Saturday, June 23, 2018

Catholicism in the dock, part 3

Continuing my review of Thomas Joseph White's The Light of Christ:

The Catholic church teaches that there are seven sacraments, each instituted by Christ either during his earthly life or after his resurrection during the apostolic age. We can find references to all of them in the NT (187). 

Notice the assumptions: 

i) They were instituted by Christ

ii) The NT refers to all seven

iii) They are "sacraments"

Let's consider these assumptions:

i) There's no evidence that Christ instituted last rites. In a footnote, White cites Mk 6:12-13. That, however, isn't about people on their deadbed but sick people generally. Many don't have life-threatening conditions. Moreover, the people in Mk 6:12-13 are actually healed, whereas last rites is typically for the dying. It's not to heal the sick but to ensure (insofar as that's possible) that they will die in a state of grace. Very different function.

ii) The fact that the NT mentions a rite doesn't ipso facto imply that this is when the rite was first instituted. For instance, in what respect did Christ institute matrimony? In fact, Jesus traces marriage back to Adam and Eve (Mt 19:4-6). So it's grossly anachronistic to say that Jesus, in the 1C, instituted the sacrament of marriage.

iii) Perhaps what White means is that while matrimony preexisted the ministry of Jesus, he elevated marriage to a sacrament. But his prooftexts don't say or imply that.

iv) "Sacrament" has a specialized meaning in Catholic theology.  White provides a definition:

The sacraments of the new covenant are sacred signs or symbols which are of divine origin and that act as "instrumental causes," or channels of grace" (187).  

To classify matrimony or anointing the sick as a "sacrament" in that sense can't be derived from White's prooftexts. 

v) His prooftexts for confirmation are Jn 20:22, Acts 2:1-4; 8:15-17; 10:38; 19:5-6. There's no attempt to exegete these passages in context. 

vi) He says:

The sacrament of holy orders is contained implicitly in the eucharistic institution narratives: "Do this in memory of me" (187n17). 

By itself, his inference is entirely opaque. But he later says:

It is because of the priesthood that there can be an enduring presence of Christ in the Church: in the Eucharist, in penance, and in the graces of confirmation and anointing of the sick. All of these sacraments depend immediately upon that of holy orders… (193).

The priest standing there in the place of Christ says these words ["This is my body"]…and these words transform what lies before him (194).

Problem is:

i) In the NT it's not the priest who takes the place of Christ but the Holy Spirit (Jn 14-16).

ii) The NT doesn't reserve administration of the eucharist for a priest, or even an elder. 

iii) The NT doesn't say the words of institution are transformative. 

Catholic theology builds on layers of false premises. 

The resurrection is not merely a return of Jesus to an ordinary human life. It is a mystery of the radical transformation and glorification of our human state…In one set of apparitions, such as with Mary Magdalene in the garden of the tomb in Jn 20, Jesus appears as an ordinary human being…In another set of apparitions, particularly in Christ's appearances to Saul of Tarsus and to John, the seer at Patmos receiving the apocalyptic vision of Revelation, Christ appears in his unhindered glory, and is overwhelming. Here the emphasis is on the transformed character of Christ's glorified flesh… (173).

An obvious problem with White's dichotomy is how he overlooks the Transfiguration. Christ appears to Paul on the Damascus road and John on Patmos with the same luminous way he appeared to the disciples at the Transfiguration, before his crucifixion and resurrection. So that's not a property of the glorified body, in contrast to an ordinary mortal body. 

Medieval theologians spoke about four properties of the resurrected body of Christ…Impassibility is a characteristic denoted negatively: in his risen body Jesus is now incapable of being subject to suffering or death. The transformed state of his risen flesh is one in which he can die no more (174).

Actually, there's no reason to think the glorified body is indestructible. It's no longer subject to senescence or certain diseases. However, it's a mistake to attribute immortality entirely to the nature of the glorified body, as if we're like mutants in a superhero movie. Rather, some of that is due to providential protection from exposure to natural harms. 

