Tuesday, September 30, 2008

I've Excommunicated Myself! Do I Hate or Love Martin Luther and His Errors?????


Check out Comment #116.

It never fails. Just when I think I've heard every conceivable insult against my person and my apostolate, here comes another one to prove my instincts wrong (it never takes very long between instances, either).

First I'm accused (usually by Lutherans or those non-Lutheran Protestants who fancy themselves experts on Luther) of being a Luther-hater and anti-Protestant and evil incarnate and all the rest. Then I'm accused of loving and being infatuated with Martin Luther so much that I have excommunicated myself and grossly compromised my Catholic beliefs. It's amazing what two different people will perceive in the very same thing (my book on Martin Luther), and the very same person (me!), ain't it?

First a couple sophist anti-Catholic Protestants say I ain't a real Catholic; then an anti-Catholic "traditionalist" Catholic who is more Catholic then the pope sez I ain't a real Catholic in good standing, cuz I just excommunicated myself. Shortly before that, one of his buddies claimed I was a wicked, deceitful enemy of Christ and of His Church. It's the hyper-literal, can't-see-the-forest-for-the-trees (and quite often, fuming angry) Pharisaical mentality: a sad failure not only of logical premises, but also of the imagination.

People of this sort (whether anti-Catholic Protestants or anti-Catholic "traditional" Catholics) just don't get it. If they are horrendously burdened with the task of having to analyze anything more subtle than a water buffalo or an elephant, they're out to sea. In fact, if they saw a whale while they were out to sea, they'd probably think it was a water buffalo.

To paraphrase G. K. Chesterton's humorous remark about critics and William Shakespeare (I'm sure he wouldn't mind, under the ludicrous circumstances, being a great advocate of the witty retort):
Dave Armstrong is quite himself; it is only some of his critics who have discovered that he was somebody else.

(Orthodoxy, 1908, ch. 2)

The Certitude of Faith and Cardinal Newman / Defense of the Lay Apologetic Vocation Contra False "Traditionalist" Claims

One "Caminus" -- who frequents the Fish Eaters "traditionalist" forum, regards it as his mission in life (or so it would lately seem, anyway) to disparage my arguments at every turn. He tried in vain to bash my apologetic + ecumenical viewpoint in my book about Luther (without even having read the book, and clearly without understanding its premises, which are openly laid out in the Introduction, posted online), only to be (in addition to my refutations of his silly charges) rather decisively contradicted on his main premise and point by two fellow "traditionalists" on his home turf.

Shortly before that, he made out that I was clueless regarding the nature of Cardinal Newman's version of development of doctrine. Development is my favorite topic in theology; the biggest reason for my conversion, and something I have written a ton of things about, including a book. Cardinal Newman is my "intellectual hero." I maintain the largest Newman web page on the Internet and the most extensive page devoted to development. I'm not trying to "brag" (which I'll probably be boorishly accused of, too); I'm simply stating the fact that I know quite a bit about this topic. The "critique" was too ridiculous to even waste time replying to.

The general drift of his charges is that I am an ignoramus, unequipped to even present Catholic teaching, let alone defend it. And so here we go again, in a post that critiques one statement I made in my new paper, Dialogue With a Traditional Anglican About Infallibility:

It took me all of three seconds in reading his newly posted dialogue with a "traditional Anglican" to discover a serious error. Dave says in reponse to a question on certainty and infallibility:

It depends on how one defines "certainty." I would say, briefly, that Catholics and any Christian who accepts apostolic succession, can have the certainty or certitude of faith, which is not absolute (being faith, after all), but is highly dependable and sufficient for a person to know the truth of the matter beyond a reasonable doubt.

On the contrary, the certitude of faith is of the highest order because it rests upon the authority of God revealing. It is because the Church possesses the authority of God to define matters of faith and morals that it does not vitiate this certitude via the exercise of merely human authority. The certitude of faith is antecedent to any infallible act of the magisterium.

I really wish if laymen were going to engage in public disputes with heretics, they would first check their sources. It is embarrassing statements like these which only serve to muddy the waters and further increase the hostility of intelligent opponents.

I see. Of course, this was a statement written in the midst of three simultaneous debates taking place in recent days (in addition to my work as moderator at the Coming Home Network and feverish work trying to complete a new book), that was not meant to achieve impeccable exactitude. I was replying to an inquirer about infallibility, not trying to present a philosophically precise definition of certitude or the nature of faith, etc. Nevertheless, what I wrote is not inaccurate at all if one understands the philosophical / religious background from which it derives. And, sure enough, that leads one back to Cardinal Newman, since that great teacher's perspective on the nature of faith and religious assent is indeed, my basis for arguing as I do.

There is a basic distinction to be made between reason and faith. They're two different things. Philosophy is different from religious faith. Faith goes beyond reason. Faith cannot prove things in the same sense that philosophical or mathematical or scientific systems often claim to prove or demonstrate propositions. That is not to denigrate faith at all. I believe certitude is achievable in that realm as well. All I was saying is that it is different from reason alone. When I said it was not "absolute," I was referring to the sense in which philosophy claims to be "absolute." Faith goes beyond that (without contradicting it or being unreasonable). It is a spiritual thing, and ultimately a mystery. The phrase "beyond a reasonable doubt" was obviously an allusion to "legal-type" proof. I was speaking in terms of the common man, or the secular man. This is the usual mode of the apologist, since we are trying to speak to the present culture in terms it can understand (1 Cor 9:19-23).

The background to my own developed thought on this matter is extremely complex and not at all given to brief summary (nor are my own epistemological opinions, drawn from many great catholic theologians and philosophers and apologists). Venerable Cardinal Newman's masterpiece An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent is perhaps the "heaviest" and most profound philosophical book I've ever read. Rather than delving into the book itself (readers may follow the link and do so themselves if they wish), I'll quote the Introduction to the Doubleday Image paperback edition by noted Thomist Etienne Gilson:
The third and last mistake to avoid in interpreting Newman's doctrine is to see it as a rational probabilism redeemed by a belated appeal to religious faith . . . this Essay . . . is precisely and exclusively about our assent to that kind of truth which, because it is accepted on the strength of the word of God alone, cannot possibly be received otherwise than by religious faith. Here again, let us not attribute to Newman a fideism entirely foreign to his authentic thought. He knows very well that we cannot assent to a proposition unless we have some intelligent apprehension of its meaning; only, because the Grammar of Assent is about religious dogma, the propositions which it discusses are not susceptible of proof properly so called. Newman himself makes this clear at the very beginning of his book: 'In this Essay I treat of propositions only in their bearing upon concrete matter, and I am mainly concerned with Assent; with Inference, in its relation to Assent, and only such inference as is not demonstration: with Doubt hardly at all" (p. 28). The importance of the effort pursued by reason, even in matters whose very nature excludes demonstration, could not be overlooked by Newman. It was at the very core of his subject.

(p. 15; my bolded emphases; italics in original)

Gilson goes on to refer to "matters whose very nature excludes demonstration." On the previous page, he references St. Thomas Aquinas:
According to St. Thomas Aquinas (Summa Theologiae, I, 1, 8), theology is "argumentative." Starting from its own principles, which are the articles of faith, theology proceeds from them to prove something else, but it does not argue in proof of its principles. This assent of the mind to the absolute truths of what it believes lies at the very center of Newman's doctrine.
Further down the page, he decries:
. . . objections directed against the doctrine of Newman by those who reproach him with a leaning to fideism or with an ingrained mistrust in the validity of theological demonstrations.
Here is the entirety of Summa Theologiae, I, 1, 8 (my bolded emphases):

Whether sacred doctrine is a matter of argument?

