Pope Francis, Atheists, and the Evangelical Spirit

May 23rd, 2013 | By | Category: Blog Posts

Some interest has been generated in online news media (which is the only kind I follow) by Pope Francis’s recent homily in which he affirmed that atheists can accomplish some good in the created order, which provides a “meeting place” for them and religious believers. The Pope went on to say that atheists have been redeemed by Jesus Christ. I immediately took this to mean that atheists have been redeemed in the sense that Christ died for all men. We have all been “bought back” from sin and the devil, which opens up new possibilities for every human being. But some people apparently found more than a hint of universalism in the Pope’s declaration.

Although Pope Francis was not directly addressing this issue, his remarks also called to mind the teaching of the Second Vatican Council that God’s saving grace can by extraordinary means reach people who have never heard the Gospel, who yet, being moved by enabling grace, are seeking God even in cases where through no fault of their own they do not consciously acknowledge the true God (Lumen Gentium 16). Following a few remarks on the Pope’s homily, I want to take this occasion to discuss the matter of salvation by extraordinary means of grace, relative to the direct evangelism that is enjoined upon the Apostolic Church by her Lord (Matthew 28:18-20). 

Redemption Accomplished

Pope Francis’s point that atheists can and have done good works in the created order is simply common sense, and reflects the teaching of Vatican II (Gaudium et Spes 19-21). The point regarding universal redemption–as distinct from universal salvation–is clearly Catholic doctrine: Christ suffered and died for all human beings without exception (CCC 605; cf. John 3:16; 1 John 2:2). It is also Catholic doctrine, articulated at Vatican II, that God can and does work in both revealed and hidden ways to bring salvation to all persons, even though we might reject his grace and thus not be saved (Lumen Gentium 16; Gaudium et Spes 22; cf. Acts 10:34-35; Romans 2:14-15, 10:18). The key to understanding the Pope’s remarks is to understand that there is a difference between being redeemed–as are all men (objectively), because of Christ’s death and resurrection–and being saved or in a state of grace–as are only those who receive God’s grace by faith and abide in his love.

It is also important to notice that the Pope was not teaching that atheists can be saved merely by doing good works. He made two distinct though related points; namely, that atheists can do good works and that Christ has redeemed everyone. For these reasons, we can “meet one another in doing good.” Although no one is saved by good works in the sense of being translated from spiritual death to life (Council of Trent, Session VI, Chapter 8), good works can be a kind of preparation for both direct evangelism (Acts 10:1-2, 34-35) and those obscure, extraordinary means of grace by which people who have never heard the Gospel with their ears might be saved (Lumen Gentium 16).

Of course, the Pope’s point about the universality of the Atonement is disputed by Calvinists, and the teaching of Vatican II concerning the possibility of salvation apart from explicit faith in Christ is widely debated in non-Catholic Christian circles. In what follows, I want to briefly describe how I, as a Catholic, think about the latter issue, with special reference to evangelism.

Emeth versus Evangelism?

Many of us are familiar with the scene towards the end of C. S. Lewis’s The Last Battle in which Emeth, a Calormene soldier and devotee of the demon Tash, is cast into the “next life” and there greeted by Aslan as a beloved son. Aslan informs the abashed man, who had verbally opposed the Great Lion all his life, that in his heart, as evidenced by his character, he had really been seeking Aslan all along. As a conservative, Evangelical Protestant, I always accepted this as a good story–there was a rummy sort of something “fitting” about Aslan’s interpretation of Emeth’s life. But I overtly rejected it as a literal bit of soteriology because of what I perceived to be a contradiction with the implications of many passages in the Bible. Now, of course, on the basis of the teaching authority of the Catholic Church, I accept the possibility of salvation by extraordinary grace through implicit faith, though I confess to still being a little afraid of such grace and generosity, especially because it surpasses my own understanding.

The most obvious objection to “Emeth” is this: “Well, so much for missionaries and evangelism and baptism and all of that.” Like Rachael Lynde, the Presbyterian “church lady” in the Anne of Green Gables series, we can be vexed to hear that some “heathens” might be saved not only in spite of our own best efforts but even apart from them. But of course that would be a rather self-regarding and legalistic way to think about the situation. It seems more reasonable, more generous and humane, to respond to the possibility of an Emeth by doing what the Church has always done: send missionaries to the ends of earth (including just next door) to bring the Gospel, in word and sacrament and loving-kindness, to everyone for whom Christ died–including atheists (cf. the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on the Mission Activity of the Church, Ad Gentes). For, if anything, it should be a source of motivation to think that there might be people “out there” who are primed, so to speak, for the Gospel, having already been inwardly moved by grace, as well as people who have so responded to this grace that they have been converted and united to Christ in a mysterious manner. Evangelism not only announces the work of God, it is preceded by the work of God.

Talking about extraordinary means of grace and the possibility of salvation for each person who has ever lived can given rise to at least an implicit assumption that just about everyone is somehow, more or less consciously, striding along the straight and narrow path towards the pearly gates. Thus the seeds of indifferentism and presumption are sown. But it is easy to discover that not everyone is in a state of grace, which is to be rightly related to God. Some of us can figure this out just by paying attention to the example of humanity nearest to hand, namely, oneself. In my own life, there have been times when I have turned away from God, despising the things of Heaven, in order to greedily pursue my own path towards Hell. And more than once, grace has broken in like a tidal wave, wrecking my own private Isengard. Among the floatsam and jetsam, in the washed out result, I find joy and peace, which is naturally something that I want to share, particularly because it stands to reason that there are a lot of other people just like me–desperately in need of God’s grace, which he abundantly provides to sinners.

Such is the love of God. And doesn’t love compel one who has found Christ (perhaps for the four-hundred-ninetieth time) to in some way “be Christ” to the next person who comes along? It seems to me that that is the gist of the evangelical spirit. It springs up from within, like living water. The Second Vatican Council’s teaching on salvation can be twisted to suit nefarious ends or attitudes, such as religious indifference and presumption. The most obvious solution for these and related problems is to fix the twister, perhaps through more fully explaining and exploring the implications of this teaching in its broader dogmatic context (cf. the Declaration from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Dominus Iesus, On the Unicity and Salvific Universality of Jesus Christ and the Church).

Conclusion

The Gospel was made for simple minds, but there is a certain kind of simplistic mindset that can only see or reason about particular points in isolation. In this way, the theological tapestry of Catholicism is considered according to either warp or woof, but never the whole. The whole of Catholic theology includes both universal redemption and particular salvation, both nature and grace, both “Emeth” and evangelism; thus, to suppose that we must opt for one or the other of these is simply to miss the picture.

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  1. Thanks Andrew.

    It is important, as you mentioned, to distinguish between redemption accomplished objectively, and redemption applied subjectively. Pope Francis was speaking of the former when saying that Christ has redeemed all men, and therefore not implying universalism.

    Also, regarding the “good works” that atheists can do, and which provide a “meeting place” for them and religious believers, good in the created order is not the same as good in the order of grace. So while the good works done by those not in a state of grace can be materially the same as good works done by those in a state of grace (e.g. feeding the hungry, giving shelter to the homeless), they are not formally the same, because they are not done out of agape. The common ground Pope Francis is speaking of here is not formal common ground, but material common ground. So we don’t have to choose between the position in which all the works of those not in a state of grace are evil (and thus there being no common ground between the ‘good’ works done by such persons and the good works done by those in a state of grace), and the position in which the good works of those not in a state of grace are equivalent to and just as God-pleasing as those done by persons in a state of grace.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  2. I approached the Protestant response to this from a somewhat more satirical angle:

    http://www.creedcodecult.com/all-i-really-want-is-some-peace-man/

  3. Matthew 21:28-31
    1599 Geneva Bible (GNV)

    28 ¶ [a]But what think ye? A certain man had two sons, and came to the elder, and said, Son, go and work today in my vineyard.
    29 But he answered, and said, I will not: yet afterward he repented himself, and went.
    30 Then came he to the second, and said likewise. And he answered, and said, I will, Sir: yet he went not.
    31 Whether of them twain did the will of the father? They said unto him, The first. Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, that the Publicans and the harlots go before you into the kingdom of God.
    _______________
    Footnotes:

    Matthew 21:28 It is no new thing to see them to be the worst of all men, which ought to show the way of godliness to others.

  4. Michael Horton, the J. Gresham Machen Professor of Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary California, the Editor-in-Chief of Modern Reformation, and the President and Host of the White Horse Inn, has responded to Pope Francis’s comments, in a post titled “Is This Good News?” In short, Horton grossly misunderstands and misrepresents Pope Francis’s position, construing it as Pelagianism and universalism. I won’t respond to everything he writes there, but only to a few things.

    Horton writes:

    However, the pontiff added, “The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone!…We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.”

    Reports from major outlets, including the Huffington Post, express astonishment at the pope’s comments. What is this strange new teaching? Of course, it’s not new at all. It has been an emphasis ever since the Second Vatican Council, where the previously shunned speculations of Karl Rahner, S. J., became official teaching. There is no way to reconcile the previous councils and papal pronouncements depriving non-Roman Catholics of salvation with the idea of the “anonymous Christian.” Nevertheless, there it is. Not the development of dogma, as Cardinal Newman formulated, but the flat contradiction of dogma.

    Here Horton asserts, without demonstrating or substantiating, that the teaching of Vatican II (a) contradicts and cannot be reconciled with preconciliar teaching, and (b) is not a development of preconciliar dogma. But first, as has been explained above, in saying that Christ “has redeemed all of us,” the pope is speaking of Christ’s work of redemption, which was for all men, not merely for some. And that is the constant teaching of the Church. Horton is conflating (and confusing) objective redemption and the subjective application of redemption — see comment #1 above. Likewise, the Church has always believed that unbelievers (and those not in a state of grace) can do good works in the created order (e.g. provide for their children, help victims of disasters, etc.). So here too nothing in Pope Francis’s statement contradicts or is incompatible with preconciliar teaching.

    Before Vatican II, the standard teaching was that ordinarily no one can be saved who does not submit to the magisterium and papal authority in particular. Especially in trouble were those who had been reared Roman Catholic and yet explicitly rejected the pope’s headship.

    That remains the Church’s teaching, for those who know the Catholic Church to be the Church Christ founded, and culpably reject her, as Tom Brown has explained in “VanDrunun on Catholic Inclusivity and Change.”

    Horton continues:

    What has changed? We keep hearing from Protestants that, given the Vatican II reforms, if Luther and Calvin were alive today they’d renew their Roman Catholic membership cards. I doubt it. Not even the craziness of contemporary Protestantism could push them to make that move against a Scripture-bound conscience.

    What has changed is that Rome has carried its incipient Semi-Pelagianism to its logical conclusion. I know, Karl Rahner and Vatican II repeatedly condemn Pelagianism and extol grace as the fundamental basis for salvation. Yet that has always been Rome’s teaching. It is by grace alone that we are empowered to cooperate in meriting further grace and, one hopes, final justification.

    Here Horton has grossly misunderstood Pope Francis’s words, misconstruing them as teaching that atheists can be saved by good works without grace. But that’s not at all what Pope Francis was teaching. Pope Francis’s statement “we will meet one another there” is not talking about heaven, but about the common ground for coming together in fruitful dialogue aimed at mutual understanding and reconciliation.

    The Reformers never accused the medieval church of embracing outright Pelagianism, but of that subtler form of works-righteousness that invokes grace as no more than assistance for our attainment of God’s favor.

    The Catholic Church, however, never taught that grace is no more than, or is needed for nothing more than, attaining divine favor. There would be no divine assistance if there were not already divine favor.

    There is a certain truth, then, to the idea of development, at least from the sixteenth-century Council of Trent and the twentieth-century Second Vatican Council. Various seeds have come to full flower:
    Collapsing special revelation into general revelation, and therefore the gospel into the law, Rome maintains that Scripture provides a higher revelation—greater illumination. The gospel is simply “the new law”—easier than the old covenant—with Christ as a “new Moses.”

    That’s an obvious straw man. The gospel, according to the Catholic Church, is not merely the “new law,” but a new outpouring of the Spirit and the grace by which we fulfill the new law of love. A new law, without the grace by which to fulfill it, would be a worse covenant than the previous.

    Collapsing our works into Christ’s, the familiar slogan of the medieval church was “God will not deny his grace to those who do what lies within them.” It is this slogan that is official dogma, according to Vatican II and the current Catechism of the Catholic Church.

    Another straw man. What lies within us, in Catholic doctrine, always includes the actual grace from Christ already at work within us. We can never make the first move toward God. The Church has never taught otherwise. See “Did the Council of Trent Contradict the Second Council of Orange?

    The Council of Trent anathematized the view that we are so thoroughly bound by sin that we cannot cooperate with God’s grace by our own free will. The new dogma simply extends this logic to conclude that everyone is “in Christ,” infused with saving grace, and capable of attaining final justification by grace-empowered works.

    Again, Horton has grossly misunderstood what Pope Francis means by “redeemed.” Pope Francis is speaking of objective redemption, not of being in a state of grace. Horton misinterprets Pope Francis’s remark by construing universal redemption to mean universal regeneration.

    The medieval dogma of implicit faith was a way of demanding absolute obedience to everything taught by the pope and magisterium, which Calvin described as “ignorance disguised as humility.” Now, implicit faith is invoked to support the idea that even atheists evidence an openness to divinity by their good works. They may not have explicit faith in Christ—or even in any transcendent Creator, but it lies buried in their sub-consciousness nevertheless.

    Again, Horton is misunderstanding Pope Francis by treating his claim that through engaging in good works we find common ground, as though this is an endorsement of Rahner’s “anonymous Christian” theory.

    What’s different is this: where the older view denied that faith was sufficient for justification, the new view denies that faith—at least the explicit faith in Christ everywhere assumed in Scripture—is even necessary.

    If “everywhere … in Scripture” includes the Old Testament, then faith in Christ was not always explicit, but often implicit.

    In other words, good works not only now supplement faith in justifying sinners but replace faith entirely.

    Here again Horton misunderstands Pope Francis’s statement about the value of good works done by atheists, as though Pope Francis is teaching Pelagianism, when in actuality Pope Francis is teaching about a common dialectical meeting point between Christians and unbelievers.

    It’s no wonder that the media is welcoming this Wednesday homily with such glee. Aside from some major social problems, the world, after all, is not as in need of being rescued as we thought. We just need a little direction to get back on the road, some encouragement to be more tolerant and attentive to the plight of others. Somehow Jesus Christ has made it possible for all of us to wind up in heaven (purgatory, etc., left to the fine print).

    But is this a gospel—good news? Perhaps it is to good people who could be a little better, but not to the ungodly who need to be justified before a holy God. What’s so amazing is that the pope’s message is treated as kinder and freer, even though it replaces faith in Christ with our own acts of charity. For anyone who knows what God counts as true love—and therefore good works, this can only provoke deeper guilt and fear.

    Although the surprise expressed by the Huffington Post report cited above reveals unfamiliarity with official teaching, it does get one important thing right in its conclusion: “Of course, not all Christians believe that those who don’t believe will be redeemed, and the Pope’s words may spark memories of the deep divisions from the Protestant reformation over the belief in redemption through grace versus redemption through works.” Anyone who thinks that the Reformation is over doesn’t realize just how much further from the gospel Rome has moved in recent decades.

    One thing that surely perpetuates the division between Catholics and Protestants is misunderstanding each other, and Horton should have consulted some Catholics before publishing this straw man. It is easy to take cheap shots at straw men; it takes charity and patience to seek to understand one’s interlocutors on their own terms, without misconstruing and misrepresenting their position.

  5. Bryan,

    There are even protestant scholars who understand there to be a universality in the death of Jesus.

    G.R. Beasley-Murray (A Baptist!)

    “The objective facts stated therein are that Christ in his death and resurrection acted as the representative of the human race, so that when he died and rose from death all humanity was implicated in those acts. In Christ’s death all died, in His resurrection all rose, and through those deeds the new creation came into being. The old age, characterized by sin and death, ended; the new age of righteousness and life began. Admittedly there is an overlap of the two ages 1 Cor 10:11)” (Dictionary of Paul and His Letters , Inter Varsity Press, page 219)

    In a sense Christ is a brother to all of the human race in that his death had the whole world in scope. He is a brother to all men, because he took their shame and loved them to death. But this of course does not mean that all will co-operate with His love and grace.

  6. I have a question, for whomever would be kind enough to answer.

    The things that many people think are shocking about Pope Francis’ homily are, as you say, long-established and uncontroversial points of Catholic teaching. However, a different thing he said in the same homily has me puzzled, because I don’t know how to explain it in strict conformity with either Scripture or Tradition. Specifically, “And this Blood makes us children of God of the first class! We are created children in the likeness of God and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us all!” And later on, in his final prayer, he says that good work is “A work of the family, because we are all children of God, all of us, all of us!”

    How can he say that all people are children of God? I’d thought the core of Catholicism was divine filiation–meaning that we become children of God in God the Son, through baptism. Prior to that, we aren’t children of God. (Which is why Jesus says that people must be born anew: if you’re being born anew, you’re being born to a new life. The first birth is into biological life, the second birth is into divine life.)

    Of course, all people can be called “children of God” in a metaphorical sense, because we come from God and God loves us all. This metaphorical sense is amply endorse by Scripture. In Acts 17:28-29, St. Paul affirms the saying of a pagan poet that humans are offspring of God (and Ronald Knox rendered this as children). And in Exodus 4:22 God tells Moses that Israel is His first-born son. Both of these are metaphorical senses; while the Sonship of Jesus (and the Sonship, through Him, of all Christians) is actual. The Sonship of Jesus is the primal reality on which all metaphors of “son” and “children” are based.

    It seems to me, that if our Pope was intending the metaphorical sense, then his statements are unclear to the point of being unwise. (The passage “The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone! And this Blood makes us children of God of the first class! We are created children in the likeness of God and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us all!” is probably what has confused many people. He speaks of the Blood making us children, says the Blood applies to everyone, then says we are “created children in the likeness of God.” Very possibly an awkward translation may be behind this. He could mean “created children [by the Blood].” But this passage doesn’t seem to differentiate clearly between universal redemption (the price paid, the worth of the Blood) and the particular regeneration (becoming children, being washed in the Blood).) And if he intended the actual, literal sense, then I can’t see how his statement that all of us are children of God is theologically defensible.

    It seems that his homily was infelicitously phrased: it itself seems to conflate the concepts of universal redemption and universal regeneration. It’s probably a combination of speaking off-the-cuff and being translated from one language to another; but the misunderstanding that has arisen seems to me very understandable.

    Am I thinking this through clearly?

    Quotes taken from: Vatican Radio website

  7. Some helpful posts on the subject of Pope Francis’s homily, in addition to Jason Stellman’s linked in comment #2 above:

    Mark Shea’s “Friends don’t let HuffPo writers do theology

    Fr. Dwight Longenecker’s “Did Pope Francis Preach Salvation By Works??

    Carl Olson’s “Pope Francis teaches that everyone is saved! Wow! (Hold on. Wait a second.)

    Brandon Vogt’s “Did Pope Francis Really Say that All Atheists are Redeemed?

    Jimmy Akin’s “Did Pope Francis Say that Atheists can get to Heaven by Good Works?

    Scott Hahn’s “Pope Francis’ teaching on Atheists

    Terry Mattingly’s “Yes, Pope Francis said: “All are ‘redeemed!’ Is that news?

  8. Reuben,

    The Pope’s remarks are informal, but one can still distinguish two senses of “children” in what he says. Neither sense of the word (as the Pope seems to be using it), i.e., as divine image bearers and as sharing in human nature with Christ, is prejudicial to the further sense that you are calling to our attention, namely, children of God by regeneration / adoption. Rather, this further sense of divine filiation (which is not universal) presupposes and builds upon the other senses in which all human beings are “children” of God.

    Personally, I don’t think that it was unwise for the Pope to make these remarks. What he said is true, and (in my opinion) the way he said it befits both the medium (a homily) and his personality. The enthusiasm and joy evident in Pope Francis’s outreach to atheists–Hey, Christ has redeemed you too!–is winsome, even if the secular media cannot help but construing matters in its own ideological mold rather than that of Catholic theology.

    The secularists and Protestants who do not really want to understand Catholicism are going to have a field day with the Church anyway. While we don’t need to give them pretexts, neither do we need to always qualify and explicitly and technically distinguish everything up front from fear of how our least sympathetic interlocutors might construe our claims. That would be stilted and dull. And this Pope is most definitely neither of those things.

    Andrew

  9. I’ll be honest, I have the same question that Reuben does, with Pope Francis’s statement, ““A work of the family, because we are all children of God, all of us, all of us!”” As this post and the comments above make clear, it is obvious that his statements cannot be understood without a number of quite technical distinctions between various meanings of terms, as well as a serious familiarity with the history of dogma and Church teaching. In other words, in the context of a homily, it seems that there are very few who would be qualified to understand what he says. As such, while we may condemn their reactions, the response of media and some Protestants (as mentioned above) are honest and understandable. The explanations required to make clear what Pope Francis says in light of Church dogma will be much longer than the homily itself was. It was either unwise for Pope Francis to make these statements, or else he should have said them differently. I can understand how any relatively uneducated reader – not unlike many or most of the audience for the homily in question – would hear his comments and understand him to say, “Do good things and you are good with God,” or something like that. I must say, I came looking for an explanation to help me understand the Pope’s comments, and this is the first one I found, and I am more confused and discouraged now than before.

  10. T. Webb,

    It is precisely in the context of this homily that the Pope’s words make sense. In a similar manner, St. Paul’s words to the pagans in Acts 17:28 affirming that we are all the children of God make sense:

    … it is in him that we live, and move, and have our being; thus, some of your own poets have told us, For indeed, we are his children.

    Like St. Paul, Pope Francis is staking out a “place” where we can all meet. Now, it is understandable that the secular media and antagonistic Protestants would mistake the meaning of these words, whether St. Paul’s or Pope Francis’s, as affirming or implying universal salvation and / or salvation by good works apart from faith. And those mistakes should be corrected. But it is not the case that the requisite explanations need be longer than the homily itself. I have read several that are much shorter.

    For reasons that I briefly described in the post, I find Pope Francis’s homily to be the opposite of discouraging. It is deeply encouraging, and indeed inspiring, to call to mind that we are all God’s children, that Christ died for each one of us, and that on this basis we have a common place to meet one another.

    Andrew

  11. Andrew,

    Thank you for your clear explanation.

    Also, I ought to add a few clarifying notes to my original comment (and these may be helpful to you, T. Webb):

    First, this homily wasn’t an official public statement by the Pope. It was a homily given for a small audience, that was then reported, ostensibly without being run by the Pope for editing, and has been translated into another language. Any garbling of the message, therefore, cannot be attributed to the Pope–it is more plausibly the result of the reporting and the translating. The Pope knew, of course, that his homily would be reported all over the world; but he had no way to know which parts of it would be reported or how they would be framed and translated. I think Jimmy Akin’s piece (linked to by Bryan above) is helpful on this count. He calls the Vatican Radio article a “maddeningly incomplete and poorly edited transcript.” That is certainly true. The most puzzling passage to me is this: “And this Blood makes us children of God of the first class! We are created children in the likeness of God and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us all!” The first sentence seems to refer to divine filiation, and the second sentence seems to refer to the Imago Dei, then to universal atonement. But there’s no reason to assume the passage was that puzzling in the original Italian. A slightly hazy translation would be more than enough to result in what we see. (Also, we don’t know how much context the Pope gave for his remark, or what kind of an audience he was speaking to. He may’ve defined his terms, or he may’ve known his immediate audience would understand the terms he used.)

    Second, any statement by a church official ought, in the absence of strong evidence to the contrary, to be interpreted with a “hermeneutic of continuity” not a “hermeneutic of rupture.” (Especially so, I might add, when we’re hearing the statement second- or third-hand; or when the speaker is the Pope.) If the statement admits of an orthodox sense, assume that was the sense in which is was meant. The secular press loves the hermeneutic of rupture. Take, for example, the Huffington Post’s construal of Pope Francis’ statement that “the disciples . . . ‘were a little intolerant,’ closed off by the idea of ​​possessing the truth” as if the Pope were badmouthing the Apostles for their close-mindedness and bigotry. Never mind that such a statement would be nigh-unbelievable coming from the head of the Apostolic Church, the immediate context makes it clear he’s talking of the Apostles when they were still disciples and talking of a specific instance of intolerance, “those who do not have the truth, cannot do good.”

    Third, we shouldn’t let this homily grow to proportions it doesn’t have. It’s only one homily, ill-reported and likely ill-translated. Everything else Pope Francis has said is orthodox and seems orthodox. Even the parts of this homily that have people worked up are obviously orthodox. He is a wonderful Pope, and we’re blessed to have him. (Let us continue to pray for him, and for those reporting him.) You’re quite right, T. Webb, that “any uneducated reader” may easily put an unorthodox spin on this homily, but even so, the average man on the street knows that interpretation to conflict with Church teaching. If someone ever mentions this homily to you, saying that Pope Francis says atheist are all right with God or can be saved by good works, simply ask the person if he thinks it’s likely that the Pope would contradict Church teaching. Whether he answers “yes” or “no,” you now have an opportunity to explain Church teaching, and explain what the Holy Father’s statements actually mean. Even a confusion can be used to evangelize! So don’t be confused and discouraged by a passing unclarity. Our Pope will, God willing, continue to clearly proclaim the Word of God, and the light he brings will outshine this momentary confusion. PR misunderstandings will happen, but they aren’t the end of the world.

    May the God of all hope lift up the eyes of your spirit, that you may know His goodness ever more fully and trust boldly in His unfailing Providence.

    Reuben

  12. Andrew,

    “…it is in him that we live, and move, and have our being; thus, some of your own poets have told us, For indeed, we are his children”.

    Interesting, while Paul is citing in Athens the words of the Stoic poet Aratus , he connects the concept
    of God of the holy Scriptures, the triune God of the Christian revelation, with the concept of God of the Stoa i.e. the natural concept of God.

    Again, Protestants in general but especially the theologian Barth have huge problems with this approach. For example they accuse Vaticanum I of heresy by making a separation in the Christian concept of God, by separating God the Creator from the God of Redemption and Atonement.

  13. It would seem to me, given all of the confusion generated by the Pope’s homily and the subsequent multiple nuanced and lengthy interpretations to “clarify” that homily that we can all probably agree, with all due respect, that the Pope’s subtle message was ill advised. After all, how many non-Christians (or even “hidden” Christians) are going to take the time to wade through the many varied and nuanced interpretations – even within the ranks of Catholics, the interpretations vary from universalism to still damned outside of Christ depending on the label (conservative, liberal, etc) of the interpreter. Absent clarification from the Pope himself or the Magisterium, one is left wondering whose interpretation is correct. I suppose one could read what the Bible says and go with that, but that is likely to lead to….more…confusion?

