14 October 2007

As some in the Catholic blogosphere are aware, Bill Cork, a convert to Catholicism, swam back across the Tiber this year to rejoin the Seventh Day Adventist Church.

These days, when challenged on a point by a Catholic, he puts forth the argument, as so many Protestants do, that Catholics rely ultimately on the Magisterium, while Protestants rely ultimately on Holy Scripture. I remember once exerting some effort in conversation with a Protestant friend in a café disabusing her of this notion (to which she finally conceded).

As it is, it is a false dichotomy. Both Catholics and Protestants rely on Holy Scripture, and believe in the inerrancy of Scripture. Protestants, however, rely on a different authority to interpret Scripture from that of Catholics, who believe the Magisterium has been commissioned by Christ and led by the Holy Spirit. Protestants must recognize (and admit to) the fact that Scripture must be interpreted. Scripture, as we all know, is hardly clear on many issues (e.g., paedobaptism, abortion, confession, etc.). Interpretation is essential, and any Protestant who thinks otherwise is most sorely and grievously mistaken.

The heart of the question is thus, which authority gives us the correct interpretation of Scripture? For, oh yes, my Protestant friends, each faction of you relies on some authority to interpret Sacred Scripture. For some, it is John Calvin, for others, it is Luther, still for others, it is the teachings of the Seventh Day Adventists. Why, my dear friends across the Tiber, should we believe in your interpretation of Sacred Scripture over ours?

The riposte will surely be, "You should because our teachings accord with Sacred Scripture." Ah, but that is to make a circular argument--and it is the same argument used by every faction of Protestantism. Pro-abortion Lutherans will say that Scripture remains silent on the point, and thus abortion should be left up to the individual. Pro-life Lutherans will point to Psalm 139:14 and like passages to justify their position. Protestants who believe in allowing divorce, and those who do not will quibble over the precise meaning of Matthew 19:3-12 and similar verses. One can set forth a hundred further examples of arguments over the meaning of Scripture--yet we are not any further enlightened as to why one person's argument is any better than the next. Why is Calvin's interpretation more authoritative than Luther's? Again, the only answer given is the circular, very unhelpful one: because one (or the other, depending on whom you speak with) accords better with Scripture.

Fr. Kimel, in a comment thread here, puts it well:

[T]he critical question: When confronted by different readings of Holy Scripture, how does one decide between them? The fact that you believe you are reading Holy Scripture rightly--indeed, so rightly that you are willing to virtually identify your interpretation as the Word of God--does not mean that you are right. It only means that you believe. You may believe that your interpretation of the Bible is clearly and evidently true--but the simple fact remains that believers have disagreed on the content of the apostolic tradition since day two. Protestants themselves cannot agree on the interpretation of Scripture on critical theological and moral questions; yet, mysteriously, they are utterly, utterly, utterly convinced that Catholics are wrong.

It is precisely this inability of Protestantism to negotiate contradictory readings of Holy Scripture--leading to the endless cycle of schism and ecclesiastical re-creation--that has led some of us to question the fundamental hermeneutical commitments of Protestantism, to listen with an open mind and heart to the witness of the Catholic Church, and to seriously consider the possibility that the claims of the Catholic Church may be true. Specifically, it means considering the possibility that God has provided to his Church a final court of appeal for the faithful and authoritative adjudication of moral and theological controversies. Specifically, it means being willing to finally abandon private judgment and to trust in the dogmatic teaching of the bishops of the Church, united in communion with the Bishop of Rome.

And yes, the Catholic Church is 2,000 years old. Schismatics and heretics come and go, yet the Church of Rome abides. It is this fact--not theories, not arguments, not speculations--that finally convinces.