On the Authority of the Church

A reader asks:

What authority do you have to rely on to know that you should rely on the authority of the Catholic Church?

The short answer is that the authority of the Church rests in the Holy Spirit which animates the body of the Church in the same way a human spirit animates a man. The authority comes from Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity which is God; and the Church is at once His bride and His mystical body.

The long answer is a little more complex, so please indulge me:

The Church is either what she claims to be, or not. If she is what she claims, then her authority comes from the Holy Spirit, that is, from God, who is the source of all authority and truth. If she is not what she claims, she is either a human institution making a claim that is somewhere between self delusion and insanity, or she is a satanic institution run by the spirit of Antichrist to deceive were it possible the very Elect.

I do not see any other option: it is either heavenly truth, earthly self-deception, or infernal deception.

The main logical difficulty with the argument that she is infernal deception, let us call this the Mohammedan argument, is that those who claim to be undeceived themselves have no logical basis for their beliefs aside from beliefs taken in part or whole from the very Church alleged by them to be the source of all untruth. Mohammad would not know that Christ existed at all if he were unaware of what the Church, and no one else, preserved and taught. The claim that Mohammedans and other heretics arose from the independent witness of the historians Jospehus and Tacitus, that they only heard about Christ from this and no other source, is too absurd to refute.

Again, the Lutheran idea that the writings of the Church, some of which were gathered into the New Testament, preserved and used as teaching material, and declared by the Church and only by the Church to be authentic and authoritative, have a character which is self-authenticating or self-authorizing involves a logical contradiction. The writings of St. John cannot have more authority than St. John himself, and if Saint John is not a saint, then his writings are merely a human invention.

Whether or not Saint John drank poison without ill effect is a matter not attested to by any scripture, it is Church tradition, and the Protestant might scoff — but then again, whether or not the man who wrote the Book of the Apocalypse was the man who wrote the letters of John, and was the beloved disciple who wrote the gospel of John, is likewise a matter not attested by any scripture but is Church tradition.

I will hasten to add that Jewish rejection of the claims of Jesus and His followers does not involve this logical contradiction. The Jew can reject the writings of St. John by rejecting the sanctity of St. John the Beloved Disciple and rejecting that John the Baptist was a prophet and Jesus was the messiah. The Jew can say that John is a schismatic who departed from the authentic teachings of Moses, and who was deceived by a false prophet and a false messiah.

But the Protestant cannot accept the authority of the Book of the Apocalypse without accepting the authority of St. John; and if he accepts the authority of St. John he cannot logically reject the authority of St. Polycarp, who was a disciple of St John, and learned of Christ at his feet, and was also the Bishop of Smyrna. The Protestant has the Book of Revelations in his hands because and only because St. Polycarp took it from the hands of St. John and handed the book to Saint Pothinus of Gaul who handed it to St Irenaeus of Lyons, and so onward through each of the generations willing to suffer and die to preserve the Christian teaching, including the teaching embodied in that book, eventually to reach the hands of the Protestant who calls the book authoritative. There is no second and independent witness. St. John did not inscribe another copy on plates of gold written in reformed Egyptian for Martin Luther or John Calvin or Mary Baker Eddy or Joseph Smith to find. These four took the Book of the Apocalypse as possessing a divine authority, and addressed an audience which also took it as possessing that authority.

But if John and Polycarp and Pothinus and Irenaeus cannot be trusted not to have altered or invented the book, or invented John as a fictional character, or attributed someone else’s writings to John, then the book itself cannot be trusted. And on whose authority do we trust them?

The same argument could be made for every gospel and every epistle in the New Testament: you cannot trust the authority of the writing without trusting the authority of he who calls it authoritative. And likewise, if we do not trust the authority of the Jewish prophets and priests and lawmakers, if Moses was a fiction person or a madman, then we cannot trust the authority of the Old Testament.

A stronger argument can be made for any Protestant who recognizes doctrines supported by orthodoxy not reflected in scripture, such as the number and nature of the Persons of the Trinity, or the mystery of the Incarnation, or the nature of the human and divine will in the Person of Christ, or the doctrine of Original Sin. Whether he admit it or no, the Protestant who accepts these ideas as dogma has no independent authority for any of them, save only the witness and authority of the ecumenical and apostolic, orthodox, universal and catholic Church.

The Scriptures, just by themselves in all their ambiguity and mystery, provide just as much support for Arianism as for Trinitarianism, or for Nestorianism or Eutychianism as for orthodox Dyophysitism. Or, to take the argument from the other side, the Antenicene Fathers condemned the practice of abortion in a First Century document  called the Didache. In other words, a mainstream Protestant who holds that Jesus was fully human and fully divine, and who hold abortion to be against Christian teaching, is both interpreting scripture as the Church interprets it, and following Church extrascritpural teaching as the Church teaches.

Now, again, one might argue that the sainthood of John issues from God Almighty, and that the Church merely recognizes and spread abroad the news of that sanctity of authority of the saint, but she does not herself bestow that sanctity and authority. And that would be argued correctly. The question then becomes how does Martin Luther or Joseph Smith or Mohammad know that John is true? Mohammad can at least claim that Archangel Gabriel came to him separately from the scriptures, and that he knows of the virgin birth of Jesus and that Jesus was never crucified because the angel said so, not because John or Luke or anyone else said so. Other Christian schismatics or heretics do not have this conveniently independent second witness.

Now, again, the Protestant can argue, and the argument is a sober one, that the Church at one time had the authority to collect, define, preserve, and rule on the authenticity of the New Testament, but she through the abuse of her powers or the weakness of her leaders fell into error and lost and mandate of heaven. The only problem with this argument is establishing the date at which the Church authority was compromised beyond the power of restoration, and establishing to whom the authority next devolves once the Church betrays her trust.

But this question cannot be answered at all if the Church never had any authority to begin with.

At this point, without I hope seeming facile, we can answer that the authority of the Church is based on that selfsame authority that the Protestant recognizes when he recognizes the authority of the doctrine of the Trinity, or of the authenticity of the writings of St John, or the authority of the Early Church and the Ante-Nicene Fathers.

But even the Mohammedans and Unitarians who reject Trinitarian doctrine acknowledge the trustworthiness and truthfulness of the Church to at least this degree: they believe the reports, spoken or written, which says that Jesus or Isa existed, and was a prophet of God, born of a Virgin, and both taught the word of God and did many signs and wonders to affirm a supernatural origin to his ministry.

Of the three alternatives, then, while the Jew can claim either that the Church is diabolical, a deception of Satan, or self-deception of men, the Protestant or Unitarian or Muslim is in the awkward position of saying that the Church tells the truth about the birth and ministry of Jesus, but then added or commingled inventions or fictions of either mundane or infernal origins: the Muslim says Jesus was a prophet and not divine and never suffered crucifixion nor resurrection; the Unitarian says He was crucified and resurrected but was not a Person of the Godhead; the mainstream Protestant says He was crucified and resurrected and is the Second Person of the Trinity, but that He did not establish the Church on a hierarchic basis, did not initiate an apostolic succession, did not literally establish the Eucharist as a type of incarnation, and had brothers and sisters of His mother Mary in the flesh, and so on. The Protestant says the Church is corrupt but not the Scripture, which is protected from error by divine intervention; the Muslim says the Church and the Scripture are corrupt, and that the writings of their prophet Mohammad are incorrupt and correct the errors introduced by Moses and David and the Apostles of Christ into the record.

The position is awkward because each much argue that there was an original uncorrupted writing known to one man alone, Mohammad or Martin Luther or Joseph Smith, which teaches the original and uncorrupted doctrine of the original and uncorrupted communion, AND that this original communion was made known to this one prophet or theologian but was hidden from the later generations of the Church.

A prophet can claim that he was carried away in a vision or received a divine visitation to show him the original claim, but a theologian can only claim that he used his natural reason, no doubt sustained and affirmed by prayer, to deduce from clues and fragments what the outline of the original and uncorrupt teaching of the original and uncorrupt communion was.

No prophet of the Old Testament, nor John the Baptist, nor Jesus Christ, claims to be doing this. Moses never says Abraham was wrong; Isaiah nowhere says that the teachings of Moses became corrupted and had to be restored according to a plan known to Isaiah alone.They all claim, as does Christ, to be preserving or expanding the covenant which God made to Abraham, not revising errors of the current teaching. Even Christ with His astounding rebukes to the Pharisees, claims not to remove one jot or tittle of the law.

The merit of each individual argument on each point of doctrine has been debated to exhaustion through the centuries and by men more learned and qualified than I, and at such a length that I could not even review them, much less argue their pros and cons.

But, leaving the claim of the reformers to one side, the logical point is that each heresiarch from Mohammad to Arius to Nestor to Luther, whether admitting it or not, relies on the authority of the Church at least insofar as he acknowledges Jesus to have been a real historical person and a prophet of God.

Whatever the basis for the assertion, it tacitly acknowledge Church authority. It then claims an additional authority over and above the authority of the Church, namely, a divine version of “Judicial Review” where, like a Supreme Court striking down a law made by Congress in the name of the Constitution, the heresiarch says that something — a golden tablet, a visitation by Gabriel, the insight of his personal conscience, the success of his attempts at healing the sick by prayer — gives him the authority to override as unconstitutional, or, rather, as unchristian, the findings of general Church councils from Constantine onward, and to return the Church to her theoretical pre-corrupt origins.

So, logically, the Roman Catholic Church, and the various orthodox Eastern Churches, Armenians and Syriacs and Copts and Nestorians, who are descended from the various schisms between the Fourth and Tenth Centuries, can make the claim to be the original Church on the grounds of Apostolic succession. Everyone else, Mohammad, Luther, Smith, has to claim some independent ground on authority on which basis he and he alone can reject scripture as corrupted and reject Church teaching as wayward and misleading.

And he must claim a Constitutional legislative authority allowing him to (in the case of Mohammad) overturn all Biblical Scriptures as Corrupt; (in the case of Luther) overturn some books of the Bible and not others; (in the case of Smith) to add another book to the canon.

And he must claim a Constitutional judicial authority allowing him and him alone to overthrow the findings of the general Church councils from Nicene to Ephesus to Trent, and to substitute findings of his own.

And he must claim an executive authority to be his own private Pope, a self elected or self appointed leader of the Church, not appointed by St Peter who was given the keys of the kingdom, or any of his successors.

So the answer is that one should hold to Church authority for the same reason that one holds to the authority of the heretic or schismatic, namely, that one does indeed believe the heresiarch’s authority comes from God faithfully and correctly to preach and to interpret the teachings of the Church established by Christ reaching back to the covenant with Abraham.

The additional question for the Mohammedan or Protestant or Mormon is on what grounds your leaders and founders claim the authority to rule on and overturn previous Church Councils, or all of them?

Because the Roman Catholic Church, even while making the outrageous claim to be the one, true, universal and apostolic Church of Christ administrated by the Vicar of Christ and the Roman Emperor protected by the Holy Spirit from erring in matters of doctrine — yes, even while making this jaw-droppingly titanic claims of divine authority — the Church makes no claim to be able to overturn previous rulings, renounce the teachings of her predecessors, or to revoke, alter or amend.

This point is often overlooked, and perhaps is incomprehensible to those who believe the Church is merely a human institution like a congress or a private club: the Church does not have the legal authority to write Amendments to the doctrines of the Church, or delete or alter or amend the Scriptures as Luther did. We cannot get ride of the doctrine saying homosexuality is disordered or that contraception is a grave moral evil because the writ and mandate of the Church does not grant the Church that power.

Only Protestants and Mohammedans think that they can make up new Churches or revise the life of Christ to make Him not have forbidden divorce, or change the genealogical tree of Christ to give him earthly brothers, or demote him from the status of God to the status of human prophet. The Protestant founders see their roles as legislators, or, rather, as reformers attempting to recreate a pure Church that once was. But Catholic and Orthodox Churches do not have founders in that sense of the word, and their leaders see their roles as messengers, not legislators.

So we can answer the question with a question. On what authority rests the authority of the orthodox? It is the same authority on which the heterodox rest, except that it also has the legal sanction of the Church Councils and the divine sanction of the Holy Spirit. It is the humble authority that does not claim the authority to revoke or rewrite or annul the teachings of Christ or His Church.

This leads to a second question: assuming such authority does exist between the clashing and contradictory claims of Churches of the East and West, Anglican and Coptic and Greek and Russian and Syriac and Malabar and so on, how is the true authority to be found among all the false claimants and pretenders?

Here I can only speak for myself. I came to the conclusion that divorce was illogical and morally evil and that homosexuality or incest was objectively disordered appetites and that contraception inevitably corrupted any society which permitted and encouraged its use back when I was an atheist, merely by the unaided but strict and rigorous use of natural reason. It is a conclusion I hold any honest thinker must eventually be brought by remorseless logic, albeit it may take decades or longer to be brought there.

The non-Catholic Church before 1930’s all and each of them condemned contraception since before the Reformation in the 1500’s or the Great Schism in the 1000’s.  They all forbade divorce save in cases of adultery or abandonment before King Henry VIII.

All these Churches claim to be teaching the authentic doctrine of Christ. And yet the only utterly unambiguous passage in the sayings of Christ is His condemnation of divorce. Everything else He says is a riddle or a parable. Not that. It is absolutely clear.

All Churches at one time forbade the use of contraception, the abortion of infants or the exposure of infants to the elements. This is not a new doctrine, but dates back to the Roman days. Abortion and Contraception is not the product of the march of science; it is a hold over from the dark days of the Iron Age when Gladiators fought in the Circus, or Eunuchs served in the Court.

I say again, I speak only for myself, but when I look between the various claimants who claim to have inherited the mantle of St Peter, I look to see what claim the claimant makes.

First, there are those who claim Christ did not establish a Church, does not crave unity in the Church, and did not mean the Church to have a hierarchy. The claim is pure fiction, and a prima face case cannot be made for it. It need not be examined on the merits: a group of men gathering to pray and study the Bible or even to live with their property in common and do almsdeeds or other good works, is not a Church.  Moses did not appoint the sons of Aaron to be a Bible study group, but to be a priesthood. Christ, who was the new Moses, did not appoint St Peter as the organizer of a prayer meeting or a political party.

Second, there are those that claim that their Church is the one and true and apostolic Church founded by Christ, and that the Roman Church went astray. This is a more respectable position and must be taken seriously: for if the Council of Chalcedon (AD 541) was indeed corrupt or illegitimate, then the Coptic Church of Egypt is and has been and has always been the one true Church. This question is legal and historical: if one accepts the findings of the council of Nicene, as, for example, when repeating the Nicene Creed, one must find a logical reason to reject other ecumenical councils which met with the same authority, such as the Council of Trent.

