Saturday, May 05, 2012

“Co-Dependence” and Roman Catholic Buyer’s Remorse

The topic of Evangelicals converting to Rome has come up in recent days. I want to remind everyone that, even though some Evangelicals seem to want to be moving in that direction, it’s not the end of the story.

There is a kind of “buyer’s remorse” among Roman Catholic converts. I know this because I have experienced it. (Remember, I was a “Catholic convert” back in the early 1980’s).

The Roman Catholic Convert Andrew Preslar recently compared his Roman Catholicism to “a marriage, in which romance does not reduce to sentimentalism, nor prescind from difficulty and pain, but rather flows from the realities of a life shared together, come what may”. He was (characteristically) not entirely forthcoming about all that’s entailed in that “marriage”.

One might infer from his comment that this “wife”, Roman Catholicism, has grown fat and ugly and now has warts. But I would suggest something else is going on, and it goes deeper than that. Roman Catholicism is actually dysfunctional in a major way, so that one may further infer that one has married a less than totally honest woman, and one must, after the manner of a person who’s married to an addict, become “co-dependent”, and actually learn to make excuses for the errant/addict spouse.

From a Catholic point of view, we never assume as part of our theological methodology that a prima facie contradiction within the Tradition is an actual contradiction. Out of humility toward the Tradition, we instead assume as a working hypothesis that the appearance of a contradiction is due to our own ignorance or misunderstanding. So from a Catholic point of view, if we have at hand an explanation that integrates the apparently conflicting pieces of evidence, we already have a good reason to accept it rather than conclude that there is an actual contradiction…

What provides this good reason is faith, faith which denies ecclesial deism, and affirms the authority, unity, and continuity of the Tradition according to our belief in the guidance of the Holy Spirit dwelling faithfully within the Church until Christ returns. Within a Protestant perspective in which ecclesial deism and the discontinuity of the Tradition are presupposed, that good reason is not available. So, this denial on your part, …, presupposes a Protestant paradigm.

Brian’s “faith” is actually a form of co-dependence. The battered spouse says “it’s really my fault, I was asking for it”. The spouse of the alcoholic tries to hide the alcoholism, and makes excuses for it.

In the first place, “ecclesial deism” is a term and concept that Bryan made up, so it has no roots in “the Tradition”. Regarding this, someone noted (in another thread) that, making the charge of “ecclesial deism among Calvinists is laughable”.

But further to this, note Bryan’s statement, “Out of humility toward the Tradition, we instead assume as a working hypothesis that the appearance of a contradiction is due to our own ignorance or misunderstanding”.

So “Catholic theological method” understands that there “appearances of contradiction” within Catholic doctrine. And the presupposition is that it is not an “actual contradiction”. I’ve written about this under the heading “The Roman Catholic Hermeneutic”. Perhaps that’s too kind.

Turretinfan immediately commented, “No wonder you can never see the actual contradictions! Your methodology precludes it. Even after every rational attempt to harmonize them is addressed, it will still only be proven that it is a prima facie contradiction”

It may sound and even feel pious to describe this as humility to “the Tradition,” but this humility isn’t justified. Your own church does not teach that “the Tradition” is free from contradictions. Indeed, councils that your church deems ecumenical have condemned some of the writings of prior bishops, including even at least one bishop of Rome.

So, your working hypothesis should be that appearance and reality correspond, not that they are at odds for an as-yet-undetermined reason.

In fact, “the Tradition” is littered with innumerable “contradictions”, many of which are insuperable. During this thread, a less charitable explanation would have held that Bryan was trying to lie his way out of one of these contradictions. Instead, he ‘fessed up with this “apology”:

My mistake. I was going from memory. It was St. Hilary (along with some other Church Fathers) who was discussed during the Sixth Session.

The discussion was about 1 Clement. I’m sure lots of folks as smart as Bryan get Clement and Hilary confused. Turretinfan has continued to challenge Bryan on the particular point in question, for anyone who is interested.

* * *

A writer back on the old NTRMin discussion board, who had studied in a Roman Catholic seminary, and who subsequently left the RCC, called this phenomenon, “Dogma appreciation 101”.

Whether you call it “The Roman Catholic Hermeneutic”, “Dogma appreciation 101”, or simple co-dependence, it’s important to keep this phenomenon in mind as people convert to Roman Catholicism. I found it, and eventually left. “Dogma Appreciation 101” drove our NTRMin commenter out of Rome. Gerry Matatics left for the Trads. Rod Dreher left for Orthdoxy. Some people just feel they have an obligation to allow their brains to function.

Rome may not demand the kind of wishful thinking that Bryan is espousing here, but it does demand obedience, and if Bryan wants to rationalize things this way, maybe he’s doing it because it’s the only way he can find to be “obedient”. I’m not convinced he is entirely comfortable now in his own skin as a Roman Catholic. Sure, the scholastics had centuries to try and rationalize things, but Bryan is just too smart, and 21st century America just knows too much, to allow Roman Catholicism to stand “as is”. Bryan probably meant well, in becoming Roman Catholic, but you just can’t help running aground.

