Protestant-Catholic Dialogue: Preliminary Issues Concerning Authority & Epistemological "Certainty" (The "Infallibility Regress")

Dave Armstrong vs. Timothy G. Enloe (TGENLOE@aol.com)

This series of personal letters with a friendly Protestant acquaintance is uploaded with Tim's permission. His words will be in blue. The order of the exchanges has been rearranged somewhat in order to allow for different sub-topics. Readers who wish to see Tim's letters before they were edited (paragraphs broken up for the sake of back and forth "flow" or change of order) can write to him. He has retained the prerogative to reply further in the future (I'll probably create a "sister paper" in that eventuality).

TABLE OF CONTENTS (HTML-Active)

Dialoguing About Dialogue

As for myself, I believe that I, too, am better at writing than at ex tempore speaking, and so I would be open to the possibility of a strictly controlled written exchange.  I have found such debates to be quite informative sometimes, and also a real pleasure to read since both participants are required to observe strict limitations in the length of their respective posts.

I like the way I have done dialogues throughout my website. I am a Socratic. People are free to answer to their heart's content. I don't think length restrictions work because (from my perspective) one paragraph of Protestant contra-Catholic polemics often has so much error in it (many times even factual error) that it might possibly require four paragraphs to adequately refute. The Catholic is always fighting an uphill battle in these things because the culture, the media, academia, and overwhelming Protestant assumptions are basically against him. It's like being a political conservative, or pro-life, or a creationist, or a non-feminist, or against homosexuality (all of which I am).

My modus operandi - especially as of late - is to edit the dialogues according to my usual method (to make it flow and be interesting to the reader, and fair), but to also include a link to the opponent's paper (or their e-mail), so that readers on their side can read the opponent's stuff in their original form. I retain the right to act as editor on my own website, just as any publisher or magazine editor does. That is a function of making it interesting for the readers.

Whatever the case may be about the motivations of modern day "papists", I think it's very true that our present cultural milieu is pretty much spineless when it comes to the use of rhetoric in debates.  Previous generations were made of much sterner stuff--they didn't break down and cry (not saying you did, by the way) because someone called them a name or said they were being dishonest with facts.

Interesting comment, and I think you are right. My own longstanding objection to such unworthy rhetoric, name-calling, ad hominem attacks, etc. is grounded within the framework of Christian ethics, not personal pique, pride, or insecurities, leading to a sort of paranoia and cynicism which is rampant on many Internet lists. I would refer to James' writing on the tongue, the Sermon on the Mount, Paul's "esteem one another higher than yourselves" and similar passages.

I have always drawn a sharp distinction between a person and their ideas, and between one's arguments and their inner motivation and intent. So when I see violations of these principles, I always object, which has led on occasion to the charge that I am hypersensitive or thin-skinned (because the person fails to see the framework in which I object). It is not a personal thing with me; it is a matter of principle, and biblical Christian ethics (love).

I am hoping that this present dialogue will be helpful, challenging, and constructive for both sides. I think it is, and appreciate the opportunity. I am happy to put this on my website and let readers decide for themselves which system is preferable, biblical, logical, and true to the history of Christianity. I am confident that a truly open-minded person will see that Catholicism fits these requirements best. You think your view does. So we both benefit from this being posted.

You actually tried to engage the argument.  That's more than I can say for the majority of Catholic apologists I've spoken to over the last two years.  Whether or not you succeeded is another matter, of course.  :-)

Thank you, though I don't want to disparage my Catholic apologist brethren. Without seeing their individual arguments, I have no way of judging one way or another whether they suffered from the shortcomings you object to. You may say after this exchange that (even though I did "engage" you) that I have ultimately retained my "double standard." I would vigorously dispute that, of course. :-)

What I Like About Calvinism and Calvinists

I have a rather high view of Calvinism and many Calvinists. I state this in several places on my website. I "hate" certain beliefs or strands of Calvinism (particularly supralapsarianism) - as I hate all error -, but other aspects I highly admire (the scholarly approach, the more historically-oriented view, the retention of sacramentalism, the appreciation for Covenant theology, a superior ecclesiology to many evangelicals, a concern for self-consistency, a high view of the majesty and Providence of God, an exceptional and praiseworthy interest in theology and apologetics, the Lordship salvation view, emphasis on cultural and political aspects of Christianity, etc., etc.).

Francis Schaeffer was and is a huge influence on me, as was Charles Colson, J.I. Packer, Berkouwer and many other Calvinists. I often listen to R.C. Sproul on the radio and receive much benefit from him (I think he is a wonderful teacher). I have two friends now who attend John Piper's church. I visited a Calvinist pastor and his wife in another state in 1997. I have a very good Baptist Calvinist pastor friend who runs a Christian bookstore and thinks highly of me (I worked for him for a while). I have many cordial debates with Calvinists on my site. I could go on and on.

I can seek to understand something better if I basically disagree with it (at least in the sense that it is not superior to Catholicism). Otherwise I couldn't have ever converted to Catholicism. I used to think it was much inferior to evangelicalism (though I never hated Catholicism either), but I actually took the time to learn more about it, and I was persuaded.

Fundamental Epistemological Issues Stated: Reasons for Accepting Protestant or Catholic Principles of Authority

But apparently, you are fond of one-sided epistemological arguments about authority.

I'm not sure exactly what you are talking about. I answered your paper replying to mine very carefully, including the epistemological issue, as you framed it there.

[See Debate on the Perspicuity (Clarity) of the Bible ]

Secondly, it is hard to achieve epistemological common ground, given the fact that the most basic theological ground (that we are both Christians) is not granted by you. If the basic is denied, what makes you think sophisticated theological and philosophical presuppositional agreement will be attained? I think you can't see the forest for the trees on this one.

What I consider an "open" discussion is one where one side doesn't raise all kinds of reversible arguments about authority and epistemology and then cry "Foul" when the other side refuses to play the game by such rules.

The two sides have different rules on this, in my opinion. So how do they dialogue? I have repeatedly stated that Christianity can't be reduced to philosophy, as if faith is not involved. One must have faith that the Catholic Church is what it claims to be. But of course there are many reasons which support such a faith . . .

In an "open" discussion, both parties attempt to find common epistemological ground before hashing out their specific disagreements about history, theology, or whatever.

What is this common ground then, pray tell? You might be surprised at how much we agree (on a certain fundamental level having to do with evidence, general apologetic aspects, sufficient reason, etc.).

In an "open" discussion, one side doesn't detour the conversation by publicly crying about how he is being "slandered" and has a sacred duty to defend his good name from the wicked calumnies of the other party, especially when his own behavior toward the opponent has been less than exemplary.

One has a right to defend their name ([leading anti-Catholic] James White has almost made a career of this himself - he writes [boring, extremely tedious] mega-articles about every article concerning him in This Rock).

Personally, I would still be interested in discussing the issue of the "Perspicuity of the Catholic Magisterium", because I believe that this issue strikes at the heart of the common Catholic attacks on the Protestant position.

It does, but I now have four papers on this general subject on my website, including two debates, so I am rather tired of it, and a third debate would not be helpful to the purposes of my website (sorta overkill). Perhaps if we could really narrow down the subject matter . . . .

Issues of authority come prior to debates about Church Fathers, development of doctrine, etc, etc.

Yes they do, which is precisely why I have so much about sola Scriptura and ecclesiology on my website. I like to go right to the roots, too. We are very much alike in that regard.

It starts with the admission that we, as creatures can't know things with absolute certainty.  None of us--no matter what side we are on--truly has "certainty of faith" (meaning what it does for the Catholic--intellectual indubitability), and therefore, 90% of the Catholic apologist's rhetoric needs to be junked as the intellectual hypocrisy that it is.

I've always agreed with this; however (and a major qualification), I think this is strictly philosophy. When faith is brought in, we can have a "certainty" in the biblical or spiritual sense. Newman goes into great detail on this in his brilliant book, cited above. But as for "absolute certainty," I have made the same argument about Protestants (Calvinist and eternal security Baptist-types) and their notion of absolute assurance of salvation. I have argued that one cannot know that with certainty, as they don't know the future absolutely. I don't see any philosophical difference here - there is an equivalency.

The way in which you hold to absolute assurance as a Calvinist is precisely how we hold to the "absolute assurance" of the infallibility of the Church, as the Guardian of Tradition and the Faith. You say that your salvation and your certainty of it is grounded in the promises of God and Election (and Scripture, of course).

But I don't hold to "absolute" certainty, and neither does any Calvinist. Besetting sins can and do cause a loss of assurance of salvation, for one thing.  Even Scripture doesn't allow that human beings--not even regenerate ones--can have "absolute" assurance: "And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him.  For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things.  Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God." (I Jn. 3:19-21). Humans just don't have (and I would say can't have) "absolute" certainty.  Our hearts can and do deceive us many times.

Good. How sure are you of your salvation, then (in the sense of being justified as a one-time act)? You tell me. I thought Calvinists fought against us because we weren't sure of ours in the Calvinist sense.

