1) A reader who goes by the pseudonym i like pizza asks:

i don't want to get too off-topic here, but i'm curious about your thoughts on whether or not adam was a historical person. and if you believe that he was not, what are your thoughts on paul apparently believing (and teaching?) that he was (rom 5:12-20; 1 cor 15:45-49)?

What counts as believing and teaching that Adam was historical?  I know a lot of conservative Christians use this argument: person or event X is mentioned by Jesus or an apostle in the New Testament and therefore X must have been historical.  Well that doesn't follow.  As an example, I don't believe Adam and Eve were necessarily historical individuals, and yet I still referred to their story in Genesis.

Suppose for the sake of argument that the Adam story was a mythical story, inspired by God, which illustrates a point about the human condition, and that St. Paul knew this.  Would it follow from this that St. Paul would never refer to that story in his own writings?  Not unless we think that St. Paul couldn't have found any value in the story unless it was historical.  But the rabbinic use of midrashim (fictional stories to tell a point, often about biblical characters) shows that they did not in fact think this way.

Basically the argument is circular: you should take Genesis literally because St. Paul did, and we know St. Paul was, because no reasonable person could get meaning out of the Adam story unless they themselves took it literally.  But that is exactly the question which is at stake.

Did St. Paul in fact believe that Adam was a historical person?  I doubt he ever considered the issue, but very likely he assumed he was (Acts 17:26 is probably better evidence for this than his epistles).  Did he teach that he was historical?  Well, we have to decide what do we mean by this...?

If the question is, does St. Paul's teaching collapse as meaningless if Adam was not historical, I think the answer is clearly no.  The point of the references to Adam in Romans and 1 Corinthians is to establish the existence of a sinful human nature to illustrate by comparison the new human nature which comes from Christ.  But this purpose is served just as well by a mythical Adam representing some pre-historical rebellion against God with unknown details; since the resulting Old Human Nature is in any case a real thing that exists in the present and needs redemption.  In any case, St. Paul also emphasizes the differences between the two figures:

But the gift is not like the trespass. For if by the one man’s trespass the many died, how much more have the grace of God and the gift overflowed to the many by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ.  And the gift is not like the one man’s sin, because from one sin came the judgment, resulting in condemnation, but from many trespasses came the gift, resulting in justification. (Roms 5:15-16)

We could also ask, did St. Paul make it explicit that one could not disbelieve in a historical Adam and still be a Christian?  This is not a silly thing to ask, because earlier in the 1 Cor 15 passage he did do exactly this, when it comes to the question of whether Christ really rose from the dead.

There is no similar statement that the Christian preaching and faith are useless unless Adam was really historical.  St. Paul's teaching is relentlessly Christological.  Everything, including Old Testament stories, is important only for the light it sheds on the Christ-event.  Christ is the center, so it matters whether he was historical.  Adam is peripheral; his story is there to teach us more about the meaning of Jesus and the Church (who is the new Eve, the spouse which was formed from his pierced side after he had fallen into the temporary sleep of death).

If Adam's story is of great and irreplaceable value in explaining the true meaning of Christ's sacrifice, then for that very reason, the Holy Spirit was justified in putting that story in our Bible, regardless of whether it happened literally.

2) St. Declan writes:

I've been reflecting on my belief in evolution and Christianity as a whole and realized that there are many questions to think about that I can't appropriately answer.

You mentioned evolutionary psychology as an explanation of why we have sinful inclinations. Yet some advanced mammals like chimpanzees seem to demonstrate an ability to go against their evolutionary instincts by demonstrating kindness to a wounded chimp when other chimps don't. Does this demonstrate that animals too, can sin?

And if animals can sin, then it would seem that Pauline soteriology is pretty false: Sin didn't enter the world through one man. What do you think Dr Aron?

About a year ago I read a very interesting book about The Moral Lives of Animals, by a zoological writer named Dale Peterson.  It had a bunch of very interesting examples of moral-like (and immoral-like) animal behaviors.

One could quibble whether many of the examples should really qualify as ethics: if an animal mistreats another animal and the other animals get annoyed, so the first one stops, is this really ethics or just obvious social behavior?  Granted that chimps engage in e.g. rape, do they actually feel guilty about it?

But it seems clear enough that there exist social instincts in animals which could at least be called proto-ethics.  I don't think Christians have any need to deny this.  Why shouldn't God provide the early animals with some moral-like instincts, especially if he intended one of them to evolve into a species capable of bearing his Son.  It would be a much worse world if no animals ever felt affection for each other or for us.  But recall what I said in my previous post:

Or if we were still just animals, who had never known better, we would still have the innocence of animals.  A cat is morally innocent when it plays with a mouse, not because that is morally wonderful but because it doesn't know any better.  But now we know better (or else ought to know better but are in denial), and it pains us to experience our own worst impulses.

Do animals sin?  A sin is an offense against God (Psalm 51:4).  For something to rise to the level of sin, the organism in question needs to be high enough to potentially be in relationship with God and feel guilty for disobeying.  (Or to deny the possibility of any such higher authority in order to avoid feeling guilty, which is a different manifestation of the same issue.)  I don't see any evidence that any animals are sinners in this sense.

An animal may loosely be said to commit an ethical (or more accurately social) violation against another animal, but human beings don't usually morally condemn them for this because we don't consider them morally responsible because they are animals.  So presumably God doesn't either.  No animal is smarter than a 4 year old human, and we barely consider 4 year-olds to be morally responsible (we treat them as if they were in order so that they grow up to be morally responsible, but we don't consider them e.g. criminally or spiritually responsible).  We have Reason, a qualitatively greater capacity for abstraction, which allows us to recognize a Law which comes from somthing above us.  (Even if not all of us humans conceptualize that Law as being related to a divine Lawgiver, we still tend to act as if it did.)

So far as I can tell, animals are not capable of belief in God.  I would be extremely interested in whether humans could teach chimps about the existence of God, but I doubt the type of scientists who currently do chimpanzee-learning experiments would countenance that one.

The closest an animal ever comes to sinning, is if they are domestic pets, and they rebel against a human being in authority over them.  Cats and dogs are both capable of adoring human beings as a higher order of creature, though cats are rather weak on the concept of obedience.  So let's consider a bad dog who disobeys and then feels shame after being scolded by his master.  Since human beings are created in the image of God and are his priests to the animals, this is like sin.  But it is only an analogy, since sin, properly speaking, is a spiritual offense against God, not a social offense against Man.

(Of course, for us humans, who have been raised to the divine image and can recognize consciously the value of human beings in the abstract, for us to sin against other human beings is to sin against the God who made them.)

So understood in this theological sense, the first sin must, almost by definition, have come after the first moment that a being recognized their Creator as being in authority over them.  There could have been plenty of affection, cooperation, violence, or theft before that time, but this was the moment that human beings in a spiritual sense came to be.

Of course, my speculations about the actual course of pre-historic events are just that: speculations.  But if there is going to be a speculative field of secular evolutionary psychology, I don't see why Christians shouldn't join in the fun.

I am a Lecturer in Theoretical Physics at the University of Cambridge. Before that, I read Great Books at St. John's College (Santa Fe), got my physics Ph.D. from U Maryland, and did my postdocs at UC Santa Barbara, the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, and Stanford. The views expressed on this blog are my own, and should not be attributed to any of these fine institutions.
This entry was posted in Ethics, Theological Method. Bookmark the permalink.

1. Just saying I continue to appreciate your blog - the expertise you bring to Physics matters, and the clarity even when writing on subjects you are not expert in. Thanks.

I think I agree with you pretty much here. I agree totally that Paul referring to Adam and Eve is not necessarily an endorsement of their literal existence. And I too feel a little sceptical about evolutionary psychology, at least until a particular point is properly established. If one accepts evolution as a basis for human psychology, then I think it is always possible for an inventive mind to think of a way that a certain behaviour could arise via natural selection, in fact it is probably possible to think of several ways, but knowing any one of them is true is a much more difficult proposition. I think some things have been well established, but I think a lot of speculation happens as well.

2. Martel says:

Hi Aron,

Why is it up to you to determine what is and what is not part of the Deposit of Faith?

As a Catholic, this is a problem I've noticed with Protestantism in general; the dogmatic content is customizable based on subjective interpretation.

In your case, you've just fairly casually dismissed a doctrine that the Catholic Church claims is an essential part of Christian dogma and that the Protestant churches until relatively recently also accepted. (For example, Gottfried Leibniz, who was Lutheran, actually defended something akin to the Catholic notion of transmission by descent and not imitation in his Theodicy.)

Finally, may I ask why you do not accept a literal Adam and Eve? (The answer can't be 'science', since the population genetics argument against the possibility of a two-person bottleneck has been shown to be indecisive (by Ann Gauger, et al.))

3. Aron Wall says:

Welcome to my blog, Martel.

Of course it is "up to [me] to determine" the contents of the Deposit of Faith, in exactly the same sense (and no more) that it is up to me to decide which Laws of Physics I think are true...

I have no causal control over the laws of physics, nor do I have my own private laws of physics which are adapted to my own preferences; but nevertheless if I have beliefs about the Laws, those beliefs came about through me exercising my own judgement regarding the relevant evidence. This is the case even if I outsource some of my own thinking to an Authority (e.g. the experimentalists at the LHC, or the physical intuition of Stephen Hawking or something), I still have to decide for myself which authority I believe in and how far I trust them. There is no Pope of physics and people have their own opinions, and yet there are still right answers, and it's on us to figure out what they are (on penalty of being wrong if we make a mistake). Your argument would prove that Physics and every other intellectual field of study is subjective, so it proves quite a bit too much.

So when a Protestant makes a decision about doctrine, this is neither a "subjective intepretation" or "private judgement" except in the same sense that every decision about beliefs always is. While the existence of an infallible authority would be a conveneient source of evidence, even Catholics must exercise their own judgment in order to decide to believe in the first place that e.g. the Pope infallible, and also when deciding how to interpret his pronouncements. (As a Protestant I do accept the divine authority of the Bible, but like the recent popes I don't think all the stories in Genesis should be taken literally.)

Ever since the time of St. John Henry Newman, Catholics only seem to be able to make what I consider "backwards" arguments for Catholicism which act as though having to decide yourself what is true, without an infallible (present-day) authority is some kind of reductio ad absurdum on thinking. Because then, you know, people might disagree! Just like in every other area of life...

(For comparsion, a proper "forwards" argument for Catholicism would start with something we both believe in, e.g. the inspiration of the Scriptures, the holiness of certain saints, or the possibility of modern day miracles, and then argue from that towards Catholicism.)

My parents, being linguists, raised me to believe that concepts are defined by their centers, not their boundaries. If the "Deposit of Faith" consisted of thousands of distinct doctrines, all equally important, and you are a heretic in danger of Hell if you disbelieve in any single one of them, then we would indeed need some sort of infallible authority to keep us straight on all of them. But in fact some doctrines are more important than others, and I don't think I'm going out on a limb in saying that Christ and the Resurrection are a lot more important to Christian theology than a literal historical Adam. There's a reason why the Nicene Creed mentions the Christ many times and Adam zero times.

I can too say "Science", because the mere existence of a dissenting voice does not invalidate a scientific consensus. That's not how things work. You can always find people who disagree with the Scientific consensus concerning e.g. the theory of relativity, quantum mechanics, the microbial theory of disease, Big Bang theory, the Age of the Earth, Darwinian Evolution, Global Warming, HIV causing AIDS, vaccines not causing autism, the ineffectualness of homeophathy, or whatever. Especially when it's a religiously controversial topic. That doesn't mean that the evidence is inconclusive, it just means that nothing is ever accepted by everyone, because not everyone is reasonable. As I said, no Pope of Science.

I can see from a google search that St. Ann Gauger is part of a think tank funded by the Discovery Institute, an organization which I disagree with on any number of levels. However, your citation does not contain enough information for me to easily find any written scientific article by Gauger. Please provide a link to an actual article by her (not a video, please!), if you expect me to engage with her arguments.

For all I know there was a literal Adam and Eve who trasmitted original sin to everyone else, but if so some of those "everyone elses" must have been contemporary hominids. As I wrote in the comments to my other post:

My own pet theory is that maybe the origin of human beings began when God chose to speak verbally to a particular human being (or perhaps even a literal married couple) thus granting them language and (therefore) a greatly advanced ability to think, all wrapped up in the same package with communion with God. One interesting feature this idea is that it allows humanness to be trasmitted "horizontally" within a single generation to the others living at the same time.

But no, I don't claim to know this for sure, given all the other nonliteral elements in the book of Genesis.

PS regarding "fairly casually dismissed", why do you think I'm being casual about this, just because I mention it breifly in a couple blog posts? I've thought about the issue over years. What would it look like for me to dismiss the doctrine non-casually?

4. Martel says:

“Welcome to my blog, Martel.”

Thanks! Happy to be here.

There’s a distinction I think you’re missing. Of course it’s ‘up to you’ to exercise judgment concerning what you believe. But it isn’t up to you to determine the contents of the Christian faith which Christ vouchsafed to the Apostles and their successors under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. (Later in your post, you mention Cardinal Newman; the reference is apropos, since religious epistemology, a subject on which he wrote a great deal, is precisely what is at issue here.)

Your own analogy between the truths of Christian doctrine and the truths of physics is helpful. You are right that in physics there is no Pope, and that it is up to the physicist (or the layman considering the claims of physicists) to decide upon which studies, experiments, and methods are useful and credible and what theories or explanations are true. And I trust you’d agree that, on account of its empirical nature, physics deals in large part with conclusions that are epistemically probabilistic rather than self-evident or demonstrative. This means, of course, that physics (like all empirical science) is characterized by uncertainty, and is susceptible to eliciting false beliefs.

But physics is a profane science, an exercise of reason upon the natural world. It is not a sacred science; it is not revelation; it is not infallible. Christian doctrine is Divine Revelation. It is God’s saving truth, and since it is bestowed by a Divine Source it is necessarily true in its entirety. For this reason, unlike physics, it admits of no uncertainty as to its contents. How could it? Scripture is either revelation or not; consequently it is either inerrant by its very nature or not. The Church is either divinely instituted or not. The Apostles and their successors are either infallible or not.

This is not a ‘backwards’ argument for Catholicism; it’s simply the way things stand. Why would Christ leave Christians in doubt over the contents of Christian doctrine, which must be believed in order to be saved? “However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come” (Jn 16:13). Who is being “guid[ed] into all truth”? Individual believers? That can’t be, since it would imply that ‘truth’ is inconsistent. (For example, Isaac Newton and St. Augustine both sincerely thought they were believers, and yet the former rejected the divinity of Christ, while the latter affirmed it. If the Holy Spirit ‘guided’ them both, it guided them directly into contradiction.)

Since truth is necessarily consistent, and Protestantism is demonstrably inconsistent, Protestantism must be false. One may certainly argue, as you in fact have, that certain Christian doctrines are “more important” than others, but that raises the question as to how essential* ‘importance’ can be determined without a recognizable authority to adjudicate on the matter. Surely Holy Scripture won’t suffice as an adequate authority, as is confirmed by the various heresies which were purportedly based on Holy Scripture.
*By essentially important doctrines I mean those particular doctrines which, if removed from the body of Christian doctrine, cause the body to cease to be Christian doctrine, and become something else (say, Islam).

But let me switch gears and address the topic of a literal Adam and Eve. You wrote, “I can too say ‘Science’, because the mere existence of a dissenting voice does not invalidate a scientific consensus.”
There’s hardly a scientific consensus proclaiming the impossibility of a two-person bottleneck in evolutionary history. What there is is a general scientific consensus that admits a ballpark minimum effective population size that exceeds two, but (1) effective population sizes may exceed actual population sizes, (2) just over the last few decades the suggested minimum population sizes have widely varied (by factors of 10), and (3) there are various governing assumptions employed in population genetics conclusions that render them fairly speculative.

I shared your unease with the Discovery Institute (DI), as well as the concept of ‘intelligent design’, until I read Stephen Meyer’s Signature in the Cell about a year ago. It was very impressive, and has made me much more open to other DI publications. (While still ambivalent about intelligent design, I have, mainly on account of this book, become much more sympathetic to it.)

Anyway, the book ‘Science and Human Origins’ (2012) contains Ann Gauger’s essay ‘The Science of Adam and Eve,’ which makes a compelling case for the scientific possibility of a literal Adam and Eve (via a two-person bottleneck). (It’s a cheap book, and only about 120 pages.) There is another solution, which accepts a literal Adam and Eve but allows for a much more numerous bottleneck on account of interbreeding between the descendants of Adam and Eve with un-ensouled hominids. (This solution is described here: http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2014/12/knowing-ape-from-adam.html)

Of course I agree that much of Genesis employs figurative language. Helpfully, the Catholic Church has been rather clear as to what aspects of Genesis must be taken literally, and the following is a brief summary (from Ludwig Ott’s ‘Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma’): The first man was created by God. [This need not mean that God did not use an ape-like ancestor as raw bodily material for the receptivity of the soul.] Man consists of two essential parts -- a material body and a spiritual soul. Every human being possesses an individual soul. Our first parents, before the Fall, were endowed with sanctifying grace. Our first parents in paradise sinned grievously through transgression of the Divine probationary commandment. Through the original sin our first parents lost sanctifying grace and provoked the anger and the indignation of God. Our first parents became subject to death and to the dominion of the devil. Adam's sin is transmitted to his posterity, not by imitation but by descent. Original sin is transmitted by natural generation.

To wrap things up, I’d like to briefly address some specific points:

“Catholics must exercise their own judgment in order to decide to believe in the first place that e.g. the Pope infallible, and also when deciding how to interpret his pronouncements.”

Yes, Catholics must exercise their own judgment in order to decide to believe in the first place, but Catholics do not (and may not) exercise their own judgment when it comes to interpreting ecclesial ‘pronouncements’ that are definitive and are declared as such by the Papacy; these they are bound to accept. Since the inherently ambiguous qualities of human language necessarily entail some degree of interpretation of even very clear statements, it may be said that the Church ‘defines’ by setting boundaries for an acceptable interpretive range.

“PS regarding "fairly casually dismissed", why do you think I'm being casual about this, just because I mention it breifly in a couple blog posts? I've thought about the issue over years. What would it look like for me to dismiss the doctrine non-casually?”

It just didn’t seem like you were sensitive to the doctrinal importance of a literal Adam and Eve, even for Protestants. If you had been sensitive, I suspect you’d say something along the lines of, “I realize that I am departing from what many Christians believe to be the orthodox understanding of the matter, and also risking a ripple effect from ‘original sin’ to other doctrines (such as the Incarnation) which might render these latter superfluous, but after extended reflection and analysis I admit that I do not accept a literal Adam and Eve for these various weighty reasons…”

Finally, you wrote, “There's a reason why the Nicene Creed mentions the Christ many times and Adam zero times.”

