Thursday, January 24, 2008

Argue The Forest, Not The Trees

I blogged here that I could no longer confess the doctrine of sola Scriptura, leaving me in a sort of spiritual no-man's-land. That sentiment has not changed since September 1, 2007, but it has not clearly progressed either.

Marian angst (I use this as a term of art; let me know if you're not sure what I mean) is a recurring problem. At times it feels critically acute, and at other times the sensation is minimal. I believe that it is probably a proxy feeling for overall anxiety over subscribing to a belief that the (i.e., "a", or "one") Church holds infallible interpretive authority over Divine Revelation. Therefore, and because of the formality of its decrees, this feeling is most acute vis-à-vis the Catholic Church, even where the Orthodox Churches may articulate Marian doctrines with stronger emotive language.

So while I have toed the line of entering the Catholic Church for some time, this recurring angst makes me think I need to step back and try as well as possible to objectively recapitulate and reconsider what I believe to be the constitution of Christ's Church. While I realize that I am incapable of objectively viewing the church, I'd like to try all the same. By “objective”, I will mean “expressing or dealing with facts or conditions as perceived without distortion by personal feelings, prejudices, or interpretations” (Merriam-Webster).

I think that I tried something similar here, where I asked five questions related to authority that I hoped were fair and not loaded to lead to a certain conclusion. Here I will try to describe the analytical steps I think I need to pursue, without using the form of question and answer. There’s an old law school trick to writing I’ll use: Issue, Rule, Analysis, Conclusion. I’ll try that here.

To be clear, I don’t mean to discuss issues like whether the Catholics are wrong for 'violating' the “call no man father” verse, or the Orthodox are wrong because they had a Sultan select their hierarch, or the Protestants are wrong for excluding the apocrypha/deuterocanon. My experience is that for every such argument, there is some reply, and for most, there is an able reply. I do mean to discuss the overall analytical framework I think I need to use when considering ecumenicism, and how those facts and arguments should fit within the framework.


I'd like to consider whether the claims by any one of the major branches of Christianity are objectively superior to the others (I realize this is an idealist approach).

First, I assume that anyone engaged in this discussion, like me, believes and so assumes that Christ is True and not false. From there I assume that each candidate Church model sees at its core a mission to preserve and transmit the Gospel-Truth (i.e., Logos or Word). Other functions of the Church (e.g., sacramental, communal) flow from the substance of the Gospel-Truth that the Church has preserved and transmitted. In this way, the candidates, indeed all of Christianity, aims to bear Witness to the world of the Messiah’s coming. Church, in my expression “candidate Church model” simply means God's people, however additionally defined by the particular candidates (in other words, I don’t mean to load that expression with lots of biased meaning).

So assuming that Christ is True, and that the candidates, as witnesses, all preserve and transmit His Truth, the discussion instantly turns to authority. By what authority does a candidate articulate and develop the Gospel-Truth? Disputes of authority have also been the catalysts of all schism within Christianity, so it’s a natural focal point.

A recent discussion helped me to see three major authority views or camps within Christianity: Papalism, Conciliarism and Biblicism. Each understands the Church's place in transmitting and safeguarding the Logos differently, and each has a different conclusion as to what the primary and subordinate principles of the Logos are. I suppose I could add "Individualist" to these three, which would look approximately like this, "whatever I understand to be true about Jesus from my feelings and from whatever I accept to be true from this book the Bible." I'm not going to add that though.

The nature and essence of the Logos is the fundamental question for the Church; to understand the nature and essence one must understand the Church, to understand the Church, one must see the Church as either Papalist, Conciliarist, or Biblicist (that is, one must have a view of authority). So my issue becomes which of these three camps has the objectively superior claim as preservationist, propagator, and articulator of the Logos.

The Biblicist believes that all authority for the Church is contained within the Bible. The Logos was exclusively preserved within its written contents, and it has been propagated through the ages. In our culture, while Biblicist groups are diverse in outward appearance, they share this view of authority – the Logos is co-extensive with the contents of the Protestant Bible. The Baptists and those that describe themselves as "fundamentalist", many branches of Reformed, Lutheran and other traditional denominations that call themselves "Evangelical", and perhaps Charismatic groups would fall within this camp.

The Conciliarist believes that authority for the Church is contained within ecclesial councils. The Logos has been preserved and propagated within the Bible and articulated by authoritative councils. I have learned of a Protestant group that considers itself conciliarist, but the traditional Anglicans and the Orthodox are also in this camp. They would add that the Logos is preserved and propagated within the Church proper, the Bible representing only a part of this Gospel-Truth. [Note: in an attempt to remain objective, I accept the candidates’ claims as true, so I accept the traditional Anglican position that they are not protestant.]

