What’s So Great About Catholicism? A Brief Response to James White, et al

Jun 3rd, 2012 | By | Category: Blog Posts

James White of Alpha and Omega Ministries has responded to Joshua Lim’s story as featured on Called to Communion. One thing that immediately impressed me is how much ground White covers in this one podcast: He moves from CTC, to same-sex marriage, to exegesis of the Koran, in the space of ninety minutes. Being an apologist-at-large is not easy, and you have to admire a man who can cover so much diverse ground.

Another thing that stood out was White’s claim that we (the authors of CTC) do not make a positive case for Catholicism. More generally, he claims that, “Rome’s biggest sell is not a positive presentation of her actual theology.” In particular, he mentioned Purgatory, Mass attendance, and the Bodily Assumption of Mary as examples of Catholic theology that are avoided by advocates of Rome, who prefer instead to persuade people by inculcating “a lack of trust in the Scriptures.” Before considering some of White’s other comments, it bears mentioning, even at the risk of seeming defensive, that one can find a positive case on this website for each of the particular teachings that White specifically mentions: Going to Mass is discussed in various posts collected in the Index under “Liturgy and the Church Year,” the Bodily Assumption of Mary is discussed in Sean’s post on Marian typology and Bryan’s post on the Solemnity of the Assumption, and Purgatory is discussed in Bryan’s post on Indulgences, the Treasury of Merit and the Communion of Saints, as well as being the subject of a paper by CTC’s Neal Judisch published in Faith and Philosophy.

In each of these cases, we have to do with a wonderful and mysterious dimension of the Catholic Faith: Eucharistic, Marian, Communal, and Participatory. For the rest, as regards this website, I must simply refer readers to the Index, particularly the section on “Catholic Life and Devotion.” And as for what Rome is selling, this includes the monuments of Tradition such as the writings of the Church Fathers, and many of the devotional and theological works of the Middle Ages. There are no negative references to Protestantism in those sources. A Protestant could begin there, and stop on October 30, 1517, if he wants to explore the Catholic Church and at the same time avoid (explicit) critique of his own position. [1]

Judging by his comments in the podcast, it appears that White is persuaded that Catholicism is basically a Counter-Reformation oddly coupled with a post-Vatican 2 ecumenical eddy. Of course, the Church must reckon with heresies, schisms, and other evils, whenever and wherever they occur, but she has her own life, which comes from Christ in the Holy Spirit. Naturally, inviting others to participate fully in the life of the Church sometimes involves answering questions, clearing up misconceptions, and responding to objections, but those who eventually make the purchase know that Rome’s biggest sell is Catholicism itself.

White goes on to pose a few problems to Catholic converts: he calls into question the real world usefulness of the Catholic Magisterium, given the number of heretics that remain in the Church; he claims that asserting the parity (re authority) of non-infallible interpretations of Sacred Scripture has the untoward implication of an insult to the Holy Spirit, who guides some people, but not others, in their interpretation of Scripture; and he claims that making a fallible decision to submit to a supposedly infallible authority still leaves one standing upon fallible ground.

Each of these points is problematic, not for Catholics, but for White. First, the usefulness of the Magisterium can be objectively measured by noting the instances in history when it exercised its charism of teaching, in an extraordinary way, primarily in the ecumenical councils, normally in response to doctrinal disputes in the Church. Undoubtedly the Magisterium’s definitions of doctrine are not useful to those who reject the definitions and leave the visible communion of the Church or else become dissenters; but for those who receive these teachings, they are quite helpful. Secondly, White’s remarks on biblical hermeneutics vacillate between reducing the interpretation of Sacred Scripture to a purely intellectual exercise and the question-begging suggestion that understanding Sacred Scripture involves going to teachers who have the Holy Spirit of God. Thirdly, White’s assertion that the authority of the Catholic Church can never be greater than one’s fallible decision to submit to the Church is based upon a confusion of the order of being with the order of knowing.  If the fallible decision to submit to an infallible authority rendered that authority as fallible as one’s decision, then this would prove far too much for Protestants, who claim both to be fallible and to submit to the authority of God as inscribed in written revelation.

White also touched on the question of certainty, in relation to biblical interpretation and Church doctrine, by way of claiming that Rome cannot deliver anything of the sort. This issue has also been raised in the comments following Joshua’s post and elsewhere, to the effect that dissatisfaction with fallible doctrines is psychologically curious, or even suspect, as indicative of being intellectually unrealistic, or childish, or insecure, or perhaps just a bit quirky. In general, the contention is that what Rome has to offer, by way of ecclesial infallilbility (or at least the claim to infallibility), is something that faith does not need. At best, the Church’s claim to infallibility is pastiche; at worst, it undermines the authority and effectively precludes the right use of Sacred Scripture, such that the doctrinal errors of men can be (and have been) rendered irreformable. In consideration of this objection, I have reworked the following post into a more focused assessment of the relationship between ecclesial infallibility and the assent of faith: Desperately Seeking Certainty, or the Obedience of Faith?

White put forward several other objections to Catholicism, but my purpose here, and in the revised post, has been to focus specifically on the hermeneutical and epistemological issues raised in White’s podcast and in the comment thread following Joshua’s article.


[1] Of course the Church’s life includes the great work of the 16th century Catholic Reformation, including her response to the Protestant Reformation (most notably the Council of Trent), as well as other developments in the Modern Age, including the great missionary work of the religious orders, and the First and Second Vatican Councils. Since the Church during these periods is substantially the same as the Church in earlier times, each period, with its distinctive teaching, devotion, and discipline, must be understood in relation to the others by means of a “hermeneutic of continuity.” See the post, “A Response to Scott Clark and Robert Godfrey on ‘The Lure of Rome’” for an argument to the effect that development in the Church, in doctrine, devotion, and discipline, is a natural and inevitable facet of her life.

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  1. Is silly that the opposite is true to what White suggests (that Catholicism is negative and contra-responsive). Read this excerpt from Fr.Mueller (the Catholic Dogma):

    For the benefit of S. 0. we repeat here the words of Dr. O. A. Brownson.
    “That Protestants, that so-called orthodox Protestants at least, profess to hold, and claim as belonging to their Protestantism, many things that are also held by Catholics, nobody denies; but these things are no part of Protestantism, for the Church held and taught them ages before Protestantism was born. They are part and parcel of the one Catholic faith, and belong to Catholics only. Protestants can rightfully claim as Protestant only those things wherein they differ from the Church, which the Church denies, and which they assert; that is, what is peculiarly or distinctively Protestant. We cannot allow them to claim as theirs what is and always has been ours; we willingly accord them their own, but not one whit more. All which they profess to hold in common with us is ours, not theirs. Adopting this rule, which is just and unimpeachable, nothing in fact is theirs but their denials, and as all their denials are, as we have seen, made on no Catholic principle or truth, they are pure negations, and hence Protestantism is purely negative, and consequently is no religion, for all religion is affirmative.”

  2. Back when I was a Protestant I was a faithful listener of James White’s program. As far as Protestants go, he offers the best critiques they have but ultimately I am not persuaded. Ultimately, I think the biggest argument against James White is…he’s a Baptist! If there is any group that lacks historical credebility, it is not the Catholics, it is the Baptists. Unless, of course, you believe John the Baptist was the founder of the Baptists :)

  3. Thirdly, White’s assertion that the authority of the Catholic Church can never be greater than one’s fallible decision to submit to the Church is based upon a confusion of the order of being with the order of knowing.  If the fallible decision to submit to an infallible authority rendered that authority as fallible as one’s decision, then this would prove far too much for Protestants, who claim both to be fallible and to submit to the authority of God as inscribed in written revelation.

    Sorry but this flew by a little too quick for me. Can you be a little less brief over this point? (Actually the whole paragraph? ;) )

    Thanks, Eva

  4. Eva,

    Sorry about the obscurity. Here is the quote from White:

    … you have made a fallible decision to follow an infallible authority, and the infallibility of that authority can never be greater than the fallibility of your decision to follow it.

    The problem with this claim, for Protestants, is that they also claim to be submitting to the infallible authority of Sacred Scripture. But the Protestant who submits to that authority is himself fallible; hence, it follows (from White’s own statement) that the infallibility of biblical authority can never be greater than the fallibility of the person who decides to follow it. But that conclusion is inconsistent with the Protestant claim that the Bible is an infallible authority to which persons can actually be submitted.

    The “order of being” refers to things as they exist in themselves. The “order of knowing” refers to things as they exist in the mind of a rational being. These two orders overlap, since, as just stated, the thing in reality can also, in some sense, exist in the mind (this is how we come to know reality). However, these two orders are also distinct, since the thing exists in different modes, in itself and in the mind. Thus, when we come to know that, for example, *that thing is a horse*, our minds don’t become a horse, and the horse itself is not reduced to a mental being, even though the reality of the horse informs our human minds. Likewise, when we come to believe that the Church is infallible, our minds do not become infallible, nor does the Church become fallible, even though the infallibility of the Church informs our fallible minds. White confuses these two orders by asserting that the infallibility of the Church can never be greater than the fallibility of the person who knows or believes that the Church is infallible.


  5. For anyone interested in a magnificently positive take on Catholicism, try Karl Adam’s Spirit of Catholicism. You can read it online here.

    Great and timely piece Andrew.

  6. Re: Andrew (#4)

    You state:

    White confuses these two orders by asserting that the infallibility of the Church can never be greater than the fallibility of the person who knows or believes that the Church is infallible.

    Is this an accurate assessment of Dr. White’s position?

    It seems to me that Dr. White is actually saying something more like this: The reasons (epistemic warrant, justification, etc) for holding that the RCC is an infallible church are not more certain (infallible, etc) than those proposed by the Protestant for holding that the Sacred Scriptures are the infallible canon. So, from point of view of warrant, the RC and the Protestant are on equal grounds.

  7. I listened to White’s comments about CTC. My first thought was to wonder if he has ever even seen the site. His criticism was that there were no positive articles on CTC expounding Catholic doctrine (my distilation)!? Huh?
    Click on the index at the top of the site and peruse the posts.

    It is hard to give him the benefit of the doubt and listen to his critique when he says something so easily disproved. Also his use of “Called to Confusion” is just childish and insecure… again it sure doesnt give the Catholic listener the impression he wants to have a reasoned discussion. I dont agree with his theology but I dont insist on calling him “Deformed Baptist minister James White”.

  8. Brent,

    Thanks for the link to a great book!


    In my reply to Eva (#4), I quoted White verbatim. Yours is a different claim. I am not sure what to make of your comment about “the infallible canon.” I understand the claim that the inspired writings themselves are infallible, even though they were composed by fallible men. Arguing for an infallible canon along those lines, however, would seem to leave one outside the bounds of sola scriptura.


  9. Andrew,

    Thanks for this great post. I find White’s assertion that “Rome’s biggest sell is not a positive presentation of her actual theology” to be a bit ironic: the very word “Protestant” would seem to imply that the shoe is on the other foot. The raison d’etre for Protestantism (taken as a whole) is to NOT be Catholic. There’s precious little for which even orthodox Protestants can agree on a positive case, since from the beginning there were major divisions on soteriology, ecclesiology, etc. Obviously various camps would put forward positive arguments for their individual brand (Presby, Baptist, etc.), but the only thing that really unites Protestants is a negative argument: “hey, at least we don’t have to listen to the Pope anymore!”


  10. FWIW, in my own gradual (still ongoing) move away from Protestantism, one of the impactful factors early on was the “positivity” of Aquinas versus the “negativity” of Calvin. When I first started reading Aquinas, dry and academic as he is in the Summa, I was impressed by the direct, positive statements of truth with no name-calling or words wasted disparaging those who disagreed with him. He came across as someone confident enough in the truth to state it as such and leave it at that. Calvin, who I had previously greatly admired, I suddenly saw as negative in the extreme by comparison. He now seemed to come across as one in rebellion who needed to justify himself by putting down anyone who opposed him. I can’t get over now reading his commentaries how many pages are wasted with condemnations of “Popery” instead of just positively exegeting the text. Upshot: there’s plenty of “positivity” here or anywhere else in Catholic sources if one has the eyes to see it.

  11. Eva, (re: #3)

    I agree with what Andrew said above, and would like to add to it. White’s claim (i.e. that the authority of the Catholic Church can never be greater than one’s fallible decision to submit to the Church) would entail that the authority of God could never be greater than one’s fallible decision to submit to God, which would mean that God’s authority could never be greater than one’s own authority. But that conclusion is obviously false. We choose to submit to God, and yet we are under God’s authority. Therefore it is not true that the authority of the Catholic Church can never be greater than one’s fallible decision to submit to the Church. The external authority which one discovers can be greater than the internal authority by which one judges. That was explained in more detail in “The Tu Quoque.”

    The notion that the authority one discovers can never be greater than oneself or greater than one’s own authority is a form of atheism, because it rules out a priori, even if only methodologically, the possibility that a being having greater authority than oneself exists. This is the error of rationalism, i.e. the notion that one’s own reason is the highest authority. This error was addressed especially in the First Vatican Council, which declared:

    1. Since human beings are totally dependent on God as their creator and lord, and created reason is completely subject to uncreated truth, we are obliged to yield to God the revealer full submission of intellect and will by faith.

    2. This faith, which is the beginning of human salvation, the Catholic Church professes to be a supernatural virtue, by means of which, with the grace of God inspiring and assisting us, we believe to be true what He has revealed, not because we perceive its intrinsic truth by the natural light of reason, but because of the authority of God himself, who makes the revelation and can neither deceive nor be deceived. (Session 3, Chapter 3)

    We believe to be true what God has divinely revealed, not because it has been shown or demonstrated to be true according to the natural light of [human] reason. That would be rationalism — making human reason the ultimate standard. We believe God’s revelation to be true because of the authority of God Himself, who has made this revelation, and who can neither deceive nor be deceived. On that point, Catholics and [evangelical/confessional] Protestants are in agreement. That’s why Andrew’s argument shows that White’s dictum is either arbitrary (insofar as he applies it to the Church but doesn’t apply it to Scripture) or inconsistent with his own acceptance of Scripture as having a divine authority greater than his choice to submit to it.

    The relevant disagreement between Protestants and the Catholic Church has to do with another divine authority. According to the Catholic Church, through the sacrament of ordination by way of apostolic succession, God has given to certain men a participation in His divine authority such that what they bind on earth is bound in heaven, and what they loose on earth is loosed in heaven, and if they forgive any man’s sins, his sins are forgiven, and if they retain any man’s sins, his sins are retained, and if any man listens to them when they exercise this teaching authority, he is listening to Christ, and if any man refuses to listen to them when they exercise this teaching authority, he is refusing to listen to Christ. That’s the divinely authorized Magisterium Christ established in His Church to shepherd, govern, discipline, and teach His Church, until He returns.

    When we discover the Magisterium and its divine authority, we submit, not because we agree with it and have proven for ourselves by our own human reason the truth of what it teaches, but because of the divine authority it bears by Christ’s authorization. We submit to the Magisterium because by doing so we are submitting to Christ, who authorized it such that it acts in His stead, in His Name, and with His authority, until He returns in glory. If we submitted to some purported ecclesial authority only when it agreed with our own judgment, or on the basis of its agreement with ourselves, the ‘one’ to whom we would be ‘submitting’ would be ourselves. We would be our own highest authority, even if we had a semblance of submitting to others. That would again be a form of rationalism, according to which each man’s highest authority is his own reason.

    Of course the person who believes that the Bible is divinely inspired, and tries to submit to what it contains, not knowing that God has established a magisterial teaching authority for His Church, is not a rationalist in the full sense, because he is submitting to a divine authority as best as he knows, apart from the Magisterium and the Tradition which it guards, hands down and defines. But apart from that divinely established teaching authority, such an individual is by default functioning as his own ultimate interpretive authority, and therefore he ‘submits’ to an interpretation only if he first judges that interpretation to be the right interpretation of Scripture. (See “Solo Scriptura, Sola Scriptura, and the Question of Interpretive Authority.”) And in that respect his position is rationalistic, because in his case each interpretation or doctrine must first be demonstrated or established according to the judgment and authority of his own mind, as what Scripture in fact teaches, before he assents to it. The Catholic, by contrast, assents to a doctrine or teaching on the basis of the divine authority of the Magisterium, even if he has not demonstrated for himself that this doctrine is taught in Scripture. And here it is important to keep in mind the relevance of the ontological difference between persons and books. (See section III titled “Persons and Texts,” in my dialogue with Michael Horton.)

    So the fundamental relevant difference between the Protestant and the Catholic is that the latter recognizes and submits to an additional divine authority which functions in conjunction with Scripture to provide its authentic interpretation and explication. But White’s claim either does too much (i.e. undermines the authority of Scripture, by reducing its authority to that of the one who submits to it), or makes his own position arbitrary (insofar he applies his dictum to the Church, but does not apply his dictum to Scripture).

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  12. From the article: “Another thing that stood out was White’s claim that we (the authors of CTC) do not make a positive case for Catholicism. More generally, he claims that, “Rome’s biggest sell is not a positive presentation of her actual theology.” In particular, he mentioned Purgatory, Mass attendance, and the Bodily Assumption of Mary as examples of Catholic theology that are avoided by advocates of Rome, who prefer instead to persuade people by inculcating “a lack of trust in the Scriptures.”

    My own experience is that I learned a great deal about Catholicism, and about forms of Protestantism of which I had at best a minor understanding, at this site. I learned it, often quite easily, because it was in juxtaposition. I could see both ideas being presented clearly, by the C2C presenters, and often in depth. Most often, I saw the names under WHO WRITES (which indicates the usual suspects) as the authors of the articles or of the responses.

    Ergo, I have to assume that Mr. White did not actually read C2C. Too bad. He might have learned something. Having an abiding interest in growing in the faith, this site has been a literal God-send. Thank you very much.



  13. #10 Jeff

    I appreciate your insight; I got the same idea. Positive theology without having to look back over one’s shoulder defending something else. The reformed are always on the defensive. The doctrine of the bondgage of the will is a great example. Suddenly, I believe in free will. What is justice without it? What is love without it?
    Now, according to Carl Trueman, the Reformation has to fight high ecclesiology for the sake of the gospel.

  14. I too was very surprised to hear Dr. White assert that CTC lacked doctrinal content. Had I never visited CTC, I’d have assumed he was talking about some silly social networking site for Catholics.

