How Not to Defend the Reformation: Why Protestants Need the Antichrist

Mar 26th, 2012 | By | Category: Blog Posts

I’ve noticed a change of late in how Evangelical and Reformed Protestants interact with history, and I don’t think it bodes well for the coherence of Protestant apologetics. In short, some Protestants have left off restoration or recovery as their primary metaphor and replaced it with development or fruition. The logical results of this move, I contend, are either a slide into liberal skepticism or the eventual embrace of the Catholic doctrine of apostolic succession.

The Revelation of St John:
14 The Whore of Babylon”
Albrecht Dürer (1497-1498),

History has always posed a challenge to Protestant apologists.  However you construe the Reformation, there is always a yawing gulf of some sort between the Protestant present and the Catholic past. It demands explanation.

The traditional Protestant response has been that the Reformers recovered a gospel that had been lost.  In other words, Primitivism of some sort has played a key role in the Protestant apology.1 The “Restoration” movement of the 19th century represents one of the strongest forms of this doctrine. Leaders like Alexander Campbell (1788-1866) presumed that nearly everything subsequent to the New Testament was ill-formed. Thus, he declared, “I have endeavored to read the Scriptures as though no one had read them before me.”2 The most radical version of primitivism is the Mormon view that the entire church was lost in a “Great Apostasy.

To explain why the Gospel was lost, Protestants have traditionally had recourse to the apocalyptic dimension. The Antichrist, identified with the Papacy, is to blame for the “smothering” of Gospel truth under a cloud of superstition and idolatry. This was the doctrine of Luther, of Calvin, and of the later Reformed tradition. Thus, the Westminster Confession states:

 There is no other head of the Church but the Lord Jesus Christ: nor can the Pope of Rome in any sense be head thereof; but is that Antichrist, that man of sin and son of perdition, that exalteth himself in the Church against Christ, and all that is called God. (WCF XX.6)

For a Protestant, the theory has much to commend it. History would seem to require something of apocalyptic dimensions to explain the utter and complete destruction of “true Christianity” from the earth in the earliest moments of Christian history. Otherwise, the situation for Protestant historians is dire. Newman, of course, said it best:

So much must the Protestant grant that, if such a system of doctrine as he would now introduce ever existed in early times, it has been clean swept away as if by a deluge, suddenly, silently, and without memorial; by a deluge coming in a night, and utterly soaking, rotting, heaving up, and hurrying off every vestige of what it found in the Church, before cock-crowing: so that ‘when they rose in the morning’ her true seed ‘were all dead corpses’—Nay dead and buried—and without grave-stone.3

Unfortunately for the Protestant historian, invoking the apocalypse is not as fashionable today. Major Protestant denominations have removed the condemnations of [pope as] Antichrist from their doctrinal statements. Historical scholarship has also rendered the theory less tenable. (As Newman noted, there just is no Protestant early Church to which one can appeal.) This calls for a new apologetic.  How to account for that yawning gulf?

I have noticed that a number of conservative Protestant writers now employ a hermeneutic of development to explain the gap between antiquity and the Reformation. On this view, the ancient church possessed only an incipient, inchoate form of Christianity. Continuity with modern Protestantism is therefore only implicit. Doctrines take shape in history, and become explicit, if at all, only through time and controversy.

I grant that this is not an entirely new approach. Protestant liberalism has always appealed to the concept of development. The more conservative Mercersburg theology of the 19th century also employed the theme. And, of course, the Catholic Church embraces a doctrine of development. What is surprising in recent evangelical appeals to development, however, is the willingness to relativize the core of their own doctrinal orthodoxy.

One striking example of this comes in the work of Allister Mcgrath. McGrath is a prolific, well-known, and respected evangelical theologian and historian. His book Iustitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification is perhaps the definitive, English-language treatment of that subject. In the book, McGrath deals squarely with the fact that Luther’s understanding of the nature of justification is an utter novelty in the Christian tradition, “a complete theological novum.”4 Oddly enough, McGrath the evangelical makes no apologies for this. Instead, he declares,

 That there are no ‘forerunners of the Reformation doctrines of justification’ has little theological significance today, given current thinking on the nature of the development of doctrine.5

McGrath nowhere elaborates on this “current thinking,” so I am at a loss to determine why he thinks utter historical novelty has “little theological significance.” John Henry Newman, by contrast, the author of all “current thinking” on development, went to great pains to evaluate claims of development. Newman elaborated multiple “notes” to distinguish genuine development from corruption. No such elaboration is forthcoming from McGrath.

I find an equally casual, but more explicit, appeal to development in a recent article by Christianity Today senior writer Mark Galli (recently reviewed here by Bryan Cross). Galli contends that the early Church was characterized by “mass confusion,” and a “radical leveling” in which people of different ecclesiastical ranks spoke in God’s name, and offered mutually exclusive interpretations of Christianity. Only over time did something like consensus emerge:

 The full sweep of church history suggests that the Holy Spirit has, in fact, led us into all truth through no other way than men and women, slave and free, Jew and Gentile wrestling with one another about whatever issue is at hand until, in the Spirit’s good time, a consensus emerges.

Galli gives no indication of how to recognize a definitive consensus. Is it by conciliar authority? A majority or plurality of votes? Statistical sampling? In any event, this is a far cry from primitivism. Instead of the pristine purity of the early Church, Galli argues for mass confusion.  Applying this logic to current events, Galli suggests that clarity on issues like homosexuality and women’s ordination will only emerge over decades or centuries:  development; not recovery.

There is an interesting variation on this contrast between primitivism and development in another book reviewed by Devin Rose: John Armstrong’s Your Church is Too Small. Like the Reformers, Armstrong appeals to the past. Like Galli, however, Armstrong sees the early Church as characterized by confusion and division, with a weak consensus emerging only over time. Ironically, this is the feature of antiquity he finds appealing.

For Armstrong, doctrinal fluidity and a weak consensus are ideal; too much certainty is a bad thing. In his view, the doctrinal divisions of the Middle Ages and Reformation are unfortunate blemishes on the face of the Church. Armstrong celebrates current developments in world Christianity which, he thinks, portend a post-denominational era in which doctrinal divisions are significantly less important. Fluidity, change, and weak consensus are thus the hallmarks of vibrant Christianity.6


As a Catholic, I am obviously glad that many Protestants have left off blaming the “Papal Antichrist” for the loss of “true Christianity.” I am also glad that Protestant writers have commenced at least selective appropriation of the Catholic tradition. Protestant historian Mark Noll approvingly notes the current intellectual situation for Protestants:

Whenever evangelicals in recent years have been moved to admonish themselves and other evangelicals for weaknesses in ecclesiology, tradition, the intellectual life, sacraments, theology of culture, aesthetics, philosophical theology, or historical consciousness, the result has almost always been selective appreciation for elements of the Catholic tradition. Whatever Protestants may think of individual proposals, methods, or conclusions proceeding from any individual Catholic thinker, the growing evangelical willingness to pay respectful attention to the words and deeds of a whole host of Catholic intellectuals, beginning with Pope John Paul II, makes an important contribution to better intellectual effort.7

“Development” is one of these elements of Catholic tradition that Protestants have appropriated. However, I don’t think of this as an unqualified good. The title of this post (“Why Protestants Need the Antichrist”) is supposed, tongue in cheek, to suggest the problem.  In Protestant hands, the theory lacks a clearly identified “center” to evaluate claims of development, and to distinguish them from corruptions.

The spirit of classical Protestant apologetics is far different, and is captured in the name of Ulrich Zwingli’s famous treatise: The Clarity and Certainty of the Word of God (1522). For centuries, the debate between Protestants and Catholics has not been whether or not we could attain doctrinal certainty, but rather what is the proper basis for doctrinal certainty. The virtue of primitivism, however spurious its central premise, is belief in a pristine clarity to which we can appeal.

The modern evangelical purveyors of development, by contrast, seem content to abandon doctrinal certainty. Some years ago, evangelical theologian David Wells foresaw this abandonment of truth. His No Place for Truth (1994) and The Courage to Be Protestant (2008) diagnosed an emerging Evangelical culture in which truth claims and theology are seen as impeding “relevance” and “ministry.” This is clearly the case with Armstrong, whose proposal is for a “missional” rather than doctrinal identity in the Church.

The Catholic view of development is far different. The guiding hand of the Church’s Magisterium distinguishes true from false development. Development is acknowledged, but there is still a clear center.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church says:

 It is clear therefore that, in the supremely wise arrangement of God, sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture and the Magisterium of the Church are so connected and associated that one of them cannot stand without the others. Working together, each in its own way, under the action of the one Holy Spirit, they all contribute effectively to the salvation of souls. (CCC 95)


Jesus said, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:16) How can we fulfill Christ’s command to believe if we cannot know for certain what to believe? The historic (and primitive) Christian position has always been that we need certainty concerning this belief. The traditional Protestant view was that the pattern of the early Church (as found in Scripture) can provide this certainty.

It seems to me that many Protestants no longer believe this. In a recent article in the Oxford Handbook of Evangelical Theology, Allister McGrath has acknowledged that both deep-seated and recent Protestant disputes about the meaning of the Sacred Text are “beyond resolution.”8 The question, therefore, becomes, “Do you accept some level of skepticism and doctrinal relativism, or do you appeal to an authority outside the Scriptures to resolve disputes about interpretation?”

We have highlighted one answer in this post: a new found trust in “development” to lead us into all truth. Handbook editor Gerald McDermott has signaled another approach. Speaking to First Things about his new book, he writes:

 The book, he says, “registers a major shift in Evangelicalism, from triumphalist disdain for the Great Tradition to self-critical recognition that Evangelical theology is doomed if it does not learn respectfully from that tradition.9

It is a good thing that some Evangelicals are showing more respect for “The Great Tradition.” Likewise, their openness to something like the Catholic doctrine of development suggests possibilities for future dialogue. However, “development” and “tradition” are no more self-interpreting than Scripture. By invoking these concepts, recent Protestant writers have merely broadened the dataset for interpretation. They have done nothing to bring clarity or authority to interpretation. On the contrary, some have actually weakened their own truth claims. For Protestants, there is now much less certainty than when Rome was safely rejected as Antichrist.

