Wednesday, June 17, 2009

My church is true cuz it says so

Unbelievers frequently caricature the faith of Christian believers by putting the following argument in their mouth: “The Bible is true because the Bible says it’s true.”

They then proceed to ridicule this caricature, which they imputed to Christians, as a vicious circle. Begging the question.

Now, there may be some unsophisticated Protestants who actually use this argument, but, of course, that’s hardly representative of the way in which a Christian apologist argues for the Bible.

What’s ironic, though, is that some Catholic epologists use a parallel argument: “My church is true cuz my church says it’s true.”

For instance, in making his case for Catholic ecclesiology, Bryan Cross essentially argues that the papacy is necessary because the papacy says it’s necessary. He goes about proving the authority of the pope by quoting various popes on the authority of the pope.

Now, that’s not all he does. He also quotes from Scripture. But when Scripture doesn’t give him as much as he needs to make his case, he putties key gaps in his argument by falling back on Catholic sources to authorize his claims.

Needless to say, appealing to Catholic authorities to prove Catholicism assumes the very issue in dispute.

Here are some examples of his methodology:

But the members cannot be formally unified as a Body if they are divided on doctrines concerning which the Church has definitively ruled. This is why Pope Pius XII wrote:

“Hence they err in a matter of divine truth, who imagine the Church to be invisible, intangible, a something merely ‘pneumatological’ as they say, by which many Christian communities, though they differ from each other in their profession of faith, are united by an invisible bond”.15

Regarding Christ’s establishment of a visible head of His Body, Pope Pius XII wrote:

“But we must not think that He rules only in a hidden or extraordinary manner. On the contrary, our Redeemer also governs His Mystical Body in a visible and normal way through His Vicar on earth. You know, Venerable Brethren, that after He had ruled the “little flock” Himself during His mortal pilgrimage, Christ our Lord, when about to leave this world and return to the Father, entrusted to the Chief of the Apostles the visible government of the entire community He had founded. He was all wise; and how could He leave without a visible head the body of the Church He had founded as a human society. Nor against this may one argue that the primacy of jurisdiction established in the Church gives such a Mystical Body two heads. For Peter in view of his primacy is only Christ’s Vicar; so that there is only one chief Head of this Body, namely Christ, who never ceases Himself to guide the Church invisibly, though at the same time He rules it visibly, through him who is His representative on earth. After His glorious Ascension into Heaven this Church rested not on Him alone, but on Peter, too, its visible foundation stone. That Christ and His Vicar constitute one only Head is the solemn teaching of Our predecessor of immortal memory Boniface VIII in the Apostolic Letter Unam Sanctam; and his successors have never ceased to repeat the same”. 24

If Christ had not established an essentially unified visible head, any schism at the vertex of the visible hierarchy would separate His Mystical Body into two or more Bodies.

And Pope Leo XIII, says,

“Indeed no true and perfect human society can be conceived which is not governed by some supreme authority. Christ therefore must have given to His Church a supreme authority to which all Christians must render obedience. For this reason, as the unity of the faith is of necessity required for the unity of the church, inasmuch as it is the body of the faithful, so also for this same unity, inasmuch as the Church is a divinely constituted society, unity of government, which effects and involves unity of communion, is necessary jure divino. ‘The unity of the Church is manifested in the mutual connection or communication of its members, and likewise in the relation of all the members of the Church to one head’”27.

Pope Leo XIII, in unambiguous language, teaches that the notion that the Church is “hidden and invisible” is a “pernicious error”:

“[T]hose who arbitrarily conjure up and picture to themselves a hidden and invisible Church are in grievous and pernicious error: as also are those who regard the Church as a human institution which claims a certain obedience in discipline and external duties, but which is without the perennial communication of the gifts of divine grace, and without all that which testifies by constant and undoubted signs to the existence of that life which is drawn from God. It is assuredly as impossible that the Church of Jesus Christ can be the one or the other, as that man should be a body alone or a soul alone. The connection and union of both elements is as absolutely necessary to the true Church as the intimate union of the soul and body is to human nature”.43

Pope Pius XII says something quite similar about the notion of the Church’s being invisible:
“Hence they err in a matter of divine truth, who imagine the Church to be invisible, intangible, a something merely ‘pneumatological’ as they say, by which many Christian communities, though they differ from each other in their profession of faith, are untied by an invisible bond”.44

