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Wednesday, September 30, 2009



I don't know if the referee analogy is quite the best. If McGrath is comparing protestant governing to democratic governing then we need to look for analogues of the democratic institutions. We have a senate and a house of representatives to determine when a consenus has been reached. What is the equivalent in protestantism? There isn't one. Synods and conventions exist but they are limited to one denomination. There is body that defines interdenominational consensus.

Even so, representative democracy has not been able to remove the concept of a head of state. You still have a president or a prime minister. I know the Canadian constitution does not mention the prime minister but the concept of a government head was just so ingrained that the office grew to fill the vacuum. Where is the equivalent in the protestant world?

Mark Brumley

A very good presentation. Certainly, it was sympathetic to McGrath's approach, yet it also was not bashful about describing where that approach comes up short. This is an example of good ecumenical dialogue--affirming with your dialogue partner what you can, but disagreeing where you must.

One point regarding the referee analogy--the referee in baseball can be regularly involved in the calls, even when no one seriously disputes a call. The Magisterium has a similar function. It is regularly teaching the faith, even when the teaching in question isn't seriously in dispute.

Fr. Matthew Lamb

In any discussion between Catholics and Protestants on authority, it is important to realize that the Catholic understanding of authority is very different from modern approaches. There is a stark contrast between authority and authoritarianism.

The difference between authority and authoritarianism is similar to the difference between love and rape. Indeed, authoritarianism not only contradicts authority, it seeks to destroy genuine authority. To equate authoritarianism with authority would be as unintelligent and irresponsible as equating rape with love. Can the traditions of secularist liberalism provide a clear and compelling differentiation of authority and authoritarianism?

My argument will be that modern liberal cultures are in a bind insofar as they shifted the basic framework for understanding authority from a context in which wisdom and virtue provided the norms for legitimate authority to a context in which dominative power became normative and legitimacy was defined only extrinsically. Such a shift has hampered moderns from being able to discern the difference between a power that is legitimate because it is exercised wisely and virtuously, and the illegitimate use of power springing from intellectual and/or moral vice. It is not that modern and postmodern cultures do not have criteria for legitimacy; it is that those criteria are always extrinsic and purely procedural, as Michael Sandel has illustrated in his Democracy’s Discontent: America in Search of a Public Philosophy.

Authoritarianism is usually defined in modern dictionaries and encyclopedias as “absolute or blind obedience to authority as opposed to individual freedom”. Thus an “authoritarian political system” is opposed to “a democratic political system.” So it would appear as if the cure for authoritarianism is democracy. Yet the histories of democracies, ancient and contemporary, are replete with injustices stemming from blind bias and majority oppression of minorities. The question of authority in democracy is a fundamental and difficult one, as is clear in such works as Pierre Manent’s Modern Liberty and Its Discontents and in works that see authority as management procedural techniques in, e.g., Christopher McMahon, Authority and Democracy: A General Theory of Government and Management.

Classical philosophy provided norms for judging those in authority by appealing to the intellectual virtues of wisdom and prudence. Socrates warns Alcibiades: “You have not therefore to obtain power or authority for yourself to do anything you like, nor has the state for itself; you must both get justice and wisdom.” Discussing how ignorance and license brings on various misfortunes, Socrates continues: “And in like manner, in a state, and wherever there is any power and authority which is wanting in virtue, will not misfortune, in like manner, ensue?” In Aristotle’s ethics and politics one finds as well reflections on how laws and constitutions are inadequate if political authority is severed from the wisdom and justice of intellectual and moral excellence.
This concern for normative judgments to guide those in authority was heightened in Judaism and Christianity. The normative judgments are to be guided, not only by human wisdom, prudence, and virtue, but also by the Divine judgment. God is no respecter of the powerful and mighty. Indeed, God enters into covenant with an enslaved and impoverished people. The covenant with Israel reveals how only the Lord can fully redeem the suffering and injustice of the chosen people. The New Covenant in Christ Jesus reveals how God’s covenant and redemption is open to all peoples through the continuing mission of the Son and Spirit in the apostolic mission of the church.