    “If we submitted to some purported ecclesial authority only when it agreed with our own judgment, or on the basis of its agreement with ourselves, the ‘one’ to whom we would be ‘submitting’ would be ourselves.”

    ^ I really appreciate the way you worded this. What a sobering thought.

  15. “You have made a fallible decision to follow an infallible authority, and the infallibility of that authority can never be greater than the fallibility of your decision to follow it”. [James White]

    That sounds very post-modern to me – that the infallibility of any truth (such as God, Jesus, Scripture) is contingent upon our decision to give authority to that truth. Put Jesus into the context of James White’s thinking and our Lord would have no universal infallibility. That doesn’t make sense to me, and I think he may have got his logic or argument a bit muddled (perhaps a consequence of thinking on the hoof in live podcasts?).

  16. Okay, I have a complex, detailed question.

    Its relevance is that I’m trying to see how/whether the Bible refutes James White when he observes that there has always been disunity among Christians and concludes that a visible teaching authority was never part of Jesus’ design for the Church.


    What can we reasonably infer from the words “what you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and what you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” from Matthew 16 and 18? Is there any good argument for saying that this passage obligates a Christian to believe in a visible Church with an infallible Magisterium?


    In particular,

    1. Is it correct that the Greek verb construction of “will be” is peculiar by English standards, suggesting something like “has already begun to be?”

    2. Does the passage suggest (or logically imply) some kind of infallibility in the binding and loosing authority being granted?

    3. How does the binding and loosing authority being granted relate to…

    (a.) Old Testament priestly authority in declaring persons clean or unclean, free of disease or not free, able to participate in the community or cast out from the community, et cetera; and if so, how would that be reflected in the duties of the Apostolic Successors today;

    (b.) Old Testament stewardly authority under the Davidic dynasty (the famous locking and unlocking bit from Isaiah 22) and if so, how would that be reflected in the duties of the Apostolic Successors today;

    (c.) The rabbinical authority of figures like Hillel and Shammai who would disagree about whether the Law forbade or permitted (“bound or loosed?”) certain things…and if the Apostolic Successors of today are inheriting that kind of mantle, what’s to prevent them from disagreeing just as much, producing confusion rather than doctrinal unity?


    I’m asking this because it seems to me that…

    IF one is doing purely Scripture-based apologetics (as one would have to do in trying to sway a person like James White, who seems to accord less value to the Church Fathers than he would to a basic Greek grammar written by a pagan)…

    THEN, the argument that the unity of the Church in its teachings on faith and morals comes from Magisterial infallibility rests on these verses in Matthew 16 and 18.

    But, resting this argument on these verses seems problematic to me because:

    First, when I see the words “binding and loosing” I don’t immediately see any way to make this equate to “infallibly teach on matters of faith and morals, and additionally impose disciplinary and order-of-worship duties on the faithful such as Mass attendance on holy days of obligation, fasting days, and the like”; and,

    Second, if “binding and loosing” in Matthew 16 and 18 DOES mean “infallibly teach on matters of faith and morals” then it is difficult to see how this authority does not apply to all the bishops as individual office-holders…and while the Bishop of Rome may have never contradicted himself or a predecessor while teaching on a matter of faith and morals, it’s easy to demonstrate that at least one bishop in the Apostolic Succession has contradicted another bishop!

    TO SUM UP:

    I get that Jesus granted some kind of authority to the apostles in Matthew 18 and to Peter in Matthew 16. And as Scripture clearly teaches that these apostolic offices had successors, it’s natural to believe that the officeholder’s authority would pass down along with the offices.

    But I don’t quite see how one can demonstrate the infallibility of that grant of authority, or that its scope extends to all doctrinal disputes. And that means I can’t see why that authority necessarily guarantees us a Church on whom we can infallibly rely in areas of faith and morals; and thus refutes James White with the only authority he acknowledges (Scripture).

    Help me out here, someone?

  17. R.C.,

    The binding-and-loosing passages constitute at a bare minimum a guarantee that some actions taken by the Church will be honored by God as binding in such a way that He is putting His own stamp of authority on them. But the only way that this can plausibly be held is if God likewise protects the Church from error on those occasions. Because if the Church can err on those occasions, then God would be in the position of approving evil. That is impossible. Therefore there must be some sense in which God protects the Church from error. From this fact we may reasonably infer a charism of infallibility.

    Furthermore: This charism would be meaningless apart from a visible Church. Binding and loosing implies adjudication. Adjudication implies order of some sort in accordance with which judgment is exercised. Apart from a visible Church, there is no order according to which judgment may be exercised. Therefore it’s reasonable to infer that the charism of infallibility promised in the binding-and-loosing passages can only be found within the context of a visible Church.

    Does that help?


  18. R.C.,

    [Update: I just saw Fred’s admirably succinct reply. Ditto that. What follows is basically a more long-winded version of the same.]

    Your question(s) merit careful consideration, and a careful response. Part of the purpose of this website is to consider this and related matters one-by-one over the course of time. Some aspects of your nuanced question are addressed in Bryan’s article, “Christ Founded a Visible Church.” What I want to do, for now, is simply to offer a very preliminary response to a few of your points:

    (1) Two reasons, from the text, for thinking that the “binding and loosing” implicitly contains the promise of infallibility in teaching on matters of faith and morals are: (a) the heavenly ratification of the binding and loosing–Heaven could not ratify a decision whereby the Church bound her members to error (there is a sense in which, because of the relation of the temporal to the eternal, this could be understood as a “pre-ratification,” regardless of the verb tense); (b) it is difficult to see how the preceding promise that the gates of Hades will not prevail against the Church could hold if the universal Church did bind herself to error.

    (2) I don’t think that it is helpful, for anyone concerned, to prescind from Church history. In particular, I don’t think that so doing would be hermeneutically helpful, especially in this case. I agree that the doctrine of ecclesial authority in some sense rests upon those passages in Matthew, but as R.E. Aquirre explains in his post, “The Primacy of Peter According to the New Testament: and the Principle of Historical Fulfillment,” the meaning of that passage is made clearer by looking at the course of subsequent history to discover how Our Lord’s promises have been fulfilled in the Church.

    (3) As you indicate, Catholics believe that the authority to bind and loose includes disciplinary and cultic matters, as well as doctrinal ones. From my perspective, leaving the question of infallibility to one side (just for a second!), it is pretty obvious that that “binding and loosing” must apply to the Church’s teaching, discipline, and worship, if it applies to the Church at all. Bringing the infallibility question back in, it becomes important to understand how, if there is an implicit promise of infallibility here, that gift pertains to these three aspects of the Church’s life, respectively. Discipline and regulation of worship fall within the ambit of Christ’s promises, and therefore of the Church’s authority, and these are intimately related to the Church’s doctrinal teaching (and vice versa). But these aspects of ecclesial authority, by their very nature, pertain to particular cases. The teaching authority, on the other hand, pertains to that which is universal; i.e., truth. Since “infallibility” by definition excludes error, and since error is a false intellectual judgment about the truth, it follows that this charism pertains to the Church’s judgments concerning the truth of divine revelation; i.e., her teaching office. Thus, infallibility pertains to the authority of the Church, but it is not co-extensive with that authority, which also extends to particular cases.

    (4) Your observations about contradictions between bishops in Apostolic Succession illustrates one of the reasons why Christ gave the Church, including the College of Bishops, a visible principle of unity; namely, the Successor of St. Peter in the Apostolic See at Rome. We don’t have to choose between warring parties of bishops, based upon our own assessment of the merits of their respective arguments. We simply follow the bishops in communion with the bishop of Rome.


  19. And, J.C., one further note:

    I agree that the Church’s teaching on infallibility obviously rests on Matthew 16 & 18. However, I don’t think these are the only biblical texts to consider.

    Consider, also, Paul’s discussion of liturgy in 1 Cor. 11. He refers to dominical tradition, handed down by word of mouth, as an authority we cannot dispense with. He also refers to the principle of liturgical uniformity as binding (“we have no other practice, nor do the Church’s of God).

    Acts and the pastorals also clearly show the idea of apostolic succession, accompanied by teaching authority. (See Sola Scriputra vs. the Magisterium).

    I grant that these texts don’t address infallibility directly, but, like Matthew, they suggest a context that ecclesiastical authority that clearly raises the question.


  20. Just a quick note to supplement Fred’s and Andrew’s answers.

    Much ado has sometimes been made about the future perfect tense of “will (have) be(en) bound” and “will (have) be(en) loosed.” But even if maximal weight is accorded to the verb tense, which is indeed unusual, it seems to me that the point would be that whatever is bound or loosed on earth, was already bound or loosed in heaven in the order of being. But the earthly binding or loosing is precisely how we come to know what has been bound or loosed in heaven. I don’t see how that allows any room for error. And, indeed, this seems to me like precisely the kind of thing the Church claims is happening when she makes definitive statements about faith and morals: she is identifying what does indeed already belong to the deposit of faith once delivered to the saints.


  21. Guys,

    Thanks for your replies. I haven’t read them thoroughly enough yet to offer a robust reply, but I felt that I should first thank you for considering the question, and also a quick observation:

    If I’m not mistaken, the original of Matthew was presumed to have been in Aramaic; and in any event Jesus spoke Aramaic to his disciples. That, in-and-of-itself, would undermine any tremendous focus on the (Greek) verb tense of the “will be/has been” in Matthew, inasmuch as those kinds of verb distinctions or ambiguities may not even exist in the Aramaic from which this Dominical quotation comes!

    Still, I’ve often seen the verb-tense thing raised in conjunction with this question, so I thought I should mention it for completeness’ sake.

  22. I’ve been hanging around and occasionally commenting on this website over the past three or four years. I am a Reformed Protestant interested in what the Catholic Church has to say, and deeply desiring to know the Truth and follow it (Him!). I want to take this chance to thank the CtC contributors for your seriousness and civility and general tone when presenting the Catholic viewpoint. I think James White has some good points and his arguments seem to carry some weight, but his demeanor is incredibly off-putting. To be fair, I’ve encountered the same demeanor at some Catholic blog sites.

    Looking forward to future postings. Is any one here planning on responding to Dr. White’s challenge to CtC currently posted at his website?


  23. I would second the recommendation given above for ‘The Spirit of Catholicism’. A beautiful vision of the church.

  24. Burton, can you explain why White is singling out that dogma? When Protestantism has so many clear historical and philosophical problems, it just seems weird to me that he wants to talk about the Assumption of Mary of all things. “Bu, bu, but the Assumption of Mary! P.S. You Romanists!!!” I don’t get it.

  25. Burton,

    Thanks for the comment. I can’t speak for everyone here, but the kind of exchange that I prefer to have with James White or anyone else considering these matters would be more along the lines of a discussion than a formal debate. Such debates can be fun, with all the intellectual fencing and so forth, and they can be useful. However, in my opinion, the sporting dynamic can take over in a debate, such that the purpose becomes to win the debate, the truth of the matter being subordinate to that end. Instead of that, I like the idea of sitting around a table, and considering together the proposition or argument that is on the table. In this scenario, the purpose is to adequately consider the matter at hand, so to arrive *together* at the truth.

    I think that this “dialogue” sort of interaction is ideal when the purpose is reconciliation with a separated brother, rather than the defeat of a mortal enemy. It could be that White simply imagines Catholics to be his mortal enemies, and so the point of engagement is to “defeat” them. His position is probably more nuanced than that, but I don’t know. In any event, I see this whole thing as being more like the Mending Wall than the Marne, so I try to approach folks accordingly. A part of this approach, of course, is willingness to have one’s points corrected, and arguments refuted. To that end, and others, the comment boxes are open. We do moderate comments in accordance with our posting guidelines, but this is merely to keep things civil and on topic, not to discourage respectful debate in the context of a conversation aimed at reconciliation and unity.

    Since comments are not allowed at the aomin.org blog, it is not possible to take up the conversation over there; however, White and all Protestants of good will are welcome to join the conversation here.


  26. Burton.

    And to piggy back on Andrew’s # 23, we’ve previously written on the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (look in our archive) and plan on more.


  27. Thanks Andrew,

    I tried in vain to find a means of commenting at aomin.org but I guess it doesn’t exist. I agree wholeheartedly with your sentiments about debates as a format for discerning the truth. Winning is the goal (“I challenge you to refute my ironclad point blah blah blah”). Very tiresome indeed. I do wish Dr. White would feel free to jump on here and join the discussion, or at least open the discussion at his site.


  28. Burton –

    I agree with Andrew. If James White wants to have a discussion, why doesn’t he just come over here and debate? As Andrew says, the CtC team welcomes any respectful protestant to do so. Why isn’t this particular place good enough for James White to have this discussion?

  29. Thanks again for your helpful replies.

    Quick follow up: What does “The gates of Hell shall not prevail” mean, anyway? I have seen the phrase used in Catholic apologetics with the assumption that it was a figurative way of saying that the Church would never teach error (as in Andrew’s post, above) but I know of no argument why it should be interpreted in that way.

    A possible alternative meaning could be that there will always be at least one genuine Christian alive from that moment to the end of time, even if he holds an erroneous theological opinion or two. Or, perhaps it meant that Jesus’ Church consisted not only of Messianic-age saints but O.T. saints previously waiting in Sheol, whom Jesus would liberate from Hades, and, busting down Hades’ gates from the inside, lead triumphantly into Heaven?

    At any rate it is a mysterious phrase for me. Does it appear anywhere else in a contemporary text? What would a first century Jew think it meant?

    It would be convenient for it to mean a guarantee against officially promulgated error. But unless there’s a good reason for thinking so, that seems too big a reach to inspire my confidence.

  30. Hi guys, in reference to James White, has anybody noticed who has contributed and is featured as a book recommendation on the back cover of his book “The Forgotten Trinity”? Mitch Pacwa! Figure that one out, especially as he uses the terms “pagan” and other derogatory terms to describe RC’s in the abovementioned podcast. I too wrote and email to aom pointing this hypocrisy but i’m not expecting a replie anytime soon

  31. R.C. (re:#29),

    Thanks for your question. I am quite a “minor-league” commenter here, compared to many of the extremely well-read and gifted heavy-hitters, but I’ll try to help. :-)

    From the research I have done, it seems that from the early years of the Church (1st-3rd century A.D.), the phrase “the gates of Hell” was understood to refer to heresy and heretics. The early Church Fathers wrote on this subject. Their understanding of it was tied to their conviction that, in ordaining Peter and giving him the keys of the kingdom (and with them, the power of binding and loosing), Jesus was promising that heresy and heretics would not ultimately prevail over the teaching authority of the Catholic Church– specifically, as concentrated in the public teaching office as the Bishop of Rome, when he is speaking for, and to, the universal (“Catholic” meaning “universal”), worldwide Church on matters of faith and morals. (Sorry for the lengthy sentence there!)

    This is not to say that heresy cannot gain a temporary, and even quite strong, *foothold* in certain geographical areas of the Church on earth. Indeed, in certain areas in the 4th century, many bishops succumbed to the Arian heresy and failed to defend the Trinity. However, the Pope did not teach heresy, and humanly speaking (with God’s guidance, of course), it is largely thanks to him and St. Athanasius that Trinitarianism, and not Arianism, is considered by both Catholics and Protestants to be part of “core Christian orthodoxy” today. Not that Catholics do not believe that the Bible objectively teaches the Trinity– we do. However, the Bible must be rightly interpreted, and how did God ensure that the incorrect Scriptural interpretations of the Arians did not finally triumph over the orthodox Trinitarian view? Largely, through the passionate disputations of St. Athanasius against the Arian heretics, and through the public teaching office of the Papacy.

    As a former Protestant myself, I know that the view of the teaching office of the Papacy as being protected from heresy in matters of faith and morals seems outlandish and offensive to many Protestants. However, it was the view of the earliest “Biblical commentators,” the early Church Fathers, and their view should be taken seriously. I recommend this article, with special attention paid to both the Biblical references therein and the passages from the Fathers: http://www.catholic.com/tracts/origins-of-peter-as-pope

    Also, the following passages from St. Irenaeus’s historic work, “Against Heresies,” circa 189 A.D., may be helpful:

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

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

    More passages from the early Fathers, on various theological and ecclesiological matters of importance to Protestants (and others who may be curious) can be found here: http://www.churchfathers.org/

  32. Fred Noltie, Andrew Preslar, David Anders and John S, thank you for your posts 17-20.

    Mr. Noltie writes:

    … it’s reasonable to infer that the charism of infallibility promised in the binding-and-loosing passages can only be found within the context of a visible Church.

    Fred, I think that your point about a visible church cannot be stressed to much, since so many Protestants seem to think that Christ’s church is invisible. Only a visible church can excommunicate someone, and excommunication from the visible church is the discipline commanded by Christ in Matthew 18:17:

    A Brother Who Sins.

    If your brother sins [against you], go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that ‘every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector. Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again, [amen,] I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

    Matthew 18: 15-20 NAB

    What is the referent for the church in Matthew 18:17, the church that has the final say in settling disputes among Christians in matters concerning sin? Obviously, that church must be a visible church if she has the authority to excommunicate sinners that refuse to listen to her. The church that Matthew is speaking about in verses 18:17 is the same church that Matthew speaks about verses 16:18 – the visible church that was personally founded by Jesus Christ.

    It is not possible for the church spoken of in Matthew 18:17 to be just any old church, and most assuredly the church cannot be a church that was founded by some man obstinately protesting against Christ’s church. Men that obstinately protest against Christ’s church after she has spoken are to be excommunicated from Christ’s church.

    A man can sin by committing the sins of the flesh (e.g. adultery, gluttony) and the sins of the spirit (e.g. teaching heresy, causing schism). Therefore, since the true church has the authority rule on matters pertaining to sin, the true church has the authority to bind all Christians to her teachings involving both matters of morals and matters of faith. Which is to say that the scriptures explicitly teach that the visible church founded by Christ has the authority to excommunicate heretics. No church that has been founded by a heretic has any authority whatsoever.

    I think that is more than reasonable to infer that the true church can never teach error in matters of faith and morals, for the reasons given by Fred Noltie, Andrew Preslar, David Anders and John S. But even without inferring that, the scriptures still only leave us with the commandment to listen to the visible church that Jesus Christ personally founded. Which means the even if Christ’s church taught error, I would still have to listen to her. But that doesn’t seem plausible – that God would allow his own church to become a tool of Satan that spreads pernicious heresy and then insist that I listen to her as she spouts heresy.

