The blog of Dr Glenn Andrew Peoples on Theology, Philosophy, and Social Issues

One reason why I’m not Catholic


I was raised in the Roman Catholic church. Now, I’m a Protestant. I am most definitely not one of those Protestants who believes that part of apologetics means telling everyone that the Catholic church is evil. I find that flavour of Evangelicalism frankly embarrassing. The truth is that I have a great respect for the Catholic intellectual tradition, in spite of the disagreements I have with the doctrines of that church. I would gladly work with Catholics, fellowship and worship with them, and in fact I’d rather like to work at a Catholic College/University. I wanted to get that out in the open right away. I am an ecumenical Christian, and I cherish the idea that I am part of the catholic (small c, meaning worldwide or universal) Christian faith. Disagreements that I have with Catholics are disagreements among family.

That being said, every now and then I am exposed to a reminder – quite apart from my doctrinal disagreements – of why I could not become a Roman Catholic again. I was having a discussion recently with a friend about the Canon of Scripture – the list of books that are included in the Bible. My friend – a Protestant – was under the impression that the “Apocryphal” books of the Old Testament (called the “deutero-canonical” books by Catholics, when means “second canon”) were actually part of the Hebrew Bible, and that is why they ended up in the Septuagint. I was able to point out for him that actually, the apocryphal books gained their separate status in part because they are the ones that appear in the Septuagint but which are not found in the Hebrew Scripture.

Bear in mind – the point that I am getting to has nothing to do with which books actually do belong in the canon of Scripture. For my purposes here, it doesn’t matter to me what you think about the answer to that question. This issue just provides the backdrop for what I’m about to say.

We were then joined by a Catholic friend, who proceeded to provide links to Catholic apologetics pages attacking the claim that the apocryphal books were rejected by some of the Church Fathers. The game was on, for someone at least, and the ammunition was being fired as quickly as possible in lists of (very short) quotes. I commented that while strongly interested parties might present smoothed over versions of history suggesting otherwise, it’s just not true that there was one consistent list of Old Testament books in the early church, and some church fathers clearly did reject at least some of the apocryphal books. I gave Athanasius as an obvious example. So the evidence just doesn’t support the claim that “the Fathers accepted the apocrypha.” That claim was false, and I was able to cite a Catholic source candidly admitting this. This doesn’t show that the books ought not be accepted of course. It was just a modest historical observation about what the Church Fathers did in fact accept.

But this could not stand, apparently. My Catholic friend, as though compelled by an invisible hand, granted this observation but started listing other authorities that did accept the apocryphal books as canonical, including eventually (naturally) Catholic Councils. Not wanting such lists to go on forever (as no doubt they could), I tried to explain – nobody was denying that many, including now the Roman Catholic Church, did and do accept the deutero-canonical books as canonical. My point was just that there is enough clear historical evidence that nobody can honestly claim anything like “accepting the deutero-canonical books is THE orthodox view.” We know this is false, we can see that it is false by looking at the evidence. At very least, this means that if we want to visit the question ourselves, we can’t sit back and called it a settled matter, we’ve got to actually engage our brains and look at the reasons for why those books might be accepted or not accepted.

Here is where the issue rose to the surface. Here is where my Catholic friend said (my summary), “Well, it’s at times like this I’m glad that the Church has binding authority, so it can just cut through all the mere opinions and settle the matter.”

What just happened here? What happened is this: Somebody initially thought that they could argue a case on the basis of the historical evidence. When it became quite clear that the historical evidence did not show what they had hoped, they effectively retreated from the evidence and said “Well, that wasn’t my real argument anyway. I don’t even need evidence, because my church has made the decision.” He went on to say that this shows just how vital it is that the church does make such binding decisions. After all, if the Church didn’t step in and provide clear, final and completely binding answers to this and other questions, we’d be lost in a sea of completely subjective opinion with no way at all of reaching answers!

This is a way of thinking about reason, decisions, seeking answers, assessing evidence, that is anathema to me. I could never ever go back into an environment where this kind of thinking is encouraged. It would mean that I could treat the evidence as essentially irrelevant. It would mean that I would have to adopt a kind of hopelessness in regard to the evidence: I would see all evidence and the tools of reason as leaving me still totally in the dark, with no more than a completely subjective opinion. In an unexpected twist, it would leave me with a kind of relativism, where the facts, the evidence, lead us to a place where nobody’s opinion is better than anybody else’s, and so we need one, authoritative, binding and final opinion to silence the chaos.

But I am fairly sure that my Catholic friend – and I am absolutely certain that Catholics in general – do not approach life in general this way. They look both ways before crossing the street. They accept that the milieu of scientific facts and opinions does not mean that all theories are equal (and equally false!). God gave us reason in the expectation that we should use it to aim at the truth, and outright relativism is a patently false outlook. The fact of disagreement should not and does not suggest to me that I have no way of accessing the truth, in spite of the fact that a number of intelligent Catholic friends have said otherwise more than once.

The same applies to issues of biblical interpretation. I have lost count (not that I was actually counting) of the times that Catholics have confidently assured me that unless the (Catholic) Church makes a final, discussion-ending binding statement on what a passage of Scripture means, then we may as well despair of having even the slightest hope of knowing what it really means. This, too, I find patently absurd. Now of course, I will listen to the human opinion of the Church just as readily as I will listen to any other human opinion. But it is an opinion that can be assessed like all the others. It does not stand above the facts. The truth is objective, however. Facts can genuinely be used to reach conclusions. We are not doomed to subjectivity and ignorance without the declarations of the Church. When the Gospel writers say that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, I can be fairly confident of what they meant. The only thing that changes between this and doctrinal matters like the deity of Christ, eschatology and the like is complexity. Now this requires an analysis of more complex facts, yes, but there is nothing about the issue of complexity that suddenly requires a top-down heavy handed, absolutely binding, final declaration from Rome.

I’m open to being persuaded by Catholics. I truly am. But I will have to be persuaded. I’ll need reasons.

So on any particular doctrinal question, I’m open to being persuaded by Catholics. I truly am. But I will have to be persuaded. I’ll need reasons. Pick up your Bible, turn your mind on, and let’s discuss it. Open the history books too, I am – some stereotypes notwithstanding – perfectly willing to hear what they say. But if at the end, the evidence hasn’t compelled us to accept your claim, then that is where the matter lies. Do not then just retreat into a shell, telling me that really the evidence isn’t required, because the church has answered the question anyway and that is that, so we don’t have to worry about the hopeless ocean of subjective opinion. While I have a number of doctrinal reasons not to be a Catholic, this methodological reason stands head and shoulders above them all. God gave me reason, and ignoring what it tells me is not better than being given sight by God, but being willing to pluck out my eyes if they do not agree with what the Church tells me I should see.

Glenn Peoples


Internet Sceptic Meets Real World: Reginald Finley and Bart Ehrman


Jesus Week 2011


  1. Great post, Glenn. It’s ironic that the RCC wants to affirm reason in the Thomistic sense (I gander), while at the same time issuing the ex cathedra pontifications of biblical interpretation.

    It does seem like an all or nothing deal regarding hermeneutics: we can indeed read the Gosples and know that Jesus was born in Bethlehem without having to resort to an epistemic throne high and exalted in a city in Italy. I would ask with you to the RCC, where do we draw the line? Must I accept the RCC’s authority on the hypostatic union and ecclesiology and not on the simpler levles of basic reading?

    Once again, Dr. Peoples…you have taught me well.

  2. Doesn’t the Bible say to be wary, and not swayed by every wind of doctrine? That ‘wind of doctrine’ could be from anywhere, couldn’t it? Even a human being who has been elected by other human beings into a role designed by human beings to lead human beings in their faith? IE, the Pope?

    The process of thinking you have described immediately reminds me of the Latter Day Saints (Mormons). They are lovely, well meaning people. But they seem willing to completely disengage their brains when it comes to determining truth. It often drives me mad when I’m talking with some of them.

    I’m glad though, that the Catholic church has remained so orthodox and conservative all these years. It is a testament to the method of a top-down authority. However, it’s also obvious that those in charge throughout history, have gotten it wrong just as often as everyone else.

    Feel free to submit your mind to any human authority you like – whether that be the Pope, or the president of the LDS (Mormon) church, or whether it be Jim Jones… Just don’t call it divinely authoritative, it’s only another human equally as fallible as you are. Instead, put in the ‘hard yards’ and engage your mind. Take responsibility for your life and your beliefs and stop passing the buck.

    Thanks Glenn,
    -Andy Gray

  3. I’m just wondering why you became Protestant. I left the Church when I was in my teenaged years, just did it formally in my early 20’s by a complete denial of God. I now know that we have been sifted and just read a really interesting book on a Communist that infiltrated the Church as a priest during WW2 with the intent on destroying Her from within. But all of that aside, each person has a personal reason or reasons for leaving that need to be dealt with before they will ever be convinced of the truth of the Church. Somehow I don’t think the books of the Bible are yours.

  4. Andrew

    I love how I manage to provoke blog posts XD

    I didn’t realize that you had been raised in the Catholic Church. Do you mind telling me what it was that caused you to change?

  5. I’m reluctant to go into my reasons for leaving the Catholic church here, because I really wanted to stay away from questions of specific doctrines as much as I can, and to stay with questions of methodology. I realise they are closely connected, but they are distinct.

  6. Marcia

    …lost in a sea of completely subjective opinion with no way at all of reaching answers! Yes, sometimes that exactly how it feels.

  7. matt

    I’m wondering if catholic philosophers (like john haldane, for instance) “get away” with less kosher positions than the laity does or if the laity is often unaware of the sort of intellectual evolution that goes on in the catholic church. I’m not terribly familiar with Haldanes work, but it at least seems to me that he would take the same position as your friend, but on the basis of some argument (that was not all slippery slopey). Could you speak to whether or not there has been a double standard, both in the contemporary and historic sense, Glenn?

    On a similar note, I recently had a conversation with a protestant fellow (an old school, liturgical, conservative sort which shall remain nameless) who defended the merits of his denomination’s dogmatism by stating that there was every good reason to believe that nobody believes anything on the basis of a good argument or evidence, but rather they accept those two on the basis of what they already believe. He then suggested that this was why church was important, because it got you into the position to have the right sorts of preconceptions. I was fairly surprised by this.

  8. Well, the one thing that stands out in the reasoning of the post to me is that the whole argument does not stand or fall on whether the Fathers of the Church accepted or rejected certain books of Scripture, as the decision as to what should be included to be the infallible word of God was decided in Church Councils. Fathers of the Church are not seen as infallible; a good example is Tertillian who became a heretic in later life.

    From memory, I think that not all the Fathers accepted the Apocalypse either, but that made it in.

  9. Lucia, that’s right, the Fathers differed on a whole range of issues, and I really do roll my eyes when someone tells me that they hold the view of “The Fathers.”

    But I hope it’s really clear to everyone that the point of this post has nothing to do with the issue of the canon. The reason described here for why I could never be a Catholic is the question of methodology. I definitely have not said here that I am not a Catholic because of which books they include in the Bible.

  10. Phil M

    I suspect that most evangelicals (perhaps even most Protestants) operate along a similar pattern to the one you describe your RCC friend having. The only difference is that the Senior Pastor or the church constitution replaces the Pope.

    Protestants would by-and-large (and I exclude those few who choose to educate themselves about this) be just as willing to hand over their understanding of the Bible to the Pastor. And I suspect that the Catholic academia would be just as willing to explore these issues as Protestant academia.

    This dove-tails into a post I was reading today on Biblicism found here, about a book written by a Protestant-turned-Catholic.

    It is relevant here, I think, as part of a larger discussion on the vast amount of interpretive pluralism that exists in Protestantism. The long and the short of that post is that once we (rightly) reject Biblicism, we still don’t have an effective response to that pluralism. So many denominations to choose from…

    We can use logic and good practice all we like, but scripture seems, in many places, to defy pinning it down into a single clear meaning. Of course there are many reasons for that – such as only partial knowledge of the language, culture, and authorial intent that we may never understand fully – but there you go.

