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Do Catholics Know That Their Theology is Correct?

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WhoKnows

NOTE: Today we feature a guest post from Steven Dillon, one of our regular non-Catholic commenters. On Wednesday, we'll share a response from Catholic writer Brandon Vogt.


 
This site is primarily a forum for dialogue between Catholics and atheists. We can see this clearest on the part of the Catholic contributors who post about everything from the influence of Catholicism on science, and the crusade history to Marian apparitions and Catholic policy in the public school system. By contrast, the atheist contributors seem to have focused almost exclusively on posting about God’s existence, occasionally venturing into territory like whether Jesus of Nazareth really existed. But, there is much more for atheists to discuss with Catholics.

For example, an atheist can discern the Catholic Church’s claim to having not contradicted itself in any of its official teachings. E.g. The extraordinary magisterium decreed – through the 15th century Council of Florence – that whoever dies in the state of original sin alone goes to hell. But, no one can die in the state of original sin alone if, as the universal and ordinary magisterium currently teaches, God gives everyone the grace necessary to be saved; for the acceptance of this grace removes original sin and its rejection adds mortal or venial sin. Which infallible magisterium is right?

Or again, the Vatican Council of 1870 claimed that through the words attributed to him in Matthew 16:18-19, Jesus promised to confer a primacy of jurisdiction over the whole Church upon Peter. But, an atheist can use what tools scholarship affords us to test how plausible this interpretation is. E.g. Had these words been understood by the earliest Christians to be of such ecclesiological importance, wouldn’t they have been multiply and independently attested? Given his explicitly stated purpose of recording such details, how could Luke have failed to even mention this, especially since he records a parallel version of this very event in Luke 9:18-20?

These and many other issues could prove to be fruitful grounds for discussion and debate. But, I’d like to steer this in the direction of another discussion starter: do Catholics know that their theology is correct? The status of theological belief is quite a divisive one in the philosophy of religion. Many, many thinkers from atheists to Pagans are of the mind that there is no theological knowledge. We only have varying degrees of reasonable and educated opinions. But, equally many thinkers from Christians to Muslims are of the view that there is such knowledge. Needless to say, if belief in Catholicism were at best educated opinion, the dynamic between atheists and Catholics would be drastically altered.

I’m going to argue – in an introductory way – that it should be. Theology is the theorizing about a piece of divine revelation, and thus takes it for granted that there is divine revelation to theorize about. It is not the theologian’s job – in that capacity – to demonstrate that the Bible is inspired by God, or that Allah commissioned Mohammed as his prophet. That task is left to the philosopher, who may in turn rely heavily on experts of other fields, such as historians and physicists. The foundation that philosophers lay for theologians is called the preamble of faith, and consists in beliefs such as that a specific divinity exists and has in fact issued revelation. But, regardless of how certain the preamble of faith is, the theologian offers nothing like certitude. Theologians may propose various reasons to think such-and-such divine revelation means this-or-that, and their reasons may even be very strong, but they don’t endow one with knowledge. The difference between an amateur theologian’s views and an expert’s is one between an opinion and an educated opinion. Why agree with me?

Every theologian is either an amateur at theorizing about divine revelation or an expert. If she is an amateur, then she is not qualified to know of what she speaks. You might expect that she can just defer to someone who does. But, expert theologians are in scarcely a better position, for their reasons for holding this-or-that theological belief have not been good enough to persuade any significant portions of their peers even after centuries and centuries of scholarship. It’s no secret that instead of tending towards unity, Christianity has only fractured over time. The reasons one faction offers for believing whatever they do about divine revelation haven’t just failed to convince likeminded individuals, they’ve even fueled dissolution! Yet, each faction boasts of highly trained experts in theological matters. If experts do not have good enough reasons to settle a dispute, then the dispute is not settled. The fact of the matter is not yet known.

Note, I’m neither saying it’s unreasonable to hold any theological belief, nor that Christianity enjoys no doctrinal unity whatsoever. By all means, hold those opinions which are reasonable for you to do so, and if the conciliar creeds prove anything, it’s that Christian factions are not at complete theological odds. But, experts in Christian theology are in anything but agreement, and evangelization is like a fish out of water when based on opinion.

The theologian might object that the reluctance theologians have manifested toward changing their minds does not show that their reasons aren’t knowledge-conferring. It may just as easily show that other theologians are blinded by sin. We could of course wonder why these reasons wouldn’t be good enough to cut through sin, but more importantly, how do we know there is sin to be blinded by? One’s mere opinion on the matter does not a robust response make.

Finally, some may worry that I’m advocating a form of relativism here. But, I’ve been careful not to talk about whether theological beliefs are true, only whether they are reasonable, and if so, how much? Are they so reasonable as to count as knowledge?

Whatever else you may have thought about the issue before reading this, and however this may have changed your mind, I hope it raises a number of questions about the nature of theological knowledge and opens another avenue for dialogue between the folks here.
 
 
(Image credit: Institute of Leo XIII)

Steven Dillon

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Steven Dillon is a nature loving hippy who enthusiastically supports the Philosophy of Religion, and the importance of good-willed dialogue between theists and atheists.

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  • This is the reason God gives us a living magisterium. It is the reason why thee problems got worse when some Christians decided it was OK to reject the authority of said magisterium. We can never know the truth of God. It is infinite and we are finite. Yet we can know that certain theories are right or wrong to some extent because the church has said do definitively. Without that then Yes, all doctrinal statements becomes matters of mere human opinion. Perhaps interesting but not certain enough to give your life away.

    • Steven Dillon

      One could only know that God established a living magisterium by having recourse to divine revelation. But, the reasons that various theologians have afforded for thinking that God established a living magisterium have not been good enough to persuade any sort of majority of theologians. As such, the reasons for thinking there is a living magisterium are not a good enough basis for one to know that there is. Given that the Bible contains divine revelation and such, the most reasonable opinion available may be that there is such a magisterium. But, it will only be an opinion.

      • At the end of the day you do need faith. Faith that this is in fact divine revelation. There is no getting around that. Still once you embrace the church it does give you enough certainty to live the Christian life in a non arbitrary sort of way. A living magisterium involves a very different ascent of faith because they continue to teach and settle controversies. You don't have control over the interpretation the divine revelation.

        A non-living magisterium is a sort of deism. God exists but what He does is defined and in the past. Rather than saying God stopped acting in human history at creation you say He stopped acting after the death of the last apostle or whenever. He didn't completely stop but he no longer does useful things like tell you which of the parties that claims to speak for Him actually does.

        • Doug Shaver

          He didn't completely stop but he no longer does useful things like tell you which of the parties that claims to speak for Him actually does.

          How very convenient for all those parties making those claims.

          • wiffle

            If you are to have true free will, you must decide for yourself who is right. I won't be able to tell how well any parenting I did worked until my children have grown and don't have me over their shoulder telling them what to do.

          • Doug Shaver

            I see no reason to think any of them is right.

        • Jim (hillclimber)

          Hi Randy. It might just be that way you said it, but I'd like to take you up on this point:

          You don't have control over the interpretation the divine revelation.

          Speaking as one who (like you) does greatly value magisterial teaching, and speaking as one who does think that Christianity would be immensely poorer without magisterial teaching, I must say nonetheless that I don't think it is ultimately possible for an individual Catholic to "give up control over the interpretation of divine revelation".

          For one thing, magisterial teaching itself requires substantial interpretation. The teachings are necessarily points of departure, rather than conclusions. Take any line from the Nicene Creed. What would it even mean to accept a line from the Creed as a conclusion? The Creed itself is just text, and text without context really has no meaningful implications for life. In order to understand the Creed (or any other magisterial teaching) in any meaningful way, I have to enter into the long complex history of interpretation, to say nothing of personal reflection and prayer. That journey to properly understand the context is (for me) always touched by uncertainty.

          One can sensibly cede official teaching authority to the magisterium, but we really cannot cede our uncertainty. Our uncertainty is a fundamental aspect of our relationship with God, a relationship that we were given, and are not meant to give up.

          I wonder if you would agree with this nuance?

          • Sure there is still interpretation. The point is that the living interpreter still speaks. That means any conclusion I have come to can be affirmed or denied quite explicitly. When you deal with scripture alone you can spin your exegesis any way you like without worrying God will send a new book of the bible condemning what you have done. All objections can be dismissed as simply human opinion.