I am only newly aware of the protestant conciliarist position, known as the "magisterial protestant". This camp believes that the councils of the church, while not the source of all authority, still have real authority. These reformers perceive the state, at least classically, as playing some role in empowering these authorities and enforcing their authority. These reformers seek to turn back to the fundamental roots of the Reformation, and seek to subscribe to its traditional confessions, depending on where one lives (see here for some subscribers to this position). I'm still learning about this view, so I should not try to explain it further. But suffice it to say that the Bible is not the source of all authority to the magisterial protestant conciliarist, but is the source of ultimate authority. Only the Bible is infallible, and all articulation of the Logos will be measured by the authorities (and not the laity) against the Bible.

The Orthodox and the traditional Anglicans are within the Conciliarist camp, and have an older claim to its essence. They are both distinct from the magisterial protestants by their subscription to Apostolic Succession, that is, the belief that their Bishops have ties by succession of ordination back to the Apostles. [Note, again, I accept the traditional Anglican position as true for these purposes.] The authority of the Church and its evangelization and articulation of the Logos subsist within the Church itself. I have only recently begun making myself smart on the Anglo-Catholic view that their ties to the Apostles extend through the days of Henry VIII, so I will stop here (see here for a subscriber to this position). I don't mean to minimize distinctions between traditional Anglicans and the Orthodox (and that would be an absurd undertaking), but only leave it hear because if I tried to go on, I might paint the traditional Anglican position in an unfair light.

Finally, the Papalists (and, as I've learned, this is not the same as the derogatory use of the term "Papist"), who are not just Latin Rite (Roman) Catholics, but also their Eastern rites, believe that the Pope is not only first in honor among Bishops in council, but has actual authority over the other Bishops. Under this view too, authority exists within the Church, but binding dogmatic articulations of the Logos can flow from councils and the Pope alike.


By what standard can I objectively judge which candidate is the right witness to and articulation of the Gospel-Truth in the 21st century? I must use reason and faith, which includes prayer, to do so. The Scriptures cannot be an independent standard by which to reach the right conclusion because 1) not all 'candidate' churches believe in the same canon of Scripture, and 2) their interpretation or articulation is part of the very essence of this dispute (i.e., what is the "Truth" handed down through the ages from Christ, assuming He is True). The Scriptures could be used, however, as a measure of the internal integrity of each candidate's claims. E.g., if a book identified by Church X as canonical and infallible says "Blessed are the poor", and that candidate church teaches, "Blessed are the Healthy and Wealthy", we find evidence that Church X is not teaching the Truth of Christ. But ultimately this would only be evidence that must be judged by reason because of competing interpretations and hermeneutic methods. I guess I have no better rule, then, than reason (which gauges the internal integrity of each belief system) informed by faith (which relies on prayer).


I have (personally) ruled out the Biblicist position, as I stated in my post rejecting the validity of the Biblicist view of sola Scriptura cited above. The position lacks internal integrity, as it commands that all authority flows from the Bible alone, yet the Bible does not articulate a Bible alone position, nor is it self-identifying, in terms of its canon. Indeed, a multitude of rationales have been used to justify the existing Protestant canon. I withhold personal judgment on whether the magisterial protestant means something different by “sola Scriptura” than does the Biblicist, and whether his view of authority would allow the creation of canon. I believe that the majority view in my denomination (the PCA) is Biblicist, though there seems to be strong (and perhaps growing) resistance to this position (that is, there are factions of magisterial reformers who recognize the need for other authority, albeit fallible).

I started with the Biblicist position because it could be easily removed from my table. This is my no-man’s land: Church ≠ Biblicism, therefore Church = Conciliarism or Papalism. From here we come to real contention at every turn. I analyze the remaining candidates by first asking whether the Church’s own authority is fallible or infallible. The infallible camp consists of the Orthodox and Catholics, and the fallible camp consists of traditional Anglicans and magisterial Protestants.

I am surprised to find that, so long after I started my meager efforts at discerning the proper constitution of Christ’s Church, I am not certain that it has to be infallible. One of the earliest ‘shoes to drop’ for me was coming to see that a fallible church fallibly identifying a canon of scripture and a doctrine about its infallibility had serious problems of logic. And yet I read the earnestness of certain members of these camps, and can’t help but think that I might just be missing a deeper truth to their views. I still hold out some shred of hope, that the Holy Spirit could work within and preserve even a fallible Church. After all, early particular churches fell into grave error (e.g., the Church at Corinth), as did the Apostle Peter (as Protestants are fond of observing).

Taking a Newman-like view of doctrinal development may be fruitful in this context. The true principles of the fallible-camp candidates should come to light over time, as their theorems are put to practice and bear (or fail to bear) fruit. This method of thinking speaks somewhat against the magisterial protestant, who holds a model of church in his head, but can point to its existence nowhere (and its failure everywhere). The Anglican too is plagued by failures from within his camp.

