Thursday, November 13, 2008

"Oreo Cookie Catholicism": The Curious Observations of One Steve Hays


[ source ]

This is one that I mistakenly thought was still up on my site but got removed at some point. So here it is, back from the archives again: a paper originally dated 8 April 2005: back when I was still bothering (futilely attempting, beyond all hope!) to interact with anti-Catholic fundamentalist Reformed Protestants like the inimitable Steve Hays. It features some of my trademark toying dry wit, utilized when dealing with invariably irrational anti-Catholics. When reason fails, sometimes humor has a shot at getting through . . . well, at least to observing readers . . .

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I stumbled across a fascinating commentary on my position as an apologist and my own supposed beliefs, by Steve Hays, a Reformed Protestant (I'll briefly answer in brackets):

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Helping old mother church across the street

Every now and then I tune into Dave Armstrong's RC website to see what's new, if anything, in this alternative universe.

[thanks for visiting!]

Among other things, Armstrong has a list of 25 books in defense of Catholicism.

[see my list]

One of the striking things about his list is that only two titles were written by members of the Magisterium. And of those two, both are
of pre-Vatican II vintage.

[why is that "striking"? This makes a number of unwarranted assumptions: namely:

1) that apologetics is the sole domain of the magisterium;
2) that lay apologetics is intrinsically subpar;
3) that Catholicism supposedly requires legitimate apologetics to only be written by those in the magisterium;
4) that somehow the "pre-Vatican II" era is to be regarded as inferior in some strange way to the (what I presume Mr. Hays would call) the "post-Vatican II" era.

Moreover, titles written or overseen by members of the magisterium include two which (contrary to Mr. Hays' description) postdate Vatican II: the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the book by Archbishop Charles Chaput (whom I had the pleasure to meet). One can't help but wonder about the identity of the "two" persons whom Mr. Hays considers members of the pre-Vatican II magisterium? Cardinal Gibbons is the only such person I am aware of. Ludwig Ott was not a bishop, as far as I know]

By contrast, quite a number were written by laymen, some of them Evangelical converts to Catholicism.

[but this is a total non sequitur, as explained; who cares if someone is a convert or not? St. Paul was a Christian-persecuting Jew before his conversion; St. Augustine was a womanizing Manichaean; Cardinal Newman was an anti-Catholic Anglican. So what!]

What makes this so striking is the disconnect between the ecclesiology and the polemical theology. For what we have here is a bottom-heavy defense of a top-heavy institution. But if a layman can make a case for the Magisterium, who needs the Magisterium?

[This is strange logic indeed. By this "reasoning," a Protestant could argue:

1. The Bible is the sole infallible authority in Protestantism.
2. Laymen can make a case that the Bible is what it is.
3. This presents the striking phenomenon of a non-biblical defense of a Bible-heavy institution.
4. Therefore, who needs the Bible?

How does it follow that something is not necessary simply because an entity outside of it argues that it is true and necessary? Furthermore, the very magisterium that Mr. Hays absurdly attempts to pit against Catholic laypeople, has itself made it very clear that those laypeople have a definite, important role in apologetics and catechesis and evangelism: Vatican II: Decree on the Apostolate of Lay People (Apostolicam Actuositatem). That magisterial document states:
. . . the Council earnestly exhorts the laity to take a more active part, each according to his talents and knowledge and in fidelity to the mind of the Church, in the explanation and defense of Christian principles and in the correct application of them to the problems of our times.

(ch. II, section 6) ]
Isn't the raison d'ĂȘtre for the Magisterium the correlative denial of the right of private judgment?


So in what sense is Karl Keating or Scott Hahn or Dave Armstrong an authoritative voice in defense of Catholicism?

[only insofar as we are in harmony with what that magisterium teaches, as the Council explained in my citation above. And -- to be clear -- we lay apologists have no "authority" per se: we only have more or less degrees of truth in what we assert is the Church's teaching. If we defend what is actual Church teaching, then our activities are perfectly legitimate and fully Catholic, and indeed highly encouraged by the Church -- as the magisterium confirms]

Yet another striking feature of the list is what is left out. The greatest Catholic apologist of the 20C was, without doubt, Karl Rahner. So why doesn't Rahner make the cut?

[Probably because my emphasis was on lay apologetics or on those works written more for laypeople than primarily for other theologians or academics]

The reason, I'm sure, is that Rahner is much too liberal for Armstrong.

[He's "sure"? Really? Absolutely sure? That's interesting, since he is wrong. Such a thought never crossed my mind. I was simply cruising for appropriate books to link, and found 25 of them]

Yet Rahner was a peritus to Vatican II, and died in good standing with the Church.

[It must be a conspiracy of exclusion then! Who needs further proof?!]

In a sense, then, Armstrong and his cobelligerents

[Very interesting (and revealing) term. I thought we were simply apologists . . . ]

have never really converted to Catholicism at all.

