Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Cygnus and the Humble Hope

(With apologies to John Dryden)

What weight of ancient witness can prevail,
If private reason hold the public scale?
But, gracious God, how well dost thou provide
For erring judgments an unerring guide

~From The Panther and the Hind

Note bene: Over at Beggars All, Mr. James Swan, a prominent Protestant apologist wrote an open post to me concerning the Magisterium and what he perceived to be double standard being applied to Protestants by Catholic apologists. This following is my response to him. For obvious reasons, this response is being posted here as opposed to the commbox over at his blog. I have italicized Mr. Swan's words from his orginal posting.

Hello Mr. Swan:

I apologize for taking so long to get back to you, but I wanted to reflect, pray, and take the time to answer your post pertaining to a double standard you perceive exists among Catholic apologists pertaining to our doctrine of unity within the Church with a response that is something more than a commbox retort. While some might perceive the questions that you asked to be nothing more than a rhetorical device to make a point to your audience, I did not consider them as such and decided to answer them. I would note that I quote from a large number of the members of Church’s Magisterium. Since it is they who are being maligned, I thought it fair to call them as witnesses.

You said: “Roman Catholics chastise Protestants continually for using "private interpretation" and having disagreements.”

My response: To be fair, we Catholics do not “chastise” Protestants for having disagreements, whether they be continual, continuous or otherwise. Being human, we Catholics probably disagree among each other as much as Protestants do. As a matter of fact, that is why Our Lord saw fit to bestow on His Church a Magisterium However, it is fair to say that we Catholics do chastise Protestants for having disagreements resulting from their abuse of using their “private judgment” and using it to subject the Scriptures to your whims.

You said: “They've got all their apologetics books, like Madrid's "Where's That in the Bible?" in which he states, "I as a Catholic look not just to Scripture alone...but also to the Church and its living Tradition" and also in conversation with a Protestant, he tells them they, "can't just assume we have the correct understanding of Scripture" (pp. 10-11). No, Madrid's got the right interpretation!”

My response: Well, if owning that particular Madrid book is the sine qua non as to whether one can be a Catholic apologist, I guess I do not qualify as an apologist. While I do own one or two of Mr. Madrid’s books, I do not own that one.

Flippancy aside, I do take issue with the sentiment expressed by you. Do you seriously contend that the Catholics that you interact with here are so lacking in scholarship that they merely resort to parroting Patrick Madrid, Dave Armstrong, Dr. Philip Blosser, Dr. Scott Hahn, John Salza, or any of the other current Catholic apologetic luminaries? Should I likewise then accuse the Protestants on your blog of merely regurgitating something that James White, Eric Svendson, William Webster, or David Hunt have written? What is the point of us interacting at all if you truly believe that the level of communication between Catholics and Protestants is that minimal and formulaic?

Personally, I suspect that most apologists, whether they be Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, Jewish or something else, are moved to do apologetics for the same reason that you are~a love of God and of neighbor. That is why I am here. I believe that despite our differences in matters of faith that we both share that bedrock principle, hence making it worthwhile and fruitful to interact.

And I can assure you that my apologetics study habits are somewhat more sophisticated than reading and regurgitating one of Mr. Madrid’s books (although it is true I do quite enjoy using the two I do own as secondary research resources in my religious studies). Here is an outline of the steps I tend to follow:

1) I first pray to the Holy Spirit to give me the grace of enlightenment.

2) I then try to determine the parameters of an issue, define its elements, and determine the meaning of the terminology employed in explaining it.

3) Then I look to see if the issue is discussed in Scripture, either explicitly or implicitly, and once I find a passage from the Bible I believe to be applicable, I then read the passage as found each of the 12 or so Bible versions I have to see if there is a consistency in how the doctrine is described. As a part of the initial inquiry on my part, I may review the several bible commentaries, both Catholic and Protestant that I own. If necessary I will also review several concordances and lexicons to make sure I have a sense of what a passage means.

4) Then I go through all of the Catholic and Protestant catechisms and encyclopedias I have, both in book form as well as electronically stored material, to see how each side understands an issue.

5) Then I peruse what the early church fathers wrote about the subject. Depending on the issue, I may try to see if there are various translations of such a writing and read all of them.

6) Next, I look to see if there were any concilior or papal writings on the subject to see if the Church has authoritatively decided the issue.

7) If my understanding does not match up with what any of the above state, then I go back and see where I might have gone astray. I also check to see if there any other magisterial writings out there as well.

8) After this, I look to see what classic Catholic apologists, theologians, doctors of the Church or historians have written. I try to look first at the ones who are either with the “Church Victorious” or “Church Suffering” and then move on to those who speak out in the present-day “Church Militant.” I will also admit to a certain amount of bias in starting with Dave Armstrong as he is a friend of mine and his website has a lot of useful material and links there. I then look at other apologists such as Dr. Blosser, John Salza, Steve Ray, Robert Sungenis, and yes, Patrick Madrid.

9) During the course of doing the above, I will also look to see what Protestant apologists and theologians might have to say. In this regard, I try to remember that many of the 19th century Anglican theologians and apologists are almost Catholic in their viewpoints, indeed they often walk the via media or claim that they are as “catholic” as the Orthodox and RC.

10) Since arguing to consensus is the highest form of argumentation, I often try to see if there is a way to reconcile what a Protestant apologist has written with what the Catholic Church teaches. The reason for that is simple: the first rule of heresy is that all heresies start with a truth and then make inferences from that truth that ultimately are incorrect. If Protestants and the Catholic Church do not agree on an issue, I try to see how much the Protestants do agree with the Church and pinpoint where they part ways. For example, I concur to a point with the point of your article--Catholics do exercise private judgment in reaching their decision to assent to the teachings of the Church. However, detrimental to contention I am not aware of a time when the Church taught otherwise.

By no means do I suggest that my epistemic method is flawless and I am definitely still learning, but for good or ill, my methodology has served me to date. Nevertheless, I hope I have shown that this “Paulie” is not a parrot.

You said: “So, OK, show the beef.”

My response: I knew Clara Peller, Clara Peller once shook my hand at a Wendy’s in Columbus, Ohio. You sir are no Clara Peller. If the cartoon drawing of you that is posted on your website is at all accurate, you don’t even look like Clara Peller. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist an attempt at humor especially after spending the past week or so trying to figure out where to cut holes in the walls and flooring of an 140 year old farm house so I can fix the plumbing under the house. Next time, I call “Ask This Old House.”)

You said: “Show us a unified Roman Catholicism. Show us your certainty. Show us the infallible interpretation of Scripture. Show us unified historical “Tradition.” Show us how your theologians and apologists have a collective agreement down the line.”

My response: At first blush I questioned whether you originally were from Missouri. My next thought was that you were practicing to be the next host of “The Family Feud” game show. But it then struck me, you really do not understand what Catholics believe; your notion of Catholicism is all caricature and cartoon-ish.

Now let us speak with candor. I agree that Catholics exercise their private judgment when they decide what to believe in. How could they not do so? However, there is a difference between the exercise of private judgment in the context of an authoritative Church and the abuse of it when there is nothing to compel or even guide one in what doctrines to believe in. His words will be in both bold and italics.

In support of this, I will first call Fr. Ronald Knox:

I shall be accused, perhaps, of a sulky querulousness when I say this. It will be conjectured that I am revenging myself on those who do not agree with me by pretending that they do not understand me. But it is true, and it is a truth which becomes more luminous the more you come in contact with the public attitude towards Catholics, that the English people, when it talks about the Catholic Church loses all sense of reality, of human possibilities. We were for so long a despised and persecuted sect, we were for so long deprived of any opportunity to explain our position that Englishmen have come to look upon us as a race of ogres, from whom nothing natural, nothing human can be expected. They will believe anything of us, without stopping to inquire whether such beliefs are even plausible. Among half a dozen instances of this credulity, let me select one that is peculiarly striking and peculiarly well attested. At the beginning of the first world war, when it was suggested to the Government that Catholics, like their neighbours, would need an increased staff of chaplains to superintend their spiritual welfare, a Cabinet minister professed himself astonished that the ministrations of French priests would not be sufficient. And when it was pointed out to him that these priests would find some difficulty in hearing confessions, it proved that the Cabinet minister had assumed, all his life, that Catholics made their confessions in Latin. One pictures those Irish troops, a Kennedy in every knapsack So true is it that the English sense of realities breaks down when the habits of Catholics are in question. By an equally grotesque illusion, most Englishmen have the idea that Catholics base all their religious beliefs on the authority of the Church. And if we pressed them with the difficulty, "Yes, but on what do Catholics base their belief in the authority of the Church? Do they base that on the authority of the Church too?" I suspect that most Englishmen would reply, "Of course." These people are Catholics, therefore any reason or no reason is good enough for them. They are a race apart, ogres, not men.

Let me then, to avoid further ambiguity, give a list of certain leading doctrines which no Catholic, upon a moments reflection, could accept on the authority of the Church and on that ground alone.

(i.) The existence of God.
(ii.) The fact that he has made a revelation to the world in Jesus Christ.
(iii.) The Life (in its broad outlines), the Death, and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
(iv.) The fact that our Lord founded a Church.
(v.) The fact that he bequeathed to that Church his own teaching office, with the guarantee (naturally) that it should not err in teaching.
(vi.) The consequent intellectual duty of believing what the Church believes.


I do not say that these considerations are present to the mind of every Catholic, however ignorant, however stupid. I do say that these are the considerations which any Catholic teacher would put before him, if and in so far as he showed any curiosity about the matter. I would add that a glance at the Penny Catechism will disabuse any unbiased mind of the idea that the Church, even in dealing with simple folk, conceals from them the intellectual basis of their religion.

Yet the average Protestant persists in believing that the attitude of the Church towards the human intellect is adequately summed up in the phrase, familiar to us from childhood, "Open your mouth and shut your eyes." It is supposed that anybody who is brought up as a Catholic retains, without any further questioning or instruction on the point, the pious credulity with which he accepted all that his mother told him, all that the priest told him, when he was too young to think for himself. Any dawning doubts as to the sufficiency of such a motive for belief are crushed, we must suppose, with threats of hell and excommunication. This would be extraordinary enough, considering the number of Catholics there are in the world and the ample opportunities they have for being infected, in a world like ours, with the germs of unbelief. But, still more extraordinary, this Church, which has no proof of anything she says beyond her own bare assertion, is making converts, in an enlightened country like ours, at the rate of some twelve thousand in the year. How does she manage (one wonders) to play off her confidence trick with such repeated success?

