Monday, October 06, 2008

Dialogue With a Protestant on the "Infallibility Regress" Argument and Questions Regarding Catholic Authority and the Obtaining of Theological Truth




"Interlocutor" is a Protestant of some sort who makes thought-provoking comments on my blog. This is my first "official" posted dialogue with him. His words will be in blue.

SEE PART TWO of this dialogue.

* * * * *

Let's say I realize sola scriptura is a mess and grant the RCC is infallible. Presumably, this should give me an advantage over my previous SS position.

What is your position? What denomination do you attend and/or adhere to?

So, what is the next step in always testing whether my beliefs mesh with Magisterial teaching? How do I know I understand the catechism and various councils and encyclicals and the like correctly?

By reading the Catechism or reading additional catechetical and apologetic works.

My local priest is fallible - he may be interpreting documents incorrectly (I'm sure many lay Catholics are more theologically astute than their priests).

That's correct. This is why the apologetics movement has grown by leaps and bounds.

Shouldn't the Magisterium claim its documents are perspicuous, but I'm not aware of any such claim (I think it's obvious they aren't; the arguments against scripture being perspicuous could just as easily apply to the Magisterium)?

I contend that Catholic teachings are abundantly clear, as to what the faithful Catholic is required to believe or disbelieve. You disagree? Very well, then; rather than talking abstractly in the broadest terms, give me some examples of teachings that you think are so unclear that a Catholic wouldn't know what to believe about them. You have to go pretty far down the "totem pole" to get to stuff where we can disagree, such as Molinism vs. Thomism or whether Mary died or not. Most of it has long been worked through and codified.

Are they clear in the SS sense: only those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation?

All Catholic teachings that are required belief for Catholics are plainly laid out, especially now in the Catechism.

If they are clear in some sense, why can't Scripture also be clear in some sense?

I think it certainly is! I've argued that again and again, particularly for things like the deity of Christ and the trinity, and other Nicene Creed-type doctrines. But heretics still manage to get it wrong, don't they, as history shows. Therefore, it is necessary (practically speaking) to have an authoritative Church and Tradition: as Scripture itself teaches all over the place.

What advantage is the Magisterium offering me?

Authoritative proclamations that apply to the universal Church, as opposed to paltry denominational traditions that are only as good as the next denomination that contradict them. Once you accept the notion of some sort of authoritative tradition, even if sub-infallible, then
you are building on your theological ancestors. Chesterton said that tradition was the "democracy of the dead." If you want to be ahistorical and pretend that a solo scriptura, extreme Bible-only view will work, then try it. It has always failed in the long run to produce even unity, let alone any semblance of certainty.

I'm stuck in the same place, interpreting Scripture, or interpreting Magisterial docs, without the assurance the Magisterium is promising me over Scripture.

Not at all, because virtually all the important theological issues have already been worked through and worked out by minds far greater than yours and mine, and by the guidance of the Holy Spirit. You don't have to work that hard to understand. You simply look it up and believe it, on the authority of the Church. The only things that are up in the air are matters of the utmost mystery, that humans can barely understand at all, such as the internal Catholic predestination debate. But that has no bearing on practical, day-to-day Catholic living anyway.

If the answer is, ask the magisterium, well how does someone do that and get an infallible answer?

It's not necessary to infallibly interpret; only to know and believe by faith, based on many cumulative, converging evidences, that there is an infallible authority. One simply accepts that. It's not a game of philosophy, but of religious faith, grounded in reason and the Bible, and historical precedent.

Moreover, this argument against SS is claiming that infallibility gives you a greater degree of certitude in your beliefs. So shouldn't there be an easily accessible list of infallible teachings?

You keep re-hashing the same argument over and over. How many different ways are you gonna state this? The argument fails and is fallacious, no matter how many times you state it.

But there isn't, RC theologians disagree over what decrees/canons/etc. are infallible (indeed even sometimes what sentences are infallible).

How does that affect the day-to-day lives and Catholic beliefs of the faithful? The teachings are authoritative, if they come down to us from papal encyclicals, ecumenical councils, or the Catechism. All the fine-tuning and hair-splitting distinctions are for scholars and theologians and apologists to have fun arguing about; that's what they get paid to do. But that has little relevance for Joe Q. Catholic. Again, why don't you give examples, and I can show you how it works in concrete terms, and that Catholics need not have doubts or confusion about what the Church teaches.