Yes, and the reason is that the Creed was drawn up in response to the Arian heresy, and specifically tailored to refute it, not provide a complete statement of Christian doctrine.

5. Declan says:

I like the tone of how you blog too, you really do have a gift in teaching!

6. Since truth is necessarily consistent, and Protestantism is demonstrably inconsistent, Protestantism must be false.

When an infallible tradition advocates the rosary, I wonder how it's consistent with its roots:

And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. (Matthew 6:7)

While Jesus was saying these things, one of the women in the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, "Blessed is the womb that bore You and the breasts at which You nursed." But He said, "On the contrary, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it." (Luke 11:27-28)

"You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition." (Mark 7:9)

As a Catholic, I was taught that the rosary is a sign of predestination. As often as it's mentioned or implied in the NT (the Gospel of John and Ephesians are practically manifestos) it's never conjoined to any prayers. If the fire & brimstoney Calvinists err on the side of caution, at least they're consistent with Scripture. The Catholic tradition adds things:

"But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed." (Galatians 1:8-9)

7. Martel says:

Hi Patronius,

Thanks for joining the discussion! As a former Protestant, I'm certainly sympathetic to--and I hope I'm not being presumptuous in saying that I understand--your questions. I'll try and answer them point by point.

"When an infallible tradition advocates the rosary, I wonder how it's consistent with its roots:"

The rosary is consistent with the teachings of Holy Scripture, as I intend to now show.

"And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. (Matthew 6:7)"

Notice that what is being censured is not 'repetition,' but specifically 'meaningless repetition.' The distinction is important, otherwise Christ Himself would have violated his own command when he repeated his prayer to the Father (i.e., 'said the same thing') in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mk 14: 35-39). Anyway, Catholics have been responding to the 'meaningless repetition' charge since the 16th century: there's actually an annotation in the 1582 Douay-Rheims New Testament on precisely this point. But here's a recent refutation: http://www.catholic.com/blog/tim-staples/do-catholics-pray-vain-repetitions

"While Jesus was saying these things, one of the women in the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, 'Blessed is the womb that bore You and the breasts at which You nursed.' But He said, 'On the contrary, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.' (Luke 11:27-28)"

From 'A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture': "The reply in 28 is the same in effect as that in 8:21; Jesus does not deny the woman's affirmation, but he declares that exact fidelity to the will of God...is cause for greater happiness." (If you compare Lk 11:27-28 with Lk 8:20-21, I think you'll agree.)

"'You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition.' (Mark 7:9)"

As I've argued above 'the commandment of God' concerning 'meaningless repetition' does not mean what you think it means; hence, the RCC does not 'set it aside' by officially advocating the rosary.

"As a Catholic, I was taught that the rosary is a sign of predestination. As often as it's mentioned or implied in the NT (the Gospel of John and Ephesians are practically manifestos) it's never conjoined to any prayers."

You might be reading into this more than is warranted. After all, any devout prayer is a sign of predestination, along with almsgiving, worship, obedience, and other external indications of Christian faith.

" If the fire & brimstoney Calvinists err on the side of caution, at least they're consistent with Scripture."

I disagree. Calvinists assert justification by faith alone (sola fide), which is not only unbiblical but in fact directly contrary to Scripture (James 2:24).

"The Catholic tradition adds things: 'But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.' (Galatians 1:8-9)"

I don't admit that the Catholic Church has 'added' things in the sense you mean, and I might content myself with asking for you to prove that it has. But despite this, the passage in question does not deal specifically with 'adding' to the gospel--after all, the Letter to the Galatians was composed before the completion of the four gospels; were those gospels 'additions'?--but rather with preaching a gospel contrary to the substance of that which the Apostles had taught.

But don't take my word for it; St. Augustine addressed this issue about 1700 years ago. As the annotation in the Douay-Rheims says, "St. Augustine noted on the word 'beside' ['other'] that not all other teaching, or more teaching than the first, is forbidden, but such as in contrary and disagreeing to the rule of faith." And then it goes on to quote him (from Tractate 98): "He [St. Paul] does not say, More than you have received; but, 'Other than you have received.' For had he said the former, he would be prejudging himself, inasmuch as he desired to come to the Thessalonians to supply what was lacking in their faith. But one who supplies, adds to what was deficient, without taking away what existed: while he that transgresses the rule of faith, is not progressing in the way, but turning aside from it." (see http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1701098.htm for the full context)

8. Sarah says:

@Martel

Thank you for explaining the rosary. My grandmother was Catholic and while I didn't understand why she didn't read the Bible on her own (she only meditated on what was said in mass), I did see her in reverent, loving prayer.

The fact that many times her prayers were written for her never seemed to be an issue to me since she truly meant what she was saying ( I know this because I saw it lived out!!)

As a Protestant, there have been times I've worried that my own repetitive prayers where becoming like a loud gong in the ears of my Creator. Matthew 6:7 has been used incorrectly to put pressure on my prayer life and at times has brought about less reverent prayers due to my focus being on the use of different words instead of just talking to my Lord who loves me.

Typically I thank God for the same things, ask for help in the same areas (I need a lot of help in specific areas ;-) ), ask for Him the fill me with the fruits of the Spirit (especially patience ;-) ), ask for him to show me where/who I can serve, and I ask for his will to be done in the lives of others.

Even though my prayers consist of typically the same things (like my grandma praying the rosary) doesn’t mean the words mean less. It's all about our heart towards the Lord and our truthfulness and sincerity in our words!!

9. The rosary is part of a spectrum that includes St. Bernard being squirted with healing breast milk (and the veneration of its remnants), Mary tormenting children with visions of hell, and magic scapulars. In the same way Muslims believe there is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet, and Jews believe that God is one, Christians believe "There is one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus." This is definitive, essential, intrinsic, what it means to be Christian. The Second Vatican Council adds this:

This motherhood of Mary in the economy of grace lasts without interruption, from the consent which she gave in faith at the annunciation, and which she unhesitatingly bore with under the cross, even to the perpetual consummation of all the elect. For after being assumed into heaven, she has not put aside this saving function, but by her manifold intercession, she continues to win the gifts of eternal salvation for us. By her motherly love, she takes care of the brothers of her Son who are still in pilgrimage and in dangers and difficulties, until they be led through to the happy fatherland. For this reason, the Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Auxiliatrix, Adiutrix, and Mediatrix. (Lumen gentium ## 61-62)

The GOSPEL is the power of salvation, conditioned on the atoning blood of Jesus. How is Mary as mediatrix not an addition? I'd say Pope Pius XII lays it on pretty thick here, except this is low key compared to some prayers to Mary:

Enraptured by the splendor of your heavenly beauty and impelled by the anxieties of the world, we cast ourselves into your arms, O Immaculate Mother of Jesus and our Mother. Mary, we adore and praise the peerless richness of the sublime gifts with which God has filled you above every other mere creature from the moment of conception until the day on which, after your assumption into Heaven, He crowned you Queen of the Universe. O crystal fountain of faith, bathe our hearts with your heavenly perfume! O Conqueress of evil and death, inspire in us a deep horror of sin, which makes the soul detestable to God and a slave of hell! O well-beloved of God, hear the ardent cries which rise up from every heart in this year dedicated to you. Then tenderly, O Mary, cover our aching wound. Convert the wicked, dry the tears of the afflicted and the oppressed, comfort the poor and humble, quench hatred, sweeten harshness, safeguard the flower of purity, protect the holy Church. In your name, resounding harmoniously in heaven, may they recognize that all are brothers, and that the nations are members of one family. Receive, O sweet Mother, our humble supplications, and above all obtain for us on that day, happy with you, that we may repeat before your throne that hymn which is sung today around your altars. You are all-beautiful, O Mary! You are glory, O Mary. You are the joy, you are the honor of our people! -- Pope Pius XII

Queen of the universe? Conqueress of evil and death? Obtain for us? Convert the wicked? Your throne? Your altars? For crying in the sink! If a tradition leads here something’s wrong with the tradition. She goes from being the virgin mother of Jesus to being immaculately conceived to having the power to answer prayers to being the mediatrix (queen of the universe who converts the wicked) on the way to co-redemtrix. I call shenanigans.

10. Aron Wall says:

Martel,
As tempting as it is to continue the debate about Adam, it seems more profitable to address our disagreement about the nature of religious epistemology. So let me focus on the Catholic-Protestant thing in this reply. (Father, please guide us all to the truth and help us to love each other. In the name of your Son Jesus Christ, and with the help of your Holy Spirit, Amen.)

First thing is that I believe that Bayesian epistemology is the correct epistemology regarding both religious and nonreligious subject matters. This means, among other things, that I never assign probability 1 (perfect certainty) to any proposition unless there is no conceivable situation where it could ever be doubted (e.g. the most basic truths of logic). For everything else, .99999 (just very very certain) or whatever will have to do. St. Newman may have had a whacky epistemology where concepts such as "certainty" work completely differently for secular and sacred subjects; but I don't buy that at all.

(By the way, here is a devastating critique of St. Newman's ideas about Development of Doctrine by St. William Witt, which is also far better written than what you will find in my own comments.)

Now, from my perspective, while there are aspects of your argument which could be turned into valid probabilistic reasoning, there are also a number of fallacies in it:

Christian doctrine is Divine Revelation. It is God’s saving truth, and since it is bestowed by a Divine Source it is necessarily true in its entirety. For this reason, unlike physics, it admits of no uncertainty as to its contents.

This seems to be eliding between, what Aristotle might say, that which is most certain in itself, and that which is most certain to us. Or, in probability language, taking for granted that God cannot lie, it follows that:

P(X is revealed by God $\Rightarrow$ X) = 1

[With certainty, if God reveals a doctrine it is true]

But you seem to slip from this to:

X is revealed by God $\Rightarrow$ P(X) = 1

[If God reveals a doctrine, we can know it to be true with certainty]

which does not follow at all.

(Also it does not follow from the fact that God intends to teach a truth with a certain set of words, that the truth consists of taking those words literally. We both agree that Genesis contains figurative language, but Catholic scholars (of the type you quoted, not all of them) sometimes act as though this is a terrible problem that must be fixed as quickly as possible by reducing the text to its dogmatic content, so everyone is on the same page concerning what to believe! I would submit that this is a terrible thing to do to any figurative text and that God might have gotten it right when he inspired it the first time.)

Scripture is either revelation or not; consequently it is either inerrant by its very nature or not. The Church is either divinely instituted or not. The Apostles and their successors are either infallible or not.

This seems to be a false dichotomy, that God has to either provide 100% guidance with the Spirit or else 0% guidance by the Spirit, and that it can never be anything in between.

Now as a matter of fact I do believe that Scripture in its entirity is divinely inspired, but I don't therefore take everything literally. And I believe that the Church was indeed instituted by Christ on the foundation of the Apostles' testimony (which their successors have no authority to modify), but that doesn't mean that human beings in the Church can't make mistakes. (The biggest mistake is not loving each other, and no amount of correct doctrine fixes that one.)

Israel was instituted by God, along with a priesthood which was declared to be continuing (in far more explicit terms than anything the NT says about St. Peter); does it follow that Israel was totally infallible? Or that the Israelites were unable to have faith in God when no living prophet was available? Jesus was a big critic of the "Oral Torah" traditions in his day that were supposedly passed down from Moses, and (in his controversies with the Pharisees) strongly empahasized the primacy of Scripture over Tradition. I have difficulty believing he would choose to organize the Church in exactly the same way he criticized the rabbis for doing!

Since truth is necessarily consistent, and Protestantism is demonstrably inconsistent, Protestantism must be false.

Non sequitur. If Protestant A believes P and X, while Protestant B believes P and ~X, the correct conclusion is that one of them is wrong about X, not that both of them are wrong about P. Since Protestantism doesn't claim to have an infallible tribunal, for precisely that reason it is not the end of the world if some of us are wrong about some things, or even if Catholics are right about some particular things that Protestants are wrong about. It would only be an inconsistency if I claimed that all Protestants should be able to agree on all doctrines using Protestant methodologies, but I don't claim this. (However, concerning certain essential doctrines such as the Trinity and Incarnation, there is quite a large amount of agreement, at least as much as there is agreement among rank-and-file Catholics regarding Catholic teachings anyway.) As St. Paul points out in Romans 14-15, people can get along even if they don't all agree on every issue. I bet the squabbling has at least as much to do with lack of love as failure to accept the Papacy.

As St. Lewis said in "Reflections on the Psalms":

"We might have expected, we may think we should have preferred, an unrefracted light giving us ultimate truth in systematic form---something we could have tabulated and memorised and relied on like the multiplication table. One can respect, and at moments envy, both the Fundamentalists view of the Bible and the Roman Catholics view of the Church. But there is one argument which we should beware of using for either position: God must have done what is best, this is best, therefore God has done this. For we are mortals and do not know what is best for us, and it is dangerous to prescribe what God must have done---especially when we cannot, for the life of us, see that He has after all done it."

Your argument seems to be: 1) there must be some way to be absolutely certain that one is correct about doctrines, 2) the Catholic church makes the most plausible claims to be the insitution that resolves disputes about everything, therefore 3) the Papacy (and this very argument for the Papacy?) must be totally certain. Is this a fair summary? The second premise may well be true, but I strongly dispute the first premise.

Why would Christ leave Christians in doubt over the contents of Christian doctrine, which must be believed in order to be saved?

Why would he leave Muslims in doubt about Jesus being divine? Why would he leave atheists in doubt as to his existence? For that matter, why does he choose to leave Protestants in doubt regarding the Papacy? Granted that God wants all men to come to a knowledge of the truth, we see that in fact not everyone does come to a knowledge of the truth (in this life, anyway). You are free to reply "Because of the hardness of men's hearts", but then I am free to use the same argument for why not everyone agrees with what I consider the most important doctrines. (Or better still, I will just leave them to God and say it's not my place to judge them.)

But I think you are also overestimating the complexity and difficulty of believing and being saved. There are any number of people in the Gospels who had healing encounters with Jesus, and he would often say "Go in peace, your faith has saved you." The saving faith in question comes from an encounter with Jesus, never from coming to believe 800 specific doctrines. It seems to me from the context of John 16:13 that Jesus is primarily talking about a relational truth; communion with the Trinity, the truth that sets us free to love each other. That seems to fit the context of the discourse nicely. Don't forget: Jesus says I AM the truth, not just I reveal truths.

Believe it or not, I take some Catholic-sounding Scriptures (e.g. Jn 16:13, 20:23, and Matt 16) quite seriously as potential evidence for Catholicism, but I can't help but notice there are other Scriptures which seem to point in different directions. You can't just e.g. quote from St. James as though the meaning were completely obvious while ignoring the fact that St. Paul made superficially contradictory statements about the relationship between faith and works.

In order for any evidence of e.g. an infallible Papacy to be useful, the arguments establishing it must be more certain than the arguments directly for and against the doctrine in question. But this is hardly true for any of the most important doctrines of the faith (e.g. it is much easier to prove directly from Scripture that Christ is divine, then to prove that the successors of St. Peter are infallible). And there are any number of specific doctrines (e.g. Marian dogmas) where the Church seems to be going against most of the scriptural data on the question (even if there are ways of technically making everything consistent) in order to support later theologically motivated developments that there is no evidence the Apostles themselves believed in.

Yes, Catholics must exercise their own judgment in order to decide to believe in the first place, but Catholics do not (and may not) exercise their own judgment when it comes to interpreting ecclesial ‘pronouncements’ that are definitive and are declared as such by the Papacy; these they are bound to accept.

I meant that, even after deciding to accept them no matter what, they still have to decide what they mean, and this requires interpretation. And even if you tell them to just trust what their bishop says about what the Pope says, they still have to decide what their bishop's words mean. No matter how pre-chewed the doctrines are, some amount of digestion must occur in the individual believer. This does not refute the claims of the Catholic church to be infallible, but it does defeat any argument based on the premise that there is some alternative which doesn't involve private interpretation. As my best friend St. Yoaav says, "Methodologically, there is no alternative to thinking!"

[Some edits later, mostly for clarity and style--AW]

11. willie says:

Aron

Theology as knowledge of God via 1.revelation and interpretation from scripture and or 2.sacred oral tradition/apostolic tradition and or 3.human experience (religiosity) lies at the heart of this discussion. The weight granted to each is maybe something to be discussed
Regarding Deposit of Faith
“The metaphor of a 'deposit' suggests that this teaching is an inexhaustible treasure, that rewards reflection and study with new insights and deeper penetration into the mystery of the divine economy of salvation (God's plan for saving mankind)...”
.http://www.catholicfaithandreason.org/the-deposit-of-faith-and-the-holy-spirit-of-god.html
A gem in my opinion. This confirms the treasure available to the faithful in his/her spiritual development.

To come to (new) insights and confession(meaning the interpretation of truth of scripture) may have profound effects. Should such opinion, as actually with all our religious concepts, not be tempered by typical Reformed tradition of “provisionality subject to revision”?

Also I would like your opinion regarding a preferred “open” or “closed” confessional tradition?

But Aron, I agree with you. A saving faith is uncomplicated. The brigand at the cross at Golgotha attest to it. Living a faithful life is something else.

12. Martel says:

Hi Patronius,

"The rosary is part of a spectrum that includes St. Bernard being squirted with healing breast milk (and the veneration of its remnants), Mary tormenting children with visions of hell, and magic scapulars."

I generally ignore people who, after having had each point of a previous post answered, completely ignore those answers and continue right on going as if those points were never answered.

But, since I'm feeling charitable, I'll go ahead and answer your new points as best I can. First, scapulars aren't magic. In fact, the Catholic Church categorically condemns magic. From the Catechism of the Catholic Church (sect. 2117), "All practices of magic or sorcery, by which one attempts to tame occult powers, so as to place them at one's service and have a supernatural power over others - even if this were for the sake of restoring their health - are gravely contrary to the virtue of religion. These practices are even more to be condemned when accompanied by the intention of harming someone, or when they have recourse to the intervention of demons. Wearing charms is also reprehensible. Spiritism often implies divination or magical practices; the Church for her part warns the faithful against it. Recourse to so-called traditional cures does not justify either the invocation of evil powers or the exploitation of another's credulity." Referencing specifically the status of scapulars, a Catholic website says, "Some falsely believe that wearing the Brown Scapular offers some sort of guarantee of salvation because of the legendary words attributed to Our Lady. This is against Church teaching, is superstitious and a grave error. Sacramentals are not magical ways to manipulate God; they are Church-instituted rituals/objects that remind us of what we are supposed to be doing/thinking of, that depend on the faith, hope and love of the user, and which help prepare us to receive God's saving grace. One must do more than 'wear the scapular'; one must wear it worthily."

