Do You Disagree? Where’s Your Theological Argument?

Each of my theological arguments on any topic stands on its own merits. Sometimes I express a theological opinion on a matter of pious disagreement among faithful Catholics. Other times I express, in my own way, the true teachings of Tradition, Scripture, Magisterium.

If I say that an idea is an infallible teaching of the Magisterium, and therefore requires the full assent of faith under pain of heresy, perhaps you disagree. You might take the position that the idea has not been taught by the Magisterium infallibly. Fine. But I have a theological argument to support my assertion. Where’s your theological argument? The infallible teachings of the Magisterium are typically among the clearest and most definitive teachings. With no theological argument to support your claim, you are in danger of falling into at least material heresy.

If I say that an idea is a non-infallible teaching of the Magisterium, and therefore generally requires the religious submission of will and intellect, perhaps you disagree. You might take the position that the idea has not been taught at all by the Magisterium. Fine. But here are several quotes from magisterial documents showing that it is the teaching of the Magisterium. If you have no theological argument, what is the basis for your claim that the Church has no such teaching?

When I present proof that an idea is a teaching of the Magisterium, infallible or non-infallible, and you cannot show that it is not a teaching of the Magisterium, how is it that you still disagree? You are not so much disagreeing with me, but with the Church.

My theological arguments are based on the teachings of Tradition, Scripture, Magisterium. If you have no argument to present, why should anyone believe you? But unfortunately, most Catholics do not base their beliefs on Tradition, Scripture, Magisterium. They hold their opinions firmly and fervently, and in contradiction to magisterial teaching and sound theological opinion.

If I say that an idea is a theological opinion, one based on Tradition, Scripture, Magisterium (TSM), you are free to disagree. But if you cannot refute my theological argument, which supports my position, and you cannot offer a theological argument to support your own opinion, why are you so adamant that I am wrong? I think that some readers become angry at my theology because they can neither refute my position, nor support their own opinion with a theological argument.

We are each and all obliged to seek the truth on important matters of faith and morals. A deliberate choice to continue holding one’s own opinion, without a firm basis in faith and reason, and against a well-supported contrary view, is a sinful choice. When we find the truth on any important matter of faith and morals, it pertains to our salvation to accept that truth. The refusal to seek and accept religious and moral truth is the path to eternal condemnation.

Reactions

I often hear from persons who disagree with one idea or another that I have expressed in theology. They raise a variety of different types of objections.

I argue against some idea, which they happen to hold. Or they claim that an idea is magisterial teaching, and I prove from Tradition, Scripture, Magisterium that it is not. Or I argue that a particular type of act is intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral, and they are committing that act on a regular basis in their life. I write an article saying that a particular claimed private revelation is false, and they adhere to the visionary and messages in question. Or I prove with a theological argument that a particular teacher, whom they like, actually teaches heresy. Or for some other reason, based on my writings in theology, they do not like what I am saying.

Instead of changing their own position, or looking into the question further, they react with animosity toward me.

1. One reaction, expressed by some persons disagreeing with my theology, is to utter swear words and malicious remarks. I get e-mails and comments on my blog in which the person, ostensibly a Catholic Christian, is expressing disagreement by uttering profanity and expressing malice toward me personally. I don’t respond directly to those persons.

My response here is simply this: Do you disagree with something I wrote? Fine. Where is your theological argument? Do you not see an inherent contradiction in your profane and malicious words, accompanied by the claim that your point of view on a matter of faith or morals is the truth before God? Speaking and acting in an un-Christian manner is not a convincing theological argument.

2. Another common objection, often expressed in various discussion groups, blogs, and blog comment sections, is to make personal attacks on me. There are many such comments over at one or another discussion group. Someone will cite my work within a thread on a particular topic, in order to support a particular point. Another person will then make some personal attack on me, as a way of dismissing my theological argument. Many different types of malicious remarks are used. But they don’t have a theological argument of their own, and they have no real refutation of my argument. And the ‘ad hominem’ argument is not a valid argument.

3. Other times, the objection raised does pertain to my work in theology, but not to the theological point at issue. One person points out an article or post I wrote, in order to support a particular point of view, and another person disagrees. Then that person looks over my work and posts that I must be a liberal, so my work should be ignored. Or they look around and find that I support Medjugorje and Garabandal, so they remark, “Well, that explains it.” Or they cite my controversial work in eschatology, as a way of trying to discredit my theology on other topics. There are a few reasons why this type of objection is spurious.

First, theologians are not infallible. Every theologian, from the Pope writing a book of private theology, to a Saint and Doctor of the Church, like Thomas Aquinas, to the priest or humble lay theologian, is fallible. Saint Thomas famously erred on the question of the Immaculate Conception (which was an open question at the time). Would it make sense, then, to say that all of his theology should be ignored because of that error? Certainly not. An error in one area of theology does not imply errors on other questions.

Second, often what is put forward as an alleged error in my theology (on the basis of which it is claimed that all my work should be ignored) is actually just a difference of opinion between myself and the person raising the objection. The individual is convinced that Medjugorje and Garabandal are not true private revelation. That is an acceptable pious opinion. But it is ridiculous to say that, if a theologian disagrees with you on that open question, all his theological arguments on other topics should be disregarded.

