Disagreements, Difficulties and Division

We Catholics are prone to point out the fissiparous nature of Protestantism, and observe that this is the result of the sixteenth century break from the unified authority structure of the Catholic Church. On this blog I have commented on the continuing disintegration of Anglican unity, and not a few times have lamented the fact that there are tens of thousands (and growing) of Protestant denominations. The much praised Charismatic movement is one of the most fissiparous of them all. The splits, divides, quarrels and schisms within Charismatic Christianity alone is enough to frustrate any attempt to understand, much less categorize and catalogue.
Critics will offer a reply in saying that Catholics are just as divided as Protestants. They point to the fact that we have kooky New Age politically correct Catholics. We have liberal, secular Catholics, and on the other end of the spectrum we have conservative Bible Catholics, traditionalists, Latin Mass afficionados and hard core sedevacantists who don’t even believe we have a valid Pope.

Cardinal Newman said, “A hundred difficulties do not make a doubt.” What he meant by this is that one may have difficulties understanding the faith, and profound difficulties accepting certain tenants of the faith, and even more profound difficulties living out the faith, but these difficulties do not comprise a doubt.” A doubt is something different. A doubt is negative. A doubt is a denial. A doubt is an attitude that promotes one’s own authority over the authority of the Church. A doubt says, “You’re wrong. I know best.”

The same distinction can be made between a disagreement and a division. A million disagreements do not make a division. Yes, there are Catholics with many different opinions. There are disobedient Catholics. There are rebel Catholics on both the liberal and conservative wings. There are Charismatic Catholics, trad Catholics, mainstream ordinary Catholics, lapsed Catholics and Catholics who are sinners, heretics and hypocrites. However, as long as they do not split off and start their own church they are still Catholics, and they are still part of the greater organic unity of the Catholic Church.

A disagreement is not a division. A division, like a doubt, is negative. It is proud. It is an attitude that asserts one’s own authority over that of the Church Christ founded. A division, like a doubt, says not only “I know best” but “I know so much better than everyone else that I’m going to start my own church or go to a church of my own choosing.”

Critics of the Catholic Church too often avoid the tough questions and too often skip the necessary distinctions. They think that for unity you need uniformity, and when they do not find uniformity within Catholicism they believe there is therefore no unity. They also think that there must be harmony in order to have unity, but neither harmony nor uniformity are necessary for unity.

The underlying, organic unity of the Catholic Church exists not despite the variety, but because of the variety. If you want uniformity and harmony join a sect. That’s one of the things they do well, because if you are not uniform and harmonious in a sect you’re out. On the other hand, if you want the rumbustious, hearty give and take of honest debate, and if you want to find true unity become a Catholic. There you will find unity within variety, and an overarching unity that transcends the differences of opinion and style–even if those differences and disagreements are bitter.

The unity of the Catholic Church exists because of the unified authority and focus of the ministry of the papacy. The papacy unites in a way that many people overlook. The papacy unites simply because it is there and because it claims the authority that it does. It does not enforce uniformity, but it does guarantee unity. The papacy unites all Catholics–even those who disagree bitterly with who the Pope is, what he does, and what he teaches. It unites even the dissidents because they too, (even in their dissent) acknowledge the authority of the Pope. They acknowledge that authority even as they kick against it.

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  • Anonymous

    Thank you. I am sending this on to my evangelical friend, Jeff, ASAP. We have this conversation over and over. Rose Marie

  • Dwight,I fear your allegiance to your denomination hinders the logic of your argument and your ability to see things clearly.There are many, many sects within the Catholic church – not just disagreeing groups – but sects and all claim support from the Magisterium, tradition and the Pope. They can’t all be right.You guys are just better at glossing over the schisms. At least the prods have the honesty of stepping out while remaining in one loving Body of Christ.A priest places a figure of a woman called Christa on a cross and celebrates Mass below it – that is more than a disagreement on worship style. Other Catholics refuse to acknowledge let alone attend Mass in the vernacular; they also reject most of the teachings of Vatican II. That’s not a mild disagreement.Bishops have told me that couples living together without being married are living in mortal sin and under no circumstances should they receive communion. Yet, I know numerous parishes where the priest is aware a couple are openly living together, but still gives them communion. When challenged, they tell me the bishop might believe it is a mortal sin, but they don’t. Eh? Not surprisingly, they won’t go on record or challenge their bishop publicly, so the practice continues and another secret schism continues.Catholics historically do not go off and start another church; they just set up camp in the same house but in every which way you look at it, they have established a new church.Of course there are numerous Protestant churches, but most share a similar Statement of Faith. As you so rightly say, we can have unity without uniformity.I pray your divided denomination either joins up, or has the courage to split up.BlessingsJames

  • There are many, many sects within the Catholic church – not just disagreeing groups – but sects and all claim support from the Magisterium, tradition and the Pope. If all these groups can claim the support of the same pope then they must all be right on the essentials. This is not a matter of words on page that can be twisted but it is a living person. If you claim he supports a certain practice he can confirm or deny that with a word.Yet, I know numerous parishes where the priest is aware a couple are openly living together, but still gives them communion. When challenged, they tell me the bishop might believe it is a mortal sin, but they don’t.This is a case where they are not in unity with the pope and everyone involved knows it. Every church has this. It is not schism. It is sin.

  • James, your examples illustrate my point. I admitted that we have within the Catholic Church sinners, hypocrites, heretics and lunatics. When they are in formal error, and in a teaching position the Catholic Church attempts to discipline them. She does so with gentleness and tact. The different groups within the Catholic Church are not independent of Rome and you know it.What you cannot do is answer the charge of how tens of thousands of Protestant denominations fit in with Jesus’ prayer that all his disciples should be one, nor with the Apostle Paul’s teaching that there is one church, one faith and one baptism, nor with Jesus’ teaching that there should be one flock and one shepherd.Far from gloating over Protestant schisms, sects and cults, Catholics lament the fact, admit our own sins have been partly to blame, and regard our separated brethren with compassion as sheep without a shepherd.

  • James,I think the thing you are missing here is that Catholicism definitionally has set beliefs that one can say someone is in union or not in union with. This is rather different from the plight of some of my Episcopal friends who on the one hand insist, “We have always held the church to teach X” while others in their parish or diocese say, “We have always held the church to teach Y.” There is no way to resolve such differences according to the Protestant schema, but there is in the Catholic Church. When some priest puts a “crista” on a cross, he disagrees with what the Catholic Church teaches. This is verifiable, and will remain so, because what the Catholic Church teaches is not the sum of what individual Catholics want it to teach, but what the documents of her Magisterium say.

  • Well said, Father.James, I’m trying to imagine what you could mean by praying that our “denomination” have (i.e., get?) “the courage to split up” if it does not join up.

