Skip to comments.Unsound Sticks, or, Arguments Catholics Shouldn't Use
Posted on 05/04/2009 11:44:49 AM PDT by Alex Murphy
The following is a list of arguments against Protestantism which, in our judgment, Catholics should not use, either because they are not true, or because, while they might be true, it is impossible to prove that they are, for a plausible alternative explanation of the data exists. This is certainly not a complete list: it is merely one missive fired for intellectual honesty. Neither is it an infallible list: it is possible that one or more of these arguments might be saved.
1. Do not allege that there are 33,000 Protestant denominations. This tally comes from the 2001 World Christian Encyclopedia, and it includes all denominations and paradenominations which self-identify as Christian, including Catholics, Orthodox, Protestants, Old Catholics, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, Gnostics, Bogomils, etc. And even so, the number is too high. The World Christian Encyclopedia artificially inflates the number of Catholic "denominations" by counting Eastern Churches in communion with Rome as separate denominations. It likewise inflates the number of Eastern Orthodox "denominations" by counting Churches in communion with each other as distinct.
This reference lists 8,973 denominations under the heading "Protestant," and 22,146 more under the heading "Independent." Some, but not all, of the "independent" denominations may justly be described as Protestant. Still, these numbers may be inflated similarly to the numbers for Catholics and Orthodox. Suffice it to say that there are thousands of Protestant denominations.
Moreover, even if we could arrive at an accurate tally for Protestant denominations (20,000?), we still could not blame the whole of that number on Sola Scriptura. Some of these churches share substantial unity in faith, even if they are juridically independent (perhaps due to geography). And much of the disunity of faith within Protestantism, at least in the developed world, stems from efforts to subordinate the authority of Scripture (e.g., to various sexual perversions). In reality, if every Protestant denomination were serious and consistent in affirming and applying the rule of Sola Scriptura, the spectrum of Protestant belief would be significantly narrower. It bears emphasizing: the only thing for which we can directly blame Sola Scriptura is the extent to which it fails to provide unity in true faith and morals to those who sincerely adhere to it, e.g., "orthodox" Lutherans, Presbyterians, Baptists, Anglicans, Methodists, Pentecostals, Campbellites, etc.
2. Avoid the term "anti-Catholic." The term is ill-defined. If it refers to a form of bigotry or prejudice then it could only be applied to individual Protestants (or other non-Catholics) on a case by case basis, and that only after they had exhibited a demonstrable pattern of bad faith. If, on the other hand, it refers to theological opposition to Catholicism, then it ought not to be used as a term of disdain. For Catholics are theologically opposed to Protestantism. Indeed, according to Dominus Iesus, Protestant "churches" are not, properly speaking, churches. The distinctives of Protestant theology are heresy, and the Council of Trent has pronounced anathema upon them. If, then, Protestants who believe Catholicism to be heretical are anti-Catholic, by the same standard Catholics who believe Protestantism to be heretical are anti-Protestant.
3. Do not justify lack of charity by appealing to the example of St. Jerome. Not everything a saint does is necessarily worthy of emulation. St. Cyprian was insubordinate to the Pope. St. John Chrysostom said some indefensible things about Jews.
4. Do not exaggerate the inadequacy of Sola Scriptura, as if it were not possible to understand the Bible at all without the Magisterium. In reality, if one, without help from any external authority, gives the Bible a diligent, sincere, and attentive reading, it will be possible to achieve the right answer to a fair number of questions. Sola Scriptura is inadequate because it cannot give the Church definitive answers to every question which she needs answered in order to function as the Church. For example, it cannot give the Church a definitive answer regarding whether Christian marriage is dissoluble. On the other hand, the Bible is clear enough that the text alone suffices to tell the Church that homosexuality is evil, among other things. If one fails to recognize this then it will be impossible to come to terms with the patristic witness to the clarity of Scripture.
