Catholic defensiveness vs. pious humbug

My post on the Orthosphere prompted this insightful comment from “Rob”:

I am wondering whether or not this is a tall order though, to seek a tribalistic character to Catholicism in se. Tribalism to me, suggests a defensiveness, defending one’s own. Catholicism has certainly served as an attribute of in or out of tribe. E.g., to be English is to be Protestant; to be French is to be Catholic. But how sincerely does one feel that this attribute is really of the essence of the “in”?
Catholicism in itself seems to me to be purely an “offensive,” rather than a “defensive” spirit?

I replied

A very good point. “Tribal” categories only come to the fore when the group is imperiled. To me, the destruction of the Catholic Church in one generation is a live possibility, while a successful offensive against the world is fantasy. Of course, the truths Catholicism teaches can’t be destroyed, but it can become the case that no one will believe them, and no one will positively identify with the people whom history calls “Catholic”.

That’s the defensive tribal attitude.  We’re under attack, and if we don’t respond effectively now, we’re going to be eliminated.

Now the opposite attitude, quite widespread on the Catholic blogosphere, which I call “pious humbug”, abbreviated “pious BS”.   Pious BS is how we rationalize taking the war against the Church in a way less seriously than secular pursuits.  Before anybody gets offended, remember that as a pseudonymous, self-described bad Catholic, I’m not claiming to be better than anyone.  I do almost nothing for the Church, while many people devote their lives to the service of the Church without ever thinking about the war in a serious way.  Thinking seriously is not about effort; it’s about strategy.

“Victory is in God’s hands, and all He asks is that we try.”  If you believe that, you won’t really try.  “Making an effort” means expending resources like time and money, but since there’s no connection between cause and effect in this way of thinking, there’s no need to strategize, no need to think about how to make most effective use of limited resources, no need to anticipate the enemy’s moves, no need to analyze the effectiveness of our current tactics.  “It’s in God’s hands”, thus we become occasionalists on this one matter–the war in Heaven on Earth.  What the pious BSer ignores is that his intelligence is itself something he has a duty to offer to God’s cause.

Some examples of pious BS:

  • expending all our missionary effort on people who are the least likely to convert

  • dismissing the “ghetto option” because it means we won’t be evangelizing the world, even when it’s clear that in conditions of openness the world is gaining more converts from us than we are from them

  • claiming to have exclusively “pastoral” interests and then showing little interest in how people are to know or whether they are likely to believe the basic doctrines of the faith
  • worrying more about extinct heresies (e.g. “Jansenism”) than live ones
  • responding to ecclesial crises with meaningless commemorative events (e.g. responding to widespread loss of faith by declaring a “Year of Faith” or suchlike)
  • reckless lack of concern on the part of prelates for how their statements, often made while seeking favor from small groups already hostile to the faith, can be exploited by the Church’s enemies

Most sentences with the phrases “promise” and “gates of Hell” are pious BS.  That the Church will endure perpetually is guaranteed by the present existence of souls in heaven and purgatory.  Our Lord Himself treated the question of whether He would find faith on the Earth on His return as an open one.

Most pastoral uses of the parable of the shepherd who left his 99 sheep to find the one lost one are pious BS, an excuse to ignore the needs of the average parishioner (who is also lost, or in danger of being lost, in his own less glamorous way) to pursue favor with the ones with high secular status.

Devout Protestants rightly criticize the importation of business models into their churches, but it often feels like Catholic leaders take their job less seriously than someone would a business enterprise.

41 Responses

  1. Something to keep in mind: there is actually a bad form of Catholic tribalism, where you are loyal to the group just because you are loyal to the group, and it has been quite a problem over the past few decades. There are, or at least used to be, a lot of liberal Catholics who quite strongly identified as Catholics, but who were actively trying to undermine the church’s traditional doctrines. What to do with them? They weren’t actually very good candidates for reconversion, and their presence was, in most ways, actively pernicious, or at least that’s how it seems to me.

    BTW, this particular problem seems to affect some religions more than others. Evangelicals, with their emphasis on personal belief, meant that, if you didn’t really believe it, it was strongly implied you should be out of the group. This is not meant as a comprehensive defense of Evangelicalism as against Catholicism or any other religion, as Evangelicalism very definitely has its own problems.

