How would you gentleman respond to the following assertions about early and recent Christianity?
(1) The history of the Church shows that private judgment applied to scripture has frequently resulted in errors and heresies.
History also shows that our senses can deceive us (e.g. optical illusions). Yet that is an insufficient objection to the possibility of sense knowledge. We still reply on our senses. And if our senses were systematically unreliable, we couldn't even detect optical illusions. We use our senses to correct misimpressions—by enhancing our senses, changing our perspective, broadening our sensory sampling, &c.
Likewise, if private judgment were systematically unreliable, we couldn’t even recognize that private judgment sometimes results in errors and heresies. So your argument either proves too much or too little.
Early heretics expressly relied on scripture over other forms of authority when they believed the former to support their viewpoint and the latter to reject it. Their Catholic opponents, on the other hand, drew on both scripture and other sources of authority in order to counter heresies.
i) At the risk of stating the obvious, some interpretations are better than others. Erich von Däniken thinks that Ezekiel is referring to flying saucers. I don't need to adduce other sources of authority to prove him wrong. One can prove him wrong using the grammatico-historical method.
ii) Are you suggesting that Arian exegesis is just as good as orthodox exegesis?
iii) Invoking other sources of authority only pushes the problem back a steps since other sources are subject to the same hermeneutical issues, so all you've done is to create a vicious regress.
iv) Moreover, you have to validate your other sources of authority.
(2) The possibility of reasonable and holy men differing in interpretation of inspired scripture is made clear in the theological debates of early Christianity. Thus, men often need another authority to help them interpret scripture in a way that prevents them from becoming Arians, Manichees, etc.
i) Only if you classify Arians and Manicheans as reasonable and holy men. I don't grant your premise.
ii) If someone is determined to be a heretic, he will reject any authority to the contrary, whether Scriptural or ecclesiastical.
iii) It isn't God's will to prevent everyone from becoming a heretic. Indeed, it's God's will that some reprobates fall into heresy.
iv) Not every difference of interpretation amounts to heresy.
(3) While it is possible to find fathers who seemed to believe in justification by faith, and while various interpretations of particular early patristic sources can be advanced to support some aspects of modern evangelical Christianity, the preponderance of the evidence DOES NOT look anything like modern evangelical Christianity.
I don't care whether modern evangelical Christianity looks like the early church. I do care whether it looks like NT Christianity.
Rather, it appears that Christians who knew the apostles (or who knew men who knew them) and who were obviously neither Gnostics nor Arians, and who served as living examples of apostolic Christianity for the next generation, lived a Christianity centered around: obedience to their Bishop, rejection of the many rival claimants to the chair of their Bishop, and celebration of the Eucharist.
i) Of course, the Roman Empire was a very authoritarian society:
It's hardly surprising that bishops had a very authoritarian concept of their office, or that Roman Christians submitted to their bishop the same way they'd submit to other social superiors.
Christian emperors convoked church councils and presided over their proceedings. Do you believe that modern civil magistrates ought to enjoy that sort of authority over the internal affairs of the church?
ii) Except for the Salvation Army, it's hard to think of any Protestant denomination that doesn't celebrate the Eucharist.
(4) A person who reads scripture and concludes that it contains no errors or self-contradictions, when confronted with a handful of supposed errors or contradictions, should not say: "Oh, I guess I was wrong about scripture." They should say: "Maybe these supposed errors and contradictions need to be interpreted in a different way, so that I can once again see clearly the truth of scripture.
Of course, modern Catholic Bible scholars do think the Bible contains various errors, so that's a very poor analogy to argue for Catholicism.
If this is the correct approach to take with scripture, then why can one not take this approach in dealing with the handful of "obvious" errors and self-contradictions in Catholic teaching?
Because we don't have a good reason to treat Catholic teaching the same way we treat the word of God.
(4) The accusation that the modern Catholic Church teaches heretical beliefs about salvation outside the Church is adequately answered, not by the possibly sinful actions of popes and bishops, but by the documents of the Magisterium. The relevant document today is "Dominus Jesus":
Since I never cited the sins of popes and bishops to prove that Catholicism has a heretical soteriology, you're burning a strawman.
