October 24, 2020

The IMonk Spends Five Hours With Scott Hahn: The Full Report

UPDATE: OK. Here we go again. I’m not putting up with it this time. You want to respond respectfully, great. But anything less than calm and reasonable isn’t going to make it.

If you don’t know about my wrestlings with Catholicism, I can’t catch you up. Hit the search engine or ask someone who obsessively reads this blog.

I’ve avoided Scott Hahn completely. For a while, my wife and I had a deal his books wouldn’t be in the house. (I’ve since given up those kinds of ridiculous compromises. I’ve even given her one of his books recently.)

Hahn is a former conservative Presbyterian professor who has been called “Luther in reverse” since his much noted and retold conversion in the mid 1990’s. Today he is a prominent Catholic scholar, apologist and Bible teacher, doing much to encourage Roman Catholic adults to understand their faith and especially its sources in scripture.

Hahn’s conversion and subsequent speaking and writing career have resulted, according to Catholic sources, in…..a large number of conversions. (I’ve actually heard the term “millions,” which seems a bit enthusiastic.)

If you’ve read my writing about my own journey in relation to Catholicism, then you know I don’t like attempts at conversion. (Yes, the 135 of you who tried it, I mean you.) I like my Merton, my Nouwen and my Vatican II ecumenism. I don’t like Catholic Answers, The Journey Home and the big gun- Scott Hahn. (Be like Amy W and Alan C, people 🙂

But I’d never read or listened to much more than Hahn’s testimony, so being in a car many hours this week, I had a chance to remedy that. I went to Catholic Audio and found a five session conference Hahn did training adult Catholics to explain five of the most controversial areas of their faith: The Pope, Mary, the saints, purgatory and the Eucharist. (Get the mp3 link at the end of the post.)

I made it through all five presentations and I want to give a brief summary of my thoughts. This isn’t a response by any means. Hahn is a Ph.d and a trained scholar. I’m a lowly seminary grad and high school teacher. I’d love to hear him in a debate with any number or Protestant apologists, but his calling is more that of a teacher. Nonetheless, in these talks, he made extensive reference to his own journey from Protestantism (which he always speaks of very respectfully and positively) to Roman Catholicism. He is quite open about where he had the most difficulty embracing Roman Catholic teaching, which I appreciate.

1. Hahn’s presentations on the Pope, the saints, the Eucharist and especially Purgatory were outstanding. Were I in a position to consider conversion, they would be extremely helpful presentations. I recommend them to anyone on that journey. Of course, I disagreed in places and had questions, but the majority of these presentations were enjoyable and beneficial to work through.

2. The presentation on purgatory was particularly good because Hahn related his own objections and his strong belief in the sufficiency of Christ’s atonement. His focus on the application of that atonement was, in many ways, similar to what I’ve heard from reformed teachers like John Piper. Hahn related purgatory to an overall view of suffering in the Christian life and did an excellent overview of that theme in Romans 8. I recommend this presentation above all the others.

3. Though we might have some substantial differences on the subject of purgatory, I felt Hahn’s view would make for an interesting conversation with the views of C.S. Lewis, who believed in purgatory, and N.T. Wright, who rejects purgatory but believes scripture teaches much on an interim state.

4. Many of Hahn’s Biblical insights in these presentations were brilliant. It is obvious that his Catholic setting as a scholar has placed him in a different position to approach the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, than many Protestants can appreciate. It is a richer, deeper sense of interpreting the Bible from within the church than many Protestants would attempt. Again, I would not join him in all of his conclusions, but his method was admirable, usually sound and often very suggestive of deep and helpful Biblical themes.

5. But then there was the presentation on Mary. Much of that material can be found here and perhaps elsewhere on the net.

I know that many of my RC friends believe I have a “Mary problem,” but that is really not the case. I would agree completely with Scot McKnight’s views on Mary. I believe that the great common areas of Marian doctrine that can and should be affirmed in the three major Christian traditions should be emphasized without embarrassment or reluctance.

I share a strong view of the communion of saints and the active role of those who have gone on to the church triumphant. I am not distressed by ideas of prayer that include the intercession of those who are with Christ. I am not opposed to the honoring of Mary as the mother of the divine Son of God, the incarnate Jesus, a model of the church and source of particular imitation and inspiration.

But in the one hour plus I listened to Hahn on this topic, I could feel the pain. And I didn’t bring any Tylenol either.

I could feel the pain of the Marian dogmas that have been propagated and made mandatory most recently, and the lack of simple, obvious Biblical evidence for those dogmas.

I could feel the stress of following a trail through scripture that was worthy of an Indiana Jones movie. And that is not an exaggeration. Hahn’s wild ride through the Old Testament to prove his points made the dispensationalist teaching of the rapture seem like John 3:16.

Again and again, Hahn told of “little known” aspects of the Queen-Mother theme in ancient middle eastern monarchies. Again and again, he said that “deeper study” would reveal the role of the Queen Mother. Again and again, he attempted to prove that the ark of the covenant is a Biblical symbol for Mary. With full knowledge that NO Protestant scholars buy his equation of the woman clothed with the sun in Revelation 12 with Mary, he persisted in insisting that the ark in the temple at the end of Revelation 11 and the woman in Revelation 12 are the same person.

These are fascinating views and have deep roots in Catholicism, but they aren’t laying there in the texts of scripture to be found and believed. They are a brew of centuries of Catholic scholarship finding what needs to be there.

Taking every available shortcut, and totally avoiding Mark 3, Hahn gave the expected view that Mary was ever virgin and had no other children. He cited the Protestant reformers as allies in this view, which is hardly a useful tactic if you intend to say those same reformers were wrong about so much else. Again, plain statements of scripture? Not available apparently.

He nobly attempted to explain why Joseph would have not had sexual relations with his wife despite the plain language of the Bible by saying Joseph would have considered marital sex and other children as an “unworthy use” of the virgin’s womb. One analogy compared Mary’s womb to fine China and marital sex to a picnic with plastic plates. This negative view of marital sex is something that simply can’t be brought into Christianity without deep negative consequences. Defending such an unnatural marriage with such analogies is insulting to those of us who are willing to listen and think through these difficult topics.

Word to all readers: Augustine was screwed up on the subject of sex and so were lots of other revered early church writers. MAJORLY SCREWED UP. Being great pastors and theologians doesn’t help straighten out the view that Joseph wouldn’t have wanted to defile the holy womb with regular marital sexual relations. Read Paul’s writings on marital sex and ask yourself if Augustine and Jerome were paying attention.

After all this desperation, Hahn never attempted a justification of any kind of the assumption of Mary, only resorted to a logical explanation of the immaculate conception and took for granted that Marian appearances, titles and piety contained nothing of interest. As seems to be the case so often, when we’ve gotten this far into what the church teaches on scanty or no evidence, there’s little hesitancy to put the brakes on or answer the huge questions that emerge.

As I said, a Protestant like myself feels that this sort of presentation is a painful exercise. Much of the “Biblical evidence” was of a kind that could never be brought into a neutral setting and presented seriously. It was as if the subtext was supposed to overtake the text: If you can believe all the rest, you can find a way to wrap your mind around this and make it work.

In other words, how much do you want to be in communion with the true church?

The issue for Protestants like myself is that the core Marian dogmas are important and almost all affirmable. But the more recent ones, and the more recent attempts to make all of this “Biblical” via various exegetical adventures, almost seems like tests for how much a Protestant is willing to surrender over to the teaching of the church what cannot be discovered or articulated any other way except dogmatically. If you persist in sayng these matters must be clearly demonstrated from scripture, something is going to have to give. See what the church sees and forget what you don’t see.

As I said, that’s real pain for some of us.

For many of us, that is also an insurmountable obstacle. Better- far, far better- to just say “The Church teaches it,” than to send Scott Hahn out to try and convince me that the Queen Mother Bathsheba proves the exalted role of Mary. Please.

I appreciated Scott Hahn’s presentations and learned much about his faith and his journey. It was helpful. He anticipated almost all of my objections to most of his subjects and answered them well, if not convincingly.

But on the subject of Mary it remains impossible to see why one must affirm the assumption of Mary in order to come to the Lord’s Table. Such a dogmatic hoop is there only to emphasize the necessity of submission of the mind and conscience to the church. As long as I can read the Bible for myself with reason and a modestly critical hermeneutic, I’ll never be able to affirm these dogmas.


  1. Thanks Scott. I’ve listened to Frederica Mattewes-Greene and Simply Orthodox for a while.

    I’m always interested to learn more about Orthodoxy. Many of my students are Ethiopian Orthodox, and without being disresepctful, I rarely meet one with even a basic understanding of Christianity.

    Learning about Orthodoxy where I live is a bit like learning about the Inuit. They’re not around here. A few in Lex two hours away.

    With all due respect, it continues to fascinate me that the discussion on this web site seems to have this tension between any one of us being part of the true church and belonging to the real Christ NOW, vs the importance some people feel of moving TO the EO or the RCC as the end of their journey.

    I’m on the first journey. I’m not on the second. Conversions stories are interesting to read, but my belief that God has me where he wants me and that God has no interest in me changing denominations is solid.

    Frankly, the conversions stories I am reading are people who’ve abandoned the denominational landscape altogether. (See the God Journey Podcast for example.)



  2. I’m not sure how I would even characterize my journey, much less guess what the destination will be. I’m coming to believe that, if things were different than they are in the US today and in my family, I could perhaps be Orthodox with a less ironic faith than I would have either in Roman Catholicism or any variant of Protestantism I’ve examined. But things are ever what they are, and it seems unlikely I will ever test that idea. That doesn’t bother me like I think it would some because my entire Christian journey has been a path of radical change for me over the past fifteen years or so. I don’t think I expect that change to stop now.

    I think you misunderstand the nature of the podcast I mentioned. It wasn’t really about conversion to Orthodoxy from Protestantism, but rather how she would frame her “testimony” differently now. It included thoughts like: I was saved 2,000 years ago (through the work of Jesus). I am being saved now. I will be saved at the final judgment of the living and the dead. That’s why I said I thought you might like it.

    If I remember correctly, the last King of Ethiopia was a devout Christian. And his nation was much more Christian under him. I believe Ethiopia was part of the 6th century schism over Chalcedon (but I have to admit I’m not sure). Still, it is certain that Africa has suffered much especially from colonialism and post-colonialism. Ethiopia is not now what it once was. And the more central areas of Orthodoxy have faced persecution particularly under the Ottoman Empire. And the more north Orthodox have suffered this past century under communism. Still, I could pick any number of students just in my own community who go to church but have no real idea what it means to be a Christian. I don’t think that can be pegged to a tradition.

