Roman Catholic belief of "sola ecclesia"

Discussion in 'Navigating Through Church Life' started by Stalwart, Jan 14, 2022 at 11:00 AM.

  1. Stalwart

    Stalwart Well-Known Member Anglican

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    As you guys know I'm interested in apologetics, especially in dialogue with the Roman Catholics. This is another entry in that vein.

    One of the most important reasons which became apparent to me about why not to become Roman Catholic, is their belief which can be summarized as "sola ecclesia". The Reformation had its solas, but in truth the Roman Catholics had their implicit solas as well, however unstated, and therefore not realized for many years. It has taken some centuries of careful analysis to perceive RC unstated beliefs, and "sola ecclesia" has emerged as one of the most important; where if you believe that, that makes you a RC; and if you don't, you can't be a RC.

    What is "sola ecclesia"? It's the belief that the Church is ultimately what constitutes Christian beliefs, dogmas, and doctrines. While an RC will certainly accept scripture, they will say that it's the Church that decides what scripture means (and even what it is; the canon, etc). While an RC will propose 'sacred tradition' which along with scripture is the source of doctrine, they will say that it's the Church that tells us what's in sacred tradition; since it isn't written down, they'll argue that we know what's in it by having the Church tell us. You see, the criticism of RC 'tradition' is incomplete; that's not the real issue. The real issue is their belief that they can make tradition mean whatever they want it to mean.

    In short, according to "sola ecclesia", the Church tells us:
    -where doctrine comes from (scripture + tradition);
    -what is scripture;
    -what is tradition.

    As a result, according to "sola ecclesia", the Church tells us what is Christianity itself.

    Now, what are some of the problems with that? The following: making the Church the source of Christian doctrine, means that Christian doctrine can change. For instance when the RCs invented the immaculate conception of Mary, they dredged up a few supports for why that doctrine is reasonable. Or when Pope Francis recently mandated it as Christian doctrine to reject capital punishment (despite our 4000-year prior history). Critics have tried to disprove each of those innovations' underlying proofs, but they missed the larger point: the reason those innovations were even made, was because of the RC belief in "sola ecclesia", giving them the temerity to propose new doctrines "as Christianity". With us as Anglicans, if Archbishop Welby proposes some new doctrine, we just wave him off as heterodox. But if a succession of RC Popes proposes some new doctrine, it has to be accepted as Christian. Sola Ecclesia is the key to Roman Catholicism.

    C.S. Lewis put it this way:
    "The real reason why I cannot be in communion with you is not my disagreement with this or that Roman doctrine, but that to accept your Church means, not to accept a given body of doctrine, but to accept in advance any doctrine your Church hereafter produces. It is like being asked to agree not only to what a man has said but also to what he is going to say."
    -“Christian Reunion”, in Christian Reunion and Other Essays, edited by Walter Hooper (London: Collins, 1990), 17-18.​

    Lewis had the genius to perceive the implicit truth missed by most others: the real issue with RCCism is not their justifications for this or that odd doctrine, but their belief in the source of doctrine as such.

    Today we see an odd (seemingly unrelated) internecine RC conflict: the "conservatives" are waging a war against the "traditionalists". The Latin Mass Traditionalists still believe that doctrine can't change, and thus they still try to advocate the old RC views like the rejection of religious liberty, the damnation of all non-Catholics, etc. But the "conservatives" are saying- Look, all those beliefs are now in the past, we've moved on. The foundational saint of the conservatives is Cardinal Newman, with his idea of the "development of doctrine". It is a belief that doctrines can evolve, or gently change, and it is okay for us to accept that. The (smart) traditionalists ask: how can any sane Catholic think it okay for doctrines to change? And the answer now appears to us: it's because the core root of RCCism is "sola ecclesia". The Latin Mass traditionalists have themselves missed the core root of their religion. As long as the Church exists to make doctrines, then Christianity exists; what the Church particularly teaches is an important but secondary matter.

