The Audacity of Pope

Aug 6th, 2012 | By | Category: Featured Articles

When Christ at a symbolic moment was establishing His great society, He chose for its cornerstone neither the brilliant Paul nor the mystic John, but a shuffler, a snob, a coward – in a word, a man. And upon this rock He has built His Church, and the gates of Hell have not prevailed against it. All the empires and the kingdoms have failed, because of this inherent and continual weakness, that they were founded by strong men and upon strong men. But this one thing, the historic Christian Church, was founded on a weak man, and for that reason it is indestructible. For no chain is stronger than its weakest link. – G.K. Chesterton

A feature of the papacy worth remarking upon is the enthusiasm with which people like me (‘Papists’) hold to it. It is odd enough on the surface that anyone should hold fast to the papacy, I suppose; for even among its supporters, the Petrine primacy (at least “as exercised”) presents an understandable obstacle to many.1 But it is all the more odd (I suppose) that somebody like me should hold fast to it. After all, I am a super-duper educated philosopher. And, as my erstwhile Anglican priest informed me, since philosophers and educated persons must in the nature of the case be free-thinkers, they cannot in the nature of the case submit to any external epistemic or moral authorities – especially not to “dogmatic” ones.

In point of fact I never did find that line of thought persuasive, still less seductive. I am way too humble to be moved by it. What I did find persuasive, and so seductive I didn’t realize I was being seduced, was something that appealed to my humility instead.

I used to believe that the Protestants had a more humble, God-honoring approach, and that the Catholics had an indefensibly high view of the human element within the Church. Things like the succession of the apostolate, the authority of the Church, the so-called “infallibility” of the pope – all of this stuff seemed to me to form a borderline blasphemous package that vaunted and exalted mere human beings at the expense of Christ and His work.

Yet in time, although I saw my previous perspective as eminently understandable, it became clear that it had been an understandable misunderstanding; a misunderstanding that had the peculiar effect of causing me to see things upside down. What I came to recognize, in other words, was that the Catholic position was in actuality the much more humble of the two. Indeed, it was downright self-effacing. For the Catholic position, paradoxically, was that it is precisely because mere men can claim no genuine spiritual authority that the successors of the apostles could claim it; and, in particular, it is precisely because no man can possibly be infallible that the bishop of Rome had to be.

The fundamental conviction here is really quite straightforward: Catholics think that we’d better not be left to our own devices, or else we’ll probably screw things up. When you get right down to the core of the thing, it isn’t that Catholics are misanthropes; they don’t think that human beings are just absolutely idiotic or irredeemably horrible. But they do have a lot of skepticism about man’s inherent capacity to get things right on his own; to see things straight for himself; to understand things clearly and objectively, apart from the potentially adverse influence of the cultural categories and presuppositions, the inherited traditions, through which he sees the world and understands the Bible – but which themselves usually remain unseen. They believe that owing to these inherent and historical limitations to which all men are subject, an individual person, even if he is a Christian indeed, cannot always rely upon himself – that his own internal “feelings” of certitude, or the inward confidence he has in his own views and in those of his tradition, do not necessarily come straight from the Holy Ghost and do not automatically mean he is right.

This Catholic stance manifests itself in a variety of ways, and it is frequently veiled in an odd sort of way behind precisely the sorts of claims I used to find so arrogant.

Think again, for example, about our previous reflections on the Biblical canon. As we’ve seen, Catholics have trust that the canon of Scripture we’ve received is the right one, because they believe that God Himself infallibly guided the Church to receive and recognize the right texts. Now this idea of an “infallible Church decree” had been uncomfortable to my Protestant ears, because it sounded like they were detracting from the authority of Scripture and its Author by placing a collection of mere men on some sort of par with them. Thus the human element, I thought, was being unduly exalted.

Yet from a Catholic perspective this gets things backward. For the Protestant alternative is to say that since the Scriptures alone are infallible, that means the Church cannot claim to have recognized infallibly which books belong in the Bible. At the same time, we know we cannot simply leave the task of determining the canon to each individual Christian, for the individual Christian clearly cannot claim to possess some sort of infallibility that he refuses to attribute to the Church. Thus we are left with the question of how we can know, how we can decide with confidence, what belongs in the Bible and what does not, if we have no guarantee that the Spirit won’t let us run off the rails – hardly a trivial issue, if the Bible is supposed to be (as the pope likes to say) the “trustworthy ground of our existence.”2

By way of response, John Calvin and many of his contemporary followers try to suggest that we know which books are inspired because the Scriptures “self-authenticate,” “self-validate,” “establish themselves,” and the like. But do you see what has happened? Calvin et al. recognize quite rightly that human beings are not infallible. So they attempt, through these rhetorical devices, simply to bypass the human element altogether, by speaking as though the Biblical canon somehow formed itself without any human involvement at all.3 And they do it in such a way that if you deny their proposal, it sounds like you’re denigrating the Bible.

But this strategy is no more than a band-aid draped over an open wound. The question is a serious one, and the human element cannot simply be bypassed; unavoidably, a judgment must be made by which humans decide what counts as Scripture and what does not, and no amount of “self-authenticating” or “self-validating” rhetoric could possibly obviate that. So, who decides, and how?

Ultimately, in this instance, the Protestant approach leaves us with a collection of writings and fallible humans who are supposed to decide which of them count as God’s words. To be sure, the Spirit is thought to be involved in some way; but it’s never entirely clear exactly what the way is. What is clear, however, is that whatever form His involvement takes, the Spirit does not infallibly guide the Church when it comes to such matters as these – since that would be to take the Catholic (and therefore man-exalting) approach; presumably, so as to ensure His own exaltation as opposed to man’s, the Spirit must leave room for human error. So what follows inevitably is this: to the extent we have full trust and confidence that the decisions about the canon were correctly reached, to that extent we exalt the human’s ability to figure things out for himself, and with no guarantee that the Spirit protects him from error. Thus the Protestant is assigning a much higher place to the role of human judge than he ought, at least from the Catholic point of view. For what’s really happened here is that the Protestant does not eliminate the human element, but rather retains the human element and specifically denies that the Spirit infallibly saw to it that the human element did not go astray. Nevertheless, we are still meant to place our faith in this Biblical canon – and therefore at least partly in the wisdom and acumen of these men. And that makes Catholics uncomfortable.

Similar remarks apply, as we’ve also seen, to the question of “Tradition” and “Magisterium.” The idea of an authoritative tradition and ecclesial teaching organ had sounded uncomfortable to my Protestant ears, since it sounded as though Catholics didn’t think the Bible was enough, that the words of mere men had to be added so as to round off and complete what was apparently lacking in the very Word of God. Here again, I thought, the Catholics were detracting from Scripture and its Author by putting mere men on some sort of par with them, and the human element was being unduly exalted once more.

Yet from a Catholic perspective this gets things upside down. For the Protestant alternative is to say that since Scripture alone is infallible, that means the Church cannot claim such authority when it comes to Scriptural interpretation. At the same time, we know we cannot simply leave this task to each individual Christian, for neither the individual Christian nor the tradition to which he belongs can claim to possess some sort of authority that he refuses to attribute to the Church. So, we are left with the question of how we can know, how we can decide with confidence, which of the endlessly diverse and contradictory Christian traditions has things right – hardly a trivial matter, if it might mean heresy on the one hand or fidelity to the Faith on the other.

By way of response, many Protestants assert that the Scriptures are “perspicuous;” that the Holy Spirit “inwardly seals” its truth upon the heart of every “true believer;” that we have no need of any “infallible tradition” because the Bible is “sufficient” in such wise that we can go by “Scripture alone.” But do you see what has happened? Such Protestants recognize, quite rightly, that a human being cannot claim infallibility for his own interpretive tradition – still less for himself. So they attempt, through these rhetorical devices, to simply bypass the human element altogether, by speaking as though their beliefs are sort of just “downloaded” straight from the Bible – or “telegraphed” to them, as one Reformed blogger recently put it – in a way functionally unmediated by any tradition or interpretive filter at all. And they do it in such a way that if you deny their proposal, it sounds like you’re denigrating the Bible.

But this proposal, too, does not suffice to allay the seriousness of the questions involved. Perspicuous the Bible may be; but that isn’t to say everyone understands it perspicuously. Sufficient the Scriptures may be, in some good sense; but that isn’t to say each reader is a sufficient interpreter unto himself. Inerrant the Bible may be; yet that isn’t to say that any true believer unerringly “gets” what it says. And any tradition must of course be subject to Scripture – but none can pretend that only Catholics have a “tradition” to which their Scriptural understanding pays heed.

Ultimately, in this instance, the Protestant approach leaves us with fallible humans who are supposed to rightly understand what the Scriptures mean – and keep the Church running on course – on their own. To be sure, the Holy Spirit is thought to be involved in some way; but it’s never made entirely clear what this way is. What is clear, however, is that the Holy Spirit doesn’t infallibly guide anybody about this stuff, since that would be to take the Catholic (and therefore man-exalting) position. But what follows inevitably is this: to the extent we have full trust and confidence in our own ability to understand Scripture, or in the deliverances of our theological tradition, to that extent we exalt our ability to figure things out for ourselves – with no guarantee that the Spirit will protect us from error.

Thus the Protestant is assigning a much higher place to the role of human tradition than he ought, at least from the Catholic point of view. For what’s actually happened here is that the Protestant does not eliminate the human tradition, but rather retains the tradition and specifically denies that the Spirit infallibly ensures the tradition will not go astray. Nevertheless, we are still meant to place our faith in this tradition – and therefore at least partly in the wisdom and acumen of some group of men. And that makes Catholics uncomfortable.

This, I think, is really where the rubber meets the road. For the gut response of most Protestants at this point (including my former self) is to assert that they do not put their faith in any “tradition,” but rather in the Scriptures themselves, and that to whatever degree they follow a “tradition” they do so only because it “faithfully reflects” the teaching of the Bible. But everyone can see that this simply pushes the question back a step. For where, exactly, have they come by the crucial information that their tradition is the one which “faithfully reflects” the teaching of Scripture over against all the others, unless they have either accepted this on the authority of their tradition, or accepted it on the authority of themselves?