  • Hi y’all,I must say I was expecting much more vitriolic responses from you all, so Praise God for your restraint.I know our online ‘arguments’ are always held in charity, respect and filial love, which is why I return here and why Dwight, lets me in.Long before the Catholic church was founded, the Protestants were around. What do I mean? You all know the story of the apostles telling Jesus they were going to stop a man casting out demons in His name because he was not with them? That guy was an Evangelical, probably a Baptist. I’m sure there were others too who had set up their own Bible chapels and mission tents in downtown Damascus. While I’d rather there weren’t numerous churches, either in or out of the Catholic denomination, I’m not too concerned that there are. We are all in the one Body of Christ. We could all sign up to the same Statement of Faith, as the vast majority of Prods do already.One fact you Catholics don’t like to admit is what Prod churches have in common is much, much more than the sum of what they disagree over.Meanwhile, in the Catholic denomination, the Latin Mass people form their little church, while still claiming allegiance to Rome and the Magisterium. The vernacular Catholics set up their pro-guitar Mass church while still claiming allegiance to Rome and the Magisterium. These and other mini-churches within the Catholic church, all believe they are following Rome, whereas none of them really is. Just like the many side chapels within a Catholic cathedral, so there are as many churches within the Catholic denomination. Every now and then, nice people like Fr Corapi gives you all a telling off on EWTN, then you go back to your own mini-churches and carry on regardless.To the outside world, and even to Catholics, it looks like universal unity reigns, especially when you are all waving your different national flags at one of those big events in St Peter’s square.However, there are those who get too carried away, and cannot fit either in the Catholic or Prod denominations because their theology is just too odd; we call those people Mormons.We Prods know that, deep down, you Catholics are full of splits and schism just like us, but we don’t mind you copying us. Again.And Jesus? Well, he just smiles like an indulgent abba and says: “If they are not against us, they must be for us.”BlessingsJames

  • James asserts, “There are numerous Protestant denominations but most share a similar statement of faith.”The obvious questions are: “If they share the same faith, why are they divided?” and “Where is this ‘similar statement of faith’ so we can study it? Who has signed up? Where is it for us to see?”This is what I heard in my evangelical upbringing about the different Protestant denominations, “We agree on the essentials and disagree on the inessentials.” But if they were inessential, why did you split from each other?In fact, Protestants disagree on very important matters: 1. What is a sacrament? 2. Are sacraments necessary to salvation? 3. Can you lose your salavation? 4. Where do we turn for our ultimate authority in matters of faith and morals? etc. etc.

  • I think we need a definition of terms. When James refers to Prods, I suspect he means easy going, conservative, Bible believing Evangelical/Charismatics of the sort that he mixes with. In other words, people like himself.When Catholics think of Protestants, however, we include the whole spectrum from Anglican atheists to snake handlers from Tennessee. We think of everyone from Jehovah’s Witnesses to New Age Lutherans who pray to the Mother Goddess.If ‘Protestant’ means nice, Bible believing mainstream Evangelical Charismatics, then James is right that they pretty much agree.If, however, Protestant means all Christians who trace their descent from the events of the sixteenth century (and mustn’t that be the best definition of a Protestant?) the range is so vast and the differences so great that James’ pleasant assertion that they all hold a ‘similar profession of faith’ suddenly appears ludicrous.

  • Congratulations. A good explanation in only a few words.

  • Dwight,You’re being rather naughty, not to mention illogical, including Jehovah Witnesses as Protestants – even 3rd grade theology students know they’re not even Christians.And as I pointed out, Fr Corapi has stated on EWTN that he knows a Magisterium supporting priest who has hung a figure of a woman he calls Christa on a cross; and Dr Scott Hahn asserts the Holy Spirit is feminine. So, it seems Catholics also, “pray to the Mother Goddess.”Also, if you include “snake handlers from Tennessee,” as Protestants, I’ll include people who pray to statues of Mary they claim miraculously waltz across the parish hall to the tune of Ave Maria, as Catholics.Check out the UK site for the Evangelical Alliance. http://www.eauk.orgThere you will find the Statement of Faith which 3,000 Evangelical church has signed. Now that’s unity!Dwight, you also make the charge: “If they share the same faith, why are they divided?” Well if Latin loving Catholics share the same faith as Charismatic Catholics, I have to ask you: “Why are they divided?”I know they are as I speak to both sides regularly.BlessingsJames

  • James, it’s good having you here or a chat. Thanks for taking the time and trouble.I thought you were defining ‘Protestant’ as well meaning, sincere and prayerful, mainstream Evangelical/Charismatics, and your comment seems to confirm this.My point about Jehovah’s Witnesses, however, was to reveal the Catholic perspective. Theologians may well be able to see that JW theology is unorthodox, but Pastor Russell began in orthodoxy and he drifted.The ordinary Catholic, you will understand, doesn’t see much difference between the Jehovah’s Witnesses with their unusual views and, say, the Seventh Day Adventists or the Branch Davidians, or the Christian Scientists or the Four Square Gospel Tabernacle or the African Methodist Episcopal Church or the local dispensationalist Praise Temple or for that matter the Assemblies of God or a whole slew of other small sects, schisms and religious groups of all sorts that claim to be Christian.My question to you is, where does one get the authority to determine which groups are orthodox and which groups are not? They all think they’re right. Who says who’s in and who’s out or doesn’t it matter?Are the Seventh Day Adventists, for instance, orthodox or not? What about the Plymouth Brethren? Are Christian Scientists in? What about Unitarians? What about groups that profess orthodoxy, but it is distorted and adulterated with weird extra doctrines and interpretative schemes like dispensationalists?I guess there is only one authority that can determine orthodoxy, otherwise you define the group according to your own taste. The only authority I could see that could make such a call was the Pope.That’s why I became a Catholic.

  • James,Good engaging dialogue.For the record, Catholicism is not a denomination. Protestants have denominations, Catholics don’t.As far as the apostles representing a proto-Protestantism is untrue and unhistorical. Even the most avowed Protestant historian will cede the fact that the apostles represented the beginnings of the Catholic Church. Read your early Church fathers and you’ll find that out.In Christ,Tito

  • Dwight,I was a Catholic for some 40 years, and I never once considered Jehovah Witnesses as Protestants. You’re being naughty again!Go to the UK website for the Evangelical Alliance and you’ll see 3,000 Protestant churches signed up to the Statement of Faith. You’ll also read a definition of Evangelical and a definition of Fundamental. Guess in which catagory you’ll find the Church of Elvis de la St.Vegas or the Blessed Association of Mary of the Moving Statues? Try and let go of the myth there is orthodoxy in the Catholic church. So, do Catholics follow Dr Hahn’s teaching in a feminine Holy Spirit which would mean Jesus had two moms, or follow the Pope’s assertion the Holy Spirit is not feminine? Orthodox? More like paradox.I don’t want you to leave the Catholic church. I want you to be fully immersed in true Catholic faith. To see how that’s done, go to Flame Ministries International or Cor et Lumen Christi.To you and all your blogging community, all I can say is: Romans 1: 7: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.”Amen.James

  • Dear James, For the record, my friend Dr Hahn does not teach that the Holy Spirit is female.You have chosen a poor representative of Catholic heterodoxy. Dr Hahn is as orthodox as they come. You could have chosen some other theologians like Hans Kung if you wanted an exhibit of Catholic heterodoxy. But then, Kung was deprived of his official Catholic teaching post, so perhaps that discipline of the Catholic Church of her own orthodoxy would not have suited your argument.But in any case, we do not look for the authentic teaching of the Catholic church to any theologian. We look to the bishops in communion with the Bishop of Rome.I’m actually surprised that you, a Catholic of 40 years, remained so uninformed about the details of your own church. Surely you should know that the opinions of theologians are not the same thing as the magisterium of the Church.I’m actually familiar with Cor et Lumen community, know Damian Stayne, and have been a speaker for several years at the annual Celebrate Conference of Catholic Charismatic Renewal in England.I’m happy to endorse what goes on there as part of the rich variety within unity of the Catholic Church.Finally, I will say it again–I’m not saying the JWs are an Evangelical group. I’m simply pointing out that most ordinary Catholics wouldn’t be able to distinguish them from all the other fringe Protestant groups.Can you distinguish between the different groups I cataloged? Are the Seventh Day Adventists orthodox? The Christian Scientists? The Worldwide Church of God? The Moonies? The Mormons? The Episcopalians? All of them claim to follow Jesus Christ. All of them are good, moral and decent people. They all claim to find their teachings in the Bible, and to be led by the Holy Spirit. Many of them would be able to consent to your Evangelical statement of faith.By what authority would you put some in and some out?Furthermore, I am sure that your statement of faith is good, Biblical, worthy and sound. But how do you know it is the right one? Why should your Evangelical profession of faith necessarily be right and the profession of faith of the other Protestant groups be wrong? They all believe they are led by the Holy Spirit. They are all prayerful people. They all base their beliefs on the Bible. Is there any reason why your British Evangelical statement of faith (worthy as it no doubt is) should be the right one?How do you know?

