Thursday, July 09, 2009

Dialogue With Steve Hays on the Definition of a Lay Catholic Apologist (And Whether I Am One)


Marcus Grodi of the Coming Home Network (Where I'm a Staff Member)


Steve Hays' words will be in blue.

* * * * *

So what do you call my profession, then, seeing that I am a staff member of The Coming Home Network…


Let’s see. That was founded by an ex-Presbyterian minister who converted to Catholic. So the fact that one lay Catholic and convert anoints another lay Catholic and convert makes Dave a real, honest-to-goodness apologist. How does that differ from an ordination in some Appalachian church where they lay hands on a 10-year-old preacher-boy cuz he’s got da fire?
If one writes books that are published, that are bestsellers in their field.
Yes, popularity equals respectability. Just look at Paula White, Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn, Joyce Meyer, and Creflo Dollar–not to mention Fr. Alberto Cutie.
You can lie like Whopper Hays and Controversialist [name] have done, in pretending that I am merely ‘self-anointed’ or ‘self-appointed,’ when in fact I had the support of one of the major Catholic catechists of the 20th century and candidate for possible sainthood, Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J., from the very beginning of my apologetic writing career.
So a Jesuit priest is in a position to confer on Armstrong the position of a professional apologist? Is Hardon a bishop? Or cardinal? Did he give Armstrong a job in the Curia? What did he appoint Armstrong to, exactly?

So what is my profession, Steve? How do you define "professional"? You seem to be so sure of what you are convinced I ain't, but what am I? Somehow I'm supporting my family. Is it all unethical, ill-gotten gains, according to you? I'm the equivalent of a theological drug dealer?

What is a professional author if not one who makes a living from books and their royalties? What is a professional apologist if not one who devotes all his working hours to apologetics, and gets paid for it, is on staff with an apologetic organization, etc.? I understand that you find it all so reprehensible, but please, for the sake of sanity, at least define your terms. That's a simple enough request, no?

I am truly curious to pursue the discussion of definition of "professional" and "author" and "apologist" etc., and hope that some teeny-weeny thing will be accomplished.

* * *

Dave poses a good question. Of course, he frames the question in a way that conveniently coincides with his own “qualifications,” so we can’t allow the answer to be bound by the self-serving terms in which the question is cast.

Thanks for continuing the discussion. I am asking basic questions: what is a professional and an apologist, and an author? That presupposes nothing, and it is scarcely even a Catholic-Protestant difference. If you guys wanna say I am none of those, which is ludicrous, then you need to define your terms and explain.

To the contrary, there ought to be a difference since Catholicism makes higher claims about institutional certainty. That should carry over into the way Catholic apologetics is conducted.

This is more of the same extraneous arbitrariness. "Ought" according to you in this context is utterly irrelevant. We decide in our system what an apologist properly is and is not, not you. Surely you don't deny that any given institution can define its own terms in its own internal affairs, and not some outsider who thinks it "ought" to be otherwise. All this shows is desperation of argument.

Notice that you chose to frame the question in completely generic terms. How institutions in general define terms in general. You didn’t frame the question in terms of how the Catholic church defines “apologist.”

Rather, you treated that as a special case of a general prerogative which any institution enjoys to define its own terms.

ii) Moreover, you used normative adjectives like “proper” and “legitimate” to describe this process. Therefore, according to you, any institution can “properly” or “legitimately” define its own terms, according to its own “framework” or “internal criteria.”

Hence, by the way you set the stage, cults like Mormonism or Scientology can “properly” define theological terms. Their own framework or internal criteria “legitimate” that usage.

Therefore, I drew some simple parallels based on the way you chose to frame the question.

As explained, they can only define their own offices. They can't redefine theological terms that are common to many groups beside themselves. The Moonies can define who is a Moonie apologist, but they can't redefine the Trinity because that is an entity much larger than themselves.

* * *

This is more of the same extraneous arbitrariness. "Ought" according to you in this context is utterly irrelevant. We Moonies decide in our system what a Christian properly is and is not, not you. Surely you don't deny that our Unification Church can define its own terms in its own internal affairs, and not some outsider who thinks it "ought" to be otherwise. This is more of the same extraneous arbitrariness. "Ought" according to you in this context is utterly irrelevant. We Mormons decide in our system what a Christian properly is and is not, not you. Surely you don't deny that our LDS Church can define its own terms in its own internal affairs, and not some outsider who thinks it "ought" to be otherwise. This is more of the same extraneous arbitrariness. "Ought" according to you in this context is utterly irrelevant. We Dianeticists decide in our system what God properly is and is not, not you. Surely you don't deny that our Church of Scientology can define its own terms in its own internal affairs, and not some outsider who thinks it "ought" to be otherwise.

More irrelevant pseudo-analogies. And this is quite obvious. The question, of course, is not what a "Christian" is or what "God" is, but what a Catholic apologist is. You completely changed the topic. Clever, but atrocious logic, and typical of your usual obscurantism in "debate," unfortunately. We're not discussing those things. That gets back to the question of the definition Christianity, which your buddies refused to discuss with me (the main reason I'm no longer interested in dialogue with anti-Catholics on theology anymore). Or the definition of God, as in your last example.

i) You either can’t follow your own argument or else, having lost the original argument, you are rewriting history. This is how you chose to frame the “question”:

But the present discussion is about: "We decide in our system what an apologist properly is and is not . . . any given institution can define its own terms in its own internal affairs."

Thus, the proper analogy would be whether a Moonie can decide what a Moonie apologist is, rather than a Calvinist or Catholic deciding it for him. That is a question apart from doctrine, and one of sociology. Likewise, Mormons and Scientologists decide who is a Mormon / Scientologist apologist and who isn't, not us. They define their own terms.

No, the proper analogy would be how any institution defines its own terms. That’s how you yourself set up the comparison. I’m holding you to your own framework.