We say that the Church's infallibility is also grounded in God's promises: in the Person of the Holy Spirit: the Paraclete and Spirit of Truth, Who guides His people (corporately, the Church) into all truth (not to mention the papacy and all the Petrine data). And we, too, find this in the many explicit biblical indications of such an authoritative, visible, hierarchical Church.

What's the epistemological difference? I see none. There is a huge theological difference, but not a methodological, philosophical one. If you want to go after our "bogus certainty" (which seems to be a major "theme" and concern of yours) you need also to examine this ironclad, non-negotiable premise of TULIP Calvinism. I think it is a more or less perfect analogy.

In a practical sense, here is the flaw in Protestant "absolute assurance" (an argument I made for years, as an Arminian Protestant): when someone seems to be a good little Calvinist, knows all the buzz phrases and evangelical/Reformed lingo, etc., and goes to Church and leads a moral life according to Reformed teaching, then he is one of the "elect," and no one really doubts this in the everyday, practical sense.

Now say for the sake of argument that he "falls away" in the sense that he no longer fits these criteria? He starts falling into sin (say adultery or blatant unbelief in Jesus). Then the Calvinist - "prisoners" of their system - simply say (with the marvelous benefit of hindsight) that he never was one of them; one of the elect. We don't have to play that game, because we believe one can truly be in God's graces and then truly fall away, and possibly return to a state of grace (we call it repentance and confession).

I don't know what Calvinists you spent your time talking to, but this doesn't sound even remotely "Calvinistic".  No Calvinist who understands the Scriptural and confessional basis of the system gets into saying that certain people "for sure" are elect and certain ones are "for sure" not elect.  The best we can do if someone starts living a life of prolonged and unrepentant sin is bring Church discipline against them.  The Church may make judgments about whether the person is regenerate at some given point, but she may not make judgments about whether the person is elect.  Calvin himself said that the knowledge of who is elect and who is not is something that belongs only to God.

Okay; I'll accept this correction, based on an assumed knowledge you have about Calvinist circles, and I am happy that this is the case.

It sounds to me like you're describing the common Baptistic view, which doesn't recognize the idea of external members of the covenant, and therefore, thinks of "the Church" as being made up ONLY of regenerate members.  Thus, when someone falls away as you describe above, the only thing that can be said by the Baptistic view is that such a person was a "spy" who managed to "fool" the "true believers" for a time, but now that the spy has been discovered, everyone knows he wasn't really a Baptist, er Christian, after all.  Like I said, this is NOT "Calvinistic", and if professed Calvinists hold this idea, I respectfully but strongly disagree with them.

Also a good clarification, and it is true that I knew more of these types than five-point Calvinists. However, please explain to me, then, my treatment on that Reformed list. It was certainly assumed there that I was no Christian; and in fact an apostate and a wicked deceiver (simply because I was a convert, I presume). Does that mean that most Reformed do not agree with your categorizations? Would you have said that I was an apostate who was definitely condemned to hell and who shouldn't even be prayed for?

This was stated by one person, and I saw no one object to it per se (only a few rare general objections to the extremely rude and hostile treatment I received there). Out of 175 people, no one raised a severe objection to that judgment, yet you say it isn't even "orthodox Calvinism" to think in such a manner. So what am I to think, as an observer of these pathetic, Pharisaical demonstrations by various types of Calvinist/Reformed? All I know is that this was the rudest, most uncharitable behavior I have ever seen among Christians of any stripe in my 20 years of being a committed Christian. I might as well have been Attila the Hun or an ax murderer, the way I was treated. It was an amazing spectacle to behold.

But the point is that - clearly - no Calvinist knows with this "absolute certainty" you talk about, who is saved or in the elect. They claim that they do, but they cannot, for the simple reason that they don't know the future and the eschatological destiny of each soul (they are not omniscient; nor do they possess foreknowledge). Otherwise, they would know that "brother X" was gonna be sleeping with a whore or another man's wife in the future, and hence was never in the elect (because Scripture says "fornicators will not inherit the kingdom," etc.).

Again, NO Calvinist who understands the system as it is laid out in the Confessions and Catechisms gets into speculating about who is elect and who is not.  If they do, it is because they haven't been properly catechized.  :-)

Then from that I conclude:

1. Many Calvinists are improperly catechized.

2. My generalization would have been better applied to Protestants in general; particularly Baptists and Arminian evangelicals.

But you are by-passing my original analogy, by getting bogged down in relative minutiae: viz., that the Catholic accepts the infallibility of His Church in the same fashion that most Protestants accept the "certainty" of their supposedly already-accomplished salvation. Here is epistemological parallelism and equivalency, even if I grant your clarifications about "assurance of salvation" (as I am happy to do).

So, therefore, no one can know with certainty his own eternal destiny; we can only know at the moment if we are in the good graces of God, by a thorough examination of conscience. Catholics call that a "moral assurance" of salvation, and we assert that this is the biblical, apostolic, and patristic belief.

Well, that's because you don't believe in the imputation of a perfect righteousness to your account that brings everlasting peace between you and God--a rightstanding God cannot ignore or deny precisely because it is His own given to you by means of your faith union to your covenantal Head, Christ Jesus.  I won't say anything else on this until I see how you respond to it.

I do deny this, based on my many papers on the subject. But we do believe in grace alone, initial justification, and we reject Pelagianism in all forms.

. . . the sad, tired nonsense I mentioned above about reversible authority arguments.  On that issue, many Catholic apologist are experts at dishing it out, but utter cowards when it comes to taking it.

Well, I hope I have done better in your eyes in that regard.

It seems to me that the dispute pivots on different uses of the term "private judgment", as laid out above.  What do you think?

It does. I'm glad you brought that up, allowing me to clarify.

Same is true for many Catholic "contra-Protestant" polemic stuff.  There are many misunderstandings on both sides.

I'm sure there are. But granting that, do you really expect Catholic apologists, e.g., who have never been Protestant, to understand every variation of Protestantism? It would take a lifetime to master all those, and who wants to anyway? Even us converts who were once among your number don't have first-hand experience of all the different brands. We are forced to generalize by the nature of the case, and then you guys always have the convenient out of saying "but that's not us." There is a lot of truth in such replies, of course, but in a sense it's a bit like the standard campus Marxist reply that every corruption and Communist atrocity and despot does not represent "true" Marxism - the result being that such a utopian Marxism never existed and cannot be pointed to.

Definitions of Christian and Objections to the Term Anti-Catholic

And one-sided classifications of your opponents into neat, tidy little boxes ("Anti-Catholic") that don't do justice to their objections.

As I've said a million times (and it is very simple), "anti-Catholic" simply means one who does not consider Catholicism a branch of Christianity. That makes a huge difference as to how it is approached (mainly it gets little or no respect, with such a view). It is a perfectly valid distinction to make. Within that classification, there are many shades and variations. You (and someone like R.C. Sproul) are on the very high end of the spectrum; guys like Jack Chick and Dave Hunt are on or near the bottom. So I recognize those distinctions, and gladly so.

In an "open" discussion, one side doesn't demand that its opponent(s) answer questions about their alleged psychological hangups (again, "Anti-Catholic") as a prerequisite to further discussion.

This is literally nonsensical, since my definition of "anti-Catholic is strictly doctrinal, and has nothing to do with "psychology." True, the belief is often accompanied by marked hostilities and biases, usually emotionally-held, but this has nothing directly to do with my use of the term (which is the standard usage among Catholics).

. . . the unfortunate "Destroy the Ignorant Fundamentalism of the Barbarians, Er, Separated Brethren" mode that so many Catholic apologists can't get out of their systems. Garden-variety Roman apologetics suffers from that malady we all learned about on the playground in third grade: "You can dish it out, but you can't take it."

I find this statement ridiculous (and comical), in light of the fact - again - that you don't even regard us as fellow brothers in Christ, or our church as doctrinally, creedally Christian. Whatever we think of any particular anti-Catholic or brand of it, or whatever polemical excesses we may commit, we never go to the wicked lengths of denying their Christian status. You do not extend that charity to us, or even grapple with the very issue of what "Christian" means, and how in heaven's name Catholics could be excluded from any valid definition of "Christian." So it is beyond surreal to see you object to this sort of behavior, when your fundamental presuppositions are far more insulting and objectionable. Remove the log from your own eye.....It just gets a bit much to take at times.

I think, too, that you have shown me that each apologist must be approached individually, not as "#42 of the same dumb old tendencies and stock answers." I see that you are a unique person with extraordinary insight, and I would hope that you can see some uniqueness in me as well. We both need to stop reacting with such knee-jerk "intellectual motions." You have been frustrated by Catholic apologists and I have been frustrated (though not as much as you) by polemics against my beliefs. Everyone tends to categorize and put people in a box, and this has been one of your strongest points of critique throughout our exchanges; one I am happy to grant you.