  11. Andrew Gray

    @Phil M, you are very incorrect in your assessment of protestants/evangelicals. I wish I had a penny for every time I’ve seen someone leave a protestant church because they disagreed with the leadership. They didn’t just switch off their brains and blindly accept whatever was told to them. (not that leaving a church is the best solution either, I’m not suggesting that, but I mention it to demonstrate my point)

    What I do see, is my evangelical brethren spending copious amounts of time together reading the Bible, sharing insights, just trying to figure out what the word of God says and how it applies to our lives. I am very surprised that my catholic (RCC) brethren tend to just do exactly what this blog post has bemoaned. Frankly, that scares me the most, these people are the most susceptible to being ‘swayed by every wind of doctrine’ that may come from their leadership (whether that be a papal bull, or the Pope, or the theological distinctions of whatever evangelical denomination or local pastor).

    Now obviously, there are various skills that can be acquired to assist with reading the Bible. Eg, having a bible translated into your native language for a start. But learning the original Hebrew language (or Greek) can help in understanding some of the more tricky portions. And more modernly, exegetical and hermeneutical skills such as understanding historical context, etc. These can be and should be learned by everyone (to some degree).

    Finally, the Bible does seem to suggest in the New Testament that the Holy Spirit illuminates the Word of God to Christians.

    So you see, there really is no excuse for Christians to just ‘toe the party line’. We have every resource available to us, including our rather remarkable minds, and the even more remarkable Holy Spirit living within us illuminating the truth to us. Even if some evangelicals do just submit to whatever theological stance their church/denomination/pastor happens to take, I do not see this as being anywhere near the extent to which it happens with my RCC brethren. And it’s a real pity that this is the case (and totally unnecessary).

    So you see, your assessment of evangelicals (but perhaps not all protestants) is truly without foundation.

    Honestly, I feel like the only way I could become catholic is if I were to blow my brains out first. I couldn’t honestly do it, and I’m bemused that there are so many who can.

  12. I suspect that most evangelicals (perhaps even most Protestants) operate along a similar pattern to the one you describe your RCC friend having.

    Not in my world – seriously. I have never heard a Protestant claim that because their church has made a declaration, the matter has been settled and no appeal to the evidence can change that. Never. However, I have personally heard a large number of Catholics (by which I mean at least dozens) say that.

    So I’m at a loss as to which Evangelical Protestants you have in mind. If you genuinely do know of groups of Protestants you think that way, could you share the examples?

  13. Phil M

    I have never heard a Protestant claim that because their church has made a declaration, the matter has been settled and no appeal to the evidence can change that. Never.

    Then you’ve been fortunate indeed. I’ve seen it Pentecostal, Southern Baptist, Presbyterian, and Reformed churches – although wherever I have seen it, it has been where there is a strong leadership personality; whatever Senior Pastor says is gospel. So not it’s not really “the church” making the declaration, it’s the preacher. Which is why I generalised it, really, because it seems many protestant churches are built around strong leadership personalities.

  14. Phil M

    Andrew, I don’t think my assessment is “without foundation” – it’s what I’ve experienced. I don’t approve of it and I do recognize that in every church I’ve seen it, there has been a small group fighting against the tide.

    I’ve also seen people leave the churches because they disagreed with the Pastor (and been close to leaving myself); but it always seemed to be to be a minority of people who felt that way.

  15. Andrew

    Phil M,
    I have to throw my lot in with Glenn on this point. In my experience I have never seen any Evangelical appeal to the authority of the Pastorate as a reason for thinking that an issue has been settled.

    I am myself one of those Evangelicals that left the Church in which he was raised because, inter alia, the Pastorate started teaching heresy. (I also thought that the Minister was utterly under-qualified)

    I also happen to disagree with my current Pastor on issues of soteriology (he’s a 5 point Calvinist, i’m an Arminian, he believes in unconditional election, I believe in prevenient grace).

    So, in line with what Glenn was saying, i’m not sure what examples you have in mind when saying that the Senior Pastor takes the place of the Pope in Protestantism when deciding issues of doctrine.

  16. Phil M

    Andrew (#16), again, I’m speaking from what I have experienced first hand and observed similar patterns in other churches. I’m not going to go naming actual fellowships if that’s what you’re after. There are always those who are thoughtful and careful in evaluating teaching but, as I said, they have seemed to be the minority.

  17. Just Sayin'

    The alternative, of course, is endless division and disunity, and a plethora of little popes instead of one big one.

  18. Just Sayin – little popes? No, and this is where some lay Catholics get it so wrong when critiquing Protestantism. A plethora of people disagreeing on mostly peripheral issues (as I have noted before), yes, but none of them claim infallibility or anything like it. They are committed, in principle, to being willing to change their mind in light of the evidence.

  19. Phil M, if you have ever truly seen a Baptist or a Reformed believer state that their church has declared a position therefore the position is finally settled with no further question (and I remain verydubious of that), then the flaw is with the individual believer, and not with the church, because those churches simply do not teach this. Those individual believers are departing from the teaching of their churches in making those statements. Not so with Catholicism.

    You will, of course, know this to be true, because (since you used the Reformed Church as an example) the Westminster confession has in fact been changed precisely because of the recognition that its claims do not represent any sort of ultimate, final and binding end to discussion.

  20. Phil M

    You remain very dubious that I have seen that? Well – what can I say to that… I guess I should run all my experiences past you just to check that I am really observing correctly.

    First, let me repeat **again** what I actually said: that it is the Pastor that is the final authority for some people, not “the church”.

    I am currently attending a Reformed Baptist (two birds with one stone!) church that has an awful lot of people that have somehow got to the position where the Senior Pastor is held in such high esteem that any announcements he makes – within reason – are supported and endorsed. Disagreeing with his teaching is tantamount to challenging his leadership. None of the issues are core doctrines of orthodox Christianity and I would hope that if ever that became the case that it would not be tolerated. And issues such as the recognized canon would probably never fall into this category either. But on many areas of scriptural interpretation, he is not to be disagreed with.

    I agree this is not healthy at all! But it’s certainly not an isolated case. Perhaps I have just been unfortunate in the churches I have been involved with, but I have seen this pattern all over the place. Some movements are more susceptible to this than others *cough*Pentecostal*cough* and I am happy to regard my church as unusual in reformed circles if that is the case.

    I would even argue that for some Evangelical movements, their denomination serves as the final authority on the points where their movement differs from other denominations. Not all people in those movements, but many.

  21. @Phil M. Point well taken.

    If you have seen said behaviour, then this isn’t great news. And BTW I believe you when you say you have seen it. It’s not beyond possibility (but I’d still suggest it’s relatively uncommon). Though, somehow I suspect the behaviour you describe is still a little different to the position of the RCC with it’s papal bulls, infallibility etc.

    Eg, suppose a pastor takes a stance on an issue, and has biblical references to back that stance up. People may accept the said position, but I do not think any protestant will take the stance that the pastor is infallible. You see, not matter how you look at it, it’s actually quite different, though on the surface may appear similar.

    I do think you’re right about the *cough*Pentecostal*cough* comment 🙂 I would suspect this is because of the relative lack of emphasis placed on knowledge and understanding compared to “experiences” and the Holy Spirit in such churches. Hopefully, this is an oversight that our Pentecostal brethren will rectify soon, since as you have mentioned, it’s not at all healthy.

    I would like finally point out that the example you have given (of your snr pastor) while unfortunate, is still no where near as unfortunate as that of the RCC. Challenging a doctrinal position of your pastor might be tantamount to challenging his leadership, but I wonder if this is more to do with his personality (insecurities etc) rather than an official position taken by your church. What do you think?

    Anyway, no matter what you think on this matter, I suggest to you that we should all encourage those in church to not take *anyone’s* word on a doctrinal issue, and examine it for yourself, and if you must, accept the authority of those more experienced or educated or gifted than yourselves – but don’t accept said authority as infallible, because clearly it’s not (see the counter-reformation of the RCC).

  22. Phil M

    Andrew – absolutely agree that it is to do with his personality and not the church.

  23. Phil, there’s no need to repeat “**again**” (with double asterisks no less), as though I am trolling or being stubborn and not listening. I know what you said, and yes, I do remain dubious that you have really heard any Protestant actually claim that because their pastor OR church (same issue) has made a statement on something, that’s final, forever binding, infallible etc. I very strongly doubt that you’ve encountered this. What’s more, I don’t even think it’s presumptuous of me to doubt this. What I suspect is that you’ve heard people with a strong tendency to believe that what their pastor says is correct, which isn’t the same thing at all.

    The example that you have now shared confirms this. You’ve referred to an example where challenging a person’s teaching is taken to be a challenge to their leadership,and their teaching is endorsed as true.

    So while I have no doubt that there are many examples like this, I really strongly doubt that it’s common among Protestants to actually believe that the utterances of their pastor are final or binding, and that is what I was denying before, if you check what I said in context (comment #20 makes this obvious). Is the automatic agreement with a pastor a bad thing? Yes it is, but it’s not the same as what I was highlighting in this blog.

  24. Phil M

    Glenn, fair enough, although the Pentecostal denominations would be very insistent that the last word on the doctrine of the gifts of the Holy Spirit (tongues, healing etc.) is that they have not ceased.

    I was just pushing back a bit on the sentiment, whether implied or inferred, that somehow protestants don’t have the same kind of reality as Catholics do, when it comes to accepting a default position on doctrinal matters.

    We shouldn’t have that reality; we have all the tools and history to counter it. But letting an authority figure determine your theology requires less effort than actually thinking about it, and some denominations more than others exhibit that trait. I think the Reformed churches quote often “forget” that the Westminster Confession refers to it’s own fallibility (which is how that link in my first comment relates).

    So yes, I’m saying something different to what you are saying – you are specifically addressing the official position of the church as opposed to what actually happens. My point, really, is that for a lot of the Evangelical churches I have had something to do with, that official position doesn’t mean much in practice.

    Please assume all the usual caveats about generalisation etc….

  25. CPE Gaebler

    So, Phil, would it be fair to say that although the Protestant churches of which you speak are doctrinally different from the Catholics in that they do not SAY that their pastor is infallible, they are METHODOLOGICALLY similar because they ACT like it?

  26. Phil M

    Nice summary CPE.

  27. While I agree with Glenn that in my experience people in protestant churches tend to make their own minds up and do their own study and thinking, I am also quite prepared to accept that there are people in protestant churches who switch off their brain and take whatever the pastor feeds them.

    It’s human nature after all.

    However, by it’s nature, the Roman Catholic church encourages it. The protestant church (in my observation) does not.

    It does occur that the people who comment here are not exactly a representative sample on this particular question 🙂

  28. scrubone – as I said to Phil earlier, I’m perfectly willing to accept that many Protestants may well believe that what their pastor says is correct without much reflection, that’s really not the concern I have raised here. Absolutely no Protestant that I know of – even anecdotally – has said that since their pastor has declared a doctrinal stance, in principal the matter is finally settled for good, infallibly.

  29. A friend of mine posted a link to this on his Facebook and I commented there, but decided to throw my comments in the ring here too. As a preface, I was an evangelical (Southern Baptist) and in my senior year at a Southern Baptist school entered into full communion with the Catholic Church.

    A few brief points – the position of the Church is most certainly not that unless Rome has given an interpretation of this or that verse, we are hopeless in our efforts in understanding it. Quite the contrary. The Vatican has provided infallible interpretations of very very few verses in the Bible. The sensus fidei, the Creeds, etc, provide for us a space demarcated in which we can do theology.

    Secondly, the bit about the Deuterocanon is a little odd to me. Many of the NT books were of course hotly debated and even contested. How, then, do we decide the orthodox position on the matter? You say you do not want to get into it, but I can see why – it seems to put your position at risk.

    Thirdly, Athanasius is an odd witness to call to the stand against the Deuterocanon. He cites the Deuterocanon as “Scripture” and includes them among books to be read (though says they are not necessarily ‘canonical’). Oddly, Athanasius includes the Book of Esther in his “uncanonical” list, though I’ve never met a Protestant who is willing to give up Esther on the basis of Athanasius. He even says that the 22 books correspond to the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, so my guess is that this guides his list more than anything.

    Fourthly, there is something to be said for having a teaching authority. The Church has had one for centuries (20, to be exact) and has still somehow produced great thinkers. There’s absolutely nothing in the history of the Church that would lead me to believe that having a teaching authority who can say what is right or wrong somehow extinguishes good theological thinking.

