Monday, October 21, 2013

The Audacity of Catholicism

*Update: Yeah, the main argument here doesn't quite work. But my sleep deprived haze of bad logic still brings up some good points and has spawned some interesting discussion in the comments, so I will leave this here unedited. Do yourself a favor though and read the exchange between Irked and Kevin.*

The Catholic Church makes a rather audacious truth claim that, to my knowledge, no other Christian sect makes. That is she claims to have the "fullness of truth." Quite the claim, and a rather foolish one at that is it not? The Church is, after all, a merely human institution, and humans being the fallible critters that they are cannot possibly hope to arrive at the "fullness of truth." I mean, we can probably arrive at some approximation of the truth. A set of beliefs that we hold to be true with the understanding that while they paint a pretty good picture of reality, there may be a few that deviate ever so slightly.

This was the case for just about every Protestant church I had been in. They laid out their beliefs, perhaps even ranked in order of importance or confidence, but there was always room left for error. We were told we had super high confidence in the basics, Jesus died on the cross for our sins, God exists as three persons in the Trinity, Heaven and Hell are real places, etc. And perhaps not as much confidence in the obscure things such as how old the earth is, what the order of the end times will be, is baptism by immersion or is sprinkling cool? To be sure everyone had their opinions on these less important issues, and it was these less important issue that made clear the distinctions between various denominations, but it was generally held that one can be Christian and disagree on such things.

The attitude was generally that of, "those other Christians are wrong, but our differences aren't too important so its best to live and let live." This is what I experienced growing up. Maybe your experience was different, but from what I've seen of Protestant writing those that aren't noisy attention whores tend to have some sort of "We can agree to disagree" attitude.

Except Catholics.


Why is that? Well because one of our premises in that first paragraph is wrong. The Church is not a merely human institution. Methodists have Wesley, Lutherans have Luther, Mormons have Smith, Catholics have Christ. Upon Peter's confession of faith Christ says:

Blessed are you Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

Here Christ establishes His Church by making Peter the first Pope. He gives Peter the power to "allow by an indisputable authority" and to "disallow by an indisputable authority" when he hands him the keys and furthermore promises that His Church will be preserved from the powers of hell. This is why the Catholic Church can say with a straight face that it has the "fullness of truth." Christ promised her he would preserve her! 

So what do we have here? Protestants have room to disagree on virtually all things, whereas Catholics may not disagree with doctrines. Either because the Catholic faith truly has the fullness of truth, or because men have stepped in and imposed their will against God's. Either we're right or we're a cult.
Now, this leaves you only two options. Either the world's largest Christian denomination is a bunch of crazy and dangerous heretics, or Catholicism is the fullness of truth and you need to convert. There's no middle ground. There's no reconciling someone who is wrong when he believes that God Himself is preserving him! And there's no use fighting against an institution established and preserved by Christ! Either we're right or we're nuts!

Now people can, and have, and will, argue that atrocities and scandals that have afflicted the Church proves that this is all hogwash, but that's not what we're talking about. The Church is, as Pope Francis recently said, a field hospital for sinners. As such she is made up of sinners. She will always have such scandals (as will Protestants) but what the Church has not, cannot, and will not ever do is changer her doctrine. Its been clarified and codified through these last two millennia, but her beliefs have never changed.

So what's it going to be? Are we dangerous lunatics? Or are we right?

36 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. (Do you want conversation on this subject? I can stop talking if not, but I think I've profited from our discussions in the past.)

    ***

    Seems like a heck of an excluded middle. "Contains many good Christians who are totally wrong on some of the things they're confident of," is a pretty good description of every good Christian denomination (including, y'know, mine) - being *really sure* about the thing that you're wrong about doesn't make you dangerously crazy!

    More to the point, though, I don't think it's true that you have a unique claim to "fullness of truth" - if I'm understanding your use of that term, anyway. So let me start there - you're not saying that you know all truth, just that there is some body of knowledge to which you have access (i.e., certain doctrinal teachings of the RCC) that are perfectly infallible?

    Because that in itself is relatively common in Christendom - lots of Protestant denominations believe that Scripture is perfectly infallible. There are just some limits on that infallibility's practical use: a particular believer's interpretation of Scripture, for instance, is fallible - as, presumably, is a particular Catholic's interpretation of the RCC's teachings? Even the decision to consider a book to be part of the infallible canon is fallible - but then, surely a believer's choice to accept the RCC's authority or not has a similar fallibility?

    So even that doesn't seem particularly unusual as a concept.

    (Also, it seems a little unkindly disingenuous to suggest that, say, the Methodist Church would view John Wesley as its founding authority in anything like the way that the RCC views Christ.)

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    1. (Admittedly I am bad at this, I open a can of worms with a half-baked idea and then don't feel like participating after the fact. I am trying not to do that as much, but I've also found myself writing less as a result. Alas.)

      1) I admit I tried to adopt an argument originally made by Lewis for Christ's divinity, only it didn't adopt so well. Sounded a lot better at 3am last night though.

      2) I don't think we're talking about the same "fullness of truth." Specifically we mean the deposit of faith received from Jesus and passed down through the apostles. Christ gave Peter individually, and the apostles corporately, the authority to interpret and guard that deposit infallibly. This authority, that of binding and loosing, has been passed down by the apostles to their successors in the form of the magisterium.

      Thus we don't have the problem you illustrate. When the council of Trent authoritatively declared the canon in response to Luther's heresy we say an infallible list of infallible books was created.

      So your example of individual Catholics is immaterial, as this applies only to the magisterium and not to the individual Catholic. (For which I am glad, as the quality of my defense would seem to disprove my point at times) So a Catholic can (and Lord knows far to many often are) wrong about doctrine. The difference is we are in submission to our Bishops. If they all agree on a particular doctrine we must submit to that teaching else leave the Church.

      Contrast this with Protestantism, which has no final authority to appeal too except the individual's interpretation of Scripture. If a Baptist and a Presbyterian disagree on a point of doctrine they both attempt to prove their positions from Scripture. If they fail to convince each other, then their only options are to either agree to disagree or consider each other idiots for interpreting scripture differently.

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    2. To expand on Scott's comments, specifically distinguishing the infallibility of the Magisterium and the inerrancy of Scripture: Scripture and Tradition are fundamentally data, whereas the Magisterium is a living institution. Data by itself, however perfect, cannot engage with and condemn or affirm systematic propositions like A) "Justification is by faith alone" or B) "Christ's Body and Blood are really present in the Eucharist."

