The Semi-Permeable Membranes of the Various Protestantisms

One basic rule of thumb to understand in Catholic/Protestant conversations is that it is not the case that Catholics rely on Sacred Tradition and Protestants don’t. Rather, Catholics (and by this I mean "educated Catholics speaking out of the Magisterial teaching of the Church") rely on Sacred Tradition and know they do, while Protestants rely on (parts) of Sacred Tradition and (usually) don’t know they do.

So, for instance, despite Paul’s prescriptions (directed only at clergy of his day) that a man must be the husband of but one wife, nowhere in the text of Scripture is it made clear that Christian marriage must be monogamous for all (a fact that did not escape Luther or John Milton). Nowhere does Scripture spell out that the Holy Spirit is a person, much less the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity, consubstantial with the Father and the Son. Similarly, you will look in vain for instructions in Scripture on how to contract a valid marriage (unless you buy this list of "Top 10 Ways to Find a Wife, According to the Bible"):

10. Find an attractive prisoner of war, bring her home, shave her head, trim her nails, and give her new clothes. Then she’s yours (Dt 21:11-13).
9. Find a prostitute and marry her (Hos 1:1-3).
8. Find a man with seven daughters, and impress him by watering his flock (Moses, Ex 2:16-21).
7. Purchase a piece of property, and get a woman as part of the deal (Boaz, Ru 4:5-10).
6. Go to a party and hide. When the women come out to dance, grab one and carry her off to be your wife (Benjaminites, Jgs 21:19-25).
5. Have God create a wife for you while you sleep (Adam, Gn 2:19-24).
4. Kill any husband and take his wife (David, 2 Sm 11).
3. Cut 200 foreskins off of your future father-in-law’s enemies and get his daughter for a wife (David, 1 Sm 18:27).
2. Even if no one is out there, just wander around a bit and you’ll definitely find someone (Cain, Gn 4:16-17).
1. Don’t be so picky. Make up for quality with quantity (Solomon, 1 Kgs 11:1-3).

Of course, this doesn’t really help much. The fact is, the Bible says "marriage is good" but gives us not one word of instruction on how to do it. That’s because Scripture is not and never was intended to be the Big Book of Everything. And yet, of course, Protestants all over the world get married, believe in God the Holy Spirit, and have but one spouse because, as James Dobson says, God’s plan is one man and one woman. How do they do this when Scripture is so unclear?
Whether they realize it or not, they do it by accepting Sacred Tradition percolated to them from the Catholic Church through the Protestant tradition. It’s the same way they know that the books of the Bible they accept are supposed to be books of the Bible. It’s the same way they know that public revelation closed with the death of the apostles, even though Scripture is completely silent on the matter (Revelation 22:18-19 doesn’t count since that passage refers to the Book of Revelation, not to the Bible, which was not fully collated — and from which Revelation was sometimes excluded — before the late fourth century).
Retention of Catholic Sacred Tradition fragments has kept Protestantism in such sanity as it still possesses. So when the Bible Answer Man appeals to "historic Christianity" in understanding what the Bible means, that’s typically a good thing. He’s appealing to Sacred Tradition and agreeing with the Church. It’s Eupocrisy in action!

However, in those places where Protestantism attempts to reject Catholic Sacred Tradition, the narrative suddenly and wrenchingly changes. Suddenly, the demand is made for nothing less than an explicit proof text from the Bible. It works like this:

  1. If a thing is condemned by the Church but permitted by the Protestant (say, gay marriage), the demand is for an explicit text forbidding it. ("Show me where Jesus said one word about not allowing gay marriage! That’s just the Church imposing its purely human ideas on what Jesus came to say.") 
  1. Conversely, if a thing is allowed by the Church but condemned by the Protestant, the demand is for an explicit text commanding it. ("Where in the Bible do you find anyone asking us to pray to dead people? That’s just the Church imposing it’s purely human ideas on what Jesus came to say.")
Note how the terms of the argument shift to suit the "Heads I win, tails the Church loses" agenda. It’s no longer good enough to say (as the Protestant generally does when, for instance, arguing for the divinity of the Holy Spirit), "Here are biblical passages which, taken together, point to the reality that the Holy Spirit is a Divine Person even though there is no text that says ‘The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity.’"

