Friday, January 1, 2010

Dialogue against Protestant errors

A reader e-mailed me some remarks made by an anti-Catholic polemicist. I e-mailed that reader a couple of messages refuting, in dialogue form, the polemicist’s errors. Here are those messages (the polemicist’s remarks are in quotation marks, with mine following underneath; there are also two Scriptural and Patristic citations in quotation marks as well; in the original messages the polemicist’s name was written, but in order to conceal his identity in case he does not wish it to be advertised here I use the pseudonym ‘Mr. N’ in its place):
Message 1:


“I believed in God most definitely from that moment on, but over the next 9 months or so discovered things about the church that I could not square with the Bible.”

In other words, ‘which [he] could not square with his interpretation of the Bible’.

“I notice you did not address the concept of priests”

There’s no need to; Mr. N needs to prove sola Scriptura and private judgment before we move on debating any other point of doctrine.

“The temple curtain tore. Do you know what that actually meant?”

Yes, it means that the Old Law had been abolished; see St. Leo the Great’s Sermon LXVIII, section 3:

“so evident a transition [i.e. by the Passion of Our Lord] was being effected from the Law to the Gospel, from the synagogue to the Church, from many sacrifices to the One Victim , that, when the Lord gave up the ghost, that mystic veil which hung before and shut out the inner part of the Temple and its holy recess was by sudden force torn from top to bottom , for the reason that Truth was displacing figures, and forerunners were needless in the presence of Him they announced.”

“The era of priests and sacrifices was over forever. God did the work, because only HE could do it properly.”

But if only God could offer sacrifice properly, then is God likewise the only One capable of, say, baptising properly? Of course not; God uses other people as instruments in conferring Baptism, and He also uses other people as instruments in offering anew the Most August Sacrifice in Persona Christi.

“Still having priests implies Jesus did an imperfect work.”

No it doesn’t; it implies that Our Lord willed that the fruits of His perfect work—the Redemption—be applied to the passing generations by a visible, ritual sacrifice, as the nature of man requires.

“but a priest is only a 'priest' because he is involved in sacrificial atoning works decreed by God”

Of course. But what Mr. N fails to understand is that Our Lord is capable of using other people as instruments through whom to offer anew the perfect sacrificial atoning work of Our Lord on the Holy Cross, albeit by a different manner of offering (unbloodly rather than bloody).

“And you're STILL avoiding using the bible as the authority”

Okay, so let’s take the Bible as our authority. Mr. N needs to prove from it that all of God’s Revelation to the Apostles is contained therein. He will be unable to do so (and I’d be happy to refute whatever proof-texts he supplies to the contrary), so he needs to prove why private judgment is better ‘mechanism’, so to speak, for Christians to attain the correct interpretation of the Bible and to stay unified in that correct interpretation than authoritative interpretation is. He will also be unable to do so, as is clear from consideration of the following theses:

Thesis 1: It is not feasible for the ordinary individual to come to the correct understanding of the truths contained in the Deposit of Faith by his personal interpretation of the Bible.
Proof: Even supposing that it were possible for people to interpret the Bible correctly without the aid of an earthly authority, people would still need extensive and intensive training and education in the relevant scholarly disciplines—at least to university level—in order to do so. But most people do have the time, opportunity, resources or aptitude necessary to acquire the requisite learning.

One remedy for this situation might be for the more learned believers to assist the less learned believers to come to know the truth. But those more learned believers would need to speak with authority (indeed, with God’s authority), otherwise the less learned believers could never have the certainty of Faith as to what is true and false doctrine. This brings us to the following corollary to Thesis 1:
Corollary: If Our Lord wanted His followers to know the True Faith and stay united in it then He would have established an institutional authority capable of ruling irreformably and infallibly on doctrinal questions.

Thesis 2: Even if we were all extraordinary individuals, highly intelligent, fluent in Classical Hebrew, Classical Greek and Latin, and with university-level training in all the scholarly disciplines involved in interpreting the Bible, we would not be able to come to agreement as to which doctrines are contained in the Deposit of Faith and which are errors.
Proof: One need only look at how many learned men disagree as to the correct interpretation of the Bible. (How many tens of thousands of Protestant sects are there as of December 31, 2009?)
Corollary: As for Thesis 1.