The physical body of Jesus is still material, but the matter of his body is so transformed by the glory of the resurrections to be perfectly subject to the influence of the spiritual soul and the movements of the spiritual life. From this, there follows agility: we see in the Gospels that Christ can make himself present where he wills: to the apostles on the  road to Emmaus, in the cloister of the Upper Room, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. There is a mysterious power of the risen Lord to manifest himself to us as one who is no longer of this physical world…In his glorified life of the resurrection, Jesus is no longer a part of this physical cosmos, if by that we would mean that he would be somewhere "in" the physical world or contiguous with other physical realities. The glorified bodies of Christ and of the saints (such as that of the Virgin Mary) are of another order (175-78).

i) As an omnipotent being, Jesus can perform nature miracles. He did that prior to the crucifixion and resurrection. So there's no reason to attribute his supernatural "agility" to a property of the glorified body rather than his omnipotence. In other words, that's a property of his divine nature rather than his human nature. 

ii) Why insist that Jesus isn't somewhere in the universe? According to biblical eschatology, Jesus will physically return to the earth. Likewise, the saints will live on planet earth. 

At a given time, then, we can postulate that due to a new initiative of God, animals were elevated to a higher level. God began to create spiritual souls in human animals, and so the human adventure began. There was a passage from the "merely animal" world of homo sapiens to the specifically spiritual world of the human person. This is the passage where God initiated the new project of humanity, by creating the spiritual soul, and infusing it as the "form of the body" in what constituted the first human beings (103).

That's a makeshift explanation which labors to amalgamate Gen 1-3 with the theory of biological evolution. But that's not something we can derive from Genesis, the fossil record, the theory of evolution. It's a pastiche that arbitrarily selects and redefines elements from independent sources into a papier-mâché composite. A wholly artificial construct that isn't consistently biblical or scientific.  

You have to wonder how people like White can work themselves into the mindset that makes so much of what he confidently says remotely plausible. He's like the stereotype of the geeky twenty-something who plays video games in his mom's basement. Not having a normal social life, not having to assume the adult responsibilities of a husband, father, and breadwinner, while living in a self-reinforcing community of like-minded monks, may explain how he can be carried away with these vapories. Like a cult where things are credible inside the hothouse environment of the compound–that lose all plausibility once you leave the compound, and wonder how you could ever be taken in.  

Interpreting Eden: A Guide to Faithfully Reading and Understanding Genesis 1-3

A ways off, but something to keep in mind:


i) Why is the rainbow the sign of Noah's covenant? An obvious reason is that rainbows signal the end of a rainstorm. Some rainstorms produce flash flooding. So there's a natural symbolic association. 

ii) Another reason may be the universality of rainbows, comported to regional phenomena like the Northern lights. The universality of rainbows match the universality of Noah's covenant. A covenant with creation. A covenant that signifies ordinary providence. 

iii) Because rainbows are generated by sunlight and rain water, they evoke the Creator God of Gen 1–the Maker of the sun and rainclouds. That points to the divinity of the Son of Man in Ezk 1:25-28, whose nimbic aura resembles a rainbow. 

iv) In a dry climate like the Middle East, rainbows have a beneficent connotation. They signify life-giving rain. A sign of divine favor and blessing. An emblem of divine benevolence. 

Friday, June 22, 2018

"I leave this life with no regrets"

It's been however many years since I used to watch Charles Krauthammer on Fox News. Nowadays I get my news from the Internet. Admittedly, I sometimes read his essays. 

1. In libertarian circles he will forever be remembered and reviled as a Neocon warmonger. I'm not saying that's fair. As I've remarked in the past, I think where the so-called Neocons went awry is because they were more rational than the enemy. It's like that old Star Trek episode ("The Galileo Seven") where Spock tries to use logic on the ogres. Rationality is wasted on an irrational adversary. It's not that Muslims are unintelligent. They range along the same Bell Curve as everyone else, but Islam is intellectually stultifying. 

2. Krauthammer brought cool detached rationality to news analysis. That's so lacking in today's knee-jerk, hysteria driven culture, with the social media lynch mobs, academentia, and crazed Democrats. The culture has become so reactionary and polarized. 

3. In a sense, the very best minds are wasted on news analysis because the news is so ephemeral. Krauthammer has affinities with other Jewish intellectuals who focus on politics, viz. Bill Kristol, Richard Perle, Richard Posner, Milton Friedman, Paul Wolfowitz. Very cerebral, rather aloof pundits. 

