The Protestant Fallacy That Threatens to Undermine Christianity

Catholics believe in the infallibility of the Church and of the pope. This serves as both a teacher of, and an important check to, our personal interpretations of Scripture. If I understand a passage of Scripture to be teaching X, and X is a conclusion contrary to the teachings of the Church, I can be sure that I’m wrong. It’s a simple rule, but a powerful one. Think of the countless heresies have arisen from people misunderstanding Scripture. In many of these cases, these errors could have been avoided, if people would have just followed this rule.

But there’s a Protestant objection to this. It says, in a nutshell, “You Catholics believe in the Catholic Church for one of two reasons: either (1) because the Catholic Church says so, or (2) because you’ve become independently convinced on the basis of Scripture, history, etc. If it’s (1), that’s a circular argument. But if it’s (2), then you’re in the exact same position as a Protestant. You accept Catholic teachings because of your private judgment, we reject Catholic teachings because of our private judgment.”

On its face, I think that this looks like a pretty strong argument. But there are several problems with it, two of which I want to highlight. The first is that the argument proves too much, and the second is that it misses a critical distinction.

I. The Unstoppable Acid

The first problem with this argument is that it’s too powerful. If it’s correct, it proves much too much. The people making this argument typically don’t acknowledge (or seemingly recognize) just how powerful this objection really is.

Typically, the people raising this argument view it as a way of reducing the authority of the Church to the private judgment of the individual. Whether I accept or reject such-and-such ex cathedra papal declaration depends on my own private judgment, so infallibility doesn’t really add anything to the equation.

But the logic of the argument goes so much further. It doesn’t just undermine the authority of popes and Councils, but of any Divine authority. On the basis of your private judgment, you believe that what Scripture says is true; on the basis of his, your neighbor believes Scripture is false. Even should God Himself appear to you, your private judgment would be necessary to determine that it was really God and not a hallucination, or a dream, or a demonic trick. So even the authority of God Himself reduces to your private judgment, according to the logic of this argument.

It’s a bit like inventing an acid so strong that it can eat through anything, and then realizing you have no place to put it: the force of the acid will eat through any possible container. At the end of the day, it destroys everything you have, dissolving down to the center of the earth. In trying to dissolve popes and Councils, the Protestant objector has come up with an acid that dissolves the Bible, and even direct revelations by God. It doesn’t just reduce Catholicism to the level of Protestantism. It reduces Christianity to the level of agnosticism.

This, of course, is the first clue that something is seriously wrong with this line of argumentation: it’s self-defeating for the Protestant to use it. To believe in the inspiration of Scripture is to believe in an authority greater than one’s private judgment. “First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:20-21).

II. The Missed Distinction

Francisco de Zurbarán,
Saint Francis in Meditation (1639)

Fortunately, this objection is wrong, so we’re not left with agnosticism. What the argument misses is a critical distinction between the two elements of faith: fides quae creditur and fides qua creditur.

Don’t worry, it’s a lot simpler than it sounds. Fides quae creditur means “the faith that is believed.” It’s the objective portion of the faith. For example, we often speak of “the Catholic faith,” meaning the set of Catholic teachings. That’s the fides quae.  Fides qua creditur, on the other hand, is “the faith by which it is believed.” It’s the subjective portion. It’s not “the” faith. It’s “my” faith (or yours, etc.).

Every act of faith consists of these two elements. I believe, you believe, somebody believes: that’s the subjective part of the faith. There’s a subject who is doing the believing. But the believer believes in something. That something is the object of faith.

Consider two types of people who don’t have the faith. The first is a devout heretic or non-Christian. In that case, they’ve got plenty of fides qua (they’re devout), but there’s a problem with the object of their faith, the fides quae. They’re putting their trust in something that’s not worthy of their trust.The second is the person who knows all about orthodox Christianity, but is lukewarm in their faith. In that case, the problem isn’t with the fides quae. It’s with the fides qua, their own response (in faith) to the faith. They’re failing to put their trust in something that is worthy of their trust. And, of course, it’s possible to lack both the fides qua and the fides quae.

As you can see, both elements are necessary for the orthodox faith. Here’s why that matters. The Protestant objector is right that there is necessarily a subjective element to the faith. It doesn’t matter how perfectly the faith is defined, individual believers still have to actually believe it. That personal act of faith is going to be influenced by a lot of things: grace, upbringing and culture, knowledge of Scripture and history, and the like.

But they’re wrong to think that this puts Catholicism and Protestantism on equal footing, with the individual making the final determinations about what’s true in false. It’s for the same reason that the Christian (Catholic or Protestant) isn’t actually in the same position as the non-believer. The non-believer, at least in principle, rejects all inerrant or inspired authority, leaving themselves with only their own reasoning. The Christian has Scriptures revealing things that he could never know by his own reasoning.

The Catholic can go further: he can trust the Church’s interpretation, even when it far surpasses the limits of his own reasoning. In this way, papal and ecclesial infallibility build up the fides quae, the object of faith. It means that you can have a purer, clearer picture of the truth. And this impacts the fides qua, as well. Ultimately, you don’t just have to trust you own authority or ideas or reasoning. You can know enough to know that (a) there’s a lot that you don’t know, and (b) the Church knows more than you do. Knowing the Jesus Christ founded the Church and that the Holy Spirit preserves her makes it much easier to make that act of faith, to believe the faith that she presents.

III. Conclusion
19th Century icon of Jesus as the Good Shepherd

I mentioned at the outset that I intended to highlight only two of the problems with this argument, but that there were several. Fortunately, I don’t need to go into all of those, because Bryan Cross has already done it better than I ever could. He also gives this argument a name: the tu quoque, since this argument is a textbook logical fallacy. Andrew Preslar, also of Called to Communion, addresses a related argument.