Fr. James Burtchaell’s From Synagogue to Church: Public Services and Offices in the Earliest Christian Communities indicates the shift in patterns of ecclesial authority that came in with Luther and is so prevalent in the modern period. It is this shift that has to be factored into any discussion of authority between Catholics and Protestants. One has to be careful about using modern categories such as “referee”, or “representative bodies” or “heads of state” in such discussions. The Catholic teaching on authority is bound up with the authority of Jesus Christ who sent his apostles and their successors to continue His visible and invisible mission from the Father. The revealed authority of the apostles and their successors in the Church is not one of “blind submission” but a supernatural authority that perfects and redeems genuine human authority as in the service of wisdom, virtue, and holiness. There are many resources in the Greek, Latin, and monastic theologians on the discernment and judgment required to exercise authority properly. Genuine authority is not authoritarian. It seeks to foster, not blind submission to arbitrary commands, but is a diakonia or service to foster moral, intellectual, and theological excellence or virtue in the faithful.

A key question for Catholics and Protestants will be to explore the resources of genuine apostolic and human authority and how reform of any arbitrary use of authority in the Church is overcome without severing the unity of the apostolic mission of the Church and without rejecting the Petrine ministry of the successors of Peter. Of course the revealed resource for this discernment is the inspired examples of St. Paul and St. Peter.


Protestants of good will are, I think, open and understand the need for valid authority in the Church. I also think they would be more open to the Catholic claims if it was stressed that the main areas of final authority, especially papal infallibility, are in the areas of faith and morals, i.e. and not in areas of economics, politics, foreign policy, etc.

Carl E. Olson

I've long thought that sports analogies are a great way to explain certain Catholic beliefs and doctrines, provided (as Fr. Barron makes clear) their limitations and weaknesses are duly noted. Reading Fr. Lamb's excellent comments made me think again of the analogy of baseball umpires (which I think has many good qualities) and I wondered: "What about taking the analogy back further, to the creator and founder of baseball?" In other words, a key part of the question, in the context of the analogy, is "Who created baseball? Who made the rules? Who, then, has the authority to revise or clarify the rules?"

If the game of baseball, say, had existed for forty years, and then someone came along and said: "Well, that isn't authentic, pure, and primitive baseball, such as the creator of the game intended. Here is the real game of baseball"—and he presented a game with five bases, seven players, ten innings, and a "No drinking" rule at the ball park. What then? Is that really baseball? How would we know? Who decides? And so forth.

I have a deadline to meet, so will leave it at that for the moment.


"Such a shift has hampered moderns from being able to discern the difference between a power that is legitimate because it is exercised wisely and virtuously, and the illegitimate use of power springing from intellectual and/or moral vice."

The US and Australia were settled by the unwanted of Britain, and why isn't it a surprise that built into the ethic of the colonists. A certain libertarian distrust of authority has been part of our streak ever since.

Perhaps it was the Europeans who woke up in the 19th and early 20th centuries as they saw monarchies and power elites sending young soldiers into the meat-grinder wars of that continent. Incompetent military leadership, governments oblivious to the suffering and needs of citizens. What's amazing is that any westerner is left that actually does respect authority ... and isn't part of the power elite.

The Catholic Church squandered its opportunities in the last century. Instead of a fearless witness in the face of real menace and evil, Pope Pius XII and others were content with a safe path, rather than one that spoke the truth boldly and with undoubted clarity.

The Catholic problem is that our hierarchy acts as if respect for authority is a given and yesterday's mistakes are in the deep past.

Intellectual and moral vice are part of the human condition. Only the grace of God transcends it, not the kindly beneficence of a hierarchy.

Marcel LeJeune

I have not found most modern evangelical Protestants confusing authority and authoritarianism. Rather, many reject the authority of the Catholic Church, and any other authority outside of themselves and the Bible, as a man-made structure that does not have Christ's authority.

So, while Fr. Lamb's post contains many good insights and truths, I don't know how applicable it is to the commentary on Fr. Barron's line of thinking.


I am not sure the game analogy is the best. There is no truth about a game. You can play football by NFL rules, NCAA rules, Canadian rules, or even Austrailian rules. It is all fine. Many think of church like a game. There are traditions but they only matter in our own minds. As long as people are having fun what does it matter? The trouble is that God is real. He needs to be happy with what we are doing. It is not about our experience.