      Someone has to search the deposit of faith to address A and B. This is not always easy. Even with verses that appear to directly address a proposition ("You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.") there is...interpretive variety. In the Catholic Church, we believe that when those interpreters consist of the bishops in union with the bishop of Rome or the bishop of Rome, and they intend to define a doctrine, that this interpretation cannot be in error.

      You could think of this as a charism of protected derivations from the data to directly address systems of theology.

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    3. 1) Man, doesn't everything sound better then? I got that you were going for the liar/lunatic/Lord distinction, but I just don't think it holds up as well - "sincere but badly mistaken" seems like a legit alternative in this case.

      To extend it a little bit: I don't think that we can say that, for instance, Mormons are necessarily either "dangerous lunatics" or "right" (or, for that matter, liars) - just that they sincerely believe something that happens not to be true. That's a pretty common state of affairs.

      2) We may well not be - I wasn't completely clear how you were using the term, hence the question. I'm still not certain I'm on the same page, though - because certainly I would say that I, too, have a deposit of faith received from Jesus and passed down through the apostles.

      I would just add that that deposit is written down in Scripture - or, depending what's meant by a "deposit of faith," that it applies as well through the internal work of the Holy Spirit. (Speaking of which: what does "deposit of faith" mean to you?)

      This authority, that of binding and loosing, has been passed down by the apostles to their successors in the form of the magisterium.

      This is a bit of a side-point, but: unless the discussion in Matthew 18 on church discipline is aimed solely at the twelve, "binding and loosing" is an authority that's granted a little more widely than that.

      So your example of individual Catholics is immaterial

      No, not at all, but I may have communicated it poorly. Let me try again.

      Let us suppose that there exists some resource that is truly infallible - whether we mean the teaching of the Magisterium, the books of Scripture, or whatever. There remains the problem of knowing that it is infallible - which, as finite humans, is a task we accomplish only fallibly. (Since not everyone agrees that any such resource exists, clearly at least some fail at this task!)

      There's no getting around the "I am persuaded that this source is reliable" step - it flatly cannot be bypassed. Thus, there is no attaining better than a fallible confidence in an infallible source. The infallible source making declarations about other things also being infallible doesn't help, here, because it still leaves that initial, potentially-mistaken "I'm persuaded" step.

      Likewise, you never have any better than your understanding of what an infallible source says (though various resources may improve that understanding: wise teachings, divine guidance, the source itself offering clarifications, etc.). Again, there's... really no getting away from an interpretational layer in anything - one source or another may have more room for interpretation, but nothing is perfectly impossible-to-misunderstand unambiguous.

      At the end of the day, then, we both have the internal work of the Spirit, a confidence in sources that we accept as infallible, and a confidence in our interpretation of those sources (bounded by whatever degree of self-clarification those sources provide). You say you may not disagree with doctrines; we reply that we may not disagree with Scripture! Neither of us would claim, I think, that this produces exactly one all-encompassing set of perfectly unambiguously correct beliefs.

      So what difference is there between us?

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    4. Kevin:

      I'm not sure I can do better than to return to my question here:

      Okay. But that's starting to get more than a little fuzzy, particularly relative to that these-exact-words list earlier. What's required for a council to "reasonably represent" the bishops of the world? How close do you have to be to be "intimately connected" to faith and morals? (What does a church announcement disconnected from "faith" or "morals" even look like?)

      It would seem to be absolutely essential that these are hard categories - a statement is either infallible or it's not, right? If so, it should be pretty straightforward to address the questions I asked in the preceding posts: what's the full set of infallibly-declared truths to which we have access? (I can offer a fairly simple list, for my part: it's the canon of Scripture.) What's the full list of exactly which councils qualify, under which conditions?

      Because absent such a list, I can't argue with the infallible tradition because it's a phantom: there's nothing there to aim at.


      I do agree, as I noted in that post, that the Catholic Church has (from its perspective) additional data points with which to work. Is that the extent of the claim here? Beyond that, it's difficult for me to have any kind of discussion on an infallible canon without knowing precisely what's being presented.

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    5. And again, I'm not really sure how these are fuzzy or unsure. "Reasonable" is a standard widely used in law, and the papal acceptance requirement seals the deal.

      I don't think "what does intimately connected mean?" is a reasonable question. Concepts aren't math, I can't give you a norm on the space of theological propositions and a maximum distance - that's silly. Church announcements happen all the time disconnected from faith and morals - like "Bishop Charles Chaput shall be installed as the new archbishop of Philadephia."

      For a list of councils, just check wikipedia for a list of ecumenical councils with papal acceptance. There are twenty-one such gatherings to date. Acts 15 / Jerusalem is generally considered a local council.

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    6. To address the "what difference is there between us?" - an immense gulf.

      Of course, the individual must first come to believe his source - no one disputes the necessity of such a first leap of faith. But to say that because we both have a first leap, that there is no difference in possible certainty or unity is completely inane. Rather, these first step merely puts an upper bound on certainty.

      The difference, as previously stated, is that an institution or system which has the charism of infallibility can engage a system of theological propositions, whereas scripture alone cannot. Scripture requires an interpreter, so a condemnation of a particular proposition by a Protestant must therefore involve a secondary and *additional* layer of uncertainty - "Do I interpret correctly the Scriptures I have?" Both Catholic and Protestant parties also share the final, tertiary source of uncertainty, which is interpretation of trusted propositions, whether considered fallible or not. (Uncertainty over propositional accuracy would be that scripture-interpretative uncertainty for a Protestant, so no extra uncertainty is taken on that *this* stage.

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    7. And again, I'm not really sure how these are fuzzy or unsure.

      Then it should be a trivial matter to produce a list of precisely which statements are infallible. You cite twenty-one ecumenical councils - are all declarations of these councils, plus the ex cathedra papal declarations, the precise list of infallible declarations made by the RCC? If so, that answers my question neatly; if not, what is the list?

      I don't think "what does intimately connected mean?" is a reasonable question.

      On the other hand, I think it's a very reasonable one - the degree to which we have a clear sense of what "intimately connected" means is, evidently, directly related to the degree to which we can know whether a given statement is infallible.

      If it's reasonable for us to debate whether a statement is only somewhat connected to faith and morals, but not intimately connected - and thus not to be trusted as infallible - then that's precisely the "fuzziness" I'm objecting to.

      But to say that because we both have a first leap, that there is no difference in possible certainty or unity is completely inane.

      I'll gladly admit that, from your perspective, you have additional data points to work from, and even that those points can attempt to provide clarification.

