The Catholic and Protestant authority paradigms compared

The Council of Trent

The Magisterium of Church, assembled at the Council of Trent.

In line with my recent posts discussing Protestant and Catholic conceptions of authority, here is a really splendid post on Called to Communion, exploring the topic in more depth and greater theological and philosophical acuity than I could hope to: “The Catholic and Protestant Authority Paradigms Compared.” It’s piercing, astute, and thought-provoking, as Called to Communion always is. My blog is the little kid that wants to grow up to someday be like Called to Communion.

The bottom line is that by placing a book, rather than a divinely authorized living authority, at the center of his epistemic paradigm, the Protestant not only must use his fallible human reason to arrive at the locus of divine authority and to ask clarifying questions regarding the content of divine revelation, as the Catholic also must do. He must continue the use of fallible reason to construct the clarifying answers to the questions he asks. But as I explained above, fallible human reason has neither the authority, nor the competency to supply such answers.

3 thoughts on “The Catholic and Protestant authority paradigms compared

  1. I enjoyed the read, and wow, what an author. Though long, it was quite easy to comprehend, which is not an easy thing to achieve.

    That said, I don’t agree with the reasoning, for the same reason Protestants haven’t agreed with it for 500 years. Stamper claims that the reason the Magisterium is more authoritative is because it is infallible–once it makes a decision, that decision is forever locked as the only decision and can be trusted to be such. But the Magisterium is only infallible because it says it is. And whether Stamper likes it or not, all of the human reason that the Magisterium uses is the same human reason that Protestants use–the difference being, again, the Magisterium has decided that its decisions are right and others wrong, that it is divinely appointed and others are not; a decision which came from human reason.

    If that makes sense at all.

    • It does make sense. I haven’t read any of the arguments he’s responding to; this one, by Michael Horton, is the one everybody on CtC keeps referencing — perhaps I should get both sides of the argument? He is the same guy who wrote the Calvinism book I reviewed a few months ago. But I as I understand it, the tu quoque argument Stamper is referring to is basically that the Catholic approach is no better than the Protestant approach. It’s the same argument that White made in the book I’m reading, that choosing to follow the Catholic Church because it’s infallible is still a fallible decision and therefore is exactly the same. I think Stamper did demonstrate that it’s not exactly the same — that it is a different epistemic approach.

      It seems to be a common charge (White made it and Horton made it) that people convert to Catholicism out of “a desire to surrender responsibility for interpreting Scripture in exchange for the infallible certainty of an earthly teacher.” I guess in some sense he is right. As I’ve written before, I was very weary of being asked to make decisions about faith and doctrine that seemed completely beyond me as a fallible human being, and feeling lost in all the confusion of conflicting voices each arguing that their interpretation was the right one, and each seeming to have a reasonable case in some way. What I was longing for was peace and order more than freedom from responsibility. Now that I think about it, it doesn’t really seem the situation that Jesus had in mind He promised that the Holy Spirit would “guide us into all truth.” It is much easier for me to believe that He intended the relative peace and calm of an authoritative Church, as the Church had been for its first 1,500 years and as the Catholic Church continues to be. That’s not a logical argument, but I’m not always a logical person. Sanity is a premium, and I’ve found so much more of it here.

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