As for St. Bernard and the 'Lactatio,' the claimed miracle or legend has never been officially endorsed, and Catholics are under no obligation to accept it. (In fact, the incident is so minor that in St. Bernard's Life, as described in both the Catholic Encyclopedia and in Butler's famous Lives of the Saints (unabridged), it isn't even mentioned.))

As for the Blessed Mary "tormenting children with visions of Hell," I presume you are referring to Fatima? If so, so what? It is in fact a very good thing to teach children about the reality of Hell. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Ps. 111:10). Moreover, in the description of the vision in Sister Lucy's memoirs, she clearly says that the vision "lasted for a moment."

"In the same way Muslims believe there is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet, and Jews believe that God is one, Christians believe 'There is one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus.' This is definitive, essential, intrinsic, what it means to be Christian." You say later, "The GOSPEL is the power of salvation, conditioned on the atoning blood of Jesus. How is Mary as mediatrix not an addition?"

The Church has always taught that there is but one mediator between God and man. From the Second Vatican Council (Lumen Gentium): "There is but one Mediator as we know from the words of the apostle, "for there is one God and one mediator of God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself a redemption for all". The maternal duty of Mary toward men in no wise obscures or diminishes this unique mediation of Christ, but rather shows His power. For all the salvific influence of the Blessed Virgin on men originates, not from some inner necessity, but from the divine pleasure. It flows forth from the superabundance of the merits of Christ, rests on His mediation, depends entirely on it and draws all its power from it. In no way does it impede, but rather does it foster the immediate union of the faithful with Christ" (60). Please see: http://www.catholic.com/blog/tim-staples/one-mediator-between-god-and-men for a fuller explanation.

After quoting extensively from Pope Pius XII, you write, "Queen of the universe? Conqueress of evil and death? Obtain for us? Convert the wicked? Your throne? Your altars? For crying in the sink! If a tradition leads here something’s wrong with the tradition."

Keep in mind that this is a prayer composed by the Pope, and not a dogmatic definition. That said, it is not inconsistent with the traditional understanding of Mary. It's important to remember that all of these high titles and honors are given only to the Blessed Virgin on behalf of her intercession to the Father through the Son and her unique role in salvation history. During my own conversion to Catholicism, I must admit I was somewhat taken aback by the language that was being used to describe Mary, but after I recognized the proper way in which these titles and honors ought to be understood, I found the language perfectly acceptable. (Unfortunately, the hyperbolic and idiosyncratic nature of the language is a stumbling block for many Protestants who simply take it at face value.)

"She goes from being the virgin mother of Jesus to being immaculately conceived to having the power to answer prayers to being the mediatrix (queen of the universe who converts the wicked) on the way to co-redemtrix. I call shenanigans."

Not just Virgin Mother of Jesus, Virgin Mother of God (as determined by the Council of Ephesus (431)), since Jesus--true God and true man--was God. As for the immaculate conception, keep in mind that many of the early Church fathers were forthright about the sinlessness of Mary, and that the Eastern Orthodox Church agrees that Mary never sinned. ("I can say, in short, that the Orthodox Church believes that Mary, as a human being, could indeed have sinned, but chose not to." See http://oca.org/questions/saints/sinlessness-of-mary

As for the dogma of the Immaculate Conception--that Mary was conceived without Original Sin--the Orthodox do not accept it due to their differing conception of Original Sin. Also (and the Orthodox website cited above misunderstands this), being conceived without Original Sin does not imply that Mary could not have sinned. After all, Adam and Eve were created without Original Sin, and they sinned. All the Immaculate Conception means is that Mary, through the retroactive saving grace of Jesus Christ, was conceived in the same state that Adam and Eve were, in grace and without sin.

Mary does not 'convert the wicked' or 'answer prayers', since only God can do this. By her intercession she aids in converting the wicked and by her prayers she helps to obtain answered prayers. Regular, everyday Christians can also do this.

Finally, the title 'Co-Redemptrix' is not dogma; it is unpopular and controversial within the Church itself. It is based on the idea that Mary was instrumental in Christ's Redemption by virtue of her free assent to the Angel Gabriel and agreement to bear the Christ-Child ("Let it be done to me according to Your Will" (Lk 1:38). The danger of the title is that, even if it is carefully defined in a highly qualified way, it certainly gives the wrong impression and can lead to heresy, implying a kind of equality with the redemptive action of Jesus Christ. For this reason, I avoid using it.

13. Hi Martel - Sorry if I came across as harsh or tangential. Face-to-face I'm warm and more focused, like a Polish Don Rickles. You had a crisis of faith as a Protestant. Was it because of the diversity of views? Some people become skeptics here (a friend of mine became a Buddhist and never looked back). Why Catholicism? I'm not asking for the sake of debate. What was the AHA! element/moment?

14. Martel says:

"First thing is that I believe that Bayesian epistemology is the correct epistemology regarding both religious and nonreligious subject matters. This means, among other things, that I never assign probability 1 (perfect certainty) to any proposition unless there is no conceivable situation where it could ever be doubted (e.g. the most basic truths of logic). For everything else, .99999 (just very very certain) or whatever will have to do. St. Newman may have had a whacky epistemology where concepts such as "certainty" work completely differently for secular and sacred subjects; but I don't buy that at all."

There's a difference, which I believe you allude to later in you response, between the probability (and this can be taken in the Bayesian sense) that some proposition is true, and the manner of an individual's assent to that proposition. For example, one can be certain, i.e. firmly assent, to proposition P, and yet assign a probability for P's truth at 0.2. This is a distinction Cardinal Newman makes in his 'Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent.'

"(By the way, here is a devastating critique of St. Newman's ideas about Development of Doctrine by St. William Witt, which is also far better written than what you will find in my own comments.)"

After giving Dr. Witt's essay a read through, my personal assessment is that it is if anything a devastating self-indictment of the credibility of Dr. Witt himself. His argument itself is based on glaring factual errors. For instance, Witt claims, "As an aside, it needs to be emphasized that Newman's theory of development never was held by Roman theologians previously, and was much debated after he offered it. Many Roman theologians at the time rejected Newman's theory of development vigorously, and if one reads the Pre-Vatican II manuals of theology that were the standard way of teaching in seminaries until after that Council, they still embrace the traditional position." While Witt would have us believe that the Roman Catholic position prior to the nineteenth century was that "the content of Catholic faith had been established once for all from the beginning of the history of the church," this is false. The Ecumenical Councils are witness enough against this, since in every case they almost invariably involved an increasing clarification of doctrinal beliefs, i.e. a development. Moreover, St. Vincent of Lerins had advocated a position nearly identical to Newman's as early as the fifth century. See https://www.crossroadsinitiative.com/library_article/1048/Development_of_Doctrine_Vincent_of_Lerins.html

Witt also claims, "According to Jewel, there was no evidence for distinctively Roman doctrines like transubstantiation or the papacy in the early church. (Jewel was right here.)" No evidence? As before, it seems Witt is either factually wrong or a sloppy writer. Certainly the word 'transsubstatio' that was later used (in the Fouth Lateran Council) to define the manner in which Christ was really present in the Eucharist was not used in the early Church, but that does not entail that the concept or idea of transubstantion was absent in the early Church. In fact, contra Witt, ample evidence suggests it was not. So, while Witt is perhaps within his rights to dismiss such evidence as insufficient, he is in no wise permitted to claim there is 'no evidence,' since that is simply factually false. To give just one poignant example of its being such: "Do not, therefore, regard the bread and wine as simply that; for they are, according to the Master’s declaration, the body and blood of Christ. Even though the senses suggest to you the other, let faith make you firm. Do not judge in this matter by taste, but be fully assured by the faith, not doubting that you have been deemed worthy of the body and blood of Christ. . . . [Since you are] fully convinced that the apparent bread is not bread, even though it is sensible to the taste, but the body of Christ, and that the apparent wine is not wine, even though the taste would have it so, . . . partake of that bread as something spiritual, and put a cheerful face on your soul." (Cyril of Jerusalem; from a work written in approx. 350 A.D.) St. Cyril's words here are just about identical in meaning to the doctrine of transubstantiation, which affirms a change in the substance of the Eucharistic elements ("the apparent bread is not bread") with a continuation of their sensible accidents ("even though the taste would have it so").

At any rate, Witt fails to grasp the nuances of what Cardinal Newman's theory of development of doctrine actually means: that while it is an extended discussion of a topic of eccesial sensitivity (which explains why it was somewhat controversial), it was not at all a break with traditional Catholic teaching as to the fact of doctrinal development.

"P(X is revealed by God ⇒ X) = 1[With certainty, if God reveals a doctrine it is true]
But you seem to slip from this to:
X is revealed by God ⇒ P(X) = 1 [If God reveals a doctrine, we can know it to be true with certainty]
which does not follow at all."

You're misunderstanding me. I accept the first proposition (obviously). I do not accept the second (and this is where you misunderstand me). What I actually accept is: "If God reveals a doctrine, we ought to be able to know, or have a way of knowing, with certainty whether or not it is a doctrine." Now, if I accept that the Catholic Church is an infallible teacher, then I can know with certainty whether or not a proposed doctrine is in fact a real doctrine, and assign a dependent probability (i.e., a probability based on the prior acceptance of that infallibility) of 1 to any doctrine which the Church authoritatively teaches. Of course, that the Catholic Church is infallible is, in its own right, a proposition possessing a probability <1, but I can still be certain of its infallibility, since (as described above) personal certainty need not correspond to actual probability.

But the key take-away is: If one accepts the Catholic Church as an infallible authority (consider this a Bayesian background belief), it follows that the probability of any teaching on faith or morals proposed by the Church for belief enjoys a probabilty of 1 or approaching 1. By raising the probabilty in this way, the Church is able to give the faithful certainty as to the contents of Christian doctrine that Protestantism cannot similarly give. For, Protestantism rejects authority outside of the Scripture, and because Scripture is not a self-interpreting document, the contents of Christian faith become almost entirely up for grabs. (This explains the thousands of contemporary Protestant sects and the range of their beliefs on all sorts of matters.) Moreover, and this is the real problem, there is no viable extra-Scriptural source of appeal for the Protestant by which he can differentiate between 'essential' and 'unessential' Christian beliefs.

"(Also it does not follow from the fact that God intends to teach a truth with a certain set of words, that the truth consists of taking those words literally..."

I agree.

"We both agree that Genesis contains figurative language, but Catholic scholars (of the type you quoted, not all of them) sometimes act as though this is a terrible problem that must be fixed as quickly as possible by reducing the text to its dogmatic content, so everyone is on the same page concerning what to believe! I would submit that this is a terrible thing to do to any figurative text and that God might have gotten it right when he inspired it the first time.)"

No, the Catholic Church allows ample room for disagreement on various matters which it does not consider essential to the contents of dogma. This explains why there are in fact very few Biblical passages on which the Church has authoritatively decided upon their meaning. Thus, a hypothetical theological dispute within Catholicism over whether there were or were not a literal Adam and Eve is not something that the Church would be eager to resolve solely because 'not all Catholics would be on the same page.' (In the 16th century there was a major dispute between the Jesuits and Dominicans over God's foreknowledge and free will, and the Pope in fact stepped in to declare a moratorium on the discussion, since either view was doctrinally acceptable.) Instead, the Church has 'reduced' Genesis to its crucial dogmatic content because it judges that such content is an essential part of Christian doctrine: it must be believed for the sake of supporting and giving coherence to the doctrines of Original Sin and salvation.

I earlier wrote, "Scripture is either revelation or not; consequently it is either inerrant by its very nature or not. The Church is either divinely instituted or not. The Apostles and their successors are either infallible or not." And you responded, "This seems to be a false dichotomy, that God has to either provide 100% guidance with the Spirit or else 0% guidance by the Spirit, and that it can never be anything in between."

Let's say the Holy Spirit gave 20% guidance. And let's say that, consequently, on the issue of the divinity of Christ (which was hotly contested in the early Church), the Holy Spirit nudged the Church to be about 20% better disposed to the acceptance of Christ's divinity than to its rejection. Let's say the result was that the Church actually taught at the Council of Nicaea, "We proclaim that it's roughtly 20% more likely that Christ is divine than not. With that in mind, believe as you will." Would you find that situation acceptable?

"Now as a matter of fact I do believe that Scripture in its entirity is divinely inspired, but I don't therefore take everything literally. [Neither do I.] And I believe that the Church was indeed instituted by Christ on the foundation of the Apostles' testimony (which their successors have no authority to modify), but that doesn't mean that human beings in the Church can't make mistakes."

Well, the Council at Nicaea was a group of human beings in the Church, right? Could they have made a mistake? In other words, do you think that the Nicene Creed could be wrong? (I suggest you think long and hard about these questions, Aron, which are completely valid given your beliefs about the 'how' of doctrinal determination.)

"Israel was instituted by God, along with a priesthood which was declared to be continuing (in far more explicit terms than anything the NT says about St. Peter); does it follow that Israel was totally infallible?"

No, but Christ was infallible, and brought about something radically new. Thus, it makes absolutely no sense that he would inaugurate a Church and send the Holy Spirit to guide it "into all truth", and yet at the same time downgrade it to the fallible position of Israel and the Old Law.

"Jesus was a big critic of the "Oral Torah" traditions in his day that were supposedly passed down from Moses, and (in his controversies with the Pharisees) strongly empahasized the primacy of Scripture over Tradition. I have difficulty believing he would choose to organize the Church in exactly the same way he criticized the rabbis for doing!"

Except that he's not organizing it in the same way. Jesus was an infallible interpreter of the Old Testament Scripture, and transmitted to Peter and the Apostles (through the protection of the Holy Spirit) the ability to infallibly interpret all Scripture. There's continuity here, between Christ and His Church, along with discontinuity with the fallible position of Israel.

" If Protestant A believes P and X, while Protestant B believes P and ~X, the correct conclusion is that one of them is wrong about X, not that both of them are wrong about P."

Of course, but my point is that since Protestantism as a whole (as the collection of all of its sects) contains incompatible and contradictory beliefs, it (as a whole) must be false. That still leaves open the possibility that one particular sect has completely true beliefs.

"It would only be an inconsistency if I claimed that all Protestants should be able to agree on all doctrines using Protestant methodologies, but I don't claim this. (However, concerning certain essential doctrines such as the Trinity and Incarnation, there is quite a large amount of agreement, at least as much as there is agreement among rank-and-file Catholics regarding Catholic teachings anyway.)"

How have you determined that these doctrines (like the Incarnation) are essential? Essential according to whom? Also, disagreement among 'rank-and-file Catholics regarding Catholic teaching' makes for a bad analogy, since the teaching authority of the Church is the magisterium (the pope and bishops in communion with him) and not all members of the Church, who may or not wholly submit to this authority. Thus, though many bishops and laity in the early Church became Arian, it is incorrect to say 'The Church was Arian,' since the Pope (who is the principle of the Church's unity and the final authority over doctrine never was.

"Your argument seems to be: 1) there must be some way to be absolutely certain that one is correct about doctrines, 2) the Catholic church makes the most plausible claims to be the insitution that resolves disputes about everything, therefore 3) the Papacy (and this very argument for the Papacy?) must be totally certain. Is this a fair summary? The second premise may well be true, but I strongly dispute the first premise."

It's a close summary, but not exactly right. My claim is that in Christianity certainty must be fostered--not created, since certainty can't be compelled (except in some limited cases like logic and immediate sensation)--if the faithful are to become certain about the contents of Christian doctrine, and that Protestantism is unable to do this. If Christianity cannot foster certainty, it becomes a crap-shoot. (If one studies the history of Protestantism, it's obvious that it has become a crap-shoot.) So to alter the argument you suggested:
1) If Christianity is to mean anything definite, it must possess some means to foster certainty as to the contents of its doctrine.
2) Within the history of Christianity, the only plausible candidate for possession of such a means is the Catholic Church.
3) If Christianity is to mean anything definite, then ultimately it can only be found in the Catholic Church.

"Why would he leave Muslims in doubt about Jesus being divine? Why would he leave atheists in doubt as to his existence? For that matter, why does he choose to leave Protestants in doubt regarding the Papacy?"

You're missing the point here. The claim is not that every individual must attain to certainty over true Christianity, but only that the Church of Christianity must be so constituted as to be able to foster certainty.

"But I think you are also overestimating the complexity and difficulty of believing and being saved. There are any number of people in the Gospels who had healing encounters with Jesus, and he would often say "Go in peace, your faith has saved you." The saving faith in question comes from an encounter with Jesus, never from coming to believe 800 specific doctrines."

Said 'encounters' always involved an individual's implicit belief in Christ's unique claims. The several explicit doctrines of Catholicism are merely the unpacking of such implicit belief. However, if someone claims to possess implicit belief but when presented with an explicit doctrine rejects it--e.g. 'I believe in Christ, but only as a moral exemplar, not as divine'--then that implies that the implicit belief was inadequate in the first place.

"It seems to me from the context of John 16:13 that Jesus is primarily talking about a relational truth; communion with the Trinity, the truth that sets us free to love each other. That seems to fit the context of the discourse nicely. Don't forget: Jesus says I AM the truth, not just I reveal truths."

Yes, but as I explained above, relational truths are captured in propositional truths. Thus, if certain true propositions about the relation are rejected, then it turns out that the apparent relational truth was not actually true.

"You can't just e.g. quote from St. James as though the meaning were completely obvious while ignoring the fact that St. Paul made superficially contradictory statements about the relationship between faith and works."

The passage from St. James is the only place in Scripture where the phrase 'faith ALONE' is used, and James repudiates the idea. St. Paul refers to 'faith' often, but not 'faith alone.'

"In order for any evidence of e.g. an infallible Papacy to be useful, the arguments establishing it must be more certain than the arguments directly for and against the doctrine in question."