    I thought of Glory to God in particular because of some things you’ve written recently. Father Stephen have some thoughts which seem very similar in his essays on a one-story versus a two-story universe. It occurs to me that there is a shorter summary of those thoughts in a lecture available in the last two episode of the OCF podcast. I think the lecture is about an hour long and divided into two podcasts. If you didn’t want to spend much time, you might want to just listen to that lecture. I also think you might like Father Stephen because he lives and ministers in the mountains not too distant from where you do. Many of his podcasts relate to that culture.

    Take care and enjoy your sabbatical.

  3. I’m very disappointed how this dialog has concluded. On reflection it seems pretty typical of the last 4 or 5 here. I am finding it difficult to write a measured and charitable response at this time.

    I am discouraged Michael has reacted so strongly to Fr. Al (unnecessarily but understandably I suppose).

    I am a bit angry that Scott feels so well informed about both Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches that he can pigeon hole both of them and pit them against each other. One thing I’d really like to SHOUT right now is that Catholicism (both Roman and Eastern) is a lot, LOT bigger on the inside than it looks like from the outside, especially if you’re looking at a protestant bookstore at reading protestant authors. Two sentence summaries of Catholicism just don’t cut it (they sound really stupid to anyone who has ever really studied Catholicism from Catholic sources – the Catechism of the Catholic Church is a great start but only scratches the surface).

    I hope to be able to post something more useful on this thread after some prayer and a good nights sleep, Mass, Holy Communion, a donut and a cup of coffee.

  4. Paul:

    I have to wonder if you are disappointed in how the convert apologists present the RCC?

    I’m not RC and I am.

    I have practically memorized the Vatican II documents on ecumenism and the convert apologists sound like a completely different religion.

    Why do I react strongly to being told I’m a gnostic who can’t even ask the questions, understand mere Christianity, etc?

    Because of this document, which doesn’t sound at all like the convert apologists.

  5. Paul, I’m curious why you think I’m pitting EO against the RCC? I didn’t say anything about the differences that I haven’t heard and read from a very wide array of EO voices. As far as I can tell, the general consensus within Orthodoxy are that RCC and Protestantism are flip sides of the same coin. And I tend to agree.

    I’m very much still learning about Orthodoxy. But I do know quite a bit about the Roman Catholic Church. For reasons related to the neighborhood in which we lived and not religion, I did attend a Roman Catholic school from 6th to 8th grade. And since I was exploring many different spiritualities with my family (and my mother in particular) and had been raised in a way that left me interested in such things, I actually paid attention and asked questions in religion class and at Mass. Further, after traveling many different paths, my mother did convert to the RCC sometime in the late eighties, before I was anything identifiably Christian. She’s now the principal at a mission Catholic school serving mostly non-Catholic poor families. And I’m looking right now at the large second edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church on my desk. I’m hardly an expert on Catholicism, but I’m at least as well informed as most lay Catholics. (Oh, and my wife was raised Roman Catholic. And other parts of my family are as well.)

    And on pretty fundamental questions such as the nature of our inheritance from Adam and the nature and purpose of the Incarnation and atonement, Roman Catholicism took a medieval turn in a different direction than Orthodoxy. And on questions such as that, they are largely more similar to Protestants these days than Orthodox. That’s not particularly surprising since Protestantism and Roman Catholicism are both branches from the same Western tree.

  6. Oh, and though I’m aware that the Roman Catholic Church invites Orthodox to communion, I also do have a couple of Orthodox friends. And after the funeral of an Eastern Rite Roman Catholic friend of ours, one Orthodox friend explained to me some of the reasons they are not allowed to take Roman Catholic communion. I’m not sure we achieve anything when we simply gloss over very real differences even as we pray for all schisms to be healed.

  7. One of the books that I found to be real helpful during the Da Vinci Code discussions a couple of years ago was “De-Coding Da Vinci” by RC writer Amy Welborn. On the last page she writes this:

    “Curious about Jesus?
    The truth is as close as a book on your shelf.
    And no, it’s not The Da Vinci Code.
    Don’t let a novelist with an agenda instruct you in the ways of faith. Go back to the beginning, and go to the source: Pick up that Bible.
    You might be surprised at what you find.”

    Interesting that she tells her readers to pick up the Bible to find out about Jesus. Can they really understand what it says about Jesus without the magisterium of the Church to explain it to them? Did she make a mistake in leaving that out?

  8. Amy Welborn says

    The point of my little book was that since DVC was directed at devaluing the Bible as an authoritative source for the truth about Jesus…to make the case (!) for the Bible’s authority in that respect. As you recall, the DVC was all about saying the Gospels were untrustworthy because they were the result of patriarchal politcal machinations and all while the Gospel of Thomas, etc., held the Real True Truth.

    That’s all.

  9. Alvin Kimel says

    If the Christian God is only REALLY available at a few places in town, then I want nothing to do with him.

    Michael, I have never said this; I have explicitly stated the opposite, both on this blog and on my own blog. This is not the issue.

    I am arguing against your claim that you can discern “mere Christianity” merely by reading the Bible with your “mind on.” You note that there are many forms of sola scriptura out there, but you have not yet articulated precisely what that means (no doubt you have done so in other blog articles). But it really doesn’t matter, because all forms of sola scriptura, no matter how much honor is given to secondary authorities, elevate the individual’s private reading of Scripture (and tradition) over all secondary authorities. This is as true for Lutherans and Reformed, as it is for Baptists.

    All of us want to believe that the body of beliefs that we happen to hold at any precise moment in fact represents essential Christianity. We have to believe this, because to believe otherwise is to call into question our deepest faith commitments. But I presume that the purpose of this conversation is to examine these deepest commitments.

    Am I advancing a form of presuppositionalism? Perhaps I am, though I have never read Van Til. I am not a philosopher, but I suppose I would want to provisionally claim that we are all presuppositionalists in one way or another. Is not your commitment to sola scriptura, in whatever form you hold it, in fact a presupposition? Does it not function as an unshakable paradigmatic structure through, by, and in which you read the Bible and reflect on Christian doctrine? You didn’t logically deduce sola scriptura from your faith in Christ (one can be a Christian without believing in it–most have), nor did you learn it by reading the Bible (the Bible “teaches” no such doctrine). Yet you remain convinced that you can determine the fullness of Christian doctrine simply by reading it with intelligence and good sense. This sounds like a presupposition to me.

    It is precisely this presupposition that I wish to challenge. You, of course, are free to challenge my presuppositions. 🙂

    With all due respect, it continues to fascinate me that the discussion on this web site seems to have this tension between any one of us being part of the true church and belonging to the real Christ NOW, vs the importance some people feel of moving TO the EO or the RCC as the end of their journey.

    This tension is present because it is a tension expressed in your own writings. We all seek to “defend” our religious commitments. This is as true for those who opt out of the denomination landscape as for those who remain within this landscape. Michael, a Catholic or Orthodox Christian cannot help but advance his conviction that the fullness of the Christian faith is located within his ecclesial tradition and community. Catholics and Orthodox are not ecclesial relativists. They cannot accept the position that all Churches are equal. They truly believe that Christ has founded a visible, sacramental, doctrinal Church rightly ordered in time and space. Those who disagree with the the Catholic-Orthodox claim will of course find the claim offensive, just as non-Christians find the evangelical claim that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life offensive. So the tension to which you allude is inevitable. The only way for us to avoid it is to become thoroughgoing relativists; but I don’t suppose you are willing to take that step. I know I am not. But we can still have a civil conversation and can learn from each other.

    You appear to have taken offense to my allusion to the pietistic and gnostic roots of American religion. I did not intend to offend, and I apologize. I simply believe it to be the case that pietism-gnosticism is the worldview into which you and I have been born and raised. It is the air we breathe. It shapes our thinking and acting in deep and pervasive ways. Whether this influence is good or bad is an interesting question. I happen to believe that in important ways classical catholic Christianity stands firmly against it, but even as I say this, I have to acknowledge the conflict within my own heart and history. My family has deep revivalist-Pentecostal roots. I gave my heart to Jesus numerous times at summer camp in Black Mountain, North Carolina. I have been baptized in the Spirit. I have received the gift of tongues. I have sung in the Spirit at prayer and praise meetings. I am fluent in Jesus-language. Nobody but us pietists here. I can no more renounce this history than I can renounce my self. But pietism also has a dark side, as you know. My spiritual challenge of the past thirty-some years has been the healing, correction, and integration of this history into the sacramental-catholic faith to which I was converted thirty-three years ago. I have only been partially successful. On many days I stand at the abyss and gaze into the darkness.

    I return to the question: What is “mere” Christianity and how is it possible to recognize and identify it? One thing is clear to me: one does not identify it simply by reading the Bible. Whatever else the Bible is, it is a varied collection of different kinds of texts written over a period of a thousand years. It is not a comprehensive compendium of Christian beliefs and practices. It is not a catechism. It is not a systematic theology. It is not a book of liturgical instruction. It is not a book of canon law. I grant that some Christians read the Bible in these ways, but it is not obvious that they should do so. As Richard Swinburne notes, “The Bible does not belong to an obvious genre which provides rules for how overall meaning is a function of meaning of individual books.”

    If a Martian were to visit earth and pick up a copy of the Bible, with no knowledge of Christians and Churches, would he be able to comprehensively reconstruct Christian belief and practice? I do not think so. We need more than a “mind on.” We need a community of faith. We need authoritative and faithful tradition. We need the Church.

  10. There is a lot of talk about the presupposition from RCs re: Tradition, but there is also presuppostions from Protestants about the Bible as the only source of teachings.
    The Bible itself says that it is not the sole authority. “The church is thbulwark and foundation of truth” 1TIM 3:15

  11. Paul:

    I have to wonder if you are disappointed in how the convert apologists present the RCC?

    I am not disappointed in how apologists or convert apologists present the RCC.

    I am disappointed by how difficult it is to get past our cultural biases and communicate with one another on anything substantial.

    I personally do not consider myself an apologist, and the reason I am participating in this forum is not to do apologetics. I am more interested in ecumenism and understanding each other.

    I think the convert apologists in general have done a pretty good job of formulating good Catholic responses to protestant and particularly evangelical questions and accusations. It has been very helpful for many pew sitters like me a) understand where these questions come from and b) know that there is a reasonable answer and c) take the the time to learn more about my faith.

    It is like each flavor of American protestantism is a different programming language. The apologists help me translate the questions into something that actually makes sense to me as a Catholic, and helps me understand the answer and some idea how to try to explain it to a protestant.

    Apologetics is not the main way I relate to protestants. It is a tool available to use at times, but not primary. American convert apologetics is unique. it is not the way Catholics really think. It is a pretty good attempt to help Catholics translate, but it has limits.

    I read this blog, and pay particular attention to the Catholic topics because I am trying to understand how ‘you all’ think. I grew tired of straight apologetics and debates years ago. I like the way you and many of your readers are usually interested in trying to actually understand each other, rather than win debate points. When I can, I try to contribute a little on the Catholic side.