(5) Reasonable people, with reasonable interpretations of scripture, and reasonable interpretations of history, have lived holy lives while calling themselves by the despised name "Catholic," have lead many to love and to serve Jesus, and have served as an inspiration for those in the darkness of unbelief to reject atheism, etc, and to embrace Jesus Christ. And they have done all this while asking Mary to pray for them, while preserving and honoring the relics of Saints, and while praying before the blessed sacrament, in Churches decorated with beautiful art.
i) I have never criticized Catholicism (or Orthodoxy, for that matter) on aesthetic grounds.
ii) Protestants can lead holy lives as well. So your appeal either proves too much or too little.
Given your responses to the above questions, I have to ask: is the intention of the anti-Catholic comments on this website to keep other people from falling into the trap of being as holy as St. Francis? or as holy as St. Therese? or as holy as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta? or as holy as St. Josemaria? or as holy as Edith Stein? or as holy as St. Maximilian Kolbe? Are you surprised that people would look at the lives of these men and women and wish to belong to their Church?
i) God has representatives of the elect in every generation. That includes some elect Catholics. Due to chronological and geographical factors, they will generally channel their pious impulses into the religious institutions which their particular situation in time and place has made available to them. So, for example, St. Francis is a Christian who happens to be Catholic. What else would a devout, medieval Italian believer be?
Had he been born into an Amish or Anglican or Lutheran or Puritan or Pentecostal or Baptist or Orthodox community, his piety would, in all likelihood, have emulated those distinctives instead.
ii) At the same time, that can also have a warping effect on piety. I don't think that preaching to the birds or going barefoot in the snow in the belief that your supererogatory suffering accrues 20 units of congruent merit which are duly deposited in the Treasury of merit represents a healthy form of piety.
Likewise, adoring the Sacred Heart of Mary is simply a form of idolatry. Genuine piety gets misdirected in Catholicism.
iii) In addition, you're cherry picking the very best representatives of your tradition. What about the Borgia popes or pedophile priests or the many bishops complicit in the priestly abuse scandal? They were products of the same system. So your argument cuts both ways.
Do you really believe that a person who values truth, who loves God, who loves his fellow man, and who seeks to follow Jesus and his apostles, is a sinner and a fool for looking at the evidence of scripture, early Christianity, and the history of the Church and her saints, and concluding that he would like to be a member of the Catholic Church?
I see a great deal of deception and self-deception in Catholicism. They give their alleged reasons for being Catholic, as well as their alleged reasons for not being Protestant. When we answer them on their own grounds, they become evasive and repetitive. That's not the mark of someone who values the truth.
Speaking of which, what about the False Decretals? What about Cardinal Bellarmine scheme to cover up the Sistine Vulgate? What about bishops who stonewall investigations into the priestly abuse scandal? Doesn't sound to me like a bunch of people who value the truth.
I would like to see more respect for Catholics and Catholicism on this site.
That's a rather sweeping statement. Must I extend unconditional respect to Ted Kennedy or the Borgia popes or Cardinal Richelieu or Cardinal Law or Bloody Mary or Catherine de Medici, &c.?
BTW, respect is a two-way street. Given the way James White (to take one example) is regularly trashed at Catholic sites, you might want to put your own house in order before you presume to criticize someone else's hospitality.
Have any of you even befriended a devout and practicing Catholic?
i) To begin with, this reminds me of how homosexuals argue for homosexual rights. They chalk up all opposition to ignorance and prejudice and bigotry and homophobia. If only you got to know a few homosexuals, you'd find out that homosexuals aren't the subhuman hellspawn you always thought they were.
Well, my opposition to homosexual rights was never predicated on that assumption in the first place. Likewise, I judge Catholicism, not based on Catholics, but Catholic dogma.
ii) And yes, as a matter of fact, I've known devout, practicing Catholics.
