Roman Catholic Questions

Discussion in 'General discussions' started by JOS3, Aug 8, 2018.

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  1. JOS3

    JOS3 Puritan Board Freshman

    I have been a member here for some years but have not before formed a post or posed a question in this way. In the spirit of voluntary vulnerability and honestly seeking engagement, I’m posting this one now.

    For the last little while (months) I have come to the realization that many of my beliefs about the Roman Catholic Church have been unfounded and wrong. This point is not up for debate, in my mind, but simply a matter of actually engaging those Catholics rather than solely relying on the testimony of those predisposed and antagonistic towards them.

    In this—we’ll say exploration—the Reformation foundations of sola fide and sola scriptura have particularly come up with more questions and concerns. These are the wrestlings I am here to seek thoughts on. How do we understand faith as divided from works, and where, prior to Luther, can we find evidence of this in the history of the Church? How do we arrive at Scripture as sole authority without circular reasoning or reliance on authority from the outside (and thus be self-defeating)?

    I ask these questions (and the ones that may follow from it) in good faith and honestly seeking conversation. Some of you may rush to anathemas or to claim that I am already wading into the Tiber. I am merely posing questions that I have asked of myself and find that the answers I can come up with are wanting.
  2. Scott Bushey

    Scott Bushey Puritan Board Doctor

    Hi Julius,
    Growing up Parochial, I understand your questions. After engaging many RC apologists in the past, I believe they play a shell game of sorts when interacting. Yes, they believe in justification by faith alone, yet they say that we are as well, saved by our works-which ultimately voids out their idea of J by F alone.

    Justification by faith alone is the fountainhead of our Protestant faith. It however, is never alone. The fruit of that faith are works. The works do not add one iota to our salvation but are a result of it.

    In regards to sola scriptura. This too is never alone; It is never Solo scriptura. Hebrews 1 says much:

    1 God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, 2 Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds;

    The Holy Bible: King James Version, Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), Heb 1.

    This may help:

    Since the Reformed, by and large believe that the office of Prophet is no longer active nor needed, the scriptures are our sole authority we answer to. We all have elders guiding us in these walks, but they are not inspired nor flawless in their offices. They are to get the proper respect an office holder deserves, but it is Christ whom we answer to ultimately. In the counsel of many, there is safety. So, hence, we side on the side of Protestant history as a help in our efforts to remain orthodox.

    As far as history goes, there are myriads of data on the web on the doctrines of the Protestant church, i.e. The confession and catechisms. There is the synod of Dordt and it's antithesis in the council of Trent. Luther has a catechism as does Calvin.
    Last edited: Aug 8, 2018
  3. greenbaggins

    greenbaggins Administrator Staff Member

    Julius, welcome to posting at the PB! First of all, your questions are good ones, and will, I hope, be answered by me and others with the charity that honest questions should receive.

    First up, you ask about sola fide. Does sola fide show up in the history of the church prior to Luther? The answer is yes, it does. I would direct you to the book edited by Thomas Oden called The Justification Reader. It is a collection of quotations and analysis of the early church fathers on the question of justification, and the idea most definitely shows up there, though not with the same level of clarity as at the Reformation.

    Secondly, you ask how we understand faith as divided from works. "Divided from" is probably not the most helpful way of putting things. The reformers would have said that works are "distinct from faith yet inseparable from faith." The question also has to do with whether one is talking about justification or sanctification. In justification, our faith relies on the works of another, and not at all on our own works. Justification is perfect and complete at the moment of faith, and is God's declaration that we are not guilty, based on Christ's righteousness imputed to us. Faith is entirely receptive in justification. It lays hold of Christ, receiving and resting upon Him. Sanctification, however, is the Holy Spirit's work in us to make us more and more alive to righteousness and more and more dead to sin. Faith is active in sanctification, having been activated by the Holy Spirit. Faith and works are inseparable in sanctification. Works are the inevitable result of faith. I like to use the analogy of a cannon. Cannons make a lot of noise when they are fired. But the noise is not the cause of the cannon firing, but the inevitable result of a cannon firing. So works are the inevitable result of faith, but are not the cause of faith, nor are they the cause of our being right with God. Instead, they are the inevitable result of being made right with God.