This is, indeed, a phenomenon at which non-Catholics profess to feel the utmost astonishment. But it is a kind of astonishment which has grown blunted by usage; they have come to regard it as part of the order of things that their neighbours should become the victims, now and again, of this extraordinary tour de force. If they were compelled to picture to themselves the process of a conversion, they would, I suppose, conceive it something after this fashion--that the mind of the inquirer is hypnotised into acquiescence by the crafty blandishments of a designing priest; not by his arguments, for he has none, he only goes on shouting "Become a Catholic, or you will go to hell!"; not by his arguments, but by some fatal quality of fascination, which we breed, no doubt, in the seminaries. In a dazed condition, like that of the bird under the snake's eye, he assents to every formula presented to him, binds himself by every oath that is proposed to him, in one openmouthed act of unreasoning surrender. After that, of course, pride forbids him to admit, so long as life lasts, that the choice so made was a mistaken one; besides, one knows the power these priests have. Yes, it is very curious, the power attributed to these priests. When you have had the privilege of assisting at their education for seven years, you feel that "curious" is too weak a word for it.

This is, presumably, what Protestants have in mind when they represent submission to the Church as a form of "intellectual suicide." They mean that the act of faith which a man makes in joining the Church is an act of the will (or, more properly speaking, the emotions) in which the intellect plays no part. It is an entertaining fact, familiar to all who are acquainted with the history of Protestantism, that one of the earliest and one of the fiercest controversies between the Reformation and the Old Religion was concerned precisely with this point. It was, of course, the Protestants who maintained the view that faith was an act of the will (or, more properly speaking, the emotions), with frequent allusion to the misunderstood text, "With the heart man believeth unto salvation"; whereas their Catholic opponents earned bitter hatred by insisting that the act of faith, however much directed by the will, had its seat in the intellect. Historically, Protestantism is committed to the notion that the act of faith is the mere surrender of a personality to a Personality, without parley, without deliberation, without logical motive. The true representative of Protestantism in the modern world is the Salvationist who stands up at a street corner and cries out "I am saved." It is Catholicism which insists that, ideally at least, it is the intellect which must be satisfied first, the heart afterwards.

Nor, in point of fact, has modern Protestantism any right to tax us with exalting faith at the expense of reason. It was only the other day that I read an able defence of Theism by an Anglican philosopher who appeared to demand faith of some kind as a preliminary to accepting the doctrine of God's existence. No Catholic apologist ever fell into so grotesque an error. We demand, indeed, on the part of the inquirer certain negative dispositions, as, an absence of prejudice and of frivolity, a willingness to listen and to attend, determination in carrying an argument to its logical conclusion, etc. But to demand of the inquirer any positive "will to believe" as the condition of accepting the existence of God, is to beg the whole question, to stultify the whole process of philosophical discussion. Nobody who will take the trouble to look at any manual of Catholic apologetics, will fail to understand that several of the questions most controverted to-day do not fall, from the Catholic point of view, under the object of faith, at least primarily. They are matters upon which we have to make up our minds beforehand, logically speaking, as a condition of making any act of faith at all. And when I say "make up our minds," I mean, not a mere decision of the will, but a satisfaction of the intellect. The existence of God, the authority of Christ, and so on, are beliefs which meet us and have to be dealt with before we get on to the act of faith at all; they are the preambles of faith, the motives of credibility. And we have to deal with them by a reasoning process, which throws the responsibility for our decision, not upon the authority of the Church, but upon our own private judgment. Every convert, when he goes under instruction, has to follow these arguments to the best of his ability. Nor is it only for the sake of converts that we insist upon this intellectual duty. A class in "apologetics" is part of the normal curriculum of a Catholic school. Catholic boys are learning to defend the existence of God at an age when you and I, reader, were dismally memorising facts about the career of Jehoshaphat, and geshing our teeth on the South Galatian theory.

When you have contrived to persuade him that, for Catholics, the authority of the Church in matters of faith is not a self-evident axiom, but a truth arrived at by a process of argument, the Protestant controversialist has his retort ready. "You admit, then, after all," he says, "that a man has to use his own private judgment in order to arrive at religious truth? Why, then, what is the use of authority in religion at all? I had always supposed that there was a straight issue between us, you supporting authority and I private judgment; I had always supposed that you criticised me for my presumption in searching for God by the light of my imperfect human reason; it proves, now, that you are no less guilty of such presumption than myself! (Does this sound oddly familiar Mr. Swan?)

Surely your reproaches are inconsistent, and your distinctions unnecessary. If you use your private judgment to establish certain cardinal points of theology, the existence of God, the authority of Christ, and so on, why may not I use my private judgment to establish not only these, but all other points of theology--questions such as the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity, or the Real Presence in the Eucharist? You can hardly blame me for using the very privileges which you have just claimed so eagerly for yourself."

I could not have imagined, if I had not heard it with my own ears, the accent of surprise with which Protestants suddenly light upon this startling discovery, that the belief we Catholics have in authority is based upon an act of private judgment. How on earth could they ever suppose we taught otherwise? I say nothing here of the grace of faith, which is the hidden work of God in our souls. But how could the conscious process by which we arrive at any form of the truth begin without an act of private judgment? I may, indeed, overcome by a kind of emotional crisis, surrender myself unreflectively to an influence imaginatively experienced; but that is not Catholicism, it is Protestantism; it is "conversion" in its crudest form. If I employ my reason at all; if I employ my reason only so far as to say "The Church says this, and the Church is infallible, therefore this must be true," even so I am using private judgment; it is my own reason which draws its conclusions from the syllogism. Reject private judgment? Of course Catholics have never rejected private judgment; they only profess to delimit the spheres in which private judgment and authority have their respective parts to play. Is it really so difficult to see that a revealed religion demands, from its very nature, a place for private judgment and a place for authority? A place for private judgment, in determining that the revelation itself comes from God, in discovering the Medium through which that revelation comes to us, and the rule of faith by which we are enabled to determine what is, and what is not, revealed. A place for authority to step in, when these preliminary investigations are over, and say "Now, be careful, for you are out of your depth here. How many Persons subsist in the Unity of the Divine Nature, what value and what power underlies the mystery of sacramental worship, how Divine Grace acts upon the human will--these and a hundred other questions are questions which your human reason cannot investigate for itself, and upon which it can pronounce no sentence, since it moves in the natural not in the supernatural order. At this point, then, you must begin to believe by hearsay; from this point onwards you must ask, not to be convinced, but to be taught." Is it really so illogical in us, to fix the point at which our private judgment is no longer of any service? Are we really more inconsistent than the bather who steps out cautiously through the shallow water and then, when it is breast-high, spreads out his hands to swim?

But there is a subtle and a more telling variation of the same argument. The strength of a chain, we are reminded is that of its weakest link. We Catholics profess to establish the truths of religion by a chain of argument; this chain, then, is no stronger than the weakest link in it. How is it that we profess to hold with absolute certitude the revealed truths of our religion? Reasonable enough to say that if your Church is infallible, the doctrines which she preaches are evidently true, and capable of producing absolute certitude in the mind. But the infallibility of your Church is not a self-evident axiom; it is a proposition which you have proved, and proved it by an appeal to ordinary human reason. Is it not clear, then, that in the last resort every statement which your Church makes rests upon the validity of the arguments by which, in the first instance, you proved your Church infallible? Now, these arguments, based as they are upon human reason, do not convey absolute certitude to the mind; they may be, in your view, overwhelmingly probable; nay, they may be certain with all human certainty; but human certainty is not absolute certainty. There is always a possible margin of error. You cannot prove the existence of God, the authority of Christ, or his commission to his Church, beyond all possibility of doubt; how then can you suppose that you have proved beyond all possibility of doubt the statements which you receive on the Church's authority?

To escape this dilemma, Catholic apologists have frequently used a metaphor which seems to me, I confess, singularly unfortunate. They tell us that the motives of credibility by which we establish the Divine origin of the Church, and her teaching office, are like the scaffolding which is put up while a building is being erected; once the building operations are complete, the scaffolding is unnecessary; it has served its turn, and we pay it no further attention. Now, theologically speaking, that metaphor will pass well enough; they mean that the true motive of our belief, seen on its supernatural side, is the infallible veracity of God in his revelation. But for purposes of apologetic, we shall employ such a metaphor in vain. Our critics will not be slow to point out that we erect a building inside the scaffolding, not on the top of the scaffolding; and if we did erect a building on the top of our scaffolding, we could not take the scaffolding away without letting the building fall to the ground. Our own parable has been turned against us.

It will be better to avoid the metaphor, and to keep in mind the distinction just mentioned. The motives of credibility, satisfying his intellect, bring the inquirer up to the point of making the act of faith. That act recognises God's authority in the Church's teaching; and the absolute nature of his authority does make all the difference to the kind of certitude with which, thenceforward, he holds the truths of Catholic doctrine. But this is inherent in the act of faith, not in the chain of proof by which the Catholic claim is established. Having made the act of faith, he cannot produce more or better arguments to convince his neighbour than he could have produced before. Apologetically, then, revealed truths have no higher certitude than the arguments by which the fact of revelation is established. The revealed proposition that there are Three Persons in the Blessed Trinity is not, apologetically, more certain than the statement (established in the first instance by private judgment) that our Lord left the charisma of infallibility to his Church.

The Catholic claim does not profess to be based on a mathematical certainty. The proposition "Things which are equal to the same thing are equal to one another" is evident in the sense that the contrary proposition is unthinkable. The proposition "Jesus of Nazareth suffered under Pontius Pilate" is not evident in that sense; the contrary proposition, in this case, does not defy our thought. In historical statements (and every revealed religion must depend, in the last resort, upon an historical statement) the highest kind of certainty you can attain is that which excludes reasonable doubt. That is the kind of proof which Catholicism claims for those preliminary considerations which it calls "the motives of credibility." And consequently no point of Catholic doctrine can claim anything better than this historical kind of proof. The absolute certainty with which we believe the teaching of the Church comes to us from the supernatural grace of faith, which transforms our reasoned conviction into a higher quality-- the water, as at Cana, is turned into wine. But for apologetic purposes a reasoned conviction is all we can offer to our neighbours; and it is this reasoned conviction which the present thesis attempts to maintain.” [Emphasis Added]
The Belief of Catholics. Garden City, NY: Image Books (1958), pgs 35-42. An internet version of the entire book may be found here.

Before I go on, I thought it would be appropriate to mention the difference between certitude and infallibility because your comments to me suggested that you may be confused there as well. Here is John Henry Newman to offer his expert opinion on that subject:

"It is very common, doubtless, especially in religious controversy, to confuse infallibility `with certitude, and to argue that, since we have not the one, we have not the other, for that no one can claim to be certain on any point, who is not infallible about all; but the two words stand for things quite distinct from each other. For example, I remember for certain what I did yesterday, but still my memory is not infallible; I am quite certain that two and two make four, but I often make mistakes in long addition sums. I have no doubt whatever that John or Richard is my true friend, but I have before now trusted those who failed me, and I may do so again before I die.