  1. On this topic, see T. Dwight Bozeman’s To Live Ancient Lives: The Primitivist Dimension in Puritanism (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1988). []
  2. Cited in Mark Noll, America’s God: from Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), >380. []
  3. []
  4. McGrath, Iustitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 34,215. []
  5. Ibid. 217-218. []
  6. John Armstrong, Your Church Is Too Small: Why Unity in Christ’s Mission Is Vital to the Future of the Church (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), 14, 35. []
  7. Mark Noll, “The Evangelical Mind Today,” First Things (October, 2004). []
  8. Allister McGrath, “Tradition and the Interpretation of Scripture,” in The Oxford Handbook of Evangelical Theology, >ed. Gerald McDermott (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 83. []
  9. While We’re at It,” First Things (March, 2012). []

Leave a comment »

  1. I think the reason Mr McGrath interprets “development” in such a hazy way is precisely because our understanding of life is so hazy. Take for instance the statement “God exists, he is good, and God allows evil for a good reason”. All of us can state, these are true, but if we retry to explain it to an atheist who points to all the evils in the world we have a hard time. We turn to philosophy, but he can as well and we end up with wars on philosophy. We turn to personal experience, but our understanding of God isn’t based on just one experience. It’s based off of billions of smaller experiences that over time confirm and strengthen our convictions until we are willing to suffer anything for this God.

    IMO, the key problem with Mr McGrath’s observation is not that the development can be hazy at times, but that in order to have the Reformation, one has to deny 1500 years of previous hazy development. That presents an enormous difficulty. If the Catholic Church got it wrong for so long, what hope is there that we can suddenly get it right? If the Church Jesus founded could not develop properly within the first 500 years, what hope is the Church the Martin Luther started could develop properly within 500 years?

    As you’ve observed, “getting back to the early Church” is really the only other alternative. But to do this, the only way to honestly know what that early church as like is to pick a Church that split off early such as the
    Assyrian Church of the East (which split off in 431). The only problem is, except for the Nestorian heresy, the Assyrian Church of the East is doctrinally and liturgically quite close to Eastern Catholic Churches. Since the Bible was affirmed at about that time, it would mean that everything in the Bible was consistent with the faith of the Early Church otherwise that book or section would have been rejected from the Bible (as more than a few heretical sects have done previous to 431). So even this position is on shaky ground.

  2. This post highlights one of the major problems I saw with Protestantism when I was a Presbyterian and that problem is: since Protestants do not have an authoritative and infallible magisterium, how can they determine what is a development and what is a corruption in church history? For example, how can a Protestant determine whether or not the doctrine of the real presence of Christ in the Christ in the Eucharist as understood by the Catholic Church is a development or a corruption of the early church’s teaching on this issue? Whenver the doctrine happens to disagree with a Protestant’s presupposition, the Protestant automatically assumes the doctrine is a corruption, but when the doctrine agrees with their presupositions then they determine it is a development. Protestants have nothing more than their own personal opinion as to what is a development and what is a corruptin of the teachings of the Apostles. To me, this was one of the “deal breakers” that made me leave the Protestant church. I refuse to believe Christ has simply left us with our own personal opinion to determine matters of eternal significance!

  3. BTW, keep the great articles coming Dr. Anders, they are very helpful!

  4. Mark:

    As a preliminary, I admit I don’t know enough about the history of Protestant theology to agree or disagree with you that more Protestant theologians are coming to acknowledge “development.” The impression I’d developed as an undergraduate was that the cresting of liberal Protestant theology in the late 19th century, which involved ample acknowledgement of development, was just what set the stage for “fundamentalism” and, a generation later, “neo-orthodoxy” as reactions among conservative Protestants. In an American context, Protestant fundamentalism was and remains a form of primitivism almost as virulent as Mormonism. And while neo-orthodoxy could not be tarred with quite the same brush, it didn’t exactly cotton to the idea of doctrinal development. But were fundamentalism and neo-orthodoxy really the most prominent strains in 20th-century Protestant theology? The liberals never really went away, which is precisely why “mainline” Protestantism still evinces the tendencies that many evangelicals of the last 30 or 40 years have been reacting against. The upshot? For every Alister McGrath, there’s been a John Stott–or perhaps, in American terms, for every Bishop Pike there’s been a Billy Graham.

    What I have noticed in Protestantism of late is an increasing scholarly polarization and fragmentation, even as more and more ordinary Protestants find denominations irrelevant and move freely among churches with different theological commitments. The conservatives cannot even agree among themselves on how to understand such ideas as sola scriptura or the primitive church–never mind agreeing on their theological significance. And since, in my view, liberal Protestantism reduces the religion of divine revelation to a matter of opinion, it should come as no surprise that the opinions it endorses are usually those of the Zeitgeist. As you know, the only way to limit such pluralism is to adjudicate authoritatively between “development” and “corruption.” And I think you’d agree that Protestantism can do that only by ceasing to be Protestant.

    And yet there are always those Protestants (like those Orthodox) who simply deny that the “faith once delivered” has unfolded in a way that can fairly be called development. On their showing, not only has “the faith once delivered” always been perspicuous to men of good will; the differences in its expression over time are just that–differences in expression, for expository convenience only. Of course that attitude is naïve, and virtually forces those who exhibit it to dismiss principled opposition as stupid, ill-willed, or both. But it’s not about to go away any more than liberal doctrinal relativism is about to go away.

    Assuming you know all that, your argumentative strategy strikes me as dialectical. First we expose modernism as a doctrinal relativism which hollows out the very idea of a publicly transmissible divine revelation. Then we show that primitivism of whatever variety is not historically tenable. That leaves us with acknowledging “development.” But Protestantism has no way to adjudicate authoritatively between authentic developments and corruptions, thus reducing religion to a matter of opinion. Such an argumentative strategy will eventually succeed with those who don’t want religion to be just a matter of opinion, even if the opinions are their own. But I fear that such people are a shrinking minority.


  5. Michael Liccione (re:#4),

    Your opening has me confused. :-) Are you responding to Michael Loften? I don’t see a “Mark” here– at least not yet. :-)

  6. Oops– *Lofton*…. sorry about that!

  7. Sigh. I addressed David as ‘Mark’ because I’d just got through writing an email to a Mark. I hope this thread hasn’t been suggesting that I’m getting early-onset Alzheimer’s. I’m not. I think….

  8. Hi Michael,

    Thanks for commenting. I agree with you about the polarization, fragmentation, and diminishing interest in truth claims. Isn’t this what Wells was objecting to? You are also correct about the mainline Protestant use of “development.” Molly Oshatz, for one, traces this theme in American Protestant Liberalism from Reformist frustrations with biblicism during the civil war era . “Bible alone” was not going to get the job done, for the abolitionists. Development is not a new idea in Protestantism.

    I also agree with you that the McGraths don’t necessarily represent mainstream evangelicalism or fundamentalism. However, I do notice a tone in some conservative, evangelical Protestant writing that I think is new. When I was growing up in Evangelicalism, and again in College and Seminary, the main apologetical strategy was a “World View” apologetic that took biblicism (and, by extension, some form of Primitivism) as its starting point. Carl Henry, Francis Schaeffer, Oz Guinness, and later, Ravi Zacharias (among others) all come across this way to me.

    I think it is telling that Noll, McDermott, and McGrath, surveying the status of evangelical theology, now consider it a “coming of age” to abandon strict biblicism and to embrace “the Great Tradition.” And the relativistic language of Galli and Armstrong strikes me as very unlike the evangelicalism of my youth and education.

    I consider it supremely ironic that Galli writes for Christianity Today. This magazine was founded by Carl Henry to oppose theological liberalism. I cannot imagine Carl Henry saying that homosexuality was an issue not clearly addressed in Scripture, or one that would not be settled for years while we waited on the Spirit to bring about consensus. This is not traditional evangelicalism.

    How representative is this? I don’t know. But, from reading George Barna, I get the impression that Evangelicalism has successfully “defined down” the essentials of the faith almost to nothing. Wells (the biblicist), McGrath, Noll, and McDermot (neo-traditionalists?), and Galli/Armstrong (neo-liberals?) all seem to be responding to this in different ways.


  9. Dr. Anders,

    Long-time lurker, first-time poster here. First I want to thank you for your presence and testimony; I believe I first discovered CtC by watching your segment on the Journey Home. I had already converted to Catholicism in 2009, but your story and the rich dialogue I found here have helped me tremendously in many ways. Having been raised as an evangelical Quaker, I attended TEDS for a year in an effort to better understand what I believed and why; by the end of that year I was leaving the seminary to attend RCIA back home. Although becoming Catholic was for me more like leaping across the Atlantic than swimming the Tiber, it’s been the best decision of my life, by far.

    That said, I am curious how you believe this shift in Protestant thinking plays out among rank-and-file evangelicals. In seminary, I remember reading a little from Noll and McGrath; but honestly, I doubt if my evangelical friends and family would recognize any of the names here, let alone what sort of theology or methodology they espouse. How does all this “filter down” to the folks in the pews? Even at TEDS, I remember running across seminarians who believed as long as you had your personal relationship with Jesus, everything else was minor. “Theology” itself was almost a dirty word when I was growing up, and when I converted to the Church I can remember my aunt saying how glad that she as a Quaker wasn’t “chained by a creed.”

    Is there a way to help a theologically unversed Christian (I don’t say this with condescension, because compared to the posters here I am one myself!) understand the importance of doctrine, and how that doctrine is decided? Or is the idea that “I accepted Jesus into my heart, I know I’m going to heaven, and everything else pales in comparison” too powerful to overcome?


  10. The ironic thing is the latest “development” in better understanding the Scriptures is the New Perspective on Paul, which the more historic Protestants are fighting tooth and nail over but are ultimately tripping over their own two feet because it reveals a double standard (i.e. the traditional Protestant consensus was that you could ONLY interpret Paul in the “New Perspective” manner if you were already entagled in Roman Catholicism).

  11. Re:#9
    That’s a good question Ben and one I’m trying to figure out myself.

    With all the denominations and cults, where people testify to a certain “spiritual knowing or resting in” what they have(Jesus in the case of non-denominals; Jesus and the Holy Spirit in case of Pentacostals; Jesus and burning in the bossom in the case of Mormon, etc..), how am I to know whether I’ve correctly latched-on to the right Jesus?

    I just reread The Athanasian Creed and before it lays out the doctrine, it begins:
    “Whoever desires to be saved should above all hold to the catholic faith.

