Monday, October 23, 2017


“… likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand… and it fell: and great was the fall of it.” (Matthew 7:26-27)

“Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it…” (Psalm 127:1)

This article has a lot to do with precedent.  Precedent can be a good thing or a very bad thing.  What is a “precedent”?  According to, it is:

“Any act, decision, or case that serves as a guide or justification for subsequent situations.”

The Merriam-Webster dictionary describes it as:

“Something done or said that may serve as an example or rule to authorize or justify a subsequent act of the same or an analogous kind.”

You get the picture.  What happens today will be the example, teaching, or law of tomorrow.  

But as you may know, some terrible things have developed in our world due to bad precedents.  For example, the Roe v. Wade decision to legalize abortion in 1973 was definitely an evil precedent.  Every Catholic knows this.  Another tragic example of a bad precedent is the reversing of our First Amendment right to freedom of religion in America.  It is a shame that some of our highest courts have betrayed us.  See this article:

But there is another bad precedent that we find within the Catholic Church, and it has to do with its teachings on the papacy (i.e., the office of the pope).  This precedent has disturbing implications for Catholics.  The truth is that there have been some forgeries of documents in history that have greatly affected the shape of the modern day papacy, and they have made it what it is today.  One of those forgeries is called the Pseudo-Isidorian Decretals, to which later were added other forgeries (the Donation of Constantine and the Liber Pontificalis).  These were later mixed with yet another forgery provided by a monk named John Gratian.  These, taken all together, came to be known as Gratian’s Decretum, which created a historical precedent, greatly influencing the Catholic teaching of “papal primacy.”  See this article for details:

Now, Catholics will admit that these documents we mentioned (and some others) were indeed forgeries.  But some Catholics will try to downplay the effects of these forgeries.  They’ll say yes, these were forgeries, but it’s not a big deal, since they didn’t have much of an influence or impact on the Catholic teaching on papal authority.  They’ll say that the earliest church taught this same thing, but in seed form, and that it just naturally “developed” into what we see in the papacy today.

But there are others who are painting a very different historical picture.  Please carefully read these accounts of Protestant, Orthodox, and Catholic historians, scholars, and theologians who have a different take on the influence that these forgeries had on the doctrine of the papacy...

Richard W. Thompson

Former teacher, lawyer, judge, and U.S. Secretary of the Navy, Richard W. Thompson (who was reported to be Catholic, but we have not been able to confirm this) in his study of Catholic forgeries and their influence on the papacy, observed:

“Such times as these were adapted to the practice of any kind of imposture and fraud which the popes and clergy considered necessary to strengthen the authority of the papacy… But they were unsuited to these times, in that they did not furnish a sufficient shelter for the corruption and imperialism of the popes, and did not sufficiently lay the foundation for their claim of dominion over the world.  Something more was necessary; and the means for supplying this were not wanting.  It consisted of the False Decretals, which are now universally considered to have been bold and unblushing forgeries.  Yet, forgeries as they were, they constitute the cornerstone of that enormous system of wrong and usurpation which has since been built up by the papacy…” (The Papacy and the Civil Power, Page 372 – emphasis added)

He further stated:

“… but all that he [Pope Innocent III] did was prompted by but one motive – that of raising the papacy above all the thrones and governments of earth.  This, with him, was an all-absorbing and controlling passion.  The canon law, founded, as it then stood, mainly upon the pseudo-Isidorian, Gregorian, and Gracian forgeries, had already been constructed and construed with this end in view; and, therefore, the personal interest, no less than the ambition of Innocent III., led him to preserve all these forgeries with care, so that, in the course of time, the ‘pious fraud’ might become sanctified by time, because perpetrated in the name of St. Peter!  The result he hoped and sought for has been accomplished.” (Ibid. page 419, emphasis added)

Philip Schaff (Protestant)

Well known historian and theologian, Philip Schaff, wrote:

“… and the later notorious Pseudo-Isidorian decretals.  The popes, to be sure, were not the original authors of these falsifications, but they used them freely and repeatedly for their own purposes.” (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Volume 2, page 288)

And also:

“… in the middle of the ninth century, a mysterious book made its appearance, which gave legal expression to the popular opinion of the papacy, raised and strengthened its power more than any other agency, and forms to a large extent the basis of the canon law of the church of Rome.  This is a collection of ecclesiastical laws under the false name of bishop Isidor of Seville… hence called the Pseudo-Isidorian Decretals’.” (Ibid., Volume 4, page 268, emphasis added)