  • Go to the UK website for the Evangelical Alliance and you’ll see 3,000 Protestant churches signed up to the Statement of Faith. You’ll also read a definition of Evangelical and a definition of Fundamental. Guess in which catagory you’ll find the Church of Elvis de la St.Vegas or the Blessed Association of Mary of the Moving Statues?James, the point about authority boils down to this. On whose authority do you decide that adherence to the aforementioned Statement of Faith is necessary to be an ‘orthodox’ Christian?Who gets to decide what is and what is not orthodoxy? Yes, the Evangelicals, as they define themselves, can agree. But I’m sure the Church of Elvis de la St.Vegas would disagree with you there and so would the JW’s and the Mormons. These in turn will claim that you’re not inclusive enough and in the end, all you have to fall back on is your interpretation of orthodoxy which has the same weight as their interpretation regardless of what 3rd grade theology students think. I’m sure 3rd grade JW theology students think otherwise.I liked your story about the Baptist in Jesus’ time, but the fact still remains that Jesus choose to have the Last Supper with His Apostles in the Upper Room and not at the independent Baptist house church and it was the Apostles whom Jesus commissioned to spread the Gospel and to baptize all nations. I’m sure the independent Baptist would have disagreed, but that’s what happened.

  • Hi guys,I happened to come across a real scary blog – Unam Sanctam Catholicam. The author has a report on a visit to the National Catholic Youth Conference (NCYC) which that group’s website claims is “the single largest event organized by the Catholic Church in the United States of America.”Apparantly, it is endoresed by the bishops and plenty were at the November NCYC meeting. But here’s what Unam Sanctam Catholicam thought of it:”Well, it is good to be back from Columbus and even better to be back in the blogging community where I can breathe the fresh, incense-thick air of Catholicism. I will not call it “traditional” Catholicism, because the Catholicism I witnessed while I was at NCYC in Columbus was not really Catholicism at all (it was more of a pan-Christianity) and I have come to the greater realization that the Catholicism that the traditionalist movement represents is not traditional Catholicism but is simply Catholicism, pure and simple. The deviants from it are not true Catholicism, at least in the fullest sense of the word.”Look at the words and phrases used – ‘deviants,’ ‘pan-Christianity’ and ‘not really Catholicism at all.’Now, you may say: ‘Hold on, James, this is just a Catholic blogger with no authority from Rome. That’s a very weak case to support your argument.’No, quite the opposite. Blogs like this prove there is no orthodoxy in the Roman Catholic Church. (as does Dr ‘the Holy Spirit is Feminine’ Hahn.) Instead, there are many little churches operating according to their own rules and theology while still all claiming to ‘Follow Peter.’Remember my image of a cathedral with many small side altars and chapels? Now technically, they may all be under one roof, so you could claim its still unified. But what goes on at each one is very different. This is not common church. This is individual church, self-appointed and too scared, lazy or arrogant, to leave. One day, with all the conflicting babbling, the walls may just fall down like at Jericho.And I haven’t even touched on the big theological issues like Marian worship (I know you say its devotion, but after 40 years in the Catholic church, I know many who WORSHIP Mary and don’t care what the bishops say.) There’s also purgatory, indulgences, limbo (is it in or out) and a ban on Bible reading. On what authority did any of that happen? God’s? No, mainly Italian celibate (sometimes!) men (I’ve nothing against Italians) who built their own version of church.Guys. I don’t think we will agree. And, as I said earlier, it doesn’t really matter as our Abba loves us all and the wee denominations into which we have chosen to worship. Let’s just continue to love Him, pray for each other and as John Wimber said, keep ‘doin’ the stuff.'(But please don’t join the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Even we Prods know they’re crazy)BlessingsJames

  • James, you keep repeating yourself and not addressing our essential questions, nor the points in my post which originated this, nor my distinctions between uniformity and unity.Instead you keep jumping away from the essential questions to point out your personal disagreements with Catholicism.If you wish to engage in serious theological discussion on these points, fine, we can do that. But at the moment you’re just tossing out your prejudices, misconceptions and sometimes silly comments.We do actually agree with you that there are many differences of opinions within Catholicism. We agree that there are sinners, hypocrites, heretics and lunatics in the Catholic Church.What the Catholic Church has which Protestantism does not, is a teaching authority by which we identify these people as sinners, hypocrites, heretics and lunatics. It is this bedrock authority question which you are avoiding.

  • Dwight,You are right. It is time to end this debate as we are both developing sore necks from driving round in circles. But it has been enjoyable and thanks to the contributions of your fellow bloggers. This is your blog, so you can have the last word.To summarise my view:Your constant inquiry about where do Protestants get their authority, reminds me of the Pharisees asking Jesus – a lowly carpenter from Nazareth – where He got His. To try and undermine sound Reformed theology, you lump Tennessee snake handlers in the same Protestant theological school as Billy Graham or C. S. Lewis. Well, under those rules, I place Catholics who worship statues of Mary they claim shed tears of blood, in the same theological school as Thomas Aquinas. Doesn’t make sense does it?Where did Clive Staples Lewis get his authority? Remember, your spiritual hero was an Anglican, even if you would like to believe he was about to step through a wardrobe marked ‘Catholicism.’ C.S. was no snake charmer. But how can you trust anything he wrote? Under your rules, you should throw his books in the trash, as there might be a snake lurking among the pages. After all, he attended Communion, administered by an Anglican priest whose orders the Catholic church does not recognise as valid. As you tell me, you can’t pick and choose your Prods. Either they are all right, or all wrong. Last night in England was one of those crisp, clear frosty winters nights. I stood out in the field opposite my house which is in a small village. There are no street lights. The dark sky was ablaze with stars. It was an awesome sight. I marvelled at a God who created all the worlds I could see, and all those I will never know. Yet you tell me in order for that God to speak to me, He has to go through a Catholic cleric or self-appointed celibate men sitting in Rome – despite the litany of errors and man-made theology strewn across the centuries. Jesus said: “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” I think that’s what angers Catholics. They always thought Rome was the Way, the Truth and the Life. Aren’t they the same thing? no, they’re not. BlessingsJames

  • Dear James, I must not have made my point clear enough. I am not lumping all Protestants together, nor am I equating C.S.Lewis with snake handlers.I am observing that Protestants of all stripes are all equally sincere. They all believe they are inspired by the Holy Spirit. They all read and believe the Bible. They all are prayerful people.I am not making value judgements on any of them, nor am I saying that they are unsaved, going to hell or whatever, nor am I actually making any statements about the validity or truth of their beliefs, nor about the holiness of their lives or the value of their prayers and good works.I am simply asking, given that all the different Protestants are sincere, all prayerful, all believe they are inspired by the Holy Spirit and all believe their religion is Bible based–now do you know which one really is?You like C.S.Lewis. Fine. I do too. I think his theology is deeply orthodox and Christian, but my point is not to argue whether C.S.Lewis is right or wrong, but how you know he is right or wrong. Why should his teachings be true, but the Biblically based teachings of Pastor Russell of JW fame be wrong?Regarding your other points: It’s a pity you don’t seem to understand the Catholic faith, of which you were a member for forty years any better.In fact Catholics affirm with you the beauty of nature and the possibility of natural and general revelation to all humanity. We affirm with you the possibility that individuals may come to know God outside the Catholic faith. We also affirm joyfully with you that Jesus Christ is the Way the Truth and the Life.We also affirm that our separated brethren may experience the saving grace of Christ while still outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church.What we affirm, and which Protestants deny, is that the fullest way to experience and know Jesus–the Way the Truth and the Life– is by being in full communion with his historical body on earth–the Catholic Church

  • Anonymous

    James,There are none so blind as those who will not see. I, and others, would love to hear your answer to Fr. Longenecker’s questions.

