Monday, October 04, 2004

What is it With Anti-Catholics & Written Debate? (The Sad Case of Eric Svendsen as a Typical Example)

It isn't just James White who has this weird view. I saw on his blog today a picture of no less than 24 of his own published books. I have three published books (and notes in a Bible, and a chapter in two other books, and a pamphlet -- I have completed nine other books). Yet the man won't debate me in writing because he claims that he doesn't like the medium, and that oral debate is the only good way to go about such things. And this, despite the fact that he has a book out which debates Dave Hunt on Calvinism, and another in which he interacts with three or four other men on the issue of Church government. Bishop White never ceases to amaze me . . .

Dr. Eric Svendsen, his good buddy and fellow anti-Catholic champion, takes exactly the same position (well, kind of; when it suits his purposes: read on). An author himself (some six or seven published books, I believe), Eric nevertheless refuses to debate Catholics in writing (he only likes to tear down straw-men, caricatured versions of Catholic belief in his books). Well, that is, except (again, like James White) those whom he selects to devote a great deal of time to in rebuttal; e.g., Robert Sungenis (see Example 1, Example 2, Example 3, Example 4, Example 5), Ronald K. Tacelli, S.J., Reformed Protestant Paul Owen, who is not an anti-Catholic (see Example 1, Example 2, Example 3), and John Pacheco. So Eric does written debates, but he doesn't, for principled reasons, and because he has no time (being a family man and busy scholar and anti-Catholic polemicist and all). You try to figure it out. I have long since given up trying to understand the convoluted "reasoning" and "rationales" of these folks.

Tonight I was rummaging through old archive pages from Steve Ray's Catholic Convert Message Board (public material) and ran across an exchange between Eric and I (Mark Shea was also involved in the early stages). I thought it might be interesting reading for those poor desperate souls who follow the Catholic / Anti-Catholic ongoing Internet battles.

I couldn't retrieve all the relevant posts, because they were too old or otherwise inaccessible, for some reason. At one point, Eric challenged the Catholic apologists on the board to a debate. I quickly replied that I would be glad to debate Eric in writing. But of course he didn't want to do that. Since this time, Eric has started up his own Areopagus discussion board, where (notoriously) almost any Catholic who disagrees with the anti-Catholic muckety-mucks who run the board is kicked off, usually with unnecessary personal insults and falsehoods about what had taken place. Obviously, Eric is being consistent with his own stated position: substantive written debate with Catholic apologists is to be avoided at all costs (except for those who point out something particularly irksome to Eric -- see the above ten linked examples).

Eric's words will be in blue. Mark Shea's will be in red. Words of "Ronnie," another anti-Catholic who defended Eric in a post to me, will be in green.
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Unfortunately, there are some prominent members of this list who have decided to engage in ad hominem attacks on my character, integrity, motives, etc., instead of dealing with the weaknesses of their own approaches (which is what the challenge points out). I am not familiar with most of those who have engaged in this sort of thing; and, quite frankly, their opinions of me mean very little. I am only concerned about those who are viewed as "major defenders" of the RC faith. I think it is fair to say that Mark Shea ranks among that lot. He, more than anyone else on this list with whom I am familiar, has spearheaded these attacks on me, and has been very dismissive of my views. As a result, I have challenged him to a public debate on this very issue-namely, epistemological foundations. If he is right, and my challenge was "silly and stupid" (repeated more than once in this forum), I think it reasonable to back it up in a public debate to see whether his objections will stand. What follows is an exchange that took place recently between Mr. Shea and me. I don't normally post private email; but the situation dictates it. Shea has attempted to humiliate me in a public forum behind my back. It is only fair that he be taken to task publicly:

I write:

Hello Mark,

I have seen my name mentioned quite a few times by you on the Catholic Convert board, mostly in reference to my epistemological challenge. I wonder whether you would care to engage me in a public debate on this issue, just to clear up some misunderstandings that I think you may be perpetuating about my views (perhaps unwittingly, I'll give you the benefit of the doubt). Is this something you'd care to do? If so, we can talk about a date and venue that works for you. Please let me know.

Regards,
Eric Svendsen

Shea responds:

Thanks anyway, but as I've made clear repeatedly on Steve's board and elsewhere, I don't believe in debates. Have a Merry Christmas!

Mark

I respond by excerpting quotations form Shea's posts regarding my challenge over the past few months:

* "The deep goofiness of such challenges" (October 06, 2000)
* "Bottom line: four posts full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Eric offers $100k to the winner. Eric shoots. Eric misses. Eric makes self referee. Eric declares self winner. Eric keeps the $100K. Yay Eric. Eric is invincible!" (October 06, 2000)
* "His reductionist admission which took it for granted that it's all about power and self-interest speaks volumes." (October 07, 2000)
* "If Eric want to be taken seriously, he should advance the argument without couching it in such stupid terms" (October 07, 2000).
* "Instead, he stupidly put this dumb "challenge" forward and made himself look as stupid as a Catholic who imagines he has overturned the Reformation by showing Jack Chick to be an idiot." (October 07, 2000)
* "The "challenge" distracted from the arguments. Further, the arguments themselves are barely worth refuting." (October 07, 2000)
* "Eric Svendsen: The Best Ethics Money Can Buy!" (October 06, 2000)
* "Eric is dismissive and gives verbose accounts of his dismissiveness. But the fact is, you and I know beforehand that the game is rigged. Eric is bound and determined, in advance of and in the teeth of all evidence, to arrive at the conclusion he arrives at, no matter what." (October 06, 2000)
* "Go back and tell your Master Eric that this "challenge" is one of the best things to happen to Catholic apologetics in many a day! Please urge him to keep boasting about how he remains unconvinced! It's too perfect!" (October 06, 2000)
* "Don't you--doesn't Eric--see what a deeply, incredibly stupid blow to anti-Catholic apologetics this "challenge" is?" (October 06, 2000)
* "Have you ever tried to point out to him how deeply stupid and damaging his "$100,000 challenge" is to his own case" (October 06, 2000)

And those posts are only a few that I selected from your posts over the course of only two days. I have found that those who protest this much over what they claim, after all, is "much ado about nothing" are in reality attempting to hide the fact that they cannot answer such challenges. I'm calling your bluff, Mark. You claim you don't "believe in debates." Am I to conclude that what you do you believe in are trumped-up, unsubstantiated ad hominem attacks that you are unwilling to defend in a public forum? Do I take it that it's not okay to hold a public debate where I have the opportunity to hold you accountable for misrepresenting my position and where I can press these points home to show that you really do not have an adequate answer for them--and where everyone listening can see for themselves which side holds up under close scutiny--but that it is perfectly okay (by you) to call into question the integrity, intellectual honesty and character of another person behind his back in a forum he isn't even part of? Is that your idea of a fair exchange of ideas? I'd think that a man who has engaged so freely in the nonsense you have above with such bravado and confidence and in a decidedly back-handed way should be willing to back all that up publicly in front of the man he has taken to task. I certainly am a willing (and eager) participant. How about it, Mark? I personally would love to see how your "silliness" argument holds up in a face-to-face debate. Are you willing to give it a shot? If so, I salute you, and I will immediately begin working out the details of date and venue. If not, then I suggest you refrain from this kind of nonsense in the future. Which will it be, Mark?

Eric Svendsen

Shea responds:

Eric:

It's not my problem if you chose a silly tactic in an attempt to score a rhetorical point. It remains a silly tactic whether I debate you or not. You don't have $100,000. You never, under any circumstances whatever, had any intention of ponying up said cash. Making yourself judge and jury of whether you should pony up such cash and then loudly announcing that nobody had convinced you to do so simply made it clear that you are a more-than-usually self-interested opponent of the Church. The fact that you still don't seem to see that elementary point is now simply funny. The fact remains that I don't believe in debates and am not interested. Your questions turn on the standard flat-footed rationalistic approach to the Faith which assumes a faithful Catholic must form his thoughts on the basis "That which is not forbidden is compulsory". Since the Church is, in fact, profoundly disinclined to define her dogma unless she has to, you imagine you are scoring a stunning rhetorical triumph by showing that Catholics disagree about a great many things. Me, I think it is one of the best things about the Church that orthodox Catholics "agree about everything. It is only everything else they disagree about." (Chesterton). Bottom line: I think you whole set of questions is ill-conceived from the start and I deleted the challenge the first time it came to my computer because they struck me as tone-deaf to the catholicity of the faith. I haven't changed my opinion and still disbelieve in debate.

Mark

I respond by first quoting Shea and then addressing his point:

Anyone can have an opinion. The one thing that separates valid opinions from silly opinions is the willingness and ability to back them up in the face of opposition. Your silly arguments against my challenge, quite frankly, would not stand up in a public forum. You would look foolish and silly in front of (tens of) thousands who may listen to such a debate, and I firmly believe that is the real reason you are unwilling to submit them to a forum that would be taped and widely distributed to both sides. You have styled yourself as a defender of the Roman faith. Fine. Defend it, and defend it with integrity. As it stands, you have acted with dishonor and a lack of integrity and have opted instead to attack someone else's views as "silly" and "stupid" behind his back and without being willing to back it up. Again, I suggest that if you are unwilling and unable to back a statement that is intended to demean and belittle your opponent, simply bow out of this arena. Such a person has proven himself incapable of assuming the great weight of responsibility that is bound up in styling himself a defender of the faith, and is thereby disqualified from being taken seriously. Such "apologists" come a dime a dozen these days.