“From what We have thus far written, and explained, Venerable Brethren, it is clear, We think, how grievously they err who arbitrarily claim that the Church is something hidden and invisible, as they also do who look upon her as a mere human institution possession a certain disciplinary code and external ritual, but lacking power to communicate supernatural life. On the contrary, as Christ, Head and Exemplar of the Church “is not complete, if only His visible human nature is considered…, or if only His divine, invisible nature…, but He is one through the union of both and one in both … so is it with His Mystical Body” since the Word of God took unto Himself a human nature liable to sufferings, so that He might consecrate in His blood the visible Society founded by Him and “lead man back to things invisible under a visible rule”.45

“For this reason We deplore and condemn the pernicious error of those who dream of an imaginary Church, a kind of society that finds its origin and growth in charity, to which, somewhat contemptuously, they oppose another, which they call juridical. But this distinction which they introduce is false: for they fail to understand that the reason which led our Divine Redeemer to give to the community of man He founded the constitution of a Society, perfect of its kind and containing all the juridical and social elements - namely, that He might perpetuate on earth the saving work of Redemption, - was also the reason why He willed it to be enriched with the heavenly gifts of the Paraclete. The Eternal Father indeed willed it to be the ‘kingdom of the Son of his predilection;’ but it was to be a real kingdom in which all believers should make Him the entire offering of their intellect and will, and humbly and obediently model themselves on Him, Who for our sake “was made obedient unto death.” There can, then, be no real opposition or conflict between the invisible mission of the Holy spirit and the juridical commission of Ruler and Teacher received from Christ, since they mutually complement and perfect each other - as do the body and soul in man - and proceed from our one Redeemer who not only said as He breathed on the Apostles ‘Receive ye the Holy Spirit,’ but also clearly commanded: ‘As the Father hath sent me, I also send you;’ and again: ‘He that heareth you, heareth me’”.46

The constant teaching of the Catholic Church is that Christ founded a visible Church with an essentially unified visible hierarchy.

The keys of the Kingdom of Heaven are the apostolic authority over the Church. That is why the Catechism says,

“The Church is the seed and beginning of this kingdom. Her keys are entrusted to Peter”.51

“To fulfill the Father’s will, Christ ushered in the Kingdom of heaven on earth. The Church is the Reign of Christ already present in mystery”.52

“The Church is ultimately one, holy, catholic, and apostolic in her deepest and ultimate identity, because it is in her that the Kingdom of heaven, the Reign of God, already exists and will be fulfilled at the end of time”.53


  1. Steve,

    Our references to Catholic sources are not attempts to prove the Catholic position, but to explain the Catholic understanding from her own sources. The arguments in support of our thesis in that article draw from Scripture, the fathers, and philosophy of nature.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  2. No, your article is more ambitious than a mere exposition of Catholic ecclesiology. You are trying to make a case for the varacity of your position. To take just one example of my I could quote, you say:

    "We have provided evidence and argumentation here that Christ founded a visible Church, and that this Church is visible not merely because some of its members are embodied, and not because local congregations and denominations exist. The Church Christ founded is visible because, as His Mystical Body, it necessarily has an essentially united visible hierarchy; this is the hierarchy of bishops and priests united under the episcopal successor of St. Peter, the visible head appointed by Christ."

    That claim goes well beyond a bare description of Catholic ecclesiology. Rather, it involves a positive truth-claim regarding the veracity of your position and falsity of the Protestant alternative.

  3. No, your article is more ambitious than a mere exposition of Catholic ecclesiology.


    Bryan can speak for himself but that's not what he said. He said his "references to Catholic sources" were not attempts to prove the Catholic position.

    Likewise, if an article argues that the Reformed understanding of Christianity is correct and quotes from the WCF while doing so, we should see no question begging unless the WCF was the entire basis of the argument.

    To anyone who's read the article in question, it will be obvious that Bryan & Tom's article is not dependent on Catholic sources for their arguments.

    That claim goes well beyond a bare description of Catholic ecclesiology. Rather, it involves a positive truth-claim regarding the veracity of your position and falsity of the Protestant alternative.

    It certainly does.

  4. I never said his argument was limited to Catholic sources. In fact, I pointed out that he also quoted from Scripture.

    But I made the additional point that he needed to fall back on Catholic sources to complete the argument. So, yes, his overall argument is dependent on Catholic authorities.

    Feel free to delete all the Catholic source material from his article (from popes, church fathers, Catholic theologians, the Catechism), then show me whether the original argument remains intact.