I do not say it cannot be done: the orthodox faith rejects the “Robber Synod of Ephesus”  (AD 449)  as it was formally repudiated for procedural irregularities (legates not admitted, letters not read, both sides of the argument not heard, etc.) and Second Ephesus was formally repudiated by the next Ecumenical Council (Chalcedon AD 451). If you hold that Chalcedon was not authoritative but that Second Ephesus was, you are not in bad company: such ancient and established communions as Coptic Orthodox, Ethiopian Tewahedo, Eritrean Orthodox, Malankara Orthodox, Syriac Orthodox, and Armenian Apostolic Orthodox agree with you.

Speaking only for myself, I do not see the guidance and protection of the Holy Spirit resting on these Churches, nor on the Greek or Russian Orthodox, only because to me they look like national and established churches, as the Anglican is in England, dominated by Czars and Emperors and Sultans, and lacking the independent and international character which the Roman Church has (albeit less clearly in some eras) always exhibited. This is a matter where I think reasonable men can differ: but I do not think it logical to argue that the Catholic Church has less of a claim to apostolic succession or tenacity of duration in the one true faith as the Eritrean Orthodox.

Third are those who claim that there was no Catholic Church before Constantine, and that the original universal community of Jesus followers before the schisms of the African Churches, was an utterly different creature, composed democratically or voluntarily, uncorrupted by wealth or imperial patronage, and the Fathers lived as simply as monks. Some of this is merely Dan Brown style ahistorical nonsense; some of this is Protestant propaganda with a healthy dose of reading history or study of the Patristic Writings will dispel.

Some, however, of this is legitimate: during this period is when were developed the characteristic doctrines of the Christian faith: the New Testament canon was written and defined, the role of tradition and the ecumenical creeds were fixed,  the doctrine of theTrinity, of Christology, of Soteriology, and the doctrine of Divine grace. Before this, we were an offshoot or heresy of Judaism. After, we were Christians properly so called.

More significantly to me, none of the characteristic doctrines of Protestantism are present in these writings. They are not debated and rejected; they are not addressed at all. There is no argument in favor of divorce or in favor of contraception. There is no mention, before the canon of Scripture is established, of Sola Scriptura. There single dominant characteristic of Protestantism, the radical individualism, is not seen. Nowhere does any Church Father argue that each man by his own conscience and without the intervention of priest or presbyter or Church or curia, can perform all sacraments, bind and loose on Earth what is bound and loosed in heaven; no one argues that each man alone can absolve himself after confessing to himself in isolation, is saved by Grace alone without the need for penance or good works, and is a member of a voluntarily organized body of men baptized as adults without any priests or bishops or metropolitans — there is nothing like this at all referred to, directly or indirectly, in any early writing. The closest is the heresy of the Montanists or Cataphrygians, who relied on private prophecy.

Any Protestant who reject as heresy the claims of the Monophysites or Nestorians or Monothelites or Monergites in effect accepts the authority of the Church which ruled these doctrines heretical — or at least acknowledges that Church just so happened not to get these questions wrong.

How do we recognize this authority?

First, it is consistent.The Holy Spirit does not contradict Himself nor change His mind, so it is impossible that contraception be forbidden to Christians in 1931 and not forbidden in 1939. If a community is teaching a doctrine that all Christians everywhere at one time believed, or nearly all, this adds weight to its claim to be authentic. A doctrine that neither Christ nor the Early Father taught has to be established by some clear and convincing proof of its authenticity.

Second, it is legal. If a doctrine has been established by local synod and ecumenical council, and there is no counterclaim or corruption or procedural irregularity or illegal interference with the outcome, then this lends weight to a claim of authenticity. If you scoff that mortal men by casting votes can arrive at a knowledge of the will of God, then you reject the election of Matthias to take the place as one of the Twelve abdicated by the treason of Judas, which was by casting lots.

Third, it is Holy. There is a particular character and, as it were, a flavor to the decisions and authority of God and those who rightly speak for Him and do His will. It is a matter of tone, and, I admit, some men, including myself, may be prone to tone-deafness, especially where their own interest is concerned. In my own opinion, Jesus is clear and piercing as a two edged sword in some matters, and is subtle and profound as a parable or riddle in others. So, to me, it is not possible to believe that the Church would ponder and debate and for 1500 years come to decisions on very subtle theological matters, the fruit of many minds, some of them rightly called saints, and be overturned in a single hour by the theologian or prophet or worldly prince, and replaced with something so simple and stupid it could fit on a bumper sticker.

Mohammadanism took the subtlety of the Trinity, the Veneration of Saints, the mystery of the Incarnation, and replaced it with a slogan: “There is no God but God and Mohammad is His prophet!” which is no more deep and subtle than saying, “All you need do is accept Christ as your personal savior!” or “All you need is love!” — whereupon institutions tried and true and trustworthy are replaced with stricter and simpler and cleaner rules, such as outlawing wine and stained glass windows, but at the cost of the loss of some part of the humanity and divinity of the doctrine.

If Christ had meant something simple from the beginning, He could have said so from the beginning. The doctrine of Double Predestination is not any more hard to explain than the Buddhist Doctrine of Karmic return, and Christ surely said things more subtle and insightful than this, and at the same time simpler and clearer.

In other words, since Christ is so simple and clear where He needs to be (“If ye love me, keep my commandments“) thus I assume He is being subtle where the subject matter or the limits of the human audience will not allow a clearer explanation. The doctrine of the Trinity is remarkably obscure, maddeningly so, and yet without it, one cannot read correct passages where Christ claims or seems to claim divinity  (“He who has seen Me has seen the Father“) with ones where he denies or seems to deny it (“Why call me good? there is none good but one, that is, God“).

If visionary takes a subtle saying of Christ or the prophets or psalms, and, because of impatience with the hairsplitting of theologians or a distaste for Greekish philosophy, flattens the statement into some simple formula, (“Sola fides” or “There is no God but God”)  and thereby loses communion with an entire millennium of Church history or an entire hemisphere of Christian, I say the Holy Spirit is not guiding that visionary into all truth.

Christ tended to be simple and clear about the hard things, and subtle and riddling about the joyful things. I trust the Catholic Church because she talks exactly the same way.

The Church is only crystal clear and simple on those points where you wish there were wiggle room, like the question of contraception, or moving in with your girlfriend-with-benefits if you really, really like her and are sure it will someday soon but not too soon turn into love and then you can get married and not have kids for a few years because of her career. Or like the question of torturing prisoners of war, particular if it is not technically a war and not technically torture. The Church says No.

On questions where the enemies of the Church wishes she were simple and clear, the Church is cautious and wise, and balances competing principles in this fallen world with the delicacy of a jurist. I am sick to puking of people telling me the Church should be pacifists, and teach non-resistance to any use of force. Instead, the Church teaches the Just War doctrine, which identifies the times and circumstances where a prince or parliament can rightly take up the sword even in foreign lands. People who say the Church should support whatever war the common opinion or the charismatic leaders of the day are trumpeting without regard to its justice is the flipside of the same error.

When the selfsame Church offends the simplistic dove for supporting the Crusades of the Eleventh Century and offends the simplistic hawks for not supporting every aspect of the Global War on Terror in the Twenty-First, that is when my respect for the good judgment of the Church increases, and the argument that her authority is sound and trustworthy becomes weightier.

I do see the working of the Holy Spirit in the Penance of Emperor Theodosius. The events were so unusual, so unexpected yet uplifting, that one sees something outside the normal forces of mundane history and human passion at work. When Henry the VIII declared himself Pope of England, and convoked a court as unlawfully frivolous as the court of Pontius Pilate to condemn Saint Thomas More (my fellow science fiction writer) indeed I see the Holy Spirit in More, and in Henry nothing but cheats, deceits, greed, wrath, human shortsightedness.

I have far more respect for Mary Baker Eddy, even though her doctrines are far less mainstream than anything proposed by the Anglicans, because she can point to signs and wonders, resurrection of the dead and healing of the sick, to lend weight to her claim to have discovered, or rediscovered, the art of the early apostles to do the “mighty works” like those wrought by Christ. King Henry VIII, nor Luther, nor Calvin, nor Mohammad, nor Reverend Sun Myung Moon makes such claims or provide testimonies of miracles. Whether one believes the claim true or false, the Christian Scientists are making an apostolic claim, and these others are not.

Again, I have respect for Evangelicals who make claims of visions and faith healings, first because I suspect far more claims are true than fraudulent, and second because this was the same means Christ Himself used when questioned by the followers of John the Baptist to quell their disbelief.

In my own opinion, a Christian who is embarrassed by tales of wonderworking is too parochial to the modern scientific world view, or, rather, to the popularized science-worshiping world view that has nothing to do with real science, and is more akin to the Deism of some lifeless Watchmaker God. Where our Church is spreading most rapidly is precisely in those areas of the world where reports of miracles are most numerous, however doubtful or otherwise their authenticity may prove.

Read Luther or Calvin and read Thomas Aquinas, Justin Martyr, Augustine of Hippo.  I suggest that any nonpartisan observer will see the difference in the scope of their understanding, the clarity of their reasoning. You can see the difference between a man obsessed by one fixed idea, and a man taking a broad, and, dare I use the word, catholic view of all the rich complexities of human life and not trying to pigeonhole all things into one simple scheme.

That is where I see the Authority of the Catholic Church: it comes from the same place as the competing claims of authority, which is to say, from God, but, unlike them, neither contradicts herself nor claims and authority to rewrite and revise what other prophets of God have taught, nor to reject doctrines when the world suddenly finds Christianity unfashionable, nor to add new doctrines or dangerous simplifications in order to sate the appetite of solitary theologians for schematic elegance.

If the orthodox doctrines of the Church were merely the inventions of men, or the self-delusion of enthusiasts, or the imposition of the Imperial Court, then they would have fallen into the same disrepute and obscurity as other inventions of men, such as Deism, or other enthusiastic novelties, such as Montanism, or other attempt by the powerful worldly authority to impose onto ecclesiastical matters, such as Arianism.

If the orthodox doctrines of the Church were the product of the supernatural deceptions of darkness, and all her miracles and good works were the works of Beelzebub, then Judaism is the only place to flee. Because if you think the Antichrist of the Church lied about the matter of the Assumption of Mary or the matter of Saint John drinking venom without taking harm from it, you have no independent basis on which to think the Antichrist of the Church told the truth about the matter of the Ascension of Christ or the Resurrection.

The only other possibility is that the claim of the Church to be one, and true and holy, and catholic and apostolic is true, and that this is a divine claim, which she claims not of herself, but because the Spirit provides witness. When, upon examination, one sees both the clarity and the consistency of Catholic teaching throughout the ages, the belief the she speaks with a heavenly authority is the simplest and best explanation.

112 Comments

  1. Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

    If the orthodox doctrines of the Church were merely the inventions of men, or the self-delusion of enthusiasts, or the imposition of the Imperial Court, then they would have fallen into the same disrepute and obscurity as other inventions of men, such as Deism, or other enthusiastic novelties, such as Montanism, or other attempt by the powerful worldly authority to impose onto ecclesiastical matters, such as Arianism.

    That does not seem to follow. What of Mormonism, which we can presumably both agree is indeed an invention or self-delusion? What of Scientology? What of the Marxist-postmodernist complex? Or if these examples are too modern and thus just haven’t had time to wither away, what of Hinduism, which may reasonably claim to be older than Christianity? Or Islam, which was imposed by fire and sword in the service of powerful states?

  2. Comment by Zach:

    May I, as a Mormon, point out that to a materialist, the very idea of reason is an invention or self-delusion?

    With regards ti scriptural truth, Joseph Smith can know the truth of the Bible in these ways:

    One, through the efficacy of following its counsel. Reading in James, he followed the apostle’s admonition to ask God when lacking wisdom. This he did, and the resulting theophany confirmed the truth of those words.

    Two, the Book of Mormon confirms the truth of the Bible. It is a second witness of the divinity of Christ. It speaks of John the Revelator and confirms him as a prophet and apostle.

    Regarding the restoration, Moses restored the law and the covenant to an apostate Israel. Two a Jew, I’m sure the apostle Peter seemed much like Joseph Smith does to a Catholic today. I mean no disrespect either to Jews or Catholics, of course; as a Catholic or a Materialist or a Jew I might find some claims that I accept as a Mormon to be preposterous.

    As Mormons, we fall into the middle ground (most of us – there are some who think the abominable church in our scripture refers to Catholicism, even though our prophets have rejected that meaning) and say Catholicism is well-intentioned and that those who follow the Catholic Church’s teachings are among the “just men” of the world. Even many materialists are just men and friends to Christians.

    We figure when the Millenium comes we’ll have time to perform your baptisms by proxy in our temples, and you’ll have the same blessing of salvation we have now.

    • Comment by Zach:

      Of course, I shouldn’t pick fights with men I know are both much more educated and more experienced than I am (I’m a philosophy drop-out working in internet marketing analysis, so yeah . . .). So I hope my response above doesn’t seem mean-spirited and my objections aren’t spurious.

    • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

      May I, as a Mormon, point out that to a materialist, the very idea of reason is an invention or self-delusion?

      You may not, for it is not so.

    • Comment by Sylvie D. Rousseau:

      May I : polite form of engaging in a discussion.
      Mormon : concept designating a group of people with a definite set of beliefs, history, scripture, cultural characteristics, and so on.
      Point out : to draw attention on facts or concepts one wants to discuss.
      Materialist : concept designating a group of people with certain philosophical positions.
      Idea : intellectual representation of what exists outside of the mind (when we consider what is inside of the mind, we abstract it and study it the same way we do with what is outside).
      Reason : faculty to put ideas together, compare them, understand and judge them by a set of intellectual standards agreed on by people of similar culture, making it possible to express and discuss ideas.
      Invention : new idea or material thing created by man from existing materials or ideas.
      Self-delusion : ideas not conform to extramental reality, because they are either false or misapplied.

      This sentence makes a remarkable use of reason, though I grant you the rest of the post, as well as the conclusion of the sentence, is more on the side of invention and self-delusion.

    • Comment by John Hutchins:

      Rejected that meaning is an interesting way of putting it. There have been those at the highest levels of church leadership that have stated that position while others have denounced that position, though the denouncers are interesting in their denunciation of the position. The major problems that have been brought up with the position is that it is too restrictive and too inclusive. Too restrictive in the sense that it leaves out everything else the scriptures say in regards to the great church, there could very well be even LDS members that could be considered part of that organization. Too inclusive because there is truth everywhere and more truth in the Catholics then in many of the alternatives, neither now nor at any known time could the majority of Catholics (or their clergy) be considered to part of that organization.