    Thirdly, you ask about sola Scriptura. There are several pieces to this question, and I will try to look briefly at all of them. Firstly, the authority of Scripture is self-attesting. It carries its own authority. If we were in the same room together, and I saw a gunman about to shoot, and I yelled, at the top of my voice, "DUCK!!" would you stop to examine whether I have the authority to say such things, or would you simply duck? The exclamation, uttered in such an authoritative way, carries its own authority. There are some parallels with Scripture. God speaks through the Word. Therefore, the Word carries the authority of God within itself. It needs no other authenticating agent. See, for instance, 2 Timothy 3:16, 2 Peter 1, and Psalm 119.

    Of course, Scripture having this authority and we believing it are two different things. There is no place we can stand that is more foundational than on Scripture itself. So there is no independent source of logic by which we can prove a starting point. There is a person who can convince us of Scripture's authority, and that person is God himself in the person of the Holy Spirit. Only someone of equal authority with Scripture could possibly convince us that Scripture is the ultimate authority. Since the Holy Spirit is the main agent in the writing of Scripture, it is in the nature of an author telling us about His work. What other authority could be more foundational than God's own authority? Certainly not the church!

    But here, we have to acknowledge and factor in what Rome says about itself. Rome claims that the church is an extension of the incarnation of Jesus Christ, and therefore partakes of the same authority as Jesus Christ. However, the New Testament never teaches this, not even when it says that the church is the body of Christ, because even there, there is a distinction between the head and the body, between the bride and the groom. The letters in Revelation surely tell us that the church can err, and therefore does not participate quite so closely in Christ's incarnation!

    Please understand that these things are only the beginning of an answer to your questions. By all means probe further in those places where you still seem to itch. :cheers2:
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  4. Edward

    Edward Puritan Board Doctor

    If you want to know the official beliefs of the Roman church, the best place to start is their Catechism (I haven't looked yet to see if it has been updated for the Jesuit Pope's latest changes on the death penalty).

    If you want to know what individual Catholics believe, that's an easier question - pretty much anything you might be able to think of.
  5. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Professor

    Their main theology would be still in the Council of Trent.
  6. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Professor

    Look at the theology recorded in their Council of Trent, and also realise that the Church of Rome will use the terms saved by faith and grace, but not as in saved alone, as she adds water baptism and the 7 Sacraments of grace being involved. Basically, a sinner gets spiritual right enough by infusion of grace , which allows God to actually save them. A direct denial of Pauline Justification.
    Last edited: Aug 8, 2018
  7. greenbaggins

    greenbaggins Administrator Staff Member

    This is probably not how most Catholics (even the Magisterium) would describe it. While Trent has never been repudiated, most in the Roman communion today would claim Vatican II as being of far greater importance than Trent. Practically speaking, almost no one speaks like Trent anymore, except over-zealous converts from Protestantism.

    Please clean up the many typos and solecisms in this post, David.
  8. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Professor

    I know that there was the Vatican II, but is not the official Catholic method of salvation still as was expressed in Trent though?
  9. Edward

    Edward Puritan Board Doctor

    That's probably going to be the most unhelpful answer on this thread. Probably followed by my post above. (At least I provided a link to some helpful materials).
  10. JOS3

    JOS3 Puritan Board Freshman

    I appreciate all the responses! Certainly, it seems, the catechism would be the most succinct and official teachings, and I will look into the councils as well.
  11. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    How do we rely on the Church as sole authority without circular reasoning or reliance on authority from the outside (and thus be self-defeating)?
  12. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    The Catholic Catechism is an excellent resource. Of course, as I tell converts from Protestantism, you are still using your individual judgment on it even if you agree.
  13. JOS3