      • Mark Neal

        One could only know that God established a living magisterium by having recourse to divine revelation. But, the reasons that various theologians have afforded...

        As you indicated in the original post, the task of theology is to examine the teaching of a living magisterium, not to substantiate the existence of it - that is the task of the philosopher, who draws upon the sciences of history and archaeology, among others. One can in fact know from these fields that God established such a magisterium, and indeed this must be done before divine revelation can be had recourse to.*

        You are, however, 100% correct in your basic assessment. Atheists primarily object, not to theology itself, but to the philosophical underpinnings of theology - otherwise they wouldn't be atheists! I think that oftentimes atheists and believers talk past one another because they are arguing about two different things.

        *Of course, as Randy stated, an Act of Faith of some sort will always be involved in accepting a magisterium's authority; reason alone can only get you so far.

        • Steven Dillon

          Ah, perhaps I was too ambiguous with my use of "living magisterium". In Catholicism at least, the living magisterium does not issue divine revelation, but rather interprets and defends that divine revelation which has been communicated. Thus, the teaching of the living magisterium is equivalent to the teaching of a theologian.

          As Vatican 2 said in Dei Verbum, "the task of authentically interpreting the word of God [aka divine revelation], whether written or handed on, has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church [aka the living magisterium], whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ. This teaching office is not above the word of God, but serves it, teaching only what has been handed on, listening to it devoutly, guarding it scrupulously and explaining it faithfully in accord with a divine commission and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it draws from this one deposit of faith everything which it presents for belief as divinely revealed."

          Incidentally, this provides non-Catholics with yet another way of testing the Church because it requires that every single dogma was revealed before the death of the last Apostle (roughly, ~100 C.E.), at which point the deposit from which the Church derives its dogmas ceased to acquire any new content.

          • Mark Neal

            ...it requires that every single dogma was revealed before the death of the last Apostle (roughly, ~100 C.E.)

            Yes, I believe that is correct. I don't remember where I read this, but I have heard it said that every dogma must be contained in Scripture - in some way, shape, or form.

            ...the teaching of the living magisterium is equivalent to the teaching of a theologian.

            Well, not quite. What you said about a theologian's teachings being merely his own opinions concerning revelation is reasonable enough. In that sense we are all theologians, because we all have opinions, but some have more expertise than others, as you said. I think that's a fair statement.

            But the living magisterium is a bit different. It is closer to a civil government than it is to the opinions of a group of individuals. In a way that is analogous to a secular nation, the Church's magisterium enacts laws and issues decrees that are binding on the people, and there is a recognized legal process through which this is done.

            Thus, the opinions of theologians can be compared to the opinions of citizens, but the magisterium would be analogous to whatever institution enacts the official laws of the nation. There is some overlap there, but they are not equivalent.

      • Steven Dillon Randy Gritter • a day ago

        This is a much more coherent statement than your OP.

        One could only know that God established a living magisterium by having recourse to divine revelation.

        Agreed.

        But, the reasons that various theologians have afforded for thinking that God established a living magisterium have not been good enough to persuade any sort of majority of theologians. As such, the reasons for thinking there is a living magisterium are not a good enough basis for one to know that there is.

        You are contradicting yourself.

        1. The theologians did not "afford" the reasons.

        2. They are a matter of divine revelation, as you have already said.

        3. The fact that some people do not believe these reasons do not reflect upon the intrinsic value of the reasons but upon the capacity of the individual to understand the mind of God.

        4. Scripture puts it like this:

        1 Corinthians 2:14 Now the natural person[a] does not accept what pertains to the Spirit of God, for to him it is foolishness, and he cannot understand it, because it is judged spiritually.

        Given that the Bible contains divine revelation and such, the most reasonable opinion available may be that there is such a magisterium. But, it will only be an opinion.

        Again, it is a fact revealed in Divine Revelation. It is not a matter of opinion.

        Magisterium means "Teacher".

        Matthew 28:19-20 New American Bible (Revised Edition) (NABRE)

        19 Go, therefore,[a] and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.[b] And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

    • David Nickol

      This is the reason God gives us a living magisterium. It is the reason why thee problems got worse when some Christians decided it was OK to reject the authority of said magisterium.

      I recently finished Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years, but it's quite a tome and difficult to summarize or quote from, so let me just use this one quote from Wikipedia:

      Pius IX [pope from 1846 to 1878] was the first pope to use the term “Magisterium” in the sense that it is understood today, and the concept of the “ordinary and universal Magisterium” was officially established during Vatican I.

      The concept of the magisterium, then, is quite a recent one. Of course, the Catholic Church long claimed great teaching authority in one way or another, but in my opinion, it is anachronistic to talk of even such late-occurring events as the Protestant Reformation as rejecting the "authority of the magisterium." And of course there were different branches of Christianity long before the Reformation.

      • Don't be confused by the word. The concept of a the magisterium goes way back. It means nothing more than the teaching of the church leadership. Try this:

        http://www.newmanreader.org/works/discourses/discourse10.html

        • David Nickol

          The piece by Newman you link to is a great example of the arrogance of Catholicism that Vatican II made an effort to tone down, if not abandon altogether. Any Protestants who read this piece would no doubt feel steam coming out of their ears, and justifiably so. Newman certainly can't be accused of ecumenism!

          The whole thing strikes me as wrongheaded. Equating the preaching of the Apostles in the first century to the teaching of the Church today (or in the nineteenth century, when Newman lived) is not credible. Of course, having been raised Catholic, I am aware of the idea of apostolic succession and the various justifications claimed for the Church being and authoritative teacher, but comparing the preaching of the apostles, who knew Jesus personally, to the bishops of the 21st century is comparing things that are very different. The apostles were preaching about the words and deeds of Jesus. The bishops today, in addition to that, or one might even say instead of that, are preaching two millennia of accumulated doctrine, most of which would no doubt baffle the apostles if one could go back in a time machine and attempt to explain it to them. It is one thing to have believed that Jesus was divine. It is another thing to believe a "technical" explanation of the Trinity and the "hypostatic union" devised centuries later. Exactly how the apostles (or Christians for centuries afterwards) regarded Eucharistic bread and wine I don't pretend to know, but they did not believe in "transubstantiation." Most of what the Church teaches about the "Seven Sacraments" was unheard of for the first thousand or more years after Jesus. We know that Thomas Aquinas did not believe in the Immaculate Conception, which is now dogma. And Cardinal Newman himself was very much opposed to the First Vatican Council declaring the infallibility of the pope.

          One of the problems of equating the apostles and today's bishops and the pope (the Magisterium) with Jesus and the apostles is that, according to the Church itself, revelation came to an end with the death of the last apostle. The apostles were saying what they had learned from Jesus. When the Magisterium of today declares something to be infallibly true (such as the Assumption or the Immaculate Conception) they are allegedly deducing it from Scripture and Tradition—two millennia after the fact!

          And Newman makes it sound as if there is total continuity from the apostles to the teaching of the Church today. In reality, beliefs among early Christians were quite diverse.

          • The whole thing strikes me as wrongheaded. Equating the preaching of the Apostles in the first century to the teaching of the Church today (or in the nineteenth century, when Newman lived) is not credible.

            That is the essence of apostolic succession. In a very important sense the Holy Spirit allows the bishops of today to speak with the same voice as the apostles. It is not what you would expect naturally as you point out. It is what the church needs and what the Holy Spirit provides.

            Bl John Henry Newman was beatified recently. He was quoted in the catechism. The church is in no way running away from his thinking. Vatican II does not deny apostolic succession.

            One of the problems of equating the apostles and today's bishops and the pope (the Magisterium) with Jesus and the apostles is that, according to the Church itself, revelation came to an end with the death of the last apostle.

            Actually they say the revelation of Jesus was complete. The death of the last apostle is not really that relevant. Jesus brought us the best revelation possible. Yet we are still processing it. We still struggle to understand it more deeply. The church guides us in this by affirming or denying our discernment. That way out missteps can be corrected and our true steps can be built on with confidence. It is like the acorn and the oak. One thing can grow and seem quite different over time but it is the same thing.

            And Newman makes it sound as if there is total continuity from the apostles to the teaching of the Church today. In reality, beliefs among early Christians were quite diverse.

