Dialogue: Catholic vs. Protestant Conceptions of  the Meaning and Consequences of Private Judgment

(Including Lengthy Citations From Reformed Protestants Arthur W. Pink and Archibald Bruce)

Dave Armstrong vs. Tim Enloe (TGENLOE@aol.com)

This is an exchange with a friendly and knowledgeable Protestant apologist which took place on Steve Ray's Catholic Convert Message Board (October 2000). It has been edited  in order to eliminate material of little interest to the general reader. Tim's words will be in blue:

Don't tell me you are overlooking the fact of Luther's extensive theological and patristic studies in the years prior to Worms.

He didn't show a very good understanding of St. Thomas. He equated Scholasticism with the nominalism which was a gross corruption of it (apparently common in the Augustinian ranks in that period); hence much of the seedbed for the serious errors - theological and historical - of the Protestant Revolt.

It's easy to rip on Dr. Martin's famous statement about his own conscience,

I merely take it at face value . . .

but you have to keep in mind that his conscience (at least from his point of view) was very well informed on the issues he was rendering decisions about.

Hardly. But it sounds nice, like much of Protestant rhetoric. Here again we are on this slippery subjective ground, where nothing can be resolved.

Like it or not, that is exactly the same kind of "private judgment" that you yourself used in your process of converting to Rome.

Not at all; it is not only different, but essentially different, as I have gone over many times in many papers on my website. I explained it to you in our debate - obviously unsuccessfully, as you come back with the same old line, not showing that you even grasped the point, whether or not you disagreed with it (which of course you would). But unless you interact with my actual argument then these exchanges are futile, because they are based on shadows and caricature and the fallibility of memory and pull of inherent bias, not the actual thing or argument itself.

It would be child's play to slander your conversion by taking a few phrases about your mental processes out of your story and blow them up to the Nth degree such that I could say "Dave Armstrong thought he possessed infinitely more power than the entirety of the Christian tradition for two thousand years, and the proof is that he used his private judgment to judge that tradition and conclude that Rome was the True Church."

This isn't about internal mental, psychological processes; it is a straightforward deduction about what the man said!!! But note how you don't deal with the logic of my position and critique of Luther-at-Worms and "Here I stand!", which isn't really all that difficult to grasp. Instead you make a bombastic complaint and belittle it as if it has no force at all. This will not do. You protest too much. You have bypassed the internal logic and thrust of the Lutheran sea change in the principle of authority and apostolic precedent and opted for mere showy rhetoric. BOO!

C'mon, Dave.  This really isn't as simplistic as you make it out to be.

No? How? Why don't you explain your subjective rhetorical claims? This is the burden of argument, you know.

You're in the same boat as Luther was, but you just refuse to see it.

This is nonsense. You just don't get it. Luther said things like this:

Inasmuch as I know for certain that I am right, I will be judge above you and above all the angels, as St. Paul says, that whoever does not accept my doctrine cannot be saved. For it is the doctrine of God, and not my doctrine; therefore my judgment also is God's and not mine . . . It would be better that all bishops were murdered, and all abbeys and cloisters razed to the ground, than that one soul should perish . . . If they will not listen to God's Word . . . what can more justly befall them than a violent upheaval which shall root them out of the earth? And we would smile did it happen. All who contribute body, goods . . . that the rule of the bishops may be destroyed are God's dear children and true Christians.
(Against the Falsely So-Called Spiritual Estate of the Pope and Bishops, July 1522; emphasis mine)

 Now, you're welcome to search my writings in a futile effort to try and come up with a similar statement, since I am "in the same boat" with Luther. I say it is poppycock.