      • Comment by Sylvie D. Rousseau:

        “…an interesting way of putting it.”
        I am pleased that you find my prose interesting, but I think I was unclear. What I was saying had absolutely nothing to do with materialism but everything to do with Mormonism, which is based on a set of childish tales invented by self-deluded men. The fact that you are nice and generally edifying people unfortunately does not make you philosophers and theologians.

        • Comment by John Hutchins:

          That wasn’t to you, but to the top level comment; I was trying to explain that I can be completely convinced that certain Catholics were truly members of a certain church not of Christ while still being completely convinced that many Catholics were/are truly trying to follow Christ and still be in harmony with even those authorities in my church that rightfully have pointed out that Revelation 17 when combined with references in the Book of Mormon can not be talking about just or even primarily the Catholic Church.

          We certainly don’t claim to be philosophers as a people.

  3. Comment by jollyroger:

    I personally liked your comment “Christ tended to be simple and clear about the hard things, and subtle and riddling about the joyful things. I trust the Catholic Church because she talks exactly the same way.”

    I think there is a lot of truth to this statement, however, one notable exception would be the Eucharist- Certainly a joyful thing, but Christ and the Church are both very clear (and somewhat simple) about what the Eucharist is.

    • Comment by Mary:

      “this is a hard saying, who can accept it?”

      It is, in fact, the only thing that ever drove away His followers for doctrinal reasons.

      In which case, the numerous Protestant rejections of it are in fact evidence toward the correctness of the Catholic doctrine.

  4. Comment by Darrell:

    Technically speaking, in all Orthodox Churches, the Primate (Patriarch, Archbishop, Metropolitan) has no authority to make decisions for the whole Church. The Synod makes the decision, under the presidency of its Primate. Primates (and the Synods) are simply an organizational feature based off of the Roman model under which the Church developed and so very often have regional characteristics that can be traced back to the Roman Empire.

    That means that Orthodox Churches are national churches but not, as you seem to imply, Churches of nation-states which they far-and-away predate. The various Orthodox Churches are organizational units of the Church based off of an ancient model — of which the Church of Rome is one example.

    As an example, I belong to the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East. My Primate is Ignatius IV, my Metropolitan is Philip, my diocesan bishop is Antoun, and my priest is Fr. Cassian. However the three bishops that I listed (Ignatius IV, Philip, and Antoun) are all equal in authority but with different organizational responsibilities. Bishop Antoun is my bishop with the others being his superior only in a limited organizing sense. In this way the Orthodox Church is intensely local.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      Believe me, I know the Eastern Church predates the nation-state (and the English language) by a considerable amount. My sole reason for not joining your communion and going with the Catholics was that I feared that the Churches, particularly the Russian Orthodox, had been so long dominated by Czars and other officials appointing bishops, or approving the appointment, that the Church suffered a capture (similar, I must confess, to what happened to the Roman Church during certain periods of her history, in Spain and in France).

      Part of my decision was just patriotism, or, if you like, parochialism. I am a man of the West. The Roman Church is the skeleton on which all Western history hangs.

      • Comment by ShireNomad:

        “The Holy Spirit does not contradict Himself nor change His mind, so it is impossible that contraception be forbidden to Christians in 1931 and not forbidden in 1939.”

        This is a point of which I have lately begun to wonder, as I have heard a counter that I have been unable to poke a hole in:

        1. God is constant.
        2. But humanity changes and grows (and on occasion regresses).
        3. Therefore, God, without changing Himself, may change the message and commands He sends to match the needs and abilities of the present world.

        This view is supported in scripture. Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount says over and over “You have heard it said… but I say…” (Matthew 5). Saint Paul rejects the necessity of circumcision which was previously vital (1 Corinthians 7:17-20). And to Saint Peter, that which was previously unclean was made clean (Acts 10:9-16). And the Church now follows all these changes: we turn the other cheek, we do not keep kosher, we do not require circumcision.

        Why and how did these changes occur? Because Jesus changed our fundamental relationship with God, yes, but there’s more than that:

        “‘Haven’t you read,’ he replied, ‘that at the beginning the Creator “made them male and female,” and said, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh”? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.’ ‘Why then,’ they asked, ‘did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?’ Jesus replied, ‘Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.'” – Matthew 19:4-8

        Therefore, for divorce, at least, when we were in Paradise there was no divorce, then we fell, and “because our hearts were hard” God gave us a command, which He then altered as our hearts softened. (And certainly this new command has softened our hearts even more; while Jesus’s own disciples found this teaching ridiculously difficult, there later came a time — if not today — where we found it a norm to stay married through the hard times.) It is likely that for that same reason that we were once commanded “eye for an eye” (during a time when our hearts were hard and that was a vast improvement over “if he gouges your eye, kill him”) but now turn the other cheek.

        So, if God can change His commands to us based on the state of our hearts, will He do so again? Has He? If this is impossible, should we reject Jesus on the grounds that “The Holy Spirit does not contradict Himself nor change His mind, so it is impossible that divorce be allowed in 29 AD but forbidden in 34 AD”?

        I accept that these changes might only be communicated by saints and prophets (or, obviously, God Incarnate in Christ), but to say that God’s commands do not change AT ALL EVER seems to contradict Jesus’s own words. Your thoughts?

  5. Comment by Malcolm Smith:

    Strictly speaking, Polycarp did not authenticate the Apocalypse; he authenticated the Gospel. It is not certain if the John who wrote the Apocalypse is the same John who wrote the Gospel. Certainly, Dionysius gave good reasons to doubt it back in the 3rd century. But the authority of the Apocalypse does not rest on its authorship, but on the fact that the church had been reading it for at least three centuries, and found it inspired. The same goes for the Epistle to the Hebrews, whose author is unknown.
    The reason for believing the New Testament documents is more basic and banal: they stand up to the same scrutiny which should be applied to every other ancient document. First, there is the tradition of men. People who held the documents in their hands in the 2nd century, when group memory was so much shorter, identified the authors. (Polycarp was a good example.) There is a much stronger human tradition that the fourth Gospel was written by the apostle, than that Tacitus wrote the Annals.
    Secondly, there is the internal evidence that these documents are, in fact, what they, and tradition, claim them to be: records based on eyewitness testimonies of the events.
    With this in mind, we find that the New Testament contains testimony of miracles and resurrection – in short, of the divine come down to earth. We can believe these things for the same reason we believe that Socrates died from a dose of hemlock. And if we are prepared to accept that the divine has come down to earth, we can accept the assertions about things we cannot see, such as the remission of sins.
    And where the Bible is ambiguous, then we apply the Vincentian principle, which you once said you agreed with: go back as close as possible to the earliest commentators – those who were in the best position to know what slant the Apostles put on matters.
    But please note that this refers to the authority of the Catholic Church. You have this fixation with believing that the Catholic Church is the same as the Church of Rome. This is seriously in dispute. There are a lot of us around who do not find the evidence compelling that the pronouncements of the Pope as simply a reinstatement of Christian beliefs of the first, second, and third centuries.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      This is seriously in dispute.

      I am sure an imaginative person could also make the argument that the current government of the United States is not the same nation-state as that created by the Founding Fathers, since it is in Washington DC and not in Philadelphia, that it expanded its powers under the New Deal, that it changed its method of selecting Senators under the Progressives, and so on and so forth. The argument, if one can stop giggling long enough to take it seriously, has one serious problem, which is that there is no obvious breaking point where the institution stopped being what it was and suddenly started being something different.

      If one admits that the institution be it church or state exists at all as a corporate body, the elements in continuity and only those is what defines it.

      The prima face case in support of the idea is the continuity of the institution of the one, true, universal and ecumenical Church is that Peter, who by many signs is shown to be the first of the Apostles, established the See in Rome; and there is some surviving evidence of the deference shown to Rome even in the earliest of documents.

      Anyone accepting the authority of scripture can also argue that the promise that the gates of Hell would not prevail against the Church, and the prayer of Christ for unity, argue that the divine will of Providence ordained that one Church would be maintained throughout the changes of history.

      Now, the Orthodox Church or Churches in the Asia or Africa can make the same argument, and in that I do not dispute them. The branches spring from the same stump, and the schism is more political and cultural (Latin versus Greek) than it is theological. The Great Schism was an argument over who was to govern the Church, not over what the Church was or what were the authentic teachings of Christ.

      The claims of Copts and Nestorian is more problematical, since they would have to make the legal argument that Church doctrine was not procedurally settled at the Ecumenical Councils, or to make the Constitutional argument that Ecumenical Councils lack the power to settle Church doctrine: which is tantamount to denying that the Church exists as a corporate body.

      The argument against the claim that the Latin Church is the Catholic Church, I have referred to on many occasions, which is that the Church became corrupt, and that at some point, such as the Edict of Milan or the elevation of Theodosius to the purple, or the coronation of Charlemagne, or the election of Clement V to the chair of St Peter, or the council of Trent or the council of Vatican II, spells the end of the true and authentic Church and her replacement by a cunning impostor. The impostor merely happens to occupy the same place and buildings and functions as the real Church, whose legitimacy, usually by some supernatural means, has been transferred to whatever sect the person speaking happens to favor, or, if the person speaking is a modern thinker, to no one at all.

      If a note of asperity has crept into my words, it is because when I converted from atheism to Christianity, I was like an orphan who suddenly discovers his parents still alive. Then I discovered you Christians, you stupid Christians, betraying your faith and scandalizing the world have peppered your history with so many schisms that I was like the orphan, traveling to his home long thought lost, finds his parents divorced, and his parents demanding he chose between them.

      I spent over three years sifting through the stupid arguments you Christians decided to have with each other over trivial nonsense, trying to decide which among your competing claims and lies the true Church was to be found, and with great pain and personal cost to myself discover a sound and logical argument which, in my judgment, carries the day, to have that argument not addressed but dismissed as “an obsession”.

      The argument yet again is that no man can adhere to a Church doctrine, which he takes on authority, without logically admitting that the Church who authorized that doctrine had the authority to do so, at least at that time. No one can claim the Bible has more authority than the Church that decreed the Bible to be Biblical. It would be like claiming the Constitution was legally valid in the United States, but that the Union of the States who ratified it were not sovereign and ergo had no legal power to do so.

      Docrampage has made a bold and patient attempt to argue the Protestant side of the issue, and I salute him for that, but his arguments do not rise to the level of introducing a sober counterclaim: it is merely the same strawman (Mary-worshiping prayer-mumblers) which reading the catechism can dispel, and the same ahistorical claims even an amateur knowledge of history can dispel. You have not even attempted to present a claim.

      If there is a serious disputes to my conclusion that the Church is what she says she is, I have yet to hear anyone raise them.

  6. Comment by docrampage:

    You are answering a different question than the one that I asked. So did the guy that I asked this question of, which suggests that I wasn’t clear. Let me break it into parts:

    1. you appeal to the authority of the Catholic Church to answer questions of doctrine. Let us refer to this authority as C.
    2. one question of doctrine is this: “What is the proper authority to appeal to for questions of doctrine?”
    3. You have to answer question 2 before you can appeal to C to answer your other questions
    4. What do you appeal to in order to answer question 2?

    That number 4 is the question that I was asking. This has an obvious continuation into a defense of the epistemological position of Protestantism as follows:

    5. If you say that C is your authority to answer question 2, then you are using circular justification of the sort that you accuse Protestants of.
    6. If you appeal to any other authority D, whether human reason, or the guiding of the Spirit or such, then you must acknowledge that D is a proper authority for answering doctrinal questions.
    7. If such a D exists, then why could Protestants not rely on D to answer all doctrinal questions?
    8. If such a D does not exist, then what is the source of your justification for accepting C?

    • Comment by Darrell:

      Doctor Rampage

      I suspect that the Roman Catholics on this blog believe that they have been answering precisely this but allow me to elucidate from an Orthodox Christian perspective (which is essentially the same as the Roman Catholic).

      The ultimate authority is the Father who is unknowable except through the Word (the Son) acting within history. The Word prepared for His incarnation by universal revelation provided to the prophets. This preparation for the incarnation is recorded in the Old Testament.

      The Word was incarnated within time as Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ provided the fullness of all necessary revelation for salvation (theosis). To protect this full and complete revelation through all of time Jesus Christ gathered together the apostles who were the guardians and teachers of the revelation (Holy Tradition). when the bishops act together (as, for example, an ecumenical council) their doctrinal decisions are protected from error by the Holy Spirit.

      The bishops of the Church are the continuance of the apostles. They are the guardians and teachers of the complete revelation provided by Jesus Christ. Priests act only as the local hands of the apostolic bishops.

      The Church therefore is a community of believers centered around the divine revelation of Jesus Christ from His Father as protected, preserved, and taught by the bishops in the form of Holy Tradition. If the Church is inauthentic then His revelation has been corrupted and the whole basis of Christianity has been lost.

      Father -> Son -> Apostles -> Bishops.

      Christianity is based on the understanding that God has acted within history and that the Incarnation is a singular event that provided the full and complete revelation necessary for universal salvation. This is why there are no more prophets and no more universal revelations and why the Church teaches that doctrine is not open to edit. The Church is the communion of believers and not just the hierarchy as represented by bishops, priests, deacons, etc.

      I have simplified matters in the hope of providing greater clarity.

      • Comment by docrampage:

        Thank you for the answer but you also have not answered the question I asked. I’m using the word “authority” here in an epistemological sense. All Christians agree that God is the “authority” in that he is supreme, but unless God personally comes down and not only proves to you that he is God but also answers your doctrinal questions, then he is not your epistemological authority. An authority in this sense is the evidence or form of reasoning that you rely on to make your decision.

        For example, what is your authority for knowing that corresponding angles at the intersections of two pairs of parallel lines are equal? Here are some answers given by some philosophers:

        1. you have a faculty of intuition about geometric objects
        2. you can infer it by reductio ad absurdum from the other postulates of geometry
        3. you merely stipulate it

        In other words, the question boils down to “what is your justification for believing it?”

        The word “authority” is actually a subset of forms of justification so “justification” would have been a better word, but I seemed to be having trouble expressing this idea to Catholics, so I thought “authority” might work better because they talk a lot about the authority of their church.

        • Comment by John C Wright:

          Is this addressed to me? I’ve answered the question twice. Or are you like a salesman who has been given a pre-programmed script to say, who, when you don’t get the answer you’re expecting, merely repeat the script?

          I will answer again.

          The authority comes from God, through Christ, through Peter, through Pentacost, to the elders and laity of the Church, who were baptized and or appointed by the laying on of hands. In effect, they were messengers carrying a message from Christ. We took the message, bled and died for it, preserved it, gathered it, declared it sacred, and withstood (with limited success, alas) the various attempts of heretics to tear the unity of the Church asunder and spread false and heretical doctrines. No man even would know Christ existed were it not for us. Any man who has heard the good news that he may be saved in Christ heard that news and received that salvation because and only because of the sacrifice of the saints and martyrs who preserved that news and carried it to you. In return, you do not honor those martyrs, you forget their names, you express no gratitude, you do not even put up a statue to remember them by. And you call us, you recall the great deeds they did in Christ’s name, and the wonderful works they wrought, idolators and destroyers of the Church.

          Anticipating that you would ask on what grounds that authority is recognized, I answer that also, and answered it twice.

          There are three reasons for believing that the claim of the one true apolostic and universal Christian Church had the authority she claims to have to teaching and defining the teachings of Christ are these:

          First, continuity. The Catholic Church teaches the same things taught by the Early Church fathers on all points where Catholic and Protestants disagree. I can refer to the Didache to support Christian opposition to abortion, for example, whereas my Protestant friend have not even read the Didache, or heard of it, or acknowledge it as their source of their Christian beliefs.

          Second, legality. The Catholic Church teaches the same things taught by the general Ecumenical Councils, with the sole exception of Second Ephesus, on all points where Catholic and Protestants agree. I can refer to the Council of Nicaea (AD 325) as authority for the proposition that Christ is one in being with the Father, of Constantinople (AD 381) for the proposition that the Holy Ghost is divine and One of the Trinity, for Ephesus (AD 431) for the proposition that Jesus was fully God and fully Man, Chalcedon (AD 451) for the proposition that Jesus had a human nature albeit sinless, Second Constantinople (AD 553) for the proposition that man is depraved under Original Sin and that the saving grace of God was needed for salvation.

          As best I know, my Protestant friends accept and teach all these doctrines of the Incarnation and the Trinity, which means, logically, that they tacitly admit the authority of the Church to define them. But suddenly when it comes to the councils of Second Nicaea (787) and the Council of Trent (AD 1545) suddenly the Church is the antichrist who is obeying instructions from Constantine (in the Sixteenth Century, mind you) and trying to destroy the Christian faith.

          And then when Henry VIII wants a divorce, the Protestants hold Divorce to be legal, and start their own Church, the Anglican just for that reason. And when the Sexual Revolution rolls around, the Protestants want Contraceptives to be legal, and they all jump on that bandwagon soon or late.

          Third, the Holy Spirit. The Catholic Church talks the way Christ talks about the things of Christ. The Lutheran Church talks the way Luther talked. If their claim is that they are guided and protected from error by the Holy Spirit, that every member of the congregation has the blessings of Papal infallibility, why, then, does every Protestant Church divide and subdivide, and why do some of them (I hope as abhorrent to you as to me) allow for homosexual priests, for priestesses, for homosexual marriage, and other things which are true idolatry, not the frivolous accusation of idolatry which idiots who don’t understand what venerating a saint is level at all their forefathers and teachers and men whose doctrines they hold.

          None of the Protestant sects acts like anything but a creature of the age in which it lives, adopting the doctrines and prejudices of the world, or the ideas floating about in the moral atmosphere of the era in which their heresies were formed.

          I accept the authority of the Church because on every issue where the Church and I have disagreed, the Church turned out to be right. Likewise, on every doctrinal issue where the Church and the Protestants have disagreed, the Church turned out to be right. In every political issue where the Reformers sought reform, the Church reformed and the Reformers became the creatures of worldly princes, who have since passed away, and so the cause of the separation is moot.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      The argument applies with equal logic, or illogic, to any authoritative question:

      1. you appeal to the authority of the Constitution to answer questions of Constitutional Law. Let us refer to this authority as C.
      2. one question of law is this: “What is the proper authority to appeal to for questions of law?”
      3. You have to answer question 2 before you can appeal to C to answer your other questions
      4. What do you appeal to in order to answer question 2?
      5. If you say that C is your authority to answer question 2, then you are using circular justification.
      6. If you appeal to any other authority D, whether the Democratic will of the people, or the Rights of Man or the authority of the Continental Congress or such, then you must acknowledge that D is a proper authority for answering doctrinal questions.
      7. If such a D exists, then why could rebels not rely on D to answer all legal and constitutional questions?
      8. If such a D does not exist, then what is the source of your justification for accepting C?

      Do you see the problem with the argument? It assumes that an authority on which you tacitly rely is not an authority and then asks by what authority the authority is authorized.

      The answer in both cases is the same. The authority comes from the author. In the case of the Constitution, the authority comes from the sovereign colonies who formed a union in the name of the people, who have the right and duty to establish a government in order to secure their equal rights, which are granted by God to all men. The question you ask is the same asked by the Confederation, who wished to appeal to the sovereignty and rights of the states or of the general will of the people to succeed from the Constitution. But they did not amend the Constitution to dissolve it, they merely declared it no longer legitimate. The declaration had no authority.

      So, here. Luther did not prove that God had repudiated the words of Christ, or that the Apostles had conspired to suppress the Christian teaching and replace it with their own subtle priest-craft, or that the Antichrist had deceived the Elect and usurped the See of Peter. Luther at first spoke of reforming the Church, which is a tacit recognition of the authority of the Church. Only later did he appeal to Christian princes to take control of sacerdotal functions and authority and establish doctrines in defiance of Ecumenical Councils and local Synods and Papal ministration. He did not amend the Church, but merely declared it no longer legitimate on the argument that his individual conscience was supreme over all Christian authority, doctrine, teaching, scripture, rite and sacrament.

      And then one Protestant group after another dissented and rebelled against the Christian princes using the same argument. The argument has no authority, or, at least, no more authority than the opinions of any heresy, including heresies fiercely rejected by Protestant theologians. Raised Lutheran, I am very sympathetic to the claim of individual conscience, but as a lawyer, I cannot see how his argument differs one iota from similar arguments by the Arius or Nestorius or Simon the Magician, who denied the divinity or humanity of Christ or the divinity of God.

      And I did answer the question, sir, very thoroughly.

      “The short answer is that the authority of the Church rests in the Holy Spirit which animates the body of the Church in the same way a human spirit animates a man. The authority comes from Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity which is God; and the Church is at once His bride and His mystical body.”

      Shall I say it again? Church authority comes from God, the source of all Authority, through His only begotten Son, Our Lord, the second person of the Trinity, to his Apostles, on whom the Son explicitly bestowed the Holy Spirit which is the guardian and guide of the Church, and his Apostles baptized the laity into the Church and laid hands on the Bishops and Deacons, granting them the power to go and do likewise, and their authority is confirmed with signs and wonders following.

      We recognize the authority by three things:

      First, the consistency of doctrine. Protestant sects have no legitimate claim to be correctly transmitting Christian teaching due to their betrayal of the teaching on divorce and contraception (and some more egregious sects betray the teaching on abortion and homosexuality).

      Second, legality. If you say the Nicene Creed, you tacitly recognize the authority of General Church councils, and must provide some fig leaf of an argument to explain why the Nicene Council is valid, but the Council of Trent invalid.

      If a man will deny the validity of the Nicene Council and yet claim some independent verification for its findings, while at the same time holding that he somehow came to the same conclusions as the general council but do not rely on them for support, then the onus is on him to support this rather difficult claim. Perhaps the Angel Moroni or Jibreal visited him in a dream.

      Third, the Holy Spirit. This is the most difficult to argue convincingly because it is a judgment call, and the judgment of reasonable men can differ. The teachings of the different sects of Christianity where they differ are either in line with the Early Church (developments rather than innovations) or they are not in line (innovations rather than developments).

      When one reads the Early Fathers, they sound like Catholics (or like Orthodox) and not like Protestants. Not a single one of the doctrinal stances characteristic of Protestants, neither divorce, nor contraception, nor the Eucharist being merely bread, nor the disrespect to Mary, nor the replacement of priests by preachers, nor the cozy subordinate relationship with worldly princes like Henry VIII or Elizabeth I, is a stance taken or defended by the Early Church; whereas every thing I have ever heard a Protestant call a pagan or human accretion to the Roman Catholic Church is present in the Early Church, in the Antenicene or Nicene fathers. I can give you a list, if you like, or better yet, I can recommend a book: http://thefathersknowbest.com/

      • Comment by docrampage:

        The argument applies with equal logic, or illogic, to any authoritative question

        Certainly, but your example doesn’t really work, because your example is about authority as in “the right to rule” while my argument is about authority as in “a means of knowing”. An actual answer to my question would be something like “my own human reasoning”, or “the Holy Spirit guided me” or “God came down in a burning bush and told me”.

        And I did answer the question, sir, very thoroughly.

        “The short answer is that the authority of the Church rests in the Holy Spirit which animates the body of the Church in the same way a human spirit animates a man. The authority comes from Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity which is God; and the Church is at once His bride and His mystical body.”

        OK, let’s call that statement A. Now, why do you believe A? If you say C (the authority of the Catholic Church) then I ask, OK, why do you believe in C? Are you going to say A again? If so, this is circular. At some point you have to back out of this loop and give a reason outside of Church doctrine for accepting Church doctrine.

        You also can’t answer this question by giving me a historical argument for why one should believe in Catholic authority (which is the answer you all seem to want to give) because the argument itself is a mere detail. If the arguments that you all give me are actually what justifies your beliefs; if you think that a man should be led to trust in the authority of the Catholic Church because he is convinced by an argument, then the answer to my question of how you know that the Catholic Church has authority is “my own human reasoning”. Is that the answer? Do you believe in the authority of the Catholic Church because of a persuasive argument?

        And that is only the first failure of your attack on the possibility of an independent Protestant epistemology. In addition, we note that all doctrinal questions in the Catholic Church are answered by some method. Let us assume that it is human reasoning (feel free to substitute anything else). If the leadership of the Catholic Church can answer doctrinal questions by human reasoning, then why couldn’t Protestant scholars answer questions by human reasoning?

        I anticipate that some will get caught up in my particular choice, human reasoning, which I emphasize, IS NOT RELEVANT TO THE ARGUMENT. I have to pick something because no Catholic has yet been able to tell me what this is. Substitute anything you like. If you like, substitute “a council of wise and godly men who with all humility pray earnestly for divine guidance and are led by the Holy spirit to the correct choice”. It also is not relevant whether there is a single method or a collection of methods. Any decision-making process that the Catholic leadership can undertake, Protestants can undertake.

        Remember, I am discussing epistemology and your claims that there is something circular in Protestant epistemology. I do not want to get sidetracked into your historical claims about the Catholic Church because the question of epistemology is prior to the particular argument being made. Whatever non-circular form of reasoning or intuition or inspiration or other means that (1) is used by Catholic converts to accept the authority of Rome in the first place, or that (2) is used by the Catholic leadership to answer doctrinal questions, why couldn’t Protestants use the same means?

        If your only answer is that Protestants can’t do it because Protestants don’t have the authority, then you should acknowledge that your epistemological argument is not really a logical argument as you seem to think, but is one that relies on your own doctrinal assumptions.

        • Comment by Darrell:

          Doctor Rampage

          It would seem to me that a practicing believer of any particular faith tradition could do so only out of either personal revelation or reasoning (or both). Certainly there are people that are part of a particular faith tradition because of cultural, ethnic, or other social considerations but I assume that you are narrowing your question to true believers.

          The Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians of my acquaintance (so this is anecdotal) that have converted have all done so based off of human reasoning — and here I am narrowly referring to becoming a Roman Catholic or Orthodox Christian as opposed to finding a belief in God.

          I find that not only do the truth claims of Orthodox Christianity make the most sense to me compared to all of the other variations of Christianity that I investigated but its historical claims don’t require a vast millennia long conspiracy or series of coincidences to believe. I became a ‘generic’ Christian with strong sympathies for the Unitarian Universalist Church before I became an Orthodox Christian. Indeed I had certain uncharitable attitudes towards the Eastern Orthodox Church before I became a catechumen.

          So if your question is is there something magical that overcomes you and converts you to an Orthodox Christian or a Roman Catholic as opposed to a Protestant (whatever that means) then I would answer that there is not. Do I believe that the Holy Spirit guided me to Orthodox Christianity after I abandoned my irrational hatred of Christianity and my disdain for the ‘nationalist’ Orthodox churches? I believe that the Holy Spirit did.

          You seem to be asking a second question. That being in what way is the Eastern Orthodox Church or Roman Catholic Church empowered to make dogmatic pronouncements while Protestant traditions can not? That would take us back to my earlier post where I described how the guardianship of Holy Tradition and teaching authority was passed from Jesus Christ, to the Apostles, and from them to the bishops. Those bishops whose authority flows directly from Christ can meet in a universal synod and as a Church set dogmatic boundaries.

          This would be impossible for ‘Protestant’ Churches for obvious reasons.

          • Comment by docrampage:

            OK, that’s a fair answer. But it does not justify the claim of John and others that there is some circularity in Protestant epistemology. If you can use human reason, perhaps guided by the Holy Spirit to decide truly a matter of doctrine, then why can’t Protestants use human reason guided by the Holy Spirit to truly decide other matters of doctrine?

            At this point, there is no longer any vestige of a logical problem with Protestant beliefs, there is just the fact that they come to different conclusions than you do.

            • Comment by DGDDavidson:

              We’re to the point now of talking past each other. You’ve been answered at great length.

              My own argument in its essentials is that you look to scripture for doctrinal authority, but that the books you consider scripture were presented to you by the Catholic Church, so in appealing to scripture, you appeal to the authority of the Catholic Church which defined the scriptural canon.

              I’m not sure I understand your rebuttals. Your answer appears to be an attempt at a third-man argument, that to confirm the authority of the Catholic Church we would need yet another authority, and that to confirm the authority of that authority, we would need yet another authority, and so on ad infinitum until we have destroyed the very concept of authority in order to escape Catholicism, or until we find authority in the Almighty Self, which appears to be where Mr. Hutchins has ended up, what with his claim to have read over all relevant religious texts and to have independently and infallibly judged their contents.

              The answer you’ve been given is an answer to a Christian, and therefore does not start at the beginning with arguments for the existence of God and so forth, but instead reminds you that Christ founded a Church and granted her his Holy Spirit. The Catholic Church can make a strong case that she is the Church Christ founded. People who join her assent to that, and by the authority of the Church Christ founded, accept the canon the Church defined.

              You too believe in Christ, but you accept the canon of scripture on the authority of . . . what? Christ did not define a scriptural canon during his time on Earth.