Everett Ferguson (Protestant)

Author, scholar, historian, and Professor emeritus at Harvard, Everett Ferguson, writes concerning the Pseudo-Isidorian Decretals:

“There were other forgeries of a similar kind at this time, but this collection became the most influential forgery in the history of the Roman Catholic Church.  It became the basis of the claims for the papal monarchy in the later Middle Ages.” (Church History, Volume One: From Christ to the Pre-Reformation: The Rise and Growth of the Church in its Cultural, Intellectual, and Political Context – pages 379-380 – emphasis added)

And also:

“The Pseudo-Isidorian Decretals had been firmly woven into canon law by the eleventh century…” (Ibid. page 403 – emphasis added)

Aristeides Papadakis (Orthodox)

This Orthodox historian and Professor of Byzantine history writes:

“Although the Orthodox may not have known that
Gregorian teaching was in part drawn from the forged decretals of pseudo-Isidore (850’s), they were quite certain that it was not based on catholic tradition in either its historical or canonical form.” (The Christian East and the Rise of the Papacy, page 166)

Abbe Guette (Orthodox)

Former Catholic priest, Abbe (Rene-Francois) Guettee who converted to the Orthodox faith, wrote about the impact of the false decretals and the change they caused in the Catholic papacy in his book, The Papacy:

“The false decretals make as it were the dividing point between the Papacy of the first eight and that of the succeeding centuries.  At this date, the pretentions of the Popes begin to develop and take each day a more distinct character.”

See here:

[Note:  This was a major reason that the Eastern (Orthodox) Church split from the Western (Roman Catholic) Church in 1054 A.D.  According to Protestant historian William Webster, “The Eastern [Orthodox] Church never accepted the false claims of the Roman Church and refused to submit to its insistence that the Bishop of Rome was supreme ruler of the Church.  This they knew was not true to the historical record and was a perversion of the true teaching of Scripture, the papal exegesis of which was not taught by the Church fathers.”]

See here:

Paul Bede Johnson (Catholic)

Paul Johnson, author, journalist and church historian writes:

“Pseudo-Isidorian forgeries played a major role in the evolution of the related ‘Power of the Keys’ theory.” (A History of Christianity, emphasis added)  

See the online version here:

Richard McBrien (Catholic)

Catholic priest, professor of theology, scholar, and author, McBrien, says:

“The ‘Donation of Constantine’ was included in the False Decretals… and Gratian’s Decretals… compiled by the monk John Gratian.  By the middle of the fifteenth century, the document’s authenticity was questioned… but in the meantime this document and the other spurious sources exercised enormous influence on medieval thought.” (Lives of the Popes, page 58 – emphasis added)

Peter De Rosa (Catholic)

A former Catholic priest who had access to the Vatican’s library records, De Rosa had this to say in his book:

“… the documents forged in Rome at this time were systematized in the mid-1100s at Bologna by Gratian, a Benedictine monk.  His Decretum, or Code of Canon Law, was easily the most influential book ever written by a Catholic.  It was peppered with three centuries of forgeries and conclusions drawn from them, with his own fictional additions.  Of the 324 passages he quotes from popes of the first four centuries, only eleven are genuine.” (Vicars of Christ, The Dark Side of the Papacy, page 60 – emphasis added)

Concerning the “Index of Forbidden Books,” De Rosa writes:

“The forgeries which had contributed to creating the papal system, such as the Pseudo-Isidorian Decretals, the fabricated texts that fooled Gratian and Thomas Aquinas, were protected by the Index, at least until 1660 when a French scholar started telling the truth about them.  Naturally, he, too, was put on the Index.” (Ibid., page 174 – emphasis added)

And further:

“[Pope] Gregory [VII] went way beyond the Donation of Constantine.  He had a whole school of forgers under his very nose, turning out document after document, with the papal seal of approval, to cater for his every need… Many earlier documents were touched up to make them say the opposite of what they said originally.  Some of these earlier documents were themselves forgeries.  Hildebrand’s school treated all papers, forged or genuine, with a completely impartial dishonesty… This instant method of inventing history was marvellously successful, especially as the forgeries were at once inserted into canon law.  By innumerable subtle changes, they made Catholicism seem changeless.  They turned ‘today’ into ‘always was and always will be’, which even now, contrary to the findings of history, is the peculiar stamp of Catholicism.” (Ibid., page 59 – emphasis added)

