I began a CARM discussion based on my previous blog entry. In that entry, I pointed out that the certainty Roman Catholics have is not in the text of Scripture, but in the doctrines infallibly declared by the Roman Catholic Church. My understanding is that the Roman Catholic Church says that a doctrine can be defined, but the scriptural proofs used to support it utilized by the Church’s theologians might not actually support it. In other words, one can have certainty for a doctrine, but not have certainty in the scriptural proof texts for that doctrine. The infallibleness is in the decree, not in the reasoning to that decree.
The Catholic Encyclopedia states,
“…the validity of the Divine guarantee is independent of the fallible arguments upon which a definitive decision may be based, and of the possibly unworthy human motives that in cases of strife may appear to have influenced the result. It is the definitive result itself, and it alone, that is guaranteed to be infallible, not the preliminary stages by which it is reached.”
Also note this statement from Roman Catholic theologian, Johann Mohler:
“Catholic theologians teach with general concurrence, and quite in the spirit of the Church, that even a Scriptural proof in favour of a decree held to be infallible, is not itself infallible, but only the dogma as defined.” [Source: Johann Adam Mohler, Symbolism: Exposition of the doctrinal Differences between Catholics and Protestants as evidenced by their Symbolic Writings, trans James Burton Robertson (New York: Crossroad Publishing, 1997), p.296. I cited this quote from David T. King, Holy Scripture: The Ground And Pillar Of Our Faith Volume 1 (WA: Christian Resources Inc, 2001), 224].
Most of the Catholic responses in the CARM thread were rabbit trails. Only one response so far, has attempted to delve into this issue. A response from “STJ” said:
“I would like to comment on your opener from an oblique angle. Every criticism that you might wish to raise against an infallibly defined doctrine or the idea of infallibility faces difficulty for your position. Every on fire protestant that I know claims to speak infallibly although they deny it. When one claims with certainty the doctrines of "sola scriptura" and "sola fide" they are operating as if these are infallibly defined. The scriptural planks underlying these two non-Catholic doctrines are subject to the same criticisms that you level against the Catholic Church in how she arrives at an infallible doctrine. There exists substantial dispute as to whether or not scripture supports these two vital planks of Protestantism.
Protestants agree with Catholics and for the most part rightly proclaim the Trinity. They do this as if the Trinity is infallibly defined and are rightly horrified at JW's and Mormons for denying it. If this doctrine has no doubt or question about it and if denying it is truly heretical then it must have been infallibly defined. If not it was simply arrived at by consensus. Consensus is not how such doctrines are defined and scripture does not make such things perfectly clear. JW's, Mormons, and others that use the Christian scriptures are proof that doctrines are not arrived at by consensus. Moreover, the pluralistic views of Protestants are also evidence that doctrinal protections and definitions are not achieved by consensus.”
I find these comments an exercise in evasiveness. What is the defense of a dogmatic infallible conclusion substantiated by possible fallible logic? I’ve been reading and hearing for years about the “certainty” that Roman Catholics have, yet when scrutinized, it really boils down to nothing more than a façade. One should be willing to take a very close look at one’s beliefs before diverting the discussion another way. In other words, before evaluating my beliefs, defend yours.
How is it possible to have certain conclusions with uncertain facts substantiating the conclusion? Why do you accept this? Did you use your own private judgment to determine that conclusions can be infallible while the proofs don't need to be? Or do you have an infallible ability to determine this? How is it you are able to use your fallible judgment and determine that Rome is true, while I’m in error for placing my fallible judgment in the words of Scripture?
The fallible/infallible game goes on and on in discussions like this. Ultimately, Catholics have to admit they use fallible judgment all the time, and do so especially when they place their faith in the Roman Catholic Church. In other words, you can't on any reasonable ground criticize protestants by using a paradigm of fallible/infallible, when Catholics, unless they claim to be Pope and have the gift of infallibility, also use their own private judgment in determining truth.
What divides us is this: Catholics have decided to trust in Jesus according to Rome, I have decided to trust in Jesus according to the Bible. Recall, Jesus says, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Jesus continually challenged the Jews to reexamine their beliefs and traditions by examining the Scriptures. He says often, “Have you not read…” Recall John's words about his Gospel: "These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name." Are John's words so confusing that they can't be understood? Do I need an infallible pronouncement on this verse to explain it to me?