Sunday, April 03, 2011

A possibly offensive post

My Catholic readers may want to skip this post. At the risk of offending, but hoping that I will not:

I do not believe that the Scriptures have been written for the purpose of inducing in men a great fear of being damned while at the same time hiding from them the knowledge of what they must do to be saved, which vital knowledge they must then seek from some other source. Yet a certain argument for Catholicism concerning our supposed need for a guide to essential doctrine asks that we take this possibility with the utmost seriousness.

45 comments:

Alex said...

Assume what you have in mind is that the teaching of the Magisterium and apostolic tradition (of which it claims to be the guardian) have equal authority with the sacred scriptures?

The apparently ancient decision to prohibit private study of the Bible was, supposedly, to prevent misunderstanding of the text by the barely literate and to discourage the manufacture of heresies by the 'intelligentsia'. The use of Latin, or better still, Greek, had the advantage of concealing the scriptures from the eyes of the vulgar, I think.

Michael Bauman said...

A clear refutation of Catholic claims on this point is the fact that, quite apart from Roman guidance, people by the thousands and millions have discovered that truth directly from Scripture

Lydia McGrew said...

Alex, actually I had something a little different in mind, though related. But I have to say that I think the concept of "concealing the scriptures from the eyes of the vulgar" is outrageous and unbiblical. St. Paul wrote his letters to the churches. St. John wrote his letters to his "little children"--the Christians of his day, the laymen. The concept of concealing the Scriptures is entirely foreign to biblical Christianity.

What I had in mind was a particular argument sometimes made to Protestants. It goes roughly like this:

1. Doctrine x is not taught clearly in Scripture.

2. Doctrine x is essential to salvation.

3. If we are to know doctrine x with confidence and hence know with confidence something we need for salvation, we must get it from some source other than Scripture, in order to give us confidence in our otherwise ill-supported interpretation of Scripture.

4. The best source for this purpose is the Catholic Church.

The image we are to have of Scripture, on this argument, is of a document that makes us think that there are doctrines in a certain zone or area that are essential for salvation, and that if we don't get it right, or do it right or go to the church that teaches it right in these areas we might be damned. _But_, we are also to view Scripture as merely implying this and giving us an idea of these areas while _not_ clearly teaching these essential doctrines themselves. Hence, we're supposed to get worried and het up that if we don't get it right on x, we might be damned, while not being able to tell from the clear teaching of Scripture how to get it right! This is then supposed to send us off in search of "the true church," "the right tradition," etc., which will give us assurance that we are getting it right on x, since we couldn't have gotten that assurance from Scripture itself.

That's completely wrong-headed.

William Luse said...

It would help if you'd give an example of doctrine X which is essential for salvation but not clearly taught in scripture.

Alex said...

Doctrines that are supplementary to what are explicitly taught in sacred scripture can, so the Roman Church alleges, be inferred by a competent authority - i.e. itself. Ambiguity and outright contradictions in testimony can also be resolved on the same learned basis.

This assumption of authority, which culminates in the theory of infallibility, has a mandate in scripture.

The ecumenical conflict in the early church and, historically, a very low incidence of literacy, explains why the likelihood of theological error creeping into the faith of the multitude has always troubled the Catholic hierarchy.

From the hierarchy's point of view, the eclecticism of 'freelance' preaching is another menace to an orthodox tradition and an invitation to heresy. (Official confirmation of 'doctrinal purity' is conferred by the Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur declarations.)

Taking these sorts of considerations into account, a clerical monopoly on interpretation of the Bible seems quite reasonable, I think.

Yes, the situation you describe it is wrongheaded. But it's well to remember that we judge the religious policies of the Roman Church with the benefit of 2000 years hindsight, and we can apply a scholarly apparatus to the veracity of scripture that wasn't available for the inquiries of St Augustine or Thomas Aquinas.

By the way, Lydia, I'm not a catholic and not a savant of theology. I'm a member of the Church of England, but I rarely attend any services even though I live within a short distance of two magnificent medieval cathedrals: Lincoln and Southwell.

Lydia McGrew said...

Bill, I don't think there are any such doctrines. I think the position is completely incorrect.

Examples that have been given to me or implied to me include the deity of Jesus Christ and the fact that one must receive Communion in the Roman Catholic Church. I would say that the former is clearly taught and that the latter is...not clearly taught. In fact, obviously, I don't think it is necessary for salvation to receive Communion in the Roman Catholic Church.

"Taking these sorts of considerations into account, a clerical monopoly on interpretation of the Bible seems quite reasonable, I think."

Well, Alex, I can't agree. The Apostles were very worried about theological error in their own time. Their solution was to _teach more_ and to make their teaching letters _available_ to the faithful. In fact, the Apostle Paul's solution was to tell the faithful that though he or an angel from heaven were to teach another Gospel from the one they had already been taught, he should be accursed--thus assuming that the lay faithful were capable both of interpreting and of holding fast to the original Gospel in the face of false doctrinal teaching by an apparently authoritative figure.

Lydia McGrew said...

Another example I've recently been given is the importance and/or meaning of baptism. I certainly think the importance of baptism _is_ clearly taught in Scripture. I'm not at all convinced of the Catholic doctrine of baptismal regeneration, so that means that I don't think that meaning is clearly taught in Scripture. However, even if the Catholic position were correct (and I'm just missing it), the important thing is to _be_ baptized, not to believe a correct theory about it. Interestingly, the Roman Catholic Church apparently agrees on that point, holding that valid baptism may be administered by any Christian in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

The idea appears to be, however, that the importance of doing it isn't clearly taught if that theory isn't clearly taught, but that theory is both correct and not clearly taught, therefore the importance isn't clearly taught. I deny the first premise and the "correct" part of the second premise.