If you have, do you really believe that their distinctively Catholic beliefs and practices have harmed them in any way?
i) This reminds me of the Romney campaign, and what wonderful, upstanding citizens our Mormon neighbors are. No doubt that's true to some extent. It's also irrelevant to my evaluation of the Mormon cult.
ii) And yes, I do think that Catholic distinctives harm pious Catholics. I do think it's harmful when you trust a wafer for your salvation. I do think it's harmful when you pray to a nonexistent saint. I do think it's harmful when you commit idolatry. I do think it's harmful when you support a corrupt institution because you imagine it's the only wheel in town.
I don't know a better way to put this, so I'll say it this way: there is a lot of arrogance in your statements about the Church.
I think there's a lot of arrogance in the Tridentine anathemas. I think there's a lot of arrogance in Unam Sanctam.
I cannot believe that people as intelligent as you would publicly state such beliefs if you knew practicing Catholics personally and if you tried arguing with us extensively.
I have argued with Catholics extensively. Take my exchange with Philip Blosser, for one. Or my exchange with Al Kimel, for another.
I can only believe that your intelligence and good will would cause you to concede that we also have arguments favoring our positions, and we also have relationships with Jesus Christ.
I have reviewed the arguments favoring your positions. I've read all the best representatives of Roman Catholicism I can lay my hands on.
I am praying for all of you.
To whom are you praying?
But, regarding private judgment, my point is not that we shouldn't exercise it (as you correctly pointed out, how could we not exercise it?), but rather I wanted to see if you agreed that good and reasonable people could easily disagree using private judgment. If you do agree with this, then I wanted to ask whether you thought it was unreasonable for people to think it likely that God would respond to this deficit with an infallible teaching organ.
That begs the question by assuming that private judgment represents a "deficit."
It also assumes that the Magisterium fills the deficit.
Again, I know your opinion on the Church's infallibility in interpreting scripture, but what I wonder is whether you consider the fact that many people view the antecedent probability of such an organ as high to be an unreasonable belief.
That begs the question by assuming there is an antecedent probability for the Magisterium.
I base my rule of faith on God's revealed rule of faith, not "antecedent probabilities."
Regarding infallible authority of interpretation, I agree with you completely, except for the following: the living authority of the Church is designed to counter serious errors in the application of private judgment to her infallible interpretations by making it possible for her to issue subsequent clarifications when the need arises. The whole history of the controversy over the divinity, the person and the nature of Christ is a case in point.
There was no Magisterium under the OT. Why is that necessary for the new covenant community when it was unnecessary for the old covenant community?
Where does the Bible claim for itself the primacy that you are asserting it has?
I've discussed this in my response to Philip Blosser.
Do the approximately 34,000 Protestant denominations not suggest that "sola scriptura" has some problems?
i) Sola Scriptura is not a problem-solving device.
ii) Catholicism is just one more denomination.
iii) I’d rather have too many denominations, some good and some bad, than one big bad denomination (e.g. the church of Rome).
What did the first generations of Christians rely on in the absence of a Bible?
Why do you think Jesus and the apostles spend so much time referring their listeners and readers to the Bible if they had no Bible? Have you ever stopped to ask yourself that obvious question?
Before the invention of the printing press, how many Christians are likely to have owned a Bible?
Before the invention of the printing press, how many Christians are likely to have owned a papal encyclical?
In the absence of something resembling mass literacy, how many people would have been able to read a Bible, even if it were available to them?
In the absence of something resembling mass literacy, how many people would have been able to read a papal encyclical, even if it were available to them?
Who selected, safe-guarded and transmitted the books of the Bible that we have today?
Various Christians belonging to various denominations over the centuries.
I don't have high expectations of a civil response; I have no expectation of a charitable one. I have been reading this blog and poking around in the archives for a couple of weeks, after being introduced to this blog by someone who posts here occasionally. As interesting and valuable as so much of the information is, the stridency of your tone is often downright toxic.
How charitable was the Inquisition? And, as I recall, the Inquisition went beyond a harsh tone. It employed harsh methods. Indeed, Innocent IV authorized the use of torture. How civil or charitable is that?
Doesn't seem that your standards of civility and charity bear any resemblance to the historical standards of your denomination. And since you belong to the one true church, shouldn't we expect your denomination to exercise a higher standard than all us benighted Protestants?