  30. Josh, it’s a common anti-Protestant apologetic for some Catholics to use the rhetorical ploy of saying that unless Rome has spoken, we are lost in subjectivity. The conversation that I described in this blog entry was an actual conversation, for example (not merely hypothetical). It has been said to me multiple times by Catholics who have taken upon themselves the task of Catholic apologetics. It’s good to see an honest soul publicly acknowledging that this is not so – but surely if it’s not true in principle, then there’s no reason for it to be true for any particular doctrine.

    I used the discussion of the canon only to provide the context for how the issue of authority and reason arose, not at all to make any points about the canon. That said, there’s no doubt that Athanasius did not share your view on the canon. He doesn’t share my list either, but that’s not the point. Here are his own words, from the 39th festal letter:

    There are, then, of the Old Testament, twenty-two books in number; for, as I have heard, it is handed down that this is the number of the letters among the Hebrews; their respective order and names being as follows. The first is Genesis, then Exodus, next Leviticus, after that Numbers, and then Deuteronomy. Following these there is Joshua, the son of Nun, then Judges, then Ruth. And again, after these four books of Kings, the first and second being reckoned as one book, and so likewise the third and fourth as one book. And again, the first and second of the Chronicles are reckoned as one book. Again Ezra, the first and second are similarly one book. After these there is the book of Psalms, then the Proverbs, next Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs. Job follows, then the Prophets, the twelve being reckoned as one book. Then Isaiah, one book, then Jeremiah with Baruch, Lamentations, and the epistle, one book; afterwards, Ezekiel and Daniel, each one book. Thus far constitutes the Old Testament.
    But for greater exactness I add this also, writing of necessity; that there are other books besides these not indeed included in the Canon, but appointed by the Fathers to be read by those who newly join us, and who wish for instruction in the word of godliness. The Wisdom of Solomon, and the Wisdom of Sirach, and Esther, and Judith, and Tobit

    Bear in mind, too, “Jeremiah AND Baruch” may simply be one book,Jeremiah (Baruch was his scribe).

    So the point is not that I agree with his list. The point was just that he didn’t accept some of the books the Catholic Church does. Nobody can deny that. So he’s not an odd witness, he’s an ideal witness to confirm the historical claim that some of the Fathers rejected the canonicity of some of the books that the Catholic Church accepts.

    But again, the canon was not the point here. And while in your own opinion an infallible magisterium might not be a threat to our own personal thinking about things, that discussion that I described in this blog is one example of literally dozens that I have seen in real life, sadly. When the war of evidence was lost, a retreat was made to the bunker of Church authority. It genuinely does happen, and far too often. And given the implications of the Catholic position on papal infallibility, I don’t see how this consequence could not follow when the church does speak.

  31. Glenn, thank you so much for such a speedy response.

    I cannot imagine you are very familiar with Catholic thought if I am the first person you have come across who says that theology is done within the context of the Creeds and that the Magisterium has infalliblly interpreted very few verses of the Bible. I’ve never met anyone (Catholic or no) who thinks either matters are infallibly defined or hopelessly subjective, but maybe you’re just using a bit of hyperbole.

    The canon is an interesting question when it comes to authority and reason. By what authority or reason would you assemble a canon? Athanasius’ voice is a fine one to throw in the mix, though it’s hardly the only one. Likewise, I’m not so scandalized by Patristic authors who say things that are not in exact agreement with later, dogmatic assertions. Athanasius gives us his list before a universal canon is declared later in the same century. However, I think the example only works in the favor of Catholics. How, for instance, does reason lead you to say that Hebrews or Revelation or Jude or 3 John ought to be in the canon? Or on what authority do you accept them? I think the only two options are R.C. Sproul’s “fallible list of infallible books” or William Lane Craig’s “self-authenticating witness” from the Holy Spirit. The former is odd and circular, the latter is used by groups like the LDS to add Scriptures or by Protestants to disregard books which have been considered canonical since there was a set canon. Either way, I don’t see how reason alone can lead you to a universal canon.

    Lastly, I think my final point stands and is supported by the history of theology. If the Magisterium really did squelch good theological thinking, then we have to come up with some sort of way to account for everyone from Irenaeus to Ratzinger.

  32. Also, thinking back to some things Frank Sheed said in his “Theology and Sanity”, I think the issue here is that it seems for you and other Protestants, free inquiry and the ability to think new and original thoughts is paramount, while the Catholic sees preservation of the deposit of faith as most important.

    Sheed gives a great explanation of how infallibility is the only thing that makes sense if God is to give us revelation and desire for us to think about it. He could have, as Sheed mentions, just as easily given us set formulae that we could remember and that would be that. This hardly produces any sort of thinking, however, and man cannot live without thinking about the rules he is given to live by. He likewise could have just given us each personal infallibility so that when we ponder God’s revelation, we would be kept safe from error. Evidently this is not the case either.

    Since revelation cannot intervene when two parties, in their consideration of its meaning, cannot agree on the meaning, God has set up a way of determining the truth in the matter. Otherwise, we’re simply left with chaos and chaos is hardly the environment for sound thinking.

    If you’re interested, Sheed discusses these things in pp 292-297 in his “Theology and Sanity” published by Ignatius press.

  33. One thing that appeals to me about the Catholic faith is the synthesis of faith and reason. In that order.

  34. Andrew Gray

    There are many things attractive about the RCC, as mentioned in comment #2 above for example. But there are some distinct disadvantages, you must admit, as mentioned by Glenn here. Can you not see that?

  35. Josh:

    I think the issue here is that it seems for you and other Protestants, free inquiry and the ability to think new and original thoughts is paramount, while the Catholic sees preservation of the deposit of faith as most important.

    I understand the reasons why this thought may appeal to many Catholics, but I don’t think it’s the case. For instance – do you genuinely think that conservative Protestants see as really important the ability to reason themselves away from the deposit of faith taught by the Apostles? Quite clearly not, so in principle, the deposit of faith is what matters here.

    So this is not the difference. The difference that I have highlighted here is that for some Catholics, once their church has spoken, reason is essentially crippled in the following sense: If you came to believe that the evidence suggested that the early church never believed in the bodily assumption of Mary (and this is, of course, merely an example), you would have to suppress reason on the grounds that it did not point to the truth. A Protestant, by contrast, would think that this is a case of reason (assisted by other things, like Scripture, tradition and experience) pointing in the direction of that deposit of faith.

    So rest completely assured, the difference is definitely not that Catholics care about the deposit of faith and I don’t.

  36. I cannot imagine you are very familiar with Catholic thought if I am the first person you have come across who says that theology is done within the context of the Creeds and that the Magisterium has infalliblly interpreted very few verses of the Bible.

    Josh, if we’re going to converse nicely and get along, I hope this is the last time you attribute to me claims that I just never made. I never said that I had never heard anyone say that theology is done in this context, and I never said you were the first person to say that the church has not declared every single fine doctrine of the faith infallibly. Go back and check my comment, you’ll see what I mean. Let’s just allow people to speak for themselves. For St Pete’s sake, I grew up in the Catholic Church, I frequently read Catholic work and I often converse with Catholic peers. Playing the “you’re just ignorant” card and attributing things to me that I never said will wear out my patience in short time, I’m sorry to say.

    What I said is that many Catholics do – as a matter of fact – say to me that unless I have the Church’s word on a matter then I am just lost in an ocean of subjectivity and mere opinion. That is what I said before, and it really, truly happens. Thus, it is refreshing to have a Catholic who does not also play this very very common game, and who admits that this is false, and that actually I can have some objectivity even when the Church has not infallibly declared a position.

    I also added that since I am not lost in a sea of subjectivity on some issues even when the Church has not made a declaration (according to you), I see no reason to think that I must be doomed to similar subjectivity when I do not listen to the Catholic Church on the matters where it has spoken either. Why should reason and evidence guide me on one doctrine of the faith but not another?

    And my goodness Josh – Why on earth would I have to come up with an explanation for all the smart thinkers from Irenaeus to Ratinzger just because I think the Catholic position denies me the right to use God given reason? I never said the Church squelched all good thinking – it only serves as a mental crutch in contexts like the conversation I outlined above. It asks me to doubt my very senses and mind if they scream one thing at me in light of the evidence of Scripture and history when the Church infallibly declares another. I cannot do that. I genuinely can’t. But even you admit that the number of infallible declaration is not huge. How many such declarations had been made by the time of Irenaeus? Now do you see why such declarations did not pose a problem for the early fathers and their freedom of enquiry? There were no such declarations.

    You ask if the Catholic Church really is the one, true, inspired, infallible church established by Christ, then what is the issue in listening to her? But Josh, I would ask that you revisit this blog entry, because my concern was not that people are calling me to listen to the church. I do listen – and I listen to other sources too. But the point here is that it is a bit facile to (as my partner in dialogue did) act as though one is willing to argue based on the evidence, when really if the evidence fails to make one’s case they are just going to fall back on the position of “Oh well, I didn’t really need the evidence anyway. The Church says this is the case, so that’s the end of it.”

  37. Another thing occurs to me: The whole line of reasoning that says: “Without the declarations of the church, you’re just being autonomous, subjective and making it up for yourself” seems to operate as though history is only visible to the Church, which is clearly not the case.

    By that, I mean that this attack on Protestants seems to assume that we have no access to history, no access to the Fathers, no access to the Christian writings that the Catholic Church has access to, and so on. But every single piece of evidence that the papacy has at its disposal, the rest of us have as well. Nobody has unique access to the facts here.

    So all that is going on is this: When the papacy uses Scripture, reason, tradition and experience to come to a decision and label it infallible, anti-Protestant apologists say that it puts an end to the chaos of subjective opinion. But when anybody else has access to all the same facts and uses Scripture, reason, tradition and experience to make a decision about what they believe, those same apologists label it as subjective chaos!

    Ah, the desire for a privileged position in the crowd. Doing the same thing as everyone else and calling it something different.

  38. Glenn:

    My intention wasn’t to be insulting. I don’t think it’s a moral failing not to know Catholic thought. Whom are you reading within the Catholic world?

    Secondly, the Church totally believes you have every right to follow your conscience. However, the Church totally believes that your conscience can be ill-formed and wrong. If the Church has said something and if she really is who she says she is, the pillar and foundation of truth, then I think it’s probably wise to trust her. The issue does not seem to be that we must surrender our reason if the Church requires something of us – this is demonstrably false. The issue is whether the Catholic Church is who she says she is. If she is truly the inspired, original body of Christ, then where is the issue in listening to her? Can you imagine how wrong an individual would be if their reason alone caused them to reject the Resurrection or some of Paul’s letters? Or the decision of the council of Jerusalem in Acts 15? In fact, reason did cause people to reject large portions of the faith. Marcion by reason figured that the Old Testament is not Christian Scripture. Arius by reason figured that Christ is created. The Gnostics by reason figured that Christ had to come not from the Creator God. By reason men and women stood in front of Christ, their God, and yelled “Crucify”, they spat upon Him and then killed Him. The Catholic Church believes that every one of them has every right to use that reason and to be completely wrong.

    And what I said was not meant to be a slight on Protestants, but is my experience. I was a Protestant, attended a Protestant institution of higher learning, etc. I saw numerous unintentional heretics (people who were accidentally Modalists, Apollinarians, Nestorians, etc, but did not know what those things were) because they were completely unbounded by the creed, by the sensus fidei, etc. The “benefit” was that they had no authority but God and the Bible to hold them accountable, but as stated above, the Bible alone does a lousy job of intervening when someone gets it wrong. God could have chosen to make everyone individually infallible on matters of faith, but in His wisdom chose not to. Hence the reason I said that it seems your position is that it’s better to have the freedom to reason about things (even if you’re wrong) than it is to have an inspired entity on earth that preserves infallibly the Apostolic deposit of faith. That’s where we part ways. I believe that entity exists, you do not. I never meant to imply that you don’t think the deposit of faith is important. You obviously do if you care about Scripture.