    If God does not protect his own church from teaching heresy, then what man-founded church would be protected from teaching heresy?

  33. [Fr. Bryan] I agree with Andrew. If James White wants to have a discussion, why doesn’t he just come over here and debate? As Andrew says, the CtC team welcomes any respectful protestant to do so. Why isn’t this particular place good enough for James White to have this discussion?

    [KM] My guess is that he probably doesn’t come over here because he knows this is a place where those with true Protestant convictions are condescendingly patronized and belittled despite the website’s claims to the contrary.

  34. Hello Keith,

    If we have patronized or belittled anyone, then on behalf of all of us, I’m sorry, and I ask you to forgive us, and help us see where and how we have done so. That’s not how we want to treat anyone. We want this to be a forum where positions and arguments are open for critical evaluation, because we believe that this is necessary for genuine ecumenical dialogue. But we believe that this dialogue must be such that the persons participating, no matter what their position, are treated with respect as persons, and not subjected to insults or personal attacks or anything of that nature. If we or any commenters here have treated you or any other Protestant in a disrespectful or discourteous manner, then I’m sorry, and assure you that we will try to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  35. Hi Keith,

    I echo Bryan’s comment (33). I think it would help move things along if you also gave some examples of condescending patronization or belittlement that the CtC contributors have engaged in so that they could know what to apologize for and what to change. If you don’t want to do this in public (though I think you owe them some explanation since you just made a public accusation), then you should do it in private to those of them you know how to contact.


    K. Doran

  36. Keith –

    I admit, I’m quite surprised by your comment. If I have done anything personally, I apologize. But just to help me avoid committing these errors in the future, can you please give me an example of what counts as belittling? I’ve always found the dialogue here to be quite civil and respectful, so I must have a bit of a blind spot. There must be something offending you that I’m unable to see.

    This stuff happens often, though, and if I (or anyone else) knows what it is perhaps we can start to work on it.

    Thanks for commenting.

  37. R.C. (re #29),

    You wrote:

    What does “The gates of Hell shall not prevail” mean, anyway? I have seen the phrase used in Catholic apologetics with the assumption that it was a figurative way of saying that the Church would never teach error (as in Andrew’s post, above) but I know of no argument why it should be interpreted in that way.

    A possible alternative meaning could be that there will always be at least one genuine Christian alive from that moment to the end of time, even if he holds an erroneous theological opinion or two. Or, perhaps it meant that Jesus’ Church consisted not only of Messianic-age saints but O.T. saints previously waiting in Sheol, whom Jesus would liberate from Hades, and, busting down Hades’ gates from the inside, lead triumphantly into Heaven?

    I think that it is important to understand the two promises in Matthew 16, concerning Peter and the Church, in relation to one another, especially since they occur one right after the other. Here they are:

    1. “And I say to you: That you are Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

    2. “And I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever you shall bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever you shall loose on earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven.”

    My claim (in #18) was that these verses imply that the universal Church would never bind herself (including her members) over to error, because the (universal) Church’s binding and loosing is ratified in Heaven. That is perfectly compatible with the Successor of St. Peter or any other individual holding an erroneous theological opinion or two, because holding, asserting, and debating theological opinions is not the same thing as binding and loosing.

    Regarding “the gates of Hades,” this Heavenly “backing” of the keys, in binding and loosing, helps to explain why those infernal gates will not prevail against the (universal) Church. Certainly, this promise is related to Our Lord’s triumphant descent into Hades. Christ destroyed the power of Hades; therefore, he can keep that same power from triumphing over his Church.

    You concluded your comment by writing:

    It would be convenient for it to mean a guarantee against officially promulgated error. But unless there’s a good reason for thinking so, that seems too big a reach to inspire my confidence.

    I don’t think that convenience is a relevant consideration. In any event, it works both ways, because there are some instances, and some senses, in which an infallible Magisterium can be decidedly inconvenient. And of course no one’s confidence should be inspired without reason.


  38. Regarding Mr. White’s challenge re the Assumption of Mary. I don’t know what there is to defend since:

    1) Mr. White believes that doctrine should at least be taught by implication in the scripture. So seems to me that this part that he wishes to be defended has already been defended: a truth which is founded on the Sacred Scriptures

    2) And this part “has been fixed deeply in the minds of the faithful in Christ, has been approved by ecclesiastical worship even from the earliest times:”. Mr. White knows that the catholic church believes in Development of Doctrine, so when she says “has been approved….. even from earliest times” it seems obvious to me that what the church means is that the evidence exists.

    So what does this argument ultimately get into? Wether Mr. White is subjectively convinced, and the subject of doctrinal development.

    Really now… if by your own principle, you believe something to be taught in scripture by implication, then on what basis do you have to reject the assumption of Mary? Isn’t the concept scriptura? Seems that argument is a no brainer.

  39. I suspect James White has selected the bodily assumption of Mary dogma as a debate topic because it’s one of the dogmas of Rome that is most easily shown to have no grounding in Scripture or in the earliest beliefs of the church.

    And, speaking as a non-Roman, there is a bit of “piling on” by Romans on this site (not as bad as some sites, though) when non-Romans make arguments or assertions. So I would imagine he would consider this site itself to be somewhat unfriendly.

  40. Dear Keith Mathison,

    I also want to offer my apologies and ask for your forgiveness if anything that I have written here has seemed, or has been, condescending or patronizing. I genuinely do strive to be charitable and fair-minded in my attempts at dialogue here (and elsewhere), especially given that it was not so very long ago that I was firmly and happily on the other side of the Tiber. However, I know that at times, in Catholic-Protestant dialogue, I have failed in charity, and for any of my failings here, I am truly sorry. I sincerely hope that none of my failings has discouraged James White from participating in the CTC discussions.

  41. Daniel,

    And, speaking as a non-Roman, there is a bit of “piling on” by Romans on this site (not as bad as some sites, though) when non-Romans make arguments or assertions. So I would imagine he would consider this site itself to be somewhat unfriendly.

    As a Catholic I can’t help but agree with this. The “piling on” bothers me quite a bit. I wouldn’t say it is rude or anything. I do think it discourages a lot of non-Catholics from participating though. Of course, a lot of times the piling on is just because of the way comments are moderated. I’ve often responded to a protestant, submitted my comment, and refreshed the page only to find that several other Catholics have also responded, wishing I had my 15 minutes back.. That is always going to happen based on the way the site is moderated.

    Not sure how to solve this problem.

  42. “I tried in vain to find a means of commenting at aomin.org but I guess it doesn’t exist. ”

    You can contact aomin here: http://www.aomin.org/contactus.php

    You can also speak with Dr. White directly on his Dividing Line broadcast (Most Tuesday Mornings at 11:00am PDT and Most Thursday Afternoons at 4:00 PDT). Dr. White welcomes your calls during the “Dividing Line” broadcast at: (602) 973-4602 (Metro Phoenix) 1-877-753-3341 (Toll Free)

    Regards, JS

  43. Keith,
    Much of the condescending, patronizing and belittling is probably done by people like me, who are less theological and therefore less secure in our position. I appologize for that where it has been the case at times. But please dont let that reflect badly on guys like Bryan Cross, Andrew Preslar, and Mike Liccione, who are simply way above that. In fact, I would challenge anyone to find an example in their writing of that kind of attitide. It simply aint there.
    I want you to know that I have had a number of comments not approved here, with follow-up emails from an admin explaining that I need to revise it or just not post it. (Some of these emails were directed to you in the thread under your response to the sola/solo article) So I think they try to keep things above board as best they can. And having been on many different similar sites, both Reformed AND Catholic, this site does the absolutely best job of keeping the discussion clean.

  44. Hey guys,

    While I’m glad that the Catholics here want to apologize for any possible failing on their part, I think that in the absence of specific examples, Keith’s comment was out of line. Forgiveness and peace are a two way street, and the person complaining has to be careful not to do so in a way that exaggerates the failings of others. Here is the main point: I’ve never seen a site as well run as this one, with people who are so evidently eager to discuss, rather than eager to debate.

    If Keith wants to criticize, let him do so in a constructive manner, by giving specific examples of what he things has gone wrong and then suggesting a way forward. Throwing an accusation onto the page and then leaving is not constructive.

    Daniel has made progress by giving a specific criticism, or nearly one. So progress can be made with that: I think that Catholics can respond to this by making sure too many people are not discussing things at the same time with one commentator. On Daniel’s part, he can respond in turn by trying to view all of the responses to his comments as evidence of how many people are eager to discuss with him and jointly move towards the truth, rather than as evidence of people wanting to “pile on”.

    The key point is: Catholics here don’t want to win debates. They want to discuss in a manner that leads to more truth. I really believe that is the case. So I encourage Protestants to step up and try to participate in the discussion on its own terms, in all the difficult details and keeping track of all of the logic, without changing the subject. Based on my reading of the discussion that Bryan and Neal tried to initiate with Keith, I don’t think Keith played as charitable, persistent, or focused a role as Bryan and Neal did. So I think it is Keith’s turn to show that he is ready to respond to the detailed logic of Bryan’s and Neal’s work, without changing the subject or giving up after one iteration of exchange. I am completely confident he will find them to be as charitable and flexible a pair of interlocutors as any he could wish for.


    K. Doran

  45. K. Doran,

    I hear what you’re saying, but I think it is important to acknowledge Keith’s complaint, and take it seriously. Yes, I think we do a fairly good job here trying to foster a respectful environment for fruitful ecumenical dialogue. But there is a lot of room for improvement. Daniel’s point is one aspect that needs improvement. We haven’t figured out yet how to address that problem. And not every Catholic commenter, who is not a CTC member, has the same appreciation for what is good in Protestantism, and is committed to avoiding triumphalism, straw men, and ‘gotcha’ sort of rhetoric. We try to hold the moderating standard high for Catholics in the combox, but not infrequently I approve [in the moderation sense] Catholic comments that are less gracious or empathetic than I wish, but not in any direct violation of our comment guidelines. I don’t know what to do about that either. And even in my own comments here on CTC, when I look back on them, I see impatience and arrogance and insensitivity to the personhood and ‘place in life’ of others. There is a ‘moral’ difference between giving a line-by-line reply in order to answer objections thoroughly, and fisking a comment to make a point or a show of strength. I’m not immune to those temptations; dialogue of the sort we’re trying to achieve requires a frequent examination of conscience, and the openness to be able to receive the sort of observation Keith is offering.

    So, overall, I appreciate Keith’s comment, and I hope it will help us all strive to be more respectful and understanding, and make CTC a place where Protestants feel *personally* safe and respected, even if they know that the Catholics who participate here may make strong arguments against their *positions.* If I were a Protestant, that’s the kind of environment I would want in which to dialogue with Catholics. I wouldn’t want any arguments/evidence to be off-limits. So, I wouldn’t want a lets-all-just-hold-hands-and-sing-Kumbayah sort of place, where argumentation and getting into the nitty-gritty details of theology and history were treated as divisive or irrelevant or mean. At the same time, I would want to know that the moderators wouldn’t allow personal attacks or unhelpful kind of nasty rhetoric (I think you know what I mean), because that would just get in the way or even destroy the possibility of fruitful dialogue. I also wouldn’t want to be ‘piled on’ by a bunch of Catholics. (That actually happened to me once, while I was still a Protestant — a bunch of Catholic undergrads went after me at a pub all at the same time with their apologetics. I wasn’t so pleased by the experience, though now I look back and laugh.)

    Anyway, I think we can do better, and although I understand your frustration, I do appreciate Keith’s feedback, because I think it will help us.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  46. Dear Bryan,

    I had to laugh when you said: “personal attacks or unhelpful kind of nasty rhetoric (I think you know what I mean).” Also, when you said: “not infrequently I approve [in the moderation sense] Catholic comments that are less gracious or empathetic than I wish.” OK, well I apologize as well. :) Thanks for putting things in perspective, man. What you said is well said, and I take it well.


    K. Doran

  47. #32-45: Charity -and its subset civility – should rule all discussions. We cannot judge or understand the intentions of one’s heart or love for Christ. But we can evaluate statements people make in light of logic, history, tradition and scripture. Too often, people on both sides hide behind slogans rather than actually spelling out their positions on issues. (See American political discourse.) When I announced that I was returning to the Church, I reached out to a friend who had been a theological conversation partner for a long time. He was so fascinated that we met for coffee at my house. He went into reasons why he loved Catholicism but then began espousing a theory of how the church was co-opted by Emperor Constantine. Admittedly, I was unprepared for this and I did not dispute some of his findings. I did, however, dispute the conclusions and inferences he drew from it. That’s really my style. In person, even if I disagree, I still will listen and ensure that the other side fully articulates his position. At the end of the day, it’s not about sounding better academically or winning the debate. It’s about charity and sharing the truth. This conversation took place back in October 2011. That same day, I took my friend up on his invitation to his young professionals/non-Catholic Christian outing. I made several more connections that day but did not discuss theology at all. Just the other day, someone reached out to me on Facebook asking me my thoughts on the church worldwide. I gave him a precise definition of what I believed the church was – founded by Christ 2,000 years ago with its vicar presently seated in Rome. I told him exactly what I thought of Protestants, too, that they are brothers in Christ imperfectly united by a common Trinitarian baptism. Haven’t heard back from him, but I hope that it contributed to some fruitful dialogue.

  48. Dear James (#41),

    Thank you for the link. I used it to email Dr. White asking him if he would be willing to join the discussion here at CtC. I was hoping to find a means of commenting on specific articles at aomin.org that would allow others to join in a dialogue about the topic, such as the comment boxes here at CtC and other sites. An email contact or radio show doesn’t allow for the same fruitful public conversation where many can participate in an ongoing conversation.

    Daniel (#38),

    I would guess that you are correct in assuming that Dr. White wants to debate on a topic where he sees a “slam dunk” in his favor. In one sense I don’t fault him for that one bit, and I think he poses a pretty good question. However, as a Protestant struggling greatly with these matters, I don’t find his approach (in suggesting that debate) to be particularly helpful. A running, respectful dialogue about the undergirding issues would be a much more beneficial approach. If not at this site, maybe at his?


  49. Christopher and Andrew:

    Thanks, both of you, for your replies to my question re: “The Gates of Hell/Hades.”

    Christopher, which Early Church Fathers wrote on this, and where? I became familiar with (I thought) all the best early patristic quotations regarding Peter when I was researching my way into becoming Catholic, but I didn’t recall one that specifically gave that interpretation for that particular phrase. Clearly they all saw it the Church founded by Peter and Paul in Rome to be the one which all other churches needed to be in agreement with because of its preeminence, or some quote to that effect. But I don’t recall an early patristic author attaching a meaning to the phrase “the Gates of Hades.”

    Also, I wondered if there weren’t some special meaning attached to the location of the speech: I had heard something along the lines that at Caesarea Philipi there’s a rock formation with a cave or crevice out of which flows the spring which is one source-spring of the Jordan, and the crevice, having an unknown depth and unreachable bottom, was called the Gate of Hades, and that there was a pagan temple built atop the rock formation…sorry, I may have some details of that wrong and I don’t recall where I heard it. Possibly from some guest on EWTN’s Journey Home show? Steve Ray, maybe?

    And, Andrew, I suppose my uncertainty about this comes from the presence of the word “Gates” in the phrase. Why *gates*? Why not Hades? I mean, consider how it could have been said if the intent was to clearly and specifically deliver the meaning you’re deriving from it:

    “On this rock I will build my Church, the pillar and bulwark of the truth: And the deceiver, the father of lies, will not prevail against it.”


    “On this rock I will build my Church, and the lies of Hell will not prevail against it.”


    “On this rock I will build my Church, and Hades will not prevail against it.”

    The latter would be less specific about what particular power of Hell the Church would be immune to, and thus not perfectly clear in promising infallibility of doctrinal judgment. There would be the question of whether what was being promised was immunity to death, or immunity to sin, or immunity to some other power of Hell.

    And I think the issue becomes a bit more uncertain when we consider that Jesus was (presumably) speaking Aramaic, and that we should render this last option something more like,

    “On this rock I will build my Church, and Sheol will not prevail against it.”

    …and that Sheol, according to the Early Fathers and the pre-first-century Jewish tradition, included also “Abraham’s bosom.”

    So, even had Jesus said merely that Sheol would not prevail, one would have wondered what power of death, specifically, was being prevailed against.

    But Jesus says that the “gates” of Hades, or Sheol, would not prevail. Why “gates?”

    Well, the Old Testament does use the phrase “doors of Sheol” or “gates of Sheol,” in Job 38:17, Isaiah 38:10, and Psalm 9:13. There, the issue seems to be about dying, period. Going from that, we’d have to say that “the gates of Hades not prevailing” would mean that Church (or perhaps the individual persons who are in the Church) either will not die, or will rise from the dead once dead.

    So I can get that we have here a guarantee either that the Church will still exist to the end of time without dying out, or a reference to the resurrection of the dead. That seems a plausible interpretation.

    It is only the context, then, which (as Andrew points out) suggests a promise of doctrinal infallibility. Jesus is granting Peter the keys of the house, making him the kingdom’s “chief steward”/”grand vizier”/”prime minister.” This means that what he locks, no other steward may unlock (cf. Isaiah 22): He has the veto power even over decisions of the other stewards’ bindings and loosings.

    Combining that in context it would seem that the chief steward of the kingdom of heaven has the power to unlock even the gates of death…and Peter did in fact do resurrection miracles.

    But of course the bindings and loosings of the stewards in the House of David were jurisprudential and legislative also, and we have a promise of heavenly ratification of these stewardly decisions in the Kingdom of Heaven. So, okay, that gets us back to doctrine…but away from the idea of “gates!”

    I wish there was some reason to think that “gates” means “deceptions,” since that would make the tie neat and convincing. But I just don’t see any. When has anyone ever represented deceptions with the notion of a door?

    I’d really like to see the relevant patristic quotes, Christopher.

  50. If you remember when Keith made his last reply he was arguing a point that came very close to belittling Catholics. He said that people immersed in the Catholic mindset were incapable of seeing certain things or understanding certain arguments. I get what he was trying to say. Still I can see that he is so near to ad hominem territory that it is going to be very hard to interact without bruising somebody’s ego. When dealing with those kinds of sensitive topics we do need to increase our tolerance for pain. If he did get hurt or frustrated it might be worth considering whether it was the nature of the topic rather than the nature of the forum.

  51. Bryan wrote:

    There is a ‘moral’ difference between giving a line-by-line reply in order to answer objections thoroughly, and fisking a comment to make a point or a show of strength. I’m not immune to those temptations; dialogue of the sort we’re trying to achieve requires a frequent examination of conscience, and the openness to be able to receive the sort of observation Keith is offering.

    Yes indeed. I too struggle with this from time to time – especially after exerting significant time trying to reach common ground in the context of a difficult or technical topic. It is far too easy for me to allow frustration to color my tone -so to speak. Mea culpa and sincere apologies for the cases where it has shone through and hindered, rather than helped, the cause of unity.

    Peace and good to one and all – and please stop by again Keith M!


  52. “I used it to email Dr. White asking him if he would be willing to join the discussion here at CtC. I was hoping to find a means of commenting on specific articles at aomin.org that would allow others to join in a dialogue about the topic, such as the comment boxes here at CtC and other sites. An email contact or radio show doesn’t allow for the same fruitful public conversation where many can participate in an ongoing conversation.”

    I would disagree with you that public conversions are “fruitful.” More often than not, they are cacophonous. If you have something particular you wish to discuss with Dr. White, he actually makes himself available so that people like you can directly talk to him. How many theologians do that? Very few. Simply call the Dividing Line. Why spend so much time tapping away on a keyboard when you can actually talk to him?

    I think the CTC folks would do well to pick their best representatives of their particular interpretation of Roman Catholicism and arrange to meet with Dr. White in a live exchange. I’m certain that Dr. White will make sure that CTC is given a fair and reasonable amount of time to present their views and also interact with Dr. White’s views.

    Tapping away endlessly on keyboard is not the same thing as a face to face or voice to voice encounter. I think even the CTC folks should agree with this. If you folks really think you’ve gone on to something far superior to Reformed theology, I would expect CTC to jump at the opportunity to interact with one of leading Reformed apologists of our day and demonstrate that Roman Catholicism is a cogent belief system.

  53. James,

    I agree that, in general, face to face is much better for dialogue than written exchanges. However, it looks like White has in mind a formal debate. I have stated some reasons (see #25, above) for thinking that that is not the best forum for coming to unity in truth, at least, not in the present case. One also has to consider the distinctly pugilistic tone of his offer (e.g., “I’ll take on all of you at once”).

    Along with informal public discussions, such as the one that recently took place at Wheaton, in which John Armstrong and Francis Cardinal George participated, public, written exchanges, like the one in Modern Reformation between Bryan Cross and Michael Horton, can serve to bring separated Christians closer together, at the very least in mutual understanding of respective positions. (The [actual] conclusion of the Modern Reformation discussion, along with an extended addendum, was presented here.)

    We are making a careful and sustained effort to demonstrate that the Catholic faith is cogent, starting with fundamental matters, and with particular attention to the paradigmatic differences between Catholics and Protestants. One might suppose that a leading Reformed apologist, who vociferously maintains the contrary position, would jump at the opportunity to interact with such an effort. Anyone who wants to join the conversation is free to do so. If others prefer instead alternative mediums of exchange, that is understandable as well.

    My purpose in this post was not to call James White out for a debate, but to suggest that certain aspects of his critique of the cogency of Catholicism are not themselves quite cogent. The same, of course, could be true of my response, and I would appreciate having those weaknesses pointed out to me. That doesn’t require a debate, merely a comment.


  54. James,

    I don’t think a live call-in radio show would facilitate the kind of discussion I am hoping for. In that setting, the host is up against time constraints, and the host tends to control the conversation. This is a far cry from a sit-down face to face discussion over a cup of coffee (or better yet, a tall glass of good ale!). The benefit of CtC’s format for people like me is that it allows me to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of both positions from numerous well-informed and articulate commentators. The combox, while not perfect, also allows commentators to really take their time when seeking to understand others’ viewpoints and in formulating responses. If I called in to a live radio show, I would be a nervous wreck and likely not all that articulate!

    I have yet to hear back from aomin.org via email. I would imagine Dr. White gets quite a large volume of emails and maybe he just hasn’t gotten to mine yet.

    I will also second Andrew’s comments regarding Dr. White’s inflammatory rhetoric in calling for a debate on a specific topic of his choosing. Again, for folks in my position, this is highly counter-productive.


  55. R.C. (re:#49),

    I am doing research on those patrististic quotes for you, but this has been a busy birthday weekend for me, and I need a bit more time. Thank you for your patience, brother. Lord willing, I will be back soon!

  56. Oops, I meant *patristic*, of course… typing in a hurry , on my way out the door! :-) I’ll be back tomorrow hopefully!

  57. Fr. Bryan.

    I’ve often responded to a protestant, submitted my comment, and refreshed the page only to find that several other Catholics have also responded, wishing I had my 15 minutes back.. That is always going to happen based on the way the site is moderated.

    You are right and that is very hard to manage. We don’t want to leave comments unapproved as long as those comments are within posting guidelines. The same thing often happens at non-Catholic sites as well. A lone Catholic might make a comment and then bam, bam, bam…he/she has to respond to five or six people all at once. I’ve been there.

    I am not sure what the answer is to this problem.

  58. Multiple people responding to a comment, me thinks, is not a problem. It is the nature of combox discussion. Instant messaging is the alternative. The benefit of multiple responses is for the on-looker. They can see the multi-faceted response to a given question — particularly a question or comment that seems particularly effective. The problem with limiting the responses is that for every challenge to Catholicism there are, in fact, numerous responses to the challenge; and, not one single Catholic has (thought about) all the answers. Therefore, it isn’t so much a “piling on” as a “look! here are all the answers to that ‘apparent’ problem”.

    I have personally decided to refrain from making comments here; unless the originally comment goes unanswered. The decision is partially time related, and partially due to the issue under discussion. I would say that one thing CTC could do is have more active moderation. Sometimes it seems that comments go unmoderated for hours, which can leave the impression that no one is going to respond to a comment/question. Then, five of us jump on board. It’s not like we are all sitting in a room, actively deciding to pile on. No one knows that another person is writing. I notice that the “piling on” effect seems to occur when moderation appears to be delayed. Then, BOOM, five comments roll out of the que and appears that we all went gorilla on some person.

    If CTC sees this as a particular problem, I think they have two alternatives. First, they could develop moderation shifts instead of article-focused moderation. That way, if everyone shared the burden of moderation, the lag time might decrease, thereby decreasing the likelihood of piling on (I really don’t think that is anyone’s prerogative here). Second, they could add to their comment guidelines that: “Piling on will be discouraged. When we see more than two comments in response to a Protestant interlocutor, we will only publish two of them. We will do our best to publish the best two.” This could work, and while it would in effect block other possible responses to challenges to the Catholic faith, it might focus the site away from a “Catholic Answers” feel to a truly “dialog” feel. Which would match the goal and spirit of the site and contributors.

    My two cents.

  59. Brent. Thanks for the suggestions. We’ll talk about this further as we work towards an environment that is more conducive to a welcoming experience for all comers.

  60. As a long time Protestant lurker and rare commenter, I too wonder what keeps more Protestants from commenting. If my own reasons are any clue, it’s because I’m not as well versed or read on the issues. I came with a set of anti-RC apologetics that worked for me until I read more reasoned, knowledgable and logical Catholics. I feel a bit like a fish out of water and am desperate for more reasoned, thoughtful, and charitable responses from the likes of Andrew M, JJS, TurretinFan, James White, Keith Mathison, and Peter Leithart. From where I stand I just have to believe there are more weaknesses to your articles than I can see, and to all of your credit, frighten me. I’d recruit others myself, but I’m without a scholarly community that can deal with the patient and careful case you’ve made for your Church. (hence my petition for Andrew to bring by some suitable friends!).

    I don’t know how best to engage these Protestant thinkers. It makes me wonder if they, like me, have simply pushed Catholic claims to the side as irrelevant and illogical, without dealing with the most significant challenges to our Protestant paradigm. This site demands a lot more than any other I’ve encountered. Perhaps that’s enough to discourage conversation due to the time required. I’ve seen the occasional Protestant hop in here without really reading and quickly leave because of the level of conversation. I myself have tried to get my friends to engage here to no avail.

    If I may ask the Protestants here, where do your theological / philosophical / faithful heroes hang out online? What can we do to get more proactive responses to these well reasoned Catholics? If we really think they are preaching another gospel, and ensnaring Jesus-loving folks like me in their web of logic and Scriptural strength, we need to be more present on forums like this.

    In all, I don’t think it’s an issue of too many Catholics. It’s an issue of too little Protestants. The Catholic faith has never seemed so clear (and maybe even attractive). And I know the Catholics here would hate this, but I’d like to appeal to an academic magisterium of Protestant leaders to engage the issues brought up here to show us all their weaknesses. Where are the monergism folks? What about the gospel coalition? Professors at Westminster and other reformed seminaries? I have to think there are other lurkers like me who are praying and pleading for your informed support in our earthly struggle to be more aligned with Jesus and with Him, the Truth!

  61. Brent,

    Quote of the year “…we all went gorilla on some person….”

    who says theology isn’t funny?

  62. The reason Catholics believe the Church is infallible is because Christ is infallible. He is the Head of His Church, and it’s not possible for Christ to be the head of an erring organization. If He were, that means He Himself would err, and that’s not possible.

    Catholics think in the following terms:

    1. Christ is part of the Church (its Head), and its this headship that guarantees the Church’s infallibility, as Christ cannot be part of an erring body.

    2. The Church is found not only on earth but also in Heaven (and purgatory also), but they are all part of the same Church. The Church in Heaven cannot err because the saints in Heaven know the fulness of truth, and because the same Church exists on earth, the Church on earth cannot err either. It’s not a different entity.

    Colossians 1:18
    And he is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he may hold the primacy:

    Colossians 1:24
    Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up those things that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ, in my flesh, for his body, which is the church:

    Hebrews 2:12
    I will declare thy name to my brethren; in the midst of the church will I praise thee.

    Hebrews 12:23
    And to the church of the firstborn, who are written in the heavens, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the just made perfect,

  63. I would like to hear Bryan Cross or Dr. David Anders call on the Dividing Line and dialogue with Dr. White.

  64. Regarding the “piling on” effect:

    I don’t think it is a big deal.
    When I was a disgruntled Protestant looking around the site I felt like I was in a weird foreign country. I had never heard Catholics talk like this! So when I commented and got 3 -5 responses, that was expected. I was in foreign territory and outnumbered- no problem as long as everyone stays charitable- which they did. Also there may be an assumption that all those responses are the same. But they often aren’t. As an example for anyone interested in the “piling” phenomenon, let me offer up what was for my journey a key comment I made here at CTC which was responded to by no less than 4 people.


    But they all had a different take on things. One of the responses was from Francis Beckwith. That really got my attention. And I took something from each of those comments. I didn’t feel piled on at all. I felt like I was around people who had the same overarching concern about Church unity I did. And I sensed that I didn’t need to respond to any/all of them if I didn’t want to. In fact I initially disregarded Beckwith’s comment as just a throw-away cut-n-paste comment that dodged my point. But later I came back to it with a cooler head. I ended up referring back to those comments many times in the months after that when I was doing heavy studying to remain Reformed. To think a debate or a radio call in show could provide this same level of personal and specific interaction is asking waaay too much.

    The medium is the message.

    Which means a debate is about winning, and a call in show is about entertainment. And hey, that’s ok. Don’t get me wrong, I like those things (I have every debate of James White’s concerning Catholicism, and I find them entertaining and a jumping point for further study. Keep it up James!) But a website like this is a combination of semi-personal interaction and academic study. It’s really irreplaceable. I wish more heavy-hitting Reformed dudes would interact here.

    Having said that, one way to reduce multiple responses of the same type would be to have a note next to the “leave Comment” notice instructing the commenter to refresh their screen to see recent comments. It could say “refresh screen and read recent comments in order to leave comment” It could even be a checkbox or something to verify they have done so. This way they could avoid redundancy, and may even forego commenting.
    Or perhaps after clicking “submit comment”, the commenter could be shown recent comments that came in while he was typing, and ask if he still wants to post his comment. Just my 2 cents.

  65. David,

    Thanks for the comment. Well said.


    Call-in shows are enjoyable. That is why there are so many of them! But I don’t think that that format is the best way to resolve the issues that continue to separate Catholics and Protestants. (And I am pretty sure that Bryan and David would agree.) However, I am all for radio programs that deal with these matters in ways best suited to that medium. For example, a “Question and Answer” call-in show can be very effective towards helping both inquirers and one’s own co-religionists to see the relevant issues more clearly. White’s program and some Catholic programs serve that purpose (among others). But when it comes to a disputed matter, it seems to me, based upon observation and experience, that informal, personal conversations and respectful, written exchanges are most effective for coming to a better understanding of the respective positions and working towards unity in the truth.


  66. David said: “Or perhaps after clicking “submit comment”, the commenter could be shown recent comments that came in while he was typing, and ask if he still wants to post his comment. Just my 2 cents.”

    That’s a clever idea.

  67. hi,

    RC, re: #49.

    I first heard the discussion about the actual geography from which Jesus is said to have spoken in Matthew 16 to Peter and the other apostles in a tape by Scott Hahn I think, but if memory serves correctly, he referenced this book:
    And on This Rock: The Witness of One Land and Two Covenants by Fr. Stanley Jaki,

    who also has another book I found useful:
    The Keys of the Kingdom: A Tool’s Witness to Truth

    I have not found (yet) any Protestant theologian/historian who has interacted with what is put forth in these works, but I admit I am not involved in post-graduate work which might bring me into contact with such resources. Hope this helps.


  68. @Salvador #60,

    It takes courage to “cross over the line” and comment on a blog from a different tradition. I’ve gone over to Green Baggins before and gotten “piled on,” but truth be told I expect that. I was in foreign territory, almost like entering a bar in a new place and right when you walk in every head turns and stares at you–they know that you are new and don’t belong based on how you dress, talk, and what you order.

    The guys here are irenic and respectful. I’ve had people (including Protestants) contact me directly and tell me how impressed they are with the tone and content here. (Some people think I’m a regular author since I have made occasional contributions. I am not one of the core authors or an administrator though.)

    One reason that I think some of the “big name” Protestants avoid commenting here or on other serious Catholic apologetics blogs is that they risk having their arguments and claims publicly rebutted. It’s a lot to lose, as some make their living from apologetics. Better to have a venue (like their own internet radio show) where they can control the topic and the audio. That’s my own opinion on the matter.


  69. Devin said:
    “I was in foreign territory, almost like entering a bar in a new place and right when you walk in every head turns and stares at you–”

    Please someone tell me they heard the cantina music from Star Wars when Devin said this. I think I pictured one of those nuns with the winged hats at the bar next to a statue of the Infant of Prague. I better go to confession now.

  70. James Swan: “I think the CTC folks would do well to pick their best representatives of their particular interpretation of Roman Catholicism and arrange to meet with Dr. White in a live exchange. I’m certain that Dr. White will make sure that CTC is given a fair and reasonable amount of time to present their views and also interact with Dr. White’s views.”

    If he hasn’t already, then why can’t he just make his views known, then he can get a response easily. Why does it need to be a public display, i.e., a debate or on his radio show? If he has made his views known re the challenge, then point me in the right direction so that I can see what he has to say.

  71. @Salvador #60,

    For what it’s worth, when I was a Protestant, I spent a good four years looking for good Protestant apologetics that even dealt with, let alone convincingly responded to, the good Catholic arguments.

    So far as I ever saw, there aren’t any.

    What I found was that there are three categories of Protestant apologetics against Catholicicsm:

    One is the Lorraine Boettner / James McCarthy group: They’re so full of factual errors about Catholicism that if you actually know what the truth is, you read the books, find errors every other page, and just shake your head in wonder. So you can dispense with those right away. (I should mention that Boettner normally is a respectable scholar and isn’t so ridiculous as he is in dealing with Catholicism; and even McCarthy isn’t as absurd as Jack Chick, who belongs almost in a category by himself.)

    The second group is where I put James White. He makes what sounds like a serious set of arguments, while treating Catholics as non-Christians and Catholic apologists as intellectually dishonest. His arguments tend to fail on close examination or, when coupled with certain details of history, to lead one to the conclusion that the whole Christian faith was unknowable or a sham. If one were to become simultaneously convinced of White’s takedown of Catholicism, and of the perfectly valid Catholic observations of the intellectual unsustainability of Protestantism, one would probably have to become an atheist. (But I have reasons, including the odd miracle or two, to rule that out for myself. And, as I said, I don’t think White’s arguments work on close examination.)

    The third group is epitomized by the book Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: Agreements and Differences by Norman L. Geisler and Ralph MacKenzie. Here we have Evangelical Protestants who refuse to become Catholic but accept Catholics as fellow Christians. Often they don’t go to much effort to argue that the Catholic faith is wrong or repudiate the Catholic apologetics. Instead they just state their differences and offer the standard Protestant argument of “but the Bible says XYZ, which is why we can’t be Catholic” without addressing the Catholic point about the authority of Scripture. Geisler and MacKenzie go father than others in this regard in that they try to say that no Church authority is needed for a canon. Instead, they offer a series of criteria for what makes something canonical. Their criteria look wonderful until you realize that those criteria cannot be found in the Bible, or even derived from it in a consistent and unarguable way…and thus that they too are relying on an extra-scriptural authority. They haven’t answered the Catholic argument at all, in the final analysis. Still, the more sensible tone-of-voice is refreshing after White, and the lack of egregious error is refreshing after Boettner and McCarthy.

    Anyway, that’s about as good as it gets. When I looked for arguments that REALLY answered the Catholic argument, I never found any.

    So I became Catholic.

    Now, that makes it sound easy and straightforward; but it wasn’t. My wife wasn’t (and still isn’t) Catholic. We married as Evangelicals; we planned to raise our children that way; what were we to do now? It’s a bit unfair (a bit of bait and switch?) to say, “You’re marrying a Protestant Evangelical; oh wait, no you aren’t, now YOU have to change, and if you don’t, well, the kids will be with ME.” So, challenges there.

    And then there’s the family. And the friends, who aren’t mean about it, but I think they think I had a midlife crisis or something.