  • Hi Dwight and anonymous ,I was ready to go and have a beer and watch the football (soccer) on TV but let me try again.Firstly, anonymous, why do you enter this debate anonymously? And please hold the clichés – ‘There are none so blind as those who will not see.’ Ugh!Reading back on this debate, I see I have answered all of your questions, but I’m sorry they are not the answers you want.Let me try it this way. I live in a 500-year-old converted farmhouse. If I have the mortgage on this house, then legally it is mine. However, it does not follow I own the history, ethos and memories of all those who have lived here before. You guys inhabit a 2,000 year old house called the Catholic Church, but that church today has very little connection with the first church started at Pentecost. Yes, there are strands going back to Pentecost, but the theology, worship and praise in the Catholic church today is to a very large extent, man-made. With no authority, the pope and cardinals down the centuries have introduced a series of dogmas and doctrines, while hushing up or ignoring true Pentecost faith (Bible reading among many) Its not enough to say you have the Keys; you don’t have Peter.So with no authority, no spiritual roots except you live in the house, you behave like the worse kind of landlord and set about making your mark. You introduce a host of dogmas and doctrines like Marian devotion, purgatory, indulgences, praying to the saints etc. The Protestants at the Reformation, went back to Pentecost, cleaned out the spiritual clutter popes and others introduced for their own benefit or misguided theological beliefs. Rather than listen to them you just shake your keys and say ‘we’re the owners, where do you get your authority from?’I hope you don’t think me anti-Catholic. There’s so much good in the Church of Rome. You can still teach us Protestants a lot. For example, a number of my Evangelical friends have started praying the Stations of the Cross after watching Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. They had never heard of this and as a former Catholic, I was able to help them. But please don’t think we’re going to jump from that to transubstantiation.Now, Dwight, anonymous and others. There is my answer. You are squatters (maybe Dwight will have to translate that word) We Evangelicals want to work with you to build the House of the Lord. BlessingsJames

  • Dear James, I’m afraid you haven’t answered or even begun to answer the basic questions.All you have done is explain several times why you think Catholicism is wrong. We’re quite familiar with the ‘Catholicism went all wrong until we fixed it in the sixteenth century’ argument. What you haven’t done is offer a positive defense of your own position.We still want to ask you the basic question. It is this: Why should your particular English Evangelical Charismatic theology, worship practice, reading of Church history, interpretation of the Bible, moral choices and ethical stance be the right one and the other Protestant ones be wrong?How do you know that you are correct but, say, the Plymouth Brethren (who would eschew the Charismatic movement) are wrong? Why is your understanding of say, the End Times, correct, but the understanding of a Baptist dispensationalist is wrong? I could go on giving examples.Is it because you think the Bible says thus and so? That’s what all the different Protestant groups say.Is it because “me and my group are led by the Holy Spirit”? All the Protestant groups claim to be led by the Holy Spirit.Is it because “we have prayed about it and that is the way it was in the early church?” All the Christian groups think their outfit was derived from the early church.Or do you simply feel that it is obvious from reading Scripture and being a Christian that your way is right, and that if everyone just read the Scriptures and prayed they would agree with you? That’s exactly what all the other groups think too.So can you spare us why you disagree and dislike the Catholic Church? We’re not offended by your views. We understand them completely.Instead can you offer some sort of answer to the question?Why are you and your group correct, and the other Protestant groups wrong?

  • Dear James, I’m afraid you haven’t answered or even begun to answer the basic questions.Dear Dwight, I’m afraid you haven’t answered or even begun to answer the basic questions.All you have done is explain several times why you think Catholicism is wrong. We’re quite familiar with the ‘Catholicism went all wrong until we fixed it in the sixteenth century’ argument. All you have done is explain several times why you think Protestantism is wrong. We’re quite familiar with the ‘Protestantism went all wrong in the sixteenth century until we sorted if post-Reformation’ argument.What you haven’t done is offer a positive defense of your own position.What you haven’t done is offer a positive defense of your own positionWe still want to ask you the basic question. We still want to ask you the basic question.It is this: Why should your particular English Evangelical Charismatic theology, worship practice, reading of Church history, interpretation of the Bible, moral choices and ethical stance be the right one and the other Protestant ones be wrong?It is this: Why should your particular American Traditional Catholicism theology, worship practice, reading of Church history, interpretation of the Bible, moral choices and ethical stance be the right one and the other Catholic ones be wrong?How do you know that you are correct but, say, the Plymouth Brethren (who would eschew the Charismatic movement) are wrong? Why is your understanding of say, the End Times, correct, but the understanding of a Baptist dispensationalist is wrong? I could go on giving examples.How do you know that you are correct but, say, the Catholic Truth group in Scotland (who would eschew the Charismatic movement) are wrong? Why is your understanding of say, The Latin Mass, correct, but the understanding of a Tridentine Catholic wrong? I could go on giving examples.Is it because you think the Bible says thus and so? That’s what all the different Protestant groups say.Is it because you think Papal teaching says thus and so? That’s what all the different Catholic groups say.Is it because “me and my group are led by the Holy Spirit”? All the Protestant groups claim to be led by the Holy Spirit.Is it because “me and my group are led by Papal teachings and Tradition?” All the Catholic groups claim to be led by Papal teachings and Tradition.Is it because “we have prayed about it and that is the way it was in the early church?” All the Christian groups think their outfit was derived from the early church.Is it because “we have read an encyclical and it reflects our view of the early church?”All the Catholic groups think their outfit was derived from an encyclical which reflects the early church.Or do you simply feel that it is obvious from reading Scripture and being a Christian that your way is right, and that if everyone just read the Scriptures and prayed they would agree with you? That’s exactly what all the other groups think tooOr do you simply feel that it is obvious from reading Papal documents and being a Traditional Catholic that your way is right, and that if everyone just read Papal documents and prayed and was a Traditional Catholic they would agree with you? That’s exactly what all the other Catholic groups think too.So can you spare us why you disagree and dislike the Catholic Church? We’re not offended by your views. We understand them completely.So can you spare us why you disagree and dislike the Protestants? We’re not offended by your views. We know you misunderstand us completely.Instead can you offer some sort of answer to the question?Instead can you offer some sort of answer to the question?Why are you and your group correct, and the other Protestant groups wrong? Why are you and your group correct, and the other Catholic groups wrong?

  • Anonymous

    I don’t see any point in replying to James, who has made his views quite clear. So I won’t enter that fray.Fr. Dwight, I just wanted to write and tell you I think that was a wonderful post. Thank you for writing it.And please note that I am signing this — I am not really “anonymous.” That’s just the only way my post will go through because I do not have a blogger account or web site.Gail Finke

  • James, your last reply was witty, but it still didn’t answer my question.Catholics have the magisterial teaching of the Church down the ages as expounded by the successor of Peter.When an individual or group conforms to this teaching they enjoy unity with one another and with Holy Mother Church. Inasmuch as they dissent from this teaching they fall into disunity with the Church and with one another.We do not pretend that all Catholics are in total agreement about everything, nor that there is total uniformity of belief and practice.What we do contend is that there is a bedrock of teaching and a living authority against which we can test orthodoxy and right belief, and that this bedrock was founded by Christ himself, and that Protestants, for all their sincerity and love for the Lord do not have an agreed authority structure or teaching against which they can test orthodoxy.But if there is one I don’t know about do tell. This is the question I keep asking.Thanks again for writing.

