Ecclesial Deism, part three

I believe that the concepts from Ecclesial Deism by Dr. Bryan Cross are so important, that I put them into a table for easy reference. The original blog post itself is very long and has a lot of detail. I am thinking that most people on my blog probably won’t want to read it. This table might make the idea of ecclesial deism easier for readers to understand. These are not my ideas, they are his, but I agree with him and I intuited the general argument in the process of becoming Catholic.

ecclesial deism table

I took the liberty of adding a column for Orthodox, and one for Jehovah’s Witness. I think I have represented those columns correctly, but Dr. Cross might not agree. So those columns are my own interpretation of what he said about ecclesial deism.

See also:





Contraception and 1 Timothy 4:3

I was at another blog last night, reading a post written by a Protestant. She was making the case that it is OK for married Christian couples to use contraception. I totally get her argument, because pretty much every point she made I held myself before I started to seriously look at the Catholic Church. I left a brief comment, saying that I used to hold those views but the Lord showed me something more, then I linked this post so she could check it out.

There is a major difficulty in showing people the Church’s teaching on contraception. Most people today have the contraceptive mentality, and they don’t realize how that mentality has impacted their thinking on the subject. The contraceptive mentality is new, and is the result of the cultural revolution known as the sexual revolution. The contraceptive mentality did not exist before the 20th century. It only exists because of  the widespread acceptance of contraception inside of marriage (or anywhere else, for that matter).

The contraceptive mentality is the belief that fertile opposite-sex couples have a right, or a duty, to pregnancy-free coitus. It is the belief there is no principle that attaches children to sex or marriage. Coitus is, or can be, a presumptively sterile act. The results of coitus between fertile opposite-sex couples can be or should be controlled with 100% precision.  This mentality has separated children from sex and marriage in a principled way. It means that children are added back to marriage in an ad hoc manner on couple-by-couple basis.

If someone implicitly believes that sex is a presumptively sterile act, that fertile opposite-sex couples have a right or a duty for pregnancy-free coitus, then of course it doesn’t look like the Bible has anything to say about contraception. To such a person, it is not obvious how sex is tied to children in a principled way. They have adopted the ad hoc approach to children, but the ad hoc approach to children did not exist before the sexual revolution, which means it did not exist when the Bible was written or during early Church history. During those times, children were tied to marriage in a principled way.

It is very hard to convince people that the ad hoc approach to children is contrary to God’s design for marriage. They like the control that contraception gives. They believe that the pleasure of sex can be enjoyed without being open to children, and that this does not displease God because God doesn’t care if the pleasure of sex is separated from being open to children. He may, in fact, require this under some circumstances.

St. Augustine argues against this separation, using a verse from 1 Timothy 4 to make his point:

“You make your auditors adulterers of their wives when they take care lest the women with whom they copulate conceive. They are unwilling to have children, on whose account alone marriages are made. How is it, then, that you are not those prohibiting marriage, as the apostle predicted of you so long ago [1 Tim. 4:1-4], when you try to take from marriage what marriage is? When this is taken away, husbands are shameful lovers, wives are harlots, bridal chambers are brothels, fathers-in-law are pimps.” (Against Faustus, 15:7)

Somebody with the contraceptive mentality won’t agree that contraception prohibits marriage. But St. Augustine does not have the contraceptive mentality, because it didn’t exist in a widespread way at that time. Even if it did, he would have rejected it, and he is, in fact, rejecting it here because he is saying that children are part of marriage in a principled way. He is saying that children are the reason for marriage, that contraception stops the one-flesh union from happening, and that this is what St. Paul prophesied. He is saying that the couple has the outer appearance of being married, yet in the sight of the Lord they are not married.


The Bible does have something to say about contraception, but it only makes sense once the contraceptive mentality has been identified and rejected.



Some thoughts about the song, Mary Did You Know

This particular music video of Mary, Did You Know has been played over 174M times since it was published in November of 2014. It’s a popular song, and this particular version of it is extremely well done. The singers are talented and they harmonize really well. The candles give it a feel like Easter vigil, welcoming Mary into their midst.