    JOS3 Puritan Board Freshman

    I’m not sure what you mean by the question. Catholics, as far as I know, do not hold that the Church is SOLE authority, but that Scripture is authoritative as well. Church teaching and expounding of that authoritative and infallible Scripture is also authoritative and infallible.
  14. greenbaggins

    greenbaggins Administrator Staff Member

    Indeed. This is also true of swimming the Tiber. It is not merely a matter of deciding to submit to the church. It is a use of individual judgment that Rome has the answers (which it doesn't).
  15. JOS3

    JOS3 Puritan Board Freshman

    Does Rome maintain that individual judgment is not a part of submission to the Church?
  16. Ask Mr. Religion

    Ask Mr. Religion Flatly Unflappable

    A nice resource that is reasonably irenic:

    See also this very fine piece by Keith Mathison:

    While it comes across as vitriolic, the treadmill displayed is indicative of Rome's notions of initial and progressive justification:

    Circular reasoning is not necessarily a bad thing. Ultimately all finite beings with finite understanding argue circularly. It all depends upon how big a circle is being used to hide the fact of circular reasoning from others. Better that we simply admit this while holding fast to the true center of the circle about which we are arguing and reasoning. See also here.
  17. Alan D. Strange

    Alan D. Strange Puritan Board Junior

    Jacob can, of course, answer for himself.

    But if I may, you are the one who raised the matter of those who affirm sola Scriptura employing circular reasoning. You said:

    Do you mean by this question to imply that Rome, by affirming an infallible interpreter of Scripture (the magisterium, particularly the pontiff speaking ex cathedra), avoids or escapes such a "dilemma" in re: circular reasoning? I think that this is what Jacob means, at least in part.

  18. JOS3

    JOS3 Puritan Board Freshman

    Thanks for asking—I was meaning to respond to Jacob’s assertion in the question that Rome views the Church as the sole authority over and against the Protestant view that Scripture is the sole authority.

    I am under the impression that Rome teaches that both the Church tradition and Scripture are infallible authorities. I hope this clarifies!

    I did raise the question of Sola Scriptura and circular reasoning, but Jacob’s response does not seem to address it. Rome seems to claim that, because of having an infallible authority outside of Scripture, they escape the circular reasoning of claiming to the authority and infallibility of Scripture. It goes something like Christ, in giving Peter the keys to the Kingom, personally establishes the Church as authority, part of which involves infallibly canonizing and establishing Scripture as authoritative.
    Last edited: Aug 8, 2018
  19. Ask Mr. Religion

    Ask Mr. Religion Flatly Unflappable

    How so?
    Which "church teaching" in particular?
    How can there be more than one authoritative and infallible authority?

    Rome seeks to traverse these issues by declaring, using dubious Scripture support, a single, infallible, apostolic office, the Bishop of Rome, exists.
  20. bookslover

    bookslover Puritan Board Professor

    This is an important point. As an ex-RC person myself, I think there's a big difference between the official theology of the Vatican and what many ordinary Catholics think down at the level of retail Catholicism at the local parish level.

    I suspect that not one Catholic in a thousand has read the Catechism, and probably not one in a million knows anything about the Council of Trent or Catholic history before that. At street level, Catholicism is very different from what happens in the Vatican. Case in point: many, if not most, Catholic women, especially here in the US, have ignored the Vatican's official teachings on birth control.

    So, in speaking with individual Catholics, it's best to probe what they know and understand about their faith. That will give you a starting point when having a discussion with them.
  21. JOS3

    JOS3 Puritan Board Freshman

    I clarified my previous post, so hopefully that helps. I have not thought about circular reasoning not being a bad thing, so that gives me something to consider.
  22. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    Protestants also do not hold that Scripture is the sole authority. It is the final authority. Big difference

    But my point is that any Catholic has to reason in a circle to establish the truth of the Church. How do I know that the Church is the highest authority? Because they said so. But they might appeal to Scripture to justify that position (Matt 16, etc). Okay, how can I trust Scripture? Because the church said so.
  23. JOS3

    JOS3 Puritan Board Freshman

    Good clarification—thank you. I suppose I should have said that Rome claims two infallible authorities.