Objection 1: It seems this doctrine is not a matter of argument. For Ambrose says (De Fide 1): "Put arguments aside where faith is sought." But in this doctrine, faith especially is sought: "But these things are written that you may believe" (Jn. 20:31). Therefore sacred doctrine is not a matter of argument.

Objection 2: Further, if it is a matter of argument, the argument is either from authority or from reason. If it is from authority, it seems unbefitting its dignity, for the proof from authority is the weakest form of proof. But if it is from reason, this is unbefitting its end, because, according to Gregory (Hom. 26), "faith has no merit in those things of which human reason brings its own experience." Therefore sacred doctrine is not a matter of argument.

On the contrary, The Scripture says that a bishop should "embrace that faithful word which is according to doctrine, that he may be able to exhort in sound doctrine and to convince the gainsayers" (Titus 1:9).

I answer that, As other sciences do not argue in proof of their principles, but argue from their principles to demonstrate other truths in these sciences: so this doctrine does not argue in proof of its principles, which are the articles of faith, but from them it goes on to prove something else; as the Apostle from the resurrection of Christ argues in proof of the general resurrection (1 Cor. 15). However, it is to be borne in mind, in regard to the philosophical sciences, that the inferior sciences neither prove their principles nor dispute with those who deny them, but leave this to a higher science; whereas the highest of them, viz. metaphysics, can dispute with one who denies its principles, if only the opponent will make some concession; but if he concede nothing, it can have no dispute with him, though it can answer his objections. Hence Sacred Scripture, since it has no science above itself, can dispute with one who denies its principles only if the opponent admits some at least of the truths obtained through divine revelation; thus we can argue with heretics from texts in Holy Writ, and against those who deny one article of faith, we can argue from another. If our opponent believes nothing of divine revelation, there is no longer any means of proving the articles of faith by reasoning, but only of answering his objections---if he has any---against faith. Since faith rests upon infallible truth, and since the contrary of a truth can never be demonstrated, it is clear that the arguments brought against faith cannot be demonstrations, but are difficulties that can be answered.

Reply to Objection 1: Although arguments from human reason cannot avail to prove what must be received on faith, nevertheless, this doctrine argues from articles of faith to other truths.

Reply to Objection 2: This doctrine is especially based upon arguments from authority, inasmuch as its principles are obtained by revelation: thus we ought to believe on the authority of those to whom the revelation has been made. Nor does this take away from the dignity of this doctrine, for although the argument from authority based on human reason is the weakest, yet the argument from authority based on divine revelation is the strongest. But sacred doctrine makes use even of human reason, not, indeed, to prove faith (for thereby the merit of faith would come to an end), but to make clear other things that are put forward in this doctrine. Since therefore grace does not destroy nature but perfects it, natural reason should minister to faith as the natural bent of the will ministers to charity. Hence the Apostle says: "Bringing into captivity every understanding unto the obedience of Christ" (2 Cor. 10:5). Hence sacred doctrine makes use also of the authority of philosophers in those questions in which they were able to know the truth by natural reason, as Paul quotes a saying of Aratus: "As some also of your own poets said: For we are also His offspring" (Acts 17:28). Nevertheless, sacred doctrine makes use of these authorities as extrinsic and probable arguments; but properly uses the authority of the canonical Scriptures as an incontrovertible proof, and the authority of the doctors of the Church as one that may properly be used, yet merely as probable. For our faith rests upon the revelation made to the apostles and prophets who wrote the canonical books, and not on the revelations (if any such there are) made to other doctors. Hence Augustine says (Epis. ad Hieron. xix, 1): "Only those books of Scripture which are called canonical have I learned to hold in such honor as to believe their authors have not erred in any way in writing them. But other authors I so read as not to deem everything in their works to be true, merely on account of their having so thought and written, whatever may have been their holiness and learning."

Historian of philosophy, Frederick Copleston, S.J. best describes the exact relationship of Newman's thought to philosophy per se:

Newman's approach to the philosophical topics which he discussed was that of a Christian apologist. That is to say, he wrote from the point of view of a Christian believer who asks himself to what extent, and in what way, his faith can be shown to be reasonable. Newman made no pretence of temporarily discarding his faith, as it were, in order to give the impression of starting all over again from scratch . . . it was a question of faith seeking understanding of itself rather than of an unbelieving mind wondering whether there was any rational justification for making an act of faith . . . his attempt to exhibit the insufficiency of contemporary rationalism and to convey a sense of the Christian vision of human existence led him to delineate lines of thought which, while certainly not intended to present the content of Christian belief as a set of conclusions logically deduced from self-evident principles, were meant to show to those who had eyes to see that religious faith was not the expression of an irrational attitude or a purely arbitrary assumption.

. . . Newman . . . is more concerned with showing the reasonableness of faith as it actually exists in the great mass of believers, most of whom know nothing of abstract philosophical arguments . . . he tries to outline a phenomenological analysis . . .

. . . it is obvious that the belief in God with which he is primarily concerned as a Christian apologist is a real assent to God as a present reality, and an assent which influences life or conduct, not simply a notional assent to a proposition about the idea of God . . . from this it follows that Newman is not, and cannot be, primarily interested in a formal demonstrative inference to God's existence.

( A History of Philosophy: Volume 8: Modern Philosophy: Bentham to Russell, Part II, Garden City, NY: Doubleday Image, 1967; 270-271, 279; my emphases)

He specifically details Newman's opposition to rationalism:
He argues . . . that the rationalist conception of reasoning is far too narrow and does not square with the way in which people actually, and legitimately, think and reason in concrete issues. It must be remembered that his contention is that faith is reasonable, not that its content is logically deducible according to the model of mathematical demonstration.

(Ibid., 276; my emphases)
James M. Cameron weighs in on Cardinal Newman's Christian philosophical pedigree as well:

We are inclined simply to say that he is in the tradition of Augustine and Anselm. Credo ut intelligam is the pervading maxim of his thought and to love the truth, and thus to believe or to move towards belief, is to be filled with the Divine love. Again, we may see in him an anticipation of the Kierkegaardian doctrine of the leap of faith, a leap which presupposes a cognitive gap, as it were, between what we know and what we are called upon to believe.

("John Henry Newman: Apostle of Common Sense?," Faith and Reason, Winter 1989; my emphases)
Biographer Ian Ker highlights Newman's goal in his Grammar of Assent:

Newman insists that his purpose is not metaphysical, like that of the idealists who defend the certainty of knowledge against sceptical empiricists, but is 'of a practical character, such as that of Butler in his Analogy', namely, to ascertain the nature of inference and assent.

In the last analysis, then, the Grammar is not a 'metaphysical' work. But that does not mean it is a 'psychological' study. Rather, it is a philosophical analysis of that state of mind which we ordinarily call certitude or certainty and of the cognitive acts associated with it; and as such, it has come to be recognized as a classic by philosophers of religion.

(Ker, John Henry Newman: A Biography, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988, 646, 649; my emphases)

It is in fact, Newman argues, the cumulation of probabilities, which cannot be reduced to a syllogism, that leads to certainty in the concrete. Many certitudes depend on informal proofs, whose reasoning is more or less implicit. As we view the objects of sense, so we grasp the proof of a concrete truth as a whole 'by a sort of instinctive perception of the legitimate conclusion in and through the premisses.' Such implicit reasoning is too personal for logic.

(Ibid., 645)

For much much more along these lines, see: Questions & Answers on Cardinal Newman's Philosophical & Epistemological Commitments (Contra Tim Enloe).

