“Two terms that often appear in Protestant discussions of faith and works are legalism and antinomianism. The first is giving law too much emphasis, and the second is giving law too little emphasis.
The law in question is God’s law, and in the Bible, the most famous expression of God’s law, was given through Moses. It contains the Ten Commandments, as well as all the other regulations that were part of the Mosaic covenant.
This expression of God’s law became so prominent in Jewish thinking that it is referred to as “the Law of Moses” (Josh. 8:31; Luke 2:22; 1 Cor. 9:9; etc.) or even simply as “the Law” (Matt. 22:36; Luke 5:17; Rom. 2:12; etc.). The latter term also came to be applied to the first five books of the Bible—the Torah or Pentateuch—which contain this law. It is thus spoken of as “the Law,” in contrast to “the prophets,” which are the other major part of the Old Testament (Matt. 5:17; Luke 16:16; Rom. 3:21; etc.).
Traditionally, Jewish theologians have divided the commandments of the law into two classes: those that require an action (“thou shalt”) and those that forbid an action (“thou shalt not”). However, Christian theologians have distinguished three types of commandments, based on the nature of what they require or forbid.
The first are moral commandments, which convey ethical principles (e.g., “Thou shalt not kill,” “Thou shalt not commit adultery”; Exod. 20:12-13). The second are ceremonial precepts that governed the ritual life of Israel (e.g., killing the Passover lamb or the distinction between clean and unclean foods; cf. Exod. 12; Lev. 11). The third type are often called the judicial or civil commands. These regulated the civil life of Israel. They include things like building codes (Deut. 22:8), penalties when one has committed theft (Lev. 6:5), and the establishment of safe zones where a person who has committed accidental homicide may flee (Num. 35:9-15).
Since the Law was given to the Jewish people, a key question for Christian theologians has been which of these commandments remain binding. One of the first controversies that faced the Church was whether Gentile converts to the Faith needed to be circumcised. The Church quickly determined that the answer was no (Acts 15; cf. Acts 10-11; Gal. 2). It was also established that Christians did not need to keep Jewish dietary laws or observe Jewish feast days (Col. 2:16; cf. Mark 7:19).
However, Jesus indicated that other commandments found in the Mosaic Law were binding, saying, “If you would enter life, keep the commandments,” and going on to explain, “You shall not kill, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not bear false witness, honor your father and mother, and, you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 19:17-19).
It thus appeared that certain commandments were binding on Christians, but others were not. Since the commandments that Jesus cited were moral in nature, whereas the ones Christians were not bound to observe were ceremonial, the solution adopted in Catholic circles was that it is God’s moral commandments that apply to all peoples.
Thus, Paul can speak of Gentiles who do not have the Law of Moses but who nevertheless “do by nature what the Law requires,” for “what the Law requires is written on their hearts” (Rom. 2:14-15). Since these moral commands are part of human nature, they constitute a “natural law” that all, including Christians, are bound to observe.
Christians are not bound to observe the ceremonial requirements of the Mosaic Law. These requirements pointed forward to the coming of Christ but have now been superseded (Col. 2:17). In their place, Christ has given us other ceremonies, such as baptism, which replaces circumcision and is thus “the circumcision of Christ” (Col. 2:11-12). Christians are thus bound not by the Law of Moses, but by “the law of Christ” (1 Cor. 9:21; Gal. 6:2).
At the time of the Reformation, some Protestants did not like the concept of natural law, which they thought violated the principle of sola scriptura by encouraging us to look to human nature to figure out moral questions. However, other Protestants retained natural-law reasoning.
All Protestants have held that Christians are bound to observe God’s moral commandments, and most have agreed that Christians are not bound to observe the ceremonial and civil precepts of the Mosaic Law. But not all agree.
For example, Seventh-Day Adventists have held that Christians are obliged to observe certain laws traditionally considered ceremonial, such as the requirement to keep the Jewish Sabbath (i.e., Saturday).
Similarly, some Reformed (Calvinist) Protestants have advocated a view known as Christian Reconstructionism or Theonomy, which holds that the civil law of modern societies should be informed by the civil commandments of the Mosaic Law. This includes the use of Mosaic penalties for various crimes, and some authors have advocated the use of the death penalty for adultery, homosexuality, blasphemy, witchcraft, and belonging to a false religion.
In addition, there have been many disputes in Protestant circles about whether particular practices are compatible with God’s law—including ones mentioned in the Bible (e.g., drinking alcohol, dancing, gambling, wearing makeup) and others not mentioned (e.g., smoking).
When two groups of Protestants have different views of how God’s law should be applied, the group seen as requiring too much of Christians is likely to be accused of legalism, whereas the group seen as requiring too little is likely to be accused of antinomianism (from Greek roots meaning “against the law”).
In addition, these terms are applied to those who are seen as requiring too much or too little for salvation. Thus, those who think repentance from sin or baptism are required may be accused of teaching “works salvation” and legalism by those who do not, and the latter will be accused of antinomianism by those who do.”
“I have found that the canon of Scripture is the single most fruitful topic to discuss with Protestant friends. The canon is the set of books that make up the Bible—Scripture’s “table of contents”—and it is one of the most important issues between Catholics and Protestants for two reasons: first, because the Catholic and Protestant canons differ (Catholics have seventy-three books in their canon and Protestants have sixty-six); second, because Protestants believe in a doctrine called sola scriptura or “the Bible alone.”
Sola scriptura means that only the Bible is the sole, infallible rule of faith and the sole source of public revelation given by God to man. Under this doctrine, Scripture is the first, best, and ultimate depository for divine truth, as well as the only one that is without error, having been inspired by God himself, who cannot lie.
But for sola scriptura to be true, we must first be able to know which books, exactly, make up Scripture (i.e., the biblical canon). We must also know this biblical canon with a certainty strong enough to bind our consciences. After all, if we believe that God inspired books to be written such that they are without error but we don’t know which books those are, we are left in the unacceptable position of not knowing whether a given book is inspired (and therefore inerrant) or whether it is just another book written from the mind of a human being.
Martin Luther was not afraid to challenge the canon of Scripture. He relegated four New Testament books to an appendix, denying that they were divinely inspired. Though this alteration of the New Testament wasn’t adopted by the Protestant movements, his alteration of the Old Testament was, and by the end of the Reformation Protestantism had removed seven books (the deuterocanonicals) from the Old Testament canon.
This means if Protestantism is true, God allowed the early Church to put seven books in the Bible that didn’t belong there.
Why Protestants changed their canon
The Protestants rejected the books for several reasons, two of which we will focus on here. The first was a “problematic” passage in 2 Maccabees, and the second was their desire to go “back to the sources”—ad fontes—which to them meant using the same books that the Jews had decided upon.
2 Maccabees included a laudatory reference to prayers for the dead, a practice that the Catholic Church had encouraged for assisting the souls in purgatory. Recall Luther’s protest of the sale of indulgences to remove the temporal punishment due for already forgiven sins—punishment that must be paid before a soul would be fit to enter heaven. Luther and the Reformers rejected purgatory, so all that was connected with it also had to go: indulgences, prayers for the dead, and the communion of saints (which includes those both living and asleep in Christ).
The Reformers pointed out that these seven books were not included in the Jewish Hebrew Bible. For that reason, they argued, the books should not be accepted by Christians. Some Protestant apologists seek to bolster this claim by mentioning the theory that, around A.D. 90, a council of Jews at Jamnia explicitly rejected these books. (The consensus among modern scholars is that the Jews closed their canon closer to the end of the second century A.D.)
Others like to point out that some Church Fathers rejected one or more of these books. They strengthen this argument with the testimony of Josephus and Philo—two Jews from the first century—who also did not accept them.
Why the deuterocanonicals are inspired
Because Catholicism is true, the church Christ founded, and not the Jews, possessed the authority and divine guidance to discern the Old Testament canon.
A little historical background is needed here. The first Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, used during Jesus’ time, was called the Septuagint. It was an evolving set of books that was added to from the third century B.C. until the time of Christ. It remains the most ancient translation of the Old Testament that we have today and so is used to correct the errors that crept into the Hebrew (Masoretic) text, the oldest extant manuscripts of which date only from the ninth century.
The Septuagint was used extensively in the Near East by rabbis, and in the first century the apostles quoted prophecies from it in the books that became the New Testament. It was accepted as authoritative by the Jews of Alexandria and then by all Jews in Greek-speaking countries.
By the time of Christ, the Septuagint contained the deuterocanonical books. The majority of Old Testament quotes made by the New Testament authors come from the Septuagint. In fact, the early Church used the Septuagint as its primary Old Testament source until the fifth century. Its importance cannot be overstated.
Historical evidence also shows that there were multiple, conflicting Jewish canons at the time of Christ. Protestants claim that the Hebrew canon was closed at the time of Christ. But let’s stop and think about that: How could the Jews close their canon when they were still awaiting the advent of the new Elijah (John the Baptist) and the new Moses (Jesus)?
Recall that Malachi 4:5 tells us that God would send a new Elijah the prophet: “Behold I will send you Elias the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.” We know from John 1:19-25 that the Jews were eagerly awaiting this new Elijah, as well as the new Moses.
Since many prophets in the Old Covenant had been inspired by God to write books, it only makes sense that the Jews would expect these two great prophets to write books as well. Closing the Hebrew canon before the prophets’ advent, then, would have been unthinkable.
Timothy Michael Law, in his new book When God Spoke Greek, has demonstrated that the Jews did not close their canon until the second century A.D. This fact renders the (alleged) Jewish council’s decision at Jamnia moot. It should be noted that most scholars today doubt that any such council ever took place.
But even if it did, would Jewish leaders possess the authority to make a decision binding upon the Christian Church? Those Jews who had accepted Christ had already become Christians. The remainder had no authority to decide anything about divine truth, as that authority had passed to those filled with the Holy Spirit (i.e., the apostles). The same goes for the opinions of Josephus and Philo. The Jews did not have the authority to decide the canon. The Church did.
Law also shows that the Greek Septuagint is a witness to an, at times, even more ancient textual stream of the Hebrew scriptures when compared with the Masoretic text. Ironically, this meant that the Reformers goofed when they relied upon the Masoretic text and the (truncated) Hebrew canon in their attempt to go “back to the original sources.” They should have used the Septuagint translation and included the seven deuterocanonical books! Thus the argument that Christians should base their Old Testament off of the Hebrew Bible rather than the Greek Septuagint is dubious.
Regarding Church Fathers doubting the deuterocanonical books, it is true that several rejected one or more of them or put them on a level lower than the rest of Scripture. But many, including those with doubts, quoted them as Scripture with no distinction from the rest of the Bible.
The broader fact is that the testimony of the Fathers was not unanimous on the Old Testament canon. Even Jerome, the great biblical scholar, early in his career favored the Hebrew canon but then changed his mind and submitted his opinion to the wisdom of the Church, accepting the deuterocanonicals as Scripture (ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf203.vi.xii.ii.xxvii.html).
Finally, it should be pointed out that Protestants seeking to defend their canon based on historical evidence—even if they are convinced they have found sufficient proof—run into an insurmountable problem: Nowhere in Scripture does it say that this is the way to know which books belong in the canon. Such a criterion for choosing the canon in fact contradicts sola scriptura, because it is an extra-biblical principle.
A consistent Protestant argument for selecting the canon of Scripture, then, must itself come from Scripture, which would create a circular argument. Unfortunately—but providentially—no such instructions from God exist. No table of contents is found in any biblical book. No scroll with a table of contents is considered inspired by Protestants (or by Catholics).
The self-authenticating canon
Most Protestant apologists realize that all their stalwart arguments have iron-clad rebuttals. And so many have abandoned those arguments and cling to their last remaining bastion: They claim that the inspired books authenticate themselves. This idea is so widely used that it is worthy of a lengthy explanation.
The self-authenticating canon means that a true Christian can read a given book and easily tell whether it is inspired by God or not. The Holy Spirit dwelling within the Christian would witness to the book’s inspiration. This theory did away with the need for trusting the corrupted early Church or for tracing the messy history of the canon’s development. Instead, you as a faithful Christian simply picked up your Bible, read the books, and listened for the inner witness of the Spirit telling you that the books were inspired by God.
Similarly, you could theoretically pick up a non-canonical epistle or Gospel from the first or second century, read it, and note the absence of the Spirit’s confirmation of its inspiration. As Calvin described it:
It is utterly vain, then, to pretend that the power of judging Scripture so lies with the church and that its certainty depends upon churchly assent. Thus, while the church receives and gives its seal of approval to Scripture, it does not thereby render authentic what is otherwise doubtful or controversial. . . . As to their question—How can we be assured that this has sprung from God unless we have recourse to the decree of the church?—it is as if someone asked: Whence will we learn to distinguish light from darkness, white from black, sweet from bitter? Indeed, Scripture exhibits fully as clear evidence of its own truth as white and black things do of their color, or sweet and bitter things do of their taste. . . . those whom the Holy Spirit has inwardly taught truly rest upon Scripture, and Scripture indeed is self-authenticated (Institutes of the Christian Religion, I, vii.1, 2, 5).
