Wednesday, May 26, 2010

More Problems: Tradition and Catholicism

A man who has been far too kind to a fool like me, sent me an article quoting the great theologian and priest Luigi Giussani, who advocates that the way we encounter Christ nowadays, is through the Catholic Church of today, it is the way we truly, really, and objectively encounter the witness to Christ.

My problem with the argument, is that the Scriptures, Fathers, and history also attest to Christ, and in general, anytime I want to know about someone lived on earth long ago, I go to the most contemporary sources. Luckily for me, there exist the witness to Christ and God's actions in history, preserved by the Catholic and Orthodox Churches throughout time and space in Scripture and the patristic tradition.

The Council of Trent argues that no interpretation of Scripture should be made without the consensus of the fathers or the appeal to Tradition. Indeed it said that the deposit of faith was given in written scripture and unwritten traditions and passed onto us. ...And yet after that controversial meeting, as Ultramontanism strengthened and the first Vatican council was about to be called, there was a shift in the Catholic Tradition.

The former Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, and convert alongside Cardinal Newman, Henry Manning:

"But the appeal to antiquity is both a treason and a heresy. It is a treason because it rejects the Divine voice of the Church at this hour, and a heresy because it denies that voice to be Divine. How can we know what antiquity was except through the Church?...I may say in strict truth that the Church has no antiquity. It rests upon its own supernatural and perpetual consciousness. . . . The only Divine evidence to us of what was primitive is the witness and voice of the Church at this hour" - Henry Cardinal Manning "The temporal mission of the Holy Ghost"

Manning also writes: "the annunciation of the faith by the living Church of this hour is the maximum evidence, both natural and supernatural, as to the fact and contents of the original revelation. I know what are revealed there not by retrospect, but by listening" - 214

read for yourself :

It's very disturbing.

He says that before facts and history existed the faith existed and was taught. Thus because the Catholic Church now teaches Papal Infallibility, history, antiquity, the fathers, do not matter, because they are of necessity not true if they contradict the first truth, which is Papal Infallibility.

So there is no point in historically verifying it with Scripture or Tradition, it just is. In fact, to investigate is to negate faith.

... Such Traditionalism is not common after Vatican II which advocated EXACTLY what Manning is saying, but the fact is, even in the post-conciliar 'lights' you find the same problem:

"In every age the consensus of the faithful, still more the agreement of those who are commissioned to teach them, has been regarded as a guarantee of truth: not because of some mystique of universal suffrage, but because of the Gospel principle that unanimity and fellowship in Christian matters requires, and also indicates, the intervention of the Holy Spirit. From the time when the patristic argument first began to be used in dogmatic controversies — it first appeared in the second century and gained general currency in the fourth — theologians have tried to establish agreement among qualified witnesses of the faith, and have tried to prove from this agreement that such was in fact the Church’s belief...Unanimous patristic consent as a reliable locus theologicus is classical in Catholic theology; it has often been declared such by the magisterium and its value in scriptural interpretation has been especially stressed. Application of the principle is difficult, at least at a certain level. In regard to individual texts of Scripture total patristic consensus is rare. In fact, a complete consensus is unnecessary: quite often, that which is appealed to as sufficient for dogmatic points does not go beyond what is encountered in the interpretation of many texts. But it does sometimes happen that some Fathers understood a passage in a way which does not agree with later Church teaching. One example: the interpretation of Peter’s confession in Matthew 16:16-18. Except at Rome, this passage was not applied by the Fathers to the papal primacy; they worked out an exegesis at the level of their own ecclesiological thought, more anthropological and spiritual than juridical. This instance, selected from a number of similar ones, shows first that the Fathers cannot be isolated from the Church and its life. They are great, but the Church surpasses them in age, as also by the breadth and richness of its experience. It is the Church, not the Fathers, the consensus of the Church in submission to its Saviour which is the sufficient rule of our Christianity." - Yves Congar O.P. "Tradition and Traditions"

This is the issue. Not that Rome claims Scripture and Tradition as authoritative, but that rather, there is a 'secret tradition' that only the Magesterium knows, by which they interpret Scripture. So even though the majority of fathers deny Mt 16:18 being about Peter personally, or some successor of his, and even though no doctrine exists of Papal Primacy in Church Tradition, the fact that the Magesterium decided in 1870 that it is infallibly true, means that Tradition, the Fathers, and History must adjust accordingly.

This to me is a contradiction within the Catholic Tradition, which claims to be dogmatically immaculate. The entire argument of St. Irenaeus and the patristic proponents of Apostolic Succession was the exact opposite. That unlike the Gnostics, the churches claiming to be Catholic actually had a public Tradition which was clear as day for all to see. The idea that dogma 'develops' is a theory of Cardinal Newman's which has NEVER been accepted as Catholic Dogma. If dogma does develop then this implies progressive revelation, which is in contradiction to both the Catholic Catechism, and the orthodox Christian understanding of the Incarnation of Christ.

This is my problem, Rome has an un-catholic understanding of Catholicism, and has contradicted itself. It reminds me of the argument Stephen Colbert had where he said: The U.S does not torture. But it does waterboard. But waterboarding has been considered torture. But because the U.S waterboards, waterboarding isn't torture. It's the same with Papal Primacy.

Hans Urs Von Balthasar does a great job proving Papal Primacy from Scripture and Reason, but this is in contradiction to the Catholic method. Interestingly enough, only by using the principle of Sola Scriptura, is the doctrine of Papal Primacy and Infallibility plausible... but once one accepts this principle, one has ceased to be Catholic.


  1. Andrew - here's a contemporary document for you: how did the disciples meet Jesus? Is the same method possible today? Do you want to know about someone or to know someone?

