Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Sorry, but Catholicism is still wrong–dead wrong!

Catholic apologist Trent Horn has posted a running commentary on a video by Mike Winger:

There will be a part 2 and possibly part 3. I'll evaluate some of his statements:

The church doesn't say only the Catholic church can interpret the Bible and individual believers are not able to interpret…Catholic biblical scholars interpret the Bible, theologians, priests interpret the Bible all the time. The church has given us guardrails, however, to know specifically where our interpretations cannot go. 

1. But that boils down to the principle that the Catholic church determines what Scripture really means. It means whatever the Magisterium says it means. Priests, theologians, Bible scholars, and layman are allowed to interpret the Bible, but that's just their personal opinion. If you want to know what Scripture really teaches, it's up to the magisterium. 

So that subordinates biblical revelation to the Roman Magisterium. In practice, the Bible has no independent teaching authority. It cannot function as a check on what the Catholic church teaches. It's a dummy for the Magisterial ventriloquist. This reduces the Catholic church to an unfalsifiable cult, because the Magisterium is beyond correction. 

2. It generates a dilemma. Assuming the Magisterium is the authentic interpreter of Scripture, its teaching is unquestionable, but how do you establish that it's the authentic interpreter of Scripture in the first place? You can't appeal to Scripture to validate the Magisterum if ascertaining the true interpretation of Scripture hinges on the authority of the Magisterium. So how do you verify that the Magisterium is a divine teaching office rather than an impious fraud? 

3. Horn tries to turn tables on Winger by raising the issue of Protestant pastoral authority: Which pastors have authority and which don't. Is it pastors that have a historical pedigree going back to the apostles…

The comparison is equivocal. It depends on the polity, but let's say Protestant pastors have the administrative authority to maintain the doctrinal and ethical policy of the local church they preside over. That's voluntary in the sense that if you wish to belong to that church or be a member in good standing, then you have to accept the authority structure of that fellowship, be it an independent church or member of a denomination. 

But you're not morally obligated to agree with the pastor. He has no intrinsic authority to obligate belief and conformity. For one thing, he can be mistaken. For another thing, attendance is voluntary. You can opt out.

4. In addition, Horn is conflating administrative authority with dogmatic authority. In terms of Protestant epistemology, a doctrine is justified by the quality of the exegetical arguments. Some arguments are better than others. Some doctrines fail to pass muster. 

That's an appeal to reason and evidence, not authority. Although the Bible is authoritative, exegesis is an exercise of reason. 

By contrast, Catholicism says the Magisterium has the absolute authority to interpret Scripture. It isn't necessary to defend the interpretation by appeal to reason and evidence. Indeed, the interpretation is independent of reason and evidence. It obligates belief by its sheer prerogative. It's not based on which side has the best argument. 

5. Pedigree is irrelevant to truth. Consider the debate between the religious authorities and the blind man Jesus healed in John 9. They had pedigree but he had truth. His truth trumped their pedigree and authority. 

6. Horn says Catholics and Protestants disagree is whether the Bible is the sole source of Christian revelation–that all Christian doctrine is found only and explicitly in the Bible. 

But sola scripture doesn't insist that all Christian doctrine must be explicit in Scripture. It can be logically implicit. 

7. Horn says The church doesn't simply make up doctrine out of whole cloth without regard to the Bible, then quotes a passage from Vatican I. But that's just propaganda. Horn is expounding Catholic claims, yet the question at issue is not in the first place what Rome teaches but whether what she teaches is true. What's required is not a statement of the claim but a defense of the claim. 

8. Winger says that if you just read Catholic prooftexts as they stand, you'd never find the papacy in those passages. Horn tries to turn tables on Winger:

If you just read the Bible and you were not thinking of the doctrine of eternal security–that you can't lose your salvation–I could easily say anyone reading the Bible with its clear warnings about how salvation can be lost, you would never just come to that…And it's true that nobody came to that until the time of John Calvin in the 16C. The idea that salvation cannot be lost simply does not jump out of the text.

But that's a fallacious comparison. There are passages in Scripture which seem to indicate that salvation can't be lost. That's right there in the wording or logic of the text. Just taken as they stand, without any supplementation.

The reason this is an issue is that we have two kinds of passages in Scripture. As Horn points out, we also have passages that warn about the loss of salvation. 

So Horn's comparison is inapt. This is a question of harmonization, not a question of whether they say less that readers use them to prove. A Protestant objection to many Catholic prooftexts is that they just don't say as much as Catholics are laboring to extract from them. They aren't that specific. Indeed, that Catholic theologians and apologists are quoting them out of context or construing them contrary to what they actually say.  

9. Horn says 2 Tim 3:16-17 simply are the Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura.

That's hyperbolic. As I've discussed before, sola scriptura doesn't even require a prooftext. That's a myopic understanding of how to frame the issue. 

