think of me! :-)) Personally, I think Newman’s Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent provides helpful insights into the howbeits and wherefores that move people to give their assent to things they hear or learn.

    Lastly, you wrote:

    The only certainty you will get is that the content is bound to agree with whatever authority is interpreting it. Free speech means free speech zones, Mary full of grace means CI and on this rock means PI. That's what authorities do – it is their nature.

    I disagree, and I think that there are good arguments offered in the articles on this website that justify that disagreement.

    Peace,

    Fred

  115. Bob B. #111

    Appealing to authority is not always a fallacy. A judge or a court has legitimate and actual authority to interpret the law. The Catholic Church claims to have authority from Christ to teach and preserve the deposit of faith. So, to resove a difference between Protestants and Catholics, our appeal is not valid because you do not recognize the authority. However, within Catholicism there is an appeal to the legitimate and rightful, infallible authority of the Church; we do have an authority that can give a principled, definitive and binding answer. Protestants have no such thing. That is the point.

    In Peace,

  116. I recognize the futility before I attempt , but I will anyway.

    How does the Catholic church and its exercise and use of authority, which mirrors regular authority from governments around the world in its use of force against others, its taxation policies, and its management of armies – how does this authority square with the commandment in Mark 10 to not be like those authorities? The greek word used in Mark 10 for ruler is the same word we get ‘archist’ from…. and yet the Roman Church is full of archist.

    How much more ‘like the rulers of this world’ does the RCC need to be before we can all agree that it has done the very thing Jesus commanded his disciples not to do?

    A judge or a court has legitimate and actual authority to interpret the law.

    A judge or court has a system of people who are willing to use violence against others to support a particular interpretation of the law. Call that authority if you will, but lets not mince words as to how that authority came to be. “Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government.” Neither does getting a percentage of the population to agree to your particular version of thuggary legitimize it and make it so.

    Wave whatever magic wand or perform whatever ritualistic ceremony you want – none of these things can legitimize one person having power to steal from or kill or imprison another. It is even more troubling when these authorities claim the right to do these things because of the oppositions Beliefs. That is the situation the RCC is in.

    However, within Catholicism there is an appeal to the legitimate and rightful, infallible authority of the Church; we do have an authority that can give a principled, definitive and binding answer. Protestants have no such thing. That is the point.

    The problem is that Catholicism doesn’t keep it within the church. Instead it makes grandiose claims about being subject to no one, anathematizing this group and that and in general causing much strife. Should the Afghans have to care about US politics? Absolutely not… but when those politics cause bombs to be dropped on them they gain the right to complain.

    I had said: “Consequently the Protestant does not even have sufficient grounds on his own terms for saying that Christianity is true.” To this you replied:

    This is a false conclusion, as you well know.

    I know nothing of the sort. :-) To prove this assertion you would need to show what part of my argument is unsound or which premise(s?) are wrong.

    Christianity can be known to be true simply through the words of scripture and the work of the Holy Spirit on someones life. Protestants have both those things, therefore on its own terms it is sufficient to say Christianity is true. Stop trying to force the Catholic paradigm on protestants. We don’t need to claim we are infallible to be certain that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.

  117. Bob, some questions I was hoping you could answer:
    Do you believe there are definite theological truths? To follow with Fred’s point about Paedobaptism vs Believer’s Baptism, do you believe that one or the other is true in the eyes of God? I am not asking for which you believe in, but whether you believe that when Jesus instituted baptism, he had one of the two in mind? That is, do you believe that one is false and one is true?

    Second, as others have noted, bad Catholics, including bad Catholics in high ecclesial positions, are but a testimony to the Christian teaching on mankind as fallen and a testimony to the supernatural origin and sustenance of the Church. Napoleaon once, in a fit of anger, told the Vatican Secratary of State, that he would “crush” the Roman Catholic Church. The cardinal responded “If in 1,800 years we clergy have failed to destroy the Church, do you really think that you’ll be able to do it?” ;)

  118. Bob:

    Can your position on authority and certainty be summarized as follows?

    1. Because there are governments and churches which falsely claim divine authority, it follows that there is no government or church which truthfully claims divine authority.

    2. Because there are similarities between the kinds of sins committed by men with secular power in a secular organization (e.g. a government), and the kinds of sins committed by men with clerical power in a religious group (e.g. a church), it follows that the religious group’s authority is no more divinely-conferred than that of the secular organizations and governments.