Protestants tend to remove God from church. Conservative protestants don't remove Him from theology but they tend to from worship. Without any biblical support they assert that worship style does not matter to God. Like He never said a thing about the sacrifices in the temple or the tabernacle. Like He didn't prescribe any cerimonies like passover and circumcision. It is completely unbiblical but it is at the heart of most of the protestant thought on church authority. That church is about the experience. Some focus on the experience of the faithful. Some focus on the experience of seekers. Rarely does anyone ask what God want to see.

The referee/umpire analogy plays into this notion. What we need is to be able to play nice together. But it is just a game. The truth about God has no place in the analogy.


I think the main error of understanding Protestant consensus in terms of democratic political theory is that "Protestantism" as a grouping simply isn't a structure of doctrinal unity. It doesn't make sense for Barron to compare "Protestantism" to a massive parliament, quite obviously because that's not how "Protestantism" behaves. "Protestantism" doesn't behave. It's a taxonomical tool to reference the churches of the sixteenth century reformation. But churches behave in certain ways and enforce authority in certain ways. It's these churches that can meaningfully be described as "Protestant", but "Protestantism" doesn't do anything, neither in Luther's time nor in our own.

Until Barron (or McGrath- I haven't read the book and the original fault may be with the author) discusses the authority of creeds and confessions, of church law, ordained hierarchies, etc. in Protestantism, then he's not really offering us anything much. Anyone who has more than passing familiarity with "Protestantism" knows that authority is constituted by more than simply the Spirit's work in the life of the believer.


In any discussion between Catholics and Protestants on authority, it is important to realize that the Catholic understanding of authority is very different from modern approaches. There is a stark contrast between authority and authoritarianism.[...]

My argument will be that modern liberal cultures are in a bind insofar as they shifted the basic framework for understanding authority from a context in which wisdom and virtue provided the norms for legitimate authority to a context in which dominative power became normative and legitimacy was defined only extrinsically."

It would be worth adding, however, that probably the most crystallized articulation of this modern conflation of authority and authoritarianism is the opening line: "Sovereign is he who decides on the exception." And this was a Catholic thinker.

I don't say that as a cheap shot against your description of the Catholic view- of course Schmitt can be speaking wrongly or against Catholic truth. But one also can't meaningfully reduce the entire discussion to "the Catholic understanding of authority is very different from modern approaches."

Raving Papist

I hate to offer an opinion on the heels of Fr Lamb and Fr Barron, but it seems to me that the problem of authority rears its head once you start to discuss the sacraments and grace, in particular the Eucharist. Think for a moment about how little need there would be for Petrine authority on Faith and Morals or delineated canon law on the valid reception of communion if there were no Eucharist in the Catholic Church.

Anyway, sorry for dragging things off topic.


While he speaks about the referee becoming too involved in the game, I think there is great danger in the referee letting the game get out of hand and not making any call which to me is what has happened in the Catholic Church for the last 40 years. We are going through an internal reformation by those bent on changing things that are already difinitively decided and cannot change. The Pope needed to start stepping in decades ago to make calls which should have been easy no brainer ones and failing to do so leaves chaos.


That seems like an odd argument to making, Raving Papist, considering that the Eucharist is present in Protestant churches while Petrine authority isn't.

And the response from all corners will surely be, "Ah, but the Eucharist is not valid in the Protestant communities"... but why not? Because it's not administered by the proper hierarchy? But this means that there would be no Eucharist without particular modes of authority... not that there would be no particular modes of authority without the Eucharist. These are two very different things. One can't claim that Catholic authority rests on the sacramental grace of communion and also that the sacramental grace of communion rests on Catholic authority.

Mark Brumley

Marcel writes:

I have not found most modern evangelical Protestants confusing authority and authoritarianism. Rather, many reject the authority of the Catholic Church, and any other authority outside of themselves and the Bible, as a man-made structure that does not have Christ's authority.

I have found many modern Evangelicals as well as modern Catholics who confuse authority and authoritarianism. In a sense, the modern Evangelical who makes that mistake has more justification, given his tradition and basic theological framework.