Calvin makes two claims here. First, that the Church does not give authority to Scripture but rather Scripture has authority by the fact that God inspired it; second, that a Christian can know the canon from the Holy Spirit’s testimony within him, not by trusting a decision of the Church.
Calvin’s first claim has never been contested by the Catholic Church, the Orthodox churches, or any Christian. It is a straw man: The Church teaches that it received inspired texts from God (through human authors) and that God guided it in discerning which among many texts were truly inspired. The Church is thus the servant of written revelation and not its master.
Calvin’s second claim has become the common answer from Protestants who can’t concede that a corrupt Church selected the canon. There’s an element of truth to it: Surely the Holy Spirit does witness to our souls when we read the Bible. But Calvin sets up a false dichotomy here: Either the Church, by discerning the canon, imagines itself in authority over Scripture, or the canon is self-evident to any Christian. Calvin replaces the belief that God guided the Church in selecting the canon with the belief that God guides me or you in selecting it. He forces his readers to choose between these options, but in fact they are both false.
History contradicts Calvin’s claim
There is no principled reason, in Scripture or elsewhere, to believe that God would guide me or you in this discernment but not the Church. Moreover, Calvin’s subjective criterion for discerning the canon is surely impractical and unrealistic. How would a person seeking truth but not yet indwelt by the Holy Spirit know which books to read to find truth? What about a new Christian who had not learned to distinguish the inner voice of the Spirit from his own? At what point after his conversion would a Christian be considered ready to help define the canon? If two Christians disagreed, whose inner judgment would be used to arbitrate their dispute and identify the real canon?
Another problem with Calvin’s claim is that the facts of history contradict it. As we have seen, the selection of the canon was not an easy, debate-free process that ended with the close of written revelation in the early second century. Rather, the canon emerged slowly through a laborious process, with differing canons being proposed by different Church Fathers during these centuries.
If the canon were obvious and self-evident, the Holy Spirit would have led each of them to the same canon. Yet even these faithful, Spirit-filled men, so close to the time of the apostles and Christ himself, proposed different canons. It was not until almost A.D. 400 that the canon was settled, and it contained the seventy-three books of the Catholic Bible. When, more than 1,100 years later, the Reformers changed the canon by rejecting the seven deuterocanonical books (and Luther unsuccessfully tried to discard others), it was another example of intelligent and well-meaning Christians disagreeing about the “self-authenticated” canon.
The books of the canon are not obvious merely from reading them. Martin Luther should prove that to Protestants, since he was the founder of the Protestant Reformation, and yet he tried to jettison four books from the New Testament.
The Church discerns the Old Testament
This means that neither the New Testament nor the Old Testament is self-authenticating. And so we come full circle back to the question of the deuterocanonicals. Weighing this evidence, any open Protestant should be able to admit that the only thing keeping him back from considering these books as inspired by God is the Protestant tradition that rejected them. Is that tradition from God or from men?
The Church’s careful discernment of the canon settled on including the deuterocanonical books. And, with some occasional doubts, the books were consistently included in the canon from the 300s through the 1400s. In fact, the ecumenical council of Florence in the mid-1400s reaffirmed their inclusion in the Old Testament canon. This was long before Martin Luther and the first Protestants and lends further evidence that the Church accepted these books as inspired and did not “add” them to the canon in response to the Reformation, as many Protestants claim.
If Protestantism is true, then for more than a thousand years all of Christianity used an Old Testament that contained seven fully disposable, possibly deceptive books that God did not inspire. He did, however, allow the early Church to designate these books as Sacred Scripture and derive false teachings such as purgatory from their contents. Eventually, God’s chosen Reformer, Martin Luther, was able to straighten out this tragic error, even though his similar abridgment of the New Testament was a mistake.”
“One of the stickiest points in Catholic-Protestant debates is what is meant by the Protestant term sola scriptura, or “Scripture alone.”
Protestant apologists assert the doctrine but are often reluctant to offer a precise definition of it. Most will say that it does not mean certain things and will make a general stab at saying what it does mean, but I do not know of a Protestant apologist who has offered a complete and precise definition.
Thus, Catholic apologists are left in the unenviable position of critiquing an imprecise assertion. They commonly critique what they perceive most Protestants to mean by sola scriptura, which brings on nigh-inevitable charges of misrepresenting “the Protestant position.”
The problem is that there is no single Protestant position on sola scriptura. The term is used different ways, the details of which vary. But there seem to be two major ways the idea is interpreted.
At times the phrase is taken to mean that we must be able to derive from Scripture alone all of the theological truths that God wished to reveal to mankind—and even all of the religious practices in which Christians should engage (i.e., that Scripture is “sufficient for faith and practice”).
Other times a more restricted claim is made: that we can derive from Scripture alone all of the truths that are needed for salvation.
When the doctrine of sola scriptura is not under cross-examination, though, a more robust understanding is employed, and Evangelical Christians are trained to ask reflexively for a biblical basis whenever any theological idea or religious practice is proposed. Thus when Evangelicals talk with Catholics, they identify a particular Catholic doctrine or practice they disapprove of and then ask, “Where’s that in the Bible?” For example, an Evangelical may select a topic such as purgatory (a theological belief) or praying to saints (a practice) and demand a biblical basis for it.
Necessary for Salvation
Note that, strictly speaking, neither of these appears to involve a truth that is necessary for salvation: God exists; God is a Trinity; Jesus is God the Son; Jesus died on a cross for our sins; and we need to repent, believe, and be baptized to be saved—in other words, truths connected directly with the gospel.
Purgatory is not connected with the gospel in that way. Neither is praying to saints. A Protestant asking for biblical bases for these would seem to be using a more expansive understanding of sola scriptura than just the idea that Scripture states or implies all truths necessary for salvation. He seems to be expecting Scripture to contain bases for all theological truths and religious practices.
If the same individual retreats, when sola scriptura is being questioned, to the more modest understanding of it, then it is fair for the Catholic to note the inconsistency and ask him to choose one understanding of the doctrine and stick with it.
If he chooses the more expansive understanding, then he endorses a position that is much more difficult to defend. As many works of Catholic apologetics have shown, nobody in the pages of Scripture itself operated on the principle that all belief and practice should be derivable from Scripture alone. It’s hard to find passages that could be construed as teaching this idea, and it is easy to find passages that indicate the contrary, such as Paul’s exhortation to his readers to heed all of the traditions they had received, whether they were written in his letters or conveyed orally (2 Thess. 2:15).
If, though, the Evangelical chooses the more modest interpretation of sola scriptura, then he will have to let go of many common Protestant objections to Catholicism. If only truths necessary for salvation have to be given a biblical basis, then he would not be able to object to purgatory or praying to saints or Marian doctrines or other Catholic beliefs and practices that have been criticized since the Reformation. He might still disagree with Catholics on these, but he would not be able to fault a Catholic for not providing a biblical basis for them.
An Evangelical might say, “Wait a minute: If a Catholic denies the existence of purgatory, which the Church has taught infallibly, that would be a grave sin. If he did it with adequate knowledge and consent, his grave sin would become mortal, and he would lose his salvation. Thus, for a Catholic, things such as purgatory are necessary for salvation.”
It’s true that a Catholic would commit a mortal sin under the circumstances just named, but that does not make purgatory a truth “needed” for salvation. If you have mere moments to evangelize a dying man, there are certain things that he needs to be told for the sake of his salvation: the truths mentioned above about God, Jesus, and how to respond to God’s offer of salvation.
Purgatory is not one of those. Purgatory may be an imminent reality for the dying man, but it is not necessary for him to know about it in order to accept God’s offer of salvation. If he has a while to live, he should be taught the fullness of the faith, including purgatory. But if he is in danger of death, he most needs the core facts of the gospel.
Ya Gotta Have Faith
Purgatory and similar beliefs are related to salvation in a different way: The reason it would be sinful to deny them is that it involves a rejection of the virtue of faith. God has taught them and empowered the Church to propose them infallibly to the faithful. Because that has happened, our faith in the working of God demands that we give assent to them. To refuse to do so, with adequate knowledge and consent, is to reject faith in God. One might still believe in the existence of God—and any number of other individual teachings of the faith—but the virtue of faith that unites us to God is extinguished if we reject his authority to teach us in the manner of his choosing.
A parallel can be proposed in an Evangelical context: The Bible clearly teaches many things that are not directly required for salvation. For example, it teaches the existence of angels. The reality of angels is not itself something that you need to know to get into heaven.
If you have a short time to evangelize a dying man who, by some fluke, has never heard of angels, you don’t have to take time away from telling him about God to make sure he knows about angels. Angels may be about to escort him to the pearly gates, but he doesn’t need to know about them in advance. The existence of angels is thus something that Scripture teaches, but it is not a truth necessary for salvation.
But suppose the dying man knows that the Bible teaches the existence of angels but refuses to believe it. Suppose he also knows that God is the author of the Bible and that God teaches the existence of angels, yet he still refuses to believe it. Does that man have faith in God? He may acknowledge God’s existence, he may want to be saved by God, but classical Protestant theologians would not say that a man who acknowledges God’s existence but refuses to accept what he knows to be God’s word has faith in God—certainly not saving faith.
The question for the Evangelical thus remains whether such beliefs require a biblical basis. If they do require one, then we arrive back at a hard-to-defend interpretation of sola scriptura whereby everything we are expected to believe must have a biblical basis.
But what if the Evangelical really were willing to stick with the more modest interpretation? Suppose he said, “Okay, I don’t agree with Catholics on teachings such as purgatory, but I recognize that they are not necessary for salvation, so I won’t demand that Catholics produce a biblical basis for them.”
He might also say, “In Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8, Paul makes it clear that a person can sin by violating his conscience even when he mistakenly believes he is required by God to do or not do something. Paul even speaks as if such individuals may not be saved. So I can acknowledge that a person who believes the Catholic Church has been authorized to teach infallibly for God would sin and jeopardize his salvation if he rejected the ‘infallible’ teachings of the Church, even if they are not necessary in themselves for salvation.
“I just want to maintain,” he might conclude, “that there must be a biblical basis for every teaching that is in itself necessary for salvation. That’s all I mean when I talk about sola scriptura. What would a Catholic say about that?”
A Catholic Perspective
I don’t know any Evangelicals who are this startlingly consistent in advocating the modest interpretation of sola scriptura.
A Catholic would not use the term sola scriptura—which is historically contentious and highly prone to misunderstanding—but he certainly can agree that the basic facts of the gospel and how to respond to it can be derived from Scripture. A Catholic would add that these facts need to be understood in the light of Sacred Tradition and that the Church’s intervention may be necessary to make sure they are understood correctly.
Indeed, Peter warns that “no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation” (2 Pet. 1:21) and says of Paul’s writings that “there are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures” (3:16). But despite these qualifications, the basic facts necessary for salvation can be given a biblical basis.
It would be interesting to know how far such an Evangelical would be willing to rethink matters: If he’s willing to confine sola scriptura to just the basic facts needed for salvation, then what principles are to be employed in determining the rest of his theology?
The Catholic Church has a few he might want to consider.”
“First, consider how the argument reasons from the fact of disagreement to the conclusion that there is no absolute truth. Such an inference can be made only if the following premise is true: if there were such a thing as absolute truth, then there would be no disagreement. Here’s how the reasoning looks in the form of a syllogism:
Premise One: If there were such a thing as absolute truth, then there would be universal agreement (the hidden premise in the argument stated above).
Premise Two: There is no universal agreement (the fact of experience appealed to).
Conclusion: Therefore, there is no such thing as absolute truth (the relativistic claim).
The problem here is that the relativist must assume the truth of premise one if he wishes the argument to go through. But, of course, assuming that premise one is true falsifies the relativism that is being argued for, since the relativist would be affirming at least one absolute truth—namely, universal agreement is a criterion for absolute truth. Therefore, the argument is self-defeating.
There’s a second way in which the argument is self-defeating. Notice that disagreement is that which the relativist thinks grounds the claim that there’s no absolute truth. Well, if disagreement entails no absolute truth, then our disagreement with the claim of relativism necessarily makes relativism a belief that’s not absolutely true.
Now, perhaps the relativist doesn’t care that his relativism is not absolutely true. Maybe he’s okay with saying that it’s true only for him. But if that’s the case, then his claim becomes trivial. There are three ways to see this.
One: He’d only be expressing a mere preference or taste, something we don’t need to be concerned about.
Two: For the relativist to say that the statement “there is no absolute truth” is relatively true for him means that it happens to be a member of his personal set of beliefs and opinions. By saying his belief that relativism is true is among his personal beliefs and opinions, the relativist is implying such a belief is not among the personal beliefs and opinions of non-relativists. It amounts to saying, “I don’t myself believe in absolute truth, but other people do.” But this doesn’t tell us anything we don’t already know. Thus, it’s trivial.
Three: His appeal to disagreement as an argument for relativism would be futile. Why argue for something if you don’t think it describes the way the world really is? Why try to convince the non-relativist that there’s no absolute truth when the idea that there’s no absolute truth is true only for the relativist?
