My post this weekend about embracing doubt has stirred up quite a few people. The truth is that the post started and ended as an encouragement for us not to approach our studies with the intent of confirming our prejudice. In order for true learning to take place we have to be willing to change. So far, so good?

Of course this is not the reason I had to put on my bulletproof vest. The post turned from a “ho-hum” reminder to a slanderous “how could you?” when I used Roman Catholicism as an illustration of an institution that limits freedom. Further, from this, I suggested that true Roman Catholics cannot be good scholars. In order to qualify as “good” scholars, they have to be a bit rebellious.

I have been quite taken aback by the responses. Part of me is glad to see so many Protestants coming to the defense of Roman Catholics. It tells me that our readership is made up of those who are kind and gracious, not wanting to make unnecessary divides and not liking harsh rhetoric (which does nothing to advance our cause and does not honor Christ). Though I don’t think I made any overstatements or used sensationalistic rhetoric to make my point, I am glad to see pushback, so long as it is thoughtful. As well, I believe I have earned the right to write a “wounds of a friend” post every once in a while. Those of you who are regulars of this blog know that I don’t engage in polemics very often. I feel I have written in a balanced way over the years, even if it has not been perfect. But every so often I will write something that cuts to the quick. Looking back at this post, it would have done me well to preface it with a study on the Roman Catholic view of authority. This might have served as a reminder (to those of us who are Protestants) why we don’t believe in an infallible Magisterium, and why we do believe this body ultimately does much more harm than good.

My History with Roman Catholicism

When I was exploring the Roman Catholic faith many years ago, I did not do so as a mere outsider who was trying to gather apologetic ammo. I did so prayerfully and respectfully, wrestling with the Lord concerning every detail and doctrine. After nearly a year of daily engagement with Catholicism (sometimes for 4-5 hours a day – my whole family remembers that time!), reading and talking with the “best of” Roman Catholics, I came to understand Catholicism at a whole different level. My fellowship with many Catholics became so close and sweet that many of them approached me and said that they all knew that it was simply a matter of time before I converted. However, this was not to be.

During this time I reshaped my understanding of Catholicism in many ways. For example:

Prayers to Mary and the saints: I used to think that these amounted to worship of Many the saints. While this might be true of some Roman Catholics, it did not represent the true teaching of the Church on this matter. When Catholics pray to Mary and the saints, it is not unlike when you or I ask someone to pray for us. We are not worshiping the one we ask to pray for us, are we? When a Roman Catholic prays to a saint, they are simply asking them to intercede on their behalf the same way as when you or I ask a friend to pray for us. And from their perspective, who better to ask to pray for you then Mary, Jesus’ mother!

Yes, I still disagree with this practice, but I don’t view it as saint worship anymore.

Purgatory: I used to think this was a doctrine which expressed a wholly deficient view of the atonement. What Christ did was not enough. His payment was insufficient, so we must spend some atoning time in Purgatory. While this is the view of some Roman Catholics, others merely see it as “washing up before dinner.” In other words, all of us believe in some type of process that completely sanctifies us after death. We all believe that Christians die imperfect and fallen, but something happens between death and the presence of God, which makes us actually and totally free from all sin. What happens? What cleanses us? Catholics call this Purgatory. Many see it as a timeless (almost instantaneous) event. It is like our last surgery.

While I strongly disagree with any type of atoning event which uses suffering as its means of cleansing, I can live with this “modified” understanding of Purgatory without getting too bent out of shape these days.

Doctrinal Development: But hasn’t Catholicism changed so much over the years? How can they claim to be a stable entity when they have contradicted themselves so often? Those who are serious about understanding Roman Catholic theology as it stands today must engage An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine by John Henry Newman. In my opinion, it is the most important Roman Catholic apologetic work of the last two centuries, and possibly since the Reformation. In essence, Newman gives Rome an articulated defense of how and why Roman Catholic doctrine develops (i.e., it develops, but does not change).

Again, I disagree with the work’s final implications (that Rome has not really changed), but I can now understand how one can still have their historic integrity and their Catholicism, too.