              Do you claim to have independently discovered or confirmed the contents of the canon? If so, how? And is it just your good luck that the canon you’ve confirmed conveniently matches the contents of the study Bible you bought at the local bookstore?

              • Comment by John Hutchins:

                I did not judge those contents, I asked God about those contents, there is a huge difference even though you reject the very idea that God would reveal anything to anyone.

                • Comment by DGDDavidson:

                  You misunderstand me. I doubt your claim to have the charism of rightly discerning scriptural texts. I do not doubt the existence of private revelation.

                  Describe to me your experience of having the canonical or noncanonical nature of texts revealed to you.

                  • Comment by John Hutchins:

                    I always get nervous sharing such things online as my experience has been that such is nearly universally mocked regardless of the audience. Just me saying that I have received a testimony by the power of the Holy Ghost is enough to get both you to mock me and someone that I am quite willing to admit has had his own experiences to likewise criticize and mildly mock me.

                    This is my experience, it is no one else’s, I know what I know, have felt what I have felt, heard what I have heard, and know that what I have felt was the Spirit of God, regardless of what you or anyone else that I am well aware are likely to mock me may say.

                    In terms of the scriptures it is just as Moroni says, I read the scriptures or purported scriptures, I consider what they are saying and what it means, often during even the reading the Spirit testifies what of it is true by way of a still small voice and the feeling of peace and a gentle warm burning within. Even still after reading I think on what I have read and then pray, in the form of actually talking to God and asking Him, to know the nature of what I have read. Then if it is right the Holy Ghost says so, if it is not right then a feeling of wrongness comes. That is the best I can do to describe it.

                    • Comment by Sylvie D. Rousseau:

                      I have no intention to mock the experience you described. I just want to warn you that it is completely subjective, so you have no way to know if what you think you are revealed is true. There is most often no difference in subjective feelings between authentic and false revelations, simple insights, correct or not, or mild delusions. The difference is only in the objective contents and the objective personality of the mystic, which is to be judged by the competent authority. Such authority is unfortunately absent anywhere outside the Apostolic Succession.

                      You told me once that I wouldn’t accept the unexpected if it was put before me. You were far from the truth, but I have an experience to suggest to you. Enter a catholic church and sit before the tabernacle. If the Holy Eucharist is kept in there, it is signaled with a single red lamp lit near or above the tabernacle. Bring with you your scriptures and a Catholic Bible (containing all books). Pray, open the books alternatively, read a few passages and see what comes to your mind. At worst, nothing will happen and you will have wasted an hour, though an hour of prayer is never wasted, wherever you are, but you might be surprised.

                    • Comment by John Hutchins:

                      I own a Catholic Bible in Portuguese, I have sat in a Catholic Church before, and attended mass, and prayed, and read scriptures there, quite a few times actually.

                    • Comment by Sylvie D. Rousseau:

                      But why? And in what spirit? Was it a sincere attempt to try to understand the Catholic faith? Or was it to gather material to attack and try to debunk the Church for would-be Mormon converts? (It is no sarcasm, it is just a question: I would really like to know.)

                    • Comment by John Hutchins:

                      “But why?”
                      twice for weddings, once for a baptism of a baby, 8+ times because an old lady in Brazil asked us to (we were trying to get her permission to baptize her custodial granddaughter (she had an adult daughter that was already a member and not active both in terms of not attending and not practicing so her reluctance was understandable)).

                      The Catholic Bible I picked up because the previous owner had joined some evangelical group that taught that all sacred texts that wasn’t their version of the Bible should be burned, naturally they charged me $100 US for something that was otherwise going up in flames. I am of the opinion that sacred books should not be burned regardless and I had been wanting to read the Apocrypha for some time, it isn’t included in our scriptures but it is considered mostly scriptural in nature.

                      “And in what spirit?”

                      The weddings and baptism should be self explanatory.

                      I always seek to understand what others believe. I also am of the opinion that I shouldn’t be asking someone to do something that I wouldn’t do in reverse and if I am not willing to do it then I should have a good reason to explain why not (killing a chicken to a statue of Mary for an Afro-Brazil religion is, for instance, something that is not morally equivalent to reading a book or going to a meeting for a few hours). So when I was likewise invited to Jehovah’s Witness meetings, Seventh Day Adventist, Igreja Universal do Reino de Deus (think megachurch designed with the sole purpose of making money, including openly selling indulgences as Protestants think they were sold, but still claiming authority from Luther and you begin to get the idea), and a variety of other churches I would go with the understanding that they would likewise visit my church, I would also read nearly anything provided with the understanding they would read the Book of Mormon. Learning what others believe is always interesting, but not very helpful in talking with those that claim to be of a faith for most faiths as most members of whatever faith it is seem to have no idea what their church actually believes or teaches.

                      The purpose is not to gather material to share with those I was teaching (I am not an ordained missionary anymore, ergo I don’t teach people, just argue with them on blogs which is probably counter productive towards teaching). As a missionary I didn’t really debate religion with people that I was teaching, just occasionally pastors or the like for fun. Attacking other religions or debunking them is not the way missionaries are supposed to work, and wasn’t the way I worked.

                    • Comment by Sylvie D. Rousseau:

                      Well then, it was mostly social circumstances and it seems you never attempted something like what I suggested, so, if you are interested, you might try it.

              • Comment by docrampage:

                the books you consider scripture were presented to you by the Catholic Church, so in appealing to scripture, you appeal to the authority of the Catholic Church which defined the scriptural canon

                The second clause does not follow from the first. The first person who told me that that imaginary numbers exist was a high school friend with an interest in mathematics. I didn’t believe him because I didn’t respect his authority. Then I learned about imaginary numbers from a genuine authority. Your reasoning would suggest that the authority that I rely on for my belief in imaginary numbers must be my high school friend because he was the one who told me about them.

                But what if some Protestants do accept the canon in part because of the authority of the Catholic Church? How does accepting the authority of one decision of members of the Catholic Church obligate them to accept everything that the Catholic Church says? In fact, Protestants reject the Apocrypha, so even in the choice of scripture they don’t fully accept the authority of the Catholic Church. There is nothing odd about this. I accepted the authority of my mother when she said that I shouldn’t hit girls. I didn’t accept her authority when she said I shouldn’t buy a motorcycle. This is the norm rather than the exception in relationships where one party has authority over another.

            • Comment by Darrell:

              Doctor Rampage

              I hesitate to speak towards the Roman Catholic view on this matter but for Orthodox Christians men cannot use reason to arrive at dogma. Dogma is revealed truth defined by the Church in an Ecumenical Council — in other words, the bishops of the Church come together in a general synod and in their position as the protectors and teachers of Holy Tradition set boundaries of theologoumenon and these collegiate decisions are protected from error by the Holy Spirit.

              An Ecumenical Council requires bishops whose authority flows from Jesus Christ through apostolic succession. Without apostolic succession you can’t have bishops and therefore can’t have Ecumenical Councils.

              I have simplified this a bit for purposes of clarity. Please be aware that I am not trying to convert you, but am just trying to present the Orthodox Christian understanding of these matters in a way that is hopefully intelligible.

        • Comment by John C Wright:

          Please reread what I wrote. I answered your question very thoroughly and entirely three times. I answered both what the source of the authority of the Church to be, and what reasoning led me to accept that their claim of authority is better than your claim.

          The statement that whatever “method” is used by the Catholic Church to be the one true holy and apostolic church can be used by Protestants is not true, because they do not claim to be the one true holy and apostolic church.

          Your claim to truth, which depends on our claim to truth, cannot be more true than our claim.

          YOU broke away from US. WE did not break away from YOU. What is false in your doctrines was invented by you and what is true in your doctrines you retained from us and derive from us and from nowhere else.

          I will answer yet a fourth time this same question:

          The “method” is that Christ breathed out the Holy Spirit on the fathers and founder of our Church and the Holy Spirit descended at Pentecost, and that the Apostles baptized and appointed laymen and bishops into forming the mystical body of Christ call the Church.

          A logical crucial and central part of that body, and unique to her, is the need for an agreement on matters of faith and morals and doctrine. When from time to time some heretic arises, in love with his own imaginations, and thinks he can simplify or clarify or correct the teachings of the Church, or some false prophet claims to have had a vision in a cave, the first thing they do is accuse the Church of all fashion of accusations, as you have done, showing, as you have done, not to understand what the Church teaches even so much as to accuse her. Then they go off with some like minded fellows, and claim to start their own private church, but without their own private Pentecost or Apostles or Apostolic Succession. Usually they make the claim to be returning to an original version of the Church as she existed in the Apostolic Age or the Patristic Age, but their knowledge of these ages and what Christians did in them is limited to what we Catholics have maintained as written records.

          You claim that whatever means the Church uses to be one, true, holy and apostolic can be used by anyone else is the same as saying whatever method my daughter uses to make the claim that she is my daughter can be used by my pet rabbit to claim it is my daughter. Unless the rabbit descends from me, or is adopted legally by me, it is not in any sense my daughter. There is no “method” involved.

        • Comment by joeclark77:

          You’re trying to get very “meta”. John gives plenty of good reasons to believe in the Church’s authority, so you’re trying to back up to one level of pointless abstraction: John believes that “human reason” is the authority which points to all of these good reasons. If John conceded that point, you’d probably want to back it up one more step to: John believes “John’s eyes and ears” are the authority which point to facts upon which “human reason” can authoritatively work out the reasons he has already given.

          Maybe what you’re missing is that “human reason” is not an authority, it is a method that points to truth. “Truth” is the authority. What I mean is, “human reason” does not give authority to Catholics and Protestants both to be correct (which seems to be your claim). Only the side that is correct (which might be neither), can speak “authoritatively”. So the authority for John’s claim is that he has demonstrated a preponderance of evidence that “truth” is the authority for believing that the Church has authority. And if that seems too silly and “meta”, well, ask a silly question, get a silly answer.

          • Comment by docrampage:

            John believes that “human reason” is the authority which points to all of these good reasons. If John conceded that point, you’d probably want to back it up one more step to: John believes “John’s eyes and ears” are the authority which point to facts upon which “human reason” can authoritatively work out the reasons he has already given.

            No I wouldn’t, because once he concedes that he relied on human reason to accept the authority of the Catholic Church then his argument against Protestant epistemology is lost. I’m not getting into this just to be profound and metacircular. There is a point to the question.

            • Comment by joeclark77:

              The Protestants can be using “reason” but they can’t be RIGHT if John is right. Calling “reason” an epistemology is hardly informative. You have to look at what they’re reasoning about.

            • Comment by Jeremiah Hahn:

              hi. Im a long-time reader, Catholic, commenting for the first time. *cracks knuckles* Let’s get to it.
              This post and the ensuing comments reminded me of an article I read from a coop blog operated by converts to the Church from a Reformed, Presbyterian background. One guy decided to tackle this issue of epistemology and certainty.
              Here’s the link:
              http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2012/06/the-catholic-and-protestant-authority-paradigms-compared/
              Im now gonna quote what I find to be the best, most relevant passages from the article to the issue at hand.
              (As background, this article is a response to a Reformed writer. Also, the first block quote is the Catholic writer quoting a fellow Catholic’s response to the Presbyterian.)

              “. . . Horton [the Reformed writer] conflates the role…of human reason in coming to faith, and the role…of human reason after discovering divine authority. His claim presumes that because we must rely on human reason in coming to faith, therefore human reason must remain the ultimate arbiter once we are in a state of faith. But surely he himself does not believe that. He knows that even if one must use human reason in coming to believe that the Bible is God’s word, that does not entail that human reason must remain the authority to which Scripture is subject. Of course Horton doesn’t believe that. So likewise, the fact that the use of human reason and private judgment are necessary in order to come to discover the divine authority of the magisterium of the Church Christ founded, it does not follow that human reason must remain the ultimate arbiter standing in judgment over magisterial teachings on the basis of one’s own interpretation of Scripture.” (emphasis mine)

              [The Catholic blogger finishes quoting his friend and then pursues his own line of thought]

              …let us explore the Catholic and Protestant authority paradigms…. Jesus Christ ascended to heaven and is no longer among us in the same way as He was in first century Palestine. So in what way – from a communicative point of view – is He still with us? The Catholic paradigm claims that by leaving us with a…personal, communicative authority that can speak repeatedly and definitively in His name, we therefore, still have a means of reaching clarity and certainty regarding the orthodox understanding of revealed data, not entirely unlike if Christ were still personally walking among us. Hence, Christians can repeatedly ask clarifying questions and arrive at doctrinal clarity and certainty over time…

              The Protestant paradigm, on the other hand, insists that the sole remaining divine communicative authority after the ascension of Christ and the death of the last apostle is a book. However, a book cannot answer for itself; it cannot respond to second, third, fourth order questions, and so on. No doubt there are sections of Scripture (“Thou shall not kill”) that are already so precise that no second order questions are necessary, because the compact quality and clarity of such passages fall easily within the competence of human reason to understand without error….

              But given the diversity of authors, genres…from which…the various books…are derived, it is no surprise that other questions…simply evade the possibility of understanding in the absence of some means of asking clarifying questions and receiving some definitive answer. This is the only reasonable explanation of the widespread disagreement among Christians who do not follow the magisterium but instead rely on Scripture alone. It is implausible…to assume that all who disagree with one’s own interpretation of Scripture are…not intelligent enough to understand what is plain in Scripture…The bible is no systematic theology text.
              …[The author then provides an example]
              As anyone who has engaged in high-level Protestant – Catholic debates about the correct Pauline understanding of justification knows, it is a theological matter which simply begs for answers to second, third, and fourth order clarifying questions. The hard truth is that scripture is only partially perspicuous and that perspicuity – quite frankly – does not cover all the essential doctrines of salvation.

              [I know this is a terribly long comment. Sorry. It comes from a very long article.
              I've not yet read the comments on the above article so I don't know how it all went down for the Catholic writer. That being said, I hope this gives a possible explanation for why Catholics find that Protestant claims to epistemological certainty equal to Catholic claims are unfounded.]

  7. Comment by John Hutchins:

    The Catholic/Orthodox/Coptic/… claim to authority would be a lot more convincing and the problem of not being able to point to early century writings, scriptures, or sects a lot more problematic if those early centuries didn’t look as though MiniTrue hadn’t gone over those centuries. I know of lots of writers, sects, and scriptures that disagree with the Catholic position, I just don’t know what the writers actually wrote, the sects said of themselves that they believed, or the lost scriptures actually said. If any Catholic says that we know what the writers wrote or the sects believed based on the Catholic writings that let us know that they wrote then I will go find the most anti-Catholic site on the internet and take what they say about the Catholics as being the gospel truth, not really but that should make the point.