Modern Evangelicalism inherits its attitudes re: the claims of the Catholic Church from the original reformers, who denied the "authority" of the Catholic Church, in part, as a result of some abuses of that authority ("authoritarianism"). Of course, Protestantism moved beyond criticism of what even Catholics would regard as abuses to challenging the Church's claim to authority. At the same time, some Protestants came to regard some things that are exercises of authority as authoritarianism.

Some contemporary Protestants see the need for an authority in the Church but they are afraid that such an authority will entail authoritarianism, which they see as exalting a human authority over divine authority as found in the Bible. One view is that authority inevitably or usually succumbs to authoritarianism as a function of human sinfulness; another view is that for any human being or group of human beings to claim to be able to bind members of the Church community to a particular interpretation of the Bible is inherently authoritarian.

Those modern Catholics who see what is really the exercise of authority in the Church as authoritarian have even less ground to stand on that the classic Protestants, who held that the Church's claim to authority was really authoritarian because, so they argued, it undermined or usurped the authority of the Bible. Some modern Catholics purport to want to operate within the Catholic tradition, but they have trouble reconciling a radical form of autonomy in belief with that tradition. In this they resemble certain elements of the so-called Radical Reformation, rather than the classical reformers.

Marcel LeJeune

Mark - I concur with much of your remarks. The problem of authority never escapes anyone who is intellectually honest and I believe that many of the modern Evangelical leaders are more honest in approaching the problem than most have been since the Reformation.

We can see this problem when the group "Evangelicals and Catholics Together" have more problems drawing up a clear statement on Scriptural authority than they do on justification.

The problem continues to arise for Evangelical Protestants when, as you point out, any authority outside of the Bible claims to be a God-given authority which binds us. Hence, the digression becomes not a true authority, but an abuse.

I will certainly agree that Catholics are more culpable and that a radical form of autonomy is usually to blame.


A problem many Catholics fail to appreciate is that many Protestants would like to embrace Roman authority, IF they felt they saw Rome defending certain truths in clear terms (as opposed to read-both-was tendencies in Vatican II), rather than appearing in their minds to too much accommodate modernity. Hence Evangelicals looking for stronger affirmation of the uniqueness of Biblical authority or the need for personal embrace of Christ to save from sin and Hell often find such notes a bit muted in Rome, and subsequently in parishes. Firmer pronouncements, like CDF pieces on Dominus Jesus or gay questions, tend to appeal more to Evangelicals, not less! A typical Evangelical fellowship may CLAIM to prize individual judgement, but just watch how dogmatic they are in practice in maintaining group think on belief. Catholics and Rome can be laissez-fare by comparison.


In what sense was Schmitt, the founder of intellectual Nazism, a Catholic voice?

Mark Brumley

I concur with Joe that if Rome did certain things then more Evangelicals would take notice. The problem is, that some of those things that would get greater Evangelical notice aren't the higher priorities and shouldn't be.

Of course the authority of the Bible is unique and there's a lot to be done about shoring up Catholics in the pew, not to mention some priests, on the point. But. Catholicism isn't Evangelicalism. The authority of the Bible is a sine qua non for Evangelicals in a way it isn't for Catholics. It's important, yes. But not all important.

Don't get me wrong. I've written and spoken extensively about how Evangelicals can help Catholics appreciate the unique authority of the Bible, which Catholicism affirms. But we can't tailor Catholicism to suit Evangelicals. (Not that you were calling for that, Joe.) There will be things that they simply can't accept--short of conversion--no matter how much we try to present Catholicism in terms they can understand. And there will be differences of emphasis that flow from different understandings of Christianity, even when we share belief in certain dogmas.

I don't want to see altar calls at Mass, even if it would win more converts. The goals of altar calls, to the extent they are valid, can be achieved in other ways and the purpose of the Eucharistic sacrifice is not primarily evangelistical, at least not in the sense of aimed at initial conversion. (Heck, I don't even want to hear contemporary Christian music at Mass, notwithstanding my appreciation for some of it. (And without regard for my revulsion at the rest of it.)