No, arguing from such obvious implication is out the window. In many circles, even a nearly algebraic piece of logic like

  1. Jesus is God.
  2. Mary is His Mother.
  3. Therefore, Mary is the Mother of God.
 . . . gets rejected as "inbred reasoning" since Catholics can’t produce the Bible verse that says explicitly, "Mary is the Mother of God." Suddenly, only direct, explicit testimony and instruction in legally watertight language will do.
How this works on the ground can be seen everywhere. The Protestant who wants to permit abortion points out that there is no unequivocal commandment in either the Old or New Testament saying, "You shall not have an abortion," and evinces absolutely no interest in how the texts we do have ("You shall not murder," for instance) have been universally read by the Church from the earliest times. Likewise, the Protestant who dogmatically rejects, say, prayer to the saints simply ignores you if you point to the fact that Scripture shows us that the dead (like Moses on the Mount of Transfiguration) are aware of what’s happening on earth, that we are told that "we shall be like Christ" (who intercedes for us), that the Body of Christ is One (not split in two by death), and that the early Church understood all this to imply that we can ask prayers of the dead just as we ask them of the living.

As remote as the flaky pro-choice Episcopalian and the starchy Bible-thumping Fundamentalist preacher may seem to be from each other, they share a deep commonality in the way they reject whatever aspect of Catholic teaching they dislike. From liberal to conservative, the argument proceeds: "Unless the Bible explicitly commands what I forbid or forbids what I want to do, then the Catholic teaching I dislike is ‘unbiblical.’" (Of course, the word "Bible" is not unbiblical — even though it also never appears in Scripture — because the word "Bible" is a fragment of extra-biblical Christian tradition generally acceptable to Protestants.)

Indeed all the various forms of Protestantism have this (and only this) one feature in common. They may differ on Mary or baptism or the divinity of Jesus or even the existence of God (if you include Unitarians as a particularly robust form of Protestantism that has jettisoned more of Catholic teaching than its predecessors). But they all agree on erecting semi-permeable membranes in which some (but not all) elements of Sacred Tradition are allowed through (different bits for different groups).

Those elements that are allowed through are called "the witness of historic Christianity" or "the clear implication of Scripture" or "the obviously reasonable position." Those not allowed through are called "human tradition" or "myths" or "the unbiblical teachings of Rome" or "relics of patriarchy" or "ancient superstition" (even when they are the obvious testimony and practice of all the apostolic communions in the world since the beginning of the Church.) Finally, to the filtered-in elements of real apostolic theological and moral teaching are stapled sundry human traditions like sola scriptura or some theory about predestinarianism or the "perspicuity of Scripture" or the need to speak in tongues or (in the past) the curse on Canaan as a biblical basis for American chattel slavery or (more recently) the glories of homosexuality or abortion.

Of course, as history goes on and at least some sectors in Protestantism allow the centrifugal force of Private Judgment to move them further and further from both Sacred Tradition and (inevitably, given the logic) Sacred Scripture as well, you reach a point where appeals to Scripture as an authority in debate don’t matter, since Scripture is, after all, simply the written aspect of Tradition. Sooner or later, it occurs to people trending away from acceptance of Apostolic Tradition to ask, "If I’ve rejected everything else the Church says, why should I care about its ‘holy’ writings? I can find a hundred German theologians who say of the supposed ‘word of God’ what I’ve been saying of ‘Sacred Tradition’ all along."

For the present, many (graying) Evangelicals still retain a deep reverence for the sacred writings of Holy Church (though there are some signs that the itch to deconstruct Scripture will wreak enormous damage among those who come to clearly face the choice between the pole in Protestantism that seeks the Apostolic Tradition and the pole that seeks to keep deconstructing until nothing, including Scripture, is left).

For those still in this betwixt-and-between stage, who reverence Scripture and have this conflicted grasp of an Apostolic Tradition coming to them through a semi-permeable membrane, what is needed is a paradigm shift: the realization first of the shell game that is played in order to filter out Catholic traditions according to the preferences of the particular Protestant tradition one adheres to and, second, a willingness to acknowledge the possibility that when this is honestly done, it will be found that no Catholic doctrine — none whatsoever –actually contradicts Scripture and that all that is essential in Scripture is also essential in Catholic teaching.