The last thing that I’ll mention on this subject is that Jesus repeatedly calls us sheep (Matthew 7:15; 10:6, 16; 12:11,25:32-33; Mark 14:27, etc.). He explains a bit what He means by this curious image in John 10:1-5:

Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber; but he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens; the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.
In other words, we’re called to follow our shepherds: both the Good Shepherd (John 10:11), and those shepherds that He appoints over us (Jeremiah 3:15). As the Epistle to the Hebrews instructs us (Heb. 13:7, 17):

Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God; consider the outcome of their life, and imitate their faith. […] Obey your leaders and submit to them; for they are keeping watch over your souls, as men who will have to give account. Let them do this joyfully, and not sadly, for that would be of no advantage to you.

One of the problems of Protestantism is that it abandons the docility of the sheep. You, the individual sheep, are responsible for determining the meaning of every part of Scripture. You’re in charge of figuring out out what the “Biblical” position on Baptism is, and on polity (Church structure), and on Creationism and evolution, and so on. And you have to do this, precisely because there’s no infallible Church: you can’t put your faith in anyone else’s conclusions.
Next, you should find a creed, confession, or denomination that more or less comports with these findings. Cross describes this as “painting a magisterial target around our interpretive arrow.” You “follow” the denomination that agrees with you; and if you stop agreeing with them, you leave them and find a new denomination. You don’t have much choice. Without infallibility, you’re eventually faced with accepting heresy or committing schism, both of which are sins.
Of course, even as sheep, we have to make an act of faith: the sheep have to listen to the shepherd’s voice. No external authority – not the pope, not a Church Council, not the Bible – can replace your own faith. That’s the indispensable fides qua. But Scripture, Tradition and the Magisterium can give you a clearer picture of the faith that you’re saying yes to: they can speak with the Shepherd’s voice so that you and I can hear and follow.

43 Comments

  1. I give you credit for working very hard during the seasons of Advent and Christmas. You bring up many objections to the reformation, but it feels like you are also throwing the baby out with the bath-water. Many of your posts are rejecting the reformation as a whole, which is rather myopic or dismissive. Speaking of dismissive, your first objection is actually a “Slippery Slope” logical fallacy. Your second objection is much stronger as a logical argument. Though as a Lutheran, I could easily make the same argument as your last line, “Knowing the Jesus Christ founded the Church and that the Holy Spirit preserves her makes it much easier to make that act of faith, to believe the faith that she presents.”

    I am sure that you will do a rousing job of objecting to my objections of your objections of these Protestant objection objectively. Grace and Peace to you and all of these readings in this time after Epiphany!

    1. Rev. Hans,

      No rousing objecting to the objections here. In fact, I basically agree. In objecting to “the Reformation,” I mean to object to the break away from the Catholic Church, and to trusting in one’s own interpretation of Scripture over the teachings of the Church.

      I don’t mean to object to the idea of reforming the Church. Reformation in the sixteenth century was undoubtedly necessary. The Church has long recognized this, as evidenced by the two reform Councils that century produced. The most famous of the two, the Council of Trent, was after the Reformation, and is closely related to it: it both responded to the errors of the Reformation, and implemented some of the legitimate demands of the Reformers (e.g., it forbade the sale of indulgences, because the Reformers were right to object to that).

      But there was another Council that has been almost completely forgotten. The Fifth Lateran Council (1512-1517) was convened immediately before the Reformation, and aimed at widespread Church reform. Pope Leo X, who was elected shortly after the Council began, announced as much:

      “We, as the successor of the concern no less than of the office, right at the beginning of our pontificate, did not delay to resume the synod, to promote peace between christian princes and no less, since it is our intention to complete a universal reform, to strengthen by new aids what was first provided by our predecessor concerning the curial offices, and to follow this through with the expanded committees. For no more pressing anxiety weighs on us than that the thorns and brambles be pulled up from the Lord’s field, and if there is anything hindering its cultivation, it is to be removed root and branch.”

      So true reformation was certainly needed, and this was acknowledged by Leo X, the “Reformation pope,” before anyone outside of Wittenberg had ever heard of Fr. Martin Luther. Of course, shortly after this, everyone did hear about Luther, and the Protestant Reformation overshadowed, and largely redirected, much of the reforming impulse within the Church.

      Lateran V was largely forgotten in the ensuing disputes… although it should be said that those parts of the Church in which the Council’s reforms had been most actively embraced (i.e., southern Europe) were less fertile grounds than those parts of the Church that delayed cleaning up their act.

      You know, I was thinking about doing a post about this, but I made it a blog comment, instead.

    2. Part of the problem is that the Reformation is inaptly named. We’re really talking about a schism, not a successful reform of the Catholic Church. Of course, this begs the question of how we should view Luther’s goals: how unintentional was the schism and the formation of a new version of Christianity?

      I’ve expressed my own views before: Luther thought pretty early on that the pope was the Antichrist and that the Catholic Church didn’t have “the Gospel” because they didn’t agree with the doctrine of sola fide that he made up. That seems, to me, to be a lot bigger than a faithful Catholic wanting the Church to live out her mission with greater holiness.