  2. “expending all our missionary effort on people who are the least likely to convert”

    How do we know? Scripture says, “I will have mercy on whom I will, and I will be merciful to whom it shall please Me” (Exod. 33:19). Thus, St Augustine teaches that “the effectiveness of God’s mercy cannot be in the power of man to frustrate, if he will have none of it. If God wills to have mercy on a man, He can call him in a way that is suited to him, so that he will be moved to understand and to follow.”

    He explains, “He stirred many to believe by his words, but many did not believe though the dead were raised. Even His disciples were terrified and shattered by His cross and death, but the thief believed at the very moment when he saw Him not highly exalted but his own equal in sharing in crucifixion. One of His disciples after His resurrection believed, not so much because His body was alive again, as because of His recent wounds. Many of those who crucified Him, who had despised Him while He was working His miracles, believed when His disciples preached Him and did similar miracles in His name. Since, then, people are brought to faith in such different ways, and the same thing spoken in one way has power to move and has no such power when spoken in another way, or may move one man and not another, who would dare to affirm that God has no method of calling whereby even Esau might have applied his mind and yoked his will to the faith in which Jacob was justified? But if the obstinacy of the will can be such that the mind’s aversion from all modes of calling becomes hardened, the question is whether that very hardening does not come from some divine penalty, as if God abandons a man by not calling him in the way in which he might be moved to faith. Who would dare to affirm that the Omnipotent lacked a method of persuading even Esau to believe?”

  3. We live in an era when the general level of masculine strength is pretty low, and the Church seems to recruit from the lilly-livered end of that emasculated spectrum. This isn’t universally true, of course, but it sure wouldn’t hurt if they slipped testosterone supplements into the drinking water at the seminary. We are desperately in need of Popes, Bishops, Cardinals and Priests with Donald-Trump-like pugnacity.

    Back at the turn of the nineteenth century there was among Protestants a fad for what was called “muscular Christianity,” lead by evangelists like Billy Sunday and Gipsy Smith. My Grandparents were converted by a less illustrious preacher in that same movement, which was centered at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. Some of the antics of these evangelist brought down the amused scorn of polite society, but to working men like my grandfather, they were attractive because they were virile. And that’s what we desperately need today: virility.

    MSP @ I don’t wish to be rude, but your remarks strike me as what Bonald calls pious BS. God is omnipotent, and thus has no constraints of scarcity and no need for economics. The Church on the other hand works with scarce resources, and scarce resources should be spent where the return is greatest. As our Lord puts it, one should leave a house that will not receive the word, and shake its dust from one’s sandals.

  4. JMSmith

    It is not a question of the Divine Omnipotence, but of the inscrutability of his eternal decrees. We simply do not know and cannot know “who are the least likely to convert.”

    St Augustine again, “This is the predestination of the saints – nothing else; to wit, the foreknowledge and the preparation of God’s kindnesses, whereby they are most certainly delivered, whoever they are that are delivered. But where are the rest left by the righteous divine judgment except in the mass of ruin, where the Tyrians and the Sidonians were left? Who, moreover, might have believed if they had seen Christ’s wonderful miracles ((Mt 11: 21–24)). But since it was not given to them to believe, the means of believing also were denied them. From which it appears that some have in their understanding itself a naturally divine gift of intelligence, by which they may be moved to the faith, if they either hear the words or behold the signs congruous to their minds; and yet if, in the higher judgment of God, they are not by the predestination of grace separated from the mass of perdition, neither those very divine words nor deeds are applied to them by which they might believe if they only heard or saw such things.”

    Thus, Our Lord said to His disciples, “To you, it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.” (Matt. 13:11) Of the others, St John tells us, “they could not believe, because that Isaiah said again, (Isa. 6:10) He hath blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them” (John 12:37 ff)

  5. MPS @ I think it is true that we can never know with certainty whether an individual will or will not convert, that saints are sometimes made from the most unpromising material, and that apostasy can occur in the most unlikely quarters. But individual idiosyncrasies are resolved into patterns when we scale up to the sociological level. In my classes, promising students sometimes fail, and early laggards sometimes leap to the head of the class, but the general distribution is the same, year in and year out. Sociology of religion tells us what the most promising potential converts look like. This doesn’t mean that everyone who looks like that will convert, or that all converts will look like that, only that this is the population on which resources should be concentrated.

    The most promising potential converts are (1) socially isolated and (2) religiously indifferent. Their social isolation makes them hungry for social connections and also limits the drag of pre-existing social connections. Their religious indifference means we don’t have to overcome strong opinions for or against religion or the Church.

