Friday, July 30, 2010

News Flash: Catholics Don't Always Agree

Occasionally I am mentioned in a blog run by a Protestant apologist who frequently challenges the claim of the Catholic Magisterium to teach with clarity and authority by pointing out that Catholics sometimes disagree. If that sounds like a less than entirely convincing counter-argument, it is.

I pointed this out in the comments section of one his (many) postings highlighting some instance in which Catholic apologists publicly disagree on something. Sure enough, right on cue, one of his regulars chimed in:

"That's funny. I thought that was the very argument used to discredit Sola Scriptura. I suppose divisions only count when considered within the framework of Protestantism."

When I posted a link to my own piece pointing out how the differences within Protestantism differ in principle from those between Catholics, the blogger simply posted his own link to a different article. What was really funny though, is that in the comments section of that very piece, he admitted this:

"To my knowledge, Roman Catholics follow Trent's definition of Justification, and for the most part, they are unified in their misunderstanding of Justification."

I see. So in other words, when the Catholic Magisterium has defined some matter—the doctrine of Justification, in the specific example he cited—it is exactly as I said. Both those within and those outside of the Catholic Church understand what was defined. They may disagree with it, but they know what the Catholic Church teaches. As I stated in my own article:

Thus, the Catholic Church has spoken with clarity throughout the centuries; even her enemies, whether within or from outside the Church, unwittingly admit this. And this clarity is indeed in stark contrast to the inability of Protestants to agree on even central doctrines.

That is a fact. It stands. The other beautiful fact is that a living Magisterium can revisit a particular issue, if any confusion remains (the doctrine of infallibility does not hold that a given authoritative exercise of the Magisterium will be comprehensive and free from all ambiguity, only free from overt error.) As my friend Gary Michuta has said, the Protestant Christian is in a situation much like a student who only has the textbook. If he has a question he can but consult the textbook again, even while other equally earnest and learned students derive very different answers. But the Catholic has a living Teacher who can answer questions. And if perchance one of the answers isn't comprehensive or maybe is willfully distorted, then the students can ask the Teacher for clarification.

My rejoinder to this fellow was as follows: "So as I pointed out in my own blog piece, both friend and foe alike understand what the Catholic Church teaches on justification—as well as on many other issues. Are you still stating that this does not differ from the situation faced by the Protestant Christian with respect to Biblical interpretation?" No response.

Can any one of these folks please tell me where the Catholic Church has ever taught that, because we have a Magisterium, Catholics will agree on everything? No such thing has ever been part of Catholic belief. And the history of the Catholic Church is absolutely riddled with examples of Catholics disagreeing—sometimes vociferously—with each other. The notion that having an authoritative Magisterium will dispel any and all disagreement on any and every subject is silly, a perfect example of a straw man.

The simple fact is that there is a difference, in principle, between the clarity brought by the Catholic Magisterium and the chaos that reigns among Protestant Christians due to the doctrine of sola Scriptura and the principle of private judgment. There are some fairly good arguments put forth by Protestants in challenge to the Catholic Faith. But this one is simply childish.