    Still, the spirit of the age is sensitivity and kindness – even at the cost of obscuring a question with eternal consequences. One thinks of a kindly doctor who in a well intended attempt at sensitivity and kindness is so nuanced in explaining her patient’s life threatening illness that the patient leaves the doctor relieved and completely unaware that he is dying and needs treatment. That is not compassion that is malpractice.

  14. Robert,

    Actually, I don’t agree with your synopsis of the situation. The Pope’s points were simple and straightforward, based on the Gospel reading for the day and in line with Catholic teaching. The multiple subsequent attempts to clarify matters have for the most part been neither lengthy or nuanced, but rather short and simple. Scott Hahn, for example, has explained the homily in this way:

    1. We shouldn’t be so critical of outsiders that we don’t allow ourselves to see or acknowledge whatever good they do, or truth they affirm (even atheists).

    2. Christ didn’t die to save only catholics/christians, but everybody (even atheists).

    3. Since all are redeemed by Christ – potentially, at least – we should be looking for ways to build bridges with them in order to actualize that redemptive potential, by showing them that whatever truth and goodness they embrace comes from – and leads to – Christ.

    The mainstream media, on the other hand, wanted to construe the homily in another way, along the lines of: “Pope Francis says that atheists are saved by doing good works!” Unfortunately, Protestants have here and there joined forces with the MSM to promote this interpretation of the homily. And the proliferation of these interpretations accounts for the sheer number of responses from Catholics seeking to clarify things.

    But if all this hubbub indicates malpractice on the part of the Pope, then we would likewise have to condemn the authors of Sacred Scripture, whose writings have occasioned “many varied and nuanced interpretations” that have the effect of “obscuring a question with eternal consequences.” On the other hand, we might conclude that such confusion is traceable not to the source, but to the distorting effects of the MSM (in the case of Pope Francis’s homily), Protestant antagonism, and private interpretation (in the case of Sacred Scripture).

    Look, no Catholic needs to go to the mat defending the thesis that no Pope ever teaches in an obscure way that culpably lends itself to misinterpretation. The case Pope Honorius and monothelitism is enough to show that Popes do sometimes drop the ball by way of failing to clearly proclaim and defend orthodoxy. But in my opinion Pope Francis did not thus fumble in this case. I think that Reuben did a good job of describing the situation in comment #11.

    Andrew

  15. Andrew,

    Fair enough, I suppose we have different ideas on what is considered simple and straightforward. Still, but it’s hard to imagine the reasons for the wide-spread and consistent MSM and blog-a-sphere misinterpretations and so many blogs spinning up to clarify and set the record straight if the homily was so simple and straightforward, although I grant you that to those well schooled in Catholic theology it was no doubt simple and straightforward. It seems a little uncharitable to chalk-up those misinterpretations in large measure to the MSM and spiteful Protestants intentionally twisting the message. The results would seem to speak for themselves: fairly or unfairly, there are a large number of folks who understood that Pope Francis believed in some sort of universalism or salvation by good works. I agree with you that this is probably not what Pope Francis intended to communicate (I say probably because, to be fair, I can only suppose what he intended – only the Pope himself could definitively clarify his intent). I agree that Catholic theology doesn’t teach universalism (at least I don’t think it does – although it does seem to tread very close), but it does appear undeniable from scanning the MSM and various blogs that, unfortunately, a serious misunderstanding is in fact what has happened; the consequence of which is likely to be that for many people the takeaway from Pope Francis’ homily is an inaccurate understanding of their spiritual condition and their need for life-saving treatment.

    Pax,

    Robert

  16. Robert,

    You wrote:

    The results would seem to speak for themselves: fairly or unfairly, there are a large number of folks who understood that Pope Francis believed in some sort of universalism or salvation by good works.

    If you cannot even decide whether those understandings of the Pope’s homily are fair or unfair, then it makes no sense to opine that “the results would seem to speak for themselves.” If a group of persons have in fact unfairly (or ignorantly) twisted the Pope’s meaning, then it hardly follows that the Pope himself is to blame.

    You wrote:

    …but it does appear undeniable from scanning the MSM and various blogs that, unfortunately, a serious misunderstanding is in fact what has happened; the consequence of which is likely to be that for many people the takeaway from Pope Francis’ homily is an inaccurate understanding of their spiritual condition and their need for life-saving treatment.

    Yes, the MSM and some Protestant onlookers (such as WSC professor Michael Horton) have seriously misunderstood the Pope’s words. In short, those quarters most likely to be most ignorant of Catholic theology or else to have an axe to grind with the Catholic Church have jumped to the wrong conclusion. And it could very well be that people will uncritically adopt the MSM / Protestant misinterpretation of the Pope’s homily, which would be most unfortunate. That is a part of the reason why so many Catholics have been eager to correct this misunderstanding, and I hope that reasonable and fair-minded Protestants will join us in doing the same.

    Andrew

  17. Andrew, and yes, your analysis is as neutral and unbiased as the phone book.

  18. DG,

    No, I am quite biased in this case. (Pope Francis is, after all, my pastor.) But unlike the MSM and some hot-to-trot Calvinists I am also correct in understanding that the Pope was not endorsing universal salvation or salvation by Pelagian-style good works.

  19. Andrew (10)

    As a Protestant, I have both agreement and disagreement with your comments. First, you said…

    It is precisely in the context of this homily that the Pope’s words make sense. In a similar manner, St. Paul’s words to the pagans in Acts 17:28, affirming that we are all the children of God make sense:

    … it is in him that we live, and move, and have our being; thus, some of your own poets have told us, For indeed, we are his children.

    First of all, Paul was not addressing atheists… he was addressing people who at least believed in a god. Secondly, in the verse you quote, Paul is quoting their poet, not necessarily affirming that we are all children of God. Here is the NASB translation…

    Actas 17:28
    for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’

    Paul does roll on with the concept, projecting that (assuming their poet is right) they are children of God and should therefore now repent…

    29 Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man. 30 Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, 31 because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.”

    Here, however, Paul sets them up, using their tradition to project Christianity upon them in order to call them to repentance. That is a substantially different than saying the Pope was just doing what Paul did.

    That said, I agree with you that the worldly misunderstanding of the Pope’s words are largely borne out of theological ignorance. If nothing else, occasional “out-of-the-box” comments serve to keep theological discussion on the front burner, which is part of the role of church leaders. While Protestants and Catholics may go roundabout on the finer points of theology, the real benefit is engaging the unsaved world in theological discussion… which happens all to rarely in our society. It is astounding to me how little theology is known by otherwise sophisticated and educated people. After 9/11, we had national news reporters saying things like “we all worship the same God”. I don’t know many Muslim or Christian theologians who would accede to that concept. Yet many in our society do.

    While I do consider myself a “hot-to-trot” Calvinist, I also do agree with your comment that the “Pope was not endorsing universal salvation or salvation by Pelagian-style good works.”

    How’s that for a little agape in action! :-)

    Blessings
    Curt

  20. Come on, Andrew.
    The pastoral thing has something personal about it.
    The pope pastors the archbishops, who pastor their bishops, who pastor the priests, who pastor their congregation.

  21. Robert (re #20),

    Absolutely. Everyone you mentioned is a person; hence, the personal nature of the Church’s pastoral ministry.

  22. Regarding the concerns expressed by Reuben on his comment #6, quoting the full passage in the homily from Fr. Dwight Longenecker’s article linked by Dr Cross in comment #7 above:

    The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone! And this Blood makes us children of God of the first class! We are created children in the likeness of God and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us all! And we all have a duty to do good. And this commandment for everyone to do good, I think, is a beautiful path towards peace. If we, each doing our own part, if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter: we need that so much. We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.

    The key point is simply to distinguish between children of God in act and in potency. While people become (adopted but real) children of God in act when the Holy Spirit creates them anew by infusing sanctifying grace and charity in their souls, which usually takes place at baptism, each and every person is an (adopted but real) child of God in potency from the moment of their conception. Which BTW is the ultimate basis for human dignity and for the respect and love we must have for each person: we must love everyone because God loves everyone so much that the blood of his Son was shed for all of us.

    BTW, from this full quote it is clear that the “there” where believers and good-willed atheists can meet by doing good to others refers to this world, not to heaven.

    The second problematic statement, when later on, in his final prayer, he says that good work is “A work of the family, because we are all children of God, all of us, all of us!”, can be solved in two ways.

    One way is to understand “family” in an “extended” sense, comprising both actual and potential children of God. This is the family in God’s design, the family that God wants, since He wants all people to become his children in act.

    But even if we understand “family” in the strict sense, comprising only actual children of God (which BTW not all baptized Roman Catholics probably are at any point in time), the key point here is to remember that we do not know for certain whether someone, and specifically someone of good will outside the Church, is a child of God “in act” or not. Quoting Lumen Gentium #16:

    Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience.(19*) Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life. Whatever good or truth is found amongst them is looked upon by the Church as a preparation for the Gospel.(20*)

    (19) Cfr. Epist. S.S.C.S. Officii ad Archiep. Boston.: Denz. 3869-72.
    (20) Cfr. Eusebius Caes., Praeparatio Evangelica, 1, 1: PG 2128 AB.

    And quoting the CCC:

    847 This affirmation (“Outside the Church there is no salvation”) is not aimed at those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and his Church:

    “Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience – those too may achieve eternal salvation.” (LG 16; cf. DS 3866-3872)

    848 “Although in ways known to Himself God can lead those who, through no fault of their own, are ignorant of the Gospel, to that faith without which it is impossible to please him, the Church still has the obligation and also the sacred right to evangelize all men.” (AG 7; cf. Heb 11:6; 1 Cor 9:16)

    1260 “Since Christ died for all, and since all men are in fact called to one and the same destiny, which is divine, we must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partakers, in a way known to God, of the Paschal mystery.” (GS 22 # 5; cf. LG 16; AG 7) Every man who is ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and of his Church, but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it, can be saved. It may be supposed that such persons would have desired Baptism explicitly if they had known its necessity.

    As a final consideration, notice that this homily, as most homilies the Pope preach on weekdays in the chapel of the Saint Martha hostel, is not in vatican.va. Let’s not make an act of definitive magisterium or even an encyclical out of an informal, improvised homily.

  23. Bryan,

    If you have time, could you explain what you meant in comment # 1 by, “It is important, as you mentioned, to distinguish between redemption accomplished objectively, and redemption applied subjectively.” What exactly is the difference between a man whose redemption Jesus accomplished for him objectively but God has yet to apply it to that man individually and a man for whom both has taken place?

    –Christie

  24. Looks like Francis if following in John Paul’s footsteps http://unamsanctamcatholicam.blogspot.com/2013/07/saints-arent-perfect.html :

    “I do not intend to spend a lot of time going over the reasons why I personally believe the canonization of John Paul II is imprudent, but it is necessary to mention them in passing to put some context to what I will say here. The Assisi meetings were scandalous and confusing to the faithful; I don’t care how you try to explain it away, they simply were. The kissing of the Koran and referring to it as the word of God, praying with animists in Togo, allowing pagan Aztec priestsesses to bless him, and all such activities were equally scandalous and unprecedented in papal history. What about asking St. John the Baptist to protect Islam? How about the disintegration of Catholic life across every category and rampant dissent throughout the Church with almost nothing done to stop it. Priest sex abuse scandals covered up or left unaddressed. Administrative chaos. The list could go on. I am willing to grant that maybe John Paul II was not personally responsible for all of these things; I am not suggesting the degree of personal culpability attributable to the late pontiff. But, they happened on his watch and so they are laid at his doorstep. For these reasons and others, I do not believe it is a good idea to canonize this man.”

  25. I have just realized that today’s liturgical reading of Luke’s Gospel, together with another passage, provides strong scriptural support for the doctrine stated in CCC 847 & 1260:

    And a scholar of the Law stood up and put Him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”

    He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?”

    And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”

    And He said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.

    (Lk 10: 25-28)

    After reading this passage, many Christians – RC, EO and Protestant alike – if it were not for the fact that they have got used to reading it, would probably feel the impulse of jumping and saying to the Lord “Wait a moment Lord, You have not mentioned faith in You and baptism! How can anyone inherit eternal life without first believing in You as the Eternal and Consubstantial Son of God and being baptized in your Name? RCs and EOs certainly believe that, after that, the faithful must love God and neighbor to remain partakers of divine life (1 Jn 3: 15,17), but they must first believe and be baptized to become that!”

    The problem for those hypothetical startled Christians is that there is another passage in which the Lord said the same thing, even more clearly:

    And someone came to Him and said, “Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?”

    And He said to him, “Why are you asking Me about what is good ? There is only One who is good ; but if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.

    He said to Him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

    (Mt 19: 16-19)

    Again, the startled Christian would object “Wait a moment Lord, those are the requirements to remain in eternal life (for RCs and EOs, at least), not to enter into it! We can obtain eternal life only by believing in You as the Son of God and being baptized!”

    The beginning of the solution of this problem is precisely in the differencial text in the other two versions of the second passage, i.e. those of Mark and Luke:

    A ruler questioned Him, saying, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”

    And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good ? No one is good except God alone.

    (Lk 18: 18-19)

    While a trivial first reading of this passage is that Jesus denies his divinity, an enlightened reading is that Jesus is saying: “Why do you call Me good, if you have NOT yet come to know that I and the Father are one (Jn 10: 30), the one and same “I Am” of Ex 3: 14? No one is good except God alone.” With this reading, it becomes clear that the quoted first part of Jesus’ answer to the young rich person, or “ruler”, is that which applies to any person of good will who, through no fault of their own, does NOT know that Jesus is the Consubstantial Son of God. Which was also the case of the scholar of the Law in the first passage. Any such person “who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience (in the case of the people in the quoted passages, through the commandments) – those too may achieve eternal salvation.” (LG 16)

  26. DG,

    It is a sentiment I can understand… honestly. Those were certainly issues for me when I was a Protestant and I am certainly not going to try and explain them now. However…

    By these same standards we need to reject St. Peter as well. He was the guy who denied Jesus three times. Moses and David had some pretty poor judgment as well.

    An individual’s personal holiness does not necessarily mean they also have impeccable judgment. God forbid we are all judged on our personal wisdom or intelligence.

    Have you also read JPII’s encyclicals and googled his positive contributions to the world?

  27. “What about asking St. John the Baptist to protect Islam?”

    Everyone will agree that, from a Catholic viewpoint, there is nothing wrong in asking a saint to intercede for the good of a group of people.

    If we now understand “Islam” as “the group of people professing the islamic faith”, then from a Catholic viewpoint there is nothing wrong in asking a Saint to intercede for their good. In fact, it is the same as praying for the good of the members of any Christian denomination. Or do we pray that the seven bowls of the wrath of God may be poured out on them until they return to Catholicism?

    Sure enough, the good of any group of people includes arriving to the correct faith. But until that happens, there is nothing wrong in wishing and procuring the good of that group of people in their present condition as regards to faith. Actually, it is the right thing to do.

    Ironically, the only people that could have been upset by that statement were Muslims themselves, since they do not believe in human intercession before God.

  28. Dave H., so you seem to be saying that you can tell when the pope tells the truth and when he errs. But doesn’t that make you a kind of pope — knowing what is true and what is false? I thought this was what Protestants were guilty of.

  29. DG,

    I am not sure how you would draw that conclusion from what I wrote. But I will address it.

    I do not doubt his truthfulness. Honesty and error are not opposites. If you mean if what he says is factually true or not? I have plenty of authoritative teaching to draw on when evaluating anything. Considering what anyone says, Pope or otherwise, does not make me a pope or a protestant of any kind. It makes me a human being – it makes me a Catholic.

    You know the difference at this point between ex cathedra statements and opinions. My Church does not oblige me to agree with every opinion of the Pope or other clergy on non De Fide matters.

  30. Dave H., it was an inference from what you said, namely that JPII said good things and some bad. This indicates that you have a standard for evaluating the pope, when he performs well, when he doesn’t. That sounds like what Protestants do. But when RC’s do it, its always complete submission to God’s vicegerent (who sometimes doesn’t perform as well as Dave H.).

  31. “This indicates that you have a standard for evaluating the pope, when he performs well, when he doesn’t. That sounds like what Protestants do. But when RC’s do it, its always complete submission to God’s vicegerent ”

    Dear DGH, I think you misunderstand the nature of Papal authority as understood by Catholics.

    According to the Code of Canon Law (212,p.3), Lay Catholics sometimes have a moral duty to make known their concerns about the administration of the Church. This can include even specific criticism of pastoral decisions. This happens not infrequently throughout Church history – most famously – St. Catherine’s criticism of the Avignon papacy, Newman’s writings about what he considered the imperious manner of the Papacy in his day, and (though he was no layman), St. Paul’s public rebuke of St. Peter.

    Papal prerogatives are no guarantee of good judgment and no Catholic is obligated to think otherwise. Even infallible pronouncements – though true – may be regarded as inopportune. Again – Bl. J.H. Newman believed in Papal infallibility, but was a noted “inopportunist” with regard to the conciliar definition.

    So – of course we have standards for evaluating Papal actions, decisions, etc. But this doesn’t make us even remotely like Protestants. Key differences include how we define the content of the deposit of faith, and how we regard the constitution and administration of the Church – whether it be done well or badly.

    Have you read much Newman? If not, I highly recommend you begin with his essay on conscience:
    http://www.newmanreader.org/works/anglicans/volume2/gladstone/section5.html

    Thanks,

    David

  32. Darryl,

    I cannot say it better than Dr. Anders did.

    who sometimes doesn’t perform as well as Dave H

    I hope I did not give that impression. I doubt that I have ever performed anything even remotely close to the level these holy men. In fact I am sure I have not and likely never will.

    Dave

  33. Darryl (re: #30)

    To add to what David said, there being a standard by which acts of both the Magisterium and those who hold the office can be judged (and ought to be judged) is fully compatible both with the Catholic not being his own ultimate interpretive authority, and with the soundness of the argument Neal and I made here. There being a principled difference between the Catholic and Protestant positions with regard to ecclesial authority does not depend upon or require the absence in the Catholic paradigm of a standard by which the Magisterium and those who hold its office can be judged. The principled difference is that in the Catholic paradigm, the ecclesial authority per se, by its divinely bestowed power in succession from the Apostles, binds the conscience in matters of faith (as explained here), whereas in the confessional Protestant paradigm, the ecclesial authority has its ‘authority’ on the basis of and only insofar as it sufficiently agrees with one’s own interpretation of Scripture, and thus can bind the conscience only per accidens, i.e. only if it is saying what one already believes by one’s own interpretation of Scripture to have been said by God in Scripture. But the per se authority to bind the conscience does not entail that there are no boundaries or limits to what the Magisterium can teach, or that the laity cannot know of such boundaries or limitations, or that there are no moral or prudential standards by which the actions of members of the Magisterium can be judged. And likewise the existence and recognition of such boundaries and limitations does not entail that there is no principled difference between the Catholic and Protestant positions with regard to ecclesial authority.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  34. David Anders, and I believe you misunderstand the nature of Protestant authority. So where does that leave us?

  35. Bryan, right, so when you follow the church using independent judgment, it’s fine. When I follow the Word of God following independent judgment, it’s bad. The game is rigged.

  36. Bryan,

    When you state what the Catholic or Reformed position is on a topic, who are you speaking for? Just curious.

    Regards,
    AB

  37. Darryl (re: #35)

    Bryan, right, so when you follow the church using independent judgment, it’s fine. When I follow the Word of God following independent judgment, it’s bad.

    That equivocates on the term ‘independent judgment,’ for the reasons I’ve explained in #33.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  38. AB (re: #36)

    There are different senses of the expression “speak for.” Which do you have in mind?

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  39. Bryan, what you explain in 33 is not the Protestant view. The Protestant appeal to Scripture is not private or personal interpretation. It is premised first on the Holy Spirit that inspired all of Scripture, then on the work of that same Spirit in regenerating Christians who read Scripture, then the same Spirit leading the church into all truth.

    What you claim for Rome — that is has divine authority despite all its many warts — is the same claim the Protestants make. You you uncharitably characterize Protestantism as mere private opinion.

    Like I say, when you have authority and mess in the church, it’s fine. But when we have the same, it’s not good. This is arbitrary.

    I’m willing to admit both sides have problems. But your position ultimately leads you to reject problems (as in the church cannot err). That means you need to deny a whole lot more skeletons (from kissing the Qur’an to Edgardo Mortara) than Protestants ever do.

  40. Darryl, (re: #39)

    You wrote:

    Bryan, what you explain in 33 is not the Protestant view. The Protestant appeal to Scripture is not private or personal interpretation. It is premised first on the Holy Spirit that inspired all of Scripture, then on the work of that same Spirit in regenerating Christians who read Scripture, then the same Spirit leading the church into all truth.

    Anyone with a Bible can co-opt the Spirit by claiming that the Spirit provided him with his interpretation, and thereby claim to avoid being his own ultimate interpretive authority. Surely you’ve seen the “God is my Co-Pilot” bumperstickers. The notion that “The Holy Spirit is my Interpreter” is similar. That’s what I was pointing out in my reply (titled “Play Church“) to PCA pastor Rick Phillips back in 2009. By appealing to the Spirit speaking in his heart, each man becomes the ultimate arbiter of what the Holy Spirit is burning into his bosom today, a bosom-burning that isn’t necessarily reliable (see, for example, comment #29 in the “Wilson vs. Hitchens” thread). And the consistent expression of that theology is something you see in certain ‘charismatic’ congregations, or even on the 700 Club, where either each man is a ‘prophet,’ or the less spiritually gifted follow certain ‘prophets’ among them.

    You think you have avoided all that, because you locate the Spirit in “the church.” The problem, however, is that you define “the church” on the basis of your interpretation of Scripture. Here’s the relevant paragraph from our “Solo Scriptura” article:

    But how does he [i.e. Mathison] determine what is the Church? Being Reformed, he defines ‘Church’ as wherever the gospel is found, because the early Protestants defined the marks of the Church as including “the gospel,” where the gospel was determined by their own private interpretation of Scripture. So he claims that it is in the Church that the gospel is found, but he defines the Church in terms of the gospel. This is what we call a tautology. It is a form of circular reasoning that allows anyone to claim to be the Church and have the gospel. One can read the Bible and formulate one’s own understanding of the gospel, then make this “gospel” a necessary mark of the Church, and then say that it is in the Church that the gospel is found. Because one has defined the Church in terms of the gospel [as arrived at by one's own interpretation of Scripture], telling us that the gospel is found “in the Church” tells us nothing other than “people who share my own interpretation of Scripture about what is the gospel are referred to by me as ‘the Church.’” This kind of circular reasoning allows falsehood to remain hidden.

    This is precisely the problem I was pointing out regarding Michael Brown’s position in my post titled “Michael Brown on Sola Scriptura or Scriptura Solo” back in 2008, and is the same problem I pointed out in your own position in my post titled “Darryl Hart on the Need for Sacramental Magisterial Authority” back in 2007. If one claims to avoid being one’s own ultimate interpretive authority by claiming to be under church authority, but then one defines who counts as ‘church’ on the basis of their agreement with one’s own interpretation of Scripture, one remains one’s own ultimate interpretive authority, and deceives oneself by appearing to ‘submit’ oneself to those selected on the basis of their agreement with oneself. And surely the reason you are OPC [and not Lutheran, Baptist, Methodist, Pentecostal, Unitarian, Nazarene, Plymouth Brethren, Church of Christ, Mennonite, Seventh Day Adventist, Congregational, Evangelical, Non-Denominational, etc., etc.] is not because the OPC has better coffee, etc., but because it comes closest to your interpretation of Scripture.

    You wrote:

    What you claim for Rome — that is has divine authority despite all its many warts — is the same claim the Protestants make. You you uncharitably characterize Protestantism as mere private opinion.

    I agree that Protestants claim to have divine authority. I never claimed otherwise. But, again, it is important not to equivocate on terms like ‘divine authority.’ Protestants do not claim to have magisterial authority; the Catholic Church does, however, claim to have magisterial authority. Neal and I have presented an argument (hitherto unrefuted) having as its conclusion that the sola scriptura position reduces to the solo scriptura position. If you disagree with that conclusion, then you need to show what is wrong with our argument.

    Like I say, when you have authority and mess in the church, it’s fine. But when we have the same, it’s not good. This is arbitrary.

    Again, you’re equivocating on the term ‘authority,’ because the sort of ecclesial authority Protestants claim to have is not the sort of ecclesial authority the Catholic Church claims to have.

    But your position ultimately leads you to reject problems (as in the church cannot err). That means you need to deny a whole lot more skeletons (from kissing the Qur’an to Edgardo Mortara) than Protestants ever do.

    Feel free to point to some place where we (i.e. CTC) have denied a skeleton. Unsubstantiated accusations are very easy, but establish nothing, and are therefore unhelpful.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  41. Bryan, you may not deny the skeletons but you then scapegoat the individual and spare the magisterial office, there’s is real question how long one can do so in violation of Gal.1:8. Which is fine for your paradigm but it’s an authority paradigm based ultimately on a ‘reasonable/principled’ faith claim-AS and ‘wouldn’t it have made sense that God would’ve left one sole visible church…..” . You presume your submission is more substantial than the churchly protestant because you willingly submit to what you don’t understand as well, as if the protestant isn’t submitting to the Trinity without complete comprehension of what’s being revered. You call it humility, others may deem it convenience or unnecessary or even disobedient-sanctity of conscience considerations. You ultimately beg off exegetical discourses because eventually it’s offensive of your paradigmatic commitments as regards the ‘tradition’. These are but a few examples of what is meant by a ‘rigged’ game. I read your solo article and your Horton article and a few others, ecclesial deism and such, and from aligning strict justice in the garden with the pelagian heresy or equating protestant churchly authority with God is my co-pilot reasoning. It’s difficult outside your echo chamber here to reason back to your charity. You defined who/what counted as church back when you crossed the tiber, so the idea that your move was earlier in the game and since then submission to authority is superior to the confessional protestant while maybe alluding to and creating a different sort of piety, amounts to a non starter as a principled distinction in identifying ‘The Church’. Your ultimate autonomy argument fails to account for or values differently, the nature of the creature(imago dei) engaged in his/her fidelity to the cult. We aren’t automatons or crude animals, we’re Imago Dei, and as such are required to engage all the faculties of our being. Whether, you’re talking Adam’s culpability or the gentile’s or Jews of Rom 1-3( conscience accusing). So, I appreciate somewhat the coherence on paper(you’re a trained logician, good for you), but it fails to account for the biblical reality of the creature or even the ‘common’ apprehension of the same in the culture, which Rome has championed recognition of, from abortion to religious conscience.

