Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Threshing the wheat

The traditionalist Catholics over at Pugio Fidei have done a post on some popular Catholic arguments against Protestantism which, they point out, are bad arguments:


This raises the question of whether some Protestants are guilty of the same thing in reverse. As a good faith gesture, should we return the favor?

Since I have my own way of doing apologetics, I haven’t had occasion to keep tabs on all the bad arguments against Catholicism. Off the top of my head, I’d suggest the following:

1.Don’t assume that every Catholic who ever reported a miracle is either a deceiver or self-deceived. This is antecedently improbable. It also means that you’re spiting the reliability of testimonial evidence in general in order to dismiss this particular subset of testimonial evidence. But that’s a high price to pay.

The admission of a Catholic miracle would only be problematic if the only purpose of a miracle was to attest doctrine, if one miraculous attestation automatically cancels out another, or if Catholics had a monopoly on miraculous experience.

2.Don’t equate the pope with the Antichrist. To begin with, that identification is more specific than the wording of the traditional prooftexts (e.g. Mt 23:8-10; 2 Thes 2:1-9; Rev 13).

In addition, there’s a difference between many OT prophecies and NT prophecies. Many OT prophecies were fulfilled in NT times. We know from the NT how they were fulfilled.

By contrast, many NT prophecies remain outstanding. As such, it’s difficult to know, from our vantage point in church history, when or how NT prophecies are being fulfilled. We don’t know where we are in the church age. Are we about to cross the finish line? On the last lap? On the backstretch? Getting our first wind?

If you are going to equate the pope with the Antichrist, know what you’re doing. Know that this commits you to a particular school of prophetic fulfillment–historicism.

That doesn’t mean these prophecies have no application to the papacy. But their application is broader. More flexible.

3.Don’t say Hitler was Catholic. It’s obvious that, as an adult, Hitler was not an observant Roman Catholic.

4.Don’t say Pius XII was Hitler’s Pope. At least, don’t say that unless you have a specialized knowledge of WWII history and the corresponding period of church history so that you’re qualified to really know the motives of Pius XII–as well as the challenges he was facing and options available to him.

5.Don’t treat all the Scholastic theologians (e.g. Anselm, Aquinas) as worse than useless.

6.Don’t rest your whole case for sola Scriptura on 2 Tim 3:16.


  1. Don’t treat all the Scholastic theologians (e.g. Anselm, Aquinas) as worse than useless.

    Steve, have you read Aquinas? (Particularly the Summa)?

    And if so, was your experience like that of McGrath, who said, "Scholasticism is probably one of the most despised intellctual movements in human history"? (Introduction to Theology, 3rd edition, pg 36.)

  2. On a more serious note, I believe that citing the recent clerical sexual abuse scandal in arguments with Catholics is productive only in an indirect way. That is, they say "the magisterium is infallible in matters of faith and morals," but when you point out that sexual abuse is a matter of morals, that infallibility only extends to *defining* morals.

    So a better place to start when interacting with Catholics is right at the beginnings of the Catechism, where such things as "Apostolic Tradition" are spelled out:


    Interestingly, the papacy is pushed further back in the book.

  3. "Avoid the term "anti-Catholic." The term is ill-defined. If it refers to a form of bigotry or prejudice then it could only be applied to individual Protestants (or other non-Catholics) on a case by case basis, and that only after they had exhibited a demonstrable pattern of bad faith"

    Oh ho ho, I can think of a certain e-pologist who could benefit a little from this one!

  4. John,

    Aquinas was a great philosophical and systematic theologian. At the same time, he suffers from the inevitable limitations of his place and period. Tom Schreiner is not nearly as smart as Aquinas, but Schreiner has a far more accurate grasp of Biblical theology.

  5. "The admission of a Catholic miracle would only be problematic if the only purpose of a miracle was to attest doctrine"

    Would you have a problem admitting this miracle?


  6. I am one of the authors of the cited piece. I have posted my own comments concerning the varied reactions to it here: