Why I Hate Roman Catholicism, Part 2

My post this weekend about embracing doubt has stirred up quite a few people. The truth is that the post started and ended as an encouragement for us not to approach our studies with the intent of confirming our prejudice. In order for true learning to take place we have to be willing to change. So far, so good?

Of course this is not the reason I had to put on my bulletproof vest. The post turned from a “ho-hum” reminder to a slanderous “how could you?” when I used Roman Catholicism as an illustration of an institution that limits freedom. Further, from this, I suggested that true Roman Catholics cannot be good scholars. In order to qualify as “good” scholars, they have to be a bit rebellious.

I have been quite taken aback by the responses. Part of me is glad to see so many Protestants coming to the defense of Roman Catholics. It tells me that our readership is made up of those who are kind and gracious, not wanting to make unnecessary divides and not liking harsh rhetoric (which does nothing to advance our cause and does not honor Christ). Though I don’t think I made any overstatements or used sensationalistic rhetoric to make my point, I am glad to see pushback, so long as it is thoughtful. As well, I believe I have earned the right to write a “wounds of a friend” post every once in a while. Those of you who are regulars of this blog know that I don’t engage in polemics very often. I feel I have written in a balanced way over the years, even if it has not been perfect. But every so often I will write something that cuts to the quick. Looking back at this post, it would have done me well to preface it with a study on the Roman Catholic view of authority. This might have served as a reminder (to those of us who are Protestants) why we don’t believe in an infallible Magisterium, and why we do believe this body ultimately does much more harm than good.

My History with Roman Catholicism

When I was exploring the Roman Catholic faith many years ago, I did not do so as a mere outsider who was trying to gather apologetic ammo. I did so prayerfully and respectfully, wrestling with the Lord concerning every detail and doctrine. After nearly a year of daily engagement with Catholicism (sometimes for 4-5 hours a day – my whole family remembers that time!), reading and talking with the “best of” Roman Catholics, I came to understand Catholicism at a whole different level. My fellowship with many Catholics became so close and sweet that many of them approached me and said that they all knew that it was simply a matter of time before I converted. However, this was not to be.

During this time I reshaped my understanding of Catholicism in many ways. For example:

Prayers to Mary and the saints: I used to think that these amounted to worship of Many the saints. While this might be true of some Roman Catholics, it did not represent the true teaching of the Church on this matter. When Catholics pray to Mary and the saints, it is not unlike when you or I ask someone to pray for us. We are not worshiping the one we ask to pray for us, are we? When a Roman Catholic prays to a saint, they are simply asking them to intercede on their behalf the same way as when you or I ask a friend to pray for us. And from their perspective, who better to ask to pray for you then Mary, Jesus’ mother!

Yes, I still disagree with this practice, but I don’t view it as saint worship anymore.

Purgatory: I used to think this was a doctrine which expressed a wholly deficient view of the atonement. What Christ did was not enough. His payment was insufficient, so we must spend some atoning time in Purgatory. While this is the view of some Roman Catholics, others merely see it as “washing up before dinner.” In other words, all of us believe in some type of process that completely sanctifies us after death. We all believe that Christians die imperfect and fallen, but something happens between death and the presence of God, which makes us actually and totally free from all sin. What happens? What cleanses us? Catholics call this Purgatory. Many see it as a timeless (almost instantaneous) event. It is like our last surgery.

While I strongly disagree with any type of atoning event which uses suffering as its means of cleansing, I can live with this “modified” understanding of Purgatory without getting too bent out of shape these days.

Doctrinal Development: But hasn’t Catholicism changed so much over the years? How can they claim to be a stable entity when they have contradicted themselves so often? Those who are serious about understanding Roman Catholic theology as it stands today must engage An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine by John Henry Newman. In my opinion, it is the most important Roman Catholic apologetic work of the last two centuries, and possibly since the Reformation. In essence, Newman gives Rome an articulated defense of how and why Roman Catholic doctrine develops (i.e., it develops, but does not change).

Again, I disagree with the work’s final implications (that Rome has not really changed), but I can now understand how one can still have their historic integrity and their Catholicism, too.

My journey in and out of Roman Catholicism was an incredible struggle, filled with the fostering of new friendships, appreciation, and some degree of anxiety as I returned my visitor’s pass and sailed back across the Tiber. There are so many things to say, but I must move quickly to a justification of my last post concerning their scholarship.

Can Catholics Disagree with Rome and Remain Catholics?

As many of you know, my primary training is in New Testament studies. I love and respect theology, philosophy, and church history, but when push comes to shove, I want to know what the text says. I love to study commentaries. I love to read them cover to cover. Although I could do a much better job of it, I love to keep up on my Greek. Nothing persuades me of truth more than discovering it in the Bible. In short, I love exegesis.

Issues related to interpretation became a major focus of my conversations with Catholics. My primary question was this: What if I have an interpretation of a text that does not agree with Rome? Is that okay? What you have to know is that there is quit a bit of freedom to interpret in the Roman Catholic system. Wait. I know what you are thinking. Doesn’t that militate against what your previous post argued – that there is not academic freedom in Rome? Well, it depends on what you mean. You see, contrary to popular opinion, Rome has not spoken directly and dogmatically to many passages of Scripture. Even the Pope rarely, if ever, speaks infallibly. He is just as fallible as you or I 99.999% of the time. It is only when he speaks “from the chair” that his words are infallibly binding. And there is quite a bit of debate among Catholics as to when Popes have actually exercised this privilege. In other words, there is not a “Dogmatic-Required-by-Rome-Commentary” out there. The Pope and councils have not laid out how understand every text of the Bible. Therefore, there is some degree of freedom.

However, there are some passages, such as Matthew 16, that have been dogmatized (you know, the whole “Peter and the keys to heaven establishing the Papacy” thing). More importantly, theology has been dogmatized. In other words, however one reads the Scripture, in the end, the reading must fall in line with Roman Catholic theology.

So…can one interpret the Bible in a way that conflicts with Roman Catholic theology? The answer is no.

In my attempts to understand Roman Catholicism, I looked and looked for loopholes.

What if I come to the conviction that Mary was not ever-virgin? Can I teach accordingly? No.

What if I come to the conviction that missing mass on Sundays is not a mortal sin? Can I teach and act accordingly? No.

What if I came to the conclusion that the Bible teaches against the doctrine of Purgatory? Can I teach my kids this? No.

What if I disagreed with the doctrine of transubstantiation, believing that John 6 was not to be taken literally? Could I teach and believe accordingly? No. Well, not if I expect to be a true Roman Catholic.

What About Hans Kung?

In response to my last post, many people brought up the fact that there are many within the Catholic Church who have disagreed with the Church and are still in good standing. Therefore, they believe this invalidates my last post. Hans Kung is always the example in these cases! While it is true that Rome has not formally excommunicated Kung, this does not serve as a good illustration, as any good Catholic will inform you. One does not have to be formally excommunicated to have lost their standing in the Church. Think about it. I am sure that there are many everyday dads and moms and brothers and sisters who have never been formally “kicked out” of the Church, yet hold incredibly aberrant views. They are not “safe” simply because the institution has not formally recognized their apostasy. Apostasy is defined very clearly and happens upon the subject’s departure, not the Church’s recognition of this departure. So one should expect to find thousands, indeed millions, of examples of those who hold views different from Rome’s, but are still “members in good standing.”

Again, this was such an important question for me: Can one study the Bible and come to conclusions that are different than what has been dogmatized by Rome, and still be a true Catholic?

Let me quote Rome:

“23. When the Magisterium of the Church makes an infallible pronouncement and solemnly declares that a teaching is found in Revelation, the assent called for is that of theological faith. This kind of adherence is to be given even to the teaching of the ordinary and universal Magisterium when it proposes for belief a teaching of faith as divinely revealed.

When the Magisterium proposes ‘in a definitive way’ truths concerning faith and morals, which, even if not divinely revealed, are nevertheless strictly and intimately connected with Revelation, these must be firmly accepted and held.(22)” (emphasis mine; Source)

Accepted and held. This is more than a mere “I will not teach against this” like we have in the documents of membership at Stonebriar Community Church. This doctrines much be accepted and held. And this is not a passive acceptance, but one that must be firm.

Doesn’t Evangelicalism Have the Same Limits?

Finally, a word about Roman Catholicism compared to Evangelicalism. Many have objected to me using Rome as a punching bag, believing that if Catholicism lacks freedom, then the same must be said of Evangelicalism. In a way, I see where people are coming from. However, this does not really work. Evangelicalism is not an institution. It has no creeds, documents of incorporation, headquarters, president, or pope. In theory, Evangelicalism is descriptive of a movement with which like-minded believers network or identify. One cannot be “kicked out” of Evangelicalism. One does not become an Evangelical by vowing to submit to the authority or even the idea of Evangelicalism. Therefore, the comparison does not work.

I even had someone complain by saying that since I was a 5-point Calvinist, the same restraints were upon me. They said that I did not have the freedom to interpret the Scriptures outside of my 5-point Calvinistic paradigm. Again, this is in no way parallel. Not only is 5-point Calvinism not an institution to which I submit, it is merely a description of my beliefs. I am free to become a 4-point Calvinist tomorrow if I so desire. (And this  often happens!. Every time I study the book of John, or talk with Dr. Hall Harris III, I become more 4-point.)

Again, the end is the same. Becoming a Roman Catholic amounts to a submission of your beliefs to the authority of Rome. I think one can be a fine philosopher, sociologist, epistemologist, and ethicist and still be a Roman Catholic. However, when it comes to theology and, most specifically, exegetical studies of the Bible, I don’t think he or she can be a scholar, since they lack the academic freedom to disagree with Rome.

Contray to what many people have said, I don’t hate Rome. Maybe I should have used Mormonism as the example. You think there would have been less push-back if I did? I probably shouldn’t have used any illustration at all! Just left it as “Embracing Doubt.” Oh well, damage done.

117 Responses to “Why I Hate Roman Catholicism, Part 2”

  1. the current repost of Mounce at
    on 1 Pet 20 is a very good tie in with this post – Can an individual interpret scripture

  2. 2 Pet 1:20, that is (the edit function does not work in Chrome, fyi)

  3. consulscipio236 August 16, 2011 at 9:59 am

    I recommend “Christianity’s Dangerous Idea”, which is a history of protestantism. There really aren’t as many differences between Catholicism and Protestantism. Since Vatican II the hatred between Protestants and Catholics has mostly dissipated, but for nearly 500 years the hatred was so extreme that it was an underlying cause of quite a bit of terrible violence, like the 30 Years War. Protestants as a group have always needed an “other” to rally against, otherewise they fragment. “Popery” has typically provided that. Protestants have thus manufactured a pope-ideology and claimed this to be catholocism.

    Truely, the views of the pope are hardly hegemonic among catholics. The 16th century environment that gave birth to protestantism was a good example of this: the theological views of the day were quite diverse before Luther. He didn’t come up with any novel ideas so much as become the face of them. Even to this day, while there might be an official position, there is quite a bit of intellectual flexibility and no one is slavishly bound to this position as the protestant characitures have claimed.

    And among protestant denomincations, there is much of the same institutional structure as there is in the catholic church. Protestant churches have creeds, de facto doctrines, leaders, beuocratic heirarchies, etc. Even the Southern Batpist Convention, which has long prided itself on its non-catholic structure, has developed these (just go to their website and check their “what we believe” section).

    The differences aren’t as much as you want to claim. I would actually suggest that you will find much more intellectual ridgitiy among the more fundementalist protestant groups than you will among most catholics.

  4. Michael,

    I understand your position, and I agree with your conclusions. I just think the problem with Mary and the saints is not just what you mentioned (someone else interceding for me). The veneration of saints/icons through prayer (to dead people), vows, calling her “the queen of heaven” and “our mother”, bowing down to their statues, etc is not a minor issue and should be seen as idolatry. At least, that’s is how it is done here in Brazil. And it is condoned by the Vatican everytime the Pope visits us.

  5. Mr. Patton,

    What a nice, thoughtful and polite dissertation about something you don’t believe! Even though I am not a Christian I enjoyed reading it and appreciate your position.


  6. Michael,

    You might remember that scene in The Hunt for Red October where a Russian sub named the Konovalov fires a torpedo at another sub named the Red October, but the captain of the Konovalov was so confident that his torpedo would hit the Red October (because it was at such close range), he had deactivated the safety mechanisms on the torpedo, so that it became armed right at launch. But the torpedo misses the Red October, and subsequently locks on to the Konovalov instead, at which point, just before the torpedo impacts the Konovalov and destroys it, the Konovalov’s assistant officer turns to the Konovalov’s captain and says,

    “You arrogant ass. You’ve killed us!”

    I was reminded of that scene, when I read your comment above: “However, when it comes to theology and, most specifically, exegetical studies of the Bible, I don’t think he or she can be a scholar, since they lack the academic freedom to disagree with Rome.”

    That’s because if you replace the word ‘Rome’ with the words ‘Jesus and the Apostles,’ you’ve just destroyed the possibility of Christian scholarship. And you have no non-arbitrary way of preventing that term-replacement.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  7. A fascinating post, it really makes your position very clear.

  8. I don’t see how the case of Hans Kung invalidates your prequel post. To the contrary, that corroborates your thesis. Yes, he’s still Catholic. He hasn’t been excommunicated.

    But his *scholarship* is at variance with official Catholic teaching.

    Patton’s point is not that an individual can’t be both Catholic and a genuine scholar. His point, rather (as I understand it), is that when Catholic scholars simply follow the evidence wherever it leads, unhampered by the official story, they frequently arrive at conclusions contrary to the official story.

    That’s the tension he’s highlighting.

  9. I think you nailed it, CMP! Not sure suggesting that Catholics were like Mormons and you could just unplug one and plug in the other in your example just as easily is going to make things any easier on you though. LOL I happen to agree that they are both alike IN THAT REGARD though. Any time one is in total submission to a pope or prophet for all thing theological, there is no freedom to challenge or disagree.

  10. Patton,

    If you haven’t, you should read an excellent book on Protestants and Roman Catholics by Stephen Strehle entitled: The Catholic Roots of the Protestant Gospel: Encounter Between the Middle Ages and the Reformation. It would help you.

    There are plenty of other Roman Catholic Scholars like Hans Urs von Balthasar or Herbert McCabe who are in good standing, and are very constructive and thus scholarly Roman Catholic theologians; another who I know personally is Paul Molnar. Forget Kung, then.

    Hays, I didn’t get that from what Patton was originally saying.


    Yes, that was me who made the point about your 5 point Calvinism; but you missed my point. My point is that we all have “magesteriums” we are committed to. So you move from 5 points to 4 points; so you’ve simply shifted your magesterium. Once you are committed to a particular interpretive magesterium, that magesterium will inform the way you interpret the text (it will be what shapes your interpretive decisions, even with the Greek). You are still bound to that tradition (and thus the “freedom” you say the RC’s don’t have holds true for you as well). For example, as a Calvinist, you are committed to the same Thomistic concept of God that Roman Catholics are. Since you are committed to this Trad framing of things (say contra a Barthian frame); then this will serve as your interpretive magesterium; you don’t have anymore freedom, in that position, than the Roman Catholic. Sure you can move constructively into a Barthian doctrine of God, and remain an Evangelical; just as someone like Balthasar or Molnar can adopt a Barthian doctrine of God and remain Roman Catholics. Yet, each of us still have a functional magesterium dictating to us the kind of interpretive decisions we must make (if we are going to be consistent with our magesterial commitments).

    I think your posts are ill-conceived, Patton; with due respect.

  11. Michael,

    Do you also maintain that there is no theological or exegetical scholarship at Calvin College, since its faculty “must affirm that “the Bible is the authoritative, Spirit-breathed Word of God, fully reliable,” and that “God, the almighty creator of a good world, is sovereign over all of creation, granting to human beings, made in his image, the responsibility of caring for this world,” or lose their jobs?

    That is, are you claiming that there is no theological or exegetical scholarship at any college or university that requires its faculty to uphold a statement of faith of some sort? In other words, in your opinion, is scholarship possible only in colleges or universities that have no requirement that their faculty affirm some statement of faith?

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  12. Michael said: Every time I study the book of John, or talk with Dr. Hall Harris III, I become more 4-point.)

    I say: YES!!

  13. Daniel writes:
    “Any time one is in total submission to a pope or prophet for all thing theological, there is no freedom to challenge or disagree.”

    Hugh Hefner writes:
    “Any time one is in total submission to a wife for all things sexual, there is no freedom to play around or have girlfriends.”

  14. One thing that must be reiterated here (in case you did not know), Catholicism claims to be “the one true Church”. This makes membership in it much more important than it is in Evangelicalism or Calvin College. Neither Evangelicalism, Calvin College, nor, even, Protestantism is an organization with such claims. So, again, the parallels do not work. Even if someone could be excommunicated from Evangelicalism, it would not mean Evangelicals believe that they are anathema from the true Church. Rome has dogmatized such as stance (even if VII did lighten the load!).

  15. Dr Beckwith,

    Great to hear from you!

    I think only a Catholic could make that parallel! It only works if you assume first the legitimacy of submission to Rome. But even then, Paul says to test the prophets. I don’t think you are free to personally test the pope are you?

  16. Michael,

    That the Catholic Church claims to be the Church Christ founded is irrelevant to the claim that true scholarship requires holding no theological claim as a dogma of faith.

    But, if you wish to make your claim to be “Scholarship is compatible with holding any theological claim to be dogma except the claim that the Catholic Church is the Church Christ founded,” you’ll need to show how your claim is not ad hoc. And you have not yet shown that.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  17. Michael,

    There are real life examples, as I’ve noted, of Roman Catholic scholars who disagree with the magesterium; and yet they remain in good standing, and continue to teach at Roman Catholic universities. This at least begs the question of your posts.

    I think Bryan makes good points, esp. in his last comment here; I’d like to see you respond to those, Michael.

  18. Bryan,

    It is not submission to dogma that is the issue. It is freedom to disagree and change. Since the Catholic Church claims to be the one true church, to be excommunicated, either explicitly or by virtue of disagreement, is a whole different issue. It is to be “outside the church”.

    Even if Evangelicalism was an institution which claimed to be the one true church with the power to excommunicate through a human authority, there would still be room for more scholarship to exist as Evangelicalism does not speak to many issues.

    The Catholic church requires submission about many many things. Have you ever read the Catechism?

    The issue, for me, is pretty clear: The longer the doctrinal statement, the less freedom.

    To use Beckwith’s illustration here is who you can marry:

    1. Wife #1:

    Provide for the family
    Don’t ever leave me
    Satisfy my physical needs
    Don’t ever cheat on me

    2. Wife #2

    Provide for the family
    Don’t ever leave me
    Satisfy my physical needs
    Don’t ever cheat on me
    Be home by six every night
    Only watch channel 4 (the others are suspect)
    No computers
    No cell phones
    No texting (all of which could cause you to be tempted)
    Take out the trash
    Mow the yard
    Dress the children (of which we will have 4)
    Rub my feet every night

    Now, some of these are ridiculous. Some of them are reasonable. The feasibility of them is not the issue. The issue is the lack of freedom that the wife allows (all, from her perspective, for good reasons).

    Which one allows more freedom? Just saying that the first wife has limitations as well does not really help anything. Of course the first one has limitation…these are the limitations of ANY marraige…the sine quo non of marriage.

    Just because Evangelicalism has a few requirements does not make it comparable to Catholicism in this issue. Everyone should see this?

  19. Bobby, ask someone in the Catholic church this question:

    If I disagree with the Catholic church’s interpretative stance on Matt 16 concerning the seat of Peter, is this okay for me to teach this and hold it personally? Would I still remain a Catholic?

    Again, just because the church does not officially excommunicate someone, this does not mean they are in good standing. By definition, to disagree with Catholicism on ANY issue is to become Protestant according to Catholicism.

    I suggest you go to Enter their forums and go to the “Ask a Question”.

    I would highly suggest that you not look to “cafeteria Catholics” for answers to these questions. It is important that you go to the source. Popular Catholicism, like popular Protestantism, is not going to give you an official answer.

    However, if you are Catholic and have not researched this, I would not suggest you researching. For right now you may be “invincibly ignorant”. If so, then these issue are not binding on you in the same way! (Another issue…another time)

  20. Michael,

    So your argument seems to be this:

    (1) Engaging in true scholarship is compatible with holding any theological claim, so long as one is free to disagree with that claim and change one’s position on it.

    (2) Catholics, insofar as they are faithful Catholics, are not free to disagree with dogmas or change their position on those dogmas.


    (3) Catholics, insofar as they are faithful Catholics, cannot engage in true scholarship in any area involving or influenced by the requirement to hold Catholic dogmas.

    Before I respond to that argument, I want to make sure that’s an accurate formulation of your argument.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  21. I don’t know…hmmmm….sounds like a set up :)

    I will just refer back to my Beckwith marraige analogy. I like that! :)

  22. Now, with that, I am going to teach on the deity of Christ here at the Credo House. These people will not be free to disagree with me because of my charismatic dominance.

    As well, I will be out of these comments until Sunday night. Many many speaking engagements between now and then.

  23. Michael,

    Your Parable of the Two Wives is revealing in that you imply you would choose the wife who makes fewer demands. Yet Paul uses the same marriage analogy to teach us to be willing to die for our wives the way Christ died for his bride, the Church. More often than not, this death is not a physical death, but a death to our own selfishness and a death to our desire for freedom from rules and demands.

    Isn’t the abuse of our freedom at the expense of our obedience to God how we got into this mess in the first place?

  24. Did Frank Beckwith himself really respond to one of my comments? GULP! I feel like I’m in the major leagues now! :) I met you, Frank, and your lovely wife, many years ago in Atlanta and have followed your writings and positions ever since. I’m a fan. And I didn’t even burn your books when you went back to Rome. Everyone is entitled one mistake. :) But I don’t think your analogy with Hugh Hefner is a valid one. In the RCC, the Pope isn’t just protecting you from the temptations that exist outside the church as defined by God. The Pope makes the rules and DEFINES church. To use the Hefner analogy, it would be like him (or the state) re-defining marriage or adultery. Hefner rejects the reality that marriage is what God defined it to be and substitutes his own definition. But he doesn’t seriously think that his version of marriage is universally applicable. He has a “true for me but not for you” kind of approach. Pope Benedict, on the other hand, DOES believe that, by decree, he can add to, change, or otherwise re-define some theological position (like marriage) and it becomes a universal truth that not even a future pope can change.

    Evangelicals can, with a proper understanding of Sola Scriptura, appeal to Scripture as the ultimate authority on some topic and reach different conclusions on that topic. You were fully within your rights and abilities of being evangelical to study and decide that the RCC was the best church. So you are, in my eyes, both evangelical AND Catholic. But the freedom within the RCC to do the reverse of that doesn’t exist. You can’t come to a conclusion that doesn’t accept “God died and left the Pope in charge” and remain in good standing with the RCC. In other words, as a Protestant Evangelical, you have/had the freedom to change that and join the RCC if that is what you desired and decided. It was YOUR decision. You could say “I don’t believe X, so I’m out”. You had the freedom to do so. But once you swear allegiance to the church and submit to the authority of the Pope, you lost the freedom to ever re-examine that decision and come to a different one. He can make that decision FOR you now. As a Protestant, one can study and decide theological things. As a Catholic, you can accept the Pope’s opinion on it, leave, or be forced out. Just ask Martin Luther. To remain in good standing, the response to anything from the Pope has to be “always agree”. As a Protestant, you are free to challenge all kinds of questions of morals and ethics. As a Catholic, you can only support the opinions of the Pope if you want to remain in good standing in the church. If he’s infallible, I have no problem with that. But it’s a BIG “if” there.

  25. Daniel,

    You’re not quite ready for the big leagues if you’re telling Francis Beckwith that the Pope can redefine issues of faith and morals (like marriage).

    Besides, your statement contradicts itself if Benedict XVI can redefine something “that not even a future pope can change”.

    You say “As a Protestant, you are free to challenge all kinds of questions of morals and ethics.” Perhaps Janis Joplin said it best – freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose.

  26. Can an evangelical christian come to the conclusion the Jesus did not rise from the dead and remain an evangelical christian in good standing?

    If so, then the term “evangelical” is far too ambiguous to be useful for comparison with the Catholic Church.

    If not, then evangelicals, just like catholics, have constraints on their scholarship.

    I think any claim that there is a direct contradiction between being a “true” roman catholic and a true scholar is over reaching. At best, you are right in the sense that faithful Catholics have more constraints on what they believe and teach then faithful evangelicals, but we all already knew that. That’s a matter of degree, which is much different from the charge of contradiction.

  27. Luke, I’m WELL aware that I’m out of my league! :) Feel like I’ve brought a slingshot to a gun fight. LOL But that doesn’t make me wrong. The Pope *can* further elaborate on issues of theology and it becomes cannon. He can come out and say “creation” can include evolution, for example. And if he says it “from the chair”, no future pope can say otherwise because some past pope made *that* a rule. So it isn’t “contradictory” at all. Any current or future pope can decree whatever they want as long as it doesn’t contradict the declarations of a prior one.
    This topic reminds me of one I brought up today on Theologica about Michelle Bachmann and submission. If she is going to submit to her husband in all things, then he’s the one wearing the pants in the oval office. Otherwise, it isn’t “in all things”. If/when a Catholic submits to the Pope in all things theological, that comes with a loss of freedom to challenge them in any meaningful 1 Thess 5:21 kind of way. That is all CMP is saying, and I agree with him 100%. Total submission, even if limited to a particular area, equates to loss of freedom in that area.

  28. @TDC: You ask, “Can an evangelical christian come to the conclusion the Jesus did not rise from the dead and remain an evangelical christian in good standing?” Yes. They can come to that conclusion. But that decision on their part, by definition, means that they are no longer a orthodox Christian. It’s a oxymoron. So denial of historic orthodox beliefs automatically puts you in some other category. That isn’t the issue. The issue becomes one of the ability to test/validate a Papal decree on something like abortion, birth control, or something else. The official RCC position on birth control has been that those methods are wrong. Yet recently that changed to be it’s wrong if used to avoid pregnancy, but OK to use to prevent disease. It’s a further clarification. It didn’t deny a prior position, but explained it in a new way. It’s now official. And a Catholic isn’t free to say the Pope is wrong on that. As a protestant, I’m free to test/challenge my pastor and believe he’s wrong about some non-essential (say eschatology, for example). And I’m not kicked out of the church for suggesting that the pastor is fallible and wrong in something. But a Catholic doesn’t have the freedom to say the Pope is wrong. So 1 Thess 5:21 becomes “test unless it is from God’s mouthpiece on earth, in which case you accept it without question”.

  29. Daniel,

    You said that an evangelical has the right to come to the conclusion that Jesus did not rise from the dead, but he will then cease to be an orthodox Christian. Exactly. There are constraints on a Christian’s scholarship if he is to remain a Christian.

    A Catholic can also come to the conclusion that the Catholic Church is wrong. Yes, he will cease to be an orthodox Catholic Christian at that point, but that’s the point. The evangelical and the catholic are in the same boat.

    Either both can be legitimate scholars, or,if you apply Michael’s criteria, neither can.

    Contrary to your reply, the issue is not about being able to test papal decrees (not specifically, at least). This isn’t about whether Catholics or Protestants are right. It is about whether they can both be true scholars while being faithful to their respective traditions.

    At least, that is what I’m talking about.

    I noticed you said that you are free to test your pastor on a “non-essential”. This implies that you could be kicked out of the community (or at least cease to be a true Christian) if you challenge one of the essentials. This grants my point. You have constraints, just like Catholics. And both are free to challenge orthodox Christianity and cease to be orthodox Christians if they so choose.

  30. while I agree with much of what CMP says in this post, I am somewhat convinced by a few of the RC arguements.

    For example – I am a member of an SBC church – as such, i have covenented to hold to the SBC statement of faith. Should I fail to hold that, I could, concievably, be dismissed from my local congregation or the SBC. Now the odds of that happening are low, but none the less they exist.

  31. Michael,

    I believe that the key to understanding your argument is your assumption that the Sacred Scriptures, and they alone, are “the data”, the object of study. It is this study that you have in mind when you speak of “biblical and theological studies”, and that you conclude Catholics cannot do objectively.

    When you look at how the perceived sources of reliable truth claims in each community limit the objective study of the Scriptures, you naturally must exclude the Scriptures themselves. Since, as you see it, evangelicals have no authority but the Scriptures, they lack significant limitations on their beliefs that Catholics have, that is, sources of truth claims, including interpretations of Scripture, that could potentially conflict with the Scriptures.

    And so long as one respects the Scriptures as authoritative, one is by your definition a good evangelical, regardless of the interpretations one arrives at, whereas a good Roman Catholic is “under authoritative human leadership”, and must come to conclusions “that are already laid out” and “sing in harmony with Rome”.

    So your argument is really only valid for a narrowly defined conclusion, and it is founded on a strong flavour of sola scriptura. Given your background assumptions, it may be reasonable for you to believe that Catholics can’t be scripture scholars.

    Also, you effectively insist that to be scholars, we must objectively study the Scriptures from a vantage point outside the Christian belief system. You are aligning yourself with those of whom Lewis complained in his essay “Meditation in a Toolshed”, who insist that the external viewpoint is always superior to that from within. I’m sure you really are on the inside, like it or not, and I hope you will stay.

  32. Michael,

    It wasn’t a set up — I simply wanted to make sure I understood your argument correctly.

    My response to your argument is roughly what TDC says in comment #33. And TDC’s answer reveals the following dilemma for your position. Either your position eliminates Christian scholarship (since you believe there are Christian essentials), or if it allows scholarship to be compatible with holding Christian essentials, but doesn’t allow scholarship to be compatible with holding Catholic essentials (e.g. the Catholic Church is the Church Christ founded), then it is ad hoc. So the horns of the dilemma facing your position are that either it eliminates Christian scholarship, or it is ad hoc.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  33. The author’s first position, “I don’t believe one can be a Roman Catholic and a scholar at the same time.”

    The author’s second position appears to be a bit of a retreat,” I suggested that true Roman Catholics cannot be good scholars.”

    Webster’s definition of a scholar:
    : a person who attends a school or studies under a teacher : pupil
    2a : a person who has done advanced study in a special field b : a learned person
    3: a holder of a scholarship

    Nothing in Webster’s appears to in any way preclude a Roman Catholic from being a scholar. The problem only arises when the author redefines “scholar”, or adds a corollary to the definition, to mean one who must be willing to have a change of mind.

    To me this pair of articles is little more than a tempest in a tea cup, not big enough to require a teapot. If the author was not looking for sensationalism he took a strange way to show it. He could just as easily, and I believe more correctly written, “One cannot be a Roman Catholic and be willing to change ones mind about certain beliefs.” Who could get upset or disagree about that, but not very sensational.

    Certainly not as attention grabbing as “Why I hate Roman Catholicism.”

  34. Daniel,

    You wrote, “Yet recently that changed to be it’s wrong if used to avoid pregnancy, but OK to use to prevent disease.”

    No, that’s not what the Pope said, nor is that Catholic doctrine, nor is any Catholic required to believe that. My suggestion is not to use the secular media as your source of information about what the Catholic Church teaches. Tim Troutman clarified the matter in “Did the Pope Condone Condoms in Certain Cases?”

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  35. god bless

  36. @Bryan Cross said:

    “if you replace the word ‘Rome’ with the words ‘Jesus and the Apostles,’ you’ve just destroyed the possibility of Christian scholarship. And you have no non-arbitrary way of preventing that term-replacement.”

    Yeah, you do. Christian scholarship is by definition the study of the words of Jesus and the apostles. You can choose not to believe/obey, but that’s different. “What do they mean?” That’s scholarship. “What do I do about it?” That’s different.

  37. CMP,

    I haven’t posted in a long while. Just been “lurking in the shadows” as one might say. It’s interesting that these two last posts and Rob’s posts on the LDS doctrine of theosis seem to be the two most popular ones lately ;-) Oh well, controversial topics always generate more response.

    With regards to this topic, even though I do agree to some extent, I have to say I find the titles poorly chosen. Although they generate interest, perhaps they also act as a red flag on a bull and people are reading your posts through the haze of being indignant.

    I also would like to point out, as several others have done so, that even evangelicals have some boundaries or “holy houses” we can’t touch. Well.. we can touch them, but then suffer the consequences of being shunned by the leadership of our evangelical communities. Sounds a lot like ex-communication doesn’t it ? Examples ? Rob Bell, N.T.Wright, just to name a couple.

    So can a Roman Catholic be a good scholar ? Absolutely. It’s just that the consequences if they should come to an interpretation contradicting a doctrine from the Magisterium would perhaps lead one to conflict, leaving or ex-communication. But isn’t our evangelical leadership “ex-communicating” our “evangelical” scholars like Rob for posing interpretations that don’t nicely fit within our doctrines ?

    Scholars exist in every denomination. The consequences of their disagreements may be different.

    Just food for thought.

    In Him

  38. Hmm… Edit function not working in Safari ;-)

    “Posing” should be “Proposing”

  39. ChrisB,

    That’s not what I meant by “Christian scholarship.” On your definition, even atheists can engage in “Christian scholarship.” By ‘Christian scholarship’ I was referring to scholarship done by Christians in areas of theology or exegesis. And on my definition, what I said in #35 still stands.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  40. @TDC – Catholics and Protestants are only in the same boat if both the protestant pastor and the Catholic Pope and, by decree, CREATE an essential doctrine. If I challenge an essential of the faith (say the resurrection), I’m challenging Christianity and are therefore outside that tent. But even then, it is of my own choosing. With the Catholics, you can, on top of challenging some essential thing like the resurrection, find yourself in a different category where you have additional beliefs (things from the catechism, for example) or papal statements that are made that then become essentials. You are not free to challenge them. And, if you decide to try, it can actually be someone ELSE’S choice that puts your outside the “one true church”.

    It is actually quite simple. When one belongs to a group where the leader can, by fiat, create new essential beliefs, they don’t have the same level of freedom to challenge positions as someone whose leader is seen as a fallible interpreter of an external list of essentials.

  41. “I don’t believe one can be a Roman Catholic and a scholar at the same time.” please does it make any sense here,, scholar, or not who cares,, this church is false,, and we cater not to upset ,,we dance around truth, yes my question is does one recieve true bible truth from the pope and his church,my sister-in -law is in this church,, if she follows its teaching will she get salvation,, answer,, no never she like all before her will end up in HELL,, is christ the only way, not baptism,, not mary,, not WORKS or confessions in the box,, to a priest,, is it true,, priests can forgive sins,, i was told its only christ,,now we are told mary helps in salvation,, lies apon lies,, we dont talk about the sex scandals, of the priests,, we just move on,, i feel my heart so sad, when i go out to tell people about christ on the cross and someone will jump up and say its OK I AM CATHOLIC,, like if they have a place in heaven,, well unless i misread the bible,, christ is the way not the pope,, or false doctrine,, this church is not far from being a cult,, i dont mean to be unloving,, loving means tell the truth,,not lies,,now we get false teaching if one lives a good life and try the best we can bypass christ,, when any church adds to the word then its false,, As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.” -Romans 3:10-12
    just how can one say mary is without sin,, not what i read,, above,,worship of mary,, and they expect savation,, never,, only hell,,For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” -2nd Corinthians 5:21

    For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” -Hebrews 4:15
    The Scriptures are clear that ALL humans are sinners. ONLY the virgin born Son of God, Jesus Christ, was without sin. Please don’t believe the damnable heresies of Roman Catholicism. Mary was a sinner deserving of hell, as are ALL sinners (Romans 6:23; Revelation 20:15; 21:8).
    may we wake up brothers and sisters and see this is a war ,,and lots of little catholics are heading to hell, this church is a fraud, a big hoax,,we are all sinners,, and should all be on the road to hell, but christ and grace,,its not or never was to upset anyone but if one stays in this church and bypass christs finished work on the cross, then its hell,, please,, leave this church,, get a bible read it join credo house,, find the truth,, study,, dont trust anyone with your salvation,, and your family ,, may my savour open up your eyes, and heart,, god bless,,.

  42. @Bryan: I don’t just rely on the popular press to get religious stories correct. When this happened, a Catholic friend and I actually went and found the official Catholic translation of the statements and read up with the Catholic News Agency said, as well as the later Vatican clarification of the statements. When the pope says something “CAN BE” a first step towards AIDS prevention, that shouldn’t be understood as “should not be” or “is still prohibited”. The pope said it is a step in the right direction, not that it is wrong and a step towards error. But arguing over condom use isn’t the real point of the original post. The point is that WHATEVER the pope said about condoms or birth control is binding on Catholics. They are not allowed to challenge it or “test” it as the Bible indicates in 1 Thess 5:21. My my pastor said something about condom usage or alcohol or something else, I’m free to take that as a personal preference or personal conviction and not an addition to orthodox doctrine. I can challenge it. And we can agree to disagree on it. There is no “agree to disagree” when it comes to something from the Pope. You cannot remain a member in good standing of the Catholic Church and disagree with the Pope. As suchm, and by definition, it limits dissent in a way that isn’t there for Protestants. It’s really quite simple. And I think the folks that don’t see that are more outraged by the “hate” in the title of the blog than approaching this objectively and logically.

  43. Daniel,
    You write…
    “Catholics and Protestants are only in the same boat if both the protestant pastor and the Catholic Pope and, by decree, CREATE an essential doctrine.”

    Why? Give a reason for your criteria. How does that result in the term “faithful roman catholic scholar” being a contradiction while the term “faithful evangelical christian” remains safe? Give the exact thing the creates a contradiction in the former without touching the ladder.

    “If I challenge an essential of the faith (say the resurrection), I’m challenging Christianity and are therefore outside that tent. But even then, it is of my own choosing.”

    Exactly. And catholics can do the same to their own tradition. They can challenge their tradition and therefore be outside the roman catholic tent. And even then, it is of their own choosing.

    “With the Catholics, you can, on top of challenging some essential thing like the resurrection, find yourself in a different category where you have additional beliefs (things from the catechism, for example) or papal statements that are made that then become essentials. You are not free to challenge them. And, if you decide to try, it can actually be someone ELSE’S choice that puts your outside the ‘one true church’”

    Yes, they can challenge them, and cease to be orthodox roman catholics. Same as you and your tradition. How does the fact that there are additional constraints in catholicism result in a contradiction in the term “faithful roman catholic scholar”. You have failed to provide an argument for this. Whether someone chooses to make a doctrine essential or not is irrelevant. I can create a church that thinks a certain dating for the gospels is an essential. That is an additional constraint. However, someone can be part of that church and be an honest faithful scholar, in theory. Of course, he is free to argue against that church’s essential and cease to be a faithful member of that church.

    “It is actually quite simple. When one belongs to a group where the leader can, by fiat, create new essential beliefs, they don’t have the same level of freedom to challenge positions as someone whose leader is seen as a fallible interpreter of an external list of essentials.”

    I’ve never disputed that catholics have more constraints. We all already know that. That doesn’t prove the most contested point, which is whether faithful catholics can be true scholars. If your point is that evangelicals have more freedom because they have fewer constraints, than you have no reason to argue with me, because that isn’t the point I’m contesting. I’m arguing it is possible for someone to be both a faithful roman catholic and a scholar. To refute my claim you must show how it is impossible. Not more difficult, but impossible. Arguments of degree will not cut it here.

    Btw, I’m not a faithful catholic anyway. I lost my confident faith as a catholic a while ago. I’m still unsure about the truth of Christianity or which Christianity, if any is true. if your criteria of scholarship is correct, than I can be more scholarly than all of you since I don’t have those essentials holding me down.

  44. Daniel,

    “When the pope says something “CAN BE” a first step towards AIDS prevention, that shouldn’t be understood as “should not be” or “is still prohibited”.”

    Yes it should. The movement from a greater evil to a lesser evil is a first step toward acting morally. But that does not mean that the lesser evil is no longer prohibited.

    “The pope said it is a step in the right direction, not that it is wrong and a step towards error.””

    You are aware that the argument from silence is a falllacy, aren’t you? If the pope doesn’t say “x is wrong,” that doesn’t mean that the Catholic position is now “x is right.” Rather, everything that the Magisterium has taught on the subject still stands. Humanae Vitae still stands.

    And the Catechism’s teaching on this subject (CCC 2366-2372) are not overturned in any way by what Pope Benedict did or didn’t say.

    In short, nothing Pope Benedict said or didn’t say overturns the Catholic teaching prohibiting the use of prophylactics.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  45. I think we all need to distinguish two different claims here…

    1) One cannot be a faithful roman catholic and a scholar

    2) It is harder for catholics to be good scholars because they have more limitations on what conclusions they can believe while remaining faithful catholics.

    Claim number 1, I think, is more like a claim of contradiction. It is obviously false, because there are faithful roman catholics who are also scholars. If someone then says, “well, they can’t be a TRUE scholars” it is more like claim number two.

    However, any claim that faithful catholics will have a harder time being good honest scholars presupposes that the evidence doesn’t point towards catholicism or that catholicism is really hard to believe.

    But if that is the underlying claim, then this post is mere preaching to the protestant choir, not really a point of dialogue between catholics and protestants, and can just be ignored by catholics.

    In fact, catholics can just go and create their own post about how “true scholars” see the truth and become catholic. They can go on about how no “true” church historian could read the church fathers and remain protestant. In fact, I’ve seen this happen!

    But what’s the point?

  46. @TDC, a scholar isn’t just one that studies. When scholars publish, for example, they are peer reviewed by other scholars. As a Catholic, a scholar might be able to peer review the writings of another peer, and can present a scholarly paper on why they thing some friar or priest got something wrong, but they have their hands tied with it comes to doing any kind of skepticism or testing or validating anything from the Vatican. If the Pope comes out tomorrow with a stance on something, you can’t really challenge that and remain in good standing in the church. Beckwith couldn’t write a book about how the Pope’s position on stem cell research was unbiblical or immoral and remain in good standing in the Catholic Church. Yet, as a protestant and ETS president, if a leading pastor (say some current or former head of the the SBC or some well known guy like Rick Warren or Billy Graham) he could have written a book in disagreement with one of their position and still remained in good standing in evangelical protestant circles. “Free to disagree” is something that Protestants have that Catholics don’t. And the inability to disagree is a limitation. If you can’t see that, I can’t think of a way to explain it in any simpler terms. Rob Bell is free to challenge an eternal hell and get challenged back by folks that won’t loose their church membership over it. But if the Pope comes out and says something about hell, the same kind of scholarly examination and possible disagreement with it is not possible by Catholics.
    In OT times, a prophet was able to be tested to see if he was legit. If the prophesy didn’t come true, you could label him as a false prophet. Catholicism has brought this “mouthpiece of God” kind of position forward, but one is not allowed to challenge it. If you are a Catholic and think you DO have the same freedoms to challenge and test what comes from the Vatican, then test *that* and see where it gets you. Stand up after mass some day with your own 95 thesis of things you think the current or prior popes are wrong about. Let us know how that works out for you. :)

  47. Daniel,
    Evangelicals have their hands tied when it comes to doing any kind of skepticism or testing or validating any of the evangelical essentials. Patton couldn’t write a book on how Jesus didn’t really rise from the dead and remain an evangelical.
    If you are a Protestant and think you DO have the same freedoms to challenge and test the essentials, then test that and see where it gets you. Stand up after church some day with your own list of biblical contradictions and arguments against the resurrection. Let us know how that works out for you =).
    Don’t take the above as an insult as I don’t mean I that way. My point is that so much of what you say can easily be turned around and pointed right back at you. That’s why your strategy is just an example of picking and choosing which beliefs to spotlight for your argument.
    Remember, catholics don’t believe everything the pope says is infallible and binding. Catholics have plenty of “non-essentials” over which they are allowed to disagree. Many verses of the bible have not been infallibly defined. People are free to believe or disbelieve in the marian revelations. Catholic biblical scholars do not have to follow everything the pope argues in his book on Jesus.

    You have your “essentials” and non-essenitals and catholics have their own. Both are free to disagree on the non-essentials and remain in good standing, and both are free to disagree with the essentials (or for catholics, dogma) and cease to be in good standing. The difference is only a difference of degree.

  48. Brian, if you think when the Pope says “CAN” that he means “CANNOT”, then we are not dealing in the same realm and I don’t think discussing the pope’s statement any longer is going to move the conversation forward. It isn’t really the topic anyway. The point is that Catholics ABIDE by what the pope says. They are not allowed to CHALLENGE what the pope says. So when the vatican comes out with a “clarification” and says CAN really still does mean CANNOT, that’s just accepted. It is the acceptance or ability to challenge that notion that is the topic at hand, not my trying to convince you whether the two words are the same or not.

  49. @TDC: I will try to put this in small words because prior efforts to explain this have failed. In BOTH cases, if you challenge a basic orthodox belief of Christianity, you are out. But a Protestant can challenge something that their pastor says as not being in the Bible. A Catholic can’t challenge the Pope if he were to make the same comment about something not in the Bible. Since the RCC is seen as the official interpreter of Scripture AND can add to it with further teaching, you cannot be a skeptical scholar and challenge that. Protestants are able to disagree over things like the age of the earth and evolution. But if the Pope gets up tomorrow and says that the earth is millions of years old, no Catholic scholar could write a book endorsing young-earth flood geology and saying that science shows that the Pope is wrong and remain in good standing. And since the Catholic and Protestant view of “church” are so different, getting kicked out of it is a lot more consequential. They are just not the same.

    I’ll give you a personal example. I’ve been a deacon before in some churches. In one rather large church with a well-known pastor that I attended, I was nominated to be a deacon by one of the staff members. I didn’t become one because it was a position of leadership and I didn’t agree with the pastor on a couple of issues and let the staff know. But that was the extent of it. I was still a member in good standing and was even allowed to take on different roles in the church. BUT, had I been a Catholic and believed the Pope was wrong, that alone not only challenges something taught in the church, but the papal authority and infallibility. And as a core belief of the church, I would not longer be in good standing in the church. A protestant can disagree with some doctrinal stance in the church and still be an evangelical. A Catholic that disagrees with what the RCC teaches cannot remain a Catholic because one of the core beliefs is that the RCC is always right. Protestants don’t have that “My pastor is infallible” belief and are therefore able to disagree.

  50. Daniel,

    “I will try to put this in small words because prior efforts to explain this have failed.”

    Thank goodness you’re using small words, your superior language was so confusing to me!

    I have affirmed over and over again that I know that catholics have more constraints and fewer things they can challenge. I’m not arguing against that! I am arguing that both catholics and protestants have constraints and limitations. I don’t deny that there are differences of degree.

    Nevertheless, your description of the Pope’s power is not correct. Catholics are not required to believe everything the pope says. It has to be dogma to absolutely required. So if the pope just gets up and says the earth is millions of years old, there will still be catholics in good standing who challenge that.

    You keep talking about how Protestants can disagree with their pastor. You’re picking and choosing again. We both know there are SOME things you cannot challenge and remain an evangelical in good standing. Sure, there are some things you can disagree about too. Likewise, there ARE things that Catholics can disagree about. Most catholic churches and popes believe that there are genuine marian apparitions and even preach on them. However, catholics are free to disagree about that and remain catholics in good standing. Both sides have their essentials and non-essentials. You may not have an infallible pope, but you have certain essentials that will exclude you from evangelicalism by definition if you disagree with them. Catholics have more, but that is only a difference of degree, not of kind, and thus does not exclude a scholar from being roman catholic.


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