My journey in and out of Roman Catholicism was an incredible struggle, filled with the fostering of new friendships, appreciation, and some degree of anxiety as I returned my visitor’s pass and sailed back across the Tiber. There are so many things to say, but I must move quickly to a justification of my last post concerning their scholarship.

Can Catholics Disagree with Rome and Remain Catholics?

As many of you know, my primary training is in New Testament studies. I love and respect theology, philosophy, and church history, but when push comes to shove, I want to know what the text says. I love to study commentaries. I love to read them cover to cover. Although I could do a much better job of it, I love to keep up on my Greek. Nothing persuades me of truth more than discovering it in the Bible. In short, I love exegesis.

Issues related to interpretation became a major focus of my conversations with Catholics. My primary question was this: What if I have an interpretation of a text that does not agree with Rome? Is that okay? What you have to know is that there is quit a bit of freedom to interpret in the Roman Catholic system. Wait. I know what you are thinking. Doesn’t that militate against what your previous post argued – that there is not academic freedom in Rome? Well, it depends on what you mean. You see, contrary to popular opinion, Rome has not spoken directly and dogmatically to many passages of Scripture. Even the Pope rarely, if ever, speaks infallibly. He is just as fallible as you or I 99.999% of the time. It is only when he speaks “from the chair” that his words are infallibly binding. And there is quite a bit of debate among Catholics as to when Popes have actually exercised this privilege. In other words, there is not a “Dogmatic-Required-by-Rome-Commentary” out there. The Pope and councils have not laid out how understand every text of the Bible. Therefore, there is some degree of freedom.

However, there are some passages, such as Matthew 16, that have been dogmatized (you know, the whole “Peter and the keys to heaven establishing the Papacy” thing). More importantly, theology has been dogmatized. In other words, however one reads the Scripture, in the end, the reading must fall in line with Roman Catholic theology.

So…can one interpret the Bible in a way that conflicts with Roman Catholic theology? The answer is no.

In my attempts to understand Roman Catholicism, I looked and looked for loopholes.

What if I come to the conviction that Mary was not ever-virgin? Can I teach accordingly? No.

What if I come to the conviction that missing mass on Sundays is not a mortal sin? Can I teach and act accordingly? No.

What if I came to the conclusion that the Bible teaches against the doctrine of Purgatory? Can I teach my kids this? No.

What if I disagreed with the doctrine of transubstantiation, believing that John 6 was not to be taken literally? Could I teach and believe accordingly? No. Well, not if I expect to be a true Roman Catholic.

What About Hans Kung?

In response to my last post, many people brought up the fact that there are many within the Catholic Church who have disagreed with the Church and are still in good standing. Therefore, they believe this invalidates my last post. Hans Kung is always the example in these cases! While it is true that Rome has not formally excommunicated Kung, this does not serve as a good illustration, as any good Catholic will inform you. One does not have to be formally excommunicated to have lost their standing in the Church. Think about it. I am sure that there are many everyday dads and moms and brothers and sisters who have never been formally “kicked out” of the Church, yet hold incredibly aberrant views. They are not “safe” simply because the institution has not formally recognized their apostasy. Apostasy is defined very clearly and happens upon the subject’s departure, not the Church’s recognition of this departure. So one should expect to find thousands, indeed millions, of examples of those who hold views different from Rome’s, but are still “members in good standing.”

Again, this was such an important question for me: Can one study the Bible and come to conclusions that are different than what has been dogmatized by Rome, and still be a true Catholic?

Let me quote Rome:

“23. When the Magisterium of the Church makes an infallible pronouncement and solemnly declares that a teaching is found in Revelation, the assent called for is that of theological faith. This kind of adherence is to be given even to the teaching of the ordinary and universal Magisterium when it proposes for belief a teaching of faith as divinely revealed.