No, a person cannot maintain this posture forever. At some point any Christian will have to face the discomfiting reality that everyone says precisely the same thing about their own “tradition” and its relation to the Bible, including the Catholics. To be sure, he may feel assured of his own standing as an adopted child of God. He may believe quite reasonably that he has experienced the grace of conversion. He may point to the fruit of the Spirit in his life, and in the lives of those who share his theological outlook. He may feel quite certain, inwardly, about the rectitude of his own theological views. But every Christian in every tradition can do the same thing. So how does that make him right; how does that make his tradition the uniquely privileged one; how does that mean he sees things so much more clearly than everyone who happens to disagree?

Psychologically – and I speak from experience here – the “safest” and most comforting response to this challenge is to recognize one’s own limitations on a theoretical level, but then to dismiss them entirely in real life. That is, one admits to his own fallibility, his own intellectual limitations, and allows for the theoretical possibility that his tradition might not have things right. One admits, moreover, that there are such things as interpretive “filters” through which he understands the Bible, and which could in principle lead him astray without his realizing it, despite his most sincere efforts. Thus one allows, theoretically, for a “gap” between Scripture and his own (or his tradition’s) interpretation of it – indeed, one even insists on this theoretical gap, as proof of his commitment to Sola rather than Solo Scriptura, whenever it seems necessary to draw a distinction between the two. Yet in defiance of these theoretical concessions, there remains in all of us, by God’s own design, a legitimate and by no means quirky need for assurance, for reflective equilibrium; and God does not wish His children to lapse into a skepticism that says we cannot know the truth, or (worse yet) a relativism that makes “truth” so easy to come by that it isn’t even worth the pursuit. So the next step, in the “safe” and “comforting” response, is to take back with one hand what you’d given with the other, and allow, in practice, your own tradition to exercise a controlling influence, whereby the theoretical “gap” between Scripture and your tradition functionally disappears.

What happens then, inevitably, is the critical distance that should exist between your own theological convictions and the Bible itself collapses, with the result that the confidence and certainty that may licitly be directed toward God’s Word is illicitly transferred in its entirety to a particular theological system.

This is a common and commonly unacknowledged trap, and one into which I had fallen in previous years. And the effects of this maneuver became evident in my case, most especially, when I found another person disagreeing with me on matters I deemed essential to the Christian Faith. For when this occurred – since I’d already presupposed that neither I nor my tradition could really be wrong – there was little recourse for me but to assume that this person suffered either from intellectual defects on the one hand, or from moral and spiritual defects on the other. My diagnosis, in other words, had to be that they did not read Scripture carefully enough, or, alternatively, if it looked like they were reading carefully, then they’d been duped by a tradition which had led them into apostasy; and God had allowed this to happen either because they were not “true believers” to begin with, or because they were not being faithful to Him. (Translation: they either were not as smart as me and my friends, or they were not as godly as me and my friends – all thanks to God, of course.)

The upshot, then, was that in the name of exalting Scripture and downplaying tradition, it became impossible for me to submit my tradition to Biblical scrutiny. For to deny the tradition – or even to question the tradition – was nothing other than to deny or question the Bible itself, which only an intellectually or morally deficient person would do: and I most certainly wasn’t deficient on either count.

But do you see what had happened? At the end of this chain – and it is a chain, in more ways than one – everything inevitably terminated with me. To question my own understanding of Scripture was to question that of my tradition. But I’d already decided that my tradition “faithfully reflected” the teaching of Scripture. Thus to question my tradition was to question the Scriptures; and to question the Scriptures was to question God. Hence, in a few short steps I had assumed for myself and for my tradition exactly the kind of sweeping authority I refused to allow any other person or tradition in the world. In the name of upholding Scripture over tradition I exalted my tradition over the Scriptures; and in the interest of humbling the pope I had taken his place. For the fact is that as respects interpretive authority, there is no such thing as a vacuum.

So that was more or less the trap into which I’d fallen. But I think I’d always known deep down that it was only a cheap trick, a frail means of self-defense gained more by theft than honest toil. And after discovering time and again that I didn’t know quite as much as I had thought, it became increasingly hard for me to occupy this stance in good faith.

No, following these recognitions, what I had always known to be true in a theoretical sense would have to make more than a theoretical difference. Neither I, nor my heroes, nor my tradition was infallible; neither I, nor my heroes, nor my tradition, could honestly claim to stand head and shoulders above every other Christian in respect of godliness and intelligence. That much I’d really known all along. But what now? What exactly had I learned about myself, and how exactly should this knowledge be applied? When and how had I come to think I saw things so much more clearly than St. Ignatius when it came to the sacraments? Than St. Irenaeus when it came to succession? Than St. Jerome when it came to the pope? Than St. Augustine when it came to justification? Than Luther when it came to the Immaculate Conception, or the intercessory power of the Mother of God? Before judging them all wrong, had I ever really tried to get beyond the superficial slogans, the bombastic bumper-stickers, the emotionally charged polemics, the mean-spirited sneering, the proud contempt by which I assumed I knew my Bible so much better than any Catholic on planet earth? Had I ever actually been willing to let the Catholics calmly explain in their own terms what they believed, what they didn’t, and why? Had I, in the face of these witnesses, ever honestly grappled with the possibility that I might be the one who had something to learn? Had I ever really earned the right to protest?

I don’t think I ever really did. But from this point I was feeling prepared to allow myself room for the fact that, if I honestly asked these questions, if I tried to push past the psychologically protective maneuvering by which I had unfairly insulated myself from all possible critique, it really wasn’t a matter of questioning the Bible after all. It was simply a matter of questioning whether the tradition through which I’d read the Bible, which disclaimed any sort of infallibility for itself, was necessarily correct. It was not a matter of questioning God. It was not a matter of doubting God. It was a matter of questioning and doubting me. It was sincerely to ask whether my own inward feelings of certainty – which all my detractors seemed equally to share – might owe less to any privileged position I personally held with God, and more to the basic facts of the human condition: facts that apply quite as much to me as they do to anyone else.

It was of course a humbling and discomfiting thing to look at myself in the mirror like that. Yet if I only knew then what I know now, I wouldn’t have been anywhere near as frightened as I was. For from the Catholic point of view, to be brought to this point is not to lose hope of seeing the light: it is to be drawn that much closer to seeing the Light at the end of the tunnel. It is to remember that God knows our situation; that He knows our frame; and that He has provided, as a loving Father, for all that His family needs. This He does, as always, in and through mere human beings. But this is not after all to exalt human beings as opposed to God. Rather, it is to lay bare the undeniable need each one of us has for something more than himself, and to grasp with all the reckless abandon of faith, hope, and charity the life-giving truth that we are not alone, because our Father has given us a Mother.

Ultimately, Catholics look to the Church because they look to the Spirit. And they look to the Spirit because when they look to themselves they do not find the resources to keep the Church – or even themselves – running on course. For the Catholic, the fundamental reason we must cling to the words of St. Paul and St. John is founded on the fact that God breathed His Words through theirs – even though, left to their own devices, they may well have written things that were false or pernicious. And in the same way, the fundamental reason we must cling to the Church is founded on the fact that God is true, though every man a liar: He will never abandon His Bride. And all the devils of hell will fall flailing and prostrate beneath her, because the Body of Christ casts the Shadow of God.

At the end of the day, then, it is because Catholics believe in God that we believe in the authority of the pope. It isn’t a question of his having more spiritual insight or wisdom than anybody else, or possessing some natural power other people lack. It is a matter of God’s continuing providential and fatherly concern for His family, the pilgrim Church on earth, which He exercises through human beings who are utterly unequal to the task in themselves. No one, I think, has expressed this more powerfully than the present pontiff, Benedict XVI. And it seems only fitting that the final words of this reflection should go to him.

* * *

In order to understand the way in which Peter is a rock, a quality he does not have of himself, it is useful to keep in mind how Matthew continues the narrative. It was not by “flesh and blood” but by the revelation of the Father that he had confessed Christ in the name of the Twelve. When Jesus subsequently explains the figure and the destiny of the Christ in this world, prophesying death and resurrection, it is flesh and blood that respond: Peter “scolds the Lord”: “By no means shall this ever be” (16:22). To which Jesus replies: “Be gone, behind me, Satan; you are a stumbling block (skandalon) for me” (16:23). Left to his own resources, the one who by God’s grace is permitted to be the bedrock is a stone on the path that makes the foot stumble.

The tension between the gift coming from the Lord and man’s own capacity is rousingly portrayed in this scene, which in some sense anticipates the entire drama of papal history. In this history we repeatedly encounter two situations. On the one hand, the papacy remains the foundation of the Church in virtue of a power that does not derive from herself. At the same time, individual popes have again and again become a scandal because of what they themselves are as men, because they want to precede, not to follow, Christ, because they believe that they must determine by their own logic the path that only Christ himself can decide: “You do not think God’s thoughts, but man’s” (Mt 16:23).

We find a parallel to the promise that the power of death will not be able to prevail against the rock (or the Church?) in the vocation of the prophet Jeremiah, to whom it is said at the beginning of his mission: “And behold – I am making you today a fortified city, a pillar of iron, a wall of bronze against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests and the people of the land. They will fight against you and yet not vanquish you, for I am with you to rescue you” (1:18f).

What A. Weiser writes a propos of this word of the Old Testament can also serve perfectly well as an exegesis of the promise of Jesus concerning Peter: “God demands the entire courage of an unreserved trust in his prodigious power when he promises the seemingly impossible: that he will make this soft man into a ‘fortified city’, an ‘iron pillar’ and a ‘bronze wall’, that Jeremiah will stand alone like a living wall of God against the whole land and those who wield power in it … It is not the inviolability of the ‘consecrated’ man of God that will protect him against harm … but only the proximity of God, who ‘rescues’ him, so that his foes will not be able to prevail against him (cf. Mt 16:18).” However, the promise to Peter is more sweeping that that which was given to the prophet of the Old Testament. Whereas mere powers of flesh and blood were pitted against the prophet, the gates of hell, the destructive powers of the abyss, are ranged against Peter. Jeremiah receives only a personal promise for his service as a prophet; Peter receives a promise for the time-transcendent gathering of the new people – a gathering that stretches beyond his own lifetime. This is why Harnack believed that the Lord’s promise is a prophecy of Peter’s immortality, and in a certain sense this is correct: the rock will not be overcome, because God does not abandon his ecclesia to the powers of destruction.

