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Friday, November 24, 2023


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Excellent point regarding Luther's rejection of the sort of individualism we find in later sects and denominations. Indeed, he certainly had in mind a teaching authority - his own. For better or worse, he was never quite able to secure the sort of stability that the RCC embodied. The sort of waffling over church authority was parallel to waffling in the political sphere, the peasant rebellions first to be put down with vicious force but then later to be celebrated.

Truly a man of forceful character, intellect, and charisma. One of those historical personages I'd love to have met.

Still, he was hamstrung ultimately by his own revolt. Whose interpretive authority, indeed?!?! (If any)

The old skeptical problem of the criterion rears its head: [P] x is interpretively correct so long as x is what one (e.g., Luther) is compelled to believe by one's conscience after having read the Scriptures. But why think P is true? Because it's what one is compelled to believe by conscience after having studiously read and reflected on the Scriptures?

Though, mayhaps the Catholic criterion suffers similarly. But as you point out, the root of the issue likely lies in that often-forgotten member of the Trinity, the Holy Ghost. Does He lead the institution first and foremost, or the individual conscience (or the latter by the former)? Hard to say.

As most skeptics held: when in doubt, go with tradition.


Suppose you accept the teaching authority of the RCC. That is your free acceptance, your personal free decision. Paradoxically, you freely allow yourself to be bound by obedience to what the magisterium promulgates. You would "go with tradition." But then an anti-traditional termite comes along who starts undermining the magnificent edifice of doctrines and practices in ways you oppose, so much so that you now invoke your personal, private rights of conscience. You protest! And rightly so. This cradle Catholic has been lately getting in touch with his 'inner protestant.'

Genuflecting before an institution is no solution. Equally, however, 'going maverick' is no ultimately satisfying solution either!

As a sophisticated chap such as yourself appreciates, there is a bit of schtick in my self-characterization as "Maverick Philosopher': but it seems to me that an open-minded maverick who "studies everything" (or tries to) is going to get closer to the truth than someone who submits to an institutional authority. Or is that merely a reflection of my inherent personality-structure over which I have no control?

In any case, the case against Bergoglio the Benighted is considerable. Here is a good recent article on the topic: https://crisismagazine.com/editors-desk/does-pope-francis-deserve-the-benefit-of-the-doubt.

As for the Holy Ghost, invoking his guidance and inspiration is but another CLAIM, one to be hauled before the bench of reason, there to be interrogated. Or is that for measly man to put God in the dock? Only if God is incarnated in the RCC. Is he? And by the way, who gave us this power to think and question and inquire and know, and to do so freely? Are we not chips of the OLD BLOCK?

I look forward to exploring these issues with you to the extent that you have the time and the desire.


Let's suppose I don't trust my own judgment as concerns certain aspects of reality, that is, in my studies on (say) theology generally and revelation particularly, I'm skeptical of my abilities to detect what is true. Now perhaps there are some who do have such abilities, or are pure enough of heart that (say) God has their ear in a way that He doesn't have mine. I trust Feynman to make the physics calculations, and to make them correctly. Inasmuch as I stink at calculus and trigonometry, it seems wise to defer. Similarly, I'm happy to defer to those pure of heart who have appeared sporadically throughout Church history.

Now, am I skeptical of my abilities to make these calls? I'm not sure. Perhaps I'm just (overly) cautious. Then again, the Church and its history is similar to what Hayek defined as a civilization - a collective stock of knowledge, not just propositional knowledge alone but customs and habits and rules. Just as much of our knowledge of civilization is tacit (it is passed down by these customs and habits and rules), I think much of the knowledge of RCC is passed along ways that are similar. There is such a VAST amount of information that I can't honestly believe that I'll be able to study it all, to pass judgment on even the most important parts. My knowledge is local and almost necessarily fragmented; the Church tradition however is complete in a way that (maybe) can't be articulated by an individual.

Just as I'm cautious about making wholesale changes in the ordered civilization (ergo, my trust in the conservative way of life), I also look back on the Protestant Reformation and ... well, I wonder if caution was proverbially thrown to the wind, that our civilization was changed in ways that are not only irrevocable but are on the whole negative.