There’s one more thing to say in response to someone who says he doesn’t care that relativism is not absolutely true since it’s true only for him. Recall what we said above: To say relativism is true only for me amounts to saying, “I don’t myself believe in absolute truth, but other people do.” Well, this means relativism is essentially recognition of the fact that people disagree.
But disagreement is what the relativist appeals to in the argument from disagreement. Remember, the argument states, “There’s no absolute truth because people disagree.” If relativism is essentially an affirmation of the fact that people disagree, and the argument from disagreement appeals to disagreement among people to justify relativism, then the argument from disagreement is tantamount to saying, “People have different beliefs because people have different beliefs.” That’s called circular reasoning, which is not kosher logic.
A third way in which the argument from disagreement is self-defeating is that some disagreements necessarily presuppose an absolute truth. Consider, for example, the belief that God exists and the belief that God doesn’t exist. Given that these are two contradictory beliefs (A and not A), we know at least one truth: that one is true and the other is false. God either does or doesn’t exist. We might not know which is true or false. But we know that one is true and the other is false—unless someone wants to say it’s both true and false, at the same time and in the same respect, that God exists.
For most, however, denying the principle of non-contradiction (something can’t be both true and false at the same time and in the same respect) is too high a price to pay. Moreover, the principle can’t be denied in thought (even if people can voice words denying it), since to say it’s false necessarily presupposes that something can’t be true and false at the same time and in the same respect.
So the next time someone tries to convince you that disagreement about absolute truth means there can be no absolute truth, you can offer a simple syllogism of your own:
Premise One: Any argument that’s self-defeating is a bad argument.
Premise Two: The argument from disagreement is a self-defeating argument.
Conclusion: Therefore, the argument from disagreement is a bad argument.
“Two divergent and opposing schools of Islamic thought emerge. One school is called the Mutazilites, whom we will call the reason party. On other side are the traditionalists, known as the Asharites, (Asharitism, aka voluntarism, occasionalism) whom we will call the irrational party.
The reason party embraces Greek philosophy and attempts to interpret Islamic revelation to fit reason. It proposes that truth can be known not only through the Quran, but also through human reason and through the consideration of creation. The irrational party sees Greek philosophy as un-Islamic. Its members insist that Allah is so transcendent that he can be known only through Islamic revelation, not reason, nor can reason uncover any truths about God.
The divide between the two parties will not only affect the future of Islamic countries, but also ultimately culminate in a full-blown revolt against reality in Western civilization…
Separating God’s will [what He chooses to do] from his nature [reason/will/wisdom/intellect/Who He is] effectively separates God’s will from His wisdom and his wisdom from creation. If God creates however He wishes, then our ability to know God through his creation is snuffed out. Everything would depend on the unknowable God’s disposition, and the only way to know that is through positive revelation. (Ed. i.e. Natural Law does not exist and God cannot be known by anything except what He strictly reveals. Creation is not indicative of God. God is just, but does not need to be just in His actions. God is good, but God does not need to be good because of His nature. God is just, but does not need to be just. God’s will takes on an extreme position even in violation of Who He is, His nature. There is no philosophy. Name your favorite Muslim philosopher?)
…The Asharites oppose [the concept of free will]. People, like the rest of creation, live under divine compulsion. God’s will makes it so. To suggest something like free will would be tantamount to claiming there is something beyond the power of the Almighty. Seeing human freedom as somehow in competition with the sovereignty of the Creator will return during the Protestant Reformation…
…Since things in the Asharite view have no nature, however, one cannot apprehend them in this way; they are only momentary assemblages of atoms…When pushed to its logical limits, God’s unbounded will destroys the possibility of science. Since God’s will does not necessarily reflect His nature, creation reflects only what an unbounded will wished to produce. A thing’s nature, therefore, has no innate power. Everything is immediately caused by God. This means that the combination of two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen makes water, not because of the nature of the atoms, but because Allah wills it to be water. Allah could equally will that the combination of these same elements make a donkey or an orange…
…The laws of nature, therefore, are not effects produced by the overall structure and properties of things in the universe, but merely a pattern of occurrences that God habitually causes through his arbitrary will for reasons known only to Himself. Therefore, God [can have the appearance of] two kinds of will: one that is regular and orderly [only because He seems to will things to be in a consistent way, but could change His will at any moment] and [consequentially] another that [could seem] unpredictable [Ed. water is no longer water it at any moment because God changed His mind]. But if everything around us is a projection of God’s changeable will, then the only the thing that really exists, despite appearances, is God…
If God is the only reality; then accepting the reality of the world becomes a form of polytheism—placing the real in competition with the only real.
The expansion of Islam brought new Greek philosophical works to the Latin West, along with Islamic commentaries on them. The reception of these texts, and especially Aristotelian philosophy, was so positive that many teachers and students began to embrace uncritically everything Aristotle taught. True, Aristotle was a great philosopher, but he made some serious errors (pantheism, the uncreated eternal cosmos, all humans share one intellect, etc.). The confusion was compounded by Islamic commentators, such as Averroes, who followed Aristotle in some of these errors.
One way academics try to avoid the contradiction of embracing both Aristotle and the Faith is to adopt something called double truth (also known as hard Averroism). Double truth separates faith and reason into exclusive spheres of knowledge [Ed. i.e. faith OR reason, NOT fides et ratio, faith AND reason. Truth is truth. First principle of non-contradiction, truth CANNOT contradict truth, otherwise it is an oxymoron. There is no such thing as truth. God is truth. Wherever and however truth is or can be found, God is there and revealed in it. There is no distinction between truth and God, since God is the source and author of all truth.]
God’s Unconstrained Will
Like the irrational party (the Asharites) in Islam, according to the Franciscan [fraticelli, or] spirituals, God’s will is separated from His nature. God wills the good not because He is goodness itself, but rather because He decided to will it at that moment. Later, God could call the same thing evil…The spirituals argued that God could will that property is a good in the Old Testament, but in the New Testament, He chose to will the opposite. Ockham’s thought has striking implications: There is no immutable law or reason. Every order is simply the result of God’s absolute will and can be disrupted or reconstituted at any moment. Indeed, Ockham even maintains that God can change the past if He so desires.
According to this view, reality is not a coherent whole, like a fabric comprising individual threads woven into a tapestry. Reality is more like a computer screen made up of individual pixels. Each pixel is isolated, disconnected, and separate from the others and can change to produce different pictures on the screen.
Therefore, God’s establishment of creatures “according to their kind” is turned into a kind of fiction. Universals (like animality and triangularity, 2+2=4, etc.) are nothing more than names (Latin, nomina) we assign to things for the purpose of comprehending the incomprehensible multitude of radically individual things. For Ockham, “divine omnipotence, properly speaking, thus entails radical individualism.” By rejecting the God of reason and replacing Him with a god of will, Ockham—like the Asharites—essentially rules out the possibility of knowing God through the things He has made.
There is a deeper and more insidious implication to Ockham’s view. It opens the possibility that God can deceive us: Divine omnipotence, however, raises a fundamental epistemological problem, since it opens up the possibility of divine deception. . . . For Ockham, the idea of divine omnipotence thus means that human beings can never be certain that any of the impressions they have correspond to an actual object. Heaven and earth separated by God’s unbounded will make it impossible for us to know what anything truly is.
Ockhamism (also known as nominalism) separates God’s wisdom [intellect/reason] from His will [what He chooses to do] and God from creation, and it dissolves our ability to know what is real. [And opens up the potential for God to deceive.]
If God cannot be known through the things He has made, the only way to know the unbounded will of God is through revelation. The outward appearance of things becomes meaningless…Ultimately, our union with God is reduced to faith alone…
…Christ’s humanity isn’t denied, but it is seen as arbitrary. When Ockham’s nominalism is pushed to its logical conclusion, there can be no real (ontological) union with Christ, since Christ’s humanity is merely something God willed with no rhyme or reason. He could have assumed a nature that is radically different from our own. And if Christ’s humanity is arbitrary, then the apostolic witness of what was seen, heard, and touched is meaningless. Christ’s body—the Church—is nothing more than a name we give to a collection of similar individuals. [Ed. there is also the implication that while God could have saved in any infinite number of ways, His choosing to become human has direct implication to the redemption of humanity, and, ergo, any alternative suggests less or a lesser redemption of the children of Adam & Eve and Original Sin.]
The Moral Law
The natural law and the moral law fare no better under Ockham’s nominalism:
“The moral law is in this sense radically subordinated to divine choice and completely beyond the capacity of human reason to deduce or explain. . . . God is indifferent to what He chooses and the moral law is good not in itself but only because He wills it. Moreover, there is no limits set upon what God can demand. He can even command that we hate Him. Whatever His commandments may be, they are by definition good and binding. God’s will alone determines what is good and evil, and He is not even bound by His own previous determinations.” [Ed. a fickle, capricious god, just like the pagan gods of myth]
Lastly, nominalism ushers in a new form of radical individualism that mirrors the nominalist god. “For Ockham, individual human beings have no natural end, and there is no natural law such as Aquinas had imagined to govern human actions. Man, like God is free . . . opening up this realm of freedom not merely by rejecting the scholastic notion of final causes, but also by rejecting the application of efficient causality to men. For Ockham, man in principle is thus free from nature itself.”
The outworking of nominalism will ultimately come to full bloom in the twenty-first century with the insanity of feminism, bodily autonomy, abortion, and gender identity. The god of Ockham is the antithesis of Christ, Emmanuel, God with us. The Incarnation proposes that God’s wisdom permeates all and that His love binds us as one body.
[The Holy Roman Emperor, Louis IV, Ludwig of Bavaria, 1282-1347, begins a revolt against the papacy going so far as to invade Rome on January 11, 1328, crowning himself emperor as the pope had refused to do so.]
The pope fights back against Ludwig with the spiritual sword. He issues a series of excommunications extending down to kindred with Ludwig to the fourth degree. He also places whole countries under the interdict.
“Germany alone was under interdict for twenty years, which means that no public religious service could be held, no sacrament could be publicly administered, no bell could sound. The more often these ecclesiastical penalties were imposed, the blunter grew the spiritual sword. Inevitably the religion and morality of the people suffered serious damage, their sense of the Church was weakened, their sympathies were alienated from Christ’s vicar.
The pope also fills all the vacant sees and offices in Germany with his supporters, which fosters more alienation between the German people and the Church.
Martin Luther (1483–1546) is the son of a peasant miner. His father hopes young Martin will become a lawyer, but his direction changes at Erfurt, where he decides to study philosophy and religion. Erfurt is considered a via moderna stronghold. It is here that Luther encounters nominalism and, to a lesser extent, scholasticism…
“In his [Luther’s] later words, “Life is as evil among us as among the papists, thus we do not argue about life but about doctrine. Whereas Wycliff and Hus attacked the immoral lifestyle of the papacy, I challenge primarily its doctrine.” Or to put it in a more startling way, even if the ecclesiastical hierarchy had been exhibiting exemplary holiness at the time, Luther would, it seems, have attacked its doctrine as fundamentally flawed.”
Luther holds to the same nominalist distinction God’s unbounded absolute [unrestrained/capricious/fickle] will and His habitual ordained [according to His nature, reflecting Who God is] will. [Ed. I know the stove is hot, but I, somehow, choose to touch it anyway.]
It’s not surprising that Luther’s nominalism, as with the Islamic Asharites before him, leads to restricting our knowledge of God to positive revelation alone. This is the first step toward displacing the perpetual witness of Christ’s visible body, the Church, as the norm through which we have fellowship with God (1 John 1:1–2) with the Bible. No longer do we hear Christ by hearing the apostolic Church; we are to hear Christ solely through inspired Scripture.
HUMAN INTEGRITY AND VALUE
Faith Alone and the Body-Soul Dichotomy
Luther’s view of God also affects his view of how sinners are made acceptable to God in justification:
“The Church’s classical doctrine of grace, presents grace as a movement of divine love, entering into the penitent soul and delivering it from the bonds of its fallen nature. In contrast with this, grace in Ockhamism remains strictly transcendent. Justification consists solely in a relatio externa, a new relationship of mercy between man and God established by God’s love, by means of which all man’s religious and moral acts, though remaining in themselves human and natural, are accounted as salvific acts in the eyes of the merciful God. . . . Human activity only becomes salvific by God’s recognition of it, by his act of acceptance. But this recognition and validation does not in any way affect man’s spiritual powers. It remains completely outside him and is simply seen and assented to by faith.”
According to nominalism, God gives us the Law to follow and subsequently approves whatever moral acts we do, as He pleases—a view that comes close to denying the doctrine of original sin. Luther’s struggle to earn salvation, the nominalist way, pushes him to the point of hating God. His crisis is alleviated by reading Romans 3:28: “For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law.” The law, Luther thinks, is given to drive us to our knees in despair, knowing we can never be righteous in the sight of God and that when we place our faith in Christ, He declares or treats us as if we were righteous.