"A certitude is directed to this or that particular proposition, it is not a faculty or gift, but a disposition of mind relative to the definite case which is before me. Infallibility, on the contrary, is just that which certitude is not; it is a faculty or gift, and relates, not to some one truth in particular, but to all possible propositions in a given subject-matter. We ought, in strict propriety, to speak not of infallible acts, but of acts of infallibility....I am quite certain that Victoria is our Sovereign, and not her father, the late Duke of Kent, without laying any claim to the gift of infallibility....I may be certain that the Church is infallible, while I am myself a fallible mortal; otherwise, I cannot be certain that the Supreme Being is infallible, until I am infallible myself...[.]

From The Grammar of Assent, pg. 224.

I apologize for throwing quotes at you from the above passages, but I felt it appropriate in light of the topic to make use of the Magisterium, albeit in the ordinary non-fallible sense, to dispel your misapprehensions. Perhaps you have gotten such ideas from other Catholic apologists who tend to argue from extremes in response to the extreme views often taken by Protestant apologists as to Catholicism itself. However, given the fact that you puffed up by intimation my comments to suggest that I believe in such extremes about the role of the Magisterium, I tend to suspect that you got such ideas in your head based on what your own folk misrepresent about Catholicism as opposed to anything you have been told by Catholics.

In addressing your demand for “show and tell,” I must begin by noting that the underlying premise to your queries is that we Catholics believe and present to the world that the unity of the Catholic Church is derived from some sort of naked-mole-rat, hive mind, lock–step collective agreement on every what our doctrines all mean is as genuine as a three dollar bill. In argumentation, that is called a strawman. While I admit that the use of a “strawman” definition of unity to demonstrate the falsity of Catholicism is perhaps a clever way to save face in a losing argument, it actually does quite little in the way of attempting to refute the Catholic notion of unity itself, and even less in demonstrating the superiority of the Protestant notion of “private judgment,” so-called. In fact, it is as futile as Satan quoting Scripture to the “Word Made Flesh.”
I have now made the charge, and a charge it is, it is now incumbent upon me to carry the burden of persuasion and lay before you my proofs. Mind you~ if I fail to give you satisfaction here, it will be due to my ignorance and lack of skills and should not be imputed to my Church or its teachings. I do not presume to be authoritative, rather I tend to prolixity. Nevertheless, I believe it necessary to put to rest the lie underlying your complaint against the Catholic Church.

1700 years ago, St. Cyprian of Carthage testified of what unified Catholicism actually is:

“If any one consider and examine these things, there is no need for lengthened discussion and arguments. There is easy proof for faith in a short summary of the truth. The Lord speaks to Peter, saying, I say unto you, that you are Peter; and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall be bound also in heaven, and whatsoever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. And again to the same He says, after His resurrection, Feed nay sheep. And although to all the apostles, after His resurrection, He gives an equal power, and says, As the Father has sent me, even so send I you: Receive the Holy Ghost: Whose soever sins ye remit, they shall be remitted unto him; and whose soever sins ye retain, they shall be retained; yet, that He might set forth unity, He arranged by His authority the origin of that unity, as beginning from one. Assuredly the rest of the apostles were also the same as was Peter, endowed with a like partnership both of honour and power; but the beginning proceeds from unity. Which one Church, also, the Holy Spirit in the Song of Songs designated in the person of our Lord, and says, My dove, my spotless one, is but one. She is the only one of her mother, elect of her that bare her. Does he who does not hold this unity of the Church think that he holds the faith? Does he who strives against and resists the Church trust that he is in the Church, when moreover the blessed Apostle Paul teaches the same thing, and sets forth the sacrament of unity, saying, There is one body and one spirit, one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God?” “On the Unity of the Church” 4.


Unified Catholicism is adhering to the authority of the Church to teach. Catholics find unity in our dogma. We find unity in our creeds. We find unity in the Mass and in our sacraments. As witnessed by Lactantius, another early Church Father:

"The Catholic Church is alone in keeping the true worship. This is the fount of truth, this the house of faith, this the temple of God; if any man enter not here, or if any man go forth from it, he is a stranger to the hope of life and salvation. Let none delude himself with obstinate wrangling. For life and salvation are here concerned, and these will be lost forever unless their interests be carefully and assiduously kept in mind" (Divin. Inst. LV 30:11-12).


While some of the words have changed over the 20 centuries that the Mass has been said, you will find that the essential doctrines of the Church expressed in the Mass haven’t changed since St. Paul first described the Mass in 1 Corinthians, which is in accord with the command Our Lord gave at the Last Supper. Further, I would ask you to note at other written authorities as well. Look at the description of the Mass given in the Didache 9,10 and 14 , by St. Justin Martyr in his Apologies, by St. Hippolytus in his “Apostolic Tradition,” in St. Serapion’s “Euchologion.” Compare the liturgies of SS. James, Mark, Basil, John Chrysostom, Addai & Mari and the old pre-Tridentine Latin rite with Novus Ordo Mass or the Tridentine forms used today. There is no difference in the essentials whatsoever. So little of substance has changed in the older forms of the Mass, our Eastern Churches still use these liturgies to this day. Also, look to at the anphora, the hymns and chants that we still sing to this day; the prayers written in the catacombs; and many of the sacramentals still used in daily devotional practice. Further, look at the Apostolic Succession, the lines of bishops, some of which can trace the history of their sees back to the churches talked about in St. Paul’s letters. These things all point to a factual, historical unity that can not be denied.

Now you will object and raise the example of the sedevacantists; or wax on about some dissenting liberal Catholic politicians, such as the arch-accomplices to fetal murder, Ted Kennedy, Nancy Pelosi, John Kerry and Joseph Biden; or point out a renegade theologian or two such as Garry Wills or Hans Kung; or even the recent small matter between David Armstrong and Robert Sungenis to show that there is no unity in Catholicism. The problem is you conflate the Church’s infallible authority to teach with its fallible temporal authority to discipline. To my knowledge, the Catholic Church has never claimed to be infallible in disciplining its members. Only Protestants claim that the Catholic Church does. Such notions may satisfy your co-religionists, but what good does it do to disprove a lie?

Given the context of your “show us” ’es that you raised, I am hazarding a guess that you want me to show you my certainty as that the teachings and doctrines of the Catholic Church are correct. Well, I must confess, I am not infallible; and, given that I am sinful, imperfect human being, the best I could ever do is to offer you proof beyond a reasonable doubt, which for a lawyer is good enough to win in any court of competent jurisdiction of which I am aware, except perhaps in the court of anti-Catholic opinion. Yet, I acknowledge that no matter my best efforts, or the best efforts of any Catholic apologist, we could never prove any matter of faith with the absolute certainty you insist.

And this illustrates a double standard that Protestants, such as yourself, apply to Catholics all the time. While you demand that I provide you with some sort of show of “absolute certainty” as to veracity and certitude of Catholic teachings, you, on the other hand, ask me to accept your doctrines based on your say-so or more to the point, your fallible “private judgment.”

One of your creedal statements proclaims:

"The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture." (Westminster Confession of Faith, 1:10).


This is all fine and good, but tell me how does the Holy Spirit act as the “supreme judge”? Show me His rulings in your disputes over the interpretation of Scripture and doctrines. Show me the Bet Din ha-Gadol or supreme court where He renders His decisions. Is it in Geneva? Westminster? Wittenberg? The Phoenix Reformed Baptist Church? Or does He speak to Protestant leaders as a bath kol as He allegedly did in disputes between Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai over the interpretation of Scripture? Show me how He adjudicated the dispute over the Real Presence between Fr. Luther, Oecolampadius and Zwingli. Or was that dispute not important enough for the Holy Spirit to bother with? Show me how He has resolved the Protestant disputes one occasionally sees on the internet over whether Catholics are even Christians. Most Protestants consider High Church Anglicans as “brothers in arms.” Yet even though such folk believe in most of the same doctrines as I, many Protestants (I do not know how you come down on the issue) would deny me the appellation of Christian because I follow a pope despite the fact that in your system, even man is his own pope.

In short, is it not incumbent on you to show me your certainty before you deny mine. How can you say, “Let me cast out the speck in thy own eye” (Mt. 7:3-5) when you have not cast the beam from your own eye.

And to be frank, Protestants give lip service to the notion of sola scriptura, but the dirty secret is that the notion of freedom of conscience which your pal Turretinfan so lately trumpeted in his series of posts celebrating his disdain for Christmas is demonstrative that you actually value being your own pope much more than unity or certainty of doctrinal truth in any matter.

Now as I have pointed out, it is dogma as the documents of Vatican II make abundantly clear, that each person has the “freedom of conscience” to assent to what they believe. As I noted acknowledged through my reference to Father Knox, the authority each of us assent to is a personal one. What happens after that decision is exercised is where we part ways.

For the Protestant, no matter how much he cries, “I believe in the Bible as the ultimate authority,” the final decision in what he actually believe in rests upon himself. Contrary to what you claim, it is not the Bible that decides what you believe, you decide what it means. You decide what each bible passage means. You decide which doctrines you are going to follow. You decide in the exercise of your “Christian liberty” whether to obey your church leaders. You are your own pope, your own supreme court. It is all about you. Instead of Theism, there is a danger that a Protestant will adhere to a kind of “me-ism.” Further, I find it fascinating that the Catholics, so-called, you point to as your proof of disunity in the Catholic Church all profess a kind of me-ism too.

When a Catholic decides to assent to the authority of the Church, it is not about himself. When I assented to be a Catholic, I agreed to believe in the Word of God as interpreted by the Church’s Magisterium and Tradition. I agreed to submit my judgment to that of the Church. If I, in the study of the Scriptures, come to a different conclusion than what my Church holds, I conform my decision to match what the Church holds to be true. Unlike Luther, I do not contend that popes and councils have erred; rather, I, a sinner, assume that I have. When the Church tells me that I erred, I agree to accept its pronouncements. Once I assented to be subject to the authority of the Church, it would be incongruent for me to take my private judgments over the judgments of the Church.

You said: But Wait! There's small print (Mr. Hoffer, your job requires you to scrutinize the small print).