Scott W. said...

You have written and recommended many worthwhile things, so the only way you are going to offend me is if you start sending me Jack Chick tracts.

As far as the subject at hand, it is hard to respond because it is so alien from my converion experience. It never really registered that, "Aha! The Church alone has the secrets to salvation, so I'll join the club and they'll let me in on it!" Rather, it was a matter of encountering the teachings first hand and finding, by surprise sometimes, I had no problem with them. I suppose one could quip that I should have studied more and then I should have had a problem with them, but this reminds me of a discussion I read about C.S. Lewis in which one person piped up that Lewis was in Hell because he believed in something resembling the Catholic teaching on purgatory. In other words, it strikes me as the same salvation-by-intellectual-works that you object to, just in the other direction.

I may be way off here, but what this reminds me of is the material vs. formal sufficency of Scripture discussions. Dave Armstrong did some of these. (See here for example.) What I took away from these was that yes, someone with no pre-conceived notions of Christianity could pick up a Bible, read it, make an act of faith in Jesus Christ and thus be saved, and that this view was not contrary to Catholic teaching.

Lydia McGrew said...

I don't know whether Armstrong is saying that or not. He's obviously trying to be really clear, and I've had time only to read part of the long essay, but he seems to jump back and forth a bit. For example, in answering a quotation from his foil writer about people "without faith," he says,

"They can, theoretically (and actually, in many cases) [understand the sentences of Scripture]. That they often don't is evident; hence the need for something more than Scripture Alone."

This sounds like what you are saying--that it's just a statistical matter regarding what most people won't do, not that Scripture itself is actually insufficiently clear.

But later he quotes Mark Shea approvingly on the material/formal distinction:

"The Catholic Faith can agree that Scripture is sufficient, But . . . it also warns that there is a distinction between material and formal sufficiency . . . Simply put, it is the difference between having a big enough pile of bricks to build a house and having a house made of bricks. Material sufficiency means that all the bricks necessary to build doctrine is there in Scripture. However, it also teaches that since the meaning of Scripture is not always clear and that sometimes a doctrine is implied rather than explicit, other things besides Scripture have been handed to us from the apostles: things like Sacred Tradition (which is the mortar that holds the bricks together in the right order and position) and the Magisterium or teaching authority of the Church (which is the trowel in the hand of the Master Builder)."

Now, that really sounds like the "sufficiency" in "material sufficiency" is extremely weak. If what you need is a house, a pile of bricks with no mortar and no building knowledge is pretty much worthless.

The impression I have gotten from some people who have made the argument I'm objecting to is that they are attempting to induce worry in the Protestant: If you don't have and accept an authoritative guide, you should be worried about your salvation, because you should lack all confidence that you have interpreted Scripture well enough to get all the stuff you need for salvation. Maybe you have, but only more or less by accident, because the teaching of Scripture is so often unclear, even in areas Scripture itself flags as super-important.

That idea that Protestants, sans guide, should be pretty worried that they are wrong on essential matters for salvation does seem to fit with Armstrong's quotation from Shea.

Alex said...

Lydia writes: Interestingly, the Roman Catholic Church apparently agrees on that point, holding that valid baptism may be administered by any Christian in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.


Catholics do hold that any Christian may baptize, but the other six sacraments must be administered by a priest - in the cases of Holy Orders and Confirmation, by a bishop.

The Roman Church teaches that the sacraments - which were instituted by Jesus Christ - are necessary for salvation, and it has an exclusive commission to administer them. This claim to exclusivity is very important and rests, among other things, on the preservation of the apostolic succession within the institution of the Roman Catholic Church.

(I believe it acknowledges the validity of Holy Orders in the Eastern Orthodox Church.)

Some Anglo Catholics have doubts and worry about their prospects for salvation unless they can get access to the 'authentic' sacraments; so they join the Roman Church. My brother-in-law, who was an Anglican clergyman, converted to catholicism on such grounds. Under a special dispensation, he has been ordained a Catholic priest though he is a married man.

Lydia McGrew said...

"Some Anglo Catholics have doubts and worry about their prospects for salvation unless they can get access to the 'authentic' sacraments; so they join the Roman Church."

Newman, too. I believe he said somewhere that if he believed he could be saved outside of the Catholic Church he would never switch.

William Luse said...

"Bill, I don't think there are any such doctrines."

It seems to me you could be right about this, but still wrong about the need of a guide, or of belonging to the one fold. I've always assumed that God takes each person according to his conscience. If a Protestant can't see the Immaculate Conception clearly taught in scripture, I can't really say I blame him. That he cannot believe it to be true does not mean that it isn't true. Acting as the judge of whether or not this endangers his salvation is an appointment I decline, because it's beyond my capacity to know.