Eric Svendsen

Well, there you have it folks. I am and always have been willing to debate the best that Rome has to offer. I don't mind penning my views because I am willing to back them up in a public forum and submit them to close examination. But let me reiterate, I am interested in debating only the best because I don't want any charge from anyone to the effect that the reason the Evangelical side won such and such debate was because the Catholic side was represented by someone too uninformed to debate the issue. Consequently, I summarily reject any offer to debate amateur RC apologists (I just wanted in advance to save some of you the trouble of writing and asking for a debate). By "best" I mean someone who has been trained in theology, has written books on these issues, and who is at least apparently well-informed. Mark Shea has a reputation for these qualifications, and he is supposed to be one of the elite RC defenders today. Yet he is either unwilling or unable (or both) to submit his comments in a forum in which it would be very difficult for him to get away with the kind of nonsense he has been perpetuating about my views. I find that exceedingly distasteful and disingenuous. It is very easy to do armchair apologetics in which you simply refuse to be held accountable for your careless assertions. It is quite another thing to hold those same assertions under the microscope of an opponent who will be only too happy to point out their flaws. This, Shea is quite unwilling to do. I suspect I know why.

One more thing: I do not now, nor in all likelihood will I ever, become a participant in this forum. Written debates, in my opinion, are completely ineffective because they allow an opponent to obfuscate too easily. Don't believe me? Let's just test my theory. I'm willing to bet dollars to donuts that most of the responses to this post will once again ignore the real issue and proclaim something like: "Aha! So he admits he wasn't going to pay the money!" Watch and see. Public debates, on the other hand, disallow these kinds of bad arguments to stand. My offer to debate Mark Shea publicly on any issue, anywhere and anytime will remain an open invitation. How about it Mark? You openly and publicly criticized my views. Are you willing to put your criticisms to the test? If not, how about doing us all a favor by refraining from stating your unsubstantiated opinions from this point on?

[from the 12-27-00 post (humorously titled to get viewings), Re: Hot, Steamy Triple XXX Action!!!--Corrected Version]

[Why not compromise] and do one of each ? Since Dr. Svendsen doesn't think the written medium is the best way to debate and you don't think the oral medium is the best way to debate. There is evidence that both forms can be beneficial, respectful, and edifying if both parties are committed to respectful and fair dialogue. James White vs Robert Sungenis and James White vs Mitchel Pacwa are evidence of oral debates working correctly and I'm sure Dr Svendsen has experience written debates that have worked fine. What do you say ?

I am absolutely opposed to doing oral debates with anti-Catholics. This has always been my position. I do not condemn the very idea, on moral grounds, however, and I do recognize that some good comes from them (as in the Sungenis-White debates), though I am not sure that it is a "net gain" when all is said and done. I have called for before-and-after surveys to determine how much of the audience actually changed their minds as a result. My thoughts on this are laid out in great detail in my paper I referred Eric to in my last post.

As for Eric and I; he said he has done one oral debate, and I have done none (nor do I plan on ever doing any). The closest I have gotten to that was my "live" chat last night with Tim Enloe and James White, in their forum. But even then, I was very careful to "negotiate" a format which agreed with my Socratic-oriented approach (Q and A and back-and-forth dialogue), which I strongly believe to be more conducive to understanding and learning and constructive discourse on both sides, as opposed to mere rhetoric, clever tricks, "citation wars and ambushes," and suchlike.

Both Eric and I have done much writing. He has books, and I will soon have a book published, and have chapters in three other books, and many articles published. So I think it is much more sensible and reasonable for me to refuse to do the thing I have many philosophical and methodological objections to, and no experience with, than for Eric to refuse to engage a Catholic apologist in the written arena -- which he is quite experienced in, as I am.

Also, my opposition to oral debates with anti-Catholics is well-known (among the circles I move in) and a longstanding opinion, whereas Eric seems to have arrived at his "no writing debates" position very recently, perhaps in the last week, as a result of his acerbic, icy exchanges with Mark Shea on this board. Perhaps I misunderstood his request; I didn't know he was referring solely to oral debates at first. I do know that he was dialoguing with me (quite a bit) back in 1996, when we were both members of James White's sola Scriptura Internet discussion list. I have these exchanges posted on my website.

Furthermore, he was asking in his initial post for free exchange of ideas and so forth. I am certainly willing to do that, and I think that is easily shown by all the dialogues on my website, with people of almost every imaginable major belief-system. So it seems as if Eric was not totally committed to his expressed desire, since he so quickly turned down someone who was willing to engage in the sort of discussion he claimed he was seeking. That rubs me the wrong way. I think a man ought to stand by his words, especially when he is the one initially extending the challenge/invitation, or however he would describe his first post. You know: say what you mean, and mean what you say. But I will not ascribe insincerity to him, because I think that is wrong. I'm just publically expressing my confusion about what he has written and how he has subsequently acted.

[from the 12-30-00 post, It makes no sense to me . . . ]

Hi Eric,

Thanks for your lengthy reply (sure beats your one-sentence reply last time). I'm a family man, too (3 young boys). I do understand that. Shortly, I will go out hiking on the frozen river in the foot of snow we have here. And I don't make $200,000 a year like you said you do (not to disparage that at all: I am not an anti-capitalist), so I have to spend a great deal of my time making the little money I do make (in addition to much "free labor" doing apologetics and evangelism because I am called to it, and am accountable to God for the stewardship of the gifts he has granted me; "woe to me if I preach not the gospel").

Who is unwilling to subject his views to scrutiny? Not I.

But I find it exceedingly strange that you view this endeavor as restricted solely to a public, oral forum. As I said in a post responding to another person: we have both written tons of material and hardly ever debated orally (you once and I, never). Yet you now want to frown upon written dialogue (Plato would be surprised to hear that) altogether. I find that very odd. In effect, this means that none of your views can be scrutinized except in a public debate, so that such scrutiny has happened exactly once! That is willingness to be examined? Hardly! OTOH, I have dozens of debates on my website, where everyone can read the other side of any given issue and make up their own minds. That reaches many thousands more than your public debates do, I think.

And a public debate forum is the best place to do that, for the following reasons. Here are the advantages of a public debate:

1. No one can easily obfuscate the issues when his opponent is present and is able to correct his error immediately.

So you find immediate, spur-of-the-moment corrections more compelling than a correction which resulted from hours of careful research with primary sources, Scripture, etc. Odd . . . Funny, too, that you folks are the ones so devoted to "written only" in your notion of sola Scriptura, whereas when you jump up to the present day you reverse that and wish to switch over to "oral Tradition," so to speak. Weird beyond my comprehension . . .

2. There is much better quality control to prevent tangents and rabbit trails.

But not much to prevent various rhetorical tricks and "ambushing" tactics. E.g., last night with James White (though I did think it was a good exchange overall, and I enjoyed it) he immediately confronted me with dense, historically complex claims about the Fathers and what they believed about Mary. I did my best "on my feet," but I replied that if I had to come up with a list of fathers who denied the sinlessness of Mary, that would take a little time, as I didn't have a source at my fingertips (and looking for one would bore the observers). Someone later described this technique perfectly as "quotes without quoting."

That is the sort of tactic and strategy which I find very annoying and unfair, bordering on unethical in some instances. Clearly, spontaneous, unexpected questions about patristic consensus, so-and-so's views on x, y, and z and so forth are much more appropriate either for experts in that area, or for written papers, where the non-expert and non-historian has the time to look up the sources from people who do study this for a living.

3. There is a definite time limit, a start time, and a stopping point.

I agree that this is a good thing.

4. There are no sideline debaters innundating you with a plethora of opinions while you are concentrating on one person.

That is not a problem with a one-on-one dialogue. You simply take it private, away from a list situation.

5. Perhaps the most important point of all, what takes 10 seconds to say usually takes 10 minutes to write. I just don't have that kind of time.

Truth takes time to find and communicate; sorry. Propaganda, OTOH (such as the norm of today's political rhetoric) is very easy to quickly spout. Evangelicalism lends itself far more easily to shallow rhetoric and slogans; Catholicism does not. It is complex, nuanced, and requires much thought and study. And thought takes time, no matter how you slice the cake.

6. What takes 10 seconds to clarify in a public debate, usually takes three of four additional posts (over several days) to clarify in a written forum.

I see that as a positive good. Again, truth and the acquisition of knowledge and wisdom requires time. I understand if you don't have that time: we all struggle with prioritizing. We all do what we can do, hopefully devoting time to theology as our Lord makes a way, within the pressures of daily living (turning off the idiot box as much as possible, etc.). But that is a separate issue: time pressures vs. the relative constructiveness of writing vs. speaking. Apples and oranges.

Again, the principle of diminishing returns comes into play. I am not willing to part with what little free time I have--and I certainly am not going to cut into my family time.

Fine, but give that as your initial reason, then, after all your rhetoric about seeking an open-minded person to "debate." Don't give us all the high-sounding ideals and then introduce your lack of time as the primary reason to refuse a person willing to take you up on your offer, albeit in a fashion you despise (writing). That gets old real quick.

Why go to the Steve Ray board at all, and unethically reveal private letters of Mark Shea if you were solely interested in open-ended "dialogue"? I don't see the point. His critiques (whether strong-worded or not) of your public website material were also public, and completely permissible, within the context of the usual ethics of the battle of ideas. They were not personal attacks (no matter how often he used the words "dumb" and "stupid," because they were referring to your ideas, not you). But you immediately post his private letters and make it a personal thing, which merely confirms -- no doubt -- in his mind that further discourse with you is futile (as we find is almost always the case with anti-Catholics; they can't seem to avoid ad hominem swipes). Later, in this letter, you take swipes at me, too (gee, why am I not surprised?).

I figure that since you thought nothing of posting Mark's private letters to you, then obviously you have no problem with me posting yours, so all this will also go on the Bulletin Board. And I am forwarding it to Tim Enloe precisely to make a point about the reasons anti-Catholics give for avoiding written dialogue and scrutiny of their claims, which has long been a bone of contention between us, and a pet peeve of my own.

