Tuesday, January 04, 2011

“Just trust us on this one … wink wink”

There is something fundamentally dishonest with Roman Catholic apologetics. And it comes out in the recent ruckus over the de-conversion of Addison Hart. One of the bigger questions is, ”didn’t you know what you were getting into when you ‘'poped’?”

It’s quite possible that he did not. There is a somewhat famous statement by Archbishop Fulton Sheen, (famous in Roman Catholic circles) to the effect that, “There are not more than 100 people in the world who truly hate the Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they perceive to be the Catholic Church.”

One of the reasons why people misunderstand Roman Catholicism is because, for centuries, the Roman Catholic apologetic has not been one of honesty and clarity, but it’s one of deflection. It’s a classic bait-and switch, which I would argue, is fundamentally dishonest, on a regular basis. Hart allowed in his comment that he had “high ideals.” Roman apologists are constantly these days appealing to “unity” and “antiquity” and even to equate “the Roman Catholic Church” with “the ongoing Incarnation of Christ” [“you will be like God”] – appeals to high ideals. But one thing they don’t lead off with – in fact, they hide from public view what their true doctrines actually are. What the Roman Catholic apologetic appeals to is … “just trust us on this one … wink wink”.

First of all, what is a good apologetic? Francis Turretin described the Reformation method for understanding and instructing “the faith”:
Although an examination of faith and doctrine could not be made without study and labor, it does not follow that it is impossible or dangerous to the ignorant and uninstructed … the doctrines necessary to salvation … are contained in Scripture with sufficient clearness so as to be perceived by any believers furnished with the spirit of discretion. Hence Paul appeals to the judgment of believers and orders them to prove all things and to hold fast what is good (1 Thess 5:21). John wishes believers to try the spirits whether they are of God (1 Jn. 4:1). Surely this could not be said if this examination were either impossible or dangerous to them (Francis Turretin, “Institutes of Elenctic Theology, translated by George Musgrave Giger; edited by James T. Dennison, Jr.: Phillipsburg, NJ, P&R Publishing, ©1997, Vol. 3, pg 5).
So, in Turretin’s method, apologetics means you state your doctrines, openly and honestly; but don’t just rely on that. Allow, no, challenge your disciples to search the Scriptures, “try the spirits,” prove all things, and hold fast to what is good. But even in Turretin’s day, he encountered something different from that:
Thus this day the Romanists (although they are anything but the true church of Christ) still boast of their having alone the name of church and do not blush to display the standard of that which they oppose. In this manner, hiding themselves under the specious title of the antiquity and infallibility of the Catholic church, they think they can, as with one blow, beat down and settle the controversy waged against them concerning the various most destructive errors introduced into the heavenly doctrine. (Vol 3. pg 2)
At the time of the Reformation, Luther was met by assertions of authority. In preparation for his 1519 debate with Luther, Eck asserted, “We deny that before the time of Silvester [I, 314-335] the Roman church was subordinate to the other churches. We have always known that the one who occupies the See of Saint Peter and the faith is the successor of Peter and the universal representative of Christ” (quoted by Bernhard Lohse in “Martin Luther’s Theology: Its Historical and Systematic Development,” translated and edited by Roy A. Harrisville, ©1999 Minneapolis: Fortress Press, pg.119). Such assertions had always worked in the past; consider the case of John Huss.

[But even in Eck’s statement, note that he does not properly characterize what Luther had said. Luther did not say, as Eck claimed, “the Roman church was subordinate to the other churches.” Luther only said, in his 95 Theses, that “at the time of Gregory I (590-604) the Roman church was not yet ranked over the other churches.” This is a digression, but an important one.]

Roman apologetics that came out of the Reformation had a certain character that asked (maybe in disbelief) “Where was your religion before the year 1517?” This appeal was characterized by the Roman Catholic claim, “Semper Eadem,” “always the same.” By 1688, this appeal to authority and antiquity was so etched into the public mind that bishop Jacques-Benigne Bossuet (1627-1704) had produced a work, Histoire des Variations des Églises Protestantes (1688) in which he asserted:
The Church’s doctrine is always the same….The Gospel is never different from what it was before. Hence, if at any time someone says that the faith includes something which yesterday was not said to be of the faith, it is always heterodoxy, which is any doctrine different from orthodoxy. There is no difficulty about recognizing false doctrine: there is no argument about it: it is recognized at once, whenever it appears, merely because it is new….