Johann Joseph Ignaz von Dollinger (Catholic)

Outspoken Catholic priest, theologian, and church historian, von Dollinger was a brilliant and gifted speaker.  In his book on the papacy, he writes:

“But in the middle of that century – about 845 – arose the huge fabrication of the Isidorian decretals, which had results far beyond what its author contemplated, and gradually, but surely, changed the whole constitution and government of the church.  It would be difficult to find in all history a second instance of so successful, and yet so clumsy a forgery.” (The Pope and the Council, page 94 – emphasis added)

And also:

“But that the Pseudo-Isidorian principles eventually revolutionized the whole constitution of the Church, and introduced a new system in place of the old,-- on that point there can be no controversy among candid historians.” (Ibid. page 97-98 – emphasis added)

And further:

“The pseudo-Isidorian forgery of the middle of the ninth century has been already mentioned.  Rome, as we have seen, had no part in that, though she afterwards took full advantage of it for extending her power, the substance of these forgeries being incorporated into the canonical collections of the Gregorian party.” (Ibid. page 142 – emphasis added)

And again:

The most potent instrument of the new Papal system was Gratian’s Decretum… His work displaced all the older collections of canon law, and became the manual and repertory, not for canonists only, but for the scholastic theologians, who, for the most part, derived all their knowledge of Fathers and Councils from itNo book has ever come near it in its influence in the Church, although there is scarcely another so chokefull of gross errors, both intentional and unintentional. (Ibid. page 142-143 – emphasis added) 

And here:

“Up to the time of the Isidorian decretals no serious attempt was made anywhere to introduce the neo-Roman theory of Infallibility.  The popes did not dream of laying claim to such a privilege.  Their relation to the Church had to be fundamentally revolutionized, and the idea of the Primacy altered, before there could be any room for this doctrine to grow up; after that it developed itself by a sort of logical sequence, but very slowly, being at issue with notorious historical facts.” (Ibid. page 76-77 – emphasis added)

And this:

“For the first thousand years no pope ever issued a doctrinal decision intended for and addressed to the whole Church… They only became a standard of faith after being read, examined, and approved at an Ecumenical Council.” (Ibid. page 78)

And of Thomas Aquinas, von Dollinger wrote:

“St. Thomas, who knew no Greek, and, being educated in the Gregorian system, derived all his knowledge of ecclesiastical antiquity from Gratian, found himself at once in possession of this treasure of most weighty testimonies from the early centuries, which left no doubt in his mind that the great Councils and most influential bishops and theologians of the fourth and fifth centuries had recognized in the Pope an infallible monarch, who ruled the whole Church with absolute power.  He therefore did what the scholastics had never done before: he introduced the doctrine of the Pope and his infallibility, as he got it from these spurious passages, and often in the same words, into the dogmatic system of the Schola, - a step the gravity and momentous results of which can hardly be exaggerated.” (Ibid. page 265-266 – emphasis added)


In all these quotes from historians, scholars, theologians, priests and teachers, there is a common thread - and it is that these forgeries have greatly affected the evolution of the papacy.  

Much, much more can be said about individual popes and the wicked and corrupt lifestyles that some lived, and their power-hungry endeavors.  But that is not the purpose of this article.  Our purpose here is not to expose individual popes, but rather to demonstrate the effects and the impact that these forgeries had on the papacy.  And these forgeries have indeed caused the worldwide church’s view of Catholicism in general (and the papacy, in particular), to be far too exalted.  But the modern day concept of the papacy is not supported by Scripture, and now we can see that history is not on their side, either.

With all the Catholic talk about Peter being the solid “foundation” of the church and its “rock,” the papacy is actually built upon years of forgeries and lies; it is built upon a foundation of sand. (Matthew 7:24-27)


  1. >In all these quotes from historians, scholars, theologians, priests and teachers, there is a common thread - and it is that these forgeries have greatly affected the evolution of the papacy.

    You believe everything but the Bible. See Matt 16:18-19; John 21:15-17

  2. De Maria, what a rebuttal! You haven't touched anything at all that Russell posted because you know that you can't.

    1. Zipper778,

      This article might be useful for you to read:

  3. At best, these quotes argue that the papacy grew more powerful as a result of the forgeries. The quotes don't undermine the concept of the papacy itself.