  42. Bryan (re: #38)

    More specifically to why I posted in the first place, I wanted to know whether your characterization of Protestant authority is widely accepted by both Catholics and Protestants. DG Hart’s response answers my question, because by his response, he shows that not all Protestants share your characterization of Protestant authority. That’s pretty obvious, to most readers, I’m sure. As Andrew Preslar notes in comment 18 above, the authors here are of course biased towards the Catholic position on any given matter of Christian Theology. You are all Catholics, after all.

    So you can disregard my first question above.

    Regards,
    AB

  43. DGH,

    You wrote:

    “David Anders, and I believe you misunderstand the nature of Protestant authority. So where does that leave us?”

    I am not aware that I addressed any Protestant view of authority in my comment, so I am wondering what you think my view of the Protestant doctrine is? And why, seeing as I didn’t address the question, you think my (non-) view is wrong?

    But, more to the point – do you understand why – from the catholic perspective – evaluating the decisions of pastors is fully compatible with submitting to their authority? If you do not understand this – what is hanging you up? If you do understand this, is your difficulty resolved? If not, why?

    Thanks,

    david

    -David

  44. Dave H. – By these same standards we need to reject St. Peter as well. He was the guy who denied Jesus three times. Moses and David had some pretty poor judgment as well.

    Erik – Other than refusing to eat with gentiles, what other failures of Peter do you have in mind? Can you point to other post-resurrection failures of apostles akin to failures of Popes?

    Bryan,

    If it is unfair for us to make you answer for the views of aberrant Catholics (Gary Wills, for example), how is it fair for you to make us answer for the 700 Club? You are aware of our Confessional Standards (The Three Forms of Unity & The Westminster Standards). You should aim your rebuttals at those (if being charitable is your aim).

    One of CTC’s primary arguments is that surely Christ intended to leave us with one visible, united, true church. We identify marks of true churches (Belgic 29). Have at rebutting those:

    Article 29: The Marks of the True Church

    We believe that we ought to discern diligently and very carefully, by the Word of God, what is the true church– for all sects in the world today claim for themselves the name of “the church.”
    We are not speaking here of the company of hypocrites who are mixed among the good in the church and who nonetheless are not part of it, even though they are physically there. But we are speaking of distinguishing the body and fellowship of the true church from all sects that call themselves “the church.”

    The true church can be recognized if it has the following marks: The church engages in the pure preaching of the gospel; it makes use of the pure administration of the sacraments as Christ instituted them; it practices church discipline for correcting faults. In short, it governs itself according to the pure Word of God, rejecting all things contrary to it and holding Jesus Christ as the only Head. By these marks one can be assured of recognizing the true church– and no one ought to be separated from it.

    As for those who can belong to the church, we can recognize them by the distinguishing marks of Christians: namely by faith, and by their fleeing from sin and pursuing righteousness, once they have received the one and only Savior, Jesus Christ. They love the true God and their neighbors, without turning to the right or left, and they crucify the flesh and its works.

    Though great weakness remains in them, they fight against it by the Spirit all the days of their lives, appealing constantly to the blood, suffering, death, and obedience of the Lord Jesus, in whom they have forgiveness of their sins, through faith in him.

    As for the false church, it assigns more authority to itself and its ordinances than to the Word of God; it does not want to subject itself to the yoke of Christ; it does not administer the sacraments as Christ commanded in his Word; it rather adds to them or subtracts from them as it pleases; it bases itself on men, more than on Jesus Christ; it persecutes those who live holy lives according to the Word of God and who rebuke it for its faults, greed, and idolatry.

    These two churches are easy to recognize and thus to distinguish from each other.

    Being straightforward with you guys – If I am to ever become convinced to become Catholic I would need to become convinced of the fact that Popes are on par with apostles. I think it would be a big uphill climb to convince me of that.

    How do you guys feel about Pope Francis offering indulgences for people who follow his Tweets during World Youth Day? That seems so gimmicky and crass to me.

    Another question for you guys: You seems to have a lot of concern with the notion of “private judgment”. If some private judgments are right, however, and others are wrong, isn’t the real problem INCORRECT private judgments and not private judgments, per se?

    Hart has made the point that you seem to believe that Popes (and the church) can and does err at times. How do you get around your (or someone else’s) private judgment to determine when these errors have taken place?

    My contention is that you have started with the notion that there has to be one (and only one) true, united, visible, Christian church. Having to maintain that notion drives everything else that you do at CTC. This desire for “unity” seems to be the primary factor that has driven you from Protestant churches to Rome.

  45. sean (re: #41)

    I’ve read your comment a few times, and I’m sorry to say that I don’t understand what you are saying.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  46. AB (re: #42),

    Let’s cut to the chase: Why are you Reformed Presbyterian rather than Baptist or Lutheran or Brethren? Is the answer something other than that the Reformed Presbyterian doctrine comes closest to what you think Scripture teaches?

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  47. Erik, (re: #44)

    You wrote:

    If it is unfair for us to make you answer for the views of aberrant Catholics (Gary Wills, for example), how is it fair for you to make us answer for the 700 Club?

    I never said or implied that you have to answer for the 700 Club.

    One of CTC’s primary arguments is that surely Christ intended to leave us with one visible, united, true church. We identify marks of true churches (Belgic 29). Have at rebutting those:

    The basis for the ‘authority’ of the Belgic is its agreement with your interpretation of Scripture. If you don’t agree with its interpretation, then it is not ‘authoritative’ over you. Instead, you would just pick another confession (e.g. the 1689 Baptist Confession, or maybe the Augsburg Confession) that more closely matched your interpretation. That argument has been laid out in “C. The Delusion of Derivative Authority” in the “Solo Scriptura” article.

    Being straightforward with you guys – If I am to ever become convinced to become Catholic I would need to become convinced of the fact that Popes are on par with apostles.

    Bishops (and popes) must submit to the Apostles.

    How do you guys feel about Pope Francis offering indulgences for people who follow his Tweets during World Youth Day? That seems so gimmicky and crass to me.

    Andrew addressed this in comments #18 and #22 of the “Indulgences, the Treasury of Merit, and the Communion of the Saints” thread.

    Another question for you guys: You seems to have a lot of concern with the notion of “private judgment”. If some private judgments are right, however, and others are wrong, isn’t the real problem INCORRECT private judgments and not private judgments, per se?

    It is not an either/or. If Christ has established magisterial authority in His Church, then not only is the judgment “there is no magisterial authority” incorrect, but those who hold this position are also not rightly related to His Church. Propositional error is not the only kind of error.

    Hart has made the point that you seem to believe that Popes (and the church) can and does err at times. How do you get around your (or someone else’s) private judgment to determine when these errors have taken place?

    See comment #33 above.

    My contention is that you have started with the notion that there has to be one (and only one) true, united, visible, Christian church. Having to maintain that notion drives everything else that you do at CTC. This desire for “unity” seems to be the primary factor that has driven you from Protestant churches to Rome.

    How many universal Churches do you think Christ founded?

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  48. Bryan (#46),

    I feel very blessed to have come into contact with Reformed Christianity at age 18. My first move, religiously speaking, as a college freshman, was to reject Christianity because I rejected the dispensationalism the Baptists taught me growing up. I held on for 9 months in a non-denominational church that I had a hard time stomaching, but there was one pastor I seemed to take a liking to (they had 4). My pastor later told me that man had some reformed tendencies. After attending the church in the reformed faith, I experienced a love by the pastor and elders that was striking. My experience of reformed Christianity has not been without difficulty at times, but I’ve experienced really good teaching for the last 13 years.

    I also happen to find Reformed Presbyterianism comes closest to what I think Scripture teaches. Surprise! :-)

    But how did I become the topic of this thread? If my actions in cyberspace somehow prompted this, it was not intentional.

    I could keep going on about me.

    Regards,
    AB

  49. AB (re: #48)

    In #42 you wrote:

    DG Hart’s response answers my question, because by his response, he shows that not all Protestants share your characterization of Protestant authority.

    But then in #48 you wrote:

    I also happen to find Reformed Presbyterianism comes closest to what I think Scripture teaches.

    And that is exactly what I am claiming regarding “Protestant authority.” You pick as your ecclesial ‘authority’ those persons who come closest to your interpretation of Scripture.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  50. Bryan, do you think your ecclesiastical authority comes closest to your interpretation of Scripture?

  51. AB, (re: 50)

    Yes, but the order is entirely the reverse. The Protestant agrees with his ecclesial authority because he picked them on the basis of their agreement with his interpretation of Scripture. By contrast, the Catholic agrees with the Magisterium’s interpretation of Scripture because he has submitted to their interpretive authority, having chosen to submit to them not on the basis of their agreement with his interpretation of Scripture, but on the basis of their being the successors of the Apostles in the Church Christ founded. See “Tu Quoque, Catholic Convert” and “The Tu Quoque.”

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  52. Bryan, (re: 51)

    Thank you for your interaction here. While we do not see eye to eye on the nature of Protestant ecclesiology, I respect you and your opinions, and will continue to read what you write with interest.

    Thanks again,
    AB

  53. Bryan, but your magisterial authority is not biblical authority. God’s word trumps officers (who have self-interested reasons for claiming magisterial authority). So there we are. Still at Trent vs. Geneva and Wittenberg — except that for you, Vatican II made all of that 16th century disagreement go away in the rush to update the church.

    Bryan, and why did you choose Rome and not Antioch? It was because your view of the apostolic succession conforms most to Roman Catholicism. You made a decision based on your own independent judgment as much as AB did.

    Bryan, as for covering up the warts of Roman Catholicism, I’ve done searches at CTC for Edgardo Mortara, the Spanish Inquisition, John XXIII’s opening remarks at the Second Vatican Council, and the church’s change on religious freedom. I found nothing.

    But then again, you think it is the duty (by implication with posting Ken Howell’s piece) of a believer to find continuity in the church. So you have an incentive for hiding your eyes from Rome’s problems (which are way more than Protestantism — we only have 500 years of history to account for). You present Rome as fairyland.

  54. Bryan, it’s a little wordy and badly punctuated at points. The last part is really a ‘newer’ aspect of the impasse;

    You value your submission to Rome as a better humility(cultically considered) than the protestant’s supposed continued cultic autonomy but your argument at that juncture fails to account for, or values differently, the nature of the creature(imago dei) engaged in his/her fidelity to the cult. We aren’t automatons or crude animals, we’re Imago Dei, and as such are required to engage all the faculties of our being. Whether, you’re talking Adam’s culpability or the gentile’s or Jews of Rom 1-3( conscience accusing). So, I appreciate somewhat the coherence on paper(you’re a trained logician, good for you), but it fails to account for the biblical reality of the creature or even the ‘common’ apprehension of the same in the culture, which Rome has championed recognition of, from opposition to abortion to religious conscience of the individual. Basically, the submission to authority you champion as ‘better’ or more ‘humble’ or more appropriate to cultic ‘fealty’ and thus feel free to attempt to ding the protestant for ‘solo scriptura’, beyond just disagreeing with the argument, is an argument that posits a religious posture that is not championed or lauded in sacred text as being superior or normative. Whether we have in mind Gal. 1:8, acts 17:11, the culpability assigned to all in Rom 1-3, the commands to ferret out false teachers from Peter’s own admonition or John’s charge to discern the spirit. Even from within your particular ‘RC’ paradigm, I would heartily challenge this level of submission to authority when considering developments of the Imago Dei as it relates to the sanctity of religious conscience. The idea that readily submitting to that which I don’t understand or even believe to be false or aberrant(conscience violating) in service of a prior faith claim; “discovering the one true church” is normative or even to be desired is not one shared by a very large number of your pew-sitting or religious(RC) brethren, much less a level of submission you see lauded in scripture particularly in light of the scriptural admonitions noted before. This isn’t a rejection of mystery, or creator/creature distinction. It’s a challenge to the cultic ‘virtue’ of a submission you propose, and whether it’s actually accomplished outside a theory or syllogism or should be. We could also throw in the variance in belief and practice within your own communion but that’s readily apparent to us both.

  55. Darryl, (re: #53)

    Most of what you said here (in #53) is fully compatible with what I said in #40 being true. So keep in mind that you’re moving to other claims.

    You wrote:

    Bryan, but your magisterial authority is not biblical authority. God’s word trumps officers (who have self-interested reasons for claiming magisterial authority).

    We need to remove an ambiguity in the term ‘biblical authority.’ That term can mean both “the authority of the Bible” and “an authority sanctioned by the Bible.” If here you mean merely that the Catholic Magisterium is not the Bible, then of course I agree. In that sense of the term, neither are the officers of the OPC “biblical authority.” But if you mean that magisterial authority of the Catholic Church is not sanctioned by the Bible, your claim begs the question by presupposing that your interpretation [according to which there is no magisterial authority in the Church] is correct, that your way of relating Scripture and Tradition is correct, and that you have more authority than does the Magisterium to determine for the Church what is the authoritative interpretation of Scripture. Of course I agree that “God’s word trumps officers.” But let’s not conflate “Darryl’s interpretation of God’s Word” with God’s Word. See the WG Shedd quotation here.

    And the hermeneutic of suspicion is a double-edged sword. If the Catholic bishops are truly the legitimate authorities in the Church Christ founded, and persons suffer from total depravity (as you believe), then such persons have sinful self-centered reasons for finding ways to resist submitting to Christ’s appointed shepherds, and leaning instead on their own understanding of Scripture. So the hermeneutic of suspicion gets you nowhere, unless you apply it in an inconsistent manner, i.e. only to persons other than yourself.

    You wrote:

    So there we are. Still at Trent vs. Geneva and Wittenberg — except that for you, Vatican II made all of that 16th century disagreement go away in the rush to update the church.

    I do not believe that, nor have I ever claimed such.

    You wrote:

    Bryan, and why did you choose Rome and not Antioch? It was because your view of the apostolic succession conforms most to Roman Catholicism. You made a decision based on your own independent judgment as much as AB did.

    The use of “independent judgment” in coming to be Catholic does not entail that one remains one’s own ultimate interpretive authority, as I have explained in “The Tu Quoque.” (See especially Q3.)

    You wrote:

    Bryan, as for covering up the warts of Roman Catholicism, I’ve done searches at CTC for Edgardo Mortara, the Spanish Inquisition, John XXIII’s opening remarks at the Second Vatican Council, and the church’s change on religious freedom. I found nothing.

    As I have pointed out to you before (when you’ve made the same charge), the argument from silence is a fallacy. From the fact that we have not discussed x, it does not follow that we are “covering up” x. CTC is not a news site or a Catholic encyclopedia; we are not obliged to have already written about every Catholic topic and every event in Catholic history, and therefore our not having written about x does not constitute a cover-up of x. Nor is it charitable to assume that we are “covering up” x, when our comboxes are open for discussing any of these things you wish to discuss.

    You wrote:

    But then again, you think it is the duty (by implication with posting Ken Howell’s piece) of a believer to find continuity in the church. So you have an incentive for hiding your eyes from Rome’s problems (which are way more than Protestantism — we only have 500 years of history to account for).

    From our faith-based belief in the uninterrupted endurance and thus continuity of Christ’s Church, it does not follow that there can be no problems within the Church, and thus that we must “hide our eyes” from such problems. So there is no need to worry that if we believe that the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church Christ founded, we will have some reason to hide our eyes from problems within the Church. Rather than presume intellectual dishonesty on our part, the better (and more charitable) approach would be to request that we address some problem or problems you think need to be addressed when discussing Catholic-Protestant reconciliation.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  56. Bryan,

    I can only assume that you come to your conclusions about the nature of Protestant ecclesiology based from your perspecitve of the actions of Martin Luther in the 16th century, over and against the teachings of the Roman Catholic church at that time. If I’m wrong here, you can correct me. Do you have thoughts or an article here at CTC explaining under what conditions a Christian may in good conscience leave the particular church in which one finds oneself? In other words, is there any sense in which erroneous doctrinal teaching invalidates the claim of apostolic succession within your communion? Could a Catholic conclude that Apostolic Succession in Roman Catholicism is incorrect, based on the teachings of the RCC being so far removed from the areas of Scripture where the Christian Religion is explianed in its most plain and bald forms?

    Thanks as always,
    AB

  57. Sean (re: #54)

    I’ve placed my replies below, interspersed within your comments.

    You wrote:

    You value your submission to Rome as a better humility(cultically considered) than the protestant’s supposed continued cultic autonomy …

    This is a statement about me (“You value …”); it does not show anything I said to be false.

    but your argument at that juncture fails to account for, or values differently, the nature of the creature(imago dei) engaged in his/her fidelity to the cult.

    You assert that my argument fails, but you do not show either which premise of my argument is false, or how the conclusion of my argument does not follow from the premises. So your claim that my argument fails is merely an unsubstantiated assertion.

    We aren’t automatons or crude animals, we’re Imago Dei, and as such are required to engage all the faculties of our being.

    Of course I agree. And your statement is fully compatible with the truth of what I have said.

    Whether, you’re talking Adam’s culpability or the gentile’s or Jews of Rom 1-3( conscience accusing).

    I don’t understand that statement, which isn’t even a complete sentence.

    So, I appreciate somewhat the coherence on paper(you’re a trained logician, good for you), but it fails to account for the biblical reality of the creature or even the ‘common’ apprehension of the same in the culture, which Rome has championed recognition of, from opposition to abortion to religious conscience of the individual.

    I assume the intended referent of the ‘it’ is my argument. So I assume you are here claiming that my argument fails. But again, you do not show which premise of my argument is false, or how the conclusion does not follow from the premises. So your claim that my argument fails is (at this point) a mere unsubstantiated assertion.

    Basically, the submission to authority you champion as ‘better’ or more ‘humble’ or more appropriate to cultic ‘fealty’ and thus feel free to attempt to ding the protestant for ‘solo scriptura’, beyond just disagreeing with the argument, is an argument that posits a religious posture that is not championed or lauded in sacred text as being superior or normative.

    That claim (i.e. that submission to authority is not supported by Scripture) is a question-begging claim, because it presupposes that your interpretation (according to which we are not to submit to ecclesial authorities) is the right interpretation of Scripture. In the Catholic way of understanding Scripture, submission to divinely established authority is taught in Scripture. What St. Paul says in Romans 13:5 and St. Peter says in 1 Pet. 2:13 regarding civil authorities applies a fortiori to ecclesial authorities, whom we are to obey and to whom we are to submit, because they keep watch over our souls as those who will give an account (Heb. 13:17). I understand if you interpret the Bible differently, but the notion that submission to ecclesial authorities is not supported by Scripture is your interpretation of Scripture, and a dubious one at that, not a self-evident, indisputable claim Scripture itself makes.

    Whether we have in mind Gal. 1:8, acts 17:11, the culpability assigned to all in Rom 1-3, the commands to ferret out false teachers from Peter’s own admonition or John’s charge to discern the spirit.

    Even filling in what’s missing from that sentence fragment, all these passages are fully compatible with, and embraced within, the Catholic paradigm. Regarding the Galatians passage see, for example, the last two paragraphs of “XI. Authority of the Magisterium in Relation to Scripture” in my reply to Michael Horton following our Modern Reformation interview.

    Even from within your particular ‘RC’ paradigm, I would heartily challenge this level of submission to authority when considering developments of the Imago Dei as it relates to the sanctity of religious conscience.

    That’s a statement about yourself, namely, what you would challenge. It is fully compatible with the truth of what I have written above, and does not falsify anything I said there.

    The idea that readily submitting to that which I don’t understand or even believe to be false or aberrant(conscience violating) in service of a prior faith claim; “discovering the one true church” is normative or even to be desired is not one shared by a very large number of your pew-sitting or religious(RC) brethren,

    The ad populum argument is a fallacy.

    … much less a level of submission you see lauded in scripture particularly in light of the scriptural admonitions noted before.

    As I pointed out above, all those Scripture passages are fully compatible with, and embraced within, the Catholic paradigm. If you disagree, you’ll need to show that they are incompatible with the Catholic paradigm.

    This isn’t a rejection of mystery, or creator/creature distinction. It’s a challenge to the cultic ‘virtue’ of a submission you propose, and whether it’s actually accomplished outside a theory or syllogism or should be.

    So far your “challenge” amounts to asserting that the Scripture does not teach the virtue of submission to rightful authority, and appealing to a question-begging interpretation of other passages (which teach that we must reject false teachers) as though these verses are incompatible with it being virtuous to submit to rightful ecclesial authority. But you haven’t yet provided a non-question-begging reason why I should submit to your interpretation of what Scripture teaches regarding submission to rightful authorities and avoiding false teachers.

    We could also throw in the variance in belief and practice within your own communion but that’s readily apparent to us both.

    Indeed, and I have addressed it elsewhere.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  58. AB (re: #56)

    You wrote:

    Do you have thoughts or an article here at CTC explaining under what conditions a Christian may in good conscience leave the particular church in which one finds oneself?

    I assume that when you say “particular church,” you mean something like ‘denomination.’ A person should leave a “particular church” (in that sense of the term) when he comes to see that he is in schism from the Church Christ founded.

    In other words, is there any sense in which erroneous doctrinal teaching invalidates the claim of apostolic succession within your communion?

    The question presupposes that there can be “erroneous doctrinal teaching” in the Church Christ founded. But why must one hold that presupposition when considering the various paradigms?

    Could a Catholic conclude that Apostolic Succession in Roman Catholicism is incorrect, based on the teachings of the RCC being so far removed from the areas of Scripture where the Christian Religion is explianed in its most plain and bald forms?

    A Catholic can conclude anything, because a human can conclude anything, and Catholics are humans. But presumably you mean can an orthodox Catholic as such conclude those things. Again, however, your question presupposes that some Catholic teachings are contrary to Scripture. Which such teachings do you think are contrary to Scripture, and where in Scripture do you think such teachings are contradicted? Who told you that the “plain and bald” interpretation (by which is meant, among other things, reading Scripture entirely divorced from Tradition) is the one we must follow, and what authority did those who told you this have?

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  59. Bryan – The basis for the ‘authority’ of the Belgic is its agreement with your interpretation of Scripture. If you don’t agree with its interpretation, then it is not ‘authoritative’ over you. Instead, you would just pick another confession (e.g. the 1689 Baptist Confession, or maybe the Augsburg Confession) that more closely matched your interpretation. That argument has been laid out in “C. The Delusion of Derivative Authority” in the “Solo Scriptura” article.

    How many universal Churches do you think Christ founded?

    Erik – The whole game for you guys is that the true church has to be one visibly and administratively. The Marks identified in the Belgic can be seen in churches of many denominations. It could have been true of the Roman Catholic Church if it had held to (and not added to) Scripture. We always get back to what we as Protestants consider your question begging about what the RCC is. That’s why this argument is (at least) 500 years old. We’re not going to solve it.

    You need to consider how much the “oneness” of Rome is owed to Constantinianism as opposed to it being the Church that Jesus Christ himself founded. If it’s Christ’s only church, why would he keep all believers in it for 1500 years and then allow people to scatter to your alleged 30,000 denominations for the next 500? Why did he cease to maintain his church?

    We use the term QIRC (“Quest for Illegitimate Religious Certainty”) to describe what the Callers are doing. Bryan comes across like the truth of Catholicism and the falsehood of Reformed Protestantism are painfully obvious. As my pastor would say, “Poppycock!”. These religious questions ultimately come down to faith, not logic.

    I think most of the Callers were facing an existential crisis before their conversions. Rome was a way to assuage their doubts about the entire Christian faith. What better way to assuage them than to heed the call of a man (The Pope) who points to a literal connection to Jesus Christ in time and space! Is this what our Christian faith is supposed to be grounded in, though? I have always said that the next step for many of these guys is atheism. For now they are still clinging to something (The Pope) to maintain their faith, but nagging doubts will eventually get the better of some of them and they’ll abandon the faith entirely.

    Christians are indeed required to walk by faith and not by sight. QIRC will eventually disappoint smart people.

    The Protestant version of QIRC is seeking out miracles, signs, and wonders to confirm the truth of the Christian faith (although many Catholics are hugely into this as well). If you are seeking to be convinced by anything other than reading the Scriptures you are going to be disappointed.

    Bryan – From our faith-based belief in the uninterrupted endurance and thus continuity of Christ’s Church, it does not follow that there can be no problems within the Church, and thus that we must “hide our eyes” from such problems. So there is no need to worry that if we believe that the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church Christ founded, we will have some reason to hide our eyes from problems within the Church. Rather than presume intellectual dishonesty on our part, the better (and more charitable) approach would be to request that we address some problem or problems you think need to be addressed when discussing Catholic-Protestant reconciliation.

    Erik – So how do you identify what is a problem? And as a layman, who has given you the task of identifying and fixing problems?

    O.K. So the church apologizes for past failures. At the time they failed, did practicing Catholics know that they were failing? How does a practicing Catholic on July 21, 2013 know what his church is currently failing at?

  60. Erik, (re: #59)

    You wrote:

    The whole game for you guys is that the true church has to be one visibly and administratively.

    First, a preliminary point of clarification: ecclesiology, like sacred theology in general, is not a “game,” nor do we treat it as such. It is a sacred task because that with which it treats is sacred. Second, please name one Church Father who denied that the unity of the Church Christ founded includes visible unity. If you can’t do so, then by denying that visible unity belongs to the essence of the unity of Christ’s Church, you are moving away from the teaching of the early Church. Third, please define ‘schism,’ and explain why the Church Fathers believed it to be a sin, while in an invisible Church ecclesiology schism is not even possible, as I have explained here. Tom Brown and I have laid out some evidence for the essential visible unity of the Church in “Christ Founded a Visible Church.” If you want to engage this question, you need to deal with this evidence. Mere unsubstantiated assertions are not helpful.

    The Marks identified in the Belgic can be seen in churches of many denominations.

    Before you can quote the Belgic as an authority in an ecumenical discussion, you need first to establish the authority of the Belgic. So why, other than that it agrees with your interpretation of Scripture (unlike the Augsburg and Baptist Confessions), should anyone believe that the Belgic is authoritative?

    We always get back to what we as Protestants consider your question begging about what the RCC is.

    What claim, specifically, do you think I have made that is question-begging?

    That’s why this argument is (at least) 500 years old. We’re not going to solve it.

    How do you know we’re not going to solve it? And if you believe we’re not going to solve it, then why are you even commenting here? Why would you need to attempt to engage in (if not hamper with) an activity that you believe cannot possibly succeed?

    If it’s Christ’s only church, why would he keep all believers in it for 1500 years and then allow people to scatter to your alleged 30,000 denominations for the next 500?

    There have been schisms throughout Church history, even from the first century, as I have explained in “Branches or Schisms.”

    Why did he cease to maintain his church?

    He didn’t. She’s still here, at 1.2 billion and growing.

    We use the term QIRC (“Quest for Illegitimate Religious Certainty”) to describe what the Callers are doing.

