Friday, January 30, 2009

Why do you have Faith in the Church?

Fixed two broken links to Kepha

When I've allowed myself the time to visit with Mormon (Later Day Saints) missionaries part of their approach is always "Read the 'Book of Mormon' and you will know the truth of it in your heart." I usually don't get much further than that with them, because I launch into "the truth is just what I feel?" etc.. I firmly reject the idea that I personally have the ability to figure out what is, or isn't true based on how I feel. I also do not believe that I am, or ever will be spiritual enough for God to infuse me with His spirit so I can interpret scriptures and know the truth. I believe that my faith in God, in Jesus, in the Resurection, the Virgin Birth, the Immaculate Conception and Papal Infallibility is not and can not be based only on my personal feeling.

Unfortunately I have been reading too many blogs. There are a lot of people out there who are trying to figure out the Truth about the Catholic Church. On Fides Quaerens Intellectum one of the contributors is a Catholic Theology student trying to find a rational foundation for his faith - right now it looks very possible he could lose his faith. Kepha's blog contains a pile of incredibly useful arguments and debates between Theology students from diverse view points. On another blog Almost There Stacey is a non-Catholic, married to a Catholic who is drawing close to the faith, although not at the high altitude level of Kepha and his bunch, Stacey is struggling with the same discussions. Yet another blogger the InternetMonk is a Southern Baptist Minister whose wife is in RCIA. IMonk is not going to become Catholic, but he has spent much of the last year struggling with similar questions to Kepha and Stacey.

Following all of these stories over the last year has forced me to examine my own faith. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not doubting my faith, or going anywhere. My interest is in understanding why some very intelligent and relatively open minded people fail to find faith in the Catholic Church, and why some well informed people lose their faith. Also, I examine and try to understand what it was that tipped the scales for me. I'd like to be able to tip the scales for someone else.

When I look back on my own 'conversion' to orthodox Catholicism I find that I am pretty similar to Stacey and Kepha. I read and studied about all the claims and teachings of the Church. I started out inclined to listen to the dissenters, but eventually became convinced by the defenders of the faith. I became convinced, and am even more convinced now, of the truth of the Catholic Church. But has my conviction grown out of the irrefutable superiority of the Catholic position? No, it hasn't. My faith rests on something less, and at the same time something more than logic and scholarship.

I am not a skilled or well informed Theologian and I am not particularly inclined to extremely systematic research. Kepha and IMonk provide very thorough, and sophisticated debates. One thing is clear to me, there is no argument for the Catholic Church that can overcome every objection. A key quote from a post on Kepha's blog:

Catholics, not excluding learned ones, are far more disposed to seek modern consensus as a sign of primitive authenticity, than they are to seek in primitive authenticity a ground for modern consensus. This will appear as either a vicious circle or a begging of the question unless it be viewed in the full light of all that the Church means to the Catholic, a light that is neither wholly nor principally the light of natural reason. Thus Newman in 1837: “How hopeless then it is to contend with Romanists, as if they practically agreed with us as to the foundation of faith, however much they pretend to it! Ours is Antiquity, theirs the existing Church.” And thus Newman in 1874: “For myself, I would simply confess that no doctrine of the Church can be rigorously proved by historical evidence: but at the same time that no doctrine can be simply disproved by it.”

The context of that quote is towards the end of a long, deep discussion of the dogma of the Assumption and the application and understanding of Newman's theory of doctrinal development. Soon after Kepha expressed his frustration with the logical foundation of the Church's claims in this dialogue demonstrating what is referred to as "Catholic Presuppositionalism":

  • Rome: I’m the one true Church.
  • Paul: How do I know this?
  • Rome: Because I’m telling you.
  • Paul: You realize that Orthodoxy claim this as well?
  • Rome: Yes, but they’re not.
  • Paul: How do I know that?
  • Rome: Because I’m telling you.
  • [Paul begins looking through some books.]
  • Rome: What are you doing??
  • Paul: You apparently think much of yourself, so I’m searching and testing your claims according to the Tradition.
  • Rome: That’s a rationalist approach! You can’t expect there to be proof for my claims.
  • Paul: Are you saying there is no proof?
  • Rome: I am the proof!
  • Paul: I understand you believe that, and that is why I want to see what others have said about you, as well as what you have previously said about yourself.
  • Rome: You tacitly assume that the content of Tradition can be fully and reliably identified independently of what I tell you.

Similar issues arise in both of the other blogs I have mentioned. The number of times IMonk has accused me and other Catholic commentors of "presupposition" lead to a series of inside jokes.

After all this, I am forced to admit that my belief in the Fullness of the Truth proclaimed by the Catholic Church is based on more than mere logic. My faith is not weakened in the least, but I have to ask "Am I Catholic only because it FEELS true to me?"

Now I'd like my friends in the Blogosphere (all three of them?) to answer that question also That means you too Jason.


  1. It seems to philisophical to debate the origins of faith, "For those who believe no proof is necessary and for those who do not believe no proof is sufficient" I would say rather in the case of the people you cite that they want absolute proof which would defy faith. Are we scientists proving gravity? My belief in the correctness of the church is based in my realization I don't know everything and therefore must trust that Jesus's promise that the Gate's of hell will not prevail against his church is true.