7. There is much more interest, hence wider audience distribution, of a public debate.

I'm not so sure about that, especially with the advent of the Internet, but you may be right (there are cassettes, too). In any event, that has no bearing on my own objections. It is not public debate per se I am opposed to (let me make this very clear), but the perversion of it by unworthy tactics and methods, which is the usual result when one is dealing with anti-Catholics. So I am actually supporting what I consider to be true debate, not the pale imitations of it which pass for "debates."

Most people prefer to listen rather than read.

That may be true, but even if so, that doesn't justify your total refusal to engage in written debate.

8. It is more exceedingly difficult to get away with falsehoods, half-truths, and the like in a public arena than it is in a written one.

Quite the contrary, it is much easier to disinform and misinform, because one can put up an appearance of confidence and truth very easily, through rhetorical technique, ctach-phrases, cleverness, playing to the crowd, etc. (like Jesse Jackson or "slick" Bill Clinton habitually do, or guys like Hitler who were quite spectacular orators). These things are by no means as "certain" as you make them out to be.

In a written forum you can change the subject, downplay the falsehood, counterattack and hope the smokescreen will be thick enough to erase the memory of the falsehood, etc. That's much more difficult to do in a public forum.

It may be a little more difficult, but the shortcomings of a public debate more than make up for this possible "advantage."

Witness my debate with Gerry Matatics in which he was forced to admit that he could not cite any passages to support his view of heos hou, adelphos, and Josephus' reference to James. In short, there is instant accountability in a public forum, whereas in a written forum, several attempts at pinning someone down through several exchanges over a period of several days results in the reader thinking "What was the point again?"

Well, I do admit that this is a good thing, and indeed I looked forward to that aspect in my "live chat" last night. I now know what you mean, from my own experience too, because I asked James White to name me one father who knew what all 27 NT books were, in the first three centuries. He could not, and cited Athanasius, who -- I pointed out -- came to the age of reason in the 4th century (c. 296-373), as I am sure he is well aware . . .

Sorry, but it is a completely ineffective way to conclude which position is the stronger one.

People abuse written dialogue just as they do oral. I have no problem agreeing about that (it's self-evident). What else is new? Good dialogue, in whatever form, is always a rare thing, to be treasured when found . . .

Canned? Artificial? Self-serving Anti-humble?

Yes, because the debater always has to be right in such an event; he can never admit he is wrong because that would not "go with the program." But last night both Tim and I freely admitted it when we didn't know something or other. There's no shame in that.

All of these apply with at least as much validity to a written forum where it is very easy (because there is no face-to-face interaction) to dehumanize your opponent in an uncivil way. There is far more of a human touch to public debates than written debates.

That's a good point, one I am quite familiar with, as I have often been a victim of scurrilous, vicious, scandalous, and slanderous attacks myself, all in the written medium (some witnessed by you yourself, in 1996). But when, e.g., a Catholic offers to meet the alleged premier Protestant debater, James White, for lunch when he was in Phoenix, as Steve Ray did, White flatly refused, saying that it would "compromise the gospel" to do so. You can bet your bottom dollar, however, that if Steve took up White's offer to publically debate him, the latter would have no problem whatever doing that. So he will debate someone, while he won't have lunch with them. This is "civil" and a "human touch"? Gee, more weird stuff.

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When you mischaracterize a forum, you can make it appear just as appealing or unappealing as you like.

I attended a debate between Dave Hunt and Karl Keating, and I have also attended political debates and creationist-evolutionist ones. I know the atmosphere very well. I am also thoroughly familiar with how anti-Catholics conduct themselves on lists and bulletin boards. These opinions do not arise from nothingness; they are backed up with scores of experiences (and wounds, in some extreme cases).

Here are the facts. In 90% of the cases, the "zealous partisans" come from the Roman Catholic side, not the Evangelical side.

How do you prove that, pray tell?

Yet, in a written debate forum, the "zealous partisans" are even more multiplied, contributing their caustic opinions in "hit and run" fashion throughout the entire debate. Sorry, I've seen this too many times to know it's true.

Again, that's on a public bulletin board or list forum, not a one-on-one exchange which can later be posted on a website. But one can refuse to read and answer certain people in that situation. I do that myself on the Steve Ray board. Some people have more than proven to me that they do not wish to engage in dialogue, but only to preach or condescend. They therefore forfeit the right to be responded to as respectable, thoughtful participants. We must love all; but we are not required to interact with all.

None of your points downplaying oral debates are valid, Dave. And all of your points apply with greater force to a written forum.

Nice try. But I have answered your points (agree or no) and I have a huge 64K-long paper expounding upon the shortcomings of oral debate (with anti-Catholics) which I highly doubt you will ever interact with (I would be delighted to be wrong). So I am not likely to change my mind unless and until my best arguments on any given point are refuted or shown to be fallacious or ill-supported by the evidence. That's just how I operate. I hold to a view until it is demonstrated to be inferior to another one.

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. . . readers of the Steve Ray board and my website (I will post this on both) make up their own minds as to what that might mean.

What that might mean, Dave, is just what I said it means above. I am quite willing to take your views to task in a public forum. I would be laying myself on the line just as much as you would be. I have no inherent advantage in such a forum. Both of us would have to defend our views in equal ways. Yet you are unwilling to do that. I will let those same readers make up their own minds as to what that might mean.

What I am willing to do is what I did last night (and much enjoyed doing): debate you "live" one-on-one in James White's chat room (we would negotiate format and subject, just as Tim and I did). This seems to me to be a reasonable compromise. Certainly that situation is more akin to oral debate than to written debate in my sense of the term. What say ye?

[Eric never accepted this challenge -- just as James White refused to accept my offer of a similar scenario; I said he could question me all night long if I could question him for an hour about anything, "live"]

One final thought. I have read through some of the exchanges between you and me that you have posted on your website. I think your readers might be interested in knowing that what you have posted are "doctored" accounts. In the original version (which I have), there is no "I Dave Armstrong had the final word and Svendsen was unable to answer it." Have you clarified to your readers that you took liberties after the exchange was over to "spruce up" your original comments and add a "final" comment to the end of each exchange in order to appear the victor whom no one could answer? Shame on you, Dave.

Shame on you for resorting to personal attack and casting aspersions upon my motives (without sufficient evidence) when you could have simply asked me to clarify and modify these exchanges to your liking (which I am perfectly willing to do, of course). I did not deliberately set these up with any intent to delete some response from you. These are old debates, and -- as you well know, even given some of your reasoning above criticizing list debates -- they can get pretty confusing fairly quickly. I posted what I had in my files, and was not aware that I was "doctoring" anything.

Now, since you pointed this out (in typically hostile, suspicious anti-Catholic fashion), I will be more than happy to post whatever you have in your files, and add it to the debates, until I get your wholehearted stamp of approval as to the resulting paper. But if I didn't answer any of your replies at the time, I will now, as my custom is to always answer an opponent, excepting instances where he gets personal or radically off-subject. Almost always -- as a simple matter of fact --, my opponents cease dialoguing before I do, so is it my fault that I get the "last word" by default? It's my website, after all. I have the "right" get the last word on mine (especially if my opponent quits); you do on yours, too, if you so desire. But at least readers can see both sides on mine. How many dialogues appear on yours?

So now the ball is back in your court. If you want to accuse me of dishonest editing of dialogues, and I am willing to modify the papers (while vehemently denying the charge of deliberate ethical mischief, as you imply), then it's your turn now to put up or shut up. So our "dialogue" becomes ugly and unsavory even before it has begun. What a crying shame. One of the joys of last night's chat was the fact that Tim and I seem to have a respect for each other, and we have transcended the silly personal disputes (which we did engage in at first). I think that is a beautiful thing.

And now you want me to engage you in yet another exchange that will be "doctored" after the fact? Thanks, but I'll pass. And thank you for illustrating one more reason why written debates are to be avoided.

And thank you for illustrating why I object to oral debates with anti-Catholics in the first place, because we almost inevitably get mud-slinging and unnecessary charges. Every word you "spoke" in a live chat debate would appear in the final product on my site. I have the right to add a few clarifying footnotes in the website version, because (again) it is my website, and I am interested in the pedagogy of allowing readers to pursue further study on the subject if they should so choose. The goal is education, after all. A footnote is not an interference with a text, or else there would be scores of books (including the Bible and the Fathers' writings) which would become illegitimate.

Yours in Christ,

Dave

[from the 12-30-00 post, Svendsen's Further Denigration of Written Debates & (Obligatory) Personal Attack ]

Hi Eric,

Since you don't have experience in oral debates and I do have experience in both formats, I seems to me that I am in a much better position to compare them and evaluate the effectiveness of each one than you are.

That misses my point (which I will not reiterate - why bother?), and assumes the foolish fallacy that one must literally do or experience something in order to have an informed opinion on it. By that reasoning, no anti-Catholic could critique Catholicism unless they had actually been one, so they could properly understand it. I couldn't have critiqued the Jehovah's Witnesses or the hyper-faith pentecostals (as I was doing in the early 80s), because I hadn't been one of them, etc. I think people can see through that "logic."

I think the general opposition to oral debates on the Roman Catholic side is not what you assert it is, Dave.

How is that relevant to my own critique? I'm not subject to other Catholics' views on the constructiveness of oral debates, for heaven's sake! In fact, I have locked horns with some on this very issue (a few have even gotten mad at me). Be that as it may, however, if you want to make these sorts of self-serving conclusions about why many of us don't like public debates, then I am just as justified in speculating as to why guys like you, or James White, or William Webster are so unwilling to interact with virtually all critiques of their work, even when matters of simple, bald fact are demonstrated to be in error in their writing.

I think rather it stems from the fact thatRoman Catholics don't fare well in that venue.

