Reply to Hays’ “Catholicism” #19

Reply to Hays’ “Catholicism” #19 May 30, 2023

Catholic Conversion; Why Infallibility?; Limbo; Catholicism & Exegesis; Salvation(?) by Faith Alone?; St. Cardinal Newman & Pope St. Pius X

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, 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. 

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 5: Convert Syndrome]

The gingerbread house-part 1

So many Catholic conversion stories have a cerebral emphasis. [p. 247]

Yes, because Catholicism is a thinking mans’ religion: the opposite of the small sub-group of Protestant fundamentalism, which is anti-intellectual. In many cases, it was a matter of learning things one had never been taught, and reading from a perspective other than Protestant.  That process is “cerebral.” In my case, it was learning a lot about Church history and development of doctrine that I had never been taught. Historical facts are not “touchy-feely / warm fuzzy” experiential. One has to learn it and think about it. But there are lots of different types of conversion stories.

The appeal of Catholicism is like the gingerbread house in Hansel & Gretel. It presents a startling contrast between what’s on the outside and what’s on the inside. There’s the yummy exterior, which is the bait–but once inside, there’s the cannibalistic witch. [p. 247]

Sure, if one converts based on mere ideals and outward appearances, and relying on human beings to never let one down, then they will be in for a big disappointment. Catholicism is blessed “on the ground” with massive ignorance and nominalism and hypocrisy just as Protestantism is. It’s the “dumb man’s” approach to think that everything will be perfect. The wise convert understands the biblical teaching that the Church has flawed people in it, but that God is at work to guide His Church on the level of doctrines and dogmas and moral teaching.

They convert because they believe the doctrines to be true, as opposed to thinking that all Catholics will be perfect saints. Nothing comes close to the Catholic Church in these regards. We alone have preserved the full moral teaching of the Bible and the apostles. Everyone else has compromised and caved, to one degree or another (on abortion and divorce and cohabitation and contraception and so-called “gay marriage”, and now, an increasing euthanasia and even infanticide in the most liberal states). This is a major reason why I am a Catholic. I got tired of Church groups that compromised on serious moral issues.

They convert to Catholicism before they experience Catholic parish life. Like the gingerbread house, this sets up a dichotomy between Catholicism on paper and the church on the ground. [p. 247]

One simply looks around for a good, orthodox, pious parish where the people actually believe and practice Catholicism. It’s not difficult: at least not in urban areas. Occasionally, it may be difficult to find a good parish close by. Avoid the theological liberal garbage like the plague . . .

By comparison, there’s nothing ironic about reading yourself into evangelicalism or Calvinism because, initially, the primary question is whether it’s true. [p. 248]

That’s not different from a standard, serious conversion to Catholicism by someone who was already a solid Protestant. I’m answering as I read, and I already wrote above: “They convert because they believe the doctrines to be true, . . .”

[S]ome converts already had a background in liturgical churches (Lutheran, Anglican, Episcopalian). It comes as no surprise when they convert to Catholicism since their religious background predisposed them in that direction. [p. 248]

I was as unliturgical and low-church as one could be. It wasn’t about going where I felt comfortable, but following truth where I thought it led, regardless of “touchy-feely / oh-so-familiar” feelings.

On a related note, several converts had a background that was irreligious or nominally religious or nominally Protestant. Once again, it comes as no surprise that their background makes them susceptible to Catholicism inasmuch as they never had a strong, intellectually well-informed evangelical standard of comparison. [p. 248]

In my case, the churches I attended were intellectually sound (the pastor who married us had a doctorate in education), with a love of apologetics, such as from C. S. Lewis and Francis Schaeffer and Walter Martin, and the notion that Jesus was Lord of all of life. I did street witnessing at the Ann Arbor Art Fair (University of Michigan) for ten years, all through the 80s. One can’t succeed in doing that at all — without making a total fool of oneself — if one is anti-intellectual. It’s one of the hotbeds of radical secularism and left-wing politics in the country: and my parish now is located there.

But Hays still tried to lie about my background, as if it were anti-intellectual (“he had a rather brief and superficial experience with Evangelicalism [13 years!]—reading popularizers and attending emotive, anti-intellectual churches. . . . a shallow brand of Evangelicalism”: 9-9-06).

Bishop James White tried to pull the same schtick in December 2004, and described me as “one who has given very little evidence, in fact, of having done a lot of serious reading in better non-Catholic literature to begin with” (see the books I had actually read as a Protestant). I had been a Protestant apologist, for heaven’s sake, and did anti-cult research (still posted on my blog) and outreach in the early 80s. I did a radio show, teaching about Jehovah’s Witnesses on the big evangelical station in Detroit in 1989. That’s “thinking” stuff. People like Hays simply can’t believe that anyone at all intelligent or well-read or knowledgeable in Christianity could possibly become a Catholic. So we see him perpetually rationalizing away the reasons for such conversions. But he failed. E for effort and also for performance . . .

I use myself as an example because I know my own conversion story very well. But my overall point is that, if he can twist and distort my story that much, surely he did so with many others, too. My conversion to Catholicism was built upon the many true elements of Protestantism, that had taught me so much, and for which I am very grateful.

The gingerbread house-part 3

What’s so great about infallibility, anyway? You don’t have to be infallible to be right. We hold many fallible but true beliefs. [p. 253]

What’s great about it is that it allows for certainty that one is believing in truth. The Bible (especially Paul) is very big on truth. The word “truth” appears 103 times in the NT in RSV. “Assured[ly]” appears three times, “may know” sixteen times, “confident[ly]” six times, “knowledge” 48 times, “wise” 36 times, and “wisdom” 51 times. Infallibility is the same sort of thing. Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would “guide” us “into all the truth” (Jn 16:13), and Paul taught that the Church was “the pillar and bulwark of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15). The apostles and elders at the Jerusalem council said that their decision “seemed good to the Holy Spirit” (Acts 15:28). For a more linguistically equivalent assertion of infallibility, we see a passage like this one:

2 Corinthians 13:5-6 Examine yourselves, to see whether you are holding to your faith. Test yourselves. Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you? — unless indeed you fail to meet the test! [6] I hope you will find out that we have not failed.

God likes His followers being certain, assured, confident, knowledgeable, wise, and adhering to infallible doctrinal proclamations, such as are present in Catholicism. He doesn’t like the (sought after, gloried in!) uncertainty, doctrinal chaos and indifferentism, and theological relativism that is so pervasive in Protestantism.

The gingerbread house-part 4

“The Church” didn’t compile the Bible. [p. 258]

Yeah, we know. It ratified or sanctioned or “authorized” it by her authority, so that the issue would henceforth be settled. More of that dreaded infallibility and certainty . . .

The gingerbread house-part 6

The church can be indefectible even though denominations are defectible, because the church is instantiated in different denominations at different times and places. When they outlive their usefulness, the church is then instantiated in newer denominations. [p. 261]

And where is this novel notion found in the Bible? Sectarianism and division are everywhere and always condemned in the NT.

[Chapter 6: Development of Doctrine]

No hard feelings, right?

For centuries, grieving parents were told that unbaptized babies went to Limbo rather than heaven. While that’s better than hell, it also means the parents will be permanently separated from their deceased children. Even if the parents are ultimately saved, they occupy a different place than their children. [p. 266]

Rather, Rome came down firmly on both sides of the issue at different times. [p. 268]

Limbo was never established doctrine. See:

Has Limbo Been Relegated to Limbo?: It Never Was Definitive Teaching [12-28-07]

Jay Dyer: Intellectual Limbo Re Catholic Belief in Limbo (with Dr. Robert Fastiggi) [7-24-20]

Cardinal Müller on Catholicism and Protestantism

Cardinal Müller represents the conservative, intellectual wing of the hierarchy. [p. 269]

In other words, he is simply an orthodox Catholic. It’s nice to see Hays finally acknowledge that there is a human being who is not a flaming liberal dissident (in his mind) as part of the “hierarchy.” But any of us orthodox apologists are just deluded dopes supposedly out of touch with the “actual” Catholic Church. Hays disagreed with Cardinal Müller’s statement: “The visible Church is the concretization of the Word of God’s incarnate presence in Jesus Christ” by replying, “It is in Catholic ecclesiology, but not in NT ecclesiology.” Oh yes it is. I dealt with this in reply #18:

1 Corinthians 12:27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

Acts 8:3; 9:1, 4-5  But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison. . . . Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord. . . . And he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting”;

Rome claims the ability to bypass transparent, responsible methods of exegesis and substitutes the sheer ecclesiastical authority to posit the meaning. [p. 274]

No she doesn’t. There are only seven to nine Bible passages that the Catholic Church has definitively and finally interpreted See: The Freedom of the Catholic Biblical Exegete / Interpreter + Bible Passages that the Church has Definitively Interpreted [9-14-03]. Surely, any Calvinist has at least that many passages that they think prove their beloved TULIP false doctrine, and which in their minds could have no other possible interpretation.

For example, all Calvinists seem to think that Romans 9 is an unanswerable, unquestionable confirmation of their novel doctrines on double predestination (I saw this “confidence” exhibited just last week online). It’s not, as I showed: Romans 9: Plausible Non-Calvinist Interpretation [4-22-10]. But my main present point is that it’s not only Catholics who say “you can’t interpret verses a, b, c, other than as x” (in the Catholic case, for only 7-9 passages) Protestants do it, too. So why wrangle about things that are a wash?

The classic Protestant position isn’t salvation by faith alone but justification by faith alone and salvation by grace alone. [p. 278]

John Calvin’s pretty “classic” and he wrote about one of Protestantism’s favorite passages (Ephesians 2:8-9):

For by grace are ye saved. This is an inference from the former statements. Having treated of election and of effectual calling, he arrives at this general conclusion, that they had obtained salvation by faith alone. First, he asserts, that the salvation of the Ephesians was entirely the work, the gracious work of God. But then they had obtained this grace by faith. On one side, we must look at God; and, on the other, at man. God declares, that he owes us nothing; so that salvation is not a reward or recompense, but unmixed grace. The next question is, in what way do men receive that salvation which is offered to them by the hand of God? The answer is, by faith; . . .

When, on the part of man, the act of receiving salvation is made to consist in faith alone, all other means, on which men are accustomed to rely, are discarded. (Commentary on Ephesians 2:8–10; my italics)

St. John Cardinal Newman

Set your “lie meters.” They will be going crazy, for sure . . .

Newman resembles Luther inasmuch as both developed one-man belief-systems to resolve their personal religious quest. [p. 280]

This is sheer nonsense: ignorant as it can be. Newman was in complete accord with the tradition of Catholicism, and even his thesis on development that Hays relentlessly lies about and mischaracterizes, was directly derived from St. Vincent of Lerins in the 5th century. Luther, on the other hand, was a revolutionary, who had already rejected at least fifty Catholic beliefs and traditions and practices by 1520, before he was excommunicated.

The theory of development was necessitated by the increasing strain between the appeal to tradition and innovations in Catholic theology. Innovations that lacked a documentable pedigree in primitive tradition. [p. 280]

This is garbage, too, and I have refuted it again and again. See, in particular, my editing of replies to the virulently anti-Catholic and anti-Newman Anglican anti-Catholic George Salmon, and my own replies to Salmon’s anti-Newman damnable lies.

The theory of development solved one problem by creating another problem. It severed Catholic theology from any traditional moorings. Catholic theology is now adrift. It has no fixed center or boundaries. Catholic theology is now the theology of whoever the current pope happens to be. Like a chameleon, Catholic theology changes colors to match the shade of the current pope. [p. 280]

In Hays’ vain and highly fanciful imagination, development of doctrine is supposedly equivalent to evolution of dogmas. He seems constitutionally unable to comprehend how dead wrong this is. The former is fully accepted by the Catholic Church and involves no essential change. The latter involves essential change into something different and is condemned by the Church. Now, if indeed, Newman’s development was so supposedly radical and novel, how is it that the pope most known for being traditional and anti-modernist, Pope St. Pius X, was such a big advocate of it?