Third, the rejection of my theology on one point or another is often not based on a counter argument. The individual holds a particular opinion, and he cannot even say why. Conservative Catholics tend to accept the most conservative theological position, but without really understanding the theological issues involved. And the same is true for liberal Catholics. People often hold to one theological idea or another without being able to defend their position with a theological argument. I think that many times they have no idea how they even arrived at their own point of view. But if I disagree, they are dismissive; I can’t possibly be correct. And if I offer a theological argument to refute their position, they become indignant.

Fourth, the field of eschatology is generally speculative, even, we might say, highly speculative. So any extensive body of work, such as mine, in this area, is certain to contain some errors. There are very few definitive teachings of the Magisterium in eschatology. The fact that my work in this field has erred in the past does not imply that nothing in my eschatology can be correct, nor does it imply errors in my dogmatic, moral, and salvation theology.

4. Some persons try to represent my position on matters of faith and morals, not on speculative questions, as if every position of mine were merely my own personal view, unique to my work. I offer a theological argument to show that my position is the teaching of the Magisterium and a required belief. Without a theological argument to show otherwise, they speak as if my position were my own baseless personal view. In fact, the reverse is true. They have no theological argument to support their claim that the question is open or that the Church teaches a different position. Their position is a baseless personal view. My theological arguments prove that I am not merely expressing a unique personal opinion, but a teaching of Tradition, Scripture, Magisterium.

Their disagreement is really with the Church, though they claim it is with me. Their animosity expressed toward me is really directed at the teaching of the Church. There are many Catholics today who have rejected the teaching of the Church on numerous important matters of faith and morals. Yet they claim that their own views are entirely consonant with Church teaching. They even go around on the internet teaching grave doctrinal errors to the faithful, with the claim that these errors are magisterial teachings. They have no theological argument to support their claims, yet they presume to teach theology online.

5. Many Catholics have begun to use the internet to teach their fellow Catholics, but what they teach is contrary to magisterial teaching and sound theology. They have not bothered to learn the Faith before teaching it. They typically teach anonymously. They simply state: “The Church teaches this. The Church does not teach that.” They explain their position, but they don’t support their position. When someone disagrees, they use all manner of rhetorical methods to deflate the opposing position. But they have no theological argument to offer, and they cannot refute a theological argument to the contrary. And yet they present themselves as teachers of the Faith.

6. One person or another disagrees with some particular point in my writings. Instead of making a theological argument, or trying to refute my theological argument, the response is to assert: “Well, he’s not a theologian.” OK. By your own definition, are you a theologian? No? If my position should be ignored because I am supposedly not a theologian, why shouldn’t your own position be ignored? If you are not a theologian yourself, how is it that you are speaking so definitively, authoritatively, and loudly, but without a theological argument and under cover of anonymity?

They say: “Well, he doesn’t have a Ph.D. in theology.” True. But do you have a Ph.D. in theology? No? They how is it that you say people should listen to you, and not to me? How is it that you treat various persons who do not have a Ph.D. in theology as theologians, extolling their work?

Examples: Peter Kreeft (degrees in philosophy, not theology), Gregory Popcak (bachelor’s degree in theology, Ph.D. in human services from an online for-profit university), Christopher West (BA in anthropology, MA in theology), Michael Voris (bachelor’s degree in theology), Jimmy Akin and many other Catholic authors (no theology degrees at all).

I should also point out that persons making this type of complaint typically do not cite the work of any theologian at all. They simply explain what they think is Church teaching, without basis, or they explain their own opinion, without a supporting theological argument. They seem to have no interest in theology, and yet they are, in some sense, teaching theology.

[1 Timothy]
{1:5} Now the goal of instruction is charity from a pure heart, and a good conscience, and an unfeigned faith.
{1:6} Certain persons, wandering away from these things, have been turned aside to empty babbling,
{1:7} desiring to be teachers of the law, but understanding neither the things that they themselves are saying, nor what they are affirming about these things.

[Matthew]
{5:19} Therefore, whoever will have loosened one of the least of these commandments, and have taught men so, shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever will have done and taught these, such a one shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

[James 3]
{3:1} My brothers, not many of you should choose to become teachers, knowing that you shall receive a stricter judgment.

So you say that I’m not a theologian, because I only have a bachelor’s degree in theology? Fine. Here’s my theological argument based on the teachings of Sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture, and the Magisterium. Where is your theological argument?

Here are my credentials as a Roman Catholic theologian and Bible translator. Where are yours? Here is an overview of my extensive body of work in theology and Sacred Scripture. Where is yours?

I am fallible. I could be mistaken on one point or another. But I have a theological argument to support my position. Where’s your theological argument?

by
Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and
translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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1 Response to Do You Disagree? Where’s Your Theological Argument?

  1. jbbt9 says:

    Good post Ron.

    Well said and truthful at that.

    Needs to be spelled out occasionally but unfortunately most of the individuals you are speaking of will not humble themselves to change their positions.

    God loves humble and little hearts but these qualities are scorned and ridiculed these days.
    Not at all fashionable!

    Please keep doing what you are doing.

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