5. Do not insist that Protestants need to know, as a matter of faith, that Matthew wrote Matthew. According to the internal logic of their system, they do not. It suffices that the book of Matthew be inspired by God, regardless whether the traditional attribution is correct. As such, there is a limited value in asking Protestants the question, "How do you know that Matthew wrote Matthew?" If a particular Protestant does in fact accept the traditional authorship of Matthew, one might ask him on what basis he does so. If he replies that he does so on the basis of the patristic testimony, this can be an opportunity to expose any double standards he might hold as to the reliability of the patristic testimony at large. Nevertheless, it is fallacious to argue that, since Protestants need to know that Matthew wrote Matthew, and since Sola Scriptura cannot provide that knowledge to them, therefore Sola Scriptura is false.
6. Do not think that it suffices, for falsifying Sola Scriptura, to demonstrate that inspired oral Apostolic Tradition existed during the Apostolic era (2 Thess 2:15, etc.). Protestants grant this. One must proceed to demonstrate the perduring presence of this Tradition within the Church throughout all ages. Or at least, one must justify laying the burden of proof on Protestants to demonstrate that all oral Apostolic Tradition was eventually inscripturated.
7. Do not argue that since St. Paul knew that the magicians who opposed Moses were named Jannes and Jambres (2 Tim 3:8), these names must have been preserved in the old covenant equivalent of Apostolic Tradition. According to the Catholic dogma of the inspiration of Scripture, God furnished the sacred authors with an infallible judgment in evaluating the truth of non-inspired and hence fallible historical records (Pius XII, Humani Generis, 38). As such, judging by the standard of Catholic theology (which conservative Protestants share on this point), it is possible that St. Paul learned these names from ordinary human historical records, and not from Jewish Sacred Tradition. To establish the presence of Sacred Tradition within the old covenant a Catholic must look elsewhere (e.g., 2 Chron 29:2).
8. Do not cite 2 Peter 1:20-21 against the Protestant principle of private interpretation of Scripture. St. Peter explains, in the preceding verses, that the Apostles did not invent their claims about the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ, but saw it first hand when He revealed it to them in the Transfiguration. He then exhorts his readers to heed the "prophetic word." He continues, "No prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men borne by the Holy Spirit spoke from God." In context, the "interpretation" which St. Peter refers to is on the part of the prophet, not the reader. That is, St. Peter's point is that no prophet made up his own prophecies. The prophets spoke what they received from God to speak, just as the Apostles spoke what they received from God to speak on Mount Tabor. Hence, their words rest on divine and not human authority.
9. Never attack the textual integrity of the Bible. The manuscript tradition is sufficiently robust that it is possible to reconstruct, to a moral certainty, the original reading of the vast majority of the New Testament. Instances where the original text is indeterminate, although they are significant, are far between and are not determinative of any major theological debate.
10. Never compromise biblical inerrancy in order to score points against Protestantism. For instance, Protestants will often allege that the books of Maccabees cannot be inspired Scripture because they contain contradictory accounts of the death of Antiochus Epiphanes. And unfortunately, sometimes Catholics, instead of defending the books of Maccabees by harmonizing their data, will retort that by that standard the books of Samuel and Chronicles cannot be inspired Scripture either since they contain contradictory accounts of the death of Saul. This defense is thoroughly inadmissible: it invalidates the authentic Catholic standard regarding the necessary characteristics of Scripture (one of which is inerrancy) just as well as Protestant standard.
11. Do not jump to James 2:24 in order to counter every Protestant proof-text for justification by faith alone. Given that Catholic theology is true, it ought to be able to account for every text of Scripture on its own terms and in its own context. Hence, there is no escaping the duty to do exegesis, even of, especially of, Romans. It will not satisfy any Protestant to object to his proof-text that "it can't mean that because then it would contradict this other passage over here." The Protestant will have his own understanding of that other passage over there as well. Again, there is no escaping the duty to read the Protestant proof-texts closely and carefully and to furnish justified interpretations which are consistent with Catholic dogma.
12. Do not descend into arguments over whether we should give priority to Jesus or St. Paul as our teacher of the doctrine of justification. Granted, some Protestants err in claiming that Jesus left it to St. Paul to teach the Church the theology of salvation. However, it is no sound rebuttal, but simply the photographic negative of the Protestant error, to boast that Catholics give primacy to the Gospels.
