One commenter said:
The way you write, I guess, seems to me to reveal a near certainty concerning the falsity of Catholic Doctrine. It seems as though you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Catholicism simply couldn’t be true. And you’re willing to hang everything on that confidence.
Too often, an argument is put forth in this form: “Protestantism has lots of problems. Therefore, Catholicism.”
I once looked at it this way myself. I was hanging around some close friends who were starting a fellowship for “completed Jews,” — that is, these were all Jewish people who had become believers, and they first started an informal fellowship, and then a church. But by this second phase, they were getting hung up on issues of leadership, church structure, etc. There were a lot of different ways they could have done this, but their disagreements over such issues led me to say, “the Catholic church has already been through these kinds of issues; they have decided upon a resolution to them, so I’m going home to Rome.” And that’s just what I did.
Francis Turretin, at the beginning of Volume 3 of his three volume “Institutes” states, in summary form, he says that Protestants (rightly) look to Scripture, and they determine what “the true faith” is by studying and understanding what the Scriptures say on a doctrine-by-doctrine, or point-by-point basis. And this needs to be done.
But Catholics, Turretin says, simply sweep all of this aside with one motion. They say, “We are The Church, and we decide what ‘the true faith’ is.”
And I think that the imbalance in this form of argumentation accounts for many of the misunderstandings that continue to occur in these types of discussions in our day.
In Turretin’s time, Roman polemicists attempted to prove their position. They argued, for instance, that the Roman church had never changed, that it was the Protestants who introduced novelty into the ongoing sweep of church history.
But by Newman’s time, Newman was realizing that Rome, too, had (“seemingly”) introduced “difficulties” — that neither Rome nor the Protestant churches adhered to the 5th century Vincentian rule: “what was believed always, everywhere, by all.” In fact, he summarily dismissed this as unworkable for both parties.
However, the position that Turretin noticed Roman polemicists were arguing for, “We are The Church, and we decide what ‘the true faith’ is,” was in Newman’s formulation, merely an assumption. That is, Newman assumed (and taught Roman polemicists to assume) that the authority structure that was present in his day, was “in some way” the same authority structure that was in place in the 2nd, 7th, and subsequent centuries.
My thought is that this assumption must not be allowed to stand unchallenged. And especially in the face of such historical evidence as I’ve presented — the historians I’ve cited DO present an alternative church structure that is far more viable, because it is based on real-life evidence that has been discovered.
So what I want to do is to really change the terms of the argument. To bring it out of Newman’s world of fuzzy assumptions, and to force Rome to argue that its conception of itself is right. If its conception of its own history and authority are right, then the evidences that it brings forth to support such contentions will be more than adequate to convince an unbelieving world.
My contention is that it cannot do so. My contention is that the work that I am presenting is also known to “the Magisterium” at Rome. The mere fact that “the Magisterium,” even the CDF, is conceding that “we are conscious of development in the primacy” is a huge historical concession. If Luther and Calvin had had a concession like that, the course of the Reformation could have been different.
We have that kind of concession today. It was forced by historical evidence.
People now need to ask the one question: “Did the Roman church come by its authority in a legitimate way?” Was its authority “divinely instituted,” as it never tires of reminding us that it is? Or was this authority accumulated through less-than-honest means?
Looking at the early history of the papacy, and the evidence we have of how it came about, I don’t see that the answer to this question is in doubt.