The Counsel of Trent

writing is thinking

Monday, March 26, 2007

Catholics and Protestants: The Fundamental Difference

This was a reply to a comment on the post below, but it's kind of lengthy, so I'm posting it here. I'm also going to cross-post it over at X-Catholics.



As it so happens, I'm currently composing a post on why I became Catholic in response to many requests. You ask "Could you elucidate why you left protestantism and turned to catholicism?"

As a philosopher I first have to give the obvious answer: because I think the Claims of the Catholic Church regarding her authority are true and incompatible with Protestantism. Note that I designate a sub-class of claims of the Catholic Church, namely those regarding the Church's authority. Most claims of the Church are perfectly compatible with Protestantism (well, with magisterial Protestantism anyway, part of the problem is that there are like 30,000 (literally) different protestant denominations (if you count all the independent ones separately) so making claims about what "Protestants" believe can be tricky: most Catholic doctrine is compatible with Lutheran, Presbyterian, Anglican, and Evangelical beliefs).

What Mother Kirk claims is that she is the fullest expression of the visible Church on Earth and that the Bishop of Rome is the final authority in matters of the Faith and governance of the Church. The basis for this claim is the doctrine of Apostolic Succession. I've got a brief summary of some evidence for this doctrine here, and am working on a draft of a fuller argument. So the basic claims of the Church are as follows:

1. Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, promised in the Old Testament, and expanding his plan to we Gentiles.

2. Jesus founded a visible Church to carry on his teachings and selected the Apostles to govern this body.

3. Peter was the Chief of the Apostles as witnessed by Peter's divine anointing and unique reception of the Keys of the Kingdom (Matt 16) which represent the vice-regent of the King, his special relationship with Jesus ("feed my sheep," Gospel of John, Chatper 21), and his authoritative pronouncement at the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15).

4. The Apostles anointed new leaders--called Bishops (episkopos in the Greek New Testament)--and when an Apostle died, someone took their place (just like occurred with the loss of Judas at the beginning of The Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament).

5. The line of Apostolic Succession has never been broken.

The doctrine of Salvation among Catholics and Mainline and (many or most) Evangelical Protestants are essentially the same (no more differences than among some Protestants): we are given the Gift of Faith to trust in the finished work of Christ in atonement for our sins. The rest is details.

As a Protestant I already accepted #1 of course, but gradually came to believe the rest of them as well. There's much, much more to the story, but a sufficient condition for my becoming Catholic was being rationally persuaded of #'s 2-5 (in addition to #1).

This is just the bare bones and only states the minimum sufficient condition, so stay tuned for a more robust answer. Hope that helps.


At Tuesday, March 27, 2007 9:38:00 AM, Blogger AmandaLaine said...

Thanks! That really does help. Looking forward to whatever else you have to say.

At Tuesday, March 27, 2007 3:14:00 PM, Blogger MikeZ said...

Chesterton says, in one of his essays, that he would certainly be converted to Catholicism, if it were not for one insurmountable obstacle: "I already am".

His essay, "Why I am a Catholic" is typical Chesterton, short and brilliant.

But there have been bumps along the way. At one point, GKC says

"... nearly two hundred years before the Declaration of Independence and the French Revolution, in an age devoted to the pride and praise of princes, Cardinal Bellarmine and Suarez the Spaniard laid down lucidly the whole theory of real democracy."

That was the Cardinal Bellarmine who had Giordano Bruno burned at the stake for heresy.

At Wednesday, April 04, 2007 4:07:00 PM, Blogger MikeZ said...

The thought came up today, by a fellow church member, in discussing various religions, that the Catholic Church doesn't believe in the equality of women, because women can't be ordained as priests.

Ordinarily, I'd just dismiss this out of hand, but these are the sorts of questions that need a little more than a brush-off.

Can you help?

At Wednesday, April 04, 2007 4:32:00 PM, Blogger Trent_Dougherty said...

I do think the charge falls flat, but sometimes you do have to address such a question to be polite and because some people have become persuaded that it is so or just absorbed it due to repetition in our culture. Here are a few quick tips:

First, as a dialectical point always ask people what their evidence is for their assertions or by what reasoning they get from the alleged evidence to the conclusion. What is it, for instance, that logically gets you from women not being able to be ordained to women being treated unequally? It's not at all obvious that there's any reasonable connection here. Also, ask them to define their terms. What do they mean by inequality here? Or do they think than inequality is always unfair? Is it unfair that the handicapped get closer parking places? It's certainly unequal in a very clear sense, but it doesn't seem unfair. So inequality is not necessarily unfair. But then even IF this is a case of inequality why should we think it is a case of the unfair kind of inequality?

People who make claims need to be willing to back them up. In most cases like this people are parroting what they keep hearing.

But apart from the dialectical points here are some other brief points.

The problem here *can't* concern authority. Consider the following proposition:

(A) If X has authority over Y then X and Y are unequal.

Every Catholic is dogmatically bound to deny (A). The reason is that in the Holy Trinity the Father has authority over the Son and the Son has authority over the Spirit, but all are perfectly co-equal.

Here is something always to point out: Who is the most exalted non-divine human in all of existence? Mary. God asked her permission to be born and she has been made the Queen of Heaven. There are also lots of female Saints and Doctors of the Church who are of much greater authority, ultimately, than Priests and even Bishops at any given time.

This leads to a question you should always ask in such circumstances. Say "You know who Mother Theresa is, right?" They'll say "Of course," of course. Now ask them if they know who her parish Priest was, or who her Bishop or arch-Bishop was. The fact is, that in the Catholic Church your status is ultimately determined not by who has authority over whom, but who leads the most Christ-like life.

At Thursday, April 05, 2007 4:33:00 PM, Blogger MikeZ said...

The ordination aspect is the basis for the questioner's statement.

Off-hand, it looks like the thought is that the Church doesn't ordain women because they're "not equal". I don't think the authority angle is a factor.

You're right in going to the "define your terms" argument. But the simple reply is "if they're equal, they should be in equal roles".

There's no doubt in my mind as to the equality of women in the early Christian church. Kenneth E. Bailey answered that to my satisfaction.

I'm in a Protestant tradition which looks with suspicion on the reverence for Mary (something I have no problem with ("blessed are you among women")), and in our congregation in particular, with the status of homosexuals. The Presbyterian Church is struggling with that issue - and the Episcopal Church is ready to disintegrate over it.

The main argument seems to be "if they're equal, why can't they be deacons, pastors, bishops? There seems to be a conflating of two different situations, but they're tying both to the same issue - equality.

Mother Teresa is a good example, but Protestants aren't going to give much weight to Catholic saints. They don't even use the term with St. Peter, St. Paul, &c. Just Peter, and Paul.

At Thursday, April 05, 2007 5:25:00 PM, Blogger Trent_Dougherty said...

The oldest Protestant denominations do use the title "Saint" for saints. Witness, among countless other evidence, the naming of all those Lutheran churches "Saint Mark's," "Saint Mathew's," "Saint John's," and, especially for Lutherans, "Saint Paul's".

You write that the reply is "if they're equal, they should be in equal roles" but that's *precisely what Catholic doctrine of the highest order denies. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit have unequal roles, but are metaphysically equal and equal in all respects of dignity, majesty, etc. That argument is just a non-starter for Catholics.

And again, any Catholic woman can achieve any degree of influence in the Church. The path of sainthood is open to all and what is even a Pope compared to a saint? According to Catholic teaching, it's no comparison.


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