    Anyone who does not keep it whole and unbroken will doubtless perish eternally”

    Now, I had faith, and I was baptized before I first heard this creed( well, I heard it for the first time as I was dipped 3x’s) and I happened to fall into the right circles where at least this much orthodoxy was held, even though I have never understood it. I wonder if I give assent to this doctrine because I have the Holy Spirit or because I know that I must or I have not “hit upon” truth. C.S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity, says something in the way that this is something a Christian feels he should have known all along. I guess there is some sort of intuition by analogy that this is the case, I’m not sure.
    I sure hope I’m not going to be tested on my orthodoxy when I get to heaven or limbo, whichever place my soul goes immediatly at my death. The orthopraxy of Mormons looks pretty credible, you know what I mean?
    Next, Im having a problem with what constitutes “good works”. How do I measure my spirituality?

    And here’s another thing, that disturbs me. It seems that there is lots of room for biblical interpretation, some of it possibly breaking the bounds of responsible and sane exegesis, but I don’t know how to know with certainty if one has done this. For instance, and with due respect, Christopher says that he is going to spend some time exegating Romans 9 to help make things clear to Curt. Now, how is he to do this privately? Shouldn’t he read and direct others to read the writing of a Pope on St. Paul? In other words, aren’t we all pulling a Martin Luther everytime we read our bibles? Who’s to stop any of us, from dissecting hearts, brain, and lungs, from the scripture and fashioning them back into whatever kind of monster that we happen to like? What does the CC think of the exegisis of Jewish Cabalism or those like Leon Bloy? I’m frightened, by the possible scope of spiritualism, but I’m not cozy with the rational and material skepticism either. How do I live in this world and go safely into the next. Real angst here guys!

  12. Dear Ben,

    Thanks for the comments. You make a good point. The “Rank and file” very often do not consider theology at all, at least not explicitly. But I do think it filters down, nonetheless. The McGraths, McDermotts, and Nolls of the world don’t necessarily speak directly to the man in the pew, but they do speak to the seminary professors, who speak to the pastors, who . . .

    I think this can create an environment in which theological attitudes are more absorbed than reflected upon. For example, you have probably heard about this dialogue between Cardinal George and John Armstrong that happened last night at Wheaton College. Something like this would have been unthinkable a few decades ago.

    First, I highly doubt that Wheaton would have hosted a Catholic Cardinal. Second, even if they did, they wouldn’t have had someone like Armstrong responding. The net result, I suspect, is that the average Wheaton student and audience member walked away a bit less suspicious of Catholicism – just because the dialogue took place at all.

    As to how we can inculcate seriousness about truth and theology – that’s a bit more difficult to answer, but I think the best approach is to show that truth claims about metaphysics, morals, and ecclesiology are embedded in the teaching of Jesus and of the apostles. Most evangelicals are not moral relativists, even if they have become ecclesial relativists, yet most have never reflected on the relativism inherent in their religious epistemology. Pointing this out may be helpful.

    thanks again for writing,


  13. Not sure if my last post went through or not. I’ve been having trouble posting on WordPress lately.

  14. Alicia (re:#10),

    You wrote:

    It seems that there is lots of room for biblical interpretation, some of it possibly breaking the bounds of responsible and sane exegesis, but I don’t know how to know with certainty if one has done this. For instance, and with due respect, Christopher says that he is going to spend some time exegating Romans 9 to help make things clear to Curt. Now, how is he to do this privately? Shouldn’t he read and direct others to read the writing of a Pope on St. Paul? In other words, aren’t we all pulling a Martin Luther everytime we read our bibles?

    There is a major “paradigm difference” in an attempted orthodox Catholic exegesis of Romans 9 (and mine will be, hopefully, as it should be, in the context of the book of Romans, as a *whole* and as much as possible, in the context of the *whole scope of salvation history*) and *any* Protestant exegesis of Romans 9.

    I am trying, in my exegesis of Romans 9 (which I am still working through, in terms of how I am going to set it out and explain it to Curt in the other thread), to faithfully reflect historic Catholic exegesis on the chapter– but my attempt, as such, is not ultimately left up to me, my Bible, some commentaries, and a subjective sense that I have correctly interpreted the text, as the Holy Spirit illuminates it to me. As a Catholic, I am exegeting from within the paradigmatic context of being willing to be instructed, and corrected, if needed, by a *living, speaking, teaching authority* which Christ founded, and which is guided by the Holy Spirit, in terms of official teaching on matters of faith and morals.

    Yes, of course, in some sense, I must still engage my own personal understanding of the text(s) involved, when I attempt to do Biblical/theological exegesis. However, the Protestant, ultimately, is not answerable to, and able to corrected by, a *visible, authoritative teaching authority* in terms of the Protestant’s exegesis. In some sense, he/she could claim to be answerable to, and able to corrected by, the “visible, authoritative teaching authority” of his/her chosen denomination and local ecclesial community. In the end though, if the Protestant’s exegesis sufficiently conflicts with (on a matter that he/she deems to be “sufficiently serious” and/or on an “essential” matter, as decided by the Protestant) his/her elders’ exegesis, then the Protestant has to go with him/herself.

    This is the Protestant paradigm. The Protestant is not answerable to, or able to be corrected by, anything or anyone higher than the personal, subjective sense that he/she has interpreted the Scriptures correctly by personal study, via the illumination of the Holy Spirit.

    Yes, again, to be fair here, I must engage my own “private” understanding, in some sense, in order to read and exegete Scripture, and to read and study Catholic exegesis– but also again, I am writing, or at least, attempting to write, from within a living tradition, with a *visible, speaking* authority– made possible by Christ Himself, who founded this living, visible, speaking, teaching authority, which is guided by the Holy Spirit. This teaching authority is Christ’s gracious provision and protection for us from the ultimate exegetical subjectivity of the various, differing branches of Protestantism.

    For more on the paradigmatic differences between 1. “submitting” to one’s own Protestant exegesis (and then choosing an ecclesial community based on that exegesis), and 2. objectively (and subjectively, because it’s a personal discovery too!) discovering the Catholic Church, both in history and today, and submitting to her *living, speaking* teaching authority, this article should be helpful:

  15. Dear Christopher,

    I really needed this answer. It makes sense to me. Admittedly, I read Ratzinger and I find his explanations profound and vast, but it is so incrediably beautiful and nuanced that it begins to lose it’s historical credibility. It’s like seeing a ring sized box, beautifully wrapped in gold foil and as it begins to be unwrapped, you see that the contents surpass the size of the box and that the anticipated ring is more like an endless treasure trove, and you can’t believe you eyes. Please tell me what the CC’s exegesis is. Do you know what the CC thinks of writings of Leon Bloy?
    Thank you for your patience and kindness.

  16. Christopher,
    You wrote that you have an advantage over Protestants when you exegete the scripture. You wrote that “As a Catholic, I am exegeting from within the paradigmatic context of being willing to be instructed, and corrected, if needed, by a *living, speaking, teaching authority* which Christ founded, and which is guided by the Holy Spirit, in terms of official teaching on matters of faith and morals.”
    In light of your comments what is the official interpretation of Romans 9? What official source of the church tells you what the church interpretation of verse 9:22 where it speaks of God making vessels prepared for destruction? I have been having a discussion with a Roman Catholic on this passage of Scripture and he has not been able to me what the official interpretation is. I’m hoping you and the others can help.

  17. Dr. Anders,

    Thank you for this article. My first response on this thread was all nervous agitation of being thrown into skepticism. I just listened to your interview on Catholic Answers Feb 13th, and I understand that you went this same route.
    The lights went out briefy and when they came back on, the only thing that appearing on the horizon is The Great Whore of Babylon. As Maritain said, “If it pleased God to hide His truth in a dunghill, that is where we should go to find it.”

    The good thing about the Reformed Church is its love for the life of the mind. I have Catholic books scattered about my home, and because there has already been an acceptance that great theology can be found in the Catholic Church, no one criticizes my reading of it. Because it has already gotten sanction from some noted Reformed Theologian, I almost cannot be blamed for finding it credible or truthful, can I?
    If I were reading Joyce Meyer, I’d get raised eyebrows, but if I read the great Theologian Ratzinger, its okay, I just need to turn his face on the cover downward and not refer to him as The Pope. It’s a mixed message; the theologians are great, but the theology is bad.

  18. Alicia, you wrote:

    I read Ratzinger and I find his explanations profound and vast, but it is so incrediably beautiful and nuanced that it begins to lose it’s historical credibility. It’s like seeing a ring sized box, beautifully wrapped in gold foil and as it begins to be unwrapped, you see that the contents surpass the size of the box and that the anticipated ring is more like an endless treasure trove, and you can’t believe you eyes.

    You have just produced the most delightful metaphor for good Catholic theology that I have ever encountered. I like your mind.

    But of course, there’s a vital theological lesson to be learned from the very aptness of the metaphor, and I believe you’ve overlooked that lesson. The “faith once delivered to the holy ones” cannot be kept inside a box, or even between the covers of a Book (!), but is inexhaustibly rich–so that as God’s people explore it and meditate on it, doctrine must develop to express and crystallize the insights given us by the Spirit as he “leads us into all truth.” That’s why it’s really a mistake for you say that the beauty and nuance of Ratzinger’s theology lose “historical credibility.” They lose historical credibility only if the faith-once-delivered can be adequately understood and identified retrospectively, within the confines of its original forms of expression. But said faith cannot be adequately understood and identified that way. New questions keep arising, and as those are rightly answered, folds and facets of the Word of God emerge from relative obscurity. Theology, both mystical and academic, does the legwork in that process. But the process eventuates in “development of doctrine,” which is what the Catholic Church exhibits authoritatively, unlike the Protestants discussed by Dr. Anders.

    Thanks for contributing to this site. I look forward to further insights from you.


  19. Alicia and Chris,

    Here is an article that deals with the Catholic understanding of Romans 9.

  20. Alicia (re:#14),

    You’re certainly welcome, and I’m glad that my answer (which is, really, the Catholic Church’s answer, through her Magisterium) was helpful for you.

    About the writings of Leon Bloy, I have not read any of them myself, but I *think* that he is considered (posthumously now, obviously!) to be a faithful, orthodox Catholic in good standing with the Church. I have never read nor heard, from any *authoritative* Church source (from the Magisterium) that any of his writings contradict official Catholic teaching.