  2. I get really excited when my blog is referenced!

    For me, the proof is in the pudding. No one argument will ever convince anybody, as you have noticed, and it didn't convince me either. So I try as best I can to follow Christ's advice and test a tree by its fruit. The Protestantism that I've experienced was heinous in mangling Scriptures to their own end. The fruit that I found there was self-glorifying (pastor veneration, personal interpretations, bend the system to say whatever you do is okay), the opposite of what God asks us to be. In investigating the roots of the Reformation, I find the same thing there: self reliance and self glorification. In Catholicism, I find the same call as Christ's: "give up your self and follow me".

    People have said that I never experienced "true" Protestantism, and those same people experienced Catholicism with bad fruit, so to speak. It's a bit of a conundrum, but what I've come up with is this: The bad fruit that they've experienced (dead faith and molesting priests) is due to faithless individuals in the Church, and the bad fruit that I experienced in Protestantism is due to a corrupt system itself.

  3. As Fr. John Corapi says...the state of grace we are in determines what we receive. Going to confession once a week but not getting the point of Jesus' teachings does not mean we are open to the grace of Faith. We can't give what we don't have.

    You mentioned that you don't have the Holy Spirit leading you to understand theology. Your Faith *is* from the Holy Spirit. I think I will join with you today in thanking the Holy Spirit for allowing you to see and to hear.

    In just about any area of life, if we reason too much, we lose our reason. Many people think I'm "indoctrinated" by Rome but nothing could be farther from the truth. I am not a cradle Catholic. Why am I Catholic and why do I believe the teachings? In my particular case, it is as clear as a bell that I was taken by the hand by the Holy Spirit from the age of 3 and led here.

    As for dissenting and dissenters...pride gets in the way of everything. As the root of all sin, it's a shame not more people really study this all encompassing sin of pride. One cannot be open to the graces of understanding if one is caught up in the *I*.

  4. May I answer?

    "Am I Catholic only because it FEELS true to me?"

    I can definitively say no. In my own spiritual life what I feel and what I believe are in contradiction. I will to believe, I feel nothing, or only a sense of dread. I pray that I might have a feeling of faith, but I seldom experience it, except on rare occasions when what I feel can be intense enough to hurt.


  5. Stacey: "The bad fruit that they've experienced (dead faith and molesting priests) is due to faithless individuals in the Church, and the bad fruit that I experienced in Protestantism is due to a corrupt system itself."

    I like that! I like pretty much everything said here. I'm going to keep it short tonight, and either write a longer comment, or another post tomorrow.

    For me, I don't always feel like believing what the Church teaches, and it doesn't always feel right or true. As memoriadei said, at some point I started making the decision to trust the Church more than I trust my own judgment, and I keep making that decision - it gets easier. Before that I was drawn into the Church - black hole event horizon? - by grace that I didn't have much to do with.

    You know, it is amazing how much all the comments really hit the same thing: I gave up thinking I was smart enough to figure it out.

    The one aspect that I think we haven't given much attention to is prayer - out of the humility that each of you described in different ways, I need to be in prayer.


  6. I'm a bit seems that you're tackling too many issues here, which isn't surprising; Southern Baptists (bless their hearts!) are notorious for throwing a bunch of stuff in that muddles the water, rather than actually dialoguing one point at a time.

    When it comes to our Faith, the first thing to realize is that Faith is a Supernatural gift. Period. But, it's also an act of the will. Sometimes it's hard to believe, especially if we're looking for scientific answers. But we see this also in Science itself; take many of the theories that they consider to be "fact" just because they choose to believe it. In some cases, they may be right, in other cases, they're wrong.

    We have to realize that we have natural reason, and in philosophy, Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, they all tried to reach the limits of natural reason, and came to the conclusion that there MUST be a creator, although they misunderstood the meaning of God and who He Is. That's where the supernatural gift of faith comes in.

    We know that the Church is the One True Church, and contains the fullness of the faith both through reason and through the gift of faith. It is our willful faith that causes us to seek the Truth, and seek the answers to our questions.

    It is not that the Church cannot answer questions; in reality, she's answered ALL of them. It is not her fault that all of her children can't speak to these truths, and it's not an argument to state that just because an individual or series of individuals can't answer a southern baptist's question that it's unanswerable.

    Such a statement comes from laziness.

    Myself, I don't believe the Church is the one true Church because it "feels good". In fact, it DOESN'T feel good to realize that I'm not measuring up to the Commandments. But I can read scripture, and I can trust in the promises Our Lord gave to His Apostles, and I can trust in the authority He clearly gave to them, and which they've passed on.

    The Church herself is a sign of credibility; 2,000 years of people trying to wreck her from within, and she has not fallen. 2,000 years of heresies, which are still alive and well, and which divide against themselves...each falling in turn to be raised up in the same way. Each protestant community believing something different, having no central council, no authority but oneself, down to every last person.