            Beliefs of Christians can be diverse as they are today. Were the beliefs of the apostles and their successors that diverse? In the New Testament you have the apostles correcting false teaching quite often. It was there but the true teaching was recognized by its connection to the apostles. For example, St Paul's encounter with Jesus was recognized as legit because the apostles accepted it.

          • David Nickol

            That is the essence of apostolic succession. In a very important sense the Holy Spirit allows the bishops of today to speak with the same voice as the apostles.

            This is, of course, a matter of faith for Catholics, but why should anyone who is not a Catholic believe it? (In fact, why should a Catholic believe it?) Newman seems to define "real" faith as unquestioning acceptance of authority. If we had been alive to hear the apostles, and we believed what they said, we would have believed everything they said without questioning. It seems to me that the apostles were not defining doctrines, however. They were relating personal experiences. The apostles did not define the dogma of the resurrection of Jesus. They were telling their own personal experience of meeting the resurrected Jesus. However, when the Magisterium defines a dogma, it is (or they are) coming to an intellectual conclusion about a matter that cannot be empirically verified.

            Believing the Apostle Peter (or even Paul!) that he had an encounter with the risen Jesus seems to me quite a different matter than believing a solemn declaration of Pius IX that Mary was conceived without Original Sin or believing Pius XII that Mary was bodily assumed into heaven. (And what is particularly troubling about these two "infallible" papal pronouncements is that, first, exactly what they mean it is difficult to say, and second, the faithful did just fine for almost 2000 years without being "coerced" into accepting them, so it is difficult to understand why it was necessary to infallibly define them two millennia after they allegedly happened.)

          • David Nickol

            Can anyone give an example of a doctrine or dogma defined by an apostle?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            How about, "Christ is risen", paraphrased from Saint Paul?

            I know you are trying to distinguish above between personal experience and doctrine / dogma, but it's not clear to me that that is a valid distinction. To teach that an interpretation of my personal experience is relevant for others is to propose that interpretation as doctrine, is it not?

          • The reasons to believe it come from logic and history. Logically for Christianity to work it has to have unity and truth. Simply let everyone follow their own ideas does not give us this. The gospel gets lost is a sea of human opinion. We see that in the protestant world and many atheists point to this as a key reason they reject Christianity. They don't look closely enough at Catholicism to realize it has overcome this objection.

            Historically we see the Catholic church teaching one faith for many centuries crossing many cultures and many different sorts of believers. It has simply worked. Human effort could not do this. This is especially true when you look at how many Catholics have been corrupt or wrongheaded over the years. The unity around one faith is simply a miracle. Some have said it is a miracle of the devil. Yet that is not reasonable either. It is the hand of God.

            You seem to add the word "unquestioning" a lot. Not sure why. Newman thought it was good to question. It just was not good to doubt. He said 1000 difficulties do not make one doubt. That is 1000 questions of faith seeking understanding do not imply one moment of thinking the whole thing is a bunch of hogwash.

            The apostles did not just share eye witness testimony. They did that but many others did as well. The apostles taught. For example they decided Christians don't need to be circumcised. When they declared in Acts 15:28, "For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us ..."

          • David Nickol

            Logically for Christianity to work it has to have unity and truth.

            It seems to me you are taking Catholicism as the sole valid model of Christianity, claiming that Catholicism "works," and claiming the fact that it "works" is proof of its truth. But forms of Christianity other than Catholicism have been very successful and seem to "work."

            For example they decided Christians don't need to be circumcised. When they declared in Acts 15:28, "For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us ..."

            Yes, and they also taught that gentile converts to Christianity must refrain from consuming blood. When was the last time you had a nice, juicy steak? Are Catholics forbidden to eat blood sausage?

          • It seems to me you are taking Catholicism as the sole valid model of Christianity, claiming that Catholicism "works," and claiming the fact that it "works" is proof of its truth. But forms of Christianity other than Catholicism have been very successful and seem to "work."

            Actually they don't work. The problem of many thousands of different protestant teachings and no way to choose between them? That is a fatal flaw. It is unworkable.

            Yes, and they also taught that gentile converts to Christianity must refrain from consuming blood. When was the last time you had a nice, juicy steak? Are Catholics forbidden to eat blood sausage?

            It is a living magisterium. That teaching was clarified to only apply in certain contexts that no longer exist. Tradition grows with the church there to guide it.

          • David Nickol

            It is a living magisterium. That teaching was clarified to only apply in certain contexts that no longer exist.

            When was it clarified? By whom?

          • David Nickol

            Actually they don't work.

            Catholicism "works" but, say, Lutheranism doesn't? What about Eastern Orthodoxy?

            The problem of many thousands of different protestant teachings and no way to choose between them? That is a fatal flaw. It is unworkable.

            I dare say that if you were from some other branch of Christianity, you might well say that Catholicism doesn't "work." Catholicism may "work" for you, because you believe it is true. But for those who believe, for example, that the pope (or papacy) is the anti-Christ, surely Catholicism doesn't "work."

            One might wonder why anyone should imagine that definitive truth should be embodied in one institution, be it the Catholic Church or some other religion or philosophy. This does not appear to me to be the way things work in this life.

          • The truth has to be somewhere. We need to be able to figure out what it is. Protestantism requires you already know the truth or at least that you can tell the truth from a good lie when you hear it. That simply does not work. We are not capable of doing that.

            Once the truth is taught you can disbelieve or you can disobey. That does not mean it is unworkable. It just means you are free. As long as you can tell the true teaching from the false teaching then the rest is up to your choice.

            Catholicism lets you tell by who is teaching rather than by what is taught. That means I can be completely wrong in my intuitions about God and still get God's word. This is important because finite, sinful humans often get an infinite, holy God very wrong.

            Where do you think definitive truth should be? How should God communicate it? What would make sense to you?

          • "Exactly how the apostles (or Christians for centuries afterwards) regarded Eucharistic bread and wine I don't pretend to know, but they did not believe in 'transubstantiation.'"

            Hi David,

            My understanding is that there is very little historical information about the apostles outside of the New Testament. What evidence have you found that the apostles did not believe in transubstantiation? Obviously, the word "transubstantiation" would be foreign, but my understanding would be that they would have believed in it. They most certainly would not have used the very technical language that is used today within the Roman Catholic Church, but the underlying belief would have still been there.

            Thanks for your time, and happy new year :)

          • David Nickol

            What evidence have you found that the apostles did not believe in transubstantiation? Obviously, the word "transubstantiation" would be foreign, but my understanding would be that they would have believed in it.

            You're correct that there is little if any indication about what the apostles believed about "transubstantiation" or the "real presence" or exactly how Jesus was present when commemorated after the Ascension. But remember there are all kinds of ways the earliest followers of Jesus might have felt he was present. For example, Jesus said, "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). So it is perfectly possible the earliest Jewish Christians could have felt Jesus was present in some special way at eucharistic celebrations without believing that bread and wine were literally transformed into his body and blood.

            Here's a brief excerpt from Chapter VIII (Eucharist) from the original edition of Doors to the Sacred: A Historical Introduction to Sacraments in the Catholic Church:

            . . . Thus when these gospels were written (between A.D. 60 and 80) Greek-speaking Christians may already have begun to identify the bread and wine with the body and blood of Christ, but it is impossible to prove that Jesus and his Jewish followers ever did so. In fact it is historically more probable that they did not, for the drinking of blood was both culturally repulsive and religiously forbidden to the Jews (Leviticus 3:17; Acts 15:29). Moreover, Jews were familiar with the practice of eating symbolic foods at ritual meals such as the Passover supper, and it seems more likely that Jesus was simply extending this practice by giving the bread and wine a new meaning.

            When I say the apostles would have been baffled by the doctrine of transubstantiation, I mean the doctrine as formulated in the 12th century by Aquinas. It seems very likely that Doors to the Sacred is right that the apostles would not have believed drinking eucharistic wine was drinking blood. But I am not saying the apostles could not have believed that Jesus was present in some special way at eucharistic celebrations. The apostles and the Christians of the first several decades would have had eucharistic celebrations as part of real meals participated in at one another's houses. It was not until the third century that Christians began to build churches.