A couple days ago I came across a Catholic critique of the song and it seemed a bit over the top. I’ve actually seen a number of Catholic critiques of it, and they all focus on answering the questions in the lyrics, one by one. As a Catholic writing about a Protestant song about Mary, I totally get that inclination but it seems a bit defensive. We don’t have to go on defense with the song, do we? I am not inclined to do that.

Plus, the lyrics might only be rhetorical questions, which are questions that don’t require an answer. In fact, I am pretty sure that is the case. The lyrics just don’t seem to need an answer, and I mean that in good way. It’s like listening to a poem set to music. Sure, we could dissect the poem, but another option is to simply take in the whole thing, as is.

It’s not my favorite song, and I do understand the theological problems in the lyrics from a Catholic perspective. However, I am glad that Protestants like it. It is a prayer to Mary, and this Catholic does not object to that.

Positioning Eternal Security within the context of Catholic teaching

My intent with this post is to clearly situate the Evangelical doctrine known as eternal security (also called once saved always saved) inside of Catholic teaching. I am not arguing against that doctrine, and I am not defending it. I am simply taking it as it is, and positioning it inside of Catholic teaching. I think the results are interesting.

First, the steps to achieving salvation according to what I call the once saved always saved pattern, are present in Catholic practice. The once saved always saved pattern corresponds to Catholic initiation rites and I wrote about that here. If once saved always saved is true, and if those steps can be found within Catholic practice, then this shifts the debate. For example, Evangelical sites like CARM argue:

If a Roman Catholic believes in the official Roman Catholic teaching on salvation, then he is not a Christian since the official RCC position is contrary to Scripture.

This is contrary to the once saved always saved pattern. That pattern consists of three steps:

  • Confess that Jesus is Lord
  • Believe that God raised Him from the dead
  • Sincerely ask Him to forgive us of our sins.

According to this pattern, what an individual believes apart from sincerely following these steps is irrelevant. For example, if somebody sincerely follows these steps and believes that Martians have taken refuge at the bottom of our oceans, that person is still saved. Thus, the sincere Catholic is saved according to this doctrine since he undertook those steps in the process of becoming Catholic. It is interesting to note that the pattern does not require belief in Jesus as God (only as Lord), the Trinity, the virgin birth, or other Christian doctrines. Presumably these come later but they are outside the scope of what is required to be saved, according to this doctrine. Any additions to those steps would violate the Simple Gospel principle that Evangelicals have embraced. So it is an interesting conundrum because there is no step four, “Believe that these steps work/will save you/are sufficient.” Are those steps sufficient? If somebody does them yet doesn’t affirm that they are enough to be saved, does God still save the person? Does forensic justification still occur? As far as I can tell, the answer Evangelicals and other Protestants would give is yes.

Second, Catholics will say that we can’t infallibly know whether or not we are saved, but this neglects a significant exception that I think Evangelicals might find interesting. According to the Council of Trent, certain individuals can know they are saved because God has revealed it to them. At the Sixth Session, Canon XVI, Trent says:

“If any one saith, that he will for certain, of an absolute and infallible certainty, have that great gift of perseverance unto the end,-unless he have learned this by special revelation; let him be anathema.”

I asked a priest about the phrase “special revelation.” He said that when Trent says “special revelation,” it means “private revelation.” In Catholic parlance, this means that the person knows they have the grace of final perseverance (they will remain in a state of grace until they die), because God revealed that to them. For example, Steven D. Greydanus at the National Catholic Register argues that St. Mary:

connected what God was doing in her with her own salvation. At the Visitation, responding to Elizabeth’s joyful greeting and hailing her as ‘the mother of my Lord,’ Mary sings in the Magnificat:

My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden.
For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.

