Saturday, August 04, 2018

Catholicism under the dome

1. Infallibility is a principle in Catholic and Protestant theology alike, although the locus of authority is different. 

2. Catholic apologists object that having an infallible Bible is pointless without an infallible interpreter. Likewise, Protestants are stuck with a fallible canon. How can you be certain that your interpretation is right? How can you be certain your canon has the right books?

But one problem with that line of argument is that it either proves too much or too little. For traditional Protestants, the circle of infallibility is drawn around the Bible. For traditional Catholics, the circle of infallibility is drawn around the extraordinary magisterium or ordinary universal magisterium. But in principle, the circle can always be wider. In that respect, the boundaries are arbitrary. Wherever you draw the circle, a larger circle could be drawn. Why is the pope only infallible when he speaks ex cathedra? Why not all the time? Why aren't bishops infallible? Or priests? Or the laity? Or Christians generally?

If the ideal is certainty, then enlarging the circle of infallibility enlarges the scope of certainty. So the logic of the Catholic argument exceeds the boundaries of Catholicism. The logic of the argument doesn't stop with the extraordinary magisterium or ordinary universal magisterium. 

According to Catholicism, Catholics can and must get along just fine without infallible certainty most of the time. Protestants simply draw a narrower circle. 

3. In addition, the Catholic ideal is a mirage. Catholics take refuge in a visible church, but dogma is invisible. Thanks to the doctrine of development, the circle of infallibility is drawn in undetectable ink. Catholics can't see what's inside the circle and outside the circle because the line is invisible. Imperceptible because future developments may revise or reverse the public teaching of the church. No one, including the pope, knows where the circle is drawn because present-day popes don't know what future popes will teach or retract. 

Catholic apologists don't believe in the Catholic church as it actually exists, but in a stainless abstraction. A hermetically sealed city under a dome, like domed cities in science fiction.  

4. I don't concede that Protestants have a fallible canon. That's hard to say because the evidence for the canon includes internal evidence, viz. authorial ascriptions, cross-references. If Scripture is infallible, then internal evidence for Scripture is infallible. 

5. In Calvinism, infallibility isn't confined to the Bible. Rather, an infallible God stands behind infallible Scripture. Rather than having an infallible church, we have an infallible God. Rather than having an infallible church, we have infallible providence.  Although the elect are fallible, God infallibly guides the elect to heaven. 

A Catholic might object that that's just my personal belief, but ultimately our personal beliefs will always be the starting-point and endpoint. We can't escape our own minds. That's the filter. Catholics are not exempt. 


  1. > No one, including the pope, knows where the circle is drawn because present-day popes don't know what future popes will teach or retract.

    Yes. Newman's innovation, of 'development', was intended to harmonise the competing requirements of infallibility, a fixed deposit of truth delivered to Rome, and the historical fact of significant changes over time in Rome's teaching. But it did so by sacrificing the infallibility to the changes.

    Infallibility still exists on paper, but lost its practical value for real-world living. Given how extensive the achievements of 'development' have been to date, doctrines can only be tentatively believed to be infallible in the absence of any definite current knowledge that they are not... but are permanently at the mercy of future imaginative 'developments'.

  2. My major problem with Newman's foolish doctrine of development is that it actually gives credence to Erhman's thesis that there were many legitimate Christianities. Think about it, if the seed looks nothing like the tree, how can the gnostic gospels not be called the legitimate offshoots of Jesus' ministry? On what intelligent grounds accepting Newman's doctrine?

    In fact, the way I see it, applying Newman's doctrine, there could have been various permutation and combinations of authentic development which could have easily included the gnostic works - the only difference being, that the majority of the competition to what is currently held orthodox fell into disfavor. If the initial doctrine can authentically look nothing like the final doctrine (the analogy of the seed and tree), this conclusion is inescapable.

  3. The problem for Roman Catholics is who is the ultimate authority: a general council or a pope? No papist can answer that question.

    1. I believe that they will generally answer that question, and say 'The Magisterium'.

    2. Both but any general council is subject to the pope. The councils derive its authority by being in the communion of the Bishop of Rome. Now, subject to which pope (past, present or current), and why is something that they probably will not agree on.

    3. The Council of Constance claimed that it had the power to appoint and depose popes, which it did, so I don't see how a council is subject to a pope.