That’s a terrifying prospect if one has accepted any of the various myths by which the sundry Protestantisms justify the rejection of whichever bits of Catholic teaching they reject. All the myths — ranging from "I listen only to the Bible alone and not to the traditions of men!" to "I accept Tradition within reason, except that church tradition is never accepted as equal in authority to canonical Scripture; it is always subject to revision provided a scriptural basis can be found" — are equally doomed if that turns out to be so, which is why those committed to the sundry Protestant schemas require not new information but an alteration of the will: a willingness to consider the possibility that there is no conflict between Catholic Tradition and Scripture and that every apparent conflict is just that — apparent and not real.
Once that possibility is squarely faced and accepted, the argument for receiving all of Sacred Tradition rather than simply the bits you like can naturally follow in a rather reasonable way. But first, the membrane(s) must go.

Mark P. Shea is a senior editor for and a columnist for InsideCatholic. Visit his blog at

Mark P. Shea


Mark P. Shea is the author of Mary, Mother of the Son and other works. He was a senior editor at Catholic Exchange and is a former columnist for Crisis Magazine.

  • Dan Deeny

    Thank you for this article. We all need explanations like this so that we can calmly discuss differences.

  • Austin

    There are so many Protestant denominations, with varying beliefs
    that I have trouble telling them apart. What differentiates a Methodist from a Baptist? How is the Presbyterian Church different than the Lutherans? The Anglicans are sort of “junior varsity” Catholics, as a priest friend would call them, but with all their recent infatuation with homosexuality, they appear to have fallen by the wayside too.

    They all believe in Christ, but don’t have a central authority and don’t usually have the sacraments. The services that I have attended typically have a lot of music, some readings and a very long sermon [poor prots!], but no Eucharist, as we know it. My knowledge of Protestant theology is very superficial, but then since I am a lifelong Catholic and have no intention of converting, it has not been necessary to read up on it.

    I have seen a lot of Protestants at Right to Life Marches, so I know that many of them are good people, but I tend to avoid theological discussions to avoid being drowned in a flood of Biblical quotations. I guess the bottom line is that they are entitled to their religion, as I am to mine, and while they may be “theologically defective” it really doesn’t matter to me.

  • Ann

    I see the main difference between Protestants and Catholics as believing in the Real Presence in the Eucharist or not.

  • Devin Rose

    Hi Austin,

    I encourage you to continue learning more of these matters; Shea’s “By What Authority” is a good place to start, as is Keating’s “Catholicism and Fundamentalism”.

    When a Protestant throws a Bible verse at you to “refute” some Catholic belief, ask them how they know that the book they are quoting from is inspired by God.

  • Austin

    Prots love to quote the Old Testament verbatum from the King James version, but of course, this is en English translation from Latin or Greek, which was translater from ancient Hebrew.
    All these translations to translations over many centuries and yet, they insist that every phrase must be taken literally?

    The typical Fundamentalist does not read ancient Hebrew, yet they seem to think they are totally correct with their literal interpretation of the King James version.

    By the way, where in the Bible do they get their adversion to alcohol? I don’t recall Christ being in favor of prohibition.
    Also, what’s with the foaming at the mouth and spouting gibberish at services? Catholics ae not nearly so theatrical.

  • Joel

    The modern denominational reality that gives rise to this article begs the question of whether or not christianity is true, or whether there is an intervening god at all in the universe.

    If Jesus made the church to be one, and if God said it would be one to the end of time, then why has this unity been impossible to maintain down the centuries?

    Here’s the truth of the matter: time plus humanity plus the lack of an intervening god are the real cause of the church’s increasing and irreversible fragmentation and disunity.

  • Nick Palmer

    For those with a bit of time and a CD player or iPod, I highly recommend The Teaching Company’s “History of Christian Theology.” The professor does a good job of outlining the evolution of Christianity from its roots through the Reformation to today. He does it quite evenhandedly, and is very informative. By giving a timeline perspective, one can see the various branches of the faith, how the arose, and how they then developed.

    No, I don’t work for TTC. I’m a longtime fan.

    PS Always and only buy courses when they’re on sale. Each course is on the sale list at least once, and usually more, annually.

  • Mary

    If Jesus made the church to be one, and if God said it would be one to the end of time, then why has this unity been impossible to maintain down the centuries?

    Here’s the truth of the matter: time plus humanity plus the lack of an intervening god are the real cause of the church’s increasing and irreversible fragmentation and disunity.

    Jesus prayed that it might be one, but nowhere in the Bible is is promised that we will be one. Indeed, we are explicitly told in one of the Pauline letters that the recipients were not one.