    The next day John was there again with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he said, "Behold, the Lamb of God."

    The two disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following him and said to them, "What are you looking for?"

    They said to him, "Rabbi" (which translated means Teacher), "where are you staying?" He said to them,"Come, and you will see."

    So they went and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day. It was about four in the afternoon. Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, was one of the two who heard John and followed Jesus. He first found his own brother Simon and told him, "We have found the Messiah"

  2. I would love to meet Jesus, but how do I know that the Jesus taught by the Catholic Church is the true Jesus. The Orthodox Church teaches that he sent out all disciples as equals with no head but himself. The Catholic Church claims that Jesus can be known only by those who commune with the Bishop of Rome.

    I am not saying the Church is not a place where Jesus can be encountered, just like I'm not saying the Eucharist is a place where Jesus can be encountered.

    I'm just saying that God does not dwell in a building made by human hands (Acts 7:48), indeed has ascended and will eventually return the same way (Acts 1:11), and as Christ said before he died "If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father" (Jn 14:28). The fact of the matter is that Christ is gone, he is with us by his Holy Spirit, and he said it would be better if he left us so that the Spirit would come.

    As St. Paul writes, as Christians "we live by faith not by sight" (2 Cor 5:7). I wish I could just follow Jesus and see him - it would be much easier than all this journeying.

    But he left his Word as a testimony to himself, which will "never pass away" (Mt. 24:35), and he said we will be his disciples if we remain in his word (Jn 8:31-32), then we will know the truth, and the truth will make us free.

    I understand the encounter with Christ in the sacraments, and the visibility of his church, but I just have ceased to think it is historical or catholic to say that his church only exists properly in the (Roman) Catholic communion.

    I'm terribly sorry. You've done so much for me, and I have given you only disappointment. I wish there was a way I could be true to my feelings and mind, and remain in your church.

    But I can only find grace and freedom in completely trusting in Christ's righteousness alone for my salvation, for no one living will be justified in his sight (Ps. 143:2).

    May God save me, miserable sinner though I am.

  3. Andrew, I've posted some questions for you here:

  4. At the risk of sounding snarky . . .

    Reformed Pastor Jason Stellman just posted an article on Protestant/RC apologetics here:

    What I find interesting is that RC blogger Devin Rose comments under the post offering the same sort of persuasion Fred attempts above, an existential encounter with/through the RC Magisterium. Rose writes:

    "I used private judgment (again, hopefully led by God's grace) to decide that the Catholic Church had the most credible claim to being his Church. I could be wrong, but (with faith) choosing the Catholic Church was a similar experience to finding Christ: its as if you met a person and got to be friends with them and you loved them fraternally and then a month later you met their spouse and it was like a whole other dimension opened up to your friend."

    At the end of the day, with the historical theological truth brought to light the only recourse is personal experience, the very thing for which many RC apologists sneer at Protestants.

  5. I don't think that sounds snarky at all. You raise a legitimate question that should be raised.

    But isn't it a trivial point to say that private judgment is always involved? Catholics aren't asked to check their brains at the door when they enter the church.

    The problem, it seems to me, is on the other end. If all you have is private judgment, then do you have any criteria at all? Having only your own private judgment to check against is, as Wittgenstein once quipped, like buying a second copy of the morning paper to see if the first one is correct. Truth is not a private matter.

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  7. Jules,

    I agree. If all we have is private judgment, we are in an eminently pitiable condition indeed. Truth is not a private matter.

    Have you found this is what historic Protestantism confesses? If so, where?

  8. My intention here was not to attack Protestantism but to argue that private judgment and acceptance of authority in the Catholic faith are complementary concepts. If I gave the opposite impression through clumsy writing, please accept my apologies.

    While I ultimately disagree, I have the highest respect for many types of Protestantism, particularly those varieties that derive from Calvin.

  9. Andrew - believe me when I tell you that I have absolutely one concern here: that Christ be followed.

    When you posted on this blog those three words that you heard from Jesus Christ, I took those words at face value: that is, an encounter with Christ. Either you did or you didn't, and if you did, it's evident to you. Since you have encountered Christ, the question remains how to abide with Him and to follow Him. I believe that Christ did not leave us to fend for ourselves among competing denominations of Christian scribes but remains present in the Church. Who is the Church? The Church is all of the baptized whether in communion with Rome or not (see Lumen Gentium).

    The Holy Spirit makes Jesus present here and now through the faces of His people, the Church. Have you noticed in Scripture that anytime the Holy Spirit acts, it's in the most concrete way imaginable? creation, the personal lives of the prophets, the annunciation, the descent of the Holy Spirit on the gathering of the Apostles followed by their explosion into the agora? When Paul had his vision on the road, Jesus referred specifically to Paul's encounters with Christians: which were encounters with flesh and blood (Stephen's in particular).

    I am nothing, and apart from Christ the Catholic Church would be nothing - so don't worry about disappointing me. Instead, be happy that Jesus has spoken to you and beckons you to follow Him!

  10. Well, I'm honored that anyone commenting here would quote something I said. Thanks!

    Andrew, regarding "and even though no doctrine exists of Papal Primacy in Church Tradition".

    I just got done reading The Early Papacy up to Chalcedon 451 AD by Fortescue and he gives loads of historical evidence for Papal Primacy, evidence which supports the belief in it as witnessed to through Tradition, so I'm a bit confused as to why you say there is no doctrine of primacy in Church Tradition?

    Even the Orthodox Churches understand that the Pope had (and still has) a certain primacy, whether first among equals or of "honor" or even something more, but that (unfortunately) he fell into schism. Can you clarify?