    First, if you wish to participate here, please follow our “Posting Guidelines,” among which is the request that you not refer to other participants in the third person. Second, please show some courtesy, and refrain from referring to us as “the Callers.” Third, I’ve responded to the QIRC objection in the second to last paragraph in “XII. The Quest for Illegitimate Religious Certainty” in my reply to Michael Horton.

    These religious questions ultimately come down to faith, not logic.

    If you believe that, then why bother attempting to *reason* with me? Your actions seem not to be consistent with your claim.

    I think most of the Callers were facing an existential crisis before their conversions. Rome was a way to assuage their doubts about the entire Christian faith. What better way to assuage them than to heed the call of a man (The Pope) who points to a literal connection to Jesus Christ in time and space!

    This psychological deconstruction is an ad hominem, and could be used on you as well, e.g. to explain why you write so much about us, etc. (It is very easy to make up “just-so” stories by which to explain away the objections of those who disagree with us, rather than deal with the evidence and argumentation our interlocutors set before us.) And after the mutual exchange of ad hominems, we would be no closer to reaching agreement. So, that’s why here we do not allow the use of personal attacks. (Again, see our “Posting Guidelines.”)

    I have always said that the next step for many of these guys is atheism.

    This is cheap and easy negative prognostication. Again, ad hominems are not permitted here. Any future comments containing personal attacks will not make it through comment moderation.

    Erik – So how do you identify what is a problem?

    Tradition.

    And as a layman, who has given you the task of identifying and fixing problems?

    Christ, through the Magisterium. See Apostolicam Actuositatem. See also the following excerpt from Pope Leo XIII’s Sapientiae Christianae:

    No one, however, must entertain the notion that private individuals are prevented from taking some active part in this duty of teaching, especially those on whom God has bestowed gifts of mind with the strong wish of rendering themselves useful. These, so often as circumstances demand, may take upon themselves, not, indeed, the office of the pastor, but the task of communicating to others what they have themselves received, becoming, as it were, living echoes of their masters in the faith. Such co-operation on the part of the laity has seemed to the Fathers of the Vatican Council so opportune and fruitful of good that they thought well to invite it. “All faithful Christians, but those chiefly who are in a prominent position, or engaged in teaching, we entreat, by the compassion of Jesus Christ, and enjoin by the authority of the same God and Savior, that they bring aid to ward off and eliminate these errors from holy Church, and contribute their zealous help in spreading abroad the light of undefiled faith.”[16] Let each one, therefore, bear in mind that he both can and should, so far as may be, preach the Catholic faith by the authority of his example, and by open and constant profession of the obligations it imposes. In respect, consequently, to the duties that bind us to God and the Church, it should be borne earnestly in mind that in propagating Christian truth and warding off errors the zeal of the laity should, as far as possible, be brought actively into play. (Sapientiae Christianae, 16)

    You wrote:

    O.K. So the church apologizes for past failures. At the time they failed, did practicing Catholics know that they were failing?

    It depends. Some failures were less obvious at the time, and became more obvious later. Others were more immediately evident.

    How does a practicing Catholic on July 21, 2013 know what his church is currently failing at?

    By seeing where or when Catholic leaders and laity fall short of the truths and values preserved within the Tradition, whether theological truths or moral truths.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  61. Bryan: That claim (i.e. that submission to authority is not supported by Scripture) is a question-begging claim, because it presupposes that your interpretation (according to which we are not to submit to ecclesial authorities) is the right interpretation of Scripture. In the Catholic way of understanding Scripture, submission to divinely established authority is taught in Scripture. What St. Paul says in Romans 13:5 and St. Peter says in 1 Pet. 2:13 regarding civil authorities applies a fortiori to ecclesial authorities, whom we are to obey and to whom we are to submit, because they keep watch over our souls as those who will give an account (Heb. 13:17). I understand if you interpret the Bible differently, but the notion that submission to ecclesial authorities is not supported by Scripture is your interpretation of Scripture, and a dubious one at that, not a self-evident, indisputable claim Scripture itself makes.

    Sean: Bryan, I don’t recognize your caricature of my position as;” one of not being subject to ecclesial authorities”. My position is one of recognizing rightful authority in line with inscripturated apostolic tradition and that being perspicuous. Thus, not a necessary reduction to Solo scriptura therefore the relevant Gal. 1:8 ref. Your argument for a submission in accord with an additional non original tradition is your RC paradigmatic move, not a sacred text deduction. It’s a faith claim, reasonable or not.

    I still want to see from sacred text this deduction that submission to ecclesial authority whether in ignorance, fideistically regarded, or holding discernment in abbeyance per prior faith commitment is substantiated from scripture. Culpability for civil obedience ends at state sanctioned compliance that violates religious conscience.(i.e. Cultic fealty may require martyrdom or persecution. Ex; the emperor’s cult, or closer to home, health mandates for abortion services) so your rom 13 and 1 peter citations don’t adress the issue. Cultic culpability doesn’t take relief in; “I believe what the church believes” or “the state made me do it”. You can throw question begging flags all day if you’d like but your faith commitment to RC besides not being practiced or even argued by any number of other RC academia, religious or even seen uniformly in pew-practice per sanctity of religious conscience, in which I once was and would again be quite comfortable within RC communion in my stand, is not justifiable per sacred text. What is justifiable per Gal 1:8, or discernment of the spirit or ferreting out false teaching and holding fast to the apostolic teaching, would be a subjugated authority. Neither the pharisees nor sadducees nor those following 2nd temple judaism were excused for their failure to miss Christ despite their adherence and even God ordained cultic temple administration of the same. I don’t think we really need to rehash all Jesus’ judgements against them and warning off of those who would follow their ‘traditions of men’ rather than the commandments of God. Yet, they(Israelites) were those who were privileged and chosen and unique in cultic interpretation, administration and discipline. Cultic culpability didn’t stop at finding the “one true church/cult” and submitting and believing whatsoever they put forth as some superior act of humility or a posture that promised relief in judgement or honored as righteous or cultically normative. Yet, it’s that faith posture that you put forth as superior in submission to authority, that potentiates an obscuration of imago dei culpability.

  62. Erik,

    You wrote (#59):

    I think most of the Callers were facing an existential crisis before their conversions. Rome was a way to assuage their doubts about the entire Christian faith.

    It is a popular tactic (you are by no means unique in doing so, but it is very unfortunate) for Reformed folk to psychoanalyze us who convert to Catholicism. I am flummoxed as to how one squares this psychoanalysis with Jeremiah 17:9. Either the heart is unknowable or it isn’t. How then is it that Reformed seem to think they know so much about why we become Catholic while at the same time disregarding the reasons we offer?

    (For what it is worth I stopped being Protestant months before even being willing to give the Catholic Church a moment’s consideration, just because I realized that the Protestant edifice is built on a foundation that cannot support it. This realization came not in a fit of existential crisis but as a consequence of my own efforts to become a better Reformed Protestant!)

    Peace,

    Fred

  63. Sean, (re: #61)

    You wrote:

    You can throw question begging flags all day if you’d like …

    If you are indifferent to the fallacy of begging the question (or to any fallacy), then CTC is not the right place for you to attempt ecumenical dialogue, and there is no point in our attempting to reason with one another (since reasoning together requires a mutual recognition of the rules of reasoning), and no point in my attempting to reason with you regarding the rest of your comment. May Christ, for whom nothing is impossible, aid us in coming to agreement in the truth.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  64. Bryan, I’m unwilling to have a discussion with you where I must submit to the premises of YOUR construction to have the dialogue. I reject the authority structure of YOUR paradigm, just as you reject mine and throw your question begging flags. For me to do otherwise is to allow an abandonment of my paradigmatic premises; perspicuity of sacred text. At that point we’re not having ecumenical dialogue but a syllogistic game of coherence or lack thereof, but on your terms, not a ‘neutral’ ground; rigged game. It’s your blog, you’re entitled to lay down the ground rules, but don’t confuse that with ecumenical dialogue, that’s just one-upmanship. Your representations, or better, constructions, are often times just that; your constructions. And as such don’t represent more than your unique developments not of theology proper but your polemic. Ecumenical dialogue, for whatever else it requires, entails an accurate representation of both sides position. If I abandon or allow modification of my very premise in order to have the discussion, we’re not having an ecumenical dialogue representative of anything other than your or mine particular representation or in this case, misrepresentation of our respective communion. So you either want to engage an accurate or full-orbed representation of the other’s position or you want to control the ‘ground’ on which the discussion takes place. One is ecumenical and seeking to understand and fairly represent both sides, the other is a game.

  65. Sean,

    I entirely agree with you that (a) I ought to represent your position fairly and accurately, (b) you should not need to abandon or alter your premises in order to participate in dialogue here, and (c) I ought not beg any question or commit any fallacy in my claims or arguments made to you. I also understand that belief in perspicuity is a basic precommitment for you. However, at the same time, if, when I point out that one of your claims or arguments is begging the question against the Catholic position, and you respond by expressing indifference, (e.g. “You can throw question begging flags all day if you’d like”), then at that point no possibility of rational dialogue remains; the only form of discourse remaining open is table-pounding and sophistry. There is an option open to you other than either compromising your own position or tossing out the rules of reasoning. But choosing the latter is a very quick way of removing yourself from the dialogue here. When I point out that one of your claims or arguments begs the question, then at that point the rational-dialogue-preserving response is something like, “Why or how is that claim question-begging?” or “Here’s why I think it is not question-begging” or something like that. But the ‘I don’t care if it is question-begging’ response shuts down the possibility of continued ecumenical dialogue.

    I’ll be away from the internet this week, so I may not be able to respond to further comments until next week at the earliest.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  66. Hi Sean,

    For starters your issue is the Catholics have a different paradigm than you do. Why not discuss, if allowed, the Paradigm itself in one of the Posts concerning that? But if I may, why do you trust your paradigm so much? You assume that Catholics think the Scriptures are some unreadable code of rubix cubes. It is not, and Catholics do not view it as such. However, when disputes arise, there must be a living voice that finals the bickering. The is what the Lord taught in Matthew 18 when he implied all must “listen to the Church”. You are immediately presupposing that since the Church is not God Himself, that she is always subject to the Scriptures. Well, in a sense this is true, but that is not even the issue anymore. The issue is that the Catholic Church doesn’t conform to your understanding of the Scriptures. At this point, you can either argue Paradigms or take each doctrine of disagreement, one by one, and discuss this with Catholics who know the Scriptures well.

  67. Bryan, fair enough. Though I don’t see a cultically faithful way(for me anyway) around the impasse. All of that’s O.K., as far as granting Imago Dei consideration of the other person, even if there is no reconciliation. Good fences can also make good neighbors, as the saying goes. I sat under RC formal and cultural indoctrination for over 21 years, so I spent the time and made the good faith effort. Aside from the polemics however, I would like you to consider, at least potentially, the idea that the submission to authority you propose does in fact run afoul our creaturely culpability. I know your paradigm offers you relief from the opportunity, but just mull it over some as regards the sacred text.

    Well, just to be completely circumspect, mull it over some MORE.

  68. Hi Erik,

    Sorry for the late response.

    Dave H. – By these same standards we need to reject St. Peter as well. He was the guy who denied Jesus three times. Moses and David had some pretty poor judgment as well.

    Erik – Other than refusing to eat with gentiles, what other failures of Peter do you have in mind? Can you point to other post-resurrection failures of apostles akin to failures of Popes?

    I was not referring to his failings post-resurrection. But you do bring up a doozy.

    My point was not to find a post Pentecost example (which you provided). I think it is sufficient to point out the failings of him, or any of the 12 who had been with him for three years to make the point I was trying to make. If someone who had seen all the miracles, the raising of the dead and had already himself been an instument of the miracular prior to the resurrection and yet he still failed miserably just shows that it is possible for any pope. That does not undermine the Catholic understanding of the Papacy at all.

    Dante Alighieri did not leave the Church and anyone who reads him will be disabused of the idea that the Pope or any clergy are or must be impeccable in behavior and Solominic in wisdom.

  69. Sean (re: #66),

    You wrote:

    Though I don’t see a cultically faithful way(for me anyway) around the impasse.

    One possibility, perhaps, is comparing the relative fit of the respective paradigms with data that is common ground between us. If, for example, the Reformed paradigm were false, and there was no non-question-begging way of comparing the Reformed and Catholic paradigms, there would be no way for the Reformed person to discover that he is in a false paradigm. And likewise for the Catholic paradigm. But because you left the Catholic paradigm and entered into the Reformed paradigm, you must believe that there is a way of comparing them in a non-question-begging way, unless your departure was a mere fideistic (and thus irrational) leap.

    I would like you to consider, at least potentially, the idea that the submission to authority you propose does in fact run afoul our creaturely culpability

    Of course I’m willing to consider this, but first I would need some reason to believe that it is true. That is, if you want to persuade me to agree with you, you need to present some argument having as its conclusion that the Catholic position on ecclesial authority is contrary to or incompatible with our creaturely culpability. If you provide such an argument, I’ll consider it carefully, both sincerely and critically. But I may not respond until next week, for the reason I mentioned above.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  70. Erik –

    How does a practicing Catholic on July 21, 2013 know what his church is currently failing at?

    Bryan-

    By seeing where or when Catholic leaders and laity fall short of the truths and values preserved within the Tradition, whether theological truths or moral truths.

    Erik –

    How is this not exercising private judgment over and against your church? Shouldn’t you just give assent to what your church is doing and wait for them to tell you that she erred at some point in the future?

    During the priest sex abuse scandal (while the offenses were taking place), did parishoners speak out or patiently endure abuse for the most part?

  71. Fred – This realization came not in a fit of existential crisis but as a consequence of my own efforts to become a better Reformed Protestant!)

    Erik – Would you care to expound?

    I could be wrong about some of you, but as I’ve said before, time will tell.

    I’ve known Catholics my entire life, and I just think many of you have become Catholic for the wrong reason — to assuage doubts about Protestantism. There is another possibility that we’re all all wet, that Christianity is not true, and there is not even a God. I honestly think some of you will end up at that point as you continue your “spiritual journeys”. And there is no doubt it has been a journey as many of you are on at least your third iteration of faith commitments.

    This plays into my wishing that some of you had a more humble apologetic. If we couldn’t believe your first few iterations, why should we believe this one?

  72. I’m used to Old Life so I can’t handle the moderation of comments here (which is your right). If anyone wants to take all this up on an unmoderated site, come over there. I do always enjoy a rousing, uncensored debate with Papists.

  73. Erik, (re: #72)

    How is this not exercising private judgment over and against your church?

    I explained this in comment #33 above. Every Catholic is obliged to uphold the Apostolic Tradition, which includes theological and moral truths we have already received and been taught (by the Magisterium), over the millennia. When a Catholic, whether cleric or layman, contradicts that Tradition in words or actions, we can, on the basis of the Tradition, recognize and rightly judge him or her to be in error. If, for example, a priest or bishop were to contradict some article of the Creed, we would know that he has fallen into heresy. At the same time, it belongs finally to the Magisterium to interpret and define the Tradition for the Church, which is why the Creed is binding. And we are to be subject to the teaching of the Magisterium in its exercise of that office, as specified in the last three paragraphs of the “Profession of Faith.”

    The use of our knowledge of the Tradition to judge the acts and statements of Catholic clergy or laity does not entail that we are or become our own ultimate interpretive authority, because throughout we remain subject to the authority of the Magisterium. This is why the faithful Catholic who makes use of his knowledge of the Tradition in this way is not his own ultimate interpretive authority, and is not in the same epistemic position with respect to ecclesial authority as is the Protestant, who remains his own ultimate interpretive authority, for reasons explained in comments #33 and #40 above, and the links therein. Exercising judgment while subordinate to interpretive authority is not the same as retaining ultimate interpretive authority to oneself.

    The authority of the Magisterium to define and explain the Tradition does not mean that the Magisterium can overturn previous definitions; on the contrary, it is precisely this authority as exercised previously that prevents the present (and future) Magisterium from overturning previous definitions. This is also why the notion that the faithful Catholic must give assent to whatever any priest or bishop says, is a caricature. Not only is the priest or bishop not the Magisterium, but even the authority of the Magisterium is limited, because it cannot overturn what has already been taught either definitively or by all the bishops spread all over the world.

    As I mentioned above, I’ll be away from the internet the rest of this week, and will likely not be able to reply until late next week.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  74. Bryan – The use of our knowledge of the Tradition to judge the acts and statements of Catholic clergy or laity does not entail that we are or become our own ultimate interpretive authority, because throughout we remain subject to the authority of the Magisterium.

    Erik – So on one hand I have Bryan cross “using his knowledge…” and on the other hand I have Gary Wills “using his knowledge…”. How am I as a Protestant supposed to know who us using his knowledge correctly? How are your fellow Catholics to know who is using his knowledge correctly? As far as I know you are both Catholics in good standing, eligible to receive communion.

    To take it a step further, Nancy Pelosi is also a Catholic in good standing. Why is she not equally qualified to use her knowledge?

  75. Erik, (re: #74)

    So on one hand I have Bryan cross “using his knowledge…” and on the other hand I have Gary Wills “using his knowledge…”. How am I as a Protestant supposed to know who us using his knowledge correctly?

    If you (or any person) want to know what the Catholic Church teaches, consult the Catechism of the Catholic Church. And if questions remain, consult the Magisterium.

    … Nancy Pelosi is also a Catholic in good standing. Why is she not equally qualified to use her knowledge?

    I never claimed that she is not qualified to “use her knowledge.”

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  76. Bryan,

    Are you suggesting that Wills and Pelosi are not familiar with what the church teaches? Are they not Catholics in good standing? If you are a laymen and they are laypeople why are their opinions not equally valid? Wills has to have at least 30 years on you and Nancy has been a Catholic for far longer than you as well.

  77. Erik, (re: #76)

    Are you suggesting that Wills and Pelosi are not familiar with what the church teaches?

    No, I wasn’t suggesting that.

    Are they not Catholics in good standing?

    If you truly want to know their status in relation to the Catholic Church, you need to ask the bishops of their respective dioceses.

    If you are a laymen and they are laypeople why are their opinions not equally valid?

    In order to answer that question, I need to know which of their opinions you have in mind.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  78. If you are in disagreement with Wills and Pelosi, why have you not focused your efforts on calling Catholics like them to (more faithful) Communion rather than calling Presbyterian & Reformed people to Communion? I for one would be more likely to consider the call if the communion I was being called to was more visibly consistent in terms of its adherents’ public positions. As far as you know have Pro-choice, Pro-homosexual Catholic politicians like the late Ted Kennedy, John Kerrey, Nancy Pelosi, and Tom Harkin been officially disciplined or denied communion by the Roman Catholic Church?

    If the Bible says we can judge a tree by its fruit, why are practicing Catholics like Kennedy, Kerry, Pelosi, and Harkin not valid fruit of a lifetime in the Roman Catholic Church?

    I’ll see if I can reach Harkin’s bishop in the Bahamas (ha, ha). Have a nice week off.

  79. Erik, (re: #78)

    You wrote:

    If you are in disagreement with Wills and Pelosi, why have you not focused your efforts on calling Catholics like them to (more faithful) Communion rather than calling Presbyterian & Reformed people to Communion?

    Not every member of the Body is given the very same task. That is one of the beautiful aspects of the Body.

    I for one would be more likely to consider the call if the communion I was being called to was more visibly consistent in terms of its adherents’ public positions.

    That’s understandable. But ecclesial consumerism is opposed to faith. To choose the ‘church’ we *want* is to make an idol in our own image, whereas receiving the Church Christ founded, even with its sinners and tares, is an act of faith. As I wrote in “XII. The Quest for Illegitimate Religious Certainty:”

    Namaan, for example, did not like the muddy Jordan. He would have picked a cleaner river back home near Damascus. (2 King 5) But the issue was not ultimately about some virtue of Jordan’s water but about faith as submission to God, accepting what God had said through His prophet even though it was not the way Namaan would have done it. The obedience of faith required of Namaan by divine prescription that he dip in what to him was the muddy Jordan, whereas he would rather have washed in a cleaner river in his homeland. The Church Christ founded is very much like this. Even her seven sacraments are foreshadowed in Namaan’s being required to dip seven times.

    What made dipping in the Jordan praiseworthy for Naaman as an act of faith in what was unseen, was precisely its muddiness to the natural eye, which he did not deny but subordinated while believing in its salutary efficacy on the basis of the Word of the Lord through the prophet, even though by his own judgment it would have been more prudent to wash in cleaner rivers back in Syria.

    As far as you know have Pro-choice, Pro-homosexual Catholic politicians like the late Ted Kennedy, John Kerrey, Nancy Pelosi, and Tom Harkin been officially disciplined or denied communion by the Roman Catholic Church?

    I do not keep track of where or when or if they have been disciplined or denied communion. I have enough trouble dealing with my own sins.

    If the Bible says we can judge a tree by its fruit, why are practicing Catholics like Kennedy, Kerry, Pelosi, and Harkin not valid fruit of a lifetime in the Roman Catholic Church?

    Just as it would be inaccurate and misleading to judge Christ’s discipleship by way of Judas, so it would be inaccurate and misleading to judge the Catholic Church by persons who deny or reject one or more of her teachings. The fruit by which to judge the tree is that which is fully and deeply united to the life of the vine, having the same faith, the same sacraments, the same hierarchy, and immersed continually in the prayer of the Church. These are the saints.

    I’ll see if I can reach Harkin’s bishop in the Bahamas (ha, ha). Have a nice week off.

    Thanks!

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  80. Erik, there’s no way to do a tit for tat on doctrinal development without engaging two different approaches to sacred text. I’ve done this with CtC guys a handful of times and when we diverge on conclusions the paradigmatic considerations or Q.B. flags get thrown. Probably in a bar or on a site where the opportunity for third party viewing is not a concern or just simply a formal apologetic or polemic is not front and center, you could have the discussion you’re talking about. Outside of that, I haven’t been able to have, nor do I see a way the conversation doesn’t become rapidly truncated. If it helps, I haven’t been the one who generally throws the Q.B. flag. It’s also a little bit frustrating because I’ve had these very conversations at the seminary level and these impediments to discourse don’t come up. Quite frankly, I’m about as tired of the solo scriptura caricature as you are of having to explain you’re not worshiping Mary. Can you find protestants who practice solo scriptura? Yep. Can I find RC’s who worship Mary? Yep. Can I pull up arguments from protestants whose arguments amount to solo scriptura? Yep. Can I pull up RC arguments capitalizing on the idea of Mary as Co-redemptrix that amounts to worship of Mary? yep. I don’t value the ‘principled’ distinction as capacity for a difference, when the charism doesn’t match the principled capacity. To me it’s so many round circles on a board. It seems to really make a difference for some, for this group particularly, but in my conversations, practice, and observed piety from both sides of the fence it’s a distinction without a difference. Where there is some meat on the bone, is the Mass. When we start talking sacerdotalism, now we can make some big bold lines in the sand that have some traction theologically, and in pew-practice. Outside of that it’s an argument about rightful cultic authority and the proper posture of the believer to that cultic authority. Which is an interesting and necessary discussion but at least here doesn’t get very far before we’re stepping on each other’s toes. It doesn’t mean I won’t discuss it here, when allowed, but I’m not convinced of the progress that can get made.

  81. Erik (re 71),

    You wrote:

    I’ve known Catholics my entire life, and I just think many of you have become Catholic for the wrong reason — to assuage doubts about Protestantism. There is another possibility that we’re all all wet, that Christianity is not true, and there is not even a God. I honestly think some of you will end up at that point as you continue your “spiritual journeys”. And there is no doubt it has been a journey as many of you are on at least your third iteration of faith commitments.

    This plays into my wishing that some of you had a more humble apologetic. If we couldn’t believe your first few iterations, why should we believe this one?

    I’d like to make a couple of points in response:

    First, contrary to your claim, it is not possible that “there is not even a God.” God’s existence is necessary, as can be proven by reason and known by faith. Nor is it possible that Christianity is not true, because it is a fact, known by faith and accompanied by motives of credibility, that God has raised Jesus from the dead, declaring him to be Lord and Christ. The “we” who believe and confess these truths, and all other truths divinely revealed, are not “all wet” not could we possibly be “all wet” because our confession of faith is grounded upon divine revelation and secured by the Holy Spirit.

    Second, Bryan has already pointed out that your prognostications about where some of us “will end up” are unhelpful, because such speculation could be applied to any person holding any position, or to any person who ever changes his position (e.g., from Judaism to Christianity, or from Wesleyanism to Calvinism). Essentially, what you are advocating in your comments is skepticism. But the appeal to skepticism is problematic relative to God’s commandment to believe, which is something that I have discussed here, with special reference to doctrinal confession of faith.

    Andrew

  82. Andrew,

    I am in agreement with you on the existence of God and on the truth of Christianity, but many smart people (smarter than us) are not. Look up the work of Hector Avalos sometime. I’ve met with him personally and he makes a case that both you & I are wrong.

    My skepticism of some of you is based on your own conversion stories. My contention is that some of you have become Catholic as part of a quest for some kind of certainty that the Christian faith is true. I would contend that there is no such certainty this side of heaven. That is why we walk by faith and not by sight. Some of you will get disappointed with Catholicism and give up on religion entirely. Obviously no Christian is immune to this, but I believe you guys are especially vulnerable given the peculiar nature of your journeys. Let’s revisit my prediction in a decade.

  83. Andrew,

    And you know as well as I do that Darwinism, a system with which your church has somehow made peace, is entirely self-sustaining without God (at least to Darwinists). As far as the Motives of Credibility standing on their own apart from faith, we have gone round-and-round with Bryan on that at Old Life. With all due respect to him I have never seen him as flummoxed.

    http://oldlife.org/2013/02/the-limits-of-unlimited-authority/

  84. Andrew, discernment and testing both require a level of skepticism to assertions and claims contrary to faith claims. Jesus was pretty affirming of Nathaniel for his skepticism of the Nazarene, and the identification of the messiah was a faith claim, in fact, Nathaniel proclaimed as much when Jesus prophesied to him. The Bereans are commended. Paul admonishes us to hold fast and declare Anathema those who are false. I know how this breaks down for you on your principled certainty but seeing as Jesus affirms the work of the Holy Spirit and it’s mysteriousness; It blows where it wills, and man’s ‘natural’ capacity and inescapable imprimatur of Imago Dei-Rom 2. The attempt to diminish protestantism for it’s ‘skepticism’ easily becomes an attempt to prove too much. Your argument also needs to take advantage of ‘ordinary’ and ‘extraordinary’ categories as well, to maintain consistency with Vat II pronouncements regarding those who are ignorant, to separated brethren. I realize no one is exhaustive of opportunities in a combox or even an article, but let’s keep it as full-orbed as possible, it helps dialogue. And since you are using terms such as ‘essential’ and ‘problematic’, it seems exactitude of language isn’t the order of the day, which I appreciate.