    And then there’s my long time income stream as a musician and praise-and-worship leader in Evangelical contemporary services. Haven’t found any straightforward way for THAT to translate. (Hey, at least I wasn’t an evangelical church pastor.)

    But in the end, it was all about: What is THE TRUTH?

    Is God logical? Is the Christian faith something you have to commit intellectual suicide to embrace, or not?

    I couldn’t accept that the God who invented reason was a God of unreason.

    And I got to a point where I couldn’t be Protestant any more: The familiar no-man’s-land feeling that so many people ultimately report, who eventually become Catholic. It’s the same old story. It happens again and again. While it was happening to me, I thought I was the only one. Then I found out about EWTN’s “The Journey Home” and, after listening to a few episodes as downloadable MP3 files, I found out that not only was I not alone, I was a cliché!

    Whatever stage in the journey you’re at, here is the only advice I can give: Jesus is the Way, the TRUTH, and the Life. Cling to THE TRUTH with all your strength, with your teeth and your fingernails. It’s a way to be faithful to Jesus Christ. Do that, and I believe God will honor it.

  72. R.C. (re:#49),

    Brother, with help (from some more well-read Catholics, for whom I am very thankful!), I have been pointed toward a resource which could be helpful for you on the “gates of Hell” issue! Apparently, St. Thomas Aquinas compiled a 4-volume set of Biblical commentary on the four Gospels from the Church Fathers entitled the “Catena Aurea.” At the following link, please “flip” to page 585, and read from there to 588 for relevant passages from the Fathers on this matter: http://archive.org/stream/p2catenaaureacom01thomuoft#page/176/mode/2up

    This set can actually be purchased online. Right now, it’s out of my price range, but if you are interested, see here.

  73. R.C. (#71):

    Thank you very much for sharing your story. It was encouraging and interesting!

    In addition to the link to the Catena Aurea provided by Christopher in #72, and in addition to the hard cover edition he also links at Amazon, the set is also available (for $40 less) for the Logos Bible Study application. If you’re interested, you can find more info about that here.



  74. R.C. (re:#71),

    For some reason, in our discussion up to this point, I had thought you were a Protestant considering the claims of the Catholic Church. My mistake, I see! :-) It’s good to be in the Church with you, brother!

  75. Salvador (re:#60),

    As a Catholic “revert” and a former “Reformed Baptist,” I would love for more Reformed leaders and laypeople to come to CTC and engage with us. I have tried commenting on Reformed blogs, as a Catholic, in the hope of having dialogue, and, with a few very nice exceptions, I have encountered a.) vitriolic assertions, or b.) silence.

    I’m not sure why so many Reformed *blogs* seem so vitriolic toward Catholicism, because there are many Reformed *laypeople* who are not nearly as concerned about the supposed “idolatries” of Catholicism. (The more vehement Reformed bloggers would surely see this lack of concern as a “betrayal of the Reformation” though.)

    To be fair, I have encountered more than a few ridiculous caricatures of, and insults toward, Protestants on Catholic blogs too– and I’ve tried to accurately, directly, and charitably answer them when I could, so much so that some Catholics may have wondered where my ecclesiastical loyalties actually were! The simple fact is, I don’t like to see *anyone* being caricatured and insulted– which is one reason why I, for the most part, enjoy the dialogue here at CTC. It isn’t perfect, but this is, by far, the most charitable site for true Catholic-Protestant *discussion and dialogue* that I have found on the net. I thought so when I was still a Protestant too.

  76. Hi Chris and Fred with reference to the Catena Aurea there is an app called IPieta which for $2.99 contains all four volumes as well as a wealth of other catholic literatutre, church fathers, bible, commentaries etc. Great value

  77. Its interesting when you take into account sola scriptura and listen to James Whites debate with Bob Wilkin on regeneration and perseverance. James White goes to great lenghts to use the Westminster Confession, Baptist confession and other confessions to make the point that this is the way that reformed theology has always been understood from the bible. Bob Wilkin on the other hand made a point of the fact that he cared little about what other people thought re the creeds, he stood on and accepted the bible as his sole authority. Reminded me off tradition vs the bible…hmmmmm

  78. All,

    The Catena Aurea is also available online here, along with a wealth of other material from St Thomas, in plain text, which I find much easier to navigate than the scanned version linked above.


  79. All,

    A few points of clarification (a few of which I have already made privately to Neal – and through him to Bryan).

    1. I should have been more specific. A general comment like I made can be (and was) misunderstood.
    2. It did not refer to anything I’ve read that Bryan or Neal or any of the main contributors have written. My apologies to them for the implication that I’m sure many read into my comments. I did not have them in mind.
    3. I welcome and love hard-hitting discussions of important issues, and on these topics, it is almost impossible if not actually impossible to completely avoid offense at all times. These are issues to which people are deeply committed. I’m not criticizing the need for serious criticizing. If I’m wrong, it should be pointed out, and I want to be the first to know. I would hope others feel the same way about what they say.
    4. Nothing anyone has ever said here has “hurt my feelings.” I’ve been accused of everything short of cat-juggling at one point or another in the last 25 years. It comes with the territory of opening your mouth publicly. If you don’t have a thick skin, this isn’t something you should do long term. That wasn’t the issue.
    5. What I was addressing is something that sometimes develops in the comboxes that I doubt is even evident to those who are already Roman Catholic. I haven’t had time to comment seriously in over a year, but I sometimes read the articles and the following discussions. There is a subtle but frequent implication that occurs at times to the effect that those of us who have Protestant convictions would surely see the light and convert if we had just a few more IQ points. My guess is that I probably unconsciously imply the same thing about those who are Roman Catholic when I write on the subject. I don’t intend to – especially here, since I’m almost certain Bryan and Neal are both Mensa level geniuses (and I’m not saying that with any sarcasm whatsoever. They are very, very sharp as anyone with a PhD in philosophy has to be). But whichever side we’re on, we’re talking about things that seem obvious to us, but not to others. When you’re surrounded by several dozen other people all cheering you on, it gets even easier to slip into this I think. I’ve watched discussions here which, from my Protestant perspective, felt like watching a group of people pat the head of a child with mild brain damage (if he’s present in the discussion) or cluck their tongues about a child with mild brain damage (if he’s not). I don’t know exactly how to quantify it or put my finger on it precisely, but it’s a kind of triumphalistic thing that makes some of us on this side of the Tiber think, “what’s the point of commenting?” That’s where the exasperation in my comment came from.

  80. Keith,

    I’m sorry for all the times that I’ve patted the head or clucked the tongue or did the “kind of triumphalistic thing” (which is a great phrase, by the way). It would be a shame if I and people like me kept you from having a useful conversation online.


    K. Doran

  81. Dr. Mathison,

    I’m a long time Protestant Lurker and rare commenter here (maybe 3 times over 4 years).  I may (or may not) also be rightly classified as a child with mild brain damage, or at least it can feel this way among giants like you, Dr. Beckwith, Dr. Horton, Dr. White, TurretinFan, Andrew M., JJS, and Dr. Cross, Dr. Liccione, and well, pretty much everyone else here.

    I want to encourage you (and other Protestant thought leaders) to please comment here more often.

    I’ve never seen such charitable dialogue on a forum like this.  And I’ve learned so much about my own Protestant history and theology when folks like you push back on these Catholics.  Over the years I’ve also seen that many of my preconceptions of Catholicism are untrue and may even be slipping into uncomfortable territory for my own faith.  I have to expect there are others like me.

    I visit here to see the best of the best of the Catholic online thinkers wrestle through the best of the best Protestant thinkers in public for all to see.  No polemics.  No ad homs.  Just reasonable and smart people, honestly seeking to know and love Jesus more and to show misguided sophomores like myself the way.  If there is another site doing this on the web, I want to visit there.  Instead I find vacuums of conversations like those over at catholic.com or greenbaggins.  Where folks pat themselves on the back and throw stones at the other side to the cheers and jeers from those with whom they agree.  Here no one can get away with unfaithfully characterizing another position.  They will be called out (by others with more IQ points than myself).  There’s no need to dig through fields of straw men here.  Conversation is actually happening.

    I understand folks like you are as busy as they are important.  However, can you send some of your IQ-heavy underlings over here?  I have to think that even your crumbs would be eternally beneficial to folks like me, who for the first time see Catholicism in (what we believe to be) a clear light and are feeing uneasy.

    Your well publicized conversation around the topic of Sola Scriptura is exactly the conversation I’ve been looking for for years.  Similarly Michael Hortons conversation with Bryan Cross.  I would read volumes of those types of conversations… well at least until I can once again feel comfortable in my protest.

    So with that, I urge you (and other giants like you) to please consider sharing more here.  Even if it’s a simple sentence or two to nudge these Catholics back into line if they’ve overstepped.  Or, prayerfully, to give these Catholics the silver bullet they need to come back home to their Reformed backgrounds (and give mere amateurs confidence in our protest).

    I wish you well, Sal

  82. Keith,

    It looks like our “piling on” problem might be related to your concerns about tone. In my experience, the latter problem does not have primarily to do with something seeming obvious. Falsehood can seem obvious, which is why even the most convinced interlocutor should remain open to reason, just as you say in point number 3. Sometimes, though, such openness is not apparent. So far as my “spidey-sense” estimation of the overall discussion here goes, that is the primary reason, which is not an excuse, for the occasional lapses into language that at least comes across as condescending.

    Chris Castaldo also used “triumphalistic” to describe the tone of some of our comment threads, and / or some of our contributors. Going by the dictionary, this would indicate a “smug or boastful pride” in the Catholic Church. I guess that perception might depend much upon one’s ecclesiology. There is a great difference between saying, “Climb aboard this boat, it’s the only one there is” and “Climb aboard this boat, it’s way better than yours.”

    [Update: On second thought, “seeming obvious” and “not being open to reason” could be pretty closely related, if one were to suppose that what seems obvious is ipso facto the only reasonable position, such that whatever contradicts or just doesn’t sit well with the “obvious” is by definition unreasonable. That way lies prejudice and shibboleth. We have tried not to allow that sort of thing to become a feature of the dialogue here, even though we do publish and respond to comments that are sharply critical of the Catholic Church.]


  83. There is a great difference between saying, “Climb aboard this boat, it’s the only one there is” and “Climb aboard this boat, it’s way better than yours.”

    I assume that the ‘correct’ Roman Catholic position is statement number 1 – there is only one boat (one church). However, experience seems to indicate that number 2 is the only claim the RC church can rightfully claim.

    Prior to conversion to Catholicism, what was God doing in your life? (I’m asking this generically, not personally). Presumably, even outside the RC church, God was working in your lives. If statement 1 is ‘true’, then you are damning all those outside the only ‘boat’ – those who also have had God work in their lives, but have not been convinced of the RC claims. If statement 2 is true, then all the glitz and glamour in your boat doesn’t change who is at the helm (papacy)… and I’ll stay in my dinghy.

    Ahh, but the great catch-all doctrine… invincible ignorance. We can claim statement 1 as true (there is no other boat), argue like statement 2 is true (Catholic boat is ‘better’ than protestant boat), and yet we won’t comment on anyone not in the ‘only’ boat… since they might be invincibly ignorant. Better yet, once death comes (and it comes for us all), anyone who was invincibly ignorant will be transported into the ‘only’ boat… and realize all along that the RC church had it right. Since people aren’t in the habit of resurrecting themselves, that is essentially an unverifiable claim.

    Or we could interject some reason and observation into the equation. Both of those would indicate that there are many Godly people, in many different boats, in many different shades of agreement with the Roman Church. God’s claim on their souls is just as strong as his claim on RC souls – they are just as much part of the ‘body’ as Catholics. If reason and observation are pointing to statement 2 as being the ‘truth’… well then the RC church is a liar for claiming statement 1… but it also explains why the RC church has discourse with protestants behaving as though statement 2 is the truth.

    Even the Bible, when asking ‘what must I do to be saved’ (in the boat), the answer isn’t ‘become a Roman Catholic’… it is ‘believe in the Lord Jesus Christ’. In so far as the Roman Church upholds the exclusivity of its being the ‘only’ boat, including all the ramifications (such as closed communion) – to that degree it is denying the clear teaching of the Bible – and instead shrouding it in legality and papal decrees.

    So which is it? Is the Roman Church the only boat, or is your boat just better than mine?

  84. Bob,

    You wrote:

    I assume that the ‘correct’ Roman Catholic position is statement number 1 – there is only one boat (one church). However, experience seems to indicate that number 2 is the only claim the RC church can rightfully claim….

    Yes, your assumption is correct; the Catholic position is that there is only one boat, i.e., one Church that Christ established. This answers your concluding question. The intervening material assumes that if God’s grace can reach those not in full communion with the Church, then this falsifies one or both of the following claims: (1) Christ established only one Church, and (2) outside of this Church there is no salvation.

    The Catholic position on this matter has been authoritatively stated as follows:

    Therefore, in connection with the unicity and universality of the salvific mediation of Jesus Christ, the unicity of the Church founded by him must be firmly believed as a truth of Catholic faith. Just as there is one Christ, so there exists a single body of Christ, a single Bride of Christ: “a single Catholic and apostolic Church”. Furthermore, the promises of the Lord that he would not abandon his Church (cf. Mt 16:18; 28:20) and that he would guide her by his Spirit (cf. Jn 16:13) mean, according to Catholic faith, that the unicity and the unity of the Church — like everything that belongs to the Church’s integrity — will never be lacking.

    The Catholic faithful are required to profess that there is an historical continuity — rooted in the apostolic succession — between the Church founded by Christ and the Catholic Church: “This is the single Church of Christ… which our Saviour, after his resurrection, entrusted to Peter’s pastoral care (cf. Jn 21:17), commissioning him and the other Apostles to extend and rule her (cf. Mt 28:18ff.), erected for all ages as ‘the pillar and mainstay of the truth’ (1 Tim 3:15). This Church, constituted and organized as a society in the present world, subsists in [subsistit in] the Catholic Church, governed by the Successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him.” With the expression subsistit in, the Second Vatican Council sought to harmonize two doctrinal statements: on the one hand, that the Church of Christ, despite the divisions which exist among Christians, continues to exist fully only in the Catholic Church, and on the other hand, that “outside of her structure, many elements can be found of sanctification and truth”, that is, in those Churches and ecclesial communities which are not yet in full communion with the Catholic Church. But with respect to these, it needs to be stated that “they derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church.”

    Therefore, there exists a single Church of Christ, which subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the Successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him. The Churches which, while not existing in perfect communion with the Catholic Church, remain united to her by means of the closest bonds, that is, by apostolic succession and a valid Eucharist, are true particular Churches. Therefore, the Church of Christ is present and operative also in these Churches, even though they lack full communion with the Catholic Church, since they do not accept the Catholic doctrine of the Primacy, which, according to the will of God, the Bishop of Rome objectively has and exercises over the entire Church.

    On the other hand, the ecclesial communities which have not preserved the valid Episcopate and the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic mystery, are not Churches in the proper sense; however, those who are baptized in these communities are, by Baptism, incorporated in Christ and thus are in a certain communion, albeit imperfect, with the Church. Baptism in fact tends per se toward the full development of life in Christ, through the integral profession of faith, the Eucharist, and full communion in the Church.

    “The Christian faithful are therefore not permitted to imagine that the Church of Christ is nothing more than a collection — divided, yet in some way one — of Churches and ecclesial communities; nor are they free to hold that today the Church of Christ nowhere really exists, and must be considered only as a goal which all Churches and ecclesial communities must strive to reach”. In fact, “the elements of this already-given Church exist, joined together in their fullness in the Catholic Church and, without this fullness, in the other communities”. “Therefore, these separated Churches and communities as such, though we believe they suffer from defects, have by no means been deprived of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation. For the spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as means of salvation which derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church.” (Dominus Iesus, IV, 16, 17.)

    The “elements of sanctification and truth” found in Protestant ecclesial communities accounts for what you, and I, have experienced in these communities. Observation, e.g., of Trinitarian baptisms, the reading of God’s word, self-sacrifice in the name of Jesus, etc., is thus reasonably accounted for, without denying the enduring unity of the one Church that Christ established.

    For CTC, ecumenical dialogue does not proceed “as if” it is true that the Church has been divided into smaller pieces that ought to be compared and contrasted, so to discover which is the “better (more biblical, etc.) Church.” Rather, it proceeds by arguing on theological, philosophical, exegetical, and historical grounds that Christ founded one Church, which has existed undivided from the beginning. Of course we believe that the Catholic Church is the one Church that Christ founded, but that claim will not make sense, and will generally be offensive, to Protestants until we can come to agreement on the more fundamental questions of whether Christ founded one Church, and if so, what is the nature of that one Church, and whether we have antecedent reasons to believe that this Church will endure through the ages.

    Until we can come to some agreement on those questions, we will mostly be talking past one another on the question of whether or not the Catholic Church is the Church that Christ founded.

    Regarding invincible ignorance, I highly recommend James Akins’ article on the subject.


  85. Andrew (as well as Keith and Salvador and K. Doran #79-82),

    In some strange and perverse way, I thank God for this blog. It probably is the premier site for Reformed-Catholic dialogue. That’s also part of the reason I have problems with it.

    1. I think those who indict this blog as a “recruitment site” have a good point. Those who come on trending in the direction of Rome are given great attention, and receive all kinds of “attaboys” (or “attagirls,” as the case may be) when they finally put on their swim wear and jump in. I am an unlikely convert. I’m not sure how irreformably Reformed I am, but Rome is not on my radar. Bryan and Neal and Michael will have to sharpen their arguments for me to give so much as a nod in their direction. They’re obviously erudite, but the arguments seem foundationally weak (to me).

    2. There’s a lot of “bad blood” between these groups. Many of the Reformed do not consider Catholics to be fellow Christians (sometimes this is cultural, but often it is by conviction). I myself don’t consider Catholicism to be a valid expression of Christianity. Though I make no judgments about individual Catholics, I’m sure such convictions are hurtful. Just as the RC tenet of closed communion is hurtful. The sacrament is FOR the unity of the church. (The Eastern Orthodox at least hand out unconsecrated bread after the service, often very apologetic about the exclusion of those they know to be genuine Christians).

    3. There is no Reformed presence on the blog. Things would not seem so “one way” if from time to time Reformed articles appeared to be commented on (not reviews of articles, but actual articles with Reformed presenters). You could even have some irenic Calvinists on board staff-wise. You know, get Keith Mathison and Andrew McCallum to join….