    3. The fact that Protestants have no reliable way to know what the content of the Christian religion, while sad, does not disprove Protestantism. It only means that Christ never intended Christians to have any reliable way to know the content of the Christian religion. So, naturally enough, Protestants don’t have a reliable way to know the content of the Christian religion, which is why they need not be embarrassed about the fact that none of them claim to know it, or the fact that none of their individual guesses about what it might be gets reliable agreement from other Protestants.

    4. Meanwhile, the claim of Catholics that they do have a way to reliably know what Christianity is is merely a false claim adopted as a tool for manipulating the masses.

    Is that an accurate rendering of your position?

  119. Bob (#116):

    You have asked this or something like it repeatedly, and we have studiously ignored it. It is entirely off topic here, so I have no intention of pursuing the subject, but I will address it this one time. After this, please take the question someplace it is on topic (sorry, I have no suggestions as to where that might be). You wrote:

    How does the Catholic church and its exercise and use of authority, which mirrors regular authority from governments around the world in its use of force against others, its taxation policies, and its management of armies – how does this authority square with the commandment in Mark 10 to not be like those authorities?

    As you must surely know, Vatican City was created an independent “state” quite some time ago, and such things as the Papal States no longer exist. But this existence as a “state” was done in order to establish the independence of the Catholic Church from external authorities. It “mirrors” other governments to the extent that it must do so as an independent state.

    To say that the Vatican mirrors other governments “in its use of force against others” is, frankly, unintelligible to me. The only soldiers the Vatican has are Swiss, and are quite obviously more of a ceremonial and bodyguard service than anything. The Vatican does not tax anyone as far as I know, and aside from the ceremonial Swiss Guard has no armies to manage.

    My opinion is that these questions and the assumptions behind them sound like something out of a Jack Chick conspiracy fever dream. The Vatican is not the silly bogeyman I used to read about in fundamentalist scare tracts.

    This is the last time you may bring this off topic subject up on my articles, Bob. Sorry.

    Addressing me (apparently), you wrote:

    Christianity can be known to be true simply through the words of scripture and the work of the Holy Spirit on someones life. Protestants have both those things, therefore on its own terms it is sufficient to say Christianity is true.

    You can’t even identify what constitutes Scripture apart from some ecclesial authority, Bob. And the work of the Holy Spirit (at least, in the way that Protestants would claim) is highly subjective. The appeal to His assistance does not help Protestants solve the problem that they have with knowing what truths are revealed in the Bible because they cannot agree what those truths are even when it comes to essential matters of dogma. This fact alone tells me that He does not work the way that Protestants claim, because God is not the author of confusion. If He was genuinely helping each believer to understand the Bible, Protestants should have an enormous degree of unity of belief. The exact opposite is true.

    You then said:

    Stop trying to force the Catholic paradigm on protestants.

    I have done nothing of the sort. Like I said, my critique in The Accidental Catholic was formulated while I was still Protestant. There is nothing particularly Catholic about it.

    Lastly, you said:

    We don’t need to claim we are infallible to be certain that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.

    You have an idiosyncratic notion of certainty, Bob. :-)

    If you do not and cannot identify the canon of Scripture and the truths God reveals in them in a principled way (and you do not and cannot) then you have no basis for certainty whatsoever. If you appeal to the Holy Spirit, I can show you several million LDSers who make the same appeal. What makes you right and them wrong?

    In conclusion: I asked you to name the people to whom you reply and to identify by number where your quotations of their comments come from. It is practically impossible to carry on a conversation in this sort of forum without some rules like this, and I will begin enforcing them. We welcome your participation, but we also need structure or the whole thing will turn to chaos.

    Thanks! :-)

    Fred

  120. @117, 118
    I had written up a comment answering your questions, but it didn’t navigate through moderation due to being off topic. I tend to prefer formats more free-flowing, organic and less moderated – so I’m probably not going to post again for a while. Given the restrictions, Fred has done an excellent job posting replies in a timely fashion – credit given where it is due.

    If you actually want to understand my position, read Tolstoy linked in comment 99 and investigate the Non-Aggression Principle. Violations are illegitimate, the RCC violates – ergo it is illegitimate.

  121. Paul, Friar Charles and all,

    I do understand the arguments Scott Hahn employs but are there some Catholics that reject them and refuse to call her “Co-Redemptrix” or “Mediatrix of all graces” or “Advocate”? It is my understanding this is a growing movement but not all of these titles have been officially endorsed by the Vatican…or have they?