Under my thesis, I could readily agree with that. It is true that the Catholic faith is not conducive to an environment where sophistical carnival-barker, used-car salesman types try to distort, twist, and misrepresent it at every turn (and this need not be deliberate at all: it matters not - the end result is the same). Nor is it required of us to engage unworthy, uninformed opponents. James White (on his website) recounted how R.C. Sproul told him that he thought all Catholics were unworthy to debate. If one such as Sproul (whom I admire and like very much, by the way) can take such a view, why can we not take precisely the same view with regard to anti-Catholic debaters?

Given my position, I think it is very "conciliatory" of me to even engage you guys in a forum such as James White's, last night. The reason it worked, I think, was because I insisted on a Socratic format, so as to virtually eliminate the possibility of sophistry and clever rhetoric which typifies so much of anti-Catholic jargon. But I also knew that Tim was a very thoughtful, sharp, and intellectually honest person, so I never thought it would degenerate into a shouting match or mud-slinging contest. People on both sides complimented us on our "civility," and I am very happy about that outcome. I had a point to make (in addition to the theology) about a certain lie about my character, having to do with my manner of speech and interaction with people of other persuasions.

This is not a case (as is commonly asserted on the RC side) of the Evangelical side simply having better gifted orators.

You mean someone thinks our homilies at Mass are better than Protestant sermons? I've yet to meet such a Catholic. LOL

What are the odds that all the best orators just happen to be Evangelical?

Not oration per se, but homiletics, is an area where you guys definitely have it over us. But that is no part of my own critique. I'm only speaking for myself on this one.

I don't think anyone can deny that Gerry Mataticsis a gifted orator and is quick on his feet. I would say the same thing regarding Patrick Madrid. The real reason the Evangelical side fares better in these debates is because--surprise!--it is easier to fare better when you hold to a view that is actually supported by the evidence. It's just that simple.

I'm sure it is that simple in your mind. But in my "papist" mind, if you guys believe this, then the notorious reluctance to engage in written exchanges is quite difficult for me to comprehend. If I have a chance to blow an error out of the water, I take it. So did Paul and Jesus. I don't ignore any open door. But anti-Catholics love to pick their venues and opponents very, very carefully.

In public debates, anti-Evangelical apologists end up spending their alloted time engaging in highly dubious exegesis that results in convoluted conclusions based on passages that are strung together in patchwork fashion. By the end of the debate, it becomes painfully obvious that they are promulgating untenable positions. Heck, If I had to do that, I wouldn't want to debate publicly either!

Yeah, and it is good you have only done that once, if you habitually make the sort of shallow exegetical argument that you do in one of your books:


. . . Catholics . . . insist in their writings that Mary is to receive honor, not worship; but their explicit practice more resembles worship than honor -- bowing to, praying to, and singing praises to anyone must be considered worship, not mere honor.

(Protestant Answers: A Response to Recent Attacks Against Protestant Theology by Catholic Apologists, Atlanta: New Testament Restoration Foundation Publications, 1995, 90)

Now what does Holy Scripture (which I assume you agree is normative) teach us about these sorts of actions? Does it inform us that they "must be considered worship"? Hardly, as Patrick Madrid has shown in his book Any Friend of God's is a Friend of Mine (San Diego: Basilica Press, 1996, pp. 97 ff.). Judah is praised by his brothers and they bow down to him (Gen 49:7). The Jews are praised by other peoples in Deut 26:18-19 and 32:43. Even God praises spiritual persons (Rom 2:29). St. Paul praises those who imitate him (1 Cor 11:1-2)!

You go on to compound your absurdity and shocking unfamiliarity with biblical motifs when you stated that bowing before an image or statue must be an act of idolatry. My good friend Pat Madrid makes short work of this, too, citing many instances of biblical persons bowing before creatures (Gen 19:1, 27:29, 33:3, Joshua 5:14, Ruth 2:8-10, 1 Kings 1:16,25, 2 Kings 4:37, 1 Sam 24:8; 8 more references are given). Jesus Himself sanctions the practice in Rev 3:8-9. Of course, statues and images or icons only serve to represent creatures, just as a photograph of a fallen war hero holds a place of honor in the home of such a person's family members. This is not rocket science . . .

So you want to take Catholic exegesis to task? Go ahead; it could hardly be as ridiculous and foolish as this sort of "exegesis" you engage in, which sounds more like a canned John Knox or Carlstadt sermon than anything to be found in the Bible. Like so much of anti-Catholic belief, this, too, is an instance of the precedence of man-made tradition and preconceived bias over the clear teaching of Scripture.

And perhaps if Dave was better informed, he would know (as many RC apologists already do) that "no written debates" became a personal policy for me a couple of years ago.

I'm sorry to hear that. I didn't know (I don't closely follow anti-Catholics!), and I made the mistake of assuming that your noble words on the bulletin board about open-mindedness and the exchange of ideas presupposed the benefit of written discourse. Sorry. Now I know better.

----------------------------------------

Perhaps I misunderstood his request; I didn't know he wasreferring solely to oral debates at first. I do know that he was dialoguing with me (quite a bit) back in 1996, when we were both members of James White's sola Scriptura Internet discussion list. I have these exchanges posted on my website.
Yes, and they nicely illustrate one of my objections to written debates--they remain open with no official end. Dave has pulled out a six-year old closed debate, dusted it off, spruced up his comments, added a final response at the end of each one, and victoriously proclaimed that his arguments have gone unanswered. In other words, unbeknownst to the rest of us who partook in that debate, the debate is still ongoing, with no end in sight. Sorry, Dave. Some of us have moved on to other things.

I've already dealt with this. No need to waste more of my time.

What is "easily shown" on your website is that your definition of "dialogue" is to continue unilaterally in a debate that was completed six years ago.

It was four years ago (1996), but that's a minor point. This is so silly . . . just come and finish me off (the poor, dumb, deluded Catholic), if it is so easy! I gave you a golden opportunity to do that (on my own website, no less). But I suppose you would rather harbor this petty and groundless resentment, than to step up to the plate and do some work. It's always easier to take that course. Then you can squawk like a whining child about how terribly hypocritical and "unfair" I was, never, of course, mentioning to sympathetic ears that I provided you the opportunity to help me revise the tracts to your satisfaction, which is as much as anyone can be expected to do in such a situation.

Editing is always controversial. You must know that, as an author yourself, but it doesn't follow that it is deliberately deceitful and slanted. I guess such fair-mindedness is so foreign to you in the circles you move in, that it immediately strikes you as disingenuous, and therefore unworthy of any response from you.

Go back and read my initial post and you will find that I have stood by the very letter of my words. My invitation was to debate in a public setting. That stands. I did not even hint that I would engage in a written debate. Another nice illustration of the misunderstandings that abound in written correspondence.

I did misunderstand that, and stand corrected. I still think it is a sad thing, no matter when you came to this pessimistic conclusion about writing.

No need to be confused, Dave. Just need to read more carefully, that's all.

I'll make a deal with you: I'll read your words much more carefully, if you will cease from undue speculations about my motives and supposed desire to twist and/or delete your words in our dialogues which I have posted. Deal?

-----------------------------------------------

It appears from the title in your subject line that you are under the impression we are even now engaged in a debate. Sorry, but we are not;

It (I think obviously) referred to discussing the possible debate. That's what we're dealing with curently. Good grief!

nor will we be if this is the forum. Nice try, Dave. You have an open invitation from me to debate me face to face, anytime and anywhere of your choosing. Let me know if and when you change your mind.

1. I've challenged you to debate in the James White chat room, where you could have your blessed spontaneity and opportunity to immediately correct all these errors you think we commit, but apparently you are not of a mind to compromise at all and must take a hardline position. Too bad, but no skin off my back. I won't lay in my bed tonight, crushed from this huge disappointment of not being able to debate one of the "big 3" valiant anti-Catholic knights; a man who has subjected his views to scrutiny exactly once, according to his own reasoning that public debates are the only substantive place to do that. :-)

2. I don't see that a "live chat" is all that different from a public debate in many respects. It was close enough last night that even James White was willing to engage me for the first time in four years. He must have thought it was similar to the public debates he prefers to engage in, since he won't participate in written exchanges with me, ever since his unfortunate performance -- steeped in obfuscation -- in our little failed argument about supposed inconsistent Catholic use of "private interpretation/judgment", that this is of no interest to you, having just triumphantly declared on the bulletin board you so decry as a medium that no one has yet done so, because they "can't" (it's not logically possible, so we are told), blah blah blah. Then you proceed to ignore one who has responded. I find it more comical than anything else. I always get a kick out of such ironic folly. Your refusal to interact with a critique of one of the central points of your polemic is a strong indication to me (among many) that you lack the dialogical spirit in the first place. I know: you're busy, right? Aren't we all . . .

4. The fact that you have already launched ad hominem salvoes (I admit I was a little surprised, but I should know better by now, where anti-Catholics are concerned) and will not accept my explanation of my posting of our previous discussions, nor follow up on my sincere offer to revise them as you wish, is also not encouraging. It's the same old same old: petty nonsense and an absurd concentration on minutiae and trivial items. I have better things to do with my time. Go spend more with your family (that's one thing we can agree on, if nothing else). I'm sure they appreciate you infinitely more than Mark Shea and I do, having observed the low level of both your reasoning and your rhetoric these past few days. So by all means, go . . . good riddance . . .

In Him,

Dave

[from the 12-30-00 post, The Sadly Predictable Outcome (Eric Svendsen's Obfuscations, Ad Hominem, and Fleeing Feet) ]

Hi Eric,

I guess you must have a pre-publication version of my book. The most recent edition (Reformation Press, 1999) addresses all of Madrid's arguments in detail.

I have Madrid's book, not yours. So what are your answers, pray tell? Did you edit out your absurd statements and make a more subtle argument? Oh, I momentarily forgot: you don't do written dialogues (even though you keep answering my letters, and seem to be sitting at your computer waiting to pounce upon my next installment, so quick do you reply).