The small print tells us Roman Catholics have a wide range of freedom to interpret things however they want to, as long as it does not contradict official teaching. The small print tell us very little of the Bible has an infallible interpretation, thus giving Roman Catholics the freedom of interpretation on 99.9% of the Bible. The small print tell us even with infallibly defined dogma, those dogmas are open to interpretation. Even verses allegedly infallibly defined can still be open to interpretation.


My Response: Actually, this would not be “small print” like in a contract, but more like instructions in a warranty. The Church has always taught what you state. It is true that this aspect of our right to exercise private judgment is not discussed very often, probably because Catholic apologists are busy refuting Protestants who are usually are attacking other aspects of the authority of the Church. When we do state that we have the right to exercise private judgment within the parameters that the Church sets down, Protestants act with incredulity and exclaim that they don’t believe that we have the freedom to exercise such judgment. Hopefully, you can lead the way with your co-religionists and correct their misapprehensions.

Now let’s lay some groundwork on why Catholics believe that we need a Magisterium.

The formal rule of the Catholic faith is as follows:

Our Christian faith is grounded upon the Word of God, which is divinely inspired and thus is infallible.


The certainty of the Catholic faith follows from this formal rule of faith.

However, for Catholics that is not the end. It is useless to know that the Word of God is inspired and infallible unless there someone who can identify what the Word of God is, what truths it contains and how those truths should be applied to one’s faith and life. In sum, the Word of God must be interpreted.

A this time, I call St. Francis de Sales to the stand:

Since this [formal] rule not regulate our faith save when it is applied, proposed and declared, and since this may be done well or ill,----therefore it is not enough to know that the Word of God is the true and infallible rule of right-believing, unless I know what Word is God's, where it is, who has to propose, apply, and declare it. It is useless for me to know that the Word of God is infallible, and for all this knowledge I shall not believe that Jesus is the Christ, Son of the living God, unless I am certified that this Word is revealed by the heavenly Father: and even when I come to know this I shall not be out of doubt if I do not know how this is to be understood,----whether of an adoptive filiation in the Arian sense, or a natural filiation in the Catholic.

There is need, then, besides this first and fundamental rule the Word of God, of another, a second rule, by which the first may be rightly and duly proposed, applied, and declared. And in order that we may not be subject to hesitation and uncertainty, it is necessary not only that the first rule, namely, the Word of God, but also the second, which proposes and applies this rule, be absolutely infallible; otherwise we shall always remain in suspense and in doubt as to whether we are not being badly directed and supported in our faith and belief, not now by any defect in the first rule, but by error and defect in the proposition and application thereof. Certainly the danger is equal,----either of getting out of rule for want of a right rule, or getting out of rule for want of a regular and right application of the rule itself. But this infallibility which is required as well in the rule as in its proper application, can have its source only in God, the living and original fountain of all truth. Let us proceed.

Now as God revealed His Word, and spoke, or preached, by the mouth of the Fathers and Prophets, and at last by His Own Son, then by the Apostles md Evangelists, whose tongues were but as the pens of scribes writing rapidly, God thus employing men to speak to men; so to propose, apply, and declare this His Word, He employs His visible Spouse as His mouthpiece and the interpreter of His intentions. It is God then Who rules over Christian belief, but with two instruments, in a double way: (1) by His Word as by a formal rule; (2) by His Church as by the hand of the measurer and rule-user. Let us put it thus: God is the painter, our faith the picture, the colours are the Word of God, the brush is the Church. Here then are two ordinary and infallible rules of our belief: the Word of God, which is the fundamental and formal rule; the Church of God, which is the rule of application and explanation. (The Catholic Controversy. Rockford, Ill.: Tan Books (1989) pgs. 83-85)

How then does God use His Church of God to rule over Christian belief? Again, St. Francis de Sales explains:

The Church, the rule of application, expresses herself either in her universal body by a general belief of all Christians, or in her principal and nobler parts by a consent of her pastors and doctors; and in this latter way it is either in her pastors assembled in one place and at one time, as in a general council, or in her pastors divided as to place and time, but assembled in union and correspondence of faith; or, in fine, this same Church expresses herself and speaks by her head-minister. And these are four explaining and applying rules of our faith;----the Church as a whole, the General Council, the consent of the Fathers, the Pope.

Other rules than these we are not to seek; these are enough to steady the most inconstant. But God, Who takes pleasure in the abundance of His favours, wishing to come to the help of the weakness of men, goes so far as to add sometimes to these ordinary rules (I refer to the establishment and founding of the Church) an extraordinary rule, most certain and of great importance,----namely, miracles----an extraordinary testimony of the true application of the Divine Word.

Lastly, natural reason may also be called a rule of right-believing, but negatively and not affirmatively. For if anyone should speak thus: such a proposition is an article of faith, therefore it is according to natural reason:----this affirmative consequence would be badly drawn, since almost all our faith is outside of and above our reason. But if he were to say: this is an article of faith, therefore it cannot be against natural reason:----the consequence is good. For natural reason and faith, being supported on the same principles, and starting from one same author, cannot be contrary to each other.

Here then are eight rules or faith: Scripture, Tradition, the Church, Councils, the Fathers, the Pope, miracles, natural reason. The two first are only a formal rule, the four following are only a rule of application, the seventh is extraordinary, and the eighth negative. Or, he who would reduce all these rules to a single one, would say that the sole and true rule of right-believing is the Word of God preached by the Church of God. Id. , pgs. 85-87.

We both know, whether you will admit it or not, that the Word of God is not so clear and perspicuous that people can not misinterpret it. Man is ever looking at things in new ways, coming to new conclusions, coming up with new ideas. Studying the Word of God is no different.

As Fr. Knox wrote in the previously quoted, The Beliefs of Catholics:

“I do not mean to suggest ... that biblical study, unguided by any beliefs in the doctrines of a teaching church, is certain to lead men to the wrong conclusions. I mean that such study is humanly certain to lead different men to different conclusions, even on subjects of the highest moment.”


St. Jerome was a bit more direct:

“And let them not flatter themselves if they think they have Scripture authority for their assertions, since the devil himself quoted Scripture, and the essence of the Scriptures is not the letter, but the meaning. Otherwise, if we follow the letter, we too can concoct a new dogma and assert that such persons as wear shoes and have two coats must not be received into the Church.” Against the Luciferians 28.


Here is what St. Hilary of Poitiers, everyone’s favorite proto-Protestant, if the number of times Protestants like to quote him is any indication, wrote:

“For there have risen many who have given to the plain words of Holy Writ some arbitrary interpretation of their own, instead of its true and only sense, and this in defiance of the clear meaning of words. Heresy lies in the sense assigned, not in the word written; the guilt is that of the expositor, not of the text. Is not truth indestructible?” On the Trinity, 2:3.


I, as a Catholic have every confidence in Scripture. I do not have confidence in the ability of fallible men by themselves to "rightly divide the word of truth.” Fortunately, God gave us the Magisterium to help “rightly divide the truth.”

You wrote: This just stinks. I will continue to point out this double standard as long as there is breath in my body. You guys have got to admit your double standard. We’re going to continue to embarrass you.

My Response: Well, I hope I have dealt with your charge of double standard and dispelled the notion that one exists. If anything, it is the Protestants who create a double standard when you demand absolute certainty from us as to the veracity of Catholic doctrines when you do not hold yourselves to that standard. Likewise, it is you that create a double standard when you insist that we distort what Protestants believe and yet Protestant apologists have no qualms from misstating what we believe. Your post to me is full of such misunderstandings.

You wrote: Both DA & Sungenis should be going to their local bishop, and that bishop should be going to the authority above him and so on, until it gets back to your infallible Magisterium. Let your infallible authority tell us which of the Rock ‘Em Sock “Em Robots is right.

First, thank you for your concern about Messrs Armstrong and Sungenis. I am gratified to see an apologist, such as yourself, expressing such sentiments. However, considering that this paper is already 19 pages long, single spaced, I would ask that you first review how the Magisterium operates. There are some very good books out there by Fr. Sullivan and Cardinal Dulles that explain how the Magisterium defines, interprets and clarifies doctrines.

BTW, I find it interesting that you expect the Magisterium to work like an information desk at the local library. Do you know how long it took for the Church to resolve the questions raised by the Arian controversy?

And since you believe that your method of resolving doctrinal disputes works better than the Catholic system, please describe how it would work to make a determination of the matter between Messrs. Armstrong and Sungenis and make it binding on them so that the person on the wrong side of the issue will obey that determination.

You wrote: "If you guys can’t do this, then, I suggest you Mr. Hoffer, start a movement within Catholic apologetics called “Let’s Cease The Double Standards Against Protestants” (LCTDSAP), in fact, we’ll help you over here. You appear to be reasonable person. All we need is a few reasonable Catholic apologists to face the music and admit the Catholic apologetic community has been out of tune with their argumentation for 500 years. You could be….a Catholic apologetics Reformer! You could be the guy who finally says, "enough is enough!" "We have to try a different approach here... we can't keep using a standard that we ourselves don't keep."

My Response: Well here is some testimony that you can’t ignore that disproves your notion.

Pope John Paul II opines:

The unity of the faith, for the sake of which the Magisterium has authority and ultimate deliberative power in interpreting the Word of God written and handed down, is a primary value, which, if respected, does not involve the stifling of theological research, but provides it with a stable foundation. Theology, in its task of making explicit the intelligible content of the faith, expresses the intrinsic orientation of human intelligence to the truth and the believer's irrepressible need rationally to explore the revealed mystery.
To achieve this end, theology can never be reduced to the "private" reflection of a theologian or group of theologians.

The Church is the theologian's vital environment, and in order to remain faithful to its identity, theology cannot fail to participate deeply in the fabric of the Church's life, doctrine, holiness and prayer.

Magisterium Is a Service to the Truth

This is the context in which the conviction that theology needs the living and clarifying word of the Magisterium becomes fully understandable and perfectly consistent with the logic of the Christian faith. The meaning of the Church's Magisterium must be considered in relation to the truth of Christian doctrine. This is what your Congregation has carefully explained and spelled out in the Instruction Donum veritatis on the ecclesial vocation of the theologian.

The fact that the dogmatic development which culminated in the solemn definition of the First Vatican Council has stressed the Magisterium's charism of infallibility and clarified the conditions of its exercise must not lead to the Magisterium's being considered only from this standpoint. Its power and its authority are actually the power and authority of Christian truth, to which it bears witness. The Magisterium, whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ (cf. Dei Verbum, n. 10), is an organ of service to the truth and is responsible for seeing that the truth does not cease to be faithfully handed on throughout human history. Address to Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith 24 November 1995


Mr. Mark Shea offers the following corroborative evidence here:

“We refer our judgment to the judgment of the Church and check to see if our opinions conflict with what God has spoken through her authoritative voice. If our judgment does conflict, we assume it is our judgment that needs correction, not the Church, which St. Paul calls the “pillar and bulwark of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).”