    The great mission field for the Catholic Church is lapsed Catholics. Not people who have rejected the Church or are wallowing in sin, but people who have drifted out of the Church and find life vaguely dissatisfying. The effort it would take to convert one hardshell Baptist or one dedicated libertine, would likely convert ten such lapsed Catholics.

  6. JMSmith

    The Church’s mission is not to “win converts,” but to proclaim the Gospel

    Now, the proclamation of the Gospel serves two purposes, both of which redound to God’s glory. One is that it is the outward means of effectually calling the little number of the elect; the other is to make the reprobate inexcusable – “If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin; but now they have no cloak for their sin.” (Jn 15: 23). This fulfils the words of the Psalmist, “I will sing of mercy and judgment unto Thee, O Lord.” (Ps 101: 1)

    Concepts of success or failure have no application to a Divine mission; although individuals can be faithful or unfaithful to their calling

  7. More pious BS. The Church is commissioned to “disciple the nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost,” not just to preach the Gospel.

  8. http://www.ksl.com/?nid=148&sid=4740342

    So Bonald are the statements made in the link above “pious humbug” or is what Bishop Wester said something that is incumbent upon all Catholic traditionalists? I mean just look at Bishop Wester doesn’t he strike you as a modern St. Athanasius?

  9. I would say evangelicals exhibit a very pernicious form of tribalism when it comes to their political Zionism. A good example of this was last year when Ted Cruz condemned Eastern Catholics and other schismatic churches for not being sufficiently pro-Israel.

  10. An example of misallocated resources: spending more effort reaching out to sodomites than to teenagers or to working class heterosexual men. Can we all agree that that’s a bad idea?

    Or how about this, having an Extraordinary Synod on the Family and focusing it entirely on appealing to adulterers and sodomites, not thinking the challenges modern families face in passing on the faith to be worth attention.

    There’s a common theme here. Concern is always for high-status hardened sinners, already firmly set against Church teaching. Indifference is always for much more numerously populated low-status groups filled with people who are more open to the Church’s message. The reason prelates do this is secular respectability. The excuses believing Catholics make for it are pious BS.

  11. Bonald,

    Is this a misallocation of resources? http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/local/wp/2014/11/17/vatican-opens-conference-on-traditional-marriage/

    This seems to me to be what you and some of the commentors here are all about, grand alliances of “conservative” religions against liberalism. I am sure you were especially touched that Mormons were invited.

  12. Concern for high-status sinners, as someone already pointed out, is to leave them no excuse.
    Average sinners will probably find their way home on their own, as I did.
    No one “reached out” to me.
    That the existence of the Churches Triumphant and Suffering might be sufficient to prove indefectability is something I had never thought of.
    Are u sure about this?

  13. […] is (his usual) fantastic here: Catholic defensiveness vs. pious humbug, aka. “Pious […]

  14. Fantastic post, Bonald. I wonder sometimes whether what you call pious BS is a genuine intellectual conviction or merely a weapon to wield against people the speaker happens to dislike (almost inevitably someone to the speaker’s right) — see, how weak is X’s faith! Doesn’t he know the gates of Hell etc.?

    As I’m fond of pointing out, the gates of Hell cannot prevail against the Church, but they can certainly prevail against your mother or your wife or your children or even yourself. The Church will still be the Church even if you and everyone you love goes to Hell. Are we not to worry about that imminent and urgent possibility because, hey, this impossible thing can’t happen?

  15. TCA–

    No one reached out to me, either, and I am in fact probably lucky that they didn’t. They’d likely have driven me away. But I’d have a hard time developing that into a general argument for not focusing on socially isolated, religiously indifferent people because I’m not an ordinary case, and since you’re here, you probably aren’t, either.

  16. “I’m not claiming to be better than anyone.” — Bonald

    Anti-pious BS? Surly you jest, momentarily succumbing to “acute equality syndrome?”

  17. No, he means this as a statement of fact. He is lamenting that Catholics do not act with pugnacious tribal solidarity while admitting that he does not himself act with pugnacious tribal solidarity. He’s making it clear that he is not some bloodied Soldier of the Cross, but instead a typical, timorous Catholic who vents on the internet. And he’s saying that a first step towards pugnacious tribal solidarity would be to disperse the clouds of pious B.S. and take some action.

    If I were an adulterer in a decadent society, I could very well decry the low state of sexual morality. To stave off charges of hypocrisy, I would have to say “I’m not claiming to be better than anyone.” This would not be a symptoms of “acute equality syndrome,” but a statement of fact and a means to interdict charges of hypocrisy.