    I have practically memorized the Vatican II documents on ecumenism and the convert apologists sound like a completely different religion.

    Ecumenism is one thing, apologetics is another? Ecumenism has to be balanced with everything else.
    There are limits to ecumenism. Pope Benedict and JPII raised some hackles with statements about ecumenism relatively recently.

    These are some of the cultural aspects of Catholicism that are seemingly difficult for protestants to see: it is messy, it takes time, there is more than one dimension to every issue. There are debates over ecumenism going on between different parts of the Catholic Church all the time. Thats why Benedict and JPII thought it necessary to clarify.

    Certainly, to Catholics ecumenism does not mean that we surrender the truth.

    Why do I react strongly to being told I’m a gnostic who can’t even ask the questions, understand mere Christianity, etc?

    Fr. Kimel did not actually accuse you of being a gnostic or not understanding mere Christianity although I agree he cam across pretty strongly. He was expressing, pretty well, the feelings we have over here on the Catholic side.

    To a Catholic, it is like some of your questions are written in the wrong programming language. I am pretty sure you don’t have any idea how loaded and aggressive they sound to us. I might take a shot at answering them later if anyone is interested, but I don’t have time today.

    That is a big part of the problem in understanding each other. American protestantism in particular asks questions and wants answers in ways that are not totally compatible with the Catholic way of thinking.

    Enjoy your sabbatical week, my prayers are with you and Denise.


  12. Scott M

    Thanks for your reply. I wish I would have been less confrontational last night when I typed. Thanks for not taking offense. I think we would go too far off topic to get into a full discussion of the relationship between the eastern and western churches and protestantism. I also, am not any where near an expert on Orthodoxy or Eastern Christianity.

    In my posts today I have refrained from referring to the Roman Catholic Church and am simply saying the Catholic Church – because that is how Catholics think. I only use RCC here to try to get along. When I refer to the Catholic Church I mean the Roman Church and all the other Churches – the Eastern Churches. Pope Benedict gave a talk a couple of weeks ago about relations with the Orthodox Churches and the Eastern Churches where he Eastern Christianity as one one the lungs of the Church and stated that the Church needs to breathe with both lungs again. We don’t distinguish between western and eastern fathers of the Church, or between western and eastern church history.

    You probably know that here are many Eastern Churches that are in full communion with Rome and and fully part of the Catholic Church: several Byzantine groups (Melkites etc.), Chaldean, Alexandrian, Abyssinians, Syrians, Uniat Church of Malabar, Armenians, Maronites. (as an aside, on Orthodox Patriarch and his flock of ? 8,000 ? I believe just last month re-established full communion with the Roman Church) I believe there are 16 different separated Orthodox Churches.

    I will agree with you that Catholic thought has been dominated by western and Latin modes since Augustine and even more so since Thomas Aquinas. The Reformation originated in the west and is entirely western in thought. The style of philosophy and theology in the Western Church both Catholic and Protestant is distinct from Eastern. In that respect the two sides of the coin analogy is reasonable. However Protestantism, as it has evolved has rejected many parts of the Church that the western and eastern Churches continue to hold fast. According to Catholic (Eastern and Western) definitions, the protestant denominations are not even fully recognizable as Churches.

    However- as I understand it – on the vast, vast majority of articles of faith and morals the Eastern and Western Churches are compatible. The formulations may differ, but they are compatible. (I am not an expert, and I would be willing discuss and learn, but we should probably find another forum)

    Paul, I’m curious why you think I’m pitting EO against the RCC?

    I took your post a little too strongly last night. Upon rereading today I wouldn’t make that particular accusation.

    I do think you are setting up an unhelpful dichotomy, but I think the same of most of the modern EOs in America that I know and have read. My impression is that the EO church in America puts a lot of emphasis on the differences with the Roman Church – maybe even to the point of exaggeration.

    as far as I can tell, the general consensus within Orthodoxy
    I don’t know if it is even possible to speak about the general consensus within Orthodoxy. The Orthodox Church in America maybe – but world wide? 16 different Patriarchs? I do think you are going a bit far in speaking for the Orthodox as a whole.

    Regarding your comments on the inheritance from Adam and Marian doctrines: I am not well enough informed to debate, but I don’t ‘prima facia’ accept that you understand either Orthodox or Catholic teaching well enough to ‘contrast’ them.

    I don’t want to fisk the rest of your response, so I will speak from my own experience. I was raised catholic and attended public and catholic schools, catechism class, ‘devout family’ began attending daily mass in high school, alter boy, lector, youth group, retreats, camps. catholic college for a time. I knew next to nothing about Catholicism until I started studying (after I got tired of Evangelicals asking if “I was saved”) in my late twenties and I still have a lot to learn. I find that it is very easy to be a ‘good’ catholic and a)either misunderstand or be unaware of any number of doctrines, b) be unprepared to explain my faith, c) be unaware that I don’t know what I don’t know.

    The most amazing time in my life was when I discovered that there are so many incredible and interesting aspects of Catholicism that I NEVER encountered while doing all the right things as a middle class American Catholic. Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day (the Catholic Worker, Jacque Maritain), Fatima, St. John of the Cross, the Cloud of Unknowing….

    Please don’t be offended that although I will concede you are well informed, I will question every statement you make about Catholocism and most often I will have some beef with it – whether I choose to say so or not. Truth is that it is the same for people I meet at Mass, members of my family, and even the Priest at the parish I visited last week. On some things (not faith and morals) I will even quibble with Pope Benedict XVI himself.

    Learning to think with and understand the Church while growing in spirit and prayer and raising children to love God the greatest gift God could ever give me. The Catholic faith is not a bumper sticker faith – there are dozens of facets to everything.

    Have a Blessed Sunday


  13. When I was teaching children in the Catholic Church, I made sure that my co-teacher taught both the rosary and the Marian doctrines. (The rosary still reminds me of “vain repetitions” even though I know the history of it)

    Thank you, Anna! Thank you! That’s one of the things that’s hard to say when you’re a Catholic convert. I tend to let a lot of the Marian stuff slide, because I do feel really weird with it. I doubt she’s terribly offended by that. 🙂

    I have to wonder if you are disappointed in how the convert apologists present the RCC?

    I certainly am, Michael. While Protestant apologists (the ones specializing in Catholicism, anyway) tend to come across angry, the Catholic ones come across smarmy and superior, as though they’re just waiting for you to get a clue and see how right they are. The best exception I’ve seen to that is Thomas Howard, who is respectful without having to feign it. But yes, I can enjoy the convert apologists because I agree with them, but if I were a Protestant, they’d get on my nerves something fierce. Scott Hahn included. (Although he intimidates me intellectually.)

  14. The church with “authority” (the Roman Catholic Church) has a false sense of unity and reality. Just because the RCC teaches one doctrine does not mean it’s unified. Unity in belief is far more important than unity of doctrine. The RCC does not have unity of belief…far..far from it. So, it is strange to me that Fr. Kimel concludes with the statement that “we need the church” for its authority and to have a faithful tradition. If the goal is to bind up the truth in books that so few can understand, then the RCC has done a pretty good job. For the majority of Catholics in Church on any given Sunday do not believe or understand the teachings of the RCC, nor do they want to or care.

    I grew up in the RCC and left 2 years ago. I was taught to pray the rosary and that if I did not go to church on Sunday I would go to hell. A relationship with the Triune God was not encouraged. I cannot think of one person from my youth who is a practicing RC. Now my parents read apologists like Scott Hahn and are serious about their faith. They are shocked that none of their children embrace the fullness of the faith as they do. They use the tone that Fr Kimel used in his comments when trying to show us the way. It doesn’t work.

  15. Michael,

    In reading through this whole conversation, I was most intrigued by your following three paragraphs:

    I simply don’t believe that God allowed me to live my life till I am 51 in the Baptist church, and now, thanks to internet apologists for the RC, I need to resign, become jobless and go get something in the Eucharist that, in my experience, isn’t producing anything distinctively more Jesus-like than my own tradition.

    If the Christian God is only REALLY available at a few places in town, then I want nothing to do with him. And I’m quite serious. If the invitations of Jesus to come to him don’t apply to me wherever I and my simple faith in Jesus happen to be, then it’s Buddhism for me.

    I don’t have these anxieties about what is the true church. Jesus is the mediator and Jesus is enough. No church dispenses him.

    At first glance that first paragraph seems to be an implicit argument. The conclusion of the argument is that the Catholic Church’s claims [viz-a-viz the sacraments of Holy Orders and the Eucharist] cannot be right. The premise of the argument is that God would not let you be so wrong for so long. But God lets many people (billions) be wrong their whole lives. What makes you so special? (In other words, the argument looks like special pleading — “I know God lets billions of other people be wrong, but He wouldn’t let me be wrong.”)

    But maybe you aren’t making an argument there. Maybe you are just stipulating what kind of a God you want to believe in. In your second paragraph, that seems to be the sort of thing you are doing. You don’t seem to be arguing there for a particular ecclesiology; you seem to be saying that if God hasn’t set up things such that He is equally available in all denominations, or that He is no less available apart from the [visible] Church than within it, then you won’t believe in Him. It seems to me that a more humble, open stance is one that says, “Whatever way God has set things up, that’s what I will believe.”

    As for your claim in your third paragraph that “Jesus is the mediator and Jesus is enough. No church dispenses him.”, you seem to be making use there of a monocausal conception of mediation such that if Jesus is the mediator between God and men, then nothing else can be the means by which Jesus is conveyed to men. But “how then shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent?” Since preachers are a means by which Christ is communicated to people, therefore simply because Jesus is the mediator between God and men, it does not follow that there are no ecclesial means by which Jesus is communicated to men. I think the gnosticism Fr. Kimel referred to is one that separates Jesus from the Church, and therefore separates salvation from the sacraments. But the sacraments are that from which the Bride of the Second Adam is made. Therefore, the sacraments are the means by which we receive the salvific life of the Second Adam. And the sacraments come to us through the Church.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  16. John,

    Thanks for posting. I would like to respond and ask some questions. May I ask what city or diocese you grew up in?

    Unity in belief is far more important than unity of doctrine.

    I don’t see this as obvious. Do you mean to distinguish doctrine (official teaching?) from what belief? The Church believes what she teaches. Doctrine is what the Church believes. Now, what muddled ‘beliefs’ are in the head of any individual could easily differ. Is that what you mean?

    The fact that the Church is composed of a bunch of broken people doesn’t mean it isn’t united.