    1. Everybodysdaughter,

      These forgeries have indeed contributed to the growth of the papacy and made it what it is today. But what actually undermines the concept of the papacy itself is the fact that it is an unscriptural concept… there IS no papacy in the New Testament. THAT is the most damaging argument.

    2. To say that there is no papacy in the NT is to imply that the Church does not even attempt to use Scripture to support the papacy. But that's not the case -- it does. So wouldn't it be more accurate to say that you disagree with the Catholic interpretations of Scripture regarding the papacy? After all, the Catholic Church does make arguments for the papacy from Scripture.

    3. Hello Everybodysdaughter,

      You said:

      “To say that there is no papacy in the NT is to imply that the Church does not even attempt to use Scripture to support the papacy.”

      No, we’re not implying that at all. We are well aware that the Catholic Church attempts to support the concept of the papacy with Scripture. What we ARE implying is that the Catholic Church fails miserably in attempting to do so. Nowhere, in all the New Testament, do we see the teaching of a single human leader over the whole church. The apostle Paul lists the offices and functions found within the New Testament church in Ephesians 4, and how they should qualify for their positions in 1 Timothy chapters 3 and 5, and Titus chapter 1, and there is no “pope” or “Supreme Pontiff” listed (or anything close to that). Attempting to use Matthew 16 as proof (which they always do) does not work either. We have a series of articles on this, which can be found here:

    4. Jesus was/is a single human leader over the whole Church. I liken the relationship between Jesus and the pope to Aragorn and Denethor in the Lord of the Rings (Denethor's role as steward, a placeholder for the return of the king).

      Anyway, even if you don't agree, I think it is reasonable to say that you don't have any authority to impose your interpretation of Scripture on me. But don't feel bad, because I don't have any authority to impose my interpretation on you. So where does that leave us?

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Everybodysdaughter,

    When I had said a single human leader, I meant a single MERELY HUMAN leader. And of course, Jesus is not merely human, but also divine. That’s why only HE can be the head of the church.

    You said that neither of us can impose his interpretation on the other, so you ask, “Where does that leave us?” That’s a good question that none of us should take lightly. Just because we disagree, that doesn’t mean that it is an impossible stalemate where we are left hopelessly hanging. It is God’s desire that we understand His Scripture. After all, it is called “divine revelation” for a reason. That means that He is trying to REVEAL it to each and every one of us.

    And since it is God’s word to us, we should first and foremost approach the Bible humbly, respectfully, and prayerfully. Our interpretation of any passage should consider the immediate context of that passage, but it should also be consistent with the rest of Scripture. And of course, we need to use basic hermeneutic principles. But I think we often overlook one important aspect… common sense. The proper biblical interpretation to embrace is the one that is most reasonable.

    So, is it reasonable to say that there is a papacy in the New Testament when there is no such office mentioned or described therein (even though other ecclesiastical offices ARE mentioned and described by an inspired apostle)?

    Is it reasonable to say that there is a single (merely) human leader over the whole church, when there is no such concept mentioned in the New Testament? Should not something this important be very clear and very obvious in Scripture?

    1. I can see that there is a deeper difference between us. What I mean is this: I don't believe that every Christian idea must be founded in Scripture, and you do. I believe that Sacred Tradition can and does inform us as to correct Christian dogma and other matters. Scripture says, "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work." To me, this doesn't tell us which letters are Scripture, and it doesn't say that all Christian dogma must be founded on Scripture. After all, other things can and are used by God to equip us for every good work--a good family upbringing, learning how to read and communicate, and learning how to get along with others, for example.

      My belief is that the Church precedes, upholds, and safeguards Scripture. A “me and my Bible” approach requires me to discern what God ordained as orthodoxy. This sounds unmerciful to me. It is a similar problem as to this one: “Who decides the canon?” For example, did you read all 27 books of the NT, as well as all of the other letters that were circulating in the early Church, and decide for yourself which are inspired by the Holy Spirit? I did not, nor did I read the seven books of the Deuterocanon and decide for myself that they were Scripture when I converted. Does that make me a bad Christian? Perhaps you did the 27 books and the other letters and discerned which were Scripture, but not everybody can do that, and I do not believe God requires it. This is because God in his mercy gave us an earthly authority that we can rely upon in many matters. That is what makes sense to me. That is what sounds merciful to me.