      Nevertheless, some Catholics disagree with my read of it. Cardinal Koch, for example, has argued that schism wasn’t Luther’s initial goals, and he uses this to make a compelling argument that the spirit of the Reformation requires Protestant commitment to Catholic-Protestant reunification:

      “The decisive concern of the Reformation and above all of Martin Luther lay firstly in a sweeping reform of the whole Church and was precisely not about re-formation in the sense of an eventual breaking of the unity of the Church and the emergence of new reformed-style churches. If Luther’s intention was a comprehensive renewal of the whole Church and not the emergence of new churches, then one has to recognise the historical fact that the true intentions of Luther did not come to fruition at the time, and with this to perceive not just the failure of the Roman Church of that time but also the non-success of the Reformation itself, as the Protestant ecumenist Wolfhart Pannenberg has so repeatedly and with good reason reminded us. In his view there was nothing further from the intentions of the Reformers than the “separation of distinctive Protestant Churches from the one Catholic Church. The emergence of a specifically Protestant ecclesiology was a less-than-ideal solution; the original aim of the Reformation was the reform of the whole Church”.(3) On the contrary, this point of view means that the true success of the Reformation can only be achieved through the overcoming of our inherited divisions in a renewed Church consisting of all Christians, and that consequently our ecumenical efforts aimed at recovering unity are actually a completion of the work of the Reformation itself. For me, this insight is therefore of particular importance so that Lutherans and Catholics, when looking to the ecumenical restoration of church unity may be able together to declare: “Nostra res agitur.””

      When I read that, I thought of you immediately. What do you think of Koch’s argument? And do you think that Protestants (or Protestants and Catholics) are too comfortable with the schism separating us?

      Finally, although I don’t respond to all of your comments, I hope you know how much I appreciate them. Your brother in Christ,

      Joe

    3. Rev. Hans and Mr. Heschmeyer,

      After reading this article, I think you both may enjoy listening to Dr. Kenneth Howell’s Deep in History talk linked below. He mentions many of the unintended philosophical and cultural results of the Reformation. Dr. Howell is a linguist, and theologian, and former ordained Presbyterian and seminary professor, who has been over a decade Catholic. He is a lovely, Christian man, now deeply involved int he philosophy of culture. I have enjoyed every one of his talks and discussion.

      https://store.chnetwork.org/public/store/product/1256

      I hope you enjoy this talk as much as I did.

  2. Rev.,

    The first part was a slippery slope, but it was a logical slippery slope, related to a reductio ad absurdum, not a slippery slope fallacy, related to the non sequitur.
    Example of the former:
    “If marriage is only a contract between people who love one another, that leads to the acceptance of marriage between siblings, parents and children, older folk and teens, polygamy, and polyamory.” The reasons used to justify a premise lead inexorably toward another conclusion; they slip down the slop, if you will.

    Example of the latter:
    “Gay people are getting married? Soon marriage will probably be abolished / the Rapture must be around the corner / Chik-fil-a will be outlawed / etc.” The premise or problem doesn’t have any more than a loose relationship with what comes next.

    That said, I think I can agree, as would most (since she called an ecumenical council to address it!), that the medieval Church, while not the absolute monster it was made out to be by later historians, was in need of reform, as at Trent. What she was not in need of then, before, or after, was schism of the sort Luther, Calvin, Zwingli… Wesley, Smith Jr., Miller, and 30,000 more besides (still growing!) brought. Reform, sure. Schism is universally condemned by our Lord and His apostles.

  3. “Reform, sure. Schism is universally condemned by our Lord and His apostles.” I would agree with this, but I also see the Reformation as an attempt at reform within the Catholic church. There are plenty here who do not see this the same way as I. It would be far better argument for the Roman church to take a humble look at these reforming ideas, which has been done by many great Roman priests and Protestant clergy since Vatican II. These whole sale rejections of the reformation are not much helpful for building up the church.

  4. Hello,

    But there’s a Protestant objection to this. It says, in a nutshell, “You Catholics believe in the Catholic Church for one of two reasons: either (1) because the Catholic Church says so, or (2) because you’ve become independently convinced on the basis of Scripture, history, etc. If it’s (1), that’s a circular argument. But if it’s (2), then you’re in the exact same position as a Protestant. You accept Catholic teachings because of your private judgment, we reject Catholic teachings because of our private judgment.”

    That’s not true. Even our private judgment is totally different than theirs. Our private judgement, even if it is based solely on those two reasons, is directed at placing our faith on something outside ourselves. Whereas, they place their faith squarely upon their own intellect.

    In my opinion, it is a logical non sequitur which they commit simply because they put the cart before the horse. Their emphasis is on certainty. Whereas, our emphasis is on trust.

    It is similar to the argument about absolute assurance of salvation. They want to know that they are saved right now. Whereas, we place our hope in God and are willing to wait to find out what He decides (1 Corinthians 4:4-5).

    The problem, as they see it, is this. Correct me if I’m wrong.

    1. A Catholic says, we have an infallible interpreter of the Scriptures. The Church.
    2. Their objection is then, “who interprets the Church?”

    If you interpret the Church and you are fallible, then you are in the same boat as we. You, the Catholic, are a fallible interpreter of an infallible source.

    Therefore, if we, the Protestants can’t be certain about what we believe. You can’t either.

    It is a difficult conundrum to overcome.

    The problem being that both the Protestant premise and their syllogism are wrong. But most of us follow their premise and syllogism when we argue the point. And that leads to their conclusions.

    1st. Our emphasis is not absolute certainty. Our emphasis is on belief (aka faith). As St. Augustine put it, “God doesn’t ask us to understand. God asks us to believe.”

    2nd. We are not fallible interpreters of an infallible source. We are fallible believers of the infallible Teacher of the inerrant word of God which is contained in both Tradition and Scripture.