[Really, now? What have we converted to, then? Ah, I wrote too soon, as Mr. Hays provides his answer in the next section]

Instead, they've founded their own little private Victorian Catholic cult, with Newman, Knox, Belloc, Chesterton, and Tolkien as their patron saints --

[It's neither "private" nor "Victorian" nor "founded" nor founded by any of us lay apologists. Only Newman from the above list was even writing in the Victorian period. Also, many of my own influences are non-Victorian and/or non-English: Louis Bouyer, Cardinal Ratzinger, Henri de Lubac, Karl Adam, the pope, all the current apologists who influenced my conversion and ongoing apologetics, Thomas Merton, St. Therese, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Francis de Sales, Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J., Cardinal Gibbons (American), Ludwig Ott, Muggeridge, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Thomas More, Erasmus, Sheed, Pascal, Socrates, etc. So this is absurd and ridiculous on these and many other grounds. The massive provinciality and sectarian exclusivism today is to be found in Protestant ranks. One of the Catholic Church's glories is its universality, as opposed to mere nationalistic fetishes]

whereas the real Roman Catholicism is represented by the likes of Rahner and Raymond Brown.

[Raymond Brown was not even an orthodox Catholic in many beliefs. Yet Mr. Hays wants to lift him up as an example of "real Catholicism," while in effect denigrating the above monumental figures]

Theirs is not official Catholicism, but a treehouse for child actors.

[Is that so? Rather than comment on such a fundamentally silly and frivolous remark, I would prefer to let Mr. Hays come here and defend it, along with his other quite debatable assertions]

This is Oreo cookie Catholicism--Popish on the outside, but schismatic on the inside.

[ :-) I would say (to return the favor) that Mr. Hays' peculiar polemical outlook is "sophistical contra-Catholicism" -- educatedish and informedish on the outside, and misinformed and irrationally judgmental on the inside]

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Mr. Hays is very clever and sharp: I'll give him that much. But cleverness is not enough. See, e.g., his three-part series: Back to Babylon, (Parts one / two / three) where he makes many absurd statements, such as, for instance:

Because the Roman Church has a low view of providence, she has a low view of Scripture.

Appeal to a magisterium also ignores the tradition of nonconformity in the Bible.

For a denomination that regards the right of private judgment as so spiritually perilous, the Roman Church has shown itself to be remarkably shy about formally and infallibly committing itself on a wide range of fundamental questions in faith and morals. Why has an ecumenical council never issued an infallible catechism? Why has the papacy never produced an ex cathedra commentary?

But what we instead witness is an organization that brandishes maximal authority-claims while venturing minimal truth-claims. It bears a sneaky resemblance to a psychic who dons an air of superior foresight while remaining strangely vague about names, dates, and places.

According to Catholicism, the Pope is the supreme teacher of the church. But if that were the case, it is passing strange that of the 260 plus men -- give or take an antipope -- who have occupied the office, not one has been a theologian of the first rank.

1. Without NT precedent: There is no precedent for apostolic succession.

In addition to the examples above, there are a number of other celebrated cases implicating at least a half dozen of the popes, viz., Liberius, Zosimus, Vigilius, Julius I, Honorius I, Celestine I, and Eugenius IV. Besides von Dollinger, consult J.N.D. Kelly, The Oxford Dictionary of Popes (Oxford, 1986); B.J. Kidd, The Roman Primacy to AD 461 (London: SPCK, 1936); R. McBrien, Lives of the Popes (HarperCollins, 1997), and The New Catholic Encyclopedia (CUA 1967, rev. 2003-).

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Perhaps Mr. Hays will come by and "chat" a bit with us (seeing that he already visits my website occasionally). I've notified him via his webmaster, James Anderson, a man with a Ph.D. in Philosophical Theology and an M.A. in Philosophy and Apologetics (great stuff!). Apparently Steve Hays is somewhat of a mysterious figure. I could find no personal information on his blog, compiled by James Anderson, nor on the Internet-at-large. J.P. Holding, a prominent Protestant apologist who debated Hays on predestination and free will issues, wrote at the end of that dialogue, concerning him:
Some have wrongly identified Hays with a certain Steve Hays who is a professor at Ohio University. They are not the same person. There is no indication anywhere of who THIS Hays is and what credentials he actually has. I have spoken to the Hays at Ohio U. and he has confirmed that it is not him.
Maybe Mr. Anderson will be kind enough to provide more information. Why all the secrecy? It's an odd endeavor, trying to find out something about Mr. Hays. For example, in an article linked on a Van Til website, Hays' co-author is John Frame. Both authors' names are linked. Frame's link confirms that he is a professor of systematic theology and philosophy at Reformed Theological Seminary (with 31 years at Westminster Theological Seminary). That's impressive indeed. But Hays' link simply leads to his blog, where one can find no further information about him. I find this quite curious. A second article from that same Van Til page doesn't even have a link.

To paraphrase a famous line from the movie, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, "Who is this guy?" Hopefully, Steve Hays, if he takes up my invitation to visit here, will further enlighten us.

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