Well, for one thing, I wasn't aware that I needed to think my opponent was a Christian in order to carry on a discussion with him.

No, of course not (I debate several agnostics on my site - one who was a scientist), but you need to acknowledge that if you wish to carry on a discussion between a fellow brother in Christ. The distinction is not a minor or trifling one, but central. The fact is that we relate vastly differently to one whom we consider in the "household of faith" over against a non-Christian.

You need only look at the farcical "dialogue" in the [James] White [chat] room which I will shortly post to my site. [See: A Typical Example (in Live Chat) of Absurd Anti-Catholic Exaggerations and Prejudice (100 Million Inquisition Victims?)] Those people are not interested in discussion with Catholics, but belittling and ridicule (and they follow their father Luther quite closely in that regard). All [Catholic apologist and author] Steve Ray's writing is "garbage." Mine is probably even lower in their estimation (since Dr. White equates me with Jack Chick, and now utterly ignores me). That obviously precludes open-minded discussion. And of course it is both uncharitable and highly insulting to render someone a non-Christian who is - by all outward appearances and reasonable, historical criteria -, a Christian.

Let's say that I thought you were an utter apostate heathen, no better than the worst kind of pagan animist--

But I am not; this is my whole point. We're not talking about abstract categorizations but about a real live person (myself); one who has devoted his life (at great personal and financial cost) for the last 20 years to the Christian gospel (for the last ten years as a Catholic). It is my whole life; my passion, my joy, my vocation; what gives my life meaning and purpose. And to have someone come around and assume (on absurd, self-contradictory grounds, in my opinion) that I am not a Christian (as I thought you were doing till your latest letter) is an insult and an affront in the highest degree.

so long as I did not spend my time harping about how this makes you some sort of pond scum that nobody should listen to, what would be the relevance of my personal belief about the state of your soul?

I think it is a matter of charity in the end - simply acknowledging a person for what he is; accepting the common ground that does exist, rather than assuming an "exclusivistic" or "sectarian" mentality.
 
I remember that you said it makes a difference because if I think you are a Christian, I won't spend time trying to "convert" you per se, but merely trying to overthrow your  arguments for your particular "brand" of Christianity (or something like that).  I understand the distinction you're making, but it simply isn't relevant to my approach.  As a Reformed Christian, I do not believe that apologetics converts anyone's soul,

As a Catholic, I don't believe that either. And I have believed this for 20 years (half of which I was an Arminian evangelical). Apologetics removes roadblocks to faith and upholds the rationality and intellectual credibility of faith; it cannot convert anyone - that is the work of grace and the Holy Spirit. Apologists ought to know this better than anyone else.

so even if I felt I had good reasons to believe you were not saved, this fact wouldn't enter into my apologetic arguments against you.

Perhaps not, but it sure would affect your inner attitude towards me, because you can't minimize the difference between a Christian and a non-Christian, including a person you highly suspect is not a Christian, regenerate, born again, saved, elect, or whatever other phraseology one wishes to use to differentiate the sheep from the goats.

Only the Gospel saves, and it only saves those whom the Holy Spirit sovereignly draws and applies it to through the faith He Himself gives them.

Amen.

I don't know if you are one of the elect and I do not possess the spiritual faculty to know if you are regenerate (anymore than you are able to know these things about me),

Exactly as I argued above.

so I choose not to waste my time and yours by talking about whether or not you are a  "true" Christian.

You don't know if I am actually regenerate (I would assume you are, by the usual non-philosophical means). But you can use an accepted doctrinal criterion to determine whether I am doctrinally a Christian. We used the Nicene Creed to determine that on my discussion list. I think that is something all Christians can agree on (though it does mention baptismal regeneration, I think).

But for the record, since I am a Reformed Christian and therefore believe that there are such things as external members of God's saving covenant, I cheerfully concede that you are, by reason of your baptism, at least an external member of God's saving covenant (as am I).  In that sense, I have no problem whatsoever with saying "Yes, Dave Armstrong is a Christian."

And that is more than enough; it is more than most anti-Catholics will grant.

As for Catholicism being a branch of Christianity, well, perhaps it is.

That's a huge "perhaps"!!! Are you really so unsure of such a major thing?

I lean toward the view that it is a branch that was chopped off the Vine because of its persistent unbelief (per Romans 11), but I can neither dogmatically maintain this nor can I infer from it that people who live their faith within its confines are not "real" Christians.

But here I would say you are mixing what I call the "metaphysical" and "doctrinal" definitions of Christianity. Many Protestants like to say that there are many "real" Christians in the Catholic Church, but the underlying premise is that they have to be lousy, quasi-Protestant Catholics in order to be Christians. I find that extremely insulting. If Catholicism as a set of beliefs is truly Christian, then one can be a good and orthodox Catholic (not a lousy, heterodox one) and be a Christian. Thus, the doctrinal criterion must be in the forefront in such discussions, because it is the only objective standard by which to judge (and I would say, biblical standard as well).

It seems that you are trying to push me into making the type of generalized statement I want to avoid.  I admit that Catholics are Christians in terms of an external connection to the covenant via baptism, but I'm not going to get into making statements about whether "good and orthodox Catholics" (or "good and orthodox Protestants") in general are "truly Christian".  That's simply not something I can know, since I can't see their hearts.

Then of what use are creeds and confessions (one of which you cited above), if one must see someone's heart to determine if they are a "Christian"? There are doctrinal criteria which can be brought to bear, and Protestants certainly use those when it comes to heretics like Mormons or Jehovah's Witnesses. Yet you refrain from determining whether a Catholic who accepts the Nicene Creed is therefore doctrinally a Christian (as a set of religious/theological beliefs)?

I do know that the Catholic view of justification is horribly wrong and on its face, is heresy.

I would say the same about sola fide [faith alone]. The difference is that I can back up my view with Scripture and Christian history.

However, the book of Galatians shows us that true Christians CAN be horribly wrong on important matters of doctrine like the relationship between justification and sanctification.

Yes; that's why we say Protestants are Christians. :-)

People can have better hearts than heads.

Good point. I think that is a good description of many Protestants.

John Wesley is an example of this.  Despite being radically Arminian (read: watered-down Catholic) in his intellectual doctrinal position, he could still write hymns that spoke of God's total sovereignty in salvation, even to the point of monergistic regeneration.

That's probably because he was dealing with the primacy and absolute necessity of God's grace in salvation and regeneration (over against the Pelagian and Semi-Pelagian positions), precisely as in the Catholic view. I believe in God's sovereignty as much as any Calvinist does; so does John Wesley and all "orthodox" Arminians (not people like Clark Pinnock who are liberals). The issue is how our free will is part of that sovereignty. I think it is a paradox and a deep mystery, but I refuse to make the false dichotomies that Calvinists feel compelled to make, rather than acknowledge a paradox and antinomy (one of many such occurrences in Scripture and theology). See my recent live debate:Socratic Dialogue With Two Calvinists Concerning Regeneration, Sanctification, Original Sin, and Pelagianism.

I don't know that Wesley was a true Christian anymore than I know you are one,

That's pretty sad. We don't know who is elect - as you say below - but practically speaking, we can still decide to accept a person as a Christian brother, based on their professions and behavior. You do that all the time with Protestants (I would assume); why not with Catholics?

so I have to stop with recognizing the external sign of the covenant--baptism--and then exhort you to live up to the terms of the covenant: believe in the God who justifies the ungodly on the basis of
Christ's perfect sacrifice.  I just can't say anything else than this, especially since I will never have the opportunity to view your life over a long period of time to find out if you are bearing fruit.

Well, if I'm not a Christian, I am an extreme fool, when you observe my life and the sacrifices I have made, and many efforts undertaken for the sake of the gospel and Christian truth. I suppose I could still theoretically be a rank heretic like a Mormon missionary, who possesses much zeal as well, but then that brings us back to the doctrinal questions. I find the whole line of reasoning very curious, but I am happy that you are not an anti-Catholic.

I simply can't make those kinds of broad-brushed judgments.  Hopefully this issue of
"Anti-Catholicism" can now be dropped as the irrelevancy it is.

I don't think it is irrelevant at all, but you and I don't need to discuss it further since you grant me Christian status to a sufficient extent that I am no longer offended, on the above grounds. Catholics believe all trinitarian Protestants are Christians, and that their baptisms are valid (even sacramentally), so this was always a non-issue with me. It is only the hostile opinions to Catholic Christianity which was my concern.

Well, I'm certainly hostile to many of the specific doctrines promoted by Catholicism.

Nooooo........... Really????!!!!! LOLOLOL

I think they are heresies and that Catholics need to repent of them.  But again, I don't think that holding a heresy necessarily makes one a non-Christian.

Precisely as I view Protestants. I think denying the Trinity definitely makes one a heretic.

I understand that you want it to be a strictly doctrinal term, but the fact is that the term is what Schaeffer called a "connotation word".  Perhaps you use it in a basically "objective" way, but the legions of apologetics newbies who devour the stuff on your site don't make the kinds of distinctions you do.