So it is obvious that it was not my statement, rightly understood, that was "embarrassing"; if anything, it was Caminus' ignorance about these issues and the last 150 years of development of Catholic epistemology that might be construed (in light of the above) as "embarrassing." But I actually wouldn't make that charge, myself (the previous sentence being merely a rhetorical "turning of the tables"), because I realize that not everyone has the time I have been blessed with, in pursuing my full-time apologetics apostolate and the writings and thought of Cardinal Newman and many others (currently, e.g., I am finishing up reading about 42 of G. K. Chesterton's non-fiction books, in preparation for my latest book: about ten of them for the second time through).

Caminus simply needs to get up to speed on some basic apologetic issues. I trust in time that he can and will do so (i.e., presuming that he is concerned with proclaiming and defending the faith to those who don't already hold it, rather than simply bashing fellow Catholics and Holy Mother Church). In the meantime, I'll get back to far more serious issues and let Caminus brush up on (or perhaps commence[?]) his reading of Cardinal Newman (I read Grammar of Assent 16 years ago and have applied its profoundly insightful principles to philosophical apologetics ever since) and St. Thomas Aquinas (in the past I had a web page devoted to him, too -- as well as to St. Augustine --, but had to cut down a bit on the number of pages I kept up).

In closing, I'd like to cite Pope St. Pius X (1908), who wrote of Venerable Cardinal Newman:

Incredible though it may appear, although it is not always realised, there are to be found those who are so puffed up with pride that it is enough to overwhelm the mind, and who are convinced that they are Catholics and pass themselves off as such, while in matters concerning the inner discipline of religion they prefer the authority of their own private teaching to the pre-eminent authority of the Magisterium of the Apostolic See. . . .

Truly, there is something about such a large quantity of work and his long hours of labour lasting far into the night that seems foreign to the usual way of theologians: nothing can be found to bring any suspicion about his faith. . . .

Would that they should follow Newman the author faithfully by studying his books without, to be sure, being addicted to their own prejudices, and let them not with wicked cunning conjure anything up from them or declare that their own opinions are confirmed in them; but instead let them understand his pure and whole principles, his lessons and inspiration which they contain. They will learn many excellent things from such a great teacher: in the first place, to regard the Magisterium of the Church as sacred, to defend the doctrine handed down inviolately by the Fathers and, what is of highest importance to the safeguarding of Catholic truth, to follow and obey the Successor of St. Peter with the greatest faith.

* * *

Caminus' attacks and various personal accusations continued in the discussion thread for this post; including the discussion of the apologetic vocation, as noted in the title. As one would expect, I offered a vigorous defense of the validity of my own vocation and occupation, citing many authoritative Church documents.

My Luther Book Blasted For Being Far Too Kind and Charitable to Luther / Pre-Vatican II Popes' Use of the Description "Separated Brethren"

I got a kick out of this comment directed towards my book about Martin Luther, from an anonymous "traditionalist" Catholic because the usual (equally false) charge I hear is that I am a "Luther-hater" or Luther-basher or "anti-Protestant" and so forth. Here is an example of that:
I’ve talked to other Lutherans who’ve been to Dave Armstrong’s place, and they tell me it’s a mix of 1) stuff we’ve always known - nobody ever claimed Luther was a saint!, and 2) a fair bit of slander, some demonstrably false. I’ve had Armstrong’s site mentioned to me by another Lutheran as “prime example of how low RC’s will stoop in misrepresenting the facts to smear protestants” and “really blatant, hate-blinded animosity towards Luther”. I’ll see if the guy making those particular comments is available to stop by, since they’re his comments not mine, but they’re my previous semi-familiarity with Armstrong’s site.

(18 March 2007)
And here is the present criticism, from the other extreme:
I just noticed the book on his website written by Mr. Armstrong himself that both criticizes and praises the arch-heretic Martin Luther. I seem to recall another recent thread where the arch-heretic Cardinal Kasper takes the same view of Luther. Depending on which day of the week it is, one can find Luther being critiqued or praised by any number of Vatican officials. This strange new humanist assessment replaces the consideration of things as they are in their essence, as they are in their formality, thus the heretic is not considered formally in the relation of their error to divine truth, but in a multi-faceted, irenic biography. This effort ignores traditional wisdom which states that a man is nothing more or less than what he is before God. It prescinds from the horrific effect that heresy has in the damnation of souls because the starting point is not theological but humanistic pandering. Simple meditation on the pains of hell ought to be enough to make any man realize that, at best, any endeavor to "praise" heretics is a waste of time and at worst the material cause in furthering the confusion of souls, emboldening heretics in their errors and contemning the authority of the Church.

(comment #44)
The truth, of course, is that I vigorously criticize the man's theology where it is deemed wrong by the Catholic Church (hence the muddleheaded charges of "Luther-hater"), and I rejoice in those parts of his theology where Luther retained Catholic views or else views not all that different from ours (hence the present criticism). Both approaches are entirely Catholic. Thus, critics of both extreme positions are wrong. It is often the case when someone is speaking truth, that he will be attacked from both sides. I think it's a very good sign!

Truth is truth, wherever it is found. If Luther said "2+2=4" he was correct, and it is true, whether he was a non-Catholic heretic or a left-handed, green-eyed, red-haired Rastafarian. When Luther says that baptism regenerates, he is correct, and praise God for it. When he affirms the perpetual virginity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and her Immaculate Conception, he is profoundly correct. When he opposes contraception he is again on the side of the angels (and more right than the vast majority of Protestants today). When he urges good works as the necessary proof of an authentic faith, he is even close to the Catholic organic connection between faith and works (almost despite his sola fide error).

* * * * *

Pope Leo XIII used the term "separated brethren" in his 1896 encyclical Adiutricem:

No better way is afforded of proving a fraternal feeling toward their separated brethren than to aid them by every means within their power to recover this, the greatest of all gifts. (19)
For that reason We say that the Rosary is by far the best prayer by which to plead before her the cause of our separated brethren. (27)
. . . and again in his 1898 encyclical Caritatis Studium (On the Church in Scotland):

The ardent charity which renders Us solicitous of Our separated brethren, in no wise permits Us to cease Our efforts to bring back to the embrace of the Good Shepherd those whom manifold error causes to stand aloof from the one Fold of Christ. Day after day We deplore more deeply the unhappy lot of those who are deprived of the fullness of the Christian Faith.
Pope Pius XI also used the term in his 1926 encyclical Rerum Ecclesiae. In the same sentence he refers to Protestant "errors". Both/and . . . They are brothers in Christ by virtue of their baptism, but they lack fullness and teach many errors.

Pope Pius XII follows course in his 1939 encyclical, Summi Pontificatus, even while blasting liberal Protestants for denying the divinity of Christ. He used it again in another encyclical of the same year: Sertum Laetitiae.

Pope John XXIII wrote in his 1959 Christmas message:
Nor do We wish to forget Our separated brethren for whom Our prayers rise unceasingly to Heaven so that the promise of Christ may be fulfilled: one Shepherd and one flock.
There had long been a less strict interpretation of salvation outside the Church (along the same ecumenical lines later developed by Vatican II), taught by St. Augustine (hence his view that Donatist schismatics need not be re-baptized), St. Thomas Aquinas, and many others. See my papers:

Brief Overview of the Vexed "No Salvation Outside the Church" Issue
Dialogue on "Salvation Outside the Church" and Alleged Catholic Magisterial Contradictions (Particularly in the Middle Ages; With Emphasis on St. Thomas Aquinas's Views)

Dialogue: Does "Salvation Outside the Church" Disprove Catholic Claims (By Internal Contradiction)?

The Catholic Church's View of Non-Catholic Christians (Karl Adam)

On Salvation Outside the Catholic Church (+ Discussion) (Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.)

* * * * *

The person continued his criticisms (in blue, with my replies in black):
Why does he posit a middle position between two supposed "extremes" regarding a position on Luther?

Because, as Alexander Solzhenitsyn noted, the line between good and evil runs through every human heart.

