The Personalist Project

Comments (18)

Katie van Schaijik

#1, Apr 20, 2013 10:37am

Quinton, you nail the key problem with "sola Scriptura".  The Bible needs interpretation.  As Newman said, if it were meant to be a catechism, it is very badly written.

And if it needs interpreting, doesn't it follow that we then also plainly need an authoritative means of interpreting it rightly?


#2, Apr 20, 2013 8:47pm

Hmm, yes, thats what Im thinking now. I find Im drawn to philosophy because I love it, its a language that makes sense to me, but reading the bible is something Ive been avoiding for a long time now (and only now I think I know why, because it only brings me confusion and cognitive dissonance). Im gunna have to explore this further.

Jules van Schaijik

#3, Apr 25, 2013 9:36am

Quinton, I remember facing the same problem you describe shortly after I had come to believe that Christianity was true. I instinctively identified Christianity with the Catholicism of my youth, and of my friends, and never seriously looked into the different denominations until I discovered what catholics believe about the Eucharist, i.e. that it is not merely a symbol but the actual Body and Blood of Christ.

For a while I tried to figure out by myself what was true. But soon I realized that that was foolishness (and pride) for the reasons you mention.

Then a simple thought occurred to me as I was writing a paper on infallibilty: It is unthinkable that God, who wants me to know Him and be saved, would make it so difficult to be certain about the Faith. (Especially about something as fundamental as the Eucharist!) He must have done more than  just given us the Bible and leave the work of interpretation up to each individual. He must have made it possible for ordinary men and women like myself, to know the saving truth with certainty.

(I'll continue in a new box.) 

Jules van Schaijik

#4, Apr 25, 2013 10:02am

(previous comment continued)

That thought instantly changed my whole perspective. For one, I now viewed the Church's claim to infallibility no longer as an intellectual obstacle, but as the most convincing argument in her favor. The fact that, humanly speaking, it is such an outrageous claim makes it all the more persuasive: a merely human institution would never make it.

But also, it solved my difficulty regarding the Eucharist. I could accept and rest in the doctrine, and benefit from the reality of it, without having first weighed and fully understood all the arguments brought for and against it. I could trust the Church as a child trusts his mother. Not by giving up the effort of trying to understand more deeply of course, but by believing first, and understanding after.

It is hard to explain in a few words how transformative this insight was, and how quickly it all happened. But there it is. Hope it helps.

(Later, by the way, I learned that John Henry Newman explains essentially the same idea in his Apologia. If interested, look at the first few pages of the chapter called "General Answer to Mr. Kingsley" and especially at this paragraph.)

Devra Torres

#5, Apr 26, 2013 2:45pm

The interesting thing about the Catholic approach to Scripture is that it provides an authoritative interpretation of some aspects--something necessary in light of both the logical incoherence of expecting it to "interpret itself" and the desire of Jesus to give us something we can make some sense of--but it also allows a certain leeway to interpret many parts for oneself, or speculate about different layers of meaning.  It's one more case where we're given the all truth we need and also as much freedom as possible.

As a convert from "sola scriptura" myself, I could say a lot more, but will leave it at that for now, so as to get my next post up this afternoon...


#6, Apr 27, 2013 3:44am

Yes, I beleive that God must have made it possible to know the saving truth without certainty, for we all know that we cannot proove almost anything, not even that we exist, perhaps only in maths can things be proved, and thers some question even over that! Everything it seems has to be taken on some level of faith, and be understood (intellectualise/rationalised) in terms of 'plausibility', not certainty.Ive been a seriously committed christian for 14 years now, and Ive though deepy all this time about all the big doubts, but this topic (with the knowledge that I have now) is really bringing me undone. So I need to ressolve the cognitive dissonance as soon as I can.

What you guys have said is logical, that if we cannot be experts ourselves then surely God wont abandon us to the unknowable (fingers crossed...), and therefore there must be some authority to refer to.


#7, Apr 27, 2013 3:44am

However, I just cannot agree that the Pope or the RC is that authority because (as I see it), amidst all the good things and the richness of catholic theology and philsophy, the gaping holes to me are the eucharist, praying to beings other than God/Jesus, the sacraments as the way to salvation and a couple of other things (but perhaps they are the biggest things in my mind--not so much salvation by works vs faith, because I feel like that argument is just symantecs, and we are basically saying the same thing in the end).