    Dogma of course doesn’t cause me to think any less. How could it? The Church has constantly asked me to think about what it is she teaches, to contemplate it. She has yet to come up short on answers. Just because someone tells me that there are certain rules in mathematics doesn’t mean I think about math any less, that there is somehow less to explore. A hermeneutic of discontinuity within the faith, disagreeing because you happen not to be convinced of this or that, creates chaos. I think if we’re honest, the last 500 years testify to that. Nobody says you are incapable of coming to the truth looking at Scripture and history. The difference is that we believe the Church’s teaching authority is given the gift of infallibility while Glenn Peoples is not.

    On the Mary issue: just like the Resurrection, either the Church is right or wrong. Reason alone tells me that there’s little chance of a man rising from the dead. Faith naturally plays a part. The Church of course doesn’t simply say, “Now, we realize there’s no evidence for this, but you have to believe it anyway.” Far from. Anyone familiar with Catholic theology, particularly on the Mary questions, knows that the Church’s reasons are Scriptural and historical. Granted, just as Irenaeus says in AH 1.8.1, some (he’s speaking about Valentinians, but I see no reason it cannot be universally true) take the “picture of the king” and try to make it into a fox. That is, some take the picture the Bible presents and by reason and a hermeneutic of discontinuity they create an entirely new picture of a fox. They have the same stones and there still exists a picture, but it’s just the wrong one. What means did God give us to determine which of the pictures is right? Did He intend for there to be a Church with a teaching authority who could say universally one way or another or did He intend that we all have to examine the case, to look through all the evidence, and then to vote and hope for unanimity or else schism?

  39. Just Sayin'

    “none of them claim infallibility or anything like it. ”

    Of course they do. The plethora of fundamentalist sects all claim to be observing the “plain, clear meaning of scripture” while you are not, for various reasons they will not be reluctant to suggest! Fred Phelps is “just reading the Bible and applying it” don’t ya know? Same with the Bible-burner, with Pat Robertson, John Hagee, Benny Hinn, Todd Bentley and all the rest of them.

    “They are committed, in principle, to being willing to change their mind in light of the evidence”

    Sure. Trying changing the mind of any of the above or any of their millions of followers.

  40. Just sayin’ – I attended numerous churches which split over those types of things. The pastor was “just reading the plain meaning of Scripture” and if you dared to disagree (like so many did), you could just go elsewhere (like so many did). There was no way of settling who was right about anything. Like I said: chaos. It results in ecclesiastical anarchy. There was basically just this agreement that on this side of Kingdom Come, we were all lost in a sea of good opinions.

  41. Josh, I notice that you are attributing to somebody the belief that we should use “reason alone.” Could you please clarify by pointing out who you are attributing that view to? I hope it’s not me, as I have explicitly denied that, as you’ll see pretty clearly if you read through my comments. But I would like to know who this is a reference to. Thanks.

  42. Just sayin’ – Seriously? You see a theme of Protestant groups who “claim infallibility”? If you’ve honestly encountered the Protestant groups that truly do “claim infallibility,” then I am amazed, and I would like to see some examples, because that’s a really surprising claim. I am willing to be corrected, but I need evidence for that.

    If I find a genuine example of a Protestant group that really, truly does claim infallibility as you say, and the ability to finalise issues once and for all, then of course I will reject that group. But I have never, as yet, found a Protestant group that makes this claim for itself.

  43. Jeremy

    “The issue is whether the Catholic Church is who she says she is. If she is truly the inspired, original body of Christ, then where is the issue in listening to her?”

    I am afraid that as a protestant, this is indeed the issue. And my answer is a loud clear and resounding NO. The best that may be said of the Catholic Church is that it is one part of the body of Christ, no less but definitely no more. No special authority, no more direct connection to the early church than anyone else, no more inspired, no more original than any other group of believers submitting to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

    Sorry but that comment quoted above still smells of a “one true church” mentality with anyone else being at best “separated” and hence misguided brethren.

  44. Just Sayin'

    There’s a formal dogma of infallibility, Glenn, and there’s de facto claims to infallibility. For the latter, cf. thousands of small Protestant fundamentalist sects.

  45. Jeremy:

    You need not apologize for your comment. Obviously if you are a Protestant, this is your belief. I don’t fault you for it. As a Catholic, I am naturally convinced that the Church is who she claims to be. I see the unity of the Church in a real, visible way throughout the Scriptures (if not always in practice, certainly in theory and hope) and likewise I see this Church as being authoritative in its teaching, claiming to be ‘one and true.’

    But, if the Church really is who she says she is, is there an issue in listening to her? I think my questions above that have gone unanswered are good ones to think about, particularly: “Did He intend for there to be a Church with a teaching authority who could say universally one way or another or did He intend that we all have to examine the case, to look through all the evidence, and then to vote and hope for unanimity or else schism?” Do you have a problem listening to Christ? Do you have a problem listening to His Apostles? Do you have a problem listening to the men who continued their teaching? Or the next generation who continued the same teaching? If not, then where is the issue in listening to the historical (that is, Catholic, lest anyone find me ambiguous) Church?

  46. Jeremy

    Thankyou for your kind and polite reply. I think i answered your questions with my comment that the RC church is no less but but no more than one part of the body of Christ. However to be more specific, no i dont believe Christ intended for the Church to be a teaching authority making or pronouncing universally. The church is the body of Christ, also the Bride of Christ, the sum of those redeemed through His sacrifice. The idea that the Church is some earthly political institution/organisation be that Roman Catholic,Greek Orthodox,Coptic Presbyterian or Baptist has nothing particularly to do with Christ or His church. These are just associations of convenience for men.

    “Do you have a problem listening to His Apostles? Do you have a problem listening to the men who continued their teaching? Or the next generation who continued the same teaching?”

    Again trying not to be offensive , but i thought that was the whole point of the Reformation. That part of the human political institution known as the Roman Catholic Church which had come to dominate part of Europe, had drifted too far from the teaching of the Apostles and Scripture. They were in fact not listening to or sharing Christ at all. Martin Luther’s 95 theses were an attempt to get the RC church to return to the teaching of Christ and of scripture rather than persuing the political and power desires of the institution. Institutional desires prevailed, thus the Reformation.

  47. For some bizarre reason this is one of those issues where, no sooner have you said one thing in criticism of a position, people are lining up in droves to tell you that you said something else. It’s a whacky phenomenon, but it happens both here and elsewhere.

  48. “but i thought that was the whole point of the Reformation”
    Exactly! Hence my tongue in cheek comment about relics etc. The RCC has got doctrine WRONG, so very very wrong. So wrong, Catholics should question it’s ‘authority’, because it simply can’t be trusted any more. Is that so hard to see?

    It claims authority, yet it exhibits all the same characteristics of any individual. That is, it’s very human in its behaviour, it’s as corrupt as any human, and as wrong as any human and as fallible as any human. This is clearly shown throughout history isn’t it?

    Case in point… why not think about the RCC counter reformation. Worth pondering…

  49. There’s no single “point” to the Reformation. The Reformation occurred for myriad reasons, some good while others bad. Plenty of people throughout history have created their own communions and said that the Catholic Church is wrong. Again, I have to ask – if the Church really is who she says she is (and I personally find her claims to be convincing), then what issue is there in listening to her? The Church, being filled as it is with people, always needs change because people always need to change for the better. However, change in a body occurs from within the body. The eye may need to tell the arm to cut it out, but the eye does little good if it is plucked from the body.

    Reading about Catholic reforms in the 16th century (most historians are abandoning ‘Counter-Reformation’ since its prejudicial and sees Catholic reforms only in light of Protestantism, which is historically false) is definitely an interest of mine. The Church is chock full of humans, nobody has ever denied this. As such, the Church is chock full of people who make mistakes. The pages of Christian history are littered with individuals who betray everything their faith putatively stands for. This isn’t news to anyone who has ever read the Passion narratives and sees Christ’s Apostles abandoning Him. I’m not sure how this is an argument against Christ preserving His body, protecting it from error in teaching. We believe the Magisterium is guarded by Christ, that the charism of infallibility is a negative one, a restrictive one. But infallibility isn’t impeccability.

    On the Church getting dogmas wrong – this is where I’ve asked for someone to provide a way to prove it wrong. How do we even decide? The Bible itself doesn’t intervene since we inevitably will both turn to the Bible. If the Catholic Church cannot be trusted, which of the thousands of organizations who are “sola Scriptura” should we turn to? Is there one group that is better than another, or does it matter as long as its not Catholic? This is an odd argument to me. I was told by plenty of my Baptist friends after explaining my decision to enter into full communion with the Church that I should just go to the Anglicans or perhaps a high Church Lutheran group, anything but the Catholics. Why is this so? If we’re all in the same boat, enjoying the beauty of the possibility of being wrong in all of our doctrines, why does it matter if I’m Catholic or Baptist? It was said above that Catholics are just as much a part of the “body of Christ” (which is odd, bodies are visibly unified…), so why would it matter if you think Catholics are simply in the same boat? Is it because the Catholic Church, like the Church of the NT, is willing to make statements about dogma? That she alone is willing to say what is universally normative for all Christians? We’re back to the canon, of course. You still use her canon born as it was out of her life and liturgy.

    But we seem to have wandered away from the original post. The original issue was a question of whether dogma necessarily shuts down our brains. If being told that 2+2 really does equal 4 end our discussion of mathematics (to use my example). I don’t believe it does and I think any number of modern Catholic theologians still doing theology can disprove this idea. Likewise, I think some good points were raised (and all too often dismissed, but such is the nature of online discussions) about a sort of ‘de facto’ infallibility presumed by Protestant congregations. They will, of course, not claim to be infallible, but simply reading the ‘plain meaning’ of Scripture. My questions above (in this post and others) are questions that I’m genuinely asking. My own email is listed on my blog if anyone wants to take this discussion up in email.

  50. “But infallibility isn’t impeccability.”

    Just a note – I frequently see this from Catholics. They see Protestants who reject papal infallibility and who also critique the conduct and doctrines of the (Roman) Catholic church, even the non-magisterially defined ones, and then they reply with “infallibility isn’t impeccability,” as though Protestants are arguing against infallibility because they see moral failings and identify them as proof against infallibility.

    This is simply a straw man. I have not seen anybody here do this.

    The mathematics example doesn’t work at all, because 2 + 2 = 4 is not itself all of mathematics, so even if we agreed never to enquire again as to whether 2 + 2 = 4, we would not be shutting down mathematics. So there is simply no helpful analogy there.

    Think of a more subtle case where a range of evidence is being surveyed. Think of cases where people initially try to argue on the basis of the evidence, but this becomes disingenuous when they fail, so they fall back on, “ah well, my church says it’s true so it must be.” I think observing Catholic tradition is one source among many of the threads of evidence available to us. I use them all where possible.

    And it is yet another straw man to pretend that anyone here has said that no Catholics are thinking or doing theology. That has never been the point, and it is an excellent example of what I identified a couple of comments ago about people lining up to attribute different claims to me on this subject more than most others. I think loyalties and emotions rise to the surface and muddy the waters too much on this issue and cloud people’s usual care when addressing what people have said.

  51. CPE Gaebler

    You know, I just thought of an earlier post that is very relevant.

    The important distinction needs to be made between someone thinking they’re always right and someone always thinking they’re right.

    The Catholic Church says they’re always right.
    Various Protestant sections may, I can believe, always think they’re right.

    For any fallible entity, the latter is much closer to sanity. However, it does bring with it the possible pitfall of unwarranted certainty, of being certain that one’s group is correct on a particular issue not because one knows that issue thoroughly, but because one has an attachment to the group. It is insidiously attractive to believe that to think someone you love is wrong on an important issue is almost disloyal somehow. Someone who loves their particular church group or pastor, even for sane reasons, may be inclined towards taking their side on any specific issue even if they never sat down and thought that said group or individual is right on every issue.

  52. Thanks Josh,

    “if the Church really is who she says she is (and I personally find her claims to be convincing), then what issue is there in listening to her?”

    That is a good question. Perhaps it’s useful to define ‘Church’. Isn’t it the group of believers here on earth? So just who is it that this ‘church’ says she is? Some sort of hierarchical organization who defines what is doctrine, and dispenses God’s grace on earth? If that’s who she says she is, then WHY does she say this?