You may rightly say catholics are bound to obey all teaching, not just infallible teachings (canon 752, Donum Veritatis 23; Lumen Gentium 25)

That's correct. And that's where this argument breaks down, because it confuses highly particular theological arguments and philosophical speculations in epistemology with the day-to-day observant faith of the Catholic.

It's highly ironic, too, for any Protestant to act as if Catholicism is a huge mass of confused uncertainty, when it is not at all, and their own systems really are that. It's a nice diversionary tactic to rationalize one's own sever and insuperable difficulties, but it won't fly: not when there is an apologist like myself who can see through this and refute it.

but the whole argument has been over INFALLIBLE teaching and the assurance it gives.

Most Catholic apologists who make this argument over against Protestantism is simply saying that there is such a thing as an infallible Church and an infallible pope. And there is such a thing as conciliar and papal authority, and a magisterium, and apostolic succession, and Sacred Tradition. Protestants deny the binding authority of all those things. The argument is at that level: whether those things are true or not.

But instead, Protestants want to argue about these largely irrelevant and extraneous minute particulars. I think it is clever, but it is thoroughly fallacious and can't succeed. The more specific one gets, the worse this argument does, and it collapses. That's why it is usually made in the most general terms, so that no one immediately sees the fallaciousness and great weakness of it.
One sees how it fails by simply challenging the one making the argument to produce all of these glaring examples of utter confusion as to Catholic dogma. Where are they? What is is it that you claim the average Catholic believer cannot figure out? What is it that he needs to know, that he can't reasonably ascertain within the Catholic environment and milieu?

Any protestant would also subscribe to his church's fallible teachings.

But they inherently lack authority, because they have no historical pedigree (i.e., where they disagree with us). Catholic teaching has that. Tradition in the Bible was "received" and "passed down" or "delivered" (several passages in Paul). The same teachings continued to be passed down by the fathers and doctors of the Church. They have a history. But Protestant distinctives do not. Therefore, by the criteria that the fathers always relied on as their "ace in the hole" (apostolic succession), and the biblical criteria, Protestant distinctives are false.

As an aside about the tangent into justification, Dave, I did not read your articles yet, but on McGrath and the "theological novum" business, have you also happened to read what he says in The Intellectual Origins of the European Reformation:
…an astonishingly broad spectrum of theologies of justification existed in the later medieval period, encompassing practically every option that had not been specifically condemned as heretical by the Council of Carthage. In the absence of any definitive magisterial pronouncement concerning which of these options (or even what range of options) could be considered authentically catholic, it was left to each theologian to reach his own decision on this matter. A self perpetuating doctrinal pluralism was thus an inevitability. The point is of importance for a number of reasons. First it can be shown that Luther’s theological breakthrough involved his abandoning one specific option within the broad spectrum of theologies of justification, and embracing another within that spectrum. In other words, Luther’s initial position of 1513-1514, and his subsequent position (probably arrived at in 1515), were both recognized contemporary theological opinions, regarded as legitimate by the doctrinal standards of the time.
But this is perfectly irrelevant. Showing that there were a number of soteriological options available in the later nominalistic, post-Scholastic period of the Middle Ages doesn't one whit determine what the unbroken genuine, orthodox tradition was in the same regard. There are always multiple heretical options about in all periods of Church history.

The relevant thing is to figure out what has always been taught: what is the consistent development. Sola fide and imputed justification certainly is not that. It can't be shown. It is a simple matter of fact, as McGrath himself plainly states elsewhere. See:
Church Fathers vs. the "Reformation Pillar" of Faith Alone (Sola Fide) [Including "Revised Protestant Standard" Variant Readings] (+ Discussion)

Is Sola Fide (Faith Alone) a Legitimate Development of Patristic and Augustinian Soteriology?

The Interpretation and Exegesis of Romans 2-4 (Justification and Works of the Law) (Includes Very Extensive Patristic Commentary and Definitional Citations from three Protestant Bible Dictionaries)

Critique of Martin Chemnitz' Examination of Trent: Soteriology and Justification in the Church Fathers

N.T. Wright & the "New Perspective" on St. Paul: Did Luther Misinterpret Paul's Soteriology?