          • Oh, wow, this was such a thoughtful reply! Thanks so much. If I get to reading it, I will have to look at that book. I still want to keep studying theology, but it's going to be on the side. Left my religious order just a few days before Thanksgiving, so no more theology courses with the Carmelites. Take care and happy new year!

          • I'd have to disagree. St. Paul, a Pharisee of Pharisees, raised upon the knew of Gamaliel, seemed to have no problem understanding the Teaching literally. He said,

            1 Corinthians 10:16

            The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?

            And again:

            1 Corinthians 11:26-28Authorized (King James) Version (AKJV)

            26 For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come. 27 Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. 28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.

            And finally,

            Hebrews 10:29 of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?

            So, in my opinion, its evident from the Scriptures, that the entire Church had already understood the Doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist from Apostolic times.

      • jessej

        Irenaeus Against Heresies book lll chapter 3 and 4 came to mind reading your comment about the recent concept on the magistrium.

        I know you just finished a tome on the subject and this is quite short but maybe it will leave a you with a different impression.

        You are right, different forms of Christianity go way back. I'd say even the books of the New Testament let us know about these communities, but they seem to get crushed by the overpowering arguments of the fathers and never take root until political leaders join the fight.

        I don't know if it is of interest but I often wonder if Luther would have gone down the memory hole, like Arian, if Henry Vlll didn't turn into a homicidle nutburger with incredible power. It seems a lot of European potentates got similar ideas right after Henry.

        My guess is Henry caused what sociologists now refer to as “social contagion”

        • Arthur Jeffries

          Henry VIII was not the first statesman to break with Rome, and he and Luther hated each other.

          • jakael02

            Henry 8th was a living legend.

  • GCBill

    I am mostly in agreement here. Part of what determines the evidential requirements for establishing a claim is the strength with which it is made. A person claiming to be certain about X has an exponentially more difficult time than someone who merely wishes to claim probable knowledge about X. Interpretations of history rarely (if ever) meet the evidential threshold for certainty, however probable they may be. As a result, I don't see how the CC can base its infallible knowledge claims on one interpretation of one report of something Jesus said. Even if the Church is infallible given this interpretation, it's not clear to me that we should be certain of the interpreted statement itself. To claim otherwise would be to place more stock in this one article of history than in all others.

  • DebraBrunsberg

    Jesus gave His Church all it would need. All will be revealed to His Church in its proper time. His words alone are enough. Jesus said that those who hear His Apostles hear Him. The Church has handed that down since the beginning. There is no other Church. John 16: 7-15.

    "Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convince the world of sin and of righteousness and of judgment; of sin, because they do not believe in me; of righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no more; of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you."

    • David Nickol

      Few biblical scholars today, including Catholic biblical scholars, would conclude that Jesus said those words.

      • Vuyo

        who said them

        • David Nickol

          The author(s)/editor(s) of the Gospel of John. The following is from the introduction to the Gospel of John in the New American Bible:

          Other difficulties for any theory of eyewitness authorship of the gospel in its present form are presented by its highly developed theology and by certain elements of its literary style. For instance, some of the wondrous deeds of Jesus have been worked into highly effective dramatic scenes (Jn 9); there has been a careful attempt to have these followed by discourses that explain them (Jn 5; 6); and the sayings of Jesus have been woven into long discourses of a quasi-poetic form resembling the speeches of personified Wisdom in the Old Testament.

          Take a red-letter version of any New Testament translation and compare the sayings of Jesus in Matthew, Mark, and Luke to the sayings of Jesus in John. It does not take any sophisticated analysis to arrive at the conclusion that the words attributed to Jesus in John are quite different in style and content than the sayings of Jesus in the other three Gospels. This is not to say that the long discourses by Jesus in John are made up out of whole cloth. There are certainly echoes of known sayings of Jesus included in them, but they are generally taken to be theological meditations on who Jesus was based on John's knowledge of Jesus, as described in the boldfaced section in the quote I reproduce above.

    • Doug Shaver

      Jesus gave His Church all it would need.

      So says the church.

      Jesus said that those who hear His Apostles hear Him.

      I don't think he really said that. But assuming he did, I have no reason to believe apostles = Catholic Church.

      • Mark Neal

        Two questions:

        (1) Is there a reason why you don't think Jesus said that?

        (2) Assuming Christ did say that, if the Catholic Church is not the continuation of the Apostles, then who or what is?

        • Doug Shaver

          (1) Is there a reason why you don't think Jesus said that?

          Assuming that he existed, I don't think he intended either to start a new religion or to reinterpret his own religion beyond recognition.

          (2) Assuming he did say that, if the Catholic Church is not the continuation of the Apostles, then who or what is?

          I see no reason to assume any continuation was intended.

          On the assumption of scriptural inerrancy, I would say it was plausible that the Catholic Church inherited whatever authority Jesus gave to his disciples. But it's only plausible. I see nothing in the New Testament, considered in its entirety (as opposed to mere proof-texting), that would rule out any other interpretation.

          • Assuming that he existed, I don't think he intended either to start a new religion

            Those who claimed to be taught by Him claimed that He came to fulfill the Old Religion and begin a new one:

            Hebrews 8:12 For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more. 13 In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away.

            or to reinterpret his own religion beyond recognition.

            Hm? Most Jewish converts to Catholicism whom I've heard and read, say that the Catholic Church is remarkably like Judaism. They're surprised that we gather daily for prayer, that we pray the Psalms daily (i.e. the Liturgy of the hours), that we use incense and candles, that we offer sacrifice, etc. etc.

            With which form of Judaism are you familiar?

            I see no reason to assume any continuation was intended.

            The Apostles who were taught by Jesus Christ said that He commanded them to make disciples until the end of the world.

            Matthew 28:19-20Authorized (King James) Version (AKJV)

            19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: 20 teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

            That would strongly imply that Jesus intended for there to be continuation. On what basis do you claim that He did not intend any continuation?

            On the assumption of scriptural inerrancy, I would say it was plausible that the Catholic Church inherited whatever authority Jesus gave to his disciples. But it's only plausible. I see nothing in the New Testament, considered in its entirety (as opposed to mere proof-texting), that would rule out any other interpretation.

            The reason, it seems to me, that you rule out proof texting, is because you actually do see something in the New Testament which supports scriptural inerrancy and the authority of the Apostles.

            But even if you claim that you want to take the New Testament as a whole, the New Testament witnesses that Jesus Christ gave His Apostles tremendous miraculous abilities in order to show forth that He had passed on to them His authority and power and that the Apostles immediately began His ministry to heal and to pass on His Commands. That's not proof texting, it is throughout the whole New Testament. But correct me if I'm wrong.

          • Doug Shaver

            Those who claimed to be taught by Him claimed that He came to fulfill the Old Religion and begin a new one:

            You quoted Hebrews. The author of Hebrews didn't claim to have been taught anything by Jesus.

            Most Jewish converts to Catholicism whom I've heard and read, say that the Catholic Church is remarkably like Judaism. They're surprised that we gather daily for prayer, that we pray the Psalms daily (i.e. the Liturgy of the hours), that we use incense and candles, that we offer sacrifice, etc. etc.

            I intended the phrase "beyond recognition" as hyperbole.

            if the Catholic Church is not the continuation of the Apostles, then who or what is?

            I see no reason to assume any continuation was intended.

            The Apostles who were taught by Jesus Christ said that He commanded them to make disciples until the end of the world.

            I have no good reason to think any apostle wrote Matthew. And I do not assume that whoever wrote it would have equated discipleship with apostleship.

            But even if you claim that you want to take the New Testament as a whole, the New Testament witnesses that Jesus Christ gave His Apostles tremendous miraculous abilities

            As a whole, it does say that.

            in order to show forth that He had passed on to them His authority and power and that the Apostles immediately began His ministry to heal and to pass on His Commands. That's not proof texting, it is throughout the whole New Testament. But correct me if I'm wrong.

            That is your interpretation of what it says. I don't know how to prove an interpretation wrong, but I didn't say it was. All I said was that others are possible. I have seen no demonstration that none of the others is reasonable.

            Besides, the key phrase seems to be "pass on his commands." I see a vital distinction between (1) passing on Jesus' commands and (2) having authority to tell others what those commands meant or to require others to believe certain things about matters on which Jesus himself is not reported to have made any comment.