Catholicism teaches, however, that the just God wills justly. Therefore, when God calls an individual just, the individual is changed and becomes just because God’s Word is a creative Word (Rom. 5:18–19; 1 John 3:1). [Ed. That is the great distinction between the divine and the human word. The divine word creates reality in being spoken.] Being united to Christ in justification, as a branch to a vine, we bear good fruit—that is, good works that are pleasing to God (John 15:1–6; 1 John 3:7)—because it is God Who produces these good works that are pleasing to Him (1 Cor. 15:10; Eph. 3:8–10; Phil. 2:12–13).
Luther considers justification, as the nominalists do, as completely external to us: God declares us righteous even though we remain unrighteous in ourselves. Unlike Ockham, however, Luther asserts that man is incapable of doing any truly good work, since Adam’s sin utterly corrupted our nature.
By reducing justification to faith alone, we—as soul-body composites—are treated in a dichotomous way. Fidelity to God is split into two opposing camps: faith alone (i.e., trust in God’s promises) is what pleases God and justifies us, as opposed to anything we do. God accepts the soul’s assent of faith. As for our bodily acts of obedience, God either ignores them or takes offense at them.
Luther’s Contrary Truths
Since justification is an external decree of God, Luther describes those justified as being simultaneously “just and sinner” (simul justus et peccator). As Luther writes in his Lectures on Galatians (1535):
“Thus a Christian man is righteous and a sinner at the same time, holy and profane, an enemy of God and a child of God. None of the sophists will admit this paradox, because they do not understand the true meaning of justification.”
In this view of justification, God is said to treat us as if we were righteous and worthy of salvation even though in reality, we are unchanged (profane, sinful, damnable). The Church teaches something very different: a real transformation occurs in justification, where the sinner ceases to be a profane enemy of God and, being grafted to the New Adam (Jesus), becomes holy and righteous.
Luther’s view vaguely parallels the dualism we saw earlier with the Gnostics, whose salvation consisted of the soul discarding the materiality of the body by obtaining secret knowledge.
Where Ockham believed that man had a bestowed freedom, Luther denies free will outright, famously likening it to a beast of burden:
“If God rides it, it goes where God wills. . . . If Satan rides it, it wills and goes where Satan wills; nor can it choose to run to either of the two riders or to seek him out, but the riders themselves contend for the possession and control of it.”
We saw a similar error with the Islamic irrational party, who claimed that everything except God acts under compulsion.”
-from Michuta, Gary. Revolt Against Reality: Fighting the Foes of Sanity and Truth- from the Serpent to the State (p. 77-79, 81, 83-84, 104, 108-111, 113, 118-122). Catholic Answers Press. Kindle Edition.
“Declaring that “faithful men stand up” and “speak up,” Josh Buice, the founder of G3 Ministries, argues that
we can be certain that Luther, Calvin, Knox, Tyndale and other figures of the Reformation were not making decisions about defending the faith by calculating their career advancement and protecting their platform.
Buice’s message about basing our actions upon faith, rather than political calculation, is a good one, but (with the possible exception of Tyndale, the only one of the four to die for his beliefs), he could hardly have chosen worse examples than these Protestant Reformers.
In a May 30, 1518 letter, Martin Luther wrote to Pope Leo X to insist that he wasn’t rejecting papal authority and that the accusations against him were false:
I know, most holy father, that evil reports are being spread about me, some friends having vilified me to your Holiness, as if I were trying to belittle the power of the keys and of the supreme pontiff, therefore I am being accused of being a heretic, a renegade, and a thousand other ill names are being hurled at me, enough to make my ears tingle and my eyes start in my head, but my one source of confidence is an innocent conscience.
Insisting that these accusations against him are untrue, Luther concludes the letter by promising that “my cause hangs on the will of your Holiness, by whose verdict I shall either save or lose my life. Come what may, I shall recognize the voice of your Holiness to be that of Christ, speaking through you.”
But when Leo decided against Luther in June of 1520, Luther changed his tune. Rather than recognizing the voice of the pope to be that of Christ speaking through Leo, Luther instead denounced the pope as the Antichrist, publishing Against the Execrable Bull of the Antichrist in November of that year. Before taking this step, Luther shrewdly drummed up political support. In the summer of 1520, he wrote an “Address to the Nobility of the German Nation,” playing on German nationalism, and urging the secular authorities to take greater control of the Catholic Church. Unlike his theological writings (which were in Latin), this was written in German. In the letter, Luther rejected the idea “that the temporal power has no jurisdiction over the spirituality” on the grounds that since “the temporal power is baptised as we are, and has the same faith and gospel, we must allow it to be priest and bishop.”
Therefore, he offered a number of suggestions for how secular authority could control the Church, including consolidating or abolishing religious orders like the Dominicans (“Let no more mendicant monasteries be built! God help us! there are too many as it is. Would to God they were all abolished, or at least made over to two or three orders!”); abolishing or tightly controlling the ability of the German faithful to go on pilgrimage to Rome (“Pilgrimages to Rome must be abolished, or at least no one must be allowed to go from his own wish or his own piety, unless his priest, his town magistrate, or his lord has found that there is sufficient reason for his pilgrimage”); and banning of most of the books written by that “blind heathen teacher, Aristotle.” Luther even suggested that “the temporal authorities” should convene their own ecumenical council, and if the pope should resist this secular council, “we must not respect him or his power; and if he should begin to excommunicate and fulminate, we must despise this as the doings of a madman, and, trusting in God, excommunicate and repel him as best we may.”
Protestants are free to make of Luther’s ideas whatever they will, although I suspect that the idea of turning control over the churches to secular authorities no longer sounds as attractive as it did to Luther. My point is simply that between 1518 and 1520, Luther executed a remarkable 180-degree reversal. He pledged fealty to the pope “come what may” when he thought that would benefit his cause, and when it didn’t, he denounced the pope as the Antichrist and pledged support to the worldly authorities instead.
In 1558, John Knox wrote The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women to denounce the Catholic Queen Mary. Knox denied her legitimacy as queen of England, insisting that women “may never rule nor bear empire above man,” because “woman by the law of God, and by the interpretation of the Holy Ghost, is utterly forbidden to occupy the place of God in the offices aforesaid, which he has assigned to man, whom he has appointed and ordained his lieutenant in earth, excluding from that honour and dignity all women.”
But then an awkward thing happened: Mary died, and her Protestant half-sister Elizabeth I became queen. Would Knox continue his principled opposition to female empire? He would not. He quickly wrote to the unhappy queen, addressing her as “the virtuous and godly Elizabeth, by the grace of God, queen of England,” and insisting that nothing in The First Blast “is, nor can be prejudicial to your grace’s just regimen,” a reign for “which most I have thirsted, and for which—as oblivion will suffer—I render thanks unfeignedly unto God.” Elizabeth remained unmoved by Knox’s sycophancy, forbidding him from entering England.
As the nineteenth-century novelist Robert Louis Stevenson points out, John Knox (who wrote his treatise from Geneva) had first approached “his great master, Calvin, in ‘a private conversation,’” in which Calvin admitted his own position that “government of women was a deviation from the original and proper order of nature, to be ranked, no less than slavery, among the punishments consequent upon the fall of man.” Once Elizabeth acceded to the throne and Knox fell out of favor, however, Calvin wrote to her adviser Sir William Cecil to insist that he “had not the slightest suspicion” that Knox was planning to publish a book, and that “it had been published a whole year before [he] was aware of its existence.” To the Swiss Reformer Heinrich Bullinger, however, Calvin admitted that Knox “had talked over these matters with me before he came among you.” This same Calvin critiqued the Church (rightly) for allowing boys as young as ten to become bishops, yet he dedicated two of his biblical commentaries (the Commentary on Isaiah and Commentary on the General Epistles) to the boy-king Edward VI, Elizabeth’s predecessor and elder brother.
This is not to suggest that the Reformers were entirely unprincipled, but it is to suggest that there’s a reason that Tyndale was executed and the other three were not. In an age in which both Catholic and Protestant authorities were willing to violently suppress perceived heresy, men like Tyndale (and, on the Catholic side, St. Thomas More) were willing to die for what they believed. In contrast, Luther, Calvin, and Knox avoided physical suffering in no small part by ingratiating themselves to the politically powerful, even at the cost of some of their own inconvenient principles.”
-the burning of the pantheistic Amalrician heretics in 1210, in the presence of King Philip II Augustus. In the background is the Gibbet of Montfaucon and, anachronistically, the Grosse Tour of the Temple fortress. Illumination from the Grandes Chroniques de France, c. AD 1455–1460. Please click on the image for greater detail.
Obsequium religiosum is a Latin phrase meaning religious submission or religious assent, particularly in the theology of the Catholic Church.
Second Vatican Council
The Latin term is used in the Latin original document Lumen gentium of the Second Vatican Council regarding the duty of the faithful to give obsequium religiosum (Latin for “religious submission”) of will and intellect to certain teachings of the Magisterium of the Church. The Magisterium is a reference to the authoritative teaching body of the Roman Catholic Church.
The phrase appears in Lumen gentium 25a in the following context, here translated as both “religious assent” and “religious submission”:
Bishops, teaching in communion with the Roman Pontiff, are to be respected by all as witnesses to divine and Catholic truth. In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent. This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will. His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking.
The magisterial teachings of the Catholic Church are graded according to a “hierarchy of truths”. The more essentially linked a proposed “truth” is to the mystery of Christ (the “Truth”), the greater the assent of the will to that truth must be. The document Donum Veritatis teaches the following concerning this gradation of assent:
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.
When the Magisterium, not intending to act “definitively”, teaches a doctrine to aid a better understanding of Revelation and make explicit its contents, or to recall how some teaching is in conformity with the truths of faith, or finally to guard against ideas that are incompatible with these truths, the response called for is that of the religious submission of will and intellect. This kind of response cannot be simply exterior or disciplinary but must be understood within the logic of faith and under the impulse of obedience to the faith.
In its next section, Donum Veritatis states that “some judgments of the Magisterium could be justified at the time in which they were made, … (but) only time has permitted discernment and, after deeper study, the attainment of true doctrinal progress”.
The document, ″Doctrinal Commentary on the Concluding Formula of the Professio fidei″ (scroll down to find document), gives a detailed description of these three “categories” of truths and gives examples of each.
Donum Veritatis also allows that, “When it comes to the question of interventions in the prudential order, it could happen that some Magisterial documents might not be free from all deficiencies.” However “it would be contrary to the truth, if, proceeding from some particular cases, one were to conclude that the Church’s Magisterium can be habitually mistaken in its prudential judgments.”
It acknowledges that a given theologian, “might have serious difficulties, for reasons which appear to him well founded, in accepting a non-irreformable magisterial teaching.” In such a case “even if the doctrine of the faith is not in question, the theologian will not present his own opinions or divergent hypotheses as though they were non-arguable conclusions,” and is to “refrain from giving untimely public expression to them,” and “avoid turning to the mass media,” but with a humble and teachable spirit it is his duty “to make known to the Magisterial authorities the problems raised by the teaching in itself, in the arguments proposed to justify it, or even in the manner in which it is presented,” with “an intense and patient reflection on his part and a readiness, if need be, to revise his own opinions and examine the objections which his colleagues might offer him”, prayerfully trusting “that if the truth really is at stake, it will ultimately prevail.”
In so doing it makes a distinction between dissent as in public opposition to the Magisterium of the Church and the situation of conscientious personal difficulties with teaching, and asserts that the Church “has always held that nobody is to be forced to embrace the faith against his will,” while the Virgin Mary’s “immediate and unhesitating assent of faith to the Word of God” is set forth as the example to follow in submitting to Catholic teaching.
While the theologian, like every believer, must follow his conscience, and Joseph Ratzinger (as a priest-theologian) taught that “over the pope as the expression of the binding claim of ecclesiastical authority there still stands one’s own conscience, which must be obeyed before all else,” it is not “an autonomous and exclusive authority for deciding the truth of a doctrine,” and the Catholic is obliged to form it according to Catholic teaching.
“The Church has always identified a variety of acts as sins, including heresy. A sin in the fullest sense (that is, a grave sin), is any choice that cannot co-exist with Christian love; a serious sin is incompatible with our share in the life of God. Even apart from this supernatural perspective, many outside the Church might still agree that some sins exist. But what about heresy? How could holding wrong beliefs about God be harmful, let alone sinful? Why does the Church continue to teach that real heresy is a real sin, and a serious sin at that? Heresy is an unhappy topic, but considering it abstractly will help us see more concretely the divine origin of true faith.
Heresy, according to the Code of Canon Law, is “the obstinate denial or obstinate doubt after the reception of baptism of some truth which is to be believed by divine and Catholic faith” (CIC can. 751; cf. CCC 2089). The very name “heresy” implies a “choosing,” and a baptized believer falls into heresy when he consciously, knowingly, and obstinately chooses to reject a revealed truth (ST II-II, q. 11, a. 1). Whenever it occurs, this choice wounds the soul deeply.
Heretical choice—that is, choosing to believe what one knows contradicts faith—wounds the soul because it radically separates the chooser from God. It forsakes the firm, familiar knowledge of God that faith provides. This happens because when one rejects faith, even faith in a single doctrine, he destroys faith completely.