Luther's Error Concerning Justification (N.T. Wright)

About the fathers and
sola fide, there are degrees of culpability and a difference between explicitly denying a doctrine versus being silent on it or open to correction, between willful disbelief and a teachable spirit. They could be inconsistent in their articulations of grace and soteriology and atonement and the like as those questions simply were not at the forefront of the controversies.

Sola fide and imputed justification are simply not found. You disagree? Prove it, then. I challenge you. And finding one or two things here and there does not prove it. You have to show a consensus. And that cannot be done, no way, no how. Catholics win these historical arguments every time.

You have Augustine/Carthage/Orange and that's about it.

No! We "have" a huge patristic consensus and the more or less complete absence of distinctive Protestant soteriology.

I don't think most protestants claim sola fide as articulated in the Reformation was not a development, obviously it was.

It quite obviously was not a development, because it was a complete contradiction to what came before, in terms of imputed justification, denial of infused justification, separation of justification and sanctification, and the radical faith alone position. It was not a reversal in terms of grace alone, because Catholics accept that, just as Protestants do. Then there are related questions of merit and so forth that the fathers believed, but Protestants ditched. This was no development. It was a revolt and revolution. The only continuity was in those elements (like sola gratia) where Catholics and Protestants agreed.

Just as RCs accept ecf's who did not believe in all aspects of Tridentine soteriology, or accept pre-Nicene fathers who were subordinationists, Protestants also accept fathers who might have been inconsistent or in error on certain points as the church had not yet been guided in tackling all the finer points

Protestants pick and choose what they like from the Church Fathers, just as they do from Scripture. But the authority structure has changed. For the Catholic, patristic consensus is authoritative (i.e., as verified in councils that codified this consensus). We believe in conciliar and papal infallibility. You do not. So in the end, the fathers are irrelevant for a Protestant, because they have to always fall back on Scripture alone, and their own interpretation of it, that contradicts the Protestant church on the next block. It's always theological relativism in the end.

(and as I showed with my McGrath citation, there was a wide spectrum of soteriological beliefs amongst RCs leading up to Trent (and amongst the representatives at session 6 of Trent itself)- it wasn't some uniform gradual development from Augustine to Trent).

The orthodox soteriology can easily be shown to be a consistent development. I wholeheartedly agree that it was greatly developed and clarified at Trent, in reaction to Protestant heresy, but its main outlines were always present (look at Aquinas, for example).There are always goofy opinions around, but the Church in her wisdom weeds those out. That is how Church authority works. But Protestants have none: none that is binding and will actually solve a problem.

God does judge according to circumstances, though, too whom much is given, much is required - we are now in a better position than them so we have a higher degree of culpability; the pharisees were held to a higher standard than laymen.

Yep. You're a pretty sharp guy, and surely must understand the serious internal difficulties in your position. God will hold you accountable for making a choice between some form of Protestantism and Catholicism.

Thanks for the stimulating dialogue. God bless.

* * *

. . . so why is there no infallible list of infallible teachings forthcoming from the RCC?

There certainly is something at least approximating such a list. See:
Where Can One Find a List of Infallible Catholic Doctrines?
Dave, of course Denzinger and Ott aren't infallible,

Never said they were.

nor is the catechism.

Pope John Paul II's Apostolic Constitution Fidei Depositum, written in 1992, states:

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, which I approved 25 June last and the publication of which I today order by virtue of my Apostolic Authority, is a statement of the Church's faith and of catholic doctrine, attested to or illumined by Sacred Scripture, the Apostolic Tradition and the Church's Magisterium. I declare it to be a sure norm for teaching the faith and thus a valid and legitimate instrument for ecclesial communion. May it serve the renewal to which the Holy Spirit ceaselessly calls the Church of God, the Body of Christ, on her pilgrimage to the undiminished light of the Kingdom!