Now what I’ve written so far just deals with the difficulty of interpreting the Bible once one knows what the Canon of the Bible is. But the other problem with sola Scriptura is knowing what Scripture is in the first place; Mr. N has an infallible book (with which I agree, of course—the Bible is infallible, but the private interpretation of it by any old layman is not) but no infallible contents page, so to speak. Sola Scriptura is, for these reasons and, no doubt, many others, completely untenable.

“'Unwritten word of God' is just an obfuscation. Now, I know that there are infinite mysteries within the knowledge of God still unknown to us””

Mr. N appears not to understand what Catholics mean by what he calls the ‘unwritten Word of God’. What we mean is that the Apostles and Evangelists did not transmit to posterity all that which Our Lord and the Holy Ghost revealed to them by writing; they transmitted some of it by writing (that’s the New Testament) and some of it orally, which subsequent generations wrote down. (And, lacking a proof from Mr. N of sola Scriptura or a disproof of the assertion that the Church and the earthly Vicar of her Head speak with that Head’s authority, there is no reason to suppose otherwise.) So we are talking about what was revealed but not written down by the Apostles and Evangelists (or their respective amanuenses) themselves, but Mr. N seems to talk about what was not revealed at all, talking about how he “know[s] that there are infinite mysteries within the knowledge of God still unknown to us”.

“The Word of God MUST trump the church in such situations, otherwise it will all unravel for Christendom very quickly.”

This statement is almost laughable; it was precisely when private judgment and sola Scripura most boldly reared their ugly heads—i.e. the time of the Protestant Revolt—that Christendom began to unravel, and quickly. (And continues to do so—Protestant sects multiply every year.)

“You can't claim something has more value and/or authority than the thing that first gives it value and/or authority.”

We don’t; we merely claim that the Church speaks with God’s authority, the same authority with which the Bible was given us by those who received God’s dictation.

“And do you really believe that "having a laugh" is not allowed?!? Or drinking alcohol? That's just silly”

Yet some Protestants believe that the Bible forbids us to partake of alcohol, do they not?

“Do you believe that the Protestant churches are part of the Church of Jesus Christ?”

No, I do not and they are not. They neither have nor even claim tacit consent from the Roman Pontiff in their establishment, and neither have nor claim Apostolic succession from churches which were established with the at-least-tacit consent of the Roman Pontiff.


Message 2:


“Actually, more accurately, 'that which could not be reconciled with that which God has directly revealed in his Word.'”

We are going around in circles here; I can take Mr. N’s latest formulation and state it more precisely as ‘'that which could not be reconciled with *his interpretation of* that which God has directly revealed in his Word.'’ One way or another an interpretation is needed; is it to come from a fallible interpreter or an infallible one? Mr. N’s answer is: A fallible one—himself.

“The difference is very big. There are many matters in the Word that are not open to debate - ie. Jesus being the Son of God”

To take Mr. N’s first example: The generation of Our Lord. We know that Jesus Christ is the natural Son of God—true God from true God, in the words of the Nicene Creed. But the Protestant cannot simply say that the matter is “not open to debate”, because some people, some of them very erudite—see my lengthy discussion with Vynette at Mr. Schütz’s blog recently—advance Scriptural arguments to say that He is only the Son of God ‘morally’, and that we can all be sons and daughters of God in the very same respect as Our Lord was and is. Catholics can rest assured that Our Lord is the natural Son of God because it was settled finally by the authority of the Council of Nicæa, but the Protestant only has his own fallible judgment by which to settle the matter.

“Wrong. As I have pointed out repeatedly that is backward thinking. The onus is on YOU first to prove the authority of the church by showing in scripture where it adheres to God's teaching and responding appropriately (ie. citing other Scripture) when it is accused of diverting from God's teachings.”

Mr. N is hopelessly confused here; he seems unable to perceive that he is question-begging—making an as-yet-unproven (and, in fact, impossible to prove) assumption, namely, that all that which was revealed is contained in Scripture. What I am saying to Mr. N is this: I agree that the Bible is infallible. Now show me in the Bible where it says that only the Bible is infallible, and that all truths necessary for salvation are contained therein. (Further on he provides one proof-text, and I’ll deal with that shortly.)

