Sunday, October 17, 2010

Rationalism vs Faith (Protestantism vs Catholicism)

Rationalism vs Faith (Protestantism vs Catholicism)
Matthew J. Bellisario 2010

'They who have not the truth whole and perfect, must always be inquiring, 
always doubting. Not so they who are "taught of God."' 
Henry Edward Cardinal Manning

When one breaks down the essential difference between Catholicism and Protestantism, the ultimate breakdown lies between reason guided by faith, and faith determined by reason. The Catholic believes God based on the living authority and living Voice (The Holy Spirit) He gave to those chosen to spread the Gospel. The Catholic believes that man has the capacity to comprehend the infallible Word of God by his reason, but his reason does not determine what he will and will not believe. In other words, his reason is able to comprehend and analyze that which is revealed by God to him through His living voice in the Church, but man does not determine individually what he will or will not believe based on his own rational faculties. 

Contrary to this position is the Protestant position which puts man’s intellect and individual rational capacity above faith. Although most Protestants will tell you that live by faith alone, it is not really faith in God they are living by, but only faith in themselves. For the Catholic, faith precedes reason, for the Protestant, reason precedes faith. The great Cardinal Manning once said, “I seem to see no choice but this- the voice of God speaking always through His Church, or the reason of man judging of Revelation.” In other words, the Protestant takes God’s Written Word and attempts as best as he can to determine what it means for him, ad then put his faith in what he has determined. He bases his faith off of what he reads in the Scriptures and determines for himself the doctrines he will believe. This is completely the opposite of the Catholic’s position, who simply listens to God’s voice speaking through His one and only Church, and then seeks to understand that faith by his reason.
This breach of faith for the Protestant is also observed clearly in the breakdown of ecclesiology. Their "churches" can err, and it can teach error in different times and places, and most readily admit this to be true. They do not claim that their church or churches teach with an infallible authority. For them the Scriptures are the ultimate source of authority, and it alone is infallible. Yes, many Protestant sects will put forth their church structure as authoritative in some sense, but never as being at the level of infallibility. This presents an unsolvable problem for them. They all appeal to the infallible Written Word of God as their only infallible authority, but they can never be sure that they are infallibly interpreting it correctly. Nor can they be certain that the Scripture they possess is all that comprises God’s revelation to mankind. Is the 66 book canon infallible or is the 73 book canon infallible, and has anyone claimed either canon to be infallible? Do you think God would reveal this information in an infallible manner? The Catholic can answer these questions in the affirmative, while the Protestant can only claim probability. 
Faith which assents to an authority which Jesus Christ Himself built upon this earth is the claim of the Catholic. Jesus preached orally and then sent His apostles to preach the Gospel orally based upon an authority given to them by Christ Himself. There is no account in all of early Christian history that puts forth the Protestant system of reading God’s Word and then determining for yourself what it means for you. One is a false faith which is based on man’s rational faculties to determine doctrine and dogma in levels of probability. The other, the Catholic position claims that faith is based on that Revelation which God enlightens mans’ rational faculties to accept doctrine and dogma on an infallible level. Reason then is able to further understand it and plumb its depths, but it never usurps its level of authority to determine what it will and will not believe. The Protestant has only probability in his or her rational determinations, while the faithful Catholic has infallible certainty in the Gospel that is preached to Him by the same Living Voice that guided the apostles. Then and only then does his reason begin to plumb the depths of that Revelation. For instance, the Catholic Church's teaching on Baptismal Regeneration and Original Sin is taught infallibly by God's living Voice in the Church. Man's rational faculties assent to this infallible truth, and then seeks to understand it and how these infallible truths relate to him in the sacraments etc. For a true Christian, probability is not an option. Manning's words ring true here, 'we are saved by truth; and truth which is not definite is no truth to us; and indefinite statements have no certainty; and without certainty there is no faith.'
There is much argument between Catholics and Protestants concerning the authority of Scripture, the authority of the Church, and what the Church Fathers wrote about this or that particular doctrine or teaching in the past. There are those who think that they are experts in Church history. They confine themselves willingly to limited sources and they use that information to determine for them what they will and will not accept in the realm of ecclesiology. They decide what they will and will not believe based on their ability to study history. But again, all of this relies on man’s ability to determine for himself what he will and will not believe based on his own rational faculties alone. There is no faith in God’s ability to communicate the Gospel to His own created creatures with any level of infallibility for the Protestant. Thus I believe the Protestant is always pulled back and forth based on his perception of Scripture, history, and sometimes the Church Fathers based on the time and place he finds himself. The Protestant claims to live by the infallible written Word of God, but he has not an infallible means to receive the infallible Word. In my opinion this is contrary to the existence of an infallible source of Divine Revelation in the first place. 
The Catholic however does not have this problem because his faith is not based on his own ability to determine what history or what the Church Fathers or even what the Scriptures mean to him individually. He does not create his own Gospel based on his fallible ability to interpret all of these things. The Catholic listens to the Living Voice of God, the voice of certainty preached by Jesus Himself. There is no danger of doctrine or dogma changing. Scripture does not change in meaning based on the time or place man finds himself. Scripture only grows in depth concerning the deposit of faith handed down age to age, guided by the same Living Voice that proclaimed it in the beginning, before it was ever written. 
Let us take one example to demonstrate the deficiency in the manmade rationalism of the Protestant mind. Let us look at the first Reformers who all held to the moral doctrine condemning the use of contraception. Luther, Calvin and Wesley for example, all appealed to Genesis Chapter 38 in their clear condemnation of contraception. For them, their rational minds determined that Scripture clearly condemned the action as being immoral. If we fast forward to today, we see the majority of their Protestant descendants telling us that Scripture is not clear on this matter and so most of them are not overly concerned about the morality of such an action. So we have man changing his morality based on his own ability to rationalize for himself what Scripture means. They have no living voice to call this foul or fair. Metaphorically speaking, they play the game without an umpire. Every man is his own judge on the field of play, and when you get fed up with how the game is going you just pick up your bat and glove and go home. The sane man finds a game to join who has an umpire to call foul or fair play. Protestantism is quite simply, reason determining faith. The Catholic on the other hand has certainty in the moral teaching that is clearly given to him by the living voice of God. The living voice says that artificial contraception is immoral in every age and every place, and in order to please God one ought not engage in such an action. One is the voice of certainty, the other the voice of mere probability. Which are you going to put your immortal soul in the care of? 
So we can sum up this insurmountable difference between Protestantism and Catholicism by drawing a line in the sand between rationalism and faith. One builds his own faith based on his ability to determine for himself what he will and will not believe based on his reading of Sacred Scripture. The other listens to the same voice of God which breathed the Scriptures into existence, and then puts his faith in that which is revealed to him by that voice. Protestantism is man centered, Catholicism is God centered. I will close by these words of Cardinal Henry Manning in addressing Protestantism, ‘ . . . You have no foundation but human judgment, and therefore you are ” tossed to and fro and carried about ” by words of men. To me this is simply impossible, because I believe on the basis of a Divine Teacher. . . “