          • You quoted Hebrews. The author of Hebrews didn't claim to have been taught anything by Jesus.

            Based upon Sacred Tradition and the writings of the Early Church Fathers, I believe the author of Hebrews is St. Paul of Tarsus. And he said to the Galatians:

            Chapter 1:11 But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man.12 For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.

            I intended the phrase "beyond recognition" as hyperbole.

            Soooo...what? Are you admitting that in the Catholic Church, you do recognize the continuation of the Jewish religion?

            I have no good reason to think any apostle wrote Matthew.

            You don't. But I do. I have several, but I'll stick to these two.

            1. It is taught by the Catholic Church.

            2. It can be derived from the Scriptures.

            And I do not assume that whoever wrote it would have equated discipleship with apostleship.

            Are you saying that the Apostles of Christ are not also disciples of Christ? Or is there some specific complaint to something which St. Matthew said in Scripture?

            Or to something which we said. For instance, perhaps you've already noticed that I refer to St. Luke as an Apostle? Yet, technically, he is only a disciple of Jesus Christ. However, both terms are correct.

            So, please clarify what you mean.

            As a whole, it does say that.

            Is that an admission that we can produce prooftexts which prove the message of Scripture as a whole?

            That is your interpretation of what it says.

            Ok.

            I don't know how to prove an interpretation wrong,

            Do you have an opinion on how to prove an interpretation, reasonable?

            but I didn't say it was. All I said was that others are possible. I have seen no demonstration that none of the others is reasonable.

            Do you feel that you can have the competence to make a judgment on which is more reasonable to you?

            Besides, the key phrase seems to be "pass on his commands." I see a vital distinction between (1) passing on Jesus' commands and (2) having authority to tell others what those commands meant or to require others to believe certain things about matters on which Jesus himself is not reported to have made any comment.

            If we read the Bible piecemeal, taking each verse out of context of the overall message, then, that is the conclusion to which many have arrived.

            However, we (i.e. Catholics) find that the same author which says, "teach all nations (Matt 28:19-20)" also says that the Church has disciplinary authority and can cast out those members who do not accept her Teaching. (i.e. treat them as heathen, Matt 18:17). We also find that the early Church took the authority of the Church seriously (Gal 1:8).

            having authority to tell others what those commands meant or to require others to believe certain things about matters on which Jesus himself is not reported to have made any comment.

            I didn't make a mistake copying this part of your message twice. The authority to require her disciples to believe is discussed above. The authority to delve more deeply into the Teachings of Jesus Christ is discussed below. Jesus told the Church:

            JOHN 16:13 (KJ21)

            13 However when He, the Spirit of Truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth; for He shall not speak from Himself, but whatsoever He shall hear, that shall He speak; and He will show you things to come.

            Notice that the Holy Spirit is guiding the Church into "all" truth. That does not mean that Jesus didn't already mention it. But much of what Jesus mentioned was undeveloped. For instance, the Teaching of the Holy Trinity, was fleshed out by the Church many centuries later based upon the kernel of truth which Jesus Christ provided by His Teaching and by His very presence.

          • Doug Shaver

            I intended the phrase "beyond recognition" as hyperbole.

            Soooo...what? Are you admitting that in the Catholic Church, you do recognize the continuation of the Jewish religion?

            No, I'm not admitting that.

            Do you have an opinion on how to prove an interpretation, reasonable?

            I don't have an algorithm for it.

            Do you feel that you can have the competence to make a judgment on which is more reasonable to you?

            Reasonable to me? Yes, I think I'm competent to make that judgment.

            I do not assume that whoever wrote it would have equated discipleship with apostleship.

            Are you saying that the Apostles of Christ are not also disciples of Christ?

            The gospels say that the apostles were disciples. It does not follow that the authors thought all disciples were apostles.

            As a whole, it does say that.

            Is that an admission that we can produce prooftexts which prove the message of Scripture as a whole?

            You canprooftext anything. The specific problem with prooftexting is that it ignores the whole document to make a part of it say whatever the prooftexter wants to make the author seem to say.

            If we read the Bible piecemeal, taking each verse out of context of the overall message, then, that is the conclusion to which many have arrived.

            You're the one who offered that verse, piecemeal and without context, to prove a point. I merely noted that that verse, by itself, does not actually prove that point.

          • No, I'm not admitting that.

            So, why does it matter that you intended it as hyperbole?

            And, on what are you basing your opinion that the Catholic Church is not recognizable as the continuation of the Jewish religion? With which Jewish religion are you familiar?

            The gospels say that the apostles were disciples. It does not follow that the authors thought all disciples were apostles.

            Agreed. But who said that all disciples were apostles?

            You canprooftext anything. ....

            But we aren't talking about anything. We're talking about this one thing which you agreed:

            As a whole, it does say that.

            So, in order to show that this is true, do I need to produce the whole? Or can I simply show evidence that it is true by producing certain texts which show it more clearly?

            You're the one who offered that verse, piecemeal and without context, to prove a point. I merely noted that that verse, by itself, does not actually prove that point.

            I had a choice. Produce the entire bible and ask you to read it. Or offer a verse from the bible to prove that the Bible does indeed teach this lesson. Which do you think the more reasonable course?

          • Doug Shaver

            I had a choice. Produce the entire bible and ask you to read it. Or offer a verse from the bible to prove that the Bible does indeed teach this lesson.

            You apparently assume that I have not read it. The fact that I disagree with you about what it says is not evidence to the contrary.

          • You apparently assume that I have not read it.

            Not at all.

            The fact that I disagree with you about what it says is not evidence to the contrary.

            But you didn't disagree with me. You said:

            As a whole, it does say that.

            With reference to:

            ....the New Testament witnesses that Jesus Christ gave His Apostles tremendous miraculous abilities

            Which I had shown by the use of a prooftext.

            Matthew 28:19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: 20 teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

          • Doug Shaver

            But you didn't disagree with me.

            You've gotten me pretty confused now. I seem to recall disagreeing with you about something. What was it?

          • Lol! Everything else. But on this one point, you agreed.

            Sounds like it might be time to start another conversation.

  • Alexander

    more importantly, how do we know there is sin to be blinded by? One’s mere opinion on the matter does not a robust response make. ----- My response, Please just watch the news. I see a lot of sin, if you deny there is any sin, please seek professional help.

    • David Nickol

      My response, Please just watch the news. I see a lot of sin, if you deny there is any sin, please seek professional help.

      As I understood Steven Dillon, he was not in any way implying there was not evil in the world. He was saying that when, say, a Catholic theologian and a Protestant theologian disagree, they might each condemn the other for taking a "heretical"—and therefore sinful—position based on some kind of intellectual block or character flaw which was the result of sin. When the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox disagreed over the filioque clause—whether the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father alone, or proceeds from the Father and the Son—was it the result of intransigence and willful wrongheadedness on the part of the Orthodox, or was it the result of pride and arrogance on the part of the Catholic Church at pretending to know the "technical specs" for the Trinity and being so sure of themselves that the result was schism? Might it not have been better for both sides to say, "This is really a mystery beyond our grasp, and it makes no sense for either of us to take such a rigid position that we destroy our unity"?

    • Doug Shaver

      Sin is a theological concept. When I watch the news, I don't interpret what I see in theological terms.

  • Hi Steven, I read your post and skipped the introductory paragraphs, because you said:

    These and many other issues could prove to be fruitful grounds for discussion and debate. But, I’d like to steer this in the direction of another discussion starter: do Catholics know that their theology is correct?

    The quick answer is, "yes, we do."

    But you didn't do what you claimed you wanted to do. After you asked the question, you essentially claimed that Catholic Theologians could not know that their theology was true because there was so much debate and disagreement amongst Christians. You implied it throughout your message but said it most plainly here:

    Note, I’m neither saying it’s unreasonable to hold any theological belief, nor that Christianity enjoys no doctrinal unity whatsoever. By all means, hold those opinions which are reasonable for you to do so, and if the conciliar creeds prove anything, it’s that Christian factions are not at complete theological odds. But, experts in Christian theology are in anything but agreement, and evangelization is like a fish out of water when based on opinion.

    So, that's the gist I get from your message. That Catholics can't know that Catholic Theology is true.

    I beg to differ.