But I need to consider and pray more about this before ruling out the fallible camp. I still don’t understand how the magisterial protestant differs from the Biblicist in essence, and I have only recently come to think I should give the traditional Anglican claim to Apostolic Succession more consideration. Perhaps their take that there was real, but fallible authority makes more sense than I give it credit. They would say that the authorities are the only ones who should correct error, not the laity (although in the magisterial protestant view, if the authorities become entirely corrupt, the faithful laity are free to, indeed called to assume the reigns and Reform).

On the infallible side of the house, the analysis necessary to make a rational conclusion between the claims of the Orthodox and the Catholics is a real head-splitter. I see two main ways to resolve this quest.

First, one could accede to the hemisphere in which God has them. If you’re in the West, just stay with the Western Church. However, this makes relative the fundamental differences that exist between the candidates’ view of authority, and the doctrinal views that have flowed therefrom over the last millennium plus. In other words, you would be saying that it doesn’t really matter to God that the filioque was added; what matters is that we participate with the representation of the Church that is native to our own land. Further, the geographical East-West distinction may be more notional than real. The Papalist camp does have a real presence (pardon the pun) in the East, and the Orthodox churches in the states are working hard to move beyond being mere immigrant churches, such that their presence as Western churches is real too (see this excellent post discussing how Orthodoxy in America is becoming “native”). So, while I don’t find a homesteading view all that compelling, I respect it, and I hear its advocacy often. The six-of-one-half-dozen-of-the-other crowd can point to impressive similarities between Orthodoxy and Catholicism, but similarity is only plain when seen relative to the Protestantism.

Second, one can immerse one’s self in history. This effort overwhelms me. I have read and read and read the primary sources (the Eastern and Western Fathers) as well as secondary sources (books on church history, particularly describing both ‘halves’ of the Church). I feel like I only barely understand what happened after the early persecution ended, and what happened after the first millennia rolled into the second. I suppose that coupled with prayer and faith, applying reason to a deep study of history could give one the knowledge of which infallible-camp Church has the claim of Truth in its evangelization and articulation of the Logos. The temptation to resolve this difficult and time-consuming method of analysis by leaning on the homesteading view should be carefully avoided.

The fundamental dispute between Orthodoxy and Catholicism is about authority, so if I rule out fallible conciliar churches, I would be forced to decide between the infallilble conciliar model for church, and the infallibile papal model. The factual arguments in favor of each are too much for me to get into here, but I will note that arguments of Biblical and Patristic support for Papalism are persuasive, as are arguments about the meaning of the Council of Jerusalem recorded in Acts 15 and early church conciliar practice.

Finally, reason needs to turn its eyes to the doctrines of these churches. If Catholic or Orthodox Marian dogmas and doctrines, for example, conflict with one’s use of reason, informed by faith, it could provide an independent basis for looking elsewhere. This has been the premise behind my view that if all logic councils against a sola Scriptura view, but I believe that all alternative groups practice idolatry (let’s say), I must have been mistaken about sola Scriptura.


While my attempt at objectively viewing the church has not yielded any clear winners (and if it did, I’d probably be further away from objectivity than I hope), it has taught me something. Those deeply entrenched and self-assured of the rightness of their own position ought to be well equipped to explain themselves. We should realize that each of our trench-warfare debate points (like whether we can call any man father, whether praying to saints is right or wrong, etc.) fits in a larger debate about what the Church is and is meant to be. For the sake of unity, we must try to see the forest through the trees.

[This is the best I can do with the time I have, and I realize that this is a paltry effort. I am going to keep this document at least for my own personal reference, and will update and correct my use of terms, analysis and conclusions as problems are pointed out to me. So I would appreciate constructive input if for no other reason than my own benefit.]


Tim A. Troutman said...

Not that such a thing could be quantified in a statistical model but... it didn't stop me.

Put all your data into a Bayesian model and see what you come up with. You might be surprised what you find.

Thos said...


Ha! I remember that post from long ago, and I remember it well. It is hard to quantify, but I'm a big spreadsheet-quantification geek (uh, no offense to you, of course), so I'm really surprised I haven't done this yet. You should see me buy cars...

Do you think a roughly objective approach is possible? Do you think I've made an honest effort at that? Your model started with Catholicism is True = 50%. I wouldn't know where to start. Maybe Orthodoxy is 50% right, and Catholicism should share its 50% version with Protestants and traditional Anglicans (maybe 10% and 10% respectively)... Maybe the Conciliarists are right, so traditional Anglicans and Orthodox should share 50% between themselves... It's hard to do. Where does the "sensation of peace (or unrest) when I pray about Church X" get factored in?

Pray for Unity!

Tim A. Troutman said...

Well I dont think you could objectively prove anything mathematically with this, but I think it can give you a better idea of where you stand (or rather where you really should stand if you were able to take emotions out of the picture).

Given all the data, I ought to be xx% confident that proposition A is true but why do I feel its much less?

I dont really know how to effectively build a Bayesian model with more than 2 possible responses thats why I just had Catholicism or not Catholicism as my two options. If I were in your shoes, I would take all possible options and line them up then ask and answer the questions for each possibility and see which one comes up the highest and by how much.