    4. There really is no humble ecumenical spirit anywhere on this forum. Because of the inflexibility inherent in an irreformable body of tradition and an infallible papacy, there is no wiggle room. No appearance of grace. (I am in many ways the same concerning Reformed soteriology. It’s a “my way or the highway” mentality so I understand the difficulties.) There really is no “call to communion” here. There is only a “call to assimilation.” (Resistance is futile!) It would be nice to see the spirit of Regensburg/Ratisbon break out (at least in some small way). I’ll throw this article out as an example of that spirit:


    5. Certain pet theories get emphasized to the point of nausea: things like “ecclesial deism” and “principled distinctions.” I wish they’d give their “hobby horses” a rest!

    6. Philosophical jargon gets in the way. Unless and until the rest of us get our Ph.D.’s in philosophy, there is no accountability for the intricacies of what they say. (I’ll have to admit that to me, philosophy is a soft science with quite limited powers. It is simply far too subjective. Theology is similar, of course, which is why we need to slug it out in the trenches rather than come up with mathematical formulae that prove the Immaculate Conception.)

    7. There is a human tendency, once we have changed paradigms, to trash our old one. Bart Ehrman, for example, is a former Evangelical. At first glance, you’d think former Reformed folks would be the best ones to converse with those who are still Reformed because they understand and can relate. In practice, however, there is a big chip on each of your shoulders that we can’t knock off. On top of this, there is a real sense of abandonment on our parts. We are discussing these matters precious to us with modern day Judases: folks intent on befouling what we hold dear.

    8. There are many motivations that accompany conversion besides the purely theological and spiritual: sociological, psychological, philosophical, political. Most of the converts on this page appear to me to have given up on their Evangelicalism long before they converted to Catholicism. There are transitional paradigms they passed through. This is all fascinating to me, but I doubt they appreciate the psychoanalysis. Sticking entirely to theology, on the other hand, though much more respectful, ignores the “elephant in the room,” so to speak. My point is simply that these dialogues are not as open as they might need to be for anyone to get anywhere.

    Together in Christ,


  86. I did not enter the Catholic Church from a Reformed background, and so am not qualified to comment on most subjects discussed here. I do, though, pray throughout the day and offer up sacrifices for C2C, for those who blog here, for those Protestants who participate in the conversation, and for all those who read and ponder the points made – that Christian charity might prevail, that grace will be poured out, and that God will grant light.

    Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on us – we want to see!

  87. Bob B,

    Great missive. I found two items that I might be of assistance with.

    First, there is the very real fact that God is working in people, whether or not they are aware of that fact. He certainly was working in me; and I am under the impression that He was working in scads more people of my acquaintance. He certainly seemed to be working in others who I heard or read about. I have zero problems with holding that position. If God came to save the world and not condemn it, then everything He has done and is doing works to that end.

    However the individual is not the Church. I was not the Assemblies of God. I am not the Roman Catholic Church. I was and am a member, a pew sitter, a participant, a part of a congregation.

    Your quote: “Even the Bible, when asking ‘what must I do to be saved’ (in the boat), the answer isn’t ‘become a Roman Catholic’… it is ‘believe in the Lord Jesus Christ’. In so far as the Roman Church upholds the exclusivity of its being the ‘only’ boat, including all the ramifications (such as closed communion) – to that degree it is denying the clear teaching of the Bible – and instead shrouding it in legality and papal decrees.”

    It was scripture that impelled me into the Church. I found all of those things – “the clear teaching of the Bible” – that seem to have eluded you. In great part I found the Church,
    with a hierarchy,
    the authority to make decisions and promulgate those decisions,
    the authority to forgive sins (or withhold forgiveness),
    the authority to confect the new Passover sacrifice feeding us with the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world in a sacrificial meal,
    the authority to set the canon.

    I saw the vicar of Christ, Peter and his successors. I saw His handiwork writ for our benefit. I saw order in Catholicity where as a Protestant I had seen chaos. I saw the individual properly placed in the Church Jesus founded. Here I am.



  88. Of course we believe that the Catholic Church is the one Church that Christ founded, but that claim will not make sense, and will generally be offensive, to Protestants until we can come to agreement on the more fundamental questions of whether Christ founded one Church, and if so, what is the nature of that one Church, and whether we have antecedent reasons to believe that this Church will endure through the ages.

    Until we can come to some agreement on those questions, we will mostly be talking past one another on the question of whether or not the Catholic Church is the Church that Christ founded.

    I believe (and tried to point out) that it is fairly obvious that there is indeed more than 1 church, and that Christ works through each of those Churches… and yet any church that falls under ‘believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved’ would be the 1 church that Christ founded. Again, the stipulations for salvation and inclusion within the body are quite clear… and Rome is not the entirety of that plan.

    We cannot come to an agreement on the nature of the church for 2 reasons. Reason one is that you submit yourself to an ‘authority’ which has dictated the nature of itself to you in such a way that if you refuse to believe that dictation, you are no longer under its authority. It doesn’t matter that you can go to Protestant churches all over the world and see people worshiping Christ and God working in their lives – Rome says they are not a part of the ‘true’ church, so they aren’t.

    Reason 2 is motive. Roman Catholics want Protestantism to fail. It’s failings are promoted here through phrases like ‘Protestantism is a mess… here is a conversion story… welcome ‘HOME”. Of course, if Rome is the one ‘true’ church, then what are all these other denominations doing? We are detracting from Rome’s glory – sniping away members – making Christ’s church something less than if Rome was the one-and-only true church. It would be better if we didn’t exist… Not to put thoughts in your head, but be honest here. Rather than viewing Protestants as co-heirs in the redemptive plan, we are viewed as someone to be converted. If the Catholic church could have aborted the reformation, I’m sure it would have.

    Even your authoritative statement belittles us:

    it needs to be stated that “they derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church.

    What kind of statement is that? We’re blessed in our worship due to some overflow of grace that the Catholic Church is begrudgingly sharing with us?

    even though they lack full communion with the Catholic Church, since they do not accept the Catholic doctrine of the Primacy, which, according to the will of God, the Bishop of Rome objectively has and exercises over the entire Church.

    If there ever was a doctrine that evolved from politics instead of the Word of God, this is it… and this is what separates you from every other denomination. I get it, Peter is the Rock… Go ask your other lung (the EO) what they think of this doctrine, and they will tell you flat out that it is a post-schism innovation that has no Biblical backing and no place being doctrine. Somehow Satan distorted ‘Primus inter pares’ into this abomination that continues to separate us from you. This is not doctrine necessary for salvation. It does not point to Christ or his work on the cross. At the root of it though, this is what Rome has to offer – claims of its own primacy. Submit to those claims and your Christian faith will find fulfillment… you’ll be home!

    Forgive me if I ‘talk past’ anyone.

  89. Eirik,

    Thanks for putting in your 2 cents.

    (1) Calling to mind the combox discussions of the last several years, I would say that the vast majority of all comments were made as part of arguments about philosophical, theological, or historical issues. Only a tiny fraction were “attaboys”. Furthermore, I suspect that the majority of the comments made in these arguments were made in response to people who had not shown any overt interest in becoming Catholic, such as Andrew M.. Finally, none of the articles have been “attaboys.” All of them have been either philosophical, theological, historical, or personal (and the last category has taken up many fewer words than the previous ones have).

    (2) I agree that when Reformed say that Catholics are not Christians, this generates a temptation to accuse the Reformed of being blinded either by bigotry or lack of intellect. But I think that most commentators have shown enormous self-control in this regard. Also, I think saying “you are a christian, but we are in imperfect communion” ought to provoke less of a temptation towards anger than saying “you are not a christian.”

    (3) I believe that things seem “one-way” on this blog because I have never seen a cogent Reformed response to the key articles written here. This problem would not be solved by putting non-cogent responses in the main article listings. If you know of a cogent response, let us know.

    (4) I think that most of the Catholics here would like to learn from Reformed commentators. And most of us have. Barring changing the doctrine of the Catholic Church, this two-way learning is the best that can be done to make a call to communion a reality. I didn’t notice any difference in tone in the article you cited from the tone of the best and most serious articles here.

    (5) What makes you think these are pet theories? If they are not pet theories, but are actually the essential issues, how would you know?

    (6) Your preference for “slugging it out in the trenches” rather than using philosophical and theological language to understand each other and jointly move towards truth seems to be one of the reasons why you think that the “hobby horses” are merely “pet theories”. Philosophy is nothing more than thinking systematically. If the conversation is to move forward towards truth, then everyone must avoid: ad hoc reasoning, circular arguments, assertions that present themselves as conclusions, using one word to mean two different things, and a whole gamut of mistakes that is far too easy for everyone here to make. Most of the commentators do not have Ph.D.’s in philosophy (some are still earning their degrees). What is needed is a commitment to avoid logical errors and a persistent desire to jointly find the truth. Without this, we will never move past the mere assertion that other people’s “central ideas” are “hobby horses.”

    (7) I was never Reformed, though I did have a long religious journey. I believe that many of the combox participants were never Reformed.

    (8) I think the dialogues cover everything that ought to be covered: the theological, the scriptural, the philosophical, the historical, and the personal. I’ve seen each of those covered in depth.


    K. Doran

  90. Hi,

    Bob said (#83):

    Even the Bible, when asking ‘what must I do to be saved’ (in the boat), the answer isn’t ‘become a Roman Catholic’… it is ‘believe in the Lord Jesus Christ’.

    I only speak for myself at this point. What does it mean ‘believe in the Lord Jesus Christ’? My answer to that question challenges me to consider all Christian traditions in the full context of who Jesus is: both God and man. Therefore, for me:

    As Jesus is the Bridegroom, and can have none other than one Bride, so His Church is that One Bride;
    As a bride and groom, the Church and Christ are in some mystical way, one flesh;
    As Jesus is God, he will not fail to preserve His Bride
    As one flesh, Jesus’ promise to be with us always is fulfilled by His union with His Bride, the Church, by the presence of the Church in the world;
    As Jesus was a stumbling block, so too will His continued presence in the world (in the person of His Bride, the Church) be;

    In short, Protestant claims (for me) were somehow inadequate. They seem stuck, protesting against those same things (e.g. the papacy) that existed at the time of the Reformation. Some intra-Protestant disputes (e.g. infant baptism) continue divisions that had been settled within the Christian tradition before the Reformation.

    For me, Catholic tradition continues to develop in its understanding of the Incarnation and its implications…the “both/and”. For me, as an example, the doctrine of the Assumption is about the fulfillment of God’s promise of resurrection for all believers; the Immaculate Conception is about His fulfillment of the challenge to be ‘perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect’, a reflection (for me) of God’s work via grace in the sanctification of His people. Ongoing development of understanding is, for me, a reflection of “…growing in wisdom and knowledge” (e.g. Luke 2:40, 52)

    I have recently been contemplating the nature of a human body. While I am no biology major/expert, it seems there are at least two hierarchical systems in a body, and that they are among the first to form in a developing fetus: the circulatory and the nervous system. The circulatory system originates and ends from the heart and by pumping blood, brings life to the body. For me, this is the grace of God in the sacraments. The nervous system originates and ends in the head and brings coordination of movement, of response to internal and external stimuli. For me, this is the grace of God present in the teaching and disciplinary actions of the ordained ministers.

    I apologize if sharing this personal reflection offends anyone as being fideistic or triumphalistic. I have a great deal of sympathy for non-Catholics who have strong convictions for staying where they are.

    In Him,

  91. Wow. A lot of stuff going on here.

    A big issue for non-Catholics (I realize that it’s mostly folk in the Calvinist/Reformed tradition, but I think the observation extends to all non-Catholic Christians) seems to be, “If the whole group of persons who are in communion with a bishop (validly ordained in the Apostolic Succession) who is in communion with the bishop of Rome is THE CHURCH…if that’s how Jesus defines HIS CHURCH, then what on earth does that mean for me and the congregation where I’m currently so well-fed, spiritually? If it means that we’re not THE CHURCH, then does that mean that we’re NOTHING? And if so, how could one possibly account for all that God has done in my life? And the lives of other saintly folk in my same congregation?”

    This is something that I struggled with for a little while before becoming Catholic, so I can relate. And while I no longer struggle with it, I’m deeply aware of it because many other Christians I know are not Catholic, and yet lead holy lives and accomplish great things for the glory of God.

    So: I’m deeply aware of it, but don’t struggle with it: There is no cognitive dissonance.

    Here’s why:


    The above-cited quotes from Catholic sources make it clear that the Catholic Church considers even Protestant “ecclesial communities” to be in a certain kind of imperfect communion or unity with Christ and thus with Christ’s Church, even though the valid episcopate and the chair of Peter remain the “center of gravity” so to speak.

    Now, that certainly sounds like a backhanded kind of compliment, a sort of damning with faint praise! …but ask yourself this: Is it anything new? In Jesus’ day, were the Essenes and Zealots and Pharisees and Sadducees and Samaritans and Ethiopian Jews and Alexandrian Jews and various Greek-born and Roman-born Righteous “Noahide” Gentiles all equally deserving of being called the “center of gravity” of Judaism? Clearly not. And surely the dynamic of saying, “But we’re God’s people, too!” dates back before the divided kingdom, in which we Christians would certainly hold that the “center of gravity” was in Judah, but the kingdom of Israel had its share of prophets. Go back to the time of the Judges, where everyone was doing “what was right in his own eyes” — a pretty fair description of the current divided Christian ecclesial scene — and it seems that this disorder stems partly from there being no clear “center of gravity,” or perhaps from the disregarding of it. Under Moses and Joshua the “center of gravity” was clearer, partly because when its authority was challenged, bad things happened (see re: Korah’s rebellion).

    What was a person to do, then, in any era, when he found himself longing for a close walk with God, but longing to not be confused or misled in the process? I think the safe move was to seek the center of gravity. Who’re you going to pick, Korah or Moses? Where to worship during the time of the Judges, with some random unnamed Levite or at Gilgal or Shiloh where the tabernacle was?

    But anyone who took the view that God wouldn’t help anyone outside the center of gravity would be mistaken. Jesus comes first to the lost sheep of Israel…but from “crumbs at the table” to the Samaritan woman at the well to the faith of the centurion, there’s a constant broadening: The division is very porous. Even before Jesus, did God care nothing for those outside Judah? Of course not: Look at all the prophets sent to Israel! Look at Jonah sent to, of all places, Nineveh!

    So I think it’s clear God doesn’t limit the action of His Holy Spirit to just within the official boundaries of whatever community comprises the “Official People Of God” during a given era.


    This is a phrase I kept hearing as I approached Catholicism, and as I understand it, it means something like this: God has graciously given us visible signs of our faith through which He communicates His divine life and sanctifying power, thus incorporating the tangible and visible into His plan as conduits of grace and rejecting the Gnostic anti-materialism heresy. Since He has generously given us this, we are not at liberty to reject this gift once we’re aware of it.

    But He works in mysterious ways to give grace to persons who’ve never yet received baptism, let alone the other sacraments. The Holy Spirit works in the hearts of the non-Christian to bring him to faith. God’s Moral Law is found everywhere even when not attributed to Him”: The Gentiles are a “Torah unto themselves” when the righteous requirement of the Torah is written in their hearts. And there are all those weird pre-echoes of Christianity in the myths of other peoples.

    I don’t want to press that last point too far: Of course there are gross corruptions when one is far outside of the “center of gravity”: The corn-kings die and rise in Greek mystery religions and a woman becomes impregnated by divine power and gives birth to a conquering hero, but as the divine plan mystically ripples through fallen mankind its image is distorted and you get Bacchanalian revelries and orgies and Zeus’s lust and all the rest. The heavens are declaring the glory of God and all creation is whispering the divine plan, but like a game of telephone the whispers are misunderstood nearly everywhere outside the source. Still, one gets the sense that some trickle of grace is communicated thereby, even if it is only so that Paul can show up later among the Greeks, point to a monument to an Unknown God, and say, “Men of Athens, I see that you are a very religious people….”

    So while “membership has its privileges” and access to the sacraments ought never to be taken for granted, and although it ought to be sought if one currently lacks it; still…God seems to reach outside of the norms He Himself has established, in order to do unexpected things among those who’re currently far outside the reach of those norms.

    Thus the “good thief” on the cross is not baptized, but enabled to receive salvation. Thus does the Holy Spirit fall on a bunch of Gentiles, and Peter says, “Whoa, okay; obviously there’s no reason to deny these folks baptism!” We’re supposed to do things according to God’s Standard Order of Procedure…but when He’s making a larger point, He has authority to do things however He pleases!

    3. “HOW MUCH MORE, THEN…?”:

    How much more, then, does God undeniably grant grace sufficient for holiness and salvation to those who, not being in communion with a bishop who is in communion with the bishop of Rome, have access to some sacraments (e.g. baptism, marriage) and who revere the Scriptures, and who pray earnestly, and who obey God diligently? Especially if they have no notion that there’s anything more they could be receiving from God, and aren’t?

    So it would be unfair for a Catholic to think of any given Five-Point Calvinist as being as distant from the center of gravity as, say, the Samaritans were from Judaism in Jesus’ day: And if Jesus talked to the Samaritan woman at the well, how much more does Our Lord love and offer grace to those whose connection to the Catholic Church the Magisterium describes as “imperfect?”


    Jesus seems to hold the principle that one is not responsible for doing what one does not know one needs to do. I was raised in a Southern Baptist congregation. The possibility that there might be any reason for me to become Catholic never even began to speculate about the merest possibility of crossing my mind for about the first 35 years of my life. In that time I wrote Christian songs, served in worship teams, prayed, studied, tried to lead a holy life, went to Romania on a short-term missions trip. Of COURSE God was working in my life! He wasn’t telling me EVERYTHING at once; and He still hasn’t. He didn’t get around to the Catholic thing until very late.

    Once He did, well, I needed to continue my walk of faith. If I hadn’t, I’d have been backsliding at best. But until that point, I was walking with Him. (Imperfectly, then as now.)

    But I don’t have much bad to say AT ALL about my Protestant Evangelical upbringing. A bunch of holy people taught me to trust God, taught me to love the Scriptures. God bless them for that.

    In fact, I feel that in becoming Catholic I have only taken the next step in the walk of being an Evangelical Christian, and that I’m becoming a better Evangelical now than I was when I was not yet a Catholic. (But I realize that terminological distinctions are confusing enough as it is, so please take that sentence in the spirit in which it is intended: I am not trying to obscure definitions of any of the above terms.)