Therefore, it is irrelevant if you decide what a Catholic apologist is, while ignoring Catholic internal criteria within the Catholic system. That's completely absurd. I think you can't possibly not see this, so your exercise is nothing more than an increasingly desperate evasion and obfuscation, because you know you have no basis on which to make your claims.

I never confined my discussion to what a Catholic apologist is. You’re the one who’s trying to confine the discussion to a purely semantic question.

And even at that level, you don’t actually cite where your church defines a “Catholic apologist.” At most, you cite where your church defines an “apostolate.”

We stray further and further from the initial questions: what is a Catholic apologist; what is a professional author?, etc.

* * *

1.I don’t know why the standards for a Catholic apologist should be any lower than the standards for a Catholic theologian. Just as a Catholic theologian is licensed to teach Catholic theology, a Catholic apologist should be licensed to teach Catholic apologetics.

It's not for you to say. It's not your prerogative to determine. The Catholic Church has decided that within its system there is such a thing as a legitimate lay apologist, even one not formally trained.

It’s my prerogative to point out that your church lacks logical, consistent standards of competence in the promulgation and defense of the faith.

More of the same. This is logical nonsense, as I have already shown, and need not do again.

Why should the teaching of Catholic theology be regulated while Catholic apologetics is a free-for-all?

Why are the laws of physics what they are? Why do Calvinists think that God predestines people to hell? Why do zebras have stripes? Why does 2+2=4? Why do you keep asking "ought" questions, when the subject at hand is objective definitions?

You want to arbitrarily restrict the discussion to purely semantic issues

Yes, of course, because that is what definitions are: fundamentally semantic issues!!! LOL

Then the laugh is on you. To say that “definitions” are fundamentally semantic doesn’t mean the relevant issues are fundamentally semantic. That’s just your bait-and-switch tactic.

That is the discussion.

Only according to your unilateral attempt to dictate the parameters of the discussion.

One must always define their terms in every constructive debate, or it is chaos. If you want to remake the Catholic Church in your own image in order to shoot it down (in a straw man endeavor), then that is a completely different discussion. I understand that this is one of your pet arguments, but it is off-topic.

You don’t get to decide for the rest of us what’s on-topic or off-topic. Dave then spends some time repeating himself.

* * *

rather than “ought” questions because you can’t defend your church’s practice at the “ought” level. It’s funny to see a Catholic “apologist” run away from the “ought” questions.

That has nothing to do with the question at hand, of definition. What a thing is and how it ought to properly operate, how it is managed, etc., are two different things. First we decide what something is. Then we get to the other things in the long run.

To say that marriage, for example, is a particular thing that we can define, and giving opinions as to how a good marriage ought to work day-to-day, are two completely different things and topics of discussion. If one is discussing the definition of marriage (so as, e.g., to exclude homosexual "marriage") one doesn't start going on and on about, "well, you know, to have a good marriage, the husband better give his wife flowers on their anniversary." Apples and oranges. So why do you keep switching to "ought" questions and your desire (for polemical purposes) for something to be other than what it is? You haven't proven that it is not what it is yet. It's all subjective postmodernist mush. Odd that your traditional Calvinism has led you to think in a post-Enlightenment, postmodernist fashion.

* * *

For one thing, you can’t draw a bright line between dogmatic theology and polemical theology.


This has nothing to do with anything . . .

To the contrary, in order to teach Catholic theology in the name of the church, your church must license the theologian. Hans K√ľng lost his license when he went too far afield.

Sure. A Catholic theologian who teaches at a school must have the proper credentials in order to speak for the Church. He must be orthodox. That's why Kung is no longer a Catholic theologian. But an apologist is not a theologian.

I appreciate your admission. So, according to you, although a Catholic theologian must have proper credentials to speak for the church, a Catholic apologist can speak for the church without having proper credentials. As I say, the Catholic church has illogical standards.

You are the illogical one here. I didn't claim that an apologist need no credentials, only that (strongly implied above, by straightforward deduction) he doesn't need the same credentials as a theologian, and that the two categories are distinct. Academic and "official theologian" credentials are not the same as lay apologetic ones.

The major apologetic organizations have oversight from bishops (and that is their job), which is sufficient.

Dave uses the word “oversight,” but he doesn’t unpack what that alleged oversight actually amounts to.

I have many times in the past with Steve, to no avail. He simply mocks and dismisses all such things, because they don't meet his arbitrary, outside approval.

Yet a Catholic apologist covers the very same ground as a Catholic theologian. Because apologetics is interdisciplinary, a Catholic apologists ends up expounding dogmatic theology, moral theology, &c.

So you're saying that there can be no catechists at a local parish without a license and a degree from some Catholic college? A Catholic mother or father cannot teach their children the Catholic faith without the pope being present at all times making sure they are orthodox? You can see where this "reasoning" leads.

Yes, it leads to functional Protestantism. Welcome to the club. Now make your membership official.

You have to caricature the Catholic system in order to critique it. We call that a straw man. Broadly speaking, apologetics would function according to the well-known Catholic principle of subsidiarity:
Functions of government, business, and other secular activities should be as local as possible. If a complex function is carried out at a local level just as effectively as on the national level, the local level should be the one to carry out the specified function. The principle is based upon the autonomy and dignity of the human individual, and holds that all other forms of society, from the family to the state and the international order, should be in the service of the human person.
Catholic apologetics works in the same way. It's not required to have particular oversight on everything, as long as there is general oversight and self-policing, which there certainly is. E.g., two of my books have the Imprimatur.

In other words, the bishop is like an absentee landlord. Ultimately, Catholic apologists police themselves. Thanks for the candid admission.

What you do is caricature what you falsely believe the Catholic system to be, because we have a pope and bishops and a hierarchy. This is standard Protestant practice (and/or ignorance).