Why does heresy do this? Why can’t we have faith in just part of revelation? Faith is “faith” when someone believes something because God himself, “First Truth,” has revealed it. When God speaks to us through the Scriptures and the teaching of the Church, his own Truthfulness is the “mean” of faith, the source of our knowledge (ST II-II, q. 5, a. 3). It is the cause or the reason why we believe something. But someone who knowingly disbelieves something God has revealed leaves behind this “mean” of faith. One no longer believes something because God has revealed it if he disbelieves anything that he knows God has revealed. Because God cannot lie, to reject what he says about one truth is to reject his truthfulness completely.
To reject one revealed teaching, such as the reality of original sin or the Real Presence, is to substitute human choice for divine authority. But divine authority is the only sound basis for our faith, so whatever truth the heretic retains apart from God he holds without a good reason.
Saint Paul, after warning Saint Timothy about some teachers in Ephesus who were teaching a “different doctrine,” gives us the image of a “shipwreck” of faith (1 Tim 1:3, 19). One breach in the hull will compromise the whole ship’s integrity. So too, a faith that assents and dissents according to personal preference is not faith at all: by definition, heresy sinks the ship of faith and leaves only human opinions.
…We hold the truths that we profess in the Creed only because God has spoken. Human arguments can never replace God’s self-revelation because, left to ourselves, we cannot bridge the span of heaven and touch God’s throne. To conflate faith and reason, therefore, is to sail on dangerous waters. To replace faith with reason is to sink the ship of faith.
God’s mercy and grace can touch the most hardened of sinners, and he can easily repair even the shipwreck of faith through the “second plank” of sacramental Confession. But the faith God infuses and restores isn’t primarily about choosing to believe this or that fact. It’s an assent, through these propositions, to God in Jesus Christ. It’s a choice to believe God. Our life in faith cannot be lived if we choose half-portions. Rather, taking our cue from Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, we approach the banquet of Wisdom and choose all, because we choose Jesus, in whom “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God” is given to us (2 Cor 4:6).”
“Owing to the depth of Holy Scripture, all do not accept it in one and the same sense, but one understands its words in one way, another in another; so that it seems to be capable of as many interpretations as there are interpreters. For Novatian expounds it one way, Sabellius another, Donatus another, Arius, Eunomius, Macedonius, another, Photinus, Apollinaris, Priscillian, another, Iovinian, Pelagius, Celestius, another, lastly, Nestorius another. Therefore, it is very necessary, on account of so great intricacies of such various error, that the rule for the right understanding of the prophets and apostles should be framed in accordance with the standard of ecclesiastical and Catholic interpretation. Moreover, in the Catholic Church itself, all possible care must be taken, that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all. For that is truly and in the strictest sense Catholic, which, as the name itself and the reason of the thing declare, comprehends all universally.” – St Vincent of Lérins (d. c.445), Commonitory; 2, 5-6.
“One of the most dangerous ideas of the Protestant Reformation is that Scripture is somehow self-interpreting. According to this view, Scripture is so clear that we don’t need an infallible Catholic Church. The idea originates with Luther, but Protestants often believe it’s something taught by Scripture itself. Professor John Gerstner (1914-1996) argued in favor of this view against Catholicism by saying:
First, Rome denies that the Bible is a self-interpreting revelation. The Bible declares itself to be self-explanatory. This is called the doctrine of the perspicuity of the Scriptures (the see-through-ableness of the Scripture). It may be understood in its own light. What is obscure in one passage will be clearer in another. What is incomplete here is completed there. What is a figure in one place is a commentary in another.
The claim that the Bible is “self-interpreting revelation” is not only unbiblical, but incoherent, like saying “the book reads itself.” Someone interprets the Bible. He may do that infallibly or fallibly, well or poorly, but the text doesn’t interpret itself.
We see this in action within Scripture. Jesus tells the parable of the wheat and the weeds (Matt. 13:24-30). At St. Peter’s request, he then explains the parable’s meaning (vv. 36-43). The parable didn’t explain itself: Jesus explained it. Likewise, on the road to Emmaus, Jesus walks with two of his disciples and, “beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). St. Luke doesn’t say Scripture interpreted itself to the disciples. Jesus interpreted it.
Likewise, St. Philip was led by the Holy Spirit to an Ethiopian eunuch. “So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and asked, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ And he said, ‘How can I, unless some one guides me?’ And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him” (Acts 8:30-31). Notably, the man didn’t reply, “Of course I understand it! The book of Isaiah is self-interpreting.” Instead, someone (this time, Philip) explained its meaning.
This is the role of the Church, but it’s also the role of the theologian and the preacher. St. Paul tells St. Timothy to “attend to the public reading of scripture, to preaching, to teaching” (1 Tim. 4:11). That is, he’s called to read Scripture and then to explain what it means, just as Jesus did in the synagogue (Luke 4:16-22).
So where does the Bible ever “declare itself to be self-explanatory,” or promise that “what is a figure in one place is a commentary in another”? Gerstner offers no citation for the simple reason that none exists. Even the idea that “what is obscure in one passage will be clearer in another” is question-begging, since Christians don’t agree about which passages are clear and which are obscure. As the Calvinist historian Alister McGrath explains:
Luther and Zwingli were unable to agree on the meaning of such phrases as “this is my body” (which Luther interpreted literally and Zwingli metaphorically) and “at the right hand of God” (which—with apparent inconsistency on both sides—Luther interpreted metaphorically and Zwingli literally). The exegetical optimism of the early Reformation may be regarded as foundering on this rock: Scripture, it seemed, was far from easy to interpret.
In response to the Catholic observation that Scripture needs interpretation, Gerstner says:
If the Bible must be interpreted by the Church in order to render its meaning certain, then the interpretation of the Church will have to be interpreted by another authority to make its meaning certain, and then there will need to be an interpreter of the interpreter, and so on ad infinitum.
If this were true, it would mean that no one could ever explain anything. That is, Gerstner isn’t so much arguing against Catholicism as he is arguing against communication and knowledge of the truth in general. If his argument were true, it would prove agnosticism, not Protestantism.
It’s also logically unsound. Certain passages of the Bible admit of multiple interpretations: they could mean A or B. If the Church clarifies, “It means A and not B,” that clarification doesn’t necessitate some further clarification—the argument simply doesn’t follow. If the Ethiopian needs Philip to explain Isaiah, it doesn’t follow that he must also need someone else to explain Philip, and so on ad infinitum.
But Gerstner gives his whole argument away immediately after this:
Our various Protestant church courts actually provide authoritative interpretations on most points when such decisions are necessary. But there is a difference between authoritative and infallible decisions. Compare, for example, the necessity for an authoritative interpretation of the Constitution. A Supreme Court performs that task. Yet what American believes the Supreme Court is infallible? Still, its decisions prevail as a matter of necessity. . . .
The Protestant church has provided for authority so that decisions can be rendered when necessary, but has avoided the error of investing this authority with infallibility. The Protestant church, not being infallible, can err, has erred, will err. There is one error, however, which it has not made and that is the greatest of them all—the error of thinking it cannot err.
So Gerstner actually recognizes the need for the Church to provide authoritative interpretations “when necessary.” The difference is simply that Protestant churches’ decisions can’t be trusted, because we don’t know if they’re erroneous, and they can err, have erred, and will err.
This is a remarkable concession for a few reasons. First, if Scripture is as clear and self-interpreting as Gerstner is claiming, why aren’t the Protestant teachings clear? How is it that there’s more than one Protestant denomination, and why isn’t each denomination sure that its own interpretation of Scripture is the right one? In one and the same argument, Gerstner is arguing that Scripture is so clear that there’s no need for an infallible Church to interpret it, but also that it’s so unclear that Protestants can’t escape from continually erring in interpreting it, and that the greatest error possible is thinking that we cannot err in our interpretation.
Second, the stakes here are higher than with the Supreme Court. The Constitution isn’t divinely inspired; Scripture is. If a denomination gets its “authoritative interpretation” wrong, it’s forcing its members to either go into schism or accept heresy, both of which are condemned in the New Testament. But since the “various Protestant church courts actually provide authoritative interpretations” that contradict one another and cannot be trusted as free from error, that’s precisely what Protestantism has to offer.
The fact that well-meaning and well read Protestants disagree with one another on the meaning of biblical passages should suffice to prove that Scripture isn’t self-interpreting. The fact that God gave us Scripture “to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15) should make Protestants care enough to find a Church capable of reliably interpreting what Scripture means without the constant danger that they might be endorsing heresy.”
-cf Dr. Bryan Cross, PhD, was raised in the Pentecostal tradition, then became Reformed shortly after completing his bachelor’s degree in cellular and molecular biology at the University of Michigan. He then received an M.Div. from Covenant Theological Seminary. In 2003 he and his wife and two daughters became Anglican. On October 8, 2006, he and his family were received into full communion with the Catholic Church. He has previously taught at Saint Louis University, Lindenwood University, and Kenrick-Glennon Seminary. He is presently an assistant professor of philosophy at Mount Mercy University. His personal blog is “Principium Unitatis.”
“Steven’s first argument for why Protestants should remain Protestant begins with the claim that the “Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches associate themselves with particular teachers in a way that goes contrary to Christ’s teaching.” (2′) To defend this claim he refers (3′) to Matthew 23:8-10, where Christ says, “But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father — the one in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah.”
After describing how Christ’s words applied to the Scribes and Pharisees (5′ – 9′), Steven then claims that while the Catholic Church agrees that “in the truest and ultimate sense” that there is only one teacher, namely, Christ, in practice the Catholic Church contradicts this by prioritizing “tradition to Scripture.” (9′) He adds that the Catholic Church “set[s] up teachers alongside Christ, contrary to what Christ says to His disciple.”(9′) Here he is referring to the Magisterium, namely, the Pope and the bishops in communion with him.1 Steven then claims that Catholics put bishops “alongside Christ rather than under Him as His students.” (10′-11′) He claims that the Catholic church puts forward “certain students as though they were just as reliable as the Teacher Himself, namely the holy fathers and the Magisterium of the Church when speaking under certain conditions.” (12′)
In order to explain the flaw in Steven’s argument, I need to say something first about the Catholic understanding of the relation between Scripture and sacred tradition. In the Catholic tradition we rightly approach Scripture in the Church and through sacred tradition. That is because in the Catholic tradition, Scripture belongs to the Church, and comes to us through the Church, and through the shepherds Christ has established in His Church. This relation between Scripture and the Church is illustrated by the fact that the Church determined which books belong to the canon of Scripture and which do not. Although scholars can and do study Scripture as if it is not sacred, and outside of its ecclesial context, nevertheless, as a sacred text it belongs properly to the divinely established community who received it, namely, the Church, and is understood rightly according to the tradition handed down within that community. This is a very different paradigm from the Protestant paradigm regarding the interpretation of Scripture. See, for example, my essay “The Tradition and the Lexicon.”
This paradigm difference can be seen in Tertullian’s statement that “heretics ought not to be allowed to challenge an appeal to the Scriptures, since we, without the Scriptures, prove that they have nothing to do with the Scriptures.”2 Hence as I wrote in my dialogue with Michael Horton in 2010:
Tertullian here shows that those who are not in communion with the Apostolic Churches have no right to appeal to Scripture to defend their positions, because the Scriptures belong to the bishops to whom the Apostolic writings were entrusted by the Apostles. Since the Scriptures belong to the bishops, those not in communion with those bishops in the universal Church have no right to challenge what the bishops say that the Scriptures teach. The sacred books do not belong to them, but to the bishops to whom the Apostles entrusted them. Since the Scriptures belongs to the bishops and have been entrusted to them, they have the right and authority to determine its authentic and authoritative interpretation.
In the Catholic tradition heresy is not determined by interpreting Scripture apart from Scripture and sacred tradition, and then measuring candidate doctrines against one’s interpretation of Scripture. Rather, before we even get to the interpretation of Scripture, we have to consider to whom Scripture belongs, who has the authority to determine how it is to be interpreted, and by what rule or tradition it is to be interpreted.
Now consider Steven’s argument. Steven is making use of a notion from the Protestant tradition, according to which Scripture is not to be understood through what Catholics understand as sacred tradition, to arrive at an interpretation of Matthew 23:8-10. In Steven’s interpretation of Matthew 23:8-10, based on this Protestant notion, to be a student of Christ entails not having Magisterial authority, and not having what the Catholic Church refers to as the gift of infallibility, since those two qualities would place certain students of Christ “on the same level as the Teacher.” (13′) On the basis of this notion from the Protestant tradition regarding how to approach and interpret Scripture, Steven infers that what Jesus said in Matthew 23 in criticism of the way the Scribes and Pharisees used their traditions, applies also to how the Magisterium of the Catholic Church treats sacred tradition, which, according to the Catholic Church was received orally from the Apostles and preserved in the liturgies and the writings of the Church Fathers. In this way Steven treats his interpretation of Matthew 23:8-10 as the authoritative standard by which to determine that the Catholic Church contradicts Christ, and that therefore Protestants should remain Protestant.