When the Magisterium proposes ‘in a definitive way’ truths concerning faith and morals, which, even if not divinely revealed, are nevertheless strictly and intimately connected with Revelation, these must be firmly accepted and held.(22)” (emphasis mine; Source)

Accepted and held. This is more than a mere “I will not teach against this” like we have in the documents of membership at Stonebriar Community Church. This doctrines much be accepted and held. And this is not a passive acceptance, but one that must be firm.

Doesn’t Evangelicalism Have the Same Limits?

Finally, a word about Roman Catholicism compared to Evangelicalism. Many have objected to me using Rome as a punching bag, believing that if Catholicism lacks freedom, then the same must be said of Evangelicalism. In a way, I see where people are coming from. However, this does not really work. Evangelicalism is not an institution. It has no creeds, documents of incorporation, headquarters, president, or pope. In theory, Evangelicalism is descriptive of a movement with which like-minded believers network or identify. One cannot be “kicked out” of Evangelicalism. One does not become an Evangelical by vowing to submit to the authority or even the idea of Evangelicalism. Therefore, the comparison does not work.

I even had someone complain by saying that since I was a 5-point Calvinist, the same restraints were upon me. They said that I did not have the freedom to interpret the Scriptures outside of my 5-point Calvinistic paradigm. Again, this is in no way parallel. Not only is 5-point Calvinism not an institution to which I submit, it is merely a description of my beliefs. I am free to become a 4-point Calvinist tomorrow if I so desire. (And this  often happens!. Every time I study the book of John, or talk with Dr. Hall Harris III, I become more 4-point.)

Again, the end is the same. Becoming a Roman Catholic amounts to a submission of your beliefs to the authority of Rome. I think one can be a fine philosopher, sociologist, epistemologist, and ethicist and still be a Roman Catholic. However, when it comes to theology and, most specifically, exegetical studies of the Bible, I don’t think he or she can be a scholar, since they lack the academic freedom to disagree with Rome.

Contray to what many people have said, I don’t hate Rome. Maybe I should have used Mormonism as the example. You think there would have been less push-back if I did? I probably shouldn’t have used any illustration at all! Just left it as “Embracing Doubt.” Oh well, damage done.

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    117 replies to "Why I Hate Roman Catholicism, Part 2"

    • Daniel

      I think that is a fair assessment. Makes a nice summary. The key there is POSSIBILITY. When I think of the *evidences* of scholarship, it would include that concept of ability to come up with something new or add to existing knowledge of something. I think of it kinda like an expert witness in a court case. How much they have published, what they’ve authored, and whether or not they’ve participated in the peer-review process is evidence of their expertise. It’s like someone who teaches business or is a business student versus someone who, as a businessman, has created businesses. Is it theoretical or is it practical experience? That is what I was getting at with reference to learning theology versus practicing theology.

    • wineinthewater


      I made a point at Michael’s original post that no one has addressed and I think gets at your point directly. All of your conclusions have been based on a premise that has gone largely unchallenged and that I don’t think has been established: that Michael has actually offered a definition of a good scholar.

      I don’t think he has. I think he has offered a definition for a mediocre scholar. As such, I think you have only shown that it is likely that Catholics cannot be the kind of mediocre scholar that Michael describes.

      As I say there, a good scholar must be able to do more than doubt:

      “At the most basic level, a good scholar must be able to recognize his first principles as first principles. But beyond that, a good scholar must have the ability to set aside any of his premises and presuppositions (whether they be first principles or not) while engaging his study. His inquiry must be able to allow that a premise is flawed, his inquiry must be able to proceed completely neglecting a premise without concern for whether the premise is correct or not. The ability to doubt your presuppositions is really a poor replacement for this ability. A good scholar must be able to set aside any of his premises, no matter how fervently or absolutely held, not just the ones he doubts.

      There is no reason that a Roman Catholic cannot do this. It is a basic intellectual exercise. Of course, any scholar of faith runs a risk here, that they may come to a conclusion that forces them to jettison a premise that was an article of faith for them. For the Catholic, the stakes may just be a little higher. The loss of any infallibly defined belief is the loss of the infallible character of them all, and the loss of the belief that the Catholic Church is who and what she says she is.”