In what sense was Schmitt, the founder of intellectual Nazism, a Catholic voice?

In the mundane sense that he was a Catholic (yes, excommunicated... years after he wrote Political Theology and not as a result of what he theorized there).

In the meaningful sense, though, I wouldn't want to dispute your point. There's no reason to consider his understanding of sovereignty as peculiar to or a result of his Catholicism. And by the same logic, there's no reason to consider democratic theory similarly tethered to Protestant notions of authority. Or to consider supposed premodern conceptions of authority inherently Catholic in a way that others are not.

My point is simply that Lamb's argument is so oversimplified as to be unhelpful, that there is no reason to not see modern conceptions of political authority within various traditions of Catholic thought, and that there is no compelling reason to establish "the" Catholic understanding as a premodern, virtue-oriented notion of legitimate authority, as if such an understanding is 1) unknown in modernity, or 2) uniquely or consistently the political legacy of Catholicism.

Mark Brumley

In what sense was Schmitt, the founder of intellectual Nazism, a Catholic voice?

Answer: In no relevant sense.


No relevant sense?! He wrote an entire book on the significance of Roman Catholicism for political theory! What you mean by "in no relevant sense" seems to be "his beliefs are not endorsed as our beliefs", which is fair enough... but it seems rather Protestant to cast off Schmitt's Catholicism based on a doctrinal check-list or an ideological norm. And the logic of your above argument, Mark-- the Protestants arguably have more basis for claiming that a democratic or otherwise anti-authority theorist is not Protestant in any relevant sense, "given his tradition and basic theological framework."

I would also add that I didn't, nor had any intention, of bringing up Schmitt's Nazi associations. He can be read quite fruitfully as a political theorist whether or not his political affiliations were problematic. Tom was the one who brought up Nazism. My introduction of Schmitt wasn't at all an attempt to take the cheap shot of associating the Catholic Church with a Nazi, but simply to get at a Catholic thinker's ideas about authority and authoritarianism... a point which no one seems interested in addressing, but rather only interested in dismissing as an exception to Lamb's characterization of Catholic political thought.

Fr. Matthew Lamb

I agree with Brumley that my introduction of the difference between authority and authoritarianism is an “oversimplification”. But I would point out that blogs, even this excellent one, tend to oversimplify issues. At the risk of obfuscation through more oversimplications, let me spell out a few points.

The Catholic understanding of authority is not only “Catholic”. My quotes from Socrates meant to indicate that generally Catholic traditions draw upon ancient rather than modern notions of authority. So genuine authority based on wisdom and virtue, on truth and the promotion of goodness, is an intelligent and reasonable exercise of authority that promotes responsibility among citizens. Not only Protestants and Catholics, but all human beings are called to live by the light of reason, as Pope Benedict keeps reminding us.

Yet living by reason, as Pope John Paul II’s Fides et Ratio insists, means much more than the calculating and procedural rationalism evident in empiricism. Michael Sandel’s work analyzes what several have indicated in the exchanges when they point out that the question of truth requires more than democratic polls or procedural rules. Procedural liberalism in modern democracies, having drawn upon modern rejections of ancient wisdom traditions (see Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, Descartes, Kant, etc.) tend to avoid questions of truth in matters moral and religious. As long as proper procedures are followed, whatever is legislated is okay. Legislation, like reason, is severed from wisdom and virtue. Laws become dictates of the will of those in power rather than acts of reason attentive to the wise ordering of the human good. The laws legitimating racism, abortion, euthanasia, etc. are examples of authoritarian democracy in action. Will Catholics, Protestants, and the democratic peoples of the United States attend to the cultivation of wisdom and goodness to overcome the legitimating of abortion and euthanasia, thereby avoiding the civil war occasioned by racism?

Carl Schmidt’s 1922 Political Theology is a monument to modern ignorance of both the Greek and Roman traditions, as well as Catholic theological traditions. He claims that "all significant concepts of the modern theory of the state are secularized theological concepts" – is false on both rational and theological grounds. In his work authoritarianism reached its apogee in the totalitarian state of Nazism and Fascism.