What else is new? There are always the masses of unsophisticated "believers" on all sides. I can't be held responsible for all of them. I try to do my best and be as accurate as I can; that's all I can do, and it is my duty as an apologist, as it is yours. I don't cultivate "followers"; in fact I avoid them as much as possible. I don't need that sort of "affirmation," and it too often leads to pride as it is.

. . . it would seem that you would be more concerned with avoiding the perpetuation of this kind of postmodernist tripe.

I don't think this is accomplished by avoiding the word "anti-Catholic." What do you suggest we call people like Jack Chick and Dave Hunt and Bart Brewer?

Well, I would call Hunt and Chick Anabaptist schismatics who are more concerned with preaching to their dispensational Fundamentalist choir than with presenting the issues in any kind of fair manner.

Good enough, and true enough, as far as it goes, but I asked you what we should call them. Our concern isn't your internal battles over dispensational vs. Covenant theology, but rather, that these people devote their lives to fighting the "wickedness and heresies" of the "Great Beast" and "Whore of Babylon," the Catholic Church. I have never understood why it is objectionable to refer to such people as "anti-Catholic." But then the racial bigot never thinks he is "anti-black" either. What is he, then? "Pro-white"? I ought to call Hunt et al "pro-dispensationalist Protestant ministers" rather than "anti-Catholics"? LOL The whole point is that he is my opponent: I defend - as an apologist - what he lies about and trashes.

Sometimes I use the term "Protestant polemicists" (as opposed to simply "apologists"). These people devote their lives to what we consider rank lies and slander against our Church, yet we are supposed to sit idly by and do nothing? You don't even think we have a right to attribute a simple title to them which describes what they are about?

Personally, I prefer not to get into saying that certain people are "lying".

It is possible to utter lies and falsehoods without intending to. When some idiot claims that there were 35 (or 100) million victims of the Inquisition, he is lying; uttering a lie or falsehood or untruth. Whether he intends to lie and deceive is another matter entirely. I don't make those judgments, but there is such a thing as a "lie" which can be demonstrated conclusively to be a lie.

I strongly disagree with Hunt and Chick, but I think it's possible that as wrong as they are, they really and sincerely believe what they are saying.

I always grant sincerity, but that doesn't overcome the fact that a lie remains a lie. I always assume that these people are sincerely deluded and duped, rather than deliberately malicious. It is true, however, that most of these people have had their falsehoods exposed over and over by many Catholic apologists, and they do nothing whatsoever about them; they do not modify them in the least. At that point I am more inclined to suspect pride and obstinacy and an improper motive and unconcern for truthfulness and fairness to an opponent.

Let me give you another analogy (which I love; I get that from Newman): I am anti-abortion, and I am pro-life, because I oppose and fight abortion (as a wicked, pagan practice) and uphold a "gospel of life." James White is anti-Catholic and pro-Protestant because he opposes and fights Catholicism (i.e., doctrinally, as a non-Christian and wicked institution) and upholds the gospel of sola fide and sola Scriptura, of Protestantism. I don't see how the two scenarios are any different.

Perhaps there is no difference between the scenarios, but I'd still spend time fussing with a liberal media pundit who painted the pro-life movement as "anti-abortion".  Yes, to be "pro life" is to be "anti-abortion", but there's more involved in the term "anti-abortion" than a mere "objective" definition of what someone is against.  It's a connotation word that whips the unthinking masses up into emotional frenzies about "religious bigots" who try to "force their beliefs on everyone else".  It's a profound distraction from rational thought about the issues, as I've discovered first hand from many
talks with agnostics and other mush-brained moral liberals.

I don't deny any of this. So tell me, how do I describe the distinction between a Protestant who thinks Catholicism is not Christian and one who does? How do I describe a Protestant activist who devotes his entire life to attacking (and lying about) my Church, as opposed to simply defending his, and the gospel, without all the polemics? You tell me.

Guys like Norman Geisler or Charles Colson or J.I. Packer or Walter Martin, on the other hand, are simply Protestant apologists. They are not "anti-Catholic" because they do not oppose the Catholic Church in the sense that White, Brewer et al do. I would call them "contra-Catholic" when they critique our views and differentiate the two systems (as I used to do quite vigorously myself in my evangelical days - my friends can verify that!). But their critiques are within an ecumenical framework, and are thus vastly different in intent and essence and content.

Furthermore, to use Dr. White again as an example (because I have the most firsthand experience with him): he won't even call us by our chosen name ("Catholic") and has even started using "Romanism" again (as I discussed in the chat room). Yet he gripes constantly about our use of "anti-Catholic" (as if he is "pro-Catholic"? LOL). But I am happy to also call him a "Protestant apolologist." He happens to fall within the "anti-Catholic" sub-category also. I understand that it is not pleasant to be in any same category as an idiot like Jack Chick, but that is White's problem, not mine. He equates my reasoning with Chick; I merely say he is in the same very broad category, but vastly superior in mind to Chick and his pea-brained ilk (sort of analogous to different folks within a political party). Which is worse and more groundless?

Whatever your own intentions may be, "Anti-Catholic" is simply not a helpful term, and you could advance the cause of Catholic apologetics greatly, in my opinion, by repudiating the use of it.  But I doubt you'll see it that way.

I don't, because I don't think you realize what we as Catholics are up against, and the simple, plain reason why a term like "anti-Catholic" is both objective and accurate (and useful).

. . . I admit that at least externally I can consider Catholics to be Christians.  I'm sure some Reformed folks would not agree with me on that,

Oh, me too! Witness my ill-fated and extremely disenchanting stay on that farcical [Reformed-dominated] list.......

but as far as I am aware, the confessional Reformed position is that Trinitarian baptism is valid no matter who administers it.

I was told that Calvin states this in the Institutes (IV, 15:16-18; cf. IV, 2:11-12). This is also the Catholic position.

Therefore, that would make Catholics covenantally Christian even if they weren't spiritually Christian.

This is an interesting distinction I would like to see you elaborate upon.

It's the exact same distinction as Christ's and Paul's teaching that merely possessing the outward sign of the covenant (circumcision) didn't necessarily make one a "true Jew".  Only those who believed like Abraham were "true Jews", and the rest, though outwardly connected to the covenant by reason of possessing the covenant sign, were unregenerate.  (Note, that doesn't necessarily mean "non elect"; it just means that at some particular point in time, they weren't regenerate).

Interesting; thanks. I continue to maintain that a doctrinal definition of "Christian" is useful and necessary in order to function as Christians, and how to relate as others who profess the same allegiance to Christ and the gospel.

(And for the record, I don't even believe that every Protestant is a "real" Christian).

Of course not - not in what I call the "metaphysical" sense (i.e., who is actually, literally "in Christ"). Neither is any Catholic who is in mortal sin. :-)

The "Infallibility Regress" Argument of Protestant Apologists, Concerning Catholic Reliance Upon Church Authority

The "one-sided epistemological argument" I'm talking about is the common Catholic apologist tactic of asserting that he has a "certainty of faith" that the Protestant does not have, because he, the Catholic, has performed the amazing mental feat of pushing all the important authority questions back one step.  By resting the "final" answer to all questions in "the Church," the Catholic apologist pretends that he has not made a whole series of quite fallible "private judgments," none of which are any more "certain" than those his Protestant friends make in their beliefs, and then he proceeds to waste hours and hours of everyone's time and gigabytes of internet storage space crowing about his incredibly "objective" proofs for his Catholic beliefs.

It is not simply a reliance upon the Church in blind faith; it is, rather, the combination of Church authority, patristic consensus, and the biblical material: Church, Tradition, and Bible: the "three-legged stool." We say that this was the methodology of the Fathers themselves, in their appeal to apostolic succession or Tradition (see, e.g., Irenaeus). It is essentially an historical, typically Jewish argument, not a philosophical one (philosophy deriving from the Greeks).

All of this examination of Church authority, patristic consensus and the biblical material is carried out by fallible individuals, and thus, is a process subject to error.

One could say the same about the Fathers themselves, and the Councils (except where they agree or appear to agree with some Protestant distinctive, of course; then they are de facto infallible). The whole point is that there is an identifiable apostolic deposit which is passed down, and Catholics accept that, as clarified by their Church. We don't reinvent Christianity in each generation; we accept what has been given to us, just as the Apostles and Fathers before us did. This is not a philosophical matter; it is one of faith and legal-historical grounds of ascertainable fact.

Once the Catholic gets to Rome, his argument about the Church helping him to have "certainty of faith" makes some sense

It makes at least as much sense as Protestant "certainty" on any number of issues.

(but even then it's skewed by the fact that the individual Catholic has to personally interpret the Magisterium),

I think this is an overblown argument. I would have to have an individual example to show the fallacies in this analysis.

but the problem is that Catholic apologists in general ignore the process of how they got to Rome in order to magnify what Rome does for them now that they are there.