      My point, though, is that to have an honest conversation here, we have to both admit to a fallible list of infallible sources, fallibly interpreted. Perhaps your sources are a bit more explicit - but we're now quibbling over our respective degrees of imperfect certainty.

      Which is to say, Scott's initial presentation of Protestantism describes both our understandings of Christianity: "A set of beliefs that we hold to be true with the understanding that while they paint a pretty good picture of reality, there may be a few that deviate ever so slightly." And it is on that point that I'm asking my question: what difference is there between us?

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    8. As a follow-up to that, it seems like you agree that we have "a fallible list of infallible sources, fallibly interpreted," which suggests that you and I are not even really disagreeing on this point. If the sum of our differences is that you claim a potentially-reactive source as infallible, then sure, no argument, but that's not in itself a powerful argument that Catholicism is either right or insane.

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    9. Nota bene: I don't think Scott's argument works. I'm criticizing your criticisms, which I don't think work either. "Because some minimum level of philosophical uncertainty exists in all systems, all systems are equally certain" is what your argument asymptotically converges to, as it were. The nature of magisterial clarifications, especially in the extraordinary exercises of the magisterium, rarely if ever leaves room for honest, informed misunderstanding. I think the tens of thousands of Protestant denominations should serve as sufficient evidence that scriptural interpretation is categorically harder than magisterial interpretation. So in short, while magisterial teachings may be *technically* fallibly interpreted, it's not really honest or fair to then say both systems are by their nature equally sensitive to fallibility. The difference is not degree, but kind.

      Intimately connected propositions are those propositions which are so closely related to revealed truths that to deny those propositions would logically deny the revealed truths.

      Your request for a list misunderstands the nature of the ordinary magisterium of the Church, vs. its special exercise in councils and ex cathedra statements. It is not so simple as "list of the books of the Bible" - more like "list the teachings of the Bible, given a canon." Certainly, a definitive list (if somewhat redundant, at times) could be compiled from extraordinary exercises of the magisterium. However, extraordinary acts occur when doctrines are challenged. It has always been the teaching of the Catholic Church that it at least has no authority to ordain women, but you wouldn't have seen it in an ex cathedra statement until the modernism of our age brought the challenge, and John Paul II reaffirmed the constant teaching.

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    10. "Because some minimum level of philosophical uncertainty exists in all systems, all systems are equally certain" is what your argument asymptotically converges to, as it were.

      Mm. "What difference is there between us?" may overstate my point to some degree, sure. I'm not claiming perfect equivalence on all possible axes of comparison - I would not agree that, for instance, a particular Protestant and a particular Catholic have necessarily the exact same degree of certainty in their respective systems. I'd certainly agree that (in theory, at an absolute minimum), you can have systems with varying degrees of, hmm, specificity.

      But my objection here is specifically to a line of argument that I've seen a number of places (and which I understand Scott to be making above) that frames the issue as a choice between Catholics, who get to be certain of what the truth is because Magisterium, and Protestants, who kind of blunder around in the dark with no one to guide them.

      And it's specifically relative to that argument that I'm framing my "What's the difference?" replies. Whatever the difference between Catholics and Protestants, it's not that one is certain of the truth and the other isn't. In this, it's absolutely an issue - to rephrase your reply - of degree (how relatively certain?), and not of kind (certain vs. uncertain). It's not that "all systems are equally certain"; rather, it's that all systems are to some degree uncertain.

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    11. However, there are differing kinds of uncertainty, which are categorically different than degrees of, say 90% vs. 95%.

      Catholics experience only the initial accepting-the-system uncertainty. Protestants experience both accepting-the-system and interpretative uncertainty.

      Consider:
      Suppose a Catholic and a Protestant are presented with a question concerning the nature of baptism. The Catholic accepts on faith the veracity of the deposit of faith and the teachings of the magisterium, and the Protestant accepts on faith the veracity of his canon of Scriptures. At this point, both have accepted some level of accept-the-system uncertainty, perhaps in differing degrees*.

      Since the nature of baptism is long-settled Catholic teaching, the Catholic is done. Baptism is the washing of regeneration which now saves you, removing original sin, and for adults, sins of the past life. Of this the Catholic is perfectly certain. There is no real interpretive uncertainty to speak of - the constant teaching of the church and condemnation of past heresies has set this completely in stone.

      Now the Protestant goes to his Scriptures, and interprets them. He comes to a theory of baptism - which theory currently represented by the legions of Protestant splinter groups is immaterial. A quick look around will confirm that millions of other Protestants have come to different conclusions from the very same books. Millions have come to his conclusion (probably). How certain should this Protestant be? He honestly did his best to read the appropriate references, but so did lots of other Protestants. Either A) everyone who disagrees with him doesn't really believe the whole Bible or B) there is significant, even severe, interpretative uncertainty**.

      Plainly, these are differing kinds of uncertainty, and not mere degrees - unless you hold each proposition you derive from Scripture with the level of faith you place in the veracity of Scripture itself? It may come off as kind of insulting, but the corporate appearance that apparently-honest Protestants give is *exactly* one of blundering around in the dark. Or perhaps not blundering. Skillfully attempting to feel their way in the dark labyrinth, and with a map of the labyrinth, and doing the best they can with the tools they accept. But God gave you a flashlight, and you didn't believe it.

      * It may be argued that the larger system accepted by Catholics requires a larger degree of uncertainty due to its apparently greater complexity. I do not believe this is the case, because the Catholic system is self-supporting - the Scriptures attest to the Tradition and Magisterium, which in turn attest to the Scriptures, and in union with the historical record, at least ground the Church in the first century.

      ** The uncertainty and rupture surrounding this particular proposition in particular may not be lightly dismissed by the commonly employed mantra of "unity in essentials, liberty in nonessentials, charity in all things" as there is significant disagreement as to whether or not baptism is necessary for salvation among Protestants! (In the ordinary sense, of course. Everyone seems to accept that the all-powerful God can save whom He wills, regardless of sacraments or even the hearing of the Gospel.) It is worth further noting that as Protestantism developed, fewer and fewer items became 'nonessentials' as the interpretative authority of the individual, wearing the guise of 'Scripture correcting all' trampled underfoot various parts of the Christian Tradition.

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    12. Catholics experience only the initial accepting-the-system uncertainty.

      This simply doesn't seem to be supported by what you've said upthread. It may be true that Protestant interpretation is harder, but that doesn't render interpretation of the Magisterium entirely infallible or effortless. Popes have historically disagreed on the subject of their own infallibility - clearly there was at least some past date where there was room for Magisterial interpretation.