      The point is though, that a Catholic can proceed with study without the assumption that he is going to end up where the Church ended up and without the assumption that what the Church has already defined is truth. It’s not about doubt and “freedom” to disagree, it’s all process, all intellectual exercise. A scholar who cannot set aside his most cherished premises for the duration of his inquiry is simply not a good scholar. A scholar who merely doubts his premises and presuppositions and allows that they might change is merely mediocre.

    • Daniel

      So a Catholic Scholar can set aside the presupposition that the church is always right and he must believe what they say? OK. But if he does, is he truly a “Catholic” scholar doing independent study, or is he an independent NOT in submission to the church teaching at that point? I’d submit that as soon as they entertain the idea that the church is wrong, he’s out of submission to the church and not acting as a “Catholic Scholar”. If his conclusion is ALWAYS that the church is ALWAYS right, then it isn’t really submission of his mind and will the the church. It’s just agreement. Submission occurs when you believe otherwise but abandon your personal belief or personal interpretation or private interpretation for that of the church. Just like a leader isn’t a leader unless someone is following them, my wife isn’t submitting to me in all things if she’s following her own path that just happens to be the same one I’m on. We’re just two cars on the same road and she’s not really following me unless she’s taking all my shortcuts even when she’d rather take the main roads. If I’m not yielding to the will of another, I’m just coincidentally on the same path. And if I’m in total agreement with the church, I’m just learning what the church teaches and why. That is a student. Not really someone doing new research or going in new directions.

    • wineinthewater


      I find it interesting that this has been a hard concept for people to grasp. Throughout my higher-ed academic career, this was seen as a basic skill. To set a premise aside is not to stop believing it, but merely to take your inquiry through its course without that premise. A chemist can run a chemical reaction experiment leaving out an element to see what happens, it does not mean that the element does not exist, just that he isn’t including it in the experiment. A good scholar can do the same kind of “thought experiment” leaving out one or more of his premises. This is because a good scholar recognizes his premises as *premises*.

      The Catholic scholar is completely free to end up in a place contrary to where the Church ended up. Just as a Christian scholar is able to end up at a conclusion that precludes his Christianity. But at that point, he is going to have to make a decision. He can give up his conclusion, accept the teaching of the Church and cease to be a scholar in a meaningful sense. He can give up his “Catholic premise” and break Communion with the Church or live in that odd partial Communion limbo that some try to claim. Or, he can re-engage the process, submit his process and conclusions to peer review, review to make sure he actually properly understood the “Catholic premise,” consider other variables that might change the outcome .. because another feature of a good scholar is the understanding that he is fallible, and can be wrong about all kinds of things.

      Your definition of scholar does not preclude Catholics. There is so much that the Catholic Church has not definitively taught, so many new things that must be related to existing teaching. Unless you define “new direction” and “new research” to *necessarily* include contradicting existing research, that definition of scholar does not exclude Catholics. But if that is your definition, then you have not defined a good scholar, you’ve defined a bad scholar. A good scholar does not assume that he is going to end up somewhere different than where his predecessors did any more than he assumes he is going to end up in the same place.

      Also, your characterization of submission is such a dominance notion: that it is only submission if the party loses something, gives up something. It is so much more Hupeiko than Hupotasso. Your definition of obsequium religiosum would only allow people who intellectually disagree with the Church but give up their own opinion to be Catholic. What an odd ecclesiology, it certainly doesn’t match the Catholic notion of religious submission.