    With that said, the Magisterium doesn’t *regularly* (as in, each month or year or even decade) issue condemnations of the works of particular writers and theologians, even self-claimed “Catholic” writers and theologians who may conflict with official Church teaching.

    Please don’t misunderstand– this does not mean that there *is* no official Church teaching. The Church has defined boundaries (in terms of orthodoxy and heresy), many, many times throughout her history (including within the last few decades), for what Catholics may, and may not, believe. In the early 1990s, the Church issued a new “Catechism of the Catholic Church” (not contradicting previous Catechisms though– but *restating* historic Church teaching for current and future generations) to clarify the Church’s official teachings for all Catholics and for anyone else who wishes to know.

    If a self-proclaimed “Catholic” theologian, for example, tries to deny the physical Resurrection of Christ, one can clearly know that this theologian is not *truly* Catholic, because such an assertion contradicts the Catholic Church’s official, binding teaching on the Resurrection, as taught, in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, from the early centuries of Christianity, passed down through apostolic succession– and, as found, once again, in our current Catechism.

    This theoretical (and sometimes, all too real) self-proclaimed “Catholic” theologian may, or may not, be *officially disciplined* by the Church. The fact that the Church does not always *formally discipline* (though it still does happen, such as with Hans Kung, Charles Curran, and certain “liberation theologians!”) heretical self-proclaimed “Catholics” can be a source of consternation to non-Catholics who are considering the Church.

    However, again, the Church has clarified, over and over, throughout history, and up to the present day, what one *must* believe, and what one *cannot* believe (and where differing views are acceptable on certain subjects, such as election and predestination), as an orthodox Catholic.

    The most recent *comprehensive* document issued by the Church, as such, on what one must believe to be Catholic is the current Catechism (2nd edition, to correct some translation mistakes and ambiguities from the Latin source text. It is available in book form, and online, for free, at the Vatican’s website.

    For more on how the Church deals with liberalism (theological heresy) within her membership (both certain clergy and laity at times, though the Pope will never– can never– officially, publicly teach heresy, as he is protected from such by the Holy Spirit), please see this article:

  21. Pam (re:#15),

    Thank you for your questions, sister. I and other Catholics have answered those questions (not knowing you were going to ask them yet at the time though), as I show in a reply (including the links in that reply– very important to read those articles!) to Curt and Alicia here:

  22. Christopher,
    Thanks for your response. I checked out the response that was given at It just that I keep finding that the claim that the Roman Catholic having a Magisterium helps the Catholic avoid private interpretation and gain certainty in what the correct interpretation of a passage is not true at all.
    Claiming that “The Church has not told us how we *must* interpret Romans 9, but she has told us how we *cannot* interpret it.” really does put you in the same boat as a Protestant who does not have an infallible
    Magisterium. All that a Roman Catholic can do is to offer his private interpretation.
    Am I to believe that Catholic Answers, Jimmy Atkin and EWTN are the Magisterium?

  23. Dear Pam,

    I think there may be some misunderstanding here about the nature and purpose of the Church’s Magisterium. The Magisterium does not exist in order to provide an answer to every speculative question that any Christian could ever raise. Rather, the Magisterium’s first job is simply to teach and transmit the full deposit of faith – the Gospel. When the Pope and bishops do this in their regular teaching office, we call this the “ordinary magisterium.” Occasionally, however, the teachers of the Church have to pronounce definitively on some issue, to settle a dispute. When they do this in their most solemn manner (councils and ex cathedra pronouncements), we call it the extraordinary magisterium. Think of the council of Nicaea and the doctrine of the Trinity. The council did not settle every question related to Christology and the doctrine of God. However, it did settle this one question. It is no longer open for discussion. In this, the Catholic’s position is quite different from a Protestant. In the end, the Protestant must test even conciliar pronouncements against his judgment of the deposit of faith. At no point can he say definitively, “The Church has spoken.”


  24. David,
    I understand what the Magisterium’ purpose is in regards to defining and pronouncing doctrines for your church. That makes sense. The problem though is that the claim that the Roman Catholic church alone has the authority to correctly interpret Scripture does not help the average Roman Catholic when it comes to the proper understanding of a passage or verse. When it comes to discussing passages of Scripture with Roman Catholics none can say definitively that “The Church has spoken.”
    In regards to Protestant churches, I don’t see the Southern Baptist Convention for example discussing the deity of Christ or that we are saved by faith in Him alone. These matters are settled and have been definitely defined.

  25. Hi Pam,

    Once again, I think there is something of a category mistake here, and I think it involves the difference between dogma and opinion. If I, as a Catholic, don’t know the meaning of, say, Habbakuk 1:1, of what significance is that? Is there a dogma of the faith that is at stake? Why does it matter that I have an infallible interpretation of each and every verse of Scripture? On the other hand, I do know a few things about the text. For example, I know that I cannot expound it in a way that is contrary to the dogma of the Trinity.

    I think one problem is that Protestants largely lack these categories of dogma and theological opinion. When I was a Protestant, I remember many sermons in which a Pastor “discovered” something new in the text, and presented his insight as great revelation from God. Why not? It was in Scripture. Thus, Protestants feel it incumbent upon them to be able to figure out at every point “what God is saying to me in this text.”

    I’ll freely admit that, as a Catholic, there is tons of Scripture (especially in the Old Testament) that I have no idea what to do with. For example, when Jacob multiplies the livestock by using peeled branches. But my view of revelation and authority also unburdens me from having to figure it out. I know what the essence of my faith is, and what is required for me to grow in holiness and in fellowship with God. And the interpretation of this passage just is not essential to that end. However, if I am curious, I could consult the writings of the fathers and doctors of the Church, to see what might have been said about it.

    And, regarding the Southern Baptists, I grant that they are not debating the Deity of Christ or faith alone. However, what do you mean when you say, “These matters are settled and have been definitely defined?” Defined by whom? Settled by Whom? And with what authority? What if I, as a Southern Baptist, decided to challenge these definitions on the basis of Scripture (as, of course, their detractors have done). What body or authority could tell me I was wrong to do so? And with what authority?


  26. David,
    On the issue of the deity of Christ and that we are saved by Him alone is not true because a church says so but because this is what the Scripture teaches. It is the authority of the Scripture that determines this. That’s why when someone who challenges this must show by Scripture that Christ is not God or that we are not saved by Christ alone. The Jehovah Witness for example tries to show this by Scripture but fails.
    You mention that your pastor in the protestant church you went to claimed to ““discovered” something new in the text, and presented his insight as great revelation from God.” Did he go on to claim that his understanding was to be put at the same level as Scripture like Paul who had understanding of the OT and is now considered Scripture? Or did he mean that he gained some insight into the passage that he did not have before?
    What do you mean that “Protestants largely lack these categories of dogma and theological opinion.”? I don’t understand why you would say this being that you study Calvin who certainly did have categories of dogma and theological opinion. Same would be true of a number of Protestant scholars who write books on systematic theologies.
    What am I missing?

  27. Pam,

    When I was an evangelical Pentecostal, we were at odds with the local Baptists. (We might have been at odds with Baptists on a wider stage but the local was what we were invested in. We were, after all, face to face in the trenches.) The Baptist position was that the charismatic gifts were no longer in evidence. Why? The apostle said that the charismatic gifts would come to an end, therefore, according to the Baptists, the charismatic gifts had come to an end with the death of the last apostle.

    We Pentecostals, experiencing glossalia, interpretation, prophecy, praying for healing and miracles, asking for gifts of knowledge and wisdom were under the impression that the charismatic gifts were still in evidence. Since we were experiencing the charismatic gifts, we could not understand how the Baptists had arrived at their position. They were manifestly wrong; and of course, from their dogmatic point of view, we were manifestly wrong.

    Do you know when I figured out who was right? Neither. Neither was there when the last apostle died. Neither could document the end of charismata. Neither could document its continuation. They weren’t there, those organizations did not exist. Their adopted positions were held without historical bases; rather a snippet of scripture was yanked out and used to justify a position, rightfully or not.

    If a Baptist were found speaking in tongues, they’d be directed to us (literal experience). If a member of a Pentecostal church could not speak in tongues or give evidence of another charismatic gift, their salvation would be questioned. Could they really be one of ours? It was a rather iffy thing.

    Now imagine what happens when one becomes a Catholic.



  28. Pam (#21)

    Claiming that “The Church has not told us how we *must* interpret Romans 9, but she has told us how we *cannot* interpret it.” really does put you in the same boat as a Protestant who does not have an infallible Magisterium.

    Well, it seems to me that we’re not quite in the same boat. To be protected from error in a way that you can trust (I mean, always assuming the claim of the Magisterium to infallibility is true) is better than no protection. That there are (vast!) questions that have not been answered does not mean they cannot be if needed. It isn’t obvious to me that knowing exactly how Romans 9 relates to the difficult questions of the sovereignty of God and the free will of man is one of those things that I have to know to the last detail to be saved. The Church tells me – what seems to me obviously true if I read the whole of Scripture – that I cannot doubt that God is absolutely sovereign, and that I cannot doubt that I am free – at least to the extent that I cannot blame God if I go to Hell – and leaves me free to use my private interpretation to try to dig deeper.

    No one would claim that being a Catholic means you don’t have to think any more – though some have told me that I am required to check my brains at the door of the Church to be a Catholic – which I don’t think is true.


  29. Pam (#23)

    …the claim that the Roman Catholic church alone has the authority to correctly interpret Scripture…

    This is certainly not what the Church claims. Anyone may correctly interpret Scripture. When push comes to shove, however, if the Church tells me, for instance, that the Scripture supports the two natures of Christ, and I myself am inclined to doubt it – then the Church is right and I am wrong.

    The power of the Church to teach is a negative power – to draw boundaries – not a positive power. The Church is not a sort of Delphic Oracle to which you ask questions and get the right answers.


  30. Pam (re:#21),

    Thank you for your reply, sister. I’m going to respond too, in this comment, but first, I highly commend David’s most recent response to you in #24. I hope that you consider his points, especially in the last section of the comment, starting with “And, regarding the Southern Baptists…”

    You and David are both right, of course, that the Catholic Church has not given an infallible interpretation of every single verse (or even, of many passages) of Scripture. However, part of the *reason* for this is that the Church was already a visible, speaking, teaching authority, which was holding Church Councils, to debate and define Christian doctrine, *three hundred years* before the contents of the New Testament canon were even settled (settled, so that we could know its contents for certain).