No. As Cardinal Newman says, " I may be certain that the Church is infallible, while I am myself a fallible mortal; otherwise, I cannot be certain that the Supreme Being is infallible, until I am infallible myself. It is a strange objection, then, which is sometimes urged against Catholics, that they cannot prove and assent to the Church's infallibility, unless they first believe in their own. Certitude, as I have said, is directed to one or other definite concrete proposition. I am certain of proposition one, two, three, four, or five, one by one, each by itself. I may be certain of one of them, without being certain of the rest; that I am certain of the first makes it neither likely nor unlikely that I am certain of the second; but were I infallible, then I should be certain, not only of one of them, but of all, and of many more besides, which have never come before me as yet. Therefore we may be certain of the infallibility of the Church, while we admit that in many things we are not, and cannot be, certain at all./It is wonderful that a clear-headed man, like Chillingworth, sees this as little as the run of everyday objectors to the Catholic religion; for in his celebrated "Religion of Protestants" he writes as follows:—"You tell me they cannot be saved, unless they believe in your proposals with an infallible faith. To which end they must believe also your propounder, the Church, to be simply infallible. Now how is it possible for them to give a rational assent to the Church's infallibility, unless they have some infallible means to know that she is infallible? Neither can they infallibly know the infallibility of this means, but by some other; and so on for ever, unless they can dig so deep, as to come at length to the Rock, that is, to settle all upon something evident of itself, which is not so much as pretended."/Now what is an "infallible means"? It is a means of coming at a fact without the chance of mistake. It is a proof which is sufficient for certitude in the particular case, or a proof that is certain. When then Chillingworth says that there can be no "rational assent to the Church's infallibility" without "some infallible means of knowing that she is infallible," he means nothing else than some means which is certain; he says that for a rational assent to infallibility there must be an absolutely valid or certain proof. This is intelligible; but observe how his argument will run, if worded according to this interpretation: "The doctrine of the Church's infallibility requires a proof that is certain; and that certain proof requires another previous certain proof, and that again another, and so on ad infinitum, unless indeed we dig so deep as to settle all upon something evident of itself." What is this but to say that nothing in this world is certain but what is self-evident? that nothing can be absolutely proved?"
(end quote)

"And there are any number of specific doctrines (e.g. Marian dogmas) where the Church seems to be going against most of the scriptural data on the question (even if there are ways of technically making everything consistent) in order to support later theologically motivated developments that there is no evidence the Apostles themselves believed in."

Is there any evidence the Apostles believed in the 27 books of the NT canon? And yet, the fact that those books are canonical must be believed by Christians.

"I meant that, even after deciding to accept them no matter what, they still have to decide what they mean, and this requires interpretation. And even if you tell them to just trust what their bishop says about what the Pope says, they still have to decide what their bishop's words mean. No matter how pre-chewed the doctrines are, some amount of digestion must occur in the individual believer. This does not refute the claims of the Catholic church to be infallible, but it does defeat any argument based on the premise that there is some alternative which doesn't involve private interpretation. As my best friend St. Yoaav says, 'Methodologically, there is no alternative to thinking!'"

As I said in my last post, when the Catholic Church defines something, there is an interpretive range in which the Catholic must exercise his own judgment and personal interpretation, because such is the inherent nature of language: even the clearest statements typically require some degree of interpretation. However, whatever that range is can be further delimited by a future act of the Church's power of correction (e.g. telling theologians they're wrong, e.g. Hans Kung) or a follow-up definition (e.g. as future councils further defined what was defined at the Council of Nicaea). This means that the Church has the means to tell individual Catholics that they're getting it wrong. The Bible can't do that.

15. Aron Wall says:

Dear Martel,
Thanks for your response. (Father, thank you for Martel, and help us to express whatever unity of faith and love is possible given the circumstances, Amen.)

One of the problems with these internet conversations is that the comments tend to get longer and longer as there are more and more issues on the table. I'm going to try to fight against this by dividing this response into two pieces, 1) miscellaneous objections which I feel obliged to say, and 2) the arguments and questions which I think will actually move the conversation forwards. Feel free to reply to part #1 as you desire, but if you don't, I won't assume you therefore agree with what I said. Part #2 is where you need to focus your efforts if you want to persuade me.

1. MISCELLANEOUS OBJECTIONS
With regard to the essay of St. William Witt, I am willing to admit that St. Vincent of Lerins' position anticipated that of St. Newman in certain respects, but that does not imply that this was the standard position of Catholic theologians prior to Newman. I think that Witt is claiming (correctly) that a more static concept of tradition was dominant in the centuries before Newman. Nothing you have said refutes this sentence: "Many Roman theologians at the time rejected Newman's theory of development vigorously, and if one reads the Pre-Vatican II manuals of theology that were the standard way of teaching in seminaries until after that Council, they still embrace the traditional position." While he may have overgeneralized from the evidence he cites, it remains some evidence of what the teaching of the Catholic Church was, in the centuries prior to Newman (St. Vincent was considerably before that).

(Also the famous Vincentian canon, that we should believe "all possible care must be taken, that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all," seems to me to be in considerable tension with the idea that the Pope can proclaim as new developements of doctrine things which were previously mere opinions or theories, and previously to that unheard of.)

The view of St. Basil in his book on "The Holy Spirit" seems more typical:

Where is it written that we are to bless the baptismal water, the oil of anointing, and even the one who is being baptized? Is it not from the silent and mystical tradition? Indeed, in what written word is even the anointing oil taught? Where does it say that in baptizing there is to be a triple immersion? And the rest of the things done at baptism -- where is it written that we are to renounce Satan and his angels? Does this not come from that secret and arcane teaching which our Fathers guarded in a silence not too curiously meddled with and not idly investigated, when they had learned well that reverence for the mysteries is best preserved by silence.... In the same way the Apostles and Fathers who, in the beginning, prescribed the Church's rites, guarded in secrecy and silence the dignity of the mysteries; for that which is blabbed at random and in the public ear is no mystery at all. This is the reason for our handing on of unwritten precepts and practices; that the knowledge of our dogmas may not be neglected and held in contempt by the multitude through too great a familiarity. Dogma and kerygma are two distinct things. Dogma is observed in silence; kerygma is proclaimed to all the world"

Note how St. Basil is unwilling to admit that even the smallest elements of e.g. the baptismal rite were later innovations, but rather he thinks that all of these details of liturgy go back to the Apostles themselves, and that the reason we don't find written evidence of this is that they were handed down secretly. Of course St. Basil is talking about rites, but he still calls them dogmas, and similar claims were historically made by Catholics about doctrines not found in the New Testament. It is this theory, that the traditions weren't really developments at all but just secret oral knowledge passed down by generations of bishops, which Witt claims isn't plausible in light of the modern methods of history. (For the record, I have no particular objection to any of the particular liturgical practices St. Basil mentions, just the idea that these things go back to the Apostles when they probably mostly don't.)

Also I don't think merely citing the existence of Ecumenical Councils is an argument against Witt's position. In fact Witt (who, being an Anglican, takes the early councils pretty seriously) agrees that the Councils interpreted Scripture, and uses this fact in his argument against Newman:

If the writings of dead authors are necessarily subject to the arbitrary whims of interpreters, would this apply to all writings, or only to biblical writings? How could Newman have confidence in his own private judgment as a historian to interpret the history of Arianism (based on documents written by dead authors), and indeed, the fact of development itself, but have no such confidence in regard to biblical interpretation? Is not the work of historians equally subject to the critique of private judgment? Would there not be a need for an infallible magisterium to interpret not only biblical texts, but the fact of historical development itself? Moreover, that an authority must be living is in conflict with Newman’s own epistemological realism in investigating historical documents, and also with any hope for the authority of previous ecclesial statements, like the councils, because those authors are also no longer living.

But rather than having a proxy fight about the accuracy of Witt's history, I feel it is more interesting to persue the issue of probability theory and how it relates to belief.

Let's say the Holy Spirit gave 20% guidance. And let's say that, consequently, on the issue of the divinity of Christ (which was hotly contested in the early Church), the Holy Spirit nudged the Church to be about 20% better disposed to the acceptance of Christ's divinity than to its rejection. Let's say the result was that the Church actually taught at the Council of Nicaea, "We proclaim that it's roughtly 20% more likely that Christ is divine than not. With that in mind, believe as you will." Would you find that situation acceptable?

That's a very crude model of partial guidance and I don't accept it. What if God makes sure that the gospel truths always win out in the end (as at, e.g. Nicea) but doesn't ensure that everyone gets the minor doctrines right, especially if they resist his guidance (as we all do to some extent). God's will can be accomplished in spite of human fallibility, and I don't need to put his actions in history into a box in order for God to be victorious.

Partial guidance certainly exists in some contexts (unless you deny you personally have the Holy Spirit).

Well, the Council at Nicaea was a group of human beings in the Church, right? Could they have made a mistake? In other words, do you think that the Nicene Creed could be wrong?

I think it could have been wrong (and there were other councils at around the same time which got the Arian question wrong). If it had proclaimed something sufficently alien from the New Testament, I would not accept it; but as the text is, it seems pretty good.

I'm happy to assign doctrines some probability points for being generally accepted by godly and Spirit-led men, I'm just not willing to assign it infinite points so that I have to accept it no matter how badly it seems to contradict Scripture or scientific facts.

Of course, but my point is that since Protestantism as a whole (as the collection of all of its sects) contains incompatible and contradictory beliefs, it (as a whole) must be false.

That's a very strange way to use the word "false". Nobody would ever say "The conjunction of everything different liberals believe is contradictory, therefore liberalism is false, though some particular liberal may still be right". That's a silly way to talk.

That still leaves open the possibility that one particular sect has completely true beliefs.

Yes, but if we include all the minor doctrines it isn't very likely---and I'm okay with that. I've been wrong before and it hasn't prevented the Holy Spirit from working in my life and the lives of others.

Also, you know that the large majority of Protestant churches are in communion with each other, right? It's not actually true that e.g. typical Baptists and Methodists think that the other group are heretics who deny essential Christological doctrines and are going to Hell. For the most part somebody baptized in one Protestant church is received as a Christian in another, with few or no questions asked. Only a tiny minority of Protestant churches disbelieve in e.g. the Trinity or the Incarnation, and the other Protestant churches are pretty universal in their rejection of those churches. (I'm not talking about liberal wishy-washy people who barely accept the authority of the Bible in the first place. There's also plenty of squishy liberal Catholic-in-name priests who don't accept the dogmas of the Catholic church. The question I think you are asking is how well the people who accept the stated authority are at staying in communion.)

So talking about "thousands of sects" is highly misleading and unfair. Just because there are lots of organizations does not mean we don't regard each other mostly as Christians. (For that matter, there are 24 administratively-independent churches within the Catholic church, but they are in communion with each other.)

How have you determined that these doctrines (like the Incarnation) are essential? Essential according to whom?

Me, of course, since I'm the one you seem to be asking. I do so by reading Scripture, praying, talking to other Christians, reading creeds, and thinking about it (Of course, I am fallible.). Yes, in practice, Protestants disagree over what is essential. So what? Some of them are wrong. When we disagree we argue about it, and sometimes bad things happen as a result, and sometimes even good things happen. Doesn't seem too different from anything else important in life.

The passage from St. James is the only place in Scripture where the phrase 'faith ALONE' is used, and James repudiates the idea. St. Paul refers to 'faith' often, but not 'faith alone.'

Nobody believes that we are saved by faith, but not by grace. Nobody believes we are saved by faith, but not by the Holy Spirit. The Protestant claim is that we are saved by faith and not by works, which is pretty explicitly stated by St. Paul several times. That's what we mean by "alone". People should learn the accepted meanings of Catholic doctrines before critcizing them, but the same goes for Protestant doctrines.

"In order for any evidence of e.g. an infallible Papacy to be useful, the arguments establishing it must be more certain than the arguments directly for and against the doctrine in question."

No. As Cardinal Newman says...

I won't repeat the quote here because it seems not at all to the point. It would be relevant if I had been arguing that in order to accept an infallible Pope I would first have to believe that I was infallible concerning everything else. But I was only asserting that to be certain of a doctrine due to it being proclaimed infallibly by the Pope, one would first have to be certain of Papal infallibility itself. That's why I said "certain" and not "infallible", and why I attached that word "certain" specifically to "the arguments establishing [Papal infallibility]".

Also his threatened infinite regress at the end seems quite sophistical. I'm not asking for an infinite sequence of proofs for Papal infallibility, just a proof for Papal infallibility itself in terms of things which I already believe.

Is there any evidence the Apostles believed in the 27 books of the NT canon? And yet, the fact that those books are canonical must be believed by Christians.

Must be? Don't the Apostles count as Christians? If they didn't believe in it, it must not be necessary for salvation. I suppose you must have really meant that it must be believed today, but can you explain why the number of things you have to believe in to be saved increases in every generation?

You can, of course, find in the NT the concepts of Scripture, of apostolic writings carrying authority, specific endorsements of other books in the NT, and so on, but not the 27 book canon. We Protestants are perfectly willing to grant that the Holy Spirit guided the Church in her ultimate decision about which NT books to read and endorse (although rationally working through which books seemed to carry apostolic authority was a big part of that decision). But the fact that we came to accept Scripture on the authority of the Church does not make the Church a higher authority than Scripture, any more than the woman at the well was a higher authority than Jesus, when she introduced her townsfolk to him. And once our lives have been changed and trasformed, we can say with them: "We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world" (John 4:42).

As I said in my last post, when the Catholic Church defines something, there is an interpretive range in which the Catholic must exercise his own judgment and personal interpretation, because such is the inherent nature of language: even the clearest statements typically require some degree of interpretation. However, whatever that range is can be further delimited by a future act of the Church's power of correction (e.g. telling theologians they're wrong, e.g. Hans Kung) or a follow-up definition (e.g. as future councils further defined what was defined at the Council of Nicaea). This means that the Church has the means to tell individual Catholics that they're getting it wrong. The Bible can't do that.

In theory that sounds nice and all, but if I converted to Catholicism and then (as a not-so-famous layperson) happened to have an eccentric interpetation of Catholic documents, the odds that I would receive a personal smackdown from the Vatican in my own lifetime are slim to none. If the important thing is that I feel beholden to an authority who can correct me, I would point out that the odds of my receiving correction from the lips of Jesus himself at the Second Coming are far greater than are my odds are of being corrected by the Pope.

Anyway, Christians change their minds about things through reading the Bible, though the conviction of the Spirit, all the time. Sure, it isn't guaranteed, but it's better than the odds of being noticed by the Pope.

2. THE IMPORTANT STUFF

First of all, would you agree that the more often the Catholic church proclaims as dogma things which seem to be true (based on other sources of evidence such as Scripture), the more likely it is to be infallible? And conversely, that the more dogmas which seem to be false, the less likely it is to be infallible? Of course, Scriptural arguments and so on also factor into the probability analysis.

(If they get so many doctrines right that it seems unlikely they would get things that right without being infallible, then one might accept the doctrines which seem implausible on the basis of the Church's authority. On the other hand, declaring infallible a doctrine which is implausible will decrease the probability of infallibility by an amount exactly proportional to the implausibility of that doctrine. In other words, Bayesianism.)

Except that he's not organizing it in the same way. Jesus was an infallible interpreter of the Old Testament Scripture, and transmitted to Peter and the Apostles (through the protection of the Holy Spirit) the ability to infallibly interpret all Scripture. There's continuity here, between Christ and His Church, along with discontinuity with the fallible position of Israel.

I agree that there are some important differences between the Old and New Covenants, so we can't just assume that everything is the same. However, I don't think that allows us to ignore Jesus' specific words about the relationship between Scripture and Tradition, especially given that he explicitly used the Pharisees as a negative example for the disciples several times. Jesus' disputes over the interpetation of Scripture took place in a Jewish context, but that does not make them irrelevant for Christian doctrine.

For example, one can be certain, i.e. firmly assent, to proposition P, and yet assign a probability for P's truth at 0.2.

Really? I couldn't. Not honestly, anyway. Surely you are not telling me that I should intellectually assent to a doctrine of Catholicism while simultaneously believing it is probably false! Isn't it like, a bad thing to believe things that are probably false? I would have thought that a defender of Catholicism would argue that it is probably true, not that I should believe in it even if it is probably false.

Of course I agree that there are psychological elements of belief which are separate from what Bayesians call "credences"; three people could both say that a proposition was 99% likely to be true, and one could feel sunny certainty, and another be wracked with doubt about that 1% chace, and a third be totally indifferent and refuse to act based on the knowledge. But it is never justified to feel certain of something unless the probability is in fact very high.

I would agree that "faith" has an element of will, of choosing to put one's trust in God. How much certainty does that require? It doesn't seem to me that it requires belief that the probability is 1, just whatever is the minimum probability that it seems worthwhile to make the gamble of living as if it is true. "Belief with confidence" is different from "absolute certainty", and the latter attitude is indeed justified only for (actually) self-evident truths.

You say:

What I actually accept is: "If God reveals a doctrine, we ought to be able to know, or have a way of knowing, with certainty whether or not it is a doctrine."

OK, and I do not accept this statement. Why on earth should I accept it? There is an obviously weaker statement, namely: "If God reveals a doctrine which is (in fact) essential/important for salvation, then we ought to be able to believe, or have a way of coming to believe, that it is true with high probability." This seems sufficient.

If faith is defined through the presence of actions which are based on belief (James 2:20-26, Heb. 11:6), then total certainty is quite unnecessary; there need only be a sufficient probability for action. But then there is no need for an infallible interpreter. Might be convenient, but not strictly necessary. Either way, there will be some people who believe the right things and some people who believe the wrong things.

Now, if I accept that the Catholic Church is an infallible teacher, then I can know with certainty whether or not a proposed doctrine is in fact a real doctrine, and assign a dependent probability (i.e., a probability based on the prior acceptance of that infallibility) of 1 to any doctrine which the Church authoritatively teaches. Of course, that the Catholic Church is infallible is, in its own right, a proposition possessing a probability <1, but I can still be certain of its infallibility, since (as described above) personal certainty need not correspond to actual probability.

I fail to see why it is more important to make probability 1 statements about the contents of doctrine (i.e. what Christianity means if it is true), then to be able to make probability 1 statements concerning the means for establishing doctrines (i.e. the infallibility of the Catholic church). You are willing to accept excuses about not needing probability 1 to assent to a proposition in the latter case, so why not in the former case?

Infallibility is a means, the supposed ends of which are that I should believe with certainty what is true. If it fails to accomplish that end, the argument that it is necessary fails. Lack of complete certainty about what to believe hardly seems more pernicous to faith than lack of complete certainty about whether to believe.

I claim that:
a) a Protestant is sometimes justified in having at least .99 confidence that some doctrines are taught by Scripture (e.g. that "Jesus is the Son of God who came into the world to save sinners"),
b) a probability of .99 normally suffices to justify living one's life in accordance with a proposition, &
c) doing this can count as faith.

Given these 3 very reasonable seeming propositions, it seems to me that your argument is undermined. You already agreed with me that there are some subjects, such as Physics, where it is possible to make definite statements without the aid of an infallible authority. I don't see why Theology can't be similar.

1) If Christianity is to mean anything definite, it must possess some means to foster certainty as to the contents of its doctrine.
2) Within the history of Christianity, the only plausible candidate for possession of such a means is the Catholic Church.
3) If Christianity is to mean anything definite, then ultimately it can only be found in the Catholic Church.