    I’d better not expand too much on that; and it’s not my role to judge hearts. But I think it’s one of those things that make you go “Hmmm.” The more you think about it, the trickier it becomes. There really are good arguments to be made for both options.

    Or perhaps I should ask, “Who’s more Catholic, James White or a Borgia Pope?” I’d put my money in some ways on White, but again not in all ways, and there are arguments to be made for both options. At any rate for those at the center of gravity of God’s people, there is a greater responsibility: The more you know, the greater your responsibility to be faithful.


    I therefore see no reason to disparage my former walk of faith or the traditions of my upbringing, now that I am a Catholic. I feel that I have become a Catholic because of them, as a natural continuation of them. In much the same way that a Jew might become a Christian by recognizing Jesus as Messiah, and call himself a “Messianic Jew,” I became a Catholic by recognizing what Jesus selected to be the principle of unity in His Church, and some might call me a “Catholic Evangelical” or “Evangelical Catholic.” That there is a real difference, I do not deny. But it would have been a far greater break with my earlier walk of faith, had I not continued to trust God, by taking that step.

    And because WHERE I AM is a continuation and fleshing-out of WHERE I WAS, how then can I say anything disparaging about those who currently are where I was?

    Okay, I’ve rambled long enough.

    I hope some of the above made sense and is helpful. Any benefit derived therefrom is by the Grace of God; any errors or failings are purely my own.

  92. So I think it’s clear God doesn’t limit the action of His Holy Spirit to just within the official boundaries of whatever community comprises the “Official People Of God” during a given era.

    I can agree with this. However, I don’t see the historical pattern of people receiving grace from God, then joining the Israelites. For example, Naaman was healed (and presumably saved) but he did not join the people of God by becoming an Israelite.

    I only speak for myself at this point. What does it mean ‘believe in the Lord Jesus Christ’? My answer to that question challenges me to consider all Christian traditions in the full context of who Jesus is: both God and man.

    I think you accidentally hit on something here… another reason why I argue against closed communion. The Divine interacts with different people in different way’s through different ages. Abraham and Sarah didn’t need to believe in the incarnation or Jesus to be saved. However, I would argue that they possessed the ‘fullness’ of the faith.

    Roman Catholicism requires too much – more than what God requires (an impossibility if the RC church is indeed the one ‘true’ church… which is why I believe the RC church is something else). If the spirit is leading someone to saving faith, then the church should be administering the sacraments to that person. The whole concept of a ‘separated brethren’ is a sugar coated excuse to deny the table to those outside your direct control.

    If the consuming of the body and blood in the Eucharist is a ‘good’ thing (efficacious), shouldn’t those who are weakest in their faith (Protestants) be the one’s who need it the most? I understand there are warnings against partaking unworthily – are there also warnings about denying access to Christ?

  93. Oh, one more thing:

    About “What must I do to be saved?” and the answer, “Believe…” I have two observations:

    OBSERVATION ONE: We Are Not Reading A Catechism:

    I think some folk look at a verse and zero in on the word “believe” and say, “Well, if the author had intended me to get anything else out of this other than the requirement of belief, he’d have said so; but he didn’t say so; therefore he must have not meant me to imply anything beyond the requirement of belief.”

    Now, that might be a plausible conclusion, if one were reading a Catechism (that is to say, a document written to teach the fundamentals of Christianity in an exhaustive, explicit, and detailed way to an audience who is presumed to know little or nothing about it).

    But the New Testament consists of:
    (a.) four gospels and the book of Acts (a.k.a. Gospel of Luke Part II, The Sequel),
    (b.) a bunch of letters, most of them occasioned by specific issues and problems,
    (c.) something that’s probably a sermon targeted at Jewish believers to encourage them not to revert to Judaism, and,
    (d.) a sometimes intentionally-cryptic Apocalypse book

    …and most of the above was written to a Christian audience who presumably already knew the basics of the faith and the common practices of Christian worship.

    None of these is a Catechism; that is to say, an orderly presentation of all the required doctrines, spelled out plainly and exhaustively, correcting all plausible misunderstandings and patiently defining all terms.

    So I think we have to be careful taking a verse commanding us to “believe” and acting as if we’d just looked up the phrase “Exhaustive Description Of The Christian Life” in the index of a Catechism, turned to the appropriate phrase, and found that verse. We’re reading the words while making faulty assumptions about the author, his intent, and his intended audience. That never ends well.

    OBSERVATION TWO: One Word May Imply A Wealth Of Accompanying Detail:

    If I go to a restaurant and order a hot dog, I expect to get a hot dog, not a plate of something else.

    But when I get that hot dog, I’ll be pretty irritated if it doesn’t come already heated up, with a bun, on a plate, and some way of putting ketchup and mustard on it, and maybe relish, and maybe a side of fries and chips.

    So, if you order a hot dog you’re obviously choosing a hot dog instead of whatever else was on the menu, so you shouldn’t wind up with a plate of fried fish. But you shouldn’t just get a frozen Oscar Meyer wiener thumped down on the tablecloth, either.

    That is to say: There are some occasions when you say X, and X is understood to imply XYZ because Y and Z always go with X. If you say X you shouldn’t wind up with Q. But you shouldn’t wind up with just X, either. X is the big choice that needs to be made, and the main thing at issue, but it brings certain things with it.

    For the person in the first century choosing to follow The Way, to become a Christian, the main question is “Is This Outlandish Claim Actually True?” The main choice is whether or not to believe.

    Similarly, if someone tells me an earthquake is about to cause the ground beneath my house to open up and swallow it, it’s very important to consider whether this is true. Do I believe it?

    But if I believe it, the next thing that happens is that I will get all of my family out of the house, and quickly. The evacuation, and the insurance claim, and the hotel bills, are all implied by the belief.

    Now if one is a first century Jew and opts, incredibly, to believe that this guy crucified between two thieves really rose from the dead, and really is God incarnate, then one will have made the primary choice to BELIEVE.

    But IF one believes, one will of course be baptized and partake of communion and be in submission to the apostles and to the leaders they install as they plant my local church, and everything else. If one believes, and then refuses to do all these other things, then either the content or the firmness of the original belief is called into question.

    So from the point-of-view of an apostle doing the evangelizing, what will his evangelical exhortation be? Will he say, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and be baptized, and confirmed, and be a regular partaker of the Eucharist, and live in submission to the Word of God as delivered to you through the teachings of the apostles both verbally and in written form, and make regular use of the sacrament of reconciliation, and persevere in holiness unto death, and teach your children likewise, and don’t listen to the Gnostics, or the Judaizers, or the Nicolaitans, or the Arians who aren’t even around yet but who’ll show up in a few hundred years?”

    Probably not. He’ll probably say, “Believe.”

    He might even go a step farther and say, “Believe and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins.” But keep in mind we’re talking about evangelism here. He’s getting to the point, but being brief out of necessity. He’s being, in the best possible sense, “seeker sensitive.” He doesn’t deny any of that other stuff. But he’s not going to hit all that other stuff in the first paragraph. If he does, the first paragraph will wind up being nine paragraphs long.

    That doesn’t mean that the apostle who says “believe” thinks that a head-nod and the words “I believe” are the end of the story. He believes that a lot of other stuff goes with it, and is implied by the word “believe.”

    This point is accepted by any form of Christian, really; not just Catholics.

    I mean, plenty of Pre-Trib, Pre-Millenial Dispensationalists do evangelism, don’t they? But do they start talking about their interpretation of “meeting the Lord in the air” and their timeline from the moment they first mention the “Sinner’s Prayer?” What Five Point Calvinist patiently starts explaining the TULIP acronym to someone in response to the question, “So, who was this Jesus guy, anyway, and why should I care?” Talk about lousy evangelism!

    So if I saw, “Believe, and that’s all you need do, and God will never ask you as a part of that belief to participate in any kind of visible organization, nor any rites or symbolic acts or organized worship or study of holy books or prayer or obedience to a moral code” in Scripture, then I’d be forced to accept that the word “believe” doesn’t carry any other implications along with it.

    But since Scripture doesn’t say THAT at all, I think it’s reasonable to conclude that some other things naturally coincide with belief, and are understood as part of the package.

    And because we’re not reading a Catechism, we can’t expect all the implications to be fully spelled out (or cross-referenced) every time Scripture mentions the word “believe.”

  94. Hey Bob,

    You buddy Dave here. In #84 Andrew boiled it down to a fundamental question, which no matter what you think about the Catholic Church (or EO for that matter), I think you can agree is really the question that everything hangs on. Did Christ found one, visible Church or not? In #88 you responded:

    I believe (and tried to point out) that it is fairly obvious that there is indeed more than 1 church, and that Christ works through each of those Churches…

    We know you believe that and that you pointed it out. We know you think it is obvious that there is more than one church which Christ works through. So you absolutely have communicated those things, and we get you loud and clear that you believe that. And having once believed that myself, the conversation has an added bonus in that I (and many other here) can relate to your viewpoint… I once believed it (or something quite similar)!

    But as I see it there are two problems with your recent comments. The first one is saying something is “obvious” when it just simply isnt. What might be obvious to you is not to us (obviously, because we dont believe it!). We believe there is only one Church, and we have good reasons for believing that, as I am sure you have good reasons to believe otherwise. So one thing is for sure here, the ‘many churches’ paradigm is not at all obvious to all parties here. OK that’s the first problem.

    The second problem is taking on secondary issues like closed communion when the first order issue has not been addressed. Form what I can tell, (If I take your words literally) you are assuming your multiple Church theory to be obvious, while the Catholics here think it is anything but obvious. Now I am not saying we need to come to full agreement on the quantity of churches before discussing anything further down the line related to it (like open communion), but the two discussions are intimately related.

    Perhaps you have great reasons for believing He did not found one, visible Church. Ok. But here is my question to you:
    Do you think it is possible the Catholics here have good reasons for believing He did? I hope you answer yes. And if we do have good reasons, and come to the conclusion that yes, in fact Christ did found only one Church, then certain things follow from that whether we like it or not.
    Some of these things you have been strongly criticizing.

    The whole concept of a ‘separated brethren’ is a sugar coated excuse to deny the table to those outside your direct control.

    When Augustine denied table fellowship to the Arians was he giving “a sugar coated excuse to deny the table to those outside your direct control.”? The Arians would have met your criteria above of “believing on the Lord Jesus Christ.” So should Arians (then and now) be allowed to the table? Of course not. We need unity of belief for that.
    I am not now discussing open communion really, but just want to show that perhaps you can give the benefit of the doubt about Catholic belief being reasonable (and not “obviously” wrong), and give us a break about our motives (sugar coated excuses and control?). Is it at least possible our motives are for the Truth?
    We are trying to do our best to discover the truth just like you. Also keep in mind that the Eastern Orthodox should be on your radar here too, and even bodies like the Missouri Synod Lutherans. Lots of groups have found good reasons for viewing the unity of the Church the way Catholics do. It aint just the pope who puts a claim on you Bob.

    So. Did Christ found a visible Church or not?

    I think if you move your view from less of a “fairly obvious” assumption to more of a knowledge of the oposing reasoning, you will then be able to see that the issue is anything but an obvious dismissal of the opposing view, and that our (Catholic and EO) motive is truth and inclusion, not deception and exclusion. Hey, we might be wrong! But if you still think we are wrong after learning why we believe in one Church, at least think we are wrong about something that isnt perhaps so obvious. Or perhaps not obvious in the way you thought. ;-)


    David M.

  95. Bob:

    In reply to your last note — and I think this thread is starting to die down so I won’t be looking here quite so often — I think you have an argument for open communion which is a good argument as far as it goes. But I also think it doesn’t go far enough.

    You say:

    “The Divine interacts with different people in different ways through different ages.”

    Certainly. The Israelites did not initially see God as having an intimate Fatherly or Husband-like relationship to His people, even though that was there from the beginning and the prophets increasingly emphasized it. One sees a progression from “The One Who Eternally Is” to “King and Master” to “Father and Husband”: A progression of intimacy. Likewise, one sees a progression of revelation, always carefully delivered in terms the people of that era could comprehend, yet not in so timely a way as to give a false impression to later generations whose comprehension has increased. So the plagues on Egypt were directed at the gods of Egypt, showing Yahweh defeating those gods on their own turf and in their own areas of supposed speciality (the Nile, Frogs, Flies, Livestock, the Sun, and so on): A pretty vivid way to show that Yahweh is God and none is beside Him! Later He leads them out by the glowing cloud of His presence, which appears as a smoky cloud by day and a glowing fire by night. Now large armies of that era, when crossing a desert, would be led by a torchlight blaze at night, and by the smoke of a fire in the day: God is the Warleader of the Armies of Israel. The Ark was similar to the chests of holy things found in Egypt and other cultures of that day, which were sometimes carried in procession as a sort of litter bearing the throne or seat of a god or goddess. So likewise the presence of God goes with the Israelites and the space between the cherubim is the Mercy Seat. Humans as a part of human nature offer sacrifices of that which they value to their gods; so naturally God establishes a relationship with His people in which He carefully uses that predilection to better inform His people about Him. Peoples before the Israelites practiced circumcision as a rite of membership in a tribe or family or community; God makes this the mark of being adopted as God’s family, God’s tribe. People before the Israelites performed ritual washings; God adopts this into the worship procedures of His people. People before the Israelites offered gifts of grain and fruit, or loaves of bread and libations of wine, to show thankfulness to their gods; God formalizes this in the “todah” or thank offering. It’s a part of human nature to feel family and community with those with whom we share a meal; so God takes certain sacrifices and ensures that the priests or the whole community eat portions thereof, including them in His family.

    In short: God is perfectly adept at recognizing the pressure-points in human nature and human culture and using them to expand our knowledge of Him, and why shouldn’t He be? …since even the damage done by the fall to human nature has not entirely obscured what He designed it to be, and since even the human sinfulness which pervades human culture does not, despite the devil’s best efforts, make it unusable to God. Human freedom to choose, by God’s grace, really exists and the consequences of wrong choices are real, but “God is not a leaf that we can twist His shape” and whatever we do, He finds a way to make good out of it, even if it is not so good as the good He would originally have intended for us.

    So, yes, God speaks differently to people in different ages, in order to communicate Himself most effectively in each age and to execute His plan according to His good wishes.

    But notice this: The way He speaks isn’t always immediately intuitive to us. Sometimes it’s obscure or inexplicable at first glance, or second glance, or third glance. Sometimes a person could spend a lifetime wondering why God commanded XYZ and never fully get the point, because God’s command was intended to gradually shape a culture over time so that it would recognize what he was doing a thousand years later.

    Consider, for example, the Ark of the Covenant. It made sense, as I observed earlier, in ancient Near Eastern terms alone: Canaanite and Egyptian and Chaldean. But notice that it is made of incorruptible wood, covered with unrustable precious metal, that it is overshadowed by the glory of God as His presence settles upon it, and that it contains within it God’s Ten Words written in stone tablets, plus the “bread from heaven” (manna), plus the budded rod of Aaron which is the symbol of the High Priestly authority and of him who may enter the Holy of Holies. Why those things, particularly? Well, Moses didn’t get it, unless God cheated and allowed Moses a preview. Neither did Joshua. David, moved by the Spirit, leaped and danced before the Ark in priestly attire as it came up unto the Judean hill country…but for all the prophetic inklings which leaked out into his songwriting, even David probably didn’t get the point.

    But then a thousand years later, a girl is dedicated to God, set apart by Him to be incorruptible. The Holy Spirit overshadows her. She is filled with grace (kecharitomene). And within her is placed He who is the High Priest who will enter the heavenly Holy of Holies; He who is the Word of God written not in stone but in flesh…He whose flesh will become the Bread of Life, the Bread from Heaven which will sustain His people in the land of their sojourn until He comes for them and leads them into the Promised Land of His rest. And as Luke cleverly shows us, as the Ark of the New Covenant ascends into the Judean hill country, once again carrying the High Priestly Authority and the Bread from Heaven and the Word of God, so too, once again there is leaping and dancing before it.

    Even Moses didn’t get that, so far as we know. But how it would have messed things up, if he’d not followed God’s instructions on these matters, just because he didn’t “get it!”

    I explore all this in such depth, Bob, because you say that the closed communion — a practice which the fathers report as early as the second century (e.g. Justin Martyr) — is too much of a requirement. You can see reasons why it seems sensible to allow it; and, you can see no good reason, or not enough good reason, to prohibit it.

    Fair enough. And, it’s fair to say that there are other such requirements: The all-male priesthood, for example; or, the prohibition on using artificial birth control even for the cautious spacing-out of children by married couples who’d gladly welcome any new child even if unforeseen.

    And others would likewise complain about the refusal to acknowledge divorces from previous valid marriages or to bless second marriages, or the refusal to bless same-sex unions, or the refusal to use grape juice in place of wine, or…the list goes on.

    Fair enough.

    But the Catholic response — often given in a sort of helpless commiserating tone-of-voice — is, “Hey, we wish we could be more accommodating here, but we’re kinda stuck with what God gave us, and we lack in ourselves the authority to change it.”

    And what underlies this response is an awareness that God may require inexplicable things of us because He intends for His Church to last for another hundred years, or another thousand, or another ten thousand, or another hundred thousand, or another forty-seven million years. And there’s some point to all this which we don’t currently “get,” but which will be easier to see in hindsight with another hundred years’ perspective, or another forty-seven million years’ perspective.

    I mean, just the prohibition on artificial contraception (while permitting Natural Family Planning) probably deters some folk from being Catholic, who’re otherwise absolutely convinced that the Catholic Church truly is Christ’s Church to which He is calling them. And yet the hindsight of our current sexual and relational wasteland is gradually confirming the foresightedness, if not the outright prophetic nature, of Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae. It may take a hundred more years (and a billion more divorces) before that awareness becomes generally understood among Christians, and a majority of them return to the teachings that all Christians had held on the subject prior to 1930. But there it is.

    So if Christ does have One True Church which (while not at all disparaging what the Holy Spirit does amongst other groups of sincere and pious Christ-followers) holds and teaches the fullness of the Christian faith, I think we should expect that Church to have mostly teachings that make sense, but a few odd exhortations or prohibitions which seem counter-intuitive to us.