But Steven has not shown that Matthew 23:8-10 contradicts Catholic doctrine; he has only shown that his interpretation of Matthew 23:8-10 contradicts Catholic doctrine. The Catholic Church, and I as a Catholic, assent by faith to the authority and truth of Matthew 23:8-10, but not to Steven’s interpretation of Matthew 23:8-10. By presupposing the Protestant tradition in his hidden premise, i.e. that Scripture is not to be understood through sacred tradition, Steven’s argument presupposes the point in question between Protestants and the Catholic Church, namely, it presupposes the truth of Protestantism and the falsehood of Catholicism. His argument concludes that Catholicism is false, on the basis of an assumed premise that Protestantism is true, and that is circular reasoning. What leads him to make this mistake is not ignorance of logic, but the faulty assumption that his Protestant approach to Scripture is theologically neutral when in fact it is theologically loaded.
Later in his video Steven addresses one objection to his argument:
“Now the Orthodox and the Roman Catholic will say Christ has given authority to the teachers of the church to define dogma and to establish the limits of the faith against heretical opinion. It’s as if they were to say the teacher has given certain students the authority definitively to establish certain teachings as unquestionable. But this point has to be qualified. After all the scribes and pharisees could have claimed the same thing for themselves in response to Christ’s criticisms. It is true that the Church has the calling and the authority to define its faith but it doesn’t follow that every purported exercise of that authority is valid or true.” (16′)
Steven is correct that we should avoid credulity. But he implies here that the only way to avoid credulity is to disbelieve claims to Magisterial authority. And that conclusion does not follow from the obligation to avoid credulity. The motives of credibility give us reason to believe that God has given divine authority to the Apostles and their successors. In this way we (Catholics) are neither in a condition of credulity, since we have motives of credibility, nor rationalists, since by faith we obey God by obeying our divinely appointed leaders and submitting to them. (cf. Hebrews 13:17)
Regarding the Catholic understanding of Matthew 16:19 and 18:18, where Jesus says “whatever you bind on earth shall be should be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven,” Steven says:
“but I respond that what Christ says applies to Peter and to the Apostles since He was talking to them but not necessarily to those who come after them.” (17′)
Here again Steven is using the Protestant approach to Scripture (i.e. apart from sacred tradition), to interpret it as he thinks best, and then using that interpretation to oppose Catholic teaching regarding the authority of bishops and the Magisterium. Since he does not find in Scripture a clear prescription for apostolic succession and the continuation in the episcopal successors of the Apostles of the binding and loosing authority Christ gave to the Apostles, he concludes that the episcopal successors of the Apostles do not necessarily have this this binding and loosing authority. But in the Catholic tradition, part of what belongs to sacred tradition, through which we come to Scripture, is the insight that this authority does remain in the Church through the successors of the Apostles.3 So here too Steven’s argument is built on a hidden premise, namely, that Scripture is not to be understood through the sacred tradition. And for this reason, just as above, his argument presupposes the very point in question between Protestants and the Catholic Church.
Steven claims that the only appropriate way for the Apostles to bind and loose was by seeing what God had already bound or loosed in a public manner. (19′-20′) He gives some examples of cases where God had manifest His will, and St. Peter made ecclesial decisions based on some public and obvious manifestation of God’s will. Steven then claims that the Magisterium in later centuries did not follow this pattern. I’m going to respond to this argument under Part II below, because in Part II he goes into more detail concerning this argument.
Steven next appeals in support of his thesis to three excerpts; one from Origen, one from St. Augustine, and one from St. Cyril. First he quotes Origen:
If there be anyone indeed who can discover something better and who can establish his assertions by clearer proofs from holy Scriptures let his opinion be received in preference to mine. (23′)
Then he quotes St. Augustine:
For the reasonings of any men whatsoever, even though they be Catholics and of high reputation, are not to be treated by us in the same way as the canonical Scriptures are treated. We are at liberty without doing any violence to the respect which these men deserve to condemn and reject anything in their writings if perchance we shall find that they have entertained opinions differing from that which others or we ourselves have by the divine help discovered to be the truth. I deal thus with the writings of others and I wish my intelligent readers to deal thus with mine. (23′ – 24′)
And lastly he quotes St. Cyril of Jerusalem:
For concerning the divine and holy mysteries of the faith, not even a casual statement must be delivered without the holy Scriptures, nor must we be drawn aside by mere plausibility and artifices of speech. Even to me who tell you these things give not absolute credence unless thou receive the proof of the things which I announce from the divine Scriptures. For this salvation which we believe depends not on ingenious reasoning but on demonstration of the holy Scriptures. (24′)
Origen is here speaking in his capacity as theologian. And what he says is the correct attitude of the theologian as theologian. Origen is not denying that what has been laid down definitively in the Church by an ecumenical council can later be rejected or contradicted. Nothing he says here entails that the Catholic Church goes against Christ’s teaching, either in its teaching about the authority of the Magisterium, in its doctrine of infallibility, or in its teaching on the relation of Scripture to sacred tradition. In short, since the quotation from Origen is fully compatible with Catholic doctrine, it is not evidence that the Catholic Church goes against the teaching of Christ.
And St. Augustine too is speaking here in his capacity as a theologian; he is making no claim here, in the quotation Steven cites, against the authority of a plenary council to give a definitive decision regarding a question, or against the authority of sacred tradition. Elsewhere he appeals to the authority of the tradition distinct from Scripture.4 He appeals to the authority of the Church when speaking of the interpretation of Scripture (On Christian Doctrine 3.2). And he appeals to the authority of the apostolic tradition regarding the baptism of infants. (The Literal Interpretation of Genesis, 10, 23:39; and On Baptism 4,24,32.) So again, because what St. Augustine says here is fully compatible with Catholic teaching, it does not show that Catholic teaching goes against the teaching of Christ.
As for St. Cyril, his statement is fully compatible with Catholic doctrine, because St. Cyril is affirming, as the Catholic Church does, that the content of our faith is located in the divine Scriptures; he is not denying the authority of a plenary council to definitively decide a question regarding the faith, or denying the existence and authority of sacred tradition. His exposition of the liturgy (Lecture 23) illustrates the authority of sacred tradition. He explicitly says “But in learning the Faith and in professing it, acquire and keep that only, which is now delivered to thee by the Church, and which has been built up strongly out of all the Scriptures.” (Lecture 5) If the Scriptures were the only source of faith, then there would be no appeal to the Church when determining what does or does not belong to the faith.
Steven comes back to Origen, and quotes him again:
The holy Apostles in preaching the faith of Christ delivered themselves with the utmost clearness on certain points which they believed to be necessary to everyone, even to those who seemed somewhat dull in the investigation of divine knowledge. … The things that the Apostles did not make clear were left for the investigation of later generations. (26′)
From this quotation Steven concludes:
Thus Origen takes the explicit and clear teaching of the Apostles to be the absolute guide for all Christian theology while everything else is a matter of continual investigation and correction as he mentioned in the passage that I quoted earlier. (26′)
The problem here is that Steven’s [sola scriptura] conclusion does not follow from Origen’s statement. To see that, observe that Origen’s statement can be true and all Catholic doctrine can be true, without any contradiction. Moreover, notice what Origen says elsewhere.
The teaching of the Church has indeed been handed down through an order of succession from the Apostles, and remains in the Churches even to the present time. That alone is to be believed as the truth, which is in no way at variance with ecclesiastical and apostolic tradition.” (On First Principles, I.2)
Origen affirms the authority of ecclesiastical and apostolic tradition, preserved through apostolic succession. So he is not claiming that tradition is not authoritative or that Scripture should be approached apart from that tradition. Hence here too Origen’s statement is fully compatible with Catholic teaching, and therefore does not show that Catholic teaching contradicts Christ’s teaching.
Next Steven tells a just-so story to explain the emergence of Catholic magisterial authority:
It seems to me that if you have a group of people who, (1) place tremendous emphasis on the unity of the group, and (2), who center the identity of their group of their community around an ambiguous and debatable topic which can produce multiple perspectives, it seems to me that with these two conditions in place you can find something like this traditionalist structure emerge. Differences in opinion compromise the evident unity of the group and people become identified with the opinions that distinguish them. But the problems of debate cannot be definitively resolved or established to everyone’s satisfaction. So self-identifying authoritative voices emerge whose word must on at least some occasions be unquestionable so that the matter is settled and the unity of the group is preserved. A procedure then is devised which will purportedly lead to the truth so long as it is followed correctly. In other words I am suggesting that the Scribes’ and Pharisees’ traditionalism is a social phenomenon that could in principle emerge anywhere as long as the conditions are right. But Christ identifies its weak point. People can confuse opinions for the things themselves, binding themselves to false ideas simply because of the purported authority of the persons propagating them, and in this way they place themselves on a harmful trajectory. The only way out of this spiral is for someone to come along and to say no, this tradition is bad and it has no authority unless what it says is true and an idea is not true because the tradition says it but rather because it is adequate to its object. But of course the traditionalist can’t hear this because in his mind the truth is too tightly bound up with the tradition and its procedures. (27′ – 29′)
Here Steven is by implicature using this sociological speculation about how authority structures arise to explain the development of Catholic ecclesial authority. This presupposes that Christ did not authorize the Apostles and instruct them to authorize successors. So here too Steven’s argument presupposes the falsehood of the Catholic position. The problem with just-so stories is that they are just-so stories. They persuade only by way of suggestion, and only if the hearer knows of no contrary evidence to the just-so story. But there is lots of evidence in the Church Fathers that ecclesial hierarchy was present from the beginning of the Church.5 Likewise, implying that Catholics “can’t hear” the truth because in our minds the truth is “too tightly bound up with the tradition and its procedures” again begs the question, by presupposing the falsehood of Catholicism.
Finally, Steven compares (by implication) the hierarchy of the Catholic Church to government bureaucracies in France and Romania. (29′ – 33′) He gives an example of a government bureaucracy getting itself into a situation requiring it to deny reality. He then claims, without any argumentation, that this is what has happened in the Catholic Church regarding doctrines like transubstantiation, Catholic teaching on Scripture and tradition, the veneration of images, Mary, and justification. I need say no more here because Steven has not here demonstrated his claim that these Catholic doctrines are not true. He has only claimed that the Church’s defining of these doctrines is like a state bureaucracy claiming that a living person is dead. And this claim presupposes the very point in question between Protestants and Catholics.”
“Steven opens his second video by summarizing his second argument:
Now my second argument for remaining a Protestant is that the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches are sectarian. And what I mean by sectarian is this: I mean that in order to welcome someone into their fellowship they demand that a person assent to the truth of doctrines which are highly contentious and not obviously supported by any properly authoritative sources. (1′)
To illustrate his claim he picks three dogmas: the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, the dogma of the Assumption, and the dogma defined at the Second Council of Nicea concerning the veneration of sacred images. (2′) He writes:
My argument is rather that such doctrines are highly contentious and not at all clearly supported by the most authoritative sources, and because they are not reasonably clear it is sectarian to set them up as conditions of fellowship with the Church. Scripture does not explicitly teach that Mary was conceived without original sin nor that she was assumed body and soul into heaven neither does Scripture teach that it is obligatory to venerate icons of Christ and of the saints. (5′)
He grants that these doctrines follow a trajectory set “in certain quarters.” (6′ – 7′) But he argues that these doctrines are neither clearly taught in Scripture, nor were they universally held. And therefore to make assent to them a condition of fellowship is sectarian, and thus a justification for remaining Protestant. Here, to support his point regarding the veneration of sacred images he quotes Origen regarding the practice among Christians of scorning “idols and all images.” (7′ – 8′) These three doctrines are sectarian, according to Steven, because “highly contentious and disputable points of view which cannot be established on the basis of the most authoritative sources are being put forth as non-negotiable conditions of fellowship.” (9′ – 10′) Steven then gives an uncharitable interpretation of the reasons why the Church has proposed these doctrines as dogma, saying:
Now what I think is happening is that a particular church or community of churchmen prefers its own ideas convictions and opinions so much to those of others that it is willing to exclude them from its fellowship unless they agree.” (10′)
This is an example of the bulverism fallacy, but Steven’s argument does not depend on this bulverism. He next says:
The church or community of church men in question takes itself as the standard of truth as though the mere fact that it has come to believe something is a proof that it is right. (10′)
Here Steven’s argument begs the question. His argument presupposes that the only reason the Magisterium of the Catholic Church believes these three dogmas to be true is that it has come to believe them. But in the Catholic tradition, the Magisterium has been given the promises of Christ regarding divine guidance into all truth. Steven’s argument here presupposes that the Magisterium did not receive this divine promise, among others. And in this way his argument presupposes the very point he is attempting to show, namely, that Catholicism is false.