I thought there was something fishy about your extreme comments about my posted dialogues with you ("methinks thou dost protest too much"), so I went back just now and took a look at them (I have almost 500 separate web pages on my site, so some papers tend to run together in one's mind after a while). I looked through all four which included you, and for the life of me I couldn't even find a SINGLE additional note added in later.

Now granted, I did skim and may have missed one or two, but I couldn't find any (first of all, when I add footnotes later, they are usually bracketed in order to make them clearly distinguishable from the text). I have already stated that you are most welcome to send me additional posts of yours, to add in as you will, but -- strangely, since this frosts you -- you want no part of that. I will comment further on individual statements of yours below.



Editing is always controversial. You must know that, as an author yourself, but it doesn't follow that it is deliberately deceitful and slanted. I guess such fair-mindedness is so foreign to you in the circles you move in, that it immediately strikes you as disingenuous, and therefore unworthy of any response from you.
This would be humorous if it weren't so sad. As an author myself, I do not atttempt to pass off a "doctored" dialog as though that dialog actually took place.

But it was not doctored, and it did indeed take place! That is proven by the fact that you, too, possess the dialogues. Granted, there are variations in editing with a back-and-forth dialogue such as occurs on discussion lists and boards, with their sometimes tedious and confusing constant re-posting of previous comments, as we are doing presently. I have my own fairly consistent style, in which I try to approximate a Socratic dialogue as much as possible. But I never mess around with opponents' actual words. I merely divide paragraphs up so that my responses to each clause or sentence appears right after that sentence. But even then, the color coding I use allows the reader to read one side solely and consecutively, if he wishes.

Now some (not very many) have quibbled with this policy and considered it unfair. I don't mind that; everyone is entitled to their opinion. But my first responsibility is to my readers, to make for an interesting discussion which flows, and can be easily followed. I think that serves both parties, and reinforces the thrust of their arguments. Lately, in order to deal with the infrequent complaints I get about this, I have included the person's e-mail address, with the proviso that if a reader wants to get the debate in the literal, original format (or the opponent's variant preferred format), they can write to my opponent.

So it's one thing to disagree with this Socratic-oriented editorial policy I have adopted; quite another to make wild, groundless accusations of deliberate dishonesty and deceit, which you have done, apparently on a quite misguided basis and a simple misunderstanding, as I will show. In so doing, you ethically repeat James White's accusations of Steve Ray's alleged deliberate dishonesty, regarding the famous Augustine quote "Rome has spoken," or whatever it literally is. You guys just can't cut us any slack, no matter what we do. We could rescue you from an alligator-filled swamp -- save your life -- and you would come up with some nefarious motive which would minimize and dismiss any good deed on our part. :-)

Are you really trying to say that it's okay to take a several-year old written debate, modify the responses you gave during the actual debate to make your arguments look more tenable,

BUT I DID NO SUCH THING!!!! I modified not a word of my response, that I can see (or yours). I didn't change any words which actually appear in the debate. I would never do that (sometimes I add clearly-indicated footnotes, but not in these instances). Best I can tell, you are assuming that indented and minimized sections were later additions. This proves that you didn't read the dialogues (or at least not with any proper attention or carefulness), for if you had done so, you would have seen that the immediately following comments of yours were addressing and responding to the indented portions (my comments), which were in the original dialogues, not added later.

This was my technique for indicating where you were citing a previous comment of mine and replying (the equivalent of the >> << color="#3333ff">fail to tell your readers that we on the Evangelical side were not even aware of your new arguments else we would have addressed them too,

WHAT new arguments????!!!! There ARE none! I can't "fail to tell" my audience about something that isn't there! LOL You must be so used to telling people about a principle of sola Scriptura which is completely absent from the Bible, that you expect me to tell people about "new" and mythical supposed additions which are not to be found in my papers . . . :-) You ought to put your manifest talents to use writing legends my kids can enjoy. You might put C.S. Lewis to shame in your imaginative myth-making, and your magical ability to (so you think) read the motives in other people's minds.

add a new final response after each of the Evangelical responses

Again, you must be referring to my indented, minimized comments, which were my earlier posts, to which you were responding. That's all I can figure, otherwise I am completely baffled and mystified by your wild charges.

to make it appear as though we on the Evangelical side were just plain blind-sided by your dazzling logic and hence bowed down and proclaimed you the undisputed victor by virtue of our "failure" to respond to your final comments, and then pass that off to your readership as a real debate that actually took place?

LOL You are more than welcome to send me portions which occurred after what we have posted (I may not have kept all of them, or thought that they went on to a different subject). As I stated before, I will now reply to anything of yours which I didn't reply to earlier (and you can always counter-respond). Or we can make a new paper which you can edit for my site, if you wish.

Or, if I think your argument is weak and self-refuting (which would not be a rare happening, I'm sure), I will let it stand as a testament to the bankruptcy of your entire point of view. There is a philosophy on talk radio which might apply here: if a person is making a fool of himself, you get out of the way and let him do it, if for nothing else but the entertainment value. Deluded self-righteous absurdity is a delightful diversion. Thank you for brightening my day.

Without once mentioning to them any of these facts?

They ain't facts! They are utter misunderstandings on your part.

And you're asking me if that strikes me as disingenuous?

If it were true, it certainly would be, but since it isn't, it ain't!

Again, it would be humorous if it weren't so sad that you cannot even see what's wrong with this picture.

I'm afraid the humor is all in your deluded and confused, literally quixotic comments, based as they are on a complete misunderstanding of the indentation technique I used to indicate previous comments in the debate, not (as you imagine) future ones added in so as to assure my victory. LOL And this was easily ascertained by simply reading the papers. Relief to your self-created and unnecessary conundrum is spelled: C O N T E X T (and I will need R O L A I D S if this asinine, wrongheaded nonsense continues on much longer).

May God help my patience . . . but this is the beauty (and in this instance, saving grace) of (written) dialogue. You make the false charge, and I clarify and show it to be the nonsense and tomfoolery that it is. And many readers on the bulletin board (and later, of my website) get a good, hearty laugh, so that their days can be made brighter too! That's worth $100,000 itself . . .

And here are the papers, so that readers can see that your charges are entirely baseless and the supposed grave sins on my part nonexistent:

Dialogue on the Alleged "Perspicuous Apostolic Message" as a Proof of the Quasi-Protestantism of the Early Church (Dave Armstrong vs. Dr. James White & Dr. Eric Svendsen)

Dialogue: Are Dissident "Catholics" a Disproof of the Catholic Church's Claims of Ecclesiological and Doctrinal Unity? (Dave Armstrong vs. Dr. Eric Svendsen, Dr. James White, Andrew Webb, &Phillip Johnson)

Dialogue on the Logic of Catholic Infallible Authority (Dave Armstrong vs. Dr. Eric Svendsen)

In Him,

Dave

[from 12-31-00 post, Eric Svendsen's Scurrilous, Absurd Charges of My Alleged Editorial Mischief ]

Much better was Eric's letter to me two weeks later (dated 1-13-01):

I would like to apologize to you for the way in which I communicated my disinterest in an online debate . . . I do not think you've fairly considered all the things I do that prevent me from engaging in ongoing online discussions. Ministry comes first to me, but I have to choose my battles carefully and focus on those things that make the most efficient use of my time. However, my method of communicating all that to you was caustic and unbecoming a Christian apologist, and for that I apologize. I intend to treat my opponents fairly, and with respect and dignity, and to the extent that I failed to do that, I apologize.

The same goes for my dialog with Mark Shea . . . I came on strong because I felt he took some swipes at my credibility and capabilities as an apologist. In short, I felt he disrespected me . . . I would never dream of calling my opponent's views "stupid" in a public forum . . . I think such
terminology, if not an ad hominem attack, is nevertheless highly insulting. However, in spite of the extent to which Mark wishes to diminish me by labeling my views as "stupid," I should have continued along the high road that I had been taking since I heard of his comments several months ago. Again, I apologize. From this point on I have resolved not to lower myself to be moved by that kind of insult.


This was hopeful and encouraging. I wrote back to Eric on 1-31-01, concerning the disputed dialogues with him (from the 1996 sola Scriptura discussion list headed by James White) that I posted:

How is it "massaging" to include all your replies to me? . . . It is also a fact that I informed you of these dialogues as soon as I put them up, but received no reply from you. I would have been just as willing to work with you for a mutually-agreeable result then, as I am now. If there is some wicked, nefarious motive in that gesture as well, then surely I am unaware of what it might be.

. . . I have already acknowledged that editing of such exchanges is a subjective matter, where good people can disagree in good faith. I continue to strongly disagree that it is some terrible, unspeakable thing for me to collect some tidbits of the discussion that went on on that list . . . But as a sincere and well-intended gesture of conciliation and an attempt to resolve the difficulties you have with these dialogues, I again extend an invitation for you to add whatever you wish to them to make them "fair" and representative of both sides equally, in your opinion. This time I will even offer substantially more than I have previously: you can add whatever you like and I will not add anything else at all. That is, in effect, you can have the last word (on my website, which virtually no one would ever do). Is that fair enough for you?

Your brother in Christ,

Dave

If a person doesn't reciprocate (Eric never responded to the above), you can only hope and pray for something better, and at least have the knowledge that you tried your best (by God's grace) to make it right. Sadly, subsequent communication from Eric reverted to ad hominem personal attack of the crudest sort. Readers curious enough to follow this any further can see the sort of comments that Eric has made about me since early 2001 when he wrote the very nice letter just cited:

Response to Protestant Apologists Eric Svendsen's and David T. King's Public Charge of My Alleged "Deceit" and Inability to Debate

Eric Svendsen's Satire (including of me)

Hurry, Hurry; Read All About it! My Harshest Anti-Catholic Protestant Critics' Opinions of Me and My Work

When Eric later brought up the incident concerning my editing of the papers, I noted:

In any event, Eric keeps talking about this now almost three years later, never mentioning that I tried very hard to work together with him to rectify what he thought was unfair, nor that I removed the dialogues after he refused to cooperate to make them mutually-agreeable.