That makes no sense at all and he didn't comprehend my point.

That works both ways.

According to his new ecumenical, humanist approach, we should not condemn him with his errors,

Who ever said that, for heaven's sake? Two-thirds of the book is devoted to doing precisely this, in a vigorous manner unlike any other Catholic book on the topic in memory. I have the most extensive web page devoted to critiquing Luther from an orthodox Catholic perspective online today (I've never seen anything else remotely like it, speaking strictly in terms of its scope and comprehensiveness, from an apologetic Catholic perspective). It's easy to pillory straw men, but it would be nice if this person could portray my own opinions accurately. I doubt if he's even read the book (very few have!), but yet here he is blasting it without even knowing what he is talking about, or my long history of being condemned by anti-Catholic Protestants, Lutherans, and others, for being anti-Luther, not pro-Luther. Both positions are inaccurate, as explained.

expel him for his obstinate evil,

I don't think he was an evil man through and through, but a very flawed, mistaken, confused, sincere, passionate man. Yes, he was stubborn (like most of us), but whether this was outright obstinacy against what he knew to be true, no one can know for sure but God. I prefer to exercise the judgment of charity.

and hold him in universal contempt because he got some other things right.

Truth is truth, and insofar as non-Catholic Christians hold many Catholic truths, we should rejoice. Jesus was very happy with the Roman centurion, who wasn't even a practicing Jew, let alone a Christian. He said of him that He hadn't seen such faith in all of Israel.

Does he not see the psychological effect of his humanism?

I am no humanist, in the present-day definition. There is an acceptable historic Christian definition, applied to men like Erasmus and St. Thomas More. I would proudly accept that association.

We cannot say "he is an heretic, reject him, turn him over to Satan, cut off all communication" any longer,

He certainly was a heretic in any area where he disagreed with the Church. He was a heresiarch as well. I do my best to convince Lutherans and all other Protestants that they are in error and need to become Catholics, so as to have the fullness of truth and all the spiritual and theological benefits accruing from membership in the One True Church. I spend my time doing that virtually every day, as an apologist. I don't spend my time running down the Church and making out Protestants (or at least Martin Luther) to be evil, wicked, despicable creatures, fit only for destruction.

I can't please these "traditionalists" no matter what I do. They want to oppose the errors of Protestantism? Good heavens; arguably I do that as vigorously as any Catholic apologist alive today. I may not do a very good job, but at least I am out here giving it the old college try. I certainly have the "battle scars" to prove it! They will complain that someone needs to do that, yet they would much rather (if we observe how they choose to spend their time) bash the Catholic Church day in and day out. They won't (for the most part) engage in constructive Catholic apologetics and critique of non-Catholic belief-systems, and bash me when I do so, simply because I am also ecumenical, as all Christians ought to be. So I can't win for losing. I do far more than most of these people do, by way of defending Holy Mother Church; they won't do that; yet I get criticized.

I guess it is always the case that there will be many armchair quarterbacks, sitting on their butt criticizing what others are doing, while doing nothing or very little themselves, towards the end of persuading Protestants to become Catholics. If this person is doing so, I will take back these words, as related to him. He can easily direct me to some evidences that he is doing this. But as it is, I don't even know his name or anything about him (typical of the inane anonymous Internet culture that is rampant today).

we must carefully weigh both the good and the bad and come to a softer conclusion,

Just as our Lord Jesus did with the Roman centurion, St. Peter with the Gentile Cornelius, and St. Paul of unbelievers generally, in Romans 2 . . .

then suddenly his errors are held in a sort of equilibrium with his orthodox statements resulting in a much different psychological posture.

All I've said was that the man was sincere; he wasn't a self-consciously evil monster, and that he continued to hold many Catholic beliefs, or beliefs closely approaching same. But of course, he was heretical in many others, as I have documented and strongly critiqued: a thousand times more than this critic of mine will ever do in his entire lifetime. Several Lutherans have actually become Catholics, partially as a result of my work in this regard, so how far off can it be? How many Lutherans has this guy helped to convert?

If we were to take any arch-heretic from history and see how the Church reacted against them, since She considers the nature and essence of a thing, not merely it's accidental qualities, we will be implicitly informed as to how we should think. Take the example of the holy and ancient Fathers and their treatment of formal heretics. You won't find Mr. Armstrong's contrived "middle-of-the-road" position.

It's true that they were much harsher. But who's to say that the Church cannot understand a lot more in 15 more centuries about human motivations and psychology? Besides, the early heretics were not Christians. Protestants are a different story, because they are baptized, trinitarian Christians who share many things in common with us. So the analogy won't be perfect, when we are talking about Gnostics, Manichaeans, Arians, Monophysites, Sabellians, Nestorians, Monothelites, Marcionites, Montanists, etc.

And that is part of the problem today, the theoretical or speculative truth is assented to in the mind, but the praxis that flows from such knowledge is not also imitated.

I appeal to my apologetic career, as above. Who is this person to talk about Catholic behavior in terms of outreach to Protestants? I've done that consistently for 17 years: twelve of them online. I can point to hundreds of conversions, that give as part of their reason, my work. Where is his fruit? Yet he wants to judge me, with my record of vigilant apologetics, and being despised by all the active anti-Catholic apologists online as a "thanks" for my work? One can't help but see a great deal of humor in this.

The comment about Augustine's supposed "less strict" interpretation of EENS because he held that re-baptism was not necessary leaves me speechless.

He should go on to be "written-wordless" too; then he will have a better argument than he is presenting . . .

From the fact that re-baptism is not necessary it does not at all follow that salvation is found outside the Church.

I didn't say that salvation is found outside the Church. Of course it is not. I never claimed that it was. I've often affirmed this truth. It is a matter of how strictly one interprets the truth, which is what I stated, in the present context.

The issue of re-baptizing is not the result of a mere interpretation, admitting of lesser or greater degrees, but touches upon the nature of things as such and is universal dogmatic truth. The inference is also ignorant because he does not seem to be aware of Augustine's doctrine relating to the deprivation of sanctifying grace in sacraments administered outside the fold of the Church.

It was a limited analogy; I never claimed that St. Augustine would have held exactly the position of an ecumenist today. But it was a direction that was developed by other fathers and St. Thomas Aquinas. Karl Adam (in a portion of his writing I have on my site, listed above), took virtually the same position I espouse in 1924, in his wonderful book, The Spirit of Catholicism. This is not modernism, but solid Catholic teaching. But perhaps in my critic's eyes, Adam was a flaming liberal modernist, just as he (probably) thinks Pope John Paul the Great was, and as he seems to think I am.

All of this should provoke huge chuckles of glee and astonished guffaws in my many Protestant critics. I do enjoy the irony very much. I'm supposedly an "ultra-conservative, intolerant" old-fashioned, ultramontanist "Roman" Catholic and "liberal humanist, neo-Catholic" at the same time. I think it's marvelous. Opponents of the Catholic Church often simultaneously paint her in two contradictory, polar-opposite ways (as G. K. Chesterton noted at length in one of his books: Orthodoxy, if I'm not mistaken). I couldn't be more delighted that I am now subject to the same analysis.

To me, it is a strong confirmation that I am doing something right, that my critics so massively contradict each other. It's like those Three Stooges routines where the two bad guys are running around (with one arm absurdly in a suit coat or something) and keep butting heads and cancelling each other out. You gotta have some fun doing apologetics . . .