Not me; I have three different accounts of my odyssey on my site. It was quite a complex process.

This process of fallibly identifying God's truth from among all the competing claimants is exactly the same for the Protestant and the Catholic, except that the Protestant rests his "certainty of faith" in the self-attesting Word of the LORD while the Catholic rests his in the secondary testimony of the Church, a mere creature of God's.

No; everyone accepts the Scripture; that is not at issue. The alleged "self-attesting" nature of it is a real issue I have dealt with at great length. The "secondary testimony" here is that of the "mere creatures" Luther and Calvin. If Scripture speaks of an infallible and indefectible Church, then that notion is relying on the Word of the LORD. We rely on the apostolic Tradition passed down, verified and developed by the Fathers, Councils, great Doctors, and popes, and ultimately in the materially-sufficient Holy Scriptures.

You rely on the fallible, late-arriving distinctives of Luther and Calvin, and in effect grant them apostolic authority. They can flat-out invent doctrines and claim they are both historical and biblical. No pope could even dream of doing that. They wouldn't dare do it (on a few occasions when they came remotely close to that a mass uproar occurred). They are strictly dependent upon received precedent. Not so for Luther and Calvin, the Super-Popes. That's why I say Protestantism is fundamentally man-centered at its very roots.

Thus, the Protestant doesn't use a one-sided epistemological argument like the Catholic does.  The Protestant doesn't have a double standard.

I vigorously disagree, per the above reasoning.

Your analysis of "historical criteria" is every bit as "subjective" and fallible as is mine, and thus, you are in the same epistemological boat I am in.

I have sought to explain why I don't believe this is the case at all.

You don't have "certainty of faith" (intellectual indubitability), and so you shouldn't act like you do.

I do in the sense that believing Christians and Jews have always possessed "certainty" (I again recommend Newman's Grammar of Assent). It is a rational faith, backed up by eyewitness testimony and historical evidences, and the history of doctrine. It is not mere hyper-rationalistic, Enlightenment-inspired philosophy, as so much of Protestant apologetics appears to be. Not to mention theological liberalism: another wonderful benefit bequeathed to my Church by my Protestant brethren, causing the ruin of many souls.

If you don't, good.  But I venture to say that the majority of Catholic apologists I have interacted with do act this way. It is a sickening double standard.

I can't deal with them en masse; that is your particular frustration, just as I am frustrated by the mountainous mass of Protestant nonsense out there. You disagree with many of your Protestant brethren on many issues; I might disagree with some of my Catholic brethren on some things. I try to represent the teachings of my Church as best I can, as a lay apologist, just as R.C. Sproul teaches the views of his Presbyterian denomination.

No one is saying (or should say) that there is an absolute certainty in a strict philosophical sense (I can play the game of philosophy quite well if I need to - I took a lot of it in college). But there is certainty in the sense of faith. I recommend Newman's Grammar of Assent for this topic (which is online, available on my Newman page), but - be forewarned - it is extremely heavy reading.

This foolish double standard is nearly ubiquitous among Catholic apologists, and I perceive it in your writings as well.  But perhaps I have missed papers of yours where you carefully explore this issue and show how it is not applicable to your own brand of apologetics.  Tell me where I can find such a discussion, and I will read it (even if it is 300 KB long!  LOL).

:-) Well, the following is a concise treatment of this particular issue:

{Tim}: Or worse still, once you've used your private judgment to conclude that you need an infallible interpreter in the first place and that Rome is that infallible interpreter, don't you still need an open mind and a moral willingness to accept the truth if you are to understand the teachings of the Magisterium? And if these two conditions don't obtain in your own experience, aren't you in sin? And doesn't your sin prevent you from seeing the truth? But I thought you didn't like the "sin explanation"!

Yes (to the first question); it's like any acceptance of authority: it won't work if we are blinded by a closed mind and a prideful, self-centered will (compounded by the level of individual ignorance orprior misinformation). That is true of any teaching system, including Catholicism. But that doesn't, of course, disprove the Catholic system. It is not private judgment per se which leads one to acceptCatholicism; it is precisely the opposite: it is yielding up one's private judgment in the act of recognizing the Church for what it is: the spiritual authority ordained by God. One can do thisreasonably by applying historical criteria, just as Christians have always done.

Well the problem, then, is that we have different definitions of "private judgment".  What I am talking about is the faculty of choosing itself combined with the responsibility before God for the choices one makes with that judgment.  No one ever gets past this.

I agree.

You seem to mean, however, that "private judgment" is 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.  Obviously, I would repudiate that kind of "private judgment" myself, as would any thoughtful Christian. God alone is the ultimate source of all rationality, all meaning, all truth.  There is no epistemological autonomy, but the belief in such is the hallmark of most (if not all) non-Christian belief systems.

You have hit upon an important and key distinction here, but you are partially incorrect as to my use of this phrase. When I say "private judgment" I am talking about Christian authority and ecclesiology; not philosophical epistemology. I refer (per my many dialogues on this subject) to the Protestant formal system of sola Scriptura which places the individual in the position as the supreme and final arbiter of his own theology and destiny. This is a formal system of Christian authority, over against the Catholic three-legged stool of "Church, Tradition, and Scripture" - all harmonious and not contradictory or competing.

So the Protestant - by the exercise of this self-granted prerogative - can stand there and judge all three legs of the stool (as Luther at Worms did), making his own conscience supreme (the corollary of private judgment). This we reject as unbiblical and against the entire previous history of the Church. And all Protestants do this - by definition. Your variant may be more subtle, nuanced, and fine-tuned, and much less ahistorical, but all the versions boil down to a rejection of the apostolic authority of the Catholic Church.

As a classical Protestant, I too yield up my "private judgment" to God's revelation and His own ordained means of declaring that revelation to the world.

Of course. Yet ultimately you reserve the right to interpret Scripture against the Fathers, if their views do not correspond to the theological system you espouse (e.g., a rejection of the Real Presence in the Eucharist and baptismal regeneration: both virtually unanimous views of the Fathers). So in the end, Protestantism becomes a man-centered system (Calvin, Luther, Fox et al), rather than an apostolic, patristic, traditional-centered system, where the individual yields his judgment to the historic Christian consensus of the ages: the apostolic Tradition faithfully passed down and protected from error by the Holy Spirit.

On all matters to which it speaks, God's Word is the ultimate and utterly unquestionable authority, period.

Of course; but it has to be interpreted, so you can't avoid human authority.

And on disputed matters, when "the Church" adjudicates an issue, "the Church" is to be listened to and submitted to (not with "implicit faith" or with the presumption that her judgment is infallible and irreformable, but with true humility nonetheless).

Why would you assume that God cannot protect His Church from error just as He protected His written revelation from error? On what basis do you assume that? After all (I make an analogical argument, of plausibility), the gift of infallibility is far lesser in order than the gift of inspiration, by which fallible, sinful men accurately and infallibly recorded the word of God in Sacred Scripture, without error. Both gifts are supernatural and divinely-granted. It seems to me that if God could and would do one thing, then He would certainly do the other, so as to maintain a unified truth and a consistent witness to the world. I think you would agree that it was not God's plan to bring about the chaos and relativism in Protestantism today (Calvinists are always lambasting non-Calvinist Protestants as much-inferior and as outside the true "Reformation" heritage). Error (which must be present when views contradict) does not come from the Spirit of God, but from below.

With this as background, it seems that Catholic and Protestant apologists all too often talk past each other, for the distinction between "private judgment" and "epistemological autonomy" (is there a non-technobabble word for that?!) is rarely made outside of scholarly polemic writings.

I suppose they have, if basic definitions and premises were not adequately worked through. I hope my clarification has been helpful. The distinction you have drawn has been most helpful for me to understand where you are coming from. I have been consistent on this all along in my writings. I have always maintained that the Christian notion of truth and authority is historically-based, as opposed to philosophically-based. And it requires faith.

So Catholic authority is not an airtight philosophical proposition as James White seems to think it must be in order to be adhered to. But Protestantism is not, either, and contains within itself far more problematic elements. The double standard, therefore, resides in the Protestant contra-Catholic polemic. I say that our view is biblical, consistent, apostolic, and patristic, and therefore far preferable to the Protestant Johnny-come-lately system of sola Scriptura.

Apostolic and patristic Christianity was much more analogous to Old Testament Judaism, than to, say, Greek philosophy, with its abstract "epistemology" (and I say this as aSocratic myself; one who loves philosophy). Authority flowed always from commonly-acknowledged miraculous historical events and historical criteria: a sort of "Christian mythology" (i.e., a corporately-preserved story of origins) but what C.S. Lewis would describe as "true mythology."

Agreed.  But do you see that the recognition of this "true mythology" was done by fallible individuals, and therefore, did not and could not possess intellectual indubitability?