Re the deity of Christ, one thing that's always interested me about scripture is that none of us come to it without a history. When I first started reading it as a not very young man, I already knew that the orthodox Christian belief about Christ was that he was divine, so that even as a sceptic I was already looking for the signs of it. Every kid of my generation knew that the baby in the manger at Christmas was supposed to have come down from heaven. It's difficult to imagine coming to scripture as a blank slate. If it were possible, I wonder if such a person would come to the conclusion that Jesus was also God (not that he necessarily believed it but would understand that that was what the scriptures were intending to communicate). It certainly seems possible, maybe even likely (the opening verses of John, e.g.). I bring it up because, in my circuitous mind, this connects with the need for a guide in the fact that the origin of Christianity does you one better. Not only can you find the doctrines necessary for salvation in scripture, but the very first Christians became so without benefit of it. The apostles believed because of the words that issued from the lips of Our Lord, and later Christians believed because they heard its faithful transmission from the lips of men like Paul, whose commission to preach - and teach, that is, to guide - was ordained by Christ himself. It's not as though the apostles went around handing out flyers. The scriptures came later. Paul's letters were reminders of the original teachings, to keep the little ones from falling away or being seduced by charlatans. The Catholic teaching (as I understand it and all that) is simply that this authority to teach and guide, which the apostles bore in their very persons, not on a piece of parchment, has never disappeared. But I presume this is all tired ground for you.

I assume the post was provoked by encounters with certain Catholics who make the argument you disagree with. I'm just not sure it's quite the same argument the Church herself makes.

And you're right about baptism as opposed to a theory of it. There are many things I don't understand, but if I understand that one thing - that Christ came to save me - it seems most essential that I obey His commandments than that I have all my questions answered first.

Lydia McGrew said...

Re. the deity of Christ, I think even the hypothetical "blank slate" reader should be able to see that what Jesus believed is directly related to what Scripture is affirming, because of the whole idea that God raised Jesus from the dead (which of course is clearly affirmed at the ends of the Gospels and in Acts and the apostolic letters). So if Jesus was teaching that He was God ("Before Abraham was, I am," for example), then evidently God, so far from striking Him down for blasphemy as the Jewish leaders would have liked Him to do, apparently affirmed Jesus' teachings and His being sent from heaven.

As you say, the opening chapter of John is extremely clear. So is Colossians 1:17, "And he is before all things, and by him all things consist." That whole Colossians passage is rather similar to John 1, actually, though in content rather than in style.

Lydia McGrew said...

Certainly the apostles taught orally to begin with, but Paul started writing his circular letters pretty early. In a different age, he would have been a blogger. :-)

Anonymous said...

I strongly disagree with the first of premises. There is no doctrine in Catholic Church teaching which is not stated in Bible. (A word "clearly" is so vague, so I don't think it is worth of use here).

A tour in Catholic Catechism could convince you.

If you read it carefully you will be surprised that Catholic Church states clearly that someone who does not receives communion or is even not baptized can be saved by the grace of Christ.

For example:
"Every man who is ignorant of the gospel of Christ and of his Church but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it can be saved. It may be supposed that such persons would have desired baptism explicitly if they had known its necessity (CCC 1260)"

Lydia McGrew said...

Anon., that particular quotation seems to be about people who have never heard of Jesus at all. It would be understandable if Catholic doctrine had a different evaluation of the situation of people who knew about both Christianity and Catholicism and chose to remain Protestant. By the same token, I myself consider people to be more culpable who know about Christianity but choose to be atheists.

Christine said...

"If you don't have and accept an authoritative guide, you should be worried about your salvation, because you should lack all confidence that you have interpreted Scripture well enough to get all the stuff you need for salvation."

Yes, that's about right.

I'd only clarify that it's not just any authoritative guide, but the Magisterium.

The doctrine of the Trinity is not at all evident from a reading of Scripture divorced from tradition and magisterial teaching.

The doctrine of baptism being necessary for salvation is not at all evident from a reading of Scripture divorced from tradition and magisterial teaching.

Moral matters like abortion or use of contraception (both considered gravely sinful by the Church and grounds for losing one's salvation if unrepented) are not at all clear from a straight reading of Scripture divorced from tradition and magisterial teaching.

So yes, Catholics do indeed believe that, although one can read Scripture and learn to accept Jesus Christ as one's Savior, one must still take the step of baptism (if you're unbaptized) and receive the sacrament of penance (if you've ever committed a mortal sin) to be fully reconciled to God and thus saved.

Of course, in God's mercy, He will dispense with these requirements where He sees fit--but that is the exception, and not the norm.

I know Protestants don't like any of this, but I can't see how the Catholic Church can possibly hold otherwise. It really does come down to authority. Rejecting the Magisterium merely implies embracing another magisterium, of some other denomination--because we all--none excluded--interpret Scripture in one way or another, following this or that authoritative teacher/pastor/theologian. It's just a matter of which authority we are willing to submit to.

Lydia McGrew said...

Well, at least we have one person willing to defend the argument as authentically Catholic. I tend to think that it is, so thus far, Christine and I agree.

But Christine, I have to say, it isn't about what I _like_. My point is that this is a poor argument. There is no reason why a Protestant should grant that the Scripture is like this--is attempting to get us worried about being damned while at the same time not clearly teaching what we need for salvation. Yet to try to get someone to become a Catholic using this argument, one must assume that the Protestant is taking that possibility seriously.

If Catholics work hard enough to convince people that the Trinity or Jesus' deity really isn't taught clearly in Scripture, they may just find in the end that they've produced non-Christians altogether. In my opinion, it's a dangerous game. Don't be surprised if your target audience just ends up _abandoning_ belief in the Trinity or the deity of Christ! After all, the attempt to get him to become a Catholic by scaring him with the (supposed) unclarity of Scripture on these points may backfire. Why should he still believe the doctrine at all anymore in that case, much less fly to to Catholicism in order to get a clear teaching of it? This argument assumes that the Protestant will keep on clinging to the doctrine, keep on believing that it's true and super-important, after the Catholic apologist has just pulled the Scriptural rug out from under the doctrine. And then, because the Protestant retains an _attachment_ to the doctrine (while accepting that Scripture doesn't clearly teach it), he'll become a Catholic because he can't bear to stop believing it!

As I say, a dangerous game.

As for abortion, Christine, there, I think you're not really following the Catholic line. As I understand it, Catholic teaching on those points purports to explain the natural law, available to non-Catholics as well. The arguments given are meant to appeal to the reason and to awaken the sense of the natural law. In that sense, when the Catholic Church argues against abortion, it presents itself to the Protestant not as an authority to be obeyed and submitted to, but more as a philosopher presenting the claims of reason which all should be able to see when they are well-presented.

Christine said...

"My point is that this is a poor argument."

I don't characterize it as "an argument". It is just the way things are. Scripture really is NOT all that clear about some things essential to salvation, and the Magisterium does indeed faithfully interpret the Scriptures, guided by the Holy Spirit. Now, if you believe the Scripture IS indeed abundantly clear on everything necessary for salvation, then of course you'll find the Catholic Church's position silly.

"Yet to try to get someone to become a Catholic using this argument..."

I would never try to get someone to become a Catholic using this argument.

"After all, the attempt to get him to become a Catholic by scaring him with the (supposed) unclarity of Scripture on these points may backfire."

Again, I would never use this tactic, and I don't know a single Catholic who would. It sounds like a pretty blockheaded way to go about convincing anyone to convert to anything.

"[W]hen the Catholic Church argues against abortion, it presents itself to the Protestant not as an authority to be obeyed and submitted to, but more as a philosopher presenting the claims of reason which all should be able to see when they are well-presented."

She presents Herself as both.

Lydia McGrew said...

Well, Christine, the "need for a guide" argument definitely is considered to be an argument for Catholicism, and I can't imagine its being addressed to everyone else and not to Protestants. Besides, the same considerations would apply to pagans and atheists, I think, as to Protestants. But the idea is supposed to be that this is a reason to be a Catholic--because of the need for a guide to these truths, without which one couldn't have them.

Christine said...

"But the idea is supposed to be that this is a reason to be a Catholic--because of the need for a guide to these truths, without which one couldn't have them."

There are truths that Protestants have figured out without resorting to the Magisterium. The divinity of Christ, the Trinity, the immorality of abortion, etc. Plenty of Protestants have come to this through their own reading of Scripture. That's not so much the point as that the *fullness* of the truth is only contained in the Magisterium. So even though Protestants may know this or that truth about the faith, they lack the *fullness* of the faith, which can only be had within the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

I know that doesn't sound ecumenical, and I mean no offense, but this really is what a Catholic believes.

As to coming into the Catholic faith, that is up to a person's conscience, his seeking the Truth, and the grace of God. No amount of fearmongering is going to get him there. (That sort of thing certainly didn't get me to convert from Protestantism to Catholicism.)

Lydia McGrew said...

Well...but...if the Protestants have figured all these things out from Scripture, then maybe they _aren't_ so unclear in Scripture after all. It's not like they've come up with them by accident, after all.

William Luse said...

"Well...but...if the Protestants have figured all these things out from Scripture, then maybe they _aren't_ so unclear in Scripture after all. It's not like they've come up with them by accident, after all."

No, they certainly didn't come up with them by accident. They relied heavily on the explications, the *oral* guiding and teachings first of Christ, then of the Apostles, and later of those they ordained, on through the early Councils who did the "coming up with" for them. Protestants actually did very little figuring out of anything on their own, and are defined more by what they deny in Catholicism than by what they affirm of Christian truth, which was already in full-bodied existence before they came on the scene.

Lydia McGrew said...

The ones I know rely on the Scriptures, which contain the record that we have of the oral teachings of Jesus and the apostles. The fact that Jesus and the apostles taught orally isn't really relevant to the argument, since we would have scarcely any idea what they taught if it hadn't been recorded for us in the Scriptures. They thought so themselves; that's why they wrote them down.

I have no problem being glad for the occurrence of the Council of Nicea, but I absolutely reject the idea that it was explicating something that was _unclear_ in Scripture. In fact, if I thought that, I wouldn't agree with Nicea. I'd go with what was clear in Scripture instead. So would many Protestants I know. Indeed, I do _not_ think that the heavy language of "substance" is necessary belief for salvation. If a child (or anyone) believes that Jesus is God (which is abundantly clear in Scripture) without believing that he is "of one substance with the Father" in those metaphysical terms, such a person can be saved, fully a Christian, etc. Nicea was an important historical event but is not an "authority" like the actual teachings of Christ and the apostles recorded in Scripture. (And even the apostles made a distinction between their own opinions and what they were given by the Lord. St. Paul is quite explicit about it.) In fact, it's when the church councils start teaching things like, say, the perpetual virginity of Mary which are nowhere found in Scripture that many Protestants start just saying that they had gone off the rails.

RP said...

Aquinas said three things are necessary for salvation: what to believe (the Apostles Creed); how to pray (The Our Father); and how to live (the Ten Commandments).

Unfortunately, the Apostles Creed has the part about "the Holy Catholic Church". So if you believe your type of Anglicanism is or is part of the Holy Catholic Church and you are right, even you (joke) may be saved. But if you are wrong? And this cannot be found in Scripture.

Secondly, I have no need to remind you, a philosopher, that every single word written by any philosopher has been interpreted a million different ways. I'd guess this probably applies to reading the Scriptures, too.

Christine said...

I suppose the most obvious question here is, if the Scriptures are so clear about everything necessary for salvation (including moral issues like abortion or other grave sins that can cause the loss of salvation), then why are there so many different Protestant denominations with so many different views on just these very topics, all claiming to read the same Bible?

Lydia McGrew said...

RP, I'm an Anglican only on sufferance. I don't subscribe to the branch theory. The "Holy Catholic church" can be taken in a very loose, a very strict, or an intermediate sense. I take it in the very loose sense.

The mere fact that words _can_ be interpreted in umpty ways does not bother me in the least. You and I seem to be communicating and understanding each other despite that fact, and if it were not possible to do so, that would mean that either no one could understand anyone or that an infinite regress of "authoritative interpreters" was necessary (which, actually, comes to the same thing).

Christine, if the Catholic Church teaches so clearly about abortion, or for that matter, about Christianity, why are there so many atheists and pro-choicers? That sort of anti-bandwagon argument ("So many people interpret the Bible in different ways that the Bible must not be clear") is just really, really weak. The truth can be clear, but people don't accept it, or they have been confused by someone else, etc. _Plus_, I should add, you will find a surprising (perhaps to you, though not to me) unanimity among historic Protestant denominations on the matter of the deity of Christ!

There certainly are plenty who deny it among liberal modern mainline Protestants. That is also true of liberal modern Catholics. I would bet there are plenty of Jesuits who don't believe Jesus was God, either. When it comes to unbelievers in Christian guise, this has nothing to do, for either nominal Protestants or nominal Catholics, with the unclarity of Scripture on the point.

As for abortion, I don't claim that it's addressed explicitly in Scripture. Neither are many ethical matters (burning your children with cigarettes, for example, or rape or cannibalism). The Catholic Church claims that the wrongness of abortion can be known by the natural light. I agree with the Catholic Church on this. And if you want to ask why, if that's so, so many people are pro-abortion, maybe you should ask JPII. In other words, people do suppress conscience and the law written on the heart. It's called sin. How that's supposed to translate into an argument that Protestants ought to be Catholics is unclear to me.

William Luse said...

"The fact that Jesus and the apostles taught orally isn't really relevant to the argument, since we would have scarcely any idea what they taught if it hadn't been recorded for us in the Scriptures."

Are you kidding me? It's not relevant? Don't you see that your words above simply *presume* that there can be no authority external to scripture, which would include Christ and the Apostles, whose spoken words saved many souls without benefit of scripture? Or was their authority valid only because scripture tells us so in retrospect? Without a piece of paper the truth of Christianity is void? Grace cannot work in men's hearts without it? Christian truth arises from a written document, and is not a thing that lives and breathes in Christ's own body? If there had never *been* any scriptures the truth would have been handed down inviolate. We revere scripture and its doctrinal infallibility because of how it came into being, and by whose hand it was given, not the other way around.

RP said...

The "Holy Catholic church" can be taken in a very loose, a very strict, or an intermediate sense. I take it in the very loose sense.

My very point. What's that saying of Vonnegut? Something like, "And so it goes".

I really have no desire that you become Catholic (though you'd be a good one). Nor do I have any opinion about your salvation one way or the other. It's my own that concerns me.

Lydia McGrew said...

Okay, hold on, hold on, Bill, let's take this one bit at a time. Too many different things all tangled up here:

"Don't you see that your words above simply *presume* that there can be no authority external to scripture, which would include Christ and the Apostles, whose spoken words saved many souls without benefit of scripture?"

No, my claim was an historical one and also a point about argument. First, historically, I think it's pretty questionable to say counterfactually that we'd know what we do know, or anything close to it, about what Jesus and the apostles taught if it weren't for Scripture. The early church fathers, for example, quote and allude to the gospels and epistles all over the place. The gospels and the other books of the New Testament were extremely important, historically, in the preservation of _knowledge_ of what Jesus and the apostles had taught. It appears that the apostles (and their immediate associates like Luke) thought so, too. This is why they wrote.

Second, as far as argument goes, whether the further, post-canonical traditions of the Catholic Church are authoritative and must be believed by all Christians is what is at issue. Now, simply saying that Jesus and the apostles taught orally doesn't answer this question. In fact, I don't see how, "Jesus and the apostles taught orally before Scripture was written" even makes probable, "Christians ought to believe the on-going development of doctrine taught by the Roman Catholic magisterium." When I said it wasn't relevant, that was what I meant: Argumentatively, one doesn't follow from the other. It's not logical for a Protestant to slap his forehead and say, "Oh! That's right! Jesus and the apostles taught orally before Scripture was written down. So that means there is an on-going teaching magisterium of the Church, residing in successors to the apostles, whose authoritative pronouncements I ought to believe!"

"Or was their authority valid only because scripture tells us so in retrospect? Without a piece of paper the truth of Christianity is void? Grace cannot work in men's hearts without it? Christian truth arises from a written document, and is not a thing that lives and breathes in Christ's own body?"

No, I never said any of that and didn't intend any of that. It is the gospel that saves. The Scriptures are a great gift of God for giving and preserving the Gospel. Historically, they may well have been a necessary gift. (See above and below.) But it's knowing and responding to the Gospel that saves men's souls.

"If there had never *been* any scriptures the truth would have been handed down inviolate."

Now that's a very bold historical counterfactual. Looking forward, I strongly suspect the apostles and their closest associates disagreed with you or at least thought it a sufficiently dubious proposition that they didn't take any chances. That's why they bothered to write. In fact, they often wrote because they saw churches getting off the rails *right in their own time* and were moving quickly to stop it. In retrospect, I think they were very wise.

(cont.)

Lydia McGrew said...

"We revere scripture and its doctrinal infallibility because of how it came into being, and by whose hand it was given, not the other way around."

It's certainly true that apostolic origin, or origin from a near associate of an apostle with apostolic approval, was vital for the acceptance of New Testament books. It's amazing how some people--some infidels and some, unfortunately, Catholics--obscure this _historical_ fact when they try to make a mystery out of the formation of the canon. But this fact about apostolic origin just simply does not support belief in an on-going and necessary infallible teaching magisterium.

In fact, it shows that we ordinary blokes can reconstruct in a scholarly and reasonable fashion the reasons for the inclusion of particular books in the canon. Unfortunately, some Catholic apologists make the whole thing (the making of the NT canon) a "black box" process, something that, they then imply, we laymen must simply take on blind faith as having been done in the later centuries of the church by the guidance of the Holy Spirit bestowed upon special people, which we others cannot presume to understand or approve rationally and historically. The fact that apostolic origin can be investigated historically supports, if anything, a rather Protestant independence of spirit and mind in this regard.

awatkins69 said...

The Gnostics, Marcionists, Montanists, Arians, Docetists, and Nestorians didn't find the divinity of Our Lord or the Holy Trinity obvious, did they?

"The Apostles were very worried about theological error in their own time. Their solution was to _teach more_ and to make their teaching letters _available_ to the faithful."

Certainly. But after the Apostles died and went to heaven the faithful were left to fend for themselves when for centuries most people were illiterate (and the biblical canon was still up for grabs)? The Catholic Church agrees that we need to have teachers, and not only that, *official and reliable* teachers; indeed, that's the whole argument from the Catholic perspective, no? Why else did the orthodox Christians consider it necessary to convene ecumenical councils with official canons and dogmatic pronouncements?

I'm interested in knowing what subset of Christian doctrines you would consider essential for salvation, and why these but not others? Are there other Christian denominations who disagree?

I'm also interested in understanding why Protestantism would be necessary if all we had to believe was a certain subset of doctrines which Catholics already held to? (Unless of course on your view Catholics *don't* hold to those doctrines) Suppose that Martin Luther was necessary to rejuvenate the Church in the 16th century. Fair enough, but why the new doctrines, new solas, new hierarchies, new schisms, and new confessions of faith if they weren't necessary for salvation and a Catholic is just as well being a Catholic as he is being a Protestant? I don't think Luther or Calvin were writing books or starting new denominations because they thought they just had some cool ideas.

Forgive me since I've only read through some of the comments. If you've already addressed these questions just let me know, but I'd like to hear your thoughts if you've got time.

awatkins69 said...

Not to bombard with links, but this one has quotes from the Fathers. Indeed, I couldn't have said it better myself. Much better to hear it from Ss. Athanasius, Hilary, and Vincent than Alfredo.

http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2010/10/is-scripture-sufficient/

The page also links to a longer article by Bryan Cross who is rather..uh..thorough. Best.

Lydia McGrew said...

Hey, A. Watkins, just to address some of what you ask:

I don't think the mere fact of disagreement or the existence of those who deny something (e.g., Arians)indicates Biblical unclarity. Compare the fact that the Catholic Church itself teaches that the wrongness of abortion can be known by _reason_, yet there are many who deny the wrongness of abortion. If the one argument works ("If that can be known just by reflecting on the Bible, why do so many people disagree?") a similar argument should work for many ethical truths which the Church itself claims are knowable by the natural light. I've coined the term "anti-bandwagon" argument for this argument from disagreement. I think it's weak.

On the Reformation, I think that sometimes people conflate, "Not absolutely necessary to be believed for salvation" with "Not important."

Now, that's _not_ what I would say. I think lots of beliefs are important that are not strictly necessary for salvation. For example, I think someone can be an annihilationist and be saved, but I think annihilationism is importantly wrong. You get the picture. To pick perhaps an even more urgent example from my perspective, I think fideism/anti-evidentialism is *very, very importantly* wrong, yet I think that probably thousands if not millions of anti-evidentialist Christians are going to heaven.

So I don't need to defend the idea that Protestantism is important by holding that Catholics are going to hell or even probably going to hell.

Christine said...

Lydia,
But your "anti-bandwagon" argument actually supports the notion that we need an authoritative teacher to interpret Scripture. So many people do NOT see truths clearly, whether because of defects in their own character, the culture in which they were raised, bad catachesis, etc. The Magisterium exists to set forth the true doctrines of the faith so that there remains no confusion among the faithful.

Do you honestly think that it is crystal clear from a straight reading of Scripture, divorced from any interpretation or tradition, that all human life begins at conception and it is a sin leading to loss of salvation to terminate that life at any point during pregnancy?

Is it really clear from a straight reading of Scripture divorced from tradition or interpretation which sins lead to loss of salvation and which do not? Or whether salvation can be lost at all (which many Protestants sincerely believe--I myself did once)?

Is it really clear from a straight reading of Scripture divorced from tradition or interpretation that a sacramental confession is necessary to restore a person to a life of grace, once he's committed a mortal sin?

Of course not. That's not at all clear (although there are verses to support it). Yet this is a truth I believe is essential to salvation. Of course, 99% of Protestants (100%?) do not believe it is essential to salvation, and therefore it is not surprising that you hold the position you do.

Lydia McGrew said...

Christine, I don't think you've quite understood my position regarding ethical matters. I do _not_ claim that the Scriptures expressly address every ethical matter of grave importance. In fact, I denied it above. When I was discussing doctrines that must be believed for salvation and Scriptural teaching, I was discussing doctrine--theological doctrine.

If I were to include ethical matters, I would include reason and natural law along with Scripture.

My point here with regard to abortion is also one that I don't think you have fully understood. My point is this: The Catholic Church itself teaches that the wrong of, for example, abortion, is *evident to reason*. Now, just as people make arguments against the clarity of Scripture from disagreement, so to someone _could_ make an argument against the Church's own position on these ethical matters from the mere fact of disagreement.

As far as the usefulness of those who teach the truth--both on morals and on doctrine--I would never deny it. It is always useful. It is useful from all sources--Protestant pastors, Catholic theologians and ethicists, parents, philosophers. I'm very glad for the work that the Catholic Church has done on these ethical matters. I'm also glad for the work that many Protestants have done as well. I was pro-life before ever reading any Catholic argument on the subject. It all helps. Reading Catholic philosophical arguments on ethical matters and profiting from them, however, does not require taking the Catholic Church to be an authoritative and magisterial teacher.

(By the way, I'm _rejecting_ the "anti-bandwagon argument," not making it.)\

I could, of course, go through your entire list. As you would guess, I think some of the things you consider "necessary for salvation" (such as auricular confession to a priest) to be _false_, so naturally I consider that it makes perfect sense that Scripture does not clearly teach them!

As for the possibility of loss of salvation, it's important to realize that *knowing the truth* about that can itself be *unnecessary* for salvation, even if the truth is that one can lose one's salvation! For example, suppose that some Baptist believes in the "once saved, always saved" doctrine. Does it follow that he's probably going to hell? No, it doesn't. Because even from the perspective of the person who believes that salvation can be lost, the important thing is that the Baptist continue to have an on-going commitment to and love for Christ, confess his sins, etc. And the "once-saved-always-saved" Baptist may _very well_ "continue in the faith" just like that despite his meta-level belief about salvation. I have known many, many such. Their gratitude and love of Christ impels them so to do.

Christine said...

"As you would guess, I think some of the things you consider "necessary for salvation" (such as auricular confession to a priest) to be _false_, so naturally I consider that it makes perfect sense that Scripture does not clearly teach them!"

Well, there you go.

And this really comes down to how we know which truths are essential to salvation and which are not. I believe Martin Luther's novel formulation that one is saved by faith *alone* is heretical. (Can God in His mercy allow souls into heaven through faith alone? Undoubtedly. But that's the exception, not the rule.) In the normal economy of salvation, more is needed: baptism, a sacramental confession if mortal sin has been committed, holy perseverance in faith, hope, and charity.

As a Protestant, you disagree. As a Catholic, these are things I fundamentally believe are essential to salvation, and they are not at all clear from a reading of Scripture divorced from authoritative teaching. So you can understand, then, why Catholics hold the position they do about the Magisterium.

Lydia McGrew said...

Christine, I certainly don't claim that the Catholic view as I've discussed it so far in this post and thread is _incoherent_.

However, I do sometimes feel puzzled about how someone would come to hold that view. After all, either one has independent reason to believe doctrine x or one doesn't. Suppose that one does have such independent reason. Then one is already all set on doctrine x and doesn't need to accept the teaching of the authority of the Church in order to have it. On the other hand, if one has _no_ independent reason to believe doctrine x (say, the necessity for aural confession to a priest or the doctrine of the immaculate conception), then why become a Catholic at all? The Protestant will think it false in the first place and may understandably take the fact that the Catholic Church teaches it to be evidence _against_ Catholicism.

So the route from "here" to "there" is pretty obscure to me. And my point in the main post was mainly to criticize, as an argument, something that you say is not something you would make as an _argument_ in any event.

Lydia McGrew said...

I should add: I don't think metalevel beliefs about which truths are necessary to believe for salvation are themselves necessary for salvation! As I said to someone in correspondence recently, I know people who think it necessary for salvation that one not be a faithful, knowledgeable, serious Catholic. Obviously, I think they're wrong about this metalevel belief. On the other side, there are traditionalist Catholics who think that (as you say) in the normal economy of grace one is in grave danger of damnation if one is not receiving valid sacraments (hence, RC sacraments) and sacrificing one's mortal sins to a priest. I think they're wrong about that, too.

But I think both groups of people probably do believe basic object-level Christian beliefs (not beliefs about beliefs but beliefs about Jesus, God the father, sin, and so forth), and I think they are probably both on their way to heaven despite their false metalevel beliefs.

Lydia McGrew said...

Sorry, that should be "confessing one's mortal sins..."

Christine said...

"On the other hand, if one has _no_ independent reason to believe doctrine x (say, the necessity for aural confession to a priest or the doctrine of the immaculate conception), then why become a Catholic at all?"