* * * * *

One of the owners of the board has made some marvelous comments over there, criticizing objectionable elements in a fellow "traditionalist's" (my critic's) ideas and approach (comment #69). This can only be a wonderful thing. Internal policing is what is gravely needed in these circles. Now, this person is someone I'd love to meet and have a beer with, and discuss important issues with, intelligently and cordially! Bravo! This makes my day:

His approach isn't "new," "ecumenical," or "humanist" in any bad sense of the word; it is Christian. We don't condemn people, we condemn error. We have no right to hold a person in "universal contempt," to pretend that a person is all bad or that we are all good, to act as Pharisees, and to disregard Truth simply because someone who's erred in other areas (as most of us do) speaks it.

We can definitely say someone is a manifest heretic (or a formal one, if he's been judged to be so by the Church), and we can protect ourselves from someone's evils, but we can't "turn him over to Satan," stop loving him, stop praying for him, and set ourselves as the all-good judgers of souls. It is precisely that sort of thing that some trads do that gives all trads a bad name.

Acknowledging any Truths Luther might have spoken doesn't necessarily lead to okaying worshiping in Lutheran "churches." And you will find "middle of the road" examples among the Fathers if, by "middle of the road" you mean recognizing Truth where it is spoken, no matter who speaks it.

* * * * *

Dave Armstrong simply adores anyone who agrees with him.

Note the sweeping intent of the characterization, implied in the present tense form and the use of "anyone." This is sheer nonsense. In fact, the truth is quite the opposite: I admire the person who can disagree constructive yet cordially (which is why I love true dialogues so much, as a socratic in methodology). I also admire one who has the courage to go against a person generally in or of his own party (like, e.g., they say about John McCain during this election season), for the sake of truth and what is right, and for the good of the other person as well. It is the nonconformity for the sake of truth, whatever the personal cost might be, that is admirable. That is what "made my day," not mere agreement, which would be a childish, egotistical thing. But I wouldn't have expected my critic to understand this; indeed, he did not in fact.

This comment reveals a stated prejudice against traditional catholics.

I don't see how, as it is quite common among "traditionalists" in my experience, to lament about the state of affairs in their own ranks (several statements along those lines were present in the very thread where my critic is writing). I'm only repeating what they themselves say. All it "reveals" is that I discovered a conscientious, "normal" "traditionalist" who doesn't have to engage in insult and knee-jerk thinking. All communities are in need of this kind of thing. It's only a matter of degree. I'd say the same about the apologetic sub-community. It needs policing and oversight, and I have done some of that myself.

Vox keeps a tight lid on those "objectionable elements" among that strange herd of people by "internal policing."

Sure didn't seem very tight in a recent scandalous incident . . .

He just can't seem to keep to the facts.

Of course.

If Vox and Dave can cite one work from any Father, Doctor or approved theologian that actually praises a formal heretic, then I'll concede the effort.

It's not required for me to prove my point, since I was only utilizing a loose, indirect analogy at best, not a perfect one. I could, however, easily produce many statements from the present Holy Father and the previous one, praising various Protestants (and I dare say that they are both "approved theologians": especially Pope Benedict XVI). That's so obvious that I don't even feel any particular need to take more of my time demonstrating it. Thus, by this fact, my opponent (if he admits the obvious) has conceded his point. Great. Now I can get back to my latest book and other pressing projects.

As it stands, since the object or end of such an endeavor is not really defined and I simply fail to see any possible good fruits that can come from such an endeavor, I'll stick to my opinions.

I think I'll faint with shock that my critic is unmoved.

* * * * *

Fish Eaters site owner "QuisUtDeus" produced an excellent patristic citation from St. Jerome that fufills what my critic was asking for, to the tee:
2. You tell me that many have been deceived by the mistaken teaching of Origen, and that that saintly man, my son Oceanus, is doing battle with their madness. I grieve to think that simple folk have been thrown off their balance, but I am rejoiced to know that one so learned as Oceanus is doing his best to set them right again. Moreover you ask me, insignificant though I am, for an opinion as to the advisability of reading Origen's works. Are we, you say, to reject him altogether with our brother Faustinus, or are we, as others tell us, to read him in part? My opinion is that we should sometimes read him for his learning just as we read Tertullian, Novatus, Arnobius, Apollinarius and some other church writers both Greek and Latin, and that we should select what is good and avoid what is bad in their writings according to the words of the Apostle, Prove all things: hold fast that which is good. 1 Thessalonians 5:21 Those, however, who are led by some perversity in their dispositions to conceive for him too much fondness or too much aversion seem to me to lie under the curse of the Prophet:Woe unto them that call evil good and good evil; that put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Isaiah 5:20 For while the ability of his teaching must not lead us to embrace his wrong opinions, the wrongness of his opinions should not cause us altogether to reject the useful commentaries which he has published on the holy scriptures. But if his admirers and his detractors are bent on having a tug of war one against the other, and if, seeking no mean and observing no moderation, they must either approve or disapprove his works indiscriminately, I would choose rather to be a pious boor than a learned blasphemer. Our reverend brother, Tatian the deacon, heartily salutes you.

(Letter 62 to Tranquillinus; my emphases)
Quis observes (comment #75), contra my critic "Caminus":

I answered a specific question Caminus asked: "cite one work from any Father, Doctor or approved theologian that actually praises a formal heretic" . . .
Sounds like "middle-of-the-road" to me. St. Jerome was a Saint, a Doctor of the Church, and an expert (to say the least) on Scripture. Yet here he is saying there may be something profitable from reading heretics.

What about Plato and Aristotle? They were pagans. Should we hold them in universal contempt? St. Albert the Great and St. Thomas didn't think so.

Here's the deal - just because someone sins or does bad things doesn't mean they are incapable of the truth or should be ignored completely. What they say and write should be taken for what they say and write - some will be good, some will be evil.

Luther was clearly the scum of the earth. If anyone is to read anything by him, they should surely be cautious in the manner St. Jerome describes. But to say that Luther should be dismissed out-of-hand because he was a formal heretic is Caminus' opinion and is certainly not the way the Doctors of the Church and the historical Church operates.

Caminus, undaunted and unaware that his challenge was abundantly met, continues on:

. . . there is no parity between Origen who was actually a learned man who gave a great many good commentaries and Luther who was a festering heretic who simply affirmed some things that were already a doctrine of the Church. Writing a book to praise a formally condemned heretic is a far different scenario than the wise St. Jerome using the works of Origen to further understand the Scriptures.

Of course, I didn't write my book solely or even primarily "to praise a formally condemned heretic." What I did was devote the first two-thirds of it to a blistering critique, and the last third to an ecumenical acknowledgment of some common ground between Luther, Lutherans, and Catholics. What's true is true (it can't be stated often enough). Claiming something isn't true or less true depending on who states it is the genetic fallacy.

Anyone at Fish Eaters who wants to read my book and see for themselves whether I soft-pedalled Luther's many heresies can have it for free in Word or PDF format. All they need to do is write to me and I'll send them a copy. Or they can simply read some of my many critical papers on my Luther and Lutheranism web page.

* * * * *

Quis continues (comment #84):

You asked for an example of a Doctor of the Church praising a formal heretic, and I gave you one. Are you going to qualify it now because someone came up with one?

Well, here is a problem with the way you frame that. St. Jerome despised Origen as a heretic and wrote tons against him; so the scenario isn't all that different. Yet St. Jerome still says that we shouldn't throw away Origen on account of his errors. [cites St. Jerome's Letter 84 to Pammachius and Oceanus]

I don't know what Armstrong has in that book, and I really doubt I would agree with it, but your argument is more alarming to me especially when you use the Fathers and the Doctors to make your point even though they have said the opposite of what you propose.

The Fathers and Doctors, being of good-will, education, piety, and a desire for the truth didn't throw away someone's writings wholesale, nor the writer, even though they vehemently disagreed with them. You suggest they threw every heretic and every heretical writing to the fires of hell without compromise or admitting the heretics had qualities, but that isn't the case at all.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Critique of Bedrock (Self-Defeating) Protestant Principles of Authority


Protestant Iconoclastic Riot

Some Protestants claim to have the "fullness of truth," just as Catholics do.

