Friday, January 22, 2010

The Never Erring Story

"The Catholic Church has never erred." At least, that's what I've had thrown at me a number of times in informal debates with Catholic friends. Who am I to argue? I've erred quite a lot, so I'm really not qualified to say otherwise. And arguing as a peccable entity against an impeccable agent of God would bring about the irony that I might just be erring to be contrarian in the face of such a grand claim.

So what am I dealing with when I have a zinger like "the Catholic Church has never erred" tossed out at me? Apparently, I'm dealing with the doctrine of impeccability. Not to be confused with the doctrine of infallibility. You see, impeccability is understood quite easily as the 'absence of sin' -- something only God, Jesus and Mary could appreciate. The rest of us are out of the runnings: we don't qualify for the sinless status. Not unless we become Pelagians, of course, at which point we become heretics because we believe that while we are yet alive we can be rarified in the grace of God to the point of sinlessness. That is, we can become impeccable by sheer force of performative logic and a willingness to carouse with Pelagian beliefs.

But, since the self-defining, and self-declaring Catholic Church has monopolized the market on truth and declared herself the "one true church" that "never errs", and further, has declared Pelagianism a heresy, I would be in error to take on such a view.

But I am left with a question: if Mary was given special status to be sinless while she was alive, why can't any God-fearing Pelagian work that angle? It would seem like a worthwhile occupation to make yourself sinless, wouldn't it? And if so, that would mean that there's something a little dodgy going on with the Catholic doctrine of Mary's sinlessness. I'm just saying.

Nevertheless, it would be insincere of me to leave out the Catholic Church's self-understanding on the notion of impeccability. That is, the Catholic Church believes she has never erred in matters pertaining to faith and morals; it has nothing to do with historical opinions. To quote the Wikipedia entry, "in Catholic thought, the exemption of the Roman Church from error extends only to its definitive teachings on faith and morals: not its historical judgments." In other words, those teachings that are not held to be divine revelations but are free from error and essential to proper belief.

A moment's reflection, however, piques my curiosity: if there are 'essential' teachings that are free from error, might there also be non-essential teachings that could have errors? In fact, yes, there are. Dr. Ludwig Ott puts it thusly:

"A Teaching proximate to Faith (sententia fidei proxima) is a doctrine, which is regarded by theologians generally as a truth of Revelation, but which has not yet been finally promulgated as such by the Church."

Ott's list of Catholic Certainties places teachings proximate to faith (i.e., teachings that are closest to true faith, but not causes of faith) at the bronze-medal level. These kinds of non-essential teachings are kind of like teachings-in-waiting, or tertiary certainties. In other words, the Catholic Church may or may not have some reservations about them, but do what you want with them until you're told otherwise (e.g., natural selection/evolution).

On this point then, we can be part of a church that never errs, but that leaves enough wiggle-room to let individuals err, as long as the Magisterium hasn't made any official statements of a higher degree of certainty; e.g., a de fide proclamation. Given this hierarchy of truths in an impeccable church, a necessary question arises: why the degrees of certainty? Doesn't that tacitly admit to possible errors in an error-free church? Even given the scalpel-line between 'faith and morals' and 'historical judgments', if the official teaching of the church is that it is officially free of error in faith and morals, wasn't that an historical judgment at some point in time? So how can we be certain of the official certainty of Catholic dogma?

The answer is that we can't. Which is why we can happily discard the nonsense that the Catholic Church has never erred. We can also jettison the corollary that the Catholic Church will never err. The Catholic Church is diseased with errors. For example, the Catholic Church recently rejected the long-held traditional teaching of limbo. Mind you, they don't see that as a mistake; they see it as an evolution, or progress in understanding. Logic dictates, however, that if the Catholic Church once believed the doctrine of limbo as true, and then turns around and says it's not, that there has been an error somewhere along the line. An error that, much like turning water into wine, turns truth into falsity. Whoops!

Here's another one. I'll let you be the judge of how insidiously stupid the Catholic Church has been on this issue. You tell me if you think the Catholic Church cannot err in matters of, oh, say, morals. One more, just for emphasis.

16 comments:

Craig said...