  18. “As I’m fond of pointing out, the gates of Hell cannot prevail against the Church, but they can certainly prevail against your mother or your wife or your children or even yourself.”

    That’s an important and very relevant comment, proph.

  19. “expending all our missionary effort on people who are the least likely to convert”

    Via the Remnant. This is blocked here at work and won’t download. I assume it is satire:

    breaking-news-vatican-planning-on-using-ashley-madison-list-for-new-converts

    http://www.a-cnn.com/index.php/articles/item/2004-breaking-news-vatican-planning-on-using-ashley-madison-list-for-new-converts

  20. JMSmith…

    While I can certainly appreciate your “tribal Catholicism,” your very particular interpretation does not jibe with Bonald’s general concession. His was an assertion nearly equal to saying he is equal to all others. There is, in the bluntest sense, with a statement like Bonald’s, no truly extant Catholics. There is in Bonald’s statement a part of him equally degenerate to the worst degenerate. If “we” hear Kristor then a call for “tribal Catholicism” MEANS “it” does not currently exist in any way, shape or form. How “i” then comes into being WHEN EVEN self-professed Catholics like Bonald declare themselves fundamentally equal to the “reverent” degenerate is unknown. Or not really?

  21. JMSmith…

    Just to be clear, I’m focused on the mind war that the white Christian conducts against himself in a constant series of concessions to total liberation.

  22. I understand. But I don’t think Bonald was running himself down. He was simply acknowledging that many people who spout pious B.S. are, in some other respects, better Catholics than he.

  23. JMSmith has read me rightly. My goal was to avoid questions of personal holiness or commitment altogether. “Pious BS” is strong language, and some might naturally interpret the word as an attack on the sincerity of those who make such statements. I’m seldom shy here about attacking people’s sincerity, but in this case I don’t mean to do so, because lots of people who spout “gates of Hell” BS really believe it, or at least really believe that they should believe it, and some are admirable in all sorts of other ways.

  24. Agreed. While God ultimately controls things, that doesn’t excuse us from trying our all to do good.

    I’d note, however, that your interpretation of the Church’s indestructibility is incorrect. Christ’s promise does guarantee that the Church on Earth will not go extinct.

    Of course, it could very well go extinct in the west.

  25. One thing I’d point out though, is that while we should promote Catholic identity, trying to offensively get converts is itself part of that identity (or at least, it is unless the entire society is already Catholic). The early Catholics won the Roman Empire despite being a small persecuted minority.

    This is of course, not to make a generalized comparison between the Catholics of the Roman Empire and modern Catholics. They were much holier and strict than we are.

    As far as the ghetto idea, I like it in principle, but the problem seems to be that the powers that be won’t leave such ghettos alone. They would be sued out of oblivion for “housing discrimination” amongst other things.

  26. IIRC, the standard theological interpretation of “the gates of hell” is that that until Jesus returns there will be at least one validly ordained bishop, which ensures that all the sacraments at least potentially exist. The efficacy of sacraments doesn’t depend on the subjective state of the bishop/priest/whoever except that he must intend in a general way to accomplish what the Church intends. So there might be no faith on earth, but only a validly ordained but heretical bishop capable of administering the sacraments.

    Although Ockham thought that the guarantee went farther and that there must be at least one Catholic who holds the entire faith. He used this argument in his polemicisations against John XXII regarding the naturalness of property. It was a strange and not very compelling argument, I don’t think it’s mainstream.

  27. The universal teachings of the Church can’t be false, so if there were only one bishop left, he couldn’t be a heretic.

    Of course, this is all a distraction. The thing to worry about isn’t that there will only be one bishop left and he might be a heretic. It’s that there will be less than a hundred bishops left, half of them heretics, the other half in jail, and all of them on the other side of the world.

  28. AR, the Amish get left alone. Then again, they’re quaint and green.

    I remember when the town of Ava Maria in Florida was being created as a little Catholic village out in the middle of the swamp. The founders wanted to get gentlemen’s agreements from potential business owners not to sell contraceptives. The left, of course, threw a fit and I don’t think it ever happened. Even in a little village out in the swamp.

  29. In case other readers are not as nosy as I am when it comes to the Crisis website, here is an article posted today by James Kalb that touches on Bonald’s theme here. I think Kalb is noteworthy for achieving a persevering, even stubborn loyalty to the Holy Father on the one hand, but without lazily resorting to PBS.