      Perhaps more relevantly, your last post acknowledges that the RCC's canon is...

      more like "list the teachings of the Bible, given a canon."

      ... and that much of the infallible doctrine is not explicit, but rather implied by the behavior of the RCC over a period of time. Does implication leave no room for interpretation? Are there no seeming implications whose infallibility might be questioned?

      That seems like it would be... well, a rather extraordinary claim, particularly since - as you note - it can't have been true for most of the RCC's history.

      If this leaves us with a great many places where there is (what seems to you to be) a very strong implication and some smaller number where there is an explicit, undeniable command, well, that describes my understanding of Scripture, too. I might have a shorter list of places that I see as absolutely explicit declarations, but again, are we just comparing the size of our respective lists? Is that the meaningful difference?

      Either A) everyone who disagrees with him doesn't really believe the whole Bible or B) there is significant, even severe, interpretative uncertainty**.

      Or "we see as through a mirror darkly," and what should be clear is warped by our own sin-damaged perception. The flaw may be in our interpretive power, rather than the clarity of the source.

      But God gave you a flashlight, and you didn't believe it.

      That's a perfectly fair charge, provided you're right about the authority of the Magisterium. On the other hand, if you're wrong, then the flashlight is Scripture - and there are warnings there aplenty about false lights.

      Neither of us holds an inherent high ground on this point - whether the Church's teachings are divine wisdom or well-meaning heresy depends entirely on where the truth really is.

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    13. Couple points.

      If you're going to make claims about popes contradicting one another on the doctrine of papal infallibility, that's a big deal. Back it up with citations. Given your past misunderstandings of Catholic dogma, and the misunderstandings and distortions I commonly see among Protestants talking about the faith, you frankly have very, very low credibility for such a claim. I can think of papal sayings that would give that appearance, but only at a very superficial level.

      I'm not sure where the interpretative uncertainty is for applying statements like "If anyone says that a man who is born again and justified is bound ex fide to believe that he is certainly in the number of the predestined, let him be anathema."

      The doctrine of the RCC is by no means implicit in long-term behavioral trends, but by the explicit teachings of the bishops. Therefore your charge that much of our doctrine in implicit or inaccessible is groundless.

      As to the warping effect of sin on interpretation - we all sin, and if sin can so severely warp our individual ability to interpret scripture, then how can you have any confidence in your conclusions? How do you know you have the essentials for salvation? It seems like this should deal a death-blow to the assurance of salvation Protestants claim.

      Finally, of course the actual truth of revelation is what matters. But that is not what is being disputed. This is a difference-of-systems point of dispute, in which I am endeavoring to show that, systematically, Protestantism must experience a level of uncertainty that is greater *in kind* (or type) than that of the Catholic system.

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    15. If you're going to make claims about popes contradicting one another on the doctrine of papal infallibility, that's a big deal. Back it up with citations.

      John Paul XXII's Quia Quorundam is the obvious target. Whether you'd agree with the number of folks who have said he denies papal infallibility altogether, or just that he was denying some mistaken notion of papal infallibility, there was pretty clearly disagreement and unclarity on the subject at the very highest levels of the church.

      you frankly have very, very low credibility for such a claim.

      I pondered a couple of ways of saying this, at varying levels of snarkiness, but I'll go with straightforward: it would be nice to get through these conversations without the personal digs.

      I'm not sure where the interpretative uncertainty is for applying statements like "If anyone says that a man who is born again and justified is bound ex fide to believe that he is certainly in the number of the predestined, let him be anathema."

      I'm, likewise, unsure where the ambiguity lies in "If you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your
      heart that God raised him from the dead, you shall be saved." As noted upthread, we both have sets of fairly-explicit statements; yours is, maybe, a bit larger. Again, to this: is that the extent of your claim?

      The doctrine of the RCC is by no means implicit in long-term behavioral trends, but by the explicit teachings of the bishops. Therefore your charge that much of our doctrine in implicit or inaccessible is groundless.

      That's not an attempt at a charge - it's an attempt at restating what you said here, i.e., that the explicitly infallible ex cathedra statements have been set against a much broader context of things that generally have been taught, but are not explicitly infallibly correct. If we're missing each other on your intent in that post, please clarify! I would love a really ironclad definition.

      But if that's a fair summary, then that's necessarily ambiguous - defining what has "been the teaching" admits a pretty enormous range of possibilities, particularly ranging over space and time. (For the low-hanging-fruit example: geocentrism seems to have been a general teaching of the church for quite a while.)

      As to the warping effect of sin on interpretation - we all sin, and if sin can so severely warp our individual ability to interpret scripture, then how can you have any confidence in your conclusions?

      I started on this above, but let me be more explicit: Scripture seems every bit as clear to me on some of its teachings as - I gather - the Magisterium's teaching is to you. Others, who would agree with me on the clarity, reach different conclusions on the teachings. The noetic effect must stretch that far, then - which is cause for humility, but also means that there's no alternative infallible source that could be so clear as to remove this risk.

      It seems like this should deal a death-blow to the assurance of salvation Protestants claim.

      If I may clarify a doctrine in the other direction: "assurance of salvation" is not typically construed by Protestants to mean, "I am assured that, even if I am entirely wrong theologically/hallucinating all this/a brain in the Matrix, I shall still be saved." Rather, it's a statement of assurance given acceptance of a particular theological framework.

      But that is not what is being disputed.

      Then comments reliant on a difference in actual truth - like "God gave you a flashlight, and you didn't believe it" - would seem out of place, yes?

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    16. I started on this above, but let me be more explicit: Scripture seems every bit as clear to me on some of its teachings as - I gather - the Magisterium's teaching is to you. Others, who would agree with me on the clarity, reach different conclusions on the teachings. The noetic effect must stretch that far, then - which is cause for humility, but also means that there's no alternative infallible source that could be so clear as to remove this risk.

      Started on this, and lost the thread of where I was going. So: roughly speaking, Scripture seems to me so clear on some subjects that accepting their truth is part-and-parcel of accepting Scripture's infallibility - if there's an internal defect large enough to cause me to misread them, it could cause me to reach false conclusions re: what's infallible, too. I know of no final resolution to that risk - hence the initial uncertainty we both face - but, in consequence, I know of no alternative theological system which avoids it.

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    17. If I may clarify a doctrine in the other direction: "assurance of salvation" is not typically construed by Protestants to mean, "I am assured that, even if I am entirely wrong theologically/hallucinating all this/a brain in the Matrix, I shall still be saved." Rather, it's a statement of assurance given acceptance of a particular theological framework.