Or an alternate approach could be to eliminate them one at a time. So you could start with the concept of fallible Church versus infallible Church and then maybe Conciliarism versus Papalism.

So it might start out like,

in a world where the Church really was fallible, would the fact that God inspired Acts 15 to be written be likely or unlikely? Now how unlikely or likely would it be?

In a world where the Church really was fallible, is it likely that the Roman Catholic Church would have maintained such doctrinal integrity for such a long time especially given its size. etc...

Then one you rule out one, then break the remainder into two categories - Anglicanism/Magisterial Protestantism or Catholicism/Orthodoxy and start a whole new set of data points.

I'm fully confident that I'm every bit as big of a spreadsheet geek as you are if not more. In fact... ahem... I still have my spreadsheet from my original post so if you want it I'll email it to you and you can just plug in your data points and the percentages and it will do the math for you. Its pretty fun. Sometimes I use it to determine which video to rent from Blockbuster. (Just kidding)

Canadian said...

Wow. Data, odds, points, percentages. If some Orthodox brother saw the scientific method being discussed here he might lose his blessed bread on the spot :-)

The question I am asking is who retains and is most faithful to the original deposit? What did it look like? What did it sound like? What did it smell, and taste and feel like to those who were there? A dangerous question in my mind is "what could that deposit have developed into?" That is so open ended and too many options present themselves at that point. Even Protestantism believes itself to be the true development of the ancient faith.
My adherance to Calvinism troubles me, not due to the many scriptures that could be used to refute it, nor that it is unable to stand up as both logical and possible. It troubles me because it has not been believed since the beginning. I could explain it away easily by calling it a development of the church which received new light (semper reformanda). But this seems dishonest. I guess my method has just as much subjectivity but this appears to be the method of the Father's and Councils many times.

Tim A. Troutman said...

Canadian - You have to be a statistics geek like me to appreciate it. Using probabilities in decision making is helpful when we don't have enough information to make a fully informed decision or have too much data to calculate precisely.

Our brains do this automatically - they're the greatest statistical machines ever made. Why do you think brains are so much better at speech recognition than computers? It's because computers only hear what you say, brains can guess at what you meant based on how it sounded even though you didn't really say it fully (mumbled, mispronounced whatever).

So, I don't think it's invalid to use statistical models in decision making so long as you know what you're doing. Besides, its fun! (If you're a geek that is)

BTW - former Calvinist (now Catholic) here.

Canadian said...

By the way, I do appreciate the public wrestling you have done here in this post. I really like the repeated appeals to prayer as it reveals your longing for, and anticipation of the coming Bridegroom, even though you (we) stumble around trying to keep these flippin' lamps alight.

You said:
"...or have too much data to calculate precisely."
Yup! 2000 years of history. Unfathomable amount of written material. I'm 40 years old, so how many years do I have left to persue the truth? A few, maybe. Then there's my inherent weaknesses regarding cognitive ability, comprehension, inconsistent reasoning principles etc. I could spend years just trying to sort out the arguments about a single theological issue. It's a daunting venture of uncertainty. But the means to the truth must be equally available to the heart of the poor, the fatherless and widows, as much as to the philosopher/theologian intellect. Here's why it is dangerous to anathematize devoted Christ lovers from any of the 3 main branches.
I say with Thos.....pray for unity!

Gil Garza said...

A very nice effort to organize your thinking regarding the issues you are deciding.

You have, rightly, I think, placed your decision around authority. Your other decisions will become clear once you have come to terms with this central issue.

I would suggest a clearer definition of the models of authority. Allow me to suggest a few.

Patriarchal: The Byzantine Eastern Orthodox Churches, Oriental Orthodox Churches, and the Assyrian Church of the East share similar governing styles. Each particular Church is governed by a Patriarch. The Patriarch is supreme governor of bishops in his Church. The active, universal teaching authority of these Churches has ceased. None of these Churches have held binding, authoritative teaching councils on matters of universal faith or morals since the time they separated from Rome. Therefore it would be inaccurate to describe these Churches as conciliar as they do not utilize councils to govern themselves or to teach on matters of universal faith or morals. While the Oriental Orthodox Churches separated from Rome after the Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon, they have recently resolved their Christological disagreements with Rome. Likewise, the Assyrian Church of the East separated from Rome after the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus. They, too, have recently declared common Christological agreements with Rome. These apostolic sister Churches share common faith, sacraments and Patriarchal governance. Each differs on the time and circumstance that they separated with Rome.

Papal/Synodal: The Catholic Church is comprised of 22 autonomous Churches spread throughout the world. The largest of these Churches is the Latin (or Roman) Church. These Churches govern themselves through Episcopal synods. The ordinary role of the Bishop of Rome is to receive and confirm the decisions of these synods and to directly govern the Roman Church. The universal teaching ministry of the Catholic Church is active and comprised of General Episcopal Synods and Papal ministry.