I saw that . . .  you complained I was pulling out arguments about private judgment that you had already more than adequately answered (e.g., the "You are in the same boat as Luther" comment).  Then you further complained that I had not dealt with your answers and that I have "not even grasped the point". Just to make sure I'm on the same page as you as I try to put together responses . . . , I wanted to ask you which argument of yours you think I didn't "grasp".  Here's a brief recap of the relevant discussion, culled from a re-reading of it early this morning:

We were discussing the supposed difference between Protestant and Catholic "private judgment", and your statements led me to propose that we were using two different definitions of the term.  For me it meant "the faculty of choosing itself combined with the responsibility before God for the choices one makes with that judgment."  When I stated that "Nobody ever gets past this", you agreed.

This is the crux of one of our fundamental disagreements/misunderstandings. This is not what a Catholic means when he uses the term "private judgment." We mean by that a key element of the whole Protestant formal system of authority (sola Scriptura): the exercise of the "private judgment" over against Church and Tradition (i.e., conceived of as a superior and ultimate arbiter, able to bind the conscience, and to proclaim binding dogmas). It is roughly equivalent to the term "supremacy of conscience," as classically understood in Protestant thought. It is a technical term, and a description of a principle of authority and epistemology.

How you have defined it above, on the other hand, we would simply equate with "the use of reason" or the faculty of choosing, and the will. So we have been using different definitions. I believe I tried to point this out in our debate, but maybe not, or not as clearly as I tried to do here. It is my understanding that this usage of the term is in use other than just Catholic circles, as a descriptive phrase having to do with ecclesiological vs. individual authority, but I might be wrong about that.

I further stated that for you, the term seemed to be "equivalent to some kind of epistemological solipsism--e.g., that the individual perceives his mind as totally disconnected from everything outside of himself, and therefore, as the ultimate criterion for determining truth and meaning in the universe."  I stated that I, too, repudiate that kind of "private judgment".

Then you said that while I had hit upon an important distinction, your comments are all about Christian authority and ecclesiology, not philosophical epistemology.  You characterized Sola Scriptura as a man-centered system of formal authority that places individual conscience over the three-legged stool of Scripture, Tradition, and Church  Then you basically said that I don't really repudiate my second kind of "private judgment" ("epistemological autonomy"), because ultimately I reserve the right to judge unanimous consent doctrines of the Fathers if they don't line up with my present theological system, thus elevating my own conscience to supremacy over the three legged stool.  This you see as a damning indictment against the Protestant formal system of authority, and one which apparently nobody (White, Webster, Svendsen, et.al.--and now Tim Enloe!) has ever answered.

Now I assume that since I never got around to replying to your e-mails . . . , that the argument summed up in the last paragraph is what you say I have yet to grasp.  Is that correct?

Generally speaking, I don't think you understand the difference between how I exercised my so-called "private judgment" in the process of my conversion, and how you exercise it routinely as a Protestant. Briefly stated, we say that private judgment is making oneself the ultimate arbiter of spiritual truth (with the aid of the Holy Spirit, the Bible, godly teachers, etc., but in the end the individual reigns supreme).

The Catholic repudiates this. And I didn't use "private judgment" when I converted. What I did was precisely the opposite of that; I recognized that my private judgment was quite fallible and ultimately untrustworthy, and that the Catholic Church was infallible and entirely trustworthy, because (I believed, for other reasons, so that this is not a circular process) it was established by God, and has charisms and aspects such as indefectibility which I do not possess as an individual.

So I renounced my private judgment and accepted the claims of the Church in faith (yet not in opposition to reason, and also secondarily due to the myriad of rational, historical, and biblical difficulties in all of the Protestant Christianities; as well as issues of moral theology). Why I thought the Church was what it claimed to be is a whole different discussion. But I was not exercising private judgment (which has been your constant claim about myself and all Catholics); I was, rather, yielding and submitting to apostolic authority and apostolic succession, and repudiating the rejection of same by Protestantism. This brings us back to the historical arguments about apostolic succession and "lineal descent," which we have been touching upon.