      That is not how I understood it as a Baptist. The Baptist churches I attended all seemed to believe that they were right, everyone else was wrong. There wasn't any room given for in incorrect theological framework, because Scripture was just plain obvious.

      I'm not sure what the point of this comment is other than "you can't make that claim about Protestants in general because at least one major denomination doesn't believe it."

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    18. The Baptist churches I attended all seemed to believe that they were right, everyone else was wrong.

      They may very well have felt that way - it sounds like, from all you've said, that this was not an awesome church - but I don't think that's what is generally meant by the doctrine.

      If I can give some quotes on the subject in support of my interpretation:

      John Piper, here, in the first link on his "Resources on Assurance of Salvation" page:

      So many religions (and even some brands of Christianity) say, "Yes, God saves people. But no, you can’t be sure if you are included. You can’t be sure your works are good enough or your faith is strong enough." This is deadly. And it is wrong. God has done and said so much to give his people assurance...

      Less scholarly, but for common usage, here, where assurance is presented as a doubt within the frame of Christianity:

      I've counseled many Christians who have doubted their salvation and who have worked themselves into a worry and sometimes even depression over the issue. I've always thought that the solution was pretty basic. I ask the person, "Why do you think you might not be saved?" Almost always the reason is, "Because I have a sin in my life. Because I can't beat this one sin. Because of my thoughts. Because I keep failing." "Okay," I say. "So you know you're supposed to be doing better than you are, right?" "Yes," they say. "I am supposed to be doing better and I'm not. This is why I doubt that I am saved."

      For a Catholic take on what Protestants say assurance is, here:

      Those who have obtained the new birth "did the one thing necessary: they accepted Jesus Christ as personal Savior by repenting and turning to God with the whole heart as a little child." That one act of the will, he explains, is all they needed to do.

      For an old description of what is meant, Thomas Brooks wrote (as quoted here):

      Assurance is the believer's ark where he sits, Noah-like, quiet and still in the midst of all distractions and destructions, commotions and confusions.... [However] most Christians live between fears and hopes, and hang, as it were, between heaven and hell. Sometimes they hope that their state is good, at other times they fear that their state is bad: now they hope that all is well, and that it shall go well with them for ever; [then] they fear that they shall perish by the hand of such a corruption, or by the prevalency of such or such a temptation

      These are probably not the best sources out there, but they're what turned up in an immediate search on the subject. The major problem I had in turning up applicable quotes was that the whole question of, "What if [my breed of Christianity] is false?" just didn't appear linked to most of the discussions I turned up - they were all about "What if [my breed of] Christianity is true, but my faith/behavior/whatever is defective enough that I'm condemned under its tenets?"

      Which, I think, is rather the point I was trying to make.

      I can't swear that there's no denominational variance, there, but having also grown up Baptist, I'd include Baptists in those holding the position I presented here. Would you point to anything specific that says that it does include "You are assured to be saved, even if you've completely misunderstood the nature of theological reality?"

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    19. I’m not sure what the post length limit is, so I’ll break up my comments by subject.

      “Popes have historically disagreed on the subject of their own infallibility - clearly there was at least some past date where there was room for Magisterial interpretation.”

      “Whether you'd agree with the number of folks who have said he denies papal infallibility altogether, or just that he was denying some mistaken notion of papal infallibility, there was pretty clearly disagreement and unclarity on the subject at the very highest levels of the church.”

      I regret that you feel slighted by my credibility statement. Before addressing John XXII’s Quia Quorundam, let me try to communicate how I feel about this exchange. Suppose you were having a discussion with an individual who suddenly asserted that the essence of Jesus Christ’s message was that Christians were to favor and prepare for war, without any support. A reasonable reply might be something along the lines of 1) That’s a fantastic claim. 2) You need to support such a claim to be taken seriously. 3) You know, I don’t really have high expectations for your support, and I have no reason to believe you in making such a claim. Your interlocutor comes back, notes that he is offended, and quotes Matthew 10:34 and Luke 22:36, with no context or historical discussion, claims that “a number” of people who share his general views on war agree with him, and asserts that the issue is therefore muddy. Perhaps I exaggerate for the purposes of illustration, but here is where I sit.

      John XXII makes two points: 1) That papal infallibility does not extend to canon law, specifically the disciplines and constitutions of religious orders. 2) Even if it had extended thus far, the Franciscans would still be in the wrong, since they were misquoting previous popes. The previous popes had established the Franciscan orders, but without the ‘faith and morals’ definition that “this is the apostolic rule” - meaning how Christ lived and how we must live to be perfect - that the Franciscans claimed. If it were the case that John XXII were denying infallibility in ex cathedra statements on faith and morals, this section would be completely pointless. Yet he includes it, to show that he is not contradicting any doctrinal teaching of previous popes. If it were the case that he was asserting the power to contradict previous papal teachings, this would undermine his point.

      It is worth noting that Guido Terreni, a bishop in the curia of John XXII, expounded a definition of papal infallibility that almost perfectly matches the wording of Vatican I’s definition. The year was 1330. I find no record of Guido Terreni’s condemnation by John XXII. Previously, in 1328, Michael of Cesena accused John XXII of heresy for having supported the proposition “That the supreme pontiff can revoke decrees of his predecessors in matters pertaining to faith and morals.” John XXII denied that he had asserted that particular proposition. [From Origins of Papal Infallibility 1150-1350, by Brian Tierny]. Please note that what he is asserting he did not deny is exactly a distilled version of Vatican I’s declaration.

      To conclude my reply on the Quia Quorundam matter, every use of the document that I have read to attack the dogma of papal infallibility relies on one or two isolated quotes. No hostile treatment that I have read deals with the document in it’s entire context, much less addresses the evidence given in the preceding paragraph. John XXII did not condemn Bishop Terreni, and clarified that his Bull should not be taken to deny papal infallibility in dogmatic proclamations with his reply to Michael of Cesena. The evidence strongly indicates that there was no such “unclarity on the subject at the highest levels of the church.” Never mind that such “disagreement and unclarity” was “pretty clearly” there.

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    20. Would you point to anything specific that says that it does include "You are assured to be saved, even if you've completely misunderstood the nature of theological reality?"

      Now I'm not sure if we're on the same page. I understood you to be saying assurance is "we're assured, assuming we're right." To which I replied that every church I have been in stopped at the comma and didn't consider the possibility they were wrong.

      Maybe I should have given you more credit as "we're assured, assuming we're right" is an absurd statement anyway.