    It seems like, regarding the Sola Scriptura question, the best we can argue is “well, they have the same issue!”
  24. DTK

    DTK Puritan Board Junior

    I understand that many modern day members of the Roman communion, especially their "apologists," reject the charge of sola ecclesia, but I don't think they can effectively answer that charge. If the magisterium (their term for church) is the judge both of tradition and of Scripture, then how can it be otherwise than sola ecclesia? Many of their own theologians and members of their magisterium affirm this description. Notice the following citations from the following Roman cardinals...

    Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, Henry Edward Manning (1808-1892): It was the charge of the Reformers that the Catholic doctrines were not primitive, and their pretension was to revert to antiquity. But the appeal to antiquity is both a treason and a heresy. It is a treason because it rejects the Divine voice of the Church at this hour, and a heresy because it denies that voice to be Divine. How can we know what antiquity was except through the Church? No individual, no number of individuals can go back through eighteen hundred years to reach the doctrines of antiquity. We may say with the woman of Samaria, ‘Sir, the well is deep, and thou hast nothing to draw with.’ No individual mind now has contact with the revelation of the Pentecost, except through the Church. Historical evidence and biblical criticism are human after all, and amount to no more than opinion, probability, human judgment, human tradition.
    It is not enough that the fountain of our faith be Divine. It is necessary that the channel be divinely constituted and preserved. But in the second chapter we have seen that the Church contains the fountain of faith in itself, and is not only the channel divinely created and sustained, but the very presence of the spring-head of the water of life, ever fresh and ever flowing in all ages of the world. I may say in strict truth that the Church has no antiquity. It rests upon its own supernatural and perpetual consciousness. Its past is present with it, for both are one to a mind which is immutable. Primitive and modern are predicates, not of truth, but of ourselves. The Church is always primitive and always modern at one and the same time; and alone can expound its own mind, as an individual can declare his own thoughts. ‘For what man knoweth the things of a man, but the spirit of a man that is in him? So the things also that are of God no man knoweth, but the Spirit of God.’ The only Divine evidence to us of what was primitive is the witness and voice of the Church at this hour. Henry Edward Manning, The Temporal Mission of the Holy Ghost: Or Reason and Revelation (New York: J.P. Kenedy & Sons, originally written 1865, reprinted with no date), pp. 227-228.

    Cardinal Manning's words above are a declaration of sola ecclesia with a vengeance. And then, speaking of the difficulty of the so-called Unanimous patristic consent as a reliable locus theologicus in Catholic theology, Cardinal Congar wrote: “Application of the principle is difficult, at least at a certain level. In regard to individual texts of Scripture total patristic consensus is unnecessary: quite often, that which is appealed to as sufficient for dogmatic points does not go beyond what is encountered in the interpretation of many texts. But it does sometimes happen that some Fathers understood a passage in a way which does not agree with later Church teaching. One example: the interpretation of Peter’s confession in Matthew 16.16-19. Except at Rome, this passage was not applied by the Fathers to the papal primacy; they worked out exegesis at the level of their own ecclesiological thought, more anthropological and spiritual than judicial. . . . Historical documentation is at the factual level; it must leave room for a judgment made not in the light of the documentary evidence alone, but of the Church's faith.” Yves M.-J. Congar, Tradition and Traditions: An Historical and a Theological Essay (London: Burns & Oats, 1966), pp. 398-399.

    And then Cardinal Congar even goes on to insist “It is the Church, not the Fathers, the consensus of the Church in submission to its Saviour which is the sufficient rule of our Christianity.” Yves M.-J. Congar, Tradition and Traditions: An Historical and a Theological Essay (London: Burns & Oats, 1966), p. 399.

