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

Advertisements

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.

https://everybodysdaughter.wordpress.com/2016/10/31/protestantism-hurt-and-confused-me/

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?

Where does Christ get his blood for Hebrews 9:12?

Hebrews 9:12

… he entered once for all into the Holy Place, taking not the blood of goats and calves but his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.

I was reading Hebrews 9, and this verse jumped out at me. I remember learning as a Protestant that Christ’s resurrected body had no blood in it. Here is an example of what I mean. This is from a popular Protestant website called CARM.org:

The Bible says that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 15:50). If this is so, then how could physical body have been raised? The answer is simple. After His resurrection Jesus said, “Touch me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have” (Luke 24:39). You must note that Jesus did not say, “flesh and blood.” He said, “flesh and bones.” This is because Jesus’ blood was shed on the cross. The life is in the blood and it is the blood that cleanses from sin: “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul,” (Lev. 17:11). See also, Gen. 9:4; Deut. 12:23; and John 6:53-54. Jesus was pointing out that He was different. He had a body, but not a body of flesh and blood. It was flesh and bones. I am of the opinion that Jesus’ body had no functional blood in it. Remember, after the resurrection He still retained the wounds in His hands, feet, and side. But, His blood was the thing that cleanses us of our sins: “but if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin,” (1 John 1:7). His body was raised, but it had no blood flowing through its veins. It was a glorified, physical body.

This isn’t what the Church teaches. The Catholic Church teaches that Christ’s resurrected body does have blood in it. But that is not the point I want to make here.

Instead, I want to ask a question. If the Protestants are correct, where does Christ get his blood in order to fulfill Heb. 9:12 where it says, “taking…his own blood”?

Presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice Romans 12:1

Romans 12:1

I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

I read this today and something occured to me. Isn’t this what Jesus does for us at mass? He presents his body to us, a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to the Father.

Looked at another way: does he ask us to do something here and now that he himself does not do here and now?

 

Book review: Catholics and Protestants–What Can We Learn from Each Other?

I’m reading Peter Kreeft’s book, “Catholics and Protestants: What Can We Learn from Each Other?” So many gems and great discussion starters here. I think it will be a great help to both sides. Kreeft is a convert to the Catholic Church, from Presbyterianism. It might be tempting for Protestants to think he is going to be very partisan, and to make a case against Protestantism, but he doesn’t do that. Among other things, he describes what is excellent in Protestantism, and how (some, perhaps many) Catholics need it. He is rather critical of the Catholic Church for not doing a good enough job emphasizing the need for a personal relationship with Christ, but he does not downplay what the Catholic Church brings to the table.

Probably the most important point he makes is to say that the issue of justification has been solved. In other words, Catholics and Protestants don’t believe differently about justification, even though we thought we did going all the way back to beginning of the Reformation. It was, in fact, the impetus for the Reformation. So the central issue that sparked the Reformation has been solved.

People of good will on both sides of the Catholic/Protestant divide will benefit from this book. At the very least, it can provide many talking points for people to use as spring boards for open and honest discussion.

 

Catholic/Protestant Dictionary

There were many steps involved in becoming Catholic. I found that theology was only one of those steps. As I’ve mentioned before, Catholic culture was an unexpected and rather large hurdle.

Our_Mother_of_Perpetual_Help
Catholic art and culture intimidated me at first.

Maybe I already told this story. I’m not sure, but if so, please indulge me for a moment. Catholic culture is a very real thing, and I first discovered this when I attended a Catholic conference several years ago, before I converted. Many vendors were selling all sorts of Catholic artwork that was very ornate and elaborate. Many of them had images of Mary and other saints. All of these things were difficult to get past in my mind. The closest Protestant equivalent is a Christian bookstore that sells gifts and artwork, and even then it’s just different.

I finally realized that this was just the cultural part of Catholicism–it was not dogmatic. In other words, there was no requirement for me to display Catholic art in my home as a step to becoming Catholic. It was a big relief for me to realize that. I wish somebody had explained it to me though. Unfortunately, I had to figure it out on my own. I am not sure why that is.

Even so, there is a cultural transition. Part of it has to do with Catholic words, phrases and ideas. Many Catholic terms sounded very foreign to my ears… but only at first. At some point I realized that the terms only sounded foreign—the ideas behind them were not foreign at all. Here is a chart I made that is sort of like a Catholic to Protestant Dictionary. It is amazing how many Catholic ideas reside in Protestantism. But of course all that makes sense to me now, since Protestantism has its theological and historical origins in Catholicism.

catholic-protestant-dictionary

I take credit for some of these, since I genuinely figured them out on my own. But I got a few of them from Mark Shea, and a number of others from the Coming Home Network forum. So I’m not alone in making these kinds of observations. Other converts have as well. And just to be clear: I am not saying that there is 100% equivalence between the every item on this list. In some cases there is, but in other cases there is not. Even when there is not, they are close enough to convey the meaning.

I hope this chart helps Catholics and Protestants understand each other better.

*For elaboration on the confirmation/baptism equivalence, see here. For elaboration on the merit/reward equivalence, see here.

5/19/2017: Catholics say “divine law,” and Protestants say, “Biblical principles.” Not a perfect overlap but they are similar ideas.

9/1/2017: Catholics have an Act of Spiritual Communion, Protestants pray to receive Jesus into their hearts. See here for details.