So, dude, does this mean that the expression "stuck in limbo" is now passe?
That's depressing. I always liked that one.

Nick said...

So when St. Jean Paul said, "For the occasions past and present, when sons and daughters of the Catholic Church have sinned by action or omission against their Orthodox brothers and sisters, may the Lord grant us forgiveness,”, is that not an admition to errors in the church since he was the head of it at the time?
It seems to me that the Catholic Church, just as any other church or organized belief system that I have so far come accross, has differences on the take of their own doctrines between it's own members; past, present, and likely future.

I agree, we can discard the nonsence that the Catholic Church has never erred. We can likewise discard any such claims by any other church or belief system, in my opinion. Unless there is a church with members, non of which, have and will ever make even one error, there will never be a church/beleif sytem without error in the doctrine there of.
I think a belief system can reasonalby say, "so far this or that seems to work". But then to follow that the system has always been so without any errors in developement up to that point, or there after, is clumsy with striving to better understanding the nature of what we are, and what we are a part of.

I think that Jean Paul was on the more workable track with his apology, than any set-in-stone doctrine can dictate.

Kane Augustus said...

Nick,

I agree with the thrust of your statement.

Recall, however, that from a Catholic point of view, they would disagree that they have ever erred in matters pertaining to faith and morals. A savvy Catholic would more than likely make the convenient distinction that their doctrines are safeguarded from error by the Holy Spirit, and that all mistakes were simply a matter of human historical judgments.

This kind of hair-splitting is utter nonsense (1) because they've invoked God's name in the mismanagment of their 'historical judgments', and (2) because none of their doctrines were ever developed outside of history. So their practice of invoking God to head-up their historical judgments puts them into an unprecedented position of favour with God such that their historical doctrines are all error-free (for why would God mislead his church?). Or, it places the blame squarely on God's shoulders for the Catholics making mistakes in historical judgments. Which -- since all their doctrines were developed in time and history -- means that their 'historical judgments' clause weakens their 'faith and morals' clause, and collapses their specious claim that the Catholic Church has never erred.

Gregory said...

I suppose if we want to ignore the nuances of definitions, we can say all sorts of silly things, and point out ample non sequiturs to bolster our defense.

The statement, "The Catholic Church has/can/will never err(ed)" is at best shorthand for "When officially defining and promulgating doctrine pertaining to Faith and Morals, the Magisterium of the Church is preserved by the Holy Spirit free from formal error."

This does not mean that the Catholic Church's members are free of sin (impeccability). It only means what it meant for the writers of Sacred Scripture--that, when they wrote Sacred Scripture, they didn't make formal mistakes pertaining to faith and morals. In fact, the writers of Sacred Scripture got a second gift that the Catholic Church does not claim for itself today--that of infallibly declaring new revelation.

In other words, all Christians can (or should be able to) agree that the Bible, being the Inspired Word of God, is inerrant. Catholics state that in a similar manner to God's transmitting the inerrant Scriptures to us, He preserves the Church He founded free from similar error, as it continues to ponder and grow in its understanding of those once-for-all revealed truths.

Now, not every idea, theory, or pious devotion throughout history has been officially promulgated by the Magisterium as doctrine. Limbo, for example, was never a Doctrine of the Church, but a theory of mediaeval theologians who were wrestling with the notion of the necessity of baptism for salvation and an infant mortality rate that often meant babies went unbaptised. What happens to them? We don't know. Limbo--a place of peace, but devoid of the beatific vision--was proposed. Many took solace in such a thought. However, many more didn't. An unhelpful and unproven theory was eschewed in favour of a vaguer, but more honest, statement that "We don't know, but we trust them to God's loving mercy." This too is not dogma, just the general position of the Church to this point. Likely, it will never dogmatically declare on the issue one way or the other.

As for the sex abuse scandal, and how the Church handles it, the Church has never dogmatically declared that it would always handle sinfulness in its members with the utmost in grace or wisdom. But since their actions in "covering up" the abuse scandal or in representing themselves to the Press do not constitute anything approximating its beliefs in matters of Faith or Morals, it falls well outside the pale of the Infallibility question.