The approval and publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church represent a service which the Successor of Peter wishes to offer to the Holy Catholic Church, to all the particular Churches in peace and communion with the Apostolic See: the service, that is, of supporting and confirming the faith of all the Lord Jesus' disciples (cf. Lk 22:32 as well as of strengthening the bonds of unity in the same apostolic faith. Therefore, I ask all the Church's Pastors and the Christian faithful to receive this catechism in a spirit of communion and to use it assiduously in fulfilling their mission of proclaiming the faith and calling people to the Gospel life. This catechism is given to them that it may be a sure and authentic reference text for teaching catholic doctrine and particularly for preparing local catechisms. It is also offered to all the faithful who wish to deepen their knowledge of the unfathomable riches of salvation (cf. Eph 3:8). It is meant to support ecumenical efforts that are moved by the holy desire for the unity of all Christians, showing carefully the content and wondrous harmony of the catholic faith. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, lastly, is offered to every individual who asks us to give an account of the hope that is in us (cf. 1 Pt 3:15) and who wants to know what the Catholic Church believes.


(my bolded emphases and red coloring added)
That's more than sufficient to show you or anyone else what the Church teaches. The pope said so. This is how our authority structure works.

As Dulles even says in Magisterium: Teacher & Guardian of the Faith, "Except for the definition of the Immaculate Conception, there is little clarity about which papal statements prior to Vatican I are irreformable. Most authors would agree on about half a dozen statements." And that is just for a subset of infallible teachings (papal statements).

It sounds like he is talking about only the very highest level of authority (ex cathedra). I'd have to see the context to understand better what exact point he was trying to make. Amazon doesn't have the search function for the book, unfortunately.

I'm just holding RCs to their own rules and arguments against SS (we must have an infallible Magisterium).

We do have an infallible Church. You do not. It is two completely different rules of faith. Ours leads to unity and harmony; yours leads to theological relativity (in many areas where you disagree with us) and ecclesiological chaos.

Magisterial documents generate their own hermeneutical layers; Vatican II has various interpretations. Tavard wrote a whole article on Unam Sanctum in the book Papal Primacy and the Universal Church, focused in part on whether the last sentence was the only infallible portion (as advanced by other RC theologians), whether the arguments leading up to the conclusion are themselves erroneous (yet the truth of the conclusion not nullified), or whether it really should even be considered infallible at all, as Tavard says, "It is not a fruitful exercise to try to abstract a core of permanent truth from such a culturally dated and politically limited document as Unam sanctam." This is ONE magisterial document of thousands.

No one disagrees that there is no salvation outside the Church. That was the dogma under consideration there. How it is specifically applied is, of course, another question, and one where orthodox Catholics can engage in all kinds of discussions (I have myself: my biggest one was with an Anglican who later became Catholic), but no orthodox Catholic denies the dogma. Liberal Catholics do all sorts of things, but who cares what they are prattling on about? They are loose cannons and are applying the Protestant pick-and-choose system of private judgment to Catholicism, which is a complete contradiction and intellectually dishonest to boot. Liberals in all Christian circles should be ignored. Let 'em die off . . .

As I said above, let's say I grant I need the Magisterium. Well, how do I go about figuring out if my beliefs mesh with it or not, I still have to go about interpreting these documents/canons/decrees for myself, where's this advantageous infallible assurance RCs always champion? And yes I realize authoritative teachings still are obligatory (of course figuring out which teachings hold what degree of force is yet another interpretive issue) even if non-infallible, but the whole argument RCs often advance is the need for infallible certainty (and Protestants also subscribe to fallible authoritative statements, such as their confessions).
The "infallibility regress" argument fails, as I think I showed 12 years ago with "Eric the Yellow" Svendsen:
Dialogue on the Logic of Catholic Infallible Authority

And more recently:

Private Judgment and Finding the Right Church: Is the Catholic Rule of Faith and Epistemology Inherently Incoherent?

The gist of it is that Christianity is not philosophy. One cannot achieve airtight, mathematical certainty in matters of faith. The Catholic authority structure is quite sufficient enough for us, as it was for the apostles and fathers.

And what is the particular brand of Protestantism that you espouse and can defend as superior to our system? It's easy to take swipes at the Big Red Barn of Catholicism. But the question is: what is the better alternative? Then when we see how Protestants try to resolve authority problems, it gets truly self-defeating and absurd.

That's not true of Catholicism. It's not philosophically airtight, but very few things are, so big wow. That's a big yawner. But (I contend) all forms of Protestant ecclesiology break down and become self-defeating, the more they are scrutinized.