I never claimed that it did (not in the philosophical sense you seem to keep returning to, or demand). Our claim is that the Church is infallible, and that the individual yields up his private judgment to the authority of the Church, based on apostolic succession. We have faith that God will guide His Church. It is a reasonable faith, which can be backed up by many sorts of reasonable evidences (primarily historical), though it ultimately transcends them all, as all matters of faith do.

That "true (verifiable) mythology" is the following: Jesus was the incarnate God, and was a real Person.

Agreed, so long as that one, recognized deposit of faith is not seen to exist partim-partim, but rather, in toto in the canonical Scriptures and merely witnessed to by the Church's "tradition".

We believe Scripture is materially sufficient, but not formally sufficient without the Church as a Guide. We believe that Scripture and Tradition are "twin fonts of the same divine wellspring," as Vatican II states.

He performed miracles, and many people observed these. He rose from the dead, and proved the reality of that by appearing to more than 500 people, eating fish, showing that He possessed flesh and bones, etc. This is all historical, and a matter of eyewitness testimony (so one might say it is a historical-legal approach to theological truth). Likewise with the Church. There was one, recognized deposit of faith, passed on from our Lord Jesus to the disciples and Apostles, which Paul repeatedly refers to (see my Biblical Treatise on the Bible and Tradition).

Jesus established a Church, with Peter as the head (Matthew 16:13-20). This Church has definite and discernible characteristics, described in the Bible (see my Biblical Treatise on the Church). There were Apostles, and their successors were and are bishops (see my paper on apostolic succession). There were popes as well, and they exercised authority over the Church Universal (see my Biblical Treatise on the Papacy and Infallibility).

Now, how was this Church identifiable in the early days and in the patristic period? Again, it was the historical criteria of authenticity. The Fathers always appealed to apostolic succession (ademonstrable historical lineage of orthodoxy) and Scripture, not Scripture Alone. The heretics were the ones who adopted Scripture Alone as their principle, because they knew that they couldn'tproduce the historical lineage (hence an early manifestation of the unChristian and unbiblical a-historicism which has been a dominant flaw of Protestantism ever since its inception). Protestants thus adopted the heretical principle of formal authority, whereas Catholics have consistently adopted apostolic succession as the criteria of Christian truth and legitimate, divinely-ordained authority. The Catholic Church traces itself back to the beginning in an unbroken line, centered in the Roman See and the papacy.

So when someone like me (a very low-church evangelical) becomes convinced of Catholicism, it is not merely another Protestant exercise of private judgment and de facto alleged self-infallibility. It is,to the contrary, the yielding up of private judgment and the acknowledgement of something far greater than oneself: an entity which is "out there;" which has always been there since Christestablished it, preserving (only by God's enabling grace and will) apostolic Christian truth in its fullness and undiluted splendor. So one accepts it based on the historical criteria, just as one would accept the historicity of the Resurrection or the Virgin Birth, or the authority of the Bible - itself grounded in historically-verifiable elements (e.g., fulfilled prophecy, the continuance of the Jews, the astounding transformation of the early Christians, etc.). It is on the basis of history (and, of course, faith as well), as opposed to some alleged prideful, illusory, self-infallibility. Popes and Ecumenical Councils are just as bound to the received deposit of faith, as I am.

To learn further about how my own particular spiritual odyssey progressed (for anyone who might be curious), see my paper: How Newman Convinced Me of the Apostolicity of the Catholic Church.Newman himself accepted the Catholic Church based on undeniable historical realities, and thus was able to reject the man-made Anglican edifice of the Via Media. Likewise, I came to see (after alsostudying the so-called "Reformation") that evangelical Protestantism could not in any way, shape, or form fit the bill of the fullness of apostolic Christianity either. Only Catholicism could do that. And I wanted apostolic, biblical Christianity: the Christianity which Jesus taught the disciples; not man-made variants, each containing maybe a few noble emphases left over from historical, apostolic Christianity, but always in the final analysis grossly-deficient (though also quite beneficial and good insofar as they do contain many valid Christian truths).

Orthodoxy also possesses apostolic succession. I decided between the two options precisely on the same grounds: Orthodoxy had departed from a few universally-held beliefs of early Christian Tradition (namely, the prohibition of divorce and contraception). So history was determinative. This is how it has always been in the Christian faith until Luther brought in the radically subjectivistic notion of faith and authority, thus leading to the present doctrinal relativism, ecclesiological anarchy, and moral chaos of Protestantism.

All of these issues are complex in and of themselves, but that is the Catholic answer: we appeal to the patristic and apostolic (Pauline) methods of determining theological and apostolic truth. The Bibleis central in all this as well (absolutely!); it is just not exclusive of Church authority. How can it be? Its very parameters were authoritatively declared by this self-same Church. Before then, various Fathers disagreed somewhat on the canon. Again, it is not a matter solely of sin. Authority was truly needed to settle that issue, just as it is needed to settle theological issues. Scripture Alone will not suffice.

Besides, Scripture itself points to the teaching authority of the Church, anyway, so it is a false dichotomy from the get-go, to pit the Church against the Bible, as if there is some inherent contradiction or "competition" between them. The Apostles and Fathers saw no such dichotomy. I imitate Paul, just as he imitated Christ (as he commanded me to do). I reject the Johnny-come-lately novel notions of Luther, because they can't be traced back to the Apostles in an unbroken line - thus are corruptions insofar as they differ from Catholic dogma.

Bible, Sola Scriptura, and Canonicity Issues

The usual "Catholic Answers" to Protestant claims about the Bible is a perfect example of this failure to communicate.  When the Protestant says "The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture." (WCF 1:10),

We wholeheartedly agree with that; we simply do not view Scripture in isolation from Church and Tradition, which it itself constantly refers to. This is the biblical outlook. "Bible Alone" (in the sense above) is not taught in Scripture

the Catholic immediately goes "Aha!  But how do you know what Scripture is?" This reply is wrong-headed, for the Catholic is confusing an ultimate authority with a penultimate one.

Yes; however, it gets down to brass tacks in pointing out that canonicity is an historical process, thus supporting the premise that historical and human (and ecclesiological) factors are necessarily involved in the dispute over authority. It is too simple to merely proclaim "Scripture, Scripture," and to downplay the Church when that very Church was necessary in order to authoritatively proclaim the parameters and content of Holy Scripture. So the polemics may be unsophisticated at times, but the truth underlying the polemics is very solid and cogent and not able to be so lightly dismissed. Not every participant on a bulletin board is a trained, skilled apologist. They are just sharing Christian and Catholic truth the best they know how, just as millions of Protestants do (not always so sophisticated or polished, either).

God being the ULTIMATE authority in the universe, what else is there to which He could appeal to "verify" His identity and His claims?  One simply doesn't ask GOD ALMIGHTY to show him His driver's license in order to "prove" that He is, in fact, God.  Thus, God Himself tells us that since He could find no greater to swear by, He swore by Himself (Heb. 6:13). All Christians believe that the Bible is God speaking, so in actual point of fact, there is no way to "verify" the Bible's claims.  I am, of course, familiar with the standard evidentialist lines of argument that defend the inspiration of the Bible, and for the most part, I agree with them.

Then how can you say there is "no way to 'verify' the Bible's claims" ? There certainly are many ways, just as there were many ways that Jesus verified His own claims (miracles, the Resurrection, fulfilled prophecy, etc.). This is stated outright in Acts 1:3.

Nevertheless, they don't "prove" something that was previously doubtful; they merely offer inductive support for something that is already believed on other, more personal grounds.

This gets into very deep waters, but I would like to point out that you are exercising faith, again, in a fashion which the Catholic exercises towards His Church, as a divinely-established and protected institution. Why do you allow yourself the luxury of believing in Holy Scripture without necessary "evidentialist" proofs, while you frown upon Catholics who do the same with regard to the Catholic Church: often lacking the "proofs" which you demand for them to have, while giving yourself a pass? After all, we both agree that the Church is as divinely-willed as the Bible. We may disagree on its location and nature, but we are talking about philosophical premises here, which most people implicitly hold, without conscious reflection.

All of us must say with Augustine, Credo ut intelligam--"I believe in order that I may understand."

Faith is always required; of course. But that faith is rational and not irrational. It goes beyond mere rationality and philosophy (it is not epistemologically airtight - very few things are in any field of study), but it is not contrary to right reason. I have held this belief for 20 years now. Again, I think this eventually backfires on you, because the Catholic, too, believes in his notion of what the Church is, and which claimant is the Church. The same Augustine also stated that he would not believe the Gospel but for the Catholic Church, which proclaimed it. He never marginalizes the Church, as you guys end up doing every time.

The witness of the Church to the canon of the Bible is just that--a PASSIVE witness, not an ACTIVE determination.

We agree; it merely proclaimed what was already inherently the Word of God; inspired Revelation. Vatican I and II state this. The Church was, however, still absolutely necessary in a practical sense, and - this being the case - it is reasonable to assume that it possesses authority to proclaim on other issues as well, and to command obligatory obedience of its followers.

