Sunday, December 11, 2005

Where Else Shall We Go?

A story at CNS about women who question Church teachings yet remain in the fold reminds me of a conversation I had last night with a colleague in the history department who is also a member of my parish. According to the story, which is reporting on a study conducted by Michele Dillon, a professor at the University of New Hampshire,
Dillon said polls show many Catholics disagree with church teachings on birth control, divorce, abortion, the ordination of women to the priesthood and priestly celibacy. But those who remain Catholic consider those stands "ultimately irrelevant" to their identity as Catholics, she said.
In short, all the Usually Suspect Teachings. To these we may add, perhaps, the issue that my colleague was primarily worked up about: the recent Vatican instruction on admission of homosexuals to Holy Orders. But check this out:
Citing her own survey in the mid-1990s of members of the Women's Ordination Conference, which works to change church teaching on the ordination of women as priests, Dillon said most argue in favor of women's ordination "as Catholics, not as Americans."

She found that 88 percent approached the matter using arguments from Catholic doctrine, while only 4 percent called for women's ordination from an "individual rights" perspective.
Since it is, in fact, a point of Catholic doctrine that women may not be admitted to Holy Orders, one wonders how any argument in favor of the ordination of women could proceed "from Catholic doctrine". One begins to suspect--and rightly so--that these folks have crossed a line of some kind. A line that demarcates the boundary between Catholic and non-Catholic.

Personally I find demarcation problems philosophically very interesting. The boundary between science and non-science is one of the topics that I always address in my elementary philosophy of science courses, and I have even had disagreements with my colleagues about the boundary between philosophy and non-philosophy. (For example, I had a rather extended--and fruitless--discussion recently regarding whether Daniel Dennett is a philosopher rather than, well, something else.) The present question has to do with the boundary between Catholicism and non-Catholicism, whether the "non" part here refers to Protestantism, atheism, or some non-Christian religion being unimportant. Surely there is a point beyond which one cannot go in rejecting doctrine if one is truly to count as still Catholic.

Clearly this can be a touchy subject. I have had similar discussions with Jewish friends--people whom I like a great deal but who, in my own opinon, aren't really Jewish at all. Three of my colleagues are Jewish in the sense of coming from Jewish families, but as far as I'm concerned that's the only sense in which they're Jewish, and it is not a very interesting or important sense. To be Jewish in any real sense carries the necessary condition of believing in the God of Israel, but all three of my "Jewish" colleagues are atheists, two of them militantly so. To suggest such a thing to one of these folks, however, can be rather dangerous--it often results in dirty looks, at the very least, and sometimes verbal tongue lashings. They will ironically claim that you have to be Jewish in order to know what being a Jew is--certainly no Christian has any standing to be telling a Jew what is required for being Jewish. But of course that begs the question, since what is at issue is precisely the question of whether they are really Jewish or not.

I find that just about the same thing happens with cafeteria Catholics. The difference is that it's harder to tell someone like me that my opinon doesn't count because I'm an outsider. However, they sometimes still find a way to say just that: they say things like "Oh, you're a convert! Well of course you would think that, then!" They then go on to explain how, since they are cradle Catholics, they know a lot better than I what it means to be a Catholic. What it usually means to them, it turns out, is that their parents forced them to go to Mass, usually against their will. Why this would count as a sufficient condition for belonging to any centuries-old institution is beyond me, but there you have it. I guess we're all ancient Greeks because we vote in democratic elections. I guess we're all Romans because there are still elements of the Roman law in our own civil code. I guess we're all Republicans because our president is, and we haven't yet left the country in protest.

There is a kind of argument that one often hears about in philosophy classes called a sorites (soar-EYE-tease) argument. The name "sorites" is just the Greek word for a heap, as in a heap of sand grains or pebbles piled on top of each other. Sorites arguments have to do with the difficulty of establishing boundaries. Consider the following example.