      And yes, the church I grew up in was rather awful, but its not my only data point. The churches I attended in college and after seemed to me to be pretty typical, non-crazy, southern and independent Baptist churches.

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    21. Part 1 of 2

      “The major problem I had in turning up applicable quotes was that the whole question of, ‘What if [my breed of Christianity] is false?’ just didn't appear linked to most of the discussions I turned up - they were all about ‘What if [my breed of] Christianity is true, but my faith/behavior/whatever is defective enough that I'm condemned under its tenets?’”

      “Would you point to anything specific that says that it does include ‘You are assured to be saved, even if you've completely misunderstood the nature of theological reality?’”

      I agree that Protestant discussions of assurance don’t address assurance in the tenants of the faith, but I would argue that the general Protestant theory of assurance lives in the same pool of accepted propositions and ideas as “unity in essentials, liberty in nonessentials, charity in all things” and it’s underlying and rarely-critiqued assumption that unity in essentials is easy and possible from the scriptures alone, coupled with the near-ubiquitous Protestant belief in justification by faith alone. (“Lordship salvation” theorists may come close to a practical denial of sola fide, but I digress). These neighbor propositions provide an underlying assumption that Scripture is formally sufficient and clear on the essentials of the faith, such that the Protestant may be as assured of the truth of those essentials as he is in the veracity of the Scriptures. I am unconvinced such a unity and true confidence in those essentials can exist in Protestantism.

      As evidence, I present a dispute on an essential of salvation: whether or not baptism is necessary for salvation. Lutherans (http://www.lcms.org/faqs/doctrine#baptism) hold baptism to be a regenerative means of grace, but not necessary for salvation. The Churches of Christ (http://lavistachurchofchrist.org/LVarticles/BaptismNecessaryForSalvation.htm and elsewhere, but as secondary or tertiary sources like wikipedia) hold that baptism is necessary for salvation, and further, that it must be by immersion. The immersion-for-validity requirement presents the problem. Certainly, Christians must be baptized out of obedience to Our Lord, if nothing else. However, those Christians baptized as children without immersion are presented with the question of whether or not an immersive rebaptism is necessary for their salvation. This is a question of essentials, disputed by two groups that both profess Sola Scriptura, so this is not merely the philosophical uncertainty of maybe-it’s-the-Matrix. Both groups believe in God and the Bible, as far as we distant observers can tell.

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    22. Part 2 of 2

      Within the strict Sola Fide community, which generally seems to exclude Mormonism as an institution from Christianity, there is the very valid question of how accurate your faith in Christ must be to be saving faith. If you have an Arian faith, denying Christ consubstantiality with the Father, do you have faith in Christ, the Son of God, or in Christ, Figment of Your Arian Imagination? If the latter case does not constitute saving faith, Trinitarianism is added to the list of essentials. But we still don’t have a hard-and-fast line from Scripture (if you have one, let me know). Suppose a man admits Trinitarianism, must he also believe in the orthodox definition of Christ’s hypostatic nature? If he believes that Christ has only one fused nature, not both fully God and fully man, is this faith in the true Christ? Many Protestants define the boundaries of Christianity as adherence to some interpretation of the ancient Creeds, and reconcile this by arguing the Creeds are in accord with the Scriptures. But clearly, not all agreed. While the scripture-driven nature of the early Christological heretics may be easily questioned, modern anti-Trinitarians such as Oneness Pentecostals derive their anti-Trinitarianism directly from Sola Scriptura and their readings of the Scriptures.

      I think the connection to one’s confidence in God’s promises is obvious. If I place my faith in Christ, He will save me. But if my Christ isn’t the true Christ, does my faith save? If Trinitarianism is nonessential, it isn’t terribly important to make Mormons orthodox in their faith. If Trinitarianism is essential, then it is of pre-eminent importance. Should a non-Trinitarian who holds to a pastor’s theory of an orthodox faith in every other point be considered inside or outside the church?

      Verses which seem clear when taken in isolation, often exist in apparent contradiction with other verses equally clear in isolation. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” and “Even the demons believe, and tremble.” “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.” So I’m not sure how “it’s clear to me” solves the essentials problem.

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    23. “So: roughly speaking, Scripture seems to me so clear on some subjects that accepting their truth is part-and-parcel of accepting Scripture's infallibility - if there's an internal defect large enough to cause me to misread them, it could cause me to reach false conclusions re: what's infallible, too. I know of no final resolution to that risk - hence the initial uncertainty we both face - but, in consequence, I know of no alternative theological system which avoids it.”

      I’ll try to make my argument one final time, and barring some new direction or question, I’ll give you the last word for this thread.

      However, other honest people don’t reach the same conclusions as you do on some of those topics, drawing directly from Scripture. Again, things that seem clear in isolation sometimes present us with paradox when joined. In these cases, our pre-existing conceptions of whether, for example, James should interpret Romans or Romans should interpret James, lead people to draw conclusions which they see as clear from Scripture, but which are not intimately connected with Scripture’s infallibility or inerrancy. This individual divergence of clarity and conclusion is precisely the kind of uncertainty I argue Catholics do not share. The nature of the living Catholic Magisterium, once accepted, is such that Catholics may err by ignorance or disobedience, but that error by misinterpretation is extremely difficult if not impossible. If there is confusion, after all, you may write your bishop, and he the Pope, and if necessary, a clarifying council may be called. The nature of relying on individual interpretations of the Scriptures alone is such that the Protestant may err by ignorance or disobedience, but also and most commonly by misinterpretation.

      Conclusions drawn from Scripture or received from the Magisterium may be misinterpreted in their application, but this is a categorically more minor source of uncertainty than the process by which the conclusions are drawn or received. I think the categorical nature of the certainty gap can be empirically demonstrated by the fragmented nature of Protestantism as opposed to the relative unity of Catholicism and the other Apostolic Churches, such as the Orthodox and the Coptics, which, though separated from Rome, have maintained a much more cohesive nature - thanks to reliance on scripture, tradition, and acceptance of shared magisterial teachings.

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    24. Gentlemen:

      My apologies for the long delay in this reply. I tried to post a follow-up pretty immediately... which the internet devoured. The combination of time and motivation has been lacking since then. I'll try to rectify that now.

      Scott:

      Now I'm not sure if we're on the same page. I understood you to be saying assurance is "we're assured, assuming we're right." To which I replied that every church I have been in stopped at the comma and didn't consider the possibility they were wrong.

      Hm. Let me back up a couple steps and see if I can get at where we're missing each other.