Yes, we Christians today "rely" on the word of the Church when we look at the Table of Contents in our Bibles, but that is not the same thing as the Church "verifying" the Bible.

Correct, but you are not facing the overall implications of this authority, as just alluded to.

Ultimately, the Church herself recognized this book and not that book as being Scripture precisely because of the internal witness of the Holy Spirit to the CORPORATE Body (not merely individuals) over time.

Also correct; nevertheless it did proclaim, and that has been accepted by all Christians ever since. The authority lies in the proclamation. Yet you think it has that supreme authority concerning the actual extent of Scripture, while denying its prerogative to proclaim on any individual doctrine of Scripture. I find that remarkably arbitrary and implausible.

In this scenario, God allows one exception to sola Scriptura: the Church proclaiming what the Scripture is (but also a few other things, such as the Two Natures of Christ). Then it fades into the background and is able to be judged by each individual Christian with the Bible and the Holy Spirit. I find this utterly ludicrous. You can't even tell me why - on your premises - a Christian should not reject Chalcedonian Christology or Nicaean trinitarianism (as many heretics have in fact done). You would have to allow more exceptions to your rule because the Church "got it right" in those instances. We merely say that the Church always "got it right" in Ecumenical Councils, because it was protected by the Holy Spirit from error, not because God decided to protect it now and then. These things are consistent with our formal principles, but are frequent anomalies and exceptions in yours. The more exceptions to a "rule," the weaker and less worthy of belief such a "rule" is.

There simply is no way to get around this "subjectivity".

That's right, but I see the subjectivity on your end, not ours.

To the Catholic apologist who talks about "spiral" arguments proving the Bible's veracity, I can only wonder why Abraham or Moses or the Prophets or the Apostles didn't speak and act this way when God spoke to them.

I think there are many valid arguments which help to establish the Bible's inspiration. I am an "evidentialist." This is not my beef; mine is with the arbitrary and illogical, unhistorical and unbiblical nature of sola Scriptura and with the relativism and indifferentism it creates. I dealt with this in-depth in my recent related debate with Carmen Bryant.

How do you understand the phrase "Scripture Alone"?  It sounds like you think it means "Scripture is the ONLY authority, period".  Obviously that is wrong (incoherent, even!) and it sure isn't what the Reformers taught, as I believe you know.

I define it as being "Scripture as the final authority; higher than any Church or Council, which can and do err," as explained many times in my various papers on this general topic. Luther at Worms is the classic exponent, though I understand that Calvin produced a more subtle and systematic version of it.

I believe that the Reformers would gladly have accepted the "apostolic succession" of the late medieval Catholic Church if it could have been shown that the bishops in that succession were teaching the same thing as the canonical Scriptures of God.  But that was what the whole dispute was about, after all.

They didn't believe that God could protect His Church from error, yet they have no trouble believing that individuals can be so protected, and persist in this belief as a formal principle, despite 10,000 internal contradictions and endless schism and moral compromise in the Protestantism which is the offspring of this false first premise. Very weird, from where I sit . . . Once I saw that Catholic distinctives could be established from Scripture (now the theme of my website and upcoming book), and understood development of doctrine, I immediately abandoned this thoroughly incoherent position.

If "formal authority" means "ONLY authority", no, that is not the Protestant position.  It may be the position of schismatic Anabaptists and modern day Fundamentalists, but it isn't the historic Protestant position.

No, the position as you understand it; that's what I was saying: the Reformed position on sola Scriptura. This was also basically the historic position of the heretics; whereas the current Catholic position has always been that of orthodoxy before Protestantism, as Newman argues and demonstrates.

Book IV of Calvin's Institutes is replete with condemnations of "private spirits" who break the unity of Christ's Church--an odd thing to write about if he believed what you seem to think the Protestant view entails.

He was as subject to tunnel vision and lack of foresight (and arrogance and pride) as Luther was. He spoke against schism, etc., all the while setting up the system which was to perpetuate and guarantee it. Sad . . .

The Divisive Issues of the Papacy, Apostolic Succession, Episcopacy (Bishops), and the Nature of the Church (Ecclesiology)

Well...kindasorta.  Even from earliest times Christians were not unanimous that Petrine primacy meant Petrine supremacy, or that that supremacy was headquartered in Rome.

How does that prove that the fact of it is untrue? There have always been dissidents from all doctrines, pray tell.

That's why Orthodox historian Meyendorff can admit unequivocally that "The Eastern Churches had always recognized the particular authority of Rome in ecclesiastical affairs...", and yet also that "The Byzantines unanimously recognized the great authority of the old Rome, but never understood this authority in the sense of an absolute power."--The Primacy of Peter (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1992), pg. 70.

I have the most extensive critique of Orthodoxy from a Catholic perspective on the Internet, that I'm aware of. I have read this book and I would point out that it doesn't even touch  many Scriptural arguments that I and others have brought to the table with regard to the papacy. If the opponent doesn't deal with the best arguments of the other party (and those from Scripture itself, no less), of what constructive use is their polemic? Not much. I try to deal with my opponents' best arguments head on. If I can't answer something at the time I am honest enough to admit that I cannot, rather than ignore it or carry on in a condescending, rationalizing manner.

Sure.  But these don't include "headquartered in a central location whose faith can never falter",

True, that is post-biblical. Peter and Paul were martyred at Rome. We know that Paul ended up there, from Scripture (Acts 28:14-30). And history tells us that Peter did as well. His bones have even now been found, located under St. Peter's.

"found in union with the Bishop of Rome", "infallible in it's pronouncements on faith and morals", and the like, all of which are distinctives peculiar to Rome and which have always proved to be highly schismatic in the life of the Church as a whole.

The kernels of such things are present in Scripture. This involves development of doctrine; almost always radically misunderstood (or denied outright) by Protestants.

Sure, as long as the "successors" aren't seen to possess apostolic authority in themselves or their office (the latter of which is NOT identical to the office of Apostle, per Ignatius and others), but only insofar as they teach the Apostolic truth which the Church has always taught,

That is basically our view, yes.

which can be discovered by comparing the oral preaching with the canonical Scriptures of God (Cyril of Jerusalem, Athanasius, Augustine, Basil of Caesarea, Salvian the Presbyter, Chrysostom, etc.)

As an indicator of orthodoxy, yes (material sufficiency); not in the sense of sola Scriptura (formal sufficiency) to the exclusion of apostolic Tradition (Athanasius, Augustine, Chrysostom; all the Fathers).

"Authority"?  Well, kindasorta.  "Primacy" is better, and "primus inter pares" is better still.  I don't think you can reasonably say the first four and a half centuries of Christians believed in Papal authority the way you do, not even in "acorn" form.

I do believe that they do in acorn form, just as they believed in the Trinity or the Two Natures of Christ in quite primitive form, compared to later extensive elaborations of those doctrines. Discussions of the papacy are best left to another dialogue. The proper procedure (in my opinion) would be for you to respond to one of my papers on the papacy point-by-point. No Protestant has yet done this.

Vincent of Lerins' formula "quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus" definitely disqualifies the Roman papacy from being a true "development", Newman notwithstanding.

This is nonsense. It so happens that in the very same passage that this famous dictum comes from, St. Vincent gives the most explicit exposition of development in the Fathers, from which Newman heavily drew. I demonstrate this at some length in a paper against William Webster, showing that he has little inkling of what he is talking about when it comes to development of doctrine. That paper remains completely unanswered as well (what else is new with anti-Catholic polemicists?):Refutation of William Webster's Fundamental Misunderstanding of Development of Doctrine.

Well, kindasorta.  I think it can be forcefully argued that the Fathers understood the lineal succession of bishops to be valid precisely because what was being taught by those in the succession matched up perfectly with what could be plainly found in the Scriptures.

Indeed, they would line up with Scriptures, because they are protected from error, but this is not sola Scriptura; it is Scripture and Tradition as two sides of one coin; two fonts from one spring.

That's why for all of the up-playing of the succession, you can find Fathers like Augustine saying that
he doesn't do anything other than expound the words of the Teacher (On the Good of Widowhood, 2), that he doesn't want the Church proved from clever arguments, but from the divine Scriptures (On the Unity of the Church, 3), that the testimony of the Holy Scriptures is what can resolve the dispute with Arianism (Against Maximan the Arian), and that if anyone says anything about the Church that cannot be verified from the canonical Scriptures, he is anathema (Against the Letters of Petilianus, 3.6).  It wasn't the historical lineage per se that proved the truth, but rather, that the historical lineage happened to coincide exactly with what the Scriptures taught.

Again, it will line up, because there is one Spirit of Truth Who guarantees that. As for Augustine the supposed "proto-Protestant," I also had a section on him in my recent debate: Dialogue on Whether the Fathers Taught "Perspicuity" of Scripture and Denied the Necessity of Tradition and an Authoritative Church (with Carmen Bryant).