Thos said...

To be clear, this post was nothing short of a work in progress. I’ve decided to be more careful about the form of my analysis. I am emotional, so tend to jump from one thing that stumps me to another. I constantly change tracks (and dig obsessively on whatever the struggle du jour is). My hope is that by thinking more carefully about how I do my, well, thinking, I’ll stay on track and come to some clearer conclusions. Therefore, the input that bloggers have given me are very dear.

I’ll start with Gil, who took the time to help me work on definitions. At the top of the importance heap of church discernment is properly defining terms and principles. Christians do a lot of talking past each other because they don’t set out clearly what they mean by certain terms and principles.

Gil, I do believe that Authority is central, but that belief alone may tend to push me toward Catholicism. I’ve tried to remember (in this post) that it’s important only because it shows the where one can find the true witness and guarantor of Gospel-Truth, the Logos. I just want to reiterate that authority isn’t the end, but a means, and that’s probably why lots of Christ-centered Protestants don’t become interested in thinking about authority (they focus on the ends without thinking about the proper means that would get them to the right end).

I will think about your definitions of “Patriarchal” and the Orthodox in general, and modify my work in progress accordingly. To be sure, I meant only to refer to what you’re calling the “Byzantine E. Ortho. Churches”. Focusing on them for a minute, I understand that they have autocephalous Churches within, that each has a patriarch, and that he rules over his Bishops. But the patriarchs are in communion and meet and rule in council. I think they believe that authority (above the Patriarch’s independent level) exists in councils. I believe that they teach that there have been authoritative councils (on doctrine and morals) since the Great Schism, but obviously no Ecumenical Councils (as Soloviev notes and about which he challenges them in “The Russian Church and the Papacy”). I have in some old notes I took that one Mastrantonis teaches that decisions of both canonical and ecumenical synods, as well as the symbol of faith make up sacred tradition. This is the view I was taking when I described the Orthodox (which I failed to qualify to exclude the non-Byzantine) as Conciliar. I suppose I excluded the other Eastern Patriarchates/Churches out of hand for not subscribing to the early ecumenical synods. It’s a presupposition I should recognize I’m making, that those not accepting the Church’s definitions of Trinity and Christ are heretical. It’s interesting that some have lingered on this long without accepting (and have so much later actually accepted those teachings!).

I did note that there are Eastern churches in communion with Rome (so part of Papalism). I didn’t know the number was exactly 22, so I didn’t include that, but thanks. I understand the Pope is only Bishop of Rome, but the disparity in sizes makes making too much of this point almost an unfair exaggeration. I wrestle with this idea that the Catholic Church is Conciliar (or Synodical – is there a difference between a council and a synod? I don’t mean to use them interchangeably if there is?). I understand that many major decisions are reached in Council, and I understand that at least in principle when the Pope makes a ruling ex cathedra, he wouldn’t do it if his view weren’t well supported by decisions of synods (councils?) in the past. But the buck still stops at him, even for the ordination of a Bishop in a Eastern (Catholic) Church, no? This idea exists in the law, so may be confusing me. To be in a contract, you have to be bound to comply (you can promise to sell me X, unless you should choose not to sell me X at the last minute – that’s no contract at all). Likewise, it seems like you can’t say you’re synodical if anything a synod rules could be overruled by the pope exercising his authority ex cathedra. Any help you can give me here to understand would be great.


Yeah, I wouldn’t go too far with statistics, don’t worry. It’s right up there with casting lots, in terms of something I would feel confident in doing and reaching the right conclusion (not that there’s no precedent for casting lots, as there is!).

I want to challenge you a bit on your notion that the Orthodox (or anyone) may be “most faithful to the original deposit”. I don’t think the Orthodox are “primitivist” as might be imagined. They, like the Catholics (and mostly like the Protestants), accept the formulation of the ecumenical councils. These councils saw a development of the Christian articulation of the incarnation and the Trinity. In other words, many in the primitive church may have found an “orthodox” explanation of the incarnation to be heresy, because it hadn’t been fully developed. You can see (Newman observes) the development of doctrine in Scriptures themselves, e.g., where God reveals what his redeemer/Messiah will be like, or whether Christians would conform to Jewish ceremonial law). The deposit of faith could have developed into anything, and obviously heterodox groups have tried to develop it lots of ways (Newman would call these corruptions). So if one accepts that it’s okay that the deposit developed, one needs to consider what the safeguard of the deposit and its development was.

I hear you on Calvinism, but I try to remember that it may have something to it. I’m reading about Thomas Aquinas view on Predestination. There are lots of scriptures and church teachings on some type of predestination teaching, Calvin just took it to what he saw was the natural conclusion (i.e., development), that the damned are predestinated just as are the elect… that’s where he was novel.