Being a founding member of Catholics and Evangelicals Together, I do hope that the ongoing conversations about authority between Catholics and Protestants will be of significance also for the wider culture. If the injection of the difference between authority and authoritarianism is a distraction, then by all means – as a final word to the keeper of the blog – use your wise and virtuous authority to strike it from the ongoing exchanges!



Thanks for the comments. I'd agree.


Mark Brumley

but it seems rather Protestant to cast off Schmitt's Catholicism based on a doctrinal check-list or an ideological norm.

How is that "Protestant"? What is Protestant per se about rejecting someone's views based on a doctrinal check-list or an ideological norm?

As for Schmitt's relevance, with respect to his authoritarianism, he is simply not a Catholic thinker. If you don't see why, then I can't help you.

Mark Brumley

Just for clarity: Mark Brumley was not the one who asserted that Father Lamb's distinction between authority and authoritarianism was "simplistic".

Fr. Matthew Lamb

Yes, it was Evans with whom I agree that the difference as stated was "oversimplified". Much more has to be said and I have a longer article that goes into this. But my Dad used to say that my writings made terrific siesta reading, so I should spare you all.

Besides the reasons I gave above, I would also point out that Fr. Barron's fine comments and much of the discussion, in using contemporary illustrations of referees and political representatives, indicates that Protestants and Catholics can discuss the issue of authority using common reasonable categories as well as Scriptural ones. In all ecumenical dialogues both faith and reason are needed. Hence my concern that we see that some issues of truth need more resources than those provided by procedural liberalism.

Arkanabar T'verrick Ilarsadin

"Instead of a fearless witness in the face of real menace and evil, Pope Pius XII and others were content with a safe path, rather than one that spoke the truth boldly and with undoubted clarity." -- Todd
You take Cornwell far too seriously.

Pope Pius XII had to weigh his options. Which would YOU say is more important: calling Hitler the monster he was to his face, or saving Jews? The two were mutually exclusive. Such accusations as this usually come with a call for flatly outspoken anti-Nazi rhetoric from the Vatican. Never mind that this would have led the Third Reich to expel all clergy and religious from its territories, thereby ending all their efforts to save the lives of Jews. Pope Pius XII chose saving lives over applause.

And make no mistake, everyone who paid attention to what Pope Pius XII was saying before and during WWII was completely sure he completely opposed National Socialism and the Nazi Party. There were a few (though still far too many) in the Church who ignored him and disobeyed him, just as there are now priests and bishops in the Church who ignore and disobey what Papa Ben has to say about abortion, or love.

"The Catholic problem is that our hierarchy acts as if respect for authority is a given and yesterday's mistakes are in the deep past." -- Todd, continued

The Church's recent mistakes are not being ignored, except by those who made them and hope very much that they will go away before anybody connects the dots. I am certain that Papa Ben and his best men all have them very much on their minds.

On to what I have to say.

I once constructed a logical proof of the need for doctrinal infallibility (posted HERE). My reader (I only claim to have one) improved and expanded upon it HERE.


Protestants and Catholics can discuss the issue of authority using common reasonable categories as well as Scriptural ones. In all ecumenical dialogues both faith and reason are needed.

I would happily agree with this. As I have read the above discussion, I see Barron in the video pitting (albeit with all good intention) Catholic "authority" against Protestant "democracy". It's this referral to monolithic types that I find troubling. Your initial post, Prof. Lamb, only really discusses authority (and authoritarianism) within Catholicism, and opposes it to modern notions of liberalism rather than Protestantism, as Barron discusses. I did, however, read it as implicitly setting Catholic notions of authority against Protestant ones, simply because those were the terms that Barron had initially set and I presumed you were working more or less in that system. In addition the focus on "the" Catholic sense seemed a convenient but problematic narrative to me, as there are numerous examples to point to of Catholic advocacy of either authoritarianism or political liberalism, and unless one has a preconceived notion of what's "really" Catholic (and I'd love to see chapter and verse of Scripture, council, creed, or bull), it seems wrong to reduce the Catholic perspective to simply the view that is the most correct by our or our forefathers' lights.