    First of all, it is a non-sequitur to say that one person can't know the truth because another person is debating about it. Just because non-Catholics debate about truth doesn't mean that devout Catholics can't know that the Teachings of the Catholic Church are true.

    2nd of all, if you wanted to steer the conversation to answer that question, you should have asked, "how do you know that your theology is true?"

    There are many reasons by which we know that Catholic Theology is true.

    First, we have authority. In every aspect of life, we turn to authorities in order to learn about that aspect. Scientists teach us about science, mathematicians teach us about math, etc. etc.

    2nd, we must trust that the authorities are giving us accurate information. For instance, I don't trust the science which "flat earthers" put forth. I don't believe it is accurate. So, if a flat earther tells me something, I check it out thoroughly before I accept it.

    In addition, when it comes to theology, I don't trust anyone but a Catholic. Because I have checked into many non-Christian religions and have found their theologies internally inconsistent, self contradicting and false overall.

    And I have found that non-Catholic Christian doctrines contradict Scripture whenever they contradict the Catholic Church.

    And I thoroughly trust Catholic Doctrine because I have found that all Catholic Doctrines are;

    a. consistent with each other and consistently taught throughout history.

    In other words, they don't contradict themselves now nor have ever in the past and have been taught the same from the time of Christ.

    b. logical in that they are reasonable and understandable.

    c. good. They produce good results if observed and put into practice.

    d. verifiable. We have a trail of evidence from today all the way back to the Early Church, teaching the same thing. We have a trail of evidence showing the good fruits that resulted from the observance of these teachings. And, we can compare the doctrines, one to the other and see that they don't contradict.

    So, yes, we can know that Catholic Doctrine is true.

    • Steven Dillon

      I've been careful not to say that one person doesn't know something just because others are debating about it. If that were a fair summary of my position, it wouldn't much matter who or how many were doing the disagreeing, but it most definitely does for my argument.

      The 'widespread' disagreement of 'experts' within their field matters because it tells us that our best means of coming to truth has led us in contradictory directions, and in the hands of those who are best equipped to get to the truth of the matter no less. The inference from the fact that the means experts have employed is unreliable to the conclusion that it's not reliable enough to endow one with knowledge is no non-sequitur.

      As far as the reasons you've presented for endorsing Catholicism, however good they may in fact be, they simply have not managed to convince any sort of majority of those best equipped to assess their strength. To count them as knowledge-endowing regardless would lower the standards of knowledge so low as to collapse knowledge and opinion.

      • wiffle

        Let me see if I can give you some observations that don't completely fall into an appeal to an authority, which is completely his argument.

      • Steven Dillon De Maria • 20 hours ago

        I've been careful not to say that one person doesn't know something just because others are debating about it. If that were a fair summary of my position, it wouldn't much matter who or how many were doing the disagreeing, but it most definitely does for my argument.

        The 'widespread' disagreement of 'experts' within their field matters

        It matters to you. But not to those of us who believe that the Catholic Church teaches the Truth.

        because it tells us that our best means of coming to truth has led us in contradictory directions,

        That's what it tells you. But, we believe the Catholic Church is the best means of coming to Truth since She is guided by the Holy Spirit.

        and in the hands of those who are best equipped to get to the truth of the matter no less. The inference from the fact that the means experts have employed is unreliable to the conclusion that it's not reliable enough to endow one with knowledge is no non-sequitur.

        You're still functioning under the assumption that Catholics don't believe their own Theology. We do.

        As far as the reasons you've presented for endorsing Catholicism, however good they may in fact be, they simply have not managed to convince any sort of majority of those best equipped to assess their strength.

        Truth is not up for a vote. Truth is true whether anyone believes it or not.

        To count them as knowledge-endowing regardless would lower the standards of knowledge so low as to collapse knowledge and opinion.

        It sounds as though you already have an opinion on the matter. Catholic Doctrine is certainly knowledge endowing to anyone who is willing to study the Word of God in accordance with her Teachings. The proof is in the number of great Philosophers and Saints which have been produced by the Catholic Church through the centuries.

    • wiffle

      Friend, your arguments, almost all of them, are appeals to authority. Catholics clearly respect authority - it is in fact a compelling argument for Catholics. But you will not sway a non-believer with them.

      • wiffle De Maria • 15 hours ago

        Friend, your arguments, almost all of them, are appeals to authority. Catholics clearly respect authority - it is in fact a compelling argument for Catholics. But you will not sway a non-believer with them.

        I was a non believer. And I was swayed by those arguments. The existence of a central authority which has existed for over 2000 years is compelling to any reasonable person when added to the other arguments.

  • wiffle

    "Are they so reasonable as to count as knowledge?"

    Yes, they are. I was raised as a "relaxed' Catholic, was agnostic for many years, and came back to the Church. When I came back I was in fact Catholic in view.

    So let's start here:

    "The extraordinary magisterium decreed – through the 15th century Council of Florence – that whoever dies in the state of original sin alone goes to hell. But, no one can die in the state of original sin alone if, as the universal and ordinary magisterium currently teaches, God gives everyone the grace necessary to be saved; for the acceptance of this grace moves original sin and its rejection adds mortal or venial sin."

    First, we need some term definitions. Hell is not a place with fire and brimstone. It is a much more nebulous concept of being away from God. Dante and many others only offer analogies for it. It's possible to be on hell on Earth and I'd argue, unfortunately, that my Mother is living it in her own way.

    Second, you have to believe in the concept of original sin. On my third toddler, I will tell you that original sin is real. :) Our animal state of ego and self-interest pulls us away from God. We need these as tools to survive Earth but if we are to grow into something bigger, worthy of God's presence, we must get out of our state of original sin.

    Thus, our 15th Century observers are correct. If you are in a state of original sin,(ie never grow beyond self interest and into something greater) you automatically go to hell. I can say, unfortunately, in dealings with my Mother over the decades, it's appears it's less a Catholic "rule" than a simple observation of the world around us.

    Now, to the second part. It seems you've skipped right over "for the acceptance of this grace". Through Grace God gives everyone the tools to save themselves from original sin, regardless of religion or Baptism. However, people have free will. They must accept the grace given to them. If they reject it, there is no way to wash away the sin.

    In other words, there is no conflict whatsoever in the two statements. If you reject God's grace (the tools given by God to better yourself), you will remain in original sin and go to hell or perhaps, more correctly, stay there. :(

  • Jim (hillclimber)

    Steve - thanks for opening up what I think will be a productive line of discussion.

    I am a little bit unclear on how you are using the word "knowledge" though. If, for whatever reasons (be they external / objective, interior / subjective, or some mix), I hold a certain opinion so strongly that I am willing to commit to live my life as if that opinion is true, would I be correct in saying that I "know" that this way of living is correct, at least for me?

    • David Nickol

      The problem here, as I see it, is that most philosophers would require that for something a person believes to be considered knowledge, it would have to be true. A child may "know" that Santa Claus lives at the North Pole and brings presents at Christmas, but his or her parents know that Santa Claus is not an actual person.

      . . . . would I be correct in saying that I "know" that this way of living is correct, at least for me?

      I think you are confusing the issue a bit by talking about "ways of living" being "correct." That seems to me in the realm of personal opinion or personal preference. It is a stretch to call that kind of "knowing" theological knowledge. The questions for Catholics are matters like, "Do you know Jesus was God incarnate?" and "Do you know that the Catholic Church is the only entity that faithfully continues the earthly mission of Jesus?"

      If you "know" that Jesus was the promised Messiah, and a Jew "knows" that the promised Messiah has not yet come, it is impossible for both of you to have something that would reasonably be called "knowledge." At least one of you must be wrong, and possibly you both are. It cannot be true for you that Jesus was the Messiah, and true for Jews that Jesus was not the Messiah. That is relativism.

      • Jim (hillclimber)

        I think you are confusing the issue a bit by talking about "ways of living" being "correct."

        Fair enough, but I think that you are confusing the issue by trying to keep those two things separate ;-)

        The questions for Catholics are matters like, "Do you know Jesus was God incarnate?" and "Do you know that the Catholic Church is the only entity that faithfully continues the earthly mission of Jesus?"

        Yes, but the answer to those questions is a way of living, not merely a cognitive response.