What can one do? You try to get along with folks, and work towards solutions to conflict, but it is impossible with some people. Their prior hostilities against differing theological opinions apparently mitigate against conciliation and amiable discourse. I believe this is why I have never been able to engage in ongoing, constructive, good-natured dialogue with any anti-Catholic (with one possible exception that I can think of).

Thursday, September 30, 2004

The Freedom of the Catholic Biblical Exegete

[a paper from 9 May 2002. Addendum: 14 September 2003]

Contrary to the bogus claims of some Protestant polemicists I have run across (particularly, Frank Turk, aka "centuriOn"), Catholics are not at all obliged to read the New American Bible translation (nor the revised English Vulgate, such as the Ronald Knox translation). My own preferred translation is the Revised Standard Version (RSV), which has been approved in a Catholic edition with extremely few clarifications (I think it is only something like three passages that were deemed too biased to be acceptable to Catholics). I read the whole Bible (twice) as a Protestant in the NASB and KJV. I enjoy Phillips, NEB, Williams, and Barclay for paraphrased versions, and the NKJV is pretty cool too (I like the old KJV style, but purged of archaisms).

Pulling out my (dusty) copy of the NAB with the revised 1986 NT (Nelson, 1987), with the imprimatur (which doesn't, sadly, always mean that much, anymore), I cite the preliminary article, "The Purpose of the Bible" (p. xii):

When Pius XII issued his Encyclical 'Divino Afflante Spiritu' in 1943, the door was opened for new Catholic translations that were not dependent on St. Jerome's Latin Vulgate. Because of the great increase in the knowledge of the ancient biblical languages, official translations directly from them were encouraged . . . The Revised Standard Version is the least interpretative of all . . . The Jerusalem Bible and the New English Bible strive for even more contemporary language . . . The New American Bible . . . is the first American Catholic translation to have been based on the original languages, or on the earliest existing form of the text, rather than on the Vulgate.
Pope Pius XII, in the above-mentioned 1943 papal encyclical, writes:

Nor is it forbidden by the decree of the Council of Trent to make translations into the vulgar tongue, even directly from the original texts themselves . . .

Being thoroughly prepared by the knowledge of the ancient languages and by the aids afforded by the art of criticism, let the Catholic exegete undertake the task, of all those imposed on him the greatest, that, namely of discovering and expounding the genuine meaning of the Sacred Books. In the performance of this task let the interpreters bear in mind that their foremost and greatest endeavor should be to discern and define clearly that sense of the biblical words which is called literal.

(sections 22, end, and 23, beginning)

Likewise, Vatican II, Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum):

Access to sacred Scripture ought to be wide open to the Christian faithful . . . the Church, with motherly concern, sees to it that suitable and correct translations are made into various languages, especially from the original texts of the sacred books. If it should happen that . . . these translations are made in a joint effort with the separated brethren, they may be used by all Christians.

(ch. 6, sec. 22)

So that takes care of use of different translations. Nor do Catholics have to interpret every verse of the Bible according to some dogmatic proclamation of the Church. This is another ridiculous (and highly-annoying) myth that we hear from our esteemed Protestant friends all the time. Indeed, the orthodox, faithful Catholic must interpret doctrines he derives from Scripture in accordance with the Church and Tradition, but so what?

Every Protestant does the same thing within their own denominational tradition. No Five-Point Calvinist can find a verse in the Bible which proves apostasy or falling away, or one which teaches God's desire for universal, rather than limited atonement (and there are many such passages). He can't deny Total Depravity in any text, or Irresistible Grace. We all have orthodox and dogmatic boundaries which we abide by. The Catholic exegete is bound by very little, and has virtually as much freedom of inquiry as the Protestant exegete. The online (1910) Catholic Encyclopedia article on "Biblical Exegesis" states:

(a) Defined Texts

The Catholic commentator is bound to adhere to the interpretation of texts which the Church has defined either expressly or implicitly. The number of these texts is small, so that the commentator can easily avoid any transgression of this principle.

Catholics are allowed to translate from the Greek, according to the latest textual and archaeological knowledge, to use different translations, and to even cooperate in ecumenical translation projects, such as the RSV and NEB. We can do all the stuff that Protestant biblical exegetes do. And I am allowed to freely interpret almost any text on its own, provided I don't go against a dogma of the Church (I couldn't, e.g., say that John 1:1 does not teach the deity and Godhood of Jesus).

Addendum:

(from Catholic Answers)

Scripture Passages Definitively Interpreted by the Church

Many people think the Church has an official "party line" about every sentence in the Bible. In fact, only a handful of passages have been definitively interpreted. The Church does interpret many passages in Scripture to guide her teaching. Other passages are used as the starting point and support of doctrine or moral teaching, but only these few have been "defined" in the strict sense of the word. Even in these few cases the Church is only defending traditional doctrine and morals.

It is important to realize that the parameters set by the definitions are all negative, that is, they point out what cannot be denied about the meaning of a passage but do not limit how much more the passage can be interpreted to say. In other words, the Church condemns denials of a specific interpretation of the text, without condemning meanings over and above but not contradictory to it.

All of the following passages were definitively interpreted by the Church at the Council of Trent, for each has to do with justification or the sacraments, issues that divided Catholics and Protestants.

1. John 3:5 "Unless a man is born of water and Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God."

The Church condemned the denial that the words of Jesus mean that real (natural) water must be used for a valid baptism. At the time, the Anabaptists contended that water baptism was unnecessary because the mention of water was merely a metaphor. Other symbolic meanings in addition to the literal sense of real water can be found in the text, perhaps, but none are acceptable that deny the need for real water at baptism.

2. Luke 22:19 and
3. I Corinthians 11:24-- "Taking the bread, he gave thanks, broke it and gave it to them, saying 'This is my body given for you: do this in remembrance of me."

The Church condemned the interpretation of these passages that denied that Jesus, in commanding his apostles to "Do this in memory of me" after instituting the Eucharist, conferred priestly ordination on them and their successors enabling them to offer His body and blood. More could be understood by the command to do this in remembrance, but that much could not be denied or contradicted by other interpretations.

4. John 20:22-23-- "Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you shall forgive, they areforgiven; whose sins you do not forgive, they are not forgiven," and
5. Matthew 18:18-- "Whatever things you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."

The Church condemned the denial that in these two passages Jesus conferred a power exclusively on the apostles authorizing them and their successors in the priestly office to forgive sins in God's name, and condemned the proposal that everyone could forgive sins in this sense.

6. Romans 5:12-- "Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned..."

The Church condemned the denial of original sin to which all mankind is subject and which baptism remits, citing this passage to be understood in that sense.

7. James 6:14-- "Is anyone of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord."

Definitively interpreting these passages, the Church condemned the denial that the sacrament of the anointing of the sick was instituted by Christ and promulgated by the apostles against those who deemed it a human invention of the later Church.

In addition, the decree of Vatican I about Christ establishing Peter as head of the Church -- which cites Mt 16:16 and John 1:42 -- is a defined doctrine, even though the phrasing about the use and interpretation of the scripture cited is more implicit than explicit, by comparison with the above Scripture passages.

Oral vs. Written Apologetic Debates: Which Format is More Substantive?

This is a paper I wrote in January 2001 (slightly revised). I suppose it is appropriate to post this on the day of the farcical TV "debate" between "W" and John ("I can't answer that because it's a hypothetical question") Kerry.

Elsewhere, I have explained in great detail why I think that public oratorical debates between Catholics and anti-Catholics are unfruitful, unhelpful exercises, for many reasons. I collected my thoughts on the topic in this paper: Interacting With Sophists: Reflections on "Debates" With Anti-Catholic Polemicists. I think it is possible to overcome these pitfalls in written exchanges. My view of such public debates has remained constant for at least five years now.

I refused "King James" White when he challenged me to a live oratorical formal debate in 1995 (yes, he asked me first -- I have the snail mail letter), and also when he asked me again in January 2001. My reasons are laid out in the paper cited above ("Interacting With Sophists . . . "). I think it is past strange myself that anyone who writes and/or has a book published would frown upon written exchanges, while glorifying these largely farcical, propagandistic, sloganistic circuses which pass for "public debate." Different strokes, though, I guess. Two Protestant researchers who run anti-Catholic "ministries"/websites have expressed this opinion to me; both also declined my invitation to do a "live chat" in an IRC Internet room.

If a person is unwilling to subject their views to scrutiny I am not particularly impressed (to understate it). I think all solid views must be subjected to criticism and analysis, and I am always willing to allow my own writings to be so examined. That's the dialogical spirit; that is being open-minded, and willing to change one's own viewpoint, as warranted (or, at the very least, to modify one's own particular opinions where errors are pointed out -- as I have done many times, to the extent of even removing papers from my website on several occasions).

Imagine if the academic world restricted itself to the "canned" and artificial, self-serving, "anti-humble" atmosphere of oral "debates." Every critique of some new paper would have to be in an oral debate with zealous partisans on both sides "rah-rah"-ing and eating popcorn. LOL In my opinion, that would make a mockery of the very enterprise of the exchange of ideas and the academic undertaking of expanding our intellectual horizons. Yet some now want to frown upon written dialogue (Plato would be surprised to hear that) altogether. I find that very odd. In effect, this means that none of their views can be scrutinized except in a public debate. That is not a willingness to be examined. For my part, I now have 251 debates on my website, where everyone can read the other side of any given issue and make up their own minds. That reaches many thousands more than public debates do, I think.