  85. Erik,

    You wrote (#59):

    The whole game for you guys is that the true church has to be one visibly and administratively.

    Yes, and where might we have gotten that crazy idea?

    “‘I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.’” (John 17:20-21)

    Christ specifically states that the reason he desires our unity is so that “the world may believe”, which implies that this unity must be something that the world can identify and take notice of, i.e. a visible unity. I would also point you to 1 Corinthians 1:10-13 and Ephesians 4:1-6 for more evidence that this pie-in-the-sky notion of a visibly unified Church is something that Christ and Paul actually thought was possible and necessary. You should also check out the article on this site, “Christ Founded a Visible Church”.

    You wrote (#72):

    I’m used to Old Life so I can’t handle the moderation of comments here

    I’m not a regular commenter here, but I’ve been reading the site for a while and it doesn’t seem to me that the moderation policy here is extreme. Generally all that is asked of people is that they speak respectfully to one another, stay on-topic, and use proper reasoning to make their arguments. Are you saying that you are incapable of this standard, or that you prefer communication that falls short of civil, rational dialogue?

    Let me restate the question that I and several others have asked you: Why are you here? You already stated that you have no interest in ecumenical dialogue, which is the stated purpose of this site. I realize that this might put my own comment at risk of moderation, but in all honesty, it seems to me that you are just here to troll.

    If you wish to engage the discussion, ask questions, point out errors, rebut arguments, etc., you are more than welcome to do so, assuming you do so in a manner consistent with the posting guidelines. If your purpose for posting is anything other than helping yourself, your interlocutors, and those (like myself) who are following the discussion to draw closer to the truth that sets us free, then I encourage you to go elsewhere. This post by Bryan might be a helpful reflection for you (it was for me) on the various attitudes and motivations that can affect dialogue, especially online: “Virtue and Dialogue: Ecumenism and the Heart”.

  86. Erik, (re: #81/#82)

    You wrote:

    I am in agreement with you on the existence of God and on the truth of Christianity, but many smart people (smarter than us) are not. Look up the work of Hector Avalos sometime. I’ve met with him personally and he makes a case that both you & I are wrong.

    You seem to think that the existence of smart people who believe ~x entails that we cannot be certain that x. But that conclusion does not follow from that premise. Just because some smart people believe ~x, it does not follow that I cannot be certain that x.

    My skepticism of some of you is based on your own conversion stories. My contention is that some of you have become Catholic as part of a quest for some kind of certainty that the Christian faith is true.

    The problem for this mere contention is that there is no evidence to support it, nor have you provided any evidence that supports it.

    I would contend that there is no such certainty this side of heaven.

    The problem for such a contention is that you can have no certainty about it, without contradicting yourself. It is reduced to a mere speculation. In attempting to doubt everything, you put yourself in a position in which you cannot claim anything, and thus nothing you say need be taken seriously, because you yourself cannot take it seriously, because you do not know whether it is true, but by your own testimony reveal your inner condition to be one of standing in a fog of utter confusion, with no certainty regarding anything, and instead uncertain about everything.

    That is why we walk by faith and not by sight.

    Though you’re not certain whether this is true or not.

    Some of you will get disappointed with Catholicism and give up on religion entirely.

    Though you’re not certain whether this is true or not, and not certain whether it is probably true or not, and not certain whether it is even possibly true or not.

    And so on. By embracing skepticism, you’ve undermined all your own claims and objections against Catholicism.

    With all due respect to him I have never seen him as flummoxed.

    Just for your information, I was in no way “flummoxed.” But again, please refrain from personal criticisms here. CTC is not a place to “run around like naked savages all day,” but rather to engage in rational and respectful dialogue aimed at coming to agreement concerning the truth, in a context of committed civility.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  87. Bryan,

    I have enough faith in Christ and hope that the promises of the gospel are true to be in church each Sunday. That’s good enough for me. If someone comes up with a cogent philosophical argument to dissuade you of your Catholic beliefs will you be able to say the same? I think your approach to the Christian faith may be setting you up for a fall, that’s all I’m saying.

    Would you say that we can know that religious doctrines are true in the same sense that we can know that, say, 2 +2 = 4? Or that we can know that it is below freezing outside?

    If so, why?

    If not, why not?

    Bryan – In attempting to doubt everything, you put yourself in a position in which you cannot claim anything, and thus nothing you say need be taken seriously, because you yourself cannot take it seriously, because you do not know whether it is true, but by your own testimony reveal your inner condition to be one of standing in a fog of utter confusion, with no certainty regarding anything, and instead uncertain about everything.

    Erik – Can you show me where I have stated that I attempt to doubt everything?

    Bryan – By embracing skepticism, you’ve undermined all your own claims and objections against Catholicism.

    Erik – Would you say that skepticism is bad in some cases or in call cases?

    If one if skeptical of some truth claims must they be skeptical of all truth claims?

    You at some point became skeptical of Reformed theology. Are you then by necessity skeptical of Catholic theology?

  88. Erik, (re: #85)

    I’m working on borrowed time here, so I have to be brief.

    If someone comes up with a cogent philosophical argument to dissuade you of your Catholic beliefs will you be able to say the same?

    That’s a loaded question, so I’ll pass on answering it.

    Would you say that we can know that religious doctrines are true in the same sense that we can know that, say, 2 +2 = 4? Or that we can know that it is below freezing outside? If so, why? If not, why not?

    St. Thomas has answered this far better than I could, over seven centuries ago, in Summa Theologica II-II Q.4 a.8.

    Erik – Can you show me where I have stated that I attempt to doubt everything?

    Contending that there is no such certainty this side of heaven, as you did earlier in this thread, has that implication.

    Erik – Would you say that skepticism is bad in some cases or in call cases?

    Skepticism is defined in a comprehensive way; it does not mean merely disbelieving a particular claim. It generally refers to disbelieving a whole class of claims, or classes of claims of various types. Skepticism toward a class of beliefs we can, should, or do know, is bad.

    You at some point became skeptical of Reformed theology. Are you then by necessity skeptical of Catholic theology?

    No, that conclusion does not follow.

    In order to avoid failing to focus, and jumping fruitlessly from topic to topic, I recommend that any future comments on this thread be on the topic of Andrew’s post.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  89. Erik – Can you show me where I have stated that I attempt to doubt everything?

    Bryan – Contending that there is no such certainty this side of heaven, as you did earlier in this thread, has that implication.

    Erik – Do you normally allow others to draw their own broad implications from your words in this forum?

    Was I not speaking of certainty of the truth of the Christian faith? How does this fairly get expanded to doubt about everything?

    Bryan – In order to avoid failing to focus, and jumping fruitlessly from topic to topic, I recommend that any future comments on this thread be on the topic of Andrew’s post.

    Erik – If you look above you will notice that my comment that you responded to was addressed to “Andrew”. In fact I was responding to a statement he made to me. So you jump in and comment unsolicited and then I get accused of not confining my comments to Andrew’s post?

    Bryan – Skepticism is defined in a comprehensive way; it does not mean merely disbelieving a particular claim. It generally refers to disbelieving a whole class of claims, or classes of claims of various types. Skepticism toward a class of beliefs we can, should, or do know, is bad.

    Erik – Whoa. “Skepticism toward a class of beliefs we can, should, or do know is bad.”

    If that’s not question begging when applied to the truth of Catholic theology I don’t know what is.

    A political liberal might say that the Democratic Party Platform is a “class of beliefs I can or should know.” I haven’t read it, however, and if I did I am pretty sure I would reject it for the most part knowing what I do about the Democratic Party.

    What one “should know” is in the eye of the beholder.

    I do feel I owe you an apology for using the word “flummoxed”. That was night very nice. You are always interesting to talk to when you fully engage, which I know we do not always have the time to do.

    Re: Aquinas

    If I would have asked you, or Jeremy Tate, or Jason Stellman if your faith was certain when you were Presbyterian & Reformed I assume you would have said, “Yes, very”. Jason was a pastor and church officer who took vows to uphold the Presbyterian system of doctrine. Now you are all Roman Catholic.

    If I would have asked all three of you if 2 + 2 = 4 in those days you would have said “yes”. If I ask you today you would say “yes”.

  90. Erik, (re: #87)

    If I misunderstood your statement about the impossibility of certainty, then I apologize. To be clearer in the future, I suggest not saying that there is no such certainty this side of heaven, but rather that we can have no certainty about matters of faith this side of heaven.

    As for staying on topic, that is simply my recommendation.

    Regarding skepticism, you’ve misunderstood me if you think I applied skepticism “to the truth of Catholic theology.” I did no such thing.

    Regarding “flummoxed,” I accept your apology, thanks.

    Regarding certainty, you don’t draw out your conclusion (which would be helpful), so I’ll attempt to do it for you. You are attempting to argue that if we can believe we are certain about the truth of x, but then later come to be uncertain about x, and even come to believe that x is false, then we can never be certain about x this side of heaven. That’s similar to the kind of arguments Descartes makes regarding the reliability of our senses. If we can be mistaken in the case of optical illusions or whether we are awake or dreaming, then we can’t be certain about what we are sensing and whether we are awake or dreaming. So you see that your argument against the possibility of certainty in matters of faith, would have the same implication, if sound, regarding all our empirical knowledge. You cannot limit it just to matters of faith. But the rejoinder to your argument is analogous to the rejoinder to Decartes’s. We can distinguish being awake from dreaming. That’s precisely why we have two concepts instead of one. In order for the argument even to get off the ground, it must make use of our awareness of the difference between dreaming and being awake. So it cannot be the case that the fact of there being moments of confusion when it is not clear to us whether we are awake or asleep, or when we think we are awake but are actually dreaming, entails that we can never distinguish with certainty the two states, or know with certainty that we are awake. Our awareness of the distinction is presupposed by the argument itself. If we could not distinguish the two states, we would be unaware of them as distinct, as a fish never knows that it is wet.

    Just as optical illusions, mishearing, misunderstanding, and moments in which it is not clear to us whether we are awake or asleep do not entail that we cannot be certain about the empirical world, so, in the same way, there being periods in which we believe some theological claim, and think we are certain about it, but then come to realize that we were wrong about it, does not entail that we cannot come to truth and certainty in matters of faith this side of heaven. Just as there is a phenomenological difference between being awake and dreaming, by which we can distinguish the two, so there is a phenomenological difference between believing a falsehood about x and discovering the truth about x. Otherwise we could never have certainty even on the *heaven* side of heaven.

    If you are uncertain about the truth of Reformed theology, or about the truth of Protestant theology in general (since you are uncertain in matters of faith this side of heaven), then the default position, as Trueman acknowledges, is to remain with the Church, and not enter into schism or remain in schism. As I wrote in November of 2009,

    Doctrinal skepticism undermines the justification for remaining in schism from the Catholic Church. If a Protestant comes to a point of not knowing with absolute certainty that Trent was wrong, then that person has no more justification for remaining separate. The Church gets the benefit of the doubt in a toss-up. Justification for being separate requires absolute certainty that the Church is wrong. Surely you agree that schism on a whim is an offense to God.

    (I wrote something similar in the last paragraph of “Does the Bible Teach Sola Fide?“) Schism on a whim, or schism on a guess, or schism on a hunch, or schism on a maybe, is simply not justified. One does not slice up the Body of Christ on a maybe. One would have to be absolutely certain that one is right, that the Church is wrong, and that schism from the Church is justified, because one will have to stand before the Bridegroom and give an account for having carved up His Bride into pieces, and for having influenced others to do so as well by one’s actions and example, and because one’s eternal salvation is at stake. As St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote to the Philadelphians in AD 107, “If any man follows him that makes a schism in the Church, he shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” A fortiori such a judgment applies to the one who makes a schism in the Church. I would not want to have to stand before the Lord and answer for having perpetuated schism on the basis of mere uncertain speculation. The stakes are far too high, to commit the grave sin of schism on the basis of beliefs about which one is uncertain. In short, if you are anything short of absolutely certain about the truth of Reformed (or Protestant) theology, you should return to the Catholic Church.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  91. Bryan,

    Thanks for that substantive response.

    You say – “Doctrinal skepticism undermines the justification for remaining in schism from the Catholic Church. If a Protestant comes to a point of not knowing with absolute certainty that Trent was wrong, then that person has no more justification for remaining separate. The Church gets the benefit of the doubt in a toss-up. Justification for being separate requires absolute certainty that the Church is wrong. Surely you agree that schism on a whim is an offense to God.”

    “Doctrinal skepticism” involves much more than Trent, however. It involves the entire Roman Catholic system of belief beginning with the Church’s belief about the apostleship of Peter being passed on to successor Bishops of Rome. If Peter’s apostleship is not able to be passed on we have no infallible authority and Rome is just one more Christian sect. Trent did not take place for another 1,500 years after the apostles.

    I don’t grant that the (Roman Catholic) Church gets the benefit of a toss-up. The church that gets the benefit of a toss-up is the one that best conforms to Scripture. Why? Because Scripture is the place that one becomes convinced of the truth of the resurrection of Christ and the viability of Christianity in the first place.

    Embracing Rome primarily entails embracing a particular interpretation of Peter being able to pass on his apostleship.

    In other words, you have your faith claim and I have mine, as much as you would like to be able to say otherwise.

    And if you’ve changed your mind about the truth of these matters at least twice before (from Pentecostal to Reformed to Catholic) how can we be certain you won’t change it again? I’m not being flippant, but the past is often the best predictor of the future.

    As far as my own “uncertainty” about the truth of Reformed theology goes, until I’m convinced on the issue of Peter’s apostleship being able to be passed on, I expect to be less uncertain of the truth of Reformed theology than of Catholic theology because I find the former to be thoroughly biblical while I find the latter to be only partially biblical. If one is 90% certain of one system and 60% certain of another it makes sense to remain with the system that one is more certain of.

    I know, “private judgment”, but I just don’t see another way.

  92. Erik, (re: #89)

    The church that gets the benefit of a toss-up is the one that best conforms to Scripture. Why? Because Scripture is the place that one becomes convinced of the truth of the resurrection of Christ and the viability of Christianity in the first place.

    Notice that you are bringing these theological presuppositions to the question. Where are you getting these? Who told you these, and what authority did they have? I asked you this in comment #58, and you still haven’t answered. What is doing all the work for you is what you are presupposing in approaching the Catholic-Protestant question. And what I am asking you is where you are getting these presuppositions. From yourself? Or from others? If from others, then what authority did they have to stipulate them?

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  93. Sorry, Erik, that was AB in #58. But it is the very same question.

  94. Bryan,

    I quick note regarding “this side of heaven”. At some point (unless Christ returns) we will all die. Presumably after that we will either (1) no longer have consciousness and decompose (if the Darwinists are correct), or (2) experience some form of Consciousness in the presence of God (if Christians are correct). Now if (2) is correct, I suppose that we may still be in the dark about all of the theological issues about which we argue, but I hope at that point the correct answers to these questions will become more clear to us than they are now. That’s what I mean by “this side of heaven”.

    Now I know that under (2) there is also the possibility of consciousness apart from God (i.e. Hell) and of some religion other than Christianity being true, but I’ll set that aside for now.

    If you think you have knowledge of these issues now that you will have after your death, you are a better man than I. I guess your Catechism has close to 3,000 Q&A’s so maybe you think you do.

    Bryan – Where are you getting these? Who told you these, and what authority did they have? I asked you this in comment #58, and you still haven’t answered. What is doing all the work for you is what you are presupposing in approaching the Catholic-Protestant question. And what I am asking you is where you are getting these presuppositions. From yourself? Or from others? If from others, then what authority did they have to stipulate them?

    Erik – Scripture and The Reformed Confessions.

    Of course you will respond “no authority” and “private judgment”, but you have no better answer for me unless I buy your truth claims about Peter as noted above. Your whole system stands or falls on Peter. I am not sure if you have realized it or not yet, though. This gets me back to my contention that you guys think you have found a panacea for your Protestant doubt, but it hangs on this one assertion about Peter that must be accepted on faith.

    You will next point me to the “Motives of Credibility” to attest to the truth of your claims about Peter. If I then point out shortcomings of Peter’s successors, however, you will claim that Popes are only human. So I am supposed to look at ostensibly objective evidence supporting your claims about Peter’s succession but then I can not look at other evidence casting doubt upon your claims?

  95. Erik, (re: #92)

    Erik – Scripture and The Reformed Confessions.

    Ok, let’s consider those two possibilities. Scripture nowhere says anything that means or entails that “The church that gets the benefit of a toss-up is the one that best conforms to Scripture.” That is a man-made theological assumption you are presupposing and imposing on Scripture, not deriving from Scripture. So that leaves “The Reformed Confessions.” But as I explained in comments #47 and #60 above, the basis for the ‘authority’ of the Reformed Confessions is only their agreement with one’s own interpretation of Scripture. And since Scripture nowhere says anything that means or entails that “The church that gets the benefit of a toss-up is the one that best conforms to Scripture,” therefore the Reformed Confessions have no authority to stipulate that “the church that gets the benefit of a toss-up is the one that best conforms to Scripture.” So neither Scripture nor the Reformed Confessions provide any basis for your presupposition that “The church that gets the benefit of a toss-up is the one that best conforms to Scripture.” You’re using a man-derived theological presupposition to attempt to adjudicate the Catholic-Protestant question. And if you use your own criterion, you’re going to get as output what you give as input. You’re going to arrive at a ‘church’ of your own making, the very essence of ecclesial consumerism.

    you have no better answer for me unless I buy your truth claims about Peter as noted above.

    Actually, I do have a better answer. Set aside, for now, the question of Peter. When the Creed speaks of “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church,” it is referring to something that Christ founded, and that continued to exist in each century, including the fourth century (when the Creed was formulated at the first and second ecumenical councils), and through the rest of the millennium, and then to the sixteenth century. That Church that Christ founded did not cease to exist between the first century and the sixteenth. Nowhere, in those sixteen centuries, did the Church ever say anything equivalent to or entailing that the Church is the group of persons “that best conforms to Scripture.” Every heretical group on the planet, during those sixteen centuries, would have been delighted if the Church had ever made such a claim, because they could have then justified their own existence by claiming that they were the ones who best conformed to Scripture, and thus that they were the Church. The ‘apostolicity’ of the Church was always understood by that Church of the first sixteen centuries as requiring a succession of authority from the Apostles, not merely a claim to have the doctrine of the Apostles (since any heretical group could make such a claim).

    The Church Christ founded, and which existed continually during those sixteen centuries, never said anything like the Church is the group of persons that “that best conforms to Scripture” or that ‘apostolicity’ reduces to agreement with the Apostles’ doctrine. That fourth mark of the Church (i.e. apostolicity) was always understood as essentially successional, that the doctrine of the Apostles was always to be found with those having the succession from the Apostles. She always said what Tertullian said at the end of the second century:

    “Our appeal [in debating with the heretics], therefore, must not be made to the Scriptures; nor must controversy be admitted on points in which victory will either be impossible, or uncertain, or not certain enough. For a resort to the Scriptures would but result in placing both parties on equal footing, whereas the natural order of procedure requires one question to be asked first, which is the only one now that should be discussed: “With whom lies that very faith to which the Scriptures belong? From what and through whom, and when, and to whom, has been handed down that rule by which men become Christians? (Liber de praescriptione haereticorum, 19)

    Who has the right and authority to say what Scripture means? Those from whom it was handed down, i.e. the Apostles, and the successors of the Apostles, and the particular Churches governed by the successors of the Apostles. The Scriptures belong to the Church, and are rightly known in and through the Church, not through the private interpretation of every Joe Blow who thinks he knows better than the Church what the Scriptures mean.

    Your answer (“Scripture and The Reformed Confessions”) shows that you cannot appeal to the Church of the first sixteen centuries to answer this question. And this indicates that your position presupposes ecclesial deism. But which is more difficult to believe, and which is a better answer: that the authority of the Church was non-existent for 1500 years (and that the whole Church got it wrong about its authority), or as the early Church believed and universally practiced throughout the whole world wherever Christianity went, that the Apostles handed down their authority to successors as testified to repeatedly by the early Church Fathers?

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  96. Bryan, (re: #58)

    Your last question in comment 58 would have me answer along the lines of perspicuity of Scripture, and I feel there are better threads for that dialogue. When I have time, I can continue along those lines, in those more appropriate places.

    Regards,
    AB

  97. Bryan,

    You can’t set Peter aside, for without apostolic succession you have no infallible interpreter.

    You have Constantine primarily to thank for the “oneness” of the first “16 centuries”. No more enforcement of RCC orthodoxy via the sword, no more oneness.

    You continue to assert things you can not prove, because they are based on faith.

    Now get out of here and take your vacation! Thanks for the discussion.

  98. I know this is a few months late, but I just stumbled upon this post. The issue with the Pope’s statement is not his use of “redemption,” but rather his exegesis of Mark 9:38-40. That was the passage he was preaching from. While it is true that non-Christians can perform good actions, that is not at all what is happening in Mark 9. The person in question is specifically said to cast out demons in the name (or authority) of Jesus. This is a follower of Christ who apparently wasn’t in the inner circle of the twelve disciples. This was not a faithless individual performing charitable acts. This person was casting out demons, co-laboring with Christ to recreate the world. So regardless of what Francis meant, it doesn’t flow out of Mark 9. He could have easily made his point by emphasizing man being made in God’s image and the incarnation. Yet he chose this passage instead. Surely we can see the concern: Jesus confirms that the man in question *isn’t* an enemy but a friend and a co-laborer of the gospel. If this applies to all people, not just Christians, then we’re back to a universalist tone. I’ve yet to see anyone acknowledge this aspect of the Pope’s homily.

  99. Adam,

    I think that Pope Francis’s comments about atheists were an application of the principle which Our Lord expressed in Mark 9:39:

    The man who is not against you is on your side.

    The Pope is obviously aware of the difference between a person casting out demons or giving a cup of water in the name of Jesus, and someone who does good works while not naming any deity because that person does not believe in any deity. There is nothing universalist (as in implying universal salvation) in observing that all persons are capable of doing good works, and that we can “meet one another” in so doing, in all manner of ways, from planting a community garden to helping dig people out from the rubble left by a natural disaster, and so forth. If I am drowning, and a man throws me a rope, whether or not he names the name of Jesus he is in a real sense on my side. Also, I don’t think that the Pope “chose this passage”; it was probably the reading appointed for the day.

    Andrew

  100. Thanks, Andrew. Your interpretation of the Pope’s comments sound as if he were only speaking of specific, mutual agendas. Example: “Christians and atheists are not enemies when co-laboring to feed the hungry.” Is that how you viewed his statement? I remember thinking that he was speaking in very general terms, hence why so many were concerned. If that’s all he meant then there shouldn’t have been a problem. Would you agree that atheists certainly are our enemies in other – perhaps more important – matters?

  101. Christie (re: #23)

    If you have time, could you explain what you meant in comment # 1 by, “It is important, as you mentioned, to distinguish between redemption accomplished objectively, and redemption applied subjectively.” What exactly is the difference between a man whose redemption Jesus accomplished for him objectively but God has yet to apply it to that man individually and a man for whom both has taken place?

    It is the difference between being in a state of mortal sin, and being in a state of grace. Christ died for all men (see here), and made atonement to God for all men, but that objective redemption Christ merited for us is applied to us subjectively through the sacraments, through which we receive sanctifying grace and the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity. (See here and here.) Not all persons receive baptism or come to faith; some persons choose freely to remain in mortal sin, even unto [physical] death. So not all for whom Christ died receive subjectively the redemption He obtained for them, even though through Christ’s sacrifice, all men receive sufficient grace (see here) to repent and receive sanctifying grace, faith, hope, and agape, and be thus translated from darkness unto light.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  102. “You ask me if the God of the Christians forgives those who don’t believe and who don’t seek the faith. I start by saying – and this is the fundamental thing – that God’s mercy has no limits if you go to him with a sincere and contrite heart. The issue for those who do not believe in God is to obey their conscience.
    “Sin, even for those who have no faith, exists when people disobey their conscience.”

    Sirs, is this the CCF that you signed up for? It seems that faith — not faith alone, but faith not at all — no longer matters in salvation. And on the same day I read that Archbishop Pietro Parolin says the celibate priesthood is only a tradition — not essential. What next?

  103. Archbiship Parolin says dumping celibacy would be a return to the practices of the early church. Does this mean the mass, images, vestments, and holy orders will go to since none of them were found in the early church?

    http://ncronline.org/blogs/ncr-today/parolin-celibacy-democracy

  104. C. Weakly (re #102-103),

    The question of the possibility of salvation for those who through no fault of their own do not have explicit faith in God has been addressed in the foregoing blog post.

    Clerical (specifically, presbyteral) celibacy, understood as requiring that priests be unmarried, is a discipline that has been maintained in the Western Church since around A.D. 1000. There is no question of this discipline being essential. The question is whether it has been beneficial, both to the clergy and to the Church as a whole.

    Regarding the other items you mentioned: Surely you know that the Mass (i.e., the celebration of the Eucharist) and Holy Orders were found in the early church. Regarding images in the early Church, see this article, particularly this section. Distinctive liturgical vestments were a latter development, but this does not mean that the chasuble, etc., are not appropriate to Christian worship.

    Regarding developments in the life of the Church in general, see the post A Response to Scott Clark and Robert Godfrey on ‘The Lure of Rome’.

  105. C. Weakly, (re: #102)

    Which of the Pope’s statements, either individually or in conjunction, do you think entails that faith is not necessary for salvation?

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  106. Andrew,

    I just saw a post on facebook which claims that Pope Francis teaches that as long as someone obeys their conscience, they are in the will of God, even if they do not believe in God nor seek the faith. Does this apply to our family, friends, and acquaintances who reject our witness and do not believe in Jesus Christ, after having known and heard the gospel for years?

    It seems to me that modern day Catholics, including the Pope, have seen “judging” people who refuse to believe in the gospel as “lost” and “condemned” is a sin in and of itself. The sin of judgmentalism. But if we really do believe that the Apostles were Holy Men, should we assume that Paul was in sin for claiming that Israel was lost in Romans 11? He clearly teaches that blindness has come upon Israel and that Salvation will come to Israel when this blindness is removed, and they believe in Jesus Christ. I can almost picture many Catholic ridiculing me for claiming that Jews who do not believe in Jesus, and know of the gospel , are condemned in their unbelief. But this is what the Scriptures teach us. That really matters.

  107. Bryan,

    We know that infants, the mentally handicapped, and the those who “through no fault of their own” have never heard the gospel are people within the realm where there is a possibility of salvation apart from explicit faith in God. However, it seems as if the Pope is claiming that atheists today, who know and have heard the gospel, are still capable of salvation.

  108. Erick,

    It would be better to focus on what Pope Francis actually wrote in that letter, rather than getting caught up in “a post on facebook which claims that Pope Francis teaches …” or what he “seems” to be claiming.