    What this means (the fact that the Church was already holding these Councils before the settling of the NT canon) is that there doesn’t need to be an infallible interpretation of the opening passages of, say, John 1, for example– because the Church Councils, through debating and discussing the writings of St. John, reached the conclusion, as guided by the Holy Spirit, that all Christians (Catholics) *must* believe in the Trinity.

    Therefore, any Christian (Catholic) who heard or read John 1, and concluded that the Trinity is not taught there, would *know* that he/she had fallen into heresy, and that he/she needed to bring his/her interpretation into line with the conclusions of the Church Councils on the Trinity.

    Pam, I know that might sound like a ridiculous idea to you (a Christian hearing or reading John 1 and reaching “non-Trinitarian” conclusions), but I once had a friend who was a member, with me, of a very well-regarded, “exegetical preaching” Calvinist body of believers. This friend was a Christian convert who was very serious about reading and studying Scripture. Every Sunday, along with me and the other members of the congregation, this brother sat under strong, verse-by-verse, exegetical preaching, all of which affirmed the Trinity as being Scriptural. He believed in the Trinity as a Scriptural doctrine himself. However, after a period of Bible study with another Christian (a pastor) , he came to me privately and told me that he was no longer sure that the Trinity is actually taught in Scripture. Honestly, this blew my mind, because knowing this man as I did, I couldn’t believe that he would seriously consider “non-Trinitarianism” as being Biblical– but based on his Bible study with another pastor, he was considering it.

    Now, I knew that I could take my friend to each and every passage of Scripture that I believed to teach the Trinity. I knew that with John 1 and many other parts of Scripture, I could make a *very* strong case for the Trinity.

    However, I also knew that, in the end, following the Protestant idea of the primacy of the individual conscience in reading Scripture, *if*my friend finally decided that my Biblical, exegetical arguments were simply not as strong as his own conclusions from his study of Scripture, then I knew that, in terms of *his own conscience before God*, he would be *obligated* to become a non-Trinitarian… in other words, a heretic.

    As a Protestant, my friend would be *bound* to follow what he truly believed that he had found in Scripture, via the principle of “comparing Scripture with Scripture.” There would be no authority which could tell him, finally, in effect, “No! This is unBiblical heresy. To be a Christian, you must believe in the Trinity!”

    Of course, in that theoretical situation, our Calvinist elders (of that time) could tell him that he was in serious danger of falling into damning heresy– but if he decided that they were interpreting the Bible incorrectly, he would have to, as a *consistent Protestant*, follow his own interpretation of Scripture and leave to find and join a “non-Trinitarian church.”

    By contrast, for the Catholic who submits to the Magisterium’s Christ-given teaching authority, non-Trinitarianism is *never even an option*, because Catholics already know that their own consciences do not have primacy in interpretation of Scripture. The Church Councils decided, in the days of St. Athanasius, that non-Trnitarianism was heretical, and that all Catholics *must* believe in the Trinity– and praise God, Protestants have basically followed their lead on that doctrine.

    However, on other matters, such as whether God elects and predestines people to damnation, many Protestants have *not* followed the Church’s lead in her Councils. Similarly, in the very same 4th- century Council which condemned Arianism (a non-Trinitarian heresy) and affirmed Trinitarianism, the Church also affirmed Mary as “Mother of God.” (In the context of the Incarnation, Jesus, being God, and Mary being His mother).

    Protestants accept the Church’s 4th-century conclusion on Trinitarianism. Why, then, do so many Protestants refuse to call Mary “Mother of God,” a term which was affirmed at the very same Church Council?

    You may respond, “Because it is not Biblical to describe Mary as the Mother of God.” However, my aforementioned friend, based on his serious Scripture study, questioned whether the *Trinity* is Biblical. The question becomes, then, who has the ultimate authority to decide what is actual Christian doctrine and what is heresy? By the Protestant principle of Sola Scriptura, the Protestant *must* go with what he/she truly believes Scripture to teach– even if his/her elders argue (from the Bible) that it is heretical.

    By contrast, the consistent Catholic, who submits to the Magisterium’s Christ-given teaching authority, cannot affirm heresies such as non-Trinitarianism, Calvin’s doctrine of double predestination, and the refusal to say that Mary is “Mother of God”– because the Church has already spoken authoritatively on these issues, and the Church has *settled* them.

    The Church has not given an infallible interpretation of Romans 9, but she has stated that Catholics *cannot* believe in the heresy of double predestination (which Calvinists believe is taught in Romans 9). *That* is Christ-given protection from heresy. Protestantism cannot ultimately provide such authoritative protection– because of the Protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura, which requires the believer to finally “side” with his/her own sincere conclusions after studying Scripture.

  31. Dear Pam, and every non-Catholic here,

    P.S. to my #27 above: I feel the need to write this, so I am. I’m truly sorry, sister, if our replies to you (or to any non-Catholic here) are creating a feeling, for you, of being ganged up on in these conversations. I do wish that more Protestants were taking part in these discussions. From 2009-2011, there were *many* serious Protestants (Reformed and non-Reformed) commenting on the many articles here. As of late, that has slowed down. I’m not sure why that is. We Catholics truly do want dialogue with non-Catholics here (especially, but not only, with Reformed Protestants). We are *not* trying to simply argue Protestants into a kind of weary, beaten-down submission that is not based on a conviction that Catholicism is actually *true*.

    Of course, we believe that Catholicism *is* true , from the Bible, and from Church teaching, before the NT canon was settled. Therefore, we are going to make the case for Catholicism– just as we would hope (and, in some sense, expect!) for any serious Reformed Protestant to make the case for Calvinism, from the Bible (and/or from Reformed theological tradition).

    With all of that said, as an “informal” (thus far) contributer at CTC, I want to apologize, personally, to any Protestant, who has felt “ganged up on” at this site. Please, ask your Protestant friends, pastor/elders, and/or theologians to come here and discuss with us and lovingly challenge us! We welcome it in Christian brotherhood and sisterhood!

    If that is going to happen though, I have to say, respectfully and gently, with Christian love and understanding that we all have serious responsibilities, that, personally, I would also welcome more contributions, in the comboxes of late, from more of the official, formal writers at this site. Where is everyone lately, other than Andrew Preslar and David Anders? Again, I say this in gentleness, with Christian love and understanding. I know (all too well) that most people, period (whether at CTC or anywhere else), have responsibilities that I don’t have– i.e. marriage, family, paying job, and/or school. However, it does seem that, recently, most of the formal contributors to this site have dropped out of the conversations. (Maybe Lent has something to do with it. I hope that no one is upset with me for writing this! I write in love!!)

  32. Christopher,
    I had the pastor of a large Roman Catholic church in my area tell me he did not believe Peter was a pope. Needless to say, I agreed with him but was shocked he would say something like that since he was Catholic leader who is supposed to believe and adhere to RC teachings even if his conscience tells him otherwise. Is he correct in rejecting Peter as a pope if his conscience tells him to?
    What this example shows with countless other examples is that claiming to have an infallible teacher does not protect its members from believing things contrary to RC teachings.
    I don’t put much stock in the conscience as a guide for what is true. A man can be wrong even if his conscience tells him otherwise. Keep in mind that the conscience is also impacted by the fall and should not be trusted as an absolute guide to truth.
    You ask–“Why, then, do so many Protestants refuse to call Mary “Mother of God,” a term which was affirmed at the very same Church Council?”
    I suspect many don’t accept it because they have seen what Roman Catholics have done to Mary. They have made her out to be some kind of goddess. Just read some of the devotional material on her to see what I mean. The other reason others reject it because it does not sound right. I know what the church meant by it but its to easy to draw the wrong inferences from it such as God having a mother. The human nature of Jesus has a mother but His deity does not.

  33. Christopher,
    I wonder if the “Your comment is awaiting moderation” is part of the problem. Maybe this is happening to me. I don’t know. I have waited quite a long time at times before I see someone respond to what I wrote. Just a thought.

  34. All,

    One correction to my #21: the Church Council which condemned Arianism as heresy is actually Constantinople I, in 381 A.D.

    It is the Council of *Ephesus*, in 431 A.D., which affirmed the title of “Mother of God” for Mary. However, the affirmation of that title for Mary was, in a directly connected way, a *condemnation* of heresies which were spreading at *that* time, concerning Jesus’s human and divine natures.

    It is, therefore, ironic that many Protestants see the Marian dogmas, teachings, and titles as being heretical, when they were actually, in a very real way, condemnations of heresies concerning Christ Himself.

  35. Sigh– that should have read, “a correction to my #27,” not my #21, as Pam wrote #21! Too much typing again… As a side note though, if anyone wants to read more about the early Church Councils which battled various heresies, see this very helpful link:

  36. John,
    I’m not saying Catholics are not to think but that having an infallible Magesterium to tell you what to believe is a double edge sword. One side it tells you what is true and must be believed. On the other side its impossible to correct when it is found to be wrong. Just compare some of the statements of popes in the middle ages that taught there is no salvation outside the Roman Catholic church with what I understand to be true today that you don’t have to belong to the RCC to be saved. Both positions cannot be right.

  37. JTJ,

    “The power of the Church to teach is a negative power – to draw boundaries – not a positive power. The Church is not a sort of Delphic Oracle to which you ask questions and get the right answers.”

    This (and your entire conversation with Pam) reminded me of Karl Adam in “The Spirit of Catholicism”:

    Moreover the pope himself teaches, acts, strives, suffers only from out of this unity. It is true that, inasmuch as he is by the wise disposition of Providence at the same time bishop of Rome, he can make regulations and give decisions which are valid only for his immediate Roman flock and which therefore possess only a local significance. But when he speaks as pope, as successor of St. Peter, then he speaks with a divine authority that demands the obedience of all the faithful; he speaks as the visible basis and pledge of unity, out of the compact fullness of the Body of Christ, as that principle in which the supra-personal unity of the Body of Christ has achieved visible reality for the world of space and time. Therefore he does not speak as a despot in his own right, as some absolute monarch, but as the head of the Church, in intimate vital relationship to the complete organism of the Church. So he cannot, like a Delphic Oracle, give dogmatic decisions purely at his own discretion and according to his own subjective notions. On the contrary, he is bound, as the Vatican Council emphatically declares, bound strongly in conscience, to proclaim and interpret that revelation which is contained in the written and unwritten mind of the Church, in the twin sources of our faith, sacred Scripture and Tradition.