        If you "know" that Jesus was the promised Messiah, and a Jew "knows" that the promised Messiah has not yet come, it is impossible for both of you to have something that would reasonably be called "knowledge."

        That's true in an absolute sense. Assuming we mean the same thing by "Jesus", "messiah", "not yet come", etc. (this common understanding is a BIG assumption), then it is true that at least one of us must be wrong. However, I'm not sure that we need to hold "knowledge" hostage to such all-or-nothing demands. Because we may differ either subtly or very fundamentally in our hermeneutics, it is at least theoretically possible that we are both mostly right, even our verbalized understandings of the truth reduce to mutually incompatible statements.

        This is very much the sort of thing that I was hoping to get at: if "knowledge" means "justified belief that is 100% correct", then I think we are probably stuck in a position that none of us has any knowledge at all. So, could we perhaps say that "knowledge" is "justified belief that is mostly correct"?

        • wiffle

          "So, could we perhaps say that "knowledge" is "justified belief that is mostly correct"?"

          We could say we're all thinking too darn much. :)

          Yes, there is one truth. (<--An assumption, but it seems to work.) No, no one person will ever know or entirely understand that truth is because our perceptions are limited and we are flawed. Seek the truth, do your best, and leave it at that.

          Endlessly debating terms leads to nothing. A pleasant waste of time, perhaps, but all it can do in the end is stroke the ego.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I'm so glad to hear that there is no further need to discuss the meaning of words. Since you enjoy this ego-free commitment to plain speaking, could I ask you to render a final verdict on what the word "knowledge" does in fact mean?

        • David Nickol

          Yes, but the answer to those questions is a way of living, not merely a cognitive response.

          As someone who went to Catholic school in the 1950s and early 1960s, to me the truth (or falsity) of the claim that Jesus was God incarnate can be dealt with separately from how one lives ones life one concludes that Jesus was indeed God incarnate. (I would think that the "Strange Notion Catholics" would agree with that.) For Catholics, the Incarnation was and is a fact, no matter how few or how many people realize that fact, and no matter what kind of lives they lead based on that realization.

          That's true in an absolute sense. Assuming we mean the same thing by "Jesus", "messiah", "not yet come", etc. (this common understanding is a BIG assumption), then it is true that at least one of us must be wrong.

          And my understanding of Catholicism is that it believes truth can be known "in an absolute sense." Either God is Triune or he is not. Either Jesus is the Second Person of the Trinity or he is not. And this, according to Catholicism, can be known—and with certainty, too. Even the major shift in the Catholic Church's attitude toward Judaism that has taken place in my lifetime has not withdrawn any of the "facts" about the Messiahship of Jesus and the failure of the Jews to acknowledge him.

          I am sympathetic to what it seems to me you are attempting to do, which is to take what traditionally have been brute facts asserted by the Church and interpret them more as symbolic or allegorical truths. But I think that is far too "liberal" for the "Strange Notions Catholics" or the "Catholic Answers Catholics" or "National Catholic Register Catholics" or "Jimmy Akin Catholics."

          So, could we perhaps say that "knowledge" is "justified belief that is mostly correct"?

          I don't think I want to venture my own definition of knowledge, but it seems to me that knowledge is a meaningless concept if you weaken too much the requirement that it be true. To return to the point I made above, it seems to me fundamental to Catholicism that there is objective truth that may be known.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            As someone who went to Catholic school in the 1950s and early 1960s, to me the truth (or falsity) of the claim that Jesus was God incarnate can be dealt with separately from how one lives ones life one concludes that Jesus was indeed God incarnate.

            Those credentials count for something in my book, but I don't know that they put you in a position to answer the question definitively. I will just say that it in my experience it was necessary to try living as if Jesus was the Word of God in order to determine whether that was indeed the case.

            And my understanding of Catholicism is that it believes truth can be known "in an absolute sense."

            I have seen posts and comments here that strongly suggest this, and I know there is a teaching that says this is a theoretical possibility, but I fail to see how anyone can be certain that he has achieved this knowledge in practice, unless he is willing to deny that he is compromised by original sin. Our current pontiff seems to think about uncertainty in much the same way that I do, as reflected by his remarks on the topic in the America magazine interview with him.

            I am sympathetic to what it seems to me you are attempting to do, which is to take what traditionally have been brute facts asserted by the Church and interpret them more as symbolic or allegorical truths.

            I'm not sure what you think I am trying to allegorize. I do my best to understand doctrinal statements in the proper historical context in which they were made. That includes, for example, all the subtleties of what the word "messiah" would have entailed in Second Temple Judaism. That is not a matter of allegorizing. That is just a matter of acknowledging subtlety and ambiguity.

            But I think that is far too "liberal" for the "Strange Notions Catholics" or the "Catholic Answers Catholics" or "National Catholic Register Catholics" or "Jimmy Akin Catholics."

            I don't see how this is relevant. You and I are both allowed to comment here. Let's just speak to each other as individuals. If you think that I am saying something that is at odds with official Church teaching, by all means, let me know. But I can't see how the unofficial opinions of other individual Catholics are relevant to the exchange that you and I are having.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Either God is Triune or he is not. Either Jesus is the Second Person of the Trinity or he is not.

            I think this sort of mathematical intolerance of ambiguity fails to respect the nuance and polyvalent nature of all human language, most especially theological language. I understand that language is not infinitely malleable, but neither is most meaningful language reducible to crystalline mathematical formalization. This is true whether the theological language intends to relate history, rational reflection, mystical experience, or whatever else.

            The sort of ambiguity that we all should be prepared to deal with is nicely suggested by Jewish scholar Paul Frederiksen's comment that "ancient monotheists [ including Shema-reciting monotheists] were polytheists". We have to try to get to the meaning underneath the words. To me, that means that we need to acknowledge and tolerate a degree of ambiguity, even while allowing our discomfort with ambiguity to drive us to deeper levels of understanding.

            In the meantime, I would like to propose that one can meaningfully claim to have "knowledge", even if that "knowledge" is not completely devoid of ambiguity or uncertainty.

    • Steven Dillon

      Hey Jim, good question. I suspect Catholics and atheists will largely agree on what knowledge consists in. I've shyed away from endorsing any particular epistemology, but I think what I've said holds across the board. Describing knowledge as justified, true belief seems to be a good conversation starter. But, I'd love to see some debate on this, such as whether knowledge is a species of belief, etc.

      • Jim (hillclimber)

        I agree that "justified true belief" is likely to be an acceptable conversation starter.

        I would expect departures in thinking to occur almost immediately after that starting point, since I think it is generally very unlikely that "justified" will mean the same thing to an atheist as it means to a Catholic. For example, I would consider all of the following to be valid sources of justification: ethical intuition, aesthetic intuition, visceral intuition, hearsay, written tradition, common sense, mystical experiences, experimental verification, mathematical coherence ( <-- not an exhaustive list). I'm not sure that everyone subscribes to that same understanding of justification.

      • wiffle

        "knowledge is a species of belief"?? What?? At what point do you start to drown in meaningless words? What's the point of such a debate? Attempting to figure out how many angels will fit on a pinhead has about the same relevance.

        • David Nickol

          I don't get the objection. It seems to me knowledge must be a species of belief. According to Wikipedia:

          The classical definition, described but not ultimately endorsed by Plato, specifies that a statement must meet three criteria in order to be considered knowledge: it must be justified, true, and believed.

          A justified, true belief is knowledge. Other beliefs are not knowledge. So knowledge is a species of belief.

  • Before asking whether theology can be correct, in the sense that it is conclusive and undebatable, one would do well to ask whether any science can be correct in this sense. All sciences work with hard data, whether that be observations, experimentation, or testimony, and do the work of analyzing that data. The data itself could be called correct, or conclusive, but the assertions deduced from that data can only be called authoritative, in a smaller or greater degree, in that they make the most sense and are the most logical.

    In most circumstances, science yields to the most authoritative opinion, like those of gravity or evolution, but in certain cases, opinions are debatable like those concerning cosmology or neuroscience. History, economics, psychology, or any other science related to human activity are rife with debate, but that does not make the associated data incorrect or debatable; it simply indicates complexity. Things like mathematics or certain physical sciences perhaps suffer less from this due to less unaccountable variables. Does this mean everything except raw data is a mere matter of opinion? No, because all theories can be tested through the application of reason.