But how does a Protestant know that? How can he be sure, since he falls back on himself, by virtue of the Protestant notion and rule of faith, of private judgment? No Protestant can know this, consistent with their own system, because they have denied the infallibility of the Church: precisely that which was designed by God to provide us with assurance that we have divinely-protected fullness of truth, and infallible truth.

If the Protestant removes that, then he obviously can't have it. It's pretty simple when you step back and look at it. That's why many (I'd say, most) thoughtful, informed Protestants no longer even make this claim. They say, rather, that all denominations have parts of the truth; no one has it all. It's awfully hard to establish that, except on pure subjectivism (which is not rational). Besides, it is obvious that Protestants contradict each other all over the place, so who's to say which is right on what? They haven't been able to resolve that thorny problem in almost 500 years.

The so-called Protestant "reformers" claimed to be going back to the Bible and the teachings of the early Church, in order to overcome the corrupt "traditions of men." But this is quite obviously not the case, once one actually examines what was believed by the early Church. Time and again, I have amply demonstrated, in my debates, that the early Church fathers were far, far more like Catholics than like any sort of Protestant. This whole notion of "going back" to the early Church is sheer myth: one of the greatest of the Protestant Revolt, which is what it was: it was no reform.

The only "reform" they made was in emphasizing the same stuff that Catholics historically believed, anyway, like Grace Alone, and the inspiration of Scripture. All of their distinctively Protestant innovations, like sola Scriptura or sola fide or a host of other things, were unheard of in the ancient Church. This is the burden of every Protestant who talks this rhetoric to explain. It can't be done. If they try to argue it from Church history, they lose every time. I know, because I've been in dozens of such debates myself, with many of the leading fundamentalist Protestant debaters.

As for mere "traditions of men," no one has more of those than Protestants. Sola Scriptura isn't in the Bible anywhere, yet they base their entire system on it. It is itself a bald, unsubstantiated tradition of men itself. It was essentially invented by Martin Luther on the spur of the moment when he was trapped in debate by a Catholic opponent (Leipzig Debate of 1519, if I recall correctly, without checking). The Bible itself teaches that there are these corruptions of men, but also true divine traditions. See my papers (and one talk):

Tradition is Not a Dirty Word

Why We Need More Than the Bible (my talk on Catholic Answers Live: 10-10-03. Real Audio file)

Quick Ten-Step Refutation of Sola Scriptura (the above talk was based on this paper)

The Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:6-30) vs. Sola Scriptura

Dialogue on "Tradition" in the New Testament

The Old Testament, the Ancient Jews, and Sola Scriptura

So if one wants to truly take the Bible as the fullness of truth, that includes a positive as well as negative version of tradition. It also includes Church authority, which is related. This same Scripture teaches both church and papal infallibility:

Biblical Evidence for Papal and Church Infallibility

Do Protestants wish to go by a "tradition of men," of Luther, or by the Bible? Scripture, Church, and Tradition is the the structure of authority taught in the Bible. I have a ton of stuff about this in lots of papers.

Catholics and Protestants agree that the Bible alone is inspired. Infallibility is a far lesser gift, that protects men from promulgating error and making it binding on the faithful.

Of course we are sinners and make mistakes. Precisely because of this, the Church has to be divinely protected by the Holy Spirit from error. But Protestantism ditched that belief, and so left mere men to fend for themselves and fall back on themselves. Who wants to fall back on that weak reed?! Thus, human error in relation to doctrine is far more a problem in Protestantism than in Catholicism. God always had to use sinners, even to write much of His collected inspired documents, the Bible (Moses, David, Paul, Peter: murderers, adulterers, betrayers: quite a motley group). The Bible makes it clear that there will always be sinners in the Church, too.

Protestants can claim whatever they like about possessing "fullness of truth." That's easy. But they can't prove this. If some Protestant thinks he can, let him try. I'd love to see it. The Catholic. on the other hand, believes there is a divinely-protected Church, established by Christ, that preserves the fullness of the apostolic deposit through apostolic succession. That's a consistent (and patristic and biblical) view. It requires faith, sure, but it is thoroughly based both on the Bible and Church history.

The Protestant view cannot ultimately be backed up by either thing, and is unable to be consistently practiced in real life. It's self-defeating. That can easily be demonstrated by showing that claims such as this are based on nothing when scrutinized. The Protestant needs to be challenged to explain why they believe these things based on nothing, as if Christian belief were similar to an onion that you keep peeling, but which has nothing inside. There is no core. That's how Protestantism is (logically-speaking). Protestants retain much of what historic Catholicism taught; here I am referring specifically to the logic of their principles of authority. The emperor is naked. I'm here to tell him that he is (which makes one highly popular!).

I've proven this scores of times in debates. The Protestant always flees when they realize they have no answer and that their system is pure subjectivism in the end. They simply have no answer to these sorts of fundamental critiques, and so they must either split and head for the hills, or else attempt to switch the subject to Catholic faults (real or alleged). I can do nothing if they leave a discussion, to prevent them from doing so, but I won't stand for the desperate diversionary tactic of switching the subject.

Thoughts on Bibles and Catholics, Catholic "Sunday School," Catholic Bibles at Mass, Bible Memorization, Etc.

[ source ]

These thoughts of mine come from a (requested) critique I did today of a zealous friend's proposals for Catholic Bible Study and "Sunday School" sorts of methods, that he would like to present to bishops for consideration. I disagreed in some emphases and presuppositions, though I agreed overall, in a broad sense. Though they will appear a bit random and scattered, this material gives readers an idea of how a Catholic (at least this Catholic) approaches Holy Scripture, in relation to the Church and Tradition. It's an entirely "pro-Bible" approach, but without the erroneous baggage of sola Scriptura and private judgment and other false Protestant notions.

* * * * *

According to my friend Al Kresta, if I recall correctly (a former Christian bookstore manager and pastor), only about 10% of evangelicals regularly attend Bible studies, frequent bookstores, etc. We shouldn’t exaggerate too much how biblically literate they are, and overstate the case. Given the wholesale nonsense we find in many evangelical circles today, this aspect is probably getting worse all the time, too. But I agree that they do much better at it than Catholics. If they have 10% involvement, ours is maybe 1%, so they are, maybe (rough estimate from my own experience) ten times better than us in that respect.

* * *

I think a comprehensive Catholic Study Bible should have scholarly notes and apologetics and devotional, practical elements: put all those things together in one big package rather than create separate Bibles for devotion, scholarship, apologetics, etc.

* * *

If a priest can give a good, understandable homily, he can lead a Bible study. That would be a good test. But who will tell them they give a lousy homily? We don’t want a catch-22 where only uneducated laity teach. Isn’t that self-defeating? They need some knowledge and education in order to be able to teach effectively in the first place. I don’t think it is educational level that is the problem, so much as the fact that laypeople are fired up and motivated and orthodox, whereas too many clergy (for whatever reasons) lack those qualities. When priests have that pride that they can do it all, and no laypeople can help at all in teaching, usually it is a liberal mentality and the good ole clergy-laity dichotomy that the Church has urged against in many documents.

* * *

Women, especially, resonate with a more "practical / daily living" approach, but it can’t become too dominant, lest doctrine be minimized. Also, we must guard against the danger of philosophical pragmatism, which runs rampant in evangelicalism with the trendy, "give-the-people-the-service-they-like" nonsense that many evangelicals themselves are vehemently criticizing. The same could happen to us if we aren’t careful. Satan would love that.