      I realize that this doesn't specifically address your questions but I do think it addresses what lies under them. Let me know what you think.

    2. Hello everybodysdaughter,

      Please pay me a visit:

    3. Jesse, is there anything in particular you would like me to respond to?

    4. Nothing in particular. Anything of your choice.

    5. Jesse, because of the colors, your blog is hard to read. It's not the sort of blog I would normally spend time on for that reason. If there is something in particular you'd like me to read and respond to, I will. Otherwise, I'm going to pass.


  6. Everybodysdaughter,

    I don’t want us to get too far off topic, but I do want to thank you for the cordial and thoughtful dialogue.

    You are accurately describing our dilemma in this discussion – the fact that our differences come down to interpreting our authorities. You feel that the “me and my Bible” approach doesn’t seem to be a “merciful” way of finding truth from a loving God. You want to have more certainty than the “me and my Bible” approach provides. But please read this excerpt from a previous article that I did in July 2014 on Private Interpretation:

    Start quote:

    One way that the Catholic thinks that he can get around the “problems” of fallible interpretations and lack of certainty is by first finding the “True Church” (which, of course, he’ll say is the Catholic Church). But how do we determine that they are the true church? He’ll tell us that we must first find it through a study of Scripture, church history, Sacred Tradition, and the church fathers, and this will lead us to an infallible Church who will then be able to tell us correctly what Scripture means. At this point, we can then rest and never have to worry about our certainty in interpretation any more.

    But if you can understand Scripture well enough to “verify” a papal office and its claims of infallibility, and if you can interpret this never-clearly-defined “Sacred Tradition”, and if you can interpret the multi-faceted history of the church, and if you can interpret the teachings of the church fathers (whose language is often harder to understand than the Bible), and if you can piece all of this together to find the “One True Church”… then why couldn’t you just simply interpret the Bible outright? Ironically, the Catholic Church can’t seem to trust you to interpret the Bible by itself, yet it expects you to be able to go through the long and complicated process above. But where is the certainty that they so desperately desire in all of this process? The fact is, in this case the level of certainty is lowered!

    End Quote

    So, I have to ask, why is it “less merciful” to use a “me and my Bible” approach than to use a “me and my Bible - and my Tradition - and my church fathers - and my church history” approach when some of these contradict each other? Not to mention, they ALL have to be interpreted by us fallible people.

  7. I also appreciate the thoughtful dialog, Russell.

    Let me begin by saying that I don’t believe that a “me and my Bible” approach automatically means that truth cannot be found from a loving God. I just don’t believe it is the best way, nor do I believe it is the way God himself intended. For one thing, it strikes me as highly individualistic and therefore prone to error.

    You asked:

    “…why is it ‘less merciful’ to use a ‘me and my Bible’ approach than to use a ‘me and my Bible - and my Tradition - and my church fathers - and my church history’ approach when some of these contradict each other? Not to mention, they ALL have to be interpreted by us fallible people.”

    I think there are a couple ways to approach this. One is the idea of triangulation. When there are multiple reference points from different sources that point in a certain direction, then this would be a better way to determine that direction than using a single reference point. As to any contradictions… well this just brings us back to the problem we addressed above regarding individual interpretations, I believe.

    But, more significantly to me at least, the “me and my Bible” approach does rely on at least one of those points above—Sacred Tradition—much more than its adherents appear to realize. And it relies on Sacred Tradition in a foundational sense, not in a superficial sense. I wouldn’t have a Bible nor would I know which books constituted it without Sacred Tradition. If we are required to exercise absolute private judgment, does God require us as individual Christians to read and discern which books are inspired by the Holy Spirit? It seems logical that he would, if we do have an absolute right to private judgment, because rights confer duties. I asked the book-discernment question above, and it wasn’t rhetorical. If you believe in an absolute right to private judgment yet did not read each NT book, as well as the other letters circulating during the early Church, and discern which are Scripture, why not? Thus, it appears to me that people who rely on the “me and my Bible” approach do not appreciate that they would not have a Bible but for Sacred Tradition. They also wouldn’t have important vocabulary words (ie, Trinity, Incarnation), nor would they have mutually shared days of worship (Sunday) or mutually shared holy days (ie, Christmas, Easter).