* * *
Well, how do I go about figuring out if my beliefs mesh with it or not,

Very simple: read the Catechism. Read the ecumenical councils and (especially recent) papal encyclicals.
And what is the particular brand of Protestantism that you espouse and can defend as superior to our system?
This is it - Protestants don't claim SS gives them a "superior" position epistemologically - just that there's epistemic parity between the two systems;

You deftly avoided answering my question. Why are Protestants so often ashamed to even admit what denomination they are part of? There is no "epistemic parity" at all, as I have shown again, I think. I maintain that the Protestant position is ultimately self-defeating and unworkable, I've argued this many times in many different ways.

Note the following:
1) Catholics believe x about authority.

2) Protestants believe y about authority.

3) x and y are not consistent with each other at all points.

4) x and y, in fact, contradict each other in various ways.

5) Therefore, the one holding x must necessarily believe that y is unreasonable at those points in which it contradicts x.

6) And likewise, the one holding y must necessarily believe that x is unreasonable at those points in which it contradicts y.

7) Thus, assuming x is true, y is unreasonable where it contradicts x.

8 ) And, assuming y is true, x is unreasonable where it contradicts y.

I go further than this, to make other points:

1) Protestants massively contradict each other.

2) Contradictions entail at least one position being false, untrue, erroneous, or both positions being so. But they can't both be true.

3) Therefore, where this occurs in Protestantism, someone is promulgating falsehood.

4) Falsehood is not of or from God.

5) Therefore, systems that freely allow (indeed, literally encourage) contradictions and thus falsehood to flourish are not furthering the cause of truth in religion or the biblical worldview that there is one solitary Christian truth and tradition.

Protestant principles of authority are not only unreasonable because they contradict ours, but because they contradict the Bible, and themselves, at various points, and become viciously self-defeating. See:
Why Sola Scriptura is Self-Defeating and False if it Isn't in the Bible (vs. Kevin Johnson)

How Different (In Nature and Ultimate Effect) Are SolO Scriptura and SolA Scriptura? (+ Part II) (vs. Keith Mathison)

Protestant Ecclesiology and Epistemology is Always Ultimately Self-Defeating

400 Million "Popes": Protestant First Principles on Authority Are Inevitably Arbitrary, Unbiblical, and Viciously Self-Contradictory (+ Discussion) (vs. Ken Temple)

Reflections on the Problematic Protestant System of Private Judgment and the Vast Difference in Catholic Epistemology

The Problem of Authority: Luther, Calvin, and Protestantism (+ Part II) (vs. Kevin Johnson and Tim Enloe)

The Logical Circularity and Hidden Premises of Sola Scriptura and Private Judgment
(with Brent Arias)

The above section was in reply to criticisms from a fellow Catholic, Mark. Here are further replies to him (his words in green):

This is highly problematic from an epistemological point of view.

The Catholic faith does not reduce to mere philosophy (a common erroneous premise in many of these discussions on infallibility that I have observed).

I'm not arguing for absolute philosophical certainty (a thing that is generally rare as it is), but for the certitude of faith, based on many converging evidences of many sorts.

[see my paper that goes into this question of "certitude of faith" in great depth, following Cardinal Newman]

You seem to be saying that Protestants do not have the certainty of truth that Catholics do, because of the promise of infallibility in the Church (which the reformers ditched).

I also simultaneously argue that Protestant ecclesiology is ultimately self-defeating. I have yet to be dissuaded of that position.

This doesn't make sense. You even admit that the promise of infallibility takes faith, meaning you can' t prove it.

That's precisely the difference between epistemology and faith based on reason. One is philosophy; the other is religious faith that is reasonable as far as it goes, but transcends reason: else it is not faith if it is merely reason. This is a crucial distinction in this debate.

Therefore, this promise is based on a subjective principle - faith.

Faith and reason are harmonious, not antithetical. That's the teaching of both the Bible and the Church.

You can't claim Catholics have objective certainty and Protestants have subjective confusion.

We have a very high degree of certitude of faith, based on Scripture first and foremost and also the development of our ecclesiology. Sola Scriptura is self-defeating by its very nature. Protestants have no way to resolve their internal disagreements because they have a flawed ecclesiology and authority structure. That's why they are forced to adopt a position of theological relativism (on many so-called "secondary issues" -- utilizing the unbiblical notion of primary vs. secondary doctrines). They're forced into it by their history and present diversity.