Forgive me for rambling. I'm typing whilst a six-year old and a four-year old argue quite loudly about the merits of sprinkles on ice cream as compared with chocolate syrup.


Your kids are budding philosophers: already immersed in the dialectic of the discrete and the continuous!

Your talk of civilization knowledge as tacit knowledge is important and sends me back to Polanyi.

Civilization knowledge is embodied in institutions.

Without institutions, where would we be?

But they are all corrupt, potentially if not actually, in part if not in whole, and constantly in need of reform. The Roman Catholic Church is no exception despite its claim to divine sanction and guidance.

When an institution abandons its charter and strays from its transcendent founding purpose and substitutes the purpose of mere self-preservation for the secular benefit of its officers, then it becomes an organizational hustle and ceases to deserve our respect.

We should be skeptical of all institutions. Like the houses here in the Sonoran desert, they either have termites or will get them.

But institutional corruption reflects personal corruption. Institutional corruption is the heart's corruption writ large. So we should be skeptical of all persons, including the one in the mirror.

Especially him, since he is the one you have direct control over.

And so there is a tension between the Lone Ranger and the Organization Man.

It was obviously my private judgement to accept the Magisterium of the RCC, which then told me "No private judgement." This created a screeching mental feedback loop. Once I heard that screech, I backed away entirely. Whew ! ! !

It has been quite a long time since I have made an appearance here in your distinguished combox! I suspect that my friend, Allan, was mostly giving you his narrative and not speaking with analytic rigor. I too have become Catholic, since first being pointed to your blog, years ago, and this very issue of authority is one that I wrestled with and one with which I continue to wrestle today. Your two observations are correct, of course. It is a glaring weakness of popular Catholic apologetics that we cannot escape making personal judgments, so the popular line that Protestants must become their own pope is wide open to a rightly placed tu quoque response, which is fatal to the popular Catholic apologetic if it naively denies that private judgments have their place.

Nevertheless, I obviously came to think that Allan is right about the need for authority, since I made an incredibly slow swimming of the Tiber. For me, I accept that I am bound to my private judgment, but then I come to the historical and biblical question of whether God placed an authoritative, human body in this life that I must defer to when it speaks. In my private, but not merely private, judgment, it seems that he did. There is the establishment of the priestly cast in the Old Testament, as well as the person sitting in authority to judge from the chair of Moses. Fast forwarding to Christ, he makes this strange remark that I only noticed when my swim was nearly complete in Matthew 23: “The scribes and the Pharisees have sitten on the chair of Moses. All things therefore whatsoever they shall say to you, observe and do: but according to their works do ye not. For they say, and do not.” (I thought someone brought up in the pre-vatican 2 church might like the old Douay Rheims!)

There is much more to say about this chair of Moses, but I’ll submit this interpretation of the passage. Christ seems to be alluding to an already established authoritative body. What is really striking is that he’s saying this about the Pharisees and scribes, who are usually the ones he is doing battle with. He is saying that the Jews have to observe and do whatever they say, even though they are his enemies! Why? Because when they are sitting in the chair of Moses, they have authority to command the people. But don’t do what they do, for they are hypocrites! If Catholicism’s claims about authority are true, then undoubtedly it is still the case that we ought not “do what they do,” for there are quite a few hypocrites still in authority.

To conclude my comment for this evening, suppose we grant that God did establish an authoritative teaching body, perhaps going back to Moses. I think it would be odd if that institution was established by God and then allowed to fall apart, never to be replaced. I mean, it isn’t odd that it would fall apart, given that it’s humans that we are talking about, but if God established it with signs and wonders, then I’d expect God to start another line with some signs and wonders, so the rest of us know that the authoritative body has moved. But, where did God establish the authority of pastor Bob down the road at the non-denominational church. Or, where was the event passing the authority to the Methodist bishops, and so on. I don’t see one. But there is the event of the Messiah coming as prophet, priest, and king, and he would have the authority to start his own line. It seems to me that that is the biblical testimony.

But, then we could dispute where the line went from there, and this all depends on accepting that God did establish an authoritative position that can command us about morals and doctrines, which some do not accept.