    For the majority of Catholics in Church on any given Sunday do not believe or understand the teachings of the RCC, nor do they want to or care.
    Some days I might just agree with you, but really that is a very big statement. I would agree that hardly any Catholics fully and completely understand everything the Church teaches. I would also agree that the vast majority is not very motivated to further their understanding. There are also plenty who either believe something they incorrectly understand, or who choose to believe something they know is contrary to faith but for whatever reason don’t or won’t resolve it. Then there are a few who I can’t for the life of me figure out why they still call themselves Catholic.

    On the other hand, I don’t fully and completely understand everything the Church teaches although I do make an effort. I believe that a majority of practicing Catholics actually do believe what the Church teaches and understand the faith reasonably well.

    It would be outrageous to claim that the majority of Catholics have no idea what the Church teaches, and that the majority don’t believe any of the correct doctrines.

    There is a lot of room for better Catechesis and faith formation and many Bishops are making some remarkable progress.

    A relationship with the Triune God was not encouraged. I cannot think of one person from my youth who is a practicing RC.

    John, I’d like to hear more about your experience. My own education and catechism was very deficient and that is a common experience for those of us who came of age in the 80’s.

    God Bless


  17. Michael

    In Jesus Christ I sincerely value you as a brother and I have learned from you. I have quoted the Decree on Ecumenism extensively in this reply. I am not trying to bait you or convert you or shove “my church is better than your church” in your face. As I understand this conversation we are talking about Catholic Doctrine. You specifically refer to the Decree on Ecumenism twice.

    Really, I can’t give a rational protestant reason to join the Catholic Church. So I must give an unapologetically Catholic one.

    Should everyone who has providentially found themselves outside of the RCC make every effort to be in full communion?



    Because that is what Jesus Christ wants you to do.

    “Christ the Lord founded one Church and one Church only. However, many Christian communions present themselves to men as the true inheritors of Jesus Christ; all indeed profess to be followers of the Lord but differ in mind and go their different ways, as if Christ Himself were divided.(1) Such division openly contradicts the will of Christ, scandalizes the world, and damages the holy cause of preaching the Gospel to every creature.” (Unitatis Redintigratio , Section 1, paragraph 1 -Emphasis mine)

    What benefits in regard to Christ are not available to me as a Protestant?

    I have to admit this sounds to me like “What prize do I get if I become Catholic?” I know that’s not what you meant. However, I think the better question is “how can becoming Catholic make me a better disciple of Jesus Christ?”

    To answer your question I’ll quote the decree on Ecumenism again.
    “Nevertheless, our separated brethren, whether considered as individuals or as Communities and Churches, are not blessed with that unity which Jesus Christ wished to bestow on all those who through Him were born again into one body, and with Him quickened to newness of life-that unity which the Holy Scriptures and the ancient Tradition of the Church proclaim. For it is only through Christ’s Catholic Church, which is “the all-embracing means of salvation,” that they can benefit fully from the means of salvation. We believe that Our Lord entrusted all the blessings of the New Covenant to the apostolic college alone, of which Peter is the head, in order to establish the one Body of Christ on earth to which all should be fully incorporated who belong in any way to the people of God. This people of God, though still in its members liable to sin, is ever growing in Christ during its pilgrimage on earth, and is guided by God’s gentle wisdom, according to His hidden designs, until it shall happily arrive at the fullness of eternal glory in the heavenly Jerusalem.” (Unitatis Redintigratio , Section 3, paragraph 4 – emphasis mine)

    So you get to be “blessed with that unity that Jesus Christ” wishes to bless you with and you will “benefit fully from the means of salvation.” In addition of course you get to resign from the debating society, participate in the sacramental life of the Church, ……..Of course you question was specifically in regard to Christ.

    Given what Vatican II and other recent ecumenical documents have to say, why can’t I say, “I choose not to enter the RCC, but to be a part of the church catholic.”

    You can. The real question is why would you want to do that?

    I hope your sabbatical is going well.

    God Bless


  18. There was a statement on here earlier on the subject of “ecclesial infallibility.”

    Now I would define infallibility as “the incapacity to be wrong.” Ecclesial I would assume means the church. So, putting two and two together I would assume that “ecclesial infallibility” would mean the incapacity of the church to be wrong (and by church of course that would mean the Roman Catholic Church).

    Perhaps one of the Catholic posters on here can clarify this a little further.

  19. I wanted to add a couple of things into the discussion. On the matter of the quote from 1 Tim. 3:15 to suggest that the Bible doesn’t claim to be the sole authority, it is only part of Scripture and not the whole counsel of it. 2 Tim. 3:14-17 says, “14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
    This passage says that anyone who belongs to God(through faith in Christ Jesus), is capable of using Scripture to learn and be fit for God’s Kingdom. This isn’t the only passage like this either.
    Secondly, Paul,
    It is quotes like this, “For it is only through Christ’s Catholic Church, which is “the all-embracing means of salvation,” that they can benefit fully from the means of salvation.” that give me a lot of pause. I searched through Scripture and can find no reference to the church being a “means of salvation”. I am sure that you would agree that salvation is through Christ alone. What those of us outside the RCC hear in this statement is that Christ is only in the Roman Church. I know this isn’t what you intend to say from you other posts, but that is how this statement comes across. Let me go back to the heart of the question. Does the Roman Catholic Church have the infallibility that she claims to have, Papal or otherwise? I asked a few questions along these lines in a blog post a while back. I am genuinely curious about this. When I was studying church history and learning that the unity of the RCC was not as long-lasting and unassailable as I had been told, it made me start to wonder more.

  20. Alvin Kimel says

    The church with “authority” (the Roman Catholic Church) has a false sense of unity and reality. Just because the RCC teaches one doctrine does not mean it’s unified. Unity in belief is far more important than unity of doctrine. The RCC does not have unity of belief…far..far from it. So, it is strange to me that Fr. Kimel concludes with the statement that “we need the church” for its authority and to have a faithful tradition. If the goal is to bind up the truth in books that so few can understand, then the RCC has done a pretty good job. For the majority of Catholics in Church on any given Sunday do not believe or understand the teachings of the RCC, nor do they want to or care.

    John, I’d like to engage you on this point. I will not contest your claims about the quality of catechesis in the Catholic Church or the integrity of the personal faith of the majority of Catholics. I have no data from which to argue, and anecdotal evidence, whether yours or mine, is pretty worthless. I will say that one can level similar charges against most Protestant congregations. From what I can tell, most folks who go to church (whatever church) are not terribly interested in Christian doctrine. They tend to believe what they want to believe. I speak from 25+ years of pastoral ministry. But these kinds of comparisons are generally unhelpful.

    My point about the necessity of authoritative tradition and a teaching office is quite limited. I am not trying to be polemical. I am certainly not trying to persuade any one reading this blog to become Catholic. But I am challenging, as strongly as I can, the claim that one can discern essential Christian doctrine simply by reading the Bible, without any doctrinal and hermeneutical guidance from an authoritative Church and tradition. In my judgment, sola scriptura is implausible and incoherent. It doesn’t work. On why it doesn’t work, I refer folks to my ruminations on sola scriptura and reading Scripture. I would love for folks to engage my arguments.

    I have assumed a tone of “challenge” in this thread not in order to convince people to become Catholic but to encourage Protestant readers to look critically at their assumptions about the Bible and how they read the Bible. How do we properly read the Bible? It is not at all obvious how to do so. The Bible is a varied collection of texts written by multiple authors and redactors. Its genre is sui generis. It does not provide us hermeneutical instruction on how to read it rightly as one book. It does not tell us if it is formally and materially sufficient for purposes of Christian doctrine and practice.

    When I was seminary I was taught that the correct way to read the Bible was by the employment of the historical-critical method. The writings of the Bible are ancient texts and we should read them as ancient texts, utilizing all the critical and historical resources at our disposal. The assumption is that once we have determined the historical-critical meaning of a specific text we have in fact determined its scriptural or theological meaning. But why should I assume this? This is certainly not how the Church Fathers read the Old and New Testaments, nor is it how St Paul and the Apostles read the Hebrew Scriptures. Consider the “Song of Songs”: is it a collection of erotic poetry, or is it a poem about the relationship between Christ Jesus and his bride the Church? A “plain” reading of the book supports only the former, yet all of the Church Fathers tell us it’s about God/Christ and Israel/Church.

    The point here is nothing is obvious. It may seem obvious to a Protestant reader of the Bible that the Bible does not support Catholic and Orthodox beliefs about the Virgin Mary, but this only means that Protestants read the Bible differently than Catholics and Orthodox. It’s all a matter of which pair of glasses one is wearing.

  21. This thread has been very painful to read because it has made me deeply ashamed of most of the Catholics who have posted here. Marian piety difficult? Optional? Weird? This even from a man who is a priest of our Church? You know the last group of people in our church who attacked Marian piety from within? The Jansenists. Look it up.

    Would any of you have converted prior to the Second Vatican Council? After Low Mass, you had to recite three Hail Marys and a Salve Regina after evey Mass, plus the prayer to St. Michael. How about the Ave Maris Stella, which is the liturgical hymn of Vespers to the Virgin:

    HAIL, O Star of the ocean,
    God’s own Mother blest,
    ever sinless Virgin,
    gate of heav’nly rest…

    Break the sinners’ fetters,
    make our blindness day,
    Chase all evils from us,
    for all blessings pray.

    If this stuff is unpalitable, I would argue that you are not really Catholic, or at the very least you still have some major converting to do. To paraphrase Origen, you understand nothing unless you have laid your head on the heart of the Savior and have received His mother as your own. I don’t care what you have read and what you profess.

    Hey if you gone this far, why not go farther? There has been no saint in recent memory that didn’t have a deep love for the Virgin and had recourse to her often. For me, there is no Marian “exaggerations”: de Maria numquam satis. And if you Catholics still have a problem with it, you still have a lot of “vainly repititious” rosaries to pray.

  22. IMonk, you wrote:

    But the more recent ones, and the more recent attempts to make all of this “Biblical” via various exegetical adventures, almost seems like tests for how much a Protestant is willing to surrender over to the teaching of the church what cannot be discovered or articulated any other way except dogmatically.

    I think you are right. I’ve noticed that many Protestant converts to Rome, including myself, rarely, if ever, did any serious research in the area of mariology. Usually they just accept it on authority, other times they only read some popular literature on the subject. I would suggest that you delve deeper into the issue of Catholic mariology. Aside from the Scriptures and the Fathers themselves, two good academic places to start are,

    1.) Dr. Stephen Shoemaker’s work Ancient Traditions of the Virgin Mary’s Dormition and Assumption. Dr. Shoemaker’s work is not an easy read, but it is well worth wading through. Half of his book consists of translations into English for the first time of the earliest literasture on both the Dormition and Assumption. This alone is worth the price of the book. (Unfortunately, I’ve already come across lay Catholics who have read the book, admitted that it was over their head, but proceed to use it for their apologetical purposes. Sad.)