4. Krauthammer was a conflicted agnostic. I don't know why he was agnostic. It may simply be that he saw no evidence of divine activity in human history. 

5. Because atheism/agnosticism are so unsatisfying, there are two opposite approaches one can take:

i) Because this life is all there is, you can't afford to fritter away your opportunities. Every battle is mortal combat. There are no second chances. So fight to the death. Make your mark. Make your life count. 

ii) Because this life is all there is, don't become too invested in anything. Don't take things too seriously. You and your ideological opponents are headed to a common oblivion. Nothing lasts. Nothing ultimately matters. 

Perhaps that accounts for the detachment of secular Jews like Krauthammer and David Berlinski. Rather like Buddhism. Avoid making enemies because, in the long run, nothing makes any difference. A certain kind of detachment may reflect a tragic outlook on life. A resignation to futility. 

Krauthammer was a very rational man. But high IQ is worthless on your deathbed. 

To my knowledge, his final public words were:

I leave this life with no regrets. It was a wonderful life — full and complete with the great loves and great endeavors that make it worth living. I am sad to leave, but I leave with the knowledge that I lived the life that I intended.

I can't relate to people who say they have no regrets. It's striking that someone so analytical, so reflective about human affairs and our place in the cosmos, was apparently so lacking in self-reflection, self-examination, that he had no regrets. And that from a psychiatrist! 

Perhaps, though, that was part of his agnosticism. Have low expectations. All is fleeting. There's not much to hope for, so why waste time on soul-searching?  

“I don’t believe in God, but I fear Him greatly.”

KRAUTHAMMER: He asked, “Are you religious?” I said, “I don’t believe in God, but I fear Him greatly.”

So, the point I was trying to make is I’m not, I’m not a sort of traditional theist. I can’t say I believe in even the God of Judaism, or Christianity, Islam, sort of the – I’m not sure I can believe in a God of history, who is really interested in our little lives, and who listens to us.

But I’m not – I mean, the one theology that I reject more than any other – I’d be willing to accept a lot of others – is atheism. Especially the village atheist who is so sure there is nothing that he wants to proselytise, humiliate, and unfaith people of faith. That I find appalling.

For two reasons, intellectually, I think it’s sort of the most illogical of all because there’s so much in the real world, in the physical world that we cannot explain, and can never explain, and we simply have to confess that the human beings they are inexplicable. I’m willing to call them transcendent, I have no idea what they are, but I fear it, in other words.

People who say the universe has always existed. What does that mean? It violates every principle of our own logic causation. You look at the atoms of the table, the seats we’re sitting on right now, well predate all of history, they go back to the big bang, so you’re going to tell me that this sort of spontaneously happens?

And they say, “Well, it’s the laws of quantum mechanics, they imply that this has to happen.” Well, where do these laws – You always go back to the origin question? Where do the laws come from? The idea – So the feeling I have is I think it was Newton who once described himself as, I feel like a snail on the shores of an ocean, being charged with figuring out the tides.

A snail is not going to be able to figure it out. We clearly are not capable, no matter what we say or do, and how much wordplay we engage in can penetrate the mysteries. Einstein, of course, was the sort of, the great propagator if you want, or the great philosopher of this view of the deity, or of transcendence, or metaphysics. You know he said when he rejected quantum mechanics, he said, “God does not play dice with the universe.”

What he meant, he didn’t mean it was the God with the beard, who hands out commandments, he meant there’s a beauty, there’s an inherent logic, and a simplicity which is what always impressed him which sort of made him tremble to the universe, that is so impressive, and that tells you that there, I don’t know if it’s a being, it doesn’t have to be a being.

But simply to say this is where our logic stops, and where you have to have respect for what’s beyond it, so that’s, I mean that’s a long way of saying, “I don’t know.” It’s sort of a complicated agnosticism.

But the other thing that goes with it is a deep respect for people of faith. My father was, and perhaps it’s because of filial devotion that I’ve just retained that. It’s not an act of will, I just always respected the way he lived his life, and the beauty of it.

Now, it turns out to me that faith is a gift, and I don’t have it. And I don’t think you can will it.