    JJensen,
    You have a good point that even if worshiping Jesus sincerely, if this is not done in truth there are negative consequences. Your tradition has defined this as “material” sin, as you mentioned. I do think there could be consequences, though it does taste a bit too much of a debit/credit flavor, where everything we do has an equal and opposite reaction. While logical and consistent according to human reasoning (as I admit the RCC is), I don’t believe this is how God works, but I grant you have a point that it is important to worship Him in Truth. Indeed in John 4, the Holy Spirit tells us we are called to worship Him in Spirit and Truth. However I would point out sincerely being off about something that still points towards Christ (as RCC accuse Reformed Christians) is different and less dangerous than accretions that lead us to over-venerate something besides Christ (as Reformed Christians accuse RCC).

    However this still does not mean RCC is now in apostasy. I will however say that accretions unintentionally (or intentionally by wolves inside the Curia) may be setting the foundation for the rule of the anti-christ for when he misleads multitudes. I don’t believe this has occurred with the RCC, nor do I know if the anti-christ will operate out of Rome or Jerusalem. But I do believe things that misdirect our souls away from Christ are subtly influenced by demonic forces masquerading as an angel of light. While all Christian churches are prone to attacks and deceptions, I am coming more and more to suspect the RCC has been heavily penetrated in a more powerful way by the devil. The elaborate subtleties I find in RCC theology that dismiss even the plain parts of Scripture raise many red flags. I do feel Catholics are under attack. However the gates of hades will not prevail. The Church write large nor the RCC is in apostasy and never will be so long as the Holy Spirit operates on this earth in believers everywhere as He most assuredly does.

    If I (and many Reformed Catholics) am right about the RCC having accretions, it does mean then that the RCC is significantly infiltrated by Satan. I believe even some RCC/Christian saints have admitted some very alarming revelations about this. It is also why in the late 19th century, God was telling Catholics to take the idea of Satan infiltrating the RCC seriously and wake up through His message to Pope Leo XIII: http://www.stjosephschurch.net/leoxiii.htm

    You are right to help me see that accretions and incorrect worship (even if sincerely pointed to Jesus should the Mass be one of these cases) does have consequences and may very well be dangerous if not carefully, and I mean very carefully guarded against misdirecting our adoration away from Christ. Without a doubt in my mind I believe the RCC on the whole is crippled by unchecked accretions it did not prune early on. Perhaps much more so than I initially thought.

    I suspect the only way for a sincere Catholic to have an on-fire pure walk with God is to filter every RCC teaching through the Word of God; allow everything from the Vatican to be digested by the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Contrary to RCC controvertalists, this has not led to dissarary on the essentials. I know some men want a near-perfect visible Church and answers to everything, so will demand from us an infallible list of Christian essentials, but this stems from not trusting the Spirit to calm the soul, lead us to focus on what really matters, and help us find a good Spirit-filled Church. We’ll know the rest in heaven. Pure and plain Truth in humble Spirit-filled school cafeterias over Tangled Theology in grand lukewarm cathedrals.

    Now that I think about this more, it becomes more apparent to me that Roman Catholics seriously need to be on extra-guard that the extra traditions their Church has allowed in and promotes do not become stumbling blocks or misdirect their love away from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

    May He guide us into worshiping Him in Spirit and Truth. (John 4:24)
    David

  122. Minor side point in response to something Fred said above. It’s funny, I think there should be an analogue to Godwin’s law in the area of Catholic/Protestant discussions involving the mention of Jack Chick. I have never once in my life heard a Protestant refer to this fellow Jack Chick. I have never seen one of his comic books until just now when I looked him up on the internet in the course of writing this comment. Yet my Catholic friends are constantly making references to this man who I am positive I would have never otherwise heard of. I’m not saying that Mr. Chick has no presence out there somewhere in some segment of the Protestant world — I’m sure the guy must. But I’m not sure why his name tends to get injected into these sorts of discussions with the frequency I have observed. I hope I’m recalling the right book because this is from memory, but I remember reading a book called “Catholicism and Fundamentalism” by Karl Keating and it seemed like every other page referred to this guy Chick. A question for my Catholic friends here in this discussion — before you converted to Catholicism, did you really frequently encounter these Jack Chick comic books anywhere? It’s not a rhetorical question. Perhaps you did, and we just have different experiences.