    2.) The Origins of the Cult of the Virgin Mary, edited by Chris Maunder. Dr. Shoemaker is one of the many academic contributors of this volume, all of whom focus on various aspects of the Cult of the Virgin.

    I hope you find these works of great help. I recommend them to you as someone who himself is struggling spiritually and who read, and is reading, these works in his quest for Christian Truth.

  23. Arturo,

    As a fellow Catholic I am saddened by your post. I feel injured for the sake of the people who you have failed to treat as brothers.

    I am not a convert, but I have shared the journey with a few, and met, read, and listened to many others. A protestant becoming Catholic is no easy thing. I can only assume that you have never really considered how difficult it is or listened to someones story. If you had, I don’t believe you would be so callous.

    The Marian aspects of the Church are extremely painful for protestant converts to confront. I personally have a cousin and good friend who is about 97% Catholic in belief who has been stuck on Mary for years, and he was raised in Catholic tolerant church in a primarily Catholic city. Some of the converts have been raised in churches where Marian devotion is regularly condemned as paganism and idol worship. For them to pray the Rosary feels about as foreign to them as praying to Mecca would to me.

    I would really appreciate it if you would post some kind of an amends.

    Now, we live in a Post Vatican II world for a reason, because the Holy Spirit prompted the Church to hold a council and reformulate the language and structure we use to present the faith. Making the Ave Maria’s and St. Michael prayers optional was part of that for precisely this reason.

    I will agree with you to this extent. I have already been praying for these converts that there pain will be eased, and that the Blessed Mother will welcome them and help them to grow even closer to Jesus her Son and our Lord and Savior.

    I suggest you pray a Novena for that intention, and I will do so as well.

    God Bless


  24. Jeff,

    I think I am going to enjoy typing with you. I can’t take time to write a full response now, but I will late this evening.

    God Bless


  25. Paul,
    I look forward to it. I live in an area that has a lot of Lutheran and Catholic influence here in the north. I am the kind of guy who keeps asking questions and wants to know the answers. I had several dialogs with a lady who was a devout Catholic several years ago and she used to give me reams of printouts. I will confess that I studied them and sometimes marked questions on things that didn’t add up for me. She was very gracious, but some of those questions never got a satisfactory answer. At least not one that I could harmonize with Scripture.
    Shalom and Blessings,
    Jeff M

  26. Dear Paul,

    Some of the things I said were unfair and I apologize.
    We shouldn’t blow off at the mouth (or rather at the keyboard) and name calling never get anyone anywhere.

    However, at times one has to be callous about what we believe; Faith is the only thing we should be callous about. My problem is not with people who have difficulties with Marian piety. When I was a monk, a fellow novice was a convert from Presbyterianism, and I told him that to be a good Catholic, he had to have much Faith in the Mother of God. He listened and did not despise the long-established tradtions and attitudes of the Church when it comes to the Virgin Mary.

    Some of what I have seen on this thread, however, is something entirely different. When someone posts something like:

    “There are plenty of Catholics who try to deflect that and explain how they’re not really going too far, but seriously people, let’s get honest here. There are Catholics, especially in certain cultures, who have too central a focus on the Blessed Mother. She can tend to overshadow Jesus, not point to Him (as she should). That’s not good.”

    …I find that offensive. Even though one could read this as, “those brown people down there who don’t know how to lay off the Mary worship”, I am not going to ask for an apology. I am not the one he should be apologizing to anyway. What this tendency constitutes is a bunch of converts being thankful that they don’t have to do what a lot of us (probably non-white) cradle Catholics are used to doing, and that is an entirely different attitude, and it is dangerous to the Faith.

    And I refuse to be of the mindset that Vatican II changed anything. Just because in this country the liturgy, piety, and ethos of Catholicism were secularized to meet the tastes of a Starbucks-consuming, strip-mall shopping world doesn’t mean that such things were the work of the Holy Ghost. American exceptionalism is just that: exceptional. And as we immigrants and children of immigrants are set to take over the Church since we are the main cause of its growth, I would ask that you come to terms with the fact that it will only become more exceptional by the year.

    Again, I know that the Mary question can be hard for Protestants when approaching the Church, but their attitude should be that of learning what the Church has been doing for 2,000 years without them. And thus I end by posting a prayer by a famous convert who came to love Mary as well, Cardinal Newman:

    TRULY art thou a star, O Mary! Our Lord indeed Himself, Jesus Christ, He is the truest and chiefest Star, the bright and morning Star, as St. John calls Him; that Star which was foretold from the beginning as destined to rise out of Israel, and which was displayed in figure by the star which appeared to the wise men in the East…Hail then, Star of the Sea, we joy in the recollection of thee. Pray for us ever at the throne of Grace; plead our cause, pray with us, present our prayers to thy Son and Lord — now and in the hour of death, Mary be thou our help.

  27. Michael,

    I don’t know if you’ll read this since you’re on vacation. And I’m not at all trying to convert you–just trying to show you the reason I see for seeing the Theotokos as Queen of Heaven.

    Whenever we start with Mary, we must start with the Annunciation, Christmas, the Presentation, etc.–for Mary is the Theotokos, and we cannot begin to understand her aside from this. (I believe you agree with this.)

    And when we look there, we discover how wonderfully exalted Mary was. As it says in Philippians, Jesus decided to become nothing, and to receive all from Mary and Joseph. The Father decided to speak to us, but rather than speaking Himself, he allowed Mary to form His Word. That is to say, the work of Mary’s hand was God.

    And we could even say, in a sense, that Mary made God God. He was nothing, absolutely dependent on her. And she taught Love to love. No one sees the Father except the one to whom Son of man reveals Him. But the Son of man only saw the Father because Mary revealed Him.

    But however exalted Mary was, her ministry was not a ministry of holding or hoarding God, but of sending Him away. Of giving Him to the world, and even to His Father. This mission of Mary is seen most clearly in the Presentation, when she actively gave Him away to the Father, but the Presentation is the mission of her life. At the annunciation God was wholly dependent on her. But she gives Him her flesh and blood, and gradually makes him more and more independent. Finally, He would be able to survive outside her, and at the fullness of time she brought forth her first-born, a Son. But even yet, he could not survive without her, he needs her milk her flesh and her blood to survive. But she does not keep Him to her breast, but gradually stengthens Him, making Him ever more and more independent of her. And then, having become independent enough that he recognizes his independence–that he cries like the world has ended whenever she leaves the room–she keeps not this nearness to her Son, but like any mother, raises Him up, weans Him, and teaches Him to be glad without her. By the time He is twelve, He is still subject to her, but His true house is not hers, but His Father’s. By the time He is thirty, she is just another disciple, by the time He is thirty-three, he refuses to come down and save her, but instead willfully abandons her, willfully deprives her of her life and hope, and gives her away to another.

    Her whole life is summed up in the presentation, she has God in her hand, but Simeon takes the Boy from her. And a sword shall pierce her soul.

    But this cannot be the end of the story. God is faithful. She lost Son for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. Surely she shall receive back thousand fold. But what shall she receive back? What else beside her Son, her Child, now again her Child, now again as tender and close to her as ever He was. Otherwise she could say “yet this I had, and this was good, but this I have lost.” She would no longer be Mother of God. As dependent on her as He was, so dependent on her is He. (Or if you prefer, shall He be.) Her cross, the sword piercing her soul, is not the end of the story any more than Good Friday is the end of her Son’s. As He lost all, and therefore regained it and has been given a name which is above all names; so she lost all, lost even the privilege of being unique, become just another disciple, then even lost what matters most to her, as to any mother, her Son. And if the gospel promise is true, she has (or shall) receive back all and thousand-fold what she has lost: she has (or shall) receive back thousand-fold the radical connection with her Son and radical dependence of Him on Her. God does not take without returning it back. Her Son does not take without returning thousandfold whatever He took. And He took Himself, Himself as a child, Himself as a baby, Himself as a fetus, himself as an embryo, himself as a single cell.

    But does not Mark 3 (which I hope you can see figures as central in my account of her glory as Mary 15 in my account of her Son’s) say that she looks like any disciple? Say rather that Mark 3 says that any disciple looks like her. That, like a good mother, she wants to give all her children, and all her Child’s children everything she has, all the greatest gifts she has. And what greater gift does she have than being Theotokos, being the mother of God. By her working, by her motherly love of Christ, we all, like St. Paul the mother of the Galatians, look like Mary, are transformed into the Mother of God.

    In Christ,


  28. Obvious typo, in the last Paragraph, that shouldn’t be Mary 15, but Mark 15.

  29. I have trouble with the idea that God allowed all Christians to continue for centuries, and most Christians right up to the present day, erroneously praying to and venerating the Mother of God, as it sent each and every one of them irreversibly on the road to Hell… until some anointed Reformers came along and decided to rid us all of this ‘impurity’. And you call papal infallibility ‘arrogant’?

    Condemnation of Marian devotion, while not damning in itself, was certainly an innovation of the worst kind: for it took a major chunk out of Christian faith. There may be a lack of explicit Biblical proof for a few of the Marian doctrines, but there is a lack of physical proof for ALL of the Jesus doctrines. If you’re going to give into the ‘Reformers’ on the matter of Mary, you might as well give in to the atheists on the matter of Jesus.

  30. Gentlemen,

    I see that for the most part, the thread has stayed constructive with moderation off. Please keep it that way.

    But stop wasting time trying to convince me to join the RCC.

    I have no $ to speak of. I have a job with the Baptists. I am 51 and fat. I am not going to be a greeter at WalMart with a seminary degree just so I can go to mass with 15 people in Clay Co while I starve to death. Even if I go on the speaking circuit as the freak ex-Baptist, it’s not worth it.

    GOD gave me the ministry I have. If you don’t believe that God gave me the ministry I have, then explain that all Protestants serving Christ are wrong to be doing so.

    I’ve spending the day reading Bouyer, and I’m still going back to my job in a few weeks to preach the Gospel to kids who don’t know Jesus and have never heard of him.

    Really. Find some non-Christians.

    I appreciate and love you as brothers, but you make me feel like I am wasting my life if I can’t find a way to accept Marian dogmas and then a couple of years from now when I make it through the rural version of RCIA, finally get to commune with people who are RC.

    God hasn’t left me to wander. He put me where I am and I’m not out of union with him or his church. That’s the problem of certain Christians, but I am not one of them.

    Peace and I do love you all.


  31. Mathew and Arturo and Any other fully Catholic Christians out there:

    I am suspecting that this topic got cross posted on a Catholic Blog somewhere and that there are some readers showing up, and some of you are eager to post in on this topic.

    It is more important than ever that you pray for guidance, think about charity and post carefully, because this forum is unmoderated this week I am not recommending you try to sound like a relativist or go any where near hearsay – but please, please don’t head off on the other end of the spectrum. Sedeventist leanings would be extremely unhelpful just now.