Suppose there is just one grain of sand on a tabletop. Surely a single grain of sand cannot be called a "heap". So whatever we may want to call that grain of sand, we ought not to call it "a heap of sand". Now, surely, if you were to add just one more single grain of sand to that first grain, it still would not be a "heap" of sand. Indeed, add just one more single grain of sand to those two grains of sand, and you still won't have a "heap" of sand. So now we have a kind of algorithm here: adding one more element to something that is not a heap will not give you a heap. But clearly this can't go on indefinitely, because if you keep adding one grain of sand over and over again, eventually you will have a heap of sand, even though the general principle--adding one thing to something that is not a heap does not give you a heap--seems intuitively right.

And we can work this from the other direction, too. Take a man with a full head of hair. Surely he is not bald if he has a full head of hair. And surely pulling one hair out of his head will not make him bald. And if we pull one more hair out, he still will not be bald. So our algorithm here is, subtracting one hair from someone who is not bald will not make him bald. But again this can't go on indefinitely, because eventually you're going to be looking at a cue ball.

So where do we draw the line? At what point do the sand grains on the tabletop cross the boundary from non-heap to heap? At what point does the man cross the boundary from "thinning" to "bald"? And with Catholic doctrine? How many teachings of the Church may I reject and remain Catholic? At what point do I cross the line and become just another Protestant?

Sorites arguments apply primarily to cases where the demarcation problem is largely unsettled, or the boundary itself is vague (for example, where is the boundary between clear, empty sky and a cloud?). I don't think that the boundary between Catholic and non-Catholic is either unsettled or vague, however, and this is where I would differ not only with my colleague from the history department but from many self-styled "cradle Catholics" such as the ones described in the CNS story.

This is partly a media problem. We often hear in news reports that "American Catholics" don't accept this or that teaching of the Church, whether it be the teaching on contraception, or abortion, or the ordination of women, or what have you, and this tends to suggest to the non-specialist that there's nothing unusual about people calling themselves "Catholics" of one kind or another and yet not believing what Catholics are supposed to believe. But the idea is ludicrous on its face. What would we be expected to make of a story that said something along the lines of "Democrats in this precinct always vote Republican, always talk like Republicans, always have all the same opinions as Republicans"? These people are Republicans, even if they like to call themselves "Democrats". When I was living in North Carolina I once toyed with the idea of registering as a Democrat so that I could vote in the Democratic primaries. Not because I liked the Democratic candidates--far from it. I was planning to vote only for candidates that I thought had no chance of winning in a general election. I was no Democrat, but a mole.

So who are these Protestant moles who are doing such a lousy job of disguising their identities in the Catholic Church? Why not just leave? Well, of course it's not that simple. As in the case of my Jewish friends who are not really Jewish, there is an emotional bond of some sort, whether folks like me are able to understand it or not, and that bond is difficult, if not impossible, to break. There are plenty of "ecclesial communities" out there that subscribe to exactly the beliefs that my colleague subscribes to, but it would break her heart to leave the one she's already in, even though staying in the Church is also just as clearly breaking her heart. I have no idea what the solution to such a difficult problem might be.

The problem is a psychological one, not a doctrinal one. It has to do with the psychology of belief, and the capacity of a person to give intellectual assent to something that s/he either does not believe or that s/he has great difficulty in imagining the plausibility of. The teaching on contraception is fully consistent with Church doctrine, and perfectly in keeping with the natural law perspective adopted by Humanae Vitae, but I can see why it would be difficult for people to believe that it is really a grave matter. Even more so with the teaching on masturbation. These are issues that our culture has deemed to be purely subjective, with no real moral content at all. One reason, of course, is that our culture is predominantly hedonistic in its orientation, but that is a topic for another day. Suffice it to say that plenty of "American Catholics" are "Americans" first and "Catholics" second, at least in the sense that they have absorbed the values of the culture at large, one of which has to do with the goodness of pleasure. And of course, pleasure is good--but it is not the good, that is, it is not an end in itself. But because it is so enjoyable it is difficult to imagine anything wrong with the unbridled pursuit of it.