Further elaboration can be found in our last debate (Protestant-Catholic Dialogue: Preliminary Issues Concerning Authority & Epistemological "Certainty" (The "Infallibility Regress") ). If you want to go over that old ground, then you will have to respond to my words there. I don't have time to entirely reiterate my past arguments. This is the wonder of writing (and of websites and links): it saves us a lot of trouble.

And this is what happens when prior arguments are left unresponded-to (for whatever reason: legitimate or no) and the opponent simply makes sweeping, inaccurate (non-argument) statements about their opponents' views which the opponent feels have already been explained and dealt-with.

That's why I have always felt (passionate Socratic that I am) that a constructive dialogue involves dealing with each point, and either offering counter-responses, conceding, or claiming ignorance and asking for more time to study and ponder any given point. The one thing that should not be done is to simply act as if the topic has not been covered, and making statements which suggest this attitude.

I do understand that you are asking for clarification, which is good, and appreciated, but apart from this present nutshell-summary I will have to refer you back to our last debate, because the entire argument in all its intricacies and nuances is there (I labored very hard on it at the time). My clearest thoughts and presentations of what I believe come in the midst of a good exchange, and that's what that was.

But, at any rate, for you to claim that I am in the same epistemological boat as Luther is absurdly ridiculous. I couldn't be any further from his position than the east is from the west. But my position used to be almost exactly Luther's (he used to be perhaps my biggest hero), so I do understand it very well. I simply rejected it, as a result of serious discussion and study for almost a year.

A search of the Internet has spectacularly confirmed my opinions on the meaning of private judgment as used in a single sense by both Protestants and Catholics (minus the so-called "double standard" as you charge me - and us - with). Upon typing that phrase into what I regard as the best search engine, Google, the very first item which popped up was a chapter in a book by Arthur W. Pink (Reformed Baptist: 1886-1952), entitled "Private Judgment." This was chapter 11 from his book Practical Christianity (Part III: "Authority in the Christian Practice"). I found a brief biography of Pink by Joel Rishel (Reformed Baptist Fellowship of Pittsburgh; jrishel@nb.net - found at: http://www.geocities.com/Heartland/Pointe/4495/impact_of_pink.html). It reads in part:

     At the turn of the twentieth century, the major Baptist bodies were Arminian, to
     the extent that most people had forgotten that originally most Baptists were Calvinists.
     It is against this background that the Lord raised up a mighty voice for the old Puritan
     truths of Scripture . . . Pink had a profound impact, if not during his own lifetime, certainly
     after his death and until the present day.

Rishel added a portion later concerning an aspect of Pink's life which strongly confirms what Catholics contend is one of the ill (unbiblical, separatist, schismatic) results of private judgment:

        In response to the introductory article on A.W. Pink I wrote, several people
        asked me about Pink's obscurity and separatism, especially his avoiding all
        churches later in life. It's my opinion that the best-known blot on Pink's life
        cannot be defended or excused. I wish he would have read Don Whitney's
        book, Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Church which argues that if you
        truly love the Lord Jesus Christ, then you must also love the church of Christ.
        Pink's perspective can be illustrated by a portion in his book, "Profiting from
        the Word", which appeared in the Studies from 1931-1932. In chapter 7,
        [pages 87-88 of the Banner of Truth edition], he makes the point,

. . . if, on the other hand, you  still have a good standing in the 'churches' or 'assemblies' there is grave reason to fear that you love the praise of men more than of God! . . .
        I think this type of separatistic thinking is what led Pink to almost "pride"
        himself in not being able to get along with any local church. He considered it a
        healthy sign that he was being "persecuted" by all churches.

        So, I think this was Pink's blemish. We cannot ignore it, nor should we try to
        rationalize it. But, we can still glean much benefit to the soul by so much of
        what Pink wrote and we ought not to neglect that in spite of his faults . . .