  • Dwight,A compliment from you! I must be making headway.The Magisterium. Suppose you lived in a town where as far as anyone can remember, the same family has run the only grocery shop. In fact, they were granted a charter to run the place. However, for some time, all’s not been well at the store. Opening hours have been changed without notice; prices raised; the standard of service fallen and range of good deteriorated.Some locals work with the store owner to get things back on the right track, but he does not want to listen. So, a second store opens and a bitter feud erupts.The owner of the first store stands on the sidewalk holding up the charter his family were granted many years ago, telling the others they have no right to be in business. “I have the charter,” he gloats.“How can the town have faith you know how to run a store or manage stock control or compile your tax returns? On what do you base your price for bananas? I can trace my store’s history back to the Charter.”The Magisterium is your Catholic charter. But with that glory comes responsibility. You can lose your charter. Remember Jesus said hell will not prevail against His church, but he also warned about cutting yourself off from the True Vine and withering. Its a self-inflicted wound.How can a church which defined Jesus’ Divinity or collated Scripture, get it so wrong on so many other issues? For example, it took a beautiful woman, Mary, truly the most Blessed woman in all history and elevated her to the caricature she is today. You have transformed this beautiful Mary into something comical, in the way secular society twisted St Nicholas into Santa Clause. The same Catholic church took the message of saving Grace and turned it into the nonesense of purgatory. I could go on.If you don’t look after the store, don’t be surprised if another opens. The early church had its ‘Magisterium’ given by Jesus, but the Catholic Church turned that into the Law. You can’t mock God. I love the story of the prodigal son. Of course, the son who stayed behind represented the Pharisees, or in today’s language, the Catholic Church. The Father was puzzled why his stay at home son could not see what he had. He was so used to it, he ignored it. Whereas the other son who lived with pigs turned his gaze to the Father and from there came his Magisteriam – to the great annoyance of the son who had stayed at home.But here is the surprising thing. We in the new store don’t dismiss you and your history. We want to work WITH you, not under you. BlessingsJamesPS. If you feel this debate has run its course, I will be happy to stay away and let you get on with other blogging.

  • Anonymous

    James Hastings,So, you say you used to be catholic for 40 years, eh??Then you assert that you know that catholics worship Mary.You’re a liar either way you look at it. Either you’re at least lying about having been a catholic (a well-known trick of door-knocking, bible-bashing protestants), or, having been a catholic, you’re lying about catholics worshiping Mary, because every catholic (whether modernist, traditionalist, or whatnot) knows that paying divine honour to the B.V.M. is not tolerated by the church.Personally, I’d say you were lying about both. Any scholarly, just, and plain decent protestant of goodwill will readily admit that catholics do not worship Mary, despite what might be taught to the contrary in some booby-hatch bible college, probably in the deep south of the U.S.A. (or wherever else it was whence you derived your crazy notion). Remember the 8th commandment??Another James.(P.S., I’ll let you in on a secret, I used to be a prot, ’til I couldn’t take the intellectual (not to mention the often moral) bankruptcy inherent in the protestant position…)(P.P.S., ONLY JOKING! I was never a prod, but the bit about the bankruptcy of protestantism is true. I hereby challenge you to prove it false – provide a scriptural justification of scriptura sola.)

  • tony

    Let’s keep the blog going.James, forget trying to prove the Catholic Church is wrong, I challenge you to prove yourself right. You are more right by what you affirm than what you deny. Since denial is not a direction, it never admits who you are or where your going. By some conviction you are Charismatic. Why do you believe even the most essential of your essential teachings is right, and by what authority? You cannot claim the bible because the bible does not teach nor authenticate itself; it requires human teachers, a magisterium. Are you or someone in your community a prophet able to interpret the teachings from the 1st century into the 21st century? Do you believe your church is historic, hidden in the mix while the Catholic hoax was going on. This is strange, St. Paul said in 1 Tim 3:15 the church was “the pillar and foundation of the truth.” Do you think he spoke about the Montanists, Marcionites and Nicolaitians? The early church marked these as heresies, are you among them? If there was another church then there is no record (Howard 51). And without a history, may I add, there would be few facts to contend with in building your own church.How do you know what books belong in the bible? Who then can interpret the bible? The Holy Spirit? How? The yellow pages are scattered with various children from the Reformation, each claiming the Holy Spirit guides them, each contesting they have some corner of the truth, or would you say they are unified? The Holy Spirit is said to lead us to all truth. Surely the Real Presence is not an inessential question–is God with us or not– and how do you know? Should I weigh my decisions on feelings? Is there such a thing as absolute truth or is it relative? “We want to work with you, but not under you,” you said. How? If we never assent to anything, how can we be unified? We have yet to hear your authority to intreprete even so much as the bible. From what I’ve read so far, if we worked with you, we would be divided in our own opinions about truth just as the children of the Reformation are. For surely the Anglican and the Baptist do not agree on the Real Presence. Unless you mean by working together that we are allowed to believe whatever we so choose so long as we don’t argue about essentials things like divine relevation.Howard, Thomas “On Being Catholic.” San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1997.

  • Dear James. We already know and understand your disagreements with the Catholic Church. Instead of answering my question asking for a positive defense of your own authority structure you still return to attack the Catholic Church. In doing so you are revealing an amazing lack of understanding of the faith you claim to have been part of for forty years. If I may say, you also are exhibiting an embarrassing tendency not only to have swallowed pat Protestant propaganda, but a tendency to proliferate the stuff with cliches and distortions about our beliefs.Even if you could prove the Catholic system wrong it would not be a defense of your own position.I ask the simple question again. By what authority do you claim that your version of Christianity is right? Tony puts the questions in more detail.

  • Well, if y’all want to keep this going, and Dwight is ok with that, let’s do it. But at any time, Dwight can call a halt as its his blog. Them’s the rules!Firstly, a word to Anonymous. Please lets keep the tone of this debate one of Christian charity. 1 Corr16: 14: ‘Do everything in love.’ To call me a liar, or a double liar, is outrageous language for a follower of Jesus. My blog lists my profile. Here it is with a little more. I am a Scot now living in England. I grew up in a Catholic home. My oldest sister is a religious sister (Daughter of Charity of St Vincent de Paul) and my brother a daily Mass and rosary Catholic. I was educated in Scotland at boarding school by the Marist Brothers. Two of my uncles were Marists, two aunts Helpers of the Holy Souls. I was in the Legion of Mary for some 12 years. I was baptised and married in a Catholic parish (still married) and attended same while worshiping in that denomination. I regularly write for Catholic newspapers across the world (UK and South Africa and Australia) I have written speeches for Catholic bishops and others in the Catholic church. I know about the Little Flower (used to have a devotion) the rosary, St Pio. I have just been asked by a UK Catholic paper to nominate my book of the year and I’ve chosen It’s Faith, Jim, But Not As We Know It by Eddie Russell who founded Flame Ministries International. This is a Catholic Charismatic ministry which has the full backing of the Australian Catholic bishops and all their literature is backed by an Imprimatur and Nihil Obstat – see I even know Latin.I assure you I know Catholicism. That’s the reason I rejected it, while recognising there is a lot of truth and beauty within it. Incidentally, before I moved to England from Scotland, I organised two meetings for Flame Ministries in Catholic churches. And handled all the publicity and gave them a great write up in the Catholic press.I also know that despite the Church’s official teaching to venerate or have a devotion to Mary, many, many Catholics blur the water and WORSHIP Mary. I have already told Dwight that the only Catholic newspaper in Scotland, the Scottish Catholic Observer, was reprimanded two years in a row recently for carrying a feature on Mary in the month of May where the author, a journalist on that paper and a Catholic, wrote ‘May is traditionally the month Catholics worship Mary.’ The editor had to publish an apology and blamed production schedules for the error which was a dodgy excuse if ever I heard one. I remember the word worship being used at Legion of Mary meetings. That is not a lie. Even some of the Catholic charismatics I used to meet at meetings would slip in the word worship and had to be corrected by the leader. I know the Catholic church teaches devotion to Mary, I understand it promotes veneration, BUT in practice in the parishes, members worship Mary. One Catholic woman told me she didn’t care what the bishop taught, she had always worshipped Mary and would continue to do so. Incredible.Now, as for authority. The current pope and cardinals are, by and large, good, holy and honest men of the Spirit. But they and their descendents have long been cvut off from the authority vested in the early church. The proof of this are dogmas and doctrines like limbo, purgatory etc. If you were still operating in the authority, you would have thrown all that nonsense out. I think you Catholics have led the worldwide debate on abortion and, having just interviewed Sr Prejean this week, on capital pubishment too. Many Evangelicals should be ashamed at their neglect of the abortion issue.But I repeat, you don’t operate today in the authority witnessed in Acts. You are not Mother Church; you are one of the siblings which includes Anglicans, Evangelicals etc but NOT Mormons or Tennessee snake charmers.I know it is hard for you to accept this. But it is true. So you’re authority in that sense, is as true or dodgy as any Evangelical.The source for all of us is Jesus and His promise not to leave us orphans but to send the Holy Spirit. I’m not against tardition too, but not as a Catholic understand it.This is a long blog, but I was angry at Annonymous for calling me a liar. BlessingsJames