In the case of the ordination of homosexuals the problem is different but not unrelated. If a man is chaste, but attracted to men rather than women, it can be difficult to see why he ought not to be ordained when another man, who is chaste but attracted to women, at least in principle (but expected not to think too much about that, if at all), may be ordained. Because few intellectuals accept either natural law or Aristotelian essentialism any more, it is virtually impossible for an instruction like this to get any purchase in the mind of the dissenting scholar. It just seems like one more case of "old men in dresses telling us how to have sex", as I once heard it put. And since, again, "American Catholics" are also byproducts of a culture that is, at least in principle, egalitarian in orientation, as well as a culture that tends to understand human relations in terms of rights and duties, it is easy to make the mistake of understanding this instruction as a violation of some secular principle of justice.

There is, then, a war between disparate values going on here. On the one hand are the spiritual values, inculcated by family, friends, and perhaps practice; and on the other hand are the secular values, inculcated for the most part by academia and the media. Both tug at the heart--the spiritual perhaps more strongly, but the secular no less effectively because just as attractive in their own way to the educated.

And I think that by and large the folks we are talking about here are educated folks, people who have been taught that every "educated opinion" ought to be given equal status in the marketplace of ideas, and that any institution that claims to have a monopoly on "the truth" is just a cult to be scorned. There is a car that parks in my lot with a bumper sticker that says "Don't pray in my school and I won't think in your church", and of course this idea that Catholics "park their brains at the door" is part of the endemic anti-Catholic bigotry of our culture. The notion of intellectual obedience is completely foreign to our culture. In politics that is probably a very salutary fact; but in the domain of religion it has been disastrous for the "American Church".

How will the spiritual values win out, in the end? Perhaps by being patient--a virtue that is also alien to our culture. As difficult as it may be for the rest of us to put up with them, it may be just what they need for the dissenters to stay in the fold. Perhaps a life lived in dissent is still a life lived in obedience, if one stays put. If you leave the Church, then you have certainly put yourself first. But if you stay, then even if you complain about staying you are at least still acknowledging that there is something worth staying for, something that comes before self and complacency.


Tom P. said...

OK, so what is the minimum list of things that a person must believe in order to call themselves a Catholic in your world? And how do you separate people who are no longer Catholics and people who are unrepentant sinners but still Catholics? Is it a point system? Enquring minds want to know.

Scott Carson said...

I think that ideally one should believe everything that the Church teaches de fide, but of course that's easier said than done.

But I think it's worth drawing a distinction between folks who have certain sorts of doubts about various teachings--or who just don't even know that the Church teaches this rather than that, and folks who out-and-out reject a teaching of the Church because they think it's wrong.

Here's an example of the difference. For a long time I struggled with the teaching regarding contraception. At the time I had very strong doubts about the viability of natural law theory in general, and so a fortiori I didn't think it could inform our view about the licitness of contraception. But although I struggled with the teaching, finding it difficult to reconcile with other things that I believed, I did not violate the precept, and I did not work to try to get the teaching "changed". I assumed that the teaching was right even though I myself couldn't see how it could be right--just as someone might say something like "I can't get my mind around this thing about relativity theory, but I'll assume it's right until our best physics discovers otherwise." But my colleague is not merely having doubts about the instruction on homosexuality--she thinks it is plain wrong, and not just factually wrong, but morally wrong to boot since, in her mind, it is a case of blatant injustice. She wants the teaching to change and doesn't hide that fact. She criticizes the teaching openly. I know people who write letters to our diocesan newspaper criticizing the teachings on homosexuality in general because they think they're quite wrong.

In my view this is unacceptable. The truths of our faith simply are not open to majority vote, and so there is absolutely no place for this kind of "lobyying", and anyone who thinks that there is a place for this kind of lobbying is ipso facto demonstrating a certain distance between themselves and the ideal Catholic.

An unrepentant sinner is, in my view, someone who is by definition cutting himself off from Communion with the Church, and that is the first step towards a permanent falling away. If the unrepentant attitude continues long enough, I would say that that person simply is not Catholic.