    3rd. They are the fallible interpreters of the inerrant Word contained in Scripture. Effectually negating the grace which God gave the human race when He provided for us the infallible Teacher which produced the inerrant written record of His plan for our salvation.

    So, I’ll try to put that into a Catholic Syllogism.

    1. The Catholic says, we have an infallible Teacher of the inerrant Word of God.
    2. We believe that infallible Teacher produces doctrines which contain no error.
    3. We have more certainty of that infallible Teachers doctrines than anything we could produce ourselves.

    The question might be asked. How can you be certain that you understand it correctly? We can’t. We have faith it is taught correctly and we believe the Teacher is given the grace of God to do so. We are certain of the Teacher even if we are not certain of ourselves.

    That of course, leads to the cynical objection, “then you have checked your brain at the door.”

    My response is, “what’s wrong with that?”

    Proverbs 3:5
    Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.

    Hebrews 13:7
    King James Version (KJV)
    7 Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation.

    Matthew 18:17
    King James Version (KJV)
    17 And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.

  5. De Maria,

    That’s something I’ve thought about for a while since, as you say, sometimes Catholics are accused of “leaving our brains at the door.” If 22 years of life have taught me anything at all, it is that while we most certainly should do our best to understand and learn, we also have to be willing to admit that do not know everything. That’s not a sign of weakness or of stupidity, but of maturity and understanding. I believe it was Socrates who said the more he learned, the more he realized how much he didn’t know.

    I know this is not true of all Protestants, but in my personal experience, “me and my Bible” theology is nothing more than arrogance masked as piety. The truth is, we read our own interpretations into Scripture, and those interpretations can be wrong. 2 Peter 1:20 says that “no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation,” and in his letter Peter goes on to condemn those who twist Paul’s words to suit their own thinking. Paul himself in his letters urges the churches to condemn even him, should he come to them with any other Gospel than the one they have been taught. He tells them to hold fast to what they’ve been taught, “either by word of mouth or by letter.” Romans 10:14 says, “How will they hear without a preacher?” No one had Bibles in the New Testament, but they did have the Apostles preaching to them—they had a Church guided by the Holy Spirit to show them the way.

    Of course Joe already mentions some of these verses. But the Bible is very clear that Christ did indeed create a physical institution through his Apostles by which He would continue to spread the Gospel. The Head of the Church is Christ—to follow the Church is to follow Him. I don’t know about you, but I’m not about to trust the opinions of a human being over Christ and His Church. The Church isn’t a human institution; it’s guided by the Holy Spirit, and led by Jesus. That’s how we know our Deposit of Faith is correct. Sure, individual people may mess up, because we’re all sinners, but Jesus will never allow us to be led astray by false doctrine.

  6. I have a complete change in topic. The church I serve (Martin Luther Lutheran Church) has been gifted a second baptismal font from another Lutheran church that closed. The nice aspects of this second font is that many members were baptized in it and it is mobile. Our traditional font at MLLC is attached to the building via plumbing work. One member was having a new born grandson baptized in a local Roman Catholic parish, so I offered this mobile font for the use of the baptism. The father of the baby was baptized in this mobile Lutheran font, so it seemed like a nice fit. The local priest agreed and baptized the child in this Lutheran font. I cannot find any other times that a Catholic priest has used a Lutheran baptismal font. Is this a first? I also do not want to get the priest in trouble if this is against the rules in any way.

  7. Thank you, Erica. It is very special for the family. I like that we can have several generations baptized in the same font. It has encouraged some people to baptize their child when they were on the fence.

    De Maria, well played! It sounds like this might become a giant game of “capture the font” between churches. The youth will love it!

  8. Hey, a font is a font. The baptism’s the important bit! 🙂 I don’t think anyone will get in trouble for using it. Really, a lay person can baptize with a solo cup and some tap water if they have to. As long as the font is blessed beforehand, which I think happens at every baptism. (Or it did at mine. But I wasn’t a baby, so…)

  9. I don’t agree with the acid illustration – it is not that way for true believers (true sheep, elect, regenerated people). There are many Evangelical Protestants (Baptists, Presbyterians, conservative Anglicans, conservative Lutherans, others) who have true faith in Christ and trust in God and the Scriptures as infallible (hold on the 2 aspects of faith that you discussed), and also submit to their local church and elders/overseers/pastors, but don’t have to believe that they are infallible, but trust their ministry through their godly character and exegesis. Lots of regular church members rely on the pastors-teachers-elders to interpret the Bible and sit under their teaching. (Ephesians 4:11-12; Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5-7; 1 Peter 5:1-4; Acts 20:17, 28)

    We can use our minds to discern; the spiritual (2 Cor. 2:14) and mature (Hebrews 5:14) person can discern. “Let each person be convinced in his own mind” (Romans 14:5) We have the advantage now of looking back on church history and can easily see that the Roman Catholic is not infallible and the Pope is not either. In fact there was no such thing as a Pope, either in Scripture, and arguably, it was not in church history in the RC sense until after 1054 in the split with the orthodox. The whole Papal claim is completely anachronistic. Even Cyprian and 86 other bishops from all over the Mediterranean Christian world agreed that Stephen, bishop of Rome, around 255-258 AD was wrong to claim he was “the bishop of bishops”.

    It seems that Leo 1 (440-461 AD), and Gregory 1 (600 AD) are the earliest bishops of Rome that really come close to claiming and exercising universal jurisdiction, but the east was still regarding the bishop of Rome as “first among equals” in honor, not in jurisdictional authority to dictate to other churches. the Eastern Orthodox to this day still object to the claims of Rome.

