Reply to Hays’ “Catholicism” #10

Reply to Hays’ “Catholicism” #10 May 20, 2023

Conversion Paradigms; Dispensers of Sacraments; Salvation Outside the Church; Catholicism: Bible Totally Inerrant

The late Steve Hays (1959-2020) was a Calvinist (and anti-Catholic) apologist, who was very active on his blog, called Triablogue (now continued by Jason Engwer). His 695-page self-published book, Catholicism a collection of articles from his site — has graciously been made available for free. On 9 September 2006, knowing full well my history of being condemned and vilified by other anti-Catholics (and his buddies) like James White, Eric Svendsen, and James Swan, Hays was quite — almost extraordinarily — charitable towards me. He wrote then:

I don’t think I’ve ever accused him of being a traitor or apostate or infidel. . . . I have nothing to say, one way or the other, regarding his state of grace. But his sincerity is unquestionable. I also don’t dislike him. . . . I don’t think there’s anything malicious about Armstrong—unlike some people who come to mind. In addition, I don’t think I’ve ever said he was unintelligent. For the record, it’s obvious that Armstrong has a quick, nimble mind. . . . The term “apostasy” carries with it a heavy presumption that the apostate is a hell-bound reprobate. I think it’s unwarranted to assume that all Catholics or converts to Catholicism are damned.

Two-and-a-half years later, starting in April 2009 and up through December 2011 (in the following quotations) his opinion radically changed, and he claimed that I have “an evil character,” am “actually evil,” “ego-maniac, narcissist,” “idolater,” “self-idolater,” “hack who pretends to be a professional apologist,” given to “chicanery,” one who doesn’t “do any real research,” “a stalwart enemy of the faith . . .  no better than [the atheists] Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens,” with an intent to “destroy faith in God’s word,” “schizophrenic,” “emotionally unhinged,” one who “doesn’t trust in the merit of Christ alone for salvation,” “has no peace of mind,” “a bipolar solipsist,” “split-personality,” and a “bad” man. He wasn’t one to mince words! See more gory details.

I feel no need whatsoever to reciprocate these silly and sinful insults. I just wanted the record to be known. I’ve always maintained that Hays was a very intelligent man, but habitually a sophist in methodology; sincere and well-meaning, but tragically and systematically wrong and misguided regarding Catholicism. That’s what I’m addressing, not the state of his heart and soul (let alone his eternal destiny). It’s a theological discussion. This is one of many planned critiques of his book (see my reasons why I decided to do this). Rather than list them all here, interested readers are directed to the “Steve Hays” section of my Anti-Catholicism web page, where they will all be listed. My Bible citations are from the RSV. Steve’s words will be in blue.


[Chapter 3: Competing Paradigms]

Paradigm shift

Converting from the Protestant faith to the Catholic faith, or vice versa, involves a paradigm-shift. I’m defining a theological paradigm as a comprehensive interpretive grid. A way of viewing, integrating, and simplifying a mass of issues by reference to a particular conceptual scheme. [p. 90]

Exactly right.

One impediment which prevents some Catholics from conversion is that they are used to filtering everything through their theological paradigm, and they can’t imagine an alternative. They don’t know the explanatory power of a Protestant paradigm. They don’t know how it answers the same questions. They don’t think it can answer the same questions. [p. 90]

One impediment which prevents some Protestants from conversion to Catholicism is that they are used to filtering everything through their theological paradigm, and they can’t imagine an alternative. They don’t know the explanatory power of a Catholic paradigm. They don’t know how it answers the same questions. They don’t think it can answer the same questions.

In addition, there’s no one Catholic paradigm. [p. 90]

This is where Hays is wrong. He never understood this. There is one Catholic paradigm in terms of doctrine. It’s called “the magisterium.” This is what infallibility is about. In practice, individual Catholics comply to more or less degrees (I completely comply, as all Catholics should, according to the nature of the system). It’s true of all religious groups that there are members of varying degrees of knowledge, moral conformity, commitment, and consistency. Hypocrites, nominal folks, and theological ignoramuses can always be found (including, sadly, massive numbers of these in Catholic circles). But to compare system to system, the “books” and confessions and creeds must be consulted. It’s the only honest, objective way to go about that.

So I’ll be selective and generalize. My analysis deliberately oversimplifies some issues, . . . [p. 90]

This sums up the general flaw and shortcoming seen in virtually all of Hays’ anti-Catholic efforts. He doesn’t analyze deeply enough: as suggested in visual terms by the constant annoying “lecture notes” / “outline” format of his writings. No one was ever more in need of an editor.

Sometimes we need to see the forest rather than the trees. [p. 90]

Sometimes we need to see the trees — and the DNA of the trees — rather than the forest.