Well, at least [name] can read Medieval history and theology in Medieval Latin. And he also has access to the pertinent secondary literature. So if I had to choose between your opinion and his, he’s obviously better informed than you are. It’s a tactical error for you to compare yourself with [name]. That comparison doesn’t work in your favor.

It's odd that Steve is now enthralled with the abilities of [name] (but this is the trend lately: with the anti-Catholics welcoming him back as one of their own).

You don't seem to be able to comprehend that we Catholics do lots of stuff without papal guidance. I blew my nose this morning. I didn't have to call the pope to get permission. I chose a pair of socks on my own, etc.

A Catholic apologist is a de facto teacher of Catholic theology. If you reduce that to the level of blowing your nose, then why don’t you join the Plymouth Brethren or the Strict & Particular Baptists?

Obviously, Steve missed the reductio ad absurdum reasoning there . . .

Likewise, even we Catholics can teach an adult formation class or give lectures about apologetics, or write articles, without direct oversight from bishops and the pope at all times. To think otherwise and to make out that this is somehow contrary to Catholicism, is pure fantasy and ignorance.

Which is unresponsive to what I said. The question at issue isn’t limited to what may or may not be contrary to Catholicism. Rather, does the Catholic church have consistent standards?

* * *

Ever hear of Chesterton, or Frank Sheed? This is all known and understood by anyone who will simply see it in our documents. I've provided them on my site. An apologist is not necessarily either a scholar or a theologian, though he can be both.

In which case there’s no quality control mechanism.

Back to the non sequitur "ought" again. Therefore, G. K. Chesterton was not a Catholic apologist. That's what this absurd position reduces to. He's not because you say so, based on illogic and wishes.

Indeed, there’s no assurance that what a Catholic apologist says is even orthodox by Catholic standards.

We have all sorts of internal quality control (including a great deal of oversight and approval from bishops).

Really? So Dave Armstrong sends a draft copy of whatever he intends to publish or post to his bishop for prior review to obtain official permission before he presumes to publish it or post it on his blog.

That's not what I am talking about.

Naturally. The moment we press you on the details, your claim evaporates into thin air. When we peel back the label (“general oversight”), there is nothing underneath.

That is your ridiculous caricature of a stereotype of what you think Catholicism is (or wish it was), as I discussed above. This level is not required. There is general oversight of the leading organizations.

If the bishop isn’t reading what an apologist writes, then his supervision is meaningless. Like an editor who never reads his own newspaper.

There is a reason, for example, that Gerry Matatics is an outcast from the apologetics community, and that others have been reprimanded and no longer have many credentials within the movement.

I see. Matatics has been excommunicated by the Magisterium of Lay Catholic Epologists. Whatever the community of lay catholic epologists binds on earth shall be bound in heaven.

More stupid caricatures. There was no necessity for us to do that even if we could (and of course we cannot). Matatics incurred automatic excommunication. I explained this to Phillip Johnson when he wrote about Matatics, trying to make hay out of him, as you are doing, and as many do. Phillip was gracious enough to accept correction, writing:
Thanks very much for the heads up and correction about Matatics. If you would send me the details about when and why he was formally excommunicated, I'd be happy to revise my article accordingly.

(8-23-06)
I explained how Matatics had excommunicated himself:
He was as soon as he decided to go that route, which was "early last year" (2005), according to him. He incurred latae sententiae (automatic excommunication), based on cc. 751 and 1364 of the Code of Canon Law. The first states: the aforesaid canons defines schism as "refusal of subjection to the Roman Pontiff, or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him". The second states that the penalty for [this] is automatic excommunication. That's why Abp. Lefebvre, founder of the SSPX, was excommunicated, when he ordained bishops without the consent of the pope.

Here are the exact words:
Can. 751 Heresy is the obstinate denial or doubt, after baptism, of a truth which must be believed by divine and catholic faith. Apostasy is the total repudiation of the christian faith. Schism is the withdrawal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff or from communion with the members of the Church subject to him.
Can. 1364 §1 An apostate from the faith, a heretic or a schismatic incurs a latae sententiae excommunication, without prejudice to the provision of Can. 194 §1, n. 2; a cleric, moreover, may be punished with the penalties mentioned in Can. 1336 §1, nn. 1, 2 and 3.
Johnson responded:
I herewith offer my apologies for not making the original source and date of my blogpost clear: That article was actually written in 1999 and originally published in "Onward, Christian Soldiers: Protestants Affirm the Church." What I said about Matatics was true at the time and for several years afterward. Assuming I can take what you say at face value, Matatics's relationship with the church only changed "early last year." So even after I revise my article (which I will do as promised as soon as time permits), there's a point to what I was saying that is hardly nullified just because 6 years later Matatics excommunicated himself.

(8-23-06)
He continued to argue about the "ought" too, but at least he got his basic facts straight and was humble enough to actually correct his article.

i) Of course, that simply begs the question. If Benedict the XVI is an antipope, then refusal of subjection to an antipope is hardly an excommunicable offense.

Mind you, that intramural issue is of no concern to me. To me, every pope is an antipope. I’m merely highlighting the utterly lame nature of your argument.

ii) BTW, Dave, as long as we’re on the subject, which you initiated, can you point me to an official, infallible list of the popes? After all, a Catholic can only be in subjection to the Roman Pontiff if that’s an object of knowledge. So please point me to an official, infallible list of the popes.

* * *

We always knew you were acting like a parallel papacy. Thanks for making it official. Do you also have your own tiara and papal slippers? Should we address you as the Holy Father?

See how the reductio no longer works, now that it is proven that it is based on wholesale ignorance? I can't thank you (and our gracious host) enough for the opportunity to clearly demonstrate this sort of stuff that you and your anti-Catholic buddies are continually guilty of.