    • Comment by Mary:

      Your logic is circular. You claim that things are censored because they do not show what you want.

      I add that nothing in the first centuries even looks like a straw man inspired by Mormonism. A caricature of democracy is not likely to be taken for one of absolute monarchy.

    • Comment by Sylvie D. Rousseau:

      MiniTrue did go over the past centuries. The Reformers and founders of your sects and their atheist heirs, the “Enlightened,” thoroughly rearranged history to support their pretensions. Of course, it looks the other way round for you.

      • Comment by John Hutchins:

        I was referring to the long time period in the early centuries where there are almost no records, to the fact that the letters of polycarp have multiple versions, that the Bible has places where we now know for a fact that monks edited it to say what they thought it should say, that there are scriptures that are referenced both in the Bible and in later writings that have disappeared, or are very obviously corrupted, that though there are hundreds of sects mentioned and many writers of those sects we know almost nothing of what those sects thought of themselves and usually all we know is the standard obvious propaganda, obvious because it is equally true of the Catholic writings using it and that it is used against nearly everyone.

        That is what I mean by minitrue having gone over history, the claim was made that there aren’t early writers that denounce or hold certain doctrines, possibly that was true but possibly not, we don’t know because we don’t have the records. All we have are whatever the Catholic church deemed fit to preserve and even that appears to have been edited as well.

        If it is circular then the negation of the same is circular as well and Catholics therefore are holding it as an untested axiom.

    • Comment by Darrell:

      What counter is there to the conspiracy view of history?

      • Comment by John Hutchins:

        Conspiracy? When Early Church Fathers and writers speak of writers, sect, scriptures that we do not have then saying that history supports the Catholic claim means nothing more then that the history that was preserved supports the Catholic claim.

        • Comment by Mary:

          As if they just mention them!

          In fact, they argue with them. You can deduce a great deal about them from the arguments used against them.

          • Comment by The OFloinn:

            Mr. Hutchins is unaccustomed to the dialectic, used by ancient Greek writers and their Latin successors. It required accurately laying out the best arguments against a position before arguing in favor of it; and vice versa. He also seems to think some human organization in the Long Ago had the actual physical prowess to track down and destroy all undesirable documents. Strangely, when original documents are discovered, we learn that the Justins and Iranaeuses who argued against them cited their teachings with exquisite accuracy. Like the “Gospel of Judas,” played up with such fanfare a few years ago as a new discovery, but actually known for 1800 years.

            Far easier it is to dismiss all of history as being Intelligently Designed by some malign Demiurge who has arranged all the evidences to effect, gulling all people save the Gnostic Few, who are (somehow) immune to this doctoring of the past. And then say that this is not a conspiratorial mindset.

        • Comment by The OFloinn:

          And the Orthodox. Don’t forget the Orthodox. Sorta runs against the Whore of Babylon thingie, but surely tis a mystery how these nefarious Vatican operatives managed to lay out the Orthodox beliefs, too.

          And too the Coptic and Assyrian churches. By comparing the beliefs and practices of the Catholic, Orthodox, Oriental, and Ancient Church of the East, we can discover their “Most Recent Common Ancestor,” if you like. Or the Common Denominator, to put it arithmetically. Perhaps Antioch and Alexandria were in collusion with Rome and Constantinople in culling all history contrary to their Common Beliefs while agreeing to maintain those documents peculiar to their own histories. Like the same Dioscurus anathematized by the Orthodox being cited in the Canon of the Coptic Mass.

          • Comment by John Hutchins:

            Original post mentioned all those sects which were at the time of Constantine a single sect, Catholic, which was very interested in and had the state power to exert the same and more persecution that had previously been leveled against Christians in general against those that disagreed with their version of history. Of course they were only doing so out of “love”…

            • Comment by Darrell:

              Mr. Hutchins

              For purposes of clarity, the Church in the time of Constantine was not a sect. It might just be the sociologist in me but you are using terrminology incorrectly here. For a brief overview please see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Church-sect_typology#The_church-sect_typology.

            • Comment by The OFloinn:

              Orthodox. You keep losing sight of the Orthodox church. The only body with the state power was (wait for it) the State. Roman emperors did not stop being Roman emperors just because some of them got sprinkled. There was no persecution under Constantine. His successors went over to the Arian heresy (despite the anathemas of Nicaea) and persecuted the Orthodox catholic church. The last of the Constantinids, Julian, reverted to paganism and persecuted the Orthodox and Arians alike. Since at the time Julian got skewered by the Persians in 363 Arianism had been condemned by ecumenical council for thirty-eight years and was not only still going strong but was the favored heresy of the imperial family, it is unclear what magical power of suppression you imagine the Roman patriarch wielding from the far-off West. The same may be said of the Nestorian and Monophysite heresies. Both are still in business today as the Coptic (Oriental Orthodox) and Ancient Church of the East. Some suppression. In 457, we read that Proterius was dragged from the baptistery of the episcopal residence and cruelly butchered. “They then drew forth his body, covered with wounds, and having dragged it in horrid procession with unfeeling mockery through almost every part of the city, ruthlessly loaded the senseless corpse with indignity, so far as to tear it limb from limb, and not even abstain from tasting, like beasts of prey, the flesh of him whom but just before they were supposed to have as a mediator between God and man. They then committed what remained of the body to the flames, and scattered the ashes to the winds, exceeding the utmost ferocity of wild beasts.” Which really does sound sorta persecutionish; except that it was a heretical mob killing the Orthodox bishop.

              The Novatians and Donatists, though they were at first schismatic and not heretical, lasted for generations without a hint of suppression via the State power. Nor was State power deployed against the Valentinians, the Macedonians, and other heresies.

              It would be really helpful if you could specify when and where and against whom these persecutions were levied. Please cite the primary source which mentions them.

              • Comment by John Hutchins:

                Augustine was saying they were persecuting the Donatists out of love. I am done with this conversation as it sickens me what you are, I presume, knowingly trying to defend.

                • Comment by The OFloinn:

                  The Donatists held that anyone who had weakened during the Great Persecution and relapsed to paganism could never possibly be re-admitted to the Church. The Orthodox Christians responded that out of love, such persons could be re-admitted. Again, it would be useful to point to actual instances. Where did Augustine say these things, and what did the Latin terms actually mean in context?

                  I am sorry if I have sickened you. I never thought that historical precision was sick-making, but YMMV. We treasure our myths.

                  • Comment by John Hutchins:

                    Perhaps you do not understand what you have been saying in these comments and in the previous thread.

                    What is preventing you from putting me to torture? I am a heretic, I preach and practice my heresy, or only very slightly better I might be considered a practicing pagan? What stops you from desecrating, looting, and burning the temples of my church? From hiring military units to slaughter my people, or from participating in a crusade against my people? What stops you from following the advice and decrees given and using my sacred texts as kindling for my and my family including my little children pyre? From throwing me to the lions? Further more why should I believe a single word of your explanation of why you are not doing these things? You are authorized to lie, make false solemn and sacred promises, violate laws, and do all else that you deem necessary to get into a position to so try and exterminate me, my family, and my religion.

                    Now do you understand what you are trying to defend? Now do you see what it seems like to me?

                    • Comment by The OFloinn:

                      You are authorized to lie, make false solemn and sacred promises, violate laws, and do all else that you deem necessary to get into a position to so try and exterminate me, my family, and my religion.

                      What color is the sky on your planet?

                      I don’t even ambush and loot wagon trains.

                      Consider the following imaginary conversation:

                      Charlie: Jury trials are tools of oppression that send innocent people to death!
                      Debbie: Well, no. Actually they aren’t.
                      Charlie: So! You are making excuses for Southern juries railroading black defendants!
                      Debbie: But that was not the overall thrust of trial-by-jury. Even though it was sometimes misused, that’s not how it operated in most times and places. It often saved black men from lynching, especially when the Federal authorities intervened with local excesses.
                      Charlie: You sicken me!

                      Late moderns confuse heresy with personal whimsy and do not realize that in certain times and places it was consonant with rebellion and civil disturbance. If your religion were coupled with treason against the United States of America, declaring some sort of “Kingdom of Deseret,” reducing gentiles within reach to dhimmitude, and corralling all the wimmin for your patriarchs, then the Civil State may be justified in taking action against you. At that point, you see, it’s not a simple difference of opinion on the role of women and blacks, but a profound civil disturbance. Think of modern heretics like the various right-wing militia movements, the Branch Davidians, the West Philadelphia MOVE compound, et al.

                      You have not explained how a feudal society can tolerate a movement that holds solemn oaths to be non-binding.

                      How far have you gotten into the two books I recommended?

                    • Comment by Darrell:

                      I’m not Roman Catholic but I am curious as to what authorization you refer to that they have which permits them to lie, make false solemn and sacred promises, violate laws, and do whatever they feel necessary to exterminate Mormons.

                    • Comment by John Hutchins:

                      In general the Catholics were not supposed to lie in order to establish that someone was a heretic, though such practices were used at times.

                      However, once it was established that a group or a person was heretical then in some documents it was deemed okay to give them false assurances of nearly any sort to bring them to torture and confession. It was possible to think that one was going to negotiate with the Catholics, and them have them kill the negotiating party, storm the town while the defenders still thought that negotiations were happening and have 20,000+ slaughtered man, women, child, and this deemed an acceptable thing.

                      Mormonism has been deemed heretical by the Catholics.

                      Joining a Monastery also got one out of certain vows.

                      You will have to tell me which two books you are referring to, I can think of a few I have finished that you have recommended but I don’t know to which you are referring to.

                    • Comment by Darrell:

                      Mr. Hutchins

                      I apologize for the vagueness of my request. I was hoping for something specific that you could direct me towards. When you write that in some documents it was deemed okay to give heretics false assurances of almost any sort and then follow up with an example of an unnamed mass slaughter you give at one and the same time a sense of both vagueness (implying that there is a general Roman Catholic policy) and specifity (that you have a specific atrocity in mind) that I would like to plum.

                      There is clearly a history of discord between churches within the Roman Catholic Communion and those in the Orthodox Christian Communion with stories of theft, murder, and general calumny in not uncommon circulation. On the whole I’ve found upon investigation that the record for both sides is much more subtle and complex than the stories might seem on first blush — the matter of the Filioque being an example of this, though I think that my friends among the Roman Catholics misunderstand the broader point of Orthodox Christians — and yet you seem to consistently use what appears to me a very broad brush when discussing historical matters especially as they relate to the Roman Catholic Church. I’ve read your point of view long enough to witness your becoming frustrated when someone glosses over or otherwise does not appreciate some point of Mormon theology or LDS history but it seems to me that you don’t display the same level of sensitivity when discussing the matter of Roman Catholics.

                      If your intent is to inform people of the abuses of Roman Catholics or the Roman Catholic Church then it would seem that you would revel in the specific and engage those you debate with documented examples. Perhaps differently than the LDS, neither Orthodox Christians nor Roman Catholics believe (or teach) that their hierarchy is morally perfect or that actions that those in the hierarchy take are always, or even usually, unusually holy. The claim that is made is that the dogma of the Church is true and unchanging. On this point I believe that the Roman Catholic Church has fallen into error and dogmatized theological speculation — and done so in an incorrect manner which allowed for the error — but that in no way means that they are a satanic church who as an organization have acted as an Orwellian Ministry of Truth or that they are are waiting for a turn of the tide to slaughter heretics.

                    • Comment by John Hutchins:

                      If one accepts someone believing something different from you as a crime it isn’t.

                      It was during a crusade against heretics, instituted by the Pope.

                      Local libraries don’t have those and they aren’t online, I would have to buy them if I wanted to read them. My comments though had little to do with the inquisition as I have read very little about the inquisition.

                    • Comment by The Ubiquitous:

                      Who hired military units to slaughter your people?

                    • Comment by The OFloinn:

                      It is a modern category of thought to suppose that the only thing involved in the old heresies was a simple difference of opinion. The greatest objection to this weak image would have come from the old heretics themselves, who did not shrink from murder, riot, and sedition in their cause. When the Arians had an imperial sponsor in the form of Constantine’s children, they did not hesitate to drive the Orthodox bishops into exile. The Monophysites murdered the Orthodox patriarch Proterius and dragged him through the streets of Alexandria until his body came apart, and then burned the body and scattered the ashes, lest anyone gather a relic and build a church above it. The Cathars, as mentioned, were under the patronage of Count Raymond of Toulouse, and had burned churches and assassinated the papal legate sent to negotiate with Count Raymond. When Martin Luther denounced “the murdering thieving horde of peasants” and gave his ducal master the green light to wipe out the Anabaptists, it was largely because that group of Anabaptists were a “murdering thieving horde of peasants.” The Nauvoo Legion of the Mormon theocracy wiped out a wagon train of well-to-do emigrants — 120 men, women, and children — by first using the ruse of Indian disguise and then, fearing that they had been seen as white men, sending in negotiators who deceitfully assured the Arkansans of safe conduct. Only children under seven were spared, as they were regarded as too young to identify the perps. So it’s not as if they were all hippie flower children. It was a more muscular age, for better and for worse.

                    • Comment by John Hutchins:

                      ” The Nauvoo Legion of the Mormon theocracy wiped out a wagon train of well-to-do emigrants — 120 men, women, and children — by first using the ruse of Indian disguise and then, fearing that they had been seen as white men, sending in negotiators who deceitfully assured the Arkansans of safe conduct. Only children under seven were spared, as they were regarded as too young to identify the perps. So it’s not as if they were all hippie flower children. It was a more muscular age, for better and for worse.”

                      I ignored the previous such statements by you as I assumed you were just trying to get me riled up, however this is false and you should know it and if you don’t know it then you have impeached every single other thing you have said in regards to heretics or history in my eyes. You will get better information off of Wikipedia then whatever source you are currently using in regards to history: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mountain_Meadows_massacre.

                      In short the party went into a war zone, reportedly bragged about misdeeds that they couldn’t have done as they were from Arkansas not Missouri, and either poisoned a spring or had the misfortune of having it appear as though they had poisoned a spring with dead cattle and people resulting. The locals then overreacted calling up the Territorial Militia, sending a messenger to the territorial governor, being Brigham Young, who warned them to leave the party alone, though the return message either arrived two days too late or was ignored by the local leaders, who then lied about what happened both to Brigham Young during his investigation and during the subsequent Federal investigations.

                      The local leaders were excommunicated as a result of their actions, one executed, others ran; Some left the church before they could be excommunicated. The LDS Church has condemned the massacre ever since church leadership learned what the local leaders had done.