As a related aside, I have always held that degrees and credentials (though I respect them very much and have a B.A. of my own - sociology/psychology with much history and philosophy) amount to little if one has no coherent case in the first place. You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. And anti-Catholicism is nothing if not self-defeating and utterly illogical (and often radically unbiblical as well as a-historical) from A to Z, as I have pointed out at great length, in many ways. Even Einstein wouldn't be able to convince anyone that 2 + 2 did not equal 4. His brilliance cannot overcome the truth. And an imbecile or a trained parrot can say "2 + 2 = 4" and the truth will be just as profound and irrefutable as if a genius had uttered it. Truth is truth, and it has its own inherent power, and glory from God, Who is Truth.

It is said that in a public, oral debate, obfuscation, or "muddying the waters" is minimized by the other person's ability to correct errors immediately, and to "call" the opponent on this, that, or the other fact or argument. But this assumes that immediate, spur-of-the-moment corrections are more compelling than a correction which resulted from hours of careful research with primary sources, Scripture, etc. Weird . . .
Funny, too, that Protestants are the ones so devoted to "written only" in their notion of sola Scriptura, whereas when we jump up to the present day they reverse that principle and wish to switch over to "oral Tradition," so to speak.

It is said that in a live oral debate, factors are present to prevent tangents and rabbit trails. Yet there is not much to prevent various rhetorical tricks and "ambushing" tactics. E.g., in my brief live chat with Bishop James White (though I did think it was a good exchange overall, and I enjoyed it) he immediately confronted me with dense, historically complex claims about the Fathers and what they believed about Mary. I did my best "on my feet," but I replied that if I had to come up with a list of fathers who denied the sinlessness of Mary, that would take a little time, as I didn't have a source at my fingertips (and looking for one would bore the observers). Someone later described this technique perfectly as "quotes without quoting."

That is the sort of tactic and strategy which I find very annoying and unfair, bordering on unethical in some instances. Clearly, spontaneous, unexpected questions about patristic consensus, so-and-so's views on x, y, and z and so forth are much more appropriate either for experts in that area, or for written papers, where the non-expert and non-historian has the time to look up the sources from people who do study this for a living.

It is said that live oral debates are a better use of time; that things can be said quicker than they can in writing. But I respond that truth takes time to find and communicate. Propaganda, on the other hand (such as the norm of today's political rhetoric) is very easy to quickly spout. Evangelicalism lends itself far more easily to shallow rhetoric and slogans; Catholicism does not. It is complex, nuanced, and requires much thought and study. And thought takes time, no matter how you slice the cake. Again, truth and the acquisition of knowledge and wisdom requires time. I understand if someone doesn't have that time: we all struggle with prioritizing. We all do what we can do, hopefully devoting time to theology as our Lord makes a way, within the pressures of daily living (turning off the idiot box as much as possible, etc.). But that is a separate issue: time pressures vs. the relative constructiveness of writing vs. speaking. Apples and oranges.

It is claimed that there is more interest in oral public debates. I'm not so sure about that, especially with the advent of the Internet, but perhaps this is true. In any event, that has no bearing on my own objections. It is not public debate per se I am opposed to, but the perversion of it by unworthy tactics and methods, which is the usual result when one is dealing with anti-Catholics. So I am actually supporting what I consider to be true debate, not the pale imitations of it which pass for "debates."

It is asserted that it's harder to get away with lies and half-truths in the public arena. Quite the contrary, I would maintain; it is much easier to disinform and misinform, because one can put up an appearance of confidence and truth very easily, through rhetorical technique, catch-phrases, cleverness, playing to the crowd, etc. (like Jesse Jackson or "slick" Bill Clinton habitually do, or guys like Hitler, who were quite spectacular orators). These things are by no means as "certain" as avid proponents of oral debate make them out to be.

It is said that evasion and switching topics occurs much more in written exchanges, and cannot be pulled off in oral debates. Well, I do admit that this happens, and indeed I looked forward to that aspect in my "live chat" (in my opinion, more like a public oral debate than a written exchange, even though carried on in writing) with Bishop White. I asked him to name me one Church Father who knew what all 27 New Testament books were, in the first three centuries. He could not, and cited Athanasius, whom -- I pointed out -- came to the age of reason in the 4th century (c. 296-373), as I am sure he is well aware.

This was an analogical response to his demand of me to name names of fathers who believed Mary was sinless. He named me four eastern fathers who denied this and claimed this proved a patristic consensus. I challenged him (he being supposedly far more versed in the fathers than I, and a credentialed scholar) to give me some western fathers. First he cited St. Anselm (c. 1033-1109), who, of course, though western, was not a Church Father. More rhetorical and desperate silliness . . . . Later he came up with Hilary and Tertullian, and expected me to respond on the spot, as if I were a patristic scholar (so much for the inherent superiority of oral debate). So I asked if this was from Tertullian's Montanist period. He did not answer, but cited his work The Flesh of Christ as the primary source. Later, I looked it up and, sure enough, it is from his semi-Montanist period. Hilary made his claim once and very mildly, according to Luigi Gambero (a priest with background in philosophy and also author of a 4-volume work on Marian thought), in his book Mary and the Fathers of the Church (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1999, 186).

So we have one western father in a very subdued fashion, and another in his heretical period, plus four eastern fathers. This is what James White considers a "patristic consensus." I find that a pathetic argument, and I think I did pretty well, given the ridiculous limitations of the situation I was in, forced to name a bunch of names when I had already made it clear that I couldn't cut-and-paste while in his chat room. But names there assuredly are. I believe I did pretty well, given that White is considered a master of live debate, and I confine myself almost exclusively to writing (but I think fast on my feet, I think). He was trapped by the facts of history, not any rhetorical brilliance on my part. This example, in my opinion, demonstrates clearly the limitations of this "spontaneous exchange" -- supposedly so superior to writing and hard, well thought-out and documented research.

It's true that people abuse written dialogue just as they do oral. I have no problem agreeing about that (it's self-evident). Good dialogue, in whatever form, is always a rare thing, to be treasured when found. But in public oral debate the debater always has to be right; he can never admit he is wrong because that would not "go with the program." But there's no shame in that.

I attended a debate between Dave Hunt and Karl Keating, have listened to other similar ones, and have also attended political debates and creationist-evolutionist ones. I know the atmosphere very well. I am also thoroughly familiar with how anti-Catholics conduct themselves on lists and bulletin boards. These opinions do not arise from nothingness; they are backed up with scores of experiences (and wounds, in some extreme cases).

It is stated (by anti-Catholics) that Catholics don't fare well in public oral debates. Under my thesis, I could readily agree with that. It is true that the Catholic faith is not conducive to an environment where sophistical carnival-barker, used-car salesman types try to distort, twist, and misrepresent it at every turn (and this need not be deliberate at all: it matters not -- the end result is the same). Nor is it required of us to engage unworthy, uninformed opponents. Bishop James White (on his website) recounted how R.C. Sproul told him that he thought all Catholics were unworthy to debate. If one such as Sproul (whom I admire and like very much, by the way) can take such a view, why can we not take precisely the same view with regard to anti-Catholic debaters?


Related Reading:

Interacting With Sophists: Reflections on "Debates" With Anti-Catholic Polemicists

"Good Discussion": The Preferability of Socratic Back-and-Forth Dialogue Over "Mutual Monologue"

Why I am Fed Up With Internet Discussion Boards

"Apostate" Churches, Deceptive Catholics, and Desperate Judgment Day Pleas: My Non-Encounter With Protestant Apologist Matt Slick

Jason Engwer's Sophistry and Double Standards in Debate (with Terry O'Connell)

"Apologetic Masochism": A Case Study of Interaction with the Anti-Catholic Mentality (Phillip Johnson)

A Typical Example (in Live Chat) of Absurd Anti-Catholic Exaggerations and Prejudice (100 Million Inquisition Victims?) ("skyman" = David T. King)

Truth-Challenged "Jerry Springer" Apologists: The Sad Case of Frank Turk (aka "Centuri0n")

More Debate About the "Real" Reasons Why I Won't Debate James White Orally

Bishop "Dr." (?) James White's Incoherent Criteria for "Real" Debates of Manly Men

Response to Protestant Apologists Eric Svendsen's and David T. King's Public Charge of My Alleged "Deceit" and Inability to Debate

Case Study in Anti-Catholic Intransigence: "Dr." (?) James White Rejects Personal Reconciliation, Yet Simultaneously Pushes for an Oral Debate

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

The Importance of Studying Luther / Protestant Ignoring of Luther & Church History / Inevitability of Protestant Tradition & "Human" Authority

[written in response to two comments in BlogBack]

Steve (Catholic -- words in red) wrote:

This seems to be the summary of the argument between Catholic and Protestant views of Luther:

C: Luther was a flawed and complex character therefore one should not trust his theological pronouncements and certainly not follow him out of the Church

That's not my perspective (but there is some overlap). First of all, I am interested in Martin Luther, because I am interested in Church history, and particularly history of doctrine, and Luther is obviously a key figure in that regard. He is an influential figure; therefore it is worthwhile to better understand his reasoning and viewpoints. He's also the founder of Protestantism. In my mind, it is self-evident why it is important to study Luther.

As to the sainthood bit, the Bible has definite, rigorous requirements for being a bishop. Luther in effect claimed much more for himself than that. He claimed to be a Reformer of the whole Church and restorer of the primitive purity of the gospel of the early Church. My Bible (over against the attempt of many Protestants try to rationalize and dismiss Luther's flaws as irrelevant) tells me that wisdom and righteousness go hand in hand. This is why Catholic reformers are almost always saints as well, because a great deal of truth and wisdom is accompanied by strength of character, virtue, and sanctity, which God grants by His grace along with the truths that a person brings to light.

This being the case, I do think a certain problem needs to be faced. Luther founded Protestantism and gave it most of its distinctive doctrines and approaches. If we can show that he had a lot of kooky and untrue views, and curious reasoning, this is highly relevant, because (again, whatever Protestants say), he was the one who started the wheels of Protestantism in motion, and if the foundation is weak, chances are that the superstructure built upon it will be also.