Steven’s argument begs the question again in his following criticism of the Catholic Church:
And this can be seen in Ineffabilis Deus which says “The Catholic Church directed by the Holy Spirit of God is the pillar and base of truth.” Now note well this is not merely a citation of the words of Paul from I Timothy 3:15. It is an identification of a particular Church, namely the Church of Rome and those associated with it, as the Church. (10′)
First, Pope Pius IX is not equating the particular Church at Rome with the Catholic Church. The particular Church at Rome is a particular Church within the Catholic Church. But in Catholic doctrine schism is defined in relation to the bishop of this particular Church.6 Second, Steven’s criticism of Pope Pius’s claim to speak for the Catholic Church presupposes that the papal office is not what the Catholic Church teaches it is, and thus that Catholicism is false. So here too Steven’s argument presupposes the very point in question.
Next Steven says:
And instead of measuring its statements against the things themselves and coming to a moderate conclusion about the truth of what it says, the Roman Church takes the truth of its thoughts for granted and declares its belief an infallible dogma and a condition for fellowship. Now to my mind this is sectarian behavior. It is putting oneself forward as the criterion of truth in a matter in which one appears to have no special access to the reality of the matter.” (11′)
Notice that last line “one appears to have no special access to the reality of the matter.” Here’s the dilemma for Steven’s argument. If Steven’s claim remains at the mere phenomenological, the conclusion of his argument does not follow. If to him it does not appear that the Church at Rome has no special access to the reality of the matter, that leaves open the possibility that it does have special access to the reality of the matter, and he has not demonstrated that the teaching of the Catholic Church goes against the teaching of Christ. But on the other horn of the dilemma, if Steven claims that the Church at Rome has no special access to the apostolic deposit, or no certain charism of truth, then his argument presupposes the point in question between Protestants and the Catholic Church. Either way, his argument fails.
Regarding the Second Council of Nicea, Steven next says:
But the Council then descends into sectarianism when it continues by saying the following: “This promise, however, He made not only to them but also to us who, thanks to them, have come to believe in his name.” Now notice once more this us does not refer to all Christians but rather to these persons who have gathered at the Council and perhaps also to those who agree with them. Thus the bishops gathered at the Council take for granted without adequate reason that they are the inheritors of the original promise of divine guidance to the early Church. (12′)
Steven’s argument presupposes the very point in question when he claims that the bishops at the Council “take for granted without adequate reason that they are the inheritors of the original promise of divine guidance to the early Church.” If the bishops are what the Catholic Church teaches about bishops, and this teaching and authority have been handed down to them from the Apostles, then the bishops do have an “adequate reason” to believe that they are the inheritors of the original promise. My point here is not to establish the authority of the bishops, but only to show that Steven’s argument presupposes the very point in question, namely, that the Catholic Church is false.
Next Steven claims the following:
Of course an unwritten tradition is a word that comes from nowhere in particular and can be traced back to no one with certainty. Who can know if an unwritten tradition is genuinely apostolic?(13′)
His claim that an unwritten tradition is a “word that comes from nowhere” is not a theologically neutral claim. It presupposes the falsehood of the Catholic Church, for which there is an unwritten tradition that comes to us from the Apostles. So here too Steven presupposes the point in question. As for his question, this is not a question that baffled the early Church. St. Augustine, for example, in multiple places identifies traditions that were not clear in Scripture (e.g. infant baptism) but were universally practiced as originating from the Apostles.7
Steven next writes:
That is the attitude of a sectarian. He takes himself as the measure of truth and excludes all those who refuse to agree with him rather than putting himself on the same level as those with whom he might disagree and submitting together with them to the truth of things such as they seem.” (13′ – 14′)
Again, for reasons that by now should be obvious, Steven’s argument presupposes the very point in question. If Christ did give ecclesial authority to His Apostles, and they in turn gave this authority to their episcopal successors, and not to the laity, then when the bishops think, speak, and act as though they have this authority, this is not at all sectarian. These are rather acts of faith in Christ and obedience to Him.
Steven summarizes his argument for Part II:
So this is my argument. The Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches are sectarian because they impose as a condition for fellowship assent to highly contentious and debatable ideas that cannot be clearly established on the basis of the most authoritative sources. That is sectarian behavior. It is an unconditional and relentless privileging of one’s own perspective in some matter of dispute rather than simply submitting to the truth and admitting ambiguities where they where they exist. (14′)
In response, first, two of the criteria Steven is using here to determine whether the Catholic Church is sectarian are “contentious” and “debatable.” Although I could, I’m not going to argue that since the notion that these two qualities are among the criteria for determining what is “sectarian” is itself contentious and debatable, Steven’s argument is self-refuting. Rather, I’m simply going to point out again that the notion that these two qualities are among the criteria for “sectarian” is not theologically neutral, but presuppose the point in question.8 A careful study of the Arian controversy shows that for many years it was contentious and debatable. The same is true of Marcionism, Novatianism, Montanism, as well as the Donatist schism, and many others. If ‘contentious’ and ‘debatable’ were the criteria for sectarianism, there would be no schisms, only branches. But that’s not my fundamental point. The fundamental point is that Steven’s argument in Part II presupposes the very point in question by presupposing loaded (i.e. non-neutral) criteria for determining what is and is not sectarian.
Second, Steven here presupposes that the bishops’ perspective in matters of faith and morals is no more authoritative than that of any other Christian. That’s an implicit premise in his charge that the Catholic bishops are unjustifiably privileging their own perspective. But that implicit premise presupposes the very point in question between Protestants and the Catholic Church, and so Steven’s argument is question-begging.
Next Steven says:
Let me say that I agree that the Apostles and the leaders of the Church that come after them were given the authority to bind and loose but it does not follow that this authority is always exercised properly. (15′)
Steven is arguing that infallibility does not follow merely from the authority to bind and loose. But if on the one hand he is claiming implicitly that the Church did not receive the gift of infallibility, he is presupposing the point in question.9 If on the other hand he is simply claiming that sometimes bishops do not exercise their authority properly, then from this premise it does not follow that the Catholic Church is sectarian, since this weaker claim is fully compatible with the truth of Catholic doctrine.
Steven next says:
So let’s take as an example. Christ promises Peter that whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will have been loosed in heaven. That is Matthew chapter 16 verse 19. Now from this perfect passive construction being used here we can discern that the binding and loosing in heaven come before the binding and losing on earth. (16′)
Here Steven is again using a Protestant approach to Scripture, according to which its meaning is determined entirely by exegesis, and not by sacred tradition. In the Catholic tradition, however, the mood and voice of these verbs does not entail that prior to the binding or loosing of something on earth, God will have already bound and loosed it in heaven. That’s because in the Catholic tradition exegesis by itself underdetermines interpretation, and Scripture must be interpreted in light of sacred tradition. My point is that Steven’s argument is here too presupposing the point in question, namely, the falsehood of Catholicism in his argument for the falsehood of Catholicism.
Now Steven comes back to the point he made in Part I, and which I mentioned above but to which I did not yet respond. Here Steven uses the examples of Sts. Peter and Paul making decisions on the basis of God having made a prior, clear and public manifestation of His will, to argue that the Magisterium can rightly make authoritative decisions only on the same basis. (16′ – 20′) That conclusion does not follow from the premise. Even if Steven’s premise is true regarding these decisions Sts. Peter and Paul made, it could still be true that the Apostles had (and the Magisterium has) the authority to make decisions without a public divine manifestation of God’s will. Here too Steven is using his own interpretation of Scripture, apart from sacred tradition, to argue against Catholic teaching concerning Magisterial authority. And that presupposes the very point in question.
Then Steven claims that “nothing like this was happening in the three cases he is considering (i.e. the two Marian dogmas, and the teaching of Second Nicea on the veneration of icons). (20′) That is, for these three dogmas, he claims that there was no prior, clear and public manifestation of God’s will, that could be verified by other Christians. But this claim that to be legitimate, Magisterial decisions must be able to be independently verified by other Christians presupposes the very point in question. Yes there is a sensus fidelium, but as Pope Benedict XVI explained, it is not “a form of ecclesial public opinion, and it would be unthinkable to refer to it to challenge the teachings of the Magisterium, since the ‘sensus fidei’ cannot truly develop in a believer other than to the extent to which he participates fully in the life of the Church, and it therefore necessitates responsible adhesion to her Magisterium.”10 As I mentioned above, Steven grants that these doctrines follow a trajectory set “in certain quarters.” (6′ – 7′) But Steven treats the development of a tradition, and what in the Catholic tradition is understood as development of doctrine, as something only arbitrary in its starting point and in its development. The Magisterium, however, recognizes and affirms authentic developments.11 And this is part of the paradigm difference between Protestants and the Catholic Church, in relation to what I’ve referred to as ecclesial deism, since believing that the Holy Spirit is the ‘soul’ of the Church leads us to expect development of doctrine, and further illumination and defining of the deposit. So by denying that the Magisterium has the divine gift by which to recognize and affirm authentic development of doctrine, Steven’s argument presupposes the point in question.
As for the development in relation to the three dogmas Steven has chosen for examples, the earlier Catholic opposition to images was never universal, never a moral consensus, and was never defined. Nor was it based on iconoclastic principle but rather on the prevalence of the pagan culture of idolatry. As that changed toward theism in the Roman empire, and as the two natures of Christ were defined at Chalcedon, the veneration of sacred images came to be seen as an affirmation of the Incarnation and its implications, in opposition to Arianism. Regarding the developments that led to the Church defining the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, I have briefly discussed here. And I discussed here the developments that led to the Church defining the dogma of the Assumption.
Finally Steven writes:
But I say that it is sectarian to put them forth as conditions of fellowship. To do that would be a matter of taking one’s own tradition one’s own perspective as if it were uniquely identical to the tradition of the Apostles without adequate argument than evidence. (21′)
Here too Steven’s argument presupposes that the Catholic Magisterium is not composed of the successors of the Apostles, and has not faithfully handed down the Apostolic deposit, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. In short, here too Steven’s argument presupposes the point in question. As for his claim that the Catholic Church is sectarian because its contentious and debatable teachings are not “clearly supported by the most authoritative sources,” this criterion presupposes that Magisterial teaching must be “clearly supported” by Scripture. But that criteria is not itself part of the sacred tradition. The material sufficiency of Scripture is part of the tradition, but that is not the same thing as “clearly supported by Scripture.” So here too Steven’s argument presupposes the point in question.
In my opinion, Protestants often do not recognize that their arguments against the Catholic Church presupposes the very point in question because the difference between Protestantism and Catholicism is a paradigmatic difference, such that the paradigmatic nature of the difference often remains invisible.12 In the Catholic tradition, faith is not itself established by reason or evidence accessible to reason. If I could see for myself the truth of the faith, my act of belief would not be an act of faith. Hence in the Catholic tradition an essential part of the act of faith is believing Christ by believing the successors of those whom He chose and authorized to speak in His name. Through these successors we receive also the content of faith. In the Protestant paradigm, by contrast, the personal and communal is downstream of the hermeneutical, as Neal Judisch and I argued elsewhere. I hope and pray that my response here will be helpful to Steven and also serve in the task of Protestant-Catholic reconciliation.
All you Holy Saints of God, pray for us.
Solemnity of All Saints, 2021.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, 100.
Liber de praescriptione haereticorum, 37.
St. Augustine writes, “if you acknowledge the supreme authority of Scripture, you should recognize that authority which from the time of Christ Himself, though the ministry of His apostles, and through a regular succession of bishops in the seats of the apostles, has been preserved to our own day throughout the whole world, with a reputation known to all.” (Reply to Faustus the Manichean, 33:9)
“As to those other things which we hold on the authority, not of Scripture, but of tradition, and which are observed throughout the whole world, it may be understood that they are held as approved and instituted either by the apostles themselves, or by plenary Councils, whose authority in the Church is most useful….” St. Augustine, Epistle to Januarius, 54:1.
See our “The Bishops of History and the Catholic Faith: A Reply To Brandon Addison.”
Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2089.
Cf. Letter to Januarius 54.1.1. On Baptism 2.7.1 and 5.23.31.
I have addressed the charge of sectarianism in 2011 in “Ecclesial Unity and Outdoing Christ: A Dilemma for the Ecumenicism of Non-Return.”
See B.C. Butler’s The Church and Infallibility (Sheed and Ward, 1954) and Bishop Vincent Ferrer Gasser’s The Gift of Infallibility (Ignatius Press, 1986).
Vatican Information Service, December 7, 2012.
See comments #29 and #31 under “The Commonitory of St. Vincent of Lérins.”
I attempted to illustrate one aspect of the paradigmatic difference in “Imputations and Paradigms: A Reply to Nick Batzig.”
“In popular myth, Christopher Columbus is the symbol of European greed and genocidal imperialism. In reality, he was a dedicated Christian concerned first and foremost with serving God and his fellow man.
Peering into the future, Columbus (1451-1506) could not have anticipated the ingratitude and outright contempt shown by modern man toward his discovery and exploration of the New World. Few see him as he really was: a devout Catholic concerned for the eternal salvation of the indigenous peoples he encountered. Rather, it has become fashionable to slander him as deliberately genocidal, a symbol of European imperialism , a bringer of destruction, enslavement, and death to the happy and prosperous people of the Americas .