"Mean anything definite" sounds too much like postmodern anxieties about whether texts really have any meaning at all. I can read, and sometimes texts do have meaning. (E.g. the Supreme Court is simply wrong to think that a right to abortion is implied by the U.S. Constitution.) There's a big difference between saying that we can't have perfect certainty about what a text means, and saying that it doesn't mean anything at all!

But this is just quibbling about the exact phrasing of #1. Let me instead ask why I should accept it. Is it:

I) Because it would be logically incoherent not to accept it, based on the definition of "faith" or something like that? If so, I would note that is an extremely strong claim. Like, really strong. That would be tantamount to saying that even if the historical facts were extremely different (e.g. no promise to St. Peter in the Gospels, no papacy, all Christians make nothing but Protestant-sounding claims from the very beginning onwards) you would still believe the Church had an infallible tribunal. (I guess this would commit you to believing that ancient Israel either had no faith, or that they also had an infallible tribunal...)

II) Because otherwise God's goals would be thwarted? If this is your approach, you have to first convince me why, on theological grounds, God must adopt one goal (e.g. have a smaller group of people who know doctrine with certainty) as opposed to another goal (e.g. a larger group of people who know doctrine with decent probability.) It's not at all obvious which approach will lead to more people "getting saved", to use the Evangelical lingo. Given the well-known Problem of Evil (e.g. children getting cancer, some people being atheists etc.) it seems hard to establish that God must do some particular things simply because it seems like a good thing for him to do.

III) Because a lot of smart and holy people have thought and written that the Church is infallible? Granted, and I do weigh this to some extent. But obviously, given my beliefs that Tradition is fallible, I have a pretty easy out if you try to argue that the Tradition must be accepted because it is traditional to do so. And there are some smart and holy people on the other side too.

IV) Because God has promised, within the pages of Holy Scripture, that he will in fact do this very thing? I really recommend you pick this approach, it is the only one where I will agree with your methodology and where you may be able to get me to squirm a little. But then I will bring up Scriptural evidence on the other side and you will feel like you are having a Protestant-style argument about whether or not Catholicism is true. But that's how arguments work; you have to start thinking like the other person in order to convince them of things.

So which is it to be?

[Some edits a few hours later--AW]

16. Martel says:

Hi Petronius,

I apologize for the hold-up in my response. Discussion fora on the Internet do have a tendency to make people a little less polite than they would be in person. Not sure why that is, but I've certainly been guilty of online incivility myself from time to time. Apology accepted.

I'm happy to answer your questions. I experienced a crisis of authority, rather than one of faith, about a decade ago. (Since I never for a moment doubted the existence of God or the Incarnation, etc., terming my experience a 'crisis of faith' is somewhat misleading.) This crisis of authority began when the pastor of the Protestant church I was attending gave a series of sermons in which he professed to the congregation that 'good Christians can disagree on', and that he personally 'didn't know' the answers to, disputed moral topics such as abortion and same-sex relations. This particular pastor was extremely erudite, had a M.Div. from a reputable seminary, was doctrinally conversant and fairly conservative, and was responsible for a congregation of several thousand people. I was scandalized, and although it took a few years from that point for me to join the Roman Catholic Church, that moment was the beginning of the end for me and Protestantism.

The experience that later 'sealed the deal' occurred when I took a Christian history class in college, during the course of which I had already entered RCIA. The class was a taught by a Protestant, and was basically a historical survey of Protestantism from the Reformation to the modern day. In this course, I learned that Luther abandoned (among other things) the Catholic doctrine of the efficacy of Baptism which had always been taught by the Church, but maintained things like the Real Presence (although interpreted according to the novel notion of consubstantiation), Calvin then broke with Luther, claiming that Christ was only present in the Eucharist by his power, and that invoking the saints was idolatry (which was an idea that had only been held by heretics up until the 1500s), Zwingli, breaking with both of them, reduced the Eucharist to a mere symbol, etc. and the dissolution and variety of Protestant belief only increased from there. By the 1800s, Schliermacher had denied the Incarnation and dispensed with dogma in favor of 'Christian feeling' and 'intuition'.

What made matters worse: other than simply witnessing Protestantism splinter into a nebulous congeries of conflicting beliefs, I had the privilege of reading the chief works of the major figures in Protestant history, and thus of learning from the primary sources how they went about justifying their particular doctrinal deviations and idiosyncrasies. Although their claims differed, in the manner of their arguments, analyses, claims, exegetical methods, and position vis-à-vis the Church, they seemed to me indistinguishable from the early Church heretics: Arius, Mani, Nestorius, Sabellius, Eutyches, Apollinarius, Donatus, Pelagius, Montanus, etc. The inescapable conclusion was that they themselves were heretics. So I had to determine who was in possession of the truth. One of these Protestant heresiarchs, or the Catholic Church, whose faith and teaching, despite a ministerial record full of personal failings, decadence, corruption, and abuse, endured like a Rock throughout these storms? It was obvious.

17. Aron Wall says:

willie,
What do you mean by an "open" and "closed" confession here?

18. wjb says:

Aron

The question of an open or close confessional tradition (scripture interpretation)

Confessions, by the way, tend to lead to statements of faith, creeds doctrine etc.

A open confessional tradition tends to be preliminary, limited and improvable in it's 'attempt' to understand the inexhaustible treasure of the gospel teaching (See Deposit of Faith). An open tradition takes into account that there may and will arise situations that might require a new look at established confessions.
Open confessional tradition takes into account an on-going process of revelation.

A closed confessional tradition tends to prevents confusion, and create a 'frozen river on which to walk'.
A open tradition is by its nature open to discussion and examination for so called perceived deficiencies.

19. willie says:

Aron- The above comment was made by Willie

20. Martel says:

You wrote: "Thanks for your response. (Father, thank you for Martel, and help us to express whatever unity of faith and love is possible given the circumstances, Amen.)"

Thank you, Aron, for this prayer. I pray that it will bring about its effect.

You wrote: "One of the problems with these internet conversations is that the comments tend to get longer and longer as there are more and more issues on the table. I'm going to try to fight against this by dividing this response into two pieces, 1) miscellaneous objections which I feel obliged to say, and 2) the arguments and questions which I think will actually move the conversation forwards. Feel free to reply to part #1 as you desire, but if you don't, I won't assume you therefore agree with what I said. Part #2 is where you need to focus your efforts if you want to persuade me."

I appreciate this. However, I don’t have an issue replying to both (1) and (2).

You wrote: "With regard to the essay of St. William Witt, I am willing to admit that St. Vincent of Lerins' position anticipated that of St. Newman in certain respects, but that does not imply that this was the standard position of Catholic theologians prior to Newman."

Of course, and I never claimed it was the “standard position prior to Newman.”

You wrote: "I think that Witt is claiming (correctly) that a more static concept of tradition was dominant in the centuries before Newman. Nothing you have said refutes this sentence: "Many Roman theologians at the time rejected Newman's theory of development vigorously, and if one reads the Pre-Vatican II manuals of theology that were the standard way of teaching in seminaries until after that Council, they still embrace the traditional position.""

You omitted Witt’s lead-in sentence: “As an aside, it needs to be emphasized that Newman's theory of development never was held by Roman theologians previously, and was much debated after he offered it.” This sentence from Witt is the part I find problematic, not the portion you’ve quoted. Moreover, this is how Witt goes on to characterize the “static concept of tradition” that was allegedly “dominant in the centuries before Newman”: “the content of Catholic faith had been established once for all from the beginning of the history of the church.” Contra Witt, that was not the ‘dominant view’ (at least in the sense in which he understands it).

There’s a helpful discussion of all of this in Ian Ker’s Introduction to Newman’s Essay (1989 edition). Ker notes that as an Anglican, Newman struggled with what seemed to him the new doctrines of Rome. Thus, in his Essay, Newman sought to investigate “…if these ‘new’ doctrines were in fact, as Roman Catholics claimed, authentic developments from, rather than additions to, primitive Christianity?” (xviii; emphasis mine). Ker, the Newman expert, is here pointing out that Newman, far from coming up with his theory of doctrinal development on his own, actually derived it from Catholic apologists.

I also note that, in the contemporary introduction to the famous Spanish scholastic Francisco Suarez’s magisterial 17th century work, ‘Defense of the Catholic and Apostolic Faith Against the Errors of Anglicanism’, the translator writes, “Indeed the idea that doctrine develops is quite explicit in Suarez in this present work, and he claims to find it in much earlier writers. He also used it extensively to defend the Roman Catholic Church from King James’s charge that it had corrupted primitive Christianity by the introduction of ‘novelties’ forged in Rome’s own ‘workshop’ (12). So there’s one example of a Catholic expositor of doctrinal development well before Newman’s era. There are doubtless more; as Ker writes, “At the beginning of the Essay, Newman points out that the idea of the development of doctrine is not a new theory which he is putting forward since it has been implicitly assumed more or less by theologians throughout the ages. However, not only was Newman the first theologian to pay sustained attention to the problem, but his view of development is much more complex and subtle than both the ‘logical explication’ theory of the Scholastics and Bossuet’s principle of clarification” (xx; emphasis mine). Certainly Newman presented a more robust understanding of doctrinal development, but his theory was not, as Witt claims it was, a break from a so-called ‘static concept of tradition’ held by Catholics. In fact, the dichotomy set up by Witt—between Newman’s supposedly groundbreaking view of doctrinal development vs. the “dominant” Catholic view of doctrinal stasis—is a false one. For Newman believed that “God’s revelation was completed once and for all in Christ” (xxiii), and stated, “the Church does not know more than the Apostles knew” (ibid.). In 1868, long after the publication of his Essay, Newman wrote, “…the Apostles had the fullness of revealed knowledge, a fullness which could as little realize to themselves as the human mind, as such, can have all its thoughts present before it at once. They are elicited according to the occasion. A man of genius cannot go about with his genius in his hand: in an Apostle’s mind great part of his knowledge is from the nature of the case latent or implicit…” and also, “I wish to hold that there is nothing which the Church has defined or shall define but what an Apostle, if asked, would have been fully able to answer and would have answered, as the Church has answered, the one answering by inspiration, the other from its gift of infallibility” (xxiv).

What, then, caused the controversy over Newman’s theory? It was the timing, and the fact that the Church was hostile in Newman’s day to what it considered a false notion of doctrinal ‘evolution’; as Bishop Bruskewitz writes, “…there are false, incorrect, and indeed, heretical ways in which the development of doctrine can be understood. Various heresies throughout history, including in this century the heresy of Modernism, understood development of doctrine in a totally incorrect way. Doctrinal development which is in accord with Catholic truth must be correct, and not corrupt and erroneous.”
Which brings us back to Witt. Turns out that in characterizing Newman’s views, in describing why they were controversial, in claiming they were wholly novel, in explaining the traditional Catholic notion of doctrinal stability, and in claiming that Newman’s theory “never was held by Roman theologians previously,” he is either wrong, misleading, or exaggerative.

You wrote: "While he may have overgeneralized from the evidence he cites, it remains some evidence of what the teaching of the Catholic Church was, in the centuries prior to Newman (St. Vincent was considerably before that)."

I believe Witt overgeneralized in some cases, but that in others what he did exceeds generalization. For instance, Witt writes, “First, on the question of development of doctrine, there is no choice between Protestantism and any older, i.e., Catholic or Orthodox position, since there was no older position on development of doctrine. Roman Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and Protestantism all rejected the notion, or, at least had not considered it.” In the italicized portions of this quote, I believe Witt is either wrong—or, on a more charitable interpretation—extremely misleading. (Citing St. Vincent would alone undermine Witt's assertion here.)

You wrote: "(Also the famous Vincentian canon, that we should believe "all possible care must be taken, that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all," seems to me to be in considerable tension with the idea that the Pope can proclaim as new developements of doctrine things which were previously mere opinions or theories, and previously to that unheard of.)"

I don’t think this is an issue if one maintains that the Church has always believed such ‘newly developed’ doctrines implicitly, while it was only later that the doctrines were made explicit. Moreover, consider that St. Vincent himself, who wrote the Vincentian canon, also wrote: “Finally, what other object have Councils ever aimed at in their decrees, than to provide that what was before believed in simplicity [or implicitly] should in future be believed intelligently [or explicitly], that what was before preached coldly should in future be preached earnestly, that what was before practiced negligently should thenceforward be practiced with double solicitude?”

You wrote: "Note how St. Basil [I’ve omitted the quote] is unwilling to admit that even the smallest elements of e.g. the baptismal rite were later innovations, but rather he thinks that all of these details of liturgy go back to the Apostles themselves, and that the reason we don't find written evidence of this is that they were handed down secretly. Of course St. Basil is talking about rites, but he still calls them dogmas, and similar claims were historically made by Catholics about doctrines not found in the New Testament. It is this theory, that the traditions weren't really developments at all but just secret oral knowledge passed down by generations of bishops, which Witt claims isn't plausible in light of the modern methods of history. (For the record, I have no particular objection to any of the particular liturgical practices St. Basil mentions, just the idea that these things go back to the Apostles when they probably mostly don't.)"

I really don’t think that St. Basil’s opinion was as widely held as you claim. For example, St. Thomas Aquinas reveals as much, in his treatment of the question of whether the Holy Eucharist ought to be celebrated with either leavened or unleavened bread: “But it is suitable that every priest observe the rite of his Church in the celebration of the sacrament. Now in this matter there are various customs of the Churches: for, Gregory says: ‘The Roman Church offers unleavened bread, because our Lord took flesh without union of sexes: but the Greek Churches offer leavened bread, because the Word of the Father was clothed with flesh; as leaven is mixed with the flour.’ Hence, as a priest sins by celebrating with fermented bread in the Latin Church, so a Greek priest celebrating with unfermented bread in a church of the Greeks would also sin, as perverting the rite of his Church.” (Summa Theologiae; p. III, q. 74, a. 4). So St. Thomas obviously concedes that various aspects of Catholic rites do not originate with the Apostles.

So much for ritual. But, with respect to dogma, it was a common view among Catholic theologians that not all aspects of it were explicitly (secretly or otherwise) taught by the Apostles; as Aquinas writes, “Accordingly, certain doctors seem to have differed either in matters the holding of which in this or that way is of no consequence, so far as faith is concerned, or even in matters of faith, which were not as yet defined by the Church; although if anyone were obstinately to deny them after they had been defined by the authority of the universal Church, he would be deemed a heretic” (Summa; p. II-II, q. 11, a. 2; emphasis mine).

You wrote: "Also I don't think merely citing the existence of Ecumenical Councils is an argument against Witt's position. In fact Witt (who, being an Anglican, takes the early councils pretty seriously) agrees that the Councils interpreted Scripture, and uses this fact in his argument against Newman:"

I don’t think I need to reproduce your quotation from Witt in full here. To take just once selection, “Moreover, that an authority must be living is in conflict with Newman’s own epistemological realism in investigating historical documents, and also with any hope for the authority of previous ecclesial statements, like the councils, because those authors are also no longer living.” I see Witt’s point, but Newman is not himself claiming to be an authority; and he needn’t be in order to present a probabilistic argument for how the Church’s purportedly authoritative promulgation of seemingly ‘new’ doctrines can be accounted for. Also, that the Church today--with a living voice, in unbroken Apostolic succession with the Church of the past-- points to its previous ecclesial councils as authoritative, renders unnecessary the need for the long-dead conciliar authors to be living witnesses to their own writings.

You wrote: "But rather than having a proxy fight about the accuracy of Witt's history, I feel it is more interesting to persue the issue of probability theory and how it relates to belief."

I agree!

You wrote: "That's a very crude model of partial guidance and I don't accept it. What if God makes sure that the gospel truths always win out in the end (as at, e.g. Nicea) but doesn't ensure that everyone gets the minor doctrines right, especially if they resist his guidance (as we all do to some extent). God's will can be accomplished in spite of human fallibility, and I don't need to put his actions in history into a box in order for God to be victorious. Partial guidance certainly exists in some contexts (unless you deny you personally have the Holy Spirit)."

Well, I made the model crude in order to make it clear how your interpretation of ‘partial guidance’ would actually cash out in reality. I believe I personally do have the Holy Spirit, but that its presence in me as a believer is different from its presence in the Church. Certainly I, as a believer, can err, but that is utterly different from asserting that the Apostles (or their successors) could—in their creeds and councils. Such would be akin, in my opinion, to claiming that the inspired authors of Scripture could err in writing them. Also, how do you determine which doctrines are minor? Certainly it isn’t up to you.

You wrote: "I think it could have been wrong (and there were other councils at around the same time which got the Arian question wrong). If it had proclaimed something sufficently alien from the New Testament, I would not accept it; but as the text is, it seems pretty good. I'm happy to assign doctrines some probability points for being generally accepted by godly and Spirit-led men, I'm just not willing to assign it infinite points so that I have to accept it no matter how badly it seems to contradict Scripture or scientific facts."

I think somewhere Cardinal Newman or some other Catholic author points out that many of the early church heretics were pious and holy men—in some cases significantly more so than their orthodox opponents. But when I asked whether the council ‘could have been wrong’, I meant this to mean, ‘could it be wrong as written’, not ‘could it have been written differently and not have been wrong.’ I think on your view you’d have to admit that, even as written, the Council of Nicaea could be wrong, since it’s only as valid as its (subjectively determined) conformity with Scripture, and it’s possible for rational people to judge that it does not conform with Scripture (examples include Isaac Newton and (currently) the Christian blogger Vox Day). It’s also worth pointing out that you’ve arrogated to yourself the ability to determine whether something is ‘sufficiently alien from the New Testament’, just as Arius once did: “Of course the Son isn’t God; Jesus himself says, ‘The Father is greater than I.’”

In response to my claim that Protestantism, as a whole, is false, you wrote:

"That's a very strange way to use the word "false". Nobody would ever say "The conjunction of everything different liberals believe is contradictory, therefore liberalism is false, though some particular liberal may still be right". That's a silly way to talk."

I agree that, generally speaking, it’s a silly way to talk, but not in this instance. We’re talking about God’s revelation, which must be consistent if it is true. Catholicism, as such, is not self-evidently false, since it is at least a consistent body of beliefs. Protestantism, on the other hand, is self-evidently false, since it is inconsistent. What this illustrates is that Protestantism isn’t really a ‘thing’, but a collection of things. And, as an attitude or posture it has, historically, generated belief sets that contradict one another.