“This is God's way of giving us a level of accountability, otherwise there is no reliable way to "correct, rebuke & encourage"”

And yet the Catholic Church has shown herself quite capable of ‘correcting, rebuking and encouraging’, far better than any Protestant sect.

“God has established scripture as his yardstick - you shouldn't be questioning it.”

Yes, Scripture is God’s yardstick—now please show me where Scripture states that it is His *only* yardstick. (More on this shortly.)

“Hmmm, I would say it is logical to argue that if forerunners were not needed any more then neither are 'backrunners', so to speak.”

The key part in my quotation from St. Leo the Great was when he spoke of the transition “from many sacrifices to the One Victim”. A sacrifice has a priest and a victim; if one sacrifice has the same priest and the same victim as another sacrifice then the two are substantially the same. Now in the Sacrifice on Mt. Calvary, the Priest was Our Lord and so was the Victim. Likewise in the Sacrifice of the Mass, the Priest is Our Lord, since the ministerial priest is only His instrument, and the Victim is also Our Lord—‘This is My Body, This is My Blood’. The two Sacrifices are, therefore, really one and the same.

“Why try to emulate that which God has already perfectly done for us?”

It isn’t an emulation, it’s one and the same thing.

“That is a worthless human-reasoned comparison, extrapolation and obfuscation.”

Am I to infer that Mr. N’s own reasonings are somehow non-human-reasoned?

“Baptism is entirely different from the sacrifice that brings our salvation.”

Really? *Entirely* different? Baptism applies the fruits of the Redemption to the baptised, does it not? And Holy Communion also applies the fruits of the Redemption.

“The Word, especially in Hebrews, makes it clear that the work is done [1.]. And so many other things point this way too. ie - Jesus saying "it is finished". Jesus offering the bread and wine as "remembrance" [2.] (note - NOT as a "ritual sacrifice" [3.] or as a 'sharing' of his work or any other twisting).”
[my square-bracketed interpolations]

1. The Mass is one and the same work as on Mt. Calvary.2. Our Lord gave the command to ‘do [it] in memory of [Him]’ after he had pronounced the words of institution. And remembrance and sacrifice are not mutually exclusive.3. Yet the Last Supper was ritualistic and the double consecration—a Sacramental separation of Body and Blood—implies a sacrifice.

“The Catholic teaching here is an insult to the perfection of Jesus.”

Where does the Church teach that the Mass somehow adds to the perfection of Jesus in the atonement?

“Even Jesus didn't expect formal 'consent' to act within God's will for the extension of His Kingdom on earth, just adherence to the truth of God's teachings.”

An adherence which history demonstrates is rather difficult to maintain without an authority to preserve unity and truth.

“Note especially how I have just pointed consistently to God's Word”

To his interpretations thereof, he means.

“and you consistently only use it where convenient, often diverting to fallible human reasoning as if it was authoritative”

Mr. N is the one taking his fallible human reasonings about the meaning of the Bible as if it were authoritative, not me.

“you just basically tell others to shut up because you have decided they are wrong and in danger of hellfire, even as they expressly acknowledge and uphold the blood sacrifice of Jesus for our salvation from sin and his defeat of death evidenced by his physical resurrection.”

Is Mr. N an advocate of the heresy of ‘mere Christianity’, as though people can just agree on the principle points of Christian doctrine and agree to disagree on supposedly ‘less important’ points? So for instance, here Mr. N seems to imply that belief in Our Lord’s Sacrifice and His Resurrection are somehow sufficient for salvation (please correct me if I am wrong).

“I think we will just have to decide to leave it here.”

Fair enough, but I would appreciate if I you could respond to at least one more comment, where, shortly, I deal with 2 Tim. 3:16.

“btw, I think you meant 'don't', not 'do' - as in "have the time" - in your first Thesis”

Correct—sorry about that.

“LOL! As if Catholics were all in agreement! C'mon, that is starry-eyed idealism at best, willful distortion at worst. The Catholic church is just as much subject to human failings as any other organization. You would have me believe it is perfect.”