The same response is easily given in the case of the Church's alleged inaction in Rwanda (though your link leaves much to be desired in the case of proof, though accusations abound. Either way, the lack of fortitude or ability to do anything on the part of African bishops does nothing to the notion of Catholic Infallibility.

And so, I find I must level an old refrain of criticism toward you yet again, Chris.

Get your definitions right if you're going to criticise something--anything--Catholic Church or not! The only thing you've demonstrated in your article is that you, in fact, do err.

imogenskye said...

Gregory brings up a point of contention for me.

I am not an adherent to Roman Catholicism, and for this reason among many, I utterly refuse to be bound or indentured to absurd definitions that the RCC attempts to claim and convolute for their own political benefit.

It affects me little if the RCC defends its membership and 'self', whatever that might be without the membership, by having a vast quantity of categories into which they can delicately or brutishly place each instance of immorality so that they may continue to lay odious claim to such an inhuman and irrelevant doctrine as one that exonerates the RCC of heinous crimes and cover-ups.

Call the RCC infallible or impeccable in whatever instances and with whatever caveats you deem necessary to uphold this ridiculous use of the common language, but that will not ever be relevant to me, to humanity or to the mundane real lives that human beings live or that are affected by the actual flesh and blood human beings who callously exploit such claims and then get shipped to Alaska when enough people speak out.

It's blame shifting, evasion, semantics of a politically manipulative sort, and just pathetic. Who can really care what the doctrines state if the church membership has the support for and leadership condoning rape, pillage and torture? Who CARES about who cannot be held responsible, or why??? We care about who IS responsible and WHY the RCC leadership covers this stuff up and hides these reprobates!

Regardless of any name-it-and-claim-it political success the RCC has had historically, the members, the Church, the grouping of people and offices they fill, have historically been responsible for acts of immorality and faithlessness toward humanity and toward the God they say they serve.

Play with your words all you like; it's an interesting thing to do and sometimes quite fruitful, but the line is crossed when it is an escape route for those who hold themselves to a standard of morality and faith that they can only uphold with such twisted definitions and plinko-board tactics as the RCC proudly and legalistically espouses for itself.

Boo.

The Roman Catholic Church errs. It commits acts of immorality and faithlessness. It acts as a safe-haven for perverts and lunatics who in any other part of society would be limited by exposure and jail-time. Infallible? Impeccable? Unerring?

Somebody get them a dictionary!!!

Gregory said...

Imogeneskye,
When the Church (or members thereof) sins, covers it up, or anything else, that same Church officially declares such sins to be sinful. There is an objective body of teaching in the Catholic Church that declares right to be right and wrong to be wrong. And there are over one billion sinful members of that Church (including its leadership) that either live up to those objective teachings, or they do not.

When the Church claims inerrancy or infallibility, it only means that those teachings are free from error, not that everyone in the Church (or anyone, for that matter) will always live up to those teachings.

When the Church sins, we know it is sinning because it is the very institution you can turn to to say, hey, you yourself have said this is wrong!

Let's be very clear, again: The Church is infallible (that is, when it teaches what's right and wrong, it's never wrong about that). It is most certainly not impeccable (that is, always living up to its own claims about what's right and wrong).

As long as we confuse the definitions of infallibility and impeccability, as you and Chris are doing, you'll not get very far in demonstrating that the Church isn't infallible. We already both agree that the Church isn't impeccable.

Nick said...

Gregory,

"In other words, all Christians can (or should be able to) agree that the Bible, being the Inspired Word of God, is inerrant."

And so what if not? Myself for example; I believe a person can be inspired by God. However, for the receiver to capture the entire inspiration, and to forward that inspiration perfectly when the receiver is not perfect, I do not think the inspiration will be conveyed perfectly as it was sent or initially received. Does this mean I am stripped of the label "Christian"?
To me, any Church is similar to an individual body. Actually Jesus used the imagery that the church was the body. Does it make truthful sense for a person to say or think they have never erred in thought or action? No. Such a person stunts themselves from spiritual growth and disconnects themselves from everyone else who admits to errors in action and/or thought.
Likewise, it would seem to me that a Church that holds that it's doctrines are completely without error stunts itself in much the same way as an individual would.
It would seem like a members' only club for those who don't want to become better then they are, or think that they can not become any better, or at best just want to separate themselves from others who they are not willing to get along with. I think it is unfortunate that many come to see churches in this way.
However, I don't see the Catholic Church this way. Actually I don't see any church this way. I see them similar to an individual who is self prideful of specific matters or viewpoints, not yielding much spiritual growth relating to them, while in other matters are open to recognizing errors, as St. Jean Paul did, yielding much growth.