    Likewise, it would be better to focus on what the Catholic Church actually teaches, rather than getting caught up in what seems to you to be the drift of modern Catholics.

    If there are specific statements made by a Pope or specific teachings of the Church that you would like to discuss, I would be happy to do so provided that they are related to the topic of this post.

  109. Andrew,

    Thank you. It has been my understanding that those who are eligible for salvation without explicit faith are those who are inculpable of believing in divine revelation. This would include any person in the world. But it has also been my understanding that since invincible ignorance excuses one from the need of faith in divine revelation as stated in the “those who through no fault of their own” parts of Vatican II, that those who have heard the good news of Christ and refuse to believe it are de facto culpable. It seems as if this is what the Scriptures teach. “If they hear you, they hear me. If they reject you, they reject me”.

  110. Erik, (re: #107)

    I don’t have time or the intention to enter into a lengthy back-and-forth. My question was directed to C. Weakly. Regarding your first statement, as soon as you qualify with the term “explicit faith,” you’re changing the subject, because the claim in question (from C. Weakly) has to do with faith simpliciter. Regarding your second statement, for our purposes here, what matters is not what “seems as if,” but what is true.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  111. For reference, here is an English translation of the Pope’s letter:

    Pope Francis’ Letter to the Founder of “La Repubblica” Italian Newspaper

  112. Erick (re #109),

    You wrote:

    It has been my understanding that those who are eligible for salvation without explicit faith are those who are inculpable of believing in divine revelation. This would include any person in the world.

    I think that you mean “incapable” of believing in [special] divine revelation [i.e., because it has not been made known to them]. This would include only those persons to whom divine revelation has not been “made known”. I put that phrase in quotes to indicate that it is not always clear what constitutes an authentic and intelligible proclamation of the Gospel, such that persons who hear the good news would be culpable for not believing it. For instance, suppose that some missionary shared an explicitly Arian account of the Gospel, and someone failed to believe that. Or suppose that a particularly nasty and unjust person, one who habitually and notoriously abuses other people in the community, proclaimed the orthodox, Trinitarian Gospel to members of that community. Would those people be culpable for their unbelief if they refused to accept this message, coming from this person?

    With such considerations in mind, it does not seem exactly right, or at least it is not abundantly clear, that “those who have heard the good news of Christ and refuse to believe it are de facto culpable.”

    To refer back to Pope Francis’ letter, as well as the earlier comments that prompted this post, it is in any event a clear point of Catholic doctrine that faith is necessary for salvation (cf. Trent, VI, 8), and nothing that Francis said or wrote in either case is inconsistent with this point of doctrine. But it is less clear who might be saved by implicit faith in Christ, and who is culpable for not having explicit faith in Christ.

  113. Bryan:

    “First of all, you ask me if the God of Christians forgives one who doesn’t believe and doesn’t seek the faith. Premise that – and it’s the fundamental thing – the mercy of God has no limits if one turns to him with a sincere and contrite heart; the question for one who doesn’t believe in God lies in obeying one’s conscience. Sin, also for those who don’t have faith, exists when one goes against one’s conscience. To listen to and to obey it means, in fact, to decide in face of what is perceived as good or evil. And on this decision pivots the goodness or malice of our action.”

    Do you/does he redefine faith as faithfulness? Where is Christ in this formulation?

    “..if one turns” — so the hinge is personal action? Man saves himself. Where is the prior action of God?

    Bryan, you can “logic”, “paradigm”, and parse this until the cows come home. The common man hears salvation by works (his own), and “there is no need for preaching or evangelism.”

  114. Andrew, how early is early? What would be left of the Roman church if we strip away everything tacked on since the first century? A simple Reformed service probably looks a great deal like early church worship or even that of the synagogue before and after the first century. Do you actually believe Paul and Peter would recognize the faith once delivered to the saints if they were to visit the average Roman cathedral any time in the last 18 or 19 centuries?

  115. C. Weakly, (re: #113)

    Do you/does he redefine faith as faithfulness?

    No.

    Where is Christ in this formulation?

    A common mistake is to infer from the absence of an explicit mention of x in a snippet from a position, to the conclusion that x is absent from that position. The problem is presupposing (falsely) that everything contained in the position must be present in a snippet.

    “..if one turns” — so the hinge is personal action? Man saves himself. Where is the prior action of God?

    Again, within a snippet the absence of a mention of prior grace does not mean that according to this position there is no prior grace. (There is prior grace – see the second section here, titled “Actual Grace and Our Cooperation.”) The problem here is a basic fallacy, called the argument from silence. Just because something is not mentioned in a snippet, does mean or entail that it is not present in the position represented by the snippet.

    Bryan, you can “logic”, “paradigm”, and parse this until the cows come home. The common man hears salvation by works (his own), and “there is no need for preaching or evangelism.”

    That’s precisely why education is important, so that we acquire the discipline and disposition to learn not to go by “seems like,” but always to search out the truth.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  116. Pope Francis has just re-stated the teaching in this passage of Lumen Gentium 16:

    Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience.(19*) Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life. Whatever good or truth is found amongst them is looked upon by the Church as a preparation for the Gospel.(20*)

    (19) Cfr. Epist. S.S.C.S. Officii ad Archiep. Boston.: Denz. 3869-72.
    (20) Cfr. Eusebius Caes., Praeparatio Evangelica, 1, 1: PG 2128 AB.

  117. Re: #114. Bryan, and others: I’d like to think it’s axiomatic that “education is important” is a value that is shared and agreed upon by both Protestants and Catholics (but, please advise if that is a debatable point for you). What’s more difficult for Protestants to understand about the RCC is that you folks claim that the Bible is unclear enough that it requires your CIP and a pope to rightly understand the truth. Meanwhile, you’ve got the Pope (not to mention the voluminous and not-easy-to-understand-at-face-value-Magesterium) making statements that are sometimes confusing and lack clarity and seem to require ongoing “yeah-but-here-is-what-he-meant” or “here-is-how-you-need-to-supplement-his-remarks-to-really-understand-them” kind of stuff.

    Just curious: do any of the Pope’s comments ever make you cringe and wish he said things differently and more clearly? And further curious, is it ever ok for you to publicly critique the comments of a Pope, or is that considered poor form?

    One premise that evangelicals, at least, operate from is that God wants ALL people — even those without high IQ’s and without the ability to comprehend the CIP and without the ability to be educated enough to understand papal comments and without the ability to understand fallacies regarding silence in snippets — to be redeemed, and that God has not made the gospel nearly as complex to understand as (it seems) the RCC has made it to be. You may not like Billy Graham’s theology, and he may be anathema, but many of us praise the Lord for Graham’s simple and clear presentation of (our understanding of) the gospel. Do you believe that Billy Graham has been used of God to further the kingdom of God? Or, how would you characterize his simple and clear message?

    To the extent that the prior paragraph represents inertia for evangelicals in ever remotely considering the RCC, in the interest of RCC-Protestant dialog/understanding, how would you persuade us?

  118. Corn-Czar, (re: #116)

    Bryan, and others: I’d like to think it’s axiomatic that “education is important” is a value that is shared and agreed upon by both Protestants and Catholics (but, please advise if that is a debatable point for you).

    I wasn’t making any claim about a disparity in the respective appreciation of education. I’m speaking of the conscious choice and habit of refusing to remain at (or be content to discuss at) the level of mere appearances and “seems like,” etc., and instead to speak at the level of determining and seeking out what is true. We could trade “seems like” observations perpetually, without choosing to make our inquiry about what is actually true.

    What’s more difficult for Protestants to understand about the RCC is that you folks claim that the Bible is unclear enough that it requires your CIP and a pope to rightly understand the truth. Meanwhile, you’ve got the Pope (not to mention the voluminous and not-easy-to-understand-at-face-value-Magesterium) making statements that are sometimes confusing and lack clarity and seem to require ongoing “yeah-but-here-is-what-he-meant” or “here-is-how-you-need-to-supplement-his-remarks-to-really-understand-them” kind of stuff.

    Yes, from a Catholic point of view, in order to have unity of faith we need a magisterium; Scripture alone isn’t sufficient to establish and preserve unity of faith. That’s fully compatible with it being the case that sometimes what popes or bishops say is easily misunderstood by persons who are not well-catechized. If you see a contradiction between those two things, please point it out.

    Just curious: do any of the Pope’s comments ever make you cringe and wish he said things differently and more clearly?

    No, I’m quite used to the media (and persons not well-catechized in the Catholic faith) misunderstanding and distorting what Church leaders say. It happens every day. It happened in Jesus’s time, when people distorted and misunderstood His words, in large part because they didn’t take the time or have the patience to understand what He was saying. This is why He said, Let those who have ears to hear, hear.

    And further curious, is it ever ok for you to publicly critique the comments of a Pope, or is that considered poor form?

    I don’t know exactly what you mean by “poor form.” Can Catholics criticize a pope’s actions or comments? Yes. St. Catherine of Sienna did just this, in an effort to convince the pope to return to Rome.

    One premise that evangelicals, at least, operate from is that God wants ALL people — even those without high IQ’s and without the ability to comprehend the CIP and without the ability to be educated enough to understand papal comments and without the ability to understand fallacies regarding silence in snippets — to be redeemed, and that God has not made the gospel nearly as complex to understand as (it seems) the RCC has made it to be. You may not like Billy Graham’s theology, and he may be anathema, but many of us praise the Lord for Graham’s simple and clear presentation of (our understanding of) the gospel.

    If you’re Reformed, then do you really believe God wants all people to be saved, or does He want to save only the elect, since (according to Reformed theology), Christ died only for the elect? (See comment #3 in the Universal Salvific Will post.)

    Yes, God wants all people to be saved. One difficulty for sola Scriptura Christianity is that it presupposes a high level of literacy, and the ready access to copies of the Bible. But those are both relatively recent phenomena in the history of Christianity. So the whole Catholicism makes it more difficult for people to learn about Christ objection is problematic for those who raise it while holding sola scriptura.

    Regarding Billy Graham’s theology, if you have followed the discussion here for any length of time you know it is not about what we “like,” (see here) but about what is true. Given all that we’ve explained to you about a Catholic appreciation of Billy Graham and folks like him, and all we have said here about the Catholic understanding of anathema (see, for example, comment #53 in the Van Drunen thread), it is hard for me to understand why you would resort to the rhetorical move of saying “and he may be anathema.”

    Do you believe that Billy Graham has been used of God to further the kingdom of God? Or, how would you characterize his simple and clear message?

    I’ve already answered this question to you, see comment #465 in the “Jason Stellman tells his Conversion Story” thread.

    To the extent that the prior paragraph represents inertia for evangelicals in ever remotely considering the RCC, in the interest of RCC-Protestant dialog/understanding, how would you persuade us?

    I don’t understand that question. Persuade you of the truth of what claim?

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  119. C. Weakly (re #114),

    You asked:

    Andrew, how early is early? What would be left of the Roman church if we strip away everything tacked on since the first century?

    You appealed to the “early church” in comment #103, so I will let you define what counts as early [and therefore acceptable?]. From this most recent comment, one could infer that everything after the first century, such as Nicene and Chalcedonian orthodoxy, does not make the cut as early [and therefore are not acceptable?].

    You wrote:

    A simple Reformed service probably looks a great deal like early church worship or even that of the synagogue before and after the first century.

    For information on Christian worship in the first century, see Tim Troutman’s podcast and blog post by the same name.

    Finally, you asked:

    Do you actually believe Paul and Peter would recognize the faith once delivered to the saints if they were to visit the average Roman cathedral any time in the last 18 or 19 centuries?

    Yes. For some of the reasons why I believe this, see the podcast and blog post just mentioned.

  120. Johannes,

    Actually, I don’t think it is clear that Pope Francis simply re-iterated what is taught in that passage of Lumen Gentium. The question was concerning those who do not believe in Jesus and who are not Christian. It was not specifically those who through no fault of their own have not heard of the gospel of Jesus or His Church. And Pope Francis’ response seems to be referring to all people of the world who do not believe in Jesus.

  121. Greetings. I am new to this website, and have been encouraged/confused at the same time. I’d like to pose a question. Like many of you, I have been formally trained in the Reformed tradition. Yet, since being out of a formal training setting, I’ve been wrestling with some questions. One significant one comes from recent statements, or re-affirmations, on the RCC’s teaching concerning those who don’t know Christ, yet earnestly seek God and do good. As I understand it, it is believed these people are (or, rather may be) saved because of the mercy of God. First, am I correct in this understanding? Above, the statement (re: #116; see also an article from zenit.org with the Pope’s statements concerning “La Repubblica”) includes this phrase: “no fault of their own.” What exactly does this mean? It seems as if all people are in the condition they are in ultimately due to their own rebellion in Adam (see Rm. 1; Eph. 2; etc). While it might be true people cannot help where geographically they are born, people are fully responsible in the spiritual condition in which they are born (Gen. 3; Rm. 5). Admittedly so, my training and tradition includes heavy emphasis on the total depravity of man as a state all mankind chose in Adam. This total depravity of man highlights the awesome love of God in the face of Christ Jesus (2 Cor. 4). This is where I am. My questions are as follows. First, what does the RCC make of Paul’s declaration that humanity must call upon the name of Christ, being “the way, the truth and the life”? If Jesus says there will be people who prophecy and cast out demons in his name and are turned aside (Mt. 7), how can it be that people could be saved without his name? This is asked in honesty and, hopefully, in humility. What, then becomes the purpose of making disciples in all nations? Disciples might already exist, right? I know this question relates more to missiology, but it seems to fit. Second, what is the RCC’s understanding of total depravity? What is the natural condition of man?

    I look forward to dialoguing these issues. These serve as the tip of an iceberg of questions revolving around ecclesiology.

    In Him,

    John

  122. Corn-Czar (re:#116),

    Having been a happy “Reformed Baptist” for years, before I returned to the Catholic Church, I understand the view that Catholicism has unnecessarily complicated the “simple Gospel” preached by Christ and the first apostles. However, could it be that the “simple Gospel” which is preached in many Protestant congregations only seems to be simple, because it has become familiar over time, and because certain things in it have become assumed to be all but self-evident?

    Consider this statement of Jesus in John 14:28: “You heard me say to you, ‘I go away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I go to the Father; for the Father is greater than I.” (Source: http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John+14%3A28&version=RSV) I know a person who staunchly claims to believe in “early, true Christianity.” Based on this verse and many others similar to it in the Bible, he firmly rejects the doctrine of the Trinity. He sees the Trinity as a pagan add-on to Christianity, which was incorrectly accepted by the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches, and which Protestants have, unfortunately, also wrongly accepted.

    As a Catholic, does it bother me that the Pope makes statements which sometimes need to be expounded upon and/or clarified by successive statements from him and other members of the Magisterium? Sometimes, yes, I do become annoyed. I don’t claim that this reaction is right, on my part, but it is there at times.

    As a Trinitarian Protestant, does it ever bother you that Jesus made such statements as “The Father is greater than I”? If the Trinity is an essential part of orthodox Christianity, such statements would seem to need clarification– and believe me, with the “non-Trinitarian” person mentioned above, I have tried and tried to clarify them with other Biblical passages and verses which seem to clearly teach the Trinity. The problem is, he can always take me back to other passages and verses, similar to John 14:28, which seem to clearly deny the Trinity.

    There is a need here, it seems, for someone to step in and *authoritatively* clarify the issue– is the Trinity taught in the Bible or not? Is it part of orthodox Christianity (as I believe, and as I would assume you believe), or is it a “pagan/Catholic/Orthodox add-on,” as my friend believes? He and I can compare Biblical passages and verses for hours, days, weeks, months, years… but who can step into our discussion and make a finally authoritative declaration about what is and is not orthodox Christianity?

    Of course, I know that Catholics and Protestants both hold that the Bible teaches the Trinity. However, in my experience, Catholics tend to be more willing to admit that a Magisterium was needed, historically, to “settle the issue” in the 4th-century Arian controversy. Most committed Protestants whom I have known simply say something like this: “If you compare Scripture with Scripture, the Bible clearly teaches the Trinity, and, as such, the Reformed confessions of faith affirm it, with no need for a Magisterium”– and they (aforementioned Protestants) are done with the issue.

    Is it really that simple though? What about the people who seriously study the Bible and *don’t* see the Trinity there? Are they just being rebellious? Are they, by definition, unregenerate? If they hear a Protestant preacher exegeting “Trinitarian passages,” but they still sincerely think that the passages which appear to deny the Trinity are more clear, what are we to say?

    To many Protestants, it may seem that the Catholic Church has unnecessarily complicated the “simple Gospel” of the Bible. Again, as one who was a serious Protestant myself, I understand that view. However, as a Catholic “revert,” I am now very thankful that there exists, in the Pope and Magisterium, a living, teaching voice, which can make clarifying and authoritative statements, when they are needed, on what the Bible teaches.

    Sometimes, yes, the Pope even has to clarify his own statements, but he has the office and the ability to do so– and successive Popes can even clarify the statements which this Pope may not live long enough to be able to clarify, though I wish him many more years. The teaching authority of the Magisterium brings light and clarity, even to its own statements, because it is a *living, teaching voice* which can always clarify itself when needed. The Bible is living and active, of course, by but it, too, must be interpreted. However, being a book– even the inspired, inerrant written word of God!–, the Bible itself cannot step into *our own interpretation of it* and tell me or you, finally, in a way to which we *must* submit, “You are misunderstanding me (the Bible) on this doctrine/issue.” For that, a Magisterium is needed.

  123. An elegant argument from Christopher Lake. For more non-Trinitarianism see for instance 1825′s

    http://www.biblicalunitarian.com/100-scriptural-arguments-for-the-unitarian-faith

    In the end the discussion isn’t theology atall, it’s ecclesiology.

  124. Jay Younts, a ruling elder at Redeemer Presbyterian Church (ARP) in Moore, South Carolina, recently wrote an article titled “The Pope Declares man can save himself.” Kirk Cameron reposted part of Jay’s article.

    Jay quotes the following excerpt from Pope Francis’s letter to Eugenio Scalfari (see the link in comment #111 above for the full letter):

    You ask me if the God of the Christians forgives those who don’t believe and who don’t seek the faith. I start by saying – and this is the fundamental thing – that God’s mercy has no limits if you go to him with a sincere and contrite heart. The issue for those who do not believe in God is to obey their conscience. Sin, even for those who have no faith, exists when people disobey their conscience.

    To this Jay responds:

    Scripture is clear. The first and best lie of the enemy is that there is more than one way to heaven. There is no greater lie than to strike at the heart of the gospel. Listen to what Jesus says to Thomas in John 14:6: Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” In the post-modern world there are no absolutes. Sadly, for Pope Francis, this includes what the Bible says about the necessity of faith in Christ. Contrary to what Christ teaches, the Pope has provided another path to forgiveness – obeying your conscience.

    The problem here is that Jay is drawing from Pope Francis’s remarks a conclusion that (a) does not logically follow from Pope Francis’s remarks, and (b) is contrary to Catholic doctrine regarding the heretical character of pelagianism. Jay is mistakenly inferring from the notion that a person can be saved by following his conscience, to the conclusion that such a person can be saved without grace, without faith, and without the work of Christ. But that conclusion does not logically follow from that premise. Pope Francis knows that following one’s conscience leads to responding positively to the supernatural grace already at work in the heart of every man by the Holy Spirit, and this positive response leads to repentance, and to faith. He is not teaching two ways to heaven. Rather, he is pointing the atheist to the first step in the journey toward faith, namely, an examination of and adherence to conscience. Jay’s mistake here is a basic logical mistake, i.e. the non sequitur. The importance of following one’s conscience in coming to repentance and faith does not mean or entail that one is saved by conscience alone.

  125. What is this – the third or fourth time non-Catholics have misinterpreted the Pope’s words? I think we can no longer blame non-Catholics for misunderstanding him. After the second time, I think the Pope ought to know better and take care to include the necessary stipulations to avoid confusion. I do not think the Pope is being clear enough, and it is causing quite a lot of unnecessary division between Catholics and Protestants. It is also misleading many others. Some dear friends of mine think the Church no longer prohibits same-sex sexual acts thanks to the Pope’s remarks on the return flight from World Youth Day.

    Again, this is not the first or second time this has happened, so I wonder if anyone close to the Pope is letting him know that being more careful might be a good idea.

  126. Bryan:

    And let me add, that the non sequitur typically demonstrates what we call more commonly a “rush to judgment.” As we have all experienced before in our lives, when you “rush,” you typically get something wrong, hurt something or someone, etc. Therefore, I encourage all my Protestant separated brothers and sisters to slow down, to carefully consider what Pope Francis (or anyone) says, and then make a judgment – only if you have all of the information. If you do not, you may become a talebearer. Which is a sin. Which is the sin I see often repeated regarding the words of Churchmen.

  127. Re: #122

    Christopher, re: your query “However, could it be that the “simple Gospel” which is preached in many Protestant congregations only seems to be simple, because it has become familiar over time, and because certain things in it have become assumed to be all but self-evident?”

    My response is that there are hundreds of thousands of people who have never darkened the door of any church, who would assert, for example, that Billy Graham made the gospel understandable and accessible to them for the very first time in their lives. My own view is that the simplicity of the gospel has nothing to do with its familiarity amongst already-churched people. It has everything to do with its intrinsic simplicity. God did not intend for His message of redemption to be complicated.

    I do applaud you for being annoyed, Christopher, at the Pope’s less than clear statements. I appreciate your honesty, and, would further affirm that your reaction is right. (not that you’re seeking my affirmation, of course)

    Re: your points and queries regarding the Trinity and being a protestant. I would submit that the doctrine of the Trinity could be exhibit A in defense of Protestantism. If having the magisterium and the pope is required to protect/preserve the doctrine of the Trinity, wouldn’t you expect that of the tens of thousands (or whatever the number is) of protestant denominations, that a statistically significant number of them would deny the doctrine of the Trinity? As you know, that’s not the case – 99% of Protestantism affirms the Trinity, so the notion that a magisterium is required seems odd.

  128. Re: #118.

    Bryan, as regards to whether God desires all to be saved, Paul’s statement in I Tim 2:4 seems unambiguous to me. For better or worse, I will have to differ with some of my Reformed brethren on that point, although I understand where they’re coming from.

    As regards to your comments re: Billy Graham. I bring him into the discussion again here insofar as he embodies the ministry and viewpoints of those of us that adhere to a far simpler understanding (vis-à-vis the RCC) of what the truth of the gospel is, and that the gospel is, can be, and should be, made readily accessible to as many people as possible. The gospel is profound, but it is not complicated.

    In your #465 post on the Stellman thread, you said:

    “It is not good for persons to be in schism, to be deprived of the Eucharist, to “assemble in unauthorized meetings” (St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, III.3.2), to be taught false doctrine (e.g. to be taught that they can never lose their salvation), not to know who is their rightful bishop, to be deprived of the sacrament of reconciliation, to be deprived of the *fulness* of the truth handed down by the Apostles and developed by the Holy Spirit over two millennia, the communion of the saints, and all the other aids to our salvation available within the Church.”

    Your paragraph there seems ominous and frightful. It appears you’ve got a checklist, of sorts, of essential things that you view to be intrinsic to the gospel, all of which Graham has omitted from his gospel message. To that end, I didn’t think I was resorting to a rhetorical move about you viewing Graham to be anathema. I thought I was merely being “logical”.

    Let me attempt my amateur ‘logical’ argument to explain:
    1. There is only “one” gospel.
    2. The gospel which Paul preached is true.
    3. You believe the RCC gospel = Paul’s gospel.
    4. You believe (cf Gal 1:8,9), with Paul, that if one preaches a different gospel than Paul’s, that he should be anathema.
    5. Billy Graham preaches a gospel that is different than the RCC gospel.
    6. Ergo, Billy Graham preaches a gospel that is different than Paul’s.
    7. Ergo, in your view, Billy Graham is anathema to both Paul and you.

    I welcome your thoughts and feedback.

  129. Re: #125. Brian O – thank you for your honesty. I am surprised that more CTC’ers do not seem to want to use their platform, and their intellectual firepower, to make the same pts that you have.

    However, let me encourage you, and other RCC folks, to see that it’s not just “non-Catholics” who can’t figure out the true meaning of the Pope’s words. If you or I interviewed 100 rank and file random catholics as they left their parish on a Sunday morning, you’d be lucky to find 1 of them who could articulate what the pope allegedly really ‘meant’. Would Bryan C or any CTC’ers disagree? Or, is it really only the media and protestants who want to distort the papal message?

  130. Corn-Czar

    You wrote:

    As regards to your comments re: Billy Graham. I bring him into the discussion again here insofar as he embodies the ministry and viewpoints of those of us that adhere to a far simpler understanding (vis-à-vis the RCC) of what the truth of the gospel is, and that the gospel is, can be, and should be, made readily accessible to as many people as possible. The gospel is profound, but it is not complicated.

    Either you are using simplicity as a criterion for truth, or not. If you are, that’s using a human-derived criterion (i.e. human philosophy) to judge what content gets to count as divine revelation. That’s making ‘divine revelation’ in your own image. On the other hand, if you’re not using simplicity as a criterion for truth, then there is no reason (other than rhetorical) to appeal to simplicity as a reason to adopt Evangelical Protestantism rather than Catholicism.

    Let me attempt my amateur ‘logical’ argument to explain:
    1. There is only “one” gospel.
    2. The gospel which Paul preached is true.
    3. You believe the RCC gospel = Paul’s gospel.
    4. You believe (cf Gal 1:8,9), with Paul, that if one preaches a different gospel than Paul’s, that he should be anathema.
    5. Billy Graham preaches a gospel that is different than the RCC gospel.
    6. Ergo, Billy Graham preaches a gospel that is different than Paul’s.
    7. Ergo, in your view, Billy Graham is anathema to both Paul and you.

    This argument is unsound because premise (4) is not necessarily true. What is involved in “preaching a different gospel” such that one should be anathematized is not merely preaching a content that differs in essence from that of St. Paul’s gospel, but includes doing so while presenting oneself to the Church as having been sent by God, with a willful and obstinate persistence in spite of the Church’s correction, and without invincible ignorance of the Church’s identity and authority. But Billy Graham does not necessarily meet those conditions. Hence (7) does not necessarily follow from the premises.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  131. Bryan,

    Based on what you have written above, you believe that when Paul said “Anyone who preaches a different gospel”, that the extent of the “anyone” is not truly “anyone”, but only those who fit the conditions which you stated above. But would it not be unwise of Paul to use such a universal word such as “anyone” if he truly did not mean “anyone”?

    And, Billy Graham knew of the Catholic Church and what she taught, and of the reformation, and the Council of Trent. What more did he need to know to be culpable?