The power of the keys recalls the word of God to Eliakim recorded in Isaiah 22:22. Along with the keys, Eliakim receives in trust “dominion and control over the dynasty of the descendants of David.” But the word that the Lord addresses to the doctors of the law and the Pharisees, whom he reproaches for shutting the doors of the Kingdom of Heaven to men (Mt 23:13), also helps us to comprehend the content of this commission logion. As the faithful steward of Jesus’ message, Peter opens the door to the Kingdom of Heaven; his is the function of doorkeeper, who has to judge concerning admission and rejection (cf. Rev 3:7). In this sense, the significance of the reference to the keys clearly approximates the meaning of binding and loosing. This latter expression is taken from rabbinic language, where it stands primarily for the authority to make doctrinal decisions and, on the other hand, denotes a further disciplinary power, that is, the right to impose or to lift the ban. The parallelism “on earth and in heaven” implies that Peter’s decisions for the Church also have validity before God – an idea that also occurs in an analogous sense in Talmudic literature. If we bear in mind the parallel to the word of the risen Jesus transmitted in John 22:23, it becomes apparent that in its core the power to bind and to loose means the authority to forgive sins, an authority that in Peter is committed to the Church (cf. Mt 18:15-18).

This seems to me to be a cardinal point: at the inmost core of the new commission, which robs the forces of destruction their power, is the grace of forgiveness. It constitutes the Church. The Church is founded upon forgiveness. Peter himself is a personal embodiment of this truth, for he is permitted to be the bearer of the keys after having stumbled, confessed and received the grace of pardon. The Church is by nature the home of forgiveness, and it is thus that chaos is banished from within her. She is held together by forgiveness, and Peter is the perpetual living reminder of this reality: she is not a communion of the perfect but a communion of sinners who need and seek forgiveness. Behind the talk of authority, God’s power appears as mercy and thus as the foundation stone of the Church; in the background we hear the word of the Lord: “It is not the healthy who have need of the physician, but those who are ill; I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mk 2:17).

The Church can come into being only where man finds his way to the truth about himself, and the truth is that he needs grace. Wherever pride closes him to this insight, man cannot find the way to Jesus. The keys to the Kingdom of Heaven are the words of forgiveness, which man cannot speak of himself but are granted by God’s power alone. We also understand now why this pericope passes directly over into an announcement of the Passion: by his death Jesus has rolled the stone over the mouth of death, which is the power of hell, so that from his death the power of forgiveness flows without cease …

But the New Testament shows us more than the formal aspect of a structure; it also reveals to us the inward nature of this structure. It does not merely furnish proof texts, it is a permanent criterion and task. It depicts the tension between skandalon and rock; in the very disproportion between man’s capacity and God’s sovereign disposition, it reveals God to be the one who truly acts and is present. If in the course of history the attribution of such authority to men could repeatedly engender the not entirely unfounded suspicion of human arrogation of power, not only the promise of the New Testament but also the trajectory of that history itself prove the opposite. The men in question are so glaringly, so blatantly unequal to this function that the very empowerment of man to be the rock makes evident how little it is they who sustain the Church but God alone who does so, who does so more in spite of men than through them. The mystery of the Cross is perhaps nowhere so palpably present as in the primacy as a reality of Church history. That its center is forgiveness is both its intrinsic condition and the sign of the distinctive character of God’s power. Every single biblical logion about the primacy thus remains from generation to generation a signpost and norm, to which we must ceaselessly resubmit ourselves.

When the Church adheres to these words in faith, she is not being triumphalistic but humbly recognizing in wonder and thanksgiving the victory of God over and through human weakness. Whoever deprives these words of their force for fear of triumphalism or of human usurpation of authority does not proclaim that God is greater but diminishes him, since God demonstrates the power of his love, and thus remains faithful to the law of the history of salvation, precisely in the paradox of human impotence. For with the same realism with which we declare today the sins of the popes and their disproportion to the magnitude of their commission, we must also acknowledge that Peter has repeatedly stood as the rock against ideologies, against the dissolution of the word into the plausibilities of a given time, against subjection to the powers of this world.

When we see this in the facts of history, we are not celebrating men but praising the Lord, who does not abandon the Church and who desired to manifest that he is the rock through Peter, the little stumbling stone: “flesh and blood” do not save, but the Lord saves through those who are of flesh and blood. To deny this truth is not a plus of faith, not a plus of humility, but is to shrink from the humility that recognizes God as he is. Therefore the Petrine promise and its historical embodiment in Rome remain at the deepest level an ever-renewed motive for joy: the powers of hell will not prevail against it …4

  1. Cf. Pope John Paul II, Ut Unum Sint 95ff.; see also (e.g.) John R. Quinn, The Reform of the Papacy: The Costly Call of Christian Unity Herder and Herder (1999). []
  2. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Salt of the Earth: The Church at the End of the Millennium – an Interview with Peter Seewald, Ignatius Press (1996). []
  3. See my “Calvin on Self-Authentication” for fuller discussion. []
  4. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Called to Communion: Understanding the Church Today, Ignatius Press (1996): 61-65, 72-74. []
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  1. Incredible. Thank you Neal. This describes, in so many ways, my own journey. Interestingly enough, the intuitions came for me in reverse. I saw that the “chain” ended with me — which left me with a kind of theological Cartesian despair, but it was Dr. Robert E. Wood at UD who helped me realize we all have “traditions” (gasp!). It was only after that intuition, that I could both understand Catholicism and my relationship to the world itself.

    I think this article lifts the shovel to that effect.

    Warm Regards,

    Brent

  2. Even if we grant that Judisch’s claim that the Holy Spirit works primarily through the pope, what is the warrant that supports his decision to believe that? His decision must surely be the victim of the fallibility of those Protestants who choose Sola Scriptura on their own.

    Or is the Catholic church the reincarnation of Gnosticism wherein only its members have the right knowledge?

    Peace.

  3. Constantine (#2)

    Even if we grant that Judisch’s claim that the Holy Spirit works primarily through the pope…

    I have only had time to skim Neil’s article, but I would be astonished to find a claim that the Holy Spirit works primarily through the Pope! Even this:

    Ultimately, Catholics look to the Church because they look to the Spirit.

    seems clearly to say something vastly different from that. Can you explain where the article says what you say??

    jj

  4. Hello, person who wrote comment #2.

    Even if we grant that Judisch’s claim that the Holy Spirit works primarily through the pope,

    I didn’t say that, or imply that in what I said, and I don’t endorse that.

    what is the warrant that supports his decision to believe that?

    I wrote a few things about that just above, in my post. Also, there’s a lot of additional stuff on the site speaking to the issue of warrant.

    His decision must surely be the victim of the fallibility of those Protestants who choose Sola Scriptura on their own.

    A bit ambiguous; on one reading, sure, just as fallible. On another reading, well, again, we’ve written quite a lot about the Tu Quoque here, and so far forth your remark just instantiates a general tu quoque objection as if it settled the issue, without engaging what we’ve already written in response to that issue.

    Or is the Catholic church the reincarnation of Gnosticism wherein only its members have the right knowledge?

    Nope, the Catholic Church isn’t that thing you just asked about.

    Best,

    Neal

  5. Dear Constantine,

    If you are going to comment at Called to Communion, please adhere to the posting guidelines which state, “If you are criticizing another participant’s claim or position, address your criticism to that person in the second-person; don’t speak about that person in the third-person.”

    Referring to Neal as “Judisch” is not the way to engage in a mutual pursuit of the truth. It would be better, and, I dare say, more Christian and more human to write at the beginning of your post:

    Neal,

    Even if we grant what you wrote….. (or something like that).

    That way the conversation, which is already hampered by the fact we are not face to face over a cup of coffee, and as such not as personal as we would like, could move forward in an attitude and spirit of charity.

    Your contribution is welcome but please do respect our posting guidelines.

    Thank You,
    Tom

  6. Dear Neal,

    You are very good:)

    Like Brent before me, I can testify to the same exact journey,and it has been hell trying to get my friends and family to understand how I could chuck my brains out the window opting for a man to tell me what to think.
    What I’m finding is that they don’t think they are operating from anything more than the bible’s words. I tell them that the only reason that they do not know yet that they are in the same epistemic boat as me is because they are still safely inside their tradition. I’ve challenged them to walk outside it, and have even witnessed an “almost” slip, but the person quickly corrected himself saying, “Well, we won’t go there”. I want to ask why not?! Why not think for a minute that the father’s of your tradition were not right on justification by faith alone? To do that “is” to necessarily reject the clear teaching of the bible, so they can’t. I get it too. I also did not want to step over that boundry; I like it, but I had no authoratative way to know with enough certainty “if” the Reformed Fathers were correct, and that leaves one without a place to hang their faith. It is impossible to have the “good book” without having a body that can interpret it or believe that there exists a body that can interpret it.

    As a memeber of a Confessionaly Reformed Church, I am obligated to give assent to The Belgic Confession article 7 : “ We believe that this Holy Scripture contains the will of God completely and that everything one must believe to be saved is sufficiently taught in it. For since the entire manner of service which God requires of us is described in it at great length, no one– even an apostle or an angel from heaven, as Paul says-2 ought to teach other than what the Holy Scriptures have already taught us. For since it is forbidden to add to or subtract from the Word of God,3 this plainly demonstrates that the teaching is perfect and complete in all respects.
    Therefore we must not consider human writings– no matter how holy their authors may have been– equal to the divine writings; nor may we put custom, nor the majority, nor age, nor the passage of time or persons, nor councils, decrees, or official decisions above the truth of God, for truth is above everything else.
    For all human beings are liars by nature and more vain than vanity itself.”