    The acid illustration may work for apostates and tares in the churches that eventually leave and leave the faith and prove they were never believers in the first place (Matthew 7:23; 1 John 2:19; Hebrews 6:4-6; 10:26-30), but it does not apply for true believers. That (going into unbelief or liberalism (denying inerrancy and miracles), etc.) is exalting one’s own mind and reason and private judgement above God and the Scriptures, but to be able to think and discern and judge that the Roman Catholic Church is wrong about many things – over-exalting of Mary and the practices and dogmas surrounding her, statues, prayers to dead saints, use of relics in worship, indulgences, Purgatory, Transubstantiation, treasury of merit, the Pope, NT office of priests, ex opere operato powers, etc. It is not rebellion nor trusting in our minds over God’s, because those things are clearly not Biblical nor are they even in the earliest centuries of Christian history. (The earliest mistakes were calling presbyters priests, as was the mono-episcopate, baptismal regeneration and infant baptism, and penance over repentance.)

    The method of your argumentation seems to be saying that it is arrogant that we can use our minds to judge and discern and think. I disagree. We can have humble confidence in God and the Scriptures, (holding on to both aspects of faith that you mentioned, without the acid eating through), and have local church authority also and submit to elders-teachers-pastors. It is not arrogance to have confidence that we can think and discern and do exegesis and submit to local church Evangelical Protestant authorities.

    1. Hi Ken,

      I’ve only addressed one of your points here. If you want to see the full rebuttal, go to my blog, here

      KenJanuary 10, 2015 at 10:26 AM
      I don’t agree with the acid illustration –

      I disagree with that illustration also Ken.

      it is not that way for true believers ….

      Agree. I realize that Protestants believe in God and desire to obey God. Just as do Catholics.

      and also submit to their local church and elders/overseers/pastors,

      I disagree with you there. I don’t believe that any Protestant submits to the local church and overseer in accordance to the Teaching of Scripture. This is what Scripture says regarding obedience to your Rulers in the Church:

      Hebrews 13:17 Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.

      To which overseer do you submit and obey with the firm knowledge that they watch over your soul and give an account to God? You don’t believe in confessing to human beings. Therefore, you don’t give an account to any man so that he may then give an account to God. Because you don’t believe, as Scripture teaches, that the Church represents God.

      2 Corinthians 5:20 Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.

      Correct me if I’m wrong.

    2. Ken,

      See my explanation of the acid example below. Your comment has some promise — you raise interesting issues, some of which I’ve written on before — but I don’t see you actually providing any support for any of your positions.

      Rather, you just sort of assert that Catholicism is wrong about the “over-exalting of Mary and the practices and dogmas surrounding her, statues, prayers to dead saints, use of relics in worship, indulgences, Purgatory, Transubstantiation, treasury of merit, the Pope, NT office of priests, ex opere operato powers,” etc. You seem to hold that your own position is so obvious that it doesn’t need support, and you claim (again, without actually supporting your claim) that the earliest Christians had never heard of any of these things.

      I’ve written extensively on the early Church Fathers on the Eucharist. A reasonably-short series covered some of the views of the Fathers of the first and second century, third century, and fourth century. The Catholic position also has the advantage of harmonizing easily with the words of Christ in John 6 and the Last Supper, the words of St. Paul in 1 Cor. 10-11, the prefigurement of the Passover, the covenantal discussion in Hebrews 9, etc.

      At the very least, if you’re going to say all of these Church Fathers are wrong, and that none of these passages of Scripture mean what they appear to mean, I’d like a little more than “those things are clearly not Biblical nor are they even in the earliest centuries of Christian history.”

      That’s just one of several topics you bring up in a cursory and unsupported way. It would take me several times longer to spell out why each of your assertions is false then it takes for you to claim that it’s true, because I’m providing actual evidence. I bring this up simply because actually responding to each of your claims would be laborious and off-topic: I’m choosing the Real Presence just for the sake of ease, since I’ve written on it before.

      But the heart of this, it seems to me, is your claim about submission to Church authority. You acknowledge “local” Church authority, but apparently nothing higher. Is that right? And what are the limits of your obedience here? If the Church interprets Scripture to mean X, and you think Scripture “clearly” means the opposite of X, do you submit?

      Because so far, you seem ready to “clearly” assume your correctness on rejecting the Real Presence… a Scriptural position that already puts you up against the universal witness of the early Christians and the plain reading of Scripture.

      I.X.,

      Joe

  10. Another passage that true believers are able to discern and judge and know what is the right interpretation – 1 John 2:27. We know it cannot mean that we have no need of teachers/pastors/elders in the church at all, as that contradicts many other passages (like Ephesians 4:11-12, Acts 13:1-4, etc.); so it must mean we have no need for a teacher in the RC sense of infallible claims of interpretation and jurisdiction.

    1. If you accepted and understood the Traditions of Jesus Christ, you would realize that 1 John 2:27 is a reference to the anointing of the Holy Spirit which occurs in the Sacrament of Confirmation:

      1316 Confirmation perfects Baptismal grace; it is the sacrament which gives the Holy Spirit in order to root us more deeply in the divine filiation, incorporate us more firmly into Christ, strengthen our bond with the Church, associate us more closely with her mission, and help us bear witness to the Christian faith in words accompanied by deeds.

    2. 1 John 2:27 says nothing about confirmation. All believers have that “anointing” of the Holy Spirit. There is nothing about baptism in the context of 1 John 2:27 either. You either have the Holy Spirit, the anointing, or you don’t. If you don’t have the Holy Spirit, you are not a Christian – Romans 8:9; Ephesians 1:13.