    As you say, the church is full of people who are fallible, right? Well, if that’s what the church is, then how can a group of fallible people form something that is infallible? As I see it, the RCC is just as fallible as I am. The difference between me and my RCC brethren, is that I KNOW my beliefs may be slightly wrong, and so I go and figure it out, whereas some of my RCC brethren don’t.

    “the Church is chock full of people who make mistakes”
    Except for the Pope perhaps???? Somehow he’s the exception is he?

    I’m sorry if I seem like I’m missing the obvious here. I’m not all clued up on this topic, yet it seems ridiculously obvious to me, even in my relative ignorance.

    This discussion reminds me of a talk I had recently, discussing the most efficient form of govt. We discussed the fact that the most efficient seems to be a dictatorship. But that seems to go against our sensibilities. But what if said dictatorship was one where the ruler was near perfect? It would be awesome, right? But what if the ruler was just like me, very frail and human. Well, then it would be awful. Seems this is a bit of a crude analogy, but perhaps similar in some ways. If the RCC can be fallible like me (which it clearly is given that it is just a group of fallible people, just like me), then giving a dictatorship type rule over doctrine seems to be just stupid.

    I’m sure that this has been raised before, and perhaps my feeble understanding of the issues will make my statements seem trite. Yet I can’t help but feel like the completely obvious has been missed by those insisting on resting SOLELY on the decrees of the RCC.

    in summary:
    1. The RCC is clearly not infallible
    2. We have brains
    3. We have the Holy Spirit
    4. Truth is knowable if we use our brains and are guided by the Holy Spirit/God.
    5. Therefore Christians should use our brains and allow ourselves to be guided by the Holy Spirit. (NB using our brains can mean taking advantage of our fore-fathers who have had to use their brains and had often come up with useful stuff)

    What do you think?

    I think that actually you and I agree with each other in essence. You chose to become a Catholic. Is that because you researched it and realized that whatever the RCC said must be true? Or because you researched it and came to agreement with what the RCC said must be true?

  53. CPE – good spotting! Yes, the message of that blog post is apropos here when explaining what Protestants are actually saying.

  54. “Except for the Pope perhaps???? Somehow he’s the exception is he?”

    Andrew, no, the Catholic view is that the Pope may indeed make mistakes – even though when he speaks in general he is believed by the church. When papal infallibility was invented by the Council of Trent, they specified that he is only infallible when his is uniquely speaking in his office as Pope, as the teaching head of the church, in spelling out a doctrine on behalf of the church.

    Now this still poses problems given that this is exactly what, for example, Pope Honorius was doing and the Church still later rejected his teaching and anathematised him for it – in spite of the unsightly wriggling some modern Catholics engage in to get around it. Of course, there was no need for wriggling back then, as the Church didn’t believe in papal infallibility at the time so there was no issue. But it’s important to realise that the Pope is not said to be infallible in all that he happens to say.

  55. CPE Gaebler

    “As you say, the church is full of people who are fallible, right? Well, if that’s what the church is, then how can a group of fallible people form something that is infallible?”

    I don’t even know what the Catholic doctrine is, but the first possiblity that comes to mind is, if the Spirit of God was working to preserve His church and its overall infallibility.

    I know many Protestants who say it’s not surprising that the textual evidence for the Bible is so good because of course God would make sure His Word was preserved; this doesn’t seem too much different. But if anyone knows the official Catholic position, that’s cool too.

  56. Glenn:

    I haven’t really been responding to you because it seemed as though you’ve avoided everything I’ve said. I’m not emotional about this in the slightest and I haven’t mischaracterized anyone’s arguments. The conversation has degraded, however. Nothing is being addressed, questions aren’t being answered, arguments are not being considered. You have my email, I assume – feel free to email me if you want to continue this. Otherwise I feel like I’m just spinning my wheels here.

  57. “the Pope is not said to be infallible in all that he happens to say.”
    Thanks Glenn, that’s good to know… but really, it just seems to confuses the matter more for me. Just who invented this infallibility idea anyway? Seems very egotistical. Like something Benny Hinn would say if he was the Pope lol.

    @CPE Gaebler, thanks for that, I can see what you’re getting at. It does make me think though, that there is perhaps some equivocation going on here with the word “catholic”. Do we mean the RCC, or the universal body of believers? It wonder if some Catholics do incorrectly equate the two. Do I think that God will preserve the church (body of believers), yes I do. Do I think that means that he creates a single institution in order to do so, no I don’t. Do I think that the Spirit of God was working to preserve the infallibility of the church? Well WOW, I don’t think that was actually ever on the cards – it seems a massive leap of logic to arrive at that stance.

  58. Andrew:

    Might I suggest understanding the position of another before you critique it? It helped me immensely in learning what Catholics actually think.

  59. Josh, it’s true that I didn’t take up your request to offer a full historical account of how the canon could develop without the papacy. I just happen to think that can’t be done in a blog comment. Sorry!

    As for you flatly denying that you’re misrepresenting what people say – I have documented it, and with respect, I submit that the fact that such misrepresentation is going on is precisely the reason conversations devolve. It’s not that I have new things to add, I’m just noting what has been done in the (perhaps vain!) hope that people will acknowledge what they’ve done and avoid it in future, After all, once those misrepresentations are erased, there really aren’t any interesting responses to my criticisms left. Moreover, as far as I can tell I have answered all the questions you put to me, so I am not certain which ones you are now referring to. Can you point out the ones that I have overlooked?

  60. Andrew, in answer to your question, the doctrine of papal infallibility was first formulated by the Council of Trent in the 16th Century. The major concern at the time was the reforming movements starting to arise, so a natural tendency was for the Council to be fairly reactionary in nature, identifying Protestant ideas and defining the Catholic position in opposition to them In order to cement the Church’s authority (not that this worked!), it was declared that when the Pope speaks as the teaching head of the church defining a doctrine for the whole church to believe, he is infallible.

  61. CPE Gaebler

    I wonder where such misrepresentations come from, generally. I mean, I suppose I’m optimistic enough to imagine that people are influenced by what they’re told “the other group” believes rather than the difficult process of figuring it out themselves, instead of that they are deliberately trying to obfuscate. I mean, I know I’ve had people say that “The RCC teaches salvation by WORKS!!!!!!!” but upon actual investigation it’s not so clear-cut as that – but that’s what they were told, so that’s what they believe the RCC teaches.

  62. @Josh McManaway
    hahaha Point well taken. I’m well aware of my lack of total understanding on the topic, so in many ways I’m unqualified to critique. But on the other hand, I think I have something worth saying, and I suspect we all have something to learn from this discussion if we’re open enough.

    Proverbs 4:7 “Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.”

  63. @Glenn
    Thanks for the explanation. As I recalled, yes, it was about that time (it was a while ago that I did church history at college).

    It does make me wonder though. Upon what authority did the RCC speak for when it declared that it was the authority? Its own? But surely that’s circular? Or perhaps I’m putting the cart before the horse?

  64. Glenn:

    If you feel I’ve misrepresented your view, I apologize. It’s not my intent. I also didn’t ask for a full blown historical account of how the canon could develop without the Papacy. That’s not even remotely what I asked for (who’s misrepresenting now?). Like I said, I’m spinning my wheels here. I also asked loads more questions that all went unanswered.


    If you want to read about the Papacy in antiquity, I suggest Adrian Fortescue’s short but informative book, “The Early Papacy”. Also, this isn’t such a big deal, but some (such as myself) find “RCC” offensive. It’s a misnomer created by the Anglicans. We are simply ‘Catholic’, a word we’ve been using for about 1900 years now. It’s more respectful in my opinion to simply use Catholic (just like ‘Quaker’ or ‘Mormon’ are derogatory and should instead be ‘Friend’ and ‘LDS’).

  65. CPE Gaebler

    Huh, I’ve never heard of anyone being offended by the term “RCC.” I suppose it seemed like a decent way to distinguish between Catholic and catholic, but I’ll keep it in mind.

  66. Oh – I’m really sorry. I just thought RCC (short for Roman Catholic Church) was more useful that saying “Catholic”, because of the equivocation that seems to surround the use of that word. I’ll avoid using it, I didn’t know it was a little offensive.

  67. Josh, well let me put it this way: You asked for an account of how the canon could be agreed on without the magisterium (here I do find “Roman” appropriate simply because of the breadth of the term “Catholic”). In my view no account can be given of this that is not a decent historical explanation. If you were not asking for this and you wanted a sound bite answer, then I’m sorry, such a thing doesn’t exist. If you’d like me to recommend some literature on the subject I would be happy to, as there is a fair amount.

    I wasn’t misrepresenting you, I was just assuming that you weren’t asking for something like a quick sound bite explanation of such a complex issue. This seems like a charitable assumption. Peace be with you.

  68. Glenn:

    There’s a wide array of possibilities between a full-length treatment on the issue of the canon and a sound bite answer. I’ve given answers here that are concise. It’s not impossible. I understand if you feel like you need more space than a blog comment provides. If you feel like you want to answer those questions I asked, feel free to email me (or email me a link if you end up treating it in a blog post).


    I knew you were not intending to be offensive. A pejorative term in one generation becomes the standard name in the next (just consider the word ‘Christian’). And I seriously recommend the book on the Papacy. The brief history of the Pope and his infallibility given here has been inaccurate, but the nature of blog comments seems to sacrifice historicity for expedience.

  69. Andrew Gray

    Wow, how this for coincedental. I was listening to Dr William Lane Craigs podcast on my ipod on the way home from work this afternoon. One podcast episode finished, and the next one loaded up. And to my surprise, it was an episode titled “What about Catholocism”!!!! It was only brief, about 15 minutes, but was quite helpful.

    Sorry to plug a different podcast on your site, Glenn, but I’m sure you wont mind too much. Check out the episode here:

    Although brief, never the less I found it to be pretty good and fair, and I thought it coincidental/providential that I should listen to it this afternoon after having spent the day participating in a discussion about it 🙂

  70. “I’ve given answers here that are concise” – Josh, there is an obvious reason for that. You only need one. The head of the church has authority and has decided the matter. If I were to give a case, it would involve a lot more than that. Of course I could complain that your answers have not been concise because you’ve left out any justifying reasons for thinking that your Church is infallible at all. But as long as that is your answer: The Church says it and is infallible, then it’s going to be short.

    Please don’t try to play the game of depicting me as simply being unwilling to answer simple questions. The question is not simple, and the kind of answer that would be required is genuinely lengthy. I would be happy to point you in the direction of some books on it if you like. A substantial amount has been written on the subject. Other than the question on canon, which requires a substantial treatment, I have answered your other questions. Again, feel free to remind me of any that I have missed.

  71. Just Sayin'

    For some reason I’m only able to view the first 24 posts on this thread. I’ve tried refreshing the page but it does not good.

  72. Just Sayin'

    Duh! “View older comments.” Never noticed that before!!!

  73. Just Sayin'

    Glenn, fundamentalists will formally deny any claim to infallibility — then exercise just such a belief in practice. If you genuinely believe that you are only “Reading the plain, clear word of scripture” (rather than interpreting it like the rest of us) then how can you not be infallible in your beliefs? There they are on the page, a page that was written by God!

    De facto claims to infallibility don’t go away just because a particular formal dogma is denied.

  74. Just Sayin’, I know that many Protestants can be as unreasonable as anyone, and are just as capable of zoning out and taking their local leadar’s word for things.

    But – and I hate to harp on about it – You earlier did say that those Protestants really do claim infallibility, which was not correct at all. What’s more, I don’t think the distinction between genuinely claiming infallibility and just believing what the leader says is a small distinction. It matters, because one of those Protestants, if you pin them down and say “Look, I understand you think this guy is gifted, a spiritual man, smart, called to ministry and all that, but do you think it’s possible for him to make mistakes?” The answer will be yes, which may crack open the door to a more fruitful discussion about the doctrine that is being discussed at the time.

    So the distinction matters. Now of course, if they dug their toes in and said “No, I will not look at the issue using all the tools at my disposal, the leader has spoken and he cannot be wrong,” then obviously I would have as much issue with him doing that as I do with Catholics who act in the way described in this blog post. In other words, I do not object only when Catholics do it. That would be quite unfair.

  75. Just Sayin'

    Yes, there is indeed a difference between a formal dogma of infallibility and the fundamentalists’ belief that they have the plain, clear meaning of scripture and if you disagree with them then you are wrong. The end result though is largely the same, except some prefer one Pope (and centuries of scholarship) to a plethora of little popettes!

  76. Chris

    It seems that regarding what should be accepted as scripture, one should turn to whom scripture was delivered to-ie the Jews. The Hebrew bible doesn’t contain any Apocryphal book whatsoever! And indeed this was confirmed by Catholic scholars such as Melito, Jerome, Athanasius and Origen. If indeed the Apocrypha was to be considered canonical, why did it take the RCC until 1546 to do so?

  77. LOL…. and now we’re talking about the apocrypha!

    Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a blogger.

  78. Chris

    Lol Glenn-is there not a special place in the deepest recesses of hell for bloggers? ; )

  79. Hi Chris:

    1) The Hebrew canon is a post-Christian event. I don’t see any reason Christians should take their canonical cues from the Hebrew canon.

    2) The Orthodox include the Deuterocanon and last I checked were not present at Trent. Indeed, Trent only reaffirms what the early Church taught on the canon, it does not introduce anything new there. Jerome himself also concedes that they are canonical (read his “Against Rufinus” where he talks about this) and says that he was merely relating what the Jews said against the Scriptures, not rejecting them himself. Melito’s canonical list also doesn’t include Esther and does include Esdras (which the Orthodox use). Origen quotes from the Deuterocanon as Scripture and Eusebius gives the list from Origen in the 6th chapter of his ‘Church History’. These are all odd witnesses in a crusade against the Deuterocanon. Also, as I’ve stated above, even the NT canon was in flux at this point, though we all agree on that (I think). Until the late 4th and early 5th century, the question of the canon was still being raised. In my opinion, it would have continued in such a state without the definitive statements of the Magisterium.

  80. Chris

    Hey Josh

    I see every reason for christians to take clues from the Jewish canon to authenticate what should be included/excluded. They received Gods words, recorded them and as far as Im aware the canon was closed. So Im confused about your comment that the Hebrew canon is a post christian event! Please expand….

  81. Chris:

    Sure. The writing of the Hebrew Scriptures was certainly before Christianity. Nobody doubts this. The official “Jewish Canon”, however, seems to have been articulated only after Christ. This is somewhat analogous to the New Testament – sure the NT was written in the 1st century, but the canonical lists come afterwards.

  82. Chris


    It would seem that while Jerome did include the deuterocanon in his Vulgate it was at the bequest of the pope, but Jerome himself was critical of the deuterocanonicals and wrote prefaces outlining his position ie the “Helmeted Prologues.”

  83. Chris

    And I would also add had Jerome not acquiesced to the popes demands, he would more than likely have been accused of heresy and excommunicated.

  84. Care should be taken in suggesting that the Hebrew canon is post Christian.

    The Roman Catholic church formalised its canon in the 16th century, but no Catholic apologist would let you say that this canon didn’t exist until the 16th century. Catholic apologists therefore ought not take that approach to the Hebrew canon (otherwise they can’t object if Protestants do it to them, for that would be a double standard). The (yes, somewhat contested) Council of Jamnia that recognised the Hebrew Canon was meant to acknowledge those books that were already treated as canon, rather than decide for the first time what they would be. Jamnia or no, however, that there was such a recognition at the time is a fair assessment.

    It is generally admitted that as far as the evidence is concerned, the books that Jerome called the Apocrypha have Greek originals, rather than Hebrew. Hebrew versions exist (e.g. fragments among the Dead Sea Scrolls), but of course the Septuagint (LXX) was used by Hebrew speakers, so this is not a surprise. The evidence, quite apart from Jamnia, indicates that what the Jews regard as the Hebrew Canon was in fact the Scripture in Hebrew, whereas the LXX contains the Hebrew canon plus other books that were first written in Greek.

    While the Protestant Bible is based on the Hebrew books, its books are arranged in the order of the LXX. However, what’s fascinating here is that Jesus appears to have had the Hebrew Bible in mind and not the LXX in Matthew 23:35. He referred to “all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechia.” Abel is obviously from Genesis, and Zechariah is in Chronicles, the last book, and the last martyr, in the Hebrew Bible. But of course, Chronicles is only the last book in the Hebrew Canon, not the LXX. Although not speaking explicitly about canon, this comment from Jesus appears to presuppose the Hebrew Canon and not that of the Septuagint.

  85. Chris

    Nice point Glenn re Jesus’ quotation you cited. Do you think that Jesus would have primarily used older Hebrew scrolls in his study rather than the more modern (at the time!) Septuagint?

  86. Glenn:

    Plenty of care was taken. There’s no evidence for Jamnia. It’s a myth. Read David Aune’s JBL article from the 90’s on this.

    The Christian canon was decided by the late 4th century in various synods, but particularly in Rome. Trent simply reaffirms the canon as a response to Luther’s editing.

  87. Josh – no no, that’s not what I meant when I said take care. And I noted that the council of Jamnia was highly contested. As you aw, I made my case entirely apart from any claim about Jamnia, so it cannot be dismissed just on the grounds that the Council in Jamnia didn’t happen. It makes no difference whether it did or nor.

    As I thought was pretty clear, what I was getting at is the fact that you cannot assume that there was no Hebrew canon pre-Christianity just because you’re not aware of any formalisation pre-Christianity.

    In fact you show your own awareness of this concept, because you claim that Trent reaffirms the position already taken. That’s the point. That is what I meant when I urged care. The later formulation of the Hebrew canon does not mean the list was unheard of previously, which is what I was trying to explain in regard to the Hebrew Canon.

    As an aside, I would point out that actually Trent did not simply reaffirm what the previous Councils had said. The Council of Carthage in 397 (later than Rome, in 382) provides a list shorter than that of Trent, omitting Wisdom, Sirach and Baruch. So you can’t claim that Trent just re-affirmed the earlier councils. But that’s another matter.

  88. Chris, in first century Judea the normal language for Jews would be Aramaic, and the Hebrew Scriptures would have been used in the synagogue, rather than the longer Septuagint.

  89. Chris

    Awesome, cheers Glenn.

  90. Just Sayin'

    An interesting perspective from a fellow blogger:

  91. Chris

    Hmmm…Protestants need a “pope?” What happened to the priesthood of all believers?

  92. Well Chris, in Protestant theology the priesthood of all believers doesn’t mean the church leadership of all believers. I think Protestants do need good leaders and teachers. But definitely not one who claims infallibility.

  93. Just Sayin'

    My problem with Catholic infallibility is more practical than theoretical — namely that the one time a Pope has spoken infallibly presents a big stumbling block for me and many (most? all?) other Protestants. Catholics are *required* to believe in the Assumption of Mary, so it seems I could never become a Catholic.

  94. Chris

    Hey Glenn

    Im not a Protestant, but agree fully with you that any church needs good “leaders” and teachers. I like the concept of a plural leadership ie a group of “elders”, deacons, overseers-call them what you wish-so no one man has any form of monopoly.

  95. Just sayin’ – I was a Protestant and found the Assumption of Mary to be a fairly natural and logical Biblical position once I realized what it is and is not. By nature, doesn’t all revelation from God set before us a requirement in belief? Can we honestly maintain that we are Christians if we do not believe in something like the resurrection? Granted, I’m not placing as big of an emphasis on the Assumption as the Resurrection, but if they’re both true, then they’re both true.

  96. “By the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority, we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory” (

    Really? Excuse me, but this is probably the most bizarre pontification I have ever heard. Even Benny Hinn isn’t this absurd (and that’s saying something)! Indeed, I have always seen this as actual evidence for the FALLIBILITY of the Catholic Church, and of the Pope. I would even go as far as to say this is evidence for how the poor blighter’s in the Catholic Church leadership can just completely stuff it all up (aka make a big mistake).

    “Ever Virgin”… eh? Didn’t Jesus have a brother? Was he immaculately born also then? When or where did Peter or Paul *ever* say Mary was Assumed into heaven? “Mother of God” … eh? What? I hope this is just a typo.

    Seriously, I cannot fathom why this was given any credence by the Pope. Even some of the sources that they used to come to the above conclusion, were based on some people (Eg John of Damascus) who actually were in an environment where Mohammed also was believed to have ascended into heaven LOL.

    I’m sorry if this offends my Catholic Church brothers, but this issue just completely “confuddles” me, and is one reason why *I* am not a Roman Catholic Church member, nor will ever be I’m afraid (which is a pity because I would like to be a member of the Catholic Church, but they just have too many things plainly wrong IMO, and have hence had to sadly break away in order to get back to the plain truth)

  97. I totally believe it, Andrew.

    Mary is the Mother of God because she is the mother of Jesus, who is the 2nd person of the Blessed Trinity. She not the mother of Jesus’s human nature, she is the mother of a person. As Jesus is also God, then Mary is the Mother of God. It’s very simple.

    Also, Jesus did not have siblings: Brethren of the Lord. All the logic is in the link.

    I would be careful talking about God’s mother in a less than respectful way – you know how people are about their mothers.

  98. Andrew Gray –

    Concerning the semantic range of the word ??????? (adelfos) in the New Testament, it’s probably best to see how a variety of early interpreters took the word. As far as I know, it’s a non-issue to understand that the word has a wide semantic range that of course includes ‘brother’ in the sense that we think of it and also ‘cousin’ in the sense that we think of it. Also, and I’m open to correction here, I believe Hebrew lacks a word for ‘cousin’ because they considered their ‘cousins’ to be ‘brothers.’ So, when we consider the culture behind the language (which is how we arrive at meaning – lexemes filtered through cultural lenses), it’s easy to see that the Catholic position is not absurd and is a possible one.

    Also, “Immaculate Conception” refers to Mary, not Christ. The Latin word ‘immaculata’ means ‘unspotted’ and refers to the fact that Catholics believe Mary was preserved from the stain of original sin (this is an ancient belief and one I’m happy to explain if you want to email me).

    I think there’s also Biblical evidence of Mary’s Assumption and it’s attested throughout Patristic literature. If you email me, I will be glad to discuss this further.

    You need not be sorry. You ought, however, to make sure that you understand the Catholicism that you’re rejecting. I know that when I was at the Baptist seminary, I did not know what I was rejecting when I said the word ‘Catholicism.’

  99. I see my Greek did not show up. I didn’t just type a bunch of question marks.

  100. Just Sayin'

    “I like the concept of a plural leadership ie a group of “elders”, deacons, overseers-call them what you wish-so no one man has any form of monopoly.”

    Chris, that exists, and it’s called Presbyterianism!

  101. Just Sayin'

    Josh, I’m just not convinced that the Assumption of Mary is a revelation from God.

  102. Just Sayin'

    “Mary is the Mother of God because she is the mother of Jesus, who is the 2nd person of the Blessed Trinity. She not the mother of Jesus’s human nature, she is the mother of a person. As Jesus is also God, then Mary is the Mother of God. It’s very simple.”

    Lucia, I go along with all of this; it’s the Assumption that I struggle with.

    As for Jesus having no brothers; I disagree but that’s not something about which any Pope has spoken infallibly, so is not a major problem for me.

    “I would be careful talking about God’s mother in a less than respectful way – you know how people are about their mothers.”

    I completely agree.

  103. Just Sayin'

    “it’s easy to see that the Catholic position [on Jesus’ family members] is not absurd and is a possible one.”

    Josh, again I agree. It’s a possible, reasonable position, though one I don’t happen to share, and I don’t think it’s terribly important either way.

  104. I see that there is not a consensus on whether Jesus of Nazareth had a brother or not. Fine.
    Also, if Joseph and Mary did remain virgins for her whole lives, then man, I actually feel sorry for them. Wow, did they get the raw end of the deal!! lol

    I guess I kind of see it as a bit of a mistake to say Mary was the mother of God. God always existed, long before he came to this world as the Messiah. Mary gave birth to Him. Joseph and Mary raised Him. But I think the scripture indicates that Jesus saw Himself as the Son of God more than the son of Mary and Joseph. And I suspect we ought to too.

    Luke 2:48-49 New International Version (NIV) – When as a boy, Jesus stayed at the Temple:
    When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”
    “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”

    See what I mean?

  105. Chris

    Just Sayin-

    Presbyterianism? Lol dont get me started ; ).