    When members of the Roman communion are willing to be honest, then they must admit, in the end, their submission to the principle of sola ecclesia.

    Neither the principle of sola ecclesia nor sola scriptura mean that the church or scripture are sole authorities. What is meant by each is this; Sola ecclesia means that the church is the sole ultimate, infallible authority (i.e. from a Roman perspective), whereas sola scriptura means that Holy Scripture is the sole ultimate, infallible authority. Albeit Protestants deny their communion to be infallible. In a Roman apologist's rejection of the description of sola ecclesia, he cannot be honest with his own system of belief.
    Last edited: Aug 8, 2018
  25. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    Supposing, for the sake of argument, it was the very best rebuttal, or even just the best we could come up with. Under the conditions of the argument, Rome has a problem that we do not. Rome's assertion is that somehow (with a handwave) they see no problem, hence it does not exist.

    Rome has wished away her irreducible epistemic quandary--an objective issue which we, for our part, have acknowledged is as much something we have to deal with as they must. But theirs is not a real solution; it is a stipulation that is demanded by their a priori convictions about themselves. Rome is first and foremost a believer (de fide) in its own authority.

    Rome's (the papacy's) fundamental authoritative claim was (as Luther discovered) the actual reason why the institution (the papal adjunct, not the church itself) could not be reformed. The church's obscuration of the gospel was a tragic effect of many ills in the church by the 16th century; but no ill was more to be blamed for resistance to healing than the attitude at the top that it could not be sick.
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  26. greenbaggins

    greenbaggins Administrator Staff Member

    I would not put it like this. We have to start by realizing that we are finite beings who do not have any kind of bedrock that could possibly be more foundational than God's own revelation to us. Any kind of confirmation of any kind of absolute authority, therefore, has to come from outside us. The question is this: does that confirmation come from the church, or does it come from the Holy Spirit? The Reformers say the latter, and Rome says the former. Now, Rome might try to say that it comes from the Holy Spirit through the church. But in practice, it just comes from the church, even if their teaching contradicts what Scripture says. So, when contemplating how it is that we can give our trust fully to an authority, we simply ask this: do I trust God or human beings?

    And Jacob, by the way, raised a very important point in that the Reformers never believed that Scripture was the sole authority, only that it is the only ultimate authority. They believed that the church had an authority higher than the individual but less than Scripture, since the church was fallible, whereas Scripture is not.
  27. DTK

    DTK Puritan Board Junior

    As an aside, the belief that Holy Scripture is self-attesting apart from the judgment of the church was by no means a principle that was novel with, or introduced by, the reformers. The early church fathers embraced this principle as well. I'll simply quote from my favorite early church presbyter...

    Salvian the Presbyter (5th century): I need not prove by arguments what God Himself proves by His own words. When we read that God says He perpetually sees the entire earth, we prove thereby that He does see it because He Himself says He sees it. When we read that He rules all things He has created, we prove thereby that He rules, since He testifies that He rules. When we read that He ordains all things by His immediate judgment, it becomes evident by this very fact, since He confirms that He passes judgment. All other statements, said by men, require proofs and witnesses. God’s word is His own witness, because whatever uncorrupted Truth says must be the undefiled testimony to truth. Fathers of the Church, Vol. 3, The Writings of Salvian, The Presbyter, The Governance of God, Book 3.1 (New York: CIMA Publishing Co., Inc., 1947), pp. 68-69.
    Latin text: Neque enim necesse est ut argumentis a me probetur quod hoc ipso quia a Deo dicitur comprobatur. Itaque cum legimus dictum a Deo quia aspiciat jugiter omnem terram, hoc ipso probamus quod aspicit quia aspicere se dicit; cum legimus quod regat cuncta quae fecit, hoc ipso approbamus quod regit, quia se regere testatur; cum legimus quod praesenti judicio universa dispenset, hoc ipso est evidens quod judicat quia se judicare confirmat. Alia enim omnia, id est, humana dicta, argumentis ac testibus egent. Dei autem sermo ipse sibi testis est, quia necesse est quidquid incorrupta veritas loquitur, incorruptum sit testimonium veritatis. Sancti Salviani Massiliensis Presbyteri De Gubernatione Dei, Liber Tertius, §1, PL 53:57.