    What the pope is for the whole Church, that in an analogous sense the bishop is for the particular community, for the diocese. He is the representative and objective form of its inner unity, he is the mutual love of its members made visible, the organic interrelation of the faithful made perceptible (Mohler). That explains why the Catholic knows no more venerable names on earth than those of pope and bishop, and why in the centuries when the western world was impregnated with the Catholic consciousness, no honor was too great, no ornament too precious to be bestowed upon pope and bishop. This did not, and does not, hold good of the person of pope or bishop—no one makes so sharp a distinction between the person and his office as does the Catholic— but it did and does hold good exclusively of their sublime function, that namely of realizing, representing and assuring the unity of the Body of Christ in the world. When a man is present at a pontifical High Mass, and sees with amazement the vast circumstance of pomp and splendor, the rich ceremonial with which the person and the actions of the pontifex are surrounded, if he sees in all this nothing but a consequence and survival of the court ceremonial of Rome and Constantinople, he has grasped only half the truth. The motive force, the dominant idea of this magnificence, is the joy of the Catholic in his Church, in her overpowering unity, in that affirmation of the communion of the brethren, of the one Body of Christ, which is so to say personified in the bishop. One God, one faith, one love, one single man: that is the stirring thought which inspires all the Church’s pageantry and gives it artistic form. It is a seeking and finding of love, of love for Christ and for the brethren who in Him are bound together into one.

    One can find the rest of this splendid book online here. You can also find the FREE e-book version here. (John, I know you already have it)

  38. What non-Catholics are talking about when they *say* development is actually “emergence”.

    C.f. “the emergence of [illusory] consciousness from inanimate matter” or “the emergence of the universe from quantum foam”…

    This is prefectly useful in many contexts; here, it is a convenient way to have ideas and phenomena become interesting and/or normative *whenever it suits you*.

  39. Hi Pam, Alicia, et al.,

    I just wanted to share a few thoughts from my own experience, having trodden the lonely path: secular/ agnostic -> vaguely non-denom Evangelical -> trying-to-make-sense-of-Anglicanism -> happy Catholic…

    It struck me, about 6 months after I graduated from the Evangelical “Bible School” I took when I first converted to Christianity, that it was a strange kind of thing, this “person relationship with Christ” that either boiled down, in time, to happy-clappy anti-intellectualism, or dry-as-dust theological irrelevance [again, remember I’m talking about my experience].

    A formula struck me while I was looking into the reasons behind “Protestantism” (as opposed to relatively a-historical Evangelicalism). Some enthusiast on a Protestant/Reformed forum had a signature line “Protestantism is Christianity come into its own”.

    And I remember thinking – that’s almost true to life; but it should read “theology come into its own”… A Christian can be an academic theologian; but the faith that we learn and receive is faith in Christ, not faith in a theology in the academic sense. Anyone who makes this experience begins to become a Catholic…

  40. Hi Pam,
    When I say that Protestants lack the distinction (or have no principled way to distinguish) between dogma and opinion, I mean that they often disagree about the meaning of the Bible and the deposit of faith and that they have no principled way of knowing when those disagreements are worth breaking fellowship over.

    For example – Calvin, Luther, and Zwingli ALL believed that a proper understanding of the Eucharist was essential. Calvin even said “necessary for salvation.” Luther clearly believed that a proper understanding of the Real Presence was something to break with Zwingli over – to refuse fellowship, even to declare him outside of redemption. Calvin likewise declared that anabaptists were separated from the Church and thus from Christ.

    Today, however, almost no Protestant would be willing to make these claims. They might still disagree over these matters, but would be unwilling to say that these differences effectively defined the boundaries of “true church; true believer” from heretic.

    I contend that the Protestant has no principled way to know which attitude is correct. I.e. no way to differentiate adiaphora from dogma.

    Also – in your comment #35 above – don’t you think this is a bit question begging? If the Pope is infallible, then he doesn’t need correcting – BY DEFINITION. If you think he is in error, then he is not the one who needs correcting. However, that doesn’t mean that Papal statements don’t need elucidating. And that is what we find with the doctrine of “No salvation outside the Church.” Elucidation, not rejection.

    Finally, I’m sorry about your encounter with the Heretic priest. Arius was a Catholic heretic, too, before he was rejected by the Church. I don’t think this proves anything, except that not all priests are faithful to the church’s teaching.


  41. Dr Daniel Wallace, a major Reformed Protestant theologian, professor, and exegete came out with a blog post about a week ago making some very revealing comments about the Canon and Ecclesiology, and how Protestantism is in a “mess” (his words) on this problem. Here are some highlights:

    I am unashamedly a Protestant. I believe in sola scriptura, sola fidei, solus Christus, and the rest. I am convinced that Luther was on to something when he articulated his view of justification succinctly: simul iustus et peccator (“simultaneously justified and a sinner”).
    But with the birth of Protestantism there necessarily came a rift within the western church. By ‘necessarily’ I mean that Protestants made it necessary by splitting from Rome. Jaroslav Pelikan had it right when he said that the Reformation was a tragic necessity. Protestants felt truth was to be prized over unity, but the follow-through was devastating. This same mindset began to infect all Protestant churches so that they continued to splinter off from each other. Today there are hundreds and hundreds of Protestant denominations. One doesn’t see this level of fracturing in either Eastern Orthodoxy or Roman Catholicism. Not even close.

    Several evangelical scholars have noted that the problem with Protestant ecclesiology is that there is no Protestant ecclesiology. In many denominations—and especially in non-denominational churches—there is no hierarchy of churches responsible to a central head, no accountability beyond the local congregation, no fellowship beyond the local assembly, no missional emphasis that gains support from hundreds of congregations, and no superiors to whom a local pastor must submit for doctrinal or ethical fidelity.

    Third, a book by David Dungan called Constantine’s Bible makes an astounding point about the shape of the canon in the ancient church. … Dungan mentions that for Eusebius to speak of any books as homolegoumena—those twenty books that had universal consent in his day as canonical—he was speaking of an unbroken chain of bishops, from the first century to the fourth, who affirmed authorship and authenticity of such books. What is significant is that for the ancient church, canonicity was intrinsically linked to ecclesiology. It was the bishops rather than the congregations that gave their opinion of a book’s credentials. Not just any bishops, but bishops of the major sees of the ancient church.And it’s settled by appeal to an ecclesiological structure that is other than what Protestants embrace. The irony is that today evangelicals especially argue for authenticity of the disputed letters of Paul, yet they are arguing with one hand tied behind their back. And it has been long noted that the weakest link in an evangelical bibliology is canonicity.

    I’m not sure of the solution, or even if there is one. But we can take steps toward a solution even if we will never get there in this world. First of all, we Protestants can be more sensitive about the deficiencies in our own ecclesiology rather than think that we’ve got a corner on truth. We need to humbly recognize that the two other branches of Christendom have done a better job in this area.

    To me, this is as revealing and serious as when John Piper on his blog last year said since the canon wasn’t complete until the 4th century, that we know more about orthodoxy than the early church.

  42. Pam (#35)

    I’m not saying Catholics are not to think but that having an infallible Magesterium to tell you what to believe is a double edge sword. One side it tells you what is true and must be believed. On the other side its impossible to correct when it is found to be wrong.

    Well, absolutely! If the Church – which is not remotely the same as saying any particular member of the Church, even the Pope when he is not defining dogma for all Christians – could be wrong, then, of course, if you want to be a Christian, you must not be a Catholic. The question whether the Church is what it says is fundamental. But, of course, if it is, then one is not stuck with only asking the Church about truth.

    Regarding this:

    Just compare some of the statements of popes in the middle ages that taught there is no salvation outside the Roman Catholic church with what I understand to be true today that you don’t have to belong to the RCC to be saved. Both positions cannot be right.

    Of course it depends on what you mean. The Church has never ceased to teach this – and has never taught that you have to be a card-carrying Catholic to be saved – St Augustine and all the Fathers are quite clear on invincible ignorance. If a Pope seemed to teach that you had to be visibly and formally a Catholic to be saved, then, of course, he was wrong. Indeed, in the 1950s – sorry, I haven’t time to dig into it now and give you references – the Church condemned Father Feeney in Boston for teaching precisely this.

    The Church’s dogma cannot change (if, as I said above, the Church is what it says – which is, of course, the fundamental question); it’s understanding of that dogma and of its implications can and does grow.


  43. Pam (re:#31,

    Dr. Anders is correct (although not because I say so though, obviously!). The priest who told you that St. Peter was/is not our first Pope is not accurately reflecting *binding, official* Catholic beliefs. In other words, this priest is (whether by willful intent or by ignorance) misrepresenting beliefs that any Catholic is *bound* to believe, by definition, as a Catholic.

    With full respect to him, as a Catholic priest, given that he is (intentionally or not) misrepresenting Catholic teaching, he should read and consider Jesus’s words to St. Peter in Matthew 16:18-19. The priest also should read the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and the list of Popes (available from many different sources), which goes all the way from St. Peter, in the 1st century, to Benedict XVI, in the 21st.

    Yes, as is clear from the example of this priest, it is sadly true that more than a few Catholics don’t hold to (or understand) the official teachings of the Church in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. (Scripture and Tradition, by the way, are not contradictory but complementary. 2 Thessalonians 2:15 speaks of holding to apostolic traditions passed down orally– Sacred Tradition– *and* through writing, i.e. Scripture).

    The fact that some Catholics don’t hold to official, authoritative Catholic teaching simply means that Catholics still have the free will to be disobedient. It does not change the fact that the Catholic Church is one worldwide Church, with one Catechism, that has *official, binding* teachings for all Catholics.

    The Catechism, alone, is an indication that Catholics are not in the same place, theologically and eccelesiastically speaking , as *all* Protestant denominations. The reason that I say this, partially, is because there is no one Protestant Church which can even claim *anything* to be “binding” for *all* Protestants– and therefore, there is no one Catechism which can even begin to represent the various, often differing and contradictory, Protestant doctrines and theologies. The reason for this is clear: the Protestant concept of Sola Scriptura.