    Here is how James White explains "sola ecclesia":
     
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2022 at 11:21 AM
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  2. Stalwart

    Stalwart Well-Known Member Anglican

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    Now:

    The most important answer the RCs will make, is that they'll reject that "sola ecclesia" is the core root of their religion. Here is a prominent RC apologist Michael Lofton, going on for 3.5 hours to argue against James White:



    At first their topic doesn't seem to touch on "sola ecclesia". The two men are debating whether doctrine arises out of scripture, or scripture + tradition (the stock topic in those kinds of debates). But at timestamp 1:05:00, White raises the charge of "sola ecclesia", and that's when Lofton (self-professedly a faithful Catholic), strongly rejects his belief in any kind of "sola ecclesia":

    timestamp 1:05:00
    "I don't have to commit myself to the ultimate authority of the bishop of Rome on every theological proposition. Do I have to go to the Pope and ask him, 'Hey was this in the bounds of orthodoxy? This is still unclear to me, I gotta ask the Holy Father.' *laughter* Are you kidding me? Nobody has to maintain that view. There's nothing wrong with me saying, 'I don't have to go to the Holy Father, not only for the definitive judgments, but I don't even have to go to him for the non-definitive authoritative judgments'. There's plenty of things that are clear in Scripture, and there are plenty of things that are clear in Sacred Tradition. We go to the Magisterium, ultimately, in cases of dispute, where there's a need, a controversy."

    Now that seems remarkably uncontroversial. If the RC position was indeed as he says here, then could anyone object? We teach the same thing: "The Church has authority in controversies of faith" (Article 20).

    And indeed, if you search for the phrase "sola ecclesia" in RC documents, historic texts, works of Bellarmine etc, you won't find it. Hence why I've said it's an implicit belief. But here Lofton, a well-meaning faithful Catholic, is harshly attacking this belief, and openly rejecting it even as an implicit idea.


    Is "sola ecclesia" disproven then?

    That is when I came upon this video from an "old school" RC religious society, called the SSPX. These guys have steeped themselves in the decrees of the Council of Trent, and Leo XIII, Pius X, and all the other hardcore "old school" roman catholic popes and decrees. Thus unlike Lofton, they represent the actual RC theology. Here was an episode they made (again, on another seemingly unrelated subject):



    timestamp 5:30
    "People no longer know what the Church teaches. They remain Catholic, because they submit themselves to the Catholic Church as the rule of faith, but they don't know what the Church teaches in fact. But as long as they're submitting themselves that the Church is the true Church, that she is the rule of faith, they remain Catholic. St. Thomas addressed this, that as long as we're ready to accept everything the Church teaches, we still keep the habit of faith. The habit of faith comes from the submission of my mind to the Church as the rule of faith."


    The phrase "rule of faith" is a translation of "regula fidei", a key concept in historic Christian theology. Philip Schaff's discussion: Regula Fidei. The word "rule" is a somewhat clumsy translation. The Latin word "regula" better translates as that by which we measure other things. In school the students will have a ruler by which they measure distances; that's what the word "regula" here means.

    The Rule of Faith then, is a technical term, which indicates that by which we measure all our other religious views. As a ruler will be to a student, so what we use as our "regula fidei" will give us the right measurements of our Christianity.

    For the Reformers, the Scripture was the regula fidei. All Christian doctrines were measured by scripture.

    Since the RC's believe in scripture+tradition, you'd think that that would be their "rule of faith". But it's not! In fact, what they say is their rule of faith is the Church! This is very important: for Roman Catholicism, the Church is the rule of faith. That which measures, and determines, the rest of Christianity.

    And thus inadvertently, speaking on an unrelated subject, this RC priest has confirmed all of our suspicions regarding "sola ecclesia". He used a different term, "rule of faith" / "regula fidei", which is why you won't find "sola ecclesia" in the old RC texts. But the two terms are equivalent. So the real question to Michael Lofton would be, "Okay, you don't believe in sola ecclesia; but do you believe that the RC church is the rule of faith?" Because if so, then you've just accepted sola ecclesia, and validated all of the reasons why a Christian can not, must not, ever consider RCCism as a viable option.

    And we should similarly ask the Latin Mass Traditionalists: 'Do you believe that the Church can be the rule of faith? Because if so, that explains why you are left behind by today's RC church.' They still mistakenly believe that the RC church stands (or has ever stood) for something concrete, specific, and unchanging.
     