    If ours is a particularly sexually perverse culture, we should anticipate that the sexual laws of God will be particularly inexplicable to us, just as calculus is inexplicable to a middle-schooler who’s currently flunking pre-algebra because he never got his multiplication tables properly memorized.

    And likewise, if ours is a particularly de-sacralized culture, we should anticipate that God’s laws regarding that which is sacred will be inexplicable in proportion to how sacred those things are.

    I think the practice of closed communion falls under that category. We don’t get it, fully.

    We can attempt to explain it in an after-the-fact way, of course, trying to guess at God’s motives the way people try to guess why God outlawed pork for the Hebrews. (“Because of disease risks!” “No, because it’s a highly intelligent animal.” “No, to create a food-separation from the surrounding nations, as a sort of quarantine to prevent the Israelites from forming commercial and family relationships that would lead them back into paganism.” “No, because it’s dirty and God wanted to create a culture of cleanness to help them grasp His holiness.” “No, because of all-of-the-above.” “No, because….”)

    Any such explanations we offer, either about the non-kosher-status of pork or the restriction of communion to those who are in full communion, not in a state of mortal sin, and properly disposed to recognize Christ’s Real Presence, are likely to involve such guesses at God’s motives.

    Who knows? Some of the guesses may be right. Perhaps all of them are. Maybe it’s about charitably avoiding the risk of bringing down condemnation on oneself. Maybe its about the theology of participating in a sacrificial meal as part of the community, while not really being part of the community in a full and unreserved way. Maybe it’s about treating holy things as REALLY holy, in proportion to their holiness…and there is nothing holier detectable to your senses than the Blessed Sacrament, so extreme propriety is called for. Maybe it’s all of that and more.

    And God probably doesn’t mind us trying to defend His decisions, any more than Jesus was mad at Peter for saying (in ill-considered, knee-jerk defense of Jesus’ character and propriety) that Jesus paid the temple tax.

    But there are probably reasons we don’t understand, all the same.

    Still, we lack the authority to change it. It’s God’s church, not ours.

  96. I have a question specifically about Petrine authority and the claims of the pope as the exclusive holder of the ‘keys of the kingdom’. If this is the wrong thread for this, I apologize (and please move it). Would a Roman Catholic have to answer in the affirmative to the 7 statements given below?

    1) Our Lord gave St. Peter the Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven.
    2) Due to this, St. Peter was the Head of the Apostles.
    3) That Jesus Christ built His Church on the ‘rock’, which is St. Peter.
    4) St. Peter founded the Church of Rome.
    5) That the Church of Rome retains exclusive possession of the Keys of St. Peter.
    6) That the Pope of Rome alone has the authority that St. Peter had through the Power of the Keys.
    7) That St. Peter alone has that authority, thus has supremacy over the Church.

  97. Bob,

    The Catechism of the Catholic Church, in the section on the hierarchy, addresses these matters.

    In particular, under the sub-heading, “The episcopal college and its head, the Pope,” we find the following:

    880 When Christ instituted the Twelve, “he constituted [them] in the form of a college or permanent assembly, at the head of which he placed Peter, chosen from among them.” Just as “by the Lord’s institution, St. Peter and the rest of the apostles constitute a single apostolic college, so in like fashion the Roman Pontiff, Peter’s successor, and the bishops, the successors of the apostles, are related with and united to one another.”

    881 The Lord made Simon alone, whom he named Peter, the “rock” of his Church. He gave him the keys of his Church and instituted him shepherd of the whole flock. “The office of binding and loosing which was given to Peter was also assigned to the college of apostles united to its head.” This pastoral office of Peter and the other apostles belongs to the Church’s very foundation and is continued by the bishops under the primacy of the Pope.


  98. But the Rock is Peter’s confession – not Peter the person. A quick run through the patriarchs will show you that the majority thought that way (or you could visit this link: http://www.the-highway.com/Matt16.18_Webster.html)

    Also, there is no authority given to Peter in Matthew 16 that was not also given to the other apostles in Matthew 18. Do the successors of those apostles also inherit infallibility that the pope claims? If not, why not? If there is equal authority (as Matthew 18 indicates) and primacy is in position only (Peter was 1st to confess Christ as the Son of God), then by what basis is ‘communion with Rome’ the standard for determining the true Church?

    The primacy given to Peter in Matthew 16 looks far different from the Primacy claimed by the pope in recent centuries. How do Roman Catholics reconcile those differences?

    It seems to me that Rome needs to explain how they get from Matthew 18 to Papal Infalliblity. I can explain it through political power struggles far easier than I can through revelation.

  99. Bob:

    There was an authority given to Peter in Matthew 16 not given to all the apostolic college in Matthew 18; namely, the title or new name of Rock (technically Jesus announced it much earlier in John 1:42 but Peter truly exhibited this role for the first time in Matthew 16 when he led the apostles in revealing a truth given to him not by man, but by the Father). Also, Peter’s newly announced role in the Church came with a bit of symbolic regalia, so to speak; namely, the Keys of the Kingdom.

    That bit of symbolism is obvious to a first century Jew familiar with the House of David (not a building, of course; but the Davidic Dynasty) and the various stewardly offices within that dynasty. They knew perfectly well that as a near-eastern kingdom grew, officials of various kinds were always put in charge of various provinces and functions, performing all tasks in the king’s name. They could set policy and legislate within their separate domains of authority. Using the terms of the day, they could “open and shut” or “lock and unlock” or “bind and loose.” We see such high officials being granted authority in other Biblical kingdoms besides the Davidic, in fact: First Haman, then Mordecai in Esther; Joseph under Pharaoh, and of course Daniel was offered an office he was utterly uninterested in receiving in the “Writing on the Wall” incident.

    But in the Davidic kingdom one steward or official had preeminence, the “Head of House” (I think the Hebrew is “al beit?”) or “chief steward.” Arabian kingdoms naturally followed a similar pattern (many viziers but one grand vizier) and even parliamentary democracies have something similar today (many ministers, one prime minister).

    As with the other stewards, the chief steward “bound and loosed” in the King’s name and by the King’s authority. But unlike the others, his decisions could not be reversed by them: What he bound, no other steward could loose; what he loosed, no other steward could bind. His decisions carried a sort of veto authority.

    And if the King were away leading the armies at war, or out-of-town on a diplomatic mission, the chief steward remained a focus for unity in the kingdom, a sort of father-figure for the people. Of course, he’d better not abuse the privilege: No lording it over the people as if he were the real king. He’s a steward, not a king. But being the king’s Chief Flunky, so to speak, was still quite important: As second-in-command, he had responsibility for many details in the daily running of the kingdom.

    And the chief symbol of his office was “the Keys of the House of David.” Give Isaiah 22 a thorough reading. Therein you’ll find Shebna, the chief steward under Hezekiah, being accused of malfesance; so the Lord announces that he’ll be deposed and his office will be given instead to Eliakim son of Hilkiah. As the new chief steward, Eliakim will naturally be granted all the signs of what was formerly Shebna’s office: A robe of office, a seat/throne of authority, and the Keys of the House of David. He will perform the role that Shebna was unfaithful at performing: He’ll be like a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, like a tent-peg driven into a secure place holding the unity of the whole tent together and preventing collapse. And as was always the case with the chief steward, what the other stewards bound and loosed he could loose or bind; but what he bound no other could loose and what he loosed no other could bind. (You can use the parallel terms “open and shut” or “lock and unlock” if you prefer.)

    This, naturally, is precisely the passage and the parallel that Jesus is intending to reference when he grants Simon the Rock-hood, announcing that Simon will serve the role of giving His Church a firm foundation so that it can’t be shaken apart, and grants Simon the office of Chief Steward in the Restored and Fulfilled Davidic Dynasty, which is no mere earthly restored monarchy but the Kingdom of Heaven itself. Jesus grants that specific stewardly office in granting Peter the “keys”…and with this naturally comes the implication that, when other people eventually are granted authority to bind and loose, as they eventually are in Matthew 18, their binding and loosing must take place in unity with the chief steward in order to be final. For of course, whatever they bind, he can loose; and whatever they loose, he can bind; but whatever he binds, none other can loose; and whatever he looses, none other can bind. That’s the difference between chief steward and other stewards.

    So despite the fact that in Matthew 18 there is no mention of “the keys,” it is true — but only true up to a point — to say that the other apostles share in the ministry and authority of those keys. But the keys are emblematic of the Head of House or Chief Steward primarily, and those others who have authority can only exercise it in unity with him. If they break from him, he can overturn their decisions and they cannot overturn his.

    Isaiah 22, the Davidic Dynasty, its stewardly offices (which, please note, were offices of succession, in which the death of an officeholder necessitated his replacement), and the sheer normalcy of this structure in ancient near-east kingdoms is the primary context of Matthew 16 and 18. If you don’t start from that understanding as any of Matthew’s first-century Jewish audience would have, then you aren’t reading the passages in context.

    As for the patristic sources calling Peter’s confession “the rock”:

    Keep in mind that it’s not an “either/or” proposition. Who/What is “the Rock?” Well, God is my Rock. And Jesus is the Cornerstone. And Peter is the Rock which is why everybody calls him Kepha or Cephas from then on, over and over and over. And the Church is built on 12 foundation stones which are the 12 apostles. And all of us are “living stones” built into the Church.

    But if you ask in what particular way does Peter’s chief-stewardly role give a rock-like firmness to the founding of the Church such that Jesus would say that He would build His Church on this Kepha and the gates of Hades/Sheol would not prevail against it (for we must remember that Jesus spoke Aramaic to his apostles and behind the Greek text of Matthew the original conversation was: You are Kepha and on this Kepha I will build my Church)…if you ask THAT, then the answer clearly is seen in the role of the chief steward office described in Isaiah 22: A focus for unity that holds the whole structure together, and a “buck stops here” on policy disagreements, and a father-figure for the people of the kingdom.

    There’s no evidence that any other human “rocks” or “living stones” are supposed to fill that function in the same way. That role was given to Cephas/Kepha/Peter.

    So, the authority claimed by Jesus’ Church for the Peter’s successors in that chief steward office is a perfectly logical exhibition of the implications of everything I have just described: All the bishops have their appropriate spheres of authority, but he can override them when needed and none can override him. They may bind and loose, and thus in a derivative sense share in the authority of the keys; but if they try to exercise their offices out of unity with the chief steward, they’ll be vetoed or reversed.

    That’s why when you read Isaiah 22’s “what he opens, none shall shut and what he shuts, none shall open” and Matthew 16’s “I give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven” together, or when you read Peter’s leadership in finding a successor for Judas in Acts 1, or his “you are not lying to men but to God” with Annias and Sapphira, or the response of the council in Acts 15 to Peter’s vision, there’s a sense of finality to the decisions Peter renders when he exercises the authority of his office.

    It’s a lot like: Roma locuta, causa finita est.

  100. Even if I accepted your explanation (which I don’t), it still doesn’t answer why the pope at “Rome” and not Antioch (or some other Bishop) is the ‘head’. Peter was much closer to Antioch and spent more time there than he did at Rome. I’m not sure we should assume the primary seat of secular power of that age is also the primary seat for Christian power (assuming there is one).

    Also, there is no evidence that special charisms given to Peter indeed pass on to his followers, neither is there evidence that he had a charism of infallibility to pass on to anyone (see Peter siding with the Judiazers).

  101. Bob,

    The answer that you are looking for is given in Bryan’s article on the Chair of Saint Peter, which shows that the identification of the Petrine office with the See of Rome is not an assumption, but is based upon the early Church’s testimony to that effect.

    This testimony is indeed evidence that the Petrine charism of teaching (Luke 22:31-32), sanctifying (John 21:15-17), and governing (Matthew 16:18-19) the whole Church is passed on to Peter’s successors in the See of Rome. As you argued earlier, specifically in connection with the question of who or what is the “rock,” it is not to Peter considered in himself (i.e., as an individual man) that these promises (and the corresponding charism) strictly apply. St. Augustine and other Fathers acknowledged as much.

    What you seemed not to consider, however, is something that is included in the testimony of the Fathers, namely, that the reference to the “rock” and the promises made to Peter do apply to the Petrine office (not exclusive of other applications), and thus to Peter himself and his successors themselves in that office. Thus, the Scripture passages cited above are not mere historical anecdotes, but are a part of the very structure of the New Covenant in Christ’s Blood.

    The specifically Petrine charism, and the exegesis that finds support in the biblical text for the corresponding doctrines, is perfectly compatible with the theses that (a) the referent of “this rock” in Matthew 16:18 includes the Apostolic message concerning Jesus (Matthew 16:16), and (b) Peter and his successors are personally fallible, because (a’) an essential purpose of the Petrine charism is to preserve the message concerning Jesus whole and undefiled by error, and (b’) this charism is exercised by way of the Petrine office, or ex cathedra, not by way of whatever the man who holds the office says or does in just any given context.


  102. Bob,

    Beyond Andrew’s answer, let me add the following:

    First, Antioch was always of course a highly respected see, but why would Peter have made arrangements for his specific office of leadership to be passed on there? When Peter was at Antioch, he was not convinced he was shortly to die. He spent a great deal of time there making sure people knew the faith, especially (one assumes) the leadership. Then, he set Evodius in place as episkopos and Ignatius and probably some others as presbyteroi, and then went elsewhere, eventually to Rome. Antioch, was a “church plant,” so to speak. But Peter was still to lead the apostles for some years after he left Antioch.

    But while in Rome he came to the conclusion that he was soon to “put off the body” and that while he thought it fitting to continue to remind the faithful of the truth while he remained in the body, he needed also to establish some means by which they would be reminded after he departed. He says so in 2 Peter.

    Reasonably, if he were going to make arrangements for the transmission of the office of chief steward to his successor, he’d be doing it at Rome just prior to his martyrdom. So where else would his successor have been likely to be? Obviously it was important that there be a successor in the office, since even Judas Iscariot’s episcopate — a position with a bad reputation if there ever was one! — had a successor. (“Here’s your new office, Matthias, and here’s the restroom key, and here’s your nameplate…and, look, please, do try to do a better job than the last guy, m’kay?”)

    (By the way I suppose that if Peter had believed in Sola Scriptura, he’d have published a definitive canon of scripture instead, or, even more helpfully, a Catechism intended to be read as Scripture; a sort of “Third Peter” I guess.)

    I suppose he might have thought it both strategic and fitting to do this in what was then the capital of the Roman Empire. Strategic because of its importance, fitting because anyone saying “Jesus is Lord” was overtly challenging the Roman phrase “Ceasar is Lord.” Might as well beard the lion in his den.

    But whatever Peter’s reasons, it seems pretty clear that that’s where he did it…and that other Christians of that era knew that there was special authority associated with the Bishops of Rome after Peter, even if they lacked a precise definition for what that authority was (or else never wrote it down).

    I mean, consider the story of the fractious folks at Corinth.

    Earlier, Paul had admonished them for divisions (see I Corinthians), but a few decades later, even before the apostle John died, they were at it again: Some portion of the church wasn’t submitting to the ordained clergy but rebelling against them. What happened next?

    Well, when Bishop Evodius of Antioch died, Ignatius succeeded him, and both highly were respected, and Ignatius’ several letters were regarded entirely orthodox and worthy of devotional reading by the early Christians…but when those same Christians looked somewhere for reliable opinion on doctrine, they didn’t say “let us roll out the list of bishops of Antioch and see what they had to say,” but rather, “let’s look at the succession of bishops of Rome…for with this church all the other churches must be in agreement because of its preeminence.”

    So when Corinth was rent by divisions, it wasn’t the Bishop of Antioch, Ignatius that stepped in to heal the breach. It wasn’t even the apostle John. It was the Bishop of Rome, Clement, who sent a letter to Corinth to see that the Corinthians reunited under their ordained clergy, and even sent legates to Corinth to ensure that his instructions were followed.

    Think about that for a moment. Corinth has a problem, and the head of a church 1,300 miles away steps in to fix it, while the apostle John and the Bishop of Antioch look on.

    If the earlier Christians had followed a largely congregationalist idea of church authority, that would have been a pretty ballsy move by Clement, no matter how humbly he phrased his words in the letter. (And he did, to his credit, go out of his way to sound humble.)

    But seriously: Imagine if Christianity had started in the U.S. (in, say, Albany, New York…but they were first called “Christians” in Atlanta, Georgia), and a church in Houston, Texas was having a problem with dissension and disorder, and the last living apostle was in Raleigh, North Carolina, and Peter had died while in L.A.: And now the second or third guy after Peter to pastor the biggest church in L.A. sends a letter to this division-rent church in Texas saying, “Reunite with your pastor and submit to him…and I have sent representatives with this letter to ensure that you do so.”

    Now, I grew up Baptist and I know exactly what a Baptist congregation would have to say to such a carpetbagging interloper! But what did Corinth do? Did the church at Corinth tell Clement to mind his own business?

    No, apparently what they did was…not only did they obey his letter and submit to their ordained clergy, but, they took his letter so seriously that they treated it like they thought it might be divinely inspired, reading it alongside the Scripture readings in their liturgy for the next few hundred years. (Until that whole canon of Scripture issue became important enough to require a definitive list.)

    So, apparently, their ecclesiology wasn’t very congregationalist.

    As for the Judaizers: Remember the specifics of the Catholic claim, and be careful not to attack something Catholics don’t hold. The Catholic church never said the office of the papacy made a man impeccable. It never even said that it made him always infallible. The Church only says that God, by His power (not a man’s goodness), will prevent the pope from proclaiming untruth as truth when exercising his office in instructing the whole Church on matters of faith and morals.

    So Peter could snub whole classes of Christians, could be a wuss and fail to rebuke various heresies; he could even have been as nasty as a Borgia pope and set all kind of bad example. But only a false teaching intended to be promulgated universally as true — like, say, a theological falsehood in 1st Peter — would refute the Catholic claim about the office. It is, in that sense, a very modest claim.

  103. My experienced of converting to full communion, from a background of total antipathy to any kind of Christianity, *via* evangelical Anglicanism, is that all the positive statements in Protestantism are just Catholicism already, so it’s impossible to avoid conversions in this direction.

    Plus, from an unbiased (or rather, evenhandedly biased) position against both “sides” it becomes clear that there is only one “side”, objectively. I guess this must seem rather unfair to actively Protesting Protestants, irrelevant to the mass of average Christians, and possibly a bit of a wasted opportunity to some Catholics who like a good, long debate…! :)

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