All I would ask from the Catholic Church, and any other, is to throw away matters of self pride for spiritual growth.

imogenskye said...

Gregory,

You wrote: When the Church (or members thereof) sins, covers it up, or anything else, that same Church officially declares such sins to be sinful.

But when it still covers them up and ships the 'sinner' off to someplace where if they do it again, the victims will likely not be heard or believed, who cares what it teaches? If its leadership has access to absolute objective morality, but doesn't live up to it or even try, and worse, covers up and protects the perpetrators while ignoring the victims, then at best, what they have is a philosophical platform that is accessible to any thinking human being and not in any way special to the church- and a bunch of protective custody criminals.

You'd have to convince me that morality is only knowable and accessible to the church, minus its members and their defiling of it, of course. I don't see that as valid. I don't believe that morality cannot be understood through other more obvious, less convoluted and dangerous ways than through church doctrine. I think we're actually more inclined to do what is actually right when nobody's looking if the reason is that its *right* and not 'because it is an infallible doctrine of the RCC.'

There is an objective body of teaching in the Catholic Church that declares right to be right and wrong to be wrong.

Again, this is not outside the realm of basic philosophy, even evidenced by the RCC having long relied on philosophers- believers and possibly not- for such logical extensions of the human experience.

That it is harmful to the whole of humanity to murder or to steal one's neighbour's property or have an affair with his wife is rather an easy conclusion when considering that we are by nature (even if you believe that we are 'fallen') communal. Exactly how long do you think that would go on before somebody might notice its ill effects on the group? Did we ever really need an RCC to tell us all these rather obvious tidbits of moral uprightness?

Also, if there is objective morality, then this very point (that allows the RCC to claim it for its own) actually renders the RCC completely obsolete from its inception.

For this reason, the thrust of my argument has been and still is that the RCC's claims about its infallibility or impeccability and in whatever circumstances these doctrines can be invoked, are just largely irrelevant, and so is the institution.

This is excepting the sad and long-pained influence and oppression its adherents (voluntary and of course, NOT) have endured ignorantly or knowlingly for nearly two thousand years now. THAT is relevant, but not because of the RCCs love relationship with the 'worldly,' and intentions and actions wrought of intrinsic or objective goodness (cough, crock of $h#!, cough), but rather for the rather large mess that it has left in its wake and continues to in the present.

cont'd...

imogenskye said...

cont'd...

When the Church sins, we know it is sinning because it is the very institution you can turn to to say, hey, you yourself have said this is wrong!

Ugh, and thank goodness we can do that! We'd all be eating our babies and inviting our enemies to vomitous orgies otherwise...

As long as we confuse the definitions of infallibility and impeccability, as you and Chris are doing, you'll not get very far in demonstrating that the Church isn't infallible. We already both agree that the Church isn't impeccable.

Perhaps you assume that I do not understand the rather facile definitions the RCC claims for itself apart from the common useage of the languages it uses to do so, but this is really not the case. I do understand full-well what the RCC *means* by its use of those words. I just refuse to be bound by their narrow and irrelevant use of them. I actually have more respect for the languages of the world than to allow such irrelevant and watered-down use of them in my own expressions. You may use them as you please, but don't assume that I am ignorant because I stand firm in my utter opposition to the tyranny of even my language perpetrated by the RCC!

And lastly, Gregory, please do not take any of this as intended to insult or cut you down, although I know that it is probably impossible for you to not take it personally. I am disgusted by the RCC, and not you or any other adherent who actually does try to live decently and still fails. I don't hold myself to any higher standard than to do what I know is right and if I find out that I was wrong, to make restitution as well as I humanly can.

