Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Is the Anti-Catholic Myth of Total Catholic Apostasy Analogous to the Jewish-Christian Split in the 1st Century?

By Dave Armstrong (12-8-09)

Pito, a commenter on my blog, has asked some very penetrating questions, that I took a crack at answering:

I was just wondering whether Catholics are permitted to believe that God gave Moses an Oral as well as a Written Torah on the Mountain, as Orthodox Jews believe, however corrupt some of the Pharisees may have been or made the Law?

Sure. I have used the argument myself, as an analogy to Tradition, over against written Scripture. The Pharisaical tradition was the mainstream of Judaism in Christ's time. Jesus followed it, so did Paul (he called himself a Pharisee twice, after his conversion). And the Pharisees believed in oral tradition, originally given to Moses, and developed over time. It was the Sadducees who denied this. They were the liberals and "sola Scripturists" of that time.

As a follow-up to my first question on the Oral Torah, I'd like to add that it seems to me that Catholics may believe that the Talmudim, Midrashim, Aggadot and most major Jewish Law codes accurately record it. The trouble I have with this is reconciling this with the question of where the Jews went wrong, why we should believe they did, and your thoughts on why God would allow that to happen, as this general Christian claim appears analogous to me to the anti-Catholic argument that the Church became corrupt at an arbitrary point in history.

Very interesting question. I don't know all the ins and outs of how the oral law in Judaism works, so I'll pass on that and leave it to experts in that area.

I think Christianity is a consistent development of Judaism, and have argued that all along (many papers). Where they went wrong was not so much in theology (Jewish beliefs rightly-understood; they are often caricatured and distorted by Christians) but in rejecting the Messiah.

That was the crucial turning-point. Essentially, they rejected the new Christian movement and neglected to see that it was the line of "development" that God desired in salvation history. So it was far more so (at least at first) their rejecting us, rather than our rejecting them. So the forerunner rejected the developer and "progressive." But with anti-Catholics it is the self-defined "progressives" who are rejecting their own forerunners: the opposite of the Jewish-Christian dynamic. And for our part, we see the Protestant movement as a corruption, where it departs from received tradition, but still part of the Christian fold in an imperfect way (whereas anti-Catholic Protestants remove us from the same fold).

The Jews rejected the true Messiah, Jesus. That is indisputable. The only thing under dispute is whether He was the Messiah. Obviously, all Christians believe that He was. So traditional Jews look at Christianity the way that we view cults such as Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons, who claim to be Christian but really aren't. We claim to be a consistent development of Judaism, but orthodox Jews think we corrupted Judaism, especially in holding that Jesus is God and believing in the Trinity: which they see as fundamentally inconsistent with monotheism.


With anti-Catholics, on the other hand, it is two rival Christian groups. They claim (commonly, though there are variations) that the Catholic Church formerly rejected the gospel at Trent, thus removing itself from the orthodox Christian sphere. So they reject the Catholic Church, thinking that the "ball" was passed on to them in the 16th century; we blew it (so they say), and the Catholic "train" derailed at that time (or far earlier, according to the particular myth employed).

But that is altogether in dispute (what the gospel is and whether we rejected it), is unlike the historical question of the Jews denying that Jesus was Messiah and Lord.

Unlike our saying that Christianity consistently developed from Judaism, with the Jews rejecting the direction we took it, the anti-Catholic Protestant claims that Catholicism was long since corrupt. They want to deny (or at least radically de-emphasize) their Catholic historical pedigree as much as they can, and hearken back to the fathers in alleged support for their novelties. But they lose the historical argument every time.

Therefore, their position is built on a self-defeating fallacy from the get-go. They are confused about the nature of the Church, about development, and about what the fathers actually believed.

But they refuse to argue the fundamental issues of what a Christian is, and what the gospel is. It was for that very reason that I gave up trying to debate with them almost three years ago now. If the fundamental disagreements aren't discussed, there is no hope of accomplishing anything, because even a robust disagreement has to be discussed by agreeing on something at some primitive point in the spectrum of premises and conclusions drawn from them.

I contend that anti-Catholics are wrong about the definition of the gospel, and wrong about their claim that we supposedly rejected it, and about soteriology, in many ways. They're wrong about the fathers supposedly supporting them far more so than us, and about a host of caricatures of our theology.

At least I can refute their false claims by dealing with John Calvin, as I have been doing. But he has just about driven me batty with all his sophistries, distortions, gratuitous, stupid insults, and falsehoods. The end of that project is near, God be praised!

I would also add that anti-Catholic Protestantism doesn't grasp the notion of ecclesiological indefectibility. This is part of their viciously self-defeating understanding.

If the Catholic Church was ever the Church, it could never have fallen away, for the simple reason that God had been specially protecting it from error, in a way that He never promised to protect the Jews. After the Resurrection and Ascension, many things changed. We have the indwelling Spirit. God guides us, and protects the Church from error. For an anti-Catholic to think that was somehow lost in one fell swoop, is absurd. There is no such thing as that in the Bible.

So the basic anti-Catholic dilemma and absurdity is in asserting either:

A) The Catholic Church of history never was the true Church at any time.
B) The Catholic Church of history was the true Church but fell away completely (or nearly so) from Christianity.

A is extremely hard to assert because it is radically ahistorical. The only way to argue that with even the remotest plausibility (and I mean remote!) is to go the route of the Landmark Baptists, who try to create a fanciful Church history or pseudo-apostolic succession minus the Catholic Church. That is historically ludicrous and breaks down immediately under any kind of scrutiny.

Position B runs into inexorable difficulties regarding the biblical view of what the Church is and how God preserves her. Thus, A wages a losing battle with history and B with the Bible.

Conclusion: anti-Catholicism is radically, inevitably self-defeating and therefore false.

Bible, history, and reason alike are on the Catholic side in this debate.

I am accused when I say stuff like this, of circular reasoning. But it is not, because I argue all the major particulars in various papers and books. One can assert without exhaustive argument, provided he or she does provide the necessary supporting arguments elsewhere. And I have done so, in 19 books and almost 2500 papers.


DarthMambo said...

One thing that I've been wondering for some time - if the Talmud is the Oral Torah, why isn't it used in our liturgy? Or, at least, more commonly used and referred to?

Martin said...

The Talmud was not written until after Jesus and was influenced by anti-Christian sentiments. Any oral tradition written by the apostles and accepted by the whole church became the bible.

Dave Armstrong said...

As to oral tradition in general, the Pharisees accepted it, and that was the mainstream Jewish position. Paul called himself a Pharisee twice. Jesus followed their customs and told His followers to do what they taught them to do (Matthew 23).

The Sadducees were the liberals of the time, who rejected oral tradition (and even the resurrection). See my paper:

The Old Testament, the Ancient Jews, and Sola Scriptura


Sophia's Lover said...

Thanks again, Dave, for your in-depth responses, and also everyone else for their comments.