In the United States, the vitriol directed against Columbus produces annual protests every Columbus Day. Some want to abolish it as a federal holiday, and several cities already refuse to acknowledge it and celebrate instead “Indigenous Peoples Day” .
This movement to brand Columbus a genocidal maniac and erase all memory of his extraordinary accomplishments stems from a false myth about the man and his times.
The so-called Age of Discovery was ushered in by Prince Henry the Navigator (1394-1460) of Portugal. Prince Henry and his sailors inaugurated the great age of explorers finding new lands and creating shipping lanes for the import and export of goods, including consumables never before seen in Europe. Their efforts also created an intense competition among the sailing nations of Europe, each striving to outdo the others in finding new and more efficient trade routes. It was into this world of innovation, exploration, and economic competition that Christopher Columbus was born.
A native of the Italian city-state of Genoa, Columbus became a sailor at the age of fourteen. He learned the nautical trade sailing on Genoese merchant vessels and became an accomplished navigator. On a long-distance voyage past Iceland in February 1477, Columbus learned about the strong east-flowing Atlantic currents and believed that a journey across the ocean could be made because the currents would be able to bring a ship home . So Columbus formulated a plan to seek the east by going west. He knew that such an ambitious undertaking required royal backing, and in May of 1486, he secured a royal audience with King Fernando and Queen Isabel of Spain, who in time granted everything Columbus needed for the voyage.
On August 3, 1492, Columbus embarked from Spain with ninety men on three ships: the Niña, Pinta, and Santa Maria . After thirty-three days at sea, Columbus’s flotilla spotted land (the Bahamas), which he claimed in the name of the Spanish monarchs. Columbus’s modern-day detractors view that as a sign of imperial conquest. It was not—it was simply a sign to other European nations that they could not establish trading posts on the Spanish possession .
On this first voyage, Columbus also reached the islands of Cuba and Hispaniola. He stayed four months in the New World and arrived home to fanfare on March 15, 1493. Unfortunately, the Santa Maria ran aground on Hispaniola so was forced to leave forty-two men behind, ordered to treat the indigenous people well and especially to respect the women . But as Columbus discovered on his second voyage, that order was not heeded.
Columbus made four voyages to the New World, and each brought its own discoveries and adventures. His second voyage included many crewmen from his first, but also some new faces such as Ponce de León, who later won fame as an explorer himself. On this second voyage, Columbus and his men encountered the fierce tribe of the Caribs, who were cannibals, practiced sodomy, and castrated captured boys from neighboring tribes. Columbus recognized the Caribs’ captives as members of the peaceful tribe he met on his first voyage, so he rescued and returned them to their homes . This voyage included stops in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
-human sacrifice, Codex Magliabecchiano
-cannibalism, Codex Magliabecchiano
The third voyage was the most difficult for Columbus, as he was arrested on charges of mismanagement of the Spanish trading enterprise in the New World and sent back to Spain in chains (though later exonerated). Columbus’s fourth and final voyage took place in 1502-1504, with his son Fernando among the crew. The crossing of the Atlantic was the fastest ever: sixteen days. The expedition visited Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica, and was marooned for a time on Jamaica.
Most accounts of Columbus’s voyages mistake his motives by focusing narrowly on economic or political factors. But in fact, his primary motive was to find enough gold to finance a crusade to retake Jerusalem from the Muslims, as evidenced by a letter he wrote in December 1492 to King Fernando and Queen Isabel, encouraging them to “spend all the profits of this my enterprise on the conquest of Jerusalem” . In this, he believed he was fulfilling conditions for the Second Coming of Christ. Near the end of his life, he even compiled a book about the connection between the liberation of Jerusalem and the Second Coming .
Columbus considered himself a “Christ-bearer” like his namesake, St. Christopher . When he first arrived on Hispaniola, his first words to the natives were, “The monarchs of Castile have sent us not to subjugate you but to teach you the true religion” . In a 1502 letter to Pope Alexander VI (r. 1492-1503), Columbus asked the pontiff to send missionaries to the indigenous peoples of the New World so they could accept Christ. And in his will, Columbus proved his belief in the importance of evangelization by establishing a fund to finance missionary efforts to the lands he discovered .
Contrary to the popular myth, Columbus treated the native peoples with great respect and friendship. He was impressed by their “generosity, intelligence, and ingenuity” . He recorded in his diary that “in the world there are no better people or a better land. They love their neighbors as themselves, and they have the sweetest speech in the world and [they are] gentle and always laughing” . Columbus demanded that his men exchange gifts with the natives they encountered and not just take what they wanted by force. He enforced this policy rigorously: on his third voyage in August 1500, he hanged men who disobeyed him by harming the native people .
Columbus never intended the enslavement of the peoples of the New World. In fact, he considered the Indians who worked in the Spanish settlement in Hispaniola as employees of the crown . In further proof that Columbus did not plan to rely on slave labor, he asked the crown to send him Spanish miners to mine for gold . Indeed, no doubt influenced by Columbus, the Spanish monarchs in their instructions to Spanish settlers mandated that the Indians be treated “very well and lovingly” and demanded that no harm should come to them .
Columbus passed to his eternal reward on May 20, 1506.
 Carol Delaney, Columbus and the Quest for Jerusalem (New York: Free Press, 2011), xii.
 See http://www.transformcolumbusday.org/.
 Marilia Brocchetto and Emanuella Grinberg, “Quest to Change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day Sails Ahead,” CNN.com, October 10, 2016, accessed April 7, 2017, http://www.cnn.com/2016/10/09/us/columbus-day-indigenous-peoples-day/.
 The sailors of Columbus’s day did not believe the earth was flat, as is commonly believed, but were afraid about the ability to get home after sailing across the ocean.
 Columbus demanded a patent of nobility, a coat of arms, the titles of Admiral of the Ocean Sea and Viceroy and Governor of all discovered lands, plus 10 percent of the revenue from all trade from any claimed territory. Isabel agreed to these terms and both parties signed the Capitulations of Santa Fe on April 17, 1492. See Delaney, Columbus and the Quest for Jerusalem, 68.
 See Delaney, Columbus and the Quest for Jerusalem, 92.
 Ibid., 109.
 Ibid., 130.
 Ibid., vii.
 The book was titled Libro de las Profecías or the Book of Prophecies.
 Delaney, Columbus and the Quest for Jerusalem, 83.
 Daniel-Rops, The Catholic Reformation, vol. 2, 27.
 Ibid., 159.
 Ibid., 97.
 Columbus, Diario, 281. Quoted in Delaney, Columbus and the Quest for Jerusalem, 107. Columbus was a literate man, which was rare for the day. He recorded his observations of the New World in his diary and ship’s log, at a time when keeping logs was not standard practice.
 See Delaney, Columbus and the Quest for Jerusalem, 181.
 Ibid., 142.
 Ibid., 153.
 See Samuel Eliot Morison, trans. and ed., Journals and Other Documents on the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus, vol. 1 (New York: Heritage Press, 1963), 204. Quoted in Delaney, Columbus and the Quest for Jerusalem, 125-126.
“Prior to European contact, journals, letters, and reports prove the New World was not an “egalitarian society” as author, Howard Zinn, claims.
Instead, sources reveal slavery, genocide, sexual exploitation, trafficking, polygamy, violence, sacrifice, and even cannibalism were part of the culture.
Indigenous Slave Trade
According to reports, “wherever European conquistadors set foot in the American tropics, they found evidence of indigenous warfare, war captives, and captive slaves.”[i]
Christopher Columbus recorded in his journal that he “Saw some with marks of wounds on their bodies, and made signs to ask what it was, and they me to understand that people from other adjacent islands came with the intention of seizing them, and that they defended themselves. I believed, and still believe, that they come here from the mainland to take them prisoners.” [ii[
Upon Christopher Columbus’ arrival to the New World, he befriended the Taino tribes and became awar of their horrific experiences with Carib tribes, a barbaric people.
The Taino people warned Columbus of “extremely ferocious…eaters of human flesh who “visit all the native islands, and rob and plunder whatever they can.””[iii]
Reports reveal that the Carib people preferred to eat infants and adult males. Dr. Diego Chanca, a medical expert who traveled with Columbus reported, “When the Caribbees take any boys prisoners, they remove their genitalia, fatten the boys until they grow to manhood and then, when they wish to make a great feast, they kill and eat the young men, for they say the flesh of boys and women is not good to eat.”[iv]
Indigenous Sex Trafficking
Eye witnesses reveal that, “In their wars upon the inhabitants of the neighboring islands, native peoples capture as many of the women as they can, especially those who are young and handsome, and keep them as body sex slaves, eating the children produced, only raising the children they have with women from their own tribe.”[v]
According to contemporary sources, “Dr. Chanca described that the Caribs enslaved so many women that, “in fifty houses we entered no man was found, but all were women.”[vi]
The culture Columbus stumbled upon was one that depended on sex labor, subjugation, and cannibalism of offspring.”
[i] Fernando Sanos-Granero, “Vital Enemies: Slavery, Predation, and the Amerindian Political Economy of Life (Austin University of Texas Press, 2009)
[ii] Columbus, The Journal, 38.
[iii] Nicolo Syllacio, “Syllacio’s Letter to Duke of Milan, 13 December 1494” in Journals and Other Documents on the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus, edited by Samuel Eliot Morrison (New York: The Heritage Press, 1963), 237.
[iv] Diego Chanca, “Letters of Dr. Diego Alvarez Chanca”, Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections (Washington: Smithsonian Institution, 1907), Vol 48, 442.
[vi] Chanca, “Letter of Dr. Diego Alvarez Chanca”, 442
Pray for the world,
Summa Catechetica, "Neque enim quaero intelligere ut credam, sed credo ut intelligam." – St Anselm, "Let your religion be less of a theory, and more of a love affair." -G.K. Chesterton, "And above all, be on your guard not to want to get anything done by force, because God has given free will to everyone and wants to force no one, but only proposes, invites and counsels." –St. Angela Merici, "I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men and women who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, and who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it."- Bl John Henry Newman, Cong. Orat., "We cannot always have access to a spiritual Father for counsel in our actions and in our doubts, but reading will abundantly supply his place by giving us directions to escape the illusions of the devil and of our own self-love, and at the same time to submit to the divine will.” —St. Alphonsus Ligouri, "The harm that comes to souls from the lack of reading holy books makes me shudder . . . What power spiritual reading has to lead to a change of course, and to make even worldly people enter into the way of perfection." –St. Padre Pio, "Screens may grab our attention, but books change our lives!" – Word on Fire, "Reading has made many saints!" -St Josemaría Escrivá, "Do you pray? You speak to the Bridegroom. Do you read? He speaks to you." —St. Jerome, from his Letter 22 to Eustochium, "Encounter, not confrontation; attraction, not promotion; dialogue, not debate." -cf Pope Francis, "God here speaks to souls through…good books“ – St Teresa of Avila, Interior Castle, "You will not see anyone who is really striving after his advancement who is not given to spiritual reading. And as to him who neglects it, the fact will soon be observed by his progress.” -St Athanasius, "To convert someone, go and take them by the hand and guide them." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP. 1 saint ruins ALL the cynicism in Hell & on Earth. “When we pray we talk to God; when we read God talks to us…All spiritual growth comes from reading and reflection.” -St Isidore of Seville, “Also in some meditations today I earnestly asked our Lord to watch over my compositions that they might do me no harm through the enmity or imprudence of any man or my own; that He would have them as His own and employ or not employ them as He should see fit. And this I believe is heard.” -GM Hopkins, SJ, "Only God knows the good that can come about by reading one good Catholic book." — St. John Bosco, "Why don't you try explaining it to them?" – cf St Peter Canisius, SJ, Doctor of the Church, Doctor of the Catechism, "Already I was coming to appreciate that often apologetics consists of offering theological eye glasses of varying prescriptions to an inquirer. Only one prescription will give him clear sight; all the others will give him at best indistinct sight. What you want him to see—some particular truth of the Faith—will remain fuzzy to him until you come across theological eye glasses that precisely compensate for his particular defect of vision." -Karl Keating, "The more perfectly we know God, the more perfectly we love Him." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP, ST, I-II,67,6 ad 3, “But always when I was without a book, my soul would at once become disturbed, and my thoughts wandered." —St. Teresa of Avila, "Let those who think I have said too little and those who think I have said too much, forgive me; and let those who think I have said just enough thank God with me." –St. Augustine, "Without good books and spiritual reading, it will be morally impossible to save our souls." —St. Alphonsus Liguori "Never read books you aren't sure about. . . even supposing that these bad books are very well written from a literary point of view. Let me ask you this: Would you drink something you knew was poisoned just because it was offered to you in a golden cup?" -St. John Bosco " To teach in order to lead others to faith is the task of every preacher and of each believer." —St. Thomas Aquinas, OP. "Prayer purifies us, reading instructs us. Both are good when both are possible. Otherwise, prayer is better than reading." –St. Isidore of Seville “The aid of spiritual books is for you a necessity.… You, who are in the midst of battle, must protect yourself with the buckler of holy thoughts drawn from good books.” -St. John Chrysostom