However, I think there is another kind of case--a sinner who, though he regrets his sin, cannot stop himself from committing it. A sexual addict who constantly masturbates, for example. He may wish he could stop, maybe he even tries to stop, but he just can't. So he winds up going to Confession a lot. But at least he understands that what he is doing is objectively wrong--he is not rejecting the Church's teaching, he is just finding it difficult to follow.

Kevin Jones said...

How does one's Catholicity relate to the theology of baptism, wherein baptism effects an *ontological* change? I worry that in these discussions of dissent people tend to downplay this change, treating Christianity more as a function of belief rather than as a mode of being.

Scott Carson said...

Well of course one is baptized a Christian, not a Roman Catholic. One reason why I am perplexed by people like my colleague is precisely that: she can go off and be a Christian of any stripe she likes--she need not be a Roman Catholic Christian. This isn't 16th century England, after all: nobody is going to be burned at the stake for becoming a Methodist, or even an Episcopalian (though it's not clear one won't wind up burning somewhere else--but that's another matter).

But all kidding aside, you're quite right that once one if fully a member of the Body of Christ it's going to take more than a little mental confusion to get back out again.

Maybe there ought to be annulment Tribunals for baptism?

Scott Carson said...

That last remark was meant to be a joke, by the way.

Tom P. said...

I strongly disagree with you. Not accepting everything the Church teaches and trying to get it changed does not push one out of being a Catholic. Catholics are allowed to be confused. Catholics are allowed to be wrong. Catholics are allowed to be really, really wrong. That is what gives Catholicism its great strength and power. It can be full of sinners, full of people who are in error, it can be a ship of fools and still be right.

Scott Carson said...


You are, of course, permitted to disagree with me! In fact, I think you can even disagree with me and still be a Roman Catholic.

But, like Kevin, you are conflating two very different things--Christianity and Roman Catholicism. On the one hand, you might have in mind nothing more than sinners, folks who realize that they are wrong but regret it and try to do better, and of course those folks are still Catholics. But you might have in mind folks of the sort I'm talking about, folks who reject Church teachings.

Beyond a certain point folks like that cease to be Roman Catholics in any real sense, even though they may remain Christian in some attentuated sense, just as non-believing "Jews" are not really Jews even though they are still Hebrew in their lineage.

To see that this is so, all you need do is think of a case like this. Imagine two people, A and B. A was born and raised in a Roman Catholic family, B was born and raised in a Mormon family. B fully subscribes to all of the teachings of the Mormon church; so does A, who rejects everything that the Roman Catholic Church teaches in favor of anything that the Mormon church teaches, but he continues to call himself a Roman Catholic and he goes with his family to Mass, even though he doesn't believe in very much that he sees happening there.

There is no difference of any doctrinal kind between A and B, and of course both are baptized. The only difference that exists between them is that A has relatives who are Roman Catholic, and A has lived his life with them.

But living your life in the company of Roman Catholics does not make you a Roman Catholic. What makes you a Roman Catholic is what is in your heart. A does not have in his heart those things that are necessary conditions on being Roman Catholic. He is not a Roman Catholic, even though he says he is.

Tom P. said...

On the one hand, you might have in mind nothing more than sinners, folks who realize that they are wrong but regret it and try to do better

Do all sinners realize their sins and try to do better? Do all sinners, even Catholic ones, regret their sins? I doubt it.

But let's go with your example. Suppose I disagree with the Church teaching on ordination of women and campaign against the Church teaching and write to my Bishop. So, according to you, I have stopped being a Catholic. But after prayerful contemplation I change my mind and write back to the Bishop cancelling my previous letter. So now I have become a Catholic again. But then I read an article in Last Things and become convinced that the Church is wrong after all, so now I'm not Catholic again. It doesn't work like that.

So to get back to my original question, what is the absolute minimum that you must believe in order to be a Cathoilic according to you? Are you saying, which is what it sounds like, that not believing even a single teaching is enough to boot you from the Church?

What makes you a Roman Catholic is what is in your heart. If this were true then there are days when I am not a Catholic and days when I am a Catholic. And I think that would be true for the vast majority of people.