P: Luther was a flawed and complex character as we all are therefore we can take heart and learn from his struggles for sanctity and the solutions he came up with.

Protestants are so often blind to the pedigree of their own ideas. Studying Luther and Calvin (and Zwingli and Bucer and Bullinger and the early Anglicans, and the Anabaptists) helps all of us to better understand why and how Protestantism got to where it is today. Many Protestants like to play the game that they have no tradition at all, and that they are simply returning to the Bible, etc., etc. I could write for days about the resulting absurdities of this tunnel vision outlook.

The Catholic will play up Luther's flaws to press his point while the Protestant will acknowledge the flaws but place them in the context of a greater interior spiritual struggle.

If they do it in the more sophisticated way I have been arguing, it is valid, I think. One can't say, "see, Luther was a scoundrel; therefore, Protestantism is false." That's ridiculous. I don't even argue that he was a scoundrel. I don't believe it (though I have huge problems with some things he did and said). But it is a sound argument to say that "Luther had some goofy ideas which cannot be squared with the Bible, the early Church, or reason; therefore, we can question whether his views are automatically superior to the Catholic ones, a return to the early Church, more biblical, etc." That moves the discussion to another more complex, nuanced (and I would say, "real") plane, forcing the Protestant to re-examine his presuppositions (which they are rarely challenged to do).

In my opinion this argument will never go anywhere.

As you characterize it, you are right. But my own treatment of Luther is based on a much different rationale and premise.

To quote Louis Bouyer:

It is a typical mistake of Catholics to think that Protestants, particularly those most attached to their heritage, look on Luther as a saint… Luther is not looked on as a model in every detail of his life and teaching, but only in the manner which, at a certain period of his life, he resolved a particular spiritual problem.
Of course they don't think he was a saint. They don't get into saints, because they see that as a detraction from a focus on God, the giver of all holiness and sanctity (it isn't, of course, anymore than appreciating a great painting is an insult to the painter). I used to be a Protestant, so I know this full well.

Luther was a great hero of mine. Many Protestants think the same (they do believe in heroes, if not saints). And he is the hero precisely because they think (to more or less degrees, depending on whether they are anti-Catholic or ecumenical) that he "rescued" Christianity from the darkness of Catholicism. He stood up to the great Beast and told it the truth. So he is very highly regarded by those who have any historical sense at all and sense of their own spiritual heritage.

For example, in my recent research, I recall a quote by a Protestant scholar who said that it was good that Luther had so many faults, because he was in danger of idolizing him -- he admired him so much. This hit the nail on the head. It's not a "veneration of the saint" thing, but it is most definitely a "tremendous admiration for the reformer of [so-called] corrupt Catholic Church" thing.

And because of this there is a lot of mythology and misinformation about Luther. This is another reason I do what I do. If the situation is such that all you hear about is all this wonderful stuff about Luther and hardly any criticisms, then there must be some balance.

My papers provide that by giving the other "side" of the story: the perception of the same man and the same life through Catholic eyes. That is a service to folks who care about these issues in the same way that a conservative political commentary balances a liberal one (this was expressed to me, in fact, by a Baptist pastor friend of mine who had a large impact on my spiritual life in the early 80s -- he appreciated my work even though he disagreed because he wanted to hear how a Catholic thought about Luther, and why). Both sides have their natural biases, but by carefully considering both, one can perhaps figure out where the truth lies.

So again, the issue isn't whether Luther was a saint or not (he clearly wasn't! And he would be the first to admit that), so much as it is his basis for his radical innovations, and whether it is plausible to simply believe a man like him (indeed, any man) when he is in confrontation with a lot of received Christian tradition (and literally change Catholic dogmas because he denounced them). In any event, the bottom line is the ideas, not him. Are they true or false, and on what basis?

So in my paper on Luther and the canon, I tried to demonstrate that it was outrageous to accept what he said over against tradition, and that he hardly had any reasoning in the first place to do so, other than the fact that he held the views as some quasi-prophet with a particular line to God and the truth (which he did claim at times; I can document that, too). He did not have adequate reasoning and support at all, and that is part of the Catholic critique of the whole notion of so-called Protestant "reformers."

They did NOT have any authority to overturn Catholic Tradition. They were not reformers in the sense that they simply returned to views of the early Church that had supposedly become corrupted by Catholicism [i.e., those where the two parties differ]. Rather, they were revolutionaries when they introduced doctrines that had never historically been held (e.g., symbolic baptism and Eucharist, faith alone, sola Scriptura, imputed justification, denial of apostolic succession, denigration of Church authority and Sacred Tradition, rejection of five of seven sacraments and communion of saints, purgatory, penance, the papacy, episcopacy, etc., etc. ad nauseam). Thankfully, they also retained the "basics" of Christianity, where we can agree, but there was a lot of radicalism indeed in the early days.

Alexander (Calvinist -- words in blue) wrote:

I second the Louis Bouyer quote above. Protestants don't care about personalities, we care about the Word of God.

Yeah, so do we. That's precisely why I have examined Luther and found him wanting on many levels and areas. Not only by biblical standards does he fall short, but also on an historical and rational basis. All Christians love the Word of God, but we can't manage to agree as to what doctrine and theology it teaches, can we?

In the case of my discussion of the canon, that is a problem that cannot be resolved by the Bible at all, because the Bible never lists its Table of Contents. The canon is logically prior to the Bible, because it determines the extent and specificity of what books are in what we call "the Bible" in the first place. So the "Word of God" doesn't do much good there, does it? Christian Tradition has to decide. And for a Christian worldview that does not allow for an infallible Tradition, that is a HUGE problem indeed, and at the level of the very fundamentals of Protestantism: you can't have sola Scriptura if you don't have a non-circular, non-traditional rationale to determine what the Bible is that is to have sole infallible authority. I've always said that sola Scriptura and the canon issue are the two "Achilles' Heels of Protestantism.

Our authority doesn't come from a human personality but from the Word of God.

That's impossible to do (in a practical sense). The book doesn't interpret itself (though Protestants claim that it does). Furthermore, this "Bible vs. authoritative human beings in the Church" mentality is not the view of the Bible itself, which refers to Church authority and a binding tradition. So (ironically) to claim to be following simply the "Bible Alone" is to land right back into a Catholic notion of ecclesiology and authority. It's inescapable.

For Roman Catholics authority comes from humans, so they assume a Luther or Calvin to be a rich target to exploit when attempting to discredit Protestant beliefs or doctrine.

Every Christian tradition is passed down through men. We freely acknowledge this. You and many Protestants want to play the silly game of pretending that you rely on no human authority. You certainly do. I can trace every belief you have back through some theological and/or denominational tradition. It always breaks down at a certain point. The question always reduces to: which Christian tradition has the most plausible claims of authority (because everyone has to choose some humanly-mediated tradition, or their own new tradition-of-one)?

Due to the Protestant experience of effectual calling and belief in the Word of God as sole authority

This is a distortion of the classic Protestant understanding of sola Scriptura (and is more accurately described as SOLO Scriptura). In the former conception, Scripture was the sole infallible or ultimate authority, but not the sole authority, period.

most every 'attack' from Roman Catholics can usually only be met with a bemused grin.

Go ahead, try to avoid this discussion and grin if you must. That won't give anyone any confidence in your position who doesn't already accept it on some other basis.

God has His elect. All we can say to those who don't understand what Protestants know is faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. Humble yourself before the Word of God. Engage it, absorb it, don't negotiate it down to your level. Leave your self-will, vanity, and worldly pride aside when you open the pages of Scripture…

Thanks for the platitudes. It doesn't move the discussion along one whit. People on my blog cannot get by simply on preaching. Their premises and presuppositions will be challenged and I expect folks to be able to defend themselves or else have the honesty to question their own belief-system if it can't withstand scrutiny.

I as a Protestant don't care what Luther said about this or that, including his opinion - historically accurate or not - of any one book of the Bible.

That's typical of the rampant a-historicism in Protestantism. I could even argue that I have far more respect and admiration for Luther than you do, because I care enough about him to grant him his historical importance and do a great deal of research about him (which is, by the way, not always critical; many times it is in agreement or a defense of Luther). But if you claim you don't care about Luther, it is still true that you got your own particular tradition from somewhere, just like everyone else. There is that famous saying, "the most dangerous philosophy is the unacknowledged one." Substitute "theology" for "philosophy" and we have what you and many Protestants try to do: pretend that theological truth descended from on high right from God to them in their atomistic bubble: completely immune from all historical, traditional, or personal influences. It's sheer nonsense and a pipe-dream.

When a Calvin or a Luther were right they was elucidating pure Biblical doctrine.

How do you know when they are right and wrong? By what criterion do you decide? The Bible? How do you know who is right about the Bible when different Protestants disagree? By the "inner witness" of the Spirit? Now we are back to pure subjectivism again . . . But that was where Calvin was ultimately coming from, so we expect it from one who writes in his name; from his particular Christian tradition.

When they were off (as in Calvin's case in his ecclesiology as many Protestants discern) Protestants, the many who disagreed with him there, followed their understanding and conscience.

Yes, exactly. Well, the Bible you and I both love and desire to accept and to model our Christian lives after, tells me that the devil is the father of lies. Whenever two Protestant traditions contradict each other, someone MUST be wrong, by simple logic. They may both be wrong, but they can't both be right, so someone is in serious error. Now that (error) is from the devil, who is the father of all lies and falsehood, and that ought to trouble you. But instead you can bask in the sunny seclusion of exclusive "certainty" and possession of truth, and "know" that you are right and they are wrong. That's not the biblical view of authority and spiritual certainty, needless to say, and certainly not how the Body of Christ is supposed to work, according to that same Holy Bible.