    I believe the “me and my Bible” approach doesn’t reflect God’s intentions and this is why it reveals less of God’s mercy. It also appears less honest and less grateful (which is completely inadvertent in most cases, I am sure) because it does not acknowledge the role of Sacred Tradition as I believe it should as a matter of justice.

    1. Everybodysdaughter,

      Please try this article on private interpretation:

  8. Hello again Everybodysdaughter,

    From this last post of yours, I just want to cover a few major points:

    First, you said that the “me and my Bible” approach “strikes me as highly individualistic and therefore prone to error.”

    But when you decided to accept the Catholic Church as your “infallible” source of truth, you, yourself, were necessarily excercising a highly individualistic (and fallible) decision to embrace THEIR teachings and interpretations. No one held a gun to your head and forced you (at least I hope not). Every human being must ultimately make this choice for himself. It doesn’t matter if a billion people now agree with you and you felt that there was safety in large numbers (or whatever), it is still an INDIVIDUAL choice.

    We are fallible and, theoretically, always prone to error. But whether it is a right choice or a wrong choice, it is still your individual choice to trust THEIR interpretations.

    So, this common “rugged individualistic Protestant” argument that Catholics often use against us does not hold water. We ALL have to make a choice as to who our infallible source (if any) will be.

    Second, concerning contradictions between those sources (Church history, Sacred Tradition, Scripture and the early church fathers), you said that it just comes back to the problem of individual interpretations. Everybodysdaughter, do you really want to suggest that we actually cannot know when a contradiction exists, unless we have an infallible source telling us? Is that what you’re saying? I think that (again) common sense and reason is sufficient to help us detect a contradiction between two arguments. And contradiction and lack of consistency between the above-mentioned sources abounds.

    Third, you mentioned the canon in your January 4 post above, and again alluded to it in this latest post when you said:

    “And it relies on Sacred Tradition in a foundational sense, not in a superficial sense. I wouldn’t have a Bible nor would I know which books constituted it without Sacred Tradition.”

    I want to point out that you (inadvertently, I’m sure) fell victim to the exact point that I was stressing in my article titled, “Using the Canon as a Smokescreen” (December 2017), when you brought up the canon issue on January 4, there, and again here. In the comments section of the “Smokescreen” article, you made a comment and agreed with me that it was a poor argument for someone to point to another’s limited knowledge of the canon and then deflect their interpretation of Scripture (when the canon was not the original topic at hand). You said that you had never seen a Catholic make that particular claim (January 2018 comment on the “Smokescreen” article), but it happens often, as you just did.

    Fourth, you said:

    “If you believe in an absolute right to private judgment yet did not read each NT book, as well as the other letters circulating during the early Church, and discern which are Scripture, why not?”

    Because someone else did it for me. Some early church members discerned and recognized the God-breathed attributes of the canonical books, and didn’t recognize it in the non-canonical ones.

    But before you say, “Aha! That was the Catholic Church!”, I would challenge the idea that those early believers who recognized the inspired Scriptures were part of that same modern institution that we call the Catholic Church. See this article:

    See also these links on private interpretation and certainty:

    1. Russell,

      Thank you for hosting this exchange on your blog. Since I am totally confident that we could continue going round and round for a very long time, I propose that this be my final installment here. Then, since you are the host, you write the final installment by responding to what I say below. What do you think about that? As I said, I know we could go on and on, but several rounds, such as we have had, should be sufficient to explain our views it seems to me.

      Also, Jesse: I think a lot of what I say here will apply to the post you asked me to read, which I briefly skimmed a little while ago. After I post this, I will respond to your post. It will probably be a lot of copy paste since the arguments appear to be the same.

      Russell, I will respond to each of your points by referring to each in numerical order, summarizing it, then responding to it.

      Point One: Catholics (Hypocritically) Exercise Private Judgment

      It is accurate to say that I made a private judgment regarding the claims of the Catholic Church. After that, I surrendered it. I do not continue to exercise it on individual doctrines, because I believe that the Church is Christ’s bride, and whoever hears her hears him.

      I may be mistaken, but it seems that private judgment means something a little different to Protestants? The Catholic surrenders his private judgment once he becomes Catholic, because God only teaches one truth and the Church is his authority on earth to teach it. I am not certain this is the case with Protestants. I say this because of the different Protestant faith communities that exist. Aren’t they all continuing to exercise private judgment on various matters? I’ve heard of churches splitting over non-doctrinal issues. Wouldn’t they claim they were exercising private judgment? At what point do we surrender our private judgment?