Likewise, Dave Armstrong discusses the notion that Catholics practice a reasoned “private judgment” and that ultimately that decision boils down to a matter of faith here.

Or since you like Mr. Madrid so much, here is a quote from him:

We hold, like our Protestant brothers and sisters, that the act of submission to truth will not constrict and crush, but will free and train us to walk in the glorious liberty of the children of God. The only difference is that the authoritative bearer of truth, say Catholics, is first the Church and, dependent on that Church, the Bible which the Church produced. That is because, as Scripture itself says, the Church is "the pillar and foundation of the truth" (1 Tim. 3:15).

To deny this need for submission to the Church is not to achieve freedom but to destroy for ourselves the only pillar and foundation of the truth Christ has given us. I am persuaded that Mormonism, Sweden borgianism, Shirley MacLaine-ism, freedom-of-choice-ism, and all the other fragmented isms and rhetoric of the Imperial Autonomous Self, whether religious or secular, are nothing other than what happens when private judgment is not subject to the apostolic authority of the Church to bind and loose and declare what is and is not the content of the faith. Only by submission to the pillar and foundation God has ordained can we know the truth--and the truth shall make us free.”


Phil Porvaznik and Apolonio Latar have posted on their website a discussion on Catholicism and Private Judgment where they quote Henry G. Graham, a convert to Catholicism from his book What Faith Really Means:

"So far, then, from being debasing or dishonoring to our intellect, we consider the Catholic attitude to be the most beautiful and sublime act of homage to Our Divine Lord; we are honoring and adoring Him Who is the first and essential Truth.

"Renouncing our own judgment! Giving up our freedom! Of course we renounce our own judgment when God has spoken; of course we give up our freedom to believe the opposite of what God teaches. Protestants do the same. A Protestant who believes in the Blessed Trinity because God has revealed it -- does he not renounce his own judgment upon it? A Protestant who believes in Hell or in the Incarnation -- where is his freedom to reject it, without sin? So, if God declares that the Blessed Virgin was conceived Immaculate, or that there is a Purgatory, or that the Holy Eucharist is the real Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, shall we say, 'I am not sure about that. I must examine it for myself; I must see whether it is true, whether it is Scriptural?' Let who will take upon themselves such a responsibility.

"On matters, indeed that Almighty God has been pleased to leave open questions, we are free to hold our own opinions, and there is a wide field here where discussion is not only permissible, but right and proper, and, it may be, even laudable. Thousands of volumes have been written on such subjects by theologians and priests. In such a sphere they have perfect liberty; the Church allows it. Moreover, not only does the Church allow, but she gladly encourages, the wisest, the most devout and learned of her sons to undertake researches into the mysteries already defined to be doctrines of faith; not, of course, for the purpose of finding whether they are true, but for the purpose of explanation, instruction, edification; of discovering and unfolding to the faithful more and more the inexhaustible treasures of Heavenly truth that lie imbedded in any one of the articles of the Faith.

"The world has been enriched by whole libraries of Catholic theology -- dogmatic, moral, ascetical, mystical, and the rest. To speak, then, of the intellect being paralyzed and of the spiritual faculties being deadened by the 'Romish system' is simply ludicrous. Neither the religious literature of Protestantism, nor the finished product of their spiritual system as seen in the lives of its devotees, is to be mentioned in the same breath with that of the Catholic Church.

"When we speak of private judgment, then, let us be quite clear as to what we mean; it has its uses and it has its abuses. Private judgment, in the sense of compiling a creed for yourself out of the Bible, of accepting this doctrine and rejecting that, of judging what should be and what should not be an integral part of the truth revealed by God -- this, of course, is entirely forbidden, for it is directly contrary to the method of arriving at the truth instituted by Our Lord Jesus Christ. Do people imagine that the Son of God, having revealed a body of truth definite and explicit, eternal and unchangeable, left it to us to cut and carve, and to pick and choose here and there such bits of it as suited our taste? What the better should we be today, what advantage would the Incarnation have brought to us, if, after all, we were still floundering about in doubt and uncertainty?

"Far other is the Catholic conception of Christ's mission. So soon as Our Divine Lord, speaking through the voice of His Church, solemnly declares, 'This is My teaching: this is included in the Revelation I made to the Apostles.' -- what Christian, I ask, or rather, what man that fears God, Christian or not, will dare to hesitate to bow in acquiescence, and say, 'O my God, I believe because Thou hast said it' ? ....

"The use of private judgment, on the other hand, in the sense of an inquiry into the 'motives of credibility,' and a study of the evidences for the Faith, to enable you to find out which is the one Church founded by Jesus Christ -- this is permissible, and not only permissible, but strictly necessary for all outside the Fold who wish to save their souls. But mark well: having once found the true Church, private judgment of this kind ceases; having discovered the authority established by God, you must submit to it at once. There is no need of further search for the doctrines contained in the Christian Gospel, for the Church brings them all with her and will teach you them all. You have sought for the Teacher sent by God, and you have secured him; what need of further speculation?

"Your private judgment has led you into the Palace of Truth, and it leaves you there, for its task is done; the mind is at rest, the soul is satisfied, the whole being reposes in the enjoyment of Truth itself, who can neither deceive nor be deceived....

'Be convinced,' says Cardinal Newman in his great sermon, 'Faith and Doubt' -- 'be convinced in your reason that the Catholic Church is a teacher sent to you from God, and it is enough....You must come to the Church to learn; you must come, not to bring your own notions to her, but with the intention of ever being a learner; you must come with the intention of taking her for your portion, and of never leaving her. Do not come as an experiment, do not come as you would take sittings in a chapel or tickets for a lecture-room; come to her as to your home, to the school of your souls, to the Mother of Saints, and to the vestibule of Heaven.' "

Contrary to what you assert to your readers that we Catholics believe, we do not claim that Catholic Faith is fully written out by the Magisterium. We do not have an infallibly defined bible concordance or official infallible St. Peter the Apostle Bible Commentary (although I do wonder if the Bible is so perspicuous as you believe why there are so many different Protestant concordances and commentaries all saying something different). The Magisterium is silent on a large number of topics and intervenes only when a controversy or necessity demands an authoritative interpretation. Believe or not, we Catholics do believe that the Bible is pretty perspicuous and a large number of things can be discerned using our own reason and knowledge. However, when uncertainty arises, the Magisterium is there to make sure we have not misunderstood.

Furthermore, the testimony of the current Catholic apologists above demonstrate that they are not “out of tune” with what the Church teaches. Rather, your view is the same erroneous view that has been asserted by your predecessors for the last 500 years which has been consistently refuted by Catholic apologists time and time again. Please feel free to give any Catholic who does happen to erroneously assert a position of “absolute certainty” or a kind of unity that is contrary to what the Church teaches my e-mail address and I will be happy to correct them.

Since there already has been one Paul Hoffer who was a reformer (Speratus is Latin for Hoffer), I must respectfully decline your invitation as I would not want to cause confusion.

You wrote: And then, simply argue honestly and point out that Roman Catholics want everyone to accept their authority paradigm as a beginning presupposition. That is, you guys want us to make a leap of faith and accept your unproven beginning faith claim. Sure, you can argue your church is old, and that you have all sorts of cool rituals, and the like. But these arguments that somehow Rome is unified have to stop. They're making you guys look very silly.

My Response: I trust that you have found that I have been arguing this matter honestly and consistently. Furthermore, I have also acknowledge that all authority paradigms are based on beginning presuppositions. I happen to believe based on what I studied thus far, our belief in an authoritative Church is the proper conclusion based on Scripture, history and reason, as well as faith. As far as making leaps of faith and accepting unproven beginning faith claims, I would merely point to history and argue that every heresy was confronted, refuted and defeated by, through, and of the Church. Sola scriptura or private judgment did not turn aside these challenges. The Church used the authority to teach and decide doctrines as Christ gave it.

Finally, while you claim that the argument for an unified Catholicism is silly, can you point to one time in history when sola scriptura, private judgment or one of other Protestant substitutes for papal and magisterial authority actually confuted a heresy?

God bless and thank you for allowing me to participate over on your blog. Despite our differences, I truly do think that you and yours are brothers and sisters in Christ and I do pray that God keeps you and them in the palm of His hand.

I will leave you with some thoughts by John Henry Newman from his Discourses to Mixed Congregations:

It is perfectly true that the Church does not allow her children to entertain any doubt of her teaching; and that, first of all, simply for this reason, because they are Catholics only while they have faith, and faith is incompatible with doubt. No one can be a Catholic without a simple faith, that what the Church declares in God's name, is God's word, and therefore true. A man must simply believe that the Church is the oracle of God; he must be as certain of her mission, as he is of the mission of the Apostles. Now, would any one ever call him certain that the Apostles came from God, if, after professing his certainty, he added, that perhaps he might have reason to doubt one day about their mission? Such an anticipation would be a real, though latent, doubt, betraying that he was not certain of it at present. A person who says, "I believe just at this moment, but perhaps I am excited without knowing it, and I cannot answer for myself, that I shall believe tomorrow," does not believe now. A man who says, "Perhaps I am in a kind of delusion, which will one day pass away from me, and leave me as I was before"; or "I believe as far as I can tell, but there may be arguments in the background which will change my view," such a man has not faith at all. When, then, Protestants quarrel with us for saying that those who join us must give up all ideas of ever doubting the Church in time to come, they do nothing else but quarrel with us for insisting on the necessity of faith in her. Let them speak plainly; our offence is that of demanding faith in the Holy Catholic Church; it is this, and nothing else. I must insist upon this: faith implies a confidence in a man's mind, that the thing believed is really true; but, if it is once true, it never can be false. If it is true that God became man, what is the meaning of my anticipating a time when perhaps I shall not believe that God became man? This is nothing short of anticipating a time when I shall disbelieve a truth. And if I bargain to be allowed in time to come not to believe, or to doubt, that God became man, I am but asking to be allowed to doubt or disbelieve what I hold to be an eternal truth. I do not see the privilege of such a permission at all, or the meaning of wishing to secure it:—if at present I have no doubt whatever about it, then I am but asking leave to fall into error; if at present I have doubts about it, then I do not believe it at present, that is, I have not faith. But I cannot both really believe it now, and yet look forward to a time when perhaps I shall not believe it; to make provision for future doubt, is to doubt at present. It proves I am not in a fit state to become a Catholic now. I may love by halves, I may obey by halves; I cannot believe by halves: either I have faith, or I have it not.