    It's logical to look at the Church and the fact that her teachings on faith and morals have no changed in 2,000 years, no matter what has happened. There MUST therefore, be Truth there. And it's logical to look at all the protestant communities and realize that certainly they contain SOME Truth...but they fall apart and disagree at an alarming rate. There's no stability there; they must not have THE Truth in all it's fullness.

    Don't get me wrong; I love our separated bretheren, but my desire is for unity, which means ultimately, they need to see the Truth of the Catholic Faith for what it is; their Home. And if that offends them, so what? It offends me that they are separated from the Mystical Body of Christ! Their separation wounds us all!

    OK< went off on a tangent there, will stop now.

    Really should be studying....

    *walking off complaining about bad Catholic scholars who have done MUCH to damage what people THINK the Church teaches...! *

  7. FYI ~ My closing "comment" was directed towards my homework, an article by Manuel Miguens that completely decimates Raymond Brown's take in the Infancy Narratives. Conservative Protestant biblical scholars are far more in line with Catholic teaching than the popular "Catholic" exegetes in our day and age!

  8. Adoro, do yoou by any change have a link to the article my Miguens?

  9. Adoro

    Thanks so much for commenting! I agree with you that my post takes on way too many things. But you maybe do a better job than I of getting the central point: "...Faith is a Supernatural gift. Period. But, it's also an act of the will. "

    Following the debate amidst all variety of Protestant blogs for the past 2 years or so, it has become painfully obvious that the endless squabbling and 'point scoring' over 20 or 30 particular topics is generally non-productive. Amateur apologists (myself included) remaking the arguments of 'experts.' Go to the sources and read the scholars, but know that even there, the debates ultimately turn out to hinge on at most two (2) or three (3) main issues. 1) Authority 2)Balancing Bible, Tradition and Authority, 3) either having goodwill towards the Church or despising the Church.

    I may be getting to the point where I believe that #3 is the key. I'll have to keep watching, but I think that often as soon as one tips toward respecting the Church and having a little goodwill towards the Church and her teaching, the remaining arguments begin to soften.

    For me also, the fact that 2000 years later (or at the very least for non-Catholics 1750 years later) the Catholic Church is still here, and is still identifiably Catholic in Faith and Practice is a sign of Truth. The more I know about history and the history of the Church, the more I see that only God could hold the Church together.

    God Bless


  10. Paul, sorry for polluting your blog with my million typos (i just saw all of them in my first post haha!!!). And i do understand your frustration with repeating arguments over and over again. Its just as frustrating for me. But if someone is lurking, and they see and argument that might be incorrect and that might make them lose their faith, is it so bad to intervene and at least show the opposing point of view? Anyways do you have link to article that Adoro was referring to? Thanks

  11. Tap, welcome here, typos and all. Don't let your perfectionism get to you. I made a lot of typos and mistakes in the comment I left over at "almost there"

    I agree with you on making an effort to fight misinformation. I don't really have a problem with the arguing. I don't participate too much for lack of time, and because it takes over my brain.

    There are so many Rhologys out there. I am glad there are folks like you out there taking on the distortions. It is for the people on the sidelines or caught in the middle that I have the great concern.

    Stacy is an example. IMonk is another. Sincere people, trying to sort out the truth and it gets lost in the polemics. The blog battlefield just is not a conducive place to sincerely investigate Catholicism.

    You are welcome to make typos and comments here.

    God Bless

    P.S. I don't have Adoro's article. If she doesn't respond to you here, I'll give her a Tweet to ask about it over the weekend.

  12. OK, weird, I thought I replied to this post this morning. Either it didn't go through or I've lost my mind. (Both options are quite possible...)

    What was I talking about?

    OK...Tap, the article I mentioned isn't online as far as I know, although you could do a web search for it. I have it in my bound course notes for my New Testament II class. It looks like it was published in 1980 in "Communio" (which I'm guessing is a magazine? or was?) The title of the article is "The infancy narratives and critical biblical method" by Manuel Miguens.

    Also, you could do a google search for Miguens and see if you can track down an email or something. I know my professor once mentioned sending him an email, so as far as I know, he's still around and can be reached, and would probably be happy to send you information on his work.

    Another very good, solid exegete is Farkasfalvy (sp?), read some of his work last year and enjoyed it.

    Hope that helps!

  13. I try to simplify my life as much as possible.

    Faith is both a gift and act of the will.

    I constantly have to tell people it's okay to answer a question I don't know. So often times we're looking for answers, when they don't exist.

    The problem that I find with Protestants is that they're looking for explict statements, when explicit isn't always the given form of communication. Kind of like finding the Holy Trinity in the Bible, it can be done, but not by looking for the words Holy Trinity.

    Thanks for following my blog. I figured I'd come visit and link you in my list.

  14. I read the book of Mormon, all I felt was eye strain. That wonderful people could believe a document that flies in the face of historical reality, well it is so amazing as to spur the question of just what is the author of that "feeling"
    I am a happy non Catholic. I do have feelings that I feel originate beyond myself. Not always, but blessed events when they do occur. We are promised the Holy Spirit to guide, ans He does.
    Does your understanding of the Mysteries of God allow you to believe you are Catholic because that is where the Holy Spirit wants you?