13. If you wish to cite Acts 7:51 against the Calvinist doctrine of irresistible grace, be forewarned that there exists a cogent rebuttal. St. Stephen tells the Sanhedrin, "You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always oppose [Gk., antipiptete] the Holy Spirit." Literally, they fall against, meaning they fight against or oppose, the work of the Holy Spirit. Those who quote this passage against the doctrine of irresistible grace assume that this means they are resisting and hence rendering ineffectual that which the Holy Spirit is trying to work in their own souls. I.e., the Holy Spirit is working on converting them, but they are resisting Him. However, in context this passage more probably means simply that they are fighting against and opposing the work which the Holy Spirit is accomplishing in others, by killing the prophets in attempts to silence the word which God is speaking through them and persecuting the saints who hear it. "Which of the prophets did not your fathers persecute?" (Acts 7:52) The devil resists the Holy Spirit in the same sense.
14. Similarly, if you wish to cite Matthew 23:37 against the Calvinist doctrine of irresistible grace, be forewarned that there exists a cogent rebuttal. Jesus says, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!" Before one could validly apply this text against irresistible grace, one would have to prove the identity of the ones whom Jesus willed to gather together and the ones who would not. For if they are different people, then, as above, all this text means is that the wicked are opposed to God's saving action in others. And in fact, context indicates that they are different people. "Jerusalem" refers to the Jewish leadership, the scribes and Pharisees (cf. Matt 23:13, 31, 34-35), whereas "your children" refers to innocent Jews suffering underneath them.
15. Do not cite Ephesians 2:10 against justification by faith alone. This passage, even rightly interpreted, contains nothing inconsistent with Protestant theology. Having been saved by grace through faith, we ought to do the good works which God prepared beforehand for His children to do. This statement does not require that these good works should themselves be salvific, but is consistent with the supposition that these works are merely the necessary outgrowth of a salvation already completed. In order to establish that good works are salvific, the Catholic must look elsewhere.
16. Avoid making hay about Martin Luther adding the word "alone" to Romans 3:28. While the word is indeed absent from the Greek text, Luther was not the first to regard it as a justifiable gloss. That it is not in fact justifiable makes Luther's addition an exegetical error, but this is not the same thing as a blatant perversion.
17. Never ask, if a Protestant believes his salvation is eternally secure, what motivation he has to do good and avoid evil. The answer is obvious (and embarrassing to the Catholic who asked the question): the love of God. The love of God is sufficient motivation to pursue holiness with all vigor, absent any considerations of self interest. The most that a Catholic can argue in this respect is that Catholic theology, which furnishes men with both the baser motive of self interest and the loftier motive of the love of God, is superior in the practical order. For, in many cases, the baser motive will effectually turn a man from evil to good whereas the loftier motive, even though it should have, did not.
18. Do no otherwise than reference ancient documents for what they are. If a document is of probable authenticity (i.e., its author is probably the person it is attributed to), reference it as probably authentic. If it is of possible authenticity, reference it as possibly authentic. If it is spurious, reference it as spurious, and use it simply to document the beliefs of an anonymous ancient Christian author.
There are so many good arguments for Catholicism that the religion will do just fine without the arguments on this list.
Both designed to stifle debate.
Some things ARE comparable to Nazism and fascism more generally. Try making the comparison now and some idiot will pipe up “Godwin’s law, you loose *smirk*.”
Irving’s law only serves to protect those who genuinely do read hate tracts and learn from them and bring their points into otherwise intelligent debate.
“Is that too much to demand from ourselves as Christians?”
From the holier-than-thou brigades here, I’d say “yes.”
I've seen, up close and personal, that mankind is not intrinsically good. I've had dinner with a mass murderer and I've stood up to my waist in piles of the dead.
I do not believe there is any Scriptural justification for the position that man is basically good. There is quite a bit of Scriptural justification for the opposite position, that man is, by nature, evil. Of course, you'd expect a Calvinist who believes in total depravity (or, as R.C. Sproul calls it, radical corruption) to hold that position. :)
LOL... Ya might be on to something, my FRiend.
The very essence of the Bible is about
Creation, Fall, Redemption, Re-Creation,
with man being intrinsically wicked since the Fall.
I’ve had “Christians” insist that my “interpretation” wasn’t right. However, they mostly just asserted that they “didn’t like that interpretation”. I guess, if you don’t like the main and plain message of the scripture, you have to marginalize it or just call it allegory.