* * *

I actually like the different day approach better, rather than Sunday school, because people seem to want to do things for shorter periods of time rather than long spaces of time stuck together. One has to determine how much to cater to the current preferences of human beings. If we want to emphasize practicality, then we'll have to bend somewhat to people’s felt needs: whether or not we accept them in and of themselves as legitimate and defensible. This is a large part of the task. The whole notion of applying this stuff to people’s everyday lives also has relevance to the very structure of the programs suggested, which also have to be applied to people’s everyday lives. Much as I immensely admire John Wesley (whose methods you seem to be largely suggesting), it is not at all certain that his methods are the best ones for all time, in all conceivable circumstances. That’s entirely debatable, just as any other method, as opposed to doctrine, is. Chances are that the best, most effective methods will differ in every age or era.

* * *

I’d say emphasize the Wednesday night thing but not that and Sunday School, because it probably won’t work, whatever its intrinsic merits are. If the thing doesn’t work and bring people out, it’ll fail in its purpose even if it is the best method in the world. It is an acknowledgment of the reality of how people are in 21st-century America. I’m as idealist as anyone, but we have to face facts of the present situation, too.

* * *

Do all people want to do meet in small groups, or have that need? Sometimes yes, other times not, and then we have to incorporate folks who prefer a less personal, more standard “classroom” environment; back to the question of felt needs, that are not all the same. Just the gender difference alone is a vastly different approach and collection of needs.

* * *

Traditionally, Catholics got plenty of fellowship through groups like Knights of Columbus and so forth. Also, parishes were neighborhoods in a sense much stronger than we see today. My own family goes to a church downtown, that has nothing to do with my neighborhood at all. And we do that because it is orthodox and traditional. Suburbs themselves are far less communitarian than the cities where Catholics usually congregated (often in ethnic conclaves). Now the “sociologist” from my college background is speaking! These factors have a lot to do with the lessening of fellowship: not simply the lack of Protestant methods. This ought to be noted, lest someone think that Catholics have always been deficient in these regards, whereas I highly doubt that that was the case. We can’t project our time onto all of Catholic history. Even 50 years ago it was vastly different in the social sense.

* * *

My own kids go to three thriving teen groups at a Catholic parish nearby (not our own). This is providing them with tons of fellowship and teaching, too, and retreats and social outreaches. It’s a positive example of what can be done. This works because of the desire that teens have to fellowship (and to meet mates). But that doesn’t always transfer to older groups. The singles group where I met my wife Judy in the Assemblies of God was of a similar nature. They work because of the strong needs of that age group to congregate and do “fun” activities together, with fellow Christians. At least it is something that is happening in Catholic circles that has some excitement and participation in it. My kids are greatly benefiting from it.

* * *

Bible memorization is not an unmixed blessing. Sometimes it can encourage a fundamentalist-type “prooftexting” mentality that tends to go towards the Protestant sola Scriptura approach and neglect context.

* * *

Despite all of this biblical emphasis in Protestantism, what overall result has been produced? We see an evangelicalism increasingly fractured and soaked-through with a number of false notions, such as privatization, subjectivism, pragmatism, faddism (that I was reading about 25 years ago in Schaeffer and Os Guinness), that cannot achieve doctrinal unity, nor can it even achieve a consensus on issues like abortion, divorce, contraception, et al. Catholicism has avoided much of that nonsense and has correct doctrine and moral teaching. In other words, people can know the Bible backwards and forwards, but still interpret it wrongly and arrive at damnable conclusions on any number of issues.

In a sense, then, it is far better (given a hypothetical stark choice) to have a Catholic simply accept Church teachings on faith, than a Protestant who knows his Bible like the back of his hand, but is wrong on many important issues, even to the extent of endangering his soul, and has no or very little sense of the history of Christian doctrine. That’s why my own personal belief is that solid catechetics and apologetics are relatively a lot more important than Bible study per se, because it has the built-in doctrinal standards and interpretation of the Bible according to the Church. All this strong, very “Protestant”-like emphasis you put on Bible study, I would put on catechesis and apologetics. Bible study can certainly be part of that, but I wouldn’t place it as the highest priority. And this has been proven in practice, by dioceses that have good teaching and solid bishops, and by parishes with an apologetic emphasis, that are growing by leaps and bounds. The apologetics movement is a revival right now. It’s working. So it would be good to include it in this overall mix.

* * *

It's fine, but is it really necessary to read one's Bible along with the priest during his homily? Reading is not obviously preferable to hearing. Hearing things is just as effective a communication (and this is presupposed in biblical passages about oral tradition), though on the other hand, I’ve heard it said that the more senses one involves, the better they remember. One could argue, then, that it would be a memory aid, if nothing else. When Paul and Peter preached, people weren’t following along with Bibles.

* * *

I think the goal should be a deeper one: to enamor people with doctrinal Catholic truth, however they receive it. That can be achieved by homilies or good Bible teaching, or traditional catechetics, or apologetics, RCIA, adult formation classes, or through more devotional practices that have a secondary doctrinal emphasis. I have no objection whatever to any Bible study. My own emphasis is obviously overwhelmingly biblical. I’m just saying that it is not necessarily an absolute requirement to read the Bible while at Mass. One can encourage it without making out that it is a necessity, or that those who prefer not to do it are somehow second-class simply because they are able to effectively hear a passage without also reading it (like a number of emphases in evangelicalism make people feel). It’s a matter of good and better, not good and bad. If it gets too legalistic, it’ll fail and these goals of increased Catholic biblical literacy won’t even get off the ground.

* * *

Protestants are reading the Bible but they don’t arrive at doctrinal truths in many many cases. To the extent that one disconnects Bible study from Catholic dogma and guidance, to that extent, there will be more error and more people leaving the Church, because they might adopt the Protestant principle private judgment. It’s a danger that has to be vigilantly avoided.

* * *

There must be some reason that the Church in her wisdom has arrived at certain methods in the Mass. It would be good for us to fully understand those before setting out on some reform of the Mass. Chesterton wrote in The Everlasting Man:
It is chiefly interesting as evidence that the boldest plans for the future invoke the authority of the past; and that even a revolutionary seeks to satisfy himself that he is also a reactionary.
We can appeal to Methodist Past (Sunday School, that John Wesley began) and Evangelical Present (various "people-friendly" methods and tactics, but how about Catholic Past? It is not true, I highly suspect, that the Catholic Church has always failed to properly teach the Bible and never at any time or place did it right. That’s why I think we need to do an intensive study of these aspects through Church history and look for a model that worked in the past or in some other culture today, that was fully Catholic.

* * *

Given a theoretical choice, I’d be much more happy about Catholics being comfortable with Catholic dogma in its entirety “in their hands” (as opposed to the Bible) and an understanding of same and ability to share and defend it. That can be achieved through many means, including the Bible but also Sacred Tradition and Church proclamations and philosophy and apologetics. To share and defend Catholic truth is also more than simply citing biblical texts (much as I do that myself). It involves reason and an understanding of history and the Catholic Mind, and systematic theology. All of this comes through teaching that is not confined to the Bible itself; yet we can underestimate the importance of these things, if we place overwhelming emphasis on Bible study. It’s a very complex discussion. I’ve been accused more than once of applying sola Scriptura methods in my apologetics. I don’t at all; they don’t get it (they presuppose that any Bible citation at all entails sola Scriptura, which is ludicrous), but the very objection illustrates the confusion between the Protestant and Catholic ways of viewing authority.

* * *

Reading the Bible along with the priest shouldn’t be an absolute requirement. To do so looks down on oral teaching, which is impossible to do based on the Bible alone. All the oral teaching in the NT was done without folks sitting with a NT in their hands while they heard it. This oral tradition had every bit as much authority in and of itself as the later written Bible did. That being the case, it is impossible to say that listening to this inspired word being read today is insufficient in its purpose if a person isn’t also physically reading it.