  30. ArkansasReactionary wrote, “The universal teachings of the Church can’t be false, so if there were only one bishop left, he couldn’t be a heretic.”
    That is really self-evident, for there must be some standard or yardstick of orthodoxy. When he was still an Anglican, Mgr Ronald Knox asked himself a simple question: “Why did those who anathematized Nestorius come to be regarded as “Catholics” rather than those who still accept his doctrines?” He realised that we do not have to concern ourselves with the theological arguments at all; the short answer is that the “Catholics” had the bishop of Rome in their party and the Nestorians did not. As he says, “if you ask a Catholic “What is the Catholic Faith?” and are told it is that held by the Catholic Church; if you persevere, and ask what is the Catholic Church, you are no longer met with the irritatingly circular definition “the Church which holds the Catholic Faith “; you are told it is the Church which is in communion with the Bishop of Rome.”

    It furnishes us with a real test, not a vicious circle and one that is is remarkably easy of application; just what one would expect of the criterion of a divine message, intended for all, regardless of learning, capacity or circumstances.

  31. If the last bishop’s orthodoxy is tautological, can we still take any comfort in it?

  32. The last bishop’s orthodoxy is both tautological and guaranteed to be objectively orthodox, infallibility et al.

    But as I said, I don’t think discussion of such extreme possibilities is fruitful, as it distracts from the more feasible disasters that could occur.

  33. Despite the dangers that can arise in speculating about extreme situations for the Church that might arise, it does seem to me that it might lead to some insight about the relationship between faith and reason, and of the authority of our ancestors and Christ Himself as preserved in written texts vs. the authority of living clergy who are capable of adding to the deposit of faith with new clarifications in response to new practical problems that have arisen.

    If you were to find yourself in a world with one remaining bishop, and the bishop starts promoting doctrines that quite clearly contradict previous infallible teachings of the Magisterium (e.g. stating outright that God does not exist or that Christ is not His son, or perhaps somewhat more realistically given our current situation declaring that previous Catholic teaching was simply wrong on certain matters of sexual morality), what would you do? Would you insist on applying a “hermeneutic of continuity” no matter how explicit and direct the contradictions are between the bishop’s statements and the written records of past ecumenical councils, infallible Papal teachings, and sacred scripture? No matter how tortured your interpretation must be in order to harmonize the two– if you can even devise any such interpretation at all? Would you assume that your reading of written records of previous infallible proclamations was incorrect in some way, even if it became very, very hard to imagine how that could be the case?

    Or would you at some point decide to entertain other possibilities: that that you may be mistaken about the criteria for valid ordination that you used to determine that this bishop was truly the only remaining one, or that the guarantee that the gates of Hell will not prevail against the Church may be even weaker than you thought and allow for the possibility in some cases of faithful laypeople upholding the true faith in the face of a wholly heretical episcopate? Or would it be an occasion for such despair that you decide that Catholicism is simply not true and that you should start looking into whether Orthodoxy (or some other belief system that has a lot of overlap with Catholicism) is the true faith after all?

    Given such a direct conflict between one’s own reason and the Catholic faith, I cannot honestly say what my response would be– my initial instinct is to trust my own ability to determine whether there is truly no hope of resolving the apparent contradictions, but I also suspect that overconfidence in my own intellectual abilities is one of my vices.

  34. That’s the thing. The Church’s infallibility guarantees that the Church universally teaching heresy won’t happen.

    It’s not that if such a situation were to arise, there would be some absurd so,union to it, it’s that it would never happen.

  35. “[T]the authority of our ancestors and Christ Himself as preserved in written texts vs. the authority of living clergy who are capable of adding to the deposit of faith with new clarifications in response to new practical problems that have arisen.”

    Bl John Henry Newman draws an important distinction here: “Theological dogmas are propositions expressive of the judgments, which the mind forms, or the impressions which it receives, of Revealed Truth. Revelation sets before it certain supernatural facts and actions, beings and principles; these make a certain impression or image upon it; and this impression spontaneously, or even necessarily, becomes the subject of reflection on the part of the mind itself, which proceeds to investigate it and to draw it forth in successive and distinct sentences”

    The Deposit of Faith is identified with Revelation, not with the ideas or notions or reflections it produces. Newman’s whole theory of development of doctrine rests on this (to my mind at least, blindingly obvious) distinction.