      I am completely convinced that God’s mercy is better revealed in and by the Catholic Church than the alternatives. So yes, that is my private judgment on the matter. I don’t think Catholics are being hypocritical to “call out” Protestants for their (seemingly inordinate) use of private judgment, but they might need to do a better job explaining it? It just doesn’t seem like we are talking about exactly the same thing.

      Point Two: Knowing Contradictions

      Actually, yes, that is what I intended to say. What you understand as a contradiction might not be so to the Church. Or then again, it might be, but it might not be material. This appears to go to the first point above, and it suggests that yes, we are talking about different things when each of us uses the phrase, “private judgment.”

      Now, having said that, let me take an example from the book of Acts to support the idea that Christians need, and actually do have, a final human authority to resolve disputes or contradictions, and that private judgment ends with that authority, not with the Scriptures.

      Certain Christians believed that people needed to be circumcised in order to become Christians. Others responded by saying that circumcision was not necessary. Debate ensued. Those who believed in the necessity of circumcision undoubtedly had clear Scripture verses on their side. But what happened? A council was convened, and more debate ensued. Ultimately, the council decided that circumcision was unnecessary. After making their non-scripturally based arguments, they cited one rather weak verse to support their position, a verse that does not even mention circumcision. Those who favored circumcision had to make a private judgment: either comply with the council, or with their own view of the Scriptures.
      Given what I know of debates today between Catholics and Protestants, I find this circumstance quite convincing for the Catholic position. Debates today rage on and on over this or that doctrine, and victory is claimed on the strength of the verses presented. Not so in Acts 15. The issue of circumcision was decided by human authority with weak Biblical support.


    2. Point Three: Canon as a Smokescreen, Revisited

      This is a cart/horse issue.

      I believe your argument in the OP is valid if there is not an absolute right to private judgment. I believe it is invalid if there is an absolute right to private judgment, since rights confer duties and obligations. If there is an absolute right to private judgment, then there is a duty and obligation to exercise that right across all domains for which it covers.

      In the OP you said, “One does not have to know the authors, the original languages, or the full canon of Scripture in order to sufficiently understand and gain useful information from it.” I still agree with this, and I conceded that a “me and my Bible” approach does not automatically mean that truth cannot be found from a loving God. So in my first comment here, I took your argument without considering your views on an absolute right to private judgment; I took in a Catholic sense, that there is no absolute right to private judgment (that’s why I said it was a cart/horse issue—we hadn’t discussed private judgment yet). So while I agree that we do not need to know the authors of the books of the canon, when the books were written, the history of how they were canonized, etc., it seems inconsistent to believe in an absolute right to private judgment when such judgment does not extend to the canon itself.

      Point Four: Why Didn’t You Personally Discern the Canon?

      My point is that there was a human authority, a magisterium working with tradition, that decided the canon. I don’t have to say “It was the Catholic Church” to make my point. I apologize for not reading your links. I just don't have time to do so.

      Thanks again, Russell. I will read your reply but I don't plan on responding to it for the reason I mentioned above. If I do decide to respond, I will email you first to see what you think. Take care.


  9. Everybodysdaughter,

    I want to thank you once again for the polite and very thoughtful discussion. Please forgive the delay; I've been pretty busy.

    Ok, Point 1 and Private Judgment. I think that the main problem here is that we DO have different definitions of “private interpretation / judgment.” A private judgment is simply a person’s view or interpretation of something (like Scripture), whether it is right OR wrong. It is how one interprets. As I mention in the “Private Interpretation” article (linked above), the Bible mentions the concept of private interpretation only once (2 Peter 1:20), and Peter is in no way “warning” against it! In fact, if you look at the context, you will see that this passage is actually an encouragement about the truthfulness and reliability of Scripture, telling us that what God gave the inspired prophets was not of human origin (i.e., “private,” or from themselves), but divine.

    ALL forms of communication (whether verbal, written, smoke signals, etc.) need to be interpreted. And everything we interpret is a private judgment. So, Catholics need to stop treating the term “private interpretation / judgment” as something that is “wrong,” or something that is “against the Church.”