    Josh McManaway-

    Please post here your biblical support for Mary’s assumption and lack of original sin. Thanks.

  106. Chris:

    There are numerous treatises written on both. There’s no need to rehearse them here. If you’re genuinely interested in the Catholic position on either of those topics, they are quite literally at your fingertips if you look around the web, not to mention the hundreds of books on either subject.

    Andrew –

    Of course there’s not a consensus. Catholics believe that Mary remained a virgin, and later Protestants do not (though many of the original Reformers did).

    I’m not so sure I would say that living a chaste life is the ‘raw end of the deal.’ Both Christ and St. Paul affirm the beauty of living a celibate life.

    The role Joseph and Mary played in Christ’s life is subordinate to the will of the Father. This is obvious. This doesn’t mean that we should somehow disregard the real and important relationship Jesus had with Mary and Joseph. Consider all the passages leading up to Lk 2.41. Quite a lot of the passages before Lk 2.41 are about Jesus’ family, both his parents and Zechariah, Elizabeth and John. I don’t think Luke is trying to teach us that Jesus disregarded His mother and father (to do so would break the commandment to honor one’s father and mother). Lk 2.52 even explicitly says that Jesus was obedient to them.

    Affirming that Mary is the “Mater Dei” (Mother of God) is affirming that Jesus truly is God, two natures in one person. Since, as Lucia mentioned, mothers give birth to persons and not simply to natures, it makes sense to say that Mary is the mother of God. By this, however, Catholics do not mean to say that Mary is somehow the mother of Jesus’ divinity (because, again, mothers don’t give birth to natures). Saying that Mary is the ‘Mother of God’ (or the preferred term in the East: Theotokos, God-bearer) is to affirm Christological realities.

  107. Chris


    Thats a cop out mate!! Both you and I know theres not a shred of biblical evidence for either. Which brings us back to the whole point of this thread-that Catholicism in reality asks us to suspend our intellect on such matters, ignore the clear teaching of scripture (ie ALL have sinned including Mary), argue from silence (ie the bible doesnt say anything about Marys sinlessness and assumption BUT IT DOESN’T MEAN IT COULDN’T HAVE HAPPENED!!!) and take the word of a pope.

  108. Chris:

    That’s not the case at all. I find when people are telling me what I “really” know is contrary to what I’m actually saying, they’re in a tough spot. You’ve asked a big question and it deserves a big response.. If you are serious about the question, I’m sure you can find all the available literature on either question. If you are not, then continue doing what you’re doing. No Patristic author who believes in Mary either being preserved from original sin or her Assumption has ever said, “Just take the Pope’s word on it because we have no Biblical evidence.” I’ve yet to see anyone base the case for Mary’s preservation from original sin or her Assumption on silence either. Their reasons are entirely rooted in the Scriptures. If you want to understand the position Catholics hold, it’s available to you.

    Also, Paul makes no qualification there in Romans 3 about the “all”, but we both believe he doesn’t include Jesus. Likewise, St. Paul in 1 Tim 6.10 says that the “root of all evil is the love of money.” He uses the same word there for “all” as he does in Rom 3.23 (in the Genitive case in 1 Tim, the Nominative in Rom). Of course neither of us believes that St. Paul means “all” literally. Adam and Eve did not fall from grace because of a love of money. Satan did not fall from Heaven because of money. Some English translations have picked up on this and now read, “the root of all kinds of evil.” So we understand that even when Paul uses “all”, he can certainly use it in a qualified way.

    As a Catholic who is faithful and believes what the ‘pillar and foundation of truth’ teaches, I am encouraging you to exercise your intellect and to look into the matter. I totally commend you to study why Catholics believe what they believe on any point before making your own declarations against the belief. It can only help your own position to understand the position of another before critiquing it.

  109. “This doesn’t mean that we should somehow disregard the real and important relationship Jesus had with Mary and Joseph”

    Yes, that is very true, Josh 🙂 I just now think of Jesus words as he neared death in John 19:26,27. Very touching.

    Regarding chaste lives. Paul admonished us that it’s better to not be married. But what for crying out loud could be the point of getting married and then remaining virgins? That is NOT what Paul admonished. In fact, he said if you can’t keep your hands off each other, then it’s better to be married!!! I couldn’t imagine a worse or more frustrating marriage 🙂 Just how did they keep their hands off each other? And aren’t you supposed to become “one flesh” after marriage? Excuse me if this all seems crass or whatever, but I’m just thinking pragmatically here.

    regarding “Mother of God”. Well, if you are trying so hard to be accurate in what you are saying, then you should say “Mother of Jesus”. Why don’t you??? Look, of course Jesus was God incarnate (as well as human). But you are simply being misleading and confusing when you say Mary is the mother of God. That’s not the terminology the Bible has. Look, if Mary is the mother of God, then isn’t Joseph the father of God too? I don’t hear you saying that Joseph was the father of God?!?! Yet in Luke 2:48, Mary says to Jesus “Your father and I”. So obviously both Mary and Jesus saw Joseph as his father, just as much as Mary and Jesus saw Mary as His mother. It seems to me that you’re being really inconsistent, misleading, and inaccurate. Really, this is all just so stupid. It reveals to me just how much the Catholic Church has been taking “crazy pills” over the years. But perhaps I’m just splitting hairs here?

    Honestly, if the Catholic Church would swallow it’s pride and correct it’s really pathetically stupid errors that have crept in over the millennia, then I would join back in TODAY! I love the Catholic Church, and I’m sure God does too. But I can’t help but feel like God must see it as like a rebellious teenager going astray, but too proud to get back on track.

    It makes me feel a little sad for the Catholic Church, to be honest. I actually do sort of mourn it.

  110. “Well, if you are trying so hard to be accurate…”
    when I say ‘you’, I don’t mean ‘you’ personally necessarily. Just thought I should clarify that I’m not having a go at you at all 🙂

  111. Chris


    Believe me I have over 20 odd years read every argument that the RCC teaches-and remain totally unconvinced! To say assumption and sinlessness are rooted in the scriptures is blatantly false-these doctrines of the RCC are arguments from silence as I stated. No critical thinking, logical person in my opinion can honestly believe otherwise.

  112. Andrew:

    I think Chesterton told a story once about a man who comes across a fence and doesn’t know why it’s there, but wants to knock it down. If you are that man and “Theotokos” is that fence, I suggest looking into why the fence is there before knocking it over. “Mother of Jesus” is correct, though less precise than what ‘Mother of God’ is getting at. For instance, ‘Mother of Jesus’ could affirm heretical Christologies from adoptionism to Nestorianism (the heresy that sparked the Church’s clarification on Mary as Mater Dei). ‘Mother of God’ isn’t misleading and it cuts through those heresies. I think understanding the logic behind the title helps to see its necessity.

    Christ actually came from the womb of Mary, so His relationship to Mary is a biological one. Was Christ’s relationship with Joseph a good one? If Christ really did honor His father, of course. But, again, affirming Mary as ‘Mater Dei’ is Christological. Mary is obviously more involved in the Incarnation than Joseph. It’s not simply trying to tack on titles, but gives clarity to complex Christological debates. I would also hope that in the future you don’t feel the need to talk about how “stupid” something is if you don’t understand the reason for it. Likewise, talking about someone’s Church (the body of Christ, after all) as taking “crazy pills” is most unhelpful in the spirit of charitable dialogue.

    How silly would it be to you if someone who does not affirm the Resurrection – say a Muslim or Atheist said, “You know, if only the Apostles would just swallow their pride and admit they never saw Jesus raised from the dead, I would be a Christian today!”? You can see, hopefully, how your statement sounds to me. I think confusing your judgment of the Church with God’s is also dangerous.

  113. Just Sayin'

    “Saying that Mary is the ‘Mother of God’ (or the preferred term in the East: Theotokos, God-bearer) is to affirm Christological realities.”

    Yes, I’m fine with that, it’s the Assumption I find a bridge too far, so to speak. The NT says very little about Mary post-Resurrection.

  114. Just some scattered comments:

    For what it’s worth, I think Mother of Christ is clearer than Mother of God, but I accept either, since Jesus is God. The trouble, of course, is that we can also say that God is a Trinity, and to say “God is a Trinity. Mary is the Mother of God.” has horrific implications.

    Regarding Jesus’ brethren, Hebrew was certainly well equipped to refer to extended family members with the term go’el, which just means “kinsman,” a member of one’s larger family. Now of course, a Protestant can simply allow the evidence to remain open and ambiguous and believe that either option is possible – although I have no reason for wishing to avoid the more immediate relationship of “brother,” since these brothers are mentioned as being with Mary. if I were a Catholic, however, I would have to rule that out.

    Lastly, the bodily assumption of Mary is a remarkable doctrine. It strikes me as a test case of what can go wrong with papal infallibility. There is no biblical evidence for it, and I don’t even know of a Catholic apologist who calims that Scripture teaches it. What’s more, none of the Fathers taught it. I find it frankly incredible that it found its way into Catholic doctrine. It is, contrary to some claims made above, held solely on the basis of papal dogma (I don’t use that word as a negative one, in spite of the context of disapproval).

  115. Chris

    Ludwig Ott in Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma states that the “First Church author to speak of the bodily ascension of Mary, in association with an apocryphal transitus B.M.V., is St Gregory of Tours.”

    2 popes condemned that transitus as heretical (Gelasius in 459 a.d. and Hormisdas in the 6th century).

    Nearly 1500 years later (!!!) another pope declared it as official church doctrine, and basically if you do not believe it you are a heretic.

    So what we have is silence on assumption for 500 years, then some mention of it in spurious writings at best, several popes condemning those writings, and a millennium and a half down the track it becomes official dogma.

    Im sorry, but to believe in this sort of stuff as truth, one really has to throw both the bible and your intellect away.

  116. Really, Gelasius? He’s the same Pope who expressly denied that there is any change of substance in the Eucharist. Why was he so harsh on Catholic doctrine, the stuff that the Church had taught from the beginning?

    Or was he? 😉

  117. Chris:
    Can I have the citation for where you found that in Ott so that I might check it for myself? It’s wrong, but I’d like to see where Ott writes that.

  118. Nevermind, I found the site ( where you got your information.

  119. Just Sayin'

    Anyone know the difference between an Ascension and an Assumption?

  120. Just Sayin – Christ’s Ascension is by His own power. Mary was Assumed (passive) into Heaven by the power of God, not on her own.

  121. Ciaron

    I was taught that Assumption is the mother of all foul ups 🙂

  122. Just Sayin'


  123. Just Sayin'

    Once I figure out the Ascension, I’ll move on to the Assumption!

  124. Josh, I’m interested to know the earliest source that your aware of where someone actually wrote that Mary was bodily assumed into heaven. (i.e. they stated that this happened, or that it was a current belief in the orthodox church that this happened).

    This is genuine interest, not some sort of challenge.

  125. Just Sayin'

    This thread seems to have died but if anyone knows of any good books on the Ascension (of Christ), especially from a philosophical perspective, please let me know.

  126. William Clifford

    Hi Glenn,

    Interesting points! Being Catholic (uh oh!…) I am interested in your first point in particular about canonicity. I can’t say I’ve studied scriptures a whole lot, but it seems to me that the question of canonicity is not so straight forward. For example, how can Protestants be confident that the books of the New Testament (just to change topic slightly) are canonical? What about what we call the Apocryphal Gospels, or the letters of Clement? Why not include some or all of them? Who decides? It seems from my limited education (please correct me) that there were early lists, e.g. the Muratorian fragment, that stated the canonical books, but at the end of the day it was decrees from the Catholic Church that settled the matter. So, we’re in the odd situation where Protestants take direction from the Catholic Church. On a related theme, the idea of sola scriptura, seems paradoxical – how can it be? As you know the Catholic Church professes one Word but two modes of transmission – Tradition and Sacred Scripture. The writing of the New Testament is an example of Tradition in action. So, how can Sola Scriptura be upheld? Can Sola Scriptura define which books are canonical? What happened in the Church before the Scriptures were written?



  127. William – who decides indeed! For the Catholic Church of today disagrees with previous councils, who said that the canon should be smaller than the contemporary Catholic canon. If we see the church not agreeing with its own earlier councils (as I observed earlier in reply to Josh), how can we be sure that the later councils got it right?