Your more recent comments specifically discuss ecumenical approaches to authority, however, and I have no problem getting behind this. I took the weight of your initial post to be placed on Catholic approaches to authority, and read this Catholic focus in light of the Catholic type that was set out by Barron against the Protestant type. This is what I find rather unconvincing.

But, now that we have a sense that an ecumenical recognition of authority is what we're talking about... where does that leave Barron's argument? It seems to me that you are much less willing than Barron to reduce Protestantism to one sort of orientation towards authority, and Catholicism to another. Have we agreed, then, that Barron is unhelpful in how he characterizes Protestantism? How would you respond to my initial comment, given your clear commitment to the ecumenical nature of questions of authority?

Mark Brumley

Well, Evan, I think you should go back and watch the video again. You seem to be offering a simplistic analysis of Father Barron's treatment.


I took you up on the advice and listened to it again. If you can show me the point in the video where he talks about Protestant understanding/application of authority in terms other than 1) consensus of the priesthood of all believers or 2) Holy Scripture via the plain sense, I'd appreciate it. I'm not finding where it's there. Also, no one has addressed my original point that "Protestantism" is not a single polity where we should expect to find consensus. Barron's parliamentary analogy is odd in the extreme... he moves from talking about the priesthood of all believers to talking about the parliament of all denominations. At least the priesthood of all believers, if not exhaustively descriptive of Protestant understanding of authority, is a veritable part of Protestant understanding. But the idea that denominations deliberate together towards consensus is just wacky, and there's no explanation of the shift from talking about individual believers to inter-denominational dialogue.

Also interesting, as I listen to the video again, is the mention of the "guarantee of the Holy Spirit" at 5:52. For the life of me, I don't see how this trust in the Spirit's preservation of the truth in the Church is much different from Protestant trust in the Spirit's illumination of the Scripture for the faithful. Both the hierarchy and the priesthood of all believers have failed in preserving truth at one time or another, and unless we invent an absurd sort of complete infallibility for either of them (and I'm not talking about papal infallibility here, I'm talking about the stronger claim that Barron seems to make when he talks about the referee analogy being inadequate because the referee can be wrong... is he saying that the hierarchy cannot be wrong at times in a similar way?)... unless we invent an absurd sort of complete infallibility, we need to account for the failures of the Church in light of the more basic preservation that is the work of the Spirit. Protestant churches and the Catholic church account for this in various ways, but we're not going to get into any constructive dialogue by pointing out where the priesthood of all believers fails (and yes, it does) but not the fact that Catholic hierarchy fails as well.

To put it another way, the "good liberal critique" that Barron volunteers towards the end shouldn't be that the referee interferes too often (although I agree with him that this is a fair enough critique to make, and one that Newman would share). The "good [if not liberal, then Protestant at least] critique" is that, while the priesthood of believers certainly fails in articulating and preserving the truth, so does the hierarchy. The magisterium seems not to have been "preserved from error" in the way that Barron claims. And this doesn't discount the authority of the hierarchy any more than it discounts the priesthood of all believers. It just means that such notions of authority should not be absolutized by special reference to unique preservation by the Holy Spirit from all error.

Perhaps this is why Barron ignores Protestant hierarchy in this video, and discusses merely Protestant notions of consensus. He seems not to accept "authority" in any terms other than those that might obtain from a guarantee of preservation from all error by the Spirit. I'm not trying to claim that he uses the word or would accept it if it were introduced, but... how is this not different from the "authoritarianism" that we were earlier trying to distinguish from "authority". Well, it's only different in two senses, I think: first, Barron indeed points out that sometimes the referee needs to step back and let the game play out. So he's not advocating a magisterial police state. Second, Barron (or, more explicitly, Lamb) identifies true authority with certain ideal forms of virtue and wisdom, rather than with the hierarchy itself. If any hierarchy fails to live up to these ideals, then it is not exercising true authority. This second qualification is fair enough, but if we're going to acknowledge that then we also need to point out that the Catholic hierarchy fails to exercise authority in the same way that the Protestant hierarchy (or priesthood of all believers) does. And again, this doesn't discount the legitimacy of Catholic or Protestant hierarchy. It merely attempts to rid the conversation of some unreal expectations and to treat Protestantism and Catholicism in the same way as we discuss them.