    However sinful schism is, we have been told that we will grow together until harvest.

  • Mark Shea

    If Jesus made the church to be one, and if God said it would be one to the end of time, then why has this unity been impossible to maintain down the centuries?

    Um, you do realize that the Catholic Church still exists as a visible unity of a billion people, don’t you?

    Given that Jesus and the apostles themselves say pretty clearly that apostasies will happen and the sheep will be scattered, etc. it would appear that in your eagerness to write the obituary of God, you have confused grace with magic and made Jesus signatory to a promise he never actually made.

    Try arguments that don’t rely on straw men next time, Joel.

  • Joel


    In truth, the Catholic Church is not a unity (see: Coptic, Orthodox, Protestant sects, Traditionalist sects, etc.). And the reason it’s not a unity is that *all* organizations dissolve over time, including catholic ones. Again, time plus the human disposition dissolves all organizations, systems, and constitutions, and no institution can escape this law of organizational design. That’s why we see–and will continue to see–ever deepening fragmentation of Christianity and Roman Catholic Christianity.

    I’m not confusing grace and magic. Rather, the providential guidance of God is supposed to do its job, and it’s clear from history that it hasn’t done its job with regard to the objective oneness of the Church (as originally constituted by Jesus and the early disciples). Human foibles and shortcomings won out over time, and divine grace was ultimately too weak (or nonexistent) to provide the necessary correction promised.

    Lack of Providence, and not the expected superabundance of human frailty, is the true cause of christian disunity. Jesus thought that Providence would supply the power necessary to counter human weakness with regard to organizational unity. He was wrong. The rest is history, sadly.

  • Robertz

    Reading this article reminds me of once encountering a fellow on an internet forum claiming to still be a Christian, but also claiming to reject both Sacred Tradition and the Scriptures in their entirety. His reasoning had to do with something about Catholics in the first and second century overwriting the actual Truth as revealed by Christ, going as far as saying that the Apostles themselves were deliberate heretics of the greatest level. Don’t ask me what his other beliefs are and the source of them as I do not not know. He claimed to be a real Christian true to the real Christ and that the Bible was practically Satan’s word rather than God’s Word. It sort of left me bewildered at how far the extremes of protestantism was starting to go.

  • Andy

    Lack of Providence, and not the expected superabundance of human frailty, is the true cause of christian disunity. Jesus thought that Providence would supply the power necessary to counter human weakness with regard to organizational unity. He was wrong. The rest is history, sadly.

    So you’re saying that the gates of Hell will prevail against it?

  • Andy


    I’m thinking that when the two hinges of your argument are:

    1. Grace isn’t strong enough

    2. Jesus was wrong

    Maybe you should take another look at it.

  • Mark P. Shea


    This is the second time this week I’ve run into an atheist who thinks that God causes things by not existing. You claim that the absence of God “causes” disunity. Another guy was blaming the non-existent God for causing famine in the Sudan. One does get the impression that atheists can’t make up their minds about whetther God does not exist or whether they really just mean he’s evil.

    I think you need to figure out what you mean by “cause”.

  • Richard

    A great article, but I have to comment on the statement that Jesus never speaks on “gay marriage”. Jesus specifically says in Mark 10-6,7,8, “…God made them male and female, for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and the two shall become as one.” This should put an end to any organization calling itself Christian if it recognizes homosexual unions as marriage.

  • R.C.

    I see two problems with this article:

    (1.) While each failing attributed in it to “Protestants” generally is true for some Protestants, some of them are false for most Protestants, and others of them are true only for those Protestants whom most other Protestants regard as either (a.) heretics even by Protestant standards, or (b.) not very informed about their Protestant faith.

    This in no way undermines the thesis that the lack of Sacred Tradition and Magisterial Authority creates a centrifugal force towards heresy. Of that there is no doubt. Nor is the other central thesis (that much which Protestants in the pews assume to be derived from Scripture by careful exegesis actually comes to them from Sacred Tradition) in any doubt.

    It does, however, force me to constantly remind myself to assume Mr. Shea’s good will and intent to be fair. Otherwise I might suspect dishonest rhetoric in this procedure of pointing to a handful of nearly-atheist theological liberals, then to a crowd of untrained lay Protestants who’ve no reason to suspect that Christianity ever contained doctrines other than those they grew up hearing from their (devout and godly) pastor, and then to a mixed bag of Protestants of radically different types with little in common, and saying of each grouping, “Well, that’s typical Protestantism for ya!” The meaning of typical is somewhat strained by such usage.