I can’t thank you enough for begging the question. And I can’t thank you enough for opening a fresh can of worms. But perhaps you can reseal the can when you produce an official, infallible list of the popes. If you claim apostolic succession, then produce a list commensurate with your church’s pretensions of indefectibility.

* * *

So we end up with spokesmen whom even you disapprove of, like Matatics and Sungenis.

Matatics is not even a Catholic. He's a sedevacantist (one who thinks there is no sitting pope).

Of course, he’d say the same thing about “Counterfeit Catholics” like yourself.

That's irrelevant. He doesn't set Catholic definitions and criteria; the magisterium does. And by that legitimate standard, he is out, by his own choice. It's a great shame. He's a sharp guy and very nice (I once chatted with him in person for about 45 minutes). He couldn't shake off his previous fundamentalist tendencies, and brought them with him into the Church. He made himself the pope, which is the Protestant mentality, not the Catholic one.

But you just told us that Catholic apologists police themselves. Did Matatics arrest himself? Is he serving time in the pokey? Last time I checked, he is still running a Catholic blog and doing his “mega-tour.” I guess that’s one of the fringe benefits self-policing. Since you have the keys to the jail cell, you can let yourself out whenever you want to.

I take it that the sheriff exercises “general oversight” of the jail block–from a sunny beach in Tahiti. Catholicism has such an impressive accountability system, don’t you think? Not like those libertine Protestants who just do their own thing. BTW, is Robert Sungenis another successor story in allowing Catholic apologists to police themselves?

Since Matatics is automatically excommunicated, all of this is completely irrelevant, and a bunch of hot air masquerading as rational argument.

* * *

This doesn't mean there is no such thing as an orthodox apologist, because there are those who no longer are orthodox. That's baby / bathwater reasoning. By this same mentality, there couldn't be any real Calvinists because occasionally one from among you becomes a dreaded Arminian or a liberal process theologians, etc. You wouldn't believe that for a second, yet you'll apply the same analysis to us where it is inapplicable. Corruptions of a thing never disprove a thing. The first thing has to exist for the very category of "corruption" to make sense in the first place.

* * *

2.Indeed, why doesn’t the Vatican have an apologetic counterpart to the Pontifical Biblical Commission or the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith? Popes would appoint the members.

Maybe that will happen some day, but it's not necessary, nor relevant. All that is necessary is that lay apologetics has magisterial approval, as it certainly does.

That’s equivocal.

Nope. It's a fact. Sorry the reality isn't as you long for it to be. That's not how objective reality works, I'm afraid. I hate to break the bad news to you so suddenly.

That’s a funny statement coming from somebody who just resorted to Kuhnian relativism. According to you, every institution has its own framework which is incommensurable with the framework of every other institution.

Nope. When it comes to the definition of Christianity, denominations cannot redefine that (which is why your previous pseudo-analogies to these groups in that sense, were non sequiturs, as we agree). Hence, Mormons and Moonies and Scientologists are not Christians, because that is a category wider than the denominations are. They can't define that word in an eccentric, non-traditional (and non-biblical) way.

Dave is radically scaling back his original claim. I only have to cite a few, obvious counterexamples, then sit back and watch him rewrite his original argument. Kind of like a thief who discovers that he accidentally stole a traceable object. Now he has to return the incriminating object before the curator discovers that it’s missing and reports it to the police. Will he get it back in time? It was hard enough to break into the museum undetected the first time. Now he has to go back and do it again. And, unbeknownst to Dave It-Takes-A-Thief Armstrong, we’re watching the whole thing unfold on a hidden security camera. He tripped a silent alarm on the way in.

Right. The sophistry and inanities continue unabated . . .

* * *

But when it comes to defining what an apologist is for a particular group, that is purely an internal affair and not at all like the other scenario. Hence, the Catholic Church defines what a Catholic apologist is, not hostile anti-Catholic critic Steve Hays. That's not "Kuhnian relativism" -- it's "Haysian nonsense."

Notice how Dave willy-nilly decides what is internal or external for the rest of us–as if he had the authority to do so. Of course, a Moonie or Scientologist could to the very same thing.



Ironically, you undercut the very basis for Catholic apologetics by resorting to Kuhnian relativism. For you mustn’t pose “ought questions” of non-Catholic frameworks.

Irrelevant, as I have been explaining.

* * *

Aside from what I’ve already said, there’s a difference between abstract approval of the general idea of lay apologetics, and concrete approval for the specific work of any lay apologist in particular.

Of course, but this is no proof that there is no category whatever. It just means there might be some difficulties of application, which is universally true. Problems do not disprove the thing that is troubled by problems, just as chess problems don't disprove the existence of chess, as C. S. Lewis said.

Where is the direct supervision? Where is the accountability system?


Those are separate questions with little bearing on basic definition and category. You love to evade, but I'm calling you on it.

You love to evade the substantive question.

You have yet to land on the subject, as I originally framed it: what is a Catholic apologist? What is a professional? What is a professional apologist? What is an author? What is a professional author?

You have this authoritarian, high-church ecclesiology, but whet it comes to popularizing Catholic theology, even giving Catholics advice on the finer points of moral theology, lay Catholic apologetics is like a storefront psychic who reads your palm or casts your horoscope.

That's your cynical take, as a hostile observer. It has no bearing on the Church's opinion of lay apologetics or on our actual subject. Give it up. You can't obfuscate your way out of this. It's too clear-cut. But you're the master of the colorful non sequitur pseudo-analogy.

That's your cynical take, as a hostile observer. It has no bearing on the Unification Church's opinion… That's your cynical take, as a hostile observer. It has no bearing on the Church of Scientology’s opinion… That's your cynical take, as a hostile observer. It has no bearing on the LDS Church’s opinion...

I have already explained twice now, why these analogies do not apply at all. It's goofy "reasoning."