Now right from where Mr. N says “As if Catholics were all in agreement!” it is clear that he has failed to understand what I am talking when I speak of the necessity of an authority for keeping a body of believers united in the Faith. When the Pope or a Council defines a doctrine which the faithful are irrevocably bound to hold as certainly true (or false), the Catholic knows that, obviously, he must agree with this doctrinal definition if he wishes to remain a Catholic. He is free to disagree with it, of course, but he thereby cuts himself off from the Church. A ‘Catholic’ who rejects an authoritative teaching of the Church is no Catholic at all. So the fact that, lamentably, many nominal ‘Catholics’ disagree with many authoritative teachings is not an argument against authoritative teaching, because abusus non tollit usum—abuse does not detract from use. Far from doctrinal disagreement being an argument against authority, it is, in fact, an eloquent argument against private judgment, because it is precisely by preferring private judgments to authoritative public ones that dissenting ‘Catholics’ fall away from unity in the Faith. Catholics who properly ‘use’ the Church’s authority—by assenting to her authoritative judgments in matters of Faith and morals—remain united in the Faith, whereas those who abuse it—by abandoning it in favour of private judgment—fall away. But the proper ‘use’ of private judgment—taking oneself as an authority in matters of Scriptural interpretation—inevitably leads to chaos, as Protestant history shows.

“The game the way the Catholics play it is open to abuse since they can just play the 'we know best' routine and dismiss scriptural proofs out of hand.”

Catholics are more than happy to refute—not dismiss out of hand—Protestant proof texts (the scholarly discipline of Polemical Theology, with luminaries such as St. Robert Bellarmine, flourished in the wake of the Protestant Revolt). The fact is, though, that the Church *does* know best; Mr. N’s alternative is that every Joe Protestant knows best.

“One more thing - you say I believe the Bible is ALL of God's revelation. That's kind-of right, but it needs a bit of defining. Certainly I believe it is 'all' in as much as it is 'enough'. Enough for our salvation, correction and guidance. (2 Tim 3:16) So it is 'all' we NEED and it is 'all' or sufficient for what God has decreed for our fallen lives to have here on earth.”

By invoking 2 Tim. 3:16, the standard Protestant proof-text for sola Scriptura, Mr. N shows that he suffers from the great Protestant fallacy of equating the conditional relation (‘if … then …’) with the bi-conditional relation (‘if and only if’), in other words, equating necessity with sufficiency. Let’s look at 2 Tim 3:16 (plus 17 for completeness):

“All scripture, inspired of God, is profitable to teach, to reprove, to correct, to instruct in justice: That the man of God may be perfect, furnished to every good work.”

That’s the Douay-Rheims translation, but whatever translation one uses, the gist of these two verses is that there is a conditional (‘if X then Y’) relation between Scripture (X) and three things (together composing Y): profitability to teach, reprove, correct and instruct in justice (Y1), perfection (Y2) and being furnished to every good work (Y3). That’s a conditional relation—*not* a bi-conditional one; St. Paul does not teach that if *and only if* one has X (Scripture) then one has Y (as given earlier); if he had meant to do so he would have written something like “All scripture, and nothing else …”, or “All scripture, and only scripture …” or perhaps, one might have expected, “Scripture alone” (since ‘sola Scriptura’ means ‘by Scripture alone’). In fact, he says no such thing, and nor do any of the inspired writers. We need Scripture for Y1, Y2 and Y3 (among other things)—after all, as St. Jerome said, ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ—but that same Scripture does not teach that we need Scripture *alone*.

“So your 'solution' is to institutionalize those fallible interpretations and claim them as the only true ones?”

More question-begging (when you speak of institutionalising fallible interpretations)—the Catholic argument is that the Magisterium is a Divinely-constituted and therefore infallible institution.

“It is clear which model works better.”

Number of Catholic Churches: One. Number of Protestant sects: In the tens of thousands.

“Until we die and are made perfect, individual interpretation is the best we can have.”

In other words, the omnipotent and omniscient Lord foresaw how fissiparous a means for Scriptural interpretation is private judgment and yet gave it to us as the only means for understanding revelation, despite Him having the power to do otherwise. Or in other words, God made inadequate provision for the preaching of the Gospel.

“Do you understand the difference? Yes, I may indeed as an individual get interpretations of Scripture (that which is open to interpretation) wrong.”

It is *all* open to interpretation—how many more flavours of Protestantism need to be concocted before you see that? I suspect that the different permutations of Scriptural (mis)interpretations will never be exhausted.

“The problem with your statement is that you believe that YOUR idea of ONE church here on earth is how God views it.”