Several of Arthur W. Pink's books are offered on the web page Reformed Books and Commentaries (http://www.reformed.org/books/index.html), itself a sub-page of the Center for Reformed Theology and Apologetics, (http://www.reformed.org/), a very prominent repository of Reformed thought and discussion on the Internet. Also, Pink is heavily featured on the rock-solid Reformed Banner of Truth Trust web page. A search for his name on the site yielded 52 matches, and the group publishes a biography of him (Iain H. Murray, The Life of A.W. Pink, Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1981).

So this is not some "loose cannon" who doesn't properly represent the Reformed position. As long as he is a "big shot" on important Reformed websites, then I can legitimately cite his teaching as a representative sample of same. My point in prior dialogue was that the phrase private judgment had an accepted, technical meaning in a theological context, in use by both Catholics and Protestants. This information from Pink and more below, from another well-known Calvinist, Archibald Bruce, precisely support my contentions. Earlier in this discussion, you tried to make out that the average Catholic apologist operates on a double standard in this regard:

He (and this is especially true of converts from various forms of syrupy �Evangelicalism�) makes his determination that Rome is the True Church by using the very thing he criticizes Protestants for using in their determination about the meaning of Scripture��private judgment�. This is simply a double-standard no matter how many times you call the guy who points it out an �Anti-Catholic� or impugn his scholarly credentials.
In other words, you think Catholics are using private judgment just as Protestants are, but denying it, either out of hypocrisy or ignorance. Well, the following excerpts show that Catholics (at least informed ones, and apologetic types) know exactly what private judgment is. We reject it (in the meaning "authoritatively" put forth by Pink and Bruce). The infinitely superior substitute for this false principle is the three-legged stool of Church, Tradition, and Scripture (and apostolic succession), working together as a harmonious unit.

Private judgment - again, in its standard meaning, defined below - inevitably tends to lead individuals and groups down the primrose path of separatism and an undue influence of the traditions of men (oftentimes that of the founder of the group) - despite the obligatory warnings of the more sophisticated and nuanced expounders that such division is evil, etc. The principle (like so many heretical ideas, in their incoherence and ultimate falsity) has its own inner dynamic and logic, and people consistently follow it. Pink's own "blot" or "blemish" of refusal to affiliate with church groups at all later in his life, is a clear and classic example of a dynamic and a corruption or degeneration that has been repeated countless times. He says the "right things" about the teaching; he acts differently, and a bit more self-consistently (though not entirely so). He says one thing and does another, because the teaching is self-defeating in the first place.

One cannot assert private judgment and pretend that this does not and will not have many negative ramificiations for ecclesiology. Luther and Calvin never understood this, and it seems that a great many Protestants to this day do not, either. As is so often the case, the most penetrating insight, analyses, and criticism of sola Scriptura and its corollaries of private judgment and perspicuity (clearness) of Scripture come from those who have self-consciously rejected these false notions as unbiblical, illogical, and unhistorical, as well as absurdly impractical. This is no novel concept. People who reject Darwinian evolution can see its faults and flaws more clearly than most proponents of the theory. Those who oppose the pathetic system of American public education, see its glaring (and obvious) failures much better than the National Educational Association, who must say it is a good and successful system, simply because it is their system, and they do not wish to change it (don't upset the apple cart; let the sleeping dog lie).

Let's examine, then, what Arthur Pink teaches about the nature and meaning of private judgment, in his chapter of the same name (http://www.pbministries.org/books/pink/Practical/prac_11.htm - all emphases added):

Opening paragraph:

It is our present design to treat of the right, the necessity and the duty of each person freely to exercise his reason, conscience and will, especially in matters pertaining to his soul. Every man has the right to think for himself and express or aver his thoughts on political, moral and spiritual matters, without being subject to any civil or ecclesiastical penalty or inconvenience on that account. Conversely, no man is entitled to force his ideas upon others and demand that they subscribe thereto . . .  On the one hand is the steady growth of what is termed "Totalitarianism," under which the minds and bodies of its subjects are little more than robots; and on the other hand is the rapidly increasing power and arrogance of Rome, in which the souls of its members are the slaves of a rigid and merciless tyranny.
And further:
. . . Under no conceivable circumstances should any man relinquish the right to think and decide for himself. His reason, will and conscience are Divine gifts, and God holds him responsible for the right use of them, and will condemn him if he buries his talents in the earth. But as it is with so many other of His favors, this one is not valued at its true worth and soon may not be prized at all unless it be entirely removed and there be a return to the bondage of the "dark ages." A considerable majority of the present generation are largely if not wholly unaware�so ignorant as they of history�that for centuries, even in Britain, civil liberty and the right of private judgment upon spiritual things were denied the masses by both State and Church, politicians and prelates alike lording it over the people.

. . . But we must now turn to that part of our subject which more especially concerns the child of God and his spiritual interests. There are three basic truths which the battle of the Reformation recovered for Christendom: the sufficiency and supremacy of the Scriptures, the right of private judgment, and justification by faith without the deeds of the law . . .

. . . Having shown the very real need there is for each person to form his own judgment of what God�s Word teaches, we now turn to consider his God-given right to do so. This is plainly signified or clearly implied in many passages . . .

. . .  every Christian has the God-given right to think for himself, to form his own opinion of what Scripture teaches, and to decide what he considers is most pleasing and honoring unto God.

. . .  Each Christian is responsible to believe and act according to the best light which
he has from God and continue to examine His Word and pray for more light. The dictates of conscience are not to be trifled with, and the right of private judgment is ever to be exercised by me and respected in others. Thereby the Christian duty of mutual forbearance is alone maintained and a spirit of tolerance and charity exercised . . .

. . . Now this right of private judgment, and the duty of each person to determine for himself what God�s Word teaches, is categorically denied by Rome, which avers that "ignorance is the mother of devotion," and that the highest form of service is that of "blind obedience" . . .

 . . . In those countries ruled by the emissaries of the Vatican, God�s Word has ever been, and still is, withheld from the people, and they are forbidden to read or hear it read under pain of the Pope�s anathema. All known copies of it are seized and committed to the flames . . .

. . . Not only is private judgment a right which God has conferred upon each of His children, but it is their bounden duty to exercise the same. The Lord requires us to make full use of this privilege, and to employ all lawful and peaceful means for its maintenance. Not only are we responsible to reject all erroneous teaching, but we are not to be the serfs of any ecclesiastical tyranny. "Be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. And call no man your father
upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven" (Matt. 23:8, 9). Those words contain very much more than a prohibition against according ecclesiastical titles unto men; yea, it is exceedingly doubtful whether such a concept is contained therein; rather is Christ forbidding us to be in spiritual bondage to anyone . . .

. . . "Call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven" (verse 9). This dehortation has ever been needed by God�s people, for they are the most part simple and unsophisticated, trustful and easily imposed upon. In those verses the Lord Jesus was enforcing the duty of private judgment, bidding believers suffer none to be the dictators of their faith or lords of their lives. No man is to be heeded in spiritual matters any further than he can produce a plain and
decisive "thus saith the Lord" as the foundation of his appeal. To be in subjection to any ecclesiastical authority that is not warranted by Holy Writ, or to comply with the whims of men, is to renounce your Christian freedom. Suffer none to have dominion over your mind and conscience . . . . Be regulated only by the teaching of God�s Word . . .

. . . "Prove all things: hold fast that which is good" (1 Thess. 5:21). This is yet another verse which, by clear and necessary implication, teaches the privilege and right of private judgment, and makes known the duty and extent to which it is to be exercised. Linking it with what has been before us in the preceding paragraphs, it shows that if it be unwarrantable for the servants of Christ to usurp an absolute power, it is equally wrong for those committed to their care to submit thereto. Church government and discipline are indeed necessary and scriptural, yet not a lordly authority but a rule of holiness and love, wherein a spirit of mutual forbearance obtains. God does not require the minds and consciences of His children to be enslaved by any ecclesiastical dominion. Each one has the right to exercise his own judgment and have a say and vote upon all matters pertaining to his local assembly; and if he does not, then be fails in the discharge of his responsibility . . . . .