    So I agree with the thesis, while wincing at how it is illustrated.

    Which leads me to the second quibble…

    (2.) It is written in a fashion not conducive to the conversion of Protestants, but seems rather to display, and perhaps encourage, a sort of sneering tribal arrogance on the part of Catholics.

    A rough analogy to the comparative doctrinal positions of Catholics and Protestants would be: The former had the benefit of studying Calculus under a teacher who knew his stuff and had access to all relevant reference material, and the latter had the handicap of studying Calculus under a teacher who was doing the best he knew but was really only trained to teach basic Arithmetic, and who moreover had the difficulty of teaching from a textbook with every other page ripped out, forcing him to guess about the missing content as best he could.

    Under such circumstances, the proper tone-of-voice for describing the foibles of Protestant creeds is not, “There go those wacky Protestants again. Lookit those twits, ha ha, always getting wrong answers to their theological derivatives and fumbling their ecclesiastical integrations; never finding the critical points and always wrongly calculating the limits. FAIL.”

    Yes, I know, St. Jerome was a pretty good hand at argument-by-acidic-contempt. I suppose that’s all right when it’s directed at an isolated heresiarch with the intent of dissuading others from following him into heresy. But when it’s directed at several tens of millions of people suffering from confusion, I don’t know that it really serves to ingratiate them to Catholicism.

    The students that had the benefit of sound teaching know better than those without it: No doubt. But to seem to smirk about knowing better is…unbecoming.

  • Pam

    Joel said :
    “Here’s the truth of the matter: time plus humanity plus the lack of an intervening god are the real cause of the church’s increasing and irreversible fragmentation and disunity.”

    I agree with Joel in part of the statement–time plus humanity are a cause of fragmentation. But God can’t cause that… it is contrary to His nature and His new covenant He made through the blood and sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

    If one looks back at the Old Testament and the narrative that relates the history of God’s covenants with Israel, one will see that Israel, while witnessing God’s provision over and over again, still nevertheless, wanders away from Him and breaks the covenants. Over and over again, He forgives them, they draw back to Him, eventually turn away and so goes the cycle.

    The question God was asking them throughout this time basically was “Will you trust Me?” While they would give verbal assent,they blew it over and over again by turning to idolatry.

    Jesus said that the gates of Hell will not prevail over His Church. That is true– the Church as established by Him has prevailed and will continue to prevail.

    Have there been times when individuals or groups within it have been also asked by God, “Will you trust Me?”
    The answer is yes, continually. Has everyone trusted Him or followed Him as He asks? The answer is obvious–yes and no.

    We are all given the choice to trust Our Lord or not to trust Him because we have free wills. Unfortunately, like Israel, sometimes we collectively or individually blow it. Does that mean God is not all powerful? Of course not! We make choices just like all others that have been in covenant with Him (We are under the New Covenant)

    Mark is correct when he asserts that Jesus stated that there would be apostasies. Any student of church history will see the evidence of that. The schisms and separations spun from the Reformation point out the many varieties and versions that have been adapted by our separated brothers and sisters.

    As a small example, I just read a review of a book tonight about a communist in the ’50s who became a priest to infiltrate the Church and assist in breaking it down. His notes were found after his death. Obviously,he was the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing.(and Jesus says a lot about them!) But the impostor did not succeed with his mission.

    The gates of Hell ultimately will not prevail against the Church. It is up to us as Roman Catholic Christians to stay loyal to the Church teaching and close to Our Lord. I suspect it would be safe to say that the perfect Church that Jesus established has some imperfect people as part of it!

    The books recommended in previous posts are great resources for those who want to know more.

  • Pam
  • Pam
  • Pam
  • William H. Phelan

    And Jesus said unto them, “Unless you eat my Flesh and drink my Blood, you will not achieve eternal life.” And they murmured among themselves and said, “These are hard sayings. Who can stand them?” And they left him, including many of His disciples, and they never walked with Him again.

    The first people who rejected the Eucharist were the Jews. The next major group who rejected the Eucharist en masse were the Protestants.

    Herein lies the major condemnation of the Spirit of Vatican II. It suggested to Protestants and Jews that somehow they would be saved, when nothing was further from the Truth.

  • Joel

    M Shea says: I think you need to figure out what you mean by “cause”.