    Best,

    CThomas

  123. David (re:#121),

    Thanks for the continued engagement here, brother! My short answer to your question is that while some Catholics (both clergy and laity) are more *personally fond* than others of using those specific titles for Mary, at least as far as I know, no serious, practicing Catholics actually *reject* them. They *are* accepted theological titles for Mary in the Church. I have no problems with using them myself, because I know their meaning within the context of the Marian teaching of the Church– teaching which is Christocentric in its orientation. Mary points us *to* Christ, not away from Him. For example, she is described as the “Mediatrix of all graces” because she gave birth to the one and only salvific Mediator between God and man, Jesus, through Whom these graces come to us.

    About the aspects of Catholic teaching and practice which you see as “accretions,” would it change your view on the matter if it could be shown that, from the first century to the 16th, historically documented Christianity *did not* share your view? A good place to start for such documentation (but *only* as a start– there is much, much more available in many books and on various websites!) is http://www.churchfathers.org/

    One last thought– on your conviction that Catholics should filter all Church teaching through the Bible, could you explain your understanding of 2 Thessalonians 2:15 and the words therein about the need to follow *all* apostolic tradition that has been handed down, whether by word of mouth *or* by written letter? Thanks again, and Happy Lord’s Day to you!

  124. CThomas (#122):

    Heh. :-) that was a good one, but until I see Chick being (ab)used in ways that Hitler/Nazism are, I think we will suspend discussion of a Jack Chick Rule.

    I first ran into Chick as a Protestant decades ago, repeatedly, in multiple regions of the country. I have seen less of him as a Catholic, to my lasting relief. He isn’t merely anti-Catholic; he has the same bile ready at hand for just about anyone with whom he disagrees. I didn’t like him before I left Protestantism and I have no use for his publications as a Catholic. Resort to his level of rhetoric or paranoid worldview pretty much means any conversation has flatlined.

    Peace,

    Fred

  125. CThomas #122,
    Yes, those publications were pervasive in my experience in the South in the evangelical Baptist and Pentecostal world. Churches had them for free on their literature tables at the entrance and they were handed out frequently in Sunday school or in Christian schools. Two decades or so before becoming Catholic, I was an active distributor of such literature, particularly the anti Catholic tracts. Thankfully, those days are long past.

    Peace,
    Jeff

  126. CThomas (re#122),

    I was born and raised in the “Deep South” region of the U.S., and, as JeffB states above, for decades, Jack Chick’s anti-Catholic tracts (and other forms of media) were widely influential there in terms of scaring many Protestants with nightmarish misinformation about the Catholic Church. Sadly, he’s still active with the same stuff today. I have no doubt that he is very sincere and convinced that he is spreading the truth about the Church, but he could not be more wrong.

    Normally, I wouldn’t provide such a link for anyone, given that it does contain such wild-eyed misinformation, but this is only to show you what many Protestants, unfortunately, were indoctrinated with for decades (and, alas, some still are!) regarding the Catholic Church and her teachings: http://www.chick.com/information/religions/catholicism/

  127. David, #121 JMJ

    I plan to write much more fully soon. [this turned out longer than I intended, but I do plan to r-read #121 and prayerfully respond more fully] I am moved by your latest response. I just was weeding the garden and had this thought which I added to my prayer journal, and thought might be worth contributing to the discussion.

    Keeping close to Christ and staying in Love with Jesus is not a matter of filtering His Church through any screen. Openly listening to the Church, EVERYTHING the Church says while participating in the Sacramental life of the Church, opening one’s heart to Jesus and hearing Him through the Church is following Christ.

    Remember, the Church is the Body of Christ and Christ is the head of the Church. If the Church is what she believes she is, then it makes sense that the Church will lead the faithful to a closer relationship with Jesus. To become close to the Church and love the Church and open one’s heart to hear the teaching of the Church is to sit at he feet of Jesus and listen to Him. Jesus is at the center of everything the Church does, particularly the Eucharist.

    That isn’t to say that the “Smoke of Satan” isn’t within the Church it certainly is. There are plenty of sinners in the Church. There are even Bishops who are fallen, and blatant sinners and in service of Satan. The filter to use is to filter any individual message against the true teaching of the Church.

    The problem has always been that Jesus’ Word is bigger than we can really absorb. Too often we try to pick one part of it, and we get so focused on it we ignore other parts. Today in the Catholic Church there are some (a few vocal minorities) who are either who focus too exclusively on one or another aspect of the Gospel and the voice of the Church. The Holy Father Pope Francis’ recent encyclical Evangelii Gaudium hits on many of these.

    Regarding Mary, the following comments are general and not intentionally responding directly to anything you wrote.