. . . It scarcely needs to be said that the right of private judgment certainly does not mean that we are at liberty to bring the Word of God to the bar of human reason and sentiment, so that we may reject whatever does not commend itself to our intelligence or appeal to our inclinations. The Bible does not submit itself unto our opinion or give us the option of picking and choosing from its contents: rather is it our critic (Heb. 4:12). The Law of the Lord is perfect and, the best of us being very imperfect, it is madness to criticize it. But when we hear preaching from it, we must try what is said whether or not it accords with the Word, and whether the interpretation be valid or strained . . .

Final paragraph (complete):
The right of private judgment does not mean that each Christian may be a law unto himself, and still less lord over himself. We must beware of allowing liberty to degenerate into license. No, it means the right to form our own views from the Scriptures, to be in bondage to no ecclesiastical authority, to be subject unto God alone. Two extremes are to be guarded against: slavery to human authority and tradition; the spirit of self-will and pride. On the one hand we are to avoid blind
credulity, on the other hand an affectation of independence or the love of novelty, which disdains what others believe, in order to obtain a cheap notoriety of originality. Private judgment does not mean private fancy, but a deliberate conviction based on Holy Writ. Though I must not resign my mind and conscience to others, or deliver my reason and faith over blindfold to any church, yet I ought to be very slow in rejecting the approved judgment of God�s servants of the past. There is a happy medium between limiting myself to what the Puritans and others taught, and disdaining the help they can afford me. Self-conceit is to be rigidly restrained. Private judgment is to be exercised humbly, soberly, impartially, with a willingness to receive light from any quarter. Ponder the Word for yourself, but mortify the spirit of haughty self-sufficiency; and be ready to avail yourself of anything likely to afford you a better understanding of the Truth. Above all, daily beg the Holy Spirit to be your teacher. "Prove all things": when listening to your favorite preacher, or reading this book. Accord your brethren the same right and privilege you claim for yourself.
Secondly, we have The Westminster Presbyterian website (http://members.aol.com/RSISBELL/church.html). Posted on this site is some material by Archibald Bruce (members.aol.com/RSISBELL/private1.html), entitled The Right of Private Judgment and Due Freedom of Inquiry. In the Introduction, Sherman Isbell writes:
Archibald Bruce (1746-1816) was pastor of a single congregation, the Secession
church in the hamlet of Whitburn, Linlithgowshire, Scotland from 1768 until his death. In 1786 he was elected by his peers to be Professor of Divinity for the General Associate Synod. This material composes the final three chapters of Bruce's Introductory and Occasional Lectures, for Forming the Minds of Young Men Intending the Holy Ministry, to Theological and Useful Learning, Religion, and Good Manners, Edinburgh 1817. Bruce delivered these lectures to the students in the General Associate Synod's theological academy at Whitburn. They were edited and published by Thomas M'Crie, after the author's death.
Now on to Bruce's own words (emphasis added):
. . . The judgment in question is called private by way of distinction from that which is public, being that whereby a private person, or any individual of a body, or a minor part of a body, may judge for himself, or for themselves, in matters of religion, without resigning themselves solely to the public decisions or common doctrines of that body, or to the judgment of others, whether more general or particular; - whether the result of their judgment may be conformable or contrary to that of others. The freedom and the right are not to be understood as implying an exemption from an absolute subjection to divine authority, but merely from that which is human; and they stand opposed to an implicit faith in any men, or church, who may claim a right, and even an exclusive right, of judging for them, whether with the pretence of infallibility, as in the Church of Rome, or without it . . .