    • Daniel

      But this isn’t a case of a chef setting aside salt to see how the biscuit recipe would turn out. Since unity and “must submit” is key to Catholic doctrine, it would be more akin to setting aside their Catholicism in order to study something without that presupposition. That is why it is a Scholar OR Catholic kind of situation instead of BOTH. If one sets aside the requirement that you have to believe what the church says, of course that results in ability to have a personal interpretation of something. But that doesn’t prove your case because it is based on an example that can’t really exist. You can’t set aside your Catholicism and yielding your mind and will to the church AND still be in good standing and in full communion with the church. The very fact that you are setting something aside shows that you are not submitting to it. So the chef that experiments with biscuits without salt isn’t making Catholic Biscuits if the only Catholic recipe that is allowed has salt in it. It’s like Paula Dean having a cookbook that doesn’t have butter in it. It’s an oxymoron. If they want to get into something the church has never taught on, say fractal math, that’s fine. But I’d say that they couldn’t even go into something like a promotion of molinism if the church has never talked about that topic as that would still be theology and theology has to come through the church in a top down manner and not contributed from the bottom up. When theology is through the church, that becomes your foundation. You can’t go off and do a Protestant type Scripture study and come up with a private interpretation of molinism because that process of developing any kind of theological position outside the teaching of the church is also not allowed.

      But I think I’ve probably beat this horse enough. I’m going to let it rest. I think the posts I did quoting the catechism and Vatican really settle it. If your mind and will is subject to another, you can learn what to believe and why they believe it, but don’t really have the liberty to go elsewhere in your beliefs and study in any objective manner without breaking that submission to the church. That is official church doctrine. If the church officially taught your position, I’d think there would be quotes from the Vatican to show that and not all this other back and forth. So I’ll be monitoring and if that level of rebuttal of CMP’s assertion shows up indicating that a scholar is capable of independent practicing of theology and developing theology in a scholarly manner, I’ll respond. Otherwise, I’ll be back over on the several discussions on Theologica that I’m currently involved in.

    • TDC

      Daniel, (reply to comment 101)

      Ok, I’m glad I’m not misrepresenting you. Let me summarize my position.

      I agree that your position is consistent given your criteria for scholarship, your description of catholics, your presuppositions, etc.

      However, I think there may be difficulties with a number of those presuppositions and criteria. I’m focusing on one, your criteria for scholarship. I think that your (and CMP’s) criteria leads to strange conclusions (Craig was my example, see previous comments), and so we have reason to doubt the validity of the criteria. You are willing to bite the bullet and accept those conclusions. Those who can’t accept the conclusions–e.g. that Craig cannot be a true scholar on the existence of God or the resurrection– cannot accept the criteria and remain consistent.

    • wineinthewater


      Perhaps my choice of words (or allegories) is getting in the way. But when I say, “set aside a premise,” I do not mean that the scholar sets aside their Catholicism, or stops believing the premise. It simply means that the scholar proceeds through the process of inquiry ignoring/disregarding the premise, or as if the premise did not exist. It is to remove the premise “for the sake of argument.” I did it in my original comment to Michael: “Put aside for the moment whether or not the Catholic Church is actually who she claims to be.”

      Like I said, this is a basic academic process. Your request for official teaching permitting it is like asking for official teaching permitting the use of the Dewey Decimal System, literature reviews, peer reviews or the scientific method. Referring to official teaching that Catholics are obliged to obsequium religiosum doesn’t really apply, because the scholar never ceases to believe what the Church teaches, but merely goes through an intellectual exercise.

    • Charlie Grinn

      I always thought the obvious problem that nobody could possibly miss about praying to dead saints is exactly THAT.
      We are forbidden to communicate with the dead!

      The only person we know of who has ever been resurrected is Jesus Christ. Nobody else.

      Jesus Christ is alive.

      All of these ‘saints’ are still dead. Even Mary.

      I was raised a roman catholic and forever voiced this exact line of thinking to my superiors and was always told that I didn’t know what I was talking about and to forget it.

      I’m not a roman catholic now and stopped being one once I was old enough to read the bible for myself. There are countless errors in the roman religion and this was just the easiest one to notice from a young kid’s standpoint, or so I thought.
      I never really thought of it as ‘worshipping saints’, just praying to the dead, which would seem, according to scripture, to be a much bigger problem.