David.S said...

As a 40 year old Reformed Protestant convert, I can really relate to these words. One of the main reasons for my conversion was my final realization of the folly and error of "Scripture Alone." It is true, as a Protestant, I was never comfortable or content or at peace. I was always trying to understand the Scriptures, always trying to find truth, because everyone in the Protestant Church saw things slightly different. This finally lead me, tired and frustrated, to look to the Catholic Church. When I began to put all of my biases away and looked at Catholic doctrine without prejudice the light started to come on. Then, when I started to embrace Church tradition and authority, a true peace and contentment came over me and has stayed ever since. There is no more confusion or frustration because I now am under a true efficacious authority, I can rest in the assurance that as the one true apostolic church, that has existed since it's first pope; I can know the real truth and submit myself to Christ's true authority.

Anonymous said...

Protestants are fanatics. How else can you explain why they cling to a system that been proven false time and time again? Sure they believe they have the 'truth', but it's not the truth as revealed by the word of God. They are true belivers, that is fanatics. A fanatic doesn't have to believe in the truth, he just has to believe his idea, no matter how stupid, impossible, immoral it is is true. As Luther said, when he was questioned on adding alone to Rom1:17, "Dr Luther will have it so"! Talk about your "Bondage of the Will"!

Jae said...

A great analysis, thanks Matt.

Peace and Grace.