    I’d like to introduce you to this Blog and its owner a little, and also what I know of the regular readers. I highly recommend you read back at least 4 months anything that looks remotely Catholic on this blog. The readership here is pretty stable, people here have been through this before. You really need to understand who you are talking to, and where they are in Faith before you let loose.

    One thing I have been trying to learn and understand on this Blog and others like it is “what can I do to better communicate with, and share in (imperfect) Christian unity with my brothers and sisters in Christ.

    I am working on a crack-pot analogy that Catholicism and each Variation of protestantism are like different, but related, programing languages. Any programmers out there know that someone fluent in Cobol can make some sense out of Java but it is a lot of work and parts of it need to be explained.

    I am convinced that the way I can be most useful here is to try to bridge that gap a little further. As Catholics, you need to be aware that phrases and formulations that are ‘no brainers’ to us often sound like hand grenades to the people on this blog and particularly to Michael the owner. Please read, read, read and listen to Michael Spencer before you cut loose.

    May Love and Charity and Christian Hope guide you,


  32. Amen Paul

    Thank you for your wisdom.

  33. As a protestant I feel the need to apologize to some of the Roman Catholic readers of this blog. The reason being is that I’m convinced there must be a protestant conspiracy somewhere.

    Arturo, Matt N. and Matt K. must really be protestants in Papal clothing. Their defenses of Roman Catholic teachings have done more to convince me that they are wrong than any protestant attack on them could hope to do.

    One of them attacks other Catholics for not being devoted to Mary enough.

    One says that Mary made God God.

    One says that if you are going to give in to the Reformers on Mary then you might just as well give in to the atheists on Jesus. OK, I have to comment a little more on this one. I’m not sure who he claims is giving in to the Reformers. Protestants aren’t giving in because they already believe the protestant view of Mary. Nor have I heard any Roman Catholics who are recanting their belief in Roman Catholic Mariology. For the record the reason that protestants accept the protestant view of Mary but reject the atheist view of Jesus is because of that belief that Catholics reject – SOLA SCRIPTURA. As you say the Bible doesn’t explicitly teach the Marian doctrines of the Catholic church. In fact, many of us claim the Bible contradicts the Perpetual Virginity of Mary. However, it does explicitly teach that Jesus Christ is both God and man, was virgin born, lived sinlessly, died on a cross, was buried, rose from the dead, ascended to the right hand of the Father and will come again. That’s why protestants disagree with Catholics on Mariology, but agree with them on Christology.

    OK, I said that part about a protestant conspiracy with tongue in cheek, as I assume most of you knew. But in seriousness the closest I’ve come to wanting to convert to the RCC is listening to people like John Hagee and reading Jack Chick’s “tracts” on the issue. I would say you 3 guys are the Hagees and Chicks of the Roman Catholic world.

  34. Artruo,

    I just saw your posting above about Marian devotions. I am a convert from Southern Baptists, similar in flavor to Michael’s upbringing. (at least on my grandparent’s side)

    One of the main Bible verses about prayer that I remember being stressed in my youth was the one about avoiding vain repetitions. I do not pray nor worship well under those circumstances, whether it be the rosary, the Divine Mercy chapet, or praise music that repeats the same phrase many times. That is not to say that I don’t respect those who do pray the rosary, or miss the people praying it before Mass. Nor does it imply that I don’t have a decent interesting relationship with Mother Mary. (She makes a very nice mother-in-law)

    To help you understand the discomfort that some of us have with the Marian doctrines, let me make this suggestion. “Let’s form a group that will go out into the neighborhood (in pairs of course) making sure that our parish isn’t missing any body that needs help and introducing ourselves to the new comers.)

    Any takers?

  35. I don’t think Mary causes the greatest divide between Catholics and protestants. I for one believe Mary wears a crown in heaven, but I believe all those who overcome to the end will wear a crown (1 Peter 5:4; Revelation 2:10; Revelation 4:4). To know that Mary’s humility and faithfulness was acknowledged in heaven brings incredible hope and encouragement for me to remain faithful. I have tried to substitute that part of the Rosary with other devotions, but this is why I can’t.

    I think some here need to stop and consider the amusing reverse of fortunes that has occurred between protestants and Catholics during the past 10-20 years. Stop and think of how many Catholics were lured away from their church with rubish like Jack Chick’s “Alberto” and Keith Green’s “Catholic Chronicles” (I’m ashamed to admit I handed some of those tracts to my Catholic friends back in highschool; I am equally thankful that they were grounded in their faith enough to not fall for it). Now Scott Hahn attempts to draw protestants to Catholicism using similarly dubious practices; however, nothing I have heard him say comes near to the vile, illogical heresay that I have heard uttered against the Catholic church by uneducated protestants.

    I think iMonk’s comment about sharing with non-christians is profound. How much time and resources have been wasted converting Catholics to various forms of protestantism and now vise-versa? Statistics show that most Christians don’t have any non-christian friends.

    Catholics do have an audience which they can reach. To this day, protestants have little room or tolerance for thoughtful, contemplative people. There are more writers like G.K. Chesterton and Orestes Brownson in the Catholic church than there are those like C.S. Lewis in protestant churches (Capon definitely comes close). This is a bitter detriment for protestants. Maybe we’ll get it right someday.

    In my opinion, postmoderns are on more of an “existential” or “ontological”(for a lack of better terms) search; and old school ten-step, pragmatic, “got it all figured out” evangelicalism isn’t going to have the answer. Catholics like Hahn are crazy if they go down that same road as bible-thumping evangelicals. Catholics should make their appeal reflect the mysteries which their church embodies.

    I think Catholicism and protestantism need each other, similar to what Tillich sited as the need for both the “protestant principle” as well as “catholic substance”. Unification would have tragic results for both sides, but that doesn’t mean both sides can’t encourage and build each other up. Remember Tolkien was Catholic, and he and C.S. Lewis were good friends.

  36. Sam Urfer says

    Lewis and Tolkien’s friendship was cold to the point of being gone by the time Lewis died, largely because of their theological differences. Saying that Catholicism somehow needs Protestantism is disingenuous, as the Church did fine for 1500 years beforehand. Protestantism, by definition, does need something to Protest against, so you are right as far as that goes.

    The Lord loved Mary enough to become her Son. How can one love her too much?

  37. Sam Urfer:

    Thank you for the clarification on Tolkien and Lewis. I picked up on a little of that in my research, particularly Tolkien’s critique of the Chronicles of Narnia.

    It was mentioned on EWTN radio a few weekends ago that the “protestant principle”, emphasizing renewal, has always been active within the church. Unfortunately, I didn’t catch the name of the person who said it (not Hahn). I know not all that is said on EWTN truly represents Catholic teaching, but that is what I mean by “protestant”. I admit that I can’t square that with what protestantism has grown to represent. I agree that many protestants today would have nothing with which to identify themselves without the Catholic Church to kick around. I wish more protestants would protest the abuses present within their own camps.

  38. Well, having been called out, I will perhaps try to clarify a bit. Briefly, I’ll say this: If I had something against “brown people” and were saying that something was the way is may be because someone was “brown” or “red” or “white” or green or purple, I would apologize for doing so, but I did no such thing. Now, perhaps saying “certain cultures” was unnecessary, but it was in no way a slam on anyone for being a part of any particular ethnic group.

    That was a side point in my post, in which I was mostly trying to defend that Catholic belief and devotion to the Blessed Mother is not inherently some kind of blockage to faith in Christ. It is, rather, I believe, an enhancement of our faith in Christ, a strengthening of it. I certainly didn’t mean to be saying that any proper belief and devotion in/to the Mother of God is bad. It’s not – for the record.

    I was also attempting to show understanding about how many of our Protestant siblings tend to see these things. Some of them point certain things out and say, “look, this is inappropriate” and I’m saying – No, not really, not what you’re pointing out, but yes, there may well be some inappropriate things, and that’s not good, and I don’t really care who’s taking something too far. It could be pasty white Scottish Catholics, it would still be something which isn’t as healthy as it should be. I certainly can’t get into qualifying all these perhapses – I’m just using general examples to make a point. And even though I’m of Scottish ancestry, surname-wise, I’m not even close to “pasty white” so anyway.

    I appreciate your peace-filled words as well Paul. Thanks for that. I hesitated to even jump in here again. This kind of exchange turns ugly far too often and I have no interest whatsoever in getting into anything negative. I hope I have not contributed to any of it. Peace to all in this house.

  39. lonelypilgrim,

    Please re-read my post. I clearly qualified my statement you object to, and in context it is clear that I am stating a fundamental Christian doctrine that Christ emptied Himself of everything, and thus was taught everything by Mary and Joseph. That includes love. Love Himself was taught love by Mary. That we see God by seeing Christ. But Christ was and is who He is only because of his mother’s raising Him. It seems to me to be a denial of his humanity to say otherwise.

    That was supposed to be part of the uncontroversial part of my post.

    My argument was (abbreviated): We all agree about how exalted Mary’s role was. The divergence is over how exalted it is. Protestants point to Mark 3 and other similar passages, and wonder why Catholics and Orthodox view the Theotokos so highly. But it seems to me that Mark 3 and such passages fit perfectly into the Catholic view. Mary’s role is a role of giving. At first she has Christ unbelievably close. But her whole life she gives to Him, and by giving to Him, sends Him from her. By the time He is thirty, she is just another disciple. By the time He is thirty-three, He rejects her, and gives her to another. All because she was faithful. But God is not a God who refuses to resurrect. Mary has given, God shall return to Her. What she had is returned, thousand-fold. That is to say, as dependent on her as He was, He shall be.


    I hope you don’t take this as attempting to get you to become RC. You expressed some frustration with Catholics inability to defend Marian doctrines Scripturally. The arguments tend to be (like many here have been) “Stop rejecting the tradition of the Church. Yes it isn’t in Scripture. But the Church teaches it.” I’m just trying to give a Scriptural argument for the Marian dogmas.

    In Christ,


  40. dumb ox,
    I thought we had gotten pretty good at kicking around problems in the protestant camp around these parts. 🙂
    Thank you again for your calming influence. I am still anxiously awaiting your take on my questions.
    Thank you as well. You said some of the things that I wanted to say, particularly in response to the Mary made God God comment. When I read that I had to walk away from my computer and go watch the movie Amazing Grace with my wife and parents. (Pretty good movie by the way) I wasn’t quite sure what to say about that one.
    I will say one thing about God allowing believers to do things erroneously for centuries. He allowed the nation of Israel to do all kinds of things erroneously for centuries at a time. Frankly, He is allowing them to carry on as if Messiah never came and still loves them anyway. (I am not suggesting universal salvation for the Jewish nation, but you gotta admit that the Book says He will set let them see the light someday). I have been asking myself why the church stopped observing the Feasts of the Lord that the Bible clearly says we will be celebrating when He returns. (see Zachariah 14:16; it hasn’t happened yet, but it will. Isaiah 66:22-24 is also clearly yet to come) Clearly God is more gracious to us in our dim understanding that we even realize.
    Shalom and Blessings,
    Jeff M

  41. Matthew Peterson,
    A couple of questions for you about who taught Jesus. What do you make of these statements?
    John 8:28 – So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am the one I claim to be and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me.