I have yet to have anyone rise to my challenge to come up with scripture justifying that viewpoint
when they assert that man is basically good .
The writer makes a list of arguments that he can’t refute effectively.
Note the humungous list.
Then he says it is not fair to use them. Then a call for end of debate and compliance to the list
Seems like an Olberfuhrer msnbc sort of strategy.
I’d make up my own list on the Protestant side, but I don’t want to insult people’s intelligence.
Bottom line, if man wasn’t intrinsically evil, why would we need a Savior? At most, we’d need a guidance counselor...and I don’t recall Mrs. Jenkins from 10th grade getting nailed to a cross to point me on the right path.
Actually, that’s one of the tenets of the “man is basically good” crowd - “there are many ways to God, not just Jesus”.
I seriously don’t see how you can justify calling yourself a Christian, saved by His sacrifice on the cross, then saying it wasn’t necessary.
Genesis 1:27 -- "And God created man to his own image: to the image of God he created him: male and female he created them."
Philosophically, the Catholic view is that all things are good insofar as they are. Being itself flows only from God, Whose very nature it is to be (unlike creatures). Evil doesn't have that kind of primary existence -- it is always a lack or deficiency or perversion of Good.
Liberalism is entirely different. First off, if liberals believed people were basically good, they wouldn't be so enthusiastic about abortion. Historically, the Left believes in the "perfectibility of man" (in a radically different sense from being made "perfect" in Christ, of course!). Its "perfectibility" consists of man as a species, forced into compliance with its vision by re-education, often eugenics, and slaughter if necessary or politically expedient.
Oprah, I think, doesn't really hold a strict and thought-out philosphical position; she strikes me as a sentimentalist. I think I saw her show once and I've seen various things about her in the news. She seems to be good-hearted and well-intentioned, if appallingly naive.
Note to self: No rule that says you can’t call folks heretics who espouse heresy.
I am all for debate. However, we are brothers in the faith, and Bad Guys loom. Joining together for the Good Fight is imperative.
Picture a walled Medieval city. I want to be behind the walls with others/ with weapons, rather than an outlier in a little hut all to my self outside the walls.
Yes, Man is "basically" good. The Lord God looked on everything that He had made, and behold it was very good.
On the other hand, his good nature is, what shall we say, broken? tainted? corrupted? So that "the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth," which means, inter alia, that he cannot by himself will a good thing entirely because of it's goodness without some defect in the willing.
I would say that Christian liberalism with its jejune optimism about the perfectibility of man does not appreciate the horror of that brokenness, taint, or corruption.
19. Do not try to allege personal shortcomings of Martin Luther or any other Protestant leader, past or present, as reasons to reject Protestantism. This will not impress the Protestant. It will, in fact, reinforce him. He will remind you that we are all sinners in need of redemption and Luther was no different. He will then lecture ad nauseum how Moses, King David, St Paul and many others were sinners too. If he’s well versed in church history, he may throw your point back at you and cite personal failings of Catholic leaders.
20. Do not trot out the arguement that Protestant churches are “not true churches” just “ecclesial communities” as described in Dominus Deus. To the Protestant, the Church is the Body of Christ, which consists of all persons who know and love the Lord. If you tell him that he is not part of the “true Church” (as the Catholic Church understands it), he will think you are telling him he is not really a Christian. This is a serious insult to a Protestant and the discussion will, at best, end right there. Rather, entertain a discussion with him on the meaning of “Church” and take the opportunity to describe the Catholic Church’s understanding. You will go far in this approach.
21. If you are speaking with a Baptist or Evangelical type, don’t try to compare and contrast the Eucharist with their Lord’s Supper. They are two very different things. Rather, compare it to their altar call. Explain that in Mass, Catholics are invited to come forward to recieve Christ. A Baptist will understand that as it is very similar (though not exactly) to a Baptist/Evangelical altar call.
22. If a Protestant asks you if you are saved, the answer is yes. That question, translated into Catholicese would generally be “Are you living out your baptismal vows?” You could then discuss how you were committed to the Lord when you were born, raised in His fellowship, and as a young person publicly confessed the Faith (Confirmation).