“Our Lady Sings Magnificat,” from the Book of old English songs and ballads, c. 1920 (public domain)

St. Mary had a certain level of assurance regarding her salvation. Did she know it infallible? Well, I don’t know but I do know that she made a prophecy in that Magnificat that is still coming true today. I wrote about that here.

For me, I’ve had quite a few dreams and other experiences that could be seen as me having the grace of final perseverance. And perhaps I have that grace, but if I do it is not clear to me. I am not Catholic because it tells me, right now and with 100 percent certitude, where I will spent eternity. I am Catholic because I believe it is true.

This exception is an exception. Not everybody who is saved will know ahead of time, and some who believe they are saved won’t be.

Catholics are not subject to the Tu Quoque objection

This post is pretty much for my own clarification. It’s pretty long, so you don’t have to read the whole thing. If it interests you at all, you can scroll down and read my summary at the end.

Catholics often criticize Protestants for exercising their own absolute right to private judgement. Protestants retort by saying that Catholics do the same thing. This objection is known as the Tu Quoque. It is when the person defends against a criticism by saying, “You do it too, so it’s OK.” I’ve intuited that this retort is wrong but wasn’t very clear on why.

I came across a post at Called to Communion that addresses the subject. I got more out of the comments than the original post. If you are so inclined, read the post and the comments. There is a lot of good stuff there, but the entire comment thread is extremely long.

One of the commentors said:

… the object of Catholic assent is fundamentally different in kind from the object of Protestant assent, even if the process of inquiry leading up to the assent is otherwise very similar in form and diligence…

Later this same commentor says:

Tomb of st peter
Tomb of St. Peter, in St. Peter’s Basilica

…what distinguishes Catholicism from Protestantism is the sort of assent each involves. Since the Protestant recognizes no individual or ecclesial authority as infallible under any conditions, even when he considers Scripture inerrant (which not all Protestants do), the Protestant must inevitably regard as provisional any assent he might render to doctrinal statements, whether those statements are offered as mere expositions of Scripture or go beyond that. If he considers Scripture inerrant, he will of course say that his assent to the truths contained in Scripture is absolute not provisional. But to the question what the truths we can extract from Scripture actually mean or imply for doctrinal purposes, he can answer only by citing expositions and interpretations that represent his own or others’ opinions. Affirming that Scripture is inerrant, therefore, affords the Protestant as such no basis whatsoever for saying that we know what, exactly, God is revealing to us through Scripture in a manner that can be expressed by doctrinal statements. He might of course glean, from his own reading of Scripture and the work of his preferred scholars, a pretty fair idea of what the human authors of Scripture intended by their words. But given his rejection of infallible interpretive authority, the Protestant leaves himself in no position to distinguish reliably between de fide doctrines—i.e., the doctrines to which God calls for our assent—and the theological views of both authors and interpreters. Hence the Protestant as such has no way in principle to distinguish clearly the assent of faith, which is a divine gift involving assent to statements made with divine authority, from mere human opinions about what various “sources,” primarily Scripture, actually transmit to us as divine revelation.

This means, among other things, that the Protestant sees something called “the Church” in a fundamentally different way from Catholics. Given how he conceives assent to divine truth, the Protestant cannot see something called “the Church” as a sure guide to discerning it. Since “the Church” is fallible under all conditions, her orthodoxy is to be judged by what this-or-that person or group takes to be the doctrinally correct interpretation of Scripture (and other sources too, on some accounts), rather than vice-versa. Ultimately, the Protestant’s assent involves submission not to “the Church” but to himself as his most reliable guide to discerning divine revelation. “The Church,” from this point of view, is simply the set of people who ascribe to the “correct” interpretation of the sources, where what’s “correct” is what the individual believer provisionally accepts as such. The claims of this-or-that church to a certain kind of authority thus form no part of the deposit of faith; rather, what counts as “the Church” depends on its conformity to the deposit of faith, when said deposit is understood in a manner logically independent of any ecclesial claims to authority. Thus “the Church” is not strictly necessary for knowing Truth himself. It might be educationally useful for some, and is certainly pastorally useful for many. But that’s about it. In principle, it’s quite possible to read the Bible alone in a room and thereby learn all that God wants us to know for our salvation. Of course that sort of thing yields a variety of opinions whose holders like to call “doctrines” given by the Holy Spirit. Many of those opinions are, of course, mutually incompatible. That’s why we have more Protestant denominations and sects than anybody, including Protestants themselves, can agree on how to count.