    Joel: The proper cause of the Church’s organizational unraveling is *time plus humanity*. All organizations have life cycles ending in decline and dissolution. Jesus clearly believed that divine providence would supply some special power to overcome this natural pattern of disintegration, but history has thoroughly repudiated his belief to all objective observers. The Catholic Church is subject to the same centrifugal force as every other organization, despite its robust constitutional mandate to fight harmful human inertia and the natural erosion of time.

    So, if you ever wonder why the Catholic Church continues to slowly disintegrate over time despite every effort to hold things together, you now know the answer. The Church, like every other organization, breaks down due to natural causes and the lack of an intervening deity to stop it.

  • Robertz

    Joel, you seem to have a certain ignorance on what the Church is and isn’t. The Catholic Church still exists in its entirety today as it always has. Last year I was reading an article about a group of “expert” atheists who were amazed that the Church has so far had no disintegration for two millennia. Those who leave the Church and call themselves by another name are separated and no longer retain the Charism of the Church. Does the United States cease to exist in its entirety if a citizen renounces his citizenship? Does the Constitution cease to exist, or become deteriorated from that citizen leaving? Yet the Church itself remains as it is no matter who leaves and who joins. The Church itself remains intact retaining its substance. Try this for an analogy: go out to the ocean. Remove part of it and dump it out on land. Is the Ocean no longer the same substance as it was before? Does the ocean no longer exist? Could you ever make the ocean disappear by removing parts of it at a time and dumping it out on land? Some of that water, even though it has lost its salt, finds its way back to the Ocean eventually. The Catholic Church will continue its existence just as it has for approximately 2000 years, no matter who leaves and start calling themselves Orthodox, Lutherans, Episcopalians etc. The Truth residing in the Church remains.

  • Caitlin


    The Roman Catholic Church has more members today than at any point in history. So, I don’t understand what you mean by disintegration. Please explain.

    Remember, at one point there were far more Arian Christians than Catholic Christians, and yet, the one true Church prevailed. Today, more than half of Christians are Catholic. All of this leads me confused as to what in the world you are talking about.

  • Robertz

    William, there is no authority in a “spirit of Vatican II”. Vatican II can only be validly read when holding to Pre-Vatican II Church teaching. There is no salvation outside of the Church. However only God knows who is ultimately joined with the Church. We on Earth have only been made aware of the ordinary means. Someone please correct me if I am miswording this. My knowledge of every single detail is of course imperfect [smiley=happy] It is unfortunate that many more now feel that there can be salvation elsewhere.

  • Joel

    To objective observers, the following sects add up to significant ecclesial chaos and disunity: the Orthodox, the Coptic, the Anglicans, the Protestants, the Traditionalists, the Liberal Catholics, etc..

    If the Church was designed to be “one,” and if God pledged he would preserve it as such, then how do you propose it has it disintegrated into thousands?

    I have given you the best and most logical answer. The Church is merely a human institution acting like all human institutions.

  • Robertz

    Joel, I’m starting to get the sense you are just trolling. You have been told that all those other churches are not the catholic Church, and yet you are still claiming so. You are also continuing to claim that Christ promised that there would be no one separating themselves from the Church or creating disunity after already being corrected of that misinformation. The same Church that Christ promised the ‘gates of Hell will not prevail over’ still exists today whole and intact. Either people hold to the full Truth within the Church (at least subconsciously at the bare minimum), or they are not a member of the Church. No middle ground. That same Truth revealed at the beginning remains in whole today, undiminished. People are not forced to stay, to believe what they do not want to believe. If you are just trolling, I am not going to waste my time with you.

  • R.C.

    Sorry, friend.

    Personally witnessed a miraculous healing.

    Personally done the philosophical and scientific homework sufficient to realize that materialist naturalism is both untenable, and usually based both on ignorance of the opposing view, and a 19th-century understanding of physics since abandoned by science.

    The trick, when trying to talk a person into a new belief system, is to find folks who don’t already have history, philosophy, science, ethics, reason, and personal experience on their side. A mark is much easier to con when he doesn’t know better.

  • Joel

    Robertz, R.C., etc.

    The churches I listed were splits of the Catholic Church. Even the Vatican admits that the Orthodox, the Anglicans, the Protestants, etc. are severe scandals against the “oneness” of God’s People. Indeed, they are. And those groups today have some legit ongoing tie to the Catholic Church, despite the denial of such by all those groups. (Funny or sad, you make the call.)