I feel like what Ive learned about Catholic theorlogy and philsophy so far has been gold, absolute gold, but then I stand back and look at the big picture and think to myself, if they get it so right here on all these things, how can they get it so off the mark on these other things. It really bewildes me (and Im not saying that with an insulting tone, I genuinely find it odd).


#8, Apr 27, 2013 3:45am

I suppose Im hoping to find out what the catholic teaching on interpreting scripture is, perhas that will shed some light for me, but I just cant fall back on the bleif that the Pope has the final word on it because I feel he gets it wrong on some of these other topics, and I feel troubled that a man (other than Jesus) would be put in such a place.

I hope you understand the spirit in which I wrote this. Not being cheeky. Until I get all this stuff sorted in my mind Il keep on with philosphy because it seems to give me more solid ground (oldly enough) than theology.

Devra Torres

#9, Apr 27, 2013 4:41pm

Quinton, this is such an important question, and I have my doubts I can do it justice in a couple comments, but for what it's worth, here are some thoughts:

1.  There are some things we can know, not just because they're plausible, or because they can be proved mathematically, but because we have direct experience of them.  I would say we have this kind of experience of our own existence, for example--even if we say "but it's possible that it's an illusion," we wouldn't even be able to say so if there were no personal subject who was doing the doubting.  St. Augustine explains it better than I can.  

2. As John Henry Newman says, a hundred difficulties do not make a doubt (I'm not sure that's the exact quote--Katie or Jules would know--but that's the idea).  Anybody who's thinking seriously about God, religion, the Bible, is going to run into difficulties.  There are aspects of any complicated and mysterious and important subject which are not going to fit neatly into our little minds and mental categories.  In fact, if things do fit together too neatly, with no difficulties remaining, we'd probably be dealing with a man-made system.

Devra Torres

#10, Apr 27, 2013 4:49pm

3.  The "gaping holes" you mention:

--The Eucharist: I guess I need a clearer idea of what the difficulty is in order to address it and do it any kind of justice.

--Praying to beings other than God: We ask Mary and the other saints to intercede for us, similar to the way we might ask a friend to pray for us, but we don't "pray to" them in the sense of worshipping them.  That would be blasphemy, and if the Catholic Church taught that, I wouldn't be a Catholic.

--The sacraments as the way to salvation: Jesus and his grace are the way to salvation.  The sacraments are means (though not the only means, of course) of tapping into that grace.  They're not an extra obstacle between us and God, but more like a ladder that allows us to reach Him.  Like any analogy to a physical thing, this one has its limits, but the idea is that we're not placing extra, artificial, invented, man-made complications between us and God, but just the opposite.

By the way, I don't hear your tone as insulting or disrespectful in the least.  

Devra Torres

#11, Apr 27, 2013 4:58pm

As far as the Bible, I would say that even though a doctrine of "private interpretation" can make and has made so much trouble, there is value to just reading the Bible and praying to the Holy Spirit for understanding.  As you run into passages that don't seem to make sense or seem problematic for any reason, one good resource is [url=][/url], where they have a lot of free, downloadable tracts on many such topics.  

As far as its being hard to believe that the Catholic Church could be the trustworthy interpretative authority, it's good to be clear on what the Church does and doesn't claim as far as infallibility.  It's a much narrower claim than many people think.

And as far as feeling that you're on more solid ground with philosophy, that kind of makes sense, since any genuine theology is not there to replace philosophy but in a sense to build upon it.  Faith can see certain things that reason can't arrive at, but in that case it transcends but doesn't contradict reason.

OK, I'm sure that's more than enough wordiness for now!  Let me know what you think, if you get a chance.


#12, Apr 28, 2013 6:06am

Hey Devra,

Thanks for your response.
 I agree to some extent with point 1. It reminds me of Descartes 'proof' of the self (I think [or doubt in his case] therefore I am). But being convinced of something thru direct experience is highly susceptiable to self deception. Thats the problem with it. I remember getting into a discussion with some mormons...we hit a dead lock when they claimed 'I know this is true because of the 'burning in the bossom' feeling I have', whereas I was 'certain' I was right because the 'Holy Spirit in me ressonates with truth' see. We really are in a dead lock when it comes to knowing truth when we defer to intuition or revelation. Thats why I search for reasons thru philosophy because in addition to any feelings of being right because they can help 'sure up' any such feeling. Those feelings Im especiallylacking right now anyway...