And so again, when a man has become a Catholic, were he to set about following out a doubt which has occurred to him, he has already disbelieved. I have not to warn him against losing his faith, he is not merely in danger of losing it, he has lost it; from the nature of the case he has already lost it; he fell from grace at the moment when he deliberately entertained and pursued his doubt. No one can determine to doubt what he is already sure of; but if he is not sure that the Church is from God, he does not believe it. It is not I who forbid him to doubt; he has taken the matter into his own hands when he determined on asking for leave; he has begun, not ended, in unbelief; his very wish, his purpose, is his sin. I do not make it so, it is such from the very state of the case. You sometimes hear, for example, of Catholics falling away, who will tell you it arose from reading the Scriptures, which opened their eyes to the "unscripturalness," so they speak, of the Church of the Living God. No, Scripture did not make them disbelieve (impossible!); they disbelieved when they opened the Bible; they opened it in an unbelieving spirit, and for an unbelieving purpose; they would not have opened it, had they not anticipated—I might say, hoped—that they should find things there inconsistent with Catholic teaching. They begin in self-will and disobedience, and they end in apostasy. This, then, is the direct and obvious reason why the Church cannot allow her children the liberty of doubting the truth of her word. He who really believes in it now, cannot imagine the future discovery of reasons to shake his faith; if he imagines it, he has not faith; and that so many Protestants think it a sort of tyranny in the Church to forbid any children of hers to doubt about her teaching, only shows they do not know what faith is—which is the case; it is a strange idea to them. Let a man cease to inquire, or cease to call himself her child.

Amen!

Yours in Christ Jesus,

/S/ Paul R. Hoffer
On the Feastday of St. Thomas Aquinas

22 comments:

Reginald de Piperno said...

Hi Paul -

This is very, very good. Thank you!

-- RdP

Daniel Montoro said...

I give this blog an A+ on conent. This is a thinkers blog. Cool!

Daniel Montoro said...

HAHAHA, so much for a thinker huh? I meant "content"

Wintrowski said...

Paul

"And to be frank, Protestants give lip service to the notion of sola scriptura, but the dirty secret is that the notion of freedom of conscience..."

This is exactly the point I was belabouring on this post over at Beggars All, but you give it a much better treatment here.

Your prolific output constantly impresses me, Paul. I envy the amount of spare time you seem to have.

Agellius said...

Excellent work. Perspicuous and thorough. Thank you.

Ken Temple said...

That was a really long article! Even longer than a lot of Dave Armstrong's stuff! ( Which is quite a feat!)

Paul, you are very reasonable and fair, and intelligent; even though I disagree with your presuppositions and conclusions about the RCC and history. I am still trying to digest this massive tome, so just a few comments:


Sola scriptura or private judgment did not turn aside these challenges.

Actually, Sola Scriptura made a judgment on the RCC as a church that had lost its way and a church that was not preaching the gospel or the Scriptures, and restored the truth that Scripture is above the church, and that the church should submit to the voice of the Holy Spirit in the Scriptures.

The Church used the authority to teach and decide doctrines as Christ gave it.

You are assuming Christ gave those teachings; He did not give them; - such teachings as Perpetual Virginity of Mary (4th - 8th Centuries); icons and statues usage in worship as ok; Mary as a mediator; dulia and hyper-dulia; transubstantiation 1215, Trent's condemnation of justification by faith alone ( 1545-1564); IC of Mary (1854), Infallibility of Pope (1870); and BA of Mary (1950). These are all additions and distortions of the pure gospel in the Scriptures.

Finally, while you claim that the argument for an unified Catholicism is silly, can you point to one time in history when sola scriptura, private judgment or one of other Protestant substitutes for papal and magisterial authority actually confuted a heresy?

It contradicts and rebukes the Papal doctrine of infallibility, and the other heresies above.

Ken Temple said...

I also think Newman is wrong to parallel doubt as the opposite of faith - unbelief is the opposite of faith, not doubt. Doubt is normal and human and has varying degrees. Even here the man is struggling with "yes and no", but he admits his weakness and that is the key.

The man said to Jesus, "I do believe, help my unbelief!" Mark 9:24 The confession of unbelief and struggle is what brings the man into faith. God requires faith in Him, faith in Christ; but not faith in an infallible church. Mere human Leaders can go wrong; which history has proven.

The bottom line is that the Scriptures are credible to trust without fear because they are infallible and true; whereas the RCC is not trustworthy because of the false doctrines that it added (some of them listed above) and proclaimed itself infallible 1870 years later in history; and shut down all discussion. (except on the internet!)

Ken Temple said...

By the way, Dave Armstrong was right, for the most part, in his debate with Sungenis; because Scripture shows it on those issues. "God without mood swings" by Phil Johnson was a great link. God is immutable.

He banned me from commenting; only because I sincerely believe that Trent anathematized the heart of the gospel; so I wanted to comment here.

But the main point was that the RCC does seem to always castigate Protestants on disunity, and blame Sola Scriptura and private interpretation for it; when RCCs have lots of disagreements also. External unity without internal unity is no good. Most of RCC unity is an external unity; a veneer.

Ken Temple said...

However, it is fair to say that we Catholics do chastise Protestants for having disagreements resulting from their abuse of using their “private judgment” and using it to subject the Scriptures to your whims.

Some churches do that; but those that follow Sola Scriptura and Toto Scriptura do not "subject it to their whims". I don’t see how anyone could think that Reformed Calvinism is what a person would want left to their own whims. Humans would naturally try to get around Unconditinal Election, Total Depravity, Effectual Grace, Particular Atonement, and God’s Sovereignty and Providence over all things while at the same time holding humans responsible for their sin. As C. S. Lewis wrote, “If Christianity were something we were making up, of course it would be easier. But it wasn’t. We can’t compete, in simplicity, with people who are inventing religions. How could we? We dealing with fact. Of course anyone can be simple if he has no facts to bother about.”

The RCC after 500 began to make up its own religion by adding all those false doctrines.

Paul Hoffer said...

Hi all, thank you so much for the complements! I will be posting a follow up to this sometime this week recounting Messrs. Wintrowski, Montoro, and others efforts to address a contention raised over at Beggars all that the Early Church Fathers weren't our fathers, but of some other church.

Hello Rev. Temple. I hope you are well. While we do disagree on a lot of the things, I will always appreciate the charitable way you chided me about an unfair comment I had made about Professor White and the kind words you wrote when I had made amends. You are always welcome here. One of the reasons that I started this blog was to deal with what I see are unfair comments. There is nothing wrong with defending one's position, but it is never right to do so in an unfair way by distorting what the other side holds.

Just a "brief" reponse to some of your comments...

You said, "Sola Scriptura made a judgment on the RCC as a church that had lost its way and a church that was not preaching the gospel or the Scriptures, and restored the truth that Scripture is above the church, and that the church should submit to the voice of the Holy Spirit in the Scriptures."

My query: When did that occur? And where is that recorded? Or did you leave something out?

You wrote: "You are assuming Christ gave those teachings; He did not give them..."

My response: No. I would never say that. Christ did not render those decisions. He gave the Church the authority to make those decisions and rules by which it was to follow in making those decisions over doctrine.

You wrote: "These [doctrines] are all additions and distortions of the pure gospel in the Scriptures."

My response: I hear this charge all the time. How exactly does the perpetual virginity of Mary, her immaculate conception, or her assumption or the other things you mentioned, take away from the Gospel? Would not these examples of how grace worked in Mary's life from the moment of conception actually demonstrate of the power of God's grace and give an examplar of His love for His creation?

How does a word that merely defines the miracle of the Real Presence add to the Gospel when it gives meaning to the words Our Savior spoke at the Last Supper? Since Christ performed miracles to encourage belief that He was the Messiah during His ministry, would not His continuing to perform a miracle at His Eucharist in His Church not encourage belief that He truly died for our sins and that He is the Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity?

How does Trent's condemnation of Luther's definition of "faith alone" and substituting a definition that true faith is one that acts through love harmful to the Gospel message?

How does the question of whether the Pope is infallible have any bearing on the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Is not the sole purpose of such a doctrine merely to give that message a warranty of infallibility itself?

You see where I am going with this?

I wrote: "[C]an you point to one time in history when sola scriptura, private judgment or one of other Protestant substitutes for papal and magisterial authority actually confuted a heresy?

You ansswered: "It contradicts and rebukes the Papal doctrine of infallibility, and the other heresies above."

My query: Papal infallibility was defined in 1870. After that date, when did sola scriptura contradict and rebuke that doctrine?

You wrote: "[U]nbelief is the opposite of faith, not doubt.

My response: Not when faith means trust.

BTW, I liked your C.S. Lewis quote. Is that out of Mere Christianity?

God bless!

Jamie Donald said...

Paul,

Very well writ! Thank you!

As for myself, I would have taken an entirely different approach. While mine is extremely simplified with respect to yours, I still think they can be harmonized.

After reading Mr Swan the first time, I saw the "double standard" claim asserted against the Catholic Church: namely that there appears to be equivalent disharmony and disunity within the Catholic Church as Catholics claim exists in protestantism. After re-reading Swan (and after being influenced by your article), I now also see the basic question, "Why do we need Tradition and a Magesterium."

It appears you have truly focused on the latter. I would humbly attempt to rebut the former assertion.

I hope it is not offensive if I use our friend, Rev Ken Temple, and his church as an example. I am certain that at Ken's church he would say there is a unity in teaching and doctrine amongst the ministers who collectively pastor the flock. If Ken is the only pastor at his church, then there is definite unity of doctrine as he is the only teacher. If there are more than Ken, then I am supposing that they exegete Scripture together, discuss it, and come to a unified understanding of our Lord's word. Ken would probably tell us that this process is very fulfilling and satisfying.

So any reasonable person would conclude that there is a unity of doctrine and teaching at Ken's church. But is this true for every single member of the congregation who sits in the pews? No reasonable person would assume that each and every member of the congregation is at the same spiritual level as the church's pastor(s). Some are new on their faith journey. Others are well intentioned, but misguided and lack understanding - and require more teaching. Even Jesus tells us that there will be weeds amongst the true crop. The reasonable person would expect these "weeds" to espouse incorrect and/or inaccurate doctrine. And finally, there will be those who understand the teachings just as Ken does.

The question here is this: Does this level of disunity in the pews reflect a disunity in the teaching and doctrine of Ken's church? I don't think Ken would say that they do. I suspect he would continue to claim that there is a teaching unity w/in his church, and that the very fact of differences in understanding of his congregation highlight the very need for unity in the teaching staff. And I would agree with him!