    The Catholic Church’s history has been one of constant fragmentation, and this repudiates the Christian doctrine that God established the church as one and will preserve it as one. In reality, the Church is not “one.”

    The reason it can’t be stopped or reversed, but rather only deepened over time, is because there is no intervening deity to ensure the Church’s oneness against the natural erosion of time plus ordinary humanity unaided by providence.

    The Church is subject to the same basic laws of organizational behavior as every other institution on earth. All organizations have life cycles that end in decline and dissolution. It’s obvious to anyone not pre-dedicated to a religious answer.

  • Alphonsus

    ‘The Catholic Church’s history has been one of constant fragmentation, and this repudiates the Christian doctrine that God established the church as one and will preserve it as one. In reality, the Church is not “one.”‘

    Again, no one claimed there would be no schisms or heresies. The situation is not “A divides into B and C” but “B splits off from A, which basically remains the same.” The first kind of fragmentation results in the destruction of the source material (A). The second kind results in the creation of a new material (B) without the destruction of the original (A). People might split off from the Church, but that doesn’t mean that the Catholic Church ceases to exist.

    You’re attacking the Church for not holding up to a standard of unity which you, not the Church, have selected. When you’re criticizing a religion, it’s generally helpful to be familiar with that religion’s actual teachings. Go read what the Catechism says about the unity and catholicity of the Church before you continue posting here. Here’s a link:

  • Joel


    It seems to me that one has to devise creative new redefinitions of “one” and “unity” to argue the case you make. (Have you ever heard the protestant definition of what “one” church means? It’s totally absurd.)

    The Orthodox, Anglican, and Protestant splits (along with the incendiary Traditionalist/Liberal polarization) represent severe ruptures at all levels of the Catholic organization. In addition, this severe disunity has been the true cause of the fall of Christendom in the West. As with all broken monopolies, the break-up of the Church’s vital monopoly erased the Church’s power and influence, allowing for the rise of competing pagan powers and movements. (United we stand, divided we fall.)

    Sadly, it’s an irreversible phenomenon. Nearly all the actors involved were acting in good faith, as is the case even now. Today’s schismatic and heretical sects—no matter how well intentioned or full of personal piety—will not be guided back to Rome against the natural corrosive power of organizational inertia. Time plus humanity is a natural force that pulls apart all organizations and dynasties, and the force works in one direction only.

    Time plus humanity is the real cause of the continual erosion of both the Christian West and the Catholic Church. All organizations, dynasties, and constitutions struggle then crumble in the race against time. It was always *the central problem* for the Dynasty of Moses and the Hebrews, and it’s true of the Dynasty of Peter and Christ.

  • DWC

    Joel: Your arguements are shallow. I would argue the exact oppposite. The survival and unity of the Catholic church lends testimony to a guiding hand. No purly “human” organization could have survied the trials and times of holy mother church – heresies, schisms, corruption — she has survived them all — in spite of “man’s” non-theological folly. No one claimed she wasn’t “human”. Only that she will stand to the end of time. Why don’t you wait till that plays out first.

  • Joel

    DWC and others:

    I’m claiming that she has not “survived them.” To the contrary, she’s in the phase of deep decline after the break up of her monopoly, which peaked centuries ago and has steadily eroded ever since.

    The same pattern can be applied to the Hebrews from Moses to Christ. That story was one of a continual decay away from the founding vision and hope, due to the ravages of time. The Jews were never able to maintain their founding vision and Monarchy, and experienced only ongoing erosion until at last the Romans put an end to it all. All organizations go through this natural cycle:

    1. Birth
    2. Growth
    3. Maturity
    4. Decline
    5. Death

    The Catholic Dynasty, like all other great dynasties, is in the decline stage of rapidly waning glory and influence, and is marching towards death by natural causes. It makes perfect sense to anyone not pre-dedicated to a religious answer.

  • Alphonsus

    “Nearly all the actors involved were acting in good faith, as is the case even now.”

    You would need cross-century telepathy to know that.

    “Today’s schismatic and heretical sects—no matter how well intentioned or full of personal piety—will not be guided back to Rome against the natural corrosive power of organizational inertia.”

    I think your argument based on “the natural corrosive power of organization inertia” is specious. There’s no natural law that organizations only break irreparably down or that declining numbers are never reversed. If that were so there would have to be some huge primeval organization from which all current organizations are descended.