  44. David,
    How do you know when a pope speaks infallibly? Its my understanding there are only 2 times when this has been done.
    You to have your conflicts within your church. You call the priest who rejects the papacy a heretic yet you have no authority do so. Correct?
    Am I to believe that there is absolute unity among all Roman Catholics? I think not. I know from the ones I know that they have their different beliefs about all kinds of things. Does disagreeing with any teaching of your church make one a heretic? If so, then your church is full of them.

    As for Protestants, is it necessary for a church to tell us that Christ is God and died for our sins? Of course not. We know this not because a church tells us because the Scripture teaches this. Note also that no Protestant defers to the Roman Catholic church for this.
    There are Protestant groups that are having “principled way of knowing when those disagreements are worth breaking fellowship over.” The homosexual issue is one that churches are breaking up over on principle.

  45. Christopher,
    Catechism can be helpful but they are not Scripture. It is the Scripture that binds the Protestant. What Protestant do you know that denies that Jesus is God or died for our sins? To do so, would mean you are not a Protestant.
    Can you give me an example of a contradictory doctrine between 2 Protestant churches? I can give you a few doctrines of the RCC that contradict the Scripture if you want.

  46. John,
    To say that “The Church’s dogma cannot change (if, as I said above, the Church is what it says – which is, of course, the fundamental question); it’s understanding of that dogma and of its implications can and does grow.”
    To grow is to change. At one time the pope was not considered to be infallible and at another time he is. That is a fundamental change of dogma.

  47. Wow, it seems that Wallace has made another astonishing claim, from July 16, 2007 on a popular Protestant Blog (LINK) where Wallace is describing what the “ideal” Church would look like:

    Second, we would all embrace sola scriptura. The question, however, that looms very large is how to access the meaning of special revelation. For this, I don’t have an adequate answer. In broad strokes, it has been answered in one of two ways: reason or tradition. The problem with tradition is that it is full of contradictions. This was Luther’s argument at the Diet of Worms. But the problem with reason is that, at least for the Calvinist, it can’t be fully trusted either. And theological liberalism grew out of the elevation of reason, not the elevation of tradition. Pragmatically, we all place something over revelation in order to access it.

    This man is a genuine and orthodox Christian scholar and yet he admits he “doesn’t have an adequate answer” for how Sola Scriptura is to function. That should be a red-flag to all ‘non-scholarly’ Protestants. But there is more:

    Frankly, every one of us is a heretic (at least with a lowercase “h”); the problem is that we don’t know in what areas we are wrong. Yet, many of us are equally dogmatic about both central and peripheral doctrines. Tradition and reason both have their place, but the tragic thing is that the average Christian today has to choose which one to elevate because no church is balanced.

    That’s got to be the most astonishing admission from a respected Protestant that I’ve ever read. To say everyone is a heretic since nobody really knows what’s orthodox/heresy in any complete and official way. This is where it needs to be seen that Sola Scriptura is the culprit rather than assuming it’s true and then trying to make everything else fit.

    Fifth, there needs to be theological and personal accountability that reaches beyond the walls of each individual church and of each denomination. That is, there should be a worldwide hierarchy that maintains the theological and personal integrity of the church. Admittedly, there is such among Catholics. But just as admittedly, Rome has done a poor job in handling this responsibility. But among Protestants, the situation is every bit as bad. There are over 30,000 denominations! And in America there are millions of Christians in unaffiliated, independent Bible churches. What happens if the pastor goes off the deep end theologically? All too often, he takes the sheep with him. All too often, cults find their roots in rich Protestant soil. And what happens when a person in a Protestant church needs to be disciplined? He packs up and leaves and goes to another church a block away. There is zero accountability.

    He frankly admits there is zero accountability within Protestantism, and that the only system that this can exist is Catholicism. Sadly, he doesn’t go into detail, namely the difference between Sola Scriptura and Apostolic Succession.

    I wrote up a short post Here on the main article if anyone is interested.

  48. Pam (#46)

    To grow is to change.

    To be sure.

    At one time the pope was not considered to be infallible and at another time he is. That is a fundamental change of dogma.

    I think it would be helpful to understand what a change in dogma is. Dogma is authoritative teaching of the Church; it is not the same as the belief of this or that Catholic theologican – even of many.

    Thus, for example, a widely-received opinion for centuries – since St Augustine’s own speculations on the subject – was that children dying in infancy without baptism were allotted a sort of ‘borderline’ status (‘borderline’ is what limbus means in Latin, which is where the word ‘limbo’ comes from) between Heaven and Hell. The opinion has never been Catholic dogma. Today it is pretty widely doubted – and even then the Church has never pronounced dogmatically regarding the eternal status of such children.

    It is true that some Catholics – including some theologians – through history have doubted the infallibility of the Pope – though from what I know there was never many who doubted it. For the matter of that, there are some still today who doubt it.

    But the Church had never spoken dogmatically on the subject. So when, in 1870, the Vatican Council pronounced the Pope’s infallibility (under carefully limited circumstances, by the way, so that many of the Ultramontanes were very unhappy with what they thought a weakness in the definition), the teaching was made dogma.

    So, yes, growth implies change. But there are two different ways in which a young entity may change. It may grow – as, in the classic illustration, the acorn becomes what it always was destined to be, an oak tree – or it may suffer damage, never develop, die, and rot. The latter change is what is called corruption.

    And that is the point regarding the Church. That is the issue amongst both those who adhere to the Catholic Church and those who do not: are the undoubtable changes it has undergone over the centuries growth – or are they corruption?

    That is why I said that the understanding of the faith can grow in the Church – or, if the Church is not what it says, the understanding of the faith can be corrupted.

    And – if I may add here what seems to me the fundamental question to be decided – it is the question what Jesus meant His Church to be in the first place. If He only meant that some men and women would, one day, believe in Him and try to follow Him – in fact, the invisible Church – then those who preach a visible Church in some doctrinal sense are wrong – and the Catholics most wrong of all. If, on the other hand, He meant that this Kingdom of His – with both tares and wheat in it, good and bad fish, good men and evil – that this Kingdom would be a visible Kingdom under the King, with its own rules and polity – and especially that it should be One in a visible sense – then I find it difficult to imagine that that Kingdom in the Year of Grace 2012 can be found anywhere, in its fulness and normal sense, but in the Catholic Church.


  49. Hi Pam,

    In answer to your questions above:
    1) I know that a Pope speaks infallibly when he tells me that he intends, in his capacity as vicar of Christ, to define a matter of faith or morals to be held with Catholic faith by all the faithful. He can also use his ordinary teaching office to identify those elements of the deposit of faith that have already been infallibly defined by conciliar authority, or the consensus of tradition. Thus, ex cathedra pronouncements are not the only way in which the Pope’s charism can be exercised.
    2) You asked if you are to believe there is absolute de facto unity among Catholics. Of course not. I don’t think anyone here ever claimed otherwise. However, there is clearly a center from which dissenting Catholics dissent. Furthermore, differences of opinion are fine, as long as they don’t involve differences concerning dogmas of the faith.
    3) I am very glad that you believe Christ died for your sins, and that he is God. However, if you think you are not indebted to the Catholic Church for these doctrines then you are historically naive. Even Calvin and Luther would not have claimed this, but recognized the necessity of the visible body of Christ to transmit the deposit of faith and to guard a proper understanding of the Scriptures. Even many Protestant apologists continue to recognize this today (as McDermott, cited above). As I hope you know, many Arians were perfectly willing to ascribe divinity to Christ. What they were unwilling to do was admit that Christ was homoousion with the Father. I submit that Scripture alone is insufficient to establish this doctrine. Historically, it certainly was practically insufficient to guarantee it.
    4) I am also glad that you consider homosexuality to be a core issue in the church. However, you haven’t provided an answer to the “principled distinction” question. You have merely asserted that homosexuality is a core issue. The question is how do you know when something is a core issue? Just saying, “Scripture is clear on this” is question begging, since many Protestants obviously don’t think so. If two Protestants look at the same text and disagree on whether the matter under discussion is essential, how do you adjudicate that dispute?


  50. Very interesting article.

    My question is how do you respond to soemone who says just because the Protestants are rejecting the Primitive church as Catholics do does not invalidate the argument for a Primitive church?

    I have a friend whose answer is to abandon both reformation Christianityand Catholcism and to embrace Primitivism.

    He argues there was a transformation of the Original Church into the Catholic Church, into the Roman Catholic Church and Orthodox Catholic Church, and into Protestant Churches and into thousands of other denominations, many of them unrecognizable.

    I am at a loss to answer him on this.

    Is there anything good out there that delves into the Primitive church theory?

  51. Hi Doug,

    Thanks for writing. As Catholics, we are perfectly willing to engage with anyone on the Primitive Church. One point of this post was to point out that well-read Protestants now recognize that they cannot win on this issue. The primitive church is not with them.

    Have you read J.N.D. Kelly’s book Early Christian Doctrine? Kelly is an Anglican, and thus not biased in favor of the Catholic position, yet his book is, I think, a fairly solid refutation of the idea that the Primitive church looked anything like Protestantism. I would also recommend that you poke around on CTC, as we have many articles on the early Church. Also – volume 1 of Pelikan’s History of Christian Doctrine, is good. And, of course, Newman’s Essay on the Development of Doctrine.

    God Bless,


  52. […] at Called to Communion David Anders bemoaned the shift in Protestantism’s language about the […]

  53. […] A few links I found interesting for one reason or another: Called to Communion – How Not to Defend the Reformation: Why Protestants Need the Antichrist […]

  54. I am nowhere as learned as the the other gentlemen and ladies posting, but as a ex-protestant and now a catholic for 30 years, I have some thoughts.
    I find in debates that protestant pastors can always find a bible reading that proves their point, which means to me that everything they believe can be proved. If the bible can be used to prove everything, it proves nothing.
    I often wonder about their belief that the Holy Spirit guides them to all truth in reading the bible, for me it is not true. In Acts the physical facts of presence of the Holy Spirit is the sound of wind, the flames, or crowns of light over the apostles. God has always used physical forms to show a spirit in action. That has never happened to me, nor have I ever seen that in any Catholic(my Priest is Holy) or protestant. That means to me that God gave the Holy Spirit to those called to be teachers, not to us the students. I believe in the teaching of the church, I do not believe that we are any different then the guy in the chariot, we all need an apostle to teach us. What do you think. I am a convert so I am not balanced with my Love of the Church, I just love her.