  36. ArkansasReactionary:
    If that is the case, then the orthodoxy of the last bishop does not seem to be a tautology (at least as I was interpreting the meaning of “tautology” here). Were we to ever find ourselves with only one bishop remaining, orthodox Catholicism makes a testable prediction– that the bishop’s teachings will not deviate so far from previously established doctrines as to falsify the claim that “the gates of Hell will not prevail against the Chuch”. Of course we do not believe that such a thing will ever happen, but this belief could in principle be shown incorrect by historical events that would not appear particularly extraordinary to one who does not already believe that the Church has received a supernatural guarantee about its future. This is unlike the doctrines which concern things such as events in the life of Christ or the nature of the afterlife, where there is really no way for them to be shown false short of e.g. observing for yourself after your death what the afterlife is like (if there is indeed a “you” to keep on observing), or highly implausible possibilities such as discovering that physics allows for practical time-travel and travelling to early 1st century Judea to see for yourself how accurate the Gospels really were.

    Michael Paterson-Seymour:
    I think you are correct– I misspoke when I identified the dogmas promulgated in writing by the Magisterium in the past as being a part of the deposit of faith. That being said, we are still left with a question of how to resolve tensions between written records of past teachings of the Magisterium and apparent heresy promoted by (in this hypothetical situation) the only living bishop.

  37. Hi Andrew,

    My instinct is the same as yours. If I doubt too radically my ability to make sense of past Catholic pronouncements, I couldn’t continue to be sure that I could make any sense of the Church’s current pronouncements or of her claim to reliability. The “I must have misunderstood when I thought the Church said adultery was wrong” path is self-defeating. My favored solution is to qualify the extent of the Church’s indefectibility.

  38. “[H]ow to resolve tensions between written records of past teachings of the Magisterium and apparent heresy…”

    The real solution is Manning’s. “The enunciation of the faith by the living Church of this hour, is the maximum of evidence, both natural and supernatural, as to the fact and the contents of the original revelation. I know what are revealed there not by retrospect, but by listening.” He adds, “The first and final question to be asked of these controversialists is : Do you or do you not believe that there is a Divine Person teaching now, as in the beginning, with a divine, and therefore infallible voice ; and that the Church of this hour is the organ through which He speaks to the world ? If so, the history, and antiquity, and facts, as they are called, of the past vanish before the presence of an order of facts which are divine…”

    Mgr Ronald Knox, when still an Anglican, posed himself the question: “Why did those who anathematized Nestorius come to be regarded as “Catholics” rather than those who still accept his doctrines?” The only answer that holds water is that the Catholics had the bishop of Rome in their party and the Nestorians did not. “if you ask a Catholic ‘What is the Catholic Faith?’ and are told it is that held by the Catholic Church; if you persevere, and ask what is the Catholic Church, you are no longer met with the irritatingly circular definition ‘the Church which holds the Catholic Faith,’; you are told it is the Church which is in communion with the Bishop of Rome.” Hence, he concludes that “The fideles, be they many or few, be their doctrine apparently traditional or apparently innovatory, be their champions honest or unscrupulous, are simply those who are in visible communion with the see of Rome.”

  39. “If I doubt too radically my ability to make sense of past Catholic pronouncements, I couldn’t continue to be sure that I could make any sense of the Church’s current pronouncements”

    The difference is well outlined by Bl John Henry Newman: “There is, I repeat, an essential difference between the act of submitting to a living oracle, and to his written words; in the former case there is no appeal from the speaker, in the latter the final decision remains with the reader. Consider how different is the confidence with which you report another’s words in his presence and in his absence. If he be absent, you boldly say that he holds so and so, or said so and so; but let him come into the room in the midst of the conversation, and your tone is immediately changed. It is then, “I think I have heard you say something like this, or what I took to be this”; or you modify considerably the statement or the fact to which you originally pledged him, dropping one-half of it for safety sake, or retrenching the most startling portions of it; and then after all you wait with some anxiety to see whether he will accept any portion of it at all. The same sort of process takes place in the case of the written document of a person now dead. I can fancy a man magisterially expounding St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians or to the Ephesians, who would be better content with the writer’s absence than his sudden reappearance among us; {201} lest the Apostle should take his own meaning out of his commentator’s hands and explain it for himself.”

  40. Andrew:
    Yes, it makes a testable prediction. So what? Every single one of us will die, Cathplicism makes a testable (from the deceased person’s perspective) prediction about what will happen. That doesn’t change the fact that it’s infallibly guaranteed.

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