    The ignorance that you guys are claiming to have in order to justify the possible inclusion of heretics, pagans, atheists, and unbelievers is not shared by the apostles. Just read the book of Acts and see how St. Paul responds to Jews who don’t listen to his first message on Jesus Christ. He did not stop to think of the possible physcological barriers, the possible inculpabilities, the infinitude of different circumstances that are beyond his knowledge, etc,etc,etc….He just said “You judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life”, which is another way of saying they have rejected salvation.

  132. Re: #128. Bryan, thank you for your thoughts. Yes, I do believe simplicity is one criterion for salvific truth, but disagree that this criterion is human-derived. My criterion is Biblically-derived. I see profundity, but not complexity, in Jn 3:16. (With all respect, it seems you and the RCC have a lot personally invested in ‘proving’ that the gospel and the Bible are all so complex that one needs a magisterium and a pope to understand it all. This does not make your view wrong or untrue, per se, I readily concede. I just think it’s a point worth pointing out to agnostic readers.)

    As regards to your outlined criteria for what constitutes “preaching a different gospel”, the criteria you outlined are certainly not found in Galatians 1, or anywhere else in the Bible. Hopefully, you would concede that point? So, I must presume you must be citing the RCC’s authoritative magisterium? Or, are you adding your own human-derived criteria?

    I strongly suspect, of course, that Billy Graham fully meets all your criteria. Has the RCC ever attempted to contact Mr. Graham and inquire with him if he met your criteria? It would seem that, given Mr. Graham’s global impact, that it should be a bit of a big deal to the RCC to definitively determine if Mr. Graham met the criteria, don’t you think? If, over the years, the RCC has not attempted to make inquiry of Mr. Graham, why not?

  133. Erick, (re: #131)

    But would it not be unwise of Paul to use such a universal word such as “anyone” if he truly did not mean “anyone”?

    No. Your question (in addition to being leading and rhetorical) presupposes the lexical paradigm, by presupposing that tradition does not provide the qualification of such terms.

    And, Billy Graham knew of the Catholic Church and what she taught, and of the reformation, and the Council of Trent. What more did he need to know to be culpable?

    I did not claim that he wasn’t culpable. Your question presupposes something I did not claim.

    The ignorance that you guys are claiming to have in order to justify the possible inclusion of heretics, pagans, atheists, and unbelievers is not shared by the apostles. Just read the book of Acts and see how St. Paul responds to Jews who don’t listen to his first message on Jesus Christ. He did not stop to think of the possible physcological barriers, the possible inculpabilities, the infinitude of different circumstances that are beyond his knowledge, etc,etc,etc….He just said “You judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life”, which is another way of saying they have rejected salvation.

    Your use of textual silence to infer what St. Paul did not think is an instance of the fallacy of the argument from silence. Moreover, your argument assumes that Billy Graham (and people like him) are in the same epistemic condition that the Jews whom St. Paul rebuked were in. That’s not a safe assumption.

    As I’ve said to you before, I recommend taking some time off, and studying these issues more carefully. No one presently in RCIA should take such a stance, or presume to teach. I also recommend that you refrain from repeatedly jumping into the middle of conversations between other persons. As a general rule of courtesy, please let the other conversation wrap up first.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  134. Corn-Czar,

    In comment #127 you wrote:

    I do applaud you for being annoyed, Christopher, at the Pope’s less than clear statements. I appreciate your honesty, and, would further affirm that your reaction is right. (not that you’re seeking my affirmation, of course)

    And in comment #129 you wrote:

    Brian O – thank you for your honesty. I am surprised that more CTC’ers do not seem to want to use their platform, and their intellectual firepower, to make the same pts that you have.

    What you say to Christopher in #127, and to Brian O in #129 implies that those Catholics who are not complaining about the Pope’s words are not being honest. That’s neither accurate, nor logically necessitated, nor charitable. There is another possible explanation. Catholics face two choices here. They can choose either to complain and gripe about the Pope’s wording, or they can do something positive to help those who misunderstand those words rightly understand them. That doesn’t make those who choose not to complain dishonest.

    In comment #132 you wrote:

    but disagree that this criterion is human-derived. My criterion is Biblically-derived.

    I was speaking of the criterion by which to judge between interpretations, not a criterion already based on an interpretation. Using a criterion based on your own interpretation already begs the question, by presupposing the truth of your own interpretation.

    (With all respect, it seems you and the RCC have a lot personally invested in ‘proving’ that the gospel and the Bible are all so complex that one needs a magisterium and a pope to understand it all. This does not make your view wrong or untrue, per se, I readily concede. I just think it’s a point worth pointing out to agnostic readers.)

    Ad hominems are cheap and easy. (Just about everyone has “a lot personally invested” in the position he holds). This forum is not for grandstanding for the sake of “agnostic readers,” but for dialogue with the person with whom you are speaking.

    As regards to your outlined criteria for what constitutes “preaching a different gospel”, the criteria you outlined are certainly not found in Galatians 1, or anywhere else in the Bible. Hopefully, you would concede that point? So, I must presume you must be citing the RCC’s authoritative magisterium? Or, are you adding your own human-derived criteria?

    Again, there is a paradigm difference here. In the Catholic paradigm, it is not the case that the only two other possible sources are “magisterium” or “human-derived.” We have Tradition. When coming from a ‘solo scriptura’ point of view, Tradition is not even on the radar.

    I strongly suspect, of course, that Billy Graham fully meets all your criteria. Has the RCC ever attempted to contact Mr. Graham and inquire with him if he met your criteria? It would seem that, given Mr. Graham’s global impact, that it should be a bit of a big deal to the RCC to definitively determine if Mr. Graham met the criteria, don’t you think? If, over the years, the RCC has not attempted to make inquiry of Mr. Graham, why not?

    I don’t know who has contacted Billy Graham. If you want to find out, you’ll need to contact him.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  135. Corn-Czar (re:#127),

    I intend no snark here, but I hope you will understand as I decline your applause at my occasional annoyance (which I did not attempt to justify) at a very small number of the Pope’s statements. As I noted in my previous comment (#122), the Pope is far from being the only widely known person in Christianity who *sometimes* makes statements which *sometimes* benefit from clarification. *Our Lord Himself* made such statements at times while on earth.

    Again, see John 14:28 and the “the Father is greater than I,” as related to the doctrine of the Trinity– or, for that matter, for a passage (also) relevant to Protestantism which many Protestants have been eager to clarify, from within their theology, see St. James, saying that man is justified by works and not by faith alone in James 2. Do you ever wish that Jesus and James had simply spoken more “clearly” in the aforementioned verses? (I believe that John Piper has been honest about having had private moments, as a Calvinist, when he has wished that certain Biblical passages/verses had been written so as to more clearly reflect what he understands to be the “Biblical truth” of the five points…)

    As for the fact of 99% of Protestantism still retaining the doctrine of the Trinity supposedly being evidence of the lack of need for the Magisterium to rule on such doctrines– in this case, as with others, Protestants benefit (often unknowingly) from historic Catholic councils which gave us such Trinitarian statements of faith as the Nicene Creed. However, Protestants also (often unknowingly) pick and choose what they accept from those councils, based on their (Protestant) interpretations of the Bible. For most of the time that I was a Protestant, I had little knowledge of the contents of these historic councils. The more that I learned about them, and about pre-Reformation Church history and Biblical interpretation in general, the more uneasy I became in my Protestantism, as I came to see the unwittingly autonomous nature of it (in my “picking and choosing”).

    From the 1520s until 1930, 100% of Protestant denominations stood with the Catholic Church on the historic Christian teaching of the sinfulness of artificial contraception. 400 years is a fairly long time, relatively speaking, to take such a strong stance– and yet, Protestantism did so. However, looking at most of *contemporary* Protestantism, one would hardly know that Protestants had *ever* been so united on that issue! It may seem strange to speculate in this direction, but 400 years from now, should the Lord still not have returned, I can’t help but wonder what historic Christian doctrines/teachings (most) contemporary Protestants *then* will have rejected. I love my separated brothers and sisters in Christ, but I am honestly relieved to be out of a movement which can jettison historic Christian teaching so easily– to the extent that most Protestants today have no idea that for 400 years, all Protestant denominations considered artificial contraception an abomination against God.

    A bit more on the Trinity– while still a Protestant, I asked a Protestant pastor once why we, as five-point Calvinists, considered Trinitarianism vs. Arianism to be an “orthodoxy vs. heresy” debate over a “Christian essential,” whereas we considered Calvinism vs. Arminianism to be an “in-house” debate among Christians. He replied that the Trinity has to do with the very nature of God Himself. I asked him how the matter of Calvinism vs. Arminianism does *not* have to do with the very nature of God Himself– and why, therefore, the debate is *not* one of “Christian essentials.” He didn’t answer my questions, and I never received answers from him. I have never found any cogent answers from Protestant thinkers on those questions. If one abides by Sola Scriptura principles, and one has no Pope and Magisterium to whom one submits, it seems to me that it is ad hoc to claim Trinitarianism vs. Arianism to be a debate over a “Christian essential,” whereas Calvinism vs. Arminianism is an “in-house” debate among Christians. Who says?

    On the matter of my occasional annoyance at the Pope needing to clarify himself, let me be clear– if there is a problem in those moments, it is with me and not the Pope. It helps, in my repentance, to remember that, again, the Lord Jesus Himself sometimes made statements such as “The Father is greater than I,” which also benefit from clarification, if/when one wishes to defend historic, orthodox, Trinitarian Christianity. Certain non-Christians of Christ’s time were all too ready to turn His statements against Him without looking carefully into them to discern *His* intended meaning in those statements. Much of the modern Western media seems to enjoy doing the same thing with the Pope, the “servant of the servants of Christ” in the Catholic Church. I don’t presume to tell Our Lord that He should have been “more clear” than to make statements such as “The Father is greater than I” in John 14:28. I also don’t presume to tell the Pope that he should have been “more clear” than to say that the blood of Christ has redeemed everyone, including atheists. The Pope was speaking a truth. The blood of Christ *has* redeemed everyone. However, the Church’s teaching, in both Scripture and Tradition, is clear that that we are responsible before God to *accept* or *reject* that redemption– and that the consequences are eternal.

    Many people today, including much of modern Western media, seems only too ready to seize upon soundbites to affirm anti-Christian heresy. From the time of Christ to our time, some things never change. Whether the problem is one of willful malice toward Christianity or simple ignorance of Christian teaching (and it may differ in individual situations), for Christians, the answers are the same as in Christ’s time– prayer, patience, perseverance in teaching, and, at times, very carefully and with discernment, loving rebuke.

  136. Corn-Czar,

    P.S. Your idea of the “simple Gospel,” which you continue to contrast to Catholicism, presupposes two things: that a certain Protestant understanding of the “the simple Gospel” is fundamentally correct, and, so much so, that anything which Catholicism supposedly “adds” to it must be an unnecessary addition, and, therefore, a corruption of the “simple Gospel.” From what I have seen thus far, these are unsupported presuppositions in your arguments here.

    Referring back to the person I mentioned in #122 who professes faith in “early, true Christianity” and rejects the Trinity– in your view, is the Trinity part of the “simple Gospel?” Can one be a deliberate non-Trinitarian and have accepted that Gospel?

    Is the Trinity such a simple matter that *any* person who sincerely wants to submit to God and accept the “simple Gospel” can just read the Bible and clearly discern therein that God is one God in three co-equal, eternally distinct Persons who are each to be worshiped as God?

    An honest question– did you come to the Trinitarian understanding of God purely from reading the Bible? I did not. The careful teaching(s) of Catholic priests and Protestant pastors played a large role in my seeing and accepting, and *continuing* to accept, the doctrine. (I also considered the that most professing Christians throughout history affirmed the Trinity). The issue of the complexity of the Trinity, alone, makes it difficult for me to honestly claim, whether to fellow Christians or to non-Christians, that the Gospel is a “simple” matter.

  137. Sorry for the numerous typos, Corn-Czar and everyone! At my best, I have a few of them at times, and for the past several months, I’ve also been dealing with chronic, severe pain issues. My conditions are not the easiest ones under which to be typing, or even simply sitting upright, but I want to be of help at CTC if I can, so I’m trying to participate again after months of absence.

  138. Re: #134. Bryan, your use of my textual silence to infer that I said that Catholics are dishonest is an instance of the fallacy of the argument from silence. I merely wanted to affirm Christopher (in #127) and Brian (#129) for their recognition of the elephant in the room (ie, papal ambiguity). Your choice to not publicly comment about the elephant in the room does not make you dishonest in my eyes. (However, in the grander scheme of fostering Catholic-Protestant dialog, I personally think it’s helpful when both sides recognize the elephants in their own rooms, and I might hope you’d re-think your position.)

    Thus, as a consequence of your fallacy, you then resort to an ad hominem argument against me, as you assert that my comments were “….neither accurate, nor logically necessitated, nor charitable.” Yikes, how did I merit that feedback when I said nothing about Catholics being dishonest?

    Not to worry. I have a thick skin. But, I was surprised by your comments as you usually are tighter with your argumentation.

    Substantively, if the criteria you outlined for being anathema are not found in the Bible and are not found in the Magisterium, but ARE based in the “Tradition”, where can one find the authoritative source for “Tradition”? From what I can tell, the RCC view is that you can tell which “traditions” are authoritative only with reference to the magisterium, is that right? If so, it seems you’ve found yourself in a circular never-never-land. You say that your criteria for being anathema are not in the Bible nor are found in the magisterium, but are found in “Tradition”, yet the only way to know authoritative “Tradition” is with reference to the magisterium. ??

    I used to think that if someone “begged a question” that was a bad thing. But, maybe I’m not so sure now. If one begs a question by presupposing that Jn 3:16 is clear and simple and is a wonderful encapsulated description of the essence of the gospel, and if one begs a question by thinking that Jn 3:16 can be understood without the pope, without the magisterium, and without Tradition, then shouldn’t we all want there to be more questions to be begged?

  139. Corn-Czar, (re: #138)

    Bryan, your use of my textual silence to infer that I said that Catholics are dishonest is an instance of the fallacy of the argument from silence.

    I did not argue from your “textual silence,” but from your comparison between those Catholics who do not “use their platform, and their intellectual firepower” to complain about the Pope’s words, and those Catholics who by complaining about the Pope’s words are being “honest.” You were clearly implying that the former group of Catholics are not being honest about Pope Francis, otherwise your ‘honesty’ predicate would not have depended on the latter group’s complaining about the Pope’s words, precisely what distinguishes the two groups.

    Substantively, if the criteria you outlined for being anathema are not found in the Bible and are not found in the Magisterium, but ARE based in the “Tradition”, where can one find the authoritative source for “Tradition”? From what I can tell, the RCC view is that you can tell which “traditions” are authoritative only with reference to the magisterium, is that right? If so, it seems you’ve found yourself in a circular never-never-land. You say that your criteria for being anathema are not in the Bible nor are found in the magisterium, but are found in “Tradition”, yet the only way to know authoritative “Tradition” is with reference to the magisterium. ??

    Before you begin criticizing the Catholic position as circular, you should learn the Catholic position. Definitive and authoritative pronouncements about Tradition come from the Magisterium, which, in the Catholic paradigm, is the steward and guardian of Tradition. But that does not mean that Tradition is known only through the Magisterium. Tradition is located in the writings and liturgy and practice of the Church throughout the centuries, not just the Magisterium, but also in the writings of Doctors and Fathers, monks, nuns, hermits, and all the saints, religious and lay.

    I used to think that if someone “begged a question” that was a bad thing. But, maybe I’m not so sure now. If one begs a question by presupposing that Jn 3:16 is clear and simple and is a wonderful encapsulated description of the essence of the gospel, and if one begs a question by thinking that Jn 3:16 can be understood without the pope, without the magisterium, and without Tradition, then shouldn’t we all want there to be more questions to be begged?

    No, not if we want truth and unity in the truth. (Why did you used to think begging the question is a bad thing? I’m asking because I’m wondering why that reason no longer seems good to you.)

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  140. Re: #139. Bryan, I do not intend to imply any dishonesty on your, or others’, part. My apologies on that, if that’s what my words communicated to you. In fact, I do guess from your spirited response that you may have some angst about recent papal utterances, but that you feel that expressing those thoughts would not advance the cause of the RCC, or of Christ. If so, fair enough. My urging of you to re-think that is predicated not upon concerns about honesty, but in furthering RCC-Protestant dialog. Alas, I suppose perhaps it is the case that what many of us think are ‘elephants’ in the room are merely ‘ants’ to others. While you may think papal ambiguity is an ant-size topic, to the extent that others view it as an elephant, it may be worthy of your comment.

    Philosophically speaking, it’s curious to me that you feel Catholics are left with two options: they can gripe about papal ambiguities, or they can “help those who misunderstand those words rightly understand them”. I understand the “gripe” option. But, how can you (or anyone) presume to “know” what it was that the Pope “meant” in order to help others “rightly understand” his words? Isn’t that a bid audacious?

    It seems you’ve begged the question about Tradition. I understand that Tradition is located in all the various spots you list. But if the magisterium is silent about which aspects of Tradition are authoritative as regards to what is anathema, are you not left to your own human-derived criteria for determining what parts of “Tradition” are then authoritative? More specifically, how can one determine if your checklist of what constitutes qualifying for being “anathema” is authoritative, or if it’s your own human-derived criteria?

    Bryan, I was being a bit facetious in saying that question-begging may indeed be a good thing. But, at this time, if being accused of question-begging is my price to pay for asserting that Jn 3:16 can be understood and responded to by anyone, apart from the pope and the magisterium, I’ll gladly pay that price.

  141. Re: #135 and #136. Christopher, you may be right that I have presuppositions about the simplicity of the gospel. Or, it may be that the God has a very simple message of redemption, which He has revealed in the Bible.

    Protestants owe a debt of gratitude to many in church history, including the folks who crafted the Nicene Creed. We owe a debt of gratitude to Jews, too. We have no issues fully recognizing the historical rootedness of our faith. Having said that, I will readily concede that most Protestants have a very limited knowledge of pre-Reformation church history, to our detriment.

    You ask: “is the Trinity part of the “simple Gospel?” No, the Trinity is not part of the gospel, nor is an understanding of the Trinity the least bit required to respond to the gospel. I would surmise that prior to Christ’s advent that true believers did not have a full-orbed understanding of the Trinity. I would surmise that the thief on the cross had limited doctrinal training and a limited understanding of the Trinity. There were disciples of Christ in Ephesus (Acts 19:1,2) who were ill-informed about the Holy Spirit. Etc, etc.

    Is it the RCC view that a person must first be fully taught the doctrine of the Trinity as part and parcel of that person can embrace the gospel? If so, that certainly helps explain to me why RCC folks argue against the gospel being “simple”.

    You ask: “Can one be a *deliberate* non-Trinitarian and have accepted that Gospel?” I would have to say that I do not know, but I would doubt it, while not being dogmatic on that point.

    You suggest 2 reasons people respond to papal ambiguity: 1) willful malice, and 2) simple ignorance. Both of those are possible. But let me suggest two others: 3) the pope is a bad communicator and was ambiguous, or 4) the pope is ill-informed and what many people understood him to say, at face value, is exactly what he ‘meant’. (I realize #4 is not an option for you, and I’m not asserting that it is the right one.)

  142. Corn-Czar,

    Bryan, I do not intend to imply any dishonesty on your, or others’, part. My apologies on that, if that’s what my words communicated to you.

    Ok, thanks.

    In fact, I do guess from your spirited response that you may have some angst about recent papal utterances, but that you feel that expressing those thoughts would not advance the cause of the RCC, or of Christ.

    No, there is no angst here. Guessing about these sorts of things is unreliable and generally unhelpful.

    My urging of you to re-think that is predicated not upon concerns about honesty, but in furthering RCC-Protestant dialog.

    I too could “urge” you to “rethink” your position. And we could continue to trade and exchange urgings and exhortations to rethink our respective positions, or, we could put aside the rhetoric of imperatives (veiled or unveiled), which is utterly unhelpful and patronizing, and instead give *reasons* showing either problems or evidential or argumentative support for the positions in question. That would be a path for more fruitful dialogue.

    Alas, I suppose perhaps it is the case that what many of us think are ‘elephants’ in the room are merely ‘ants’ to others. While you may think papal ambiguity is an ant-size topic, to the extent that others view it as an elephant, it may be worthy of your comment.

    If you have an argument, I’m willing to look at it. Merely calling it an “elephant” does not show it to be a problem. I pointed this out in the second paragraph of #118.

    Philosophically speaking, it’s curious to me that you feel Catholics are left with two options: they can gripe about papal ambiguities, or they can “help those who misunderstand those words rightly understand them”. I understand the “gripe” option. But, how can you (or anyone) presume to “know” what it was that the Pope “meant” in order to help others “rightly understand” his words? Isn’t that a bid audacious?

    No. Again, knowing the Tradition allows one to know what language spoken within that Tradition means. See “The Tradition and the Lexicon.”

    It seems you’ve begged the question about Tradition. I understand that Tradition is located in all the various spots you list. But if the magisterium is silent about which aspects of Tradition are authoritative as regards to what is anathema, are you not left to your own human-derived criteria for determining what parts of “Tradition” are then authoritative?

    No. First, all of the Tradition is authoritative. Local traditions can be pious but are not authoritative over the universal Church. Second, the Magisterium does not need to state everything contained within Tradition, in order for us to identify in any particular case what is or isn’t Tradition. We know the Tradition by way of immersion within the community in which this Tradition is embodied and handed down. And the Magisterium gives us principles by which what belongs to Tradition can be determined when there are specific questions. The notion of anathema is a term that has a meaning (developed in particular ways) within the Tradition of the Church. And as understood within the Tradition, the term (or interdiction) is not applied to persons who are not Catholic, or to persons who, like Apollos (the companion of St. Paul), speak in [well-intentioned] unawareness of their error and are willing to be corrected by the Church.

    Bryan, I was being a bit facetious in saying that question-begging may indeed be a good thing.

    That’s fine. Since on the internet it is not easy to determine when someone is being facetious, I recommend including some indicator when you’re being facetious.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  143. John (re:#121),

    Welcome to CTC, and thank you for your questions and for your interest in dialogue here. I’m sorry that, at least as of my writing now (very early Wednesday morning), no one has yet responded to your comment. (I think that some of the conversations currently happening in the comment boxes are so lengthy and complex that your relatively short comment may have been overlooked! Again, I apologize.)

    Both as a committed Protestant and as a Catholic “revert,” I have spent time at many, many websites which engage Catholic and Protestant questions/concerns. By far, in my experience, the dialogue at CTC tends to be some of the most careful and respectful that I have found. I hope that your time here is helpful.

    Regarding your first question, the Catholic Church does teach that it is *possible* for those who not know Christ and the Gospel, through no fault of their own, to be saved through sincerely submitting themselves to God (in their best understanding of Him), and through following (obeying) the light that He gives to their consciences.

    It’s important to say here that the Church is *not* teaching that non-Christians can “save themselves through their works,” as is often the misunderstanding of Protestants who examine this Catholic teaching. Rather, the Church teaches that *if* a non-Christian is ever saved without explicit knowledge of, and profession of faith in, Christ, the non-Christian is still saved by the grace and mercy of God. This grace, at work in the heart of the non-Christian, is what leads him/her to even *attempt* to follow God (to the best of his/her understanding) and to obey his/her God-illumined conscience.

    The Church also teaches that we cannot presume to know, in *individual* situations, exactly who is, and is not, doing those two things by God’s grace– i.e. submitting to and following the God who has not yet been fully revealed to them in Jesus Christ. The Church only offers general principles here which Catholics should allow to guide their thinking.

    As to what the Church means by “through no fault of their own,” it is true that everyone is responsible to God for submitting to, and obeying, what He has revealed of Himself to them. However, as many of our Protestant brothers and sisters would agree with us, there are still all too many places in the world where entire people groups have not even heard the name of Christ, much less His Gospel. Moreover, today, even in countries where the Gospel has been preached, secularism and other distortions have reached such a point of influence that we cannot assume that the average citizen has truly heard the Gospel. Finally, because of the great sinfulness and terrible failings of all too many authority figures in all branches of Christianity, it is more than possible that, at times, the Gospel has been obscured to the point that even many church members have had great difficulty in accurately hearing it. Each of the aforementioned situations could conceivably fall under the “through no fault of their own” clause.

    Should Catholics just give up, therefore, and assume that God will save these souls who may not have heard the Gospel through, possibly, no fault of their own? Unequivocally not, according to the teaching of the Catholic Church in both Scripture and Tradition! While *some* non-Christians *may* be saved without explicit knowledge of, and profession of faith in, Christ, the fact remains that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and no one comes to the Father except through Him. Faith in Christ– true faith, lived out in love for God and neighbor, not mere intellectual assent– is the definitively revealed means of salvation, by God’s grace. If we truly love non-Christians, then as Catholics, we (I) can’t be content to have them live out their lives without knowing Christ and the Gospel. At the very least, a Christless life on earth is a radically diminished life, and in many cases, it may well lead to a Christless eternity. His call to make disciples of all nations still stands. For this reason, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that the Church is, and *must* be, “missionary,” both in orientation and in conscious intent and action. This missionary mandate is explained from the Catechism in these excerpts: http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/catechism/index.cfm?recnum=2791

    On the question of the condition of humanity before God, the Catholic Church teaches that man’s will is *injured* by original sin, such that man does need God’s grace to do anything which is pleasing to Him. However, unlike Reformed Protestantism, the Church does not teach that man’s will has been so *utterly taken over* by sin that he is (prior to coming to faith in Christ), always and everywhere, a literal hater of God and completely at war with Him.

    In other words, the Catholic Church takes Romans 1 to be a portrait of what radical human abandonment to sin can *look like and to what depths it can lead* (literal idol worship and unrepentant homosexuality), but unlike much of Reformed Protestantism (at least in my experience), the Church does not understand these passages to be a literal portrait of every single human being prior to faith in Christ. If Romans 1 *were* intended to be a portrait of every single human being, prior to his/her coming to faith in Christ, then by the logic of the passages in the chapter, this would imply that every person on earth who had not been raised as a Christian had, at some point, worshiped actual idols and/or engaged in homosexual acts (which is obviously not the case)!

    For a more in-depth examination of the Catholic teaching on sin and humanity, this article by a former Presbyterian and Catholic “convert” may help. It examines the five points of Calvinism, from a Catholic perspective, with many, many Scriptural references: http://www.cin.org/users/james/files/tulip.htm

  144. (Re: 143) Christopher,

    Thanks so much for responding. There is no need to apologize. As I’ve followed these discussions, the depth at which other conversations are going have required a little more careful attention. Again, thank you for including me and responding.