    I can intellectually and in faith say that the scriptures are inerrant and inspired by God, but doesn’t this document put itself on par with scripture? I even heard an office bearer in my church say that he wasn’t under obligation to put his faith in the Westmister Confession, and I understood that he really believed that he was fully assenting to the scriptures as the chief locus of his understanding about God and man. I could not articulate why it is that I know that he is not relying on the scriptures alone to inform his view. I want to say, “Of course you beleive that those men, got it right. Forget the entire tradition, and start from scratch with all the scriptures, not just those you have given a place of authority, and see what kind of religion you will end up with!”

    To show me just how clear St.Paul is I’ve been asked if I agree with the Reformed understanding, and when I reply that” I cannot give assent because I just have no way of knowing they got it right”, I get scoffed at. I know they want me to say that when I read it I agree with them, and actually I do, but then I get shaky again and I put the question to myself, “but another view exists out there in the world and it precedes this view and it belongs to a body that claims it is infallible.” So then, I’m tied in knots once again. It’s a terrible vicious cycle, and nobody gets it. Then I’m asked when was the last time that I read our confessions? But I cannot bring myself to read those confessions because they are not , to me, a trustworthy likeness of the information that is held in the canon of scripture.
    I’ve even been asked if I would feel more certain if the Reformed Churches claimed infallibility. To this I just sort of laugh, because I realize that they are doing this without the use of the that word, and only making me think that I used my God given intellect to discover the “true gospel” all on my own.

    Thank you very very much!
    Susan

  7. (For anyone interested)

    On the role of tradition in belief formation, I highly recommend Alasdair MacIntyre’s Whose Justice? Which Rationality?. You can find it here.

  8. Or is the Catholic church the reincarnation of Gnosticism wherein only its members have the right knowledge?

    No, because Catholicism:

    1. does not hold to any mysterious, unverifiable, unfalsifiable causal notion of self-attestation
    2. does not reduce Christianity to a message that only the “elect” get
    3. does not only believe in an invisible church
    4. does not believe sacraments are only symbolic
    5. does not disdain the “flesh and blood” of our Lord in the Holy Eucharist

    Those are just a few reasons Catholicism is not even like Gnosticism. If you are looking for modern Gnosticism, there are better candidates out there.

  9. Hi Susan,

    “I don’t know who discovered water, but I’m sure it wasn’t a fish.” I’ve found that to be helpful in illustrating to folks how difficult it can be to step outside one’s own presuppositional framework.

    Otherwise, remember as you are misunderstood by others that Jesus was greatly misunderstood first!

    Best wishes-

  10. Thank you for a great post, Neal. And thanks to the other writers at Called To Communion for their previous contributions on the issue of Scripture and Tradition. As one who also converted from the Reformed tradition to the Church, as I saw it the whole smorgasbord of issues that impeded my entry into the Church ultimately collapsed into this one overarching issue: the question of Authority. Everything else paled in comparison and finally were resolved, at least in principle, once this issue was settled.

    Once I realized that I could no longer subscribe to Sola Scriptura, I knew it was just a matter of time before I came home. However, fear for my career and obligations to my family made me unnecessarily drag out the process for years. I looked for reasons not to enter the Church. Perhaps there was another option besides Rome. Orthodoxy and continuing in the Anglican Reformed Tradition were lures to be considered and fretted over. For years.

    All to no avail, because then I embarked upon a study of the nature of the Church, Apostolic Succession, and the Primacy of Peter. The other options lost their hold on me, and I finally submitted myself to Christ and His Church on the matter.

    Thus, one spiritual journey ended and another was begun at Easter Vigil 2010. I am convinced that you are right. It was at once a humbling and liberating move. Home at last. If I may borrow a phrase from Calvin: Soli Deo Gloria.

    Richard Jones
    Visalia, CA.

  11. Other than the overuse of the word “infallibility” in different variations (which is a word that in my experience is better the less it is used in this sort of stuff if at all), I enjoyed reading this essay.

  12. BK,

    Thank you for the encouraging words. That illustration is perfect.

    I think Neal should compile a book. He writes so deliberately and clearly that I felt like I was floating in a cool spring. From now on instead of answering questions put to me, I will just hand people this article. This sums it all up.

    Susan

  13. Susan (re:#6),

    In many ways, I have been where you are, sister– praying for you. Everything that the Catholic Church teaches is either a.) directly taught in Scripture, such as the death and resurrection of Christ, or b.) strongly implied and/or suggested in Scripture, such as the Immaculate Conception of Mary– *if* one is not reading Scripture from outside of the 2,000-year-old context of apostolic tradition (which encompasses both Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition) of the Catholic Church. This context is the context in which the New Testament was written.

    Reading Scripture with a “Sola Scriptura” mindset can all too easily lead to the seductive conclusion that one’s personal interpretation *must* be correct. We see this dynamic in Martin Luther’s writings, in his certainty that he is interpreting Scripture correctly when, if fact, he is, on certain, important subjects, he is interpreting it in novel ways– such as it had not been understood in 1,500 years. Our Protestant brothers and sisters who believe the Catholic Church’s teaching on justification to be heretical point to Luther as the man who “recovered the Gospel”– but it had not been lost.

    Certain corrupt *practices* by certain people in the Church, at the time (such as the selling of indulgences), might well have obscured the beauty and light of the Gospel in the minds of many people– but those practices were/are not inherent in Catholic teaching, and they could have been addressed and reformed *without* a theological Reformation (revolution) which ultimately created many differing, conflicting denominations, all based on “Sola Scriptura.” In our time, similarly, the sex abuse scandals in the Church are, lamentably, for more than a few people, obscuring the beauty and light of the Gospel that *is* objectively taught by the Church. This is a deeply grievous reality. The scandals do not mean, however, that Church teaching, itself, is heretical.

    For you, Susan, and/or for other people who are confronted by people who claim that the Catholic Church’s teachings are “unBiblical,” I recommend two books which are very strong on, and heavily oriented toward, Biblical exegesis. On the specific subject of justification, I recommend “The Salvation Controversy,” by James Akin, a former Presbyterian and current Catholic apologist. Also on justification, and on many other subjects which are “controversial” between Protestants and Catholics (the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the Papacy, Mary’s role in redemption history and, thus, her role in the Catholic Church, and so on), David Currie’s book, “Born Fundamentalist, Born Again Catholic,” is indispensable.

  14. John Thayer Jensen @ 3
    Hi JJ,
    Perhaps I was a bit too hasty and a little presumptive. My presumption was that Mr. Judisch (I hope I am complying with protocol here) and you and the other fellows consider yourselves to be “good Catholics” in that you subscribe to the irreformable conciliar declarations mandated by Rome.

    Since Mr. Judisch is writing about the pope, I grant him full accord with the directives of his denomination. In the interest of not being hasty this time please allow me to elucidate more clearly.

    Vatican I states: “”The Roman pontiff is the true vicar of Christ, the head of the whole church and the father and teacher of all Christians; and to him was committed in blessed Peter, by our lord Jesus Christ, the full power of tending, ruling and governing the whole church.”

    Now, given that the term “vicar” is singular and that this singular entity presides over the “whole” church in various capacities which stem from Peter having been set” over the rest of the apostles…” one must conclude that the Holy Spirit works primarily through the pope. How else could he be THE teacher? What would it mean to Peter “over” the others if his “primacy” was of no effect?

    Now the objection will certainly be raised that Catholics don’t believe the Holy Spirit only works through the pope. And I did not say that. But it seems to me that, granting the “Called to Communion” guys are, in fact, in communion with Rome, it is a necessary conclusion – indeed it is a necessary presupposition – that the Holy Spirit works “primarily through the pope.”

    I hope the fuller context helps.

    Peace.

  15. Hello person who wrote comment #4 (I hope I get this protocol thing right!)
    You wrote,

    I didn’t say that, or imply that in what I said, and I don’t endorse that.

    I’ll have to learn to be more literal with the folks at CTC. Of course, you didn’t “say” that and, I didn’t say that you did. So I guess we’re even. As I explained to JJ, it was implied by what I assume to be your Catholic identity for the reasons I outlined to him. As per Florence, Vatican I, etc. the pope has been given functions the nature of which are all described as “primacy”. “Primacy”, if it is to have any meaning at all, necessitates “primary” interactions. If the Holy Spirit doesn’t acknowledge that, well, I’d love to see you write about that.

    Peace.

  16. One clarification to my comment #13– in the second sentence, by “everything that the Catholic Church teaches,” I mean everything that she teaches as *doctrinally binding*, such as the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist and Mary’s Immaculate Conception.

  17. Hello All:

    Susan, thanks for the very kind remarks. It was very kind of you to say those things.

    Neal

  18. Constantine (#14)

    Vatican I states: “”The Roman pontiff is the true vicar of Christ, the head of the whole church and the father and teacher of all Christians; and to him was committed in blessed Peter, by our lord Jesus Christ, the full power of tending, ruling and governing the whole church.”

    Now, given that the term “vicar” is singular and that this singular entity presides over the “whole” church in various capacities which stem from Peter having been set” over the rest of the apostles…” one must conclude that the Holy Spirit works primarily through the pope. How else could he be THE teacher? What would it mean to Peter “over” the others if his “primacy” was of no effect?

    The problem is that it is not the case that the Holy Spirit works primarily through the Pope, or even more through the Pope than through anyone else. Indeed, in almost every case when the Pope defines something, he is defining the thing as the consensus fidelium. His is the government, to be sure, but it is, so far as I know, never the case that he just sits and thinks things up. The declaration of Vatican I itself is a good example. The Vatican consulted the Church throughout the world asking for their beliefs about these sorts of things.

    The Spirit works where He wills – and the more any man loves God, the closer to the Heart of the Spirit he is. What this certainly must mean is that when believer A thinks something and believer B believes something else that cannot be true if believer A’s thought were true – then to some extent they can’t both be thinking by the Spirit.

    The only thing we believe about the Pope is that when push comes to shove – as it will – God guarantees that he is the one who will be protected by the Spirit from teaching (not necessarily thinking) something against the faith.

    So I just do not understand why you think this:

    Now the objection will certainly be raised that Catholics don’t believe the Holy Spirit only works through the pope. And I did not say that. But it seems to me that, granting the “Called to Communion” guys are, in fact, in communion with Rome, it is a necessary conclusion – indeed it is a necessary presupposition – that the Holy Spirit works “primarily through the pope.”