  • Thank you James. I’m also ashamed that a contributor called you a liar, but that’s the nature of blogging. You are okay taking the time to tell us more about your background. Thank you for being patient and taking the time to do so.I just regret that instead of giving a positive explanation of your own authority system you continue to attack the Catholic model and explain why it won’t do for you.We already know that. What we would like you to do is explain your own authority model, but all you have done is say Jesus and the Holy Spirit are our authority.Dear brother. You make my point. That is what all the different Protestant groups claim. All the groups from loopy Atheist Anglicans to ultra conservative Plymouth Brethren claim to follow Jesus and rely directly on the Holy Spirit.Even the pseudo Christian cults like JWs and Mormons and Christian Scientists and Moonies claim that they follow Jesus and are led by the Holy Spirit.Don’t get me wrong. I am not equating orthodox Evangelicals with these groups. I am simply pointing out that the subjective authority that you claim: “Jesus and the Holy Spirit” is the same one they claim.How do you know which one is right, or doesn’t it matter?The Catholic Church, on the other hand, has a clear magisterial teaching and an authority system which can be identified. Inasmuch as a Catholic departs from that in either direction he or his group depart from unity with the church and with other Catholics.We don’t pretend that this authority produces (or even should produce) a monochrome uniformity amongst all Catholics worldwide. What we do say is that it gives us a rock on which to build, and in the case of dissent, a rock against which to bash our heads!If you like, it gives us the fixed point upon which we can move the world.

  • James, in re-reading your post, I see that you have excluded Mormons and snake handlers.Here’s a good example. By what authority do you exclude these groups? We could agree that Mormons follow a false Scripture in addition to Christian revelation and they believe heretical doctrine.However, as far as I know the snake handlers of Applachia (and there are still some today) subscribe to otherwise orthodox Christian doctrine. Their doctrines and morals are pretty much indistinguishable from their other Free Baptist neighbors. Are they to be excluded simply for bizarre and dangerous worship practices?If we are to exclude people for bizarre and dangerous worship practices, couldn’t some of the more extreme charismatic groups be ruled out? Some of the mind control, ‘heavy shepherding’ and ‘exorcisms’ that one hears about in the charismatic world have been downright nasty.I’m not arguing the particulars here, but using them as an example for a larger authority that can draw the boundaries.

  • Dwight,I had to smile at your glibness where you write: “but all you have done is say Jesus and the Holy Spirit are our authority.”All I have done? Wow! I connected us, mortal human beings with Jesus, God made man, He Who Is Infinite, the Great I Am – and your response is “all you have done.”However, I feel I am breaking through your understandable allegiance to your denomination as you write: “We could agree that Mormons follow a false Scripture in addition to Christian revelation and they believe heretical doctrine.” So, finally, we are getting somewhere. The Catholic church has an historical lineage with the first Christians, but the fruits of the Spirit are limited in the Roman church today and have been for centuries. A church which invents purgatory, Marian devotion or relic worship, cannot with any seriousness claim to have, “a clear magisterial teaching and an authority system which can be identified.” The evidence betrays the reasoning.You ask me with what authority can I include one Protestant denomination but exclude another Protestant denomination. Well, I ask you, with what authority can you include one Catholic dogma but exclude another. The answer is – you have no authority, only an historical lineage. The two are not the same.BlessingsJames

  • Anonymous

    James Hastings,Sorry, but I’ve met so many deceitful, hypocritical protestants, that I just can’t accept that you’re being truthful about the alleged worship of Mary. And when I say worship, I mean it in the sense of paying divine honour to the Virgin, not the sense in which it is sometimes used (especially in 16th C. English) of paying a lesser degree of honour to anyone.Although I harbour the most extreme misgivings, I’m prepared to apologise conditionally – on the basis that in the light of eternity, I’ll discover that you really are being truthful.If you’re wondering why your credibility is so tainted so far as I’m concerned, it’s because of the general dishonesty of your sect. An example of this is that you cannot justify your protestant beliefs – to do so it is vital to defend scriptura sola, which you have not, because you CANNOT.Another James

  • I’ll say it again James. You continue to voice your criticisms of the Catholic Church rather than answering the question.We already know and understand your criticisms. We would appreciate, however, an explanation of your own authority system. Claiming allegiance to Jesus and guidance of the Holy Spirit is indeed wonderful, but I’m sure you see my point that all the other denominations and sects do that too. Everyone from good sensible Evangelical Charismatics to totally loopy Branch Davidians, sectarians and Christian based cultists whole heartedly and sincerely believe they follow the Bible, follow Jesus and are led by the Holy Spirit.Who says who is right and who is wrong?

  • Dwight,I fear we are stuck here.Perhaps a way forward would be for you to offer an explanation from where the Catholic church receives its authority? You have repeatedly stated it a has such an authority, but not from where it came and how it was given or operates.James – thanks for the (half) apology. You sound like someone who has been wounded by much religious emnity between Catholics and Evangelicals where you live. I can understand this. The west of Scotland where I used to live has a history of religious intolerence. Catholics and Protestants were, still are, bitter enemies, and this bitterness often spills over into physical violence.One of the Catholic publications in the UK for which I write is a magazine called Catholic Life. I write a monthly article on a saint. Yes, you read that correctly, a saint. No, I don’t venerate or pray to saints, but I do believe we should read their stories of courage and faith – faith in the Gospel. I also write articles on Catholic life and one recent piece I did featured the parish of Our Lady Queen of Peace in Selma, Alabama. Catholics there, including nuns, played a major role in the civil rights movement in the 60s, but it often goes unreported. I thought that fact should be corrected. The parishioners in Selma, as well as the saints in heaven, have a role in teaching Christians of all denominations, how we should truly live the Gospel.Please also pray with me for healing for the wife of my business colleague, Peter Kearney. He and his wife Andrea have five children. Peter is a dedicated Catholic and media advisor to the Scottish Catholic Bishops Conference. Andrea gave birth to their fifth child seven months ago and during her pregnecy was diagnosed with breast cancer but she delayed treatment until her child was born. This week, she was told she has secondary cancers in her liver and possibly lung. Peter has been a major figure in the Catholic church in Scotland, helping to raise the bishops profile and getting their voice out to the secular world drowned in humanism, secularism and New Age mumbo jumbo, so it is no surprise he and his family are under attack from Satan. Let us stand together for a good report this week for Andrea, knowing that God our Father loves us and wants us well.Perhaps I should explain, Peter and I run a media awareness business for churches and Christians of all denominations, which is separate from his responsibilities to the Scottish Bishops. See http://www.speakingout.info – but since my picture was taken, I have lost 5 stone in weight and bought a suit.BlessingsJames

  • Hi James,I hope you’ve had a blessed Lord’s Day.I’ll sure pray for your friend and his family.We are stuck because you still haven’t attempted to answer my question about the Protestant foundations for authority.Go on, take a stab at it.Tell you what–while you do that I’ll do a new post on the Catholic foundations of authority.Over and out

  • Dwight,I shared in a wonderful Lord’s Day at my Evangelical church. We use the New Rite (Reformation Special) Thank you for the offer of once again explaining authority from an Evangelical view, but I’ll await your treatise.BlessingsJames

  • James, I’m not surprised that you have declined to explain the Protestant authority system. That’s because there is none.Why don’t we stop playing around. The fact of the matter is, the Protestant has no authority system except their own individualistic (or denominational) interpretation of the Bible.You have no authority by which you or your denomination can claim to have the correct interpretation other than, “The Bible and the Holy Spirit”, and as I’ve pointed out all Protestants of every stripe from the sensible nice folks like you to the weirdest of wackos claim the same source of inspiration and authority.So which one’s right and how do you know?