    3. That is precisely what it is describing. Just as 1 Cor 3:15 does not say Purgatory but is describing that which happens in Purgatory. The reason you don’t get it is because you discarded the Traditions of Jesus Christ which are taught by the Catholic Church.

  11. It seems that my first point has caused some confusion, so let me illustrate it with an example to show what I mean by the “acid” description.

    The Protestant argument that I’m addressing can fairly be presented as saying: “You Catholics believe in the Catholic Church for one of two reasons: either (1) because the Catholic Church says so, or (2) because you’ve become independently convinced on the basis of Scripture, history, etc. If it’s (1), that’s a circular argument. But if it’s (2), then you’re in the exact same position as a Protestant. You accept Catholic teachings because of your private judgment, we reject Catholic teachings because of our private judgment.”

    The conclusion from this argument (which we will call Argument A) is that papal infallibility (etc.) doesn’t actually add anything to the Catholic side of the equation: that Catholics and Protestants are on equal footing, since they’re both just going with their best private interpretations of Scripture.

    Now, imagine an atheist who says, “You Christians believe in the inspiration of the Bible for one of two reasons: either (1) because the Bible says so, or (2) because you’ve become independently convinced on the basis of reason, history, etc. If it’s (1), that’s a circular argument. But if it’s (2), then you’re in the exact same position as an atheist. You accept Scripture because of your unaided reason, we reject Scripture because of our unaided reason.”

    Call this Argument B. It uses the exact same reason as Argument A, but applies it in another context (and you could just as easily come up with an Argument C that applies this same reasoning to discredit reliance upon Christ’s own testimony, etc.). If Argument A is logically sound in disproving infallibility or rendering it irrelevant, then Argument B does the exact same thing for the inspiration of Scripture. If A puts Catholics on the same epistemological level as Protestants, then B does the same thing to reduce all Christians to the level of agnosticism or atheism.

    And this isn’t a slippery slope argument, either. I’m not saying that a particular believer is going to follow their logic all the way to its natural conclusions. People are more than capable of holding two contradictory positions and using logical double-standards. More importantly, not every Protestant rejects infallibility / Catholicism for the reasons considered in this post.

    Instead, I’m simply showing that if this Protestant argument were sound, that it would disprove Protestantism. Since it leads to an obviously-false conclusion, this shows a problem with the argument itself. As it is, Section II of the post looks at why this argument is wrong, which is why Catholics have more authority to rely upon than do Protestants, and why Protestants (and all Christians) have more authority to rely upon than nonbelievers.

    I.X.,

    Joe

    1. Hi Joe, Just in case my comment was misunderstood, I’d like to clarify as well.

      You said:

      The Protestant argument that I’m addressing can fairly be presented as saying: “You Catholics believe in the Catholic Church for one of two reasons: either (1) because the Catholic Church says so, or (2) because you’ve become independently convinced on the basis of Scripture, history, etc. If it’s (1), that’s a circular argument. But if it’s (2), then you’re in the exact same position as a Protestant. You accept Catholic teachings because of your private judgment, we reject Catholic teachings because of our private judgment.”

      I agree with your conclusions. I’ve encountered that Protestant argument before and I have different reasons for rejecting it.

      1. Protestants can’t reduce the number of reasons why Catholics believe the Church down to 2. Many Catholics believe because their parents told them. Many believe because they believe the Bible. Many believe because they simply have a spiritual sense. I find this very common amongst women. Some are brought into the Church by their spouses. Some parents are brought into the Church by their children. One famous Jew came into the Church because of the example of the Church during WWII.

      So, there are much more than two reasons why Catholics believe the Church.

      2. There’s no such thing as being independently convinced based upon Scripture study. That is a false dichotomy. The Bible was put together by the Catholic Church and the New Testament was written by the Catholic Church.

      3. Circular arguments are not necessarily wrong. Believing in the Catholic Church because the Catholic Church says so is a circular argument. But they claim to believe what they believe because the Bible says so. That is also circular. Therefore, if we are wrong for circular reasoning, then so are they.

      4. There’s a difference between private judgment with regards to interpreting Scripture and with regards to accepting the authority of the Church.

      On the Protestant side, they are using their private judgment every time they read Scripture. They are looking at every line of Scripture and deciding for themselves what it means. They never stop using their private judgment. It is a source of pride for many of them. That is why they look down their noses at us and say, “You have checked your brain at the door of the Catholic Church.”

      But we don’t use our private judgment the same way. We, those of us who have converted to the Church, use our private judgment to decide whether or not the Church is trustworthy. When we decide the Church is trustworthy, we no longer view Scripture the same way. We begin to view Scripture as a Catholic book to be understood according to Catholic precepts. And that is in accord with the Teaching of Scripture:

      2 Peter 1:20
      Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.

      Those Catholics who have been faithful to the Church from birth, have never used their private judgment the same as a Protestant. They may have used it to decide to remain in the Church, but from that point, they trusted the Church for their understanding of the Word of God. Which is, again, the Biblical way:

      Hebrews 13:7 Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation.

      And so, I believe the Protestant argument sets forth a false premise, which is followed by false arguments which lead to a false conclusion. And I reject it wholesale.

    2. This is not comprehendible. You lost me on this:
      If Argument A is logically sound in disproving infallibility or rendering it irrelevant, then Argument B does the exact same thing for the inspiration of Scripture. If A puts Catholics on the same epistemological level as Protestants, then B does the same thing to reduce all Christians to the level of agnosticism or atheism.