If by such proofs they show us the least unconstancy, or the least variation in the dogmata of the Catholic Church from her first origin down to us, that is from Christianity’s first foundation; readily will I own to them that they are in the right, and I myself will suppress this my whole history (cited by Owen Chadwick, “From Bossuet to Newman,” Second Edition, ©1987 Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pgs 17, 20).
But as it turns out, Rome, however, cannot hold itself to that standard. Less than 200 years later, Newman was crafting a “theory of Development” that was necessary to explain away all of the many changes that Rome HAD incorporated.

Which goes back to the high-minded appeal to authority. A prime example of this methodology is provided by Mark Shea in his book, “By What Authority”? Shea’s book is a long look at why “Evangelicalism” cannot adequately respond to such challenges to orthodox Christianity by such efforts as “The Jesus Seminar,” and why we need an infallible authority to properly respond to such challenges.

At the end of his work, Shea posits for himself this dilemma:
According to Catholic belief, the very doctrines which irk most Protestant believers (such as Purgatory, the Assumption of Mary, the infallibility of the Pope, and so forth) are doctrines which cannot be set aside since they are squarely located under the Big “T” heading by the Catholic Church and are therefore immovable features of Sacred Tradition -- the very same Tradition which tells us what is and is not in our Bible and does so in a coherent voice of authority sounding down to the centuries through a line of bishops leading inexorably back to Jesus Christ himself. In other words, I was (and you by extension, good reader, are) obliged to either:

1. Find out if the whole Catholic Tradition was truly coherent; or,

2. Arbitrarily reject the bits I was [and therefore you are] uncomfortable with, but simultaneously exploit Catholic Tradition’s authority (where it was useful against modernism)--all the while hoping that both Evangelicals and modernist (not to mention the Holy Spirit) would not laugh at my [i.e., your] inconsistency. [Mark Shea, By What Authority? An Evangelical Discovers Catholic Tradition Huntington: Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division, 1996, pgs 174-175.]
But this comes at the end of this work, where Shea declines to say just what that “whole, truly coherent” Big-“T” Tradition actually was. He says, “I discovered (in a journey I will not recount here) that, in the final analysis, there is not a single solitary aspect of Catholic Sacred Tradition that is anti-biblical” (Shea’s emphasis). What the reader is left with is, “Rome has the authority … “just trust me on this one … wink wink”.

It’s really a classic bait-and-switch. I have two thoughts on this: First, there is very much in “Catholic Sacred Tradition” that is quite “anti-biblical”. Beginning with an apologetic that says, “you can’t understand what the Bible is or says without an infallible interpreter.” [In fact, conservative Biblical scholarship is decimating “The Jesus Seminar,” for example.] Second, I know that Shea has written other books, which I haven’t read, which may provide some of that “final analysis.” But these are at a point at which he’s “preaching to the choir,” selling books as a convert-celebrity, to fellow Roman Catholics, and not, as Turretin said, proving his doctrines from the Scriptures. I’m happy to discuss any Roman doctrine on a point-by-point basis – from Scripture AND history – but this post isn’t about individual doctrines, or even the sum total of “Big-‘T’ Tradition”. It’s about the Roman Catholic Apologetic Method.

Michael Liccione puts it this way:
How to locate and identify “the Church,” and what kind of teaching authority she has, are questions to be answered by divine revelation. Following Aquinas, Newman, and others, the thesis I’ve long argued for is that in order to distinguish “the propositional content of divine revelation from mere human opinions about the data taken as sources,” disputes about how Scripture and Tradition answer the above questions [can] only be settled by a living, dominically instituted authority that is divinely protected from error under certain conditions. Otherwise all we’re left with is opinions, such as yours and countless other, different ones.
First find “the Church,” “the Authority,” and all else will fall into place. ”Just trust us on this one … wink wink”

In the last 20 or 30 years, plenty of ecumenically-minded statements have come out that seek to find “unity” not by clarifying issues, but by blurring the differences. It takes not only a theologian, but a lawyer, to understand some of the “Joint Declarations” – and to understand just precisely what is being given away, and by whom.