I’d sort of like to will it, it would make things a little more clear for me, but you can’t will it, it either comes to you or it doesnt. So I don’t have it, but it doesnt mean, and the other humbling thing is that some of the greatest minds in history, I think overwhelmingly were theists of one kind or another.

Who am I to say that Thomas Aquinas and Augustine, and Newton who was a believer were fools, like atheists do? So I have respect for them, in a sense I feel a certain absence in my life by not having it.

But I do find it hard to believe in a God of history, or a God who takes a personal interest in one. I respect people who do, and I’m waiting for the call. My line is always open, or maybe I’m thinking of it the wrong way. I should call Him? But I get a busy, I don’t know what to –

He’s busy.

NT prophecy

I'd like to briefly discuss two related issues:

1. Some charismatics (e.g. Grudem) contend that while OT prophecy is infallible, NT prophecy is fallible. But is that the distinction? With respect to visionary revelation, prophecy can be a three-stage process:

i) God inspires the seer by giving him revelatory dreams and visions.

ii) God inspires the seer to verbalize what he saw. 

iii) God inspires the seer to interpret what he saw. That's especially pertinent to allegorical dreams and visions.

(i) is something that OT and NT prophecy share in common. 

(ii) may be confined to OT prophets and NT apostles. 

(iii) Some revelatory dreams and visions include an inspired interpretation (e.g. Joseph, Daniel) while others are just a verbal record of what the seer experienced (e.g. Ezekiel, Zechariah, the Apocalypse). That's why ordinary readers as well as commentators puzzle over the meaning of apocalyptic books. 

2. The traditional inerrancy position affirms the plenary verbal inspiration of scripture. However, a critic might object that paradigm-cases of biblical inspiration are confined to the prophetic genre rather than historical narratives, &c. There are, however, examples of OT prophets who function as historians. So that's analogous to the Gospel writers: 

29 Now the acts of King David, from first to last, are written in the Chronicles of Samuel the seer, and in the Chronicles of Nathan the prophet, and in the Chronicles of Gad the seer (1 Chron 29:29).

29 Now the rest of the acts of Solomon, from first to last, are they not written in the history of Nathan the prophet, and in the prophecy of Ahijah the Shilonite, and in the visions of Iddo the seer concerning Jeroboam the son of Nebat? (2 Chron 9:29).

15 Now the acts of Rehoboam, from first to last, are they not written in the chronicles of Shemaiah the prophet and of Iddo the seer? There were continual wars between Rehoboam and Jeroboam (2 Chron 12:15).

22 The rest of the acts of Abijah, his ways and his sayings, are written in the story of the prophet Iddo (2 Chron 13:22).

22 Now the rest of the acts of Uzziah, from first to last, Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz wrote (2 Chron 26:22).

32 Now the rest of the acts of Hezekiah and his good deeds, behold, they are written in the vision of Isaiah the prophet, the son of Amoz, in the Book of the Kings of Judah and Israel (2 Chron 32:32).

Thursday, June 21, 2018

The avengers

One objection to Calvinism goes like this: the Calvinist God is like a Mafia Don who puts out a hit on a rival. He doesn't pull the trigger. Rather, he hires a triggerman to do it. Yet the Don is just as blameworthy, if not more so, than the triggerman. 

And it's true that the distinction between proximate and remote causation isn't necessarily exculpatory, as this example illustrates. So this seems to be the principle: if it's murder for me to kill someone directly, then it's murder for me to facilitate their death. That sounds plausible, but is it true? 

As I've often said, what we find intuitively plausible usually depends on the example. Changing the example can change the intuition. 

Let's take a morally complex example. After WWII, some Nazi's become fugitives from justice. I don't mean Nazis in the sense of forced conscripts, but zealots who were devoted to the cause, viz. Josef Mengele, Walter Rauff. Some of them fled to Latin America, where they hid out or found safe haven. 

This gave rise to Nazi hunters. But some Jews to it a step further, becoming assassins (rather like the OT avenger of blood). They were called the Nakam.

Now, it might be possible to argue that their actions were just reprisal. But for discussion purposes, let's stipulate that assassinating Nazi war criminals is murder. 

Suppose I'm living in Latin America. I recognize one of my neighbors as a Nazi war criminal. 

Suppose the Nakam are hot on the trail of my Nazi neighbor. They come knocking, show me photos, ask me if I know him by name or by sight. 