      The initial comment of Kevin's that started this chain was that, given the noetic effect of sin, a person could be completely mistaken on what is and isn't required for salvation. (I think we'd all agree that this is possible, since some people clearly are thusly mistaken.) In light of that, he argued that "assurance of salvation" was impossible.

      My reply was that "assurance of salvation" isn't about whether we're right or wrong on, say, the question of whether there is a God, or whether Christ really rose from the dead. It's about the question, given that such things are true, of whether or not our salvation can be guaranteed.

      So on the one hand - sure, you're right, people don't usually present "What if we're wrong about Christianity?" as part of teaching Assurance of Salvation. It would be out of place there - just as it would be in a sermon on, say, "How should we pray?" In both cases, obviously being wrong on the fundamentals will make you wrong on the thesis of the moment, as well.

      On the other hand, I've heard a number of sermons over the years that do address the question, "Are we right on the fundamentals?" - J.D. Greear has some pretty excellent sermons on that topic, to name just one. So if your point is that you've never seen a church question those points - well, again, our experiences differ!

      On the other hand, when you say:

      Maybe I should have given you more credit as "we're assured, assuming we're right" is an absurd statement anyway.

      I disagree - because there are many denominations and other faiths that would not say, "We're assured, assuming we're right."

      To keep this from being reliant on my portrayal of any particular denomination: suppose we have the kind of stereotypical-American view of the afterlife, where our good and bad deeds are totaled up and we go to heaven if our good outweighs our bad. Even if that view was right - even if those who held it were absolutely correct about how the spiritual world works - no particular person could be assured of his own salvation unless he could actually do the calculations of good-vs.-bad himself. In particular, he could never make a guarantee regarding his future salvation, because his next acts might be so bad that they outweigh the past ones. Thus: "We're not assured, even if we're right."

      And it's against this kind of alternative that "assurance of salvation" is laid: it is possible to know that you're saved, given certain assumptions about how the world works. We could follow that down the infinite rabbit trail of what it really means to "know," or whether we really ever know anything, or etc., but these are not the focus of that particular doctrine.

      Does that clarify at all how we're missing each other, or am I still off-track on your objections?

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    25. I regret that you feel slighted by my credibility statement.

      This isn't about my feeling slighted - we don't really know each other well enough to be offended by our respective opinions.

      I'm objecting because I thought we were pursuing a conversation whose object was to establish the truth - one in which we, as people, matter as little as is possible, and in which admissions of honest ignorance and requests for clarification are virtues. Your comments, instead, made our conversation a referendum on us as persons. Doing so distracts from what I understood the purpose of our discussion to be, and it verges on ad hominem critique. Please stop.

      Yet he includes it, to show that he is not contradicting any doctrinal teaching of previous popes. If it were the case that he was asserting the power to contradict previous papal teachings, this would undermine his point.

      But they fit very nicely together if the primary point is to put to bed the Franciscan poverty issue. "I have the right to disagree with my forebears; that aside, I'm not even contradicting them in this case," is a stronger argument together than either point would be alone.

      It is worth noting that Guido Terreni, a bishop in the curia of John XXII, expounded a definition of papal infallibility that almost perfectly matches the wording of Vatican I’s definition. The year was 1330. I find no record of Guido Terreni’s condemnation by John XXII.

      We can both pretty trivially make arguments from silence, here - I could throw Zenzellinus into the ring for an opposing perspective.

      Previously, in 1328, Michael of Cesena accused John XXII of heresy for having supported the proposition “That the supreme pontiff can revoke decrees of his predecessors in matters pertaining to faith and morals.” John XXII denied that he had asserted that particular proposition. [From Origins of Papal Infallibility 1150-1350, by Brian Tierny].

      Good, yes, let's bring Tierney into this - he has a couple of other things to say on the matter. From page 189:

      "The really important issues involved in the controversy of 1324 were the emergence of a doctrine of papal infallibility based directly on the Petrine power of the keys, and the vehement denial of that doctrine by the pope... Further, that doctrine had been created by Pietro Olivi," emphasis mine.

      "Previously [John XXII] had been content to assert that, as a sovereign legislator, he could revoke any decrees of his predecessors whenever he saw fit."

      A page later, and in follow-up to your own reference: "Instead of stating explicitly that he rejected [the declaration], he merely repeated the words of his earlier decretal Quia quorandum, and those words were very ambiguous indeed," as Tierney argues that John was hedging on things he used to state explicitly.

      The evidence strongly indicates that there was no such “unclarity on the subject at the highest levels of the church.” Never mind that such “disagreement and unclarity” was “pretty clearly” there.

      The question to be asked, I think, is this: why did John XXII write the document in the first place? Even accepting the precise truth of your statements above, his intent was to rebut a mistaken understanding of papal infallibility at the highest levels of the church - from which it follows that there was disagreement and unclarity on the extent of papal infallibility at the highest levels of the church.

      (I would make rather a stronger claim: when John XXII says, "It is clear that the aforesaid assertors, who hold that the spiritual key is by no means knowledge, but a power of binding and loosing, by reckoning it to be knowledge, have erred," I take that pretty literally. But even if it somehow should not be, there's undeniably high-level disagreement - high-level to the extent of John getting temporarily deposed in favor of a more agreeable pope!)

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    26. I agree that Protestant discussions of assurance don’t address assurance in the tenants of the faith, but I would argue that the general Protestant theory of assurance lives in the same pool of accepted propositions and ideas as “unity in essentials, liberty in nonessentials, charity in all things” and it’s underlying and rarely-critiqued assumption that unity in essentials is easy and possible from the scriptures alone, coupled with the near-ubiquitous Protestant belief in justification by faith alone

      "Unity in essentials, etc.," may be an overly ambitious claim. I'm going to cite my own experience here, though: I've never heard a Protestant claim that's a fully achievable goal. Given that the phrase originates in Catholicism, I'm... not sure why this is being laid out as a particularly Protestant flaw?

      But we still don’t have a hard-and-fast line from Scripture (if you have one, let me know).

      I tend to take Romans 10:9 as something pretty close to literally sufficient conditions: there is a Jesus, he is your Lord, God raised him from the dead. It's a poor substitute for the richness of full theology, but in that sense, I think God set the bar for salvation pretty low: all manner of heretics are let in the gate.

      Verses which seem clear when taken in isolation, often exist in apparent contradiction with other verses equally clear in isolation. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” and “Even the demons believe, and tremble.”

      That's not much of a contradiction, when the latter verse is extended to its full duration: "You say you have faith, for you believe there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this."