    You said that the Catholic “surrenders” his private judgment once he becomes Catholic. That is not true, because you still make judgments / interpretations of every form of communication (including Catholic teaching). You may be surrendering your WILL to the Catholic Church by accepting everything they say, but you’re still judging and interpreting what they say. You asked, “At what point do we surrender our private judgment?” The truth is, we DON’T! No one does. Whether one agrees with the Catholic Church or disagrees, he is still judging and interpreting its message. There is no escaping private interpretation for any of us.

    Concerning Point 2 and contradictions, you seem to be saying that since the Catholic Church is “infallible,” there ARE no such things as “contradictions” within Catholicism, EVEN IF they seem to be blatantly obvious. Well, I guess that settles it for you guys, but I’m not buying that for a minute. Common sense says otherwise.

    You then claimed that the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15) was decided by human authority with “weak biblical support.”

    As far as the “weak” biblical support, I’m assuming that you are referring to Acts 15:15-18, which “does not even mention circumcision.” No, it doesn’t, but the apostle James is quoting Amos 9:11-12, which is emphasizing the allowing of Gentiles into the kingdom, and a de-emphasis on Jewish ceremonial laws (like circumcision). Other Old Testament biblical support would include passages like Leviticus 26:41, Deuteronomy 10:16, 30:6, Jeremiah 4:4 and 9:25, which all speak of the circumcision of the HEART. These are all pointing out that this is what matters to God, rather than physical circumcision. The apostles recognized this and determined that this is the will and intention of God for the church; not just the physical cutting of the flesh, but the (spiritual) circumcision of the heart.

    Also, the apostles were well aware of Abraham’s example in Genesis 15:6, where God reckoned Abraham as righteous through his faith BEFORE he was ever circumcised (Genesis 17:10).

    So, the apostles’ decision in Acts 15 was indeed based on Scripture.

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  11. (Part 2 of 2)

    Concerning Point 3, you said:

    “… it seems inconsistent to believe in an absolute right to private judgment when such judgment does not extend to the canon itself.”

    Given the definition of “private judgment” I just presented above, how does this right to private judgment NOT extend to the canon? We use our fallible judgment to study the facts and evidence surrounding the formation of the canon and come to a conclusion. It seems that you’re implying that Protestants are claiming infallibility in our “absolute private judgment,” and therefore, we should also have infallible certainty on the canon, as well. But this is not the case. It is a misunderstanding of private judgment.

    Concerning Point 4, you said:

    “My point is that there was a human authority, a magisterium working with tradition, that decided the canon.”

    No, it was God that infallibly DECIDED the canon. And over a period of time, certain Christians came to a consensus and simply RECOGNIZED the canon of inspired books. And when you bring up “Traditon,” this opens up a can of worms, since no one seems to be able to define it in a meaningful way. See this link:

    Ok, Everbodysdaughter, I hope this clears up any confusion. And again, thank you for the discussion. Feel free to comment again here or to email me.

    In His Name,

  12. Everybodysdaughter,

    "How do you know you have the correct canon?"

    Extra-biblical oral tradition, doctrinal/historical consistency of canonical writings, authorship, and date of the canonical books.

    "How do you know that Christ’s divinity is the correct interpretation of Scripture?"

    The resurrection of Christ? His sinlessness? The virgin birth? The infinite atoning power of our Lord Jesus Christ's once-for-all sacrifice? What about fulfilled prophecy? His miracles? The fact that Christ is not a created being? Are these not sufficient proof of Him being God?

    Can you tell me how you know that the pope is infallible?

  13. Everybodysdaughter,

    Well, there is no reason to rehash all the debates which occurred in the early Church over the extent of the canon (which were relatively few for the most part). The primitive Christians did not determine the canon of Scripture, but rather, simply recognized which books were inspired by God.

    Your argument on private interpretation of Scripture has become very absurd. It undermines us even having a discussion over our doctrinal differences. It violates the overall integrity of Scripture. It presumes that Scripture cannot be understood by the common reader (which is a notion contradicted by Scripture itself). It is a form of infinite regression. How does a person reach the conclusion that the Roman Catholic Magisterium is infallible? Who gets to infallibly interpret the words of the pope if some people have disagreements as to what he meant when speaking ex-cathedra? The bottom line of this matter is that we all have to fallibly interpret the data presented before making any given decision.