I realize that these are Jewish assassins. If I give them accurate directions, they will murder him. Does that make me complicit in murder, if I accede to their request?

Although it would be murder if I killed him, surely I have no duty to protect him. I have no duty to lie to the Nakam to shield him from retribution. It's his fault that he's at risk. He brought it on himself. 

This seems to be a case where a second party could facilitate murder without his own action being tantamount to murder. Even if their action is blameworthy, and my action wittingly facilitates their action, that doesn't make my action blameworthy in a case like this. 

Catholicism in the dock, part 2

This is another installment in my selective review of White's The Light of Christ. For the first installment:

A good example of this is the 20C proclamation of the dogma of the bodily Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This teaching is an expression of what the tradition has always affirmed for the Virgin Mary, and for all human beings in our capacity to participate in divine life. Our bodies are not an impediment we need to shed for shared intimacy with God. From the earliest times the Church taught that all human beings will be resurrected from the dead in the end times and that the Virgin Mary was the new Eve, fully redeemed by the grace of Christ her Son (a teaching we will return to below)…Christ has worked perfectly in the Virgin Mary what he intends to work more broadly in all of humanity at the end of time (185).

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The counsel of Trent

I plan to do a series of posts commenting on Trent Horn's The Case for Catholicism: Answers to Classic and Contemporary Protestant Objections (Ignatius 2017). I'll begin with this:

Finally, if it were true that all Christian doctrine is explicitly found in Scripture, then one would expect the doctrine of sola scriptura to be found there as well. This could be in the form of a Bible passage that teaches sola scriptura or even a logical argument derived from multiple passages that, when taken together, teach the same doctrine…Of course, if sola scriptura were as implicit in Scripture as the doctrine of the Trinity, then why didn't the early Christians affirm it? The answer is that sola scriptura is not found in the Scriptures and, consequently, the early Church did not teach that doctrine (18). 

1. This objection is a Catholic apologetic trope. I first encountered it in Francis Beckwith. However, there's nothing wrong with Catholic apologists raising the issue:

2. Let's begin with a brief definition: according to sola scriptura, the Protestant canon is the supreme source and standard of doctrine and ethics. 

I'll refine this definition momentarily, but that will do for now.

3. As it stands, Horn's dilemma is a verbal trick. Start by saying that according to sola scriptura, all doctrine is found in Scripture. Then classify sola scriptura as a doctrine. Ergo, sola scriptura should be found in Scripture. (I'm not accusing Horn of deliberate trickery.)

But that's too facile. Even if we classified sola scriptura as a doctrine, it's not the same kind of doctrine. It's a regulative doctrine. A doctrinal criterion. It has a different function. So it wouldn't be treated just like other "doctrines" in general.

4. Apropos (3), it's like a ruler. You don't use a ruler to measure itself. Rather, you use a ruler to measure other things. You don't use a standard as a criterion for the standard itself (or a criterion as a standard for the criterion itself). A criterion is distinct from what it's used to evaluate. 

5. Apropos (4), asking where sola scriptura is to be found in Scripture is like asking where is the ruler to be found in the ruler? But the ruler isn't contained in the rule. The ruler isn't a part of the ruler. Rather, the ruler is the standard. 

By the same token, if I show you a chess set, it would be nonsensical to ask, "Where is the set? Is it the bishop? The queen? The castle? The knight?"

But the set isn't in the set. A chess piece isn't a chess set. Rather, the entire set comprises the set.

Likewise, we wouldn't expect the principle of sola scriptura to be in Scripture if sola scriptura just is Scripture.  

6. Horn's objection is a variation on the composition/division fallacy. The whole isn't necessarily the same kind of thing as the parts, or vice versa. It's not reducible to prooftexts for sola scriptura. If a football team has the best quarterback in the league, that doesn't make it the best team in the league. The properties of the whole aren't necessarily transferable to the parts, or vice versa. So the principle of sola scriptura doesn't require a discrete prooftext somewhere in Scripture. 

7. But let's unpack the principle:

i) Sola scriptura is synonymous with revelation alone/only. To be more precise: public, propositional revelation. To formulate the claim with greater precision: public, propositional revelation is the supreme source and standard of doctrine and ethics.  