Protestants do make claims about infallibly defined doctrines (e.g. divinity of Christ, Resurrection, Trinity, etc.).

They internally agree on doctrines where Protestants and Catholics agree. Thank God for that.

The only difference between a Catholic and a Protestant that I see is the former believe this infallibility is anchored in the Holy Spirit working through the Magisterium of the Church (guided by Scripture and Tradition), the latter place this infallibility in the Holy Spirit working through the individual believer (guided by Scripture and to a certain extent, Tradition).

The latter is inconsistent and doesn't work because one needs corporate infallibility and authoritative interpretation and proclamation in order to have ecclesial doctrinal unity. You have just said it yourself. In the latter system the individual decides in the end. But individuals do not agree with each other and end up all over the ballpark. This is the principle of private judgment. It doesn't work. It has brought us rampant sectarianism, religious liberalism, decay of traditional Christian morality, privatization, compartmentalization, subjectivism, pragmatism, theological relativism, secularism, and many other errors that do not help anything.

And the individual deciding on doctrine is radically unbiblical. In the Bible, councils and apostles decided on doctrine and presided over the Church. It shows Peter as the leader of the Church. He and the Church decide issues: not every Joe Q. Protestant.

If you say the Catholic position is objective because the infallible interpretation of Scripture and Tradition is placed outside the individual (contra Protestantism), the easy rebuttal is that the very belief that this "infallible interpretation is found in the Church" is subjective because it is an article of faith.

I don't think it has to even get to a convoluted epistemological discussion (though if any Protestant wants to go there, I'd be happy to: they still can't prevail). Scripture is clear that the Jerusalem Council was self-consciously infallible. Nothing in the text suggests otherwise.

The Bible says that the Church is the pillar and foundation [or "bulwark" - RSV] of the truth (1 Tim 3:15).

When you say Protestants do not have answers, this is surely because of the kind of Protestants you are debating - fundamentalists.

Is Keith Mathison a fundamentalist? No. He's a very articulate Presbyterian who defends sola Scriptura as well as anyone. Both Greg Krehbiel and I have critiqued his arguments at length. To my knowledge there has been no counter-response.

I critiqued Gary DeMar at length. He's a sharp guy, but he wrote to me and declined to dialogue. I've interacted with Lutherans who are not fundamentalists (recently two LCMS pastors at one time). There were other dialogue opponents such as E.L. Hamilton and Carmen Bryant, who are very articulate, educated Protestants with advanced degrees. I've dialogued with several different Lutherans about the consent of the Fathers, which ties into this discussion. You can read those debates and see if you thought they gave adequate answers.

Plenty of educated Protestants do have answers to your objections.

I've yet to see them. It breaks down every time. NO exceptions that I've ever seen . . . When you get a Protestant to the place of their ultimate presuppositions, they have no adequate answers. I can only report my experience of 17 years debating the issues. If you claim otherwise, then I'd be absolutely delighted if you would direct me to these people that you claim have an adequate answer for these glaring Protestant presuppositional shortcomings. I'd love to see it, and would probably counter-reply. I was just directed to a good series by C. Michael Patton. He's a sharp guy, but I am fully confident that his arguments can be overcome and shown to be internally inconsistent. If his arguments are superior, then I always have the option of going back to Protestantism. I follow truth wherever it leads me.

It's unfair to characterize the Protestant position as "self-defeating" and "inconsistent".

You can say whatever you like. I've done the debates time and again. I've written more about this by far than any other topic, and I have 2050 papers online and 16 books published. I believe I have demonstrated this time and again, whereas my opponents couldn't give any further answers at a certain point. Sola Scriptura and the Catholic notion of authority can't both be true. One has to take a stand on one or the other, or reject both.

It doesn't mean there aren't many wonderful and true things in Protestantism. There certainly are, and I note them and rejoice in that all the time, because I'm as ecumenical as I am apologetical, but on this they are dead wrong, and we see the fruit of their error all around us.