You wrote: "Yes, but if we include all the minor doctrines it isn't very likely---and I'm okay with that. I've been wrong before and it hasn't prevented the Holy Spirit from working in my life and the lives of others. Also, you know that the large majority of Protestant churches are in communion with each other, right? It's not actually true that e.g. typical Baptists and Methodists think that the other group are heretics who deny essential Christological doctrines and are going to Hell. For the most part somebody baptized in one Protestant church is received as a Christian in another, with few or no questions asked. Only a tiny minority of Protestant churches disbelieve in e.g. the Trinity or the Incarnation, and the other Protestant churches are pretty universal in their rejection of those churches. (I'm not talking about liberal wishy-washy people who barely accept the authority of the Bible in the first place. There's also plenty of squishy liberal Catholic-in-name priests who don't accept the dogmas of the Catholic church. The question I think you are asking is how well the people who accept the stated authority are at staying in communion.)So talking about "thousands of sects" is highly misleading and unfair. Just because there are lots of organizations does not mean we don't regard each other mostly as Christians. (For that matter, there are 24 administratively-independent churches within the Catholic church, but they are in communion with each other.)"

Protestant churches are in communion with one another? Probably in some cases, sure, but what is meant by communion? Is it merely a mutual agreement that they are in said communion, despite having incompatible beliefs? To give an example, my understanding is that certain factions of the Church of England permit the blessing (and thus endorsement) of same-sex unions and thus the sodomy that such unions entail, while other factions are adamantly opposed to this. Yet, per the Church of England hierarchy, they are both fully parts of the Church of England, which has contented itself to allow official, public, mutually incompatible positions on issues of grave moral consequence to simply exist in its own communion. This is different from heretical Catholic priests whose views are, if made public, either condemned by the Catholic teaching authority, or at the very least not accepted or sanctioned by this authority. (Last year, for example, Pope Francis excommunicated an Australian bishop (or priest?) who attempted to ordain women.)

I don’t think talking about ‘thousands of sects’ is unfair or misleading, since it’s simply a fact that there are this many jurisdictionally independent Protestant sects. That you regard one another as fellow Christians is laudable, but what exactly is this based on? And where is the line drawn? In the Roman Catholic Church, the line is drawn on whether the Protestant church performs Trinitarian baptisms. If it does, it is properly considered Christian (although at least materially heretical). Otherwise, it is not. At any rate, the 24 Catholic churches that are in communion with Rome enjoy a form of independence with respect to their rite, but they are still subject to the Roman Pontiff on all matters of faith and morals. That is, they are not strictly speaking independent.

I asked who had the right to determine whether a Christian doctrine was ‘essential’ or not, and you replied:
"Me, of course, since I'm the one you seem to be asking. I do so by reading Scripture, praying, talking to other Christians, reading creeds, and thinking about it (Of course, I am fallible.). Yes, in practice, Protestants disagree over what is essential. So what? Some of them are wrong. When we disagree we argue about it, and sometimes bad things happen as a result, and sometimes even good things happen. Doesn't seem too different from anything else important in life."

This seems to me an admission that the determination of which doctrines are ‘essential’ to Christianity is simply a matter of private judgment.

You wrote: "Nobody believes that we are saved by faith, but not by grace. Nobody believes we are saved by faith, but not by the Holy Spirit. The Protestant claim is that we are saved by faith and not by works, which is pretty explicitly stated by St. Paul several times. That's what we mean by "alone". People should learn the accepted meanings of Catholic doctrines before critcizing them, but the same goes for Protestant doctrines."

I understand the Protestant meaning; I believe it’s incoherent and unbiblical. I also don’t believe you’ve portrayed it accurately. The Protestant position historically involved the notion that justification could be attained solely from faith, and that works—understood as any kind of human cooperation or contribution in the process of justification or act of the will (such as love of God)—counted for nothing. Thus Martin Luther says, “It is a great thing to hold and believe in sincere faith that my sins are forgiven and that through such faith I am righteous before God” (Werke, Vol. XIII, 2495). Repentance and love are, for Luther, unnecessary.

While disagreeing with Luther, the Catholic Church agrees with St. Paul that we are saved by faith and not by works (alone). Thus, at the Council of Trent, the Church anathematizes those who claim, “that man can be justified by his own works which are done either by his own natural powers, or through the teaching of the Law, and without divine grace through Christ Jesus” (Canon 1 on Justification). Let us also remember that St. Paul’s teaching, in order to be compatible with the teaching of St. James— “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?...You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. …For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead”— must be understood to mean that man cannot be justified by works apart from faith.

You wrote: "I won't repeat the quote [from Cardinal Newman] here because it seems not at all to the point. It would be relevant if I had been arguing that in order to accept an infallible Pope I would first have to believe that I was infallible concerning everything else. But I was only asserting that to be certain of a doctrine due to it being proclaimed infallibly by the Pope, one would first have to be certain of Papal infallibility itself. That's why I said "certain" and not "infallible", and why I attached that word "certain" specifically to "the arguments establishing [Papal infallibility]"."

If that’s all you were claiming, I don’t see what my issue was. Obviously to be certain of a doctrine that was infallibly proclaimed by the Pope, one would have to be certain of Papal infallibility.

You wrote: "Also his threatened infinite regress at the end seems quite sophistical. I'm not asking for an infinite sequence of proofs for Papal infallibility, just a proof for Papal infallibility itself in terms of things which I already believe."

I’m not sure what your standards are for ‘proof’, but I at least maintain that I can make a cogent argument for Papal infallibility in terms of things which you already believe.

I wrote, “Is there any evidence the Apostles believed in the 27 books of the NT canon? And yet, the fact that those books are canonical must be believed by Christians.”

You replied: “Must be? Don't the Apostles count as Christians? If they didn't believe in it, it must not be necessary for salvation. I suppose you must have really meant that it must be believed today, but can you explain why the number of things you have to believe in to be saved increases in every generation?"

Yes, I did mean that it must be believed today, and needn’t have been believed by the Apostles (at least not explicitly). In a sense, the number of things one must believe in in order to be saved does not increase in every generation, since in every generation it is possible to believe in the basics of Catholicism explicitly (i.e., in the Incarnation, Trinity, Salvation, that the Church is to be believed in all things), and believe in the particular doctrines and developments implicitly.

But it is true that, historically, more explicit teachings have been added to the list of the Church’s beliefs over time. The reason why is heresies: false beliefs that the Church could not anticipate and whose particular denial required further elucidation of doctrine. Thus, up until the 6th ecumenical council, a Catholic could believe explicitly that Christ only had a single will, although after that council, he could not.

You wrote: "You can, of course, find in the NT the concepts of Scripture, of apostolic writings carrying authority, specific endorsements of other books in the NT, and so on, but not the 27 book canon. We Protestants are perfectly willing to grant that the Holy Spirit guided the Church in her ultimate decision about which NT books to read and endorse (although rationally working through which books seemed to carry apostolic authority was a big part of that decision). But the fact that we came to accept Scripture on the authority of the Church does not make the Church a higher authority than Scripture, any more than the woman at the well was a higher authority than Jesus, when she introduced her townsfolk to him. And once our lives have been changed and trasformed, we can say with them: "We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world" (John 4:42)."

Sola Scriptura entails that all Christian truth is present solely in the Bible. And yet, the truth of exactly which Scriptures are contained in the Bible is not present in the Bible; it was based instead on a decision of the early Church, rightly guided by the Holy Ghost. Sola scriptura is refuted by this counterfactual.

As for your analogy, it doesn’t acknowledge the fact that the woman at the well presented, while the early Church adjudicated. For the woman could only decide whether or not to present Jesus, while the early Church had to decide what Scripture was. That the Church did so does not mean it is, as you claim, an authority ‘above’ Scripture, but only that it is, acting under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, its servant and guardian.

You wrote: "In theory that sounds nice and all, but if I converted to Catholicism and then (as a not-so-famous layperson) happened to have an eccentric interpetation of Catholic documents, the odds that I would receive a personal smackdown from the Vatican in my own lifetime are slim to none. If the important thing is that I feel beholden to an authority who can correct me, I would point out that the odds of my receiving correction from the lips of Jesus himself at the Second Coming are far greater than are my odds are of being corrected by the Pope. Anyway, Christians change their minds about things through reading the Bible, though the conviction of the Spirit, all the time. Sure, it isn't guaranteed, but it's better than the odds of being noticed by the Pope."

First of all, correction can came from any member(s) of the Catholic hierarchy: priest, bishop, congregation (e.g., the CDF), or Pope. Second of all, that a power or capability is not in some instance exercised does not mean it is not present. Third of all, an eccentric interpretation of Catholic documents can only be ‘smacked-down’ if it is known. There are over a billion Catholics, so the likelihood of the Church being able to correct an unknown heretical layman is slim-to-none, unless that layman’s opinion becomes well-known (i.e., it is threatening the faithful). Fourth of all, if you personally solicited a decision about the orthodoxy of your eccentric interpretation (to, say, your local bishop), I can almost guarantee, you’d receive a response. Again, the Bible can’t do that.

You wrote: "First of all, would you agree that the more often the Catholic church proclaims as dogma things which seem to be true (based on other sources of evidence such as Scripture), the more likely it is to be infallible? And conversely, that the more dogmas which seem to be false, the less likely it is to be infallible? Of course, Scriptural arguments and so on also factor into the probability analysis."

Sure, provided that my own evaluation of whether Church-taught dogmas appear either true or false is the only available criterion for determining whether the Church is infallible. (But of course, it’s not.)

You wrote: "(If they get so many doctrines right that it seems unlikely they would get things that right without being infallible, then one might accept the doctrines which seem implausible on the basis of the Church's authority. On the other hand, declaring infallible a doctrine which is implausible will decrease the probability of infallibility by an amount exactly proportional to the implausibility of that doctrine. In other words, Bayesianism.)"

Sure, but as I wrote above, why are you limiting your evidence to this single criterion? You’re limiting the possibility of evidential support for infallibility to considerations of whether or not the Church acts like it exercises infallibility, and excluding the Biblical argument that the Church was actually endowed with it.

You wrote: "I agree that there are some important differences between the Old and New Covenants, so we can't just assume that everything is the same. However, I don't think that allows us to ignore Jesus' specific words about the relationship between Scripture and Tradition, especially given that he explicitly used the Pharisees as a negative example for the disciples several times. Jesus' disputes over the interpetation of Scripture took place in a Jewish context, but that does not make them irrelevant for Christian doctrine."

I think it does. After all, you’re dealing with apples and oranges.

You wrote: "Really? I couldn't [i.e., believe P with certainty while assigning it a probability of 0.2]. Not honestly, anyway."

Well, just because you couldn’t (or wouldn’t) doesn’t mean it’s impossible. All I’m arguing is that it can be done. (Not that it’s laudable, commendable, advisable, etc.)

You wrote: "Surely you are not telling me that I should intellectually assent to a doctrine of Catholicism while simultaneously believing it is probably false! Isn't it like, a bad thing to believe things that are probably false? I would have thought that a defender of Catholicism would argue that it is probably true, not that I should believe in it even if it is probably false."

I never said you should believe in it even if it is probably false; again, I was only making a point that one’s certainty about the truth of a particular proposition is independent of the probability one assigns to it. Belief, after all, is an act of the will.

You wrote: "Of course I agree that there are psychological elements of belief which are separate from what Bayesians call "credences"; three people could both say that a proposition was 99% likely to be true, and one could feel sunny certainty, and another be wracked with doubt about that 1% chace, and a third be totally indifferent and refuse to act based on the knowledge. But it is never justified to feel certain of something unless the probability is in fact very high."

I’m not sure if this follows--especially in religious matters, where we know that our assenting to religious truths is made possible and aided through God’s special grace acting on our volitional faculties. You seem to be neglecting the fact that grace can move the intellect to assent; it is not just the consideration and weighing of reasons.

You wrote: "I would agree that "faith" has an element of will, of choosing to put one's trust in God. How much certainty does that require? It doesn't seem to me that it requires belief that the probability is 1, just whatever is the minimum probability that it seems worthwhile to make the gamble of living as if it is true. "Belief with confidence" is different from "absolute certainty", and the latter attitude is indeed justified only for (actually) self-evident truths."

I disagree, albeit in a qualified way. Aquinas discusses this exact topic. Please refer to his Summa Theologiae, II-II, q. 4. a. 8. (You can find it on newadvent.org).

I wrote: What I actually accept is: "If God reveals a doctrine, we ought to be able to know, or have a way of knowing, with certainty whether or not it is a doctrine."

You replied: "OK, and I do not accept this statement. Why on earth should I accept it? There is an obviously weaker statement, namely: "If God reveals a doctrine which is (in fact) essential/important for salvation, then we ought to be able to believe, or have a way of coming to believe, that it is true with high probability." This seems sufficient."

It’s a distinction without a difference, since any doctrine God reveals is essential/important for our salvation—otherwise God wouldn’t have revealed it.

You wrote: "If faith is defined through the presence of actions which are based on belief (James 2:20-26, Heb. 11:6), then total certainty is quite unnecessary; there need only be a sufficient probability for action. But then there is no need for an infallible interpreter. Might be convenient, but not strictly necessary. Either way, there will be some people who believe the right things and some people who believe the wrong things."

Let’s apply the same principle to the Bible, and see if you’re consistent: “There is no need for an inerrant Bible. Might be convenient, but not strictly necessary. Either way, there will be some people who believe the right things and some people who believe the wrong things.” You prepared to believe that God gilded the lily, so to speak, by inspiring the Biblical authors so as to make them incapable of error?

You wrote: "I fail to see why it is more important to make probability 1 statements about the contents of doctrine (i.e. what Christianity means if it is true), then to be able to make probability 1 statements concerning the means for establishing doctrines (i.e. the infallibility of the Catholic church). You are willing to accept excuses about not needing probability 1 to assent to a proposition in the latter case, so why not in the former case?"

Again, I think it’s helpful to use the analogy to Biblical inerrancy (which I presume you accept). Let me rephrase what you said but apply it to this, rather than to Papal infallibility: “I fail to see why it is more important to make probability 1 statements about the contents of the Bible (i.e. that the Bible is inerrant), than to be able to make probability 1 statements concerning the means for establishing that the Bible is inerrant.”

You wrote: "Infallibility is a means, the supposed ends of which are that I should believe with certainty what is true. If it fails to accomplish that end, the argument that it is necessary fails. Lack of complete certainty about what to believe hardly seems more pernicous to faith than lack of complete certainty about whether to believe."

Again, apply the same style argument to the inerrant Bible, and see if you still agree.

You wrote: "I claim that:
a) a Protestant is sometimes justified in having at least .99 confidence that some doctrines are taught by Scripture (e.g. that "Jesus is the Son of God who came into the world to save sinners"),
b) a probability of .99 normally suffices to justify living one's life in accordance with a proposition, &
c) doing this can count as faith.
Given these 3 very reasonable seeming propositions, it seems to me that your argument is undermined. You already agreed with me that there are some subjects, such as Physics, where it is possible to make definite statements without the aid of an infallible authority. I don't see why Theology can't be similar."

It’s dissimilar because the Holy Spirit, who was promised as a protector of the Church Christ established, cannot err. Also, I think it’s rather odd that you assign a .99 probability to certain key doctrines of Scripture; these must include, at least, the divinity of Christ. The upshot is that you’re saying Isaac Newton disbelieved in the teeth of a .99 probability to the contrary. Seems a stretch.

You wrote: ""Mean anything definite" sounds too much like postmodern anxieties about whether texts really have any meaning at all. I can read, and sometimes texts do have meaning. (E.g. the Supreme Court is simply wrong to think that a right to abortion is implied by the U.S. Constitution.)"

Your incidental reference to the Constitution is instructive. The founders who wrote it, as you know, had their feet firmly planted in the Enlightenment, so it’s fair to say they had no such postmodern anxieties about the meaning of their text. And yet, they decided that a Supreme Court ought to be established in order to interpret it. (The analogy should be apparent.)

You wrote: "But this is just quibbling about the exact phrasing of #1. Let me instead ask why I should accept it. Is it:
I) Because it would be logically incoherent not to accept it, based on the definition of "faith" or something like that? If so, I would note that is an extremely strong claim. Like, really strong. That would be tantamount to saying that even if the historical facts were extremely different (e.g. no promise to St. Peter in the Gospels, no papacy, all Christians make nothing but Protestant-sounding claims from the very beginning onwards) you would still believe the Church had an infallible tribunal. (I guess this would commit you to believing that ancient Israel either had no faith, or that they also had an infallible tribunal...)
II) Because otherwise God's goals would be thwarted? If this is your approach, you have to first convince me why, on theological grounds, God must adopt one goal (e.g. have a smaller group of people who know doctrine with certainty) as opposed to another goal (e.g. a larger group of people who know doctrine with decent probability.) It's not at all obvious which approach will lead to more people "getting saved", to use the Evangelical lingo. Given the well-known Problem of Evil (e.g. children getting cancer, some people being atheists etc.) it seems hard to establish that God must do some particular things simply because it seems like a good thing for him to do.
III) Because a lot of smart and holy people have thought and written that the Church is infallible? Granted, and I do weigh this to some extent. But obviously, given my beliefs that Tradition is fallible, I have a pretty easy out if you try to argue that the Tradition must be accepted because it is traditional to do so. And there are some smart and holy people on the other side too.
IV) Because God has promised, within the pages of Holy Scripture, that he will in fact do this very thing? I really recommend you pick this approach, it is the only one where I will agree with your methodology and where you may be able to get me to squirm a little. But then I will bring up Scriptural evidence on the other side and you will feel like you are having a Protestant-style argument about whether or not Catholicism is true. But that's how arguments work; you have to start thinking like the other person in order to convince them of things.
So which is it to be?"

I’m going with IV, which is an argument that Jesus in fact instituted an infallible Church, in conjunction with an additional argument that the establishment of this infallibility was ‘fitting.’ (Aquinas does something similar in the Summa, where he argues that the Incarnation in fact occurred, but adds an independent argument that it was fitting that it did occur.)

21. i like pizza says:

Here's my meager .02 cents on a few of the issues being discussed. If I don't accurately explain a particular point of view, let me know.

Concerning faith vs works: Faith isn't merely an intellectual acknowledgement that Jesus is God. As James points out, even demons accept that fact (and shudder). This type of faith is dead.

Rather, faith is committing your life to Jesus as your Lord and Savior. With this type of faith, works naturally follows.

So I can see things from a Protestant point of view that we're saved by faith alone, not by works; but as Jesus said, if we love him, we will follow his commandments. In other words, there will also be works.

If we don't obey his teachings, on the other hand (no works), we don't love him (John 14:15-27) -- our faith is merely an intellectual acknowledgement, i.e. dead faith.

I can also see things from the Catholic point of view in that faith and works can be seen as intertwined, and works are part of the salvation process in that sense.