Scott Carson said...

it doesn't work like that

Well, you're certainly welcome to think so. But I'm afraid that I can't really agree with you until you give me a reason. In particular, I would need a reason that sufficiently shows that there is a real difference between A and B in my example.

But don't worry, Tom--I'm sure that you're a Roman Catholic! (Unless, of course, you've run off to the Mormon church without telling me!)

Tom P. said...

But don't worry, Tom--I'm sure that you're a Roman Catholic!

I wouldn't be so sure. There are days when I am an atheist and convinced that there is no god. There are days when I am convinced that god is evil. There are days when I am convinced that god doesn't give a damn about the world. Have I stopped being a Catholic on those days?

So what is the difference between A and B? The difference is that one is Catholic and the other isn't. Anyone who is baptized a Catholic or has gone through the process of becoming a Catholic is Catholic. Forever. Don't believe me? Go to a priest and tell him that you were Catholic but for the last 10 years you have been a practicing Methodist. Ask him what you have to do to rejoin the Church. The answer will be, "Nothing, now go to confession."

This may sound simple but think about the implications. If you leave the Church and go to a Methodist Church, you are sinning every Sunday. If A starts to go to a Mormon Temple he will be sinning. B is not sinning when he goes to a Mormon temple. A will be held culpable because he was given the fullness of the Church and rejected it. But he is still Catholic so he is still held to the standard required of Catholics.

Scott Carson said...

Anyone who is baptized a Catholic...

No one is baptized a Roman Catholic. You are baptized a Christian.

It is, of course, possible to remain a Christian while rejecting the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. I have not been disputing that. What I am claiming is that it is not possible to remain a Roman Catholic while rejecting the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

Tom P. said...
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Tom P. said...
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Tom P. said...
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Tom P. said...

What I am claiming is that it is not possible to remain a Roman Catholic while rejecting the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

Do you have any Catholic teaching that supports this theory of yours? It is counter to everything I have ever been taught about Catholicism. And if you disagree with Catholic teaching then by your rules you can't be a Catholic anymore. ;-)

I think it might be interesting to hear your opinion on this... Catholics who are excommunicated are still Catholics.

No one is baptized a Roman Catholic. You are baptized a Christian.

OK, so when, in your opinion, does a person become a Catholic? If not at Baptism, then when?

Scott Carson said...

And if you disagree with Catholic teaching then by your rules you can't be a Catholic anymore.

I feel like Daniel Dennett: clever!

Don't forget that my post was all about boundary conditions and sorites arguments.

But I suppose you've got yourself a pretty good test here: if you can find a de fide, Magisterial teaching that says "x, y, and z are necessary and sufficient conditions for being a Roman Catholic, and once x, y, and z are true of you they can never not be true of you", then that will show that I am wrong on this point.

So I say go for it--find me that teaching!

Catholics who are excommunicated are still Catholics.

Well, they're still Christians anyway. Whether they're still Roman Catholics depends on whether they meet the necessary and sufficient conditions for being a Roman Catholic.

OK, so when, in your opinion, does a person become a Catholic? If not at Baptism, then when?

Find me that de fide teaching on the necessary and sufficient conditions for being a Roman Catholic, and I'll have a better foundation from which to tell you.

But more importantly for your argument, I think, would be a de fide teaching that says "once a Roman Catholic always a Roman Catholic". There might actually be such a teaching--the fact that I've never heard of one doesn't mean that it doesn't exist.

Tom P. said...

Is this what they teach in college these days? You make a claim and if anyone challenges you, you just say well prove me wrong? You made the claim that there are certain requirements that if you fail to live up to that you are no longer a Catholic. Did you just make this up out of thin air or do you have some Church teaching to support this claim?

As to your claim about baptism, since you chose to ignore my question, I will answer it for you. Let's go to the Baltimore Catechism:

"317. What are the effects of the character imprinted on the soul by Baptism? The effects of the character imprinted on the soul by Baptism are that we become members of the Church, subject to its laws, and capable of receiving other sacraments."