  • Dwight,I went off and made a lovely cup of coffee and expected to come back to your blog and read your explanation of where the Catholic church gets its authority from. Now, my coffee’s getting cold and you seems to have cold feet.So, come on, don’t dither. Let’s have it. Here, I’ll give you the starting line….”The Roman Catholic Church gets its teaching authority from……BlessingsJames

  • James, on second thought, I don’t think I’m going to do this. I’ve written on this question in chs. 2-3 of my book More Christianity. If you like I will send you a copy.I have three reasons for not doing this here: First it would be a very long blog post, and I like to keep things short and sweet. Second, it might come across merely as my own opinion, and all I would be doing is re-counting what the Church herself teaches. Thirdly, I don’t think you really want an answer. I think you want a target.But prove me wrong. To show that you are actually interested in learning what the Catholic Church teaches about her authority take the time to read Chapter Two Article 2 in the Catechism on the Transmission of Divine Revelation. Then read the next article on Sacred Scripture.After that read Chapter Three, Article 9, paragraph 3 on the church being One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic.Its all there in much more detail and more simply and beautifully written than I can do.If you have any questions, fire away.

  • Dwight,I really do want an answer.I’ll do the readings you suggest when I have time. Meanwhile, let’s pray for snake charmers, statue worshippers and Tridentine followers everywhere.Peace, joy and Jesus’ blessings to you and all your contributors in the blogging community,James

  • Dear Fr. Longenecker, It is a bit late for me to chime in here; I am afraid that this thread is dead and most folks will not find what I have to say one whit interesting. You are right that Jesus prayed for the unity of the Church. But I wonder where Christ’s prayer fits in with this statement from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians: …I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions (schismata) among you, and to some extent I believe it. No doubt there have to be differences (hairesis; heresies, sects) among you to show which of you have God’s approval. (1 Cor. 11:18-19)Does this not suggest the divisions in the Body of Christ are God’s will? Maybe. But it does open us up to the question at hand: by what authority do we judge who has God’s approval? Perhaps we could argue that extinction is a sign of God’s disapproval: those sects that have disappeared (or nearly so) clearly did not have God’s approval. But we can’t say that Lutheranism has disappeared, or Calvinism. So our discernment criteria must not have anything to do with longevity. By what authority do I, a Protestant, operate as a Christian? It’s a good question, and I can’t help but think the answer is a dangerous one: I decide what is true and what is not. Honestly, I cannot think of a single Christian, Catholic or otherwise, who would not say the same thing about themselves. Catholics have a say in what they believe to be true; each Catholic is not merely subsuming him or herself to some irresistible dogma. Each believer makes a choice based on a variety of criteria; there really can be no claim otherwise: there must be a personal choice to affirm as authoritative one’s own understanding of what Catholic authority is. Converts to Catholicism must give their assent to something prior to conversion; a person does not enter the Church as a blank slate on which is subsequently written all the wonderful teachings of the authoritative Church, post-conversion. I, as a believer, declare that X is indeed true, even if I did not create X. I am ultimately the authority; for I, too, am the Church. Now this may seem like some sleight-of-hand or vile circumlocution. It might very well be. But the fact is that I am experiencing first hand what it means to convert to Catholicism; I am an inquirer in the local RCIA program. Indeed, therein that rite is an expectation that I will declare Catholic teaching to be true — for me; there is a tacit assumption that I can determine authoritatively what others have shown to be authoritative. It’s a bit like a jury at trial; a jury decides with authority what interpretation of facts is indeed authoritative. The experts behind the prosecution’s bar might be prior authorities, but that does not preclude that I, as a juror, am also an authority.So, where does this leave me? I accept as authoritative the teachings of the Catholic Church, but I do so on my own convictions and terms; I have determined that the teachings are indeed true and life-giving. But what I would like to know is where St. Paul gets the idea that schisms and heresies are from God, or at least permitted by Him, when Jesus prayed for unity. Or is unity about something else; does unity have nothing to do with dogmas and doctrines? After all, Jesus our Lord told us two things, first, that wherever two or more are gathered in His Name, He stands in their midst; and second, that “they” — those outside the Church — will know we are Christians by our love for those inside the Church. Christ does not say that our great witness to the world is our dogma, or our authority, or our traditions, or our wisdom, or even our love for those OUTSIDE the Church. To Christ, what sets us apart from the world is our LOVE for each other. Does this not, perhaps, make sense of this idea of division, namely, that we love each other despite our differences (unlike the world, which gives lip-service to differences but is prone to hate what it claims to love)? Are divisions given to the Body of Christ as a gift whereby we are all forced to love each other to the Glory of the Lord we adore? I wonder. Peace to you all, Bill Gnade

  • Dear Bill, nice to hear from you again. Very quickly: I think the reference of Paul to the Corinthians is not indicating God’s will, but man’s weakness. To paraphrase: “There have to be schisms among you because of your stubbornness, but this will only show which of you are correct.”The rest of your post, it seems to me, is a v. good question about personal choice. The distinction is about what we are choosing. When one chooses a Protestant church ones chooses for a plethora or reasons–some theological, some practical, some personal etc.When one chooses the Catholic Church it should be because of one thing: the bedrock of Peter and his successors. We choose the Catholic Church not because we are in an ecclesiastical cafeteria and we are picking the doctrines, dogmas and devotions we like best. We are choosing the Catholic Church simply because we believe that it is the Church instituted by Christ, founded on his authority delegated to Peter, and upheld and continually inspired by the Holy Spirit, and that it demands (as the living Body of Christ) our submission and love.Yes, this is a personal choice, but it is a choice on fundamentals rather than incidentals.

  • Dwight,I can be even quicker than you. You said you choose Catholicism “because we believe,” – and that is as much as you can say.Bill has a very good point. Maybe we need to broaden the definitition of unity.BlessingsJamesPS. I’ll buy you a beer during your London soujourn. I know a great little pub; its called the Two Ways.

  • Come now James, don’t re-write my comment. THe whole point of my comment was not ‘WE believe’ but emphasizing WHAT we believe.