I’ll reiterate, I don’t know Addison Hart other than that I recognized his name from Touchstone Magazine, and I stopped reading Touchstone because it leaned too far toward Rome. Rome doesn’t sell its own doctrines. It sells an image. And like Hart, too many people buy the image before reading the fine print.

It is quite likely Addison Hart did not know what he was getting into when he "poped". But he knows it better now, and he knows why he must leave. I'm grateful that he has come to his senses, and that he chooses to tell people about it.


Jeph said...

Did Hart lose his salvation when he "poped"?

John Bugay said...

We should take the long view. The true saints will persevere, -- God will not let them go, even though there are all kinds of mischief they can get into in the meanwhile.

Ryan said...

"First, there is very much in “Catholic Sacred Tradition” that is quite “anti-biblical”. Beginning with an apologetic that says, “you can’t understand what the Bible is or says without an infallible interpreter.”"

I think most RCs would admit some of God's written word is perspicuous, but I have yet to meet such a one who has explained how he knows which are and which aren't.

John Bugay said...

Ryan, what's striking to me is that the Roman apologists aren't out there leading off by selling the infallibility of the uniquely Roman doctrines. They always sell the infallibility, generically, while being roundabout with the specifics. None of them will lead off by saying what a great thing it is to infallibly know that Mary is bodily assumed in heaven. (That's the only post V-1 ex cathedra papally-defined dogma out there. It should be billed as "the latest and greatest reason to become Roman Catholic. And here's why." but they don't lead off telling you the fruit of that advantage of infallibility.)

Ryan said...

Well, as persons who adhere to sola scriptura and see no Scriptural evidence for, say, the Marian dogmas, I can understand why RC apologists wouldn't lead off a discussion by telling you and I what a great thing it is to be assured of the Marian dogmas, because they know that we wouldn't be interested in the fruit of papal infallibility unless it can be demonstrated that papal infallibility is necessary.

If the Marian dogmas could be demonstrated from Scripture, papal infallibility is superfluous. If they can't be demonstrated from Scripture, I need a reason - such as infallible papal advocacy - to believe them. So demonstrating the need for papal infallibility is a precondition to acknowledging the Marian dogmas as a great fruit rather than an [at least] unwarranted fruit.

That's probably why the RC apologist tends to focus ad nauseam on epistemic issues like the canon: they aim to hit us where it would hurt, show the necessity of papal infallibility, and only then sneak in Marian dogmas through the back door. Only by showing how papal infallibility is necessary for doctrines relevant to both Protestants and RCs can it be shown to the Protestant that the Marian dogmas add to our theological knowledge.

At least, that would be my mindset if I were a RC apologist.

John Bugay said...

Ryan, yes, they have to sneak the dogmas in through the back door. It is a fundamental component of the system that they have to sneak. That is what I mean about it being fundamentally dishonest.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

“There are not more than 100 people in the world who truly hate the Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they perceive to be the Catholic Church.”

An effective invocation of the "strawman defense" by Bishop Sheen.

John Bugay said...

...straw man...

It's a hot ticket!!

Kim said...

We should take the long view. The true saints will persevere, -- God will not let them go, even though there are all kinds of mischief they can get into in the meanwhile.

May we all love truth more than the desire to "fit in" and "belong".

Thanks, John, for your kind manor as you hash this stuff out. It goes a long way.

John Bugay said...

Kim, thanks! ... But some people don't find me so cuddly. :-)

Fr. Robert Hart said...

I stopped reading Touchstone because it leaned too far toward Rome.

But, I am one of the most frequent of the contributing editors, and among the editors are more Protestants than ever before.

John Bugay said...

Hello Fr. Hart, welcome to Beggars All. I stopped reading around five or six hears ago, after David Mills(?) became Editor, and Peter Leithart seemed to be the primary "Reformed" contributor. I am sure you are familiar with the whole FV situation, but I am not a theologian, and I did not have the background then to sort through all the issues, and so I just went in another direction.

I have only recently found your blog, but I want you to know that I am very happy to support your efforts as I am able.

john said...

Ryan brings up a good point. I have noticed that no matter what the debate subject is in an RC/Evangelical debate when the RC is losing or lacks an answers they always pull out the "Canon issue". "How do you know that the NT is inspired ?" or "How do you know what books belong in the Canon ?" etc. In their efforts to disprove "Sola Scriptura" they sound just like atheists attacking God's Written Word.