    As I’ve indicated previously in the thread, however, I don’t believe a comment in reply to other comments would ever suffice to give a satisfactory account of how we can have confidence that books of the Bible ought to be canonical. It’s not a sound bite issue, and whole books are written about that issue.

    Those to whom the RC Church looks in forming the canon either had reasons for deciding as they did, or they did not. If they had no reasons, then heaven help those who trust them! If they did have reasons, then the reasons are available for us to inspect.

  128. Perry

    I am just interested in following comments regarding this brother having left the RCC…..and asking if you are reformed now.

  129. College Grad

    Let’s give people the benefit of the doubt. May be it’s not that the evidence pointed to something different to your Catholic friend, but that he couldn’t present it in a convincing way. I’m sure we’ve all had some sort of experience of coming up short when presenting a position, especially when we are not experts on the subject.
    Peoples is accurate in saying there was a lot of disagreement as to what should have been in the OT canon. St. Jerome, himself, probably the greatest scripture scholar of antiquity, had serious reservations about the “extra” books in the canon. But, there was also Augustine’s response to Jerome, “We can’t reject the Septuagint because the Septuagint is inspired.”
    But consider this: the vast majority of the OT quotes in the NT are quoted from the Septuagint. The most famous example Matt. 1:23 quotes Isaiah 7:14, a virgin shall bare a child. But the Hebrew word for virgin is not used; the Hebrew reads ALMAH, or young woman. This is in contrast to the Hebrew word for virgin, BETHULAH. The idea of virgin is from the Septuagint’s Isaiah 7:14, not the original Hebrew. The majority of Paul’s quotations from the OT are from the Septuagint, as well as Peter’s. But you don’t have to take my word as final; feel to learn Greek and Hebrew; or if you aren’t that motivated, just find a Hebrew OT and it’s translation, then check out the Septuagint, and then the NT quotes.
    Like Peoples said, too, there is necessity for the church to step in sometimes and dogmatically define something. For instance, the Trinity would not be what it is today without St. Leo the Great. So, I might be inclined to agree with what Peoples says there. But, let’s keep in mind that the Church also possesses a divine element; its not just purely human. Christ is not only present IN His Church, but Christ IS the Church (Matt. 18:20, John 17:20-21, 1 Cor. 12:12, Acts 9:4 and so on…). It may be easy to forget that the Church was founded by Christ and not by men when all we see are a bunch of men (Matt. 16:16-18, 18:20). But to head down that road is to touch on the Psychology of the believer; like a rebellious teen, some people don’t want to be told what to do. But when we limit the Church to only be a body of common followers of faith, then we deny Christ’s institution in the Church and that Christians are the body of Christ. Either the Authority of the Church should be accepted or it should be rejected. Ultimately, the authority of the Church either will or will not be legitimized in the individual.
    All in all, I give credit to the skeptics. There is no shame in doubting. Doubting may very well be the start to greater understanding. St. Anselm has a quote, “I seek to understand.” Doubt can be the key to lead to investigation.

  130. Thomas Murphy

    Are you familiar with the traditional Catholic website and YouTube channel of Most Holy Family Monastery?

    Lots of truly amazing eye-openers there! Would warmly recommend.

    With kind regards,

    Thomas Murphy

  131. I realise this is a very old post, but if I may provide some insight into the Roman apologist strategy of simultaneously appealing to history and denying it at the same time.

    This problem can be encapsulated by two very big figures in 19th century Roman Catholicism, Cardinal John Henry Newman (whom most should be familiar with) and the lesser known Cardinal Edward Manning.

    With the 19th century the Roman Church was systematically being undercut by the new historical studies and criticisms conducted by Protestant Church historians as more and more of the writings of the early church came to light with greater and much in depth analysis. During the Reformation, Roman Catholics like Cardinal Bellarmine confidently asserted that all the distinctive Roman doctrines like purgatory, Marian dogmas, etc, have always existed in the church and was the universal consensus of the Church right from the very beginning.

    However the rise of historical studies and careful analysis of patristic sources and comprehensive historical surveys laid waste to such confident claims, revealing a plurality of opinions and teachings even amongst the most venerated of Fathers and theologians. Desperate before the triumphant herald of the Protestants, who have always insisted that it is the Roman Church who had strayed from tradition in dogmatising mere opinions which have no basis in Scripture nor universality in history, the two Cardinals, Newman and Manning, immediately set out to armed the Roman Church to the teeth with any weapon they could lay their hands on.

  132. Cardinal Newman’s weapon of choice was his romantic “Theory of the Development of Doctrine”, whereby he retrospectively reads back into the past the present Roman teachings and practices, admitting the Protestant contention that these doctrines were never there from the beginning, nevertheless he invented an implicit “seed-form” of distinctive Roman doctrine which “grew” into an explicit doctrine over time. The problem of course which such retroactive reconstructions is that with sufficient creativity, *any* present doctrine and practices can be retroactively read back into the past, and far from protecting the integrity of the Church, his theory smashed open a hole in the citadel permitting the howling winds of the Zeitgeist entry to justify *any* novel doctrine and practices as long as one can provide a clever retroactive reading of Church history leading to this new development.

    Cardinal Manning’s strategy was the complete opposite. While Newman (over!)confidently asserted that, “To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant”, Cardinal Manning believed to be too deep into history was to cease being a Roman Catholic and instead anathemise the entire enterprise of history and antiquity altogether by thundering, “…the appeal to antiquity is both a treason and a heresy”! It is instructive to note that this condemnation was given in response to “the charge of the Reformers that the Catholic doctrines were not primitive, and their pretension was to revert to antiquity.” Rather than employ Newman’s (dishonest?) attempt to force Roman doctrines backwards into the past and deny that their doctrines were not primitive, Manning simply shove the whole thing aside by declaring the complete irrelevance of history and antiquity to the Roman faith.

    Personally I would of course think that Manning was the more honest cardinal of the two to refuse to attempt a sly tinkering of historical facts in aid of providing an illusion of justification for the Roman Church. With what one might call an almost Nietzchean wilfulness, Manning declared that the Roman Faith preceded history, fact and antiquity and they form no part of the Roman theological method or proof. Instead, Manning outrightly asserted that the Church simply teaches by a “perpetual living voice”, not by appeals to history, antiquity or tradition.

  133. The logical consequences of this assertion can be seen in Cardinal Manning’s answer to “how can you know what was revealed before, as you say, history and antiquity existed”, his reply: “The enunciation of the faith by the living Church of this hour, is the maximum of evidence, both natural and supernatural, as to the fact and the contents of the original revelation. I know what are revealed there not by retrospect, but by listening.” By this thunderbolt, the Roman Church severs its connection from antiquity and tradition permanently. The moment by moment proclamation of the “living Church of this hour” constitutes the total evidence of revelation. Neither history, antiquity and one might also add, even the Scriptures, can contradict this living voice at this hour which pronounces its judgement by a sheer divine right to the exclusion of everything else which would pretend to rise up against it.

    So while Newman attempts to wallpaper over the difficulties of history with his retrospective reconstructed history, Manning refuses such tricks and outrightly denies the validity of history and antiquity altogether, placing the entire weight of the Roman faith upon the living voice of the Church which alone constitutes the maximal evidence of every Christian truth.

    This of course explains why the Roman Catholic simultaneously appeals to history, qua Cardinal Newman to attempt to justify their faith, and when this fails, they would swing dialectically to Manning to anathemise history altogether and simply ground the Roman faith firmly upon the present voice of the magisterium.

  134. I think it would be instructive to quote Cardinal Manning at length here from his Temporal Mission of the Holy Ghost to get a full sense of the Roman Catholic dialectical (or contradictory) attitude towards history:

    The other objection I shall touch but briefly. It is often said that Catholics are arbitrary and positive even to provocation in perpetually affirming the indivisible unity and infallibility of the Church, the primacy of the Holy See, and the like, without regard to the difficulties of history, the facts of antiquity, and the divisions of Christendom. It is implied by this that these truths are not borne out by history and fact: that they are even irreconcilable with it: that they are no more than theories, pious opinions, assumptions, and therefore visionary and false.

    We very frankly accept the issue. No Catholic would first take what our objectors call history, fact, antiquity and the like, and from them deduce his faith ; and for this reason, the faith was revealed and taught before history, fact or antiquity existed. These things are but the basis of his faith, nor is the examination of them his method of theological proof. The Church, which teaches him now by its perpetual living voice, taught the same faith before as yet the Church had a history or an antiquity. The rule and basis of faith to those who lived before either the history or antiquity of which we hear so much existed, is the rule and basis of our faith now.

    But perhaps it may be asked: If you reject history and antiquity, how can you know what was revealed before, as you say, history and antiquity existed ? ‘I answer : The enunciation of the faith by the living Church of this hour, is the maximum, of evidence, both natural and supernatural, as to the fact and the contents of the original revelation. I know what are revealed there not by retrospect, but by listening.

    It was the charge of the Reformers that the Catholic doctrines were not primitive, and their pretension was to revert to antiquity. But the appeal to antiquity is both a treason and a heresy. It is a treason because it rejects the Divine voice of the Church at this hour, and a heresy because it denies that voice to be Divine. How can we know what antiquity was except through the Church? … I may say in strict truth that the Church has no antiquity. It rests upon its own supernatural and perpetual consciousness. … The only Divine evidence to us of what was primitive is the witness and voice of the Church at this hour.

  135. Dominic

    Opps, feel free to delete them all then, I forgot about that.

  136. Jason Kettinger

    I appreciate the tone of this, but it fails, because a wise Catholic does not believe that the Fathers are a norm in themselves; it is rather that they bear witness to the rule of faith, and the Church. There is a difference between being completely impervious to evidence, and being beholden to historical-critical methods, a sort of makeshift magisterium of scholarship. I’ve held your view of the “Church,” too, and it appears to be as self-refuting as the Catholic claim is offensive. It must tolerate within itself mutually exclusive dogmatic claims, all allegedly originating from the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scriptures. In light of that reality, what would be the point of arguing the Scriptures, since the appeal to them is yet to be finally dispositive or convincing, except to throw light on competing interpretive traditions (which, as Protestants, we had expended reams of energy denying that they exist)? Before this comment gets too lengthy or obnoxious, I’m leaving it here.

  137. “It must tolerate within itself mutually exclusive dogmatic claims, all allegedly originating from the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scriptures”

    The solution to which is very catholic (small c): Have a small creed that we can agree serves as a summary of the necessities, and extend charity beyond that. The Nicene Creed is pretty good. 🙂

    Moreover, the fact that there exist some Catholics who do not argue in the way that I have described does not mean that this criticism of the Catholics who do this fails. The truth is that I quite clearly had the evidence on my side in the discussion in question. The “Oh well, forget the evidence, here’s what the Church (now) says” reply was a real one, and I do not agree that my criticism of it “fails.” It will fail when Catholic culture changes and nobody argues this way and Catholics accept that the evidence would trump the decision of the papacy. When and if that happens, this one reason why I am not Catholic will cease to be.

    • Amy

      Good answer. I was raised RC, and I don’t think God is calling me break communion/cause a division by leaving, especially since I do want to be apart of Oriental Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, or perhaps Anglican due to my view of apostolic succession and the sacramental theology. I do respect so much of Protestantism and it makes so much sense given the wackiness in the other groups and the very fact that we’re already all divided anways. also do think the primacy of Rome is important although Vatican I with the teaching of the pope ex cathedra and all following from it can hardly be considered a valid council even by their own standards. However I am holding to the Zogbhy initiative, which is something that the Melkite Catholics hold…they claim to hold to the Roman Catholic tradition of the first millenium, seeing that anything after the supposed schism cannot be considered truly ecumenical therefore they are local councils to guide the Latin Rite church and not infallible. And they also hold to all that’s in Orthodoxy and want to be in communion with both if they will allow. Their plea was rejected by both by the Synod still stands. So I am going to try to become Melkite Catholic if I can since so many of them hold this stance and because the synod stating this claim of appears to still stand for them. Christiana sum!!! The Church is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic…but also, I think crucified with Our Lord due to the folly of men, but God uses these very divisions for greater good because the Church is a divine institution.

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