    It is simply not so. Not only is it not a necessary conclusion, it is necessarily – since the Pope is our sign of unity in the Spirit – it is necessarily an impossible conclusion.

    jj

  19. Richard,

    Welcome home to the fullness of the faith!!!

  20. “Constantine,”

    The protocol isn’t too hard to understand or comply with, I think. As a general matter, we just write under our own names, and speak directly to people, rather than posting under Internet pseudonyms and talking about people as if they weren’t there. That’s all. So, calling me “Judisch” is just dandy, if you’re talking to me. Calling me “Neal” is, from my perspective, even better. On the 3rd hand, if you are inclined to call (e.g.) James White “Dr. White,” well then, you should call me “Dr. Judisch.” But again, for my part, calling me Neal is just fine, and talking to me is preferable to making speeches about me, at least in this thread. I hope that helps. It really isn’t a matter of being “literal,” whatever that might mean; it’s just a matter of being a person in conversation with another person.

    As to your substantive comments, I admit I don’t follow your argument concerning the “necessity” that I and other Catholics here must endorse the contention that the Holy Spirit works primarily through the pope. I (we) don’t think that, and what you have said in attribution to us (prescinding from whether we would accept it) doesn’t entail or conversationally implicate that either. I am confused about why you think it does, or why your allegation that it does is something you think engages with what I said. Perhaps you could help us by laying out an argument for the conclusion that we are committed to the things you attribute to us? This would help me better understand what you have in mind, and would move the conversation along.

    Thanks,

    Neal

  21. #13

    Dear Christopher,

    Thank you for the book recommendations. I don’t think Protestants are fully aware of the teachings of The Church but that their views are colored by their own tradition. I’m finding that it is ironic that every denomination out there takes pride that it is not ” ‘that’ church, the Roman Church”, and that truth has been right under our noses the whole time. Hopefully they all will begin doing their homework, and I don’t mean at all to pretend that I have more bible knowledge than the wonderful Reformed theologians and pastors out there, I do not, but I’m certain that you don’t have to be uber smart or well read to come to the conclusion that God never intended to leave His own people carried about by every wind of doctrine. BTW, I am a.k.a. Alicia. Could you tell?

    ~Susan

  22. Constantine,
    You said:

    “…it is a necessary conclusion – indeed it is a necessary presupposition – that the Holy Spirit works “primarily through the pope.”

    Bad analogy #1:
    Think of the 5,219 bishops of the Catholic Church like they are playing musical chairs. One of them (the Pope) has been guaranteed to never be left standing when the music stops (And sure enough, when we look in history, we see that every time the game has been played by these frolicking bishops, the pope has never been left standing). My point is that all the bishops play the game. In no way could we say that the game is played “primarily by the Pope”. No way. The other bishops are truly playing the game, and only when one is left standing do we even need to remember that one is guaranteed to never be left standing… an ability that is necessary and wonderful, but not focused on in the day-to-day playing of the game.

    Bad analogy #2:
    The Vice President breaks a tie in the U.S. Senate. Does this mean as a necessary presupposition we must conclude that the work of the Senate is done primarily through the Vice President? This analogy breaks down, but my point is that the senate does all sorts of things without ever even involving the Vice President directly. In fact, only on occasion do we see his tie-breaking ability put to use. The vast majority of official “stuff” the Senate does is binding on us (it is legitimate governance over us by them) without ever invoking the tie breaking ability.

    I just met Archbishop John Nienstedt (my bishop here in the Twin Cities) and he gave us commands with the full authority of the Church. And as St. Ignatius advised in 107A.D., we submitted to his authority as to Christ. No one needed to get the Pope on the phone to verify what he was saying. But it is nice to know that we could in the rare event the need for should arise. :)

    Hope this helps.

    Peace,

    David Meyer

  23. Susan (re:#21),

    I can only say “Amen!” to all that you wrote.

    It was very, very hard for me, as a Calvinist Protestant, to even begin to read Scripture from outside of the Reformed paradigm which I had thought, for years, made the most sense of the whole Bible. When I did consciously make the decision to read the Bible from outside of that paradigm though, it was shocking to me *just how many* passages and verses caused serious problems for Reformed theology– problems which I had been “resolving,” too often, through reading Reformed theology *into* those problematic passages and verses.

    Read outside of a Reformed paradigm, the Bible began to seem disturbingly “Catholic.” When I read the early Church Fathers and saw that they seemed quite “Catholic” too, I began to have a serious Protestant theological identity crisis– one that was only solved by ceasing to be a Protestant and returning to the Catholic Church.

    I hope that you find those two books, and the others that I’ve recommended to you elsewhere, to be helpful. I did know that you were “Alicia” (after you told me elsewhere, that is!). :-)

  24. Constantine (is this your real name or a pseudonym, and if the latter, can you explain why you prefer a pseudonym?),

    re: #2, 14-15

    As has been pointed out, it doesn’t follow from Catholic premises that Catholics believe or teach that the Holy Spirit works primarily through the pope. It may be said that we hold the officeholder of the successor of Peter to have certain “gifts of the Spirit” sometimes also called charisms, but that would be in accord with the general scriptural principle found in 1 Cor 12 in particular verses 28-29.

    The closest that might come to the sentiment you are attempting to attribute would perhaps be those made at the council of Chalcedon, but what was attributed to Leo there was that Peter has spoken through Leo, not your (not Neal’s) claim that “the Holy Spirit works primarily through the pope” (emphasis mine).

    Some interesting observations that can be drawn from the conciliar text above is that the Church at that time recognized that a bishop in that time spoke as though Peter; and while two bishops are mentioned (Leo and Cyril) as having taught correctly, Peter is only mentioned to have spoken through Leo and where both bishops are named, Leo is mentioned first.

    In Him,
    Bill

  25. [...] The Audacity of Pope – Neal Judisch, Called to Communion [...]

  26. When I began to recognize Simon Peter, I saw a man with ordinary courage walk on the water, then defend Jesus in the garden, but who lacked the supernatural courage we saw on Pentecost. Ordinary courage fails and can be called off. In the garden, I believe Peter would have died like a soldier, striking with the sword until he was struck down, but Jesus called him off.

    The Peter who spoke on Pentecost, the Peter who defended the revelation which permitted non-Jews into the Church, the Peter who turned around and went back to Rome to die is the Peter who was given supernatural courage and acted on it.

    Please God that is my fate, to act with supernatural courage. St Peter, pray for me.

    Cordially,

    dt

  27. Hey guys, perhaps this is not the correct place to pose this question, but I am wondering about the status of Papal encyclicals. What authority do they have? Are they given under the auspices the charism of papal infallibility in the teaching office of the Pope? Have they erred? If so, where have they erred?

    I’ve begun reading through various Papal Encyclical at http://www.papalencyclicals.net and want to know how I ought to regard what I read. Thank you!

  28. Refprot,
    Nice questions. I hope someone answers more thoroughly than I am able, but here is a short article that I found helpful when I had your same question.
    http://www.therealpresence.org/eucharst/mir/magisterium.htm#_edn5

    In short, I think you may be approaching the question from a unhelpful angle by wondering about the authority level of encyclicals in general. It would be better to start with the individual statements within the encyclical and examine what type of teaching those statements are, rather than wondering what level of magisterium the entire encyclical is. There is a heck of a lot of variety of topics and teaching in encyclicals. They have contained all 3 types of magisterial teaching within them. Sometimes all 3 within one encyclical, but more often less.
    But for a general reading of them, you can have in the back of your mind that most of what you read in encyclicals is about at the level of the “ordinary and universal Magisterium” of the Pope and the bishops in communion with him, and therefore demands “loyal submission of the will and intellect” on the part of the whole Church. If you start to read something that says “We declare, pronounce, and define (that such and such) is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful.”

    Then that is a hint that the magisterium has switched gears. ;-)

    Lumen Gentium chapter 3 will help on this topic also.

    Peace,

    David Meyer

  29. This is an incredibly useful passage right at the start that sums up what Protestants (and if we’re honest, Catholics much of the time too) understand:

    “I used to believe that the Protestants had a more humble, God-honoring approach, and that the Catholics had an indefensibly high view of the human element within the Church. Things like the succession of the apostolate, the authority of the Church, the so-called “infallibility” of the pope – all of this stuff seemed to me to form a borderline blasphemous package that vaunted and exalted mere human beings at the expense of Christ and His work.”

    It seems a pity to miss out the glaringly obvious fact (to any non-Christian, certainly!) that Christ Himself is presented as human being too.

    The scandal of the Church is in exactly the same dimension as the scandal of Christ Himself – how can this man claim to be God? How can this unity of men claim to have a divine Principle of unity?

    In America at least, maybe it’s easy enough to use the word “Christ” and assume everyone accepts His divinity. But this is probably presumptuous at worst and misleading at best…

  30. I am moved and humbled to read some of the testimonies of some of you who have come to Catholicism. As a cradle Catholic, reading of brethren coming from outside the Tradition testifying with conviction about the process of “coming home” makes me appreciate even more the riches that we cradle kids often take for granted and even forsake (aften all what percentage of the average evangelical parish today is comprised of “fallen away” Catholics?) The peace of Christ to you all and may the Holy Spirit heal our centuries divisions and lead us all toward deeper unity in Christ under the visible sign of Peter.

  31. Mike August 31st, 2012 5:19 pm :

    I would like to echo Mike’s sentiments. Indeed, I learned my Catholic faith from many Catholic converts. Scott Hahn and David Currie of course, but many others including those of Called to Communion. I’m pretty sure I heard this somewhere else but it seems to me that those who leave the Catholic Church do not know their faith to begin with and those that come into the Catholic Church did so because they were searching for the truth and found it. I was almost one of those that ran away from home and by the Grace of God was instilled with that sense of finding the truth. So…all glory to God, of course, but a thank you to all those Catholic converts that taught me so much.