If we want to get really technical, it is not at all clear to me that even Bible memorization is required. I don’t try to memorize the Bible; I try to habitually use it and study it. That’s two different things. If a person wants to memorize large parts of it, great. More power to them. Is it necessary for all to do? No, not at all. It is necessary – again – to understand the Catholic faith in its entirety, so that it becomes part of us, and so that we can effectively share it and give reasons for why we believe what we believe. All of that requires far more than mere Bible memorization. You can quote a Bible verse at a person but as soon as he asks why you apply it the way you do then you have to go to other Bible passages and to reason and Tradition. The good Catholic apologist can literally wipe the floor with a Bible-soaked fundamentalist Protestant in debate because the latter quite often has no inkling of his premises and how to consistently apply biblical teaching to doctrine.

* * *

I would highly recommend for anyone pondering this topic, that they read Cardinal Newman’s On the Inspiration of Scripture, available online.

* * *

I would be less inclined to tout evangelicals for understanding of the incorporation of the Bible into the full Catholic life. Yes, they do manage to get people enthused about the Bible, but that is only about 25% of the battle, in my opinion, per my comments above. If we're simply talking about Bible enthusiasm and familiarity, then sure, of course: evangelicals do far, far better than Catholics at the present time. If we're talking about an overall passing on of the full, biblical, Catholic truth, on the other hand, we are better, at least in terms of what we actually teach (but that is the problem: getting it to the people so they can benefit from all this truth). Truth and fullness of truth are antecedent to proclamation and method.

* * *

It's somewhat like the debate in the 16th century, where Protestants cared relatively little for the accuracy of translation, and simply wanted to pass out Bibles by the millions. They reasoned that this would make people better Christians, or (depending on theology), Christians, period (i.e., "saved," in the evangelical sense). In some cases, yes, but the overall result was a rampant sectarianism and thus, theological relativism in many areas. This is one of the points I'm trying to make: simply having more Bible: reading, memorizing is not an unmixed good, because of human sin and what people too often wrongly do with the Bible (which is itself wonderful). I'm not so much disagreeing with Catholic Sunday School or a concentrated Bible reading program, as I am taking it to a deeper, more presuppositional level (as I often do: it is the socratic method, after all, that I love).

* * *

You mentioned a church that I attended for four years, and claim that Bible study attendance was 80% of the congregation. I'm not sure at all that the numbers were that high, but let's assume that they were. Did that mean that these people were mature Christians, with a deep understanding of Scripture? Hardly. You had mushy, milky preaching from the pulpit for the most part, and infatuation with Jim Bakker and PTL et al (before the scandal hit). Kenneth Copeland was not rebuked from the pulpit, even though his errors were believed by many in the church. I rarely learned anything from the sermons (and I wanted to, believe me). Dick Bieber's sermons at Messiah Lutheran had infinitely more meat and challenge in them. You had the stupid "name-it-claim it" doctrine running rampant. I went through this all the time, trying to reason with friends of mine in the singles group I was in. We personally knew people who didn't brush their teeth, or denied that they had a cold, because that was a bad "claim." You had ridiculous "prophesying" during services, and people going up front week after week to get "saved." Error was all over the place, so a lot of good tons of Bible study did, if they were not being disabused of their obvious errors. The use of the Bible is only as good as the knowledge and orthodoxy of those who are teaching it or reading it.

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Part of my analysis is a warning based on past history and the influence on Catholics that Protestantism already has. It is a matter of human behavior (sometimes). I'm all for the Bible Study plan in its broad outlines, but unless we are aware of the dangers involved, then we'll be in for a big disappointment. You don't just rush into a thing without proper, sombre analysis. Per the Chesterton citation I gave, I think this sort of thing has to be undertaken with a deep knowledge of how these things were approached in the history of the Church. We can't just ape Protestant methods, and naively think that we won't have any of the huge problems that they themselves have had, largely because of those methods. There is an overlap. We can give our people Church and Tradition, but we have to be very careful not to fall into Protestant assumptions that are hostile to Catholicism, because it is very easy to do: those being often the more natural human responses and not to often the most reasonable or orthodox ones.

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I don't want anyone to be afraid; only wise and properly prepared and aware of excesses that have already occurred in Protestant circles. We can learn from Protestant mistakes as well as their successes. Any methodology can be critiqued. It's not written in stone. This ain't doctrine; it's how to best promulgate doctrine and love and use of the Bible. Certainly honest men can differ about how to do that. I differ in some respects with other equally orthodox Catholics, and my overwhelming emphasis in my own apologetics is indeed the Bible. In other words, no one (who is at all familiar with my work) can possibly claim that I don't care about Bible reading and Bible study. My arguments are permeated with it from top to bottom. I could even say that I love nothing more. I'm simply offering constructive advice as I see it.

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I'm not advocating not reading the Bible individually. Not at all! I fully agree with all the positive statements in that regard that the Church has made. But it has to be in the overall context of Catholic teaching (a thing that these same documents highly stress, for many of the same reasons I am giving). Arguably, many Catholics are not thinking sufficiently "Protestant" with respect to Bible reading and study and reverence (and one could rightly contend that they should because the evangelical Protestants have done better at that in practice). It is not inconceivable, however, that some aspects of Catholic thinking about the Bible may not be sufficiently Catholic. That's true -- or potentially true -- of all of us at all times. We have to be very self-consciously aware that we are in conformity with the Mind of the Church.

That's why I recommended reading Cardinal Newman on the topic: a man who was a fervent Protestant and then became a great Catholic thinker. That's the type of thing that will allow us to draw from the best in both traditions. But we can't just uncritically draw from Protestant successes in limited areas without giving past Catholic practice in this same regard its due, and thoroughly understanding its internal justifications. A Catholic should read, for example, the debates between St. Thomas More and William Tyndale, which illustrate the different ways that Protestants and Catholics approach the Bible.

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I deny the whole root assumption that Protestants have, that every doctrine, even in particulars, has to have explicit biblical proof (which a Catholic notion of material sufficiency doesn't require), etc. It is the place of the Bible in the overall mix that they get quite wrong, and if we try to imitate them too much, we could possibly fall into the same error, almost despite ourselves. Bishops' fears about this are quite justified, based on historical precedent. There is a proper middle ground in all this.

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I think we should ignore the clergy/laity distinction altogether when it comes to Bible study. We should simply pick the best man or woman to be found in the parish for the task. If that is the priest, he should do it. If he is too busy, or a layperson can do a better job, then they should do it. I don't see why we have to consciously restrict it to the laymen.

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Catholic Bible study has to be placed in an overall context of traditional catechetics, apologetics, prayer meetings, devotional and spiritual elements and activities, eucharistic devotion: the whole nine yards.

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I'm not against Bible memorization altogether, or indeed any kind of memorization, but only its insufficiency if it is done by "rote" without awareness of the larger principles embodied by the things memorized, or for mere "prooftexting" purposes, without sufficient background knowledge or awareness of systematic theology and the dogmas of the Church. If anyone reads what I wrote above about memorization very carefully, they'll see that I made many qualifications, and was not against the thing itself. Memory techniques are especially good for children (to use one example) because much of their learning in the very early stages is rote, anyway.
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I was simply trying to point out that there is more to it than merely memorizing things. It is also not absolutely necessary to know passages by memory, as long as one has a general view of what the Bible and individual Bible books teach. We can look up things. We have many helpful resources now. We don't have to rely strictly on our own memories. This holds true much more so in cultures like our own, that are much more oriented to the written word, as opposed to entirely oral cultures that didn't even have writing, like (most of) the American Indians and others.