In perusing the Internet, I came across the following image, which illustrates the Catholic explanation of how infallible Christian doctrine exists in the world today:
As you could probably guess, I disagree with the argument made by this image in a number of ways.
- Infallibility. The illustration fails to show how the current “magisterial authority” of Catholicism maintains its infallibility. It seems like circular reasoning to me. Specifically, merely holding the office of Pope cannot make one infallible unless there is something special about that office other than its claim of infallibility. Simply putting on a funny hat does not make a man infallible in doctrine: he is infallible in doctrine if God has selected him to be His representative in this world and continues to direct him through revelation. Catholic doctrine holds that the Pope is infallible – but that the time of revelation has ceased. However, those two points of doctrine are fundamentally contradictory. How can one communicate the will of God except by being privy to the will of God through revelation? One cannot do what the Apostles did except by holding the same authority and wielding the same power as the Apostles. If you don’t have the keys and a driver’s license, you’re not the driver, as much as you may like sitting in the driver’s seat.
- Tradition. The Catholic Church must cite tradition as the source for at least some of its doctrines because so many of its doctrines simply do not exist in scripture. However, tradition is nothing. Just as culture is always in flux, so is tradition – or regular cultural practice – always in flux. While scripture is innately prescriptive in nature, tradition is descriptive. Scripture states what should be done, while tradition is what people actually do. When one reads the epistles of the New Testament, it becomes clear that, even while the Apostles were alive, Christian tradition was continually trying to diverge from true Christian doctrine. Thus, the idea that tradition could be taken as the standard of doctrine is an irrational one. Again, we have a situation of circular reasoning: “Catholic doctrines are valid because they are based on Catholic traditions. Catholic traditions are valid because they are the source of Catholic doctrine.” Catholicism cannot prove in any way that its non-Biblical traditions originate from Christ or the Apostles. If the Pope were to say that he had received revelation from God stating that to be the case, that would at least be something, whether we believed his claim or not. However, again, he makes no such claim.
- Scripture. Scripture is a much more reliable source of doctrine than tradition, but even scripture has its flaws. While scripture may be perfect when it is written, when people transcribe and translate it without the aid of revelation, it often becomes imperfect. And even if a passage of scripture does perfectly address an issue specific to the Christians of Antioch in A.D. 100, there may not be an existing scripture that can perfectly address an issue specific to the Christians of Houston in 2011. For this reason, we need prophets in our time as much as anyone ever needed prophets previously. Just as it takes a prophet to write scripture through revelation, it also takes a prophet to interpret and apply scripture through revelation – and to receive new scripture as needed. Without such revelation, we only have leaders who say that we should follow them by citing such irrelevant things as tradition and “divinity” degrees that they have received from secular institutions.
The bottom line is that infallibility cannot exist without revelation. No man is ever infallible unless he is under the direct and active guidance of God. Thus, by denying the existence of modern prophecy and revelation, Catholicism contradicts its claims of infallibility. If a religion is not led by revelation – continuing revelation – it is not led by God, and is thus subject to the intrinsically flawed guidance of human beings.