Yet St. Paul teaches (I cannot think of chapter and verse, though) that the Church is the pillar and ground of truth. A pillar is one; if it is smashed into pieces then the whole edifice collapses. You seem not to think that God desires us to be completely unified in the Faith, or at least that He doesn’t value such unity very highly.

“But God decided that what He gave us was enough. For that reason alone I must reject your concept. That doesn't mean there might not be anything very useful in non-biblical sources, I just need to be aware of the one reliable measuring stick God has given me.”

I ask again: Please prove that Scripture teaches that it *alone* contains the truths necessary for salvation.

“And the onus is on you to prove that the "early Vicar" has the authority you claim.”

I would like to do so, but there is no point in trying to do so until you prove sola Scripture, because as long as you hold to sola Scriptura you could never accept the de iure rights of the Roman Pontiff.

“In heaven, I suspect none of that will matter.”

I had thought that you were a so-called ‘orthodox Protestant’, one who believes, among other things, that God revealed certain truths and that one must believe these at least implicitly and deny none of them explicitly but apparently you are a non-dogmatic, liberal Protestant, seeming to think that people can get into Heaven with scant regard for whether they have right belief or not.

“I actually agree with that, but I simply maintain that a church only has authority in as much as it endeavours to adhere to God's Word, since that came first.”

No, you maintain more than that, since I agree that a body which does not adhere to God’s Word has no authority, it’s just that I believe that God’s Word is not contained entirely between the covers of the Bible. So, more fully, you maintain ‘that a church only has authority inasmuch as it endeavours to adhere to God’s *written* Word and that written Word alone.’

“SOME do. Some non-Christians don't drink either. So what? End of discussion really. Given that John the Baptist expressly did not drink, yet Jesus expressly did and even changed water into wine, what is your point? And don't you see how trivial and worthless your arguments are likely to be when you begin to talk about the personalities of individuals? If you were on solid ground argumentatively with Scripture, you would never consider it necessary.”

My point is that sin is displeasing to God, and I want to live in such a way as not to displease God. So if I have someone telling me convincingly that drinking is displeasing to God then I would want to abstain from liquor. I don’t regard arguments about the sinfulness or non-sinfulness of drinking—or of any activity, for that matter—as ‘trivial and worthless’. Some Protestants—Baptists and, if I recall correctly, Seventh-Day Adventists, among others—say that it is sinful to drink, and I’m sure that they think that they have “solid ground argumentatively with Scripture” for thinking so. Most Protestants disagree. But whom is one to believe, the teetotalers or the drinkers? How much easier it would be if God had instituted an earthly authority to provide final resolutions to such disputes over matters of Faith and morals …

Reginaldvs Cantvar
Circumcision of Our Lord, A.D. 2010


Matthias said...

Happy new year cardinal. Your arguments here were compelling and stimulating.I i think that you would be surprised at how many orthodox protestants would agree with your comment that "sin is displeasing to God, and I want to live in such a way as not to displease God."
I am starting to see two things appearing in the protestant church -yes Baptist at that-i currently attend
1/ A lack of teaching around the seriousness -is that too tame a word-of sin .It is all preaching around relationship.when one woman said in a service that she felt sin was really about negativity i began to worry. This leads on to
2/ A lack of teaching about Hell -the consequences of not living a life pleasing to God through Christ our Lord ,Our Saviour.
When our minister says that Hell is for somepeople their life now,and then does not go on to talk about it extending into the next life ,i think there is a serious error.
My dismay -and that of a mate's who has actually come face to face with demonic possession whilst in the Phillipines-has been building up.
I believe that this is a serious consequence of churches and people disregarding the Apostolic and Nicene Creeds as being serious documents under the guise of not being dogmatic .

Matthias said...

As my church is closed for the holiday break,being because we meet in a community centre,i thought i would partake of the Lord's Table at a church near my residence. A Uniting Church . A warm welcome was given ,the singing was terrible,the sermon was full of Barthian neo-orthodoxy or is it modernism.Example-"the slaughter of the children Bethlehem,if that is indeed where Jesus was born,was probably written into the Gospel account from the Exodus,because the writer wnated people to know about what jesus had done for them and not really worried about history".
I regretted not stopping at St Johns RC pARISH in ------ where i live and could have heard the Gospel preached, and have met some of the leaders of Catholic Charismatic renewal,rather than listen to twaddle. Your comments in this comm box Cardinal make even more sense

Cardinal Pole said...