  32. I recall Peter at the Last Supper, when Christ appoints him to head His church, and names him Peter.
    Within so many moments, Christ says to Peter, “Get behind me Satan, …you think more as men do…”

    From Peter being named head of the Church to being called Satan at the same gathering shows us the human condition, and that we must always seek Christ Himself in the Church and not man, and that any cleric is vulnerable to being used by the Evil One.

    When we take our eyes of Christ, the reason the Church exists, then we see and think only as carnate men with no higher purpose. We are all vulnerable.

  33. Kathleen (#32)

    From Peter being named head of the Church to being called Satan at the same gathering shows us the human condition, and that we must always seek Christ Himself in the Church and not man, and that any cleric is vulnerable to being used by the Evil One.

    When we take our eyes of Christ, the reason the Church exists, then we see and think only as carnate men with no higher purpose. We are all vulnerable.

    Perfectly true. So does that mean you don’t think that Peter’s epistles are trustworthy, either, having been written by a ‘carnate man’ who was called Satan a few moments after being named head of the Church?

    jj

  34. It is the Holy Spirit Who is the driving force of the Apostles, it is the Holy Spirit Who is the means, the paradigm and structure of being in the Living Church. Understanding and comprehension of Who the Lord is, what He intended was brought out before a community of apostles, not one single apostle. Many times we witness in the Gospels the questions, the need for clarification, and rebukes among Christ and His apostles.

    When Christ was approaching His Passion, He then connected His fruit from the Tree of Life found on the beginning passages of Genesis to He Himself now becoming the fruit, with His Body and Blood, we would draw on for eternal life. He also stated He knew who would leave Him and who would deny Him. Most of His disciples and followers left with His revelation that He Himself would become the source of eternal life, we becoming inherited sons and daughters partaking of the Divine Life in the Eucharist.

    Only His apostles remained with this test in revealing His full purpose and mission to become nourishment for us. Personal interpretations of the Divine do not bring us Eternal Life and communion with the Holy Trinity.

    This practice of questioning, debating, clarifying, and discerning in the Holy Spirit, was the means of drawing forth our Creed and practice, drawn from the Apostles who knew Christ.

    I recall Peter’s exhortation in his second letter/Epistle, that we are to look to them, the authentic and true witnesses of His Majesty, Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and not fall into personal interpretation, — the work of singular, carnate man, — that can only bear a broken, fractured, and ineffective impression to the world of what Christianity is.

    Only drawing on the life of Christ Himself…His Word and Eucharist….and in the Holy Spirit — unity, can the world be converted. Christ’s constant prayer was that we would be one, so that the world may believe.

  35. Kathleen (#(34)

    I completely agree with everything you say here, including this:

    Only His apostles remained with this test in revealing His full purpose and mission to become nourishment for us.

    For the Catholic Church certainly agrees that revelation ended with the death of the last Apostle.

    And I agree with this as well:

    Personal interpretations of the Divine do not bring us Eternal Life and communion with the Holy Trinity … we are … not [to] fall into personal interpretation…

    This, if you understand it, is precisely the point of the Catholic understanding of dogma, that the Holy Spirit – normally, indeed, as you say, through the “…practice of questioning, debating, clarifying, and discerning in the Holy Spirit, was the means of drawing forth our Creed and practice, drawn from the Apostles who knew Christ,” in the history of the Church, that leads to dogma.

    The difficulty is that unless Jesus had guaranteed that we would have some way of knowing which of the results of the above process was correct, we would have no way of knowing which of these results correctly represented what the Apostles taught. And we believe that Jesus did provide such a means. God will not let His Church fail – and when push comes to shove, it is the faith of Peter that will not fail. Peter died. God provided a successor. It is not the Pope’s personal interpretation as such that we can be certain is correct. It is the fact that we believe that, just as God used sinful Peter to write inerrant Scripture, so God the Holy Spirit promises to ensure that when the sinful Pope teaches things for all Christians to believe – all Christians can be confident that these teachings are not the Pope’s personal interpretations; they are what God wants us to believe.

    That is why I think that your pointing out that Popes are mere ‘carnate men’ is insufficient to make us doubt that God can use them to teach us. The Apostles are in the same state, but God has no problem ensuring they will not teach us error. The Popes, who, you understand, do not simply read their Bibles and decide for themselves, but are rather deeply engaged with all of those ‘questionings, debatings, clarifyings, and discernings,’ and, humble men as they themselves are, they are used by God to help us to understand what the Apostles left us.

    There is no new revelation; there is reliable interpretation.

    jj

  36. By carnate men…..I added that they are consecrated in spirit and truth. The bottom line is that our priesthood is not something they picked. All priests with authentic vocations are constantly aware that they are mere mortals, but chosen by Christ according to His designs. And all of them know they are unworthy of such a calling.

    Likewise, the laity experiences the same communion with the Holy Trinity as do our clerics. It is this communion that is mysterious but yet experienced in our humanity, in our souls, that we can also see that the Holy Father is on the same journey of faith as us, and that we find fraternal communion with him as a fellow believer.

    I like the article from Called to Communion regarding the reality that we Catholics are [not -- Moderator] Ecclesial Deists. We believe that Christ is greater than us, that He is the one to fulfill everything in this world to us, that He is certainly capable of dealing with the sinful humanity that we continue to deal with…this ongoing inner battle of spirit vs flesh.

    So, our focus is not on the personality of the priest and the Holy Father, but rather on the presence of Christ Himself and His grace at work in them, and the subsequent and wonderful communion we have in Him and with each other.

    Many times, it is most evident worshipping at daily Mass attendees, that we already ‘know’ each other, our concerns and prayers and issues. We experience communion with each other rather quickly….only in so many weeks or days.

    Our pastor had a Lutheran minister attend Mass. His remark was that with all the different individuals, groups, and ethnic backgrounds, he was most impressed with our unity. He said in his particular congregations, the different assemblies are more homogenous among each other. Here he sees it all mixed but one. Our pastor replied that in spite of this communion, on the day to day level of ministering, there were likewise as many opinions as there were parishioners.

  37. Kathleen (#36)

    Again, in complete agreement. I confess I didn’t understand what you were getting at in #32 – I had taken your comment to be saying that we couldn’t rely on the Church’s dogma because the Pope, and others, are only ‘carnate men.’ You are, of course, absolutely right that it is not the Pope – nor anyone else – as the persons themselves whom we trust. It is the Holy Spirit guarding Christ’s Bride from error.

    I liked your comment:

    Our pastor had a Lutheran minister attend Mass. His remark was that with all the different individuals, groups, and ethnic backgrounds, he was most impressed with our unity. He said in his particular congregations, the different assemblies are more homogenous among each other. Here he sees it all mixed but one. Our pastor replied that in spite of this communion, on the day to day level of ministering, there were likewise as many opinions as there were parishioners.

    I remember, in 1992, when I was far from imagining I might ever be a Catholic, walking by a Catholic Church and seeing the very great array of different types of people going in. And, indeed, you will find as many opinions on many matters as you find persons.

    Our Reformed Church was much more uniform, both in personality and opinion. But what that meant was that if you didn’t agree with us, you couldn’t be with us.

    The Catholic Church has unity – not uniformity. I thank God that He brought me into His Church at last!

    jj

  38. Welcome, John….I didn’t quite understand your concern…so I added more.

    The point is….we enter the Catholic Church to receive the full deposit of Christ….Christology, the Word…in context of the entirety of Scripture….as Jesus Himself IS the Word Incarnate….not conflicting and disputing ‘ideas’. We are nourished by Christ Himself through the Word Made Flesh in the Eucharist.

    I was thinking at Mass this am a little….how…when we fall into personality orientated intellectualism….be it our own personal interpretation or….high intellectualizing of our faith….we lose our humanity in Christ.

    Many of us are seeing the need to re- focus on Franciscan spirituality which focuses on Christ’s humanity. It was the Franciscans who foresaw the reality that Mary was conceived without sin, not the other scholarly clergy.

    We go to Church to receive Jesus through His consecrated ministers, not for them. The sheep know their shepherd and their shepherd knows them, and we are also very keen when a dear and beloved clergyman gets ‘off’…the remedy is veneration for the sacrament of Holy Orders with the priest saying Yes to Christ, deep love for them, and prayer before Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.

    I worked with a priest/pastor in the missions. Every time he got ‘off’, whether it was crabby or bossy, I would go to the Blessed Sacrament in prayer as he would hurt my feelings, and in about 10 minutes when I saw him again, he was just fine.

  39. Kathleen (#38)

    My fault, sorry. I (foolishly) thought you were saying that since priests – and the Pope – we only human, there could be no infallible teaching after the death of the Apostles. I thought, in fact, that you were a Protestant, and wanted to explain that if the Apostles – themselves fallible human beings – could be used by God to give us His inerrant word, then the Church – and in particular, the Pope – could be used by Him to teach us our duty from it.

    My mistake!

    jj

  40. No Problem….I am not clear at times….but am so very happy you have come into the fullness of faith and communion!!

    Kathleen

  41. This essay seems to be primarily about how we can know things truly. The author writes: “The fundamental conviction is… [Catholics] have a lot of scepticism about man’s inherent capacity to get things right on his own; to see things straight for himself; to understand things clearly and objectively, apart from… cultural categories… presuppositions… inherited traditions, through which he sees the world and understands the Bible…” (para 5).

    It seems to me that much of the rest of the essay is about examples where epistemology is relevant, including reliable knowledge about the true content and meaning of the Bible. An example where Protestants go wrong with their understanding of the Bible is their blindness to the inevitable influence of their own tradition.

    The conclusion seems to be that Protestant theology is unable to solve such epistemological problems, because the answer to scepticism is an infallible authority that certifies theological truths. And if such an authority is necessary for reliable theological knowledge, then the Catholic Church is the best game in town.

    I find this argument interesting because sceptical philosophy has existed for a long time (since before Christ) and arguments apply to all areas of knowledge, not just theology. Consider our expectations of the natural world. The sun has risen every day I can remember, but this does not prove it will rise tomorrow. This is an example of the classic ‘problem of induction’, illustrating how observation of particular events is not capable of delivering certain knowledge about the world in general. Some scientists may not be aware of the philosophical problems with inducing general conclusions from observations, but all (or all good scientists anyway) should be very aware of our human tendency towards bias when performing experiments. Indeed standards exist for clinical trials that are supposed to ensure bias is minimised. It is right to be sceptical about “man’s inherent capacity to… understand things… objectively”.