    There is very little reason to fear that Mary, or devotion to Mary, or Marian Dogma’s are going to lead one away from Christ and “put out the fire” of ones enthusiasm for the Gospel. In fact, I claim that within the sacramental life of the Church following the approved devotions (and not some claimed seer) it is virtually impossible for Marian devotion to lead one away from Christ.

    Few words of Mary are recored in the gospels, but they all are of great importance and tell us who Mary “is”.
    To the Angel Gabriel Mary Says:

    Luke 1:38 “I am the handmaid of the Lord, be it done onto me according to His Will.”

    Mary’s biggest speech from the Bible is read every single day in the evening prayers of the Church The Magnificat:

    Luke 1:46-55
    My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
    and my spirit rejoices in God, my salvation.
    For he has shown me such favour –
    me, his lowly handmaiden.
    Now all generations will call me blessed,
    because the mighty one has done great things for me.His name is holy,
    his mercy lasts for generation after generation
    for those who revere him.

    He has put forth his strength:
    he has scattered the proud and conceited,
    torn princes from their thrones;
    but lifted up the lowly.
    He has filled the hungry with good things;
    the rich he has sent away empty.
    He has come to the help of his servant Israel,
    he has remembered his mercy as he promised to our fathers,
    to Abraham and his children for ever.

    and Mary’s words to the Servants at the Wedding at Cana:

    John 2:5 “Do whatever HE tells you.”

    And Mary’s words after finding Jesus in the Temple:

    Luke 2:39 “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously.

    Mary was the very first person to hear about the incarnation and learn about the coming of God made Man, the first person to know about the all of our salvation, she was the first person to be saved, she was overshadowed by the Holy spirit. Mary carried Jesus and nursed Him and loved him as her son and as The Son, and as her savior. Mary heard the first words Jesus every spoke as a baby.

    What were the last words Christ spoke before his death on the cross? Whom did Jesus address in his last words? Jesus said to Mary: “Mother Behold your son.” The very last concern Jesus had in his earthly life was for his mother Mary, and the last words he every spoke were to Mary. In all likelihood, Jesus’ first word was Mama – addressed to Mary and his very last thought before death was his Mother – the Theotokos!

    Mary always, always lead to Jesus. Jesus “path” to humanity came through Mary. The “path of Mary” will always lead to Jesus. Devotion to Mary will bring one closser to Jesus. Even ignorant, misguided, semi-superstitious devotion to Mary will not lead one away from Christ and most often will lead one towards Christ. Mary will help us to “anxiously seek for Jesus” she want’s us to “do whatever he tells you” and she models the proper Christian response to God “be it done unto me according to Your Will.” At the Passion, Mary’s heart was pierced by a sword as the Prophet Simeon foretold. Mary united her suffering during the passion with that of Jesus and He granted her the grace of participating in His passion. Mary is totally about Jesus. Mary’s will is totally conformed to the will of God. Mary points, always, to Jesus Christ her Savior and her son, and the Son of God.

  128. @Christopher

    Wow, the Jack Chick site must be really slanderous. It is even blocked by the Singapore censorship here. LOL!

  129. @ David 121
    The Coremdemption is part of the “Ordinary Magisterium”. Some oppose it, some oppose it being declared dogma, but the general teaching of the Church is the Coredemption.
    Dr. Mark Miravalle goes over the stance of the papal teachings on this matter here.

    There is usually controversy over theological concepts before they are declared Dogma. That is the reason for declaring something de fide, to settle the arguments and set the stage for a deeper understanding of the particular mystery. The implicit moves to the explicit.

    You may be interested in trying to do some research on the “Discernment of Spirits” in regards to signs of the devils

    I don’t disagree that Satan is at work in the Church, in fact, he has been having a field day the past 50 years! However, it is always obscuring the faith, or preventing it from taking the growth in holiness it should. Examples include the huge amount of dissent from the moral and doctrinal teaching of the Church, abuses of the Sacraments and Liturgy, the nearly complete destruction of solid catechesis, the disappearance of the devotional life of the Church, etc. Pope Paul VI famously spoke of the Smoke of Satan having infiltrated the Church. Thankfully, it is starting to clear.

