Skip to comments.Lutheran professor of philosophy prepares to enter Catholic Church
Posted on 05/19/2007 1:45:39 PM PDT by Frank Sheed
Friday, May 18, 2007 Lutheran professor of philosophy prepares to enter Catholic Church
Dr. Robert Koons, professor of philosophy at the University of Texas, will be entering the Catholic Church next week following several years of considering the teachings and history of the Catholic Church. In a post over at Right Reason, he writes:
Several weeks ago, I learned through a mutual friend that Frank Beckwith was intending to return to the Roman Catholic Church. At the same time, Frank learned that I myself have been moving in the direction of Rome for the last several years. I am very pleased to be able to announce that I intend to be received into the Church on May 26th, at St. Louis King of France parish in Austin. My own story is quite different from Franks, although our reasons for entering the Church of Rome are strikingly parallel.
I was baptized through the Lutheran Church -- Missouri Synod, and I have been an active member of the church body ever since. As a Lutheran, Ive never thought of myself as Protestant, nor have I ever embraced the kind of extreme sola-scripturism that has been much in evidence in responses to Franks announcement. I always recognized that the Scriptures are themselves the foundation of, and very much a part of, a divine Tradition. Although I believed that only the Scriptures were infallible, I nonetheless assigned great weight to the rule of faith established by the continuous tradition of teaching by the Church, and as reflected in the writings of the Fathers and the decrees of Councils. Insofar as I accepted a form of sola scriptura, it took the form of insisting that all doctrines must have their source in the Scriptures as interpreted by the Church, or in the universal practices and teaching of the early church. This is the only sort of sola scriptura principle that can hold up to logical scrutiny, since the Scriptures themselves provide no definition of the canon and no clear statement of any sola-scriptura principle (both of these can be found only in the Fathers and Councils). Extreme sola-scripturism is, given these facts, self-refuting.
How, then, could I have remained Lutheran? I did so because I believed that the late medieval church (in the form of both the Scotists and the nominalists like Ockham and Biel) had distorted the doctrine of salvation or justification, embracing a kind of Pelagian error: that is, the notion that human beings can save themselves through the exercise of unaided human reason and will. I still believe this to be so (as do many, if not most, contemporary Roman Catholic theologians). I also believed that the Church erred in its brusque condemnation of Luthers early protests (again, a view I still hold), and that the Council of Trent solidified a kind of apostasy from the true faith (this is where my current view departs from my former one). I believed that the teachings of the church popularly known as Lutheran or Evangelical, as codified in the sixteenth century Book of Concord, constituted the defining characteristic of the one Catholic Church in its fullness, in continuity on all essentials with the teachings of the Church from the first century until at least the twelfth. The logic of my position was a simple one: the modern Roman Church clearly embraced an erroneous doctrine of justification, which nullified its otherwise strong historical claim to continuity with the apostles (especially on the matter of ecclesiology, the theory of the Church), depriving modern Christians of any good reason to embrace late-medieval and modern developments in Roman Catholic doctrine (including the immaculate conception and papal infallibility).
Those of you who know more about theology and the history of theology than I did then can easily see how untenable a position I held (although I think this untenable position is one still held by many, if not most, thoughtful Lutherans and Reformed Christians). My confidence in this position was shaken by three blows: (1) new scholarship (primarily by Protestants) on Pauls epistles, which raised profound doubts about the correctness of Martin Luthers and Phillip Melanchthons excessively individualistic and existentialist reading of Pauls teaching on justification by faith, (2) the fruits of Lutheran/Roman Catholic dialogue on justification, expressed most fully in the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification in 1997, that greatly clarified for me the subtlety of the doctrinal differences between the two bodies, and (3) a more thorough exposure to the writings of the early Church fathers, especially those considered most evangelical: Chrysostom, Ambrose, and (above all) Augustine of Hippo. I began to realize that many Lutheran and Protestant polemicists have been guilty of two fallacies: a straw-man version of contemporary Roman Catholic teaching, and a cherry-picking of quotations from the Fathers, ignoring the undeniable contradiction between the teachings of those Fathers, taken as a whole, and the one-sided version of the faith-alone doctrine on justification embraced by the second generation of the Reformation (especially Martin Chemnitz). The Joint Declaration and the recent Catechism of the Catholic Church aided me in giving a closer and more charitable reading to the anathemas of the Council of Trent (which I still believe to be have been written in an unprofitably provocative way).