Put it this way: who's the best person to answer a question–any question? God is the best qualified person to answer any question. No one would be a better source of information than God. No one would be as good. 

So revelation is the supreme source and standard for whatever it speaks to. And I don't see that Catholics should take exception to that principle. 

ii) Assuming (i), the next question is where, at this stage in history, are we to find public, propositional revelation? There was a time when that included oral communication. There was a time when that was broader than the Bible. But in terms of what's survived, for the benefit of posterity, is there any extant source of public, propositional revelation over and above the Bible?

A Catholic may say revelation is found outside the Protestant canon–in the Catholic canon! But that's not an alternative to sola scriptura. Rather, that's a dispute over the boundaries of Scripture. The principle remains the same. What that corresponds to is disputed. 

iii) I'd add that there's a pattern whereby revelation operates in tandem with redemption. God causes redemptive events, then causes an inspired record of redemptive events. An interpretive historical account. In addition, God causes inspired theological interpretations. For instance, the life of Christ, the Gospels, and the Epistles. 

It's not coincidental that the NT was written within living memory of the historical Jesus. We shouldn't expect new public, propositional revelation during the interadventual age because we shouldn't expect new redemptive events during the interadventual age. 

Catholicism in the dock

I'll be doing a few posts on a recent introduction to Catholicism: Thomas Joseph White, The Light of Christ: An Introduction to Catholicism (CUA 2017). I believe this is regarded as the best contemporary overview of Roman Catholicism, so it's a good foil. 

This constancy and universality of Catholic tradition are features that no historian can fail to notice (34).

To the contrary, many church historians notice the inconstancy and provinciality of Roman Catholic tradition. After all, many church historians are Protestant or Eastern Orthodox. For that matter, modern Catholic church historians acknowledge dramatic discontinuities. 

Nor can critics of Catholic tradition avoid making use of some king of tradition of their own. On a practical level, the rejection of tradition is not a realistic option for anyone who takes scripture seriously. For as soon as we begin to articulate what we think scripture means (or any other book for that matter), we inevitably set a precedent that can be accepted, denied, or qualified by another. In this way, every text that has a seminal role in human culture also acquires traditions of interpretation down through time, and these are embodied in turn in living communities that promote them or distort them, alter them creatively or develop them homogeneously, reject them or maintain them…To remain constant in any teaching down through time, any community that wishes to maintain its own unity must not only have principles, but also develop a commonality of vital intellectual teaching that is passed on to others across time and place.

The Catholic Church does not dispute whether scripture is to be read within tradition or to be read outside of it, but whether it is to be read according to the human traditions of a John Calvin (some of  whose key teachings function practically as a magisterium of reference for many over centuries) or through recourse to the Catholic tradition and established teachings of the Church. The realistic question is not whether we will have a tradition, but which one are we to have (34-35).

i) The claim that critics of Catholicism can't avoid referencing a tradition of their own is at odds with the common assertion that Protestants are guilty of proposing theological innovations. But a theological position can't be simultaneously traditional and innovative.

There's a first time for everything. It's quite possible for a theologian to make a break with the past.  

ii) However, White objection misses the larger point. The question is whether tradition is regarded as intrinsically authoritative and unquestionable. Tradition as an argument from ecclesiastical authority, that isn't subject to review. 

That's quite different from tradition as an interpretation of Scripture that appeals to reason and evidence rather than authority. There is moreover, a difference between interpretations that become traditions and traditions that prejudge the meaning of Scripture.

There are traditional interpretations in the sense of a tradition that starts out as an interpretation of Scripture, then becomes traditional, and something that starts out as a tradition, then casts about for prooftexts to retroactively validate a tradition that developed independently of Scripture.

In addition, some traditional interpretations become dogma. The tradition is frozen in place and becomes the foundation for a theological skyscraper. But that's different from a traditional interpretation that remains subject to scrutiny. Traditional interpretations that must prove themselves to each new Christian generation. Traditions that are responsive to logic and evidence. 

iii) It's true that some Protestants pay lip-service to sola Scriptura. But that's because humans are social creatures, so theological tribalism is a powerful impulse. Yet there's the same dynamic in Catholic affiliation. If the correct interpretation of Scripture is ascertainable, then sooner or later someone will come up with the correct interpretation. It's not inconsistent with sola scriptura for the right interpretation, whoever is the first to publish it, to become a traditional interpretation. 