"How do I know that they are not, in a minor or major way, schismatics diverging from the true teaching, the one Christ promised to protect?"

The point has been made that when those in authority of various kinds, especially in supreme authority like monarchs and such, have been found to have broken the rules they themselves claim to guard, they more often than not just change the rules to allow what they have done. This doesn't seem to be the case for the magisterium, having stood behind and reaffirmed it's definitive teachings instead. It could have embraced the abuse of indulgences. It could have just bent the knee to the eastern churches for the sake of unity. It could have waivered on the relatively recent social pressure over contraception, abortion, and more. St. Basil the Great described serious repercussions for pedophile priests, indicating that this was a problem even way back then. Yet, despite all this, the Church didn't change it's teachings, despite the Pope being able to do it with the flick of a pen.

Institutions often need to change with the times to remain in place, and it happens more often when it's easy to do it. However, the Orthodox don't have this simple "flick of a pen" option (they can't establish new ecumenical councils). The Mormons do and have changed their teachings with the times. Protestant denominations that refuse to change collapse. Yet, the Catholic Church doesn't show any sign of collapsing (while in the West it's shrinking, this is more than made up for by it's rise in numbers in the rest of the world, with Africa seeming to lead the way these days. Survey's show that today's seminarians and newly ordained pretty much all self-identify as trads or ultra-trads even in the US, with progressives, who were a majority after V2, basically becoming non-existent. Pope Francis, whether he intended it or not, seems to be overseeing a trad-revival in the Church).

Add to that the fact that, as you mentioned, there has been some bad Popes. There have also been even worse bishops, cardinals, etc. Not just bad but idiotic. The clergy has been a rather shocking example of moral and managerial corruption throughout history.

How does an institution run by such degeneracy and poor management survive for this long, and without wavering on it's definitive teachings to "adjust" to the times? Often, it clarifies and reaffirms it's teachings in counter to the changing times.

Peter Kreeft reported on a joke by renaissance-era comedian, Boccaccio, about a Bishop with a Jewish friend. They have theological discussions and the bishop thinks that the Jewish man might be on the cusp of converting. The Jew tells the Bishop that he has business with the clergy in Rome for a few months. The Bishop offers to baptize his friend before he leaves. The Jewish man says, "Business first, pleasure later. I'll come to see you about baptism upon my return". The bishops thinks, "Oh no! If he goes there and sees the rot going on, he'll never wish to convert! I've lost him..." A few months later the Jewish man returns and asks to be baptized. The Bishops asks, "But didn't you go live with the clergy in Rome for months? Didn't you see all the degeneracy that goes on there? Why would you want to be baptized?" The Jewish man answered, "I'm a businessman, and I know one thing for sure: no earthly business that stupid or corrupt could possibly last fourteen weeks; yours has lasted fourteen centuries. It's a miracle; I'm convinced!" This is meant to be a mockery of Catholic corruption, but Kreeft sees a serious argument in favor there.

Supposedly when Napoleon kidnapped the pope, he said, "We will destroy you." The pope said, "Ha. We haven't been able to destroy ourselves for two thousand years. You won't be able to do it, either."

Surely, there is some evidence in there to work with to determine whether you know they are schismatics or infallible.


Have you read Michael Polanyi?

Hi Jannai,

It's been a long time. I hope you are well. I wasn't aware that you knew Allan. Where are you swimming from? I am glad you appreciated my two observations.

I accept your distinction between what the people in authority say and what they do. If what they say is in line with the depositum fidei, that's the main thing. The trouble with the current pope, however, is that he says things that contradict the trad doctrine. Examples:

Promoting many clerics, such as Fr. James Martin, who undermine Church teaching on homosexuality.
Gutting of the John Paul II Institute on Marriage and Family
Honoring of abortionists
Bringing Theodore McCarrick out of retirement into the pope’s inner circle
Attacking the traditional Latin Mass, and traditional Catholics in general
Suggesting that God wills multiple religions
Changing the Catechism to say that the death penalty is against human dignity
Allowing Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics. (From the Crisis art. cited above)

Now there is such a thing as development of doctrine, but some of the examples above surely go beyond that.