When the Catholic, on the other hand, makes his assent of faith, he is among other things assenting to the claims made by a visible, historically continuous body that it is the Body of Christ on earth, authorized by him as her Head to teach in his name and thus, when speaking with her full authority, protected by his Spirit from requiring belief in propositions that are false. Accordingly, the Catholic does not, because as such he cannot, claim to know the deposit of faith in a manner logically independent of the claims the Church makes for herself. He does not, because he cannot, claim to know the “true doctrine” from the sources without depending on the authoritative certification of the sources as such by the Church, and the authoritative interpretations thereof by the Church. Thus for the Catholic, faith in the risen Christ, acceptance of the Bible as the Word of God, and faith in the teaching of the Church as that of the Body of Christ are logically inseparable from each other. And so the Catholic does not judge the orthodoxy of the Church; rather, he submits to the Church as, among other things, the judge of his orthodoxy.

We are now in a position to address the question why the Catholic mode of assent

prayer bible
Sacred Scripture

should be preferred to the Protestant’s. But we cannot settle that question just by learning the historical dataset and deciding, with our own human judgment, whether it best supports Catholicism or some version of Protestantism. Most people are in no position to take in all the relevant data, and even those who are in such a position disagree on how to interpret it for the purpose at hand. From a historical point of view, the question is which hermeneutical paradigm (HP) to adopt for the purpose of interpreting the data: the Catholic, or some Protestant version.

Now the question which HP to adopt cannot be answered by appeal to the dataset itself, for the question is precisely which manner of interpreting the data is preferable. The question can only be answered, I believe, by asking ourselves which HP is better suited to distinguishing the propositionally expressible content of divine revelation itself—assuming there is such a thing as divine revelation—from mere theological opinions, and thus to facilitating the assent of faith as distinct from that of opinion. Now as you say, if Catholicism is true, the answer to that question is obvious. But if Catholicism is false, we are left only with provisional opinions. And if we are left only with provisional opinions, then we have no reliable way to distinguish from human opinion that which God actually wants us to believe.

Later, he says:

… once the assent of faith in the Catholic Church is freely made in light of such an opinion, one cannot see oneself as assenting merely to an interpretation, as if it were just one legitimate interpretation among others incompatible with it. For what one is assenting to is either altogether and perniciously false, or divine authority itself. If one doesn’t see that, then one has not yet chosen to make the assent of Catholic faith.

Much later, the author of the original post writes:

… just because one initially uses one’s interpretation of Scripture, tradition and history to find something, it does not follow that one retains ultimate interpretive authority. Whether one retains ultimate interpretive authority depends on the nature of what one finds.

Tu QuoqueMy summary:

  • The process of interpretive inquiry leading up to assent is the same or very similar between Catholics and Protestants.
  • The objects of assent between Catholics and Protestants are very different. This is the reason the Tu Quoque objection does not apply to Catholics–the two groups are not doing the same things with the objects of their assent.
  • Object of Protestant assent: Protestants assent to Holy Scripture as the Word of God, and their own ability to understand it according to God’s will. “The Church” is the set of people who ascribe to the doctrines and dogmas that the individual Protestant believes to be the correct interpretations of the Scriptures. No interpretation of Scripture has divine authority, not even the inquirer’s own interpretation. No creed or confession is binding. The Holy Scriptures are of divine origin but interpretations of them are not.
  • Object of Catholic assent: the Church founded by Jesus Christ, visible, historically continuous, protected by the Holy Spirit from requiring belief in propositions that are false. Today’s Catholic bishops are the direct successors of the Apostles. The Catholic conforms his beliefs to what the Church teaches. The nature of what he found means that he is no longer the final interpreter–he no longer submits only when he agrees. He has found something objective, outside of himself, of divine origin.
  • If Catholicism is true: then the inquirer has found the true Church and can absolutely rely upon her in matters of faith and morals.
  • If Catholicism is false: then the inquirer has fallible opinions about the meaning of Scripture (including his own), and has no objectively sure way to know God’s will regarding the correct interpretation of Scripture. He can’t be certain of the difference between faith and opinion.