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2022 at 11:32 AM
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  3. CRfromQld

    CRfromQld Member

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    I think that each religion can fairly define what beliefs are or are not consistent with membership. However it seems that the RC church proclaims as dogma several things that are not supported biblically; e.g. the perpetual virginity of Mary.
    video: Roman Catholicism: Contending for the Faith

    On the other hand the Anglican church is so intent on maintaining unity and inclusiveness that it allows beliefs that are not consistent with the Bible.
     
  4. Rexlion

    Rexlion Well-Known Member

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    Are the 'conservative' RCs really saying that their church's beliefs have changed? If so, that would be momentous. My perception of RCs is that they're all conditioned by their church to believe the mantra that the church's beliefs never change and that beliefs are only clarified. For example, when it was declared officially that Mary was assumed bodily into heaven, the RCC said, basically, 'this was always the church's belief, but not everyone understood it, and now we've made it much more clear.' Same thing with the question of other denominations' members and heaven. As for the adoption of Mass in the local vernacular instead of Latin and having the priest face the people instead of the altar, they said 'this isn't a change of doctrine, it's just a question of practice and policy which are subject to our governance.' And AFAIK the laity bought it.

    I haven't been conversed with younger RCs in recent years, though, so maybe they really are rejecting the old "RC doctrine never changes" mantra. Are they now publicly saying that it can & does change? Are there RC priests & bishops teaching this, too?
     
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  5. Stalwart

    Stalwart Well-Known Member Anglican

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    There is no way around it anymore, especially under Pope Francis. Their go-to response is the "development of doctrine", that as long as the changes are "organic", then they're something which does not undermine the infallible claims of the church.

    Correct, this was the tactic right up until Vatican II. Keep adjusting and massaging the facts of history to perpetuate the mythology that RC doctrines never change. That house of cards has fallen down with and after Vatican II, when the amount of changes was so colossal that the only way forward was to embrace that changes can happen, but disarm them (via "development of doctrine").

    Lecture at Creighton University: "Lumen Gentium: Vatican II's Changing Church"



    Big time, even the Popes are doing it. See below, not the specific doctrine that is being proposed, but the method by which it is being proposed:

    "Pope Francis revises Catechism, teaches that death penalty is ‘inadmissible’"
    https://www.americamagazine.org/fai...-catechism-teaches-death-penalty-inadmissible

    Recourse to the death penalty on the part of legitimate authority, following a fair trial, was long considered an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of safeguarding the common good.

    Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes. In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state. Lastly, more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption.

    Consequently, the church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person”, and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide.
     
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2022 at 11:57 PM
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  6. Invictus

    Invictus Well-Known Member

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    I’m sympathetic to the overall point you’re making; however, I’m not sure it’s fair to lay all this at Newman’s feet. “Development of doctrine” did not mean, for Newman, that, e.g., the Church could declare the Trinity an indispensable dogma in the 4th cent. but then relegate it to purely private opinion in the 21st. Only the outer manifestation undergoes change, for Newman; the essence is fixed and constant.

    I’m not sure the Assumption is a good example to cite. Christians have believed that the Mother of God died and was raised alive to heaven since at least the 8th century. It was hardly anything novel or poorly understood by the time Pius XII defined it dogmatically.
     
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  7. Stalwart

    Stalwart Well-Known Member Anglican

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    The examples I used were the Immaculate Conception and capital punishment. It’s hard to disagree that with those a fundamental doctrinal alteration has occurred.

    And I’m happy to go deeper into Newman’s thesis but let’s do that in its own respective thread. I feel like the point I raised here is tangled enough as it is, so we’ll need all the space we have for it.
     
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  8. Invictus

    Invictus Well-Known Member

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    I believe it was Rexlion who mentioned the Assumption; didn’t mean to get your comments mixed up.

    The RCC’s change of stance regarding is quite baffling, I agree. The IC seems like a bit more of a grey area, but I’m willing to concede the point for the sake of the discussion.

    I think you are right to distinguish between traditionalists and conservatives; that’s a very important insight that all too often gets overlooked.
     
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  9. Stalwart

    Stalwart Well-Known Member Anglican

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    Yeah this explains why the Latin mass "rad-trads" can be so out of step with the modern RC church. They’re still blessedly unaware of the real nature of RCCism, thunking that it’s a stable rock on which to ground their lives. Finding the modern RCCism unstable, they harken back to the “the last stable” era of the church, not realizing that the same progressivist principle was operating then also.
     
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