      Furthermore,

      Now, imagine an atheist who says, “You Christians believe in the inspiration of the Bible for one of two reasons: either (1) because the Bible says so, or (2) because you’ve become independently convinced on the basis of reason, history, etc. If it’s (1), that’s a circular argument. But if it’s (2), then you’re in the exact same position as an atheist. You accept Scripture because of your unaided reason, we reject Scripture because of our unaided reason.”

      This set up is an “either, or” type of argument; but I would say it is a mixture of both/and and also the convincing of the ministry of the Holy Spirit. No one can come to Christ without the drawing of the Father; the internal work of the Holy Spirit. There is no such thing as “unaided reason” or pure logic or mind in coming to faith in Christ and the Bible as the sole infallible rule of faith.

    3. Ken,

      Out of curiousity, do you find the Protestant argument that I mentioned (Argument A) to be a good one? And if so, can you explain to me why you think it’s logically sound, but B isn’t?

      I.X.,

      Joe

      P.S. Obviously, it’s possible to consider “Argument A” logically flawed while still rejecting the Church’s infallibility.

    4. Hi Joe,
      As far as I can tell, argument A is a good one. But I don’t understand the parallel of saying that in argument B,

      then B does the same thing to reduce all Christians to the level of agnosticism or atheism.

      I don’t understand how argument B reduces all Christians to the level of agnosticism or atheism.

      They way you frame things seems wooden and stiff and has a feeling of “locking down the argument with pure logic” by parallel syllogisms. In some ways, it is too hard to grasp fast what you are trying to say. To be up front and honest with you, I do not like Bryan Cross’ (of Called to Communion) method of philosophical jargon, and extensive use of Latin and philosophy and formal logic terms and calling things terms and names that most average person cannot understand. I appreciate David Anders (also at Called to Communion) much better – he speaks normal. Your method seems similar to Bryan Cross’ method – hard to grasp fast. I am not that educated in Latin, philosophy, and logic. If you would just explain things in English – like the two forms of faith – just say “objective faith or content of faith” and “subjective faith” (our personal faith) – the overuse of Latin is frustrating. don’t get me wrong, I wish I had learned Latin and logic and philosophy so I could grasp this method faster; so I am partially speaking out of frustration of not being so educated or smart. I took Greek and Hebrew in seminary, so I can handle those; but Latin, no.

      I do think that Roman Catholic converts from Protestanism are using their minds and reasons to come to trust the RCC as the one true church in their conversion process; and mainly because they got frustrated with the problems in their own church or lack of proper teaching in church history and historical theology, or frustration with the lack of unity in Evangelicalism.

      you cannot fault us for using our minds also to reject the RCC, on the same basis. “We have the mind of Christ”, Paul said in 1 Corinthians 2:14-16. (verse 16) – It means “access to the mind of Christ” through Scripture and the Holy Spirit. (but not without a local church, elders, etc.)

  12. In order to have a proper understanding of 2 Peter 1:20, you have to include verse 21.

    First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.
    2 Peter 1:20-21

    the word “interpretation” in verse 20 is not talking about our interpetation of the written text; rather it is talking about the prophet (or apostle’s) origination of the ability and content in order to write the Scripture. The Holy Spirit moved the writers to write what they wrote, not their musings of their own mind and imagination or feelings that caused them to write what they wrote. The Holy Spirit guided them.

    1. I disagree. The verse is explaining why one should not interpret Scripture privately. The reason being that it did not come from man. But from God. Therefore it is not for man to interpret but for man to obey. And this is in line with Catholic Tradition.

      Let’s read it in context.

      19 We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts:

      First, he warns them, listen to me. We, the Foundation of the Church, have a more sure Teaching of God.

      20 Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.

      Don’t pick up the Bible and pretend that you can interpret it on your own.

      21 For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.

      Because the words in the Bible didn’t come from mere men. They were inspired of God.

      2 Peter 2 King James Version (KJV)

      1 But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.

      The thought stream continues. Back in the Old Testament there were false prophets. And there will be false prophets in the future. And they will interpret Scripture privately to their own destruction.

      This ties in perfectly with 2 Pet 3:16:

      2 Peter 3:16King James Version (KJV)

      16 As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.

      I’m not alone in this understanding:

      The Second Letter of Peter insists that “no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of private interpretation” (2 Pt. 1:20), and it also observes that the letters of the apostle Paul contain “some difficult passages, the meaning of which the ignorant and untrained distort, as they do also in the case of the other Scriptures, to their own ruin” (2 Pt. 3: 16).

      I’m surprised that you would agree with Ken on this Joe. Please show me the Catholic commentary that says that this verse does not condemn private interpretation of Scripture by the reader.

    2. De Maria,

      I may be mistaken in my reading, but I’d certainly read 2 Peter 1:20-21 the same way that Ken had: that the Bible isn’t just the Scriptural authors’ best guesses or interpretations, but the result of Divine inspiration. That also seems to be what Pope Benedict XVI is saying in Verbum Domini 29-30:

      “Consequently, “since sacred Scripture must be read and interpreted in the light of the same Spirit through whom it was written”,[87] exegetes, theologians and the whole people of God must approach it as what it really is, the word of God conveyed to us through human words (cf. 1 Th 2:13). This is a constant datum implicit in the Bible itself: “No prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Pet 1:20-21).”

      Of course, recognizing the Divine origins of Scripture guides how we will interpret the Scriptures: specifically, by showing us the need to read Scripture with the eyes of faith. This, in turn, points us to the Church, and a reading with the Body:

      “Moreover, it is the faith of the Church that recognizes in the Bible the word of God; as Saint Augustine memorably put it: “I would not believe the Gospel, had not the authority of the Catholic Church led me to do so”.[88] The Holy Spirit, who gives life to the Church, enables us to interpret the Scriptures authoritatively. The Bible is the Church’s book, and its essential place in the Church’s life gives rise to its genuine interpretation.