Another commentor remarked that going from Protestant to Catholic was like the difference between dating and marriage. I have often felt the same way. There was certain surrender that happened when I became Catholic.

This is all to say that Catholics are not subject to the Tu Quoque objection. This is because Catholics and Protestants find something different at the end of our respective inquiries. Because we find something different, Catholics don’t “do it too.” The “it” being “retain personal and final interpretive authority over the Scriptures.”

(This post is not a defense of the Catholic magisterium, apostolic succession, etc. It only shows how Catholics aren’t subject to the Tu Quoque objection.)

Image credit: Holger Weinandt

John Calvin contrasted with modern Evangelicalism

Here is one person’s understanding of John Calvin (a Protestant reformer) and modern Evangelicalism. Written by a former Evangelical who converted to Catholic, in part due to what he discovered about Calvin:

When I finished seminary, I moved on to Ph.D. studies in Reformation history. My focus was on John Calvin (1509-1564), the French Reformer who made Geneva, Switzerland into a model Protestant city…

john calvin public domain
Protestant Reformer John Calvin.

Calvin shocked me by rejecting key elements of my Evangelical tradition. Born-again spirituality, private interpretation of Scripture, a broad-minded approach to denominations – Calvin opposed them all. I discovered that his concerns were vastly different, more institutional, even more Catholic. Although he rejected the authority of Rome, there were things about the Catholic faith he never thought about leaving. He took for granted that the Church should have an interpretive authority, a sacramental liturgy and a single, unified faith…

In 1551, Bolsec, a physician and convert to Protestantism [and a former Catholic monk], entered Geneva and attended a lecture on theology. The topic was Calvin’s doctrine of predestination, the teaching that God predetermines the eternal fate of every soul. Bolsec, who believed firmly in “Scripture alone” and “faith alone,” did not like what he heard. He thought it made God into a tyrant. When he stood up to challenge Calvin’s views, he was arrested and imprisoned.

What makes Bolsec’s case interesting is that it quickly evolved into a referendum on Church authority and the interpretation of Scripture. Bolsec, just like most Evangelicals today, argued that he was a Christian, that he had the Holy Spirit and that, therefore, he had as much right as Calvin to interpret the Bible. He promised to recant if Calvin would only prove his doctrine from the Scriptures. But Calvin would have none of it. He ridiculed Bolsec as a trouble maker (Bolsec generated a fair amount of public sympathy), rejected his appeal to Scripture, and called on the council to be harsh. He wrote privately to a friend that he wished Bolsec were “rotting in a ditch.”

What most Evangelicals today don’t realize is that Calvin never endorsed private or lay interpretation of the Bible. While he rejected Rome’s claim to authority, he made striking claims for his own authority…

Calvin was part of the problem [of fracturing within Protestantism]. He had insisted on the importance of unity and authority, but had rejected any rational or consistent basis for that authority. He knew that Scripture totally alone, Scripture interpreted by each individual conscience, was a recipe for disaster. But his own claim to authority was perfectly arbitrary. Whenever he was challenged, he simply appealed to his own conscience, or to his subjective experience, but he denied that right to Bolsec and others…

The whole thing is worth reading.