Now the pope, when he is speaking qua pope in his official capacity (as opposed to gassing off about economics or climate change or straws in the ocean), about matters of faith and morals has the power to change the doctrine. Am I right? If I am, then some of what Bergoglio has said undermines the trad doctrine -- which suggests that the RCC may not in the end be the one true holy catholic and apostolic church. It suggests that it is no longer under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. And if no longer, then never was.

How do you know that at the time of the Great Schism, the true church, the one founded by Christ, did not take the East Fork?


I too thought I had been brought up on Douay-Rheims, but looking at my boyhood NT, I see that it is a revision of the Challoner-Rheims version.

What puzzles me, though, is that I remember so many passages in the King James version. How did they get into my boyhood head? "When the cock crows twice, you will have denied me thrice." Now that's beautiful English!

Recent translations anger me, pandering as they do to the widespread dumbassery of people nowadays. 'Ass' has been removed from some translations because people no longer know that 'ass' can mean donkey.

“Now the pope, when he is speaking qua pope in his official capacity… about matters of faith and morals has the power to change the doctrine. Am I right?”

No, this is not quite right, Bill. A more accurate summary of the traditional concept of papal power over matters of faith and morals is found in the homily that the late Benedict XVI gave on 7 May 2005:

“The power that Christ conferred upon Peter and his Successors is, in an absolute sense, a mandate to serve. The power of teaching in the Church involves a commitment to the service of obedience to the Faith. The pope is not an absolute monarch whose thoughts and desires are law. On the contrary: the pope’s ministry is a guarantee of obedience to Christ and to his Word. He must not proclaim his own ideas, but rather constantly bind himself and the Church to obedience to God’s Word, in the face of every attempt to adapt it or water it down, and every form of opportunism. … The pope knows that in his important decisions, he is bound to the great community of faith of all times, to the binding interpretations that have developed throughout the Church’s pilgrimage. Thus, his power is not being above the Word of God, but at the service of it. It is incumbent upon him to ensure that this Word continues to be present in its greatness and to resound in its purity, so that it is not torn to pieces by continuous changes in usage.”

When a pope violates these clearly defined limitations on papal powers, ones that have been observed by all the occupants of that office, except for Bergoglio, even after the institution of infallibility by Vatican I, we have evidence of someone acting against and not with the Holy Spirit, for, and this is the key point, the essential purpose of the Third Person, the very reason that he was sent forth by the Father and the Son, is to preserve the Word of God, the teachings of Christ in the world, allowing for their refinement and clarification over time in both the ordinary and extraordinary magisterium. So, even with a heretic pope, one who is disobedient to “Christ and his Word,” propagating through his words and actions intentionally ambiguous and outright heretical teachings, we cannot say that the Church is “no longer under the guidance of the Holy Spirit,” because while the pope has transgressed his proper role to guard the deposit of faith, the latter still exists, however much he and his caporegimes seek to alter it, and because the Church, made up of millions of orthodox Catholics, both clerics and laypersons, seek to protect and live by it.

The KJV is from the England of Shakespeare. Of course it is beautiful. And so the Word gets beauty to help it along among the English-speaking people. That is providential, if you ask me.


Thank you for your response. What I wrote @7:56 gives the impression that the pope qua pope, i.e., the pope in his official capacity, has the power to promote his own ideas as church doctrine. You have successfully corrected that impression.

But the teaching is not static, but develops. Yes? So what if I said that the pope has the power to change the doctrine in consultation with the bishops? Would you agree with that?

It would be interesting to hear your opinion of this article: https://www.americamagazine.org/faith/2022/09/26/explainer-rausch-infallibility-history-243818

But the teaching is not static, but develops. Yes?

Yes, teaching is not static.

So what if I said that the pope has the power to change the doctrine in consultation with the bishops? Would you agree with that?

I would agree that the pope in consultation with the bishops, that is, in an ecumenical council, has the power to declare doctrines that are binding on all Catholics. I am somewhat put off by the use of the word “change,” as if such councils could (1) tamper with dogma, that is, the truths established in scripture (2) overturn solidly established doctrine, or (3) tout court invent new ones that lack a scriptural or doctrinal pedigree. Rather, I think it is better to regard the power of such councils as that of making explicit that which is implicit in dogma or refining and developing earlier doctrinal pronouncements.