    Your comments concerning the RCC’s teaching on man’s depravity are compelling. The argument you suggested from Romans 1 made good sense, though it does not seem to me to read Paul as saying that humanity as a whole have been involved in these things (though admittedly not every sin for every person). As I have read Romans 1, I’m certainly described in there. I have not worshiped a physical idol, but if idolatry can be idolatry with mental objects as well as metal (Kevin Bywater’s quote), I’ve been an idolator. You mentioned also the Reformed Protestant position that souls are naturally warring against God. I’ve certainly been taught this. What about Paul’s statement in Romans 8 where he states the “mind of sinful flesh is hostile to God” (cf. Eph. 2)? How would the RCC read Genesis 6:5? Is this “only evil all the time” only a past, pre-flood reality, or is it also true of humanity presently? How might this be understood in the RCC’s teaching concerning the injured soul?

    The comments you’ve offered on the possibility of salvation for those who haven’t explicitly heard the gospel made sense. As I thought more about this, Reformed Protestant missiology allows for such salvations where the gospel has not been preached. The nuance added here simply concerns the belief that in those individuals who are saved, special revelation of the gospel of Jesus Christ has occurred. Maybe this occurred through dreams and visions like we hear of in nations where other religions are a huge majority. Is this type of revelation what the RCC position has in mind?

    Again, thanks for dialoging with me.

    Blessings,

    John

  145. #142. Bryan, are the following 5 statements fair? (I do not intend them to be provocative in any way.)

    1. Lots of people – both secular and churched – have found recent papal comments to be foggy (to some, even contrary to previously established RCC doctrine). Their assessment may be right or wrong, of course.

    2. A chunk of your argument for the presumed theological advantages of the RCC rest on the RCC having a human arbitrator (ie, the Pope) who can clear up theological fog.

    3. When the Pope himself creates more fog, it is reasonable for some (who may be pondering RCC claims for itself), to think this could be an elephant issue, not an ant issue, as it at least “appears” to create dissonance with pt #2.

    4. You dispute that the Pope creates any fog, of course, because RCC “insiders” like you have ways of understanding (with reference to Tradition) what the Pope really ‘meant’, and hence, no fog exists for you. (cf Your “Tradition and the Lexicon” article, where you explain that one has to be “inside the family” to understand Tradition.)

    5. Thus, it is reasonable, if not to be expected, that non RCC “insiders” (and, for that matter, not-well-catechized-Catholics) will see fog in the recent papal comments.

    Many thanks.

  146. Corn-Czar (re:#141) and John (re:#144),

    I am so sorry, but over the last 24 hours, the fatigue that I had been feeling has developed into a full-blown illness. Please know that I do earnestly want to respond to your replies. However, in my current state, I just shouldn’t attempt it. When I’ve recovered, I will reply to each of you.

    In the meantime, are there any Catholics here who would like to begin responding to Corn-Czar’s and John’s questions for me? I would be very thankful! (I’m not sure exactly how long I’ll be “out of commission” here, and I hate to keep them waiting!)

  147. Corn-Czar (re: #145)

    I’ll assume that by ‘fair’ you mean true.

    1. Lots of people – both secular and churched – have found recent papal comments to be foggy (to some, even contrary to previously established RCC doctrine). Their assessment may be right or wrong, of course.

    Yes.

    2. A chunk of your argument for the presumed theological advantages of the RCC rest on the RCC having a human arbitrator (ie, the Pope) who can clear up theological fog.

    Yes.

    3. When the Pope himself creates more fog, it is reasonable for some (who may be pondering RCC claims for itself), to think this could be an elephant issue, not an ant issue, as it at least “appears” to create dissonance with pt #2.

    Yes. (Keep in mind, however, that it being reasonable for a person in a certain condition to conclude x does not mean or entail that x is true.)

    4. You dispute that the Pope creates any fog, of course, because RCC “insiders” like you have ways of understanding (with reference to Tradition) what the Pope really ‘meant’, and hence, no fog exists for you. (cf Your “Tradition and the Lexicon” article, where you explain that one has to be “inside the family” to understand Tradition.)

    Here we’re going to have to define the term ‘fog,’ because using metaphors is great for poetry, but not for careful analysis. If by ‘fog’ you mean subjective ‘confusion among some people,’ then I grant that on occasions the Pope by his words creates “fog.” If, however, by ‘fog’ you mean an objective and formal condition of ambiguity regarding the truth of standing Catholic dogma, then no, the Pope does not create “fog.”

    5. Thus, it is reasonable, if not to be expected, that non RCC “insiders” (and, for that matter, not-well-catechized-Catholics) will see fog in the recent papal comments.

    Again, yes. But, all of this is fully compatible with the arguments we have made here, and with the Catholic Church being the Church Christ founded.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  148. Corn-Czar (re:#141),

    I was hoping that someone would join our discussion here, as I’m definitely deep into an illness and shouldn’t be attempting serious theological conversation requiring much though, but given that no one else has jumped in yet, I will offer this reply with apologies for any of its shortcomings.

    You mention the thief on the cross probably not having an understanding of the Trinity. This is likely true, and even so, Jesus does definitely affirm the genuineness of the thief’s faith and salvation. However, are we to take this particular case as being the (or simply, a) normative one for proper evangelistic presentation of the Gospel and instruction in the faith? It seems fairly clear to me that Jesus is making an exception here for the thief (possibly due to His divine ability to read hearts and minds), and that He would not necessarily so quickly affirm the salvation of just *anyone* who had professed faith in Him only a few moments ago. (Sorry for the tangled syntax there! Being sick does not help in one’s attempts at articulation, hehe!) After all, Jesus does have quite a lot to say in the Gospels about the genuineness of one’s faith being shown in one’s works/perseverance… and *that* sort of thing can only be shown over time.

    It’s also true, as you mention, that the first apostles did not necessarily seem to always even have a clear understanding of Christ’s divinity, in His time on earth, let alone an understanding of the full, “Nicene Creed”articulation of the doctrine of the Trinity. Jesus also affirmed the reality of their faith (although Judas apostatized). Therefore, why, then, does the Catholic Church affirm the Trinity to be part of the Gospel? The Church accepts all proper baptisms done in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, precisely because they are *Trinitarian, and thus, Christian* baptisms. Non-Trinitarian baptisms are not Christian baptisms, in the understanding of the Church, so they are not valid. Following this reasoning, the Catholic Church teaches that the Trinity is, indeed, part of the Gospel. This is why we stand and recite (thus affirming that we believe) the Nicene Creed at every Mass. We believe that Trinitarians alone are Christians, while non-Trinitarians have *some* sort of professed “faith in Christ,” but they cannot properly be called Christians. (I think that you would likely agree with me at least on that point– correct me if I’m wrong.)

    In the time of the thief on the cross, and Christ’s death, and the subsequent ministries of the first apostles, Christians were very much a heavily persecuted minority in their “beginning stages” and were only just beginning to *try* to grasp concepts like the Trinity. By the 4th century and the Arian controversy, the situation was quite different– and the Church did finally rule that Trinitarianism alone is orthodox Christianity, whereas Arianism or any other non-Trinitarian conception of God is, well, heretical. Given that this has been the teaching of the Church for over 1, 600 years, and given that the Church only accepts Trinitarian baptisms, the Church logically has to see any *contemporary* presentation of the “simple Gospel” which does not include the Trinity as being seriously deficient.

    Consider this question, which I am asking, based on one of your previous comments in our discussion. Why would one neglect to include the Trinity in the “simple Gospel”– especially given that, if one makes a profession of faith in Christ but then *rejects* the Trinity, it is doubtful, by your own admission, that said person has even truly *accepted* the “simple Gospel”?

  149. John (re:#144),

    Thanks for your reply. As with Corn-Czar above, I’m going to attempt a reply for you while apologizing in advance for its shortcomings, as I am typing (and trying to think and reason seriously!) while sick. Thanks for understanding. :-)

    On the subject of Romans 1, as you said of yourself, I affirm that I, too, have been an “idolator” at times (and still can be at times!), even though I haven’t literally worshiped, say, Hindu “gods” or the like. I have, even habitually, at times, put other things before God and loved them more than God, which is one definition of idolatry. My main point about Romans 1 is simply to say that the Catholic Church understands *some* of the statements therein, differently, in certain ways, than the Reformed. The Church does not see each and every non-Christian as *always, necessarily* being at war with God, simply by virtue of presently being non-Christian. The Church also not see each and every non-Christian as necessarily being a *friend* of God.

    In the Church’s teaching, there is the one revealed way of salvation– the only way–, through Christ and His Church, whether they are well-understood, or very dimly understood, by the one who is saved. The ideal– the hope of every serious Catholic missionary, for example– is that every person on earth would have a good understanding of Christ and His Church. However, at present, the ideal is far from being realized.

    In that light, the Church teaches that anyone who *is* saved is saved through Christ and His Church, which we believe to the Catholic Church– with the understanding that we believe that even very anti-Catholic Protestants, ultimately, are saved, when they are saved, through Christ and the Catholic Church.

    In the teaching of the Church, many people who are saved have an *explicit* understanding of Christ and the Gospel, which is the aim and desire of the Church. All people should know and embrace Christ. That is what Catholics and Protestants both want, and we should all pray and act to that end. However, the Church also teaches that the understanding of some people, including *some* non-Christians, may be far less explicit– possibly, even to the point, in some cases, of not literally knowing that it is Christ who is saving them, though He is, indeed, doing so– and, yet, *some* of them may still be saved, because their ignorance of Christ and the Gospel is truly through no fault of their own. It really depends on the individual non-Christian’s heart and mind, and his/her receptivity to God, in his/her best understanding of Him. Ultimately, God alone can truly judge such people. or any of us, for that matter.

    At the worst, an individual non-Christian might well be at war with God, in his/her heart, mind, soul, and life, and filled with hatred for Him. At the best, an individual non-Christian might be very open to God and simply not have heard about Christ yet or not have understood Him correctly yet. In either case, the need is still there to explicitly know and embrace Christ. The obligation is still upon Christians (both Catholic and Protestant) to “bring Him,” so to speak, to those who do not explicitly know Him. The possibility, in the teaching of the Church, that some non-Christians *may* be saved without explicit knowledge of Him, and the undeniable fact that some non-Christians *do* experience visions and dreams of Him and come to explicit faith– neither of these things abrogates Christ’s call to make disciples of all nations.

    I’ll offer a few more thoughts on non-Christians, as related to Biblical verses that you mentioned in your previous comment. It is definitely true that the mind set on the flesh is hostile to God and the things of God, as Romans 8 proclaims. The Catholic Church teaches this truth, because Scripture teaches it, and the Church accepts and teaches *all* of canonical Scripture.

    In the understanding of the Church (specifically, as developed in Vatican II), it is an interpretive mistake to say, based on texts such as Romans 8, that we, as Christians, definitively *know* that the minds of *all* non-Christians, by definition, are always set on the flesh and hostile to God. In many cases, those fearsome statements may well be true of individual non-Christians. In the cases of other individual non-Christians, they may actually be *friendly* to God, insofar as they are sincerely submitting to their best understanding of Him and obeying the light that He is giving to their consciences.

    If any of the latter non-Christians are saved though (and I would pray that as many as possible of them *do* come to an explicit knowledge of Him and become Christians, of course!), they are not saved by “doing their best.” Long ago, the Catholic Church condemned “salvation by works.” Salvation comes only through Christ and His Church (we Catholics believe), by the grace and mercy of God– for Catholics, and Protestants (who are “imperfectly joined” to the Church), and, possibly, some non-Christians, *if* they are non-Christians through no fault of their own, and *if* they are are sincerely submitting to and obeying God, as He is revealing Himself to them.

    On your question about Genesis 6:5, the Church would take that verse to be a statement about the intense, radical, lived-out depravity into which humanity had willingly descended at that time. In a Catholic understanding of Scripture, if the thoughts of pre-Flood humanity had been anything other than “only evil all the time,” at that particular point in history, God would not have taken such a drastic step as the Flood, because Scripture states that, fundamentally, He is *love*, not power or punishment. He is all-powerful, of course, and He can and does punish, but those things are not fundamentally *who* God reveals Himself to be in Scripture.

    Similarly, God punished Sodom and Gomorrah in a way which was commensurate with the degree of their evil at that time. The fact that Biblically, historically, certain people, as individuals, and certain nations, as a whole, have fallen into the depths of depravity that can be described as “only evil all the time” does not entail that all non-Christians, by definition, only think “evil all the time.”

    I hope that this reply has helped in some way, John. In preparing to reply to you, earlier tonight, I found this good article on the Catholic understandings, respectively, of freedom in Christ and slavery to sin. There are many points of convergence with (and one or two differences from) Reformed doctrine on these matters. http://www.catholic.com/magazine/articles/the-truth-will-make-you-free

    Now, I really have to rest and recover from my sickness, but I look forward to continuing our dialogue when I’ve recovered, Lord willing! Blessings!

  150. Re: #148. Christopher, in the bigger picture, as you know, there is zero disagreement between Protestants and the RCC as regards to the doctrine of the Trinity. Every Christian should have a solid grounding in it. But in brief, the “reason” that someone (say, Billy Graham) does not (generally) include a discussion of the Trinity in his presentation of the gospel is that it simply is not essential for a secular person to understand in order to become a Christian. Upon becoming a Christian, however, it is important that each person grow beyond “milk” and begin to eat “solid food” (Heb 5:13,14), and develop deeper understanding of key doctrines, including (but not limited to) the Trinity.

    If someone has made a studied and deliberate decision to reject the Trinity, however, it would call into question their essential understanding of the gospel, and appropriate church discipline should ensue. I would think that, again, on this point there is no disagreement between RCC folks and protestants.

    It appears you are arguing that before a secular person can embrace the gospel and enter into a personal relationship with Christ, that from an RCC point of view, that person *needs* a full understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity. Can you confirm? And, could you point me to an authoritative source that outlines exactly what a secular person must believe to become a Christian, according to the RCC? Many thanks.

  151. As many of our readers are aware, Pope Francis was recently interviewed by Antonio Spadaro, S.J., editor in chief of La Civiltà Cattolica, the Italian Jesuit journal. The full interview can be read here. Reactions to this interview have included jubilation among liberal Catholics, more careful praise from the secular media, and from conservative Catholics some ardent assurances which have a “Ministry of Truth” ring to them.

    In the above post and some of my subsequent comments on this thread, I made a conscious decision not to criticize the Pope’s comments about atheists, which he made during a homily back in May of this year. In retrospect, I should have been more forthcoming about the problematic nature of those comments, while not abandoning the effort to express what I believe to be the fact that they are consistent with Catholic theology. I am not going to rewrite this post, or write another post trying to “translate” or explicate Pope Francis’s recent interview. That is already being done in spades by conservative Catholic bloggers. Rather, I want to point out one response to the interview which seems to actually explain why Pope Francis speaks in the way that he does, without trying to explain away the Pope’s remarks. I am referring to R. R. Reno’s post this morning at First Things, entitled “Francis, Our Jesuit Pope.” In my opinion, Reno’s post is helpful and honest. We need more of that these days.

  152. Andrew, this must be vexing to you. But, maybe it should come as no surprise. Investing so much ecclesial capital in one fallible sinner is a recipe for disappointment, if not disaster. The biblical system of a plurality of ruling elders (bishops) seems far wiser. Elders (plural) ruling in local congregations, regional gatherings, and general assemblies with the occasional wider council — that’s how the church ought to function.

  153. C. Weakly,

    There are aspects of the Catholic response to the interview, from both liberal and conservative camps, that I do find vexing. But no Catholic should have any more invested in the papacy than the papacy can bear, and both the papacy as an institution and the Catholic dogmas concerning the papacy can bear a Pope who speaks in a theologically ambiguous, off-the-cuff manner on matters of faith and morals. I just do not think that we should pretend that there is nothing problematic about the Pope speaking in such a way (see 1 Corinthians 14:8).

  154. Re: #153. Andrew, Bryan, in #142, asks me for an argument to show that papal ambiguity is anything other than an ant-size (not elephant-size) problem. You (rightly, in my opinion) say “I just do not think that we should pretend that there is nothing problematic about the Pope speaking in such a way (see 1 Corinthians 14:8).”

    May I ask a couple sincere questions. So, how ‘big’ of a problem do you see papal ambiguity to be? If you see it as “ant-sized”, why? And, if you see it as bigger than an ant, what argument would you give to Bryan? Lastly, how (other than using your own human-derived criteria) do you know that the Pope was speaking in an off-the-cuff manner and was not very conscious and deliberate?

  155. While Christopher Lake is recovering, I will volunteer to answer Corn-Czar #150:

    It appears you are arguing that before a secular person can embrace the gospel and enter into a personal relationship with Christ, that from an RCC point of view, that person *needs* a full understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity. Can you confirm?

    To enter into a right personal relationship with Jesus, an understanding of the essentials of the doctrine of the Trinity is definitely required. Because if you do not know whether Jesus is God or a creature, you cannot relate to Him (or him) correctly. If He is God, you can and must adore Him, but if he is not, adoring him would be idolatry.

    Now, restricting ourselves to just the Torah and John’s Gospel, we know that:
    - God is “I Am” when He names Himself in 1st person and “He Is” (*), YHWH when we name Him in third person (Ex 3:14).
    - Jesus several times affirmed unequivocally for Himself the “I Am” of Ex 3:14.
    - YHWH is one (Dt 6:4).
    - Therefore if Jesus is “I Am”, He must be the one and same “I Am” of Ex 3:14.
    - This is exactly what He said in Jn 10:30 “The Father and I are one”.

    Thus we have that:
    - the Father is God,
    - the Son is God, and
    - the Father is not the Son.
    - And of course, that the Father and the Son do not “apportion” the Divinity, because there are no parts in God, rather each of Them is God entirely (as it is the only way They could be).

    Applying the same considerations to the Holy Spirit, to Whom Jesus refers as a “He” distinct from Himself and the Father in Jn chapters 14, 15 and 16, and places at the same level as the Father and Himself in Mt 28:19, we have the essentials of the doctrine of the Trinity: one Nature or Essence and three Persons, each of Whom is “He Who Is”.

    Conversely, if you don’t have those essentials, you don’t know correctly with Whom you are entering a personal relationship (which applies to Jesus but also to the Holy Spirit). Specifically, you can err by thinking that They are just different modes or aspects of God as perceived by the believer, rather than distinct persons (modalism or sabellianism), or that they are creatures (arianism), or, worst of all, that they are distinct gods (tritheism).

    (*) YHWH can be “He Is” or “He causes to be”. This is no issue because only “He Is” can be “He causes to be”, or in ontological terms, only the Subsistent Being can create contingent beings and uphold and sustain them in being.

  156. CC (re #154),

    You asked:

    So, how ‘big’ of a problem do you see papal ambiguity to be?

    That depends upon the topic and the context. Peter’s ambiguity in Antioch was a big enough problem to call down a face to face rebuke from Paul for “not being straightforward about the truth of the gospel.” Honorius’s ambiguity on the two wills of Christ was serious enough that he was anathematized with the monothelites by an ecumenical council. With Francis, time will tell. Some Catholics believe that he has in mind a long-term missionary maneuver, and that we are only witnessing the opening stages. If that is indeed the case, then perhaps the time is not yet ripe to assess his message. But for the time being, Reno’s article, to which I linked at the end of #151, is the most balanced and helpful commentary that I have come across.

    You asked:

    … how (other than using your own human-derived criteria) do you know that the Pope was speaking in an off-the-cuff manner and was not very conscious and deliberate?

    I do not know that the Pope was speaking in an off-the-cuff manner in that interview. My remark that he was, and that in general he does, speak in this way was based upon the observations about Jesuits in general found towards the beginning of the Reno article, and upon my own assessment of Francis’s speaking style. I do not understand your reference to “human derived criteria.” Do you suppose that there are some non-human derived criteria for assessing whether someone’s remarks are impromptu, or “off-the-cuff”?

  157. Re my previous comment #155, I realized that the statement:

    - Therefore if Jesus is “I Am”, He must be the one and same “I Am” of Ex 3:14.

    if taken in isolation, might be interpreted in a modalist way. So, even when that interpretation is ruled out by Jn 10:30 (and the whole NT), it might be useful to rephrase it more precisely.

    - Therefore if Jesus is “I Am”, He must be the one and same “I Am” of Ex 3:14, where “the one and same” refers to What He Is and not to Who He Is. That is, each of the divine Persons can say of Himself “I Am” (*), as each of Them Is the one and same Subsistent Being, the absolute fullness of Being and therefore of every perfection, and at the same time (**) a distinct “I”.

    - This is exactly what He said in Jn 10:30 “The Father and I are one”.

    (*) I use uppercase “Be” for Subsistent Being, in line with the suggestion of John Paul II in his catechesis of August 7, 1985:

    http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/audiences/alpha/data/aud19850807en.html

    When we refer to God it would be fitting to write that “I Am” and that “He Is” in capitals, reserving the lower case for creatures. This would also signify a correct way of reflecting on God according to the categories of “being.”

    (**) Notably, speaking properly of God would require to say “at the same eternity”, as God Is in eternity, not in time.

  158. Re: #155. Johannes, the operative discussion point has nothing to do with the Biblical basis for the Trinity, nor why the doctrine of the Trinity is important for believers in Christ to have a solid understanding of. Catholics and Protestants are in violent agreement on those points. The operative point, raised by Christopher, is that he (and apparently you) assert that it is the RCC position that one must be thoroughly catechized in the doctrine of the Trinity, as a prerequisite to someone becoming a Christian. If that is the case, can you please clarify and amplify that, perhaps beginning with a definition is of what a “right” personal relationship with Jesus is, and how a “right” one differs from other possibilities.

    Re: #156. Andrew, Reno was making his own value judgments about the Pope’s comments, as you have as well. Examples: “He’s also not entirely self-consistent….Pope Francis was being a bit naïve and undisciplined….This encourages a distorted reading of what he has in mind for the Church”. So, to this protestant’s mind, it’s a curious phenomena to see you and Reno make evaluative judgmental comments about the Pope’s remarks. When you say “perhaps the time is not yet ripe to assess his message”, it seems to beg the question “what if the Pope was very intentional and deliberate in his comments, and what if he fully expects the RCC faithful to immediately embrace and act upon his sentiments, and not wait until some future and more ripe time to assess his message?” It is this time dimension that gets closer to the heart of whether papal ambiguity is an “ant”, or “elephant” sized issue. If you’ve got unlimited time to wait until papal fog possibly will clear, then I suppose it’s an “ant”. If you do not have so much time on your hands to wait for the fog to clear, then it’s more of an “elephant”, wouldn’t you agree?

  159. I may be able to contribute to answer this question in Corn-Czar #154…

    Lastly, how (other than using your own human-derived criteria) do you know that the Pope was speaking in an off-the-cuff manner and was not very conscious and deliberate?

    … as my own human-derived criteria is probably bigger than Andrew’s, simply because I have lived in Buenos Aires for the last two decades and therefore had Bergoglio as my bishop. Yes, the safe assumption is that he was speaking in an off-the-cuff manner.

    As a general rule, view him as a pastoral Pope. Regarding any doctrinal issue on matters of either faith or moral, this is the relevant statement you all must keep in mind:

    The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church,

  160. CC (re #158),

    Catholics make evaluative judgments of papal remarks all the time. Being submissive to authority does not involve silent, implicit approval of every word uttered by persons in authority.

    My remark that “perhaps the time is not yet ripe to assess [Francis's] message” does not beg the question precisely because I used the word “perhaps.” This indicates that I was offering one possible alternative, which is exactly the opposite of begging the question. Neither do my remarks imply that there is “unlimited time” in which to evaluate the Pope’s message. The word “long-term” in the phrase “long-term missionary maneuver” is relative to this papacy, not to infinity.

    I am bringing this thread to a close. Also, I will not be writing or commenting on the website for the foreseeable future. So if by some chance anyone comments on any of my posts, those comments will have to be approved by another CTC member.

  161. Just a note to say that I have reopened this comment box for those who want to carry on the discussion about Pope Francis’s remarks about atheists, good works, and redemption, as well as other notable remarks made by the Pope.

    On a personal note, I have in all honesty been discouraged by some of Pope Francis’s comments about various matters; however, on the whole, with prayer and patience, I have also been trying not to isolate those points of confusion and difference from the context that he explicitly lays claim to, as a son of the Catholic Church. This Church is huge and extraordinarily diverse, and it would be remarkable if we all saw eye to eye in every way or easily understood and empathized with one another on every level.

    As I see it, the key to communion as spiritual life in the sacramental kingdom of God, keeping in mind specifically that it is deadly to approach the Blessed Sacrament with enmity for any brother in one’s heart, or harboring a spirit of division, lies in charity which is expressed daily as forbearance (which includes but is a much richer than tolerance), submission (to one another and to our pastors), and service (in the Church and to the world).

    To me, the best expression of the nature of Catholicism remains Tim Troutman’s synopsis of the paradoxes of the Church. If one can “get” that, I think that he will be able to understand, accept, and appreciate the differences between Benedict and Francis, or between the focus and tone of, say, the anti-modernist encyclicals of the early twentieth century and the documents of Vatican II, and so forth.

    The hasty and clumsy thing would be to suppose that two different notes were merely two different noises, and not part of a melody; or to think that music was merely an aggregate of different noises. For me, submission to the Roman Pontiff is formal, not like the pose of a statue, but like the composition of music, or the movement in a dance. Submission to the Pope is not the only movement in this particular dance, but it is one essential to the form, which is essential to the beauty of Catholicism.

    Anyway, the thread is reopened, though I might not be able to moderate it for a while.

  162. I have noticed that a Jan 27 article in the blog of a CNA columnist, titled “How do you solve a problem like Francesco?”, has been receiving a great deal of attention lately. Notably, one of the chief concerns that the blogger expresses, regarding Evangelii Gaudium:

    we’re not simply talking about style points here either; but rather statements that cut straight to the heart of the Church’s mission, like the bewildering suggestion that pagans, a people without the benefit of Baptism, are influenced by the operations of sanctifying grace. (cf EG 254)

    reveals only his lack of awareness of two passages in Lumen Gentium 16 and Gaudium et Spes 22. Because the text in question in EG 254:

    254. Non-Christians, by God’s gracious initiative, when they are faithful to their own consciences, can live “justified by the grace of God”,[199] and thus be “associated to the paschal mystery of Jesus Christ”.[200]

    is consistent with this passage in LG 16:

    Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience.(19*) Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life.

    and with this passage in GS 22:

    All this holds true not only for Christians, but for all men of good will in whose hearts grace works in an unseen way.(31) For, since Christ died for all men,(32) and since the ultimate vocation of man is in fact one, and divine, we ought to believe that the Holy Spirit in a manner known only to God offers to every man the possibility of being associated with this paschal mystery.

    I mention this issue because the subject in question has already been touched upon in this combox.

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