I agree that she says the line is unbroken, but since that is her own claim about herself, it's pretty darn circular, don't you think?

Not at all, because it is historically-verifiable and demonstrable.

What's a historian to think when, for instance, he examines the many instances of multiple Popes all damning each other?

A false claimant does not logically disprove the existence of a true claimant or officeholder, any more than multiple interpretations of a particular Bible verse "prove" that there is not one true interpretation. Historians alone cannot solve those historical conundrums; it requires some theology and ecclesiology and a measure of faith to resolve.

When the dispute is precisely over the issue Who is the legitimate successor, can a truth-seeking historian just accept the ipse dixit of one claimant as Gospel-truth?

There are "problems" in Catholic history to mull over and attempt to resolve just as there are "problems" in exegesis and inerrancy which Protestants devote much energy to resolving (I have Gleason Archer's Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties in my library). In neither case do the "problems" disprove the overall system. Such things are altogether to be expected in any complex system of thought. Why would you think otherwise?

Sure, if that preservation means preserving intact the material source of apostolic truth--Scripture.

No Church has done that better than the Catholic Church. If our monks hadn't preserved Scripture with the utmost care and devotion, you guys wouldn't even have it (what might be called a "physical succession" of Scripture).

The indefectability of the Church doesn't mean she never errs in her judgments about truth; it means that she never totally apostatizes from the truth, never utterly vanishes from the face of the Earth.

We believe the Church cannot err when she is teaching infallibly (which itself has many fine shades of meaning difficult to explain in a nutshell).

That's why when a Catholic asks me "Where was your Church before the Reformation?", I just smile and ask, "Where was your face before you washed it?"

:-) I deny that it was a "Reformation" - which is why I never call it that, except in quotes; I prefer the title "Protestant Revolt." Protestants did not bring back ancient doctrines which had been corrupted by Catholicism; it invented new doctrines out of whole cloth. I've sought to demonstrate this in many of my papers, notably the following:

Christians don't accept the authority of the Bible on historical grounds; they (corporately) accept it because they (corporately) recognize the voice of their Shepherd in it.

But it is able to be verified by many means, even though faith is the ultimate reason why anyone accepts it.

Sure, the book is placed into the hands of individuals by the Church (and that involved a historical process, to be sure), but the Church isn't doing anything more than simply witnessing to the Book's inspiration.

That is Catholic teaching, as already stated; it doesn't resolve your difficulty as to the absolute necessity of a binding Church authority.

To say that the Church (via "history") authenticates the Scriptures is to simply push the verification question back one step--e.g., how do you "know for sure" that you are interpreting history correctly on the identity of the Church and not engaging in "prideful, illusory, self-infallibility"?

It is a matter of faith (Christianity is a faith, after all, not a philosophy like Stoicism or something). But it remains true that there were differences on the content of Scripture for over 300 years before the canon was finalized, and there remain differences today, with regard to the Deuterocanonical books (accepted by those same Councils - Hippo and Carthage - and Augustine). So even here Protestants have to be inconsistent and get it wrong yet again.

Thus, Charles Hodge writes:

(The Protestant Rule of Faith, from his Systematic Theology)

This is both remarkable and ridiculous in that Hodge (acting like a typical anti-Catholic, and more than sufficiently educated to know better) completely bypasses the crucial question of apostolic succession in this matter and caricatures the Catholic position and insults all Catholics by implying that the whole thing is based upon "the word of the priest." In that sense, Protestantism is condemned more so, as the word of Luther or Calvin or one's local pastor, or the favored radio or TV evangelist/expositor is given far more weight than that of a priest, who is in strict obedience to his superiors and Church Tradition. This is a pathetic and completely unhelpful piece of anti-Catholic rhetoric, and it surprises me that you are still citing absurd polemical sentiments such as this, given the high level of the rest of your letter. But I do thank you for helping to expose the silly mentality of so many anti-Catholics (even eminent and educated ones such as Hodge) for the readers of my website to see.

Yes, but who determines whether Popes and Ecumenical Councils are, in fact, properly conveying the deposit of faith?  Each individual Catholic, that's who!

No; strictly speaking, the pope makes this judgment, just as Leo the Great did - famously - at the Council of Chalcedon in 451.

In the final analysis, that is why there is such a thing as a "Traditionalist" movement within the Catholic Church today.

Yes, because they accept neither the authority of popes or Councils, and rely on their own fallible private judgment, a la Protestants and Catholic liberal dissidents.

I see lots of condescension to these folks,

They have plenty for their critics also, believe me. :-) I stick to their beliefs, not to personal attacks, as is my constant goal in my apologetics.

but little comprehension of the central point that both "Traditionalists" and "True Catholics" (or whatever the label for your brand of Catholicism is) are engaging in "private interpretation" of history and the words of Popes and Ecumenical Councils.  Both groups are in the same boat epistemologically.

Not at all. This is such a theme with you! Hopefully I can disabuse you of it. The Catholic accepts the authority of popes and Ecumenical Councils. No questions asked. The so-called "traditionalist" sometimes disputes the validity of Vatican II, and the last three or four popes, and/or the validity of the present Novus Ordo Mass. That is not orthodox Catholicism, my friend; that is Luther-like private judgment and a loss of what we Catholics call the supernatural virtue of faith, and a rejection of the indefectibility of the Church.

To deny this is to say that the Traditionalists don't understand the truth because they are in "sin" but the "True Catholics" do understand because they are not in "sin", which is the very uncharitable thing that so many Catholic apologists--including yourself--charge Protestants with doing to each other!

I'm not talking about sin in my critiques (and I have many on my site, if you didn't know that already) but faulty thinking; an acceptance of principles which are fundamentally un-Catholic.

Which means that Von Dollinger--himself a very thorough student of history--was either an idiot or a wicked deceiver on the issue of Papal infallibility.  Which is it?

Neither; he was a brilliant historian (I cite him in my papers on the Protestant Revolt), and I grant everybody their good faith, but in my opinion he had accepted certain false philosophical premises from the Enlightenment (not surprising to find in a German scholar of that period; in the milieu where theological liberalism was bred and flourished).

I discuss Newman's opinion of von Dollinger and his rejection of Vatican I in the following paper: Newman on Papal Infallibility.

Who decided?  YOU?  You "Super-Pope" you!  <g><g><g>

Yes; just like every person accepts or rejects the grace of God for salvation; we are free creatures, not robots. But the very act of acknowledging the Catholic Church as what it claims to be is also the same act as yielding one's private judgment (as a formal system of ultimate authority) to it - bowing to a divinely-established authority far higher than oneself. Whereas, in accepting some or other brand of Protestantism, one continues to exercise their private judgment, which at any time can change later on, causing the person to move on to greener pastures. This is the fundamental difference, authority-wise. One can have many reasons for believing that the Catholic Church is the Church (as I did and do), but once having come to that conclusion (itself also with the help of the Holy Spirit), the person then ceases from making himself the center of the universe, Christianity-wise, and accepts the word of the Church as infallible and obligatory.

No, your own mind was determinative,

You can argue the history if you wish by consulting my papers on those topics. Empty charges prove little to me or (I hope) readers of my website.

as is shown by the fact that you didn't take seriously Orthodoxy's complaint that Rome had departed from the universally held belief of early Christian Tradition re: Petrine Primacy.  It wasn't history itself that was determinative, but your own fallible reading of history.  Let's hear it for "Super-Popes!"  <g><g><g>

It's true that I didn't work through the whole issue of the papacy before I converted (one can only do so much). I was first convinced that contraception was a grave sin (and learned that all Christians agreed up to 1930). Upon learning that the Orthodox had compromised on this, it made sense to rule them out, since I didn't want more liberalism and departure from Christian precedent (I had more than enough of that in Protestantism). The divorce issue was similar. I saw that as a symptom of moral compromise today, so I would not be inclined to join a Church which sanctioned it. This all helped to convince me that Catholicism alone had a pure, biblical and apostolic moral theology. I came to this conclusion about three months before I actually converted.

As to other Catholic vs. Orthodox issues; I worked through them later, mostly after I got online in early 1996. My debates along those lines have only served to strengthen my existing views in every case. I've yet to see Orthodox deal with our biblical arguments for the papacy. Someone somewhere may have, but I haven't seen it. I have always said that if the Orthodox can overthrow the reasoning I present in my papers, then I would become Orthodox. But most of the arguments are ignored and some (e.g., the filioque) I regard as too technical to grapple with, without formal theological training and knowledge of Greek and Latin.

Nice use of rhetoric, but highly simplistic both historically and logically.  And yes, I'm prepared to back that statement up if you wish.

Feel free.

Indeed, and hopefully you don't think that's what Sola Scriptura means.

No; I understand it to mean that one's interpretation of the "perspicuous" Bible (with the aid of the Holy Spirit) is exclusive of binding or obligatory Church authority.

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Edited by Dave Armstrong (with permission) from private correspondence: July 2000.