That’s what I ran into. I spent some time affiliated with Opus Dei. Yes, I was a devout Catholic. Not necessarily a theologian, but a devout Catholic nevertheless. One thing that I found was, the higher up and closer in you get, the more obedience is demanded, and the more contradictions there were. I made the decision to use the brain that God gave me, to search the Scriptures, and to try to understand what the contradictions were all about. Bryan has evidently made the decision to take the blue pill.

Without getting too bold with my predictions, it doesn’t seem to me as if Bryan can continue on the path that he is on. He is intelligent enough to find out what Roman Catholicism is really about, but his “method” is genuinely wishful thinking, and he is also intelligent enough to know the things that you gentlemen are saying here. Up next for Bryan, if he is not already there, will be a “dark night of the soul”. And that will be, if he doesn’t break first. That’s always a possibility. I know he may not seem like it at times, but he’s only human.


  1. Ah, Christians!

    See how they love one another!

  2. Yes, we actually care enough to speak seriously and truthfully about things.

  3. "Out of humility toward the Tradition, we instead assume as a working hypothesis that the appearance of a contradiction is due to our own ignorance or misunderstanding."

    Can't the same be said for how we're to read Scripture?

    If we see a contradiction, it's only an apparent one due to our ignorance of the historical context and language in which it was written or even the translation
    we have.

    You can't label Scripture as outside some tradition: we have it today through the practices of Christians over centuries in preserving it, translating it and studying it.

    (I don't think an actual contradiction necessarily implies one must jettison the entire structure. It depends on the nature of the contradiction and its level of importance.)

  4. Can't the same be said for how we're to read Scripture?

    Actually, no. Our intention is to understand the sensus literalis of Scripture, the original meaning, in terms of understanding what the author wrote to the original audience. As Sproul notes, What is meant by sensus literalis is not that every text in the Scriptures is given a “woodenly literal” interpretation, but rather that we must interpret the Bible in the sense in which it is written. Parables are interpreted as parables, symbols as symbols, poetry as poetry, didactic literature as didactic literature, historical narrative as historical narrative, occasional letters as occasional letters. That principle of literal interpretation is the same principle we use to interpret any written source responsibly.

    * * *

    You can't label Scripture as outside some tradition: we have it today through the practices of Christians over centuries in preserving it, translating it and studying it.

    Check out Kruger's "Canon Revisited". In a very real sense, Scripture was Scripture the moment it was written. So yes, we owe something to those who preserved, translated and studied it, but no, "the Tradition" didn't give us Scripture.

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  6. John,

    I think what James was getting at is that we sometimes run across apparent contradictions in the scripture, and that Christians tend to believe that there is a way to resolve that contradiction, even if they don't know what the answer is.

    Don't you think Christians, if they see what seems to be a contradiction in scripture, instead trust that it is their own ignorance and misunderstanding, and that there is a true resolution? Or should they drop inerrancy as soon as they think they see a contradiction?

  7. BBB, there is a whole order of magnitude of difference between reading the Bible to understand what the original authors were truly saying, and doing what Bryan is doing, and that is, in a very real way, engaging in revisionism to assure that the sources have at lest some correspondence.

  8. (1) I read BBB is saying that, if Romans says "we are saved by faith alone" while James says "we are not saved by faith alone", you need to check whether these two canonical books are flatly contradicting each other (the Catholic/ Orthodox/ Arminian position) or whether instead two different authors are using "saved" in two different senses (the Calvinist/ Lutheran interpretation) - just as "there is only one God" does not, when examined carefully and without denominational precommitments, contradict "Satan has become the god of this world."

    (2) The standard "RC Convert's hermenutic" is definitely a one-way ratchet. The standard conversation goes something like this:

    "During my [10/ 20/ 30] years as a protestant [seminarian/ minister/ youth pastor], I carefully examined the doctrines of my then denomination but found they were not compatible with Scripture and early church tradition. The Catholic Church was the only denomination whose doctrines I found compatible with both."

    "And so have you continued carefully examining the doctrines of your current denomination to check whether they are still compatible with Scripture and early church tradition?"

    "Of course not! It would be highly presumptuous for me to set my own private judgment against the living Magisterium of the One True Church."

    An occasional Matatics or Palm does spot the man behind the curtain, but most are just happy that they've reached the Emerald City. (One suspects what they were seeking wasn't so much truth as confident certainty: "The Calvinists assert that pi = 3.14, while the Lutherans hold and teach that pi = 3.142" holds less appeal to the natural man than "We therefore pronounce, affirm and infallibly declare that pi = 4.00 and if anyone shall, by written word or overt speak, maintain to the contrary, the same shall suffer such penalties as shall be prescribed by the local Ordinary."

    Although "test all things; hold fast to what is good" and "let each be fully satisfied in his own mind" are Biblical principles, they are vulnerable when a sect has a lockout principle in its teachings that can explain away pretty much any and every apparent contradiction.