      Sure, though, you can proof-text all manner of wrong things - I'm not going to dispute that point.

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    27. This individual divergence of clarity and conclusion is precisely the kind of uncertainty I argue Catholics do not share.

      Some thoughts, some of which are modifications of points I've asserted above.

      First, I maintain that there are certain things on which Scripture is unambiguously clear. "There is a God," for instance, is not really subject to interpretation.

      Likewise, I expect that there are certain things on which Catholic teaching is unambiguously clear. I'm even willing to concede that Catholicism likely has a larger such list, because it includes Scripture and then adds to it. As I've stated several times, if the extent of your claim is to a larger list, we have no disagreement. You do!

      Second, there are many more teachings which seem unambiguously clear to me, given the whole of Scripture, but on which other people do disagree. For some of these, proof-texting and quotations in isolation seem to be the foundation of the disagreement.

      But Catholic teachings fall into this category as well. Whether justified by context or not, I can cite parts of Quia Quorundam against infallibility as easily as you can cite John against Paul. Thus, we both retain many areas of doctrine - even fairly crucial ones, on which much else hangs - to which some measure of doubt or disagreement can be claimed. In this regard, then, I do deny that we are fundamentally different - that our difference is one of kind, rather than degree. You, perhaps, may have a larger portion of your doctrines in category (1) than in (2) than I do - certainly I would expect your portion in (1) to be no less than mine. But we both must make recourse to (2).

      (Even if you deny that this is the case now, and claim that later councils have settled such issues, clearly it has not been the case for most of Christendom, since those councils did not yet exist - and in that case, it seems peculiar that the RCC should arrive at a state of perfect clarity in core doctrine only now.)

      Third, my ability to debate the clarity of Catholic doctrine is hampered by what seems to me to be a cyclic unclarity on exactly what counts as Catholic doctrine. The cycle appears to me as follows:

      (i) In our initial conversations, we established that not all teachings of the pope/bishops/councils/etc. are considered infallible. Instead, that label applies to a small subset: ex cathedra statements, declarations of full and representative ecumenical councils, etc.

      (ii) Given this seemingly very tight definition, I asked for an exact list of the infallible doctrines taught. You argued this was impossible, in part because the ex cathedra, etc., statements were not the full infallible Catholic doctrine: they wouldn't include the (infallible in aggregate?) "ordinary magisterium" and that which has "always been the teaching" of the RCC.

      (iii) I then argued that what has "always been the teaching" is a much more ambiguous standard, and that in this case, it's not possible to know with certainty what counts as an infallible doctrine (outside the ex cathedra list). Thus, I argued, you can't lay claim to a superior kind of precision of belief in most of these cases - and, going backward in time, the RCC has claim to less and less, as fewer and fewer exceptional statements exist. You replied that it was not ambiguous what counted as the ordinary teaching: it was "the explicit teachings of the bishops." Depending on what you mean by "the explicit teachings of the bishops," that would seem to return us either to (i) or to (ii).

      So I'm left with the same question I had initially: what, precisely, are you counting when you refer to these supremely-clear, broadly-encompassing, infallibly-trusted doctrines? Because - whatever the source of our miscommunication on this subject - I feel rather as though I'm boxing a phantom who moves every time I take aim at his last position.

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  3. Gal 3:23 and 1 John 2:27 would be where I would start, not much of a writer but would be down for lunch

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    1. Two verses out of context does not an argument make.

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    2. Two verses out of context does not an argument make.

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  4. Given that I seem to frequently misunderstand the thrust of these sort of arguments, I have a question to start off. By saying that Catholics have "the fulness of truth," are you saying that all Catholic doctrine is absolutely correct? And, as an extension, that Catholic doctrine does not change or alter? Because that's RATHER different than what the other Catholics at Baylor have been saying, and rather against the impression that I've gotten from the new Pope's statements.

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    1. That is exactly what I am saying. As far as the Catholics around you, I do not know how knowledgeable they are, but it is sadly very common to find poorly catechized Catholics who do not know their faith. When in doubt, go to the Catechism. If a Catholic contradicts the Catechism he is in error.

      In this case, paragraph 889 and onward is relevant: http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc/p123a9p4.htm#889

      For more on infallibility see: http://www.ewtn.com/library/ANSWERS/EXPLINFA.HTM

      As far as Pope Francis, he is fast on track to be the most misunderstood pope in history! As a general rule of thumb, when trying to understand what Pope Francis is saying its good to keep in mind that the Pope is still, in fact, Catholic. Pope Francis has not changed any doctrine. He has brought a new style and a new emphasis to the papacy, and that is all. Lumen Fidei, his first encyclical co-written by Pope Emeritus Benedict, made that rather clear.

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    2. Oh? I'm aware that his comments on homosexuality and abortion were simply changing the focus, not the doctrine, but I was under the impression that he'd also recently spoken out in favor of repealing the celibacy requirements for clergy--a rather old and well-established part of the Catholic church.

      I'm not sure I can even agree with you about the Catholic church never changing its mind. Do they still offer indulgences? A friend of mine recently did a project about the Latin mass, and how it was first in, then out, and now is back-in-if-you-want-to. Another church history friend told me that back in the days of the Reformation, there were four or five small councils in a row that all disagreed on the subject of icons.

      But maybe this is a question of context. Indulgences, after all, were controversial even back in the day. What constitutes an official RCC position? One the pope declares to be official? One a council declares to be official? One that's been around for a sufficiently long period of time?

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    3. Unknown,

      Good questions. Clerical celibacy is not actually a Catholic teaching, but a discipline of the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church. There are several such rites, which believe the same doctrines, but have somewhat differing practices. Use of the 1962 Missal vs the 1970 Missal (technically both are Latin Masses, as both are written in Latin with translations existing for the 1970 Missal and since they are Masses of the Latin, Roman Rite) would be evolution about practice, I think. The theology of both liturgies is identical, as far as I can tell.

      Doctrine on indulgences has not changed - the reform of the Tridentine era was an outlawing of selling indulgences, as it lead to abuse. (I believe it was already banned, but various workarounds were used by corrupt clergy).

      The iconclastic controversy happened well before the Reformation, but yes, there were a series of local Eastern councils that opposed the use of icons in worship. As far as I have read, none of these received papal approval, and there was quite a bit of attempted coercion on the part of the Emperor.

      I would say Catholic teaching consists of those matters of faith and morals were have always been taught by bishops everywhere who are in union with Rome. Papal proclamations and ecumenical councils serve to condemn dangerous errors and affirm embattled truths when controversies arise.

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