"Why would Christ leave Christians in doubt over the contents of Christian doctrine, which must be believed in order to be saved?"

That's a good question, but it seems to be the reality of the situation. Otherwise, heretical denominations wouldn't have arisen.

"If God reveals a doctrine, we ought to be able to know, or have a way of knowing, with certainty whether or not it is a doctrine."

The problem I have with this is that if it were true, all of the disagreements on various issues would have eventually been resolved. But that obviously is not the case.

"Since truth is necessarily consistent, and Protestantism is demonstrably inconsistent, Protestantism must be false."

I've seen skeptics make the same type of argument against Christianity: "Since truth is necessarily consistent, and Christianity is demonstrably inconsistent (e.g. Catholicism vs Eastern Orthodoxy vs various Protestant denominations, etc) Christianity must be false." Of course that's a silly argument.

22. Martel says:

"Concerning faith vs works: Faith isn't merely an intellectual acknowledgement that Jesus is God. As James points out, even demons accept that fact (and shudder). This type of faith is dead."

I agree.

"Rather, faith is committing your life to Jesus as your Lord and Savior. With this type of faith, works naturally follows."

Correct, and it is also bound up with repentance and love for God.

"So I can see things from a Protestant point of view that we're saved by faith alone, not by works; but as Jesus said, if we love him, we will follow his commandments. In other words, there will also be works."

The Protestant view (sola fide) is unscriptural. It is explicitly denied in the Epistle of James. Saving faith includes works such as love and repentance, and involves the cooperation of human free will--all of which are actuated by and depend upon divine grace.

"I can also see things from the Catholic point of view in that faith and works can be seen as intertwined, and works are part of the salvation process in that sense."

The Catholic view is the correct view, and is consistent with Holy Scripture. The traditionally Protestant view (Martin Luther's) is that faith is an intellectual belief and confidence that God has saved you, and that such faith is all that is required for salvation; works need not follow. This view is false and unscriptural.

I wrote, "Why would Christ leave Christians in doubt over the contents of Christian doctrine, which must be believed in order to be saved?"

You replied, "That's a good question, but it seems to be the reality of the situation. Otherwise, heretical denominations wouldn't have arisen."

I should have asked, more precisely, why Christ would leave Christians in genuine doubt over the contents of Christian doctrine. For Catholics believe that heresiarchs (the founders of heresies) are not genuine questioners; the reason they leave the Church and/or persistently dissent from revealed teaching, even after having been corrected by the Church, is due to their own malice and sin.

I wrote, "If God reveals a doctrine, we ought to be able to know, or have a way of knowing, with certainty whether or not it is a doctrine."

You replied, "The problem I have with this is that if it were true, all of the disagreements on various issues would have eventually been resolved. But that obviously is not the case."

I don't agree. As the New Testament epistles make clear, even in the very early Church there were dissenters who pulled away from the teachings of the Apostles. However, St. Paul made it perfectly clear how to tell which doctrines were authentic: if the teachings came from the Apostles, they were. If they did not, they were suspect.

Also, just because a way of knowing whether a doctrine is authentic is made available, it does not follow that there will be no disagreement, because the mere fact of availability does not entail that everyone will appropriately respond to it.

I wrote, "Since truth is necessarily consistent, and Protestantism is demonstrably inconsistent, Protestantism must be false."

You wrote, "I've seen skeptics make the same type of argument against Christianity: 'Since truth is necessarily consistent, and Christianity is demonstrably inconsistent (e.g. Catholicism vs Eastern Orthodoxy vs various Protestant denominations, etc) Christianity must be false.' Of course that's a silly argument."

It is a silly argument, because 'Christianity', broadly speaking, refers to a family of similar belief systems, and is not itself a self-consistent system. Roman Catholicism is self-consistent, unlike Protestantism and Eastern Orthodoxy. (Eastern Orthodoxy does include divergent beliefs, since it is has no principle of doctrinal unity.)

At any rate, those who argue against 'Christianity' could make a similar argument against 'atheism': viz. that since it includes both strong and weak atheism, it is inconsistent and false.

23. Aron Wall says:

Dear Martel,
I think St. i-like-pizza's (okay that sounds a little weird) reply is spot on.

You wrote:

The traditionally Protestant view (Martin Luther's) is that faith is an intellectual belief and confidence that God has saved you, and that such faith is all that is required for salvation; works need not follow. This view is false and unscriptural.

Are we talking about the same St. Martin Luther who wrote this:

Instead, faith is God's work in us, that changes us and gives new birth from God. (John 1:13). It kills the Old Adam and makes us completely different people. It changes our hearts, our spirits, our thoughts and all our powers. It brings the Holy Spirit with it. Yes, it is a living, creative, active and powerful thing, this faith. Faith cannot help doing good works constantly. It doesn't stop to ask if good works ought to be done, but before anyone asks, it already has done them and continues to do them without ceasing. Anyone who does not do good works in this manner is an unbeliever.

I admit that St. Luther was a bit of a screw-up and a loose canon. But what better person could God have chosen to remind the world of the doctrine that even screw-ups can be saved? The trouble with a religion of works is that no one can ever be sure that they have done enough works to please God. So one keeps getting more and more epicycles of pious relics and indulgences, and it is never enough to molify the consciences of those aware of their sins and shortcomings. St. Luther started the Reformation because the medieval church didn't have a message of hope and peace for neurotic people with senstive consciences.

Your argument is about how experience shows that only Catholicism can provide certainty regarding the contents of dogma. But experience equally well shows that Protestantism is more effective at providing “assurance of salvation”, by trusting that Jesus did once for all what needed to be done, and that we need to place our trust in the merits of his shed blood rather than our own (inadequate) works. It's a bit ironic because the Catholic church has a huge apparatus for proclaiming forgiveness of sins, and yet it is notorious for just making many people just feel more guilty. Obviously not all Catholics have a scrupulosity problem, but there is still the question of whether we are meaningfully proclaiming grace rather than tying up heavy burdens on people's shoulders.

I'd rather have assurance of salvation than assurance of impeccably correct doctrine any day (assuming the assurances are justifed, of course).

The Catholic Church does not really encourage this sense of assurance of salvation, although this is an important theme of the New Testament (e.g. Romans 5:9-11, 8:14-39, 1 John 3:16-24, 5:13). (Although, I am speaking of assurance of present salvation, not of final salvation; as far as I can tell the anathamas of Trent seem to be primarily directed to the latter, not the former.)

In this course, I learned that Luther abandoned (among other things) the Catholic doctrine of the efficacy of Baptism which had always been taught by the Church...

I thought that St. Luther (and Lutherans generally) believed in baptismal regeneration.

As the New Testament epistles make clear, even in the very early Church there were dissenters who pulled away from the teachings of the Apostles. However, St. Paul made it perfectly clear how to tell which doctrines were authentic: if the teachings came from the Apostles, they were. If they did not, they were suspect.

I'm willing to agree with this in a sense (though I'm curious which passages you have in mind specifically?). But I think the best way to figure out what the Apsotles taught is to read the writings they left. (The immediately succeeding generations provide some nonzero evidence too, but to the extent that they disagree I'd prefer the more immediate evidence.)

There is no indication anywhere in St. Paul's letters that the Apostles' successors are infallible, or that the ultimate test is which faction is in communion with St. Peter. In fact he conspicuously fails to mention this doctrine, even when specifically discussing a faction that says "I belong to Cephas [Peter]" (1 Cor 1:12), or when he personally disageees with St. Peter over the issue of eating with Gentiles (Gal 2:11-21), and even when teaching specifically on the topic of church unity (too many to cite). Now arguments from silence aren't always persuasive, but in this case Catholics think this is like, the main ecclesiastical doctrine about how to be united to the Chruch, and it's obvious St. Paul either hadn't heard of it, or didn't bother to mention it.

In a sense, the number of things one must believe in in order to be saved does not increase in every generation, since in every generation it is possible to believe in the basics of Catholicism explicitly (i.e., in the Incarnation, Trinity, Salvation, that the Church is to be believed in all things).

If the doctrine "that the Chruch is to be believed in all things" were itself contained in the New Testament, then it would make sense that the other things could be left implicit for later development. The trouble is that the Catholic teaching that the Chruch is infallible and must be believed in everything is itself a later development! For St. Paul, the reason that the Apsotles are to be trusted is that they are correctly proclaiming the Gospel; in fact St. Paul contemplates that even an Apostle such as himself could fall away from the faith:

But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be cursed! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be cursed! (Gal 1:8-9).

Thus St. Paul actually did teach that one should disregard the teaching of the Church if it went back on the original Gospel message.

For Catholics believe that heresiarchs (the founders of heresies) are not genuine questioners; the reason they leave the Church and/or persistently dissent from revealed teaching, even after having been corrected by the Church, is due to their own malice and sin.

Really? Every single one of them was insincere? That seems awfully implausible. And why would that only apply to the founders, and not to those who follow them?

The point is though, that you admit that the tools God has given us to come to a knowledge of Christ only suffice for those who have some good characteristic X, e.g. receptive to God's grace and reasonably seeking the truth by appropriate means. So then, to be fair you must also allow me to use this excuse to explain why some people dissent from things Protestants regard as essential doctrines. You can't say that Protestantism is unworkable because even those who are sincerely seeking God fail to come to agreement, and then turn around and say it is because we weren't seeking God sincerely in the first place. Gotta be one or the other (in any particular individual's case).

While disagreeing with Luther, the Catholic Church agrees with St. Paul that we are saved by faith and not by works (alone). Thus, at the Council of Trent, the Church anathematizes those who claim, “that man can be justified by his own works which are done either by his own natural powers, or through the teaching of the Law, and without divine grace through Christ Jesus” (Canon 1 on Justification). Let us also remember that St. Paul’s teaching, in order to be compatible with the teaching of St. James— “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?...You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. …For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead”— must be understood to mean that man cannot be justified by works apart from faith.

I assume we both agree that there are paradoxes in Scripture (apparently contradictory statements) which need to be resolved into a coherent view. If St. Paul had said that we are saved by faith, while St. James had said we were saved by works, the resolution might be to simply say that we are saved by both faith and works. But this is not the situation.

The sitution is that St. James said we are saved by faith and works, while St. Paul equally explicitly said we are saved by faith and not works. So the paradox occurs at a higher level, and needs a more subtle synthesis. You can say that Paul meant something different by "faith" or "works" than James did, but it is a wild misreading of St. Paul to claim that he was only trying to say that works alone can't save (but that you need faith also). If you reread St. Paul's letters to the Romans and the Galatians, you will clearly see that there is something called "works" which he denies plays a role in salvation:

What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, discovered in this matter? If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness. David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the one to whom God credits righteousness apart from works. (Romans 4:1-6)

Nor did he think that one initally became saved through faith, but then one continues to be saved (or in "a state of grace" as Catholics would say) by doing "works" (in his sense of the word), since he also condemns this:

You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? Have you experienced so much in vain---if it really was in vain? So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard? So also Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” (Gal 3:1-6)

Nor did he mean by "works of the Law" purely ceremonial rituals that set Jews apart from Gentiles, since if you go through Romans you will see that he often uses "Law" to mean ethical commandments, not just things like circumcision.

If you are willing to agree with these statements about Paul's view of justification, then we are not so very far off in our interpretation. I in turn am willing to acknowledge that St. Paul opposes "faith" to "works", not to "love", and that whenever he speaks specifically about love (e.g. 1 Cor 13, Gal 5:6), he makes it clear that love is essential.

(And I don't care much whether this position is in accordance what St. Luther would say, since Luther isn't the Protestant Pope. But I will say that in his context, Luther was correcting a huge mistake about the meaning of grace, which is partly obscured by the fact that the Catholic church has also corrected itself in several ways since the Counter-Reformation, and also since Vatican II).

24. Aron Wall says:

[Some more, which I actually mostly wrote more than a week ago, but didn't have time to finish, I've been awfully busy. Regrettably I can't garantee I can respond to any reply you make to this...

By the way, you can include links and italics into comments using standard html tags. Whatever you were doing for emphasis in your quotations before seems to have gotten eaten.]

Dear Martel,
Thanks for your kind wishes and for joining in my prayer for unity. I think we are converging on understanding each other better, at least, but there are still some misunderstandings to sort out.

PROBABILITIES

First, I think that we ought to proportion our belief to the evidence. So it's wrong to believe that something is certain when it has .2 probability, and it is also wrong to believe that something is certain when it has .9 probability, and if it has .999 probability we may call ourselves certain for practical purposes but we shouldn't say we are absolutely certain in case we find ourselves in a context where that .001 is important. Of course feelings are another matter.

I’m not sure if this follows--especially in religious matters, where we know that our assenting to religious truths is made possible and aided through God’s special grace acting on our volitional faculties. You seem to be neglecting the fact that grace can move the intellect to assent; it is not just the consideration and weighing of reasons.

This is a slippery thing to think about, but I think I would say that the effects of God's grace in such a case are themselves a type of evidence which can increase the probability of the proposition in question. Otherwise I would have to say that grace makes people disposed to accept an irrational degree of belief, which doesn't seem right. God is not the author of sin. But I agree this raises some tricky epistemological issues.

I disagree, albeit in a qualified way. Aquinas discusses this exact topic. Please refer to his Summa Theologiae, II-II, q. 4. a. 8.

St. Aquinas says, “Since, however, a thing is judged simply with regard to its cause, but relatively, with respect to a disposition on the part of the subject, it follows that faith is more certain simply, while the others are more certain relatively, i.e. for us.” If I take relative certainty “for us” as being the subject matter of Bayesian probability theory, then I think this statement implies that faith need not be certain in that sense.

If that’s all you were claiming, I don’t see what my issue was. Obviously to be certain of a doctrine that was infallibly proclaimed by the Pope, one would have to be certain of Papal infallibility.

OK, great, we seem to be in agreement on this point.

It’s possible for rational people to judge that [the Trinity] does not conform with Scripture (examples include Isaac Newton and (currently) the Christian blogger Vox Day)
...Also, I think it’s rather odd that you assign a .99 probability to certain key doctrines of Scripture; these must include, at least, the divinity of Christ. The upshot is that you’re saying Isaac Newton disbelieved in the teeth of a .99 probability to the contrary. Seems a stretch.

See, this is the sort of thing I mean by a “backwards argument”, arguing that I believe A but there is no good reason to be certain of A unless I also accept B. But this is not a good reason to believe B, if I accepted the argument (which I don't) it would be a reason to disbelieve A.

In this case, you are arguing that I have no good reason to be certain of the divinity of Christ unless I first accept the authority of the Church. Your particular argument is that some particular people have disbelieved in it.

Now Isaac Newton was a smart guy, but pardon me if I think he was a bit of a crank when it comes to religious matters. It would be hard for me to express how much I disagree with the statement that we shouldn't feel 99% sure of something if at least smart person disagrees with us. Intelligent people are ridiculously off-base about things all the time. And even if I did lower my probability below 99% out of respect for Isaac Newton, why shouldn't I raise it back again (and more) due to all the smart Christians who have believed in the divinity of Christ?

...and Vox Day? Are you talking about the same misogynistic, arrogant individual described in these posts here? If that guy disbelieves in the divinity of Christ, that makes me more certain it's true!

You wrote: "(If they get so many doctrines right that it seems unlikely they would get things that right without being infallible, then one might accept the doctrines which seem implausible on the basis of the Church's authority. On the other hand, declaring infallible a doctrine which is implausible will decrease the probability of infallibility by an amount exactly proportional to the implausibility of that doctrine. In other words, Bayesianism.)"

Sure, but as I wrote above, why are you limiting your evidence to this single criterion? You’re limiting the possibility of evidential support for infallibility to considerations of whether or not the Church acts like it exercises infallibility, and excluding the Biblical argument that the Church was actually endowed with it.

But I'm not limiting it to this criterion! When I said “Of course, Scriptural arguments and so on also factor into the probability analysis,” I actually meant by this direct Scriptural arguments for (or against) infallibility, such as Matthew 16:17-19... sorry if that was unclear. (And if there are any other valid arguments, those should be considered too.)

I’m going with IV, which is an argument that Jesus in fact instituted an infallible Church, in conjunction with an additional argument that the establishment of this infallibility was ‘fitting.’ (Aquinas does something similar in the Summa, where he argues that the Incarnation in fact occurred, but adds an independent argument that it was fitting that it did occur.)

OK, great! I accept that both of these types of arguments are potentially valid arguments, capable in principle of increasing the probability of your conclusion. I accept the authority of the Scriptures. At some time in the future I will make a top-level post listing the Scriptures I think are relevant on both sides, and you can tell me where I went wrong interpreting them (and if I missed any)!

With respect to “fittingness” arguments though, while they have some force, I think they are among the weakest of valid theological arguments, and are therefore not capable of changing the probabilities by very much (cf. Romans 11:33-36).

THE SCRIPTURES

For the reasons I explained in my “Inspiration and the Scriptures” blog post, I don't think that “inerrency” is the best word for describing the reliability and truth of the Scriptures. But I feel bad about dodging your probing questions by a terminological sidestep. So I will try to answer your questions without reference to such quibbles:

Let’s apply the same principle to the Bible, and see if you’re consistent: “There is no need for an inerrant Bible. Might be convenient, but not strictly necessary. Either way, there will be some people who believe the right things and some people who believe the wrong things.”

Yes, I also endorse this statement. I think the parallel argument that the inerrancy/inspiration of the Scriptures is necessary is a bad argument, and I wouldn't accept it even though I do believe (for other reasons) that all of the Scriptures are in fact inspired. In that respect this seems to be an invalid argument for a correct conclusion.

You prepared to believe that God gilded the lily, so to speak, by inspiring the Biblical authors so as to make them incapable of error?

For the same reason that I am skeptical of my ability to predict in advance that God must necessarily do something, I am also skeptical of my ability to predict that he won't do it (due to it being superfluous). So I also think the “gilding the lily” argument here against the inspiration of the Scriptures (and the parallel argument against Catholicism) isn't very strong.

Again, I think it’s helpful to use the analogy to Biblical inerrancy (which I presume you accept). Let me rephrase what you said but apply it to this, rather than to Papal infallibility: “I fail to see why it is more important to make probability 1 statements about the contents of the Bible (i.e. that the Bible is inerrant), than to be able to make probability 1 statements concerning the means for establishing that the Bible is inerrant.”

Yeah, I also fail to see this in the case of inerrency. Again, a totally inerrant Bible might be nice but I don't see that God is required to provide it (apart from arguments that e.g. there are specific biblical promises that he has done so). So I think I'm consistent here.