    I add the following for good measure . . . Salvian goes on to say...

    Salvian the Presbyter: But I am afraid that we do not observe them [i.e. the scriptures] well, do not read them with attention either, because there is less guilt in not reading the Holy Scriptures than in violating them after having read them. To be sure, the other nations either do not have the Law of God, or they have it in a weakened and maimed way, and, therefore, as I have said, they have it in such a manner that they do not have it at all. For, if there are any barbarian nations who in their books seem to have the Holy Scriptures less interpolated or torn into shreds than others, nevertheless they have them as they were corrupted by the tradition of their old teachers. Therefore, they have tradition rather than Scripture. They do not keep what the truth of the Law teaches, but what the wickedness of a bad tradition has inserted. Fathers of the Church, Vol. 3, The Governance of God, Book 5, §2 (New York: CIMA Publishing Co., Inc., 1947), pp. 129-130.
    Latin text: Sed vereor quod qui non bene observamus, nec bene lectitemus: quia minor reatus est sancta non legere, quam lecta violare. Caeterae quippe nationes aut non habent legem Dei, aut debilem et convulneratam habent; ac per hoc, ut diximus, non habent quae sic habent. Nam etsi qui gentium barbararum sunt qui in libris suis minus videantur Scripturam sacram interpolatam habere vel laceram, habent tamen veterum magistrorum traditione corruptam, ac per hoc traditionem potius quam Scripturam habent, quia hoc non retinent quod veritas legis suadet, sed quod pravitas malae traditionis inseruit. Sancti Salviani Massiliensis Presbyteri De Gubernatione Dei, Liber Quintus, §2, PL 53:95.
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  28. Jack K

    Jack K Puritan Board Professor

    A couple of points you may find helpful...

    First, I'm not sure that Scripture as our sole authority is actually the right way to state the protestant position. I realize we speak of sola Scriptura, which gives us five neat solas to remember. But in the case of Scripture, sola is probably not the best word we could use. Reformed protestants believe there is also some measure of authority in the church and its creeds, in the preached word, or even in such things as divine providences that may lead us to take various actions. Now, all these must be subject to Scripture, which is our supreme authority by virtue of its clarity and inerrancy and the fact that it comes directly from God. But as an authority, it is supreme rather than sole. Even many protestants miss this, and end up with improper disregard for the church.

    Second, it may help to stop thinking about circular arguments and instead ask, what ends the argument? Children understand this well. They know that if they keep questioning their father, the argument will eventually end with dad saying, "Well, I'm your father and what I say goes." There's no more to argue at that point, because dad's word is the end of the argument. In much the same way, when it comes to godly truth, God's word is the end of the argument. There is nowhere higher to appeal. The protestant position is that the Bible has inherent authority due to its inspiration by the Holy Spirit. So when you get to the Bible, you have reached the point of "God says so." This is not an occasion for circling back and re-asking old questions, but rather the end point we are looking for.
  29. Ask Mr. Religion

    Ask Mr. Religion Flatly Unflappable

    I do not see how this could be so, given the CCC on the moral conscience.

    1792 Ignorance of Christ and his Gospel, bad example given by others, enslavement to one's passions, assertion of a mistaken notion of autonomy of conscience, rejection of the Church's authority and her teaching, lack of conversion and of charity: these can be at the source of errors of judgment in moral conduct.​

    This site has what I consider the most user-friendly access to the CCC in a variety of methods, including indexes and searching:
  30. Ask Mr. Religion

    Ask Mr. Religion Flatly Unflappable

    I do think this bears repeating from one of my earlier responses:

    It is edifying to Protestant and Roman Catholic alike, especially as relates to the often seen claim that Sola Scriptura is indefensible.
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