And thanks for the compliment on this post. The more you and others help me wrestle through the way to analyze these things, the better it can become. You’re also right to observe that we can’t spend the next five decades deciding how the church is meant to be. At some point we’ve got to get to the “doing” part! I have my eye on that.


I’m thinking about setting up a standard of proof approach to these various decisions. So I would have to decide what standard, and then decide whether that standard is met. For example, let’s say that I decide the Fallible/Infallible decision is a big one, so I am not willing to move on (and rule out those in the losing camp) until I am strongly certain. So I have decided that my standard is something like “Clear and Convincing”. Until the evidence for one or the other is clearly and convincingly right to me, based on the facts, I will not move on. How would this approach (legal) match up to your approach (mathematical)? I think we’d be doing something similar in effect.

Pray for Unity!

Desmond said...


I appreciate the struggle you are engaged in at the moment in trying to decide whether there is a "true" faith and, if there is, how you might identify it. Referring back, however, to your opening remarks in this post, it is hard for me to see why Marian angst should be "a recurring problem".

"Marian angst" is directed towards Catholicism and possibly Orthodoxy (and maybe also Anglicanism?). Anyone who is familiar with those faiths is well aware that no one of them sanctions the worship of Mary. They recognise that Mary is a creature and, like all creatures, is entirely dependent for her existence on God the creator. Obviously it would be a complete contradiction if any of those faiths were to suggest one should treat Mary as the source of creation, i.e. "worship" her.

Mary is not worshipped but is regarded as worthy of special veneration. In relation to your quest to identify the true faith, the precise degree of honour/veneration given to Mary by any particular faith must surely be a secondary question. It may later turn out to be a matter of practical interest in relation to your devotional life, but it should be secondary in relation to your decision about the true faith. That decision must be based on considerations such as, for example, the "notes" of the true church identified by Newman ( - ref your post of Jan 3).

The proper sequence should be that one first seeks to identify the "true" faith (- which, if there is such a thing, must be an infallible faith) and one then accepts the guidance of that faith as to how Mary should be regarded. If you focus on your own "Marian angst", are you not in danger of being influenced by irrelevant factors, such as your feelings about the feminist movement, the role of women, your own personality type, family dynamics, whatever?

Best wishes,

Thos said...


I didn't do my hyperlink right. This post:

discusses my views on "Standards of Proof" applied to discernment.


Thos said...


I'm super grateful to hear from you. Thanks for helping me.

Refer first to the big comment I just gave (number 8 or so in this string), where I described that I'm emotional and unfocused about this process. Marian angst recurs because I get grooving on thoughts about authority and then I get blindsided by some horrible *sounding* quote of Marian devotion/piety, to which I don't know how to react or think, and I get totally derailed from my previous thoughts.

So you're right, I should decide who has truth, and then accept it. I know Catholics don't believe Mary is other than a creature, and I know they don't worship her. It's just hard to wrest back emotions when I hear things like "Mediatrix of All Graces" or "Mary, Save Us!"

You said that if there is a "true" faith, it must be infallible. You are probably right, but I am trying to be careful to make sure I've given the fallible argument a fair shake before I rule it out. I suppose the Spirit could let men err, and then call them to correction later.

Pray for Unity!

Kim said...

Excellent post and comments. Please continue the conversation. It's being very helpful to this Protestant looking into the history of my faith. Thos, I appreciate how hard you are working to be fair and keep your emotions in check. I am trying to do the same. Blessings.

Tim A. Troutman said...

Thos, you said "Until the evidence for one or the other is clearly and convincingly right to me, based on the facts, I will not move on. How would this approach (legal) match up to your approach (mathematical)? I think we’d be doing something similar in effect"

In the statistics world the standard alpha rule is .05. That is, I have to be 95% certain or better that my interpretation of the data isn't seeing something that really isn't there.

As for the similarity of your method versus my method in the post, I would say its a bit different but may be more practical and effective. In fact, I think your method is closer to what *really* happened in my mind (as opposed to whats in that post).

In the post, I weighed the evidence and came up just short of 90% certain the Catholic Church was the true Church. But in reality, on a few issues, I didn't see any alternative.

First - Transubstantiation - that rules out any Church except Catholic or Orthodox in my mind. I didn't see any way of getting around this. Then authority - biblical & early Church testimonies to the see of Peter made me see no alternative. At this point, I conceded that the Catholic Church was true. Now what about this Mariology non-sense? Well if I've conceded that the Catholic Church is true (and she can't be 'mostly' true) then she must be right on this and I must be wrong.

Thats where faith comes in!

Gil Garza said...

I think that you’re spot on regarding the issue of authority.