      “30. Saint Jerome recalls that we can never read Scripture simply on our own. We come up against too many closed doors and we slip too easily into error. The Bible was written by the People of God for the People of God, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Only in this communion with the People of God can we truly enter as a “we” into the heart of the truth that God himself wishes to convey to us.[89] Jerome, for whom “ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ”,[90] states that the ecclesial dimension of biblical interpretation is not a requirement imposed from without: the Book is the very voice of the pilgrim People of God, and only within the faith of this People are we, so to speak, attuned to understand sacred Scripture. An authentic interpretation of the Bible must always be in harmony with the faith of the Catholic Church. He thus wrote to a priest: “Remain firmly attached to the traditional doctrine that you have been taught, so that you may exhort according to sound doctrine and confound those who contradict it”.[91]”

    3. Whatever the case (and again, I very well may be wrong on the above point), it’s certainly true that we shouldn’t exalt our private interpretations of Scripture above or against the authentic interpretation of the Church. Hopefully, that’s common sense and basic humility, but it’s also what Pope John Paul II instructed us:

      “How do we prepare others to collaborate in the Church’s work of catechises and evangelization? Certainly we must begin by inculcating a reverential love for the word of God: for the Incarnate Word, our Lord Jesus Christ, and for the inspired word contained in the Sacred Scriptures. We must foster a love which is firmly rooted in faith, which believes, with Saint Paul, that God’s word “is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified”.

      “Ministers of God’s word – priests, deacons, catechists and other lay people – should be immersed in the Scriptures through constant reading and diligent study, accompanied by prayer. [….]

      “At the same time, an adequate formation for the biblical apostolate directs attention to the unity of all the books of the Bible and takes into account the living Tradition[] of the Church. In this way, it is possible to avoid a narrow fundamentalism which distorts the whole truth and also possible to resist the temptation to place one’s personal interpretation above or even in opposition to the authentic interpretation of God’s word which belongs exclusively to the Bishops of the Church in union with the Pope.”

      In other words, the pope isn’t saying, “Don’t bother trying to understand or interpret Scripture. We’ll tell you what it means,” which is how the position you’re presenting sounds (I recognize that this is probably not what you’re intending to convey). Rather, he’s saying that this personal relationship with Scripture is vital (particularly for evangelization), but that our personal interpretations must be subservient to the teaching office of the Church, who alone possesses this authentic interpretative authority.

      I.X.,

      Joe

    4. Joe,

      Thanks for reconsidering your position. I don’t think Ken will agree with Pope Benedict that:

      “since sacred Scripture must be read and interpreted in the light of the same Spirit through whom it was written”,

      Because that is a reference to this:

      111 But since Sacred Scripture is inspired, there is another and no less important principle of correct interpretation, without which Scripture would remain a dead letter. “Sacred Scripture must be read and interpreted in the light of the same Spirit by whom it was written.“77

      The Second Vatican Council indicates three criteria for interpreting Scripture in accordance with the Spirit who inspired it.78

      112 1. Be especially attentive “to the content and unity of the whole Scripture”. Different as the books which compose it may be, Scripture is a unity by reason of the unity of God’s plan, of which Christ Jesus is the center and heart, open since his Passover.79
      The phrase “heart of Christ” can refer to Sacred Scripture, which makes known his heart, closed before the Passion, as the Scripture was obscure. But the Scripture has been opened since the Passion; since those who from then on have understood it, consider and discern in what way the prophecies must be interpreted.80
      113 2. Read the Scripture within “the living Tradition of the whole Church”. According to a saying of the Fathers, Sacred Scripture is written principally in the Church’s heart rather than in documents and records, for the Church carries in her Tradition the living memorial of God’s Word, and it is the Holy Spirit who gives her the spiritual interpretation of the Scripture (“. . . according to the spiritual meaning which the Spirit grants to the Church”81).

      114 3. Be attentive to the analogy of faith.82 By “analogy of faith” we mean the coherence of the truths of faith among themselves and within the whole plan of Revelation.

      And Ken reserves for himself the right to interpret the Scripture anyway he sees fit, regardless of Church Teaching.

    5. De Maria,

      Right. I’m not saying that Ken and I interpret Scripture the same way, obviously. But it’s possible for individuals to personally interpret Scripture in light of the Church’s Tradition and Magisterium, yes?

      I.X.,

      Joe

  13. I love this article! When i was preparing to convert, this same objection was offered by a food friend whose opinions and knowledge of theology and church history i respect. I knew it wasn’t a true problem but couldn’t explain as well as you have here.

  14. I accept Catholicism because I believe Jesus when He said that He would send the Holy Spirit to guide the Apostles into all truth, that the gates of the netherworld would never prevail against His Church, when He appointed Peter as our earthly Good Shepherd (John 21, feed my sheep, tend my sheep, etc.), and for many more reasons. The only church that can trace its authority back unbroken to Peter, who received his authority directly from the Lord, is the Catholic Church. While I have “intellectually” at times disagreed or been tempted to disagree with the Church, I have submitted my will to that of the Church, not out of blind obedience nor robotically but as a result of careful study that has persuaded me that the Catholic Church is the one true Church founded by Jesus, who I accept as my Lord and Savior. So there is both an intellectual and a subservient component to my learning and living my faith, if that makes sense.

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