The truth is they cannot prove Papal Infallibility, the facts of History and Scripture disprove that idea. Its time RC apologists catch up to THEIR OWN Historians and Biblical Scholars who have shown over and over again that the concept of Papal Infallibility or Papal Primacy cannot be supported by Historical facts and the Biblical data, THEIR OWN RC scholars disprove Papal Infallibility and Papal Primacy.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

John Bugay:

Thank you. I hope you give Touchstone another chance.

natamllc said...

John, hilarious:

" It takes not only a theologian, but a lawyer, to understand some of the “Joint Declarations” – and to understand just precisely what is being given away, and by whom."

My father, a California Indian, was raised on our Reservation predominately run by the Sisters of Orange and their circuit of Priests. He was quite religious and always had the medallion St. Michael with him wherever we traveled as a family. When our age was right he enrolled my sister, one year older than me and I at St. Bernard's catechism.

It wasn't long and unbeknown to my sister or to me, on the same day at different times, each of us came to my father and asked if we had to continue catechism? I remember saying that I wasn't learning anything about Jesus. That seemed to be the same complaint my sister made herself when she appealed to dad so she did not have to attend catechism. He reluctantly agreed and we were both so very happy!

The more I think about that time the more I realize your assessment cited above extracted from your thread, that is: "It takes not only a theologian, but a lawyer, to understand the RCC doctrines of their faith!"

Thanks for the article! It was clear and easy to read and understand! :)

natamllc said...

Oops, I made an error. I did not mean St. Michael, but St. Christopher!

John Bugay said...

Fr. Hart -- are you related to D.G. Hart (the other Hart?)

I'll give Touchstone another look. I've already started reading through one or two of your view articles, but it's the end of a long day for me and I'll have a better chance of giving them good attention in the morning.

John Bugay said...

Hi john, you are right, it always gravitates to the NT canon issue. And they are frequently worse than atheists in attacking the Scriptures.

As for RC scholars, yes, I'm finding that yes, they challenge papal history. But I just picked up James Puglisi's "Petrine Ministry and the Unity of the Church," which is about a 1999 "symposium" following "Ut Unum Sint," and Klaus Schatz's article, while making light of the early papacy, still wants to identify five separate "epochs" of the "primacy," each of which manifested itself in a different way, yet each of which shows signs of having grown out of the previous, etc., etc. -- so there is still some effort to justify that enterprise.

John Bugay said...

Hi Natamllc, happy New Year!

Thanks for your kind words about the article. I'm glad you didn't have to go through catechism classes!

zipper778 said...

This post really nails it on the head IMO. It's never about accepting the RCC for it's doctrines, but accepting it so that you can be in "unity" with others. In fact, many people have to gulp down the doctrines of the RCC regardless of what reservations that they may have. Good job John!

John Bugay said...

Thanks Zipper !

Canon Tallis said...

I find myself unable to refer to the Roman Church as "Catholic" since that word means "according to the whole" which should include Holy Scripture. St Paul and the other apostles are very clear that we are to reject anyone who teaches a doctrine other than their own and it is not very difficult to discover that Rome has no trouble doing that. The easiest point at which they leave what St Paul teaches is their doctrine of clerical celibacy while in both Timothy and Titus St Paul requires something else and from both the canons of the earliest councils and the history of the first five centuries there are more than enough evidences of married clergy.

But St Paul goes further and prophecies a time when "some shall depart from the faith. giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils" among which he names the "forbidding to marry" as the first. (I Timothy 4:1-3) It seems to me that the moment you depart from the New Testament and the practice of the earliest Church at any point you lose such authority as you claim. Rome has claimed to be above all, but even Gregory the Great had to wait months for the emperor to confirm his election before he could be consecrated and receive the pallium which was the gift of the emperor and not of the bishop of Rome.

Rome has been very clear and right in certain places but continues to be resist conformity to the teaching of the apostles in others. While I am glad to be thankful for the first, I think would be seriously wrong to grant authority to anyone who so seriously persists in a practice at odds with Holy Scripture and the canons of the earliest General Councils.