10. Horn adds that you'd never get from these verses that the Bible is without error and the Bible is a specific canon of these books. 

But that's a straw man. It's not a prooftext for inerrancy or Protestant canonicity.

11. Horn objects to the suggestion that Protestantism is the default, and if the Catholic can't prove his case, Protestantism wins. He says Protestants can't build up a defense of biblical authority without borrowing something from the Catholic worldview. 

It's true that a Protestant case for biblical authority must be supplemented by extrabiblical evidence, but that doesn't mean it must borrow from the Roman Catholic worldview. 

12. He then quotes David deSilva's claim that Peter alone is given special authority (to tend and feed the sheep) in Jn 21:15-17. 

But that's a logical fallacy. The fact that someone is singled out on a particular occasion doesn't imply exclusivity. Jesus doesn't say Peter has a responsibility to tend and feed the sheep in opposition to the role of the other disciples. Peter is singled out an act of public restoration after his betrayal. 

Suppose I have two sons. I tell one of them to fetch a tool from the garage. I only told one of them to do that. Which hardly implies that only one of them is ever allowed to get a tool from the garage. 

13. Referring to 1 Peter, Horn says the fact that Peter is the shepherd over the universal church doesn't take away from the pastoral role of the bishops, or the other apostles and their successors. 

But 1 Peter is not addressed to Peter's fellow apostles. Peter didn't write it to the other apostles.  

14. Horn says that at Acts 15, Peter gives a "dogmatic declaration…an unchanging, infallibly defined teaching of the church."

i) That's a completely anachronistic characterization, using Catholic nomenclature from a much later date. Horn is salting the mine.

ii) In addition, Peter is not the only apostle to the gentiles. That's not a uniquely Petrine role. He shares that role with Paul. Moreover, Peter's role in relation to Gentile missions appears to be fairly emblematic. At a substantive level, Paul is far more influential in establishing a Gentile beachhead in the church. 

15. Horn tries to parry Winger's claim that when Catholics can't get what they need from Scripture, they run to the church fathers–by claiming that when Protestants can't get the canon of Scripture from Scripture alone, they run to the church fathers. 

That's ingenious but fallacious:

i) Both sides are selective in their appeal to early sources. Catholics classify Tertullian and Origen as heretics while they classify Novatian and Donatus as schismatics. It's not as if Catholics have all the early figures in church history on their side. Take Marcion (2C). He's closer in time to the Apostles than the Nicene Fathers. 

ii) Horn seems to underestimate the amount of internal evidence for the canon. 

iii) He also acts as though the only external evidence is patristic. But that's not the case. For instance, the Muratorian canon is a useful witness to the NT, but it's not patristic. NT papyri and uncials witness to the NT canon, but they're not patristic. Ironically, NT apocrypha and pseudepigrapha witness to the NT canon. When heretics feel the need to invent a rival canon, that bears witness to a preexisting canon in the church.

iv) He keeps harping on the canon because he labors under the confused notion that any use of extrabiblical evidence for the canon is incompatible with sola Scriptura. But that confounds the authority of Scripture with the identification of Scripture. If I recognize St. Paul's signature, that doesn't put me in a position of authority over his letter. 

Likewise, if my dad is an oncologist, and I'm shown some handwritten medical correspondence, to verify if he wrote it, I can authenticate the correspondence because I recognize his handwriting, but that's doesn't mean I can interpret the technicalities of the content.  

16. They got on the topic of Mary's perpetual virginity. I'd simply point out that the dogma includes the peculiar claim that she was virgin in partu. Even if we define the "adelphoi" of Jesus as cousins, that's still not consistent with in partu virginity. 

17. Horn asks how Protestants know from Scripture alone the way to conduct a baptism. But of course the NT provides some narrative descriptions of baptism. And while certain details are lacking, that's only problem if you think there must be just one right way to conduct a baptism. There's an area in which God has left a measure of freedom. It's not like the Mosaic code with minute instructions.

Horn raises the same question about marriage. But of course, the Bible has a theology of marriage. We design a wedding ceremony based on the theology of marriage. 

18. He says the church fathers were unanimous on the necessity of baptism for salvation. But that means the contemporary Catholic church is opposed to the consensus of the church fathers, since modern Catholicism doesn't regard baptism as a prerequisite for salvation. 