* * *

Rent a building, put up a hand-made sign, and you’re in business.


More of the same. You even put Calvin to shame for aimless sophistry.

* * *
3.Put another way, where is the counterpart to Cardinal Bellarmine in 20-21C Catholic apologetics?

The last two popes, I would say. But how does that mean I can't do what I do, too? St. Thomas More was a layman, and he was an apologist.

4.Or, to approach the question from another angle, consider Armstrong’s running commentary on Calvin’s Institutes. What he apparently does is to sit down with his laptop, pull up an online copy of the Institutes, then type an interlinear commentary. Now, seriously, what are his qualifications to write a commentary on the Institutes? More generally, what qualifications would you need to write a commentary on the Institutes? For one thing, you’d need to know your way around the primary sources. A fluent command of Middle French and Neo-Latin. You’d also need to be conversant with the secondary literature on Calvin and 16C European church history in various modern languages, viz., French, German, Italian, Dutch. Not only does this require an easy command of the requisite languages, but access to a research library with the relevant primary and secondary literature. To write a competent commentary on the Institutes calls for a very specialized knowledge of Calvin’s life and background–as well as 16C European church history.

The question of who can comment on Calvin's Institutes is secondary, and so I pass over it. Obviously, as I claimed, mine was simply a popular approach, not a scholarly one.

So if you toss in the “popular” disclaimer, you don’t have to be competent.

No; you have to be competent and informative on a popular level. It's distinct from a scholarly, academic level. Most folks would have no difficulty whatever distinguishing between the two, but for some reason you do. Different strokes. There is a thinking world beyond academia, believe it or not. Just because I don't know double Dutch and Middle English doesn't mean I can't think or critique Calvin or any other Protestant errors. Calvin is often so illogical, I am finding, that no particular training is needed to overcome his argumentation: just basic logic and a fair knowledge of the Bible (and I possess both of those).

Fine. So what qualifications would you need to write a competent commentary on the Institutes? A mastery of the primary and secondary literature.

Not at all. That is the academic qualification. Apologists usually don't have time to read vast numbers of books on particular topics, because that is what scholars and academics are paid to do. They have the time to do it because that is how they make their living, and it is the requirement.

Which disqualifies you from writing a commentary on the Institutes.

Apologists interact with real people, day-to-day, with real crises of faith and real questions about difficulties in living and believing a given (Christian) faith. It's a far more practical, concrete enterprise than academic theology. You guys write to each other and argue with each other, usually on matters that are of little interest or consequence to the masses. We deal with those masses, in order to bolster their confidence in their own faith tradition (Catholicism). The goals are almost completely different.

Does writing a commentary on the Institutes fall under that rubric or not?

That said, the qualifications that I have to write a critique of Calvin on a popular lay apologetic level are exactly what I claimed in the introduction:
Calvin, of course, has the big advantage going in, in such a "debate." He's the famous and extremely influential theologian and scholar, with tons of education, rhetorical and literary ability in droves, and a remarkable encyclopedic knowledge in many areas. I'm just a lay Catholic apologist with a degree in sociology, and no formal theological education (but with lots of informal theological education for over thirty years). I rather like that. I love to play David over against a "Goliath." I relish the challenge, and this will assuredly be one that will take a lot of effort and very hard work on my part: with intense research often required.

If it is concluded that I prevail here and there in my replies, then it will bring (all the more) the point home that Calvin is wrong in his arguments, where he opposes the Catholic Church. I'm confident that he can very often plainly be shown to be in error. I have no doubt about that, from what I have seen of his work thus far. I've often noted that one can be the greatest genius of all time, but if the facts and the truth are not on their side, they can be defeated by an infant who knows the truth. So I'll give it my best shot.
Unlike King David, you don’t have any stones in your slingshot. Just cotton balls.

First things first. Let's see if the conversation can continue. So far, no basic definitions are forthcoming. Without them, the critique is meaningless, as it is simply unsubstantiated mockery and prejudice.

All that has been accomplished so far has been the desire to discount my status as what I am, profession-wise, by non sequitur pseudo-analogies and extraneous considerations of arbitrary application of what should supposedly, ideally, be the case in the Catholic Church.

But this is, of course, irrelevant, because hostile Protestant wishes for what our Church should be or what Catholic apologists ought to be, or how they are defined, have no bearing on what they actually are within our system. That is determined by the Church herself, not you.

To the contrary, it’s fine with me if the one true church is utterly indifferent to the quality of the spokesmen who presume to represent her for popular consumption.

That's your hostile judgment, not the Church's as pertaining to who is an apologist and who is not. As such, it is irrelevant. The Church says what I do is legitimate from within our framework (not yours). I'm sure you can step out of your presuppositionalist fishbowl for just a second to comprehend this. Even from your perspective, all the above does is establish that you think our apologists are of a poor quality, not that there are no apologists. And that is the question at hand. Am I an apologist, according to Catholic standards? The question is not whether I am a lousy apologist by Protestant (or your) standards.

That's YOUR hostile judgment, not the Unification Church's as pertaining to who is a Christian and who is not. As such, it is irrelevant. The Unification Church says what Moonies think or do is legitimate from within OUR framework (not yours). That's YOUR hostile judgment, not the LDS Church’s as pertaining to who is a Christian and who is not. As such, it is irrelevant. The LDS Church says what Mormons think or do is legitimate from within OUR framework (not yours).

This the same fallacy and non sequitur that I have already demonstrated. The analogy doesn't apply, so it doesn't work. It is based on your confusion of fundamental category differences.

* * *

That’s just one more yawning chasm between high-church rhetoric and high-church practice.

More irrelevant appeals to hypocrisy rather than dealing with fundamental definitional issues.

What about dealing with the fundamental substantive issues?