So, my vitriole is absolutely not aimed at you, even if you feel that it is. That is the perspective that you must take as an adherent, and in order to even discuss from my perspective with integrity, I am very likely going to offend you because I am not in any way personally invested in upholding the virtues of an institution outside of my control. I cannot come to your arguments as though I were arguing from the inside and on the same team, because quite obviously, that is not the case. I am arguing from the outside and relative to my position, so are you, but your side is the one under attack in this exchange, so it isn't going to seem friendly.

That's my best explanation for how I am not actually upset or disgusted with you at all, but I acknowledge that you have little recourse other than to feel that way anyway. :(

Gregory said...

Nick, I'm not sure what not being able to always hear God's voice clearly has to do with your status of being a Christian, or your first paragraph's relation to the question of either biblical inerrancy or magisterial infallibility.

As for the Church being like an individual body, therefore the Church as a whole can be no more infallible than any single member of it, I don't think your conclusion follows from the premises. Infallibility, if it exists in the manner which the Catholic Church defines it, is a charism--that is, a gift of the Holy Spirit given to particular members of the Body of Christ in order to serve a particular function in the Church. In that way, it is similar to prophecy, working miracles, or tongues. Since not every Christian speaks in tongues or prophesies, we do not hold therefore that such gifts are not extant in the Church as a whole in other members.

As for believing that its doctrines are without error, this doesn't stunt growth. The Church doesn't claim she has everything figured out. She only claims that what she has figured out so far (that is, codified as binding teaching) is free from error. That doesn't mean that this error-free teaching can't be better understood as time goes on, only that it cannot be contradicted. The truth that the Church promulgates as binding is without error, but not without room for growth in understanding.

Infallibility no more stunts growth than a protective covering around the trunk of a sapling to protect it from being eaten or otherwise damaged, stunts the growth of the tree. And infallibility serves precisely the same purpose as that protective covering.

As to your last comments about infallibility being a club for people who don't want to grow spiritually, I would say you simply don't understand what infallibility is or what it's intended to achieve.

Oh, and Blessed John Paul the Second isn't a saint, yet.

Gregory said...

Imogen,
Obviously hypocrisy and scandal are hugely serious sins that definitely damage the Catholic Church's (or anyone else's) credibility. No one's denying that. The doctrine of infallibility isn't intended to address such matters, either. Thus, rejecting the Catholic Church because it claims to be infallible, and then pointing to its sinfulness as proof, has nothing at all to do with infallibility. You claim that in such a case, whether the Church is infallible is irrelevant to whether it should be followed. Here's a shocker, I wholeheartedly agree with you!

That was, after all, my point initially.

However, Chris' (or Kane's--what's up with the pseudonyms, anyway?!) initial post blasted the Catholic Church's claim to be infallible, then substituted a fabricated claim that the Church thinks itself sinless, then used obvious glaring examples of sinfulness in the Church to demonstrate that the Church isn't, in fact, sinless, and then said that the Church is therefore not infallible. That's what I took issue with. That is, in fact, my only issue with Chris' writings against Catholicism: he continually misunderstands or misinterprets what the Church teaches regarding itself in order to attack it. If he wants to disagree with what I believe (and yes, it's obviously about what I believe, since he keeps inviting me to read and interact with it), that's more than fine. Just, actually disagree with what I actually believe. Don't make stuff up, call it what I believe, and then tell me I'm wrong.

All that is to say, I'm not going to waste my time responding to the bulk of your arguments about how horrible the Church is for its inadequate past (and present?) dealings with priests who molested pubescent children (and yes, there is a difference between that and paedophelia. It's not a matter of degree as Chris seems to think, but a matter of treating symptoms vs. the disease. A paedophile molests little children for completely different reasons than an ephebophile would. But I digress).

As for whether morality can be known outside of the Church, I've never denied this assertion. I've only claimed that it's infallibly certain when the Church defines it as such. And we're talking about things beyond murder and adultery and stealing, but about abortion, embryonic stem cell research, in vitro fertilisation, cloning, birth control and a host of other moral issues which are not so obviously good or bad.