I do believe one has independent reason to believe in confession and the immaculate conception. I don't believe these are necessarily clear from Scripture--but neither are lots of things. (Belief in the immaculate conception is not necessary for salvation, by the way.)

You're basically asking why one would ever convert to the Catholic faith. Well, there are many, many reasons. For instance, I left the Catholic Church to become an evangelical Christian for the next 11 years. It was actually my convictions on abortion and divorce/remarriage that started making me take the Church very seriously. I realized that out of all Christian denominations, the Catholic Church was the only one, for 2,000 years, that had stood up against these practices, despite the change in social mores throughout the years. It greatly bothered me that Protestant denominations taught different things with regard to these issues, and some of them had even changed their teachings over the years. Each denomination claims to interpret the same Bible. There was no *authority* to show me which interpretation was right--and it wasn't clear to me from Scripture alone. That was the first thing that made me take notice of the Catholic Church.

Then I had to wrestle with the theology--transubstantiation, salvation, intercession of the saints, papal authority, etc. It was a time of intense wrestling and thought and prayer--but the Holy Spirit granted me light bit by bit on each of these.

When I made my first confession, even then, I had doubts about whether what I was doing was "real." I can say in all honesty, though, after having made the confession and received absolution, that I literally felt a physical lightness as I walked out of the confessional. It was totally unexpected, and unexplainable. It was not psychological. It was real. I literally felt 20 pounds lighter as I walked to the pew, as if some huge burden had just been lifted from me after all these years of carrying it around. It's a subjective and mystical experience that can't be explained to anyone, but absolutely convinced me that what happened in that confessional was real.

I also had intense experiences after receiving the Eucharist, which are personal and need not be disclosed here. But they were sufficient to convince me (I who still had doubts even then) that this was REAL. And the changes in me as a person, with regard to sins that I used to struggle with and no longer do, are further proof to me that the sacraments do exactly what the Church says they do, and are exactly what the Church says they are.

I know these are not *proofs* of the truth of the Catholic faith, any more than your subjective experiences are proof of the truth of Protestantism. But for me, they did much to confirm that my conversion was indeed led by God, and that I had come to the Truth.

Lydia McGrew said...

Well, actually, by "independent," I meant "independent of the fact that the Church teaches them."

To tell the truth, I have no subjective experiences (similar to your descriptions) that lead me to believe that Protestants are right and Catholics wrong. I scarcely have any type of mystical experiences at all that I know of. Maybe occasionally an odd dream that needs to be explained, but nothing that bears directly on these kinds of issues.

awatkins69 said...

Thanks for the reply. I kind of wonder whether or not an argument similar to yours can be used to argue against the authority of the Bible. Just as you might say the Protestant doesn't need the authority of the Church for salvation, couldn't someone who only relies on natural theology say they don't need the authority of the Bible for salvation?

Let's suppose that two doctrines which are necessary for our salvation and for being a Christian are the deity of Christ, Christ's sacrifice for our sins, and the Holy Trinity. (Of course, my argument may or may not work depending on which doctrines you consider necessary, which is why I asked.) The fact is, there are people who think we can know these truths through the natural light of reason alone. For example, some people consider the Plato and the Neoplatonists to have come rather close to a "Pre-Christian Christianity". I know that the medieval philosopher Duns Scotus (along with others) held that we can discover that God is Triune simply upon intellectual reflection. In modern times, Richard Swinburne believes (I think) that we can know all of these truths by reason. The point is though that it's entirely *possible* for someone to know all the necessary truths without the aid of Scripture.

So just as the Catholic will say that Scripture, in itself, is materially but not formally sufficient for salvation, maybe the Protestant is compelled to say that reason, in itself, is materially but not formally sufficient for salvation?

Or is the Bible *not* truly necessary for salvation and reason *is* formally sufficient? I don't think we want to say that, do we? My point is, I wonder why if in this case it's a false move to infer that the Bible and all its authority is unnecessary because we can already learn the salvific truths from reason, it's not a false move to infer that the Catholic Church and all its authority is unnecessary. Hope all that's clear. Thoughts?

awatkins69 said...

^Well, I guess that would be "three doctrines", wouldn't it?

Lydia McGrew said...

A. Watkins, whatever Swinburne may think about the Trinity (and I disagree strongly that it can be known by reason alone), I'm quite sure he doesn't believe that the deity of Jesus Christ of Nazareth and his death for our sins, a specific, historic person who lived at a specific time, can be known by reason alone. That would be bizarre beyond belief. Maybe he thinks we can get some sort of above .5 prior that God would become incarnate and die for our sins (I tend to disagree with him there, if so), but Christianity is an ineliminably historical religion, and it seems to me that Swinburne must know that. Now that Jesus has come, we are called upon to believe *in Jesus' death* not just in the abstract idea that someday God would do something about sin. The book of Hebrews implies that the Old Testament saints could do something like that, but then they had to believe in a specific God who had revealed himself, too--for example, Abraham in the God who had called him out of his father's country.

As G.K. Chesterton said, God saved the world by a story, not by philosophy. Certainly if one (knowing nothing of Christ) became some kind of Platonist and came to believe in The Good, one would be trying to go as far as possible without knowing the revelation God has given. At that point we get into the whole question of the noble pagan and so forth, to which different people will give different answers. I tend to think that God will find a way to reveal to such a person--perhaps through sending someone to him--the Gospel. But whatever else such a person may be, he isn't (before learning about and accepting Jesus Christ) a Christian and hasn't heard the good news of salvation through faith in Christ.