To expect each person to adjudicate for himself each and every possible Christian teaching within the course of a lifetime is absurd. Consequently, we do depend upon interpretations of others inevitably, and our own interpretations do contribute to those of a larger community. We are bound to receive the greater part of our understanding of revelation from a life in community with others (35).

It doesn't occur to White that his objection cuts both ways. Each cradle Catholic or convert to Catholicism can't adjudicate for himself each and every possible Christian teaching within the course of a lifetime. They rely on others to do the sorting and sifting for them. But then, isn't their preference for Catholicism just a coin toss? They haven't systematically compared and contrasted the competing theological alternatives. 

Therefore, God has established in the Church from the beginning a living stream of apostolic tradition that is continuously maintained and safeguarded by divinely instituted authority. Had he not done so, a thousand incompatible interpretations of scripture on major issues would proliferate inevitably among Christian believers and splinter them into a disbanded set of divided communities (35).

i) How many interpretations there are is irrelevant. The salient question is whether there's a best interpretation. The most reasonable interpretation. Does the evidence point to the superiority of one interpretation? 

ii) White can't legitimately stipulate that Catholicism is the solution, for Catholicism is itself one of the myriad contenders. 

Furthermore, without such a unified tradition maintained down through time, no one person would ever be able to come to a comprehensive set of judgments about the truths of the faith, simply due to the sheer volume of enigmatic questions posed from theological controversies down through the ages (35).

i) Catholic apologists always frame theological/hermeneutical diversity as a problem for Protestantism. A problem generated by sola Scriptura. Yet that only follows if in fact Catholicism is the true alternative. But what if Catholicism is false?

What if the problem, or situation, is generated, not by Protestantism, but by reality? What if that's the actual situation God has put us in?

To take a comparison, consider the problem of evil. Atheists say that problem is generated by Christian theology. 

But Christians counter that the problem is generated, not by Christian theology, but by reality. That's the actual situation God has put us in.

As I see the world, sometimes God intervenes and sometimes he doesn't. There's a seeming randomness in divine intervention. Who gets the healing miracle and who doesn't. Who gets his prayer answered and who doesn't. Who gets divine guidance and who doesn't. Who gets a divine sign and who doesn't. 

I'm not saying it's actually random. More like God's special providence surfaces from time to time. But on the face of it, it often appears as though God has thrown us back on our own resources. Divine guidance is not continuous but occasional and unpredictable. There's no oracle that answers all our questions. 

ii) White is appealing to an idealized version of Catholicism. A paper theory. But to an outsider, the behavior of the Rome church is indistinguishable from an organization that lacks supernatural direction. An organization that's making things up on the fly. That changes position in response to unforeseen developments. A fumbling, bumbling, stumbling organization with pretensions to divine superintendence. 

The Church is not above scripture. She is only ever subordinate to scripture. But under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the advocate that was promised to her… (35).

i) Catholic apologists and theologians say the church is subordinate to Scripture rather than above it, but if, according to them, the Magisterium is the arbiter of what Scripture means, then Scripture means whatever the Magisterium says it means. So that puts the Magisterium above Scripture. Scripture can never act as an independent check on the Magisterium if the Magisterium is the definitive interpreter. 

ii) Moreover, in Jn 14-16, Jesus didn't promise the Spirit to "the Church", much less the pope or the Roman Magisterium, but to the Eleven. This is a classic example of how Catholics read out of Scripture what they first read into Scripture. 

Catholic appeal to Scripture is circular inasmuch as Scripture is only allowed to mean whatever meaning the Magisterium assigns to Scripture. But in that event, how do they establish the authority of the Magisterium in the first place? 

Modern biblical scholarship, when done well, achieves modest results…None of this is trivial, but none of it proves that Christianity is true either. For that, supernatural faith is necessary because the subject matter of Christianity is a mystery that transcends natural human reason (25).