Yeah, what about it? We are still here banging away on our keyboards and you haven't remotely attempted to define any of the terms under consideration. I'm not debating whether Catholicism is true or good at the moment. I wouldn't do that with you, anyway, per my policy. I am debating whether I am a Catholic apologist, and a professional and an author. That is what our gracious host has denied. I thought you were trying to defend his assertions (since he won't).

One more evidence that your church can’t live up to her lofty pretensions.


Ditto. One more evidence that either your logical abilities are severely challenged or that you are deliberately toying with sophistry.

* * *

It's as silly as me saying, "Hays is not a blogmaster because he doesn't fit the requirements of being one, according to my arbitrary definition, which is different from the one that is well-established and known [within the framework of the "blog world," so to speak]. Nevertheless, I insist that my own opinions are imposed upon same, because I say so, and that's how I think it should be."

Its all wishful thinking. You haven't consulted what the Catholic Church says about what an apologist in her ranks is, or is required to be.

Once again, it’s fine with me if your church has low standards or no standards for Catholic apologists.

We're not talking about quality, but category. You seem to be completely out to sea. You're not a dumb guy by any stretch, so I can only conclude that your extreme hostility towards the subject matter clouds your judgment to an extraordinary degree. That is the most charitable take.

That’s what you want to talk about. You don’t get to dictate what I’m allowed to talk about. Your priorities don’t coincide with my priorities. Indeed, they don’t even intersect.

I figured as much. Then the debate is over because we differ on what the topic is; even on what is necessarily to discuss as a basic preliminary.

I'm quite pleased with what we have managed to accomplish, despite all. I think it will be extraordinarily educational for my readers, especially as a classic demonstration of anti-Catholic obfuscation and gross ignorance of Catholicism.

Have you ever noticed that Armstrong is like a very small dog with a very loud bark? Observe the dimorphic relation between the earsplitting intensity of the triumphalist rhetoric and the diminutive stature of the supporting arguments. The smaller the dog, the louder the bark.

* * *

And the fact that you don’t want to talk about quality is quite revealing, in a self-incriminating sort of way. Which is why you run screaming from the normative question.

Right. Nice try. It won't work. My readers will see through your asinine tactics in a second. You couldn't defend our host's assertions against me, and so you changed the subject. Pure and simple. End of story. There is only so much you can do . You can never admit you're wrong, so you had to use some other tactic. In the past you have always chosen pure insult and mockery or sophistical obfuscation when out-argued, so in this instance you have opted for the latter.

Because your flank is so vulnerable, the only way you can defend yourself is to limit your exposure. Pure and simple.

It’s a prudent tactic on the part of a field commander who finds himself hopelessly outgunned and outnumbered. Since he can’t win, the best he can do is to avoid losing. He minimizes contact to minimize damage.

* * *

If that’s how she wants to be judged, if she’s content to have outsiders judge the reliability of her claims by unreliable apologists, then I’ll take her up on the offer.

Great. Now can you answer the questions at hand? How is it I am not an apologist, or an author, or a professional author / professional apologist? I've yet to remotely hear an answer to that. But it's so fun and easy to say the slanderous thing, isn't it, because it is against "evil" ol' "DA" where anything goes, no matter how surreal and imbecilic and divorced from reality.

If that’s how she wants to be judged, if she’s content to have outsiders judge the reliability of her claims by unreliable apologists, then I’ll take her up on the offer.


You haven't shown that lay apologetics is expressly prohibited by the Catholic Church. You know you can't do that even if you tried, so all you can do is construct wishful hypothetical scenarios of supposed internal incoherence. This impresses no one except an observing wannabe sophist.

Nor have any of you shown that an author who makes a living off of writing books is not an author, nor that I am supposedly not an apologist because I am not a priest or scholar (i.e., either ordained or tenured, which is absolutely irrelevant as it never was a requirement to do apologetics). Whatever you think of an author personally or of what he writes is no grounds to deny that he is what he is. Same thing with an apologist.

If we go to Dictionary.com to look up "professional" do we find it in the sense I am using it? Absolutely:
1) "following an occupation as a means of livelihood or for gain: a professional builder."

2) "undertaken or engaged in as a means of livelihood or for gain: professional baseball."

3) "Engaging in a given activity as a source of livelihood or as a career: a professional writer."
That's me! I'm nothing if not a writer, and since I get paid for doing it, I am a professional writer. This is not rocket science. Whether you think I compose absolute worthless, damnable rotgut has no bearing on whether I am a professional writer / author / apologist or not.

Merriam-Webster Online concurs:
4)a: "participating for gain or livelihood in an activity or field of endeavor often engaged in by amateurs 'a professional golfer'

"b: having a particular profession as a permanent career 'a professional soldier' c: engaged in by persons receiving financial return 'professional football'
I'm a writer. I get paid for it. I'm a professional writer (as I state on my tax forms for occupation); an author. What do I write about? Apologetics. So I get paid for writing and teaching apologetics. I do this full-time and get my livelihood from it. Therefore, I am a professional apologist. You disagree? Argue with the dictionary, then, not me. That's where your beef lies.

Steve Hays wrote on 7-4-05: "he makes his living as an author . . . "

Kinda sounds like I am a professional author, huh?

* * *

Steve managed to locate and cite an actual Catholic document! Congratulations!:

Decree on the Apostolate of the laity -- Apostolicam Actuositatem (Pope Paul VI: 1965)

And how is this at odds with what I do? How does it prove that I am supposedly not a Catholic apologist? Please do tell.

Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J. (+ 2000) was one of the leading catechists in the world. He was a close advisor to Pope Paul VI and later to Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity. He was a major influence on the Catechism of the Catholic Church. He received me into the Church and baptized my first two sons. And he wrote the foreword to my first published book. I was studying in his Ignatian Catechists class at the University of Detroit in 1990-1993.