    John 15:15 – I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.

    Christ learned more from His heavenly Father than from Mary and Joseph. To say that, “But Christ was and is who He is only because of his mother’s raising Him. It seems to me to be a denial of his humanity to say otherwise.” doesn’t make sense. These statements are of the same tenor as the end of Luke 2. Jesus said He had to be about His Father’s business and His earthly parents didn’t understand. I am not trying to be difficult, but this makes your previous statements about the importance of Mary and Joseph hard to agree with.
    Jeff M

  42. Jeff,

    I think His Father taught Him through the Law, and through his mother and Joseph. Like He did all Jews. Remember, like for all parents, Mary saw all her flaws reflected in her Son. Remember, like all children, Jesus responded like his (earthly) parents. If we want to say Jesus was truly a man, we must say Mary and Joseph actually raised Him. Luke 2 even says He was subject unto them.

    Yes, granted, He learned from the Law. Yes, granted, he learned from prayer. But before He could understand the Law, before He knew how to pray, who taught Him to read Scripture, who taught Him to pray?

    Yes, His Father taught Him everything. But He was, and is, a man. Before He was even able to learn from His Father, he learned from His mother. As Philippians 2 says, He emptied Himself of everything, and was found in the form of a man. That means he learned as a human child does. From his (earthly) parents. It was only because of their teaching, of their instruction that He knew how to know the Father. If He had some sort of super-human access to the Father, He has not fully partaken of our weakness. He is the full access to the Father, but who He is is from Mary. He is an image of the Father because He is an image of Mary and Joseph (though an image that far surpassed them).


  43. Matt N.

    Did you really mean to say “It was only because of their teaching, of their instruction that He knew how to know the Father.” ?

    I went to the Catholic Encyclopedia online and read what it had to say about Kenosis. It listed the various ways protestants have understood Kenosis and then gave the Catholic teaching on it. I can’t say that I disagreed with anything in the Catholic teaching on it, but it sounds different than what you are saying about it.

    Here it is by the way:


  44. Matt,
    As Christians we believe that Jesus was fully God and fully man correct? This would make Him inherently different in that respect. Which does not disqualify Him from partaking in our weakness. Hebrews clearly teaches that He was tested in all points as we are, yet without sin. But how was He tested? In the wilderness, Satan asked Jesus to turn a stone into bread. Is that something that you or I can do? I won’t answer for you, but I cannot do it so this wouldn’t be “tempting” to me if you get my meaning. But to Jesus, this must have been possible to do or else it wouldn’t have been “tempting”. He withstood this temptation the same way we are to do, by relying on God and His Word.
    Certainly, He learned from His earthly parents how to eat, walk, talk, read, ect. And He was of course obedient to them, or He would have violated God’s Law in the Commandments. But it is a serious stretch to say that He is an image of the Father because of them. I may ruffle feathers with this one and I apologize in advance, but I don’t know how else to say it. Mary was chosen by God to be Jesus’ mother, but that is not appreciably different that Abraham being chosen by God to be the father of the nation that Jesus sprang from. It is the work of God and no man or woman gets any of His glory for going along with Him in His work. Mary was willing to obey God. She said, “I am the Lord’s servant, may it be to me as you have said.” She is not His equal. She is the Lord’s servant.

  45. Lonelypilgrim,


    He did learn as ordinary children learn didn’t He? He was fully human, like us in all respects, sin only excepted. It isn’t because of sin that we learn from our parents is it? Isn’t our imitation of our parents one of the places we are most like God–you must be like little children, the father son relationship is the one image we are given of the inter divine life.

    How else would the one cell have learned to know the Father save through Mary’s action? How else would the Christ child have learned save like all children do, from His parents?

    About your second question, I have no idea what Catholics teach about kenosis. I have a really weird pedigree–even now I have only received communion in Protestant churches, never in Orthodox or Catholic ones–and I’m not saying I have a Catholic understanding of kenosis, only that the biblical view of kenosis implies something very much like the Catholic Church’s teaching on Mary. Mary’s kenosis was, like it is for all mothers, to raise her child up to be separate from her. But that means that she receives back what she had given up.

    Regarding Christ’s kenosis, Philippians 2 lists two kenotic actions of Christ. 1) Being in the very image of God He did not consider equality with God something to be grasped but made Himself in the form of a man. 2) Being found in human fashion, he humbled Himself to death, even death on the cross. We have emphasized the second, but St. Paul seems to think the first is also significant. I almost said equally significant, though I suppose a case could be made that it is more significant, and if you said it is less significant I don’t think it would affect what I am saying. The first kenosis is significant.

    In both kenoses he emptied Himself of all. In the second, He committed His Spirit into His Father’s hands. But in the first, the Father committed his Word into Mary’s hands, and Christ committed Himself into her hand.

    I am not quite sure how we can get around this. Christ became nothing, and received it back from His mother. That’s what it means that she was His mother. He became a unknowing single cell. Mary, and later Joseph (and when he was twelve Caiaphas) taught Him to love and know again.


  46. Jeff,

    Quickly because I have to go to bed, Christ too was a servant, and his command that we say “we are unworthy servants” is a command that we imitate Him.

    Is learning from our parents sin? If not, Christ was like us in that respect.


  47. Jeff M and anyone else

    The direct answer to Jeff’s second question is actually at the very end of this post (The Last 8 paragraphs. This is an exceptionally long post. I need to start my own blog! Michael forgive me for posting such a monstrosity. I hope some of you find it useful. I attempt to uses Jeff’s questions to providing a teaching moment on how to understand maybe be a little less offended and confused when encountering Catholic Speak. It’s just a start.

    I’m actually going to Title this reply – A bit pretentious I admit

    Getting Beyond Apologetics – Part 1

    First, I’d like to begin with and examination of little apologetics problem. Jeff posed the question of “I wanted to add a couple of things into the discussion. On the matter of the quote from 1 Tim. 3:15 to suggest that the Bible doesn’t claim to be the sole authority, it is only part of Scripture and not the whole counsel of it. 2 Tim. 3:14-17 says, “14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

    Now, this is like the first apologetics ‘trick’ I learned, and many of you have seen it. I would like to use it to illustrate something beyond the debate. We come at things with our own ‘paradigm’ or ‘hermeneutic’ or ‘point of view’ whatever. I know that many of you truly see ‘sola scriptura’ or something very close to it in this passage. I don’t see it at all. I don’t see any suggestion what-so-ever that it is only scripture or even primarily scripture.

    Indeed, I see something that Protestants don’t see. I see: 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it” as apostolic teaching – magisterium, tradition the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

    Now you can go ahead and believe that I am guilty of presupposition and a total Moron. I can think similar things about you. That gets us nowhere. I have seen this point argued and debated to the point where I want to puke. No one is going to change their position because of an argument, and certainly not over this passage.

    My hack-kneed computer programming analogy – the same piece of code parses entirely differently in a Catholic compiler than in a Protestant compiler.

    The next part of Jeff’s post:
    “For it is only through Christ’s Catholic Church, which is “the all-embracing means of salvation,” that they can benefit fully from the means of salvation.” that give me a lot of pause. I searched through Scripture and can find no reference to the church being a “means of salvation”. I am sure that you would agree that salvation is through Christ alone. What those of us outside the RCC hear in this statement is that Christ is only in the Roman Church.

    Jeff is referring to my post directed to Michael at on 09 Jun 2008 at 3:37 am
    I have to tell you, I was nervous when I hit ‘send’. I spent a lot of time praying before I posted that. There were several Bomb Shells in there I thought. I spent a lot of time praying after I posted it that it would work out. You can scroll down to the last 8 pages and skip the detour through how Catholic Talk to read the direct answer to Jeff’s question. Truthfully, I wouldn’t probably bother to respond to Jeff’s question unless I can use it as an opportunity for us to further dialog in some other respect, because it inherently leads into the formulation of salvation and justification and grace and we all know where that debate is going to end.

    Before I get into this I’ll post a link to the whole document I am quoting from for those of you who don’t have much to do: http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_decree_19641121_unitatis-redintegratio_en.html

    It turns out, that this post seems to be providential, since it fits perfectly for this exercise. I claim no credit for planning this.

    I quoted the first paragraph of the decree which essentially states that Christ founded one Church and it is the Catholic Church and any Christian body divided from the Church is ‘openly contradicting the will of Christ.’

    Frankly I am surprised Jeff didn’t ask anything about that particular paragraph – It is a very bold and I imagine off-putting claim to make. I bring it up here to provide a lesson in reading official Catholic documents and the difficulties communicating between Catholics and Protestants.

    This is my imitation of how Protestants discuss doctrine: As an outsider I don’t expect this to be a perfect description. When most protestants, certainly Baptists and non-denoms etc. have a doctrinal issue to resolve or discuss they generally start with John 3:16 😉 ;>) They start with the Bible. Now, I am pretty sure they generally know what passages they are going to go to first, and the majority of the passages they are going to hit, but they always start by reading Bible passages. Now, I don’t really believe they don’t have ‘any idea’ where they are going to end up, or that they don’t pretty well know how they are going to interpret each passage, but that is how protestants approach a doctrinal issue. Makes sense, Bible is the authority, everything has to start with the Bible.

    I diverged to how Protestants discuss doctrine to illustrate how differently Catholics discuss doctrine. I am not proposing to argue about the strengths or weaknesses of each approach. I honestly think this might help us understand each other a bit more.

    Catholics approach doctrine in a very different way. The Bible is not ignored, or even slighted, and it is not that Catholic doctrine is ‘unBiblical.’ The idea that we would start by going to scripture passages is bizarre. For all practical purposes a discussion of doctrine between Catholics at any level from lay people to Cardinals NEVER begins with opening the Bible (never is really two strong but not much). Going directly to scripture, for a Catholic, would be like needing a new car and going out and digging up some iron and coal to forge steel and build one from raw materials. We’ve had 2000 years of Bible scholarship and Authoritative teaching from the Magisterium. There are no new doctrinal issues. It’s all been done! Dozens of scholars, doctors of the Church, Saints, Popes, Councils and Fathers have addressed each issue. It would be insane to try to reinvent or even pretend to reinvent doctrine from scratch.

