Thursday, November 24, 2011

For Dave Armstrong’s Readers

A couple of weeks ago, I made the mistake of mentioning Dave Armstrong’s name, in the context of the Joe Paterno / Cardinal Bernard Law situation – I said that Dave, among others, ought to reconsider his defense of the Roman Catholic Church, “ought to stop now what you’re doing and demand, that Rome itself repent for the sins it has committed, and to make restitution – real restitution – for the evil that its own laws and policies have perpetuated for centuries.”

Dave went apoplectic over this and in the two weeks since, he has written four or five (or more?) blog posts about me and my hatefulness etc. etc. The interested reader can probably start from this point and, knowing of Dave’s characteristic thoroughness, be able to follow his links to the posts about me all the way back to the beginning.

I made the mistake of mentioning to Dave that I found this sort of “interaction” with him to be about as pleasant as stepping in dog poop, and he, of course, went apoplectic over that. (He strikes me as an individual who has too much time on his hands).

Over the course of the discussion, I posted several links to my real work, and he removed them, suggesting that they were off topic. Now that the topic is “How Anti-Catholics ‘Argue’”, I felt that I could legitimately post some of my actual thoughts on the topics (and not the made-up ones that Dave attributes to me), and have them stand as on topic. We shall see.

I reproduce those general ideas here for Triablogue readers who may be interested. As well, I have made the very kind offer to anyone from over there who has honest questions for me, I’d put up a post over here, and answer any of those honest questions that they might have. This is that post, and what follows are my comments to Dave about how I really have come to focus on the things I focus on.

In my own life, the most important question became, “Is the Roman Catholic Church what it says it is?” It was a pure up-and-down decision. Yes or no? Because if it is, then we ought to obey it, but if not, then it might freely be rejected.

After a lengthy, prayerful, soul-searching study, I concluded that the answer was “no”. In that case, I rejected it, although, another question presented itself: “what is it?” And that’s the subject of my apologetic blogging these days. How did Rome get to be what it is today, if it is not what it says it is.

The short answer is that its longevity really is a testament to the durability of a large bureaucracy, especially one that has the tools of persecution and even war at its disposal. Of course, it has neither of those things at its disposal now; its ideas must compete in the marketplace of ideas; its doctrines must stand under the scrutiny of the light that the information age is shedding on everything.

In an era in which liberal Protestantism, “higher” criticism, and even atheism have not been able to destroy, but have only shown the strength of the foundations of Christianity and the truth-claims of Christ to be who he says he is, it hasn’t taken much scrutiny at all to see Roman Catholicism’s “pillars” be knocked out from under it.

The biggest pillar, I suppose, is the papacy. Have you noticed that “the papacy” is now referred to as “the Petrine ministry”? There really was no “early papacy”. All of the “history” behind the papacy has pretty much been, well, not really there. It’s been a reliance on myth and fiction.

This state of affairs has been described by John P. Meier, a leading Catholic Biblical scholar: “A papacy that cannot give a credible historical account of its own origins can hardly hope to be a catalyst for unity among divided Christians.” So his implication is that, until this point, the papacy has not given a “credible historical account of its own origins.”

And that’s largely true. In “high level” ecumenical discussions, John Reumann, the late Lutheran biblical scholar who collaborated with Raymond Brown in the seminal exegetical work on Peter in the New Testament, also said this:

Biblical and patristic studies make clear that historically a gap occurs at the point where it has been claimed “the apostles were careful to appoint successors in” what is called “this hierarchically constituted society,” specifically “those who were made bishops by the apostles . . .,” an episcopate with an “unbroken succession going back to the beginning.”  For that, evidence is lacking, …. It has been noted above how recent treatments conclude that in the New Testament no successor for Peter is indicated.

So what Reumann says is that there is a gap, precisely at the point where “unbroken succession” has been claimed. That goes for “bishops” as well as for popes. Reumann is citing an infallible Vatican II document as he makes this statement. And Meier calls Rome’s reliance on “development” “not credible”.

Speaking to the lack of credibility, Archbishop Roland Minnerath, who was a contributor to the Vatican’s 1989 Historical and Theological Symposium, which was directed by the Vatican’s Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences, at the request of the then Cardinal Ratzinger’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, on the theme: “The Primacy of the Bishop of Rome in the First Millennium: Research and Evidence,” has made the admission that the Eastern Orthodox churches “never shared the Petrine theology as elaborated in the West.”

Dave tried to laugh this off, as if he had addressed Orthodoxy in detail, but really, this is a Roman Catholic Archbishop, at the heart of Vatican studies, who says, the East never shared the western conception of the papacy. The further implication of that is that, in the east-west split, it is clear that Rome tried to impose Rome’s understanding on the east. The East did not budge. Hence the split. The 1054 split is the result of Rome trying to impose its theology of the papacy on an Eastern church that would not accept it. And it is a Roman Archbishop who is saying this. This is the thing you Roman Catholics, if you are serious, cannot laugh off.

So this is what my own “apologetic” is about. One of the things I do is merely to report on the state of the historical research into the early papacy. That kind of thing is very helpful in coming to the understanding that “the Roman Catholic Church is not what it says it is.”

For all of you other Roman Catholics who think that the Roman Catholic Church is “the Church that Christ founded” or that “the Church that Christ founded” somehow “subsists” in the Roman Catholic Church, here is a bit more light reading for you:

Not a hateful word in the whole bunch. Hope you all have a great weekend!


  1. Mr Armstrong has apparently been outspoken and vocal in his condemnation of the sexual abuse coverup. His adherence to the ideas of the institution in which these abuses occurred doesn't in itself make him morally complicit in those crimes.

    The problem is when Catholic apologists become historical revisionists and minimize the evils their institution has committed or attempt to deflect attention from any real guilt on the part of the perpetrators, such as this writer does when he makes the laughable statement that "[o]n the whole, the Inquisition was humanely conducted."

    I was also told of a Catholic priest in Chicago whom, after the sexual abuse scandal started to come to light, prayed not for the Church's victims but for the Church against the "media bias" seeking to destroy the institution. This reaction is not all that uncommon in the Catholic blogosphere. According to these folks, the sexual abuse is all because of those danged queers. Never mind the fact that the problem was not just the abuse but the coverup and shuffling of predators by the hierarchy.

  2. Hi James, good insights. I wouldn't hold Armstrong "morally complicit". However, as you noted the problem is in the revisionism, the minimizing of the evil, and in some cases, the interference with those doing the investigation.

  3. You know what they say, speak of the Dave and he will appear!

  4. I thought you had to say his name three times in the mirror.

  5. Bnonn, "three times in the mirror" is merely demonic. Dave has a standard that's on an entirely different order of magnitude.