So in a very real sense I was just one person separated from the pope, in terms of "ecclesiastical approval." That is more than enough oversight to qualify as fully in accord with this document. From the document itself:
30. The training for the apostolate should start with the children's earliest education. In a special way, however, adolescents and young persons should be initiated into the apostolate and imbued with its spirit. This formation must be perfected throughout their whole life in keeping with the demands of new responsibilities. It is evident, therefore, that those who have the obligation to provide a Christian education also have the duty of providing formation for the apostolate.

In the family parents have the task of training their children from childhood on to recognize God's love for all men. By example especially they should teach them little by little to be solicitous for the material and spiritual needs of their neighbor. The whole family in its common life, then, should be a sort of apprenticeship for the apostolate. Children must be educated, too, in such fashion that transcending the family circle, they may open their minds to both ecclesiastical and temporal communities. They should be so involved in the local community of the parish that they will acquire a consciousness of being living and active members of the people of God. Priests should focus their attention on the formation of the laity for the apostolate in their catechetics, their ministry of the word, their direction of souls, and in their other pastoral services.

Schools, colleges, and other Catholic educational institutions also have the duty to develop a Catholic sense and apostolic activity in young persons.
So now every family must have direct oversight from a bishop or the pope himself when they are "providing formation for the apostolate"? You can play this game all you like, but you only show yourself ignorant as to the nature of the Catholic system, and the subsidiarity that is in play when discussing local catechetical and apologetic endeavors.

For more local aspects of teaching, see, e.g., section 10:
The parish offers an obvious example of the apostolate on the community level . . . As far as possible the laity ought to provide helpful collaboration for every apostolic and missionary undertaking sponsored by their local parish.
I've taught in my own parish, by means of regular articles in the parish newsletter; initially implemented by Fr. Paul Ward, who read everything of mine before it went to press. Not once was I ever corrected for a doctrinal error. But Fr. Paul agreed with me on one point of dispute between myself and my book editor, having to do with the impeccability of Jesus.

For those who want to see what the Catholic Church teaches about lay apologetics and catechesis, see my papers (with Church documents):
Apologetics and Lay Apostolates: Express Approval and Strong Encouragement From Popes Paul VI and John Paul II

Catholic Church Teaching on Internet Evangelism, Catechesis, and Apologetics

Bishops' Support of Lay Catholic Apologetics: Refutation of Anti-Catholics' Ridiculously False Contentions 

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Notice on the Boors All blog:

The previous "debate" that never got to first base (because Steve was unwilling to deal with the basic definitions involved) is formatted nice and neat, with back-and-forth exchanges, on my site.

Additional comment there:

Why should it bother you and Tim whether I respond to Calvin or not? Who cares?

It doesn’t bother me when you go wading into waters which are way out of your depth.

Of course, you object because you are both elitists who don't understand the distinction between academics and the general public (whom I write for). But on another level, why are you concerned? You both (like our gracious, intellectually brilliant host)

Well, that’s one thing we agree on. Unfortunately, it’s downhill from there.

think I am an imbecile and a dolt. So why not encourage me to go ahead?

If I am as stupid as you continually make out, then I'll get my butt kicked by Calvin, and everyone can witness it, and it'll be a spectacular triumph for good ol' Calvinism over against the wicked Catholic interlocutor, sophist, etc. I quote all of Calvin's words, so the reader gets his complete "side."

If, on the other hand, I hold my own or prevail, then indeed, I must have been qualified, in which case the criticism that I ought not be doing it, is irrelevant and beside the point. But by your presuppositions, I'll fall flat on my face because I am so dumb, and Calvin will make mincemeat of me. Why not let the reader decide who has the better case?

Since you lack the background to even interpret Calvin, the entire exercise is vacuous.

In any event, I do this because:
1) Calvin is a supremely important figure in the history of Protestantism (and Calvinism.

2) He is a fair arguer (though, in my opinion, far less brilliant than I thought he was, previous to this effort).

3) Calvinists who are considering Catholicism might like to consider both sides in this fashion, to see which is more plausible and biblical and historical.

Since you’re hardly competent to even write a commentary on the Institutes, they’d scarcely be getting “both sides” of the argument.

4) Catholics who encounter Calvinist friends might like to consult this for reference purposes.

So Catholics who are incompetent to evaluate Calvin should consult a Catholic epologist who is equally incompetent to evaluate Calvin. Richard Muller might be qualified to write a commentary on the Institutes. Roger Nicole might be qualified to write a commentary on the Institutes. Paul Helm might be qualified to write a commentary on the Institutes. There are probably some Catholic scholars who would be qualified to do so as well. You are not. Your commentary on the Institutes is an exercise in self-conceited charlatanry.

5) Since anti-Catholics today are so unwilling to engage in true dialogues, I have to go to the past and famous works such as this, to get some content to grapple with in a dialogical way.
All that said, in my opinion, you try to fight against such an effort on my part, primarily because you don't like what I am arguing, and Calvin is your sacred cow, so that the prospect of someone picking him apart in this fashion, is a spectre too dreadful to countenance for even a moment.

We mustn't have a free, systematic, substantive exchange between a Calvinist and a Catholic! No! Readers must only read the true, Calvinist perspective, not the wicked Catholic one too. That is a naughty no-no.

Just relax. I'll be done in by my profound idiocy, if y'all are right about me. If you truly think that, it should be of no concern whatever to you. But if you think I am not a clueless dolt, then you've been lying about that all along.

i) A 20C American with a degree in sociology can’t simply jump into a 16C document. Imagine if Armstrong were to write a commentary on the Divina Commedia by Dante or the Quaestiones Quodlibetales by Duns Scotus.

ii) I’ve posted very little on Calvin over the years. And other Reformed theologians like Owen, Turretin, Cunningham, and Warfield are equally worthwhile.

iii) If you were serious about having a dialogue with a literary representative of Calvinism, you’d at least choose someone who’s closer to your own cultural frame of reference.