It so happens that an Irish bishop defended Newman from the false charges that he was a modernist and a liberal, and that his theory of development was no different than modernist “evolution of dogma” which Pope St. Pius X had condemned (and that he was condemned by his encyclical Pascendi). The document’s title is: Cardinal Newman and the Encyclical Pascendi Dominici Gregis, and it was written by Edward Thomas O’Dwyer, Bishop of Limerick (1908). Here is an excerpt:

(3) With regard to the theory of the development of Christian Doctrine, two questions entirely distinct from one another have to be considered in relation to Newman: (a) is his theory admissible according to the principles of Catholic Theology, and (b) is it covered, or touched in any wise, by the condemnations of the recent Encyclical.

The first of these questions I leave on one side now, venturing merely to express, with all submission, my personal opinion, little as it is worth, that in its broad outlines it is thoroughly sound and orthodox, and most serviceable for the interpretation of the facts of the history of dogma.

As to the second, I cannot see how there can be room for doubt. Newman’s whole doctrine was not only different from that of the Modernists, but so contrary to it in essence and fundamental principle, that I cannot conceive how, by any implication, it could be involved in their condemnation. Nothing less than an explicit statement by the supreme authority of the Holy See would convince me to the contrary. I see no common ground in both systems. The word development is the only thing which they hold in common. They do not mean the same thing by Christianity, by dogma, by religion, by Church. They do not start from the same first principles, and consequently they are as separate as the poles.

Pope St. Pius X himself – in the same year: 1908 (on 10 March) – wrote a letter to Bishop O’Dwyer, thoroughly approving of his pamphlet. Here are some excerpts:

We hereby inform you that your essay, in which you show that the writings of Cardinal Newman, far from being in disagreement with Our Encyclical Letter Pascendi, are very much in harmony with it, . . . Moreover, as far as that matter is concerned, his way of thinking has been expressed in very different ways, both in the spoken word and in his published writings, and the author himself, on his admission into the Catholic Church, forwarded all his writings to the authority of the same Church so that any corrections might be made, if judged appropriate. Regarding the large number of books of great importance and influence which he wrote as a Catholic, it is hardly necessary to exonerate them from any connection with this present heresy. . . . what the Modernists do is to falsely and deceitfully take those words out of the whole context of what he meant to say and twist them to suit their own meaning. We therefore congratulate you for having, through your knowledge of all his writings, brilliantly vindicated the memory of this eminently upright and wise man from injustice: . . . Would that they should follow Newman the author faithfully by studying his books without, to be sure, being addicted to their own prejudices, and let them not with wicked cunning conjure anything up from them or declare that their own opinions are confirmed in them; but instead let them understand his pure and whole principles, his lessons and inspiration which they contain. They will learn many excellent things from such a great teacher: in the first place, to regard the Magisterium of the Church as sacred, to defend the doctrine handed down inviolately by the Fathers and, what is of highest importance to the safeguarding of Catholic truth, to follow and obey the Successor of St. Peter with the greatest faith. [link]

When I dropped this bombshell on David T. King: without question the loudest-mouthed, most arrogant and obnoxious, rude anti-Catholic I’ve ever met, he never again tried to reply to me (and it has remained that way for almost twenty years now). For more details, see: Was Cardinal Newman a Modernist?: Pope St. Pius X vs. Anti-Catholic Polemicist David T. King (Development, not Evolution of Doctrine) [1-20-04].

Hays has created a wholly fictional, imaginary landscape whereby Pope St. Pius X supposedly opposed Newman’s development of doctrine and regarded him as a modernist. That couldn’t be any more opposed to the truth than it is, as I just documented. If Hays had read this paper of mine in 2004, he could have never argued anything this stupid and removed from reality. David T. King sure learned to cease spouting his ignorant nonsense about Cardinal Newman. “Once bitten, twice shy” . . .

Rome’s clouded crystal ball

A Catholic might object that I’m burning a straw man. Sure, Catholic doctrine changes. No one disputes that. Some changes represent a development of doctrine. In other cases, the tradition wasn’t infallible to begin with. I’m aware of those caveats. [p. 286]

Good. A ray of hope and some desperately needed nuance . . .


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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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