Catholics and Protestants on Authority – Book Review continued
If we had to boil down the difference between Catholicism and Protestantism, a lot boils down to authority. Personally, I think the issues are much bigger than just this one issue, but I will say that a lot typically hangs on it.
The authors of the book did a creative job of pointing out a serious flaw in the Catholic armor. Perhaps however it is a flaw that Catholics are willing to accept. Catholic apologists typically challenge Protestants by saying that their ultimate authority structure is individualistic. Namely, each individual reader of the Bible gets to decide for themselves what to think about a given doctrine. Therefore, the Catholics main point is to say that Protestantism has millions of Popes. Each decides for themselves what is right.
The answer that should be given from Protestants, should examine the tools in the tool box that they have. The first thing to remember is the tools of learning and knowledge are much more expansive than just oneself. Namely, there are commentaries, church fathers and mothers, creeds, Pastors, lectionaries, and much more. Therefore, the enterprise is certainly more communal than “me my Bible and no one else.”
The second answer that can be given to this is that each individual Catholic who has decided that Rome should decide for them, had to come to that conclusion by the same process that that any Protestant comes to their conclusions about any topic of theology. In other words, they had to reasonable look at the evidence. They had to listen to the voices of the past. They had to pray. They had to study all the relevant arguments.
There are few, if any, Catholic Converts that have converted merely on the argument from authority. Namely, “Rome said it, and that settles it.” Converts that I know have done so because they have internally struggled with where to stand on any given issue. When they came to see that they agreed with Rome, they then converted to Rome. Epistemology (how we know what we know), cannot (except perhaps in certain mystical experiences) bypass one’s reasoning.
The challenge to the Catholic with this second argument is, “Why a given Protestants processing about theological subjects is not good or allowed, when the Protestant who converted to Catholicism processed the issues in the same way.” In other words, if we follow the Catholic charge of individualism that is leveled at the Protestant, we can ask why was their own individualism of coming to Catholicism allowed? Why is reasoning for the Protestant to Protestantism bad, when the reasoning from the Protestant to Catholicism good, when both are using their individual reasoning processes?
At the end of the day, we are all in the same boat. We have to make decisions based upon desires, arguments, and evidence. Thus, I think the charge is defeated.