* * *

Steve evaded that central burden of the discussion the entire time. The host didn't even try.

i) You and I never negotiated the terms of this impromptu debate. There was no prior, mutual agreement on the topical parameters. This is not a formal debate.

ii) And even within your unilateral, self-serving, and artificial constraints, what you’ve accomplished is to demonstrate that any looser [sic] or Google-scholar can “properly” or “legitimately” be treated as a Catholic apologist.

Fine. That authorizes the rest of us to judge the claims of Rome by some hack apologist who takes it upon himself to speak in the name of Catholicism.

At length, Hays descended, as he always does (especially when bested in argument by someone he considers quite inferior to himself, both theologically and intellectually) to sheer mockery. Here he is responding to a Catholic on an anti-Catholic blog:

Either you think Dave is an accurate mouthpiece for Catholic dogma or not. If so, then by exposing his lack of logic, I expose the illogic of his church. If not, then he has no business representing the beliefs of his church. Take your pick.
And, if the Church is so illogical in her structures, what is the logic of whining about DA's qualifications to perform certain functions in the Church? If you actually knew that the Church is illogical and inconsistent, why do you think it is logical to lay much burden on DA regarding his qualifications to present himself as a professional Catholic apologist?
You’re making excuses for Dave that he doesn’t make for himself. It’s like excusing the rude behavior of a friend because he’s had one martini too many.
Either the Church is logical in what she allows or does not allow or it is so disorganized that it is foolishness to ask someone why he does not have your self-imposed credentials from a non-existing agency of the Church.
What can’t you deal directly with the question of whether or not your church has illogical standards? Is it because you can’t defend the standards, so you resort to this diversionary argument?
. . . the structure of the Church is not DA’s responsibility.
He has taken it upon himself to defend the structure of the church. So he has assumed that responsibility. Are you accusing him of being irresponsible?
Your question should logically be directed to those in the Church who have responsibility for the organization of the Church.
Fine. Give me Benedict XVI’s email address and I’ll take it up with the boss.
DA is a Catholic apologist and we are happy with his work.
Which is a revealing comment about your own standards…or lack thereof.
Finally, you should be reminded that you are too outside to be demanding how the Church should be organized.
A Moonie, Mormon, or Scientologist would say the same thing. You’ve just disqualified Armstrong from commenting on any religious tradition other than his own.


* * *


A good friend of mine made the following comments about the above exchange:

. . .
they simply don’t know what they are talking about because they have not studied the inner workings of the Catholic Church well enough to criticize them. They are in over their heads.
ME: "The Catholic Church has decided that within its system there is such a thing as a legitimate lay apologist, even one not formally trained."
Apologist is a category of occupations that falls under the canonical title of Association of Lay Faithful; just as the institutions it serves are defined in Canon Law, so the Associations have the ability to define who is qualified to work for them and in what capacity (the principle of subsidiarity at work). The Associations themselves (like CHNI) are chartered by individual bishops, according to their jurisdictions. So your anti-Catholic opponents are wrong when they say that your title is not officially established.

[Dave: see this usage and category in the following examples:

Catholic Action is born as a particular association of lay faithful marked by a special and direct bond with the Pope, which quickly becomes a precious form of "collaboration of the laity in the hierarchical apostolate", "most earnestly" recommended by the Second Vatican Council, and which identifies its indispensable "characteristics" (cf. Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity in the Church, Apostolicam Actuositatem, n. 20). This vocation of yours is still valid today. I encourage you, therefore, to persevere with generosity in your service to the Church. By adopting its general apostolic goal in a spirit of intimate union with the Successor of Peter and hard-working co-responsibility with Pastors, you incarnate a ministerial role in a fruitful balance between the universal Church and the local Church, which requires you to make a ceaseless and irreplaceable contribution to communion.


(Pope Benedict XVI: Address to Members of Italian Action, 4 May 2008); cf. Homily of Pope John Paul II on 8 Deccember 1998; John Paul II: Speech to Catechists and Ecclesial Movements, 4 October 1998; a search of "lay faithful" on the Vatican website search engine will yield hundreds more examples]

Steve Hays: Why should the teaching of Catholic theology be regulated while Catholic apologetics is a free-for-all?
The office of Apologist is not on a par with Theologian or even Catechist (both of which are subject to legislation of the national/regional conference of bishops), because these have a share in the teaching of the faith, whereas an apologist merely defends the faith, as previously established by the bishops as the primary teachers of the faith, by suitable argument.

. . . they are critiquing a system they do not even know or understand. They are working from ignorance. So of course their view will be a caricature and their conclusions will prove nothing.

I had not even reached the paragraph where you begin to speak of subsidiarity, and this was precisely the principle I saw they were lacking throughout the dialogue, which led to their straw man argument. By pointing this out to them, you merely show their ignorance to be very profound indeed. And I think subsidiarity is the crux of the whole exchange: they are ignorant of the role of this principle in the Catholic Church.
ME: "St. Thomas More was a layman, and he was an apologist."
So was St. Justin Martyr. In fact, he invented Christian apologetics. For that matter, St. Francis de Sales was an ordinary priest when he wrote his apologetics against the Calvinists. Are his apologetical works therefore unauthorized? Nonsense! He had his bishop’s permission to do what was necessary to help the people of Geneva return to the Catholic Church. This was, in fact, his mission and assignment from his bishop: to aid the faith in whatever way was suitable.
Steve Hays: Now, seriously, what are his qualifications to write a commentary on the Institutes?
Such utter nonsense! Where are his qualifications to criticize you? Don’t media personalities daily criticize what the pope says and does? How qualified are they to hold forth on whatever topic the pope is addressing?


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