    How does science operate in the face of legitimate scepticism about mankind’s ability to discover truth? What is the ‘answer’ to scepticism about knowledge of the natural world? Bacon, Popper, and Kuhn write about these issues, but my point here is that the answer is *not* referral to authority. Newton did not claim to know his theories were true because they had been certified by the Royal Society. And this is just as well, because the authority of any certifying body would have been destroyed when Einstein’s theories later superseded Newtonian theory.

    Science is similar to theology in that both are concerned with truth. It could even be argued that both fields are concerned with interpreting God’s speech – science with God’s speech of creation and providence, and theology with His revealed word (Poythress, Redeeming science, 2006).

    Observing that theology and science are similar (both aimed at discovering truth) leads to the question of why the answer to scepticism in theology should be different from that in science. The claim of the essay is not only that appeal to religious authority is a legitimate argument for truth in theology. This would have been more than is usually allowed in science. The claim is that appeal to a religious authority is the only possible way of finally determining the truth of one interpretation of the Bible over another. This claim is extremely bold, given that other fields of knowledge, such as science, appear to function (and flourish) when they actively reject such appeals as legitimate arguments for truth.

    If no good reasons exist for allowing theology as a special case, we could consider the claim that guarantee by a religious authority is necessary for reliable theological knowledge as a hypothesis. This hypothesis appears to be unfalsifiable, because if it is true the religious authority can claim truth for any interpretation, including this one, and claim that any contrary interpretations are false. Popper taught that unfalsifiable hypotheses should not be allowed (in science). However, we might proceed by suggesting that the hypothesis is probably false if evidence can be found within the Bible of a favourable attitude towards private reading and interpretation of the Bible. This would suggest that the claim that a religious guarantor is necessary for reliable Biblical knowledge is not consistent with the Bible itself.

    Does any such evidence exist? This is a difficult question for the proponent of a necessary religious guarantor. Even considering the existence of such evidence implies lack of allegiance to the religious authority from the start. Denying the possibility of such evidence (since it would by definition be an incorrect interpretation of the Bible) makes the claim of a necessary religious guarantor unfalsifiable.

    Putting this aside for the moment, there do seem to be several places in the Bible where the writer assumes that their readers can understand them without the aid of an infallible interpreter, much as I assume you can understand me by interpreting what I have written here. For example, in Luke 1:1-4, Luke explains that he is writing to Theophilus in order that Theophilus may have certainty about what he has been taught. Luke does not direct Theophilus to an external interpreter for a proper reading of his letters. If anything the direction is the other way around, since Theophilus has already been taught about Christ when Luke writes to him. Luke assumes that Theophilus can interpret his letter correctly, and that Theophilus’ interpretation of Luke’s letters will add certainty to his existing theology.

    Another example is Paul’s letters to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon. In these letters Paul writes to his friends, and although he does write some things that are hard to understand (2 Peter 3) there is no suggestion that he thinks they need infallible interpretation in order to grasp his meaning. The same could be said of the epistles written to churches.

    Another example is Deuteronomy. Moses repeatedly tells the people to keep the commands he is giving them, and holds them responsible for obedience. This would be meaningless if the people were unable to understand Moses without an inerrant authority to interpret him for them. Moses also commands the lay-people to teach these scriptures to their children, discuss them at all times, write them on their doorposts, and meditate deeply on them (11:18-21). Private meditation, discussion (and no doubt this would lead to debate), and teaching of scripture are not only encouraged but *commanded*, and there is no suggestion that an inerrant interpretation is necessary for this.

    These examples seem to be evidence (if such evidence is allowed) that the claim of a necessary religious teaching authority is inconsistent with the Bible itself.

    Someone might say that private meditation and discussion of the Bible is not practical because it will surely lead to many disagreements and also dangerously wrong interpretations. False teaching and twisting of Scripture is nothing new. And since the Bible describes false prophets and anticipates false teachers we might even say it is (tragically) ‘normal’. But as far as I can see the Bible doesn’t attribute this to lack of attention to an authorised interpretation, or suggest this is the answer to false teaching.

    In 2 Peter, Peter warns his readers about false teachers, and says scripture is twisted by people who are ignorant, unstable, and lawless (2 Pet 3:16-17). Peter’s letter is about how God’s grace transforms and empowers in the face of false teaching. It seems twisting Scripture is to do with a moral choice to reject God’s grace and God’s meaning. Again, Peter doesn’t point his readers to an inerrant authority, but does point them to specific Scripture, i.e. Paul’s letters, which were written to them (3:15).

    In Luke 16:19-31, Jesus tells a parable about a rich man and Lazarus. The rich man is told that even seeing a resurrection will not bring his brothers to repentance if they refuse to listen to Moses and the Prophets. In Deuteronomy Moses commanded the people to hear, meditate, teach, write, discuss and obey Scripture, and here the rich man is pointed to the same Scriptures. The rich man strongly insinuates that Scripture is not convincing enough (v30), a claim denied by Abraham. His position in hell appears to be due to failure of repentance (v30) secondary to failing to listen to Scripture (v29), which in reality is more convincing than miracles.

    Just as Moses told the people they were responsible for listening and obeying in Deuteronomy, so Jesus seems to tell us that we are responsible for understanding Scripture and repenting, or failing to listen and facing punishment. Failing to listen seems to have more to do with our rebellion and ‘the ears of our hearts’ than the clarity of God’s word (see Ezk 3:7; Matt 13:15).

    To sum up, while a degree of scepticism about knowledge is reasonable, this does not mean it is impossible to obtain any useful knowledge at all. This is illustrated by the field of science, in which interpretation of the natural world progresses despite real doubts about conclusions. In this case progress is not achieved by appealing to an inerrant authority, and if anything science progresses by rejecting such appeals. In this context the claim that such an authority is logically necessary for theological knowledge seems very strange. Such a claim may be unfalsifiable if held consistently, but I suggest that Biblical evidence does exist that could refute it, if evidence is allowed, since passages in the Bible assume private interpretation is accurate enough for hearers and readers to be responsible for their beliefs and actions. False teaching is not an unexpected consequence of private interpretation, but is recognised and anticipated in the Bible, and verses seem to indicate that false teaching results from moral, rather than epistemological, failure.

    Having concluded my previous points, a final thought occurs to me. Even if an inerrant interpreting authority did exist, it would not solve the problem of scepticism in theology. This is because “man’s inherent capacity to get things [wrong] on his own” does not disappear if he exchanges reading the Bible for reading dogma about the Bible. ‘Cultural categories’ and ‘presuppositions’ still apply to dogmatic pronouncements. We are left with the usual necessity of reading, thinking, and prayerfully trying to understand with the help of others who have also studied these documents. In my experience, Papal documents are quite a lot harder to understand than much of Scripture. Why not go straight to the source and spend the time applying this method to the Bible instead?

  42. It is the duty of our local bishop to help us understand what particular encyclicals mean. I greatly enjoyed the explanation of “Centisimus Annus’ that was explained to us in our diocesan newspaper….John Paul II was a rather heavy writer, Benedict is much clearer.

    I also think that is all part of the process of the darkness we are in, understanding Scripture in the times we are living in….Christ becomes like the light of a small candle leading us in the darkness, we groping along the way, struggling to make sense of things in our lives….this all part of the Cross.

    Group Bible studies bring fellowship and support, and don’t always draw on encyclicals, but oftentimes more in combination with the Church Catechism. ‘Veritatis Splendor’ by John Paul II, ‘Mission of the Redeemer” are some other favorites…His teachings on faith and reason are quite understandable. But it was admitted JPII could be rather ‘thick’ at times…..

    Catholicism is all about context….it all depends on the type of level of Bible studies we are seeking.

    It is the Holy Spirit and its fruits that affirm our walk in Scripture..He is always present and guiding. Shared groups are good because questions are openly brought forward and clarified or tweaked….people leaving supported and refreshed….without controversy…the Word giving us Life…..

    The essence of Catholicism is communion…it is the standard….if we have questions or uneasiness with a teaching, it is good to bring it to someone more knowledgeable in Scripture or to one’s parish priest.

  43. Ijcm (re:#41),

    Welcome to CTC, and thank you for your very thoughtful comment. The Reformed Protestant author, Dr. Keith Mathison, has raised and attempted to answer many of the very same questions that you have articulated here. I sincerely wish that I had more time to engage your concerns personally and at length, but I’m in a busier-than-usual season of life and am also already in one lengthy discussion at this site on another thread. However, I believe that most, if not all, of the questions and issues that you raise have been addressed in the following four articles here:

    “Sola Scriptura, Solo Scriptura, and the Question of Interpretive Authority”: http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2009/11/solo-scriptura-sola-scriptura-and-the-question-of-interpretive-authority/

    “The Tu Quoque”: http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2010/05/the-tu-quoque/

    “Keith Mathison’s Reply”: http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2011/02/keith-mathisons-reply/

    “Mathison’s Reply to Cross and Judisch: A Largely Philosophical Critique”: http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2011/02/mathisons-reply-to-cross-and-judisch-a-largely-philosophical-critique/

    Thank you again for your comment. I hope that these articles will be helpful for you, and I hope that other people here are able to engage your concerns more personally, one-to-one. God bless!

  44. Ijcm (re:#41),

    One more article that might also be helpful for you: “Infallibility and Epistemology”: http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2010/04/infallibility-and-epistemology/

  45. Thank you, Christopher….I am a cradle Catholic and my father was in the Benedictine seminary for 2 years. Likewise, I am extremely busy and even have difficulty reading from a computer screen rather than from a book….

    Will do my best to study your references…

    I just want to clarify….that when we find our ‘answers’….the end result is this beautiful sense of balance and peace and connectedness to the world around us….I think these are tangible effects of the Holy Spirit at work. Likewise, the difficulties in the Church have always been in applying Scripture to a new event that makes us start all over again. And finally, it is so common to hear that we are on this uphill climb, we come to the peak and cross over, confident….but then another crisis comes….and then we think we are back at step one….very common experience.