* * *

[still continuing my discussion with Mark the Catholic]

Self-defeating propositions are unreasonable, no? That is my claim. You want to poo-poo it, but in order to sensibly and rationally refute my claim, you must interact with it, not just talk about it in sweeping terms without ever dealing with the thing. This is the burden of thought and of logic.

You can keep saying the same things over and over (which is distinctly unimpressive because it has no substance and no concrete back-up), or you can direct me to these people whom you claim have answers for the objections I raise. Or answer my alleged deficiencies yourself, which you have said you don't want to do.

You write: I could send you to several Protestant blogs, but I'll spare them. They generally hate to get into "apologetic" debates.

Well, this is part and parcel of the problem. Very few Christians of any stripe are confident enough in their views to want to ever defend them. That's where we are vastly different from the vast majority of Christians of all stripes through the centuries. We've caved into the postmodernist mentality that says there is no reason to fight (even amiably and cordially, as fellow Christians, with mutual respect) over purely subjective things.

Good grief! Tell that to Luther or to Aquinas or to Calvin or Chesterton or Newman or C.S. Lewis. They would have laughed it to scorn.

C. Michael Patton has enough confidence in HIS views to welcome a challenge from a Catholic. I have immense respect for that approach. He's already written me a warm private letter. So we see that true dialogue doesn't have to pretend that our differences are smaller than they are, and that good dialogue can take place with perfect amiability. I've done it, several hundred times, and I hope to do it many more times. But it's getting more difficult to find people who understand the joy and challenge of dialogue anymore.

People so often now simply preach and proclaim, and one accepts their view as one would vanilla or chocolate ice cream. That's not how biblical or Catholic or classic Protestant Christianity works at all. And if I am to be looked down on for saying so (as I often am: there is a distinct anti-apologetic mood in many quarters now), so be it. It's all part of the package of being an apologist. I don't like it, but I accept it as par for the course. The apologist hearkens back to an earlier era, where men loved disputations and challenges rather than despising and running from them like the plague.

* * * * *

infallibility does not give you this great advantage over SS. So that all the talk over "infallible certainty" that the RCC gives (or its apologists at least champion) is really smoke and mirrors.

Great. Then I look forward to your attempted refutations of all I have stated here and in my scores of papers on this topic and closely-related ones. Maybe you'll hang around long enough so that we can really accomplish something in the dialogue for a change. I say your case falls flat. If you disagree, then prove it. I challenge you to do so, and it'll all be recorded right here on my Catholic blog, with my replies.

You rightly claim Catholicism isn't all rationalism and philosophy - there's a central element of faith.

Good. Our faith is far more reasonable than the faith of any brand of Protestantism, because it is self-consistent and non-arbitrary, and theirs is not.

Do SS proponents claim any different for their position (and yet still get berated, "how do you know?" blah blah)?

All Christians exercise faith and can't absolutely prove everything. I'm maintaining that our positions are far more reasonable and are self-consistent and that yours are not. What is internally contradictory cannot be true as it stands, in its entirety. Either one or both sides of the contradiction must be discarded in order to rise to basic reasonability, let alone plausibility and alleged superiority to competing self-consistent systems.

There are arguments for the RCC to be sure - the whole "must have infallible Magisterium" one just doesn't fly.

You can say this over and over. To prove it and to answer our counter-replies is a far different and far more involved, complex thing, and your burden (since you insisted on bringing this up).

As for reading the catechism, encyclicals,etc. sure I can do that.

Good. Then your epistemological problem will be solved, because you will know with certainty what the Catholic Church authoritatively teaches. And you can choose to accept it or remain in the difficulties of Protestantism and in a skeletal, least-common-denominator version of Christianity rather than in the fullness of apostolic Christian truth.

Protestants can do the same with the confessions to discern Lutheran or Reformed or Anglican beliefs.

And they contradict each other, and doctrinal and moral error and falsehood is a bad, undesirable thing that God never wanted in His Church at all.

Your answer is fine as long as it's not presupposing the need for the infallible Magisterium. Once that comes into play, the gears start falling off upon closer examination once we come down from theory to application.

I've defended my view, here and many other places. Now let's see you defend yours and give counter-replies to my replies. Best wishes. The good and conscientious lawyer can only argue as well as the facts of his case allow.

GO TO PART TWO of this dialogue to continue reading.

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