23. Do not cite the number of Protestant denominations as reason to discredit Protestantism. The Protestant values spiritual unity, not institutional unity. He may even argue that institutional unity, with its internal politicking, can actually hinder spiritual unity (eg ECUSA). He will then cite inter-denominational efforts such as InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, the Pro-Life movement, Billy Graham Crusades, Promise Keepers, Habitat for Humanity, Alpha, etc as examples of spiritual unity.
24. You may find that you have more in common with the Protestant than you thought you would.
25. Protestantism is not simply one person, his Bible, and God. You have a Bible (I assume) and the ability to read and comprehend the text (I hope) just like the Protestant. What Protestants do is gather in Bible study groups, Sunday School classes, churches and other types of gatherings to read and study the Scripture together. Their study is guided by either study material written by a trained minister, or by a trained leader. More difficult topics and higher textual studies are lead and supervised by ministers. What you can do is present the Magisterium as a vast library of study, knowledge and teachings gathered from Catholic priests, theologians, scholars, laymen, etc over the last 2000 years. Think of it as the Library of Congress for the Catholic Church, that is available for every single Catholic.
21. If you are speaking with a Baptist or Evangelical type, dont try to compare and contrast the Eucharist with their Lords Supper. They are two very different things. Rather, compare it to their altar call. Explain that in Mass, Catholics are invited to come forward to recieve Christ. A Baptist will understand that as it is very similar (though not exactly) to a Baptist/Evangelical altar call.
Interesting, interesting. I have heard the altar call called an "evangelical sacrament". One that is not found in the practice recorded in the New Testament, nor long after.
He will then cite inter-denominational efforts such as InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, the Pro-Life movement, Billy Graham Crusades, Promise Keepers, Habitat for Humanity, Alpha, etc as examples of spiritual unity.
Which I've heard called "para church la-la land", for it's usual lack of ecclesial oversight.
24. You may find that you have more in common with the Protestant than you thought you would.
Yes and no. It's a chasm I will not jump, but I think I've got way more in common with many of FR's catholic and orthodox, than with the neo-Montanists or the neo-Ebionite judaizers and random rejectors of the Trinity that chime in here.
Protestantism is not simply one person, his Bible, and God.
Can we underline that?
What Protestants do is gather in Bible study groups, Sunday School classes, churches and other types of gatherings to read and study the Scripture together.
Ideally the Word is preached in our churches, which is most important. ", it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.," Unfortunately it is as likely in many places that Protestant preaching is like unto Calvin's description of the papist preaching of his day:
"Nay, what one sermon was there from which old wives might not carry off more whimsies than they could devise at their own fireside in a month? For, as sermons were then usually divided, the first half was devoted to those misty questions of the schools which might astonish the rude populace, while the second contained sweet stories, or not unamusing speculations, by which the hearers might be kept on the alert. Only a few expressions were thrown in from the Word of God, that by their majesty they might procure credit for these frivolities."--John Calvin, Reply to Cardinal Sadoleto
So much of debate of biblical interpretation has to start with blunting the other side's swords -- or, rather, with pointing out how blunt they already are. This works both ways.
Yes, it works both ways, fair and square. Here I would focus on what the respective sides' swords actually are. To me interpretation always comes down to authority. To that regard, either God PERSONALLY leads all believers in interpretation, OR God has entrusted such leadership to the will of the authority of the Latin Church based on Apostolic succession, OR God has done something ....... else. (We all agree that God gives interpretation to His children, we just disagree on how He does that. :) To me that's where the rubber always meets the road. IF God really has made such a transfer then of course the Latin interpretation should be accepted, and if not, etc.
The whole proof-text approach to this conversation is useless. But if somebody says, "Such and such a text says thus and so," (and let us not overlook the lengthy bold-texted citations of Scripture before we jump on Catholic responses to them) it seems to me legitimate to ask "What about this passage over here where it seems to say the opposite?"
It is perfectly legitimate to ask. To answer such questions any Reformer should have either further clarifying scripture giving more "weight" to the view, or at the least a logical argument that can be directly deduced from other scripture. In some sense we paint ourselves into a bit of a corner, but that's OK since we think that EVERYTHING we have is A+ material. :)
Ping for later