And that's excluding the whole other side of the coin--the Faith aspects, such as the Trinity, the Real Presence in the Eucharist, and Mary's Immaculate Conception, to name but a few.

As far as the Church claiming morality as its own and rendering itself obsolete, I repeat, I've never claimed that. But if you want to keep misreading me, I've got much better things to do.

As far as your arguments about infallibility and impeccability and the Church's overall relevance is concerned, pardon me for saying so, but they're what are irrelevant, considering the fact that I was discussing Chris' arguments, and their flaws in reasoning, not your problems with sinful people.

So really, my attempt to offer you a reply is little more than a courtesy.

(cont'd)

Gregory said...

"When the Church sins, we know it is sinning because it is the very institution you can turn to to say, hey, you yourself have said this is wrong!"

Ugh, and thank goodness we can do that! We'd all be eating our babies and inviting our enemies to vomitous orgies otherwise...


Again, you've misunderstood my statement entirely.

As far as misunderstanding the definitions the Church uses, and your claim to simply not want to use that particular term for that particular belief, what you want is utterly irrelevant.

The Church claims that it is free from error when it defines and promulgates doctrine on a matter of faith or morals. It decided to call this belief "Magisterial Infallibility." What you think of the appellation or its appropriateness is utterly irrelevant to whether the Church does or does not err when defining dogma. Diction is not what the debate is about. At least, it shouldn't be.

Let me use an analogy:
At my work, we have conveyor belts. Portions of the line have belts that elevate the product to a higher level. We call them "elevators."

If I told you that the elevator at work broke last night, it's very possible that you might think I mean the square box found in many apartment buildings that takes passengers from one floor to the next. You would then ask, how could the elevator be broken, you don't even have an elevator at your work?

I would very patiently explain to you that what I mean by "elevator" in this case is the portion of the assembly line that lifts product from a lower point to a higher one.

What you think of the aptness of my calling this portion of the line an "elevator" is completely irrelevant to the question of whether that portion of the line was or was not broken.

Yet, if you persist in telling me that it could not be broken since there is no elevator (that is, a box that transports passengers from one floor to another in a building) at my workplace, all I can do is get frustrated with you for calling me a liar, or for wilfully misunderstanding my attempts to correct you.

So, when you appeal to me not to take your attacks on my Church personally, please understand that what I take personally is the seemingly intentional misinterpretations and misrepresentations of my Church, despite my efforts to disabuse you of those misunderstandings.

Further, being repeatedly invited to read vitriol against my beliefs (which, added to that, misrepresent those beliefs) is going to get rather tiresome for me. I'm going to get annoyed, and I'm not going to bother concealing that fact from those who would consider themselves my friends.

If that's a fault in my character, then I'll try to be docile to the Spirit's work in my life. In the meantime, please be patient with my getting offended by libelous posts.

Kane Augustus said...

Gregory,

A point of interest: we legally changed our names. I am no longer Chris/Christopher. My name is now Kane. The same with my wife: her name is now legally Imogen.

We decided to change our names for a number of reasons, which I'd be happy to discuss with you on the phone or in PM sometime.

Anyway, Imogen is quite capable of dealing with her part in this debate, so I won't venture on to her grounds. I do look forward to continued conversation, however.

Cheers!

Nick said...

Gregory,

"In other words, all Christians can (or should be able to) agree that the Bible, being the Inspired Word of God, is inerrant."

I do not and can not agree that the Bible, being the inspired word of God, is the complete word of God, neither inerrant. Does that strip me from the "Christian" label?

When an incomplete set of "the whole truth" is believed and/or practiced as "the whole truth", there is an error. Taking the viewpoint that the church's doctrine is "completely true" while admitting that it is not known if there is more to be known, verifies it's incompleteness. The piece of doctrine that stats that it is without error, though it is not complete, is most definitely an error. It would be like an incomplete set of instructions that stats that it is without error. If part of the instructions were that it IS complete, then I would have no argument here.

"Infallibility no more stunts growth than a protective covering around the trunk of a sapling to protect it from being eaten or otherwise damaged, stunts the growth of the tree. And infallibility serves precisely the same purpose as that protective covering."