Read the entire post, as well as Dr. Koons 94-page essay on justification (PDF document).
Posted by Carl Olson on Friday, May 18, 2007 at 09:28
No way. As a confessional Lutheran pastor, I am not about the give up the true catholic faith for the errors of Roman Catholicism. Rome still hasn't got the gospel right.
Rome still hasn't got the gospel right.That's funny. Rome preserved and protected the Gospel Truth for over an aeon before the heretic Luther was even dreaming of seducing nuns or endorsing bigamy.+
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I totally agree with your view of Ockham.
George Weigel has a good background on him in “The Cube and the Catheral”
He is a great and tragic figure, an awesome thinker and a man of God gone astray. I hope he repented at the end.
Not to mention that my husband was raised Methodist and my mom Presbyterian.
. . . remember the term "GIGO"? It certainly applies to the St. Loooey Jebbies . . .
Had they been actuaries, they might have messed up somebody's life insurance, instead of just making our ears corrugate . . .
Holy mackeral. I guess you've got some impressive history to contend with!
My mother converted to Catholicism while she was in her teens. My father was Catholic, an altar boy until he was 17. My husband is Catholic, and also an altar boy until 17.
My husband is one of those hard-headed Americans -- like Dickens's beefsteak, 'he has to be humored, not drove'. But he was the one who announced that if GenCon 2003 went the way it looked like it would go, we were heading over to Rome. Could have knocked me down with a feather -- but even though he was raised Methodist, his mom was raised Irish Catholic, so that was there all along. But he had to figure it out for himself, trying to push him anywhere is fatal.
We were very "high church" Episcopalians though -- lots of 'smells and bells', what some people call "more Roman than Rome." And once we investigated we discovered that there was very little theological difference when you got right down to it. What Catholics actually believe, and what you hear from a vantage point outside the Church that Catholics believe, are two very different things.
There is a lot of not particularly subtle anti-Catholicism in the Episcopal Church. Along the lines of "we have it right as an inheritance from the ancient pre-Council of Whitby Celtic Catholics -- the Romans have it all wrong."
Of course they've tossed all that tradition with this latest series of stunts . . . and of course if you go and actually read up on the Council of Whitby you find out they are wrong about that too and have been all along.
Perhaps if you give a Jesuit a calculator, he’ll use it to call his mother ship in geosynchronous orbit over St. Louis.
(At least, that’s what my goofball son does with his.)
The quotation quoted is out of context. He plainly stated that he mistakenly thought that the late medieval church had embraced the notion that people could save themselves through good behavior. He added that some Catholic scholars also made the same mistake. Actually the church never embraced this concept which has been the center of much controversy over the past 5 centuries. Go back and read it once more. It take a lot of concentration to interpret the sentence.
“To err is human and to forgive Divine. Note that neither is Marine Corps Policy.”
Koons is a secular professor of Philosophy. Just like Beckwith. Their specialties are not in theology or doctrine, but in philosophy (the study of man).
Bork converted, too, huh? I see the albino monk got to him, too ;^D
Yes, I have always thought that part of the “borking” Bork was because he became a Catholic.
Quite right. It's unfortunate. That's one reason these threads are so important, and also why they can be so difficult.
Both of you need to read it again, with the next sentence (as above).
He's saying that he believed (past tense) and still believes the nominalists and scotists of the medieval church (not the present Roman Church), a very powerful part of late medieval Roman Catholicism, had distorted the doctrine of salvation with "a kind of 'Palagian' error." Also he is saying most present-day Roman Catholic scholars agree with this historical analysis. Of course the scotists and nominalists were not the whole church...(by the same token neither was Trent, for that matter...80%+ of its delegates were Italian).
Most Catholic scholars I've heard of ADMIT that the Renaissance-era Church had some very serious issues, beyond simple corruption, which provided fertile ground for schism in the Reformation.
To stonewall and almost say that Rome has always been right on everything doesn't reflect the teachings of Benedict or John Paul II, or the consensus of the present leadership of the Church.
Welcome home! Church fathers know best!