    Like any other science, theology gains its authority through a rigorous logical treatment of data which consists of divine revelation. Theology interprets scripture and tradition just like physics interprets energy and matter, history interprets past events, or biology interprets living organisms. These interpretations utilize multiple sciences (history, linguistics, philosophy, and even physics and biology) to draw the most rational and valid conclusions. The synthesis of so many different disciplines makes theology the queen of all the sciences.

    Therefore, it's wrong to say Catholic theology only draws its authority from sacred scripture, when Christ gives Peter the keys to the Kingdom. In that case, citing that one verse of Scripture would act as a carte blanche for any conclusion, however silly. Rather, all theological assertions must be subjected to the Truth in its totality. If it does not hold, it does not have authority; if it does, it becomes dogma. Of course, it helps to trust the data (faith) and acknowledge the reality of truth (reason).

    • David Nickol

      Theology interprets scripture and tradition just like physics interprets energy and matter, history interprets past events, or biology interprets living organisms. These interpretations utilize multiple sciences (history, linguistics, philosophy, and even physics and biology) to draw the most rational and valid conclusions. The synthesis of so many different disciplines makes theology the queen of all the sciences.

      To borrow (without attribution!) a concept from a book I am currently reading, the scientific method has been devised so that scientists can form theories and prod nature through experiment so nature can "talk back." Science is therefore in a sort of dialogue with nature, and nature can say to scientists, "No, you're wrong." This is simply not true of theology. Scripture and tradition cannot "talk back" and say, "No, your interpretation is wrong." And although it might seem that God could say to theologians, "No, you're wrong," it seems clear to me that he doesn't!

      Like any other science, theology gains its authority through a rigorous logical treatment of data which consists of divine revelation.

      In the High Middle Ages (11th-13th centuries), theology was considered a science, but the definition of "sciences" has changed over the past thousand years! It no longer makes sense to call theology the queen of the sciences.

      • Jim (hillclimber)

        This is simply not true of theology. Scripture and tradition cannot "talk back" and say, "No, your interpretation is wrong."

        The evolving tradition itself IS the process of "talking back". For example, in response to the long-standing proposal that Mary be dogmatically referred to as "Co-redemptrix" of creation, then-Cardinal Ratzinger summarized theological investigation of the issue by saying that there was not sufficient scriptural or patristic guidance to support that language.

        In this sense, scripture and tradition (mediated by Ratzinger's comment) "spoke back" to those inclined to use "co-redemptrix" language. In my understanding, the official response can be paraphrased as: "It's not clear that you are entirely wrong to use such language, but you have to do so 'at your own risk' -- i.e. we cannot support this dogmatically -- because 'co-redemptrix' language may easily generate and perpetuate misunderstandings."

  • I think it is very important to distinguish theology from other pursuits such as history, or science. Theology assumes the deity exists. History and science do not, if properly applied.

    I think this should be borne in mind when we have arguments about philosophy, history and science from people trained primarily as theologians.

  • I do not ink Steven has given us any reason here to think that Catholics have any better way to trust their theological conclusions than any other religion. He seems to have just stated that there is huge disagreement, but that they try to be reasonable. I would think most do.

    The question is, does any theological approach have a way to check itself objectively?

  • Mark Neal

    The extraordinary magisterium decreed ... that whoever dies in the state of original sin alone goes to hell. But, no one can die in the state of original sin alone if ... God gives everyone the grace necessary to be saved; for the acceptance of this grace removes original sin and its rejection adds mortal or venial sin. Which infallible magisterium is right?

    A quick comment: the first declaration doesn't say that people actually do die in the state of original sin alone; it merely says that going to hell would be the result if it hypothetically did happen. The two statements do not contradict each other.

    • Steven Dillon

      The Church did not use the subjunctive, but the indicative. As such, it wasn't saying what would happen if someone were to die with original sin alone, but rather what does in fact happen if someone dies with original sin alone. The problem is that this hypothetical could only be true if it's possible for someone to die with original sin alone. But, it's not. At least, according to the current universal and ordinary magisterium, which teaches that because of who God essentially is, nobody dies without accepting God (thus removing original sin) or rejecting him (thus adding to it).

  • Daniel Saliba

    I will wait for Brandon Vogt to respond to the main point of the article, however I am compelled to respond to one point that is made:

    "the Vatican Council of 1870 claimed that through the words attributed to him in Matthew 16:18-19, Jesus promised to confer a primacy of jurisdiction over the whole Church upon Peter. But, an atheist can use what tools scholarship affords us to test how plausible this interpretation is. E.g. Had these words been understood by the earliest Christians to be of such ecclesiological importance, wouldn’t they have been multiply and independently attested? Given his explicitly stated purpose of recording such details, how could Luke have failed to even mention this, especially since he records a parallel version of this very event in Luke 9:18-20?"

    Three problems with this line of reasoning:

    1. Apart from Matthew, it is not only Luke who mentions the same episode, but Mark also (Mk 8:29). Assuming Marcan Priority, it is not unreasonable to suppose that Matthew is using unique material for vv. 17-19. A number of scholars have commented on this. The commentary by Davies and Allison, perhaps the most comprehensive commentary on Matthew in recent decade concludes that vv. 17-19 are a result of a conflation of two accounts of the same incident, the shorter being Mark's account. According to them the idea that it was simply a composition by Matthew is "the least probable" explanation. They are far from conservative scholars.

    The fallacy here is a lack of a acknowledgement of unique strands of tradition in the various earliest Christian communities. The logic that because "only Matthew mentions it therefore it must not have been all that important" doesn't work when you come to understand the complexities. By tradition I don't mean the way people often characterize them as "chinese whispers." I mean traditions preserved and written by people who were and who knew the earliest witnesses. I am happy to defend this last point.

    2. While Matt 16:17-19 is only in Matthew, both the New Testament and the earliest Church Fathers (Clement, Ignatius, Irenaeus etc...) clearly held a special position of primacy to Peter. For instance Luke 22:32 (only in Luke), John 21:17 (only in John). I could go on, the point is, the common tradition of the early Church was unanimous.

    3. Of course, the earliest Christians did not regard Matt 16:17-19 as suggesting Papal infallibility any more than they regarded Luke 1:28 as a full blown teaching on the Immaculate Conception. The doctrine itself is a development from the historic role of the Bishop of Rome in the Universal Church. Can Matt 16:17-19 be used to support Papal Infallability? yes it can, and it was as you pointed out, just as Luke 1:28 can be used to support the Immaculate Conception. However, the Church does not use them as "proof texts" so to speak. I have no problem with the idea that the Holy Spirit can and does illumine the Churches understanding of scripture more and more throughout her history. Their are many factors that are taken in to consideration before defining a dogma, including the historical interpretation of texts by theologians and the development of the tradition surrounding the doctrine itself. So I would be very surprised if the earliest christians saw these verses "to be of such ecclesiological importance" as to explicitly and clearly teach Papal infallibility.

    • Steven Dillon

      1. These points concern whether or not Jesus said the words attributed to him in the Matthean texts. But, the issue is not whether Jesus said these words, it's what he meant by them.

      2. As indicated, the concern is whether or not the Catholic Church's official interpretation of Matthew 16: 18-19 is correct, not whether Peter held a position of primacy, or whether the Church Fathers thought he did.

      3. Had Jesus meant to promise universal authority to Peter through the words Matthew attributes to him, the earliest Christians would have understood these words to bear ecclesiological importance, whether that understanding was primitive and ambiguous or advanced and articulate.

      • Daniel Saliba

        1. I agree, the main issue does not concern what is written but what is meant. However, I do think a discussion of authenticity was necessary as this same argument; that there is lack of multiple attestation, is often used to discredit the authenticity of a number of biblical texts.

        2. The way primacy was exercised at Vatican I was different to the way it was exercised in the first centuries of the Church. Benedict XVI said as much when he stated: "Rome cannot demand from the East regarding the primacy issue more than what has been expressed and applied during the first millennium." We cannot therefore expect the Christians of the first century to have put as much emphasis on texts pertaining to papal primacy as texts from Vatican I. This was my point in mentioning Papal infallibility at Vatican I.

        3. Refer to my second point.

  • jakael02

    I enjoyed reading this, good article.