#13, Apr 28, 2013 6:17am

Re 2. Maybe. But there also the concern that 'if ya gotta work so hard, it aint working'. All the difficulties we have to try to ressolve (philosophical, psychological, historical, scientific, ethical and theological) really gets tiring. Makes me wonder/worry that my beleifs are perhaps implausibale after all.

3. The Eucharist. The problem to me seems to be the claim that it is the actual body and blood and that it even needs to be repeated weekly given that Christ's sacrifice was good enough to do the job once for all. But I dont suppose we will solve that one any time soon :)

Re the sacraments, if that what you mean by sacraments Im totally ok with it being a means by which grace is given, some protestants wouldnt be, but I think thats fair enough. I should clarify, its really only baptisimal regneration that really seems wrong to me (and the eucharist). The others I can see the reasoning process behind (like confession) and even tho I dont fully agree I respect the spirit of whats trying to be accomplished.

I think it would be helpful to know what is to be infallible and its limits.


Devra Torres

#14, Apr 28, 2013 11:22am

Quinton, I think I know what you mean, because I've had the same conversation,and run into the same dead end, with some Mormons who used to come around here (before they finally gave up on us!).  A Mormon can say he experiences the burning in the bosom, and I can't tell him he doesn't; or a Christian can "intuit" that the Holy Spirit is telling him to interpret passage X to mean Y, and I can't deny that he thinks that's happening.  And a Catholic, or anyone, may experience a total lack of sentiments and feelings of enthusiasm, or just the opposite.

What I mean by our experience of our own existence is something different.  I don't mean an interpretation of a feeling ("I experience this; therefore, the Book of Mormon is true" or "I experience the Holy Spirit telling me passage X means Y; therefore, it really does").  I mean our own subjectivity--even if I'm deceived, it's I who am deceived; even if it's "all in my mind," that mental occurance has a reality, even if the way I interpret it is mistaken.  This is not a "feeling of being right" or a "revelation" to which I defer..

Devra Torres

#15, Apr 28, 2013 11:40am

Re. 2: I guess something can be extremely implausible to us, with our limited minds and fallen natures--and still be true.  (That doesn't mean it can be irrational and true.)

Re. 3: I know!  Comment boxes on the internet are notorious for not solving the world's problems and overcoming centuries-old conflicts.  Still, here's what I think:

--The claim that it's His actual body and blood is pretty clear in the Bible--that's how His hearers took it, and He didn't correct them.  The Church doesn't teach that Communion must be received every week--the bare-minimum requirement is actually once a year.  But the  fact that we're asked to receive it more than once doesn't imply any insufficiency in Jesus or in His sacrifice, just our need to keep on reaffirming our acceptance of it.  As persons who exist in time and have free will, we don't make a once-and-for-all decision and then automatically stay fixed in it for all eternity (and that's philosophy, not revelation).

I could appeal to the Bible on how the Eucharist and Baptism are not just optional, but that might not be helpful, given our original topic!

Hope this is helpful--I'll leave it at that for now.


#16, Apr 30, 2013 9:59am

Il have to get back to you sorry, as Im busy as a blue-ass fly at the moment :) cheers

Ann Schmalstieg

#17, May 23, 2013 12:43am

Hi Quinton,

I'm new to this group, so I don't know if it is bad form to just answer a question with a link to another page, but I think the lectures on the Institute of Catholic Culture's website ([url=][/url]) will be helpful in answering your questions regarding the bible, as well as other areas of faith.

Enjoy  : )

James Barclay

#18, Sep 27, 2013 8:55pm

I am a fan of history in that great time period when and where Jesus lived and I have a pretty good idea of how it really was.  Nasty.  There is a new book out that has taken the literary world by storm:  "Zealot:  The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth" by Rezaa Aslan.  I haven't read it yet, but have heard the author speak on radio.  Hosts were very nice to him, but some who are Catholic disagreed strongly with him.  He is Muslim and was born in Iran, coverted to Evangelical fundamentalist Christianity, then became a Catholic.  He says a Jesuit convinced him to return to Islam.  On the shows he has gotten very strong positive and negative responses, some more violent than others.  He says he has been getting death threats.  I just have to get ahold of this book and read it formyslef.  I have "Bandits, Prophets and Messiahs" and Aslan says he used it as a reference.  This ought to be very interesting.

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