A few of my family members read here

I feel reasonably sure that it is hard for my family when I write about the differences between Protestants and Catholics (I’ve mentioned before that I am the only living Catholic in my family, and how over 50% of the adults in my family are devoutly Protestant). At least, I assume it is because I’d probably feel the same way if the situation was reversed. Part of what I am doing here is leaving a record of my thoughts, ideas, arguments, etc. I don’t want all of these things stuck inside my head, and I don’t have any Catholic family members to discuss them with. So I write about them here. I do get some non-family traffic from these posts, but not a ton. A few posts get the bulk of the traffic. For example, the post about the differences between baptism and confirmation must be a popular result at the search engines because I get a lot of traffic for that post.

Anyway, I do consider the effect this will have on my family members who read here, which as of right now is only 2-3 but I am seriously considering letting the others know about it. I have considered starting a different blog in order to separate out the Catholic stuff, but that doesn’t seem right either. I was raised to hide half of myself from each of my parents, which is an extraordinarily damaging and unhealthy way to be formed as a child. Childhood is a time of formation, and being formed by one’s parents(with the explicit support of experts and leaders) to hide one’s self simply cannot ever be God’s will for any child. Learning not to hide who I am is a process, and I am working on it.

I am sorry if things I say here hurt anybody; I don’t want that, but I also need an outlet to express what is really going on inside of me. What is the solution?

On empty rituals

birthday party empty ritual v2
Birthday parties are cultural rituals.

Let’s say you were good friends with your neighbor. She has a young son, and she invites you to his birthday party. You decide to go because you care about your neighbor, but you don’t really want to be there because he’s just a little kid, and a noisy one at that. So you go, but you don’t have a good time. The kids are laughing and having a good time, but you’re not. You notice, however, that other adults are having a good time. They’re smiling and laughing at the kids’ antics. Finally, as soon as you think you can get away, you make an excuse to leave.

Birthday celebrations are rituals. We might say that you experienced an empty birthday party, an empty ritual. What made it empty?

Did the son make it empty? Was it the other kids? The neighbor? The kids’ laughter? The fact that it was a birthday party? Why was it an empty ritual for you but apparently not for the other adults?

It might be that you didn’t fill the ritual with anything. Rituals require faith, hope, and love to see into them, to their meaning. It is possible that bringing faith, hope, and love to the neighbor’s son’s birthday party would have changed the event for you.

If the ritual seems empty, that might not be your fault. It could be that nobody taught you how to fill it, or that you even needed to fill it. I’ve seen that a lot. If you don’t know how to fill the ritual, then look around and see if you know anybody who does. I bet they can help you.

For Reformation Day: Protestantism hurt and confused me

Reposting this from last year. A brief synopsis of my personal experiences within Protestantism.

For Reformation Day: Bible conundrum

I recently had an online disagreement with somebody, a Protestant. I asked her to cite Bible verses to support her position. So she did. I replied I disagreed with her interpretation of those verses. Then I asked her if I had an obligation to accept her interpretation. I also said that if her answer was yes, that I DID have an obligation to accept her interpretation, then to tell me where or from whom she received her authority to impose her interpretation upon me (and presumably upon every other Christian). Then I asked her what we should do if I disagreed with her claim about the source of her authority. Her response was that I was using an ad hominem. I responded by saying that I was not criticising her, but I was criticising her presupposition. So it wasn’t an ad hominem.

Here is the syllogism:

  • Since God is one, He does not change, and He only teaches one truth, there can only be one objectively correct interpretation of Scripture.
  • There is disagreement of what Scripture means between two or more Christians of good will. They all can see this.
  • No parties to the dispute have authority to enforce the correct interpretation, but one or more do not realize this. One or more believes that making better arguments or citing more or better Scripture verses is the way to resolve the dispute. Yet the dispute is never resolved.
  • No agreement is made. Visible fractures develop between Christians, since the parties to the dispute all believe themselves to understand the correct interpretation of Scripture (which is a tacit reinforcement of the first point above).

By what authority may somebody enforce the one and only correct interpretation of Sacred Scripture when there is a disagreement between Christians of good will?