    But is it not Catholicism which is the problem. If that were the case, the shining examples of sanctity would not be very Catholic at all! But people like Mother Teresa and St. Maximilian Kolbe were totally Catholic! St. Francis is described as a “wholly Catholic and Apostolic man”. Where are the Protestant Mother Teresa’s, Padre Pio’s, St. Therese’s, <a href="http://www.stgemmagalgani.com/"St. Gemma's, St. Anthony Marie Claret’s, Teresita’s, etc. I don’t want to imply that there aren’t any godly Protestants, but if Catholicism is a distortion of true Christianity, weighed down by accretions, then why does it so consistently throughout history produce men and women who are so conformed to Christ as the saints? And if Protestantism is a purer form of Christianity, why doesn’t it produce similar or more examples of sanctity comparable to these?

    Also, second question, how do you tell when you have stripped enough accretions away without damaging the Gospel? If we added 5 sacraments, how do you know that the other two are essential? There are Protestants who deny the necessity of baptism, (I used to) and they look at those who support the necessity of baptism as having accretions. What of the moral teachings are accretions? Contraception? Abortion? Divorce and remarriage? Homosexuality?

    The problem I see with “Catholicism is Christianity with gradual accretions” is that what is an accretion and what isn’t is subjective, and will ultimately leave Christianity as an indistinct haze that no one really knows what it is. And I would say that, at least in America, is what we have today.

    Catholicism and Protestantism diverge widely, and I would say are mutually exclusive. Could it not be that Catholicism is a organic development from the early church, and it was at the Reformation that a “new form” of Christianity came into existence, which differs wildly from those (Latin/Greek) which came before, but claims itself to be the true form of Christianity.

    Finally, in connection with the accretions thesis, I would recomend this article.

    In fine, two questions:
    1) If the differences between Catholicism and Protestantism amount to accretions which built up to the point that they become “stumbling blocks” which can “misdirect their love away from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” and even could be “setting the foundation for the rule of the anti-christ for when he misleads multitudes” then why are there so many saints who were fully and ardently Catholic, even in our day? (coming to know practicing and ardent Catholics was instrumental for my own conversion and was a rebuff to the “accretions” theory, which was my principle way of understanding “institutional” Christianity).

    2) How do you know the difference between an accretion and a integral part of the Gospel? Baptism is the one we are focusing on, since is the very “gateway” to Christianity.

    Finally, in response to:

    The elaborate subtleties I find in RCC theology that dismiss even the plain parts of Scripture raise many red flags

    Which are these? Could they not be explanations which may not be obvious when the verse is used as a proof-text without the context of the rest of Scripture? Again, which texts are these, and how does Catholic theology explain them away?

    And your second to last paragraph:

    I know some men want a near-perfect visible Church and answers to everything, so will demand from us an infallible list of Christian essentials, but this stems from not trusting the Spirit to calm the soul, lead us to focus on what really matters, and help us find a good Spirit-filled Church. We’ll know the rest in heaven. Pure and plain Truth in humble Spirit-filled school cafeterias over Tangled Theology in grand lukewarm cathedrals.

    This confuses me. First, you accuse us of desiring answers to everything and not focusing on what really matters, but then insist on having “Pure and plain truth”.

    Do you believe that there are theological truths? I.e. baptism is X, period. And anyone who disagrees with X is wrong? And ought we not conform our own opinions to X, and not to what we think it is? The insistence on not needing certainty seems to deny either that we can know the Truth or that there is a Truth to know. And it does seem the end result of all this is these two: agnosticism or skepticism.

  130. Hello, (re:122)

    Growing up in my Baptist environment, Jack Chick tracts were practically ubiquitous.

  131. CThomas,

    You may have been right about needing a Jack Chick rule :-)

    Let us stipulate that his propaganda machine is widespread in effects, even to the point of being banned in at least one country, and proceed. :-)

    Please. I beg you all. I am starting to have flashbacks. Soon I may wake screaming in the night… :-)

    Gracias,

    Fred

  132. David,
    A question for you, assuming you are still reading. You have used the term “on fire” referring to Christians and their faith communities. I have a sense of what you mean but I am working on a couple of responses to you, and it seems helpful to clarify on this point if you wouldn’t mind.

    There are two specifics that would be very helpful for dialog. First, how does your observation of “being on fire” relate to the validity and truth of the host Church? It seems to me that you are at least implying that the “being on fire” is a result of and evidence for sound doctrine. Second, can you explain if and how being “on fire” relates to more conventional Christian terminology particularly the terms Holy, Sanctified, Justified or Saved?

    It’s fine if your answers are rough, I just don’t want to construct a strawman of you position.

    Thanks, and Peace in Christ,

    GNW_Paul

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