To be sure, the Byzantine Eastern Orthodox Churches declare that authority exists beyond the Patriarchal level. These Churches simply have not exercised this kind of authority since the departure from Roman communion. In fact, they have not, as a group, addressed any general matter of faith or morals, whatsoever since the schism. Even regional attempts to work as a group (i.e., the Standing Conference of Orthodox Bishops) on issues of faith, canon law, jurisdiction and morals are discouraged and not recognized. As a matter of practice, the Patriarchs of Moscow and Constantinople have often been “out of communion” with one another as they disagree on which autocephalous Church or autonomous Church should submit to their leadership. The most recent example involves the Orthodox Church of Estonia. Additionally, there are Byzantine Eastern Orthodox Churches that are experiencing great internal schism over issues of authority. The schisms plaguing the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and the Patriarch of Jerusalem are two examples. The conciliar form of governance has yet to be applied by these Churches on other matters such as to which calendar (Julian or Gregorian) to conform. The failure of these Churches to exercise any form of conciliarism among themselves is part of the reason these Churches are experiencing such challenges in the modern era.

Regarding the Catholic Church, there are 16,390,079 members of Eastern Catholic jurisdictions (as of 2007). This is certainly not an insignificant number. These Churches retain their own Code of Canon Law, rituals and traditions separate from the Latin Church. The Bishop of Rome or the Roman Curia does not govern the ordinary affairs of these Churches. An Eastern Catholic Patriarch is elected by the synod of bishops of the patriarchal Church. Notice of the election is presented by Synodal letter to the Roman Pontiff. Upon his enthronement, the new Patriarch seeks ecclesiastical communion from the Roman Pontiff by means of a letter signed in his own hand. By his own right, an Eastern Catholic Patriarch may establish provinces, eparchies, modify their boundaries, unite, divide, suppress, and modify their hierarchical status and transfer eparchial see. Erect, modify and suppress exarchies. Transfer any metropolitan or bishop. Ordain any bishop, enthrone any metropolitan. The Roman Pontiff is to be notified as soon as possible of the Episcopal ordination or enthronement.

A distinction should be made regarding the ministry of the Bishop of Rome. As leader of the Latin Church, he directly governs the affairs of this Church with Patriarchal authority as leader among Latin bishops. The Latin Church is managed by the Bishop of Rome directly and through the Roman Curia. Latin bishops gather in regional synods (i.e., NCCB) whose purpose it is to collaborate closely with the Bishop of Rome.

As a matter of practice, the Catholic Church is managed by Episcopal Synod. The Synod of Bishops of the Catholic Church is not subject to the Roman Curia. Unlike the Roman Curia, the Synod of Bishops is a permanent institution with unlimited scope. The purpose of the Synod of Bishops is the close collaboration and establishment of collegiality between the world’s bishops and the Bishop of Rome.

The management of the Catholic Church, at all levels, is by synod. The exercise of supreme authority of the Roman Pontiff is extraordinary and rare. Likewise, the management of the Orthodox Churches by council is extraordinary and rare. It would be a mischaracterization to state that the Catholic Church is governed by the supreme authority of the Roman Pontiff just as it would to state that the Orthodox Churches (of any sort) govern themselves through councils.

Thos said...


I pray that God blesses you with wisdom and courage. I hope that nothing I say harms your thought. A danger in blogging is that a compelling, charismatic, but wrong person has a medium that allows him greater influence. I try to explain my thoughts carefully enough to allow others to reflect on them and ultimately make decisions from their own will.


Thanks for your further thoughts. I'm reworking and beefing up this post into something more solid. I think it's the way I need to go right now (this way of analysis). Blogging was originally for me to air out my thoughts, and seek reproof where I was off track. This is at the heart of that effort, so I will be focusing on it in the near term. Ideally, I would have a piece of writing in which everyone disagree with whatever my conclusion is can isolate where it is I went "wrong" (in their view). That would be sweet.


You're a real warehouse of valuable knowledge. Thanks for sharing. I hope I didn't say that the non-Latin churches within the Catholic Church are insignificant. I only meant that they are relatively small (compared to Rome). The discussion of different churches within Catholicism makes me think of an America that consisted of Delaware, Rhode Island, Vermont, and then all the other states were combined into one big state. Yeah, we could still have discussions about the states' respective sovereignty and its interplay with federal sovereignty, but that mega-state would have so much clout at the federal level that the discussion would become highly notional. That's how I feel about Eastern Catholic discussion. But at 16 million, I'm probably being unfair.

This has me thinking, is it ODD that a German or a Pole would lead the See of ROME? Would it be odd if Cardinal Arinze had been chosen? Where viewed as the head of the Catholic Church, it seems like a selection of the best man from among the world's bishops would be great. But then if he's supposed to be Rome's bishop, an Italian makes sense.

Also, is it even possible for a non-Latin-rite Catholic to be selected as Pope? Forgive my grievous ignorance here! If not, maybe that answers my Q above. I guess I don't get whether the Archbishop is always "under" the Bishop of Rome, or if he is in many senses "beside" him. Or are only the other Patriarchs "beside" the pope?

Peace in Christ,

Kim said...