  • Dear Fr. Longenecker,I pray this comment finds you well.Thank you for taking time with me. I know that I try the patience of many; you are too generous to indulge me here. Let me first state that I am on your side on this, though perhaps for very different reasons. With that said, I still struggle with the Faith, with what It is and where It might ultimately reside (on earth, at least). I am a bit like a hungry man standing in a well-stocked pantry who has a favorite memory of the smell of a wonderful but long-lost meal, who nonetheless cannot decide what ingredients — all fresh and glorious and shelved so perfectly — combine to produce that for which his heart longs. Is the Christian Church — Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox — itself the pantry? Or is the Church just the ‘right combination’ of certain ingredients? Or is the Catholic Church the complete pantry; the Protestant Church being some tattered rucksack hastily stuffed with ingredients purloined from the Great Church’s store (you know, as Chesterton suggested: Protestantism is the cardinal virtues untethered from orthodoxy)? I simply know right now that I don’t know the answers to my questions. When you respond by saying —The distinction is about what we are choosing. When one chooses a Protestant church ones chooses for a plethora or reasons–some theological, some practical, some personal etc.When one chooses the Catholic Church…— I find that I disagree. Please, forgive me for being disagreeable here, but I think a distinction should be made. People should not, at least initially, “choose a Church.” They should choose Christ. In fact, that is exactly what people — particularly those in the early Church — are doing: they are giving themselves in love and obedience to our Lord. So then, people who convert to Christ in Protestant traditions are rarely — if ever — thinking they are “choosing” Protestantism; and those who are “saved” within Catholicism are not weighing the virtues of Catholicism over pentecostalism or some other expression of Christian devotion. All are choosing Christ Jesus. It is usually only after conversion, when one is confronted with the distinctions and differences between the Protestant and Catholic claims to authority and authenticity, that Christians begin to “choose” churches. My point in this is that the Roman Catholic Church has indeed admitted, if not ex cathedra at least in some compelling way, that Protestant conversions and baptisms are in fact authoritative and effective. In my conversion to Catholicism, my baptism in the Methodist Church is considered sufficient for me to enter the Holy Fold of Rome, once I confirm that baptism through RC rituals. The point is Christ crucified and raised from the dead; at least this is the initial point, even as far back as the moment Peter stepped out of the empty tomb. Your paraphrase of the Pauline verse I cited might be accurate, but it does not solve the problem. For if the criterion is “stubbornness,” then we know in other cases that God permits certain things because of such hardness of heart. Hence, we are still left with the fact that God must intend divisions to satisfy the human tendency toward stubbornness. Or so it seems. But I am not defending your position; I am merely pointing out that your paraphrase does not help us here. St. Paul simply states that there must be divisions in order for us (or at least for the Corinthians) to discern where God’s favor lies. That this may open the door to subjectivity in a Christian’s discernment seems unavoidable. But it need not be scary (as I suggested earlier). For me, the decision to begin the process of Catholic “conversion” (something I talked to you about, Fr., in 1986 on a Bexhill street), reaches deep into my past; it is a long time coming. And I am still not settled about it all. But I am not choosing Catholicism because I think it authoritative and Protestantism is not; I am choosing it because I find it right about most if not all things Christian, and therefore I find it authoritative. Does that make sense? It is the rightness of it, the beautiful truth of it, that has me crossing the river. I still doubt, and the bishop of Manchester (NH) told me that my doubts could be carried with me all the way to Rome. (I pray he is right.)(Regarding doubt/division being negative, I disagree, mostly. Doubt can be a simple form of humility and diffidence; it is not necessarily rooted in denial or pride or conceit. St. Thomas [the Doubter] was not rebuked; our Lord did not chide him for his lack of faith. Personally, I believe doubt is faith’s mid-wife; or it may even be faith’s sibling.)Of course, there is much more to say on all of this. I thank you for allowing me to explore my conversion process right in front of your eyes. Peace be with you, Bill Gnade

  • Bill, thank you for writing, and I congratulate you on your journey into the Catholic faith.I agree with most of what you have said. You make a distinction, however, between the personal encounter with Christ and choosing a church. Catholics would say that a personal encounter with Christ cannot occur outside the Church (when I use ‘church’ here I am not equating it with the Roman Catholic Church, but with the widest definition possible of the Church)In other words, a totally subjective and individualistic encounter with Christ is impossible. Even for the mythical man on the desert islands with just his Bible for company–that man only has the Bible because of the Church that gave him the Bible.Therefore an authentic encounter with Christ must involve an encounter with the Church in some way or other–even if it is very minimal.This is why Catholic call the church the ‘sacrament of salvation.’ In a real sense the church is the body of Christ alive in the world today, and therefore incarnated in the world today.If this is so, then we ask ourselves which particular church is likely to bring me into the fullest, most historic, most authentic, most Scriptural and therefore most authoritative encounter with Christ.What I discovered, and I sense you are discovering too, is that the Catholic Church is the one which is oldest, biggest, most consistent with Scripture, most congruent with the Sacred Tradition, most universal, most apostolic and most unified.I agree with you that doubt can be positive in its results, but in my post I was defining it (for sake of argument) as something essentially negative, and was therefore trying to identify a negative attitude that may be said to underlie doubt.

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  • [This is a slightly revised comment drafted from the one which immediately preceded this one; I deleted the prior comment. I must apologize for what I did in my last post, Father, for I should not have brought up an old conversation we had, nor should I have referred to you — no matter how innocently I meant it — as once being naïve. Forgive me. BG]Fr. Longenecker, I bid you well!Thanks for continuing the discussion here. I have little to add, really. I admit with all due apologies that I should have been more careful when I spoke of conversion. While I believe it is true that Christians “choose” Christ prior to choosing “a church,” I do not believe that conversion can ever happen in a vacuum: we are all born anew in the womb of the Church, be it Catholic or otherwise. And there is no doubt in my mind that the authority of the Protestant churches is — at least to me — contingent upon the authority Protestantism inherited from Rome; and the authority of Rome is contingent upon the authority given it by the Head, Christ Himself. This will not satisfy the Protestants in our midst, I am sure, but the point I aim to make is that there is no salvation outside the Church — any church. (I will note, however, that the conversion of St. Paul is remarkably unique, for his encounter with the Lord does indeed appear to be “outside” of any Christian leadership: St. Paul is the only person in canonized Christian history to have been converted by an encounter with the ASCENDED Lord. So perhaps there IS some way “outside” the Church to encounter Jesus. But I am grasping in vain here, undoubtedly. That the Christ-confronted and blinded Saul sought counsel and advice — even confirmation — from those already in the Church somewhat nullifies my musings.)Thank you for your blessing as I travel through the RCIA. Most of the time I stand in the dark; I am praying that what is really going on is that I am standing with my eyes closed.Peace to you, and may you have a blesséd Thanksgiving.Bill Gnade

  • Anonymous

    “I remember the word worship being used at Legion of Mary meetings. That is not a lie. Even some of the Catholic charismatics I used to meet at meetings would slip in the word worship and had to be corrected by the leader. I know the Catholic church teaches devotion to Mary, I understand it promotes veneration, BUT in practice in the parishes, members worship Mary. One Catholic woman told me she didn’t care what the bishop taught, she had always worshipped Mary and would continue to do so.”Hastings, if you’re not an outright liar, you’re at least a fool.You posit some kind of de facto conspiracy to divinise St Mary, that is so irrational that no reasonable person could accept its reality. Hence my charge of you being a liar. It presupposes accessories to (one of the few) heresies that just about all catholics would condemn in the present climate, at all levels. That is outrageously stupid.Then again, so is scriptura sola.The only possible explanation consonant with good faith on your part – in which I don’t believe – is if the term “worship” was actually used, you, out of simplicity, misunderstood what was contextually meant, attributing to that term the payment of divine honour ro the virgin. And as for all your allegedly catholic relatives in the religious life, I wonder what they told you when you complained of catholics committing the sin of idolatry in regard to Our Lady??Another James

  • Dear James,May the Lord bless you and protect you, may He shield you from harm. May you know every blessing in the Lord. May He shine upon you and your loved ones and your descendents.Jude: Verse 2: Mercy, peace and love be yours in abundance.Revelation: 1: 4: Grace and peace to you from Him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before His throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.2 Peter: 1: 2. Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.Amen,BlessingsJames

  • ReformedJames

    When I was Protestant all they used to do was worship money, they claim they don’t, but all you have to do is watch Creflo Dollar, Copelands on the God Channel and see that they do worship money! Now where is that in the early Church did they practice this??? Where do Protestants get the authority to do this?