So when you are baptized you become a member of the Church. You might say that you become a member of some other Church but the Baltimore Catechism also tells us this:

"VII. How can we prove that the only true Church of Christ is the Catholic Church?
We can prove that the only true Church of Christ is the Catholic Church because: first, only the Catholic Church possesses the marks of the Church established by Christ, that is, unity, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity; second, the history of the Catholic Church gives evidence of miraculous strength, permanence, and unchangeableness, thus showing the world that it is under the special protection of God."

So unless Baptism in a Catholic Church makes you a member of some untrue Church, baptism MUST make you a member of the Catholic Church.

So what of excommunication? The Catholic Encyclopedia is quite clear that even if you a heretic or an apostate, you still remain a Catholic even if you renounce a key Catholic dogma. As is clearly stated, nothing can remove a person from Baptism and since Baptism makes you a member of the one true Church, you can never get out. It's a one way door. A Catholic who becomes a Jew is still a Catholic. A Catholic who becomes an atheist is still a Catholic. This is key Catholic dogma. Since the Church can only excommunicate members of the Church, a Catholic who leaves the Church couldn't be excommunicated otherwise!

The Catholic Encyclopedia talks about the withered branch that is not broken off from the true vine. That is, even a Catholic who has renounced their faith is still a part of the Church. Although they may no longer be part of what the CE refers to a s the visible Church, they still remain members of the Church.

OK, now I did your research for you. Show me one Church document that supports your argument.

Scott Carson said...


A question: do you think that the words "Christian" and "Roman Catholic" have exactly the same meaning? That is, do you think that literally anything and everything that can be correctly called "Christian" can also correctly be called "Roman Catholic"?

Tom P. said...

What the Catholic Church teaches is that other Christian churches possess SOME of the true faith but not all. Only the Catholic Church possesses the fullness of faith. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, ONLY the Catholic Church is fully Christian. Christianity is fully realized ONLY in the Catholic Church. So the answer to the question That is, do you think that literally anything and everything that can be correctly called "Christian" can also correctly be called "Roman Catholic"? is YES, most emphatically according to Catholic doctrine. Anything outside of the dogma of the Roman Catholic Church is not Christian.

Still waiting for some Church document that supports your position.

Scott Carson said...

Well then, let's take the case of say, a Methodist. It would seem that, in your opinion at least, there are only two possibilities.

Either a Methodist is not a Christian at all (as you put it,"Anything outside of the dogma of the Roman Catholic Church is not Christian"), or, a Methodist is no different from a Roman Catholic (since, according to your interpretation of an article in the Catholic Encyclopedia, if we want to call them Christian at all, we are constrained by the fact that only Roman Catholics are fully Christian).

So another question: of these alternatives, which do you prefer? Do you think that Methodists are not Christians, or do you think that they are no different from Roman Catholics?

Tom P. said...

Scott, if you want to continue this then PLEASE read what I wrote. What is Church teaching about what a Methodist is? Do you know? I will help you. According to the Catholic Church (this isn't me talking... this is your Church), Methodists possess some of the Truth in as far as they follow Catholic teaching. That is, they believe in the same God as us, they believe in the same Trinity and therefore they possess that part of Truth. But Methodists also contain falsehood in the sense that they fail to understand correctly the host and the priesthood, for example. So according to the teaching of the Church, Methodists possess some of the values that make us Christian.

And I am STILL waiting for a single document, a single note from the CCC, a single comment from canon law that supports your belief.

Here is further proof that a Catholic can not leave the Church. According to canon law, only Catholics can be excommunicated. But, an apostate or a heretic is excommunicated. If they were no longer Catholic then by canon law they can't be excommunicated.

Scott Carson said...

Tom, don't get me wrong: I'm perfectly willing to continue this, as long as you're interested.

But if I'm to fully understand what it is you're claiming, then I have to be able to ask you questions, if only to clarify things for me. Your view may be perfectly clear to you and in your own mind, but I've only got my mind to work with, so when I get confused about what you're advocating, then I have to ask for clarification.

For example, you said in one of your posts, and I quote: "Anything outside of the dogma of the Roman Catholic Church is not Christian". That sounds to me like it includes the Methodists.