The "disunity" to which Swan and other protestants point in the Catholic Church is the same "disunity" that exists in the pews of Ken's church. In the pews of any church - protestant or Catholic. Swan never points to a disunity in the official doctrine and teaching of the Catholic Church.

He may not like the means at which a dispute can be resolved. He may not like how long it takes to resolve many of the disputes. He may not like the approach where some issues is allowed to be within a spectrum (with clearly defined boundaries to show when someone is outside of that spectrum). But he knows there is a means to discover the actual doctrine of the church (just as I could ask Ken what some specific doctrine of his church is), and Swan knows that process is unified. So he avoids the disunity assertion at that point.

However, when the Catholic makes the charge of disunity against protestantism, he is not arguing the "congregation in the pews" case. Instead, the Catholic is question. If we are to assume that sola scriptura is true, then why are there so many different sets of doctrines from supposedly "official teaching/pastoral positions" which spring forth from sola scriptura? If it is true, then why this level of official doctrinal disunity? If a Catholic to try to consider adopting a sola scriptura position, why should he prefer Reformed Baptist over Lutheranism, Anglicanism, Primitive Baptism, Presbyterianism, some small fundamentalist nondenominational church, etc?

Protestants are unable to answer that basic question. They each say, "You should prefer my form because it most closely matches the Bible." In other words, in spite of their differences, I should believe in each for the exact same reason! The differences are not resolved. In fact, they remain unresolvable. So we are left with a cacophony of "official doctrinal voices" -- much different from "in the pews" issue.

In Swan's case, we are left with 3 potential choices: 1) he does not understand the difference between the Catholic's claim of disunity generated by sola scriptura and his own counterclaim against Catholocism; 2) he feels there are not doctrinal differences among the various protestant denominations; or 3) he does understand the differences between the Catholic charge of disunity and his own counter charge.

If (1) is true, then I hope this explanation helps point out the difference.

If he believes (2), then I would have to question his public statements to the contrary (for example, he recently said at his own blog that he does not agree with everything that Luther said doctrinally).

However, if (3) is correct, and Swan does understand the difference in the arguments, then Swan is the one employing the double standard. In effect, he would be saying that the Catholic faithful are an equivalent to those pastors and leaders in protestant denominations who make doctrinal determinations.

Ken Temple said...

Thanks Paul,

I will try to answer some easier questions and get the harder ones later as it is late for me.

Yes, the C. S. Lewis quote is from Mere Christianity, p. 145 in the last section, "Beyond Personality".

you wrote:
"How exactly does the perpetual virginity of Mary, her immaculate conception, or her assumption or the other things you mentioned, take away from the Gospel?"

They exalted Mary too much and makes her the focus of the RCC; the statues and prayers to her, and those doctrines and beliefs about her that are not in the Scripture take away glory that only the Tri-une God deserves.

Those things were also a bad witness to the Arab World that later became Islam. Quran, Surah 5:116 - Muhammad thought the Trinity was the Father, the Son, and the Mother. To this day, millions of Muslims still think the Trinity is this; a blasphemous idea. It was a bad witness; the early church began to go off the rails slowly after 451 AD; or 529 AD ( Orange).

The system of works takes away from the gospel.

Sola Scriptura and the Reformations stemmed heresy by forming new churches that millions of people could go to and hear the gospel. The exact date? in General, 1517; 1521 and afterward.

Do you see where I am going with this?

No; I don't get it. The RCC defines these things as de fide; that is; they are part of the gospel according to Rome. They take away from "grace alone, through faith alone; but that faith does not stay alone; it works and produces change and fruit and good works".

Ken Temple said...

Jamie,
Thanks for trying. The bottom line is that the little disagreements that Protestants have with each other over baptism, spiritual gifts, Predestination vs. Free will; Lord's supper, elders vs. congregational rule vs. senior pastor; etc.

are all minor and small

compared to the doctrines and dogmas that the RCC holds onto; exalting Mary beyond what Scripture says eclipses true worship to God and is a bad testimony and gives apperance of idolatry - the bowing down in front of statues - both John Paul II and Benedict XVI have done this and it genuinely looks like idolatry.

Indulgences, teachings on mortal sins, purgatory, transubstantiation, etc. - all of these things are much more serious violations of Scripture; so it does not matter if Protestants have disagreements on those things like baptism, etc. they are small in comparison to the bigger issues and sins that RCC promotes with its false doctrine.

Later . . .

Jamie Donald said...

Ken,

Either you do not understand my point, or you are deliberately ignoring it. Either way, you did not interact with it at all.

By refusing to interact, you may remain safe in your illusion about sola scriptura being a source of doctrinal unity. Two quick examples are baptismal regeneration where the act of baptism does pour out true and effectual Grace. When a Lutheran or Anglican says this, it is all minor and small in terms of difference from your belief. When a Catholic says it, he is engaging in a works-based theology and semipelagianism at best. The other is in terms of consubstantiation, where these same groups would close their communion to you because you do not believe Christ to be physically present in the articles of the Eucharist. Again, more than a minor and small difference. Your blind eye to protestant disunity leads you into hipocracy.

Ken Temple said...

Jamie,
I was a little surprised at your tone here. I do understand your point; but I will grant you that I did not have time to interact with details.

I got the main point though. I disagree. That is not hypocrisy. And I continue to assert that those differences are minor compared to the massive differences between RCC and Protestantism.


You are bringing up lots of Protestant disunity and I am telling you again that all of that is minor and small compared to the ugly and unbiblical doctrines that the RCC has by their own arrogance declared it so, just because they declare it so.

You wrote:
"If we are to assume that sola scriptura is true, then why are there so many different sets of doctrines from supposedly "official teaching/pastoral positions" which spring forth from sola scriptura?

We all admit that there are those issues that make the different denominations - Presbyterians, Lutherans, Anglicans, Baptists, Methodists, Pentecostals, etc.


If it is true, then why this level of official doctrinal disunity?

Some of the differences are more serious than others, but they still are not as serious as the RCC beliefs that all of these denominations agree are wrong. We are all unified in a stance against the RCC, at least at the beginning; and liberals don't count.

If a Catholic to try to consider adopting a sola scriptura position, why should he prefer Reformed Baptist over Lutheranism, Anglicanism, Primitive Baptism, Presbyterianism, some small fundamentalist nondenominational church, etc?

Read the Scriptures; and you are free to find a conservative church near your home that beleives in the Bible and fits your style more. But liberal churches don't count.

You seem to be forgetting another aspect of what happened in Europe and the fact that the RCC was married to the politics and state and had the power to execute people; at least the RCC tried people as heretics and then handed them over to the state for execution and torture.

The big reason why we have freedom to choose between these denominations and styles is because we got rid of the idea of the Church forcing people to submit by torture and execution.

Protestants are unable to answer that basic question.

I have answered it; you just don't like my answer. You want dogmatic decrees on those minor issues between the Protestant churches and we are mature enough to accept the differences. We do not have a "cookie cutter" mentality.

They each say, "You should prefer my form because it most closely matches the Bible." In other words, in spite of their differences, I should believe in each for the exact same reason!

Yes, you and I and humans should be free from oppression and force in the matter of church minor doctrines.

The differences are not resolved. In fact, they remain unresolvable.

You cannot handle that; because your church wants to force all the Prostestants to have statues and bow down and pray to Mary and submit to the Pope. we would rather have our disunity over memorial or Spiritual presence or consubstantiation in the Lord's supper and infant baptism, etc. than submit to the false doctrines of the RCC.

So we are left with a cacophony of "official doctrinal voices" -- much different from "in the pews" issue.

I understand your point about the disagreement between Dave Armstrong and Robert Sungenis being an "in the pew" laypeople; verses the unity of the official RCC; etc. The problem is that you and your RCC apologists keep saying that "Sola Scrptura" is not workable" - workable means, practical. The disunity among RCs with Sedevanticists, Trad Rads; Latin Mass, women priests advocates, homo advocates, annulment and divorce grants from some priests and bishops, liberals, etc. are valid examples for us to bring up as "unworkable" - your unity does not "work" either, no matter unified the official Popes and cardinals in Rome are; and no matter "cookie cutter" the ceremonies are.

Ken Temple said...

By refusing to interact, you may remain safe in your illusion about sola scriptura being a source of doctrinal unity.

It is not an illusion; I realize that Protestant churches disagree on baptism and the Lord's Supper, to take your two examples.

Compared to the idolatry of the transubstantiation/genuflecting/tablenacle/sacrifice/violation of Hebrews chapters 7-10/priestly ex opera operato sacerdotal powers/ etc. yes, those differences among Protestants are minor.

Compared to the appearance of idolatry of praying to Mary and all the other doctrines and dogmas about her that you have; yes every Protentant disagreement is Minor compared to that. (except for liberals who don't believe in the Virgin Birth or resurrection or don't think homosexuality is a sin. They are apostates and don't count.)

Ken Temple said...

When a Catholic says it, he is engaging in a works-based theology and semipelagianism at best.

Yes, that is true; you are beginning to understand.

Jamie Donald said...

Ken,

I was a little surprised that you were a little surprised at [my] tone. I seem to recall that in another forum you were accused of being "arrogant." You answered this charge by saying that you are firm in your belief and thought it was in loving charity that you were sharing your viewpoint. I would say that I am simply being equally firm in my belief.

You state that you understood my position, but did not interact with it due to shortness of time. However, you did have the time to respond (the first time - before my "surprising" answer) with quips that did not address any of the points I had made. This would not be the first time that you really didn't address my thoughts when answering me, but in the history of our own interaction has been that when either of us must beg off of a substantive answer due to the limits of time, we say so explicitly.

That did not happen. Instead, you started your response with nice try and ended it with later. This communicates a dismissive tone which I feel is very inappropriate.

I also recall that in the same response to accusations about your "arrogance," you stated you would try to better show your firmness of faith while trying to avoid being offensive, but asked that we, Catholics, attempt to see you as showing your beliefs rather than seeing (and taking) offense. I put forth the same statement to you. I have never purposely misrepresented your positions. You know that I have frequently asked for clarification to ensure that I understand you properly. And you also know that there are times when Catholics have levied a charge against you and I have answered to the effect, "But Ken didn't really say that." So I will do my best to avoid being offensive. But at the same time, I ask you to not be surprised if I show firmness of my faith.

With that out of the way, I still feel as if you truly do not understand the point I was trying to make. It's almost as if my Uncle Otto (who owned an apple orchard in MI) were to say to my grandfather-in-law (who owned citrus trees in FL), "Ed, there are so many different types of citrus fruits that it's difficult to tell which one is best!" Only to have my grandfather-in-law answer, "Otto, that doesn't matter because apples aren't a citrus fruit." No one is questioning that there are differences between Catholics and protestants. So to rail against your perceive sins of the RCC does not even begin to address the issue.