Mark Brumley

Evan, thanks for reveiewing the video clip. I am not sure it changed your mind but it seems to have honed some elements of your presentation a bit.

Perhaps if you would recall that Father Barron is talking about McGrath's book and if you would read McGrath's treatment of the subject matter with which Father Barron is interacting, your comments might be more pertinent and helpful to the discussion. It is not as if Father Barron is unaware of Protestant confessional statements. The point is, they seem to be insufficiently relevant to his discussion of McGrath's theses to require him to bring them in a general discussion of a general thesis of the book. Father Barron is speaking in general terms about the mainstream of traditional Protestantism. He is certainly simplifying--whether his treatment is simplistic is another question.

You say so much in your latest post it would take quite a bit of time to unravel it. Let's see if folks here can find the time.


Granted, Barron's discussion is quite limited by the book he's addressing. This conversation, however, has become much less so, and I took by the general interest (from Carl and others) in Lamb's widely ranging thoughts about authority more generally, that my similarly wide thoughts would be taken as pertinent to the conversation in the same way. I suppose not.


I consider myself to be a centrist type of Catholic. As a Catholic and also a Liturgical Musician for over 35 years in a number of protestant churches and jewish synagogues, I have, I think, a somewhat unique perspective on the worship and beliefs of non-catholic groups. I have listened to thousands of sermons and been privileged to have been exposed to a very wide variety of worship traditions. I have studied the doctrines and theology of their traditions as well.

I have come to believe that there is little hope of conversion of the various (35,000) protestant denominations en-masse. There are simply too many obstacles in the way concerning their structure, or lack there of. In my opinion, the only way the protestants will come back into the fold of the Catholic Church is by individual conversion. While it is well and good to have a "formal" ecumenical dialogue with the various denominations for us all to have a better understanding of one another, the reality is such that the protestant denominations themselves have an understandable agenda of self-preservation. Please understand that in spite of this reality, I DO believe that the formal ecumenical dialogue needs to continue. But I think we are kidding ourselves if we think the leaders of the denominations will suddenly "see the light" and come back to the Church and encourage their members to do the same. I am not advocating "stealing sheep" from other christian denominations, but rather I believe in the exposition of the full truth and history of the witness of the church.

Here we come to the real problem.....Authority, as opposed to authoritarianism. We can talk till the cows come home, but this is THE issue which will cause individuals to come back to the church. Until we as Catholics begin to teach others what Authority really means in terms of early church history and show others the actual documents of the early church, we will have little success in our efforts.

It is not the scriptures which are the "pillar and foundation of the truth", but rather the Church itself. Many "reformed" protestants take great pride in saying that they structure their worship and church administration in the very same way the New Testament has laid out. This is one result of "sola scriptura", and at first glance seems entirely reasonable. Their "paradigm" of what they believe the church to be is entirely valid and rational and needs to be respected as such. The only real solution is that catholics need to bone up on the writings of the early church as well as the New Testament to explain to protestants the very real and legitimate Authority of the Church.

It takes but a very short conversation with a so called "bible only" christian to discover they know little, if anything, about early church history and the writing of the early church. In fact, if they have been told how to convert catholics, they love to freely quote extraneous writings or comments of the early church Fathers in support of their claims. What they do not know is what these same Fathers believed concerning the Eucharist, Baptism, Penance, Holy Orders, Prayers for the Dead....etc. This information is essentially unknown to them.

What to do? "Physician, heal thyself!" We educate ourselves first so we may teach others. Period. How do we talk to others about the church? As Saint Bernard said when asked about the four cardinal virtues of the church, "Humility, Humility, Humility and Humility." We surrender all "false" pride and instead we take "genuine" pride in our God given gifts, but use these gifts in the spirit of "true" humility. Nothing else will debate, forum, argument, soap box or conversation has any hope of success without the exercise of true humility.

At any rate, it is the Church's Authority which is the central issue to address with our protestant brethren, all else follows after. Some may first come to grips with this authority thru the study of the Eucharist or other aspect, but in the end they come to understand and recognize why Christ established not only a spiritual church, but also a very real physical church on earth.

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