Dear Catholic Friends,
I hope I still have some of you who visit my blog. It has been a while since I have been so active, but my prayers are that we can continue the conversations we have had over the last 25 years with mutual respect. (Here is a good example).
I’ve recently, once again, been engaged in discussions with some Catholic apologists, and there’s a recurring argument presented to me that I wanted to discuss with you. It’s the contention that as a Protestant, I don’t possess an “official” canon of Scripture. The implication being, without an authoritative body like the Magisterium to define it, my reliance on the 66-book canon is essentially based on tradition and not an infallible decree. Hence, as the argument goes, without the infallible authority of the magisterial church, I am left with “a fallible canon of infallible books.” The argument continues to expresse desire for me to “come home” where I can have an infallible canon of infallible books, as the church has defined them for us.
I get this, and I have always thought it was a very clever and effective argument, especially for evangelicals who believe so deeply in the authority of Scripture.
However, as I have expressed many times, I am perfectly comfortable with the current situation, and do except the fact that I do not have a dogmatized or infallible canon. It doesn’t mean I don’t think our 66 book cannon is warranted; it just means that I do not have the level of certitude that you are inviting me to share.
This got me reflecting, and I realized that the Catholic Church, in its long history, doesn’t have a centralized, official list of infallible “ex cathedra” papal statements either. I understand and recognize the broadly accepted belief in the two Marian dogmas:
I understand and recognize the broadly accepted belief in the two Marian dogmas:
1. The Immaculate Conception of Mary (1854): Pope Pius IX declared that Mary was conceived without original sin.
2. The Assumption of Mary (1950): Pope Pius XII defined that Mary, after the completion of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heaven.
Much like my reliance on the recognized canon of Scripture, Catholics rely on the tradition and historical acknowledgment of these papal pronouncements. Yet, this list is not infallible. And due to this, the door is open for Catholics to discuss other options, including the option that the pope has never spoken infallibly by this extraordinary means. Here are some illustrations.
1. Fr. Francis J. Sullivan, SJ
• Work: “Magisterium: Teaching Authority in the Catholic Church”
• Point: Sullivan explores the nature of the Magisterium’s teaching authority and suggests that, apart from the two Marian dogmas, it’s challenging to find other clear instances of “ex cathedra” pronouncements. However, he discusses the possibility of other cases.
2. Ludwig Ott
• Work: “Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma”
• Point: Ott identifies the Immaculate Conception and Assumption as “ex cathedra” teachings. He also examines other teachings of the Church with varying degrees of theological certainty but doesn’t necessarily categorize additional teachings as “ex cathedra.” But how does he know for sure?
3. Pope Boniface VIII
• Document: “Unam Sanctam” (1302)
• Point: This papal bull asserted the necessity of being subject to the Roman Pontiff for salvation. I have found this to be the most debated of the options. Is it infallible? How do you know with certainty?
My point here is not to trap you. It seems to me that both of us, to an extent, trust in a tradition that hasn’t been formally codified in the way some apologists might suggest.
It leads me to a deeper reflection: Both our faith in Scripture, as a Protestant, and your faith in the Church, as a Catholic, require us to engage our intellect, reason, and discernment. We both trust in something larger than ourselves, but our faith journeys, while rooted in divine belief, are also influenced by our fallible human understanding.
Doesn’t this put us on similar grounds? While the sources of our authority might differ – Scripture for me and the Magisterium interpreting Scripture for you – both of us navigate our faith with a blend of divine trust and human discernment. My canon and interpretation of the Bible might be wrong. And your canon and interpretation of the Church may be wrong. Would you agree that our beliefs, while anchored in God, are still experienced through our fallible human lens? We all start with subjectivity.
I’m genuinely interested in furthering the discussion on this and hope we can discuss it with mutual respect and openness as we always have.