That's why I asked you about the Methodists and how you would classify them. But now you are saying that you endorse the Church's teaching that they "possess the truth" only insofar as they agree with the Catholic Church.

Well, if you will recall, I didn't really ask you whether they possess the truth or not, but whether you are willing to say that they are Christians or not.

You can see my dilemma here: you have stated that, in your opinion, "Anything outside of the dogma of the Roman Catholic Church is not Christian." Well, the Methodists are outside of the dogma of the Roman Catholic Church for the most part. Does that mean that you do not think that they are Christians for the most part? Are you saying that they sort of are, and sort of are not, Christians? It just isn't clear to me what you mean, because you are now putting forward two different criteria: possession of "the truth", and being in agreement with "the dogma of the Roman Catholic Church", and you haven't made it clear what the precise nature of the relationship is between these two criteria and being (a) a Christian in general and (b) being a Roman Catholic Christian.

Your answer to this question is important, because it will clear up the disagreement we are having. Because there are only a few possibilities here.

Either you think that being a Christian means believing everything that the Roman Catholic Church teaches (that is, in fact, what you have already said, but I just want to be sure that you are really committed to the truth of your proposition that "Anything outside of the dogma of the Roman Catholic Church is not Christian"), in which case the Methodists are not Christians at all, or you believe that Methodists are in fact, Christians of some sort, they just are not Roman Catholic Christians.

I'm curious to know which of these two views you endorse because if you are saying that the Methodists are not Christians at all, then it is you, not I, who are contradicting the Magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church--and not just the teaching of the Baltimore Catechism, but of the Second Vatican Council--a more authoritative source, in my opinion.

If, on the other hand, you want to admit that Methodists are, in fact, Christians, but just not Roman Catholic Christians, then you will be saying (a) something much more reasonable and (b) something that proves that you agree with me that it is possible to be a Christian without being a Roman Catholic Christian.

Now, here is the good part. If you agree with me that it is possible to be a Christian without being a Roman Catholic Christian, you must be willing and able to say what, precisely, the difference is between someone who is a Roman Catholic Christian, and someone who is a Christian of some other stripe, say, a Methodist.

And in fact you have already hinted at what you think the difference is--you think it lies in the amount of "truth" that the Methodist accepts, that is, the degree to which the Methodist agrees with what the Roman Catholic Church teaches de fide.

So, in short, you think that the difference lies in what the person actually believes or accepts as true de fide. If that is the case, you are admitting that the essential difference between a Roman Catholic Christian and a Christian of some other kind is nothing more than a matter of what the person accepts as true de fide. In short, you are admitting that I am right: that people who reject the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church are not, in fact, Roman Catholics, but rather Christians of some other stripe.

So let me repeat my question, just for clarity:

Do you think that (a) Methodists are not Christians at all or (b) that Methodists are Christians but not Roman Catholic Christians, or do you perhaps think that (c) Methodists and Roman Catholics do not differ in any way?

To make things simpler, let me outline what your answers to these questions will entail.

If you answser (a), then you are contradicting a teaching of the Second Vatican Council.

If you answer (c), then you are saying something very strange, and I doubt that anybody will agree with you.

If you answer (b), then it turns out that you have been in agreement with me all along.

So, when I get your answre to my question, I will understand you position much better, and we will be able to move forward.

Tom P. said...

Well, the Methodists are outside of the dogma of the Roman Catholic Church for the most part.

I checked with my Methodist friends and they assured me that they believe in the Trinity, they believe that Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary, was crucified for our sins, and rose from the dead. In fact other than some minor hair splitting here and there they have no problem with the Creed at all. Do you think they lied to me?

This would end very quickly if you could show me just one, single document that supports your claim. Surely you must have something to back up your beliefs.

Tom P. said...

but I just want to be sure that you are really committed to the truth of your proposition that "Anything outside of the dogma of the Roman Catholic Church is not Christian")

That isn't my proposition. That is from the Catholic Encyclopedia. If you have a problem with that perhaps you could take it up with the Church, not me.