A distinction may also be made, between a simple examination and judgment, and a judgment of discussion. The former is that which belongs to all, and for which all
common Christians may in some measure be competent, whatever their capacity or
the degree of their acquired knowledge may be: it is that which most generally is
employed by those who are illiterate and incapable of entering into a train of elaborate reasoning, or a particular and intricate examination of proofs. The other is that which proceeds upon a discussion of subjects in the mode of argumentation, and in a more formal and controversial manner. This last, though still allowable and open for all, may be impracticable to the greater part of the people, at least to any considerable extent; and belongs more properly to teachers, and such as have made some proficiency in human learning, or who give themselves to studious researches. This kind of inquiry, therefore, is not to be deemed absolutely necessary to the exercise of the right of private judgment . . .

As the danger to which men might be exposed by resigning their own
judgment, and placing implicit confidence in others, would be very great, so would it also be very probable. Such is the nature and state of man, that all are alike liable to err. No guides can be found in office or authority over them, on whom the high privilege of infallibility is conferred: if any on earth proudly arrogate it to themselves, such an unusual claim ought not surely to be allowed them merely upon their word, but deserves at least to be carefully sifted and examined; and upon examination it will soon be found to be a phantom, and a delusive lie. Scarce any individual, and no church but one, has been daring enough directly to claim it, and it is the most impudent pretension that ever was made, and most palpably and demonstrably false. Though revelation has furnished a rule more sure and certain, yet no religion has provided an absolute security or antidote against human error; and no church or set of teachers, unless they can produce their valid charter to infallibility, can justly demand the absolute dominion over men's faith and consciences. These must be directed by a rule more sure, and an authority superior to theirs, otherwise none could ever be satisfied that what they believe is true, or that what is enjoined them is safe and warrantable: nor can the surer rule, and the superior and unerring authority, be certainly known and discerned merely through an erring or fallible medium, but must be immediately apprehended by a man himself, to the conviction of his own mind.

. . . Not only does the revelation which God has given to men, from the general
nature of it, and the manner in which it is proposed, presuppose the exercise of private judgment and free inquiry, but this is expressly enjoined, and repeatedly inculcated in it . . .

. . . We proceed, to show that such a right of private judgment belongs to all Christians. This may appear from the following considerations. First, from the nature and excellence of the mind of man . . . Secondly, Religion is the personal business and interest of every man, and every individual must be responsible for his own actions; he must therefore have a right to think and act according to his own best judgment and convictions about it. Religion primarily and chiefly respects individuals; and hence the maxim of the wise man is verified, "He that is wise, is wise for himself, and he that scorneth," or acteth amiss, "he alone shall bear it."

No doubt, religion is also a social concern, and requires public institutes and duties; and the opinions which persons may hold, and the practices which they may follow, may consequentially and secondarily affect others; and in so far, men's private judgment may be the subject of cognizance or restriction by a common or public judgment. But as the concernment of others in the faith and actions of a man is not equal to that which he himself has in them; and as the guilt and punishment of his errors or misconduct cannot be transferred from himself to others, by whose judgment or discretion he may please to act, he must still preserve the right of pronouncing sentence on his own acts as unalienable . . .

Farther, without the free exercise of private judgment, the interests of truth could not be effectually maintained nor recovered in opposition to prevailing errors, and all reformation of established corruptions would be rendered unwarrantable and impracticable, as long as those who are in authority and power see meet to support them. A voluntary relinquishment of a corrupt system by those who have been long active and interested in its support has rarely been seen, and, humanly speaking, can hardly be expected. The needful work of reform must cease for ever, or must arise from another quarter . . .

In summary, then, we Catholics (especially former evangelicals like myself), know exactly what private judgment is. We do not use it in a hypocritical way as Catholics. Rather, we utterly and quite consciously reject it, and see clearly the difference of principle in the formal rule of faith of the two competing systems.

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Uploaded by Dave Armstrong from public discussions, on 23 November 2000.