The question is whether or not doctrinal disunity within protestantism is the same as disunity within the Catholic Church? The follow-on states that if the disunities are the same, then sola scriptura should not be attributed as a causing factor in disunity among protestants. Do you see that nothing here even approaches the subject of disunity of teaching between the Catholic Church and protestantism? It's not even a part of the topic!

I maintain that if you are going to discuss unity or disunity of doctrine of a church, then you need to go to the leaders who determine that doctrine. Simply going to adherents of that particular faith is fallacious because each is at a different point of his or her journey and level of understanding, and will therefore provide answers with varying degrees of conformity to the doctrine actually taught within that church. So in the case of your church, I would go to you and your plurality of elders to see what doctrines were taught.

But the protestant apologist does not reciprocate the same favor when addressing the Catholic Church. Instead of going to offical books, such as the Catechism, or official documents (most of which are available on line), the protestant apologist will point to differences in unofficial sources. He might point to the differences between the Thomist and Molinist schools on predestination. In this example, the protestant apologist makes something out of nothing by ignoring the fact that both schools affirm predestination (that it occurs is the official doctrine), while giving different thoughts on how God brings it about. In other words, both schools are unified in the doctrine!

In your own case, you bring up Sedevanticists, Trad Rads; Latin Mass, women priests advocates, homo advocates, annulment and divorce grants from some priests and bishops, liberals, etc. Ignoring the fairly glaring error about divorce, you will note that not a one of these groups determine doctrine for the Catholic Church. Instead, if they wish to remain in communion with the Church, they must discipline themselves to remain true to the Church's teachings in spite of the fact that, left to their own devices, they would go another direction. Many who have gone that other direction anyway (especially many of the Sedevanticists) have excommunicated themselves (canon law says it's automatic and does not require a specific proclaimation from the Church). So in order to make your point inclusive of Catholic doctrinal disunity, you have to go to groups which separate themselves from the Church. But pointing to a group outside the Church does not demonstrate disunity within it.

Still you say that these various unofficial groups within Catholocism make our claim of unity a veneer and say that they are valid examples for us [protestants] to bring up as "unworkable" and tell us that our [Catholic] unity does not "work" either. You do realize that by use of the word "either," you admit to protestant disunity. And you do in such a context as to imply that disunity doesn't matter. If this is the case, then why go through with this elaborate comparison between protestant doctrinal disunity and Catholic "in the pews" disunity? Wouldn't it be much more effective to say that the disunity argument doesn't impact sola scriptura because unity is not important?

But you must recall that I do not dispute there are adherents to the Catholic faith who do not accurately espouse all which the Catholic Church teaches. As I said above, we are all at different points of our faith journey. Likewise, I personally know protestants who have espoused ideas which reflect arianism, pelagianism, aspects of montanism, and openly questioned whether or not the Holy Spirit was a person in the Godhead. I also knew which churches these people attended at the time the proclaimed these ideas and knew that their pastors did not teach any of the concepts that these individuals voiced. I do not view this as a reflection on any of their churches' doctrines, nor would I view it as a reflection on your church's doctrine were I to find similar ideas voiced by anyone in your congregation.

Now you are essentially claiming that the doctrinal differences within protestantism are negligible by saying they are all minor and small. I would disagree. You seem to have some very major issues with the "claim it/reap it" crowd (Kenneth Copeland) as well as "liberal" protestant churches. Yet these groups would claim sola scriptura as their basis (and you do not give a useful tool to determine "liberal"). Additionally, the idea that the blessed bread is the [physical] body of Christ is not minor to a Lutheran or Anglican. (My mother's Lutheran pastor made a 4-1/2 hour drive to give her communion on her deathbed).

You also say that I cannot accept your answer because I want dogmatic decrees on those minor issues, and that I, because I am a Catholic, want to force all the Prostestants to have statues and bow down and pray to Mary and submit to the Pope. You are incorrect when you ascribe these motives to me. I simply want to know the Truth. And I believe that there can be only one Truth.

Let's examine your suggestion on how I might find that Truth. If your opinion of the Catholic Church's position on the Scripture is that our system is sola eclessia, then your advice to me to find any church that matches my "style" based on my position on the Scripture is truly sola Jamie. It's truly the same thing because you are telling me to fit something to my view of the Scripture rather than me conforming myself to God's Word. There's a few problems with this. First, you don't believe in sola Jamie. I mean you really don't believe it! Because after reading the Scripture, the Church which most closely matches my "style" is the Catholic Church. The second problem is that sola Jamie; like sola Pete, sola John, sola Susie - you know, those people who continually hop from church to church in search of a "style;" is subject to change. But Truth is Truth and does not change.

A further examination of your suggestion continues to reveal problems. If baptismal regeneration is true, then I want to be certain that I am regenerate. After all, my salvation depends on becoming regenerate. However, if it is false, I do not want to be in danger of abandoning the Gospel for some works-based, pelagian heresy. If consubstantiation is true, then I want to truly worship my Lord, physically present before me. However, if it is false, I do not want to fall into the sin of idolatry and become in mortal danger of abandoning the Gospel. Heaven forbid that I should fall prey to one of those "liberal" churches about which you warn me. I should fear for my soul in that case.

But here's the problem. In each of these cases, I could find myself abandoning the Gospel and condemning my soul. You may call that, all minor and small, but I find the state of my soul for the rest of eternity to be a rather large deal. Yet each side of these positions claim to adhere to the principal of sola scriptura and will show me Scripture to back up their point of view. The doctrine of sola scriptura does not provide a resolution. I'm left with sola Jamie - which we both don't think is a very good idea. So barring that, maybe I ought to follow the principal of sola Ken? But I suspect that has as many problems as sola Jamie.

Why do I take issue with "sola Ken?" Because I've seen you take things out of context to suit your needs. From my perspective, this appears to be deliberate. Here is a specific case:

When a Catholic says it, he is engaging in a works-based theology and semipelagianism at best.
Yes, that is true; you are beginning to understand.
The original context is: Two quick examples are baptismal regeneration where the act of baptism does pour out true and effectual Grace. When a Lutheran or Anglican says this, it is all minor and small in terms of difference from your belief. When a Catholic says it, he is engaging in a works-based theology and semipelagianism at best. So you will understand if I say that I am not beginning to understand. If the concept on baptism is "small and minor," then it is "small and minor" no matter who says it; Lutheran, Anglican, Catholic, or EO. If it is a false Gospel of "a works-based theology and semipelagianism at best," then, again, that is what it is regardless of who says it. You either need to admit that your differences with the Catholic Church are smaller and more minor than you inflate them to be, or you must claim that some protestant denominations - ones you would have pointed me to above - do in fact teach a false gospel and should be rejected.

It truly does appear that you deliberately took my comment out of context in order to score a point. I hope this appearance is incorrect and I misunderstood. However, I do ask you to be diligent to maintain context when quoting me in the future. I reiterate my commitment to you to do my best to accurately reflect your views and interact with them. If I have, or in the future do, misrepresent you, it is accidental and unintentional.

Ken Temple said...

Thanks Jamie,

You wrote:
"Your blind eye to protestant disunity leads you into hipocracy."

the tone of saying I am led into "hipocricy" [sic] was what I was referring to; not your firmness and confidence of belief.

Yes, those differences are still minor compared to the chasm of difference between RCC and Protestantism. The baptismal regeneration of Lutheranism and Anglicanism and consubstantiation are still not the same understanding as the RCC doctrine of baptismal regeneration and the transubstantiation.

Anyway, I understand what you are saying - that SS cannot produce unity - it could if all would follow all of Scripture and not ignore the hard parts; at least we would have a more unified church; and all those things I mention DO indeed have relationship to the issue; because the RCC implication is that if SS cannot produce unity, and RCC with Papal Infallibility can; then supposedly this shows that RCC is right.

If the issues that divide us ( PVM, IM, Co-Med., BAof M; PI, Indul. ex opera operato powers, transubt., purgatory, mortal and venial sins; etc. are indeed as bad and unbiblical as all Protestants think they are, then no unity you have is good enough or biblical enough to convince us. It is a unity around falsehood and false doctrines; therefore it is not Biblical unity.

And those issues that we have with each other are small compared to idolatry and a false gospel, etc.

I don't have time right now for more; maybe later.

Thanks for the interaction though.

Martin T. said...

Paul, wonderful post. It took me this long to read it with the care and attention it deserved. Please take it as a complement when I suggest you keep this "on the corner of your desk". Keep tweaking and revising as it deserves to become something great from something very good. Clearly you prayed over this and put real effort to give explainations not rebuttals.

Jamie thank you for drawing Ken out. Each time I read him he becomes more and more clear.

If it is true, then why this level of official doctrinal disunity?

Some of the differences are more serious than others, but they still are not as serious as the RCC beliefs that all of these denominations agree are wrong. We are all unified in a stance against the RCC, at least at the beginning; and liberals don't count.

Anonymous said...

I believe that I owe Ken Temple an apology.

I have always equated the term "hypocrisy" to employing a double standard. However, since he took exception to my use of it, I have looked at the word anew. Equating it to a double standard is permissible based on the definitions. But ...

And it's a big "but."

As with many words, there are majority and minority definitions. My usage is the minority definition. The majority definition questions the (alleged) hypocrit's integrity, virtue and character. And I have never been given cause to question Ken's integrity, virtue or character in any manner.

My intent had been to convey in as stongly worded language as possible, that Ken's blindness to similarities in Catholic and other Protestant beliefs had led him to develop and support a tremendous double standard. However, I worded it too strongly and Ken reacted to the majority definition of the word "hypocrisy."

As the communicator, it is my responsibility to use words which accurately reflect my thoughts. And if those thoughts are expressed in a less frequently used definition of the words I choose, then it is my responsibility to guide the reader to that lesser used definition. I did not do this, and my failure brought Ken's integrity into question.

That was never my intent. I cannot unwrite my posting above, but I can state now that anyone who reads it should understand that I am stating I believe Ken employes a double standard in some instances. I do not state that he employs it maliciously, nor can I say that I believe he is conscious of it (at least not prior to my stating my opinion on this manner).

Another thing that I can do, even if I cannot unwrite my passage is to publicly state that I believe Ken to be a man of good integrity and sound moral character.

Ken, I offer this apology sincerely with the hopes that you would be so kind as to accept it.

In His Name,

Jamie Donald

Ken Temple said...

Thanks Jamie,
Of course I accept your apology!

You have good intentions here; I appreciate that.

Sincerely,
Ken Temple