I suppose it would depend on the size of the covering.
A protective covering that does not expand with the tree does stunt the growth of it. A protective covering that is the size of the tree fully grown does not protect the tree while it grows and then is pointless to use for that purpose.
If the covering is replaced throughout the growth of the tree, the integrity of each replacement will inevitably be in question. This might sustain growth, and I think it is the way to go, but "without error" refuses to make replacements.

Gregory said...

Nick, I don't hold that the Bible, being the inspired word of God, is therefore the complete word of God. That doesn't follow from the first premise.

What does follow, though, is that if it is God's Word, and God cannot lie, then the Bible must therefore be true--that is, the message intended by the authors is without error (remembering that the Bible isn't primarily a scientific textbook but a theological narrative or exposition, depending upon which books we're referring to). The truth that the Bible gives us is not the whole truth of everything there is--that's simply impossible for words to convey. But the truth that is presented in the Bible, being inspired by God, is thus without error.

I'm not sure where you get the logical jump from "incomplete" to "containing error". My name is Gregory Watson. That statement is true, but it is not the whole truth about who I am. However, insofar as I am Gregory Watson, that statement is not in error. If I said, "I am Gregory Watson, and I am blond," only the first part of the statement would be true, and the second false, or, in error. I have, in fact, brown hair.

There is, thus, a significant difference between incompleteness and error. We can know in part, and the part that we know, we can know with absolute certainty, even though we may never know the whole. The charism of infallibility, as held by the Catholic Church, simply means that the parts that we know, we know to be completely true, while acknowledging that we might grow in our understanding of that truth, its applications, and even in further aspects of that truth that grow out of it, that might not have been readily seen when we first grasped the truth.

For example, if we take the Catholic teaching of the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, the Church held it to be certain that Jesus was truly, bodily present in the appearances of Bread and Wine. Later on, the logical extension of that belief led to the practice of "Eucharistic Adoration"--that is, worshipping the Consecrated Host displayed in a container called a Monstrance. When the Church first taught Jesus' Real Presence, it had not necessarily entered into one's mind that the Host could be displayed before people in order that they could pray and worship before it--but if the Host is really Jesus, then this practice is logical and good. So growth occurred in the beliefs regarding Jesus' Real Presence, but the infallible truth of Jesus' Real Presence never changed.

Returning to the tree covering example, I pictured those white coiling things that were put around the bottom of the newly planted trees in my parents' back yard when I was growing up, that expanded as the trunk grew, until such a time as the trunk was too large and sturdy for the pesky rabbits to damage fatally.

We will only arrive at that safety from damage in the next life, when we will no longer need the guard of infallibility to keep us in the truth. Until then, we continue to grow in that truth, and to be protected by God's gift of infallibility, to know that the truths we have learned are certain and that we are not bound in faith to falsehoods.

That is the belief. Whether that belief is true or wishful thinking is left to the debate.

Nick said...

Gregory,

"Nick, I don't hold that the Bible, being the inspired word of God, is therefore the complete word of God. That doesn't follow from the first premise.

What does follow, though, is that if it is God's Word, and God cannot lie, then the Bible must therefore be true--that is, the message intended by the authors is without error (remembering that the Bible isn't primarily a scientific textbook but a theological narrative or exposition, depending upon which books we're referring to). The truth that the Bible gives us is not the whole truth of everything there is--that's simply impossible for words to convey. But the truth that is presented in the Bible, being inspired by God, is thus without error."


Thank you for correcting me here. I understand how though it is not complete, doens't mean that what is there is not correct. I think I probably attributed what I believe to be an error in doctrine to it's completeness. I appologize.

However, it still leaves this question then: Because I know and believe the bible has at least one error that I can think of, does that mean I am not considered a Christian?

This error that I speak of in the Bible is that of one Gospel stating that there were, I think it was, two angels in the tomb of Jesus after resurection, where the other Gospel stated that there was only one. This difference logically shows that either one or the other Gospel contains an error. And since both Gospels are contained in the Bible, then the Bible contains an error. So then the teaching that the Bible is without error extends another error...

Is it Catholic doctrine that the Bible is without error?

What is your take on this error in the Bible that I make note of here?