                      This is completely different from the massacre being ordered by the heads of the church or during the highest councils of the church and the result being praised, as has happened with your church more than once.

                    • Comment by The OFloinn:

                      You will get better information off of Wikipedia then whatever source you are currently using

                      Oddly enough, my information came from that self-same Wikipedia entry! Except you left out the part where Major Carlton “also included a statement [in his report] from an investigator who did not believe the Fancher party was capable of poisoning the spring, given its size. Carleton asked readers to consider a potential explanation for these stories, noting the general atmosphere of distrust for strangers at the time, and that some locals appeared jealous of the Fancher party’s wealth.” Well-poisoning was an old technique to whip up a frenzy against the Other. If rumors of well-poisoning are sufficient to justify the deed in this case, why not also the hysterical rumors during the Black Death that the Jews had poisoned the wells in Zurich and Strassburg? If the blame can be foisted on overzealous local Mormon leaders in this case, why not on overzealous local Catholic or Cathar leaders in another? The Wikipedia entry states: “Today historians attribute the massacre to a combination of factors including both war hysteria and strident Mormon teachings. Scholars still debate whether senior Mormon leadership, including Brigham Young, directly instigated the massacre or if responsibility lies with the local leaders of southern Utah.”

                      The Arkansan emigrants took the route they did because Mormon leaders in Salt Lake City recommended it. This can certainly look to outsiders like entrapment. If they were going through a war zone, it was because the Mormons of Deseret were in rebellion against the lawful government of the United States. Peculiar as regards most “war zones” there were no casualties except to non-Mormons, although Army supplies were pilfered or destroyed.

                      The upshot is this:
                      You can now see how easy it is to hype or exaggerate certain events and make them out as more than they were; and how easily defense of the whole can be construed as excusing atrocities.
                      + + +

                      This is completely different from the massacre being ordered by the heads of the church or during the highest councils of the church and the result being praised, as has happened with your church more than once.

                      Just one specific example would help your case.

                    • Comment by John Hutchins:

                      Even if they really did poison the well and had actually done all that was claimed of them and that they reportedly claimed to have done in Missouri it still would not have justified in the slightest what was done to them. The only thing I was trying to justify was that there is no evidence, nor has there ever been evidence that Church leadership was responsible in any direct way for what happened. All verified documents from the time period show that to be true, there was a forgery that said otherwise but it has been shown to be a forgery for quite some time now.

                      You may wish to read the Fourth Lateran Council.

                  • Comment by The OFloinn:

                    in some documents it was deemed okay to give them false assurances of nearly any sort

                    How is this different from usual police interrogation methods?

                    It was possible to think that one was going to negotiate with the Catholics, and them have them kill the negotiating party, storm the town while the defenders still thought that negotiations were happening and have 20,000+ slaughtered man, women, child, and this deemed an acceptable thing.

                    What town and when? What you describe sounds like something committed during a war, like the firebombing of Dresden or the nuclear incineration of Nagasaki. War is hell, as you may have heard. In any case, the capacity of men for self-deception is broad indeed.

                    Mormonism has been deemed heretical by the Catholics.

                    To be heretical, it must first of all be Christian. That is, inter alia, one must believe that revelation ceased with the Son of God. That is why Islam is technically not a heresy, even though it could be viewed in that way. Likewise Gnosticism, with its “hidden texts” suddenly “found.” (There were Jewish gnostics and pagan gnostics as well as Christian ones.)

                    Joining a Monastery also got one out of certain vows.

                    Which vows, and when? I know there were women who escaped abusive husbands by entering a convent, and so were exempt from their marriage vows. The same applies to Sts. Henry and Kunigunda, the Kaiser and Kaiserin, who abdicated late in life to enter a monastery and convent, resp.

                    You will have to tell me which two books you are referring to

                    Edward Peters, Inquisition
                    Henry Kamen, The Spanish Inquisition

        • Comment by Darrell:

          This comment does not support your initial comment regarding Orwell’s Ministry of Truth.

          Perhaps you did not develop your argument to the extent that you initially intended?

          • Comment by John Hutchins:

            I certainly didn’t fully explain myself in the original comment. I wrote it right as I was heading to work when, given the nature of what I was saying, it probably would have been better to hold onto it until I had more time to finish it.

    • Comment by DGDDavidson:

      Mr. Hutchins, considering your intellectual vigor, which I can only envy, I expect better than this from you. You did not find the Mormonism you want in the early centuries of the Church, and so your answer is that a vasty conspiracy removed the things you would like to have found? That is pathetic. That is unworthy of you.

      • Comment by John Hutchins:

        No, that isn’t what I am pointing out at all. To me I see plenty of evidence of early Mormonism, but that isn’t even what I am speaking of. All the Church Fathers reference writers that are opposed to them usually in caricature, many speak of scripture we don’t have, all speak of sects that we know almost nothing of.

        Saying that the history supports the Catholics is only saying that the history that has been preserved supports the Catholics, were we to have the writers that the Cathars (either sect of them) had, for instance, then history might say something different (like the Cathars are right, probably), similar with any other sect from the first centuries. Like in the Nag Hammadi find there is a document that claims that St. Paul was apostate and excommunicated under the authority of James, not something we have in the history that was preserved by those that follow St. Paul.

        How much of the loss of such things is intentional? Quite a lot actually, with recorded orders to destroy such writers and scriptures. How much of the loss is unintentional? Probably even more.

        • Comment by Sylvie D. Rousseau:

          You learned your lesson well from MiniTrue.
          I don’t know about circular, but your arguments are certainly misled, misinformed and just plain false for the most part, in addition to being very offensive to a Church to which you should be eternally grateful to have kept all these ancient texts in remarkable shape.

          The fact that there are multiple versions of Polycarp letters (as well as multiple versions of many other texts) is in itself a confirmation of the importance of their contents, and the reverence in which they were held. I doubt very much that the people who copied them would have allowed themselves to make changes and that most differences are logically explainable by inadvertence, the length of time and the number of copies made. Besides, the differences are not so wide as you pretend and do not make them suspicious. It would be much more suspicious if we had only one version of each of these writings, as is the case for your scriptures, for example.

          • Comment by John Hutchins:

            There is, for example, the comma johanneum which many believe the monks added in, first as a gloss and then into the actual text, because they thought that is what John should have written or meant to write.

            There is only one version of the Book of Mormon because it was written on golden plates and hidden in the earth by the last prophet that wrote in it. There is likewise only one existing text of some of the texts that have been found in Egypt and Israel because they were likewise, either intentionally or not, hidden and preserved. I firmly believe based on the scriptures that I have that even more such writings will come to light in the future.

            • Comment by John C Wright:

              Oddly enough, I was just reading an article on that which I would like to share with you. It turns out that the Johannine Comma argument only holds water if you look at manuscripts from the Arian centuries in Greece, and at that, only look at Greek Manuscripts. Turns out that Earlier writers made references to it, and that there is an error in the otherwise perfect Greek grammar of John in the book if the comma is left out.
              http://www.studytoanswer.net/bibleversions/1john5n7.html

              • Comment by John Hutchins:

                Interesting, I wasn’t aware that there was anyone that was still defending the comma, as wikipedia says, and I have seen, there are Catholic bibles produced that do not include the comma so I was under the impression that even among Catholics the debate had been settled against it. see : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comma_Johanneum

                And wikipedia references the Catholic Encyclopedia on the matter:

                http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08435a.htm

                The thesis they present certainly makes sense from the point of view of trinitarianism being correct, Wikipedia provides a ton of references that appear to disagree with regards to pretty much everything though. In light of the presenting of a counter argument I retract the example of the comma Johanneum as I thought it had been completely settled against it.

      • Comment by docrampage:

        Before the printing press, documents were only copied if someone valued them enough to expend the non-trivial resources to copy them. So once you have killed and driven out every one that values a particular view, it is just a lot less likely that anyone will ever copy documents related to that view, even if you don’t deliberately try to suppress them. No conspiracy required.

        Also, documents written by men in the center of a wealthy empire would be more likely to be copied (and thereby preserved) than documents written my men in a poor outlying area just because there were more resources to spend on copying documents.

        These and similar factors always lead to a lot of missing players in ancient history, even if there were no focused conspiracy dedicated to stamping out anything. There are many ancient writers that we only know about because they are mentioned by someone else. There must be many that we don’t know about at all, not only in the Catholic era, but throughout the ancient world before the printing press.

        The by now predictable Catholic talk of conspiracies is a classical straw-man argument. One makes the unremarkable point that Catholics can’t really say that such-and-such was never debated in the second century because our records of the time are so incomplete, and the Catholics all pretend that what you really said is that you believe in a vast centuries-long conspiracy dedicated to stamping out all evidence of dispute. This then lets them ignore your point and continue to make their very weakly supported statements about what didn’t happen with their usual unjustified certainty.

        And as far as that goes, even the contemptuous assumption that there could have been no such conspiracy is unjustified. One doesn’t need to appeal to such a conspiracy to make the point of holes in history, but Catholic history suggests that at times they would have been happy and eager to burn books that they considered harmful. They even would have the scriptural example of the book burning at Ephesus to justify it.

        So not only is it a straw-man argument, it is an unsuccessful one, because they straw man that they raise turns out not to be so easy to knock down.

        • Comment by DGDDavidson:

          If there is no evidence that a certain debate took place, I am content to say simply that you are making it up, rather than accuse you of a conspiracy theory. Your “evidence” that the early Christians were Protestant-like is that you wish them to be so, and all evidence that they were so has disappeared, but it was really there anyway at one time. Our reply is that you have no evidence, but simply made it up, and that your claim can be dismissed.

          Whose position is stronger in this case?

          It was Mr. Hutchins’s “MiniTrue” comment that invited the conspiracy-theory criticism.

          • Comment by John Hutchins:

            It is completely my fault that conspiracy theories got brought into it; largely because according to my scriptures the devil did conspire to alter and remove the plain and precious truths from the world.

          • Comment by docrampage:

            Your “evidence” that the early Christians were Protestant-like is that you wish them to be so, and all evidence that they were so has disappeared, but it was really there anyway at one time.

            This is getting tiresome. Are you really going to pretend that our extensive discussion about the New Testament never happened or that I had absolutely no argument whatsoever behind my views?

            There is a reason that modern Protestants are more like New Testament Christians than Catholics are, and that is because Protestants study the New Testament to try to become more like New Testament Christians. We are never satisfied because we know how imperfect we are so we are constantly struggling to improve. Catholics, believing that their Church is already perfect never work to try to improve it.

            A lot of Catholics act like Protestant doctrines are just random, unmotivated inventions that Protestants then have to scramble to find post hoc justifications for but the truth is that almost every change in Protestant doctrine was done after long study of scripture and long debate by extremely experienced and knowledgeable scholars, many of whom read Greek and Hebrew, followed by a solemn and weighty decision. You think it was easy to give up the Catholic Mary who had comforted them since childhood? You think that when they gave up the Real Presence that they did so lightly? You think they just got around in a drunken party and one guy says, “You know what bugs me? This confessing to priests. That’s a drag man. Let’s drop that part.” and then they tossed bottle caps to see if the proposal carried?

            No, changing doctrines that you have held from youth is hard and not a little frightening. What if you are wrong? What if you are going to hell because of your pride and ignorance? You think Protestants didn’t think about those things? Only the unwavering conviction that the Catholic doctrines were outside of God’s will would be a strong enough motivation to do such a thing.

            You can say that these decision were wrong, but to say that they had no reasoning behind them is just the height of utter arrogance and ignorance.

            • Comment by Mary:

              Your habit of claiming that the evidence is there when it’s not is even more tiresome for the listener than for you. You have actually tried to claim there were controversies that just happened not to be recorded when we demand to see to the controversies over the changes you claims, in a Church that recorded scads of controversies.

            • Comment by DGDDavidson:

              No, I have never claimed that Protestants invented their doctrines at random. Where did you get that idea? I want to see your evidence that there was an argument over auricular confession in the early Church. Do you have any?

            • Comment by The Ubiquitous:

              Do you really think that it’s all about doctrines? How impoverished that must be!

              But you don’t believe that. It’s about knowing Jesus. Yet to know Jesus, you must know things about Jesus. Therefore, you must have doctrines. But then that means that even the relationship becomes about doctrines. Therefore, if it’s ultimately about anything but doctrines, you must have stable doctrines.

              Harmonizing with this human reason, the Church survives and her doctrines are sturdy, just as God could foresee and provide. If it is not too presumptuous to suppose the direction of Providence on this point, consider that Catholics as Catholics have the first things settled and can move more quickly to the second things.

              • Comment by Mary:

                Quite apart from the theory of a Church, if Christ had remained on earth for an indefinite time, trying to induce men to love one another, He would have found it necessary to have some tests, some methods, some way of dividing true love from false love, some way of distinguishing between tendencies that would ruin love and tendencies that would restore it. You cannot make a success of anything, even loving, entirely without thinking.

  8. Comment by ShireNomad:

    “The Holy Spirit does not contradict Himself nor change His mind, so it is impossible that contraception be forbidden to Christians in 1931 and not forbidden in 1939.”

    This is a point of which I have lately begun to wonder, as I have heard a counter that I have been unable to poke a hole in:

    1. God is constant.
    2. But humanity changes and grows (and on occasion regresses).
    3. Therefore, God, without changing Himself, may change the message and commands He sends to match the needs and abilities of the present world.

    This view is supported in scripture. Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount says over and over “You have heard it said… but I say…” (Matthew 5). Saint Paul rejects the necessity of circumcision which was previously vital (1 Corinthians 7:17-20). And to Saint Peter, that which was previously unclean was made clean (Acts 10:9-16). And the Church now follows all these changes: we turn the other cheek, we do not keep kosher, we do not require circumcision.

    Why and how did these changes occur? Because Jesus changed our fundamental relationship with God, yes, but there’s more than that:

    “‘Haven’t you read,’ he replied, ‘that at the beginning the Creator “made them male and female,” and said, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh”? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.’ ‘Why then,’ they asked, ‘did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?’ Jesus replied, ‘Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.’” – Matthew 19:4-8

    Therefore, for divorce, at least, when we were in Paradise there was no divorce, then we fell, and “because our hearts were hard” God gave us a command, which He then altered as our hearts softened. (And certainly this new command has softened our hearts even more; while Jesus’s own disciples found this teaching ridiculously difficult, there later came a time — if not today — where we found it a norm to stay married through the hard times.) It is likely that for that same reason that we were once commanded “eye for an eye” (during a time when our hearts were hard and that was a vast improvement over “if he gouges your eye, kill him”) but now turn the other cheek.