No worries, Thos. You're not my only source of info. ;) I'm currently reading Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History and it's being very helpful in filling in gaps. That's one of the beautiful things I'm finding in researching the church's history - answers. Do you find that to be the case?

For instance, Eusebius records in Book II, Chapters 13-15 what is known about Simon the sorcerer who is mentioned in the 8th chapter of Acts, and how Peter was sent by God to Rome to preach because of Simon's evil influence there (he was viewed as a god with his own idol and everything). The Gospel preached by Peter overcame Simon and his influence and the people begged Mark (a disciple of Peter)to write down what was preached by Peter. Thus, according to the sources cited by Eusebius, the Gospel of Mark was Rome. Peter makes mention of him in his first epistle and refers to Rome as Babylon. According to Eusebius, Peter learned through the Spirit that Mark's Gospel record was being so fruitful, so he gave it his blessing to be used in the churches there. I'm assuming Eusebius is correct and that I'm reading him correctly. Lots of gaps filled in right there. Pretty interesting, no?

Gil Garza said...

It should be recalled that the reason that the Roman Church is so large is because her missionary activity was unimpeded by Islamic captivity and has been constant throughout the centuries even today. Roman missionaries went to all parts of the globe, carrying forth Roman jurisdiction.

Vatican II affirmed the equal dignity (and rank) of the Churches, so that none of them is superior to the others because of its rite (Orientalium Ecclesiarum 3). Further, “the Churches of the East like those of the West have the right and duty to govern themselves according to their own special disciplines. For these are guaranteed by ancient tradition, and seem to be better suited to the customs of their faithful and to the good of their souls (ibid 5). All members of the Eastern Churches should be firmly convinced that they can and ought always preserve their own legitimate rites and way of life, and that changes are to be introduced only to forward their own organic development…they are to strive to return to their ancestral traditions (ibid 6).”

There have been a number of non-Latin Bishops of Rome. Greeks, Africans and Middle Easterners have all held the ministry through the centuries. Theoretically, any man eligible to be a bishop may be chosen as Bishop of Rome.

An ecclesiastical province is presided over by a Metropolitan who is Archbishop in his own diocese and is the superior authority in an ecclesiastical province. Archbishop Metropolitans have a limited power of governance over the suffragan dioceses. In the juridical order, the tribunal of the metropolitan diocese generally acts as a court of appeal. A patriarch is a bishop who enjoys power over all bishops, including Metropolitans and other Christian faithful of the Church over which he presides. Patriarchs of the Eastern Churches are all equal with due regard for the precedence of honor among them.

Thos said...


That is interesting. And I didn't mean to imply that I could lead you astray like you're some lacky or something. I hope you know I just mean that we're all out here influencing one another (whether posting or commenting on other blogs). It just intimidates me, and I hope that I express myself clearly enough that people are able to measure for themselves what they think truth is (as opposed to being wowed by charisma - which I know I have not).


Thanks again. I'm afraid Catholicism and even more, the Eastern Churches are far enough afield of my cultural upbringing that I only poorly communicate when discussing them. I think I have used "rite" and "Church" in a confusing way. Forgive. I meant to ask if someone from other than the "Roman Catholic Church" (and sorry, I know that's not the formal term, but I can only think to say Latin Church, and think that may be too narrow a term to what I mean), but still in communion with the Pope and the RCC, ever be considered for the Papacy? Can there be a cross-pollination of the highest Bishops-Patriachs?

Peace in Christ,

Gil Garza said...

According to Universi Dominici Gregis #88, 89, any Catholic man eligible to be ordained bishop or any Catholic bishop may be elected by the Cardinal Electors at a Conclave as Bishop of Rome. An Eastern Catholic man or bishop may be elected just as a Roman (or Latin) man or bishop.

For the sake of clarity there is a nice Wikipedia article on Particular Churches which may be helpful:

"The liturgical traditions or rites presently in use in the Church are the Latin . . . and the Byzantine, Alexandrian or Coptic, Syriac, Armenian, Maronite and Chaldean rites. In 'faithful obedience to tradition, the sacred Council declares that Holy Mother Church holds all lawfully recognized rites to be of equal right and dignity, and that she wishes to preserve them in the future and to foster them in every way.'" (CCC 1203).

Here is a handy dandy chart which helps you to visualize the various rites and which Churches adhere to which rites.

Kim said...

I was just poking at you a bit, Thos. ;) You come across very straightforward and I appreciate that. I also appreciate that you care so much about not leading others astray. Very good of you! Keep hashing this stuff out on here. It's good to bring things up that concern you. Eyes wide open is the way to go, methinks.

Thos said...


Thanks for the interesting links. It's mostly a matter of curiousity/need for education on my part, so I appreciate your sharing with me.


You are obviously a woman of great wisdom. Let's keep at it!

Peace in Christ,

Kim said...

You're very kind, Thos. I can be quite the fool at the drop of a hat, too. Let's hope it doesn't become evident anytime soon! Keep thinking!