    So, getting back to the Decree on Ecumenism, most Catholics discussing doctrine are going to start with “What does the Church Teach.” In everyday life, that is usually going to be looking it up in the Catechism, if we don’t know it pretty well already. In official Church documents this approach is very formalized. The discussion is going to start with the core of the Catholic faith related to the issue – establishing and clearly reminding ourselves what we already know the Church teaches. This establishes an anchor point to start from. Nothing that comes after is in any way going to diminish, change, or nullify this statement.

    The Introduction to the Decree on Ecumenism states the problem or question that is being addressed, but even here the anchor point of the discussion is being set: There is One Church founded by Christ and it is the will of God that all Christians be united in that Church.
    The restoration of unity among all Christians is one of the principal concerns of the Second Vatican Council. Christ the Lord founded one Church and one Church only. However, many Christian communions present themselves to men as the true inheritors of Jesus Christ; all indeed profess to be followers of the Lord but differ in mind and go their different ways, as if Christ Himself were divided.(1) Such division openly contradicts the will of Christ, scandalizes the world, and damages the holy cause of preaching the Gospel to every creature. (UNITATIS REDINTEGRATIO – Section 1 paragraph 1)

    The rest of the introduction is more fleshing out the problem. I suspect that many people generally skip introductions to get to the ‘meat.’ This is a big mistake when reading a Catholic Church document.

    Chapter 1 – Catholic Principle of Ecumenism is the start of the discussion, but in a way it is really a prelude. A scholarly Catholic will often breeze through this section nodding their head because they’ve heard it all before. A Protestant is probably going to find some ‘bomb shells.’ You will notice that just about every statement in the section is footnoted. There is nothing, nothing new in this section. Almost every single statement is a direct quote or a close paraphrase from some previous document. A heavy emphasis is on Councils. Encyclicals, Bulls and other Papal stuff are in there. There are many quotes from scripture – but truly they are usually quoting the scripture from within another source. Finally a smattering of Augustine, Aquinas and a few others.

    In this section the Church is setting the anchor point and laying out the boundaries for discussion by re-stating and summarizing everything we already know and teach that pertains to the question. Nothing in the discussion is going to controvert what is stated here.

    I quoted paragraph 4 and will now finally answer Jeff’s question.
    “For it is only through Christ’s Catholic Church, which is “the all-embracing means of salvation,” that they can benefit fully from the means of salvation.” that give me a lot of pause. I searched through Scripture and can find no reference to the church being a “means of salvation”. I am sure that you would agree that salvation is through Christ alone. What those of us outside the RCC hear in this statement is that Christ is only in the Roman Church.” This is in regard to Section 3 paragraph 5.

    I totally agree that that is inflammatory in this forum. I am truly surprised I haven’t been thoroughly fisked. I can start an argument in just about any group of 3 or more sincere Catholics with this one. It is a very difficult matter to really understand. I am not sure that I completely understand. I am sure that I can’t adequately explain it to anyone – Catholic or not. Yet, I will try to make a little progress.

    First, taking on paragraph out of a Council document is very dangerous, we need context, and you may notice my original quote started with ‘nevertheless’ so this statement modifies some previous information. So back to the decree to get Section 3, paragraph 4:
    It follows that the separated Churches(23) and Communities as such, though we believe them to be deficient in some respects, have been by no means deprived of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation. For the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as means of salvation which derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Church.

    Christ has not refrained from using the separated Churches (Orthodox) and Communities (Protestant bodies) as means of salvation. So, salvation is available to Protestants. Clear? Salvation is possible for Protestants. Salvation is possible for Protestants!

    Salvation is through Christ alone. Now, to even begin to understand “the Catholic Church is the all-embracing means of salvation,” it is necessary to remember that the Catholic Church is (I am speaking Catholic hear) the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. When we read St. Paul description of the members of the body of Christ, we read it as a description of the Catholic Church. (Read Benedict the XVI homily to priests and religious at St. Patrick’s in NYC) Jesus Christ is the head of the Church. The Church is (in some sense) the Body of Christ. All the grace available or present or flowing through the Church is the grace of Christ’s Sacrifice. All of Christ’s grace comes through is body the Church. (this is imperfectly stated – I am over my head) Really, there is not a clear distinction between Christ and the Church. It is not Church = Christ, and Christ > Church for sure. (AHH “The Church is the Bride of Christ” Analogies to sacramental marriage apply)

    Indeed, paragraph 2:
    Moreover, some and even very many of the significant elements and endowments which together go to build up and give life to the Church itself, can exist outside the visible boundaries 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, and visible elements too. All of these, which come from Christ and lead back to Christ, belong by right to the one Church of Christ.

    Now I know you aren’t going like this! Essentially this paragraph says that Christ’s gifts (of grace) can exist outside the Catholic Church, but although they are available outside the Church, they rightfully belong to the Catholic Church regardless of where you might find them. There is no statement (anywhere that I know of) that specifically says how much, which or what percentage of Christ’s gifts to the Church are available outside of the visible unity of the Church (so I believe that is an open form for debate). It is however clear, that the fullness or completeness of God’s grace is available only in the Catholic Church.

    Means of Salvation: This doesn’t make sense, if you don’t at least try to think as the Church believes that Salvation is not a one moment “I got saved” “once saved, always saved” proposition. The Christian journey is one of persevering in Christ and growing because of his grace. The access to the fullness (all means of salvation) of Christ’s grace is highly desirable, although not strictly speaking necessary for salvation. Some sense of that is what is conveyed by ‘means of salvation’ is opportunities or mechanisms of grace. As I mentioned, I am in over my head. Here we run into issues of salvation and formulations we all know divide us. I am not going there.

    God Bless


  48. Paul,
    Thanks for your lengthy and patient response. I was beginning to think you had forgotten me tonight, but I can see from the post that you merely had a lot of typing to do. : )
    I am afraid that my other relevant comment got lost in the Marian discussion, which I wasn’t going to get into, but I have time tonight(since I am staying up all night to celebrate Pentecost) and I am studying the Scriptures and well, it happens.
    I took another opportunity tonight to look at the Catholic Encyclopedia online and read the entry about the Easter Controversy. Since I have started to study what God had to say in the Jewish Feasts, I have found this kind of thing more and more fascinating. I am not trying to overwhelm you, and if this is more than you want to discuss I will not be offended, but the fact that there was such a huge division in the second century Catholic Church over the keeping of Easter leaves me with big questions regarding the Magesterium of the RCC. Because of that what I see in the word “whom” in the Timothy passage is not the Magesterium, but his family and synagogue. I know Timothy was young, but his infancy was not spent in the Christian faith, but in its Jewish roots. In that case the teaching of the Apostles confirmed what he had learned from infancy. Much as the Bereans were commended for taking Paul’s teachings and comparing them to Scripture. I am very diligent to take the teachings of the RCC or anyone else for that matter back to Scripture to see if it is true. I think this is what you mean by our different presuppositions and in that I agree that argument will not bear much if any fruit. I do like your programming analogy, if only because I am a hopeless tech geek sort anyway. When it boils down to it, I have many things I agree with the Catholic Church on, but in the areas where there is little direct Biblical evidence and mostly the Magesterium or tradition of the RCC to support a teaching, I find it to be a point of tension I cannot overcome. God may one day show me something I never considered and a light may go on like in Philippians 3:15 – All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.
    It has happened before in my walk with God and I am positive that I haven’t arrived yet so I expect it will happen again. : ) I do enjoy the opportunity to chat with brothers and sisters and keep on working on knowing our Father more and more.
    Shalom and Blessings to you,

  49. Michael Spencer,

    I finally am ready to tackle the question that prompted my expression of discouragement. Going back quite a ways, as Fr. Kimel has already gone a couple rounds with you.

    I have been ruminating over that exchange. One thing that puzzled me was exactly what in this question bothered me, and apparently Fr. Kimel so much?

    I think I have come to understand my reaction. The other questions contributed, as did the whole context in semi-real time, but he real “burr in the blanket” was this question.

    And let’s assume that many Protestants agree with much of Catholicism- as I do- but not all. Is it necessary for me to believe the magisterium is infallible in order to teach Mere Christianity?

    When you say ‘mere Christianity’ you see a common, innocuous formulation which happens to implicitly reject Authority and Hierarchy.

    Your question juxtaposes Catholicism, magisterium and infallibility with ‘mere christianity’ which rejects both magisterium and infallibility.
    It rejects the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. In my Catholic mind it all conflates together. So in one question (which becomes very aggressive to me) you profess to ‘agree with much of Catholicism’ while at the same time ripping Catholicism to shreds!! Ouch!! At the same time (context) wanting to lay claim to the right to teach the faith with approval of the Church you are rejecting. Now I see why I got so angry.

    So, even now my first inclination is to give a brutally honest and uncharitable answer to your question.

    “Yes, you are qualified to teach ‘mere christianity’ and only ‘mere christianity.’ You are clearly not qualified to teach the Christian Faith, in its fullness, as it subsists in the Catholic Church.”

    Now that is a harsh statement. It might seem like appropriate answer to an aggressive question. Factually it is absolutely correct, even the uncapitalized christianity. Doctrinally, it is the ‘correct’ answer.

    But it is not the appropriate answer. I don’t believe that you intended to ask the question I understood, and even if you did I should be charitable. I believe you intended to ask, “does the Catholic Church say I am totally unqualified to teach anything about Christianity just because I find myself unable to accept all of the Church’s claims?” The answer to that question can be found in the Decree on Ecumenism Section 4 paragraphs 8 & 9

    On the other hand, Catholics must gladly acknowledge and esteem the truly Christian endowments from our common heritage which are to be found among our separated brethren. It is right and salutary to recognize the riches of Christ and virtuous works in the lives of others who are bearing witness to Christ, sometimes even to the shedding of their blood. For God is always wonderful in His works and worthy of all praise.

    Nor should we forget that anything wrought by the grace of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of our separated brethren can be a help to our own edification. Whatever is truly Christian is never contrary to what genuinely belongs to the faith; indeed, it can always bring a deeper realization of the mystery of Christ and the Church.

    God Bless, you are in my prayers


  50. Arturo,

    Thanks for staying in the conversation. I for one value your contributions. I for one agree that the point where Marian Devotion becomes so extreme as to damage the faith of an individual or community is very seldom if ever reached within the confines of the Church. In some schismatic groups it appears more likely that among other errors the emphasis on Mary might somehow get twisted. Also, in cases of semi-christian or non-christian devotions where Mary is probably indeed being used as a goddess there is obviously serious problems.

    The only cases I can think of within the Church where I might be inclined to believe Marian Devotion had gone too far are possibly in cases false apparitions, where some seer is giving false prophecies. But, that really is a case of something other than the Marian Devotion actually being the source of the problem.

    On the other hand, for the purposes of this forum, I would acknowledge that Marian Devotion (prayer) is not mandatory.

    God Bless