  55. I don’t think a Catholic should agree with McGrath that the Protestant notion of justification was a theological novum. The concept of “Faith alone” was there from the beginning. James denounces it.

  56. David,

    I understand you intended to be tongue in cheek with the need for Antichrist, but it turns out to be a real problem for Catholics in light of belief and development. Who or what is the Antichrist ? The Catholic answer remains underdeveloped and it may be a sign of neglect. How can such an enemy of the Church remain so obscure and unidentified ?

    Let us look closely at the Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church. Is the successor of Peter the indispensable part of the Catholic Church ? Does the Church of Christ subsist in the Pope alone ? Theoretically, the Catholic Church could endure every rupture, separation and wound against its substance. Except for the Pope, every individual and element of the Catholic Church may decline from full communion simultaneously. Reducing further, even invisible graces operating on the Pope’s soul may not be received with cooperation. Interior faith, hope and charity are equally dispensable. We are left with the Pope possessing the full power of the office and baptismal character. This is the indispensable center of visible unity in the Catholic Church.

    I am amazed at how this in no way eliminates the possibility of the Antichrist (assuming he is a man) becoming the Pope. The CCC #675 & 676 describes a situation compatible with the Papacy and any Devil’s advocate would encourage it.


  57. Hi Eric,

    Thanks for the note.

    Actually, I don’t believe you have accurately depicted the Catholic doctrine of the Church.

    The Second Vatican Council made very clear that the essence of the Church is not one man, one office, or one order within the Church. It is the whole people of God, united to Christ their head. Furthermore, the Church exists – in her lay faithful as well as clergy – to be a sign and sacrament of salvation to the whole human race. We have the promise of God that he will not allow his elect to fall away and that means that the visible unity of the Church – not only in Peter – the seat of that unity – but also in the faithful united to him – will not fall away.

    Lumen Gentium:

    “The entire body of the faithful, anointed as they are by the Holy One, cannot err in matters of belief. They manifest this special property by means of the whole peoples’ supernatural discernment in matters of faith when “from the Bishops down to the last of the lay faithful” (8*) they show universal agreement in matters of faith and morals. That discernment in matters of faith is aroused and sustained by the Spirit of truth. It is exercised under the guidance of the sacred teaching authority, in faithful and respectful obedience to which the people of God accepts that which is not just the word of men but truly the word of God.(112) Through it, the people of God adheres unwaveringly to the faith given once and for all to the saints,(113) penetrates it more deeply with right thinking, and applies it more fully in its life.”


  58. David,

    Thanks for considering my comments.

    The Chair of Peter comprehends the universal and particular in the subsistence of the church. Everything you wrote supposes elements and people who are in full communion with the indispensable part of the the visible church. Full visible communion is reduced to union with the Pope. Everyone, from the laity to the the bishops, is ultimately dispensable and separable from the subsistence of the catholic church. Unless you think every legitimate pope was elect and destined for glory, then the possibility of Antichrist occupying the seat is something unavoidable. Remember that the Pope can be foreknown to evil and still be Pope.


    Why was the expression “subsists in” adopted instead of the simple word “is”?

    The use of this expression, which indicates the full identity of the Church of Christ with the Catholic Church, does not change the doctrine on the Church. Rather, it comes from and brings out more clearly the fact that there are “numerous elements of sanctification and of truth” which are found outside her structure, but which “as gifts properly belonging to the Church of Christ, impel towards Catholic Unity”.

    I was trying to show the extreme case based on these words. Her structure here is the specific visible aspect. Subsistence is dealing not with people, but with the fullness of all the elements instituted.


  59. The problem I have with Protestant understanding of the Bible is that it is a prison of sorts. While I am not a fan of Deconstructivism, it is a useful tool when dealing with the Letters of Paul. Protestantism comes with a pre-approved limits on how one is to read the bible. The Letters of Paul are a product of his time and his religious learning and upbringing, but the protestants bring an understanding of the culture of the 19th, 20th and 21th century to the reading of Paul. This distorts the understanding of the words Paul uses to the people in the Pews. This is not an accident, the narrow selection of the verses in Paul, prove these points that are pre-selected by protestant theology. This is what I hate, the narrow view given by pre-selection which closes out the different view given by Christ in the 4 gospels. The reason I left the protestant religious is because of its limited focus on Paul, to a more balanced meal of the Catholic bible as explained by the Bishops of Rome. I think the distortion of Paul and pre-selected theology to grace Paul with more authority, brings him into conflict with Christ when there should not be any. Protestant ministers are aware they are responsible for what they teach to their fellow souls, but the beliefs of the errors of Rome is not actually examined against history, but assumed to be correct. Catholic = Non-biblical (Hmm Protestants have a time machine), the reading of revelation not as a first century document, but as God given charge of the church being the Whore of Babylon. I came to understand why Mary is necessary in the Left Behind series, because they at the end did not know what to do with Mary. They understood she maybe important to her Son and therefor not to be freely insulted, but what, why? Then I understood Mary keeps Christ Human, not a distant giant God on a golden throne, with we as ants far below, Mary keeps Him human for us.

  60. I am a protestant, however I am not and will never be a “catholic basher.” I have read the article, though until I had read it I was unaware that protestants believed in the “development” of theology. I had still held that the reformation was a “recovery” in that the roman church AT THAT TIME was clearly teaching an unbiblical doctrine. Martin Luther, who at first only desired to reform the church, when he was excommunicated and persecuted, clearly would now consider the Roman Catholic Church the enemy. Perhaps this would lead him to consider the Roman Church a satanic institute ( a position I and many of my fellows don’t believe), out of anger.
    My question is this. Why would papal tradition be necessary when almost every question concerning the christian faith was answered in the epistles. I believe that the apostles were given a special (and unique) assignment to begin the church and answer the questions of salvation. I don’t believe the early church was an addled mess of ideas. Rather, I believe that the apostles founded churches, and when debates arose they answered them. It seems every possible aspect of the christian faith, the nature of God, Israel, marriage, morality, the law, prophecy, the clergy, and all other parts were answered in the epistles. I guess my true question is why the debate and why need any new tradition.
    My final Question: Do Catholics believe that if two conflicting teachings arise between scripture and papal tradition, does scripture triumph or tradition?

  61. Hi there David,

    Thanks so much for writing and commenting. Let me answer your question, and then pose a few of my own.

    First of all, you ask – “Why would tradition be necessary when almost every question about the faith is answered in the Epistles.”

    Three points:

    1) The most important question we need to answer is “How does Jesus intend the Christian Faith to be transmitted?” When I pose that question, I note that Jesus never directs us to the epistles as the final and sufficient source for the transmission or explication of the Christian faith. Instead, Christ EXPLICITLY commends tradition (i.e., “Hand this on”) as the principle of transmission. Consider: “Do this in memory of Me,” “Go, therefore, into all Nations and teach everything I have commanded you,” “Baptize in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” “I will be with you till the end of the age,” “whoever hears you, hears me,” etc.

    The very first thing Christ explicitly commands for the transmission of the Christian faith is the liturgy – “Do this in my memory.”
    Paul tells us that this rite is, itself, an authoritative proclamation of the Christian faith, “As often as you eat . . . you proclaim.”
    Paul also tells us that this liturgical rite was received, orally, from the Lord, and to be handed on in perpetuity (i.e., a tradition):

    “The tradition which I received from the Lord, and handed on to you, is that the Lord Jesus, on the night when he was being betrayed, took bread . . .”

    So, when I look at the teaching of Christ and of the apostles, I find the principle of tradition – liturgical, oral, and apostolic – to be well established as the means of transmitting the CHristian faith. However, I see no word about a canon of epistles. I also see that Christ applies promises of authority and divine assistance to that transmission.

    Furthermore, When I look at the actual history of the early Church, and to doctrinal decision making, I see the principle of living, binding apostolic authority at work. (I.e., Acts 15)

    2) I’m going to have to take issue with your claim that almost every question about the Christian faith was answered in the epistles. Let me illustrate: Could you please show me, from the epistles, which books are to be contained in the canon of Scripture? This is a crucial point of Christian doctrine, but is nowhere addressed in the epistles. Or, how about the celebration of the liturgy? Are all the necessary elements detailed in the epistles? Think about this for a minute. Does the text even specify which elements are necessary and essential vs. those which might be variable? We know that Paul exhorts Corinth to view catholicity as a binding norm “We have no other practice, nor do the Churches of God,” but he applies this principle only to the case of head coverings. What about the epiclesis? The proper context for baptism? The proper liturgical prayers? I mention the epiclesis because it is a part of the liturgy that the Church fathers said was of apostolic origin, though it is not mentioned in the text – and it is something the Reformers retained. The context of baptism – because this was bitterly disputed by the Reformers – though no mention is made in the text. I could go on with further examples.

    3) Finally, let’s assume for the sake of argument that you are correct – the epistles do address every question. Given that Christians disagree about the meaning of the epistles – how do you know when those disagreements are legitimate variations to be tolerated (theological opinion), and when they amount to matters of dogma – that distinguish true Christian faith from counterfeit? Would you, for example, consider the difference between Trinitarian and Oneness Pentecostals to be a matter of legitimate opinion or one of dogma? Both groups appeal to Scripture? For my part, I side with the Trinitarians mostly on the authority of the Council of Nicaea – not, rather, because of my private interpretation of Scripture.

    Now – you assert that Luther was objecting to clearly erroneous teaching on the part of the Catholic Church. I take it you are referring to the doctrine of justification. I’d like to point out that this is another one of those cases that does not appear so clear to me. When I read St. Paul, I don’t see Luther’s doctrine. Nor did 1500 years of Christian tradition up to Luther. Does this mean that justification by faith alone is a matter of legitimate theological opinion? Or is it dogma? And, if it’s dogma, then how do you account for its absence from 1500 years of Christian tradition?

    So, all-in-all, we need tradition because Christ commands it and reason and experience demand it.

    Thanks again,

    David Anders

  62. Hi David (Anders),

    I just noticed that your reference in the article to the Westminster Confession of Faith regarding the Pope should be XXV.6 and not XX.6. I do notice the statement was later changed, at least in the PCA’s version which states:” 6. There is no other head of the church but the Lord Jesus Christ.
    Nor can the pope of Rome, in any sense, be head thereof.”

    Thanks, Kim D

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