"1/ A lack of teaching around the seriousness -is that too tame a word-of sin .It is all preaching around relationship."

That calls to mind the error, popular among secular ethicists and some of their nominally Christian fellow-travellers, that morality is just concerned with our relationships with other people, as though consent is what matters, and nothing else.

"the slaughter of the children Bethlehem,if that is indeed where Jesus was born,was probably written into the Gospel account from the Exodus,because the writer wnated people to know about what jesus had done for them and not really worried about history"

Quintessential Modernism.

Regarding the so-called Catholic Charismatic Renewal: I cannot condone that sort of thing; among other problems, it is overtly Protestant, and its activities involve the serious risk of demonic influences.

Matthias said...

I agree re serious risk of demonic influences ,and think of the Toronto Blessing for an example ,although CCR has papal blessing and as far as i can determine places itself under the Magisterium for accountability and spiritual guidance.
Talking about things Pentecostal, i was talking to a co-worker who use to work for a company associated with Assemblies of God.The senior pastor at hillsong-you know the cult in the west of sydney- would ring this company and if they kept him waiting he would say 'you know who i am don't you". arrogance and failing to show humility .That 's who he is

Matthias said...

Further to our discussion re CCR ,i think that largely I wouldside with you cardinal,as woulda great many orthodox protestants,however I am mindful thatif it is of God then we must not condemn nor judge . Ihad a minister tell me that he once had a woman speak in tongues during aservice he was conducting.He asked if there was anyone present who could interpret what had been said.No one ,he then said to the woman 'you are out of line".and then refuted what had been said by referring to Scripture and church history -ie the Traditions!!!

Cardinal Pole said...

"I am mindful thatif it is of God then we must not condemn nor judge ."

True, and so we must ask: Is C.C.R.-type stuff of God? When we look at the gift of tongues as recorded in the New Testament its purpose was to enable the Apostles to preach the Good News to people who spoke foreign languages. It was an extraordinary gift given in extraordinary times. But where is the need for that gift now? When the Church evangelises new nations, she has the means for her evangelists to learn the relevant languages without great difficulty. Furthermore, as far as I know, the supposed gift of tongues in Charismatic-type activity isn't used outside the congregation, so what is the point of it? Finally, I would note that they call themselves the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, but what have been the fruits of this supposed renewal? They have hardly been bountiful. And whatever spiritual advantages the C.C.R. might assert, these would be greatly outweighed by the potential risks involved (demonic influence, even possession).

Matthias said...

Again cardinal goodpoints-you must be a lawyer or a law student.Especially about the use of tongues being in linguistic terms so that the Gospel could be preached.The points that my father and the minister i quoted above made very clearly when talking to or about Pentecostals.
I would be interested toknow who the Anti-Catholic polemecist was ,as i came across quite a few when i was growing up.At one service i attended i remember the (Yank) guest preacher saying that Communism would link up with Modernism and CATHOLICISM to form a one World Government. Well history and God have shown that fellow to be a fool

Cardinal Pole said...

Regarding the unnamed polemicist: Perhaps polemicist is not the best word; he is not a polemicist in the sense of being a professional (or, for that matter, committed amateur) Protestant apologist; he was just someone stating the standard Protestant anti-Catholic polemical arguments in discussion with a reader of my blog (who will also remain nameless, though naturally I obtained his permission before publishing this post--I treat all e-mail correspondence as confidential unless I ask for and receive express permission to reproduce any e-mail communication at my blog). Nevertheless, I prefer not to name him at this stage.

Matthias said...

I respect your confidentiality Cardinal and i was only asking as I thought they were said in the context of a church service or Bible Study.
i had one of my ministers tell me that his neighbour is a Catholic and 'really they do not get much teaching there(?) and he only goersthinking that will by him salvation".I very gently explained that iknew catholics who cnetredtheir faith around the Sacraments (blank look at this stage) and trusted in Jesus as theirSaviour.I cited the exampleof the people who's blogs i comm box onsuch as this one ,Schutz's ,Louise's-sadly that has gone on permanent leave- Joshua's .I got no where

Matthias said...

And if i spoke as i wrote the above it is no wonder i got nowhere with my minister regarding his comments on the RCC