    So what is important…as I am not totally into the Word….but the Word Made Flesh relating my faith to the Word of God but the Eucharist….integrating the Lord into my life and likewise….hearing Him in the signs and events around me….that again draw me back to deep reflection on Him….faith walk is more a journey to me….life long….growing in faith….but essentially always sensing, I am basically at the first step…..

    I remember St. Theresa the great saying she could only take one step towards God…but that He in turn would take 9 steps back to her!!!!

    More than anything…we have to get into the posture of allowing the Lord to carry us…and to call on His name in response to all our failures and weakness of the past, or bad experiences that overcame us…Jesus! Jesus You are Our All!

    Thanks!

    kathleen

  46. Kathleen (re:#45),

    Thank you for your reply, sister. I can relate to so much of what you wrote about allowing the Lord to carry us and about calling on Him in our failures, weaknesses, and bad experiences. I am a Catholic convert *and* a revert… I converted to Catholicism in college, out of a largely Godless (nominally Protestant but still largely Godless) past, and a particularly tumultuous adolescence and young adulthood… I wish I could say that it was smooth sailing for me after I joined the Church, but due to poor RCIA catechesis and very pointed challenges from anti-Catholic friends, I actually ended up leaving the Church only about a year and a half after I joined. Eventually, I became a very anti-Catholic Protestant, speaking out against so many aspects of the Church that I had not been instructed well in in the first place. I was persecuting the Church, but it was largely in ignorance. Still though, when I returned to the Church, I had a heavy weight of regret for all the people that I might well have turned against her. Anyway, you mentioned failure, and I thought of how my initial conversion went off in a direction that I never imagined at the time, leaving the Church… When I finally returned, almost fifteen years later, I was so much more Scripturally and catechetically informed about what the Church teaches. Now, I can’t imagine *not* being Catholic. If I were not Catholic, I would have to be either Eastern Orthodox or possibly an agnostic. Through much study and prayer, I have simply found the evidence of both Scripture and church history to point to the Catholic Church, and away from Protestantism, as much as I do love and respect my serious, committed Protestant brothers and sisters in Christ. They sincerely believe that in attempting to “evangelize” Catholics out of the Church, they are pointing them towards Christ. That conviction, though, is based on so many misunderstandings and misconceptions. I know, because I’ve been there. Thank God for the Papacy and the magisterium which the Holy Spirit guides to protect us from the errors of private interpretation of the Bible!

    At the same time though, Catholics should love and read the Bible, in Mass and in daily life. I affirm, of course, with Blessed Pope John Paul II that the Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life,” but St. Jerome also tells us that “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” I know that in my own weakness, both morally, as a sinner, and physically, as a man with the disability of Cerebral Palsy, I desperately need both the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist *and* the prayerful reading and study of Scripture just to make it through my week as a Christian. Without the intake of the Body and Blood of Christ and the study of the written word of God, I am all too prone to fall into sadness and even despair over the daily challenges of my life. Thanks be to God that He provides both for us in the Catholic Church *with* the teaching authority of the Pope and the Magisterium! Being Catholic, seriously Catholic, is truly to have such a treasure trove of riches from our Lord! Please pray for me that I will not take any of what we have been given for granted!

    I hope that you do find my references helpful from #43 and #44. I provided them in response to the comment from “ijcm,” but if they are helpful to you too, thanks and praise be to God! Pax Christi, sister!

  47. Yes, I am beginning to read the first one, Christopher…. I am in the process of joining a lay branch of a religious order and spent more time out there than I intended.

    Thank you for all your sharing…and praise to the Lord that you are secure on the Bark of Peter…it goes up and down…but it is always there. We must come to the Church for Christ, and the challenge is to keep our eyes on Him through the tradition of faith we have been given. For me, I use the term, ‘centered’ in my faith. I find when I go ‘out’ it can be for curiosity….it is some study group in the parish or an experience or a new pilgrimage to sign up to…..but it leads me to over load, and so I try to live simply and know my boundaries. The truth is we will never know fully about Christ, through the Church, and in heaven as He will provide us all eternity to know Him more….and to enjoy a fulfilled communion with our loved ones and saints in heaven.

    The best and most solid place for me to learn Sacred Scripture, I have found over the years, has been at Mass. And now we have many Bible studies with fellowship where we can share, that follow the interpretation of the Church and utilize the catechism, the lives of the saints, and theology. My parish has a most wonderful ongoing women’s bible study group. They are finishing Exodus and now moving into ‘ Salvation History’ this fall. We begin fellowship with prayer and song, and then break up into groups, that after so many weeks, break up again and re-member so we can get to know others in the group as well. Then we have banquets and a Christmas party…a beautiful sisterhood. I wish I could return.

    The Word of God always enriches our minds and understanding. I am not one for coffee and donuts after Mass because I want to hold on to the experience of Sunday Mass…the Liturgy of the Word and Eucharist…..and my pastor affirmed it is the right spirit…when after communion, we want to get up and go out and serve the Lord with great enthusiasm.

    Yes, so much of Protestantism is based on misunderstandings. And true that is because there were great saints beforehand who spoke of God’s grace freely given to us, and His great love. If one, through some kind of personality issue cannot understand and experience the Lord’s grace, love, and forgiveness….he is in some kind of isolation. So the saints themselves are great help, through their own shared experiences, to help us become closer to Him.

    Yes…in regards to the times you were away or misdirected others…simply call on the Holy Name of Jesus as the answer and remedy to this….I had some bad experiences in my life and made some choices that to this day I suffer over….but affirm Christ and His name over this, and ask for a greater portion of His life to come to me to fill those vacancies. And in this broken faith, to share it with others.

    When we give our faith to others when we share it with others, it takes away the lukewarm and complacency we fall into…where the Mass becomes routine and our minds get easily distracted.

    Sacred Scriptures is indeed Jesus Christ, Logos, the Word Made Flesh….it is He Who is speaking through its entirety. I reflect on Him and His word and when I go out into my work, I look at people, places things, and affirm His presence and Word over everything. I share this because I think this is how we Catholics live out the Word of God….through the incarnation in our own lives, and part of the reason we bow our heads at the words of the Incarnation at the Nicene Creed.

    My grandmother told me when our parish was affected by some excesses of Vatican II to keep my eyes on God and the sacraments and the Gospel and not to look at anything else, but to go home and live out what I learned from God at Mass.

    The Church is essentially mystiological, our faith is grounded in the concrete Word of God with the Church as interpreter….always providing us unity and communion with the Holy Trinity, and the Sacraments. If we reduce the Word of God to text, then God Himself becomes abstract that then in turns leads to divisions and constant disputes.

    God bless you and Yes, I will continue with the references and come back.

    I will pray for you tonight, Christopher, when I go back out to work….

    kathleen

  48. Kathleen (re:#47),

    Thank you for your prayers, and for that comment, sister. I have so very much to learn from cradle Catholics such as yourself. Thank you for keeping the light on and burning for me in the almost-fifteen years that I was gone. Mea culpa.

    Any Catholic who ever prays for the reunification of the Church is helping people like me to either come to her for the first time, or to return to her. Thanks be to God for both! I wish that I could write more in response to your comment, but a graduate class on Mary has me very busy at this time. How I am learning about her though!

  49. Kathleen,

    P.S. I will pray for you as well. Pax Christi, sister!

  50. [...] now a month and a half old. But Called to Communion, ever one of my favorite blogs, has offered a brilliant piece by Neal Judisch, a Catholic convert from the Reformed tradition, that says everything I’ve [...]

  51. Neal,

    You mentioned protestant “rhetorical devices’ (please forgive the long quote):

    By way of response, John Calvin and many of his contemporary followers try to suggest that we know which books are inspired because the Scriptures “self-authenticate,” “self-validate,” “establish themselves,” and the like. But do you see what has happened? Calvin et al. recognize quite rightly that human beings are not infallible. So they attempt, through these rhetorical devices, simply to bypass the human element altogether, by speaking as though the Biblical canon somehow formed itself without any human involvement at all.

    Then you brought up what I see as Catholic rhetorical devices:

    For the Catholic position, paradoxically, was that it is precisely because mere men can claim no genuine spiritual authority that the successors of the apostles could claim it; and, in particular, it is precisely because no man can possibly be infallible that the bishop of Rome had to be.

    I have a few questions.

    1.) If the protestants are using “rhetorical devices” to deal with human fallibility, how are Rome’s methods of dealing with fallibility not rhetorical devices by the same standards?

    2.) The last portion of your passage concerning the Pope is interesting: it is precisely because no man can possibly be infallible that the bishop of Rome had to be. Has to be? Why does the Bishop of Rome have to be infallible?

    3.) A somewhat side matter, but still related to authority. I was told by a Catholic that I should read the Catholic Church’s catechism as a “first step” of sorts on a “journey to Rome” (which I am not on). I have. I reject substantial portions of it as being contrary to Scripture. Now where am I left to go, assuming I wanted to join with Rome (again, I speak in hypotheticals)?

    I reject its teaching on Scriptural doctrine, and I reject its claims to have the infallible interpretation of Scripture. Is my choice at this point to throw out my understanding and accept an authority that I simply cannot? In my conversations with Catholics, I am told over and over to read the Catechism. I have. I reject it. Now what?

    Questions and disagreements aside, you write very well, and your article is easy to read and understandable. I thank you for it, even though I disagree.

    Justin

  52. Neal,

    To clarify, upon a re-read of your piece here (I “got it” more clearly the second time through, I think), how does the Catholic come to accept the church of Rome (and all that goes with it) without, end the end, doing what I think you’re saying about Protestants here? This ties in to my question #2. Just as you (rightly, in a sense) ascribe tradition to a higher place than Protestants might like to admit, I think that the choice to submit to Rome’s claims to magisterium involve just as much “self” or “self-choice” as any other decision. If you trace the Catholic’s “chain” back one step further, you still end up at “self,” i.e. “I chose Rome.”

    If I were to swim the Tiber, it would be because I made a choice to. I am infallible. How would I know that choice was not wrong?

    Thoughts?

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