As for papal infallibility, I find the thoughts of Edward Feser quite valuable: https://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2015/11/papal-fallibility.html

>> (3) tout court invent new ones that lack a scriptural or doctrinal pedigree. << So it is clear to you, Vito, that Immaculate Conception (1854) and Mary's bodily assumption into heaven (1950) have a doctrinal or scriptural pedigree? I am not saying that they don't; I am merely asking a question. One could argue that Immaculate Conception was introduced as an ad hoc solution to a theological problem, namely, how could Christ who is wholly without sin be born of a mother who inherited original sin?

(3) tout court invent new ones that lack a scriptural or doctrinal pedigree. << So it is clear to you, Vito, that Immaculate Conception (1854) and Mary's bodily assumption into heaven (1950) have a doctrinal or scriptural pedigree? I am not saying that they don't; I am merely asking a question.
Scripture, tradition, and the magisterium are the three-fold foundation of Catholic doctrine.

While no scriptural verses directly speak of the Assumption of the Virgin (I leave aside for the sake of argument those verses that the Church holds imply the doctrine, such as Rev.12 and Gen 3-15), very ancient traditions affirm it, such as, for example, the writings of St. John Damascene (b. 675 or 676, d. 749), St. Modestus of Jerusalem (d. 630), St. Gregory of Tours (b.538, d. 594). In the East, the late sixth century Emperor Mauritius decreed that the Feast of the Dormition was to celebrated on August 15, but there is some evidence its widespread celebration before the Council of Ephesus in 431 (Fr. William Saunders, “The Assumption of Mary,” https://web.archive.org/web/20190616130231/http://www.ewtn.com/faith/teachings/maryc3c.htm).">http://www.ewtn.com/faith/teachings/maryc3c.htm).">https://web.archive.org/web/20190616130231/http://www.ewtn.com/faith/teachings/maryc3c.htm). Moreover, Stephen Shoemaker, in a comprehensive review of the popular ancient Dormition and Assumption narratives, notes that some scholars, relying on a linguistic analysis of texts, date these to the second or third century (Stephen J. Shoemaker, “The Ancient Dormition Apocrypha and the Origins of Marian Piety” (https://www.academia.edu/10040859). Thus, the doctrine of the Assumption is firmly based in a very ancient tradition of Marian veneration, in both the East and the West. Now, one could go further and make an argument for the scriptural passages that could be interpreted to support the doctrine, but the evidence from tradition suffices to show that it did not arise tout court.

As for the Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception (1854), while, again, one could cite passages in scripture that allude it, such as Gen 3:15 or Lk 1:28, where the angel speaks of Mary “full of grace” and “blessed … among women,” implying a unique superabundance of grace and a special status among all those of her sex, I leave these aside, and simply point out the medieval theological tradition, although fiercely contested, that affirmed it centuries before Ineffabilis Deus. Briefly, before Duns Scotus (1265/66-1308) arrived at his classic formulation the Mary’s exemption from original sin, based on her pre-redemption by the sacrifice of Christ, the notion of its possibility was raised as early as the 11th century, although with the majority of theologians, including St. Bernard and St. Thomas Aquinas (originally favorable), opposed to the idea. However, the Franciscan position gained favor and by the 15th century the feast was celebrated in the universities and by the Church throughout the West, with the exception of certain Dominican communities, but even this opposition died out by the seventeenth century, centuries before 1854.

The Mass may have been altered, but the Rosary is still intact. Here it is in action in Spain:


The rosary protest is the latest of a series of courageous actions against the wave of Leftist repression taking place in Spain.

In fact, the political situation in Spain is very grave, with the Leftist Sanchez government, an alliance of radical socialists and communists, which seeks to remain in power after the recent election by pardoning terrorists, continuing and intensifying its assault democratic liberties and its political opponents, while at the same time advancing a woke, globalist agenda, which includes open borders to illegal immigrants.

Tucker Carlson has an excellent interview with Santiago Abascal, the leader of the Vox Party, the only hope for Spain: https://twitter.com/i/status/1725556767365443753

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