    • Jak Tors

      Faith is not underwear. You can’t just wake up and decide what you’re going to go with today. Five point calvinist one day, anyway the wind blows up my skirt the next… “A man who is double minded is unstable in all his ways…”

    • UltraMontane

      You cannot be a good thinker as a Christian either, as the “freethinkers” claim, because your views are constrained by those advocated by Christ, or your honest interpretation of what the Bible states. If your being dishonest then by definition you cannot be a good thinker. A true intellectual will submit his will to those who he believes has “infallible authority”. That is completely logical, and I believe the Church has sufficient evidence for its claims to be the ONLY Church founded by Christ himself through the Apostles, and its claims to have divinely instituted authority in matters of theology and morality. Submission to the rightful authority leads to true freedom, because it leads to truth.

      Aren’t you submitting to the authority of Christ and therefore limiting your freedom in thought?

      “Catholic doctrine and discipline may be walls; but they are the walls of a playground” – Chesterton

    • ohlay

      May Our Lord Jesus Free you from this distress, that you may be able to love everyone, sinners and saints. No one is fully sinless or no one is fully sinful not deserving God’s Grace. He has washed away your sins on the Calvary, why then do you want to commit more sins? May your actions sound good as you Love the Lord wholeheartedly. Amen.God bless you My Dear Friend.

    • James-the-lesser

      Michael, may I suggest that you give “Reading the Early Church Fathers [From the Didache to Nicaea]” by James L. Papandrea a good read, the comment on the theological worth of Orthodoxy. Further to imply that men like Hans Urs von Balthazar, Karl Rahner, or Erich Przywara are not great theologians begs the question, “What then constitutes a good theologian?” Each of these were risk takers and explored the uncharted waters that churned beyond the breakers of dogmatism and in my opinion have opened up new vistas of understanding which we can now more easily view through the lens of analogy. Personally, I think the word ‘hate’ is a little strong. My suggestion, try the word ‘disagree’ next time and I believe you will get less strident retorts. Or maybe you just enjoy a good fight—which is not good in any case if it only generates hostility. 🙁

    • James-the-lesser

      Michael, may I suggest that you give “Reading the Early Church Fathers [From the Didache to Nicaea]” by James L. Papandrea a good read and then comment on the theological worth of Orthodoxy. Further to imply that men like Hans Urs von Balthazar, Karl Rahner, or Erich Przywara are not great theologians begs the question, “What then constitutes a good theologian?” Each of these were risk takers and explored the uncharted waters that churned beyond the breakers of dogmatism and in my opinion have opened up new vistas of understanding which we can now more easily view through the lens of analogy. Personally, I think the word ‘hate’ is a little strong. My suggestion, try the word ‘disagree’ next time and I believe you will get less strident retorts. Or maybe you just enjoy a good fight—which is not good in any case if it only generates hostility.

    • beinghuman123

      It’s amazing to me how people can be such slaves toward religious leaders. The Catholic Church isn’t the true church, because no religions are correct. I find it silly that people believe in a book that 2,000 years old. I respect religious people, but I don’t respect religions.

      I used to be Catholic, but at the moment I have left the church. I don’t like any religion that says that anyone else who disbelieves will suffer an eternity in Hell. It doesn’t matter if you believe in Jesus according to Catholics, you have to submit to the Pope. Unless you submit to the Pope, you are going to Hell. People say that the Pope is the Holy Father, but he sounds more like a power hungry king.

    • beinghuman123

      Plus, the Catholic Church takes things completely out of context when it comes to the Bible. I don’t believe in the Bible, but if any church gets it completely wrong, it’s Catholics. Some of the main stances have no biblical authority. Such as: praying to saints, praying to Mary, the scapular, and the rosary. Also, why should I tell have to tell a priest that I masturbated when it’s completely healthy and normal? According to the Catholic Church, this will send me to Hell.

      Catholics have risen Mary up to God like status. It’s no longer a Holy Trinity, it’s more like a Holy Square. I agree that praying to saints isn’t so bad… However, Catholics definitely worship Mary, no matter how much they deny it. They also worship the Pope as well.

    • Adam

      If God said he wouldn’t leave us orphans with your logic why did he for 1500 years

      You do realize the Catholic Church is the only church that has a sound answer for every line in the bible

      1 Tim 3:15

    • Andreea

      Great article

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.