    So, if God can change His commands to us based on the state of our hearts, will He do so again? Has He? If this is impossible, should we reject Jesus on the grounds that “The Holy Spirit does not contradict Himself nor change His mind, so it is impossible that divorce be allowed in 29 AD but forbidden in 34 AD”?

    I accept that these changes might only be communicated by saints and prophets (or, obviously, God Incarnate in Christ), but to say that God’s commands do not change AT ALL EVER seems to contradict Jesus’s own words. Your thoughts?

    • Comment by Darrell:

      The (small o) orthodox answer is that the Incarnation provided the whole of all necessary revelation for salvation. The timing was not accidental but purposeful.

      • Comment by ShireNomad:

        Possible.

        It still leaves open the question, though, of why Jesus didn’t say that when confronted over the shift. He certainly didn’t shy away from saying “I by coming to Earth am changing things” in other contexts, so why in the case of divorce did he say something to the effect of “you weren’t ready to hear this when Moses was around but you are now”?

        Additionally, we see no indication that Jesus didn’t keep kosher (if he had broken that tenant, Peter wouldn’t have been so shocked over the prospect that he needed to be told three times). So did that rule change after the resurrection and not before? If so, why did the divorce rule change earlier (no later than when Jesus first gave the new command at the Sermon on the Mount)? Why did the Sabbath rule change earlier (no later than the first time Jesus healed the sick and/or harvested on that day)? Even if Christ was easing us into the changes, that still implies that the changes come “when we’re ready for the new command” and not “when Christ came and changed everything at once”.

        • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

          tenant

          Tenet, dammit. Jesus was not rich enough to have tenants he could break, and anyway he presumably would not have done so even if he had them.

        • Comment by Darrell:

          Please bear in mind that I am not a priest and if you are an Orthodox Christian or Roman Catholic (as I presupposed when I initially responded) you should really discuss this with your priest.

          The Masoretic laws that you are referencing were intended as pastoral in nature and not dogma. The concern that Moses was addressing was the potential for husbands to abuse or murder their wives if they were denied divorce. That Moses addressed this would seem to indicate that this was a pressing concern at the time.

          What Jesus was addressing was what the nature of marriage was supposed to be from the very beginning. Jesus consistently erased the mindset that men had taken whereby they thought they could justify behavior they knew to be wrong by appealing to legalisms. Sadly we continue to see this mindset today.

    • Comment by Sylvie D. Rousseau:

      “2. But humanity changes and grows (and on occasion regresses).”
      I suppose that by humanity you mean human persons or human societies, and not human nature, which cannot change. If so, I agree.

      “3. Therefore, God, without changing Himself, may change the message and commands He sends to match the needs and abilities of the present world.”
      The word “change” is too strong. There is adaptation and growing in understanding on the part of the earthly Church, not change. This is called the divine pedagogy. There are many examples of it throughout Holy History, and obviously between Old and New Testaments. This is really the purpose of the Sacred Tradition and Magisterium’s existence: the Body of Christ is constantly adapting its preaching of the Word of God to contemporary needs, not at the core of course, but peripherally, there are adaptations through time, cultures and even regions, while the Faith always remains one. If you read Vatican II principal constitutions (they are relatively easy to read), they constitute a remarkable overview of the matter.

    • Comment by John Hutchins:

      Why and how did these changes occur? Because Jesus changed our fundamental relationship with God, yes, but there’s more than that:

      So there is a higher law and a lower law, or perhaps put better the Gospel and the Law; The higher law is the law that is associated with the Melchizedek priesthood, the lower law with the Aaronic. Before the great and last sacrifice of our Lord and Savior both laws included the sacrifice of the blood of animals for the remission of sins, as seen by Abel, Noah, Abraham, Job, and others that were not under the law of Moses but just the higher law. Christ fulfilled that requirement of both laws doing away with the shedding of blood for the remission of sins and giving instead the higher and harder requirement of a broken heart and a contrite spirit. An eye for an eye is the maximum that could be done to someone that had injured you, turning the other cheek then is a higher path. So forth.

      Then we get to the Tradition of the Jews, they taught that Moses had not written everything down but was given even more then what was found in the scriptures, additional and different teachings. The strict commands with regards to the sabbath that Jesus broke are of this category, which Jesus taught were not actually commands from God. Jesus never broke the actual written law of Moses, just the Tradition of the Jews which were the commands of men that had grown up around the law.

      The interesting thing is that, with the exception of a few commands designed to make Israel a peculiar people among the nations, the higher law includes to the point of superseding the things in the lower law. The allowance for divorce was not a command to get divorced and by not having that allowance one still fulfills the lower law, the Gospel as had by those before Christ did not break the Law, it added more to it in fact. Jesus did not teach to break the Law until the Law was fulfilled in Him.

      However, even the Law is not something that is followed by anyone, except Christ, perfectly. All have sinned and fallen short, and this of even just the commands of the Law of Moses which were given because of hardness and wickedness. It is true that when one is baptized by the proper authority and then given the Holy Ghost by that same authority that one is redeemed from the fall in that they are brought back into the presence of the third member of the Godhead. This allows for a change of heart and of nature, but even though with a changed nature it becomes easier and possible to keep the Law and the Gospel it does not necessarily make it easy as we still live in a fallen world with frail mortal bodies, we will still err and are ever dependent on the Lord’s mercy in order to progress.

      Additionally, there are commands that God gives to create a peculiar people, set apart from the world. Things that are not, in themselves, wrong but that are associated with wrong practices or with being worldly or for whatever other reason God might deem fit to give such a command to His people (like for health reasons). This is seen in both the law given to Moses and in the revelations given to the Apostles which they taught the early church should follow. These commands are ones that others in a different time or place might not be commanded to follow, but in the time and place they are given they are to be followed.

      I suppose I should also add that there is no reason to suppose that God would reveal everything at once (or even that He has revealed all that He will reveal (unless one is of a persuasion that rejects that God can or will reveal more of anything to anyone)).

  9. Comment by The Deuce:

    Hi John, as a raised Protestant that has been seriously looking at Catholicism, this has given me a lot of food for thought. One thing I take some issue with, though, is this:

    A stronger argument can be made for any Protestant who recognizes doctrines supported by orthodoxy not reflected in scripture, such as the number and nature of the Persons of the Trinity, or the mystery of the Incarnation, or the nature of the human and divine will in the Person of Christ, or the doctrine of Original Sin.

    I would agree that those doctrines are not carefully spelled out in full detail in the Scriptures the same way they are in the Creeds, but it’s wrong to say that they aren’t reflected in Scriptures. Certainly John’s “the Word was with God and the Word was God” at least reflects the identification of two persons of the Trinity, and “the Word was made flesh” the follows certainly at least reflects the Incarnation. Paul certainly says things that reflect the doctrine of Original Sin with his description of how all men die in Adam and live in Christ, even if he didn’t call it that, and his signing of his letters and the apostolic baptisms in the name of the three Persons of the Trinity would seem to at least reflect that doctrine, even if it isn’t spelled out there.

  10. Comment by momofthree:

    “Christ tended to be simple and clear about the hard things, and subtle and riddling about the joyful things.”
    But again….where did Christ say anything about contraception? People reply, “He established the Church and the church is correct to forbid it.”

    But, can you expect…that something as fundamental as this would not have been explicitly addressed? In his world, most children died under five… Contrast this with a western world where this has (joyfully) not been the case for a long time. Being divine, he would have foreseen this. You would have thought he would have explicitly stated the evil of using rudimentary barrier methods. I find it peculiar that an issue so central to life is wholly unmentioned. The teachings regarding divorce and homosexuality (by contrast) are orders of magnitude more clear.

    • Comment by Suburbanbanshee:

      Re: why contraception isn’t more clearly spoken against in the Bible

      This is the Middle East, not Greece. Barrenness was considered a curse or punishment that made your life nasty, brutish and short. Birth control was something that evil witches or demons did to you with potions, not something you did to yourself.

      There’s not too many fairy tale moral teachings against turning yourself into a frog, or chopping yourself into a pot, or pushing yourself into an oven and slamming the door.

      So a few veiled hints to men that “spilling the seed” was cruel to women and offensive to God, and a few threats against the “poisoners” who made abortifacients and similar potions, was about as far as it needed to go. And for a normal person raised in a human society with normal moral ideas, that’s already kind of scary and horrifying. How much further do you have to talk, if the death penalty isn’t enough?

      Human sacrifice was a bit more important to stomp out.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      “But, can you expect…that something as fundamental as this [contraception] would not have been explicitly addressed [by Christ Himself in the Gospel]?”

      I am reminded of the question a reader asked me earlier about why the legal principle that courts should follow Common Law precedent was not in the US Constitution.

      Jesus also said nothing about deep sea fishing rights off the coast of Maine. That is also an important topic. He also failed to mention (1) how to resolve the Trinitarian controversy which led to the schism with Nestorians and Monophysites (2) whether the Holy Ghost was part of the Trinity (3) whether Mohammad was the one true prophet for all God’s people (4) whether the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father only, or from the Father through the Son (5) whether Mary remained a virgin after Christ’s birth (6) purgatory (7) whether man is saved by grace through works or grace alone (8) which books are in the Bible and which are not (9) whether Peter was Pope (10) whether polygamy is lawful (11) whether the sun or the earth is the center of the solar system (12) who Caine’s wife was (13) how kangaroos got on Noah’s Ark (14) what happened to the Ark of the Covenant (15) the relationship between free will and God’s predestination (16, etc) and Every other controversy that has ever split the Church, and every minor question that ever puzzled scholars or schoolboys.

      How could something as fundamental as these not be explicitly addressed? They were addressed by the Church as soon as the issue came up. Abortion, for example, is mentioned in the Didache, which is a FIRST CENTURY document, as old as some of the New Testament, older than any other Patristic writing. It may have been written by the Apostles themselves. So they mentioned that issue as soon as they had access to pen and parchment, it seems. The Apostles and their disciples, and those who came after them, mentioned and discussed each of these things are considerable length as soon as the opportunity arose.

      If you believe that the Church is what she says she is, there is extensive teaching on nearly every topic under the sun. If you believe Sola Scriptura, you have to comb through hints and indirect mentions of those topics and use your finest theological reasoning to come to your private conclusions. It can be done, but it is harder, and you have to reinvent the wheel for each question as it comes up, or take the theology of your sect’s leaders and founders on faith if they happen to have reached the question in the (relatively) short time their sect has been around.

  11. Comment by The OFloinn:

    Stumbled on by accident regarding Metropolitan Johna and the Orthodox Church in America:
    http://www.aoiusa.org/blog/same-sex-marriage-and-the-revolt-against-metropolitan-jonah/

  12. Comment by Suburbanbanshee:

    Not disagreeing with John Hutchins above, but adding —

    Re: if God doesn’t change, why are there different covenants and laws —

    There’s also:

    1. Punishment or response to human sinfulness and covenant-breaking. Often an invoking of a previous covenant’s penalties (“curses”) for breaking it. This is not so much God changing His mind as “I warned you, but you went ahead and asked for it.” Most of Israel’s elaborate laws, the eldest sons of all families not being allowed to function as priests at all times, etc. were presented as a response to unfaithfulness and covenant breaches on Israel’s part.

    2. Invitation by God to have a more advantageous covenant, and thus to be adopted further and further into a family relationship with Him. Thus, more rewards and breadth of action, but also more responsibilities and a higher standard that must be kept.

    Pretty much all of these are cases in which God either hardens or softens the expression of a moral principle in law, but does not change the principle.

  13. Comment by The Ubiquitous:

    As a missionary I didn’t really debate religion with people that I was teaching, just occasionally pastors or the like for fun.

    What sort of play? Was it the deathly serious play of a child, as if the thing played with really mattered, or an idle pasttime because you didn’t think it really mattered?

    • Comment by John Hutchins:

      A little of both actually, I didn’t think it at all likely that the debate would lead to anyone’s conversion or even convincing them to let us present our message. However, it was also deathly serious in that it was dealing with things of eternity. I have no idea what the other side was trying to accomplish but for me it always helped me understand what it was I was trying to give to those I was teaching better.

      • Comment by The Ubiquitous:

        So the argument itself didn’t matter, or was at least approached that way. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the impression I get is that there was less play against a person and more toying with his reactions to suss out his beliefs. Is this correct?

        • Comment by John Hutchins:

          I am sorry, I don’t understand what you mean by toying with his reactions. I think you are correct in what you are saying but I am not certain of what you mean, so I am not sure that you are correct.

          • Comment by The Ubiquitous:

            One man in an argument imagines himself like the cat playing with a mouse, or a puppeteer and a marionette, or an engineer and some crude device. The point is that it seems you did not enter into the argument ready for the parry of equals but for harvesting material for the later manipulation of men. It seems more a preliminary for the worst sort of evangelical scalping than the honest grappling with a person. But this is an observation through several levels of noise, so the next question was whether the impression was correct.

            Even if the language would need be tempered, this sort of dialogue was not at all what Mdm. Rosseau was asking about. (And for all the times you ask us to take it to prayer whether Mormonism is true, this seems disingenuous.)

            • Comment by John Hutchins:

              Okay, then I misunderstood what you were saying. No you are not correct and you have absolutely completely the wrong idea of how LDS missionaries work, what it is they do, and what it is they teach.

              Haven’t you ever run into a southern baptist or Jehovah’s witness before that was trying to use the Bible to condemn you to hell? I know they are just as eager to condemn Catholics to hell as Mormons so I would be surprised if you never encountered them. If you engaged with them and discussed the scriptures they are using then you have done pretty much the same thing I did to them, and yes there are Catholic clergy that try and do the same thing as the other groups I listed.

              As a missionary we do not debate others religion, we do not attack others religions, we aren’t supposed to do anything of the sort, we aren’t even supposed to engage in “bible bashing” with those that are attacking us, many do like I did but we are not actually supposed to do so as it isn’t productive. You are supposed to learn what they already believe so that you don’t spend time explaining something they already know to be true or gloss over something that they don’t have a clue about, but primarily one is supposed to teach of the restoration of the gospel, the plan of salvation, the principles of the gospel, and so forth. Here is the pdf of the missionary manual which covers exactly everything a missionary should or should not do with chapter 3 containing exactly what is covered and taught by the missionaries.

              I covered this repeatedly in my response.

              • Comment by The Ubiquitous:

                I’m glad you don’t scalp. This is very much to your credit. (Still, there are some overzealous folks who do.)

                Atheists sometimes make the complaint that they’re always been sized up by Christians, and this is the odious behavior I was trying to describe.

                “I didn’t know whether he was trying to sell me Christianity or Amway,” said one. “Then I found out he does both.”

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