What would be stranger–in fact illogical in its own right–would be the claim God has revealed himself most certainly but that we might just as certainly deny the capacity of the Church to identify his teaching with any certitude. If the Church cannot teach infallibly, then we are in fact required to say something absurd of just this kind: "God has revealed himself, but the Church can never say with assurance what God has revealed" (37). 

i) To begin with, suppose our interpretations do fall short of certainty? But unless all interpretations are equally uncertain, why is that a problem?

ii) White appeals to "supernatural faith", which seems to function as a makeweight. "Supernatural faith" closes the gap between evidence and certainty. But even if we grant that paradigm, how does that principle select for Catholicism? Why can't Protestant epistemology appeal to "supernatural faith"?

iii) White is shooting a hole in the bottom of his own boat. If, by his own admission, scholarship falls short to proving Christianity, then even by his own lights, the case for Catholicism can only achieve probability rather than certainty. At this stage of the argument he can't invoke the infallibility of the church to bridge the gap since that in itself is one of those hotly-contested issues where he relies on his fallible interpretation of the historical sources. 

iv) Catholic apologists are looking for a mechanism to secure assurance. They locate that mechanism in the Magisterium.

But what about divine providence? We might compare the relationship between providence and theological/hermeneutical diversity to a passenger ship. Ultimately, the passengers only need to be going in the same direction in the sense of boarding the same ship. Some heretics miss the boat. Once on board, the ship takes all of them to the same destination, unless some of them jump overboard (apostates).

Once on board, there's a sense in which passengers going in different directions as well as the same direction. They're continuously moving in different directions. Up and down different decks. Moving from stem to stern, port to starboard. Walking in circles around the deck. 

Yet they're all headed in the same direction insofar as they are going wherever the ship is going. So long as Christians are heavenbound, why is hermeneutical certitude required? 

A second event is depicted in Acts 2. Here, fifty days after the resurrection of Christ (the "Pentecost"), the Spirit is sent upon the apostles gathered in prayer with the early Christian community and the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God. The apostles are given illumination and fortitude, as well as charismatic gifts to preach the gospel to all the nations, without fear of persecution or death (181).

Although the Spirit is given to the apostles at Pentecost, that's inclusive rather than exclusive to the apostles. The Spirit is given to Christians in general, including revelatory dreams and visions (Acts 2:16-17). Throughout the Book of Acts, the gift of the Spirit is common property of Christian converts, including supernatural phenomena. There's no clerical/lay dichotomy in that regard. 

This means that after the time of the apostles there cannot be any additional new revelation that adds to the initial apostolic deposit of faith. The Church can understand more explicitly and conceptually what was contained implicitly and intuitively in the apostolic doctrine. But this "development" of Church doctrine can only take place because it stems from what is truly contained in the primal revelation of the apostolic Church (182).

A basic problem is that modern Catholicism tries to combine two divergent paradigms. The deposit of faith represents the traditional paradigm. That's fixed. Complete. 

But modern Catholicism has added the theory of development. That leads to special pleading, where theological innovations are reclassified as theological developments.

Chosen by Christ himself as the "Rock" upon whom the faith of the Church rests, Peter…(185).

If you consider the rocky setting where Jesus said that, I think the primary reference is not to Peter, but to the symbolism of Caesarea Philippi, a rocky borderland between Jewish Palestine and pagan territory, having historic associations with Baal-worship and Pan. I take Jesus to be saying that he will build his church behind enemy lines. The Church invades the kingdom of darkness. 

[Peter] is portrayed throughout the NT as the central authority of the early Church, the primary apostolic teacher, upon whom the others depend for the final decisions in matters of governance (185). 

It's demonstrably false that throughout the NT, Peter is the central authority, the primary teacher on whom all others depend for final rulings in church governance. For the first few chapters in Acts, Peter takes the lead. After that, others like Stephen and Philip step in. Then Peter is eclipsed by Paul, because Paul is more talented than Peter.

The NT has two letters attributed to Peter. In mainstream Catholic scholarship, sanctioned by the Magisterium, Petrine authorship is denied. Most of the NT was composed by writers other than Peter. The Book of Acts contains some Petrine speeches, but mainstream Catholic scholarship regards the speeches in Acts as fictional. My point is not to agree with that but to respond to modern Catholicism on its own terms. And even if we take a more conservative position, the dominant and predominant NT teaching is from teachers other than Peter.