19. Horn objects that even when church fathers are unanimous, Protestants say that doesn't matter because it's not in the Bible. We're going to ignore what they have received from the apostles so close to them when we're so far removed. 

i) It many cases it's not just that Catholic teaching is absent from Scripture, but contrary to Scripture.

ii) As a rule, the interpretive context for a writing is what is prior to or contemporaneous with the writing, not what is future to the writing. Not the later history of reception, but the occasion, immediate audience, literary allusions, and author's background. 

iii) For many church fathers, their interpretive frame of reference is their Greco-Roman education. That ill-equips them to interpret a set of Jewish documents. 

iv) We are much farther removed from the ancient Near East than the church fathers, yet a modern Egyptologist or Assyriologist has a far better grasp of certain OT texts than a church father.  

v) Origen and Tertullian are closer to the apostles than the Nicene and post-Nicene Fathers, yet Horn discounts them as heretics. BTW, while Montanism is a serious theological error, it's no worse than many Catholic errors. 

20. At one point Horn says Why trust Mike [Winger]'s authority to interpret this to say that Trent [Horn] is getting it wrong?

That demonstrates a seminal error of Catholic apologetics. It's not a question of trust and authority, but reason and evidence. Does Winger have a better exegetical argument for his interpretation? 

21. Horn says, Where is sola scriptura or sola fide in the history of the church? Is it really the case that God allowed the church not to know these doctrines for 1500 years?

Suppose we ask a different question: where is Jesus in the history of rabbinic Judaism? Is it really the case that God allowed the Chosen People not to know the Messiah for 2000 years?

If sola fide is in the Bible, then it's not as if God kept "the church" in the dark for 1500 years. Who's to blame if Catholics fail to perceive what is staring them in the face all that time?

Likewise, why is unthinkable that God would allow Catholics to be wrong about sola Scriptura or sola fide, but allow Jews to be wrong about the Messiah? 

22. Horn raises an interesting question about 1 Tim 5:11. Philip Towner has a helpful discussion in his magisterial commentary. 


  1. --Catholic biblical scholars interpret the Bible, theologians, priests interpret the Bible all the time. The church has given us guardrails, however, to know specifically where our interpretations cannot go.--

    So, instead of leeway to intepret that is the width of a toothpick, the RCC allows leeway to intepret that is the width of a chopstick. Okay.

    --The reason this is an issue is that we have two kinds of passages in Scripture. As Horn points out, we also have passages that warn about the loss of salvation.--

    Mike Winger himself has stated his stand that he is not yet fully sure one way or the other on this issue. Trent Horn should have picked some other doctrine.

    --15. Horn tries to parry Winger's claim that when Catholics can't get what they need from Scripture, they run to the church fathers–by claiming that when Protestants can't get the canon of Scripture from Scripture alone, they run to the church fathers.--

    Operation St Cyprian has been covering how various early church writers DO NOT support RCC dogma:

  2. The claim that nobody believed in justification through faith alone or eternal security before the Reformation, or between the time of the apostles and the Reformation, is false. See my articles on justification and eternal security here. Other threads linked on that page document that some Roman Catholic beliefs, like prayer to the dead and the sinlessness of Mary, are absent from and/or contradicted in both the Biblical sources and the earliest sources outside the Bible. So, while we can cite both Biblical and patristic support for sola fide and eternal security, some of Catholicism's teachings are absent from (and often contradicted by) scripture and the earliest generations of the patristic era. We need to keep in mind that some doctrines and practices supported by later church fathers weren't supported by earlier ones. Something can be patristic in the sense of having some support in later patristic history, yet be contradicted by earlier patristic sources. And even when a Catholic belief has early patristic support, that support can be accompanied by contradictions of the belief from other patristic sources. I give many examples along these lines on my page linked above.

    And see here regarding a Catholic Answers broadcast a few years ago that had a Catholic guest on acknowledging that sola fide and sola scriptura predate the Reformation.

  3. There's a kind of argument which is taken to show that given theism, Christianity is more or less to be expected. I first saw it from Aquinas: given that the point of man's existence is to know the Truth and love the Good (God) but that it is practically impossible for us to do this on our own, it is fitting that God should follow through with his point of creating us and reveal himself to us as Truth and Goodness.

    Details aside, if something like that argument works, then we should not be expected to figure it all out on our own, such as by deducing canonicity or the like in any kind of a priori way. God comes to man. The consideration of things for the sake of forming beliefs one way or the other will be a means by which God draws man to his self-revelation, and not a means by which man discovers, on his own, that self-revelation.

    I guess what made me think of this is the way that Horn (and other Catholic apologists) insist on a need for a magisterium, as if it would be up to us to figure it all out without one. As if the Protestant bears this terrible weight on her shoulders. It's all a strange way of framing it.

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  6. //13. Referring to 1 Peter, Horn says the fact that Peter is the shepherd over the universal church doesn't take away from the pastoral role of the bishops, or the other apostles and their successors. //

    Years ago, using Catholic-like hermeneutics, Jason "proved" from the Bible that Paul was the Supreme Pontiff of the universal Church [i.e. the Pope]. He used better arguments than Roman Catholics do for Peter.

    51 Biblical Proofs Of A Pauline Papacy And Ephesian Primacya