  • DWC

    Joel, once again, I’ll claim that your likely “desire” to see the church fade away fogs your ability to separate troubles and problems from termination. How many Joels were stating the same during the dark ages? One third of the population .. dead. But she lived on. How many Joels were stating the same during the persecution and turmoil of the 1st and 2nd centuries? But she lived on. How many during during the reformation? During the barbarian invasions? During the muslim conquests? ….. She lived on. You vastly underestimate her ability to survive and thrive … with a little help from above. Call it pain. Call it cleansing. Call it purification. You’re wrong to predict death.

  • Joel

    Actually, DWC, I have no desire to see the church fade away. I’m a firm believer in Judeo-Christian ethics and wish to see them survive and thrive. (The Church is the only institution capable of preserving those ethics and values against a tsunami of wild, unprincipled paganism.)

    But the “Judeo” part went up in flames back at AD 70 when the Romans put the nail in the coffin of Moses and the struggling Hebrew dynasty, and the Catholic dynasty likewise continues to weaken in unity, power, and influence century by century. The Orthodox split and Protestant Reformation were massive blows to the Catholic institution, and this pattern of fragmentation is irreversible and ultimately deadly to Christendom. (United we stand, divided we fall.) Those ruptures in Church unity are the true cause of Christianity’s downfall and paganism’s reemergence in the West. When you break up any monopoly, competing groups naturally move in and assert their dominance. This is what happened in the West when the Catholic Church’s monopoly was broken up. Once you understand this truth, you understand what is going on with today’s trends, where we are headed, and why.

    More than anything I’d like to call it “cleansing” and “purification”; But I am not bound to such religious wistfulness and know through reason and history that all dynasties and institutions have a natural life cycle. The Catholic dynasty/institution is following this normal natural course despite all efforts to resist the natural and expected erosion of time plus humanity. All institutions and dynasties are subject to this same “centrifugal force” that brings decline and eventual death.

  • Alphonsus

    “The Catholic dynasty/institution is following this normal natural course despite all efforts to resist the natural and expected erosion of time plus humanity. All institutions and dynasties are subject to this same “centrifugal force” that brings decline and eventual death.”

    I’ll believe it when I see it.

  • Teresa

    Joel you are a Harold of the harassment, intimidation and persecution the Catholic Church will increasingly be subject to until Christ’s return. I suspect you will keep going with your diatribes intent on having the last word.

    The Catholic Church is 2000 years old, what other institution is that old?

    The Church has faced persecution, been subjected to malice and destructive human self interest from both outside and from within since Judas. It is still around, despite much adversity, because it is guarded aided and disciplined by the Holy Spirit.

    The story of Jesus ministry, rejection, suppression (violent murder) and resurrection is a precursor of the Catholic Church’s ministry, rejection, violent suppression (we are in the early stages) and resurrection.

    Just as most of Jesus followers abandoned him at the end out of fear – even his disciples, so will most believers be intimidated and bullied out of the church.

    Joel there will come a time where you look to be right, and the church will have disappeared. Readers it will never disappear. Like Jesus it will go underground for a short time and then be resurrected.

    Joel you are an unwitting agent of dark spiritual forces.

  • Ed the Roman


    Humanly speaking, the Catholic Church is older than all institutions on earth except one: the Chrysanthemum Throne of Japan.

    The Chrysanthemum Throne does not operate much at all the same way that it did at its founding, and does not seem to retain its mission from that time. It has, in fact, wildly varied in every respect except maintaining demonstrable continuity: please compare the Tokugawa Shogunate, the Meiji Restoration, and now, both in administration and goals. The Church, by contrast, is quite similar to its earlier self, and retains its original mission. Even the Avignon Papacy is a trivial change compared to way the Emperor’s position has varied.

  • DWC

    Er .. at least the jokes on Joel. Your arguements are weak at best. Tell everyone here … where you are coming from? Your positions and statements are inconsistent.

  • Tom

    A minor point, but I guess important enough for me to insert:
    The so-called “Chrysanthemum Throne” Emperorship of Japan despite a tradition to dates it to being founded by gods in distant antiquity dates probably to around the 5th C. AD.
    Even if we put aside Catholic tradition for a moment the Papacy can be dated to the beginnig of the 4th C. at teh very latest.
    In short The PApcy is the worlds oldest institution bar none.