You wrote: "Infallibility is a means, the supposed ends of which are that I should believe with certainty what is true. If it fails to accomplish that end, the argument that it is necessary fails. Lack of complete certainty about what to believe hardly seems more pernicous to faith than lack of complete certainty about whether to believe."

Again, apply the same style argument to the inerrant Bible, and see if you still agree.

I don't. When I wrote “the supposed ends of which are that I should believe with certainty what is true”, I meant that Catholics make the argument that this is its purpose. I don't myself agree that such certainty is necessary. I have been arguing this entire time that “high probability” is enough. (Again, the Bible may well be better than the minimum needed to accomplish God's purposes, but I don't accept this type of a priori argument that it must be.)

Sola Scriptura entails that all Christian truth is present solely in the Bible. And yet, the truth of exactly which Scriptures are contained in the Bible is not present in the Bible; it was based instead on a decision of the early Church, rightly guided by the Holy Ghost. Sola scriptura is refuted by this counterfactual.

So a sufficiently strong version of Sola Scriptura is indeed self-contradictory, for precisely the reason you say. But a weaker formulation might turn out to be consistent. I'm not particularly attached to the phrase; I don't think the language of the Reformers is infallible any more than the language of the Pope is. What matters is what the Scriptures themselves claim about their status.

Instead of “Sola Scriptura”, I would prefer the phrase “Primacy of Scripture over Tradition”. The Holy Spirit does indeed guide the church, but no tradition which is contrary to the Scriptures should be accepted, as our Lord himself said many times:

You wrote: "I agree that there are some important differences between the Old and New Covenants, so we can't just assume that everything is the same. However, I don't think that allows us to ignore Jesus' specific words about the relationship between Scripture and Tradition, especially given that he explicitly used the Pharisees as a negative example for the disciples several times. Jesus' disputes over the interpetation of Scripture took place in a Jewish context, but that does not make them irrelevant for Christian doctrine."

I think it does. After all, you’re dealing with apples and oranges.

Sorry, I'm not going to let you get away with dismissing this argument so easily. We are talking about the teaching of Jesus Christ here, upon whose words our religion is based! And this is a major theme in the Gospels! Our Savior was sometimes enigmatic, but on the matter of his controversy with the Jewish teachers it is crystal clear which side he came down on in terms of Scripture vs. Tradition (or more accurately, Scripture over Tradition versus Scripture plus Tradition). This is a relevant data point and you need to take it into account.

This reminds me of the nutty dispensationalists who say that Christians don't need to obey the teachings in the Sermon on the Mount because those were given while the Jewish dispensation was still in effect, so they don't apply to the period after Christ's death and resurrection. Any interpretation of the Christian religion which reduces the significance of the words of Jesus to a minimum, is clearly off-base.

INTERPRETING REVELATION

And, as an attitude or posture it has, historically, generated belief sets that contradict one another.

So has liberalism, my original example. Or democracy, or the belief that we ought to help the poor, or Christianity for that matter. “Generating [historical groups with] belief sets that contradict one another” is not even remotely the same as “false”, and in my own experience it is not even very closely correelated. So I think this is totally irrelevant.

[Aron]: “There is an obviously weaker statement, namely: "If God reveals a doctrine which is (in fact) essential/important for salvation, then we ought to be able to believe, or have a way of coming to believe, that it is true with high probability. This seems sufficient."

[Martel] It’s a distinction without a difference, since any doctrine God reveals is essential/important for our salvation—otherwise God wouldn’t have revealed it.

Now this is obviously false. The Bible tells us that “Makir’s wife Maakah gave birth to a son and named him Peresh. His brother was named Sheresh, and his sons were Ulam and Rakem” (1 Chron 7:16) but I don't think these facts are all that important for salvation. Of course God is allowed to communicate truths which are not important to salvation!

Also, how do you determine which doctrines are minor? Certainly it isn’t up to you.

It isn't up to me what is a minor doctrine. It is up to me what I think is a minor doctrine. Just as it is up to me what I think about everything else in life. That's what “I think” means. But I expect to get the best results out of life if I conform what I think to what is true as best I can, using whatever evidence is available to me. As for how I decide, you're an intelligent person and I don't think I should have to explain “thinking about things and seeing what makes the most sense” to you, given that you are using those skills in this very conversation.

Fourth of all, if you personally solicited a decision about the orthodoxy of your eccentric interpretation (to, say, your local bishop), I can almost guarantee, you’d receive a response.

But the bishop isn't infallible, right? So if I thought he was interpreting the Bible or papal documents wrong, would I be required to accept his decision?

Actually, this makes even less sense to me than Papal infallibility. I can understand the rule: “you must believe what the Pope says, because it is garanteed to be true”. There, the only hold-up is whether the Pope is in fact infallible when he makes the decision in question. But I cannot accept the rule: “you must accept what your bishop says, whether or not it is true.” Surely God could not command somebody to believe a falsehood!

(Here I am talking about believing propositions, not accepting practical decisions about governing the community. Effective functioning of a community requires that people sometimes submit to administrative decisions they believe are wrong, although even this has limits.)

This seems to me an admission that the determination of which doctrines are ‘essential’ to Christianity is simply a matter of private judgment.

You seem to think that

“what I think my bishop says the Pope has declared about what the Spirit says the Apostle meant”

is somehow more humble than

“what I think the Spirit says the Apostle meant.”

Both of these phrases involve “I think”, and both of them involve submission to God's authority, and both of them involve the writings of a human beings who are not me. It think calling one of them “private judgement” is a gross oversimplification of the difference between these approaches. (It is somewhat artifical to compare the first term of the Protestant method to the second and third terms of the Catholic method and say that it is self-centered; I could say with equal reason that the Catholic method privileges bishops over apostles.)

But even if I grant the term, just saying the words “private judgement” are unlikely to sway me much since it's only a dirty word in Catholic circles. You'll have to give me an actual argument that the one approach is better than the other. In practice, there are plenty of things I think and do which I would not have thought and done if not for correction from the Bible. So clearly Protestant methodologies aren't totally worthless for conforming my thoughts to God's thoughts.

I don't understand everything in Scripture, but reading the Sermon on the Mount, I don't get the impression that the primary obstacle to my getting closer to God's will is failure to understand what he wants. Loving him and others more would be more helpful, I think.

Also, there are many Scriptures which talk about the testimony of the Holy Spirit in Christian's hearts, and which sound a lot more like “private judgement” than the Catholic model. There are too many to collect here, but I'll discuss them in another top-level post sometime.

Your incidental reference to the Constitution is instructive. The founders who wrote it, as you know, had their feet firmly planted in the Enlightenment, so it’s fair to say they had no such postmodern anxieties about the meaning of their text. And yet, they decided that a Supreme Court ought to be established in order to interpret it. (The analogy should be apparent.)

An important dis-analogy is that Americans are not required to believe that the Supereme Court's interpretation of the Constitution is actually correct. In fact the First Amendment protects my right to believe that they got it wrong. They are practically necessary to decide how to interpret the law, but the Supreme Court isn't infallible, just final.

More importantly, the history of constitutional interpetation pretty well indicates how precedent-based systems almost inevitably drift in their interpetation of a text, away from the original meaning. It would indeed take supernatural guidance to prevent this from occurring! So I can look at the decisions of the Catholic Church to see if there seems to be a “drift” in particular directions away from the spirit of the original teaching of the Apostles, and as best as I can see, there has been, in several significant areas. (Nor is it clear that the pronoucements of the Catholic Church have always been consistent with each other, there are some topics on which the teaching seems to have changed.) But this is too large of a topic for now.

25. How can a question about whether Adam was a real person turn into a long debate about Catholicism vs Protestantism? However it happened, Aron, I’m grateful to you and your readers for pursuing this. The arguments are fascinating.

Let me add just one comment concerning a comment St Martel has made: "Why would Christ leave Christians in doubt over the contents of Christian doctrine, which must be believed in order to be saved?"

Maybe because not all of it does need to be believed to be saved. Scripture makes it clear that certain things are necessary for salvation, namely trusting in Jesus’ atoning death and, unless one repents on ones deathbed, living up to a minimal moral standard. (Paul said more than once, if you live a certain way, you simply will not have eternal life. E.g., Gal 5.19-21.) Christians may have differences of opinion concerning teachings which are unclear in Scripture. This does not upset God though I’m sure he honors those who diligently seek the Holy Spirit’s leading and search and examine the Scripture to determine the truth in such matters.

I’ve been away and I’m gradually trying to catch up with the discussions. When I read your blog on “Flesh and Spirit II: Original Sin” of April 18 I thought I’d leave some comments there arguing for an original couple (http://www.wall.org/~aron/blog/flesh-and-spirit-ii-original-sin/#comment-2638223). Now that I’ve gotten to this page, I see that it would have been better had I left those comments here. Oh well.

26. willie says:

"Why would Christ leave Christians in doubt over the contents of Christian doctrine, which must be believed in order to be saved?"

Such an important question . The answer may have repercussions for Christianity.

I get the impression that the apostles initially followed the tradition of Jesus. No written record of His teachings was initially produced, as Jesus did. I believe it was only under the pressure from the next generation and of believers far away, that some written form of the “life and times” of Jesus from Nazareth, Son of God, was produced.
Was a perfectly accurate, infallible, inerrant record (leaving no room for doubt) of religious life, setting the bar for living and believing, in order to be saved, not that crucially important for Jesus as we would like to believe?
Was it not a opportune time to set things straight - for all times? Or is a formal 'godly' doctrine detrimental to the spiritual development of mankind?
Maybe such proposed records would be counter productive to mankind's evolutionary development. As an example, I would count the rejection of slavery by mankind as a typical developments in line with God's expectations/will in spite of the sentiments portrayed in the scriptures (and the pro slavery factions). The rejection of racism is a more recent development. I foresee the formation of a world authority in order to tackle the serious future problems facing mankind.
One can only speculate on this matter given the evidence at our disposal. We tend to evaluate things from our earthly human perspective. If we try to evaluate the incarnation of Jesus from a cosmic perspective we might come to better conclusions.

27. i like pizza says:

by the way, i don't know if this is accurate or not, but i've read that when paul speaks of salvation vs works, he has unbelievers in mind. while james speaks on the issue, he's speaking to believers.

in other words, paul is saying, one is saved by faith, not by works. james, on the other hand, is saying, you say you're a believer/have faith/are saved, but if so, you should be producing works. if you're not producing works, your faith is dead.

28. Aron Wall says:

i like pizza writes:

"i don't know if this is accurate or not, but i've read that when paul speaks of salvation vs works, he has unbelievers in mind. while james speaks on the issue, he's speaking to believers."

So if you don't know if it's accurate... how would you figure it out if it's true? (I know how I would go about checking this statement, but I want you to do it.)

29. i like pizza says:

So if you don't know if it's accurate... how would you figure it out if it's true? (I know how I would go about checking this statement, but I want you to do it.)

my honest answer? by not being lazy :D. in other words, reading the relevant material closely and repeatedly. and perhaps consulting some commentaries for any background information that the text doesn't reveal with a plaintext english reading from a 21st century western perspective.

i mean, from a casual reading of the text it seems reasonable that paul is referring to a pre-conversion situation, and james is addressing people who have already converted but who are not obeying Jesus' teachings (and thus have dead faith).

i haven't studied this in-depth, though, so while it seems like a reasonable view, i didn't want to present it with confidence (hence, "i don't know if this is accurate.")

30. Aron Wall says:

i like pizza,
I guess I would have assumed the opposite, given that he was writing to the Church of Rome, the members of which were already Christians. He starts by reviewing the state of humanity apart from Christ, but then later on a lot of the chapters involve a lot of "we" statements that seem to refer to the state of Christians, and assume e.g. that people are already baptized.

willie,

As an example, I would count the rejection of slavery by mankind as a typical developments in line with God's expectations/will in spite of the sentiments portrayed in the scriptures (and the pro slavery factions). The rejection of racism is a more recent development.

Actually, I'd say it's the other way around. The New Testament is crystal clear on the rejection of racism; almost every single verse about race in Acts or the Epistles is there to make the point that the message of Christ transcends ethnicity.

It's slavery (which in the ancient Roman world had little correlation with race) where the NT takes a more nuanced view, on the one hand telling slaves to obey their masters but on the other hand making it clear that in the big picture, masters have no inherent advantage and it's better to serve than to be served. (We also can't forget the letter to Philemon, which is basically a little guilt trip trying to get St. Philemon to free a particular slave.)

But I agree with you that the clear condemnation of slavery, and its legal abolition in civilized nations, represents moral progres. I'd say this is in accordance with the principles of the New Testament, although this was not clear to everyone in history. God's work being characterized as freeing people from slavery, is at the very least, a major theme of both Testaments, even if there are practical accomodations to life as it existed in the ancient world. (We have to remember that the NT is not a political code, and that the early Christians had no ability to just change the laws about slavery. When Christians later gained power they did begin to abolish chattel slavery in early medieval times, although unfortunately the early moderns went the opposite direction.)

31. Carmel says:

Wow - this has been a fascinating discussion, and I have found some particular pearls of wisdom in the many comments.
One in particular very early on in the piece came from St Aron's parents, that "Concepts are defined by their centres, not their boundaries". I think this is particularly relevant considering the lengthy argument on Catholicism vs Protestantism that followed. The 'truths' that some people consider or claim to be 'central' to their particular religion is often instead that which distinguishes it from others - ie. its boundaries. I won't pick a side in this argument because, while I was raised Catholic and I have a growing confidence in the path the Pope is currently following towards an inclusive truth, my personal interpretation of Scripture tends more toward the Protestant form than Catholic, and I am comfortable in this apparent contradiction. Who's to say that I must bind myself to a particular doctrine if I am inspired by the Spirit to seek what is the truth in all of them? I have also found much wisdom in what I understand as at the centre of (as opposed to central to) Judaism and the teachings of Islam and Buddha that correspond to my personal interpretation of what is at the centre of both the Old and New Testaments - part of which is seeking to consolidate those Gifts offered by the Spirit (if only we choose to listen) in order to free humanity from the misconceived notion that we are somehow not in full control of our minds.
There are many people contributing to this discussion whose knowledge of texts on the subject far exceed my own, but when discussing and attributing probability to statements of faith or belief (for which there appears to be more subjective and textual analysis/interpretation than concrete empirical evidence), I think you're missing the point.
I don't think you can have knowledge or certainty of these statements, even of the Resurrection, as literal, inerrant fact. Having said that (and risked calling into question what I'm sure many of you base your faith on), I will state that I firmly believe in the empirical evidence of the life and death of Jesus, and I have faith that he is the Truth, the Way and the Life as he said, in that he is the clearest documented example yet of how we should live. I also have faith in the Resurrection as God's promise of salvation for those who acknowledge an awareness of His presence and seek a relationship with Him as apprentice and heir. I don't think that how we describe or envisage Him should be bound by the limitations of religious doctrine any more than by political or cultural systems or our knowledge of the physical world.
I am enjoying the discussion, however, particularly those questions brought up on God's reasons for allowing differences of religion. "Why would Christ leave Christians in doubt over the contents of Christian doctrine...?" "Why did he leave Muslims in doubt over whether or not Jesus was divine?... Why did he choose to leave Protestants in doubt about the Papacy?" Could it be because these might only be small details of faith that don't really matter? I think they are located on the boundaries of our understanding of God, not at the centre. If we base our religion on whether or not we agree with these elements, as our point of distinction from others, then aren't we missing the whole point? Jesus was fully human and set us an example to follow, to the point that he overcame our fear of death itself, thereby challenging all our strongest evolutionary desires: to survive, to have full control over our surroundings, to distinguish ourselves above those around us, to win favour and to multiply ourselves. To declare that he was divine is to lessen the effectiveness of his life as our ultimate role model. If he can do it, why can't I? It is our courage to question rules and traditions in light of the knowledge and understanding gained since the time of Jesus that I believe will ultimately lead to us fulfilling God's will, as long as the fruits of our actions are in keeping with those of the Holy Spirit and the teachings of Jesus.
I'll be quiet now and continue enjoying the discussions. I am learning so much.

32. Carmel says:

On second thoughts, please ignore the entire previous post - I have no idea what I'm talking about, and the more I learn, it turns out, the less I know. This is quite a journey, and I am humbled once again.

33. Scott Church says:

Carmel,

I don't know why you think we should ignore your previous posts. To me they were beautiful... even healing. What I see in them is someone striving earnestly for a deeper understanding of the boundaries and centers--someone doing their best to walk beside others in a common search for understanding, common ground, and wisdom. You say,

"I have no idea what I'm talking about, and the more I learn, it turns out, the less I know..."

That isn't ignorance Carmel... it's discipleship--Christ-likeness! And as a matter of fact, it's also almost verbatim what has been said by every one of the greatest and godliest saints in recorded history. Even if some, or all of your thoughts miss the mark, this is precisely how one becomes wise... by humbly sifting through the chaff patiently and faithfully until God reveals the diamonds. Would that we all sought the face of Christ that way... would that I did.

By all means, please do not be "quiet." You're a breath of fresh air! :-)

34. Carmel says:

Thank you, Scott, for your encouragement. I am working on my courage.
This website and all of you are a breath of fresh air for me. There has been too much fear wrapped up in discussions of faith - we are afraid that if we cast even the smallest hint of doubt on something we believe is fundamental to our religion, particularly if this 'truth' distinguishes us from 'others' who criticise our particular religion, then we risk all the walls crashing down and there being nothing to protect us from everything 'out there' that has been supposedly trying to destroy us. But faith is a leap, and you can't leap without first letting go of the solid foundations you are standing on. It is refreshing to hear from so many intelligent minds willing to test statements of faith scientifically, to not settle with the answer 'because that's just what I believe' and throw the wall up, but sort through the mess of 'human traditions' to find the logic and hard evidence.
Having said that, I think that anything that contains a human element, from Scripture to the Papacy, can never be completely infallible, but that doesn't mean we can't obtain some truth from it, if we can somehow disentangle it from the human context. I think that's the problem here. Divinely inspired or not, every tiny choice humans have ever made rests on their free will - the ability to choose to listen to God through the Spirit or to listen to the instincts that guide the rest of the animal kingdom. It's rarely easy to separate the two. Fear for the survival or prestige of the Church, the need to strengthen in numbers against 'others', the lines we draw in the sand that say 'if you believe this or do that, that makes you Catholic and therefore different to me', can all influence small choices and judgements that lead us away from the example of Jesus and the fruits of the Spirit.
Jesus taught us that we needn't be afraid of not having power, authority or money, that we needn't work so hard to distinguish ourselves, to control what happens to us, to win favour or even to stay alive. None of that matters. Humanity and the Church are meant for a different purpose.

35. Scott Church says:

Well said Carmel! :-)