We can revisit the trees at a later date. [p. 90]

But it seems that Hays rarely if ever got to that. This make his analyses fundamentally superficial and inadequate. He was capable of much better, so it seems to have been a problem of the will.

It’s natural for Catholics to use their paradigm as the standard of comparison. They contrast what they deem to be the theoretical advantages of their paradigm with what they deem to be the theoretical disadvantages of the Protestant alternative. [p. 90]

It’s natural for Protestants to use their paradigm as the standard of comparison. They contrast what they deem to be the theoretical advantages of their paradigm with what they deem to be the theoretical disadvantages of the Catholic alternative.

But at one level that begs the question, for unless your theological paradigm is true, it is illegitimate to use it as a yardstick to measure the competition. Even if one paradigm has theoretical advantages compared to another, that’s not the same thing as having factual advantages. [p. 90]

I agree. That’s why I think the “standard of comparison” ought to be the scriptural data and a determination of the consensus teaching of the Church fathers: Bible and history. Now, how we can best compare the two is to have debates: let the outside observer see how a Protestant apologist defends his view from Scripture and history and how a Catholic apologist defends his view from Scripture and history, and then how they counter-reply to each other. This seems to me the fairest and most intelligent way to go about it. Read and compare; determine which view is more in accord with the Bible and Church history, and read from each side’s passionate advocates, not one side with a biased summary of the other. That won’t do.  . . . And of course I offer this very thing on my blog, for anyone who is willing to read the dialogues.

The Catholic priesthood has a monopoly on the sacraments. Valid sacraments depend on validly ordained priests, which in turn depends on apostolic succession. [p. 91]

This is largely true, but not wholly. Catholic deacons can baptize, and indeed, anyone (who has the right intention and uses a trinitarian formula) can baptize in emergency situations. Deacons can also preside over Catholic wedding ceremonies. And they can because that sacrament doesn’t flow from a priest or a deacon. The bride and groom confer the sacrament of matrimony upon each other. Catholics also accept trinitarian baptism among Protestants as a true, regenerative sacrament, and marriage between two lifelong Protestants as sacramental. Hays didn’t do his homework very well regarding this question.

To be saved, you must be a communicant member of the Roman Catholic church. [p. 91]

This is untrue as a blanket statement:

[T]he “pagan” Cornelius who, the Acts tell us, was “an upright and God-fearing man” even before baptism. Gradually, therefore, as it became clear that there were “God-fearing” people outside the Christian fold, and that some were deprived of their Catholic heritage without fault on their part, the parallel Tradition arose of considering such people open to salvation, although they were not professed Catholics or even necessarily baptized.
Ambrose and Augustine paved the way for making these distinctions. By the twelfth century, it was widely assumed that a person can be saved if some “invincible obstacle stands in the way” of his baptism and entrance into the Church. Thomas Aquinas restated the constant teaching about the general necessity of the Church. But he also conceded that a person may be saved extra sacramentally by a baptism of desire and therefore without actual membership by reason of his at least implicit desire to belong to the Church. (John A. Hardon, S.J., The Catholic Catechism [Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Co., 1975], 234-236)
The Catechism of the Catholic Church concurs:
818 “However, one cannot charge with the sin of the separation those who at present are born into these communities [that resulted from such separation] and in them are brought up in the faith of Christ, and the Catholic Church accepts them with respect and affection as brothers . . . . All who have been justified by faith in Baptism are incorporated into Christ; they therefore have a right to be called Christians, and with good reason are accepted as brothers in the Lord by the children of the Catholic Church.”
819 “Furthermore, many elements of sanctification and of truth” are found outside the visible confines of the Catholic Church: “the written Word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope, and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit, as well as visible elements.” Christ’s Spirit uses these Churches and ecclesial communities as means of salvation, whose power derives from the fullness of grace and truth that Christ has entrusted to the Catholic Church. All these blessings come from Christ and lead to him, and are in themselves calls to “Catholic unity.” [italics and bolding are my own]
There are certain strands of Catholic tradition that soften that paradigm, viz. invincible ignorance, implicit faith, Limbo. Those stand in tension with the austere inner logic of the primary paradigm. [p. 91]
They do not “stand in tension.” They “do” only granting beforehand the “either/or” false dichotomy mentality of many Protestants. Fr. Hardon (ibid.) wrote:
It would be inaccurate, however, to look upon these two traditions as in opposition. They represent the single mystery of the Church as universal sacrament of salvation, which the Church’s magisterium has explained in such a way that what seems to be a contradiction is really a paradox.
Fr. William G. Most added:
A diligent search in the Fathers shows a similar situation in regard to “no salvation outside the Church.” We find again two sets of assertions, very often by the same writers. One group of statements speaks very strongly, and almost stringently, about the need of membership; the other group softens this position by taking a remarkably broad view of what membership consists in. . . .
We found restrictive texts in Hermas, St. Justin, St. Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, St. Cyprian, Lactantius, St. Augustine, St. Cyril of Alexandria, and St. Fulgentius. There are also five Magisterium texts that seem restrictive. We found broad texts much more widely. Only three of the above ten Fathers who have restrictive texts lack broad texts: St. Cyprian, Lactantius, and
St. Fulgentius. All others, plus many more, do have them.Broad texts are found in: First Clement, St. Justin, Hermas, Second Clement, St. Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Hegemonius, Arnobius, Eusebius of Caesarea, St. Gregory of Nazianzus, St. John Chrysostom, St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, St. Prosper, St. Nilus, St. Cyril of Alexandria, Theodoret, St. Leo the Great, St. Gregory the Great, Primasius, and St. John Damascene.(“Is There Salvation Outside the Church?”)
The Bible is only infallible in matters concerning salvation. [p. 92]
This is an inaccurate understanding of the Catholic position:
For all the books which the Church receives as sacred and canonical are written wholly and entirely, with all their parts, at the dictation of the Holy Ghost; and so far is it from being possible that any error can co-exist with inspiration, that inspiration not only is essentially incompatible with error but excludes and rejects it as absolutely and necessarily, as it is impossible that God Himself, the supreme Truth, can utter that which is not true. . . . It follows that those who maintain that an error is possible in any genuine passage of the sacred writings either pervert the Catholic notion of inspiration or make God the author of such error (Pope Leo XIII, Providentissimus Deus [1893], 20-21)
Pope St. Pius X in his 1907 Lamentabili Sane [11] condemned the proposition “Divine inspiration does not extend to all of Sacred Scriptures so that it renders its parts, each and every one, free from every error.”
Pope Benedict XV re-affirmed Pope Leo XIII’s teaching in his own encyclical Spiritus Paraclitus [18] in 1920.
Ven. Pope Pius XII’s 1943 encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu also agreed: “For as the substantial Word of God became like to men in all things, except sin, so the words of God, expressed in human language, are made like to human speech in every respect, except error” [37]. [cf. his encyclical, Humani Generis (1950), section 22]
I remember reading The Battle for the Bible (1977) by Protestant scholar Harold Lindsell, back in the day (probably early 80s) when I was a fervent evangelical, and his making the point in the book that the Catholic Church had a doctrine of the inspiration and infallibility of Scripture — including after Vatican II, which changed no doctrines — that was as “high” as any Protestant view (it really struck me at the time, and I was delighted to learn of it).
Catholics must rely on fallible reason to arrive at their belief in Rome or defend it. Although they believe that Rome is infallible, that’s a fallible
belief in the infallibility of their denomination. A bottom-up process rather than a top-down process. Their conclusion regarding Catholicism is only as good as the fallible reasoning they use to reach that conclusion. Their conclusion is not infallible. They can’t escape the vicissitudes of errable judgment. The destination can’t rise higher than the process. Appeal to infallibility to retroactively validate their faith is illusory. [p. 92]
This is a fatally flawed argument known (at least in some Protestant circles) as the “infallibility regress.” I have refuted it several times:

Dialogue on the Logic of Catholic Infallible Authority [6-4-96]

Church Authority & Certainty (The “Infallibility Regress”) [July 2000; some revisions on 12-8-11]

Ecclesiological Certainty (?) & the “Infallibility Regress” [5-22-03 and 10-7-08]

Does Church Infallibility Require Infallible Catholics? [6-8-10]

“How Can we Find a List of Infallible Catholic Doctrines?” [12-15-18]

The Protestant paradigm doesn’t rely on historical continuity. It doesn’t depend on a chain of custody. So long as people have access to revealed truth, the Spirit can start or restart the church at any time and any place. [p. 93]

Note the almost self-evident absurdity of this statement. I wish I had a dime for every time a Protestant apologist claimed that Protestants weren’t “ahistorical.” They resent any indication to the contrary. Then we see a ludicrous expression like this one, by an influential and prolific Calvinist apologist. I’ve been contending for over thirty years that the Protestant Revolution (not “Reformation”) was just that: an introduction of novelties; disconnected from Church history in many (not all) ways, and not able to be confirmed by a consensus of the Church fathers. Thanks for the confirmation, Steve! The true Church is indefectible, and as such, it’s nonsensical to talk as if it “can start or restart . . . at any time and any place.”


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Photo credit: The Whore of Babylon (workshop of Lucas Cranach): colorized illustration from Martin Luther’s 1534 translation of the Bible [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]


Summary: The late Steve Hays was a Calvinist and anti-Catholic writer and apologist. This is one of my many critiques of Hays’ “Catholicism”: a 695-page self-published volume.

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