Superficial Truth

This article highlights certain doctrines, teachings, and methodologies based on flawed logic.


Consensus of Church Fathers

The assumption is that if all the Church Fathers agree on something it must be true. Some caveats...

  1. Did enough Church Fathers address the topic? (Does it have critical mass?)
  2. Did the Early Church Fathers address the topic?
  3. How loud is the dissent?
  4. Were dissident voices squelched?
  5. Were political ruler involved?

It is important that the Early Church Fathers address the topic because they were closest to the apostolic teaching. Certain teachings only slowly became prominent over time, but once they did it seems they became nearly universal. For example, the idea of strong, hierarchical bishops became common, but this is clearly a later development, not an apostolic teaching.


Follow the Bishop

Ignatius writes very early that we are to do nothing without the bishop. But he has in mind some assumptions...

  1. In order for these bishops to be worthy of being followed, they must be orthodox, holy, and good shepherds of the people.
  2. These bishops led fairly small communities (not Patriarchates or Archdioceses overseeing millions of Christians.)

Ignatius would have never expected Christians to follow heretics, or those who exploit the people or cause their faith life to languish. Yet some bishops throughout church history have been in this category.

Ignatius clearly singles out heretics to be shunned, so even he excludes certain people as valid Church leaders. But in subsequent generations, the mere performance of the rite of ordination took precedence over the need for ordained leaders to be qualified.

The bishops Ignatius speaks of have a close relationship with those in their congregations. They often preside over the mass and other rites and rituals such as marriage ceremonies.


Sacramental Marriage

The teaching that Christ instituted a new kind of marriage is nonsense.


Natural Law

Philosophical arguments based on Natural Law are useless. This is because there is no such thing as Natural Law;it is a false philosophical construct which doesn't actually exist.


Passing-on Apostolic Teaching 

The apostles did not pass down teachings they themselves did not teach. For example, they did not pass down the doctrine of indulgences; they had no notion of such a thing. This doctrine was invented later. This does not mean God won't honor it; certainly God gives us a lot of leeway to invent devotions which he will honor. But the point is that it was not passed down from the apostles.

Certainly, Old Testament prophets sometimes uttered things they didn't fully understand which were interpreted by Jesus and the apostles. But this does not give the post-apostolic Church leaders license to interpret apostolic writings in a similar manner. The apostles were granted infallibilityin their teachings; the subsequent Church leaders were not.

Are we to assume that every word the apostles spoke has a subtle, hidden, prophetic meaning? This is a dangerous practice; it's what heretics did.


Development of Doctrine

The questions are...

  1. Does doctrine develop over the generations?
  2. If so, what is the nature and the limits of this development?

Protestants and Catholics alike agree doctrine develops.I question whether this idea is necessary, but that is beyond the scope of this article. Certainly the statements of the Nicene Creedare doctrinal developments as is the statement of faith of any denomination.

A further question is whether a true doctrine can contain information that the apostles didn't teach. In other words, if the apostles didn't teach it, they did not pass it on to subsequent generations, and the Holy Spirit did not intend it to be taught (because it is not true). I favor this view. Certainly we must apply apostolic teaching to new situations, but if they didn't teach something, it is not apostolic teaching.

Three quotes from Catholic documents...

This tradition which comes from the Apostles develops in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit. For there is a growth in the understanding of the realities and the words which have been handed down. (Dei Verbum, Vatican II)

Note that the understanding grows, not the truths themselves. And notice that the apostles don't teach the subsequent developments; those occur later. Therefore, the apostles did not teach these developments.

As she has done for the canon of Sacred Scripture and for the doctrine of the faith, the Church . . . has gradually recognized this treasure received from Christ. (Catechism, 1117)

This is even scarier than the previous! That we can invent new doctrines because we slowly understand what the apostles actually taught (even though they didn't actually teach it).

Even if Revelation is already complete, it has not been made completely explicit; it remains for Christian faith gradually to grasp its full significance over the course of the centuries. (Catechism, 66)

The question is, who is qualified to do this? Who does the Holy Spirit impart this fresh understanding to?

John Henry Cardinal Newman wrote a book about the development of doctrinewhich is not officially accepted by the Catholic Church but is used by all the Catholic defenders as if it is part of Church teaching. Make up your mind; must Catholics believe Church teaching or can they believe whatever they choose — you can't have it both ways.


Bible Only

The doctrine of Sola Scripturais just plain wrong. The Bibleis inspired, inerrant, and infallible, but it is not the only word of God.